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Monthly Archives: February 2017

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.