Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills road tested a car-free weekend escape in the gently sloping chalk downlands and pretty patchwork fields of the South Downs National Park, just an hour south of London by train.

Get up close and personal with nature

It is possible for city folk to escape to the countryside without foregoing creature comforts. A glut of new luxury camping sites means that you can roll up to a pre-erected tipi, yurt or hut with none of the hassle of hammering in pegs – or arguing about who packed the kettle. I stayed at off-grid Adhurst Yurts, which is set in 100 acres of ancient woodland bang in the middle of the National Park. Perfect for cool autumn nights, the four cosy yurts have proper double beds with duvets (pull out camp beds are provided for children), rugs on the wooden floors, wood burners and solar powered fairy lights that twinkle into the night. Kids will love foraging in the surrounding woodland, the zip line, the open air hot shower and, of course, toasting marshmallows over a proper campfire. And for adults, there’s a couple of great pubs in nearby Sheet, including the family-friendly Queen’s Head, which from next year you’ll be able to reach via a short road-free ramble through the woods.

Image by Rachel Mills

Within walking or cycling distance from Adhurst, you can pick your own fruit and veg at Durleighmarsh until the end of the season in October. The varieties are clearly mapped and labelled and when we visited there were loads of raspberries, blackberries, courgettes and marrows, as well as some gorgeous PYO flowers. The farm shop supports a small range of local producers and sells a range of meat, game, pies, jams and chutneys, and the tea barn, looking out over the tractors working the fields, is a nice spot for tea and cake. There’s also a pretty boating lake in the nearby market town of Petersfield, with a lakeside adventure playground and café, where we whiled away a lovely lazy afternoon. For bigger kids, the lowland heath surrounding the lake is dotted with Bronze Age burial mounds to explore.

Get active on the South Downs Way

If you want to get a bit further afield, the 160-kilometre-long South Downs Way stretches the entire length of the national park from the ancient city of Winchester to the white cliffs of Beachy Head and the seaside resort of Eastbourne. From Petersfield you can bike around four miles south along a section of a new cycle route from Bentley (near Farnham) to Portsmouth, called the Shipwrights Way – named so because it was the route for transporting oak to the dockyard for shipbuilding. You’ll join the South Downs Way at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, although there is a large hill (Buriton Hanger) to climb along the way, so you’ll need a lot of pedal power.

Image by Rachel Mills

To tackle the entire route by bike takes at least three or four days and I’d say start out from Winchester and head east to take advantage of the prevailing wind. Rob Stanley runs Walk and Cycle, which organises short breaks with as much or as little hands-on support as you need. They know the area inside out and can take care of accommodation booking, bike hire, guiding and itineraries, luggage transfers, transport and roadside repair. With just a basic road bike you can explore quiet country lanes passing chocolate box villages such as Amberley and Alfriston, and National Trust Properties including the wonderful Petworth House and Park. If you choose a more serious mountain bike to go off-road on smaller trails, remember these can get pretty muddy in wet weather. Tailored itineraries include the Downs Explorer and Hills and Coast, but if you, like I was, will be cycling with young children, the best (flattest) places to bike the route are found in East Hampshire and West Sussex; the Downs Link or the Hayling Billy Line are a couple of gorgeous options.

On this trip, I stuck to cycling the lanes around the pretty East Hampshire villages of Sheet and Steep. Biking with my lively very-nearly-three-year-old niece in a child seat on the back certainly added a bit of fear factor; she really wasn’t very pleased with me when we careered into a ditch. The terrain is surprisingly varied (I guess the clue is in the name “downs”), but as we meandered past village greens and churches and waved to locals’ walking their dogs, I felt a million miles away from the chaotic and congested London streets.

Need to know

Trains from London Waterloo to Petersfield (every 30min; 1hr) are £32.50 return. Call Petersfield Taxis on 01730 303030 for transport from the train station. Adhurst Yurts are from £125 per night based on 2 sharing.

Spiny Forest, Madagascar

On an island filled with weird and wonderful living things, the spiny forest has to be Madagascar‘s most unusual ecosystem. Endemic to the south of the island, the forest is distinguished by tall, virtually branchless plants with dagger-like spikes, and dumpy succulents with swollen trunks. Elegant sifaka lemurs leap from tree to tree with ease, effortlessly avoiding the lethal thorns.

Sikkim Pine Forests, India

Squeezed into a cosy nook between its neighbours Nepal, China and Bhutan, the mountainous ex-kingdom of Sikkim is India‘s greenest state; a thick carpet of pine forest covers much of this mysterious Himalayan region. Cloaked in cloud for much of the year the moist canopy is dripping with epiphytes and beautiful wild orchids. Believed to be the stomping ground of the mythical yeti, other inhabitants include cute red pandas and shy clouded leopards.

The Amazon Rainforest, South America

The granddaddy of all rainforests, the Amazon is the largest and most biodiverse tropical forest on Earth. Giant anteaters, pink dolphins and jaguars all make the trees and rivers here their home, though many of the plant and animal species are still unknown. It is culturally diverse too: home to over 300,000 indigenous people, some still uncontacted, speaking over two hundred languages. The Brazilian Amazon even has its own world-famous opera house, in the humid city of Manaus.

Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont, USA

Few natural spectacles are as striking as the Vermont fall foliage season (from mid-September to October). The air is crisp, plump apples hang heavy on the branches and maple, poplar and birch trees turn brilliant shades of crimson, amber and gold. Widely considered the region’s best area for leaf-peeping, Green Mountain National Forest is right in the heart of the action. Leaves change colour from north to south; check www.yankeefoliage.com before heading out.

Redwood National Park, USA

Next time you complain that you feel old, spare a though for the giant redwood trees of foggy northern California, which can live for over 2000 years. Redwood National Park’s Hyperion tree is also the world’s tallest. With its head firmly in the clouds, it’s bigger than many skyscrapers, at 379.1ft, and a relative teenager at between 700 and 800 years-old. Hyperion’s exact location is known only to scientists, but you can still try and hug many of the park’s other giants.

Bellavista Cloudforest, Ecuador

Damp, green, vibrant and extraordinarily beautiful, Ecuador‘s Bellavista cloudforest, high in the Western Andes, feels like the prehistoric habitat of dinosaurs. Veined by silvery waterfalls, the mountains are shrouded in heavy mist for at least part of each day, and covered in mosses, bromeliads and orchids. The forest’s primary attraction is the superb birdlife: there are well over 300 species here, including the masked trogon, tanager-finch, moustached antpitta, plate-billed mountain toucan and countless hummingbirds.

Caledonian Forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

The largest mountainscape in the UK, Cairngorms National Park also contains a quarter of Scotland‘s remaining ancient Caledonian forest. Once the domain of brown bears and wolves, the native woodland was largely destroyed by climate change and hordes of Vikings, among other foes. Alpha predators no longer roam the forest, but the remaining Scots pines are home to rare red squirrels, capercaillie, beavers and ospreys.

Rainbow Eucalyptus Forest, Maui, Hawaii

It’s hard to keep your eyes on the tarmac as your cruise Maui‘s Hana Highway – all along the roadside are stunning groves of Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. As the name would suggest, the tree’s bark peels off in summer to reveal beautiful traffic-light-coloured ribbons of red, amber and green. The view is even more stunning when the tree trunks get wet from the rain, making the colours really pop.

Saguaro Cactus Forest, Saguaro National Park, USA

The largest cactus species in the USA, the unmistakable forked arms of the saguaro give it the “hands-up” appearance of a startled shopkeeper at a Wild West hold-up. Protecting part of the Sonoran Desert, Saguaro National Park is the best place to see these iconic cacti en masse. Standing up to 50ft-tall and with a lifespan of 200 years, many of the best specimens are micro-chipped against poachers.

The Black Forest, Germany

Home of the cuckoo clock and source of the celebrated Danube River, the Black Forest, stretching 170km north to south, and up to 6km east to west, is Germany‘s largest and most beautiful forest: so good they named a cake after it. The endless pine trees were once an eerie wilderness – a refuge for boars and bandits – but nowadays the region and its spa towns are much easier to visit.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Japan

West of Kyoto lies the pleasant, leafy suburb of Arashiyama. Originally a place for imperial relaxation away from the main court in central Kyoto, the palaces were later converted into Buddhist temples and monasteries. Modern-day visitors come here to explore these temples and the area’s stunning bamboo grove. A well-constructed trail meanders its way through the statuesque green trunks, which sigh and whisper in the wind.

Waipoua Forest, New Zealand

Standing tall and strong as Maori warriors, New Zealand‘s kauri trees are a sight to behold. Once felled sustainably for boat materials and gum by the Maori, the kauri suffered huge deforestation at the hands of European settlers. Waipoua is one of the country’s best-preserved pockets of kauri woodland. It’s also home to its mightiest tree, the 2000-year-old Tane Mahuta, or “God of the Forest” – a vast wall of bark 6m wide rising nearly 18m to the lowest branches, which are covered in epiphytes.

Tijuca National Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The mountains running southwest of Rio’s Sugar Loaf mountain are blanketed with tropical trees. This is the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, a man-made urban forest of some 120 square kilometres. The original trees here were cut down for hardwood, but the area was re-afforested between 1857 and 1870 to reduce landslides. Now home to reptiles, ocelots, howler monkeys, agoutis, three-toed sloths and myriad birdlife, many believe that Tijuca is the world’s largest urban forest.

The Sundarbans, India & Bangladesh

The muddy and mysterious tidal waterways and mudflats of the Sundarbans comprise the largest mangrove forest in the world. Slinking with ease between the tangled vegetation and labyrinthine islands, there is a large population of handsome Bengal tigers here who pay no regard for the international border between India and Bangladesh. Resolutely wild and untamed, despite being sandwiched between two of the world’s most populated countries, crocodiles, pythons and Ganges river dolphins are also resident here.

Taman Negara, Malaysia

Quite possibly the oldest rainforest in the world, a visit to Taman Negara is unforgettable. Listen to the cacophony of insect chirps, marvel at giant buttressed tree roots and peer into the understory of palms, luminous fungi, giant bamboo and odorous giant rafflesia flowers. You don’t have to go far to encounter the local wildlife either; leopards, rhinos, monkeys, Asian elephants, tapirs, mouse deer and a host of smaller creatures can be found amongst the tangled foliage.

Giant Kelp Forests, Monterey Bay, USA

A mermaid’s paradise, the giant kelp forests of California‘s Monterey Bay have an otherworldly beauty. The kelp enjoys the cool nutrient rich waters in these parts and forms an underwater cityscape for its aquatic residents, growing up to 175-feet-tall in places. Small air-filled bladders keep each frond afloat, providing rockfish, leopard sharks and sea otters with an anchor during storms, and a place to hide from predators.

West Papua Jungle, Indonesia

The jungle hereabouts is humid, muggy, dense and very hard to access; it’s easy to see why its inhabitants went completely un-contacted until the 1970s. The indigenous Korowai people give a whole new meaning to the phrase high-rise living. They have adapted to this extreme environment by building their homes over 100ft up into the treetops, well away from the forest’s vicious mosquitoes. Each house is shared by up to a dozen people and access is via a long series of spindly ladders.

Cork Oak Forests, Alentejo, Portugal

The wide, sparsely populated plains of Alentejo are dominated by vast forests of bushy cork oak trees. The crooked oaks live for up to 25 years, and every nine years their bark is stripped and harvested to make the corks we use in our wine bottles. With the advent of new bottle-corking materials, these woodlands and their resident wild cats, boar, storks and vultures are at serious risk of deforestation and habitat loss.

Azrou Cedar Forest, Morocco

The high altitude evergreen cedar forests around Azrou shelter several troupes of Barbary apes, one of the wildlife highlights of a visit to Morocco. They roam the forest Planet of the Apes-style in troupes of up to a hundred monkeys. The cedars themselves can lives for over 400 years and grow an impressive 200ft tall, with an attractive canopy of bluish needles. You’ll find a Christmassy mix of juniper, holly and fir trees growing on the forest floor.

From a deserted town to enormous sand dunes and sunset cocktails above the city, here are ten unforgettable things to see and do in Namibia.

Hike Fish River Canyon

Second only in size to America’s Grand Canyon, Namibia’s Fish River Canyon is one of Africa’s unsung wonders. Starting just south of Seeheim, it winds 161km south to Ais-Ais and plummets to depths of 550 metres. Watching the sun rise and set over its layers of sandstone and lava is epic, but fit travellers can up the adventure by attempting one of southern Africa’s greatest hikes: a 85km five-day trek along the riverbed. Talk about off the beaten track.

Explore the deserted diamond-mining town of Kolmanskop

Rise early and drive 10km east of port town Lüderitz to watch the first fingers of sunrise reach across the desert and light up the sands that have piled up high and inhabited every nook of this once-thriving town. The honey-toned beams reveal peeling wallpaper in empty kitchens, ceramic bathtubs waiting forlornly for a filling and empty picture frames dangling from unsteady nails. Pay a little more for a photography pass: it allows you to enter early and beat the tour-group crowds so you can explore this ghost town with soul in peace.

Slurp local oysters in Walvis Bay

Forget springbok steak or biltong, Namibia’s culinary highlight is its homegrown ultra-fresh oysters. Thanks to the cold Benguela current that sweeps up the coast from Antarctica, the nutrient-rich waters means these pearly beauties can be harvested in just eight months instead of the three years it takes to grow French oysters. Join a boat tour to visit the nurseries and nibble them onboard, or order a platter with a glass of chilled white wine at a dockside restaurant.

Climb Sossusvlei

Namibia’s foremost attraction doesn’t disappoint. The sand dunes inside Namib-Naukluft National Park are some of the highest in the world and seeing them light up at sunrise is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. Sossusvlei is in fact only one dune, but the name is often used to collectively describe a handful of others. The most photogenic are the 170 metre-high Dune 45 and Deadvlei, whose dried up clay basin is punctuated with the sculptural silhouettes of long-dead acacia trees.

Explore the remote Caprivi Strip

Few tourists venture northwards to visit this narrow finger of lush land that juts out into Botswana, Zambia and Angola – those that do will be rewarded. The landscape is dotted with rondavel huts, roadside stalls selling fruit, and women in colourful clothes going about their daily business. Plus, two of the region’s national parks – Mamili and Mudumu – are becoming good safari destinations.

Safari in style inside Etosha National Park

Etosha translates as “Great White Place” – an apt description for this endless pan of silvery salt-encrusted sand, which is all that remains of a large inland lake that stood here 12 million years ago. Come dry season, its southern waterholes attract elephant, giraffe, zebra, eland, blue wildebeest, thousand-strong herds of springbok, and even the endangered black rhinoceros. A handful of luxury resorts have views over the pan, so the game viewing can continue long into the night.

Meet the Himba in Kunene

The barren, mountainous landscapes of the northern Kunene region are home to the Himba people – a semi-nomadic, polygamous tribe famed for wearing ochre-stained dreads and copper-wire bracelets. A number of tour companies will run visits to traditional villages, but a more rewarding (and perhaps ethical) way to meet the Himba is to base yourself in Opuwo, a vibrant little town, and wander for more candid interaction with the locals. From here you can also organise visits to Epupa falls.

Feed cheetahs in the Kalahari

Seeing wild cheetahs on safari is unforgettable, but at times viewings are no more than a glimpse of spots. For an up-close encounter, book to stay at Bagatella Kalahari Game Ranch: attached to the property is a 12-hectare enclosure belonging to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and it’s home to three orphaned cheetahs – Etosha, Rolf and Tuono – that are being rehabilitated for release. Seated safely aboard an open-sided Jeep, you can watch their caretaker dole out the evening feed (four kilos of meat each) then enjoy a sundowner atop the famous red dunes.

Find shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast

This otherworldly strip of coastline earned its named from the treacherous fogs and strong currents that forced many ships onto its uncharted sands. Hemmed in by the high, searing dunes of the Namib Desert and lack of fresh water many sailors perished here. Explore the rusted hulls of stranded ships, marooned whale ribs and kilometre-long stinky seal colonies.

Party on the roof in Windhoek

Namibia’s capital is a city on the move. Take in the sights while sipping a cocktail and watching the sunset at the brand-new Hilton hotel’s Skybar – a rooftop bar complete with heated infinity pool and panoramic vistas overlooking Independence Avenue and the Supreme Court. It’s the perfect way to toast your Namibian adventure.

Get more inspiration from Rough Guides here. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Arizona is peppered with sensational landscapes – deserts lacerated with zig-zagging canyons, vast brightly coloured cliffs, boulder-filled creeks, and of course, the ultimate crack in the earth: the Grand Canyon. Rough Guides editor Helen Abramson takes on the national parks of this southwest American state.

“I’ll take them!”, I cry enthusiastically to a heavily bejewelled, tie-dye-dress-clad shop assistant. I’m trying on the comfiest pair of sandals I’ve ever worn. They’re made of yoga mats, which seems entirely appropriate, as I’m in Sedona, northern Arizona, the first stop on a clockwise round trip from Phoenix, in search of all the national parks it’s humanly possible to squeeze into a week. This particular little town has an unusual appeal – it’s believed by some that energy lines converge here to create a spiritual power spot, or vortex. Shops full of crystals and gemstones abound, and there are more healers and psychics in a one-mile radius than at Glastonbury’s Green Fields. I’m not exactly sold on the vortex issue, but you can’t beat the setting. Surrounded by the dazzling boulders of Red Rock State Park, Sedona is stunning from all angles.

It’s wildfire season, and nearby Oak Creek Canyon, enclosed by dramatic red-and-white cliffs, has been ablaze for days; it’s off-limits, as is, disappointingly, the popular tourist-spot of Slide Rock, where a natural water slide runs through the creek. My boyfriend and I take the less adrenalin-fuelled and fire-free option of hiking around the impressive Bell Rock (shaped – you guessed it – like a big ringer), via a stop at the spectacularly situated Chapel of the Holy Cross, built high into Sedona’s buttes and with fantastic panoramic views from its huge glass-paned front wall.

Monument Valley: Image by Helen Abramson

We have to take a detour to drive to our next stop, Flagstaff, 30 miles north of Sedona, as the direct highway 89A route is closed due to the fires. However, on arrival we are blessed with quality breweries (try Mother Road Brewery) and good food including sublime burgers from Diablo and tender ribs from Big Foot Bar-B-Q – conveniently set in a ladies’ clothes store. This university town is a pleasant surprise; the streets are buzzing with activity, and it’s obvious that this is a lively, fun, and on-trend kind of place, which somehow manages to remain unpretentious. It’s also 7000ft (2130m) above sea level, and though the altitude isn’t all that high, we seem to go a bit light-headed after one drink and are generally a little overexcited about everything. Either that, or we just ate too much BBQ meat.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is only about an hour and a half’s drive from Flagstaff. Nothing prepared me for the scale of this colossal crack in the earth; pictures don’t do it justice. It’s just so incomprehensibly huge. I have to squint to see the other side, and between that and tiny, little, insignificant me are dozens of mounds and giant rocks, each one an array of different colours, layered by hundreds of millions of years of erosion into profoundly captivating patterns and waves.

Grand Canyon: Image by Helen Abramson

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The approach to Marble Canyon, just south of the Utah state line and where the Grand Canyon begins, is not one you’ll forget in a hurry. On one side sit the Vermilion Cliffs, intensely red and imposing, and on the other are flat plains cut with deep crevasses, where creeks run down to the Colorado River. We hike through one of these mini canyons, down Soap Creek. The route is tough; it involves a long scramble down a large boulder field, where people have left helpful little piles of stones to show the way, and a descent down a rope ladder of questionable structural integrity, over a 25ft drop.

We hear the rapids before we see them, and the roar of the Colorado River is a welcome sound after a few hours in 40-degree heat. This isn’t far from Lees Ferry, where rafting trips begin their journeys downriver, and there are little beaches you can camp on along the way. However, preferring a real bed, we stay at the Cliff Dwellers Lodge, eat succulent BBQ ribs (again) and wonderful avocado pie (it really does work), and join local fishermen as they sit round a campfire and take the mickey out of our British accents under a star-filled desert sky.

We break up the journey to Monument Valley with a stop at little-visited Canyon de Chelly, deep in the Navajo Nation (Native American-governed territory). Set into the bottom of the canyon’s sheer sandstone walls sit the sheltered remains of the homes of Ancestral Pueblo Peoples who lived here from 750 to 1300 AD. The homes are still relatively intact, and, looking at them, you can begin to envisage how this ancient tribe, who preceded the Navajo, lived, back when the floor of the canyon was filled with lush rainforest.

Petrified Forest: Image by Helen Abramson

The iconic sandstone buttes of Monument Valley, on the Arizona/Utah border, look exactly how you’d imagine. Incredible, stark and seeming to pop out of nowhere, these rocks are the American Wild West of Hollywood movies, and the sight is eerily familiar. Staying in a hut at the campsite down the road and waking up to see a sandstorm take over the valley is enough to make me realise it is indeed very real, and not a postcard come to life.

Two hundred miles south of here, in the Petrified Forest National Park, lie the remnants of a land before time. Around 225 million years ago, uprooted trees flowed downriver and were deposited and buried by sediment filled with volcanic ash. The logs turned to stone (petrified) and transformed into a multitude of colour. The cross-section of a tree ranges the whole spectrum – an astonishingly beautiful sight. The ridged mounds of sedimentary rocks that make up the landscape of the national park look almost moonlike, and with the ancient logs scattered about, it seems even more other-worldly. Another day in Arizona, another epic, unforgettable sight.

Getting around

You’ll need a car to get to and around Arizona’s national parks. We used Hertz car hire: www.hertz.com, +44 (0)843 309 30 99. If you’re heading towards Page from the Grand Canyon, note that Highway 89 is closed from the junction with 89A to Page, due to a huge pavement buckle in Feb 2013 and is estimated to reopen summer 2015. In the meantime, you’ll need to take a detour via 89T.
Explore more of Arizona with the Rough Guide to the USA. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

In preparation for the new Rough Guide to Ethiopia, the book’s editor, Edward Aves, travelled to the remote and little-visited Bale Mountains National Park.  

“Another two hours? This is interminable!”, blurts out one of my fellow passengers, as frustration at the bus’s glacial progress along the single, winding dirt track begins to set in, sparking snorts of nervous laughter that pierce the tension. Traversing the dramatic, ethereal lunar landscape of the high Sanetti plateau of the Bale Mountains National Park, dodging rocks and giant puddles, this is not a road to be tackled at night. An hour later, having narrowly escaped a cataclysmic-looking electrical storm, we’re switchbacking steeply down a 1500-metre escarpment into the lush Harenna Forest and the glittering night sky is obscured by a dense fairytale canopy of gnarled erica – giant heather – trees, looming menacingly over the road. Soon we’re dispatched into the warmth and comfort of the luxurious Bale Mountain Lodge, exhausted but exhilarated.

Far from the iconic rock-hewn churches, royal castles and ancient sights of northern Ethiopia, comparatively few visitors make it to the Bale Mountains, some 400km southeast of Addis Ababa and accessed via the highest all-weather road in Africa. Those that do are rewarded with a landscape of high drama – ranging from wild, rugged alpine scenery to thick, damp cloud forest – that’s home to an astonishing array of endemic species and the densest concentration of large mammals in the country.

Harenna Forest, Bale Mountains National Park

Though the park is rumoured to be accessible by road in just seven hours from Addis, we’d set off the previous afternoon, eventually wriggling free from the corrugated shanty towns on the capital’s edge to pause overnight on the tranquil, verdant shores of bird-filled Lake Kuriftu. Continuing our journey the following morning, the road climbed through the dusty town of Bekoji, famed as the birthplace to an astonishing six recent Olympic Gold-winning long-distance runners; no one really knows why, altitude – and hard graft – aside, this unremarkable place should breed such an army of champions, except that running is bred in the bone here, and training starts early – when school is 10km away and there’s no bus, what sense is there in walking?

Beyond here, we rose through an archetypically sparse African landscape of domesticated, red-ochre fields punctuated by acacia trees and cactus-like aloes, scattered with the neat, simple gojo-hut farmsteads of the Muslim Oromo people. At this altitude horses and mules replace the ubiquitous fragile-looking donkeys as the pack animal of choice; at one point, we witnessed a horseback wedding party, the male members of the bride’s family chaperoning a tiny, vulnerable, veiled figure clad in colourful robes to a village feast.

Saneti Plateau, Bale Mountains National Park

On the edge of the park, Bale’s reputation for impressive wildlife proved itself to be well founded; as the bus ground to a halt at the centre of a flat, grassy plain surrounded by low, craggy hills, and the guide pointed out – amid scampering warthogs and inquisitive olive baboons – small herds of the area’s two graceful, rare endemic antelope, the mountain nyala and Menelik’s bushbuck, I lowered my binoculars to the middle distance and to my astonishment spied, unseen in the undergrowth, a creeping lion. Sadly, with our arrival at our mountain lodge already long overdue, there was no time to hang around for a kill, but wildlife-spotting in Ethiopia – said to be no match for neighbouring Kenya – was never supposed to be this exciting.

Exploring the dense forest surrounding the lodge in the crisp chill of early morning the next day I begin to gain an understanding of the Bale Mountains’ remarkable biodiversity. As a pair of silvery-cheeked hornbills fly overhead, their heavy wingbeats emitting a low, electrical hum, the lodge’s resident naturalist, James, explains how the land was shifted upwards by a volcanic eruption millions of years ago, the resulting cloud forest forming a natural barrier for animals trapped in these isolated uplands.

Ethiopian wolves, Bale Mountains National Park

Two hours later, we’re trundling across the bleak, wind-blown Sanetti plateau once again, keeping our eyes peeled for the Ethiopian wolf, the world’s rarest canid and Africa’s most endangered carnivore. While spottings are exceptionally rare up north in the popular Simien Mountains, here at Bale you are almost guaranteed a sighting – and probably several – as the wolves hunt their favourite prey, the fluffy, guinea-pig-like giant mole rat, as they emerge from their burrows into the warmth of the daytime sunshine.

Our last stop brings us to what feels like the roof of the roof of the world, where with lammergeiers and buzzards soaring overhead, we scramble dizzily and breathlessly to the summit of the 4377m Tule Dimtu, Ethiopia’s second highest point, to survey the vast, implacable plateau falling away to either side. Had only the mysterious Bale Mountains, even now relatively unexplored, been known to Victorian travellers, Conan Doyle might well have set The Lost World here.

Edward travelled to Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airlines, who operate daily flights by 787 Dreamliner from London to Addis Ababa (from £561 including taxes; 7–8hr). On September 1, Ethiopian started flying four times weekly from Addis to Roba Airport, just 30km east of the Bale Mountains park headquarters at Dinsho. Visit ethiopianairlines.com or call 0800 635 0644 for more information.

The third part in our Slovenia In Four Seasons feature sees Senior Web Editor Tim Chester explore the country in August. Check out our trips from the winter and the spring too.

Think of the northern Adriatic and you’d be forgiven for thinking of Italy – of Venice, Rimini, and Trieste – or Croatia, whose abundant seaside gems stretch from Rovinj to Zadar and beyond. However, you’d be missing an important 47 kilometres, which belong resolutely to Slovenia, a tiny fragment of coast wedged between its neighbours that packs in a disproportionately large number of treats.

Croatia might completely hog the waterfront in this part of the world, snatching miles and miles of stunning coastline from similarly-sized nearby countries and attracting huge numbers of visitors to match, but the Slovene Riviera – sitting pretty at the tip of the Slovene Istria in the south west of the country – is equally as beguiling.

Most visitors to this country, which has been independent since 1991, covers an area the size of Wales and numbers just a handful of million inhabitants, head straight for the capital Ljubljana or the justifiably popular Lake Bled, but I’d been told to make a beeline for the beach. So, a couple of hours after our budget plane bounced onto the tarmac we were on top of Hotel Piran in the city of the same name sipping margaritas as the sun dropped into the sea.

The drive along the top of the peninsula to Piran sets the scene: look to the right as the road crests a hill and you can see the fishing port town of Izola, beyond that the more industrial Koper, whose new developments encircle a medieval core, and in the far distance Trieste in Italy. To the left, signs point to the casinos and bars of resort town Portorož, hedges intermittently open to reveal the salt pans of Sečovlje, and in the distance Croatia squats peacefully.

We only had a long weekend to spare so we hit the ground running the following morning, exploring Piran’s cobbled streets and labyrinthine passageways with a local guide. The city dates back to medieval times but it was the Venetian Republic which really left their mark; some corners of the centre look like they’ve been airlifted from the famous watery landmark across the sea and in fact Piran is very much like Venice if you substract the crowds and the effluent.

Tartini Square is the place to get your bearings, a former inner port whose buildings and statues tell a variety of stories. Named after Giuseppe Tartini, a famouse violinist and local hero whose statue stands proud in the midst, the city’s hub is crowded with messages for anyone looking in the right place.

On one side, Casa Veneziana is a light red example of Venetian gothic architecture, an erstwhile lodging for a local girl who caught the eye of a Venetian merchant, emblazoned with the words “lasa pur dir” (“let them talk”) in response to the gossip that followed their courtship. The Municipal Palace, meanwhile, features a stone lion with wings holding an open book under its paw, the bared pages signifying the fact it was erected during peace time. The nearby 1st May square is also full of secret stories; look out for depictions of Law and Justice in front of the stone rainwater collector, and the statues holding gutters.

Elsewhere and Piran is home to eight churches, most sadly closed due to vandals and thieves, including the impressive baroque St George’s Parish Church which dates back to the 12th Century and commands awesome views. The imposing city walls and several family attractions, from the Maritime Museum to an aquarium, are also worth your time.

That afternoon we were taken by speedboat to a cluster of floating nets belonging to the Fonda Fish Farm, where thousands of Piran sea bass grow into huge healthy specimens under careful supervision. The company are aiming to nurture top quality fish and mussels and their enthusiasm was infectious.

We followed our tour with a dip in the Adriatic back at Piran’s concrete beach and ended the day at Pri Mari, a family-run Mediterranean restaurant and a Rough Guide author pick. The owners, Mara and Tomi, lavished us with fine Slovenian wines and endless thanks once they discovered we were from the book that had brought in so much business over the years, but their hospitality was exemplary before they knew who we were. Two steaks (because that’s what you order at the coast, naturally) were delectable and the place was thrumming with happy customers. Piran nightlife seems somewhat sedate but we managed to find two guitarists playing Pink Floyd to a small dancefloor and a man serving pina coladas in one corner of the port to finish things off.

The following day we drove into the hinterland in search of wine. The Karst region behind the coast is carpeted with vineyards and olive groves, interspersed with peach and cherry trees and harbouring thousands of underground caves (the Postojna and Škocjan caverns are the best known).

Before long we arrived at Korenika & Moškon, a small family-run cellar dating back to 1984. The place actually goes back much further – the family has been producing wine for ages – but the communist regime put paid to that for a while. For several hours we were plied with golden yellow and peachy Malvasia and Paderno whites and bold, interesting reds such as local pride and joy Refošk, a dark ruby and almost port-like liquid.

From here we were driven to Izola for the weekend fish festival, a lively gathering of locals and domestic tourists who descend on the port for live music, craft stalls and plenty of fried catch.

On Sunday we sped through Portorož, Slovenia’s answer to the French Riveria but without the bumper-to-bumper traffic and hordes of people selling tat laid out on bedsheets, to the Sečovlje salt pans.

A vast national park that has been producing salt for 700 years and continues to this day, it marks the border with Croatia and plays host to an abundance of wildlife. We jumped on a golf cart for a flying tour of the endless salty pools before taking a dunk in the dirt at the in-house spa. Lying caked in sea salt and mud wraps in the middle of this barren landscape, we fell into a trance like happy hippos.

Back in Piran, a final goodbye cocktail reflecting the deep orange rays of one last late summer Slovene sunset, we toasted our new discovery: 47km of criminally overlooked summer fun.

 Explore more of Slovenia with the Rough Guides destination page for Sloveniabook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, is a tropical gateway to one of the region’s main surfing areas, Kenting. But it’s also well worth a visit in its own right. Jamie Fullerton finds some of the top things to do in Kaohsiung.

Taipei, the capital of Taiwan and most travellers’ gateway to the island that is rightly considered one of the world’s friendliest places, is one of the greatest cities on Earth for day trips. Less than an hour after you’re slurping beef noodle soup in the city centre you can be up a mountain sucking in lung-cleansing air, perhaps while considering messing around in a waterfall or two.

For this reason Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second city – reached after a two and a half hour journey on the wonderfully efficient high speed train from Taipei – is often overlooked. Surrounded by mountains, it also boasts rich day trip choices such as the Wushanding mud volcano or Kenting National Park, but an exciting 24 hours can be had there without leaving the city.

It’s one of those great cities that seem to have vastly more mid-range hotel rooms than are necessary, so prices are low. Once you’ve dropped your bag off at any of its adequate quality, fairly bargainous crash pads you can grab a bite at one of the city’s many quirky themed restaurants.

Kaohsiung is the proud home of Funny Sex: the island’s first sex-themed restaurant, where you can dine in the company of a blow-up love doll, drink soup from a bowl shaped like a pair of breasts and eat chocolate pudding shaped like a penis and testicles. Don’t expect a world-class meal, but for a lifetime’s worth of new Facebook photos it can’t be beaten.

Once you’ve had your fill of food shaped like genitals you can head to Chichin Island, found an eight-minute ferry ride from Kaohsiung Harbour. Despite being so close to the main city, the island has a fun holiday feel, with people stumbling around in enormous garish traditional masks as vendors dish out ice creams and seafood.

Cihou Lighthouse, built in 1883 by British engineers, is a highlight, but the most invigorating experience is a long coastal walk down the quiet western side of the island. As the weather worsens the place becomes more atmospheric with the black and grey sand, crashing waves and swathes of trader ships moored in the distance forming a mildly spooky yet relaxing atmosphere.

Back in the main city area, as evening sets in, it’s time to visit a couple of of the city’s famous night markets to quell the coastal walk-derived hunger. Go to Ruifeng Night Market first, found next to the Kaohsiung Arena metro station. A blurry whir of colourful funfair-style games, zany clothes stalls and steam from countless food stands billowing into the atmosphere, it’s an invigorating people-watching spot. Play some air gun games, grab a huge mug of 7 Up, crushed fruit and vodka, but save space in your stomach for Liuhe Night Market, found further south on Liuhe 2nd Road.

A normal road by day, at night Liuhe is pedestrianised. There are clothes and bags on sale but really, it’s all about the seafood. To the eastern end of the market many seafood barbeque stands and ramshackle restaurants offer garlic-soaked lobsters, oysters, fat shrimps and squids on sticks. Go large and fork out 1,000 TWD (£20) for a huge seafood variety barbeque platter, washed down with a local beer.

With the city’s young flocking to the night markets and only a small boozy expat population, Kaohsiung doesn’t have a thriving late-night bar scene. However, there some good spots seldom frequented by visitors from outside the city. Try Ann Cocktail Lounge (34 Daren Street, Xinxin district) for friendly service and decent cocktails. The bar is as good for language practise as its Old Fashioned drinks; on my visit the barman explained that I was only the fifth westerner who had visited in three years. A venue with a more hidden feel is the classy Mini Fusion (No. 4, 10th block, Linde Road, Lingya district), found down a traditional lane.

It’s hardly the bar frenzy of, say, Hong Kong or Shanghai, but there’s enough going on to have a cosy toast to your 24 hours in the city. And, if you really want, you can always go back to Funny Sex and drink milk tea from a mug shaped like a penis.

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

Portland, Oregon, can be addressed in many ways. It’s a city of soubriquets, bearing nicknames bestowed by locals to reflect its charms: The City of Roses to those who love its natural abundance; The City of Bridges by those who can’t help but notice the freeway’s influence; Beervana by fans of its prolific brew culture.

PDX to pilots and Stumptown to locals, it’s borrowed a catchphrase from another city down south; “keep Portland weird” is a mantra familiar to anyone who’s spent time in Austin, Texas. It’s also one of those west coast cities, like LA or Palo Alto, whose reputation precedes it and whose essence is endlessly debated.

To the outside world, it’s Portlandia, “where  young people go to retire”, where – according to Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen and Sleater Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein –  the ‘90s is alive, people are content to be unambitious, sleep to 11 and hang out with their friends. A place marooned blissfully in a simpler past where city slackers in plaid shirts and tribal tattoos still read paper books.

We i-spyed plenty of Portland clichés. A vintage clothes shop playing The Bends. A bicycle barista handing out free coffee in a shady university park. Flyers advertising beer yoga. Men with dogs curled over their shoulders like living stoles playing Magic: The Gathering. A feminist bookstore offering protection from all manner of persecution. We did not see anyone playing with a diablo.

Photo: Canadian Veggie / Flickr Creative Commons

Portland sits snugly in its pigeonholes but of course offers much more than Portlandia suggests, comfortably surpassing all the requirements a modern visitor might throw at it.

Craft beer is a thing now – well, Portland has 50+ local breweries. Food trucks have spread like a rash across most western cities; Portland has more than 700 for its half a million city dwellers. Green spaces? The city is riddled with them. In fact, if you’re a fan of wine, live music, gregarious and predominantly liberal locals, books or culture, it’s well worth the two-hour, $15 ride from Seattle.

Cycle superhighways (proper ones, not like the ones we have in England) crisscross the city and the Willamette river, linking its disparate neighbourhoods and providing the easiest, greenest, and most Portland way to see the city.

We started our exploration with sliders and nitro Irish stout at rock’n’roll themed hotel McMenamins, in the Pearl District, Portland’s revamped industrial zone. It’s home to Powell’s City Of Books, declared with the usual American superlative pride as the largest in world, and housing over a million books in 3,500 sections, as well as a massive brewery – Deschutes – who offer tasting flights featuring their latest brews. Books and beer were quickly to become the defining motif of the trip.

Further south, Portland’s Downtown District to the west of the Willamette houses many of the city’s main attractions and we ticked off a few, the contemplative Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden probably the best among them. There are also numerous foodie pilgrimages to be made in this part of town, and we did our best at those, from a flaming Spanish coffee mixed and ignited at the table at Huber’s to doughnuts shaped like a penis and covered in bacon at Voodoo Doughnuts, via poached chicken at bloggers’ favourite food cart Nong’s Khao Man Gai.

Photo:  Ryan Stavely / Flickr Creative Commons

These were all preambles to Portland’s main attraction, though: the suburbs scattered across the eastern half of the city. Up north, Alberta is perhaps the spiritual home of Portland as we know it from the TV, the home of that feminist bookshop, among numerous whole foodsy spots and other crumbling monuments to the counterculture. It’s been deemed gentrified by the locals, which is bad news if you like things to stay raw, but good news if you’re a fan of olive oil ice cream, and some of the parks and residential streets nearby are stunning.

A handful of blocks to the west, Mississippi and Williams are two parallel swathes of excellent coffee shops and food trucks, populated by art school students and other hipster types. ¿Por Que No? serve up the best tacos I’ve tasted north of San Francisco and Ristretto proffer perhaps the city’s finest coffee.

Photo:  rickchung.com / Flickr Creative Commons

Hawthorne & Belmont further south are Beervana’s heart, home to an embarrassment of brew pubs. Cascade Brewing Barrel House specialised in sour beers, oak aged and fruit-infused, tart tipples that edge towards 10% ABV and are presented like a wine tasting with cheese plates and a price point to match. Strawberry, goji berry, apricot, honey and ginger lime can all be enthusiastically vouched for. Lucky Labrador, meanwhile, was a dog friendly pub (naturally) full of laptop-toting drinkers and card players while Green Dragon offered 62 taps of craft beer joy.

On my wife’s insistence, and as recommended by none other than Time magazine, we stopped by a strip club. These are done differently in Portland, and Sassy’s was more of a community affair, featuring a 50/50 male/female split among the clientele, and a world away from the dismal pound-in-a-pint-glass affairs that fester malignantly in London’s darker corners. There’s another in the city that serves vegan food and only allows its dancers to shed non-animal-based clothing – classic Portland. From here, food trucks and bookshops continue south as far as the eye can see – and the belly can withstand – down to Clinton.

Cycling back over the imposing Steel Bridge, under an incessant and uncharacteristic sun and spurred on by a craft beer buzz, it dawned on us that Portland had just leaped to pole position in our ranking of US cities. The ’90s might be alive and well round here, but if this is time travel, we’ll be first in the DeLorean.

Tim stayed in the James Brown room at legendary bar/gig venue/boutique hotel McMenamins and got around Portland on Pedal Bike Tours rentals.

Planning a trip to Croatia and wondering which 17 things you shouldn’t miss? Always thought about Croatia for a holiday but never knew what it had to offer?

Allow us to present our favourite things to see and do in this beautiful European country.

Our green and boggy isle may be small, but one thing’s for certain: it’s home to some of the most magnificent landscapes in Europe, if not the world. Sure, our much lamented climate means you’ll likely get a soaking or three (four if you’re in Scotland), but with everything from coastal strolls to fearsome scrambles, British boots were, surely, made for some serious walking.

Hadrian’s Wall Path

From the suburbs of Newcastle to the Solway Firth, Britain’s most iconic Roman monument doubles as perhaps its most compelling long-distance path, marching some 84 miles across northern England’s most bracing and barren terrain. Sure, you’ll need some imaginative licence in places but enough stones remain unturned – and forts excavated – to project the rather ascetic lot of a second-century legionnaire, blistered feet no doubt included.

West Highland Way

As Scotland’s inaugural long-distance path, the 95-mile West Highland Way did much to raise the profile of the hiking opportunities on Glasgow’s doorstep. It’s a rites-of-passage trek that segues beautifully from city suburbs to the forests of Loch Lomond, the desolation of Rannoch Moor and the drama of Devil’s Staircase, eventually winding up near the foot of Ben Nevis: all in all, a perfect introduction to the Scottish Highlands. In high summer, though, it’s also a potentially not-so-perfect introduction to the dastardly Highland midge. Forget that repellent at your peril…

Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall

You likely won’t see any lizards on this Cornish peninsula (the name rather has its roots in the native tongue), but you will breeze through some of Britain’s most spectacular coastline, complete with exotic subtropical plants, rugged caves and exquisite coves, and an endlessly churning sea. And though it makes up a mere fraction of the marathon six-hundred-mile South West Coast Path you could happily spend days exploring its serpentine nooks and filmic crannies.

Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands

Since Monty Halls turned his back on the twenty-first century in favour of the simple life as a crofter in The Great Escape, the coast of Wester Ross has become as popular with would-be escapees as its mighty Munros have long been with hill-walkers and climbers. While both Applecross and the Loch Torridon settlements of Shieldaig and Diabaig all make great bases for some gloriously scenic and relatively easy-going sea walks, the ancient, fortress-like peaks of Torridon itself, not least the twin-pronged bulk of Liathach, the famous horns of Beinn Alligin and the gleaming, quartzite-crowned massif of Beinn Eighe, offer some of the most dramatic ascents on the British mainland.

Helvellyn, Lake District

It’s not the highest peak in the Lake District but it can still stake a claim as the most romantic, with a capital “r” or otherwise. Beloved of Wordsworth, Wainwright and generations of walkers, England’s most popular mountain is a study in contrast, its summit flat enough to land a plane and its deceptively named western arête, Striding Edge, sharp enough – terrifyingly so – to evoke the Sublime in even the most hardened scrambler.

Wessex Ridgeway

A different kind of ridge entirely from the arêtes of Lakeland, if no less steeped in history, this archaic highway has been chalking up foot traffic for centuries, threading as it does into an old Devon to Norfolk trade route. Its 137-mile course passes through some of the loveliest landscapes in southern England – think intimate woods, hidden valleys and open downlands with views that go on forever – taking in Avebury’s stone circles, the fringes of Salisbury Plain and ancient droving trails in Hardy’s Dorset, en route to the chalk giant of Cerne Abbas and the coast.

Tryfan, Snowdonia

It may slop and squelch under some of the heaviest rainfalls in Britain, but Snowdonia is hard to beat. Its serrated, slate-lined peaks cater for a range of abilities, yet it’s also home to the only mountain on the British mainland that demands scrambling as part of the main ascent: regal Tryfan. The famous north ridge route in fact pans out far less intimidatingly than its razor-like fin suggests from the ground, but once you reach the summit – and leap the five-foot gap between the iconic Adam and Eve rocks – you’ll feel like a true mountaineer.

Southern Upland Way, Borders

The Scottish Borders are perhaps still more identified with horseriding than hoofing it, but this coast-to-coast, Irish to North Sea odyssey – 212 miles in total – may one day change that. And while the dome-like hills of the Southern Uplands mightn’t match the Highlands for drama, they more than match them for sheer remoteness – chances are you’ll have your trail to yourself, even in summer. If you don’t fancy hiking the full hog, the thirty-odd-mile Moffat to Traquair stretch makes for an evocative sampler, encompassing the ancient remnants of the Ettrick Forest, St Mary’s Loch and the splendours of Traquair House.

South Downs Way

Cradling a hundred-mile swathe from the historic city of Winchester to the spectacular white cliffs of Beachy Head, this clement landscape of ancient woodland, open heath and chalky downs may lend itself more to rambling, cycling and horseriding than hardcore hiking, but its recently awarded national park status reflects a rural charm wholly distinct from Britain’s remoter corners. Tackle it from west to east to take advantage of the prevailing wind, and the psychological appeal of finishing at those vertiginous cliffs.

Stanage Edge, Peak District

A kind of Peak District Table Mountain in miniature, the four miles of gritstone cliff that make up Stanage Edge have been scaled since the nineteenth century, while the surrounding dry-stone dykes, historic buildings and emaciated moors have been sewn into England’s cultural and literary landscape for much longer. Various walks take in the famous escarpment, most conveniently setting out from the village of Hathersage. Whichever route you take, though, you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views, not to mention the haunting debris of long-abandoned millstones and the hair-raising sight of people inching up the Edge’s profusion of iconic climbs – you may even be tempted to don a hard hat yourself.

Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain includes 500 great British experiences – find out more.

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