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Monthly Archives: January 2017

The 7 most epic adventure destinations

1. Greenland

Best for: winter thrills

The world’s largest island is covered almost entirely in ice – which makes for unbeatable winter sports conditions. Strap on the skis for some cross-country or head up higher on a helicopter to ski back down from the ice caps. It’s also possible to kayak among the icebergs and even scuba dive down to see what lies beneath their famously shallow surface. If you’d rather gather some speed, hire a snowmobile or take charge of a dog sled and head out there into the snow.

On The Go Tours tip: After a busy day of outdoor adventure, relax at Cafe Iluliaq (in Ilulissat) with a craft beer flavoured with berries and herbs sourced from the surrounding mountains and valleys.

2. Japan

Best for: urban adventures

Japanese culture may have been exported worldwide but nothing can compare to seeing it first hand, perhaps by eating sushi in Tokyo or seeing geishas perform a cultural ritual in Kyoto. Take in the culture by learning to cook Japanese food yourself on a cookery course and discover what it’s like to live in one of the world’s most frenetic cities at Tokyo’s Shibuja crossing – where you’ll join up to 1000 other pedestrians bobbing and weaving at one of the world’s busiest intersections.

On The Go Tours tip: When the hustle and bustle of Tokyo gets too much, head for the Todoroki Gorge, a hidden oasis of green and the capital’s last remaining natural gorge.

3. Thailand

Best for: laidback watersports

Anyone who’s seen the film The Beach knows that Thailand is home to some of the world’s very best stretches of sand. This laidback country is also home to over 3000km of coastline, much of it made up of cliffs and caves that are just begging to be kayaked along or dived beneath. Further inland, head to Kanchanaburi, where you’ll find the infamous Bridge Over the River Kwai and the multi-tiered Erawan Falls – a fantastic swimming spot that is popular with the locals.

On The Go Tours tip: The Similan Islands are still considered one of the best dive spots in Thailand but visit in April or May for the best chances of seeing whale sharks.

4. Myanmar

Best for: surprises

Myanmar has only recently opened up to tourism and remains a truly unspoiled country with a unique culture. People here are keen to share their customs and you might find yourself waylaid by morning alms or the chance for tea with the locals. There’s great trekking here, in the Himalayan north around what is said to be southeast Asia’s highest peak, Hkakabo Razi, and at Inle Lake wonderful kayaking, out to peaceful villages and past floating gardens. This is a place to keep your eyes and your mind open.

On The Go Tours tip: Journey from Mandalay to Yangon by boat to explore otherwise-inaccessible gems, including minority villages, colonial towns and Buddhist caves.

5. Nepal

Best for: mountain climbing

Smack bang in the centre of the Himalayas, landlocked Nepal is all about the mountains. Clamber up along the very spine of the globe, hiking the Annapurna range or to Everest Base Camp, and you’ll take in some of the most awe-inspiring scenery our planet has to offer – from snow-capped peaks to ancient oak and rhododendron forests. You could also go on an Asian safari, in Chitwan national park, home to rhinos and tigers.

On The Go Tours tip: Fancy a break from all that trekking? Spend a night or two in the picturesque village of Nagarkot where you can admire the sweeping mountain views from the comfort of your hotel bed.

6. Namibia

Best for: desert safari

The Namib desert is ripe for adventure, its dunes the perfect slopes for sandboarding down or quad biking over, its epic rust-red landscape an unbeatable backdrop for a fiery sunset. Namibia is also home to the world’s second-largest canyon, ideal for canoeing along, and some of the best game viewing, at Etosha national park and in the lush Caprivi Strip. See how many of the big five you can tick off – that’s lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino – and look out for smaller springbok, birds and reptiles too.

On The Go Tours tip: Namibia is a superb self-drive destination – it’s safe, English is widely spoken and road conditions are good, so set your own pace with a self-drive adventure trip.

 7. Russia

Best for: riding the rails

The Trans-Siberian Railway should be on every traveller’s bucket list, the farthest you can travel on one train, across the largest country in the world and past the point where Europe meets Asia. Climb aboard to travel from Moscow past the Urals and through Siberia, breaking the journey in Yekaterinburg, the last home of the Romanovs, and in Irkutsk, said to be ‘the Paris of Siberia’ and the jumping-off point for Lake Baikal for a banya (sauna) at the deepest lake in the world.

On The Go Tours tip: Hop off the train at Vladimir, just a two-hour ride from Moscow, for the chance to explore the charming towns that make up the historic Golden Ring.

8 of the wildest places in Europe

1. Cruise the fjords of the Lofoten Islands, Norway

When it comes to jaw-dropping natural beauty, few places can compare with the Lofoten archipelago, whose clustered mountains tower above deeply indented bays. It’s not exactly empty of people, with quaint fishing villages now playing host to a burgeoning tourist industry. But untrammelled nature is never far away.

A plethora of hiking trails, cycling routes and fjord cruises provide access to some truly heart-stopping scenery. The islands are well within the Arctic Circle too, so there’s every chance that the midnight sun will add to the drama.

2. Boat through the Danube Delta, Romania

When it comes to European wetlands, few can compete in size and diversity with the Danube Delta. Here, the continent’s greatest river splits into myriad channels before entering the Black Sea. It’s a unique landscape of sandbar islands, semi-sunken forest and dirt-road villages, the majority of which can only be reached by boat.

Disembark at the fishing village of Crişan in the heart of the delta and you’ll be able to follow trails into reed-beds frequented by all manner of birds. Sfântu Gheorghe, the end-of-the-river settlement on the delta’s southern branch, offers more reeds, more birds and several kilometres of stark white beach.

3. Explore the enchanted forest of Białowieża, Poland

The last significant swathe of primeval woodland left in Europe, Białowieża Forest straddles the border between Poland and Belarus. This emerald world of trees, grasses, mosses and lichens is also home to a 900-strong herd of European bison, re-introduced in the 1920s after the last indigenous specimens had been killed in World War I.

Certain parts of the forest are off limits to casual visitors and can only be explored with a guide. But there’s still a wealth of free-to-wander trails radiating out from the main access point, the pretty village of Białowieża itself.

 

4. Hit the trail in the Northern Velebit, Croatia

Running for some 100km along Croatia’s Adriatic coast, the Velebit massif is one of the most brutally rugged mountain chains in southern Europe. While the canyon-riven Southern Velebit (site of the Paklenica National Park) is packed with summer trippers, it’s the less-trodden Northern Velebit that offers the most exhilarating hiking.

Towering Mount Zavižan marks the start of the Premužić trail, the 57km-long holy grail of Croatian hikers. However much of the route you manage to tackle, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of both the coast and the inland karst.

5. Bog-hop in Soomaa National Park, Estonia

Nothing screams “wilderness” more than a Baltic peat bog, its squelchy surface covered with mosses, lichens, cranberry bushes and dwarf confers. One of the best places to explore them is Estonia’s Soomaa National Park, where a patchwork of grassland, bog and riverine forest hosts a lively community of elk, beavers, flying squirrels and lynx.

Boardwalk paths such as the Riisa Trail lead out into this swamp-like realm. The spring thaw brings flooding and with it the possibility of canoe trips organised by local outfits such as Sooma.

6. Raft in the Durmitor mountains, Montenegro

Mountain ranges are routinely described as wild and unspoilt – but few are genuinely as wild and unspoilt as Durmitor. This limestone massif takes up a large chunk of northern Montenegro. It offers a huge variety of stunning scenery, from moon-grey peaks to grassy plateaux and lakes of eerie beauty.

Hiking possibilities are endless, with a network of trails beneath the 2523m-high summit of Bobotov Kuk. But it’s the rafting trips along the Tara Gorge – Europe’s deepest canyon – that really earn the superlatives. Local agencies such as Summit can book you a place in a dinghy.

7. Find solitude in the Urho Kekkonen National Park, Finland

In many ways the whole of Finland is a bit of a wilderness, with pristine lakes and huge silent forests lying within easy reach of even the biggest cities. To experience the country at its most awesomely empty, head north to Lapland’s Urho Kekkonen National Park. The park is a 2250-square-kilometre expanse of bare fells, birch forests and tundra-like heath.

Settlements such as Saariselkä, on the western rim, offer access to marked trails suitable for walks of half a day or more. However it’s the longer, 2–3 day trails in the uninhabited heart of the park that will truly put your frontier spirit to the test.

8. Count sheep in the Upper Eden Valley, England

Never heard of High Cup Nick? Or the Nine Standards? That’s probably because the Lake District gets all the tourists, leaving the majestically bleak and boggy hills of the neighbouring Upper Eden Valley comparatively off radar.

Green-brown fells, stone barns, hardy sheep and horizontal rain are the area’s main visual signatures. Two of England’s best-known long-distance trails – the Coast to Coast Walk and The Pennine Way – penetrate parts of the Upper Eden, ensuring that its wind-blasted trails are well documented and easily accessible. Head for the market town of Kirkby Stephen or the heritage village of Dufton to get started.

Hidden gardens of Washington, DC

Dumbarton Oaks

Famous landscape architect Beatrix Farrand designed this botanical panorama in northern Georgetown. At Dumbarton Oaks, each sweet-smelling garden is more beautiful than the next. Be sure to check the website (www.doaks.org) before your visit to see what’s in bloom, but must-sees include the Orangery, where the climbing ficus dates from the 1860s; the rose garden, arranged by color; the Prunus Walk with its flowering plums; and the Pebble Garden, best viewed from the terrace above to take in the intricate, swirling neo-baroque designs of grey and white stones. It’s a shame that picnicking isn’t permitted on the grounds.

River Farm

Did George Washington ever wander past the centuries-old Osage orange tree that dominates River Farm’s Garden Calm? It’s possible. The first president owned these 25 park-like acres along the Potomac River just south of DC, and the story goes that the tree was a gift from Thomas Jefferson to the Washington family. Among the pocket gardens here, you’ll find a grove of Franklin trees (extinct in the wild), an orchard of pear, apple and plum trees, and an azalea garden with a rainbow of different species. The American Horticultural Society (www.ahsgardening.org)  now resides in the restored estate house and hosts such popular events as the Spring Garden Market in April.

Hillwood Estate and Gardens

The 13 acres of magnificent floral gardens surrounding cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post’s gracious manse give visitors a taste of how the one percent might live. Each formal garden is designed as an outdoor “room,” with a progression leading from the rose garden, to the French parterre, to the Friendship Walk and so on. The gardens put on a spectacular, ever-changing show throughout the year, though spring is naturally the most breathtaking. Join a seasonal tour, or take in the blooms from the café terrace.

US National Arboretum

Some of the best cherry trees beyond the Tidal Basin reside at the US National Arboretum, where 446 acres of gardens offer a full dose of spring and very few tourists. Pick up a brochure at the arboretum and go on a self-guided tour to discover such diverse varieties as the early flowering “Dream Catcher,” the mid-season flowering “Pendula” (aka the weeping cherry), and the Yoshino, cultivated from cuttings from the original Tidal Basin beauties. Take the 40-minute tram tour for an overview.

Franciscan Monastery

One of the city’s best-kept secrets, this botanical gem on the grounds of a neo-Byzantine church in northeast DC offers the ultimate meditative escape. Pathways wind through a cloistered, fountain-graced rose garden, with benches promising quiet contemplation. Nearby, a woodsy hillside harbors stations of the cross along with replicas of Holy Land monuments, including the Grotto of Gethsemane, Chapel of the Ascension and Tomb of the Virgin Mary – as well as the Lourdes grotto. Check the website (www.myfranciscan.org) for a blooming calendar.

Floral Library

Most Washingtonians don’t even know that every year, 10,000 tulip bulbs are expressly flown in from Holland and planted by hand in theFloral Library, a plot of land near the Tidal Basin. They explode in a vibrant blaze of primary color, a powerful juxtaposition to the Tidal Basin’s soft pastels. The rest of the year, annuals provide a sweet break from city bustle. Established in 1969, the library was part of Lady Bird Johnson’s efforts to beautify the capital city.

Capitol Hill Neighborhood Gardens

Even urban DC provides a dose of spring beauty: the tiny private gardens fronting Capitol Hill’s historic row houses overflow with blooms, making a stroll along its streets a flower-lover’s delight. There’s no single home that stands out, but together they create a glorious floral pastiche, each patchwork garden lovelier than the next. Stroll the streets east of the Capitol – A Street SE, A Street NE, 6th and 7th Streets NE – and finish up at Eastern Market at 7th and North Carolina Avenue SE for a bite at Market Lunch’s busy counter. Tip: Stanton Park, at C and 5th Streets NE, has cherry trees and benches.

George Washington Memorial Parkway

Not a garden, per se, but one of the prettiest drives around can be found on this flower-bedecked, National-Park-maintained roadway, especially the stretch between Alexandria and Georgetown, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. The ornamental show begins with blankets of daffodils in early spring, seguing to dogwoods, redbuds and tulips later in the season, with peerless views year-round of the sparkling blue Potomac and Washington’s dazzling marble-white monuments rising beyond. Pride of place is Lady Bird Johnson Park, the handiwork of the garden-loving First Lady, which showcases a springtime spectacle of daffodils, red tulips and dogwoods.

Enid A. Haupt Garden

You’ll want to stake out a cast-iron bench beneath a blooming tulip magnolia and stay a while in this quiet four-acre garden in the heart of the Smithsonian complex (the National Museum of African Art, theFreer-Sackler Museums of Asian Art and the S. Dillon Ripley Center are under your feet). A changing palette of blooms edge brick pathways, with the Smithsonian Castle serving as a picturesque backdrop. Wander a bit to find the Fountain Garden, designed after an ancient Moorish palace in Granada, Spain, and the Moongate Garden, inspired by Beijing’s Temple of Heaven.

Find Best Beaches in Sydney

Secluded spots

Sydney is famous for its surf beaches but there are many secluded hideaway beaches dotted all around the harbour. Some are more popular than others, depending on their accessibility, but our top tips are the diminutive Lady Martins Beach at Point Piper, not far from central Sydney and tucked between the salubrious suburbs of Double Bay and Rose Bay.

On the northern side of city, head for Balmoral Beach near Mosman. It is an excellent beach for families, with a netted enclosed swimming area and large shady Moreton Bay fig trees to escape the heat. Lastly, look for Collins Beach at Manly, a long circuitous walk from the Manly ferry pier, where you may well find yourself alone for a good part of the day.

Autumn sun

This may surprise many first-time travellers to Sydney, but autumn (March to May) is a perhaps the best time to hit the beach. Sydney is blessed with a fairly temperate climate so it can stay sunny and reasonably warm right into late May (the beginning of the Australian winter). It takes some months for the ocean to cool down to the same temperature as the land which means the sea can still be surprisingly warm even if days are not baking hot.

Rise and shine

You can beat the heat, and the summer hordes, by heading down to the Sydney’s most iconic surf spot, Bondi Beach, early in the morning. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the ocean, and you’ll be sharing the experience with locals surfing, running, and doing their early morning sun salutations. Bondi gets busier as the day wears on – by midday traffic can clog the main routes down to the shoreline. Book an early lunch at Icebergs, which overlooks the iconic ocean pool, then make your escape.

Go south

If you do hit Bondi in peak hour, you can also head south to Bronte andCoogee via a cliff-side walking path (unfortunately you won’t be the only one doing this walk!). Beyond Bondi there are further ocean pools for the less confident swimmers to take a paddle where you’re protected from sharks as well as the swell. You’ll still be swimming with the same breath-taking views of sandstone headlands, sea birds and the occasional band of whales ploughing their migration routes along the Pacific.

An even less touristy option is the beach Maroubra, another few headlands further south of Coogee. Maroubra means ‘like thunder’ in the local Indigenous language and is part of Australia’s second National Surfing Reserve. If you just want to sit on the sand and watch the action, the breaks here provide plenty for skilled surfers.