The travel magazine that takes you further
Dec 2012/Jan 2013 www.wanderlust.co.uk
TOP TRIPS FOR 2013
BO PH OK W H OT OF EN OG TR A F YO RAPAVE PA RIEU TR HS: L GE ND EA T 30 !
Featuring Vietnam • Burma • Iceland Madagascar • Lapland • Antarctica Nepal • India • Brazil • USA
Journey from city to sea to explore its undiscovered isles
A wildlife treasure trove
South Africa Go roaming with the rhino – the crowd-free way
Take better travel pics Portugal’s wild coast World’s best guides £3.99
Wanderlust Issue 132 (Dec 2012/Jan 2013) 50 Top Trips for 2013 • Tokyo • Cayman Islands • South Africa • Portugal • Kashmir • World Guide Awards • Pocket guides: Toronto, Siena, Phang-Nga, Thailand
TRAVEL I ADVENTURE I CULTURE
Contents DECEMBER 2012/JANUARY 2013 • ISSUE 132
From the road
6 | World in pictures Swooping eagles, sweeping ice landscapes and capturing the whole world in a single day! 12 | Shortcuts Round the world in travel news 14 | Go now! Beat the winter blues with a last minute getaway – including The Falklands 16 | World Diary Get festive with our selection of world events for the colder season 18 | Hilary Bradt talks... the perks of getting well and truly lost...wherever you are
33 | Snapshots Been anywhere nice recently?
Of course you have! Wanderlust readers show off their best travel snaps... wish we were there!
34 | Letters etc... Your thoughts on incredible journeys, great guides, a Night of Adventure, and getting disability assistance while travelling. Is there something you want to tell us? Get in touch! 38 | Just Back From… Must-sees and highlights for Chad, Malta, China, Wales and Colombia – the latest travel tips hot off the myWanderlust forum
96 Toronto p133
© Features 20 | Tokyo
From urban jungle to island paradise, Ben Lerwill finds chaos and calm in the Japanese capital
40 | South Africa
Pete Oxford and Reneé Bish roam with endangered rhinos at the Marataba Reserve
54 | Alentejo
David Atkinson steps out along the Rota Vincentina, Portugal’s newly opened coast path
64 | Kashmir
Is there hope on the horizon for this troubled region? Amar Grover finds out and reports back
84 | Cayman Islands
Explore off-shore on the Caribbean haven for a diverse portfolio of wildlife, from iguanas to rays
96 | 50 best new trips for 2013
We’ve picked the best adventures for next year, the tricky part will be deciding which ones to do?!
116 | Great British Escape
Wanderlust editor Phoebe Smith goes on a 400-year-old witch-hunt in Pendle, Lancashire
THE FUTURE Like this map? MAPPING To buy a similar wall map, COMPANY visit www.futuremaps.co.uk 004-005_Contents_SO.indd 4
Navigator 69 | How to... Make your own remedies, spot
bed bugs and drink world-class cocktails 7 1| Gear Everything you need for a city break 72 | Health Keep an eye on your optical health while on the road with Dr Jane’s expert advice 74 | Take better travel pics Steve Davey on how to capture the lives of locals on camera 76 | Q&A Expert answers to your questions from going solo in Cambodia and applying for an ESTA to taking better photos with your iPhone
116 Pendle witch hunt
POCKE T GUID ES The bits
of the guide book you
122 | Palin Interview Discover vibrant Brazil
with Michael Palin as he shares his the highlights of his most recent escapade , TV series and book 124 | Traveller Christmas Gift Guide Want to drop a loved one a hint? Leave this page open! 128 | What’s on: events Destinations 2013 is here, so meet, greet and eat your way through a year’s worth of travel ideas, plus more... 129 | What’s on: screen Dallas Campbell walks us through the Beeb’s latest travel epic
133 | Toronto, Canada Make your first 24hours count in this eclectic Canadian city
P 133 First P 135 Short24 hours Toro nto Kick-s tart your P 137 Trave Break Siena Canad l Icon Phan Check out an Italian city ian adventure g Nga Bay in capita voted the Discover l style best in a geolo gical marv Europe by you lot! el in Thaila nd
135 | Siena, Italy Check out the Wanderlust’s readers’ favourite European city of 2012 137 | Phang-Nga Bay, Thailand Travel the bright blue waters to this less-visited spot and experience local island life
40 South Africa WORLD’S BEST GUIDES
We bring you the seventh annual World Guide Awards. This year after whittling it down from over a 1,000 nominees, we introduce you to the final four winners! 004-005_Contents_SO.indd 5
World in pictures | News | Go now | World diary | Hilary Bradt
I I I
Places jostling for our attention this month
Snatch and Grab Photographer Stefan Huwiler Stefan hiked for 5km in thick snow in the Sinite Kamani National Park to reach a hide known to be a golden eagle hotspot. It was one of the coldest winters in recent years, and using a vehicle was out of the question. On the second day, he spent a long while watching a golden eagle eating a carcass. “I was able to get some great portrait shots,” says Stefan, “but what happened next took me by surprise. A red fox sidled up and tried to snatch the meal, but the eagle was having none of it. After a short, fierce spat, the fox fled with the eagle literally hard on its heels. A golden eagle can kill prey even bigger than a fox, but with a carcass to defend, the eagle was almost certainly just trying to scare the fox away rather than grab it.” Stefan’s picture was Commended in this year’s Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition: www.nhm.ac.uk
CALM IN THE
I Combine the big city buzz of Tokyo with 1 the retreat of the Ogasawara Islands 1 I bucolic
I I1 I 1 I
Fly UK-Tokyo; flight time is around 11.5hrs Year round
IN THE CALM Tokyo is a real blitz on the senses. But this neon-lit labyrinth has its secret serenties, while a boat ride away are islands where nature calls the shots
Words Ben Lerwill
Previous spread: Getty This spread: Corbis; Getty; Ben Lerwill
t was my first meal in Japan. The waitress set a beer down before me, gathered her petticoats and knelt next to my table. “Repeat,” she said, in sing-song English. “Delicious, magic, yummy, yummy.” I looked around the plush-pink ‘maid café’ at the couples sharing ice-cream sundaes, then – banishing British self-consciousness – followed her cue. She applauded excitedly, before shaping her thumbs and forefingers into a heart, angling them over the lager and making a pouring motion. “Invisible magic”, she beamed. Then she was off, bounding over to present a businessman with a soon-to-be similarly enchanted bowl of noodles. So this is Tokyo, I thought, and it’s as singular as they say. Arriving in Japan’s capital city is famously befuddling. Fifteen-storey cliffs of neon are no respecters of jetlag. The world’s most populous metropolis scoops up the first-time visitor in a blur of sodium light, cutesiness and discombobulating technology. Tokyo strikes you initially as being like some giant machine, with cars and consumers providing fuel to the round-theclock crankshaft. Some 23 million people live and work here, among rammed sushi joints and sleepless corporate towers. The skylines are electric-indigo; the soundtrack is a barrage of candied pop tunes and rattling subway trains; the speed of life, on first impression, is breathless.
It’s relatively common for travellers to skim over the capital in a bid to get out to Kyoto and the ‘true’ Japan, but I had come because I was keen to experience Tokyo itself. I would be travelling from its highest tower blocks to its most remote island outposts, located a full day’s voyage offshore but still part of the administrative area. The plan was to sample the city’s different faces, which wouldn’t necessarily be simple. “I’ve lived here for 18 years,” Yukiko, a downtown cycle guide, told me over her bento box lunch. We were watching Tokyo’s broad Sumida River flowing steel-blue in the sun. “But I still feel I don’t really know it.”
Accumulating capital There are precious few old buildings in Tokyo. This is due firstly to a cataclysmic earthquake in 1923, and secondly to US bombs during the World War II. With scarce exceptions, everything standing has been constructed, or reconstructed, within the past 90 years: its Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, its tower blocks and market halls. Looking out from the 45th-floor observation lounge of the Metropolitan Government Building, it’s clear just what a phenomenal feat of planning this represents. As far as the human eye can see, and notwithstanding a hazy mountain belt, there is nothing but city. But Tokyo’s position of power is relatively new. For generations, Kyoto was the undisputed seat of Japan’s emperors and leaders. Only in 1590, when a feudal lord named Tokugawa Ieyasu settled in the
then-obscure riverside town of Edo, did Tokyo’s story gain speed. Through strength and deceit, Ieyasu became the nation’s de facto ruler, creating a shogunate, or military dictatorship, that lasted two centuries. When imperial power was finally restored in 1868, the Emperor’s court moved from Kyoto to the more strategically located Edo. Shortly afterwards it was renamed Tokyo, meaning ‘Eastern Capital’. At dusk on my first few nights here, the streets morphed into a twinkling morass of a billion-and-one details. Pavements became dense with flashing vending machines and face-masked salarymen. I would be returning to this Tokyo soon. Before then, however, my trip was taking me to the very furthest >
Clockwise from left: Bridging time The defiantly ancient Imperial Palace in the heart of the city Seas of change Aboard the ferry heading to the Ogasawara Islands High society The Tokyo skyline at sunset in all its shiny modernity
Wanderlust December 2012/January 2013 | 23
Tokyo Footnotes VITAL STATISTICS
Capital: Tokyo Population: 127 million Languages: Japanese Time: GMT +9 International dialling code: +81 Visas: Not required by UK nationals Money: Yen (¥), currently around ¥125 to the UK£. Not all ATMs accept foreign cards; look out for Japanese postal ATMs – these do. Tipping is little practised in Japan.
When to go Jan
Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
■ Dec-Feb Clear, cold winters in Tokyo; temperatures are higher on the Ogasawara Islands. It’s a good time to go for humpback whale tours (available Jan-Apr). ■ Mar-May Often showery, but there’s the chance to see Tokyo cloaked in blossom. ■ Jun-Aug Tokyo’s rainy season starts in June, followed by a humid summer. In both Tokyo and on Ogasawara, it can top 30°C. ■ Sep-Nov Pleasant days and autumn foliage in both. On Ogasawara, sperm whale tours run Aug-Nov so now is a good time to visit.
Health & safety Medical facilities are of a very high standard, but insurance is always recommended – see: www.wanderlustinsurance.co.uk.
Further reading & information Rough Guides (2011), Lonely Planet (2011), Dorling Kindersley (2011) and Insight (2012) all publish country guides which include the Ogasawara Islands. Time Out (2010), Wallpaper (2011), Insight (2012), Rough Guides (2011), Lonely Planet (2012) and Dorling Kindersley (2010) all publish separate, Tokyo-specific guides. The Japan National Tourism Organization (020 7398 5678) www.seejapan.co.uk
More online Visit www.wanderlust.co.uk/132 for links to more content: Archive articles
Alternative Tokyo – online, Apr 12 Kyoto Top 5 – issue 122, Oct 11 10 free things Tokyo – online, Aug 11
The author travelled with Inside Japan Tours (0117 370 9751, www.insidejapantours. com). The ten-day tailormade itinerary included Tokyo and the Ogasawara Islands. A similar itinerary costs £1,738pp (approx), based on two sharing; includes transfers and ferries, but excludes international flights.
1. Senso-ji Tokyo’s biggest Buddhist temple, with sweeping roofs and wafting incense
2. Tsukiji Fish Market
Hubbub of seafood trading; home to the city’s famous early-morning tuna auctions
All Nippon Airways (ANA; 020 8762 8977, www.ana.co.uk) has daily flights from London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita. Returns cost from £888; flight time is 11.5 hours.
3. Akihabara The district for electronic megastores, manga shops and maid cafes
4. Imperial Palace
The city’s sprawling centrepiece that is still home to the emperor today
The trip out to the Ogasawara Islands is only possible by the Ogasawara Maru ferry (www.ogasawarakaiun.co.jp/english) which leaves at least once a week at 10am, reaching Chichi-jima at 11.30am the next day. It’s possible to get cabins, rather than floor space but book early. There are 44 first class cabins, two premium first class and four deluxe class. Ticket prices from ¥23,590 (£185) one way (2nd class on communal flooring) to ¥59,040 (£465) one way (deluxe class). First class ¥47,180 (£372).
5. Tokyo Skytree Unveiled in 2012, this 643m tower is now the world’s second-highest building
OGASAWARA ISLANDS 1. Hike to John Beach Strap on your boots and yomp out over the scenic heights of Nakayama Pass
2. Take a wild night tour Encounter flying foxes, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms and nocturnal hermit crabs
Cost of travel Japan is not cheap. Expect to pay at least ¥10,000 (£80) a day, including accommodation. Tipping is not expected.
3. See the dark side of paradise Learn more about the darker side of the islands’ history on a tour of its military sites
4. Take to the water
Sail out from Chichi-jima to see humpbacks or explore underwater - the islands’ are drawing increasing numbers of divers
Tokyo has many options, from budget hostels – ¥3,000 (£24) upwards – to luxury hotels over ¥40,000 (£320) a night. A room at a ryokan (traditional guesthouse) costs between ¥8,000 (£64) and ¥20,000 (£160). On Chichi-jima, Ogasawara Islands, are the no-frills Minshuku Banana Inn (from ¥3,500 [£28]), or the swankier Hotel Horizon (from ¥35,000 [£280]).
5. Go further afield Take a ferry to Haha-jima, a green island of remote peninsulas and lost-world drama
Ogasawara Islands 3
Food & drink
Sample super-fresh sushi and sashimi in Tokyo at the Tsukiji Fish Market.
Ogasawara Islands There are strict guidelines in place to preserve the islands’ ecosystems. Hikers should stick to designated walkways. On parts of the islands, guides are compulsory. ■
Philippine Sea 5
28 | Wanderlust December 2012/January 2013
028_Tokyo FN_SO.indd 28
Book of travel photographs when you treat a friend! ❅
X FF O
E A P S M
L A I C S
For only *£24 (UK) you can give someone 8 issues of Wanderlust AND a stunning gift book of travel photographs ORDER ONLINE: WANDERLUSTXMAS.CO.UK OR CALL US: 01753 620426 *UK subscription cost: £24 for eight issues. Overseas: Europe £32; rest-of-world airmail £42; rest-of-world surface mail £32. Payment must be in UK sterling. Order by 10 December 12 to guarantee delivery (within UK) by Christmas – we’ll do our best to process orders received after that. Oﬀer ends 31 December 2012. Free Travel Photo of The Year book oﬀer valid for UK delivery addresses only. Gift giver and recipient must be diﬀerent. Not valid in conjunction with any other oﬀer. ‡ Terms and conditions apply – see wanderlustvoucher.co.uk for details.
Xmas sub_psv3.indd 30
❅ ❅ ❅ Xmas sub_psv3.indd 31
el TravOf The 5 e to Phor Volumage Yeaa 140-pbook – t is back ck ou k e .u hard£20. Chmas.coe RRPderlustxxclusiv wanfor an eview of! pre e book th
With every UK gift subscription you’ll receive 8 issues of Wanderlust for a friend and a free copy of the brand-new Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year book, worth £20! Great to give as part of the gift… or keep it for yourself! Every UK gift recipient will receive a £50 voucher towards their next booking, redeemable with the very best travel companies ‡
roaming with the
It’s got dramatic landscapes and Big Five wildlife – including a mega-population of endangered rhino – but Marataba Reserve is practically unknown. Welcome to South Africa’s best-kept secret... Words Pete Oxford Pictures Pete Oxford & Reneé Bish
040-049 South Africa_SO.indd 40
African sublime The view from the top of the Waterberg massif in Marakele National Park
‘The plan is to make the Marataba Reserve a blueprint for other parts of Africa’ < many South African landowners are now
de-stocking or removing all rhinos from their properties. The net result: areas with rhinos are diminishing. As a consequence the rhino population as a whole is suffering.
Held in trust Heading out into the reserve after my ‘breakfast’ with Lightning, I spotted one of the most recognisable rhinos we have: ‘Half-ear’, an admittedly unoriginal name based on the fact that half his left ear is missing. Unlike some of our white rhino, which can be quite skittish, this big bull has come to terms with my presence. His summer weight can be as much as 2,500kg, but despite his awesome power he is unassuming, placid and curious. Our first encounters were normal. I made a slow, smooth approach in my game viewer; he continued grazing but always kept a wary eye on my movements, ears pricked forward, nostrils flaring. We observed each other from our mutual comfort zones and eventually he would wander off into the bush. Mid-morning in the dry and dusty depression of Lengau Dam a few weeks later, I was parked close to the water’s edge, surrounded by African bush. I was watching terrapins inching their way up emergent
rocks to bask when I gradually became aware of a large grey shape the size of a Volkswagen Beetle ambling towards me. I stood my ground and, within a few minutes, Half-ear was standing next to me. His tail – which, on previous occasions, had been curled tightly over his back – was now relaxed and dangled behind him. His thick, wide, muscular lips puckered and he let out a couple of deep snorts, employing all of his senses to try to fathom the exact nature of this large green ‘animal’ that smelt of diesel. As I watched, perfectly still and completely humbled, the planet’s second-largest land mammal seemed to have come to a conclusion. We had accepted each other’s closeness and were content that each would do the other no harm. From that moment, we have never looked back. As I saw Half-ear now, he was lying down at rest. I approached, and he stood. Then, realising I could be trusted, he soon started wobbling on his back legs before easing his bulk back down to the prone position. It seemed we were friends.
A leading light Marataba Reserve, created by Dutch billionaire Paul Fentener van Vlissingen in 1997 and taken over by new owners after his untimely death in 2006, is still a work in
progress. Over the past 15 years, 7,000km of barbed wire, 80km of high-voltage power lines and 100km of telephone cables have been removed. Cattle farms adjacent to the park have been bought to expand the reserve, 150km of game fencing has been erected, a small village has been built for the local community and much more. Game has been reintroduced and the encroaching sickle-bush tree cleared. And still the work goes on. The road network continues to be expanded and upgraded, and a few animal introductions are still in the pipeline. The plan is to make this reserve a blueprint for other parts of Africa where national parks and private reserves can work to further conservation. As I drive back to my house, stopping every so often to look for species such as brown hyena, bat-eared fox, bush pig, white-tailed mongoose, aardvark, aardwolf and pangolin, I spy Half-ear in the distance and know I will never tire of this place. ■ Photographer Pete Oxford and his wife and photographic partner, Reneé Bish, are based in The Marataba Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa working as ‘photographers in residence’ to document both the treasures and the rebuilding of the national park. Check out www.peteoxford.com for details of photographic safaris that he is running at Marataba.
Want to see rhino? Check out PAGE 48
Wanderlust December 2012/January 2013 | 47
040-049 South Africa_SO v2.indd 47
Return to Kashmir? A restored historic road, a freshly opened five-star hotel, record visitor numbers – could troubled Kashmir be back on the tourist map, asks Amar Grover
Oar-inspiring The local ‘taxi’ on Dal Lake, known as a ‘Shikara’, with houseboats in the background
064-067_Dispatches_Kashmir_SO v2.indd 64
ell me, sir, you’re enjoying your stay, everything comfortable?” I’d been in town barely an hour when my visitor arrived. He was a policeman, friendly and polite; we chatted as he examined my passport. I was in the small Kashmiri town of Rajouri, roughly midway between Jammu, below on the dusty plains, and Srinagar, celebrated Kashmiri capital of lakes and houseboats. All was well. For now, at least, one of Asia’s most contentious regions is enjoying some tranquillity. It’s happened before, of course. Peace has erupted in the recent past only for some infraction – major or minor, real or imagined – to reignite the streets, the soldiers and the politicians. Yet in 2011 Kashmir enjoyed a record 1.2 million tourists (mainly Indian), while Taj Hotels opened the first luxury property the state has seen since way back in 1957. “But why was I in Rajouri?” the policeman asked, handing me back my passport. A fair question, as it’s never featured on Kashmir’s modern tourist circuit. That now seems set to change: I’d taken this route to drive the recently opened old ‘Mughal Road’. The first travellers to visit Kashmir’s fabled vale were not Raj-era grandees and fusty colonials but the great Mughals who ruled much of north India from the early 16th century to 1857. Despite their architectural prowess and skill with gardens, they also relished escaping the plains’ blistering summer heat. Journeying through the Punjab from Lahore and Delhi, they developed an already existing trail across the Himalaya, augmenting the route with caravanserais so the emperor and his retinue could camp in comfort.
Gut instinct In recent years, with militancy ebbing, Kashmir’s state government has made the Mughal Road motorable. Its aim is to provide an alternative to the long-standing yet inherently vulnerable road up to Srinagar, which is prone to rock falls and snow drifts, and increasingly sees epic traffic jams. Although sections of the Mughal Road are still fairly rough and frankly unready, what used to be an arduous 15-hour drive to Srinagar for some Kashmiris is now little more than five. That morning I’d flown to Jammu. An hour later I was high on the ramparts of Akhnoor Fort, gazing at the silvery-blue River Chenab as it emerged from the Himalayan foothills onto the hot, hazy Punjab. Skiffs were being punted across the river while bells pealed from a nearby temple – a charming, bucolic scene. We plunged deeper into lush hills where troupes of macaques foraged. Joining the original Mughal Road near Naushahra, we turned north up a slender valley and paused at Chingus caravanserai. Its peculiar name – derived from the Persian for intestines – originates with Emperor Jahangir, who died here in 1627 while > Wanderlust December 2012/January 2013 | 65
064-067_Dispatches_Kashmir_SO v2.indd 65
Cayman Islands 1
I Blue1iguanas, incredible reefs, spiky forest unexpected floral abundance 1 I and
I I 1 Fly UK-Grand Cayman via Miami ( 12hrs) I 1 Dec-Apr for the best weather; May & Nov for the cheaper prices I
084-090 Cayman Islands_SO.indd 84
The Cayman Islands: just a pretty tax haven, right? Wrong. This idyllic Caribbean trio has prolific and wonderful wildlife both on and off shore
Words James Stewart
“Like fishy wet lino” Close encounters with stingrays at Southern City, Grand Cayman
084-090 Cayman Islands_SO.indd 85
Flying the Flag The Tigerâ€™s Nest Monastery remains one of Bhutanâ€™s most remarkable sights
096-115_50 best trips for 2013_SO.indd 96
50 Best trips
2013 How do you fancy eye-balling a polar bear? Cooking berries with a celeb chef? Walking in Edmund Hillary’s footsteps? We’ve found next year’s best new trips to help you decide where you’ll be off to in 2013...
FESTIVALS & EVENTS Party like a local!
Celebrate with birds & Buddhists The Bhutanese love a tsechu (a religious celebration on the 10th day of every month), and the East
to West – A Journey Across Bhutan trip from Mountain Kingdoms is timed to join festivities in Trashigang, in the country’s far east. Celebrate with the locals before heading west, for gentle treks, visits to dzongs (fortress temples) and into Gangtey Valley to watch black-necked cranes. Paro’s Tiger’s Nest Monastery makes a grand finale. Who: Mountain Kingdoms (01453 844400, www.mountainkingdoms.com) When: 8 Nov 2013 How long: 21 days How much: £4,195 (incl flights) >
£50 Subscribe and get a free £50 voucher! Use it where off you see this sign – www.WanderlustVoucher.co.uk
096-115_50 best trips for 2013_SO.indd 97
Italian idol Siena’s Piazza del Campo is a pictureperfect Tuscan scene
Where? Tuscany, central Italy Why? Fascinating history, truly mesmerising art, tempting cuisine When? May/June or Sept/Oct: nice weather, fewer people
iena is a city at war. A war in which porcupines and wolves are rivals; where snails often reign and unicorns lag behind. Like a fairytale, the city’s history is a riotous affair. In Siena, a unique set of clans – known as contrada – still rules the streets. The city is divided into 17 districts, each decorated with the symbols of their mascots, which fosters tight-knit communities. In reality, there’s no bloodshed, and the rivalries between contrade come to little more than boisterous banter at Il Palio – Siena’s world-famous horse races. The annual event sees ten stallions (there’s not room for all 17; lots are drawn) charge around the city’s grand Il Campo square three times, on two separate occasions, in a heart-pounding race for the crown.
Last year you, our lovely Wanderlust readers, voted Siena the best city in Europe. Amid its medieval streets, towering red-roofed houses and chianti wines, Daisy Cropper finds out why...
The Palio sees Siena overrun every Therein lies Siena’s main attraction: July and August. Yet, although often its excellent preservation. Plus it bypassed by tourists in favour of trumps other Italian cities with its Florence’s frescoes and Pisa’s friendlier feel and smaller size – ten wobbling, the city is worth visiting times smaller than Florence, it’s easier every month of the year. It is bursting to immerse yourself here and with beautiful buildings, experience real Sienese life. fascinating art and Nestled over seven sharp belly-bulging cuisine. hills, the centre is a maze Originally established of narrow streets where Siena’s 17 contrade symbols: caterpillar, by the Etruscans, and every corner and owl, dragon, eagle, refounded as a Roman every crest brings forest, giraffe, goose, colony in the first something new, panther, porcupine, ram, century BC, it was in interesting and shell, snail, tortoise, the 14th century when it exciting to discover. tower, unicorn, wave, wolf. became one of the most And, perfect for burning prosperous hubs in Italy, off all that spaghetti, often battling nearby Florence for everything here is done on foot. commercial and cultural supremacy. The city centre was pedestrianised Then the plague hit in 1348: two-thirds in 1966: there are no blaring horns of the city’s population was lost. or exhaust fumes, which simply A period of decline followed – which increases the city’s charm. may have been the saviour of the It’s a fantastic alternative city break. medieval gem we see today. In the centre you can find your fill of art
Visit in July-August to see the annual Palio
and culture, but it’s also easy to zoom off into the countryside on an Italian scooter for exploring, hiking and wine-tasting. Which is exactly what I did, camping in the Tuscan wilds, stumbling upon hilltop towns and generally eating my way around the region before returning to Siena for a fine finale. Wanderlust readers voted Siena their favourite European city in last year’s Travel Awards. After my stay here, it certanly gets my vote. >
Wanderlust December 2012/January 2013 | 135
135-136_Short Break_Siena_SO.indd 135
Wanderlust Pocket Guides <
siena day by day
Discover ancient art and culinary delights before exploring the Tuscan countryside Day 1
Essential info When to go: In spring and autumn the weather is glorious and crowds smaller. Visit in July-August for Il Palio – but be warned, hotels get booked up months in advance. Getting there: Fly to Pisa. EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) both fly to Pisa from a range of UK airports; flight time is 2.5hrs. Take the train from Pisa to Siena, changing at Empoli; journey time is around two hours. Siena’s train station is 2km from the centre; buses leave from the station and take around ten minutes.
Getting around: Vehicles are There are plenty of ancient banned in the city centre – only monasteries, cathedrals and even motorcycles and mopeds are hospitals to visit. Make your first stop allowed. Pull on comfy shoes and the Duomo: Siena’s cathedral is an explore the city on foot. awe-inspiring example of 13th century Where to stay: Hotel Alma Domus Gothic architecture, with an interior (hotelalmadomus.it; doubles from equally magnificent (don’t miss the €75) is central, cosy and welcoming; Michelangelo sculptures). The third-floor rooms have impressive zebra-striped walls will leave your views of Siena’s Duomo, the head spinning, as will the meanings red-roofed cityscape and Tuscan hills. behind the centuries-old frescoes. Where to eat: There is a tempting Stop by the Santa Maria della wealth of restaurants, bars, cafés, Scala, previously the city’s hospital, gelaterias and pasticceries to gorge and now a museum housing a wealth in. See Day 2 (below) for specifics. of art. It is also home to the fascinating Further info: Tuscany & Umbria Museo Archeologico, which is full of (Rough Guides, 2012) provides Roman artefacts. detailed information on the city’s While roaming Il Campo – Siena’s main sites, as well as advice on the grand main square – visit the Museo nearby countryside. Also try Civico, housed in the Palazzo Footprint Focus Siena & Southern Pubblico. Here, the intricate works Tuscany (Footprint, 2012). of art include Lorenzetti’s The See www.wanderlust.co.uk/132 Allegory of Good and Bad for information on how to Government – one wall see Siena on painting depicts peace, a budget, exploring faith and hope (Siena); the surrounding Various combo tickets are available. A Civic the other fear, sin and Tuscan hill towns Museum Authorities evil (Florence, and cooking your two-day pass covers the according to our own Sienese cuisine. Museo Civico, Santa Maria della Scala and the Palazzo delle Papesse for €11.
local guide). Climb up the adjacent 87m-high Torre del Mangia for unbeatable views over the city and out to the Tuscan countryside. Next, grab an afternoon pick-me-up and savour Siena’s best coffee: Nannini (Conca d’Oro, Banchi di Sopra 24; www.grupponannini.it) is where locals head for a caffeine kick. Knock back an espresso at the bar or relax with a latte and a pastry (or two). In the evening, walk through the city’s quieter streets (crowds tend to disperse later in the day) to San Domenico, an imposing 13th-century church and resting place of the head of St Catherine, Italy’s patron saint.
The Sienese are very proud of their history. You’ll see evidence of this in all aspects of life, even the food. Pop into Il Magnifico bakery (www.ilmagnifico. siena.it; pictured below) for sweet melt-in-your-mouth ricciarellis – a Sienese biscuit with medieval origins, made from almonds, sugar and eggs. Take a guided tour (ritaceccarelli.it) to learn the city’s darkest secrets. Or follow a self-guided walking trail around the city walls – hotels will have maps; it takes around three hours.
Stop for lunch at Orto de Pecci (Via di Porta Giustizia 39), which serves hearty Italian food with no tourists in sight. The restaurant is set in a tiny green space in the midst of the city – it was once where the condemned were hung; since the 16th century it’s been used as a kitchen garden. Try the pici with tomato sauce or pesto – this thick, wormy spaghetti is a Sienese speciality. One of the city’s greatest secrets lies beneath its surface. Between the 13th and 15th centuries, medieval engineers hand-carved 25km of narrow tunnels – known locally as the Bottini – to direct and safeguard the city’s water system. You can see overground evidence of their impressive handiwork at the Fontebranda (down the hill from San Domenico), one of three medieval fountains still standing; locals say its water is still pure enough to drink. Tours of the underground tunnels can be arranged in spring and autumn. Contact Associazione La Diana (www.ladianasiena.it – in Italian) for more information.
Get on your bike! Take to the Tuscan countryside for a glimpse of the surrounding hills, olive groves and vineyards. Make for the town of Gaiole in Chianti (40mins north by bus; singles around £2) to pick up a Vespa from the tourist office on the main square (from €40 per day; www.tuscanyscooterrental.com). Drive 30 minutes north-west through typical Tuscan countryside to Radda in Chianti. Vespas are permitted in the town’s centre, so you can scoot through tiny alleys and backstreets to discover its charm. Continue westwards along small, traffic-free roads to the hill-top town
of San Gimignano, via Castellina in Chianti and Poggibonsi. Cruise past rolling hills, endless vineyards and fields of canary-yellow sunflowers. Awarded Unesco World Heritage status for its medieval centre, San Gimignano offers the Tuscany first-timer the perfect introduction. Fourteen striking towers loom over the city (originally there were 72); climb the 54m-high Torres Grossa for panoramic views. Walk along the city walls and stop at Ristorante La Mangiatoia (Via Mainardi 5) for sweet bruschettas and creamy desserts. Or try the restaurant of Hotel Bel Soggiorno (Via San Giovanni 91) for Tuscan food and views through huge windows to the countryside beyond. ■
136 | Wanderlust December 2012/January 2013
135-136_Short Break_Siena_SO.indd 136
Published on Nov 13, 2012