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Category Archives: vacation/ holiday

7 places to get off the tourist trail in New York City

1. Sample small-batch Red Hook

At the southern tip of Brooklyn, the cobblestoned blocks and red-brick waterfront warehouses of Red Hook feel like a totally different city. The area is sprinkled with artsy stores, no-frills cafés and small-batch food and drink producers. Take a tour at Red Hook Winery, grab a tasty treat at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies or feast on sumptuous pit-smoked barbecue at Hometown.

On summer weekends, head over to the Red Hook Ball Fields, where a dozen or so Latin American food carts and vendors set up around the local football (soccer) field. End the day at Sunny’s Bar, the neighbourhood’s spiritual heart, an old-school dive that opened in 1890.

2. Pay tribute to a giant of jazz at Louis Armstrong’s House

The multicultural borough of Queens rarely features on mainstream tourist itineraries – and few visitors know that the great Satchmo lived here from 1943 until his death in 1971. In fact, Dizzy Gillespie lived near Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Fats Waller and, briefly, Charles Mingus all called the borough home too.

The jazzman’s legacy is preserved at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, where guided tours showcase Armstrong’s trumpets, furnishings and other personal belongings, enhanced by rare audio recordings made in this very spot. The visitors’ centre across the street holds a fascinating collection of Armstrong’s personal archives.

3. Discover Brooklyn’s flea markets

New York’s most fashionable borough is a fun place to shop. The Brooklyn Flea is the undisputed king of art, craft and antique markets, but there are several equally as enticing (and less touristy) alternatives.

The Brooklyn Makers Market showcases the work of craftspeople across the city, whileArtists & Fleas is a slightly posher artist, designer and vintage market. For a grungier blend of live music, tasty food, art, jewellery and tattoos try Rock N’ Shop in hipster enclave Bushwick, or Shwick, the huge arts and crafts warehouse in the same trendy neighbourhood. Some markets run seasonally or appear on an irregular basis, so check their websites for the latest dates.


4. Explore the city’s Jewish roots at the Museum at Eldridge Street

Surprisingly few tourists make their way to the Museum at Eldridge Street, tucked away in a section of the Lower East Side slowly being absorbed by Chinatown. Completed in 1887 as the first synagogue for Eastern European Orthodox Jews in the USA, this painstakingly restored site is a grand brick and terracotta hybrid of Romanesque, Moorish and Gothic influences.

The real highlight is the main sanctuary upstairs, with rich woodwork, a painted ceiling and giant chandelier, and original stained-glass windows, including the west-wing rose window – a spectacular Star of David roundel. The synagogue is a functioning house of worship, but you can visit the interior on guided tours, which provide plenty of entertaining stories about the neighbourhood.

5. Stroll the streets and parks of Fort Greene

Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope get most of the attention across the East River, but traditionally African-American neighbourhood Fort Greene is crammed with equally gorgeous, nineteenth-century architecture.

Author Richard Wright is memorialised in leafy Fort Greene Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, while South Portland Avenue is one of the prettiest streets in all of New York City. Adjacent South Elliott Place is home to Spike Lee’s Forty Acres and a Mule filmworks. If you’d rather go with experts, Big Onion Walking Tours offers an excellent introduction to the area for a reasonable price.

6. Soak up the art at the Hispanic Society

Stranded in Upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights, the Hispanic Society of America sees only a trickle of visitors, despite holding some of the city’s greatest artistic treasures.

Part of Audubon Terrace, a Beaux Arts folly completed in 1908, the society owns one of the largest collections of Hispanic art outside Spain. The main, dimly lit gallery glows with the rosy hues of a Castilian palace.

Admire classics from El Greco, including his Holy Family, and typically expressive portraits by Velázquez and Goya. The building is also home to 14 giant murals by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – his Vision of Spain was commissioned specifically for the society in 1911.

7. Trawl the Italian trattorias and bakeries on Arthur Avenue

“Little Italy” in Manhattan is little more than a tourist mall these days, and New York’s largest Italian-American community actually lies smack in the middle of The Bronx.

Arthur Avenue is the main thoroughfare of foodie paradise Belmont, lined with pasticceria, authentic Italian restaurants and gourmet delis that make their own rich sauces and spicy sausages. Try Cosenza’s Fish Market stall for fresh clams and oysters, Madonia Brothers Bakery for olive bread and cannoli, and DeLillo Pasticceria (once owned by author Don DeLillo’s parents), for delicious pastries and coffee.

6 of the best road trips in the UK

1. Scotland’s North Coast 500

This circular route is a greatest hits of Scottish icons, stretching across 805km of lonely single-track. Skirting the coast from Inverness and the Black Isle, past the seaboard crags of Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross, it offers up uncanny ruins, rugged fairways, toothy castles, shingle-sand beaches, tiny fishing hamlets and peaty whisky distilleries. Even the name is a doff of the cap to The Proclaimers.

Along the way, the road becomes a symphony, building note after note, bend by bend, from its rallying start through the east coast villages of Dornoch and Wick to Aultbea, Poolewe and Gairloch on the savage west coast. Here, it reaches a crescendo below the impregnable peaks of Loch Maree.

Finally, the road reaches the nuttily brilliant Bealach na Bà, which loops up and over the Applecross Peninsula like a piece of gigantic spaghetti. It could scarcely be more isolated or awe-inspiring.

Best for: escaping urban life and unexpected traffic jams, courtesy of wayward Highland cows and stags.
Duration: 4-7 days.

2. A circuit through Yorkshire’s finest

In Yorkshire, the roads move from moor to dale through centuries of dark medieval history, once a backdrop to the War of the Roses, the bloody struggle between the royal houses of Lancaster and York.

Here the mix of A- and B-roads create a daisy-chain link between the most beautiful villages, waterfalls and rolling backdrops in northern England. When heading through fields of summer grasses over the Buttertubs Pass from Wensleydale to Swaledale, the road twists and turns like a thrashing snake.

Set off on the A59 from Harrogate towards the historic market town of Grassington before boomeranging back to Aysgarth Falls, a multi-tiered terrace that’s perfect for a hazy summer ramble.

Next, putter along the valley floor to the Wensleydale Creamery Visitor Centre at Hawes to stock up on Wallace and Gromit’s favourite cheese, before plunging over into Reeth and looping back to your start point via Jervaulx Abbey. A spooky Cistercian monastery in the moors, its grisly backstory is worthy of CBBC’s Horrible Histories.

At the end of a long day’s drive, there’s nothing more satisfying than the promise of a pint of Black Sheep from Masham Brewery. The welcome here is warm, the people friendly, the surrounding landscapes wild, and the ales strong.

Best for: ale drinkers and cheese lovers.
Duration: 3 days.

3. Southwest England’s Atlantic Highway

A storied ribbon of asphalt and maritime history, this 275km road has the wild beauty that has become the hallmark of southwest England: it’s all about the big views.

Sandwiched between barley fields and a succession of bays and beach breaks, the A39 from Bridgewater to Bude is a magical concertina that creases and folds along the Devon and Cornish coast. Beyond the roadside hedgerows, the windswept dunes become the territory of shaggy-haired surfers, where foaming waves beat the shoreline.

Stop off at Exmoor National Park for hikes across the hilly moors, before driving south from Barnstaple through the salt-tanged seaside towns of Bude (for surfing), Padstow (for seafood) and Newquay (for weekend partying). Then it’s onwards to Land’s End – the place Cornish sailors once thought was the end of the world.

Best for: surfers and wannabe hippies.
Duration: 4-5 days.

4. Northern Ireland’s coastal route

Map a journey around the knuckle-shaped fist of the Irish coast and you’ll not regret it. There’s a hypnotic quality to this 195km route from Belfast to Londonderry, one that can see you detour off the road and lose days.

First hit the gas for the Gobbins Cliff Path, an ambitious walkway chiselled out of basalt rock with hammers and rudimentary tools. North of Belfast, it carves a path through caves, over bridges and gantries, and down steep drops. Following a £7.5 million investment, the path reopened in 2015 – the first time in more than 65 years (although it was closed again for maintenance in 2016 and is now scheduled to reopen in June 2017).

As the journey continues, stories, both ancient and modern, will pull you over. Detour toAntrim to see the Dark Hedges, a natural phenomena used in Game of Thrones, while making sure to stop at Ballintoy harbour (also another GoT location).

Stare in awe at the 40,000 jigsaw pieces of the Giant’s Causeway, then pop into the Old Bushmills Distillery for a refresher of Irish whiskey.

Freedom on a road trip like this is only limited by how far your imagination takes you. After Londonderry, the road keeps going to Enniskillen, Sligo and Galway, maybe even all the way to Dublin. Simply open the throttle, roll down the window and keep on driving.

Best for: story-lovers and stargazers.
Duration: 3-5 days.

5. The road to the isles of Scotland

This 74km scenic drive route from Fort William to Mallaig has an antique weirdness, like stepping back in time. Every mountain and loch tells a story and the ghosts of the Jacobite and Victorian eras are never far away.

At Fort William flows the Caledonian Canal, first built for trade and commerce; past Loch Eil stands the Glenfinnan Monument, where Bonnie Prince Charlie kicked off his bid for the crown in 1745; then comes the glorious West Highland Line, one of the great railway journeys of the world.

Start in the shadows of the UK’s most alluring peak, Ben Nevis, before tracing your route like a squiggly marker pen across a fold-out map from its namesake whisky distillery onto the A830. Venture westwards and you’ll pass a series of stand-out movie locations – the Glenfinnan Viaduct, famous for its starring role in the Harry Potter films; then Camusdarach Beach at Arisaig, where Bill Forsyth’s classic Local Hero was filmed.

Near the journey’s end, Loch Morar, the deepest freshwater lake in the UK, will fill your windows with stunning views. Like Loch Ness, it too has a storybook monster of its own; Nessie’s cryptid cousin, Morag.

Best for: historians and Harry Potter fans.
Duration: 2-3 days.

6. Chase Welsh dragons over the Black Mountain Pass

The shortest road trip of the bunch, this epic mountain road more than makes up for it with spectacular Brecon Beacons scenery, unrivalled views of the Tywi Valley and the kind of hairpin bends and switchbacks that’d bring a Swiss Alpine engineer out in hives.

It rolls between Llandovery in the north, crossing the dragon’s humps of Pont Aber and Herbert’s Pass past jaw-dropping viewpoints, before sinking low and cascading down to the village of Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. Along the way, you’ll be met by rustic farmhouses, ruddy-faced farmers, wayward sheep and perhaps the odd motoring journalist. Thanks to ex-BBC host Jeremy Clarkson, it’s also known as the Top Gear road and is enduringly popular with test drivers.

Best for: Top Gear fans.
How long: one day, though it’s far better to extend your trip and stay in the Brecon Beacons area for at least 48 hours. The A470 running through the park’s east is also highly recommended.

8 ways to justify booking your next trip

1. Travel is an excellent way to destress and unwind

Although it’s hardly a shocker that travel has extensive health benefits, it seems that few of us manage to make the most of it. A third of British workers don’t take all their annual leave, while only four in ten Americans use their paid vacation days.

From reducing stress – yes, there is an argument for a day of cocktails and nap time on aCaribbean beach – to invigorating your mood, travel has so many wholesome benefits that it should really be bottled and sold in health food stores.

2. It could boost your career

Opportunities to test your transferable skills can arise more often than you change your underwear while you’re abroad. Need to evidence your problem-solving capacity for a job interview? Just whip out that story of your last trip to China, where you got from A to B relying solely on pointing, a few choice words of Mandarin and the lingua-franca of the travel world: charades.

3. You’ll meet a kaleidoscope of new people

Travelling gives you the opportunity to meet inspirational, impassioned and eccentric souls from around the globe. While not everyone may be your cup of tea, those with whom you share a few too many terremotos in a Santiaguino bar or trek into the rugged mountains of northern Laos stick around as friends long beyond your trip – and come with the added bonus of giving you free places to stay on your next holiday.

Going the extra mile and learning to chatter away in multiple new languages can also prove beneficial; bilingual people have reportedly been proven to seem more attractive.

4. It’s an excuse for a digital detox

We’ve all got a love-hate with technology, and travelling is one of the few chances we get to disconnect. Luckily, if you’re feeling up to your eyeballs in emojis, a digital detox is the perfect justification for that tour into the heart of the Amazon jungle or a cruise to the remotest stretches of Antarctica.

5. It’s an education like no other

Not only is travel a superb lesson in geography, it’s also a first-class education in cultural competency. Sure, reading about other countries can give you an introduction, but nothing beats exploring them on your own two feet.

It doesn’t take long to realise that your interactions with local people, as your learn about their way of life, are far more valuable than any class you could ever take.

6. It costs less than you think

Despite the oft-cited assertion that travel is expensive, budget flights, trains and car rental can provide affordable means of getting away.

Explore parts of the world such as Bolivia or Cambodia, where the cost of travel won’t leave you wincing at every purchase, or look closer to home for a refreshing but bank account-friendly break.

7. It’s a chance to get active

If you’re feeling like you’ve been cooped up in your office for too long, travel is the obvious antidote. Cycle between vineyards on a self-guided wine tour in the Wachau Valley inAustria or lace up your boots and trek the epic “Circuit” around Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia.

Active holidays leave you feeling refreshed, fitter and reeling from the incredible landscapes you’ve visited. The exercise-induced endorphins will also have you committing – momentarily at least – to a new fitness regime when you’re back home.

8. You can’t fight the urge to travel

The existence of one “wanderlust” gene might have been discredited, but it remains true that some of us have a greater natural tendency towards travel. Fighting it may only work for so long…

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park: Vietnam’s last paradise?

Phong Nha is famous for its caves, right?

The stunning 400-million-year-old limestone karst landscape is littered with caves and underground rivers – and every year more are being discovered, surveyed and opened to the public. At more than 5km long, and comfortably able to fit a New York City block within its expanse, Son Doong Cave is the best known.

If you have a spare US$3000 you can try and bag a place on the five-day expedition thatOxalis organise to its remote location. There’s also talk of a planned cable car that will ferry thousands of people to the entrance. This will detract from the feeling of discovering a lost world, though, so if that’s what you’re hankering after, best visit sooner rather than later.

With a little less cash and advanced planning, you can visit beautiful Phong Nha Cave, which is closest to Phong Nha town and only accessible by dragon boat from the little jetty here. Dark Cave (Hang Toi) involves a zip line, a muddy exploration, a cold swim and a short kayak trip, while Paradise Cave is a huge dry cavern with a deceptively tiny entrance. The latter has mind-blowing stalactite and stalagmite formations, which can be viewed from a boardwalk. Other caverns, such as Hang Va and Hang En, require some demanding trekking.

OK, so there are caves. What else?

Phong Nha’s incredible biodiversity includes globally threatened large-antlered muntjacs, langurs, macaques and Asian black bears, not to mention hundreds of species of birds, reptiles and amphibians. Only a fraction of the park is open to tourists, but it’s free to enter – you only pay for the specific attractions – and phenomenal views open across the rugged landscape from the 65km loop via Highway 20 and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The botanical gardens are 12km from town and you can explore on foot, scrambling down to Gio Waterfall for a dip.

There’s also the entrance of the Eight Ladies’ Cave to visit. Here, a temple honours the eight young locals who, in 1972, were trapped and entombed during an American bombing raid. The whole area was devastated during the Vietnam War (look out for the craters still dotting the countryside), and because there is still unexploded ordnance in the park, independent trekking is prohibited here.

Local operators Oxalis and Jungle Boss organise some intrepid multi-day treks in the jungle, where you sleep under canvas or in a minority village.

And outside the park?

Getting off the tourist trail and exploring the rice paddy farms and rural villages by bicycle is a joy; don’t miss Bong Lai Valley, which feels like the Vietnam of ten years ago. Bump along the dirt roads to visit The Duck Stop where friendly host Quynh will show you round his family’s pepper plantation.

I’m sold. How do I get there and where do I sleep?

Phong Nha is increasingly on the traveller’s radar and the small town of the same name is now a drop-off point on tour buses. If you don’t fancy the sleeper bus from Hanoi (10hr) you can take a bus or train to nearby Dong Hoi and take a taxi or the hourly local bus to Phong Nha Town (45km).

Phong Nha Town

Phong Nha Town (sometimes known as Son Trach) has one length of road that has recently developed into a bustling centre for the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Backpackers are well catered for here, with Easy Tiger hostel at the centre of everything – there’s a free information talk at 9am every day. Plenty of simple accommodation is also available in town, and you can stroll up and down to check a few rooms.

Farmstay Village and around

Rural villages surround Phong Nha Town and it’s easy to find a homestay. Grab a map and head to Farmstay Village where accommodation is well signposted, but be aware that homestays (usually around $10 a night) are fairly basic and not much English is spoken. For a little more luxury, Phong Nha Farmstay has the same peaceful rustic setting, but with a pool and restaurant.

Dong Hoi

This is where the nearest airport and train station is, 50km from the park – but don’t be fooled into thinking that the city of Dong Hoi is just a transport hub. Quietly engaging and particularly lovely where the Nhat Le River meets the sea, you could stay here and take day-time forays into the park. Sitting right on the beach is Beachside Backpackers and there are some gorgeous cafés and restaurants along the riverfront.

Space tourism: an interview with an astronaut

What’s the view like from space?

The first time you look out the window once you’re in space, I think the reaction of every astronaut is about the same: first there’s this huge gasp. It goes “Aw, wow!”. You just can’t believe what you’re looking at.

Even though I had seen many pictures of the Earth taken from space – and I had seen the huge IMAX movies with images of Earth – when I saw it with my own eyes, I just gasped.

I was amazed at the blackness of space. It’s a darker, richer colour than I’d ever seen before.

And there, right up against the blackness of space, you have the beautiful blue Earth and the thin layer of atmosphere that’s protecting us. It looks quite infinite when you’re down on the surface, but from above, looking back at the Earth, our atmosphere appears a paper-thin layer. You sense how fragile this planet really is.


What are the best views of Earth from space?

I always loved passing over Egypt. To see the Nile River – this bright green pathway cutting through the centre of Egypt – was just spectacular. You see the blue water of the Mediterranean and the brown desert areas. This contrast between brown, green and bright blue was just breathtaking and, because I had visited there on Earth, it was extra special for me to see from space.

Another favourite view that we all had – I think almost all the astronauts on board the shuttle agreed – is passing over the Kennedy Space Center. Every time we would pass over there we’d have our noses to the window, pressed up against the glass, and we’d be looking down saying: “Oh there’s our launch pad. There’s our landing strip.”

I remember on my first mission, we had launched, and it was a little more than an hour after we’d been in space. I happened to look out the window and I saw Tampa Bay coming up. Just a few seconds later we passed right over the Kennedy Space Center.

As I looked back up at the launch pad, I saw 39A there right, where we had lifted off from an hour and a half earlier. I thought: “I have just been around planet Earth one time and my family is probably stuck in traffic waiting to get back to their hotel after watching the launch.”

That really put it all in perspective for me – where I was and what I was doing.

What’s the in-flight food and entertainment like on a spacecraft?

The food is not good, but it’s not horrible. It’s OK. I tell people I would never go to a restaurant that serves space food. It’s all freeze-dried, so it’ll stay preserved in that state for a number of years; we don’t have refrigerators and freezers up in space.

I think the most popular entertainment for astronauts is looking out the window – and I do this on a commercial airplane flight too. I love sitting near the window and just watching the Earth go by.

The big difference for us in space, instead of on an airplane, is that when you see a city go by the window, it’ll take a few minutes. Up in space we’ll see countries and continents go by in that same time.We’ll look out at the planet and see features like the top of Mount Everest or the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon rainforest.

I got to see so many incredible sights – it was always an amazing opportunity to see our planet, to see places and things that I had only read about in books earlier.

Do you think space is the future of travel?

Space tourism is definitely coming and we’re very, very close to it. I think it’s going to be an exciting adventure for everybody who participates. Once we send those first people up there’s going to be such a buzz about going into space. I think there’s going to be a long line of people who want to get in on that.

The more people that can get up to space to look back at planet Earth, I think the better off we’re all going to be. As soon as I had reached orbit and I’m looking out the window, one of the first thoughts I had was: “Boy, I wish my mother could see this, my wife could see it, my brothers and sisters, my friends.”

I wanted everybody to see the perspective that I just had. And I say that, if anybody looked out the window just for 10–15 seconds, that would be all it would take to change you forever and how you view planet Earth.

We all have our essential items for travelling – what’s in an astronaut’s suitcase?

You know NASA packs everything for us, so we don’t have to do much thinking. They pack all of our food, all of our clothes, cameras. Everything we could possibly need up there, NASA provides.

Do you love or hate flying on normal airliners?

I still enjoy travelling on airplanes and flying over continents. I love looking out the window and seeing sights down below. I love flying with a map, so I can try to figure out where we are all the time too. But I do find it a little slow.

Once you’ve flown on the space shuttle at 18,000mph – and you can orbit the Earth in a mere 90 minutes – sometimes I get a little impatient as it takes multiple hours to cross the Atlantic.

Has being launched in a spaceship ruined rollercoasters for you?

I have to admit that space travel – and my training at NASA – has totally ruined going to an adventure park or theme park. And rollercoasters in particular. I can get on the scariest rollercoaster, you’ll strap me in and it’s like: “Been there done that.”

If you could go anywhere on Earth, where would you go?

I think at the top of my list would be the Outback. When I passed over it on the shuttle and looked out the window, I could swear I was flying over Mars. It had the same red-orange soil there. It just looked awesome down there, and so unique, so I’ve always been fascinated to see it.

6 reasons your next trip should be to Durban, South Africa

1. Durban is probably South Africa’s coolest city

“Durbs” has a rep for being cooler than Cape Town and Jo’burg, and the city has an enviable list of hip places to stay and eat. First up is a fabulous boutique hotel, The Concierge Bungalows, with its attached Freedom Café built out of a shipping container. Then there’s Distillery 031, knocking out locally flavoured spirits (African Rosehip gin anyone?) and the Unity Bar and Brasserie, which brews its own Cowbell Pilsner and grills a mean steak.

Last but not least, make a trip to the Artisanal Bakery in Glenwood, Durban’s answer toNew York City‘s Williamsburg or London‘s Dalston. The locals here know their sourdough from their focaccia.

2. There’s great surf to be had

Unlike the frigid waters around Cape Town, Durban’s coastline is lapped by the warm currents of the Indian Ocean allowing you to swim or surf without a wetsuit. The best breaks are found at South Beach, where Saffa surfers congregate in the morning before grabbing chicken and tijps (chips) at local institution Afro’s Chicken.

South Beach is just one of many surfing hotspots along the city’s revamped “Golden Mile”. For families, Addington Beach is the best place for some gentle body boarding. If you’re a total “kook” (beginner), book a surf lesson with Ocean Ventures.

3. There’s something here for history buffs

Get your historical bearings at Francis Farewell Square, dominated by Durban’s Neo-Baroque City Hall. This is where the swampy trading post of Port Natal was established in 1824 on land ceded by Zulu King Shaka. In 1899, Winston Churchill took to the steps of City Hall to tell tales of his escape from a Boer War POW Camp (a plaque marks the spot).

Across the park, littered with the statues of bewhiskered Victorians, is the Old Court House where a 24-year-old Mohandas Gandhi practised law and caused some consternation by refusing to remove his turban.

A few blocks north, the Kwa Muhle Museum details the indignities of apartheid experienced in the city.


4. The Indian Quarter is a gourmand’s delight

Home to the largest concentration of Indians outside of India, Durban sometimes resembles a mini Mumbai with its sari shops and spice merchants. Aside from the atmospheric appeal of the Indian Quarter, with its mosques and Art Deco architecture, the real highlight is the food.

As well as tasty samosas stuffed with sweet potato and chutney, don’t miss Durban’s most famous dish, bunny chow – a hollowed-out loaf of white bread stuffed with curry stew (mutton or chicken rather than rabbit). You’ll find it at any hole-in-the wall curry wallah, but one of the best is served at the Oriental in the Workshop Shopping Centre. Wash it down with the bright pink rose-flavoured milkshake Bombay Crush.

5. The city’s townships are a joy to explore

Durban’s townships are as much a part of the city experience as golden sand and bunny chow. Pootling around in a tourist hire car is probably not the best move, however, so it’s worth booking a guided tour with Street Scene. Their township itinerary takes in two areas – Inanda and KwaMashu –  and includes a traditional barbecue lunch or shisha nyama (the Zulu version of the South African braai).

To sample some township nightlife head to Max’s Lifestyle in Umlazi where the sound systems crank out Kwaito House and stripped-down Durban speciality “gqom”.

6. You can find a touch of luxury

To escape traffic-clogged, downtown Durban head to Umhlanga Rocks, which resembles a kind of Malibu or Hamptons by the Indian Ocean. The grande dame of the scene here is theOyster Box hotel, a 5-star Colonial-style retreat with swishing paddle fans, towering palms and black and white chequerboard floors facing some prime beachfront.

Trips for travellers who want to learn something new

Cook up a storm in Chiang Mai

Blessed with some of the world’s best street food, you could be forgiven for coming to Chiang Mai and spending your entire trip indulging in everything from the spiciest tom yum soup to searching for the perfect pad thai. But chances are you’re going to want to learn how to make these delicious dishes yourself. Thankfully, Chiang Mai has several options for curious cooks looking to pick up new culinary skills, with schools dotted through town.

Based on the edge of the city, teachers from Thai Farm Cooking School ( will collect you from your guest house, take you shopping in local markets and teach you about spices, rice and flavours. You’ll then decamp to its organic farm base, where you’ll learn to cook six dishes. After cooking up a storm, pupils and teachers sit down together to taste everyone’s creations.

Become a gaucho in Argentinian Patagonia

Forget childhood riding classes on sleepy farmsteads. Hopping on a horse in Argentina’s spectacular Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in Patagonia means scaling mountains and splashing through rivers, all while learning how to round up cattle on vast ranches.

23km north of Bariloche, Cabalgatas Carol Jones ( is the ideal place for first-timers and seasoned riders. The eponymous Carol Jones runs half-day, whole-day and multi-day trips around her ranch and beyond, teaching you how to control your steed and bring cattle to heel as well as giving consummate lessons on the area’s wildlife and history. She’s eminently qualified, too – her grandfather, Jarrod Jones, was a Texan pioneer who came to the area in 1889.

Sharpen your photography on a Kenyan safari

For many people, an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that’ll see your camera called into service constantly. But those who want to get incredible shots of big game need an expert guide and plenty of time in one of the continent’s richest reserves.

Paul Goldstein, Exodus Travel’s resident safari photographer (, leads six-day trips in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, where visitors will learn how to capture leopards, cheetahs, lions and black rhino perfectly. Drives start before daybreak and can last all day, but the rewards are plentiful. Few travel experiences can match standing in the back of an open-sided 4×4 taking pictures as a pride of lion pads across the open plain or a herd of elephants stops for a drink at a waterhole as the sun comes up.

Get to grips with yoga in Bali

Stretching out on a yoga mat is a surefire way to feel healthy and blissed out on your travels. The pretty town of Ubud, deep in the heart of Bali, is arguably the best place on the planet to get your fix and perfect moves you only practise once a month at the local gym.

The Yoga Barn (, set on the edge of town and overlooking green paddy fields and swaying palms, has 15 classes a day to choose from, as well as offering regular, multi-day retreats and multi-class passes for those staying longer term. The three large, open-sided studios have views to die for, while the in-house café is the perfect place to prolong that chilled vibe once class is over.

Become a kendo master in Japan

The Japanese martial art of kendo, literally ‘sword way’, sees hardened participants don armour and take each other on using bamboo swords. Its techniques are similar to those used by ancient samurai warriors, making the modern sport a gateway into the history of this fascinating country.

Atlas Japan Tour ( runs a special class for visitors in the northern town of Nonoichi, taught by locals every other Saturday. They’ll give you a crash course in the sport’s past, as well as teaching you how to safely take on and beat your opponents. Fear not, all kit is supplied and you don’t need to be a hardened swordsman to take part either.

Dive into wild swimming in the English Lakes

The mountains of England’s Lake District have long been a magnet for walkers. But there’s a quiet revolution going on, with visitors wading out into the waters of Buttermere, Wast Water and the area’s other stunning lakes for a refreshing dip instead of taking a long hike.

For those who’ve never swum outside the confines of an indoor pool, Swim The Lakes ( has a half-day ‘introduction to open water swimming’ course, suitable for complete beginners through to hardened triathletes. Experienced guides will take you into the cooling depths of Windermere and tell you about technique and how to build stamina, all while getting a frog’s eye view of this beautiful corner of the British Isles.

Where to find family adventure in the wintry Canadian Rockies

The best downhill skiing in the Canadian Rockies

Many Canadians start skiing as soon as they can walk. As a result, the Rocky Mountain area has plenty of facilities for children on its slopes. For a full-on downhill experience, the local national parks (Banff and Jasper) are particularly well-endowed offering four major ski resorts with several others perched temptingly on the periphery.

Top of the pile in more ways than one is Banff’s Sunshine Villagewedged high up on the Continental Divide and famed for its heavy snowfalls and ski-in hotel. Next comes diminutive Mt Norquay, an under-the-radar day-use area located just outside Banff town.

However, the prize for the most family-friendly ski resort in the Rockies has to go to Lake Louise. Named for the robin-egg blue lake that enamours hikers and honeymooners in the summer, Lake Louise is the second-largest ski area in Canada (after Whistler) and offers an impressive web of 145 varied runs including lots of beginner terrain. Adding to its kudos are a tube park, bags of ski schools, guided wildlife tours (on snowshoes), and the finest snow-encrusted mountain views you could ever wish to see. In the unlikely event that your kids get bored or knackered, stick them on the Lake Louise gondola, a spectacular 14-minute cable-car ride worthy of a National Geographic documentary. If they’re really young, there’s a reputable childcare facility at the mountain base that offers kinderski classes for three- to four-year-olds. The resort’s only real drawback is that, despite its size, it gets pretty busy (read: long lift lines), especially at weekends. Crowd-haters might want to head to smaller, quieter Nakiska in Kananaskis Country just outside the national park, a favourite among in-the-know families from the nearby city of Calgary.

Cross-country skiing in Canmore and beyond

People with kids often dismiss cross-country skiing as too difficult, the lofty preserve of ridiculously fit Norwegian Olympians with hearts the size of elephants. But, while it might not have the rollercoaster appeal of downhill, cross-country skiing has a long Canadian heritage and it’s the only effective way to explore the Rockies’ rugged trails in winter.

A good initiation to the sport’s energy-efficient push-and-glide technique is the Canmore Nordic Centre. Nestled in the crock of the mountains to the west of town, this huge trail centre was originally developed for the 1988 Winter Olympics. In summer it’s one of the most comprehensive mountain-bike parks in western Canada, with over 65km of trails. In winter, many of the trails are specially groomed for cross-country. With its well-mapped network of terrain graded for different skill levels and anchored by a warm clubhouse that plies refreshments and offers equipment rental and lessons, this is one of the safest, family-friendly ski resources in Canada. The national Olympic team regularly use it for training.

With your confidence cemented at Canmore, the whole cornucopia of the Rockies is at your disposal. The real beauty of cross-country skiing is that it allows you to venture out and explore less crowded corners such as Yoho National Park in BC or the Great Divide trail at Lake Louise. Think of it as a faster, more fitness-enhancing version of hiking. Kids with their low centre of gravity and innate sense of balance will master it as readily as adults.


Skating is a national obsession in Canada and one of the most sociable ways for families to keep warm. Forget traditional rinks. Indoor skating is considered anathema in the Rocky Mountains, where ponds and lakes etched against a backdrop of heavenly scenery regularly freeze over for months at a time. You’ll never want to skate inside again once you’ve experienced the beauty of the world’s most spectacular ice rink, aka Lake Louise, framed by an amphitheatre of glacier-covered mountains.

Further north in Jasper, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge sweeps a large floodlit area for skating on Lac Beauvert, as well as another Zamboni-cleared oval on nearby Mildred Lake. Enterprising locals set up benches for sunny relaxation, while spontaneous hockey games erupt and free hot chocolate reinvigorates shivering youngsters.


Fat-bikes are sturdy off-road bicycles with over-sized, low-pressure tires that are ideal for riding through snow. They’re perfect for Jasper National Park, Banff’s wilder, steelier northern neighbour. Jasper is revered by insiders for its extensive network of multipurpose trails. In contrast to stricter US parks, cyclists experience few limitations here and, over the years, the park has developed some of the most varied and technically challenging bike rides in North America. These trails have recently experienced a winter renaissance thanks to the relatively new sport of fat-biking. Jasper has plenty of fat-bike options from easy ambles through the Athabasca Valley to bracing workouts that will stretch, challenge and entertain teenagers and young adults. Numerous local operators rent bikes.

Ice walks

In winter, many of the Rockies’ iconic waterfalls freeze solid. Equipped with rappels and ice axes, fearless climbers can be seen tackling the slippery behemoths with breath-taking agility. Those with more modest ambitions (and who may have kids to entertain) can study the trippy ice formations, including ice caves, on a guided ice walk while observing the climbers vicariously. Wildlife sightings, an oft-forgotten winter attraction in the Rockies, will keep children happy along the way. Excursions to Banff’s Grotto Canyon and Jasper’s Maligne Canyon are organized by local tour operators. Warm boots and cleats are provided.

Hit the hot springs

Up here, the ultimate post-adventure winter indulgence is a hot bath, preferably taken in a steaming outdoor pool where you can still feel part of your frosty surroundings. The Canadian Rockies has three hot springs, two of which remain open during the winter. First is the family pool at Banff Upper Hot Springs, which sits at the base of the Sulphur Mountain and looks out at the giant geology lesson that is Mt Rundle. Quieter and less famous is Radium Hot Springs in BC, where, unlike Banff, the pools are odourless. Radium’s westerly location also provides a good excuse to explore the snowy wilderness of Kootenay National Park.

Winter sports in the Slovenian Alps

Unspoilt wilderness in Vogel

The only ski area situated within the Triglav National Park, Vogelbenefits from an almost unbelievably picturesque location, surrounded by towering mountains and with views over Lake Bohinj towards Mt Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak. The terrain is unusually beautiful too – an array of snowy hillocks, which feels like skiing on the contours of a fluffy cloud or through a Renaissance vision of heaven.

Despite its relatively diminutive size (22km of pistes), the area’s varied topography makes it feel much bigger, and there’s a magical laid-back atmosphere, perfect for carefree coasting down the well-groomed blue and red runs. When conditions are right and there’s plenty of snow, it’s also a great destination for off-piste skiing and ski touring.

Most skiers stay down in the pretty Bohinj Valley, taking the high-speed gondola up from Ukanc, but there are restaurants, bars, ski-hire facilities, chalets and even a hotel up on the mountain.

Family-friendly facilities at Kranjska Gora

Uniquely for Slovenia’s major ski resorts, Kranjska Gora’s ski area is located directly adjacent to the village, allowing many of its hotels to offer ski-in, ski-out access. The piste layout is compact and straightforward, with several parallel lifts providing access to a range of side-by-side nursery, blue and red slopes. It’s a perfect proposition for families and beginners, as it’s virtually impossible to lose anyone and super-easy for parents to swing by and check on their kids in ski school.

Plenty of artificial snow cannons make up for the relatively low altitude, and night skiing until 10pm makes it easy to pack plenty of slope time into even a short visit. More advanced skiers can test their mettle on the steeper red and black runs over the hill in Podkoren, including a challenging world-cup downhill run that seems almost vertical in places.

Cross-border skiing at Kanin

Slovenia’s highest ski area, right on the border with Italy, Kaninreopened in the 2016–17 season after refurbishment of the cable-car connecting it to the town of Bovec in the Soča Valley below. In contrast to the Cold War era, when the border with Italy was guarded by soldiers with guns, skiers can now pass freely across into Italy thanks to a state-of-the-art cable car connection with the resort of Sella Nevea.

Kanin’s runs are sunny and south-facing, ideal during chillier conditions, whereas Sella Nevea’s north-facing runs come into their own as conditions warm up. The scenery on both sides is spectacular, with dramatic rocky outcrops and views all the way to the Adriatic sea on clear days.  Thanks to high altitudes of up to 2300 metres, conditions remain good into the spring, allowing the unique possibility of a combining winter- and water-sports in the same holiday once the rafting season has begun in mid-March down in the Soča Valley below.

Slovenian Alps Regional Ski Pass

Although most of Slovenia’s ski areas are relatively small, suitable for beginners, families and those on short breaks, a great option for more experienced skiers is to combine more than one resort in the same holiday, using the regional ski pass ( This currently covers Vogel, Kranjska Gora, Krvavec (30km of pistes located close toLjubljana’s airport), Cerkno (a family-friendly area incorporating a thermal spa) and Dreiländereck, just over the border in Austria, and may be expanded to include Kanin in the 2017–18 season.

Though not a winter-sports hub itself, picture-postcard Bled, with its pretty lake and castle, is located just a 35-minute drive from Vogel, Kranjska Gora and Krvavec. You can get a great deal by buying your ski pass as a package with accommodation in Bled, with some three-star hotels charging as little as €69 for one night’s accommodation and a two-day lift pass.

Cross-country skiing and biathlon at Pokljuka

The Pokljuka Plateau is the perfect place to get back to nature, skiing through towering coniferous forests and beautiful alpine meadows, without the infrastructure and hustle-bustle of a major ski resort. The heavily forested plateau is situated on the eastern edge of the Triglav National Park at an elevation of around 1,100 to 1,400 metres.

Slovenia’s prime destination for cross-country skiing, it has over 30km of cross-country tracks that snake through the wonderfully peaceful forests and out into sunny meadows that become pastures for cows in summer. Visitors can hire equipment and take lessons in cross-country skiing, and also try their hand at biathlon (a combination of skiing and shooting), using an air rifle.

Learn to ice-climb in the Mlačca Gorge

Adventurous types who dream of strapping on crampons, wielding a pair of ice axes and hacking their way up a frozen waterfall will find that it’s easy to turn their ice-climbing dreams into reality in Slovenia.  The ideal place to get started is the Mlačca Gorge (, not far from Kranjska Gora, where local ice-enthusiast Pavel Skumavc creates artificial waterfalls each winter by trickling water down the frozen cliffs each night.

Switzerland for nature lovers

On a high in Valais

Nothing says Switzerland more than that mountain. As the train chugs from Täsch to the ritzy outdoor resort of Zermatt, the pop-up effect of the Matterhorn is surreal. The 4478m fang of rock and ice forces your gaze skywards and elicits gasps of wonder.

Closer, you say? Kein problem. The Gornergratbahn, Europe’s highest cogwheel railway, has been trundling up to Gornergrat (3089m) since 1898. At the summit, the view of the Gorner Glacier and 29 peaks rising above 4000m – including Switzerland’s highest, Dufourspitze (4634m) – opens up. Skiers, mountaineers and hardcore hikers are in their element at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Europe’s highest cable-car station on the Klein Matterhorn (3883m), with views reaching deep into the Swiss, French and Italian Alps.

Ever since British climber Edward Whymper made the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 – albeit a triumph marred by rope-breaking tragedy – Zermatt has been the Holy Grail for mountaineers. Here you can tackle some of Europe’s most epic ascents: the Matterhorn, say, or Monte Rosa (4634m), with an Alpine Center guide. Hikers, meanwhile, can set out along the two-hour, 6.5km Matterhorn Glacier Trail. When the flakes fall in winter, the car-free resort is laced with 360km of ski runs in the Matterhorn’s shadow, some of which dip over the border into Italy.

Among alpine giants

The Matterhorn gets a lot of love, but swing north and follow the Rhône River east along the serene, remote valley of the Goms in Valaisand you enter another world. Here tiny hamlets with baroque churches and sun-blackened chalets are dwarfed by the dramatic backdrop. FromFiesch, take the cable car up to Fiescheralp, where paragliders catch thermals on clear days, then beyond to Eggishorn for one of Switzerland’s most unforgettable sights: the mighty Aletsch Glacier.

The icing on the cake of the Unesco World Heritage Jungfrau-Aletsch region, this is the longest and most voluminous glacier in the Alps: a 23km swirl of deeply crevassed ice that powers its way past waterfalls, spires of rock and the dagger-shaped summit of Aletschhorn (4193m) like a six-lane glacial superhighway. You can admire it from the viewpoint, but you’ll get much closer on the 17km, five- to six-hour hike from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp, which is where you can be at one with the phenomenal views and perhaps spot the odd Valais blacknose sheep. For more of an instant thrill, walk (if you dare) the Aletschji–Grünsee Suspension Bridge, which spans the terrifyingly untamed, 80m-deep Massa Gorge.

Over the mountain as the crow flies lies the Bernese Oberland, presided over by its ‘big three’: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau (Ogre, Monk and Virgin), all hovering around the 4000m mark. The picture-perfect resorts of Grindelwald, Wengen and Mürren are great bases for hitting trails like the 6km Eiger Trail, with fearsome North Face views. More spectacular still, the full-day, 15.9km trek from Schynige Platte plateau via Faulhorn to First has views of lakes Thun and Brienz to make you yodel out loud. Or enjoy knockout peak and glacier views with zero effort by taking the train from Kleine Scheidegg up to 3454mJungfraujoch, Europe’s highest railway station.

Into the Engadin

Evocative of a golden age of travel, Switzerland’s train journeys are some of the world’s finest. There are big mountain views on repeat aboard the Glacier Express, which negotiates the Furka, Oberalp and Bernina passes on the eight-hour ride between Zermatt and St Moritz inGraubünden’s Upper Engadin.

Switzerland’s cradle of winter tourism since the mid 19th century, St Moritz is enshrined in sporting legend, home to slopes of Olympic fame and host to world championship events. Skiing ramps things up a notch in winter, with 350km of pistes, first-class freeriding opportunities, forested cross-country trails and heart-stopping black runs on 2978m Diavolezza.

The resort is every bit as alluring in summer. Hiking trails thread for mile after lovely mile, mountain bikers are in their element on 400km of terrain – the Suvretta Loop single trail is a classic – and wind- and kite-surfers drift across Silvaplana’s startlingly turquoise, wind-buffeted lakes in wonder.

For a taste of the Alps before the dawn of tourism, head northeast to theSwiss National Park in the Lower Engadin. Easily accessed from the quaint villages of Scuol, Zernez and S-chanf, Switzerland’s only national park is a nature-gone-wild spectacle of high moors, pastures, glaciated mountains, larch woodlands and topaz-coloured lakes. The only way to see it is by striking out on foot on one of 80km of marked trails. Go solo or hook onto a guided walk with the visitor centre in Zernez. With an expert in tow, you stand better chances of spotting rarities like wild edelweiss, ibex, chamois, golden eagles and bearded vultures.

Land of lakes & legends

Sitting on the mountain-rimmed shores of its eponymous lake, Lucerne, with its pristine Old Town, medieval wooden bridge and promenade, is every inch as genteel as it was back in the 19th century when Goethe, Wagner and Queen Victoria fell for its charms. And Lake Lucerne is no ordinary lake: this is where the Swiss legends were made and born. Cruise the fjord-like waters of Lake Uri and you’ll glimpse Rütli Meadow, hallowed birthplace of the Swiss Confederation in 1291, and the Tells’ Chapel, where apple-shooting hero and Swiss rebel William Tell apparently escaped from the boat of his Hapsburg captor, Gessler.

Lucerne itself is a cracking base for striking out into the surrounding lakes on low-key adventures. Without venturing too far or expending too much effort, you can marvel at the Alps cycling the trails rimming the waterfront, taking a refreshing dip at lakefront beaches in the warmer months, or hiring a boat to explore Lake Lucerne at your own steam.