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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Top 7 Honeymoon Islands

Corsica, France

For… Hikes, hills, haute cuisine, hidden sands

This chunk of France, afloat in the Mediterranean, deserves its monicker: L’île de Beauté. The rumpled, maquis-cloaked interior – where you can easily forget the world – tumbles to perfect golden crescents, some touristy, some seemingly unfound. There’s wildness if you want it (the hiking is some of Europe’s best), but also fine food and indulgent retreats, not least Domaine de Murtoli (murtoli.com) – possibly the continent’s most romantic hideaway.

Qurimbas Archipelago, Mozambique

For… Dhow cruising, culture

Why pick one island when you can have 30? That’s about how many specks of wonderful white sand make up this Indian Ocean archipelago. Among them is Ibo, home to the 16th-century Portuguese trading settlement of Ilha de Moçambique – a must-see. After a dose of culture here, sail between the islands – remote Vamizi, luxe Quilalea – stopping off on nameless cayes for lobster barbecues en route.

Huahine, French Polynesia

For… Blissful beaches, ancient sites

Huahine, a 40-minute flight from Tahiti, is Polynesia at its most sublime (and that’s quite a feat). Slopes of tropical abundance sink into eye-searingly blue lagoons; there’s culture aplenty, including the highest density of marae (temples) in the territory; and opportunities abound for snorkelling, horse riding, surfing or doing nothing at all.

Island, Canada

For… Adventure, seclusion

This tiny speck of pines on Ontario’s Kawawaymog Lake can only be reached by canoe, and is ideal for two. There’s a cosy cabin with a second-floor deck and outdoor dining table ideally placed for sunset; a floating sauna bobs in the shallows. Other than that, it’s you and the wilderness.

Nevis

For… Tranquility, old-school charm

With no all-inclusive resorts or cruise-ship ports, Nevis is as refreshing as one of its gentle trade winds. Accommodation is often historic – old sugar plantations converted into characterful hotels. Diversions include diving, hikes around Nevis Peak and sipping rum on Pinney’s Beach.

Tasmania, Australia

For… Culture, hiking, food & wine

It might not have the weather of tropical Queensland, but Australia’s lush southern island state is where you’ll find some of the country’s best food and wine, epic mountains, cool lakes and hiking terrain. Outside the quaint capital, Hobart, there’s MONA – a world class gallery, brewery, winery and restaurant complex that will simply blow your mind (and where it’s now possible to stay in plush, futuristic pods); in the north you’ve got the otherworldly Bay of Fires, famed for a luxury beach hike that culminates with flair at an award-winning ecolodge.

Praslin & La Digue, Seychelles

For… Paradise, raunchy plants

Beaches don’t get much better than the boulder-strewn powdery strands fringing the Seychelles. Ferries run between Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, enabling multi-isle ’moons, and a bit of local interaction. Little La Digue is car-free – explore on foot or by bike. Praslin is home to good restaurants and the Unesco-listed Vallée de Mai nature reserve, where you can stroll beneath coco de mer palms and giggle at their suggestive seeds.

7 Travel Resolutions and How to Keep Them

Pack lighter

Next time you’re stuffing a pair of impractical shoes and a bumper-size shampoo into your bag, stop to consider the feelings of future you: the one sporting a sweaty back patch and a face riddled with regret. The ‘I’ll manage’ attitude dissipates in a flurry of expletives as you drag your luggage up a broken escalator, straining your bicep and stubbing a toe in the process. Worth it? Not so much.

Stick to it: Downsize: restricting suitcase volume soon hinders overpackers. Prioritise: it’s OK to take three paperbacks if you’re willing to forgo the laptop. Enlist a ruthless packing buddy who won’t give in to the words ‘but I neeeeeed it!’.

Take better pictures

Sick of returning home from a trip with thousands of hastily snapped images that you’ll never have the time to sift through and edit, let alone share? Whether you’re shooting for social media, an online portfolio or the family album, investing a little time and effort can take your creations from amateur to incredible.

Stick to it: Read up on how to take a decent smartphone snap; enrol on a photography course; join a photographer’s meetup while you’re on the road; or take a tour that combines travel and tuition.

Stop putting it off

Family, finances, your career… even fear. There are plenty of factors that prevent people from travelling – but when valid reasons become comfortable alternatives to taking a risk, it’s time for a reality check. You have one life on this planet. Stop making excuses and start making plans.

Stick to it: Whether you long for a round-the-world extravaganza or simply a weekend away, it’s not going to land on your lap. Identify your true barriers to travel and tackle them head on. Strapped for cash? Start saving. Option paralysis? Consult the experts. Worried what your boss will think? Propose a trip that will boost your résumé.

Learn to unplug

See it, share it. Try it, tweet it. The impulse to reach for your smartphone can be near impossible to resist, even on the road – but just as technology seems to have rewired our brains to crave constant connection, travel can be the ultimate antidote.

Stick to it: Can’t go cold turkey? Minimise distractions by deleting email apps and disabling social media notifications. Rediscover the joy of writing postcards. Keep a travel journal. Go for a walk without the safety net of Google Maps… and see where you end up.

Travel responsibly

As global tourist numbers continue to increase (1.2 billion international arrivals recorded in 2015 and counting, according to the UN), understanding the impact our travel choices have on the planet has never been more important. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to go green.

Stick to it: You know the drill: steer clear of plastic bottles; take public and overland transport where possible; choose ethical tour operators who respect wildlife and give back to local communities; reduce or offset your carbon emissions (calculate your footprint at carbonindependent).

Use your time off wisely

It’s easy to fritter away precious paid leave on family events and close-to-home happenings, leaving little time for escapism. But this makes it tough to return to work feeling refreshed – and worse still, you’re no closer to seeing the world than you were last year.

Stick to it: Make no mistake: you earned your days off, so take them – every last one. Plan in advance; if you prefer regular short trips, get them booked in early. Capitalise on national holidays, adding a day or two either side for extra-long breaks. Alternatively, have that chat with your manager about using your leave in bulk for that three-week trip toSoutheast Asia…

Engage with the locals

The dream: gaining true insight into ‘real’ local culture. The reality: befriending an international crew of fellow travellers on Facebook and coming home with an ‘authentic’ souvenir made in China.

Stick to it: Let’s face it: it can take years to unravel the complexities of foreign cultures. But there are ways to increase your chances of having a meaningful encounter. Brush up on your language skills; you’d be surprised how far ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can take you. With the sharing economy showing no signs of slowing down, it’s easier than ever to find homestays, cooking classes and local tour guides.

Best free things to do in St Petersburg

Make use of free-admission days

Some of St Petersburg’s top museums organise free-entrance days. For the State Hermitage Museum it’s the first Thursday of the month, and for the Kunstkamera the third Thursday each month. Other museums are admission-free throughout the year, for example the Vladimir Nabokov Museum or the Sigmund Freud Museum of Dreams. In many Orthodox cathedrals you also don’t have to pay an entrance fee. While the church architecture is stunning enough from the outside, just wait until you enter – the icon art is breathtaking.

Relax in parks and gardens

If you love the green spaces, don’t miss St Petersburg’s parks and gardens. There are plenty to satisfy any taste: the small, hiddenYusupov Gardens, the royal Mikhailovsky Gardens, the calm Tavrichesky Gardens, or the famous Summer Garden with its marble sculptures. The recently reopened New Holland Island in the city centre is St Petersburg’s latest cultural hub and a haven for artists, writers, professionals and tourists alike.

Stroll around Alexander Nevsky Monastery

The Alexander Nevsky Monastery is the most important Orthodox monastery in St Petersburg; its Church of the Annunciation was the first resting place for the tsarist family. The monastery is magnificent both inside and outside, but for many visitors the major attractions are its four historic cemeteries (which charge a small fee) – this is where you’ll find the graves of Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Roerich and many other great names of Russian culture.

Learn about modern Russian art

You don’t have to spend a fortune on tickets to see modern art in St Petersburg. Some of the city’s most progressive art galleries – Anna Nova, Marina Gisich, Art Re.Flex, KGallery, Bulthaup and Name Gallery – don’t charge admission, giving visitors access to enough paintings, sculptures and installations to fill an entire day. On the opening nights you’ll be treated with a glass of champagne and some appetizers; check the websites for dates of new exhibitions.

Browse the bookshops

Bookworms will love St Petersburg’s oldest bookshop, Dom Knigi, and the Bookvoed chain of stores  centrally located shops are open 24 hours). If you aren’t planning on buying a book but still want to read one, you can just pick a title, sit and read it from cover to cover – no one will ask you to leave. These bookshops offer a beautiful collection of art books, obligatory Russian classics as well as a lot of books in English.

Visit a flea market

The biggest flea market in St Petersburg, located in the north of the city, is a place you’ll be telling your friends about for a very long time.‘Udelka’, as the locals call it (because of its location near the Udelnaya metro station), is an extremely atmospheric place that offers a huge variety of artefacts such as antique icons, hand-painted samovars and, of course, the busts of Lenin. It’s open every weekend.

Explore the underground

The St Petersburg metro is one of the most attractive and ornate underground systems in the world – not to mention the deepest. Each station has stunning architecture and its own history. The most beautiful stations are Avtovo, Zvenigorodskaya, Narvskaya, Baltiyskaya and Kirovskiy Zavod, so make sure you break up your journey to admire them. The metro is not only a very impressive place but also the most popular way to travel around the city – it’s cheap, fast and efficient – and no matter how far you need to go, you’ll pay the same fare.

Hang out at anti-cafes

The ‘anti-cafe’ (or ‘time-cafe’) concept – which originated in Moscow – has become very popular in St Petersburg. The name means you are not charged for the coffee, snacks and sometimes desserts on offer; instead, you pay for the time spent there. This is perfect if you’re looking for a quiet space where you can relax, play board or computer games or even work if you need to. The oldest anti-cafe in St Petesburg is Ziferblat, butMiracle, Freedom and Ziferberg are also worth checking out.

Take a free tour

Every day at 10:45am, St Petersburg Free Tour offers a 2.5-hour walking tour through the centre of the city, departing from the Alexander Column on Palace Square. The walk covers all the essential sights, and the guides are very passionate and enthusiastic. While the tours are absolutely free, they’re also quite popular so don’t forget to book beforehand.

7 Best Spots to Indulge in Brussels

Café Luxembourg

Bustling during the week, the darkly dressed Café Luxembourg is a quiet haven at the weekend, where diners have time to pore over its healthy and wallet-friendly brunch menu. Items on offer follow the seasons and produce is always fresh from the market, so expect frothy fruit juices and yogurt and granola as well as cheese and charcuterie boards. Sweet-toothed rascals should opt for the banana-raspberry French toast or the seriously addictive carrot cake.

Les Filles

For a touch of home, indulge in the all-you-can-eat buffet along one of the communal wooden tables at Les Filles. Served in big Staub pots on grandma’s vintage china, the comforting cuisine at this brunch spot is all seasonal and all organic. So once you’re done with the Basque country chipolatas, take slabs of sugar bread and spoonfuls of homemade vanilla cream cheese before exiting through its ground floor grocery shop. Reservations recommended.

Jam Hotel

With rooftop pool parties and basement concerts, the Jam Hotel’s reputation as one of the most happening spots in the capital is already starting to stick. The former art school hasn’t strayed too far from the easel, with architect Olivia Gustot transforming it into industrial canvas of concrete and Lionel Jadot artworks. Even the kitchen is getting creative and the weekend Italian buffet brunch (think bresaola, soft beef cannelloni and creamy buffalo mozzarella) would marvel Michelangelo.

Café Lulu

Once a former garage, the warehouse chic of the Lulu concept store is a design-lovers dream. Nestled past the ceramic cacti, handmade Italian sunglasses and the minimal Scandinavian furniture is the excellent Cafe Lulu which does a belt-popping brunch of potatoes, eggs, sausage, mushrooms, salad, bacon and soup. Located among a myriad of vintage treasures and children’s toys, it’s a good pit stop for homemade cakes and smooth coffee too.

Grand Central

Designed by the renowned Frédéric Nicolay, this European Quarter gem is a mixture of high ceilings, concrete walls and marble counters. But forget the retro light fitting and black and white film projections, because Grand Central’s all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch outdoes it all. Roasted aubergine, tomatoes with white beans and a legion of savoury dishes co-star alongside brownies and banana bread. Their barista is something of a coffee Picasso too.

La Fabrique en ville

A bit of a secret, Fabrique en ville is a superbly restored orangery hidden among the shade of Parc d’Egmont with huge fan light windows that allow the sun to glaze across the tables. It does a gargantuan weekend buffet which includes roasted pumpkin, ricotta and spinach ravioli, smoked salmon with dill and minty tabbouleh. It even has a station where chefs cook up your eggs however you want them – pancakes included. With Belgian suikertaart (sugar tart) and a killer chocolate fondant for dessert, it won’t stay a secret for long.

Henri & Agnes

Overflowing with wild flowers and decorated with vintage ceramics, bohemian Henri & Agnes feels like a roughly-repaired wooden cabin. Fittingly, the menu is handpicked and wholesome with seasonal homemade treats like veal-stuffed turnips with mint, ginger and coriander, and organic vegetarian dishes like celeriac soup. Even its daintiest feel-good food is presented with the occasional floret. On a sunny day, take your fork upstairs for a breezy terrace brunch.