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.

Sunset is one of our favourite times of the day – it’s an excuse to sit back, drink in hand and take in the scenery, whether you’re high above your favourite city at a rooftop bar, or you’re on the beach catching those last few rays.

But where is the most beautiful place in the world to see the sunset? We’re pretty sure this beguiling nation is up there. Here are 12 amazing photos from across the country…

Sunset over the river in Monywa

Fishermen on Inle Lake

Sunset over Bagan‘s southern plains

Tourists watching sunset from Shwesandaw in Bagan

Shwesandaw, Bagan

Mrauk U, Western Myanmar

The beach at Sittwe

The stupas of Mrauk U

The river in Hpaan

The Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (Golden Rock)

Sunset over Bago

Ngapali beach

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

Among a certain segment of travellers, cruising is sometimes maligned: the dismal buffet and watered-down cocktails. Those kitschy lounge acts. The contrived shore excursions. But that, as they say, was then.

Cruising today, and especially river cruising, offers an entirely different experience, from celebrity chef-driven cuisine to stargazing lounges to bike rides along leafy canals.

River cruising is, in a way, ideal for those who don’t consider themselves cruisers: the ships are relatively small and intimate; land is always in sight, offering daily access to villages and towns; and dinners are elegant affairs at linen-topped tables, instead of noisy group melees.

Here are our five top picks for European river cruises, where the experience is the destination and the journey.

1. The Romantic Rhine, Germany

The Rhine has been immortalized for centuries: it inspired Richard Wagner to write his first opera, and the river’s famous Lorelei rock – supposedly helmed by a swirling-haired siren – has starred in poems, rock songs, and even as a Marvel Comics character.

Germany’s longest river is also one of Europe’s most beautiful cruise routes, particularly the 65-kilometre Middle Rhine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Romantic Rhine.”

During the Roman Empire, the Rhine was a strategic waterway, and looming over its banks are castles and crumbling fortresses that date back a thousand years.

The Rhine scenery is stunning – hilltop castles presiding over terraced, fragrant vineyards. Plus, there’s Riesling-tasting galore, the Mechanisches Muskikkabinett (Mechanical Museum) in Rüdesheim and a stop in Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town.

Pixabay / CC0

Travel with: CroisiEurope. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2016, the family-owned CroisiEurope offers affordable prices, but amenities are on par with the highest-level ships: spacious decks, hotel-style beds, and elegant dining rooms with French menus developed by notable chefs Paul Bocuse and Marc Haeberlin.

2. The River of Gold, Portugal

The traditional fado songs of Portugal are soulful and poetic, much like cruising the country’s waterways. Explore the river Douro and sip aromatic port in the country’s birth city, Porto; explore the lively Spanish university city of Salamanca; and, ease into the evening to the mournful sounds of fado.

A cruise down the Douro glides past looming rock formations and the Valerian and Pocinho Dams, to Barca d’Alva, with an excursion to Castelo Rodrigo, surrounded by almond trees, and on to Pinhão and the Douro Wine District.

Along the way, sample Portuguese specialties like salt cod, caldo verde stew, and the country’s famous port wine.

Image by Viking River Cruises

Travel with: Viking River Cruises winds through Portugal on the Douro River, from the capital city of Lisbon to Porto and its Baroque cathedrals. Their Scandinavian-themed vessels also maximize scenery-watching, with panoramic windows throughout.

3. The Canals of Burgundy, France

Best known for its centuries-old winemaking traditions, Burgundy is going through a rebirth, with wine-tasting salons that are spotlighting the latest oenological tech products and new farm-to-fork restaurants and upmarket B&Bs.

A cruise here floats lazily through the heart of Burgundy, stopping at family wineries like Domaine Briday in the northern Côte Chalonnaise, which is known for its white wines and the sparkling Cremant de Bourgogne.

Highlights include the Chateau de Rochepot, crowned by Burgundian multicoloured glazed tiles; the medieval wine capital of Beaune; and, above all, the barge’s slow pace. The full trip is around 75 miles, which you could cover in a morning drive in a rental car. Instead, this cruise can be spread out over six days, and the hypnotic movement of a barge is a powerful sedative, especially after a glass of Burgundy red.

Pixabay / CC0

Travel with: French Country Waterways. The oldest U.S.-owned barge company operating in France, French Country Waterways is the elegant godmother of the canals. The ship interiors are done up in dark-wood paneling, plush sofas with tasseled pillows, and a grand communal dining table, laden with heavy silverware and flickering candles.

4. The Danube: Prague to Budapest

It’s shortly after that first beer lands on the table, with views of the city’s famous bridges glinting beyond, that Kafka’s famous quote hits home: “Prague never lets you go. This dear little mother has sharp claws.”

After a couple of days in Prague, it’s hard to escape its grip, but the Danube awaits. The river’s history unfolds along the way, with stops at medieval Regensburg; the Benedictine Abbey of Melk, one of the largest monasteries in Europe; and Passau, which rises over the convergence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube rivers.

The cruise culminates in Vienna – where you’ll sample the famous sachertorte and ink-black coffee – and Budapest.

Enjoy sausages and a beer (or five) at Historische Wurstkuchl, Germany’s oldest restaurant in Regensburg; an evening of opera in Vienna and crossing beneath the 1849 Chain Bridge in Budapest.

Image by Avalon Waterways

Travel with: Avalon Waterways. Launched in 2003, Avalon Waterways has among the newest ships on Europe’s waters, with ample rooms with sliding glass doors, a sky deck with whirlpool, and stylish dining quarters.

5. The Norwegian fjords

Few sights accompany the morning coffee better than the sun rising over Noregian fjords. Greet the first light of day on the deck, as your ship glides around a bend and Norway’s cliffs come into focus, rising like skyscrapers over the waters.

Embark on a twelve-day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes, which includes Ålesund, with its Art Nouveau architecture, and Tromsø, the capital of the Arctic.

Pixabay / CC0 

Travel with: Hurtigruten. On most other cruises, you’ll see the same passengers day in and out, but take the Hurtigruten ship and the faces change daily, since it also functions as a commuter route, with locals hopping on for short jaunts up and the down the coast.

And, don’t underestimate the allure of nostalgia: one of Hurtigruten’s most popular ships is the MS Lofoten – it launched in 1964, and little has changed since then. The ship celebrates the vintage era, with cargo loaded by traditional crane; gleaming wood and brass throughout, as well as oil paintings of coastal Norway; and sherry served on silver trays.

Explore more of Europe with the Rough Guide to Europe on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image: Pixabay / CC0

Almost fifty years since John Lennon and Yoko Ono promoted world peace from room 702 of the Hilton, Amsterdam’s hotels are more worthy of the spotlight than ever. Even for seasoned travellers, it’s fair to say that the city’s accommodation options are among the most exciting in Europe.

Take your pick from handsomely converted old canal houses, sleek-and-chic boutique B&Bs and luxurious short-stay apartments, while quirkier options include houseboats, a converted tram depot and even a crane. Visitors on a budget are catered for too, with bargain beds aplenty in the city’s hostels and campsites.

However, as in most capitals, prices soar during peak season – July and August, Easter and Christmas – especially last-minute, so booking in advance is a must.

Start planning your trip with our guide to the best area to stay in Amsterdam, taken from the latest Rough Guide.

The Old Centre

If you choose to stay in the Old Centre, you’ll be a short walk from the main sights and the principal shopping and nightlife areas. Cheap hotels abound and this is the first place to start looking if money is tight, although some may find the proximity of the red light district off-putting.

On a budget: Flying Pig Downtown
This hostel is clean, large and well run by ex-travellers familiar with the needs of backpackers. It’s justifiably popular, and a very good deal, with mixed dorms, some of which have queen-sized bunks sleeping two.

No-limits luxury: Hotel de l’Europe
This elegant old-timer has plenty of fin-de-siècle charm and a central riverside location. The rooms are large and, opulent, and there’s also a two-michelin-star restaurant, Bord’eau, a spa and the glamorous freddy’s Bar.

Pixabay / CC0

Grachtengordel West

The canal-laced streets to the west of the old centre have a number of quiet waterside hotels, though the least expensive places are concentrated along Raadhuisstraat, one of the city’s busiest streets.

A snug stay: b&nb Herengracht
This oh-so-central bed (and no breakfast) has three double rooms: subterranean bolthole, canal view or garden view.

A hotel with style: The Dylan
Hip without being pretentious, the Dylan has earned itself many repeat guests. This stylish hotel is housed in a seventeenth-century building that centres on a beautiful courtyard and terrace, and there’s a michelin-star restaurant on site.

Grachtengordel South

Ideally positioned for the plethora of clubs, bars and restaurants on and around Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein, this area is on the rise: Waldorf Astoria decided to locate their new hotel here in 2014. There are plenty of options for those on a budget too, including a number of very appealing – and occasionally stylish – hotels along the surrounding canals.

The big name: Waldorf Astoria
Housed within a series of conjoined seventeenth-century canal houses in one of the city’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, the Waldorf Astoria has 93 rooms and suites in tasteful, calming neutral shades. It’s hard to fault, except for the eye-watering cost.

A great budget option: Prinsenhof
This small one-star has been offering bed and board since 1813. The 11 rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated, making it one of the city’s top budget options, but booking ahead is essential.

Pixabay / CC0

The Jordaan

Staying in the Jordaan puts you among the locals, well away from the prime tourist areas. There’s no shortage of bars and restaurants here either, and some of the city’s prettiest canals thread through the district, but you’ll be at least a 15min walk from the bright lights. Be aware when looking for a place to stay that Marnixstraat and Rozengracht are busy main roads.

Inventive design: De Hallen
There’s plenty of buzz surrounding the stunning conversion of this 1902 tram depot. Original features, such as rails in the dining-room floor, and the vaulted glass ceiling, have been kept intact, and the 55 rooms seem to be suspended within the structure.

Beautifully furnished boutique: Maison Rika
Housed in a former art gallery, this boutique option has two beautifully furnished queen-sized bedrooms on the second and third floors and is owned by fashion designer Ulrika Lundgren, who has a shop across the street.

The Old Jewish Quarter and Plantage

Not many tourists stay in this area as it’s largely residential, with very few bars or restaurants. Consequently, you’re pretty much guaranteed a quiet night’s sleep here, and you’re only a tram ride away from the leading sights.

A simple and welcoming stay: Adolesce
Popular and welcoming four-storey hotel (no lift) in an old canal house not far from Waterlooplein. There are ten neat, if a little dated, rooms and a communal seating area.

Modern style: Arena
A little way east of the centre, this hip four-star hotel has split-level rooms in tranquil grey or cream. There’s a lovely, relaxed vibe in the bar and the intimate restaurant with garden terrace, and a lively late-night club located within the former chapel.

Pixabay / CC0

The Eastern Docklands and Amsterdam Noord

These up-and-coming districts have some excellent, avant-garde accommodation options, and though their industrial architecture and open expanses might feel a world away from the old centre’s medieval lanes, they’re just a short hop away by ferry or tram.

An unusual conversion: Lloyd Hotel
Situated in the Oosterdok (eastern docklands) district, this ex-prison and refugee workers’ hostel has been renovated to become a “cultural embassy”, with an arts centre as well as an art library. The hotel serves all kinds of travellers, with rooms ranging from one-star affairs with a shared bathroom to five-star suites.

Getting high: Faralda Crane
Ever slept 50m in the air? The world’s first hotel in a crane offers three ultra-contemporary suites with knee-buckling city views. As you’d expect, there’s a long waiting list, so book well in advance.

The Museum Quarter

The city’s smartest quarter centres on the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum – although the nightlife around Leidseplein is also within easy striking distance. There are no canals, and two of the main drags constantly rumble with traffic, but several good hotels are to be found here, plus the leafy Vondelpark.

Back to school: College
Converted from a nineteenth-century schoolhouse, the college is an elegant boutique hotel run by hotel-school students. It has tasteful modern rooms, a first-rate restaurant, a swanky bar and a chic terrace.

To impress: Conservatorium
The capital’s most jaw-dropping hotel, this heritage building has been transformed into a contemporary design wonderland. Standard guestrooms come with nespresso machine and free newspapers, plus access to Akasha – the city’s largest and most opulent spa.

Pixabay / CC0

The outer districts

Exciting accommodation options are cropping up in areas such as Amsterdam Oost, offering the opportunity of top-notch digs for less – and thanks to reliable and frequent trams, staying here doesn’t place you too far from the action.

Bring back the 60s: Hilton Amsterdam
Way outside the centre by a canal in the distinctly upmarket nieuw Zuid district, this hotel has all the facilities you could hope for. Mainly attracting a business-oriented clientele, it’s only really worth considering if you can afford to soak up a bit of 1960s nostalgia in its stunning “John and Yoko” suite, where the couple held their famous 1969 “Bed-in” for peace.

Hostel beds and more: Stayokay Zeeburg
Located in a former school in a residential area on the eastern outskirts of the city, this hostel has its own bar/restaurant, bike rental and laundry, and is wheelchair accessible. It shares the building with Studio/K, a multipurpose venue that shows art-house films and has a decent restaurant.

This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from the Rough Guide to Amsterdam. Header image via Pixabay / CC0.

We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

Croatia is one of Europe’s rising tourist stars. This remarkable Adriatic country of 1244 islands, bear and wild boar inhabited forests and world-class vineyards is so much more than just a beach destination. To make sure you hit the ground running in this complex and diverse nation, follow our top ten Croatia travel tips.

1. Be picky

Avoid the temptation to cram too much of this geographically challenging country in to your first visit. If you only have a week split it between the capital, Zagreb, for a night or two and spend the rest of the time exploring the famous Adriatic coast. Longer trips allow rewarding forays further afield, where gems like the UNESCO listed Plitvice Lakes, the castles of the Zagorje and the Slavonian vineyards await.

2. Don’t only go to Dubrovnik

Yes Games of Thrones star Dubrovnik is every bit Lord Byron’s ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, but also tempting on the coast is Split, the country’s second largest city, whose city centre is remarkably a UNESCO site, the spectacular Roman Diocletian’s Palace.

Further north the old Roman hub of Zadar and early Croatian city Šibenik are lively hubs just emerging from the bitter 1990s war, where the cafes are less filled with tourists.

The same goes for the city of Pula in the northwest of the Croatian littoral, which boasts a UNESCO listed Roman amphitheatre.

3. Don’t let the bugs bite

From late spring into autumn mosquitoes are a nuisance throughout much of the country so find a good repellent that your skin does not react to. Light colours help. Avoid wearing fragrances too. Tics are a more pressing problem as they can cause serious illness so wear thick socks and cover up your legs when hiking. A simple tic remover is a good investment, especially if you may be trekking in rural areas.

4. Get the best beds

Spare beds can be hard to come by in summer especially in the most popular islands – like Hvar and Brač – and Dubrovnik. Booking ahead makes sense, but if you do get caught short look out for the sobe signs, which are essentially advertising rooms in locals’ homes. As well as being cheap, staying at a sobe can be a great way to meet Croats. If they are full, owners will often point you in the direction of another nearby.

5. Drink up

Of the big domestic brands Karlovacko is the favourite beer of many Croats and justifiably so. Croatia’s wines are seriously underrated abroad, at least in part due to the relatively small production and high domestic demand. Look out for the mighty Dingac red and the dry Posip white, both from Dalmatia. Istria is renowned for its Malvasija (great with seafood), while the Dubrovnik region’s own Malvasia is on the rise too.

6. Health matters

You should always take out decent travel insurance, even for a weekend break. If you’re an EU resident, be sure to pack a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to a basic level of state health care in Croatia. It won’t cover you for repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment though, which is where good travel insurance comes in. The emergency ambulance number in Croatia is 112.

7. Get active

Croatia may be famed as a sea and sun destination, but getting active is the best way to discover its wilder corners. Paklenica National Park offers superb hiking and climbing, while in the islands the walk to the highest point, Vidova Gora on Brač, offers remarkable views. For rafting the Cetina River tempts, while windsurfers should head to Korčula and paragliders to Mount Ucka.

8. Eat well

Croats are justifiably proud of the fine organic produce their country conjures up in such abundance and many will refer to the processed food in supermarkets witheringly as ‘cat food’. Wherever you are, a local market is never far away, so shop local to put together a mouth-watering picnic bursting with fresh flavour.

9. Talk to the locals

Be very careful when discussing the Homeland War, which ravaged the country as it became independent from Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with a local. Do a little bit of research before your trip and hold back any too hastily formed views. Then when a Croat does decide to open up a little about those defining years, your knowledge and interest may help you gain an insight into the country well beyond the tourist sheen, which adds a totally different dimension to your trip.

10. Savour the seafood

Croatia’s seafood is truly world class. A bounty of fishy delights are hauled daily from the Adriatic, the cleanest corner of the Mediterranean. Even if you’re timid about bones and shells no trip to the coast is complete without a seafood feast. The best value way of sampling a range of delights is to order the riblja plata, a mixed platter of fish and shellfish, which is usually plenty for two to share.

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

Big Sur, California

Dizzying views of the Pacific Ocean are awarded at every bend of the 90-mile stretch of craggy coastal road between California’s Carmel and San Simeon. Rent a convertible and hit the highway in true Californian style. This is a sparsely populated region, so for it’s ideal for romancers seeking seclusion. Don’t miss the stunning McWay Falls and Pfeiffer Beach.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Rising out of the Nevada desert like the emerald city of Oz, fabulous Las Vegas flaunts its reputation as a destination for high rollers and thrill seekers. Notions of romance are vast and varied in this neon Mecca, so clasp hands and take your pick from gondola rides in the Venetian, a spin on the high-flying SlotZilla zipline or a late-night stroll along The Strip to the spectacular Fountains of the Bellagio.

Stowe, Vermont

Frank Sinatra crooned over moonlight in Vermont, but autumn in this New England state is the real showstopper. As the weather turns chilly, the landscape, which is thickly carpeted in forest, erupts into riotous shades of amber and gold – a spectacle of colour to make any pair of autumn-lovers swoon. Stowe is particularly picturesque, a classic American town with friendly locals and a backdrop of rolling hills.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

It’s a two-hour ferry from mainland Massachusetts to the beachy isle of Nantucket, where long stretches of sandy shore and wild heathland will certainly bowl you over. Inland, dreamy clapboarded houses – many still standing strong after 150 years – line the charming cobbled streets into Nantucket Town. Pick up supplies from a local deli, rent bicycles and pedal your way to the iconic lighthouse at Brant Point for a picnic in the dunes.

New York City

New York City is arguably the ultimate city destination. Home to some of the world’s most venerated galleries and museums, even the most discerning culture vulture will be awed. The iconic skyline, bursting with recognizable landmarks, will delight city wanderers hunting photo opportunities. And for foodies planning a memorable meal? Dine under the arches of The Grand Central Oyster Bar, a city institution opened over a century ago, which boasts a whispering gallery famous for hushed propositions.

Crested Butte, The Rockies, Colorado

Outdoorsy couples seeking activity and alpine summer air should head to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. From June through August the meadows and forests of Crested Butte are blanketed in colourful arrays of wild flowers. Bike through woodland trails into a rugged wilderness of snow-capped peaks, or hike the 12-mile distance to Aspen and spend the night in one of the town’s luxury lodges – balcony hot tubs are, of course, de rigueur.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Colonised by France, briefly ruled by the Spanish and bought by the US in 1803, The Big Easy embraces cultural fusion like no other city in America. Perhaps best known for its music scene, and arguably as the hometown of jazz and blues, New Orleans is imbued with a spirit of festivity. Come nightfall the seductive French Quarter buzzes with romance. Think balcony dinners, red-hot Creole cuisine and buskers playing nightlong on street corners.

Kauai, Hawaii

Tropical island life doesn’t get more laid-back than Kauai. The palm-dotted beaches of this most northerly Hawaiian Island, famous for its surf and remarkable volcanic landscapes, offers pure paradise for any duo searching for a tranquil escape. Test the waters of Kiahuna beach – best for beginner surfers – or if catching waves isn’t your thing, head to Ha’ena on the northern shore, where trails through the State Park will lead you to ancient Hawaiian sites.

Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska

Begin your trip by taking in the ethereal spectacle of the aurora borealis, best observed from the skies above Fairbanks during winter months. Here, temperatures can drop to heart-aching sub zero levels, but the Northern Lights (and a cuddle or two) will surely set frozen pulses racing and leave you starry-eyed. Next, ride the rails south from Fairbanks to Anchorage in a glass-topped train, the ideal vantage point to soak up that dramatic scenery in comfort.

Portland, Oregon

Artsy and vibrant with outstanding green spaces, Portland is the ultimate hangout city. Having planted itself on the map as a haven for keen cyclists and coffee lovers, there’s now a burgeoning street food scene and commitment to craft beer, with more local breweries than any city in the world. Spend an evening bar hopping and banish any resulting hangover with a trip to the enchanting Multnomah Falls, where a gentle amble leads you to the cascading waterfall and fairy-tale bridge crossing.

You’ve probably never heard of apitourism, or even considered “bee tourism” to be a thing. But it is, and it’s a travel trend swarming all over Slovenia.

While bee populations in countries such as the US are dwindling at an alarming rate, Slovenia is the only EU member state to have officially protected its prized bee race. They have 9600 beekeepers, around 12,500 apiaries and nearly 170,000 hive colonies.

We say ‘prized’ because the Carniolan honey bee is known for its friendly nature (they rarely sting) and hardy characteristics (they can survive sub-zero temperatures). Which explains why they sell 30,000 of their Queen Carniolan bees to European countries each year.

As the only country to certify apitourism providers, Slovenia will also host the European Green Capital in 2016. They’ll educate visitors on biodynamic and eco-friendly farming methods. Plus they’ll shine the light on the capital’s urban beekeeping and celebrate the UN movement which has declared May 20 World Bee Day.

So how can you get in on the action? Here are five ways to get up close and personal with Slovenia’s bees.

Go on the honey tasting trail

Thanks to its rich diversity of flora and expertise in mobile beekeeping, Slovenia produces 2400kg of honey each year.

Visit Marko Cesar, of the family-run Cesar brand, at his home near Maribor and you can sip on the country’s only sparkling chestnut honey-based wine. Elsewhere, you can sample liqueurs, mead, vinegar, beer and goats cheese, all made from honey.

Further west at the quaint Restaurant Lectar in Radovljica you can watch traditional honey bread hearts, or lectarstvo, being made; many biodynamic farmers flavour theirs with cinnamon, ginger, blueberry and chocolate.

Image by Lucy McGuire

Take an apitherapy tour

Nineteenth-century physician Filip Terc was ridiculed for claiming that bee venom could cure arthritis. But apitherapy is now recognised by the Slovenian Beekeeper’s Association as a legitimate form of homeopathy.

You can learn about the bacteria-fighting properties of propolis and the ‘curative’ effects of royal jelly on high blood pressure on an apitherapy tour.

Those with asthma can inhale ‘healing aromas’ from the hive while anyone feeling a little weary can try honey massages, beeswax thermotherapy – claimed to boost circulation and treat skin disorders – and a nap on special beehive beds, whose vibrations are said to induce calm.

Get hands-on at an apicamp

Whether you’re a beekeeping pro or simply want to learn more about the api-industry, Slovenia offers various ‘apicamps’ on Queen breeding, the apiculture science and traditional AZ hives.

You can join lectures in honey production, bee feeding and everything from comb wiring to obtaining propolis and royal jelly. Or if you want to do some serious swotting-up, you can head to the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association in Lukovica – home to a honey laboratory and apiculture Library.

Image by Lucy McGuire

Stay on an eco-api-friendly estate

The apitourism trend has done wonders for highlighting new forms of eco-conscious travel. And many companies like ApiRoutes are using this niche industry to shine the spotlight on an array of eco and socially conscious accommodation and tours. In the lead up to 2016 – when Ljubljana will be hailed the official Green Capital – this ‘Green Piece of Europe’ will be thrust onto the responsible stage.

If you do one thing, check out the remarkable Trnulja Estate – a 100% organic farm with charming bio-apartments and excellent green credentials. Tanja Arih Korosec, Director of AriTours, says: ‘Tourism is becoming more about sustainability and if we can [use apitourism] to encourage tourists to act in a more sustainable way, other countries will follow.”

Image by Lucy McGuire

Discover api-folklore

During the mid-eighteenth century, Slovenia was rich in rural folk art, which appeared on many of the country’s traditional stacked AZ bee houses – it was believed that the motifs helped the bees navigate back to their hives.

Visit the Slovenian beekeeping museum in Radovljica to see 600 of these original hand-painted panels or take an excursion to the beautiful village of Selo to meet Danijela Ambrozic, who offers traditional api-artwork workshops from her beekeeping farm.

For more information on AriTours and ApiRoutes, visit Aritours.si and Apiroutes.com. Find more travel information on the Slovenia Tourist Board site at slovenia.info. WIZZ flies from London Luton to Ljubljana from £11.49. For more information visit wizzair.com. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Landmannalaugar, Iceland

The astonishing landscape of Landmannalaugar, its mountains streaked in varying shades of orange and brown (and at times, blue and green), still feels remarkably off-the-beaten track in Iceland. Those that do make it here come for the hiking or – and more appropriate for those in search of relaxation – the hot springs. These are about as natural as they come – scalding water emerges from underneath lava to meet a cold water flow, creating the perfect, scenic conditions for a soak.

Ang Thong National Park, Thailand

Though Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan have plenty of perfect beaches for even the most weary of traveller, head to nearby Ang Thong National Park for a real sense of getting away from it all. This group of 42 small, lush islands boasts the kind of winning combination of sand and rainforest that millions of Western travellers have dreamt of since The Beach. Whether you dive among the coral reefs, seek out your own pristine bay or spot macaques in the rainforest, you’ll have left stresses of real life far behind you.

Budapest, Hungary

Stately Budapest remains one of the grandest of Europe’s capital cities. The highlight of any visit is undoubtedly the chance to wallow in one of the city’s restorative spas, fed by thermal waters from subterranean springs. The Art Nouveau Gellért Baths offers an air of exclusivity among its mosaics and stained glass, while the Széchenyi Baths are the hottest in the city, with outdoor pools and water rapids to add to the experience.

The Seychelles

The Seychelles is the stuff that tropical-paradise dreams are made of. Ridiculously soft white sand, clear azure waters and a lush interior that’s just waiting for exploration – it’d be hard for even the most stressed-out city dweller to not arrive here and feel themselves instantly relax. Though the name conjures up images of honeymooners and expensive resorts, it is thankfully possible to stay here on a smaller budget – making paradise a much more affordable possibility.

Vancouver, Canada

Cosmopolitan Vancouver, scenically set by the water and ringed by mountains, feels like the best of both worlds – a vibrant, exciting city within spitting distance of some astounding nature. The city itself has a laid-back vibe that has much in common with the US’s west coast cities, and there’s arguably no better place to experience this – whether on the beach or on two wheels – than semi-wild Stanley Park, the city’s green heart.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

It’s worth making the stunning Bay of Islands, in the far north of New Zealand, your final stop after indulging in the country’s plethora of adrenaline-filled activities as it’s the ideal place to recharge. This subtropical region is best explored from the water, where you might get to spot whales, penguins and dolphins, and even the largest island – Urupukapuka – remains remarkably tranquil.

Sacred Valley, Peru

North of Cusco, the Sacred Valley stretches out towards Machu Picchu. Here, in the steep-sided valley, you’ll find the evocative Inca ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, in dramatic positions high above the river. Once you’ve spent a few days exploring, head a bit downriver to Urubamba, which is becoming something of a spiritual centre, to relax under the snowy peaks of the Andes.

Valladolid, Mexico

There are plenty of places to relax in the Yucatán, but head away from the coast to colourful Valladolid and you’ll discover a much more local side to the region. The greatest pleasure here is in exploring on foot, ducking into little shops as they take your fancy, trying the local specialities – of which panuchos, small tortillas stuffed with refried beans and topped with pork, are a particular highlight – and cooling off in the wonderful natural cenote (sinkhole) on the edge of town.

Treasure Beach, Jamaica

On an island that’s synonymous with chilling out, Treasure Beach particularly stands out for its laid-back charms. The beaches are blissfully quiet by Jamaican standards, and there’s still very much a local heart to the beachside community, which definitely adds to its appeal. This is undoubtedly the place to come to discover the island’s gentler side.

Ubud, Indonesia

The cultural heart of Bali, Ubud is picturesquely set among paddy fields and remains a magnet for healing treatments and local art and music. Hire a bike and take a leisurely ride out into the lush surrounding countryside before heading back to relieve any aching muscles with a Balinese massage. In the evening, check out a traditional dance show at the atmospheric Ubud Palace.

The Dordogne, France

It’s hard not to be enchanted by the Dordogne as it winds its way past dramatically-sited château and medieval villages. The region is best appreciated at a slow pace – whether floating down the river in a canoe, over the fields in a hot air balloon, or over a leisurely lunch in a sun-dappled square. Even driving here is a pleasure, and it’s hard to beat driving the quiet country roads at dusk as the river glints appealingly beside you.

Bora Bora

Let’s be honest, you’re unlikely to head to Bora Bora for anything other than the delights of sun and sea. The ultimate way to do it, if you can afford to, is to stay in an over-water hut, from where the peaceful sunsets and vast expanses of aquamarine water are yours alone to savour. If it all gets a bit too quiet for your liking, explore the beautiful lagoons by boat, hike into the interior or experience the vibrant underwater life on a diving trip.

Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

The largest national park in the UK, and right in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, the Cairngorms boast the kind of jaw-dropping scenery that’ll impress you even in the worst weather. And if it does turn out to be dreich (dreary), it’s hard to beat cosying up by a fire in a Highland pub with a glass or two of whisky.

Joshua Tree National Park, USA

The silence of the desert is what hits you first on arriving in Joshua Tree National Park. There’s undoubtedly something otherworldly about the eponymous Joshua Trees (which are in fact yucca rather than trees), and the park is at its most magical at dusk, when the desert shifts into varying shades of orange, pink and red. The best way to experience the park is on foot – clambering over giant boulders, hiking down to an oasis, or just finding a shady spot from which to soak up the silence.

Kosi Bay, South Africa

Tucked up in the far northeastern corner of South Africa, right by the border with Mozambique, Kosi Bay feels like a bit of an adventure to get to – and is blissfully undiscovered by most other tourists. Hippos wallow in the waters around here, while the bay itself is fabulous for snorkelling, and the beautiful stretches of sand are so quiet and secluded you won’t quite believe your luck.

Las Alpujarras, Spain

Though the hairpin bends that litter the roads through this mountainous part of Andalucía may mean you arrive feeling a little less than relaxed, it doesn’t take long to slip into the sleepy rhythms of this beautiful region. Spend your days exploring the quiet white-washed villages, tasting the delicious local jamón, or taking a leisurely ramble along a mountainside path.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Famously laid-back, Amsterdam is not a city to rush through. Join the locals and explore by bike – at a meandering pace, of course – or wander over bridges and quiet side streets to discover the city’s most alluring side for yourself. It feels especially magical in winter, when countless cosy bars provide the perfect respite from the chilly northern air.

Nong Khiaw, Laos

North of Luang Prabang on the wide Nam Ou river and surrounded by striking limestone karsts, the village of Nong Khiaw is one of the best places in Laos to kick back and relax. While there’s plenty of activities on offer in the surrounding countryside, it’s really about the simple pleasures here – chilling out in your riverside hammock, ideally with a cold Beer Lao in hand, as the sun sinks below the horizon.

Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker more than lives up to its motto of ‘Go Slow’, and at just 35km northeast of Belize City it makes for an easy escape – and best of all, at affordable prices. This relaxed and easy-going island is only just over 8km long; the big appeal here, in addition to the gorgeous white-sand beaches, is the abundance of opportunities that the reef – 1.5km offshore – provides, not least snorkelling among the coral canyons.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

It’s not hard to be blown away by the majestic landscape of the Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. The centrepiece is undoubtedly the immense Paine Massif, of which the Torres del Paine themselves usually steal the show, towering over the almost too-reflective-to-seem-real waters of Lago Nordenskjöld. There’s plenty to explore in the park, but it’s hard not to just want to find a great vantage point and soak it all up.

It was not too long ago that Lisbon was often dismissed as the unfashionable capital of Portugal, the ‘Poor Man of Europe’. This was harsh on a city that spectacularly straddles the River Tejo with a flurry of old world architecture, rich African cultural influences and a notoriously wild nightlife scene.

Today, savvy city breakers are finally cottoning on that budget airline flights have opened up the city. Delights such as the old world streets of the Alfama and the Biarro Alto, plus one of Europe’s most impressive urban renewal projects, the Parque das Nações, await.

Why is Lisbon great for a weekend break?

Because it has never been easier nor cheaper to get to Lisbon. Gone mercifully are the days when the only ways of getting here were ridiculously expensive flights with scheduled airlines. Budget carriers now compete, on the London routes especially, making a weekend break more tempting than ever before.

Getting around Lisbon is both easy and a joy. In fact, the city is like a giant theme park for adults. Myriad little cruisers and ferries ply the river, trundling old trams rattle on up to its landmark castle and suburban trains drift off to the Atlantic beaches at Cascais and Estoril. There are funiculars too, as well as the unique Elevador de Santa Justa, an early twentieth-century lift you go up just to take a look at the view then nip back down again.

What is there to do and see?

Kicking off in the heart of the city, the Baixa is based on an easy to navigate grid system built after the devastating earthquake of 1755. The new viewing gallery at the landmark Arco Rua Augusta lets you enjoy a bird’s eye view of the area.

The Baixa and the nearby Chiado are ideal for a shopping splurge with plenty of pavement cafés on hand for respite.

Afterwards, jump on vintage Tram 28, which snakes its way from the Baixa in a screech of metal as it lurches upwards, past the city’s cathedral and towards St. George’s Castle, which opens up the finest views of the city. They have a café where you can enjoy a cold Sagres beer or milky Galao coffee as you plan your sightseeing from this lofty perch.

Further seawards there is evidence of Lisbon’s Golden Age, which came in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when its brave explorers sailed out of the River Tejo in search of the New World.

Catch a train or tram to Belem, the historic quarter dedicated to those days. The Belem Tower is the last thing the sailors would have seen of Lisbon as the land shrunk in their wake, while the hulking Monument to the Discoveries strikes out towards the sea, with myriad cultural events breathing contemporary life back into it.

Away from the water, the Jeronimos Monastery is easily the city’s most striking building with its elegant fairytale-esque curves and the flourishes of its Manueline architecture.

The more modern face of Lisbon is on show at the Parque das Nações site, where the Expo 98 was held. It is a model of urban regeneration and home to the Oceanário, one of the largest aquariums in the world, with everything from playful otters to hulking sharks.

There are concert venues, museums and a flurry of restaurants and bars too. Visit the Pavilion of Knowledge science museum and take a ride on the cable car, which opens up the whole site.

So the nightlife is good – where should I party?

The tight, packed old lanes of the Biarro Alto attract a mixed crowd of locals and visitors, who flock to enjoy a chaotic collage of fado groups, characterful independent bars and bustling little clubs.

Walk uphill from the Praca Luís de Camoes and embark on a bar crawl. Clube da Esquina (Rua da Barroca 30) with its live DJs is a great place to take the area’s pulse and pick up flyers for one off events.

Some of the hottest action – especially later on in the night – is out in the converted warehouses of the Doca de Santo Amaro and the Doca de Alcantara, where riverside bars, clubs and restaurants tempt. K Urban Beach is a sushi bar and club rolled into one right on the water.

The more central area around Santa Apolonia is also on the up. Legendary super club Lux, ideal for a cocktail on a sink in sofa before hitting the dancefloor with the locals.

What’s for dinner?

Atlantic seafood is a highlight on many menus in the Portuguese capital. Look out, too, for delicious goat’s cheese from the Alentejo just across the river.

The old world restaurants of the Alfama are the place for simple grilled fish dishes. For a more upmarket seafood feast though – the cod baked in salt is a stunner – head to Frade dos Mares.

Fried chicken is also something of a local budget institution – try it at El Rei d’Frango.

Make sure to enjoy the seriously underrated Portuguese wines too, especially hearty reds from the Alentejo and crisp whites from the Douro Valley.

Out at Parque das Nações, Ilha Doce dishes up the type of hearty, expertly cooked food you find all over budget pleasing Lisbon. Tuck into clams in garlic and white wine or pork Alentejo style with clams and potatoes. They dish up a mean plate of sardines with water views too.

Where can I finally get some sleep?

As Lisbon’s popularity has soared so have room rates. Look out for discounted deals at business hotels at weekends, when the besuited crowd flees the city. Apartments are a good value option. The Santos River Apartments are brightly furnished with river views in increasingly hip Cais de Sodre.

If you’re looking to splash out, the new Myriad is a sleek option at Parque das Nações. This soaring five-star tower hotel offers views of the River Tejo, as well as open plan bedrooms and in-room hot tubs. They have spa too, complete with bubble jets, a steam room and a sauna with a view.

Explore more of Portugal with the Rough Guide to Portugal, or buy the Pocket Rough Guide Lisbon to explore the city in more depth. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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