Surviving 42ºC (107ºF) desert heat, tramping hurricane-battered Pacific beaches and scaling lofty volcanoes, our hard-travelling authors have visited every corner of this vast, magnificent country – from the ancient caves of Baja California to the dense rainforest of the Lacandón Jungle.

To celebrate the publication of the new Rough Guide to Mexico, we’re sharing a few of their Mexico travel tips, including some of their favourite sights and experiences.

1. See dawn from a kayak

Paddling through the glassy, desert-backed waters of Bahía Concepción as the sun rises, surrounded by marine life, is an otherworldly experience.

Windy Playa Punta Arena is one of the best stretches of sand – and popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders. At Playa Santispac, some 5km further on, Ana’s offers cheap fish tacos and potent Bloody Mary as well as kayak rental and snorkelling gear.

2. Hit the road

Driving Highway 1, which runs 1711km from the US border to the southern tip of Baja California, rates as one of the world’s greatest road journeys.

Expect an enchanting drive featuring starry nights, vast deserts, isolated mountain ranges and empty beaches.

3. Get retro chic

The 1950s meets modern cool at Acapulco‘s Boca Chica hotel, a renovated resort carved into the cliff-face above the madness at Playa Caleta and decorated by Mexican artist Claudia Fernández.

The all-white rooms feature retro showers, flat-screen TVs, iPod docks and free wi-fi – plus there’s a luxurious spa, gym, massage cabañas and pool terrace.

Acapulco via Pixabay/CC0

4. Go subterranean swimming

The cenotes of northern Yucatán – vast sun-lit caverns filled with water – are magical places for a refreshing dip; X’keken and Samula are two of the best.

Shafik Meghji recently explored these and more, discovering why they were once considered sacred gateways to the Mayan underworld.

5. Get a window onto the Aztec world

Rent a boat and soak up the carnival atmosphere, flowers and traditional floating gardens at the Mexico City suburb of Xochimilco.

You can rent a boat on a weekday for less-crowded cruising, but Sundays are by far the most popular and animated day; Saturdays are lively, too, partly because of the produce market.

6. Go syncretic

The Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, in the village of San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, is an incredibly vibrant blend of Catholicism and animist tradition, with the local Maya praying on a floor of pine needles.

The area is home to the Tzotzil Maya, one of the most distinctive and intriguing communities in Mexico.

7. Party at the best underground club

You can’t get more underground than La Mina Club in Zacatecas – it’s inside the old El Edén mine shafts, right in the heart of the mountain and accessed on the same train used in the mine tour.

From 11pm it pumps with everything from Latin sounds to cheesy electronic techno music. But if you don’t enjoy being trapped in an enclosed space, beware this might not be the club for you…

Sunset in Zacatecas via Pixabay/CC0

8. Discover Mexico’s microbreweries

Baja California’s craft beer scene is expanding. Sample it in Tijuana at Plaza Fiesta, where locals often head without a specific place in mind, preferring to wander until they find a scene that appeals to them, or La Taberna, the city’s acclaimed microbrewery and congenial pub.

Elsewhere, Ensenada is fast developing its own craft brew scene, with local beer maker Wendlandt operating warehouse and tap room Cervecería Wendlandt for connoisseurs to sample its popular oatmeal stout and Vaquita Marina pale ale. Baja Sur’s original microbrewery, Baja Brewing Co in San José del Cabo serves pints such as Baja Blond and Peyote pale ale.

Explore more of Mexico with the Rough Guide to MexicoCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

It’s easy to be daunted by the endless choices on offer when planning a trip with kids. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of family vacation ideas that will get everyone – even jaded teenagers – excited.

For adventure: India

In the spirit of the latest The Jungle Book movie, take the kids on a tiger safari in India’s national parks. Two of the best tiger reserves are in Tadoba and Kanha national parks in central India – the latter in Madhya Pradesh which was the inspiration for Kipling’s classic story. There’s also the sprawling Satpura National Park in the same region, where you can pile into 4x4s for game drives and spot other wildlife lurking in the lush landscapes.

For seaside fun: Britain

Ignore the jokes about the changeable British weather and head for the beach for your next family vacation. For such a small island, Britain has an astonishingly varied coastline – from the rocky coves indenting Cornwall’s Atlantic side to the long sandy beaches of Rhossili bay in Wales and Cape Wrath at Scotland’s northwestern tip. Get into the old-fashioned seaside spirit in Blackpool or Scarborough, or check out the cool chic of Brighton and its exotic Royal Pavilion.

For activities: Costa Rica

Cloud forests, jungles, volcanoes and tumbling waterfalls – the natural beauty of Costa Rica is inexhaustible, and even better appreciated when you’re in the thick of it. Strap the family into zip wires for an unforgettable ride above Monteverde’s cloud forest, and hold on tight for a white-water rafting adventure in the jungles of Arenal. For a gentle comedown, take a leisurely boat cruise through the green waterways and lagoons of Tortuguero National Park.

For exotic culture: Morocco

Choose your transport – camels, 4x4s, mules or your own two feet – for guided treks through the Atlas Mountains surrounding Marrakesh. Along the way, you get to stay in Berber villages to unplug yourself (and the gadget-glued kids) and discover a completely different way of life. After a family vacation spent riding the sand dunes or biking along dusty trails, finish in relaxing style on the beach at Essaouira.

For history: Rome

People of all ages can’t help but wonder at the ancient marvels that are casually strewn all over Rome. The Forum and the Colosseum are the big-hitters, of course, but there’s also the miracle that’s the Pantheon, which has been standing in Piazza della Rotonda since AD125 despite all that history has thrown at it. Children who are fans of Roman history will get a thrill from wandering through the ancient ruins of Ostia Antica. They’re only about 30 minutes from Rome and attract only a fraction of the tourists you’ll find in Italy’s capital.

For a road trip: America’s West

Start in Los Angeles – maybe squeeze in a visit to Universal Studios or Disneyland while you’re there – before hitting the road. Get a taste of the desert while driving through Joshua Tree National Park before crossing the border into the dusty red landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico. The area around Tucson, Santa Fe and Albuquerque is rich in colonial Spanish history and Native American culture, including the terracotta-coloured Unesco World Heritage Site of Taos Pueblo. At this point it’s very tempting to continue north towards the Grand Canyon.

For food: Vietnam

Stick a plate of noodles in front of children and most of them would be happy. Go a step further and let them discover how to cook it themselves in the bewitching surroundings of Hoi An, preferably in one of the cooking schools that’s in a scenic riverside spot. The kids will be whipping up a classic Vietnamese pho in no time after spending the morning scouring the local markets for fresh ingredients for their lunch. Hoi An is street-food heaven, with stalls mingling influences from both the north and south of the country.

For wildlife: Kangaroo Island, Australia

More than a third of this peaceful South Australia island is covered in national parks where you can get comfortably close to wildlife – that means lounging with the sea lions on the beach and feeding the kangaroos in the aptly named Kangaroo Island National Park. There are also wallabies and koalas too, of course – not to mention possums, bandicoots and other native creatures. You’ll spot another exotic species in any of the five surf bays too, as the long sandy beaches and waves attract surfers from all over the world.

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0. 

There are few more quintessentially French views than castle turrets stretching up into a clear blue sky. From the gracious châteaux of the Loire to majestic palaces like Versailles, the country’s castles mark its landscapes, reveal its history and draw visitors from around the world.

To celebrate the publication of the new Rough Guide to France, we’ve picked a few of the lesser-known highlights.

You might not have heard of these châteaux, but they’re well worth a visit

1. Châteaux Vaux-le-Vicomte, Seine-et-Marne

While most people flock to Fontainebleau or Versailles, of all the great mansions within reach of a day’s outing from Paris, the classical Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte is the most architecturally harmonious and aesthetically pleasing – and the most human in scale.

Louis XIV’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, had the château built between 1656 and 1661 at colossal expense, using the top designers of the day – architect Le Vau, painter Le Brun and landscape gardener Le Nôtre. The result was magnificence and precision in perfect proportion, and a bill that could only be paid by someone who occasionally confused the state’s accounts with his own.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

2. Château de Malbrouck, Lorraine

Only 2km from France’s border with Germany, the imposing and impregnable Château de Malbrouck is a restoration marvel. Every brick and turret has been placed in the medieval manner by masons re-schooled in bygone techniques.

It gained its name from the Duke of Marlborough, who decided to invade France through the Moselle using the castle as his base. It took just two weeks for the Duke of Villars, one of Louis xIV’s best generals, to assemble a massive army and scupper his plans, but the castle’s name has remained in folk memory as Malbrouck, a Francification of Marlborough.

Château de Malbrouck by Thierry Draus via Flickr (CC-BY)

3. Château de Rohan, Brittany

The three Rapunzel towers of the Château de Rohan in Josselin, embedded in a vast sheet of stone above the water, are the most impressive sight along the Nantes–Brest canal.

They now serve as a facade for the remnants of the much older castle behind, built by Olivier de Clisson in 1370, the original riverfront towers of which were demolished by Richelieu in 1629 in punishment for Henri de Rohan’s leadership of the Huguenots. It’s still owned by the Rohan family, which used to own a third of Brittany.

Château de Rohan by mat’s eye via Flickr (CC-BY)

4. Château de la Ferté-St-Aubin, The Loire

The Château de la Ferté-St-Aubin lies 20km south of Orléans, at the north end of the village of Ferté-St-Aubin. The late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century building presents an enticing combination of salmon-coloured brick, creamy limestone and dark slate roofs.

The interior is a real nineteenth-century home – and you are invited to treat it as such, which makes a real change from the stuffier attitudes of most grand homes. You can wander freely into almost every room, playing billiards or the piano, picking up the old telephone, sitting on the worn armchairs or washing your hands in a porcelain sink.

Château de la Ferté-St-Aubin via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY – modified)

5. Château des Pêcheurs, The Loire

Twelve kilometres northeast of Gien in La Bussière is a surprising château dedicated to fishing: the so-called Château des Pêcheurs.

Initially a fortress, the château was turned into a luxurious residence at the end of the sixteenth century, but only the gateway and one pepper-pot tower are recognizably medieval. Guided tours are available, but you’re free to wander around, soaking up the genteel atmosphere evoked by the handsome, largely nineteenth-century furnishings and the eccentrically huge collection of freshwater fishing memorabilia bequeathed by Count Henri de Chasseval.

Château des Pêcheurs via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY – modified)

6. Château de Tanlay, Burgundy

The romantic Château de Tanlay is a pleasant 8km cycle along the canal southeast from Tonnerre. This early sixteenth-century construction, very French in feel, is only slightly later in date than its near neighbour, but those extra few years were enough for the purer Italian influences visible in Ancy to have become Frenchified.

Encircling the château are water-filled moats and standing guard over the entrance to the first grassy courtyard is the grand lodge, from where you enter the château across a stone drawbridge.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

7. Château de Bussy-Rabutin, Burgundy

The handsome Château de Bussy-Rabutin, a French National monument, was built for Roger de Rabutin, a member of the Academy in the reign of Louis XIV and a notorious womanizer. The scurrilous tales of life at the royal court told in his book Histoires Amoureuses des Gaules earned him a spell in the Bastille, followed by years of exile in this château.

There are some interesting portraits of great characters of the age, including its famous female beauties, each underlined by an acerbic little comment such as: “The most beautiful woman of her day, less renowned for her beauty than the uses she put it to”.

Château de Bussy-Rabutin via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY – modified)

8. Château de Châlucet, The Limousin

The Château de Châlucet lies 5km up the valley of the Briance to the east of Solignac. At the highest point of the climb there is a dramatic view across the valley to the romantic, ruined keep of the castle, rising above the woods.

Built in the twelfth century, the château was in English hands during the Hundred Years’ War and, in the lawless aftermath, became the lair of a notorious local brigand, Perrot le Béarnais. It was dismantled in 1593 for harbouring Protestants and has been much restored recently.

Château de Châlucet by Guillaume LARDIER via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

9. Château de Hautefort, The Dordogne

The Château de Hautefort enjoys a majestic position at the end of a wooded spur above its feudal village. A magnificent example of good living on a grand scale, the castle has an elegance that is out of step with the usual rough stone fortresses of Périgord.

The approach is across a wide esplanade flanked by formal gardens, over a drawbridge, and into a stylish Renaissance courtyard, open to the south. In 1968 a fire gutted the castle, but it has since been meticulously restored using traditional techniques; it’s all unmistakably new, but the quality of the craftsmanship is superb.

10. Château de Menthon, Haute-Savoie

Close to the village of Menthon-St-Bernard near Annecy is the grand, turreted Château de Menthon. The fortress has been inhabited since the twelfth century and was the birthplace of St Bernard, the patron saint of mountaineers – indeed, the castle remains in the hands of the de Menthon family.

In the nineteenth century, however, it was extensively renovated in the romantic Gothic revival style and now possesses an impressive library containing some 12,000 books. On weekends, costumed actors relate the château’s history.

Château de Menthon by Guilhem Vellut via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

11. Château d’If, Côte d’Azur

The Château d’If, on the tiny island of If, is best known as the penal setting for Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

Having made his watery escape after fourteen years of incarceration as the innocent victim of treachery, the hero of the piece, Edmond Dantès, describes the island thus: “Blacker than the sea, blacker than the sky, rose like a phantom the giant of granite, whose projecting crags seemed like arms extended to seize their prey”. In reality, most prisoners went insane or died before leaving.

Today, the sixteenth-century castle and its cells are horribly well preserved, and the views back towards Marseille are fantastic.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

Explore more of France with the Rough Guide to FranceCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Header image Château de Hautefort via Pixabay/CC0.

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

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

Polluted, rainy and business-orientated. Let’s face it, a trip to Bogotá hardly sounds appealing. And many travellers don’t bother to probe much further than this bleak reputation, seeing Bogotá either as somewhere to be skipped out altogether, or as merely a logistical blot on a more exciting itinerary.

Other Latin American cities such as Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro are huge tourist draws, and within Colombia there are more great cities: Medellín’s gripping mix of hedonistic nightlife and cruel cartel-centre past, Cartagena’s heady blend of Caribbean buzz and colonial beauty, Cali’s famous salsa scene.

But Bogotá deserves to be seen as more than just a stop-over. Spend some time here and you’ll realise the city quietly works its humble magic; slowly revealing an irresistible pull of vibrant art-strewn streets, quirky cafés and one of the most interesting urban cycling innovations in the world. Here, we’ve whittled down the top six reasons to give Bogotá a chance.

La Candelaria by Luz Adriana Villa on Flickr (license)

1. For the street art

Sao Paulo, London, Valparaíso, Montreal – some cities are well known for their street art. But amongst the artistic community Bogotá is up there with the best, with international artists flocking to its streets to contribute to its thriving scene.

Bogotá doesn’t just accept art, it actively encourages it with neighbourhood commissioned pieces, privately funded works and local schools hiring street artists to teach classes.

While there’s art all over the city, it’s La Candelaria, Bogotá’s oldest neighbourhood, where it’s most concentrated. Here the narrow, cobbled streets have become a canvas for artistic expression: buildings are cloaked in colourful works from strikingly lifelike faces to bizarrely endearing flying potatoes.

But the creativity doesn’t stop at eye level, the tiled rooftops are littered with strange statues: a juggler on a unicycle wobbling along the edge of a roof, a figure sitting with a banana dangling from a fishing rod. Bogota Graffiti Tour is the best introduction to this dynamic culture, led by guides who are all closely involved in the street art community.

The free tour (donations welcome) explains the historical and socio-political contexts behind each piece and the collective culture, and introduces the styles of the city’s most compelling artists, from Guache’s multi-coloured, often-dreamlike focus on indigenous issues, to Toxicómano’s hard-hitting anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist driven pieces.

Bogotá street art by Frank Plamann on Flickr (license)

2. For innovative urban cycling

One word: Ciclovía. This is the stuff urban cyclists dream of, a day when you can ride through car-free city streets. In Bogotá this happens every week when Ciclovía clears the traffic from 76 miles of roads right through the city centre.

Every Sunday, more than two million people come out to reclaim the tarmac: cycling, jogging, roller blading, dog-walking and strolling with pushchairs, while Recrovía fills the parks and paths with free yoga and aerobic classes.

The programme has been running since 1974, with such success that other Colombian and international cities are now following suit. For Bogotá this is about more than just exercise and a break from the mind-numbing traffic-clogged streets: in a society where the gap between rich and poor is so great, and so much emphasis lies on the status of owning a car, this is the perfect leveller and social integration at its best.

Ciclovia em Bogotá by Cidades para Pessoas on Flickr (license)

3. For the great gourmet pleasures

There’s been an explosion of culinary creativity in Bogotá. From quirky hybrid ventures to smarter joints where nuevo Colombiano chefs are experimenting with traditional ingredients and international techniques, Colombia’s capital is a great place for a feed, with each neighbourhood harbouring its own foodie vibe.

La Candelaria has a number of small, creative places tucked away down its winding, graffiti-splashed streets. A small space with an exposed brick bar, Sant Just has an innovative, daily-changing menu that blends French cuisine with Colombian ingredients, served up in enormous portions. A few streets away, La Peluqueria is an exciting blend of edgy café, hairdresser and creative space for emerging artists.

In La Macarena, a village-absorbed-by-the-big-city neighbourhood, there’s a clutch of international restaurants, one of the best being Tapas Macarena – a tiny, charming spot for authentic Spanish cuisine.

To the north, Zona Rosa and Parque 93 hold Bogotá’s smarter dining. Amongst the competition, Central Cevicheria is up there with the best, serving zingy ceviche in a cool space decked out with bare wood and industrial lighting.

La Peluquería by Olivia Rawes

4. For real coffee

Colombian coffee is world famous, but as new arrivals quickly learn the best produce is exported. Hold your disappointment: a number of cafés in Bogotá are working hard to address this.

Leading the way is Azahar, a café founded by travellers who wanted to re-establish the connection between coffee, local farmers and Colombian people. A shipping container houses the café: repurposing the very vessel that is so often associated with taking the best beans away from the country, and here using it to serve great coffee back to Colombians.

This care and passion trickles down to the product: each single origin coffee served is traceable back to an individual farmer, with the bag detailing information about the farmer and the plantation – there’s even a QR code that links to a video of the farmer explaining what makes their own coffee so special.

Pixabay / CC0

5. For the views

Looming over Bogotá’s city centre, is Cerro de Monserrate, one of the city’s most loved landmarks. Cable cars and a funicular railway run up and down the mountain, while athletic locals and those tourists who’ve adjusted to the altitude tackle the steep, one-hour-thirty-minute walk up to the top.

Whichever way you ascend, the panoramic sweep of the cityscape below is stunning. Often framed by a dramatic sky, the city spreads out from forested mountains into a sprawl of low-rise tiled roofs. The scattering of taller buildings announce that Bogotá is on the cusp of the skyscraper age.

Monserrate by Luis Jou García on Flickr (license)

6. For the underground cathedral

Add an extra day to your Bogotá stay and explore the surrounding area. An easy, and unmissable day-trip is to Zipaquirá, home to the only underground cathedral in the world. Carved out of an old salt mine hidden in the depths of a mountain, the site is an astounding maze of winding passages, carved crosses, and small chapels.

The most impressive part is undoubtedly the vast main cathedral: an eerily-beautiful, purple-lit space delineated by huge pillars and a lofty ceiling, and filled with a rock-hewn altar and the biggest subterranean cross in the world.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá by Jimmy Baikovicius on Flickr (license)

Explore more of Bogotá with The Rough Guide to Colombia. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Cover image from: Pixabay/CC0

Blame Frances Mayes. Ever since she penned Under the Tuscan Sun twenty years ago the region has seen an unstoppable influx of English and American tourists descend on the area, which has left neighbouring regions, with just as much to offer, decidedly in the shade.

Emilia-Romagna, home to an officially designated ‘Food Valley’, the majority of Italy‘s high performance auto industry and a host of charming, historic towns, is one such region that has to shout louder than its popular neighbour to attract tourist dollars.

The flipside of that, however, means fewer crowds and a better chance to grab a slice of authentic northern Italian life. Here are a few highlights of Emilia-Romagna.

Pork lovers rejoice

As with most Italian regions, Emilia-Romagna earns its place on the foodie map via certain specialties. Filled pasta is one, with anolini (little ravioli-like discs, stuffed with truffles and mushrooms) being a particular stand-out, while another attraction is the region’s wealth of pork products.

No meal here is truly complete without some choice cold cuts. Parma ham is perhaps the most famous, but that’s just the tip of the proverbial porcine iceberg. Culatello di Zibello is one of the rarer kinds. It’s produced in the lowlands of Colorno, where the thick fog wafting from the River Po creates the ideal environment for these hams to mature. They’re hung in dark, humid cellars, with expert staff regularly brushing off mould and testing their quality by simply tapping them with a hammer.

Al Vèdel is one of only fourteen Culatello producers in the world, where you may also be introduced to the strange delights of sparkling red wine. The local Lambrusco is chosen for its refreshing qualities complementing the rich pork cuts. It’s complex and takes a while to adjust your palette accordingly, but is light years away from the cheap and cheerful supermarket plonk we may associate with Lambrusco outside of Italy.

The perfect accompaniment to these cuts are some Gnocchi Fritti – great, puffy pockets of fried bread, usually stuffed at the table with whatever meats and cheeses you can lay your hands on.

Palatial Parma

Parma was an important Roman trading post – and later a major staging town for pilgrims, which explains the grandeur of the city’s architecture. Today it’s the region’s main cultural hub. You can practically hear the ghosts of Verdi and Toscanini echoing around the pedestrianised streets of the Old City.

Make time to explore the Teatro Farnese, an extraordinary complex of buildings, crowned by the Baroque masterpiece that is the Villa Farnese Theatre. This vast, wood-panelled ‘coliseum’ was built in 1611 for epic royal celebrations and is still used for classical music performances today.

Fast cars meet slow food in Modena

Modena pairs fast cars with slow food. Lamborghini, Maserati and Ferrrari all craft their automobiles here. The futuristic Enzo Ferrari Museum gives you a glimpse into the man behind the motor, and you can take a tour to zip around the region’s essential foodie pitstops.

In pole position on the province’s grid of gourmands sits Massimo Bottura, the triple Michelin starred chef behind the wheel at Osteria Francescana, which is currently ranked second in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

A visit to a traditional balsamic vinegar producer is a must. Take a tour of Villa Bianca‘s vineyards, carefully irrigated by robots, to get a glimpse of the 12-year-plus artisanal process. They mature the vinegar using strictly controlled methods, siphoning the sweet stuff between barrels of varying woods and sizes, all with a reverence usually reserved for wine.

There’s more to the city’s urbanity than food and cars though. Modena’s reputation as a hotbed of intellectualism and radical ideas is showcased by the often sold-out evening events at the Philosophy Festival on Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini. At the nearby Piazza Grande, it’s worth reflecting on the shimmering photo wall showing the faces of hundreds of Partisans who helped overthrow Fascism.

Comacchio: Emilia-Romagna’s answer to Venice

Okay, there’s only one Venice, but the sleepy estuary town of Comacchio on the Po Delta gives it a run for its money, with its maze of canals, stylised bridges and pastel-fronted buildings.

The entire town owes its livelihood to the humble eel, a history which is documented to surprisingly fascinating effect at the Eel Pickling Factory and Museum. Here you can see the ingenious nets and traps used to land eels over the centuries, who make an annual pilgrimage all the way from the Sargasso Sea to Comacchio, and the cavernous fireplaces used to roast them prior to pickling.

Sophia Loren became the slippery beast’s unlikely ambassador in the 1950s, after she starred as an eel fisherwoman in the film La Donna Del Fiume, with her face adorning the tins to this day. Drop into one of the many canal-side restaurants to sample local delicacies like “Donkey’s Beak” (eel soup served with grilled polenta).

The pleasures of Piacenza

When James Boswell came through Piacenza on his 1765 Grand Tour of Italy, he noted that the name literally translates as “pleasant abode, certainly a good omen.” Today the biggest town on the banks of the Po River is known for producing the largest amount of DOP and DOC cured meats, cheeses and wines in all of Italy.

Expect to sample a hefty portion of these at Taverna In, a modest-looking osteria in the shadow of the town theatre, designed by Lotario Tomba, the architect behind Milan’s famous La Scala opera house.

The town’s centrepiece is the Piazza dei Cavalli, dominated by bronze horse statues, the symbol of the powerful Farnese family who ruled the region during the sixteenth century, and the Gothic Palace, which has a distinctly Venetian feel.

Explore more of this region with the Rough Guides Snapshot to Emilia-RomagnaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Ghost stories are fun. Though folk tales and flatout fabrications abound, the best of them possess a kernel of historic truth that prompt us to ponder the lives of those who inhabited the world before we came along.

From Hollywood horror hotspots to dilapidated colonial settlements, here are the most haunted places in America. Fact or fiction, funny or frightening: you decide.

The White House, Washington D.C.

Home to every American President since 1800, the White House in Washington DC is a hub of paranormal activity. Indeed no spectre seems so active as President Abraham Lincoln. A frequent visitor to those who sleep in his former bedroom, Lincoln’s lively apparition has been spotted by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, and sent scores more running and screaming.

Even Winston Churchill swore that he saw the deceased President smiling by the bedroom’s fireplace. Having just risen from a hot bath, Churchill was naked during the encounter (save for a smouldering cigar), and refused to sleep in Lincoln’s old bedroom on all subsequent visits to the White House.

The White House / Pixabay / CC0

112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York

Here, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family in 1974. One year later the the Lutz family moved in, suffered a bout of physical injuries caused by unseen forces, glowing red eyes, rotating crucifixes and general madness before moving out.

It’s upon these experiences which best-selling book, The Amityville Horror, and its eponymous Hollywood blockbuster are based. Though the story has been subject to scathing scepticism, some may be worried to know that the Lutz’s passed a polygraph interrogation about the hauntings.

Cape May, New Jersey

Sun on your skin, a warm ocean breeze and white sand between your toes – by day Cape May seems far from frightening. But the pleasures of America’s oldest seaside resort, established in 1620, are said to be enjoyed by both the living and the dead.

At night, the cheerfully-coloured Victorian mansions take on a spooky silhouette. Resident paranormal investigators lead ghost tours down dark streets lit by flickering gas lamps, telling grisly tales of the old wooden buildings now infamous for unearthly happenings. Conveniently, many of the most haunted estates have been converted into lovely inns and quaint B&Bs. Sweet dreams.

Cape May / Pixabay / CC0

Gettysburg Battlefield, Pennsylvania

With the lives of nearly 8,000 civil war soldiers lost during the decisive Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, many visitors claim they can still hear the cannon fire and bloodcurdling screams of soldiers.

The deceased don’t seem limited to the battlefield either, with apparitions of ghostly horsemen roaming as far as Gettysburg College. Indeed, believers have sworn witness to entire battles raging throughout the area – soldiers stuck performing their final acts of patriotism like broken records on an eternal loop.

The RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, California

The Queen Mary served as an ocean liner, warship and swanky cruise ship before being converted into a proper luxury hotel, permanently docked at Long Beach in 1967. But the souls of passengers who died aboard the ship’s tumultuous past have reportedly remained – and these ghosts keep today’s guests rolling in.

Haunted highlights include the sounds of phantom children playing in an empty nursery, and the particularly rowdy spirit of a purser murdered in Cabin B340 (sadly, the cabin is no longer rented out due to the safety hazards of flying furniture).

The Queen Mary by Chris Michaels on Flickr (license)

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky

More than 8,000 people perished behind the immense gothic façade of Waverly Hills, a hospital opened in 1910 to treat Kentucky’s tuberculosis epidemic. However, in 1962 the sanatorium was converted into a home for individuals with mental illness. This is when Waverly Hills earned its frightening reputation.

The facility turned rife with stories of suicide, medical mistreatment and grotesque experiments upon patients. In 1982 the state of Kentucky finally forced the centres closure due to “patient neglect”. This is easily one of the most haunted places in America – prime ghost hunting territory. But be warned, those who died here did not do so happily.

Overnight stays are a tour option for daring visitors, and mysterious orbs frequently appear in photographs of the Sanatorium’s dark, crumbling halls.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium by Louisville Images on Flickr (license)

Jerome, Arizona

Once a buzzing mining town during the days of America’s Wild West, Jerome’s population plummeted from 10,000 to 100 when ore deposits ran out during the Great Depression. The spirits of past residents have remained however, with reports of sharp-shooting spectral cowboys and disembodied miners strolling the old cobblestones and checking into haunted hotspots like the Jerome Grand Hotel.

Today, the veritable ghost town has been transformed into a vibrant artists’ community, with cheap rents and phenomenal views over Arizona’s Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim inspiring a new wave of residents to establish art galleries, cafes and wineries.

The Stanley Hotel, Colorado

Ever woken up at night to find your blankets stripped off and folded neatly at the foot of your bed, or played billiards with an invisible opponent?

These are the types of phantasmal encounters that turned the posh Stanley Hotel into an almost-abandoned spook house. However, a single serendipitous night in the hotel’s eerie atmosphere was enough to inspire author Stephen King horror classic, The Shining.

Now over a century old, The Stanley attracts a steady stream of visitors eager to partake in paranormal investigation tours, search out similarities between King’s novel and their lodgings, or just enjoy the stunning Rocky Mountain wilderness at The Stanley’s doorstep.

The Stanley Hotel by wakedawg on Flickr (license)

Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
cover image from: Pixabay / CC0

Traditionally, pilgrimage meant hoofing it, wayfaring the hard way. Yet most Catholic authorities will tell you there’s nothing particularly sinful about making it easier on yourself.

You could roughly trace Spain’s Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, by car … but then taking full advantage of the fringe benefits – discounted accommodation and gorgeous red wine – would prove difficult. The answer? Get on your bike.

Day 1 by Juan Pablo Olmo (CC license

With reasonable fitness and not a little tenacity, the mantra of “two wheels good, four wheels bad” can take you a long way on the religious pilgrimage route that pretty much patented European tourism back in the Middle Ages.

The most popular section begins at the Pyrenean monastery of Roncesvalles, rolling right across northwestern Spain to the stunning (and stunningly wet) Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, where the presence of St James’s mortal remains defines the whole exercise.

Camino de Santiago by Fresco Tours (CC license)

Pack your mac, but spare a thought for the pre-Gortex, pre-Penny-Farthing millions who tramped through history, walking the proverbial 500 miles to fall down at Santiago’s door.

Bikers can expect a slight spiritual snag, however: you have to complete 200km to qualify for a reprieve from purgatory (twice the minimum for walkers). But by the time you’re hurtling down to Pamplona with a woody, moist Basque wind in your hair, though, purgatory will be the last thing on your mind.

Granted, the vast, windswept plains between Burgos and León hold greater potential for torment, but by then you’ll have crossed the Ebro and perhaps taken a little detour to linger amid the vineyards of La Rioja, fortifying your weary pins with Spain’s most acclaimed wine.

photo by Luis Marina (CC license)

The Camino was in fact responsible for spreading Rioja’s reputation, as pilgrims used to slake their thirst at the monastery of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The medieval grapevine likewise popularized the route’s celebrated Romanesque architecture; today many monasteries, convents and churches house walkers and cyclists.

Once you’re past the Cebreiro pass and into Celtic-green Galicia, rolling past hand-ploughed plots and slate-roofed villages, even a bike seems newfangled amid rhythms that have scarcely changed since the remains of St James first turned up in 813.

A “credencial” or Pilgrim’s Passport, available from the monastery at Roncesvalles or via csj.org.uk, entitles you to free or very cheap hostel accommodation. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

Record numbers of visitors have been racing to get to Cuba ‘before it changes forever’ since President Obama’s historic announcement in December 2014 that diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba were to be restored.

Since then the relationship has continued to warm, but there has been more speculation than tangible change as a result – though significant developments have included the re-opening of embassies in both countries, Airbnb’s entry into the Cuban market and a broader, more flexible set of rules governing US visitors to Cuba. Whilst US visitor numbers are up they still accounted for little more than 150,000 of the more than 3.3 million international arrivals in 2015.

Though change has been in the air for some time now – much of it the result of new domestic policies – the really transformative changes may well take place in the coming year.

This might well be a truly momentous year for Cuba – and though fears that McRice and Beans will soon be appearing on menus around Havana may be unfounded panic, the Cuban Government unlikely to embrace capitalist changes to that extent in the foreseeable future, by the end of 2016 Cuba really could look quite different to how it looked at the start.

Here are a few new and exciting things happening in Cuba this year.

1. The capital’s dining scene will continue to break new ground

Cuba, but more precisely and strikingly Havana, is rapidly shaking off its out-of-date reputation for bad food. Its increasing kudos in foodie circles is sure to take another step forward this year when internationally-renowned chefs Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera and Andoni Luis Aduriz open a restaurant in the Cuban capital. Said to be called ‘Pasta, Tapas y Tacos’, after the national cuisines of their respective homelands. With a new restaurant opening seemingly every week and a swathe of exciting openings last year, this year could see Havana break free from that old reputation once and for all.

2. Ritmo Cuba salsa festival

Dance schools have popped up all over the island since the laws governing private enterprise in Cuba were relaxed five years ago. The most ambitious project to have emerged from this new wave of businesses is Ritmo Cuba, an international salsa festival to take place from 18–24 April 2016.

Drawing on the expertise of a whole host of Cuba’s most renowned dance teachers, the festival is a packed week of workshops, dance classes and shows, guided tours and dance parties suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced salseros.

3. New tours and operators

The current ceaseless demand for travel to Cuba has seen new organised tours popping up left, right and centre, many offered by US agents who can provide itineraries that meet one or more of the twelve criteria set out by the US Government for any of its citizens travelling to Cuba.

Among the newest of these so called ‘people-to-people’ tours is insightCuba’s four-night Weekend in Santiago de Cuba Tour, with an emphasis on music and the history of the Cuban Revolution, launching in January and already selling out fast.

Central Holidays’ ten-day, themed Afro Cubanismo tour, visits Havana, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba, and Coda International Tours’ introduce what they bill as “the only all-gay trip to ‘Unexplored Cuba’”.

Luxury travel agent Abercrombie & Kent is amongst the operators visiting Cuba for the first time this year whilst at the other end of the scale, Cuban-based Havana Supertours add the Mob Tour to their original and diverse set of day trips around the capital, tracing the history of the Mafia in pre-revolutionary Havana with transportation, as with their other tours, in a classic 1950s American car.

4. Gran Teatro reopens

The Gran Teatro, one of Havana’s most magnificently ornate buildings, home to the Cuban National Ballet, reopens to the public on January 3 after several years of closure. Now known as the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso, this cathedral of dance has been meticulously restored and is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in Habana Vieja. See it at night when its shining regal exterior, which has been cleaned so thoroughly you’d think it had only just been built, is now captivatingly lit and the new jewel in the Parque Central crown sparkles above you.

5. Cruise liner companies launch Cuba itineraries

Cruise ships have been a rare sight in Cuban harbours over the last five decades but in 2016 they are set to become a regular feature in the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Cyprus-based Celestyal Cruises have been sailing their 1200-passenger Celestyal Crystal on seven-day circuits around the island since last December, whilst Italian-owned MSC Cruises has become the first major cruise ship company to use Cuba as a starting point for cruises, operating from the Cuban capital until 12 April this year.

The world’s largest cruise line, Carnival, an American company, will join in in Spring 2016 when it commences sailing to Cuba for the first time – though technically, according to US law, the ship’s passengers will not be permitted to sunbathe on the beach as this does not qualify as an activity which supports the Cuban people.

6. Manana music festival

Manana 2016 is the first ever international electronic music festival on Cuban soil, taking place in May (4–6) in Santiago de Cuba. The brainchild of Londoners Harry Follett, Jenner del Vecchio and Cuban musical artist Alain Garcia Artola, the festival will feature an unprecedented mixture of mostly UK, US and Cuban-based musical talent.

There will be boundary-breaking collaborations between Cuban musicians of various musical genres and foreign electronic artists. Among the confirmed performers are British-born electronic and Latin music DJ and producer Quantic, UK dubstep pioneer Mala, and Cuban rumba innovators Obba Tuke.

7. New ferries and flights from US

Cuba and the US might have seemed like a world apart for most Americans over the last fifty years or so but there has been just 90 miles between them the whole time. For travellers from the US it should become startlingly apparent over the next twelve months just how close Cuba is, with three-hour ferry services from Florida to Havana likely towards the end of the year, and scheduled commercial flights for the first time in over half a century due even sooner.

Catching a direct flight between the US and Cuba currently means booking a relatively expensive and often complicated charter flight, but, after an agreement reached between the two countries in December last year, American Airlines, JetBlue and United Airlines are set to be amongst the carriers ready to operate a total of more than twelve flights daily from the US to Cuban airports.

8. Rock legends in concert

Listening to Western pop and rock stars in the first couple of decades after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 was considered anti-revolutionary and became an underground activity. So whilst there have been occasional performances from left-leaning rock groups like the Manic Street Preachers and Audioslave over the last twenty years, there is a greater significance, in some respects, to the performances said and set to take place in 2016 by Sting, Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones.

9. Hay Literary Festival comes to Cuba

It’s a long way from South Wales to Cuba and the cultural gap is perhaps even wider, but the organisers of the Hay Festival are planning to demonstrate again this year that good literature bridges divides.

Having already launched in Spain, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, the literary festival comes to Cuba on January 25 and 26. Attendees will include Jon Lee Anderson, American reporter who wrote the definitive English-language biography of Che Guevara, esteemed Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel and English novelist Hanif Kureishi. Cuban writers at the event will include Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, author of Dirty Havana Trilogy, one of the most internationally successful Cuban novels of the last twenty years, alongside Antón Arrufat, Mirta Yáñez, Reynaldo González, Marilyn Bobes, Dazra Novak and Rafael Grillo.

10. New luxury at Hotel Manzana de Gomez

They can’t build hotels quick enough to meet the rising demand for visitor accommodation and a slew of new hotels around the island is due in the next year. The highest profile of these is the Hotel Manzana de Gomez on Havana’s increasingly splendid Parque Central, right in the epicentre of the changing capital and due to open in late 2016.

When it does open, this grandiose five-floor, 246-room neoclassical landmark, occupying an entire block and with a rooftop pool, will be one of the largest in the old city and transform the eastern side of the square, bringing back to life an imposing edifice which stood largely derelict and decrepit for much of the last decade and whose alluring street-level commercial galleries, cutting diagonally through the building’s belly, will provide some new public spaces too.

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

You can’t expect to fit everything Europe has to offer into one trip and we don’t suggest you try. For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few countries together.

Each of these itineraries could be done in two or three weeks if followed to the letter but don’t push it too hard – with so much to see and do you’re bound to get waylaid somewhere you love or stray off the suggested route.

For a complete guide to exploring the region and up-to-date recommendations of the best hotels, hostels, activities and more, buy the full guide here.

1. Britain and Ireland

Where else to begin but London (1) – one of the world’s greatest but most expensive cities. While your wallet is still intact move on to the storied grounds of Oxford (2) before heading to Snowdonia (3), where the Welsh mountains provide excellent hiking.

Soak up some history in the medieval streets of York (4), then make the trip north to stunning Edinburgh (5). Find your inner Braveheart in the Scottish Highlands (6) and fit in an unforgettable hike, climb, or ski while you’re at it.

Pop across the North Channel to Belfast (7), but be sure not to miss the nearby Giant’s Causeway – one of Europe’s great natural wonders. Grab a perfect pint of Guinness in Dublin (8), then wind down on the windswept beaches of Ireland’s West Coast (9).

2. France and Switzerland

Start in Paris (1), Europe’s most elegant capital, then venture off to the châteaux and prime vineyards of the Loire Valley (2). Move south to beautiful Bordeaux (3), which boasts bustling city life and some of Europe’s finest surfing beaches to boot.

Head south the peaks of the Pyrenees (4) before taking a trip through Southern France to the Côte d’Azur (5). Don’t miss the magic of Corsica (6), a true adventure playground, or traditional cooking in Lyon (7), the country’s gastronomic capital.

Try your luck skiing and climbing in the Alps (8), and end by relaxing riverside in laid-back Zürich (9).

3. Benelux, Germany and Austria

Kick off in Amsterdam (1) before enjoying more atmospheric canals and beautiful buildings in Bruges (2). Cologne’s (3) spectacular old town is a perfect first stop in Germany, but be sure to head north soon after for the vast port and riotous bars of Hamburg (4).

Few cities can compete with the style and youthful energy of Berlin (5), while Dresden (6) has also become a favourite backpacker hangout. Then head south to Munich (7), where Bavaria’s capital boasts everything from snowy scenery to beer-fuelled Oktoberfest.

Cross over the boarder to Austria and hit the slopes or the Mozart trail in scenic Salzburg (8), and conclude this itinerary among the palaces, museums, cafés and boulevards of Vienna (9).

4. Spain, Portugal and Morocco

Begin in the Basque capital of Bilbao (1), Spain’s friendliest city and home of the Guggenheim. Then it’s on to the city beaches, late-night bars and enchanting old town of Barcelona (2). Ibiza‘s (3) nightclubs are famous the world over, but its pockets of peace and quiet are worth the trip alone.

Gobble tapas and dance the night away in Madrid (4) before heading west for the countless port lodges of Porto (5). Cruise down the Atlantic coast to the historic Portuguese capital of Lisbon (6), then make for the region of Andalucía (7), stopping in the cities of Seville and Granada as you venture further south.

If you catch a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco and set course for Fez (8), explore the medieval Moroccan city of labyrinth alleys, souks and mosques. Finish up in Marrakesh (9), a colourful city with a stunning backdrop of the Atlas Mountains.

5. Italy

Start in Milan (1) for a little Prada, Gucci, and Leonardo da Vinci. Veer east to visit the world’s most beautiful city, Venice (2), then south to the foodie nirvana of Bologna (3). Glide onwards to Tuscany (4) where Florence and Siena make excellent bases to explore the region’s hill towns.

You can hardly “do” Europe and not see Rome (5), and there is truly no better place to eat pizza than in the crumbling yet attractive city of Naples (6). Experience a Roman town frozen in time at Pompeii (7), before sleeping in one of Matera’s (8) hand-carved caves.

Kick back in Sicily (9) on idyllic beaches beneath smouldering volcanoes, or enjoy the hectic pace of Palermo, one of Italy’s most in-your-face cities.

6. Central and Eastern Europe

Get going in Prague (1), a pan-European city with beer that never disappoints. Move east to Warsaw’s (2) vodka-soaked bar scenes, Old Town, palaces and parks.

Arty and atmospheric Kraków (3) shouldn’t be missed, and neither should a trip to charming cafés of L’viv (4). Leave cities behind for the majestic wilderness of Slovakia‘s Tatra Mountains (4), then head back to civilisation and immerse yourself in Budapest (6) where you’ll find two great cities in one.

Finish this itinerary up in Ljubljana (7); Slovenia’s capital is a perfectly formed pit stop between central Europe and the Adriatic if you’re eager to push on to the Balkans.

7. Scandinavia

Start in the lively lanes of beautiful Copenhagen (1), and head north to Gothenburg’s (2) elegant architecture, fantastic nightlife and fully-functioning rainforest. A visit to Oslo (3) is worth the expense, but after a while you’ll feel the pull of the Norwegian fjords (4).

The mild climate and wild scenery of the Lofoten Islands (5) should not be skipped, but neither should the reindeer, huskies and elusive Northern Lights of Lapland (6). Of course, no trip to Scandinavia would be complete without a stop in Stockholm (7).

If you’re travelling in summer, get to Gotland (8) – Sweden’s party island, buzzing with DJs and bronzed bodies on the beach.

8. Russia and the Baltic Coast

Big, brash, expensive surreal – Moscow (1) is almost a nation in itself, and well worth a visit before moving on to the jaw-dropping architecture and priceless art collections of St Petersburg (2).

Head west to Helsinki (3), the proudly Finnish love child of Russian and Swedish empires, then hop across the gulf to charming and beautifully preserved Tallinn in Estonia (4).

Latvia’s cosmopolitan Riga (5) should not be missed, and when you need your nature fix go further south to the Curonian Spit (6), a strip of sand dunes and dense forest ideal for cycling and hiking. Wind this trip down in Vilnius (7), the friendliest and perhaps even the prettiest of all Baltic capitals.

9. The Balkans

Start with a slew of cheap but delicious wine, watersports, and vitamin D on the Dalmatian coast (1), then move on to Europe’s war-scarred but most welcoming capital, Sarajevo (2).

History-steeped Dubrovnik (3) rivalled Venice in its day, and is an easy stop on the way to Budva (4), Montenegro’s star resort with unspoilt beaches and throbbing open-air bars. Head further south to Tirana (5) for charming architecture and urban exploration, before visiting the shimming shores of Ohrid’s (6) mountain-backed lake.

Be sure to check out the chilled vibe of Sofia (7), and the more upbeat buzz of Serbia’s hip capital: Belgrade (8). End this itinerary by discovering Transylvania (9) – you probably won’t find any vampires, but you will find fairytale villages, colourful festivals, and wolf tracking in the Carpathians.

10. Greece and Turkey

Begin by finding the perfect beach in Kefaloniá (1), and continue to Athens (2) for a sun set over the Parthenon. Sail first to the island of Íos (3) for partying backpackers and hippie-era charm, then on to Crete’s (4) Samarian Gorge.

Get to the Turkish mainland for a visit to the remarkably preserved temples, mosaics, and baths in Ephesus (5) before mountain biking, paragliding, or diving in Kaş (6).

Then venture east to Cappadocia’s (7) volcanic landscape and subterranean city, and wrap up among the bazaars, hammams, and surprisingly hectic nightlife in Istanbul (8).

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

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