Whether you’re campervanning or camping, living the simple life and sticking to a budget doesn’t mean eating only baked beans and noodles. Light a campfire, spark up the barbecue or whip up a one-pan wonder – here are a few easy camping recipes that don’t cost a fortune.

LAZY ALFRESCO LUNCHES

Goats cheese and chorizo salad

Toss fresh salad leaves, beef tomatoes and cucumber with olive oil, crushed garlic and balsamic vinegar, then add chunks of chorizo and crumble in local goats cheese. Garnish with pepper and pine nuts.

Ensalada Rusa

You can make all sorts of variations of this classic tapas dish that’s typically with made with potatoes, mayonnaise, peas, red pepper and tuna. I like to use baby potatoes, tuna, grated carrots, lemon juice, chopped onion, hard-boiled eggs, red pepper, garlic and fresh peas – mixed together with a generous dollop of mayonnaise and served on salad leaves.

Mackerel with mango chutney and cous cous

Tinned fish is cheap, nutritious and easy to keep, making it an ideal camping food. Add a tablespoon of mango chutney (a useful component of any campervan larder) to a tin of mackerel and serve with cous cous (easy and quick to prepare with boiling of water, a knob of butter, garlic and seasoning).

Photo credit: Hayley Spurway

ONE-PAN WONDERS

Mixed fish risotto

Fry up an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic in a generous amount of olive oil, then add enough Arborio rice for the number of people you are serving. Throw in a glass of white wine and whatever herbs you have to hand, squeeze in half a lemon and add a large bag of mixed seafood (fresh from the market or out of the supermarket freezer). Crumble in a stock cube, season, and add ladles of boiling water until the rice is cooked. Once you’ve turned the flame off, mix in a bunch of fresh spinach and plenty of grated parmesan.

Spanish tortilla

In its simplest form tortilla is potato omelette, and is delicious served hot or cold. For my version, cube two to three potatoes, boil them until al dente, then fry in olive oil, adding a chopped onion, two cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of paprika, seasoning, chopped chorizo (optional) and a chopped pepper (optional). Once cooked, slide the mixture onto a plate and beat eight eggs in a bowl. Add the eggs to the pan, followed by the cooked ingredients and cook on a low heat until the edges start to come away from the pan and the top of the omelette is no longer runny. If you have a grill on your camping stove, you can finish the top of the tortilla under the grill.

Photo credit: Hayley Spurway

Chorizo and pepper pasta

Cook enough pasta al dente and put in a bowl to one side. Add a splash of olive oil to the pan and fry up garlic, onion, mushrooms, green/red pepper and chopped chorizo, adding a tin of tomatoes and sprinkling of mixed herbs. Once simmering put the pasta back in the mix, add a handful of fresh olives and serve with grated parmesan.

BBQ & FIRESIDE FEASTS

Whole roast chicken on the BBQ with lemon and garlic

Take a piece of tin foil large enough to wrap around a whole chicken, and lay sliced lemons, garlic and a splash of oil in the middle. Turn a whole chicken breast-side down and slice it (heavy duty scissors are best) right along the middle from one end to the other so you can pull it flat. Place it on the lemons, season the top of the chicken and slather it with butter. Throw in any herbs to hand (basil is ideal), pour the juice of half a lemon and a cup of white wine over the chicken and wrap it up in a double layer of foil. Make sure the coals are well spread across the barbecue and cook for around 20-30 minutes each side.

Photo credit: Hayley Spurway

Grilled sardines

Source fresh sardines from the local market, or buy a bag of them frozen from the supermarket. Perfect grilled on the barbecue or an open fire (cook them for a few minutes each side), sardines are best served with olive and butter bean salad, hunks of fresh bread, and a bottle of local, organic cider.

Tuna steaks with corn on the cob and garlic bread

Prepare the garlic bread first – spreading butter, crushed garlic and mixed herbs on a sliced baguette. Wrap the baguette in foil and add to the edge of the coals for about 20 minutes, turning frequently. In the meantime douse the corn (keep it in the husks) in water and lay them on the coals, rotating them slowly, until the outer layers of the husk start to burn. When you pull back the husks the corn inside will be so juicy and tasty that you won’t need butter or salt to taste. While the corn and bread are cooking, put the tuna steaks on a grate on the hottest part of the fire/BBQ, for a couple of minutes each side. The tuna should be seared on the outside and rare in the centre.

Move over Paris Plage. Although media reports heap praise upon its strip of sun, Seine and sand, the North European city that has a better claim to be the spiritual home of the urban beach is Hamburg. Every April tens of thousands of tonnes of sand are imported as miniature seaside paradises appear in the heart of Germany’s second city. The doors open at the end of May and so begins another summer of beach bar hopping Hamburg-style.

Having spent their weekends on sandy strips beside the River Elbe since the late-1800s, Hamburg residents have long known about urban beach culture. But the reason why no other German city does the Stadtstrand (city beach) with such panache comes down to character. That Hamburg is simultaneously a sophisticated media metropolis and a rollicking port city produces a beach bar scene that ranges from glamour to grunge without sacrificing the key element – good times. Think sand, sausages and Strandkörbe (traditional wicker seats) to a soundtrack of funk and house beats. Ibiza it is not, but then nor is it trying to be.

Your flip-flops on, head to the river in port-turned-nightlife district St Pauli to begin at Strand Pauli (Hafenstr. 89). A year-round institution near the ferry port, it combines retro lampshades, castaway style and views of the ninth largest container port in the world – Hamburg in a nutshell. Next stop west on the beach bar crawl is slicker Hamburg City Beach Club (Grosse Elbstr. 279), all potted palms, day beds and aviator sunglasses, from where it’s a short walk to the former docks in Altona. Behind the beach volleyball pitch are relaxed Hamburg del Mar (Van-der-Smissen-Str. 4) and Lago Bay (same address), which aspires towards Ibiza but scores most for a small swimming pool. A tip wherever you go: sunset is popular, so arrive early, buy a drink and settle in.

Not that it’s all imported sand and urban chic. At the end of the road in Övelgönne further west still is Altona’s Strandperle (Schulberg 2). Sure it’s a glorified shack, but no one minds when it’s on a genuine river beach to make Paris Plage look like a glorified sandpit. Now, what was the German for “c’est magnifique”?

Scheduled flights link Hamburg to airports in London, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and Dublin. Beach bars open from noon to midnight between May and September.

 

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

Take a stroll through Parque del Buen Retiro

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

Make the most of the free admission to galleries

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

Browse the El Rastro flea market

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

See a piece of ancient Egypt

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

Look skywards at the Planetario de Madrid

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

Get lost in Madrid’s barrios

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

Party on the streets

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

 Visit the Royal Palace

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

See flamenco for free

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

Take a free walking tour of Madrid

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

 

1. s’ Baggers, Nuremburg, Germany

Making slow service and difficult waiters a thing of the past, this fully-automated restaurant in Nuremberg boasts hassle-free dining and fast, highly efficient service (well this is Germany). Food is ordered by touchscreen and dishes whizz straight from the kitchen via a system of metal rails that loop across the ceiling before spiralling down to be promptly delivered at each table.

2. Fortezza Medicea, Italy

Restaurants don’t come much more exclusive than this. Just to dine at Fortezza Medicea customers must have intensive background checks, clearance by the Ministry of Justice, and then pass a series of security checkpoints, looming watchtowers and a barrage of surveillance cameras. All to dine inside one of Italy’s top security prisons. Running since 2006, this rehab project has proved wildly popular, although with Mafiosi, armed robbers and murders as chefs here, unsurprisingly complaints are seldom voiced.

3. Da Ping Huo, Hong Kong

Amongst the best of Hong Kong’s private kitchens, this little hideout is a local favourite. Behind an unmarked door the dimly-lit basement flat is covered with paintings by the charismatic owner-artist Wang Hai (instantly recognisable by his quirky horn-rimmed glasses). His wife, Wong Sui King serves up twelve courses of eye-wateringly spicy Sichuan favourites such as carrot and jellyfish in chilli before startling guests by bursting out into haunting Sichuanese love songs.

4. Dans le Noir, London

Taking the blind date concept one step further, London‘s Dans le Noir promises to transform your dining experience by serving supper in total darkness. Diners can chose from four secret menus (fish, meat, vegetarian or surprise) before entering the blacked-out dining room and being guided to their seat and served by blind waiters. Being enveloped in darkness will heighten the senses, while tasks such as pouring your own wine and leaving with a clean shirt may take on a new dimension.

5. Modern Toilet, Taiwan

From hospital-themed diners to restaurants where ninjas swing from the rafters, Taiwan is no stranger to absurdity when it comes to eating out. Now with over ten locations, Modern Toilet amuses and disgusts in equal measure. Customers sit on toilets around bathtub-tables, while bathroom paraphernalia protrudes from every wall. For those who can stomach it, the food is an onslaught of poo-themed delights, with wonders such as turd-shaped bread and “haemorrhoid” strawberry ice cream gracing its menu.

6. Dinner in the sky, Belgium

Imagine dining whilst floating 150ft off the ground, legs dangling freely as your seat gently sways in the breeze. This unsettling concept promises to elevate the dining experience for the 22 strapped-in dinners that perch around a six-ton table suspended by a giant crane. Based in Brussels, the restaurant can be hired anywhere in the world from Paris to Niagara Falls – all for sky-high prices, of course.

7. Sarastro, London

Opulent, gaudy and unforgettably theatrical, this over-the-top opera-themed restaurant has been entrancing diners since 1996. Private boxes and elegant balconies in a myriad of styles, from Rococo to Byzantine, overlook the bustling restaurant. Every nook and cranny is crammed with gold furnishings, velvet drapes, a multitude of ornate lamps and an overwhelming hotchpotch of stage props, flamboyant artworks and theatrical curiosities. The ladies’ toilets also seem to be decorated with scenes from the Karma Sutra.

8. El Diablo, Lanzarote

Taking the barbeque to the extreme, Lanzarote’s El Diablo restaurant cooks its meat over an active volcano. Built over a hole in the ground, nine layers of volcanic basalt were needed to fortify the grill against the singeing 500-degree temperatures emitted from the bubbling lava below. And the views aren’t bad either – the restaurant boasts panoramic vistas of Timanfaya National Park’s expanse of red sands, rocky peaks and gaping chasms.

9. Muru’s “pop-down”, Finland

Putting a fresh twist on the urban obsession with pop-ups, Muru became the world’s first “pop-down” restaurant. In the southern Finnish town of Lohja, customers were invited to plunge 80 metres underground, to dine in an old limestone mine. In the sultry, rocky enclave lit with suspended lamps and flickering candles at each table, diners could enjoy a menu inspired by “Elemental Earth” featuring imaginative dishes such as flambéed escargot in Pernod.

10. Cat Café Calico, Japan

Once the preserve of eccentric spinsters, surrounding yourself with a posse of feline friends is now big business in Japan. In fact, fluffy havens like Cat Café Calico are fast becoming dating hotspots, with weekend reservations essential for those wishing to sip a latte or surf the net amongst its twenty-odd cats. Like Tokyo’s other fifty or so popular cat cafés, this place helps to fill the void left by the city’s cramped no-pet apartments and hectic lifestyle.

Oxford’s history is a gloriously prismatic thing, full of the characters and creative minds that have called the city and its colleges home. Its older pubs, as a result, are places with more personality than most – wherever you drink, stories appear. So where to go in search of an atmospheric pint or two? Here are five of the best Oxford pubs.

The Bear Inn

Thirty seconds’ walk (but a world away) from the High Street, this wood-panelled, fire-warmed snug is Oxford through and through: on our last visit, the conversation by the bar centred on biodiversity genomics. The current building dates back to the 1700s, although there’s been an inn of some form on the site since 1242, and over the centuries its tucked-away charm has made it the bolt hole of choice for everyone from judges to royal commissioners. It’s decidedly small, which adds to the slightly eccentric appeal, but manages to keep on display more than 4,500 neck-ties, on the walls, by the bar, even on the ceiling. On a similarly unconventional note, the story has it that the pub’s name came about as the result of a pet bear owned by an early landlord.
6 Alfred Street bearoxford.co.uk

The Turf Tavern

For somewhere so well hidden, the Turf draws a lot of drinkers. It’s concealed down a couple of narrow, pedestrian-only alleys, although its not-so-subtle marketing line – “An Education In Intoxication” – hints at the fact that it’s long been championed as one of Oxford’s top alehouses. Its historical location just outside the old city walls (and therefore outside of jurisdiction) made it a magnet for cock-fighting and other vices in earlier times – more recently, it’s widely been accepted as the place Bill Clinton famously smoked pot but “didn’t inhale”. The low-beamed bar, where former Australian PM Bob Hawke entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1963 for downing a yard of ale in 11 seconds, remains an enjoyable hideout. There are 11 cask ales on offer at any one time.
4-5 Bath Place theturftavern.co.uk

The Eagle & Child

JRR Tolkien wrote The Hobbit while living in Oxford, and this is the pub most closely associated with the long-term university don. A literary discussion group known as the Inklings, comprising Tolkien and CS Lewis among others, used the venue for regular weekly meetings – the “Rabbit Room” sign beyond the bar marks the private lounge they occupied before the pub’s extension in the 1960s. Among the more colourful tales doing the rounds is that a young Tolkien once found himself so inebriated here that he was beset by hallucinations of goblins trying to steal his wedding ring (and lo, a saga was born…). It’s still somewhere suitably adept at stirring the imagination, with a timbered, nookish feel and a history marching back to the Civil War, when it was used a royalist base.
49 St Giles, nicholsonspubs.co.uk/theeagleandchildoxford

The Kings Arms

The “KA” has been standing on the corner of Holywell Street and Parks Road since 1607, its name dedicated to the monarch of the day, King James I. It’s just a dawdle away from Radcliffe Square and the Bodleian Library, meaning plenty of passing tourist trade, and time hasn’t dimmed its claim that it has the highest IQ per square foot of any pub in the world. Only cynics, of course, would suggest the assertion has anything to do with how crowded it can get at peak times – if you want to see it at its softly bubbling best, come along for a mid-afternoon drink and occupy one of the alcoves in the back bar. The food’s worthy of closer attention (rabbit and cider pie, award-winning sausages etc), as are the staff’s tales of the four resident ghosts.
40 Holywell Street kingsarmsoxford.co.uk

The Lamb and Flag

It’s a pleasing quirk of Oxford life that having a few pints here helps fund yearly DPhil (PHD) studentships at nearby St John’s College, which purchased the building in the late seventeenth century, opened it up as a tavern and still retains a share of the profits. It’s a failsafe bet for a drink – there’s a strong range of well-kept ales – and at times the place still retains an air of dust-me-down academia. Belief holds that Thomas Hardy wrote large parts of his novel Jude The Obscure within its walls, although it’s easier to confirm is the fact that Tony Blair, a former St John’s student, was a regular here in his university days. The lamb and flag in the pub’s name also hark back to the college, being the two symbols of St John The Baptist.
12 St Giles

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If you’re looking for a classic Southeast Asian scene, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, south of Ho Chi Minh City, will do the trick. This is an area of vivid green rice paddies, conical-hatted farmers and lumbering water buffaloes, of floating markets and villages built on stilts. Lush orchards overflow with mangoes, papayas and dragonfruit; plantations brim with bananas, coconuts and pineapples. And through it all wind the nine tributaries of the Mekong River, which nourish this fruitbasket of Vietnam, the waters busy with sampans, canoes and houseboats. It is the end of the run for Asia’s mighty Mekong, whose waters rise over 4000km away in the snows of the Tibetan plateau and empty out here, into the alluvial-rich plains fringing the South China Sea.

For the fifteen million people who live in these wetlands, everything revolves around the waterways, so to glimpse something of their life you need to join them on the river. Boat tours from the market town of My Tho will take you to nearby orchard-islands, crisscrossed by narrow palm-shaded canals and famous for their juicy yellow-fleshed sapodilla fruits. At Vinh Long, home-stay programmes give you the opportunity to sample the garden produce for dinner and spend the night on stilts over the water.

Chances are your host-family catch fish as well – right under their floorboards in specially designed bamboo cages, so the daily feed is simply a matter of lifting up a plank or two. Next stop should be Can Tho, the delta’s principal city, to see the enormous floating market at Cai Rang.

Here at the confluence of seven major waterways, hundreds of sampans bump and jostle early each morning to trade everything from sugar cane to pigs – and of course mountains of fruit.

My Tho is a 90min bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City. Homestays can be arranged at local tourist offices or through Sinhbalo Adventure Travel in Ho Chi Minh City (www.cyclingvietnam.net).

 

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If you consider yourself a foodie, then these travel experiences are for you. Whether you’ve got a sweet tooth or you like to be a little adventurous, the world has a lot to offer on a plate.

1. Chocolate, Guayas, Ecuador

Long the world’s prime cocoa producer, Ecuador was usurped by West Africa in the twentieth century when mass-produced chocs, made with cheaper beans, became fashionable. With gourmet chocolate in vogue again, Ecuadorean cocoa farmers are busier than ever. Guayas province is scattered with family-run plantations; visit during the April and May harvest to see them in action.

2. Duck confit, Gascony, France

Rugged Gascony is a sleepy, untouristed region celebrated for its punchy cuisine – think black sausage, gizzards and foie gras washed down with Armagnac – and it’s become something of a foodie hotspot in recent years. Gascony’s most prized dish is confit de canard: salt-cured duck roasted in its own fat – an ages-old preparation that results in deliciously crispy skin and melt-in-the-mouth meat.

3. Caviar, St Petersburg, Russia

After visiting the Hermitage Museum’s extensive art collection, some Russian-style sustenance is in order. The Caviar Bar in St Petersburg’s swanky Hotel Europe is the best place to sample top-notch caviar, selected from a trolley which comes loaded with the traditional accompaniments of blinis, sour cream and chopped eggs. A vodka sommelier is on hand to pair your sevruga with your Stolichnaya.

4. Truffles, Alba, Italy

Truffles certainly don’t look like a delicacy – but their unique aroma can transform a humdrum dish into something really special. Alba’s white truffles thrive in the damp woods around town, and are sniffed out under cover of darkness. The season is short – October to November – which only serves to raise their desirability among in-the-know gourmands: a two-pound truffle recently fetched US$120,000 at auction.

5. Bird’s nest soup, Hong Kong

Authentic bird’s nest soup (as opposed to the inauthentic noodles-as-nest variety) is made from the nest of the swiftlet, a small bird found throughout southeast Asia. Rather than twigs and leaves, the nest is made from saliva strands, which harden when exposed to air. Served in a steaming bowl of chicken broth, the dish is reputed by the Chinese to have aphrodisiac qualities.

6. Percebes, Galicia, Spain

An unlikely delicacy, tube-shaped percebes, or “gooseneck barnacles”, cling to Galicia’s rocky coastline. Harvesting percebes is not easy: they grow in remote and precarious spots, battered by the pounding Atlantic, and so-called percebeiros take their life in their hands to prise them off the rocks. For many, it’s worth the risk: these prestigious crustaceans, with their flavour of sweet lobster, command sky-high prices at market.

7. Coffee, western Colombia

As the world’s second-biggest producer of coffee (after Brazil), Colombia has a growing coffee tourism industry. The “coffee triangle”, in the departments of Quindío, Caldas and Risaralda, is dotted with small farms and criss-crossed with scenic routes, with plenty of opportunities to stop for a tinto (black coffee) along the way.

8. Sacher-Torte, Vienna, Austria

The world-famous Sacher-Torte – a deliciously dense chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam and dark chocolate icing – was invented by 16-year-old kitchen hand Franz Sacher in 1832. Despite city-wide competition, Vienna’s Café Sacher is still the best place to sample this local delicacy. Order it mit schlag for a generous dollop of whipped cream on the side.

9. Raclette, southern Switzerland

Raclette has been Swiss comfort food for centuries. Shepherds in the Alps would warm themselves around a fire and melt a wedge of the local cheese, before scraping an oozy layer over potatoes and cornichons. Today, the heat comes from an electric grill, but the social aspect remains the same: this is a meal to linger over with friends.

10. Durian, Penang, Malaysia

Exotic durian, revered in southeast Asia as the “king of fruits”, is known for its pungent smell (think smelly socks and sour milk). If you’re tempted, avoid the fruit itself – durian ice cream or biscuits make a more gentle introduction. The fruit is grown throughout southeast Asia (just follow your nose), but durian connoisseurs rate the quality offerings grown in the Balik Pulao region of Penang, Malaysia.

11. Quinto quarto, Rome, Italy

Rome’s earthiest district, Testaccio, was once home to Europe’s biggest slaughterhouse. The prime meat went to nobility, while the unwanted cuts – hearts, tails, heads – made up the quinto quarto or “fifth quarter”, destined for Rome’s poorest households. The locals became experts at transforming undesirable offal into delectable dinners, and these days, offal graces the tables of some of the city’s finest restaurants.

12. Copper River salmon, Alaska, USA

Alaska’s icy Copper River winds a challenging, 300-mile-long course through the state, ensuring that the salmon caught here are healthy, hardy specimens, and the first to spawn in the spring. Wonderfully tasty, Copper River salmon is a big deal in Pacific Northwest restaurants, and foodies flock to seafood restaurants to coo over its rich, nutty flavour before the short season is over for another year.

13. Rhubarb, Yorkshire, England

Once considered only fit for school dinners, the humble rhubarb has been championed by celebrity chefs in recent years. It thrives in the “Rhubarb Triangle” between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell in West Yorkshire, where it has been awarded protected designation of origin status by the EU – putting it on a par with Parma ham and Champagne. An annual rhubarb festival takes place in Wakefield every February.

14. Cioppino, San Francisco, USA

In the late nineteenth century, a wave of Italian immigrant fishermen arrived in San Francisco. Every day, hauling their catch ashore, they would be greeted with “Chip in! Chip in!”: a call for seafood for the wharf’s communal soup. The Italians soon made the cry their own – “Chip in-o!” – thus christening this rich, messy broth brimming with seafood that today is the city’s must-eat dish.

15. Oysters, Galway, Ireland

Thanks to the concentration of fresh and salt water on the coast in this area, world-class oysters from Galway City are caught and sold across the globe. On the last weekend in September, the international oyster festival celebrates the slippery bivalves with all-you-can-eat contests and shucking competitions. Aficionados forego Tabasco and lemon, preferring their oysters au naturel – washed down, of course, with a pint of creamy Irish stout.

16. Surströmming, northern Sweden

If you fancy an extreme eating challenge, get hold of a tin of surströmming, or soured Baltic herring. Caught in the spring, the herring is fermented in barrels for a couple of months before being canned, where it ferments for another six months. Opening a tin unleashes a powerful, overwhelming stench – which perhaps explains why the Swedes like to eat it alfresco.

17. Fugu, Japan

Fugu (literally “river pig”) is Japan’s most notorious dish. This innocuous-looking pufferfish harbours a deadly poison 1250 times stronger than cyanide, requiring careful preparation to remove the toxins before it’s eaten: Japanese law states that only rigorously trained chefs are allowed to handle it. Fugu can be served in a variety of ways, the most popular being sashimi.

18. Cider, Normandy, France

Basque sailors introduced cider to the Normans in the sixth century, and it’s still a favourite local tipple. Normandy’s Pays d’Auge is home to the Route du Cidre, a 40km jaunt through quaint villages and apple orchards. On the way, local producers ply you with France’s finest cider, calvados and pommeau (a delicious mix of apple juice and brandy), still cultivated using traditional methods.

19. Tangia, Marrakech, Morocco

Tangia has always been a bachelor’s dish in Marrakech. A mix of meat, garlic, lemon, saffron and cumin was stuffed in a clay pot and taken to the local hammam in the morning, where it slow-cooked in the ashes from the fire used to heat the baths, simmering down a mouthwatering tenderness before the men took it home for dinner. The tradition persists to this day.

20. Whisky, Islay, Scotland

The Irish monks that first introduced whisky to Islay in the fourteenth century found that it offered perfect conditions for distilling: this Inner Hebridean island has plentiful supplies of peat, and lochs and rivers full of pristine soft water. Today, Islay is home to eight distilleries – all of which put on tours and tastings – producing dry, peaty, smoky single malts that are among Scotland’s most powerful drams.

Once a month, on the eve of the full moon, downtown Hoi An turns off all its street lights and basks in the mellow glow of silk lanterns. Shopkeepers don traditional outfits; parades, folk opera and martial arts demonstrations flood the cobbled streets; and the riverside fills with stalls selling crabmeat parcels, beanpaste cakes and noodle soup. It’s all done for tourists of course – and some find it cloyingly self-conscious – but nevertheless this historic little central Vietnam town oozes charm, with the monthly Full Moon Festival just part of its appeal.

Much of the town’s charisma derives from its downtown architecture. Until the Thu Bon river silted up in the late eighteenth century, Hoi An was an important port, attracting traders from China and beyond, many of whom settled and built wooden-fronted homes, ornate shrines and exuberantly tiled Assembly Halls that are still used by their descendants today. Several of these atmospheric buildings are now open to the public, offering intriguing glimpses into cool, dark interiors filled with imposing furniture, lavishly decorated altars and family memorabilia that have barely been touched since the 1800s. Together with the peeling pastel facades, colonnaded balconies and waterside market, it’s all such a well-preserved blast from the past that UNESCO has designated central Hoi An a World Heritage Site.

The merchant spirit needs no such protection, however: there are now so many shops in this small town that the authorities have imposed a ban on any new openings. Art galleries and antique shops are plentiful, but silk and tailoring are the biggest draws. Hoi An tailors are the best in the country, and for $200 you can walk away with an entire custom-made wardrobe, complete with Armani-inspired suit, silk shirt, hand-crafted leather boots and personalized handbag. And if you’ve really fallen under Hoi An’s spell, you might find yourself also ordering an ao dai, the tunic and trouser combo worn so elegantly by Vietnamese women.

Hoi An is around 700km south of Hanoi. The nearest airport and train station are in Da Nang, a 30km taxi ride away.

 

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America’s most over-the-top and hedonistic spectacle, Mardi Gras (the night before Ash Wednesday) in New Orleans reflects as much a medieval, European carnival as it does a drunken Spring Break ritual. Behind the scenes, the official celebration revolves around exclusive, invitation-only balls; for such an astonishingly big event, it can seem put on more for locals than the raucous crowds who descend on the town, but you’ll hardly be wanting for entertainment or feeling left out.

Following routes of up to seven miles long, more than sixty parades wind their way through the city’s historic French Quarter. Multi-tiered floats snake along the cobblestone streets, flanked by masked horsemen, stilt-walking curiosities and, of course, second liners – dancers and passersby who informally join the procession. There’s equal fun in participating as there is in looking on.

Whichever way you choose to see it, you’ll probably vie at some point to catch one of the famous “throws” (strings of beads, knickers, fluffy toys – whatever is hurled by the towering float-riders into the crowd); the competition can be fierce. Float-riders, milking it for all it’s worth, taunt and jeer the crowd endlessly, while along Bourbon Street, women bare their breasts and men drop their trousers in return for some baubles and beads.

As accompaniment, the whole celebration is set to one of the greatest soundtracks in the world: strains of funk, R&B, New Orleans Dixie and more stream out of every bar and blare off rooftops – no surprise, of course, considering the city’s status as the birthplace of jazz.

You might have thought that all of this madness would have been curtailed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but like New Orleans, the party carries on in the face of long odds; indeed, the year following, many of the weird and wonderful costumes were made from the bright blue tarps that have swathed so much of the city since the storm.

See www.mardigrasneworleans.com for more info.

 

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With over 150 wineries, breweries, chocolate factories and honey houses, exploring the Valley of Taste is probably one of the most indulgent things to do in Perth. Following a scenic 32km cycling trail, Rough Guides writer Greg Dickinson took on the summer heat to discover Western Australia’s oldest wine-growing region on two wheels.

Perth has its fair share of reputations. Sydneysiders and Melbournians talk about it like the awkward cousin they’ve never met, and guidebooks introduce it as “the world’s most isolated city”. The most popular thing to have emerged from Perth in recent years is the psychedelic-rock band Tame Impala, and even their latest album is called Lonerism. Among Western Australians, however, Perth is becoming known for its burgeoning culinary scene, with a growing network of vineyards, breweries and gourmet food outlets quietly cropping up in and around the city.

The region’s wine-growing heritage dates back to the early 19th century, when botanist Thomas Waters noted that the climate would be perfect for planting vineyards. Some 180 years later, the Swan Valley, or Valley of Taste as it’s known locally, has developed into something of a gastronomical theme park. Ten miles east of the city’s centre, it’s the focal point of Perth’s foodie revolution.

My body clock still in disarray after the 24-hour flight, I had barely touched the ground before I caked myself in sun cream, picked up a map and borrowed an oversized mountain bike to explore the region.

The first stop on my self-guided tour was Sandalford, a behemoth of a winery whose 500 metre long driveway almost demands that cyclists practise their ‘no-hands’ technique. Despite being the most exclusive vineyard in the Swan Valley – alongside Houghton – the tasting menu here is pleasingly affordable, starting at AU$2.50 for eight samples (a spittoon is available for responsible cyclists). As well as selling internationally popular wines, Sandalford has styled itself as a mecca for New Romantic revivalists, with Duran Duran, Tears for Fears and Spandau Ballet all crooning at the estate in recent years.

Ready for something a bit lower key I pedalled to Ambrook, a family-run winery just a few hundred metres down the West Swan Road. Rather than a squeaky-clean waiter I was greeted by Bella, a black Labrador whose coat has taken on a rusty hue from the ubiquitous red earth. Italian owner Mickele Amonini followed shortly after and proceeded to ply me with wine samples, each accompanied by a generous wedge of fine cheese. What Ambrook lacks in finesse it makes up for in charm by the barrel.

Next on my whistle-stop winery tour was Lancaster Wines, whose alfresco bar is tended by a knowledgeable young staff. It’s worth visiting here to see the menu alone, which helpfully describes each variety in layman terms. Some standout examples being:  “Sitting next to the pool with this one is a sure cure of any global financial crisis” and “Palate is simply huge, big fruit, big tannins and big alcohol”.

Ready for a break from wine I made my way north to Mash brewery. Here a series of mammoth 1,200-litre beer containers loom behind the bar while the hipster bar staff dish out pints of home-brewed IPAs, ciders and lagers. By this point I was starting to pick up on the camaraderie that exists between businesses in the Valley of Taste, best exemplified when – rather than offering me another drink –  the barman at Mash urged me to cycle to the Feral Brewing Company to try their award-winning Hop Hog pale ale. It seemed rude not to oblige.

Once you get used to the heat (and the face full of flies), cycling around the Valley of Taste makes for a delightful escape from the city, and it offers a degree of independence not possible when taking part in a guided tour of the valley. The bike path is well paved and separate from the fast-flowing main roads, with plenty of wiggling detours available to keep visitors entertained in between the gluttony. And what gluttony. Where else in the world would you be inclined to cut short your time in a chocolate factory in order to check out the nearby nougat factory, ice creamery or honey house?

This isolated part of the world may be the butt of the jokes among Eastern Australians, but with gems like the Valley of Taste on its doorstep it’s clear that Perth is having the last laugh, over a large glass of vintage wine.

You can find more things to do in Perth with the Rough Guide to Australia. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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