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:

Some sights are touristy for a good reason. They’re the ones you go to Europe to check off: a wobbly gondola on the canals of Venice, or a mandatory Eiffel Tower selfie. Europe has countless sights all worth a visit in their own right, but there’s so much more to the continent than cathedrals and beaches – and some of it’s pretty bizarre. So from plastic hammer fights in Portugal, to a night behind bars in an ex-Soviet prison, here are a few things to do in Europe you probably never considered.

1. Sleep with fishes at Sweden’s Utter Inn

In many ways, Sweden‘s Utter Inn is your archetypal Swedish house: its walls are wood-panelled and painted red, there’s a white gabled roof, and the location – propped on a little island in the middle of Lake Malaren – is classic Scandinavia. But things get slightly surreal once you look out of the window of the hotel’s solitary room. A large Baltic salmon glides past, followed by a huge shoal of smelt. These are not your average lakeside views, but then you’re not actually lakeside. The island is actually a tiny pontoon, the red house just the tip of the architectural iceberg: Utter Inn lies 3m below the surface of the lake. A night spent here is literally like living in a goldfish bowl.

2. Play for high stakes at Italy’s Il Palio

Siena’s famous bareback horse race – Il Palio – is a highly charged, death-defying dash around the boundary of the city’s majestic Piazza del Campo.  The race is held twice every summer and takes only ninety seconds. The only rule is that there are no rules: practically anything goes as riders shove each other off their mounts. The course is so treacherous, with its sharp turns and sloping, slippery surfaces that often fewer than half of the participants finish. But in any case it’s only the horse that matters – the beast that crosses the line first (even without its rider) is the winner.

speed by Giorgio Montersino (license)

3. Ponder Armageddon at the Plokštine missile base in Lithuania

It’s not often you’re invited to join a guided tour of a nuclear missile base, especially when you’re in the middle of one of northeastern Europe’s most idyllic areas of unspoilt wilderness. However, this is exactly what’s on offer at Plateliai, the rustic, timber-built village in the centre of western Lithuania’s Zemaitija National Park. It’s perversely appropriate that Soviet military planners chose this spot as the perfect place to hide a rocket base. Closed down in 1978, it’s now eerily empty of any signs that would indicate its previous purpose. Until, that is, you come to one of the silos themselves – a vast, metal-lined cylindrical pit deep enough to accommodate 22m of slender, warhead-tipped rocket. The missile itself was evacuated long ago, but peering into the abyss can still be a heart-stopping experience.

4. Get naked in France’s Cap d’Agde

Of a size and scale befitting a small town, France‘s Cap d’Agde legendary nudist resort has to be one of the world’s most unique places to stay. The resort’s sprawling campsite is generally the domain of what the French call bios: hardy souls who love their body hair as much as they hate their clothes, and are invariably the naked ones in the queue at the post office. But the bios share the Cap with a very different breed, libertines for whom being naked is a fashion statement as much as a philosophy: smooth bodies and intimate piercings are the order of the day – and sex on the beach is not necessarily a cocktail. Come evening, throngs of more adventurous debauchees congregate in the Cap’s bars, restaurants and notoriously wild swingers’ clubs for a night of uninhibited fun and frolicking.

Horizontal by Björn Lindell (license)

5. Spend a night at the cells in Latvia’s Liepa–ja prison

Being incarcerated in a foreign country is usually the stuff of holiday nightmares. Unless you want an insight into Latvian history, that is. The former naval prison in Karosta, a Russian-built port that stretches north from the seaside city of Liepāja, is now the venue for an interactive performance/tour that involves such delights as being herded at gunpoint by actors dressed as Soviet prison guards, then interrogated in Russian by KGB officers. Stay the night and things get even harder – you may find yourself mopping the floors before bedding down in one of the bare cells, only to be brutally awoken by an early morning call.

6. Lose your grip on reality in Austria

Pegging yourself as the “Museum of the Future” is, in our ever-changing world, bold. Brash, even. And that’s exactly what the Ars Electronica Centre in Linz is. Dedicated to new technology, and its influence within the realms of art, few museums on Earth have their fingers quite as firmly on the pulse. Come here for the CAVE (Cave Automatic Visual Environment). This room, measuring – cutely enough – 3m cubed, is at the cutting-edge of virtual reality; the simulation uses technology so advanced – 3D projections dance across the walls and along the floor, as you navigate through virtual solar systems and across artificial landscapes – that you feel like you’re part of the installation. 

AEC Linz by Konstantinos Dafalias (license)

7. Play with fire at Spain’s Las Fallas

Catholic Spain traditionally holds fast to old habits, synchronizing Saints’ days with ancient seasonal rites. The most famous – and noisiest – festival of all is Las Fallas: in mid-March the streets of Valencia combust in a riot of flame and firecrackers, ostensibly in celebration of St Joseph.  It’s (barely) controlled pyromania, a festival where the neighbourhood firemen are on overtime and beauty sleep is in short supply. The fallas themselves are huge satirical tableaux peopled by ninots, or allegorical figures – everyone from voluptuous harlots to Vladimir Putin – painstakingly crafted out of wood, wax, papier-mâché andcardboard. They’re exhibited during nightly street parties, before all five hundred of them literally go up in smoke at midnight every March 19.

8. Toboggan without snow in Madeira, Portugal

However you make the 560m climb up to Monte, the hillside town that hangs quietly over Madeira’s capital, Funchal, there’s only one way we recommend getting back down: toboggan. There’s no snow, of course – this is a subtropical paradise. The road becomes your black run as you hurtle towards sea level in a giant wicker basket. At first, progress is slow. Then gravity takes over, powering you to speeds of up to 48 km/hr. When you think you’re going too fast to stop (there aren’t any real brakes here), your wheezing guides will dig their rubber boots into the tarmac – giving you  the first chance to jump out, look down and admire the sparkling blue Atlantic that stretches out before you.

photo by A m o r e Caterina (license)

9. Get hitched at the Roma Bride Market in Bulgaria

While the setting – a dusty field next to a cattle market, perhaps, or a car park – couldn’t be less glamorous, the atmosphere is anything but dull. Heavily made-up girls, blinged to the nines in seductive sequined dresses and high heels, dance provocatively on car roofs, which themselves have been rigged up with speakers pumping out ear-splitting pop. Meanwhile, leather-clad boys strut and pose, eyeing up potential partners as they go. Each year, the nondescript town of Stara Zagora, some 200km southeast of the capital, Sofia, plays host to one of Europe’s more unorthodox happenings: the Bride Market, which typically attracts a couple of thousand people. Nowadays the event is more of a fair than a marketplace though – the space where the courtship process begins before anything more serious is considered.

10. Join a hammer festival in Portugal

Porto’s Festa de São João is a magnificent display of midsummer madness – one giant street party, where bands of hammer-wielding lunatics roam the town, and every available outdoor space is given over to a full night of eating, drinking and dancing to welcome in the city’s saint’s day. No one seems to know the origin of this tradition of hitting people on the head, but what was customarily a rather harmless pat with a leek has evolved into a somewhat firmer clout with a plastic hammer. Midnight sees the inevitable climax of fireworks, but the night is far from over. The emphasis shifts further west to the beach of Praia dos Ingleses, where youths challenging each other to jump over the largest flames of bonfires lit for São João.

photo by Lachlan Heasman (license)

11. Discover the Human Fish in Slovenia

Postojna‘s vast network of caves, winding 2km through cramped tunnels and otherworldly chambers, is the continent’s largest cave system, adorned with infinite stalactites, and stalagmites so massive they appear like pillars. Despite the smudged signatures etched into the craggy walls that suggest an earlier human presence in the caves – possibly as far back as the thirteenth century – this immense grotto’s most prized asset, and most famous resident, is Proteus anguinus, aka the Human Fish. The enigmatic 25cm-long, pigmentless amphibian has a peculiar snake-like appearance, with two tiny pairs of legs – hence the name – and a flat, pointed fin to propel itself through water. Almost totally blind, and with a lifespan approaching one hundred years, it can also go years without food, though it’s been known to dabble in a spot of cannibalism.

12. Attend the World Alternative Games in Wales

Bathtubbing? Wife-carrying? Combined mountain biking and beer drinking? No one does wacky quite like the Welsh, it seems, at least not like the natives of Llanwrtyd Wells. Each year, a series of bonkers events takes place that belies this small town’s sleepy appearance – indeed, with a population of just over six hundred, it can justifiably claim to be Britain’s smallest town. Conceived in 2012 as an antidote to the Olympic Games in London, it involves more than sixty madcap events. Utterly pointless, all of them, though try telling that to the legions of well-honed finger jousters, gravy wrestlers and backwards runners who descend upon the town in their hundreds (sometimes thousands) in search of fame and glory, of sorts. Perhaps the best thing about all these events is that anyone is free to participate – so what are you waiting for?


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

 

What once began as a marketing ploy for a therapeutic mud found near Boryeong, a small city on South Korea’s sandy west coast, has since transformed into a unique festival that draws millions every year. But this is no spa day.

Mud Fest 2008 by Hypnotica Studios Infinite (license)

The annual Boryeong Mud Festival is where people come to get dirty. Filthy. Caked from head to toe in wet, grey earth that is – according to Korean research institutions – exceptionally good for your skin.

Try keeping those cosmetic benefits in mind as you speed down inflatable super-slides into mud pools. Challenge others attendees to a wrestling match in the much-famed mud ring, fly high in a slimy bouncy castle, or try some marine-style mud training if you’re feeling tough. All this and more is situated right on Daecheon beach. So if you feel the need, just wash off in the placid Yellow Sea.

Mud Fest 2008 by Hypnotica Studios Infinite (license)

Boryeong Mud Festival runs for ten days, from July 17th–26th, and is open to all ages. The final weekend has proven to be the wildest in the past, kicked off by a Friday night hip-hop rave, but don’t underestimate the party-power of mud on any given day.

Muddy people 2 by Jordi Sanchez Teruel (license)

Whether you’re trying to sort out where wet earth ends and your body begins, or comprehend the paradox that mud is actually cleaning you, this festival is definitely worth the trip. Who’s up for it?

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Taken from the Rough Guide to South America on a Budget, these are our top nine tips for backpacking South America.

From the tropical beaches of the Caribbean to the windswept archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, backpacking South America guarantees a treasure trove of adventures that has fuelled the imagination of travellers for centuries, with dizzying landscapes, legendary cities and mind-boggling ancient ruins.

Haul on your backpack and follow in some famous – and infamous – footsteps: from Darwin’s voyage through the Galápagos and Che Guevara’s across the Andes to the devastating path of the conquistadors in Peru.

With backpacker-friendly hostels at every turn – and especially in irresistible cities from Buenos Aires and Rio to Quito and Cartagena – backpacking South America is both a breeze and the trip of a lifetime.

1. Learn the lingo

South America is a hugely popular destination to brush up on your Spanish: Cusco, Peru; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sucre, Bolivia; and Quito, Ecuador, are the most popular destinations to take a course. In Brazil, most of the large cities are great locations for learning Portuguese. You can also try out indigenous languages such as Quechua in Bolivia or Guaraní in Paraguay. Living with a host family for a stint is a rich way to go about it.

2. Use your nous

South America is a continent that suffers from high levels of poverty. In general, cities are more dangerous than rural areas, although the very deserted mountain plains can harbour bandits. Many of the working-class barrios of big cities are “no-go” areas for tourists, as are the marginal areas near them. Caracas has experienced an upsurge in violent crime in the last few years, so take extra care.

3. Research your accommodation

The range of accommodation available is enormous and you’ll find that the US$10 that buys you a night’s rest in Ecuador won’t even stretch to breakfast in the Southern Cone or French Guiana. Unless you’re rocking up at festival time there’s usually no shortage of places to stay. Generally, the Andean countries are the least expensive, and you should be able to find a decent room in a residencial or pensión for under US$15 (US$8 for dorms). A lot of travellers stay in backpacker-focused hostels – with the term “party hostel” referring to those places that lay on a throbbing bar and plenty of reasons to stay on site (try to avoid being one of those people).

4. Embrace bus travel

The “chicken” bus… You’re going to have to learn to love these blinged-up ex-US school buses, adorned with cartoonishly painted images of everything from religious figures to curvaceous warrior queens and the Tasmanian Devil, which are the main means of travel for short-ish journeys across much of the continent. They get their nickname not from the stench of the fried chicken being munched by your fellow passengers (though this is another South American favourite), but from the fact that locals will bring just about anything onto the bus with them – including farm animals.

5. Time your trip wisely

With about two-thirds of South America near the equator or the tropic of Capricorn, visitors to most destinations can expect a tropical or subtropical climate all year round. Temperatures rarely drop below 20°C, while rainforest regions average maximum temperatures of about 30°C. As you get further south (and don’t forget the southern hemisphere reverses the seasons), you’ll find colder winters from June to August and milder summers from December to February, with the extreme south of the continent freezing between April and October. It’s important to plan around the rainy season in each country, particularly when travelling in the Andes.

6. Follow the festivals

South America loves a fiesta, by far the most famous being Carnaval, the legendary flesh-fest (closely associated with Rio), with official celebrations usually taking place on the days before Ash Wednesday and Lent. For something spiritual, head to Inti Raymi, a week-long Inca festival in Cusco, Peru, where thousands of revellers honour the sun god. Down in Argentina, the Feria de Mataderos lets you mingle with gauchos at one of Buenos Aires’ most exhilarating events. Be aware, when planning your movements, that some towns and villages celebrate saints’ days and other local holidays that shut down businesses and make travel difficult.

7. Stay healthy

The potential health risks in South America read like a textbook of tropical diseases. But if you prepare carefully and take sensible precautions, you’ll probably face nothing worse than a mild case of “Montezuma’s revenge” (traveller’s diarrhoea) as your system gets used to foreign germs and unhygienic conditions. That said, be sure to get health advice before you travel and arrange vaccinations in plenty of time (we’re talking ten weeks or so before you travel). The most common risks are heat stroke, and bites and stings – especially by those pesky mosquitoes, so definitely plan ahead if you’ll be in a malaria zone. Good medical insurance is, of course, essential.

8. Go wild

Visit any corner of the Amazon (Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela) and you’ll be treated to a unparalleled biodiversity, while the Pantanal, Brazil, is the world’s largest wetland, home to thousands of animal species (jaguars and pumas among them). Splash out on a trip to Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands to see the giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions and flightless cormorants that Charles Darwin observed, subsequently developing his theories on evolution. Down in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, you can take a take a boat trip along Beagle Channel to see the penguins and whales.

9. Be brave about local cuisine

Your tastebuds are in for the time of their life, with each destination promising culinary riches. Even when a creation is shared between two countries, there’s often passionate debate about who does it best, as in the case of pisco sours, where the rivalry between Chile and Peru is fierce (better try both, then). As for the grub, a lot of the musts are dishes that the locals eat. As well as meaning that they’re cheap, this also guarantees you’ll be immersed in the day-to-day culture – whether that’s weighing out your own lunch alongside office workers in a comida por kilo joint in Rio or nibbling on a warming salteña in La Paz.

Explore more of South America with the Rough Guide to South America on a BudgetCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

If you’ve ever dreamed of flying through the air at high speed, or wondered what it might be like to jump off a large metal platform and leave your fate in the hands of some rope and wires, then Zip World Titan is for you. Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills visited the disused quarry in North Wales to tackle the only four-person zip line in Europe.

Zip lining is for kids though, right?

Not at Zip World Titan. Hurtling along at 70mph, with a 500ft drop below, is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Saying that, it is a family-friendly activity, as you can descend together on four parallel lines, meaning competitive parents can race their kids (and is likely to win, as for once, heavier means faster). And if you’re brave enough, you can take a drive 45-minutes north to sister site Zip World Velocity where you soar headfirst at 100mph…

Where is it?

Zip World Titan opened in the summer of 2014 at Llechwedd Slate Caverns, just outside the mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales, around ten miles northeast of Porthmadog. There are directions on the website but on a cold and bleak day and with no phone signal or wifi, you can feel a long way from everywhere.

What should I expect?

Titan has three zip lines: Anarchy (890m), Bedlam (630m) and Chaos (450m). The longest of the three, Anarchy, is most susceptible to bad weather and closes for winter and in high winds.

Once you’ve signed the necessary release forms (anyone for a psychologically challenging activity?) you’re given a bright red boiler suit to wear and helped with your harness. After being weighed you’re ushered into a specialised off road vehicle which negotiates the loose scree of the steeply sided quarry while you slide about on benches in the back.

The vehicle drops you off at the highest zip line and you’re clipped onto one of the four parallel wires, seated in your harness with your feet off the ground, steadied behind a metal gate that is shortly going to fly open – not unlike a Grand National steed waiting for the starter pistol. If you don’t weigh much, you’re advised to tuck up as tight as possible for a quicker descent.

The stunning views across moorland and peaks serve to distract from the fear of falling and all in all it’s not as scary as you might think. It can be blustery up there and the howling wind doesn’t exactly allay any fears, but in fact being buffeted by lusty gusts of wind actually slows you down. The upside is that it means plenty of time to look around. Staff are there to catch you at the end and you take a short walk between the lines to start on the next – the final zip line, Chaos, takes you whizzing over the on-site buildings and back to the start.

What should I wear?

Think practical. Hiking boots or trainers and warm gloves are recommended. It’s an exposed site, and it’s colder than you might expect. Plastic glasses, a helmet and a wind and waterproof flying suit are provided. Be warned that it’s far from a glamorous activity!

Is it safe?

Yes! The founders of Zip World are leaders in their field and they’ve built more than one thousand installations in more than thirty countries. Over two years is spent in research and development for each Zip World project. State of the art, patented technology is involved in the safety equipment, which is regularly checked and maintained. Although there is a small chance of a 2012 Olympics Boris Johnson moment as occasionally people have to be rescued by staff if they lose momentum before the finish.

Is it easy?

Zip lining doesn’t require all that much physical effort; it’s more about building up the courage to actually take part. Staff ensure that you’re safely clipped in and all you have to do is walk a short distance in your harness, though this is heavier than you might expect.

What if the weather is bad?

Make sure that you check the ride status online before you turn up. It’s Wales, so inevitable bad weather can affect the schedule – in the event of this, staff will do all they can to rearrange your booking. All through winter (and in high winds) they close the highest zip line and amendments to weight restrictions are sometimes introduced. They’ll try to give you 24 hours notice, but if the site does close you don’t get a refund; however you can rebook your activity anytime in the next twelve months. Call 01248 601 444 (option 2 for Zip World Titan).

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

Rough Guides’ adventure sports expert Helen Abramson gives us her top tips on some of the world’s best adrenalin­-pumping whitewater rafting. Rapids are classified from I–VI, where grade VI is “un-runnable”, so the Grade V rivers listed here are essentially as thrilling as it gets.

1. Zambezi River, Zimbabwe

Africa’s most exhilarating rafting is found on a 24km stretch between the narrow walls of Batoka Gorge, via 23 terrifying Grade IV and V rapids such as the “Gnashing Jaws of Death”, plus some huge drops. The put­-in point on the Zambezi River is at Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall by volume, making this among the most dramatic surroundings you can get while sitting in an inflatable raft. Just to add to the excitement, you might also get to see crocodiles and hippos up close. Trips run from half-a-day­ to eight days.

2. Colorado River, Arizona/Utah, USA

You can take in unique perspectives of the Grand Canyon from the wild Colorado River, which runs for 226 miles (363km) through Utah and Arizona, on this hair­-raising rafting trip down class IV–V rapids in the world’s deepest gorge. You can mix things up with visits to ancient Navajo ruins and side grottos, or with hikes to spectacular waterfalls. If you don’t feel up to a full­-on eighteen-­day belter, three days is usually the minimum to really get to grips with the river, though some companies run half-­day or day excursions too. Vessels vary from motorized, oared or paddle rafts to little wooden dories, and the season lasts from May to September.

3. Magpie River, Canada

Rafting down the Magpie in eastern Québec offers the chance to see more than just stunning secluded forests, intriguing wildlife and the impressive Magpie Falls – you might also catch a glimpse of the wonders of the aurora borealis. As if that’s not enough, the rafting begins after an epic seaplane trip onto Magpie Lake. The rapids get increasingly more aggressive and difficult to navigate as the eight-day trip downriver progresses, climaxing in Grade V rapids on the last day at Magpie Falls.

4. Noce River, Italy

Easily one of the top rafting destinations in Europe, fed by the melting glaciers of the Brenta Dolomites, the Noce River churns out Grade III–V rapids throughout the summer. Astounding views of sheer cliffs and distant snow­capped summits abound, as the river thunders through the gorges of Mostizzolo and across the remote Val di Sole (Sun Valley). The navigable 28km of the river can be done in one adrenalin­-pumped day.

5. Río Pacuaré, Costa Rica

One of the world’s best rafting rivers, the Río Pacuaré snakes its way through the untouched wilderness of Costa Rica‘s Cabecar Indian Reservation rainforest, where tropical birds, monkeys, jaguars and dwarf leopards reside. Day-trips on the Lower Pacuaré, where waterfalls flow into the river, cover 29km through Grade III and IV rapids. Multi­-day trips include stays at remote eco­jungle lodges where guests can enjoy the tranquillity of the nature reserve after tackling their way through tumbling rapids with chilling names such as “Terciopelo Snake” and “Pinball”.

6. Kali Gandaki, Nepal

The Kali Gandaki is named after the Hindu goddess of destruction for a good reason. It runs fiercely down from high in the Himalayas through one of the earth’s deepest ravines, with an excellent alpine view of the snow­-capped Annapurnas. Suitable for both rafting novices and connoisseurs, a three­-day trip from the lakeside town of Pokhara involves tumbling down grade IV rapids, encountering numerous waterfalls, temples and suspension bridges, and camping on isolated white­s-and beaches under an impossibly bright star­-filled sky. Conditions are best from mid­-October to mid­-December and March to April, conveniently crossing over with the peak seasons for trekking.

7. Futalefú River, Chile

In October 2014, plans to build a hydroelectric dam on the Chilean side of the Futalefú, in Patagonia, were successfully quashed after a long struggle by organisations determined to save the communities, wildlife and environmental beauty of the area. This means that, for now at least, rafters can still plummet down stunningly clear glacier­-fed waters. There are sections to suit all abilities, from for beginners to those willing to brave some seriously intense Grade V rapids. Chances of getting bored here are pretty slim – you can also go hiking, canyoning, ziplining, horse riding and abseiling. And to cap it all off, riverside camps all have hot tubs.

8. North Johnstone River, Australia

Deep in the lush volcanic gorge of North Queensland’s Palmerston National Park runs 80km of the North Johnstone River, offering Grade IV and V rapids which are boosted by the region’s heavy rainfall. The adrenalin stakes are upped on this trip with the compulsory arrival at the put-in point via helicopter ride. On this four-­day adventure into the heart of pristine rainforest, Aboriginal burial sites and 3,000­-year­-old trees are interspersed with wildlife such as saltwater crocodiles, pythons and water dragons, as well as eerily luminous fungi that grows on the riverbank rocks.

9. Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho, USA

Dive into one America’s largest wildernesses outside of Alaska on a trip down the roaring Salmon River, Idaho – often referred to the “river of no return”. With over 300 Grade I–III rapids over 105 miles (169km), a total drop of 3000 feet (900m), hot springs and wildlife such as brown bears, it’s no wonder that this is one of the world’s most popular rafting spots, and it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience. July and August are the best times to go, and trips usually run for 5 or 6 days.

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Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills goes deep underground in the heart of Snowdonia National Park to discover the latest, and craziest, adventure activity in North Wales.

A Victorian slate mine close to the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog was once where miners wielded hammers and chisels to eke out a hard living from the rock. Today, it’s home to the world’s first subterranean trampoline. I went to investigate.

Yes, a trampoline in a cave

In fact, three giant trampolines in a cave twice the size of St Paul’s Cathedral. Bounce Below came about after entrepreneur owner Sean Taylor saw a similar set up in the woods in France, but this is the first time it’s gone underground. Five hundred tonnes of rubble had to be removed from the cavern before the huge trampolines were strung up – the highest at 180ft – with chutes between each level and nets to stop the kids (and big kids) bouncing out.

Begin with trepidation…

This big kid is in her thirties and was feeling a fair amount of trepidation as our group crowded round to hear about the surreal activity we had signed up for. We grabbed helmets not dissimilar to those on a building site, except these were wet and smelled of cleaning chemicals. This was my first clue that things were going to get a bit sweaty.

We were then led through the damp and gloomy mines, ducking so not to hit our heads – the helmet wasn’t just a fashion accessory – and things got darker and colder the deeper we went.

Eventually we came into a huge cavern, which was ringing with noise like a crowded swimming pool on a weekend morning. I gazed up at the massive nets hanging suspended from the ceiling, illuminated with muted neon lights.

After another safety talk, which was mostly about not double bouncing the kids and taking the chutes (which I planned to avoid altogether) one person at a time, we were ushered across the walkway and into the initial practice zone, a quiet area where excited ten-year-olds bowled passed me to get to the good bit. As I wobbled from foot to foot, clinging to the netting at the side, I wondered if my day wouldn’t be better spent in a coffee shop somewhere warm. With a solid floor.

A drunk on a bouncy castle

Taking a deep breath, I launched myself through the gap and into the first zone.

It was almost impossible to stand and bounce in one spot as the trampoline heaved and pitched beneath my feet. As I bounced I was propelled from one side of the net to the other not unlike a drunk on a giant bouncy castle. It was very, very fun.

Trying to jump as high as possible, I went with it and tried, not very successfully, to stay on my feet. Before long I was exhausted and slightly hysterical, begging very small children to go and double bounce someone else.

Image courtesy of Visit Wales

Slides, walkways and shaky legs

There’s a narrow walkway (which thank goodness, isn’t bouncy), which takes you to the top trampoline 180ft off the ground. From here, it came as a bit of a shock to find out that the only way down was dropping feet first into a net chute sixty foot long and no wider than my shoulders. Luckily I heeded the warnings about covering your face with your hands as the netting whips against you as you plummet – another good reason for wearing something with long sleeves.

Slightly steadier on my feet by now, I happily bounced around the middle net before whizzing down to the lowest level where I had a well-earned lie down well away from the teenagers free running across the net.

The way up was a constricted walkway, likely made with very small cave trolls in mind, which I shuffled along, bent over double while it spiralled up for what seemed like forever. Emerging right back at the start, I was free to do it all over again. If only my legs would stop shaking.

Need to know

Restrictions
Weight: Max: 120kg Min: None
Age: Max: None Min: 7 (5 & 6 year olds by special arrangement)

Price for 1hr session
£20/person

Explore more of Wales with The Rough Guide to WalesCompare flightsbook hostels or hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Header image courtesy of Visit Wales.

Morocco’s tourist track isn’t well-beaten, it’s been thumped flat. Ask anyone who has been and the chances are they’ll have visited some combination of Marrakesh, the Sahara Desert, the Atlas Mountains and Essaouira – and they’ll probably have a small stuffed camel and a leather purse to prove it.

These are all worthwhile destinations in their own right, but there’s a whole host of better-kept secrets to be discovered in Morocco, and Chefchaouen (often shortened to Chaouen) remains one of the most alluring of the lot.

Hidden in the Rif Mountains, half a day’s drive away from the nearest cities of Fez or Tangier, Chefchaouen is as impossible to pronounce (“shef-sha-wen”) as it is to get your head around.

Everything about it is a bit off-beat: the locals here speak Spanish, not the French or Arabic that the guidebooks prepare you for; the town has a long history of hippie-culture and hashish that is still present today; and, perhaps most extraordinary of all, the entire medina is washed in a thousand magnificent shades of blue.

photo credit: Chaouen, Morocco via photopin (license)

Time-travelling in the medina

In The Rough Guide to Morocco we describe Chaouen’s medina as “surely the prettiest in the country”, and it’s hard to imagine anyone making a compelling argument against this.

Getting lost in the old town’s narrow and uncrowded streets is a photographer’s dream, with stray cats posing in front of ornate indigo doorways – many still wet from the morning’s lick of paint – and impossibly old men shuffling up and down blue staircases in conical hooded cloaks.

There are aspects of the old town that make you feel like you could have travelled back in time: the furn, or communal bakery, still delivers warm circular loaves of bread to locals every morning, while on market day hunched-over women descend from the mountain farms to sell vats of milk. It is only when you peek into a dark room full of kids gathered around a games console, or pass a carpet store blasting out Bruno Mars, that you will be politely reminded of the century you’re in.

photo credit: DSCF1021 via photopin (license) / colours adjusted

Hippies and hashish

Chefchaouen is notable for the absence of serious hasslers and hustlers, but anyone wearing a backpack will still probably be asked “do you smoke hashish?” a few times a day. The Rif Mountains that surround Chaouen form the epicentre of Morocco’s kif-growing industry, creating a unique atmosphere in the medina where formal Islam and bohemian stoner cultures seem to coexist in harmony.

Chefchaouen attracted pilgrims in search of its legendary marijuana long before tour operators started to include the town in their itineraries, and even today you’re likely to see the occasional dreadlocked backpacker, joint hanging from mouth, who could well have walked all the way from Tarifa.

photo credit: Chaouen via photopin (license)

Overdosing on mint teas and tagines

Unlike the more cosmopolitan cities of Fez, Casablanca and Marrakesh, Chefchaouen hasn’t seen much in the way of culinary diversification over the years.

Truth be told, you’ll be lucky to find anything that isn’t tajine or brochette (grilled meat on a stick) when it comes to hot food in the medina, washed down by the obligatory “Moroccan Whiskey” (mint tea; to be ordered without sugar if you want to travel home with all of your teeth). But there are a few spots that do stand out from the crowd.

Just off the main Plaza Outa el Hammam, La Lampe Magique Casa Aladdin offers some of the best views in town from its rooftop terrace, while Tissemlal serves traditional Moroccan dishes far superior to the other restaurants in the medina – with an open fire ablaze on cold evenings.

If you crack and can’t wait a second longer for western comforts, just outside the city walls at Plaza El Makhzen there is a cosy place to eat pizza to the sound of jazz radio (Mandala Pizzeria), with a ropey hotel a couple of doors along that serves overpriced beers to desperate Europeans.

Sunset from the Spanish mosque

Wherever you are in Chefchaouen you’ll be able to turn a corner and see the bright white Spanish Mosque, perched high on a hill just east of town. Spanish colonialists started work on the mosque when they arrived in Chefchaouen in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 2010 that they finally restored and opened the building to the public for the first time.

If your legs aren’t already broken from walking about the steep medina alleyways, it’s well worth making the 15-minute trek up to the mosque to catch the sunset. A wall just in front of the mosque acts as a perfect perching spot to watch the sun burn red over the distant mountains, often cloaked in low-lying clouds.

Once the show is over, resist the temptation to walk straight back to town and wait a few minutes for the call to prayer to erupt over the navy medina below, now lit only by the moon and a smattering of golden minarets.

Explore more of the country with the Rough Guide to Morocco. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

There’s nowhere quite like Amsterdam. You could
 be sitting nursing a drink outside one of its cafés, chugging by boat along its canals, or riding its ringing trams, and you’ll sense immediately that you couldn’t be anywhere else in the world. Of course, there’s a slew of first-rate attractions, but it’s not all about big sights here. You can have a great day out here, see loads, and not spend a cent apart from a few euros on lunch and dinner. From the new Pocket Rough Guide to Amsterdam, here’s our pick of the best free things to do in Amsterdam.

1. Go to the Bloemenmarkt

There’s no charge to wander past the stalls of the city’s wonderful floating flower market, the Bloemenmarkt (daily 9am–5pm, some stalls close on Sun), which extends along the southern bank of the Singel. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the market is one of the main suppliers of flowers to central Amsterdam, but its blooms and bulbs now share stall space with souvenir clogs, garden gnomes, Delftware and similar tat.

photo credit: Amsterdam: Floating Tulip Shop via photopin (license)

2. Explore Zeeburg

On the northeast edge of the city centre, Zeeburg has become one of the city’s most up-and-coming districts. Actually a series of artificial islands and peninsulas connected by bridges, the docks here date back to the end of the nineteenth century. By the early 1990s, the area was virtually derelict so the city council began a massive renovation, which has been going on for the past fifteen years or so. As a result, this is the fastest-developing part of Amsterdam, with a mixture of renovated dockside structures and new landmark buildings that give it a modern (and very watery) feel that’s markedly different from the city centre. The best way to explore is by bike.

photo credit: Veemkade Amsterdam via photopin (license)

3. Discover Begijnhof

A little gateway on the north side of the Spui leads into the Begijnhof, where a huddle of immaculately maintained old houses looks onto a central green. This is one of the city centre’s most beguiling sights, and totally free. It was founded in the fourteenth century as a home for the beguines – members of a Catholic sisterhood living as nuns, but without vows and with the right of return to the secular world.

photo credit: Hearing just the wind via photopin (license)

4. Stroll Albert Cuypmarkt

Just wandering the length of the city’s best (daily except Sun 10am–5pm) is a fine way to pass the time. It stretches for over 1km between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat and is the largest in the city, with a huge array of stalls selling everything from raw-herring sandwiches to saucepans. Check out the ethnic shops that flank the market on each side, and the good-value Indian and Surinamese restaurants down the side streets.

photo credit: A tiny army via photopin (license)

5. Listen to lunchtime concerts at the Concertgebouw

There are regular free lunchtime concerts at this impressive arts venue, home of the famed – and much recorded – Koninklijk (Royal) Concertgebouw Orchestra. It has become renowned among musicians and concertgoers 
for its marvelous acoustics, and after a facelift and the replacement of its crumbling foundations in the early 1990s it is looking and sounding better than ever.

photo credit: das Konzerthaus in Amsterdam am Rijksmuseum via photopin (license)

6. Walk in Vondelpark

Amsterdam is short of green spaces, which makes the leafy expanses of the Vondelpark, the city centre’s main park, one of its best attractions. The park possesses a wide variety of local and imported plants, an excellent rose garden, and a network of ponds and narrow waterways that are home to many sorts of wildfowl. There are other animals too: cows, sheep, hundreds of squirrels, plus a large colony of bright-green (and very noisy) parakeets. During the summer the park also regularly hosts free concerts and theatrical performances, mostly in its own specially designed open-air theatre.

 photo credit: P1680831 via photopin (license)

7. Visit the Schuttersgalerij

The Amsterdam Museum, which occupies the rambling seventeenth-century buildings of the former municipal orphanage, surveys the city’s development from its origins as an insignificant fishing village to its present incarnation as a major metropolis and trading centre. You have to pay to enter the main museum, but this gallery, with its portraits of civic guards, is free.

photo credit: Tulipes via photopin (license)

8. Take a ferry across the IJ

Take
 one of the free ferries from behind Centraal Station to Amsterdam Noord and discover leafy suburbs, perfect for aimless wandering. The city is riding something of a resurgent wave at the moment, and this is one of the best rediscovered neighbourhoods to expore.

photo credit: Nieuwendam via photopin (license)

9. See Amsterdam’s finest church

Trapped in her house, Anne Frank liked to listen to the bells of the Westerkerk, just along Prinsengracht, until they were taken away to be melted down for the German war effort. The church still dominates the district, its 85-metre tower – without question Amsterdam’s finest – soaring graciously above its surroundings. The church was designed by Hendrick de Keyser and completed in 1631 as part of the general enlargement of the city, but whereas the exterior is all studied elegance, the interior is bare and plain.

photo credit: Westerkerk via photopin (license)

10. Tour Gassan Diamonds

Before World War II, many local Jews worked as diamond cutters and polishers, but there’s little sign of the industry hereabouts today, the Gassan Diamonds factory being the main exception. Daily free guided tours include a visit to the cutting and polishing areas, as well a gambol round Gassan’s diamond jewellery showroom.

photo credit: DSC02241 via photopin (license)

Explore more of Amsterdam with Pocket Rough Guide. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Picturesque Wales has long drawn holidaymakers to its unspoilt countryside, rugged mountainous terrain and long, lonely coastline. Whether you’re after a dream-like hike or scenic drive, beautiful views aren’t hard to find. Here are some of our authors’ favourites – walks, nature reserves, beaches, railway journeys and much more – taken from new Rough Guide to Wales.

Wye Valley wonder

Walking or driving through the Wye Valley, especially near Tintern’s towering ruins, it’s easy to see why Wordsworth was so inspired.

photo credit: tintern abbey hdr arty via photopin (license)

Styles and starry skies

A vast area of rocky moors, Brecon Beacons National Park is not just perfect walking country – it’s also one of the world’s first “dark sky reserves”.

photo credit: IMG_7253 via photopin (license)

The end of the world

The Llŷn Peninsula excels in escapism, whether the panorama from the summit of Tre’r Ceiri or the lovely seaside village of Aberdaron.

photo credit: Sun going down over the Llyn Peninsula, North Wales via photopin (license)

Snowdonia’s finest scramble

Snowdon’s splendid, but the north ridge of Tryfan gives wonderful exposure and views, and the scramble up borders on rock-climbing.

photo credit: SANY0400.JPG via photopin (license)

Coastal escapes

You can’t beat the glorious views of Worms Head and Rhossili Bay from the head of the Gower Peninsula.

photo credit: Rhossili via photopin (license)

On the rails

Hop aboard Ffestiniog Railway, the finest of Wales’s narrow-gauge railways, which climbs 13 miles from the coast into the heart of the mountains.

photo credit: Ffestiniog Railway at Ddaullt via photopin (license)

Wales at its wildest

Covering 240 square miles, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park encompasses wooded estuaries, rocky cliffs and isolated beaches

photo credit: Wooltack Point – Pembrokeshire via photopin (license)

Skeletal grandeur

Newport’s Transporter Bridge, a remarkable feat of engineering, was described as “A giant with the might of Hercules and the grace of Apollo when it opened in 1906.

photo credit: Transporter Bridge via photopin (license)

Small-town splendour

There’s a superb view across the Menai Strait to the Snowdonian mountains in Beaumaris, plus a picture-postcard castle and lovely Georgian townscape.

photo credit: nature-trail-lighthouse-110.jpg via photopin (license)

Flocks away

Gigrin Farm is one of the best places in Europe to watch red kites feeding. As many as five hundred of the magnificent birds descend at any one time – a fantastic sight.

photo credit: Red Kites – Gigrin Farm via photopin (license)

A pass to the past

An ancient drovers’ road, the magnificent Abergwesyn Pass twists its way through the forests and valleys of the Cambrian Mountains.

photo credit: Llyn Brianne via photopin (license)

Explore more of Wales with The Rough Guide to WalesCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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