Looking through the Rough Guides photography archive, one kind of shot stands out again and again: pictures captured at sunrise. Sure, there’s nothing more tempting than sleeping in until noon while you’re on holiday. But if you can bring yourself to brave the odd early morning, you’ll discover a magical world as dawn breaks. From misty views atop Victoria Peak in Hong Kong to dreamy sunrise reflections on Ko Samui in Thailand, these are some of our favourite images.

Dawn breaks over the horizon pool at The Tongsai Bay Hotel, Ko Samui, Thailand

Morning mist on the Mae Hong Son loop, Thailand

An early morning in Hong Kong, as seen from Victoria Peak

Dawn breaks over Monument Valley, Arizona, USA

Sunrise reflections on Naknek Lake in Alaska’s Katmai National Park

Spectacular colours on Playa Lucia at sunrise, Puerto Rico

Chinese fishing nets silhouetted as the sun rises, Kochi, Kerala, India

A peaceful Grand Canyon, as seen from Bright Angel Point, Arizona, USA

Early morning cloudscape over Puerto Viejo, Limon Province, Costa Rica

Sunrise at Kazan Gorge (Cazanele Dunarii) on the Danube River, Romania

Looking out over the water at dawn, Copenhagen, Denmark

A calm start to the day in Mariehamn, Åland, Finland

Gulls circle a life guard post on South Beach, Miami

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Picturesque Wales has long drawn holidaymakers to its unspoilt countryside, rugged mountainous terrain and long, lonely coastline. Whether you’re after a dream-like hike or scenic drive, beautiful views aren’t hard to find. Here are some of our authors’ favourites – walks, nature reserves, beaches, railway journeys and much more – taken from new Rough Guide to Wales.

Wye Valley wonder

Walking or driving through the Wye Valley, especially near Tintern’s towering ruins, it’s easy to see why Wordsworth was so inspired.

photo credit: tintern abbey hdr arty via photopin (license)

Styles and starry skies

A vast area of rocky moors, Brecon Beacons National Park is not just perfect walking country – it’s also one of the world’s first “dark sky reserves”.

photo credit: IMG_7253 via photopin (license)

The end of the world

The Llŷn Peninsula excels in escapism, whether the panorama from the summit of Tre’r Ceiri or the lovely seaside village of Aberdaron.

photo credit: Sun going down over the Llyn Peninsula, North Wales via photopin (license)

Snowdonia’s finest scramble

Snowdon’s splendid, but the north ridge of Tryfan gives wonderful exposure and views, and the scramble up borders on rock-climbing.

photo credit: SANY0400.JPG via photopin (license)

Coastal escapes

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

photo credit: Rhossili via photopin (license)

On the rails

Hop aboard Ffestiniog Railway, the finest of Wales’s narrow-gauge railways, which climbs 13 miles from the coast into the heart of the mountains.

photo credit: Ffestiniog Railway at Ddaullt via photopin (license)

Wales at its wildest

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

photo credit: Wooltack Point – Pembrokeshire via photopin (license)

Skeletal grandeur

Newport’s Transporter Bridge, a remarkable feat of engineering, was described as “A giant with the might of Hercules and the grace of Apollo when it opened in 1906.

photo credit: Transporter Bridge via photopin (license)

Small-town splendour

There’s a superb view across the Menai Strait to the Snowdonian mountains in Beaumaris, plus a picture-postcard castle and lovely Georgian townscape.

photo credit: nature-trail-lighthouse-110.jpg via photopin (license)

Flocks away

Gigrin Farm is one of the best places in Europe to watch red kites feeding. As many as five hundred of the magnificent birds descend at any one time – a fantastic sight.

photo credit: Red Kites – Gigrin Farm via photopin (license)

A pass to the past

An ancient drovers’ road, the magnificent Abergwesyn Pass twists its way through the forests and valleys of the Cambrian Mountains.

photo credit: Llyn Brianne via photopin (license)

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

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

1. To be awed and appalled at MONA in Hobart

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

2. To raft the Franklin River

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

3. To meet Tasmanian devils

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

4. To feast your way around Bruny Island

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

5. To explore the wilderness at Cradle Mountain

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

6. To pace the brand-new Three Capes Track

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

7. To see pint-sized penguins in Bicheno

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

8. To admire gorge-ous views near Launceston

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

9. To explore dark history at Port Arthur

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

10. To bliss out at Wineglass Bay

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

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

Rough Guides writer Helen Abramson discovers the ups and downs of the Annapurna Base Camp trek in Nepal – all without the help of a porter or guide. 

Something wasn’t right. I generally like to think of myself as physically fit. In fact, a doctor told me that was the case. I was convinced. Yet two days into the Annapurna Base Camp trek, every time I took a step up or down, my thighs hurt like the fires of hell. And up or down, it seemed, were the only options; flat surfaces were hard to come by.

I was mentally preparing a sternly worded letter for said doctor, in which I pointed out that his assessment was irrefutably and woefully incorrect.

Image by Helen Abramson

A few weeks earlier, my boyfriend and I had arrived in Nepal in the October peak season (the other being April–May), the day after the tragic storms that killed at least 43 people, of which 21 were trekkers, in the Annapurna Circuit region. We were filled with thoughts of those affected by the catastrophe as we travelled to Pokhara, the tranquil yet touristic lakeside town used as a base for the thousands of trekkers who pass through the Annapurna Sanctuary each year.

The Annapurna Base Camp Trek (also known as the ABC route), however, was sheltered from the storms and thus unaffected. We decided to tackle this 7–10 day hike without a guide or porter, carrying all the luggage we’d need in 45-litre backpacks.

This route, mostly inaccessible to vehicles, winds through prayer-flag strewn hamlets dotted around the lush valley of the fast-flowing Modi Khola River. It’s overlooked by the domineering peaks of Annapurna (8091m) and Machhapuchchhre (6993m), meaning “Fishtail” for its distinctive summit. The paths undulate almost constantly by way of seemingly huge and endless steps carved into the earth.

Image by Helen Abramson

“From mossy jungle to snow-speckled expanses”

Perhaps the swift pace of our first day had something to do with my aching legs, but speed was getting us nowhere on day two. We were unquestionably lost. The map had led us astray, indicating a path that didn’t exist, and extending our walking time to Chhomrong by around 2.5 hours and – most concerning for me – involving an awful lot more stairs.

The scenery changed dramatically as we increased altitude, from verdant stepped-farm hillsides, mossy jungle and misty autumnal woodland, up to rocky creeks peppered with waterfalls and finally to snow-speckled arid expanses.

“Golden sunlight spread majestically over the distant peaks”

We walked between four and seven hours each day, rising at icy-cold dawn to startlingly deep-blue skies and watching the golden sunlight spread majestically over the distant peaks before it hit us and warmed our freezing bones. Clouds usually rolled in late morning, bringing rain and slippery ground, which I over-acquainted myself with one afternoon after I slipped and landed on my back, limbs flailing like an upturned turtle.

Although this was a firm reminder that we needed to remain alert and careful, especially without a guide and in light of the recent tragedy, we were reassured that we would never be alone for long – we passed by dozens of hikers each day. In fact, sometimes it felt like too many. Though the area is remote, the number of trekkers in peak season means the only way to feel isolation is by going off the beaten track, and for that you need a guide. However, we were glad to be able to set our own pace and choose where we stayed the night, and (despite our second-day detour) keeping to the trail without a guide was relatively easy.

Image by Helen Abramson

We quickly became over-familiar with the menus at each teahouse, which were all identical, as they are set by the government, along with the prices. The variety of food, nonetheless, was astonishing. Even at the highest-altitude stops you could order a whole range of foreign dishes, though Nepal’s national dish, dal bhat, a plate of rice, soupy lentils and simple veg curries – all refilled until you say stop – was usually the safest best.

“Among the highest summits in the world, it’s hard not to feel humbled”

Our fourth and coldest night was spent at Machhapuchchhre Base Camp (MBC; 3700m), before the final ascent to ABC. We struck out on the increasingly snowy ground before dawn under a dazzling starry sky, our pace slowed by altitude-affected heavy steps and shortness of breath. We made it to ABC by full light, in a basin surrounded by a ring of glorious peaks.

With a 360-degree view of some of the highest summits in the world, it’s hard not to feel humbled; I could have stayed there all day. Sadly, that wasn’t an option, as we didn’t feel up to staying overnight as high as 4130m, so before long it was time to begin the descent.

Image by Helen Abramson

Due to the rise-and-fall nature of this trek, the last few days were not short of uphill climbs. Despite myself, I actually began to look forward to these, as, to my horror, descending increased the burn in my legs even more. After returning through Chhomrong the route split, and we were able to take in new scenery on the other side of the valley. This meant a stop at Jhinu, where natural hot springs in serene surroundings by the gushing river were a blissful answer to our aching muscles, although getting there required walking down and back up – you guessed it – hundreds more stairs.

On our seventh and final day we gradually re-entered civilization, passing through larger villages where life focused on more than just sustaining passing-by trekkers. We met a farmer who guided us down a perilously steep final section before we hit the road near Tolka.

As we bid the mountains a sad farewell, I felt a huge sense of fulfilment – and a touch of pride at gaining a pair of rock-solid legs – after a surprisingly gruelling trek.

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

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

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

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

It’s rich with unusual wildlife

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

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

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

The hospitality is unrivalled

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

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

The monasteries are astonishingly picturesque

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

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

There is something for everyone

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

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

It has the perfect climate

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

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

Few countries boast such impressive natural diversity as Morocco. From its balmy coastline to the remote landscapes of its interior, the country offers visitors everything from relaxed beach breaks through to mountain escapes. Yet trekking in Morocco remains the highlight for many. Beginners will enjoy gentle forays into the Atlas Mountains in summer, while tacking some of Africa’s toughest terrain in the depths of the snow-ravaged winter presents a serious challenge even to experienced hikers. Morocco rewards every traveller that explores its vast valleys and peaks. Here, we’ve picked seven of our favourite treks.

Jebel Toubkal

North Africa’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal vaults 4167m into the heavens in the Central High Atlas, dishing up views that more than reward the effort of trawling up there. This quasi-mythical mountain is the most eulogised peak in the country and it well-deserves the praise heaped upon it. In summer it is an adventure that most reasonably fit people can tackle in two or three days from Imlil – altitude sickness, sunstroke and dehydration permitting – and the Kasbah du Toubkal is an ideal base that lies at the trail start. In winter, when the trails are thick with snow, Toubkal is an even more serious beast requiring specialist gear and skills. For an exhausting but exhilarating challenge, there is also the Toubkal Circuit, a gruelling trek that takes around a week to complete.

Jebel Saghro

When the snows make the High Atlas tricky, the mountain range of Jebel Saghro offers beautiful wintry landscapes but with fewer challenges. A continuation of the Anti-Atlas, it has slightly milder temperatures and trails that are usually still passable without the same level of difficulty as Toubkal’s snowy wastes. The highest peak, Amalou n’Mansour, is much lower than the High Atlas peaks, at 2712m, so the risk of altitude sickness is generally less of a problem. The local cave paintings are a bonus.

M’Goun Massif

The traverse of the M’Goun Massif in the Central High Atlas need not be as taxing as taking on Toubkal if you avoid ascending the high peaks such as M’Goun itself (4071m). This lets you spend more time savouring the drama of the mountain scenery and valleys that are home to the local Berber tribes. The area is at its best in late spring with carpets of wild flowers and dramatic snow-melt rivers in valleys like the Ait Bougmez and the Tessaout. If you’ve got a week to play with, you can enjoy exploring the lower slopes and valleys, or use your time to acclimatise properly and tackle M’Goun itself.

Alan Keohane (c) Dorling Kindersley

Jebel Sirwa

The Anti-Atlas is a much less heralded mountain range than the High Atlas and lies in the south of Morocco, but it still boasts a number of tempting peaks. Sirwa, a chunky 3304-metre-high volcanic mountain, actually connects the two ranges. From Atougha Mount Sirwa can usually be climbed in two days, though a guide is thoroughly recommended particularly for the potentially dicey final section. Alternatively, make a week of it taking time to ramble through the Berber valleys, with their steeply terraced fields, on a week-long round trip from Taliouine.

Rif Mountains

Morocco’s northern Rif Mountains are not as renowned as many of the country’s mountain ranges, but are a firm favourite with local walkers, especially families. Base yourself in Chefchaouen and myriad day trip options beckon. An ideal relaxed half day saunter is along the banks of the Ras el-Maa river. You can choose your duration, then just retrace your route or catch a taxi back. More difficult is the long day hike up Jebel al-Kalaa, which overlooks the town. For overnight hiking trips the Talassemtane National Park tempts.

Ifrane National Park

Nature lovers can indulge themselves in Morocco’s ‘Little Switzerland’ and its visual feast of flora and fauna in this expansive national park in the Middle Atlas. The Atlas Cedar tree-shrouded slopes here are at their best in spring and autumn. Look out too on the walking trails year-round for the Barbary Macaque – once found throughout North Africa, it’s now an endangered species and the Ifrane National Park is one of its last preserves.

Paradise Valley

Most visitors to Morocco don’t normally associate the coastal beach resort of Agadir with hiking, but the lush oasis of Paradise Valley is not far inland. This deep palm fringed gorge follows the river north up to Imouzzer Ida Ou Tanane 60km away. Those short on time can take the short (about 3km) walking trail from Imouzzer Ida Ou Tanane out to the ‘Cascades’ waterfalls. If you have more time you can hire a guide and mule to explore the valley’s Berber villages and camp under the stars.

Need to know
Robin’s key tip: always hire a professional qualified guide for your trail and personal safety. Don’t just grab one of the often unqualified guides that hang around the trails. Macs Adventure, a UK operator, employ only qualified Moroccan guides rather than ex-pats or uncertified locals, and they work closely with the pioneering Kasbah du Toubkal lodge, where your stay helps fund projects like local schools and ambulances.

Explore more of this country with the Rough Guide to Morocco. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

The oldest tourist destination on Earth, Egypt has a multitude of things to see and do. There are ancient pyramids, crumbling temples and vast deserts to explore – on foot or by camel – not forgetting the great river Nile. Find the top things not to miss in Egypt for your next trip.

With a little courage, a lot of leg-power and some encouragement from an exuberant Italian guide, Greg Dickinson discovers some of Europe’s best mountain biking in the Dolomites, Italy

“Do you suffer from vertigo?” Paolo is straight faced, but it’s hard to take him seriously in his patchwork yellow and pink sunhat. I tell him I’m alright with heights, and can’t resist asking why. He hops on his mountain bike and pedals ahead, leaving it a few seconds before calling back “It’s a surprise!” 

I met up with mountain expert Paolo in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a couple of hours north of Venice by coach. During the winter months skiers and snowboarders descend on this glamorous resort town – put on the map as the setting of Roger Moore’s epic Bond ski chase in For Your Eyes Only (or for hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics, depending on who you’re talking to). For the rest of the year it’s an increasingly popular base for mountain and road biking in the UNESCO-protected Dolomites, with a number of “bike hotels” in town offering storage, maintenance and massage therapy for cyclists.

My two-day adventure started with some news: many of the area’s cable cars and chairlifts – used by cyclists over the summer – had closed a week earlier than scheduled after an uncharacteristically rainy season in the region. Paolo revealed this with a good-humoured shrug, his concentration fixed on a map as he figured out a revised route. It was an overcast morning, but occasionally the clouds parted to unveil a splintering mountaintop, hundreds of metres higher than expected, and I wondered what on earth I’d got myself into.

On my bike, the early, knee-straining hours along forest roads are tough, but as we gain altitude I find Paolo’s carefree attitude to be as uplifting as the regular espresso breaks we take. And I’m not the only one enamoured by the man. Just about every driver that passes us honks their horn and yells “Ciao, Paolino!”, he’s on backslapping terms with the owners of all of the mountain rifugios (mountain refuges), and even receives a clean high five from one passing jogger.

I soon reap the benefits of his popularity myself when a moustachioed gent named Fausto beckons us off our bikes and into his falconry headquarters. We’ve caught him between his 11am and 3pm displays, and I’m thankful to rest my legs for twenty minutes as we sit and watch him fling birds of prey into the deep pine valley behind him.

We’re soon back on the road, and after ascending over a thousand metres the mountain biking finally begins. For the first single track run I’m sat down, with all four fingers clutching the brakes as I dodge football-sized boulders and very nearly hurtle over the handlebars when I forget that the front and back brakes are on the opposite sides here.

Paolo clocks my abysmal technique and gives me a crash course on how to avoid doing just that: stand, arms outstretched when going downhill; pedals level; only one finger on the brakes; manoeuvre the saddle with thighs for extra control; and, most importantly of all, stop being such a wimp.

The results are immediate. I can’t possibly descend at the speed of Paolo, who lets out a high-pitched “WOOP!” as he flies down the path with zero regard for his own mortality, but I quickly build confidence and speed, and find the experience to be far closer to skiing over moguls than riding a bike.

After a couple of muscle-rattling hours the light begins to draw in and we call it a day, hopping on a chairlift up to Rifugio Scoiattoli. The kitchen here cooks up a divine three-course meal, including the local specialty casunziei ampezzani (beetroot ravioli with butter, parmesan and poppy seeds). Exhausted, I knock back a few home-brewed grappas before retreating to my dorm, still wondering what Paolo’s promised vertigo surprise will involve.

I wake up at 5am, restless with the disorientation that comes from sleeping at altitude, and stumble outside the refuge to find a dozen people wrapped in scarves and woolly hats, tripods at the ready. Behind the nearby Cinque Torri – a series of finger-like dolomia towers – the sun emerges, spray-painting a warm pink onto the peaks that loom above us, and exposing a blanket of cloud hundreds of metres below. Marmots, ubiquitous to the Dolomites, shriek from their unseen caves as they awaken while I head inside to get my cycling kit on.

Without the burden of gaining height, I’m treated to a series of fast downhill trails and some more “off-piste” experiences. Paolo’s knowledge of these mountains is indisputable, but there’s plenty of improvisation involved in his guidance; he leads us across knolly fields, over fast-flowing streams and down squelching mud tracks. At one point we meet an almighty ravine, caused by a landslide thirty years ago, and carry our 13-kilogram bikes on our shoulders as we scramble down and up onto the other side.

After a few hours of more conventional riding we prop up our bikes and walk towards the edge of a cliff, where I see a thin pathway wrapping around to the left – no wider than a metre at points. With just a wire rope to protect walkers from a 100m plummet, I realise this must be the vertiginous challenge I’ve been waiting for.

We start along the path, Paolo far cooler than me as he casually runs a finger along the rope that I’m gripping with two white fists (he later tells me that you’re not technically supposed to walk this path without a carabiner and safety harness). A steady rumble emerges from around the corner and I grin as I know what’s coming. The rope becomes slippery and a cloud of water bursts into my face.

We shimmy behind the glorious hidden waterfall that Paolo had kept a surprise, the water droplets enveloping my overheated body. And as I look out through the cascade, my view impeded like a half-tuned television, I tell myself that it’s two days of high-octane mountain biking, not vertigo, that’s causing my legs to tremble.

Bike rental from Due e Due Cortina costs from €26 per day for adults and €12 for kids. Dorm bed and half board at Rifugio Scoiattoli costs from €55 per night in half board. The Cortina Bike Pass grants access to ski lifts with your bike, costing from €60 for a 3-day pass. Single journeys can also be purchased at the lift stations. 

After an unforgettable first trip to Kashmir, India, in 1990, Nick Edwards returned to research the area for recent editions of the Rough Guide to India and found some things unchanged, while others quite different.

Ever since being mesmerised by the symphonic juggernaut of Led Zeppelin’s epic track in the mid-seventies, the name Kashmir held a particular allure for me. So when I finally trundled round the last bend beyond the Jawahar Tunnel, on the ascent by creaking bus from Jammu in August 1990, and the rich green hues of the legendary valley suddenly flashed out below, it truly felt as if I was approaching a long anticipated Shangri-La.

On arrival in Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital, however, it did not take long to realise the situation was less than idyllic. We were greeted by frequent checkposts protected by walls of sandbags and grim looking Indian conscripts toting machine guns. A disputed area between Pakistan and India, there has been both military and insurgent conflict in Kashmir since independence in 1947. On my visit, there was a strict curfew as soon as darkness fell and the armed resistance to Indian rule, then a year into its new phase of violence, had given the place the distinct air of a war zone.

Yet the scene out at Dal Lake, in the houseboat my Greek girlfriend and I had arranged to stay on, was comfortingly peaceful. Dazzling kingfishers flitted and dived for food between the expanses of waterlilies, while we sipped tea and admired the stunning mountain scenery on all sides. It was only when we took a shikara ride to the other side of the lake that we were brought back to reality by the crackling of gunfire behind the majestic Hazratbal mosque.

Nearly twenty years later, when I returned to cover Kashmir for the Rough Guide to India – having decided the situation was stable and safe enough to warrant its inclusion – there was undoubtedly a totally different feel about the place. This time I entered the area from Ladakh in the east, across the gruelling and barren Zoji-la pass.

Once again the vivid green patchwork of the Vale of Kashmir was a feast for tired eyes. On this occasion I found Srinagar to be a hive of activity. The bazaars were fully operational, the usual subcontinental riot of spicy odours, bright colours and cacophonous cries. All in all, there was a much happier atmosphere among the hugely increased number of Indian tourists, as well as a resurgent trickle of foreign travellers.

The most important cultural sights were now open to visitors, so I was able to reach Hazratbal mosque by road and join the worshippers in its vast courtyard and simple but awe-inspiring interior, crowned by an elegant white marble dome. I also paid my respects at Jamia Masjid, in the heart of the old city, with its pagoda-shaped wooden minarets, exclusive to Kashmir, and the vibrant Sufi shrine of Makhdoom Sahib just to the north. Sufi places of worship, where a palpable sense of the mystical pervades the air, along with frequent outbursts of song, are always a joy. The only place where I encountered any hostility was outside the permanently locked Rozabal mosque, the purported location of the tomb of Jesus, according to the myth that he lived to a ripe old age and died in Kashmir. Here an angry, young self-appointed watchman swiftly persuaded me to move on.

This time I was also able to make a couple of forays beyond Srinagar. My Kashmiri friend Manzoor, a shop owner in the southern state of Tamil Nadu whom I had known for many years, took me on a trip up to Gulmarg, a ski centre during winter and playground for pony-riding and even zorbing in the summer months. Far more impressive is Pahalgam, around 100km east of Srinagar, whose wonderful location on the banks of the rushing Lidder River makes it an ideal base for treks of varying lengths, best done in the company of an experienced guide.

Back in Srinagar, Dal Lake remains a scene of sublime tranquility, of course. I took up residence Manzoor’s family hotel, Chachoo Palace, a small rickety wooden structure with a delightful lawn bordering the lake. Once more, before a tasty meal of the rich local wazwan cuisine, I found myself sipping tea and watching a kingfisher darting for food beneath the placid green surface of the lake. It was as if those twenty years had melted away.

NEED TO KNOW

Transport Srinagar has a domestic airport with direct flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Jammu and Leh. It is also accessible by bus or shared jeep from Jammu (8–12hr) and Leh (14hr–2 days). Travel within Kashmir can be done by bus, minibus, jeep, taxi or trekking.

Accommodation Staying at Chachoo Palace, on the shores of Dal Lake, is the fraction of the cost of a houseboat, and makes a good initial base for scouting out the best-priced boat. Houseboats vary enormously in price and services offered: be sure to consider the quality of accommodation, number of meals and refreshments included and whether there are free transfers to and from the shore before parting with your cash.

Explore more of India with the Rough Guide to India.

Sandwiched between Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Austria, Slovenia might be small but it’s a surprisingly diverse country. Venture just an hour or so from the compact capital, Ljubljana, and you’ll find nearly 50 kilometres of sunny Adriatic coastline, tranquil wine regions and the stunning Lake Bled, backed by the soaring Julian Alps. Travel a little further and you’ll hit the dramatic Logarska Dolina, karst plateaus riddled with cave systems and Maribor, the country’s engaging second city. It’s no wonder Rough Guides readers voted Slovenia as one of the world’s most beautiful countries. To find out more, this year we’ve explored the country season by season. 

Winter

In winter, our adventure travel expert Helen Abramson took to the slopes in the Julian Alps. Trying her hand at cross-country skiing, snow-biking and a couple of black runs, she found out why Slovenia is one of the most affordable and accessible European ski destinations.

Spring

Spring saw Lottie Gross explore the country out of season. Over five days she cycled and paraglided without the summer crowds in Logarska Dolina, overindulged on a food tour in Ljubljana and sampled a taste of traditional life on a tourist farm.

Photograph © Lottie Gross 2014

Summer

Over a sunny summer weekend in late August, Tim Chester hit the coast on a short tour of the Slovene Riviera. Never straying far from the Adriatic, he scouted out the seaside city of Piran, Izola’s fish festival and salty spa treatments at Sečovlje.

Autumn

To round off the year, this autumn Eleanor Aldridge travelled to Slovenia’s far west. Visiting the Vipava Valley and Goriška Brda at harvest time, she met some of the country’s pioneering orange winemakers and discovered the natural beauty of these rural regions.

nejcbole via Compfight cc

Discover more about Slovenia with our online guideBook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Header image © Lottie Gross 2014

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