The deep south, toe-end region of Aspromonte is still considered by many Italians to be out of bounds. For it is here, among the thick forests, crenellated mountain peaks and tumbledown villages, that the n’drangheta, or Calabrian mafia, based their empire until the 1990s. The organisation had its origins in landless nineteenth-century peasant workers who stole livestock, and by the 1980s mafia means of extracting cash had extended to regular kidnappings of local businessmen, who would be held for ransom in the dense woodland of the mountain slopes. The glare of publicity eventually drove the various ringleaders out of villages such as San Luca, and still keeps many potential visitors away.

That means that the delights of this unexplored corner of Calabria can be seen without fear of stumbling across a mafia don or a coach party. The Pietra Cuppa, or “Valley of the Large Stone”, is known to locals as the Uluru of southern Italy. A vast behemoth of granite jutting out of the slopes on the Ionian Sea side of the mountains, local folklore insists that it’s possible to see six human faces in the surfaces of the rock. Elsewhere, endless mountain roads corkscrew their way around the area, occasionally opening up to reveal all-but-abandoned villages clinging to the sides of cliff faces. Many have succumbed to the effects of poverty and random rock falls to create incredible ghost towns. The population of the upper half of San Luca village vacated en masse in the early 1970s, leaving villas, churches, shop fronts and gardens to the forces of nature ever since. Now whole days can be passed exploring these remains.

Accommodation in the Aspromonte mountains is limited to a rustic cabin owned by local farmer Antonio Barca. Here, perched on top of a steep hill, miles from the nearest village, evenings are spent drinking homemade wine on the veranda and eating vast platefuls of polenta and lamb chops, cooked by Antonio’s wife Teresa.

Italy’s last undiscovered corner is several universes away from Venice and Versace. The national staples of natural beauty and political corruption still hold sway here, but the lack of visitors, the deserted winding roads and the thrill of being at the very bottom end of the country’s toe all contribute to this being a very different – and now completely safe – Italian experience.

Aspromonte can be accessed at any time of year except Dec–Feb, when snow can make roads impassable. Go to www.parks.it/parco.nazionale.aspromonte for more information on the park. The Barca farmhouse (www.misafumera.it). San Luca can be reached only by car and is about 35 km away from the coastal town of Reggio Calabria, which is served by the Italian rail network.

 

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From Kinross to Kent, Britain is home to all manner of beautiful gardens, ranging from wild and sprawling estates to compact, tidy arrangements. Here’s a few of our favourites, taken from Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain.

Aberglasney Gardens

Once a grand Carmarthenshire estate, Aberglasney fell on hard times during the twentieth century and by the mid-1990s the house was totally derelict: its windows empty sockets, its masonry crumbling and its gardens choked with weeds. Just when it seemed doomed to collapse, a Restoration Trust stepped in, led by a team of experts who were determined to patch up the damage and perhaps reveal some of the glories of the past. The gardens (pictured above) were the main focus of their interest: they were known to date back well over 500 years, making them a perfect candidate for research. Their hunch has already paid off: little by little they have made some astonishing discoveries.

One of the earliest revelations was a real breakthrough. Carefully, the team excavated the stone-walled cloisters immediately west of the mansion, digging down through the centuries to discover a formal garden dating back to late Tudor or early Stuart times. Even more astonishingly, coins dating back to 1288 were found among the debris. Now that a re-creation of the early seventeenth-century layout is in place, you can wander the raised stone path that tops the cloister walls to admire its geometric lawns and think yourself back to the grandeur of the era.

On the south side of the house is another superb development: the ruined masonry of an ancient courtyard has been shrouded in glass, creating a subtropical hothouse. Named the Ninfarium after the glorious Italian gardens of Ninfa, there’s a Zen-like calm to its shady, orderly pathways.

Aberglasney Gardens, Llangathen, Carmarthenshire, www.aberglasney.org

Drummond Castle Gardens

The long beech-enclosed drive that leads to Drummond Castle has a sense of drama, but gives no inkling of the exotic vision ahead. The castle itself is a bluff medieval keep surrounded by turreted domestic buildings, all heavily restored in the nineteenth century. You pass through a courtyard to access a wide stone terrace, and the garden is suddenly revealed: a symmetrical and stately Italianate vision in the shape of Scotland’s flag, a St Andrew’s Cross. The lines of the cross are punctuated by urns and Classical statues, and at their centre is a seventeenth-century obelisk sundial. It’s an artful garden in every sense: steep steps lead down to the sundial, and beyond the topiary and the neat flower beds a wide avenue cuts though dense woodland, continuing the line of the parterre’s central path but making a visual connection between the formal garden and wider, wilder estate.

The first Lord Drummond began building the castle in the late fifteenth century, and in 1508 there is evidence that the estate supplied cherries to James IV when he was on a hunting trip. The sundial created by Charles I’s master mason was put in place in 1630; in the following century the family was more preoccupied with assisting the Jacobite uprising than pruning the roses, but in calmer times in 1842 Queen Victoria planted two copper beeches here, and enjoyed walks in the garden with Albert.

It remains in feel very much a courtly garden. The paths seem tailor-made for stately strolling, giving you the space and time to admire the marble statuary, snooty peacocks and neatly clipped foliage. And when you’ve explored the parterre, don’t miss the abundant blooms in the glasshouses, and the impressive kitchen garden.

Drummond Castle Gardens, near Muthill in Crieff, Perth & Kinross, www.drummondcastlegardens.co.uk

Mottisfont Abbey

Before you even get to the roses at Mottisfont Abbey – which is, after all, the point of the visit – you encounter some sensuous temptations. First you cross the River Test, arguably the finest chalk stream in England, which runs clear and shallow through gentle meadows fringed by grassy downland. This is the place for walks (the Test Way passes by here), or quiet sitting – or trout fishing, if you can afford it.

You then walk through Mottisfont’s lovely grounds, a grassy haven bordered by chalk streams and studded with old oaks, sweet chestnuts and the improbably massive great plane. Then there’s the Abbey itself, a mellow pile with Tudor wings and Georgian frontages and a stately drawing room whose eccentric trompe l’oeil decor – all painted swags and smoking stoves sketched in grisaille – was created by the English prewar artist, Rex Whistler.

But beyond the river and the house and the grounds lies Mottisfont’s heart: its twin walled rose gardens. They are fabulous, harbouring one of the finest collections of old roses in the world. Among the six-hundred-odd varieties you’ll find names that hint at exotic beauty, such as Reine de Violette, Tuscany Superb and Ispahan, and names that suggest a more blushing Englishness, such as Eglantine and the Common Moss Rose. Climbers, noisettes and ramblers trace glorious patterns on the high brick walls, cross pergolas or spill up into apple and pear trees. The shrub roses, meanwhile, crowd noisily between the box hedges and lawns and lavender pathways, jostling among the hosts of bulbs and perennials. There is something to see, then, right through spring and summer.

Mottisfont, five miles north of Romsey, Hampshire www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

Alnwick Garden

It makes sense to lock up dangerous criminals and wild animals, perhaps – but plants? Well, yes, when we’re talking about these plants. Within the 40-acre Alnwick Garden, the botanical annexe to Alwnick Castle, lies a sullen little plot of deadly flowers and bushes deemed so dangerous that they too are kept behind bars. Visitors to this cultivated collection of botanical death should be wary. Don’t sniff too hard, perhaps… Though one suspects their deadly pollen and spores could permeate even the ominous wrought-iron gates, fronted with skull and bone signs, that declare: “These plants can kill”.

Unlike the rest of Alnwick Garden, the poison garden can only be visited on a guided tour. The heavy iron gates are locked behind you. This is serious stuff. Flame-shaped beds are planted with tobacco, mandrake, hemlock – and innocent-looking rhubarb, the stalks of which make lovely crumble, but whose lush green leaves can kill. Maximum security is applied to coca (for cocaine), cannabis plants and poppies, the heads of which contain all that’s required to make opium, heroin and morphine.

Weaving through the garden, guides debunk myths, tell old wives’ tales and impart ancient wisdom. Learn here about Old Man’s Beard, rubbed by professional beggars into sores to make them weep piteously. Or the hallucinogenic properties of Deadly Nightshade. Chewing a humble laburnum leaf, you are told, will lead you to froth at the mouth and wildly convulse.

Alnwick Garden, Denwick Lane, Alnwick, Northumberland www.alnwickgarden.com

RHS Garden Wisley

As you walk through the brick entrance arch at Wisley, you’re hit by scented air wafting through from the flourishing acres beyond. And there really are acres and acres here – 240 of them, to be exact, all lovingly, scrupulously, passionately tended. Ahead lies the serene canal and walled garden; beyond, secretive paths lead through the Wild Garden’s woodlands to the staggering new glasshouse, which rises out of an entire lake. The preternaturally heated interior heaves with tropical ferns and palms and creepers, all fighting their way towards the glass. There’s even an indoor waterfall.

But why go straight on? A left turn takes you up a breathtaking avenue of lawn, between 20ft-deep mixed borders from which English cottage garden flowers dance and nod in coloured ranks. Beyond, there’s the elegant rose garden, and beyond again what seems like an entire ecosystem of rhododendrons and magnolias on Battleston Hill. And beyond that, the Jubilee Arboretum rises back up towards the Fruit Field, which is really an entire hillside combed with 450 types of apple, plum and pear, many of them rare and rich varieties. It’s not exactly encouraged, but on an early autumn day you could even quietly taste a windfall pear or two – or buy them in the shop later.

Wisley isn’t all about loveliness, though, or even drama. Instead, it’s alive with passion and energy. The Royal Horticultural Society is dedicated to research and education, so you’ll see guided tours pausing to consider a fine clematis, enthusiasts gleaning tips from the model allotment, or maybe volunteers weeding through a host of experimental pumpkins.

RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey www.rhs.org.uk/wisley

Highgrove Gardens

It’s amazing what a few words of encouragement can do. When the Prince of Wales bought Highgrove House, his family home near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, the estate didn’t even have a lawn. Some thirty years later, what was once an empty landscape is now one of the most innovative gardens in Britain. Clearly, Charles has spent a lot of time talking to these plants.

Tours start at Highgrove House itself, surrounded by scented plants such as wisteria, honeysuckle, jasmine, holboellia and thyme, and meander for two miles through a series of interlinked gardens, from the immaculate Sundial Garden, fronting the house, to the Arboretum. Most eye-catching in its marriage of form and function is the Prince’s Islamic-style Carpet Garden, a medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show, whose colour and appearance – which includes fountains decked in elaborate zelij tiling – were based on the patterns of Persian carpets within the house.

Arguably the most interesting sections, though, are the Wildflower Meadow and the Walled Kitchen Garden. The former was co-designed with one of the UK’s leading biodiversity experts, and – as an organically sustained initiative that also helps preserve the country’s native flora and fauna – is a living example of the philosophy that underlines much of Highgrove and the Prince’s nearby Duchy Home Farm. The meadow features more than thirty varieties of British wildflowers – ox-eye daisies, yellow rattle and ragged robin among them – and is home to some of the National Collection of Beech Trees, part of a conservation programme that safeguards the diversity of the country’s plant heritage.

Highgrove House, Doughton, Tetbury, Gloucestershire www.highgrovegardens.com

Dawyck Botanic Garden

Edinburgh’s famous Botanic Garden may get the royal seal and most of the press, yet a mere 45-minute drive south stands what is arguably the world’s most exquisite arboretum. Sequestered in one of the most scenic corners of the Scottish Borders, Dawyck is a veritable masterpiece of horticultural passion and creativity, matured over three centuries into a stunning sixty acres of botanic forest.

The secret of this place lies in its range of species from climatically similar corners of the globe. One of the best times to visit is in spring, when you’re welcomed by the Himalayan feast that is the Azalea Walk in full bloom. Over the brow of the hill, 300-year-old giant redwoods tower next to a rustling brook. Incredibly, these are actually infant trees, just a tenth of the way through their lives, and mere striplings compared to their 300ft-tall Californian forebears.

Just beyond the upward curve of the burn another giant hoves into view: the rhubarb-like gunnera plant feels truly exotic, even tropical, a South American specimen with foliage as big as a golf umbrella.

Atmospheric features like the old chapel, the stone humpback bridge or Dawyck House, relics of the garden’s heritage as part of the Dawyck estate, give purpose to those panoramic shots, or you could zoom in to the striking snakeskin bark of the Manchurian striped maple, possibly an evolutionary disguise to protect saplings. Even if you forget your camera, Dawyck will imprint itself on your grey matter anyway, a humbling lesson in the glorious potential of landscape.

Dawyck Botanic Garden, Stobo, near Peebles, Borders www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/dawyck

Sissinghurst Castle

The famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle is equally fascinating both at a distance and close up. There are several angles from which to admire it – framed by a shady arch, for example, or backed by the weathered walls of the Priest’s House – and there’s fresh beauty in every white iris, lupin and sunny-centred daisy.

It’s one of a series of room-like areas of planting with which the poet Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, a diplomat-turned-politician, adorned the grounds of Sissinghurst. When they arrived in 1930, the site was derelict, but Vita, who had an ancestral connection with the castle, saw in it an opportunity to shake off some of the sadness she felt at being shut out of the inheritance of her childhood home, Knole, simply because she was a woman.

The couple had different approaches to gardening: Harold enjoyed the discipline of orderly spaces separated by brick walls, yew trees and box hedges, while Vita was a romantic who enjoyed creating mysteries and surprises. In 1938, they opened the garden for an entrance fee of a shilling. The romantic-looking Elizabethan Tower that dominates the estate was originally a lookout; for the Nicolsons, it was the perfect vantage from which to survey their leafy domain. Climb up to its highest windows and you can see how beautifully the gardens, orchards and vegetable plots nestle within the Wealden countryside, complementing it just as they intended.

The garden at Sissinghurst Castle, Biddenden Road, near Cranbrook, Kent www.nationaltrust.org.uk

 

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Britain is home to an almost endless number of world-class rambling routes. We’ve narrowed down the choice to eight of our favourite spots for a brisk walk or a challenging hike, but do add your own favourite picks below.

Epping Forest

One of the last remaining vestiges of the ancient woodland that once blanketed England, Epping appears in local annals from at least the twelfth century. Rambling along sandy, dappled paths on foot, galloping on horseback through meadows of waist-high grass, or splashing cross-country through muddy puddles on a dirt bike, it seems impossible that you are not, in fact, deep in the countryside, but only thirty-five minutes away from the city.

Though exploring by bike or on horseback gives you a sense of the sheer scale of the forest, the greatest pleasure is in meandering through Epping’s 50,000 veteran trees, twisted by pollarding into living sculptures, which rise in spring from a sea of pristine bluebells. A popular route begins at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, now somewhat marooned by the side of a busy road in Chingford. From here it’s a delightful stroll across lush meadows where longhorn cattle graze and rare butterflies flutter by, down to Connaught Water, one of many wetland areas in the forest, thronged with reeds, water lilies and royal ferns.

Malham Cove

The soaring, curving grey-white amphitheatre walls of Malham Cove soon hove into view as you approach across the green Yorkshire fields. A 260-foot-high waterfall without the water, formed fifty thousand years ago when the outflow from a melting glacier poured over the lip of a high limestone cliff, it’s a truly grand sight, on a different scale from the surrounding dales.

It’s an easy walk from Malham village – you can push a stroller all the way to the foot of the cove – but there’s work to be done if you want to unlock Malham Cove’s real secrets, which lie on top of the cliff, up the breath-sapping steps to the side. From here, the views down the dale are magnificent, while underfoot is an extraordinary limestone pavement fractured into broad slabs (known as clints) and deep fissures (grykes).

To complete the circuit you can descend back to Malham via Gordale Scar, a deep ravine that requires strong nerves and a head for heights – the last part is nothing less than a hands-and-feet scramble down a waterfall. If you find yourself praying to the moorland spirits, you can thank them for your safe descent in nearby Janet’s Foss, a mossy, wooded dell rich with the scent of wild garlic, where dippers and wagtails flit over the pool of a charming waterfall.

Malham National Park Centre (www.yorkshiredales.org.uk) has maps and route guides for local walks.

The Peak District

Wedged between Sheffield, Manchester and Derby, it’s no surprise that the Peak District is Britain’s most visited national park. The park divides into two areas: the brooding Dark Peak in the north and the gentler White Peak in the south, each named on account of their different geologies.

These two geologies produce very different yet equally enticing landscapes, both of which can be easily explored in a weekend. Higher and wilder, the Dark Peak is formed of tracts of wind-whipped moorland interspersed with “edges”, outcrops of the underlying millstone grit that create dramatic escarpments such as Stanage Edge. Although modest in height they still offer panoramic views across seemingly endless miles of heather and grass. There’s little human habitation here – this barren landscape is the lonely home only to sheep, grouse, rabbits and hares.

See www.visitpeakdistrict.com for more information.

Offa’s Dyke Path, Wales

Sitting on a gravel beach trying to put hiking socks over cold, wet feet might not seem like an auspicious finish to one of Britain’s oldest long-distance trails, but this is the classic finale to Offa’s Dyke Path. Purists wade at least ankle deep into the Irish Sea at the path’s northern terminus, Prestatyn on the north Welsh coast – a repeat of the performance twelve days or so earlier at Sedbury Cliffs, near Chepstow on the Severn Estuary, where (minus blisters) they began. In between, hikers negotiate 177 miles of some of the finest and most varied landscape that the Welsh Marches has to offer, from gentle green valleys to wild moors and ancient woodland by way of historic towns and hidden hamlets.

The path is named after Offa’s Dyke, a massive earthwork (ditch and rampart) up to twenty feet high and sixty feet wide built in the eighth century by Offa, King of Mercia, to separate his territory from rival kingdoms – whether to keep out the Welsh or to keep out the English, opinion divides. The path broadly follows the course of the rampart, though while it was being developed in the 1960s the route planners made a few judicious improvements: rather than follow the dyke through Wrexham and other industrially marred areas they diverted it through the Wye Valley, over the Black Mountain in Brecon Beacons National Park and along the Clwydian Range with its long views over north Wales to Snowdonia. The result is one of Britain’s finest national trails – never too crowded and never monotonous.

For more information consult the National Trail website (www.nationaltrail.co.uk/offasdyke).

Britain’s most dangerous walk, Morecambe Bay

Backed by the Lakeland fells and famed for its spectacular sunsets, Morecambe Bay may look dramatically beautiful, but with its shifting sands and fast-moving tides this vast expanse of tidal mud flats is one of the most dangerous stretches of coast in Britain.

To attempt to ford this treacherous terrain by yourself would be sheer folly. There are quicksands, hidden channels and swirling currents, and when the tide roars in, its speed is said to be faster than any horse can gallop – as testified by the countless stories of disappearances over the years. Once upon a time, monks from Cartmel Priory conducted travellers safely across the bay. But following a petition in the 1530s, the sands were deemed so dangerous that an official guide was appointed by royal command. Step forward Cedric Robinson, 25th Queen’s Guide to the Sands.

For almost half a century, Cedric has earned his keep by his intimate knowledge of the ever-changing terrain; he claims he can read the sands in the way that others read newspapers. He plants laurel branches to mark the route – when rain and fog descend it’s the only way to trace a path back to safety. Once a fortnight between May and September, Cedric takes groups out at low tide on the eight-mile walk. It’s an exhilarating hike in the strangest, most ethereal of landscapes. Cedric leads the way, followed by a tractor and trailer and up to 150 hikers, many of whom attempt the walk for charity.

Numbers are limited, so you should register in advance on 015395/32165. The schedule is at www.grange-over-sands.com.

The Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury

The Garden of England is a tourist-board cliché, but one that does perfectly describe the lush country explored on the Pilgrim’s Way. The landscape is domesticated but beautiful, with rolling vistas, apple and pear orchards and the odd scattering of tile-hung or half-timbered cottages. And you are following in some very ancient footsteps: this was an Iron Age trading route, acquiring its pilgrimage status only after the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. The original Pilgrim’s Way was an amalgam of country roads and paths leading from Winchester and serving pilgrims from south and west England and continental Europe (via Southampton). At Harbledown, just outside Canterbury, this route merged with Watling Street, the route for the main body of pilgrims from London and the north.

This abundant countryside is especially appealing in April or in late summer and early autumn. You can make a selective two-day pilgrimage yourself, exploring a particularly bucolic stretch of the route, and arriving at the pilgrims’ goal – magnificent Canterbury Cathedral. The walk begins at Charing in Kent, leading through woods and farmland to Boughton Lees, home to the Flying Horse pub which has been serving pilgrims for hundreds of years. From here you continue to idyllic Chilham where you can stay overnight at the friendly Woolpack Inn before hiking across fields and through dense woodland to Canterbury.

The Chilham to Canterbury stretch of the Pilgrim’s Way follows the North Downs Way (www.nationaltrail.co.uk/northdowns).

The Pennine Way

The Pennine Way begins at the village of Edale in the Peak District and meanders 270 miles north to Kirk Yetholm beneath the Cheviots, a mile across the Scottish border. Along its course, it leads through some of England’s most beautiful and least crowded countryside. In the early stages, it passes the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution – today, stone slabs from the derelict mills and factories have been recycled into winding causeways over the once notorious moorland peat bogs. This is Brontë country, too, grim on a dank, misty day but bleakly inspiring when the cloud lifts.

The mires subside to become the rolling green pastures and dry-stone walls of the Yorkshire Dales that rise up to striking peaks like the 2278ft-high Pen-y-ghent – the “Mountain of the Winds”. The limestone Dales in turn become the wilder northern Pennines, where no one forgets stumbling onto the astounding glaciated abyss of High Cup Nick. The Way’s final phase begins with an invigorating stage along Hadrian’s Wall before ending with the calf-wrenching climax over the Cheviots.

See www.nationaltrail.co.uk/pennineway for more information.

The Pembrokeshire coast

In Welsh, Pen-fro, which was anglicized to create Pembrokeshire, means “land’s end”. While the coast at Wales’s southern tip bears a passing resemblance to Cornwall, it is nowhere near as famous – indeed, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path may be the best long-distance walk in Britain that no one knows. For now.

The trail follows the shoreline of Britain’s only coastal national park. Most walkers set aside a fortnight to complete the 186-mile route from Poppit Sands at St Dogmaels near Cardigan to Amroth by the seaside resort of Tenby, passing west to east from solitary cliffs to family-holiday favourites. Tracks are good throughout, campsites are abundant, and you’ll never be more than two days’ walk from fresh supplies.

For Bear Grylls-style bush-bashing head to the Highlands. For the rest of us, however, the sheer variety of scenery makes the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path a superb tramp, especially in the bloom of late spring. Most of the way you cling to the clifftops, teetering along fabulous coastlines around Fishguard, St David’s Head and Marloes, and occasionally dipping down to one of the 58 beaches en route, where low-tide crossings at Dale and Sandy Haven keep things interesting.

The path is managed by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority (www.pcnpa.org.uk); see also www.visitpembrokeshire.com.

Where are your top walks or hiking spots in Britain? Let us know below.

 

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

After seeing the Bungle Bungles Range in Purnululu National Park, Rough Guides writer Helen Ochyra had to return to explore this awe-inspiring rock formation on foot.

Nothing is as good when seen through a window. A city view from the top of a sealed building, a passing landscape from a moving car, even a World Heritage site seen from the open door of a helicopter.

The last time I visited the Bungle Bungles, part of Purnululu National Park, time was short. My husband and I stayed in Kununurra, some 300km from the park, and boarded a helicopter flight over the Bungle Bungles massif. We were only up there an hour. We saw the thousands of beehive-like orange and black banded domes stretching away across the Outback, casting deep shadows into the gorges between them – gorges that I could see people in. It was one of those views that stays with you. A view for which for no superlative would ever fit, a view that had me itching for more. Specifically, it had me itching to be one of those people in those gorges below.

Eight years later and we are back in Kununurra. But this time we are not boarding a helicopter. This time we pick up a 4WD and head out into the landscape – down the highway and off onto the dirt road into the national park. It is 65km of corrugated, winding red dust, passing through creeks and across cattle stations. But it is no more than our Mitsubishi Pajero can handle and we start to wonder why we were so reticent to do this before.

Just a few hours after leaving Kununurra we pull in to the Kimberley Wild Expeditions campsite. We have timed our journey to make it in time for sunset and after dumping the bags inside our tent we head straight back out to the Kungkalanayi lookout. Here we stand atop a ridge with just a handful of other dust-covered travellers and watch the sun slowly sink behind the Bungle Bungles massif. The sandstone lights up, turning first from orange to brick and then to a flaming red. We stand in awe until every last furrow fades into shadow and are silent for several minutes.  It is stunning – but it is still too far away.

The next morning I am desperate to get out among those domes so we head for Echidna Chasm, where a two-kilometre trail leads along a creek bed and into the gorge. It is already heating up but we are out of the sun within minutes, passing under bloodwoods, snappy gums and palm trees and then into the narrow chasm. At first it is fairly wide but soon we can reach both walls with arms outstretched. There are ladders to ease our route up over the rocks, many of which are boulders that have fallen in from above, and the gap between the walls gets ever narrower as we push on deeper into the chasm.

We are now 180 metres below the surface, with ever-more-precarious boulders lodged above our heads. I wonder at the power of the water that has carved this spectacular landscape over some 360 million years of erosion. On a dry June day it is hard to imagine enough water to leave even a puddle but during the wet season (roughly December to March) the creeks here turn into torrents, altering the landscape once more and keeping us humans away.

But today there isn’t a cloud in the sky and at the end of the gorge we reach an open area into which the sun is pouring. Late morning is the time to be here, when the sun turns the dark red walls a brilliant orange.

After waiting out the midday sun, we head to the south of the park, where a trio of walks promises to finally get me among those domes. We park at Piccaninny and strike off along another dry creek bed, this one full of soft white sand and dotted with small pools of water left over from the wet season’s rains. We pick our way through the spinifex and after about 20 minutes reach Cathedral Gorge where the creek has combined with a waterfall to carve out a large amphitheatre in the rock. It is jaw-dropping and we spend a long time just exploring it, skimming stones into the placid lake at its centre and photographing the walls with their honeycomb-like holes.

But still I itch to feel dwarfed by those domes and so we head out and onto the looped “Domes” trail which runs 700 metres through an area densely packed with them. We round the first corner and I am instantly silent, my camera hanging uselessly around my neck. I have never seen anything like it – a totally unique landscape of cone-shaped mounds striped orange and black surrounds me. The domes are orange where the oxidized iron compound has dried out and black where moisture has accumulated, causing cyanobacteria to grow. But – if I am honest – the science doesn’t interest me much. It is the domes’ rugged beauty that has me floored. Not to mention their size, dwarfing me, making me feel insignificant.

We stand there for ages, taking it in. I can feel the heat of the sun. I can smell the fragrance of the wildflowers. And I can hear the chirp of the finches. No, nothing is as good when seen through a window. There is simply no substitute for being there.

As the Northern Hemisphere is getting colder in November, below the equator things are hotting up as spring gets ready to give way to summer. The cooling temperatures aren’t all bad however, as the temperature in Egypt and India becomes far more bearable, and autumn in South Korea is a sight to behold. Check out these best places to go in November.

 

Surf in Senegal

Quieter than the beaches of Morocco and with more reliable surf, Dakar, on Senegal’s west coast, offers surfers a chance to ride the days away while soaking up sunshine, unique culture, beautiful scenery, fresh seafood and awesome waves – all in one fell swoop. November is the beginning of the winter season, when the waves still start small, but have a larger range (0.5–3m) – good for surfers of all levels. If you want to learn from scratch, improve your skills or just fancy staying somewhere sociable with other surfers, you could try one of the surf camps around Dakar’s northern beaches, or hop over to one of the nearby islands for some bigger waves, such as the tiny NGor Island. Less than a kilometre away from the mainland, NGor is far enough from Dakar for some peace and quiet, but close enough that you can jump on a boat back the city for the evening, if you’re in the mood for something a bit livelier.

Six epic surfing spots >

Explore a national park in South Korea

Naejangsan National Park, in the mountains of Jeolla-do province, transforms into a burst of fiery colours in the autumn. The foliage – mostly maple trees, but also elm, ash, oak, dogwood and hornbeam, amongst others – flares up into a magnificent scene of crimson, green, yellow, and everything in between. About three hours from Seoul by bus, the park makes for a beautiful day-retreat, with waterfalls and lakes, 1880 different species of wildlife, several pagodas and temples, and an expansive peaked area ­– 76,032 square kilometres – to explore.

Party for Diwali in Jaipur, India

Jaipur, the “Pink City”, is one of the most thrilling places to celebrate Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of lights, which runs November 3–7 this year. The whole city comes out to celebrate, and you’d be hard pushed to find a dark spot on any of the streets, as you bathe in the glow of the seemingly infinite numbers of neon lights dangled over the buildings, and the fireworks exploding over your head. Tuck into some delicious, tooth-wrenching Indian sweets while you’re at it.

Ski in the French Alps

Can’t wait till Christmas? Or fancy getting to grips with some guaranteed snow on a cheap(er) ski pass and quiet slopes? The high-altitude French alpine resorts of Tignes and Les Deux Alpes start their seasons in November. With altitudes of up to 3200m, these are the first resorts to get the winter snows. But if, in these unpredictable days of European weather, that doesn’t work out, you can make your way up to the glaciers, where you can ski to your heart’s content – whatever the weather.

Celebrate Thanksgiving in NYC

The most widely celebrated American festival, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season in the US. Most people spend this day, right at the end of November, with their families, but New York offers plenty to keep travellers entertained too. There’s the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to dazzle you in the morning, a range of cafés and restaurants – such as Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village and The Red Cat in Chelsea – offering traditional Thanksgiving meals (as well as tempting alternatives for those who’d rather opt out of the seasonally popular big bird), before you work it off with a skate round the ice rink at Bryant Park, or spend a more leisurely few hours immersed in the plethora of arts, crafts and jewellery at Union Square Holiday Market.

Learn to kitesurf, Egypt

The feeling of the wind powering your kite and hurtling you over the open ocean at breakneck speed is like no other. If you’re after the thrill and fun of kitesurfing, Hurghada, on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, is the place to try it. It barely ever rains, it’s almost always sunny and there’s plenty of wind – perfect conditions for this sport. There are also shallow areas for beginners, and, with average highs of 26°C in November, it’s an ideal place to escape the cold, late-autumnal drizzles and get to grips with a new adventure sport. Although, learning to kitesurf doesn’t come cheap; an eighteen-hour course, which will usually be split over three or four days, will set you back about £420 ($660).

Loads more Egypt trip ideas >

Round up elephants in Surin, Thailand

Ever noticed that a map of Thailand looks oddly like an elephant’s head? Perhaps it’s time you joined the hundreds of elephants marching through the city of Surin, on the border with Cambodia, as they make their annual procession on the third weekend of November towards a feast of giant proportions: the “elephant breakfast”. The following day, the elephants perform a show in the aptly named Elephant Stadium, where they re-enact battles of the past. Frankly, it would be odd if the map didn’t look like an elephant.

Melbourne Cup, Melbourne, Australia

For more than 150 years, over 110,000 spectators have come to watch “the race that stops a nation” on the first Tuesday in November, as thoroughbred horses dash round 3.2km of turf track. Don’t underestimate the popularity of the Melbourne Cup – not even the world wars stopped it from going ahead. If you don’t manage to get to the race itself, there’ll be plenty of parties going on in the city, where it’s a public holiday. Make sure to pre-book accommodation (very) well in advance.

For more travel inspiration, try our Inspire Me page. Find hostels for your November trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Most US travel itineraries skip the “middle bit” – often stereotyped as a boring, endless and pancake-flat swathe of corn that makes up the Great Plains. But while the region lacks showstoppers – no Grand Canyon, no New York – the Great Plains are crammed with surprisingly intriguing attractions and great tracts are, well, quite hilly actually. Stephen Keeling, co-author of The Rough Guide to the USA, picks out ten highlights.

1) Route 66, OK

Though it was long ago superseded by the interstate highway system, Route 66 remains a prime target for all US road-trippers – if they can find it. Created in the 1920s to link Chicago and Los Angeles and “more than two thousand miles all the way”, much of the original route has been overlaid by newer highways. Not in Oklahoma: here there is a 644km plus section of raw Route 66, rich in Americana, from classic diners like Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger in Miami and the iconic Round Barn in Arcadia, to the Route 66 Museum in Clinton and the iconic Blue Whale at Catoosa.

2) Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln, NE

Soaring above the plains like a fantastical Byzantine skyscraper, the Nebraska State Capitol is a genuine Art Deco wonder. Like all US state capitols, it’s open to the public and free to tour, but here the standard Neoclassical grandeur– South Dakota, Kansas and Iowa all have incredible state capitols – is ditched for something far more ambitious. Completed in 1932, the 122m tower is topped by a golden dome, but the interior is just as awe-inspiring, with a mural-smothered main hall and rotunda as grand as any Renaissance cathedral.

 

3) Kansas City BBQ, KS

Famous all over the US, Kansas-style barbecue is less well-known overseas, despite a decent claim to being the best in the nation. Here, meats are slow-smoked with a combination of hickory and oak wood, and no-frills, lowbrow joints flourish on word-of-mouth popularity (85 at the last count). “Burnt ends” is a particular Kansas specialty – tasty pieces of meat cut from the charred end of a smoked beef brisket, smothered with sauce. Each BBQ joint offers subtle differences in flavours, smokes and especially secret ‘special’ sauces. Oklahoma Joe’s and Gates Bar-B-Q are local favourites, but even the most famous place – Arthur Bryant’s – rarely feels touristy.

4) Dead Presidents: Eisenhower, Hoover and Truman

Aficionados of presidential history will find some big hitters on the Great Plains: Dwight D Eisenhower, Allied Supreme Commander in World War II and 34th President (1953–1961) grew up in little old Abilene, Kansas; his predecessor Harry Truman (1945–1952) was a proud Missourian from Independence; and the much-maligned Herbert Hoover (31st President, 1929–1933) grew up in similarly small-town West Branch, Iowa. All three places celebrate their favourite sons with preserved childhood homes, presidential libraries and some of the best museums in the nation, covering everything from the 1929 Wall Street Crash (blamed on Hoover) to the Cold War (partly blamed on Truman).

5) Tallgrass Prairie: Flint Hills Scenic Byway, KS

Forget those flatland stereotypes; the Flint Hills of Kansas are rolling, wild hills that seem as bleak as Yorkshire moors in winter, then erupt with colourful blooms and bright green grasses in the spring. This is the prairies as they were five hundred years ago. Get oriented at the Flint Hills Discovery Center in the college town of Manhattan, a futuristic building crammed with hands-on exhibits and superb displays. From here, drive south on the Flint Hills Scenic Byway (aka Hwy-177), which cuts along the hills and through gorgeous rural villages that seem a million miles from anywhere; at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, just north of Strong City, there’s a small visitor centre and hiking trails.

 

6) Price Tower, OK

Surprise: the only skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright ever built is not in New York or Chicago, but Oklahoma – in tiny old Bartlesville, 72km north of Tulsa. Completed in 1956, this 67m-tall, incongruous copper pinnacle doesn’t disappoint, its verdigris-stained walls, triangular spaces and cubicle-like elevators retaining Lloyd’s distinctive, ornamental style. Stay the night (it’s a hotel), and the fantasy is complete; luxurious rooms decked out like a Mad Men set, with copper work, sleek Venetian blinds and stylish 50’s showers. You can also grab a drink at the Copper Bar on its top floors.

7) Indie, Red Dirt & Woody Guthrie, NE and OK

Live music is alive and well on the Great Plains, where Omaha, Nebraska sports a dynamic indie music scene featuring the likes of local bands Bright Eyes, Cursive, Neva Dinova and The Faint. Modest Stillwater, Oklahoma, is the home of Red Dirt Music, a blend of folk, country, blues and rock styles, with hometown bands the All-American Rejects, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, No Justice, the Jason Savory Band and the godfather of the genre, Bob Childers.

Tulsa, Oklahoma has its own musical legacy, a mix of rockabilly, country, rock and blues that emerged as the Tulsa Sound in the late 1950s and early 1960s (JJ Cale and The Gap Band were part of the movement). Today Tulsa is the home of the spanking new Woody Guthrie Center – crammed with videos and listening posts, fans of the Oklahoma-born folk hero should plan to spend several happy hours here.

8) Oklahoma National Stockyards and Cattlemen’s, OK

Surrounded by a vast sea of cattle pens, crammed with black angus and Hereford bulls, the Oklahoma National Stockyards auction house jerks into life every Monday and Tuesday morning, when frenetic auctions – free and open to the public – facilitate the sale of thousands of dollars worth of cattle between Stetson-wearing ranchers. You won’t understand a word the quick-fire auctioneer says, but you won’t need to. Vegetarians and animal-lovers should obviously steer clear, but everyone else should visit nearby Cattlemen’s afterwards, for some of the most juicy, buttery steak in the country.

9) Ozark National Scenic Riverways, MO

Deep inside the Ozarks, the forest-smothered hills that separate the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, this is the first national park to protect a river system; indulge in kayaking, fishing or that time-honoured tradition of tubing down the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. There’s nothing like floating down a crystal-clear river slouched inside a giant tyre on a hot summer afternoon, but the park is also home to hundreds of freshwater springs, caves, trails and historic sites.

10) The Cherokee and the Five Tribes, OK

Most Native Americans actually live in the ‘middle bit’, from the Great Sioux Nation of South Dakota to the 39 sovereign tribes of Oklahoma. It pays to remember there’s really no such thing as ‘Native American culture’; every tribe and nation is unique, with their own traditions, languages and customs. The Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, OK is especially illuminating, with a replica ancient village and display on the Trail of Tears; the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, OK, highlights the art, history and culture of not just the Cherokee, but also the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek and Seminole tribes.

Discover more of the Great Plains on Rough Guides >

From the heights of La Paz to the Amazon rainforest, the immense Lake Titicaca to the blindingly white Salar de Uyuni salt flats, Bolivia is blessed with a wealth of spectacular sights. Neil McQuillian reveals his six highlights.   

The Death Road

Any reputable Death Road mountain biking operator will bore you to tears with safety instructions, dos and don’ts, and gory accident anecdotes before you set off. Even if all that goes over your head, the stop you make early on in the five-hour ride from La Paz to Coroico will swiftly curtail any cavalier instincts.

Peer down from the roadside and you’ll see a rusting hunk of metal – an ex-bus – many metres below. Unsurprisingly, nobody survived the crash. And this was on the modern 24km paved section before you hit the Death Road proper, a 40km stretch of gravelly track with a truly bloody history, from its construction by Paraguayan prisoners of war, many of whom died in the process, to the hundreds of yearly fatalities that prompted the American Development Bank to name it the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”.

If you’ve any sense, your gaze during the day’s cycling will be focused straight ahead: on the loose ground, the bends, and the occasional waterfalls that splash onto the road. As you descend 3500m from the freezing cold to the sweltering heat, don’t be seduced by the visual siren call of the lush Yungas in the cavernous spaces beyond the roadside. Instead wait until you’re on the tour bus home, mellow with a celebratory post-ride beer, before you admire the views. And even then, you might find yourself staring at the back of your driver’s head the whole way, willing him to keep his concentration.

La Paz

The taxi from El Alto international airport soon left the high, flat Altiplano and dropped down towards La Paz, nestled in the canyon below. It was 4am and altitude sickness had hit me like a hammer. Yet even though my head was in my hands, the driver still pulled over and implored me to admire the view. At that moment the distant pool of twinkling lights only made my headache worse, but once I acclimatised I began to relish the trips in and out of La Paz, goggling at the joggers who chose to pound an uphill stretch of one of the world’s highest cities.

Although it sits at more than 3,500m above sea level, I didn’t see any snow in La Paz during my visit. But on one early-morning bus journey, which climbed up to the canyon rim, the city’s rapidly growing neighbour El Alto was flecked all over with white. It was a through-the-looking-glass moment.

Lake Titicaca

For travellers in Bolivia, Lake Titicaca, the world’s largest high-altitude body of water, can appear miraculous. The country’s most visited areas are notoriously arid – plains of wind-carved stones, lakes of salt, dusty towns – so the presence of so much water at such a great height can seem like an act of god.

The Incas (and the civilizations that came before them) were similarly moved, attributing great religious significance to the region. And if you visit Isla del Sol, in the middle of the lake, and stand by the rock from which the Inca creator god, Viracocha, is said to have summoned the sun and moon, you can almost feel the old legends coming life.

The Amazon

Although they are only separated by a 40-minute flight, the climatic contrasts between La Paz and the Amazonian town of Rurrenabaque are huge. I boarded the propeller plane in a sweater, jacket and hat, and got off into a mosquito-rich heat that quickly set my brow sweating.

Tours of the pampas are the reason most people come to Rurre, but consider treating yourself to a stay at Chalalán, a renowned eco-lodge run by an indigenous Quechua-Tacana community who might otherwise make a living from illegal logging.

It requires a five-hour boat ride from Rurre along the Beni and Tuichi rivers, and even if you don’t spot any swimming jaguars, just watching the boatman in the bow is a spectacle. Standing alert for much of the journey, he probes and navigates the shallow sections with a wooden pole, flashing up a hand when the propeller needs to be tilted out of the water by his mate in the stern.

Salar de Uyuni

They warn about snow blindness when you come to the world’s biggest salt lake, so white and relentless is this 9000km square expanse. But it was a kind of aesthetic blindness that struck me – I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. There’s no warning, no sense of a barrier or border crossing – your tour group’s 4×4 will be racing along scrubby ground one moment and then suddenly you’re upon it, this seemingly endless white flatness, with mountains appearing to hover on the distant horizon.

Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa

Most tours to the Salar de Uyuni also visit this nature reserve. After a first day exploring the startling salt lake, day two sees you hit the Eduardo Avaroa and its huge, bright red Laguna Colorada. At a bone-chilling 4300m above sea level, the lake’s colour, which is caused by algae, contrasts with shores and islands of white borax and colonies of flamingos.

On day three you visit hot springs, stinking geysers and wind-carved rock formations. By the end of the tour, you might even be craving a banal sight to give your eyes a rest – and in this respect at least, the nondescript town of Uyuni, where most tours start and finish, doesn’t disappoint.

Neil McQuillian is the author of the Bolivia chapter of the forthcoming third edition of The Rough Guide to South America on a BudgetFind hostels in Bolivia here, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Over 4000km long, the Mekong – derived from the Khmer “Mae” meaning “big”, “mother”, or “boss” – is the 12th longest river in the world, flowing from Tibet, through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Navigation remains tricky along the Mekong as many rapids and waterfalls pose a risk to those who choose to brave it, but there are plenty of safe parts to explore and important trade routes throughout.

From the giving of alms in Luang Prabang, Laos, to the floating markets of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, this vast river makes for a stunning way to navigate parts of Southeast Asia. Hover over the special interactive Rough Guides map below to discover the delights of the Mekong river, and visit our Thinglink page for more.


Explore more of the Mekong and southeast Asia with the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget.

Whatever your budget, Kenya has no shortage of post-safari pursuits, writes Richard Trillo, author of the Rough Guide to Kenya and Kenya Programme Manager at Expert Africa. Whether you’re after a relaxing beach break or another adventure, there’s plenty to see and do in Kenya once you’ve left the wildlife behind.

Share a beach house – or rent a tree-house

Chilling on the coast is a popular way to relax after the full-on activity of a safari. There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses on the shores of the Indian Ocean, but renting a house on Tiwi Beach tops them all. The fully staffed Olerai Beach House sleeps up to ten, so it’s ideal for a tropical house party. In the huge gardens, there’s a stunning swimming pool with a water slide and landscaped caves, while the beach lies right in front of you through the palms. It’s quite remote, so there’s the option to have a minibus and driver at your disposal for trips into Mombasa and other excursions. However, if you’re on more of a shoestring budget, then Stilts Backpackers, on Diani Beach, is a great location for the budget traveller. Funky treehouses (huts on stilts), a tree-level bar-restaurant and plenty of convivial company make it a popular base, and the beach is just a five-minute walk away.

The Tiwi Beach house costs a minimum of US$700 (£470) per night for four people, including all meals and drinks, with further guests costing $100 (£70) per night (under 11s pay half). The minibus and driver is an extra $250 (£170) per day.

Stay in a rainforest lodge in the Shimba Hills – or explore a ruined city

Coastal adventures come in many shapes and sizes. Just inland from the beaches of the south coast lies Shimba Hills National Reserve. The hills, teeming with elephants and forest wildlife, house an authentic rainforest lodge, where trees grow through the wooden building, and a treetop walkway winds through the forest to a waterhole. Also in the forest, near the small resort town of Watamu on the north coast, the ruins of the stone town of Gedi lay hidden in the jungle for hundreds of years. The identity of the sixteenth-century inhabitants of the town, excavated in the 1940s, is still unknown, but today their houses and mosques can be explored and are particularly atmospheric at dusk.

Take a dhow cruise in Mombasa harbour or tour the old city on a tuk-tuk

There’s sightseeing with a difference at the coast’s main town, the island city of Mombasa. Several large vessels –big trading dhows known as jahazi – have been converted for use as comfortable excursion boats, with cushions, carpets and on-board kitchens. Embarking just before sunset, you watch the sun drop behind the palm trees and kick the evening off with a dawa cocktail (a Kenyan blend of vodka and honey; it means “medicine”). Then, entertained by a Swahili taarab band, you chug around Tudor Creek and Mombasa Harbour as you set to work on red snapper, lobster, lamb and crunchy vegetables. Some cruises include a son-et-lumière show at Fort Jesus, the city’s standout historical site (cruises can be booked through any hotel reception). If you’d rather do your sightseeing by day, and on a budget, rent a tuk-tuk or motorized rickshaw, and ask for an hour’s tour of Old Town. Most drivers will be happy to oblige, though you’ll need your Rough Guide to Kenya to navigate the small area (less than half a square kilometre).

Get off the Mombasa Highway in the Kibwezi Forest or the Taita Hills

Most visitors treat the notoriously dangerous and traffic-jammed Mombasa Highway with a degree of fear and loathing. But it has some truly worthwhile sidetracks that you’d be mad to pass up. Most impressive of these is the outstandingly beautiful Umani Springs, a designer lodge in the almost unvisited Kibwezi forest, nearly half way to the coast. Shaded by huge acacia and fig trees, three temple-like cottages, built of local lava stone, accommodate up to ten people each. There’s even a good team of staff to cook the food you bring, leaving you to watch the local wildlife or laze in the huge, spring-fed swimming pool. However, it’s tricky to manage if you’re travelling by public transport, so pause your trip to the coast at Voi and take a matatu (minibus) into the cool, fir-clad Taita Hills, with their fascinating ancestral skull caves and dramatic executions (murderers were once hurled from a cliff to their meet their death). You can stay cheaply in the friendly little town of Wundanyi.

Head south into the Rift Valley

From Nairobi, everyone thinks of the Rift Valley as north of the city, focused around tourist hotspots like Lake Naivasha with its gardens and boat trips, or Lake Nakuru with its busy national park. But, if you head south – driving yourself or in a limited selection of beaten-up buses or taxi vans – you can explore an equally fascinating but almost unvisited stretch of the Great Rift. First possible stop is Whistling Thorns – much like an English Lake District youth hostel, but with ostriches and gazelles instead of sheep. Then, as you plunge down the dramatic face of the escarpment, you head out onto arid plains where there’s a great prehistoric stone-tool site, Olorgasailie, with cheap camping and cottages. Finally, you reach the bizarre soda pans of Lake Magadi, where a factory town supports a major chemical industry. There’s a beautiful public swimming pool and excellent bird life near the hot springs, and a few options for staying if you don’t have a tent.

Explore the north in a 4×4

If you have a week, you can rent a Land Rover or Land Cruiser and head north. The fast and empty new road from Isiolo to Merille (half way from Isiolo to Marsabit) is a dream to drive, with a magnificent landscape of rocky buttes breaking the horizon. Three hours past tarmac’s end, Mount Marsabit, an old “shield volcano” emerging out of the desert, is swathed in thick forest surrounding hidden crater lakes. You can camp here, or there’s a basic lodge. The town of Marsabit itself is a cultural melting pot, as is the whole eastern flank of Lake Turkana. The drive to the lake, through the remote mission station and trading post of North Horr, is a great adventure, across stony wastes and through nomadic pastoral communities where camels tend to have right of way. If you have only a day or two with a 4×4, you could travel between Thika and Naivasha, just north of Nairobi, along a rarely used forest track where elephants push trees across the road (take a winch and an axe).

Swim with whale sharks or become acquainted with baboons

If your safari has given you a taste for close encounters of the furred (or finned) kind, you might consider swimming with whale sharks, just south of Mombasa. Wildlife immersion doesn’t get much more immersive than slipping underwater to snorkel alongside these gentle giants. In a controversial tourism / conservation project, twice a year two young sharks (a mere five to seven metres in length) are towed into a marine pen twice the size of a football pitch, just off the beach at Waa. You pay around $150 (£105) to snorkel with them for an hour, with 30% of the proceeds going to whale shark conservation. Back on dry land, at Il Polei Group Ranch in Laikipia, north of Mount Kenya, you can visit a troop of baboons in the wild, where a long-term social study of the animals has meant humans and primates can walk together during a 2-hour dawn or dusk excursion ($80 for groups of up to four).

Go clubbing in Nairobi or grab your blankets and wine

For clubbing of the musical kind, Nairobi is your best bet. The steadily reviving Central Business District has a small grid of streets that stream with revellers every weekend, encouraged by a bit of street lighting and the security that numbers bring. For city centre DJs, booze and choma (roast meat), Zanzebar, on the 5th floor of Kenya Cinema Plaza on Moi Avenue, has a very local flavour. More stylish and youthful is the pumping Tribeka, on the corner of Banda and Kimathi streets, and Tree House at Museum Hill roundabout has been a solid address for live music for the last couple of years. For something a little different, the monthly music festival of no fixed abode Blankets and Wine has become a diary anchor point for lots of affluent young Nairobians.

Train with warriors  – rigorous or lite

On most safaris in Kenya you’re likely to meet Maasai warriors, and soon realise this is no dressing-up club but a part of every Maasai man’s life. Your guide may wear shirt and trousers in town, but in the bush he’ll wear a robe and carry a spear and sword. The training for this age grade is long and arduous, but you can now sample the lifestyle at a number of camps. For the most engaging warrior training experience, sign up for a 3-to-7-day programme with Laikipiak Maasai warriors at Bush Adventures Camp. On the Il Ngwesi Group Ranch, in northern Kenya, you’ll learn to shoot with a bow, throw clubs and engage in Maasai repartee. For a quicker, low budget taste of the action, closer to Nairobi, the low-key Maji Moto Eco-Camp, in the greater Mara ecosystem, includes warrior-training – stick throwing, dancing, singing, tracking – with every stay in its tidy dome tents.

Find a festival – at Lake Turkana, the Rift Valley or Lamu

Talking of festivals, Kenya has fewer major events than you’d perhaps imagine, or hope for, but the handful of reliable annual fixtures is worth pinning a safari round. Pre-eminent is the Lake Turkana Festival in May, a colourful cultural jamboree in one of the country’s most remote towns. Much easier to reach is the Rift Valley Festival in August, a more European-style music festival on the shores of Lake Naivasha. On the far-flung shores of the Indian Ocean, the Lamu Festival, held every November, sees the whole of this old Swahili town taking part in donkey and dhow races, traditional stick fights, processions, beach barbecues and crafts displays.

The 10th edition of the Rough Guide to Kenya was published in May 2013. 

Empty buildings, decrepit houses and economic decline – the newly-bankrupt Detroit has been hit by a barrage of bad press of late. The Guardian, Time and others have all run (admittedly fascinating) “ruin porn” galleries of the city’s fall from grace.

We thought we’d show you some of the more beautiful sights of Detroit instead, as a reminder that this great US city does have a few roses among the thorns.

Eastern Market

Each week up to 40,000 people flock to this over-100-year-old public market. It is a colourful display of fruit, vegetables, flowers and locally produced goods set in a wonderful red-brick building.

Belle Isle Park

This 982 acre island park, situated on the Detroit River, has a beautiful nature centre, where visitors can stroll wooded trails and see wildlife in its natural habitat.

Detroit River

The ecological and economical importance of this 28-mile-long river means vast restoration efforts took place after the waters became toxic, and now it is home to a variety of wildlife and used for recreational activities.

Detroit Riverwalk ­

Not just a pleasant walk along the river, this path is home to plenty of summer fun and festivals, from yoga to a reading and rhythm program.

Detroit Zoo

More than 3300 animals and 280 species reside in this 125-acre zoo made up of various naturalistic habitats. Major exhibits include the Arctic Ring of Life and the Butterfly Garden.

Campus Martius Park

This is the commercial centre and heart of downtown Detroit and has a 2.5 acre public square that acts as a year-round entertainment venue, hosting everything from music festivals to movie nights.

Detroit Institute of Arts

Beauty can always be found in the arts, so the Detroit Institute of Arts is a good bet for some stunning creations. With over 100 galleries, 60,000 works and a 1,150-seat auditorium there’s bound to be something please they eye (or ears).

Guardian Building ­

Inside and out, this building is the Detroit definition of Art Deco. Standing out in the city among tall white concrete office blocks, this one has a distinct design, elaborate murals and dramatic interior architecture.

Explore more of the USA with the Rough Guide to the USA.

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