JAN/FEB 2018 // £4.20
UK EDITION // NATGEOTRAVELLER.CO.UK
journey into the unknown KEFALONIA
time-warp towns & exotic coves AUSTRALIA
would you dare cross the East Alligator River?
Cool TH E
bristol to buenos aires, singapore to Sri Lanka — this year's must-see destinations ALSO: BANGKOK // BRUSSELS // EDINBURGH // TBILISI // THE DANUBE // ITALY
Souq Waqif, Doha
Alleys of traditions.
Where great minds meet, and strangers become friends. Same as it ever was, same as it always will be.
Life is not about how far you travel, it is about what you discover...
Award-winning luxury resort Soneva Kiri is located just one hour by private plane south-east of Bangkok, offering an unrivalled combination of luxury, an integral environmental approach, authentic Thai experiences and mouthwatering organic food. Please see soneva.com/NGT for more details.
For reservations, contact: 0 800 048 8044 (UK Toll-free number) Reservations@soneva.com Maldives | Thailand
Inspiring a lifetime of rare experiences
Fortuny Mariano Fortuny, Arab leaning against a Tapestry (detali), 1873. Doha, National Collection of Qatar
21 November 2017 â€“ 18 March 2018 Museo del Prado, Madrid Sponsored by:
Information and advanced booking: +34 902 10 70 77 / www.museodelprado.es
86 The Cool List Our 18 must-visit destinations for 2018 — from Nashville and Bristol to Perth and Rwanda
118 Iran Modern Iran is nothing like you imagine, neither frozen in recent events nor beholden to its past
140 City life: Brussels The Belgian capital is being transformed by young Eurocrats into a vibrant melting pot
106 Australia Rough, remote and crocodilefilled: the Top End’s Aboriginal community has stories to share
130 In pictures: Kefalonia The largest Ionian Island is the poster child for Greece’s exotic coves and time-warp towns
150 City life: Tbilisi Zany architecture, shops in Soviet-era factories and nightlife cool enough for Berlin hipsters
Issue 62 Third-class carriage of a local train in Kandy, Sri Lanka IMAGE: Trevor Mills/Picfair
47 Top 5 A local’s top diving spots in Belize
25 Snapshot Imai-Sensei, Japanese yumi bow craftsman 27 Editors’ picks These are a few of our favourite things 28 Big picture Cats of Chefchaouen, Morocco 30 Arts & culture Valletta’s year in the spotlight 33 What’s new Desert festivals and new ocean tours 36 Do it now Zen and the art of mind management
49 Stay at home Fossils and food on the Isle of Wight 51 The word Damien Rudd’s Sad Topographies 57 Author series Nell Stevens on Bleaker Island 58 View from the USA Aaron Millar takes a knee for patriotism 60 Online Highlights from natgeotraveller.co.uk
158 Travel Geeks The experts’ travel manual 166 On the Danube Boutique boat tours through Eastern Europe GET IN TOUCH
176 Subscriptions Great offers and discounts 177 Inbox Your letters, emails and tweets 178 Your pictures This month’s best travel photos
39 Food A taste of Mumbai with Chetna Makan
62 Weekender: Lake Levico E-biking, craft beer and crumbling castles
41 On the trail The ruin bars of Budapest
66 Eat: South Devon Crab sandwiches meets world-class gin
42 Rooms Cool beds in California’s Palm Springs
73 Neighbourhood: Bangkok Big, brash and soulful
54 Events Our upcoming Travel Geeks, Travel Writing Masterclass, and much more
44 Family Inspiration for the year ahead
78 Sleep: Edinburgh Character and history on your doorstep
117 Reader offer Discounted trips with Holiday Direction
15 Reader Awards 2017 The very best in travel as chosen by you
see p.53 for a chance to win a summer break for four to Provence, France
M U S E U M
Photo by Marcello di Pace
Open all year round
Contributors Lee Cobaj
After five years and countless visits, I still find Bangkok’s mass of knotty streets confusing. But the city’s discombobulating effect is part of its allure. Don’t worry about getting lost as you’ll always find an eager tuk-tuk driver to whizz you back. BANGKOK P.73
Australia’s Northern Territory is a marvellously alien place with giant termite mounds, epic flood plains and ancient sandstone bulges. In this sticky, sweaty place, the ancient crocs rule life, and I found them utterly compelling. AUSTRALIA P.106
“Is Iran safe?”— the first question travellers ask. I’ll state it loudly here: absolutely. What’s more, visit and you’ll discover vibrant cities and one of the oldest, most hospitable nations on earth — five invitations to dinner a day isn’t uncommon. IRAN P.118
Brussels is the closest European capital to London — a fascinating city with lots to rave about, but often snubbed by Brits. Yet there’s a generation of young Europeans turning it into the capital of the EU, not just on paper, but for real. BRUSSELS P.140
Before visiting Tbilisi I’d expected to find beautiful historic architecture alongside bold nods to the future. That’s certainly true, but I hadn’t anticipated just how cool the city is, with pop-ups, design shops and bars squeezed into every space. TBILISI P.150
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Editorial Director: Maria Pieri Editor: Pat Riddell Deputy Editor: Glen Mutel Senior Editor: Stephanie Cavagnaro Associate Editor: Sarah Barrell Assistant Editors: Amelia Duggan, Tamsin Wressell Digital Development Manager: Seamus McDermott Online Editor: Josephine Price Sub Editors: Chris Horton, Emma Holland, Charlotte Wigram-Evans, Nick Rutherford Events Manager: Natalie Jackson Art Director: Chris Hudson Art Editor: Lauren Atkinson-Smith Designers: Philip Lay, Becky Redman Production Manager: Daniel Gregory
Contributing Editors: Jo Fletcher-Cross, Zane Henry, Sam Lewis, Farida Zeynalova Editorial Assistant: Connor McGovern Sub Editor: Ben Murray Designers: Hanna Clements, Lauren Gamp, Danielle Humphrey Production Controllers: Joaquim Pereira, Lisa Poston, Joanne Roberts, Anthony Wright, Karl Martins
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National Geographic Traveller (UK) is published by APL Media Limited, Unit 310, Highgate Studios, 53-79 Highgate Road, London NW5 1TL natgeotraveller.co.uk Editorial T: 020 7253 9906. email@example.com Sales/Admin T: 020 7253 9909. F: 020 7253 9907. firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions T: 01293 312 166. email@example.com National Geographic Traveller (UK) is published by APL Media Ltd under license from National Geographic Partners, LLC. Their entire contents are protected by copyright 2017 and all rights are reserved. Reproduction without prior permission is forbidden. Every care is taken in compiling the contents of the magazine, but the publishers assume no responsibility in the effect arising therefrom. Readers are advised to seek professional advice before acting on any information which is contained in the magazine. Neither APL Media Ltd or National Geographic Traveller magazine accept any liability for views expressed, pictures used or claims made by advertisers.
National Geographic Traveler (US) Editor-in-Chief: George W. Stone Publisher & Vice President, Global Media: Kimberly Connaghan Senior Director, Travel & Adventure: Andrea Leitch Design Director: Marianne Seregi Director of Photography: Anne Farrar Editorial Projects Director: Andrew Nelson Senior Editor: Jayne Wise Features Editor: Amy Alipio Associate Editor: Hannah Sheinberg Senior Producers: Christine Blau, Sarah Polger Editor/Producer: Lindsay Smith Producer: Mary McGrory Multimedia Producers: Adrian Coakley, Jess Mandia Associate Producer: Caity Garvey Deputy Art Director: Leigh V. Borghesani Associate Photo Producer: Jeff Heimsath Chief Researcher: Marilyn Terrell Production Director: Kathie Gartrell Editorial Assistants: Gulnaz Khan, Alexandra E. Petri Copy Editors: Preeti Aroon, Cindy Leitner, Mary Beth Oelkers-Keegan, Ann Marie Pelish Market Research Manager: Tracy Hamilton Stone Communications Vice President: Heather Wyatt
Communications Director: Meg Calnan Senior Vice President, Global Media & Experiences: Yulia P. Boyle Senior Director, International Publishing: Ariel Deiaco-Lohr Senior Manager, International Publishing: Rossana Stella Editorial Specialist: Leigh Mitnick National Geographic Society President & CEO: Gary E. Knell Board of Trustees Chairman: Jean N. Case Vice Chairman: Tracy R. Wolstencroft National Geographic Partners CEO: Declan Moore Editorial Director: Susan Goldberg Chief Financial Ofﬁcer: Marcela Martin Chief Communications Ofﬁcer: Laura Nichols Chief Marketing Ofﬁcer: Jill Cress Strategic Planning & Business Development: Whit Higgins Consumer Products & Experiences: Rosa Zeegers Digital Product: Rachel Webber Global Networks CEO: Courteney Monroe Legal & Business Affairs: Jeff Schneider Sales & Partnerships: Brandan Ripp Board of Directors Chairman: Peter Rice
Copyright © 2017 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All Rights Reserved. National Geographic Traveler: Registered Trademark. Printed in the UK.
A dive watch capable of being waterresistant to 600m needs to be constructed from the finest materials available. That’s why we’ve made this Trident limited to 316 pieces – a celebration of the premium 316L steel alloy used in its bezel and case – and with a bold matte blue dial, the limited edition C60 Trident 316L will stand out anywhere.
s we approach the New Year, attention inevitably turns to what lies ahead. We’ve searched the globe and come up with a list of the 18 places we think should be on your travel radar for 2018. Clearly, we’re not able to see into the future — yet — but we hope our fourth annual Cool List will point you in the right direction when it comes to planning your trip. We’ve taken into consideration everything from the latest direct flights to anniversaries, significant openings and places on the up. It’s a diverse group of destinations, as far-flung as resurgent Sri Lanka and effervescent Bristol. While we can’t take the credit, it was heartening to see many of last year’s Cool List — the likes of Donegal, Peru, Santiago, Aarhus and Iran — growing in popularity among global travellers. Also in the magazine are the results of our third annual Reader Awards, revealing everything travel-related that’s impressed you in the past year — your favourite destinations, airlines, hotels, attractions and more. All in all, there’s plenty in this month’s issue, we feel, to fuel your hunger to pack a suitcase.
Our free 68-page Adventure guide this month brings you tales of derring-do from Chile, Jordan, Peru and Sweden.
From a week for four in Provence to a threenight break with Forest Holidays, don’t miss out. natgeotraveller.co.uk/competitions
National Geographic Food
Our sister title is in the shops now, exploring food in all its guises, from recipes and produce to trends and nutrition. natgeofood.co.uk
PAT RIDDELL, EDITOR
Destinations: 1-4 February
Head down to the Destinations Show at London’s Olympia where we’re hosting a Travel Geeks (p.54). destinationsshow.com
AWARD-WINNING NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER British Travel Awards 2017: Best Consumer Holiday Magazine • British Guild of Travel Writers Awards 2017: Best Travel Writer • ATTA Media Awards 2017: Best Cultural Article on an African Destination, Best Blogger on Africa & Best Online Coverage on Africa • British Guild of Travel Writers Awards 2016: Best Travel Writer • LATA Media Awards 2016: Online Blog Feature of the Year • British Travel Awards 2015: Best Consumer Holiday Magazine • British Travel Awards 2014: Best Consumer Holiday Magazine • British Guild of Travel Writers Awards 2013: Best Overseas Feature • British Travel Press Awards 2012: Young Travel Writer of the Year
St Helena Islandâ€™s unique character lies in contrasting and spectacular scenery, a rich cultural heritage and an environment exceptionally rich in biodiversity. Just a few of the reasons why adventure awaits at this remote jewel in the South Atlantic Ocean. The perfect destination for active exploration and discovery.
Sri Lankaâ€™s most remarkable feature is its diversity
We are a luxury boutique specialising in bespoke travel offering something a little more special. We specialise exclusively on the paradise island of Sri Lanka and as experts, our mission is to deliver wonderment holidays perfectly tailored around you.
A SMALL ISL AND WITH A B I G PERSO NALIT Y AND N OTHIN G SH O RT O F IRRESISTIB LE
To start your bespoke journey, visit www.srilanka-bespoke.com or call on 0207 8662177
It’s that exciting time of the year when we reveal the very best in travel as chosen by you. Last summer, we opened voting for our third annual Reader Awards, with thousands of you naming your favourite destinations, airlines, tour operators and more. A huge thank you for taking the time to share your opinions with us — we truly value your input and are thrilled to bring you the results. The winners were announced at an awards ceremony in November. Here’s who — and what — came out on top
MY CHOICE, NaturalLY.
SMART TRAVELLER // READER AWARDS
W I N N E R
RISING STAR (CITY/REGION)
“With its creative, entrepreneurial streak bubbling underneath, Belfast’s revitalisation as one of the UK’s most vibrant cities is rewarding visitors with warmth and pride,” says our editor, Pat Riddell, who visited the city last summer. And it seems you agree. From the Titanic Belfast to vibrant street art, the city’s unique sights could only have been born here, not to mention its burgeoning culinary scene, driven by an influx of returning local talent who, having trained around the world, moved back to their home city to cook up their best creations — we can understand why.
FINALISTS HULL // DONEGAL W I N N E R
TRUE CLASS (AIRLINE VALUE)
The winning airline offers serious bang for your buck. We were looking for genuine value for money, and the airline that delivered the most at the best price this year was also a finalist last year. Voters commended EasyJet for its ‘low prices’, and ‘cheerful, predictable and reliable service’.
FINALISTS BRITISH AIRWAYS // RYANAIR
W I N N E R
ONE FOR THE KIDS (FAMILY EXPERIENCE)
WALT DISNEY PARKS AND RESORTS
Where brings big experiences to small people and pure enjoyment to hard-working parents? This category rewards destination experiences that please all the family and the winner is favoured among parents. Disney is ‘every child’s dream’, wrote one voter, while another noted that its Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center and big-splash water parks are places that ‘keep both kids and parents happy’.
FINALISTS CENTER PARCS // LEGOLAND 16
READER AWARDS // SMART TRAVELLER
W I N N E R
ACROSS THE WAVES (CRUISE & FERRY)
MS HARMONY OF THE SEAS, ROYAL CARIBBEAN From smooth river cruises to plush ferry services, travel experiences afloat can leave you feeling truly buoyant. We asked for your opinion and you went big — the world’s biggest cruise ship, in fact, includes everything from waterslides and ice rinks to surf simulators.
FINALISTS MV VIKING SEA, VIKING OCEAN CRUISES // MS SPITSBERGEN, HURTIGRUTEN
W I N N E R
DOMESTIC BLISS (UK HOTEL)
W I N N E R
THE ORACLE (WEBSITE)
There are online travel products so outstanding we’d like to pin a medal on them (if they weren’t all binary codes and ether). Blogs and vlogs, booking sites and review platforms — online resources can make 21stcentury travel a joy. Your champion this year is tried, tested and often highly contested, but certainly puts its users in the driving seat. With more than 535 million reviews and opinions covering the world’s largest selection of travel listings — that’s 7.3 million accommodations, airlines, attractions and restaurants — TripAdvisor was a clear winner for this year’s travel oracle.
We told you the winning hotel in this category could be part of a franchise, but had to set itself apart with an indie spirit, innovative design and uniquely British service. In the end, you went for somewhere that provided standalone comfort and class: an exemplary country house hotel that delivered ‘old-fashioned elegance’, and ‘top quality in every department’. Scotland’s most famous country estate is a ‘first-class operation’ and offers paying punters ‘impeccable service, quality food and excellent facilities’.
FINALISTS THE PIG ON THE BEACH, DORSET // CHEWTON GLEN, HAMPSHIRE
FINALISTS BOOKING.COM // AIRBNB Jan/Feb 2018
SMART TRAVELLER // READER AWARDS
W I N N E R
NEW NATIONAL TREASURE (UK ATTRACTION)
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND Fresh from a £47m redevelopment, the museum houses more than 20,000 fascinating artefacts. It’s one of the world’s top 20 visited galleries and museums, and you’ve chosen it as the very pinnacle of cultural places to visit in the UK.
FINALISTS IRON BRIDGE, SHROPSHIRE // HINTZE HALL, NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
W I N N E R
THE DESTINATION HOTEL (OVERSEAS HOTEL)
Some hotels are destinations in their own right and this Singapore landmark is a historic case in point. Even if you’re not staying here, this 19thcentury national monument is worth visiting because, wrote voters, it’s ‘an oasis of calm’, and ‘encapsulates the spirit of Singapore’.
FINALISTS MARINA BAY SANDS, SINGAPORE // BELLAGIO, LAS VEGAS W I N N E R
LANDMARK LEGEND (FAMOUS ATTRACTION)
TAJ MAHAL ‘The Taj Mahal never fails to awe, no matter how many times you see it’, wrote one voter. And this says it all about India’s most iconic building and winner in this category. This isn’t just a place to see and tick off but somewhere that delivers above and beyond, every time. ‘It’s the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen’, noted another voter, a sentiment echoed by many. ‘It’s the only landmark that exceeded expectations’. In the case of the Taj Mahal, you really have to see it to believe it.
FINALISTS MACHU PICCHU // GRAND CANYON 18
READER AWARDS // SMART TRAVELLER
W I N N E R
GREEN LIGHT (ECO TRAVEL)
THE OCEAN CLEANUP
This category applauds forward-thinking eco warriors. The project that made you believe the world could be a better place was The Ocean Cleanup, founded by Dutch teenager Boyan Slat in 2003. It’s being dubbed as ‘the largest cleanup in history’ and is set to remove 50% of the debris in the North Pacific gyre in five years.
FINALISTS CRIEFF HYDRO, SCOTLAND // AMBOSELI SERENA SAFARI LODGE, KENYA
W I N N E R
FAR & AWAY (OVERSEAS ATTRACTION)
LOST CITY OF KUELAP, PERU
New experiences and attractions are popping up all over the world. Which is the best, we asked? You were clear. Move over Machu Picchu, there’s a new lost city on the tourist map: the crumbling sixth-century northern Peruvian settlement of Kuelap, which is now accessible via Peru’s very first cable-car.
FINALISTS LA CITÉ DU VIN, BORDEAUX, FRANCE // SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, USA Jan/Feb 2018
SMART TRAVELLER // READER AWARDS
W I N N E R
SCREEN & SOUND (TV & RADIO)
JOANNA LUMLEY’S POSTCARDS (ITV)
Has a presenter or podcast host made you want to dig out your passport? Elegant and irreverent in equal measure, this presenter stands in a class of her own. Joanna Lumley says she was practically born in a suitcase and used her numerous travel journals as inspiration for this TV series that took in, among other memorable journeys, a trip along the Nile from Egypt to Sudan. This series also travelled to Greece, China, Russia, Mongolia and Uganda.
FINALISTS GREAT AMERICAN RAILROAD JOURNEYS WITH MICHAEL PORTILLO (BBC2) // TRAVEL MAN: 48 HOURS IN… (CHANNEL 4)
RIGHT TRACK (RAIL)
EUROSTAR E320 FLEET
W I N N E R
BOOK WORM (BOOK)
THE BEST AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITING
EDITED BY BILL BRYSON (MARINA BOOKS)
This category celebrated rail experiences, from luxury transcontinental journeys to impeccably serviced short hops. Eurostar’s new E320 fleet was rolled out on the London to Paris route in 2015 and the operator is now introducing these trains on the London-Brussels route. Our readers love the plush modern interiors.
Which travel book expanded your mind and inspired your adventures? The 2016 edition in this annual series was edited by travel writing royalty, Bill Bryson, who collated the best itinerant stories from such stellar Stateside writers as Michael Chabon, Paul Theroux and Dave Eggers, each aiming to answer the question ‘why do I travel?’
FINALISTS RAILWAY TOURING COMPANY’S ‘THE HADRIAN’ TOUR ON THE FLYING SCOTSMAN, UK // TRAIN SUITE SHIKI-SHIMA, JAPAN
FINALISTS RAIN: FOUR WALKS IN ENGLISH WEATHER, BY MELISSA HARRISON (FABER & FABER) // DEEP SOUTH: FOUR SEASONS ON BACK ROADS, BY PAUL THEROUX (PENGUIN)
W I N N E R
READER AWARDS // SMART TRAVELLER
W I N N E R
THE EXPERIENCE (TRAVEL EXPERIENCE)
SOUTH AFRICAN SAFARI We asked which travel experience really brought a destination to life? You gave a classic South African safari the thumbs-up, highlighting the ‘awe-inspiring landscape’, ‘guaranteed wild animals’, and noting how it was ‘incredible to be immersed in nature’.
FINALISTS NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP // GRAND CANYON HELICOPTER TOUR W I N N E R
HIGH CLASS (AIRLINE EXPERIENCE)
EMIRATES The champion in this category is an airline that’s impressed you with the quality of the experience offered, from seating to service, entertainment to ambience. Emirates is clearly the carrier you don’t mind circling the runway with a few times with because it delivers ‘excellent service and lots of little luxuries — even in economy’, and has the ‘best allround service by a mile’. For ‘ultimate comfort’ this Dubai-based airline offers an experience befitting Emirati royalty with both its service and staff highly praised by many voters.
FINALISTS BRITISH AIRWAYS // VIRGIN ATLANTIC W I N N E R
RETURN TICKET (COUNTRY)
We can’t get enough of Italy and clearly neither can you. A winner for the third year running, you’ve picked this European beauty as the country you just can’t stop going back to. This short-haul hotspot has you championing its culture — both ancient and modern — exquisite beachfront resorts and ancient hilltop villages. And don’t forget its cuisine, which clearly never fails to impress, from food trucks in Florence to hipster beer stands in Rome, family-run trattoria in Puglia to happening cicchetti bars in Venice. You swooned over its architecture, went weak at the knees for its boutique hotels and spoke in glowing tones about its people. This is a longstanding love affair.
FINALISTS SPAIN // USA
W I N N E R
TRAVEL EXPERTS (TRAVEL COMPANY)
TRAILFINDERS The brains behind the operation, nominated agents and operators in this category, have the inspiration and know-how to turn our travel whims into expertly organised, once-in-alifetime trips. You recommend tailor-made travel operator Trailfinders for service, quality and expertise, noting that its trips are ‘expertly organised and reasonably priced’. This tour operator has been sending people on their travels for 47 years and the sentiment was clear: you couldn’t give Trailfinders enough praise.
FINALISTS THOMAS COOK // KUONI Jan/Feb 2018
SMART TRAVELLER // READER AWARDS
W I N N E R
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO TRAVEL
IMAGES: DAVID GRIFFEN PHOTOGRAPHY; JAMES RAM/CHETWODE RAM ASSOCIATES LTD 2015
If there’s anything better than travel it’s food and travel. And the winner in this year’s special contribution category has managed to convey this perfect partnership with unbridled joy and full flavour, time and again in gastronomic road trips that have seen him taste and recreate the flavours of Mexico, India, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Morocco and Turkey, to name a few. Rick Stein’s shows deliver kitchen scenes that sizzle, market visits that come alive with colour, and a warmth of personality that can only come from someone who’s genuinely hungry to explore the world. This Cornish resident is someone you clearly trust to lead you around the world, inspiring you to explore its unknown corners using all your senses. In 2016, Rick wowed you with Long Weekends in some of his favourite European cities, like Berlin and Vienna, then in 2017, he moved further afield, to document the food culture from San Francisco in California to Oaxaca in Mexico. Inspired by a journey he made in the late ’60s, this was a personal, nostalgic but as ever, fresh take on a classic food destination that made a truly tasty adventure out of staying in and watching TV.
This Christmas This This Christmas Christmas take take them somewhere take them them somewhere somewhere
Donâ€™t just give a gift this Christmas. Give an adventure. Give the confidence to take the first step. Give more this Christmas and visit us in-store where our experts will help you pick out the perfect gift. Stores nationwide | cotswoldoutdoor.com/christmas
Some experiences really can change your life forever..
Panagaea �xploration and their science expedition vessel Sea �ragon are back in the �aribbean and Paci�c for 2018. Sailing with us is purposeful, mindful, and a truly real experience. Sail to or from Hawaii, Kiritimati, Grenada, Panama, and Vancouver while making friends for life with your fellow crew and seeing the world from a unique perspective.
Visit our new website at: http://panexplore.com/ and book, from £600 pp, or enquire today.
SMART TRAVELLER What’s new // Do it now // Food // On the trail // Rooms // Family // Stay at home // The word
Imai-sensei is young for a master craftsman, but it’s clear from watching him work that he lacks neither skill nor experience. He’s one of the few artisans left in Japan who make yumi. These traditional bows are crafted from two outer layers of bamboo and a bespoke wooden core. Although archery is a popular traditional sport, the influx of cheaper imported bows and lack of apprentices have shrunk the industry to just a dozen or so true artisans. Imaisensei’s tiny workshop, located in Kanagawa Prefecture, a two-hour drive from Tokyo, is crammed with bows and raw materials — it’s as much a place of meditation as an atelier. IRWIN WONG // PHOTOGRAPHER irwinwong.com @irwinwongphoto
©2018 Marriott International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Preferred Guest, SPG, The Luxury Collection and their logos are the trademarks of Marriott International, Inc., or its affiliates.
HOTELS THAT DEFINE THE DESTINATION TM
Discover the rich heritage of The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice, a palatial retreat where history and culture are met with renewed Venetian style. Experience the true essence of each destination at The Luxury Collection, a curated ensemble of the world’s most iconic hotels. EXPLORE THE DESTINATION AT THELUXURYCOLLECTION.COM/GRITTIPALACE
ED’S PICKS // SMART TRAVELLER
GOING GREEN WHAT? Walthamstow Wetlands, London.
WHEN? This watery wonderland opened in October, bringing birders closer to winged wildlife like kingfishers and peregrine falcons. TELL ME MORE: Europe’s largest urban wetland is crossed by 13 miles of foot and cycle tracks, while heritage buildings include the Engine House (now a cafe) and Coppermill Tower, topped with a viewing platform. walthamstowwetlands.com STEPHANIE CAVAGNARO
Editos' icks We’ve been here and we’ve been there, and our team have found a few things we thought we’d share
IMAGES: SIMON TAYLOR PHOTOGRAPHY/ WALTHAMSTOW WETLANDS; GETTY
Bitish ubs THE HOLLY BUSH, HAMPSTEAD
BEST FOR: Comfort food, an open ﬁre and 18th-
century rustic charm — the reward for a good stomp across the Heath. AMELIA DUGGAN
YE OLDE WHITE HARTE, HULL
BEST FOR: Intrigue — the Civil War was plotted in
the upstairs rooms and there’s a human skull on display in the saloon. GLEN MUTEL
THE BLACK BOY, WINCHESTER
THREE TO TRY
BEST FOR: Named after coalminers and chimney
THE BEAR GRYLLS ADVENTURE
The man himself was involved in designing this adventure theme park opening at Birmingham’s NEC in 2018. 1 GET PREPARED Basecamp offers physical, mental, individual and group challenges. 2 GET HIGH iFLY is an indoor skydiving simulator with a safe, endless freefall. 3 LEARN THE ROPES Zip-line from a Chinook helicopter to the highest free-roam high ropes in Europe. ZANE HENRY
sweeps, the pub is a maze of taxidermy and trinkets. TAMSIN WRESSELL
THE DRUIDSTONE, HAVERFORDWEST
BEST FOR: Dramatic views of St Bride’s Bay
over a refreshing pint — ideal after tackling the weathered-beaten Pembrokeshire Coast Path. STEPHANIE CAVAGNARO
IN NUMBERS RIO CARNIVAL
February, the Carnival 2018 dates
The year the ﬁrst recorded festivals took place in the city
2,000,000 people (or more!) in the streets of Rio during Carnival
Ever wanted to see a dragon? Well, this is your chance, thanks to the recent launch of direct fl ights from London to Jakarta. Explore’s two-week Indonesia Highlights (one of four new tours) showcases the islands of Flores, Bali, Lombok and Komodo (home to the giant lizard). explore.co.uk MARIA PIERI
The length of the street parades
Climate is the word
New words created by Sheena Adams from Arctic Energy Alliance aid Inuit people in Canada’s fast-warming Northwest Territories to talk about climate change. The initiative may help revive the dying language. TAMSIN WRESSELL SUANGATIT NUNGULAILAT = RENEWABLE ENERGY
(£53) — the cost of a grandstand ticket
ANNUGIHIUT ANUGIHIUTTIN = WIND TURBINE
SIQINIQMIN AULLAN = SOLAR PANELS
As part of a book project to photograph the world’s cats, we headed to Morocco with the knowledge that our feline friends have a revered place in Islamic tradition. The blue, dreamlike medina of Chefchaouen was the perfect backdrop. We spent a week ambling up and down the narrow alleyways to capture the city’s four-legged residents, who gave us a lesson in patience and contemplation — one moment they might be still, their eyes fixed on a street corner, the next out marauding in the early-morning sun. But our approach to photographing felines is the same as it is for any scene: walking as quietly as possible without disturbing the subject, all to stumble upon a chance moment… BRUNO MORANDI // PHOTOGRAPHER brunomorandi.com bruno.morandi.photographer
SMART TRAVELLER // WHAT’S NEW
A CAPITAL IDEA
The Maltese capital is in the spotlight as one of two European Capitals of Culture for 2018 and is reeling in travellers with a slew of cultural celebrations and new openings
GET THE PARTY STARTED
Get 20 January in your diaries — the year of festivities kicks off with gusto. Four of Valletta's public squares will be transformed into open-air, Baroque stages for La Fura dels Baus, an out-there urban theatre group from Barcelona that blurs the lines between artist and audience. Elsewhere, the city will come to life with acrobatics, video art, music and contemporary dance performances from ŻfinMalta, with storytellers and travelling bands completing the line-up. CARNIVALESQUE CAPERS
Elaborate, exuberant and all-out extravagant, the technicolour Maltese Carnival is one of the island’s oldest and most flamboyant festivities. For four days (9-13 February), the winding stone streets will heave with marching bands, dancers clad in gaudy get-up and a spectacular stream of off-the-wall, handmade floats. WORKS OF ART
MUŻA is the new National Museum of Art in Malta and Heritage Malta’s flagship project for 2018. When it opens its doors in mid-2018, in Auberge d’Italie — a palatial 16th-century inn built for Malta’s knights, set around an arcaded courtyard — it will exhibit Renaissance drawings in collaboration with Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. muza. heritagemalta.org TO MARKET
The three-storey Victorian-era market Is-Suq tal-Belt, will be brought back to life for the New Year following a huge regeneration project. Discover fresh food stalls and a food court abuzz with tasting kiosks, and keep an eye out for cultural happenings in the upper tiers. issuqtalbelt.online NEW ROOMS
400 EVENTS AND EXHIBITIONS
make up the 2018 cultural programme, which culminates on 15 December with the closing spectacle. valletta2018.org
The Saint John boutique hotel threw open the doors of its 17th-century former merchant house in September — now with modern interiors and a laid-back vibe. It’s only a stone’s throw from historic sites like the Grand Master’s Palace and St John’s Co-Cathedral, complete with its spectacular Caravaggio painting, The Beheading of St John the Baptist. thesaintjohnmalta.com MODERN TOUCH
When Renzo Piano first unveiled his designs for a bold new city gate, there was uproar; residents felt the dramatic structure wasn’t in keeping with the Baroque vibe of the city. But since opening in 2014, it’s become a tourist hotspot, offering views across the city’s moat and butter-hued stone bastions. visitmalta.com AMELIA DUGGAN
DEEPER ON L AND
TSEDENG, TIBET / PHOTO: ANDREA FRAZZETTA FOR SILVERSEA
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most remote destinations in luxury before or after your cruise.
Dive with a Purpose 2018
Marine expeditions to conserve coral reefs and research whale sharks in The Maldives Seize the day and participate in a unique marine expedition on Carpe Diem Maldives luxury liveaboard cruises. Dive in one of the world’s most popular underwater destinations. Carry out reef conservation and conduct marine research under the guidance of expert marine biologists from the UK and USA. Select your Dive with a Purpose 2018 expedition cruise: May 19 – May 26 Rescue a Reef with Coral Reef CPR May 26 – June 2 The Great Megafauna Migration: Track whale sharks, mantas and turtles with Maldives Whale Shark Research July 15 – July 22 Rescue a Reef with Coral Reef CPR Sept 8 – Sept 15 Rescue a Reef with Coral Reef CPR Receive 10% resort savings when combining your expedition with a 2-night stay at Carpe Diem Beach Resort & Spa in Raa Atoll and explore a lagoon with 500 - 1,000 year old corals. Just mention code NG-UK when booking direct by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In harmony with nature
carpediemmaldives.com Certified PADI Dive Boats
WHAT’S NEW // SMART TRAVELLER
Festival fever JAISALMER DESERT FESTIVAL, INDIA 29–31 JAN 2018
Northern India’s Thar Desert stands in stark contrast to this eccentric festival which unfurls around the imposing walls of Jaisalmer. From camel racing and fire dancing to folk music and turban tying, this three-day bash is a lively one. Stay for the moustache competition, where a macho Mr Desert is crowned. desertfestivaljaisalmer.com
Ho� �u�suits DESERT FESTIVALS
Winter blues? Fear not: there’s plenty of desert decadence to melt them away — these festivals amid the sand dunes feature everything from yoga at sunset to camel racing
MIDBURN FESTIVAL, ISRAEL
Beyond Sahara, Morocco
14–19 MAY 2018
2–5 MARCH 2018
We don’t do boring, say the organisers. They’re not lying. As far as grand entries go, a 36-hour trek on camels through the Atlas Mountains beats rolling up in a souped-up Hummer. It’s a fitting welcome to the high-flying hedonism that ensues at the desert camp, where the rippling sands of southern Morocco are transformed into a dreamy, bohemian-meets-Bedouin playground. There’s zany disco dodgeball to set the tone, with authentic Berber cuisine on the menu. Next up, try yoga at sunset and cocktails by the campfire, accompanied by tales from tribesmen. And, if you’ve still got the energy, the night ends in true festival style with parties until dawn under the stars. takemebeyond.co.uk CONNOR MCGOVERN
IMAGES: LISA SIMPSON; GETTY
of the world’s land area
the Sahara’s highest point, Emi Koussi
ROTARY HENLEY-ON-TODD REGATTA, ALICE SPRINGS, AUSTRALIA 18 AUG 2018
Replace the Thames with arid terrain and you have this Aussie offshoot that mimics Henley, with regatta races — including bonkers BYOB (bring your own boat) competitions — played out on terra firma. henleyontodd.com.au
BURNING MAN, NEVADA, USA
THE SAHARA UK’s can fit into the Sahara
Inspired by Burning Man, the five-day Midburn Festival springs up like an oasis in the Negev Desert with creativity and community. Forget pumping bass and headline acts; this is all about art. midburn.org
26 AUG – 3 SEPT 2018
species of rodent call it home
From the sun-baked expanse of the Black Rock Desert emerges Black Rock City, the temporary brainchild of the festival’s revellers who come for community, art and self-expression. The shindig returns this year, going all 21st century with the theme ‘I, Robot’. burningman.org
square miles of land
When you come to Valencia, you get more than a city break. Feel the sea breeze in your face and be dazzled by the bright Mediterranean light. Enjoy a myriad of flavours and the warmth of its people – an infinitely Mediterranean experience. NEXT MAIN EVENTS: New Year’s Eve Party 31 December Valencia Culinary Meeting 25 February - 3 March Fallas of València 1-19 March World Half Marathon Championship 24 March
Fly directly to Valencia from 7 UK Airports with Ryanair to London Stanstead, Manchester, East Midlands, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with Easyjet to London Gatwick and Luton, with British Airways to London Gatwick.
WHATʼS NEW // SMART TRAVELLER
FALSE KILLER WHALES NEW ZEALAND
False killer whales and bottlenose dolphins have been filmed forming relationships that include socialising and foraging together
MONOCLE BREAMS INDONESIA
Our oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, with a staggering 90% still unexplored. But a number of new tours inspired by Blue Planet II bring intrepid travellers closer to this mysterious world
These reef inhabitants blow sand away from a bobbit worm’s lair to expose it. Bobbits are ambush predators that burrow into the sand and wait for passing prey
GO NOW: NEW INSPIRED TOURS
As many as 150 manta rays have been filmed forming a ‘feeding cyclone’ around high concentrations of plankton. The behaviour was described in a scientific paper for the first time in 2017
Maldives BEST FOR: WHALE SHARKS
Go on a whale shark safari off Mirihi Island in the Maldives — one of the few places to spot them year-round. HOW TO DO IT: Hummingbird Travel offers seven nights in a Water Villa at Mirihi Island from £2,057 per person on a half-board basis, including flights and transfers. Whale shark safaris at Mirihi Island start from £95 including lunch and soft drinks, based on 10 guests sharing the excursion. hummingbird.travel mirihi.com
IMAGES: MATTY SMITH/BBC; GETTY
BEST FOR: CORAL SPAWNING
Dive into the crystal-clear waters of St Lucia, where the rare natural phenomenon of coral spawning resembles a watery blizzard of colour. HOW TO DO IT: Original Diving offers seven nights at Anse Chastanet from £2,495 per person on a full-board basis, including flights, transfers and 12 day or night dives. originaldiving.com
Norway BEST FOR: ORCAS
Venture to the Norwegian Fjords to snorkel with orcas while admiring the Northern Lights. HOW TO DO IT: Velocity Black offers a tour from 9–12 February 2018 for £550 per person, including accommodation in Andenes, flights and a private orca whale tour. velocity.black TAMSIN WRESSELL
IN NUMBERS BLUE PLANET II
Hours the crew spent diving underwater
Expeditions tallied up between the teams
Years the series spent in production
1,000 Metres — the deepest point the crew explored
GROUPERS GREAT BARRIER REEF
Groupers have been using a fish equivalent of sign language (the ‘headstand signal’) to reach across the vertebrate/inter-vertebrate divide to get reef octopus to help them hunt
VOLCANOES GULF OF MEXICO
Sediments that have fallen for millennia from the ocean’s surface are compressed into methane volcanoes on the seafloor. If the methane deposits from these subsurface pockets fluctuate it could have wide-scale implications for our climate
SMART TRAVELLER // DO IT NOW
& THE ART OF MIND MAINTENANCE Want to sleep better, manage stress and anxiety, or simply feel a bit more zen? There’s a reason meditation is being embraced by travellers everywhere
ON-THE-GO MEDITATION THE WELLNESS RESORT
Get guided meditation from expert, Deepak Chopra, by attending one of his short retreats at California’s Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. The resort is Chopra’s HQ, and also offers more than 600 rooms, eight swimming pools and 17 tennis courts. From £584 for two days without accommodation. omnihotels.com
DID YOU KNOW?
THE CITY HOTEL
Stressed at the thought of getting on a plane? Yoga/meditation rooms can be found at many airports worldwide including Gatwick and Heathrow
Guests at The Chatwal in New York can chill out with one-to-one meditation sessions with the ‘rock star of meditation’ Donna D’Cruz. The Dip into Wellbeing package includes one night’s accommodation and the stress-melter treatment at the hotel’s spa. From £684 per night, based on two guests. thechatwal.com
THE SAFARI STAY
Namaste offers seven- and 10-day safari adventures in Namibia where guests can participate in yoga, guided walks, massages and meditation surrounded by nature. The six-night all-inclusive price for shared accommodation is from £2,135. namasteyogasafari.com
THE MOUNTAIN RETREAT
If you’re thinking of making meditation one of your New Year resolutions, you’re not alone. According to the Global Wellness Summit, meditation will become more mainstream due to its ability to improve mental health — one of the biggest wellness concerns. Master of meditation, former Buddhist monk and co-founder of guided meditation app Headspace, Andy Puddicombe recommends beginning with short, easy-tolearn techniques (see right). He also suggests incorporating it into your routine (for example, shower, meditate; brush your teeth, meditate) and keeping it ‘fresh’ — approaching it in ‘the same way as you do your travels, with an open mind, free from expectation and curious in what you might find.’ The good news for travellers is you don’t have to sit in the same place every day for meditation to work. Andy recommends trying it in a cab, on a plane — or even while waiting at the airport. headspace.com SAM LEWIS
Gently focus your attention on your breath. When the mind wanders (and it will), simply let go of any thoughts that have come to mind, bringing your attention back to the breath.
Once you realise you’ve been distracted, and before returning to the breath, mentally ‘note’ the distraction as ‘thinking’ — you’ll have more clarity about the nature of distraction.
Rather than using the breath as the focus, try concentrating on a mental image instead. Gently picture that image and when you realise the mind has wandered, come back to the image again.
IMAGES: ALI KAUKAS; NAMASTE YOGA; SHERYL NIELDS
Ananda in the Himalayas offers meditation and silent retreats with an extensive spa menu. They have launched a new retreat with the London Meditation Centre (24-31 March 2018). Seven-night retreats from £3,673. anandaspa.com wellbeingescapes.com
DRIVEN BY A SENSATION NOT A DESTINATION The precise feel of the 400 horsepower V6 throttle. The customisable feel of the world’s 1st Direct Adaptive Steering™ System. The race-inspired look of a cockpit lined with a black carbon and leather. The all-new INFINITI Q60. Book your Test Drive now at infiniti.co.uk
Official fuel economy figures for the Q60 range shown in mpg (l/100km): Urban 21.6 (13.1) - 30.7 (9.2), Extra-urban 41.5(6.8) - 52.3(5.4), Combined 31.0 (9.1) - 41.5 (6.8). C02 emissions: 208-156g/km. Fuel consumption and C02 figures are obtained from laboratory
testing and are intended for comparisons between vehicles and may not reflect real driving results. Optional equipment, maintenance, driving behaviour, road and weather conditions may affect the official results. Model shown is an INFINITI Q60 3.0T Sport AT 4WD at £44,625 including Dynamic Suntone Red paint at £1,090.
FOOD // SMART TRAVELLER
MAKE IT AT HOME
Sticky Bombay chicken
A TASTE OF...
uma Take a street food tour of India’s most lively city with former Bake Off finalist and rising star food author, Chetna Makan
Mumbai is home to some of India’s best street food. The city was my home for many years as a student, so I often relied on street food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Returning here after a decade away, I was surprised to find some of my favourite places to eat were still there: Britannia, which serves the best biryani, and also Badshah in Crawford Market, still making the most amazing falooda (chilled dessert). In Bandra, I discovered some great new chaat stalls (snacks) serving classic pani puri (fried pastry balls, stuffed with potato and tamarind), kachori (the same, with lentils and varied spices), and dosa (filled rice pancake), and I also found a new local love for cupcakes.
8 skinless chicken drumsticks 2tbsp dark soy sauce 1tbsp olive oil 20g (3/4oz) dark brown sugar 4 ﬁ nely chopped garlic cloves 2.5cm (1 inch) peeled and ﬁ nely chopped piece of fresh root ginger 1 ﬁ nely chopped red chilli 1tsp ﬁve-spice powder 1tsp salt 1tbsp toasted sesame seeds METHOD: Make a couple of slashes on each drumstick, ready for marinating. Combine the soy sauce, olive oil, sugar, garlic, ginger, chilli, ﬁve-spice powder and salt in a large bowl. Mix well, add the chicken and stir to coat. Leave to marinate for one hour or, preferably, overnight in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), gas mark 4. Roast the chicken and marinade in a shallow roasting tin for 40 minutes, turning occasionally until cooked through. Sprinkle the sesame seeds and serve hot.
Every part of Mumbai does its own special breakfast. When I visited recently there were many vendors outside Dadar West station, one of them selling piping hot medu vada (savoury fritters) with sambhar (lentil stew), and coconut chutney. Another was making the legendary Mumbai toasty filled with potato mix, chutney, cucumber, beetroot, onion and tomatoes.
If you’re looking for snacks, then head to Elco Market in Bandra to find kachori (spicy, stuffed pastry), samosa and papdi chaat (crispy dough noodles). There’s also a fresh juice vendor here, and if it’s mango season (April-June), there’s no better place. Another popular street food hub is Chaupati Beach in Andheri, packed with stalls serving pav bhaji (veg curry and soft bread rolls), vada pav (spiced potato with chutney), and some of Mumbai’s Indian-Chinese food.
Chetna Makan is author of the new book Chai, Chaat & Chutney: A Street Food Journey Through India, published by Octopus Books, RRP: £20
With over 400 years of history, La Cocumella is a haven of privacy. Its history began in 1597, when the Jesuits built a cloister on the Sorrento Peninsula with spectacular views across the Bay of Naples. Masterfully restored, the property simply oozes style and charm with antiques blending with modern amenities in every guest room. There’s a small private beach and seaside solarium – a fabulous furnished sun deck out on the rocks – accessible by lift or through a picturesque passage carved into the rock, and the hotel has its own tall ship, pictu “Vera”, built in 1880 and used for day cruises along the Amalfi Coast. Facilities include three restaurants, a swimming pool and tennis court. Member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, with a very friendly and helpful service, La Cocumella is a great retreat for romantic getaways.
ON THE TRAIL // SMART TRAVELLER
Buda�est RUIN BARS
Anker’t is on Paulay Ede Street and is one of the city’s newest ruin bars with a clean, minimalistic interior. The former factory has two courtyards, poetry slam evenings and serves a variety of drinks and barbecued dishes. Music lovers can get their groove on with underground DJs playing almost every day of the week.
Head to Budapest’s Jewish quarter, where urban decay has given way to ‘ruin bars’ — quirky pubs in abandoned buildings Words: Farida Zeynalova
A five-minute walk and you’re at Kuplung — just look out for the grungy wooden gates if you’re lost. The former autorepair shop is known for cheap cocktails, live concerts and is the stomping ground of skaters and hip Budapestians. There’s a giant painted whale watching over revellers in the spacious beer garden; plus an art gallery and resident DJ. kuplung.net
3 FOGAS HAZ
Wander a few doors down to Fogas Haz (‘House of Teeth’ in Hungarian), a former dental surgery and squat. A cultural hub and bar, this is the haunt of creative types — the walls are adorned with works by local artists and its many nooks and crannies include an arcade room, a theatre and a tree-lined courtyard made for dancing until the early hours. fogashaz.hu
5 ELLÁTÓ KERT
On the same road is the hedonistic Ellátó Kert, an open-air taqueria that’s a hit with locals thanks to its tempting tacos and chicken. Chill out with a cocktail among the paper lanterns, kaleidoscopic furniture and graffiti-splashed walls, or challenge friends to a game of table tennis or billiards.
4 MAZEL TOV
ILLUSTRATION: MARTIN HAAKE
Walk to Akácfa Street, where the new kid on the block, Mazel Tov, celebrates all things Jewish. Delicious Middle Eastern dishes are served up in the spacious garden to the soundtrack of contemporary Israeli music, and there’s an impressive bar list with kosher vodka and endless varieties of palinka (Hungary’s potent fruit brandy). mazeltov.hu/en
6 SZIMPLA KERT
Make your way through haphazardly placed bric-a-brac at this pioneering ruin bar, which opened in the seventh district in 2002. The former stove-factory on Kazinczy Street is a multistorey, labyrinthine bar jampacked with vintage bikes, street signs and old racing cars acting as tables. Don’t leave without trying one of the local beers — they’re surprisingly cheap. szimpla.hu ruinpubs.com
SMART TRAVELLER // ROOMS
P��m S��ings WHERE TO STAY
From a chi-chi house to a chic B&B, sleeping in this cool Cali city must always be done in style 1 THE LAUTNER
Step back into the 1940s with this gem by architect John Lautner in unprepossessing Desert Hot Springs. Four self-contained studio units — each surrounded by a walled cactus garden and with its own theme — sit within a larger compound with an event space and 1950s bungalow next door. Units from £186. thelautner.com
2 NO 444
Palm Springs doesn’t get much more iconic than this. This chi-chi Racquet Club Estates-based home built in 1958 by the Alexander family and designed by William Krisel. The two-bedroom house has been brought back to its prime with Eames and Saarinen furniture, Warhol prints, and a private pool in the garden. From £197. coolstays.com
3 THE WILLOWS
A posh B&B, The Willows has been hosting Hollywood’s great and good — plus Albert Einstein — since 1924. The eight antique-filled rooms are named after famous guests, while breakfast and a daily wine hour turn the luxury up a notch. Doubles from £299, B&B. thewillowspalmsprings.com
4 OCOTILLO LODGE
This one-bed condo combines 21st-century mod cons and a 1960s feel with period furniture and artwork. Elizabeth Taylor is rumoured to have stayed here. There are communal grounds and the famous fan-shaped pool. From £78 per night. ocatillolodgeps.com JULIA BUCKLEY
We Love Bengal
SMART TRAVELLER // FAMILY
Stay at home
�ake the family WHERE TO GO IN 2018
Looking for tech-free trips for more quality family time? How about destinations where you can take the grandparents or extended family in tow? We’ve compiled a list of ideas to make your 2018 family break a doddle SLEEP ON A SKYBED
Take teens to try out a new Skybed — three-storey platforms overlooking a waterhole in Botswana’s Khwai Private Reserve. From £425 per person per night, £213 for ages 12–18, including meals, drinks and activities. naturalselection. travel/camp/skybeds
HIT THE SLOPES
Try a change of scenery at Swedish ski resort Stöten with its quieter slopes and lower prices. Welcoming touches include free kids’ hot drinks. From £655 per person per week at Stöten Mitt Apartments, including flights. skisafari.com
Head to Mauritius during its independence celebrations this March by glamping in an Otentic eco tent (from £100 a night for five) or a Bubble Lodge ball (via Airbnb; from £282 a night for four). otentic.mu airbnb.co.uk RHONDA CARRIER
MEET A MOOSE
Ride a jetboat or river raft, hike in the wilderness, pan for gold, and meet rehabilitated moose and bears as part of Alaska: Call of the Wild, one of Tauck’s latest ‘Earth Journeys’ (in partnership with BBC Earth). From £3,040 per person for eight days, without flights. tauck.co.uk
TRY A DETOX
A family digital detox may be just the ticket at Le Country Lodge in Normandy. Stay in an eco-cabin with no wi-fi and relax while milking goats, swimming in the pond and chilling in the Swedish baths. From €120 (£108) a night for four. country-lodge.com
IMAGES: JOSEPH JOHN CASEY; T.LOUBERE/BUBBLE LODGE; SKI SAFARI; PETER & BEVERLY PICKFORD/SKYBEDS
Spend the night in an historic church. The Churches Conservation Trust venues come with camp beds, lanterns, candles and tea/coffeemaking facilities. From £150 a night for two adults and up to four under-15s. champing.co.uk
BRINDISI OLBIA IGOUMENITSA ATHENS
• VENICE - ANCONA - IGOUMENITSA - PATRAS • BRINDISI - IGOUMENITSA - PATRAS • SAVONA - BARCELONA - TANGIER • LIVORNO - PALERMO • LIVORNO - OLBIA • PIRAEUS - HERAKLION For your reservations: Greece only: 801 11 75000 European Calls: +30 2810 399899
Schiphol Hotel Shuttle
The easiest way to get to your hotel! • Links the airport with almost every hotel in Amsterdam • Situated immediately outside the terminal at platform A7 • Tickets are available online, at the Connexxion Amsterdam Shuttle Desk in Arrivals Hall 4 (opposite Starbucks) or at your hotel Website : www.schipholhotelshuttle.nl Email : email@example.com Telephone : +31 88 339 47 41
TOP 5 // SMART TRAVELLER
y Belize FIVE TO TRY
With abundant marine life and a sprawling barrier reef, Belize should be on every diver’s watery wish list FROM LEFT: Gladden
Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve; loggerhead turtle
NORTH WALL, GLADDEN SPIT AND SILK CAYES MARINE RESERVE
A favourite for local dive masters. Descend to 35ft and swim east on the gradual slope to see loggerhead turtles, spotted eagle rays, schools of horse-eye jacks and maybe hammerhead sharks. There are coral formations and overhangs with sponges. Don’t miss a post-dive snorkel — with turtles, southern stingrays and nurse sharks — inside the reef, where local ﬁshermen clean their catch.
IMAGES: GETTY; ALAMY
has loved water since childhood, so she became a PADI Course Director and founded the award-winning Splash Dive Center in Placencia, Belize in 2000. splashbelize.com
HALF MOON CAYE WALL, LIGHTHOUSE REEF
This site features seagrass, sandy slopes and a sheer wall. Drop down 30ft and head south to ﬁnd the wall’s swim throughs. See cruising groupers, yellowtail snappers, spotted eagle rays and barracudas. Try to spot camouﬂage frogﬁsh and listen for the sound of toadﬁsh hidden in the wall crevices.
SOUTHWEST CAYE WALL, GLOVER’S REEF
Featuring tremendous biodiversity and a shallow reef crest, this is deﬁnitely the local favourite. Drift along the coral-crusted wall to ﬁnd spotted drum ﬁsh pirouetting in protected crevices and speedy schools of jack. Famous inhabitants include a nurse shark called Chance and Grandpa the loggerhead.
TACKLE BOX, AMBERGRIS CAYE
This dive site has a mooring line and a large sandy bottom at 35ft, so it’s perfect for beginners. Swim east towards two sloping canyons and follow them to swim throughs, which start at 60ft and exit at 90ft. From here, ascend to the top of the reef to ﬁnd nurse sharks, groupers, snappers and reef ﬁsh.
SIXTH CUT, SOUTH WATER CAYE
Three dive sites in one. Swim with butterﬂy ﬁsh, puffers and trumpet ﬁsh along a coral-covered mountain ridge. Dive into the blue abyss for spotted eagle rays, sharks and giant barracuda. Along the sandy bottom ﬁnd crawling conches and maybe a giant loggerhead or hammerhead ﬂying over the ridge.
THE PEARL OF THE RAA ATOLL Furaveri Island Resort & Spa, Raa Atoll 20012 Maldives
+960 658 2718
UK // SMART TRAVELLER
se of Wight STAY AT HOME
Fossil-rich cliffs, a Literary Heroes Trail and great restaurants are among the island’s many attractions
Wha to do
As well as an epic coastline, traces of the island’s history abound, including Carisbrooke Castle — with its motte and bailey — and Brading Roman Villa. Interesting museums include Dinosaur Isle (fossils are easier to find here than on the Jurassic Coast). Don’t miss
Farringford House, the former home of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This exquisite, turreted Georgian country pile offers a poignant insight into the life of the Victorian poet. Farringford is on the island’s new Literary Heroes Trail, which links sites across the island associated with writers and poets who lived or sojourned here, including Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Jane Austen. MARK ROWE visitisleofwight.co.uk
IMAGES: GETTY; AWL IMAGES; COW CO
The Isle of Wight’s many sandy coves and bays remain a magnet for the bucket-and-spade brigade. But a growing number of farm shops and restaurants, showcasing local food and wine, have broadened its appeal. WHERE TO STAY
Located in Seaview — a picturesque village on the northeast coast, five minutes from a sandy beach with rockpools — Raleigh Cottage sleeps six and has all the mod cons you’ll need, plus a decked dining area. wightlocations.co.uk
Walking up Tennyson Down, a dramatic coastal ridge with thrilling views of The Needles, the island’s landmark chalk sea stacks. Another great walking spot is the River Yar’s saltmarshes, mudflats and reed beds, a mecca for ornithologists. The Isle of Wight Coastal Path, meanwhile, includes 67 trails that take visitors past beaches and beauty spots across the island.
WHERE TO EAT
The Cow Co Restaurant & Bar, at Tapnell Farm, has been luring foodies in their droves since 2015. Gourmet burgers are the order of the day, served up with superb sunsets over Compton Down. thecowco.com
a brand new australian adventure is in the making
introducing Coral adventurer A quiet pioneer
For34years,CoralExpeditionshasbeentruetoitssmallshipexpedition cruisingroots.Withlittleadvertisingandmostlywordofmouthloyalty, wehavebeenrefiningtheartofsmallshipcruising.Nowwehaveputall ourknowledgeandtheverylatestinshipbuildingtechnologyintoourfourth expeditionship–theCoral Adventurer.
Bigger is not better Atatimewhencruiseshipsgetlargerandglitzier,weremainstubbornly compactandintimate.Withonly60cabins,youwillnotjostleforspace,wait inline,orcompeteforservice.Watchthechefsinthegalley,haveachatwith thecaptain,findyourquietcornerondeck.
Built for discovery TheCoral Adventurer featuresourtrademarkdual‘Xplorer’tenderscradled onahydraulicplatform,enablingourgueststogoashorerapidlyandwith ease.Togetherwithourrenownedexpeditionstaff,sheoffersunmatched expeditioncapabilities.
Built for personal service TheCoral AdventurercontinuesourproudtraditionofAustralianflagged vesselswithfriendlyandprofessionalAustraliancrew.Enjoysmallbatch cuisine,acuratedAustralianwinelistandaninformalatmosphereonboard. ACoralExpeditionscruiseislikenoother.
Ar c Bucc ane er
Withbigshiptechnologysuchasactivestabiliserstodampenseamotion, mostlybalconycabins,andinteriorsdesignedwiththecoloursandtextures oftropicalQueensland,theCoral Adventurer willtakeyoutoremote destinationsingraceandstyle.
Raft Point Lacepede Islands
Bo na p
Built for comfort
ago ipel rch A te Bigge ar Prince Island Regent River o Careening lag Bay e p hi Montgomery Reef
King George River Mitchell Falls
Joseph Bonaparte Gulf
sacred lands of the KIMBERLEY
> 10 NIGHTS > MAY TO SEPTEMBER 2019 > BROOME TO DARWIN, AUSTRALIA OR VICE VERSA
BOOK NOW FOR 2019 DEPARTURES > +61740409999 >firstname.lastname@example.org >www.coralexpeditions.com
Expeditionsto > GreatBarrierReef > Tasmania > TheKimberley > CapeYork&ArnhemLand > PapuaNewGuinea > SpiceIslands&RajaAmpat
BOOKSHELF // SMART TRAVELLER
GET THE GUIDES
SAD TOPOGRAPHIES Indulge in the seasonal melancholy of winter with a travel book that maps the world’s most joyless place names Damien Rudd takes his Instagram account into print with this illustrated guide for the dispirited traveller. Having stumbled across Mount Hopeless on a map of South Australia in 2015, Rudd decided to investigate other instances of miserablist monikers and soon collected a ‘cabinet of depressing cartographical curiosities.’ So began a worldwide journey of toponymy (the study of place names) that unearthed such flawed gems as Apocalypse Peaks, Lonelyville and Cape Grim. This isn’t a travel guide, more a landscape of the mind. Rudd hasn’t visited theses places, nor does he intend his readers to; instead he explores the stories behind these dismally named destinations, many of which are the subject of ignominious tales from the Age of Discovery. We learn that the End of the World isn’t in the depths of the Arctic or deep in the Southern Ocean but tucked away in eastern California where the hopes of 19th-century gold prospectors went to die. We follow heartbroken Royal British Navy surveyor John Pender — made wifeless and childless by the plague — heading to Western Canada in the mid-1800s, where he maps out his grief in the naming of British Columbia’s Sorrow Islands. With its dark humour and the safe distance of history, these tales of derring don’t are a refuge from today’s world map, which is plagued by divisively devolving regions, displaced refugees and defensive borders. The book’s analogue, line-drawn maps, Instagram endorsement and archive photography make it ideal escapist-indulgence material for the miserable millennial. SARAH BARRELL
THE GOOD HOTEL GUIDE 2018
The best hotels, inns and B&Bs in Great Britain and Ireland, independently reviewed with sections for notable newcomers and César award winners. This 40th anniversary edition comes with discount vouchers worth a total of £150. RRP: £20 (goodhotelguide.com)
THE POCKET BEER BOOK
Sad Topographies, A Disenchanted Traveller’s Guide, by Damien Rudd. RRP: £20 (Simon & Schuster)
The third edition of this beer lovers’ bible has tasting notes from more than 2,000 brews, new and classic, from the traditional beers of Germany to the cutting-edge craft brews of North America and beyond. RRP: £12.99 (Mitchell Beazley)
THE ART OF FIRE
A practical and globe-trotting account of ﬁ re making around the world. Written by Daniel Hume — head of operations at Ray Mears’ School of Wilderness Bushcraft — this elegantly illustrated, cloth-bound book conjures the joy of tinder, spark and ember. RRP: £20 (Penguin Random House)
he ey big adentue bok Voyage of the Southern Sun: An Amazing Solo Journey Around the World charts Michael Smith’s solo journey around the world in a seaplane, retracing the 1938 Qantas, Imperial and Pan Am ﬂying boat routes between Sydney, Southampton and New York. It took seven months and he’d barely ﬂown a plane before. RRP: £16.99 (Black Inc.)
Plataran Menjangan Resort & Spa The Getaway Planet - Nature Unleashed
Blending seamlessly with the natural surrounds – in the midst of the forest, right by the ocean and cocooned in the mangroves – experience the epitome of luxury, privacy, and comfort in the traditional or contemporary villas perched at one with nature. A serene hideaway located within the tranquillity and beauty of Plataran L’Harmonie – West Bali National Park, home to the endangered White Angels of Bali, also known as Bali Starling, and many other exotic faunas and floras, Plataran Menjangan Resort & Spa offers an escape to nature at its most beautifully raw and untouched in Bali.
HOTELS & RESORTS • PRIVATE CRUISES • VENUES & DINING • ECO TOURISM DEVELOPMENT Borobudur | Bromo | Canggu | Cilandak | Dharmawangsa | Komodo Menjangan - West Bali National Park | Menteng | Sumba S
T AI N A BL
GREEN SILVER AWARD DE
Tugu - Puncak | Ubud | Wijaya
INA TI O
A SUMMER BREAK FOR FOUR TO PROVENCE
National Geographic Traveller (UK) has teamed up with Summer France to offer a seven-night Provence break Countryside charmer
In the heart of the Luberon mountain range, near the historic commune Saumane-de-Vaucluse, sits the peaceful Domaine de Provence Country Club. Comprising traditional Provencal houses, the residence is surrounded by spectacular countryside. Admire the views from Gordes, or kayak down the River Sorgue and hike to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, the river’s source.
Come again THE PRIZE
Seven nights’ accommodation for four in a two-bedroom apartment at Summer France’s Domaine de Provence Country Club. Includes return flights from London to Marseille and car hire. Valid before 30 April 2019, excluding August 2018.
Each holiday apartment is light and airy and features Provencal-style furnishings, wi-fi, dressing gowns, toiletries, a welcome hamper, and a delivery of bread and croissants on the first morning. Make the most of the fully equipped kitchen by cooking up a feast then relaxing on the balcony or terrace. Alternatively, there are onsite facilities, including the gently undulating 18-hole golf course, outdoor pool, tennis courts and fitness suite.
Summer France has more than 30 cottages and selfcatered apartments in ideal rural locations and along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. It offers flexible arrival days and stays, plus most of the accommodation is considered child (and dog) friendly. summerfrance.co.uk
TO ENTER Answer the following question online at natgeotraveller. co.uk/competitions WHERE IS THE SOURCE OF THE RIVER SORGUE? Competition closes 31 January 2018. The winner must be aged 18 or over and the trip is subject to availability. Full T&Cs available at natgeotraveller.co.uk
SMART TRAVELLER // EVENTS
hotograhy COMPETITION 2018
2 0 1 8
20-27 FEBRUARY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER PHOTOGRAPHY COMPETITION 2018 EXHIBITION
ael Witing asteclas If youâ€™ve dreamed of seeing your travel tales in print, this oneâ€™s for you. Our Masterclass is back for budding Brysons looking to hone their craft or fi nd a way into the world of travel writing. The National Geographic Traveller (UK) editorial team will be on hand to offer tips, tales, advice and anecdotes, as well as to share the dos and donâ€™ts of writing and shed some light on how to break into the industry. If youâ€™ve ever wondered how to draw readers in with a killer opener, or where to start when pitching a story, then look no further.
WHEN: Monday 29 January 2018, 6.30-9.30pm WHERE: Wallacespace Covent Garden, 2 Dryden Street, London, WC2E 9NA TICKETS: Â£75, available from natgeotraveller.co.uk/ events
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER (UK) PANEL
As 2018â€™s competition comes to a close, weâ€™re inviting you to come and take a look at the pictures that made it onto this yearâ€™s shortlist. From breathtaking wildlife to intimate snapshots of places and faces, the very best of the competition is on display for all to see. Keep your eyes peeled for the winners â€” theyâ€™ll be announced online on 28 February, and in the April edition of the magazine (out 1 March 2018). WHEN: Tuesday 20-Tuesday 27 February 2018, weekdays 10am12pm, 2pm-4pm WHERE: Wallacespace Covent Garden, 2 Dryden Street, London WC2E 9NA TICKETS: Free; pre-booking essential at natgeotraveller.co.uk/events SPONSORED BY
FRIDAY 2 FEBRUARY TRAVEL GEEKS AT THE DESTINATIONS
MARIA PIERI //
PAT RIDDELL //
GLEN MUTEL //
SARAH BARRELL //
Family travel specialist and food lover, Maria will be bringing a touch of order to proceedings.
A travel editor for over 15 years, Pat has a longstanding love of Australia, Italy and New York.
Experienced travel writer Glen appreciates all things French and a well-worded intro.
Newspaper trained, Sarah has been a travel writer, editor and lecturer for 20 years.
SHOW: MODERN ESCORTED TOURS
From wine routes to walking holidays, escorted tours are everywhere. But what are the advantages of joining a group to discover a destination? How do you choose the right one for you? Our expert panel will be on hand to tackle all your burning questions, from where to go to how to do it. WHEN: Friday 2 February 2018 WHERE: Olympia London, Hammersmith Road, W14 8UX TICKETS: Free with Destinations Show ticket
NOTES FROM AN AUTHOR // NELL STEVENS
BLEAKER ISLAND Challenging her fear of empty places, Nell Stevens took up a three-month writing fellowship on a small and remote outlying Falkland Island
ILLUSTRATION: JACQUI OAKLEY
hen I scoured Google maps for remoteness, flimsy-looking Bleaker stood out as the purest representation of what I was looking for. I was drawn to its precarious, peripheral position on the edge of the world, and to its name, the promise of not just bleakness, but a bleakness more profound than anywhere else. Bleaker: it was a challenge. And on Bleaker Island, I found what I feared, and what I thought I needed. It was empty. It was quiet and wide, and gaping and wild. The guest house I rented — the home of the farm manager and his wife, a few farm buildings — was on the narrow middle of the island, and on either side was nothing at all. To the south: low, boggy land strewn with the bleached bones of penguins and sheep. To the north: craggy gulches, the rocky tip of the island and a white-sand beach where driftwood washed up and a penguin colony huddled together against the wind. There were no trees. There were no roads. I’d shrunk my world to fit within the edges of the island. This was my home, and my office; this was where I would write. I wrote 2,500 words of my novel each day, sitting in the glass-walled sunroom at the front of the guest house, looking out at a whale skeleton that lay along the shoreline. When I’d completed my word quota, the days stretched out menacingly, with nothing to fill them. To avoid the emotional unravelling, I spent my afternoons walking, trying to learn the land by heart: its divots and lumps and streams, the rocks where, sometimes, fur seals sunned themselves, the pond where black-necked swans sliced through reflections of the low, grey sky. Time slid by and the word count at the bottom of the document I saved as novel.doc grew. I was relieved, and somewhat surprised, to note that I hadn’t unravelled. I was learning how to live with emptiness. It was only towards the end of my time on Bleaker Island that a new question formed in my mind to replace the one that had brought me there. Instead of ‘How can I write?’ I began to ask myself, ‘What if the thing I’ve written is no good?’ because — and it was shocking and painful to admit it — the thing I had written was indeed no good. In my
It turned out that what I’d learned on Bleaker Island was not the answer to my immediate writing concerns, but something broader and messier and more vague… There’s value, I learned, in doing what scares you…
island wilderness, I’d produced thousands and thousands of words, but, taken together, they amounted to a flat, frantic story that left even its own author unmoved. It turned out that what I’d learned on Bleaker Island was not the answer to my immediate writing concerns, but something broader and messier and more vague. I had experienced a gradual and cumulative loosening of my ideas: of what I should write, of how I should write, how I should be. There’s value, I learned, in doing what scares you, but it’s still unlikely to be the solution to your problems. There’s value, too, in writing every day, but not all words are the right ones. I abandoned the novel I had travelled to Bleaker Island to write. I got up from my makeshift desk in the sunroom and set out across the island. The ground was wet and swampy after an overnight storm; crossing it required jumping between clumps of grass that poked through the water. I leapt across as though playing a demented game of hopscotch. There was something freeing in the motion of jumping, and in having relinquished the bad novel, and in the knowledge that nobody in the world could see me in that moment as I sprung and twirled and hopped across the sodden island. I’d go home tougher and a little less afraid, and I’d write something new, something better. I’m a city dweller again now. I live in a flat in London with a window in front of my desk that looks out at the street. I like seeing the world around me as I write: teenagers dragging their feet on the way to school, delivery couriers searching for the right address, dog walkers. I like feeling part of things. But sometimes I think of the island, and of the wide white beach, and of the sting of the wind driving in off the sea, and the memory is bright and wild and exhilarating and sharp. It makes me bolder to know I was there, to remember how I danced across the marshes, to carry those weeks of emptiness with me through the rest of my life. Bleaker House, by Nell Stevens is published by Pan Macmillan. RRP: £8.99. nellstevens.com @nellstevens
VIEW FROM THE USA // AARON MILLAR
NATION ON ITS KNEES
t’s Super Bowl month: the grand finale of the NFL calendar, which means as you read this it’s very likely I’m neck deep in a vat of Budweiser with nachos crumbs and barbecue chicken wing sauce dripping down my chin. Say what you will about Americans’ sports, but they know how to snack. January was going to be great. I was ready to tailgate — the finest of American sporting traditions, which happens in the stadium car park before every game — along with hundreds more vehicles; trunks open, music blaring, beer everywhere, like a car boot sale for drunks. Next, I’d watch my local college football team — 53,000 grown men and women screaming for university-age boys to beat the crap out of each other. Because who doesn’t like watching children get concussions while they’re trying to learn? But then something happened. This year, the NFL wasn’t really about the game; it was about patriotism. It started with pro quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee in solidarity with the activist movement Black Lives Matter, which protests against violence and racism against black people. Kaepernick — a young black man — decided that instead of standing for the national anthem (played at the start of every professional sporting event in America) he would kneel. Firstly, big deal. Secondly, the Department of Defense actually pays professional sporting teams to host patriotic displays such as these. That’s right. According to a 2015 Senate oversight report, between 2012 and 2015, an average of $2.6m a year was spent on ‘paid for patriotism’ at sporting events — military marching bands, ‘heroes’ paraded in front of the crowd, ceremonial first pitches and puck drops... The entire flag-waving, Star-Spangled banner thing, in other words. But here’s what happened to Kaepernick: he was booed, received death threats, lost his job, and people everywhere — friends, neighbours, smart people I actually like and have boring middle-aged conversations with about insulation and wood flooring — completely lost their shit. Just for taking a knee.
It made me think of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington DC — partly because he was another American who protested by taking a knee, but mainly because it’s created to look unfinished. In it, we see the figure of Dr King emerging from a block of uncarved white marble, as if still in the midst of being hewn from the stone. His expression is sombre, unsatisfied. The monument appears unfinished for a reason: Dr King’s work is not yet done. The work of patriotism is not yet done either — nor will it ever be. Because if the American flag stands for anything, it stands for the freedom to challenge, to change, to stand up for those who don’t have a voice, to make this ‘imperfect union’ — as it’s described in the constitution — better, fairer and more worthy of the people it protects. That’s true patriotism. Anything else is like your national identity on cocaine: every one shut up and listen to how great I am. It’s sticking your hands over your ears and humming so you can’t hear the truth. Then something amazing happened. Trump weighed in. He called Kaepernick a ‘son of a bitch’ and challenged NFL bosses to fire anyone who followed suit. The next day, more than 200 players were kneeling. Entire teams locked arms in solidarity. But it may not last. At the time of writing, team owners were starting to crumble and the league was considering plans to rewrite the player’s code of conduct to forbid them from kneeling during the national anthem. Many Americans were outraged — taking a knee, they say, is unpatriotic. It disrespects the flag. But which flag? The flag of 1940, when black people were forced to sit on the back of the bus? The flag of 1910, when women weren’t allowed to vote? The values the flag stands for aren’t set in stone. Patriotism isn’t blind devotion; it’s what helps those values evolve. It takes guts. It takes action. Because the people who need the most help always begin on their knees. The only thing that’s unpatriotic is not helping them to stand. British travel writer Aaron Millar ran away from London in 2013 and has been hiding out in the Rocky Mountains of Boulder, Colorado ever since. @aaronmwriter
ILLUSTRATION: JACQUI OAKLEY
In America, sports stars taking a knee have been accused of disrespecting the flag, but the reverse is true — it’s helping patriotism to evolve and stay relevant
L’animo...dal piacere in atto è desto. Beauty awakens the soul to act. — Dante Alighieri
PRIVATE WALKING HOLIDAYS IN ITALY SINCE 1998 girosole.com
I’m so transﬁxed by the penguins swimming around me that I’ve completely forgotten about the icy water. Instead, I dive under the surface and slip through the sea as they zoom beside me like bullets 60
DISAPPEARING ACT Brave the icy waters of Boulders Beach for a face-toface experience with the endangered African penguin
frican penguins’ sounds like an oxymoron — the hottest continent on Earth paired with the fl ightless birds most commonly associated with Antarctica, the world’s coldest. The frigid waters of Boulders Beach — just a stone’s throw from Cape Town, in Simon’s Town, South Africa — clearly didn’t get the ‘hottest continent’ memo, since each gently lapping wave is freezing me right down to my marrow. Knee-deep in the sea, I imagine my bonechina fibulas and tibias shattering should I accidentally bang my shin on one of these enormous, ancient granite boulders that protrude like monstrous molars from the gum line of sand and sea. OK, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but nobody else is foolish enough to join me in the water at this time of year. It’s one thing to see penguins on land, but I want to swim with them. Other visitors seem content to
shiver on the picturesque, powder-white beach under the setting sun, as I wade around in search of the elusive fl ightless birds whose shadows zip beneath the water’s surface, just on the periphery of my vision, before disappearing entirely. African penguins, sometimes known as jackass penguins due to their bizarre, donkey-like, braying bird calls, have declined in numbers by more than 96% since the preindustrial era, and 83% in just over 50 years. Commercial fisheries and climate change are making the penguins’ prey more scarce, while habitat destruction is leaving colonies exposed to predators, heat stress and flooding. The birds get entangled and drown in fishing gear too, and — since they live along a major global oil transportation route — they are also victims of oil spills, which are slicking the slippery path to their extinction. In 1910, there were an estimated 1.5 million African penguins. By 1956, when
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the first full census was conducted, they’d been decimated to 150,000 breeding pairs. In 2009 that number dropped to just 26,000, and by 2010 — just a hundred years later — the African penguin was classified as endangered. These birds only live in southwestern Africa — from Namibia to Port Elizabeth — with just three mainland colonies. Despite LIKE THIS? READ a sizeable population drop at MORE ABOUT SOUTH Boulders Beach — from 3,900 AFRICA ONLINE in 2005 to 2,100 in 2011 — this is still the most wonderfully CITY LIFE: DURBAN A beach resort, gritty accessible place to see them. metropolis and bastion of That said, when the rest of the vibrant Zulu culture. day-trippers pack their towels More than just a and start to leave, as twilight post-safari seaside shadows diffuse and fade, so stop-off, the South too do my hopes of watching African coastal gem is them underwater. on the rise Just as I’m about to quit, SLEEP: CAPE TOWN though, I notice a little tail From caravans on a disappearing into a gap rooftop to restored between two mammoth stones. Dutch farmhouses, Cape A quick clamber over a few Town’s hotels and boulders, a couple of stubbed resorts are as majestic toes, and one inelegant slide and varied as its down a wet rock, finds me famous scenery splashing into a secluded part of the bay, just as the last raft FALLING FOR TUGELA FALLS of penguins comes in from the A hairy ascent of the sea for the evening. world’s second highest I’m so transfixed by the waterfall is worth it penguins swimming around for the fleeting view me that I’ve completely at the top forgotten about the icy water. Instead, I dive under the surface and slip through the sea as they zoom beside me like bullets. These 10 minutes of sub-aquatic spectacle are worth the wait, but then, almost as quickly as they appeared, they’re gone. At least I had a good look at them while I had the chance. If our grandchildren are to see them too, we must similarly examine our impact on the planet, bringing wildlife like African penguins out of the peripheries and into sharp focus, before they disappear entirely. JAMES DRAVEN bestofsouthafricatravel.com
�ost �ead From a cinematic roadtrip across the USA to Belfast’s creative revitalisation — here are our most popular online posts CITY LIFE
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LAKE LEVICO In a quiet corner of northern Italy, Lake Levico is the humble sibling of nearby lakes dotted with chi-chi hotels — it’s an off-radar region of hoppy beer, wild rolling hills and crumbling fortifications. WORDS: Josephine Price
IMAGES: ALAMY; MALGAFRATTE.IT
orested paths and calm, teal waters — Lake Levico could almost play the part of tranquil Nordic fjord. But the crystalline pool is, in fact, tucked away in a verdant corner of northwest Italy. It’s here you’ll also find Levico Terme — a town hugging the lake and offering an abundance of rustic food, welcoming locals and thermal baths. The natural springs that first brought people here are unique in Europe for their high arsenic and iron concentration — you can stop by the museum in Parco delle Terme to learn the history. The ferreous springs have proved popular since the 16th century; the former summer residence of the Austrian Royal family is testament to this. Electric boats take groups to clink glasses of Aperol Spritz as the sun goes down on the Blue Flag-accredited waters — it’s one of the cleanest lakes in Italy. Towering above the town and lake, AustroHungarian fortifications like Forte Colle delle Benne pepper the scene harking back to the borders that once waxed and waned with war across this part of Europe. Today, more tranquil scenes can be found at this littleknown corner of Trentino.
Head for the hi�s Arte Sella
This open-air gallery is in the depths of an Alpine valley near Lake Levico. Artists have been drawn to this creative enclave in the mountains since 1986, and each artist is invited to create a living artwork between the trees in the gallery’s ever-expanding circuit routes. A homage to the meeting of art and nature, each piece is created almost entirely from natural materials — expect a ‘cathedral’ of trees and a giant wooden ‘beehive’. South African-born Loretta leads the way each day, unveiling the secrets of the natural circuits. artesella.it/en
Halfway between Lake Levico and the peaks of the Lagorai Mountains is a refuge that has welcomed shepherds, merchants and horse-drawn carts since 1782. Back then, the menu started small, and it’s not varied much since. In the cavernous cellar, the owner pops a bottle of local Prosecco, carves homecured speck and shows me his applesmoked cheese as he walks around low-hanging sausages. Upstairs, polenta, melted cheese and mushrooms accompany the meat that comes straight off a roaring fire. It’s all washed down with Parampoli, their unique blend of grappa, wine and coffee that’s served at the end of each meal. crucolo.it
The Trentino Guest Card includes free admission into more than 60 museums, 20 castles and over 40 attractions, free use of all public transport in the region of Trentino, and access into Forte Colle delle Benne and Arte Sella
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Stride out on the Strada dei Pescatori, which winds its way 1.4 miles around the lake
Ferruccio Cetto leads me through his family’s farmhouse on the Vezzena plateau and into the dairy where he produces mountain cheeses. His main worries are EU restrictions hampering the quality of his cheese and wolves eating his cows. “I’ve got 130 cows, 250 birds (geese, ducks and chicken), 16 horses, 15 pigs, seven goats, five donkeys and a lot of work,” he says. Try a mountain walk before tucking into fresh ricotta. malgafratte.it
This feels all too easy. I’m heading uphill on a steep, windy, gravel-strewn path, and I’m not red in the face or out of breath. If my guide Igor hadn’t told me there was a motor concealed within my new-age e-bike, I’d never even have known — it’s extremely light. We’re by the Forte Colle delle Benne — just one of the many fortified castles in this Trentino valley. Its remnants seem to be a monument of the border disputes between Italy and Austria in the tumultuous years after World War Two — forces waged wars over this land, battling on these very plateaus. From where I’m standing, I’m not surprised this territory was fought after — it’s wild, tranquil and wonderful. This fortress sits atop the Colle di Tenna — a ridge separating Lake Levico from its larger neighbour Lake Caldonazzo, which I passed en DRINK UP route. It looks like a preferred sibling, with prettier beaches, a The Trentino slide and lots of watersports. Lake Levico, meanwhile, stretches out province has the and squirms for your attention. highest consumption Igor snaps me out of my musings. “Let’s go,” he smiles. The of beer per person race is on. We bump back down in Italy. Try Forst, the untamed tracks — I let gravity brewed in the take control, but the route down requires a bit more technique. foothills of the Igor constantly distracts, pointing Alps with natural out views of the lake that pierce through the trees like turquoise water, giving it a shards of glass in a pointillist light floral hoppy soft-green canvas. taste. Salute! There are over 185 miles of GPS-mapped trails in the area to explore; it’s ideal for e-biking, though its still blissfully empty compared to cycling hotspots elsewhere in Europe. As we pass through apple orchards, craggy slate-grey mountains frame the view in all directions. Igor is sprightly — his bulbous calves reveal he needs no motor. I press turbo to keep up with him — like a cartoon character, my body doesn’t respond quickly enough, and I lurch forward. My feet whirl round independently of the bike as we bump along the undulating tracks alongside the lake. We stop off at a little cove and I throw off my helmet and boots to dip my toes in. The ripples career across the surface back towards the spa town where the bay teams with life. I make it back there, 12 miles later, having barely broken a sweat. inbikevalsugana.it INGHAMS offers a three-night trip on a half-board basis at the Grand Hotel Imperial from £598 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights to Verona and transfers. inghams.co.uk visitvalsugana.it
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SOUTH DEVON F
at chunks of white crab meat bound together with light mayonnaise, stuffed between two slices of seeded bread and cut into neat triangles garnished with borage flowers — this is the sandwich of my dreams. It’s served on the outdoor deck of a brasserie called Dick and Wills, and when I bite into it, it’s bliss. Done well, the crab sandwich is, to me, one of life’s truly great culinary creations. Add a glass of cold, locally brewed beer (from Shingle Bay), plus a view of the Salcombe estuary glistening in the sunlight and I’d take this over a frou-frou, multi-course fine-dining menu any day. The nutrient-rich waters of the South Devon coast are famous for brown crab and blue lobster, much of it exported around the world. Eating seafood fresh from the day’s catch can’t be beaten, and in this sense Salcombe is an English seaside heaven — albeit a posh one, as here you’ll find some of the highest real estate prices in the country. Before it became a holiday destination, Salcombe earned its living from its estuary and the sea — its people didn’t only catch fish and shellfish, but built ships and launched the Salcombe schooner, a rather swift number that allowed perishable goods to be transported at much faster rates. The town’s sheltered harbour was a port of call for vessels taking salt to Newfoundland and bringing salt cod back to Europe. In the 19th century, it was at the centre of the fruit trade, with ships carrying citrus from the Azores and pineapples from the Bahamas. The import business may be negligible now, but Salcombe is still a food haven. It gives its name to Salcombe Gin, Salcombe Dairy and Salcombe Brewery, and its main streets are lined with cute delis and some pretty decent restaurants. I head to the pier on Salcombe’s Whitestrand to board a little ferry painted in blue, yellow, red and white and jauntily festooned with bunting. It takes me out into
the sparkling waters along to South Sands to meet a Heath Robinson-esque sea tractor that carts passengers through the few last metres of water — depending on the tide — onto the golden beach. I’m staying at the South Sands Hotel and take great delight in this slightly bonkers commute. The restaurant here has views right out across the estuary and chef Allister Bishop applies an ethos that centres on the simplicity of flavours, married with subtle-but-skilled technique. “I came back here from London and I love working with the produce,” he says. “Chefs often boast how they use what is on their doorstep, but here we really do. Aside from crab and lobster, I have Dartmoor-reared beef, Tamar Valley lamb and Devon pork.” Up the hill behind the hotel, I join the South West Coast Path — past Overbeck’s, the stately home of inventor Otto Overbeck, crammed with quirky artefacts and endowed with an astonishing subtropical garden — out along the cliffs. I’m here in the afterglow of the summer season and am delighted to find fat, blue sloe berries, ripe for the picking in thorny bushes by the path’s edge. I return later on my last day for one more glorious, soaring cliff walk and to gather enough berries to make some sloe gin, plus some brambles to eat on the train home. I use Salcombe as a base to explore different corners of the South Devon larder. When I meet Tim Bouget, owner of Cafe ODE — a casual family-eating spot just outside the village of Shaldon, on top of Ness Cove with views across the River Teign — he explains just what a magnificent resource the area is. “South Devon is, in theory, the best dairy land because it’s the most organic. That’s coupled with the fact that we are right on the coast, so we have an amazing array of fish and independent fishermen.” Because he also owns the more formal ODE dining restaurant in the village, Tim is able to pursue a nose-to-tail ethos, taking whole animals such as fallow
IMAGES: GETTY; ED OVENDEN/SOUTH SANDS HOTEL; SHARPHAM VINEYARD; SOUTH SANDS HOTEL
From crab sandwiches and ice cream to world-class gin, picture-perfect Salcombe is the ideal base to explore the many corners of South Devon’s culinary table. Words: Audrey Gillan
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Five food finds SUCCULENT CRAB
Caught in the rich waters of the Salcombe estuary, the local brown crab is some of the juiciest in the world.
LUSCOMBE ORGANIC SOFT DRINKS AND CIDER
This traditional cider business took a new direction when Gabriel David, inspired by a trip to Sicily, began to make classic English soft drinks and juices from organic ingredients.
IMAGES: SALCOMBE GIN; JASON INGRAM/RIVERFORD FIELD KITCHEN
Launched in July 2016, Salcombe Gin is winning awards for its notes of grapefruit, lemon and lime mixed with a blend of 13 botanicals, including cubeb berry, liquorice, English coriander, bay leaf and juniper.
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View of Salcombe and the harbour from Snape’s Point in the early-morning light; kayakers outside South Sands Hotel; bottles of Sharpham wine; fresh mussels at South Sands Hotel; chef Allister Bishop ABOVE: Serving lunch at The Riverford Field Kitchen INSET: The awardwinning Salcombe Gin
deer and butchering them with different cuts in mind for his different restaurants. “We buy our fish according to the local market. You might even see the fishing guys coming in with their fresh line-caught fish or shellfish. Some of our meat is personally collected straight from the hunter or local farm,” he says. “The key is provenance and the quality of the product — our sourcing is sustainable in terms of both the community and the environment.” I drive the 17 miles or so from Shaldon to Sharpham Vineyard English Wine and Cheese, near Totnes, to see how they work with the terroir that Bouget has been raving about, making the best of the soil and the South Devon climate to produce award-winning English wines. I have arrived in the middle of the harvest — they grow mostly Madeleine Angevine, a grape variety that produces smaller fruit. I meet Tommy Grimshaw, who started here four years ago aged just 17, with a summer job labelling and bottling the wine, but not allowed — because of his age — to taste it. Now he’s graduated to assistant winemaker. He points to his boss, Duncan Schwab, who has been the winemaker here since 1992, and explains, “He’s busy looking at the sugar levels and acidity of the grapes that have just been harvested so that he can work out just what he needs to do to give his wines body, complexity, structure and balance.” Walking past barrels of wines quietly maturing, we head into the tasting room, and Tommy tells me: “The climate is getting warmer. People are saying that we have the climate they had in the Champagne region 20 years ago.” This temperature shift has meant some English sparkling wines can compete well in blind tastings with French Champagne. Wine tastings account for half of Sharpham’s total wine sales with people buying on site.
Salcombe Brewery can’t rightly claim to be in Salcombe, but they do brew nearby, with tasty ales from Shingle Bay and Seafood Coast.
Established in 2009 in a tiny shed, Salcombe Dairy now makes ice creams, sorbets and frozen yoghurts that can be bought across the country.
A TASTE OF
South Devon THE WINKING PRAWN
With a glorious position just across the road from the beach at North Sands, the Winking Prawn has enjoyed roaring success for more than 20 years. It’s all shabby surf chic, outside tables and barbecues in summer, but even on a chilly early autumn night, my seafood platter was perfect with lobster, prawns, mussels, crab and scallops. HOW MUCH: Three courses without wine from £30 per person, or share a seafood platter for £24.95, with an additional half-lobster for £18.60. winkingprawngroup.co.uk/ winking-prawn THE RIVERFORD FIELD KITCHEN
ABOVE: House and
vines, Sharpham INSET: Courgette and Devonshire cheese, Cafe ODE
Double rooms at the South Sands Hotel from £215, B&B. It’s possible — but it has to be planned with military precision — to take a train, then a bus, then a ferry, and then the tractor from London to South Sands. southsands.com Trains from London to Totnes from £91.50, super off-peak. salcombe-information. co.uk gwr.com
A casual, family-style cafe with its own in-house brewery and views out across the River Teign, this is top-quality food at decent prices, eaten from cardboard takeaway cartons instead of plates. The menu varies and nods to world cuisine such as Indonesian gadogado salad and Malaysian laksa. Burgers are organic from nearby Higher Hacknell farm and there’s MSC-certified cod battered in ODE ale, with rosemary-salted fries and homemade tartar sauce. HOW MUCH: Small starter box and main box from £12 per person. odetruefood.com/cafe
IMAGES: SHARPHAM VINEYARD; ODE DINING
I’ve come to sample the cheeses, too — there’s Ticklemore goat’s cheese, Sharpham Rustic (crumbly, salty and, well, rustic), and Cremet, a brie-like goat’s cheese made super rich by adding cream. At South Devon Chilli Farm, I am flabbergasted by the array and colours of chillis grown in the polytunnels. There’s Hungarian Hot Wax, Padrón, Aji Limon, and also one called ‘Ring of Fire’, that should surely be avoided at all costs. There are dozens of varieties on display for visitors, as well as a shop selling all things chilli, and a cafe. Two chocolatiers work here creating chilli chocolate. As one of the chocolatiers, Kaz Lobendhan, shows me around the farm — a “hobby gone mad”, owned by two couples — she teaches me something. “You know where all the heat is in a chilli? The white lining. People think it is the seeds, but the only reason seeds would have heat is that they have been rubbing up against that white lining,” she says. Growing them in Devon soon makes sense to me; I realise that chillies probably first came to these shores aboard one of those Salcombe schooners. On my very last evening in Salcombe, I sit on the balcony of my hotel, popping the cork on my Sharpham sparkling wine, and scraping every last piece of meat from a dressed crab bought from a deli. It’s a naughty, smuggled indulgence which I follow up with some Ticklemore cheese and chilli chocolate. I sit and stare at the South Sands and out to the estuary, almost in a trance. This is the English seaside without the kiss-mequick hats and the sticks of rock — here the treats are sublime. I don’t want to go home.
Established around an organic garden that now supplies vegetable boxes across the country, The Riverford Field Kitchen puts its own-grown produce at the very heart of its menu — depending on the season there can be radishes, pumpkins, leeks, berries and heritage tomatoes. Meals are shared around communal tables and dishes are served family style. HOW MUCH: Three-course lunch without wine from £23.50 per person. fieldkitchen.riverford.co.uk
p h u k E t at i t s b E s t
Staff that p h u kgardens E t –at i t continues s b Etosbet the epitome of kindness and
p h u k E t at i t s b E s t
Phuket’s Most Exciting and Stylish Contemporary Resort – A culmination of a passion aimed to highlight the joy of life – Deliciously comfortable it features sleek yet sensual minimalist Phuket’s Most Exciting and Stylish Contemporary Resort – interiors – Exquisite food orchestrated by talented, creative chefs A culmination of a passion aimed to highlight the joy of life – and presented in vibrant restaurants – Fashionable beach club Deliciously comfortable it features sleek yet sensual minimalist and restaurants, the ultimate in intimate seaside sophistication interiors – Exquisite food orchestrated by talented, creative chefs –Phuket’s Enormous swimming pools Lushly landscaped tropical water Most Exciting and– Stylish Contemporary Resort – and presented in vibrant restaurants – Fashionable beach club A culmination of a passion aimed to highlight the joy of life – and restaurants, the ultimate in intimate seaside sophistication Deliciously comfortable it features sleek yet sensual minimalist – Enormous swimming pools – Lushly landscaped tropical water interiors – Exquisite food orchestrated by talented, creative chefs and presented in vibrant restaurants – Fashionable beach club and restaurants, the ultimate in intimate seaside sophistication – Enormous swimming pools – Lushly landscaped tropical water
thoughtful unpretentious service that is so unique to Twinpalms Phuket – 100% pure and natural products – A world class spa – gardens – Staff that continues to be the epitome of kindness and Original art collections – A well equipped library... and these are just thoughtful unpretentious service that is so unique to Twinpalms some of the reasons to stay at the privately owned, passionately Phuket – 100% pure and natural products – A world class spa – run Twinpalms Phuket in Thailand. Original art collections – A well equipped library... and these are just www.twinpalms-phuket.com gardens – Staff that continues to be the epitome of kindness and some of the reasons to stay at the privately owned, passionately thoughtful unpretentious service that is so unique to Twinpalms run Twinpalms Phuket in Thailand. Phuket – 100% pure and natural products – A world class spa – www.twinpalms-phuket.com Original art collections – A well equipped library... and these are just some of the reasons to stay at the privately owned, passionately run Twinpalms Phuket in Thailand. www.twinpalms-phuket.com
Twinpalms Phuket Phuket’s Most Exciting & Stylish Contemporary Resort 106/46 Moo 3, Surin Beach Road, Cherng Talay, Phuket 83110, Thailand t +66 (0) 76 316500, f +66 (0) 76 316599 Twinpalms Phuket e b o o k @ t wi npa l m s - p h u k e t . c o m w t w i n p a l m s - p h u k e t . c o m Phuket’s Most Exciting & Stylish Contemporary Resort 106/46 Moo 3, Surin Beach Road, Cherng Talay, Phuket 83110, Thailand t +66 (0) 76 316500, f +66 (0) 76 316599 e b o o k @ t wi npa l m s - Twinpalms p h u k e t . c o mPhuket w twinpalms-phuket.com Phuket’s Most Exciting & Stylish Contemporary Resort 106/46 Moo 3, Surin Beach Road, Cherng Talay, Phuket 83110, Thailand t +66 (0) 76 316500, f +66 (0) 76 316599 e b o o k @ t wi npa l m s - p h u k e t . c o m w t w i n p a l m s - p h u k e t . c o m
ILLUSTRATION: KERRY HYNDMAN
Thailand’s capital may be big and brash in places, but it’s got plenty of soul, whether you’re exploring the back streets of Chinatown or the hidden bars and vintage stores of its new hipster heartland. Words: Lee Cobaj
It’s known as the Big Mango, and just like the tropical fruit, Bangkok is bright, bold, bursting with character — and can get a little bit messy when you take a bite. Saddle up for a seat-of-your-pants tuk-tuk ride through the city centre and you’ll pass technicolour temples, abandoned skyscrapers, street markets, mega malls, motorbike gangs, monks on mobiles, troops of masseurs in pink pyjamas… It’s enough to make your head spin (or maybe that’s the petrol fumes). But don’t think this sprawling metropolis is total chaos. Life here is rooted in routine and tradition: markets setting up with the sun, monks receiving morning alms, commuters crisscrossing the city by Skytrain... Go on, take a bite, but don’t forget to savour it. Jan/Feb 2018
In 1782, on the orders of the recently crowned King Rama I, the new Thai capital was established on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, first in Thonburi and later across the water on the eastern bank. Over two centuries later, this remains the country’s most important royal enclave and home to some of its most magnificent sights — the colossal Grand Palace, the bejewelled Wat Pho, and Wat Arun, the ceramic-clad Temple of Dawn — as well as a slew of large luxury riverside resorts. Scenic and less frenetic than the rest of Bangkok, the riverside is an unmissable part of town. Most experience it with a cruise down the river, either in a little wooden long-tail boat or one of the dirtcheap public ferries, hitting up the star attractions along the way — but delve into the tree-lined lanes that unfurl along the waterfront and a more nuanced picture of Bangkok’s oldest corner emerges. On the Bang Rak side of the river, a walk down a shady soi (side street) might lead to decrepit 19th-century godowns (warehouses) and the crumbling shell of a palladian-style customs house — remnants of Bangkok’s time as an European trading hub. Another might take you to the tiny Muslim enclave of Haroon, with its wooden houses, pocketsized mosque and street stalls selling juicy lamb skewers. There’s cutting-edge and contemporary to be found here too. After years of being largely ignored by the city’s youth, the riverside is undergoing something of a renaissance, with cool Bangkokians reclaiming the waterfront with art and design spaces — for example, the Thailand Creative & Design Center, commandeering a corner of the Grand Postal Building, with its all-white co-working spaces, rentable recording studio and niche exhibitions (showcasing some surprisingly interesting seating designs during my visit). From here, you can cross the water on the four-baht (10p) barge to the Klongsan district for lunch at The Never Ending Summer. Designed by trendsetting Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag, the restaurant is located in an airy former warehouse threaded with iron beams and lush tropical plants. The menu focuses on retro Thai recipes and the portions are bountiful. Bunnag is also responsible for The Jam Factory, next door. It has a bookshop, an art gallery and a terrific home decor store, where you can pick up earthy, glazed ceramics, including bowls from £3, teak picture frames for £10 and natural-fibre floor mats for £50. The whole complex is wrapped around a glorious bodhi tree — old and new comfortably growing together, much like the rest of this fascinating neighbourhood.
After years of being ignored by the city’s youth, the riverside is undergoing a renaissance, with cool Bangkokians reclaiming the waterfront with design spaces
TOP LEFT: Pilgrims at Wat Arun; street food, Chinatown; swan boat in Lumphini Park; colourful tuk-tuk cruising the streets of Bangkok
When in Bangkok SWEETEN THE DEAL
Thailand is home to the world’s best mangoes — juicy golden nuggets best enjoyed with sticky rice. A great spot is Ning’s Mango Stand at Sukhumvit Soi 38.
Lumphini Park is the place to go to escape the chaos. Grab a bag of red-hot papaya salad from the stalls outside the gate and plonk yourself under a banyan tree by the lake to watch huge monitor lizards lumber past.
Snaking through Bangkok for over two miles, Yaowarat Road is the main artery of the world’s longest Chinatown. Huge ceremonial gates, glitzy neon signs, bobbing red lanterns and colourful, open-fronted shophouses announce its presence. The malls and highrise residences that have subsumed much of the centre have yet to arrive here. Instead, you’ll find an intoxicating network of ribbonthin alleyways crowded with Taoist temples, gold shops, herbal medicine stores, coffinmakers and stalls selling everything from (faux) silk pyjamas to elephant-shaped neck pillows and fidget spinners emblazoned with swastikas (an ancient Buddhist symbol of good luck, with unfortunate associations in the West). Despite the vast, often overwhelmingly eclectic, array of goods on offer, Chinatown is an area that rewards shoppers. Most vendors are wholesalers selling to the local community, so prices are lower than more touristy areas like Prathumwan and Sukhumvit. Fashion accessories are a good buy; on my last trip, I picked up a haul that included a butter-soft leather belt for £4 and a basketful of costume jewellery for under a tenner. A good place to start your spree is
Sampeang Market; then just dive in and throw away the map — you’ll always be able to catch a tuk-tuk back to where you’re meant to be. And then there’s the food. Bangkok’s street food scene first burst forth among the Chinese diaspora. Avoid the tourist traps on Yaowarat Road, and seek out some of the neighbourhood’s popular seafood joints — try Odean Crab Noodle, by the Odeon Circle gate, for rich, tangy bowlfuls of slurpy crab noodles; or R&L Seafood, on Soi Texas, for griddled prawns and feathery lobster omelettes. There’s a sense, however, that Chinatown’s clock is ticking. Dozens of families who’d lived here for generations — selling everything from kitchen utensils and festival decorations to herbal medicine and funeral wares — have been displaced to make way for a new MRT subway line. The Blue Line Wat Mangkorn station is already in situ, with the first trains due to arrive in 2018. Property developers are already circling. For now, though, you can still arrive by boat, catching the Chao Phraya River Express and alighting at Ratchawong Pier to the scent of ginseng, the chatter of Teochew (a dialect of Southern China), and the sight of an industrious community seemingly far too busy to pay attention to what might come tomorrow.
Set up daily at 5pm on disused railways tracks in the eastern outskirts, Rod Fai Market has a retro focus — everything from 1990s Fila tracksuits to grandfather clocks and vintage Cadillacs.
A traditional Thai massage is ideal after a hard day’s sightseeing. The Ruen Nuad Massage Studio is set in a beautiful old wooden house in the Silom backstreets. Prices start at just £8 an hour.
Thanks to its starring role in The Hangover Part II, the Sky Bar, at Lebua at State Tower hotel, is Bangkok’s best-known boozy rooftop. Less touristy is Cru Champagne Bar, a neon-washed disc balanced atop the 59th floor of the CentralWorld mall.
OUT OF TOWN
Just a 90-minute drive from Bangkok is Ayutthaya Historical Park — eerily beautiful ruins of Buddhist monasteries, temples, stupas and spires.
“You’ll pay nearly double the rent here than you would one BTS stop away in Ekkamai,” Brent, a Los Angeleno, told me over tacos. We’d matched on a dating app and met for lunch at The Commons, an open-air arcade with zigzagging staircases leading to minimalist decks, manicured lawns and a dozen different food kiosks orbiting around a central eating area — a good choice on his part. I’d been staying down the road at the Akyra Thonglor Bangkok hotel, a fashionable five-star set in a former apartment block, with a glam rooftop pool and spacious rooms decked out in moody hues of grey, mossgreen and aubergine. It’s one of the first design-led hotels to hit the area, but unlikely to be the last as Thonglor metamorphoses at an astounding pace from sterile suburb to the only place to be. I’d set off for my date early to see what changes the past year had brought. Organic restaurants with polished concrete walls: check. Coffee shops where the beans have passed through the bowels of an animal: check. Beauty salons offering facefreezing cryotherapy treatments: check. Speakeasy-style bars, old-school barbers, vintage boutiques: check, check, check.
I arrived at The Commons in little doubt that Thonglor is at the epicentre of Bangkok hipsterdom. Brent, it turns out, works for a financial tech firm based in New York that allows him the option of working remotely. Of all the places in the world he could have thrown down his laptop, he chose Bangkok. “I get a great lifestyle here,” he tells me. “I live in an awesome apartment with a gym and swimming pool in the building, all for less than $800 a month — I’d pay five times that for the equivalent in the States. The cost of living is low, the food is amazing and the people are great.” High-flying Americans aren’t the only ones to have flocked to Thonglor; there’s also a large community of Japanese businesspeople — predominantly working in the car industry — who’ve brought low-lit whisky bars, atmospheric yakitori (skewered grilled chicken) restaurants and steaming onsen to the area’s leafy backstreets. Meanwhile, Thailand’s hi-so (a term used to refer to the country’s super-rich youngsters) wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. Bangkok has many incarnations and cool, capricious and maddeningly modern is one of them.
ABOVE: The Commons
MORE INFO Thailand Creative and Design Centre. tcdc.or.th The Commons. thecommonsbkk.com Akyra Thonglor Bangkok. theakyra.com Cru Champagne Bar. champagnecru.com Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok. nancychandler.net Lonely Planet Bangkok. RRP: £14.99. travelfish.org tourismthailand.org INDUS EXPERIENCES has seven nights in Thailand, including three nights in Bangkok with a sightseeing tour, and four nights in Krabi, from £1,495, B&B. Includes flights with Thai Airways. indusexperiences.co.uk
EDINBURGH Like the city itself, the Scottish capital’s hotel scene is full of character, from plant-filled period apartments to gothic love nests. Words: James Draven
Educated, cultured, hard-drinking and handsome, Edinburgh is a centre of learning, art, nightlife and some of the world’s most beautiful architecture. Pub drinkers rub shoulders with theatregoers, students and international tourists amid winding streets that overlap with Escher-esque bridges spanning narrow twittens. These in turn riddle between medieval squares lined with tenements and Georgian townhouses, all below the most archetypal example of a castle imaginable. Edinburgh’s best accommodation is often contained within the city’s many Georgian and Victorian properties. Whether they’re within the fairytale Old Town, elegant New Town, amid the city’s upmarket residential neighbourhoods, or in a commanding position with views over the area’s majestic topography, Edinburgh’s rooms are classy, classic, restrained and refined. With such a long and often macabre history on your doorstep, the brave-hearted can spend evenings exploring underground vaults, graveyards and the Edinburgh Dungeon, or on ghost tours aboard double-deckers that smack of JK Rowling’s Knight Bus. Fortunately the city has so many soporific sanctuaries that, even if you have to sleep with the light on, you’ll not be stirred.
IMAGES: GETTY; RITA PLATTS
Truly a family business, Dunstane House has been owned and run by Shirley and Derek Mowat for 20 years, with Hampton House added in 2008. They offer 35 rooms between them, but the best is decidedly Dunstane, a Victorian mansion dating back to 1852, which has recently been refurbished with dark, neoclassical interiors and design flourishes. Definitely a spot for romance, some suites offer roll-top copper baths and enough mirrored surfaces to make Peter Stringfellow blush. In addition, Derek has an extensive classic car collection and can arrange airport pickups in an antique Bentley. ROOMS: From £174, B&B. thedunstane.com
Fo� the inside scoo�
THE SCOTSMAN HOTEL
Formerly the office building of national newspaper The Scotsman, this imposing structure is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. Its grand, Italian-marble staircase, wood-panelled rooms and enviable views across the city are emblematic of the halcyon days of publishing. In 2001 it was transformed into a five-star hotel, which retained the building’s muted Edwardian grandeur — all stained glass and baroque turrets. It’s recently been renovated into a four-star, losing its celebrated spa and swimming pool in the process, but making it a more accessible stay for those on a smaller budget. ROOMS: Doubles from £152, room only. scotsmanhotel.co.uk
G&V ROYAL MILE
With an excellent city centre location, and everything you need under one roof, G&V is a great option for first-time visitors who want to get around the sights easily. Rooms are funky and functional, while G&V’s Italian restaurant Cucina is an exceptionally good dining option. You can also pop into the onsite spa and have the mileage massaged off your sore feet at the end of a day’s sightseeing. ROOMS: Doubles from £209, B&B. quorvuscollection.com
Fo� � count�y esca�e
NORTON HOUSE HOTEL & SPA
Norton House sits just outside the city proper, so you can play lord or lady of the manor as you swan about the extensive 55-acre grounds. After that, you might want to soak it up in the spa or enjoy a Scottish take on afternoon tea (hint: there’s whisky involved). The rooms are spacious, with pleasantly traditional decor — the ideal retreat from the busy city. ROOMS: Doubles from £95. handpickedhotels.co.uk/nortonhouse
ADUL T S O N LY P A R A D ISE www.hurawalhi.com
O PEN IN G EARL Y 20 18 www.kudadoo.com
OLD TOWN CHAMBERS
Occupying an eclectic group of buildings including a 15th-century house, these luxury-serviced apartments are set in a quiet, secluded square, so you won’t have any trouble getting the kids off to sleep at night. Plus, each one comes with a compact kitchen, so you can rustle up something to eat if dining out every night isn’t an option. Location-wise, you’re a stone’s throw from the attractions of the Royal Mile, while next door is the Real Mary King’s Close, which uncovers the fascinating subterranean history of this buried neighbourhood. ROOMS: Apartments sleeping two adults and two children from £145, self-catering. oldtownchambers.co.uk
THREE TO TRY
Fo� g�e�ne�y THE GARDENER’S APARTMENT
Situated right next to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, amid the Georgian villas of bucolic Inverleith, this three-bedroom apartment is a horticulturalist’s haven. A home-away-from-home, it’s full flowers and pots of fresh herbs adorning the kitchen windowsill. And outside, you can explore the RBGE’s private nursery where staff can be spotted tending blooms. Cupboards heave with food and wine, making a stay here feel as if you’re house-sitting for friends with exquisite taste. ROOMS: From £190, self-catering; sleeps six. theedinburghaddress.com
Fo� gothic �omance THE WITCHERY BY THE CASTLE
Every bit as gothic as the name suggests, The Witchery is named for the hundreds of women who were burned on Castlehill in the 16th and 17th centuries. The nine suites — drenched in red and gold — are seemingly prised from the pages of a gothic romance. Oak-panelled walls rescued from St Giles’ Cathedral, pipe-organ headboards, wall-to-ceiling libraries hiding secret doors and views directly over the Royal Mile, make this the Old Town’s most deliciously decadent love nest. ROOMS: From £355, B&B, including a welcome bottle of Champagne. thewitchery.com
Fo� ultimate o�ulence PRESTONFIELD HOUSE
Crammed with gilt bronze, brocade, candelabra and curios, this country estate hotel is visually stunning to the point of ocular exhaustion. Marble-floored and velvet-draped, Prestonfield House is a lavish lesson in luxury. Blood-red suites are as decadent as a vampire’s boudoir, or a belle epoque bordello. Every inch the libertine’s lair, doors are disguised with elaborate portières that match the curtains and rich fabric wallpaper, making rooms seem endless and inescapable. ROOMS: From £335, B&B, including a welcome bottle of Champagne. prestonfield.com
Fo� half-blood ��inces THE BALMORAL
Its namesake castle may be the Scottish residence of the royal family, but The Balmoral is a hotel fit for a literary queen. Six books into Harry Potter’s adventures, JK Rowling’s personal fortune already outstripped that of HRH Elizabeth II, so rather than pen her final instalment in her favourite Edinburgh cafes, she was able to sequester herself away in one of the turreted Grand Suites at this grande dame instead. With a Michelinstarred restaurant downstairs, and elegant, understated luxury throughout, muggles and wizards alike can now stay in the very room in which Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was completed. It contains her writing desk and a marble bust of Hermes, the Greek god of travel, signed by Rowling. ROOMS: Doubles from £144, room only. balmoraledinburgh.com
Fo� foodies 21212
Primarily a restaurant, which won its first star within a year of opening in 2009, 21212 lays claim to the caveat-laden honour of being Edinburgh’s only Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms (as opposed to a hotel with a restaurant). A stay here is a relatively exclusive experience with only four large, cappuccino-coloured contemporary bedrooms, each with a dedicated lounge area, and subtle, blanched baroque styling throughout. Located on the two upper levels of a four-storey Georgian townhouse, they offer either garden or city views. The main event, though, is the food, of course, and chef Paul Kitching keeps things fresh with twists on French classics and a menu that changes weekly. ROOMS: Doubles from £110, B&B. 21212restaurant.co.uk
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THE COOL LIST 18 FOR 2018
We reve al t he c oole s t haunt s , t he hippes t hangout s , t he bucke t lis t bre ak s and t he ent hralling esc apes . . . t hese are t he 18 de s t inat ions se t to make it big in 2018
WORDS S A R A H B A R R E L L , J U L I A B U C K L E Y, P Ó L Ó C O N G H A I L E , A D R I A N P H I L L I P S & DAV I D W H I T L E Y
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If any country offers a better all-round travel experience than Sri Lanka, then it’s hiding its light under a very sizable bushel. Beach lovers can pick from a host of picture-postcard spots on the Indian Ocean coast. If culture’s your thing, you’ll be falling over UNESCO-listed historical sites, from mound-like Buddhist stupas — or dagobas — dating back thousands of years, to royal capitals, cave temples and colonial fortresses. Time your visit with a Buddhist celebration, such as Vesak, and join festival crowds thronging streets decorated with lanterns. Accommodation spans all categories, from homestays and jungle cabins to opulent honeymoon hideaways. Roaring back Seafood is as fresh as it gets, while local curries pack a powerful punch. And then there’s the landscape itself. The Hill Country, south of the central city of Kandy, is blanketed with manicured tea plantations, but elsewhere wilder tranches of tropical forest are home to an array of fauna, including elephants, leopards and a multitude of endemic birds. If you’re out and about at dusk, you might even be lucky enough to see a shaggycoated sloth bear. Megafauna at its most charismatic cruises offshore — the island ranks among the top whalewatching destinations, and blue whales are a common sight on boat excursions. But why now? Well, the best-documented reason is that the north and east of the country, off limits during the civil war, are now open to tourists. The sustained period of stability is reflected by new and better roads, a number of restaurant openings, and the building of comfortable accommodation in areas where previously rooms were scarce — the latest proof: the new Jetwing Jaffna hotel. Less well-documented is the ongoing development of the country’s national parks. Several areas of Yala National Park — which has the highest density of leopards on the planet — are now open to tourists for the first time, while the Resplendent Ceylon hotel group recently opened the Wild Coast Tented Lodge on its boundaries. But beyond all this, there’s just a general buzz about the country. This November, the 466-room Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo became the latest luxury hotel to be unveiled in the capital; next year will see Sri Lanka host international sporting events, including the World Surf League qualifier and the inaugural Ironman 70.3 FROM LEFT: Leopard competition. Sri Lanka feels like a place in the spotlight, spotting, Yala National and one that’s enjoying the experience. The island has Park; Resplendent Ceylon come a long way since its tsunami and civil war; at last, Wild Coast Tented Lodge the Teardrop of India has lots to smile about. AP bar and restaurant; Tbilisi
old town and minaret of Tbilisi Mosque
IMAGES: RESPLENDENT CEYLON/CHITRAL JAYATILLAKE; AWL IMAGES
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TBILISI G e or g ia on my mind
New direct flights from Gatwick with Georgian Airways have made Georgia’s cool capital an easy weekend break. It’s definitely attracting hipsters — must-visit Fabrika is a hostel that’s a cross between a hotel, an artisan market and a nightlife hub. The arts scene is thriving too: Zurab Tsereteli Museum of Modern Art hosts everything from exhibitions to a fashion week, and Fotografia Gallery, opened recently, showcasing local photographers. Lessons can also be had with Eka Abuladze, one of Georgia’s most exciting young artists. Cafe Littera, meanwhile, is the heart of the lively book scene. fabrikatbilisi.com momatbilisi.ge fotografia.ge facebook.com/cafelittera JB visitgeorgia.ge
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BUENOS AIRES B ack in love
Until recently, Latin America was starved of direct flights from the UK, but it’s now far more accessible, thanks to BA’s new routes to Peru, Chile and Costa Rica. Next Valentine’s Day, Norwegian will be showing its love for the continent with the launch of the longest ever nonstop route from Gatwick — to Buenos Aires. Bag a return ticket for just £600. And once you get there? Spend the money you’ve saved on wining and dining. Buenos Aires has started to serve up a lot more than grilled meats with its prized Malbecs. The city was designated Ibero-American Capital of Gastronomy 2017 for good reason. Look beyond the traditional parrillas (steakhouses) to find cheffy tasting menus, and fusion flavours that stray confidently off-continent. The city’s headline restaurant is arguably Tegui. Opened in January by chef-patron Germán Martitegui’s — a former co-host of MasterChef (Argentina) — it’s currently the nation’s sole entry on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. And while the shaky economy has seen restaurant openings slow down, there have been plenty of innovative cocktail bars and affordable gastropubs popping up. Plus getting around is cheap and easy too, thanks to the excellent Subte (subway system), a network of cycle lanes, and a free bike-sharing scheme. SB buenosaires.gob.ar/en
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GREECE Plac e in t he sun
NAMIBIA Epic wilderne ss
IMAGES: 4CORNERS; ALAMY
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP
LEFT: Palermo coffee shop, Buenos Aires; Fish River Canyon, southern Namibia; traditional steak house grill, Buenos Aires
If you’re keen to get away from it all, you may want to head to Namibia, where there are just over seven people for each square kilometre. It’s famous for its epic sand dunes and shipwrecklittered Skeleton Coast, but there’s much more to see here. Escape the travel crowds with trips to Fish River Canyon or Etosha National Park, go fatbiking, visit a rich array of rock art sites or track the planet’s largest free-roaming population of black rhino. Namibia has plans to scrap visa requirements for African passport holders, and 2018 is set to bring two new Zannier Hotels properties: a themed Shipwreck Lodge in Skeleton Coast Park and a new luxury adventure from Silverseas Cruises, in what it calls the ‘country of untold stories’. A desert flower is about to bloom. POC namibiatourism.com.na
The comeback kid? Greece never went away. Walking through Athens this autumn, I stopped outside a souvenir shop in Plaka, a touristy district trickling down the slopes of the Acropolis. My attention had been caught by the slogan on a canvas tote bag. ‘Keep Calm and F*** Crisis’, it read. It speaks volumes. Greece’s financial meltdown eviscerated salaries, tore open historical wounds and hobbled the nation. At one point, it seemed this ancient civilisation might collapse. Back in 2015, I visited the Ionian Islands with a load of cash in my backpack, unsure whether ATMs would work. But they did. Life went on. So did the Greek sense of humour, the heartfelt welcome, that intoxicatingly rich culture. Barely three years later, it feels like tourism is rebounding, stronger than ever. Next year will be a big one: TUI is set to open more hotels; the five-star Ikos Dassia resort is due to open on Corfu; while a revamped Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens will again be welcoming guests on the Aegean Coast. High-speed hydrofoil ferries have cut journey times to the islands, while cruise ships are increasingly featuring Greek island itineraries, so much so that Santorini has had to cap the daily number of passengers at 8,000 who disembark to sample its sparkling white architecture and sunsets. The Aegean Sea is one of the clearest and mind-blowingly blue on the planet. The purity and rustic charm of Greek cuisine is thrilling on islands like Sifnos and Naxos, where tavernas turn pristine local produce (think zingy tomatoes, olives, cheeses, seafood and chickpeas) into bursts of flavour reverberating far beyond the Cyclades. Cultural scenes have thrived, despite everything, and then there are the surprises. Greece always throws up surprises. The village-like auras of Athens. The ghost town of Akrotiri, on Santorini, preserved Pompeii-like after a volcanic eruption. The little ice cream shop at the ends of the earth in Lakka, on Paxos. The trick now is for Greece to maintain the momentum but spread the love — into off-seasons, and off-radar neighbourhoods and islands. Travellers need to be smart too. September is the time to catch those rosy, late-summer temperatures, warm seas and lingering island atmospheres without the summer crowds. “We have a saying,” as one local told me. “Nothing is more permanent than the temporary.” POC visitgreece.gr
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PORTUGAL B udge t bu t c ool
Recent years have seen Portugal become the short-haul destination for travellers on a budget; as a result of its economic difficulties, it’s been rated the cheapest eurozone country to visit for the past two years according to the Post Office Travel Money Holiday Costs Barometer. National airline TAP Air Portugal offers free stopovers for up to five days in Lisbon and Porto for passengers on medium- and long-haul flights, which makes it even easier to squeeze in a city break while on a trip further afield. Hipsters from all over the world are pouring into Lisbon — and while gentrification isn’t welcomed by all locals, the city’s newfound popularity (after years of being a second-tier city break destination, it’s been tipped as ‘Europe’s coolest capital’ by CNN) is, at least, providing an uptick in the tourism economy. To rub shoulders with digital nomads and Instagramming millennials, make for the Alfama district. The sinous MAAT (Musuem of Art, Architecture and Technology), which opened last year, sits on a bank of the Tagus River. Porto’s annual Fantasporto film festival (fantasporto.com) centres around the Rivoli Theatre from 20 February to 4 March. More of a Sundance than a Cannes or Venice, it welcomes auteurs and enthusiasts from over 50 countries. And then there’s Portugal’s cliff-riven coastline, of course, and the countryside, where hotels like Torre de Palma, Wine Hotel (torredepalma.com) — which opened in 2014 and combines Roman ruins with modern design — will pamper you without breaking the bank. JB
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT:
Torre de Palma Wine Hotel; a young mountain gorilla resting his head on the foot of a family member in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda; neon signs on Lower Broadway, Nashville
IMAGES: DESIGN HOTELS; GETTY
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It’s come a long way in two decades. Once a byword for tragedy, Rwanda has become a bucket list destination for wildlife lovers. This is the country of Gorillas in the Mist, and the number-one attraction (even despite a steep hike in tracking fees) remains s tor y the chance of a close encounter with a chest-beating silverback in Volcanoes National Park. The growth in Rwanda’s mountain gorilla population — from 250 in the 1980s to an estimated 600 today — has been a rare success in the world of conservation. But it’s not the only good news story. A recent programme has seen the reintroduction of lions and black rhinos to Akagera National Park, which means that visitors can also experience a bona fide Big Five safari in the east of the country. Opening in 2018 is the Akagera Game Lodge, which is under the umbrella of the Mantis Collection. It offers luxury to go with game-viewing, just two hours from Kigali. And since RwandAir launched direct flights between Gatwick and Kigali in May (three a week) it’s never been easier to get there. When you add it all together, it seems that 2018 should be Rwanda’s year. AP
RWA N DA Suc c e ss
NASHVILLE Music & more
America isn’t exactly short on cities thinking they’re the country’s musical capital — but Nashville is indisputably the country music capital. But it’s not all cowboy boots and guitar twangs — the likes of Elvis and Roy Orbison recorded in the historic RCA Studio B (studio.org), as have more recent upstarts such as Jack White and Kings of Leon. Like famous former resident Taylor Swift, Nashville has glossed itself up in recent years, with new museums devoted to Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash, bolstering an already sizable roster of music-related attractions. The Tennessee State Museum should follow in Autumn 2018, while there’s also been a boom in new hotel openings. Last year, it was reported that 12,450 new hotel rooms were on the way for Nashville. Those already arrived at the more stylish end of the market include the Thompson Nashville and the 21c Museum Hotel Nashville. Meanwhile, in September, Richard Branson did his obligatory photo stunts for the opening of much-delayed Virgin Hotels Nashville — the second in the chain after the cleverly cool and inventive first opening in Chicago. Virgin’s rival, British Airways, must sense Nashville is having a moment, as it’s launching a direct flight from Heathrow on 4 May. DW visitmusiccity.com
Shh... we want to let you in on our Secrets
Seychelles Tourist Office - UK & Ireland · 4th Floor, 130-132 Buckingham Palace Road SW1W 9SA Tel: +44 (0) 207 730 0700 · firstname.lastname@example.org · www.seychelles.travel · www.seychellessecrets.com Image: © Barbara & Hartmut Röder
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FLANDERS / H AUTS-DE-FR A NCE T ime to re f le c t
SINGAPORE On t he up
IMAGES: ALAMY; 4CORNERS
Going direct to Perth isn’t the only bold move from Qantas — after a few years flirting with Dubai, the Australian airline is reinstalling Singapore as its Asian hub for flights from London to other Aussie cities. That switch takes place in March, but perhaps more interesting is who’s joined it. Norwegian Air Shuttle launched a direct route to the Southeast Asian city state from Gatwick in September — an interesting variation on its usual transatlantic focus. Next year promises to be a critical point in Singapore’s makeover from prissily dull stopover with too many laws about chewing gum to buzzing, top-drawer city break. The reopening of the Raffles Hotel set for later this year, following a makeover, is symbolic for a place that’s realising the strength of what it has, and carefully reinventing it. The food scene — which was doing Asian fusion way before the rest of the world cottoned on — is tremendous. It’s getting proper international recognition — there’s even a hawker stall boasting a Michelin star. There’s also been a realisation that visitors want interesting as well as nice, with the new Parkview Museum Singapore creating a space for challenging art installations, and an explosion of cocktail bars. You’re going to want to make that stopover last a few extra days... DW visitsingapore.com
World War I Memorial to missing British servicemen, Thiepval LEFT: Singapore marina at sunset
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. The cemeteries and monuments in the key battlefield regions of Flanders and northern France (including the Thiepval Memorial, the largest memorial to British soldiers in the world) are, of course, enduring sites for sombre reflection. However, there are also several new museums and high-tech visitor centres that offer visitors a fresh insight on the Great War. The Thiepval Museum stands on the site where the Battle of the Somme was fought and tells its shocking story, while the Vimy Visitor Education Centre, 18 miles away, pays tribute to the Canadians who fought there. More quirky is the Cambrai Tank Museum; its centrepiece the wreck of a Mark IV tank nicknamed Deborah — unearthed a decade ago in a field near the museum. But war isn’t the only focus. From 2018-2020, Flanders will showcase the golden age of Flemish art with a series of events and exhibitions devoted to the likes of Bruegel, Rubens and van Dyck. And in May, DIVA. Home of Diamonds will be unveiled in Antwerp, a museum displaying gems, jewellery and goldsmithery that bear testimony to the city’s status as a major centre of jewellery production up until the mid 17th century. AP visitflanders.com uk.france.fr
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Is there a British city with a more indie spirit? From its lauded restaurants serving up local flavours to the break-beat heartbeat of its rudely healthy music scene, Bristol is an offbeat city ever on the rise. Its dockside regeneration — still artfully ongoing after 20 years — is currently one of Europe’s largest redevelopment projects. Yes, it’s still home to pretty Georgian terraces, the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge and Brunel’s SS Great Britain. But this is a city that’s gone from colonial-era industrial savvy to leftfield creativity. And nowhere is this more apparent than in its food scene. Bristol is being touted as the best place to eat outside London, with seven new entries in this year’s The Good Food Guide, and that was before Wellbourne opened its doors in Clifton Village, bringing edgy eats to the city’s last bastion of old-school stuffiness. Founded by the London team behind Michelin-starred Dabbous, Wellbourne is evidence — as was Box-E, Bulrush, Adelina Yard, Lido Spa & Restaurant, and many others before it — that Bristol is becoming something of a finishing school for chefs keen to work outside the corporate confines of the capital. But local talent abounds, notably f ix in Wapping Wharf, the new epicentre of Bristol’s culinary scene, at the heart of which are veggie Root restaurant, and Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf — a Somerset brewer with American-style taproom eats. While over in funky Stokes Croft, we recommend Poco Tapas, a restaurant set up by the Sanchez Brothers, of local Michelin-starred Casamia Restaurant fame. Elsewhere in Bristol, trails are being blazed for community arts, sustainable food projects and grass roots eco initiatives. No wonder the city constantly tops polls as the best place to live in UK. Sample the Bristol buzz with tourist accommodation that veers towards the alternative: a treehouse in a crane (Crane 29), a rooftop Airstream caravan park (Brooks Guesthouse), and a shipping container hotel (Hampton by Hilton). Homegrown art fills the streets with little funding or fanfare — from Banksy murals to headline-grabbing graffiti (a mural of Boris and Trump kissing). This year, a new public arts trail from Aardman will populate the city with sculptures of the animation studio’s characters. Elsewhere, Britain’s oldest theatre, the Bristol Old Vic, recently reopened after a revamp. In short: make sure you call into Bristol on your travels this year. As they say in these parts: let us off ’ere, drive. SB
Cre at ive
FROM LEFT: Vol au vents selection, Wellbourne restaurant, Bristol; original staircase at Hoxton Paris
IMAGES: HOXTON; WELLBOURNE
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PA R I S Never s t anding s t ill
The City of Light remains as entrancing as always — with new openings and much-awaited renovations adding reasons to return in 2018. For starters, Ritz Paris (ritzparis.com) reopened in 2016 after having pretty much everything renovated, except for the signature peach towels. Next up was Hôtel de Crillon (rosewoodhotels.com), which reopened in July 2017 with a fresh facade, facelifted interiors and two new suites from Karl Lagerfeld. And then The Hoxton, Paris (hoxtonhotels.com) — the French outpost of the east London bastion of cool that’s slowly spreading across the globe — opened in August in an 18th-century building in the 2nd arrondissement, co-designed by the team behind Soho House properties. But it’s the culture that brings people to Paris, and as well as stellar exhibitions for 2018 — Van Gogh and Mondrian at the Petit Palais, Tintoretto at the Musée du Luxembourg, Martin Margiela at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs — there are new venues striding onto the must-see list. L’Atelier des Lumières (atelier-lumieres.com), which opens in April in a former factory, will feature ‘immersive’ exhibitions of famous works. In October 2017, after a 15-year closure, Yves Saint Laurent’s former atelier reopened as the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris (museeyslparis. com) — its inaugural exhibition runs until September 2018. Looking ahead, the collector François Pinault is working on a museum of contemporary art in the former Bourse de Commerce alongside architect Tadao Ando. It’s set to open in early 2019. Paris continues to be cool, of course. Pigalle these days is louche instead of sleazy — Soho House is said to be sniffing around for a possible location, but for now there’s Le Pigalle (lepigalle.paris), which opened in 2015, if you want to stay in the thick of it. Perhaps oddest of all is Paris’s new familyfriendly status. September saw the opening of Villages Nature (villagesnatureparis.co.uk), a eco-themed venture by Disney and Center Parcs with nearly 900 cottages scattered round woods and a lake next to Disneyland Paris. The City of Love becomes the City of Kids? Wait and see. JB en.parisinfo.com
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M AUR ITIUS Independenc e Day
Celebrating 50 years of independence on 12 March 2018, Mauritius offers all the fancy resorts and dramatic coastline of castaway Indian Ocean archipelagos such as the Maldives and Seychelles, but on a single island with surprising cultural diversity. Mauritius’s 400-year-old history of settlement encompasses British and French colonial eras, as well as Indian, Chinese, African and Arabic communities. It’s a mosaic nation where Diwali, Christmas and Chinese New Year are celebrated. You don’t have to take an expensive water taxi or seaplane to get from A to B. You can eat a Tamil curry one night, and feast on snap-fresh tuna sashimi the next. It’s got the bustling colonial city of Port Louis in the north and the majestic Le Morne Brabant peninsula to the south. Adrenaline junkies can kite-surf and sea-kart, nature lovers can walk among the fruit bats, pink pigeons and Aldabra giant tortoises of Iles aux Aigrettes — and access is improving, with Air Mauritius receiving its first A350, and partnering with KLM on a new route from Amsterdam, this winter. Here’s to the next 50 years. POC tourism-mauritius.mu
SEYCHELLES Island paradise
On 24 March, British Airways launches direct flights from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 to the Seychelles. It’s a tempting route — a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, flying twice weekly, with a 10-hour flight and four-hour time difference prompting tour operator Scott Dunn to talk of long weekends in the Indian Ocean. Dreamy though that sounds, we’d recommend a longer stay. If ever an island chain were made for Instagram, this is it — the Seychelles are a wish list of warm waters, dreamy beaches like Anse Source d’Argent, lush hills, otherworldly rock formations and excursion highlights ranging from jungle zip lines to giant tortoises. Comprised of 115 islands pegged across a gin-clear patch of Indian Ocean, this is one of the hottest honeymoon destinations on Earth (Kate and William are among the lovebirds to have holidayed here). Its exclusivity comes at a price — a fact underscored by 2018 openings such as the a new Four Seasons resort on Desroches Island. The company is including the Seychelles on its new private jet experience, linking up with the Galapagos, too. But damn it, not all island paradises are created equal. Nor should they be. POC
IMAGE: FOUR SEASONS
Sunset beach suite, Four Seasons resort Desroches Island
IMAGES: ALAMY; GETTY; MARTIN MORRELL/COMO HOTELS AND RESORTS
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OPPOSITE, FROM TOP: Shops along vibrant William Street in Northbridge, Perth; Arrivals Lounge, Como The Treasury, Perth BELOW: Saint Basil's Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow, Russia
Seventeen hours on a plane. Fancy that? Well, from 25 March, the opportunity is there, when Qantas launches its non-stop service from Heathrow to Perth. Until now, all trips to Australia have required a stopover somewhere in Asia or the Middle East. Heading Down Under has never been so easy. The ability to go direct could make Perth, sitting in glorious isolation on Australia’s west coast, the new Singapore or Dubai. And the connections to the likes of Exmouth — gateway to the Ningaloo Reef and whale sharks — and outback-meets-beach resort town Broome could make exploring the vast expanses of Western Australia an awful lot easier. If shorter on time, then a quick nip down to the Margaret River wine region — which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2017 and can be toured by every form of transport from bike to helicopter — is a fine option. Perth itself is a city line undergoing a very interesting transformation, partly brought on by the money pouring in from Western Australia’s mining boom. The car-centricity of the 1960s and 1970s emptied out central Perth, but recent efforts to add restaurant precincts to major developments and dabblings with Melbourne-style, bar-packed laneways have resurrected its vibe. Also crucial has been the decision to move a train line underground. The Perth Central Business District and cultural/nightlife district Northbridge were brutally cut in half by rail. Now they merge together — and, as a result, Northbridge has gone from being a bit spit and sawdust to opening up interesting venues that opt for the inventive. The other major development is along the Swan River, where once aimless grass lawns provided a wasteful no man’s land. Now, Elizabeth Quay is bringing water parks, playgrounds, public art, restaurants and hotels to the space. It’s not the only place hotels are being built either — several have livened Perth’s accommodation scene, from the grand, landmark Como The Treasury to the more calculatingly hip Tribe. The makeovers are spreading from the centre — with the mildly dog-eared Scarborough Beach next in line for a multimillion dollar new look. From early 2018, it should come pimped up with a swimming pool, street art and skate park. All in all, this flurry of activity and reinvention points to a city that’s intent on moving up a tier — from hub for exploring Australia’s wild west to a world-class city destination in its own right. DW
PERTH Dire c t
RUSSIA K ick of f
The 2018 FIFA World Cup will turn the spotlight on Russia from 14 June to 15 July, and for once it won’t just be the usual suspects of Moscow and St Petersburg getting all the attention. Matches will be played in 11 cities, from Kaliningrad — the Russian enclave wedged between Poland and Lithuania — to Yekaterinburg, straddling the border between Europe and Asia. If you have match tickets, you can even skip the normal bureaucratic Russian visa procedure by registering for a ‘fan ID’. Moscow is already getting spruced up for the final at the Luzhniki Stadium. In the city centre, pavements are being widened to make it more pedestrian- and cyclistfriendly, hotels are mushrooming — by kick-off, more than 80 will have been built since the tournament was announced. Even the (astonishingly beautiful) metro system has finally added English translations to its Cyrillic station lists. But don’t miss the opportunity to see some lesser-known cities while logistics and language barriers will be easier. From Yekaterinburg’s tsarist history to Kazan’s tartar heritage and Stalin’s secret bunker built nine storeys below ground in Samara, there’s so much to see that you may end up skipping the match. JB visitrussia.org.uk
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ABU DHABI A r t ins t allat ion
A cultural desert no longer: after the sort of wait that would challenge the patience of a saint, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi looks set to give a royal welcome to not one but five gleaming galleries including the Louvre and the Guggenheim. These two esteemed institutions are among several comprising the new Saadiyat Island cultural quarter, also home to the Zayed National Museum and the Zaha Hadid Performing Arts Centre. And these are no lip-service salons. The Louvre, for one, is the first branch of the gallery outside France, home to a permanent collection of over 600 pieces of art, set across 23 galleries, plus 300 masterpieces on loan from key French galleries taking in works by da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse. That the Guggenheim is still on hold might be a boon to traditional Abu Dhabi travellers who consider a morning at the beach and an afternoon at Ferrari World to be a packed itinerary. For most, though, these new cultural must-sees might just make Abu Dhabi more than a fly-through destination. SB
Entrance to the Louvre Museum, Abu Dhabi
BELOW: Bikes parked on the pavement in De Pijp
A MSTER DA M A ge of t he t rain Get beyond Amsterdam’s red light district and colourful roster of art galleries and the savvy traveller will discover a blossoming crop of cool cafes in the De Pijp district. They’ll find elegant canalside townhouses home to a fast-changing hotel scene, plus an even faster-ripening foodie culture. Things don’t stop for the clock. After all, this is the city that pioneered the night mayor, an office that champions Amsterdam’s after-dark economy beyond hardcore clubbing. And by early 2018, all this will be accessible in under four hours from London following the long-awaited launch of Eurostar’s direct route, set to ramp up to full commercial service by Easter. SB iamsterdam.com
IMAGES: ALAMY; PICFAIR
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TERMS AND CONDITIONS: All fares displayed are based on two guests sharing the lowest available grade of accommodation and do not include flights or transfers. Solo traveller fares available on request. All fares correct at the time of distribution but subject to change and availability. Operator terms may apply. Please quote NATGEO18 at the time of enquiry. E&OE.
LAND OF THE
ROUGH AND REMOTE, THE TOP END IN AUSTRALIA’S NORTHERN TERRITORY MAY HAVE THWARTED BRITISH SETTLERS, BUT IT’S HOME TO AN ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY WITH STORIES TO TELL — AND MORE THAN A FEW CROCODILES WORDS
DAV I D W H I T L E Y
WE WAIT. CAHILL’S CROSSING LOOMS. FOR MONTHS, IT’S BEEN CLOSED AND THE MURKY WATER RAGES.
We’re told it’ll open today; if the water level goes beneath two feet, the rangers will give the go-ahead. We’ll be the first car across the East Alligator River all year. Well, the first officially sanctioned car — some didn’t wait. Helpless against the rocks is an abandoned 4x4. Downstream is another, upturned and rusting. They’re not-so-gentle reminders of what happens to those who get the crossing wrong. Inside our Landcruiser there’s a hushed silence. The stakes are high and nerves are twitching. After all, we’re not the only ones waiting. This isn’t the kind of river in which you want to have to swim for safety — the prehistoric monsters beneath the murk have teeth. Big teeth. Around 80,000 crocodiles are thought to call the Northern Territory home. The creeks, billabongs, rivers and shoreline all belong to them. Pretty much every inch of water, salt or fresh, will be part of a big fella’s territory. Old, battle-hardened boys weighing in at up to 700 kilos and measuring around 16ft long are routinely found waiting in the shallows. Or, if you’re out on the Adelaide River, eyeballing you next to the boat. A little more than 40 miles from the Northern Territory’s capital of Darwin, the river is an introduction to what awaits further east, with the floodplains, wetlands and savannah converging in close proximity. But it’s also where the croc-watching cruises ply their trade. Pat Chappell, barefoot and bushy of beard, has been taking his boat out on the river for years. He’s obliged by law to point out the life jackets in case it capsizes. “They’re a good decoy, if nothing else — you need something to throw at a croc to distract it,” he tells us. Saltwater crocs are remarkable creatures. They haven’t evolved since the age of the dinosaurs, simply because they haven’t had to. They have a bite 12 times more powerful than a lion’s or great white shark’s, they can move their own body length in a second and they can go a year without eating.
Traversing the East Alligator River at Cahillâ€™s Crossing. The river is the boundary between Kakadu and Arnhem Land PREVIOUS PAGES: View of Nourlangie Rock from Nawurlandja Lookout
But when an opportunity to feed presents itself, the crocodile will take it. These stealth hunters learn patterns — woe betide any cow that comes to the same place to drink, at the same time, several days in a row. Yet, they’ve got surprisingly small brains. A croc’s grey matter does what’s necessary to ensure the animal’s survival and nothing more. “Crocs don’t get complacent,” explains Pat. “It’s because they’re not thinkers. They don’t have the memory or emotions to form relationships. You could feed an individual for years — but if you get in the water and take your eye off him, he’ll kill you.” Gnasher appears — we didn’t hear him coming — from under the boat. He sidles up, his teeth yellow. He’s the alpha male here. Any female that wants to share his territory without getting killed has to show constant signs of submission. And any human stupid enough to dangle an arm over the side of the boat may well lose it. As a ‘gentle’ introduction to Australia’s intoxicating and ferociously uncompromising Top End, this is pretty electrifying. What follows is less immediate, but seeps under the skin and is so alien that it forces me to completely reconsider how the world works. The concept of four seasons doesn’t really work here, but neither does the oft-used shorthand of two seasons — the wet and the dry. The local indigenous groups use six seasons, which change with natural triggers rather than calendar dates. We’re passing through on the cusp of Banggereng (March), when the storms flatten the speargrass that grows out of control during the monsoon rains, and Yegge (April and May). This is when the winds shift to come in from the bone-dry south east. Temperatures drop, crocodiles come out of the water to sun themselves on the banks and the burning of the drying grasses begins. Fire has been a key part of land management here for thousands of years. Any smoke plumes on the horizon are likely to be deliberate. At this time, roads are beginning to reopen, floodwaters are in retreat and the fish being flushed along provide a feeding bonanza for predators both reptilian and avian. Soon the migratory birds, making their way down from Siberia, will start to arrive. Heading further east on the Arnhem Highway, through Kakadu National Park, there’s a shift in the scenery. The wetlands, floodplains and unflinching savannah woodland hand over the baton to the ‘stone country’. On the horizon, the Arnhem Land Escarpment puffs out its chest. The giant sandstone wall, oozing ancient impregnability, sweeps across, its crags playing host to bats and pythons not found anywhere else on the planet, and its outcrops pockmarking the view like loyal foot soldiers. One of these is Ubirr where, early in the morning, rare black wallaroos bound around the car park. The climb up to the rock is something of an open-air exhibition — the Aboriginal rock paintings in various natural shelters, or galleries, date back thousands of years. Over time, the red ochres the artists used have essentially burned into the rock and become a part of it. Some paintings can be dated by their content. The floodplains, for example, didn’t start to develop here until around 2,000 years ago. So art depicting long-necked turtles and fish is likely to be younger than that. Others featuring thylacines, otherwise known as the Tasmanian tiger, are almost certainly more than 5,000 years old; thylacines are thought to have been wiped out here on the mainland around that time due to competition from indigenous humans and invasive dingoes. Other paintings tell stories and helpful signs nearby explain what they mean. I learn that one piece shows the Namarrgarn sisters, who used to play games near the East Alligator River. They’d hide from one another by taking on the form of an animal and one day decided to stay that way. That animal? The saltwater crocodile. Such stories are the fabric that holds Aboriginal culture together. There are many of these stories and they interlink, to be told over many hours. All contain lessons about morality, the landscape, the night sky and the natural world. All play a role in explaining the meaning of life. And all are revealed in stages. Outsiders are only given the briefest of insights into these sacred Aboriginal tales.
OVE R THE FA S T FLOW
At the top of Ubirr, a sea of green unfolds beneath us, dotted with small ponds that will soon evaporate. It’s the floodplain of the East Alligator River, where the Namarrgarn sisters once played. And on the other side is Arnhem Land. This is Aboriginal land, with entry by special permit only. It’s extremely sparsely populated, with roughly 16,000 people living in an area the size of Portugal, and for large chunks of the year it’s inaccessible by road. The front wheels dip into the water. Nerves are jangling. Cahill’s is the most notorious crossing in Australia, and being the guinea pigs of the season isn’t exactly a reassuring position to find ourselves in. At the helm, Venture North guide Dave McMahon seems excited by the prospect. We can’t see what condition the road beneath us is in, but the water flows fast and when we reach the other side the nervous quiet is broken by a bout of relieved whooping. Our first stop in Arnhem Land is Gunbalanya, which is the closest thing to a service town in these parts. It’s home to Injalak Arts, where indigenous painters, wood carvers and weavers both create and sell their works. There’s considerable excitement, as we’re the first balandas — or ‘whitefellas’ — to drive in for months.
OPPOSITE FROM TOP:
Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu National Park; saltwater crocodile, Kakadu National Park ABOVE: Aboriginal rock paintings in an overhang, Ubirr, Arnhem Land
Gunlom Falls, Kakadu National Park
THIS IS ABORIGINAL LAND AND IT’S EXTREMELY SPARSELY POPULATED, WITH ROUGHLY 16,000 PEOPLE LIVING IN AN AREA THE SIZE OF PORTUGAL, AND FOR LARGE CHUNKS OF THE YEAR IT’S INACCESSIBLE BY ROAD
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IMAGES: GETTY; DAVID WHITLEY
There’s a significance behind the word balandas that hints at a littleknown piece of history in these parts — because it actually existed before any white man had set foot in Arnhem Land. Centuries before European exploration and settlement, Macassan traders came from what’s now the Indonesian island of Sulawesi to harvest trepang — also known as sea slugs or sea cucumbers. The Macassans would come with the prevailing winds during the wet season, gather up as many sea cucumbers as possible, then return to sell them to China once the winds changed. There are only a few physical clues to this contact — the odd imported tamarind tree, for example — but more evidence exists in the local languages. ‘Orang belanda’ in the Macassan language (and in today’s Malay) means Dutch person. The Arnhem Land clans simply adopted balandas as a term for all white people, based on Macassan descriptions. It’ll take a good few hours of driving the 4x4 over rough, potholed roads to reach our eventual destination. Venture North’s camp is on the Cobourg Peninsula, in Arnhem Land’s far north-west — and the problem with being the first over the East Alligator River is that you’re also first up the dirt track to the Cobourg. This provides Dave with repeated tests of his Northern Territory driving ability. Giant, unexpected crevasses appear in the track, trees block the path and creeks are still flooded at considerably higher levels than Cahill’s Crossing. Frequent diversions off-road are required, small trees have to be mown down to clear an impromptu path and mammoth potholes cause back-jarring crunches. There’s also a strong chance of encountering another gift from the Macassans — the banteng. These distinctive orange cattle originated in Southeast Asia, but much of their native habitat has been destroyed, so now the population roaming wild on the Cobourg Peninsula is regarded as vital for the conservation of the species. “They’re pretty much isolated up here,” explains Dave. “Banteng are forest cows; they’re not suited to the floodplains.” That doesn’t stop them from wandering onto the beaches, though. There are clear tracks in the sand at Port Bremer, where Dave stops to root out a light snack for later. He leads us out over the rocks,
carrying a rudimentary spear. Then, suddenly, he stops and jabs it into a hole. “Sometimes I’ll feel one in the hole and I’ll be there for 15 or even 20 minutes. But once you feel it, you can always get it,” he says. He’s after mud crabs. But he only manages to pull out a claw — which the crab will happily regrow — so he needs to attack from the other side. However, that means getting in the water. It’s clearly not a thought that fills him with delight. “There are two small bull sharks around here,” he says. “And they’ll take the backs of your legs off. So keep a look out behind me, please.” After a few minutes of cat-and-mouse, he strikes and emerges with a struggling crab. He holds it by the back legs, careful to keep well clear of its powerful front claws. “These things can do serious damage with those pincers. You’ve got to be very careful.” Dave takes the crab over to the cool box to put it on ice. “It’ll just cool him down and send him to sleep,” he says, nonchalantly, while everyone makes a mental note not to go rummaging around in there for a can of Coke. The track through the forest eventually leads to the camp, which looks out over the splintered natural harbour of Port Essington.
FROM LEFT: Aboriginal rock art, Ubirr, Kakadu National Park; guide Dave McMahon holding a mud crab, Port Bremer
R AVAG E D R E M N A N T S
The next day, the journey switches from land to water and we clamber into a fishing boat. “This is one of the last great unspoilt marine environments,” announces Dave, as we look for a good spot to drop anchor and begin
ESSENTIALS Getting there & around Malaysia Airlines offers one-stop ﬂights to Darwin from Heathrow, as does Singapore Airlines, which also ﬂies from Manchester. Otherwise, an extra connection is required via major Australian cities with airlines such as Etihad or Emirates. malaysiaairlines.com singaporeair.com etihad.com emirates.com AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME: Between 21-25h, depending on the route/stopover. All the major car hire ﬁrms are represented at Darwin International Airport, and while a conventional vehicle is ﬁne for Kakadu National Park during the dry season, a 4x4 is essential for Arnhem Land. Permits to enter Arnhem Land must be applied for via the Northern Land Council in advance. nlc.org.au
When to go The dry season tends to be between late April/early May and late October/early November, although it can vary by a week or two. The start of the dry season is hotter, but with waterfalls still in full ﬂow. It’s still possible to see a lot of Kakadu National Park during the wet season, but many roads are closed.
Where to stay SKYCITY Darwin. skycitydarwin.com.au Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel. kakadutourism.com Cobourg Coastal Camp. cobourgcoastalcamp.com.au
More info northernterritory.com parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu injalak.com tourismtopend.com.au australia.com
How to do it VENTURE NORTH has a ﬁ ve-day trip through Kakadu,
Arnhem Land and the Cobourg Peninsula from Darwin, which costs from A$3,290 (£1,884) per person. All meals and accommodation (with shared bathrooms) are included, but not international ﬂights. venturenorth.com.au WALLAROO TOURS runs a day trip from Darwin to Litchﬁeld National Park, which includes the Adelaide River crocodile-watching cruise. Tickets cost A$180 (£103). wallarootours.com
H E M HI G HWAY
KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
Settlement, Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land Bulman
N o r t h e r n T e r r i t o r y
IMAGE: ALAMY. ILLUSTRATION: JOHN PLUMER
g our Cob nsula i Pen
fishing. “There’s an abundance of apex predators around here. It’s not uncommon to pull up a fish and fi nd half of it’s been eaten by a shark while you were reeling it in.” He points over to an otherwise rather appealing spit of sand, daintily protruding into the sea. “You usually see some big crocs on there.” Sawsharks hang around in the shallows, oystercatchers bob up and down on the beach, a shovelnose ray glides past and eastern curlews dig in the sand with their long beaks searching for soldier crabs. No-one holding a fishing rod has to wait too long for a bite, although for every sizeable trevally pulled out and gutted for tonight’s dinner, there’s a snarling, angry barracuda that’s tossed back. Other than us on the boat, there’s no sign of human life. Port Essington is completely untouched, although things could have turned out very differently. We moor up at a beach and amble into the forest. Among the giant mounds created by orange-footed scrubfowls is a remarkable set of stone ruins; they belong to the ill-fated Victoria Settlement, the third British attempt to set up a base on Australia’s northern shore. Between 1838 and 1849, the hapless settlers battled cyclones, malaria and supply ships that never showed up on time in what must have been a thoroughly grim existence. “Every kid brought here died. Every kid born here died,” says Dave. Only the graveyard, the cyclone-ravaged remnants of the heavy stone buildings and stacks of rum bottle fragments remain. There’s a strong lost-city vibe, with a mournful stench of failure shrouding the place. The Cobourg Peninsula is remote and largely uninhabited for good reason — and that’s before you get to the things in the water with big teeth. From the camp’s clifftop fi re pit, the sun drops down over Port Essington. We stare idly out to the rocks in the water. But something’s not quite right. Is one of the rocks moving? It is. Ever so slowly, it slinks out of position and arcs round. It’s not a rock. In the shallows, the queenfish are zipping around, as they do at dusk. They’re drawing attention to themselves and they really don’t want to be doing that. This is a rare chance to watch the ultimate stealth predator in action. He glides in silently, barely disturbing the water. A 13ft hulk of a thing, he comes closer to the shore. And he waits.
AUSTRALIA: SYDNEY, ROCK AND REEF
This classic Australian adventure begins in the vibrant city of Sydney. Draped around a natural harbour lined with instantly recognisable landmarks such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Soar over the sun-baked outback towards your next stop, Uluru. This ancient monolith remains one of Australia’s most sacred aboriginal sites and most visited landmarks. The ﬁnal stop ‘Down Under’ is northern Queensland. The palm fringed shores are the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, a 2300km underwater world comprising of 1000’s of reefs and 100’s of islands teeming with brightly coloured corals and tropical ﬁsh. INCLUDED IN THIS PACKAGE
Return flights from the UK 9 nights’ accommodation, room only in 4 hotels Return Airport Transfers throughout Sydney Opera House essential tour Sounds of Silence dinner at Uluru (Ayers Rock) – outback dining under sparkling skies Great Barrier Reef catamaran cruise
Opening Hours Monday – Saturday 9am to 7pm, Sundays 10am to 4pm
Fly from London to Sydney (Arriving 2 Days later). Private transfer to 4 hotel. Enjoy a Sydney Opera House essentials tour during your stay. Private transfer to the airport for your ﬂight to Ayers Rock. Resort transfers to your 4 hotel. Enjoy a Sounds of Silence dinner at Uluru during your 2-night stay. Resort transfer to the airport for your ﬂight to Cairns. Private transfer to 4 hotel Port Douglas. During your 4-night stay enjoy a Great Barrier Reef Catamaran cruise. Private transfer to the airport for your return ﬂight to London (Overnight).
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0800 012 5445
Terms & Conditions apply. For full details please visit cruisedirection.co.uk. Prices are per person based on two adults sharing. Prices may change at any time without notice. Hotels will be as stated or similar. No booking fees. Cruise Direction is a fully bonded member of the Global Travel Group (ATOL 3973). Credit Card bookings will incur a surcharge of 2.5% and Debit Cards 0%. *Based on 8th June 2018 departure.
TWO WORLDS ARE ONE
Mysterious, magnificent and so often misunderstood, modern Iran is bending rules and breaking traditions to welcome a new generation of curious travellers WORDS
IMAGES: GETTY; EMMA THOMSON
“We love Americans!” exclaims Majeed, my taxi driver, as we whip along Tehran’s highways. I try to tell him I’m from the UK, but he’s on a roll. “They are so open and friendly,” he enthuses, so I go with it. “But doesn’t your imam criticise America for trying to impose Western culture on other nations?” I question from the back seat. He swipes the air with his hand: “Pah, that’s politics. Something separate. We’re tired of politics,” he says, rubbing his coarse black beard and already wanting to change the conversation. “Know what we call Los Angeles?” he asks, flashing me a cheeky glance in the rear-view mirror. “Tehran-Angeles!” he chuckles. “Over two million Iranians live in the States.” This is not the Iran I expected. Indeed, anyone over the age of 40, or who’s seen the feature film Argo, will recall the events of 4 November 1979, when student supporters of the Iranian Revolution stormed the ‘spy den’ of the US Embassy in the capital and held 52 employees captive for 444 days — the longest hostage crisis in recorded history. For many, it marked the turning point of the revolution by undermining the recently overthrown Persian monarchy — headed by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — and strengthening the prestige of Ayatollah Khomeini. A stricter interpretation of the Qur’an was ushered in and personal restrictions included a ban on miniskirts, alcohol and dancing. And it’s here that many Westerners’ impressions of Iran froze in time. We’re not the only ones. Today, the former US Embassy houses the headquarters of the Guardians of the Revolution. It’s been preserved exactly as it was in the 1970s — only the US seal above the door has been
scratched off. Later, while sitting on the pavement waiting for the museum to open, two men and a blonde woman arrive, looking expectantly at the gates. “They open in 15 minutes,” I say, and their furrowed brows iron out. I notice the tendrils of grey hair at the men’s temples and decide to risk a question: “Do you remember the hostage-taking?” The shorter of the two men, Farshaad, nods vigorously. “I was a kid at the time. I was excited — anything to see some action!” His friend, Mede, is quieter. “I was a teenager and I was shocked — I don’t believe in violence.” Soon after they both emigrated to Canada. “I didn’t come back for years and years because I was scared,” explains Mede. “Now I return once a year to visit family. It turns out Iran is nothing like I thought it was.” So while politicians continue to tussle over Iran’s nuclear programme and the debates about women’s rights remain worthy, it’s important not to overlook a crucial fact about Iran: Islam is but a millisecond on the clock of the country’s history. So let’s rewind… On the outskirts of Yazd, in central Iran, two circular stone-and-mud structures crown a pair of hills. Bleached golden by the fierce sun, they are the Dakhma, or ‘Towers of Silence’, built by Zoroastrians — one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. They believed a person’s corpse shouldn’t pollute the air with cremation, or the earth with burial, so they would leave their dead in these towers for the bones to be picked clean by vultures. A 3,000 year-old practice that continued until it was banned in the 1970s. I spy a lone traveller wandering among the ruins, so mosey over to say hello. He’s a Swiss student named Loïc, who has spent the past month couch-surfing around the country. Iran is the first place he’s explored solo. “I met two guys who had just come back from a two-year roundthe-world trip and when I asked them which country was their favourite. They said Iran, so I came,” he tells me, as we shelter in the shade of the buildings. “I expected it to be just a big desert, but there’s so much to see. Plus everyone’s very friendly — I’ve never been so well fed!” The dry desert air claws at my headscarf as we pace across the parched earth, up the sweep of steps, and through the entrance. Inside, the towers live up to their name: it’s utterly silent. Not a whisper of wind creeps over its high circular walls. I stand on the ring of stones, trying to picture the thousands of bodies laid to rest here: the
PREVIOUS PAGES: Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque FROM LEFT: End to End bazaar, Kerman province; barbarries, saffron and fennel on sale inside Shiraz Bazaar
men forming the outer circle, the women in the middle, and the children in the innermost ring. They’ve been named ‘putrefaction plateaus’, but looking up at the opal of azure sky above me it feels clean and free.
Days later, I’m interpreting more ancient symbols on a bas-relief at UNESCO-listed Persepolis — the 2,500-yearold ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire built by Darius the Great. The blue eyes of our guide, Darioush Zareh, flash with excitement as he leads us past the famous Apadana staircase. “Notice the tight curly hair of these men? Where do you think they’re from?” he asks the group. “Africa,” I reply, quietly. “Yes! See how they’re holding ivory and are leading an okapi [a species of giraffe now only found deep in the Congo]?” We move along the row to the next relief. “Here are ambassadors from Libya with a gazelle, and here Afghans bringing a Bactrian camel, and here…” The relief continues with an Assyrian soldier leading each foreign official by the hand towards the palace. “You see Darius the Great hosted what was essentially the first United Nations here. Inviting ambassadors — Nabateans, Babylonians, Nubians, Armenians, Indians, etc — from across his empire to gather in the Palace of a Hundred Columns. It was here the first democratic discussions took place.” I trace my hand over the cascading curls of a bearded Assyrian. “All the workers were paid in lamb and wine — our ban on alcohol is modern,” he grins. “There was no slavery. In fact, Darius’s uncle, Cyrus the Great, dictated the Cyrus Cylinder — the first human-rights charter.” I hike up to the rock-hewn tomb of Artaxerxes II that overlooks the site and imagine the beasts and men that passed through here. Among them was Italian Franciscan friar Odoric of Pordenone, a Silk Road traveller who visited on his way to China in 1320. Indeed, the Royal Road Darius the Great established to transport dispatches from one end of this Persian kingdom to the other became the main artery of the Silk Road. After passing through the great cities of old such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Merv, the road reached Persia and along it flowed silk, spices, jewels, ivory, porcelain, warhorses — and travellers. Journeyers that would rest at roadside inns called caravanserais posted every 20 miles along the trail. More than a thousand are believed to exist in Iran and, of those, 400 have been surveyed. Among them is Zein-oDin, a rare circular 17th-century caravanserai south-east of Yazd. It sits just off the main road, as it has for 400 years. The only chink in its restored defensive high walls is a great green wooden door. I knock boldly. Like a Russian doll, a smaller door opens inside the larger and a head pops out. “Ah, you’re here,” exclaims a young mustachioed man. Our group is ushered inside and shown into the stables. They’ve been separated into sleeping quarters using curtains and we’re each allocated a mattress on the floor. Above us the brick cupolas are still blackened with ancient soot and rough strips of linen cloth serve as doors. I lever myself up steep stone steps that lead to a rooftop of domes. The ginger sun is settling behind the silhouetted hills and I find myself looking out over the expanse of dry dirt searching for the glimmer of a camel caravan. Instead, I see a car approaching. It pulls up and three women clamber out and knock at the almighty door. No employees are in sight, so I scuttle down the stairs, pop open the peephole, and peer out. “Hello!” The young Iranian guide and her Swiss and Italian clients jump
IMAGES: EMMA THOMSON; ALAMY
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Tunnel of Lights,
Esfahan; the leaning tower of Karim Khan Castle, Shiraz; Yazdâ€™s famous sweet baklava; the 18th-century brickwork roof patterns of Agha Bozorg Mosque, Kashan
At religious weddings, tradition dictates the sexes celebrate separately, like within a mosque, where men and women are segregated during prayer
Inside Nasir-al-Molk Mosque
Superbly situated on the Great Barrier Reef, the location is just the beginning of a stay at Lizard Island Brimming with rich flora and fauna and set upon the spectacular Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island is the ultimate secluded hideaway. Just an hour’s flight from Cairns, visitors glimpse the island’s electric-blue surrounds from the sky shortly before landing at Lizard Island — Australia’s northernmost island beach resort. Once you arrive, a host of complimentary activities await: stand-up paddle boards, access to a motorised dinghy to explore the beaches, clearview sea kayaks and snorkelling gear are all available throughout the entire stay. Set right on the Great Barrier Reef, guests have a world of underwater wonders close at hand. Sitting at the reef’s uppermost tip, where the waters are rarely visited by people, Lizard Island is littered with powdery beaches and dive sites, where amateurs and experts alike can delve into the deep blue. There’s diving in the famous Cod Hole — named for the curious potato cod that call it home — and first-class snorkelling in the clam gardens, just a short swim or boat trip from the island itself. Whether it’s secluded luxury or underwater adventures on the agenda, Lizard Island is truly like nowhere else.
with surprise. “No room at the inn,” I tease, getting into character. I notice the guide’s dark-blue headscarf is hanging by a thread off the back of her bun, exposing her raven hair. Inside, once she’s met the rest of the group, I ask her why. “My Iran is different to Amir’s [our guide]. He belongs to the older generation, but we find ways to have fun. We drink, party and travel.” In this old place, it’s a glimpse of modern Iran. ‘New’ is emblazoned everywhere inside Kerman’s bazaar, one of Iran’s oldest trading centres, about 230 miles south-east of Yazd. For sale is butchered meat next to dates next to T-shirts branded ‘Brooklyn’, ‘New York City’ or ‘Hello Kitty’. On the main Ganjali Khan Square, boys are performing wheelies on their bikes or selling balloons, while mothers cajole their crying babies backlit by the glint of copper pots. ‘Hello’ falls from the lips of everyone I pass. And while I’m bargaining, a young man wearing braces and a blue shirt sees I need help with translating prices and steps in to help. With the bargain struck, we stroll around the square. “Why choose Iran?” he asks me. “I wanted to see what the truth was,” I reply. He nods solemnly. As a woman, that truth very occasionally includes a stray hand stroking your backside. I take the stranger firmly by the wrist, look him in the eye, and issue a stern “No!” His cheeks turn beetroot and apologies spill from his lips. With the lights of the mosque minaret glowing against the lavender sky, I rejoin my group of fellow travellers to seek out somewhere to eat. Halfway through our chicken kebab, a flotilla of suited men, clapping and shouting, enter the restaurant. “A wedding!” smiles Amir. As the bride sweeps in, cloaked in a white floral chador, we stand to cheer her on. Women, trailing after her like fireworks, wave for the ladies in our group to join them. We follow them up to the second floor to a large room where the bride uncloaks to reveal a puffy meringue-white wedding gown embroidered with pink cherry blossoms. Her fake eyelashes bat seductively at her groom as they take to the dance floor. “Usually only women are allowed,” shouts an aunt above the music, “but it’s nicer to have her husband here.” (At religious weddings, tradition dictates the sexes celebrate separately, like within a mosque, where men and women are segregated during prayer). The bride catches sight of us for the first time and waves us over. Her groom gallantly offers us his spot on the floor and we bop and dive to the Iranian beats being delivered by a female DJ wearing a red flat cap and a waistcoat. Another aunt appears at my side and, with a conspiratorial wink, presses a custard egg tart into my hand. Despite a net of strict Islamic laws it seems people do bend the rules and what has filtered through is fun in the shape of music, art and poetry.
IMAGES: EMMA THOMSON; GETTY
Meenakari & melancholy
Journeying past salt lakes we enter Shiraz — city of wine, roses, nightingales and the birthplace of Persian poets Saadi and Hafez. The streets thrum with a zoom of scooters, trucks laden with golden melons long as missiles, and taxi drivers queuing with arms slung out of the window, their pinky fingers dusted with faux ruby and turquoise rings. We pass a crowd of men gathered around a speakerphone. “Oh dear, what’s happening?” queries one of our group, concerned. “They’re handing out free food,” replies Amir. “But why are there policemen there?” they ask. “They want to eat too!” smiles Amir.
We enter Narenjestan e Ghavam, an opulent 19thcentury merchant’s house famed for its mirrored porches, fountains and avenues of date palms. In the basement, sits jewellery-maker Hasam. He strums a three-string pearshaped tambour and softly croons verses of Hafez. “His poetry lends itself to music wonderfully,” he says, once finished. “Because music was always looked down on, our sounds are more melancholy and monotone.” The next morning, we delve into the Shiraz bazaar. Its inner courtyards are abuzz with clouds of dragonflies that dart like fairies above the central fountains. Outside, we meet Menahim, a blue-eyed, bristle-brush mustachioed Jew. “For hundreds of years we had to live in secret, but now we can practise freely,” he tells me in French, having studied it. “Did you know we have 5,000 Jews in Shiraz and 15 synagogues!” We’re running late, so make a move to leave. “Wait, before you go, I want to sing you some Celine Dion.” Hafez it’s not, but music, it seems, is everywhere.
FROM TOP: An imam at Jameh Mosque, Esfahan; Darius the Great’s palace at Persepolis
FROM TOP: Twin minarets of Shah Nematollah Vali Shrine, which houses the mausoleum of the revered Iranian poet; the workshop of a copperpot maker, Yazd Bazaar
ESSENTIALS Getting there & around Direct flights from Heathrow are offered by Austrian Airlines, British Airways and Turkish Airlines with return airfares starting at around £340. austrian.com ba.com turkishairlines.com Iran’s train network is reliable and services most major cities. Local bus services are plentiful. Most Iranians now use a taxi service called Snapp, similar to Uber. snapp.ir
When to go March to May and September to October are the best times to visit when the searing 37C heat of summer has subsided. Bear in mind if you travel during Ramadan (dates vary) eating and drinking in public is banned from sunrise to sunset.
More information Travellers can’t use ATMs or local banks. Ensure you withdraw enough US dollars to use for the duration of your trip.
anotheriran.com — a blog written by a half-Iranian student aims to introduce travellers to a new version of Iran. Iran: The Bradt Travel Guide. RRP: £17.99. bradtguides.com
How to do it
G ADVENTURES offers a 14-day Discover
Persia tour from £1,999 per person including entrance to most sites, a guide and accommodation. Budget around US$500 (£375) extra for meals and airport transfers. gadventures.co.uk
Perspolis Pe IRAN
AR AB I AN SEA
IMAGES: EMMA THOMSON. ILLUSTRATION: JOHN PLUMER
We hurry to the tomb of Saadi. Iranians swarm around the gardens like it’s the start of a football match, with touts selling fortune-telling birds, scarves and glow sticks. Beneath an octagonal room sits the poet’s marble tomb confettied with rose petals. Inscribed on the walls around it are lines of his poetry, and as Amir recites them and the hubbub ceases, the crowd calms quiet to listen in silence. Our final stop is Esfahan — Iran’s richest city renowned for its arts such as meenakari, miniature, silverwork and copper. By the time we arrive night has fallen. We drive past families picnicking in the dark on grassy knolls between motorway lanes; women vaulting a volleyball in the park; and a man praying on a rug between two parked cars, shoes neatly placed to one side. At the city’s heart stands UNESCO-listed Naqsh-e Jahan Square flanked by azure-tiled mosques, Ali Qapu palace and the entrance to a vast bazaar. Fountains dance where once polo players pranced to entertain Safavid ruler Shah Abbas. And round the circumference, patter horse-drawn carriages; the clip-clop of their hooves echoing off the shop-front awnings, drawn low to shield against the sun. Four giggling schoolgirls approach. They’re encased in black, but carry designer handbags. One of them, Maedeh, wears a slick of red lipstick. She is 16 years old and studying English. “Can I interview you for my class?” she asks. “Of course,” I smile. Her friends whip out their smartphones and begin recording while she falteringly delivers her questions: ‘Where are you from? Do you have brothers and sisters? What do you think of Iran? What’s your favourite city? What’s your job? How old are you? Are you married?’ “No,” I reply to the last question. They fall silent. “You’re not married?” they repeat, slack jawed. “We’ve been together a long time, but we couldn’t afford a wedding, so just decided not to do it.” I can see their eyes grow wide — amazed but estranged at my freedom to choose. I worry I’ve lost them, but as I start to leave they call out in unison: “Selfie!” Teenagers seem the same where ever you go in the world. This friendly urgency to engage is everywhere I go in Iran. Near the end of the trip, I meet Fatima whose English is impeccable. “Welcome to Iran,” she beams, revealing two teeth as the sole tenants of her empty mouth. “Guests are so dear to us,” she says, cradling my hand in hers. “And we’re not like Saudi Arabia — there’s none of this,” she says, raising her black scarf to her eyes to mimic the burqa. “It’s your Queen who’s not free: always wearing those same outfits,” she teases. Fatima has it in one: forget royal hats or black veils. In the words of 13th-century Persian poet Rumi: “I have seen that the two worlds are one.”
• • • •
K EFA LONI A WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS
N I C K WA R N E R
The largest of Greece’s Ionian Islands is the poster child for the country’s exotic coves and time-warp towns, and was famously immortalised by Hollywood in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The site of ancient and colonial takeovers, and a devastating earthquake in 1953, islanders have known struggle — but the home of ancient warrior Odysseus has an endless supply of magic 130
UNCLE ANDREAS The loudest noise heard on Kefalonia, except for the occasional whine of a moped engine struggling up a hill, is the twice-daily clanging of goat bells. Goat herders, like Andreas and his nieces, take their flock up to higher ground in the morning so that they can graze on the forested slopes. At dusk they bring them down to water. New arrivals to Kefalonia can hardly believe how long it takes for the chiming parade to pass by, but it quickly becomes a part of the daily rhythm of life here.
C AV E S & C AT S The Melissani Cave is perhaps the islandâ€™s finest natural attraction. A few miles from the seaside village of Agia Effemia, this cave is the legendary home of the Nymphs, according to Greek mythology. Today, boatmen belt out traditional songs while they row tourists around the subterranean waterway. Thereâ€™s an abundance of cats on Kefalonia, introduced over the years to keep rodents and snakes in check. A handful of dedicated locals feed them and pay for yearly checkups. 134
FISKARDO Erisos and the north east of Kefalonia were the regions least affected by the 1953 earthquakes, and so a relative wealth of original, Venetian architecture remains. Fiskardo, the regionâ€™s humble centre, showcases some of the best. Here, local fishermen rub shoulders with yacht owners, and seafood restaurants colonise the quayside. Rent a boat here and head to nearby coves, like Foki Bay, or across the open water to Ithaca.
ISLAND ROADS Kefalonia is best explored by car, and with numerous car rental outfits surrounding the airport — not to mention the spectacularly picturesque routes themselves — driving is no hardship. The landscape reveals the industries of some of the island’s famous exports; dusty olive groves and makeshift beehives pepper the hillsides. Elderly locals are also a common sight, sat serenely in the shade passing the time.
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BRUSSELS No longer the transient ghosts of old, Brussels’ army of young Eurocrats are increasingly putting down roots in the Belgian capital, transforming it into a vibrant, creative city rich with the cultural flavours of their home countries WORDS: John Malathronas
he first one — robust and flavourful — was born in Congo’s Virunga National Park; the second — smoky and fruity like a Zante currant — is sourced from the Dominican Republic. The beans for the third — astringent yet aromatic — were harvested in the Peruvian jungle. I’m in Brussels eating chocolate, but the tourist cliches end there. I’ve not been tempted by the patisserie porn lining confectioners’ windows in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, and I’m not gorging on waffles in the Grande Place. Instead, I’m in the leafy-but-sleepy Brussels suburb of Uccle, a place rarely frequented by tourists — in the same way that few London visitors venture to, say, Ealing. I’m at Mike & Becky, a bean-to-bar cafe whose owner, Bjorn from Düsseldorf, is effectively taking coals to Newcastle by churning his own chocolate in Brussels. I’m sampling an assortment of the dark variety, but when presented with a fourth type, my taste buds struggle to detect any subtle notes — other than, well, chocolate. It’s like I’ve hit a chocolate wall. Bjorn isn’t surprised. “You can distinguish, at most, three, because chocolate tastes so overwhelming,” he explains. Originally lured from Germany to Brussels for a temporary role in the European Parliament, at the press department of the Green Party, Bjorn stayed on after the job
ended. “I wanted to be my own boss, and after noticing that there were only two places in the whole town you could have hot chocolate — at Laurent Gerbaud, on Rue Ravenstein, and Frederic Blondeel, on Quai aux Briques — I decided to open this chocolate cafe,” he says. Bjorn imports, roasts and winnows the beans himself, as well as grinds the nibs into a powder for chocolate — all without adding the lecithin emulsifiers, palm oil, vanillin (synthetic vanilla) and sugar that most commercial producers throw in. “A year in, the response has been positive so far,” Bjorn says. “Everyone likes chocolate, after all.” In many ways, Brussels is a victim of its location — squeezed, as it is, between two of the world’s most popular and charismatic travel destinations: Paris and Amsterdam. At best, it’s often overlooked; at worst, unfairly labelled as the humdrum HQ of the European Union. But the city doesn’t seem to care what others think. On Place Sainte-Catherine, the food trucks are out on a Saturday afternoon, offering not just moules et frites but also oysters and Champagne. At Noordzee – Mer du Nord, a fishmonger-cumseafood cafe in a corner of the square, people queue for fried prawns, salmon or tuna. At ABC Poissonnerie, a similar establishment, opposite — the choice ranges from frites with croquettes de crevettes (prawn croquettes) for
the locals, but a growing number are choosing to put down roots, share the city’s way of life and contribute to the local culture, changing the shape and feel of Brussels.
CITY OF PERMANENT TRANSITION
One of those bureaucrats who integrated is Monica Westerén, from the Finnish town of Turku. We meet at her apartment in the upscale residential area of Wuluwé. She works under the environment commissioner but has also edited The Meantime, a collection of nine short stories by young stagers (EU interns) from all over the continent. “The authors did internships around the same time and became close friends,” Monica says. “We got together every week for a project that inspired everyone: write a short story, to be published in an anthology, about characters in their 20s who come to the city for a while and then go elsewhere — but ‘in the meantime’ they stay in Brussels. I never thought I’d settle here. You start with ‘I’m here for five months’ but one things leads to another: you create a network, you get your first job, you find a partner, have a child, the child starts school, and suddenly Brussels is your home.” The Meantime’s stories — all in English — are hit-and-miss, but compelling. The preface notes that Brussels, the protagonist, is a place ‘where nothing is permanent — except transition. Even after years here, Brussels can remain an enigma. People’s experience of it is so diverse that it’s like they’re talking about a whole set of different cities.’ I encounter Europe’s jeunesse dorée (fashionable young crowd) hanging out in the bars that line Place du Luxembourg, next to the European Parliament. In Brasserie London, Quartier Léopold and Café Luxembourg, they quaff Stella and Jupiler and wolf down the plat du jour. Everyone standing is talking into their mobiles (why else would they not be sitting?) and everyone sitting seems to have a discussion partner with whom they’re talking animatedly in English, solving Europe’s problems between forkfuls.
Le Comptoir de Tom displays charcuterie boards that would be the envy of a German table, while Champigros sells all kinds of Belgian mushrooms; their scents classified with descriptions ranging from ‘fruity’ to ‘cadaverous’
PREVIOUS PAGES: The Future is Europe, a mural created in 2017 on Rue de la Loi, near the European Commission FROM TOP: Jacopo Panizza in Piola Libri; Galerie de la Reine, part of the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
IMAGES: ALAMY; JOHN MALATHRONAS
€10 (£9) to the ‘Armageddon’, a mixed platter of Texan proportions for €70 (£62). Nearby, gourmet deli Le Comptoir de Tom displays charcuterie boards that would be the envy of a German table, while Champigros sells all kinds of Belgian mushrooms; their scents classified with descriptions ranging from ‘fruity’ to ‘potato-ish’ and ‘cadaverous’. I’m starting to see why my vintage edition of the hallowed Blue Guide says: ‘In Brussels, it’s rare to be served a bad meal and even rarer to be served an insufficient quantity.’ The following day, I find myself lunching at Piola Libri, an Italian bookshop, cafe and wine bar. Located a few blocks behind the Berlaymont (the headquarters of European Commission), it’s the brainchild of Jacopo Panizza, from Bologna, who’s made it his mission to bring his native culture to Brussels’ large expat Italian community. “I want a small, cosy place where you can sit down, have a cappuccino, read a book, have a sip of wine or listen to music,” he tells me, as I tuck into handmade ricotta ravioli and melanzane alla parmigiana (aubergine and Parmesan bake), accompanied by a glass of Pinot Grigio. Jacopo explains that, after-hours, Piola serves as a space for live appearances, talks, book signings, even live music shows. Famous Italian artists, little known outside the country, have graced the bookshop. They include singer-songwriter Francesco Guccini, whose folk guitar stylings earned him a reputation as the Italian Bob Dylan in the 1970s. “We’ve even had an appearance by Rita Levi-Montalcini, a Nobel prize winner in medicine,” he adds, gleefully. Jacopo opened this small corner of Italy in Brussels a decade ago and hasn’t looked back; his weekly wine tastings are now so popular that participation is by subscription only. Like Bjorn, the German chocolatier, Jacopo served an internship at the EU — working as a translator and ghostwriter for political bigwigs — before opting to remain in Brussels and start his own business. For decades, Eurocrats tended to live separate lives from
The Town Hall’s 315ft-tall gothic tower is topped by a statue of St Michael acting as a weathervane. It’s the majestic Grand Place’s oldest structure — a miracle considering how many French cannons targeted it during the bombardment of 1695
SMALL CITY, BIG BREWS
Brussels Town Hall from Mont des Arts ABOVE: Tintin mural, Marolles district RIGHT, FROM
TOP: Sunbathers overlooking the Parc de la Porte de Hal; beer tasting al fresco
The city’s St Gilles district is, however, still pure Bruxellois; this is where sprouts were first cultivated, and you can’t get more native than that. Like in Uccle, tourists only arrive here for some specific reason. More than likely it’s Moeder Lambic, one of Brussels’ best-known pubs, run by Alsaceborn Jean Hummler, whose devotion to beer is absolute. “You’ll find no lagers here,” he proclaims. “No Jupiler, Maes or Stella — the McDonald’s of beer. Only pure, unfiltered, unpasteurised stuff.” Jean then asks me where I’m from. When I tell him London, he goes to a tap and starts filling a glass. “Try this Kernel beer, straight from a brewery
IMAGES: SUPERSTOCK; ALAMY
But it’s not all networking Eurocrats here; the Tuesday market on Place du Luxembourg offers an experience that’s impervious to the Euro expense accounts. There are stalls selling everything from North Sea fish to Italian pasta, as well as a German bakery tent and food trucks offering authentic Cornish pasties, French cassoulet, Moroccan tagines and Singapore noodles. Opposite, MIXITY 183, a pop-up art installation inside an inflatable tent, expresses the city’s pride in its diversity: there are no fewer than 183 nationalities living in Brussels. But, then again, Brussels — standing at the crossroads of French, German and Dutch cultures — has always been cosmopolitan. This revelation comes to me the next morning during a walking tour of the city’s graffiti art. Chances are you’ll come across some of this simply by meandering through the centre. In 1991, Brussels started tearing advertisements down from walls and decided instead to adorn the blank spaces with citysponsored graffiti and comic-strip art. You can now follow a trail around town to 50-odd monumental frescoes depicting homegrown comic heroes in action, from Tintin and Spirou to Lucky Luke and Asterix. It’s along the trail, around the cobbled lanes of the Marolles and Sablon neighbourhoods, I find the late-gothic church of Notre-Dame du Sablon. It’s home to one of the few authenticated holy relics in Christendom, belonging to Emperor Karl I of Austria (died in 1922, beatified in 2004). In front: Egmont Palace, the austere neoclassical pile where Denmark, Ireland and Britain signed up to join the Common Market in January 1972. Next to it, a plaque informs me, a mansion once stood: the family seat of the Thurn und Taxis, aristocrats descended from Italy with a German name who made their fortune from a European postal monopoly. A few blocks down, the traffic–congested Place Poelaert proffers one of the best views over the Old Town, a skyline dominated by the Town Hall’s 315ft-tall gothic tower, topped by a statue of St Michael acting as a weathervane. It’s the majestic Grand Place’s oldest structure — a miracle considering how many French cannons targeted it during the bombardment of 1695. At the time, Belgium was part of the Spanish Netherlands, enjoying self-governance under the King of Spain — the Dutch speakers too Catholic to be absorbed into Protestant Holland, the French ones too independent-minded for centralising France. There are some vestiges of that Spanish era left, most famously in the name of Rue de l’Amigo, a street just south of the Grand Place. The Spanish built a prison here — named the Vrunte by the Dutch — but confused the pronunciation of ‘vrunte’ with ‘vriend’ (friend) and mistranslated it into ‘amigo’. This has always been a city of cultural mixes.
in Bermondsey,” he says. I have a sip. It’s a wonderful golden brew — I daren’t use the word ‘lager’ — smelling of citrus. Jean is a beer aficionado whose enthusiasm is infectious. A jovial hurricane of a man, he speaks in a staccato voice about all the new cheese shops, artisanal bakeries and microbreweries that have sprung up and changed the tastescape of Brussels. He took over Moeder Lambic in 2006 as one of the earliest proponents of craft beer and converted it into a pub with 33 taps connected to kegs kept in a basement at two different temperatures; a pub where you can buy 70 different bottled beers; a pub where you can taste a new arrival — the beer menu changes regularly — and take it away in a litre jug. “No Coca-Cola, no Schweppes, no juices! Just beer!” Jean declaims as he pours me a Heavy Porter from the No Science brewery (sweet with a coffee aftertaste). “Plus a selection of sulphide-free wine,” he adds as a coda, as if embarrassed by the admission. When Jean hears I’m not overly fond of kriek, a type of Belgian beer made from sour cherries, he runs to a tap — an evangelist on a mission. “Try this one,” he says. “Kriek from Cantillon, Brussels’ oldest brewery.” I drink with dread, but no; it’s refreshing and sour, not like the horrible sweet concoctions available commercially. Ask Bjorn, Jacopo or Monica — foreigners who’ve laid their hats in Brussels — what they think about the city and they’ll all speak with Jean’s passion. “Brussels has a great vibe,” he tells me. “It’s inexpensive, multicultural, liberal and free. It’s big enough to have worldclass restaurants, bars and cultural activities, but still small enough to get to know people intimately. It’s not as fancy as other cities, but the quality of life is really good.” Just like the beer. LEFT: European Parliament buildings at the Place du Luxembourg
Town Hall Tower
Parc de Bruxelles
Notre-Dame du Sablon Place Poelaert
Berlaymont (EU headquarters) Place du Luxembourg Parc Léopold 500 yards
Getting there & around A number of airlines offer flights from the UK to Brussels, including British Airways, Ryanair, Brussels Airlines and Lufthansa. Eurostar runs frequent trains between St Pancras International Station and Brussels’ Gare du Midi (journey time: 2h). ba.com ryanair.com brusselsairlines.com lufthansa.com eurostar.com A Brussels Card offers free or discounted entry to museums and attractions, plus access to all trams, buses and metro lines (24/48/72h, from €24/£21.30). Alternatively, subscribe to the Villo! bike-hire scheme with a credit card (day/week, €1.60/€7.90). en.villo.be
When to go Brussels has a mild climate. Busy in July-August, it’s best visited in April-May and September-October.
Places mentioned Mike & Becky. facebook.com/mikeandbeckybrussels
Noordzee – Mer du Nord. vishandelnoordzee.be Piola Libri. piolalibri.be Moeder Lambic. moederlambic.com
More info The main visitor centre is inside the Town Hall at the Grande Place. visit.brussels/en
How to do it KIRKER HOLIDAYS offers three nights at Hotel Amigo
from £558 per person (B&B based on two sharing), including Eurostar journeys, private transfers, guide notes to city restaurants and sights, plus concierge service. kirkerholidays.com
IMAGE: ALAMY. ILLUSTRATION: JOHN PLUMER
Zany architecture, shops in Soviet-era factories and nightlife cool enough for Berlin hipsters — this is a Georgian city that makes its own rules. WORDS: Nicola Trup
IMAGES: GETTY; SAKHACHAPURE NO1
FROM LEFT: People walking along Peace Bridge; bread at Sakhachapure No1
n the days of communism, the Soviets would supposedly go dewy-eyed at the very mention of Georgia — a country of sweeping mountains, Black Sea resorts, grand cities and fine wine. Yet, despite its ongoing popularity with Russians, Tbilisi isn’t a place that relies on nostalgia or historic ties to draw in the crowds. Since the collapse of communism, the Georgian capital has been going through something of a reinvention, establishing itself as a thoroughly modern metropolis that makes its own rules. And nowhere is this more obvious than in its architecture. There are, of course, some thumping great examples of Soviet building work — notably many of the 1960s metro stations — but over the past decade particularly, the zany has overtaken the functional. Headlinegrabbing structures have been springing up — among them the Rike Park Concert Hall and Exhibition Centre. It takes pride of place on the east bank of the Mtkvari River and resembles a giant pair of binoculars. There’s also Tbilisi Public Service Hall, a municipal building with an eccentric, petal-like layered roof. Then, there’s the wavy Peace Bridge, a
steel-and-glass pedestrian crossing, erected in 2010, that glows after dark with what must be thousands of LEDs. The changing cityscape may overtly hammer home the point that Tbilisi does what it wants, but this is a feeling that’s bubbling under the surface, too. Young creatives are reclaiming previously unloved spaces — from disused Soviet-era factories to crumbling Old Town houses — and repurposing them as bars, restaurants, cultural centres and artists’ studios. One particularly cool bar owner tells me, proudly, that even Berliners — the demigods of hipsterdom — are journeying to Tbilisi to road-test the nightlife. “In some of the clubs here, if you tell them you’ve been to [Berlin’s notorious nightclub] Berghain, they’ll let you straight in,” he says. With no real epicentre for its growing creative scene, this sprawling city can sometimes feel a little disjointed — new openings are dotted around at random, squeezed into whatever space has become available. But that’s no bad thing. Instead, it gives you an excuse to see more of this fastchanging capital.
SEE & DO
NARIKALA FORTRESS: Standing atop
a steep hill overlooking the city, Narikala was established in the 4th century, around the time Tbilisi itself was founded. Most of the current fortifications date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Take the cable car up from Rike Park and admire the views before following the one-mile trail from the imposing 60ft-high Mother Georgia statue, down into the Old Town. OLD TOWN: This isn’t your classic historic centre preserved in aspic. Well-kept in some places and a little dilapidated in others, the Old Town gives the impression of being somewhere people actually live, particularly when you wander the winding backstreets. The headline attraction is the higgledypiggledy clocktower of the Gabriadze
Theatre. Designed by the puppet theatre’s eponymous founder, it houses a little angel that pops out to strike a bell on the hour. gabriadze.com BATH DISTRICT: On the edge of the Old Town, you’ll find a clutch of bathhouses that make use of the natural mineral springs that flow under the city. These sulphur baths are said to ease conditions such as arthritis, and offer a similar experience to Turkish hammams, with soaks, massages and scrubs. You’ll recognise some of the bathhouses by their domed brick roofs, while the most distinctive, Orbeliani, has a grand blue-tiled facade. WINE TASTING: Georgia is home to the world’s oldest wine-making culture, and many producers still use the traditional method of fermenting wine with grape skins and pips in
large clay pots. Georgia produces both white and red, most of which are made using native grapes. Kakheti wine country is just east of the capital, and makes for a worthwhile day trip, or you can enjoy a glass in one of the city’s wine bars. Look out for the grappa-like spirit chacha — it’s not for the faint of heart. MODERN ARCHITECTURE: Tbilisi’s weird and wonderful structures have become tourist attractions in their own right. Hit up two in one by crossing the Peace Bridge to get to the twin tubes of the Rike Park Concert Hall, which is surrounded by a manicured riverside garden. MUSEUM OF GEORGIA: This is a country with a complex past, and this museum provides an excellent — and accessible — overview. Don’t miss the fascinating exhibition on Soviet rule. museum.ge
Healing waters // Tbilisi takes its name from the old Georgian word ‘tbili’, meaning warm. It’s a nod to the city’s natural hot springs, and also reflects the relatively mild climate 152
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT:
IMAGES: GETTY; ALAMY
The New Opera House, Presidential Palace; the Abanotubani district, Old Town; Dry Bridge Market
DRY BRIDGE MARKET: At this daily flea
market, Soviet-era antiques, glassware and knives are carefully laid out alongside old electronics and cassette singles from the pop acts of yesteryear — souvenirs with a story. FABRIKA: A former Soviet clothing factory that houses a clutch of independent shops. These include Flying Painter, which sells vintage dresses and modern designs, and Ceramic Studio 1300, where you can watch the artists at work before buying their wares. flyingpainter.com facebook.com/cs1300c 17²: Tucked away in a courtyard behind the Museum of Literature, this little store is hard to find but is worth seeking out. It does a strong line in leather goods and quirky jewellery. facebook.com/17kvadrati MEIDAN BAZAAR: This quaint market, inside a tunnel under the central Meidani Square, is the perfect choice for window shoppers. It’s home to a selection of pretty Georgian rugs, teas, slippers and more that are easy on the eye — but not necessarily on the wallet.
Georgian meals usually involve sharing, with cuisine heavy on fresh herbs, aubergines, tomatoes, nuts and spices. Restaurants here range from no-frills cafes to fine dining, but even the priciest option won’t break the bank. SAKHACHAPURE NO1: Unless you don’t do dairy, you can’t visit Georgia without trying khachapuri. This cheesy bread comes in various forms. At Sakhachapure No1 you can watch the bakers make it in the open kitchen. facebook.com/sakhachapuren1 CULINARIUM KHASHERIA: With local celebrity chef Tekuna Gachechiladze at the helm, this Old Town restaurant serves beautiful, modern Georgian dishes in chic, minimal surroundings. It’s particularly strong on brunch. facebook.com/khasheria SHAVI LOMI: It may be a little off the beaten track, but with its wine-cellar style dining room, inviting courtyard and vintage decor, Shavi Lomi is a destination dining spot. The menu features refined takes on classics, such as kebabs with lavash bread.
LIKE A LOCAL
IMAGES: AWL IMAGES; ALAMY; DANIEL MUELLER/ROOMS HOTEL; MZESUMZIRA’S CAFE
SWEET & SOUR: Lemonade is a bit of a
thing in Tbilisi, with cafes all vying to make the best house version. Sofia Melnikova’s Fantastic Doucan is known for its fresh, zingy rendition, while Cafe Leila serves a lovely minty take on the drink. ON THE WATERFRONT: When it gets too hot in the city come summer, locals like to retreat to the lakes on the outskirts of the metropolis. Turtle Lake has a cafe and pedal boats to hire, while Lisi Lake, in the Mtkvari River valley, is home to a variety of birds. There’s also the Tbilisi Sea, a reservoir with a beach that’s the area’s busiest swimming spot. MOUNTAIN HIGH: Reached by funicular, the hilltop Mtatsminda Park is a popular hangout for locals. Families come here to have a go on the kitsch funfair, while in the evenings it’s great for soaking up the twinkling lights of Tbilisi below. Meanwhile, Mzesumzira’s Cafe is a ramshackle spot serving drinks and vegetarian food overlooking the city. facebook.com/mzesumzirascafe
Tbilisi isn’t generally expensive, but accommodation can be disproportionately pricey. Many international chains abound, but there’s also a growing number of excellent, locally owned hotels. FABRIKA: This hip hostel — opened in 2016 — is housed within Tbilisi’s coolest cultural hub. Dorms are basic but clean and modern, while private rooms have a vintage vibe. The hostel hosts various events — from talks to rooftop yoga. Private rooms from US$71 (£54), dorm beds from US$9 (£7), room only. fabrikatbilisi.com IOTA: New to the city last summer, Iota is a minimalist’s dream inside, while the location — a few minutes’ walk into the Old Town — is ideal for sightseeing. Doubles from US$160 (£121), B&B. iotahotels.com ROOMS HOTEL: The grande dame of Tbilisi’s design-led hotels, Rooms remains one of the city’s best addresses — it’s where A-listers check in when they’re in town. The decor is eclectic, while the chic bar is popular with locals. Doubles from €195 (£172), B&B. roomshotel.com
LEFT: View of Mtkvari river; Rooms Hotel; Mzesumzira’s Cafe; Georgian men playing dominos at the Dry Bridge Market
Museum of Georgia
OLD TOWN Peace Bridge
Tbilisi Public Service Hall
hoping to add a hostel and club. facebook.com/amodi.chame.da.chadi BASSIANI: The techno beats and anythinggoes vibe at this subterranean nightclub have put Tbilisi on the international rave map. Expect the coolest DJs you’ve never heard of and an international, LGBT-friendly crowd. bassiani.com VINO UNDERGROUND: Raise a glass or two at this basement bar that specialises in Georgian natural wines. The staff are extremely knowledgeable, and you can order nibbles, too. vinounderground.ge
ESSENTIALS Getting there & around
AVLABARI Rike Park Concert Hall Rike Pa r k
BELOW: Amodi nightlife
Georgian Airways flies direct from Heathrow to Tbilisi three times a week, but there are also indirect services from the UK. These include Air Baltic via Riga, Pegasus and Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, and Ukraine International Airlines via Kiev. georgian-airways.com airbaltic.com flypgs.com turkishairlines.com flyuia.com Central Tbilisi is walkable, but for travelling further afield there’s a small metro network, with 22 stops over two lines, which intersect at the central railway station. Buses and marshrutki (minibuses) are also available, and the Tbilisi Transport Company has a route planner on its website, though you have to be very precise when entering your departure point and destination. Taxis are relatively cheap. ttc.com.ge
When to go In winter Tbilisi’s temperature drops to lows of about -2C, while summer tends to highs in the mid-30Cs. The best time to visit is around May/June, and September, when the temperature is more bearable.
More info georgia.travel Georgia (Bradt Travel Guides). RRP: £16.99
How to do it LASTMINUTE.COM has a four-night break in Tbilisi,
including accommodation at Rooms Hotel, B&B, and indirect Turkish Airlines flights from Gatwick from £580 per person.
IMAGE: AMODI. ILLUSTRATION: JOHN PLUMER
Tbilisi is fast gaining a reputation for its nightlife, and deservedly so, with a techno scene that’s attracting even the most discerning ravers, and new bars springing up. AMODI: You’ll have to look carefully to find this hip bar and terrace, which opened last summer in an Old Town back street. But once you locate it you’ll be rewarded with cheap drinks, barbecued bites (weather permitting) and great views of the city. The ambitious young owners are also
A modern marvel The Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi seamlessly blends past and present, and is a great base from which to explore this fascinating city Rising magnificently from its city surroundings, The Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi dominates the Georgian skyline. Built in 2016, it’s the tallest building in the Caucasus Region and views from the top of its 32 floors stretch out across the entire city. Rooms are plush, the spa is phenomenal and the impressive-sized pool comes complete with a Jacuzzi and two saunas. Xeme restaurant, serving modern, sophisticated fare, requires no further superlatives — perched at the highest point of this sparkling skyscraper. The panoramic views are made even more stupendous by its location, on Rustaveli Avenue, right in the beating heart of Tbilisi. Within easy ambling distance are a wealth of museums, galleries and historical landmarks — the perfect jumping-off point for every traveller. But don’t let its futuristic exterior fool you: the Biltmore Hotel may be a modern marvel but it has an incredible past. In fact, history is woven into its very foundations. Construction of the main amphitheatre at the base of its glass tower began in 1934, and it was the scene of a crucial moment in the country’s history. Within its guilded hall parliamentary sessions were held in the beginning of the 1990s, and it was here the first constitution of Georgia was adopted in 1995. The team at Biltmore Hotel knows that while embracing modernity, it’s crucial to keep Georgian culture alive and flourishing. A unique partnership with the National Library of Georgia offers weekly talks from experts in a range of fields, from historians and scientists to musicians and directors. Sessions are held in the amphitheatre, open to everyone and free of charge. They have been phenomenally successful, with more than 1,000 people attending the events.
When at Hotel Biltmore… 1
Go to the opera
The beautiful Georgian National Opera Theatre is just a twominute walk from the hotel. Whether you attend a show or not, it’s well worth a visit — it opened in 1851, making it one of the oldest establishments of its kind in Europe. It’s free to wander around.
Discover Georgia’s treasures
Located in a recently renovated Soviet era building, The Georgian National Museum has a plethora of extraordinary exhibits, from Palaeolithic hominid remains to 19th-century costumes and weaponry. Guided tours reveal even more and cost £13.
Ride to the top
The ride up Mount Mtatsminda on the funicular is a great experience for all the family, and views from the top are nothing short of spectacular. There are several excellent places to stop for a bite to eat or drink at the bottom, too. The cost of a ride is around 50p.
+995 322 72 72 72 firstname.lastname@example.org millenniumhotels.com 29 Rustaveli Ave., 0108, Tbilisi, Georgia
ASK THE EXPERTS
Q // If travellers are to be banned from climbing Australia’s Uluru from 26 October 2019, is it still worth visiting?
Despite being handed back to them in 1985, the Anangu people have seen visitors trample over their sacred site for another three decades. The fear was that tourists wouldn’t come if they couldn’t climb, but in 2015 only 16% of 250,000 visitors chose to, according to regional statistics. And there's really no need. The magic of Uluru lies in its colours and culture, and tons of tour operators offer sunset trips to the rock. You can enjoy sparkling wine and canapes while watching Uluru’s hues transition through day-glow orange, fiery red and burnt umber, to dusky plum. The classic ‘Sounds of Silence’ experience at Ayers Rock Resort combines the above with a white-tablecloth dinner under the stars, along with accompanying celestial talk and Aboriginal show. For the active, there are outback camel rides and numerous guided
cultural hikes to important sites around the rock, while ‘base walk’ trips allow visitors to take a six-mile stroll around its circumference. Nearby also is the essential trek along the rim of Kings Canyon, whose honeycombed cliffs are crowned by marine fossils etched into 330 million-year-old sandstone. Meanwhile, 16 miles west of Uluru are the 36 domes of Kata Tjuta, an eight-square-mile geological site, overlooked by 3,500ft Mount Olga. If you absolutely have to see the top — pre- or post-ban — then try skydiving over Uluru. The scenic flight up offers an amazing aerial perspective of the rock, and the way back down is certainly more thrilling than making the disrespectful climb. ayersrockresort.com.au skydiveuluru.com.au
For those of us who live and work within a few hundred feet of Uluru, the recent decision by our board to close the Uluru Climb was nothing short of monumental. If you look at the statistics, very few visitors solely came for the climb. Indeed, the rangers who provide the daily ‘Mala Walk’ for visitors say that many people who come intending to climb change their mind once they are provided with the reasons that Anangu prefer them not to do so. One of the key factors in the board’s decision was that there’ll be a range of alternatives to climbing. You can now hire bicycles from the Cultural Centre and cycle or ride a segway around Australia’s best-known icon. We’re always looking for new ways to make the journey a memorable one. northernterritory.com parksaustralia.gov.au
NEED ADVICE FOR YOUR NEXT TRIP? ARE YOU AFTER RECOMMENDATIONS, TIPS AND GUIDANCE? THE TRAVEL GEEKS HAVE THE ANSWERS…
Q // I’m looking for somewhere new to dive this year. What do you suggest?
Q // What is the protocol, and what can I do, if I’m arrested abroad on trumped-up charges?
Known as the ‘Galapagos of the Atlantic’, the remote St Helena is a destination that should be on every adventurous diver’s bucket list in 2018. Whereas the actual Galapagos have been accessible for decades, until this year the only way of reaching St Helena was on a five-day Royal Mail ship from Cape Town. But now, with the completion of
a new airport, it’s ready to welcome those looking for a unique diving experience. It offers a pristine, seldom-dived underwater environment, is home to a staggering variety of marine life (over 750 species) and some great wreck diving. The highlight, however, must surely be the aggregation of whale sharks that happens between December and March. It’s one of the few places left where you can experience that thrill of adventure and feel like a true explorer. PHIL NORTH
Sadly, this is far more common than you might think. In many popular tourist destinations such as Thailand, Indonesia and Dubai, possessing a small amount of drugs, even if they are not illegal at home, can lead to arrest. If you do find yourself being detained then don’t resist or fight back. If you can, get a message to someone explaining what has happened and ask them to contact the Foreign Office. Our charity, Reprieve, fights to end the death penalty globally and supports British nationals on death rows around the world. If your charges carry a death
sentence, we may be able to help. British Embassy officials will visit you and offer you our forms. If you come under pressure to ‘confess’ to certain things and are given documents in a language you don’t understand, ask for a lawyer and an interpreter. If you are denied, inform the embassy officials as soon as you see them. Let them know if you have suffered any mistreatment. Most importantly, stay calm. Foreign systems can be incomprehensible but help is available. MAYA FOA
health corner Q // What are the signs of hypothermia? Hypothermia occurs when your body or core temperature drops below 35C. It can be mild, with shivering and confusion; moderate, when shivering stops but confusion increases; or severe, with the desire to shed clothing and ‘terminal burrowing’ (desire to enter small enclosed spaces). It’s caused by exposure to extreme cold, especially in water, but risk factors include alcohol intoxication, low blood sugar, anorexia, old age and poverty. PREVENTION: Revolves around adequate shelter, multi-layered, loose-fitting clothing and the wearing of life jackets at sea. TREATMENT: Essentially rewarming with dry clothing and sweetened hot drinks. In more severe cases, active external rewarming may be required — for example, a heating blanket or, in the wilderness, hot water bottles in both armpits and the groin. DR PAT GARROD
THE EXPERTS Q // What’s a good budget option for the Seychelles?
British Airways' new non-stop flight to the Seychelles’ island hub of Mahe puts this archipelago in closer reach (10hrs as opposed to 13) — a boon for backpackers who want to eschew expensive internal flights to the outer islands. Instead, hop on the ferry to the little inner island of La Digue, a four-squaremile land mass characterised by pink granite boulders, white-sand
beaches, few roads, and even fewer cars. Bikes are the way to get about — just watch out for the giant tortoises slumbering in the road like speed bumps. Hotels are more like guest houses, with double rooms often well under £100 per night. Airbnb is a good place to browse but I recommend Cabanes des Anges, a family-run guest house that costs from £100 per night. cabanesdesanges.sc SARAH BARRELL
JAMES DRAVEN // FREELANCE TRAVEL WRITER STEVEN BALDWIN // PARK OPERATIONS & VISITOR SERVICES, ULURU-KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK MAYA FOA // DIRECTOR, REPRIEVE REPRIEVE.ORG.UK SARAH BARRELL // ASSOCIATE EDITOR, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER (UK) PHIL NORTH // DIVE WORLDWIDE DIVEWORLDWIDE.COM
DR PAT GARROD // THEWORLDOVERLAND.COM
NEW ORLEANS’ MARDI GRAS WHILE WE’RE TOSSING PANCAKES ON SHROVE TUESDAY TO MARK THE START OF LENT, THE BIG EASY IS THROWING THE GREATEST FREE SHOW ON EARTH
13 February 2018 Translate ‘Fat Tuesday’ to French and you get Mardi Gras. Parades and parties culminate on this day
FROM COLOURFUL PLASTIC BEADS, DOUBLOONS, DECORATED PLASTIC CUPS AND MOON PIES TO SMALL TOYS AND EVEN LINGERIE,
Attendees at 2016’s Mardi Gras
King cakes are sold every year. Inside the colourful dough ring is a plastic baby meant to represent Jesus
THROWS ARE CAST OFF FROM THE FLOATS INTO THE CROWDS
People flew to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 2016
Portable toilets installed along the parade routes
MARDI GRAS’ ROOTS ARE IN CATHOLICISM, BUT THE
CELEBRATIONS WERE ALSO INFLUENCED BY FRENCH FESTIVITIES, AFRICAN MUSIC AND
THE MASQUERADE TRADITION
The average price of a Mardi Gras mask (£4.29)
Official Mardi Gras colours: purple, gold and green
The first parade with floats in New Orleans was organised 160 years ago by the Mistick Krewe of Comus
Number of times festivities have been cancelled — the last time was 1979, due to a police strike
AND ENDYMION ARE
AMONG THE CREAM
MARDI GRAS. THEY
OF THE KREWE CROP.
NAME A ROYAL
THEY FEATURE THE
COURT TO PRESIDE
LARGEST AND MOST
— A TRADITION
THAT STARTED AS A
PLUS THE MOST
SPOOF OF EUROPEAN
MARDI GRAS INDIANS Tracing their roots back to when American Indians helped shield runaway slaves, the Mardi Gras Indians are among the most elaborately dressed revellers of New Orleans’ celebrations
The carnival ends when the elected royalty of the oldest krewes, Rex and Comus, meet following their respective balls
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WHICH ISLANDS ARE READY TO RECEIVE VISITORS AND HOW DO TOURIST DOLLARS HELP AFTER SUCCESSIVE HURRICANES, IRMA AND MARIA, WROUGHT HAVOC IN THE CARIBBEAN THIS YEAR? WORDS: JAMES DRAVEN The Caribbean is no stranger to tropical storms. However, 2017 was a particularly devastating season, with two category five hurricanes — Irma and Maria — hitting the region within 10 days of each other, hot on the heels of tropical storms and hurricanes Bret, Don, Harvey and Jose. Pummelling winds peaked at an unprecedented 185mph, killing hundreds of people and seriously impacting the lives of over 100,000 others, as well as felling power and telecommunications lines, cutting inhabitants off from mobile phone and internet contact. Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Dominica, the US Virgin Islands, and the British Virgin Islands were particularly severely hit, but the hurricanes also significantly impacted Anguilla, Cuba, St Martin and St Maarten, St Barts, and Turks and Caicos Islands. “These storms may end up reshaping life in the Caribbean,” said Dionne Ligoure, head of corporate communications at Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Airlines. “In the years to come, people will think of the Caribbean in terms of pre-Irma and post-Irma.” Recovery is progressing at different speeds dependent on the destination and, as of November, 60% of Puerto Ricans were still without power and one in five without water, while power was yet to be restored to 90% of
the population of Dominica. In contrast, the US Virgin Islands had started to receive cruise ships, the BVI had begun to welcome back visitors and most of the Turks and Caicos islands’ tourism industry and infrastructure was already fully operational. Nevertheless, while it was necessary for thousands of flights to be cancelled at the time, across a region that’s heavily dependent on tourism, it’s important to note that around 70% of the Caribbean wasn’t impacted at all. Nearly all cruises are going ahead, with only minor alterations to schedule and, at time of writing, more than 75% of hotels across the Caribbean were still fully operational, open for business and ready to welcome visitors back for the winter season — so one of the main things you can do to help is return there for a holiday as soon as possible. While many of the more severely affected islands are recovering fast, Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Saba, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and
Q&A HOW DO I KNOW WHICH ISLANDS ARE READY FOR VISITORS?
For a quick overview of which destinations are fully open for business, and those on the road to recovery, visit caribbeantravelupdate.com ASIDE FROM VISITING, HOW CAN I HELP?
Hard-hit Dominica is open to volunteer tourism to aid with rebuilding, but in most cases, agencies need cash contributions to use according to each destinations’ specific requirements. Non-profit organisation, Tourism Cares, is running The Caribbean Tourism Recovery Fund, which aims to restore and improve tourism infrastructure in order to get the 2.4 million people employed in Caribbean tourism back to work. To donate, visit tourismcares.org/caribbean WHAT HAS THE UK DONE TO HELP?
The hurricanes left an estimated £88bn trail of destruction in their wake — the UK has deployed 1,300 troops and committed £62m to the relief effort. The government also promised to match public donations to the British Red Cross Hurricane Appeal up to the value of £3m. redcross.org.uk
Tobago were barely affected by the hurricanes. Many of these holiday hotspots got off lightly enough that they’ve been able to extend aid efforts to neighbouring islands, so you should be heading to these destinations already. “It’s important to put the geography of the Caribbean in context,” Frank Comito, CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, told me. “The distance between Boston and Miami is the same as between the Bahamas and Barbados. When Irma struck South Florida, the weather in Boston was perfect, not a drop of rain or gust of wind. Likewise, when Irma and Maria struck part of the Caribbean, much of the region wasn’t impacted at all.” Questions remain on how to safeguard the Caribbean in future, and there are calls to update building codes and regulations in line with Florida’s, which better weathers tropical storms. Richard Branson, who owns two of the British Virgin Islands, thinks solutions need to be further reaching and on a holistic scale. Between the impacts of Irma and Maria, on his website he wrote: “Having just gone through one of the strongest hurricanes in history, I’ve seen first-hand the impact climate change is having. Even as the world faces increasingly shocking climate changerelated catastrophes, now is our opportunity to get on top of the problem before it’s too late.”
AND ANOTHER THING… NEW ROUTES TO THE USA CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE
THE WINDY CITY
THE BIG APPLE
TO THE MIDWEST
Aer Lingus has announced a new, direct flight from Dublin to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest city, four times a week from 25 March. aerlingus.com
From May, British Airways will run the first direct service from the UK to Nashville in Tennessee, flying five days a week from Heathrow. ba.com
Norwegian will launch a new year-round service to the US from Gatwick: a four times a week service to Chicago starting on 25 March. norwegian.com
Primera Air will operate daily services to New York’s Newark from Stansted (from 19 April) and Birmingham ( from 18 May). primeraair.co.uk
From May, WOW Air will operate new routes via its Reykjavik hub to Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Louis, four times a week. wowair.co.uk
CHECKLIST: DUFFEL BAG
HELLY HANSEN DUFFEL BAG 90L
Waterproof with multiple compartments RRP: £90 hellyhansen.com
7TOways COMBAT JET LAG WE ALL KNOW THE DRILL: AVOID CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL, KEEP HYDRATED AND DON’T GIVE IN TO NAPS, BUT TO REALLY BEAT THE LOATHSOME LAG, YOU HAVE TO BE A BIT MORE DEDICATED… OR MEDICATED
THULE SUBTERRA CARRY-ON 40L
Convertible from duffel bag to backpack RRP: £155 thule.com
BURTON RIDERS BAG 73L
Vented shoe storage pouch RRP: £80 burton.com
1 // SUPPLEMENT YOURSELF
4 // AMINO ACID ALTERNATIVE
Try the tree bark derivative pycnogenol, which is reported to ease the fatigue and brain fog associated with jet lag. It’s taken for a couple of days before travel and for four to five days after arrival. Or try one of the many supplements specially designed to help travellers by boosting hydration and the vitamins and nutrients depleted by air travel, like B vitamins, fruit juices, melatonin, rose hip and valerian root.
Supplements that use the amino acid L-Tryptophan, or its derivative, 5-HTP, are considered an alternative to melatonin, and are available over the counter in the UK. L-Tryptophan is involved in the production of the brain chemical serotonin, which affects mood and sleep.
REEF DUFFEL IV
Anxiety, fatigue, poor circulation: all symptoms of jet lag that are alleviated by exercise. A short burst of cardiovascular activity, ideally done outdoors, during daylight hours, within a few hours of boarding your plane, then again shortly after arrival, can improve mood and energy levels and promote better sleep patterns. No time for a pre-flight yoga flow class? Then try to fit in a brisk 20-minute walk.
2 // LET THERE BE LIGHT Your body’s internal clock is influenced by sunlight. To speed up the brain’s adjustment to different time zones, try light therapy. Taken in small doses before travelling, this treatment has travellers sit in front of a lamp simulating sunlight, during the daylight hours of their planned destination’s time zone. Recent research from the Stanford School of Medicine in the USA suggests, however, that exposing yourself to short bursts of bright light while you sleep may be more effective than longer wakeful stints in front of a lamp. A simpler alternative: seek out light when flying west and, when flying east, avoid morning light and seek out afternoon light for the first few days after arrival.
3 // GO HORMONAL
Wet and dry compartments RRP: £90 reef.com
5 // GET MOVING
Melatonin is a hormone released by the body’s pineal gland when the sun sets each day, as the time for sleep approaches, and is in charge of maintaining our circadian rhythm. A dose of synthetic melatonin taken a few hours before bed may help shift the body clock to sleep mode earlier, and promote a fuller night’s rest. Not available in the UK, it can be found in pharmacies worldwide.
6 // FAST, FOR FASTER RECOVERY
The Argonne diet protocol, trialled in 2002 on US National Guard personnel, advocates alternate feasting and fasting up to four days before travel to help ease jet lag symptoms. A simplified version suggests fasting immediately before and during the flight (for around 14 hours), drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, then eating soon after landing, as close to a local mealtime as possible.
The feeling of tiredness and confusion people can experience after making a long journey by plane to a place where the time is different from that at origin.
7 // TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR If you have a debilitating sensitivity to time zone changes, you could speak to your doctor about sleeping pills, which may help ease your body into sleeping regular hours. You should consult your GP before taking any medication, supplements or fasting. SARAH BARRELL
Tech trave�er DRONING ON
TECHNOLOGY REPORTER FOR @BBCCLICK AND AUTHOR OF WORKING THE CLOUD, KATE RUSSELL PICKS THE LATEST INNOVATIONS
TOP APPS FOR... Flight Assist for Drones
Whatever your photographic requirements, you need to know what drone kit is worth investing in and what, exactly, you’re allowed to do with it
The internet is filling up with aerial vistas filmed on the latest personal drones. You can now pick up a decent quadcopter with accurate GPS, collision-avoidance sensors, and a 4K gimballed camera for just under £1,000, like the DJI Mavic Pro (dji.com/mavic). But before you blow all that cash on top-of-the-range kit, there’re a few things you should be aware of. All countries have their own set of rules for these UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), so make sure you read up before heading out with your new toy. The UK’s official code can be found at dronesafe.uk. There’s advice about training and regulation, and the free Drone Assist app will show you where you can and can’t fly. International travellers should grab AirMap (airmap.com), with information about the rules and restrictions on a local map, and real-time collision alerts while you’re flying.
Before splurging on high-end kit, consider cutting your pilot’s teeth with an entry-level toy drone. Syma (symatoys.com) has a good range with HD cameras built in that start at around £35. At that price-point, don’t expect the picture quality to be exceptional, and without the GPS and flight-assist features of the more expensive models they’re harder to control. But £35 is a lot less to lose if you have a catastrophic accident. Once you progress to the larger UAVs, think seriously about insurance, both to replace damaged equipment and for public liability. There are plenty of personal drone insurance specialists out there, so do a bit of research to get the best cover for your circumstances. Finally, before you head off into the blue, take the time to read up on filming techniques. The UAV Coach blog has a nice guide (uavcoach.com/ aerial-videography) that walks you through the basic shots to master.
HOVER IOS/ANDROID FREE
Along with telling you where you can ﬂy, this app has drone-speciﬁc weather forecasts, ﬂight logs and a newsfeed to keep you bang up to date and ﬂying safe.
GOOGLE EARTH ALL PLATFORMS FREE
Download the app and explore the world from a drone’s perspective before picking your next ﬁlming location.
B4UFLY IOS/ANDROID FREE
US airspace is pretty heavily regulated so it’s worth checking with this ofﬁcial FAA app before taking to the skies in America.
FLIGHTRADAR24 IOS/ANDROID FREE
Track everything going on in the sky in real time so you can avoid any collision situations.
GET THE GADGET
Olloclip Filmer’s Kit Photography-loving iPhone users can beef up their mobile camera kit with Olloclip’s new collection of lenses and accessories packed neatly in a custom-made bag. The pack includes four clipon lenses to fi t iPhone 7 and 7s — the Core lens set providing Fisheye, Super-Wide and Macro 15x lenses, the Active Lens Set with Telephoto 2x, and Ultra-
Wide lenses. When purchased separately these lenses will set you back about the same amount as the Filmer’s Kit, but in this pack you’ll also get a Pivot video grip, which allows for much smoother camera control with a 225-degree articulating head. RRP: £219.95 olloclip.com/shop/shop/ filmers-kit
HOW I GOT THE SHOT
WORKING LIFE IN KEFALONIA NICK WARNER, THE PHOTOGRAPHER FOR OUR KEFALONIA IN PICTURES FEATURE ON P.130, EXPLAINS HOW HE TACKLED LANGUAGE BARRIERS TO CAPTURE LIFE ON A GOAT FARM
The first morning I was in Kefalonia, I was woken by innumerable goats, all with cowbells round their necks, being herded by an ancientlooking local. This was how I first encountered Andreas, the goat herder. He was leaning on his staff, sweating, and shouting at his goats, which were going to town on vegetation in a neighbouring garden. I approached him with a very British nod, receiving an apathetic grunt in return. He spoke no English, but with a varied palette of gesticulations, I soon deducted that he had some 150 goats that he took uphill every morning for grazing, and downhill every afternoon for water. Soon,
I wanted to convey the slightly chaotic, claustrophobic feeling at the farm by framing this shot tightly, and having both Andreas and the goat he was milking partially cropped
I was passed onto his niece, Frida, who spoke a little English. When I explained that I was a travel photographer, I was invited to their farm the next day to see Andreas shear and milk his goats. The sun was surprisingly high and bright for 8am, but they were tending the goats in deep shade, beneath trees with some dappled sun coming through. By exposing my Canon 5D camera by a third of a stop below the shade reading, I got an exposure I felt confident I could work with later by lifting the shadows a third, and pulling the highlights down two-thirds. I replicated these settings on my Contax G2 35mm film camera too. I shot all images at ISO 800, so
I had plenty of flexibility in my shutter speed and aperture. I tried to stay at 1/250 shutter speed to make sure I could keep up with the pace at which the herders were working, so my fine-tuning frameto-frame was done with aperture. I ran through my usual routine of shooting everything that was happening as they worked, trying to stay out of their way, and occasionally asking someone (through hand gestures) to pause what they were doing and stand for a portrait. This way, I usually get a variety of shots that tell the overall story well. @nick_fotograph nickwarner.co.uk
IN THE NEXT ISSUE
Travel doesnâ€™t always have to be far flung. From gin-making in Scotland to coastal walks in Wales, we round up the best weekends away in the British Isles to enjoy the great outdoors
Plus // France, Vienna, Hong Kong, Reykjavik, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Vancouver, Quito
march issue On sale 1 february 2018 For more information on our subscription offers, see page 176 Jan/Feb 2018
ON THE RIVER: BUDAPEST TO THE BLACK SEA TAKING A SMALL-BOAT RIVER CRUISE DOWN THE DANUBE IS A CIVILISED WAY TO TAKE IN SOME OF EUROPE’S MOST HISTORIC CITIES; JUST REMEMBER TO GET DRESSED BEFORE YOU OPEN THE CURTAINS IN THE MORNING. WORDS: JOHN MALATHRONAS
his is fantastic,” murmurs my friend Steve to no one in particular — certainly not to me or to his wife Dianne, as we glide along the Danube on a balmy summer night. The three of us are aboard the Saga Holidays ship Regina Rheni II on a cruise from Budapest to the Black Sea, standing on the top deck trying to absorb the splendour of the illuminated Hungarian capital. Sometimes we strain our necks towards Habsburg-looking Buda, its castle shining resplendent on a hill; sometimes towards Pest, where the neo-gothic Parliament, with its slender acicular contours, monopolises our attention. Cameras and smartphones are useless at such low light so we’re left gadgetless with only our mind’s eyes to record the spectacle. This is my first cruise — river or ocean — so Steve and Dianne are keen to fill me in on the differences I wouldn’t recognise anyway. I’m told that river cruises are smaller, friendlier and more manageable, while ocean cruises are destination-orientated. On the river you can look out of the
window and watch the world go by. Indeed, as we’re passing through the small Hungarian town of Mohács the following morning, I carelessly open my cabin’s curtains while still in my underwear only to be confronted by the embarrassed chuckles of an amateur fisherman less than 10ft away. This feels more like a gentle train journey. Maybe that’s why the EU has dubbed the Danube, rather prosaically, ‘PanEuropean transport corridor VII’. Hungarians still say ‘more was lost in Mohács’ in resignation. It’s an aphorism meaning ‘worse things happen at sea’, because this is where the Hungarian Kingdom lost a decisive battle against the Turks in 1526, leading to 150-odd years of Ottoman occupation. Well, the town may be the seat of lingering national trauma, but today it’s as lifeless as the scarecrows standing in the surrounding rapeseed fields. It’s Sunday and everything is closed, so we’re all off to an equestrian extravaganza at the Bakod Horse Farm, showcasing the riding skills of the csikós, the mounted herdsmen of the Puszta, the Pannonian Steppe.
The hour-long spectacle features precision carriage riding and rodeo-like games starring the Kisber halfbloods: chestnut horses, trained to perfection. They don’t even flinch at the cracking of whips but sit on their hind legs like dogs or lie flat on the ground and let their riders use them as a mattress for a nap. The climax is a dazzling Puszta-ten, whereby a rider stands upright on two horses and commands eight more, tethered together, racing at full gallop. I’m sure every tour under the sun comes here, but it doesn’t make the show any less breathtaking. For once, numbers allow you to attend an event you wouldn’t be able to on your own. That night we cross into Serbia; yet the Danube looks and feels the same, a reminder that borders are human constructs. The banks are thick with willows, poplars and the odd alder or oak, while the river smells of petrol and sewage, its colour caramel. Only near the coast, when the Danube widens up and the sky is reflected enough in the water, does it adopt a mirror-lake mode and the colour turns to its much-sung blue.
Going with the flow // Whereas Novi Sad embraces the Danube with embankments and open views, Belgrade retreats from it guardedly as befits a city that’s been razed more than 40 times In Novi Sad, despite the looming presence of the fortress of Petrovaradin, nicknamed ‘the Gibraltar of the Danube’, the town has an Austrian, chocolate-box daintiness and a hard-to-miss youthful disposition. Music in Serbia seems to be still important as the focus of an alternative culture. There are posters everywhere advertising club nights and festivals: Lovefest, Music of the Spheres and, of course, the internationally famous Exit Fest that makes good use of the vast grounds of the Petrovaradin.
On to Serbia
Whereas Novi Sad embraces the Danube with embankments and open views, Belgrade retreats from it guardedly as befits a city that’s been razed more than 40 times. The banks come up steeply from the riverside and the only signs of life are the moored party boats blasting out music until
early in the morning. Liliana, our local guide, takes us around the capital and works us with wry humour. (Typical aside: “How do you double the price of a Yugo? Fill it up with petrol.”) I suppose self-deprecation comes naturally to someone whose passport changed names five times in the last 20 years as Yugoslavia morphed into the Serb Republic. A final, late-night crapulous foray into town with Steve convinces me that, although Belgrade isn’t a city that wows with its beauty, it’s one you can enjoy living in. By this time we all have our extended circles: for dinner, on deck, at the bar. A cruise is certainly a lazy way to travel and everyone on board loves it. “It’s a holiday where the hotel moves with you. You don’t have to pack up all the time,” says Paul from Bolton, who’s saved our team several times from ignominy in the nightly quizzes. Dianne has her own reasons: “You don’t need
to think about food, shopping or cooking, even cracking an egg. The brain gradually empties itself of the usual daily tasks.” Overeating is certainly part of the experience and I rapidly put on weight as my metabolism slows down to match the speed of the river. “On a cruise, you might not like your cabin, the other passengers or the weather, but when you don’t like the food, then everything feels terrible. It’s on the quality of the food that a cruise succeeds or fails,” Holger Friedemann, our German head chef, tells me wisely. He’s spent a lifetime on riverboats and has much to consider: there are health hazards like the norovirus; there are coeliac sufferers and vegetarians to cater to; there are allergies to be accounted for that are minutely detailed next to every dish on our menus. What with all the preparation headaches, the fact that the food on board is excellent throughout appears to be an added bonus. After Belgrade, the Danube itself is the main event. Limestone cliffs rise up as the tree-line reaches the river shore, looking like a fjord without the glacial surface. We’re in the Kazan gorge making our way to the Iron Gates. This was a navigational nightmare in olden times, but a grandiose 1970s dam — a collaborative effort between Serbia and Romania — raised the level by around 100ft, easing the river passage. In the process it flooded 17 cities and villages, a large inhabited island plus a Roman road built by Emperor Trajan. His triumphant inscription, the Tabula Traiana dating from AD101, has been moved up to the river level on the Serbian side and is a popular destination for tourist speedboats. Its modern equivalent, completed in 2004, lies just upstream on the Romanian side — a gigantic rock sculpture of Decebalus, chief of the Dacians and Trajan’s worthy opponent, who eventually succumbed to the Roman legions.
Yet, despite the majesty of the surroundings, it’s hard to forget that the Serbian city of Tekija on our right or the Romanian city of Orșova on our left are all resettlements of people whose history was obliterated in the name of ‘progress’. When we reach the dam and follow a Ukrainian barge into a massive lock, we spot a monumental geoglyph on the mountain side: the name of the old Communist leader, Tito, above the now defunct Yugoslav flag. If you want to build a dam that will submerge cities and villages, it helps if you’re a dictator. As we leave Serbia, the Danube once again becomes the border between two EU member states, Bulgaria and Romania. Unbridled, the river now stretches at will, forming islands and channels. “It takes special skills to drive a riverboat,” Captain Relu tells me in the wheelhouse. “In the sea, apart from some wind calculations, you can put a ship on autopilot. On a river you’re constantly on the lookout, making corrections for the mud, streams or sandbanks. The current washes the sand and continuously modifies the riverbed. The Danube is alive.” Captain Relu is one of two captains on our vessel, each navigating six hours on/six hours off, for the river requires 24-hour vigilance. He’s Romanian but speaks to me in English and is also fluent in Russian and German. Despite the overwhelming use of English internationally, the official language for communication on the Danube is German until Mohács, and Russian from there to the Black Sea.
The river flows on
We reach Ruse in Bulgaria around lunchtime the following day. It’s hellishly hot, with the mercury hitting 36C, while the humidity is so high that, were we to boil an egg in the open, the steam would surely come down as rain in some other part of town. Steve, Dianne and I venture out to the centre of Ruse, built with open, unshaded
spaces, convenient for parading tanks on Bulgarian National Day, but crippling in the summer for pedestrians without parasols. Ruse must have looked better in the past with a number of beautiful but crumbling belle époque houses. Today, they alternate with Communist-era buildings, once imposing but now rendered unsightly with an abundance of air-conditioning condensers sprinkled on their brutalist facades. We persevere — I mean, will we ever come here again? — but eventually the relentless Ruse sun makes us cut short our walk and return to the comfort of our cabins. That night our boat sails north, deeper into Romania. After breakfast we pass slowly through Galați, whose odd fin de siècle edifice is drowned within a cacophony of faceless apartment blocks. As far as the eye can see there are 50 shades of rust: abandoned ships, worn out warehouses and neglected cranes. Even the presence of shipyards doesn’t disguise the
obvious fact that Galați is where barges go to die. We fleetingly pass by the Moldovan town of Giurgiulești, whose riverfront measures just 1,000ft and is populated by stacks of shipping containers; the landlocked country tries to utilise its tiny river footprint as best as it can. We hit the Ukrainian border, its observation posts and armed guards an unfamiliar sight in 21st-century Europe. Finally, we moor at Tulcea, a city of boats, fishermen and sailors’ bars, a world of travel agencies and currency exchange offices. It sports a couple of old churches, a few museums, some 19th-century mansions and, I reckon, the world’s only neoclassical mosque. But, most importantly, it’s the gateway to the Danube Delta, an area of wetlands three times the size of Greater London and the highlight of our cruise. Next morning, we’re off down to the southernmost arm of the delta to glimpse the Black Sea, which is still 60-odd miles away. The further we travel, the more
PREVIOUS PAGES: Mraconia Monastery
FROM LEFT: Regina Rheni II cruise ship;
Novi Sad, Serbia
the Danube’s essence is slowly diluted as fresh water turns brackish, harbouring hundreds of species of fish, from catfish to sturgeon. At the river mouth, we stand mute on deck recording the Danube’s death by inanely taking pictures of water flowing into water, while our boat does a U-turn to dock at the village of Sfântu Gheorghe. There we board a number of speedboats and steer through a channel parallel to the sea, hemmed in by walls of reeds and forests of willows. It feels vaguely like the Okavango Delta, minus the hippos. Soon we start spotting the birds: a kingfisher perched on a branch; a blue heron wading in the shallows next to a glossy ibis. Marsh harriers and Caspian terns size us up. A moorhen is hiding in the reeds. A startled stork takes off. There are pelicans, too; they hunt in groups, attacking the fish
when they panic. Ceaușescu, Romania’s Communist dictator, tried to exterminate the pelicans because they were competing with humans for the fish stocks. He even tried to drain the delta, but we know the river won that battle. Yes, the Danube is indeed alive; maybe not like me or you, or the cormorant nonchalantly drying its wings on that rock, but it’s alive like a deity is alive, making its presence felt through its power, for it’s capable of miracles and catastrophes, and, of course, deaths. As we make our way back, the wake from the speedboats in front makes the tall reeds on either side of the channel nod up and down, as if they’re saying goodbye with a mute Mexican wave. Nature can turn you dewyeyed when you least expect it. SAGA HOLIDAYS offers an all-inclusive, nine-night Contrasts of the Danube cruise from £1,699 per person including flights departing from Heathrow (regional flight options available). saga.co.uk/danube
FROM DIVING IN THE RED SEA AND A HOT A IR B A LLO ON OV ER WA DI R U M , T O T H E S P E C TAC U L A R TREASURES OF PETRA AND RIDING O N A T E T C H Y C A M E L , O U R D I G I TA L NOMAD DISCOVERS JORDAN’S AQABA IS MORE THAN JUST A PORT CITY WORDS PHOTOGRAPHS
WILL HIDE S L AW E K KO Z D R A S
AQABA: GOING WITH THE FLOW Seahorses, skewed golf swings and King Abdullah’s Star Trek surprise are among the highlights of a trip to the Jordanian city I can’t be certain the seahorse is giving me a dirty look but I’m fairly sure it isn’t happy. But, then, it’s not every day you get eyeballed by a 1.5-inch-long hippocampus. Sometimes it really is the small things. I’m 25 feet below the surface of the Red Sea, a 40-minute sail south of the Jordanian city of Aqaba. The ship, Cedar Pride, had been scuttled in the 1980s to create an artificial reef. Now I’m hovering above it with an aqualung strapped to my back, as my dive guide, Belal, points out the tiny seahorses that have made it their home. And despite their size, these two creatures put on an august display of territorial defiance. Just as impressive are the scorpionfish, stonefish and lionfish on the real reef nearby. “A friend of mine was stung
by a lionfish,” Belal warns after we surface and tuck into one of its aquatic cousins that had been barbecued on the back of the boat. “It was so painful he begged the doctor to cut off his finger. They didn’t; he’s fine.” Not far away is an army tank that was sunk 20 years ago to make another artificial reef. This was done at the behest of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, himself a keen diver. However, this was only the second-most interesting fact I learn about the monarch that day: did you know, in 1996, he appeared in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager? That evening, in Aqaba, I recount the day’s adventures to Teya, the daughter of my guide, Nancy. We all wander around the centre of town, taking advantage of a breeze to cool off. A thermometer blinks at us that it’s 29C. “Come into my store,” beckons Fadel Al-Baba, who, with his brother Ibrahim, owns a spice shop at the entrance to the vegetable market. “Try this,” he enthuses as he leads me along a row of spices that contains saffron, cardamom, star anise, sumac and za’atar, among others. “Just have a pinch,”
says Fadel. I’m not in a shopping mood but the brothers insist we all pose for photos before we head outside to sit and drink fresh carrot juice at Al-Kabariti cafe. The previous day we’d seen the new face of Aqaba, a short drive away towards the Israeli border. What to do when you don’t have much coast? Build an inland creek, complete with marina, luxury apartments, wakeboarding lake and golf course, that’s what. It might be a stretch to call it a new low-rise Dubai, but Ayla, as the development is known, represents a vote of confidence in the area. Resident golf pro Chris Dodd, formerly of Burnham Beeches, near Slough, does his best to conceal a wince as I take a massive divot out of his lovingly prepared green. I move on to the beach club, where a DJ spins Shakira and Bieber to a group of Lebanese who fastidiously work on their tans and selfie poses. I smile as they contort so all can fit into the picture, but I just get an embarrassed stare in return. Still, it isn’t on the same level as the ‘back off buddy’ glower I got from a certain disgruntled seahorse.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT:
Riding a camel through Wadi Rum; view over the Dead Sea from a local restaurant; diving in the Red Sea around a shipwreck
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP:
Red sands of Wadi Rum; guide Ali in Petra; The Monastery in Petra; royal tombs in Petra
WADI RUM: THE SOUND OF SILENCE
PETRA: LINGER FOR LONGER
Whether it’s by foot, camel or hot air balloon, Wadi Rum’s sandstone structures and surrounding red desert are best enjoyed in silence
Rather than dashing in for a quick selfie in front of the Treasury building, spend a few days in Petra savouring some of its oft-overlooked treasures
I’d like to apologise to my camel, Delores. Before I clambered onto her in front of the slowly sinking sun at Wadi Rum, I saw those pouty lips and those long eyelashes fluttering at me and decided that would be her name. Except Delores, it turned out, was a male camel, so it was probably no wonder he was a bit tetchy. I, on the other hand, was extremely happy, as we plodded serenely through the red sand. Wadi Rum is a protected area an hour’s drive from Jordan’s coastal city of Aqaba. Picture Australia’s Uluru. Now visualise dozens of Ulurus, reaching up more than 2,600ft high, scattered in the sand like Lego bricks thrown by some petulant child. Imagine, over the millennia, the colossal sandstone structures blasted by wind and rain to form natural works of art. Picture canyons in between and inhospitable land inhabited by semi-nomadic Bedouin tribespeople. I can’t be the first person to have bounced along in the back of a pick-up truck en route to my Wadi Rum camp to have various Star Wars scenes pop into my head. It turns out with good reason: Rogue One was partly filmed here. Exploring by camel is just one way to get around. Another is by hot air balloon. On my second morning, the alarm goes off at 5am and shortly afterwards I’m meeting eight others at a rendezvous point a short 4WD ride away. Jordan’s only commercial hot air balloon pilot, Khaled Shishani, takes us up to 4,000ft, where we drift slowly over the spectacular landscape at a sedate 14mph, while he sings, cracks jokes and uses his selfie stick to take group photos. Could I ask him a few questions for my article, I venture? “No,” comes the firm but polite reply. “I let the scenery speak for itself.” A fair point. After breakfast, I set off with 20-year-old local Bedouin Mahmoud Hussain, my guide for the three-hour climb and rock-scramble up to a striking, narrow natural arch, high up on a mountain called Burdah. The ascent isn’t for the faint of heart, with no protection from the fierce sun, slippery surfaces, narrow ledges and some long drops, but quite frankly if this old duffer can do it, you’d have to be very creaky not to give it a go.
Can I give some advice? If you offer to take a photo of a Tanzanian church group at Petra, you’re going to end up spending 20 minutes with your new friends. Just when you think you’re done, another mobile phone and/or camera will be thrust your way with a smile. And then there’s the chat about Arsenal before they let you go. That’s another 10 minutes. I know I’m supposed to have a strong opinion about the manager, but right now I’m just trying to take in the nuances of this world-famous ancient site, not the ‘should he stay or should he go?’ debate over Monsieur Wenger. To be honest, time was on my side, as I was at Petra for three nights. Many people just visit for the day, sometimes by bus from as far afield as Egypt or Israel. They want to get a photo in front of the iconic Treasury building — built by the Nabateans some 2,200 years ago — then hit the road and carry on with their holiday. And I don’t blame them for making the effort: the place is stunning. You reach the treasury along a narrow ravine called the Siq (meaning ‘gorge’) which is just over a mile long. It twists and turns, and then at the end it teases you with a glimpse of the columns on the front of the building, until you step out into a courtyard and, wow, it’s right there. Magnificent. There are several good reasons to stay a bit longer, too. One is price. If you’re here for one day only, the entry free for non-Jordanians is 50 dinars (at the moment, rather conveniently, one Jordanian dinar equals £1). Buy a twoday ticket, though, and it’s only five dinars more, and another five for three days. Another thing the day trippers miss is the ‘Petra By Night’ experience, when the Siq and the Treasury are lit by moonlight and thousands of candles. This is definitely worth experiencing. However, I’d recommend doing Petra in the daytime first, otherwise you won’t appreciate the gorge you’re walking through, as it’s too dark at night to see the spectacularly high walls that surround you. A final reason to linger is simply that there’s much more to do at Petra than you could ever possibly fit into a oneday visit. Some people don’t even go past the Treasury, but did you know 75% of the ancient city still lies buried, waiting to be discovered? You can see some of it by wandering past the large amphitheatre, the Great Temple, the Temple of the Winged Lions and on the many, many steps to the Monastery. Early the next morning, my guide, Mamoun Farajat, and I set out to the walk to the High Place of Sacrifice. It’s a six-hour walk, with some steep ups and downs, and even a section that requires a bit of scrambling over boulders, but it’s not terribly difficult if you’re adventurous and reasonably fit. On the way down we went via Wadi alFarasa, where I passed several impressive tombs and where a Nabatean fountain was clearly carved into the rock in the shape of a lion. In places, shards of two-millennia-old pottery lay beside the path in the sand. The pay-off is the stupendous views. You can look out for miles over the sandstone mountains, and in several places, down to Petra itself, way below. In the distance I saw the holy site of Jabal Haroun, a mountaintop tomb that’s of importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians. But that’s for a future visit, of course.
ONLINE WADI AL NAKHEEL: FROM RIDGE TO RAVINE
Forsake travelling by camel or car to rely on good old-fashioned shoe leather for a trek through the Jordanian desert, and relish the sights and sounds it reveals THE DEAD SEA: FLOAT ON
More than 1,300ft below sea level, and 30% salt, the Dead Sea is effectively the world’s largest floatation tank WADI MUJIB: CANYONING JORDAN-STYLE
Fight against the current in Jordan’s most spectacular sandstone formations — canyoning is a pure adrenaline rush natgeotraveller.co.uk/digitalnomad aqaba.jo
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I came across the piece on Shangri-La (High on a Mountain of Dreams, November 2017) while stuck at home with a chest infection. I’d just finished reading Lost Horizon by James Hilton, and it was a pleasure to revisit the mountaintops — especially when curled up with Lemsip! Both accounts were beautifully evocative. I read your magazine for inspiration and escapism — I’ve travelled all over the world from my sofa (the constraints of a student budget!). I hope one day to experience the mountains and temples for myself — but in the meantime, thank you for brightening up my morning. CATRIONA IVERARITY
I was delighted to see the article on ‘peopleto-people’ exchanges in Cuba (Experience Cuba like an American, December 2017). Three years ago, my wife and I went on a 12-day ‘Meet the People’ holiday in Cuba arranged by Traidcraft, a UK charity promoting Fair Trade (traidcraft.co.uk). And meet the people we did, visiting a variety of projects, talking to the workers, staying with local people, and all the while being escorted by a knowledgeable guide who spoke perfect English. As well as seeing the positive impact of Fair Trade on the lives of ordinary farmers, we were given a different perspective on the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and left with an understanding, too, of the impact of the US embargo and the struggles of living under a communist regime. Too often, tourists visit foreign countries without engaging with the locals, or understanding the impact their visit has on the lives of the people. ALAN CRAM
Ode to Pasadena
I’ve always wanted to visit Los Angeles (Neighbourhood, November 2017), but have been put off by the thought of hiring a car and tackling the multi-lane freeways. An alternative is to stay in Pasadena, which is easily reached by getting a taxi downtown from LAX, and then commuting northeast by Metro. Pasadena, with its backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains, has a lovely neighbourhood feel redolent of the 1900s, when much of it was built. It’s a bit of a cultural hub too: there’s the Huntington Library with it’s ace botanical gardens. I did venture into LA — seeing the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Sunset Strip — but I was mighty glad to hotfoot it back to the reassuring green streets of Pasadena. NORMAN LAING
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LISA DUNDAS A trip called Gameparks and Gorillas with Oasis Overland, taking in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania @SIMON612 Vietnam from September for two months. Going it alone with kind permission of my wife — a gap year at age 51! // CATHERINE HOY My family will spend nine weeks travelling across Canada this summer
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We give you a theme, you give us the photos, with the best published in the next issue. This month is ‘ice adventure’ — our December 2017 cover story theme Adam Law’s ice adventure began on his doorstep, capturing nature at its most elegant and pristine. We appreciate the skill it takes to get white-on-white to stand out. The composition highlights the simplicity and stillness of the scene.
The theme: ‘Wild Weekends’. Upload your high-res image, plus a one-sentence description, to ngtr. uk/yourpictures by 9 February 2018.
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W I N N E R
1 ADAM LAW // ASHGILL, LARKHALL: Deep in the Scottish Lowlands, there had been an unexpectedly heavy snowfall. I’ve passed this stunning lone tree several times and knew the scene could work. 2 ADAM CUNNINGHAM-WHITE // BILLINGSHURST,
WEST SUSSEX: I took this on a coffee break from
herding reindeer around Randijaur lake, Jokkmokk, Sweden — the sky just opened up for the shot! 3 NADIA ROSE // LONDON: This wreck of a crashed US Navy Super DC-3 sits on Iceland’s Sólheimasandur black beach. I found the landscape and atmosphere around the plane’s weather-beaten shell really striking.
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