Richard Mellor explores Šibenik, a city tipped as Croatia’s next best tourist hotspot thanks to a new luxury hotel. 

It’s appropriate that the parachute’s inventor – one Faust Vrančić, if you’re asking – was born in Šibenik, for this Croatian backwater has its feet firmly on the ground. Having a recent history of battle and bombs will do that to a small city.

Just 40 minutes up the coast from Split’s international airport, Šibenik’s travel résumé includes great beaches on its Dalmatian coast, inland hiking and waterfalls, cool music festivals, an evocative old town, fine dining, a UNESCO-protected cathedral and fortresses used in Game of Thrones.

Now, crucially, a top-quality hotel can be added to that list. Previously, as written in the Rough Guide to Croatia, Šibenik’s only downside has been its relative lack of accommodation. But the arrival of the whitewashed D-Resort Šibenik has changed all that: courtesy of Turkish conglomerate Dogus, luxurious digs newly await.

To one side is a new marina, replete with super-yachts and their espadrille-wearing crew. From the other, motorboats scuttle across a short Adriatic Sea inlet to Šibenik’s harbour and tree-lined corniche. Glinting red-tile roofs sprawl mazily uphill, with the ancient St Michael’s Fortress keeping watch over proceedings.

Explore a quartet of fortresses

St Michael’s is one of four fortresses around Šibenik. Once a seat for the Croatian king, its defensive castles were still being used by locals as recently as 20 years ago, providing shelter during the Croatian War of Independence. Today, thankfully, an ongoing restoration programme has them attracting tourists instead.

Over to the southeast, Barone’s new audiovisual display reveals what fortress life was like for its seventeenth-century soldiers.

Skulking opposite is St John Fortress – a Game of Thrones set in 2014 – while out west is the eye-catching sea-castle of St Nicholas, built by ruling Venetians to guard the vital channel into Šibenik.

A new island-hopping path, elevated above the sea, allows visitors to admire its gun platform and impressive Adriatic views.

As for St Michael’s, around which Šibenik first sprung up, bands have replaced bullets: its eleventh-century stonework and myriad improvements now play host to a terraced, 1077-capacity concert venue, one costing a cool £1.2 million. The National, Lambchop, Nouvelle Vague and Thievery Corporation have all played, some of them during August’s annual Terraneo Summer Break festival.

See a classic Croatian cathedral

Šibenik’s real historical jewel, however, is its UNESCO-protected St James’s Cathedral. Much of the Dalmatian Coast’s finest architecture was designed by Juraj Dalmatinac in the mid-1400s, and this entirely-stone-built Gothic Renaissance edifice is considered his crowning glory, even if it wasn’t finished until 1536.

Praise be, in particular, for the silvery dome, reflecting light from far around. Look out, too, for a 71-head frieze, containing strange caricatures of fifteenth-century locals. Adam and Eve are there too, looking utterly ill at ease in being very obviously starkers.

Inside, English-language brochures enable self-guided tours. The highlight is the small baptistry, and its sublimely-carved roof and mischievous cherubs.

Dine afterwards at the excellent Pelegrini restaurant, which majors in regional dishes like truffle and prosciutto pappardelle and cuttlefish gnocchi.

Pixabay / CC0

Amble around the Old Town

From the cathedral’s square slinks away Kralja Tomislava (Kalelarga to locals), Šibenik’s main street. Unexpectedly fancy boutiques sit alongside some more predictable shops hawking tourist tat.

Leading off Kalelarga are a jumble of stony stairways and narrow lanes, a maze whose sleepiness is interrupted only by occasional Vespas and the echo of footsteps. The elegant houses are Dalmatian-style, with dark green and blood-red-coloured shutters.

What really appeals is how Šibenik feels genuinely lived-in. Some alleys are left almost dim under canopies of clothes lines and cables. Old men sit smiling on stools outside their homes, wild rosemary grows and wafts of home cooking tease nostrils. Inside phone boxes, a religious sticker advertises salvation.

Pixabay / CC0

Take to the waters

A ten-mile drive inland is the attractive Krka National Park, named after the river which bisects it. Hiking trails criss-cross, but the headline act is the Skradinski Buk series of 17 successive waterfalls at the park’s southern end.

Beneath the final cascades is a wide basin providing swimming opportunities: come summer weekends, locals strip to their speedos, shorts and bikinis to dive in, and a party atmosphere pervades.

Day-trip ferries from Šibenik serve the small islands of Zlarin and Prvić, where bistros and fig trees give way to peaceful, pebbled beaches.

Bathing’s very much an option at the D-Resort, too, with a large infinity pool neighbouring its spa, where facials, massage and hammam rituals are also offered.

Pixabay / CC0

Explore more of Croatia with the Rough Guide to CroatiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image by Stewart Morris on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

For a few chunks of rock in the southern Mediterranean, Malta is a hugely versatile destination. Like its unique language, the country is an intriguing blend of Italian, Arabic and British influences, a legacy of centuries of invasion and assimilation.

As its capital, Valletta, gears up for a stint as European City of Culture in 2018, Andy Turner gives a rundown on how to get the most out of a visit, from Baroque palaces to beautiful beaches.

Bed down in a palace

Recent years have seen large areas of Valletta shrouded in scaffolding as its ancient palazzos are converted into swanky boutique hotels, partly in anticipation of the European City of Culture juggernaut hitting town in 2018.

One of the best is the Luciano Al Porto, with red-shuttered rooms leading off an elegant spiral staircase, and fine views over the Grand Harbour to go with your breakfast.

For a spot more luxury with Far Eastern touches try the Locanda La Gelsomina across the water in Vittoriosa. Here you can practice your warrior pose on the rooftop terrace of a 400-year-old palace.

A photo posted by Oliver Gatt (@olivergatt) on

Hit the road

Given Malta’s main island is is a fun-sized 27km by 14km, hiring a car gives you access to pretty much everywhere. While you will need to get to grips with local driving etiquette (take no prisoners and don’t bother indicating), barrelling along a coast road, preferably in a convertible, is hard to beat.

The Maltese-only road signs can prove confusing, so invest in a GPS. A circuit from Valletta, north to St Paul’s Bay (San Pawl il-Baħar), via the beach of Għajn Tuffieha and the Blue Grotto, another pretty coastal spot on the west coast, makes for a fun day out.

Just resist the temptation to take a “short cut” inland where you may end up on a rutted track following a horse and cart.

A photo posted by @lovemalta on

Embrace beach life

Malta gets ferociously hot in high summer when everyone and their zija (auntie) heads to the nearest beach. The picture-postcard option is The Blue Lagoon, a shimmering expanse of turquoise water surrounding tiny Comino islet, between Malta and Gozo.

It’s well worth the day trip despite the inevitable crowds (arrive early if you want enough space to lay a beach towel).

“Paradise Bay” (yes, Malta knows how to market itself), a jet-ski ride south, lives up to its name with a pretty crescent of white sand accessed down a cliffside path.

If you really want somewhere off the beaten track try St Peter’s Pool in the far southeast. A stunning natural swimming pool, you’ll find locals (and adventurous dogs) diving from the limestone cliffs to cool off (bring everything you need as there are no facilities down here).

A photo posted by @lovemalta on

Get cultured in the capital

Valletta, Malta’s capital, seems built for aimless wandering. Its grid of sun-dappled Baroque streets is punctuated by vintage shop signs, red British-era pillar boxes and ornate timber balconies.

Inside the gloriously over-the-top St John’s Co-Cathedral (“co” as it shares duties with another cathedral in Mdina), you’ll find two masterpieces by Caravaggio, completed while a guest of the Knights of St John in 1607 (that the painter was a wanted murderer at the time appears to have been a detail the knights were happy to overlook).

A block away, gleaming suits of armour stand guard along the marble corridors of the Grand Master’s Palace, worthy of a visit if only for its stunning tapestries depicting the exotic wildlife of the New World. A musket shot from here, Malta leaps into the twenty first century with its bold new parliament building by Renzo Piano.

A photo posted by @lovemalta on

Go local for lunch (and dinner)

Ask a local to name a Maltese meal and they’ll probably dutifully mention rabbit stew, the de facto national dish. A dental workout at the best of times, try it slow cooked in a ragu sauce (Gululu in St Julian’s serve it up with spaghetti).

Next in the Maltese culinary trinity is pastizzi, the island’s answer to the Cornish pasty, just smaller and filled with cheese and mushy peas. Pick one up at the Crystal Palace hole-in-the-wall bar in Rabat (nothing to do with the London football team).

Last but not least, ftira is a flatbread “pizza” featuring potatoes and anchovies; you’ll find it sold at most bakeries and it makes for a perfect beach snack.

For most visitors seafood is really where it’s at, though, and the island’s finest can be found in the pretty fishing village of Marsaxlokk (pronounced “mar-shash-lock”). Here the day’s catch is unloaded almost directly to your plate.

A photo posted by SFL (@syd_food_life) on

Explore Malta by moonlight

After a sundowner drink on a rooftop restaurant (try De Mondion if you’re feeling flush), a moonlit amble around Mdina is one of the most atmospheric experiences on the island.

The lamplit streets of Malta’s oldest town radiate medieval intrigue. You half expect a knight on horseback to clip clop past (fittingly Mdina doubled for King’s Landing in the early series of Game of Thrones).

Back in the capital, Gugar, is a great spot to settle down with Cisk (Malta’s national beer) surrounded by shelves of books and an alternative crowd. For something stronger, join Valletta’s bohemian types at Café Society, where you’ll find well-mixed cocktails in a cool, cave-like bar.

A photo posted by @eliasjoidos on

Party in paradise

Between June and September you’ll find Catholic fiestas crackling into life across the island, with even the smallest village competing to put on the best firework display or the most colourful street procession.

More recently, Malta has become a venue for high-wattage music festivals, including Annie Mac’s acclaimed Lost and Found in spring and June’s  Isle of Malta MTV. This year sees Groovefest‘s blend of Ibiza house arrive at the island’s Café del Mar in late April – don’t forget your glow sticks.

Andy Turner flew with Air Malta who operate direct flights from seven UK airports. Check out visitmalta.com for more on Valletta 2018. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Spain’s massive size means that it’s thankfully not as hard as you might expect to wander off the well-beaten tourist track. Whether it’s quiet coves, tucked away old villages or eerie landscapes you’re after, here are seven places that you’ve probably never heard of but really should visit in Spain.

1. Las Alpujarras, Andalucía

South of Granada, the hills and valleys of Las Alpujarras provide some of the country’s lushest scenery. This isn’t an area for novice drivers – hairpin bend after hairpin bend lead up to many of the region’s lovely white-washed villages – but it’s worth the effort to enjoy the serenity of the countryside.

In the settlements here you can really get a sense of a truly local way of life – one that revolves around shady central plazas, welcome siestas from the midday sun and sherry in the local bar after dark.

2. Beget, Girona

Beget is tucked so deeply into a valley that you won’t see it before you’re almost in it. This tiny village in northern Catalunya is definitely worth stumbling over, however – little has changed here for centuries, creating a quiet charm that’s hard to beat.

Explore the narrow cobbled streets to find old stone houses and pretty little bridges that cross the river. For dinner, sit down to a plate of seasonal Catalan food at one of the family-run restaurants.

The centrepiece of the village is the stately, beautiful twelfth-century church, which boasts a carved wooden Christ figure dressed in a tunic, with arms outstretched.

Image by azama8 on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

3. El Burgo de Osma, Soria

The Río Duero cuts across central Castilla and some of its loveliest scenery can be found in and around the graceful old town of El Burgo de Osma.

Though its buildings pay homage to the fact that this was once a very grand place – it is home to both a cathedral and a university – El Burgo today is quaint and gorgeous, with little in the way of attractions, but a joy to experience nonetheless.

The town is particularly lovely on summer nights, when locals congregate on the main square to use it as a social club, playground and exercise yard. El Burgo also makes a great base from which to explore the surrounding area, which boasts both a dramatic canyon park and a mighty fortress.

Image by jesuscm on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. Zahara de la Sierra, Andalucía

The beautiful southern region of Andalucía is particularly known for its beautiful white towns, and one of the best examples of which can be found at Zahara de la Sierra, reached via a very scenic drive through the countryside from the lovely old town of Ronda.

An obvious landmark for miles around, it is the castle that you notice first, sitting dramatically on top of a stark rocky outcrop; below which huddle bright white houses (with their equally picturesque red-tiled roofs).

5. Cadaqués, Girona

It’s easy to shun the idea of the Costa Brava, with its rather old-fashioned image of sun-and-sea holidays, but the region is home to some very pretty beaches, and with a bit of knowledge it’s not too hard to find more interesting towns and quieter sands.

The most pleasant place to stay on the northern Costa Brava is undoubtedly the picturesque seaside town of Cadaqués, its narrow, hilly streets filled with bougainvillea-covered houses and with craggy headlands on either side of its still-working fishing port.

The beaches here are small and pebbly, but there’s plenty else to the town to keep you occupied, not least its art galleries and studios – Dalí settling nearby after World War II saw the town attract a rather bohemian artistic community – and smart restaurants.

6. Las Médulas, Castille y León

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the other-worldly landscape of Las Médulas had been ravaged over hundreds – even thousands – of years by the weather, but you’d be wrong. The strange, jagged red rocks here are the result of Roman strip-mining, when five tonnes of gold were taken from the hillsides via canals constructed for the purpose.

Looking more like Arizona than northern Spain, this eerie landscape of red-rock needles and caves is best viewed from the Mirador de Orellán, which offers a spectacular panorama over the area; undoubtedly the best way to experience it is on foot, via the Las Valiñas trail from pretty Las Médulas village.

7. The Costa da Morte, Galicia

Don’t be put off by its name – the “Coast of Death” – this relatively undeveloped region is well worth a visit. Though at times it has a rather desolate beauty, and though it can be as wet and windy as the shipwrecks that litter its seabed suggest, the quiet, beautiful coves, snug fishing villages and mountain slopes make this costa surprisingly enchanting.

This isn’t the place to go for resort facilities – and all the better for it; instead, head for the charming little seaside towns like Malpica de Bergantiños and Laxe, the latter of which offers some of the area’s safest swimming.

For really wonderful scenery, head to Ezaro; here, the mineral-rich rocks of the escarpments are multi-coloured, and appear to glisten underneath countless little waterfalls.

Image by Asier Ríos Molina on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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

Colombia meets Jamaica? Not quite, but two competing images loom large over the Caribbean island of Providencia: Bob Marley, adopted saint of the local Raizal population, and Johnny Depp, fictional hero of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise and a symbol of everything ‘pirate’ to the local tourism industry. It’s all a very long way from Bogotá.

This tiny Caribbean outcrop, along with its sister island of San Andrés, is actually much closer to Nicaragua than the coast of Colombia. With a population of around 5000, there are more golf carts and bicycles than cars and everyone knows everyone else.

All this makes Providencia a great getaway from Colombia’s frenetic cities. Here, Stephen Keeling picks a few highlights of visiting this fascinating island.

Crab lovers rejoice

Not surprisingly, fresh seafood dominates menus on Providencia. The local black crab is a major staple, appearing in soups, stews or simply fried in the shell – some twenty percent of the island’s population make their living from the tasty crustacean.

The black crab is actually tinged with orange and lives on land most of the year (hiding in burrows in the hills and feeding at night). Between April and July the crabs descend en masse to the sea during their annual migration to lay eggs (the newly hatched juveniles then make the return journey) – it’s sometimes possible to view this amazing spectacle on foot, but these days the army routinely closes and guards strips of the coast road to protect migrating crabs. In recent years their numbers have declined dramatically thanks to overexploitation and the loss of habitat, but there has been some progress in making crab farming sustainable.

Image by on Cultura de Red Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Reggae Roots

Providencia loves its reggae and reggaeton, with the best place to soak up the island vibe Roland Roots Bar on Manchineel Bay. This Rasta-themed beach bar, with wooden shacks right on the sand, sways to a mellow reggae soundtrack and there are even swings from which to fling yourself into the sea.

Pirates of Providencia

In 1670, pirates led by Henry Morgan essentially occupied Providencia – though the buccaneers had been flushed out by 1689, this period informs much of the island’s romantic view of itself (many islanders claim descent from the pirates).

Get to grips with their legacy on tiny Santa Catalina Island, linked to Providencia by a rickety, wooden pontoon pedestrian bridge. On the other side a boardwalk leads along the shore, between tangled mangroves and a ramshackle village to Morgan’s Cannon (Cañónes), a rusty old artillery piece said to be the place pirates were hanged and ‘protestants burned’ by the Spanish.

On the other side of the hill lies Fort Beach (Playa Fuerte), a small stretch of sand with another old cannon, wishing well, an underwater cave (also named for Morgan), and good snorkelling. It’s one of seemingly thousands of spots in the Caribbean where Morgan supposedly hid treasure – he must have been swimming in gold.

Image by Quimbaya on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Go to church

The Raizal population on Providencia remains proud of its cultural roots, and one of the strongest traditions is attending Baptist church on Sundays (services are usually held in English). Even if you are not religious, it’s worth going along to see the soulful gospel choirs that sing at the main services – a magical experience. Services at the Iglesia Bautista Central (Central Baptist Church) take place at 11am every Sunday.

Scuba, boats and beaches

Providencia is blessed with small but glittering white-sand beaches and the best diving in the region – the island sits atop the third-largest barrier reef in the world.

Submarine highlights include “Manta City”, a congregation of giant southern stingrays (not mantas), and “Tete’s Place”, where schools of snappers, goatfish and parrotfish make you feel as if you’re swimming in a giant aquarium.

image by Luis Alveart on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If diving isn’t your thing, most hotels can arrange tours around the island via speedboat, including a two-hour visit to Crab Key, just off the east coast. This tiny islet offers superb snorkelling in the spectacularly clear surrounding waters – you’ll see plenty of small but multi-coloured tropical fish, fans and corals here. There’s a bar on the dock selling fresh coconuts and rum, and sometimes shrimp ceviche.

You can also make the short climb to the cocoplum-smothered top of the cay for sensational views of the massive reef, ‘the sea of seven colours’ around it and back over to the mountains of Providencia, rising into the clouds like a languid South Pacific atoll. Otherwise, tranquil Southwest Bay on the main island boasts the best beach, with a small selection of hotels and restaurants.

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

Plato said every dog has the soul of a philosopher. While that statement is disputable, the wave-riding canines at the Noosa Festival of Surfing are proof that some dogs, at least, have the soul of a surfer.

Thousands gathered at Queensland Australia’s Noosa Beach this week to watch The Dog Spectacular, the world’s only surfing event where dog and master compete as a team. The doggies lead the way down the beach, leaping with all paws onto the surfboards as soon they were set in the ocean ­– ready to catch a wave.

As pairs of all breeds and ages paddled out together; it was clear that this was not some adrenaline-fuelled competition but an exercise in pure, surf-loving fun.

“It’s a wonderful experience for dog and human,” said Festival Co-Founder Paul Jarratt. “It’s not really about winning or losing; it’s a celebration of all the good things we love about surfing, the ocean and environment that we are privileged to have in Noosa. I think that’s why we attract surfers and their families from all over the world, we’ve got 20 countries represented this year.”

Check out some of the images below for highlights. Special mentions to the dog in sunglasses who rode waves all on his own.

The festival will continue on until the 12th of March, and is a must for anyone planning a trip to Queensland’s aptly named Sunshine Coast.

Because it's Friday, and who doesn't want to see dogs surfing in Australia? http://bit.ly/1QLagU

Posted by Rough Guides on Friday, 11 March 2016

Italy’s sun-kissed coastline is undeniably easy on the eye, but that doesn’t always translate into great beaches. Take the Amalfi Coast: surely one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the world, but its pockets of grey sand (or silver, as the locals spin it) can come as an anti-climax.

In general, Italy can’t rival the likes of Spain and Portugal for broad, golden stretches of sand, but its 7600km of coastline does harbour plenty of stunners, particularly in the far south and islands.

Natasha Foges shares her top locations for an Italian beach holiday, from remote coves to perfect buckets-and-spades family beaches.

Best for families: Santa Maria di Castellabate, Campania

If you have kids in tow – along with armfuls of beach toys, sun hats, towels and sunscreen – a small-town beach is ideal, as you can shuttle easily between hotel, beach and café without any fraught car journeys.

Unassuming Santa Maria di Castellabate, in the secluded Cilento region a couple of hours’ drive south of the glitzy Amalfi Coast resorts, is family-holiday gold: a venerable Aragonese watchtower overlooks a lovely crescent-shaped bay with sparklingly clear water, mellow waves and a jolly seafront passeggiata.

The labyrinthine, UNESCO-protected old town, high on a hill above the bay, is ripe for exploring, while the spectacular Greek temples at Paestum, some 20km away, are an essential trip.

Image by stebox78 on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Best for nightlife: Rimini, Emilia-Romagna

The resorts of Rimini and next-door Riccione can be brash, but if it’s nightlife you’re after, there’s no better place. By day a busy, family-friendly stretch of beach, by night Rimini’s seafront is a place of cocktail bars and beach parties, while the hills above town hold the best of the clubs.

Weary partygoers sweat out their Aperol Spritz hangovers on the handsome, 15km-long beach – before starting all over again come sundown.

Image by Jason Lee on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Best for variety: Sardinia

Sardinia is many Italians’ summer-holiday destination of choice (tip: avoid August), and it’s easy to see why. Its coastline is glorious, and wonderfully varied. Hiring a car or moped and pootling between its beaches – from spectacular stretches of dazzling white sand to rocky coves with limpid waters – is a fun way to spend a week or two, particularly if you quickly tire of parking yourself on the same lounger with the same view every day.

Excellent beaches are too numerous too mention, but don’t miss Chia in the far south – a dreamy stretch of peach-coloured sand and turquoise water – and Piscinas further north, a remote beach with towering dunes and a wild, end-of-the-road feel.

Best for old-world charm: Viareggio, Tuscany

With its classic seafront prom lined with Art Nouveau facades, Viareggio is a refined throwback to more genteel times. Though somewhat faded these days – the hotels along the front are no longer quite so grand – something of the glamour of its heyday lingers, especially in the lively evening passeggiata.

The beaches themselves are sandy and broad, and for the most part colonised by private beach clubs, with neat ranks of parasols and loungers lined up for weekending Florentines.

Best for remoteness: Salento peninsula, Puglia

Picture your perfect beach: powdery sand, azure sea and not a soul in sight? Such is Italy’s beauty that untouristed corners are sadly rare. But spots that are harder to get to (often in the poorly connected south) remain undisturbed by mass tourism.

The Salento peninsula, in the heel of Italy’s boot, harbours some of the mainland’s loveliest beaches – understandably popular with Italian tourists in high summer, but blissfully quiet the rest of the year. The eastern side is craggy and dramatic, with the historic seaside town of Otranto a high point, while the western side is flatter, an almost unbroken stretch of pristine white-sand beach and Caribbean-blue sea.

On the eastern side, the road winds above the rocky coast, past Moorish-style fishing villages, caves and underwater grottoes, to lovely Santa Maria di Leuca at the tip, where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea in a stunning bay.

The standout beach on the western coast is gorgeous, dune-backed Marina di Pescoluse – nicknamed “the Maldives of the Salento” due to its offshore sand banks that resemble small islands at sunset.

Image by Paolo Margari on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Best for a city break: Mondello, Sicily

Can’t choose between a city break and a beach holiday? Have both. Base yourself in Palermo, Sicily’s capital: a fascinating city with plenty to see and do, just a short bus trip from Mondello, the town beach, which boasts beautifully clear water in a gently shelving bay.

With pastel changing cabins backing the beach and a whimsical Art Nouveau building, “The Charleston”, crowning a pier in the middle of the bay, it has a pleasingly retro feel. Though the beach is packed with palermitani on summer weekends, you won’t find many foreign tourists here, and the lively holiday atmosphere is infectious.

Explore more of Italy with The Rough Guide to ItalyCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts over seven hundred million people, in excess of 450 World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. Which means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

To celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe, packed with tips and insights for the first-time visitor, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, read on…

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, may travellers see in this city a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Pixabay/CC0

4. Row down the Danube, Hungary

Rowing and kayaking are both possible on the Danube. In Budapest, you can rent boats, kayaks or canoes on Margaret Island or along the Romai River Bank.

5. Sip an espresso in Tirana, Albania

Albania’s colourful capital, a buzzing city with a mishmash of garishly painted buildings, traditional restaurants and trendy bars is better for strolling than sightseeing – but there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

6. Admire Kotor, Montenegro

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, Kotor is Montenegro’s only major tourist spot, with tiled roofs and a clear Venetian tilt to its architecture. Not a sunbathing destination, but there’s plenty to keep you busy.

7. Have a night out in Belgrage, Serbia

Explore the nightlife and café culture of Serbia’s hedonistic, hectic capital – at its best in spring and summer when all ages throng the streets at all hours.

8. See the Northern Lights, Norway

You don’t need to head up to Hammerfest as Bill Bryson did in his book Neither Here Nor There; this celestial show can be viewed across the country (Oct, Feb & March are ideal, the rest of winter is also good).

9. Cycle across the Netherlands

You can easily rent a bike and find your way around Amsterdam, but there’s really no reason to stop there. Dedicated signed trails lead you from town to town.

Pixabay/CC0

10. Get a sense of history in Kraków, Poland

This southern city emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, making it one of UNESCO’s twelve greatest historic cities in the world and an architectural treasure trove. It may look like a history lesson, but the city is very much alive and buzzing.

11. Spend a weekend in Venice, Italy

Venice is sinking (possibly under the weight of all the tourists), and there’s a chance the water may be knee-deep in St Mark’s Square by the time you visit, but to stroll Venice without crowds (off season, or at sunrise) may top your European visual highlights.

12. Go wine tasting in Slovenia

Slovenia has been making wine since the time of the Romans, so it’s not surprising that they figured out how to do it well over the years. There are fourteen distinct wine-growing regions to explore here.

Pixabay/CC0

13. Soak up the sun in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Situated near the southern border with Serbia, this 1300-year-old architectural city gem has been lovingly rebuilt, stone by stone, since the intense shelling in 1991, and is looking better than ever.

14. Discover Mozart’s Salzburg, Austria

This famous border town is not only worth a visit to pay homage to the man, but also has churches so cute you want to pinch them, plus plenty of art, city squares and chocolate galore.

15. See the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Resting majestically atop an enormous citadel in the centre of Granada, the Alhambra is a visual overload. The structure’s Moorish columns and domes and light-reflecting water basins inspire even the weariest traveler.

16. Be wowed by Bruges, Belgium

The most popular tourist attraction in Belgium is this entire town, the best-preserved medieval city in Europe. On some streets you feel as if you’re wandering through a museum’s thirteenth-century installation.

17. Be awed by the Palace of Versailles, France

Louis Quatorze certainly knew how to live. There’s the grand entrance, endless gardens that require an army of pruners, and a hall with more mirrors than a Las Vegas magic act. It’s good to be king.

18. Bathe on the Black Sea Riviera, Bulgaria

Arguably Bulgaria’s greatest asset, the beaches of the Black Sea rightfully fill up during the summer holidays. The best ones can be found northeast of Varna.

19. Stroll Prague’s Staromestske namesti, Czech Republic

You can probably count on one hand the number of people who’ve visited Prague, and never seen the Old Town square. This 17,000-square-meter centerpiece is the heart of the city, and has been since the tenth century.

20. Be a big kid at Legoland, Denmark

The little plastic snap-together blocks have got a good deal more sophisticated than they once were, but their simplicity is still their strength, and a visit to their Danish birthplace should cap off any lingering childhood fantasies about an entire Lilliputian Lego city.

21. Wander Tallinn’s old town, Estonia

Often compared to Prague, Estonia’s capital is an up-and-comer on the budget travel scene, as is its burgeoning nightlife. Check out the area round Toompea Hill, where the aristocracy and clergy once lived.

22. Soak in Baden-Baden, Germany

Germany’s most famous spa lies in the heart of the Black Forest. Its famed curative mineral waters bubble up from thermal springs at temperatures over 68°C.

23. Surf Portugal’s Atlantic coast

Portugal’s waves aren’t in the same league as Hawaii’s, but there are enough breakers around the country to keep most beginner and intermediate surfers happy

24. See a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, England

A reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse, the Globe Theatre in London is Shakespeare’s backyard. The season runs from April to October.

25. Visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Guinness may look like discarded brake fluid, but this thick stout with a scientifically measured head of foam is worshipped like a minor deity. And the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is the high altar.

26. Make a beeline for Bratislava, Slovakia

Low key charm, a museum of wine, and pavement cafés aplenty can all be found in the Old Town centre of Bratislava, Slovakia‘s “little big city“.

27. Visit Bran Castle, Romania

Also known as “Dracula’s Castle”, this popular castle actually has no ties to Vlad Tepeş, the medieval prince associated with the vampire extraordinaire, but none of this seems to deter visitors from coming.

28. Hike Sarek National Park, Sweden

The glaciers, peaks, valleys and lakes of this remote northern park cover 2000 square kilometres. Note that the trails are demanding and best suited for advanced hikers.

29. Ski in Zermatt, Switzerland

This glam skiing and mountaineering resort is tied to the fame of perhaps the most visually stunning Alp: the Matterhorn (4478m).

30. Shop in Helsinki’s Stockmann Department Store, Finland

You can’t miss it in Helsinki: it’s one of Europe’s largest department stores, selling everything you need and even more that you don’t.

Plan more of your first trip to Europe with the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

Squeezed between Argentina and Brazil and shaped a bit like a football, Uruguay doesn’t feature on your average South American checklist. But with its progressive politics, sizzling asado culture and some of the best beaches on the continent, we think it should.

From off-grid hippie enclaves (note: cannabis was legalised here in 2014) to chic celebrity hangouts to riotous party towns, there’s a beach here for everyone. It would take a while to cover every stretch of sand along Uruguay’s largely unspoilt 660km coastline, so we’ve selected five beach towns that we think make Uruguay a strong contender for best beach destination in South America.

For remote relaxation: Cabo Polonio

Without roads or electricity, and with a population of about eighty, Cabo Polonio is the place to go for a proper escape from civilization. The Cabo Polonio experience begins with the journey – whether you pay someone with a rowing boat to take you there, ride a horse along the beach, hike for 7km over the rolling dunes or hop in a 4X4 from the national park entrance.

There are only a few rustic places to stay here (the Cabo Polonio Hostel boasts a pedal-powered washing machine) and some tin-roofed restaurants fire up the asado during the summer. Don’t expect anything to “do” in Cabo Polonio, other than lie in a hammock, drink beer, and pay a visit to the talkative sea lions who hang out near the 120-year-old lighthouse. The hardest decision you’ll make is whether you should ever leave.

Image by Brennan Paezold on Flickr (license)

For chilled out chic: La Pedrera

About a hundred years ago, the Arrarte family built a beach hut on this peaceful stretch of coast – comprising two sandy beaches separated by a rocky headland – and a few of their friends followed suit. Today, this is one of Uruguay’s emerging chic holiday towns, which some compare to what Jose Ignacio was like before it became popular among the holidaying millionaire set.

Expect a gorgeous, wave-lapped beach (with a black, rusted shipwreck – Cathay VIII – on the western side), dusty lanes criss-crossing the town and a few ramshackled bars and restaurants serving fresh grilled seafood.

For something special, Pueblo Barrancas has lovely cabañas-on-stilts, dotted around a sloping forest just off the beach; it may be 2km west of town, but the moonlit walk home along the beach is unforgettable.

For night owls: Punta del Este

If you know somebody who has travelled to Uruguay and likes to party, there’s a fair chance they made a beeline for Punta del Este. Situated on a narrow peninsula, the town nicknamed the “Miami of South America” is the stark opposite of Uruguay’s laidback persona – high-rise, brash and expensive.

But for all its sins, Punta del Este has some of Uruguay’s best beaches and offers the most raucous night out in the country. Wide, sandy Playa Mansa is a prime sunbathing spot lapped by gentle waves, while choppier Playa Brava is worth a visit to check out (and be photographed beside) the famous Hand in the Sand sculpture.

In the evening, seasoned revellers will make for the club hubs of La Barra to the east or Punta Ballena to the west.

Pixabay / CC0

For glitz and glamour: Jose Ignacio

Equally as chic as neighbouring Punta del Este, only without the behemoth tower blocks that line the beach there, Jose Ignacio has recently transformed from a humble fishing village to become one of the most fashionable holidaying destinations in Latin America.

In the summer months you’ll be sunbathing on the sandy beach alongside bronzed millionaires, supermodels and celebrities – and you’ll pay for the privilege to stay in one of the elegant guesthouses or the futuristic, waterfront Vik Hotel.

Still, the village retains hints of its old charm and is a good option for a day trip, if you can find a parking spot alongside the sports cars.

For the surf: Punta del Diablo

Its name translates as “Devil’s Point”, but there’s nothing frightening about this remote surfing town near the Brazilian border. During the low season, this has a similar somnolent vibe to Cabo Polonio – populated by dreadlocked locals and knackered dogs – and offers reliably great surfing throughout the year on the central Playa Pescadores.

During the summer months the 1500-strong population bulges to 20,000 as backpackers and a hedonistic student party crowd descends – mostly from Brazil and Argentina – onto the wide, sun-drenched beaches. For community-spirited accommodation just off Playa Grande, Rosi and Martin’s labyrinthine off-grid home is a charming option.

Image by Eduardo Fonseca Arraes on Flickr (license)

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

Looking to unwind on a tropical island somewhere in Southeast Asia? Then head to the island of Langkawi, Malaysia’s ultimate escape from the country’s frenetic cities. From trekking into the rainforest to wildlife-watching – all between spells of relaxing on a wide, sandy beach – here are a few reasons why you should escape to Langkawi.

1. Because cocktails flow freely down by the sea

While beach resorts abound, there are still a few brilliant beach shack bars left on Langkawi’s shores, many of which are on the sands of Pantai Cenang.

Little Lylia’s Chillout Café is a throwback to island nightlife before the arrival of multinational investors. What’s lacking in ostentation is more than made up for by the warmth of hospitality. Flaming lamps on the beach and table-top candles add a touch of rustic romance. The sound of lounge music merges with the lapping of the waves and you can unwind with a shisha pipe or a plate of chicken satay in addition to cocktails.

2. Because it’s teeming with weird and wonderful wildlife

Board a boat at Kilim Jetty to tour the waterways of Kilim Karst Geoforest Park. You’ll have a good chance of spotting pythons between the twisted roots of mangroves and bonnet macaques feeding.

Keep your mouth closed when you pause to view the awesome sight of bat colonies hanging in caves within limestone formed 550 million years ago – who knows what might drop from above!

The island also provides habitat for more than 200 bird species. In the island’s foliage you’re likely to spot oriental pied hornbills, easily identifiable thanks to their bulbous beaks. Females have blue eyes and the males’ are red.

You’ll need well-attuned ears to identify the call of greater racket-tailed drongos, which have a quiff-like crest and distinctive twin tail feathers. Impressively, the drongos are able to mimic as many as 26 calls by other birds and animals, including the whooping and shrieking of monkeys.

3. Because you can trek in an ancient rainforest

Pack your boots and hike, to the sounds of squealing cicadas and chirping birds, in dense rainforest on the slopes of Gunung Raya and Gunung Machincang, Langkawi’s highest mountains. Companies like Dev’s Adventure Tours and Junglewalla offer guided tours providing insights into nature and wildlife.

Alternatively, follow marked trails at your own pace. Locals rate the trail to the Telaga Tujuh waterfalls, whose seven pools are associated with legends featuring fairies.

4. Because the sea waters are warm and ripe for swimming

If you’re a water baby, then you’ll love Langkawi. Ocean temperatures fluctuate between 28–30°C (82–86°F), making swimming in the sea inviting and pleasant. Be warned though: jellyfish can be a problem. The creatures, known locally as obor obor, lay their eggs by the shore on evenings. Several resorts protect guests with anti-jellyfish nets. Wearing a rashie or T-shirt helps minimise your exposure to stings.

5. Because you can ride a cable car in tropical temperatures

Cable cars are usually associated with winter holidays but riding the Langkawi Skycab lifts you above the dense canopy of the virgin rainforest decking Gunung Machincang. The peak of the steep-sided mountain stands 708m above sea level, where viewing platforms prove popular spots for enjoying panoramas of the island. On clear days you can see the coastline of southern Thailand beyond the glimmering Andaman Sea.

If you have a head for heights, ascend to the Top Station in one of the glass-bottomed gondolas, peering over the ancient jungle’s treetops on the way. The 15-minute ride carries you 2.2 kilometres.

At the top you can cross the 125-metre long Sky Bridge. The world’s longest free span, curved bridge dangles above a chasm from a single metal pylon. Blend in by snapping selfies on the vantage point that doubles as one of Langkawi’s best-known landmarks.

6. Because there’s great accommodation for all

Whether you’re strapped for cash or want to splash out, there’s somewhere for you on the island of Langkawi.

Many of the beachfront resorts are aimed at the higher end of the market – many making a perfect romantic getaway for couples in love. If stepping down from a chalet onto a white-sand beach to spend a morning dozing in a gently swaying hammock sounds up your street, splurge on the Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa at Pantai Cenang.

The Tipsy Gypsy Guesthouse is a brilliant budget option, where you can hang out with fellow travellers and sip cocktails at the on-site bar. There’s also a smattering of homestays in Langkawi and even Airbnb has made its way to this little isle.

7. Because there are miles of silver sand for the beach bums…

If you want to roll out your towel and while away time on Langkawi’s sandy beaches, head to popular Pantai Cenang, on the south-west coast, or for ultimate relaxation, head north to the quieter Tanjung Rhu.

If lying on the sand taxes your patience try a jet ski tour or sunset boat cruise in waters around the island. They don’t cost the earth and are a great way to see Langkawi’s pretty shoreline.

Stuart flew to Langkawi with Malaysia Airlines via their hub in Kuala Lumpur. Explore more of Malaysia with the Rough Guide to MalaysiaCompare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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