Kiki Deere, co-author of the Rough Guide to the Philippines, heads off the tourist trail to Batanes. This cluster of islands, located almost 150km off the northernmost tip of Luzon in the Philippines, sees just thirty or so foreign visitors a year.

“Batanes? Batanes? Up there?” was the reaction of most Filipinos when I told them I was catching a plane north to the remotest province of the country. This was coupled with a puzzled expression, followed by a long “Oooooooh”.

Only 190km south of Taiwan, the islands of Batanes are closer to the Taiwanese coast than to the Philippine mainland. The archipelago was created following a series of volcanic activities when Mount Iraya erupted around 325 BC – today a dormant volcano that stands 1517m above sea level.

The province comprises ten islands of which only three are inhabited: Batan Island, the largest in the group; peaceful Sabtang Island; and the less accessible Itbayat. Their isolation has resulted in a unique culture and distinct traditions; the language, cuisine and climate have little in common with the rest of the country.

Image by Kiki Deere

Rolling hills, windswept massifs and sheer cliffs

Our little six-seater plane rocked back and forth as we struggled to land on wind-swept Batan Island, whose capital, Basco, is named after Governor José Basco y Vargas who brought the islands under the Spanish Crown in 1782.

Below us stretched verdant rolling hills, windswept massifs and sheer cliffs rising 70m above sea level. The topography of the islands varies dramatically from the mainland – with grazing cows, undulating hills and strong winds. I felt I could have easily been in Ireland, not in the tropical Philippine archipelago I had extensively travelled, with its powdery, white-sand beaches shaded by coconut trees.

“Today we will visit Marlboro County, and then on to Sabtang Island” my guide announced as soon as I’d settled into Fundación Pacita, the former home of artist Pacita Abad today a surprisingly upmarket hotel. His voice was calm and composed; he spoke in musical tones, rolling his “r” in a pleasant lilt.

Like Filipino, the Ivatan language is peppered with pidgin Spanish words. The Ivatan are the native inhabitants of these islands, and trace their roots back to Formosan (Taiwanese) immigrants as well as Spaniards who travelled here in the sixteenth century.

Image by Kiki Deere

A testament to the trusting nature of the locals

We drove up and down the island’s many hills, the engine of our little car calling out as it climbed a slope, letting out a groaning sigh of relief as we reached the top and zoomed down the other side, only to grate again as we clambered up the next.

As we came over the brow of the first hill, there before us were green pastures being grazed by horses and bulls, with Mount Iraya and the roaring Pacific Ocean as backdrop.

Locals make a living by raising goats and cows, and plant root crops that are able to cope with the islands’ harsh environment, including yam, garlic, sweet potato and onion. Fish, livestock and root vegetables form the mainstay of the islands’ cuisine. During most of the year provisions are flown in or shipped over from the mainland, but during typhoon season ships and planes are often unable to reach the islands.

We continued south along the coastal road to the Honesty Café, an unmanned coffee shop selling t-shirts, beverages and snacks where customers drop payment in designated boxes, serving as a testament to the trusting nature of the island’s inhabitants.

Image by Kiki Deere

Life has changed little over the last few centuries

A rocky thirty-minute boat ride across the treacherous waters of the Balintang Channel took us to Sabtang Island, home to steep mountains and deep canyons where life has changed little over the last few centuries.

This peaceful island is peppered with Ivatan stone villages, and the picture-perfect town of Chavayan is home to some of the best-preserved traditional homes in the Philippines. Unlike in the rest of the country where nipa huts are a common sight, the houses in Batanes are made of limestone to withstand the destructive force of typhoons that so often strike the islands.

I strolled along the town’s streets, my guide encouraging me to occasionally pop my head into the stone houses, whose wooden floors are traditionally polished with banana leaves. Their cogon-thatched roofs are sturdily built, lasting up to two or three decades. Street names are chiselled in stone plaques.

At the Sabtang Weavers’ Association, women sold small artefacts and offered me homemade biscuits that they had lovingly prepared in their humble homes. Intrigued and surprised at the sight of a foreigner, they questioned me as to my provenance, proudly showing me the small trinkets they had painstakingly made.

Image by Kiki Deere

An elderly lady with a mustard yellow cardigan wore a rain cape called vakul, traditional Ivatan headgear made from stripped leaves of voyavoy palm to protect her from the strong sun and frequent rainstorms that so often hit the islands. Her coarse hands fingered a small hand-woven souvenir that she encouraged me to buy.

When I flew back to the province of Luzon a few days later, where thick jungles and bustling beach resorts justifiably attract their fair share of tourists, the far-flung islands of Batanes, with their thirty or so foreign visitors a year, suddenly seemed like a distant dream.

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

From dramatically rugged coastline scenery, to great sweeps of golden sand and lovely white coves, Bali’s beaches have long drawn visitors to its shores. The beaches here tick all boxes, whether you’re after world-class waves to surf, crystal clear waters for diving, or simply days digging your toes into fine sand and lazy evenings watching the sun set over the ocean.

Nusa Dua

Bali’s most carefully designed high-end beach resort luxuriates along a coastal stretch of reclaimed mangrove swamp some 14km southeast of Kuta. What draws most visitors to Nusa Dua is the beach: a long ribbon of mostly pale gold sand, though a reef is exposed at low tide if you’re swimming. Halfway down the shoreline, the land blossoms out into two little clumps, or “islands” (Nusa Dua means “Two Islands”), with a temple standing on each one.

Crystal Bay

A postcard-perfect nook of white-sand beach and outstandingly clear water, Crystal Bay is a popular dive site with operators from Nusa Lembongan. Most come in the morning, so if you are here in the afternoon, you’re likely to have the water to yourself – there’s good snorkelling here, too, and a shrine on an offshore islet. That said, currents in the bay can be fierce in certain tide states.

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Kuta beach

The reason everyone comes to Kuta is the beach. Vast and if not quite so glorious as it once was, it’s still a gentle curve of pale sand that stretches for 8km from Tuban to Canggu, its breakers luring amateur and experienced surfers alike. It’s also the venue for the much-lauded Kuta sunsets; at their blood-red best in April, but streaky-pink at any time of year and the stuff sundowners are made of – whether you choose cocktails in a hip bar or just a cold Bintang on plastic seats.

Yeh Gangga Beach

The coast west of Tabanan is a barely-touched stretch of black sand notable for weird rock formations offshore. The most appealing (and developed) section is at Yeh Gangga, which has emerged into something of a luxury hideaway in recent years. The currents make the sea too dangerous for swimming, but it’s a dramatic scene, punctuated by huge rocks, and the beach stretches for miles in both directions.

Padang Padang

Padang Padang is a gorgeous beach notched in the Bukit’s high cliffs that’s safe for swimming. Nothwithstanding its use as a location in the film Eat, Pray, Love (Julia Roberts meets her beau here), its fame – and the reason for all the restaurants and guesthouses – is the eponymous surf break, one of the most exciting waves in Indonesia, not least because of a kink in the final section. And not far off, at Pantai Suluban, lie the legendary Uluwatu waves.

Photo Credit: Tranquility To The Tired Soul At Padang Padang Beach, Bali (DSC_0723) via photopin (license)

Pasir Putih

Nine kilometers northeast from Candi Dasa lies the famously beautiful Pasir Putih (White Sand Bay). The less than straightforward access, via a steep and rutted track, is part of the appeal: the black-and-whitish-sand bay feels wild and remote, backed by palms and forest remnants, and sheltered by rocky headlands. The aquamarine water is perfect for swimming and the reef just offshore offers decent snorkelling.

Balian Beach

As ever in Bali, surfers got here first – Balian Beach has the most consistent left-hand breaks in West Bali, with larger waves breaking behind off a shelf and gentler peaks inshore. But whether surfer or not this mellow village may well be the most relaxed escape on the west coast; there’s no hustle, no tourist shops, just low-key accommodation, a few warung and a beach bar, and the sense of a shared secret. Get here soon – building is on the up. The caveat to all this is that a vicious rip inshore makes; heed local advice or be content to paddle at low tide.

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Jungutbatu

Strung out along the northwest coast, the village of Jungutbatu spreads out along the beachfront from its core of accommodation and restaurants. The beach may be no great shakes for swimming but it looks gorgeous: a strip of white sand that arcs before an aqua sea filled with wooden boats and rectangular seaweed plots. It’s an ideal place for sunset drinks or just for losing days gazing out to Bali’s Gunung Agung on the northwestern horizon.

Pemuteran

A Lovina before tourism took hold, Pemuteran lives a double life as a fishing village and a low-key holiday getaway. Alongside idling on the beach – a ribbon of black and biscuit-colour sand which arcs for a kilometre or so – Pemuteran is known for its snorkelling and diving. More than a dozen reefs are within easy reach of the shore – Pemuteran has the largest shallow-reef area in Bali – and seas are calm so there’s a site to suit all abilities. The marine life is varied, too; from turtles, giant clams and manta rays, to the very occasional whale shark.

Explore more of the Bali coastline with The Rough Guide to Bali & LombokCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Crete has easily the longest summers in Greece, and there are plenty of beaches with which to fill those long, lazy summer days. Whether you’re into watersports, skinny dipping or good old-fashioned sunbathing, the island almost certainly has a stretch of sand to suit your tastes.

Elafonísi

Elafonísi Beach comes as an exotic shock. The almost tropical waters (sheltered by the islet of the same name) boast white sand tinged pink by coral, aquamarine waters, salt-encrusted rock pools and bright-red starfish. The water is incredibly warm, calm and shallow and the islet itself is a short wade across the sand bar.

Koureménos Beach

Koureménos Beach is one of Crete’s top windsurfing spots. Not surprisingly, it can be windy (a funnel effect creates ideal windsurfing conditions; nearby Hióna Beach is far more sheltered), but it’s a fine, long sand-and-pebble beach, with several tavernas and places to stay – even a bar – directly behind. There’s also quite a community of camper vans in summer, and an excellent windsurf centre, too.

Mátala

While Mátala was once known for its cave-dwelling hippy community, now the town never feels anything less than touristy. That said, the beach is excellent, the atmosphere is boisterous and you’ll never be short of somewhere to enjoy a cocktail at sunset; with the caves lit up at night, the beach is an impossibly romantic setting. If the crowds get too much you can scramble over the hill to Red Beach, which, with its reddish-gold sand, nudists and scruffy, seasonal kantína, does its best to uphold Mátala’s traditions. 

Vái

The palm-lined beach at Vái makes for a thoroughly secular contrast to the spiritual tranquillity of nearby Toploú monastery; as you lie on the fine sand in the early morning, especially in early spring or late autumn, you could almost imagine yourself to be on a Caribbean island. In summer the beach fills to overflowing, but even then, for a couple of hours at each end of the day, you should be able to enjoy Vái the way it ought to be.

Mýrtos

Mýrtos is a charming, white-walled village with a long shingle beach. Even in August, when the place can get pretty full, the pace of life remains slow, the atmosphere pleasantly laid back. Apart from topping up your tan, swimming, renting a boat or lingering over a drink, there’s not a great deal to do in Mýrtos, but the surrounding countryside offers a couple of important Minoan sites, as well as the opportunity for mountain hikes.

Stavrós

Just 3km beyond Horafákia is Stavrós and its near-perfect beach, an almost completely enclosed circular bay. The sea is dead calm with gently shelving sand underfoot, making it ideal for kids. It’s an extraordinary-looking place, too, with a sheer, bare mountainside rising just 100m away from you on the far side of the bay. It’s also the site of a cave, whose entrance can just about be seen from the beach, in which there is an ancient sanctuary. Stavrós beach is often crowded, but even so it’s a great place to bask for a few hours, and there’s also a far less visited patch of sand facing directly out to sea.

Gaidhouronísi

The most popular way to escape Ieráetra’s often stifling summer temperatures is to take a boat trip to Gaidhouronísi, some 10km offshore. A real desert island a little over 4km in length, with a fine cedar forest, some excellent sandy beaches, a couple of tavernas and the fabulous “Shell Beach”, covered with discarded shells from countless generations of molluscs.

Frangokástello

For peaceful lassitude the beach at Frangokástello is among the best spots in Crete, with fine sand and crystal-clear water (with good snorkelling opportunities). If you want company you’ll find it around the castle, where the best part of the sand is sheltered and slowly shelving; for solitude, head west along the shoreline. There are beaches to the east too: follow the coastal path for ten to fifteen minutes and you’ll arrive at the top of a low cliff overlooking perhaps 1km of beautiful, deserted sand and rocks.

Sweetwater Beach

From the sea, Sweetwater Beach appears as a long, extremely narrow slice of grey between sheer ochre cliffs and a dark, deep sea. Closer up, the beach seems much larger, but there’s still a frightening sense of being isolated between unscaleable mountains and an endless stretch of water. The beach takes its name from the small springs that bubble up beneath the pebbles to provide fresh, cool drinking water – you can dig a hole almost anywhere to find water (take care not to pollute the groundwater with soap).

Kamaréles, Gávdhos

Gávdhos is the largest of Crete’s offshore islands. Its attraction lies in an enduring isolation that its inaccessible position has helped to preserve; if all you want is a beach and a taverna to grill your fish, this is the place for you. Kamaréles – the beach at Tripití, the most southerly point of Europe –is pebbly with little shade, but the water is brilliantly clear and a snorkeller’s paradise, with plenty of aquatic life. When you need a break, you can do what everyone else comes here to do: climb the famous three-holed rock, sit in the giant chair, and dangle your feet off the edge of a continent.

Explore more of the best Greek coastline with the Rough Guide to The Greek IslandsCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Few regions of the world have been idealised and mythologised as much as California – yet it seldom fails to live up to the hype. Among the finest jewels in the state’s crown are its magnificent beaches. There’s no better place to soak up the near-endless sun than along the coast, whether you’re there for the surfing, nature or just pure relaxation. Here, we’ve picked 10 of the best beaches in California from north to south. If you’re looking for sun, sea, sand and scenery, read on.

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

Seven miles south of Crescent City, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is worth visiting less for its redwood forests than its fantastic beach area and hiking trails, most of which are an easy two miles or so along the coastal ridge where the redwoods meet the sea. From May to July, wild rhododendrons and azaleas shoot up everywhere, laying a floral blanket across the park’s floor.

Manchester Beach, Medocino County

The coast of Mendocino County, 150 miles north of San Francisco, is a dramatic extension of the Sonoma coastline – the headlands a bit sharper, the surf a bit rougher. Sea stacks form a dotted line off the coast and there’s an abundance of tide pools, making the area a prime spot for exploring the secrets of the ocean, either on foot or in diving gear. March brings out droves of people to watch migrating whales. Surfers also love it for the waves and there are delightful sandy beaches to be found between Gualala and Albion, such as the largely deserted strand of Manchester Beach State Park.

Mavericks Beach, The Peninsula

San Francisco sits at the tip of a five-mile-wide neck of land commonly referred to as The Peninsula, home to old money, new technology, and some excellent beaches. Mavericks Beach is among the most splendid and boasts the largest waves in North America. It attracts some of the world’s best (and craziest) surfers when conditions are right; just watching them can be an exhilarating way to spend an hour or so and hundreds of people do just that every day.

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Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz

Seventy-five miles south of San Francisco, the edgy – and maddening – city of Santa Cruz is a difficult place to pin down. A classic California seaside promenade where carnival food, amusement arcades and a rickety old wooden rollercoaster all make for irresistible fun, but if you venture further west you’ll be rewarded by Natural Bridges State Beach. It’s famous not just for the four delicate wave-cut arches that once stood here but the annual gathering of monarch butterflies which arrive each winter.

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Carmel Beach, Monterey Peninsula

Set on gently rising headlands above a sculpted and largely untouched rocky shore, the village of Carmel fans out from a few neat rows of just-so shops along Ocean Avenue to reveal assorted posh mansions; think of it as the West Coast’s middle-aged answer to New York’s Hamptons. Inarguably its best feature is its largely untouched coastline, among the most beautiful in California. City-managed Carmel Beach, in particular, is a tranquil cove of emerald-blue water bordered by soft, blindingly white sand and cypress-covered cliffs.

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Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Boasting a strikingly rugged coastline and some of the state’s most stunning waterfalls, the sparsely populated region of Big Sur continues to retain its wild character. Its finest strand is Pfeiffer Beach, a white-sand, sometimes windy stretch that’s part of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and is dominated by a charismatic hump of rock whose colour varies from brown to red to orange in the changing light.

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Refugio State Beach, Santa Barbara County

If you drive west of Santa Barbara along US-101 before it veers north, several prime beaches beckon. Along this part of the Central Coast, the beaches face due south, making the surf lively and causing the sun to both rise and set over the Pacific in winter. Among the best is Refugio State Beach, one of the prettiest in California. Palm trees dot the sands next to a small creek, lending the beach a tropical feel.

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Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Malibu

Modern surf culture really went mainstream in Malibu in the late 1950s, and the beaches have been immortalized in surfing movies ever since. Malibu Lagoon State Beach is the major surfing nexus and includes the celebrated Surfrider Beach, one of the first to be mastered by Southern Californian pioneers. The waves are best in late summer, when storms off Mexico cause them to reach upwards of eight feet – not huge for serious pros, but big enough for amateurs.

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Venice Beach, Los Angeles

No list of the best beaches in California would be complete without mentioning Venice Beach. Nowhere else does LA parade itself quite so openly, colourfully and aggressively. Trawling the promenade between Santa Monica and Venice is an LA tradition, taking in the surfers, sand, muscle-men, skaters and assorted eccentrics.

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Mission Beach, San Diego

The most free-spirited of San Diego’s surfing beaches, Mission Beach scenery extends to acres of bronzed flesh and bikini babes, chaotic bars and even carnival rides. It’s one of the most popular and entertaining of San Diego’s city beaches, with throngs of sun-seekers enjoying surfing, cycling and rollerblading down Ocean Front Walk, the concrete boardwalk running the length of the beach.

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Explore more of California with The Rough Guide to CaliforniaCompare 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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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Coastal escapes

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

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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.

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Wales at its wildest

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Greece offers well over two hundred inhabited islands of all shapes and sizes, set like gems in the sparkling Ionian and Aegean seas – so you’re really spoilt for choice when planning a visit. Former resident and Rough Guide to Greece author Nick Edwards picks five of the best Greek islands for exploration.

For archaeology: Crete

As Greece’s largest island, Crete is something of an all-rounder, boasting the dramatic White Mountains, kilometres of fine beaches, the delightful Samaria Gorge and several interesting cities, not least the island capital of Iraklion. For anyone interested in archaeology, however, it’s the obvious place to combine the joys of an island with a variety of ancient remains to rival the mainland.

Just 5km outside of Iraklion lies Knossos, the island’s preeminent ancient site, with its grand, second millennium BC Minoan palace, where King Minos once kept the legendary Minotaur. The layout of the interconnected halls and rooms is truly labyrinthine and much of the palace amazingly well preserved. Here you can marvel at superb ancient art, such as the famous dolphin fresco. Iraklion’s archaeological museum, meanwhile, is also one of the country’s finest, with a host of fascinating Minoan treasures. East along the coast, Malia Palace is another great site from the same era.

Other star Minoan attractions near the south coast are the Palace of Phaestos, which enjoys a splendid hillside location and view of Mount Psiloritis, and the smaller remains at Ayia Triada. In the same region, the ruined capital of a Roman province that encompassed Crete and a chunk of north Africa can be seen at Gortys, while further afield the Dhiktean Cave and Palace of Zakros are yet more ancient sites to be enjoyed.

For beaches: Milos

Despite being one of the lower profile Cyclades, most beach connoisseurs rate Milos as the best in this most famous island group. Perhaps that is not so surprising – thanks to its volcanic nature and horseshoe shape, it boasts an impressive seventy-five beaches, yet is barely 20km across. Rarely crowded except in the height of peak season, Milos has a laidback feel and offers plenty of choices in accommodation and eating.

One of the best beaches on the south coast is sandy Paleohóri, gently heated by underground thermal currents and linked to a second strand, hemmed in by colourful cliffs, via a tunnel through the rock. The headland that encompasses the northern settlements of Adhámas and Plaka is punctuated by a variety of coves, while the long sandy stretch at Pollonia in the northeast is shaded by tamarisks. It is the rugged west coast, however, that offers the purest beauty and most undeveloped beaches of Triadhes, Ammoudharaki and Kleftiko, the latter accessible only by boat.

For spirituality: Pátmos

Given the ever-present significance of religion in Greece, diminutive Pátmos is regarded as one of the most important islands: it’s where St John holed up and received the visions that he dictated to his disciple Prohoros as the Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. Hike up early in the morning to the cave where this took place, now enclosed in an eleventh-century chapel, to have the best chance of getting the place to yourself and even being able to rest your head in the niche where the saint laid his. Gazing out across the sea to the surrounding islands is enough to get even hard-nosed cynics feeling spiritual.

Further up the hill, another eleventh-century monastery, that of Ayiou Ioannou Theologou, commands more wonderful views and is home to a community of monks. Much of the solid structure is off-limits to visitors but the church is delightful and the museum displays some dazzling Orthodox paraphernalia, dark and brooding medieval icons, and some parchment manuscripts. Needless to say, there are some fine sandy beaches and plenty of secular delights to detain the visitor back down at sea level.

For ocean activity: Lefkada

Mid-sized Lefkada has one of Europe’s largest windsurfing centres (near its southern tip) and a gleaming new marina on the edge of the island capital, making it a magnet for those who love to spend time on the water. It also boasts easy accessibility, being joined to the mainland by a causeway, some dramatic mountain scenery and a few of the most stunning beaches in the Ionian Sea on its west coast. In addition, Lefkada Town is an attractive and cultural place, with some fine old churches.

Yachties flock here for the great facilities at the marina, the large dry dock at Vlyho and ease of mooring at the various bays on the east coast, such as Dessimi, Rouda and Syvota. The satellite islands opposite the main resort of Nydri constitute good sailing territory too, while Nydri itself offers the usual range of watersports. Meanwhile, at Lefkada’s southern end, the bay that stretches from Vassiliki to Pondi draws a youthful crowd, who take advantage of the favourable wind patterns and shallow water that are ideal for windsurfing. At any one time, you might count literally hundreds of colourful sails flapping in the breeze.

For a little bit of everything: Lésvos

The third-largest island behind Crete and Evvia, versatile Lésvos (often referred to as Mytilini after its capital) is, surprisingly, little visited. Mytilini itself is a large town with a rather grand seafront, an extensive fortress and several absorbing museums, plus plenty of places to eat and drink. Among the smaller towns that impress architecturally, Molyvos (aka Mithymna) and Ayiassos stand out. The former sits on a north coast headland crowned by an imposing castle, while the latter straddles a mountainside valley and has a warren of streets around the picturesque central church. Various other beautiful monasteries are dotted around the island.

The coastline is blessed with numerous excellent beaches, none better than the 9km-long stretch of pebble and sand at Vatera on the south coast. But there are more geological features than just rock and sand: the large shallow Gulf of Kalloni includes salt marshes that are a birdwatcher’s dream; over in the west there’s a petrified forest; and thermal spas punctuate the eastern half.

As the home of Greece’s most highly rated ouzo, there are a fair few lauded distilleries, such as Varvayianni and Samara, yet the island also produces great wines, such as Methymneos, and olive products.

Finally, there is a strong cultural aspect to Lésvos, which has had a literary reputation since ancient times, as the birthplace of the poets Sappho, Aesop and more recently Elytis. It is also the birthplace of the twentieth-century artists Theriade and Theophilos, who have museums in their honour on the island. A lot of Sappho’s erotic poetry was addressed towards other women (quite a thing for the sixth century) and her legacy is perpetually sustained at lively Skala Eresou, which draws lesbians from all over the world.

Explore more of the best Greek islands with the Rough Guide to The Greek IslandsCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tasmania has shaken off its reputation as a sleepy backwater. Australia’s smallest state is buzzing with art, nurturing an exciting foodie scene and cutting the ribbon on new hiking trails – all against a backdrop of rich history and remarkable wildlife. Here, Anita Isalska gives ten reasons why you should give in to the island’s lure. 

1. To be awed and appalled at MONA in Hobart

A ferry ride up the peaceful Derwent River doesn’t seem like the obvious start to explore your dark side. But in the subterranean galleries of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art you’ll find some of the most confronting creations in Australia. Passion, death and decay are explored in unflinching detail in this controversial museum in the northern suburbs of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Test your limits with maggot ridden installations, X-rated sculptures and obese automobiles, all from the private collections of arty eccentric David Walsh.

2. To raft the Franklin River

Quicken your pulse in Tasmania’s wild west on a white water rafting adventure. In this glacier carved terrain, thick with Huon pine forests, experienced guides will navigate you down the frothing Franklin River. You’ll stop to cook on open fires and pitch a tent under the stars. There’s nothing like being part of a crew paddling a raft through the Franklin’s thunderous rapids to instil a lasting respect for Tasmania’s formidable wilderness.

3. To meet Tasmanian devils

Tas’ most famous critter is most often experienced through its nocturnal scream. But Tasmanian devils can be seen up close at sanctuaries across the state, like Bonorong. Don’t be fooled by their puppy-like appearance and lolloping gait. Time your visit for feeding time and you’ll see these marsupials screech, squabble and chomp straight through wallaby bones. On a more serious note, make sure you spare some time to learn about the devastating facial tumour disease threatening these Tassie natives.

4. To feast your way around Bruny Island

Mainland Aussies flock to the annual Taste Festival in Hobart. But you can undertake a year-round gastronomic extravaganza on Bruny Island, an easy day-trip by ferry from Hobart. Start by slurping fresh oysters at Get Shucked, before perusing the unctuous delights of Bruny Island Cheese Company. You’ll want a bottle or two to accompany those garlic-marinated, vine leaf-wrapped delights, so stop for pinot noir at Bruny Island Premium Wines. Finish off with jams and ice creams at the berry farm.

5. To explore the wilderness at Cradle Mountain

The silhouette of Cradle Mountain, reflected in mirror-clear Dove Lake, is one of Tasmania’s greatest natural icons. Lace up your hiking boots in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and discover Pencil Pine Falls or the neck-craning Ballroom Forest. Some are easy wooden walking trails that spiral around picnic spots like Wombat Pool; others vertiginous hikes that require experience. For hardened adventurers, there’s the six-day Overland Track.

6. To pace the brand-new Three Capes Track

One of Australia’s most hotly-tipped new attractions for 2015 is the Three Capes Track. Due to open in November 2015, this 82km coastal trail promises a touch of luxury for bushwalkers. Instead of stooping under the weight of your camping gear, you’ll be able to bed down in furnished huts at three different spots along the track and make use of on-site cooking facilities. That leaves more time to focus on what’s really important: jaw-dislocatingly good views of Australia’s tallest sea cliffs.

7. To see pint-sized penguins in Bicheno

Each night at dusk, a parade of little penguins pops out of the waters of Bicheno Bay and waddles ashore to their burrows. A guided walk is the best way to admire these dainty seabirds without disturbing them. They’ll hop between your legs, preen their inky black coats and jab their beaks at toes (don’t wear open-toed shoes).

8. To admire gorge-ous views near Launceston

Stomach-plummeting views await at Cataract Gorge, just 15 minutes’ drive from Tasmania’s second city, Launceston. Tiptoe over the suspension bridge or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of forested hillsides from the longest single-span chairlift in the southern hemisphere. Picnic spots are scattered around the gorge’s First Basin (and stalked by curious peacocks), ideal for you to soak up some rays and the tranquil atmosphere.

9. To explore dark history at Port Arthur

Two centuries ago, a ticket to Australia was a terrible fate. The most harrowing final destination was Tasmania’s Port Arthur, one of Australia’s 11 penal colony sites. Port Arthur was thought inescapable: only a narrow band of land, Eaglehawk Neck, connected it to the rest of the island, and this was fiercely guarded by dogs. Today, Port Arthur has been conserved as an open-air museum. You can explore the former prison wings and convict-built chapel, board a boat to the lonely graveyards on Isle of the Dead and linger for a ghost tour if you dare.

10. To bliss out at Wineglass Bay

There’s an unforgettable reward for taking a steep forested trail on the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast. At the Wineglass Bay overlook, you’ll see a perfect arc of sand glowing against the vibrant turquoise of the Tasman Sea. Cool off from all that bushwalking with a dip or kayaking trip, or simply gaze out over the dusky pink granite boulders dappled with lichen, one of Tasmania’s most surreally beautiful sights.

Explore more of Tasmania with the Rough Guide to Australia or our Tasmania Snapshot. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Taken from the new Pocket Rough Guide, here’s our pick of the best day trips from Rome. 

Rome is one of the world’s most enthralling cities, and you may find there’s quite enough to keep you occupied during your stay. But it can be a hot, oppressive city, and its churches, museums and ruins are sometimes wearing – so if you’re around long enough it’s worth getting out to see something of the countryside or going to the beach, for which there are lots of options within easy reach.

Two of the main attractions close to Rome are among the most compelling in the country, let alone the Rome area: Tivoli, about an hour by bus northeast of Rome, is a small provincial town famous not only for the travertine quarries nearby, but also for two villas – one Renaissance, one Roman, both complete with landscaped gardens and parks; southwest of Rome, Ostia is the city’s busiest seaside resort, but more importantly was the site of the port of Rome in classical times, the ruins of which – Ostia Antica – are well preserved and worth seeing.

Tivoli

Sited on a hilltop, with fresh mountain air and a pleasant position on the Aniene River, Tivoli has long been a retreat from the centre of Rome. The major sight is the Villa d’Este, the country villa of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este now been restored to its original state with beautiful Mannerist frescoes. It’s the gardens that most people come to see, peeling away down the hill in a succession of terraces, their carefully tended lawns, shrubs and hedges interrupted by one fountain after another. Tivoli’s other main attraction is the Villa Gregoriana, created when Pope Gregory XVI diverted the flow of the river here to ease the periodic flooding of the town in 1831. At least as interesting and beautiful as the d’Este estate, it remains less well known and less visited, and has none of the latter’s conceits – its vegetation is lush and overgrown, descending into a gorge over 60m deep.

Villa Adriana

Probably the largest and most sumptuous villa in the Roman Empire, Villa Adriana, just outside Tivoli, was the retirement home of the Emperor Hadrian for a short while between 135 AD and his death three years later. Hadrian was a great traveller and a keen architect, and parts of the enormous site were inspired by buildings he had seen around the world. The massive Pecile, for instance, through which you enter, is a reproduction of a building in Athens; the Canopus, on the opposite side of the site, is a copy of the sanctuary of Serapis near Alexandria, its long, elegant channel of water fringed by sporadic columns and statues leading up to a temple of Serapis at the far end. 

Ostia

Lido di Ostia has for years been the number one, or at any rate the closest and most accessible seaside resort for Romans. The beaches are ok, and much cleaner than they used to be, but you have to pay to use them and the town doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it apart from its thumping nightlife in summer, and with a little more time you could do better. Inland, however, the excavations of the Roman port of Ostia – Ostia Antica – constitute one of the finest ancient Roman sites you’ll see anywhere. Until its harbour silted up and the town was abandoned during the fourth century, Ostia was Rome’s principal port and a thriving commercial centre. Over the centuries the sand and mud of the Tiber preserved its buildings incredibly well and the excavations here are an evocative sight: it’s much easier to visualize a Roman town here than at the Forum – and it even compares pretty well with far better-known sights like Pompeii.

Santa Severa

There’s not much to sleepy Santa Severa but it’s easy to get to and has everything you need for a day at the beach, with long stretches of sandy beach – some free, the rest given over to the usual letti and ombrelloni – and a tavola calda right on the seafront; there’s also a castle at the southern end of the beach, home to a small municipal museum, if you get bored. The only drawback is the fact that the train station is a 20min walk from town, with erratic connecting buses and no real alternative transport.

Anzio

About 40km south of Rome, yet with a character quite different to the capital, Anzio boats excellent beaches – among the best in Italy – and some interesting history; two military cemeteries (one British, another, at nearby Nettuno, American), as well as a small museum, bear testimony to the town’s role in World War II. Anzio is also a good place to eat: it hosts a thriving fishing fleet and you’ll find some great restaurants down on the harbour.

photo credit: Praia de Anzii via photopin (license)

Capalbio

Just over the border in Tuscany, about 100km northwest of Rome, Capalbio is just about possible on a day-trip, and its beaches are worth the journey. The station is a shortish walk from the beach and the village, a little way inland, is an upscale, artsy sort of place, and only a bus-ride from the late Niki St-Phalle’s sculpture garden, the Giardino dei Tarocchi, which the French artist created over twenty years with her husband, Jean Tinguely.

 

Explore more of Rome and the surrounding area with the Pocket Rough GuideCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Tim Chester joins a group of friends for a restorative mini-break at the historic New Inn in Peasenhall in the heart of Suffolk. 

It’s easy to fall into a reverie at the New Inn. Between the crackling log fire, the huge sofas and the sedative aftereffect of an immense feast at the late medieval hall’s huge trestle table, you can find yourself slipping away into daydreams.

Under wide wooden beams and with a hefty history folder in your lap, thoughts are conjured of the thousands of weary travellers who must have laid their heads between these walls in the half millennium since it became an inn in 1478.

Every inch of the New Inn has a story to tell, and the Landmark Trust – who took over the property in 1971 – regales visitors with tales of fifteenth century abbots, horses and mules stabled in the courtyard, and strangers sharing beds upstairs while hosts brew ale in the basement.

On a chilly evening with a glass of robust red in hand you can almost hear the echoes of conviviality dating back 500 years. On second thoughts, it might just be a baby mewing.

As epic meanderings go we hadn’t come far – home was just three hours on the train away in London – but we were nevertheless in need of some hospitality and R&R, and the New Inn delivered in spades.

Like all the best rental homes, the New Inn is somewhere you could spend your entire trip: reading, dozing, chucking another log into the stove, preparing huge meals of ham, eggs and cheese from the local Emmett’s deli, or, as one quote on their website brilliantly has it, “spending hours studying the beautiful carpentry of the building’s oak frame.”

However, there’s plenty to be done in the area including a host of simple pleasures that have been enjoyed for time immemorial: tramping through crusty brown fields under a wide, bright blue sky; capturing images of dewy sparkles on deep furrows; dodging the peacocks who strut through the village of Peasenhall like they own the place.

The area holds as many historic secrets as the building, much of them deep underground. The sunken village of Dunwich, “Britain’s Atlantis”, and Sutton Hoo, a 225 acre estate of ancient Anglo-Saxon burial mounds, are both short drives away and will fire the imagination.

The Martello Tower, meanwhile, is another Landmark Trust property on the beach at Aldeburgh that was originally built to repel Napoleon but has now been invaded by a sculpture created by Antony Gormley. The Scallop sculpture, a tribute to Benjamin Britten, and Framlington Castle, which was once the refuge of Mary Tudor, are other sights worth a detour.

More recently, a madcap inventor has been paying homage to the history of arcade machines by building a series of bizarre contraptions that are collected halfway along Southwold Pier – a truly British display of eccentricity.

The pier has plenty of other attractions, including a more modern collection of shoot-em-ups, any number of ways to lose a pile of 2p pieces, and a rather odd depiction of George Orwell, who grew up here when he was known as plain old Eric Blair and before he left for Burma and the travels that would inspire his first novel, Burmese Days (which he actually completed here).

Southwold itself demands at least half a day, a quaint warren of windy streets harbouring boutiques, foodie shops and friendly pubs, and walks along the beach and to nearby Walberswick for fish and chips at the huge Anchor pub are great ways to while away an afternoon.

Before long, though, you’ll feel the pull of the New Inn and find yourself heading home, with a boot full of local produce and Adnams ale from the town’s brewery shop, to fire up the hearth and settle in to a Chaucerian bacchanal under the oak beams – or perhaps just a good book.

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

Think of The Gambia and sun, sea and sand package holidays might spring to mind, but visitors are starting to explore beyond the beaches. Lynn Houghton tells us eight of the best ways to get off the beaten track.

The tiny West African country of The Gambia is dissected by its namesake, the River Gambia. Much of the landscape is dominated by the river and its tributaries, and beyond the coast you’ll find enormous swathes of lesser-explored mangrove forest, deserted beaches and ‘up country’ adventures. If you’re thinking of eschewing the popular Atlantic Coast beach resorts, here are eight ideas for experiencing a more authentic side of The Gambia, taking in the country’s natural beauty and biodiversity.

Discover the UNESCO-listed Wassu stone circles

About a five-hour drive from Banjul on the north bank of the River Gambia is the pre-historic sacred UNESCO site of the Wassu stone circles. The laterite stones, a rich deep mahogany colour, compare in age with Stonehenge in England, and are thought to have a religious purpose, marking burials here for 1500 years. The museum has some interesting information but folklore is much more exciting: talk to the Stone Man, the site’s erstwhile caretaker. He says you can see lights shining from behind the stones at night – a common occurrence according to the superstitious locals.

See foraging chimps at the Chimp Rehabilitation Centre

Swinging from the treetops and squabbling with the baboons, West African Chimps are relishing their environment at the Chimp Rehabilitation Centre in the River Gambia National Park. They roam free on the Baboon Islands in the middle of the river, while rare red colobus monkeys congregate on the mainland. The centre was started by Leslie Brewer-Marsden in 1979: the first chimps brought here were rescuées and mistreated pets, and there are now 107 completely wild chimpanzees that thrive on these three islands. From Thursday through Sunday, visitors can follow behind a feeding boat to see the chimps in their natural habitat as they come to the riverside to grab a meal.

Image by Lynn Houghton

Explore lush mangroves in the Matasuku Forest

Centuries of legend surround the ancient Matasuku Forest, a nearly pristine area of mangrove covering 17.5 square kilometres along a tributary named Mandinka Bolong. From time immemorial, the forest was a no-go area and thought to be inhabited by demons and dragons. A Mali King, along with his troops, once managed to make the forest his stronghold but he was ousted by a local tribe; according to folklore, the king’s head, throne and crown are buried somewhere on the land. Today, things are more peaceful. The area has been developed into a sustainable tourism project, the Matasuku Cultural Forest, in partnership with the Gambian government and now includes lodges and a base camp with an arts and crafts market run by local Kembujeh villagers.

Spot rare birds at Baobolong Wetland Reserve

As the dawn mist clears and the morning sun starts to rise, there is possibly no better place in West Africa for birdlife than the Baobolong Nature Reserve. Over 500 species of birds are attracted to the River Gambia in all their feathered glory. Take a traditional boat from Tendaba Lodge, a mere seven kilometres away on the south side of the river, to spot rare African Fin Foot or Fish Eagles.

Image by Lynn Houghton

Float down the River Gambia

Going canoeing along one of the River Gambia’s creeks in a traditional fishing boat or dugout, called a pirogue, is wonderful way to cool off when temperatures soar. Rentals are available from Lamin Lodge, a wooden structure built on stilts over the water, or you can take a full-day trip in a larger motorised boat to explore Kunta Kinteh Island and enjoy a spot of fishing.

Visit traditional fishing villages

To experience local life on the coast, visit the vibrant, colourful coastal fishing market of Tanji in the Kombo region or travel further south to the more authentic fishing village of Gunjur. The market is at its most frenetic at the crack of dawn, when the traditional fishing boats come to shore with their catch. Though fishermen work at a feverish pace, women are equally busy hauling the fish from the boats into large baskets balanced on their heads. Take a wander along the shore and see other workers taking gutting and scaling the fish ready for sale; anyone can purchase a fresh seafood breakfast for a just few Dalasi.

Image by Lynn Houghton

Check out the street art scene

Art project Wide Open Walls has brought street artists from all over the world to adorn the walls of Galloya village with sophisticated graffiti art. Some of the work is representational, while some is wholly avant-garde, but all the murals are distinctive. The project is the brainchild of Lawrence Williams, and has even inspired the village children to take up making art. Lawrence and Gambian artist, Njogu, work as a pair and have named themselves the ‘Bush Dwellers’. Many street artists are publicity shy and prefer to be known by a name they choose for themselves that reflects their work; artistic duo Neil and Hadley from the UK are ‘Best Ever’, for example, while Brazilian artist Rimon Guimarães has named himself ‘RIM’.

…finally, for the adventurous

Fancy a quicker way of getting across the River Gambia than the vehicle and pedestrian ferry from Banjul, where a three-hour wait is common? Simply wander over to Terminal Road. Once there, young men carry patrons at full pelt on their shoulders down to the beach and into the water to then toss them into an enormous fishing boat. This crossing takes about half an hour and the process is repeated, in reverse, on the other side. The experience probably isn’t at the top of anyone’s health and safety list, but should be tried at least once.

The Gambia Experience offers a variety of travel options and flights to The Gambia including stays at Mandina River Lodge on a B&B basis. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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