Category Archives: Travel

Review of Places In Mahamaya, Gili Meno, Bali

Stylish eco-hotel Mahamaya is one of the newest properties on the relaxed, relatively unspoiled Indonesian island of Gilo Meno, a 90-minute boat ride from bustling Bali. Anna Smith checks in.

First impressions

Mahamaya may be an affordable eco resort, but arriving there by speedboat we feel like a million dollars. Staff line up on the pure white coral beach to meet us and carry our luggage while we marvel at the sight of this glistening white modern hotel with its silver sign reading, in Indonesian, ‘Ultimate Paradise’.

Maya is also the name of the owner’s niece: this boutique hotel was set up by Brit entrepreneur David, whose sister Ali married a talented Indonesian chef who heads up the kitchen. This family affair launched just a couple of years ago and has quickly become a favourite with honeymooners. Check-in is smiley and efficient, containing an important briefing on conserving the water and electricity in this very environmentally conscious hotel.

Ideal for…

Couples on a romantic break looking to get away from it all. Those with young children are also well served.

The room

Rooms are either spacious pool suites just off from the beach, or two beachfront villas either side of the main building. Décor is relaxed and modern with original art adorning the walls. The pleasant bathrooms feature an outdoor shower and a fresh drinking water dispenser with a small minibar fridge.

Best room?

Candy Villa is a favourite with many returning guests. Set next to the restaurant, the self-contained villa overlooks the stunning beach yet enjoys it own sandy terrace with a table and chairs as well as two boat-shaped sun loungers and umbrella. Only the occasional horse and cart, jewellery seller or other guest is likely to wander past. Attentive but unobtrusive staff regularly smooth down the sand.

Eating and drinking

Breakfast is a classy but casual affair in the beachside restaurant, with doors flung open onto the beach. Staff quickly serve up coffee, tea and freshly squeezed juices from the funky bar – our orange juice arrived in a Martini glass clinking with ice (made from fresh water, so no need to worry about tummy upsets). A buffet bar offers cornflakes, muesli and a selection of tasty local treats that vary from day to day – we enjoyed the pink coconut and brown sugar pancakes. Order from a good selection for your cooked dish, including cinnamon French toast, Eggs Benedict and the local dish,nasi goreng (fried rice dish).

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Dinner is when Mahamaya comes alive. Couples sit overlooking the sea at a discreet distance from each other, while round wicker lamps hang harmoniously from trees. Post happy hour (two-for-one cocktails), the scene is perfectly set for romance, with many a successful proposal taking place here. Heart-shaped petals lead the happy couple to a table squared off with yet more petals – staff ask for permission to enter the hallowed ground while serving up sparkling wine and a delicious three-course meal including spring rolls, beef rendang and home-baked cake with ice cream. No creaky violins here: we were treated to a fire poi performane featuring fiery twirling circus balls.

Extras

Snorkelling equipment of varying qualities is available to borrow freely by the pool, as are kayaks, weather depending. Other excursions can be arranged with reception. Plans are afoot for a small spa as well as additional rooms, which will take the room total to 18. There’s a small boutique selling jewellery and general supplies.

Room for improvement

You’ll need to bring your own toiletries as the bathroom isn’t fully stocked. And due to the remote location, the internet is sporadic. But who wants to look online when the outdoor views are this magical anyway?

Out and about

You can wander around the island of Gili Meno in an hour or so, enjoying the sight of locals painting their boats, feeding their chickens or ushering you into their beachfront bars for a cool Bintang beer. Take a left down the path from Mahamaya and you’ll find a warm welcome at the relaxed, ramshackle reggae bar Sasak. Take a boat over to nearby Gili Trawangan for more lively nightlife.

Now Exploring Norway’s north

The Nordlandsbanen rail route is a storybook of varied landscapes. Skirting alongside the rugged islets of Norway’s jagged coastline, and gliding inland between undulating hills overlain with rich green pines, the dramatic scenery is punctuated only by the irresistible opportunities to hop off and explore. A journey on the Nordlandsbanen will allow you to experience fascinating tales of the past, to be stirred by the power of nature, and to taste the fresh flavours of the region.

The journey

Though perhaps less well-known than the Oslo-Bergen train ride, the Nordlandsbanen, which stretches northwards for 729km between regal Trondheim and spirited Bodø, could certainly lay claim to being the more unique route. As well as being Norway’s longest train line, it also crosses the Arctic Circle, the only railway in the world to do so.

An efficient service and spacious, comfortable trains make it a delightfully sedate way to make the ten-hour journey, but it’s the huge diversity of scenery that’s most appealing. Gently rolling, emerald-green fields rest under huge skies, and Norwegian flags whip proudly over the pillar-box red hytter (cabins) dotted haphazardly over the hillsides. Moments later, the train will track its way through dense woodland, a wall of pine trees on either side of the train breaking just long enough to snatch a two-second-long postcard of mist haunting the treetops in a shadowy forest beyond.

Then, coasting out of a tunnel, the ground will fall away to one side, and suddenly a 100m-high waterfall appears. Plummeting into a churning white froth below, the roaring deluge plays out silently on the other side of the train window. Such spellbinding scenes speed past repeatedly, and then evaporate into the distance, only to be replaced by another a few moments later.

Highlights of the Nordlandsbanen

All aboard at Trondheim

Before you board the train in Trondheim, take some time to explore the picture-postcard pretty city itself. The compact centre is relatively flat and easy to explore on foot or by bike. Marvel at the mighty Nidaros Domkirke, an ornate Gothic cathedral built on the burial ground of the much-revered Viking King Olav II, then linger as you cross over the quaint Old Town Bridge for views of the 18th-century waterside warehouses.

Trondheim’s old-world charm continues at Baklandet Skydsstasjon. Owner Gurli serves up hearty, homemade fare such as super-fresh fish soup and silky-smooth blueberry cheesecake. Wash it down with that most Nordic of spirits, the potent, herby aquavit: there are 111 varieties to choose from here. Meanwhile, across town, sleek Mathall Trondheim (mathalltrondheim.no) – part store, part bar-restaurant – offers a more modern take on classic Norwegian cuisine, serving up a variety of smørbrød and a good selection of craft beer.

Verdal for Stiklestad and The Golden Road of Inderøy

After a little less than two hours’ on the train from Trondheim, alight at Verdal for Stiklestad, the location of the famous battle of 1030 that saw the demise of King (later Saint) Olav. It’s now home to the Stiklestad National Cultural Centre, which hosts a variety of events throughout the year, and the 11th-century Stiklestad Church. This ancient place of worship was reputedly built over the stone on which Olav is said to have died.

Verdal (or alternatively Steinkjer, the next stop along), also makes a good jumping off point to explore The Golden Road – a route through traditionally agricultural Inderøy – which brings together a collective of sustainable culinary, cultural and artistic attractions, such as farm shops, restaurants and art workshops.

Swing by Nils Aas Kunstverksted (nils-aas-kunstverksted.no), a workshop and gallery dedicated to one of Norway’s most celebrated artists. Aas’ famous statue of King Haakon VII stands near the Royal Palace in Oslo, but a small collection of his pieces are also on display in a small sculpture garden just a few minutes’ stroll from the workshop.

The highlight of the road, though, is the aquavit tasting experience at Berg Gård (berg-gaard.no), a working farm with its own distillery. Book ahead to get rosy-cheeked while tasting this fiery spirit, flavoured with herbs and spices such as caraway, cardamom and anise, as the owner explains the artistry and innovation involved in creating it.

Must-see Mosjøen

A further three-hour train-glide north brings you to diminutive Mosjøen, nestled in the imposing Vefsnfjord and surrounded by wooded peaks. The oldest part of the town, Sjøgata, is almost an open-air museum in its own right: saved from demolition in the 1960s, the beautifully-preserved 19th-century wooden buildings tell the tale of a historically prosperous town, of hardy fishermen and thriving sawmills, a story echoed at the small but informative Jakobsensbrygga Warehouse museum.

Nowadays in Mosjøen the main industry is aluminium, and a factory hums somewhat incongruously amid its pristine surroundings. Nevertheless, the surrounding hills of the Helgeland region beckon visitors to explore. Hike up the 818m-high Øyfjellet for spectacular views of the town and beyond.

The town makes for a scenic spot to overnight and break up the journey to Bodø. With its cosy nooks and unique, one-room museum, Fru Haugans Hotel, northern Norway’s oldest inn, has occupied a peaceful spot on the Vefsna river since 1794.

Blink and you’ll miss it: crossing the Arctic Circle

From Mosjøen the landscape seems to change in preparation for the Arctic Circle crossing, as lush trees give way to the rolling rocky terrain and barren peaks of the Saltfjellet mountain range.

With no defining geographical features to signal your passage across The Circle and into the chilly wilds of Arctic north, you may have to use your imagination. But keep an eye out for the two large pyramidal cairns either side of the tracks, and Polarsirkelsenteret, a visitor centre visible some distance from the train line, to indicate that You Were Here.

Last stop Bodø for street art, sky-gazing and the Saltstraumen

The final stop on the line, Bodø is a proud and lively cultural hub, with the world-class concert venue, Stormen (stormen.no), and an impressive clutch of murals painted all over the city by international street-artists. One particular gem is After School by Rustam Qbic, a heart-warming homage to the aurora borealis that ensures the Northern Lights are always on show in Bodø.

If you’re not content with an artist’s impression, cross your fingers and hope to catch sight of the elusive aurora with your own eyes. The most vibrant sightings usually happen away from the light pollution of urban centres, but gaze skywards with a cocktail in hand on the balcony of Scandic Havet’s Sky Bar (scandichotels.com), and you might just be in luck.

End your journey on a high-octane note, by witnessing the fearsome force of the Saltstraumen, one of the world’s strongest tidal currents. Swirling into a frenzy every six hours, this furious maelstrom 33km from Bodø is caused by 400 million cubic metres of water rushing through a strait just 150m wide.

The Saltstraumen Bridge overlooks the strait, but a more exhilarating way to experience the power of the current is on a RIB boat excursion. Stella Polaris (stella-polaris.no) can zip you across the icy waters to the Saltstraumen at high speed, slowing down every now and then to catch a glimpse of local wildlife such as sea eagles and whales.

Highlight Destination In Kolkata

India’s second biggest city and the former capital of British India, Kolkata is perhaps unfairly associated with the extreme poverty and suffering that Mother Teresa sought to alleviate. Although today the city may boast crumbling Raj architecture, crazy traffic and sprawling slums, it is also considered India’s literary, cultural and spiritual centre and more sophisticated and modern than you’d expect.

That being said, on first impressions the city can appear overwhelming so make sure you consult our guide to Getting Around Kolkata before you even leave the airport. Don’t think about driving, and buses are also hopelessly overcrowded; instead, hop onto an auto-rickshaw, or one of the lumbering trams that circle the city. Taxis are also cheap and plentiful and work on a meter system.

Once you’re out and about, there are several not-to-be-missed sights. The Indian Museum, set in a building dating from 1875, offers an insight into the city during the colonial era as well as rare collections of historical importance that include art, archaeology, zoology and botany.

Another landmark you can’t help but notice is Victoria Memorial, a domed colonial-era marble building set on the edge of the Maidan, which happens to be one of the world’s largest urban parks.

The city also has a number of notable Hindu temples, a cathedral and a cemetery; for information and further inspiration see our guide on Things To See in Kolkata.

The majestic Raj-era Victoria Memorial
Hung_chung_chih/ Thinkstock

Boat tours of the Hoogly River, a distributary of the Ganges, are a great way to see the city, and usually include a stop at the Botanical Gardens and Belur Math, a complex founded by the 19th century sage, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who desired a unity of all religions. Sights here include a museum, a ghat and various temples – Ramakrishna Mandir is fittingly a fascinating fusion of Hindu, Christian and Islamic motifs.

Sustenance is easy to come by as Kolkata abounds in street food vendors offering delicious fare – try one of the Kathi rolls (Indian flatbreads served with various fillings) that the city is famous for.

You’ll also find Jewish bakeries, Chinese bazaars and international fare, but best of all is traditional Bengali cuisine, usually made from recipes passed through generations. Bengalis also love their desserts, so you’ll be spoiled for choice. We’ve selected some of the best restaurants in the city for our guide to Restaurants in Kolkata.

Kathi rolls are a popular roadside snack
Paul_Brighton/ Thinkstock

Kolkata is one of the best places in India to hear traditional music, so catch a performance at the Academy of Fine Arts. Those of a more hedonistic bent will find clubs catering to most tastes, from rock and dance to jazz, and a highlight of Nightlife in Kolkata has to be a visit to the Tollygunge, a private members country club with fading Raj-era décor and a bar. Temporary memberships are available; make sure you dress smartly for the occasion.

The weather in Kolkata really will impact your stay, so it’s advisable to visit during the months of October to April. In summer, temperatures are stifling, and the monsoon brings heavy rainfall from June-September.

The city is also a gateway to further delights, as covered in our section on What To Do in Kolkata. Sunderbans National Park, set 127km (79 miles) from the city, has a number of endangered species, including royal Bengal tigers, saltwater crocodiles and Ganges River dolphins.

Here Best Stargazing Sites in the World

Our ancestors used to look at the stars every night, making a deep connection with nature that’s now lost to a generation of city-dwellers. Happily, though, there are still plenty of places where you can see nature’s most dazzling show, and not all of them are remote. Here are ten of the best.

1) Mauna Kea, Hawaii

A visit to Hawaii already offers sun, sand and surf; travel to Big Island and you can revel in what many people consider to be the best stargazing on the planet. You may be at risk of altitude sickness (the top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, is 13,796ft above sea level) but the view is breathtaking in other ways too: a lack of light pollution ensures unparalleled visibility.

2) Atacama Desert, Chile

As one of the driest places in the world, Atacama Desert has few clouds, along with a high altitude and zero light pollution. What better way to experience it than by camping? Elqui Domos, in the Elqui Valley, is the only “astronomic hotel” in the Southern Hemisphere and offers domed tents with open ceilings and wooden cabins with decks.

3) Yangtze River Valley, China

You may not expect heavily polluted China to offer a top stargazing site, but the Yangtze River Valley swaps the lush scenery of Asia’s longest river by day with gorgeous glittering night skies. The Chinese have a long history of stargazing, too, dating back to 4 BC – one of the first observatories was built in Beijing during the Ming Dynasty.

4) Kruger National Park, South Africa

South Africa’s largest game reserve, where you can spot the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) is also great for stars, due to its flat grassy plains with very few trees. The park abounds with luxury lodges, so for a once-in-a lifetime experience, sit back with a gin and tonic and watch the fiery red and orange sunset quickly make way for an ink black sky studded with bright stars.

5) Kiruna, Sweden

Its location 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle makes Kiruna a prime spot to see the aurora borealis, or northern lights – although unfortunately these streaks of magical colour are never guaranteed. Other places you may get to see them include Trysil in Norway and Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

6) Los Angeles, California, USA

Not an obvious choice, we know, but Griffith Observatory on the top of Mount Hollywood has powerful telescopes, all the better for checking out the moon and stars on a clear night. By day, you can see the Hollywood sign, the Pacific Ocean and downtown LA, too. Famous for appearing in key scenes in Rebel Without A Cause in 1955, the observatory also recently featured in the top Oscars contender La La Land.

7) Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Exchange the neon stars of Las Vegas for Death Valley, only two hours’ drive away on the border of California and Nevada. As approximately 91% of the park is wilderness, there’s very little artificial light or pollution. The expansive vistas will open up a multitude of stars, but beware – visit in summer and temperatures could regularly top 100°F (38°C).

8) Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania, USA

Cherry Springs is located atop a great mountain range, its nearby communities set down in the valleys, ensuring minimal light pollution. It’s an amazing place to see the nucleus of the Milky Way, and it’s pretty straightforward to do so too: the Night Sky Viewing Area has public parking, information kiosks and benches. More serious enthusiasts can stay overnight in the Astronomy Observation Field and enjoy 360° views of the sky.

9) Crater Lake, Oregon, USA

Oregon’s only National Park, the remote Crater Lake is at 7,000ft elevation and its relatively isolated location ensures clear skies – and the sunsets and sunrises over the Crater, the USA’s deepest lake, are pretty incredible too. Stay at the Crater Lake Lodge in the heart of the action; there’s also a campsite.

10) Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, UK

England’s northernmost county is also one of its wildest, and Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is Europe’s largest protected area of night sky. Kielder Observatory is open to the public during events, but there are many spots throughout the area – some are remote, and others located near restaurants so you can make a fun evening out of it.

Strangest Museum In The World

Our selection ranges from the bizarre to the macabre to the silly – are you brave enough to set foot in any of them?

1. Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, Hólmavík, Iceland

Set in a small town on the Westfjords peninsula, this tiny museum explores a chilling period in the 17th century when over 100 convicted witches – the vast majority men – were burned at the stake. The big draw is a pair of necropants – a replica of magic pants made of human skin – and artefacts include runes, spells and skulls. On a serious note, this museum has important things to say about the human inclination, as seen throughout history, to persecute those they see as ‘other’.

2. The Museum of Bad Art, Massachusetts, USA

Located in a ramshackle basement under a theatre, this glorious museum celebrates bad art – and the sincerity and enthusiasm of those who ‘persevered despite things going horribly wrong’. Starting with an artwork found in the trash, the museum has gained international renown to the point where there have been two thefts. The founders say that most applicants don’t get in because their work isn’t bad enough; a lack of skill isn’t enough – the work needs to be compelling too. Even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.

3. Siriraj Medical Museum, Bangkok, Thailand

Nicknamed “The Museum of Death”, this macabre collection of five small museums is not for the faint-hearted –being greeted by the skeleton of the founder may clue you in for what’s ahead, but nothing prepares you for the displays. These include babies with genetic disorders, various parasites (including a metre-long tapeworm), the bodies of people who have had violent deaths, and, to top it all off, the startlingly mummified remains of a serial killer who ate children in the 1950s. On the plus side, the museums have a serious purpose, providing a valuable learning resource for medical professionals and students.

4. Avanos Hair Museum, Avanos, Turkey

 It sounds weird – a cave in rural Turkey adorned with the locks of hair of over 16,000 women, along with their names and addresses – and it is, but apparently this museum began as a stunt by a potter wanting to promote his workshops, and visitors are still invited to leave their own clippings. However, twice a year a ‘winning’ entrant is invited for an all-expenses paid stay at the attached guesthouse, along with a pottery course – so far so creepy – but the winner is chosen at random by a visitor – so maybe not. You decide.

5. KunstKamera, St Petersburg, Russia

Founded by Peter The Great in 1714, this is the oldest museum in the world as well as one of the oddest. Although Peter’s extensive collection of malformed children and dissected body parts in formaldehyde was intended to educate people that abnormalities were cased by quirks of nature, not demons, modern-day viewers may find it all a bit ghastly. If so, head for the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, in the same building; displays of clothing and artefacts chart the history of different cultures from around the world.

6. The Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia

Started by two artists, this museum displays the sentimental objects left over from broken relationships, and the accompanying stories of betrayal or loss lift these often everyday objects from the mundane to heart-rending. Exhibits range from the tragic to the bizarre, ranging from a single sock and a prosthetic leg to a diamond ring with the simple inscription “S(he) be(lie)ve(d)”. A second branch has just opened in Los Angeles- fittingly in Hollywood, the very place of broken dreams.

7. The Bunny Museum, Pasadena, USA

Yes, you’re invited to ‘hop on over’ to the Bunny Museum, home to over 30,000 collectibles, as well as live pet rabbits. Run by a couple who gift each other bunnies – and presumably ran out of space at home at some point – this museum is definitely run out of love and not a desire for profit. Incidentally, there are probably more rabbits in popular culture than you’d think – Bugs Bunny, Peter Rabbit, the March Hare, Thumper… It’s the ‘hoppiest place in the world’.

8. Cancun Underwater Museum, Cancun, Mexico

Dive into an eerie underworld where 500 algae-covered statues – ranging from statues modelled on locals from a nearby fishing village to cars and furniture – are slowly forming the largest artificial reef in the world. Devised as a way to attract divers from existing coral reefs that were being damaged, the statues have mostly been created by the celebrated British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, and provide a commentary on man’s relationship with nature, good and bad.

9. Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, New Delhi, India

Grab a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a guided tour through a room filled with some of the most unusual commodes, chamber pots and flush toilets found around the world… as well as a replica of Louis XIV’s throne (which had a dual function) and loos disguised as a stack of books or a treasure chest. Interestingly, the first toilets were probably used by the Indus Valley people (now Pakistan) around 2500 BC. The museum is run by a charity promoting clean sanitation, still a pressing issue in India.

10. Clown Hall of Fame and Research Centre, Baraboo, Wisconsin

If you have a fear of clowns (a.k.a coulrophobia) you probably won’t ever set foot into the town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, as it’s known as the circus capital of the world. The winter home of the famous Ringling Circus, the highlight here has to be the Clown Hall of Fame and Research Centre. This a great resource for clowns, with research, performances, seminars and workshops, as well as a Clown Hall of Fame, but visitors will find the memorabilia fascinating – this includes shelves of clown costumes, props, posters and musical instruments, as well as a clown car.

Info Bangkok city guide and what to do plus the best hotels, restaurants and bars

Bangkok Skyline at dusk

Floods, protests, power struggles, a military takeover – Krungthep, known to the rest of the world as Bangkok, has endured more than its share of hardships recently. The loss of the country’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who remained remarkably popular throughout his 70-year reign, hit particularly hard last year. Thailand’s populace is nothing if not resilient, though: after a dozen coups d’état in less than a century, they have to be – and, in spite of it all, the capital continues to flourish and, in the process, reshape its identity.

For decades, this was a city that imported everything, to which strings of glitzy megamalls attests. But somewhere along the way, Thailand began to foster its own considerable creative pool. Look closely and you’ll notice that generic luxury brands are ceding shelf space to funkier fashions by Thai designers; local chefs proudly flaunt family recipes on the hottest tables in town; and even north-eastern Thai folk music is in the midst of a revival.

 

Bangkok’s historic heart may rest on temple-studded Rattanakosin Island, but its contemporary pulse is scattered throughout smaller, splintered neighbourhoods in Sukhumvit, Sathorn and Silom and can be harder to pinpoint. Travellers looking to tap into the zeitgeist should venture past the backpacker cocoon of Khao San Road and make their way towards nearby Phra Athit Road, a boho hangout with live music venues and restaurants near the Chao Phraya river, then make a beeline for Chinatown. On Soi Nana, off Charoen Krung Road, minutes from Cantonese holes-in-the-wall and stores selling traditional herbal remedies, shophouses are being refurbished into galleries and unpretentious bars.

Booming, chaotic, at times overwhelming, but never, ever boring, Bangkok is more culturally diverse, complex and compelling than ever.

After stopping by celeb chef Ian Kittichai’s signature restaurant for updated Thai classics, such as massaman-braised lamb shanks and jasmine-infused panna cotta, you’ll want to learn how to cook like the maestro. Classes at Issaya

Art gallery crawl

Bangkok’s art movement has blossomed in recent years. Artha Gallery keeps the emphasis on regional talent from Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam. Over in Sathorn, head to Sathorn 11 Art Space, which features exhibitions on the ground floor and four resident artist studios above, and H Gallery, with edgy works by Asian artists in a converted mansion. Closer to the riverside, be sure to visit Bridge and The Jam Factory, housed in a sprawling multipurpose complex designed by starchitect Duangrit Bunnag.

An industrial space with eclectic collections, Speedy Grandma fills up with creative types at weekends. Treading the line between gallery and bar, Cho Why is one of several revamped shophouses injecting new energy into Chinatown. Events range from a street-art fest to a rooftop paella party. Across the street at 23 Bar and Gallery, the artsy incarnation of one of the city’s legendary dives, expect indie tunes and no-nonsense drinks.

Market hop

 

 

With more than 8,000 stalls selling everything from parakeets to pottery, Chatuchak Weekend Market, up by the Mo Chit BTS Skytrain station, remains the one to beat. Go early or late, when the tropical temperatures are more forgiving, as navigating the 27 sections can prove a dizzying experience. Plan for a post-shopping sundowner at Viva 8, a ramshackle bar with excellent mojitos where DJs spin house. Many up-and-coming Thai designers try to make it here first, so keep an eye out for next season’s labels before they hit the big time.

Head to Talad Rod Fai (Sri Nakarin Soi 51) and Talad Rod Fai 2 (Esplanade Complex) for all sorts of vintage bric-a-brac. At the Rot Boran Market (The Walk, Kaset-Nawamin road), known as the “Classic Car Market”, VW bugs and other old-school autos find new life as pop-ups selling just about everything.

Baan Silapin (The Artist’s House)

 

 

After visiting the requisite temples – Wat Saket for the view, Wat Phra Kaew for the glittering, gilded everything, and Wat Pho for a massage – and seeing all manner of standing, sitting and reclining Buddhas – head to the Thonburi side of the river for this lesser-known cultural gem: a teak house decorated with quirky sculptures. Shadow puppet performances, a traditional art that is becoming increasingly scarce, are worth seeing, but be sure to call ahead, as showtimes are irregular.
315 Wat Tong Salangam, Phet Kasem Road, +66 2 868 5279

Green escape

 

 

If the concrete jungle becomes a bit wearing, consider a cycling trip over to Phra Pradaeng, a mangrove-covered peninsula on the western side of the Chao Phraya.
ABC Amazing Bangkok Cyclist offers half-day tours for £29pp, including longtail boat transfers and mountain bike rentals, realasia.net

WHERE TO EAT

Street food

Salty, sweet and screaming hot, Bangkok’s street food is adored by all strata of society. Hygiene is sometimes questionable and MSG rampant, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from dining like a king on a shoestring budget. Keep your eyes peeled for rib-sticking jook (rice porridge with pork crackling and raw egg), comforting khao mun gai (chicken and rice) or its rarer, biryani-inspired cousin khao mok gai, crispy hoi tod (eggy mussel or oyster pancakes), fatty khao kha moo (meltingly tender braised pork leg with gravy), Isaan-style jim jum (hot pot), and the ubiquitous trio of gai yaang, som tom and khao niew (grilled chicken with spicy papaya salad and sticky rice). Noodles, including yen ta fo (neon-red glass noodles with tofu), ban mee (thin egg noodles often served with wontons), suki (bean thread noodles, egg, cabbage and seafood or meat) and richly flavoured kuai tiao ruea (“boat noodles” in a spiced, blood-enriched broth with offal), are served around the clock and can be ordered haeng (“dry” or stir-fried) or nam (“wet” with soup broth). For sugar fiends, khao niew mamuang (mango sticky rice) is a dependable go-to, but consider branching out to khanom krok (custardy coconut confections) and the dangerously craveable kluay kaek (deep-fried bananas in a coconut batter).

Gentrification has edged out many of Sukhumvit’s street eats, which means travelling a bit further to find larger pockets. Victory Monument and the surrounding area has an abundance, as do Silom and the historic areas of the city. Chinatown, especially Yaowarat and Charoen Krung roads, is packed with stalls that have been serving the same dishes for generations.

It might have started out as an artisanal pickle cannery in a hostel, but this eatery is currently whipping up some of the most interesting fare in town. As the name references, 80% of ingredients are local, while the remaining 20% allow for creative wiggle room. Chef Napol Jantraget delights in genre-bending plates like charcoal-grilled squid with fingeroot glaze, black garlic paste, popped rice berries, roasted peanuts and local sour greens that are rooted in Thai traditions, but also draw on his time at a brasserie in Toronto.
1052-1054 Charoen Krung Road, +66 2 639 1135, on Facebook

Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan Jones, a Thai-Australian chef duo who cut their teeth at London’s Nahm, are best-known for their uncompromising Thai fine-dining eatery Bo.lan. The pair’s second offering ditches the fancier trappings in favour of gutsy countryside bites, best washed down with a Chang beer or a whisky-soda. Order a couple of rounds and nibble on sai ouwa (coconut-smoked northern sausage, £4) and kor moo yang (grilled pork neck with tamarind sauce, £5), while deciding which mains to share.
394/35 Maharaj Road,+66 2 622 2291, errbkk.com

Supanniga Eating Room

Rare Khon Kaen and Trat recipes from the owner’s grandmother help explain this cosy place’s enduring popularity. It’s hard to order wrong, but steer away from the usual pad thai and opt for khai jiew pu (omelette stuffed with crabmeat, £3) or ka lum tod nam pla (stir-fried Chinese cabbage, £2), an umami bomb anointed with pungent fermented fish sauce.
160/11 Soi 55 Sukhumvit road, +66 2 714 7508, supannigaeatingroom.com

Charcoal

 

Bangkok’s sizable Indian diaspora has given rise to some excellent eateries, including this number, which steers clear of cliched curries and peppers in subtler nods to the subcontinent, such as the decorative latticework derived from mosques and cheeky broken-English signs in the bathroom. Order the gently spiced lamb sheekh kebab (£9) or the house-made paneer tikka (£8), which is as silky as cheesecake and just as rich. After dinner, walk down the street to a darkened alley where, behind a door by an abandoned phone booth, salsa dancers shimmy to live bands at Havana Social, the owner’s hidden Cuban-inspired speakeasy.
38/8 Soi 11 Sukhumvit Road, Fraser Suites Hotel, +66 89 307 1111, charcoalbkk.com

WHERE TO DRINK

Iron Balls Distillery

Ash Sutton, the genius behind bars including Iron Fairies and Maggie Choo’s, outdid himself with this hideaway’s stripped-down, brooding aesthetic and succinct Prohibition-era cocktail list. A gleaming copper distillery serves as the centrepiece and produces the place’s namesake elixir, a south-east Asian spin on gin, fermented with a heady mix of fresh pineapple, coconut, lemongrass, ginger and juniper.
Park Lane, Sukhumvit 63, on Facebook
SoulBar

Follow the sounds of soul and funk four nights a week to one of Bangkok’s best live music spots. The lack of a cover charge and the rollicking house party vibe help explain why the crowds keep coming, even when the tiny joint is past capacity. Bigger bands often see the party spill out onto the street, which doesn’t seem to bother anybody one bit.
945 Charoen Krung road, on Facebook

Rabbit Hole

 

Slide open an unmarked wooden door in Thonglor and step into this dimly lit drinking den housed in a three-story shophouse. A long marble bar and gleaming, ceiling-high shelves displaying a formidable liquor collection make this one of the sexiest speakeasies in town, while the craft cocktails by legendary local mixologists Suwincha “Chacha” Singsuwan and Naphat “Yod” Natchachon mean the narrow space is packed on weekends.
125 Sukhumvit Soi 55, +66 98 969 1335, on Facebook

72 Courtyard

Drop whatever preconceptions the term “lifestyle mall” calls to mind, because this industrial complex buried in Thonglor houses some of Bangkok’s best bars and eateries. A crawl should start with a craft brew and greasy grub like laab fries at Beer Belly, then go for something stiffer at Evil Man Blues, a lounge with tipples such at salad days, a riff on a negroni infused with sous-vide cherry tomatoes, and live jazz Wednesday through Saturday. Touché Hombre has the best selection of mezcals and tequilas in the city, not to mention authentic bites like elotes callejeros (grilled corn with cotija cheese, chipotle-spiked mayonnaise and lime). Finish your night with a trip to Beam, a warehouse-style club where techno pounds till late.
72 Soi Sukhumvit 55, on Facebook

Teens of Thailand

A G&T here might well carry a lingering, savoury aroma of peppered pork jerky or Thai tea. Housed in an 80-year-old shophouse, cluttered with vintage Thai furniture, this watering hole has earned a cult following for its gin infusions made from whatever the owners find from neighbouring Chinatown stores. On a weekend, be prepared to queue for one of the coveted 16 seats.
76 Soi Nana, Charoen Krung road, on Facebook

Sing Sing Theater

An opium-den fever dream of paper lanterns, Chinese dragons and slinky qipao-clad ladies, Sing Sing Theater’s retro-glam, over-the-top vision of 1930s Shanghai packs the dance floor on weekends.
Sukhumvit Soi 45, on Facebook

WHERE TO STAY
The Siam

OK, so it’s expensive, but for a luxe stay, this is the place. Six years in the making, this Bill Bensley-designed passion project of local celebrity, actor and former indie rocker Krissada Sukosol Clapp is chockablock with antiques. The resulting property is remarkably atmospheric, especially on the serene verandah overlooking the Chao Phraya. Guests can learn to fight like a champion with an Olympic Muay Thai trainer or even pick up a sacred sak yant tattoo from Ajarn Boo, a master of this ancient art.
Doubles from £295 room only, thesiamhotel.com

Cabochon Hotel & Residence

 

A night at this colonial mansion might evoke memories of a stay at an eccentric uncle’s, if said uncle were the swashbuckling, well-travelled type and a bit of a hoarder. The place is crammed with curios, ranging from the intriguing (retro typewriters) to the downright kooky (cheetah skulls). It’s got character to burn, not to mention a rooftop pool, a restaurant serving Isaan and Lao cuisine, and prime location just off of Sukhumvit Road.
Doubles from £93 B&B, cabochonhotel.com

Inn A Day

Signs of this riverside boutique’s previous existence as a coconut sugar factory are everywhere, from the original storage tins in the walls to the oversized wheels of jaggery that serve as tables in the restaurant. Each of the rooms is named and colour-coded to different times of day, starting with 7:00 AM in early-morning hues and ending with the crepuscular-tinted 5:00 PM. If the budget allows, spring for one of the “later” suites, which feature lovely views of Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) at sunset.
Doubles from £80 room only, innaday.com,

Riva Arun

With floor-to-ceiling windows in its 25 rooms and a lively rooftop restaurant with river views, the new Riva Arun makes for a great spot to soak in the scenery.
Doubles from £72 room only, snhotels.com

Budget bunks

Travellers needn’t spend a fortune to sleep comfortably in this town, thanks to a spate of design-forward hostels opening in trendy neighbourhoods. Decked out in warm wood tones and sporting a craft beer bar, co-working space and third-wave coffee shop, ONEDAY (dorms from £9) is as hip as they come. In Ari, a lively residential area with tons of street food, The Yard Hostel (dorms from £13), made of upcycled shipping containers, quickly established itself as a neighbourhood haunt, as well as a social stop for wayfarers. Considerate extras – bicycles for rent, two-month luggage storage, barbecue equipment for impromptu grill parties – and a friendly staff add to the experience. In Chinatown, Loftell 22 (dorms from £7) offers comfy dorms and private rooms in two previously abandoned historic buildings in Talad Noi.

Japan’s forgotten paradise at Okinawa

From whale sharks to coral reefs, Japan’s Okinawa prefecture is full of surprises. Joe Minihane discovers a new side to the country.

It appears out of the blue, swimming majestically beneath me as I duck my head into the South China Sea. A whale shark, the largest fish in the world. Escorted by a trail of smaller fish, it glides through the water, opening its colossal mouth to feasts on the offerings of awestruck scuba divers.

Snorkelling in tropical waters is not something you’d usually associate with Japan, but then Okinawa doesn’t feel very Japanese. Floating some 1,000km (621 miles) south of Tokyo, this archipelago of paradise islands wears its Pan Asian influences proudly.

Formerly the Ryukyu Kingdom, this prefecture was independent until it became part of Japan in 1879. Its people traded far and wide across the continent, and its food, architecture and culture are all imbued with aspects of China, Korea and South East Asia. Consequently, it’s unlike anywhere else in Japan, which had been cut off from the outside world until the 19th century.

Paradoxically, it’s Okinawa that finds itself cut off nowadays; the archipelago has been largely forgotten by international tourists, omitted from most travellers’ itineraries. But, as I swim with this seagoing giant, I realise this lost paradise offers a travel experience you won’t match on the mainland. Okinawa has wonders the likes of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hokkaido can’t match.

A taste of Okinawa

Dried off after my aquatic adventure, my guide Yoyoi and I head to Naha, Okinawa’s capital and home to some of the best restaurants for nuchi gusui, meaning literally ‘medicine food’.

Okinawans are proud of their cuisine, especially as it’s believed to contribute to the long life expectancy of its residents – women here live to an average of 87.02 years, topped only by Nagano in central Japan.

Feeling ravenous, Yoyoi and I slide open the door to Fumiya (3-17-9 Maesima). We kick off our shoes and pad across tatami mats to a low slung table. Yoyoi natters with the proprietor, an elderly lady – or Obaa as they’re respectfully known in these parts – who scurries off to the kitchen and returns holding two trays laden with local delicacies.

There’s chanpuru – a mixture of pork, eggs and tofu – and goya, a bitter melon, which is a mainstay of Okinawan cuisine. There are bowls of peanut tofu and seaweed; of miso bulked with dried tuna and purple sweet potatoes; and pork steeped in soy.

As we eat, Yoyoi explains why Okinawa cuisine is so distinct. ‘Local ingredients are very important to us, as are the flavours of other countries we used to trade with,’ she says. ‘After the war, there was a scarcity of food, so we relied on the fresh vegetables we could grow and the pork that could be farmed. People had no choice but to eat the best food they could find locally, hence it’s so healthy.’

Pan Asian influence

That evening Yoyoi and I head to Kalahaai (8-11 Mihama), a bar-cum-concert venue on the beach in Mihama. We squeeze in more local delights – including slow–cooked pig’s ears, sea grapes and pickled shallots – grazing as we watch a local band called Tink Tink perform traditional Okinawan songs.

It doesn’t feel especially Japanese. The sound of the stringed sanshin is certainly reminiscent of the Japanese shamisen, but the riot of colour on the women’s kimonos, the informal dancing and the lively, upbeat songs are influences from China and South East Asia.

As the women dance, the audience whoops and hollers. We show our appreciation, too, before heading out into the steamy night to stroll through one of Okinawa’s most incongruous sights; the American village.

With its Ferris wheel and boardwalk, the area feels more Santa Monica than southern Japan. Uncle Sam’s influence is a legacy of WWII, when the Americans occupied Okinawa – they only handed it back in 1972, but US military bases remain on the island.

I watch, bewilderedly, as a fire-eater entertains crowds of GIs, who munch on burgers and tap their feet to country music. It’s a sight I can’t really get my head round as I head back to my hotel. This couldn’t be less like the Japan of popular imagination if it tried.

Snorkellers paddle towards one of Okinawa’s ubiquitous beaches
Ippei Naoi / Thinkstock

Beach beautiful

The following morning I plan a trip to the majestic coral reefs at nearby Zamami. But my visit is scuppered by an incoming typhoon, which has whipped up the waves and suspended ferry services.

So I head north, away from the storm, to Zampa beach on Okinawa’s main island. The archipelago has plenty of sandy shores to choose from, but this is one of the best. I watch as fish dart back and forth in the turquoise waters, as kids splash among the light rollers lapping onto the beach.

Further north, Emerald Beach and Moon Beach are calling out, but my time on Okinawa is almost up. So I head to Yu–yu–ra–san, a little wooden restaurant nestled in the island’s interior, which uses local pork on its American themed menu.

Munching on a huge Aguu pork burger, I marvel at Okinawa’s ability to surprise. The local motto, nankuru nuisaa (‘don’t worry, be happy’), couldn’t be further from the live fast ethos of mainland Japan. But that’s part of this forgotten archipelago’s charm. Okinawa’s appeal lies in its differences, and its status as a cultural and culinary magpie.

NEED TO KNOW

Getting there
There are no direct flights to Okinawa from the UK. The best way to get there is via Hong Kong or Tokyo and catch a connecting flight, which takes two and half hours from both destinations. All Nipon Airways (www.ana.co.uk) and Japan Airlines (www.jal.co.jp) both fly to Okinawa.

When to go
Okinawa is hot all year round, with temperatures regularly breaking 30ºC during summer. This is the best time to come if you want to spend time on the beach, although be aware that August’s typhoon season can cause major travel disruption.

What to do
• Go snorkelling or scuba diving with Top Marine (www.topmarine.jpn.com). Found at a number of coastal locations, this excellent company offers trips to see whale sharks or access to hidden, underwater caves.

• Okinawa’s beaches are legendary. Take a boat to the Kerama Islands from Naha City for a slice of tropical paradise. If time is tight, stay on the main island and head north to Emerald Beach.

• Okinawa is blessed with excellent cultural attractions. Shurijo Castle, a UNESCO gives a great insight into the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom, while the superb Peace Memorial Park, overlooking the Pacific, offers a stark reminder of the brutal battle which raged here towards the end of World War II.

Relaxation Destination

When relaxation is the name of the game, we’ve got just the thing for you – think beaches, wine, sun-kissed isles and a healthy dose of cool culture.

From Antigua to Australia, settle into your slice of paradise where whale watching, snorkelling, beach-bumming and vineyard-hopping will be the only things on your to-do list.

Enjoy a spring coastal break in San Diego, USA

‘America’s Finest City’ – or so the local claim boasts – is deceptively laid-back despite its size. And though summer is hotter and drier, March is still plenty warm, and also offers better value and shorter queues at its big attractions, of which there are many.

There are the beaches, of course: Mission has its wooden roller coaster, surfers head to Pacific Beach; Moonlight’s a family favourite; La Jolla’s the place for kayaking and snorkelling; hit Del Mar for peace and sweeping ocean views; and Coronado… well, it’s just beautiful. Balboa Park, with its museums and zoo, is uncrowded in March, while the bars and restaurants of the Gaslamp Quarter are as lively as ever. Go north towards Carlsbad to be dazzled by the ranunculus flowers at the Flower Fields, or to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve to hike clifftop trails – watch for dolphins and migrating grey whales between December and March.

  • Trip plan: San Diego’s airport is absurdly (but conveniently) close to downtown – just a couple of miles from the Gaslamp Quarter, as the crow flies.
  • Need to know: Check dates for Spring Break, when school and college kids flood town.
  • Other months: Mar-May & Sep-Nov – warm weather, not too crowded; Jun-Aug – very hot; Dec-Feb – cool.

Wind among Australia’s wineries and beaches at grape-harvest time

Come March, the grape-pickers are busy plucking bunches from the vines – and it’s the perfect time to roam the rolling hills south ofAdelaide. While the Barossa, northeast of the state capital, gets the bulk of the wine tourists, the Fleurieu Peninsula offers a diverse menu of fine vineyards – some 70-plus cellar doors, dominated by hearty Shiraz vintages – plus artsy towns such as Willunga, kitsch Victor Harbour, and a gorgeous coastline, with sandy shores along Gulf St Vincent and surf breaks such as those at Middleton and Christies Beach.

  • Trip plan: You could base yourself in Adelaide and explore from there, but better to noodle south and spend the night in McLaren Vale or at one of the beaches, roaming the wineries by day.
  • Need to know: If you’re feeling active, the 750-mile (1200 km) Heysen Trail winds from Cape Jervis at the tip of the peninsula to the Flinders Ranges – tackle a short stretch to justify another gourmet dinner.
  • Other months: Sep-May – spring to autumn most pleasant; Jun-Aug – winter.

For bright Caribbean sunshine and cool breezes head to Antigua

Antigua has a beach for every day of the year – or so the legend goes. Whether or not there are 365 separate stretches of sand on the island, it’s true that you won’t want for a patch of soft, golden-tinted shoreline on which to lounge.

March sees a lull in tourist arrivals after the midwinter peak and before Easter, but the weather is still dry and hurricane-free. Antigua is a family-friendly paradise, too, with activities galore and a piratical air – venture to Nelson’s Dockyard or the atmospheric, 18th-century Fort James for a bit of maritime history, snorkel the colourful reefs or try a bit of bodysurfing.

  • Trip plan: International flights serve VC Bird Airport in Antigua’s north, near the capital, St John’s; the other significant centre is around the dual coves and historic sites of Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour in the south. But with its compact 13-mile (21 km) length and beaches all around the island, it’s easy to access all parts of the island.
  • Need to know: March is towards the end of the mating season for frigate birds – look for the throat sacs of courting males at Codrington on neighbouring Barbuda, one of the world’s largest breeding colonies.
  • Other months: Dec-Apr – driest; May-Jun – hot; Jul-Nov – showers; Jul – Carnival.

Visit Sri Lanka for chilling, culture, cetaceans and carnivores in the dry season

Sri Lanka is complicated – not least the weather: much of it gets hit by monsoons around May and October, while the north and east get soaked November and December. Come in March, when weather’s good all over, wildlife at parks such as Yala and Uda Walawe – home to leopards, elephants, monkeys and more – comes out to drink at waterholes, blue and sperm whales cruise the coast, and hiking Adam’s Peak is most pleasant.

Hit the beaches of the west for gorgeous sweeps of sand, and the south for peace and surf, but be sure to explore inland – sacred city Kandy, with its Buddha tooth relic; the ‘Lion Rock’ topped with an ancient palace at Sigiriya; and the ruins of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the ‘Cultural Triangle’. Make time to sample the glorious food, a blend of South Indian, Arab, Malay and Portuguese flavours.

  • Trip plan: Fly to capital Colombo and head south to the beaches around Galle for a few days’ relaxation, then hire a car and driver or catch trains and local buses east to the wildlife reserves then north to the cultural attractions of the centre.
  • Need to know: Visitors require a visa; obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) online at eta.gov.lk/slvisa.
  • Other months: Jan-Mar & Jul-Aug – dry most places; Dec-mid-Jan – busiest; Apr-Jun & Sep-Nov – wet in southwest and centre.

This is It World’s best beaches

Dust off your shades and dig out your sandals – we’ve rounded up the best beaches around the world, from quintessential paradise to bare-it-all glam.

Paradise beaches

Hawaii is known for some of the most famous beaches in the world, but if you fancy a secluded slice of paradise, hop on a 4×4 to Kaiolohia Beach on the island of Lanai. As you sunbathe, gaze at the eerie 1940s oil tanker wreckage peeking out from an azure coral reef.

More than azure waters and white sands, El Nido in the Palawan archipelago of the Philippines has coved beaches full of natural wonders such as ancient caves and limestone cliffs. You’ll be equally spoilt for choice if you head to Pemba, neighbouring Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, which is abundant in unspoilt beaches and untamed forests. Limited in accommodation and transport, Pemba is a guaranteed beach adventure.

Built into a rocky hillside on the Ionian coast, Maratea in Italy’s Basilicata region is a serene alternative to the well-trotted Amalfi Coast. Zip along mountain roads to the nearby black sands of Macarro.

Resort beaches

Luxury and silky sands await you in the Maldives – a string of 26 coral atolls in the Indian Ocean that boast more than 100 stand-out beach resorts. Six Senses Laamu is situated on its own atoll where you can laze in a hammock in a villa stilted over crystal waters.

More affordable are the beach resorts in Turkey. Head to Antalya to experience a lively historic centre of Ottoman homes and narrow streets. Stay at one of the upmarket hotels along Konyaalti Beach where you can sunbathe by day and dine at seafront restaurants by night.

Mountains and towering sea cliffs etched into Tenerife’s terrain offer picturesque views from the volcanic sands below. One of the more popular Canary Islands, Tenerife has a dramatic black sand beach at Playa Jardin enlivened by beautiful flowers.

Beaches fit for adventure

Surf junkies should put the beaches of Jeffrey’s Bay along South Africa’s Eastern Cape on their travel wish list. Ride the waves with the pros at Super Tubes, Boneyards and Kitchen Windows – just a few of the areas’s popular and quirkily named surf beaches.

The waters of Indonesia boast a quarter of the world’s marine life, making this South Asian archipelago ideal for a diving holiday. Novices will feel at ease at Amed Beach in the north east where a coral reef lies five minutes’ swim from the black-sand shores. Here snappers, triggerfish and other species teem in waters that are a toasty 28°C (82°F). For an off-the-beaten path adventure, head for the beaches of Lengkuas Island where you can dive with hawksbill turtles.

With a staggering 12,000 beaches, choosing a beach spot inAustralia could be overwhelming, but some of the best silica can be found in Queensland. Surfers Paradise along the Gold Coast offers surfing, jet-ski rides and kayaking. Escape from the crowds at trendy Mooloolaba or book a dive trip on the Great Barrier Reef at top-notch sites such as Heron and Lady Elliot Islands.

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For a holiday of equal parts relaxation and adventure, explore Alvor’s beaches in the Algarve. Praia da Rocha beach is a popular spot for jet skiing and paragliding whilst Meia Praia is ideal for Atlantic Ocean surfing. Take a break at the exquisite Praia dos Três Irmãos, home to magnificent rock formations, glistening waters and soft sands.

Unexpected beach treasures

In Northern Ireland, on the North Antrim coast, a spectacular white arc stretches for 2.5km (1.5 miles) between two headlands at a spot that is virtually secluded year-round. Backed by ancient dunes and grasslands carpeted in rare plants, including orchids, it’s no wonder White Park Bay has been designed an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

An African safari first springs to mind when thinking of Namibia but desert meets the Atlantic in Swakopmund, a beach favoured by local beach bums where you can find a slew of hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and water sports.

If you’re looking for a change from salty seas and oceans, set your sights on the shores of Lake Michigan, one of five Great Lakes in America. Here you’ll find 5.6km (3.5 miles) of sand along the plush, golden “mountains” of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Swim in the lake’s blue waters or climb one of the giant dunes for fantastic views.

City beaches

White-sand beaches along the lapping Mediterranean, spectacular architecture, cuisine and nightlife; Barcelona may very well have it all. Easily reached by metro and just a short walk from Las Ramblas, Barceloneta Beach is great for watching surfers, sunbathing and dining al fresco.

Downtown buildings and oceanfront granite peaks scrape the sky in Brazil’s vibrant Rio de Janeiro that boasts 40km (25 miles) of dreamy sandscapes. Stroll along the surf with scantly-clad Cariocas on Copacabana or take in the sun with millionaires on Ipanema beach.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find unbeatable Med beaches with a flavour of the Middle East. Skyscrapers line the 10km-long (6 miles) beachfront where Israelis laze by day until the evening sunsets. For perfect views of the skyline, spend a morning in the markets and art galleries of the historic Old Jaffa before descending for an afternoon on the sands.

Reasons You Must Visit Kyiv

Due to the political turmoil in Ukraine, Kyiv has lost some of its tourist appeal in recent years. But the ancient Ukrainian capital – and the host of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest – is completely safe to visit and awaits curious travellers to unveil its rich and colourful history. Among the most important cultural centres of eastern Europe, offering superb architecture and a cool foodie scene, Kyiv remains one of the most underrated cities on the continent.

Legends of Andriyivsky Uzviz

Nicknamed ‘the Montmartre of Kyiv’, this street is one of the cultural gems of the Ukrainian capital. Every house here can tell a story, every corner hides a legend. With numerous galleries and workshops,Andriyivsky Uzviz has always been the melting pot of Kyiv’s artists, luring them with its bohemian atmosphere and attractive hilly setting. Here you can admire the gracious architecture of St Andrew’s Church and buy handmade souvenirs from one of the local artisans.

Delicious Ukrainian cuisine

Ukrainian food is not only very tasty, but also quite affordable. When in Kyiv, you simply can’t refrain from trying traditional Ukrainian varenyky (filled dumplings) and the legendary borshch (red beetroot soup). For a genuine Kyiv urban snack, try the perepichka (sausage in a fried bun) at Kyivska Perepichka near Teatralna metro station, and taste a magnificent cinnamon roll atBulochnaya Yaroslavna bakery on busy Yaroslaviv Val street.

City of Golden Domes

This proud nickname reflects the architectural splendour of Kyiv’s churches, as well as the prominence of the Ukrainian capital for Orthodox Christians. Visitors are easily amazed by the beauty of the Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra monastery complex and the grandeur of St Sophia’s Cathedral, both Unesco World Heritage sites. You can spend days admiring the medieval frescoes and baroque facades, descending into holy dungeons and watching stunning panoramas from the bell towers.

Outdoors fun along the Dnipro

Kyiv spreads along the wide Dnipro river, which divides the city into the right and left banks. Numerous islands in between offer a great range of outdoor activities. Truhaniv island is the perfect spot for relaxing walks or cycling with beautiful river views. During the summer, Hydropark becomes leisure central with sandy beaches, water activities and fancy bars. You can also take a boat cruise from the River Port (rpea.com.ua) for spectacular views of Kyiv hills.

Gigantic Soviet monuments

Kyiv was the third-largest city of the Soviet Union, so it’s no wonder that Soviet heritage in the form of colossal apartment blocks, socialist-realist frescoes and bizarre modernist buildings is found pretty much everywhere in the Ukrainian capital. But there’s one structure you simply can’t miss: the enormous Rodina Mat (meaning ‘Motherland’) memorial, part of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. With a height of 102m, it’s a distinctive element of Kyiv’s skyline.

Rich entertainment scene

Kyiv is a vibrant capital with a wide array of events taking place daily. Fans of classical music can enjoy heavenly notes in the unique House of Organ and Chamber Music inside the St Nicholas Cathedral, which was designed by Wladyslaw Horodecki. Ballet enthusiasts will be enthralled by performances of the world-renowned National Ballet of Ukraine at the Taras Shevchenko National Opera Theatre. Kyiv nightlife is a microcosm of its own, with choices ranging from hipster Closer (facebook.com/closerkiev) to dynamic Carribean Club (caribbean.com.ua).

One of Europe’s largest open-air museums

The Pyrohovo Museum of Folk Architecture is a perfect place to explore how Ukrainians lived over the centuries. Exhibiting 300 examples of folk architecture from all parts of Ukraine and more than 40,000 household items and objects of traditional culture, Pyrohovo is a one-of-a-kind outdoor museum experience. It also regularly hosts open-air festivals to showcase the old Ukrainian rural lifestyle.

Ukrainian Art Nouveau

Kyiv’s eclectic cityscape makes it a perfect destination for architecture lovers. On a single street, you can find baroque buildings next to Soviet-style apartment blocks, or elegant Art Nouveau palaces overlooking newly built skyscrapers. Kyiv’s so-called Modern architectural style is the equivalent of European Art Nouveau; its pioneer was Wladislaw Horodecki, sometimes referred to as ‘the Gaudí of Kyiv’. His architectural genius gave birth to the stunning Neo-Moorish Actor’s House and one of the most enigmatic Kyiv landmarks, the splendid House of Chimeras.

Monumental Kyiv metro

From colourful frescoes depicting medieval Kiev Rus heritage at Zoloti Vorota station to white marble busts of scientists and poets at Universytet station – not to mention the labyrinth of Soviet underground transfer passages – Kyiv metro is truly impressive. It’s also record-breaking, with Arsenalna station considered the world’s deepest. Both the immense heritage of Ukraine’s Soviet past and the main transport of city dwellers today, Kyiv metro is a curious attraction and a true highlight of the Ukrainian capital.

Affordability

Kyiv often tops the lists of the most affordable European destinations, particularly in recent years – and for good reason. For example, one metro ride will cost you about 0,15 euros, while opera tickets start from just 1 euro. Food and accommodation costs are also much lower than in central and western Europe especially since the devaluation of the hryvnya, which makes the Ukrainian capital a very tempting budget-friendly destination.