Category Archives: travel
1. Creating parks in Patagonia
The Parque Pumalín is not the end, but the beginning: Tompkins Conservation, which was the subject of our latest travel podcast, will continue its rewilding mission in Patagonia. But the organisation can’t do it alone and is encouraging volunteers to come to Chile or Argentina, where they can get involved in tree planting, wildlife monitoring and, sometimes, reintroducing locally extinct species.
2. Going on safari in Laos
The last remaining home for tigers in Indochina, Nam Et-Phou Louey is a hotbed of biodiversity and an unexpectedly brilliant place to go on a safari. And we’re not talking about any old safari; we’re talking about the Nam Nern Night Safari and Ecolodge, which ploughs most of its profits into local outreach programmes that educate locals about conservation and sustainability. Twice a winner at the World Responsible Tourism Awards, guests on the safari not only support admirable conservation work but also have the opportunity to spy endangered species, mingle with locals and sleep in low-impact bungalows.
3. Crashing with locals in India
For remote Himalayan communities there can be scant opportunity for employment. However, thanks to an organisation called Village Ways, some of these isolated societies now have a steady income from sustainable tourism. The organisation puts intrepid explorers into homestays in India and Nepal, providing locals with a revenue source and an opportunity to celebrate their Himalayan traditions, culture and cuisine.
4. Supporting Maasai landowners in Kenya
The Mara Naboisho Conservancy in Kenya is a 50,000-acre reserve created by 500 Maasai landowners. The park is home to bountiful wildlife – including big cats – and revenue from tourism provides the Maasai community with a sustainable livelihood, which in turn helps preserve this diverse corner of Kenya. The conservancy’s stellar work was rewarded in 2016 with a gold medal at the African Responsible Tourism Awards.
5. Trekking with ethnic minorities in Vietnam
As tourism booms in Vietnam, not everyone is feeling the benefit: some of the country’s ethnic minorities are reportedly being left behind. However, Shu Tan, from the Hmong ethnic group, is trying to address that. The former street vendor has set up an award-winning social enterprise, Sapa O’Chau, which offers guided treks and homestays for tourists in Sapa, northern Vietnam. Managed by ethnic minorities, her organisation generates revenue for impoverished communities, where some people can’t afford to send their children to school.
6. Turtle conservation in Mexico
The deserted shores of Veracruz are just the tonic for hectic lives. They’re also a breeding ground for endangered turtles, which face a range of challenges including pollution and habitat loss. Cue the Yepez Foundation, a non-profit organisation that has spent the best part of half a century safeguarding turtles and their habitats in this corner of Mexico. They’re always on the lookout for volunteers who can help with a range of projects, from beach clean-ups and community outreach programmes to coastal reforestation.
7. Conducting reef research in Malaysia
The world’s coral reefs are, alas, in grave danger, as pollution, disease and climate change wreak havoc with these underwater ecosystems. Cue Biosphere Expeditions, which is running an eight-day excursion to the colourful colour gardens of Malaysia, where participants can help collect data from reefs, which could be used to preserve the beleaguered ecosystems. Open for qualified scuba divers only, the 2017 expedition takes place August 15-22.
Glen Tilt, Blair Atholl
One of Scotland’s lesser-known glens, this magnificent walk begins at the Old Bridge of Tilt, a hint of many ancient stone bridges hunkered in widescreen landscapes to come. This is Big Tree Country, populated by the tallest trees in Britain. Stay in a Scandinavian-esque woodland lodge on the Atholl Estates, which has been visited over centuries by everyone from Mary Queen of Scots to Queen Victoria.
Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
Bleak and lunar-like, this bracing hike is punctuated by glimpses of the lighthouse at Cape Wrath on the horizon. Here, at the exposed north-western tip of Scotland, the rewards are great and hard-won. Sandwood Bay is one of Britain’s most inaccessible beaches, flanked by a skyscraping sea stack – a ruin said to be haunted by the ghost of a shipwrecked seaman – and sand dunes the size of houses. It’s perfect for wild camping, if you can face carrying your gear in and out of the boggiest of moorland. Make sure you go for a pint and plate of langoustines.
Castle Tioram, Ardnamurchan
Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of Britain, is a slender calloused finger of a peninsula pointing outward to wild seas. For a varied walk through coastline, heathland, moorland and woodland, begin on the banks of Loch Moidart where Castle Tioram, a ruin raised on a rocky tidal island, presides. Meander along sections of one of the Highlands’ most beautiful paths, the Silver Walk, then head into the heather-clad hills, passing lochs, reservoirs and pretty much every marvel of nature that the the area has to offer.
Glen Etive, Glen Coe
The most dramatic of Scotland’s glens, featured in Skyfall, is just as powerfully experienced by walking through its valleys rather than up the giant backs of its mountains. In one day you’ll encounter snow, hail, sleet, rain, the brightest of blue skies and a white-out on this long, consistently jaw-dropping hike. The deer on the steep flanks of the surrounding mountains were so far away they looked like ants on a hill. A walk to end all walks, in all weathers. Stay at the Red Squirrel campsite, make a fire and pour a whisky.
Kyle of Durness, Sutherland
Stand on the tip of Faraid Head, surrounded by nothing but the squall of seabirds and wide open seas, and you’ll feel you’ve found the very edge of the island of Britain. As long as you don’t mind sharing it with an MOD training facility. A remote, surprisingly gentle walk, criss-crossing vast dunes and grassy headlands, happening upon some of the most stunning white-sand beaches you’re likely to encounter anywhere in the UK. Don’t bother seeking paths. This is about dawdling, stopping to pick up shells, and paddling in the coldest and clearest of waters.
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
Robert Louis Stevenson described the extinct volcano forming Holyrood Park as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design”. The views back across Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament, Leith, the Firth of Forth and out to the Bass Rock are fabulous. There’s no need to climb Arthur’s Seat either. Circle the crags, wander the paths, and take refuge with the dog walkers in Hunter’s Bog. It’s extraordinary enough to find hillwalking like this in a capital city. Afterwards, go for a pint at Swedish hipster bar Hemma.
East of Glasgow‘s old cathedral lies one of the great Victorian cemeteries, a reminder written in 3500 stone monuments, many of them crumbling away, that this was once the second city of the empire. Explore the city on a dark day under low skies, the way many would say is best to enjoy the cheek-by-jowl views of the Tennents brewery, high rises, grand civic buildings, and all that gives Glasgow its burnished beauty. Finish up atGlasgow Green’s West brewery, located in an ostentatious Victorian carpet factory, with a beer brewed on site.
1. Sri Lanka: Kandy to Ella
Starting in colonial-style Kandy, the little train to Ella chugs through tea plantations and up hillsides to reach a remote station in the middle of Hill Country. It takes nearly seven hours to reach the final destination.
Rules around riding the train are lax in Sri Lanka, so you’ll find passengers sitting in open doorways swinging their legs in the sunshine as the train gasps its way into the hills. The last leg of the ride can be misty as the train breaks through the cloud line.
2. China: Jiayuguan to Xi’an
On the edge of the Gobi Desert, the city of Jiayuguan, in China’s far northwest, couldn’t feel more different to the metropolises of Beijing or Shanghai. In the Gansu province, the city is home to the Jiayu Pass, the furthest western end of the Great Wall of China.
The 18-hour train ride to Xi’an, also known as the end of the Silk Road, offers up more of the same. Scenery is bleak and awe-inspiringly vast. This journey – longer than any other in China – will give you a sense of the country’s sheer size.
The train belts along the Gobi Desert, before hitting the Hexi Corridor, the ancient northern Silk Road trading route. It then rattles onwards to the Qilian Mountain range, where snow-capped mountains glowing orange and pink are visible in the dusk. The train itself is comfortable, with a mixture of private compartments, second-class sleepers and hard third-class benches. The dining car offers freshly made stews and stir-fries, and cheap beer can be bought on board.
3. Malaysia: Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia is blessed with a cheap and efficient rail service that runs down the west coast of the Peninsular. It’s also an incredibly scenic option.
Run by a series of electric trains that service families and commuters, this route feels just like a normal local’s journey. At least, it does until the train picks up speed and zips past forested hills and verdant tropical landscapes. In heavily populated Peninsular Malaysia, it’s a pleasure to sit back and soak up the tropical vibe from an air-conditioned carriage.
4. Japan: the Gonō Line in Tōhoku
If you ever find yourself in Tōhoku – the most northerly region on Japan’s main island, Honshū – book yourself onto a trip on the Gonō Railway. The line mostly runs through Aomori prefecture, which is surrounded by Japan’s iciest seas on three sides, with snow-capped mountains to the south. Considering how far north Aomori is, snow is pretty much guaranteed for most of the year, but the ride offers some fantastic coastal scenery.
Visitors will need to book onto a special “sightseeing train” called the Resort Shirakami. This line takes you to one of the most remote areas of the country, and it’s so far removed from Tokyo’s manic Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a different country. Its enormous glass windows and comfy booth seats are the perfect place from which to spot snow-topped Mount Iwaki and the craggy coastline.
5. Vietnam: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
More than 1000 miles of railway lines run the length of Vietnam. The lines carry comfortable air-conditioned sleeper trains, making a long distance train journey a pleasure.
You can do the whole route north to south on the Reunification Express train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in three days, but the most scenic part by far is between Hué and Danang. Watch fishermen cast their nets as you pass the South China Sea, just metres away from the tracks, before curving around the coast past deserted white beaches and lush rainforest.
Breakfast in the dining car is pot noodles in broth, served with fresh lime and chilli. Enjoy it with cup of instant black coffee, drunk as the train chugs its way past buffalos grazing in rice paddies.
6. Uzbekistan: Urgench to Bukhara
High-speed trains link most of Uzbekistan’s cities: Tashkent, Andijan and Samarkand are all joined up by super-fast express Afrosiyob trains.
Bukhara to Urgench (the jump-off point for the ancient Silk Road mud city of Khiva) on the other hand, is serviced by a slow, 12-hour service – but that’s the beauty of it. The train runs through the Kyzylkum Desert, and you can spot camels lumbering alongside the tracks. Women in brightly printed dresses sell hard-boiled eggs and pickles from the platform before the train picks up speed, screeching past desert tomb stones and abandoned mosques eroded by sand.
1. Try the freshest seafood
The clear waters around Kyūshū yield an abundance of seafood. There’s Takezaki Crab and super-tender squid, mounds of fat tiger prawns and fugu, Japan’s deadly pufferfish – a popular sushi delicacy. Famous seafood dishes include ikizukuri, a live-squid sashimi typical of Yobuko in Saga – don’t try this if you’re squeamish.
What fresher way to try seafood than in its sushi form. Sushi no Jirocho in Kurume is one of the best sushi restaurants on the island. Here, you’ll sit at the counter and watch chef Ryoji Katsuno preparing immaculate plates. In a silvery flash of his knife, Katsuno presents a steady stream of sashimi: highest-quality “fatty” tuna, tender squid and grilled seabass follow fugu, oysters and the ever-popular horse mackerel. Katsuno then impresses with a selection of miniature matchbox sushi.
2. Taste rare foods
At the source of a river in Asakurashi, southern Fukuoka, an unassuming weed grows in abundance. This is the rare suizenji nori (kawatake) river weed and it’s believed to only grow in this metres-long stretch of clear volcanic spring water. The Endo Kawatake plantation, which harvests the weed here, sells a single sheet of nori for around ¥10,000. It is also prized as an anti-inflammatory beauty product.
Kuzu root starch is another expensive Kyūshū delicacy, known for its healing benefits. It’s served in jelly form with a sweet sauce or as noodles in soups. The country’s largest producer is Hirohachido, a family-run business based in Kagoshima Bay, in southern Kyūshū. Visit the 200-year-old Hirokyukuzu Honpo store in Akizuki.
Look out for kuzu noodles or fronds of suizenji nori in your miso soup at upmarket restaurants across Kyūshū.
3. Feast on the world’s best meats
Wagyu (beef) is one of Japan’s most famous exports and regularly features on world’s-most-expensive-food lists. Myth has it that wagyu cows are raised like emperors, fed beer and massaged to produce the intense marbling that creates an exceptionally tender, almost creamy, texture.
Kyūshū is home to one of the top three brands of wagyu in the country: Saga beef. At Kirarestaurant in Saga prefecture itself, you can flash-fry freshly chopped morsels of beef and vegetables on a hot-plate set into your table. The delicate flavour of the meat is food heaven.
The pork equivalent is Kurobuta (known as “black pig”). Its soft, pink flesh is said to have been a favourite of samurai warriors and, today, it’s still highly regarded. Head to Kagoshima in southern Kyūshū to try Kurobuta, which comes from black-skinned Berkshire pigs that were imported from England to Kagoshima around 400 years ago.
The most popular way to eat Kurobuta is as a tonkatsu breaded pork cutlet or as shabu shabu, dipping succulent thin slices into a hot pot at your table. Try it at Roppakutei in Kagoshima city.
4. Go on a street-food tour of Fukuoka
Fukuoka, a city on the north coast of Kyūshū, has some of the best street-food in Japan. Every night, around 150 yatai food stalls pop up all around the city centre.
Spending an evening touring the yatai is great fun: you sit on a high-stool at the counter and watch the chef in the centre of it all, conjuring up an array of small dishes among the steaming pots and sizzling grills. It’s a sociable, rowdy event, where orders fly and strangers inevitably start chatting. By morning, there’s nothing left. All the street-food vendors have packed up and gone home, taking their yatai with them.
Along with the popular yakitori chicken skewers and gyoza Chinese fried dumplings, theyatai chefs serve many great regional dishes. Be sure to order a bowl of Tonkotsu ramen, a cloudy pork-bone broth, which many claim to be the best ramen in the country. Motsunabeis a one-pot dish that’s served in its pot at the table. Then there’s the Mizutaki, a chicken hotpot; Mentaiko, that salty pollack roe with a chilli kick; and the ever-popular Hakata-styleudon noodles.
5. Take some tea
In Kyūshū, they know how to make the perfect cup of tea. That’s because this is one of Japan’s most important tea-growing regions. It’s no coincidence that the island is also famed for the exquisite ceramics used at tea ceremonies. It is home to such historic ceramicists as Kakiemon and Fukugawa.
Kagoshima, in the far south, is the second-largest tea-production area in Japan, but you’ll also find smaller purveyors in Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Saga. Fukuoka is known for its high-quality matcha tea, used in tea ceremonies, and for Gyokuro Green Tea, considered to be one of the highest-grade green teas in the country.
Konimien Tea, a small award-winning producer in Yame, has been creating tea for around 150 years. Each leaf is picked individually, dried and tossed by hand lovingly over a warm stove. You can visit the tea shop, explore a gallery that explains the history of tea here dating back to the days of the Dutch East India company, or admire the Yame Central Tea Plantation.
6. Enjoy some warming sake
You can’t eat out in Japan without a jug of warm sake to wash down your meal. Fortunately, this feisty drink is not hard to find in Kyūshū. Fukuoka is the centre of sakerice-wine production, with more than 70 breweries packed into the small prefecture.
At several breweries, you can see the complicated brewing process first-hand and taste a few samples, warmed up or cold. Try Minematsu and Hiyuko Tsuru breweries in Kashima or Kitaya Brewery in Yame. You’ll come away knowing your ordinary Fukutshu from your high-grade Daiginjo, or the difference between a dark Koshu and a cloudy Nigorizake.
Kyūshū also the birthplace of shochu, a spirit distilled from various raw materials, including corn, barley and sweet potatoes (yes, really, sweet potatoes). Many of Fukuoka’s brewers create shochu as a by-product of sake, using rice, along with fruity shobun vinegar, which is so delicate that it’s enjoyed watered down as a cordial.
1. Gothenburg and the west coast, Sweden
In the space of a couple of decades, Sweden’s second biggest city has reinvented itself as one of Europe’s coolest city break destinations. It’s still a big industrial hub with a busy port at its heart, but the focus is increasingly on tourism. Why should you go? For the super-fresh seafood, for the locally brewed beer and laidback bars, and for the car-free islands that lie just offshore, where you can swim in cool, clear waters.
2. Skagen, Denmark
Set on a narrow spit of land with breezy beaches on both sides, Skagen is Denmark’s northernmost town – and one of its prettiest, too, with mustard-yellow houses lining the streets. Since the Nordic Impressionists arrived here more than a century ago, attracted by the big skies and soft golden light, the artists have kept on coming. Now the town is dotted with galleries, workshops and antiques shops. Cycle a few kilometres northeast of town to the sandbar called Grenen, where Denmark ends, and you can watch two separate seas sloshing together before your eyes.
3. Bergen and the fjords, Norway
Bergen looks like it was built for a photoshoot, but its beauty pales in comparison to the epic fjords nearby. You might find that the staggering views are rewarding enough (imagine soaring mountains reflected in mirror-smooth water), but otherwise there’s a whole host of adrenaline-pumping activities to keep you occupied. Anyone for paragliding?
4. Stockholm, Sweden
Sprawling across low islands that are stitched together by passenger boats and bridges, with views of soaring spires around almost every corner, Stockholm sure is a looker. But beyond the medieval lanes of the old centre, the self-proclaimed Capital of Scandinavia is a slick, forward-thinking city, home to some of the world’s coolest tech and fashion brands. It’s pricey and pretentious, sure, but there’s a reason young Swedes flock here from all four corners of the country.
5. Lapland, Norway & Sweden
Wood-fired saunas, shivering forests, reindeer meat and steaming cups of lingonberry juice: Lapland manages to roll Scandinavia’s most exotic bits into a single epic landscape. Challenging weather conditions and the area’s vast size can make exploring a slow process, but with a long weekend you’ll be able to get a decent flavour for life in the north. Watch the northern lights, try ice fishing or snuggle down for a night at the Icehotel. Come back in summer when the sun reappears, nourishing the valleys with meltwater, and the possibilities for hiking are endless.
6. Copenhagen, Denmark
When it comes to art, design, fashion and food, no other Scandinavian city can compete with Copenhagen. Yes, Noma is here, but most visitors experience a more laidback version of the city, where bottles of Carlsberg are still swigged at canal-side bars, and where pushbikes – not limos – remain the favoured mode of transport. Give the famous Little Mermaid statue a miss, and instead make time for the galleries, food carts and design shops. A weekend here is barely enough to scratch the surface.
7. Österlen, Sweden
Home to rolling fields of poppies and cornflowers, rather than the usual dense pine forests, Österlen is the gorgeous chunk of land in the far southeast of Sweden. It’s one of the best parts of the country to explore by car, with farm shops and orchards sprouting up at the side of the road, and powder-fine beaches hugging the pristine coast. Head to Stenshuvud Nationalpark on a warm summer’s day, squint just a little, and you might think you’ve landed on some languid Thai island.
Best for sightseeing: Spandauer Vorstadt
Arcing elegantly above the Spree between Friedrichstrasse and Alexanderplatz, theSpandauer Vorstadt was an eighteenth-century suburb that today serves as Berlin’s primary “downtown” area, and is the heart of the Mitte district.
This is the most obvious area to stay in Berlin, particularly if you’re after a major hotel. There is also a good selection of hostels and boutique hotels here – all within walking distance of many city-centre attractions, and near good eating and nightlife options.
Best boutique: Hackescher Markt. Quirky little hotel on a quiet side street, in the middle of the Hackescher Markt bar scene.
Best for families: Prenzlauer Berg
If you are going to be in Berlin a little longer than a weekend or prefer a quieter, less touristy but equally happening residential neighbourhood, Prenzlauer Berg is a good choice.
Built in the nineteenth century as a working-class district, the area has seen huge gentrification. Today’s refurbished buildings and handsome, cobbled streets create an attractive Alt Berlin atmosphere beloved by wealthy creative types and middle-class families, who gravitate towards leafy, laidback squares like Helmholtzplatz and Kollwitzplatz.
Apartment stay: Ackselhaus. Offbeat hotel and apartments on an attractive residential street in the heart of the lively Prenzlauer Berg scene.
Best for choice: City West
Four boroughs make up City West: Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg, Tiergarten and Charlottenburg, known for its wealthy residents and expensive shops.
You’ll find plenty of options in every category here, although it’s a little away from Berlin’s brightest lights, so nightlife is very thin, but the restaurant scene is generally very good and transport links first-class.
Pick of the hostels: Jetpak Flashpacker. Western Berlin’s best hostel is scrupulously clean and in a quiet residential neighbourhood.
Best for bar-hopping: Friedrichshain
Though part of an ensemble of former East inner-city areas, Friedrichshain has developed a slightly differently mien than that of neighbouring Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. A magnet for lefties, anarchists and students, it has managed to resist the same levels of gentrification thanks to an organised squatter scene, activist demos and the occasional car-burning frenzy.
It’s most popular for bar-hopping and clubbing, but the area does offer some heavyweight public monuments, the world-famous East Side gallery and the imposing Karl-Marx-Allee among them. It’s also home to – indeed named after – the lovely, sprawling Volkspark Friedrichshain.
Warehouse cool: Michelberger Hotel. Modern, trendy and relaxed haunt with anything but workaday accommodation.
Best for cutting-edge culture: East Kreuzberg
An isolated section of West Berlin throughout the Cold War, Kreuzberg has since grown into one of Berlin’s most colourful districts – a magnet for left-wing anarchists, gays, turkish immigrants (it’s sometimes called little Istanbul) and, increasingly, hipsters and tourists.
Much of the eastern part of Kreuzberg abutted the wall on the West side and was strongly associated with Berlin’s squatter and anarchist scenes. Though the area has gentrified somewhat since those heady days, it maintains a grungy, vibrant feel, fuelled by an ever-expanding series of excellent independent bars, clubs and restaurants.
Flashpacking: Jetpak Alternative. Slick branch of Berlin’s best hostel chain that offers a pretty stark contrast to Kreuzberg’s gritty but happening Wrangelkiez neighbourhood.
1. TYNEMOUTH, TYNE & WEAR
A 25-minute drive or Metro hop from central Newcastle, Tynemouth lies exactly where its name suggests. Of its beaches, surf-hub Longsands gets most of the accolades. But clamber down the stairs from the clifftop to King Edward’s Bay, and you’re in for a real treat. This is where Geordie foodies flock, in fine weather or otherwise, to enjoy superb seafood and real ales at Riley’s Fish Shack, a simple hut-kitchen that is the beach’s lone structure. Tynemouth also has a ruined priory and castle to enjoy, plus a Sunday flea market.
2. SOUTHWOLD, SUFFOLK
Perched on the east coast of England, the small town of Southwold offers typical seaside merriment with its sandy beach, traditional pier and candy-coloured beach huts. A working lighthouse (open to visitors) stands sentinel, surveying the bay, while the Adnams Brewery, which still operates on the same site after 670 years, wafts early morning hops into the sea air. Plenty of excellent eating and accommodation options range from the smart Swan Hotel, situated on the picturesque market square, to a nearby campsite – all a pebble’s throw from the sea.
3. PORTHMADOG, GWYNEDD
If Porthmadog is handsome, it owes at least a portion of its good looks to the magnificent views all around – from town, you can gaze up the Vale of Ffestiniog and across the estuary of the Glaslyn River to Snowdonia’s mountains. Indeed, there’s no finer base for trips into Snowdonia National Park, and Porthmadog is also the terminus of a fabulous narrow-gauge rail line – the 22km-long Ffestiniog Railway is the finest of its kind in Wales, and runs from Porthmadog harbour to the slate-mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. A mile south of Porthmadog, Borth-y-Gest is little more than a semi-circle of low, brightly painted Victorian houses lining the beach – and utterly charming in its simplicity.
4. WHITSTABLE, KENT
Whitstable, on the north Kent coast, is a popular London escape route – but don’t let that put you off. One of the major attractions here are the local oysters, which the town has been famous for since Roman times. The annual highlight is the Oyster festival (last two weeks of July), when you can expect oyster-eating competitions, parades and performances. At any time of year, however, this is a great place to come for fresh seafood and windswept coastal walks.
5. ABERYSTWYTH, CEREDIGION
Two sweeping pebble bays, soft-hued Georgian houses lining the promenade, the nineteenth-century Royal Pier – Aberystwyth has all the hallmarks of a traditional British seaside resort. Yet this mid-Wales hub offers more than just bucket-and-spade amusements. Aberystwyth is a blast of fresh salty air with a lively student population, plentiful pubs, booming café culture, and a strong sense of national pride, which combined with the thriving art scene, make this one of the best places to enjoy live Welsh music.
6. SHANKLIN, THE ISLE OF WIGHT
Possibly the Isle of Wight’s most idyllic seaside resort, Shanklin has an archetypically pretty Old Village with thatched pubs, sweet shops and traditional tearooms. At the bottom of the steep cliffs is a pretty beach, where you can hire kayaks and the like in front of a row of whitewashed guesthouses and cafés. Don’t miss Shanklin Chine, a mossy gorge with fascinating World War II military connections.
7. HASTINGS, EAST SUSSEX
Once seen as a tired and tacky seaside resort, Hastings in East Sussex doesn’t get the love it deserves. The town has the UK’s largest land-launched fishing fleet, which means there’s ultra-fresh seafood on offer just behind the working beach, and a host of small but brilliant restaurants that serve the catch of the day. There are curios and antiques galore on the Old Town’s George Street, and some funny old funiculars to take you up the cliffs for a great view over the town. But it’s not all about the old in Hastings: 2016 saw the opening of the brand new pier, after the previous one was ravaged by fire, and its given the town a new lease of life.
1. Make the journey to Bai Tu Long Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay is just to the northeast of world-famous Ha Long Bay – and its striking expanse is just as beautiful. However, it sees a fraction of the visitors.
More and more tour companies are now offering trips to Bai Tu Long (“Children of the Dragon”). Or, if you want to go it alone, you can take the ferry to remote Quan Lan Island – the slow boat from Cai Rong has the best views.
Quan Lan has only a handful of hotels, and very little English is spoken – but that’s part of the joy. Once you’ve taken in the bay, bask on the untouched beaches (the best stretch along the east coast) and explore the virtually empty roads by bicycle. You’ll get the impression that little has changed here for decades.
2. Enjoy farm-to-table food in Bong Lai Valley
Phong Nha National Park may already be on your itinerary, but your taste buds will thank you for venturing to nearby Bong Lai Valley. Farming is integral to the community here, and more and more locals are now opening their homes to visitors.
Farm-to-fork restaurants will give you a true taste of the local delicacies; Moi Moi’s speciality is pork slow-cooked in bamboo tubes and delicious veggie peanut dumplings. At The Duck Stop you can feed the ducks and buy drinks and packets of fresh pepper. The legendary Pub With Cold Beer does exactly what it says on the tin, plus there are hammocks and a river to swim in. In the true spirit of farm-to-table, they will kill and cook a chicken for a shared lunch.
3. Visit minority villages around Kon Tum
The lush central highlands are a highlight for many adventurers in Vietnam. The sleepy provincial capital, Kon Tum, with its glorious riverside setting, is particularly lovely.
Curiously overlooked by tourists, the 650 minority villages surrounding Kon Tum are wonderful, welcoming places to visit too. And you’re unlikely to see another foreigner on your travels. You can stay overnight in a communal thatched rong in the Bahner villages, within easy walking distance from the centre of town.
4. Take a road trip to remote Ha Giang
Home to several ethnic minority groups, including the Hmong, Dao and Giay, Vietnam’s Far North is the final frontier for intrepid travellers – and nowhere is wilder than Ha Giang. Mountain roads wind through lush green landscape and open out to incredible vistas, particularly in the rugged Dong Vang Karst Plateau Geopark.
5. Cycle the Mekong Delta’s An Binh Island
To experience a slice of island life on your Vietnam adventure, head all the way south to the languid Mekong Delta. The watery rural idyll of An Binh Island is criss-crossed by narrow dirt paths perfect for exploring by bicycle. All routes are fringed with palm trees, with a backdrop of lush orchards and traditional thatched houses, many of which are open as homestays. Staying here overnight and exploring at your own pace is far more rewarding than a day tour organised from Ho Chi Minh City.
6. Drink homebrew at Hanoi’s other Bia Hoi Corner
Bia hoi can be found all over Vietnam and, in Hanoi, most visitors head straight to the tourist-laden bia hoi on Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien in the Old Quarter. Come evening time, the bars, filled with plastic stools at squatting height, are full to the brim with an international crowd sipping bottled beer.
But, to get a flavour of a real bia hoi, try further west on the corner of Bat Dang and Duong Thanh. Here, room temperature 5000VND (20¢) draught beer is served in sticky glasses to a predominantly male clientele.
7. Experience Mai Chau hospitality
Surprisingly overlooked by foreign visitors considering its proximity to Hanoi (135km southwest of the city), rural Mai Chau is a world away from Vietnam’s chaotic capital. The valley is inhabited mainly by the White Thai minority, many of whom have opened their traditional stilt houses as rustic homestays. You only need to wander the villages that fan out from Bac Ha to find somewhere to get your head down.
Once settled, feast on delicious home-cooked meals before a backdrop of jagged karst mountains.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.