The Pembrokeshire Coast Path fringes Britain’s only coastal national park, which has resisted the onslaught of the twenty-first century in all but a few hotspots such as Tenby and St David’s (and even these remain remarkably lovely). Get out and stride along part of the 186-mile trail and you’ll soon appreciate this evocative and spectacular edge of Wales.

Long golden surf beaches easily rival those of California; the clear green seas are the habitat of seals, whales, dolphins, sharks and, in summer, exotic species such as sunfish and even seahorses. Further offshore, you’ll spot islands that are home to internationally important seabird colonies. You can wander atop the highest sea cliffs in Wales, bent into dramatic folds by ancient earth movements; and in the hamlets, harbours and villages you pass through along the way, there are plenty of charming pubs and restaurants at which to refuel.

This variety is one of the best things about the coast path, which offers something for everyone – and not just in summer. The off-season can provide the thrilling spectacle of mighty Atlantic storms dashing thirty-foot waves against the sea cliffs as you fight your way along an exhilaratingly wind-lashed beach, whilst the next day the sun could be glittering in a clear blue sky with seabirds wheeling and screeching overhead. Take time out from your hike to relax and enjoy views across the Atlantic, which, other than the occasional lighthouse dotting the horizon, have remained unchanged since St Patrick sailed from Whitesands Beach to Ireland.

To walk the full length of the path takes up to two weeks and, surprisingly, involves more ascent than climbing Mount Everest, but even just a half-day outing along the trail is worth the effort and acts as a reminder that Britain boasts some of the finest coastline in the world.

For more info, go to www.pcnpa.org.uk.

 

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Though a drive through the electrically green countryside that surrounds Hay-on-Wye makes for a perfectly lovely afternoon, a more potent draw is the sleepy Welsh town’s mouthwatering amount of printed matter: with over a million books crammed into its aging stores, quaint, cobblestoned Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli, in Welsh) is a bibliophilic Mecca to be reckoned with. Dusty volumes are packed in like sardines, some of them in shops tucked away down alleyways verdant with moss and mildew. Mouldering British cookbooks fight for shelf space with plant-taxonomy guides, romance novels and pricey but lavishly produced first editions.

To unearth these treasures the intrepid bookhunter need only meander into one of the many bookshops that liberally dot the town. And with a human-to-bookshop ratio of around 40:1, there’s a lot of choice. Mystery aficionados should check out Murder & Mayhem, while a visit to The Poetry Bookshop is de rigueur for fans of verse. One of the largest and most diverse collections can be found at the Hay Cinema Bookshop – rickety mini staircases, two sprawling floors and a labyrinthine series of rooms loosely divided by subject matter, creates a unique book-browsing space that seems to exist outside of the space-time continuum for the way in which it can so wholly consume an afternoon. Stay long enough and your faith that there’s an underlying logic to the bookshelves’ progression from “Fifteenth-century Russian History” to “British Water Fowl” to “Erotica” will grow wonderfully, psychotically strong.

Topic-driven pilgrimages aside, a visit to the two outdoor secondhand bookshops in front of crumbling Hay Castle is unmissable. Ringed by stone ramparts, the castle – nearly 1000 years old – provides a striking backdrop as you rifle through scads of books eclectic in appearance as much as theme.

Hay-on-Wye straddles the English–Welsh border, twenty miles from Hereford. Murder & Mayhem, 5 Lion Street; The Poetry Bookshop, Ice House, Brook Street; Hay Cinema Bookshop, Castle Street.

 

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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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Stepping off the boat at Dalyan’s mud baths, you’ll be forgiven for wishing you hadn’t. But don’t be put off by the revolting rotten-egg stench of the sulphur pools – after a revitalizing day here, you’ll be gagging for more. The instructions are simple – roll in the mud, bake yourself in the sun till your mud cast cracks, shower off and then dunk yourself in the warm, therapeutic waters of the sulphur pool. Not only will your skin be baby-soft and deliciously tingly, you will also revert to behaving like a big kid: a huge mud bath can mean only one thing – a giant mud fight.

The mud baths are accessible by boat only, with mixed bathing 11am–6pm. The pools can get busy in high season (roughly June–Aug), although there are quieter, outlying pools – ask your skipper.

 

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It’s a hot summer’s evening; overhead is a soft, purple-black and star-strewn sky. The incessant chirrup of cicadas mingles with the murmur of thousands of voices – Turkish, German, English, Russian – and the popping of corks, as the 15,000-strong audience settles down, passes round wine and olives and eagerly awaits the entertainment ahead. All are perched on hard, solid marble, still warm from the heat of the day, but the discomfort is a small price to pay to experience what a Roman citizen would have 1800 years ago, when this theatre, the largest and best preserved in Asia Minor, was built.

The views from the semicircular auditorium, its forty tiers cut into the hillside, are magnificent. At sunset, the fading light on the remains of this once wealthy and powerful city and the Pamphylian plain beyond shows it at its best. There’s a faint taste of the nearby Mediterranean on the breeze and the Taurus mountain range stands in splendid silhouette to the north.

The stage lights play across the facade of the multilevel stage building, ornamented with Ionic and Corinthian columns, niches that once sported marble statues and elaborate friezes and pediments. The lights dim and the massed ranks of spectators fall silent. Slowly the intensity of the lights increases and the show begins. Maybe it’s Verdi’s Aida, set in ancient Egypt, whose pomp and splendour match the setting perfectly.

Afterwards, close to midnight, throngs of people – having suspended disbelief for a few memorable hours – disgorge into the night, scrambling not for their chariots but for cars and buses as reality sets in and the ancient entertainments are left behind.

The Aspendos Festival takes place for three to four weeks, starting in mid-June. Try www.dobgm.gov.tr/opera2009 or www.aspendosfestival.gov.tr

 

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In the days leading up to Thailand’s annual Loy Krathong Festival of Light, pretty little baskets fashioned from banana leaves and filled with orchids and marigolds begin to appear at market stalls across the country. On festival night everyone gathers at the nearest body of water – beside the riverbank or neighbourhood canal, on the seashore, even at the village fishpond. Crouching down beside the water, you light the candle and incense sticks poking out of your floral basket, say a prayer of thanks to the water goddess, in whose honour this festival is held, and set your offering afloat. As the bobbing lights of hundreds of miniature basket-boats drift away on the breeze, taking with them any bad luck accrued over the past year, the Loy Krathong song rings out over the sound system, contestants for the Miss Loy Krathong beauty pageant take to the stage and Chang beer begins to flow.

One of the best places to experience Loy Krathong is in Sukhothai, the first Thai capital, 400km north of Bangkok, where the ruins of the ancient capital are lit up by fireworks.

 

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Away from the casinos of Macau – the only place in China where they have been legalised – there lies an old Portuguese city steeped in colonial history and packed with impressive sights and restaurants. Rough Guides writer Helen Ochyra set out to find the best things to do in Macau beyond the betting tables.

“Where East meets West” is a cliché as overused as those other travel writing horrors “city of contrasts” and “melting pot”. And yet, for some places it is simply true.

One of those places is Macau, a city where Portuguese colonial history sits inside modern China. Macau was a Portuguese colony for several centuries until 1999, and as a result this very Asian city retains a wonderfully European flavour.

This cocktail of cultures is expressed nowhere better than in the food. Macanese cuisine combines the city’s Portuguese and Chinese influences, but adds a dash of African or South American spice picked up from its days at the centre of numerous trade routes.

I sample this unique culinary mix at Restaurant Litoral, started by Manuela Ferreira with the aim of bringing traditional Macanese food, as cooked in the home, to the public. Her signature dish is galinha à Africana (African chicken), barbecued chicken smothered in red spicy sauce. Although garlic, chilli, paprika and coconut are staple ingredients in this Macanese favourite, every restaurant makes it differently and Manuela makes hers with peanut in the sauce – this makes it thicker and tastier than you’ll find elsewhere. I tuck in to mine with gusto and find myself hoping this full-on flavour-punch of a dish is served anywhere back home in London.

Traditional Portuguese cuisine is also popular in Macau and many of the city’s best restaurants specialise in this. One of these is Antonio’s, run by chef Antonio Coelho. My meal begins with an array of starters – clams in white wine, prawns in garlic, chorizo in brandy – all of which I scoop up hungrily and devour with a smile on my face. Then, the main event; a rich cataplana packed with scallops, prawns, octopus and chorizo, served in a steaming copper pot that is unveiled with suitable reverence at the table. It is designed to be shared and so I tuck in politely with my companions. Washed down with a Portuguese Quinta da Aveleda, it is delicious.

More Portuguese classics are served at O Manel, where we are welcomed with luscious slices of pata negra (cured ham), aged for 36 months and imported directly from Portugal. I could eat solely this, folded on top of the homemade bread, but the chalkboard menu cries out to us and so I order more clams, more prawns and a seabass from the nearby fish market, cooked on a charcoal grill. Owner and chef Manel visits the market twice daily to get the very best fresh fish and the benefits are clear – this is one succulent seabass.

Portuguese food may be popular in Macau, but I am in China and can avoid its intoxicating pull no longer; it is time to indulge in some Cantonese. For this I head to Coloane, where Kwun Hoi Heen serves upmarket dim sum. This is a real test for my chopstick skills, as I pierce crystal dumplings, scoop up dao miu (peasprouts) and attempt to wind stir-fried crispy noodles with Wagyu beef around them. This is dining at its most varied and I stay for hours, soaking up the sea views and trying to fit in just one more prawn dumpling.

Suitably sated I stroll around Coloane. This historic fishing village has always been less populated than the main city and today it remains a quiet retreat, the parks lined with walking trails and cobbled squares surrounded by pastel-coloured churches.

From Coloane Town Square we walk along the waterfront to one of Macau’s most well-known foodie names – Lord Stow’s Bakery. This small café is credited with bringing Portugal’s most famous tart, the pasteis de nata (egg custard tart), to Macau. It is the perfect mid-afternoon snack, the creamy sweetness providing the necessary sugar rush to carry on exploring.

And there is still so much to see. We head to Macau’s historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, which is ripe for strolling. We start at Senado Square, its cobbles arranged in black and white waves, and its colonial buildings standing grand with their-neo-classical arches and creamy yellow and white façades. From here we walk past the Baroque São Domingo church, the nineteenth-century Dom Pedro Theatre and up to Guia Lighthouse, China’s oldest.

But the highlight is the atmospheric façade of the seventeenth-century Portuguese cathedral dedicated to St Paul. Today the ruin of St Paul is Macau’s most photographed site and you can spend ages staring up at its intricately carved stonework.

Our final stop of the day is the Macau Tower, a 338-metre spindle that was finished in 2001. This is the best place to get a view of the city and looking out over it all I see Chinese temples standing side-by-side with colonial churches, Portuguese ruins next to ultra-modern casinos. “Where East meets West”? Check. A “city of contrasts” and “a melting pot”? Absolutely yes.

Explore more of China with the Rough Guide to China. Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. For more information on Macau visit www.macautourism.gov.mo.

The Rough Guide to 2014 is out! Find the top countries, cities, and best-value destinations to visit in 2014 here.

Despite its natural beauty and vast array of historical sites, Jordan welcomes only a fraction of the visitors to the Middle East. When many think of Jordan, they picture camels and deserts – which admittedly make up 85 percent of its land mass – but this is also a country of mountains, beaches, castles and churches, with a welcoming population and a rich culture. These are our top things to do in Jordan:


Music: Ya Mo by Dozan (with thanks to worldmusic.net).

Ibiza’s summer clubbing season is an orgy of hedonism, full of beats, late nights and frazzled young things. It reaches a messy climax in September, when the main club promoters and venues host a series of seratonin-sapping parties to round things off and extract a few final euros from their battered punters. These end-of-season events tend to attract an older clubbing crowd, who prefer to hop over to Ibiza for a cheeky long weekend, avoiding the gangs of teenage pill-monsters that descend on the island in late July and August. The British rave dinosaurs join a resident hardcore of Ibizan clubbers and an international cast of party freaks and techno geeks, all brought together by a common appetite for dance music.

Where you go depends on your tastes. In San Antonio, the young crowd gathers at Eden and Es Paradis, whose entire dancefloor is flooded just before sunrise, while in the village of San Rafael, Amnesia’s essential closing party usually throws open its doors for free after 4am – the last worn-out dancers are often still there come mid-afternoon. Just across the road, Privilege, the world’s biggest club, parted ways with the famously debauched Manumission in 2008, but still throws closing parties for crowds of up to 10,000. In a laudable attempt to inject fresh energy into the scene, Ibiza Rocks has added live music, including Florence and the Machine and Pendulum, to the mix in recent years. Across the island in Ibiza Town, the elegant Pacha has the cream of the world’s best DJs, including Erick Morillo and David Guetta, cranking things up to delirious levels. Four kilometres south of Ibiza Town, the after-party at Space usually gets going around 8am, with punters donning shades and getting down on the legendary terrace before moving inside, where the walls quiver to progressive techno.

The Space closing party was once the event in the Ibiza club calendar but lately it has lost out to the hardcore action down at DC10. The no-frills club has had regular battles with the authorities over licensing, but it’s gained a loyal crowd of the hippest partiers (and most outrageous mullets) in Ibiza).

The Ibiza closing parties take place in the last three weeks of September; DJ, Pacha and MixMag magazines have listings.

 

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