This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title
 

Category Archives: Travel

Asia’s Top 7 Backpacking Destinations

7. Hit the beautiful beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville’s latest incarnation as a budget traveler hub marks a fresh twist in its tragically eventful history. It is named after Norodom Sihanouk, a former King of Cambodia, under whom the town became a booming and glamorous port in the 1950s. But after the Khmer Rouge seized power the city was symbolically desecrated; the walls of its luxury Independence Hotel peppered with bullets. Through the past few decades, the town has been traveling the slow road to regeneration, helped in large part by intrepid backpackers who braved the journey’s dangerous reputation and brought back word of the area’s sublime beaches, such as the stunning 4km stretch of white sand, Otres Beach. The town is now the hub of Cambodia’s most vibrant backpacker scene, a chilled-out stretch of bars, restaurants, cheap lodging and tropical coastline, lively but relatively unswamped with travelers.

6. Get yourself along to the classic hippy hangout of Goa, India

There’s no denying that Goa’s soul has changed since it was first chosen by the hippies of the sixties as an exotic backdrop for exploration of self and consciousness, distanced from the psychic chains of western civilization and conveniently situated in lush tropical surroundings. There are still strong hippy communities in the area, and ragged westerners travel here to make and sell handicrafts. But these days they share the tourist space – including iconic beaches such as Calangute and Baga – with charter holidaymakers, a creeping quantity of upscale resorts, and Catholic and Hindu pilgrims. But a great backpacker scene cuts through all this, feasting on the fantastic cheap food and cavorting in the bars and on the beaches, and in many ways the area’s increasing diversity makes it all the more interesting to visit. Many budget airlines fly direct to Goa’s airport.

5. Encounter the flora and fauna of Cat Ba Island in Vietnam

The jagged archipelago of limestone islands that compose Halong Bay off Vietnam’s north coast have long been one of the country’s top backpacker attractions. As well as the ocean and beaches, there are mangrove forests, craggy peaks and enchanting caverns such as Song Sôt for tourists to explore. This environment is home to a unique world of flora and fauna, including some of the world’s rarest flowers as well as the golden Cat Ba langur. This endangered creature inhabits Cat Ba Island, one of the archipelago’s best stop-offs, an island of breathtaking beauty which packs the best of Halong Bay into one place and is a great base for kayaking, rock climbing, hiking and water sports.

4. Spend time on the island of Bali, Indonesia

Bali’s volcanic landscape, fringed with world famous beaches and alternating barren and forest covered hillsides, attracts millions of tourists from all over the world, traveling on the whole spectrum of budgets. Famous backpacker sites such as Kuta Beach have now been infiltrated with wealthy resorts, top-end restaurants, and private developers who have chomped chunks of the white sand beach. But there is still a terrific budget scene and plenty of cheap and laid-back bars and cafes in which to meet locals and travelers alike. And you can meditate on the island’s spirituality at Tanah Lot Temple, spectacularly situated on a headland jutting out into the ocean.

3. Drift among the beautiful Gili Islands, Indonesia

The Gili Islands make up a small archipelago just north of Lombok in Indonesia. They became popular with backpackers in the ‘80s, looking for a remote experience of the Pacific isles that didn’t require a super-expensive flight to reach. Even two decades after the first intrepid budget travelers set foot on the island’s powdery sand, it remains relatively undeveloped – there’s no automated traffic, and people travel primarily by horse and cart. But there are a few indulgences to choose between, including a Japanese restaurant, good backpacker accommodation, and, inevitably, a lively Irish bar. The island is also famous for its hatching sea turtles, and there is a sanctuary which buys the eggs from the local population to prevent them being sold in the market. And there are some world-class, uncrowded dive sites, such as the ominously named Shark Point.

2. See a different side of China in Yangshuo

Backpackers first flocked to Yangshuo in the ‘80s, set on the trail by a gushing recommendation in Lonely Planet. They discovered an entirely different China to the rapidly industrializing country depicted in the western press, a quiet, picturesque region spread from the banks of two great rivers, Li and Yulong. Strung between these rivers is a rolling landscape of bare karst peaks, green hills, deep sharp-sided caves and unique sights such as Yangshuo Moon Hill, a limestone pinnacle with a moon-shaped hole reached by over 800 marble stairs.

1. Escape the traveler crowds in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand’s rural north is far less infested with hordes of tourists than the resort-ridden south, and it makes a great escape from the crazy crowds that swarm Bangkok and Phuket during peak season. Chiang Mai is the region’s hub – founded in 1296, it was the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom and designed as the center of Buddhism in northern Thailand. This ancient heritage can be experienced at sites such as Wat Chedi Luang, a towering ruined temple in the center of the city, and the Bhubing Palace, surrounded by colorful gardens a few kilometers out of town. And the city’s cosmopolitan ex-pat population has given rise to a vibrant scene of restaurants, bars and nightlife.

The Best Mosque in The World

They act not only as places of worship but also as schools, community centres, charitable foundations and even (in days past) hospitals and law courts. They are places in which worldly divisions of class, wealth, status and ethnicity vanish, with all becoming equal in the sight of god.

Most mosques around the world are off-limits to non-believers, reinforcing stereotypes and encouraging skeptics to label them as hives of Islamist extremism. Fortunately many of Islam’s largest, loveliest and most historic shrines are freely open to all, not only allowing visitors to experience some of the planet’s most spectacular buildings, but also to glimpse something of the religious and cultural life of these remarkable monuments to the world’s most misunderstood faith.

1. Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca sees relatively few foreign visitors despite its absorbing array of sights ranging from medieval souks to Art Nouveau mansions, strung out along an attractively windswept expanse of Atlantic coastline.

Few who visit, however, pass up the chance to explore the city’s landmark Hassan II Mosque. Completed in 1993, the mosque stands on an oceanfront promontory, its enormous minaret (the world’s tallest, at 210m) soaring above the coast like an enormous Islamic lighthouse, while the cavernous interior glows with the magical colours of blue marble mosaics, lustrous tilework and enormous pendant chandeliers.

2. Aqsunqur Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

Old Cairo is a virtual museum of mosques, with dozens of historic shrines dotted around the twisting, time-warped alleyways of the medieval centre. Amongst the finest is the stately Aqsunqur Mosque, completed in 1347. Rising above Bab al-Wazir Street, the building’s fortress-like walls are capped with minarets and intricately carved domes, while inside stands the mosque’s magnificent Mecca-facing eastern wall, entirely covered in a luminous array of azure tiles.

3. Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Soaring high above the heart of Istanbul at the meeting point of Europe and Asia, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (completed in 1616, also known as the Blue Mosque) is generally reckoned the crowning example of Ottoman architecture, with a quartet of needle-thin minarets pointing dramatically skywards and a sumptuously red-carpeted interior smothered in delicate tilework blossoming with thousands of stylized blue tulips.

4. Masjed-e Jameh, Isfahan, Iran

If it were almost anywhere else in the world, Isfahan’s great Naghsh-e Jahan Square would be teeming with tourists. Present-day political and practical realities mean that those who make it to Iran can enjoy an authentically foreigner-free taste of the world’s most perfectly preserved Islamic architectural set-piece.

The square is home to not one but two of the planet’s most stunning mosques, the Shah and the Jameh (Masjed-e Jameh) mosques. The Jameh Mosque is the larger and the older of the two, dating back to pre-Islamic Zoroastrian times and has been rebuilt continuously over the centuries to produce the stunning complex you see today, with three stupendously huge, blue-tiled porticoes rising around a vast courtyard, and mirror-perfect reflections in the ablutions pool between.

5. Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

One of the world’s oldest and most revered Islamic shrines, Damascus’s Umayyad Mosque dates back to 715, less than a century after the Muslim faith first burst spectacularly into the world. The monumental building itself reflects the changing times in which it was built, adorned with Classical Roman-style Corinthian columns and Byzantine-style mosaics alongside the first of the great congregational courtyards which subsequently became the norm throughout the Islamic world.

6. Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Looming above the approach roads to Abu Dhabi like a vast wedding cake – with minarets – the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (completed 2007) offers a gigantic monument to the Muslim faith in a region now better known for its seven-star hotels, record-breaking skyscrapers and palm-shaped artificial islands.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Abu Dhabi’s shiny new mega-mosque boasts its own string of record-breaking attractions: the world’s largest carpet lives here, along with the planet’s largest marble mosaic. Although it’s the serene beauty of the overall conception, with vast expanses of lustrous marble and myriad dazzling domes shining snowy white in the fierce Gulf sunlight, which really lingers in the memory.

7. Jama Masjid, Delhi, India

A majestic monument to India’s great Mughal rulers, rising in stately splendour above the tangled labyrinth of hectic streets at the very heart of Old Delhi. Commissioned by Shah Jahan, creator of the Taj Mahal, the Jama Masjid remains an unequalled symbol of Islamic architecture in a largely Hindu country, with soaring minarets, delicate marble domes and a vast prayer hall – as well as peerless views across the teeming melée of the old city from its vast courtyard, raised high above the streets below.

Why you should visit Palma in 2017

Where do I start?

You’ll find it impossible not to start at La Seu, the city’s enormous, attention-grabbing sandstone cathedral, perpetually bathed in golden sunshine and dominating the centre of town.

All flying buttresses and spiky columns, it is a Gothic masterpiece – and best seen from the outside. Its exterior, rising up from the water and announcing this as a Christian-conquered city, is its most striking feature and the stone seats along the old city wall at its base are the perfect place to soak up the sun and plan your assault on the city.

You’re in the heart of the Old Town here, its narrow pedestrianized streets tangling back from the water and begging you to get out there and explore.

Next head to the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, just next door – a great example of Gothic meets Moorish architecture. See the Arab baths and the state apartments, still used by the king on occasion, before retreating to the Italianate courtyard of the Palau March, home to modern sculptures and cracking views over Palma.

Then it’s time to dive in to the city’s street life, following whichever diminutive artery takes your fancy northwards towards the pavement cafés of Plaça Major.

East of here is Sa Gerrería, save this laidback neighbourhood for some bar-hopping later on.

What’s new?

The architecture here hasn’t changed in centuries, but the way you can see it certainly has. La Seu started offering visitors the chance to walk on the roof in late 2016 and if you’re visiting in summer there’s no better way to see the city.

This is not one for the faint-hearted or weary though – there are more than 200 steps involved in the ascent and you’ll be on your feet for almost an hour as you’re guided past the rose window and around the bell tower.

Foodies should sign up for the new food tour from Mercat de l’Olivar, a walking food safari through the Old Town which focuses on the markets. You’ll finish – where else – back at Mercat de l’Olivar, which dates from 1951 and is home to over a hundred stalls, for tastings of everything from fresh bread to sobrassada (cured sausage).

If walking isn’t your style, new bike store Urban Drivestyle Mallorca has vintage bikes and nippy scooters for hire, as well as daily city tours which promise to take you to the coolest spots.

What else is there to see?

Palma is a city that is more about enjoying the good life than ticking off the sights, so make time to relax. Platja de Palma is the best of the beaches, its 4km strand stretching around the Badia de Palma. Stroll along the palm-lined walkway behind the sands and pick your spot for some sunbathing.

If you’d rather soak up some culture, head to the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, the home and workplace of artist Joan Miró from 1956 to his death in 1983.

It’s a vast site, with several studios including an engraving workshop and print workshop that are still in use and a sculpture garden where you can admire Miró’s work amid Mediterranean plant life.

Where should I eat?

The top pick for dinner is Fosh Lab, which opened in 2016, where British expat chef Marc Fosh experiments with a daily changing menu. Expect an interactive experience here, with plenty of food-focused chat – and to be a guinea pig for test dishes that may or may not make it onto the menu at Fosh Kitchen or Michelin-starred Marc Fosh.

Also worth a dinner booking is Hotel Cort, where simple dishes such as jamón ibérico, grilled octopus and lamb terrine are washed down with Mallorcan wine in the tree-shaded square.

If you’d rather hit the tapas trail make a start at Plaça Rei Joan Carlos I, calling in at Bar Bosch and La Bodeguilla. On a Tuesday or Wednesday, head to Sa Gerrería for the Ruta Martiana: what was once a way of encouraging people out on a quiet Tuesday night has become an event in itself, with dozens of tapas places offering a drink and a tapa for around €2–3.

Trendy, minimalist The Lemon Tree on Carrer Pes de la Farina and perpetually packed Ca La Seu on Corderia are both worth seeking out, but this is a time to head where the mood – and perhaps your nose – takes you.

The Best Area to Stay in Hong Kong

Best for luxury: Central to Causeway Bay

Hong Kong is known as the vertical city, and as you make your way up the Mid-Levelsescalators you can see why. Business blossomed in the 1900s and the influx of western banks, bars and boutiques line the streets on the north shore of the Island.

High-end shops and restaurants are here in abundance, and so are the most luxurious places to stay.

For oriental opulence: Mandarin Oriental. The Mandarin Oriental is often thought of as Hong Kong’s best hotel. The facilities and service are excellent, and you’ll find draped Chinese tapestries and antiques in each room.

Grand rooms, grand prices: Renaissance Harbour View Hotel. As the name promises, the Renaissance offers incredible views over the water. It shares a pool and fitness centre with the Grand Hyatt but set just back is often slightly cheaper.

Best for atmosphere on a budget: Mong Kok

The streets of Mong Kok are a sensory overload: hundreds of neon signs hang above roads that bustle with shoppers – you can buy anything from cosmetics to mobile phones here – and street food stalls steaming with local specialties.

It’s a popular spot for budget travellers; Mong Kok is where the vast majority of hostels and cheaper accommodation are based.

Cash-strapped: Dragon Hostel. This seventh-floor guesthouse offers dorms, doubles and singles. Though it’s not the most glamorous (some rooms are windowless) staff are helpful, and the location is ideal.

A plush cultural experience: Royal Plaza. Located above the Mong Kok East MTR station and above the mania below, Royal Plaza is linked to the MOKO Shopping Centre, where beauty counters and designers shops can be found. You can pamper yourself in the sauna and spa and then dip back into the chaos just a few minutes away.

Best for old China: Yau Ma Tei

For a dose of old China head to the medicinal teashops, street food stalls and antiques markets of Yau Ma Tei.

The Jade Market (a covered bazaar selling varied qualities of jade) neighbours a gathering of the city’s fortune-tellers and the Temple Street night market.

A 15-minute walk from the harbour, it’s the perfect place for rummaging through peculiar antiquities and mixing with the locals.

A great Location: Nathan Hotel. This new-build is located on the always-busy Nathan Road. The rooms are a lot larger than most in Hong Kong hotels and you’re in walking distance from the most visit-worthy places on Kowloon.

A place to rest your head: Booth Lodge. This Salvation Army hotel is a quiet alternative tucked off the main road next to the Jade and Temple Street markets. You can be sure to get a fairly basic but clean room.

Best for exploring: the Outlying Islands and New Territories

Glorious beaches, rugged scenery and beautiful mountainous walks are not the first thing you think of when planning a trip to Hong Kong. But if you have the time to venture out of the metropolis into the new territories, or board a boat from Central to one of the Outlying Islands, a different pace of life awaits.

Lamma has become a haven for expat artists, giving the island its ‘hippy’ label. There are no motor vehicles, so it has a sleepy seaside feel and is the perfect place to escape the city. Cheng Chau and Ma Wan are both home to small fishing villages and quaint beaches that are worth a visit.

The New Territories are sparsely populated in comparison to Kowloon and the Island. Much of the land has national park status, including the group of beautiful beaches on theSai Kung peninsula.

For the budget wanderer: Kathmandu Guesthouse. Offering beds and doubles at the lowest rates on Lamma, this guesthouse is, in a word, simple. You’re here to chill out; finish your day of mooching with a fresh seafood dinner from one of the waterfront restaurants next door.

Luxury meets leisure: The Regal Riverside. Based in Sha Tin, it’s close enough to the lights of the city by MTR but in a perfect position to access the outdoor pursuits of scenic New Territories. It’s great value, even if a little grandiose.

Best for a laidback vibe: Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun

Just down from Soho along Queens Road West, Sai Ying Pun is fast becoming popular among locals and travellers alike. Here you’ll find minimalist cafés, hidden away jazz bars and techno-filled basements.

Follow Des Veoux Road West all the way to Kennedy Town for impressive views of Kowloon.

For the minimalist: The Jervois. At this ultra-modern, exquisitely-designed set of apartments in Sheung Wan, you can expect slick design and complete comfort. It’s self-catering but there’s an endless choice of dim sum and Asian fusion restaurants in the area.

For the city roamer: Eco Tree Hotel. Sitting right next to Sai Ying Pun MTR station, the rooms here are a little soulless but decent in size and the location is perfect for a walk through the Sun-Yat-Sen Memorial Park, or up into Soho.

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.

5 Skills to Learn Before You Go Backpacking

1. Understand the rules of the road

The first is simple: there are no rules. You yell stop, the traffic continues regardless, and a truck held together with no more than a hope and a prayer, thunders towards you as if involved in a Mad Max death race.

From Africa and India to Southeast Asia, it’s almost a contractual obligation. If you glare forebodingly at the truck driver, he’s still going to come for you. If you boldly walk on, you might get mowed down.

That may be a teensy exaggeration, but consider this: according to the latest WHO report, some of the most popular countries to travel to in 2016 are the most dangerous in which to be a pedestrian. There were 24,896 fatalities from road accidents in Iran, for instance, while in Thailand the number of road deaths hit 24,237. Other traveller hotspots such asVietnam, Oman, Brazil, and South Africa are equally as foolhardy.

It’s Wacky Races logic out there, so don’t forget to stop, look, listen and think.

2. Know your maths

Paying for a meal or bus ticket in a new country can sometimes feel like playing with Monopoly money. Which means knowing your mental arithmetic for converting currency is a must.

In Zimbabwe in 2008, for example, the government issued a laughable Z$100 trillion note (the equivalent of US$300). As travellers to Victoria Falls around that time may well remember, it was easy to get fleeced if you didn’t know your sums, especially when counting-out paltry $500 billion notes (US$1).

3. Master the ethics of haggling

Look up the dictionary definition of haggling and you’ll find this: “to bargain or wrangle, specifically over a price or an agreement”. What it doesn’t say is how even the simplest of head-to-head transactions, be it over a rickshaw ride in Delhi, or an impulsive sombrero purchase in Oaxaca (a trap we can all fall into), can turn into an existential ethical dilemma. You may have got a bargain, but in return you’ve deprived a family and hungry children.

Conversely, you may have been ripped off by a scoundrel, leaving you kicking yourself for not knowing better. Maybe the dictionary definition should adapt to calling it immersion therapy.

In real terms, bartering is no more than an age-old game like chess. Your opponent will never bet against themselves, so it’s just a matter of resilience. The provider also knows you can afford it more than they can, so the question is who has the greater need?

Learning the knack of recognising what a product or service is worth, not just to you but to the seller, takes time but is a key survival skill. Some say you should start at half of what is offered, others say two-thirds.

Even if you pay slightly more than you’d like, you’ll almost always come out richer for the experience. And remember, there’s no glory in saving a few pennies. Because nobody likes a Scrooge.

4. Learn improvised sign language

Let’s face it: few travellers have a grasp of Tamil and those Mandarin lessons at school just didn’t stick. Learning sign and body language can overcome these barriers, and even if you do speak a few helpful phrases, sometimes it’s quicker to save your breath and use your hands.

For starters, everyone knows the universal sign for “OK” (thumb and index make a circle while the remaining fingers point up) and “let’s rock!” (index finger and pinkie raised into a horn-like fist), but what about the less obvious ones? For budding surfers the Hawaiian ‘shaka’ sign is a must; it can be used to say anything from “take it easy” to “hang loose” (make a fist, extend your pinky and thumb, then shake your hand).

For swimmers, paddle boarders, or scuba divers, placing crossed arms over your head while in the water could save your life; it means “I need some help”.

In Italy, meanwhile, hand signals become a little harder, especially because the country is the king of the symbolic gesture. A mere flap of the wrist could meaning anything from “go away” or “I’m not interested” to “look at that asshole”. Make sure you know the difference to avoid a punch in the face.

5. Grasp toilet etiquette

When it comes to toilet tales, travel is the ultimate eye-opener. No story is off limits between dorm buddies, and every backpacker has a ghoulish anecdote about a nightmarish squat-job in Asia that’d put you off your lunch.

The first thing to do when you see a slab of porcelain on the floor rather than a regular-shaped loo is to be brave, place your feet on either side, squat down, and hug your knees Yoga-style for support. It takes practice but afterwards you’ll have thighs as strong as Rambo’s.

Safari Alternatives For Nature Lovers

Looking for tigers in northern India

Tiger numbers have crept up in recent years according to official statistics from the Indian government: in 2016, India was estimated to be home to 2500 of them – 70 percent of the global population. But in a country this vast, it’s still hard to see one.

With accredited naturalists working as guides, Himalayan Footsteps offers a 13-day trip taking in the Bandhavgarh and Kanha national parks. Sightings are by no means guaranteed, although it’s said the best time of year to see tigers is between February and April, so it’s smart to plan ahead. If you don’t spot one, you’ll stand a better chance of seeing sloth bears, jackals and grey mongoose. Bandhavgarh is also home to 250 species of birds, so make sure you pack your binoculars.

Birdwatching in Peru’s Islas Ballestas

Don’t listen to anyone who dismisses Peru’s Islas Ballestas as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’; these uninhabited islands might not have inspired Darwin when HMS Beagle passed this way in the 1830s, but they are home to a huge seabird colony, as well as sea lions and fur seals.

Due to the fragile nature of the islands, visitors can’t make landfall, but boats can be chartered along with dedicated guides from nearby Paracas. Peruvian pelicans and Humboldt penguins vie for real estate on these rocky outcrops, sea lions howl above the din of crashing waves, while blue-footed boobies, related to the gannet, dive-bomb the surrounding waters in a desperate search for fish.

Komodo dragons and orangutans in Indonesia

Indonesia is home to many natural wonders, but few spectacles compare with the sight of two Komodo dragons locked in claw-to-claw combat.

A visit to the eponymous island home of the world’s largest lizard – the next best thing to a dinosaur, basically – is a highlight of Responsible Travel’s 13-day trip through the archipelago. Another major stop on the itinerary is Borneo, one of the last redoubts of the beautiful, endangered orangutan, who share their home with proboscis monkeys, gibbons and macaques, to name but three of the rare creatures sheltering in the rainforest.

Northern lights ‘safari’ in Nellim, Finland

Three hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and just 9km fromFinland’s border with Russia, Nellim is one of the best places in Scandinavia to see the aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights.

The light pollution is negligible, but due to temperamental weather staying in a single spot slashes your chances of seeing the sky lit up. The Aurora Zone runs ‘safaris’ in conjunction with the Nellim Wilderness Lodge, chasing the lights after dark. Wrap up warm and be patient: you can drive as much as 250km in a single night if it’s cloudy. Daytime brings the chance to see herds of reindeer roaming the boreal forest from dirt tracks that surround the village. Lucky visitors may even catch a glimpse of brown bears or wolves.

Orca watching in Orkney, UK

Ninety percent of orca sightings in the UK occur off of the coast of the Shetland Isles and Orkney. The latter’s wild shores and turbulent waters are the best place to see these beautiful creatures.

While most pods of orca are small, it’s been known for a group of 150 to appear east of the main island. You don’t need your sea legs to see them either, with the high clifftops on the island of Hoy affording superb views during the summer months. Cannock Head and the Old Man of Hoy are both recommended by local whale watchers. If you’re lucky, you might also see pilot whales, minke whales and bottlenose dolphins. Keen twitchers should also keep an ear out for corncrakes, a rarely seen bird with a distinctive call that’s native to these Scottish islands.