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Monthly Archives: November 2016

EXPLORING AMERICA’S GHOST TOWN

The history of Bodie reads like a parody of Wild West clichés. The discovery of gold transformed this one-horse mining camp into a boomtown of banks and brothels, saloons and schools. When the gold supplies dwindled in the early twentieth century, so did the population, and today Bodie is preserved in a state of arrested decay.

Rough Guides writer Greg Dickinson travelled to Mono County, California, to prospect these haunted streets.

The time portal to Bodie is located about three miles west of the town. Only, unlike the DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future, you need to reduce your car’s speed to cross this wormhole.

There’s no looking back now, as a cloud of whipped-up dust in the rear window distorts any memories of the modern world.
The tarmac road reaches a sign that reads “Bodie Historic Park” and a crunch falls beneath your tyres as you land on the sun-bleached dirt track. There’s no looking back now, literally, as a cloud of whipped-up dust in the rear window distorts any memories of the modern world.

Slowly and jerkily I approached Bodie, air conditioning blasting the hell out of my face. You can’t help but feel a bit intrepid on this track near the border of California and Nevada, but I knew mine was just one in a long list of vehicles that had pounded the road over the last 160 years.

The first horse and carts arrived in 1859, when prospector William S Bodey discovered gold and established a mill here. Over the next couple of decades the dozen-strong population swelled to ten thousand – families, thieves, miners, journalists. All moved to this remote town in the foothills of Eastern Sierra in hope of a more prosperous life.

These days, it’s tourists who make the journey – about 200,000 per year – in cars during summer and snowmobiles during the treacherous winter (Bodie is over 2500m above sea level). And there are some unwelcomed guests, too.

“The ghost hunters are a pain in the neck,” the park ranger told me as we wandered along Main Street, her swagger reminiscent of a gun-totin’ sheriff. My flip-flopped feet were chalky white, the camera slung around my neck already disconcertingly hot in the midday sun. “They watch these ghost hunting TV shows about Bodie and try to break into the park at night. Now we have to patrol the place twenty-four seven.”

During the day there was something intoxicatingly unsettling about the place, I couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the dead of the night.
I empathized with her. California State Parks probably does have better things to spend its time and money on than foiling ghost hunters. Although a small, devious part of me – a part I would never reveal to this ranger – could relate to the impulse to break into Bodie after dark. During the day there was something intoxicatingly unsettling about the place, even with the tourists milling about. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the dead of the night.

As we walked I recognised the buildings that flanked Main Street from the infinite Instagram photos I’d scrolled through before arriving in Bodie, all padlocked doors and faded wooden beams propping up improbably angled roofs. But what the photos can’t capture is the arthritic creaks that the buildings make in the lightest breeze, barely strong enough to propel a hay bale.

“Don’t be tempted to take anything home with you”, the ranger said, seeing me pick up some piece of twisted metal off the ground. If you remove anything from the town, the legend goes, you’ll be haunted by the “Bodie Curse”. In the museum I read accounts of visitors who had taken items – nails, bottles, books – and written in to say they had been plagued by bad luck. Yeah, right. This was a fantasy one step too far for me.

The ranger led us around some of the town’s best-preserved spots with the tallest of accompanying tales. The old school which was burnt to the ground by a pupil, whose family was subsequently banished from town. The tiny jail consisting of only two cells but nonetheless frequently occupied during the height of Bodie’s lawlessness. The road where Chinatown used to be, with its Taoist Temple and sordid opium dens.

But I was just as interested in everything that wasn’t covered by the tour.

This is no Disneyland, I thought, this is real.

One particularly unassuming house caught my eye and I slipped off from the group. I half expected to peer through the window to see a perfectly presented scene, complete with waxwork models and a faded information board, maybe a broomstick propped up against the wall. But what I saw was a collapsed ceiling and rips of wallpaper defying gravity with the very last of its fibres. On the floor, ochre-drenched sheets of paper that were dropped and never picked up. This is no Disneyland, I thought, this is real.

I peered into the carriages of the battered old cars lying about, inspected the random bits of metallic junk that have been left to rust in the greying bush. Were it not for the blistering heat I could have spent hours exploring this ghost town, and what remains is only five percent of what was once here.

A Magical Journey to Norway

It might as well be midnight as we leave Tromsø. Last night’s snow crunching beneath the tyres, only the pinkish glow of street lights illuminates the ink-blue sky. This close to the winter solstice, the days here have a strange beauty. The first light doesn’t appear until just before 11am; it’s dark by 1.30pm.

We may already be 350km north of the Arctic circle, but today our journey is only just getting started. Striking out from the city, we snake along the shores of placid fjords, passing traditional red clapboard houses, candles flickering in the windows. These are the most northerly reaches of Europe – and fairytale Norway at its finest.

Even at Breivikeidet, where an isolated ferry plies passengers across the glassy expanse of Ullsfjord, the local population stands at just fifty souls. It’s certainly a challenging place to live – with temperatures dropping to -17°C (1ºF) in winter and 24-hour daylight summer – yet speak to most locals, and they wouldn’t move anywhere else.

This landscape, its intricate geography of fjords and archipelagos carved over millennia, is simply astounding.

As we begin the crossing to Svensby, the Arctic day finally gets going, a soft blue light illuminating the sheer, snow-covered slopes that plunge into the channel’s icy depths. This landscape, its intricate geography of fjords and archipelagos carved over millennia, is simply astounding.

And it’s a good thing the views are so mesmerising, as it turns out I’m as over-dressed as a polar bear in a sauna. Despite the snow, it’s so unseasonably warm that kids are getting stuck into the ferry’s extensive ice-cream selection.

Luckily, we’re not setting out for a day’s exploration. Instead, our two-hour journey reaches its conclusion just over the Lyngen Alps, where a team of entrepreneurs have dreamt up a new reason to draw visitors to this magical region.

On the shores of Lyngenfjord, you can now visit Aurora Spirit, the northernmost distillery in the world. It’s fittingly named; on winter nights the northern lights regularly dance in the sky above the strikingly modern distillery building. Nature always makes its presence felt here.

The project was conceived by three friends, Hans, Tor and Tor’s wife Anne-Lise, and completed in 2016. Inspired by trips to the Islay distilleries in Scotland, they wanted to create a similar experience back home. So, they set out to source local ingredients and talent to make “extraordinary spirits in an extraordinary place”.

And this is certainly an extraordinary place. Perched on a spur jutting out towards the island of Årøya, the wood-clad distillery has a location to rival any of its Scottish cousins.

Currently they produce vodka, gin and aquavit, the traditional Norwegian spirit, with their first whiskies maturing in cask in the NATO tunnels that run beneath the site. There’s a reason why this beautiful tract of land remained undeveloped; the site of a Cold War bunker, it was off-limits until 2005.

Today, however, their spirits draw on an older history. They’re sold under the brand Bivrost, the name of the mythical bridge that connected the human world to the world of the gods in Norse mythology. You can learn more on their exemplary distillery tours, which explain the processes of distillation and maturation, or at one of their tutored whisky tastings.

If you’re after an adrenalin kick instead, you can use the distillery as a base for a RIB tour of the fjord or try spot of Viking-inspired axe-throwing on their outdoor range. I’m hesitant about a trip into the bunker, eerily left exactly as it was abandoned in 1993, notebooks and pencils still scattered across the command room desks.

It’s more tempting to book a night in one of the luxury cabins currently being built on a hill above the distillery, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the bay. It’s hard to imagine a more serene experience than watching the sun dip below the snow covered mountains, or spotting eagles soaring over the fjord from the waterside jacuzzi.

7 Best Beaches in Portugal

1. Praia de Tavira, Ilha de Tavira (The Algarve)

Linked to the mainland by ferry, the superb Praia de Tavira, is located on the Ilha de Tavira, a sandbar island that stretches southwest from Tavira almost as far as Fuseta.

Strung along this are miles of soft, dune-baked sand, without a hotel in sight. The main part of the beach is dotted with umbrellas and pedalos for rent, and scattered with a handful of bar-restaurants.

In high summer this part of the beach can get very busy, but you only have to wander fifteen minutes or so to escape the crowds. Come here out of season and you’ll probably have the place to yourself.

2. Praia da Marinha and Benagil (The Algarve)

The stretch of coast between Armação de Pêra and Centianes is strung with a series of delightful cove beaches that have mostly escaped large-scale development. Of them two stand out: Praia da Marinha and Benagil. A classic cliff-backed warren of coves, the only trace of development on Praia da Marinha is the seasonal beach restaurant.

Follow the clifftop path on from here as it winds round to the next bay at Benagil, a pint-sized village with its fine beach sitting beneath high cliffs. Fishing boats can take you out to an amazing sea cave, as large as a cathedral, with a hole in its roof.

3. Nazaré (Estremadura)

Now a busy seaside resort – with all the hustle and trimmings that you’d expect with that title – the former fishing village of Nazaré has a great town beach. The main stretch is an expanse of clean sand, packed with multicoloured sunshades in summer, while further beaches spread north beyond the headland.

The water might look inviting on calm, hot days, but it’s worth bearing in mind that swimming off these exposed Atlantic beaches can be dangerous. Nazaré has a worldwide reputation among surfers seeking serious waves – this is where the world’s largest-ever wave was surfed. 

4. Foz de Minho (The Minho)

Just 2km southwest from the charming, sleepy town of Caminha, Foz de Minho – Portugal’s northernmost beach – is a hidden gem.

Located on an idyllic wooded peninsula where the broad estuary of the Rio Minho flows into the Atlantic, here a wooden boardwalk hugs the water’s edge, leading to a sheltered river beach. Wander slightly further on for five minutes through the pines, and you’ll reach a great Atlantic beach, with a little fortified islet just offshore and Spain visible opposite.

5. Praia da Figueira (The Algarve)

You’ll have to walk to get here, but it’s worth it to find this often deserted beach. The small village of Figueira, is the starting point for a rough track to Praia da Figueira, that lies below the ruins of an old fort. This is one of the least-visited beaches along this stretch of coastline, mainly due to the fact that it’s not reachable by car. The walk takes twenty to thirty minutes, with the path passing through some lovely countryside.

6. Praia de Odeceixe (The Algarve)

Sleepy out of season, the charming village of Odeceixe comes to life in the summer when it draws a stream of surfers and holidaymakers, lured by it’s magnificent beach, which lies just 4km west of the village.

In the summer take the road train to Praia de Odeceixe, or follow the road on foot through the river valley to the broad bay framed by low cliffs. The beach here is one of the most sheltered along this stretch of coast, where you can enjoy fantastic surfing, and relatively safe swimming.

7. Comporta (Alentejo)

Tucked into a remote part of the northern Alentejo, a drive west of the historical port town of Alcácer do Sal, is one of the region’s best beaches.

Here at Comporta, deserted sands stretch as far a the eye can see – a magnificent, swathe of soft beach that is served by a couple of seasonal café-restaurants, which double as popular hangouts for wealthy Lisboetas.

9 Most Beautiful Places in India

9. Madikeri, Coorg, Karnataka

Our Delhi team voted for Madikeri as an excellent base from which to explore the lush national parks, natural beauty and gorgeous coffee plantations that abound in this scenic stretch of the Western Ghats.

8. Mawlynnong, Meghalaya

Described by one of our editors as magical, this village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya is simply stunning. The surrounding areas are just as unforgettable, with natural bridges made by twisting the roots of rubber trees crossing the rivulets and streams.

7. Kumarakom Backwaters, Kerala

At number seven in the list, Kerala’s scenic backwaters, edged with coconut palms, lush green rice paddies and picturesque villages, make for a beautiful escape from hectic city life.

6. Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

One of central India’s most atmospheric monuments, this medieval ghost town is set on a scenic plateau still prowled at night by leopards and panthers.

5. Hampi, Karnataka

This vast archeological site would have been one of the largest and richest cities of its time. The design, detailing and ornamentation of the best-preserved ruins are astonishing.

4. Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

This hot and desolate landscape is reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. Situated right on the border with Pakistan, its striking white plains call out to many of the more intrepid explorers in our team.

3. Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand

From July to September, when its rolling alpine meadows are carpeted with wildflowers, this sprawling National Park is a bucket list destination for many in the Rough Guides office.

2. Pangong Tso, Ladakh

This icy saline lake, cradled by stark and sombre mountains 4350m above sea level, comes second in our list. We think it epitomises the breathtaking majesty of the high Himalaya.

1. Lakshadweep

Quiet lagoons, crystal-clear waters, coral reefs teeming with aquatic life and secluded white-sand beaches… The list goes on. The absolutely spectacular Lashadweep (‘100,000 islands’ – though there are actually just 36) was a unanimous choice at the top of our list for the most beautiful places in India.