If the Irish didn’t invent the pub, they’ve certainly espoused its cause with great vigour. The pub retains a pivotal place in Irish society. It’s the place where stories are narrated, deals and pacts are made, jokes are told and traditional music is heard.

During the 1990s, the “Irish pub” concept (albeit with “authentic” period decor manufactured in Dublin) spread to far-flung points of the globe. Yet experiencing the real thing on its home turf to a live soundtrack of traditional music is still an unbeatable experience.

The country’s musical traditions remain essentially based on the age-old practice of passing down tunes and songs by oral transmission, from generation to generation and from friend to friend. The pub session has become its core, where the richness of the musical tradition can be experienced at first hand, and the craic (or crack) – that idiosyncratically Irish, heady combination of drink-fuelled chat, banter and fun – simply takes over.

With a pint of the black stuff in hand, here are some of the best, entirely authentic pubs to experience live music from the new Rough Guide to Ireland. It’s time to get started on a lifelong love affair with bodhráns, tin whistles, pipes and fiddles. But remember, sometimes the best sessions are the  spontaneous and uproarious affairs you never expected to find.

1. The Cobblestone, Dublin

Arguably the best traditional-music venue in Dublin, this dark, cosy, wooden-floored bar is also a fine place to sample the hoppy products of the nearby Dublin brewing company. High-quality sessions take place nightly from around 9pm, and on Sunday afternoons, while the Back Room hosts a variety of gigs.


Cobblestone pub, DublinCobblestone by indigoMood on Flickr (CC license)

2. O’Donoghue’sDublin

The centre of the folk and traditional-music revival that began in the late 1950s, forever associated with ground-breaking balladeers the Dubliners. Nightly sessions draw a considerable crowd of tourists, while the large heated courtyard is more of a draw for locals.

3. De Barra’s, Clonakilty

This is the pick of Clon’s old-time pubs, with great live music most evenings, including a popular traditional session on Monday and an acoustic session on Tuesday.

4. Buckley’s, Killarney

Entertainment’s the name of the game in Killarney, and most bars provide regular live music, of wildly varying quality. The best is Buckley’s, a smartly refurbished traditional bar with long, sociable bench seats. Come on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the traditional sessions.

Buckley’s, Killarney, Ireland, MusicTrad music in Buckley’s Bar in Killarney by Chris Brooks on Flickr (CC license)

5. Tigh Coili, Galway City

A slow crawl through the pubs of High and Quay streets is a must in Galway City, soaking up the atmosphere of their historic interiors in winter, and the buzzy street life at their outdoor tables in summer. You’re bound to find a traditional session here, although some of the best are at Tigh Coili, a welcoming, central and sociable traditional family-run pub.

6. Reel Inn, Donegal Town

The place to come in Donegal Town for traditional music, and it’s no exaggeration to say that there’s something on here every night of the week, every day of the year. Music aside, this is a real boozer’s pub with oodles of character, and characters.

7. Madden’s, Belfast

This wonderful, unpretentious and atmospheric pub is off the beaten path but well worth seeking out. Its two large rooms (one upstairs, one downstairs) are filled with locals and as well as excellent traditional sessions there’s also set dancing.

Madden's, Belfast, Northern IrelandMadden’s by jon crel on Flickr (CC license)

8. Seán Og’s, Tralee

In the market town of Tralee, two big open fires and and regular traditional music are among the draws at this friendly, dimly lit and cosy pub just off the Mall. They also offer B&B, so you can even stay overnight.

rough guide ireland coverExplore more of Ireland with the Rough Guide to IrelandCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Old Havana, or Habana Vieja, oozes history. There’s nowhere else quite like this living museum of Cuban culture – a city where time stopped short and you’ll find stop-and-stare images everywhere you turn.

1950s American cars in blazing colours are parked on the edge of the road. Cycle rickshaws glide swiftly through the traffic. Narrow side streets hide buildings painted in every shade of pastel. Plants tumble over the side of crumbling balconies.

The area is a photographer’s dream, but it lends itself even better to film. In our video of the week below, Roland Cadieux expertly captures its energy and colour.

“There’s a place I go to where no-one knows me, but it’s not lonely” Matt Simons’ lyrics ring out as the film begins – we can’t think of a better introduction to Cuba’s beguiling capital.


Havana, Cuba from Roland Cadieux on Vimeo.

Four months after two devastating earthquakes struck the country, Nepal is slowly getting back on its feet. Shafik Meghji explains how, ahead of the peak tourist season, travellers can help the country recover by booking a holiday.

Why should I go?

Tourism is a vital part of the Nepali economy, directly supporting almost 500,000 jobs, and indirectly supporting many more. “Tourism is the backbone of Nepal’s economy, the major employer” says Ramesh Chaudhary, a leading guide. “Nepal’s economic sustainability heavily depends on tourism. Tourists can help alleviate poverty by travelling in various parts of Nepal. The number of tourists decreased drastically aftermath of the earthquake, but they have started coming again.”

Is it safe?

In July the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the US State Department both softened their travel warnings for citizens visiting most parts of Nepal. Although travel companies cancelled trips in the aftermath of the earthquakes, many are now running tours for the post-monsoon peak season, which runs from late September to late November.

Nepal, Himalayas, Mt Everest region, yak on shore of a mountain lake

“Following the earthquake we were overwhelmed by the response from our customers enquiring after the wellbeing of the local guides and partners we work with in Nepal,” says Lloyd Kane, senior manager at Rickshaw Travel, which is running a range of trips this year.

“We have been speaking to our partners in Nepal every day since the incident and recently sent a team of senior staff members out to Kathmandu and the surrounding area to offer their support and find out what it’s like to travel in the country.

“They reported that life in Kathmandu is slowly getting back on track, hotels are open and ready to welcome guests and the country is as beautiful and hospitable as ever.”

Where can I go?

The earthquakes affected fourteen of the country’s 75 districts. Although the devastation is extensive in these fourteen central districts – they will take many years to recover, and travellers should avoid them for now – the remaining 61 survived relatively or completely unscathed and are safe to visit.

For example, the tranquil lakeside city of Pokhara, the national parks of Chitwan and Bardia – home to rhinos, elephants, tigers and a wealth of other wildlife – and Lumbini, birthplace of the Buddha, all escaped major damage.

Nepal, Pokhara, boat on Pokhara Lake, sunset

What about Kathmandu?

The capital – and the surrounding valley, the country’s cultural heartland – was badly affected by the earthquakes, but is now getting back to normal. In July UNESCO decided not to put seven Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites on its “danger list”, and they are now open to the public again.

Some – including the mesmerising Buddhist stupa at Boudha and Pashupatinath, Nepal’s holiest Hindu pilgrimage site – were largely untouched. Others, such as Kathmandu’s Durbar Square and the Swayambhu Temple, suffered significant damage, but restoration work is underway.

“Generations of skilled artisans have built and rebuilt these sites over the centuries,” says Mads Mathiasen, who runs Nepal-based tour operator Himalayan Trails.

Nepal, Annapurna Range, Buddhist prayer wheels at monastery in the Himalayas

“The heritage is not only in the bricks and mortar we see today. It is also in the spirit of the place and the connection of the people who live here, worship here and maintain these areas, including rebuilding the physical structures after earthquakes, fires or other types of damage which inevitably occur over time.”

More than ninety percent of Kathmandu’s hotels and guesthouses, particularly those in the tourist hub of Thamel, have reopened. Look for one with a green sticker, which indicates that government engineers have assessed it as safe: for a list of hotels with the green sticker, click here.

Most restaurants and travel agencies are also open for business, there is electricity (though the regular pre-earthquakes power cuts continue) and internet access, and ATMS are functioning as normal.

Nepal, Annapurna Range, river in the mountains

How do I get there and around?

Kathmandu’s international airport remained open throughout the earthquakes, and continues to be served by a wide range of airlines. Most of the regional airports and the major roads are also open, and outside of the worst-affected areas, it is straightforward to get around.

Can I go trekking?

Yes. Miyamoto International, a major engineering firm, has carried out assessments of the major trekking areas. It judged that both the Everest and Annapurna regions will be safe to trek in after the monsoon.

The Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal is overseeing assessments of other trails, and says most of the other popular trekking regions – excluding Langtang, Rolwaling and Manaslu – are also safe.

Nepal, Mount Everest region, mountain views

What about insurance?

It can be a tricky getting insurance for trips to Nepal, though the situation is likely to improve over the coming weeks and months: travel agencies can provide the latest advice.

Where can I find out more?

Nepal’s tourist industry runs a useful Facebook group. The just-launched About NepalNow website, a collaboration between travel experts and the Nepal Tourism Board, will be similarly helpful when fully up and running.

Shafik Meghji co-authors The Rough Guide to Nepal. He blogs at unmappedroutes.com and tweets @ShafikMeghjiCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

With the new university year about to start, ABTA (the UK’s largest travel association, representing travel agents and tour operators) have revealed the top 10 gap year destinations for 2015.

This year’s list doesn’t come with many surprises. New Zealand has pushed Thailand out of the number two spot and Vietnam has jumped into fifth position – but Australia remains the most popular.

Interestingly, the balance between budget-friendly destinations, such as Thailand and India, and more expensive countries like the USA and Canada is quite even. This may be a reflection of the kind the gap years people are looking for. “Although a gap year still represents an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves, increasing numbers of gappers are looking to gap year specialists to provide them with opportunities to gain work experience”, ABTA say.

Other trends they highlight are a move to adventure gap years oriented around trekking, biking and rafting, and the popularity of volunteering trips – from hands-on environmental work to aid panda conservation in China to teaching English in Ecuador.

Here’s the full list – click through for our top experiences in each country

1. Australia
2. New Zealand
3. USA
4. Peru
5. Vietnam
6. Thailand
7. Canada
8. Brazil
9. Argentina
10. India

The southernmost territory of SpainAndalucía is the part of the Iberian peninsula that is most quintessentially Spanish. The popular image of Spain as a land of flamenco, sherry and ruined castles derives from this spectacularly beautiful region.

Andalucía’s manageable size also makes it easy to take in something of each of its elements – inland cities, extensive coastline and mountainous sierras – even on a brief visit. Plus the proliferation of dramatic historic buildings mean there are plenty of unforgettable places to stay. From humble family-run pensiones and hostales to five-star luxury hotels, these are some of our favourites from the new Rough Guide to Andalucía.

1. Convento la Almoraima, Castellar de la Frontera

Just above the Bay of Algeciras, this is a magical hotel is housed inside a renovated seventeenth-century convent with a stunning patio and imposing Florentine tower. The rooms are elegantly furnished to four-star standard and there’s a pool and tennis court. The hotel is also surrounded by vast tracts of wooded walking country in the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales, making it hard to imagine a more serene stopover.

Convento la Almoraima, Castellar de la Frontera,  Andalucia, SpainP1010005 by Antonio via Flickr (CC license) / cropped

2. La Casa del Califa, Vejer de la Frontera

This enchanting hotel, created inside a refurbished, part-Moorish house (reflecting the town’s Moorish origins), has magnificent views towards the coast far below. Individually styled rooms are decorated with Moroccan lamps and fittings, and guests have use of two patios, a terrace and a library.

3. La Seguiriya, Alhama de Granada

A charming hospedería rural and restaurant in an eighteenth-century house with fine views over the tajo from its back garden. The amiable proprietors – he a former flamenco singer, she a wonderful chef – make a stay here very special – the perfect end to any Andalucía trip.

Casas Blancas, Vejer de la Frontera, Andalucia, SpainCasas Blancas in Vejer de la Frontera by Li-Mette via Flickr (CC license)

4. Hospedería La Cartuja, Cazalla de la Sierra

A former Carthusian monastery transformed into a charming hotel surrounded by rolling hill country. As well as eight elegantly styled rooms in what was formerly the monastery’s gatehouse, the evocative ruin of the fifteenth-century monastery behind contains an art gallery.

5. La Casa Grande, Arcos de la Frontera

Perched on a clifftop, this former casa señorial has a spectacular columned patio and sensational views across the vega from a terrace bar. Some of the beautiful rooms (and more expensive suites) come with their own terrace, too.

Arcos de la Frontera, Andalucia, SpainArcos de la Frontera by Joan Sorolla via Flickr (CC license)

 6. Los Pinos, Andújar

Secreted away in the densely wooded Parque Natural Sierra de Andújar – home to the threatened Iberian lynx – this is a very pleasant hotel with cosy en-suite rooms, apartamentos rurales and cottages arranged around a pool. There’s plenty of good hiking nearby.

7. Palacio de la Rambla, Ubeda

In Ubeda’s old quarter, this upmarket casa palacio owned by the Marquesa de la Rambla is the last word in understated taste. The lavish interior – with eight palatial rooms set around a stunning renaissance patio designed by Vandelvira – contains valuable furnishings and artworks.

Palacio de la Rambla, Ubeda, Andalucia, SpainPalacio de la Rambla by Cayetano via Flickr (CC license)

8. Alquería de Morayma, Cadiar

The cortijo (farmhouse) of an extensive estate is now a superb hotel set in 86 acres of farmland. Rooms are rustic and traditionally styled, plus there’s a pool, mountain biking and horse-riding on offer. You can even watch its organic farm in action, producing the wine, cheese and olive oil served in its restaurant.

9. Hotel Rodalquilar, Rodalquilar

In a former gold-mining village in Almería’s desert, this modern spa-inn with lofty palms and makes a great base to explore a dramatic gulch-riven landscape. Rooms are arranged around a sunken courtyard; a restaurant, pool, spa, sauna and gym plus free loan of mountain bikes are just a few of the facilities on offer.

HOTEL RODALQUILAR, RODALQUILARHotel de Naturaleza Rodalquilar by Toprural via Flickr (CC license

rough guide andalucia cover Explore more of Andalucía with the Rough Guide to AndaluciaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Walking: just putting one foot in front of the other, right? How hard can that be? Yes, a walking trip is something that anyone can do, but it is also something that needs preparation.

Hiking boots that don’t fit, a water bottle that isn’t big enough, a phone battery that never lasts – these are the things that pass from mere annoyance to sheer torture – even abject danger – on a long walk. Don’t fall into these easy-to-avoid first-timer traps – stay on track with our top hiking tips.

1. Put your best foot forward

First things first: boots. Do. Not. Scrimp. This cannot be emphasised enough. Your boots are your best friend on the trail and you need to spend some time picking them out. Get help at your local outdoor store and test out as many pairs as it takes to find a comfortable fit.

Don’t ignore the faux mountain slopes in the store, either – have a walk up and down them, jump, wiggle your toes. The most common mistake is thinking boots will stretch out – but a size too small is the surest way to a black toenail. Buy bigger if in doubt. And pick up spare laces too. If yours snap on the trail these will be worth their weight in Gore-Tex.

Hiking bootsPixabay/CC0

2. Stick to the path

Sounds simple, but taking a “shortcut” is how most people end up lost. It may look quicker to “cut a corner”, but that corner could be hiding a swamp, thick jungle, a steep slope, anything.

Follow the signs, stick to marked routes and accept that the person who marked out the trail probably does know best.

3. Take a guide

Concerned about being alone out there? If you’re at all unsure about where you’re going, or whether you can hack it, join a group. Numerous operators (Macs Adventure, Headwater, Ramblers) offer guided group walks around the UK, Europe, the USA and further afield – and there is, after all, safety in numbers. Many also offer self-guided walking holidays, with all route notes provided.

Hiking boots, hiking tips

4. Don’t descend into madness

Everything is flat on a map – but you and your muscles both know that this is far from reality. Learn to read the contours, the circular lines that join points of the same height together, on your map and you’ll be able to see the height change and prepare for – or avoid – steep ascents and descents.

Remember that contour lines closer together mean the slope is steeper, and that downhill can actually be much harder on the muscles than uphill. Reduce the number of miles you plan to walk if the terrain is steep and you’ll avoid burning thigh muscles.

5. Wrap up

Clothing is your protection against the elements and thin layers are best. Pack a microfleece (the lightest you can find), good quality waterproofs (jacket and trousers) and a hat and gloves if you’re somewhere cold or at altitude, and don’t forget the suncream and a sun hat if it’s going to be hot.

A thin scarf is great for covering up against the sun, sitting on, drying yourself off with and a number of other things that make it an essential.

Hiker in cold conditionsPixabay/CC0

6. Stock up

If you’re walking in a remote area you’ll need to bring everything, including water and food, with you. Pack ingredients to make sandwiches (don’t forget a knife), nuts and chocolate as energy-giving snacks and a Camelbak hydration pack filled with water. Soluble vitamin C tablets can be added to water for an extra burst of energy.

7. Get in shape

Think you can walk 15 miles in one day because it takes you 20 minutes to dash to the train station each morning? Think again.

Walking for a sustained period through rough terrain is an entirely different game. So if you’ve booked the Inca Trail start with a hike in your local park and work up to build your stamina.

Hiking over mountains, AsiaPixabay/CC0

8. Grab a pole

Walking poles split opinion, but most serious walkers carry one – and swear by it. A pole gives you an extra limb, one that you can use for additional balance, or simply to check out the depth of puddles or just how thick that undergrowth is.

9. Respect the mountain

How often do we hear about someone being rescued from Ben Nevis or the Rockies? Never forget that the mountain is king and cares not a jot for you, the hiker.

Always check the weather locally before heading out and don’t start ascending those peaks if it’s closing in or a storm is en route. Wrap up warm, and take a whistle and a torch, these will be invaluable if for some reason you do need to attract attention.

Nepal, Mahalangur Himal, hikers on trekking path in the Mount Everest region

10. Get appy

There are dozens of apps out there for hikers, but one of our favourites is Endomondo. Tap the play button as you start walking and it will monitor how far you walk, what your elevation gain or loss is and log your route on a map. It will even tell you how much water you should drink and how many calories you’ve burned.

11. Get high safely

Some of the world’s best hikes (the Inca Trail, the Annapurna Circuit) take place at altitude and this is not something to take lightly. Altitude sickness can kill, and it may start with a simple headache or nausea. If you feel mildly hungover, short of breath even when resting, or dizzy, seek help immediately and descend as far as possible. There is no cure apart from descending, so never try to push on.

Altitude sickness can usually be avoided by acclimatising slowly, so spend a couple of days resting at altitude before walking. Drink plenty of water too and avoid alcohol too.

Inca trail, Peru, South AmericaPixabay/CC0

12. Bring batteries

For everything. That torch, your camera, your mobile phone. Check and charge everything fully before you head out and bring spares. For your phone, which could turn out to be your lifeline, pack the MiPow Power Tube 3000. It has an integral cable and can charge your phone more than once. It will also sync with your phone, making it beep if you accidentally leave it behind.

Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, find tours and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tuscany harbours the classic landscapes of Italy, familiar from a thousand Renaissance paintings, with its backdrop of medieval hill-towns, rows of cypresses, vineyards and olive groves, and artfully sited villas and farmhouses. It’s a stereotype that has long held an irresistible attraction. Nowadays Tuscany is among Italy’s wealthiest regions, but it remains predominantly rural, with great tracts of land still looking much as they did half a millennium ago.

It’s not possible to see everything that Tuscany has to offer in one trip – but this selection of the region’s highlights is a great place to start. From the new Rough Guide to Tuscany and Umbria, this is our pick of the best things to do in Tuscany.

1. Taste truffles in San Miniato

Tuscany offers plenty of opportunities for sampling this perfumed and pricey fungus. San Miniato, a brisk little agricultural town more or less equidistant between Pisa and Florence, is particularly renowned throughout Italy for the white variety.

2. Take a day-trip to Cortona

The ancient hill-town of Cortona is the major attraction on the agricultural plain of the Valdichiana, its steep streets giving an unforgettable view over Lago Trasimeno and the Valdichiana. In the wake of the film of Under the Tuscan Sun, Cortona was briefly the second most popular Italian destination for US tourists after Venice, but although it still attracts busloads of tourists nowadays, its steep little streets have not yet lost their charm.

Italy, Tuscany, Arezzo, Cortona, view over the town from the Medici fortress

3. Go wild in the Monti dell’Uccellina

The protected environment of the Monti dell’Uccellina is one of Italy’s last pristine stretches of coastline. The Maremma region in which it lies was long Tuscany’s forgotten corner, its coastal plains, marshes, forest-covered hills and wild, empty upland interior having been a place of exile and fear for much of the last five hundred years, but in this regional park efforts have been made to preserve these natural treasures.

4. Make a pilgrimage to La Verna

St Francis’s mountaintop retreat, still a thriving Franciscan monastery commanding wonderful views of the Apennines, is Tuscany’s major pilgrimage site. Some come here to pay homage, others to stay in the guesthouse adjoining the monks’ quarters and some merely out of curiosity. Unlike at the basilica at Assisi, however, sightseers rarely obscure the purpose of the place.

5. Get lost in The Uffizi

Italy’s finest collection of art and the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in Florence has recently doubled in size. There are so many masterpieces collected here that you can only skate over the surface in a single visit – set aside at least half a day to explore.

Uffizi Gallery corridors, Italy

6. Go walking in the Alpi Apuane

Famous for their marble quarries, the Alpi Apuane of Northern Tuscany are also something of a botanical wonderland, with vast forests of beech and chestnut, and a profusion of wildflowers in spring. A network of clearly marked footpaths and longer trails thread the steep forested valleys, and there are some three hundred species of birds to spot as you hike – including the golden eagle, kestrels, buzzards and sparrowhawks.

7. Visit the Piero della Francesca masterpieces in Arezzo

Exquisite Renaissance works adorn almost every place of any size in Tuscany, but the stunning fresco cycles in Arezzo by Piero della Francesca are some of the finest of the region’s riches. Only 25 people are allowed into the choir of San Francesco at a time, so to be sure of getting in at the hour you want, check the Rough Guide for details of how to book a place in advance.

8. Wander the streets of San Gimignano

San Gimignano – “delle Belle Torri” – is famed for its amazing skyline which is dominated by fifteen medieval towers. The beautifully persevered streets are a vision of medieval perfection, but visit out of season if you can; the town’s magic can be compromised in summer by huge numbers of day-trippers.

Italy, Tuscany, San Gimignano, Towers at sunset

9. Be a tourist in Pisa

It might be the subject of millions of postcards, but the Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa is still worth visiting. There’s a breathtaking array of buildings here: the Leaning Tower, Italy’s signature building saved from collapse in the nick of time, the vast Romanesque cathedral, the magnificent baptistery and the Camposanto with its beautiful frescoes and impressive tombs.

10. Walk the city walls in Lucca

Lucca has some of the most handsome Romanesque buildings in Europe, but tourism here is very much a secondary consideration. Get to know the town by walking or cycling the fortifications that still completely encircle the old city – the mid-afternoon shutdown is perhaps the best time to follow the 4km circuit, which is lined with plane, lime, ilex and chestnut trees.

11. Wine down in Chianti

Some of Italy’s finest vintages are produced in these celebrated vineyards between Florence and Siena. The region can seem like a place where every aspect of life is in perfect balance: the undulating landscape is harmoniously varied; the climate for most of the year is balmy; and on top of all this there’s some serious wine tasting to get stuck into…

A farmhouse in the Chianti at dawn, set amongst rows of yellow and red Chianti vines glowing in the autumn sunrise, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy.

12. Embrace open-air art

Located 5km southeast of Capalbio is one of Italy’s oddest collections of modern art, Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden), a whimsical sculpture garden of prodigious works by Niki de Saint Phalle. The brightly coloured, Gaudí-esque opus took the artist almost seventeen years to complete and the result is a truly staggering sight – sheer fun that children love and adults marvel at.

13. Sample island life on Giglio

Out in the Tuscan archipelago, Giglio is relatively unspoilt by the sort of tourist development that has infiltrated – though certainly not ruined – nearby Elba. This little jewel of an island boasts citadels, stone villages and panoramic mountain hikes, as well as beaches and watersports.

Italy, Isola del Giglio, fishing nets and houses of Giglio Porto

14. Hit the spa

Tuscany has some of the swankiest spa towns in all of Italy, but at Bagno Vignoni you can soak without paying a cent. This tiny and atmospheric village has a wonderful natural hot spring and Medici-era pool in place of a central piazza – sadly this is now out of bounds, but you can take a dip in the free outdoor sulphur pools nearby.

15. Go rural

Staying in Tuscany’s hill-towns obviously makes sightseeing easier, but the quality and variety of the region’s rural accommodation is outstanding. If you want to splash out, try a top-price hotel in a sublime setting such as the Castello di Velona. This twelfth-century “castle” 10km south of Montalcino is now a superb 46-room five-star hotel, set in lovely open countryside on its own hill and ringed by cypresses.

rough guide tuscany umbria cover Get the complete guide to Tuscany with the Rough Guide to Tuscany and UmbriaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

The allure of Istanbul is hard to beat. This thrilling city bridges two continents with a history spanning more than 2000 years. And with Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport hitting an all-time record for flight traffic this July, its status as a top city-break destination has been further cemented.

But what about the rest of the country? “More often than not, people spend all their time in Turkey mostly in Istanbul”, says entrepreneur and filmmaker Pete R, “but Turkey has much more to offer”. 

In this film, our pick of the week, he heads out across the country, paragliding in Pamukkale, hiking in Cappadocia and swimming in Lake Van. “Turkey is definitely one of its kind”, he says, and “I [encourage] you to go further east to see the real Turkey!”

Inspired? Check out our list of 20 things not to miss in Turkey and our “wild east” itinerary to kick-start your trip planning.


More to Turkey than Istanbul from Pete R. on Vimeo.

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

Taken from the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget, these are our top 11 tips for backpacking Southeast Asia.

With its tempting mix of volcanoes, rainforest, rice fields, beaches and coral reefs, Southeast Asia is one of the most stimulating and accessible regions for independent travel in the world. You can spend the day exploring thousand-year-old Hindu ruins and the night at a rave on the beach; attend a Buddhist alms-giving ceremony at dawn and go whitewater rafting in the afternoon; chill out in a bamboo beach hut one week and hike through the jungle looking for orang-utans the next.

In short, there is enough here to keep anyone hooked for months. Here’s our advice for getting the most out of backpacking Southeast Asia for the first time.

1. Plan around the weather

Southeast Asia sits entirely within the tropics and so is broadly characterized by a hot and humid climate that varies little throughout the year, except during the two annual monsoons. Bear in mind, however, that each country has myriad microclimates; for more detail see our “when to go” pages for Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Thailand, Krabi Coast, junk off Hat Tham Phra Nang

2. Get off the beaten track

Though Southeast Asia has long been on the travellers’ trail, it doesn’t take too much to get off the beaten track – whether it’s to discover that perfect beach or to delve into the lush surrounds of the rainforest. Think about visiting the overlooked city of Battambang in Cambodia, taking the railroad less travelled in Thailand or exploring Myanmar’s unspoiled southern coast.

3. Try the street food

This is the home of the world’s tastiest cuisines, and the really good news is that the cheapest is often the best, with markets and roadside hawkers unbeatable places to try the many local specialities. Night markets, in particular, are great for tasting different dishes at extremely low prices – sizzling woks full of frying noodles, swirling clouds of spice-infused smoke and rows of glistening fried insects all make for an unforgettable gastronomic experience.

Street food on stall, Phuket. Thailand

4. Budget carefully – but have the odd splurge

Your daily budget in Southeast Asia depends on where you’re travelling and how comfortable you want to be. You can survive on as little as $20 a day in some countries, but for this money you’ll be sleeping in very basic accommodation, eating at simple food stalls, and travelling on local non-a/c buses. Think about where paying a little more will really enrich your trip.

5. Learn from the locals

Tribal culture is a highlight of many visits to less explored areas, and among the most approachable communities are the tribal groups around Sa Pa in Vietnam, the Torjan of Sulawesi in Indonesia, known for their intriguing architecture and ghoulish burial rituals, and the ethnic minority villages surrounding Hsipaw in Myanmar.

Flower Hmong minority people, Bac Ha region, Vietnam

6. Embrace the great outdoors

Up for getting active? There’s plenty to keep you busy. You can tackle world-class surf at G-land in Indonesia, take a mountain-bike tour of Vietnam’s far north or discover your own lonely bays and mysterious lagoons on a sea-kayak tour of Krabi in Thailand. And that’s just for starters…

7. Make time for temples

Southeast Asia’s myriad temple complexes are some of the region’s best-known attractions. The Hindu Khmers left a string of magnificent monuments, the most impressive of which can be seen at Angkor in Cambodia, while the Buddhists’ most impressive legacies include the colossal ninth-century stupa of Borobudur in Indonesia and the temple-strewn plain of Bagan in Myanmar.

Myanmar / Mandalay Region / Inwa / Yadanarsemi Pagoda

8. Get high

No, not that kind of high. Every visitor should make an effort to climb one of the spectacular mountains, whether getting up before dawn to watch the sun rise from Indonesia’s Mount Bromo or embarking on the two-day trek to scale Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia.

9. Hit the beach

The beaches here are some of the finest in the world, and you’ll find the cream of the crop in Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, all of which boast postcard-pretty, white-sand bays, complete with azure waters and wooden beach shacks dotted along their palm-fringed shores. The clear tropical waters also offer supreme diving opportunities for novices and seasoned divers alike.

Malaysia, Pulau Tioman (Tioman Island)

10. Take local transport

Local transport across Southeast Asia is uniformly good value compared to public transport in the West, and is often one of the highlights of a trip, not least because of the chance to fraternize with local travellers. Overland transport between neighbouring countries is also fairly straightforward so long as you have the right paperwork and are prepared to be patient.

11. Stay healthy

The vast majority of travellers to Southeast Asia suffer nothing more than an upset stomach, so long as they observe basic precautions about food and water hygiene, and research pre-trip vaccination and malaria prophylactic requirements – but it’s still vital to arrange health insurance before you leave home. Some of the illnesses you can pick up may also not show themselves immediately, so if you become ill within a year of returning home, tell your doctor where you have been.

For a complete guide to backpacking Southeast Asia, check out The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget. Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Brittany has long been one of the jewels in France’s crown. Its beaches and holiday homes are flooded each summer by Parisians on their grandes vacances and Brits piling off cross-channel ferries. It’s easy to see why. From the rugged beauty of the northern coast to the classy beach resorts, there’s no arguing that this independently minded region is among France’s most beautiful.

But there’s more to Brittany than the campsite and coast trail. This is also one of France’s finest regions for food lovers. Come slightly out of season and you’ll find that not only can you get the windswept sands all to yourself, there’s also a veritable array of culinary delights to get stuck into.

There are world-famous oysters to slurp as you shelter your wind-whipped skin in blustery little Cancale, salted caramels to roll over your tongue as you stroll the walls of St-Malo and the second-largest food market in France to browse in the capital, Rennes. There are Michelin-starred restaurants that fuse French classics with Asian influences and South American spices, and of course, there are Breton galettes and bolées of cider at every turn.

Beach at St Malo, Brittany, France

It’s a paradise for seafood lovers

Brittany partly has the tides to thank for the abundance of seafood. The tidal range here is one of the highest in Europe. This makes the coastline perfectly suited to farming both common rock oysters (huîtres creuses) and the native flat oysters (huîtres plates), which thrive in the waters of the Baie du Mont St-Michel.

To taste them, there’s only one place to go, the undisputed oyster capital and “one-mollusc town” of Cancale. The oyster beds here stretch out almost as far as the eye can see. Oysters are shucked so frequently by seafront stalls that a mountain of shells threatens to breach the sea wall like a high tide.

Spend a few hours in one of the unpretentious seafood restaurants and you’ll soon find yourself slurping down a cool half-dozen huîtres, grappling with little brown shrimp, prying the sweet meat from lobsters’ claws and getting skilled with a toothpick as you pluck little black sea snails from their shells.

If you want to be resolutely Breton, a mug (bolée) of cider – the drier the better – is a good accompaniment. Better is a glass of frostily crisp Muscadet, made from Melon de Bourgogne in the neighbouring vineyards of Nantes. (Brittany’s historic capital becomes temporarily Breton once again as soon as oysters come into play.)

Oysters, Brittany, France

It’s the only place to settle the crêpe vs galette debate

Most visitors, however, arrive in Brittany with one thing on their mind: pancakes. Luckily there are a slew of places waiting to indulge your every batter-based fantasy – from vans selling galette-wrapped sausages smothered in mustard to little crêperies like the Crêperie du Port in Saint-Quay-Portrieux that offer cookery lessons to visitors.

Traditionally, galettes and crêpes are eaten in the same meal. Savoury buckwheat-flour galettes come first, topped with combinations like ham, egg and cheese (the “complete”). White-flour crêpes are served for dessert. Forget about nutella, if you want to embrace all things Breton, you need to drizzle your pancake with salted butter caramel sauce.

Galette, Brittany, Franceà la bretonne! by Jérôme Decq via Flickr (CC license)

It’s the original home of salted caramel

The creation of salted butter caramel (caramel beurre salé) stems back to the 1500s, when Brittany was the only part of France to be exempt from a salt tax known as the gabelle. As such, salt was liberally sprinkled in the local cuisine – a tradition that remains evident in Brittany’s famous salted butter today.

It’s thought the next step came about in the 1970s when an ingenious pâtissier decided to use salted butter to make caramel. A beautiful union was born, and today you’ll find salted caramel in everything from sauces to hard sweets.

It’s a great place to hit the market

Away from the coast, one of the other joys of Brittany is shopping in the local markets. One of the best is in the capital, Rennes, where the second-largest market second in France (after Lille) sprawls through the centre of the small city.

Trestle tables groan with local produce throughout the year. The likes of rhubarb, asparagus and scallops in spring; artichokes (around 70 percent of France’s artichokes are grown here), currants and bundles of herbs in summer; apples, rabbit and mushrooms in autumn; and cabbages, potatoes and carrots in winter.

Market, Rennes, Brittany, France

Its Michelin-starred restaurants are refreshingly inventive

In the kitchen of the nearby restaurant La Coquerie, meanwhile, the focus shifts east. A long way east. Rennes is twinned with Sendai in Japan, and this connection is echoed in Julien Lemarié’s classy fusion menu. He uses local Breton produce in recipes inspired by his time in Tokyo and Singapore – from slow-cooked egg with star anise, confit lime and nori to oysters in a wasabi-spiked broth.

Surprising pairings also crop up elsewhere; Brittany is no place for traditionalists. Celebrated local chef Olivier Roellinger might have closed his three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Relais Gourmand, but his influence remains in a hotel, a spice shop, Epices Roellinger, and a cookery school, the Ecole de Cuisine Corsaire run by Emmanuel Tessier.

Roellinger’s unusual philosophy is based around the use of exotic spices – once bought to Brittany’s ports by corsairs – to enliven classic recipes. One of his most famous creations is homard Xérès et cacao: lobster spiced with Amazonian annatto seeds, Indian coriander, cacao, sherry vinegar and a hint of vanilla.

La Coquerie, Brittany, France

It’s the perfect place to overindulge

If this is starting to sound like a bit too much, don’t worry: Brittany does down-time well. Thanks to a law that new houses can be built no closer than 50m from coastline, rocky coves and deserted strands abound.

And if a sea breeze isn’t enough to blow away the cobwebs, you can even indulge in a weird and wonderful array of salt-water-based spa treatments at the Spa Marin du Val André.

To be honest, though, a crepe with lashings of salted butter caramel is much more restorative.

Discover more about the region on www.brittanytourism.com, a one-stop resource for all things Breton. Explore more with the Rough Guide to Brittany and NormandyCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Header credit:Ramen/photocuisine/Corbis. All photos in this feature copyright Eleanor Aldridge unless otherwise stated. 

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