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Category Archives: Travel

Why Family Travel’s Never Been Better

The world is your kid’s oyster

Then: plane travel was considered a luxury, low-cost airlines had yet to take to the skies and, for many, family holidays were annual events bookended by seemingly never-ending drives, complete with squabbling siblings and ‘are we there yet?’ on repeat.

Now: thanks to a boom in affordable air travel, the modern child may take numerous trips each year, blending close-to-home camping expeditions or farm stays with urban adventures in the world’s ‘must-see’ cities such as London, Paris or New York.

What were once considered ‘trips of a lifetime’ are also more likely to be regular fixtures in childhood, with long-haul holidays spent zip-lining in Costa Rica, snorkelling off Thailand’s beautiful beaches or penguin-watching off the Cape in South Africa all boosting a young jet-setter’s memory bank.

We all sleep easier, family style

Then: the whole clan often crowded into one unappetising hotel room, slept top-to-toe in a cramped tent or descended upon some kindly old friend or distant relative who had once politely suggested ‘you should really come and stay some time’.

Now: hotels are generally far better prepared for families, offering adjoining rooms, cots and even babysitting services. There’s a whole range of luxury places created specifically for the family market – Cavallino Bianco (cavallino-bianco.com) in Italy, the UK’s Watergate Bay Hotel (watergatebay.co.uk) or Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii to name just a few – with kids’ clubs, child-friendly food, play areas in the grounds and so on.

But the accommodation revolution does not stop there. Thanks to popular home swap and rental sites it’s now super easy for families to locate great apartments, often with toys, bunk beds and all the mod cons required by today’s child. If you really want to go the extra mile, companies such as Bush Baby Travel (bushbaby.travel) offer safaris where the whole family can sleep comfortably under canvas in the bush. There’s also the family cruise option, with entire ships devoted to entertaining your children… did we mention Disney?

Our digital natives engage differently with a trip

Then: without portable screens and global roaming, children were kept busy while travelling by what now looks like a relatively limited repertoire: playing games, reading books, writing a travel journal or filling up a sketch pad.

Now: technology has transformed how children engage with a trip. Sure, the tech-free pursuits still apply – kids from any era adore reading, writing, drawing and (hopefully!) playing games as a family. But now they supplement these with a wealth of digital aids: Google Earth (google.com/earth) to see what their destination looks like before they arrive; translation apps to converse easily with locals; search engines to help locate fun things to do while away; and of course Skype or social media to share stories with family and friends back home.

Tablets are now key weapons in the parental arsenal against ‘I’m bored’: they get families through delays and meltdowns, and provide respite for siblings who need a bit of space from each other. Just don’t forget to pack the charger.

It’s all about the little ones

Then: children were often an afterthought when it came to planning a family trip; parents’ priorities – relaxation or gallery-hopping, for example – came first and youngsters were expected to behave impeccably, despite the absence of anything to engage, excite or entertain them.

Now: children are specifically catered for as a group with very distinct needs. Museums and art galleries in particular have upped their game with kid-friendly tours, interactive exhibits and a much more tolerant approach to the occasional squawk from a toddler. New York’sMetropolitan Museum of Art helps inspire little ones before their visit with the #MetKids website, while the British Museum offers free family activity trails.

Many restaurants offer children’s menus (plus colouring pens and paper) as standard and big airlines such as Emirates offer kids activity packs; of course, in-flight entertainment now gives each member of the family the ability to choose what they want to watch, listen to or play.

Forgotten an essential piece of kid-related kit? Never fear – there are now various hire companies ready to jump at the chance to help you out.

Priority one is family time

Then: family bonding was a natural outcome of hanging out together in a tiny hotel room with nothing to do. It wasn’t necessarily something parents particularly focused on or planned for, it just happened.

Now: in today’s busy world, any period away from the daily grind is actively viewed as precious family time; it’s a chance to properly engage with each other and unite as a family. From time to time, parents may revolt against the modern technologies that, for the most part, make family travel easier – signing everyone up for that cooking class in Florence or a child-friendly trek in Tasmania so that the whole family takes on a new challenge together.

Regional Guide to Europe’s Best Road Trips

These nine diverse and dynamic countries – all featured in our Europe’s Best Trips guide – represent some of the top spots to hit the road in Europe. Discover what makes them so special and kick your trip planning into gear with our recommended road trips.

Italy

Few countries can rival Italy’s wealth of riches. Its historic cities boast iconic monuments and masterpieces at every turn, its food is imitated the world over and its landscape is a majestic patchwork of snowcapped peaks, plunging coastlines, lakes and remote valleys. And with many thrilling roads to explore, it offers plenty of epic driving.

Recommended trip: World Heritage wonders – 14 days, 870 km/540 miles

Start – Rome; finish – Venice

From Rome to Venice, this tour of Unesco World Heritage Sites takes in some of Italy’s greatest hits, including the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and some lesser-known treasures.

France

Iconic monuments, fabulous food, world-class wines – there are so many reasons to plan your very own French voyage. Whether you’re planning on cruising the corniches of the French Riviera, getting lost among the snowcapped mountains or tasting your way aroundChampagne’s hallowed vineyards, this is a nation that’s full of unforgettable routes that will plunge you straight into France’s heart and soul. There’s a trip for everyone here: family travellers, history buffs, culinary connoisseurs and outdoors adventurers. Buckle up and bon voyage – you’re in for quite a ride.

Recommended trip: Champagne taster – 3 days, 85 km/53 miles

Start – Reims; finish – Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

From musty cellars to vine-striped hillsides, this Champagne adventure whisks you through the heart of the region to explore the world’s favourite celebratory tipple. It’s time to quaff!

Great Britain

Great Britain overflows with unforgettable experiences and spectacular sights. There’s the grandeur of Scotland’s mountains, England’s quaint villages and country lanes, and the haunting beauty of the Welsh coast. You’ll also find wild northern moors, the exquisite university colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and a string of vibrant cities boasting everything from Georgian architecture to 21st-century art.

Recommended trip: The best of Britain – 21 days, 1128 miles/1815 km

Start and finish – London (via Edinburgh and Cardiff)

Swing through three countries and several millennia of history as you take in a greatest hits parade of Britain’s chart-topping sights.

Ireland

Your main reason for visiting? To experience the Ireland of the postcard  – captivating peninsulas, dramatic wildness and undulating hills. Scenery, history, culture, bustling cosmopolitanism and the stillness of village life – you’ll visit blockbuster attractions and replicate famous photo ops. But there are plenty of surprises too – and they’re all within easy reach of each other.

Recommended trip: the long way round – 14 days, 1300 km/807 miles

Start – Dublin; finish – Ardmore

Why go in a straight line when you can perambulate at leisure? This trip explores Ireland’s jagged, scenic and spectacular edges; a captivating loop that takes in the whole island.

Spain

Spectacular beaches, mountaintop castles, medieval villages, stunning architecture and some of the most celebrated restaurants on the planet – Spain has an allure that few destinations can match. There’s much to see and do amid the enchanting landscapes that inspired Picasso and Velàzquez.

You can spend your days feasting on seafood in coastal Galician towns, feel the heartbeat of Spain at soul-stirring flamenco shows or hike across the flower-strewn meadows of the mountains. The journeys in this region offer something for everyone: beach lovers, outdoor adventurers, family travellers, music fiends, foodies and those simply wanting to delve into Spain’s rich art and history.

Recommended trip: Northern Spain pilgrimage – 5-7 days, 678 km/423 miles

Start – Roncesvalles; finish – Santiago de Compostela

Travel in the footprints of thousands of pilgrims past and present as you journey along the highroads and backroads of the legendary Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.

Portugal

Portugal’s mix of the medieval and the maritime makes it a superb place to visit. A turbulent history involving the Moors, Spain and Napoleon has left the interior scattered with walled medieval towns topped by castles, while the pounding Atlantic has sculpted a coast of glorious sand beaches. The nation’s days of exploration and seafaring have created an introspective yet open culture with wide-ranging artistic influences.

The eating and drinking scene here is a highlight, with several wine regions, and restaurants that are redolent with aromas of grilling pork or the freshest of fish. Comparatively short distances mean that you get full value for road trips here: less time behind the wheel means you can take more time to absorb the atmosphere.

Recommended trip: Douro Valley vineyard trails – 5-7 days, 358 km/222 miles

Start – Porto; finish – Miranda do Douro

Why Kiribati is a Nature Lover’s Paradise

Whether you’re into fishing, bird-watching, diving or surfing, this remote destination is worth the trek while there are still people living here to welcome you.

First come for the fishing

One prime reason travellers head to Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the Republic of Kiribati is for the fishing – marlin, sailfish, wahoo, barracuda and huge schools of tuna are found here. But the real gem: miles of pristine saltwater flats perfect for wading and fly-fishing for bonefish, milkfish, triggerfish and a number of trevally including the elusive giant trevally. GT, as they are affectionately known, are on the bucket list of most dedicated fly-fishermen. This exotic species hunts on the flats for prey and is known for its speed, weight (upwards of 40kgs) and ferocity.

Giant trevally are difficult to hook and even more difficult to land. They frequently snap both lines and rods. Fishing for one is a truly awe inspiring experience that will give you a heightened respect for this bully of the saltwater flats (catching a 20kg baby, in relative terms, GT was one of this fisherman’s proudest moments).

Fishing tours are run from a number of self-contained lodges that provide board, boats and guides. These local guides are proud of their island’s rich and diverse marine life and conservation is as important as the catch. Tuna caught off the island invariably end up as a feast of fresh sushi that same night in the lodge, all fish within the reef are returned to swim another day.

You can’t help but become a bird watcher

As you might expect for a nation of islands in the middle of a vast expanse of ocean, Kiribati is home to a thriving bird population. Here you can spot seabirds, obviously, with frigatebirds, boobies, shearwaters, petrels and gulls – they’re hard to miss. But bird lovers may be surprised by the land-based birds found in Kiribati. The islands have around 15 percent regenerated forest cover today which is home to the Kuhl’s lorikeet, Pacific long-tailed cuckoo, and the endemic Christmas Island warbler.  For those not inclined to twitching, the many species of birdsong is probably best enjoyed in a hammock with a cold drink.

Then there’s the diving

Scuba is a relatively new addition to Kiribati – but growing in popularity as the islands realise the potential – but divers can see over 200 species of coral that host a diverse range of marine animals here including colourful reef fish, sharks, manta rays, spinner dolphins and turtles. The main dive shops and tours operate from Christmas Island and much of it is done from shore or outrigger canoes. Further afield Tarawa atoll offers WWII-wreck diving with its reminders of the American and Japanese battle for the Pacific.

Most dive operations are run from the fishing lodges – Villages, Captain Cook and Ikari House fishing lodges all offer dive trips with guides, well-equipped boats and gear hire for experienced and novice divers.

Plus surfing and kite-surfing

You won’t find big concentrations of surfers competing for waves in Kiribati. Like with all the other activities on the island you are going to be among a hardy few. The wave calendar is similar to Hawaii – peak times are October to April. The prime surfing location is from the Kiritimati (Christmas Island) capital London to the town of the abandoned village of Paris (yes, you read that right). There are 24 surfable waves along this five kilometre stretch. The logistics of getting equipment to the islands – and remoteness of the locations once there – means you’re best advised to book surfing through an operator like Christmas Island Surf (christmasislandsurf.com) with plenty of local knowledge.

Outside the surf season, kite-surfing runs all year round. These islands are famed for their consistent, although slightly wearing, off-shore winds.

Did someone say beaches?

With an average height above sea level of just 2 metres, Kiribati has plenty of beaches. Add in the very basic infrastructure – many of the outlying islands have no plumbing, electricity or toilets – visitors are blessed with vast stretches of truly un-busy coastline.

In fact on our recent visit we saw no one else for a whole day on a trip to the eastern coastline of Christmas Island. The population here is so sparse we passed only one other car on a one-hour drive from London. In an increasingly crowded world, where constant communication has become the norm, it’s refreshing to find a destination where you actually can really escape.

Getting there

The largest individual atoll in this island group, Kiritimati (Christmas Island), is a mere 5000 kilometres from any other country! The largest coral atoll in the world, it is the centre of much of Kiribati’s tourism. It’s is accessible by weekly flights from Nadi in Fiji and Honolulu in Hawaii.

If you’re really wanting to go for the adventure of a lifetime it’s a seven- to eight-day boat trip, again from Honolulu, with Sailing Vessel Kwai (svkwai.com). Kiribati offers a variety of hotels and resorts, mainly on Kiritimati (Christmas Island), but don’t expect five-star digs and pina coladas waitered to your sun-lounge – accommodation here can only be described as rustic.

7 Great Ways to Explore Colombo For Free

Many people rush through Colombo and make straight for the beaches, but linger and you’ll find a city full of history, where stately British colonial buildings jostle for space with Sri Lankan dagobas (stupas), palm-shaded parks and Dutch colonial churches. Here are 7 great ways to explore this constantly evolving city for free.

Snake charmers charm at Viharamahadevi Park

Colombo is spoilt for choice when it comes to places to chill out, but beautifully maintained Viharamahadevi Park is a city favourite. The parades of palms and fig trees are spectacular, the lawns are dotted with statues and fountains, there are views of Colombo’s colonial-era Town Hall, and there’s always the chance of catching the odd snake charmer in action. Find a shady spot and you can people-watch for hours.

Join the locals on Colombo’s favourite promenade

Whilst it might not be quite as green as it once was, Galle Face Green is still frequented by locals in search of some relaxing downtime. There’s a tacky but loveable charm to this seafront park, which is animated by bubble-blowers, bouncing beach balls and vibrant kites swooping across the sky. It’s also a great spot for a snack – street food traders congregate on the waterfront at sunset, serving delicious Sri Lankan treats, including crispy egg hoppers and the island’s signature kottu, a griddle fry-up of chopped noodles, eggs and spices.

Dive into an open-air gallery at Kala Pola Art Market

On any non-rainy day of the week, you can catch a cohort of talented local artists as they transform the streets of Nelum Pokuna into an open-air gallery with their latest creations. The Kala Pola Art Market is the oldest art market in town, and traders have been holding court here for over a century. Some of the work on display is touristy and generic, but there are some gems to be unearthed here if you look beyond the clichéd depictions of elephants and tigers. If you feel like investing, paintings are usually on canvas and can be rolled up to carry away.

Engage with Sri Lankan contemporary art at Paradise Road Gallery

The Paradise Road Gallery (paradiseroad.lk) is a piece of art in itself. This upscale gallery is a beautiful space that exhibits contemporary Sri Lankan artists of high renown and is considered one of the most important art spaces in the country. The general ambience, decadent aesthetic and renowned Gallery Café add to its charm. With monthly rotating exhibitions, it’s definitely worth popping back again for a second visit before leaving the island.

Zen out and meditate at Bellanwila Temple

It’s a pretty tough job finding a temple in Colombo that doesn’t charge tourists nowadays, but for anyone venturing down south to Mount Lavinia, the Bellanwila Temple is a top detour. This is a real locals’ temple, where visitors can experience the authenticity of the Buddhist tradition without having to share it with camera-toting crowds. Unsurprisingly, it’s a great spot for meditation. The temple is famed for its bright and bold Buddhist statues and its revered bodhi-tree – one of thirty-two saplings taken from the sacred bodhi in Anuradhapura.

Love the sunset on Mount Lavinia Beach

Just a forty-minute bus ride from the centre, Mount Lavinia beach is the perfect refuge for travellers wanting to escape the city hustle. Whilst the main drag of Mount Lavinia beach is often dotted with litter, there are plenty of tucked away spots that remain unspoiled and the sunsets here are simply spectacular. As you make your way onto the golden sands, watch for locals taking the back route, walking fearlessly along the coastal railway tracks.

More than just a bookshop, Barefoot is a great find. As well as the carefully curated range of titles by Sri Lankan authors, exquisite coffee table books and insightful travel guides in the bookstore, there are free exhibitions, displays of cultural textiles and live Dumbara weaving, all taking place under one roof. Even if you don’t buy, browsing the bookshelves is a great way to learn about the vitality of Sri Lankan culture.

Have a run in with history at Independence Square

Finding time to exercise on a trip to Sri Lanka can be tricky when there’s so much to see and do, but taking a run on the tracks at Independence Square is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. As you work up a sweat, you can admire the Independence Arcade, whose white-washed colonial buildings once housed the Jawatta Lunatic Asylum and the offices of the former Western Provincial Council. Scattered fountains and green spaces en route make this a seriously pleasant place to work out.

Top 7 Free Things to do in Shanghai

Tianzifang’s bustling alleyways

Expect cheerfully decorated shop fronts and a lively atmosphere in this fun shopping area at the edge of the French Concession. Tianzifang is a network of small alleys lined with craft shops, bars and food stands. Shoppers looking for the best bargains need to come armed with a price in mind and a knack for haggling – shopkeepers here love the chase!

The Bund waterfront

Shanghai’s elegant skyline comes to life at night along the city’s glittering waterfront, The Bund. This stretch of colonial buildings delights visitors who flock here to gaze at some of China’s most impressive architectural landmarks and towering modern wonders across the river in Pudong.  Don’t be put off by the crowds, however; head down in the early evening to savour the light displays before they are turned off at 10pm.

Shanghai Museum

When it comes to ancient art relics, China’s collection is extensive and impressive. Shanghai Museum houses a comprehensive display of the legacy left by the advanced cultures of bygone eras, including the Ming and Qing dynasties. Bronzes, ceramics, ancient coins, jade artefacts and traditional costumes are exhibited across the museum’s four floors, including a splendid jade burial suit from the Han dynasty (221–206 BC). Best of all, it’s free to enter: the museum issues a set number of tickets each day for different time slots.

Fuxing Park

If you’re looking for a moment of calm, Fuxing Park at the edge of theFrench Concession might not quite fit the bill. It’s overflowing with culture, though, and welcomes visitors with a real sense of community spirit. It plays regular host to lively groups of local Shanghainese performing tai chi, flying kites, dancing, singing, playing traditional musical instruments and practising calligraphy – all going on in complete harmony.

French Concession stroll

No stay in Shanghai would be complete without a walk through the stylish and charming French Concession. This formerly French-occupied neighbourhood is characterised by its leafy streets packed with boutiques, cafes, restaurants and lively bars. Notable streets include Nanchang Rd, where you can find cheap and fresh hand-pulled noodles at Lanzhou Lamian (兰州牛肉拉面, 613 Nanchang Rd), and Wukang Rd, which is characterised by handsome villas and apartments. Tucked behind it is Ferguson Lane, a paved courtyard with a distinctly European feel.

Jing’an Temple

Though not the cheapest activity on the list (there is a small entrance fee), Jing’an Temple is great value because of its unique location against a background of busy shopping malls and skyscrapers in the centre of the city.  Meandering through the temple’s three main halls, one of which has an impressive Buddha statue, you’re overcome with the wafting aroma of incense. Visitors can light a bundle for a few yuan, and throw small change into many of the temple’s lesser shrines and statues. Watch out that you don’t get caught in the coin-throwing crossfire!

Yuyuan Garden

An unexpected moment of serenity inside a busy shopping bazaar, Yuyuan is a traditional Chinese garden made up of delicate rockeries, koi-filled ponds and wooden pavilions. An elaborate, undulating dragon carving appears on the surrounding walls, while ornate bridges and willow trees decorate the water. Head here in the early morning to explore the nooks and crannies of this attractive oasis.

Switzerland For Nature Lovers

On a high in Valais                                             

Nothing says Switzerland more than that mountain. As the train chugs from Täsch to the ritzy outdoor resort of Zermatt, the pop-up effect of the Matterhorn is surreal. The 4478m fang of rock and ice forces your gaze skywards and elicits gasps of wonder.

Closer, you say? Kein problem. The Gornergratbahn, Europe’s highest cogwheel railway, has been trundling up to Gornergrat (3089m) since 1898. At the summit, the view of the Gorner Glacier and 29 peaks rising above 4000m – including Switzerland’s highest, Dufourspitze (4634m) – opens up. Skiers, mountaineers and hardcore hikers are in their element at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Europe’s highest cable-car station on the Klein Matterhorn (3883m), with views reaching deep into the Swiss, French and Italian Alps.

Ever since British climber Edward Whymper made the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 – albeit a triumph marred by rope-breaking tragedy – Zermatt has been the Holy Grail for mountaineers. Here you can tackle some of Europe’s most epic ascents: the Matterhorn, say, or Monte Rosa (4634m), with an Alpine Center guide. Hikers, meanwhile, can set out along the two-hour, 6.5km Matterhorn Glacier Trail. When the flakes fall in winter, the car-free resort is laced with 360km of ski runs in the Matterhorn’s shadow, some of which dip over the border into Italy.

Among alpine giants

The Matterhorn gets a lot of love, but swing north and follow the Rhône River east along the serene, remote valley of the Goms in Valaisand you enter another world. Here tiny hamlets with baroque churches and sun-blackened chalets are dwarfed by the dramatic backdrop. FromFiesch, take the cable car up to Fiescheralp, where paragliders catch thermals on clear days, then beyond to Eggishorn for one of Switzerland’s most unforgettable sights: the mighty Aletsch Glacier.

The icing on the cake of the Unesco World Heritage Jungfrau-Aletsch region, this is the longest and most voluminous glacier in the Alps: a 23km swirl of deeply crevassed ice that powers its way past waterfalls, spires of rock and the dagger-shaped summit of Aletschhorn (4193m) like a six-lane glacial superhighway. You can admire it from the viewpoint, but you’ll get much closer on the 17km, five- to six-hour hike from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp, which is where you can be at one with the phenomenal views and perhaps spot the odd Valais blacknose sheep. For more of an instant thrill, walk (if you dare) the Aletschji–Grünsee Suspension Bridge, which spans the terrifyingly untamed, 80m-deep Massa Gorge.

Over the mountain as the crow flies lies the Bernese Oberland, presided over by its ‘big three’: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau (Ogre, Monk and Virgin), all hovering around the 4000m mark. The picture-perfect resorts of Grindelwald, Wengen and Mürren are great bases for hitting trails like the 6km Eiger Trail, with fearsome North Face views. More spectacular still, the full-day, 15.9km trek from Schynige Platte plateau via Faulhorn to First has views of lakes Thun and Brienz to make you yodel out loud. Or enjoy knockout peak and glacier views with zero effort by taking the train from Kleine Scheidegg up to 3454mJungfraujoch, Europe’s highest railway station.

Into the Engadin

Evocative of a golden age of travel, Switzerland’s train journeys are some of the world’s finest. There are big mountain views on repeat aboard the Glacier Express, which negotiates the Furka, Oberalp and Bernina passes on the eight-hour ride between Zermatt and St Moritz inGraubünden’s Upper Engadin.

Switzerland’s cradle of winter tourism since the mid 19th century, St Moritz is enshrined in sporting legend, home to slopes of Olympic fame and host to world championship events. Skiing ramps things up a notch in winter, with 350km of pistes, first-class freeriding opportunities, forested cross-country trails and heart-stopping black runs on 2978m Diavolezza.

The resort is every bit as alluring in summer. Hiking trails thread for mile after lovely mile, mountain bikers are in their element on 400km of terrain – the Suvretta Loop single trail is a classic – and wind- and kite-surfers drift across Silvaplana’s startlingly turquoise, wind-buffeted lakes in wonder.

For a taste of the Alps before the dawn of tourism, head northeast to theSwiss National Park in the Lower Engadin. Easily accessed from the quaint villages of Scuol, Zernez and S-chanf, Switzerland’s only national park is a nature-gone-wild spectacle of high moors, pastures, glaciated mountains, larch woodlands and topaz-coloured lakes. The only way to see it is by striking out on foot on one of 80km of marked trails. Go solo or hook onto a guided walk with the visitor centre in Zernez. With an expert in tow, you stand better chances of spotting rarities like wild edelweiss, ibex, chamois, golden eagles and bearded vultures.

Land of lakes & legends

Sitting on the mountain-rimmed shores of its eponymous lake, Lucerne, with its pristine Old Town, medieval wooden bridge and promenade, is every inch as genteel as it was back in the 19th century when Goethe, Wagner and Queen Victoria fell for its charms. And Lake Lucerne is no ordinary lake: this is where the Swiss legends were made and born. Cruise the fjord-like waters of Lake Uri and you’ll glimpse Rütli Meadow, hallowed birthplace of the Swiss Confederation in 1291, and the Tells’ Chapel, where apple-shooting hero and Swiss rebel William Tell apparently escaped from the boat of his Hapsburg captor, Gessler.

Lucerne itself is a cracking base for striking out into the surrounding lakes on low-key adventures. Without venturing too far or expending too much effort, you can marvel at the Alps cycling the trails rimming the waterfront, taking a refreshing dip at lakefront beaches in the warmer months, or hiring a boat to explore Lake Lucerne at your own steam.

The mountains that rear above Lucerne and its lake are the stuff of myth. Green peaks seem to ripple into infinity from 2128m Mt Pilatus, where the restless ghost of Roman prefect Pontius Pilate is said to roam. Reached by the world’s steepest cog railway, the mountain has walking trails commanding views as far as Germany’s Black Forest on cloudless days. Its rival in the beauty stakes is 1797m Mt Rigi, famous for its magical sunrises and sunsets.

Little Italy, Switzerland style

Lakes are a defining feature of the Swiss landscape, but they take on a very different quality in the southern Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, where pines give way to palms. South of the fortified town ofBellinzona, topped by a trio of Unesco-listed medieval castles, mountains tumble down to the shores of lakes where the water is warm enough to swim. Baroque campaniles chime in waterfront towns and stylish cities with Italian flair: Locarno, Lugano and Ascona included.

Lago di Lugano looks sublime from the boats that ply the lake, but 1701m Monte Generoso gives a great overview from above. Reached by a rack-and-pinion railway, it affords a broad vista of the Alps and Apennines and is crowned by a Mario Botta-designed visitor centre resembling a giant stone flower. For more expansive views over the lakes and into the Alps, take a funicular above Lugano to Monte San Salvatore or Monte Brè.

7 Reasons to Visit a Reborn Northern

Spurred on by the drive to win the title of European Capital of Culture 2023, it’s all go, whether you’re after brewery brunches or barista classes, pop-up events or elegant arcades. Here’s our guide to the city’s thriving food, beer and coffee scenes, revamped markets and galleries and historic sights.

Craft beer and Northern Monk

If Leeds could be summed up in one sniff, it would be the aromas of hops and malt. In the past five years, the city has leveraged its proud Yorkshire real-ale heritage to create one of the UK’s finest craft beer scenes. This is a city of connoisseurs, where scores of hopheads worship at dozens of bars and microbreweries.

Leading the pack is Northern Monk, beloved for its sociable taproom in a Grade II-listed mill, its inspired collaborative brews and its brewery brunches starring hop bread.

Holbeck: an unexpected wonderland

Step out of the Northern Monk taproom and you’re slap-bang in the middle of an unexpected wonderland of 19th-century industrial relics. Holbeck may have a reputation as a rough-around-the-edges place (it’s Britain’s first legal red-light zone), but it’s also a fascinating conservation area with some great pubs and off-the-beaten-track appeal.

Amid clusters of converted flax-mill offices, three startling brick chimneys – modelled on Italian bell towers – shoot skywards from crumbling Tower Works. This former pin factory has been plotted as the centrepiece of a mixed-use development and businesses such as Burberry are putting down roots here.

Around the corner stands the Egyptian-inspired stone facade of Temple Works. Some locals remember when its flat roof was covered in grass and grazed by resident sheep. There are grand plans to turn it into an arts venue, but in the meantime local artists are taking advantage of cheap studio rents within its decaying walls.

Leeds Civic Trust (leedscivictrust.org.uk) runs a heritage Supper Walk around the area, including dinner at Leeds’ Heritage and Design Centre.

Heritage shopping

When textile magnates roosted in Leeds during its 19th-century industrial heyday, elegant shopping arcades were erected to burn holes in their pockets. The covered laneways fanning out from Briggate still retain many traditional shopfronts, behind which lie the city’s most interesting independent stores – selling artisan cakes, comics, craft beer and the like – tempered by high-end fashion boutiques.

Victoria Quarter is the undisputed beauty queen, but check out gothic Thornton’s Arcade for its chiming automaton clock featuring a life-sized Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. A five-minute walk away, the Colosseum-like Corn Exchange has been transformed into another bastion of indie shops and cafes, with deck chairs and pop-up events in its lower level.

The revamped Kirkgate Market

It’s hard not to be dazzled by the wrought-iron razzmatazz of Kirkgate Market’s ornate atrium ceiling. On a sunny day, light floods in through the glass illuminating the colourful traditional wooden stalls below. This is where UK retail giant Marks & Spencer started its empire in 1884 (check out the Penny Bazaar homage to M&S inside the market). The section abutting Vicar Ln is the highlight of what is one of Europe’s largest covered markets.

Kirkgate remains a true locals’ market, selling a bit of everything, but in 2016 it also welcomed a new street-food hall and made a push to introduce gourmet, local produce. It’s now a favourite lunch spot: grab a curry from award-winning former food truck Manjit’s Kitchen, followed by a brownie from upmarket bakery Bluebird.

The North’s best food fest

If proof was needed of how far Leeds’ food scene has come in the past five years, Leeds Indie Food (leedsindiefood.co.uk) is it. Now in its third year, the festival spills across two whole weeks each May, and coveted events sell out in days.

The focus is on Leeds’ independent restaurants, cafes and regional producers, reflecting the city’s growing reputation for innovation in the kitchen. Events are unique: you could find yourself at a doughnut-and-beer-matching event or experimental lobster workshop one day, followed by a foraging walk or secret-location dinner the next.

Artisan coffee

The trend for sophisticated coffee that’s swept London in recent years is also flourishing in Leeds thanks to bean lovers like Dave and James Olejnik, who run Laynes Espresso. The brothers make frequent forays down to the capital to snap up the best batches from producers such as Square Mile and Workshop Coffee, as well as using beans from Leeds-based North Star Coffee Roasters. The duo also run coffee-making and appreciation classes for budding baristas and serve excellent food in their newly expanded shop.

Other artisan coffee shops worth savouring a cup in are Kapow (facebook.com/kapowcoffee) in The Calls, Mrs Atha’s (mrsathasleeds.com) just off Briggate and Union Coffee House (facebook.com/theunioncoffeehouseleeds) on Great George St behind Leeds Town Hall.

New nightlife in the Northern Quarter

The slim tail-end of Call Ln on the southern edge of the city centre is a whirlwind of high-octane bars, cramped indie hang-outs and the odd cafe/restaurant. It used to be locals’ main go-to for alternative fun after dark, but the city has broadened its horizons in recent years. Bookending the city centre to the north, what was once a lonesome spot for a couple of stellar bars above Headrow has morphed into a nightlife zone called the Northern Quarter. Long-time residents are bemused by the new name, but everybody loves this trendy enclave of prohibition-style bars, gin palaces and craft beer taps.

Try retro Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen with its street food, intimate live-music space and quirky lawned roof terrace in a restyled 1930s block. On the second Saturday of every month, it hosts the Belgrave Feast street food and art market.

Escaping modern life in Moldova’s countryside

 In an instant, modern civilisation seems to fall away. Cow-speckled grasslands unfurl across Moldova’s low hills, and farm-hands draw water from roadside wells. As for the horse-drawn hay carts, they rattle along at a surprisingly brisk pace – and I have a sneaking suspicion they are sturdier than our little rental car…

Exploring the country time forgot

Despite budget flights from western Europe to Chişinău, travellers aren’t yet descending in droves on this little country squeezed between Romania and Ukraine.  Starting from WWII, Moldova was part of the Soviet Union for five decades; the country continues to be dismissed as a gloomy throwback to that period. Certainly, modern Chişinău has its Soviet-era stalwarts – like the crumbling state circus building (Strada Circului 33) and the tanks assembled outside the Army Museum – though the city is freshened by fountain-filled parks and tree-fringed boulevards.

But if Chişinău feels anchored in the 1970s, the rest of Moldova froze in time centuries earlier. On our northbound drive, women in headscarves are stepping out into the road and waving hand-picked bouquets. They’re selling wildflowers to passing motorists, but for a moment it seems as though they are beckoning us towards Moldova’s time-trapped countryside.

Hiking the lonely roads of Old Orhei

Our destination is Orhei, a district of pastures and forests, around 45km north of Chişinău. The car nudges cautiously through quiet villages like Ivancea and Brăneşti, and before long we can see chalk cliffs rising into view.

Like a pair of cupped hands, these cliffs encircle Moldova’s holiest sight,Orheiul Vechi (‘Old Orhei’). From the 13th century, monks consigned themselves to silent contemplation within caves in the rock face, a practice that endured for some 500 years. Anchoring this sacred place is the Ascension of St Mary Church (1905), whose glinting dome catches the sunlight from far across the Răut River.

Cave-dwelling monks have largely cleared out, but Orheiul Vechi remains a site for contemplation: you can walk for miles without seeing a soul. As I trace the Ivancea–Orheiul Vechi road, not a single car interrupts my path; an occasional rider, hauling several farm-hands in a horse-pulled wagon, clatters past and gives me a startled stare.

In the villages, houses are painted powder-blue and green, backed by spectacular salt-and-pepper cliffs. Garden trellises are loaded with vines, and gargling turkeys loll in their shade. Faced with this scene plucked from a pastoral fairytale, it’s impossible not to slow down to the pace of village life in Moldova.

Tasting farm life in Trebujeni

Trebujeni, just southeast of Orheiul Vechi, is accessed by potholed, dust-and-dirt roads. The overwhelming majority of locals in this trio of villages are farming stock, and the trickle of pilgrims and visitors doesn’t create much of a tourist industry. Nevertheless, there is a scattering of places to stay, signalled by decoratively carved pensiunea(guesthouse) signs swinging in front yards.

As we drive tentatively into Trebujeni, geese scatter from our path and we’re blindsided by the odd surprise horse. Somewhere along the pitted roads, one of our car’s hubcaps wobbles straight off its wheel.

Our guesthouse here, Casa din Lunca (+373 794 55 100, Trebujeni), has a rustic air that matches its setting, from creaking gate to grandmotherly embroidery – but it’s an unpolished sort of place. I sling a rucksack onto my bedspread and dust puffs up from the sheets. We survey a backyard prowled by yowling cats, rugs as threadbare as the wi-fi signal, and a forlorn, empty swimming pool.

‘I’ll be in my room,’ sighs my travel companion Jane, ‘with my book.’

Our spirits are raised when the hostess of the house lays platefuls of country cooking across an outdoor dining table. There are wooden platters of smoke-scented meat, and voluptuous pitchers of tart red wine are finding space between salads and sour cream. We carve mămăligă, a cake of polenta, into cushiony wedges.

As we feast, rural Moldova is slowly working its magic. In the shade of a vine-covered awning, to the sounds of bleating farm animals, the atmosphere seems like a fair swap for our car’s lost hubcap.

Tiptoeing through secretive monasteries

North of Trebujeni, a different kind of wonder fills the air. Some 93% of Moldovans belong to the Orthodox church and the country’s monasteries act as lightning rods for intense spirituality.

Some of the loveliest monasteries are perched beside the Dniester River, a  slate-coloured seam between Moldova and the breakaway republic ofTransdniestr. Thirty kilometres north of Trebujeni lies Tipova, Moldova’s largest and one of its oldest cave monasteries. As in Orheiul Vechi, the area is scored with grottoes that were once hideaways for monks. But the site has other myths, too. According to local lore, Orpheus ventured to Tipova; other stories embellish further, declaring that this Greek poet of legend found his portal to the underworld through one of Tipova’s caves.

Another 12km north, snug among fuzzily forested hills, are the golden domes of Saharna Monastery. As we stroll through its gardens, groundsmen with their hands in the soil lift their heads curiously from tulip beds. Even our whispers seem loud.

A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Photo Editing

 Hit me with your best shots

Digging through hundreds of images after a big trip can be a daunting task. Trust your instincts and taste. Pick a comfortable system to mark your favorite photos, whether it’s a ‘heart’ on your iPhone or by adding favorites to a custom folder. Take as many passes through your photos as needed, each time narrowing down your selections until you’ve chosen a series that tells the most compelling story. The same concept applies if you’ve moved over to your computer with a program like Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Bridge. Critically analyzing your photos in this way is great practice and essential to honing your taste and unique style.

Getting familiar with basic mobile editing tools 

For many budding travel photogs, all the tools necessary for some great-looking images are right at your fingertips. The world of smartphone apps – including Snapseed, VSCO, and even Instagram – makes it easy to make standard adjustments. Start with some goals. Maybe you want to bring out a certain subject or focal point. Maybe you want to make the colors pop out a bit more, or bring things more into balance. Perhaps there are details you know were there in real life that just aren’t apparent in your photo.

Start by focusing on the basics. Straighten the image and then make any corrections to the white balance. Calibrating ‘white balance’ (also referred to as ‘temperature’ in Instagram, for example) helps ensure that your overall image is not too ‘warm’ (heavy on red, orange, and yellow) or too ‘cool’ (leaning toward blue, green, and purple). Most people set their cameras to ‘auto white balance’, which can be quite accurate but still usually needs tweaked in post production. Whatever program you’re using, you’ll quickly find that sliding the balance one way or the other makes a big difference.

Next, adjust the overall exposure so the key subjects are bright enough. Make sure that majestic mountaintop shines or those ocean waves glisten. But be careful not to blow out the highlights. At this point, you might notice some deep shadows. So use the shadow slider, available in most mobile editing apps, to brighten large portions of the photo revealing important detail previously lost in darkness. Lastly, add a little sharpening so contours are clear and crisp.

Put your pics on full effect
Of course, apps give you plenty of ways to go over the top. Like any artistic technique, editing is highly subjective and it’s completely up to you how far you want to take it. Go black and white. Apply your favorite Instagram filter. Or ‘crush the blacks’ for a moody vibe by decreasing the contrast and slightly lightening the shadows to a faded, matte finish (Instagram’s ‘Aden’ filter is a quick way to achieve this effect). Be wary of over-processing and risk losing the original essence of your photo. Most of your savvier followers will be able to spot a harsh Hefe filter at a glance, but feel free to experiment with your own custom settings to achieve a unique effect that works best for you. Eventually, you’ll develop your own style and find an aesthetic that resonates with you and your audience.

Raw power

Smartphones are great, but their processing capabilities still fall short of a decent DSLR or mirrorless camera. Because their larger image sensor collects much more light, the image quality and potential for greater dynamic range is improved significantly. Save your photos in ‘raw’ file format to take full advantage. When a photo is captured as a ‘jpeg’ (like on a mobile device), it is automatically processed to an extent – adjustments can quickly degrade the image quality.

Raw files contains a great deal more information, including a wide range of exposure values, color tones, and sharpening qualities. Because this format is essentially unprocessed, you get to decide how much dynamic range (the varying amounts of highlights, midtones, and shadows) you want your photo to contain. This freedom allows your processing software to make dramatic adjustments without sacrificing quality.

Processing raw images requires a bit more horsepower, so most of the associated programs are made for the desktop or laptop computer. Start with Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, and Capture One. Camera Raw is probably the most entry-level solution, while Lightroom has become the industry standard for its high quality and wide range of presets. Companies like VSCO sell these presets, which often have a distinct, vintage film aesthetic popular with portrait and wedding photography. Capture One, although not as widely used as Lightroom, is said to be even more powerful in its conversion process and is the go-to program for many studio photographers that still shoot medium format.

Not only do these programs allow you to make standard adjustments, but they also let you batch edit a large number of photos at once, significantly improving your workflow. For example, if you have a series of 20 landscape shots with similar lighting conditions, you can easily make the necessary adjustments to one of the images and then simply copy and paste those settings to the other 19. This streamlined approach is particularly useful for photo shoots that need high quality refinements made relatively quickly.

Where to find Sydney’s best beaches

 Secluded spots

Sydney is famous for its surf beaches but there are many secluded hideaway beaches dotted all around the harbour. Some are more popular than others, depending on their accessibility, but our top tips are the diminutive Lady Martins Beach at Point Piper, not far from central Sydney and tucked between the salubrious suburbs of Double Bay and Rose Bay.

On the northern side of city, head for Balmoral Beach near Mosman. It is an excellent beach for families, with a netted enclosed swimming area and large shady Moreton Bay fig trees to escape the heat. Lastly, look for Collins Beach at Manly, a long circuitous walk from the Manly ferry pier, where you may well find yourself alone for a good part of the day.

Autumn sun

This may surprise many first-time travellers to Sydney, but autumn (March to May) is a perhaps the best time to hit the beach. Sydney is blessed with a fairly temperate climate so it can stay sunny and reasonably warm right into late May (the beginning of the Australian winter). It takes some months for the ocean to cool down to the same temperature as the land which means the sea can still be surprisingly warm even if days are not baking hot.

Rise and shine

You can beat the heat, and the summer hordes, by heading down to the Sydney’s most iconic surf spot, Bondi Beach, early in the morning. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the ocean, and you’ll be sharing the experience with locals surfing, running, and doing their early morning sun salutations. Bondi gets busier as the day wears on – by midday traffic can clog the main routes down to the shoreline. Book an early lunch at Icebergs, which overlooks the iconic ocean pool, then make your escape.

Go south

If you do hit Bondi in peak hour, you can also head south to Bronte andCoogee via a cliff-side walking path (unfortunately you won’t be the only one doing this walk!). Beyond Bondi there are further ocean pools for the less confident swimmers to take a paddle where you’re protected from sharks as well as the swell. You’ll still be swimming with the same breath-taking views of sandstone headlands, sea birds and the occasional band of whales ploughing their migration routes along the Pacific.