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Category Archives: Travel

7 great places to go walking in Scotland

Glen Tilt, Blair Atholl

One of Scotland’s lesser-known glens, this magnificent walk begins at the Old Bridge of Tilt, a hint of many ancient stone bridges hunkered in widescreen landscapes to come. This is Big Tree Country, populated by the tallest trees in Britain. Stay in a Scandinavian-esque woodland lodge on the Atholl Estates, which has been visited over centuries by everyone from Mary Queen of Scots to Queen Victoria.

Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Bleak and lunar-like, this bracing hike is punctuated by glimpses of the lighthouse at Cape Wrath on the horizon. Here, at the exposed north-western tip of Scotland, the rewards are great and hard-won. Sandwood Bay is one of Britain’s most inaccessible beaches, flanked by a skyscraping sea stack – a ruin said to be haunted by the ghost of a shipwrecked seaman – and sand dunes the size of houses. It’s perfect for wild camping, if you can face carrying your gear in and out of the boggiest of moorland. Make sure you go for a pint and plate of langoustines.

Castle Tioram, Ardnamurchan

Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of Britain, is a slender calloused finger of a peninsula pointing outward to wild seas. For a varied walk through coastline, heathland, moorland and woodland, begin on the banks of Loch Moidart where Castle Tioram, a ruin raised on a rocky tidal island, presides. Meander along sections of one of the Highlands’ most beautiful paths, the Silver Walk, then head into the heather-clad hills, passing lochs, reservoirs and pretty much every marvel of nature that the the area has to offer.

Glen Etive, Glen Coe

The most dramatic of Scotland’s glens, featured in Skyfall, is just as powerfully experienced by walking through its valleys rather than up the giant backs of its mountains. In one day you’ll encounter snow, hail, sleet, rain, the brightest of blue skies and a white-out on this long, consistently jaw-dropping hike. The deer on the steep flanks of the surrounding mountains were so far away they looked like ants on a hill. A walk to end all walks, in all weathers. Stay at the Red Squirrel campsite, make a fire and pour a whisky.

Kyle of Durness, Sutherland

Stand on the tip of Faraid Head, surrounded by nothing but the squall of seabirds and wide open seas, and you’ll feel you’ve found the very edge of the island of Britain. As long as you don’t mind sharing it with an MOD training facility. A remote, surprisingly gentle walk, criss-crossing vast dunes and grassy headlands, happening upon some of the most stunning white-sand beaches you’re likely to encounter anywhere in the UK. Don’t bother seeking paths. This is about dawdling, stopping to pick up shells, and paddling in the coldest and clearest of waters.

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

Robert Louis Stevenson described the extinct volcano forming Holyrood Park as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design”. The views back across Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament, Leith, the Firth of Forth and out to the Bass Rock are fabulous. There’s no need to climb Arthur’s Seat either. Circle the crags, wander the paths, and take refuge with the dog walkers in Hunter’s Bog. It’s extraordinary enough to find hillwalking like this in a capital city. Afterwards, go for a pint at Swedish hipster bar Hemma.

 

Necropolis, Glasgow

East of Glasgow‘s old cathedral lies one of the great Victorian cemeteries, a reminder written in 3500 stone monuments, many of them crumbling away, that this was once the second city of the empire. Explore the city on a dark day under low skies, the way many would say is best to enjoy the cheek-by-jowl views of the Tennents brewery, high rises, grand civic buildings, and all that gives Glasgow its burnished beauty. Finish up atGlasgow Green’s West brewery, located in an ostentatious Victorian carpet factory, with a beer brewed on site.

8 of Europe’s Most Haunting Ghost Towns

1. Oradour-sur-Glane, France

The small village of Oradour-sur-Glane, tucked in the Limousin countryside, was the site of one of WWII’s most harrowing atrocities. On June 10, 1944, 642 of its inhabitants were massacred by the Nazi Waffen-SS. People from the village were rounded up, machine-gunned and many burned alive.

Today, the town’s crumbling buildings are a brutal reminder of that fateful day. Houses and shops lie in ruins, some retaining original details – rusting lamps, sewing machines and pots and pans.

The Centre de la Mémoire commemorates the crimes that took place with testimonials, exhibits and films shedding light on Oradour’s bloody past.

2. Imber Village, UK

In 1943, with only 47 days’ notice, the villagers of Imber in Wiltshire were evicted from their homes to allow American troops to train for the liberation of Europe. They never returned.

Villagers are said to have protested their banishment, but to no avail. Imber had been acquired by the Ministry of Defence before the war in a bid to make Salisbury plain the largest training ground in the country. To this day, the land belongs to the British Army.

3. Pripyat, Ukraine

Situated in northern Ukraine, Pripyat was founded to house the families of workers of the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The town was evacuated following the devastating explosion at Chernobyl in 1986, which caused vast amounts of radioactive chemicals to be pumped into the atmosphere.

Today, vegetation forces its way into the crevices of abandoned buildings, and textbooks and toys are strewn across school floors – a chilling reminder of the inhabitants’ sudden departure.

 

4. Pentedattilo, Italy

Clinging to the jagged rock face of Monte Calvario, Pentedattilo dates back to 640BC when it was established as a Greek colony. It thrived under Greek and Roman rule, later declining as a result of Saracen invasions.

The 1783 earthquake caused irreparable damage, causing most of the population to move to nearby coastal town Melito Porto Salvo.

Pentedattilo was partially restored by volunteers in the 1980s. Today, it is a thriving artistic and cultural centre, and host to the yearly Pentedattilo Film Festival.

5. Skrunda-1, Latvia

The secret city of Skrunda-1 once played a vital role in protecting the Soviet Union from possible missile attacks. During the Cold War, the city guarded a key radar station that scanned the skies for nuclear warheads.

Skrunda-1 was one of the USSR’s “closed administrative territorial formations”: secret towns that supported research sites and sensitive military bases. The city housed the families of Soviet soldiers who worked on the nearby radar project.

The site remained under the control of the Russian Federation following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but was eventually abandoned in 1998. Today, derelict Soviet-style apartment blocks littered with possessions still stand, an echo of the town’s recent past.

6. Pyramiden, Norway

Pyramiden is located above Norway’s arctic circle, on the archipelago of Svalbard. It was founded by the Swedes in the early-twentieth century and acquired by the Soviet Union in 1927, becoming a Russian coal-mining settlement. At its peak, Pyramiden had around 1200 Russian residents.

Its decline began in the 1990s following the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the dwindling profitability of the coal-mining industry. It was completely abandoned in 1998.

Now a handful of visitors head here each year to see the town’s Soviet-era remains, which include apartment blocks and the world’s northernmost statue of Vladimir Lenin.

7. Belchite, Spain

In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Republicans and the nationalist forces of General Franco fought a bloody two-week battle in the town of Belchite. More than 3000 people lost their lives.

On Franco’s orders, a new town was constructed nearby to house its inhabitants. The war-torn crumbling village of Belchite was left as a mere monument. Today its dilapidated buildings, riddled by bullet holes and scarred by shells, only just remain standing.

8. Varosha, Cyprus

Until the 1970s, Varosha was a major tourist destination attracting celebrities and jetsetters from the world over. Making up a quarter of Cypriot city Famagusta, Varosha’s seafront is still lined with high-rise hotels, a reminder of the city’s heyday as a popular beach resort.

It came under Turkish control in 1974 following their invasion of the island. Its inhabitants fled and the Turkish army gained control of the area. Today it remains uninhabited, fenced off by the military and closed to the public.

7 Best Ethical Trips for 2017

1. Creating parks in Patagonia

The Parque Pumalín is not the end, but the beginning: Tompkins Conservation, which was the subject of our latest travel podcast, will continue its rewilding mission in Patagonia. But the organisation can’t do it alone and is encouraging volunteers to come to Chile or Argentina, where they can get involved in tree planting, wildlife monitoring and, sometimes, reintroducing locally extinct species.

2. Going on safari in Laos

The last remaining home for tigers in Indochina, Nam Et-Phou Louey is a hotbed of biodiversity and an unexpectedly brilliant place to go on a safari. And we’re not talking about any old safari; we’re talking about the Nam Nern Night Safari and Ecolodge, which ploughs most of its profits into local outreach programmes that educate locals about conservation and sustainability. Twice a winner at the World Responsible Tourism Awards, guests on the safari not only support admirable conservation work but also have the opportunity to spy endangered species, mingle with locals and sleep in low-impact bungalows.

3. Crashing with locals in India

For remote Himalayan communities there can be scant opportunity for employment. However, thanks to an organisation called Village Ways, some of these isolated societies now have a steady income from sustainable tourism. The organisation puts intrepid explorers into homestays in India and Nepal, providing locals with a revenue source and an opportunity to celebrate their Himalayan traditions, culture and cuisine.

4. Supporting Maasai landowners in Kenya

The Mara Naboisho Conservancy in Kenya is a 50,000-acre reserve created by 500 Maasai landowners. The park is home to bountiful wildlife – including big cats – and revenue from tourism provides the Maasai community with a sustainable livelihood, which in turn helps preserve this diverse corner of Kenya. The conservancy’s stellar work was rewarded in 2016 with a gold medal at the African Responsible Tourism Awards.

5. Trekking with ethnic minorities in Vietnam

As tourism booms in Vietnam, not everyone is feeling the benefit: some of the country’s ethnic minorities are reportedly being left behind. However, Shu Tan, from the Hmong ethnic group, is trying to address that. The former street vendor has set up an award-winning social enterprise, Sapa O’Chau, which offers guided treks and homestays for tourists in Sapa, northern Vietnam. Managed by ethnic minorities, her organisation generates revenue for impoverished communities, where some people can’t afford to send their children to school.

6. Turtle conservation in Mexico

The deserted shores of Veracruz are just the tonic for hectic lives. They’re also a breeding ground for endangered turtles, which face a range of challenges including pollution and habitat loss. Cue the Yepez Foundation, a non-profit organisation that has spent the best part of half a century safeguarding turtles and their habitats in this corner of Mexico. They’re always on the lookout for volunteers who can help with a range of projects, from beach clean-ups and community outreach programmes to coastal reforestation.

7. Conducting reef research in Malaysia

The world’s coral reefs are, alas, in grave danger, as pollution, disease and climate change wreak havoc with these underwater ecosystems. Cue Biosphere Expeditions, which is running an eight-day excursion to the colourful colour gardens of Malaysia, where participants can help collect data from reefs, which could be used to preserve the beleaguered ecosystems. Open for qualified scuba divers only, the 2017 expedition takes place August 15-22.

7 European Cities You’ve Not Been to But Must Visit

Osijek, Croatia

While the Croatian coast gets all the plaudits, the Slavonia region inland lies largely ignored. Visitors are missing out. The elegant city of Osijek in the east took a battering during the 1990s Homeland War, but today is back to something approaching its best; in its heyday during the Austro-Habsburg years a massive military fortress stood here and trams eased around the belle époque streets. The oldest part of town, Tvrđa, has undergone a massive revamp since the 1990s war ended with a flurry of cafes, restaurants and bars brightening up the area. In the rejuvenated centre, meanwhile, you can enjoy relaxed walks along the River Drava and try the local delicacy, fis paprikas, a spicy fish soup, in the riverside restaurants.

Maribor, Slovenia

Just next door to Croatia, bijou Slovenia boasts more than just its glittering city-break starLjubljana. In the country’s east, Maribor is no longer content to play second fiddle to the capital. Its large student population is putting serious life back into the grand historic streets of its chocolate-box pretty old town. River strolls along the Drava, as well as one of Europe’s oldest synagogues and what is reputed to be the world’s oldest vine await. The best time to visit is during the two-week Lent Festival in summer. And if you want to get out of town, nearby Maribor Pohorje offers skiing in winter and superb hiking in summer.

Tartu, Estonia

These days the Estonian capital attracts a swathe of stag and hen parties, but mercifully the second city of Tartu is not similarly blighted. This vibrant student town – considered by many Estonians outside Tallinn to be the country’s true intellectual and cultural heart – offers superb nightlife without a stag night in sight. Tartu’s picturesque old town is home to all sorts of theatre, film and art happenings, as well as fittingly the country’s oldest university.

Utrecht, The Netherlands

If you love The Netherlands and you love canals, make a beeline for Utrecht. In this inland Dutch charmer you will find a web of canals lined with cafes, bars and restaurants – in parts the country’s fourth largest city is almost a dead ringer for the Dutch capital. Explore further and you’ll come across a rich volley of churches, the country’s largest university and a delightful network of cobbled lanes to get lost in.

Cádiz, Spain

Madrid and Barcelona are mere upstarts compared to Cádiz, said to be the oldest city in Europe. This Spanish city, the country’s most densely populated, has a treasure trove of history and dramatic architecture hidden in its tight warren of streets. No wonder, given that it has been visited by everyone from the Greeks and Romans, through to the Carthaginians. Yet you’ll need to wait until night time for this balmy Andalusian charmer to really come alive. In summer you can take a bus right along to the end of the city’s main beach and lose hours wandering back popping into the myriad bars that line the sands.

Perth, Scotland

Edinburgh and increasingly Glasgow attract the lion’s share of city breakers to Scotland, but what about the country’s newest city, Perth? Although Perth was only granted city status in 2012, it served as the ancient capital of Scotland, the place where monarchs were crowned on the semi-mythical Stone of Destiny. Today there are relaxed parks and walks along the River Tay, plus the sparkling Perth Concert Hall, a millennium project. Then there’s a thriving food and drink scene, which has mushroomed in recent years with Perth becoming the first place in Scotland to be awarded Cittaslow status.

 

Toruń, Poland

Forget the obvious charms of Kraków. This is the year to delve deeper into Poland‘s north to discover Toruń. Handily located between Kraków and Gdańsk, Toruń is a real looker with a riot of red brick architecture dominating its distinctive medieval old core. There are churches galore to explore, seriously cheap bars and cruises on the Vistula River. Stargazers are in good company too: Toruń was the birthplace of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. In short, the city offers a slice of Kraków without the crowds.

The Cheapest Places to Travel This Spring

Spring is a great time for travel, so whether it’s catching some sun, mountain hiking or delving into some history and culture – or even some last-minute snow action – here are a few ideas to get you digging out your passport. These are the cheapest places to travel in spring.

1. For a spa: Budapest, Hungary

Where better to sweat out the last vestiges of winter than a city with more than a hundred spas? Each has its own particular style, from sixteenth-century Ottoman – the best is Rudas, with a beautiful octagonal pool under a glass dome and a rooftop heated pool with a wonderful view of the Danube – to exquisite art nouveau, such as Gellert.

No visit to Budapest would be complete without stopping at neo-baroque Széchenyi, the largest of the city’s spas, where you’ll see locals combining a hot bath with a game of chess.

A ticket can cost as little as €10, and a 20-minute massage around €15. Cooling down after a steamy soak by sampling one of the many delicious craft beers on offer in the capital will only set you back around €1.50.

Afterwards, go for coffee and calorie-rich Dobos torta (Hungarian sponge cake). Accommodation isn’t as good value as it used to be, but you can still find great deals out of town and public transport for getting into the centre is excellent.

2. For end-of-season skiing: the French Alps

Skiing is never cheap, but if you hold out towards the end of the season in Europe, and choose somewhere high up and relatively snow-sure, you can grab a bargain.

Val d’Isère, Val Thorens, Les Arcs and La Plagne, with their high-altitude positions, are the resorts to watch, and if you book last minute it’s possible to get a week’s chalet deal for around €475. Deals often include flights, transfers, breakfast and dinner (with as much wine as you can quaff before the coffee arrives), plus afternoon tea and cake waiting for you for when you return tired and aching after a day on the slopes.

 

3. For a tropical escape: Guatemala

Tropical rainforest, brooding volcanoes, mountains and lakes and abundant wildlife – what’s not to like about Guatemala? Plus, there’s ancient Maya sites steeped in mysticism, graceful colonial architecture and colourful markets.

Visit the tremendous Maya city at Tikal deep in the rainforest, or more remote sites tucked away in the jungle, where howler monkeys and toucans will likely form a rowdy soundtrack. Lake Atitlán, flanked by volcanoes, is stunning and a must-see, as is picture-postcard Antigua with its colourful colonial-era buildings.

If you want to learn something on your trip, Spanish classes are the cheapest in Central America, and travel between places on the chicken buses costs little (just don’t expect to get anywhere fast, or on time). Meals, often featuring beans and tortillas can cost as little as $3, and street food is even cheaper.

4. For music: New Orleans, USA

New Orleans is considered to be the birthplace of jazz. Indeed it’s impossible to spend any time there without drumming your fingers to the beat, or shakin’ your stuff. And much of it can be heard for next to nothing, whether it’s from enthusiastic street buskers or impromptu jam sessions in moody bars.

There’s also great brass music – traditional or energetic, raucous mixes of funk, reggae, hip-hop and R&B.

You can hear thumping talent every night of the week in clubs such as the Spotted Cat and gritty BJ’s Lounge, and world greats at Snug Harbor for as little as $15.

Spring is a fantastic time to head to the city – it’s T-shirt weather but also before the often-stifling heat of summer.  Just watch out for accommodation price surges during Jazz Fest at the end of April.

5. For a beach break: Morocco’s west coast

If you’re looking for sunshine and culture, Morocco’s Atlantic coast ticks all the boxes. Stay in laidback, breezy Essaouira and amble along the old narrow streets in the medina or potter around the souks, occasionally ducking into the city’s many art galleries.

Spend an afternoon in the bustling port and watch the day’s catch being brought in, before rewarding yourself with a cheap, fresh fish dinner as the sun goes down. If you want to surf, the little fishing village of Taghazout is the place to go, with plenty of shops that rent out, sell and repair boards. Plus there’s tuition available from Surf Maroc.

6. For a city break: Timişoara, Romania

Timişoara was where mass protests kick-started the 1989 revolution that brought down Nicolae Ceauşescu and his totalitarian regime – but if you associate it with the austere, grey concrete of the communist era, think again. The city is a charming and lively mix of Habsburg buildings that pack a real architectural punch and pretty parks and squares, with the tree-lined Bega canal bisecting the old and new towns.

In spring the city sheds its winter coat, and vibrant music, theatre and opera scenes all come alive – with affordable prices, too (seats for at the National Opera can cost as little as €10).

7. For outdoor adventures: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA

Extending to more than half a million acres, this national park in North Carolina andTennessee is gorgeous, with wildlife aplenty and an abundance of outdoor activities to enjoy – from hiking scenic mountain and lush forest trails to horse riding, fishing and cycling. What’s more, entrance is entirely free.

Spring is a great time to visit. By mid-April, the weather is more stable and wildflowers are on show everywhere, little purple butterflies flitting among them. The warmer weather of late spring also means it’s an ideal time to camp, and overnights stays will only set you back between $14 and $23.

The Best Area to Stay in Lisbon

Best for the historic centre: Baixa and Chiado

Lisbon’s Baixa, or ‘downtown’, is an appealing oblong of handsome buildings flanked by the squares of Rossio, Figueira and the grand riverfront Praça do Comércio. Its an impressive example of late eighteenth-century town planning in which many of its traditional shops survive. Most of its banks and offices have now been converted into hotels and guesthouses: a plethora of them have opened up in the last couple of years, so wherever you stay, you’ll be right in the thick of it. Consider adjacent Chiado, too, the chic shopping district that’s home to the famous café A Brasileira.

Cash-strapped: Florescente
Feeling flush: Hotel do Chiado

Best for romance: Alfama

The city’s oldest quarter is a fascinating warren of steep, winding streets that thread their way past densely packed houses where life carries on much as it has for centuries. Heading uphill towards the castle, you’ll get some of the best views Lisbon has to offer, across the terracotta roof tiles and the cruise ships that anchor on the broad Tagus estuary. Fado restaurants and souvenir shops are moving in, but this is still an alluring old-world village Lisbon where you can spend all day exploring.

Cash-strapped: The Keep
Feeling flush: Memmo Alfama

Best for designer shopping: Avenida da Liberdade

The wide, palm-lined Avenida da Liberdade is a mile-long strip of Portugal’s most expensive real estate, where embassies and consulates sit above top glitzy designer shops. Gently sloping downhill from the spaces of the centre’s main park, Parque Eduardo VII, to the central Baixa, the Avenida is also a short walk from most of Lisbon’s attractions.

Cash-strapped: Dom Carlos Parque
Feeling flush: Heritage Avenida

Best for nightlife: Bairro Alto

Spread out across a hill above the old town, the ‘high district’ has long been the city’s bohemian quarter. Its grid of densely packed streets are an intriguing medley of boutiques, bars, restaurants and graffittied houses. Relatively quiet by day, the district comes to life after midnight when on warm summer nights, it gives the impression there’s a permanent street party taking place until the small hours. This is not the place to come for a quiet night, but ideal if you want some serious nightlife. Stay on the fringes of the central grid to be clear of the noisiest streets.

Cash-strapped: The Independente
Feeling flush: Hotel Bairro Alto

Best for hip and happening: Cais do Sodré

The once seedy Cais do Sodré has had a makeover, and the bars and clubs that once attracted sailors and street walkers now attract the hip and trendy. There’s an appealing riverfont promenade, tasteful warehouse conversions and the Mercado da Ribeira, the main market, much of it now given over to food stalls serving top cuisine. Cais do Sodré also has plenty of fashionable restaurants and bars, but many of its budget establishments remain; it hasn’t quite thrown off the earthiness that is part of its appeal.

Cash-strapped: Oasis Hostel
Feeling flush: LX Boutique

Best for sophisticates: Lapa and Madragoa

West of the centre, the well-heeled districts of Lapa and Madragoa contain some of the city’s finest mansions and embassies, many with dazzling views over the Tagus. This is a quieter, more residential side to Lisbon, yet you’re only a short tram or bus ride from the city centre one way and the historic sites of Belém the other. This is also where you’ll find the splendid Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, an art gallery featuring the likes of Hieronymus Bosch, Dürer, Rodin and Cranach.

Cash-strapped: Fado Bed and Breakfast
Feeling flush: Olissippo Lapa Palace

Best for culture: Belém

In 1498, Vasco da Gama set sail from Belém to open up trade routes to India, a feat which established Portugal as one of the world’s superpowers. To give thanks, the king built the sumptuous Jerónimos monastery, the centrepiece of a raft of impressive monuments and museums in this historic suburb west of the centre. These include the Torre de Belém tower, the impressive Maritime Museum and the unmissable Berardo Collection, one of Europe’s top modern art galleries.

Cash-strapped: Casa Amarela
Feeling flush: Altis Belem

Best for early morning flights: Parque das Nações

Close to the airport and a short metro ride from the centre, the Parque das Nações was built for Lisbon’s Expo 98. It’s a futuristic new town of modern apartments and gardens flanking various tourist attractions, including a casino, science museum and its most famous site, the Oceanarium, one of the largest in Europe. You’ll also find a range of international restaurants, bars, concert venues and the giant Vasco da Gama Shopping Centre. All of this faces out onto the Tagus, here crossed by Europe’s longest bridge, the 17km-long Ponte Vasco da Gama.

Cash-strapped: Pousada de Juventude Parque das Nações
Feeling flush: Myriad by Sana

 

The Best Area to Stay in Amsterdam

The Old Centre

If you choose to stay in the Old Centre, you’ll be a short walk from the main sights and the principal shopping and nightlife areas. Cheap hotels abound and this is the first place to start looking if money is tight, although some may find the proximity of the red light district off-putting.

On a budget: Flying Pig Downtown
This hostel is clean, large and well run by ex-travellers familiar with the needs of backpackers. It’s justifiably popular, and a very good deal, with mixed dorms, some of which have queen-sized bunks sleeping two.

No-limits luxury: Hotel de l’Europe
This elegant old-timer has plenty of fin-de-siècle charm and a central riverside location. The rooms are large and opulent, and there’s also a two-michelin-star restaurant, Bord’eau, a spa and the glamorous Freddy’s Bar.

Grachtengordel West

The canal-laced streets to the west of the old centre have a number of quiet waterside hotels, though the least expensive places are concentrated along Raadhuisstraat, one of Amsterdam’s busiest streets.

A snug stay: b&nb Herengracht
This oh-so-central bed (and no breakfast) has three double rooms: subterranean bolthole, canal view or garden view.

A hotel with style: The Dylan
Hip without being pretentious, The Dylan has earned itself many repeat guests. This stylish hotel is housed in a seventeenth-century building that centres on a beautiful courtyard and terrace, and there’s a michelin-star restaurant on site.

Grachtengordel South

Ideally positioned for the plethora of clubs, bars and restaurants on and around Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein, this area is on the rise: Waldorf Astoria decided to locate their new hotel here in 2014. There are plenty of options for those on a budget too, including a number of very appealing – and occasionally stylish – hotels along the surrounding canals.

The big name: Waldorf Astoria
Housed within a series of conjoined seventeenth-century canal houses in one of the city’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, the Waldorf Astoria has 93 rooms and suites in tasteful, calming neutral shades. It’s hard to fault, except for the eye-watering cost.

A great budget option: Prinsenhof
This small one-star has been offering bed and board since 1813. The 11 rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated, making it one of Amsterdam’s top budget options, but booking ahead is essential.

The Jordaan

Staying in the Jordaan puts you among the locals, well away from the prime tourist areas. There’s no shortage of bars and restaurants here either, and some of the city’s prettiest canals thread through the district, but you’ll be at least a 15-minute walk from the bright lights. Be aware when looking for a place to stay that Marnixstraat and Rozengracht are busy main roads.

Inventive design: De Hallen
There’s plenty of buzz surrounding the stunning conversion of this 1902 tram depot. Original features, such as rails in the dining-room floor, and the vaulted glass ceiling, have been kept intact, and the 55 rooms seem to be suspended within the structure.

Beautifully furnished boutique: Maison Rika
Housed in a former art gallery, this boutique option has two beautifully furnished queen-sized bedrooms on the second and third floors and is owned by fashion designer Ulrika Lundgren, who has a shop across the street.

The Old Jewish Quarter and Plantage

Not many tourists stay in this area as it’s largely residential, with very few bars or restaurants. So you’re pretty much guaranteed a quiet night’s sleep here, and you’re only a tram ride away from the leading sights.

A simple and welcoming stay: Adolesce
A popular and welcoming four-storey hotel (no lift) in an old canal house not far from Waterlooplein. There are ten neat, if a little dated, rooms and a communal seating area.

Modern style: Arena
A little way east of the centre, this hip four-star hotel has split-level rooms in tranquil grey or cream. There’s a lovely, relaxed vibe in the bar and the intimate restaurant with garden terrace, and a lively late-night club located within the former chapel.

The Eastern Docklands and Amsterdam Noord

These up-and-coming districts have some excellent, avant-garde accommodation options, and though their industrial architecture and open expanses might feel a world away from the old centre’s medieval lanes, they’re just a short hop away by ferry or tram.

An unusual conversion: Lloyd Hotel
Situated in the Oosterdok (eastern docklands) district, this former prison and refugee workers’ hostel has been renovated to become a “cultural embassy”, with an arts centre as well as an art library. The hotel serves all kinds of travellers, with rooms ranging from one-star affairs with a shared bathroom to five-star suites.

Getting high: Faralda Crane
Ever slept 50m in the air? The world’s first hotel in a crane offers three ultra-contemporary suites with knee-buckling city views. As you’d expect, there’s a long waiting list, so book well in advance.

The Museum Quarter

The city’s smartest quarter centres on the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum – although the nightlife around Leidseplein is also within easy striking distance. There are no canals, and two of the main drags constantly rumble with traffic, but several good hotels are to be found here, plus the leafy Vondelpark.

Back to school: College
Converted from a nineteenth-century schoolhouse, the college is an elegant boutique hotel run by hotel-school students. It has tasteful modern rooms, a first-rate restaurant, a swanky bar and a chic terrace.

To impress: Conservatorium
The capital’s most jaw-dropping hotel, this heritage building has been transformed into a contemporary design wonderland. Standard guestrooms come with Nespresso machine and free newspapers, plus access to Akasha – the city’s largest and most opulent spa.

Why you should visit Palma in 2017

Where do I start?

You’ll find it impossible not to start at La Seu, the city’s enormous, attention-grabbing sandstone cathedral, perpetually bathed in golden sunshine and dominating the centre of town.

All flying buttresses and spiky columns, it is a Gothic masterpiece – and best seen from the outside. Its exterior, rising up from the water and announcing this as a Christian-conquered city, is its most striking feature and the stone seats along the old city wall at its base are the perfect place to soak up the sun and plan your assault on the city.

You’re in the heart of the Old Town here, its narrow pedestrianized streets tangling back from the water and begging you to get out there and explore.

Next head to the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, just next door – a great example of Gothic meets Moorish architecture. See the Arab baths and the state apartments, still used by the king on occasion, before retreating to the Italianate courtyard of the Palau March, home to modern sculptures and cracking views over Palma.

Then it’s time to dive in to the city’s street life, following whichever diminutive artery takes your fancy northwards towards the pavement cafés of Plaça Major.

East of here is Sa Gerrería, save this laidback neighbourhood for some bar-hopping later on.

What’s new?

The architecture here hasn’t changed in centuries, but the way you can see it certainly has. La Seu started offering visitors the chance to walk on the roof in late 2016 and if you’re visiting in summer there’s no better way to see the city.

This is not one for the faint-hearted or weary though – there are more than 200 steps involved in the ascent and you’ll be on your feet for almost an hour as you’re guided past the rose window and around the bell tower.

Foodies should sign up for the new food tour from Mercat de l’Olivar, a walking food safari through the Old Town which focuses on the markets. You’ll finish – where else – back at Mercat de l’Olivar, which dates from 1951 and is home to over a hundred stalls, for tastings of everything from fresh bread to sobrassada (cured sausage).

If walking isn’t your style, new bike store Urban Drivestyle Mallorca has vintage bikes and nippy scooters for hire, as well as daily city tours which promise to take you to the coolest spots.

What else is there to see?

Palma is a city that is more about enjoying the good life than ticking off the sights, so make time to relax. Platja de Palma is the best of the beaches, its 4km strand stretching around the Badia de Palma. Stroll along the palm-lined walkway behind the sands and pick your spot for some sunbathing.

If you’d rather soak up some culture, head to the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, the home and workplace of artist Joan Miró from 1956 to his death in 1983.

It’s a vast site, with several studios including an engraving workshop and print workshop that are still in use and a sculpture garden where you can admire Miró’s work amid Mediterranean plant life.

Where should I eat?

The top pick for dinner is Fosh Lab, which opened in 2016, where British expat chef Marc Fosh experiments with a daily changing menu. Expect an interactive experience here, with plenty of food-focused chat – and to be a guinea pig for test dishes that may or may not make it onto the menu at Fosh Kitchen or Michelin-starred Marc Fosh.

Also worth a dinner booking is Hotel Cort, where simple dishes such as jamón ibérico, grilled octopus and lamb terrine are washed down with Mallorcan wine in the tree-shaded square.

If you’d rather hit the tapas trail make a start at Plaça Rei Joan Carlos I, calling in at Bar Bosch and La Bodeguilla. On a Tuesday or Wednesday, head to Sa Gerrería for the Ruta Martiana: what was once a way of encouraging people out on a quiet Tuesday night has become an event in itself, with dozens of tapas places offering a drink and a tapa for around €2–3.

Best cheap eats in Kuala Lumpur

A slice of Sarawak in Bangsar

If you set out to find the epitome of a neighbourhood eatery in Bangsar, the Sarawak laksa stall inside the Nam Chuan Coffee Shop food court is your best bet. The laksa (RM8) here is built for rainy days: a heap of chewy rice vermicelli arrives in a spicy, coconut milk-based soup that is crowned with shredded chicken, huge prawns, ribbons of sliced omelette and lashings of chopped coriander. Owner Christina Jong has been doling out bowls of comfort for more than 16 years – her version of Sarawak laksa doesn’t get any more authentic than this.

Vegan mixed rice in a temple

A heads up: don’t come here expecting a leisurely meal or doting servers. The neighbouring office crowd flocks to this budget-friendly canteen located at the back of Dharma Realm Guan Yin Sagely Monastery for one of the best vegan meals in the city. The mixed rice buffet (from RM5) displays more than 50 dishes, including vegan mock-meat items. Come on a Friday for lei cha (which literally translates to ‘thunder tea’), a Hakka rice speciality served with an assortment of chopped vegetables and accompanied by a ‘pounded’ tea drink.

Nasi dagang in a Malay settlement

The unpretentious Chunburi Seafood (7 Jln Raja Muda Musa) restaurant in Kampung Baru – one of the last Malay villages in the heart of the city – is famed for its Kelantanese nasi dagang (nutty rice cooked in coconut milk, from RM6), which is traditionally eaten as breakfast on the east coast of Malaysia. Diners pair the rice with a variety of fish dishes, especially the gulai ikan tongkol – a tuna curry that woos you with a rich depth of flavour. Chunburi is consistently crowded during lunchtime; grab a mango and coconut rice dessert from the sweets stand while you wait.

Pisang goreng for a midday snack

The best way to treat a king banana? Fry it to a golden crisp. Stall owner Uncle Chiam has been catering to a steady stream of office workers, students and construction workers every day for the past 34 years. Sourced all the way from a farm in Pahang, the bananas (RM1.40 per piece) are deep-fried in a heavy batter, giving them a satisfying crunch while maintaining a caramelised interior within. Round out your pisang goreng snack with some fried kuih bakul (rice cakes).

Beef noodles with a side of nostalgia at Soong Kee

The battered restaurant signage and tinted windows make this old-timer at Masjid Jamek feel like a true find. Beef noodles are aplenty in KL but it’s the noodles, and sometimes soup, that help define each particular style of this local staple. Go for the dry version (RM7) at Restoran Soong Kee (facebook.com/SoongKeeBeefNoodle): springy egg noodles coated in dark soy sauce are topped with minced meat, and served with your choice of beef balls, sliced beef, cow’s stomach or tendon in a light-tasting broth.

Fluffy chapati in Little India

For cheap and cheerful refuelling, nothing beats a fluffy chapati at just RM1.80 each. Sure, you’ll find a much cheaper version of the unleavened flatbread elsewhere but the price at Authentic Chapati Hut (3 Lorong Padang Belia, Brickfields) is justifiable – the chapatis, cooked fresh on the griddle, are moderately chewy with perfectly browned crispy spots. They’re basically blank canvases to mop up curries or the restaurant’s signature chana masala (chickpea curry). Save some space for their pillowy naan bread too.

A belly-warming pork noodle

You can still score a decent bowl of pork noodles in the city even when you’re strapped for cash. Machi Pork Noodle (33 Jln 34/154, Taman Bukit Anggerik) outshines its contenders by cranking out a heady, cloudy pork broth that comforts you like a big warm hug. The noodles (RM6), cradling a poached egg in the centre (ask the waiter for it), are fortified with the addition of minced pork, pork balls, various pieces of pork offal, pork slices, fried lard and a flurry of chopped spring onion. Fortune favours the bold – break the yolk and stir through for a silkier and thicker soup.

Pair vegetarian nasi lemak with masala chai

A nasi lemak without the requisite fried anchovies and hard-boiled egg sounds almost blasphemous, but the vegetarian version (RM2.50) at Annapuurnam Chetinad Restaurant (74 Lorong Maarof, Bangsar) will prove you wrong. A warm, nutty fragrance permeates the air as you unpack the wrapping of the dish to reveal a mound of hot fluffy rice cooked in coconut milk, with peanuts, sliced cucumbers, a piece of mock meat, and a spicy sauce that packs flavour and heat in equal parts. A masala chai (spiced milk tea) seems like a sweet ending to a meal – until you spy the jars of murukku (crunchy Indian snacks) at the cashier.

Have rojak next to the Pudu wet market

For the uninitiated, walking through the sprawling labyrinth of thePudu wet market can be overwhelming. But those who brave the crowd will be rewarded with Sulaiman’s rojak pasembur (from RM5), a concoction of prawn fritters, deep-fried bean curd, hard-boiled egg, yam bean and shredded cucumber – all doused in a thick nutty sauce. Don’t leave without ordering a bowl of cendol, a cooling shaved ice heaped with strands of green rice ‘noodles’, coconut milk, sweet corn, Adzuki red beans and a caramel-like gula Melaka. Find the restaurant in front of MSS Maju Restaurant, off Jln Pudu.

Banana leaf rice with an addictive mango chutney

Devi’s Corner stands out in a crowded field of banana leaf rice spots in KL for one reason: its mango chutney. Only available on Friday and Sunday, the sweet and tangy relish is reason enough alone to put up with Bangsar’s snarly traffic. The banana leaf rice (from RM7.50) action takes place on the upper floor of the restaurant, where you’ll find diners knuckle-deep in a heap of rice, raita, crab curry and crunchy pappadam. Make sure you clear your schedule afterwards – a nap is almost inevitable.

Mixing it up in the Maldives

Appreciating the Maldives’ natural riches

Nicknames aside, the etymology of the word ‘Maldives’ refers to the remarkable geography of this scattered archipelago. The ‘garland islands’ are indeed draped like a necklace across the Indian Ocean, hanging below the teardrop-shaped earring of Sri Lanka. And this is a treasure crafted from only the finest materials: white-gold sands with a turquoise trim, diamond-clear waters and sparkling sunsets framed by a curtain of palms. Every second spent here is a pinch-me moment.

The Maldives is the world’s lowest country in terms of elevation, and therefore first in the climate change firing line, which makes its natural wonders seem all the more precious, particularly when you meet the wildlife. Keen spotters, snorkelers and scuba divers should head to the southernmost atoll, Addu (also known as Seenu), to see spinner dolphins, sea turtles, whale sharks and white terns – a striking seabird found nowhere else in the Maldives.

Addu is also home to some of the islands’ most novel landmarks – a nine-hole golf course with lagoon views, one of the longest roads in the Maldives (a whole 16km, best travelled by bike) and the nation’s tallest mountain, which looms above Villingili, a staggering five metres high.

A taste of the inhabited islands

Staying at a luxury resort for 24/7 pampering is part of the Maldives experience, but spa treatments and five-star dinners are only half of the story. To really get a feel for island life, you need to visit one of the officially designated inhabited islands, where most of the islands’ 345,000 people make their homes. Until 2009, government restrictions meant visitors to the Maldives needed a permit to explore and stay on non-resort islands, but today, many inhabited islands are open for day trips or even overnight stays, and 50% of resort staff are required by law to be local, making island culture far more accessible.

After living it up at the Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa on the southern atoll of Addu, I joined local guide Azmy for a cycle tour of Addu City – a sleepy string of inhabited isles just across the lagoon from my blissful bubble – for a gentle introduction to the ‘real’ Maldives. In this laid back ‘city’, an unhurried island vibe pervades (there’s only so much pace one can gather this close to the equator) but political street art, a multitude of mosques, busy tea shops and welcoming smiles reveal an unexpected community buzz.

‘We don’t lock our doors here – everyone knows everyone,’ explained Azmy with a smile as we parked our bikes outside his family home. I’d wangled an invitation in order to see – and try out – an undholi, the traditional Maldivian swing seats found in most houses in the atolls. Azmy’s wife and mother-in-law seemed bemused by enthusiasm for trying out the fancy wooden hammock in their living room, but were graciously accommodating. And yes, it was as good as it sounds.

A wealth of history and culture

People on Addu generally speak excellent English, as the British ran various military bases on Gan island between the 1940s and 1970s. Azmy’s grandfather worked there as a cook and his father, a local councillor, hopes to open a military museum one day to tell the story of the base, considered a hardship posting for British airmen because of the remote and secluded location.

But there’s plenty of history to discover even without a museum. As we pedalled, we passed a disused post office blanketed in moss, poppy-strewn memorials, a retro-looking cinema (still in occasional use), and an eerie old quarantine centre for sufferers of ‘elephant foot’, a mosquito-borne malady only officially wiped out in 2016. Needless to say, I declined to take a closer look at these last facilities.

These days the RAF barracks form part of Equator Village, one of many budget resorts springing up across the archipelago, and the airstrip has swapped bombers for commercial planes. Gan Airport received the first international passenger flights from Colombo in late 2016 and tourism is expected to boom in the southern atolls, so now is a good time to come and beat the rush.

Make time for Malé

While island life is what the Maldives is all about, the capital, Malé, remains the central transport hub and it’s well worth a stopover to see its miniature take on ‘big city’ life. It may only cover 5.8 sq km, but compared to the far-flung isles, this densely populated speck in the ocean is positively cosmopolitan. Residents often juggle two jobs, commuting by moped through traffic-clogged streets overshadowed by high-rise banks and office buildings. Markets bustle. Tarmac sizzles. The call to prayer cuts through the urban thrum.

If you do one thing in Malé, make time for the Old Friday Mosque. Built from coral stone in 1656, its walls are intricately decorated, and – just like the coral you’ll find in the ocean – rough to the touch. The graveyard’s time-worn headstones (the tops of which are pointed for men, smooth for women) stand off-kilter, like a crowd of spectators vying for a glimpse of the mosque’s timeless grace. The simple tomb of Abdul Barakat Yoosuf Al Barbary, the man credited with converting the Maldives from Buddhism to Islam in the 12th century, can be found just across the street.

The ocean’s bounty for food lovers

Walking the streets in the tropical sun can be hungry work – and even spa-goers and sun-bathers need to eat. The territory of the Maldives covers 90,000 sq km of ocean, so it should come as no surprise that seafood is the staple here, and tuna is catch of the day, every day. Find this flavoursome fish in mas huni, a breakfast dish combining chilli, coconut, onion and tuna, eaten with roti flatbread. Tuna is also the key ingredient in a host of spicy ‘short eats’ – popular deep-fried snacks – and in the tuna curry that locals enthusiastically chow down on morning, noon and night.