From beach to mountain to fen, every corner of Ireland has something beautiful to discover. In celebration of this stunning country, here are 22 stunning pictures of Ireland.
From beach to mountain to fen, every corner of Ireland has something beautiful to discover. In celebration of this stunning country, here are 22 stunning pictures of Ireland.
Many of the popular island destinations in this part of the world boast golf course resorts and beautiful beaches, but Bermuda has so much more than the standard things to see and do. While many of the activities can be enjoyed year round, Bermuda’s sub-tropical climate means that May to September is when the island is liveliest, so here are ten of our favourite things to do in Bermuda beyond the resorts.
To really get a sense of where you are – a low lying paradise in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – a trip up Gibb’s Hill lighthouse is the place for the best views of this 21 square mile archipelago, as well as a unique place for lunch. The oldest cast iron lighthouse in the world started sending its beacon out to ships in 1846 to help reduce the number of wrecked ships scattered on Bermuda’s ocean floors.
With so much of Bermuda’s life extending beyond the land, it’s only fitting that getting in, on, or under the ocean is a must. This clear blue underwater world is full of colourful fish and beautiful coral reefs – the reefs that often caused the shipwrecks in the first place. The 300 shipwrecks surrounding the island are very popular with divers, but you don’t have to be a diver to enjoy them; some are in shallow waters, so can still be appreciated by snorkelers, and the fish and reefs can be easily reached from shore in places like Tobacco Bay.
Although it’s possible to see whales and worms from shore, a boat excursion is much more likely to provide an unforgettable sighting and is a great reason to get out on the water. March and April are the months to see humpback whales on their annual migration from warm southern waters, while the glowworms’ flashy mating ritual happens from May to October.
Hartley’s Undersea Walk is a unique and unmissable experience and has amazed everyone from the seasoned diver to the cynical teenager. Ever seen a wild angelfish swim through a hoop? Well Greg Hartley will introduce you to Diana, who can do just that. You can also meet Charles the Hogfish, Jack the Grouper and many more using a specially designed helmet that allows you to walk on the seabed without need for an oxygen tank or any diving experience.
History was never as entertaining as it is in the World Heritage Site of St.George’s, where from May to September a historical re-enactment takes place in Kings square. The amusing performance led by the town crier sees an eighteenth century wench receiving her (somewhat sexist) punishment for gossiping and nagging her husband: a chilly dunking in the harbour.
The oldest Anglican Church outside the British Isles, you enter this historic building on some wide steps, opening to its cool cedar interior. Be sure to pay respects, as it’s a working Christian church – and has been continuously for the last 400 years – and remember that you are likely walking over some long-deceased bodies buried underneath the main structure. Queen Elizabeth II herself visited during her Diamond Jubilee and granted it the title “Their Majesties’ Chappell”.
You’ll hear them before you see them; a heart-pounding drumbeat pierced by whistles and finally a burst of wild and colourful fringes, feathers and fancy footwork. These masked-folk dance troupes represent a tradition passed down through families and date back to the dark slave times.
Market nights are a seasonal treat in St. Georges, Hamilton, and Dockyard for tourists and locals alike. Stall tables are laden with local handicrafts and the wealth of Bermuda’s talented artists present their work, which is inspired by the beauty that surrounds them daily. Music plays, children’s faces are painted, and it’s a likely place for the traditional Gombeys to make an appearance.
The Crystal and Fantasy caves were discovered over a century ago by a couple of boys looking for their lost cricket ball. Stalactites, stalagmites and an underground lake make this an intriguing peek into the belly of the island.
The nineteenth century Royal Naval Dockyard offers many attractions including the Maritime Museum. The Commissioner’s House Slavery Exhibit is an officially Designated UNESCO Slave Route Project, while other displays and maritime artefacts offer a glimpse into the history that shaped this place.
The motto of Bermuda’s oldest and most famous pub hints at the experience awaiting those who enter. Established 1932 in a seventeenth century roadhouse, the Swizzle Inn at Baileys Bay is a cheerful jumble of business cards and graffiti garnished walls. The home of the islands’ unofficial national drink, the Rum Swizzle, also serves the best nachos on the island.
Of course, no visit to Bermuda would be complete without some beach time, especially after the exhausting array of activities on offer above. The sugar-soft pink beaches that rim the island are a major attraction, and Horseshoe bay with its lifeguards and beach facilities is the most popular for people watching, swimming and an overall great beach day.
Any well-bred young gent in the 1600s–1800s was likely to go on the Grand Tour after university. The Tour, a sort of cultural gap year, took in much of continental Europe. The usual route ran through France and Switzerland and into Italy, with a return trip taking in Germany, Holland and any other countries the young man fancied. The essential stop to complete any cultural education was Rome, still an incredible destination for anyone interested in art or history.
This ancient road, once walked every year by feudal lords and their retinues forced to pay respects to the shogunate in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), is now a high-speed train route. You can be whisked from the high-tech wonders of Tokyo to the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto – nearly 300 miles – in a couple of hours. Not bad when you consider it would take the feudal lords more like a week to complete.
In 1843 Lewis and Clark set off from St. Louis on an epic journey to find a route through the Western half of America. Vital to their success was Sacagawea, a native Shoshone woman who accompanied them and acted as interpreter and occasional guide. The route they took is today called the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, extending over 3500 miles and passing through 11 states and several national parks, including the impressive Yellowstone.
Though Route 66 is more well-known, it was Route 6 which captivated Jack Kerouac. In On the Road he wrote of his dream to travel “that one great red line across America.” It didn’t quite work out, and the book records his many wanderings across the continent, but the romantic ideal of finding a road and sticking to it is still very much alive for many travellers – even if Kerouac ended up thinking it a “stupid hearthside idea.”
Perhaps one of the most-travelled journeys in the world is the Hajj. In fact, this pilgrimage can have a lot of different routes, but they all end in the same place: Mecca. As one of the five pillars of Islam, every Muslim who is able to do so must complete the Hajj at least once in their lives, leading to the world’s largest gathering of Muslim people taking place in Mecca in the month of the pilgrimage.
Chaucer’s famous Canterbury Tales are the stories told by a group of pilgrims on the route to Canterbury cathedral. Famous tales include the Knight’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale and the (slightly saucy) Wife of Bath’s Tale. The Southwark to Canterbury route is still viable today, even 600-odd years after Chaucer wrote the Tales. The pilgrimage ends at the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, a chance to see some of the medieval world for yourself.
Though made famous by the Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now, the journey up the Mekong really isn’t that scary. In fact, it can be the core of a truly excellent trip – the river runs through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, taking in some of the great civilisations and landscapes of East Asia on the way. Though you may not want to recreate Captain Willard’s journey, a boat trip is well worth trying.
Doctor Livingstone spent years searching for the source of the Nile. Though he ultimately misidentified the site, he did end up exploring huge swathes of south and central Africa including the great Lake Tanganyika – it may not be the source of the Nile, but it’s still an impressive sight.
Unquestionably one of the most famous rail journeys of all time, the Trans-Siberian is also the world’s longest railway, stretching over 5700 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok. This epic route isn’t only for tourists and travellers; many Russians just use it as a way of getting from A to B. Nothing gives you a sense of the scale of this country by meeting someone on a casual trip to their grandma’s place, 3000 miles away.
El Camino de Santiago is a major Christian pilgrimage, on which one of the most famous routes is the Camino Francés (‘French Way’). This path takes you on a month-long walk from the Pyrenees through the north of Spain to the grand Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. The experience of taking in the stunning countryside and beautiful towns of this region at a gentle pace means that even many non-pilgrims find this a fulfilling path to walk.
In 1910, two separate expeditions set out for the South Pole. In the end Amundsen’s Norwegian team made it there first (late 1911) with Scott’s British team reaching the Pole five weeks later. Scott and his men died on the return journey, but there is no doubt that both groups earned their place in the history of exploration, and turned the eyes of the world to this spectacular frozen continent.
Nellie Bly was a famous reporter, who circumnavigated the globe in 1889. On her travels she met Jules Verne, author of Around the World in 80 Days in Amiens, France. He reportedly said, “if you do it in 79 days, I shall applaud with both hands. But 75 days – that would be a miracle.” She made it back in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes. Round-the-world plane tickets make the trip a little easier for inveterate adventurers today.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus wanders the world after the fall of Troy, trying to find his way home to Ithaca. There’s disagreement about the modern-day locations of some sites; at one point he’s held captive by the beautiful nymph Calypso in Ogygia, which might now be called Gozo. It could also be in the Ionian Islands, Balearic Islands or even somewhere off the East coast of America. Whichever sunny island it is, there are worse places to spend a few years.
An ancient trade route, the Silk Road runs from Syria through central Asia, ending in eastern China, and there are even some sea routes extending it into Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. The main overland route takes in some jaw-droppingly beautiful places whose history and culture have been shaped by the Silk Road’s trade; the beautiful, much-mythologised cities of Uzbekistan are just some of the wonders on the route.
Although he travelled around the coast of South America and past New Zealand, Australia and South Africa on his five years aboard HMS Beagle, the most famous part of Darwin’s journey was in the Galápagos islands. Here, he noticed the small variations across species present on more than one of the islands, such as tortoises and finches. The rest is scientific history, and people still visit these stunning islands today to see the amazing range of wildlife.
Though most famous for the round-the-world flight on which she went missing, Amelia Earhart completed a great many incredible journeys in her life. One of the most groundbreaking was her 1932 solo flight from Newfoundland to a small town near Denny, Northern Ireland – the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic by a woman. On landing, a local innocently asked her: “Have you flown far?”
Gertrude Bell was a pioneering female explorer, cartographer, archeologist and diplomat. She travelled throughout the Arab world, one of the first women to do so, recording her experiences in books such as Amurath to Amurath and Syria: The Desert and the Sown. On top of this, she played a part in establishing Iraq and Jordan as self-determining nations. Follow in her footsteps by exploring the picturesque ruins along the Euphrates, visiting the ancient cities of Jordan, or learning seven languages.
Instead of the usual Grand Tour, Byron headed to the Mediterranean. He was particularly impressed by Albania – “thou rugged nurse of savage men!” – where he stayed for a time with the vicious warlord Ali Pasha. The trip inspired one of his greatest works, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and the most famous portrait of Byron depicts him in Albanian dress. Albania today is well worth a visit, whether you visit that rugged countryside or the sophisticated capital of Tirana.
During his travels around Southeast Asia, Alfred Russel Wallace collected birds and insects to send back to wealthy collectors in Britain, studied natural history – oh, and came up with the idea of natural selection. In 1858, he published a revolutionary paper on evolution with Charles Darwin. He is perhaps most famous on the Indonesian island of Ternate, where he was based for several years; visitors today will easily understand what attracted him to the relaxed, green, occasionally lava-spewing island.
The conquistador Lope de Aguirre is one of many who have tried to find El Dorado, the “City of Gold”. His journey in particular is famous because it somehow wound up with him rebelling against the King of Spain, capturing Isla Margarita and eventually meeting a grisly end. Visitors today (hopefully more sane than Aguirre) can discover plenty of jaw-dropping places along the 4000-mile course of the Amazon river – perhaps even the mythical city itself.
In the mysterious setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Kiki Deere explores one of the world’s most unusual landscapes.
The customs procedures take less time than I anticipate as I cross onto Venezuelan soil from Brazil and drive towards what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most incredible natural sights. My shared taxi from Roraima is also, ironically, cheaper than taking a bus – in Venezuela petrol is so cheap (at about US$1 for a full tank, it costs less than water) that scores of Brazilian taxis are eager to cross the border to stock up on discount fuel. We bump our way along a potholed road and soon reach the crumbling border town of Santa Elena de Uairén, where the driver skids to a halt outside my guesthouse, causing a cloud of dust to rise in the air.
I am here to explore the Canaima National Park, home to some awe-inspiring table top mountains that are among the oldest geological formations in the world, dating back over 1.6 billion years. These structures are also known as tepuis, which in Native American Pemón language means “house of the Gods”. The indigenous Pemón people honour the tepuis, believing them to be inhabited by deities.
About 200 million years ago, at the time of the supercontinent Gondwanaland when South America and West Africa were joined, the summits of the tepuis were connected. When the continents eventually drifted apart disruptions broke up a gargantuan massif, forming individual tepuis that over time grew smaller, some crumbling away. It is the remnants of these sandstone plateaus that can be seen today in the Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that occupies over 30,000 square kilometres and is home to over half of the area’s tepuis.
We traverse the large dry plains of the Gran Sabana, or Great Savannah, where jagged structures jut out of the earth, occasionally stopping for a photographic memento. And suddenly there it is, rising precipitously along the border of Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana: the awe-inspiring Mount Roraima, the highest of the tepui range reaching 2810m and measuring eight kilometres across. This giant tabletop mountain, featuring 400-metre-high sheer cliffs, stands in isolation, its summit often enveloped in clouds of mist.
With heavy rainfall year round, the top of this bleak windswept plateau is one of the wettest places on earth, and, like much of the area, home to extraordinary endemic flora and fauna. Over time, dozens of species of plants have adapted to the semi-sterile soil of Mount Roraima’s plateau by supplementing their diet with the flesh of insects. The pretty red leaves of the carnivorous sundew attract insects that soon become trapped by the plant’s sticky tentacles, which wrap themselves around the little creatures before greedily digesting them.
The rocky terrain of Roraima’s summit is home to endemic animal species that exist nowhere else on earth, including seed-eating and nectar-feeding birds that have adapted to the harsh environment. The most peculiar species here are undoubtedly tiny black pebble toads that are believed to predate dinosaurs. They are closely related to an African species, and were likely trapped here when the continents separated, adapting over time to their new habitat. First discovered in 1895 when early biologists set foot on Mount Roraima, these curious little creatures measure about one inch, and cling onto slippery rocky surfaces. They are unable to swim or hop, and escape predators by wrapping themselves up into tiny balls and bouncing off rocks.
From here I travel northwest to Ciudad Bolívar, where I board a little wobbly plane to Canaima, the jumping off point to the world’s highest waterfall. I peer out of the window at the Canaima National Park that spreads out below: meandering rivers make their way through the verdant jungle, wooden huts occasionally visible along the banks. For centuries, explorers and adventurers had spoken of rivers of gold, luring intrepid travellers to investigate these towering natural skyscrapers that to this day remain shrouded in mystery.
It was one of these explorers – a pilot called Jimmie Angel – who accidentally discovered the world’s highest waterfall here after being stranded on the peak of Auyán Tepui following a heavy plane landing. Unlike most falls the world over, Angel Falls is formed by rainfall and not snowmelt. Large quantities collect in deep pools on the summits of the tepuis, forming vast rivers that cascade over tall cliffs.
I later stand at the base of the fall in awe, as it plunges from a height of over 900m, dropping down the remote plateau of Auyán Tepui. Given the fall’s formidable height, much of the water has evaporated by the time it reaches the pool at the foot of the mountain and is soaked back up into the atmosphere to fall once again as rain over the top of these incredible peaks.
The jumping off point for exploring Mount Roraima is Santa Elena in Venezuela, a small town lying along the Brazilian border. The easiest way to get here is from Boa Vista in Brazil’s northern state of Roraima. Roraima Adventures organises 6 day and 5 night treks to the summit of Mount Roraima, as well as multi-day trips to Angel Falls.
Most visitors don’t venture beyond Tallinn, but leave Estonia’s capital behind and you’ll find a country of vast, untouched wilderness. a haven for wildlife and a place to escape from it all. Olivia Rawes gets back to basics to discover some of the wilder things to do in Estonia.
A congregation of jovial boozy stag parties cavorted along the aisle as our flight approached Tallinn. Wild yes – and with its fair share of animals – but not quite the wilderness I was seeking. Despite Tallinn’s status as a favourite stag do (bachelor party) haunt, the Estonia I was to discover had far more to offer than a boozy night out in a dinosaur outfit. In fact, it’s Estonia’s palpable wilderness, so highly prized by the locals, that draws many visitors here; it’s a country of expansive space, abundant wildlife and a sense of pristine isolation.
A quarter of Estonia is a designated nature reserve; seemingly endless stretches of bogs and meadows are interspersed with woodlands, which themselves cover half of the country and provide a haven for wolves, bears, lynxes and wild boars. Marshes and bogs envelope a quarter of the land, and are important nesting grounds and popular stop-over points for migrant birds. Combine that with a population of 1.3 million people spread across a country of 45,227 square kilometres and you begin to understand the extent of land left to its natural devices.
It was this sense of space and remoteness that first struck me when we went seal watching from Haabneeme, on Estonia’s northern coast. To the northwest, the country stretches out to meet the Baltic sea and the coastline is peppered with 1500 islands, many of which are uninhabited. One man lives alone on Aski island, while a number of mainland Estonians apply to be island guards in their holidays, staying for short stints to keep an eye on things.
Our destination was Malusi island, a protected breeding ground for seals; of the 30,000 grey seals that live in the Baltic Sea, around 300 can be found at Malusi. Drifting alone in the placid waters, the tranquillity was only interrupted by our boat’s iPod, which blasted out jolly leelo folk songs and catchy pop tunes, a bizarre yet effective way of attracting the seals. The Estonians discovered that seals loved music in the 1920s when violin-playing traders realised their boats were being followed by these curious critters. It appears that seals are not only curious but also cultured – Beethoven was a firm favourite on our trip.
But isolation and peace were not only to be found when floating alone at sea. Our next stop was Sooma, Estonia’s second largest national park, an area of rivers, brooks, bogs and woodland, that’s home to 185 species of bird including golden eagles, owls and storks, as well as a number of mammals. From a viewing tower we surveyed the park; reminiscent of an African savannah, the expanse of flat land below us stretched seemingly to the horizon, a mix of grasses and mosses in hues of rusty red, bleached beige and earthy brown, fringed on one side by tall forest. Streams cut across a landscape pockmarked with small lakes and dotted with ancient, stunted, spindly trees, that despite being 200 or so years old stretched only to waist height. Keen to explore, we donned our bog shoes; these strange pointy flippers are an essential to avoid sinking in the quagmire.
Feeling the height of fashion we waddled across the spongy wetlands bouncing on the oddly marshmallow-like mounds of earth and despite having become strangely fond of our new giant feet we swapped them for canoes to row down the slowly meandering Riisa River. The waters were low this year, restricting the canoes to rivers and streams; however, Sooma is famous for its great floods, a springtime phenomenon, where the water level rises up to four metres, creating what the Estonians refer to as the “fifth season”, when much of the park is under water, making it possible to canoe through flooded meadows and magical, waterlogged forests.
For all its pristine wilderness, Estonia is not all about the rural outdoors. Much to my relief, after a day battling bogs, rivers and seas, there was no shortage of comfort and style when it came to putting our feet up to refuel. And what better place for it than Pärnu, a favourite destination for spa retreats that has also repeatedly received the title of Estonia’s “summer capital”? A charming city of wide streets lined with pretty wooden houses, cocooned by a stretch of long, white sandy beach, which – as it was out of season – we found to be perfectly empty. After roaming the quiet streets, we checked into Frost Boutique Hotel, a cosy yet achingly stylish place; in my room distressed-wood white-washed beams held up a lofty ceiling, plump pillows and a taupe crushed velvet bedspread transformed my bed into what felt like sleeping on a cloud, and downstairs a roaring fire and large flickering candles tricked us into whiling away the evening lounging with a glass of wine.
This sort of rustic charm meets Scando-cool seemed a theme in many of the hotels and restaurants we visited. A feeling that nature – pine wood furniture, washed-up shells, crackling fires and natural hues – was influencing the interiors. The food was a similarly intriguing mix that was inventive yet earthy, such as the intriguing basil ice cream at NOA, and ox with beetroot served with a surprisingly delicious moss at Cru. In most places we ate, what seemed to drive the meals was a pride in locally-sourced ingredients; organic produce in Estonia is not a trend but a core principle – many Estonians I spoke to still head to the forests to go mushroom foraging.
On our final day in Estonia, we returned to Tallinn to explore its UNESCO-listed old town. Set high above a medieval wall, it charms with its sloping cobbled streets, soft pastel painted buildings, red tiled rooftops, elegant spires and sweeping views across the city out to the harbour. That night, tucked away in Mull, a home restaurant decked out with kitsch style – the grandeur of candelabras and chandeliers gently offset by mismatched teacups and quirky trinkets – Tallinn felt worlds away from a stag party haunt and I realised that even in this bustling city, the sense of calmness and peace we had gained in Estonia remained.
Find out more about Estonia at visitestonia.com.
Explore more of Estonia with the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
Exciting, exhilarating, intense, pungent – Shanghai is many things, but peaceful it is not. Those visiting the city who crave to crank down the ever-present car honks have few options beyond earplugs and small parks. Moganshan, about an hour’s drive from the city of Hangzhou, itself less than an hour by train from Shanghai, offers the ultimate sanctuary.
First populated in the late 1800s by missionaries looking for a shady break from the summer blaze of Shanghai (which reached record-breaking heat levels in summer 2013), the area now serves as a popular yet tranquil getaway for both tourists and city residents.
You can go high-end or budget. Expensive, luxurious yet eco-friendly places such as Naked Retreat offer detox treatments and massages. I was more interested in pummelling my calf muscles with hill walks than having my buttocks caressed by a pricey masseuse, so plumped for a £30-a-night room at the Forest Holiday House.
The hill-side house can sleep 20 people at any one time, and can be rented as a whole or by the room, so it can be pot luck as to who you’re sharing the space with. You could end up meeting your future spouse; you could end up with a gaggle of annoying children.
With leather sofas, dusty old DVDs and a worn-through pool table it’s basic but cosy, somewhere between a skiing chalet and a school trip. Attentive ayis (which translates to ‘aunt’, meaning a domestic worker who cleans as well as cooks) prepare delicious and vegetable-heavy local cuisine for £6 a meal and you can help yourself to tea and coffee, but be sure to bring a few snacks. At about 10pm on the first night, still hungry from walking, I started having visions of chocolate HobNobs and you wouldn’t want to go out in the dark searching for corner shops (mainly because the unlit experience is all a bit Blair Witch -and there aren’t any shops nearby at all).
The lodge is mainly used for recuperating from the charming traipses the local area provides. Their in-house maps look more like toddler crayon scribbles than helpful area logs, but used as casual nudges in the right direction they’re useful. I tried Trail Three first, which quickly leads to stunning bamboo-traversing walkways and views of epic hill drops. There is history here – the paths take you past a derelict German-style villa built in 1898. It’s a relic of the period during the early twentieth century when Shanghai’s foreign elite would retreat to the area.
More of these often dilapidated mansions are found closer to civilization via some asphalt roads, near what can be considered the closest thing Moganshan has to a central busy area: the Yin Shan Jie strip. These buildings, visible by looking upwards through tree gatherings on the way towards the strip, were taken over by the Communists in the 1930s.
Moganshan Lodge, the one large restaurant in the Yin Shan Jie area, offers cold beer and flaunts its monopoly a touch with mildly overpriced western standard menu items. The road is also the access point to an impressive viewing platform-cum-café perfect for once-in-a-lifetime Facebook profile pictures with backgrounds of vast, ducking and diving green hillside.
On day two another dimension of Moganshan was revealed: the rolling tea plant hills where workers casually pluck leaves in the sunshine and wave ‘Nǐ hǎo’ at passers by. Somewhere between Teletubby land and Bilbo Baggins’ hometown The Shire, they’re picture book perfect to the extent that it’s easy to forget your map and lose track of your way back to the lodge. As was the case with me, as I ended up going ‘off piste’ and having to walk through a mile-long road tunnel while following vague iPhone map directions back up the mountain.
It didn’t matter. If you’re going to get lost somewhere, Moganshan is the perfect place to do it.
The famous poet and author of the Slovene national anthem France Prešeren once wrote this about the famous Lake Bled:
“No, Carniola has no prettier scene
Than this, resembling paradise serene.”
But after five days, over 400km, countless wine tastings and an ungodly amount of food, I have concluded that he was wrong. During my short time in Slovenia, I found plenty of places in this small but intoxicating country that will take more breaths away than Bled ever could. Of course I’m not saying don’t visit Lake Bled, it is indeed the fairy tale setting we see in brochures and on adverts, but venture further afield (which isn’t far at all in this compact country) and you’ll find sprawling vineyards in Ljutomer-Ormož, Slovenia’s answer to Tuscany, small cities flooded by culture and interesting art by local sculptors, a Roman legacy and more outdoor sports and adventure activities than you’ll have time for. And what’s more, in spring time, it’ll feel like you’ve got the entire country all to yourself. Here are five things to do in Slovenia in spring:
If there is anywhere to rival Bled’s beauty it’s here. Cutting through the Savinja Alps near the Austrian border, Logarska Dolina is one of three impressive valleys. Driving into the valley is probably the most impressive part; having navigated the tight, winding mountain roads and followed a small bright-blue river for miles, we turned into Logarska and were dumbfounded by the view that opened up before us. An expanse of green grass, bordered by tall, pine-blanketed mountains, and an enormous grey cliff face baring down on us from the southern end – and no people in sight.
Once you’re over the view (if you can ever get over it), there’s a wealth of sports and activities to keep you occupied. After a lunch of trout, caught fresh from the Soca river, and locally-picked mushrooms at the Rinka visitor centre – just a ten minute drive north of Logarska – we hopped onto an electric bike to find the waterfall at the end of the valley. We cycled along the tarmac track, which in summer is usually littered with other cyclists, walkers and cars, completely alone except for two other walkers. It was peaceful, the sun was shining, the air was fragrant with pine and the ride was easy (thanks to the electric motor in my bike, of course – I dread to think how I’d have fared without it).
See more of Lottie’s pictures:
We left the bikes at the road to continue on foot, and fifteen minutes later we stood in the refreshing spray of a 90-metre-high waterfall – just what I needed. The ride back down to the rental hut was fast and cool, and while I’d been won over by the dizzying heights of the Savinja Alps towering over me, I had heard the view from above was unrivalled: it was time for some paragliding. Somewhere along the Panoramic Road, which snakes along the side of the valley, I strapped myself to a stranger and his parachute, and together we ran off the side of the mountains to glide over trees, a small scattering of farm houses and a lone church. I decided that paragliding was most definitely the best way to see Logarska Dolina.
The Drava Valley is the largest of Slovenia’s wine regions, producing mainly white grapes, and in pursuit of the region’s finest tipples we visited Jeruzalem, a small village in the Ljutomer-Ormož district. On the drive south from Ptuj, this renowned wine country rose out of the flat plains into undulous green hills, covered with newly-planted grapevines. We drove past small farmhouses teetering on the top of mounds, overlooking the elegant swirling lines of the vineyards beneath like a protective mother, and eventually we found our way to the Jeruzalem Ormož winery.
After standing in the fresh, sweet, grassy-smelling air, admiring the alluring view, we retired to the cellar to drink some of the finest wine I’ve ever tasted. Now I’m no wine expert, but there was something truly special about tasting a €250, 42-year-old bottle of Pinot while standing beneath an enormous old wooden wine press.
But of course that wasn’t our first tasting of the day – we’d spent the morning in Ptuj at the Pullus wine cellar where they keep enormous barrels of the stuff, some up to ten thousand litres in capacity. After six tastings of incredibly different but equally delicious wines, we packed four of their bottles into the car and went to lunch with a light head and a large appetite.
With such a small country comes a tiny capital; Ljubljana is home to only ten per cent of the Slovenia’s population of two million, but by no means is it short of culture, history or a good night out.
This year Ljubljana celebrates 2000 years since it became an important Roman settlement along a trade route from the Mediterranean coast. So in a bid to explore all-things-Roman and stuff our faces with great cake, we took a food tour around the city with Top Ljubljana Foods – and we came away with far more than just a full stomach. Five restaurants and eight tastings later we found ourselves towering above the city at Neboticnik (which means “skyscraper”), mapping our route on the streets below over some excellent Prekmurska Gibanica (a layered fruit cake), and admiring the snow-topped alps beckoning us from beyond.
We’d eaten seafood from the Slovenian coast in a restaurant by the fish market, sipped a rich red from the western wine regions in a famous bar, sampled a protected Carniolan sausage in a shop run by a watchmaker, eaten Bosnian barbequed meat and sipped Turkish coffee by the river. It was just a small taster of the 24 wildly different cuisines available in Slovenia and a history lesson in the city’s people and politics. We walked down the two most important streets in Roman Ljubljana, stood in squares where market traders used to be punished for cheating their customers and passed all kinds of architecture from classical houses in the old town, to the much-debated modern extension of the Opera house near Park Tivoli. Some of the buildings, simple as they were, spoke volumes about the country’s political discourse: we noted how TR3, an enormous, ugly grey tower block home to Slovenia’s banks, stood threateningly tall above the understated Parliament building.
Later that evening, despite the plethora of rock gigs and club nights at our disposal, we opted to enjoy a bottle of Slovenian red by the river (thanks to the city’s trusting open-bottle policy) and admire the illuminated medieval hill-top castle from below.
Agriculture is a huge part of life in Slovenia; in 2005 there were over 70,000 farms across the country, producing some of the essential ingredients for their 176 traditional dishes, such as pumpkins for pumpkin seed oil and pork for dried meats. Hundreds of these estates open up their doors to tourists nowadays, giving people the opportunity to stay on working farm and experience the back-to-basic nature of agricultural life.
At Firbas Tourist Farm – run by Bojan and his parents – we ate only foods that were produced on their land and drank wine only from small local vineyard. As we stood, after dark, drinking a 22-year-old Pinot in his neighbour’s tiny eight-barrel cellar, we toasted with the farm boys, who’d just rocked up in a giant John Deere tractor (complete with bright lights and a booming sound system) after a hard day on the fields. They spoke little English, and my knowledge of Slovenian was too simple, but we communicated through our wine with a simple “cheers”, or “na zdravje”.
This small city of just 100,000 people really packs a punch. If you haven’t got time to get active in Logarska or drink wine in Jeruzalem, then spent your days in Maribor. It promises culture on par with the capital, with its jazz cafes and art exhibitions, and beauty to challenge even Bled’s picturesque landscapes. In just one day we ate a traditional Slovenian lunch of štefani pečenka (a beef meatloaf stuffed with a boiled egg), took a walking tour through the city to learn some of its history and politics, and visited the world’s oldest grapevine at 400 years old, from which grapes are harvested once a year during a festival and whose wine is given only to influential guests of the city (it’s rumoured that Pope John Paul II received two small bottles during his visit to the cellar).
But the main surprise in Maribor is the city’s close connection with nature. Over the river sits Pohorje, a ski-resort-turned-adventure-playground in spring, where you can get the adrenaline going on two wheels at the Bike Park in the forest, or try your hand at the single track PohorJet which sends you hurtling down the ski slope at up to 30mph.
Just a five minute drive from central Maribor is the Drava Center, an eco-centre, built mainly from timber and chestnut wood from the surrounding forests, that offers water-based activities for children and adults along the Drava River. We spent the late afternoon watching the changeable April weather from grass-covered loungers on the Drava café balcony, sipping coffee and eating gibanica (a sweet cake made from pastry and cottage cheese), before venturing onto the waters in a canoe. The surrounding green hills made a perfect backdrop to the wonderfully blue waters around us, and for a brief moment the sun came out to warm us and I forgot we were anywhere near a major city at all.
For more information go to Slovenia.info. Explore more of Slovenia with the Rough Guides Slovenia destination page. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
River cruises down China’s most important and largest river, the Yangzi, are an increasingly popular tourist attraction. Highlights on the route include the breathtakingly scenic Three Gorges area, now also known for its huge hydroelectric dam, which generates a staggering amount of electricity each year.
Transparent, turquoise water, bubbling cascades and pretty waterfalls are the trademarks of the Cahabón River in eastern Guatemala. But it also has a more active trick up its sleeve – it’s a great spot for whitewater rafting, with punchy rapids and drops churning the water into creamy torrents and challenging even the most experienced of rafters.
A justly deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Loire valley in central France is blanketed in prestigious vineyards, blossoming orchards and spectacular châteaux. It’s also carved by the longest river in France, the lovely Loire, which sweeps its way past tumbledown villages and glorious cities like Angers and Blois, beneath lofty bridges and alongside rolling fields.
A pristine meltwater river in southern Alaska, the Kenai is a paradise for fishermen – and particularly those who like their fish big, in the form of Chinook (aka King) salmon or Rainbow Trout. September is the best month to catch large silver salmon, while red beauties are typically hooked in the summer months and pink ones are abundant every other year.
Thundering down from a height of 108m, Victoria Falls is the honey-pot portion of Africa’s fourth largest river, the Zambezi. As well as providing fish for the 32 million-strong population who live in the region, the river is a lifeline for an enormous variety of wildlife such as hippopotamuses, crocodiles, giraffes and elephants.
The good ol’ Mississippi has long been a vital commercial waterway, and from 1820–50, was chock-a-block with tiered steamboats chugging cotton, food, tobacco and timber down its sleepy flow. These old boats have now been replaced with more modern vessels, but the river continues to be a major commercial focus, servicing the important port of New Orleans.
Australia’s Yarra River is in the southeastern state of Victoria, and the buzzing metropolis of Melbourne was established upon its banks in 1835. Victim of logging, widening and manipulating – not to mention extensive mining during the Victorian Gold Rush – the river takes on a brown, silty hue once it hits Melbourne, however in its origins north and east of the city, the water is clearer and the surroundings decidedly more bucolic.
Say the word, “Nile”, and images of the Egyptian desert, pyramids, and pharaohs come to mind. And indeed, the ancient Egyptians owe their remarkable civilization to the mighty river and its fertile basin. But in actual fact, only 22 percent of the Nile flows through the country, the rest covers 10 others including Tanzania and Kenya.
England’s second longest river, the Thames flows through the capital, London, as well as smaller towns such as Oxford, Henley and Windsor. It provides drinking water for much of southern England, and is a focal point for recreation, dotted with houseboats, fishermen and rowers, and hosts the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge universities.
The Amazon River dominates a large portion of South America, spreading its thick tentacles through Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Often called “The River Sea”, it can reach up to around 48km wide in the wet season, and at the Atlantic Ocean mouth it’s a staggering 240km across. The most famous fishy resident is the carnivorous piranha; the nasty Red-Bellied species is known to attack humans.
The deepest river in the world, Africa’s Congo River (previously known as the Zaire) is generally acknowledged to be the backdrop to Joseph Conrad’s dark and disturbing novella, The Heart of Darkness. Cutting through thick rainforest, the river is home to a varied wildlife including crocodiles and turtles.
Dubbed the “River of Five Colours”, Colombia’s Caño Cristales is reckoned to be the most beautiful river in the world. Once a year (September–November), the moss-like macarenia clavígera plant flowers a deep and brilliant red on the riverbed, and is mesmerizingly offset by the sandy yellows, blues, blacks and greens of the river’s rocks, banks and foliage.
The arid Arizona desert is ruthlessly sliced by the magnificent Colorado River, which wiggles its way in a series of dramatic sweeps and bends from its source in the Rockies through to its end in the Baja California delta. Rust-red canyons, yawning gorges, roaring whitewater rapids and thundering waterfalls make up the incredible scenery on the river’s course.
So famous it’s got a waltz named after it, the “Blue Danube” has long been Europe’s main waterway, linking west to east from Germany via Austria and Hungary to Romania and Ukraine. It’s a favourite for cruises, passing quaint chocolate-box villages, magnificent cities like Budapest, and ubiquitous rolling green countryside.
Framed with lush jungle vegetation and soft mountains, the Mekong runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Taking a slow boat from Houayxai to Luang Prabang in Laos is the ultimate Mekong experience; the gentle two-day journey enables travellers to absorb the stunning landscapes and local culture.
Scuba divers just love the Swiss Verzasca river in Italian-speaking Ticino for its intensely clear, emerald-green water. Trickling over striated rocks in the upper reaches, the river soon reaches the Verzasca Dam (aka Contra Dam), a favourite bungee jumping site that appeared in the 1995 James Bond movie GoldenEye.
The Big Momma of Europe’s rivers, the Volga zips through central Russia and is claimed by its occupants as a national symbol. Dotted with huge reservoirs, crossed by colossal bridges and home to pelicans and flamingos in some stretches, it flows north of Russia’s magnificent capital city, Moscow.
Glacier till makes up the Futaleufú river, which is why it’s so gorgeously clear and gorgeously blue. Starting in Argentina and traversing the Andes into Chile, the river is currently a hotspot for whitewater rafting and kayaking, though a hydroelectric dam has been proposed by the Chilean government, which may put paid to those incredible frothy rapids.
The most famous Indian river with the most densely populated basin in the world, the Ganges is also sacred within the Hindu religion, worshipped as the goddess Ganga. Hindus honour their ancestors by dousing their backs with the river water, and float offerings such as rose petals, flowers and oil. To bathe in the Ganges is a fulfillment of purity in many Hindus religious life.
It’s less than 100 days until the Tour de France begins, and the organisers of the opening stages are already gearing up for the Grand Départ with the announcement of 17 spectator hubs earlier this week. The race begins in Yorkshire, making it the first time the Tour has ever visited the north. Prepare yourself for some stunning scenery and beautiful landscapes as the route winds through the Dales, departing from Leeds, taking in Harrogate and Sheffield via Ripon and the Peak District, then finishing up in London during Stage Three, the route for which is yet to be confirmed. All of this means you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to picturesque spots from which you can watch the cycling, either in person or on huge screens provided at some of the hubs. See the map below for our favourite stops on the Tour de France in England:
Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database rights 2014
In search of more than just sun, sea and sand, Rough Guides writer Helen Ochyra takes a hike in Gran Canaria.
You know a place sees a lot of sun when the slightest whiff of rain brings the locals out in joyous dance. On this first morning in Gran Canaria we woke to a cloudy sky and by the time I wandered out onto the terrace for breakfast, that cloud had turned to rain. It was warm rain, but rain nonetheless.
While the locals call out to each other in sweet relief at this first rain in months, we chomp on omelettes and look out disconsolately at the drizzle. Today is our first day of walking in the island’s interior and we are due to reach 1715m. Normally, this would yield spectacular volcanic views, but today we will be walking in a cloud.
Our itinerary has been put together by Macs Adventure and the scheduled transfer to El Sao – quite literally the end of the road and where we will begin walking – will take our luggage on to the next hotel in Tejeda, a remote village clinging to the volcanic slopes that surround it, some 16km away. We are told it will take over seven hours to hike and so we waste no time in setting off, waterproofs at the ready.
This turns out to be a good move; the route is tough, with steep ascents on rocky slopes and near-vertical paths covered in lava grit. We walk across barrancos (ravines), through ancient evergreen forests and along grassy plateaus before reaching a gigantic lava field at some sixteen hundred metres. The black gravel beneath my walking boots reminds me of the black sand beaches the Canaries are perhaps best known for, but we couldn’t be further from those tourist hotspots, not just miles away at the island’s coast but seemingly worlds away in an entirely different destination.
As the mists swirl around us we walk on across the lava flow guided by well-placed stone markers. These are some of the very few visible signs of human contact with the landscape and they bring home how unspoiled this volcanic island really is. There are some dry-stone walls and fences that nod to the island’s agricultural economy, but all else around us is wild. That is, until we reach Tejeda.
Arriving in this tourist town comes as something of a shock after hours of wilderness but it is not an unpleasant one. The white towers of the traditional Canarian church poke their heads above the terracotta roofs of diminutive buildings, made to appear all the smaller by the soaring volcanic cliffs that rise above them.
This pre-Hispanic town is to be our base for the next three nights, and we settle in to our apartment at Hotel Fonda de la Tea to plan our next few walks. Tejeda is ideally located for walking up to Roque Nublo, the island’s most famous peak. This chunky monolith can be seen from most places on the island – but not today. I peer through the clouds in vain from the apartment balcony and wonder what else I have missed seeing today. What have those clouds been hiding?
The next morning the island hides from me no more – the scenery rushes to meet me as soon as I open my eyes. A brilliant blue sky has pushed the clouds aside and I am surrounded by volcanic splendour. I cannot wait to get out there and am on the trail within minutes, starting the ascent up to Roque Nublo with a spring in my step.
The climb is tough but the path is well-maintained, running through grassland and later woodland, with views back over Tejeda. The scenery is unlike any I have ever seen before. Bowl-like valleys thick with armies of pine trees run between craggy peaks that retain the violent beauty of the eruption that formed them. Beneath our feet are petrified lava flows, above our heads soaring eagles and in the distance a cloud-cloaked Atlantic Ocean with the peak of Tenerife’s Teide floating above it.
Squint and you might make out a coastal resort but from Roque Nublo most of the island’s mass-market infrastructure is hidden – and it remains hidden to us for the rest of our week. We pick our way along the Altavista ridge on an extinct volcanic caldera and compare the island’s barren south to its fertile north with a walk along the ridge between Tejeda and Pico de las Nieves, the island’s watershed. We see Roque Nublo from every angle, lose ourselves in vast pine forests and stand on what feels like the roof of the world, with craggy slopes running down from our feet to the ocean in all directions.
At the end of our week we will make it to that ocean. But we will look back at the peaks up which we have walked and smile at the memories of our discovery – that the Canary Islands are so much more than beaches and bars.
Macs Adventure offer seven-night walking trips to Gran Canaria from £625 per person, including accommodation, breakfasts, two dinners, baggage transfers and a detailed info pack.
Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
Browse the Rough Guides ebook shop for guides to help you plan for trip.