With a whole host of new attractions opening this year, from world-record-beating skyscrapers to whacky amusement parks, there’s plenty to get your teeth into. To help you decide where to visit, we’ve picked the top 9 new tourist attractions around the world. 

Shanghai Tower, China

A better symbol of China’s continuing march forward would be harder to find than the new Shanghai Tower, at 632 metres the world’s second tallest building and muscling its way in to every shot of Shanghai like a giant robotic arm. Twisted from base to tip, at about one degree per floor, it is even designed to withstand typhoons. By the end of this year the tower will also have the world’s highest observation deck, at 557 metres above sea level. Lifts will reach this in under one minute – so prepare for some ear-popping.

Lincoln Castle, UK

Want to see the document that gave birth to democracy? We’re talking about the Magna Carta of course, which reaches its 800th birthday this year. You can find out why it’s so highly lauded at Lincoln Castle. This eleventh-century Norman castle reopens in April and promises a state-of-the-art underground vault to house the Magna Carta, an ‘in-the-round’ film explaining its importance and history, a complete circular walk around the castle’s ancient walls and access to both the Victorian male and female prisons for the first time.

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA

One of the great shames of the art world is the amount of exceptional artwork kept in storage and rarely seen by the public. What is the point, after all, of owning a large art collection if you don’t have the space to exhibit it? The Whitney finally solves its space problem in 2015, with the opening of its new building; at 18,000 square feet, the largest column-free museum gallery in New York City. A cantilevered entrance beneath the High Line sets the tone for a graceful, light-filled gallery with river views – and, of course, some of the world’s greatest artworks.

IceCave, Iceland

Ever wondered what the inside of a glacier looks like? White? Deepest blue? Both? Well, wonder no more. Book a trip to Iceland this year and you can visit the country’s latest attraction, the IceCave. Here you can venture into a series of tunnels and caves running inside Langjökull Glacier, which stretch as much as 300 metres into the solid ice about 30 metres below the surface. These mind-bending proportions make the IceCave one of the largest man-made ice structures in the world – and well worth donning multiple layers of clothing to see.

Lost and Found festival, Malta

In April 2015 Malta will make its debut on the electronic music scene. From the 3rd to the 5th DJ Annie Mac will host Lost and Found, a new festival in St Paul’s Bay on the north shore and Ta’ Qali National Park near Rabat. With a line-up of international dance DJs, Lost and Found promises daytime pool and boat dance parties against an ocean backdrop and nighttime open-air raves with a chilled out vibe. You won’t even have to camp either: packages including hotel accommodation start from £148/$225 per person.

Dreamland, Margate, UK

2015 is set to be a great year for Margate, as the seaside resort’s most famous attraction, Dreamland, finally reopens. The UK’s oldest amusement park is being reimagined as the world’s first heritage amusement park by designer Wayne Hemmingway, its centerpiece the Grade II listed Scenic Railway, Britain’s oldest rollercoaster. Numerous rides from other parks are being rebuilt around it, many of which are the only remaining examples of their type. Ride the 1950s Hurricane Jets and the 1940s Caterpillar that once stood at Pleasureland Southport, before strolling past the large Tiffany lamps donated from the Blackpool Illuminations collection.

TreeTop Crazy Rider, New South Wales

Two words have never belonged together more than rollercoaster and zipline. Well, the crazy folks at Ourimbah State Forest on Australia’s Central Coast certainly think so. Their new 1km-long adventure must-do promises to combine the thrill and suspense of a rollercoaster with the flying sensation of a zipline. Strap in and swoop through the forest, twisting round corners and dropping into the bush. No special skills are required and it’s open to everyone over seven.

Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France

A new building has landed at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers – although we think it looks more like the giant foot of a crystal transformer. This is the new Musée des Confluences, a science centre and anthropology museum dedicated to pondering life’s big questions: Where do we come from? Who are we? And what do we do? No existential crisis needed though, there are said to be 2.2 million objects in the collection to answer these head scratchers, not to mention regular arts and crafts exhibitions.

Sa Pa cable car, Vietnam

Reaching the peak of Fansipan Mountain (3143m) used to mean a full-day hike at least. But from later this September the trek up will be reduced to a 20-minute flight by cable car. This will be the world’s longest and highest cable car, no less, running up from sleepy Sa Pa Town in Lao Cai Province to Indochina’s rooftop. Enjoy the view from the summit before exploring Sa Pa itself, an isolated community set to become firmly established on the tourist trail – the cable car will transport 2000 people per hour, the same number as reached the peak in an entire year previously.

For the best cities, countries, and best-value destinations to visit this year, check out the Rough Guide to 2015Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Tim Chester spends an evening with the “posh couple” from Britain’s latest TV  craze Gogglebox.

Gogglebox shouldn’t work. The TV show about people watching TV shows sounds like the most meta, barrel-scraping idea in the history of 10 Stone Testicle ideas, but somehow it’s compulsive viewing, a window into the country’s living rooms, prejudices and teatime habits that’s pulling in three million viewers per week, a format that has since been sold to the States and numerous other countries.

If you’re one of its legion of converts, you’ve probably longed for a night on the settee with some of the protagonists, an off-camera chit chat with Sandra & Sandy or June & Leon or Christopher & Stephen. As it happens, you can do exactly that.

Steph and Dom Parker, aka “the posh couple”, run a luxury B&B in Sandwich called The Salutation, a sprawling Grade 1-listed, Edwin Lutyens-designed pile set amid gardens inspired by Gertrude Jekyll in the medieval town of Sandwich in Kent. For £99 upwards you can visit the famous property and potentially spend an evening with the pair.

Sadly we missed the £500-per-ticket orgy that was held there the following night, and didn’t catch the likes of Meryl Streep, James Corden and other celebs that have laid their hats in its numerous rooms while filming Into The Woods in recent months, but we nevertheless experienced the kind of evening you’d expect from Britain’s most gregarious hosts.

Dom set the tone as he showed us our en suite room in the Coach House (which includes its own kitchen and sitting room), pointing to complimentary decanters of whisky and sherry, for consumption if we were “getting changed”.

It quickly became clear that bridging drinks are a way of life here, and we were soon plonked on that famous sofa sharing a G&T with the genial host while Steph wandered the house singing Pharrell Williams tunes and making regular trips to the drinks cabinet.

Supper, as it often seems to be in wealthy houses, was conjured on a whim; there’s no official dining here but they can rustle up something if you’re hungry. For us this quick something was a four course blowout of pâté, fillet steak with potato dauphinoise, panna cotta, umpteen cheeses and biblical amounts of wine, and a chance to meet the other guests.

Half of the visitors were out playing golf (The Salutation is surrounded by top courses and uber rich bankers apparently jet in direct from the US to stay and play) and the remainder seemed to be fellow Gogglebox tourists. One couple were celebrating their anniversary while two other pairs were also here for a meet and greet.

It’s a bit odd, making a pilgrimage to meet reality stars, but Steph and Dom are exemplary hosts aside from their minor celebrity status. B&Bs tread a fine line between personal and overly familiar, characterful,  boutique hideaways and someone’s chintzy spare room, and I’ve spent my fair share of nights whispering in bed, tip-toeing around creaky landings, and adhering to innumerable “house rules” printed in comic sans and tucked into A4 pockets.

Here there are no polite notices and howls of laughter replace the cringeworthy hushed chatter of a million dining rooms. The Salutation eschews the claustrophobia of standard B&Bs in favour of the relaxed conviviality of a best friend’s house, if that best friend lives in a £3.5 million mansion with tasseled toilet flush pulls.

The whole group stayed up into the early hours, discussing everything from Nick Clegg to Leon and June (who don’t like Steph and Dom’s swearing), the long filming shifts and sundry celebrity tittle-tattle. The golfers bowled home suitably refreshed about midnight, all bow ties and crossed eyes while host Tigger and various other staff kept the drinks flowing.

The next morning we blearily explored our rooms tucked up in the eaves, leafing through vintage Penguins before a hearty Full English in the dining room. Tripadvisor nerds would probably note the overcooked poached egg at this point, but The Salutation isn’t the kind of place you spend making critical notes alone in your room. It’s somewhere to spend a riotous night before exploring Sandwich and moving on.

A spectacularly well-preserved medieval town full of half-timbered buildings and narrow streets leading to the willow-lined River Stour (currently being flood-proofed and so covered in diggers and workmen on our visit), it’s a sleepy place that’s given birth to the sandwich and rested on its picturesque laurels since.

The Parkers are selling The Salutation so their hospitality won’t be for sale forever. For now though, and short of a night in front of the box with the Tappers, this is the most fun you can have on a Friday night.

Season four of Gogglebox is on Channel 4 on Fridays at 9pm. The Salutation has a variety of rooms available from £99 per night. Explore more of the area with the Rough Guide to Kent, Sussex and Surrey

The third part in our Slovenia In Four Seasons feature sees Senior Web Editor Tim Chester explore the country in August. Check out our trips from the winter and the spring too.

Think of the northern Adriatic and you’d be forgiven for thinking of Italy – of Venice, Rimini, and Trieste – or Croatia, whose abundant seaside gems stretch from Rovinj to Zadar and beyond. However, you’d be missing an important 47 kilometres, which belong resolutely to Slovenia, a tiny fragment of coast wedged between its neighbours that packs in a disproportionately large number of treats.

Croatia might completely hog the waterfront in this part of the world, snatching miles and miles of stunning coastline from similarly-sized nearby countries and attracting huge numbers of visitors to match, but the Slovene Riviera – sitting pretty at the tip of the Slovene Istria in the south west of the country – is equally as beguiling.

Most visitors to this country, which has been independent since 1991, covers an area the size of Wales and numbers just a handful of million inhabitants, head straight for the capital Ljubljana or the justifiably popular Lake Bled, but I’d been told to make a beeline for the beach. So, a couple of hours after our budget plane bounced onto the tarmac we were on top of Hotel Piran in the city of the same name sipping margaritas as the sun dropped into the sea.

The drive along the top of the peninsula to Piran sets the scene: look to the right as the road crests a hill and you can see the fishing port town of Izola, beyond that the more industrial Koper, whose new developments encircle a medieval core, and in the far distance Trieste in Italy. To the left, signs point to the casinos and bars of resort town Portorož, hedges intermittently open to reveal the salt pans of Sečovlje, and in the distance Croatia squats peacefully.

We only had a long weekend to spare so we hit the ground running the following morning, exploring Piran’s cobbled streets and labyrinthine passageways with a local guide. The city dates back to medieval times but it was the Venetian Republic which really left their mark; some corners of the centre look like they’ve been airlifted from the famous watery landmark across the sea and in fact Piran is very much like Venice if you substract the crowds and the effluent.

Tartini Square is the place to get your bearings, a former inner port whose buildings and statues tell a variety of stories. Named after Giuseppe Tartini, a famouse violinist and local hero whose statue stands proud in the midst, the city’s hub is crowded with messages for anyone looking in the right place.

On one side, Casa Veneziana is a light red example of Venetian gothic architecture, an erstwhile lodging for a local girl who caught the eye of a Venetian merchant, emblazoned with the words “lasa pur dir” (“let them talk”) in response to the gossip that followed their courtship. The Municipal Palace, meanwhile, features a stone lion with wings holding an open book under its paw, the bared pages signifying the fact it was erected during peace time. The nearby 1st May square is also full of secret stories; look out for depictions of Law and Justice in front of the stone rainwater collector, and the statues holding gutters.

Elsewhere and Piran is home to eight churches, most sadly closed due to vandals and thieves, including the impressive baroque St George’s Parish Church which dates back to the 12th Century and commands awesome views. The imposing city walls and several family attractions, from the Maritime Museum to an aquarium, are also worth your time.

That afternoon we were taken by speedboat to a cluster of floating nets belonging to the Fonda Fish Farm, where thousands of Piran sea bass grow into huge healthy specimens under careful supervision. The company are aiming to nurture top quality fish and mussels and their enthusiasm was infectious.

We followed our tour with a dip in the Adriatic back at Piran’s concrete beach and ended the day at Pri Mari, a family-run Mediterranean restaurant and a Rough Guide author pick. The owners, Mara and Tomi, lavished us with fine Slovenian wines and endless thanks once they discovered we were from the book that had brought in so much business over the years, but their hospitality was exemplary before they knew who we were. Two steaks (because that’s what you order at the coast, naturally) were delectable and the place was thrumming with happy customers. Piran nightlife seems somewhat sedate but we managed to find two guitarists playing Pink Floyd to a small dancefloor and a man serving pina coladas in one corner of the port to finish things off.

The following day we drove into the hinterland in search of wine. The Karst region behind the coast is carpeted with vineyards and olive groves, interspersed with peach and cherry trees and harbouring thousands of underground caves (the Postojna and Škocjan caverns are the best known).

Before long we arrived at Korenika & Moškon, a small family-run cellar dating back to 1984. The place actually goes back much further – the family has been producing wine for ages – but the communist regime put paid to that for a while. For several hours we were plied with golden yellow and peachy Malvasia and Paderno whites and bold, interesting reds such as local pride and joy Refošk, a dark ruby and almost port-like liquid.

From here we were driven to Izola for the weekend fish festival, a lively gathering of locals and domestic tourists who descend on the port for live music, craft stalls and plenty of fried catch.

On Sunday we sped through Portorož, Slovenia’s answer to the French Riveria but without the bumper-to-bumper traffic and hordes of people selling tat laid out on bedsheets, to the Sečovlje salt pans.

A vast national park that has been producing salt for 700 years and continues to this day, it marks the border with Croatia and plays host to an abundance of wildlife. We jumped on a golf cart for a flying tour of the endless salty pools before taking a dunk in the dirt at the in-house spa. Lying caked in sea salt and mud wraps in the middle of this barren landscape, we fell into a trance like happy hippos.

Back in Piran, a final goodbye cocktail reflecting the deep orange rays of one last late summer Slovene sunset, we toasted our new discovery: 47km of criminally overlooked summer fun.

 Explore more of Slovenia with the Rough Guides destination page for Sloveniabook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Yorkshire boasts a wealth of big-hitting tourist attractions, but hidden away there are a few entertaining oddities which would be a shame to miss. Here, in no particular order, are ten of the best.

The Teapottery

Housed on an industrial estate just outside Leyburn, the Teapottery calls itself, with justification, the “home of eccentric teapots”. Though the main reason for visiting is to buy teapots in the shape of guitars, police helmets, valve radios, toasters and wheelbarrows, you can also tour the workshops and see each carefully explained step in the production line.

The Mart Theatre

With echoes of Shakespearean inns, Skipton’s animal auction mart doubles as a theatre. On certain nights, the main show ring becomes an auditorium, mounting plays, opera, folk music and stand-up comedy. Barriers are removed, the concrete apron is scrubbed down and the exhibition hall becomes a theatre bar. How do thesps and Dales farmers get on, you might wonder? Like a house (or barn) on fire. Farmers love the animal-enhancing lights while the theatre company gets quirky accommodation. It’s win-win all the way.

Spurn Head

East Yorkshire’s Spurn Head is an amalgam of wild nature, nautical significance and military history. As you drive along its windblown single-track road, the Humber Estuary to your right, the ships riding at anchor in the North Sea to your left, and three generations of light-house, the pilot’s control tower and a jetty ahead, it really does feel like the end of the world.

Ampleforth College

Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire is, unlike most ruined English monasteries, in surprisingly good health. It’s not only a working monastery, but also the country’s premier Roman Catholic public school, whose alumni include Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, actor Richard Everett and sculptor Antony Gormley. In addition to viewing its Roman Catholic worship and tradition, visitors can also walk in the grounds, use the Sports Centre, or attend spiritual classes.

The Cold War Bunker

To those who lived through the Cold War, this bunker, west of York’s city centre conjures up mushroom-clouded Armageddon. To younger visitors, it’s just a jumble of risible old technology set in echoing reinforced concrete. Commissioned in 1961, and one of twenty-nine such facilities, it was manned 24/7 by the Royal Observer Corps, tasked with monitoring nuclear explosions. Here’s a chilling thought: had it ever been used, most of us would have been dead!

Nellies

Nellies (officially the White Horse), in Beverley, reminds us how much the British pub has changed. A seventeenth century coaching inn, its warren of small rooms glory in stone, tile and wood floors, have open coal fires, gas lighting, and a hotchpotch of scuttles, fire-irons, brasses and old pictures. There’s not a carpet, fruit-machine or jukebox in sight.

Eden Camp

Eden Camp in North Yorkshire started life as a Prisoner of War facility during World War II. Having become a derelict eyesore, it was acquired during the 1980s by local visionary Stan Johnson, who converted it into a fascinating museum. A perfect fusion of form and content, its original huts are devoted to different aspects of the war – the rise of Hitler (Hut 1) for example, or the Home Front (Hut 2). Displays are graphic, and even vibrant.

Image courtesy of Eden Camp

The Forbidden Corner

A huge puzzle of spirits and giants, with monsters and myths strung out along labyrinthine paths and tunnels, The Forbidden Corner near Middleham has follies and riddles and mysterious voices galore. Built in the grounds of Tupgill Park, by its owner C. R. Armstrong, to amuse his children, and subsequently opened briefly to the public to raise money for charity, The Forbidden Corner was so popular with visitors that it has now become a tourist attraction in its own right. It’s easier to enjoy than describe – so check it out.

Fort Paull

The pentagonal Fort Paull, just outside Hull, is a ‘Palmerston’ Fort built in the 1860s and named after the then Prime Minister. After its 1960 decommissioning it seemed destined to subside into brambled dereliction. Then a local group took it in hand, and, in 2000, opened it as a military museum. Don’t look here for a coherent recreation of the World War II. Enjoy instead a ragbag of wartime memorabilia, tanks, guns, planes and exhibitions on the Women’s Land Army, child evacuees and the use of carrier pigeons. It’s chaotic, but oddly charming.

The Peace Museum

The only British representative of an international movement, Bradford’s Peace Museum is tucked away at the top of a steep staircase in an old bank in the centre of the city. Its collections include books, cuttings, works of art, posters, banners, photographs, letters and film, all relating to the Peace movement – there’s even a piece of Greenham Common’s perimeter fence. But its greatest resource are its development officers – if you visit, pick their brains.

Explore more of this northern area with the Rough Guide to Yorkshire. Teapot photograph courtesy of the Teapottery.

Steve Vickers updates us with the latest news from the world of travel, which this week includes Indian visas, emails you can physically track and luxury doggie bags….

 Indian visa update

Last year we reported that India would be simplifying its visa application process, and now more details have emerged. As soon as October this year, tourists from 180 countries will be able to apply for a 30-day visa on arrival at nine international airports, including Delhi, Mumbai and Goa. For the time being, the visa application process for most tourists remains bafflingly complex, and involves a wait of around one week.

How far do your emails travel?

Keeping in touch with distant friends and family has never been easier. But have you ever wondered how far your emails actually travel when you hit ‘send’? This new plug-in being pitched on Fund Anything is designed to show recipients how far their email has physically travelled and provide the names of the countries the message has passed through, along with a map of the route. The purpose of the project, according to Email Miles founder Jonah Brucker-Cohen, is to expose the ‘disconnect’ we experience when sending data over huge distances. After Edward Snowden’s surveillance disclosures, there is another potential use: drawing attention to the complex routes our personal messages take, often through multiple countries.

A luxurious travel bag – for your dog

If you love dogs as much as you love travel, why not treat your pooch to this luxurious new dog carrier designed by suitcase manufacturer Tumi, which comes with its own leather passport holder? Well, because dogs like walking, and their pet passport would fit perfectly well in your pocket. Not to mention that the £375 price tag could buy you – and Fido – a nice holiday somewhere warm.

Swedish streets get even

Sweden’s second-biggest city is putting equality on the map. According to local news reports, more newly built streets in Gothenburg will be given ‘female’ names as local authorities try to promote gender equality. Since 2006, just 20 new streets in the city have been given names relating to women, while 38 have taken their names from men. Also on the agenda are plans to introduce new street names that better reflect the cultural diversity of the city.

Doctors on call

Top-end hotels in Florida have begun using an app to help poorly guests find a doctor without leaving their room. So far, around 160 hotels in the Miami area have started using the Skydoc app, which allows doctors to communicate with patients remotely and check their vital signs. If necessary, doctors can then visit the patient’s room and administer medication, avoiding unnecessary trips to hospital or a clinic. If the pilot programme works out well in Florida, it could be rolled out to luxury hotels around the world.

London to New York the quick way

Concorde is no more, but quick trips to New York could soon be back on the cards. Spike S-512, a super-fast business jet, is currently being developed in the USA and could be up and running by 2018. With room for up to 18 passengers, the supersonic jet will be capable of flying at 1,100mph, which, in theory, would make it possible to travel from London to New York in less than four hours. Part of the designers’ plan is to completely remove windows from the cabin (windows require heavy structural supports that could slow the plane down) and instead use cameras to stream panoramic views onto the interior walls.

The Age of Aquarius

This month, the Public Aquarium of Brussels is hoping to attract new visitors by offering free entry to anyone whose star sign is Aquarius. The aim is that the ‘fish’ offered free admission between 21st February and 21st March will take time to learn more about their endangered cousins in the tanks, and help to protect threatened species for future generations.

Final call

Made up of footage originally intended for a tourism campaign, this video by Ninja Milk flits between shots every couple of seconds, giving us a whistle-stop tour of Oman.

OMAN IN TWO MINUTES / A Travel Diary from Ninja Milk – Social. Content. on Vimeo.

Head to the Rough Guides Twitter or Facebook pages for all the latest travel news as it happens.

Sophisticated, globally minded and perfect for late-night parties – Madrid can be an expensive place to enjoy. So if you want to see the sights on a budget, timing is crucial. Many of the city’s best museums, galleries and historic buildings are free to visit but only for a few hours at a time, so it always pays to check before turning up. Here are ten things to do in Madrid for free.

Take a stroll through Parque del Buen Retiro

For centuries it was a royal retreat, but Parque del Buen Retiro is now open to everyone – with museums, galleries and monuments dotted across 350-or-so acres of green space. If you visit in May, it’s worth seeking out the Rosaleda (rose garden), where fragrant blooms explode in shades of peach and cherry.

Make the most of the free admission to galleries

Some of Madrid’s best galleries offer free admission at certain times of the week. For example, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, which houses works by Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, is free at weekends and after 7pm on weekday evenings.

Browse the El Rastro flea market

Every Sunday morning, El Rastro takes over the rambling streets south of Plaza de Cascorro, with thousands of shoppers coming to try on clothes, flick through old books or rummage for antique jewellery. The sheer size of the market makes it worth having a look, even if you don’t want to buy anything.

See a piece of ancient Egypt

Madrid has plenty of old buildings, but in terms of sheer antiquity there’s nothing quite like the Temple of Debod – an ancient Egyptian complex built near Aswan more than 2,000 years ago. The enormous stone blocks were dismantled and sent to Madrid in the 1960s (as a thank you for Spain’s help in protecting other Egyptian temples from flooding) then reassembled in the city’s Parque del Oeste.

Look skywards at the Planetario de Madrid

It’s always free to look around Madrid’s planetarium, which has audio-visual exhibitions looking at all aspects of space and its exploration. There’s a hands-on area for kids, and a domed projection room (which costs extra) that guides visitors through the night sky.

Get lost in Madrid’s barrios

Take a short walk away from Puerta del Sol and you’ll discover some of Madrid’s most colourful barrios (wards). Try multicultural Lavapiés, where shisha bars and Indian restaurants line the graffiti-daubed streets, or hipster-packed Malasaña, known for its nightclubs and vintage clothing shops.

Party on the streets

Street parties and festivals are an important part of Madrid’s social calendar. One of the wildest events is February’s Carnaval, a six-day festival of music, theatre and dance that opens with a fantastical procession of floats and costume-clad performers.

 Visit the Royal Palace

Time it right and you can visit the Spanish king’s official residence for free. Unlike his predecessors, Juan Carlos I doesn’t actually live at the Royal Palace, a treasure trove of art and antiquities inspired by the Louvre in Paris, but it is still used for state events. Admission is free for EU residents on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

See flamenco for free

Okay, so you’ll need to buy a drink, but the late-night restaurant Clan gives you the chance to see authentic flamenco performances for free. The music starts sometime after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and dancing carries on until 3am.

Take a free walking tour of Madrid

You might need to tip your guide, but the three and half hour walking tours offered by Sandeman’s New Europe are officially free. Tours start outside the tourist office on Plaza Mayor everyday (at 11am and 1pm), taking in popular sights like the Royal Palace and Plaza de la Villa.

 

The broad, peaceful outer courtyard sweeps you past an honorary guard of immaculate stone mandarins towards the first of a series of elegantly roofed gateways, through whose triple doorways you get a perfectly framed view of Emperor Minh Mang’s mausoleum complex. Archways look wistful in peeling ochre paint; slatted lacquer-red shutters offer tantalizing angles on lotus ponds, pavilions and artfully placed bonsai trees; and ceramic rooftop dragons add a touch of kitsch in pastel pinks, greens and yellows. Look carefully and you’ll see the Chinese character for “longevity” picked out in blue, red and gold – Minh Mang, who designed his own mausoleum, left nothing to chance.

The Minh Mang mausoleums are part of Hué’s imperial city, which is open daily 7am–5pm.

 

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The ruins of Ani are a traveller’s dream – picture-perfect scenery, whacking great dollops of history, and almost nobody around to see it. While Turkey as a whole has been enjoying ever more popularity as a tourist destination, the number heading to its eastern reaches remains thrillingly low, lending an air of mystery to its attractions. Of these, none are more enchanting than the rosy-pink ruins of Ani, spectacularly located amidst a grassy expanse of undulating hillocks.

In 961, Ani became capital of a Bagratid Armenian kingdom that ruled over much of what is now southeastern Turkey. Though now firmly under Turkish rule, the ruins lie a stone’s throw from the modern-day border – macho types may find it impossible to resist sending a projectile over the stunning gorge that divides Turkey from Armenia. However, the two nations are still at loggerheads on certain issues, and Ani is patrolled by the Turkish jandarma; whole areas remain out of bounds despite the recent political thaw.

Considering the centuries of neglect, some of Ani’s buildings are in amazing condition, a testament to the masterful Armenian stoneworkers of the time, and the inherent qualities of duf. Still used extensively in Armenia today, this pinkish rock can assume near-transcendent hues of rose, tangerine and cinnamon during sunrise and sunset. Most visitors find themselves pointing their cameras at Prkitch, an eleventh-century church that’s mercifully a lot easier to photograph than it is to pronounce: known in English as the Church of the Redeemer, it was cleaved in two when struck by lightning in 1957, making it quite possibly the only church in the world that can be seen in cross-section with the naked eye.

Time has been kinder to Tigran Honents, a fresco-filled church just down the hill from Prkitch, and cathedral located just to the west – the latter is topped with a minaret that the brave may choose to ascend for an eagle-eye view of one of Turkey’s most unspoilt areas.

Ani is 45km from Kars, a town accessible by bus from many Turkish cities, as well as twice-weekly trains from Istanbul. The ruins are best visited by taxi – aim for three hours at the site plus two getting there and back, and bargain hard. After paying the small entry fee the ruins are yours, though the sun can be fierce, so bring water.

 

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It’s a hot summer’s evening; overhead is a soft, purple-black and star-strewn sky. The incessant chirrup of cicadas mingles with the murmur of thousands of voices – Turkish, German, English, Russian – and the popping of corks, as the 15,000-strong audience settles down, passes round wine and olives and eagerly awaits the entertainment ahead. All are perched on hard, solid marble, still warm from the heat of the day, but the discomfort is a small price to pay to experience what a Roman citizen would have 1800 years ago, when this theatre, the largest and best preserved in Asia Minor, was built.

The views from the semicircular auditorium, its forty tiers cut into the hillside, are magnificent. At sunset, the fading light on the remains of this once wealthy and powerful city and the Pamphylian plain beyond shows it at its best. There’s a faint taste of the nearby Mediterranean on the breeze and the Taurus mountain range stands in splendid silhouette to the north.

The stage lights play across the facade of the multilevel stage building, ornamented with Ionic and Corinthian columns, niches that once sported marble statues and elaborate friezes and pediments. The lights dim and the massed ranks of spectators fall silent. Slowly the intensity of the lights increases and the show begins. Maybe it’s Verdi’s Aida, set in ancient Egypt, whose pomp and splendour match the setting perfectly.

Afterwards, close to midnight, throngs of people – having suspended disbelief for a few memorable hours – disgorge into the night, scrambling not for their chariots but for cars and buses as reality sets in and the ancient entertainments are left behind.

The Aspendos Festival takes place for three to four weeks, starting in mid-June. Try www.dobgm.gov.tr/opera2009 or www.aspendosfestival.gov.tr

 

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It’s art, myth and archeology, it’s visually stunning and you can reach back through the millennia and immerse yourself in its marks and contours. South Africa’s rock art represents one of the world’s oldest and most continuous artistic and religious traditions. Found on rock faces all over the country, these ancient paintings are a window into a historic culture and its thoughts and beliefs. In the Cederberg range alone, 250km north of Cape Town, there are some 2500 rock art sites, estimated to be between one and eight thousand years old.

The paintings are the work of the first South Africans, hunter-gatherers known as San or Bushmen, the direct descendants of some of the earliest Homo sapiens who lived in the Western Cape 150,000 years ago. Now almost extinct, their culture clings on tenuously in tiny pockets of Namibia, northern South Africa and Botswana.

If you’re looking to dig deeper, the easy-going Sevilla Trail gives you the opportunity to take in ten rock art sites along a stunning 4km route. The animals that once grazed and preyed in the fynbos (literally “fine bush’’) vegetation of the mountainous Cederberg are among the major subjects of the finely realized rock art paintings, which also include abstract images and monsters as well as depictions of people and therianthropes – half-human, half-animal figures. You’ll see beautifully observed elephants, rhinos, buffaloes, oryx, snakes and birds, accurately portrayed in sinuous outline or solid bodies of colour – often earthy whites, reds and ochres. Frequently quite small, they’re dotted all over rock surfaces, sometimes painted one over the other to create a rich patina.

Archeologists now regard many of the images as metaphors for religious experiences, one of the most important of which is the healing trance dance, still practised by the few surviving Bushman communities. The rock faces can be seen as portals between the human and spiritual world: when we gaze at Bushman rock art we are gazing into the house of the spirits.

You don’t need to book to walk the trail, but you do need a permit, which can be obtained from Traveller’s Rest Farm (www.travellersrest.co.za), which also has accommodation and lays on horse trails.

 

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