Kris Griffiths takes a tour of the birthplace of reggae, following in the footsteps of Jamaica’s most famous son, Bob Marley, on what would have been his 70th birthday.

Reggae music was born in the downtrodden townships of this Caribbean island. It’s a genre that has managed to captivate most of the globe with its bouncing riddims and One-Love jubilation, thanks largely to its chief ambassador, Robert Nesta Marley.

Despite cancer stealing him at age 36 in 1981, he’s still very much part of Jamaica’s collective consciousness, and in the city he grew up in, he has almost attained the status of a prophet. Murals of his dreadlocked visage abound and his tunes can almost always be heard floating on the breeze.

For fans of Marley and the genre he helped globalise, one of the most fitting times to visit is ‘Reggae Month’ every February, when his birthday is celebrated with tribute shows and exhibitions. But Bob’s Kingston is alive all year round, for anyone from reggae pilgrims to more casual admirers just seeking some ‘positive vibrations’.

It all began here.

Bob Marley statue, Kingston, Jamaica

Growing up in Trenchtown

Although he was born in the village of Nine Mile in north Jamaica, Bob moved to Kingston’s Trenchtown as a young boy with his mother after his father died. It was in this impoverished neighbourhood his musical journey commenced. He learnt the guitar while listening to R&B from American radio stations with housemate Bunny Wailer, with whom he would later form eponymous group The Wailers.

The restored tenement block is now a National Heritage Site and fascinating cultural centre, where reggae musicians congregate to record and perform. A striking new statue of Bob has also been erected here to mark his 70th birthday.

Some tourists are deterred from visiting by a prejudice about local ‘ghetto’ culture, at odds with reality – visitors are welcomed warmly by locals promoting Bob’s peaceful message. Visiting also generates vital revenue for the still-deprived community that spawned him.

Bob Marley Murals, Kingston, Jamaica

Recording at Tuff Gong Studio

Located in downtown Kingston, Tuff Gong is the label Bob founded in 1965 (named after his nickname ‘The Gong’ and being a ‘Tuff’ cookie). Today, its HQ is not only one of the biggest studios in the Caribbean but one of the most famous in the world, attracting not just reggae luminaries like sons Damian and Ziggy but superstars of other genres from Kenny Chesney to Sinead O’Connor.

Housing vintage analogue equipment alongside newer digital technology, the studio allows intimate access to the spaces where Bob recorded hits like Redemption Song and Buffalo Soldier. The label went on to sell millions of records, while Bob’s posthumous best-of Legend became the biggest-selling reggae album of all time.

Tuff Gong, Kingston, Jamaica

Relaxing at home

Little did young Bob know, the home he would later buy a few miles uptown would become Kingston’s most-visited tourist site, the Bob Marley Museum.

The colonial-era clapboard house, where he lived for his final six years, is now a preserved shrine. Utensils in the kitchen date from his last days; his unpretentious bedroom left exactly as it was, his favourite guitar still by the bed; and poignant family photos hang on the walls. More dramatic are bullet-holes from the infamous 1976 assassination attempt, a grim reminder of the evil confronting Bob’s non-violent philosophy.

There are also museum spaces literally wallpapered with press clippings that exhibit his vast collection of Gold Records. And you can try Bob’s favourite drink, Irish Moss (made with seaweed extract), in the One Love Café, or a hearty vegetarian stew typifying the Rastafarian ‘Ital’ diet.

BobMarleyMuseum

Retreating to Strawberry Hill

Following the shooting, Bob often withdrew to a retreat nestled high in the Blue Mountains overlooking Kingston, which is as special a spot to visit today as it was 40 years ago. Now a boutique hotel, Strawberry Hill was then owned by producer Chris Blackwell, who’d signed Marley and found his songs an international audience. Subsequently many famous artists visited, including the Stones, Willie Nelson and Grace Jones – personal photos of whom still hang on its walls alongside various Marley platinum discs.

For those with the budget to stay here, high-end features include a negative-edge infinity pool offering vertiginous mountainside views down to the city. For the rest of us, a traditional afternoon tea will do just fine.

Strawberry Hill, Kingston, Jamaica

Performing at National Stadium

Jamaica’s Wembley, built during Bob’s teenage years, has for most its lifetime served as a temple for the sport he held dear – football – which he regularly played. Home of the national team, internationally-known as the ‘Reggae Boyz’, it backdropped a significant moment in Bob’s career.

In 1978 the Wailers headlined the massive ‘One Love Peace Concert’ here, Bob’s first homeland show since returning from self-imposed exile, at a time when Jamaica was riven by deadly political civil war. During the song Jammin’, however, peacemaker Bob called for the leaders of both warring parties to join him onstage and shake hands, in a plea for national unity. For that night at least, peace reigned on Kingston’s streets.

Three years later Bob would return to the stadium, for his funeral. A commemorative statue of him – one of several around the capital – still stands outside, wielding a guitar.

Kingston has celebrated his life every year since on his birthday, but for visitors that musical high is on offer here perennially. As his son Ziggy said recently, Bob is more alive today than ever.

Kris stayed at Spanish Court Hotel. For further info on visiting Kingston go to www.visitjamaica.comCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Wherever your itinerary takes you, travel in Myanmar (Burma) is sure to provide a wealth of new experiences – whether you’re air-kissing at your waiter in a city teahouse or witnessing your first nat ceremony. To mark the release of our first guide to the country, co-author Jo James shares fourteen of her essential things to do in Myanmar.

Breakfast in a Burmese teahouse

From Yangon’s traffic-choked streets to dusty village lanes, Myanmar’s teahouses are local institutions. Enthusiastic tea boys dodge between the tables, slopping tea into saucers and serving up deep-fried snacks. Patrons air kiss loudly to attract the staff’s attention, their eyes on the football match on TV and their minds on teashop gossip. Stop for a bowl of mohinga – the nation’s favourite noodle soup, or refuel with a char kway (a Chinese-style doughnut) dunked in a delicious cup of sweet, milky tea.

Float down the Irrawaddy

The Irrawaddy River curls south from foothills of the Himalayas, unfurling past Mandalay and Bagan’s temple-covered plain before spilling its silt-rich waters into the Andaman Sea. Myanmar’s most important waterway is plied by everything from luxury teak-decked steamers to ponderous government ferries and leaking speedboats. Climb aboard your vessel of choice and float downstream to see a slice of riverside life – and remember to keep an eye out for rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

A sailing boat on the Irrawaddy, Myanmar, Burma

Relive the Raj

From streets lined with peeling colonial-era buildings and afternoon tea at The Strand in Yangon, to ghostly locations from George Orwell’s novel Burmese Days in Katha, echoes of British Burma reverberate in a handful of places around Myanmar. Nowhere are these echoes louder than in Pyin Oo Lwin, a former hill station, where horse-drawn carriages trundle past mouldering teakwood mansions and a bell cast for George V’s Silver Jubilee still chimes from the town’s Purcell Tower.

Revive yourself with tealeaf salad

Enthusiastic tea drinkers, the Burmese are one of the few cultures to eat tea as well, in the form of lahpet thouq or tealeaf salad. Fried garlic and broad beans, chopped tomato and whole green chillies are added to piles of deep green, slightly pickled tealeaves, creating something like pesto with a strong caffeine kick – a popular pick-me-up for sleepy students and flagging sightseers alike.

Explore Buddhism’s quirky side

Myanmar’s Theravada Buddhism is shot through with a thick vein of mystery and magic, with enough offbeat sights and stories to revive the interest of the most jaded temple-goer. Climb to the Golden Rock, a precarious gold-crusted boulder held in place for centuries by a few strands of Buddha’s hair, meet alchemist monks searching for the secret to eternal life at Hpa-An’s crag-top pagoda and clamber through the insides of a vast concrete Buddha outside Mawlamyine.

Golden Rock, MyanmarImage by Jo James

Join a nat ceremony

Transvestite natkadaws ply a middle-aged lady with whisky as she gyrates to music from a traditional orchestra. Members of the audience tuck 1,000-kyat notes into her clothing to propitiate the nat who has possessed her. Although Myanmar’s native belief system – that the world is suffused by a collection of unruly nats who require frequent mollification with alcohol, music and money – contrasts sharply with Buddhism’s emphasis on restraint and quiet reflection, many Burmese people happily believe in both. Catch the country’s largest nat ceremony in Taungbyone each August, or head to Mount Popa, Myanmar’s most important centre of nat worship.

Take your time on a Burmese train

Journeys on Myanmar’s antiquated narrow-gauge rail network are often uncomfortable and comically bouncy, and timing is unpredictable in the extreme. However, in exchange for risking a bruised bum and a late arrival, train travellers are rewarded with a fantastic chance to interact with local people, from friendly fellow passengers and holidaying monks, to the poised ladies who sway down the aisle selling snacks from trays balanced precariously on their heads.

Woman on train, Myanmar, Burma

Try thanaka

Each morning Burmese women and children daub their cheeks with powdery yellow swipes of thanaka, a natural sunblock and cosmetic made from the ground bark of the wood apple tree, with its sandalwood-like fragrance. However you feel about its beautifying abilities – that tawny shade of yellow isn’t for everyone – freshly applied thanaka is wonderfully cooling, and makes your face smell great for hours.

Rock a longyi

Once you’ve sorted out your thanaka, the natural next step is to get yourself a longyi – a tube of fabric worn by men and women across Myanmar. The male version (a paso) is often nattily checked or striped, and tied with a knot in front, while the female version (a htamein) is more richly patterned, and tucked into a fold around the waist. Pick out your favourite design and take it to a tailor, who will sew it up for you and you’re all set – just ensure that it’s tied tightly enough to avoid any inadvertent flashing…

Nurture a jaggery addiction

Irregular, caramel-coloured lumps of jaggery are one of the great pleasures of a Burmese meal. Made from boiled toddy palm sap and jokingly called “Burmese chocolate”, jaggery is exceedingly addictive whether plain or flavoured with coconut shreds and sesame seeds. However unhappy it might make your dentist back home, cultivating a serious jaggery habit is certainly healthier than Myanmar’s other great tooth-rotting pastime – chewing kwoon-ya, lip-staining little parcels of betel nut, tobacco and slaked lime.

Jaggery, Burma, MyamarImage by Jo James

Get tipsy on toddy

All over Myanmar, you’ll see spindly bamboo ladders disappearing into spiky palmyra palm trees – a sure sign that a toddy tapper is at work nearby. The palm’s sweet, white sap ferments naturally into toddy, a cloudy, lightly alcoholic beverage also called palm wine or tan-ye. Myanmar’s only home-grown alcoholic drink (Mandalay Brewery’s “anti-aging” spirulina beer notwithstanding), toddy is only available from low-key village bars close to where it’s made, making it an unmistakable taste of the Burmese countryside.

Sample village life

Take to the hills in Shan State and trek along the now-classic Kalaw to Inle Lake route, or head north to explore the less-visited area around Hsipaw and Kyaukme. Whichever hike you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to stay overnight in Shan and Palaung villages along each trail – something that isn’t yet possible elsewhere in Myanmar – and to experience rural life first-hand, with roosters for alarm clocks and water buffalo for trail mates.

Country life, Myanmar, BurmaImage by Jo James

Go to market

Barefoot porters pad down crowded aisles shouldering crates of limes, stallholders lean against sacks of onions lazily smoking cheroots, while prospective buyers prod green mangoes and examine glistening fish. Go for a stroll through any messy morning market and you’ll discover something new, from the novel (Burmese herbal shampoo) and delicious (crispy bein moun pancakes smeared with jaggery syrup), to the malodorous (shapely piles of ngapi fish paste speared with smoking incense sticks).

Get wet during Thingyan

While in theory, Thingyan – the week-long Burmese New Year festival – is a time to solemnly reaffirm one’s Buddhist beliefs, to the outside observer it seems more like a raucous, countrywide water fight. As temperatures soar each April, everyday life grinds to a halt and children and teenagers take to the streets to soak each other and passers-by (foreigners are singled out with particular relish) with buckets and out-sized water pistols. Festivities reach fever pitch in Mandalay, where streets are lined with makeshift stages from which revellers hose down passing motorists to a booming soundtrack of local hits.

Rough Guide to Myanmar Burma cover

 

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

We’ve just published a brand new Pocket Rough Guide to New York City, and thought we’d share a sneak preview. Want to shun the crowds? Here are five places to explore hidden New York. 

No superlative, no cliché does New York City justice. It may not serve as the official capital of the US or even of New York State, but it’s the undisputed capital of the world in many regards. High finance, media, art, architecture, food, fashion, popular culture, urban style, street life… it’s all here, in plenitude and peak form.

Best of all for visitors (and residents), you don’t have to look too hard for any of it. Often the sights, both big and small, are just staring you right in the face: the money fortresses of Wall Street; the raised torch of the Statue of Liberty; the iconic Empire State Building; the hype and hustle of Times Square; Fifth Avenue’s foot traffic; the proud lions of the Public Library. But if you want to see a different side to NYC, you’ll need to look further.

Red Hook

This off-the-beaten-path waterfront Brooklyn neighbourhood, a former shipping centre, was once one of the more rough-and-tumble in the city, but now holds artists’ galleries, unique restaurants, converted warehouses and, to some folks’ chagrin, twin giants in IKEA and Fairway. Cut off from the subway system, Red Hook can be reached by water taxi or bus, a worthwhile venture to hit the Red Hook Ball Fields on summer weekends, where you can sample Latin American street food and watch soccer, or to take in fabulous views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan from the piers, while snacking on a Key Lime Pie from Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies – the best key lime pie in the northeast.

Red Hook, Brooklyn

Governors Island

Until the mid-1990s, Governors Island was the largest and most expensively run Coast-guard installation in the world, but today it’s being developed into a leafy historical park, the island’s bucolic village greens and colonial architecture reminiscent of a New England college campus. Many of the buildings are being restored as art galleries and craft stores, and the Historic Landmark District at the northern end is managed by the National Park Service. Ferries arrive at Soissons Dock, where you’ll find the small visitors’ centre. From here it’s a short stroll up to the solid walls of Fort Jay, completed in 1794, and the nearby shady lanes of Nolan Park, home to some beautifully preserved Neoclassical and Federal-style mansions. Other highlights include Castle Williams, a circular fort completed in 1811, but there are also plenty of green spaces in which to lounge in the sun, an artificial beach in the summer, and a breezy promenade with stellar views of Manhattan.

Governors Islandphoto credit: IMG_2787 via photopin (license)

Irish Hunger Memorial

This haunting monument to the more than one million Irish people who starved to death during the Great Famine of 1845–1852 was designed by artist Brian Tolle in 2002. He transported an authentic famine-era stone cottage from County Mayo, and set it on a 25ft embankment overlooking the Hudson River. The passageway underneath echoes with haunting Irish folk songs, and there is a meandering path through the grassy garden. 

Irish hunger memorialphoto credit: Irish Famine Memorial_2012 05 04_0143 via photopin (license)

African Burial Ground National Monument

In 1991 construction workers uncovered the remains of 419 skeletons near Broadway, a tiny portion of an African burial ground that covered five blocks during the 1700s. After being examined, the skeletons were re-interred at this site in 2003, marked by seven grassy mounds and a highly polished black granite monument, a symbolic counterpoint to the infamous “gate of no return” on Gorée Island in Senegal. To learn more, walk around the corner to the visitor centre (look for the dedicated entrance). Videos, displays and replicas of the artefacts found here are used to recount the history of the site, and shed light on the brutal life of the city’s oft forgotten enslaved population. 

African Burial Ground National Monument

Strivers’ Row

On W 138th and 139th sts (between Adam Clayton Powell Jr and Frederick Douglass blvds), Strivers’ Row comprises some of New York’s most alluring architecture and three of the finest blocks of Renaissance-influenced rowhouses in Manhattan. Commissioned in 1891 during a housing boom, this dignified development within the burgeoning black community came to be the most desirable place for ambitious professionals to reside at the turn of the twentieth century – hence its name. Today it remains an extremely posh residence for professionals of all backgrounds.

Strivers' Row

Pocket Rough Guide New York City

 

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

New Orleans might hog the limelight, but there’s no end of things to do in Louisiana. Here, Rough Guides author Charles Hodgkins takes us on a tour of the state’s beguiling south.

While it’s easy to understand why New Orleans dominates most discussions of southern Louisiana, there’s much more to the lower areas of the Pelican State than the Big Easy. It’s a storied region that exists apart from the rest of the United States, a heady mix of cultures – most notably Cajun, but also a bit of Creole – happily sequestered on its own terms in a waterlogged place south of the actual South.

Whether you’re cruising the swamps of Acadiana in a crawfish skiff, standing reflectively on the porch of a slave cabin on a 200-year-old sugarcane plantation, or driving over countless bridges to a sandy barrier island at the end of the highway, there’s nowhere else quite like southern Louisiana.

Culture and crawfish in Cajun Country

At the heart of Louisiana’s Francophone Cajun country lies Lafayette, the state’s fourth-most populous city and one of its greatest cultural hubs. It’s the all-but-official capital of the state’s Acadiana region. Although English is the dominant language in and around Lafayette, it’s hardly uncommon to overhear Acadian French – especially each Wednesday night at Lafayette’s Blue Moon Saloon’s weekly Cajun jam.

Crawfish in Cajun Country, Louisiana

Within about 15 miles of Lafayette are a day’s worth (at least) of historically significant literary locations, worthwhile museums, nature excursions and small-town Acadiana charms.

St Martinville, a 25-minute drive southeast of Lafayette, is home not only to the Evangeline Oak, immortalised in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline” and still standing sentinel on the west bank of Bayou Teche, but also a waterside complex housing the African American Museum and the Museum of the Acadian Memorial. Each museum relates moving tales from involuntary migrations of the eighteenth century that forever impacted this region: the former interprets stories gathered from over 300 years of African–American history in southern Louisiana, while the latter describes the deportation of the Acadians from eastern Canada and their eventual resettlement in present-day Acadiana.

Another small Cajun town worthy of a few hours’ lingering is Breaux Bridge, the self-anointed “Crawfish Capital of the World”, where a handful of excellent restaurants vie for visitors’ palates. Try airy and pleasant Café des Amis, known equally for its delectable gumbo and Saturday zydeco breakfasts.

Lafayette swamp tour, Louisiana, USA

Naturally, no visit to southern Louisiana is complete without embarking on a swamp tour, and with wildlife-rich Lake Martin a mere ten-minute drive from Breaux Bridge, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason (poor weather notwithstading) to not enjoy an outing on the lake’s murky waters. The area’s top guiding outfit is Cajun Country Swamp Tours, operated by father-and-son duo Butch and Shawn Guchereau, extra-knowledgeable locals who interpret the lake’s signature botany and teeming birdlife (cormorants, ibis, egrets, herons) in velvety Cajun drawls. Odds are strong you’ll also spot an alligator or two throughout the two-hour tour.

History and politics in Baton Rouge

Abutting the east bank of the Mississippi River, Baton Rouge is Louisiana’s state government centre, a major shipping port and home to the state’s largest university, Louisiana State. The city’s odd name, which translates to “Red Stick” in English, stems from an early French explorer who, upon arrival, spotted a wooden pole draped with bloody carcasses that marked a boundary between tribal hunting grounds. Intervening centuries have seen the city under French, British, and Spanish rule, as well as the Confederacy during the US Civil War.

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It’s no surprise, then, that Baton Rouge’s colourful political past makes for its most uniquely compelling attraction. Louisiana’s Museum of Political History, housed in the Old State Capitol – dubbed “that monstrosity on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain – takes a refreshingly no-holds-barred approach to the state’s notorious history of corruption. Check out the extensive permanent exhibition on infamous Governor/Senator Huey “the Kingfish” Long, who ruled Louisiana politics with an iron fist from the late 1920s until his 1935 death at the hands of an assailant.

Ten minutes away by foot from the Old State Capitol, Long’s highest-profile construction project (and the site of his assassination), the current State Capitol, is free to visit and also worth an extended look. The 1932 building and tower (at 450 feet, the tallest capitol in the US) is a lovely piece of Art Deco showmanship, flanked by 30 acres of landscaped gardens. Ascend to the 27th floor observation deck for commanding views of the ever-growing city, the muddy Mississippi and beyond.

Along River Road

Twisting out of metropolitan Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River southeasterly toward New Orleans, the so-called River Road penetrates Creole-influenced areas of southern Louisiana, winding its way through a peculiar medley of inviting historic plantations and eyesore petrochemical plants. The small town of Donaldsonville is a good stop-off for wandering among huge live oaks that stretch over quiet backstreets like spindly arms; Charles Street boasts a particularly lovely canopy of these trees.

The best of the area’s plantation tours is offered at Laura Plantation on the edge of Vacherie, an hour’s-plus drive from Baton Rouge. Here, longtime-local guides relate tales of the sugarcane plantation’s heyday, when it was one of the few woman-run sugarcane operations in the nineteenth century. Hour-long tours lead through the recently restored “Big House”, adjacent gardens, and, soberingly, into an austere slave cabin.

Laura PlantationLaura Plantation-8485 via photopin (license)

Off the beaten track in Grand Isle

Ambitious road-trippers will want to continue their southern Louisiana adventure by trekking out to the end-of-the-road community of Grand Isle, a pancake-flat, storm-prone place set on a wafer-thin barrier island bang against the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly every structure in sight here is built one storey above ground.

With a year-round population of just over 1000 (although tens of thousands of seasonal visitors can descend on the town during summer), Grand Isle is an assuredly sleepy place more often than not; it’s best-known as a main embarkation point for deep-sea fishing trips. Be sure to drive toward the far eastern end of the island to remote Grand Isle State Park, where nature trails invite quiet exploration and a lengthy pier extends over Gulf waters for excellent bird-watching, as well as fishing for tarpon, speckled trout and redfish.

Explore more of Louisiana with the Rough Guide to the USACompare 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.

Organ Fountain, Villa D'Este, Tivoli

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.

Ostia Antica, nr Fiumicino, nr Rome, Italy

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.

Beach at Anziophoto 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.

Pocket Rough Guide Rome

 

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Co-author of the Rough Guide to India, Nick Edwards, explains why the trekking in Ladakh is among India’s finest.

Ladakh is quite unlike any other region of India, both geographically and culturally. A rugged and arid high-altitude desert, set between the mighty Karakoram and Great Himalaya ranges, its very name means “the land of high passes”. It is blessed with spectacular mountain scenery that contrasts with the cultivated ribbon of green surrounding the Indus River, which winds westwards through Ladakh from its source on the Tibetan Plateau.

The majority of people in India’s most sparsely populated area, the Mahayana Buddhist Ladakhis, live in and around the picturesque capital of Leh, itself located at a heady altitude of 3500m. Leh is the place where almost all visitors arrive, whether by air or road transportation, and is the best place to acclimatise. Wherever you decide to explore from here, there’s no doubt this is the prime trekking area in the Indian Himalaya. Here, we outline some of the highlights.

It’s rich with unusual wildlife

Having more in common with central Asia than the rest of the subcontinent, the region is blessed with some unusual creatures. Grazing animals such as the nimble ibex, the Tibetan wild ass and endangered Tibetan antelope, as well as various species of wild sheep and goats, can all be spotted on the craggy slopes or patches of rolling grasslands. One of the most adorable sights is the local marmot, often seen ruminating beside the trekking paths.

In the unlikely event you come in winter, you might be treated to a rare sighting of the majestic snow leopard, while the shaggy domesticated yak is a ubiquitous presence at any time of year.

There is also a perhaps surprisingly impressive diversity of birdlife, from the hoopoe and the Tibetan snowcock to the lammergeier and the golden eagle, with some resident species and others that migrate north from India for the summer.

Yak at Nubra Valley Leh Ladahk India

The hospitality is unrivalled

Despite often surviving at subsistence level, the Ladakhis have a reputation for hospitality and an innocent mixture of pride and good nature. The women are especially photogenic in their traditional dress, which they almost all wear: a thick woven kuntop robe, colourful shawls, plus elaborate jewellery and the unique perak hat perched above their braided pigtails.

You are guaranteed a warm welcome wherever your wanderings take you, and there is a constantly-developing network of homestays around Leh and along trekking routes, which will increase your contact with the locals and directly benefit them economically.

The monasteries are astonishingly picturesque

One of the most characteristic images of Ladakh is of scenic whitewashed monasteries balanced precariously atop craggy peaks at angles that sometimes seem to defy gravity. These atmospheric spots have been unbroken places of worship for over a millennium and are especially lively during their annual festivals. Many offer basic but unique accommodation but even if you don’t stay, they are worth visiting at any time.

There is nothing quite like sitting on your own in the main prayer hall, always a riot of colour with painted thangkas, murals and statues, and listening to the mesmeric chanting of a lone monk, or chancing upon a ceremony involving cacophonous percussion and rasping horns. Among the star monasteries are Tikse, Hemis, Spitok, Lamayuru and Alchi, which contains some of the most highly acclaimed murals in the world.

Monastery, Leh, Ladakh, India, Asia

There is something for everyone

One of the beauties of trekking in Ladakh is that you can easily choose a length of trek to suit the time you have available and the power of your lungs and leg muscles. You can do anything from fairly low key hikes over two or three days, between Leh and some of the surrounding monasteries, to something more ambitious.

Further up the scale, the five-day trek between Alchi and Lamayuru is bookended by those famous monasteries and offers splendid views of the Indus Valley. Alternatively, the six- to eight-day Markha Valley circuit, tucked below the impressive Stok-Kangri massif, contains various topographies and altitudes, while experienced wilderness seekers will be attracted by the ten- to twelve-day marathon across the Zanskar Range between Lamayuru and Padum.

Pangong Lake, Ladakh, India, Asia

It has the perfect climate

As Ladakh is untouched by the monsoon and there is very little precipitation throughout the year, it offers dry trekking conditions and superb views almost all the time. This is particularly true of the main summer season from June to September, when the rest of India is covered by the rains. During these months daytime temperatures can easily exceed 20ºC, although you should bear in mind that the mercury can plummet to below zero at the higher altitudes at night, even in summer, and that snow flurries often occur even in August on the higher passes.

Explore more of India with The Rough Guide to IndiaCompare 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.

New Inn, Suffolk, Landmark Trust property

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.

Suffolk countryside, England

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.

Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England

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. 

Once voted one of the world’s most beautiful countries by Rough Guides readers, Wales has something for everyone. From the mountains to the stunning coastline, here are our top things not to miss in Wales.

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Nepal’s energetic capital is the entry point for most travellers who come to this mountainous and culture rich country. Foreigners tend to apply a “get in and get out” policy to the sometimes overwhelmingly chaotic city, sunk in the basin of the Kathmandu Valley. There are, however, plenty of remarkable sights in the metropolis to make a few days or more here compelling, memorable and – though it may seem surprising – relaxing. Here are our top tips on the best things to do in Kathmandu.

Stuff yourself with momos

Kathmandu is the best place in the country to try this Nepalese and Tibetan speciality: vegetables or minced meat wrapped in dough, which are then either fried or steamed and accompanied by a spicy sauce. For budget momo options, don’t miss out on a freshly steamed batch from a street-seller, or try the scrumptious fried pork and chicken options at Thakali Bhanchha, a Nepali-Tibetan restaurant overlooking central Thamel. For a more upmarket option, go for the Bhutanese take on these tasty dumplings at Dechenling. Their speciality steamed pork momos are extraordinary. Ignore the waitresses’ warnings about them being “smelly” – something probably got lost in translation, as they smell as marvellous as they taste.

Take in the views at Swayambhu

Pilgrims and tourists alike flock to climb the three-hundred-odd steps leading up to Swayambhu, the magnificent ancient golden stupa from which excellent 360-degree panoramas over the city and across the Kathmandu Valley are afforded. Around 1500 years old and steeped in Buddhist symbolism, Swayambhu is an essential sight while in Kathmandu. It’s often referred to as the “Monkey Temple”, and primates abound; you’ll spot them fighting over discarded cans of Red Bull and other items unsuitable for monkey consumption. Be sure to keep your distance.

View from Swayambhu, Kathmandu, NepalImage by Helen Abramson

Get the golden touch at Three Buddha Park

It’s worth incorporating a slight detour during a visit to Swayambhu to take in the three giant golden Buddha statues erected at the bottom of the hill, just west of the stupa. These dazzling beings, often overlooked, each stand around 20m tall and are a glorious sight. The tranquil garden in which they stand is an ideal place to sit for a few moments and take in your surroundings.

Use your feet

In the last decade or so, the number of vehicles on Kathmandu’s streets has increased at a rate well outstripping infrastructure development, leading to major congestion and an enormous environmental problem in the city. Unless it’s the middle of the night, traffic is pretty much guaranteed to be terrible, so if you aren’t going vast distances, consider exploring on foot. As you wind your way past dozens of workshops and bahals (courtyards), happen upon discreet, mysterious temples and walk through alleyways full of children darting in and out of billowing laundry, you’re bound to gain a better sense of everyday life in this bustling city.

Visit Durbar Square

This touristy but must-be-seen plaza in the heart of the old town is filled with medieval religious and royal buildings, interspersed with vegetable hawkers, sadhus (holy men), vendors selling candy floss on giant sticks and people clustered on the steps of the many-tiered ornate structures, watching the world go by. Set in front of the old royal palace, Durbar Square was once the home of the Shah and Malla kings, and its past grandeur is still profoundly resonant today.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Take in suburbia in Patan

Sometimes called “Lalitpur”, meaning “City of Beauty”, the refined suburb of Patan was once a fully independent kingdom. The pace of life here is a refreshing change compared with the feverishness elsewhere in Kathmandu. It’s also a major artistic and cultural hub, known for a rich metalwork history, evidence of which can be seen in the abundant temples and old houses in Patan’s own, less visited Durbar Square. The Patan Museum, full of bronzes, wood carvings and stone sculptures, is well worth a stop. For a real change of scene, take a walk through Patan’s western areas where affluent residents and expats reside, through peaceful streets lined with organic coffee shops.

Kick back in Thamel’s cafés

The constant heckling of “come look my shop” in the backpacker-filled warren of streets that constitutes Thamel may become quickly tiresome, but after a day’s sightseeing the dozens of relaxed cafés are sure to come in handy. Pilgrim’s Feed ‘n’ Read is a reliable choice for Nepali and South Indian options in a tranquil garden, or stop in at one of the city’s best bakeries, Pumpernickel – try the cheesecake.

Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal, Asia

Escape to the country

Perhaps surprisingly, considering that Kathmandu is expanding at an astonishing speed, escaping the exhaustingly clustered urban streets is quick and easy. About 4km west of Swayambhu lies the rustic, unassuming temple of Ichangu Narayan – but it’s the walk there that’s most impressive. Within minutes the city disappears, and the road winds through the pretty Ichangu valley. Meet curious villagers and enjoy lush views on route.

Book a trek

Many visitors book their treks from abroad before travelling to Nepal, but it’s often cheaper to book them from Kathmandu, and you can shop around. Agencies, which are two-a-penny in Thamel, skim a big chunk off guides’ wages in commission. If you’ve been recommended a particular guide by someone who’s trekked with them, cutting out the middle man can be a good option; it’ll be cheaper for you (in the region of US$30–35/day) and the guide will earn more. Always meet your potential guide beforehand, and don’t feel you have to go with the first one you speak to. You can also buy a great deal of your trekking gear in Thamel for a fraction of the cost it would be back home, though it will almost all be fake brands of varying degrees of quality. For more information, see our online trekking guide.

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

One of the world’s most beguiling countries, Iceland offers endless vistas of volcanic landscapes, black beaches, snow-topped mountains and one of the coolest cities in Europe. Here, we’ve compiled 17 things not to miss.

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