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Category Archives: Travel

Tracing History in Visby, Gotland

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, and St Nicolai kyrka, built by Dominican monks in 1230, are all within a five-to-ten minute walk of each other.

Strolling through its compact streets, medieval church ruins can be found at nearly every turn, and today many are used to house concerts due to the unique atmosphere they bring to the events.

When it comes to Viking artefacts and Norse mythology, Visby certainly isn’t lacking. With over 31,000 remains and objects salvaged from all around the island, these archaeological relics indicate that people may have lived on Gotland as early as 8,000 years ago. Human skeletons and stone tools dating to the Stone Age (around 1800 BC) were excavated around Stenkyrka, Lummelunda, and Big Karlso on the island, making them the oldest remains in Gotland and some of the oldest graves in Sweden. The impressive Gotland Historical Museumhouses many of these artefacts.  Here, you can see engraved steles, axes, daggers, sickles, swords, spears, silver and obelisks spanning several time periods from the Stone and Bronze ages to the Viking era and Medieval times.

Living history around town

History coexists seamlessly with modern-day living in Visby. The town is enclosed within a medieval 3.5km-long stone wall called Ringmuren (The Ring Wall), which was built in the 13th-century to protect the city from invaders. The walls were moulded using limestone, clay and mortar, and there are three main entrances into the town as well as over 50 towers. There are signs along the walk that provide visitors with information about key fortresses, stone buildings and church ruins around Visby.

Within the walls, there are around 200 well-preserved stone buildings, some with gothic-inspired facades, others with pointy, stepped gables. Dotting the town are also classic 18th-century wooden cottages with their signature doors painted green, all connected by narrow, cobbled alleyways and stone arches.

But Visby’s most iconic structure is the deep red, timber Burmeister House, located in the heart of Donners plats square, which was built by German merchant Hans Burmeister in the mid-17th century. During the summer, it doubles as a museum where you can marvel at the Baroque-inspired decor, historic fireplaces made from sandstone, and paintings by Swedish artist Johan Bartsch.

Exploring Visby today

Locals live and work in Visby’s historic buildings, and many shops, businesses and restaurants offer a nod to the town’s history by incorporating medieval details and nautical touches in their interior decor.

Visby’s cornerstone park, Almedalen (The Elm Valley) got its name from the elm trees that were planted there in the 1870s, and today the park is heavily associated with Swedish politics. Almedalen serves as the location where top politicians from Sweden’s political parties go to give speeches and hold debates every year in the first week in July, in what is known as Almedalsveckan (Almedal’s Week, almedalsveckan.info).

Strandpromenaden (The Beach Boardwalk), which was recently renovated, is a 5km-long walking and cycle path that runs the length Visby’s northern coastline. A leisurely stroll along the boardwalk goes past mile markers such as fortresses, towers, ruins, and beaches. Gotland’s 800km-long coastline provides panoramic views of the Baltic and walking along Visby’s beachfront promenade as the sun sets offers up stunning views of the sea.

Every August, Visby’s streets are filled with jesters, peasants and storytellers, as locals don medieval attire and return to the Middle Ages for the popular Medeltidsveckan (Medieval Week, medeltidsveckan.se). The town’s squares and narrow lanes are transformed into vibrant, living, breathing marketplaces with jousting knights and crowd-captivating magicians. Medieval Week wraps up with a programme of musical entertainment, history lectures and theatre in celebration of Visby’s rich history.

uxe base camps in Japan’s southern islands

Big island hideaway: Hyakuna Garan

In southeastern Okinawa-hontō (Okinawa’s main island), Hyakuna Garan (hyakunagaran.com) offers a first-class retreat perched on a bluff above the sea. Only 35 minutes’ drive from Naha airport, its elegant, red-roofed Ryūkyūan-style rooms afford luxury and privacy on an enviable beachfront bluff location.

Room rates include beautifully styled traditional breakfasts and dinners, as well as free use of six ‘hermitages’ – private bungalows on the top level of the property, each containing private, open-air baths and terraces with unobstructed views of the ocean.

Surrounding a courtyard centred on a large banyan tree, the executive suites make up the bulk of this property, all with wide-ranging ocean views and designed in comfortable Western style with a classic Japanese touch. The three ‘special’ rooms are more spacious suites, all with private terraces or gardens, along with oceanview baths. One is Japanese-style, complete with tatami floors and shōji (wood-and-paper sliding doors), while the Western-style options have a sophisticated, distinctly Ryūkyūan feel to them, with polished rattan furnishings and limestone walls and flagstones.

Hyakuna Garan’s easy accessibility from Okinawa’s main hub, Naha, makes for a convenient luxury getaway for those with limited time in the islands.

Whitewashed villas, turquoise seas: Island Terrace Neela

Heading farther south to Miyako-jima, you could certainly choose one of the larger resorts on this beautiful island. However, if you seek intimacy, star-filled silent nights and don’t mind shelling out for more solitude, cross the bridge on the northern end of the island to Ikema-jima. There, on the west side, a quiet isle of tropical beach and marshland, Island Terrace Neela awaits with private villas atop an oceanfront bluff. Some of the five villas boast private hot tubs, but the small communal pool has its own appeal, perched in a prime spot above a private crescent of white-sand beach. And while a dip in the pool is lovely enough, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not donning a snorkel and mask to swim amid the coral and brightly-coloured fish just offshore.

Each freestanding villa has its own semi-private outdoor space for lounging, where you can also opt to grill your own dinner. With vaulted ceilings, tiled floors and glass doors opening toward the ocean, the spacious villas feel connected to the outdoor space. The whole environment has an air of unpretentious, laid-back comfort, making this a superb spot for low-key honeymooners.

Modernist jungle seclusion: Jusandi

For something equally intimate but with a modernist twist, Jusandi (en.jusandi.jp) on Ishigaki-jima is the place. Designed by Norihiko Dan – the architect behind the redevelopment of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, among other large projects – Jusandi features five sleek, white villas nestled into the jungle, lending a sense of privacy and attunement with nature. Each villa, surrounded by jungle greenery, has its own garden area that includes a spring-fed pool and a covered deck with lounge chairs.

Secluded and elegant with a contemporary minimalism, the villas make good use of windows for natural light, Ryūkyūan limestone for a native feel and clean aesthetics in furnishings and decor. At the in-house Ryūkyūan fusion restaurant, guests can choose between Japanese- or Western-style breakfasts to enjoy with a jungle view. Tables are arranged with slatted screens around the room for a sense of privacy in this serene setting.

Honeymooners with a little cash to burn will find these secluded villas in the jungle well worth the romantic splurge.

Village luxury: Hoshinoya Taketomi Island Village

Holding fast to their Ryūkyūan roots, the islanders on Taketomi-jimahave worked fiercely to preserve their cultural identity, most clearly evidenced to outsiders by the island’s uniformly traditional architecture. The low-lying buildings on the island are still constructed in traditional fashion, with red-tiled roofs and low walls of stacked coral surrounding them. Tiny succulents, and flowering hibiscus and bougainvillea add colourful living accents to the stone structures.

One such clutch of traditional red-tiled dwellings blends right into the island’s environs, and for travellers wishing for a uniquely Okinawan experience, Hoshinoya Taketomi Island Village (hoshinoyataketomijima.com) is it. Established by the luxury Hoshino chain, this singular inn creates a luxury experience in understated Taketomi style.

As in traditional Taketomi design, each ‘pavilion’ opens with a living space meant to be open-air, facing south to catch the ocean breezes. Guests can opt for wood or tatami floors, but all pavilions are outfitted with modern comfort in mind, with furniture that invites lounging and large bathtubs begging for long soaks.

The stacked-limestone walls and crushed-coral paths echo the village design, while the heated pool in the garden area seems like an incongruous secret in the centre of the property. Even more decadent is the Okinawan-tinged French style cuisine, showcasing local ingredients in the best kind of island fusion. Best of all, when evenings fall on Taketomi-jima, the day-tripping population ferries back to Ishigaki-jima and the quiet magic of the island’s starry sky is all yours.

Natural Wonders That Will Blow Your Mind

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.

Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia

Water, as far as the eye can see.

This is one for the record books. Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake (by volume), stretches out for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres across remote Siberian wilderness, 636km in length and 79km in width, to be exact. The lake’s statistics are extraordinary: it contains roughly 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water; more water than all of the Great Lakes in North America; it plunges to a world-beating depth of 1642m; and is also considered the world’s oldest lake, at around 25 million years of age.

The water looks crystal clear but a little on the chilly side.

Although winter temperatures in the lake drop to nearly -20°C and the whole thing gets covered in a thick blanket of ice, the summer sees a warmer side emerge and hordes of tourists descend to splash around in the pristine, and rumoured life-extending, water.

We still think it’s too cold to take off our clothes.

Then consider taking a hike around parts of the perimeter. A walk to the top of the Svyatov Nos peninsular gives you stunning 360° views of the lake and surrounds.

Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

It’s hard to believe this place hasn’t been created using CGI.

With so many jaw-dropping sights in one frame, you couldn’t make it up. We’re here to guarantee that this is just what the Lauterbrunnen Valley looks like.

Talk us through all of the magnificent natural phenomena we can see.

There are over 72 waterfalls dotted throughout the valley, including the 30m-high Staubbach Falls, one of Europe’s highest; there are also lush Alpine meadows; sheer cliff faces; dizzying mountain peaks; and several slow-moving glaciers.

It’s sounding like an extreme-sport-lover’s paradise.

It’s certainly a choose-your-own-Alpine-adventure kind of place. You’re spoilt for choice with skiing, mountaineering, rock-climbing, hiking, paragliding, mountain-biking, skydiving, or even dog-sledding all on the agenda.

Just the idea of all this activity is making us tired.

Then have a ride on one of the cable cars that travel between mountain peaks, or settle into a meadow picnic spot and just admire the view. There are many short walks close to valley villages that don’t require an excess of adrenaline.

Mendenhall Ice Caves, Alaska, USA

We never imagined it would be possible to explore underneath a glacier.

And the reality is even more beautiful than anything you can imagine. You need to be quick, however, if you’d like to experience this natural phenomenon first hand; global warming has caused the Mendenhall Glacier to begin retreating at an unsurpassed rate in the last 60 years. If we stay on this current path the ice caves will soon be gone.

Oh no! hurry up, let’s get in and have a look.

Fortune favours the brave, and in this case it also favours the persistent and the adventurous. To get in under the glacier you must first kayak across part of the Mendenhall Lake and then hike the West Glacier trail which takes you to the caves. An experienced guide will show you the way and also show you the path of least environmental impact.

The reward looks to be totally worth the effort.

It’s not every day you can say you stood, completely encased in luminous blue ice, with the sights and sounds of glacial streams swirling and burbling around you.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

What a pretty sight.

Nature sure knows how to turn on a good show, doesn’t she? This series of 16 terraced lakes with sparkling clear water cascading over from one to another is picturesquely situated among the trees in the vast forest ofCroatia’s largest national park. Nature’s bounty has been framed for human use by the sympathetic use of wooden walkways and footbridges.

That sounds like a very civilised way to hike.

It’s easy to see why this is one of Europe’s most popular natural wonders – it’s possible to follow the walkways around the edges of the crystalline pools, over sections of the gushing water, and even right behind and underneath some of the waterfalls.

What about going in for a dip?

Around, under and over, but not in. Swimming is prohibited, but you can jump on one of the park’s free boats for a different perspective on the lakes and waterfalls. The boats head from high to low, beginning at Kozjak, the largest of the lakes at around four kilometres in length. Don’t miss the Veliki Slap, the tallest waterfall in Croatia at 78m.

Pamukkale, Turkey

This is no off-the-beaten-track national treasure, if the tourist hordes are anything to go by.

That’s true, this dramatic stack of blindingly white travertine terraces isTurkey’s number one tourist drawcard. But don’t let that put you off. And here’s a tip: stay overnight near the terraces and visit first thing in the morning before the busloads begin arriving.

Right, we know all about the tourists, tell us more about the natural wonder.

The terraces are formed by the build-up of carbonate mineral from the warm water flowing from the thermal springs above. Pools form at the edge of the terraces where people have bathed for thousands of years.

Wild camping around the world

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:

Scotland

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.

Scandinavia

The common right of access is a big deal in Norway, Denmark and Sweden – although it does come with a one-night restriction. You can pretty much camp anywhere on open land, so long as you are on foot and more than 150m from inhabited houses and cabins. Visit Norway has some useful advice and explains that “open land” means “uncultivated”, so it usually applies to shores, bogs, fields and mountains.

The rest of Europe

Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and eastern Europe have similar rules to England and Wales: you cannot camp on private land unless you have the express permission of the local landowner. To protect wildlife, you are not allowed to camp in national or regional natural parks. Italy and Germany don’t have a wild camping culture and it’s not widely tolerated.

The USA and Canada

Land here is managed by various national, state and local governments, and there’s also Indian Reservations and privately owned land. You’ve got to do your research to find out who owns the land and whether you’ll be trespassing (in some cases, trespassing comes with serious consequences).

Wild camping in Forest Service or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas is better known as dispersed camping and is a safe bet – if you follow all the usual rules (see below). The same goes for Canadian Crown Land. In National Parks and National Monuments, backcountry camping is common, but this is regulated and permits are required.

Australia and New Zealand

Camping is a national pastime in both Australia and New Zealand, but set up in the wrong place and you could be landed with a big fine. Camping locations are regulated by local bylaws so look out for signs prohibiting overnight stays.

It’s slightly more confusing in Australia as there are six states, all with different rules. It’s becoming harder to find land that doesn’t have restrictions – even national parks require a permit for backcountry camping.

New Zealand is a bit more relaxed and you are permitted to wild camp on public conservation land, providing it’s not expressly prohibited (or restricted to self-contained camper vans that have a toilet). In both countries there are some stunning DOC-managed sites that are free or just a few dollars, so there’s little need for stealth camping.

What are the rules when it comes to wild camping?

Everything comes down to “leave no trace”. Keep the site as you would want to find it: take all your rubbish home with you and don’t pick wildflowers or take shells or rocks. Wild camping is a beautiful privilege and campers need to do all they can to protect the fragile environment. Here are a few basic rules to follow:

Ditch the car

Although some people park their camper van by the side of a road and call it wild camping, we’re talking about really getting back to nature here. In Scandinavia and Scotland, leaving the car behind is a condition of the right to wild camp. Elsewhere, it’s far more likely that landowners will give hikers and cyclists permission to camp over drivers.

Take proper care of human waste

Dig a deep hole away from your site and any nearby water supply. Toilet tissue needs to be disposed of properly and shouldn’t be buried (it takes a long time to biodegrade and can be dug up by wild animals).

Keep out of sight

Keep your group small and camp far away from roads, towns and villages. Respect “No Overnight Camping” signs. Otherwise, set up at dusk and move on at first light.

Understand your environment

Be aware of the local wildlife and respect its right to roam. You don’t want to attract bears, foxes or rodents to your camp, so store your food securely (in the USA and Canada it’s advised to hang food from a tree branch or take bear-proof food canisters).

There’s nothing better than camping on a beach, but to avoid a rude – and wet – awakening in the middle of the night, be aware of the high-tide line. Choosing a site on a gentle slope is also a good idea if there’s a chance of rain.

Be aware of fire safety

Make yourself aware of any fire restrictions – this is particularly important in the summer months as forest fires have been started by careless campers in the past. If you are permitted to have an open fire, use only dead wood and existing fire rings where possible, and keep it small and supervised. Using a gas stove to cook instead of lighting a fire means you avoid scorching the earth and you can leave the site pristine.

7 places to get off the tourist trail in Vietnam

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 their homes to visitors.

Farm-to-fork restaurants will give you a true taste of the local delicacies; Moi Moi’s speciality is pork slow-cooked in bamboo tubes and delicious veggie peanut dumplings. At The Duck Stop you can feed the ducks and buy drinks and packets of fresh pepper. The legendary Pub With Cold Beer does exactly what it says on the tin, plus there are hammocks and a river to swim in. In the true spirit of farm-to-table, they will kill and cook a chicken for a shared lunch.

3. Visit minority villages around Kon Tum

The lush central highlands are a highlight for many adventurers in Vietnam. The sleepy provincial capital, Kon Tum, with its glorious riverside setting, is particularly lovely.

Curiously overlooked by tourists, the 650 minority villages surrounding Kon Tum are wonderful, welcoming places to visit too. And you’re unlikely to see another foreigner on your travels. You can stay overnight in a communal thatched rong in the Bahner villages, within easy walking distance from the centre of town.

 

4. Take a road trip to remote Ha Giang

Home to several ethnic minority groups, including the Hmong, Dao and Giay, Vietnam’s Far North is the final frontier for intrepid travellers – and nowhere is wilder than Ha Giang. Mountain roads wind through lush green landscape and open out to incredible vistas, particularly in the rugged Dong Vang Karst Plateau Geopark.

Visitors are required to have a permit to visit the province (easily and cheaply acquired in Hanoi).

5. Cycle the Mekong Delta’s An Binh Island

To experience a slice of island life on your Vietnam adventure, head all the way south to the languid Mekong Delta. The watery rural idyll of An Binh Island is criss-crossed by narrow dirt paths perfect for exploring by bicycle. All routes are fringed with palm trees, with a backdrop of lush orchards and traditional thatched houses, many of which are open as homestays. Staying here overnight and exploring at your own pace is far more rewarding than a day tour organised from Ho Chi Minh City.

6. Drink homebrew at Hanoi’s other Bia Hoi Corner

Bia hoi can be found all over Vietnam and, in Hanoi, most visitors head straight to the tourist-laden bia hoi on Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien in the Old Quarter. Come evening time, the bars, filled with plastic stools at squatting height, are full to the brim with an international crowd sipping bottled beer.

But, to get a flavour of a real bia hoi, try further west on the corner of Bat Dang and Duong Thanh. Here, room temperature 5000VND (20¢) draught beer is served in sticky glasses to a predominantly male clientele.

7. Experience Mai Chau hospitality

Surprisingly overlooked by foreign visitors considering its proximity to Hanoi (135km southwest of the city), rural Mai Chau is a world away from Vietnam’s chaotic capital. The valley is inhabited mainly by the White Thai minority, many of whom have opened their traditional stilt houses as rustic homestays. You only need to wander the villages that fan out from Bac Ha to find somewhere to get your head down.

Once settled, feast on delicious home-cooked meals before a backdrop of jagged karst mountains.

Britain’s 7 Best Seaside Town

1. TYNEMOUTH, TYNE & WEAR

A 25-minute drive or Metro hop from central Newcastle, Tynemouth lies exactly where its name suggests. Of its beaches, surf-hub Longsands gets most of the accolades. But clamber down the stairs from the clifftop to King Edward’s Bay, and you’re in for a real treat. This is where Geordie foodies flock, in fine weather or otherwise, to enjoy superb seafood and real ales at Riley’s Fish Shack, a simple hut-kitchen that is the beach’s lone structure. Tynemouth also has a ruined priory and castle to enjoy, plus a Sunday flea market.

2. SOUTHWOLD, SUFFOLK

Perched on the east coast of England, the small town of Southwold offers typical seaside merriment with its sandy beach, traditional pier and candy-coloured beach huts. A working lighthouse (open to visitors) stands sentinel, surveying the bay, while the Adnams Brewery, which still operates on the same site after 670 years, wafts early morning hops into the sea air. Plenty of excellent eating and accommodation options range from the smart Swan Hotel, situated on the picturesque market square, to a nearby campsite – all a pebble’s throw from the sea.

3. PORTHMADOG, GWYNEDD

If Porthmadog is handsome, it owes at least a portion of its good looks to the magnificent views all around – from town, you can gaze up the Vale of Ffestiniog and across the estuary of the Glaslyn River to Snowdonia’s mountains. Indeed, there’s no finer base for trips into Snowdonia National Park, and Porthmadog is also the terminus of a fabulous narrow-gauge rail line – the 22km-long Ffestiniog Railway is the finest of its kind in Wales, and runs from Porthmadog harbour to the slate-mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. A mile south of Porthmadog, Borth-y-Gest is little more than a semi-circle of low, brightly painted Victorian houses lining the beach – and utterly charming in its simplicity.

4. WHITSTABLE, KENT

Whitstable, on the north Kent coast, is a popular London escape route – but don’t let that put you off. One of the major attractions here are the local oysters, which the town has been famous for since Roman times. The annual highlight is the Oyster festival (last two weeks of July), when you can expect oyster-eating competitions, parades and performances. At any time of year, however, this is a great place to come for fresh seafood and windswept coastal walks.

5. ABERYSTWYTH, CEREDIGION

Two sweeping pebble bays, soft-hued Georgian houses lining the promenade, the nineteenth-century Royal Pier – Aberystwyth has all the hallmarks of a traditional British seaside resort. Yet this mid-Wales hub offers more than just bucket-and-spade amusements. Aberystwyth is a blast of fresh salty air with a lively student population, plentiful pubs, booming café culture, and a strong sense of national pride, which combined with the thriving art scene, make this one of the best places to enjoy live Welsh music.

6. SHANKLIN, THE ISLE OF WIGHT

Possibly the Isle of Wight’s most idyllic seaside resort, Shanklin has an archetypically pretty Old Village with thatched pubs, sweet shops and traditional tearooms. At the bottom of the steep cliffs is a pretty beach, where you can hire kayaks and the like in front of a row of whitewashed guesthouses and cafés. Don’t miss Shanklin Chine, a mossy gorge with fascinating World War II military connections.

7. HASTINGS, EAST SUSSEX

Once seen as a tired and tacky seaside resort, Hastings in East Sussex doesn’t get the love it deserves. The town has the UK’s largest land-launched fishing fleet, which means there’s ultra-fresh seafood on offer just behind the working beach, and a host of small but brilliant restaurants that serve the catch of the day. There are curios and antiques galore on the Old Town’s George Street, and some funny old funiculars to take you up the cliffs for a great view over the town. But it’s not all about the old in Hastings: 2016 saw the opening of the brand new pier, after the previous one was ravaged by fire, and its given the town a new lease of life.

7 Most Epic Adventure Destinations

1. Greenland

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.

2. Japan

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 Tokyo’s Shibuja crossing – where you’ll join up to 1000 other pedestrians bobbing and weaving at one of the world’s busiest intersections.

On The Go Tours tip: When the hustle and bustle of Tokyo gets too much, head for the Todoroki Gorge, a hidden oasis of green and the capital’s last remaining natural gorge.

3. Thailand

Best for: laidback watersports

Anyone who’s seen the film The Beach knows that Thailand is home to some of the world’s very best stretches of sand. This laidback country is also home to over 3000km of coastline, much of it made up of cliffs and caves that are just begging to be kayaked along or dived beneath. Further inland, head to Kanchanaburi, where you’ll find the infamous Bridge Over the River Kwai and the multi-tiered Erawan Falls – a fantastic swimming spot that is popular with the locals.

On The Go Tours tip: The Similan Islands are still considered one of the best dive spots in Thailand but visit in April or May for the best chances of seeing whale sharks.

4. Myanmar

Best for: surprises

Myanmar has only recently opened up to tourism and remains a truly unspoiled country with a unique culture. People here are keen to share their customs and you might find yourself waylaid by morning alms or the chance for tea with the locals. There’s great trekking here, in the Himalayan north around what is said to be southeast Asia’s highest peak, Hkakabo Razi, and at Inle Lake wonderful kayaking, out to peaceful villages and past floating gardens. This is a place to keep your eyes and your mind open.

On The Go Tours tip: Journey from Mandalay to Yangon by boat to explore otherwise-inaccessible gems, including minority villages, colonial towns and Buddhist caves.

5. Nepal

Best for: mountain climbing

Smack bang in the centre of the Himalayas, landlocked Nepal is all about the mountains. Clamber up along the very spine of the globe, hiking the Annapurna range or to Everest Base Camp, and you’ll take in some of the most awe-inspiring scenery our planet has to offer – from snow-capped peaks to ancient oak and rhododendron forests. You could also go on an Asian safari, in Chitwan national park, home to rhinos and tigers.

On The Go Tours tip: Fancy a break from all that trekking? Spend a night or two in the picturesque village of Nagarkot where you can admire the sweeping mountain views from the comfort of your hotel bed.

6. Namibia

Best for: desert safari

The Namib desert is ripe for adventure, its dunes the perfect slopes for sandboarding down or quad biking over, its epic rust-red landscape an unbeatable backdrop for a fiery sunset. Namibia is also home to the world’s second-largest canyon, ideal for canoeing along, and some of the best game viewing, at Etosha national park and in the lush Caprivi Strip. See how many of the big five you can tick off – that’s lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino – and look out for smaller springbok, birds and reptiles too.

On The Go Tours tip: Namibia is a superb self-drive destination – it’s safe, English is widely spoken and road conditions are good, so set your own pace with a self-drive adventure trip.

 7. Russia

Best for: riding the rails

The Trans-Siberian Railway should be on every traveller’s bucket list, the farthest you can travel on one train, across the largest country in the world and past the point where Europe meets Asia. Climb aboard to travel from Moscow past the Urals and through Siberia, breaking the journey in Yekaterinburg, the last home of the Romanovs, and in Irkutsk, said to be ‘the Paris of Siberia’ and the jumping-off point for Lake Baikal for a banya (sauna) at the deepest lake in the world.

On The Go Tours tip: Hop off the train at Vladimir, just a two-hour ride from Moscow, for the chance to explore the charming towns that make up the historic Golden Ring.

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.

7 Ideas for Short Breaks in Scandivania for First Time

 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 ago, attracted by the big skies and soft golden light, the artists have kept on coming. Now the town is dotted with galleries, workshops and antiques shops. Cycle a few kilometres northeast of town to the sandbar called Grenen, where Denmark ends, and you can watch two separate seas sloshing together before your eyes.

 

3. Bergen and the fjords, Norway

Bergen looks like it was built for a photoshoot, but its beauty pales in comparison to the epic fjords nearby. You might find that the staggering views are rewarding enough (imagine soaring mountains reflected in mirror-smooth water), but otherwise there’s a whole host of adrenaline-pumping activities to keep you occupied. Anyone for paragliding?

4. Stockholm, Sweden

Sprawling across low islands that are stitched together by passenger boats and bridges, with views of soaring spires around almost every corner, Stockholm sure is a looker. But beyond the medieval lanes of the old centre, the self-proclaimed Capital of Scandinavia is a slick, forward-thinking city, home to some of the world’s coolest tech and fashion brands. It’s pricey and pretentious, sure, but there’s a reason young Swedes flock here from all four corners of the country.

5. Lapland, Norway & Sweden

Wood-fired saunas, shivering forests, reindeer meat and steaming cups of lingonberry juice: Lapland manages to roll Scandinavia’s most exotic bits into a single epic landscape. Challenging weather conditions and the area’s vast size can make exploring a slow process, but with a long weekend you’ll be able to get a decent flavour for life in the north. Watch the northern lights, try ice fishing or snuggle down for a night at the Icehotel. Come back in summer when the sun reappears, nourishing the valleys with meltwater, and the possibilities for hiking are endless.

6. Copenhagen, Denmark

When it comes to art, design, fashion and food, no other Scandinavian city can compete with Copenhagen. Yes, Noma is here, but most visitors experience a more laidback version of the city, where bottles of Carlsberg are still swigged at canal-side bars, and where pushbikes – not limos – remain the favoured mode of transport. Give the famous Little Mermaid statue a miss, and instead make time for the galleries, food carts and design shops. A weekend here is barely enough to scratch the surface.

7. Österlen, Sweden 

Home to rolling fields of poppies and cornflowers, rather than the usual dense pine forests, Österlen is the gorgeous chunk of land in the far southeast of Sweden. It’s one of the best parts of the country to explore by car, with farm shops and orchards sprouting up at the side of the road, and powder-fine beaches hugging the pristine coast. Head to Stenshuvud Nationalpark on a warm summer’s day, squint just a little, and you might think you’ve landed on some languid Thai island.

Gearheads guide to surfing Nicaragua

 Surfing Nicaragua is the stuff of legend. The waves are big, the beaches are wide, the beers are cool and the barneys are basically nowhere to be seen. It evokes the early days of the California surf scene, when a renegade spirit still dominated the sport and gear know-how was a word-of-mouth tradition. Here, surf camps dot the long, sinuous Pacific Coast and a Central American surf safari par excellence awaits.

Getting your bearings

Waves break year-round in Nicaragua and are best on the Pacific coast. Experienced riders should time trips according the swell and aim to get here from March through September. San Juan del Sur is the long-time surf capital of Nicaragua, and it has the partying pedigree to show for it. It’s also a good spot to gear up, hire out local tour boats to take you to hard-to-reach breaks and spend a few days cruising the colonial streets. Ironically, there’s only one half-decent break right in town. Unless you’re shelling out for daily boat charters, the real action happens in the little surf colonies north and south of here.

South of San Juan, Playa Remanso has a good beach break for beginners, with Playa Tamarindo just south offering up long left and right breaks. It’s also home to the lovingly playful Playa Hermosa Ecolodge (playahermosabeachhotel.com). On the other hand, you could head north, stopping off first at Playa Maderas and its gnarly reef break. Other worthwhile northern surf spots include Bahía Majagual and Arena Blanca.

If you continue on up the coast, you’ll find consistent waves as long as development doesn’t block your access. Playa Popoyo is the king of surf towns around the Central Pacific Coast, but most areas have local board rentals, surf cabins and schools. The good waves continue all the way up through El Salvador from here.

Bring, buy or rent?

If you really love your stick, bring it down. It can cost anywhere from US$50-200 to do it. The online hub of surf info Magic Seaweed (magicseaweed.com) is a great resource for baggage rates to help plan this out (they have good beta on Nicaragua breaks as well). If you’d rather skip that process, you could consider buying a board when you get here and selling it when you leave. San Juan del Sur and Popoyo are the best spots to buy boards. Rentals are often pretty dinged up, but perfect for beginners. Expect to pay $10-20 per hour (negotiating better rates for weekly rentals).

Picking your board

If you’re just getting started, start with a simple soft-top board. They don’t look as cool as ‘real’ surf boards that are traditionally made with a foam core and fiberglass outer shell. But they are easier to carry to the beach, float you like a mother, and are often cheaper than the glassed boards. They are also really stable, meaning you won’t fall off the board every time a wave rolls through the lineup (and won’t get wacked in the face with a hard edge when you do fall off). Generally, rental shops will have a selection of these ‘sponge’ boards, short and longboards, boogie boards and maybe even a few stand-up paddle boards to rent.

Most beginners will start with a longboard (better for less steep waves), while more advanced riders may move to shorter boards. Bigger, heavier surfers tend to go with a bigger, thicker ride. Funboards are a good option for intermediate riders – all the utility of a longboard with more maneuverability. Fishboards are another option for intermediate riders looking for quick takeoffs, some of the bounce of a short board, but more stability and easier paddles out.

For a fun treat, try a stand-up paddle board. They’re fun even if the waves aren’t breaking. You can unleash your ‘rhino chaser’ – your big wave longboard – on some of the bigger breaks up north. If all else fails, you can rent a boogie board and just play on the beach breaks.

Extra Nicaragua surf essentials

Water temps here are around mid-20oC (75oF) most of the year. This means you probably won’t need or want a wetsuit, but in December to April water temps can drop, making an optional wetsuit top like the Rip Curl Dawn Patrol (ripcurl.com) a good idea. You’ll probably want a rash guard top just in case. Billabong (ballabong.com) has some nice options. We only wish they offered more neon! You can pop one on for long sessions to protect you from the sun.

A good leash is essential to keep the board attached to your foot. Dakine (dakine.com) has a ton on offer. You can bring your favourite surf wax with you – even though they sell it in most spots. Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax (sexwax.com) has been around since 1972 (and you gotta love the name). For first timers, the wax goes on the top of the board to make it more grippy, not the bottom.

Things people often forget to bring are sunscreen – yes, they sell it, but it can be like twice the cost as back home. Bugspray. Ditto for price, plus local quality sucks. Also bring along a pair of long-sleeve pants and a long-sleeve shirt, for bug protection, heading to churches in the colonial villages and looking nice come party night.

Surf safaris

A number of companies will build complete surf safaris. Unfortunately, with all the development on the coast, many of best breaks are no longer accessible from the road. You either need to hire local pangas(open-cockpit dorries) to get you there or consider doing a complete package that includes lodging, boats and sometimes all-you-can-drink beer. Most safari packages include three sessions a day at hard-to-reach breaks, plus sometimes a sunset ride on the local break right out your door.