Street food in Taiwan has a charm that restaurants just can’t match. There’s a distinct pleasure to be found in wandering through the labyrinthine stalls glowing with colourful signage; watching your food made to order; inhaling the changing aromas at each stage of preparation – it’s as if the sights, sounds and spirit of the island become yet another ingredient in each dish’s recipe.

Here’s a quick introduction to roadside feasting in China‘s autonomous isle, one of the world’s most delectable foodie hubs. From candied fruit on a skewer to stinky tofu that tastes sort of like blue cheese, here are 10 Taiwanese street foods you absolutely must try.

As the only democracy in the Chinese speaking world and the most progressive city for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia, a legacy of artists and activists have worked to make Taiwan’s capital a place where culture, progression and creativity thrive.

Now, a new wave of resident creatives are re-energizing the city. Cutting-edge art galleries stand next to traditional teahouses, and basement club techno still murmurs in the streets as local markets set up their fare with the sunrise. Affordable, safe, efficient and exciting, this sea of glass, concrete and palm trees is an urban explorer’s dreamland. For travellers looking to unearth Taiwan’s underground scene, here are eight tips for discovering cool Taipei at its best.

1. Don’t stop drinking coffee

Taiwan’s celebrated tea culture can be traced back more than three hundred years. Home to some of the world’s best greens and oolongs, tea here is both a science and a philosophy, a remedy for body and soul.

While you’ll find no shortage of old-school teahouses, the same spirit of craft and pride has been applied to Taipei’s third wave coffee scene – and the results are glorious. Interesting cafés are popping up everywhere in the city, from over the top chemistry lab-esque B Coffee & Space in Da’an to the award-winning baristas and Scandi-inspired minimalism of Fika Fika in Zhongshan.

Whether you spend the day shooting espresso or sipping cups of siphoned single-origin brew, you’ll quickly discover why Taipei seems set to become the world’s next hub of café culture.

photo by Colt St. George

2. Tap into the city’s creative scene in Zhongshan and Dongmen

Taipei was named World Design Capital 2016 for a reason. Everyone from young architects to underground record labels seem to be embracing a new “made in Taiwan” pride that’s at once trendy and distinctly Taiwanese. The neighbourhoods of Zhongshan and Dongmen are perfect for testing the waters.

While the main streets may feel a bit commercial, amble the historic back lanes of Zhongshan district and you’ll discover well-curated vintage shops like Blue Monday, cute design boutiques and stylish records stores like Waiting Room. Taipei Artist Village – an arts institution and residency open to local and international creatives – is also worth popping by.

Dongmen is even more gratifying. While the upscale main streets boast everything from craft bubble tea to the latest in Taiwanese interior design, hit the quiet residential alleyways and you’ll find quirky art cafés, craft beer bars, dusty Chinese antique shops and good old fashioned Taiwanese comfort food spots like James Kitchen on Yongkang Street.

3. Sample the street food, especially stinky tofu

Be it in London, New York or Berlin, street food has become undeniably, and often tragically, hip. Forgo the pomp, faux-grit and absurd prices of the latest in questionable Western street food trends and rejoice in Taipei’s affordable authenticity.

From notable night markets like Ningxia and Liaoning to nameless back alley daytime stalls serving dishes perfected over generations, there’re an overwhelming variety of delicious local dishes to sample. Fatty braised pork on rice, oyster omelettes, beef noodle soup, dumplings and shaved ice piled high with fresh fruit are good for starters.

However, your ultimate quest should be to conquer the infamous chòu dòufu, or stinky tofu. It smells like a rotting corpse, but possesses a flavour profile of such intense complexity most hardcore foodies call it sublime. Others spit it up immediately.

Pixabay / CC0

4. Give vegetarianism a try

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian having trouble finding meat-free eats, keep an eye out for restaurant signs with enormous, glaring swastikas. The symbol is associated with Buddhism in China long before it’s appropriation in Europe and marks the restaurant as entirely vegetarian.

There are loads around the city, selling delectable Buddhist meals at ridiculously cheap prices. Many are buffet style, where whatever you’ve stacked on your plate is paid for by weight. The selection is usually too vast to try all of in a single go, which will keep you coming back for more.

5. From dilapidation to design: check out the city’s former art squats

Maverick Taiwanese artists were the first to recognize the potential of Taipei’s abandoned industrial buildings, squatting and staging illegal performances in these derelict-turned-creative spaces. Though authorities were quite resistant to their presence initially, after much protest spaces such as Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park have become governmentally protected cultural centres.

Today these spaces are generally buzzing with life, hosting a plethora of fun adult and family events in on-site galleries, concept stores, cinemas, studios, concert halls and more. While governmental commercialization of these spaces has blunted their cutting-edge origins, they still feel undeniably special and worthwhile.

photo by Colt St. George

6. Lose yourself in Taipei’s nightlife

Home to a thriving underground scene, Taipei’s nightlife and music scenes are simply awesome. From indie garage rockers like Skip Skip Ben Ben, to techno, noise and experimental hip hop, putting the effort into exploring Taipei’s underground sounds will reveal an entirely different dimension to the city and provide opportunities to mingle with the artists who are making it happen.

Revolver in Zhongzheng is a laidback and friendly institution that throws everything from metal to indie nights, while F*cking Place (though the club doesn’t use an asterisk) is definitely among the city’s coolest dive-bars – with the added bonus of ridiculously cheap beer. For techno and electronic parties get to Korner, a subsection of well-known club The Wall. Pipe and APA Mini are also great venues for live music.

7. Not feeling the party? Try a reading rave

With a vibrant population of artists, intellectuals and activists perhaps it’s no surprise that print still holds a special place in Taiwan. The popularity of Eslite in Dunnan branch, Taipei’s massive 24 hour bookstore and one of the world’s only to keep such hours, speaks for itself. Curl up in this beautifully designed booktopia and join the locals as they pore over pages all night long.

On a smaller-scale, keep an eye out for the artisanal stationery shop Pinmo Pure Store, Gin Gin Store (the first gay bookstore opened in Greater China) and hip new bookish concept stores. In this respect, Pon Ding is an absolute standout – a friendly, three-story collaborative creative space housing art, independent publications, quality magazines and pop-up events. Of course, they’ve also got a brilliant café.

photo credit: Pon Ding

8. Get back to nature

Every once in a while you need to leave the urban grind behind and unwind in the natural world. Thankfully, nature is never far off in Taiwan.

The high speed railway from Taipei can have you beaching on the island’s subtropical southern coast in less than two hours, while verdant mountain trails and popular surf breaks are easily accessible by bus. If you’re feeling adventurous, delve further into the mountains to experience the colourful cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

But whenever you find yourself recharged and craving that big-city buzz it’s a quick train trip back to the creative playground that is Taipei.

EVA Air, a Star Alliance member, flies daily from London Heathrow to Taipei, offering passengers award winning service and a choice of three cabin classes: Royal Laurel Class (Business Class), Elite Class (Premium Economy) and Economy Class. Featured image: Pon Ding. See more of Taiwan with the Taiwanese tourist board

Surviving 42ºC (107ºF) desert heat, tramping hurricane-battered Pacific beaches and scaling lofty volcanoes, our hard-travelling authors have visited every corner of this vast, magnificent country – from the ancient caves of Baja California to the dense rainforest of the Lacandón Jungle.

To celebrate the publication of the new Rough Guide to Mexico, we’re sharing a few of their Mexico travel tips, including some of their favourite sights and experiences.

1. See dawn from a kayak

Paddling through the glassy, desert-backed waters of Bahía Concepción as the sun rises, surrounded by marine life, is an otherworldly experience.

Windy Playa Punta Arena is one of the best stretches of sand – and popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders. At Playa Santispac, some 5km further on, Ana’s offers cheap fish tacos and potent Bloody Mary as well as kayak rental and snorkelling gear.

2. Hit the road

Driving Highway 1, which runs 1711km from the US border to the southern tip of Baja California, rates as one of the world’s greatest road journeys.

Expect an enchanting drive featuring starry nights, vast deserts, isolated mountain ranges and empty beaches.

3. Get retro chic

The 1950s meets modern cool at Acapulco‘s Boca Chica hotel, a renovated resort carved into the cliff-face above the madness at Playa Caleta and decorated by Mexican artist Claudia Fernández.

The all-white rooms feature retro showers, flat-screen TVs, iPod docks and free wi-fi – plus there’s a luxurious spa, gym, massage cabañas and pool terrace.

Acapulco via Pixabay/CC0

4. Go subterranean swimming

The cenotes of northern Yucatán – vast sun-lit caverns filled with water – are magical places for a refreshing dip; X’keken and Samula are two of the best.

Shafik Meghji recently explored these and more, discovering why they were once considered sacred gateways to the Mayan underworld.

5. Get a window onto the Aztec world

Rent a boat and soak up the carnival atmosphere, flowers and traditional floating gardens at the Mexico City suburb of Xochimilco.

You can rent a boat on a weekday for less-crowded cruising, but Sundays are by far the most popular and animated day; Saturdays are lively, too, partly because of the produce market.

6. Go syncretic

The Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, in the village of San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, is an incredibly vibrant blend of Catholicism and animist tradition, with the local Maya praying on a floor of pine needles.

The area is home to the Tzotzil Maya, one of the most distinctive and intriguing communities in Mexico.

7. Party at the best underground club

You can’t get more underground than La Mina Club in Zacatecas – it’s inside the old El Edén mine shafts, right in the heart of the mountain and accessed on the same train used in the mine tour.

From 11pm it pumps with everything from Latin sounds to cheesy electronic techno music. But if you don’t enjoy being trapped in an enclosed space, beware this might not be the club for you…

Sunset in Zacatecas via Pixabay/CC0

8. Discover Mexico’s microbreweries

Baja California’s craft beer scene is expanding. Sample it in Tijuana at Plaza Fiesta, where locals often head without a specific place in mind, preferring to wander until they find a scene that appeals to them, or La Taberna, the city’s acclaimed microbrewery and congenial pub.

Elsewhere, Ensenada is fast developing its own craft brew scene, with local beer maker Wendlandt operating warehouse and tap room Cervecería Wendlandt for connoisseurs to sample its popular oatmeal stout and Vaquita Marina pale ale. Baja Sur’s original microbrewery, Baja Brewing Co in San José del Cabo serves pints such as Baja Blond and Peyote pale ale.

Explore more of Mexico with the Rough Guide to MexicoCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Wherever you go in downtown Shanghai, you’ll be struck by international influence both past and present. From the leafy avenues of the former French Concession to the modern malls on Nanjing West Road, this is a city that grew up with globalisation.

For a different – and less crowded – take on cosmopolitanism, head to the suburbs. Hidden among the city outskirts are six European-style towns. These novel developments are a result of a 2001 plan to relieve population pressure in the city centre, by building new suburbs on the outskirts. It was hoped the European motifs would help attract Shanghai’s middle and upper classes, but deserted streets in some of these areas suggest it takes more than quirky themes to pull residents away from central Shanghai.

If the city’s population growth catches up with its relentless construction, though, these offbeat enclaves are unlikely to stay quiet forever. Here are a few of the most intriguing.

Tie the knot in British Thames Town

For a very British experience, ride the Shanghai metro to Thames Town. Almost everything here, including the clambering ivy, the man-made River Thames and the church modelled on its Bristol counterpart, is disconcertingly English.

It’s this very Englishness that makes touches of Chinese life stand out all the more: the red-coated guard on an electric moped, the ladies with purple permed hair and their similarly coiffured poodles, the countless couples who travel here for wedding photography.

Though it’s known officially as Thames Town, perhaps the place is best summed up by the name of a local language school: Li Yang Crazy English Town.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Spot the statues in a quiet German Town

Architectural firm Albert Speer & Partner (Speer’s father was Hitler’s chief architect in WWII) based their design for Anting New Town on modern German residential districts. The result may indeed be modern, but the empty streets suggest it’s not very residential. It is, in fact, a bit of a ghost town, with only one in five properties being inhabited.

As well as rows of yellow and red apartment blocks, the development includes the German Football Park – a small pitch where real players have been substituted for plastic statues.

In the central square, too, statues dominate. Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang van Goethe stand with an air of gravity that suggests that they are in a town with more than one open bar.

German beer, and Taiwanese sausages, are on offer in the restaurant opposite the literary figures, and you won’t need to queue to place your order.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Get back to nature in Swedish Luodian

Luodian North European New Town is inspired by Sigtuna in Sweden. Like Luodian, Sigtuna sits on the banks of a Lake Malaren. The Chinese version of the lake is a popular spot for camping and barbecues, and is probably more frequently used for wedding photos than its Swedish counterpart.

Away from the water, statues of naked Scandinavians pose outside northwest Chinese noodle shops. With titles such as Vitality, these scantily-clad artworks fit right into Luodian’s natural, outdoors theme.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Shanghai Meets La Mancha in Spanish Fengcheng

You’ll need the adventurous spirit of a knight-errant to discover Spanish Fengcheng. The 600 year-old town is a bustling jigsaw of hotpot restaurants and clothing stores, and even many locals haven’t noticed the Spanish influence.

But Spanish influence there is, and you’ll know you’ve found it once you spot the three windmills. The adjacent bridge is decorated with stone-carved pictures of scenes from Don Quixote.

Rising up from the river running under the bridge is a sculpture that may well be the Lady of La Mancha; she aims a level gaze at a housing compound with unmistakeable white-washed walls and red-tiled roofs.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Take a cruise in Italian Pujiang

To many, Shanghai’s Breeza Citta di Pujiang sounds more Italian than it looks. Architects Gregotti Associati International aimed for a rectangular grid layout, and architecture defined by simplicity and clean lines.

The result is a modern hybrid of Italian design and Shanghai suburb, with wide streets and long canals that are popular with both anglers and canoers.

Wander far enough from the populated apartment blocks and you’ll find a deserted Venetian-style canal, where a disused gondola floats eerily.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Go Dutch in Gaoqiao

Most emblematic of Holland Town (Gaoqiao) is the windmill that stands on an island in the Gaoqiao Port waterway. To one side of the windmill, a faded sign advertising wedding photography clings to the wooden walls. Though the photography agency is gone, the pretty views across the water are still here.

Gaohe Road, the main thoroughfare, has little open aside from a gym and a martial arts centre. The rows of narrow houses, in colours from asphalt grey to faded orange, are topped by an array of turrets and gables.

At the northeaster end of Gaohe Road, past Shanghai Renjia and the closed St Michael’s Catholic Church, are a few riverside benches from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of this picturesque Dutch town.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Explore more of Shanghai with the Rough Guide to ShanghaiCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. 

Snow-white beaches, giant coconut-eating crabs and karate-loving grannies: Okinawa is Japan but not as we know it. This alluring chain of sun-kissed, hibiscus-draped islands offers a blend of Southeast Asian heat, unique ‘un-Japanese’ culture and delicious, life-extending food. Andy Turner explores how to make the most of a trip to Japan’s subtropical paradise.

Find the elixir of (long) life

An hour’s drive north of Okinawa’s sprawling capital, Naha, the village of Ogimi is famous across Japan for having the most centenarians (people over 100 years old) in the country. In fact, you’re barely considered middle-aged when you hit 80 here.

This could all be down to the local diet: steaming bowls of dark green vegetables, tofu, fresh fish and muzuku seaweed, the latter hoovered up from the Okinawan seabed and exported across Japan. Or perhaps it’s the knobbly goyu cucumber, apparently packed with all kinds of medicinal goodies (and often served up fried with SPAM, of all things).

Whatever the secret, it’s probably no thanks to the local hooch, awomori, ‘island sake’ which can pack a 60% alcohol punch. But that shouldn’t stop you sampling a glass – try the smooth, three-year aged version from local distillery Chuko Awamori.

Image by Andy Turner

Learn to be a karate kid

Not only are people incredibly long-lived in Okinawa, chances are they’re also handy in a fight. Karate was invented here in the seventeenth century (80s movie buffs may remember a certain Mr Miyagi was Okinawan), and you’ll see young and old heading to the local dojo every week (though perhaps not catching flies with their chopsticks).

Okinawan karate is less about flashy moves and more a way of life – the ‘why’ more important than the ‘how’ as they put it. Enthusiasts can arrange lessons with an experienced sensei (instructor). Alternatively drop in to Naha’s Dojo Bar, to lap up the martial arts memorabilia and an ice-cold Orion beer.

Image by N i c o l a on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Kick back on Japan’s answer to Hawaii

Okinawa is often dubbed the ‘Japanese Hawaii’, and the comparison seems apt when you head to the outer islands or jima. With over 130 to choose from it’s tricky to pick out a favourite but Aka-jima (in the Kerama islands), a short if bumpy ferry ride from Naha is hard to beat for sheer beauty. Once the boat departs, you’re left with the sound of waves gently lapping against white sand and the scent of Ryūkyū pines in the sea breeze; you might even spot an elusive Kerama deer taking a dip.

For classic white-sand and emerald water eye candy you’ll need to hop on a plane to Ishigaki, part of the Yaeyama group of islands, 400km southwest of Naha. Here Kabira Bay is as close as Japan gets to Boracay or Waikiki Beach, with only half the level of commercialisation. There’s even a gloriously unpretentious hostel which makes for a tempting place to wake up.

Image by Visit Okinawa

Seek out some strange wildlife

The further you travel from the Japanese mainland Okinawa’s wildlife gets progressively weirder. On Hatoma in the Yaeyamas, huge armour-plated coconut crabs, up to a metre across, lumber past traffic to mate in the sea. A short boat ride away on Iriomote, tiny wild boar, half the size of their mainland cousins, roam the beaches snaffling up turtle eggs, while inland a rare miniature ‘leopard’, the Iriomote cat, prowls the forest.

Image by Visit Okinawa

Explore an ancient empire

Gliding into Naha, aboard the sleek airport monorail, you could be forgiven for thinking that not a single building survived World War II (the city was devastated during the US assault on Okinawa in April 1945). Yet hidden amongst the utilitarian modern architecture are several reminders of its heyday as the capital of the Kingdom of Ryūkyū.

An independent state sandwiched between Ming dynasty China and feudal Japan, Ryūkyū developed its own culture and language, before finally being annexed by the Japanese in the nineteenth century.

The influence of its neighbours can be seen at Shuri Castle, painstakingly rebuilt in the 1990s. Here, vermillion Chinese pagodas and ornate dragons stand side-by-side with minimalist Japanese rooms kitted out with tatami mats. Look up and you’ll spot shīsā or ‘lion dogs’, glaring down from the roof. This uniquely Okinawan mascot can be seen warding off evil spirits and typhoons across the islands.

Image by Yusuke Umezawa on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

See an underwater Atlantis

Diving is excellent across Okinawa (check out our rundown of the best sites) but the most intriguing is off tiny Yonaguni, an edge of the world kind of place, within binocular-spotting distance of Taiwan. As well as being a hotspot for hammerhead sharks, it’s also home to a mysterious series of ‘ruins’ that resemble a mini Atlantis. With giant sandstone terraces and steps seemingly cut out by hand, it’s tempting to believe this was the work of an ancient civilization and not just a quirk of geology.

Image by Inside Japan

Andy Turner travelled with Inside Japan who offer a twelve-night island hopping trip to Okinawa as well as specialist itineraries for karate and diving enthusiasts. For a video taster of the islands see Be Okinawa.

Ticked off Rome’s big sights and wondering where to go next? Natasha Foges picks some of the city’s off-the-beaten track highlights.

Lose yourself in the Quartiere Coppedè

There’s so much to grab tourists’ attention in central Rome that a magical spot like the Quartiere Coppedè can go unnoticed. Tucked away in the Trieste quarter (tram 3 or 19 to Piazza Buenos Aires), northeast of the centre, this flight of fancy was conceived by architect Gino Coppedè in 1919.

The predominantly Art Nouveau architecture is embellished with a riot of details – Florentine turrets, frescoed facades, medieval motifs and Gothic gargoyles – and sports such whimsical creations as a frog-embellished fountain, a “fairy cottage” and a “spider’s palace”.

Image by mirsasha on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Get lost in time at Cinecittà film studios

If you’ve visited the Roman Forum and struggled to summon up the epicentre of the ancient world from this large open space littered with rubble and broken columns, you could always cheat and head to Cinecittà.

Within easy reach of the centre by metro, these film studios house the set of the HBO/BBC blockbuster Rome, with its impressive reconstruction of the Forum, its buildings intact and brightly painted as they would have been in ancient times.

Littered with props from iconic films, Cinecittà has plenty of tributes to the “Hollywood on the Tiber” classics of its Dolce Vita-era heyday, as well as spaghetti western memorabilia and more.

Image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Take in some quirky culture at Villa Torlonia

Few tourists make their way to this palm-shaded park north of the centre – it’s not only a shady retreat on a scorching summer’s day but also has an intriguing history.

The estate was given to Mussolini in the 1930s to use for as long as he needed it, and his home, the frescoed Casino Nobile, is open to the public.

Nearby, the World War II bunker built for Mussolini and his family has recently been opened to the public and can be visited on engaging guided tours.

Another offbeat sight, nestled in the corner of the park, is the Casina delle Civette (“Little House of the Owls”), a Liberty-style building packed with beautiful Art Nouveau features: eagle-eyed visitors will spot the owls and other birds that feature in stained glass throughout the house.

Admire Tor Marancia’s street art

If you’ve had your fill of Renaissance and Baroque art, head to the city’s fringes for a glimpse of some modern-day masterpieces. Rome’s street-art scene has blossomed in recent years, as part of a council-run initiative to regenerate downtrodden and neglected areas.

A case in point is Tor Marancia (walking distance from Garbatella metro stop), where a housing estate has been given a colourful facelift by twenty international artists. Monumental murals in different artistic styles emblazon the sides of eleven buildings – from US artist Gaia’s De Chirico-inspired giant orange on a cobalt background to French artist Seth’s outsize child, whose crayoned ladder allows him to scale five storeys.

Image by Luca Nebuloni on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Picnic in Parco degli Acquedotti

Film buffs might recognize the Parco degli Acquedotti from the opening scene of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, in which a statue of Christ is helicoptered from the city’s working-class outskirts to the Vatican.

The park is even more impressive in technicolour: criss-crossed with the hulking remains of ancient Roman aqueducts, which brought thousands of litres of water into the city every day, and dotted with wildflowers and grazing sheep, it’s a popular spot with picnicking locals and joggers.

It’s pretty much undiscovered by tourists, though, and easy to get to (a short walk from Giulio Agricola metro), making it a great spot to appreciate the genius of the ancient Romans without battling the crowds.

Image by Paolo Del Signore on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pay your respects at the Protestant Cemetery

The Protestant Cemetery, tucked away behind high stone walls in the Testaccio district, might not be your first sightseeing choice, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable place for a wander, with lichen-covered headstones and ornate tombs carrying some fascinating and poignant stories of the non-Catholic foreigners that ended up here.

The cemetery’s most famous residents are Keats and Shelley; the former, who died of tuberculosis in Rome in 1821, has an unnamed grave, engraved at his request with the words “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”.

Image colour corrected; by leiris202 on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Discover Rome’s quieter side in Garbatella

A curiosity in the industrial Ostiense district, Garbatella (metro line B) was built in the 1920s following the English “garden city” model, with rustic, low-rise buildings clustered around peaceful communal gardens and courtyards.

Originally built to house people displaced by Mussolini’s demolitions in the city centre, Garbatella’s inclusive design fostered a strong sense of community that still survives today. It’s an appealing place for a breather from central Rome, and is gaining a reputation as a foodie hotspot, with a good mix of earthy trattorias and hip new venues.

Image by Darrel Ronald Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Explore more of Rome with the Rough Guide to Rome. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Got wheels, wanderlust and some time this summer? A European road trip beckons. The continent just can’t be beaten when it comes to epic journeys, from Spain‘s scenic coastal drives to Germany‘s astonishing roadside alpine vistas. Not sure where to start? Take the quiz below.

Renowned the world over for its decorated tribes, the Omo Valley is a stop on many a tourist route in Ethiopia. But visits to the area can cross ethical boundaries, and few tourists are allowed the pleasure of a genuine experience with local people. Here, Rough Guides photographer Tim Draper tells us about his experience photographing some of southern Ethiopia’s most fascinating tribes. 

As a travel photographer I desperately wanted to capture creative and authentic portraits in the Omo Valley, whilst hoping to avoid the negative experiences told in tourists tales of ‘zoo-like’ excursions.

After spending almost a week researching tour companies in Addis I carefully chose my driver, and together we planned our trip around the Omo villages.

We stayed overnight in most villages, camping or sleeping in huts. It was a good way to get to know the tribes, spending long afternoons with them while tourists came and went, barely getting out of their vehicles before they were whisked away.

If you don’t want a zoo-like experience in Omo, you’d do well to keep your camera in your pocket for a little while longer, try to connect with the people on a deeper level than that of a fifteen-minute whistle-stop photo opportunity.

I took my pictures methodically and slowly, with good humour and in a relaxed atmosphere. After all, good travel portraits – like good travel experiences – require time, care and trust.

Arbore children

Two women on market day

Hamer tribeswoman

Mursi girl holding gun

A painted Karo tribesman

Karo tribes people by the Omo river

A painted Karo tribesman

Mursi tribeswoman with lip plate

A painted Karo tribesman poses with his gun

A Hamer girl with red ochre hair

Painted Karo tribesman with gun

Hamer tribe, mother and child

Young child in the Mursi village

A tribal ceremony in the Bena village

Bena tribe, mother with her children

A Bena family sit outside their home

Hamer tribe girls

See more of Tim’s photography here. Explore more of Ethiopia with the Rough Guide to EthiopiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Although the news has been full of negative stories about the financial and immigrant crises which have engulfed Greece in recent years, there are still many reasons to visit this delightful country. From its stunning beaches and superb mountain scenery to great food and, above all, its warm Hellenic welcome.

Here, co-author of the Rough Guide to Greece, Nick Edwards, shares his tips travelling in Greece.

1. Share the wealth

Try to use independent accommodation and dining options as much as possible. Resort packages, especially all­-inclusive ones, can be very cheap but little of the money you spend stays in Greece.

The economic crisis has actually led to most villa, pension and small hotel owners lowering their prices and being more prepared to bargain on spec.

And who wants to eat the same resort buffet every day, when there is a choice of authentic tavernas close by?

Santorini via Pixabay/CC0

2. Avoid peak season

Unless you have to go in high summer because of school holidays, try to visit outside the peak season of late July to the end of August. During this period, the weather is blistering hot, prices soar and everywhere gets overcrowded because the Greeks themselves are on holiday.

May and June see warm days, with a proliferation of flora, and fresh nights, while September and early October offer golden days and the sea still holds its summer heat.

3. Meander around the mainland

Don’t fall into the trap of associating Greece solely with its islands. The mainland has a great deal to offer, from the imposing Pindos mountain range in the north to the empty golden beaches of the western PeloponneseIt also boasts the greatest number of archaeological sites.

Travelling between the main towns is easy on the comprehensive KTEL bus network, with local services radiating out to villages.

You can also make use of the limited but extremely cheap national rail service for a number of key destinations.

Monemvasia via Pixabay/CC0

4. Eat and drink like a local

Eating is invariably a casual affair in Greece. Look for restaurants where the locals are eating, as the food will be much better. Just remember that Greeks eat late, often after 10pm.

Always ask for local barrelled wine, which is cheaper than bottled, or try a fiery spirit such as ouzo or tsipouro. Likewise, don’t be fobbed off with bottled water, as what comes out of the tap is perfectly potable.

5. Go island hopping

There’s no doubt that the golden age of island hopping was in the 70s and 80s, and most people now stick to one island per holiday.

But ferry services are still plentiful and mostly reliable through the warmer months, so why not choose a group of islands like the Ionians, the Dodecanese or the postcard pretty Cyclades and see as many as you can?

Always plan return to your departure airport a day or two ahead of your flight though.

Naxos via Pixabay/CC0

6. Embrace Greek time

Punctuality is not held in the highest esteem in Greece. There is a healthy Mediterranean belief that most things can be put off and nothing needs to be done in a hurry: Spanish “mañana” equals Greek “avrio”.

So don’t expect service in a restaurant to be too snappy or transportation always to run like clockwork.

7. Be culturally sensitive

Most younger Greeks regard themselves as modern and open­-minded but the older generation have an ingrained conservatism and the Orthodox Church still holds great sway.

Nudity is frowned upon away from designated beaches and it is better not to visit churches or monasteries in skimpy shorts or tops.

Orthodox church via Pixabay/CC0

8. Beware of directions and regulations

There’s a good deal of truth in the maxim that if you ask five Greeks how to get somewhere you’ll get five different answers – but don’t worry, because getting a bit lost is all part of the fun.

It’s similar with rules and regulations such as having to wear seatbelts or crash helmets, or not smoking in public places. These are all regularly ignored but it’s up to you whether you follow suit.

9. Take care in the capital

Athens may come across as a concrete jungle, but it is also rich with sights, including the ancient Acropolis and some superb museums.

It is where you are most likely to encounter the effects of the twin crises, however, with an increasing number of shuttered buildings and homeless people.

Although it is not generally unsafe, you should watch your valuables, especially when travelling on crowded transport such as the metro.

Athens via Pixabay/CC0

10. Don’t be shy

Greeks are mostly extrovert types and love exchanging views and opinions with anybody and everybody. So don’t hold back on asking people about their beliefs and opinions or expressing your own.

If you are travelling with kids, you’ll soon see how much they are indulged and can often act as natural ice­-breakers, especially at restaurants, where nobody minds them running around and making a bit of a noise.

11. Learn a little of the language

Greeks generally do not expect foreigners to know any Greek, and levels of English are good throughout the country.

On the other hand, they love it if you do learn at least a few words, and any effort will be rewarded by your status being elevated from a plain tourist to an honoured “xenos”, which means both “foreigner” and “guest”.

Explore more of Greece with the Rough Guide to GreeceCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

There are few more quintessentially French views than castle turrets stretching up into a clear blue sky. From the gracious châteaux of the Loire to majestic palaces like Versailles, the country’s castles mark its landscapes, reveal its history and draw visitors from around the world.

To celebrate the publication of the new Rough Guide to France, we’ve picked a few of the lesser-known highlights.

You might not have heard of these châteaux, but they’re well worth a visit

1. Châteaux Vaux-le-Vicomte, Seine-et-Marne

While most people flock to Fontainebleau or Versailles, of all the great mansions within reach of a day’s outing from Paris, the classical Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte is the most architecturally harmonious and aesthetically pleasing – and the most human in scale.

Louis XIV’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, had the château built between 1656 and 1661 at colossal expense, using the top designers of the day – architect Le Vau, painter Le Brun and landscape gardener Le Nôtre. The result was magnificence and precision in perfect proportion, and a bill that could only be paid by someone who occasionally confused the state’s accounts with his own.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

2. Château de Malbrouck, Lorraine

Only 2km from France’s border with Germany, the imposing and impregnable Château de Malbrouck is a restoration marvel. Every brick and turret has been placed in the medieval manner by masons re-schooled in bygone techniques.

It gained its name from the Duke of Marlborough, who decided to invade France through the Moselle using the castle as his base. It took just two weeks for the Duke of Villars, one of Louis xIV’s best generals, to assemble a massive army and scupper his plans, but the castle’s name has remained in folk memory as Malbrouck, a Francification of Marlborough.

Château de Malbrouck by Thierry Draus via Flickr (CC-BY)

3. Château de Rohan, Brittany

The three Rapunzel towers of the Château de Rohan in Josselin, embedded in a vast sheet of stone above the water, are the most impressive sight along the Nantes–Brest canal.

They now serve as a facade for the remnants of the much older castle behind, built by Olivier de Clisson in 1370, the original riverfront towers of which were demolished by Richelieu in 1629 in punishment for Henri de Rohan’s leadership of the Huguenots. It’s still owned by the Rohan family, which used to own a third of Brittany.

Château de Rohan by mat’s eye via Flickr (CC-BY)

4. Château de la Ferté-St-Aubin, The Loire

The Château de la Ferté-St-Aubin lies 20km south of Orléans, at the north end of the village of Ferté-St-Aubin. The late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century building presents an enticing combination of salmon-coloured brick, creamy limestone and dark slate roofs.

The interior is a real nineteenth-century home – and you are invited to treat it as such, which makes a real change from the stuffier attitudes of most grand homes. You can wander freely into almost every room, playing billiards or the piano, picking up the old telephone, sitting on the worn armchairs or washing your hands in a porcelain sink.

Château de la Ferté-St-Aubin via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY – modified)

5. Château des Pêcheurs, The Loire

Twelve kilometres northeast of Gien in La Bussière is a surprising château dedicated to fishing: the so-called Château des Pêcheurs.

Initially a fortress, the château was turned into a luxurious residence at the end of the sixteenth century, but only the gateway and one pepper-pot tower are recognizably medieval. Guided tours are available, but you’re free to wander around, soaking up the genteel atmosphere evoked by the handsome, largely nineteenth-century furnishings and the eccentrically huge collection of freshwater fishing memorabilia bequeathed by Count Henri de Chasseval.

Château des Pêcheurs via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY – modified)

6. Château de Tanlay, Burgundy

The romantic Château de Tanlay is a pleasant 8km cycle along the canal southeast from Tonnerre. This early sixteenth-century construction, very French in feel, is only slightly later in date than its near neighbour, but those extra few years were enough for the purer Italian influences visible in Ancy to have become Frenchified.

Encircling the château are water-filled moats and standing guard over the entrance to the first grassy courtyard is the grand lodge, from where you enter the château across a stone drawbridge.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

7. Château de Bussy-Rabutin, Burgundy

The handsome Château de Bussy-Rabutin, a French National monument, was built for Roger de Rabutin, a member of the Academy in the reign of Louis XIV and a notorious womanizer. The scurrilous tales of life at the royal court told in his book Histoires Amoureuses des Gaules earned him a spell in the Bastille, followed by years of exile in this château.

There are some interesting portraits of great characters of the age, including its famous female beauties, each underlined by an acerbic little comment such as: “The most beautiful woman of her day, less renowned for her beauty than the uses she put it to”.

Château de Bussy-Rabutin via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY – modified)

8. Château de Châlucet, The Limousin

The Château de Châlucet lies 5km up the valley of the Briance to the east of Solignac. At the highest point of the climb there is a dramatic view across the valley to the romantic, ruined keep of the castle, rising above the woods.

Built in the twelfth century, the château was in English hands during the Hundred Years’ War and, in the lawless aftermath, became the lair of a notorious local brigand, Perrot le Béarnais. It was dismantled in 1593 for harbouring Protestants and has been much restored recently.

Château de Châlucet by Guillaume LARDIER via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

9. Château de Hautefort, The Dordogne

The Château de Hautefort enjoys a majestic position at the end of a wooded spur above its feudal village. A magnificent example of good living on a grand scale, the castle has an elegance that is out of step with the usual rough stone fortresses of Périgord.

The approach is across a wide esplanade flanked by formal gardens, over a drawbridge, and into a stylish Renaissance courtyard, open to the south. In 1968 a fire gutted the castle, but it has since been meticulously restored using traditional techniques; it’s all unmistakably new, but the quality of the craftsmanship is superb.

10. Château de Menthon, Haute-Savoie

Close to the village of Menthon-St-Bernard near Annecy is the grand, turreted Château de Menthon. The fortress has been inhabited since the twelfth century and was the birthplace of St Bernard, the patron saint of mountaineers – indeed, the castle remains in the hands of the de Menthon family.

In the nineteenth century, however, it was extensively renovated in the romantic Gothic revival style and now possesses an impressive library containing some 12,000 books. On weekends, costumed actors relate the château’s history.

Château de Menthon by Guilhem Vellut via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

11. Château d’If, Côte d’Azur

The Château d’If, on the tiny island of If, is best known as the penal setting for Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

Having made his watery escape after fourteen years of incarceration as the innocent victim of treachery, the hero of the piece, Edmond Dantès, describes the island thus: “Blacker than the sea, blacker than the sky, rose like a phantom the giant of granite, whose projecting crags seemed like arms extended to seize their prey”. In reality, most prisoners went insane or died before leaving.

Today, the sixteenth-century castle and its cells are horribly well preserved, and the views back towards Marseille are fantastic.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

Explore more of France with the Rough Guide to FranceCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Header image Château de Hautefort via Pixabay/CC0.

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