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

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.

Record numbers of visitors have been racing to get to Cuba ‘before it changes forever’ since President Obama’s historic announcement in December 2014 that diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba were to be restored.

Since then the relationship has continued to warm, but there has been more speculation than tangible change as a result – though significant developments have included the re-opening of embassies in both countries, Airbnb’s entry into the Cuban market and a broader, more flexible set of rules governing US visitors to Cuba. Whilst US visitor numbers are up they still accounted for little more than 150,000 of the more than 3.3 million international arrivals in 2015.

Though change has been in the air for some time now – much of it the result of new domestic policies – the really transformative changes may well take place in the coming year.

This might well be a truly momentous year for Cuba – and though fears that McRice and Beans will soon be appearing on menus around Havana may be unfounded panic, the Cuban Government unlikely to embrace capitalist changes to that extent in the foreseeable future, by the end of 2016 Cuba really could look quite different to how it looked at the start.

Here are a few new and exciting things happening in Cuba this year.

1. The capital’s dining scene will continue to break new ground

Cuba, but more precisely and strikingly Havana, is rapidly shaking off its out-of-date reputation for bad food. Its increasing kudos in foodie circles is sure to take another step forward this year when internationally-renowned chefs Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera and Andoni Luis Aduriz open a restaurant in the Cuban capital. Said to be called ‘Pasta, Tapas y Tacos’, after the national cuisines of their respective homelands. With a new restaurant opening seemingly every week and a swathe of exciting openings last year, this year could see Havana break free from that old reputation once and for all.

2. Ritmo Cuba salsa festival

Dance schools have popped up all over the island since the laws governing private enterprise in Cuba were relaxed five years ago. The most ambitious project to have emerged from this new wave of businesses is Ritmo Cuba, an international salsa festival to take place from 18–24 April 2016.

Drawing on the expertise of a whole host of Cuba’s most renowned dance teachers, the festival is a packed week of workshops, dance classes and shows, guided tours and dance parties suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced salseros.

3. New tours and operators

The current ceaseless demand for travel to Cuba has seen new organised tours popping up left, right and centre, many offered by US agents who can provide itineraries that meet one or more of the twelve criteria set out by the US Government for any of its citizens travelling to Cuba.

Among the newest of these so called ‘people-to-people’ tours is insightCuba’s four-night Weekend in Santiago de Cuba Tour, with an emphasis on music and the history of the Cuban Revolution, launching in January and already selling out fast.

Central Holidays’ ten-day, themed Afro Cubanismo tour, visits Havana, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba, and Coda International Tours’ introduce what they bill as “the only all-gay trip to ‘Unexplored Cuba’”.

Luxury travel agent Abercrombie & Kent is amongst the operators visiting Cuba for the first time this year whilst at the other end of the scale, Cuban-based Havana Supertours add the Mob Tour to their original and diverse set of day trips around the capital, tracing the history of the Mafia in pre-revolutionary Havana with transportation, as with their other tours, in a classic 1950s American car.

4. Gran Teatro reopens

The Gran Teatro, one of Havana’s most magnificently ornate buildings, home to the Cuban National Ballet, reopens to the public on January 3 after several years of closure. Now known as the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso, this cathedral of dance has been meticulously restored and is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in Habana Vieja. See it at night when its shining regal exterior, which has been cleaned so thoroughly you’d think it had only just been built, is now captivatingly lit and the new jewel in the Parque Central crown sparkles above you.

5. Cruise liner companies launch Cuba itineraries

Cruise ships have been a rare sight in Cuban harbours over the last five decades but in 2016 they are set to become a regular feature in the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Cyprus-based Celestyal Cruises have been sailing their 1200-passenger Celestyal Crystal on seven-day circuits around the island since last December, whilst Italian-owned MSC Cruises has become the first major cruise ship company to use Cuba as a starting point for cruises, operating from the Cuban capital until 12 April this year.

The world’s largest cruise line, Carnival, an American company, will join in in Spring 2016 when it commences sailing to Cuba for the first time – though technically, according to US law, the ship’s passengers will not be permitted to sunbathe on the beach as this does not qualify as an activity which supports the Cuban people.

6. Manana music festival

Manana 2016 is the first ever international electronic music festival on Cuban soil, taking place in May (4–6) in Santiago de Cuba. The brainchild of Londoners Harry Follett, Jenner del Vecchio and Cuban musical artist Alain Garcia Artola, the festival will feature an unprecedented mixture of mostly UK, US and Cuban-based musical talent.

There will be boundary-breaking collaborations between Cuban musicians of various musical genres and foreign electronic artists. Among the confirmed performers are British-born electronic and Latin music DJ and producer Quantic, UK dubstep pioneer Mala, and Cuban rumba innovators Obba Tuke.

7. New ferries and flights from US

Cuba and the US might have seemed like a world apart for most Americans over the last fifty years or so but there has been just 90 miles between them the whole time. For travellers from the US it should become startlingly apparent over the next twelve months just how close Cuba is, with three-hour ferry services from Florida to Havana likely towards the end of the year, and scheduled commercial flights for the first time in over half a century due even sooner.

Catching a direct flight between the US and Cuba currently means booking a relatively expensive and often complicated charter flight, but, after an agreement reached between the two countries in December last year, American Airlines, JetBlue and United Airlines are set to be amongst the carriers ready to operate a total of more than twelve flights daily from the US to Cuban airports.

8. Rock legends in concert

Listening to Western pop and rock stars in the first couple of decades after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 was considered anti-revolutionary and became an underground activity. So whilst there have been occasional performances from left-leaning rock groups like the Manic Street Preachers and Audioslave over the last twenty years, there is a greater significance, in some respects, to the performances said and set to take place in 2016 by Sting, Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones.

9. Hay Literary Festival comes to Cuba

It’s a long way from South Wales to Cuba and the cultural gap is perhaps even wider, but the organisers of the Hay Festival are planning to demonstrate again this year that good literature bridges divides.

Having already launched in Spain, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, the literary festival comes to Cuba on January 25 and 26. Attendees will include Jon Lee Anderson, American reporter who wrote the definitive English-language biography of Che Guevara, esteemed Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel and English novelist Hanif Kureishi. Cuban writers at the event will include Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, author of Dirty Havana Trilogy, one of the most internationally successful Cuban novels of the last twenty years, alongside Antón Arrufat, Mirta Yáñez, Reynaldo González, Marilyn Bobes, Dazra Novak and Rafael Grillo.

10. New luxury at Hotel Manzana de Gomez

They can’t build hotels quick enough to meet the rising demand for visitor accommodation and a slew of new hotels around the island is due in the next year. The highest profile of these is the Hotel Manzana de Gomez on Havana’s increasingly splendid Parque Central, right in the epicentre of the changing capital and due to open in late 2016.

When it does open, this grandiose five-floor, 246-room neoclassical landmark, occupying an entire block and with a rooftop pool, will be one of the largest in the old city and transform the eastern side of the square, bringing back to life an imposing edifice which stood largely derelict and decrepit for much of the last decade and whose alluring street-level commercial galleries, cutting diagonally through the building’s belly, will provide some new public spaces too.

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

Even in a country as scenic as Scotland, you might not expect to combine travelling by train with classic views of the Scottish Highlands; the tracks are down in the glens, after all, tracing the lower contours of the steep-sided scenery.

But on the West Highland line, there’s a lot to take in. The scenery along this route is both epic in its breadth and compelling in its imagery.

West Coast Highland Railway by Michael Day (CC License

The trip starts at a very sedate pace in a fairly workaday train carriage from the centre of Glasgow and its bold Victorian buildings.

Then you head along the banks of the gleaming Clyde estuary, up the thickly wooded loch shores of Argyll, across the desolate heathery bogs of Rannoch Moor and deep into the grand natural architecture of the Central Highlands, their dappled birch forests fringing green slopes and mist-enveloped peaks.

You can always get out for a wander, too; some of the stations are so remote that no public road connects them, and at each stop, a handful of deerstalkers, hikers, mountain bikers, photographers or day-trippers might get on or off.

Mallaig to Fort William by Matt Sharpe (CC license)

After a couple of hours, the train judders gently into the first of its destinations, Fort William, set at the foot of Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis.

The second leg of the journey is a gradual pull towards the Hebrides. At Glenfinnan, the train glides over an impressive 21-arch viaduct, most famous these days for conveying Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express.

Glenfinnan Viaduct by 96tommy (CC license)

Not long afterwards, the line reaches the coast, where there are snatched glimpses of bumpy islands and silver sands, before you pull into the fishing port of Mallaig, with seagulls screeching overhead in the stiff, salty breeze, and the silhouette of Skye emerging from across the sea.

Train travel doesn’t get much better than this.

Trains run from Glasgow on the West Highland Line to Fort William and then onto Mallaig (5hr). For more information, see scotrail.co.uk. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

The world’s longest glass-bottomed walkway opened in China‘s Hunan province last week, after the old wooden panels of the Haohan Qiao suspension bridge were replaced with transparent glass frames.

Towering 180 meters over a scenic canyon in Shiniuzhai Geopark, the structure is billed as a walk for thrill-seekers and nature buffs alike.

But is it safe? Though the first batch of tourists on site said they could feel the bridge wobbling beneath them, the 11 engineers who built the Haohan Qiao swear by the bridge’s solidity. Each glass frame is 24mm thick and 25 times stronger than your average window pane. Engineers even installed thin steel beams to ensure that if the glass were to shatter, walkers wouldn’t actually fall through.

But if you’re walking for the bragging rights, remember that this is just the latest of China’s increasingly popular glass-bottomed tourist attractions.

An even longer and taller glass-bottomed bridge is set to open in Hunan’s Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon later this year (measuring an extreme 300 meters high and 430 meters long). Here’s hoping that one feels a little less wobbly.

Staying the night in a treehouse – everyone’s favourite childhood fantasy – has now become a reality. Treehouse hotels have sprung up around the world, with mystical woodland hideaways now found everywhere everywhere from Costa Rica to Thailand. Here are 8 of our favourites.

1. Treehotel, Sweden

Sweden’s Treehotel, built by some of the country’s finest architects, takes the humble treehouse to new levels. Its six, strikingly modern “treerooms” range from the futuristic glass Mirrorcube to the alien-like UFO. And if a night here wasn’t unforgettable enough, there’s even a sauna suspended from the pines.

Peter Lundstrom, WDO – www.treehotel.se (top, right and featured image); Fredrik Broman, Human Spectra – www.treehotel.se (left)

2. Tree House Lodge, Costa Rica 

In 10 acres behind Punta Uva beach in the province of Limón lies a treehouse that owners Edsart Besier & Pamela Rodriguez promise will take you back to your childhood. Surrounded by a tropical garden and accessed via a wooden suspension bridge, it’s the perfect place to unwind.

Image courtesy of Tree House Lodge Costa Rica

3. Garden Village, Slovenia

A short walk from the banks of Slovenia’s famous Lake Bled, Garden Village is a fairytale come to life. Neat rows of luxury glamping tents are staggered down the hillside, while six treehouses hide in the woods alongside, connected by wooden platforms and short suspension bridges. Romantic escapes don’t come much better than this.

Garden Village / Jost Gantar (top); Jonathan Smith / Dorling Kindersley (left); Tim Draper / Rough Guides (right)

4. Chewton Glen, England

You’ll find the ultimate in treehouse luxury at Chewton Glen in the New Forest. Four luxury treehouse cabins are squirrelled away in a wooded valley here and the extras are fittingly decadent: spa treatments, golf buggies to take you to the main hotel and gourmet hampers delivered through a secret hatch.

Images courtesy of Chewton Glen

5. Tongabezi Lodge, Zambia

It’s hard to imagine waking up to the crashing of Victoria Falls. but when you stay at Tongabezi Lodge’s Tree House, this becomes a reality. Hidden away on the banks of the Zambezi river, along the cliff face past the pool, this ground-level treehouse offers a tranquil situated away from the main lodge. Staying here is a way to “experience the beauty and majesty of Zambia without setting a foot outside”, they say.

Image courtesy of Tongabezi Safari Lodge – www.tongabezi.com

6. Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica, Peru

Deep in the Peruvian Rainforest, a stay at Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica plunges you into jungle life. Set within a 17,000 hectare private reserve, this luxury resort offers the likes of spa treatments, jungle treks and bird watching expeditions. Best of all, however, is their Canopy Tree House – although at 90-ft above the jungle floor, a night here is not for the faint hearted.

Images courtesy of Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica

7. Milandes Treehouse, France

Ever wondered what it would be like to have your own private castle? Well now you can find out with a night at Milandes Treehouse. This extravagant construction has been built in the style of a traditional French châteaux, and as you admire the panoramic views you are guaranteed to feel like royalty.

Image courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk 

8. Free Spirit Spheres, Canada

The gently rocking Free Spirit Spheres on Vancouver Island in Canada might look childlike, but these treehouses are strictly for adults only. The experience is designed to conjure mystery, magic and a connection with the forest – maybe even thoughts of elves and fairies, they say.

Free Spirit Spheres by Kyle Greenberg via Flickr (CC license) [top]; Treehouses 2010 by chillbay via Flickr (CC license) [left and right, with small crop]

If Peru’s Sacred Valley wasn’t epic enough already, now you can sleep in transparent capsules suspended 300metres from one of its towering cliff faces. With a panoramic view overlooking the mystical Andes, the rapids of Rio Urubamba and the Sacred Valley itself, Skylodge (bookable through Airbnb) is not only the world’s first hanging lodge: it might just be the coolest bedroom ever.

Each of the three futuristic-looking capsule suites is handcrafted of aerospace aluminium and weather-resistant polycarbonate complete with four beds (sleeping up to 8 people), solar powered lights, a dining area and a private bathroom. And yes, even the view from the loo is utterly breathtaking: get ready to lord over the old Inca Empire from your eco-toilette throne.

But if you want to sleep extreme, then you’ve got to be extreme. To reach your capsule’s cushy beds and feather down pillows, you’ll have to climb a 400m-high steel ladder, or opt to hike a mountain trail and zip-line over chasms instead.

As the night sky emerges, thank the countless twinkling stars above you that Natura Vive, the young entrepreneurs behind Skylodge, engineered it so well that you’ve managed to stay calm while dangling off the edge of a cliff.

After breakfast the next morning, you’ll rappel and zip-line back down to solid ground. You’ll also have some serious bragging rights.

All photos in this piece courtesy of Airbnb. Explore more of Peru with the Rough Guide to PeruCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Emerging above the rolling tumbleweed of prairies or hidden below modern cities, hundreds of eerily desolate former towns are scattered across the United States. Many of the USA’s ghost towns were once thriving settlements: they grew quickly, but disappeared just as fast in the boom and bust Gold Rush years, while others have a more shadowy past. From the cursed bricks of Bodie to the everlasting fire still burning in Centralia, read on for the spookiest places to visit in America, if you dare…

Bodie, California

In its heyday, Bodie was known as one of the most dangerous and lawless towns in the west. Maintained in a state of “arrested decay” (a phrase coined by the State of California), Bodie is now one of the best-preserved ghost towns in America, with buildings furnished as they were left and shopfronts stocked with familiar brands. A true Wild West ghost town, it was once home to 65 saloons where regular brawls and shootouts made it a perilous place to live. It is said that the violent characters of its past protect the town with the “Bodie Curse”, so refrain from stealing anything, even a piece of rubble, or you may find yourself struck down with bad luck.

Texola, Oklahoma

Previously named Texokla and Texoma, Texola straddles the Oklahoma and Texas borders and switched between both states during its brief life as a popular railroad stop in the early 20th century. This identity crisis did not bode well for its future and the cotton town soon disbanded after its rapid expansion in the 1920s, aided by the arrival of Route 66. Walking through the town today, don’t miss the large painted letters on the side of a building that read, ‘There’s no place like Texola’; although the empty streets and crumbling buildings are surely not what the proud residents had in mind when painting the sign.

Texola, TX via photopin (license)

Centralia, Pennsylvania

The smoky clouds billowing out of the cracked tarmac of Centralia, a former mining town, belie a phantom presence. If it weren’t for the unstable ground and carbon monoxide fumes, the area would likely be a filmmaker’s dream. The unearthly clouds are actually caused by a slow burning gas fire; the town caught alight in 1962 and hasn’t stopped burning since. Although the buildings have been condemned and the entrance to the town is surrounded by warning signs, you can view the eerie wasteland from Pennsylvania Route 61.

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North Brother Island, New York

Situated within crowded New York City, North Brother Island is an unlikely abandoned settlement with a sinister history. Originally an isolated hospital for infectious small pox victims, the island is most famous for quarantining Mary Mallon, or ‘Typhoid Mary’ for over twenty years. In the 1950s, the hospital became a treatment centre for drug addicts before its closure just a decade later. Today the area is a bird sanctuary. While it’s off-limits to the public, this doesn’t stop plenty of urban explorers wandering around the haunting hospital buildings.

IMG_4826 via photopin (license)

Seattle Underground, Washington

Seattle Underground is a city beneath a city. In 1889, the Great Seattle Fire destroyed many of the city’s buildings. In its wake, authorities decided to rebuild the city two storeys higher to avoid past flooding problems. At first, many of the underground stores remained open, with people climbing up and down ladders to reach the shops below. However, in 1907, the underground city was condemned, although it continued to be used for dodgy dealings and some unseemly business. Find out about the city’s frontier past by taking a guided tour around the partly-restored passages.

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Rhyolite, Nevada

Founded in 1904, Rhyolite grew quickly in the Gold Rush years but disbanded just as fast in the financial crisis of 1907. Stop by the abandoned town on your way from Vegas to Death Valley and find yourself transported back to the Gold Rush era. The best-preserved building in the town is The Bottle House, made from thousands of discarded beer and liquor bottles, a reminder of the fifty saloons the town once boasted. Once resplendent with marble staircases and stained glass windows, the remains of the three storey bank are a pertinent reminder of the short-lived highs the town enjoyed. Located in the midst of desert plains, the Rhyolite wasteland makes an eerie day trip.

2009-01-22 death valley_0202 via photopin (license)

Glenrio, New Mexico and Texas

Claiming to be the first and last town to straddle two states at once, Glenrio was once a popular stop for travellers on the Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and later for motorists on the old Route 66. When the new interstate was laid in 1973, it bypassed Glenrio and forced the quiet town to be silenced altogether. Come off Interstate 40 and take Route 66 and imagine yourself as an early twentieth century motorist experiencing the long open road for the first time. Arriving from the west, a crumbling sign greets you with the words ‘Motel, First in Texas’, and driving from the east the town bids its farewell with ‘Motel, Last in Texas’.

Glenrio, Texas via photopin (license)

Christmas, Arizona

Not the commercialised holiday town you might imagine, although that may have fared better, Christmas is a derelict mining community (its name derived from the date of the mine’s reopening in 1902). Once a thriving settlement, the town’s post office was busiest in December, when people would send cards and presents from across the USA to be redirected with the Christmas postmark. It continued to receive Christmas post for twenty years after its closure, and letters with the Christmas postmark have now become collectors items. You certainly won’t get the festive holiday feeling, but climb the steep, mile-long road to Christmas and you can walk around the few derelict buildings still standing and discarded mining equipment abandoned in the 1930s.

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

Historic attractions abound in England. Wherever you’re based, you’ll find imposing palaces, gothic cathedrals and chocolate-box villages within easy reach, but among the most impressive examples of the country’s heritage are the slew of majestic castles. Taken from the new Rough Guide, this is our pick of the best castles in England

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Alnwick Castle is undoubtedly one of the finest in Northumberland. It’s owned by The Percys, the dukes of Northumberland, who have presided over the estate since 1309. More recently, however, the castle found fame as Hogwarts School in the early Harry Potter movies.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

Another Northumbrian gem, Bamburgh Castle is found in the little village of the same name. It’s most formidable when seen from the beach, where acres of sky, sea and dunes lead up to the castle’s dramatic setting atop a rocky basalt crag. The castle first appeared in Anglo-Saxon times, but was heavily reconstructed in the nineteenth century.

Leeds Castle, Kent

Its reflection shimmering in a lake, the enormous Leeds Castle resembles a fairy-tale palace. Beginning life around 1119, it has had a chequered history and is now run as a commercial concern, with a range of paying attractions including hot-air ballooning, Segway tours and jousting. The name is misleading: you’ll find it in the High Weald of Kent.

Dover Castle, Kent

No historical stone goes unturned at Dover Castle, an astonishingly imposing defensive complex that has protected the English coast for more than two thousand years. In 1068 William the Conqueror built over the earthworks of an Iron Age hillfort here; a century later, Henry II constructed the handsome Great Tower. The grounds also include a Roman lighthouse, a Saxon church and a network of secret wartime tunnels.

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

One of the country’s most picturesque castles, Bodiam is a classically stout square block with rounded corner turrets, battlements and a wide moat. When it was built in 1385, it was state-of-the-art military architecture, but fell into neglect until restoration in the last century. The extremely steep spiral staircases will test all but the strongest of thighs.

Windsor Castle, Berkshire

The oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, towering above the town of Windsor in the Berkshire countryside just outside London, Windsor Castle is still an important ceremonial residence of the Queen. The castle itself is an imposing sight, while inside you can explore the State Apartments and artwork from the Royal Collection.

Warkworth Castle, Northumberland

Ruined but well-preserved, Warkworth Castle has Norman origins, but was constructed using sandstone during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Take in the view from the north of the hamlet of Warkworth, from where the grey stone terraces of the long main street slope up towards the commanding remains of the Castle.

Hever Castle, Kent

The moated Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, and where Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife, lived after their divorce. Bought by American millionaire William Waldorf Astor in 1903 it has been assiduously restored in mock Tudor style yet it retains an intimate feel. Outside you can explore Waldorf Astor’s beautiful Italian Garden a splashy water maze.

photo credit: Hever castle via photopin (license)

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

Myth and legend surround the desolate ruins of Tintagel Castle, said to be the birthplace of King Arthur. Sited on a wild and rugged stretch of Cornwall’s coast, the remains have nearly all but decayed since it was deserted in the seventeenth century.

Warwick Castle, Warwickshire

It’s worth visiting Warwick so see this whopping castle alone, which lords it above the River Avon. Historians think the first fortress was constructed here by the Saxons, but the most significant expansions were made by the Normans and later in the nineteenth century. Save time to explore the extensive grounds, too.

photo credit: Warwick Castle via photopin (license)

Lancaster Castle, Lancashire

From the dungeons to the ornate courtrooms, Lancaster Castle is a historical tour-de-force. Defences have been sited high above the river here since Roman times, while more recently the building served as a working prison until 2011. Tours bring the castle’s history to life.

photo credit: Lancaster Castle via photopin (license)

Carlisle Castle, Cumbria

Cumbria’s mightiest castle dominates the county capital of Cumbria, Carlisle, were it has stood for over nine hundred years. Among its claims to fame is that it was where Elizabeth I held Mary Queen of Scots captive in 1568. Climbing the battlements for great views over the town.

Lincoln Castle, Lincolnshire

Intact and forbidding, Lincoln Castle’s walls incorporate bits and pieces from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries, with a wall walkway offering great views over town. This year the former debtors’ prison has been revamped to exhibit several rare documents, most notably one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta.

photo credit: Lincoln castle sunset via photopin (license)

Highclere Castle, Hampshire

Tucked away in the northern reaches of Hampshire, 20 miles north of Winchester, Highclere Castle will be very familiar to fans of hit period drama, Downton Abbey, which is filmed here. Home to Lord Carnarvon and his family, the house is approached via a long drive that winds through a stunning 5000-acre estate, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens designed by Capability Brown.

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Corfe Castle, Dorset

The romantic castle ruins crowning the hill behind the village of Corfe Castle are perhaps the most evocative in England. The family seat of Sir John Bankes, Attorney General to Charles I, this Royalist stronghold withstood a Cromwellian siege for six weeks, gallantly defended by Lady Bankes. One of her own men, Colonel Pitman, eventually betrayed the castle to the Roundheads, after which it was reduced to its present gap-toothed state by gunpowder. Apparently the victorious Roundheads were so impressed by Lady Bankes’ courage that they allowed her to take the keys to the castle with her.

Explore more of England with The Rough Guide to England. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Do postcards and travel posters paper your walls? Do you pride yourself on your travel knowledge? We’ve selected ten of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sights around the world to put you to the test. Can you identify the famous sight from the picture? Be warned, sometimes places can look surprisingly similar…

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