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St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow


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Book by midnight on 2 Feb 2016. Travel up to 30 Nov 2017. Valid on package bookings only. Min stay 7 nights. T&Cs and blackout dates apply


READY, SET, SNOW From parties on the piste to snug mountain villages Andorra’s slopes are yours for the taking

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D E PA R T U R E S 14  18  21  22  25  29 




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LOOK UP: Photographer Mikael Buck travelled to the VatnajÜkull glacier in Iceland to take this otherwordly selection of images. Armed with a Sony digital camera that enables high-quality shots to be taken in low light, he was able to capture the barren and serene frozen world of the glacier’s complex cave systems in minute detail.



ICE SCULPTURE: Buck managed to capture the glacier’s never-before-seen, breathtaking natural frozen sculptures, cascading waterfalls, dramatic icicles and frosty bright blue walls in intricate detail despite incredibly low light, thanks to his advanced kit. Find out more about Sony’s new a7R II and RX digital cameras at


© Tourism Australia

Explore Hamilton Island – your Great Barrier Reef playground 5★ T HE BE ACH C LU B

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An adults-only oasis, this tranquil, boutique resort sits spectacularly right on Catseye Beach, overlooking the Coral Sea.

• Large rooms • Beautiful views • A range of options to suit your budget • Close to beach and restaurants

© Tourism Australia


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ards 2015 Aw


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Mix black runs and basslines at Snowbombing festival, which returns to Austria in April. If you can levitate in mid-air on your board, we’ll buy you a beer…

HOLIDAY HELPLINE Dealing with the holiday blues is a flipping nightmare – trust us, we know. It comes as some relief, then, that villa-holiday specialist Oliver’s Travels has launched an emergency Holiday Withdrawal Helpline to help those feeling particularly blue. The number (080 0133 7652 – go on, try it), features a selection of audio recordings of classic holiday sounds; dial one for tropical birds and four for the “gentle sound of Mediterranean waves kissing the shore”. If you can’t quite bring yourself to make the call, we recommend turning your bathroom into a pop-up beach instead. Sand, sun-lounger, daiquiri, shower gel – done.


SNOWBOMBING FESTIVAL For those who like to party as hard as they ski, combine the two at Austria’s Snowbombing festival, which hits the slopes from 4-9 April. The lineup is chocca with big-name acts, including the Prodigy, Fatboy Slim and Andy C, but be sure to check out London-born-and-raised emerging talent Anna Wall. As for the mountain? Well, the Mayrhofen ski area is one of the finest in Europe.


THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT Sri Lanka is this year’s hot ticket, so if you’re considering a trip make sure the newly opened Owl and the Pussycat is on your radar. The 18-room boutique hotel is located a short tuk tuk ride from the UNESCO fort town of Galle, where cobbled streets are lined with Dutch colonial buildings. Spend a while exploring then retreat to the bohemianstyle bedrooms with furniture designed by local artists.

Photographs by (snowbombing) Andrew Whitton; (waves) El Ojo Torpe/Getty; (Sri Lanka) John W Banagan/Getty



This was an inspiring holiday that took in the whole of Vietnam, North to South with experiences with the locals every day. Fairly fast paced on a couple of days but with down time on other days which was most welcome. So many experiences and the opportunity to travel by overnight train, stay on a boat at Halong Bay and with a host family at a hone stay in the Mekong Delta made this trip very special - thank you!. Heather Richards Vietnam Adventure • March 2015

Because 97% of our customers would recommend us to a friend





A fjord is a steep, narrow inlet created by glacial erosion. The region in East Iceland where they’re found is often overlooked by tourists, but now it’s easy to reach.

If you’re looking to save on your long-haul flights, check out flight booking platform SelfConnect. The new website allows travellers to book two or more flights – combining multiple airlines (low cost and national) – in one transaction. That means you can book a long-haul flight to Rio and an onwards internal flight simultaneously.

NEW ROUTE TO ICELAND For a long time, getting to the east and north of Iceland meant a flight into Reykjavik and a schlep across the country. Now the remote fjords of East Iceland will be easy to access thanks to a new flight route from London Gatwick to Egilsstaðir, which is as hard to pronounce as it is to spell. But it’s easy to reach, thanks to Discover the World, who are chartering the planes. Book now for flights from 28 May to 24 September.

DISCOVER IRAN Many countries have now lifted their sanctions on Iran, which means the country has been opened up to UK tourists. The aim is 20 million tourists by 2025, which shouldn’t be too hard with new trips from the likes of Imaginative Traveller. Its new Iranian Days and Nights group tour departs on 23 May and takes in the best of the country’s ancient sites and hospitality. From £2,100pp,

CHASING WAVES SURFGUIDE As if surfing weren’t hard enough anyway, actually finding waves is a whole other obstacle. Surfguide is a new website that’s been crafted specifically to deal with that hassle, allowing you to plan your next surf break with minimum fuss. The surfercurated, regionally focused online planning tool will have you finding destinations to suit your exact needs. Simply select the filters (no sharks; city; cheap, etc) and it’ll narrow down choices with all your requirements. Pretty rad stuff, that.


Now that western countries have lifted sanctions on travelling to Iran, you can see some of its architectural wonders – such as the Nasir al-Mulk mosque – close up.

Photographs by (fjords) Ragnar Th Sigurdsson/Arctic Images; (Brazil) Brazil Images/Getty


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WEIRD WORLD Things you never knew you loved. This month: stone age cars, a hotel made of water pipes and rent-a-wedding-guest NEBRASKA, US

MEANS OF ESCAPE Looking for a way to combine your love of cycling and caravanning? Look no more… #24 WIDE PATH CAMPER


it up with your food, gear and extensive collection of antique decorative plates. The Wide Path collapses – an unfortunate term if you’ve ever seen us riding a bike – to a compact, manageable size when you’re on the road, then folds out to provide enough room for 2.5 people to sleep in once you’ve parked up for the night. There’s even 130cm of height inside. So if you happen to be a miniature Olympic cyclist, there’s a space in our bed with your name on it. e From €3,500.

ESSEN, GERMANY The future is here, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s big, grey and made from repurposed drain pipes. That, at least, is the vision (and sleeping arrangement) you’ll be confronted with when you check in to Das Parkhotel in the German city of Essen. Your suite is a concrete sleep tube, complete with a double bed and a ‘pay as you wish’ system where you pay what you think it’s worth.

TOKYO, JAPAN We all know the best man’s speech format: compliment the bridesmaids, crack some jokes, embarrass the groom, lap up the applause. But what if you have no best man? Or friends for that matter? Japanese company Hagemashi Tai (translation: I Want To Cheer You Up Ltd) can help – it rents wedding guests to those who have none of their own. We’ll raise our champers to that.

Photograph by Renate Herbst

You don’t have to be Mads to design a bicycle caravan, but it helps! Specifically, we’re talking about Mads Johansen, the Danish inventor whose Wide Path camper looks exactly like a full-sized caravan, albeit scaled down to a dinky size so masochistic cyclists can tow it behind them. Variously described on the website as “a mobile house party”, a “social space” and a “mini RV”, the Wide Path hooks onto the back of your bike, and weighs in at a surprisingly light 45kg – until you’ve loaded

A simple gravestone wasn’t enough of a memorial for Jim Reinders when his dad passed away. Instead, Jim took inspiration from Stonehenge and built a replica out of vintage American cars painted all in grey. Why? Because nothing says ‘Miss you dad’ like an automobile megalith set up on America’s High Plains. The site is now a popular destination for travellers.


3 of life’s little luxuries


Little Cayman. Population 197. Paradise found.

Est. 1977

The Kissimmee Experience Kissimmee and Kenwood Travel go together like Mickey & Minnie. But as Florida experts for 40 years, we know there’s more to this sunkissed locale than theme parks. For the full family holiday experience, add great golf, boutique shopping and Everglades adventures to the magic of Walt Disney World® Resort, Universal Orlando® Resort & LEGOLAND® Florida. Call now or go online for our unmissable Kissimmee deals.

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INSTANT ANORAK Every February , thousands of semi-naked men group together and scrabble over two sacred sticks. To get involved, don those loincloths and book a trip to Japan…


FEB 2016 2 3 4 9 10 11 16 17 18 23 24 25 30


years is the amount of time men have been taking part in the ‘naked festival’

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loincloth-clad men compete in the festival at the Saidai-ji temple

This year it’ll be held on 16 February. Still time to book…

The ‘warm-up’ event, when schoolboys compete for, er, rice cakes, starts at…


MONTHS of prosperity, luck and fertility is guaranteed if you find the sticks

SACRED STICKS are the big prize the (mostly naked) loincloth-wearing men are jostling over

1 PRIEST throws the sacred sticks into the crowd – and the battle to retrieve them, for a year of good luck, commences

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CHAMONIX, FRANCE Nickname: The Legend

Population: 8,200

Nickname: Cham

Population: 9,514



Sporting legends, glitzy, fashion-conscious Austrians, Haddaway (the Trinidadian-German singer who sang What Is Love). 8/10

Grizzled mountain veterans in garish technical jackets. If you don’t have ropes in your bag, you’re not taking it seriously enough. 8/10





“WHAT IS LOVE? (Baby don’t hurt me.)”

“Downhill ski racing’s easy – you just point down and go.”

“Right, where’s Mont Blanc? I’m going up it.”

“I’m not really into snow – it really ruins a good mountain.”







There’s 170km of runs here, but the Hahnenkamm area is the big skiing deal around these parts. Wander around the medieval town centre when you’re not up the mountain or checking out offpiste routes. 9/10

If you’re looking to throw some cash at a luxe hotel, make sure it’s the Hotel Weisses Rössl, a former 16th-century coaching inn. At the other end of the spectrum, Chalet Linda is a homey three-star option. 7/10

This is a swanky town, with swanky restaurants to boot. The best is The Kupferstube (expect caviar and champers). Cafe Centro has cheap pizzas and steaks – save your cash for The Londoner, the resort’s famous British pub. 7/10

For the best views, hire a guide and take on the Vallée Blanche, Chamonix’s legendary 20km off-piste ski route. If you’re there on 6 February, watch the best freeriders in the world on the Swatch Freeride World Tour. 9/10

If you’re spending big, the exclusive Dalmore is a supermodern high-end chalet. At the other end of the scale, Le Vert has doubles from €55 and a great bar. Understandably, it’s popular with the extreme sports crowd. 8/10

Micro-Brasserie de Chamonix (MBC) is a microbrewery run by a group of beer- and mountain-loving Canadians – they’re pretty serious about burgers, too. L’Impossible serves the best pasta in town, and does it in style. 8/10


AND THE WINNER IS… Cham just about edges it…





refugee crisis – I was stuck by something the president of Eritrea said in 2014: “If there is anyone who thinks there will be democracy or a multi-party system in this country… then that person can think of such things in another world.” Freedom there – to travel, to vote, to live safely – is non-existent, and I find it impossible to comprehend. It’s sad that it’s taken me reporting on an issue like the refugee crisis to really have my eyes opened to the freedom I have, and the unjust reality facing so many men, women and children fleeing war-torn countries, but it’s given me some much-needed perspective. Volunteers are needed at so many refugee camps, and I can guarantee it’s one of the most valuable things you could do – not just for those living there at the moment, but for yourself, too. e

Photograph by Mark Boardman

My boat ride from Turkey to Greece in 2014 cost €10. I showed my passport, handed over my money and grabbed a seat at the front of the boat, soaking up the Aegean sunshine. I’ve always appreciated how lucky I am to travel so often and so easily, but it’s only in the last few months that the freedom I have – to hop from country to country without a second thought – has really hit home. Late last year I headed back to that same coastline, but this The Jungle refugee time it wasn’t to swim, camp in Calais sunbathe or relax. is home to 6,000 This time it was for refugees and is situated just 22 miles a whole different from the British purpose; to report coastline. Volunteers on the thousands of are needed, visit families forced to take

that exact same 6km journey from Turkey to Greece, but in an overladen, inflatable ‘death boat’; for a price of £2,000 a passenger. That distinction labels me a tourist, and these men, women and children as refugees. At the Jungle camp in Calais I saw where this journey ended. Crammed into a vast, muddy field were families of refugees hoping and waiting for a new life in Europe. They owned nothing but the clothes on their back, yet still they welcomed me into their tented ‘homes’ and offered me fruit and nuts – showing the same generous hospitality that I’ve become so accustomed to when visiting new countries. While putting issue 25 of Escapism together – an issue dedicated entirely to raising awareness about the

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IN FOCUS BATH It’s not all regal streets and Roman remains in Bath – there’s lots of great stuff to eat, drink and buy too


Photograph by ###

Hankering after pastry and meat? The Raven – a tiny, centrally located pub with a pie-only menu – serves chunky meat and veggie-filled pastry packages with chips or mash, and lashings of gravy. The beer selection isn’t bad either – locally brewed YOLO ale (yep, that’s its name) has a nice citrus zing, while there are plenty of bitters available too ( If cider’s more your thing, nab a table at The Stables, a

STAY The talk of the town in Bath is the newly opened Gainsborough Bath Spa – an elegant, high-ceilinged option that’s seconds from the bars, shops and ancient sights of the city. The in-house spa here is the big deal – it’s the first in the UK to have access to healing thermal waters, and you could spend hours moving between sauna and steam room and hot and cold pools with your little pack of essential oils – it’s all part of your bath house experience, a modern take on the Roman spa journey ( For a less expensive but equally pretty option in town, try the Berdoulat & Breakfast, a Georgian townhouse that’s been converted into a design-led, twobedroom ‘hotel’ with a Turkish twist ( To get some fresh manureinfused country air in your lungs, The Pig near Bath ( is one hell of a pretty mansion that’s been converted into a relaxed hotel with friendly staff kicking about in jeans and Converse. Interiors are rustic and comfy, but if you’re anything like us you’ll be spending the majority of your time in the restaurant – ingredients are sourced locally, or grown on-site, and the menu leans heavily on pork, as the name suggests (try the sausage rolls).

heaving sourdough pizza and cider joint in the centre of town ( For something swankier, book into the Bath Priory – a hotel with a restaurant that has the city’s only Michelin star, and seven courses for £95 ( If your wallet won’t stretch, at least swing by for a cocktail. Gordon Jones ( is another hot ticket in town, a 25-seater venue with an open kitchen. Expect conversations with Gordon if you’re lucky enough to book a table – it has appeared in numerous best restaurant lists so reservations are in demand. To keep it simple with a steak, try Hudsons or The Chequers for gastropub grub (, or for cheap and cheerful, a firm local’s favourite is Noya’s Kitchen on Bear Flat; Noya takes over a local cafe and serves a five-course Vietnamese menu for £35 with BYO – again, book ahead (



DRINK Start the day at Colonna & Smalls (, a Scandi-style cafe with award-winning baristas serving dark stuff in neonblue china. For booze with countryside views, the Hare & Hounds is a gastropub around one mile outside of the centre of town that looks out over green hills and Bath city centre below – make an afternoon of it and tuck in to their impressive food ( The Canary Gin Bar is a dark and cosy space packed with bottles of locally distilled gin in a selection of flavours. Be sure to also check out the upstairs martini bar ( For cocktails, Sub 13 ( on George Street is notorious in the west country for the best mixology for miles – look out for it down a flight of stairs and settle in to a cosy alcove between 5pm and 8pm, when it’s 2-for-1 (although at £7 the rest of the time, they’re not too spendy anyway). If all that has you searching for the dance floor, you’ll find the best one at Circo Bar ( on the south parade, or for live music check out the programme at Chapel Arts for gigs, theatre performances and lively burlesque shows (

DO We all know the best period in history was when the Romans rocked up, and the ancient Roman Baths is quite a spectacular sight – the structure has even been voted the most romantic building in Britain by the Royal Institute of British Architects. It’s not just Roman history, either. With the tunnel tours you can also explore the Victorian and Georgian history of the city – book ahead, it sells out early because it’s that good ( The Thermae Bath Spa may get busy, but where else can you float around in a warm, steamy open-air pool on a chilly winter evening? It’s worth trying for the novelty factor, not to mention the rumoured health benefits. For something a little more strenuous, the Bath Skyline Walk is a six-mile hike through history – from an Iron Age hill fort to 18th-century sights. It burns as much energy as playing 90 minutes of football – and it feels like it afterwards – but combined with those views, we’re certainly not complaining.

NEED TO KNOW Return fares with First Great Western from £29. The Gainsborough Bath Spa offers nightly rates from £183, (; The Pig near Bath offers nightly rates from £149 (; Berdoulat & Breakfast offers nightly rates from £165,

SHOP The top of town around Milsom Street is where you’ll find all the boutiquey and independent shops – from furniture to clothes. There’s a load of vintage shops around here, too. They require some effort, but the prices are a fraction of London’s so it’s worth the sifting. If retro gear’s your thing the Yellow Shop ( on Walcot Street is a good starting point. Towards the centre of town, Vintage ‘n’ Rare Guitars is a three-floor shrine to some of the rarest, oldest acoustic and electric guitars in the UK. The friendly staff are there for a chat not just to sell – they’ll talk you


through each guitar’s history and let you have a play, even on the really pricey Gibsons, Fenders and makes we’ve never even heard of. If you’re really keen, check out their blog for regular updates on incoming guitars ( For your mainstream shops, the centre of town around the station has been revitalised over the last few years to house every shop you’ll need – from high street fashion to department stores. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, the Farmers’ Market near Green Park station is a great place to pick up locally made goods, from pies to coffee – it’s the ideal place to soak up the laid-back vibe of the city.


A breathtaking adventure through the landscapes that shape Norway


from only


* pp

NORTHERN LIGHTS PROMISE Sail with us before the end of March 2016 and if the Northern Lights don’t appear during your voyage, we’ll give you another 6 or 7-day Classic Voyage FREE OF CHARGE*. That's how confident we are you'll see them first time around!

YOUR ITINERARY DAYS 1-4: Your expedition starts in the mountain-framed city of Bergen and sets off through breathtaking scenery to the Nordic town of Åselund. Trondheim, Rørvik and Trollfjord follow, as we cross into the Arctic Circle and begin the hunt for the Northern Lights. DAYS 5-8: Choose from a huge range of excursions in the Arctic capital of Tromsø before continuing north, past magnificent subArctic landscapes and the indigenous Sámi homelands. Further stops include Honningsvåg; the gateway to the North Cape, Kirkenes and Mehamn. DAYS 9-12: As we leave the Arctic Circle, you’ll witness the spectacular Seven Sisters Mountains, before making the final approach to Bergen via Trondheim, Kristiansund and the fascinating scenery that flanks the route past Ålesund, Torvik and Måløy.

WHAT'S INCLUDED? ✔ 12-day Bergen – Bergen Round Voyage in cabin grade of your choice on a full-board basis ✔ English speaking tour guide on board



✔ Northern Lights Promise – a FREE Voyage if the Northern Lights don’t appear ✔ Your choice of Contemporary, Traditional, Millennium or Explorer class ships ✔ Huge choice of departure dates ✔ 7 days (of your 12-day voyage) spent above the Arctic Circle ✔ Full ATOL protection (when booking flights through Hurtigruten)

NOT INCLUDED • Return flights and transfers (available from £330pp) • Optional excursions • Luggage handling • Travel insurance

Call 0203 051 5496 or visit or visit your preferred travel agent

DAILY DEPARTURES AVAILABLE Call or visit us online to book your trip

Terms and conditions: *From price per person based on an inside twin cabin on full board basis. Single supplements may apply. Prices applicable for new bookings only and subject to availability. Not included: flights, transfers, luggage handling, travel insurance and excursions. Any flights booked with Hurtigruten are ATOL protected (ATOL 3584). *Northern Lights Promise applies to any 12-day Classic Round Voyage, departing by 31st March 2016. Offer valid on new bookings only. All Northern Lights occurrences are recorded by the ship’s deck officers and announced to passengers on board. An occurrence can last anything from a few minutes to a matter of hours, and the ship’s decision as to whether the Northern Lights occurred is final. If redeemed, your free voyage will be a 6 or 7-day Classic Voyage, departing from 1st October 2016 to 31st March 2017, in an unspecified inside twin cabin on bed and breakfast basis, subject to availability and standard booking conditions. The free voyage must be claimed within 28 days of your original return date and is nontransferable, non-changeable and has no cash value. Offer may be withdrawn or amended at any time.


SHORT STAY THE GOOD STUFF There’s more than just beer and food on offer at Sissinghurst’s local pub... You can stay the night too, finds Jon Hawkins The basics

The food

Sissinghurst is the kind of achingly pretty Kentish village you might imagine would have more pubs than people, but instead it has to make do with just one. Luckily, the sole pub – the Milk House – is a very good one indeed, and there’s good news for those of us who can’t call it our local: there are four stylish and comfortable rooms above the pub, and a restaurant that does clever (and delicious) things with the county’s wellstocked natural larder.

Where the Milk House elevates itself from decent pub-with-rooms, and starts nudging into proper boutique hotel territory, is in the kitchen. Entering the Milk House – if you’ll excuse the analogy – is like getting on a flight: turn right for the village pub, turn left for the altogether swankier dining room. Both make good use of local food and drink (awardwinning Chapel Down wine is just down the road, as is the excellent Old Dairy brewery), with unfussy but good pub snacks in the former, and more creative cooking at the latter. Local meat and seafood are well represented and used beautifully – and there’s an outdoor pizza oven during warmer months.

The rooms Each of the four rooms is slightly different, but all are spacious, thoughtfully appointed, and clearly decorated by someone who knows their way around a Farrow & Ball colour chart. They’re also very much in the same style as the whole pub, where the 16th-century origins are neatly worked into the unfussy, modern design. The local-is-better approach extends to the bathroom, where products come from nearby Romney Marsh Wools.

Nearby National Trust-owned Sissinghurst Castle Garden is a short (but muddy) walk from the Milk House, and the small, historic towns of Staplehurst and Tenterden are within easy reach if you’ve got a car. We strongly recommend a trip to Chapel Down in Tenterden, where £10 gets you a vineyard tour and tutored tasting of the winery’s range of still and sparkling English wines. e



Where the Milk House elevates itself from pubwith-rooms to boutique hotel is in the kitchen NEAREST STATION STAPLEHURST INFO 01580 720 200; THEMILKHOUSE.CO.UK


Eilat, say ‘Hello’ to sunshine

Visiting the holiday paradise of Eilat has just become easier. This winter it’s more accessible and affordable than ever. Eilat really does have it all; gorgeous winter sun, fantastic hotels and beaches, fine dining, vibrant nightlife, tax-free shopping and an array of activities and experiences that no other Red Sea resort can offer. Eilat truly offers something for everyone, from swimming with dolphins to exploring the wind carved canyons of Timna Park. From its hidden gems to its visible jewels, Israel is indisputably the land of creation. For our best deals visit





ant to be a better traveller? Time to put down the phone, order the strangest thing on the menu and abandon technology, says TV presenter, author and all-round travel hero Simon Reeve. Here are his tips for a holiday packed with big moments and even bigger memories…

Get out of your comfort zone

Photographs by (turtle) Getty/Ethan Daniels; (Jerusalem) Getty/Fred Froese

Travel gifts you with experiences and memories that are very hard to rack up in any other way in life, and there’s enormous value in that. But you don’t have to go to the other side of the world – it’s more about how you travel, and I would urge people to try to get the most out of their holidays and adventures by nudging themselves just a little bit out of their comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be trekking through the jungles of northern Borneo – it can be on a weekend trip with your friends to somewhere in the Balearics.

Eat like a local Start with what you eat. Eating unusual local food – or eating in a beautiful setting – is a really rapid way of banking some memories. Brits can still be a bit reluctant to eat ‘strange, funny, foreign’ food but I would absolutely encourage people to do it. Rather than going for the blandest thing on the menu, ask to try the most unusual food they’ve got to offer. It’s unlikely to kill you

but you’re likely to have a great memory and a story to tell when you get back.

Be prepared (and bring flapjacks) Torches have saved my life more than once so I always take a couple with me, along with a few other small things like a little watch on a keychain and a multitool. Oh, and I always take Social media isn’t flapjacks because going anywhere, the team and I tend so put off that to get really hungry. Insta post and enjoy the scene People always write unfolding in front in to the BBC, saying of you, or you might “Why’s Simon Reeve miss something spectacular... carrying a backpack? We know there’s nothing in it.” Yes there is – there’s water, flapjacks, camera batteries and more. I’m like the team Oompa-Loompa. I’m not fantastic at packing – I always take too much – but on the trips I do we never know what we’re going to encounter. One minute I can be diving on a shipwreck and the next I’m meeting the town mayor, so we have to prepare for most eventualities.

With budget airlines offering bargain flights – particularly at this time of year – a break somewhere in Europe could well end up cheaper than a weekend spent in London.

make a difference. One of the most profound things is to recognise that when we go to a national park in Africa, or when we dive in a marine protected area in Asia, we’re contributing to the upkeep of that place and preserving the species that live there. By paying our entrance fee we’re putting fuel in the engine of the park warden’s boat; we provide a salary for the anti-poaching patrol that protects iconic creatures. It’s not just about putting money into local pockets, though that’s important too, it’s about getting outside your hotel. Think about how you’re spending your money and try to get it into the bank accounts of people who can make a difference.

Learn to switch off So many people don’t enjoy their holidays properly because they’re constantly reading work emails or updating social media. I was filming in Israel recently for a TV series about pilgrimage. There’s a trip you can do there where you ride on a donkey – following in the footsteps of Jesus, as it were – for less than an hour. The people running the donkey rides have had to put Wi-Fi routers on the donkeys so tourists can keep in touch with their social media. This isn’t a recipe for happy, memorable trips. We really need to transition into holiday mode a little earlier. No one’s suggesting you flush your phone down the toilet – they’re incredible tools and I’d be lost without mine – but you don’t have to update social media every time you do anything. e Simon Reeve is a travel expert and spokesperson for the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card Switch Off campaign. For more info on how to switch off, go to:

ABOVE: Explore as much of your surroudings as you can – as well as creating memories, you’ll be supporting local industry and aiding conservation; BELOW: While filming in Israel, Simon was shocked by travellers’ dependence on their mobile phones

Make a difference I used to think the travel industry wasn’t entirely of benefit to the planet but I’ve changed my mind – I feel there’s a lot we as travellers can do to




A World Away Beaches, mountains and world-class hotels – welcome to Muscat, Arabia’s most laidback destination. Escape to The Chedi Muscat with British Airways from just £579pp


or those in the know, Oman is a nation of contrasts. Its laidback, slow-paced capital Muscat is a prime example: the hilly coastline is framed by golden stretches of beach, while just a short drive out of the modern Arabian city is some of the most jawdropping rugged mountain scenery you’ll find anywhere in the world. To add to Oman’s charms, British Airways’ daily service from London to Muscat now operates on the new Dreamliner 787-9. The high-spec aircraft boasts a sleeker travel experience, including some of the largest windows in the sky for dramatic vistas in the air.


Arriving in style means staying in style, too. Muscat’s lure lies in its magnificent resorts, offering a blend of Arabian glamour and superb hospitality. Fitting that formula beautifully is The Chedi Muscat, a stylish hotel set within a private 21-acre garden estate, resplendent with lush greenery. Decked in traditional Omani architecture – think mahogany furniture, low lighting and Moorish-style buildings – The Chedi is a true urban resort, with a 13-suite strong Balinese spa, a private beach backing onto the sparkling Arabian Sea and a handful of world-class restaurants to unwind in.

There are six restaurants in all – and two lounges – where cutting-edge interior design meets the cuisines of the world, from contemporary fine-dining to authentic Arabian mezze and Japanese sashimi. It’s a five-star hotel that speaks in superlatives. It is the only hotel in Oman that is part of the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World group, while its aptly named The Long Pool is the longest pool in Arabia. Everything about The Chedi Muscat reflects its magical location. Like the Omani capital, the hotel is at once welcoming, visually arresting and utterly unique. ◆


How To Book Three night stays at the Chedi Muscat start from just ÂŁ579pp. To book, and for more information, visit


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SHORE THING: Myrtos beach, on the Greek island of Kefalonia, is ample reward for the dizzying cliff-top drive you’ll have to take to get there. Shotgun the yellow parasol. [p57]

Photograph by Ellen Rooney


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The fast-paced development of the UAE and its Arabian neighbours shows no signs of slowing, and if you’re looking to visit, there’s never been a better time. This is your guide to where to go in 2016 37


Why go? Dubai is the Emirate that needs no introduction, which is pretty extraordinary when you consider that it only really opened up to tourism in the 1980s and ‘90s. It’s a place where superlatives rule – from the soaring Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) to the Dubai Mall (yes, it’s the largest in the world) – and where you’ll be rewarded for throwing yourself headlong into all it has to offer, from nightlife and dining to adventure and relaxation. Brunch is huge news in Dubai, and takes place on Friday because that’s their Saturday (we don’t know what this means for Thursday being the new Friday though...)

Where to stay The InterContinental Dubai Marina (, which opened last year, offers a taste of Dubai’s present and future, where restrained, laidback luxury meets showstopper restaurants and bars. The Vida Downtown Dubai ( in the Downtown area is an arty, design-led hotel that even has its own food truck, while those looking to escape the throng for the desert should head to Al Maha ( – its luxurious tented rooms come with stellar views of the dunes. Where to eat and go out Star chef Jason Atherton opened his first Dubai restaurant, Marina Social (, in the InterContinental Dubai Marina in September to rave reviews, with Time Out Dubai declaring “this is Dubai’s new standard to beat”. Elsewhere, try the bistro or boulangerie at La Serre (, near the Burj Khalifa, for laidback, sociable eating – or for great seafood minus the glitz (and hefty price tag), Bu Qtair on Jumeirah

Beach Road is an unassuming gem. Don’t forget to squeeze in brunch on a Friday – try Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah ( if you’re going big…

Go there for: nightlife Dubai’s thriving expat community knows how to party, so you’d better follow suit. Pacha Ibiza Dubai brings a dose of Balearic hedonism to the Emirate, or you can dance to big-name DJs on the beach at Barasti Bar ( Head to Mercury Lounge at the Four Seasons ( or Zuma – named in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2015 list – for world-class mixology. What’s going on? The new Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park is a 150m by 93m picture frame that’s been two years in the making and looks likely to set a new standard for architectural selfie-magnets. There’s also a 2,000-seater opera house opening ( with its own Opera District culture centre. Sports lovers can catch the world’s best tennis players at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (15-27 February;, while if eating (a lot) is more your thing, check out the Dubai Food Festival (25 February 12 March;


Why go? The UAE’s northernmost and fourth-largest emirate, Ras Al Khaimah boasts sunbaked deserts and lush oases, bordered by majestic mountain ranges. Thanks to its status as a free-trade zone, it’s gone from strength to strength in recent years and – like much of the UAE – it’s a magnet for luxury seekers. Located an hour’s drive from Dubai, its reputation for great beaches means it’s a good choice for couples and families, while outdoorsy types keen to make the most of the landscape can try out everything from watersports to horse riding. Where to stay There’s no shortage of quality hotels and resorts in RAK, starting with the Waldorf Astoria ( and its 18hole golf course, the luxurious Banyan Tree (, and its desert-based sister, the Banyan Tree Al Wadi ( Elsewhere, the Cove Rotana ( and Rixos Bab Al Bahr ( are more family friendly offerings. And there’s more to come, too, with Marriott and Anantara scheduled to arrive by 2018.




At 829.8m high, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the world’s tallest building. It takes only one mintue in a super-speedy lift to reach the 124th-floor observation deck.


ABOVE: Dubai’s skyline is expanding at an astonishing rate, outwards and upwards too: it now boasts the world’s tallest building

Where to eat and go out Lebanese food is particularly good in the UAE, and RAK’s Marjan (, located in the Waldorf Astoria, is a prime example, while Meat Point in the Bab Al Bahr ( specialises in South American-style grills. Elsewhere, Tree Top Bar, located at the top of Hilton’s Double Tree hotel (, is the perfect spot to unwind while drinking in views of the bay. For smaller restaurants offering authentic local food, spend your evenings wandering along the newly developed waterside corniche. Go there for: the water Water babies can learn to sail at the Sailing Academy (, go paragliding or take a jet ski out for a spin. If you’re Paragliders are more about culture free-flying gliders, than adventure, made of a harness other water-based suspended below a parachute wing. The experiences include furthest distance a cruise on the Prince ever flown is 514km, of Sea – a luxurious by Frank Brown in October 2015. yacht that follows

the path of Ahmad ibn Majid, a 15th-century navigator who was born in the area.

What’s going on? If you’re into sports, you’ll feel right at home in Ras Al Khaimah. Things kick off with the annual half marathon ( every February, before the temperatures begin to soar. Later in the same month, you’ll find everything from photography to jewellery design at the Fine Arts Festival (, which celebrates the creative and artistic sectors of the emirates. 2016 will be key for golf, with the European Challenge Tour making its maiden voyage to RAK in October (


Why go? Sharjah is located next to Dubai, but couldn’t feel further away from its neighbouring Emirate’s cocktail-swigging, brunching expat lifestyle – it’s (almost) completely dry, meaning a break there won’t be marred by unwanted rowdy revellers. Add to that a fascinating old town, Arab Capital of Culture status, and 150 hectares of mangroves to explore (the oldest in the

The Palm Jumeirah Island is one of the eduring icons of modern Dubai, where contemporary architecture and sculpted white sand meet the blue Arabian Gulf. It’s also where you’ll find the five-star Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah, which offers a luxurious and tranquil haven from the bright lights of the city. Thanks to its prime location, you can expect 360º views of the turquoise sea and glittering Dubai skyline from the balcony of your spacious room. If you can tear yourself away from the comfort of your suite, there’s 200m of private beach to relax on, plus two temperature-controlled swimming pools – one of which is adults-only. And if you’re looking to soothe a weary body and mind, the Waldorf Astoria Spa features hydrotherapy facilities, thermal relaxation rooms and almost 50 treatments to choose from. Dining options are no less extensive. For something truly extraordinary there’s Social by Heinz Beck, three Michelin-starred chef, or you can taste Southeast Asian cuisine at LAO. For a laidback meal with ocean views, try International Cuisine Restaurant Palm Avenue. Dubai may be going places fast, but at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah you can take things at your own pace – and do it in style. waldorfastoriadubai


Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah, Middle East’s Leading Luxury Resort Boasting an inspirational setting on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah, with stunning Arabian Gulf views, 200 metres of private beach, the palatial Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah offers a blend of contemporary luxury, unforgettable experiences and unparalleled service.

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Sharjah’s biggest ever light festival will see creative installations illuminate the city; like sand? Take a desert safari in Ras Al Khaimah; dramatic mountain ranges, traditional architecture and beaches await in Oman

Emirates, no less), and you’re looking at a serene and enlightening getaway.

Where to stay The newly-opened Sheraton Sharjah Beach Resort & Spa ( offers a dose of familiar Emirates-style excess: a statement structure standing proud on a private, palm-fringed beach, while the striking Hilton Sharjah ( – housed in a sleek mirrored tower block – overlooks the city’s Khalid Lagoon. Where to eat and go out Shababeek restaurant ( on the waterfront in the city centre is the place to be seen, and also serves stand-out Lebanese food. For a taste of authentic cuisine, you can arrange a visit to a local home for some family fare, or get back to nature with a alfresco picnic lunch at the Khor Kalba mangroves. Go there for: culture There’s plenty happening in Sharjah, so much so it was named Arab Capital of Culture by Unesco in 1998. The city has 16 museums – dedicated to anything from calligraphy to classic cars – as well as an annual book fair, art foundation and plenty of regular artsy festivals. The Sharjah Heritage Museum Mangrove forests ( is are found in tropical a good place to start, and subtropical while the Museum of regions, where the land meets the sea. Islamic Civilisation There are more also houses than 70 species of an informative magrove tree found worldwide. collection. Photographs by (desert safari) Joel Anderson Photography; (Muscat) AWL Images RM/Getty; (Oman) Bjoern Lauen/Getty

What’s going on? A lot, that’s what. The bigest ever Sharjah Light Festival takes place in Februrary 2016 – a nine-day celebration of Arab and Islamic architecture, heritage and art where the city will play host to creative installations and narrative illuminations – while in December, there’s the Sharjah Water Festival, the F1 Grand Prix Championship and Aqua Bike Grand Prix Championship. .


Why go? Think you know Oman? Sand, sand and more sand? Yes, there is loads of sand. Hundreds of miles of desert, in fact. But there’s more to Oman than that. This is the country that saw the birth of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor, a place where a chicken shawarma costs a mere £1.50 and where you can fill a 4X4 for £8. For rugged, mountain-backed coastlines, cultural cities and authentic Arabia (minus the man-made skyscrapers), Oman’s the gig for you. Where to stay If you’re looking to laze around on a sun lounger, looking like an A-lister while sipping yet another cocktail, then book into the Six Senses Zighy Bay ( You can take the easy route in – that’s a jeep ride over the mountains, or you can paraglide your way onto the turquoise water/white sand combo of the beach. Anantara Hotels and Resorts is due to open a few more beach-based properties over the coming year, while those looking for something more adventurous should


SAVE 30% on your summer stay at Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah Three-night stays on a Half Board basis start from £539pp. Price includes return British Airways flights from London Heathrow. To book visit Subject to availability. Select 2016 departures. Book by 28 January. Terms & Conditions apply.


WHY GO TO SEE THE OPERA IN ITALY WHEN YOU CAN GO TO OMAN? check out Alila Jebal Akhdar in the Hajar Mountains (, or Alila Salalah, which opens later this year and is dubbed the gateway to the ‘sand sea’ of the Empty Quarter (or Rub’ al Khali).

Go there for: the sand Companies such as Wild Frontiers ( offer ten-night desert adventures that will show you the best of Oman, journeying from the picturesque capital of Muscat through the deserts and mountains. You’ll see the 17th-century forts of Jabrin and Nizwa, shop in bustling souks, and spend a few nights camping out in the desert with just the stars for company.


What’s going on? Why go to Italy for the opera when you can go to Oman? It may sound strange, and feel unfamiliar, but it’s no less incredible. The Royal Opera House, built on the royal orders of Sultan Qaboos of Oman, reflects the new wave of sympathetic-to-the-surroundings contemporary Omani architecture. There’s an impressive list of events for 2016 – from ballet to world music.


Due to high summer temperatures, the tournament is due to run from 21 November 2022 over 28 days (rather than 32). An investigation into the bidding process is ongoing.

Why go? Rightly or wrongly, some countries make you feel like a bit of a stranger. Not in Qatar, though, where expats reign supreme, outnumbering the local population by about six times. There’s plenty of action and adventure to be had, as well as the sky-high buildings and glamorous restaurant outputs that have become commonplace in this part of the world. Where to stay As you’d expect a few years ahead of (potentially) hosting a World Cup, there are more glitzy hotel openings than you can kick a ball at in this part of the world at the moment. The capital, Doha, is where it’s at – recent hotel highlights in the country’s biggest city include the Marsa Malaz Kempinski The Pearl, Doha ( – situated on the eponymous private island, naturally – and the Anantara Doha Island Resort and Spa (, to add to a host of world-renowned names like the W and the Four Seasons.

Where to eat and go out Big-name restaurant groups from London and beyond aren’t just opening doors in Dubai and Abu Dhabi; the restaurants here – largely situated in the city’s top hotels – have some serious pedigree. Choose between two Gordon Ramsay restaurants and one from Hakkasan at the St. Regis Doha (, or the world’s largest Nobu opened at the Four Seasons ( Brunch on a Friday is a big, boozy tradition, so don’t party too hard on Thursday. Or sip enough sparkling wine to obliterate the hangover – it’s up to you. Go there for: the wilderness There aren’t many other parts of the world where you’ll find untouched desert so close to enormous buildings and glitzy hotels, so heading out into the wilderness is always going to come high on any adventurous traveller’s priority list. Khor Al Adaid, aka the ‘Inland Sea’, is a breathtaking sea on top of a desert (you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a mirage –but it isn’t). There are a number of desert safaris who’ll organise a trip for you, which may or may not include camel polo and quad bike riding. What’s going on? The World Cup in 2022 is still a few more years (and a few more metres of red tape) away, so for now you’ll have to settle for the opening of the National Museum of Qatar – designed by acclaimed French architect Jean Nouvel, it’ll be housed in an enormous, space-age-looking building and should quickly become both a must-visit location and the main source of information on the formation and history of the country. e

Photographs by (top) Shahin Olakara/Getty; (bottom) Flickr RF/Getty

Where to eat and go out Many of Oman’s hotels are remote – in a good way. That said, it’s not the handiest place to wander out of your hotel looking for your next meal, unless you’re in Muscat. If you are, head to The Beach (that’s the restaurant’s name) for Arabian ambiance and generous seafood platters. For something kinder on the wallet, pull up at a stool at the busiest shawarma shop you can find.

ABOVE AND BELOW: Qatar’s lively cosmopolitan capital Doha is geared up for tourists thanks to its lively expat communtiy

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It may be a whirlwind of luxury, development and show, but as Ronan O’Shea discovers, at the heart of Abu Dhabi lies a welcome that’s as warm as the weather










Photograph by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group Photograph via Getty Images by ###



used to work in a bar in the Midlands called The Clarendon, where the music and light controls were regularly worn down through overuse. The landlord was obsessed; a perfectionist. I don’t expect this to spring to mind as I recline in my seat on the way to Abu Dhabi, but it does. Why? Detail, that’s why. My drink is ice cold, the Etihad staff are friendly, and the food has been carefully tuned for my high-altitude enjoyment. My host dissuades me from drinking my choice of wine – it won’t complement the fish, apparently – and he smiles a familiar smile and offers an alternative. Familiarity is another thing I didn’t expect to characterise this trip. But it will. Abu Dhabi is a vast, sprawling place, with long stretches of motorway between the main areas of As the capital of interest, but it’s less the United Arab showy than its little Emirates, Abu brother, Dubai. That Dhabi is home to government offices doesn’t mean it’s not and the president glitzy, though. of the UAE. It has After checking in a population of around 1.5 million. at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, I spend 15 minutes trying to navigate my room, which is bigger than my flat, before peering out of the window towards the ground. The twinkling neon lights on the soaring towers make them sparkle like Christmas trees, and the skyline swarms with glimpses of life and activity in the distance. The following morning, almost freshfaced, I travel to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – the eighth-largest mosque in the world and an architectural wonder, built over a ten-year period. Walking through the mosque, you’re hit by superlative after superlative; there’s the 24-carat-gold chandelier, so big it has its own set of stairs for the cleaners, and beneath my feet is the

world’s largest handmade carpet. Weighing in at 35 tonnes and measuring 5,627 square metres, it took 1,200 women two years to make. The mosque is Abu Dhabi incarnate; grand design, fervent tradition. The 82 domes stand out no more and no less than the 99 qualities of Allah written on the Qibla wall in traditional Kufic calligraphy. Making my way back towards the bus – and much-needed cool water – I notice a man standing on the largest dome during the call the prayer, cleaning it with nothing more than a towel and a long, wet rope. And I thought the graveyard shift in The Clarendon was hard work...

Humble beginnings If the mosque is all about scale, the oldest form of commerce in Abu Dhabi is quite the opposite. Pearl and oyster diving were once

ABU DHABI IS LESS SHOWY THAN DUBAI, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S NOT GLITZY ABOVE: The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an iconic part of Abu Dhabi’s skyline; BELOW: Camels remind you that you’re in the desert

Photograph by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images


the lifeblood of this region, which seems less incredible now that I’m floating along down the river on a traditional diving boat rather than sitting in my palatial hotel room. I sip strong Arabic coffee as I learn more about the trade from my guide, Humaid, and my eyes struggle to adjust to the gleaming white of his robe. Divers would go down between 50 and 200 times a day, he says, holding up their bounty – an oyster. He thinks about letting me open my own, before wisely deciding I’d maim myself on the sharp, rounded knife. He shucks each one carefully, while describing how pearls form in the oyster’s stomach over time. He holds up a small, imperfect – yet beautiful – alabaster-coloured ball. “A gift from God,” he says, with obvious pride. Thinking on this later, as I gaze out of the 74th floor of the hotel, the speed of change is striking. Yet it’s not the high rises that stand out (they’re ten-a-penny), but rather the vast swathes of untouched desert clawing out into the misty distance. I wonder, as I look at them, how soon they’ll become a part of this modern Abu Dhabi. Appropriately enough, later that evening I find myself dining in the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers’ Pearls by Michael Caines restaurant (try saying that after a few Arabic coffees). Unsurprisingly, fine dining is a big deal in Abu Dhabi – you don’t turn a small


A BIT PECKISH? ABU DHABI’S TOP RESTAURANTS Abu Dhabi is fast becoming an attractive place to work for some of the world’s best chefs, with a number of top restaurants opening up in recent years. We ate at the new Dinner at Pearls by Michael Caines for a touch of English culinary finesse – beats egg and chips followed by Cadbury’s chocolate fingers. And for seafood, check out Sayad (Arabic for fisherman) at Emirates Palace. Overlooking the hotel’s beautiful marina, it offers light, delicious seafood, cooked with a modern touch – and it’s all super-fresh, naturally. For more information on Abu Dhabi, visit

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fishing village into a global travel hotspot without satiating your guests’ appetites. The food is extraordinary, but it is the sense of familiarity I find most striking. Just a week ago, I was sitting in An Bonnán Buí, a pub in the small market town in southwest Ireland where my father was born. It was 13 years since my last visit, yet faces I didn’t recall recognised me as Gerard O’Shea’s boy. People were kind, welcoming, indifferent to my pleas not to make a fuss. I was home. Now, nestled between relative strangers in a distant country, I feel something similar; and it’s this sense of comfort and welcome, rather than the quail or the rich chocolate dessert, which remain on the palate long after the meal is over.

Prized possessions You wouldn’t get far in Abu Dhabi without a driving licence. Though the most famous


Life in the fast lane Abu Dhabi is in no mood to slow down. I see that in the golden alcoves, in the huge Range Rovers that tower over me and steam

GETTING THERE Returns fares from London to Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways start from £415 in economy class and £2,059 in business class, including all taxes and subject to availability. Etihad Airways offers three daily flights between London Heathrow and Abu Dhabi, as well as direct flights from Manchester and Edinburgh. For reservations and further details visit or call 0345 608 1225

Photograph by Buena Vista Images


buildings may be clustered together near the Corniche, the city is spread far and wide, and driving is essential – air conditioning too. But our morning trip hones in on winged rather than four-wheeled beasts, with a trip to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, which is (naturally) the world’s largest. Even when it comes to ornithology, the Emiratis don’t do small. Falconry is to Emiratis what miserable indie-rock and romantic disappointment were to my teenage years — emblematic, integral and historic. Originally used for hunting in order to supplement the Bedouin diet, these days falconry is largely practiced for sport. Falcons are so prized you can even take them with you on planes – first class, naturally. What about customs? Well, each falcon entering or leaving the UAE is issued with a passport, of course. The long drive back to our second hotel, the Emirates Palace, reminds me why the UAE wants to grow. This is desert country. To stand out, one needs to build, and they sure have. Stretching a kilometre from wing to wing, this hotel is one of the most expensively built of all time, and amidst the far-reaching, empty miles of as-yet untapped land, it stands, a huge show-off, brimming with brio and grandeur. Yet among all the statements and scale (5kg of edible gold alone is used per year to decorate desserts and drinks) it’s the politeness of the staff and locals, and the friendly welcome we enjoy in every restaurant and bar that stands out.

past the hotel entrance, and in the confident gait of modern Emiratis, walking in and out of shops loaded up with designer bags. But it’s growing in different ways, too. This year, the city awaits the arrival of the Louvre Abu Dhabi – an extraordinary, Jean Nouveldesigned museum so significant for the Arab world and beyond that the Guardian’s art critic, Jonathan Jones, called it “a turning point in cultural history”. My visit takes in many of the showstopping ultramodern attractions that have already found a home in Abu Dhabi, not least the Yas Marina circuit, home of the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. There you’ll find Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest rollercoaster, on In true Abu Dhabi which I nearly crush style, the Yas Marina the hand of the circuit is more than woman sat next to just a race track – the £800m develme through sheer opment also features terror, though it’s all a water park, golf of the much simpler course, beach and a shopping mall... things that really stick in my mind. Even my final meal is steeped in tradition. Dinner at the Emirates Palace’s Sayad (Arabic for fisherman) restaurant is one of impeccable seafood, good company, lots of wine and (of course) perfect service, delivered with warmth and feeling. After nearly four days, I join others for a nightcap in a local bar. Sipping on a cold beer in the sweltering Arabian night, I know it is nearly time to go home. I’ve travelled 4,400 miles to get here, and I’ve experienced a culture that’s at polar opposites to my own. And yet, the familiar virtues of hospitality and kindness make me feel as if I’ve barely been away from home at all. e




















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Eschewing the east-coast tourist trail, Jonathan Pile heads to Western Australia to eat and drink his way around an often overlooked part of the country, and finds there’s plenty to devour‌ 51


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Photographs by (Perth) Stefan Mokrzecki/Getty; (vineyards) Peter Walton Photography; (Heirisson) Michael Willis/Alamy

estern Australia is big. Really big. People talk about Texas being big, but Western Australia is nearly four times the size. It’s bigger than Alaska and Texas put together. You can drive around it for days and not see one McDonald’s. Now that’s big. All of which goes some way to explaining why, when so many of Australia’s tourist draws are in the south east of the country, the west coast struggles to get a look in. You can fly to Egypt from the UK in less time than you can to Perth from Sydney. And after you’ve spent so long in the air actually getting to Australia, who’s really looking for even more flight time? The question, then, is why add Perth to your Australian itinerary? Or beyond that – why make the Western Australia’s west coast, not the capital is named east, your Australian after the Scottish destination? city, but it’s a LOT warmer. In fact, it’s Ryan Zaknich the sunniest state from Two Feet and capital in Australia, a Heartbeat Walking with around eight hours of sun a day. Tours (, is our guide to Perth’s burgeoning new bars and restaurants, and reveals that, until recently, it was what lots of young Australians were asking themselves. In the early 2000s, Perth’s youth left in droves, searching for opportunities in more culturally driven cities. Much like why people in the UK leave Hull. But Perth has now reversed that,


ABOVE: Perth’s skyline. With lots of new restaurants opening, it’s an exciting time to visit the city; BELOW: From the vineyards of Margaret River to the kangaroos on Heirisson Island, Western Australia is a destination worth earning the extra air miles for

with new establishments where there used to be derelict buildings. There’s also great excitement at their new Jamie’s Italian. But don’t hold that against them – there are more interesting places, too. Nowhere is that more noticeable than in Fremantle. Once a packed port in the shadows of looming container ships, land has been reclaimed for a park, and the old crocodile farm is now a craft brewery called Little Creatures ( It’s the youthful, artsy area of the city; sort of like Athens, Georgia. Or Shoreditch – but without the air of pretension. It’s where I begin, for brunch, at Bread In Common ( – a warehouse space, walls stripped back to the bricks, with filament lights casually dangling from the wooden beams above. It’s canteenstyle dining, and bakes its own bread on site – ovens and fresh loaves positioned in full view of the restaurant. The night before I visited, it won Best New Restaurant at The West Australian Good Food Guide awards. What becomes obvious early (and is repeated everywhere I go) is how much importance is placed on eating locally and seasonally. And not just as a fad or gimmick, as it can often seem in UK. Of course, with produce this good, it’s an easy thing to get behind – whereas in south London, locally grown paw paws are in short supply. Nowhere is this local pride truer than with wine. The Swan Valley region touches

Perth – advertised as just ten minutes from its airport, as though you’d want to skip checking in at your accommodation for a shower or a nap, instead heading directly to a tasting at one of the 40 different wineries in the area. Hey, maybe you would. Our stay in Perth is a short one, but there’s one more thing to do before leaving. Visible from our room in the Fraser Suites ( is the small Heirisson Island in the middle of the Swan River which splits the north and south of the city. Living there in relative secrecy (only one Perth native I spoke to actually knew about them) is a small mob (the official term) of tame(ish) kangaroos. Go and visit them as the sun sets – that’s feeding time. And the wardens will let you do it. Three hours south of Perth is Margaret River – the Swan Valley’s wine-making rival (Swan Valley is older, Margaret River is better known). It’s centred round the town of Margaret River, and the actual Margaret River runs through it. There are also places with other names, you’ll be pleased to hear. One such place is Yallingup, which is where winery and As well as wineries restaurant (and art and restaurants, gallery) Wills Domain Yallingup – which means ‘place of love’ ( in Australian Abis located. It sticks in original – has some the memory for two impressive beaches, reasons. One: two and is worth adding to your itinerary. nights before I



VISIT THESE VINEYARDS SITTELLA Ever come back from a holiday in France and decided to open your own winery? These guys did it, and 22 years later it’s more successful than ever.

UPPER REACH A boutique winery on the banks of the Swan River (the upper reach of it, in fact), it also holds twilight concerts four times a year with food and, of course, wine.

LEFT: From inventive restaurant dishes (TOP) to traditional ‘bush tucker’ like the bunya bunya nut (BOTTOM), food in Western Australia is varied; (RIGHT) peaceful, empty beaches

visited (because it’s the day after I went to Bread In Common) it won Best Regional Restaurant at The West Australian’s Good Food Awards. Two: it’s where I first taste marron. And two is the important one… Marron is a freshwater crayfish – it’s sweet and delicately flavoured, and similar to lobster – that’s native to Western Australia, and so highly thought of that Clare Smyth (three Michelin-starred chef-patron at


Restaurant Gordon Ramsay) showcased it at a pop-up dinner I attended a few days later. And you just can’t get it in the UK. South Australia has only just recently started farming it. Wills Domain serves it, as you might have already assumed, with quandong and bunya bunya. (Local bush food – a fruit and a seed respectively.) You can spend the rest of your time (as I did) touring the wineries and perhaps enjoying the coastal views before hacking through the bush on a guided Cape To Cape walk ( – ask for Gene, he’s awesome – but in the evenings, you’re going to need a bar, a restaurant, and somewhere you can be confident you aren’t going to stagger into a venomous spider’s web. And that means a town, albeit a small one – Margaret River. Perth is awash Start at Swings with new bar ( – the and restaurant taproom of a local openings, and a hot destination – get in vineyard (so yes, there quick for major that’s wines on tap), bragging rights. Just but also serving local don’t forget where you heard it first. beers and food. Did I mention that was big here? Then walk up the hill to Morries ( for dinner and cocktails. Definitely cocktails – they do a cracking line in boilermakers, including the Bunny Boiler (American-style whiskey, honey liqueur, rhubarb bitters and a beer) that’ll make you seriously question the decisions you’ve made in your life that have led you to not having a bottle of rhubarb bitters at your constant disposal.

A biodynamic winery – so it uses crystals and buried cow horns to help make its wine. But when the wine’s this good (and it’s seriously good), who cares how they go about it?

MADFISH Part of Howard Park – one of the region’s leading family owned vineyards – MadFish is the label dedicated to fresh, clean and fruitdriven wines.

And so, the question poses itself again – why Western Australia? I can’t say I’ve done it. Who can in a week? If it split from the rest of Australia, it’d be the 10th biggest country in the world. I know this because there’s a new bar in Perth, The Dominion League (, celebrating the secession movement of the 1930s. But I’ve mentioned its vast size before – why I really bring it up is for that bar. It’s one of many new, interesting venues, run by passionate people. Perth as a city seems to be on the verge of something. The next big thing. Sydney, Melbourne – they’ll always be there. And so will Perth – but it’ll never be as exciting and filled with opportunity as it is now. And that’s something worth seeing. The miles and miles of vineyards help, too. e Travelbag (0845 543 6615, offers 3 nights at the 4* Fraser Suites Perth and 5 nights at the 4*Pullman Bunker Bay Margaret River from £1,199 per person including flights with Etihad from London Heathrow to Perth and six days economy car hire. For further info on Western Australia, see

Photographs by (bunya nut) Clearviewimages RF/Alamy and Jonathan Pile




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Inspired by Odysseus, Hannah Summers embarks upon her own epic journey over land and sea, and goes in search of the ‘real’ Greece in Kefalonia 57





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ABOVE: Myrtos has been described as “one of the most dramatic beaches in Greece”. With vast cliff faces, blue water and a white cobblestone shore, it’s easy to see why

N Photograph by Allen Parseghian/Getty

ow this is an arrival. With my legs positioned in an authoritative, captain-like stance, my sunglasses on and the wind playing havoc with my barnet, I open the throttle and the little boat glides across the water. My god, this is great: blazing sunshine, Tippex-white cliffs and sea the colour of blue curaçao. And not a single soul in sight. This is Ithaca, Greece’s raw, rugged and largely ignored Ionian island, and the fabled home of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s 8thcentury BC epic The Odyssey. The poem recounts the story of Odysseus’s return from the Trojan War – a gruelling, ten-year schlep – but my 21stcentury mission is far more chilled. Starting with a 15-minute hurtle across the sea from Kefalonia, my boyfriend Adam and I have made the decision to explore the two islands by sea. Because why Kia Picanto when you can speedboat? The A-listers know what I’m on about. Unspoiled by mass-market hotels and chain restaurants, the north of Kefalonia – the largest of Greece’s Ionian islands – has managed to escape the red-faced tourist brigade. Fiskardo, the quaint Venetianstyle harbour town, and one of the only places to not be savaged by the devastating earthquake of 1953, attracts low-key celebs and moneyed, boho travellers. I sip ouzo by the water while slick Europeans clad in floaty linen plop off the walkway into dinghies, setting out to explore the dozens

of bays that dot the surrounding coast, or whizz across the water to their superyachts. Yet despite the cosmopolitan crowd in this part of the island, the majority of Kefalonia is relaxed, rustic and brilliantly untamed. Famed for producing the ‘quickest’ of the Greeks (we’re talking wit, not four-minute miles), when you’re not making new friends here you’re bound to be splayed out horizontal in a pleasing state of sun-drenched zen. It’s the beaches that’ll get you. There are hundreds – yes, hundreds – to choose from, and they’re all cracking. We start in Assos, a VenetianIt’s not just era village with a The Odyssey that calm, pebbly bay is set in this part of that sits at the base the world – Louis de Bernières’ novel of a 16th-century (and the film of) castle, followed by Captain Corelli’s Petani, a long curve Mandolin takes place in Kefalonia. of sand stroked by gentle emerald waves that are perfect for beer-in-hand, lilo-based escapades. Then, of course, there’s Myrtos. Reached by a steep and windy cliff road, it’s Greece’s pin-up beach, with a dazzling curve of striking white cliffs that slip down to large, cream pebbles and water so bright that you can barely look at it. But that would be a shameful waste. After a bit of pacing back and forth, doing the obligatory same-picture-from-adifferent-height thing, I chuck my camera aside and charge face first into the electric blue, battling waves and the occasional

Greek child. Getting back out is just as elegant; after ten minutes of subtly trying to extract myself with a painful hobble over the stones, I join a group of heavily paunched, Speedo-clad men, reversing crablike out of the sea, on all fours. Daniel Craig – this is how it’s done. Folding the lilo into the back seat of our hire car (you can’t see it all in a speedboat), we set out along wiggling, undulating roads to explore the interior of the island. It’s a knock-out combination of rolling



CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Assos Village; Homer wasn’t lying when he wrote that the land around these parts “is good for goats”; secret beaches dot Kefalonia’s coastline



Photograph by (clockwise from top) Bruno Morandi/Getty; Nick Measures/Getty; Hannah Summers

vineyards full of robola – the island’s own white grape – and sun-scorched mountains dotted with tufty green plants. It’s this unique landscape that has led some academics to claim the island Homer detailed in The Odyssey is – in geographical and geological terms, at least – much more similar to Kefalonia than Ithaca. So 3,000 years on, the site of Odysseus’s kingdom remains disputed; not only by battling scholars, but by several territorial Greek grannies that we encounter, too. Wherever it is, Homer had an enviable way with words. “It’s a bit rough” was the quote that really inspired me when I was forced to read the book at school, while “the land is good for goats” was the other. He was right about that one. Razzing the onelitre hire car around near-vertical hairpins, I spot giddy mountain goats tap-dancing next to olive trees, neck bells tinkling in the balmy breeze, and their naked, shaved backsides on full display. It keeps their body warm but their bum Olive oil production clean, a craggy-faced is a key part of farmer tells me after Kefalonia’s economy, and there are almost I pull off the road to one million olive take a picture. trees on the island. For close-up It’s for cooking mountain action, though, not for sunbathing, ok? though, you need a bigger engine – and an expert. I meet up with Giorgio ‘George’ Potamianos, the thirty-something owner of Outdoor Kefalonia and a bit of a modern-day legend in these parts, thanks to his rugged good looks, quick banter and adventurous spirit – he recently kayaked from Kefalonia to Venice, and spent entire winters camped out on the mountain as a teenager. As we bump along in the back of his

Mount Ainos is the Land Rover, he tallest mountain in breaks up interesting Kefalonia. As well as facts about Mount wild ponies, Ainos is home to goats, who Ainos (or Black – according to local Mountain, so-named legend – have gold thanks to the dark teeth (a fact we can’t confirm nor deny...) pine trees that blanket the slopes) with tuition on how to swear in Greek (try calling someone a malaka next time they cut you up). A national park since 1962, the mountain is home to more than 400 varieties of plant, an abandoned 700-year-old ghost village and an extended family of 40 elusive wild ponies (I catch a glimpse of a tail, but George spends most of the time pointing out their day-old dung). While this part of the island is staggeringly beautiful and untouched, the 35,000 locals who live here rarely make the effort to venture up these vertiginous roads that were once home to 100,000 people before the earthquake 63 years ago. Occasionally, a courageous teenager or old fella will wobble past on a motorcycle, wafting past us with a basket crammed with freshly picked oregano, but the younger crowd here prefer the urban lure of Argostoli or Athens as opposed to this natural, herb- and heatherthick wilderness. “Greece has a problem with the new generation – the hipsters,” George tells me, sadly. “They’re all big sissies.” On an island like this, that’s no big deal. This is peaceful Greece at its very best, and you’re constantly finding whole acres you can enjoy all to yourself. “We do have policemen here but they’re all stuffing their faces with donuts,” George says, while furiously charging around the next bend. “We don’t have crime on this sleepy island,” he adds. Or driving penalties, I hope. Homer also claimed that Odysseus’s home produces “handsome men”, and George is just one of them. As lazy sunbathing guilt starts to kick in, we meet up with his cousin Lefteris, a former professional rower and now part-time

From no-time to

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ABOVE: Head to Fiskardo harbour for pretty views, a laid-back vibe and celeb spotting. Oh, and some first-rate meat pies too. BELOW: Newly opened boutique hotel F Zeen


guitarist and kayaking don. Back on the water, he sits me in the front of a twoperson kayak, while Adam is lumbered with steering responsibilities at the rear. What follows is a tricep-burning, 10km farce, where sporadic strokes are punctuated by swear words (in Greek and English) as we try our best to paddle in unison over the surprisingly choppy open water. Still, domestic disputes aside, it’s a fun way to travel south from the island capital of Argostoli, where yet more crazy beautiful coves, only accessible by boat, scatter the coastline, and caves – many of which are home to the endangered monk seal, only

found in Kefalonia – can be explored, too. It’s the most taxing thing I do all week, but that doesn’t stop us refuelling with maximum enthusiasm each day. Over the course of the trip I demolish dips, fish, kebabs, and several helpings of the island’s ubiquitous ‘village sausage’ (you’ll find it on every menu). Back in Fiskardo, we meet Tassia, a humble, smiley celebrity chef who owns one of the most celebrated harbourside restaurants in Greece, where meat pie (the island’s signature dish) is plated in hefty pastry-topped The traditional Keportions by her falonian meat pie is chirpy brothers. miles away from any But it’s the local Ginsters offering: it’s made from beef, pork yoghurt that’s my and goat, as well as favourite. Delicious, rice, herbs and feta creamy mounds cheese, topped with filo pastry. Yum. are served with a selection of plum, fig and grape compotes, washed down with a viscous, lip-tinglingly fresh strawberryinfused liquor. An equally epic meal comes at Aristofanis – a low-key outdoor seafood restaurant in Argostoli. Plates of seafood chosen for us by the waiter (“We’ll eat everything,” we tell him) spill out of the kitchen, among them grilled octopus, prawn saganaki, mussels, mackerel and a salad crowned with a huge slab of creamy feta. Nearby, a clan of elderly men catch the last of the day’s sun; bottle of Mythos beer in one hand, fishing rod in the other. The next day – ditching the hire car for a speedboat again – we follow their example. I grab a chilled beer from the cool box, stretch out across the deck and soak up one last hit of Kefalonian sunshine. This is the real Greece, and I have it all to myself. e

NEED TO KNOW To make sure you cover the majority of the island, try splitting your stay between the north and the south. Unique Kefalonia offers a range of villas and apartments across the island, from twoperson suites to sprawling multibedroom villas with private pools. Towards the south of Kefalonia you’ll find F Zeen, a newly opened, adult-only boutique hotel with natural-hued rooms, bougainvillea-draped pools and large Greek breakfast spreads ( Book jeep safaris and kayaking with islandfamous Giorgio Potamianos and his company Outdoor Kefalonia (; book car hire with; for destination, accommodation and beach advice visit











WALK E DE Photograph by ###

Duncan Madden finds the best way to discover the real Seychelles is to take an adventure into nature, and one that will help preserve it for future generations 65




Beyond the beaches... VISIT VICTORIA Not a person, but the Seychelles’ capital city, Victoria – located on Mahé – has lots to explore including a lively market selling fruit, veg and an amazing array of fish, a pretty Hindu temple, and a replica of Big Ben in the town centre. Yes, really.

EXPLORE BY BOAT The best way to see as many of the Seychelles’ islands as possible is by boat. Moor up and snorkel to shore through shoals of absurdly colourful fish and delicate coral, before exploring inland – keep your eyes out for resident fruit bats hanging in the trees with their babies.

CLIMB A MOUNTAIN Not as hardcore as it sounds, but still a vigorous hike, the trail up Morne Blanc rewards climbers with views of the Indian Ocean.

the Curieuse Marine National Park. Today it’s home to around 500 reintroduced Aldabra giant tortoises and is the focus of an extraordinary new plan to get tourists actively involved in restoring its indigenous flora and fauna, monitoring them and thus ensuring their collective future. The ranger programme, as it’s called, is in its infancy. In fact, I’m the first journalist to find out exactly what it’s all about, so

TOP-TO-BOTTOM: It’s not just on dry land that you’ll find an amazing selection of wildlife in the Seychelles – lemon sharks glide through the crystal-clear waters off Aldabra. There are also plenty of coral reefs to explore; Aldabra giant tortoises have been reintroduced to Curieuse; La Digue, just another ‘pinch me I’m dreaming’ example of island perfection in the Seychelles

Photographs by (Coco Island) Martin Harvey/Getty; (tortoise) Wil Meinderts/Buiten-beeld/Getty; (La Digue) Jon Arnold/Getty


t’s island time, honey…” A wide, carefree smile is spreading across the lady’s round, friendly face. She lets out a subtle chuckle and shrugs her shoulders in a ‘well it happens all the time, why should it be any different now’ matter-of-fact way. I’m not feeling quite so relaxed, as through the warped glass window behind her I watch my connecting flight trundle down the runway and lift off into the bright blue yonder. Without me – and without my luggage, which is apparently lost in

transit somewhere between London, Abu Dhabi and this tiny island of Mahé, a dot in the impossibly pretty cluster of 45 granite islands that’s better known as the Seychelles. “Sure… It may be the it’ll be here soon.” largest island in My details the Seychelles, but jotted down on that doesn’t exactly mean that Mahé a suspiciously is big – it’s 60sq informal strip of miles in total and paper and handed has a population of around 79,500. to the smiling lady, I make my way to the port and hop on the island ferry for the 45 minute chug to the waiting luxury of the Raffles Praslin hotel where my ranger adventure can begin. I have no idea when or where I’ll see my luggage again. At first, Raffles Praslin seems like an odd place to kick off an island adventure. The height of luxury – an unmistakable honeymooners’ retreat, it mixes viewladen villas with personal plunge pools, private pristine beaches with long, indulgent cocktails, Coco de mer nuts and caters to the are the symbol well-heeled and the of the Seychelles, and you’ll get one once-in-a-lifetime stamped into your holidaymaker with passport when you an easy informality. arrive. It’s suggested they resemble a Things run like lady’s bum... clockwork, as only the very best hotels do – and I spend the first few days relaxing, snorkelling and eating. Island time as it should be. Yet cast your eyes north towards the horizon and you’ll settle upon the apparently uninhabited island of Curieuse, so named after the French schooner that first laid anchor off its idyllic, wildlife-rich shores in 1768. This 1.7sq mile island of red soil, golden sand, granite rocks and iconic coco de mer trees has suffered a torrid history at the hands of man. Colonised by the French, its population of giant tortoises was quickly wiped out (they make for good eating apparently) and its forests burned to make harvesting the precious coco de mer nuts easier. On the brink of total destruction, it was transformed into a leper colony in 1829 (and remained one until 1965), the stigma of its unfortunately afflicted residents keeping treasure hunters away and giving the ecosystem time to recover. But it wasn’t until 1979, following a catastrophic island-wide fire, that the Seychellois government took control and turned it and its surrounding waters into


ABOVE: Praslin may be home to luxury resorts such as Raffles, but there’s plenty of untouched scenery to explore as well


HUGE AND PREHISTORIC, THE ALDABRA TORTOISES GO ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS IN SLO-MO pools, perfect meals and clean clothes, the gem in this resort’s crown are the islands themselves, an Eden where we can have a helping hand in letting nature flourish in its infinite glory. A rare luxury indeed. e

NEED TO KNOW Bay view pool villas at Raffles Praslin Seychelles ( praslin, +248 429 6780) start from £480 per night including all taxes and breakfast. The ‘ranger for a day’ programme costs £120pp for adults/£80pp for juniors. Part of the proceeds go towards safeguarding the Seychelles ecosystem through the Seychelles National Park Authority.

Photograph by F.Bettex -

am on Raffles’ private beach bright and early for the short boat sprint across the pretty bay, past the black pearl farm, and around the headland to the encouragingly named Turtle Pond in Laraie Bay. Awaiting me, amidst a creep of those giant tortoises, Rudy Ricaud is the man with the plan. Originally landing on this island paradise to landscape the extraordinary grounds of the Raffles resort, Rudy describes how the ranger programme came about in his lilting French accent. “When we started construction in 2009 it was obvious that we were impacting the local environment and community. I realised I could never leave this place without ensuring our future relationship and so launched a ‘forgotten trek’ and ‘ecological education path’ where we were responsible for the maintenance of the land as well as educating visitors about it.” Despite Rudy’s lackadaisical drawl and easy barefoot manner, it’s quickly clear how driven he is to make a difference here. We stroll a rickety boardwalk over knotted mangroves, the sand below a scuttling mass of round-eyed ghost crabs. Ahead, a gaggle of local kids are mangrove monitoring, Rudy says – observing surrounding sealife, vegetal species, mapping trees and checking that things are healthy. In a spot of wetland before the foothills of Anse Boadyment Aldabra tortoises we plant pandanus are, on average, and capucines, plants 122cm long and that are specially weigh around 250kg. They’re adapted to humid among the longest earth and perfect living animals on for anchoring and the planet, and can reach 200 years old. maintaining the soil.

It’s hot work in the blazing midday sun, but the soft laughter and relaxed attitude of Rudy’s team makes the time fly by. We head for Anse Papaie bay to clear marine litter washed up in astounding quantities, stopping to gulp water while Rudy describes other tasks for future rangers like me. “Plans are in place to start coral transplants to reinvigorate what was lost in the catastrophic El Niño climate changes of the late nineties,” when warming waters Lemon sharks are killed and bleached named due to the so many of these yellow hue of their aquatic kingdoms. skin, which helps them to blend into “Then there’s the sandy sea floor turtle monitoring – of their coastal hawksbills mostly habitats, where they head to breed. – seeking out their nests, measuring and tagging them, observing and appreciating these wonderful creatures in their natural, thriving habitat.” Lemon shark pups patrol these waters too, cruising the mangroves, taking shelter from larger predators while they hone their hunting skills and grow to maturity. From October to December guest rangers will be able to monitor numbers and help tag them, a highlight I suspect for most who will get the opportunity. It’s typical of the reasoning behind this project – not to keep us at arm’s length from the environment as passive observers, but to make us roll up our sleeves, jump right in and get a real feel for how and why we should care. Back at the main ranger camp, larger than life chef Mama has cooked up a storm of Seychellois curry, freshly caught fish and spicy chicken. Delicious as it is, I wolf it down in minutes and race outside to meet the star attractions. Huge, prehistoric and utterly unfettered by a fear of man, the Aldabra tortoises go about their business in a slo-mo of wild abandon. I count more than 30 around the main property alone. Barely moving boulders, they hunch low until a tickle under the chin sends them ponderously upwards onto tip toes, and I swear I see the hint of a smile showing in their bottomless black eyes. I feed them whole bunches of bananas, witness the vocal female grunts of an impressive copulation, photograph, stare, and laugh. It’s like Jurassic Park, but these guys don’t eat you. Jumping back on the boat, Rudy shakes my hand and tells me to enjoy the luxury awaiting me at Raffles – my luggage has turned up at last. But for all the infinity

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Caviar, kalashnikovs and potatoes... Rob Crossan travels to Minsk for a city break with a difference, and finds much to explore beyond the former Iron Curtain 71


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Photograph by (main) © Sophotographie/Alamy; (statue and river) Westend61 GmbH/Alamy; (apartments) Ryhor Bruyeu/Alamy

he Kalashnikov emits a zinging, sinuous pop as I gamely squeeze the trigger, aiming at the remains of a baby birch tree. I miss the innocent target by a mile. This gun last saw action in the Soviet War in Afghanistan in the 1970s. So I blame its sight for the fact that the (blank) bullet comes nowhere near its target. The soldier, complete with full army fatigues and with teeth the colour of the inside of a hoover bag, smiles at me. “Your shooting needs practice,” he says, pausing lugubriously. “Lots of practice.” Back in the 1920s this collection of concrete pill boxes, razor wire and anti-tank barriers I’m stood amid, all surrounded by a gently undulating landscape of yellow rye fields and voluminous patches of forest, was heavily manned as part of Joseph Stalin’s plan for world domination; a typically menacing piece of provocation whereby the boundaries of this slice of what was then called White Russia were fortified to prevent potential western attack. This reconstructed section is known as the Stalin Line and is the regular site for simulated battles between locals replicating battles between the Soviets and the Nazis. On a visit here a few years ago, the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez got so over excited by the action that he ran into the battlefield from his spectator seat, overcome with passion to help the Russians. His The name Belarus bodyguards, armed corresponds literally with guns containing with the old term real ammunition ‘White Rus’. The landlocked Eastern as opposed to the European country blanks being used in has a population of the role-play, took around 9,481,000 people. an age to drag him back to the sidelines according to those present. Stalin and Chavez may be gone but this obscure land, now known as Belarus, lives on as the most mysterious corner of Europe, and the last remaining piece of the

old Iron Curtain between east and west. Like an authoritarian version of the Vegas Strip, the Avenue of the Victors is a colossal, ten-lane road that leads a rulerstraight line from the airport into the capital city Minsk, lined with Aside from housing showpiece, futuristic a LOT of books, the buildings. I pass the National Library of gargantuan curved, Belarus is a popular tourist attraction: sleek lines of a new the 22-floor building stadium, venue for has an observation the Ice Hockey World deck and also hosts outdoor concerts. Cup which was held here last year. We rush on through the sparse traffic passing the immense elevated angled glass panels of the new library and a soaring obelisk, next to a statue of a woman raising aloft a trumpet: this is the figurative motherland and a bombastic memorial to the Great Patriotic War against the Nazis where a scarcely believable estimated 25% of the population died. Less than three hours’ flying time from London, it doesn’t seem possible that somewhere so radically different in almost every way can exist in Europe in 2015. Yet Belarus is, in many ways, a genuine throwback to the Soviet Union. This is a country where the KGB still exists, where GUM, the infamously badly stocked showpiece department store of USSR era Moscow, still has a branch. This is a city where statues of Lenin still stand proudly over Orwellian looking government buildings and where collective farms still

BELARUS IS A MYSTERIOUS CORNER OF EUROPE; THE LAST REMAINING PIECE OF THE OLD IRON CURTAIN operate in the surrounding flat countryside. Ruled by Alexander Lukashenko since independence in 1991, Belarus rarely makes the headlines unless it’s for stories surrounding its elections. With opposition suppressed, the result of the

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Futuristic buildings line the city’s streets; Apartments on the banks of the Svislach River: despite all the recent development, Minsk still has plenty of green spaces; a striking memorial to the Great Patriotic War in the city centre



FROM ABOVE: The National Library of Belarus opened in 2006 and has become an iconic part of the city’s skyline; Gorky Park



GETTING THERE Visas for Belarus cost from £45 for UK visitors and must be bought in advance. Regent Holidays offer tailor-made and group trips to Belarus including flights with the (excellent) national airline Belavia from Gatwick. They can also assist with visa arrangements. Prices start from £555 per person for a three-night break in Minsk. See or phone 020 3553 0655 for information

Photograph by (library) Sophotographie/Alamy; (Gorky Park) Ryhor Bruyeu/Alamy

2015 election, held in October, was “no surprise”, according to my guide Veronica. Yet despite the intimidating scale of the city, Minsk has an easily found human face to it, and no small amount of comfort. Indeed, one of the principal things that stops Minsk from being nothing more than a slightly masochistic choice for a Euro city break is that the sterile environs of the old-style Soviet-era hotels now have some welcome competition. The Garni is a small boutique hotel lying just off the main Independence Avenue in the city centre with an opulent late 19thcentury vibe. Heavy drapes, stained glass windows, honeyed Potatoes are wood furnishings and undeniably big news parquet floors are all in Belarus, and aside present and correct. from being a staple of the national The breakfast buffet cuisine, they are alone is a one stop one of the country’s realisation of the first main agricultural products. love of Belarus – the humble potato. One local claimed that there are over 300 potato-based recipes in Belarus and, even at 8am, I was given a, surprisingly light, draniki (potato pancake) along with a pile of, yes, boiled potatoes. Nobody in Belarus I spoke to seemed to mind that the

neighbouring Russians sometimes refer to Belarussians as bulbashi – the spud eaters. Despite the hardships locals are currently experiencing with rampant currency inflation and unemployment, Minsk is almost surreally, impeccably tidy, clean and prosperous looking. And it’s a green place, too. Gorky Park (which you may remember being referenced in the opening line of the Scorpions’ glasnost pop hit Winds of Change about the reunification of Europe through stone-wash denim and cheap cigarette lighters) is a huge expanse of footpaths shaded by Reconstructed in lime and maple trees, 2011, Gorky Park with a Ferris wheel covers 300 acres offering a stately turn and has become one of Minsk’s number above the treetops. one attractions. It All around me are even has its own smart, dog-walking Wi-Fi coverage (hello Instagram). women, scampering children and a feel of genteel bucolic serenity. And yet, amid this city of order and quietude are a handful of rowdier experiences. The Komarovsky food market is a huge, aircraft hanger like piece of Soviet brutalist architecture with a quite astonishing array of people from all parts of Belarus life. From ladies in furs to pensioners in cloth caps, this is a hub for produce, with endless rows of vendors selling everything from pork loin to melons to yes, several types of potato. Down one of the quieter avenues in the market I venture upon one shawl-clad babushka selling caviar in small tins. With the language barrier between us preventing verbose dialogue, we furiously exchange pieces of paper with numbers written on them to try and determine a price. I settle for the frankly ludicrous fee of around £4 for my tin of the fabled black stuff. “You do good business here”, says one local, lugging a sack of spuds alongside him as he overhears our strained conversation. “The thing about Belarus,” he explains to me, “is this: things are not always easy for us, but the outsiders who do find this place totally fall in love with it.” A highly unusual choice for a weekend away it may still be, but Minsk, for all its contradictions, exudes a quirky appeal. Eccentric, atavistic yet imbued with hospitality, the simple visa arrangements to get here shouldn’t put you off. In fact, the only pre-requisite required to get the most out of this beguiling nation is to really – and I mean really – like potatoes. e




Winter Adventures with the experts Picture yourself whizzing through beautiful, snow-clad forests by snowmobile, mushing your own team of huskies, cross-country skiing or exploring on horseback. In the evening, return to your traditional log cabin or relax at a wilderness camp, perfectly situated for catching the northern lights. Finnish Lapland is ideal for the ultimate short break. Let our 30+ years’ of experience in creating inspirational holidays guide your next winter adventure.

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WHITE SPIRIT Duncan Madden heads to Finnish Lapland in search of action, arresting scenery and plenty of vodka. Luckily, he doesn’t have trouble finding any of the above…

Photograph by ###



inter is coming. But despite the involuntary shiver this annual truth sends down our collective spines, I also see it as an opportunity. Namely, an opportunity to indulge in a trip to Lapland in search of adventure, food and some of the best vodka on the planet. My companions on this icy escapade are an eclectic, excitable bunch of professional drinkers – bar and restaurant owners, mixologists, Scots. This should be fun.


Finland’s northernmost region, Lapland, is a 40,000sq m wilderness of forests and lakes bordered by the equally snowy tundras of Norway, Sweden and Russia. Sparsely populated, spectacularly situated, it’s a giant playground where visitors can ski, snowmobile, reindeer ride, ice fish and hike to their heart’s content. After a quick stopover in Helsinki, our connecting flight takes us north into the Arctic Circle. Far below, the ground slowly transitions from myriad greens to a blanket of white – forests, fields and lakes all buried beneath a never-ending sea of untouched powder. Our destination is Kittilä, a remote resort town famed for hosting an annual slalom event in the Alpine World Cup and for recording the lowest temperature in Finland’s history – a brisk -51.5°C. I packed extra thermals just in case. Our stay begins with a Lappish shaman ritual. Hunkered down around a crackling fire in a musty, smoky tent deep in the forest, we meet our It may be rather shaman (who, he cold, but Kittilä has tells us, also doubles plenty going for it, as Father Christmas not least the largest gold mine in Europe. for the kids, Snow AND gold? It slightly ruining his really is like all our credibility) grumbling Christmases have come at once... rhythmically to the



ABOVE: Reindeer are an important part of life in Lapland: as well as pulling sleighs, they are a key ingredient in Lappish cuisine (sorry); RIGHT: Don’t expect soaring temperatures

beat of his Sámi drum. Soon, under the influence of the smoky atmosphere and our shaman’s oddly hypnotic mantra, we join in and get carried away in his stories of the region’s history and culture. We emerge dazed and wide-eyed. But the freezing air instantly snaps us back to reality and we pile into the van in search of our lodgings. Standing in slippers outside a gargantuan log cabin awaits our host Pecca, a bear of a man – huge, bearded, smiling. He’s Finland personified. We’re swiftly ushered into a woodthemed palace awash with animal skins, antler chandeliers and, at its centre, a colossal dining table. Everything here feels oversized, larger than life, built not just to withstand the elements but to thrive in them. Over dinner, Pecca Due to its extreme talks about Lapland. latitude, Kittilä He describes Kittilä experiences polar and the surrounding night during winter. The shortest day areas, how people is 21 December, survive in the when there are extreme dark winters approximately zero hours of daylight. and the endless

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WE’RE SHOOTING DOWN WINDING TRAILS ONTO ENDLESS WIDE, SNOWY OPEN PLAINS daylight of summer. He tells us about the Sámi, the only indigenous people of Scandinavia and the northernmost in Europe, known worldwide as nomadic reindeer herders. A vodka tasting session follows where he tells us about the love affair between Finland and Finlandia vodka, thanks to the unique way it’s made – a process that could only happen here thanks to the midnight sun ripening the barley with 72 days of


In contrast to the endless nights of winter, summer in Lapland sees prolonged periods of daylight, when the sun doesn’t set for several weeks and night is twilight.

continuous sunlight. The six-row barley and unique untreated glacial spring water are combined to make an incredibly pure spirit. The next day we find ourselves climbing into survival suits (like Lappish onesies) and mounting motorised red steeds for a day in the proverbial saddle for a snowmobiling session. There are more than 750km of trails at our disposal, and within minutes of cruising town streets we’re shooting down wild, winding tracks through narrow forestbound corridors and out onto the endless wide, snowy open plains. It takes a while to get over how surreal an experience snowmobiling is. Our Lynx Adventure machines are light and agile enough to throw into turns with confidence, but there’s a terrifying wealth of power that’s only ever a flick of the thumb away. The snowmobile school has valiantly tried to install speed restrictors in the shape of rubber stoppers that hinder the movement of the thumb accelerator switch, but it doesn’t really take long to work out how to bypass this and open things up a little. True to form, the group’s obligatory Australian whips past me with a cheeky overtake that flies in the face of our safety talk, and I curse his Aussie guile as I take a fan of snow spray to the face. His cackle of laughter only fuels my fire for revenge. I sneak past him not soon after to a snort of swearing, and so it continues for the

morning as each of us battles for national pride. I make sure never to mention the rugby in our exchanges. I’m brought back down to earth with a bump soon after when in front of me a snowmobile takes a corner too fast and wide, and launches into the air, landing upside down next to its dazed riders. They jump up, dust off, laugh at how close that was to something serious, and fire up the Lynx once more. With any adventure it helps to have a destination. Ours was a makeshift clearing in the woods where we swapped Lynx for huskies and sled rode ever farther into the forest. The contrast between motorised mayhem and the whispering crunch of sled on snow is bewitching, and in no time we’re pulling up to wooden huts and the promise of a much-needed hot lunch. That is, until we’re told we need to catch it, as Pecca passes me a child-sized fishing rod and points to the ground beneath us – I hadn’t even realised we were standing on a frozen lake. An hour passes and we catch nothing. Stomachs rumbling we retire to nearby wood cabins where our lack of skills has been predicted and a hearty stew is bubbling away. Fuelled and warmed we head back to the snowmobiles and the


ABOVE: Lapland’s snowy terrain makes it perfect for snowmobiling; BELOW: If you’d rather keep things authentic, traverse the trails via husky-drawn sled instead

rest of the day passes in a blur of snowy landscapes and near misses. Dinner that night is a Lappish speciality – reindeer cooked every which way. Saamen Kammi is a local hotspot where diners balance on reindeer-skin stools and gorge from The reindeer is an a smörgåsbord icon of Finnish of many reindeer Lapland, with good recipes – stew, flame reason – there are roughly as many of grilled, carpaccio them as there are and much more. people. And they’re Moodily lit and with ALL called Rudolf (probably). several well-timed interludes from local Sámi musicians, it feels like our shaman’s tent, but updated for the 21st century. Now they play to an audience of hungry tourists rather than the weary herders of the very thing we’re eating. But this is modern-day Lapland and humans have survived here for hundreds of years by adapting to what makes them thrive. Here, now, they’re the guardians of the perfect winter wonderland. e For more information:

Kissimmee Quick If you’re looking for natural landscapes, thrilling theme parks and incredible wildlife, all wrapped into one sunshine-packed holiday, take a trip to friendly Kissimmee in Florida


or fast-paced thrills, wildlife and tranquility in one sun-glazed holiday, look no further than Kissimmee, the gateway to fun and relaxation in Florida. Located only 20 minutes from Orlando International airport, just minutes to the world famous theme parks and only one hour’s drive to the Gulf Coast, Kissimmee has something for every traveller. Families and groups of friends alike will love the proximity to the world’s best theme parks, including Universal Orlando® and Walt Disney World®. Shoppers will also be in their element – Kissimmee is packed with designer outlet malls and boutiques, where you can pick up bargains or unique pieces of art. Off-the-beaten-track adventures are offered in abundance, too. Try gliding through the headwaters of the Everglades in an airboat, spotting alligators and birds in their peaceful


natural habitat. Zipline through the lush green treetops at speed, or get away from it all and slow the pace with a sunset hot air balloon ride or kayaking through idyllic wilderness. If just the thought of that leaves you breathless, take a trip to the region’s unspoiled beaches, where you can relax and unwind. There’s no better place to discover the pristine beauty, natural landscapes and endless sunshine of Florida. ◆ Seven nights with hotel and flights from £565pp. Visit for more information



CLOCKWISE FROM MAIN: The adults-only pool at Omni Orlando Resort; see the area from a hot air balloon; Kissimmee is ideally located to explore Florida’s famous theme parks; LEGOLAND® Florida Resort; base yourself in a beautifully designed holiday home


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ith its bountiful nutmeg plantations, lush volcanic landscapes and historic forts, Grenada is a Caribbean nation with an identity all of its own. In Sandals LaSource Grenada, it has a resort to match – where style, individuality and Grenadan spirit meets the benchmark-setting all-inclusive luxury Sandals is famous for. Located on the southwest tip of the island – outside the capital St George’s, and just a five-minute transfer from the airport – Sandals LaSource Grenada is a luxurious beachside haven, tailor-made for the most relaxing, enjoyable and romantic break you’ve ever had. Sheltered by lush green hills and swaying palms, with the perfect sand and turquoise waters of Pink Gin Beach lapping at its feet, the resort melts seamlessly into the landscape. There are three unique villages – Pink Gin, South Seas and Italian Village – each with its own character.

Their laidback charm conceals an innovative approach – this is the Sandals of tomorrow, today. The suites are among the most advanced in the Caribbean, and depending on which one you opt for, can include solar-heated Skypools, tranquility soaking tubs on your balcony or patio, a personal Butler and dramatic views. The resort itself is is home to no fewer than 10 speciality restaurants, where international cuisines combine with the island’s bountiful natural larder. You can dine at Butch’s Chophouse, serving world-class steak, or in relaxed comfort, with ocean vistas and a refreshing sea breeze. For the ultimate in laidback indulgence, book in for a treatment at the award-winning Red Lane® spa, with a range of classic rituals and a serene Caribbean setting. Naturally, there’s a state-of-the-art fitness centre, too. And thanks to Sandals’ Luxury Included® all-inclusive package, you can look forward to a break with more quality inclusions than at any other luxury resort. Enjoy land and watersports – even scuba diving (for certified divers) – unlimited top-shelf drinks, premium wines, butler service and entertainment, all at no extra cost. You’ll soon discover the ultimate luxury is the freedom to enjoy this remarkable island at its best – on the holiday you’ve always dreamed of. ◆

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CLOCKWISE FROM MAIN: Look out over the resort from your Skypool suite; butler service on the soft-white sandy beach; take a refreshing dip in one of the resort’s pools; international cuisine with added Caribbean flair



CHECKLIST Photography by David Harrison


Photograph by ###

JACKET ALL IN: Obviously we’re all about the performance, but looking good on and off the slopes is just as important. Eider’s Revelstoke 2.0 ticks both boxes with ease. £379.99;



SLOPE AND GLORY Packing for a week on the slopes is no easy business. Luckily for you, we’ve gathered together the ski and boarding gear that’ll function just as well on the slopes as in the bar.

3 1. ROXY, Lana neck warmer, £25. Warmer, more practical and just plain better than a boring old scarf. 2. OAKLEY, Flight Deck XM goggles, £145. Perfect for post aprés-ski eyes. Oh, and for skiing, too.


3. COLUMBIA, Minx Shortie Omni-Heat Boot, £70. Guaranteed to keep feet cosy in the snow.


4. SALOMON, Speed jacket W, £350. With Primaloft Silver insulation, removable hood and slimline fit.




PhotographPhotograph by David Harrison by ###

Designed to perform all season long, these ski pants from The North Face are made with HyVent® 2L fabric – guaranteed to maintain its capabilities in severe weather conditions.


This super technical jacket from Salomon has every possible need considered – including pockets, weight and a flattering slimline fit that’s good on and off the slopes.

5. RETRO MOUNTAIN, Snowflake sweater, £35. Your new best friend on and off the slopes, from the retro onesie specialists. 6. DUFFER OF ST GEORGE, Bobble hat, £15. Knitted hat in a cable pattern, to keep your noggin toasty.


7. ABOUT, Women’s pants, £41. A Baltic underwear brand should know a thing or two about keeping you warm – as these leggings prove. 8. STANCE, Kora La thermal socks, £14.99. For socks that are as crrrrrazy as you are, check out the huge range of themed socks from Stance. 9. JACK WOLFSKIN, Iconic seamless top, £60. Lightweight and stretchy, with speedy sweat absorption for hours of skiing.


10. THE NORTH FACE, Ravina pants, £190. Available in five colours, all with Heatseeker insulation and two-way stretch.

6 8


Photograph by ###


★  G UYS ★ Keen’s European-made Liberty Ridge boots feature a breathable and waterproof membrane and a direct-attach sole to keep you steady in all conditions.

SNOW EXCUSE Planning a trip to the slopes? Good news: there’s still time to up your style game, with gear that looks good and performs even better. Bad news: you won’t be able to blame your outfit when you faceplant in the powder.


2 1. KEEN, Liberty Ridge, £149.99. Tough all-weather boots for gnarly trails and gnarly trips back from the bar. 2. SALOMON, Atlantis, £65. Yes, it’s a fleece; no, you don’t need to be a geography teacher to wear this super-light midlayer. 3. PEAK PERFORMANCE, Heli Gravity jacket, £460. Threelayer Gore-Tex protection with looks to match the tech.


4. FACTION, Hudson riding shirt, £109.99. For when it’s too warm for a jacket but you still want to shrug off the powder.




Photograph by ###



5. PASSENGER, The Camper longsleeve t-shirt, £27.99. Just like a normal t-shirt, but with added sleeves. The future’s here, people. 6. VOLCOM, Service gloves, £129.99. Leather outer + GoreTex inner = glove nirvana. Give ‘em a big hand.


7. ANON, M3 MFI, £195. Fog-free goggles, with the ability to switch new lenses in and out in doublequick time, thanks to 14 rare earth magnets. 8. PEAK PERFORMANCE, Heli Gravity pants, £370. Nothing says ‘king of the snow’ like a matching jacket/pants combo. Except being Scandinavian royalty, obviously. 9. PATAGONIA, Pom beanie, £35. As the saying goes: “Warm head, fast skis”. Ok, so no one ever said that but we’re sticking with it.

4 The cuffs of Volcom’s Service gloves have two grab holes, making them quick and easy to pull on. The leather shell is tough enough to take a beating, yet won’t restrict movement.


PhotographPhotograph by David Harrison by ###



To celebrate a record-breaking year at the British Travel Awards, Titan is delighted to present




£99 DEPOSIT on selected new travel dates

WINNER OF 25 AWARDS At a glitter glittering ceremony on 25 November 2015, Titan scooped an unprecedented 25 British Travel Awards, the consumer-voted ‘Oscars of unprecede the travel iindustry’, including 15 golds. To say thank you, we have released a selection of brand new travel dates on over 40 of our most popular itineraries, at best ever prices and £99 deposit, so that even more travellers appreciate the peerless quality of a Titan holiday. Three feature below, can apprec but you’ll find the full range at

Rememb - places are limited at these exceptional prices, Remember so don’t miss out - call our friendly travel advisors today!

Grand Designs of Portugal

Grand Tour of South America

Staying in Beautifully Restored Historic Pousadas

Exploring highlights of Brazil, Argentina, Chile & Peru



Save up to £200pp

Save up to £500pp



10 days including 18 meals and 4 excursions NEW 2016 Dates & Prices 19 Jul £1,399 £1,199 27 Sep £1,349 £1,149 Tour Ref: GTP

22 days including 22 meals and 14 excursions NEW 2016 Date & Price 16 Nov £5,499 £4,999 Tour Ref: GTS BEST HOLIDAY COMPANY TO THE IBERIAN PENINSULA ★ MEDIUM ★

California and the Golden West



Titan’s BRAND NEW WORLDWIDE E brochure is here!

16 day including 13 excursions NEW 2016 Dates & Prices 13 Apr £2,499 £2,099 28 Apr £2,399 £1,999 20 Oct £2,399 £1,999 Tour Ref: CAL

Grab a copy of our most comprehensive brochure to date, featuring over 135 outstanding tours, including three all-new itineraries and some great savings too!

West Coast charm, Las Vegas and Yosemite

BEST EVER PRICE Save up to £400pp


To book or request a brochure call FREE on 0800 988 5170 quoting ES5 0GB or visit T’s & C’s apply. Calls free from BT landlines, mobiles may vary. Prices are per person based on twin share, are subject to availability, may be subject to change and will be confirmed upon enquiry. Availability at all offer prices is limited, and once sold, discounts will reduce or be withdrawn completely.


★   GE A R   ★ 1 2

3 Photograph by David Harrison

4 5

BOARDING PASS Things are getting interesting in the world of snowboard design – and these trailblazers prove it. Fingers crossed for a powder day…

1. YES, 420, £369. Super short (it’s only available in 148 and 152) but comparatively wide – the 420’s manoeuvrability will make you a hero on tight, twisty tree runs. This is no ordinary board, in every sense. 2. BURTON, Fish, £480. The Fish’s double swallowtail means it’s a serious weapon in the pow. The Jaws graphics won’t make you faster, but

they will make you feel cooler. We’ll take that every time. 3. JONES, Storm Chaser 157, £445. Inspired by surfing (and designed in collaboration with surfboard shaper Chris Christenson), this one’s tailor-made for powder days. 4. YES, Clark, £229. No, you’re not supposed to ride it like

this. Named after the (now defunct) maker of surfboard blanks, the Clark is ready to be shaped by you. Just don’t get it wrong… 5. SLASH, Nahual, £429. Equally at home in the backcountry or on the piste, the Nahual has an unusual (and super fast) flat base. Tuned for responsiveness and a surfy feel.



1. INTO THE BLUE, The suit is designed for sea temperatures of 4-10°C, and you can be sure it’s up to the job – the testing process was crowd-sourced using 300 hardy British surfers, whose feedback went towards finetuning the finished product. Rather them than us. £390.

There’s a special chest panel, as well as one on the back, which is elongated to improve heat retention. When you’re in January seas, we’re pretty sure that’s a must.

DEPTHS OF WINTER The Nieuwland 5 is Finisterre’s first ever wetsuit, and it’s designed for those brave souls who like to take to UK and Northern European waters in the chillier months.

Double blind stitching makes the suit incredibly durable, while wide seam tape means water penetration is reduced. No danger of that in a South London studio…


PhotographPhotograph by David Harrison by ###


Boutique Hotel • Restaurant • Beauty Bar Use promotion code: ESCAPE16 (direct/website reservations) to add a complimentary bottle of sparking wine and chocolate dipped strawberries for you to enjoy in your room on arrival

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Here’s your chance to win a mini-expedition with Secret Compass, the adventure company that offers challenging experiences in the world’s wildest places

Photographs by Jan Bakker, Zhen Lim and Secret Compass


hen relaxing on a beach just won’t cut it, why not try an exhilarating, goalfocused expedition with Secret Compass? Their adventure-loving team runs challenging expeditions to remote regions in Iran, Afghanistan, Siberia, Gabon, Kurdistan, and, new for this year, a remote part of Wales. If challenging your brain as much as your body sounds like something you fancy, we have two places lined up for you to win. Whether trekking, pack-rafting or MTB bike-packing, as part of an ambitious Secret Compass team you’ll get beyond the headlines of the world’s wildest places, attempting exploratory firsts like summiting unclimbed peaks, rafting uncharted rivers

and traversing wild and remote regions. You can expect nothing less from the new expedition taster weekend in Wales. Details of your challenge will be revealed closer to the mini-expedition (the whole point is that it remains a secret), but one thing is for certain: for two days you and a friend will get to experience the legendary team dynamic of a Secret Compass trip. Elite adventurers will be summoned from Secret Compass’s little black book to mentor and challenge you on this authentic, adrenaline-fuelled journey. Here’s a chance to push yourself and have fun in one of the UK’s most formidable wilderness areas, on an unforgettable adventure weekend. ◆

HOW TO ENTER We’re offering one lucky (and intrepid) reader the chance to win two places on a no-holds-barred, anything-can-happen weekend in Wales with Secret Compass, the UK’s boldest and most ambitious expedition company. Taking place from 16-18 September 2016, it’s an unrivalled opportunity to experience full-on adventure close to home.To enter, visit competition/secret-compass. See the website for T&Cs.





Photograph by Photograph Sam Scholes/Getty by ###

Remember that time you built the best snowman ever? Two things: first, no you didn’t, we did; second, you need to try a bit harder this winter. Architect Brent Christensen (and his team of helpers – elves, presumably) built a whole castle from icicles in Utah, US, using millions of gallons of water and LED lights to illuminate them from within. So jog on, Frosty – you’re done here. e


Wow-factor weddings Discover ten collections of once-in-a-lifetime holidays, including Sir Richard Branson’s Ulusaba reserve. Wonder awaits at 0344 557 9023 or

You may now kiss your wedding planner.

ABTA No.V2043

Ah, luxury... Fine dining and flash cars, stuffy waiters in stuffed shirts, people craning to see who’s who and what they’re wearing. Yawn. At Virgin Holidays, our idea of luxury doesn’t care how you dress for dinner. It goes barefoot, because life’s a beach. Above all, it wants what you want. If your idea of a good time is wideopen spaces and holiday snaps that look like National Geographic, that’s fine with us. If you’d rather have your own infinity pool and the world’s best back rub, we can do that too. We created Wonderlist for people who appreciate the finer things, but measure their wealth in memories. Through handpicked collections, we’ve brought together a range of experiences that’s all but unbeatable for the fun you’ll have and the stories you’ll tell. Just push the boat out and ride the wave… It’s a wonderful world. Let’s get out there.


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ABTA No.V2043

Escapism - 26 - The UAE Special