Grand designs: The striking images of buildings shortlisted for the 2017 Sony Photography Competition

Some buildings and structures are stunning to behold at first glance, while others reveal themselves as something special when they’re shown at a certain angle, as these incredible images demonstrate.

The pictures are all shortlisted and commended entries in the architecture category of the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards – the world’s largest photography competition.

They include sublime pictures of The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, multi-coloured doorways in Tokyo and Cayan Tower in Dubai Marina.

A picture taken in China, meanwhile, elevates a tangle of roads from the mundane to high art – the aerial angle turning them into a mesmerising pattern.

Another image  shows the famous London Aquatics Centre – a remarkable building that looks all the more striking thanks to photographer Katarzyna Young, who captured its ‘signature curves’ and bright hues in some style.

MailOnline Travel showcases images that will urge you to stop and look at the buildings around you in a different light. Images from the competition will be displayed at London’s Somerset House between April 21 and May 7, 2017 and the winners will be announced on April 20.

A reflection of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, during sunset

A Manhattan sunset shot from Queens across the East River. This is ‘Part 2’ in a New York Trilogy that photographer Lars Sivars calls ‘NYC Light’

Yukihito Ono simply said of her entry: 'I found colorful doors in Tokyo'           This amazing image is of the Cayan Tower, Dubai Marina

Yukihito Ono simply said of her entry, left, ‘I found colorful doors in Tokyo’
The amazing image on the right is of the Cayan Tower, Dubai Marina

This picture taken in China elevates a tangle of roads from the mundane to high art – the aerial angle turning them into a mesmerising pattern

The London Aquatics Centre was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid in 2004 before London won the bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The photographer who took this image, Katarzyna Young, said of it: 'I tried to capture the signature curves of Zaha Hadid's architectural designs. My eye was also drawn to the vivid colour of the building's windows as well as on how the shadows and light define the structure'

The London Aquatics Centre was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid in 2004 before London won the bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The photographer who took this image, Katarzyna Young, said of it: ‘I tried to capture the signature curves of Zaha Hadid’s architectural designs. My eye was also drawn to the vivid colour of the building’s windows as well as on how the shadows and light define the structure’

Called 'Walking in the Light', this image by photographer Amri Arfianto captures a woman at The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi crossing through a keyhole-shaped patch of sunshine

Called ‘Walking in the Light’, this image by photographer Amri Arfianto captures a woman at The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi crossing through a keyhole-shaped patch of sunshine

This image shows the office building called Dockland in Hamburg, Germany, and was taken in summer of 2016

This image shows the office building called Dockland in Hamburg, Germany, and was taken in summer of 2016

UK photographer Tim Cornbill said of his photograph: 'Having just arrived in Berlin on a bright summer's day, my wife and I decided to take a morning walk along the River Spree. We soon came across a large concrete building, and I was immediately struck by its geometry and scale. Across the river, I positioned myself for a single point perspective and waited for the right moment to capture it. A couple came into the viewfinder and I noticed the cyclist out of the corner of my eye. I waited for them to move into the frame and hit the shutter to try and balance the composition'

This image shows the facade of the Bodegas Ysios wine cellar in Laguardia in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. The cellar building was designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. The building is designed to integrate into the hilly landscape of the Sierra de Cantabria

This image shows the facade of the Bodegas Ysios wine cellar in Laguardia in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. The cellar building was designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. The building is designed to integrate into the hilly landscape of the Sierra de Cantabria

Pictured left is the Square Colosseum building in Rome just after sunset. The photographer, Claudio Cantonetti, said: ‘The very difficult task has been to compose carefully and avoid the traffic’
Pictured right is Modena Cathedral in Italy. Consecrated in 1184, it is an important Romanesque building and a World Heritage Site

A fascinating image of a building reflected from the River Danube

A fascinating image of a building reflected from the River Danube

Urban life: A helipad in China next to row upon mesmerising row of highway traffic

Portuguese photographer Luis Pina said: 'This photo was taken on February 28, 2016, in the Stuttgart Library, in Germany. I really like this Library because it's like no other Library I've ever seen. I actually find that this modern and ethereal look helps one concentrate. This was my first set of photos with my new Sony A7RII and Sony Zeiss 16-35 f/4'Portuguese photographer Luis Pina said: ‘This photo was taken on February 28, 2016, in the Stuttgart Library, in Germany. I really like this Library because it’s like no other Library I’ve ever seen. I actually find that this modern and ethereal look helps one concentrate. This was my first set of photos with my new Sony A7RII and Sony Zeiss 16-35 f/4’

The Photographer, Adi Bulboaca, said of his shot: 'I had the chance to spend four days in the Silver Beach Hotel in November 2016, off the shore of Lake Balaton in Hungary. It's very much a summer resort, so I found myself out of season while working as a set photographer for a film. Built between 1978 and 1983, the hotel was designed by the brutalist architect Tillai Erno. All the rooms were obviously vacant, so I was able to snoop around and explore the entire resort to my heart's content. The place has a retro feel to it and a soothing patina that I hope I was able to capture. I was fascinated by how stark yet visually inviting this "anachronistic" hotel could be'

This image shows the stark facade of the Silver Beach Hotel, taken by Aldi Bulboaca

This image shows the stark facade of the Silver Beach Hotel, taken by Aldi Bulboaca

Here's Moscow looking like a city from the future, where photographer Ivan Turukhano caught a girl sitting by a window in a courtyard 

Here’s Moscow looking like a city from the future, where photographer Ivan Turukhano caught a girl sitting by a window in a courtyard

An industrial tank in Amsterdam looks like a work of art in this picture. The photographer said: ‘The shadows create a light and feather like abstract on this otherwise bold and heavy storage tank’

The need to accommodate Hong Kong’s dense population has created public housing with ‘unique and spectacular facades’, according to photographer Denise Y K Tsang

An interior shot of the Cameo cinema in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photographer Jimmy Reid said: ‘I love the classic feel of this cinema and the formation of the chairs is almost hypnotising to me’

This picture was taken in October 2016 in Berlin near the government headquarters. Photographer Volker Sander said: ‘I saw the straight and diagonal lines and I found that it was a good composition with the coloured squares inside’

The view from Switch House at Tate Modern towards the Shard in London

The Photographer said: 'Prostitution is legal in Greece and the authorities decided to stipulate that all brothels must have permits. There are different kinds of brothels. The upper class ones are called Studio. The difference from the normal brothels are the buildings - more discreet, the attitude of the prostitutes, more polite, and the price, obviously higher. A person welcomes the clients and once inside there is a waiting room where the girls available come out to show themselves. At this point the clients decide whether to stay or to leave. These brothels are recognizable by a pink light sign with the word Studio'

The Photographer said: ‘Prostitution is legal in Greece and the authorities decided to stipulate that all brothels must have permits. There are different kinds of brothels. The upper class ones are called Studio. The difference from the normal brothels are the buildings – more discreet, the attitude of the prostitutes, more polite, and the price, obviously higher. A person welcomes the clients and once inside there is a waiting room where the girls available come out to show themselves. At this point the clients decide whether to stay or to leave. These brothels are recognizable by a pink light sign with the word Studio’

Another picture of the Ysios winery in Laguardia, this time showing the detail in the roofing. The photo was taken on a hot Sunday morning in early September 2016

China, Fuling, Chongqing municipality – an area that has been transformed in recent years from rural to urban. Daily life there has been captured here by Julien Chatelin

An architecture detail of a building at Valletta old city, Malta, captured by Greek photographer Elias Joidos

The skies darken as a storm approaches Larung Gar in Sichuan, China, home to the Five Sciences Buddhism Academy

The skies darken as a storm approaches Larung Gar in Sichuan, China, home to the Five Sciences Buddhism Academy

Nearly 10,000 monks and nuns live in Larung Gar, pictured in this entry by Ming Keung Tam. In 2016, reports emerged from Tibet that there was a mass demolition drive in the unique town by the People's Republic of China

Nearly 10,000 monks and nuns live in Larung Gar, pictured in this entry by Ming Keung Tam. In 2016, reports emerged from Tibet that there was a mass demolition drive in the unique town by the People’s Republic of China

'During my visit to Rotterdam in October 2016 I saw these yellow cube houses and looked for a special perspective,' said photographer Martin Seraphin

‘During my visit to Rotterdam in October 2016 I saw these yellow cube houses and looked for a special perspective,’ said photographer Martin Seraphin

A mind-boggling picture of a skyscraper in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo

This eye-popping image shows the dense urbanisation of Hong Kong – it was taken by local Chak Kwong Man

 

 

 

The Holy Land as you’ve never seen it before

A series of 100-year-old images from the Holy Land have revealed a fascinating insight into rural life in the last ruling days of the Ottoman Empire.

The dramatic mountains and barren deserts surrounding Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Jordan have deep cultural significance for the different religions living in the area.

These black and white lantern slides from the Oregon State University Visual Instruction Department show the traditional houses, clothing and manual labour that were typical of the early 20th century.

But the various locations in the slides, including Nazareth, the Garden of Gethsemane and Mount of Olives, are all also written about in the bible as key sites of religious and historic importance. Nazareth for example is described in the New Testament as the childhood home of Jesus, and it has long been a popular centre for Christian pilgrimage.  Elsewhere, the city of Shechem is the home of the Samaritans, an ancient people who reject all of the Bible except the five books of Moses.

Appreciation to MailOnline for the pictures.

The ancient city of Shechem, lying between the twin mountains, Ebal and Gerizim is half-way between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea

The ancient city of Shechem, lying between the twin mountains, Ebal and Gerizim is half-way between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea

The summit of Mount Gerizim where Samaritans believe Abraham built his altar for the sacrifice of his son Isaac 

The summit of Mount Gerizim where Samaritans believe Abraham built his altar for the sacrifice of his son Isaac

The city of Shechem from the north. Shechem is the home of the ancient people, the Samaritans, who reject all of the Bible except the five books of Moses

The city of Shechem from the north. Shechem is the home of the ancient people, the Samaritans, who reject all of the Bible except the five books of Moses

The Cave of the Patriarchs, also known by Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham or the Ibrahimi Mosque, is a series of subterranean chambers located in the heart of the old city of Hebron in the Hebron Hills 

The Cave of the Patriarchs, also known by Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham or the Ibrahimi Mosque, is a series of subterranean chambers located in the heart of the old city of Hebron in the Hebron Hills

A few miles to the south of Bethel is the hill of Ramah, where it was written that Saul was anointed to be king of Israel 

A few miles to the south of Bethel is the hill of Ramah, where it was written that Saul was anointed to be king of Israel

Jerusalem from the summit of New Calvary hill. In the foreground is the northern wall of the city and the Damascus Gate

Jerusalem from the summit of New Calvary hill. In the foreground is the northern wall of the city and the Damascus Gate

The Garden of Gethsemane and Mount of Olives in Jerusalem - a range of hills with four summits to the east of the city 

The Garden of Gethsemane and Mount of Olives in Jerusalem – a range of hills with four summits to the east of the city

A view of Mount Gerizim from Mount Ebal, with the village of Askar at the foot of the mountain in the distance

A view of Mount Gerizim from Mount Ebal, with the village of Askar at the foot of the mountain in the distance

The Hill of Moreh from the south. In the foreground is the home of a farmer and his family - a one-room house that is built of clay

The Hill of Moreh from the south. In the foreground is the home of a farmer and his family – a one-room house that is built of clay

The New Calvary hill from the south. It is said that this was place of execution for criminals

The New Calvary hill from the south. It is said that this was place of execution for criminals

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Directly in front is the south eastern corner of the modern wall, which follows the course of the ancient wall

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Directly in front is the south eastern corner of the modern wall, which follows the course of the ancient wall

The village of Samaria from the minaret of the mosque, along the eastern slope of the Samaritan mountain 

The village of Samaria from the minaret of the mosque, along the eastern slope of the Samaritan mountain

On the north of Jerusalem, just outside the wall, is this hill called The New Calvary. This hill has been used as a Muslim burial-ground, and under the hill is a series of caves

On the north of Jerusalem, just outside the wall, is this hill called The New Calvary. This hill has been used as a Muslim burial-ground, and under the hill is a series of caves

Cedar trees in Lebanon. The demands of trade have left only a few groves of these trees remaining

Cedar trees in Lebanon. The demands of trade have left only a few groves of these trees remaining

A shepherd climbs the rocks on a hill which looks over the ancient town of Bethel from the south 

A shepherd climbs the rocks on a hill which looks over the ancient town of Bethel from the south

A Muslim school in Ramah, where a teacher, with a page of the Koran in his hand, reads to young pupils seated in a circle

A Muslim school in Ramah, where a teacher, with a page of the Koran in his hand, reads to young pupils seated in a circle

Directly west of Mount Hermon, and separated from it by a deep and wide ravine stands a mountain range which is known as Mount Lebanon range, pictured here.  These mountains run from 6000 to 8000 feet high, with two of the peaks a thousand feet higher

Directly west of Mount Hermon, and separated from it by a deep and wide ravine stands a mountain range which is known as Mount Lebanon range, pictured here.  These mountains run from 6000 to 8000 feet high, with two of the peaks a thousand feet higher

The largest of the three mountains on the east of the plain of Esdraelon, is Mount Gilboa, which is seen here from the summit of the Hill Moreh. In the middle is the village of Shunem 

The largest of the three mountains on the east of the plain of Esdraelon, is Mount Gilboa, which is seen here from the summit of the Hill Moreh. In the middle is the village of Shunem

Mount Hermon, as seen from one of the foothills on the north west. The view is in midsummer, when most of the snow on the summit has melted, swelling the little stream  in front 

Mount Hermon, as seen from one of the foothills on the north west. The view is in midsummer, when most of the snow on the summit has melted, swelling the little stream  in front

These two people, one on horseback, the other seated on a rock, are at the ruins of Bethsaida, looking towards the Mount of the Beatitudes 

These two people, one on horseback, the other seated on a rock, are at the ruins of Bethsaida, looking towards the Mount of the Beatitudes

Inside the Tomb in the Garden at New Calvary, where two Syrian girls from the English school are seated 

Inside the Tomb in the Garden at New Calvary, where two Syrian girls from the English school are seated

A view from Hill Moreh to the town of Nazareth in the distance, over the plains of Esdraelon 

A view from Hill Moreh to the town of Nazareth in the distance, over the plains of Esdraelon

Jordan Travel Guide

From the wonderful Dave and Deb at theplanetd.

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The magnificent Petra and The Blue Mosque of Amman, The Arabian Desert and Wadi Rum, the stomping grounds of Lawrence of Arabia himself, T.E. Lawrence. The mysterious Dead Sea and Red Sea Coast. These are just some of the images that spring to mind when envisioning the Kingdom of Jordan. In fact, Jordan has something for every type of traveller. From high adventures like taking a hot air balloon over Wadi Rum or sleeping in the Desert having a Real Bedouin Experience to visiting the Kings auto museum. Maybe you can try Smoking Sheesha for the First time or witness the Roman Ruins of Jerash and of course you can’t miss visiting the ancient ruins of Petra. Visiting Jordan is an unforgettable experience and a definite addition to anyone’s bucket list. This Jordan travel guide will help you plan your next vacation.

Fast Facts about Jordan Travel

  • Jordanian power voltage is 230 V 50 Hz; Power sockets B, C, D, F, G & J
  • The local currency is the Jordanian dinar (JOD) and is around 0.70 JOD to 1 USD
  • Stonefish have a habit of lying half-submerged in the sand, so wear something on your feet if you’re walking into the sea. If stung by a stonefish, see a doctor immediately. Aqaba has an excellent hospital where cuts, bites and stings can be treated. Most importantly, it has decompression chambers for the ‘bends’.
  • June and July may be months to avoid. Ramadan will mean that many shops and restaurants are closed; Eid will mean that hotels will be fully booked.
  • Most of the ecotourism projects operating in Jordan’s Dana, Wadi Mujib and Ajlun nature reserves only operate between April and October.
  • It is recommended that given the current political situation, travellers stay away from the Syrian and Iraqi borders.

Top Packing Tips

Jordan may be a small country but it has a range of different climates; on  the same January day you could be throwing snowballs in Ajloun or topping up your tan on the Red Sea beaches. The best time to visit climate-wise is in spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), when the daytime temperatures aren’t too extreme. Summer lasts from roughly June to September and temperatures in certain areas have been known to top 45°C while wintertime in some cities, like Amman, can experience chilly biting winds, showers and even snowfall. In short, the Jordan Valley and Gulf of Aqaba suffer the worst summer heat and humidity while the winters in the higher central and northern areas can be quite cold.

  • Dress conservatively. Jordan is a Muslim country, as a result women should be dressed conservatively (long pants, shirts with arms and shoulders covered) while men are recommended to keep their shoulders and legs covered. Many religious sites forbid shorts and sleeveless shirts for both sexes, so a light scarf is handy to wrap around the shoulders. Swimsuits are ok to wear at the beach or pool, but make sure to cover up before walking anywhere else.
  • Pack loose clothing with breathable fabric – cover up with fabric you know will breathe. Tunics are a great option as they can be dressed up or down, are light weight and offer good coverage. Linen layers are also a good option.
  • The protection basics – even if its cold and windy, doesn’t mean that you won’t get a sunburned, especially in places like Petra and/or Wadi Rum. Make sure to bring along sunscreen (SPF 30+), sunglasses and a hat.
  • Layer up – Bring a sweater or jacket for cold nights in the desert, and maybe even a scarf and gloves. This is particularly true for Petra as it can go from hot to cold in minutes depending on how much sun the area gets.
  • Footwear – Pack a pair of lightweight, durable and comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty! If you plan on heading over to Petra and Wadi Rum, make sure to pack a good pair of hiking boots.
  • Water bottle – Water is not potable in Jordan – do not drink or even brush your teeth with tap water. Consider taking a portable water bottle or a Steripen on your trip

Top Things to do in Jordan

Adventure

  • Explore the Lost City – Whether its during the day or the night, Petra wasn’t voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the world for nothing! It is definitely one of those places that really lives up to the hype.
  • Have a Lawrence of Arabia Moment in Wadi Rum – ride camels into the sunset in the Arabian Desert.
  • Go Canyoning – hike, swim, slide and abseil right down the centre of the Wadi Mujib gorge, which houses some of the most spectacular cliffs we’ve ever seen.
  • Float in the Dead Sea – The Dead Sea has a salt level of a whopping 33%. To give you an idea of the saline levels, the ocean has a salt concentration of only 3.8%. And that my friends is exactly why we humans have such an easy time floating in the Dead Sea.

Culture

  • Sleep in a Bedouin Camp – go back in time and camp under the stars: Captain’s Desert Camp is designed to replicate an authentic Bedouin camp.
  • See the Jewel of Petra – To us, the Monastery is the most impressive building of the entire complex. Reaching 50 metres into the air, it is also the largest in all of Petra.
  • Stay in Feynan Eco Lodge – Located in the Dana River Biosphere Reserve, it is a solar powered retreat offering peace and quiet while promoting conservation.

Sights

 

Read more at theplanetd

And For five-star luxury in Jordan, pamper yourself at Le Royal Amman, part of the Le Royal Hotels & Resorts division of the General Mediterranean Holding Group

An ‘Overview’ of Benjamin Grant’s Incredible Satellite Images of Earth

I featured this extraordinary project last year and have since had numerous comments and questions from fans of Benjamin Grant, asking when he will be releasing a book.  Well I’m delighted to announce that he just has: Overview is out now through Amphoto Books.  Thanks to CN Traveler for the feed – just awesome!   – Ned


Photos from space, from drones, from intrepid photographers hanging out of helicopters—in case you haven’t noticed, we love when we’re given a different perspective on the world we live in, zooming out to appreciate the shapes and colors we can’t quite grasp with two feet on the ground. Here, Benjamin Grant of the popular Daily Overview Instagram account shows a selection of the high-definition, stitched-together satellite photos included in his new coffee-table book.

Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant, Seville, Spain

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Photo by Microsoft Corp

The solar concentrator of the Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant contains 2,650 heliostat mirrors that focus the sun’s thermal energy to heat molten salt flowing through a 460-foot-tall central tower. The molten salt then moves from the tower to a storage tank, where it is used to produce steam and generate electricity. In total, the facility displaces approximately 30,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Tulips, Lisse, Netherlands

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Photo by Microsoft Corp

Every spring, tulip fields in Lisse begin to bloom and are at their peak by late April. The Dutch produce a total of 4.3 billion tulip bulbs each year, of which 53 percent is grown into cut flowers. Of these, 1.3 billion are sold in the Netherlands and the remainder is exported.

Moab, Utah

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Evaporation ponds are visible at the potash mine in Moab, Utah. The mine produces muriate of potash, a potassium-containing salt that is a major component in fertilizers. The salt is pumped to the surface from underground brines and dried in massive solar ponds that extend vibrantly across the landscape. The water is dyed a deep blue—darker water absorbs more sunlight and heat, so it cuts the amount of time it takes for the water to evaporate and the potash to crystallize.

Olives, Córdoba, Spain

Photo by Microsoft Corp

Olive tree groves cover the hills of Córdoba in the southern Andalusia region. Approximately 90 percent of all harvested olives are turned into oil; the remaining 10 percent are eaten as table olives. With rising temperatures and changing weather patterns, olive groves on high hills or slopes will probably suffer less, but groves on low altitude areas or plains may become totally unproductive.

Marabe Al Dhafra, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

The villas of Marabe Al Dhafra in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates are home to approximately 2,000 people. Located in one of the hottest regions of the world, the record high temperature here is 120.6 degrees Fahrenheit (49.2°C).

Delray Beach, Florida

Photo by Microsoft Corp

Because many cities in Florida contain master-planned communities, often built on top of waterways in the latter half of the 20th century, there are a number of intricate designs that are only visible from above.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Texas

Photo by Microsoft Corp

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, stretching across 27 square miles, is the tenth-busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic, accommodating more than 64 million travelers each year.

Port of Singapore

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Cargo ships and tankers—some weighing over 300,000 tons—wait outside the entry to the Port of Singapore. The facility is the world’s second-busiest port in terms of total tonnage, shipping a fifth of the world’s cargo containers and half of the world’s annual supply of crude oil.

Jacksonville Interchange, Florida

Photo by Microsoft Corp

A so-called “turbine interchange” connects two highways in Jacksonville, Florida, consisting of left-turning ramps sweeping around a center interchange, creating a spiral pattern of traffic.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Angkor Wat, the famed temple complex in Cambodia, is the largest religious monument in the world (first it was Hindu, then Buddhist). Constructed in the 12th century, the 8.8 million-square-foot site features a moat and forest that surround a massive temple at its center.

Gribbens Basin, Michigan

Photo by Microsoft Corp

The tailings—waste and by-products generated by mining operations—seen here were pumped into the Gribbens Basin, next to the Empire and Tilden iron ore mines in Negaunee, Michigan. Once the materials are pumped into the pond, they are mixed with water to create a sloppy form of mud known as slurry. The slurry is then pumped through magnetic separation chambers to extract usable ore and increase the mine’s total output. For a sense of scale, this photo shows approximately 1 square mile of the basin.

Nishinoshima, Japan

Courtesy Benjamin Grant

Nishinoshima is a volcanic island 584 miles south of Tokyo. Back in November 2013, the volcano began to erupt and continued to do so until August 2015. Over the course of the eruption, the area of the island grew in size from 0.02 to 0.89 square miles.

The Empty Quarter, Saudi Arabia

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Rub’ al Khali, or the Empty Quarter, is one of the largest sand deserts in the world. It covers 251,000 square miles, and includes parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. In the center of the desert there are a number of raised, hardened formations that were once the sites of shallow lakes, thousands of years ago. For a sense of scale, this photo shows approximately 135 square miles in Saudi Arabia, near the border with Oman.

Shadegan Lagoon, Iran

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Dendritic drainage systems are seen around the Shadegan Lagoon by Musa Bay in Iran. The word ‘dendritic’ refers to the pools’ resemblance to the branches of a tree, and this pattern develops when streams move across relatively flat and uniform rocks, or over a surface that resists erosion.

 

 

 

 

 

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 Moroccan Scam that wasn’t

“Even with all the trouble in the world, sometimes a friendly invitation is simply an invitation, and a humble robe can be a treasure.”

Bill Fink from BBC Travel recently travelled to Morocco and encountered a couple of dodgy-looking blokes on a train.  Here’s his fascinating but heartwarming tale with a twist…


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A Moroccan woman’s hands are decorated with henna (Credit: Simon Russell/Alamy)

Two men on the train invited me to their sister’s wedding, but they didn’t look at all like brothers.

Tall, fair-skinned Achmed and short, swarthy, moustachioed Mustafa entered my cabin midway between Marrakech and Fez. “A thousand welcomes to Morocco,” they said, putting their hands over their hearts.

I gave them a noncommittal nod, wary of yet another scam, having spent most of my time in Marrakech fleeing from touts, tour guides and con artists. Lacking contacts, a guidebook or much cash, I was essentially a refugee in this land, dependent on the good will of people I didn’t know.

The duo asked why I was visiting Morocco. I was too embarrassed to say it was actually just a cheap side trip from my stay in Spain. I didn’t want to admit I chose Marrakech because of a Crosby, Stills & Nash song and that I was travelling to Fez because of the funny hats.

So I made up a story with the old clichés, telling them I had always wanted to visit the land of the Arabian Nights, snake charmers and exotic desert adventures.

They laughed.

Looking over Fez

Looking over Fez (Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty)

“Well, perhaps those tales have some truths. But if you want to see the real Morocco, you must come to our sister’s wedding tonight,” Achmed said.

“Really?” I said, slowly looking them up and down. “I’m supposed to believe you two are actually brothers?”

“We have different mothers. Our father has three wives, you see. And 15 children! What do you think about that?”

“Your father must be a very energetic man.”

“Oh yes! He once played for our national football team. But nowadays, we usually only take one wife here in Morocco. It is too expensive to support all those women.”

“Plus it’s less trouble with one – you don’t have to worry about the other wives ganging up on you.”  They laughed.

“You will see all this and so much more at the wedding.”

You will come, yes?”

They both looked at me intently, awaiting my reply. The rhythmic “ca-chunk, ca-chunk” of the train filled an awkward moment of silence.

I tried to find a face-saving excuse.

“But I’m just backpacking here,” I said, gesturing to my dirty bag on the luggage rack. “I don’t have anything to wear to a wedding.”

They smiled at each other. Achmed said, “Oh, not to worry at all!  Of course, we will help you buy a genuine Morocco djellaba robe at the market!”

The author and the brothers

The author and the brothers (Credit: Bill Fink)

Mustafa then asked me if I had a hotel already. “No? Of course we will find you a good hotel in Fez, very safe, very clean and very, very good price!”

Ok, I thought, this was the old “help for a commission” scam. They’d lead me to a hotel and market and get a cut of my purchases. Still doubting the wedding story, I shrugged and agreed, figuring it would be a small price to pay for temporary guides.

But when we arrived at Fez, Achmed grabbed me just before we exited the rail station. “I will say goodbye for a moment. You will meet me at the end of the block, by the cafe, in a few minutes. It wouldn’t look good if we walked out of the station together.”

“What, why not?”

“People in Fez are funny. Don’t worry. No problem.”

Confused, I walked to the end of the block by the cafe and waited. A few minutes later, Achmed emerged, leading me to a dingy nearby hotel where he negotiated a rate and had me store my backpack.

We then went me to Fez’s Old Town market, where shouting merchants stood behind stone counters covered with kaleidoscopic arrays of shimmering cloth. He asked me to choose my favourite robe and secretly signal it to him so he could haggle for the best price.

Walking through the medina in Fez, Morocco

Walking through the Medina in Fez, Morocco (Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty)

I selected a long white robe with an embroidered collar and a silvery hue, with a pocket on one side and a slit cut in the other. The shop owner declared that such a fine robe could not be sold for less than the absolute final and rock bottom price of 550 dirham – double the price of my hotel room.

“Achmed,” I said, “I can’t pay that much for a robe I’m only going to wear once.”

“No, no, this is a fine robe, you have excellent taste. It will be very comfortable. And useful. You can wear it around your house, in your garden, anywhere. Cool in summer, warm in winter. How much can you pay?”

“I only have about 350 dirham to spare.” [about £32]

Achmed returned to say he was able to purchase the robe for 340 dirham, with 10 left over for a rope belt. “And to get that price, I tell you it was like pulling teeth.” He made vigorous yanking motions with his hand.

After leading me back to my hotel, Achmed promised to return in an hour to drive me to the wedding. I figured now that they had collected their commissions, it would be the last I’d see of the so-called brothers.

Robe in a plastic bag at my side, I sat outside at a nearby cafe. The smell of grilled lamb wafted through the air, the smoke rising to meet the call to prayer from the tower of a nearby mosque. Well-dressed Moroccan men, alone or in pairs, filled the cafe tables, sipping tea and sodas, smoking cigarettes. Not one of them was wearing a robe.

The man sitting at the table next to mine leaned over to say, “A thousand welcomes to Morocco,” with his hand over his heart.

“A thousand thank yous,” I answered, not knowing the proper response.

“So did you meet some men on the train?”

“What? How did you know that?”

“I saw you with them at the train station. Did they bring you to a hotel? Ask you to buy things?”

“Um, yes.”

“Be very careful,” he said, then stood and walked away, inclining his head and tapping his heart again as a farewell.

My worry increased. I knew little about my current location and two men had promised to drive me somewhere completely unknown. And a stranger had just warned me about them.

A man wearing a traditional djellaba walks down the street in Fez

A man wearing a traditional djellaba walks down the street in Fez (Credit: Nadia Isakova/Alamy)

As I picked over a pastry and sipped a cup of mint tea, a beat-up Honda pulled to the curb. Mustafa smiled and nodded from the driver’s seat. Achmed jumped out of the passenger side and opened the back door. “Hurry, it is time to go!”

“So soon? But where are your robes?”

Achmed laughed, “Oh, we have them in the trunk. We change at the wedding. Get in, we go now.” A car honked behind them.

I wondered what I should do. This could very well be a kidnapping, a robbery or worse. In my moment of internal debate, the deciding factor was my robe. The purchase of traditional formalwear seemed like a totally unnecessary step in an abduction. So I grabbed what had now become my Moroccan security blanket and hopped into the car.

Instead of a short ride to a hotel or convention hall for the wedding, we drove out of town and into the darkness of the desert.

“So where, exactly, are we going?” I asked.

“To the wedding, of course,” was all Achmed would say.

The car jostled along a bumpy road into the countryside. In the front seat, the brothers chatted in Arabic while local music played on the stereo. I began to panic. Should I open the door and dive outside on the road? Where would I run to?

We drove for nearly an hour, finally pulling into a small desert village. The car wobbled along gravel streets; half of its low-slung concrete apartment buildings demolished, the other half under construction, as though recovering from some recent war. My visions of the Arabian Nights were replaced by replays of CNN clips of Al Qaeda hideouts. Was my robe to wear for my beheading video?

I exited the car and stood on an empty street with the two “brothers” behind me.  They motioned for me to put on the robe and enter the darkened building in front of us. A few men milled about in the shadows in the alley; one was viciously kicking a mule. Mustafa saw my concern and asked me what I thought.

“Being a mule is a bad job in Morocco,” I replied.

He laughed and nodded.

Feeling beyond the point of no return, I pulled the robe over my head and walked to the door. I half expected to open it and see dark, bearded men squatting around a fire, maybe armed with rifles, gazing with fierce blazing eyes and lurid smiles toward their victim dressed for slaughter.

A Berber woman attends a group wedding ceremony in Morocco's high Atlas Mountains

A Berber woman attends a group wedding ceremony in Morocco’s high Atlas Mountains (Credit: Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty)

Instead, I entered a bright, modern room crowded with a dozen sharply dressed Moroccan men in khakis and sport coats, daintily holding cups of tea. They howled with laughter at my outfit. A young girl peeked out of the kitchen and giggled. I stood stunned in the doorway, my bright red blushing face contrasting with my fresh-out-of-the-bag white robe.A peppy older man with ramrod straight posture marched into the party, wearing a similar robe to mine. He smiled, eyes bright with mirth as he cross­ed the room to take me by the shoulder. He patted his heart and spoke to me in Arabic.

Mustafa translated: “My father says, ‘A thousand welcomes’. He is honoured that you have travelled so far to join us for this special occasion. And he says he really likes your djellaba.“

Relatives began plying me with orange sodas and an assortment of home-cooked sweets. Achmed and Mustafa led me upstairs to the pre-wedding feast on a rooftop patio, where I joined a group of men and boys sitting on the floor around a giant platter. Together we broke bread and dipped it into sauces tinged with mint, saffron and honeyed yoghurt, along with some garlicky, creamy tahini. We grabbed hunks of grilled lamb on the bone, and washed it all down with sugary mint tea as we looked out over the moonlit Moroccan countryside. I felt like I had arrived in an Arabian Nights tale, and the night was only beginning.

Dancing the night away

Dancing the night away (Credit: Bill Fink)

After dinner we gathered outside the building for the wedding procession. Drummers warmed their animal-skin drums over small fires to tighten the tops. Trumpeters carrying the traditional brass nefar horns tuned up with a flurry of toots. The bride in a shimmering white gown and jewelled tiara mounted a precarious white throne atop the long-suffering mule, while the groom leapt on another. In a cacophony of clapping, drumming, honking and ululating, this group of about 50 colourfully dressed men, women and children (and one white-robed foreigner) began a midnight march through town. Villagers emerged from their homes, rubbing sleep from their eyes to smile and clap along with the celebration.

Our procession concluded in front of another nondescript cement apartment building, where the wedding party climbed to a rooftop covered in rugs, tables full of yet more treats and an endless supply of orange soda, all illuminated with strings of bare light bulbs hanging from wires. A slick-suited Moroccan band, complete with electric guitars and keyboards, burst forth with music. The brothers pulled me out to the gender-segregated dance floor for a few songs.

The bridal procession

The bridal procession (Credit: Bill Fink)

Befitting this mixed Arab-Berber wedding, the band left to be replaced by a traditional Berber horns-and-strings ensemble, while the bride and groom re-emerged to the roof with a new set of Berber wedding clothes, the groom dressed in a desert nomad’s robes, the bride in a billowing white dress bedecked with swaths of dangling multi-coloured jewellery. Fuelled by sugar and tea, I clapped, sang and danced along with the extended family as the band and costume changes continued until sunrise.

When the party ended, I dozed in the car as the brothers drove me back to town, trusting they would get me wherever I needed to be. Still wearing my robe, I slept past noon in the comfortable hotel, the only effects from my abduction being a sugar hangover and a newfound appreciation that even with all the trouble in the world, sometimes a friendly invitation is simply an invitation, and a humble robe can be a treasure.

 

The Adrenaline Sports Capital of the Middle East

Lebanon’s capital Beirut is the land of snow and ice, with its surrounding mountains hosting a nascent sports industry.

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If the legendary British army officer and adventurer Lawrence of Arabia had been born in the 1990s instead of the 1880s, he might have made his way across the Middle East on a snowboard rather than on the back of a camel.

In the depths of winter, the area surrounding Beirut is home to a spine of glistening white mountains that stretches from the north of Lebanon to the south, sheltering the capital from the Syrian border, just 40km away. The word Lebanon comes from lebnana, meaning white in Aramaic, and the highest peaks of the Lebanon Mountains have powdery tops all year round.

Beirut’s proximity to the mountains has given rise to a nascent winter and summer sports industry, where people are willing to climb, hurtle down and throw themselves off the area’s many summits and peaks. Combine this with the region’s most liberal locals and a love of the outdoors not found anywhere else in the Middle East, and it is no surprise to learn that Mzaar, the mountain valley 50km northeast of Beirut, is the up-and-coming adrenaline sports capital of the region.

Excellent skiing and snowboarding can be found here, and with 19 ski lifts – including several four-seater chairlifts and a new express chair that opened in December 2012 – Mzaar easily rivals many Alpine resorts in terms of scope and spectacle. It has a four month-long season from January to April, shorter lift queues than many other international ski resorts and, thanks to an increasing number of budget airlines such as FlyDubai and Air Arabia, Beirut is now a viable option for a weekend trip from Europe or the Gulf States.

There are 42 slopes and 80km of piste spread across three distinct valleys – named Wardeh, Jonction and Le Refuge – plus a number of ski schools and a wide variety of options for snowboarding, snow-shoeing, ski-touring, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. With so much activity on the slopes, it is near impossible to imagine that from 1982 to 1990, Mzaar village was pillaged and the nearby hills were often occupied by militia and Hezbollah soldiers during the nation’s civil war.

Get your bearings at the top of Mzaar mountain, the resort’s highest point at 2,465m. From here you can peer down into the historic Bekaa Valley, famous for the ancient Roman ruins of Baalbek and more than a dozen wineries; or look across to the small Lebanese ski resort of Zaarour as well as Mount Hermon, the highest point in Syria at 2,814m. On a clear day, Beirut’s glistening shoreline and its satellite beachfront towns of Jouneih and Byblos feel tantalisingly close.

If you feel brave enough, you can ski down Mzaar’s treeless, rolling slopes in the morning and swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon. To get the most out of the wilderness, local ski fanatic Ronald Sayegh can organise all manner of excursions through Skileb.com.

For something more extreme, follow the crest of the ridge from the top of the Mzaar Peak chairlift– a short hike past an old stone church and the remains of the Roman temple – to the ski area’s most tricky off-piste descents, including the Grande Coulée, a narrow ribbon of near-vertical piste that should only be tackled by those with a serious head for heights. The descent finishes at the seasonally barren  lemon orchards and olive groves on the lower reaches of Mount Sannine.

Looking for even more of an adrenaline buzz? Hop upon a snowmobile, rev its engine, and, with a twist of your wrist, rocket out onto the empty snow fields beyond the ski slopes; the snowmobiles can hit 80kph if you are wild enough. On a 30-minute trip from Mzaar’s Wardeh base station, you will find yourself surrounded by more than 40 glistening peaks without another soul in sight.

In summer, hiking, paragliding, hang-gliding, quad biking and mountain biking take over, and the resort becomes a welcome escape from the humidity of the Lebanese coast; take a chairlift up 2,296m-high Jabal Dib or 2,347m Wardeh mountain and find your way back down by foot, parachute or bike. As the extreme sports industry is in its early days, you will need to bring all your own equipment or hire it in advance from Beirut.

If you have plenty of time on your hands, the recently formed 440km Lebanon Mountain Trail, the Middle East’s most far-reaching long distance mountain trekking route, also passes Mzaar’s front door. Extending from the village of Al-Qbaiyat in the north of the country to the village of Marjaayoun in the south, it passes around 75 small settlements and is peppered with Roman ruins and temples that few are intrepid enough to see.

Mzaar itself centres on the Intercontinental Mzaar Mountain Resort and Spa, styled on a traditional Swiss wooden chalet, with its own cinema, bowling alley, spa, three restaurants and an expansive outdoor terrace. Clubbers and partygoers regularly make the switch from the downtown clubs of Beirut to check out the nightlife at altitude and eat copious amounts of mountain fondue, washed down with the local Almaza beer and arak. On the hotel’s outside terrace or at the highly recommended Frost pub in the centre of Mzaar village, DJs spin records and après skiers eat fresh mezze and share fruit-scented sheeshas and hookah pipes. You don’t get that in Austria or Switzerland, do you?

 

Source: BBC Travel

 

Ned’s tip: for five star luxury stay in the awesome Le Royal – Beirut

Dubai’s latest wacky project: a rainforest inside a hotel

Dubai. A place where you can ski in the morning, shop in the world’s biggest mall in the afternoon, and, from 2018, explore a tropical rainforest in the evening.https://i1.wp.com/icdn2.digitaltrends.com/image/rainforest-1-640x427-c.jpg

It’s true, the city that’s also home to the world’s tallest building and a bunch of extraordinary floating villas will soon become the first place on the planet to feature a hotel with its own rainforest.

Rosemont Hotel, Dubai

Rosemont Hotel, Dubai – Zas Architects

The small matter of Dubai’s location in a baking hot desert clearly hasn’t deterred Zas Architects in its quest to build the tropical oasis. In fact, it probably spurred them on. This is Dubai, after all.

Along with the requisite trees and plants, the Rosemont Hotel & Residences’ 75,000-square-foot rainforest will also include a beach, splash pool, stream, and adventure trails, though there’s no word on whether it’ll be populated with lots of exotic critters and creatures to scare the bejeezus out of unsuspecting visitors.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the luxury 448-room hotel will also feature a swimming pool 25 stories up – an overhanging swimming pool with a glass bottom offering a view 25 stories down.

But more on that rainforest.

Preetam Panwar of Zas Architects told Gulf News the man-made jungle will feature a 360-degree experience at the start called the Rain Room that “simulates the sensation of being surrounded by rainfall without actually getting wet.”

Panwar explained: “You’ll see rain but as you walk through it you won’t get wet because it has sensors on top and it stops water flowing in a two-meter radius around the person walking in the room.”

Sounds intriguing, though doubting types will still probably take an umbrella along.

dubai rainforest hotel

Source: Trevor Mogg at Digital Trends

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.

 

 

The Cosmopolitan Crossroads of the Middle East

Paris has the Champs Elysees, London has Oxford Street and New York has Fifth Avenue. But while life in Amman may not be as fast-paced as the world’s major metropolises, the Jordanian capital has Rainbow Street, one of the most colourful and multi-ethnic streets in the Middle East.

Mike MacEacheran from BBC Travel explores the Jordanian capital.


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Multi-ethnic Rainbow Street in Amman, Jordan mixes European cool with Arab pride to be a focal point for some of the most cutting edge trends and cultural initiatives in the region.

While Middle Eastern cities often replicate European and North American trends, Rainbow Street is a world away from the new-money glamour and in-your-face glitz of Beirut or Dubai. Not only is it the spearhead of the city and country, the street is becoming a focal point for some of the most cutting edge trends and cultural initiatives in the region.

Located in the cosmopolitan hilltop hub of Jabal Amman, the mile-long cobbled strip of real estate is where you will find the most exciting coffee shops, book stores, boutiques and late night bars. The side streets that fan out from it are home to a number of cultural and environmental agencies, including the Royal Film Commission and Wild Jordan — and in this blossoming street network you get a sense of a new creative national identity sprouting up. It is where urban European cool mixes with a renewed sense of Arab pride, due in part to Jordan’s largely absent role from the Spring Revolutions that engulfed its neighbours Egypt and Syria.

Start at the First Circle roundabout, a hub of taxis and fast food joints, from where Rainbow Street tumbles down the hill towards downtown Amman and the historic Roman Forum. You will know you are in the right place when you see an outpost of the garish Buffalo Wings and Rings restaurant. Though Amman has absorbed plenty of influences from its large US-educated population, this American fast food chain is the antithesis to the street’s other locally-owned shops – set up by Palestinians, Lebanese and Jordanians.

If you dream of starting everyday with the finest Italian coffee, then continue past the Saudi Arabian Embassy for a couple of minutes to Café Strada, just off Rainbow Street on Mohammad Rashid Ridha Street. One of the newer start-ups in the city, its Jordanian owners are proud of their former life in Italy and coffee-making credentials (they get their roasted beans from outside Bologna). If tea is your preferred choice, then make the short walk to the Turtle Green Tea Café, across the road from the historic Rainbow Cinema; its iced jasmine tea is the perfect morning thirst-quencher. For something more local, try a cup of Southern Sweet, a zesty concoction that mixes black tea with lemon and home grown mint.

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Thanks to its hilltop location, Rainbow Street is spoilt with panoramic views across the city, glimpsed from between the neighbourhood’s 1920s houses. Past the Turtle Green Tea Café and a short walk from the graffiti-covered walls of the British Council building is the best of these. The small, tiered, picnic-perfect Viewpoint Park has jaw-dropping views of the ancient Roman citadel, located on the opposite side of the city atop Jabal Al-Qala’a, a historic fort that could not be further removed from Rainbow Street’s modernity. Budding photographers should visit in the late afternoon to make the most of the red sunsets that coat the downtown rooftops in a rosy glow.

Come Friday during summer, this stretch of Rainbow Street is also the focal point for the Souk Jara market. Like a mini-carnival, it is a popular place for local artists and craftsmen to sell the latest paintings, wood carvings and jewellery from their makeshift stalls. You are advised to come hungry as there are plenty of homemade snacks to choose from.

https://trekommendation.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/37ef9-img_0366.jpg?w=876&h=657While Jordanian cuisine is being rediscovered by Generation Y – spearheaded by new start-ups like Jordanian cookery school Beit Sitti – falafel is still king on Rainbow Street, mostly thanks to Falafel Al Quds which has been serving crisp-fresh fried chickpea sandwiches and wraps since 1966. Do not be put off by the queues outside of the tiny takeaway joint, hidden behind vintage wooden décor – it is definitely worth the wait and Al Quds falafels are widely-regarded as being the best in the country.

Further along the street, you will pass more coffee and cake shops – of particular note is Café des Artistes, with fantastic Californian-style cheesecakes and local artwork — before you come to Sufra, a unique Jordanian eatery. One of King Abdullah and Queen Rania’s favourites, Sufra is a new concept that brings classic Jordanian dishes like mansaf (lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt) to the fore. The royal seal of approval means that it pays to book in advance for one of its terrace tables – you may find yourself competing for elbow space with some of the Jordanian royal family.

But it’s not just during the day when Rainbow Street impresses itself upon you. Cantaloupe is the country’s first gastropub; Amigos bar (Al-Imama Malek Street; +962-6-463-3001)has pool tables and the city’s best happy hour; and La Calle (Rainbow Street; +962-461-7-216) is an Italian restaurant with wraparound windows that ensure diners and drinkers linger for hours to people watch. All of these are populated by an easy-going mix of Jordanian, Lebanese, Egyptian and Palestinian twenty-something’s looking for a good time.

Before checking out the street’s most popular nightspots, however, pop into art gallery Jacaranda Images. While owner Barbara Rowell hails from down under, you are likely to unearth photographic prints or paintings from local up-and-coming artists like Tariq Dajani and Mike V Derderian.

Next door is Books@Cafe, a two-storey house with a vast bookshop-cum-late-night-bar. It regularly hosts events and concerts and has a vast terrace that overlooks the white-washed rooftops of downtown. Ask any long-term Amman resident and they will tell you that you have not really been to Rainbow Street unless you have sat under a star-filled, inky-black sky at Books@Cafe and shared a fruit-flavoured hookah or drank an ice-cold beer.

 

 

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)

Eat your way around the world in Beirut

If you’re looking for the real East-meets-West so talked about in the Middle East, you need look no further than Beirut. Fast-paced, fashion-conscious and overwhelmingly friendly, it’s not a relaxing city to spend time in – it’s too crowded, polluted and chaotic for that – but its magnificent array of museums, restaurants, bars and clubs make it an essential stop on every Lebanese itinerary. In fact, the country is so small, and day trips to every city and major site so easy, that most travellers tend to base themselves here for their entire visit.

And is there anything more distinctly Lebanese than a greasy late-night kebab? Perhaps not. But while Beirut may have built its culinary reputation on a lamb grill or falafel wrap, the city’s restaurant critics are nowadays more likely to extol the virtues of Chinese dim sum or Californian sushi. The cafe owners and restaurateurs that fled for Europe and the Gulf states during the decade-long, 1980s civil war have returned in droves, bringing tastes and flavours from around the world. Nowadays, the city’s motto is make lunch, not war.

Lonely Planet‘s Mike MacEacheran explores the city’s culinary offerings…

Beirut city

Photo: le Royal Hotels & Resorts

Walk in any direction, from an early breakfast to a late Lebanese dinner, and it is hard not to be wowed by the city’s epicurean charms. Take the temperature of the city’s eat-fast, party-hard attitude at Momo at the Souks, the latest venture from celebrated Algerian restaurateur Mourad Mazouz, who already made his mark in London, Paris and Dubai with his hip mix of North African cuisine and New York-style cocktails. Part of the gargantuan Beirut Souks, a multi-brand shopping complex in downtown Beirut, Momo has to be seen to be believed — its exotic Yves Saint Laurent-inspired fine-dining room is a mash up of surreal mirrors, antique furniture and one-off Cubist couches. Do not miss the Moroccan pastille (meat pie) with wood pigeon, washed down with a house-signature vodka mojito. In the same complex, check out La Cave de Joël Robuchon a wine cellar from the world-renowned French chef and Michelin star restaurateur.

Nearby is Le Gray Hotel, owned by Scottish hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray. More famous for hosting five-star soirees at his luxury escape Carlisle Bay in Antigua, he surprised everyone by opening his second hotel in downtown Beirut. The art gallery-styled lobby is the entry point for a number of restaurants and bars, including Indigo on the Roof, a 360-degree panorama restaurant that has some of the best-trained bartenders in Lebanon. What is really getting Beirutis excited though is the arrival of high-end Japanese eaterie Zuma. With outlets already in Miami, Hong Kong and Istanbul, it is expected to open in Beirut at the end of the year.

It is not all fine dining though. The city’s food and drink scene can be low-key, and in certain parts of the Gemmayze and Hamra neighbourhoods, it literally spills onto the streets. In Hamra, the Alleyway is the latest in-the-know backstreet, with a number of new bars are popping up. Check out Big Shot (The Alleyway; 961-01-34-2140), the country’s first dedicated R&B and hip-hop bar, and February 30 (The Alleyway; 961-01-73-6683), a topsy-turvy bar with tables and chairs on the ceiling, upside down street lamps and bar stools made from mannequin legs. Its off-kilter decor would be the perfect backdrop for Lewis Carroll and Salvador Dalí to share a beer against, most likely one chosen from Beirut’s in vogue micro-brewery 961, the only one thus far in the Middle East.

Students at the nearby American University of Beirut are also embracing the latest craze for New York-style hot dogs, with dozens of all-night mobile stands are dotted across the city. The best of these is Charlie’s in Gemmayze, serving up various toppings like sweetcorn, fried eggs, crunchy onions and pickles. If you are tempted to stay out later, the big open-air nightclubs White, Sky-Bar and BO-18 will make you feel like you are in Ibiza, Spain.

Of course, this all sits alongside what made Beirut great in the first place – classic mezze restaurants, like La Tabkha and Mayrig, and the Lebanese’s love of having a good time, made famous in the 1950s and 1960s by regular visits from Brigitte Bardot and Marlon Brando. This is evident in the Achrafieh district in east Beirut, where Al Falamanki’s (Damascus Street; 961-132-3456) leafy sheesha garden has drawn in a mixed Lebanese and ex-pat crowd for its mezze for decades. From here, it is only a five-minute taxi ride to the achingly hip suburb of Gemmazyeh, once a focal point for the civil war troubles. The area is now jammed with cafes and bars. Alcazar (Saint Nicholas Stairs; 961-144-8141), a three floor meat and seafood mezze specialist, is still scarred with bullet holes.

While Beirut’s culinary scene has great diversity, there is something equally satisfying about not having to choose. So for something with a local yet modern twist, visit Beirut’s take on the seasonal food movement, Tawlet Souk el Tayeb. Set up by Kamal Mouzawak, the man behind the city’s first farmer’s market, Tawlet is an open kitchen, where every day a different Lebanese cook prepares a seasonal dish from their hometown. Its menu changes daily, but popular choices include kibbeh nayeh, the Lebanese speciality of spiced, finely ground meat, and there are salads aplenty. It is bringing local Lebanese cuisine back to the table, without a greasy kebab in sight.

 

For five-star luxury accommodation pamper yourself at Le Royal – Beirut: http://www.leroyal.com/giftcard/beirut/thecomplex.asp

 

Secret Amman

As Middle Eastern cities go, Amman is a relative youth, and though it lacks the storied history and thrilling architectural tapestry of other regional capitals, there’s plenty here to encourage you to linger awhile before making for Petra, the Dead Sea or Wadi Rum. In fact, Amman is one of the easiest cities in which to enjoy the Middle East experience.

The city has two distinct parts: urbane Western Amman, with leafy residential districts, cafes, bars, modern malls and art galleries; and earthy Eastern Amman, where it’s easier to sense the more traditional and conservative pulse of the capital.

At the heart of the city is the chaotic, labyrinthine ‘downtown’, an Amman must-see. At the bottom of the city’s many hills, and overlooked by the magisterial Citadel, it features spectacular Roman ruins, an international-standard museum and the hubbub of mosques, souks and coffee-houses that are central to Jordanian life.

Lonely Planet writer Mike MacEacheran tells us a bit more about this fascinating Middle Eastern city…


Much of the time, visitors to Jordan follow in the footsteps of Indiana Jones — rushing straight to the Treasury and Monastery tombs that bookend the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. But in doing this, they are overlooking some of the best that this country has to offer. Jordan, and its laidback capital Amman, hide a treasure trove of unmissable, authentic Arabian experiences. And the best of all, you will have most of this to yourself.

The Siq and Treasury lit up with candles for an evening of Bedouin song and storytelling. Photo by Mark Read

Through no fault of its own, Amman has become the forgotten city of the Middle East. It is also the most underrated. The streets have ancient monuments and dusty history to rival Cairo, without the grinding traffic or pollution. Its suburbs have a vibrant restaurant and cultural scene to match neighbouring Beirut, but locals have kept it to themselves.

To see the city at its best, start your day early at the Jabal al Qal’a, or Amman Citadel. In the morning sun, it is the perfect vantage point from which to get your bearings. The seven main hills of Amman spread out below like a rumpled carpet, each mound helping to define a different neighbourhood within the city. Under your feet, meanwhile, lie more than 7000 years of history, and the crumbling pillars, arches and staircases of the Citadel are testament to Amman’s claim as one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities.

Do not miss the Roman-era Temple of Hercules, a honeycomb-coloured jumble of columns and beams, and the hilltop’s Umayyad Palace, believed to date back as far as the 8th Century. Before you leave, take a peek into the hill’s onsite museum – even some locals do not know that it has priceless Dead Sea Scrolls in its collection.

Honking horns from the baying taxi drivers outside will bring you back to modern day Amman before you can say la shokran elak (no, thank you). Resist the urge to be ferried across the city (save the Royal Automobile Museum for another day), and head to one of Amman’s best-kept secrets, the Darat al Funun gallery, on the nearby hilltop Jabal al Weibdeh. A champion of the local arts scene, the gallery is located in a series of three 1920s whitewashed mansions that can be hard to find up a series of crooked steps —  but it is worth the effort. Darat al Funun regularly hosts artists in residence and impromptu concerts and is a great place to dig deeper into the soul of the city. On the way, you will pass one of Amman’s strangest claims to fame: that it is home to one of the tallest flagpoles in the world.

Up the steps outside the gallery and across a few side streets is Paris Circle, one of the city’s most talked about suburbs and home to the coolest fashion store in the city, Jo Bedu. Its Arabic-inspired retro t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts play on a number of Arabic phrases and in-jokes, making for a perfect streetwise souvenir. Favourites include Wadi Rum and Coke and tongue-in-cheek twists on the Facebook and Twitter logos.

Le Royal Hotels & Resorts, Le Royal Amman, Nadhmi Auchi, GMH,

Jordan at twilight. Photo: Le Royal Hotels & Resorts

From here, retrace your steps back down the steep side-streets to the hustle and bustle of downtown, also known as Jabal Amman. Here, the clichés of Arabian Nights spring to life, in the muezzin call to prayer and the smell of spices and flavoured tobacco smoke wafting from the surrounding souk and shisha cafes. Make sure to stop by Hashem, the finest falafel cafe in the country bar none (it has a picture of King Hussein dining here on its wall, if you need any further recommendation) and Habibah, a hole-in-the-wall baker selling Palestinian knafeh, a syrupy vermicelli-like pastry that locals swear by. There is a lack of street signs, so they can be hard to find – just follow your nose.

Nearby, the city’s ancient Roman forum and amphitheatre – the largest in the country – rises above the surrounding buildings. A tiered structure squashed at the end of a busy traffic junction, the amphitheatre is built into the side of a hill and once had room for 6000 spectators. For a handful of pocket change, you can climb to the top of the parapet for God-like views over the rest of the Roman ruins.

No trip to Amman would be complete without a walk down Rainbow Street, a kilometre-long stretch of rag-bag antique shops, art galleries, coffeehouses and low-key bars in upper Jabal Amman, a five-minute trip away by taxi from downtown. It is home to the city’s most happening creative community — do not miss Café Des Artistes, Books@Cafe, Wild Jordan or Jacaranda Images to get a real sense of where Jordan is heading. Located in an old townhouse halfway down the street, Sufra is another favourite of King Hussein and Queen Rania, and even though it has only been open for six months, it is already regarded as the best Jordanian restaurant in the country.

Should you want to get a glimpse into the story behind some of these cherished Jordanian dishes – like muskhan (chicken with pine nuts) or mansaf (lamb, yoghurt and rice) – pop into Beit Sitti on Jabal Weibdeh, a Jordanian run cooking school where you can eat and cook to your heart’s content with no one else around. Be quick, before the word really starts to spread.

 

For five-star luxury accommodation pamper yourself at Le Royal – Amman: http://www.leroyal.com/giftcard/amman/destination.asp

 

 

 

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/

24 Amazing Places to Visit in Israel, Jordan and Palestine

This is a recent post by Adam on one of his favourite areas to travel.


One of my favorite parts of the world is also one of the most complicated. The tiny stretch of land on the western edge of the Mediterranean Sea, stretching down to the Red Sea and across the Jordan Valley, this little part of the Middle East is all at once both fascinating and beautiful. And also quite contentious and confusing. It’s a place of history and mystery. Without going into the issue of geo-politics, this part of the world has so many big and small wonders, it’s no surprise there are so many people wanting to claim a piece of it. We’ve read about these places in our Bibles, Torahs and Qur’ans, but seeing them first-hand, experiencing the diversity of local cultures and meeting the people here—there’s really nowhere like it.

I first fell for the region in 2010 on a backpacking trip that took me through Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank of Palestine. And I’ve been returning annually ever since. There’s always been more to explore. Here I list some of the favorite places I’ve actually visited.

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Rosh Hanikra

In northern Israel on the border with Lebanon, Rosh Hanikra is a strange and surreal spot along the Mediterranean coastline. The sea splashing against the white chalk cliffs have formed a series of grottos, or caves, and tunnels. In earlier times when there was a train route from Cairo to Istanbul, the railroad ran alongside the caves here. It’s a picturesque spot and one of the unusual geologic sights in Israel.

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Sea of Galilee

Also called Lake Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee is the second lowest lake on the planet second only to the Dead Sea, just 100 kilometers south. Its famous for its place in Christian history, most notably as the site referenced in the New Testament where Jesus walked on water. Today, the lakeside town of Tiberias and the small towns alongside the coast make for some nice sightseeing—from visiting ostrich farms and kibbutzim to other religious holy sites.

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Fauzi Azar Inn

The Fauzi Azar Inn is a 200-year-old Arab mansion turned into a guesthouse in the heart of Nazareth. It’s consistently rated among the best guesthouses of the world and it’s unique history makes it a great place to discover parts of northern Israel and the area near Galilee.

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Acre (Akko)

Like every other city in the region, there’s always some sort of religious significance to a place. The northern coastal city of Acre is interesting for its historical Old City and the coastal walls that date from the time of the Crusaders. Acre is also home to a number of holy sites important to the Bahá’í faith, and as such, some of its monuments are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Caesarea

Located almost exactly midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, this national park (Caesarea Maritima) is important for its archaeological ruins dating back to the Romans—all the way to Herod the Great. With an aqueduct, amphitheater and hippodrome, there’s plenty to see for a stopover during a road trip. There’s also an inscription on one of the ruins mentioning Pontius Pilatus—the only recorded place in the world where an inscription with his name exists.

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Old Jaffa

One of the oldest cities in the region, Jaffa is on the southern end of Tel Aviv and dates back as far as 4,000 years old. (Meanwhile, Tel Aviv dates back to the 19th century.) The ancient port city has a number of tourist sites and museums today, including many small independent galleries, shops and cafés. There’s a flea market open from Sunday to Thursday where you can find any number of knick-knacks. The Old Jaffa port has its fair share of hipster, trendy hotspots as well as ancient history—an interesting dichotomy typical of the region.

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Tel Aviv Promenade

In the past decade the Tel Aviv municipality has worked to regenerate the beach promenade running from Old Jaffa up north to Tel Aviv’s northern port. Wide sidewalks, shady groves and bike paths make up the promenade, with plenty of amenities to keep beach-goers and tourists happy—including free book exchanges, outdoor exercise equipment, free sand toy exchanges and lockers. All that set amongst skateboarders, live music and comfortable chill-out spaces perfect for watching the sunset.

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Rothschild Boulevard

One of the most iconic streets in Israel, Rothschild Boulevard has both pedestrian and bike lanes running through the center of the city. It’s one of Tel Aviv’s biggest tourist attractions, lined with Bauhaus architecture and home to Israel’s Independence Hall. The tree-lined street is a popular hangout for locals, with a number of cafés and restaurants along the route, plus open spaces for children’s play parks.

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Nablus

A city in the north of the West Bank, Nablus is one of the world’s olest city. A market through the Old Town seems to stretch forever, full of shops selling spices and sweets among the typical market bric-a-brac. Knafeh, a sweet made of cheese and shredded wheat (with plenty of sugar), originated from Nablus, dating as far back to the 10th century. The Palestinian city has a few other tourist attractions besides its sweets and its Old Town, mostly religious sites on the outskirts, but it’s largely an untouristic city—making it a fascinating place to visit. The people here are friendly and sociable.

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Jerusalem Old City

There aren’t many new ways to describe Jerusalem’s Old City, considering it’s at the heart of the world’s three largest Abrahamic religions and offers something different for every tourist. From the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, there are enough sites and attractions here to keep tourists busy for weeks, months or even years. But perhaps the most fascinating part of the Jerusalem Old City and its four quarters (Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian) is the intensity of it all. The old city walls hold a million different secrets and lies and that pressure seems to exert itself through the dense and musty atmosphere through the crooked alleyways. It’s something you just have to feel for yourself.

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Church of the Nativity

One of Christianity’s most historic holy sites, the Church of the Nativity sits atop the cave where Jesus was supposed to have been born. The basilica itself dates back to the fourth century and was also one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Palestine. During the Christmas holidays, the site becomes especially relevant with celebrations marking the Biblical occasion.

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The Wall

Officially designated a Separation Barrier by the Israel government, the concrete wall runs through Palestine, surrounding cities and serving as a way to control checkpoints and the movement of people. The wall looks different in different places, sometimes with visible gaps, sometimes as high as 25 feet tall. It’s visible along many roads in the West Bank and in many places, on the Palestinian side, is covered in graffiti by local and international activists. No matter your stance on the political issues at hand, it’s an important modern sight to see—a way to see what’s happening in the region today.

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Dome of the Rock

Located on the Temple Mount in the Jerusalem Old City, the Dome of the Rock is probably the most recognized rooftop from Jerusalem. The gold dome marks the site of the rock, or the Foundation Stone, which is an important religious symbol to both Jews and Muslims. The building itself is a real beauty, with inlaid mosaics and an octagon shape. Getting inside to the Temple Mount requires some planning as it’s only open to visitors at certain times, and with strict security.

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Western Wall

Just below the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount, the Western Wall is one of Judaism’s most holy sites because of its proximity to the Temple Mount where Jews are allowed to visit, but not to pray. The Western Wall comes alive during Shabbat (Friday evenings), with singing and dancing accompanying the prayers. An interesting thing to note that doesn’t always get mentioned: the Western Wall is segregated by gender. Men and women aren’t allowed to pray together, and only men have access to the small temple to the side of the Western Wall.

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Ramallah

Located just a few short miles north of Jerusalem, Ramallah is the current capital of the Palestinian Authority government. Perhaps the most important historical site in the city is tomb of Yasser Arafat, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Palestinian leader. But besides politics, Ramallah has everything a big city can expect to have: from fresh food markets, trendy cafés, nightclubs and even a brewery (Taybeh Brewery) open to visitors Monday through Saturday.

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Read more: How to Travel to Ramallah from Jerusalem

Yad Vashem

Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is an important research and documentation site, offering a comprehensive look at history. There are a few different parts to the campus, including an eternal flame, a children’s memorial and many artifacts.

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Read more: Visiting Yad Vashem – What to See

Dead Sea

The lowest point on dry earth, at nearly 400 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea sits along the border between Israel, Jordan and Palestine’s West Bank. Because of the high salt content in the sea, it’s incredibly easy to float. What they don’t tell you is that the water also stings! The mineral-rich, black mud that sits in many areas along the Dead Sea is used for a lot of cosmetic treatments and has led to a number of health and beauty spas to pop up alongside the Dead Sea’s coasts—both in Israel and in Jordan.

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Mahktesh (Mitzpe Ramon)

Mitzpe Ramon is a unique town, sitting on the edge of a 40km crater, or makhtesh. The crater is an abnormal geological formation—unique to this part of the world, and even more specifically, this part of Israel. There are only a handful of makhteshim.—a crater formed by steep walls surrounding a deep valley.

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Masada

Masada has a lot of significance in Israel due to its history: in the second half of the first century AD, Masada was taken over by a group of zealots called the Sicarii (from Latin sicarius, “dagger-man”) rebelling against the Romans to try and drive them out of Judea using violence. Six years after the Sicarii took over Masada, the 10th Roman legion set out to take Masada back and laid siege on the fortress. In order to break into the stronghold, the Romans built a ramp (which can still be seen today), and breached the walls using a battering ram. The Sicarii, not wanting to become slaves or go to prison, preferred the option of dying and committed mass suicide. Today, it’s a popular tourist site for this history, but also for the views out over the Dead Sea. It’s popular to visit for sunrise because of the strong desert heat later in the day.

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Read more: Camping at Masada, Israel

Red Sea

Egypt, Jordan and Israel all meet at the northern tip of the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba. Resort towns line the Sinai peninsula, the Israeli city of Eliat and the Jordanian city of Aqaba. The warm waters and unique marine biology make it a popular beach destination for the region.

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Jerash

In the north of Jordan, Jerash is an ancient Greco-Roman archeological site dating back to the second century. The ancient town has been excavated to reveal entire colonnaded streets, temples and a forum.

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Mount Nebo

Famous for its mention in the Bible, Mount Nebo is where Moses would have first seen the Promised Land, offering a panorama of the region. It’s a popular viewpoint where you can see for miles, even as far as Jerusalem.

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Petra, Jordan

One of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, Petra is located in the Jordan desert, a onetime capital city. The site is accessed by a narrow cannon which opens up to valleys and cliffs where temples, tombs and buildings were carved into the rosy sandstone. The Treasury is famous for its depiction in the Indiana Jones movies, though it some of the site’s viewpoints and other temples which really amaze visitors—so much so, I’ve been twice!

Read more: Why I wanted to Visit Petra a Second Time

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Wadi Rum

A desert valley cut into the sandstone, Wadi Rum has been inhabited since ancient times, and today by many Bedouins (nomadic tribes). It’s a popular site for ecotourism or adventure activities—everything from horse-riding and trekking to camping and posing for selfies with camels. Honestly, though: it’s one of the most beautiful deserts I’ve been to.

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Adam is a hipster travel blogger & one-time graphic designer. After a short weekend trip to Reykjavik in 2009, he quit his job as a book designer in Boston, MA and set off on a trip around the world. Over the course of 15 months he visited more than a handful of countries from Morocco to Israel, India to Vietnam.

Check out some of my other posts on Jordan and Beirut:-

https://trekommendation.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/petra-jordan-travel-guide/

https://trekommendation.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/rose-of-the-desert-jordan-is-full-of-ancient-wonders-but-nothing-can-beat-petra/

https://trekommendation.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/5-places-you-should-visit-before-they-vanish/

https://trekommendation.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/secret-tourist-free-spots-to-view-the-worlds-most-famous-attractions/

https://trekommendation.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/incredible-places-that-dont-exist-and-where-to-go-instead/

 

 

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

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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.

 

Discover the New 7 Wonders of the World

Love travelling but sometimes worry you’ve missed something?

In 2001 the Swiss-based New7Wonders Foundation was established by a Swiss-born Canadian filmmaker, author and all-round adventurer named Bernard Weber. The purpose of this independent project was to contribute to the protection of the world’s man-made and natural heritage whilst promoting respect for earth’s beauty and diversity.

Although there have been many collations of ‘wonders of the world’, as a non-government funded initiative, New7Wonders is supported by licensing and commercial partnerships only and, to date, reports generating over US$5 billion worth of economic, tourism and national promotional value for the locations participating in its campaigns. Of this sizeable income, New7Wonders has pledged to dedicate 50% of surplus net revenue to the main New7Wonders Foundation cause – Global Memory, the documentation and 3D virtual recording of all New7Wonders.

The New7Wonders began by enlisting a panel of experts whose job it would be to generate a shortlist of 21 sites from 77 nominated by people from around the world. The 21 finalists were then put to public vote and the official winners of the New7Wonders of the World were eventually decided in 2007 by more than 100million votes – the criteria being that the sites should ‘represent global heritage throughout history’.

How many of these modern wonders of the world can you tick off your travel list?

This article courtesy of Holly Wadsworth-Hill for Mail Travel


Taj Mahal, India

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Located in Agra, also known as India’s ‘City of Love’.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as one of the New7Wonders of the World and a regular on the prescribed bucket-lists of many a qualified travel-writer. The exquisite white marble masterpiece that is the Taj Mahal more than earns its place as a must-see tourist attraction for many reasons.
The result of a beautiful love story, the Taj Mahal is one of the most famous buildings in the world and its history has charmed generation after generation.
Built by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in 1631, in memory of his loyal wife and soul mate Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is shrouded in fable – even its architect remains unknown, and yet it remains completely unforgettable for anyone who has the pleasure of visiting it.

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Jordan’s fascinating story starts at the dawn of recorded history where ‘hunter-gatherer’ man learned to farm. Permanent settlements developed with the inhabitants fast becoming traders of gold, silks and spices between the sophisticated civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. During biblical times, it was on Mt Nebo, overlooking the River Jordan that Moses first saw the ‘Promised Land’. The Persians then arrived, whilst Alexander the Great and his descendants ruled for 300 years, after which it became one of the Roman Empire’s richest and most fought-over provinces, before being incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

Petra, the famous Treasury carved into the cliff, was once the magnificent capital of the Nabataean empire of King Aretas IV and is considered the jewel of Jordan. Architecturally fascinating, this ancient site is half built and half carved into the rocks – its maze of passages and hidden gorges, coupled with the fact that it has been inhabited since prehistoric times, make Petra a historians, and the inquisitive traveller’s, dream destination. Petra will take your breath away.

Check out other places to visit in Jordan here http://www.leroyal.com/giftcard/amman/attractionsdetails.asp?parCountry=1

Colosseum, Italy

Rome
The Colosseum is at the heart of the ‘Eternal City’ of Rome and has become an iconic part of Italy’s tourist industry.

Commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian, the Colosseum was eventually finished by his son, Titus, with latter enhancements by Domitian. One of the earliest and longest surviving examples of the Italian aptitude to combine splendour with pragmatism, the Colosseum was originally known as the Flavian amphitheatre and was designed to hold 55,000 spectators. With its bloody history and unimaginable size, the Colosseum is not only considered one of the greatest works of architecture and engineering of all time, it is also completely enthralling.

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Chichen Itza, Mexico

An obvious addition the magnificent 7 if you ask us. So much is known and so much has been lost of the ancient Mayan civilisation that Chichen Itza continues to enthral modern day scholars and historians – not to mention your average holidaymaker looking for something different. Chichen Itza means ‘at the mouth of the well of the Itza’ and is a Mayan City on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, between Valladolid and Merida. The Maya were accomplished mathematicians and scientists with a sophisticated and established society, housing the recorded Maya and Toltec ideas of the world and the universe, Chichen Itza is an invaluable fragment of history that draws people from all around the world. It is not known why, in the 1400s, people fled Chichen Itza for the jungle, but what they left behind is a history lesson that one will never forget.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

The famous ruins of Machu Picchu, a 15th Century Inca site rising 7,000 ft above sea level, are nestled in and somewhat hidden on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley. A fairly recent geographical find, Machu Picchu was not discovered until 1911 and, although archaeologists have estimated that around 1200 people could have lived in the area, very little is actually known for certain about this Inca-built wonder. As with all the unknown, speculation and theory is rife, with some believing the site was home to Incan rulers and others thinking it was most likely a prison or defensive retreat.

We do know that Machu Picchu was built around 1450 and then abandoned by the Incans about a century later during the Spanish Conquest. On top of the mysterious history, Machu Picchu’s phenomenal and resilient architecture has also drawn visitors to witness the remarkable site first-hand.

Great Wall of China

Great Wall
Historically significant and architecturally amazing, the Great Wall of China dates back as far as the 7th Century BC but has been added to and strengthened many times since. Most notably the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty was responsible for the linking of several sections of the wall in 221BC when he formed the first 10,000 li Great Wall.

Most of what we know as the Great Wall today, originates from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and perhaps the best viewing spot in the whole of China is the Great Wall at Badaling where you can capture a long sprawling view of the wall in all its postcard-worthy glory.

Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ae/Christ_on_Corcovado_mountain.JPGChrist the Redeemer is the most recent of all the New7Wonders of the World, constructed between 1922 and 1931 as a prominent and now eminent symbol of Brazilian Christianity. It is a huge Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ, crafted by French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa and French engineer Albert Caquot.

Christ the Redeemer overlooks the energetic city of Rio and is located at the peak of the 2,300 ft Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park. Most of us have seen the panoramic shots of Christ the Redeemer in magazines, holiday brochures, on television and the like but few will have the pleasure of seeing it first-hand and exploring this dynamic part of the world.

No Translation Needed!

You know that feeling of utter frustration when you can’t understand what the locals are telling you?  Or the cafe bill is double Dutch?  Or you simply don’t know the word for “hostel” in Vietnamese?  Well this is one of the neatest ideas to help that I have ever seen in my many years of trekking.  Thought up by three mates just like me after a difficult time in Asia, this tee-shirt by IconSpeak is nifty beyond words.

Photo: IconSpeak

The simple design features easy-to-understand icons of some of the most common items travellers may have questions about: food, transportation, accommodation and so on.  Read the guys’ blog to learn more about how this simple sartorial innovation may change your future travel experiences.

https://iconspeak.world/

 

 

Top 30 autumn escapes

Source: Independent

No worries here: there’s something to suit every pocket with these 30 great-value destinations.  Been to most of them on my travels so if you have an questions drop me a message…

– Nick

Prague has layers of history

Prague has layers of history

Best for Budget Travellers

Prague

Take one of the many free walking tours of the city of 100 spires, wander the old town admiring the baroque architecture and visit the popular astronomical clock with its hourly free show. Both food and drink are keenly priced, as is nightlife. Karlovy Lazne is the biggest club in central Europe with a different type of music on each of its five storeys.

Get there: lowcostholidays.ie has two-night packages from €156pp in November. Or try czech-inn.com for luxury hostel accommodation.

More info: prague.eu

If you like this, try: Budapest

Lisbon

Lisbon’s a relaxed city with great cafes, pretty architecture and decent shopping. If the weather is clement, there are terrific beaches within easy reach of the city at Cascais and Estoril, otherwise just stroll around, listen to Fado music, admire the beautiful tiles for which Lisbon is famous and enjoy some excellent food and some of the good value wines for which Portugal is well known.

Get there: Independent Travel has 5-star breaks from €239pp in November.

More info: visitlisboa.com

If you like this, try: Porto

Warsaw

Destroyed in WW2, Warsaw’s Old Town has been fully restored and the city is known for great museums, particularly those exploring the history of Poland’s Jewish community. You can make the day-trip to Auschwitz from Warsaw. Warsaw has palaces, and gardens, and great nightlife too.

Get there: Travel Republic (travelrepublic.ie) has three-night breaks in November, including flights and 4-star hotel, from €320pp.

More info: warsawtour.pl

If you like this, try: Bratislava

Budapest

Visit the Jewish quarter, and the Cave Church on Gellert Hill overlooking the city for the best views, and wander what is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Check out one of the city’s famed baths, and if you are young enough (under 25, we suggest) get a ticket for a Sparty bath party in the Schechenyi baths, which take place until the end of October. Not for the faint-hearted. Or the prudish.

Get there: ebookers.ie has two-night city breaks in a 3-star hotel in November from €122. aventurahostelbudapest.com offers luxury hostel accommodation.

More info: budapest.com

If you like this, try: Berlin

Riga

The capital of Latvia is known as the pearl of the Baltics, and there’s a medieval old town to explore plus Art Nouveau architecture, museums, boat tours along the Daugava river and some smart shopping if budgets permit. Good value for eating, drinking and accommodation.

Get there: Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) has a three-night city break in Riga, staying in a 4-star hotel departing October 30 from €170pp.

More info: liveriga.com

Best for Families

2015-09-19_lif_12829212_I8.JPG pic 1a - MOCKED UP 'GREENED' COLOSSEUM, ROME.jpg

Rome

The Italian capital is brilliant for families – but hold your visit until the kids have some idea about the Romans and who they were. Autumn is the perfect time to visit, temperature-wise, and this is one city where a hop-on hop-off bus tour is worthwhile. Rome is never quiet, so be prepared for long queues at the Vatican unless you pre-book and pay a premium. Children of a certain age will love the smutty ancient graffiti at the Colosseum, and consider a day-trip to Pompeii if you have time.

Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Rome from €43.99 each way, while Cassidy Travel (cassidytravel.ie) has a 4-star city break from €260pp in December.

More info: rome.info

Ideal family break: Rome

Ideal family break: Rome

If you like this, try: Athens for an equally spectacular history fix.

Paris

Everyone gets a thrill from seeing the familiar landmarks of Paris up close and personal, and teenagers will love the shopping opportunities and flea markets. Keep the troops onside by diluting the churches and galleries with gourmet treats along the way – Maison Berthillon on the Ile Saint Louis serves a spectacular range of ice-cream in all the usual flavours, with oddities such as foie gras and Earl Grey tea for the more adventurous. Frozen fans and younger children might prefer Disneyland Paris.

Get there: Budget Travel (budgettravel.ie) has a 3-star city break including flights from €242pp, based on an October 15 departure.

More info: en.parisinfo.com

If you like this, try: London, with a day trip to Legoland (legoland.co.uk) at Windsor.

New York

A trip to New York is one that even the most jaded and anti-social of teenagers will leap at. With the exchange rate as cruel as it is these days, plan to include some activities that don’t cost anything. New York is one of the best cities in the world to explore on foot; try the Highline linear park, and the walk into Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge at night. Galleries can be expensive (though do consider the small and perfectly formed Frick) but MOMA is free on Fridays between 4 and 8pm. At the Bronx Zoo you pay what you want on Wednesdays.

Get there: Tour America (touramerica.ie) has direct flights and three nights at the Fitzpatrick Grand Central Hotel from €899pp based on two people sharing a November 21 departure.

More info: nycgo.com

If you like this, try: Chicago, for art and architecture fans.

Berlin

Berlin. Photo: Deposit

Berlin. Photo: Deposit

Berlin’s museums are among the best in Europe, and a three-day museum pass will get you admission to all the museums on Museum Island for three consecutive days for €24 for adults and €12 for children. Apart from great sightseeing, the city also has lots of fantastic playgrounds, for when the culture becomes overwhelming. Good vintage shopping for teens.

Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com) fly direct to Berlin. Check out airbnb.ie or generator.hostels.com for affordable options if travelling with teens – accommodation starts from €17.50 in the hostel in the central Mitte area which is good for cool shopping.

More info: visitberlin.de

If you like this, try: Amsterdam

Reykjavik

Iceland is one of the new success stories of European tourism, and Reykjavik is welcoming to families, with high-chairs in most restaurants and a family friendly vibe. There are 18 splash-and-play thermal pools in the capital, and you can go whale-watching on a boat trip from the city’s old harbour, or try on Viking costumes at one of the city museums. In winter, go skating on Tjornin Lake and explore the Christmas Village. It’s expensive though, so plan carefully to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Read more: WOW Air announces direct fares to Iceland from €69pp

Get there: WOW air (wowair.ie) flies direct from Dublin to Reykjavik until October 22. Wallace Travel(wallacetravelgroup.ie) has packages from €519pp plus tax.

More info: visitreykjavik.is

If you like this, try: Stockholm

Best for Couples

Marrakech

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Marrakech

If you’ve never been to Morocco, then a trip to Marrakech is a real eye-opener as it’s nothing like any European city. Visit a hammam, stroll through the medina in the evening for a fix of Gnawa musicians and dancers, snake charmers and storytellers, and eat at one of the city’s rooftop restaurants. The beautiful Jardin Majorelle, associated with Yves Saint Laurent, took 40 years to create and is a must for anyone interested in horticulture. Be sure to stay in a riad to get the real flavour of the city.

Get there: Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies direct to Marrakech. Riad al Moussika (riyad-al-moussika.com) offers a blend of Moorish and Art Deco styles from €230.

More info: visitmorocco.com

If you like this, try: Istanbul for more minarets.

Edinburgh

Walk the Royal Mile, explore Edinburgh Castle, climb the 287 steps of the Victorian Gothic Scott monument at dusk, sample some of Scotland’s new craft whiskies, climb Arthur’s Seat (that’s the hill that features in the tearjerker movie, One Day) and stroll along The Shore, before hitting some of the city’s great bars and restaurants. Phew! Bring winter woollies, though, as Edinburgh can get really cold.

Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Edinburgh. The 5-star Chester Residence has romantic packages from £95pp/€130.

More info: thisisedinburgh.com

If you like this, try: Nice, for warmer walking.

Venice

Venice. Photo: Deposit

Venice. Photo: Deposit

A cluster of 117 islands linked by canals and bridges, Venice regularly makes it onto all those lists of most romantic destinations for good reason. The city is a world heritage site, and it’s perfect for lovers of art and architecture. In the past, Venice fell down on the food front, and there are still plenty of over-priced tourist traps – so plan ahead to ensure that you eat well. And be prepared to walk. A lot.

Get there: Independent Travel  has Aer Lingus flights plus seven nights at a 3-star hotel from €997pp, departing October 17.

More info: venice-tourism.com

If you like this, try: St. Petersburg

Dubrovnik

Walk the walls of the old town, and if the weather is good take a ferry to one of the islands, Lokrum or Lopud, where there is good swimming. Take the cable car up the hill for spectacular views at either sunrise or sunset. Chi-chi shopping and good but pricey restaurants; venture away from the main streets for better value and more interesting food. Dubrovnik doubles as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, so be prepared for many of your fellow tourists to be fans of the series.

Get there: Travel Department (traveldepartment.ie) has seven-night city breaks to Dubrovnik including flights and 3-star hotel from €659pps.

More info: tzdubrovnik.hr

If you like this, try: Talinn. Estonia’s capital has a walled and cobbled old town too.

Vienna

Head to Vienna for a civilised weekend and explore the city’s baroque architecture, the palaces and museums, and the Spanish riding school. Take in an opera if you plan ahead, and don’t miss out on the café society for which the city is famous. Chocolate cake and strudel at Café Mozart in the Sacher hotel come highly recommended.

Get there: Going to press, GoHop.ie had five nights in the Arion Cityhotel & Appartements on a room-only basis from €296pp, departing October.

More info: vienna.info

If you like this, try: Bruges

Best for Foodies

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

Rene Redzepi of Noma has revolutionised the way we think about food in the 21st century and is directly responsible for the appearance of wild and foraged ingredients on menus around the world. Even if you can’t get a table at his place – bookings open approximately two months ahead of time – there’s a slew of bright young chefs in the city, including some Noma alumni, all of whom are listed on Noma’s website noma.dk. Try Christian Puglisi’s Relae or Manfreds & Vin for example.

Get there: lowcostholidays.ie had a two-night break for two people from November 6-8 including flights and the 4-star First Hotel from €322pp.

More info: visitcopenhagen.com

If you like this, try: Oslo, for more good Scandi-style food… and sky-high prices.

Lyon

Foodies are spoilt for choice in France’s gastronomic capital. Les Halles de Lyon is the market associated with culinary legend, Paul Bocuse. There are 60-odd stalls, each more tempting than the last. Remember to check in a bag for the return journey so you can bring home some fabulous cheeses, as you won’t get them through security at the airport otherwise, and book tables at La Mere Brazier, Le Bec and one of the city’s famous traditional bouchons. Pack bigger trousers for the return journey.

Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Lyon in October from €123. Rooms at the 5-star Cour des Loges (courdesloges.com) from €203.

More info: en.lyon-france.com

If you like this, try: Bordeaux, for more great food. And wine.

Istanbul

Mosques and palaces, art and architecture, the former capital of the Ottoman empire has all that but is also gaining a reputation as a must-visit city for foodies. Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer run food company Istanbul Eats, offering tours around the culinary backstreets for visitors in search of something more authentic than a doner kebab.

Get there: Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) fly twice daily from Dublin, with fares from around €265 return. Try booking.com for hotel deals.

More info: goturkey.com

If you like this, try: Beirut, to see where Ottolenghi gets his inspiration.

San Sebastian

San Sebastian is home to three of Spain’s seven 3-star Michelin restaurants, including Arzak and Mugaritz, the sixth-best restaurant in the world, according to the San Pellegrino list. You can eat very well, and less extravagantly, at one of the city’s many pintxo (tapas) restaurants, and the quality of the food across the board is outstanding. sansebastianfood.com offers culinary-focused tours.

Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Bilbao, or you can fly to Biarritz. The lovely Hotel Maria Cristina offers a one-night pintxo passport from €324pps including accommodation.

More info: sansebastianturismo.com

If you like this, try: Barcelona, for more inspiring modern Spanish food.

Florence

Of course Florence is over-run with tourists, and has more than its fair share of over-priced and mediocre restaurants to cater for them. But do your research and you will eat very well in the city at places such as Mario’s Trattoria on Via Rosina, where you should ask for a table in the basement and sit with the locals in a room that doubles as a shrine to the local football team. What to order? Bistecca fiorentina of course. Restaurateur Ronan Ryan, who knows a thing or two about Italian food, recommends Cibreo.

Get there: Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) has city breaks to Florence in November from €261pp.

More info: firenzeturismo.it

If you like this: The Northern Italian towns of Modena, Parma and Bologna are gastronomic heaven.

Best for Christmas Markets

The "Heimat der Heinzel" Christmas market in Cologne's old town. Photo: Cologne Tourism

Cologne

Beginning in late November, the Cologne Christmas market is among the best in Europe. Split into seven separate markets, the four main locations are at Cologne Cathedral, the Alter Markt, the Neumarkt and on Rudolfplatz At the cathedral market, there is an enormous Christmas tree and over 160 decorated huts. Even The Grinch would struggle not to be touched by the sense of festive cheer throughout the city square.

Get there: ebookers.ie has a two-night city break in November with Ryanair flights and 3-star accommodation from €275pp.

More info: cologne-tourism.com

If you like this, try: Munich

Strasbourg

Strasbourg’s Christmas market has been voted the best in Europe, so even though there are no direct flights from Ireland, it is worth the extra effort for aficionados to get there. The first Christkindelsmarik was held in 1570, and the tradition has continued ever since. The market now takes place over 11 locations across the city, with over 300 chalets selling everything from arts and crafts to food and typical Alsatian Christmas decorations. This year’s market takes place from November 27 to December 31.

Get there: Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to Frankfurt Hahn. Check skyscanner.com for flight deals, at the time of writing there were deals from €249 return in late November.

More info: tourisme-alsace.com

If you like this, try: Lille

Madrid

Madrid goes to town with its Christmas lights and decorations, and different designers and artists are given the honour of planning each year’s theme. Madrid’s Christmas market takes place in the Plaza Mayor, the portico-lined square in the heart of Hapsburg Madrid. The square is filled with a vast array of stalls offering decorations, Christmas trees, crafts, artisan food products, candles and jewellery as well as many stalls devoted to antiques and collectibles. Besides the stalls, there is a carousel and fairground rides. Churros with hot chocolate is the sustenance of choice for market shoppers and, when a rest is needed, there are bus tours of the city to admire the decorations.

Get there: Travel Department (traveldepartment.ie) has three-night city breaks to Madrid from €299pp.

More info: turismomadrid.es

If you like this, try: Barcelona

Read more: Europe’s Top 10 Christmas markets 2015

Stockholm

The Christmas market has been held in Stortorget in the Old Town since 1915, and the little red stalls sell warm “glögg”, gingerbread, cheese, candy and crafts. The Swedish do Christmas really well, and there’s plenty on offer whether your taste in decorations leans towards the traditional or the contemporary. This year’s market runs from November 22 to December 23.

Get there: SAS (flysas.com) flies to Stockholm. Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) has city breaks from €198pps in December.

More info: visitstockholm.com

If you like this, try: Gothenburg

Brussels

The Christmas Market in Brussels takes over a 2km stretch of the city centre around Grand Place, Bourse, Place Sainte Catherine and Marche aux Poissons. The Winter Wonder theme appeals to both adults and children, with fantastic lighting displays and a Ferris wheel and ice-skating for when you’ve had enough of the shopping. This year the market runs from November 27 to January 3.

Get there: Clickandgo.com has 5-star city breaks with Aer Lingus flights from €289pp in November.

More info: visitbrussels.be

If you like this, try: Krakow

Best for shopping

Dubai marina

Dubai marina

Dubai

Label junkies will think they have died and gone to heaven in Dubai, where shopping is the order of the day. Don’t expect too much in the way of culture, but you’ll eat and drink well and come back laden like it’s 2006 all over again. Mall of the Emirates is a good place to start.

Get there: Tropical Sky (tropicalsky.ie) has four-night city breaks to Dubai including flights and accommodation at the 4-star Movenpick Hotel Jumeirah Lakes Towers from €649pp.

More info: visitdubai.com

If you like this, try: Abu Dhabi

Boston

Christmas shopping trips to the US have lost their lustre in recent years, as the exchange rate has become distinctly unfriendly. That said, Boston is always a great city to visit for culture and food, the tours of Harvard by students are worthwhile, and the shops are good at coming up with excuses for sales and discounts for no apparent reason at all. Wrentham Village is the best for outlet shopping.

Get there: American Sky (americansky.ie) has three-night breaks with accommodation at the 3-star Midtown Hotel from €629pp this winter.

More info: bostonusa.com

If you like this, try: New York

London

London

London

The appeal of London shopping is big for fashionistas, because the selection is far greater than it is at home, even if the prices will seem eye-wateringly high once the current punishing exchange rate is applied. Selfridges is a fashion mecca with something for everyone, but try the smaller boutiques of Shoreditch and Bethnal Green for a more esoteric retail experience. The Dover Street Market is always worth visiting, and although you’ll find most chains have opened here, Anthropologie still hasn’t made it to Ireland.

Get there: Think about staying in a luxury hostel to keep more money for shopping. Generator (generatorhostels.com) is near St.Pancras with overnight rates from £10.50.

More info: visitlondon.com

If you like this, try: Manchester

Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s Nine Streets area, in the heart of the canal district and just a couple of minutes’ walk from Dam Square, is fantastic for shopping, with designer boutiques, art galleries, jewellers, and specialist stores catering to every interest. There are plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants too, which always makes the shopping a more pleasant experience.

Get there: Ryanair (ryanair.com) has launched a new Dublin-Amsterdam service for winter. The smart boutique suite hotel miauw.com has rooms starting at €169 per night.

More info: amsterdam.info

If you like this try: Antwerp, for edgy clothes shopping

Milan

Milan does high-end fashion like nowhere else, so it is the city of choice for people who take their designer clothes very seriously indeed. For those on more restricted budgets, the city is surrounded by a number of outlets, stocking designers from Marni to Blumarine, see wheremilan.com for details. Bus services are available from the city centre.

Get there: Independent Travel  has three-night, 4-star breaks in Milan from €229pp in November 26.

More info: tourism.milan.it

If you like this, try: Florence

NB: All prices subject to availability/change.

 

 

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

Petra, Jordan – travel guide

Cook with Bedouin guides, trek from a nature reserve, play Indiana Jones in a desert canyon – discover Jordan’s ‘lost’ city of Petra for yourself.

Petra, Jordan

Petra is Jordan’s biggest attraction and a genuinely breathtaking world wonder – the lost desert city of childhood imagination.

The ‘rose-red city’ was carved from sandstone outcrops by the Nabataean people, and at its peak in the 1st century AD was a major trading hub and home to 30,000 people. After the Nabataean civilisation declined, Petra was forgotten by the West until ‘rediscovered’ in 1812 by the Swedish adventurer Johann Burkhardt, who travelled there in Arab disguise.

Today Petra is a Unesco World Heritage Site and receives thousand of visitors daily – but still delivers an unforgettable emotional punch.

The classic experience comes in two parts. First, there’s the walk (or horse ride) through a towering, winding sandstone canyon – the ‘Siq’ galloped through in the closing scene of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade.

Then, after 1.2km, there’s the iconic view of Petra: the carved, sunlit façade of the Treasury (khazneh) framed by sheer rock walls.

But Petra isn’t just about a walk and postcard view. Beyond and above the Treasury are the remains of the 2,000-year-old city, including the huge monastery, royal tombs, a classical theatre and the Colonnaded Street leading to the Qasr al-Bint temple. Dozens of less-visited sites and mountain hikes beckon, including the High Place of Sacrifice Walk and the ascent of 1,350m Jebel Haroun.

Although you can ‘do’ Petra on a day-trip, a longer stay is more rewarding. For a truly immersive experience, consider the 50km walk to Petra from Dana, pioneered by Wanderlust award-winning guide Yamaan Safady, or get hands-on experience of Bedouin culture and cuisine at the Petra Kitchen.

Source: Wanderlust Travel Magazine

 

For five-star luxury in Jordan, pamper yourself at Le Royal Amman, part of the Le Royal Hotels & Resorts division of the General Mediterranean Holding Group

The hotels of the future

From underwater rooms to ‘unbalanced’ designs: The hotels of the future that will make holidays more wondrous… and bizarre

  • Stunning new designs from Peru to Qatar show that hotel guests in the future are in for a real treat 
  • New concepts include an underwater resort, an 80 storey tower in the Alps and even a pop-up runway hotel 
  • Some of these fancy hotels by top architects are already under construction, with some even opening next year

Holidays are set to become a great deal more memorable if these incredible hotel designs become a reality.

They’re bigger, better – and weirder – with renderings showing that guests can expect to check into stunning accommodation in years to come including luxury underwater rooms, an ‘unbalanced hotel’ and even lodgings set in the Hollywood sign.

Here MailOnline Travel looks into its crystal ball at the amazing hotels of the future.


Poseidon Underwater Resort, Fiji

The Poseidon Resort comprises approximately 225 acres and is about a mile long. It is surrounded by a 5,000-acre lagoon and boasts pristine waters and abundant sea life

The Poseidon Resort comprises approximately 225 acres and is about a mile long. It is surrounded by a 5,000-acre lagoon and boasts pristine waters and abundant sea life

The fish bowl effect: A mock up of one of the suites which will be on offer at the Poseidon Underwater Resort, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows to the ocean

The fish bowl effect: A mock up of one of the suites which will be on offer at the Poseidon Underwater Resort, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows to the ocean

It has been 14 years in the making. And the world’s first underwater resort, which was due to open in 2008, has an estimated 150,000 potential guests on its waiting list.

But there are fears it may end up a wash out, as the Poseidon Underwater Resort in Fiji seems no closer to opening its doors.

Forty feet under the sea in an off-shore lagoon, the luxury resort is set to house 25 suites, as well as a restaurant, bar, gym, and even an underwater wedding chapel. Even the £9,000 per week price tag has not put off those desperate to stay.

Krystall hotel, Norway

The floating Krystall hotel will be based in the fjords near Tromso, in Norway, which sits within the Arctic Circle - the perfect spot for watching the Northern Lights

The floating Krystall hotel will be based in the fjords near Tromso, in Norway, which sits within the Arctic Circle – the perfect spot for watching the Northern Lights

The floating property has been branded a 'scarless development' as it will not permanently impact its surrounding environment

The floating property has been branded a ‘scarless development’ as it will not permanently impact its surrounding environment

Known as the Krystall hotel, this unusual five-star property is being developed by company Dutch Docklands, which specialises in floating structures.

It will be the first floating hotel in Europe.

Aptly, the new luxury hotel will be shaped like a snowflake and will be based in the fjords near the Norwegian town of Tromso, which sits within the Arctic Circle – one of the best places to spot the celestial phenomenon.

Work will begin next year and the 86-room hotel should be ready to open to visitors in 2017.

Shimao hotel, China

An artist's view of what the finished cave hotel will look like. The 5-star underground resort is being built inside a 100-foot deep, water-filled abandoned quarry in China at the base of the Tianmenshan Mountain in the Songjiang District

An artist’s view of what the finished cave hotel will look like. The 5-star underground resort is being built inside a 100-foot deep, water-filled abandoned quarry in China at the base of the Tianmenshan Mountain in the Songjiang District

The rest of the InterContinental Shimao hotel will be built into the mountainous landscape and guests will be able to do watersports on the lake and use the nearby cliffs for rock-climbing and bungee jumping

The rest of the InterContinental Shimao hotel will be built into the mountainous landscape and guests will be able to do watersports on the lake and use the nearby cliffs for rock-climbing and bungee jumping

Construction has begun on a luxury five-star hotel being built inside a 100-metre deep, water-filled abandoned quarry in China at the base of the Tianmenshan Mountain.

The £345million cave hotel in the Songjiang District has been designed by British-based firm Atkins and will have 380 rooms over 19 storeys – two of which will be underwater.

The rest of the InterContinental Shimao hotel will be built into the mountainous landscape and guests will be able to do watersports on the lake and use the nearby cliffs for rock-climbing and bungee jumping.

It is expected to take around three years to build and guests could be staying in the resort by 2016 – with rooms likely to cost around £200 a night.

‘Unbalance Hotel’, Peru

Framed: The hotel will be set into high cliffs above the Pacific Ocean in Peru's capital city, Lima 

Framed: The hotel will be set into high cliffs above the Pacific Ocean in Peru’s capital city, Lima

Uninterrupted: Rather than blocking the ocean view, the hotel serves as a frame for the stunning vista

Uninterrupted: Rather than blocking the ocean view, the hotel serves as a frame for the stunning vista

A hotel set to be built in Peru has been designed to look like a giant, off-centre picture frame.

The cliff-hugging structure, designed for a private client by Madrid-based architecture firm OOIIO, will serve as the perfect frame for the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the Andes on the other.

Provisionally named the Unbalance Hotel, the building is intended to become a landmark for Lima, where it will be built into cliffs outside the city centre.

The Unbalance Hotel will have 125 rooms, restaurants, conference rooms and exhibition spaces.

Water Discus hotel, Dubai

Plans: Designs for the Water Discus hotel, which is due to be built in Dubai

Plans: Designs for the Water Discus hotel, which is due to be built in Dubai

Luxury: The hotel has been designed by Polish company Deep Ocean Technology

Luxury: The hotel has been designed by Polish company Deep Ocean Technology

Dubai has never been understated.

But the United Arab Emirates city could soon have an eye-catching addition to its array of opulent dwellings, with the introduction of the world’s largest underwater hotel, the Water Discus Hotel.

It’s the brainchild of Polish company Deep Ocean Technology, assisted by Swiss firm BIG InvestConsult AG.

When it is built, guests will be able to stay in the hotel’s 21 rooms, designed to ‘integrate with the underwater world as closely as possible’.

Europe’s tallest skyscraper, Switzerland

Plans for the 80-storey luxury hotel tower have been created by award-winning Los Angeles architect Thom Mayne  Europe's tallest skyscraper which will stand at more than 70 metres above London's Shard is planned for a sleepy Swiss village

Europe’s tallest skyscraper (left), which will be more than 70 metres higher than London’s Shard (right), is planned for a sleepy Swiss village

Plans for the 80-storey luxury hotel tower have been created by award-winning Los Angeles architect Thom Mayne

Plans for the 80-storey luxury hotel tower have been created by award-winning Los Angeles architect Thom Mayne

Europe’s tallest skyscraper, which will stand more than 70 metres higher than the Shard, is going to be built in a sleepy Swiss village.

Plans for the 80-storey luxury hotel tower, designed by Los Angeles architect Thom Mayne, have been unveiled for the tiny hamlet of Vas, in the Swiss Alps.

Standing at 381 metres (1250ft) tall, the slim, glassy skyscraper aims to mirror the surrounding mountainous landscape.

The 53,000-square-metre building will include 107 guest rooms and suites, as well as spas, a ballroom and a library, restaurants, a cafe, bar, sky bar and a gallery.

It will also feature a swimming pool and fitness centre.

Jetway hotel

Architect Margot Krasojevic has released new renderings for a pop-up hotel to be placed beside a parked jet

Architect Margot Krasojevic has released new renderings for a pop-up hotel to be placed beside a parked jet

The Jetway Hotel is still in concept stage but could soon host the likes of the jet-loving Kardashians

The Jetway Hotel is still in concept stage but could soon host the likes of the jet-loving Kardashians

Now the rich and famous need not venture far from their private plane.

Architect Margot Krasojevic has released new renderings for a pop-up hotel to be placed beside a parked jet.

The Jetway hotel is still in concept stage but is bound to be popular with jet-loving celebrities such as the Kardashians should it ever come to fruition.

The Hotel Crescent, Azerbaijan

Moon on water: The Hotel Crescent is set to shine down on the city by 2016

Moon on water: The Hotel Crescent is set to shine down on the city by 2016

Gleaming future: Crescent City is just one of the projects that is transforming Baku and Azerbaijan

Gleaming future: Crescent City is just one of the projects that is transforming Baku and Azerbaijan

Flourishing Azerbaijan is building towers of flame and hotels from outer space in its efforts to steal Dubai’s crown as the architectural behemoth of the modern world.

The next stunning landmark to appear will be the Hotel Crescent, a 33-storey down-turned half-moon on the banks of the Caspian Sea.

It is to be completed by 2016, and a sister project called the Full Moon Hotel – resembling the Death Star from Star Wars – has been proposed.

Amphibious 1000, Qatar

Striking: Amphibious 100 is a futuristic semi-aquatic development which Qatar plans to build, costing over £300million

Striking: Amphibious 100 is a futuristic semi-aquatic development which Qatar plans to build, costing over £300million

The 'jellyfish': Pods for guests will have four floors each and an underwater observatory and lounge area

The ‘jellyfish’: Pods for guests will have four floors each and an underwater observatory and lounge area

The one kilometre-long resort is designed to look like a giant octopus with floating walkways representing the arms. Suites attached to the 'limbs' will boast underwater rooms and even an 'aquarium lounge' under the surface of the sea

The one kilometre-long resort is designed to look like a giant octopus with floating walkways representing the arms. Suites attached to the ‘limbs’ will boast underwater rooms and even an ‘aquarium lounge’ under the surface of the sea

This watery hotel development in Qatar, complete with underwater rooms and even an interactive sealife museum in the lobby, will cost around £310million to create.

The Amphibious 1000 project will be built in the middle of a marine reserve and will feature four giant hotels with underwater rooms, resembling super-yachts.

The one kilometre-long resort is designed to look like a giant octopus with floating walkways representing the arms. Suites attached to the ‘limbs’ will boast underwater rooms and even an ‘aquarium lounge’ under the surface of the sea.

The hotel development has been approved and work on the project is set to start soon.

The Heart hotel, New York

In an urban jungle like New York, utilising space effectively is of the utmost importance, and the Heart hotel certainly achieves this

In an urban jungle like New York, utilising space effectively is of the utmost importance, and the Heart hotel certainly achieves this

Designed by Arina Agieieva and Dmitry Zhuikov, the unique structure aims to mesh local residents and hotel visitors together by placing it at the core of the community

Designed by Arina Agieieva and Dmitry Zhuikov, the unique structure aims to mesh local residents and hotel visitors together by placing it at the core of the community

In an urban jungle like New York, utilising space effectively is of the utmost importance, and the Heart hotel certainly achieves this.

Designed by Arina Agieieva and Dmitry Zhuikov, the unique structure aims to mesh local residents and hotel visitors together by placing it at the core of the community.

Bedrooms are located in converted offices that make up the centre of the orb structure. Leisure facilities are available for everyone to use.

Funtasy Island, Singapore

Funtasy Island in Indonesia is poised to become the world's largest eco-resort

Funtasy Island in Indonesia is poised to become the world’s largest eco-resort

More than 500 homes have been sold at an average cost of £320,000 as work continues on the world’s largest eco-resort.

With a footprint of 330 hectares, Funtasy Island will occupy six islands in the Riau Archipelago in Indonesia when it opens in late 2015.

Located less than 10 miles from Singapore, the eco-resort will be accessible via a 20-minute luxury yacht or ferry ride.

The cost of building the eco-resort is around £154million ($240million). The average cost per square metre of property comes in at about £3,200 ($5,000).

MORPHotels

The MORPHotel has been designed by Italian Gianluca Santosuosso and was created around the idea of a vertebral spine

The MORPHotel has been designed by Italian Gianluca Santosuosso and was created around the idea of a vertebral spine

Plans are still in concept stage, but if they come into fruition, will incorporate a structure with the ability to adapt its shape according to weather conditions

Plans are still in concept stage, but if they come into fruition, will incorporate a structure with the ability to adapt its shape according to weather conditions

This unusually-shaped hotel will provide guests with a luxury floating system which can move around the world.

The MORPHotels, has been designed by Italian Gianluca Santosuosso and was created around the idea of a vertebral spine.

Plans are still in concept stage, but if they come into fruition, will incorporate a structure with the ability to adapt its shape according to weather conditions.

Dawang Mountain Resort, China

The first renderings of the Dawang Mountain Resort have just been unveiled, glimmering among the Chinese mountain scenery

The first renderings of the Dawang Mountain Resort have just been unveiled, glimmering among the Chinese mountain scenery

The sprawling 150,000-metre, five-star complex will house a water park, indoor ski slope and a 200ft waterfall

The sprawling 150,000-metre, five-star complex will house a water park, indoor ski slope and a 200ft waterfall

The city of Changsha in China is soon to house a magnificent five-star complex ahead of Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The latest renderings for the Dawang Mountain Resort, in China, display the beautiful exterior, which can be seen glimmering among the picturesque mountain scenery.

One of the structures – a 100m tower – will offer 270 high-class rooms, while the ‘Deep Pit Ice and Water World’ will offer numerous activities.

The 150,000-square-metre resort will also house a water park, indoor ski slope and an outdoor swimming pool, which will cantilever to create the top of the huge waterfall.

Hollywood hotel, LA

Sign of future times? How the famed Hollywood sign might look as hotel for the rich and famous

Sign of future times? How the famed Hollywood sign might look as hotel for the rich and famous

Concealed: The hotel is hidden behind the lettering in Dane Christian Bay-Jorgensen's design

Concealed: The hotel is hidden behind the lettering in Dane Christian Bay-Jorgensen’s design

Hugh Hefner put forward $900,000 to ensure the famous Hollywood sign dodged the bulldozers but if a Danish architect gets his way, they could end up being adapted into accommodation.

Christian Bay-Jorgensen says the sign could be transformed into a hotel, with each letter hosting guests and rooms with amazing views of Los Angeles.

The hotel letters would be twice the height of the current 45-ft tall sign, and include an observation deck.

Tour Triangle, Paris

Plans have been given the go-ahead for a 600-foot structure known as the Tour Triangle, Paris' first skyscraper in 40 years

Plans have been given the go-ahead for a 600-foot structure known as the Tour Triangle, Paris’ first skyscraper in 40 years

The towering, triangular glass structure will feature a 120-room hotel, and 753,470 square foot of office space

The towering, triangular glass structure will feature a 120-room hotel, and 753,470 square foot of office space

Paris is set to build its first skyscraper in 40 years, to the horror of many city residents.

The hotly contested building, 180 metres (600 feet) high and vying on the skyline with the Eiffel Tower, will house a 120-room hotel and 70,000 square metres of office space.

It has been given the go ahead by the Paris county council, after initial rejection in November 2014.

Where to REALLY get away from it all

The world’s most secluded hotels: from luxury yurts in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert to aluminium igloos in Greenland

 Thanks to TravelMail for a great feature! – Ned

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all.. and these hotels are the perfect places to do so.

Whether you’re in the market for an adventurous exploration in Patagonia or prefer a romantic retreat to a southern atoll in the Maldives, there’s an off-the-beaten path destination for everyone.

While it may require a bit of commitment to reach these isolated destinations, between the breath-taking views, serene atmospheres and – best of all – no WiFi, guests will be rewarded ten-fold.

Hotel Arctic Ilulissat, Greenland

In Greenland, the Hotel Arctic Ilulissat is situated on the cliff of an icefjord that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004

The world’s most northerly four-star hotel is, quite simply, not to be missed.

It’s situated right on the cliff of Ilulissat Icefjord, a fjord in western Greenland, which was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004.

Hotel Arctic boasts 76 rooms and nine suites, as well as aluminum igloos, which are built even closer to the coast and are connected to the main building by a boardwalk.

A restaurant serving Greenlandic cuisine – think: musk-ox, reindeer and Arctic hare – is also located on site and is widely recognised as one of the best in the country.

The easiest way to reach the remote hotel is to fly from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq. From there, it’s another quick 45-minute flight north to Ilulissat. The entire journey should take approximately seven hours.

Jade Screen Hotel, Huangshan, China

There’s are only two ways to reach the Jade Screen Hotel in China’s Yellow Mountains. One is by climbing the 60,000 stone steps to the top.

If you can’t make it up on foot, there are porters who will assist in carrying you via wicker chairs and bamboo polls. Or, you could just take the cable car.

Either way, all guests will be rewarded with stunning views of the Huangshan mountain range as well as a four-star hotel experience, complete with sauna, massage centre and even a small shopping arcade.

Adrere Amellal, Siwa, Egypt

Adrere Amellal is as secluded as they come, so don't expect any electricity at this Egyptian hotel, which looks like a life-size sand castle

Adrere Amellal is as secluded as they come, so don’t expect any electricity at this Egyptian hotel, which looks like a life-size sand castle

Looking for an oasis in the middle of the Egyptian desert? Head to the picturesque Adrere Amellal.

It’s as secluded as they come, however, so don’t expect any electricity at this sandcastle-inspired property. Instead, all rooms are lit with beeswax candles and a starry sky.

Each of the 40 rooms are hand-built to blend naturally into the landscape. Also, all of the furniture and decor has been designed to pay tribute to nature and local artisans.

Every guest, meanwhile, receives a dedicated staff member to help look after them during their day – from booking meals to lighting candles. Sounds magical.

Ned’s tip: don’t forget if you’re in Egypt to check out the five star Le Royal Sharm El Sheikh Resort for loads of very different fun in the sun!

Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Namibia, Africa

A true escape: The Sossusvlei Desert Lodge in Namibia is surrounded entirely by mountains and sand dunes

A true escape: The Sossusvlei Desert Lodge in Namibia is surrounded by mountains and sand dunes

Surrounded entirely by mountains and sand dunes in the Namib Desert, this lodge is a true escape from the outside world.

Perfect for honeymooners and intrepid travellers alike, the desert wilderness is nestled deep in a secluded, serene oasis where star-gazing and private middle-of-nowhere picnics are just the beginning.

Made of stone and glass, guest rooms melt into wraparound terraces and massive windows make you feel as if you’re one with nature.

And once you arrive, there’s no shortage of activities – from hot air ballooning to quad biking, there’s something for everyone in this gorgeous hideaway.

Explora Patagonia, Patagonia, Chile

Perfect for intrepid travellers, the luxury Explora Patagonia hotel in Chile offers guests over 50 action-packed adventures to choose from

This luxury hotel in the middle of Torres del Paine National Park rises out of the shores looking much like a white ship.

Overlooking the stunning Lake Pehoe, the property’s unique location literally puts travellers right in the heart of Patagonia, where they can take advantage of guided hikes, horseback rides and breath-taking views of glaciers, lakes and mountains.

For those looking to indulge in a relaxing treatment after their trek, the hotel’s spa provides massages, as well as a heated pool, sauna and open-air jacuzzis – boasting views of the Paine Massif mountain range, of course.

Four Seasons Serengeti Lodge, Tanzania

The Four Seasons Serengeti Lodge in Tanzania may be difficult to get to, but offers unbeatable views of the Big 5 - from the comfort of your sunlounger

The Four Seasons Serengeti Lodge in Tanzania may be difficult to get to, but offers unbeatable views of the Big 5 – from the comfort of your sunlounger

It’s no easy feat to reach the remote Four Seasons Serengeti Lodge, located in the heart of the famous National Park, though the trek sure is worth it.

First, you must fly into Nairobi, then onto Kilimanjaro and then to a private airstrip in the middle of the park, but you’ll soon be rewarded with incredible wildlife sightings and a lavish five-star hotel in the middle of the bush.

Each of the lodge’s 77 guest rooms are well-appointed – and many also feature a private terrace and plunge pool – but it’s the main building’s infinity pool that’s truly the piece de resistance.

It boasts a watering hole built just beyond it, offering unbeatable views of the elephants, zebra and wildebeest that stop by several times a day for a drink.

Jumeirah Dhevanafushi, Maldives

A five-star atoll, the Jumeirah Dhevanafushi resort is the ultimate luxury hideaway for getting away from it all

A five-star atoll, the Jumeirah Dhevanafushi resort is the ultimate luxury hideaway for getting away from it all

While there’s no shortage of privacy among any of the Maldives’ many isolated atolls, Jumeirah’s southernmost offering is undoubtedly one of the most magnificent.

Stretched across two islands, this luxury hideaway is perfect for getting away from it all.

From Male, a hopper plane will transport you to the domestic Kaadedhdhoo Airport, where guests will take a boat the last 40 minutes to the island.

But when you arrive, the staff’s warm welcome, the resort’s stunning beaches and sprawling secluded villas will more than make up for any extended travel time you’ve undertaken to get there.

Now, if only we could stay forever.

Tikchik Narrows Lodge, Alaska

Tikchik Narrows Lodge in Alaska caters to those looking to try their hand at freshwater fishing on Bristol Bay

Tikchik Narrows Lodge in Alaska caters to those looking to try their hand at freshwater fishing on Bristol Bay

The small fishing lodge is located at the tip of Wood-Tikchik State Park – more than 300 miles from the nearest road and accessible only by seaplane.

Thankfully, the lodge has employed four full-time pilots to fly guests from the closest city in southwestern Alaska to the property.

Aside from the main lodge and its sun room and sauna, there are also seven duplex guest cabins, complete with all mod cons.

Upon arrival, visitors can take part in freshwater fishing on Bristol Bay and enjoy local cuisine, such as smoked salmon and moose tenders, while taking in the pine-filled vistas.

A map showing just how far flung these luxury hotels are, with our round-up stretching across the world

Peter Island Resort and Spa, British Virgin Islands

For those with deep pockets and a serious desire for privacy, the 1,800-acre Peter Island can be rented out in its entirety

For those with deep pockets and a serious desire for privacy, the 1,800-acre Peter Island can be rented out in its entirety

For travellers with deep pockets seeking some serious privacy, Peter Island is just the place.

The resort encompasses the entire isle and the entire 1,800-acre property – including airspace – can be rented out to accommodate an entourage of just about any size.

There are 31 ocean view rooms, 20 beach front junior suites and three luxury villas to choose from, which can sleep up to 130 guests.

Several specialty restaurants and bars, as well as a spa and fully-equipped marina, round out the islet’s offerings.

And although it likely won’t be a concern for anyone considering such a luxurious buy out, it’s also worth noting that to reach the secluded spot, a ferry ride, private yacht or helicopter flight from St. Thomas or Tortola will be required.

Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia

Situated in the middle of the Gobi Desert, Mongolia’s Three Camel Lodge is great for those looking to get up close and personal with local wildlife

In the heart of the Gobi Desert, the lodge isn’t just a once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination – it doubles as a base for scientific research and wildlife monitoring.

Each yurt – or ger – is heated by a wood stove, decorated with hand-painted beds and furnishings and designed to blend into the natural landscape.

There is also an on-site restaurant and bar, as well as a massage ger to help you relax after a long day of exploring via the custom tours that can be planned and booked with the help of the lodge.

To get there, you’ll need to fly from Ulaanbaater, the capital, to Dalanzadgad, which is located on the edge of the desert. From there another hour and a half drive – off the beaten path, we might add – will lead you there.

One thing’s for sure, however: this spot is definitely for the more adventurous travellers among us.

Could the Gate to the Garden of Eden be in Beit She’an? (And Where’s That Anyway?!)

Really interesting story here from HuffPost Travel

If you’re like most first-time visitors to Israel, you likely never heard of the Decapolis, much less places like Scythopolis or Hippos. But sometime during your stay while you’re out sightseeing in the footsteps of Abraham, Muhammad and Jesus, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in the boots of Roman legions parading down the columned lanes of Scythopolis.

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Roman columns line one of the city’s ceremonial areas. Photo by Bob Schulman

By then you’ve learned that Scythopolis — known today as Beit She’an — was the capital of the Decapolis, a league of 10 Roman powerhouse city-states mostly in northern Jordan. Among the others were Philadelphia (now Amman, Jordan’s capital), Gerasa (now Jerash, Jordan’s second most-visited city after Petra) and the Syrian capital of Damascus. There’s not much left of the other six cities in the league including the site of Hippos, the only other one in modern-day Israel.

Beit She’an is about a two-hour drive north of Jerusalem on Route 90, past the fallen walls of Jericho, past the mysterious pyramid-shaped Mount Sartabah and along the palm groves of the Jordan Valley. “Whatever you were expecting (at Beit She’an), the actual site is much bigger and there’s a lot more to see there,” says tour guide Hamad Masagash. He cites an old Jewish saying, “If the Garden of Eden is in the land of Israel, then its gate is in (Beit She’an).”

Looking down on the site from a parking lot full of tour buses, you can see why this magnificent city, once home to 40,000 people, became the superstar of the league after the Roman general Pompey rebuilt it around 63 B.C. Wander around the city, down lanes lined by rows of 20-foot-high columns, and you can imagine yourself in full Roman battle garb parading to the blasting trumpets and cheers of crowds hailing the return of your victorious legion.

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Beit She’an’s theater is remarkably well preserved. Photo by Bob Schulman

Plop down into one of the 7,000 seats in the city’s hillside theater, and it’s easy to conjure up Kirk Douglas slashing away at other gladiators in a scene out of the 1960 movie Spartacus. Standing 16 tiers high, the structure is rated as the best preserved Roman theater in Israel (no small feat in a country loaded with Roman theaters).

Nearby are blocks after blocks of historic buildings. You’ll go through lots of memory snapping spots like the six-story-high Temple of Dionysis (the god of wine-making, said to be the founder of the city), the remains of two immense public bath houses (billed as the largest in the country) and a shopping mall as long as a football field, all liberally sprinkled with statues, shrines, mosaics, sculptures, halls, gates, arches and squares.

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Grassy ‘tell’ holds thousands of years of history. Photo by Bob Schulman

Elsewhere on the site is a huge mound called a “tell,” where archaeologists dig for pay dirt marking different times in Israel’s history under invaders like the Jebusites, Canaanites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, Seleucids, Maccabees, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, Brits and everyone else who raised their flags around these parts over the last 5,000 years.

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Pilgrims’ boat on the Sea of Galilee. Photo courtesy of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism/Itamar Grinberg

Like just about everyplace else in this country the size of New Jersey, many other historic and religious sites right out of the Bible are seemingly just around the corner from Beit She’an. Hop back on Route 90 and head north, for instance, and in 20 or so minutes you can be noshing on a pita full of chicken shawarma on the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. From there, you’re not far from cities dotting the shoreline like Tiberius (built by King Herod in honor of the Roman Emperor Tiberius), Tabgha (where Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes) and Capernaum (Jesus’ home base during his ministry).

 

Ned’s Tip:  if you’re going to visit Jordan’s capital, the top place to stay is the award-winning five-star Le Royal Amman, part of Le Royal Hotels & Resorts division of the General Mediterranean Holding group.

 

 

 

Can YOU guess where it is?

Another photography article but WHAT an incredible one. Infinite thanks to Benjamin Grant (via the Daily Mail Online) for sharing these stunning images with the rest of humanity!

Ned


Mesmerising Instagram pictures taken from space show iconic worldwide landmarks as they’ve never been seen before

  • A photography series, called Daily Overview, has been posting satellite images of Earth’s most iconic landscapes 
  • Inspired by the ‘overview effect,’ which is the sensation that astronauts experience viewing Earth from space
  • Project creator Benjamin Grant begins with a ‘thought experiment’ to find each eye-catching aerial image
  • New additions include the blooming tulip fields of Lisse, Netherlands and the medina quarter in Marrakech 

This incredible photography series is inspired by what is known as the ‘overview effect’: the sensation that astronauts experience when the view the Earth from space.

New York-based project creator Benjamin Grant starts with what he calls ‘a thought experiment’ and then works to find an eye-catching satellite image on the resulting theme.

Thanks to an official partnership with satellite imaging company Digital Globe, Benjamin is able to zero in on a location to present and post a new photo every single day on his Daily Overview website.

The Spiral Jetty, which is is a counterclockwise coil jutting out from the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, makes for a stunning image

The Spiral Jetty, which is is a counterclockwise coil jutting out from the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, makes for a stunning image

The blooming tulip fields in Lisse, Netherlands, offer a stunning sky-high shot - in particular, during the peak bloom season in April

The blooming tulip fields in Lisse, Netherlands, offer a stunning sky-high shot – in particular, during the peak bloom season in April

The medina quarter in Marrakech, Morocco is characterised by its winding, maze-like streets, though is hard to identify from the air

The medina quarter in Marrakech, Morocco is characterised by its winding, maze-like streets, though is hard to identify from the air

The stunning results include aerial views of the 7.8 mile long, circular Nardo Ring test track and the Mad Max-esque Burning Man festival held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

Other highlights include the dense urban sprawls of the medina quarter in Marrakech, Morocco, a plane boneyard in Victorville, California and the otherworldly Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant in Seville, Spain

Benjamin explains: ‘Nearly all of the Overviews focus on the places where human activity—for better or for worse—has shaped the landscape of the planet. Each one starts with a thought experiment.

‘I consider the places where man has left his mark on the planet and then conduct the necessary research to identify locations (and the corresponding geo-coordinates) to convey that idea.

‘A number of themes have now developed for example transportation, agriculture, energy, so I often use those buckets to help generate new ideas as I search for new places to capture.

‘Our project was inspired, and derives its name, from an idea known as the Overview Effect.  This term refers to the sensation astronauts have when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole.’

The impressive image of radiating streets is taken at Plaza Del Ejecutivo in the Venustiano Carranza district of Mexico City

The impressive image of radiating streets is taken at Plaza Del Ejecutivo in the Venustiano Carranza district of Mexico City

Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, resembles the design of an aeroplane when photographed from above

Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, resembles the design of an aeroplane when photographed from above

The otherworldly Mount Whaleback Ire Ore Mine, located in Western Australia, boasts a kaleidoscope of colours from the air

The otherworldly Mount Whaleback Ire Ore Mine, located in Western Australia, boasts a kaleidoscope of colours from the air

The roads crossing along the Stelvio Pass, a road in Northern Italy, are the highest paved routes in the Eastern Alps

The roads crossing along the Stelvio Pass, a road in Northern Italy, are the highest paved routes in the Eastern Alps

At the Huelva Orchard in Spain, fruit trees create a swirl-like pattern on the hills in the ideal temperate climate

At the Huelva Orchard in Spain, fruit trees create a swirl-like pattern on the hills in the ideal temperate climate

The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park gets is vivid colour from pigmented bacteria that grow along its edges

The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park gets is vivid colour from pigmented bacteria that grow along its edges

The town of Bourtange, Netherlands - shaped like a star - makes for an incredible satellite image on the Daily Overview

The town of Bourtange, Netherlands – shaped like a star – makes for an incredible satellite image on the Daily Overview

The Gamasolar Thermosolar Plant in Seville, Spain uses 2,650 mirrors to focus the sun's thermal energy - and looks like an optical illusion from the air

The Gamasolar Thermosolar Plant in Seville, Spain uses 2,650 mirrors to focus the sun’s thermal energy – and looks like an optical illusion from the air

Aluminum toxic waste gathers in the collection pond of a plant in Darrow, Louisiana, though the red mud generated makes for a stunning shot

Aluminum toxic waste gathers in the collection pond of a plant in Darrow, Louisiana, though the red mud generated makes for a stunning shot

The social media account also includes an image of the Great Pyramids of Giza, located on the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt

The social media account also includes an image of the Great Pyramids of Giza, located on the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt

Niagara Falls, which straddle the border between Ontario and the United States, make for a majestic satellite shot

Niagara Falls, which straddle the border between Ontario and the United States, make for a majestic satellite shot

During the Burning Man festival, which is held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, USA, participants can be seen as a semi-circle

During the Burning Man festival, which is held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, USA, participants can be seen as a semi-circle

The Nardo Ring is a high-speed circular test track in Italy and photographs like a contained circle from the sky

The Nardo Ring is a high-speed circular test track in Italy and photographs like a contained circle from the sky

‘They have the chance to appreciate our home in its entirety, to reflect on its beauty and its fragility all at once. That’s the cognitive shift that we hope to inspire,’ Benjamin adds.

‘From our line of sight on the earth’s surface, it’s impossible to fully appreciate the beauty and intricacy of the things we’ve constructed, the sheer complexity of the systems we’ve developed, or the devastating impact that we’ve had on our planet.

‘We believe that beholding these forces as they shape our Earth is necessary to make progress in understanding who we are as a species, and what is needed to sustain a safe and healthy planet.

‘As a result, the Overviews (what we call these images) focus on the the places and moments where human activity—for better or for worse—has shaped the landscape.

Each Overview starts with a thought experiment. We consider the places where man has left his mark on the planet and then conduct the necessary research to identify locations (and the corresponding geo-coordinates) to convey that idea.

‘The mesmerising flatness seen from this vantage point, the surprising comfort of systematic organisation on a massive scale, or the vibrant colours that we capture will hopefully turn your head.

‘However, once we have that attention, we hope you will go beyond the aesthetics, contemplate just exactly what it is that you’re seeing, and consider what that means for our planet.’

And, so far, the response to the images has been overwhelming.

Today, the account has amassed over 40,000 followers and Benjamin even sells some of his more popular images as large prints on his website.

An olive tree plantation covers the hills of Curdoba, Spain, and from the air looks more like dots among a field

An olive tree plantation covers the hills of Curdoba, Spain, and from the air looks more like dots among a field. 90 per cent of all harvested olives will be turned into oil

The Example DIstrict in Barcelona, Spain, is characterised by its strict grid pattern and apartments with communal courtyards

The Example DIstrict in Barcelona, Spain, is characterised by its strict grid pattern and apartments with communal courtyards

Venice, Italy is fascinating to observe from above, with its canals, bridges and 78 giant steel gates across the three inlets

Venice, Italy is fascinating to observe from above, with its canals, bridges and 78 giant steel gates across the three inlets

The canal system of Amsterdam makes for an intriguing subject - all a result of conscious urban planning 

The canal system of Amsterdam makes for an intriguing subject – all a result of conscious urban planning

Benjamin Grant's Instagram account, Daily Overview, posts images - taken from space - depicting man's impact on civilisation. This picture shows Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia

Benjamin Grant’s Instagram account, Daily Overview, posts images – taken from space – depicting man’s impact on civilisation. This picture shows Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia

The Moab Potash Ponds in Utah is a stunning example of vibrant colour contrast between the bright blue water and salt 

The Moab Potash Ponds in Utah is a stunning example of vibrant colour contrast between the bright blue water and salt

In Norfolk, Virginia, Lamberts Point Pier 6 is the largest coal-landing station in the Northern Hemisphere

In Norfolk, Virginia, Lamberts Point Pier 6 is the largest coal-landing station in the Northern Hemisphere

Central Park in New York City spans 843 acres, which accounts for six per cent of the island of Manhattan

Central Park in New York City spans 843 acres, which accounts for six per cent of the island of Manhattan

The Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, has a large boneyard of over 150 retired planes

The Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, has a large boneyard of over 150 retired planes

The neighbourhoods of Sntosh Park and Uttam Nagar in India are some of the most built-up and densely populated

The neighbourhoods of Sntosh Park and Uttam Nagar in India are some of the most built-up and densely populated

Cargo ships and tankers are pictured waiting outside the entry to the Port of Singapore - the world's second-busiest port 

Cargo ships and tankers are pictured waiting outside the entry to the Port of Singapore – the world’s second-busiest port

A whirlpool interchange, which was first built in 2006, connects three major roads by the Miracle Garden in Dubai, UAE

A whirlpool interchange, which was first built in 2006, connects three major roads by the Miracle Garden in Dubai, UAE

Located at the centre of 12 radiating avenues in Paris, France, construction of the Arc de Triomphe took nearly 30 years to complete

Located at the centre of 12 radiating avenues in Paris, France, construction of the Arc de Triomphe took nearly 30 years to complete


Check out Benjamin’s website for the full beauty of the Overview Effect.  This is what he says about it:-

Our project was inspired, and derives its name, from an idea known as the Overview Effect. This term refers to the sensation astronauts have when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole. They have the chance to appreciate our home in its entirety, to reflect on its beauty and its fragility all at once. That’s the cognitive shift that we hope to inspire. 

From our line of sight on the earth’s surface, it’s impossible to fully appreciate the beauty and intricacy of the things we’ve constructed, the sheer complexity of the systems we’ve developed, or the devastating impact that we’ve had on our planet. We believe that beholding these forces as they shape our Earth is necessary to make progress in understanding who we are as a species, and what is needed to sustain a safe and healthy planet.

As a result, the Overviews (what we call these images) focus on the places and moments where human activity—for better or for worse—has shaped the landscape. Each Overview starts with a thought experiment. We consider the places where man has left his mark on the planet and then conduct the necessary research to identify locations (and the corresponding geo-coordinates) to convey that idea. 

The mesmerizing flatness seen from this vantage point, the surprising comfort of systematic organization on a massive scale, or the vibrant colors that we capture will hopefully turn your head. However, once we have that attention, we hope you will go beyond the aesthetics, contemplate just exactly what it is that you’re seeing, and consider what that means for our planet.

Under-The-Radar Vacation Destinations

Some more amazing places to visit if you’ve already done the obvious ones.

Original article from HuffPost Travel & Thrillist

ANGUILLA

Photo Credit: Alexshalamov | Dreamstime.com

Where: Caribbean

Ringed by blindingly white sand and lustrous aquamarine waters, this mostly flat desert island offers a decidedly low-key escape, especially compared to bustling St. Martin nearby. There are no nonstop flights from the U.S. to Anguilla, and no port for cruise ships to pull into, which helps to maintain the island’s relaxed vibe. Locals value privacy and peace—they won’t even permit Jet Skis on the island for fear of noise pollution.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Anguilla Travel Guide

NORTH STRADBROKE ISLAND

Photo Credit: THPStock / Shutterstock

Where: Australia

Located less than 20 miles from Brisbane, “Straddie” (as locals call it) is a popular weekend destination for Brisbanites looking to escape the city. Activities here include swimming, fishing, surfing, and hiking to explore the island’s five beaches and dozens of inland lakes. You can spot koalas on the island, or head to Point Lookout, considered one of the best land-based whale-watching spots in the world.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Australia Travel Guide

HAINAN ISLAND

Photo Credit: LU JINRONG / Shutterstock

Where: China

Popular with Chinese and Russian tourists, but mostly unknown to other travelers, this tropical island off China’s southern coast is home to gorgeous beaches, a volcano park, monkeys, a Shaolin Buddhist temple, an ancient Hainanese village, and more. The island is now being promoted as “China’s Hawaii,” which may sound like a tourism ploy, but the scenery here is worthy of the comparison.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s China Travel Guide

HOCKING HILLS STATE PARK

Photo Credit: Saffiresblue | Dreamstime.com

Where: Ohio

Hiking, biking, archery, fishing, hunting, camping—you’ll find all this and more at this state park, spread across more than 2,300 acres. The park is most notable for its waterfalls and dramatic rock formations, including Old Man’s Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Ash Cave, and Cedar Falls.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Ohio Travel Guide

KOH LIPE

Photo Credit: Blanscape / Shutterstock

Where: Thailand

Accessible only by boat, this island paradise in the Andaman Sea is surrounded by clear water and pristine reefs, where 25 percent of the world’s tropical fish species live and swim. Considered a calmer alternative to overrun Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lipe features a variety of beaches—some developed, some deserted—but you’ll find peace and quiet at Sunrise Beach. As part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, Koh Lipe is unlikely to see the kind of massive developments that have detracted from the appeal of other Thai islands.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Thailand Travel Guide

GATES OF THE ARCTIC NATIONAL PARK

Photo Credit: Joshanon1 | Dreamstime.com

Where: Alaska

Travelers who are proficient in outdoor survival skills should head to this vast, nearly untouched wilderness park, spread across 8.4 million acres in northern Alaska. The park has no established, roads, trails, or campsites, which means that trekking across this landscape is a challenging but one-of-a-kind adventure. Home to the Brooks Range mountains and six rivers, the park offers excellent fishing opportunities in addition to its superlative scenery.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Alaska Travel Guide

ŞANLIURFA

Photo Credit: Orhan Cam / Shutterstock

Where: Turkey

Commonly called Urfa, this historic city dates back at least 3,500 years, and Turkish legend has it that Abraham was born in a cave here. The cave and other important sites draw hundreds of thousands of Muslim visitors annually. Aside from its traditional architecture, Urfa’s main attractions are the Fish Pool, an old covered bazaar, the Throne of Nimrod fortress, and a small archaeological museum. A trip to nearby Göbekli Tepe is considered a must, as it is home to the world’s oldest temple, dating from more than 11,000 years ago.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Turkey Travel Guide

KOBARID

Photo Credit: dohtar / Shutterstock

Where: Slovenia

Located in the Soča Valley, this picturesque town is surrounded by majestic mountains and rolling green pastures. Aside from its natural beauty, Kobarid has historical importance, with archaeological sites dating to the Iron Age in addition to a museum commemorating the town’s role in World War I. For such a small place, Kobarid is home to a surprising number of fine restaurants, five of which comprise a group known as the Kobarid Gastronomic Circle.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Slovenia Travel Guide

VIRUNGA VOLCANOES

Photo Credit: PRILL / Shutterstock

Where: Rwanda

This very active eight-volcano chain straddles the borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but for security reasons, your best bet is to visit the section located in Rwanda. Hikers who scale the volcanoes, up to heights of 15,000 feet, will be rewarded with incredible views and sightings of mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, and other wildlife.

Read More: 12 Reasons to Go to Rwanda

SCHÖNAU AM KÖNIGSEE

Photo Credit: Fyletto | Dreamstime.com

Where: Germany

Popular for health retreats and winter sports, this town lies near the Austrian border and sits inside Berchtesgaden National Park, on scenic Lake Königsee. Mount Jenner offers skiing in winter, while Mount Watzmann is better suited to mountain climbers. Featuring small-town Bavarian charm, Schönau am Königsee is home to a number of cafes and traditional restaurants

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Germany Travel Guide

RANGIROA

Photo Credit: iPics / Shutterstock

Where: French Polynesia

You’ve heard of Tahiti and Bora Bora, but not this place, which happens to be the second-largest atoll in the world. Essentially a string of coral encircling a beautiful lagoon, Rangiroa offers world-class diving and one-of-a-kind natural beauty. Activities are centered on beaches and the water, though you can also explore villages and visit a working pearl farm.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s French Polynesia Travel Guide

PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK

Photo Credit: iPics / Shutterstock

Where: Croatia

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, this stunning national park features approximately 20 lakes in addition to breathtaking caves, forests, and waterfalls. There’s also an abundance of wildlife here, including bears, wolves, and 126 bird species. Spread over more than 70,000 acres, the park is notable for the unique geological processes that formed its cascading lakes and continue to alter the terrain to this day.

Where to Stay: there’s no lodging inside the park, but Hotel Degenya and Turist Grabovic are both popular with park visitors.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Croatia Travel Guide

LOMBOK

Photo Credit: Kim Briers / Shutterstock

Where: Indonesia

Want the splendor of Bali without all of the crowds? Then head to Lombok, where you’ll find beautiful beaches, enchanting waterfalls, a looming volcano, and relatively few tourists. The natural scenery and local way of life have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, and the indigenous culture is quite rich. Aside from relaxation, this island is ideal for surfing and snorkeling.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Indonesia Travel Guide

ULAN BATOR

Photo Credit: Jeppo75 | Dreamstime.com

Where: Mongolia

The Mongolian capital has a reputation for being a rather unattractive city, but don’t let that discourage you, as it makes a good base for exploring one of the world’s most beautiful and hospitable countries. (Don’t pass up the opportunity to hike in the mountains south of the city.) Primarily a business-traveler destination, you won’t see too many Western tourists here, meaning the museums won’t be overrun.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Mongolia Forum

EL DJEM

Photo Credit: Nicku / Shutterstock

Where: Tunisia

Originally built as the Thysdrus, this town in northern Africa features well-preserved architecture from the days of the Roman Empire. El Djem was once the second-most important city in the region, behind Carthage, and its most famous feature is a massive amphitheater, constructed in the third century, which could house up to 35,000 spectators. Though parts of the structure have crumbled, enough of it still stands to conjure its former glory. The town is also home to a museum that features a large selection of mosaics and a restored Roman villa.

Ned’s tip: for the best service in Tunisia, stay at Le Royal Hammamet, part of the luxury Le Royal Hotels & Resorts division of the General Mediterranean Holding group

The Airfare Hack That Can Double Your Vacation for Free

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Why visit one country when you can see two? Many airlines let you do just that with free or low-cost stopovers.

Tom Nagy/Gallery Stock. This airfare hack can help you see Rio and Buenos Aires in one trip.

If you’re adventurous and want to get the most out of your airfare dollar, consider working a free stopover into your next international trip.

The first thing to know about a stopover is that it’s absolutely not the same as a layover. Far from being an inconvenience in the middle of a long-haul trip, a stopover is a legitimate stay—days, even weeks—in a city along the way to your final destination. Such an itinerary can afford you the opportunity to visit two cities on one ticket for about the same fare as you’d pay to simply fly directly to your destination.

For example, you could fly from New York to spend five days in Rio de Janeiro then continue on to visit Buenos Aires for a week for about the same price as a round-trip to just one of those cities.

While airlines occasionally charge for stopovers, often times they’ll offer them for free as a way to encourage tourism in their home regions or better compete against nonstop flights to particular destinations. (Even “free” stopovers do require you to pay some additional airport taxes; these are often just a small percentage of your overall fare.)

So how do you find these fares? Stopover information is buried in the fine print of fare rules, but you can find them using airfare search tools like Google’s ITA Software. All you need to do is click on “rules” when you pull up the details on a particular flight option. From there, you can search for the stopover section and see if one is allowed on the fare.

The truth is, though, that simple experimentation can yield good results. Pick two cities you want to visit then input them into the multi-city search available on many travel sites, like Expedia, Hipmunk, Kayak, or Orbitz. You’ll often see options that are reasonably priced, about the same as if you booked a typical round-trip to just one city. While it may not be apparent in the results, these are often fares that leverage free or low-cost stopover rules.

You can also take advantage of free stopovers on some award tickets booked with airlines miles. United MileagePlus allows one free stopover on round-trip international award tickets, and Alaska MileagePlan allows a stopover on any award. (American AAdvantage and Delta SkyMiles no longer offer free stopovers on awards.)

While stopover rules are always subject to change, here are just some of the trips that are possible.

Australia and New Zealand
Qantas and Virgin Australia often let you stopover for free in Brisbane, Melbourne, or Sydney on trips from the U.S., so there’s no need to buy a separate ticket to visit two of those cities. Air New Zealand offers a free stopover in Auckland, and Hawaiian Airlines offers one in Honolulu on the way to Australia.

Africa
Royal Air Maroc, with service from New York, offers free stopovers in Casablanca, even on trips to Europe, while South African Airways sometimes allows them in Johannesburg.

Asia
Cathay Pacific often offers a free stop in Hong Kong, while EVA Airways does on select flights to Taiwan. Air India and Jet Airways each allow one for many flights to India, letting you for example hit both Mumbai and Goa or Delhi and Chennai on one fare. Singapore Airlines offers a free stop in Singapore on some fares.

Europe
Aer Lingus lets you stop in your Ireland gateway as part of an onward journey to other European destinations, and Icelandair has one of the better publicized free stopover programs in Reykjavik. Virgin Atlantic offers a free stop in the U.K.—and prominently displays the option when you search for flights on its website.

Turkish Airlines offers a free Istanbul stop, and if the Turkish Airlines schedule requires you to spend at least ten hours in Istanbul, you get free hotel accommodations for up to two nights. LOT Polish Airlines, with service from Chicago and New York, allows a free stop in Poland, and Finnair offers one in Helsinki if you book via its call center.

Middle East
Emirates and Etihad Airways offer a free stop when connecting through their Dubai and Abu Dhabi hubs.

South America
Most South American airlines offer a free stop, including LATAM (which operates under the LAN and TAM brands), letting you for example fit both Brazil and Argentina into a trip. Copa also offers a free stop at its Panama City hub along the way.

 

 

The tourist attractions you should be visiting (but probably aren’t): UNESCO reveals latest list of world heritage sites

Source: Daily Mail Travel

A popular wine region in France, an ancient settlement in Turkey and a famous battle site in the US are among two dozen properties that have been added to the UN’s list of world heritage sites.

Unesco’s World Heritage Committee has inscribed 24 properties from around the world, including well-known attractions such as the Champagne wine region and some that many tourists have never heard of but may now receive a tourism boost.

Denmark, France, Iran and Turkey led the way with each country having two locations added to the list, which already includes icons such as Tower of London, the Statue of Liberty and Great Barrier Reef.

Tourists walk through the ancient Greek and Roman settlements at Ephesus in Turkey, once the site of the Temple of Artemis

Tourists walk through the ancient Greek and Roman settlements at Ephesus in Turkey, once the site of the Temple of Artemis

Already a popular attraction, the vineyards, cellars and sales house in Champagne, France are now a world heritage site

Already a popular attraction, the vineyards, cellars and sales house in Champagne, France are now a world heritage site

The Alamo, part of the San Antonio Missions, was the site of a famous battle between outnumbered Texas settlers and Mexican forces

The Alamo, part of the San Antonio Missions, was the site of a famous battle between outnumbered Texas settlers and Mexican forces

The UK’s lone entry was Scotland’s Forth Bridge, which was completed in 1890 to carry trains over the Forth River and is still in use today. The 8,200ft long steel structure was praised in its nomination for being a ‘masterpiece of human creative genius’.

In the US, the only new property added to the list was the San Antonio Missions – five Spanish Roman Catholic sites, including the Alamo.

The Missions were built in the 18th century in and around what is now the city of San Antonio, Texas to convert indigenous people to Catholicism and make them Spanish subjects.

Tourists visit Hashima Island, commonly known as Gunkanjima, which means ‘Battleship Island’, off Nagasaki in Japan

The Forth Bridge in the east of Scotland opened in 1890 and continues to carry passengers and freight over the Forth River

The Forth Bridge in the east of Scotland opened in 1890 and continues to carry passengers and freight over the Forth River

Dating back to the 16th century, the Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System is located on the central Mexican plateau

Dating back to the 16th century, the Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System is located on the central Mexican plateau

NEW UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

    • Necropolis of Bet She’arim: A Landmark of Jewish Renewal, Israel
    • Rjukan–Notodden Industrial Heritage Site, Norway
    • Rock Art in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia
    • San Antonio Missions, US
    • Singapore Botanical Gardens
    • Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining
    • Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus, Germany
    • Susa archaeological mounds, Iran
    • The Forth Bridge, Scotland
    • The par force hunting landscape in North Zealand, Denmark
    • Tusi Sites, China
    • Blue and John Crow Mountains, Jamaica
    • Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System, Mexico
    • Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale, Italy
    • Baekje Historic Areas, South Korea
    • Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas), Jordan
    • Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars, France
    • Christiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement, Norway
    • Climats, terroirs of Burgundy, France
    • Cultural Landscape of Maymand, Iran
    • Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape, Turkey
    • Ephesus, Turkey
    • Fray Bentos Cultural-Industrial Landscape, Uruguay
    • Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain and its sacred landscape, Mongolia

The best known of the missions, The Alamo, was the site of the famous 1836 battle when an outnumbered band of Texas settlers staged a courageous stand before Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his Mexican forces seized the mission.

After the Champagne hillsides, houses and cellars, France’s second entry was the Burgundy vineyards south of Dijon, where the industry has been in existence since at least the 12th century.

One of Turkey’s two entries was the ancient Greek and Roman settlements at Ephesus, once the site of the Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

China's Tusi Sites encompass remains of several tribal domains whose chiefs were appointed from the 13th to the early 20th century

China’s Tusi Sites encompass remains of several tribal domains whose chiefs were appointed from the 13th to the early 20th century

 

Ephesus was one of two attractions in Turkey to be added; the other was Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape

Ephesus was one of two attractions in Turkey to be added; the other was Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape

In another decision, Japan received world heritage status for a collection of almost two dozen sites that illustrate the country’s industrial revolution during the 19th century.

The unanimous vote in favour of Japan’s bid was approved only after Tokyo and Seoul resolved a spat over whether to acknowledge the sites’ history of wartime forced labour, particularly that of Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island.

The fortress island near Nagasaki was key to Japan’s rapid development during the 1868-1912 era of the Meiji Emperor, who sought to catch up with Western colonial powers.

Until recently, Seoul had objected to the listing unless the role of Korean prisoners forced to work there during World War II was formally recognized.


Ned’s tip: if you’re travelling to Jordan, stay in General Mediterranean Holding’s luxurious five star Le Royal Amman. Or take a break and head down to gorgeous Sharm El Sheikh on the Red Sea, where you’ll want to check out the fab and fun Le Royal Sharm.  See this report for more.

My 30 Best Travel Tips After 4 Years Traveling The World

Source: expertvagabond.com

Favorite Travel Tips

My Best Tips for World Travel

It’s now been 4 years since I sold everything and left the United States to travel the world. These are the best travel tips I’ve discovered along the way.

It all started when I took a one-way flight from Miami to Guatemala City, leaping nervously into the unknown and leaving much of my old life behind while embarking on an epic travel adventure around the world.

It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve learned a lot since I first left. To celebrate my 4 year “travelversary”, I’ve decided to share a collection of my best and most useful travel tips to help inspire you to make travel a priority in your life.

Feel free to share your own best travel tips at the end!

1. Patience Is Important

Don’t sweat the stuff you can’t control. Life is much too short to be angry & annoyed all the time. Did you miss your bus? No worries, there will be another one. ATMs out of money? Great! Take an unplanned road trip over to the next town and explore. Sometimes freakouts happen regardless.

Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that it could be worse.

2. Wake Up Early

Rise at sunrise to have the best attractions all to yourself while avoiding crowds. It’s also a magical time for photos due to soft diffused light, and usually easier to interact with locals. Sketchy areas are less dangerous in the morning too. Honest hardworking people wake up early; touts, scammers, and criminals sleep in.

Favorite Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Laugh at Yourself

3. Laugh At Yourself

You will definitely look like a fool many times when traveling to new places. Rather than get embarrassed, laugh at yourself. Don’t be afraid to screw up, and don’t take life so seriously.

Once a whole bus full of Guatemalans laughed with glee when I forced our driver to stop so I could urgently pee on the side of the road. Returning to the bus and laughing with them gave me new friends for the remainder of the journey.

4. Stash Extra Cash

Cash is king around the world. To cover your ass in an emergency, make sure to stash some in a few different places. I recommend at least a couple hundred dollars worth. If you lose your wallet, your card stops working, or the ATMs run out of money, you’ll be glad you did.

Some of my favorite stash spots include socks, under shoe inserts, a toiletry bag, around the frame of a backpack, even sewn behind a patch on your bag. Oh, and make sure you have a good travel banking system setup too.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Meet Local People

5. Meet Local People

Make it a point to avoid other travelers from time to time and start conversations with local people. Basic English is spoken widely all over the world, so it’s easier to communicate with them than you might think, especially when you combine hand gestures and body language. Learn from those who live in the country you’re visiting.

People enrich your travels more than sights do.

6. Pack A Scarf

I happen to use a shemagh, but sarongs work great too. This simple piece of cotton cloth is one of my most useful travel accessories with many different practical applications. It’s great for sun protection, a makeshift towel, carrying stuff around, an eye mask, and much more.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Observe Daily Life

7. Observe Daily Life

If you really want to get a feel for the pulse of a place, I recommend spending a few hours sitting in a park or on a busy street corner by yourself just watching day to day life happen in front of you.

Slow down your thoughts and pay close attention to the details around you. The smells, the colors, human interactions, and sounds. It’s a kind of meditation — and you’ll see stuff you never noticed before.

8. Back Everything Up

When my laptop computer was stolen in Panama, having most of my important documents and photos backed up saved my ass. Keep both digital and physical copies of your passport, visas, driver’s license, birth certificate, health insurance card, serial numbers, and important phone numbers ready to go in case of an emergency.

Backup your files & photos on an external hard drive as well as online with software like Backblaze.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Take Lots of Photos

9. Take Lots Of Photos

You may only see these places & meet these people once in your lifetime. Remember them forever with plenty of photos. Don’t worry about looking like a “tourist”. Are you traveling to look cool? No one cares. Great photos are the ultimate souvenir.

They don’t cost anything, they’re easy to share with others, and they don’t take up space in your luggage. Just remember once you have your shot to get out from behind the lens and enjoy the view.

10. There’s Always A Way

Nothing is impossible. If you are having trouble going somewhere or doing something, don’t give up. You just haven’t found the best solution or met the right person yet. Don’t listen to those who say it can’t be done.

Perseverance pays off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told what I want isn’t possible, only to prove it wrong later when I don’t listen to the advice and try anyway.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Smile & Say Hello

11. Smile & Say Hello

Having trouble interacting with locals? Do people seem unfriendly? Maybe it’s your body language. One of my best travel tips is to make eye contact and smile as you walk by. If they smile back, say hello in the local language too. This is a fast way to make new friends.

You can’t expect everyone to just walk around with a big stupid grin on their face. That’s your job. Usually all it takes is for you to initiate contact and they’ll open up.

12. Splurge A Bit

I’m a huge fan of budget travel, as it lets you travel longer and actually experience more of the fascinating world we live in rather than waste money on stuff you don’t need. You can travel many places for $30 a day with no problems.

That said, living on a shoestring gets old after a while. It’s nice (and healthy) to go over your budget occasionally. Book a few days at a nice hotel, eat out at a fancy restaurant, or spend a wild night on the town.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Keep an Open Mind

13. Keep An Open Mind

Don’t judge the lifestyles of others if different from your own. Listen to opinions you don’t agree with. It’s arrogant to assume your views are correct and other people are wrong. Practice empathy and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Embrace different possibilities, opportunities, people, suggestions and interests. Ask questions. You don’t have to agree, but you may be surprised what you’ll learn.

14. Try Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing.org is a large online community of travelers who share their spare rooms or couches with strangers for free. If you truly want to experience a country and it’s people, staying with a local is the way to go.

There are millions of couchsurfers around the world willing to host you and provide recommendations. It’s fun and safe too. Expensive hotels are not the only option, there are all kinds of cheap travel accommodation options out there.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Volunteer Occasionally

15. Volunteer Occasionally

Make it a point to volunteer some of your time for worthwhile projects when traveling. Not only is it a very rewarding experience, but you’ll often learn more about the country and its people while also making new friends.

There’s a great site called Grassroots Volunteering where you can search for highly recommended volunteer opportunities around the world.

16. Pack Ear Plugs

This should actually be #1 on the list. I love my earplugs! Muffle the sounds of crying babies, drunk Australians, barking dogs, honking horns, dormitory sex, natural gas salesmen, and more. A traveler’s best friend. These are my favorite earplugs for comfort & effectiveness.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Don’t Be Afraid

17. Don’t Be Afraid

The world is not nearly as dangerous as the media makes it out to be. Keep an eye out for sketchy situations but don’t let that be the focus of your whole trip. Use common sense and you’ll be ok. Most people are friendly, trustworthy, generous, and willing to help you out.

This goes for women too. I realize I’m not a woman, but I’ve met plenty of experienced female travelers who agree.

18. Get Lost On Purpose

If you want to see the parts of town where real people live & work, you need to go visit them. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing where you’re going. Write down the name of your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.

Don’t worry too much about stumbling into dangerous neighborhoods either, as locals will generally warn you before you get that far.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Eat Local Food

19. Eat Local Food

Think you already know what Mexican food tastes like? You’re probably wrong. Taste a bit of everything when you travel, especially if you don’t know what it is. Ask local people for recommendations. Eat street food from vendors with big lines out front.

I’ve been very sick only twice in my travels. Don’t be scared of the food.

20. Say Yes Often

Be impulsive and say yes when someone randomly invites you to meet their family, try a new activity, or explore a place you didn’t know existed. It’s these unexpected and unplanned situations that add spice to your travels and always turn into the best stories later.

Accept the kindness of strangers when you travel — you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Slow Down

21. Slow Down

Please don’t try to cram 6 countries into 6 weeks of travel. All the good stuff happens when you really take the time to explore. You’ll learn about activities that aren’t in your guidebook and meet people who are eager to show you around.

I can honestly say that NONE of my best travel experiences happened within the first few days of arriving somewhere. Spend more time in fewer places for maximum enjoyment.

22. Keep Good Notes

My memory for details sucks. When I first started traveling the world 4 years ago, I didn’t keep a good journal, and now I’m regretting it.

Information like the names of people I met, conversations I had, feelings about a new experience, or what a particular town smelled like. If you ever want to write about your travels, these details are handy.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

23. Break Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Challenge yourself to try things that normally give you anxiety. The more you do this, the more that anxiety will fade away. Not a hiker? Go on more hikes. Have trouble talking to strangers? Talk to everyone. Scared of weird food? Eat the weirdest thing you can find.

The reason this works so well while traveling is because everything is already so different, what’s one more new/uncomfortable experience?

24. Don’t Plan Too Much

I cringe when readers ask how many days they should spend in a particular country or city. The truth is I have no idea what you’ll enjoy or who you’ll meet. I thought I’d rocket through Nicaragua in a week or two, but ended up living there for 4 months.

My advice is to pick a starting point, 1 or 2 must-do activities, and an ending point (or not). Then just let the universe determine the rest.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Pack Less Stuff

25. Pack Less Stuff

You don’t need 1/2 the gear you think you do to travel anywhere. We’ve all done it. It’s a right of passage for travelers to slowly become better at packing less. My first backpack was 70 liters packed full, my current bag is only 38 liters.

As a full-time vagabond, everything I own fits on my back. If you’re not sure about packing something, you don’t need it. It’s also possible to buy most things at your destination country if you discover you need them.

26. Listen To Podcasts

Podcasts are awesome. It’s like creating your own personal radio station and filling it with shows and music you always want to listen to. I never thought I’d actually look forward to a 10 hour bus ride. But with podcasts, it’s possible (well, as long as the seats are comfortable).

Time will fly by as you listen to incredible storytelling, fun music, or interviews with experts. Here are some of my favorites: This American Life, The Moth, RISK!, Radiolab, Smart Passive Income, and Electro-Swing.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Treat Your Body Well

27. Treat Your Body Well

Travel can throw your body out of whack. When you’re moving from place to place it’s difficult to maintain a workout routine, and many of us slack off. Or we don’t sleep enough. Or we eat too many cupcakes. I’m guilty of not flossing my teeth.

Remember to be nice to your body. Get enough sleep, stay hydrated, eat healthy, use sunscreen, and exercise often (check out this bodyweight routine, no gym required!). And, yes, flossing too I guess.

28. Stay In Touch

Remember to call your family & friends from time to time. Maybe surprise them and go old-school by sending a postcard (it’s in the mail, Mom!). Travel isn’t lonely, far from it. You constantly meet other people. But many of those relationships are fleeting. So maintaining a strong connection with the people who know you best is important.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Get Off the Beaten Path

29. Get Off The Beaten Path

I know it’s cliché, but you should still attempt it. Seek out interesting and unusual places that don’t see much tourism. Many memorable travel experiences have happened to me in areas that are not easy to visit. By all means travel to popular sites, but don’t rule out other locations just because they’re not on the tourist trail.

Although please realize that just because an area is remote or dangerous doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a life-changing experience.

30. Travel More

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the past 4 years, it’s that many people back home love to tell me how lucky I am while making excuses why they can’t travel. It’s too expensive. They can’t get time off work. Who will feed their pets?

When I suggest solutions to these “problems”, they still don’t take action. Why? Because they’re often hiding behind the true reason: they’re scared.

Unfortunately most people who wait to travel the world never do.

You don’t need to sell all your worldly possessions and become a homeless vagabond like me. Just get out there more than you do now. Start with a weekend in a different state. Then maybe try a week in the country next door.

The new car, remodeling project, and iPhone can wait. If you truly want to travel more, you can make it happen. Career breaks are possible. You have friends who would love to watch your pets.

It’s a big, beautiful, exciting, and fascinating world out there. Explore some of it now, rather than later. ★

Travel More

How to Travel the World

 

9 UNESCO Sites to See Before They Disappear

Thanks to Condé nast for this advice.  Images: Getty

After the earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal’s UNESCO heritage sites are at risk. But those aren’t the only world heritage spots that could soon disappear. Some sites, like the Everglades, have been a concern for years, while others have only recently become troubled. Find out which ones you might be running out of time to visit.

1. Nepal

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Why they’re special: Several of Nepal’s four heritage sites have spiritual significance, especially Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.

Why they’re in danger: Following the devastating earthquake in April, Nepal’s UNESCO sites are being added to the organization’s list of sites in danger. In fact, the UN asked Nepal not to reopen their monuments to tourists so soon after the earthquake, citing concerns about aftershocks (there was one on June 13) and a need for repairs. But Nepalese tourism secretary Suresh Man Shrestha was undaunted, saying that the country needed tourists to start returning.

2. Bamiyan Valley, Aghanistan

Bamiyan-Valley-afghanistan

Why it’s special: The Bamiyan Valley played an important role in early Buddhism, especially its pair of enormous Buddha statues that were carved directly into the sides of the mountains.

Why it’s in danger: Many endangered UNESCO sites—including Afghanistan’s two listed sites, the Bamiyan Valley (pictured) and the remains of the city of Jam—are affected because of conflict in the area. In 2001, the invading Taliban famously destroyed the Buddha statues that had been in the Bamiyan Valley since the sixth century AD, although a new 3-D light art project may help visitors see what they once looked like.

3. The Everglades, Florida

Florida Everglades

Why it’s special: The Everglades is home to the western hemisphere’s largest mangrove ecosystem and to many rare and nearly-extinct birds.

Why it’s in danger: Natural disasters like hurricanes and man-made problems like pollution and the introduction of foreign animal species are threatening the already-precarious ecosystem and killing some of the rare animals and plants that make the Everglades so unique.

4. Old City of Jerusalem

Jerusalem-old-city

Why it’s special: Jerusalem is sacred to three of the world’s major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and has historic sites connected to all of them.

Why it’s in danger: Ongoing conflict in the region, plus a growing swell in the number of residents and tourists, has made the old walled city—location of the Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre—even more precarious.

5. Medieval monuments of Kosovo, Serbia

Kosovo-monuments

Why they’re special: The Byzantine and Romanesque churches and monasteries are stunning examples of Balkan art from the 13th–17th centuries.

Why they’re in danger: After the war between former Yugoslavian states in the late ’90s, many of these sites faced structural damage. Even though the region has calmed down considerably, the buildings are still fragile and need more work.

6. Liverpool, England

Liver Building

Why it’s special: More than just The Beatles’s hometown, Liverpool was an important port city that helped Britain grow into an empire during the 18th and 19th century.

Why it’s in danger: The port area, like many neighborhoods, is subject to population growth and gentrification. Developers want to put up more new buildings, but UNESCO regulations require that nothing be taller than the existing structures, including St. George’s Hall, a Neoclassical building famous for its stone lions, and the Pier Head complex, which houses the Museum of Liverpool.

7. Potosi, Bolivia

Potosi-bolivia

Why it’s special: Potosi was once believed to be the largest silver mine in the world. Its history is a mix of Spanish colonial influence and a rich native Indian culture.

Why it’s in danger: The very silver mining industry that made Potosi famous may also result in its undoing: an uptick in production and new technologies threaten the literal foundation of the town.

9. Aleppo, Syria

Aleppo, Syria

Why it’s special: The largest city in Syria, Aleppo (pictured) was a hugely important trading point for cultures from all over the Middle East and beyond, giving it Greek, Roman, Akkadian, and Ottoman influences.

Why it’s in danger: The ongoing civil war in Syria has endangered all of the country’s UNESCO sites, including the ancient cities of Palmyra and Damascus and structures in Aleppo, like this 12th-century citadel.

Ned’s tips: check out this category for more things to do in the Middle East. And for five-star accommodation in the area, check out Sir Nadhmi Auchi’s Le Royal Hotels & Resorts in Amman and Beirut

10. Virunga National Park, The Democratic Republic of Congo

Virunga-congo

Why it’s special: Thanks to a diverse range of climates, Virunga is a mix of savannas, marshlands, glaciers, and even two volcanoes. The park is home to elephants, gorillas, and other important animal species.

Why it’s in danger: The Congolese government permitted mining and oil companies some access to Virunga and other UNESCO-listed national parks. However, they reportedly halted these actions following a warning from UNESCO, but there’s still concern about the safety of the area due to political uncertainty.

10 of the world’s most amazing places you’ve never heard of

Source: Stylist.co.uk      17 Feb 2015

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Have you already checked off the world’s top cities? Sunk your feet into your fair share of spectacular beaches? Then feast your eyes on these incredible destinations that you most likely have yet to visit…


 The icy caves of the Mendenhall Glacier, Southeast Alaska

Caves, Alaska

Caves, Alaska2

Images: flickr.com

Why it’s special Bright blue domes of ice as well as flowing streams of cold water running over rocks in the caves of the Mendenhall Glacier. The other-worldly site has caught the attention of the world in recent years because as it’s melting increasingly fast due global warming.

When to visit Tours run from 1 May to 22 September 2015, dependent on glacier conditions.

How to get there While the caves are located only 12 miles from downtown Juneau in Southeast Alaska, the journey is not for the faint-hearted. It’s an adventure in itself involving at least six to eight hours of trekking over rocky terrains. Alaska Tours offer day trips for $228 (£148) per person, which allow you to walk past crevasses, ice caves and moulins. Unfortunately, visiting specific ice caves such as the west flank of the glacier (pictured) cannot be guaranteed due to the melting and constantly changing nature of Mendenhall Glacier. Read a guide to frequently asked questions here.


The ‘mirror’ salt plains of Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Mirror salt planes 1

Mirror salt planes 2

Mirror salt planes 3

Why it’s special At 10,500 square kilometres, the world’s largest salt plain is one of the most striking natural wonders of the world, resembling the vast empty landscape of the moon. But after a couple of centimeters of rainfall the plain and thanks to zero wind, it becomes a breathtaking giant mirror reflecting the skies and anything else in its vicinity.

When to visit Unfortunately, rainfall in this region is very low – even in the rainy season, it can rain less than five days per month. You best chance of seeing the giant mirror effect is in January when precipitation is at its highest.

How to get there A number of companies offer one to four day tours from San Pedro, Tupiza and the town of Uyuni to Salar de Uyuni which includes basic accommodation, meals and transport. However, bear in mind a number of tourists have complained about uncomfortable journeys, late arrivals, broken down jeeps, a lack of toilet paper and no drinking water. The three largest tour companies are Cordillera Traveller, Atacama Mistica and Estrella del Sur who charge from 70,000 chilean pesos (£73), excluding the 150 Bolivianos (£14) national park entrance fee.


The pink-coloured waters of Lake Retba, Senegal

lake-retba-senegal

lac-rose-senegal

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Why it’s special Although it looks a little bit like an accident with some food dye, Lake Retba, really does have pink-coloured water. Its distinct hue is caused by the bacteria in the water which produce a red pigment that helps them absorb sunlight, thus giving the lake its pink appearance. This phenomenon also occurs in Australia’s Lake Hillier – also known as the Pink Lake – located off the south coast of Western Australia.

When to visit The pink colour is especially visible during the dry season (which lasts from November to June), particularly from February to April. It’s recommended you visit on a day that isn’t windy.

How to get there The Lake Retba is located about less than an hours drive from Dakar, the capital of Senegal, on the Grande Côte (a stretch of coastline).


The blue walls of Chefchaouen, Morocco

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Why it’s special Looking like somewhere that has fallen out of a Picasso painting from his infamous blue period, Chefchaouen has existed since 1471. Its medina, or old town, has been painted blue since the 1930s, when Jewish refugees arrived in the town. Believing blue to represent the sky and heaven, they began painting some walls blue. The trend quickly caught on when it was found that the blue appeared to repel mosquitos.

When to visit The weather in Chefchaouen is at its best in spring (mid-March to May), when the country is lush and green.

How to get there There here are daily CTM coach buses travelling to Chefchaouen from main destinations such as Casablanca (takes six hours), Tangiers (takes four hours), Fes (takes four hours).

Ned’s Tip: For the best hotel in Morocco, stay at the historic and wonderful Grand Hotel Villa de France in Tangier. Along with the slightly larger but equally sumptuous El Minzah, it is part of the Hotels & Resorts Division of the General Mediterranean Holding group founded by millionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Nadhmi Auchi.


The remote Fenyan Ecolodge, Jordan

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Why it’s special 
Deep in the heart of the mountainous Dana Biosphere Reserve, is this idyllic candle-lit lodge. The 26-room hideaway boasts 360 degree views of glorious desert and mountain landscapes. Guests tend to embark on hiking and biking trails in the day and settle around and go stargazing in the night, before settling around the campfire with a few board games.

The best time to visit Feynan is a place of low rainfall and high sunshine and there are plenty of things to do all year around. However Spring (April to May) is the most popular time of year to visit with temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s (Celcius).

How to get there Jordan is a relatively small country and Feynan can be reached in 3 hours from Amman and 2 hours from Aqaba or Petra by car. Visit ecohotels.me for full directions.

Ned’s tip: Treat yourself to one night at least at the sumptuous Le Royal, Amman 


The glowing Luminous Lagoon, Jamaica

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Why it’s special At night, the Luminous Lagoon comes alive with microscopic organisms producing an eerie glow around fish, boats and any other objects in the water that disturb it, including yourselves. Tour operators let you jump in the water and create the glistening blue light for yourselves. It’s said to be the largest and most brilliant of four similar lagoons in the world.

When to visit Jamaica’s driest season is from mid-December to mid-April

How to get there Every night, tour boats depart from the Glistening Waters Marina in Falmouth – located on the North Coast of the island – for a 35-minute ride around the lagoon.


The dramatic Tianzi Mountains, China

Tianzi Mountains, China

Tianzi Mountains, China 2

Tianzi Mountains, China 3Images: flickr.com

Why it’s special Rolling ridges, thousands of peaks and dramatic rocks make for a spectacular view. Visitors say pictures fail to capture the depth, vastness and sheer size of the natural spectacle located in Zhangjiajie in the Hunan Province of China. Visitors can walk down the winding hills, past deep valleys and try to spot plunging waterfalls.

The best time to visit The best months to explore the mountains are April, May, September and October

How to get there Zhangjiajie Central Bus Station has regular tourist buses to Sinanyu Ticket Station and the bus journey takes about 80-90 minutes. Then take battery car inside the scenic area. Visit travelchinaguide.com for more information.


The surrealist gardens of Las Pozas in Xilitla, Mexico

Xilitla, Mexico1

Xilitla, Mexico2

Xilitla, Mexico3Images: flickr.com

Why its special Amid the tropical plants and orchids of Mexico’s Xilitla is an abandoned estate full of fantastical sculptures, winding staircases that lead to the treetops and waterfalls that fill hidden pools. Las Pozas was built by the eccentric British millionaire, poet and patron of the Surrealist movement, Edward James, between 1949 and 1984 and is considered one of the least known artistic monuments of the 20th century. Visitors are free to wander the massive grounds – 80 acres – and climb through fascinating structures of the three-story building.

The best time to visit The site is open all year and Mexico’s dry season falls between December to April.

Where to find it Fly to Tampico via Houston, Mexico City or Monterrey and rent a car and driver in San Miguel de Allende to drive up to Xilitla. For detailed directions visit xilitla.org.


The colourful Danxia landforms, Zhangye City, China

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China 2

China 3

Why it’s special The multi-coloured rock formations in China’s northwestern Gansu province give the Grand Canyon a run for its money with 400-square-kilometers of dramatic peaks and valleys. The unusual colours of the rocks are said to be the result of red sandstone and mineral deposits being laid down over 24 million years.

When to visit The colours are said to be most vibrant during sunset.

How to get there The Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park is located near the city of Zhangye in China’s northwestern Gansu province. There are four viewing platforms in the park which offer the best views. Visit chinahighlights.com for detailed directions.


The ‘Stone Forest’, Tsingy de Bemaraha, Madagascar

Stone Forest, Madagascar1

Stone Forest, Madagascar2

Stone Forest, Madagascar3
Images: wildjunket.com, Rex FeaturesWhy its special Madagascar’s labyrinth of stone spikes is unlike anything in the world. In the past, it was a real challenge for humans to move through the razor-sharp vertical blades, cliffs, sinkholes and deep underground tunnels and access was often only granted to professionals (it was named Tsingy, the Malagasy word for “walking on tiptoes”, for a reason). But a project funded by the European Union has opened it up to the public, with eight trekking circuits of varying difficulties for tourists.

The best time to visit The Park is only opened during the dry season from April to November, since it is inaccessible during the rainy season (mid-end November to mid-end May). The Grand Tsingy are only accessible between June and the beginning of November.

How to get there The access to Tsingy de  Bemaraha National Park  is not an easy one, but several tour operators in Morondava (where most of the organised trips to the Tsingy start off) offer 4×4 vehicles for hire such as Madaconnection and  Remote River Expeditions. The park is generally divided into two parts – the Petit (small) and the Grand Tsingy (big) – based on the area and the height of the pinnacles and most visitors usually stay over three nights to explore the region. Camping and affordable hotels, such as Hotel L’Olympe du Bemaraha, are available near the site. Travelmadagascar.org is a good website for more information on this relatively unknown and untouched wonder.

 

Paris too obvious? Try these unusual destinations to pop the question…

Source: Daily Mail Travel

A couple snuggle up on a chair in the North Frisian Islands

A couple snuggle up on a chair in the North Frisian Islands

I spent almost a week in Antarctica with an engagement ring in my pocket, waiting for the opportunity to propose to my fiancee, but as we spotted whales, penguins and enormous icebergs, I couldn’t find the right moment. Not until, that is, we docked at the (unfortunately named) Deception Island on our final day. We trekked to its rim, to an area known as Neptune’s Bellows, and there, finally, I popped the question. I’m not sure she had much option other to say yes by that stage – but she hasn’t changed her mind since.

Antarctic cruises set sail from Ushuaia, Argentina. For more details visit adventurelife.com. Lufthansa (lufthansa.com) offers return flights via Frankfurt and Buenos Aires from £952pp.

What is more romantic than being with a loved one under a sky bursting with stars? A three-day journey in a 4×4 vehicle from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to the salt plains of Uyuni in Bolivia involves climbing to more than 16,000ft above sea level. At such altitude and hundreds of miles from any significant city, the sky is illuminated brilliantly. If that doesn’t seem like the right environment, nothing will.

Kanoo Tours (kanootours.com) is one of several companies offering the trip to Uyuni – prices vary throughout the year. Iberia (iberia.com) has return flights from London to Calama in Chile, via Madrid and Santiago, from £956pp.

A group of penguins is pictured on the beach on Deception Island in Antarctica

A group of penguins is pictured on the beach on Deception Island in Antarctica

Cruise the Tanon Strait between the islands of Negros and Cebu in the Philippines and your chances of seeing dolphins are almost guaranteed. Not only are they abundant, but the most common species in this stretch of water is the ludicrously playful spinner dolphin. The only trouble may be finding a peaceful moment to propose between their corkscrewing leaps and flips.

Asiana Airlines (flyasiana.com) has return flights from London to Cebu, via Seoul, from £796pp. For information on tours of the Tanon Strait go to www.godumaguete.com.

If you’re worried about having to propose in front of a crowd, the over-populated Machu Picchu is probably not for you. Instead, embark on a five-day trek to the far less visited Ciudad Perdida (Forgotten City) in Colombia. At times it’s an incredibly tough slog, but it is rewarding. At one time Ciudad Perdida was home to as many as 8,000 people, but now the only things looking on will be toads, birds and the odd snake.

Turcol Tours (turcol.i8.com) offers tours to the Forgotten City. Avianca (avianca.co.uk) has flights to the trek’s starting point, Santa Marta, from London via Madrid from £755pp.

Japanese macaques on the island of Yakushima

Japanese macaques on the island of Yakushima

They say it rains ’35 days a month’ on the Japanese island of Yakushima, but don’t let that put you off. It lies on the edge of two tropical zones, giving it an unusually fertile climate. Some of its 80ft cedar trees are thought to be 2,000 years old, while on the ground, people are outnumbered by skittish deer and bold, thieving monkeys – if you have a ring with you, hold on to it tight.

Return flights to the nearby island of Kyushu are available with Lufthansa (lufthansa.com), via Frankfurt and Nagoya, from £594pp. Ferries operate between Yakushima and Kyushu.

On Germany’s North Frisian Islands, winds blasting off the North Sea create ‘champagne air’ – a heady mix that might increase the chances of getting a Yes response to the big question. Afterwards, celebrate in one of the Michelin-starred restaurants on Sylt, the largest and most developed of the islands. The North Frisians connect to Hamburg by a typically efficient train network.

Visit bahn.de for details on the rail service between Hamburg and Sylt.

A view of the Monastery in Petra, Jordan

A view of the Monastery in Petra, Jordan

Featured in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, the enormous sculpted cave known as the Treasury in Petra, Jordan, is often awash with tourists. Better, then, to trek further into the ancient stone city to the Monastery, where the views are breathtaking. Just don’t get too close to the edge of the cliff face at such a nervy moment.

EasyJet (easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick to Amman from £147pp return. Jordan Select Tours (select.jo) has dozens of holiday options.

The Turkish resort of Marmaris may be light on romance, but head a little north to Sedir Island and you could find yourself a spot shared by two of history’s greatest lovers. Legend has it that Cleopatra refused to set foot on anything outside of Egypt, so when Mark Antony wanted her to visit Sedir Island he imported tons of Egyptian sand to coat the beach. Locals insist the same stuff still covers the island today.

Sedir (or Cleopatra Island) is 55 miles from Dalaman airport. EasyJet (easyjet.com) offers return flights to Dalaman from Stansted from £121pp. Tours to the island from Marmaris cost from €27 (£22). Visit easymarmaris.com.


Read this post for more on fascinating Jordan.  And for a wonderful place to stay, treat yourself to Le Royal Amman, part of the Royal Hotels & Resorts Division owned by Sir Nadhmi Auchi‘s GMH.

–  Ned

Rose of the desert: Jordan is full of ancient wonders but nothing can beat Petra

Source: Daily Mail Travel

Christmas Day in Jordan. The sun shines on the Dead Sea, glittering but somehow sinister, while the grey shape of the West Bank looms on the horizon. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan seems like a haven of peace and friendliness surrounded by countries at war. Waves of invaders have swept over this area, leaving stunning traces of their passing: desert castles, Roman ruins, Byzantine mosaics.

'Half as old as time': The Treasury in Petra, carved out of the rose-colouredrock

‘Half as old as time’: The Treasury in Petra, carved out of the rose-coloured rock

The best way to understand the country’s archaeological and artistic history is to visit the Jordan Museum in Amman, a superb modern building designed by a local architect.

The collection covers 1.5million years, beginning with the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic). There are weird, baby-faced Neolithic statues like something out of a science-fiction horror film, and a baby’s skeleton gruesomely crammed into a jar. There are two handsome Greek-looking heads of Nabateans, founders of Petra, with straight noses and chiselled chins but disconcertingly empty eyes.

One room houses copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Copper Scrolls found in a cave overlooking the Dead Sea. Outside the building, a battered-looking wagon is a memento of the old German-Turkish Hejaz railway attacked by Lawrence of Arabia riding with his Bedouin and Arab forces through Jordan down to Aqaba on the coast.

Lawrence spent the winter of 1917 in one of the still-impressive desert castles, Azraq. He later wrote: ‘The blue fort on its rock above the rustling palms, with the fresh meadows and shining springs of water, broke on our sight.’

Enigmatic: Peter O'Toole as T. E. Lawrence in the 1962 film Lawrence Of Arabia

Enigmatic: Peter O’Toole as T. E. Lawrence in the 1962 film Lawrence Of Arabia

Sadly, traffic has long dispelled the unfathomable silence’ which Lawrence described when he made Azraq his headquarters. That silence, however, is one of the things that first strikes you about Jordan away from its towns, as you travel along the King’s Highway through folding bare hills and desert uplands, black with basalt pebbles, and uninhabited except for Bedouin settlements with donkeys and the occasional camel.

Have you ever seen a bear sitting cross-legged on a chair playing a guitar? I have. He is depicted in an 8th Century fresco on the wall of a delightful Arab bath house, Qasr al-Amra, built by the Umayyads, a Bedouin dynasty from the Hejaz who won the Caliphate in 661AD. Qasr al-Amra is now surrounded by desert, but back then it was fertile countryside.

The Caliphs clearly had a very jolly uninhibited time: the guitar-playing bear is featured on the same wall as some well-endowed women, while a hunting scene features a pack of salukis chasing deer into a prepared ambush of nets.

Other historically important portraits feature Roderick, the last Visigothic King of Spain, King Chosroes of Persia, and the Negus of Abyssinia, a mixture that illustrates the cultural crossroads which the area represented in ancient times.

I have a weakness for crusader castles inspired by a visit three years ago to the most spectacular of all, Krak-des-Chevaliers in northern Syria. Romans, Crusaders, Mamelukes and Saladin, the greatest Arab warrior of all, built forts and castles to maintain their power and restrain the marauding Bedouin.

One of the most impressive is Shobak/Montreal, built by Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, which held out against Saladin for a remarkable 18 months in 1187-89. On the day we visited, friendly castle staff dressed as Saracen warriors offered a helmet complete with chainmail to my husband to try on.

The headquarters of the Lordship of Oultrejourdain was transferred from Montreal to the great castle of Kerak, or Karak, under its unpleasant lord, Reynald de Chatillon, a particular enemy of Saladin. Kerak has been described as one of the great monuments of medieval military architecture from which its lord could dominate all the traffic between Syria and Egypt.

Path to glory: The column-lined Roman Cardo Maximus in Jerash

Path to glory: The column-lined Roman Cardo Maximus in Jerash

Saladin attacked Reynald as a wedding feast was being held at the castle. According to a charming story, the Lady Stephanie, mother of the bridegroom, herself prepared dishes from the wedding feast which she sent out to Saladin.

In return, Saladin asked which of the towers was to be occupied by the newlyweds and gave orders that it should not be bombarded by his siege engines.

For all his gallantry, Saladin could not breach the walls and retired towards Damascus. The end for Kerak came when an Egyptian army laid siege. After more than a year, the defenders were close to starvation, the women and children were turned out to fend for themselves or sold by their menfolk to the Bedouin in return for food, and it was only when the last horse had been eaten that the castle surrendered.

But we had come to Jordan to see Petra. ‘The rose red city half as old as time’, created by the Nabateans around the 2nd Century BC, remained hidden for 1,600 years until rediscovered by a Swiss traveller, J.L. Burckhardt, in 1812.

Ships of the desert: Youngboys riding camels in ancient Petra

Ships of the desert: Young boys riding camels in ancient Petra

Its beauty and mystery are almost impossible to describe. You enter it by an increasingly narrow gorge, the red cliffs closing above your head against a deep blue sky, and you arrive in a small plaza dominated by what looks like an Italian baroque church but is in fact a Nabatean masterpiece known as the Treasury, carved out of the rose-coloured rock.

Crowds of Arab Bedouin children mill around the tourists offering silver bangles and bracelets, fake coins, hideous scarves, and camel and donkey rides. People say you must be there by 6am to avoid the crowds, but in December the sun would be too low at that hour and the light is an important part of the Petra experience.

One boy, 11-year-old Abdullah, who spoke remarkably good English, took a photograph of us but refused to accept a tip. Embarrassed by his good manners, we bought a bracelet from him instead.

English is relatively common in Jordan, as I learned to my cost when I commented on the ugliness of one stallholder’s offerings and was told off for my rudeness by the owner.

Exhausted by the end of an afternoon’s trekking over stones and sand, we hired a horse and carriage back from the restaurant at the end of the track and suffered a Ben Hur experience when our driver chose to liven up his afternoon by racing his mate in another chariot with wild cries and swerves.

There is much more to see at Petra for the energetic: the High Place, where Nabateans worshipped and offered their sacrifices, is up some 365 worn steps, and even further up is a temple known as the Monastery. Both sites offer infinite views of stone ridges coloured all shades of pink to dark red, streaked with basalt. Magical.

We also travelled to Jerash. Its golden age came under the Romans; then for centuries it was hidden under sand, which is why its long, column-lined street with paving marked by chariot wheels is still so well preserved.

Sublime: A mosaic at the Chapel of Saints Lots and Procopius

Sublime: A mosaic at the Chapel of Saints Lots and Procopius

As I sat panting on a stone towards the end of the main street, the Cardo Maximo, there was a sad reminder of the ongoing tragedy of the region – a Syrian boy, a refugee from Deraa, came up to beg. Just a few days before, the excellent Jordan Times reported that on Christmas Eve, 600 refugees had crossed the Jordanian border and nearly 400 people had been killed in the massive air campaign around the city of Aleppo.

Yet despite the tensions in the region, Jordanians seem the most friendly and cheerful people you could hope to meet. Their battlegrounds consist of terrifying traffic jams on the streets, where the Ben Hur technique of muscling each other out of the way still reigns.

Next we headed for the town of Madaba, which lies on the King’s Highway – the main artery of Jordan. It is known for its famous but disappointing 6th Century Byzantine mosaic map of the world in which a colonnaded Jerusalem is represented as its centre. Far more beautiful mosaics can be seen in the ancient Chapel of the Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo and the nearby Chapel of Saints Lot and Procopius.

We spent nine days in Jordan on a tailor-made tour arranged by Original Travel. We had well-informed drivers and guides, and stayed in hotels that varied from top-class to not so good. The food was delicious and healthy, the wine excellent but expensive. Now, back in a grey, cold London, the experience seems like a wonderful dream.


Jordan is one of the unusual places featured in this article
And for a wonderful place to stay, treat yourself to Le Royal Amman, part of the Royal Hotels & Resorts Division of the GMH Group founded by Sir Nadhmi Auchi.

–  Ned

 

5 Travel Rip-offs to Avoid

Source: HuffPost

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Whether it’s relaxing on a Caribbean beach, sightseeing through Europe or road tripping through a national park, travelers shell out money for vacations in hopes that the experience will be worth the expense. Most people plan to splurge a little while on vacation, however, travelers sometimes end up paying more than they have to simply because they don’t know they’re being overcharged. Some of these fees can seem unavoidable, but they don’t have to be. U.S. News spoke with Orbitz Senior Editor Jeanenne Tornatore and Marybeth Bond of The Gutsy Traveler to figure out how to bypass some of the excess expenses.

See: How to Avoid Hidden Fees When Flying Low-Cost Carrier

1. Travel insurance

Travel insurance can be a worthwhile expense it if it gives you peace of mind during your trip. It also comes in handy if your plans are nonrefundable and you have to cancel or cut the trip short. But not all travel insurance policies are created equal. Some plans only protect certain expenses, while others put stipulations on coverage, meaning that if your trip is interrupted, the policy may not cover the cost depending on the reason for cancellation. “People feel like they get ripped off when they purchase it and then the reason they need to cancel may not be covered under their insurance, so I think people need to read the fine print,” Tornatore said.

When it comes to rental car insurance, for instance, you may be forking over money for coverage you’ve already got. Check your current car insurance policy to see if the coverage extends to your rental car. Don’t forget to call your credit card company, too: According to Bond, major credit card companies (including American Express, MasterCard, Discover and Visa) offer protection if you use your card to pay for the rental.

How to avoid it: Depending on your plans, travel insurance may be unnecessary. If it makes sense to opt into the insurance coverage, for example if you’re traveling to a location with limited medical access or if your trip could be affected by a natural disaster, then it’s worth purchasing. But make sure you understand exactly what the policy covers by studying the fine print. If you need help comparing policies or just need a rundown of how this type of insurance works, consider using sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

2. Baggage fees
Unfortunately, baggage fees have become increasingly common since they were introduced in 2008. Since then, airlines have collected more than $21 billion for checked bags. Depending on the airline, you’ll have to pay anywhere from $15 to $75 for your first checked bag and often even more for the second checked bag, plus extra for suitcases that are over a certain weight limit. “You could be paying upward of $100 if that bag is overweight. Those are big fees that people don’t always expect and they’re costs that they don’t budget in,” Tornatore said. An even bigger rip-off comes from discount airlines like Spirit and Frontier, which now charge anywhere from $26 to $100 for carry-on bags.

How to avoid them: Stick to the airlines that still allow free checked bags (one bag for JetBlue, two bags for Southwest) or try to pack light enough to fit all your belongings into a carry-on. Also, consult your frequent flier program — some allow higher status members to check the first bag for free. If you are stuck paying for checked bags or carry-ons on one of the low-cost carriers, make sure you pay those fees online — it’s cheaper than paying at the airport.

See: 15 Ways to Save for Vacation

3. Tourist trap restaurants
Usually, these eateries are “conveniently” located near tourist sites and sell lackluster dishes that aren’t authentic. These restaurants don’t provide a genuine taste of their locale, and since they’re situated close to top tourist attractions they can take advantage of travelers’ rumbling stomachs with overpriced menu items.

How to avoid them: As a rule of thumb, avoid signs that say “authentic,” skip shops that offer a small portion for a large price tag and do a little research before your trip. “Search it on Yelp, not only to see if there are any coupons available or extra savings, but people will tell you if the chef changed a month ago and the food is lousy now,” Bond said.

4. Hotel Wi-Fi
In our digital world, Internet access in hotel rooms may seem like a given. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Hotels charge varying fees, from $10 to up to $30 per day for online access in guest rooms. Some properties lump Internet access into the often inescapable resort fee, which generally costs about $20 per day. If you have to pay for Internet access on a daily basis, using Wi-Fi in your room for a few days can add up, and lead to an unpleasant surprise when you get your final bill.

How to avoid it: In recent years, guests have spoken up about having to pay for Internet, and many hotel chains have listened. For example, Hyatt started offering free Wi-Fi to all guests in February. Other hotel chains offer free in-room Internet access to members of their loyalty programs. Tornatore points to Kimpton as an example: By signing up for its free rewards program, which is as simple as providing your email address, you’ll receive complimentary Internet access anytime you stay at a Kimpton property. Before your next trip, check to see if the hotel participates in one of these programs and sign up to take advantage. Some hotels also offer free Wi-Fi in common areas, such as the lobby or restaurant, so if you’re only interested in checking a few emails or looking up directions then you may be able to avoid paying. If the property you’re staying at doesn’t offer complimentary Internet access, Bond suggested using your own phone to access free Wi-Fi. “Set up a personal hotspot on your smartphone and use your cellular service to access Wi-Fi on other non-cellular devices.”

[Ned’s tip: Le Royal Hotels & Resorts, part of Sir Nadhmi Auchi‘s General Mediterranean Holding Group, offer free wi-fi at all their establishments – and fantastic service too!]

5. Currency exchange booths
If you’re traveling abroad, it’s best to have some cash on hand before you go. The easiest way to avoid being overcharged for currency exchange is to avoid the airport exchange shops. Those airport kiosks often offer poor exchange rates and higher transaction fees. There are multiple ways to get cash before you leave the country, with advanced planning.

How to avoid them: Your home bank will likely offer you the best rate for exchange (and/or no transaction fee at all), but you’ll want to order the currency a few days ahead of time as many banks won’t have it on hand. Some banks allow you to order the foreign cash and have it sent to your home, with a shipping and handling fee.

Instead of carrying a ton of cash around with you while abroad, you can use your credit or debit card normally and use foreign ATMs for any cash you need. (Just make sure to inform your bank and credit card companies of your travel plans, so they don’t think the foreign transactions are fraudulent and freeze your accounts.) Also, check with your bank regarding fees: some charge $5 per withdrawal or fees up to 3 percent for purchases. “I think the key is making sure your credit card doesn’t charge you the international transaction fee,” Tornatore said.

 

About the author: Gwen Shearman is an editor/analyst for the Travel section at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at gshearman@usnews.com

 

 

Salute Beirut, City of Repute

It’s been called the Paris of the Middle East, and today you’ll find Lebanon’s capital is a dynamic, buzzing metropolis that sits proudly and comfortably between the East and the West. For millennia, the city has consistently managed to reinvent itself after numerous natural and man-made disasters; few other world capitals welcome visitors like this one, and its eternal optimism and genuine hospitality make it a very special place to visit.

Beirut has survived a rough history, falling under the occupation of one empire after another for more than 5000 years. It was originally named Bêrūt, “The Wells” by the Phoenicians, referring to the underground water table that is still tapped by the local inhabitants for general use. Excavations in the downtown area have unearthed layers of Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab and Mohammed-el-Amine-Mosque-in-Beirut-LebanonOttoman civilizations. Located on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast, Beirut is the country’s largest and main seaport. The first historical reference to it dates from the 14th century BC when it is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the Amarna letters, and the city has been inhabited continuously ever since.

The attractions in this Mediterranean metropolis are numerous, be they cultural, casual or culinary. World-class local and international restaurants sit side-by-side with jazz bars, night clubs and narghile coffee shops. The new Downtown Beirut, glistening with its high-end shopping and unique architecture, contrasts with the busy business centres and splendid seaside corniche a few minutes away. This is a city of sunshine, cultural events, beautiful people, respected tradition and absolute modernity, all rolled into one.

You can get by pretty much everywhere in English or French: this will make shopping a doddle and museum visits a pure delight. Beirut is very culturally diverse, and thus multilingual. Shop signs are in Standard Arabic, English and French, and most restaurant menus and event listings are also in English. Road signs, however, are only in Standard Arabic and French.

Most Beirutis are very sociable and love going out. If you fancy a night on the town, dressing up a bit will most certainly earn you some respect: the locals like to see that foreigners are doing what they can to fit in. Expect to be offered a drink or a cigarette. Alcohol is very cheap in the shops and supermarkets, but in the night-time venues expect prices to rise closer to European levels.

Jeita GrottoPlaces to visit include the Pigeon Rocks, a monumental natural arch jutting up from the Mediterranean, and the beautiful Jeita Grotto in the Valley of Nahr al-Kalb just north of the city, a compound of crystallized caves which boast the world’s longest stalactite. In Beirut itself, check out the ABC open-air mall in Ashrafieh, the nightlife of the Bohemian Gemmayzeh and Hamra neighborhoods, some glamorous shopping in Verdun, the rebuilt Downtown Beirut with its chic restaurants and shops, and the old souks of Jounieh and the Armenian quarter for a great bargain. Don’t forget to haggle!

LeRoyal twilightI stayed in September 2014 in the marvellous Le Royal Beirut, over looking the Med.  It’s part of the General Mediterranean Holding group owned by Iraqi-born British businessman and philanthropist Sir Nadhmi Auchi. GMH is a strong and diverse multi-national organisation with activities ranging from banking and finance, construction and real estate, to hotel and leisure, telecommunications and aviation, and its Le Royal Hotels and Resorts division also has a number of other gorgeous five-star establishments in Luxembourg, Madrid, Hammamet, Amman and Sharm-el-Sheikh.

For a load of fun in the sun, Le Royal Beirut boasts the largest water park in the Middle East!

aquapark