In a ground-breaking eco initiative, Paris is going car-free for the first time. Next week, on Sunday the 27th September, cars will be banned from the centre of the city from 11am to 6pm.

Despite the well-known Velib cycle-sharing scheme, Pais is struggling with pollution. The organisers hope the project will galvanise residents to think about how they are shaping the future of their city, explore new areas on on foot and teach kids how to cycle.

For those struggling to occupy themselves, they’ve also provided a helpful list of suggestions, including – true to French stereotype – organising a wine tasting to take advantage of a day free from the dangers of drink-driving.

But above all, there’s a serious message: they hope that their “impossible dream come to life” will inspire other cities to follow in their footsteps. It’s certainly an initiative we’d love to see rolled out around the world.

Do you agree?

Former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Alastair Humphreys is the pioneer of the Microadventure. Greg Dickinson caught up with him to discuss walking around London’s M25, cycling around the planet and the joys of sleeping in a bivvy bag.

How did your life as an adventurer begin?

I started as a normal person who wanted to have a big adventure. When I was 24 I set off to cycle around the world. I had just finished university and I realised it was a perfect chance to go before real life got in the way.

When I got back I wanted to write a book about it, so to fund my life I started doing talks at schools and got paid a bit. Then I started to think… hey, maybe I can make adventure my life.

 

Image by Alastair Humphreys

In ten words, what exactly is a microadventure?

Just an adventure, but one that is compatible with busy real life.

That was twelve but we’ll let you off. How did you come up with the idea?

I started to realise that more people love the idea of adventures than those who actually go out and do the adventuring themselves. It’s partly down to laziness, but it’s also down to real life things getting in the way: like a lack of time, lack of money, lack of experience.

I wanted to show that you could still have adventures around those constraints. If you’re unable to spend four years cycling around the world, it’s better to go cycling for the weekend than to do absolutely nothing at all.

What is the “5 to 9” Microadventure?

If you try to think of a trip that’s too big and too complicated it often just doesn’t happen. So I came up with the idea of leaving work at 5, having a microadventure and then going back to the office the next day.

If you go and do that once, you then realise it’s much easier to go and have a weekend trip. Then you start to get a bit of momentum, and before you know it you’re speaking to your boss requesting an extended chunk of annual leave.

Image by Alastair Humphreys

What was your first microadventure?

The thing that changed everything for me was when I walked a lap of the M25. I did it with a friend in January when it was snowy and cold. We would hop over the fence beyond the hard shoulder and walk in the fields, woods, towns and villages adjacent to the motorway.

I was really surprised quite how much I enjoyed it, and how many similarities the trip had with something like cycling around the world; going to new places, meeting new people, doing something challenging, finding beautiful places to sleep. It was a really stupid thing to do, but I was trying to show that you can find adventure and wilderness anywhere, even in the most unlikely of spots.

What was your favourite microadventure to date?

One of my favourite microadventures was last summer. Trying to find time to see your friends becomes quite difficult, even when they live on the other side of London it’s a struggle. So quite a few of us who now live in different places – London, Kent, Bristol, Cheltenham – all agreed to meet on a hill in the middle of the Cotswolds one summer’s evening for sunset.

People finished work, we climbed the hill, rendezvoused for sunset, had food and a couple of drinks, slept on the hill in a bivvy bag and disappeared the next morning back to work.

Image by Alastair Humphreys

So tell us, what’s it really like sleeping in a bivvy bag?

Sleeping in a tent out in the wild is quite fun, but once you’ve tried a bivvy bag you realise that a tent is just a really crap version of being indoors. If you want to be properly outside then a bivvy bag does the job; when you wake in the night you see the stars overhead. It’s cheap, simple, light to carry, it’s not a hassle, it’s easy to pack away when you get home and it’s a bit silly. Unless it rains, in which case they’re miserable. Or if there are midges…

What else is on the essential microadventure kit list?

The kit is so simple. Sleeping bag, warm clothes, rain clothes, bivvy bag, camping mat, torch, food and water – and any luxury items you feel will make things more enjoyable.

What’s your next microadventure going to be?

In September it will be the equinox. This year I am going out on the two equinoxes (spring and autumn) and the two solstices (June and December) to sleep in the same wood four times. Just seeing different places at different times of year in different conditions feels like a bit of an adventure.

Image by Alastair Humphreys

What have you learnt about the UK since you started going on microadventures?

I’ve learnt so much about the UK. Before I started going on microadventures I was excited about travelling the world. I loved far off wild places and thought Britain was a bit boring and small. But I’ve discovered that the variety of the landscapes in the UK is truly amazing.

The mountains are really big, wild and beautiful but they’re also so tiny that anybody can go up them. From thinking of the UK as being a rubbish place for an adventurous person to live, I now absolutely love it. That’s been a real revelation for me.

What would you say to convince someone to go on a microadventure?

The first step is putting a date in the diary. If you’re the sort of person who’s a bit lazy and wimps out of stuff then recruit a friend so you can chivvy each other on. Next, find a plan that is really unambitious so you’ll actually do it.

If you find it difficult to motivate yourself for an adventure then I’d advocate just sleeping in your garden for one night, just to remind yourself what it’s like to see the stars and hear the birdsong.

Alastair blogs about his adventures and Microadventures on www.alastairhumphreys.com. His highly acclaimed book, Microadventures, can be ordered through his website (UK) or on Amazon.

Staying the night in a treehouse – everyone’s favourite childhood fantasy – has now become a reality. Treehouse hotels have sprung up around the world, with mystical woodland hideaways now found everywhere everywhere from Costa Rica to Thailand. Here are 8 of our favourites.

1. Treehotel, Sweden

Sweden’s Treehotel, built by some of the country’s finest architects, takes the humble treehouse to new levels. Its six, strikingly modern “treerooms” range from the futuristic glass Mirrorcube to the alien-like UFO. And if a night here wasn’t unforgettable enough, there’s even a sauna suspended from the pines.

Peter Lundstrom, WDO – www.treehotel.se (top, right and featured image); Fredrik Broman, Human Spectra – www.treehotel.se (left)

2. Tree House Lodge, Costa Rica 

In 10 acres behind Punta Uva beach in the province of Limón lies a treehouse that owners Edsart Besier & Pamela Rodriguez promise will take you back to your childhood. Surrounded by a tropical garden and accessed via a wooden suspension bridge, it’s the perfect place to unwind.

Image courtesy of Tree House Lodge Costa Rica

3. Garden Village, Slovenia

A short walk from the banks of Slovenia’s famous Lake Bled, Garden Village is a fairytale come to life. Neat rows of luxury glamping tents are staggered down the hillside, while six treehouses hide in the woods alongside, connected by wooden platforms and short suspension bridges. Romantic escapes don’t come much better than this.

Garden Village / Jost Gantar (top); Jonathan Smith / Dorling Kindersley (left); Tim Draper / Rough Guides (right)

4. Chewton Glen, England

You’ll find the ultimate in treehouse luxury at Chewton Glen in the New Forest. Four luxury treehouse cabins are squirrelled away in a wooded valley here and the extras are fittingly decadent: spa treatments, golf buggies to take you to the main hotel and gourmet hampers delivered through a secret hatch.

Images courtesy of Chewton Glen

5. Tongabezi Lodge, Zambia

It’s hard to imagine waking up to the crashing of Victoria Falls. but when you stay at Tongabezi Lodge’s Tree House, this becomes a reality. Hidden away on the banks of the Zambezi river, along the cliff face past the pool, this ground-level treehouse offers a tranquil situated away from the main lodge. Staying here is a way to “experience the beauty and majesty of Zambia without setting a foot outside”, they say.

Image courtesy of Tongabezi Safari Lodge – www.tongabezi.com

6. Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica, Peru

Deep in the Peruvian Rainforest, a stay at Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica plunges you into jungle life. Set within a 17,000 hectare private reserve, this luxury resort offers the likes of spa treatments, jungle treks and bird watching expeditions. Best of all, however, is their Canopy Tree House – although at 90-ft above the jungle floor, a night here is not for the faint hearted.

Images courtesy of Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica

7. Milandes Treehouse, France

Ever wondered what it would be like to have your own private castle? Well now you can find out with a night at Milandes Treehouse. This extravagant construction has been built in the style of a traditional French châteaux, and as you admire the panoramic views you are guaranteed to feel like royalty.

Image courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk 

8. Free Spirit Spheres, Canada

The gently rocking Free Spirit Spheres on Vancouver Island in Canada might look childlike, but these treehouses are strictly for adults only. The experience is designed to conjure mystery, magic and a connection with the forest – maybe even thoughts of elves and fairies, they say.

Free Spirit Spheres by Kyle Greenberg via Flickr (CC license) [top]; Treehouses 2010 by chillbay via Flickr (CC license) [left and right, with small crop]

Banish thoughts of Miami Vice or ‘God’s waiting room’. The Sunshine State’s most flamboyant city is rapidly changing and there’s more to discover than golden sand and neon nightclubs. Down-at-heel neighbourhoods are being revitalised, the art scene is spreading and with its variety of cultural influences from Latin to Caribbean, Miami has grown into a city full of fantastic food.

Art in all shapes and sizes

Art Basel and its celebrity-studded parties have become a regular December fixture, but Miami is home to a thriving community of artists, designers and collectors and you can find art year round.

Pink Snails – Art Basel by Ines Hegedus-Garcia via Flickr (cc license)

Wynwood, a decaying district in Miami’s midtown, has been transformed into an arty enclave. Warehouse walls were a blank canvas for local artists and now Wynwood Walls is one of the world’s largest collections of street art. Exhibition spaces range from impressive private galleries, such as the Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Collection, to experimental pop ups. Every second Saturday, Wynwood Art Walk run gallery and graffiti tours.

The state-of-the-art Perez Art Museum Miami, opened in December 2013, showcasing contemporary art from the Americas, Western Europe and Africa. Then came the inauguration of Museum Park, the waterfront space overlooking Biscayne Bay in which PAMM is located, where the Frost Museum of Science will open in 2016.

Perez Art Museum by Phillip Pessar via Flickr (cc license)

Midtown’s Design District is home to the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami and the De La Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space and by the end of the year, the Paseo Ponti, will end in the public art-filled Paradise Plaza.

The glamorous island playground of Miami Beach also celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Its living museum of Art Deco design is best explored on foot, with a walking tour from the Miami Design Preservation League, or by bike.

Culinary highlights

Miami used to be all about down-at-heel diners and style-over-substance restaurants, but now there’s everything from hotel dining from star chefs to farm-to-fork restaurants and gourmet food trucks.

Miami’s culinary revival began in the 1990s with the Mango Gang, four pioneering local chefs who were inspired by South Florida’s indigenous ingredients and mixed them up with Caribbean cooking to create Floribbean cuisine.

Taco Heat Food Truck by Phillip Pessar via Flickr (cc license)

At the food trucks, taste Latin flavours in Colombian empanadas, Peruvian ceviche, Puerto Rican mofongo and doorstep-sized Cuban medianoches (slow-roasted pork sandwiches). Or you can feast off the tourist track at one of the ever-expanding range of down-to-earth restaurants.

There are also hundreds of hole-in-the-wall joints. A good way to uncover the best bites and get a real taste of Miami culture is to go on a foodie walkabout around South Beach, Little Havana or the Wynwood Arts District with Miami Culinary Tours.

For a locals’ hotspot, try one of the ever-expanding range of Pubbelly restaurants created by three Miami chefs, including Pubbelly Sushi, PB Steak, the pop-up Taco Belly, or the original Pubbelly gastropub. The atmosphere is laidback, tables are communal and the food is great – wash it down with beer from a local microbrewery.

Retail therapy

From mega-malls to independent shops, Miami has enough to satisfy the most ardent shopaholic.

The warehouses of midtown Miami, now converted into the Design District, see international luxury brands rub shoulders with galleries and restaurants from the world’s top chefs. Still under construction, by the end of 2016 there’ll be more than 200 retailers in this compact space.

Genius Jones – Miami Design District by Ines Hegedus-Garcia via Flickr (cc license)

For more haute design head to Bal Harbour Mall in North Miami Beach. Known as the ‘Shopping Hall of Fame’, it’s home to all the top European designers; the open-air mall’s architecture is unmistakably 1950s Miami-Modern, or MiMo.

Another architectural gem is The Alchemist in Lincoln Road. The brainchild of a former fashion editor, this sixty-foot-high glass box perched on top of a garage is the place to shop for high-end labels.

The Webster’s exclusive collaborations with up-and-coming designers and regular events make it a fashionista’s favourite. Also popular with A-listers and their stylists, C. Madeleine’s Vintage Showroom is where gorgeous vintage gets reincarnated.

Chic sleeps

The city’s makeover also extends to its accommodation. Sleek, design-led hotels seem to open by the week, all paying homage to Miami’s rich architectural history.

Newcomers include the Metropolitan by COMO, its art deco lines complemented by Paola Navone interiors, a Bali-inspired COMO Shambhala Spa, a seafood-focused restaurant and a tranquil stretch of beachfront.

This year, the eco-conscious, 426-room 1 Hotel South Beach opened in a 1925 Art Deco building, channelling green-but-glam with reclaimed wood, living walls and hemp-filled mattresses, with farm-to-table food from Tom Colicchio and the city’s largest rooftop pool.

Room view by Paolo Gamba via Flickr (cc license)

The Edition, a collaboration between Ian Schrager and Marriott Hotels, occupies a renovated 1950s landmark on Collins Avenue, where many of the 294 minimalist rooms and suites boast ocean views and you can try disco bowling downstairs.

And the 380-room beachfront Thompson Miami Beach set in a 1940s skyscraper captures the mid-century modern aesthetic with eclectic furnishings and colourful interiors.

In November, Faena’s reworking of the historic Saxony Hotel will include a cabaret theatre, an enormous spa and an Argentinian restaurant with an alfresco barbecue. While the Faena-owned boutique Casa Claridge’s offers accommodation in ornate Mediterranean Revival style.

Explore more of Florida with the Rough Guide to FloridaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

The southernmost territory of SpainAndalucía is the part of the Iberian peninsula that is most quintessentially Spanish. The popular image of Spain as a land of flamenco, sherry and ruined castles derives from this spectacularly beautiful region.

Andalucía’s manageable size also makes it easy to take in something of each of its elements – inland cities, extensive coastline and mountainous sierras – even on a brief visit. Plus the proliferation of dramatic historic buildings mean there are plenty of unforgettable places to stay. From humble family-run pensiones and hostales to five-star luxury hotels, these are some of our favourites from the new Rough Guide to Andalucía.

1. Convento la Almoraima, Castellar de la Frontera

Just above the Bay of Algeciras, this is a magical hotel is housed inside a renovated seventeenth-century convent with a stunning patio and imposing Florentine tower. The rooms are elegantly furnished to four-star standard and there’s a pool and tennis court. The hotel is also surrounded by vast tracts of wooded walking country in the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales, making it hard to imagine a more serene stopover.

P1010005 by Antonio via Flickr (CC license) / cropped

2. La Casa del Califa, Vejer de la Frontera

This enchanting hotel, created inside a refurbished, part-Moorish house (reflecting the town’s Moorish origins), has magnificent views towards the coast far below. Individually styled rooms are decorated with Moroccan lamps and fittings, and guests have use of two patios, a terrace and a library.

3. La Seguiriya, Alhama de Granada

A charming hospedería rural and restaurant in an eighteenth-century house with fine views over the tajo from its back garden. The amiable proprietors – he a former flamenco singer, she a wonderful chef – make a stay here very special – the perfect end to any Andalucía trip.

Casas Blancas in Vejer de la Frontera by Li-Mette via Flickr (CC license)

4. Hospedería La Cartuja, Cazalla de la Sierra

A former Carthusian monastery transformed into a charming hotel surrounded by rolling hill country. As well as eight elegantly styled rooms in what was formerly the monastery’s gatehouse, the evocative ruin of the fifteenth-century monastery behind contains an art gallery.

5. La Casa Grande, Arcos de la Frontera

Perched on a clifftop, this former casa señorial has a spectacular columned patio and sensational views across the vega from a terrace bar. Some of the beautiful rooms (and more expensive suites) come with their own terrace, too.

Arcos de la Frontera by Joan Sorolla via Flickr (CC license)

 6. Los Pinos, Andújar

Secreted away in the densely wooded Parque Natural Sierra de Andújar – home to the threatened Iberian lynx – this is a very pleasant hotel with cosy en-suite rooms, apartamentos rurales and cottages arranged around a pool. There’s plenty of good hiking nearby.

7. Palacio de la Rambla, Ubeda

In Ubeda’s old quarter, this upmarket casa palacio owned by the Marquesa de la Rambla is the last word in understated taste. The lavish interior – with eight palatial rooms set around a stunning renaissance patio designed by Vandelvira – contains valuable furnishings and artworks.

Palacio de la Rambla by Cayetano via Flickr (CC license)

8. Alquería de Morayma, Cadiar

The cortijo (farmhouse) of an extensive estate is now a superb hotel set in 86 acres of farmland. Rooms are rustic and traditionally styled, plus there’s a pool, mountain biking and horse-riding on offer. You can even watch its organic farm in action, producing the wine, cheese and olive oil served in its restaurant.

9. Hotel Rodalquilar, Rodalquilar

In a former gold-mining village in Almería’s desert, this modern spa-inn with lofty palms and makes a great base to explore a dramatic gulch-riven landscape. Rooms are arranged around a sunken courtyard; a restaurant, pool, spa, sauna and gym plus free loan of mountain bikes are just a few of the facilities on offer.

Hotel de Naturaleza Rodalquilar by Toprural via Flickr (CC license

 Explore more of Andalucía with the Rough Guide to AndaluciaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tuscany harbours the classic landscapes of Italy, familiar from a thousand Renaissance paintings, with its backdrop of medieval hill-towns, rows of cypresses, vineyards and olive groves, and artfully sited villas and farmhouses. It’s a stereotype that has long held an irresistible attraction. Nowadays Tuscany is among Italy’s wealthiest regions, but it remains predominantly rural, with great tracts of land still looking much as they did half a millennium ago.

It’s not possible to see everything that Tuscany has to offer in one trip – but this selection of the region’s highlights is a great place to start. From the new Rough Guide to Tuscany and Umbria, this is our pick of the best things to do in Tuscany.

1. Taste truffles in San Miniato

Tuscany offers plenty of opportunities for sampling this perfumed and pricey fungus. San Miniato, a brisk little agricultural town more or less equidistant between Pisa and Florence, is particularly renowned throughout Italy for the white variety.

2. Take a day-trip to Cortona

The ancient hill-town of Cortona is the major attraction on the agricultural plain of the Valdichiana, its steep streets giving an unforgettable view over Lago Trasimeno and the Valdichiana. In the wake of the film of Under the Tuscan Sun, Cortona was briefly the second most popular Italian destination for US tourists after Venice, but although it still attracts busloads of tourists nowadays, its steep little streets have not yet lost their charm.

3. Go wild in the Monti dell’Uccellina

The protected environment of the Monti dell’Uccellina is one of Italy’s last pristine stretches of coastline. The Maremma region in which it lies was long Tuscany’s forgotten corner, its coastal plains, marshes, forest-covered hills and wild, empty upland interior having been a place of exile and fear for much of the last five hundred years, but in this regional park efforts have been made to preserve these natural treasures.

4. Make a pilgrimage to La Verna

St Francis’s mountaintop retreat, still a thriving Franciscan monastery commanding wonderful views of the Apennines, is Tuscany’s major pilgrimage site. Some come here to pay homage, others to stay in the guesthouse adjoining the monks’ quarters and some merely out of curiosity. Unlike at the basilica at Assisi, however, sightseers rarely obscure the purpose of the place.

5. Get lost in The Uffizi

Italy’s finest collection of art and the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in Florence has recently doubled in size. There are so many masterpieces collected here that you can only skate over the surface in a single visit – set aside at least half a day to explore.

6. Go walking in the Alpi Apuane

Famous for their marble quarries, the Alpi Apuane of Northern Tuscany are also something of a botanical wonderland, with vast forests of beech and chestnut, and a profusion of wildflowers in spring. A network of clearly marked footpaths and longer trails thread the steep forested valleys, and there are some three hundred species of birds to spot as you hike – including the golden eagle, kestrels, buzzards and sparrowhawks.

7. Visit the Piero della Francesca masterpieces in Arezzo

Exquisite Renaissance works adorn almost every place of any size in Tuscany, but the stunning fresco cycles in Arezzo by Piero della Francesca are some of the finest of the region’s riches. Only 25 people are allowed into the choir of San Francesco at a time, so to be sure of getting in at the hour you want, check the Rough Guide for details of how to book a place in advance.

8. Wander the streets of San Gimignano

San Gimignano – “delle Belle Torri” – is famed for its amazing skyline which is dominated by fifteen medieval towers. The beautifully persevered streets are a vision of medieval perfection, but visit out of season if you can; the town’s magic can be compromised in summer by huge numbers of day-trippers.

9. Be a tourist in Pisa

It might be the subject of millions of postcards, but the Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa is still worth visiting. There’s a breathtaking array of buildings here: the Leaning Tower, Italy’s signature building saved from collapse in the nick of time, the vast Romanesque cathedral, the magnificent baptistery and the Camposanto with its beautiful frescoes and impressive tombs.

10. Walk the city walls in Lucca

Lucca has some of the most handsome Romanesque buildings in Europe, but tourism here is very much a secondary consideration. Get to know the town by walking or cycling the fortifications that still completely encircle the old city – the mid-afternoon shutdown is perhaps the best time to follow the 4km circuit, which is lined with plane, lime, ilex and chestnut trees.

11. Wine down in Chianti

Some of Italy’s finest vintages are produced in these celebrated vineyards between Florence and Siena. The region can seem like a place where every aspect of life is in perfect balance: the undulating landscape is harmoniously varied; the climate for most of the year is balmy; and on top of all this there’s some serious wine tasting to get stuck into…

12. Embrace open-air art

Located 5km southeast of Capalbio is one of Italy’s oddest collections of modern art, Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden), a whimsical sculpture garden of prodigious works by Niki de Saint Phalle. The brightly coloured, Gaudí-esque opus took the artist almost seventeen years to complete and the result is a truly staggering sight – sheer fun that children love and adults marvel at.

13. Sample island life on Giglio

Out in the Tuscan archipelago, Giglio is relatively unspoilt by the sort of tourist development that has infiltrated – though certainly not ruined – nearby Elba. This little jewel of an island boasts citadels, stone villages and panoramic mountain hikes, as well as beaches and watersports.

14. Hit the spa

Tuscany has some of the swankiest spa towns in all of Italy, but at Bagno Vignoni you can soak without paying a cent. This tiny and atmospheric village has a wonderful natural hot spring and Medici-era pool in place of a central piazza – sadly this is now out of bounds, but you can take a dip in the free outdoor sulphur pools nearby.

15. Go rural

Staying in Tuscany’s hill-towns obviously makes sightseeing easier, but the quality and variety of the region’s rural accommodation is outstanding. If you want to splash out, try a top-price hotel in a sublime setting such as the Castello di Velona. This twelfth-century “castle” 10km south of Montalcino is now a superb 46-room five-star hotel, set in lovely open countryside on its own hill and ringed by cypresses.

 Get the complete guide to Tuscany with the Rough Guide to Tuscany and UmbriaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

So you’ve gawked at the guards of Buckingham Palace, hiked up Snowdon and hit the beach – what next? From lethal motorcycle races to mountain towns that look like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, here are 8 unconventional things to do in the UK.

1. Horse about at Scotland’s Common Ridings

The Common Ridings of the Scottish border towns of Hawick, Selkirk, Jedburgh and Lauder are an equestrian extravaganza that combines the danger of Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermin and the drinking of Munich’s Oktoberfest. At dawn on each day of the ridings, a colourful and incredibly noisy drum and fife band marches around the streets to shake people from their sleep. It’s a signal: everyone get down to the pub – they open at 6am – and stock up on the traditional breakfast of “Curds and Cream” (rum and milk). Suitably fortified, over two hundred riders then mount their horses and gallop at breakneck speed around the ancient lanes and narrow streets of town, before heading out into the fields to race again.

By early evening, the spectators and riders stagger back into Hawick to reacquaint themselves with the town’s pubs. Stumbling out onto the street at well past midnight, you should have just enough time for an hour or two of shuteye before the fife band strikes up once more and it’s time to do it all over again.

2. Find Middle Earth in Northern Ireland

The mountains rise above the seaside town of Newcastle like green giants, with Slieve Donard the highest, almost 3000ft above the sandy strand of Dundrum Bay. Donard is just one of more than twenty peaks in County Down’s Mourne, with a dozen of them towering over 2000ft.

Conveniently grouped together in a range that is just seven miles broad and about fourteen miles long, they are surprisingly overlooked. On foot, in a landscape with no interior roads, you feel as if you have reached a magical oasis of high ground, a pure space that is part Finian’s Rainbow and part Middle Earth. This is ancient land and prehistoric cairns and stone graves – said to mark the resting place of Irish chiefs – dot the hills, peering through the mist to meet you.

3. Mountain bike on world-class trails in Wales

It’s not often that the modest mountains of Wales can compete with giants like the Alps or the Rockies, but when it comes to mountain biking, the trails that run through the craggy peaks of Snowdonia, the high moorlands of the Cambrian Mountains, and the deep, green valleys of South Wales are more than a match for their loftier counterparts. Indeed, the International Mountain Biking Association has long rated Wales as one of the planet’s top destinations.

Over the last decade or so, a series of purpose-built mountain-biking centres has been created throughout the country, providing world-class riding for everyone from rank beginner through to potential-world-cup downhiller. From easy, gently undulating trails along former rail lines that once served the heavy industry of the South Wales valleys, to the steep, rooty, rocky single tracks that run through the cloud-shadowed hills of North Wales, this is mountain biking at its finest.

_MTB1662 by Dai Williams (license)

4. Explore Britain’s most mysterious beach in Scotland

Cape Wrath is a name that epitomizes nature at its harshest, land and sea at their most unforgiving. In fact, the name Wrath denotes a “turning point” in Old Norse, and the Vikings regarded this stockade of vertical rock in the most northwesterly corner of Scotland as a milestone in their ocean-going voyages. As such, they were surely among the first travellers to come under the spell of Sandwood Bay, the Cape’s most elemental stretch of coastline.

Here blow Britain’s most remote sands, flanked by epic dunes and a slither of shimmering loch; a beach of such austere and unexpected elegance, scoured so relentlessly by the Atlantic and located in such relative isolation, that it scarcely seems part of the Scottish mainland at all. Even on the clearest of summer days, when shoals of cumuli race shadows across the foreshore, you are unlikely to encounter other visitors save for the odd sandpiper. You might not be entirely alone, though; whole galleons are said to be buried in the sand, and a cast of mermaids, ghostly pirates and grumbling sailors has filled accounts of the place for as long as people have frequented it.

5. Discover heaven on Earth in Cornwall

A disused clay pit may seem like an odd location for Britain’s very own ecological paradise, but then everything about Cornwall’s Eden Project is far from conventional. From the concept of creating a unique ecosystem that could showcase the diversity of the world’s plant life, through to the execution – a set of bulbous, alien-like, geodesic biomes wedged into the hillside of a crater – the designers have never been less than innovative.

The gigantic humid Rainforest Biome, the largest conservatory in the world, is kept at a constant temperature of 30°c. Besides housing lofty trees and creepers that scale its full 160ft height, it takes visitors on a journey through tropical agriculture from coffee growing to the banana trade, to rice production and finding a cure for leukaemia. There’s even a life-size replica of a bamboo Malaysian jungle home, and a spectacular treetop Canopy Walkway.

6. Call in the heavies at the Highland Games

Throughout Scotland, not just in the Highlands, summer signals the onset of the Highland Games, from the smallest village get-togethers to the Giant Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, which draws a crowd of around 20,000. Urbanites might blanch at the idea of alfresco Scottish country dancing, but with dog trials, tractors, fudge stalls and more cute animals than you could toss a caber (tree trunk) at, the Highland Games are a guaranteed paradise for kids.

The military origins of the games are recalled in displays of muscle-power by bulky bekilted local men, from tossing the caber to hurling hammers and stones, and pitching bales of straw over a raised pole. Music and dance are also integral to the games, with pipe bands and young girls – kitted out in waistcoats, kilts and long woolly socks – performing reels and sword dances. A truly Scottish sight to behold.

7. Take bonfire night to extremes in Lewes

The first week of November sees one of the eccentric English’s most irresponsible, unruly and downright dangerous festivals – Bonfire Night. Up and down the country, human effigies are burned in back gardens and fireworks are set off – all in the name of Guy Fawkes’ foiled attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 – but in the otherwise peaceful market town of Lewes, things are taken to extremes. Imagine a head-on collision between Halloween and Mardi Gras and you’re well on your way to picturing Bonfire Night, Lewes-style.

Throughout the evening, smoke fills the Lewes air, giving the steep and narrow streets an eerie, almost medieval feel. As the evening draws on, rowdy torch-lit processions make their way through the streets, pausing to hurl barrels of burning tar into the River Ouse before dispersing to their own part of town to stoke up their bonfires.

Forget the limp burgers of mainstream displays and lame sparklers suitable for use at home – for a real pyrotechnic party, Lewes is king.

8. Browse one of England’s oldest markets in Birmingham

There’s enough chaos and colour to rival any frenetic southeast-Asian market here, as a stroll around Birmingham’s Bull Ring markets is an overdose for the senses. The pungent aromas of fresh seafood; the jewel colours and silken textures of miles and miles of rolled fabrics; the racket from hundreds of vendors bellowing news of their latest offerings in hopes of making a sale.

Around 850 years ago Birmingham became one of the first towns in medieval England to hold a legitimate weekly market, selling wares from leather to metal to meat at a site they named the Bull Ring, and cementing the Anglo-Saxon settlement on the map for centuries to come. But while Birmingham has much-changed since medieval times, the noise, excitement and commotion of its Bull Ring markets have barely changed at all – only now you can buy almost anything from neon mobile phone cases and knock-off superhero outfits to fresh meat, fruit and veg.


Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

Taken from the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget, these are our top 11 tips for backpacking Southeast Asia.

With its tempting mix of volcanoes, rainforest, rice fields, beaches and coral reefs, Southeast Asia is one of the most stimulating and accessible regions for independent travel in the world. You can spend the day exploring thousand-year-old Hindu ruins and the night at a rave on the beach; attend a Buddhist alms-giving ceremony at dawn and go whitewater rafting in the afternoon; chill out in a bamboo beach hut one week and hike through the jungle looking for orang-utans the next.

In short, there is enough here to keep anyone hooked for months. Here’s our advice for getting the most out of backpacking Southeast Asia for the first time.

1. Plan around the weather

Southeast Asia sits entirely within the tropics and so is broadly characterized by a hot and humid climate that varies little throughout the year, except during the two annual monsoons. Bear in mind, however, that each country has myriad microclimates; for more detail see our “when to go” pages for Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

2. Get off the beaten track

Though Southeast Asia has long been on the travellers’ trail, it doesn’t take too much to get off the beaten track – whether it’s to discover that perfect beach or to delve into the lush surrounds of the rainforest. Think about visiting the overlooked city of Battambang in Cambodia, taking the railroad less travelled in Thailand or exploring Myanmar’s unspoiled southern coast.

3. Try the street food

This is the home of the world’s tastiest cuisines, and the really good news is that the cheapest is often the best, with markets and roadside hawkers unbeatable places to try the many local specialities. Night markets, in particular, are great for tasting different dishes at extremely low prices – sizzling woks full of frying noodles, swirling clouds of spice-infused smoke and rows of glistening fried insects all make for an unforgettable gastronomic experience.

4. Budget carefully – but have the odd splurge

Your daily budget in Southeast Asia depends on where you’re travelling and how comfortable you want to be. You can survive on as little as $20 a day in some countries, but for this money you’ll be sleeping in very basic accommodation, eating at simple food stalls, and travelling on local non-a/c buses. Think about where paying a little more will really enrich your trip.

5. Learn from the locals

Tribal culture is a highlight of many visits to less explored areas, and among the most approachable communities are the tribal groups around Sa Pa in Vietnam, the Torjan of Sulawesi in Indonesia, known for their intriguing architecture and ghoulish burial rituals, and the ethnic minority villages surrounding Hsipaw in Myanmar.

6. Embrace the great outdoors

Up for getting active? There’s plenty to keep you busy. You can tackle world-class surf at G-land in Indonesia, take a mountain-bike tour of Vietnam’s far north or discover your own lonely bays and mysterious lagoons on a sea-kayak tour of Krabi in Thailand. And that’s just for starters…

7. Make time for temples

Southeast Asia’s myriad temple complexes are some of the region’s best-known attractions. The Hindu Khmers left a string of magnificent monuments, the most impressive of which can be seen at Angkor in Cambodia, while the Buddhists’ most impressive legacies include the colossal ninth-century stupa of Borobudur in Indonesia and the temple-strewn plain of Bagan in Myanmar.

8. Get high

No, not that kind of high. Every visitor should make an effort to climb one of the spectacular mountains, whether getting up before dawn to watch the sun rise from Indonesia’s Mount Bromo or embarking on the two-day trek to scale Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia.

9. Hit the beach

The beaches here are some of the finest in the world, and you’ll find the cream of the crop in Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, all of which boast postcard-pretty, white-sand bays, complete with azure waters and wooden beach shacks dotted along their palm-fringed shores. The clear tropical waters also offer supreme diving opportunities for novices and seasoned divers alike.

10. Take local transport

Local transport across Southeast Asia is uniformly good value compared to public transport in the West, and is often one of the highlights of a trip, not least because of the chance to fraternize with local travellers. Overland transport between neighbouring countries is also fairly straightforward so long as you have the right paperwork and are prepared to be patient.

11. Stay healthy

The vast majority of travellers to Southeast Asia suffer nothing more than an upset stomach, so long as they observe basic precautions about food and water hygiene, and research pre-trip vaccination and malaria prophylactic requirements – but it’s still vital to arrange health insurance before you leave home. Some of the illnesses you can pick up may also not show themselves immediately, so if you become ill within a year of returning home, tell your doctor where you have been.

For a complete guide to backpacking Southeast Asia, check out The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget. Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Brittany has long been one of the jewels in France’s crown. Its beaches and holiday homes are flooded each summer by Parisians on their grandes vacances and Brits piling off cross-channel ferries. It’s easy to see why. From the rugged beauty of the northern coast to the classy beach resorts, there’s no arguing that this independently minded region is among France’s most beautiful.

But there’s more to Brittany than the campsite and coast trail. This is also one of France’s finest regions for food lovers. Come slightly out of season and you’ll find that not only can you get the windswept sands all to yourself, there’s also a veritable array of culinary delights to get stuck into.

There are world-famous oysters to slurp as you shelter your wind-whipped skin in blustery little Cancale, salted caramels to roll over your tongue as you stroll the walls of St-Malo and the second-largest food market in France to browse in the capital, Rennes. There are Michelin-starred restaurants that fuse French classics with Asian influences and South American spices, and of course, there are Breton galettes and bolées of cider at every turn.

It’s a paradise for seafood lovers

Brittany partly has the tides to thank for the abundance of seafood. The tidal range here is one of the highest in Europe. This makes the coastline perfectly suited to farming both common rock oysters (huîtres creuses) and the native flat oysters (huîtres plates), which thrive in the waters of the Baie du Mont St-Michel.

To taste them, there’s only one place to go, the undisputed oyster capital and “one-mollusc town” of Cancale. The oyster beds here stretch out almost as far as the eye can see. Oysters are shucked so frequently by seafront stalls that a mountain of shells threatens to breach the sea wall like a high tide.

Spend a few hours in one of the unpretentious seafood restaurants and you’ll soon find yourself slurping down a cool half-dozen huîtres, grappling with little brown shrimp, prying the sweet meat from lobsters’ claws and getting skilled with a toothpick as you pluck little black sea snails from their shells.

If you want to be resolutely Breton, a mug (bolée) of cider – the drier the better – is a good accompaniment. Better is a glass of frostily crisp Muscadet, made from Melon de Bourgogne in the neighbouring vineyards of Nantes. (Brittany’s historic capital becomes temporarily Breton once again as soon as oysters come into play.)

It’s the only place to settle the crêpe vs galette debate

Most visitors, however, arrive in Brittany with one thing on their mind: pancakes. Luckily there are a slew of places waiting to indulge your every batter-based fantasy – from vans selling galette-wrapped sausages smothered in mustard to little crêperies like the Crêperie du Port in Saint-Quay-Portrieux that offer cookery lessons to visitors.

Traditionally, galettes and crêpes are eaten in the same meal. Savoury buckwheat-flour galettes come first, topped with combinations like ham, egg and cheese (the “complete”). White-flour crêpes are served for dessert. Forget about nutella, if you want to embrace all things Breton, you need to drizzle your pancake with salted butter caramel sauce.

à la bretonne! by Jérôme Decq via Flickr (CC license)

It’s the original home of salted caramel

The creation of salted butter caramel (caramel beurre salé) stems back to the 1500s, when Brittany was the only part of France to be exempt from a salt tax known as the gabelle. As such, salt was liberally sprinkled in the local cuisine – a tradition that remains evident in Brittany’s famous salted butter today.

It’s thought the next step came about in the 1970s when an ingenious pâtissier decided to use salted butter to make caramel. A beautiful union was born, and today you’ll find salted caramel in everything from sauces to hard sweets.

It’s a great place to hit the market

Away from the coast, one of the other joys of Brittany is shopping in the local markets. One of the best is in the capital, Rennes, where the second-largest market second in France (after Lille) sprawls through the centre of the small city.

Trestle tables groan with local produce throughout the year. The likes of rhubarb, asparagus and scallops in spring; artichokes (around 70 percent of France’s artichokes are grown here), currants and bundles of herbs in summer; apples, rabbit and mushrooms in autumn; and cabbages, potatoes and carrots in winter.

Its Michelin-starred restaurants are refreshingly inventive

In the kitchen of the nearby restaurant La Coquerie, meanwhile, the focus shifts east. A long way east. Rennes is twinned with Sendai in Japan, and this connection is echoed in Julien Lemarié’s classy fusion menu. He uses local Breton produce in recipes inspired by his time in Tokyo and Singapore – from slow-cooked egg with star anise, confit lime and nori to oysters in a wasabi-spiked broth.

Surprising pairings also crop up elsewhere; Brittany is no place for traditionalists. Celebrated local chef Olivier Roellinger might have closed his three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Relais Gourmand, but his influence remains in a hotel, a spice shop, Epices Roellinger, and a cookery school, the Ecole de Cuisine Corsaire run by Emmanuel Tessier.

Roellinger’s unusual philosophy is based around the use of exotic spices – once bought to Brittany’s ports by corsairs – to enliven classic recipes. One of his most famous creations is homard Xérès et cacao: lobster spiced with Amazonian annatto seeds, Indian coriander, cacao, sherry vinegar and a hint of vanilla.

It’s the perfect place to overindulge

If this is starting to sound like a bit too much, don’t worry: Brittany does down-time well. Thanks to a law that new houses can be built no closer than 50m from coastline, rocky coves and deserted strands abound.

And if a sea breeze isn’t enough to blow away the cobwebs, you can even indulge in a weird and wonderful array of salt-water-based spa treatments at the Spa Marin du Val André.

To be honest, though, a crepe with lashings of salted butter caramel is much more restorative.

Discover more about the region on www.brittanytourism.com, a one-stop resource for all things Breton. Explore more with the Rough Guide to Brittany and NormandyCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Header credit:Ramen/photocuisine/Corbis. All photos in this feature copyright Eleanor Aldridge unless otherwise stated. 

The fabled Pacific Crest Trail guides adventuresome hikers from the borders of Mexico to Canada, blazing across the deserts, mountain ranges and dense forests that make up America’s breathtaking Western States (California, Oregon, and Washington). It usually takes five months for thru-hikers to complete, but you’re about to make the 4286km journey in less than three minutes.

This film’s creator, Halfway Anywhere, says he quit his job to make the trip after “finally realizing that what you grow up thinking you are supposed to do and what you can actually do are two entirely different things”.

When you see the stunning clips in this video, you might just want to do the same:

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month