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
It isn’t all fjords and pine trees, though; there are fairytale castles, Viking treasures and gritty, pretty cities that nurture some of the world’s most exciting art and design scenes. Then there’s that green, egalitarian approach to life that will leave you thinking that – somehow – Scandinavia just works.
Ready to take the plunge? Here are 7 ideas for short breaks in Scandinavia.
1. Gothenburg and the west coast, Sweden
In the space of a couple of decades, Sweden’s second biggest city has reinvented itself as one of Europe’s coolest city break destinations. It’s still a big industrial hub with a busy port at its heart, but the focus is increasingly on tourism. Why should you go? For the super-fresh seafood, for the locally brewed beer and laidback bars, and for the car-free islands that lie just offshore, where you can swim in cool, clear waters.
2. Skagen, Denmark
Set on a narrow spit of land with breezy beaches on both sides, Skagen is Denmark’s northernmost town – and one of its prettiest, too, with mustard-yellow houses lining the streets. Since the Nordic Impressionists arrived here more than a century
1. Plan a rough itinerary
Spontaneity is one of the best things about backpacking, but in Australia it pays to have at least a rough itinerary, as it’s easy to underestimate how long it takes to get around this vast country. Spending longer than planned pottering around South Australia’s wine country – fun though it is – might mean you have to sacrifice that eagerly awaited trip to extraordinary Uluru or exploring the billabongs of Kakudu.
Three weeks is the absolute minimum to “do” the East Coast by land: Sydney to Cairns via the broad beaches of Byron Bay and the Gold Coast, self-driving the length of Fraser Island (the largest sand island in the world), sailing the gorgeous Whitsundays, diving at the Great Barrier Reef and trekking in Daintree, the oldest tropical rainforest on earth. So to see the rest of Australia, you’ll need to fly or have much more time.
2. Plan where to go when
At any time of year, Australia is a great place to visit but it can get unbelievably hot, as well as surprisingly chilly and rainy, depending on where you go. Avoid travelling
France’s chic, sexy capital has to be experienced at least once. Mix picture-postcard icons with simple Parisian moments and you’ll truly fall in love with the city. Scale the Eiffel Tower then walk or cycle along the Seine, or cruise down it on a bateau-mouche (bateaux-mouches.fr). Venerate Notre Dame then grab a post-cathedral café atCafé Saint-Régis, ice-cream at Berthillon or super juice at literary café of mythical bookshop Shakespeare & Company. Hit the Louvre then collapse on a bench with a Pierre Hermé macaron in the Tuileries orPalais Royal gardens. Delve into hilltop Montmartre with a local Paris Greeter (greeters.paris). Escape to posh leafy Versailles and come back blown away by France’s most famous chateau.
Stunning châteaux are scattered around the lush Loire Valley. Stand in awe of the Renaissance supertanker of a castle Château de Chambord, and graceful Château de Chenonceau astride the Cher River. Château de Blois with its whistle-stop tour of French architecture, and classicalChâteau de Cheverny where the spectacle of the dogs having dinner steals the show, is the perfect one-day combo. In summer put the gardens at Château de Villandry and Château d’Azay-le-Rideau after dark on your hit list. Base yourself in
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.
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
Lake swim at Refugio Frey in the Argentine Andes
The well-marked trail from Cerro Catedral in the Nahuel Huapi National Park up to the climbers’ hut at Refugio Frey offers relentless views of the Andes. These become truly stunning once you reach the hut itself, where a small mountain lake sits beneath vertiginous peaks.
The water here can get icy in the off-season, but during the summer months of January and February, swimming out from the shallows and lying on your back to take in the view is the ideal way to end one ofArgentina’s finest walks.
Hampstead Mixed Pond, London
One of three bathing holes on London’s vast Hampstead Heath, the pond is the ideal haven when the searing heat of the city gets too much. Its freshwater is tested daily, and lifeguards provide reassurance to those feeling nervous about stepping into the depths from the metal steps.
Swim out a few metres and you’ll find yourself in your own bubble, quickly forgetting that central London is just a short Tube ride away. Entry costs £2 and the place can get busy on hot days, so aim for an early
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
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.
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,
Holi, India and Nepal
Can’t you narrow down the location for us a bit more?
Holi, or the Festival of Colour, as it has come to be known, is primarily a Hindu festival and it’s celebrated with wild parties and crazy colour fights all over India and Nepal in areas with large Hindu populations. You’ll know you’ve found one when you spot the revellers who look like they’ve walked through a rainbow waterfall.
A colour fight?
Holi is a celebration of the victory of one’s inner good over evil but has basically become a frolicking free-for-all involving coloured powder and water. In a joyous and raucous street fight, participants throw powder and water at each other using the bright, exuberant colours to signify the start of spring, the power of love, and the generosity of humanity.
Sounds like some seriously messy fun.
Just try to resist the truly jubilant spirit of the festival – everyone, and we mean everyone, comes together to play, laugh, forgive and give thanks. What’s not to like?
The AgitAgueda Art Festival transforms
Snorkel, dive and mystery-seek
While scuba and snorkelling hardly count as unique, you will find great diversity in the wild blue under, from mass manta encounters to super-accessible snorkelling that even little kids can splash into. Floating around in bathtub-warm water, watching real-life Nemos and Dorys dart by, or spotting sea turtles placidly grazing on algae – what’s not to love?
You can rent snorkelling gear at any beach on any island worth its salt. And even if you’re not a certified diver, introductory dive courses can be booked on various islands. One of the challenges is finding English-speaking instructors and guides, but a handful of dive shops such as Piranha Divers (piranha-divers.jp) and Reef Encounters (reefencounters.org) on Okinawa-hontō (Okinawa’s main island) and Umicoza (umicoza.com) on Ishigaki-jima have multilingual guides on staff.
More experienced divers with a taste for mystery should book a flight toYonaguni-jima, Japan’s westernmost inhabited island. Off the rugged southern coast, where wild island horses graze on the windswept bluffs, the surface of the sea conceals a spectacular set of ‘ruins’ that a local diver discovered in the ’80s. With surfaces and walls jutting up at 90-degree angles, and features suggestive
Steeped in medieval history dating back to the early thirteenth century, Unesco-protected Visby is an excellently preserved example of a European Hanseatic League trading town, with over 200 warehouses and merchants’ houses contained within its 13th-century ramparts.
A step back in time
Visby’s status as a key trading place in the Baltic Sea during the Middle Ages meant the island of Gotland saw its fair share of attacks and invasions. Most notable was the successful 1361 invasion by Danish King Valdemar Atterdag which made Gotland a Danish colony before it was re-annexed by Sweden in 1645.
Despite its tiny size, Visby has the largest number of preserved ruins in all of northern Europe, with 10 church ruins and 27 preserved medieval fortresses of the original 29 military defense outposts built to protect it. It also has more churches within its walls than any other town in Sweden. Construction began on some of these places of worship during the 12th century, and they were built by wealthy families who’d made their fortune through trading when Visby became a member of the Hanseatic League. Iconic religious structures including the Gothic cathedral St Karins kyrka, which was founded by the Franciscans in 1233,
Hidden Beach, Marieta Islands, Mexico
Shhh, don’t tell anyone else about this place! We want it to ourselves.
The secluded setting of this gorgeous beach is the stuff of wild and romantic fantasies, which is why it has also earned itself the title ofplaya del amor or lovers’ beach. Lovesick dreamers the world over have longed to have these golden sands, gently lapped by crystal blue waters, all to themselves, and due to the beach’s remote and concealed location there’s a good chance these dreams could come true.
How do we get in there?
This secret swimming hole, visible from above through dense jungle and cavernous limestone, can only be accessed by swimming or kayaking through a long tunnel of water that links the beach to the Pacific Ocean.
How did this natural wonder come to be?
Mother Nature can’t take all the credit for this one. It is believed that military bomb tests conducted by the Mexican government in the 1900s created a whole series of craters, caverns and unusual rock formations throughout the Marieta Islands, one of which being the magnificent Hidden Beach.
Where in the world am I permitted to wild camp?
Each country has its own rules and, in much of the world, pitching up anywhere you like simply isn’t allowed. However, there are a few places where you can live out that idyllic wild-camping dream:
In Scotland, the public’s right to (non-motorised) access has been assured since the Land Reform (Scotland) Act in 2003 – you are legally allowed to wild camp on unenclosed land. However, bylaws to restrict overnight camping have been introduced in a few popular spots such as Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code is a useful rulebook to follow.
England and Wales
There is plenty of countryside in England and Wales, but if the land isn’t in the hands of the Forestry Commission or the National Trust, it’s likely to be privately owned – in which case you can’t pitch up there. Wild camping is only legal in parts of Dartmoor (and even here there’s small print). Everywhere else you must seek the permission of the landowner.
The common right of access is a big deal in Norway,
1. Make the journey to Bai Tu Long Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay is just to the northeast of world-famous Ha Long Bay – and its striking expanse is just as beautiful. However, it sees a fraction of the visitors.
More and more tour companies are now offering trips to Bai Tu Long (“Children of the Dragon”). Or, if you want to go it alone, you can take the ferry to remote Quan Lan Island – the slow boat from Cai Rong has the best views.
Quan Lan has only a handful of hotels, and very little English is spoken – but that’s part of the joy. Once you’ve taken in the bay, bask on the untouched beaches (the best stretch along the east coast) and explore the virtually empty roads by bicycle. You’ll get the impression that little has changed here for decades.
2. Enjoy farm-to-table food in Bong Lai Valley
Phong Nha National Park may already be on your itinerary, but your taste buds will thank you for venturing to nearby Bong Lai Valley. Farming is integral to the community here, and more and more locals are now opening
Best for: winter thrills
The world’s largest island is covered almost entirely in ice – which makes for unbeatable winter sports conditions. Strap on the skis for some cross-country or head up higher on a helicopter to ski back down from the ice caps. It’s also possible to kayak among the icebergs and even scuba dive down to see what lies beneath their famously shallow surface. If you’d rather gather some speed, hire a snowmobile or take charge of a dog sled and head out there into the snow.
On The Go Tours tip: After a busy day of outdoor adventure, relax at Cafe Iluliaq (in Ilulissat) with a craft beer flavoured with berries and herbs sourced from the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Best for: urban adventures
Japanese culture may have been exported worldwide but nothing can compare to seeing it first hand, perhaps by eating sushi in Tokyo or seeing geishas perform a cultural ritual in Kyoto. Take in the culture by learning to cook Japanese food yourself on a cookery course and discover what it’s like to live in one of the world’s most frenetic cities at