Way out in the cool North Atlantic Ocean, there’s a cluster of craggy islands inhabited primarily by sheep and puffins. The Faroe Islands are Scandinavia’s ultimate off-the-beaten-track destination. Here’s our guide to what to expect on your first trip to this remote archipelago.

What and where are the Faroe Islands?

Contrary to popular misconception, the Faroe Islands are not near the Antarctic nor are they somewhere in Portugal. In fact, this cluster of eighteen islands is situated roughly midway between Iceland, Norway and the northern tip of Scotland.

It’s an extraordinary landscape of sharp cliffs, sweeping glaciated valleys, narrow fjords and pointed basalt peaks that was formed when volcanic rock thrust up from the deep North Atlantic Ocean.

Since the sixth century, the Faroe Islands have been inhabited by Irish monks, Viking settlers and an awful lot of sheep. Today, it’s home to 49,000 people and is a self-governing nation – part of the Kingdom of Denmark – with its own parliament, flag and language, a booming fishing industry.

DSC01167Image by Ros Walford

Why should I go?

If you love outdoor adventure in rugged landscapes, invigorating sea air and cosy harbour villages, then you’ll love the Faroe Islands. Whether exploring the islands by car, foot, boat or bicycle, the excellent infrastructure makes it easy to get around. It’s an incredibly welcoming place with a gentle pace of life and an interesting mix of modern innovations based on ancient traditions.

What should I see?

Seeing thousands of puffins and other sea birds nesting in high cliffs is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Faroes. So whether or not you are an enthusiastic birdwatcher, a boat trip to Vestmanna, or to the westernly island of Mykines – a “paradise of birds” – is an unforgettable experience.

Driving in the Faroes is a highlight in itself, as beautifully tarmacked roads sweep around the fjords and sounds, where houses with fluffy grass roofs blend into vibrant green landscape and every scene is a stunner.

A short drive from Vagar airport are two of the most dramatic views in the archipelago: the island of Tindhólmur, a rock that juts out of the ocean like a jagged shard of glass, and Gásadalur waterfall where icy water gushes from a sea cliff.

Faroe Islands valley, NorwayImage by Ros Walford

Saksun is one of the prettiest spots on Streymoy, the largest island. It’s a small settlement beside a steep-sided inlet, while over on Esturoy to the east, winding roads take you up into the mountainous north and up to the highest peak, Slættaratindur (882m). Not far from here, you can see two rock stacks, known as Risin og Kellingin (the giant and the witch) and the picturesque village of Gjógv, named after a gorge.

Visiting one of the smaller islands, such as the remarkable Stóra Dímun, is as remote as it gets. This 2-sq-km inaccessible island is inhabited by eight people who live in a farmhouse perched on a plateau surrounded by vertical sea cliffs. The only access is via a helicopter service that delivers supplies three times a week. Tourists can come here on boat trips or stay on the island for a few days in summer, when the schoolhouse doubles as a self-catering apartment.

What outdoor activities can I do?

It’s possible to do almost any outdoor activity here, from horseriding, trail-running and climbing to sea kayaking, sailing and fly-fishing for wild salmon.

If you’ve got thighs of steel, you’ll enjoy cycling the quiet mountain roads. But those who prefer a gentler pace would be better off hiking.

There are many options for day walks: climb to the top of Slættaratindur for stunning views over the archipelago; take the postman’s path up over the steep ridge from Bøur to Gásadalur waterfall (which once was the only way to reach Gásadalur village before a tunnel was built). Alternatively, you can hike from Tórshavn to Kirkjubøur to see the oldest church in the Faroe Islands.

Dramatic coastal scenery at Gasadalur on the island of Vagar, Faroe Islands, Denmark, Europe

What about the capital city?

Tórshavn is one of the smallest capital cities in the world. Narrow streets cluster around the harbour, where a peninsula called the Tinganes sticks out into the bay. It’s here you’ll find the government buildings – modest wooden houses that stand on the site of one of the oldest parliamentary meeting places in the world.

As far back as the ninth century, the Vikings held a general assembly here (called a “Thing”), and evidence of their meetings can still be seen carved on the rocks. It’s still an informal place, where you might say “hej” (“hi”) to a government minister as they wander past in the lanes of the neighbouring district of tiny, grass-roofed houses.

Artistic and creative industries are flourishing here. The capital city may be small but it has its share of galleries, including the National Gallery On the outskirts of town, Nordic House hosts Faroese and Nordic art exhibitions, concerts, theatre and dance.

There are upmarket craft and design shops including designer knitwear from Guðrun & Guðrun (creators of the desirable sweater worn by detective Sarah Lund in Danish crime drama The Killing), an excellent design cooperative called Öström, and colourful glass creations at Mikkalina Glas.

Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, NorwayImage by Ros Walford

Is there a music scene?

Tutl is the only music shop and record label in the Faroe Islands. Outdoor festivals are an important feature in summer, and key dates in the diary include G! Festival, during which thousands of people descend on the tiny village of Gøta to enjoy rock music and hot tubs on the beach.

At Hoyma, also held in Gøta, festival-goers revive the old tradition of going from house to house to enjoy acoustic concerts inside residents’ living rooms.

What should I eat?

One of the loveliest dining experiences is Heimablídni, the Faroese tradition of “home hospitality”, in which guests pay for a meal cooked and served at the home of their hosts.

You’re likely to be able to try some of the local favourites, such as fresh fish or fermented meat (which is nicer than it sounds – it’s usually a tender leg of lamb that’s been left to hang in the salty sea air, in a process similar to curing).

It’s not all rustic cuisine, though. There are some sophisticated fine-dining restaurants in Tórshavn. Aarstova is famous for its slow-cooked Faroese lamb, while Barbara is a superb fish restaurant in a turf-topped building.

Drying fermented meat, the Faroe IslandsImage by Ros Walford

How do I get around?

Fifteen years ago, the only way to get between the islands was via ferry. Now, two sub-sea tunnels link the main islands and a network of smaller tunnels connect valleys and villages that were once isolated from the world. The smaller tunnels can take some getting used to, as one lane serves traffic coming in both directions. Fortunately, the Public Roads’ Office has made a useful video that explains all you need to know about driving.

The subsidised (and very good value) helicopter service, operated by Atlantic Airways, runs regularly between the smaller islands. It’s an exhilarating way of getting around, but they only fly every other day and you can’t book a return, so plan carefully. Otherwise, buses and ferries are slower paced alternatives.

For further information about the Faroe Islands, see the Visit Faroe Islands and Visit Tórshavn websites. Atlantic Airways operate daily flights to Vagar Airport from Copenhagen.

Shafik Meghji uncovers the Indian landscape that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale – and picks out five other destinations where you can find the characters’ real-life counterparts.

The national parks of eastern Madhya Pradesh are often described as “Kiplingesque”. This landscape of creeper-clad forests, expansive savannah, grassy hills, and meandering streams simply teems with wildlife: monkeys, pythons, sloth bears, wild boar, swamp deer, wild dogs, leopards, porcupines, gaur (the world’s largest wild cattle), and – of course – majestic Royal Bengal tigers.

Rudyard Kipling, who was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and spent his formative years in India, never actually visited this central Indian region, but drew heavily on the accounts of several British travellers who had for The Jungle Book. At the time he was writing, eastern Madhya Pradesh was a vast viceregal hunting ground, where prominent British army officers and civil servants sought out trophies – particularly tiger heads – to display at home. The first national park in the state – Kanha – was only created in 1955.

23 Dec 2014, Kanha National Park, North-Central India, India --- Forest with Sal (Shorea robusta) trees lightened by sunbeams, India, Madhya Pradesh, Kanha National Park --- Image by © Herman van der Hart / natureinstock.com/Nature in Stock/Corbis

Today, it’s easy to imagine “man-cub” Mowgli, Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther and the rest of the gang stalking through Madhya Pradesh’s reserves. However, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba in the new film) is by far the biggest draw for tourists: you have a better chance of spotting a tiger in the wild in one of the state’s parks – particularly in Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench – than anywhere else on Earth.

Madhya Pradesh’s premier park is Kanha, which spans some 940 square kilometres and is home to an estimated 40-45 tigers. Lodges just outside the park – including the excellent Shergarh Tented Camp – run jeep safaris (known locally as “game drives”) at sunrise and in the early afternoon, with guides scouring the ground for “pug marks” (tiger footprints) and listening out for the agitated alarm calls that signal that a big cat is close by.

Nothing, though, quite prepares you for your first sight of a tiger in the wild.

Whether it is a brief glimpse of gold and black in the undergrowth or an extended viewing of a big cat in the open, it feels like an incredible privilege.

bengal tiger, Madhya Pradesh, IndiaImage by Allan Hopkins on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If you’re after your own Jungle Book adventure this year, head to one of these wild and wonderful landscapes:

Track Bagheera in Kenya

Leopards are notoriously difficult to spot in the wild. Melanistic leopards – better known as black panthers – are even more elusive. But with time, patience and a large dose of luck, you may be able to find the cat upon which the sleek Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) was based in the Matthews Range, an undulating 150km-long series of forested hills in central Kenya that is also home to lions, elephants, buffalos and rhinos.

Meet King Louie in Sumatra, Indonesia

Although he didn’t actually appear in Rudyard Kipling’s book, King Louie the orang-utan was one of the most memorable characters in the 1967 Disney film adaptation. If you want to meet a real-life “king of the swingers” (voiced by Christopher Walken in the new film), head to Gunung Leuser National Park on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Here you can trek through the dense, riverine rainforest, whose trees are filled with orang-utans, as well as gibbons and macaques.

Matthews Range, Kenya

Search for Baloo in Nepal

Voiced by Bill Murray in the new film, Baloo is one of the most beloved characters in The Jungle Book, with a cuddly, comical image. Yet the sloth bear, the animal upon which Baloo is based, can actually be quite aggressive. It is possible to view them safely, however, right across the Subcontinent, notably in the Terai region of southern Nepal. The country’s two most famous wildlife reserves, Chitwan and Bardia, both have significant numbers of these shaggy-furred, largely nocturnal creatures, who feast on fruit, termites and honeybees.

Spot Kaa in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Indian rock pythons like Kaa, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, can grow to up to three metres in length. Their African cousins, however, are even bigger: some exceed six metres. One of the best places to spot these giant constrictors is Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest and most famous reserve. Encompassing savannah, bushland, tropical forests and mountains, the park is also home to some 150 species of mammals and over 500 species of birds.

Find Akela in Yellowstone National Park, USA

America’s first national park, spanning almost 9000 square kilometres, Yellowstone is home to the cousins of Akela, the wise leader of the wolf pack that adopts Mowgli, voiced by Breaking Bad star Giancarlo Esposito in the new film. Grey wolves were hunted and poisoned to the point of extinction in the park in the 1920s, but they were reintroduced in 1995 and now number more than a hundred. Wolf-watching trips have become increasingly popular and sightings are common.

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

Running along the Great Wall of China, jogging across the African savannah and racing through the Amazon are some of the exhilarating marathon experiences now on offer around the globe. From coastal routes in Jamaica and California to challenging courses in the blazing Sahara and freezing Polar Circle, a growing number of endurance events provide a dramatic change of scene and pace.

1. Marathon des Sables, 8–18 April 2016, Morocco

Not for the fainthearted, the legendary Marathon des Sables is one of the world’s toughest long-distance races. Laden with backpacks, competitors brave the sweltering Moroccan Sahara during a six-day ultra-marathon that covers 257km of golden dunes and stony plateaus. Over 13,000 runners have taken part in this extreme desert event since 1986 and its popularity endures today, with around 1200 men and women due at the starting line in April 2016.

Runners tackle the Marathon des Sables, MoroccoImage by tent86 on Flickr (CC 2.0)

2. Big Sur International Marathon, 24 April 2016, USA

An inspiration to writers Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, California’s Big Sur region really delivers on scenery. Now in its 31st year, the area’s sell-out marathon follows a spectacular route along the Pacific coastline between Big Sur Station and Carmel. Starting beneath the shade of Giant Redwoods, competitors race over bridges and through rolling hills. The sparkling ocean and craggy Santa Lucia Mountains are a beautifully distracting backdrop.

3. Great Wall Marathon, 21 May 2016, China

For those who like sightseeing at speed, the Great Wall Marathon is a memorable way to see one of China’s most famous landmarks. Featuring vertiginous climbs up sections of the wall, plus trails through fields and villages, it’s a demanding, mountainous course. But although the steep gradient can reduce runners to clambering up the Great Wall’s ancient steps, the views are magnificent and villagers offer encouragement along the route.

CHINA GREAT WALL MARATHON

4. Ultra Trail Marathon, 22 May 2016, England

London might be the UK’s best-known marathon, but the Lake District’s Ultra Trail Marathon is arguably its most scenic. Beginning on the shores of vast Derwentwater lake in Keswick, the challenging 50km course meanders through rugged fells and peaceful valleys. Undulating, mountainous terrain means this isn’t the race for marathon PBs, but this stamina-testing event offers a close encounter with one of England’s most wild and beautiful regions.

5. Himalayan Kingdom Marathon, 29 May 2016, Bhutan

Wedged between India and Tibet, remote Bhutan is home to sacred monasteries, Himalayan peaks and forested valleys. Competitors in the annual Himalayan Kingdom Marathon cross bridges decked in colourful Buddhist prayer flags, and race through paddy fields and farms: all at high altitude. With the course passing some of the Paro Valley’s greatest sights, including the cliff-hugging Taktsang Monastery, there’s plenty to exercise runners’ eyes and legs.

Taktsang Monastery perched on valley side, BhutanImage by Bob Witlox on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

6. Big Five Marathon, 25 June 2016, South Africa

Billed as ‘the wildest of them all’, South Africa’s Big Five Marathon offers entrants the chance to spot antelopes, giraffes and elephants as they race through the dry savannah landscape. Sandy trails and dirt tracks weave past lakes, grazing wildlife and rocky hills. Part of the course even crosses into lion country, where big cat sightings might persuade some runners to speed up.

7. Australian Outback Marathon, 30 July 2016, Australia

Established by experienced runner Mari-Mar Walton in 2010, the Outback Marathon follows private, red-earth trails through the Australian bush, past the looming sandstone monolith of Uluru. Camels and kangaroos gaze on as hundreds of athletes cover a relatively flat loop, experiencing the striking Northern Territory wilderness at an accelerated pace.

Australian Outback Marathon, Uluru, AustraliaImage by Joanna Penn on Flickr (CC 2.0)

8. Polar Circle Marathon, 29–30 October 2016, Greenland

Kitted out in hats, gloves and windproof sports gear, hardy participants in Greenland’s small-scale Polar Circle Marathon take on sub-zero temperatures and icy surfaces as they run through shimmering Arctic tundra. Bright blue skies and snow-covered trails make for an awe-inspiring marathon-scape, where runners might spot arctic foxes and musk oxen in their natural habitat.

9. Jungle Marathon, 6–15 October 2016, Brazil

When a traditional road marathon no longer cuts it in the adrenaline stakes, Brazil’s gruelling Jungle Marathon awaits. The easiest option in this eco-race through rainforest, swamps and piranha-infested rivers is to choose the one-day marathon: endurance-distance junkies can go all out with a six-stage, 254km struggle through the Amazon. Competitors catch riverboats to base camp in the Tapajós National Forest and sleep in hammocks strung between trees.

Beach in Negril, Cornwall, Jamaica

10. Reggae Marathon, 3 December 2016, Jamaica

From its ‘Pasta Party’ to a policy of blaring reggae music every mile of the race, this marathon in Negril, Jamaica is a fun-loving affair. Entrants from more around the world gather at the starting point in dawn darkness, setting off along the white-sand coastline by torchlight. Steel bands and cheering onlookers create a party atmosphere throughout the flat, looped route and once runners cross the beachside finish line, they can take a celebratory dip in the Caribbean Sea.

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

It’s not just height that makes a mountain mean. Different routes can make one side of a mountain a cinch and the other side nearly impossible. The weather can turn a technically easy climb into a deadly expedition.

But whatever the weather, many aspire to tackle the world’s hardest mountains to climb. Here’s our ranking of the 11 trickiest ascents. Glorious and gruelling, gorgeous and grim – these peaks are as dangerous as they are awe-inspiring.

11. Mont Blanc, Italy and France

Elevation: 4808m
Average time to summit: 2 days

It may not be that tall compared to peaks in the Himalayas, and typical routes aren’t that technically challenging. Plus, its position on the border of Italy and France makes it all the more convenient. What better way to follow up your Eiffel Tower selfie than with a snap of you atop Europe’s highest peak?

This sort of heady logic brings many tourists to Mont Blanc every year, and maybe that’s why Mont Blanc has killed more people than any other mountain. Some 8000 have perished on this scenic European climb, most of them novices. Be responsible and be prepared if you’re planning to climb Mont Blanc, its power shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Climbers descending Mont Blanc, France/Italy

10. Vinson Massif, Antarctica

Elevation: 4892m
Average time to summit: 7–21 days

Fabled Vinson was first glimpsed by human eyes in 1958. Since then, only some 1400 have reached the summit. Weather poses the greatest threat here: it has some of the coldest temperatures on the planet and winds that can easily surpass 80 kilometres per hour.

The simple fact that it could takes weeks to get to a proper hospital in an emergency makes this a remarkably dangerous excursion. Furthermore, getting to Antarctica is going to cost you – a lot. Be prepared to dish out between $34,000–US $82,000 for your trip.

Vinson Massif, AntarcticaVinson-036 by Olof Sundström & Martin Letzter on Flickr (license)

9. Matterhorn, Switzerland

Elevation: 4478m
Average time to summit: 5 days

An icon of the Alps, the pyramidal peak of the Matterhorn is successfully ascended by hundreds of climbers every year. However, this is no reason to assume it an easy climb.

The mountain has claimed more than 500 lives since 1865, and still takes a few more each year. Falling rocks have always posed a threat, but the crowds scrambling towards the peak every day during the Swiss summer have created new challenges for climbers to conquer, and new reasons to take on the more demanding conditions of winter.

Switzerland, Matterhorn, snow-covered mountain with distinct pyramidal peak

8. Cerro Torre, Argentina and Chile

Location:Elevation: 3128m
Average time to summit: 4–7 days

Cerro Torre has long captivated the hopes and hearts of climbers, a jagged spire jutting out of the Patagonian Ice Field’s mountains.

Notoriously sheer with a peak guarded by a hazardous layer of rime ice formed by battering winds, it does not offer itself up easily. Climbers must be prepared to tunnel through the ice and deal with vertical and even overhanging sections.

Cerro Torre, Argentina, South America

7. The Eiger, Switzerland

Elevation: 3970m
Average time to summit: 2–3 days

The difficulty of the Eiger’s north face has earned it a disturbing nickname: Murder Wall. Requiring an technical skill and ice axe finesse, the sharp overhang, 1800m face and ever-increasing threat of falling ice and rock (a result of global warming) has killed at least 64 climbers trying to follow up the first successful ascent in 1938.

The Eiger mountain, CC0 Public DomainPixabay / CC0

6. Denali, Alaska, USA

Elevation: 6190m
Average time to summit: 21 days

The altitude, awful weather, relative isolation and punishing temperatures all pose a serious threat to those who attempt to summit North America’s tallest mountain, previously known as Mount McKinley. Further, its high degree of latitude means that atmosphere and oxygen are spread thin.

Despite the having only a 50% success rate, Denali never fails to tempt climbers to ascend. Perhaps the words of one of the first climbers to summit have something to do with the far-flung Alaskan allure: “The view from the top of Mount McKinley is like looking out the windows of Heaven”.

USA, Alaska, Denali National Park, Wonder Lake, with snow-covered Mount McKinley visible as backdrop

5. Mount Everest, Nepal and Tibet

Elevation: 8848m
Average time to summit: 54 days

Surprised to see the world’s tallest mountain in the middle of our list? Make no mistake, Everest is still a difficult climb. Weather and altitudes can still be deadly, and avalanches have claimed dozens of lives in recent years.

But its glory has faded somewhat with the mountain’s commercialisation: while once it was a feat not many travellers could claim to have achieved, today’s services enable climbers hire local porters to lug their packs, employ chefs to prepare food, and even have a personal medic in case of injury to follow you as far as Base Camp.

However, the crowds that Everest attracts today have become an unfortunate danger in itself. If you do invest in a climb during the more accessible peak season, prepare to join a traffic-jam like queue of hundreds of climbers waiting their turn to summit.

Base camp, Mount Everest, Nepal, Tibet

4. Baintha Brakk, Pakistan

Elevation: 7285m
Average time to summit: undetermined

Commonly called “The Ogre”, towering Baintha Brakk has only been summited three times. Immense in scale, intricate in shape and harrowing in incline, this mountain is both the blight and desire of mountaineering’s most hardcore enthusiasts. From the start, any bold attempt at this mountain is a veritable struggle for survival.

Baintha Brakk, Pakistan, AsiaImage by junaidrao on Flickr (license)

3. Kangchenjunga, India and Nepal

Elevation: 8586m
Average time to summit: 40–60 days

While climbing death rates are generally decreasing, Kangchenjunga stands as an unfortunate exception to the rule, taking more lives as time goes on. It seems fitting that the mountain is regarded as the home of a rakshasa (or man-eating demon). Only 187 have ever reached the top, though out of respect for the mountain’s immense religious significance among the region’s Buddhists, climbers have always stopped short of the summit.

KangchenjungaPixabayCC0

2. K2, China and Pakistan

Elevation: 8611m
Average time to summit: 60 days

Though plenty of peaks in the Himalaya could contest for second on our list, K2’s technical difficulty is legendary. It’s also the second tallest mountain in the world.

In an infamous section called the “Bottleneck”, climbers traverse a towering overhang of precarious glacial ice and massive, sometimes unstable, seracs. It’s the fastest route to the top, minimizing time climbing above K2’s “death zone”: the 8000m altitude above which human life can only briefly be sustained. But too often these seracs come tumbling down, taking climbers to plummet with them.

K2, China/Pakistan, mountainsgabe and K2 on Flickr by Maria Ly (license)

1. Annapurna, Nepal

Elevation: 8091m
Average time to summit: 40–50 days

By no means should a mountain’s height ever be confused with its technical difficulty. Annapurna, the tenth highest peak in the world, is deadly proof. With a near 40% summit fatality rate, a mountaineer is more likely to die here than on any other 8000m climb.

Threat of storms and avalanches loom over the mountain’s hulking glacial architecture. The south face, in particular, is widely considered the most dangerous climb on Earth.

The Himalaya, noble, soaring and frightening, on the Annapurna Trek, Nepal.

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

Traditionally, pilgrimage meant hoofing it, wayfaring the hard way. Yet most Catholic authorities will tell you there’s nothing particularly sinful about making it easier on yourself.

You could roughly trace Spain’s Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, by car … but then taking full advantage of the fringe benefits – discounted accommodation and gorgeous red wine – would prove difficult. The answer? Get on your bike.

7734187390_ffb66e6096_oDay 1 by Juan Pablo Olmo (CC license

With reasonable fitness and not a little tenacity, the mantra of “two wheels good, four wheels bad” can take you a long way on the religious pilgrimage route that pretty much patented European tourism back in the Middle Ages.

The most popular section begins at the Pyrenean monastery of Roncesvalles, rolling right across northwestern Spain to the stunning (and stunningly wet) Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, where the presence of St James’s mortal remains defines the whole exercise.

2506038144_dc320a8b3b_oCamino de Santiago by Fresco Tours (CC license)

Pack your mac, but spare a thought for the pre-Gortex, pre-Penny-Farthing millions who tramped through history, walking the proverbial 500 miles to fall down at Santiago’s door.

Bikers can expect a slight spiritual snag, however: you have to complete 200km to qualify for a reprieve from purgatory (twice the minimum for walkers). But by the time you’re hurtling down to Pamplona with a woody, moist Basque wind in your hair, though, purgatory will be the last thing on your mind.

Granted, the vast, windswept plains between Burgos and León hold greater potential for torment, but by then you’ll have crossed the Ebro and perhaps taken a little detour to linger amid the vineyards of La Rioja, fortifying your weary pins with Spain’s most acclaimed wine.

DCIM100GOPROphoto by Luis Marina (CC license)

The Camino was in fact responsible for spreading Rioja’s reputation, as pilgrims used to slake their thirst at the monastery of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The medieval grapevine likewise popularized the route’s celebrated Romanesque architecture; today many monasteries, convents and churches house walkers and cyclists.

Once you’re past the Cebreiro pass and into Celtic-green Galicia, rolling past hand-ploughed plots and slate-roofed villages, even a bike seems newfangled amid rhythms that have scarcely changed since the remains of St James first turned up in 813.

Make the most of your time on earthA “credencial” or Pilgrim’s Passport, available from the monastery at Roncesvalles or via csj.org.uk, entitles you to free or very cheap hostel accommodation. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

Scotland sports such a strong selection of tourist attractions – from castles and cabers to kilts and whisky – it’s easy to forget that there is much more to this land. Venture away from the cities and you’ll find rugged mountains, remote glens and mile-upon-mile of wave-lashed beaches. Ready to explore? Here are seven Scottish places that you’ve probably never heard of, but must visit.

1. The Isle of Harris, the Western Isles

Located 40km off Scotland’s far northwest coast, the Isle of Harris boasts a string of bleached-white sands so glorious they’ve been compared to the Caribbean’s finest beaches. There are ample stretches of perfect sand to choose from: our favourites are Luskentyre, Seilebost and the wide sweep of Scarista. You will often have these beaches all to yourself, and even if someone dares to break your solitude, you can just wander along to the next one.

Isle of Harris, beach, Scotland, UKIsle of Harris, Scotland by iknow-uk on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

2. The Quiraing, Isle of Skye

It may look like the gnarled New Zealand countryside which doubled so superbly as the setting for the Lord of the Rings films, but this Tolkienesque landscape is actually on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. Sheer rock faces, twisted stacks, piercing pinnacles and unlikely erratic boulders combine to conjure up an otherworldly scene that looks truly spectacular on a sunny day. It’s even more dramatic when Skye’s notorious mists creep in.

Great Britain, Scotland, Isle of Skye, view over the Quiraing areaa

3. St Kilda, the Western Isles

St Kilda is an archipelago so impressive that it became the first place in the world to be recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage list for both its natural heritage (it’s home to the unique Soay sheep and the St Kilda field mouse) and its human history (its inhabitants lived a unique communal life until it was abandoned in 1930).

To get here, you have to endure an often (very) bumpy boat ride across forty miles of ocean from the Western Isles, but the sheer cliffs and striking rock formations are worth the effort.

Cleit on Hirta with Soay lamb, Scotland, UKCleit on Hirta with Soay lamb by Irenicrhonda on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. Foula, the Shetland Islands

Few Scots have even heard of the UK’s most remote inhabited isle, and there’s little wonder why: there are less than forty hardy Foula locals.

Getting here is an adventure in itself, with a twenty-mile boat journey from the Shetland mainland to the island’s rocky harbour, across a stretch of water frequently lashed by wild Atlantic storms.

Venture out across the rugged and wild interior and you can see bonxies (huge skuas) and arctic terns swooping above your heads in summer. Or, enjoy a picnic by the sea as you watch orcas hunt for seals on rocky shores that even the Romans never conquered. They dubbed Foula the Ultima Thule, or the end of the known world, when they spied it in the distance.

Foula post office, Scotland, UKFoula post office by neil roger on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

5. Cairngorms National Park, the Highlands

Despite being the UK’s largest national park – and home to the largest mountain plateau in the UK – Cairngorms National Park is one of the least-visited. This vast, inhospitable wilderness often looks more like the Arctic than Scotland, with snow drifts swirling in hurricane-force winds during winter, and ice and snow lingering in places right through summer.

It feels a world apart, too, as you ramble across a lunar landscape where the UK’s only wild reindeer herd roam and the wrecks of crashed WWII aircraft lie frozen in time. The plateau is a paradise for well-prepared walkers in summer, while skiers and snowboarders take over in winter.

Summit Plateau of Cairngorms

6. Loch Torridon, the Highlands

Fancy a visit to the Norwegian fjords? Well, save yourself some cash and head to Wester Ross, which offers the fjord-like delights of little-known Loch Torridon. This mighty sea loch spreads its tentacles from the small village of Torridon, flanked by the natural amphitheatre of the Torridon Mountains, which tower over 1000m-high.

The clear, cobalt-blue waters and lack of development mean marine life is bountiful here – look out for seals, dolphins and, as you get closer to the open sea, whales. You can stay at the SYHA hostel, the relaxed Torridon Inn or the seriously posh mock baronial Torridon Hotel, which has the best of the spectacular loch views.

Loch Torridon, sunrise, Scotland, reflectionsLoch Torridon, sunrise by Steve Schnabel on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

7. Thurso, the Highlands

Let’s talk surfing. We all know about Australia’s Bondi beach and the brilliant waves in Bali – but what about Thurso? It’s usually a case of donning a drysuit rather than wetsuit here, but the coastline around the Highland town of Thurso packs a serious punch in the world of surfing.

Unsuspecting walkers are often surprised to find the surreal spectacle of a dozen surfers lying out in the Pentland Firth, looking to catch some of the serious waves you get in these tumultuous waters, the Orkney Isles just visible behind them in the distance. The conditions are so good that a volley of surf championships have been held here, including two world championships for kayak surfing.

Surfing in Thurso, Scotland, UKThurso Reef by Dave Ellis on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Explore more of Scotland with the Rough Guide to Scotland. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

America’s fourth largest state, Montana is bigger than Germany or Japan. Despite the presence of some of the nation’s fastest highways, the drive from one side to the other takes around twelve hours.

Fortunately, many of the state’s most treasured destinations and experiences are clustered in the rugged western portion, making it less daunting for the first-time visitor trying to discover the best of “Big Sky Country.” Here, Eric Grossman tells us why Western Montana is the star of America’s West.

1. Glacier National Park is one of the country’s finest

Considered by some to be America’s most spectacular national park, Glacier National Park is chock full of picturesque scenery.

The huge park, which straddles the Canada–US border, encompasses over one million acres (4000 sq-km) and includes parts of two mountain ranges, more than a hundred lakes, and hundreds of species of animals, with grizzly bears and mountain goats the most notable residents.

The iconic Going-To-The-Sun Road crosses the park, offering spectacular panoramas and spine-tingling vertical drops. Nervous drivers, meanwhile, can opt for one of the signature “Red Jammers,” the restored 1930s coaches that offer tours throughout the park.

USA, Montana, Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald

2. You can discover your inner cowboy (or cowgirl) in style

Thanks to the stunning natural landscape and proximity to Glacier National Park, Western Montana is home to some of America’s most lauded ranch resorts. These properties enjoy acres of space and abundant natural resources, including some of the world’s highest-rated fly fishing locales. Staffers patiently guide visitors as they try their hand at popular Western-inspired activities such as horse riding and target shooting, and guests of all ages often jump at the chance to take part in a cattle drive on a working ranch.

Synonymous with rustic luxury, the Ranch at Rock Creek offers one-of-a-kind accommodations ranging from heated “glamping” (glamorous camping) tents to a five-bedroom log home. Guests enjoy extensive amenities, inventive cuisine and access to roughly twenty guided outdoor activities on 6600 acres of mountains, meadows, forests, trout ponds and a mountain-fed creek.

Ranch at Rock Creek, MontanaImage courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek

3. There are outdoor activities as far as the eye can see

What the region lacks in sophisticated, contemporary experiences it makes up for with its plethora of year-round outdoor activities. World-class camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, boating, and whitewater rafting is available at all skill levels.

Sporty types can enjoy golf, archery, all-terrain vehicles, and more. Between Glacier, numerous state parks, and myriad private resort areas, there are literally thousands of outdoor options.

Upper Missouri Breaks, MontanaUpper Missouri Breaks NM by Bureau of Land Management via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

4. It’s home to one of America’s best university towns

Missoula – Western Montana’s largest city – is a convenient hub for those looking to explore the region. The city is best known for being home to the University of Montana, which keeps Missoula festive and youthful year after year.

For an unparalleled, and free, view of the city, simply hike up the small mountain next to the university’s campus to reach the iconic letter “M” that can be seen from across the region. Then follow the students to the Missoula Club, a century-old bar that’s beloved for its inexpensive, juicy burgers made from fresh Montana beef.

Tap into the exploding beer scene and sample fresh local beers at bars like The Dram Shop, and enjoy local ingredients prepared with aplomb at hip restaurants such as the Red Bird and Plonk.

On the rare hot day, cool off with a surfing session on the Clark Fork River, and then treat yourself to a scoop of huckleberry ice cream at Missoula’s beloved Big Dipper.

Montana, Big Dipper, MissoulaImage courtesy of Destination Missoula

5. The wildlife watching is among the best in the West

Montana is massive – 147,040 square miles (380,800 square kilometres) – yet the population is only around a million. This means there is loads of room for wildlife to flourish.

Visitors to Western Montana can explore the National Bison Range, established in 1908 to provide a sanctuary for the American bison, in the town of Dixon. Residents think nothing of spotting moose, big horn sheep, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bald eagles and other birds of prey.

Fishers compete for more than seven species of trout, plus walleye and smallmouth bass.

Hunters search for dozens of game birds and animals, ranging from elk, antelope, and deer to pheasant and partridge.

Moose, MontanaBull moose swimming by Jeff P via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

6. There’s more for foodies than you might expect

To the uninitiated, the region offers a surprising number of dishes and ingredients that are unique to Montana. And a variety of small, family-run restaurants, along with local fairs and festivals, provide opportunities to try Montana staples like cowboy beans, buffalo chili, and Indian fry-bread.

Huckleberries – perhaps the state’s most famous, and abundant, ingredient – are served any which way, in pancakes, ice cream, and as a sweet accompaniment to the state’s ubiquitous beef. If you want to snack on some of the tart berries, ask a local where to go pick your own – just keep an eye out for berry-loving bears.

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

Thailand is ripe for trekking. From its dripping, pristine rainforests to its towering, mist-enveloped mountains, there is a landscape that just begs you to get out on two feet and explore.

But the real joy of trekking in Thailand here is nothing to do with the scenery, it’s the people that make every step count, from the remote hill tribes barely touched by the outside world to the local guides whose unbridled passion and enthusiasm will lead you to a deeper understanding of this fascinating country.

We’ve picked six of our favourite treks, led by some of Thailand’s most experienced and passionate guides. Lace up those hiking boots and go trekking in Thailand on your trip.

1. Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son

An ancient trade route once saw the pristine forests of Thailand’s northern hinterlands busy with merchants. Today it is just trekkers who make their way through the forest-covered hills and misty mountains of Mae Hong Son, traversing some of Thailand’s most remote natural areas. You’ll start in Chiang Mai and spend between six and eight hours a day trekking, over ridges, down into lush valleys and up onto mountain peaks.

You’ll visit Huay Hee Karen village, staying in a traditional home and learning about how the tribe live in harmony with their land. The trek winds up orchid-clad slopes before you spend the night in Ban Huai Tong Kaw, where ritual singers and sword dancers will entertain you. Challenging terrain, river crossings that get your boots wet and a greater understanding of this off-the-beaten-track area are all guaranteed.

Duration: 8 days with World Expeditions.

Trekking in Thailand

2. Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai

When it comes to truly understanding a culture, slow travel is best – and this laidback trek through northern Thailand is certainly that. You’ll trek from homestay to homestay, hosted by local people and gaining a real insight into village life. Your trek begins in Baan Tha Sob Van in the Chiang Kham District and ends at the northern capital of Chiang Mai. In the Thai Lue community of Baan Tha Sob Van you’ll spend a day with the locals in the fields, before heading west to Ban Dok Bua, an organic farming community that aims to be entirely self-sufficient.

From here you’ll trek through the lush Doi Luang National Park to Ban Maena, a Lahu ethnic minority community in Chiang Dao District, where you’ll stay in a simple thatched hut guest camp and head out for walks in the forest with the villagers, birdwatching and farming, before finishing up in Chiang Mai. An unbeatable option for those who really want to discover Thailand and its people.

Duration: 10 days. Departures with Village Ways from October-May.

3. Sri Phang Nga National Park, Khao Lak

Trekking needn’t mean slumming it. Luxurious boutique resort The Sarojin, in the midst of the national parks on the island of Khao Lak, specialises in local adventures. Their Extreme Trekking Adventure, which covers 8km of wild terrain in Sri Phang Nga National Park, one of Thailand’s largest national parks and set up to protect one of the country’s last remaining blocks of pristine rainforest. You’ll hike past cascading waterfalls, swim through parts of the jungle that are impossible to cross on foot and navigate your way through the untamed undergrowth using a bamboo cane.

Duration:3–4 hours. Departs daily with The Sarojin.

Thailand, Ko Samui, Hin Ta and Hin Yai, View to Grandfather rock

4. Khao Pom, Ko Samui

Sure, you could just sit on the beach and soak up the idyllic atmosphere of Thailand’s most popular island. Or you could explore a place few visitors do: the jungle mountain of Khao Pom. This verdant wilderness is criss-crossed by lush trails, from the mangroves of the coast to the 635-metre-high peak at the island’s centre. Head out with Samui Trekking from Maenam on the “avocado trail” and you’ll wind your way uphill through the vegetation until it gives way to views out over the island and the Gulf of Thailand beyond – a view few visitors to this popular island ever see.

Duration:4–5 hours. Departs daily with Samui Trekking.

4. The jungle in Kanchanaburi

The Karen, with their long, ringed necks, may be Thailand’s most well-known tribe, but few visitors get to discover much about their traditional way of life. Join this two-day trek into the jungle around Kanchanaburi and you’ll be the exception, staying with the tribe in the Karen village of Nong Bang, sleeping in a bamboo hut, preparing dinner with the locals and watching a traditional Karen cultural dance. The next day you’ll ride a bamboo raft before boarding the infamous Death Railway back over the River Kwai into Kanchanaburi.

Duration: 2 days. Departures daily with Good Times Travel at 7am from Kanchanburi, Bangkok.

Trekking in Thailand

6. Pang Mapha, northern Thailand

This circular trek is a great introduction to village life in northern Thailand, staying in two very different villages and visiting several more. You’ll trek through farmland and teak forest, learning about bush food and medicinal plants as you go, before walking through rice fields and valleys to reach Ban Pha Mon, home to a Lahu tribe and – for one night – you. You’ll help with the cooking and can even have a Lahu massage.

A three-hour trek the next day takes you to the Karen village of Ban Muang Pam, where the local shaman will teach you about traditional medicine – or you can challenge the locals to a game of football. Before returning to Chiang Mai you’ll take a bamboo raft into the 1666-metre deep Tham Lod cave, dripping with stalactites and the clear waters of the Nam Lang River.

Duration: 5 days. Departures with G Adventures, every second Saturday.

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

It has often had to play second fiddle to its southern neighbour, but Northern Ireland offers a diversity of attractions that frequently confounds first-time visitors. Rejuvenated and irrepressible, Belfast now rivals any of the UK’s capital cities, but in addition, the country manifests superb natural heritage – including one of the world’s great coastal road trips – remarkable cultural treasures, outdoor activities in abundance, and an increasingly vibrant food and music scene.

1. Belfast is a city reborn

Barely recognizable from the battle-scarred city of the 1970s and 80s, Belfast is today a bona fide city-break destination, no question. Stately Victorian buildings and a rich industrial heritage hark back to the city’s glorious past, but really, it’s the revitalized restaurant scene, some rocking nightlife and a raft of excellent festivals that all serve to confirm Belfast’s welcome renaissance.

Belfast Town Hall, Northern IrelandBelfast Town Hall on a sunny day by mariusz kluzniak on Flickr (license)

2. There are superb hikes to be had

Northern Ireland boasts numerous low-lying mountain ranges, but it’s the rugged Mournes in County Down that draws the lion’s share of hikers. Its highest peak – Slieve Donard – only tops 850m, but this is often testing terrain; and who needs the Great Wall of China when you’ve got the Mourne Wall, a 22-mile long dry stone wall which traverses some fifteen summits. No less fabulous, if somewhat less demanding, are the Sperrin Mountains in County Tyrone, a sparse expanse of wild, undulating moorland.

3. The Causeway Coastal Route is one of Europe’s most spectacular road trips

Stretching for some 120 miles between Belfast and Derry, this fabulous road trip has few rivals anywhere on the continent. Unsurprisingly, most people make a beeline for the Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland’s only designated World Heritage Site), with its stupendous black basalt columns. But there are diversions aplenty enroute, among them Rathlin Island, which harbours some incredible wildlife, and Portstewart, lined with a glorious two-mile sweep of golden sand.

4. The Titanic Quarter is now a highlight of Belfast’s regenerated docklands

It was, of course, from Belfast in 1912 that the Titanic set sail, and the ill-fated ship is commemorated in truly spectacular style at the all-new Titanic Quarter in the city’s regenerated docklands area. Comprising, among other things, a media centre and a scientific discovery centre, its focal point is Titanic Belfast, a thrilling and engaging interactive museum.

Titanic Quarter, Belfast, Northern IrelandTitanic, Belfast by Metro Centric on Flickr (license)

5. It’s finally time to big-up the country’s cuisine

Northern Ireland’s culinary scene has taken a while to get going, but it’s certainly making amends now. In Belfast, two restaurants have recently gained a Michelin star, namely Ox, and Eipic at Deane’s, whose sumptuous menu offers dishes such as scallop with clementine and hazelnut brown butter. And don’t leave without trying the Ulster Fry, widely acknowledged to be a superior version of the great English fry-up.

6. Northern Ireland boasts two of the UK’s finest open-air museums

Two particularly fine outdoor museums are the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum just outside Belfast, which displays some thirty buildings transplanted here from around the country, and the Ulster American Folk Park, near Omagh, which brilliantly relays the historically close links between Northern Ireland and the United States. Here, too, a splendid array of vernacular architecture has been transferred from its original setting.

7. The music scene rocks

The north can certainly rival the south when it comes to musical talent. In days of yore, the leading lights were Van Morrison and the Undertones (the latter famously championed by the late John Peel), while in the 90s, it was the turn of indie-heroes Ash, from Down, and the Divine Comedy from Enniskillen. Hot on the scene right now are Two Door Cinema Club from Bangor. If you fancy attending a gig, drop in at Belfast’s iconic Limelight Complex, or there’s Open House, a unique, year-round series of gigs at various venues around the city.

Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland

8. Northern Ireland offers wonderful outdoor activities

Whether it’s mountain biking in the Davagh Forest or angling on Lough Earne, there’s loads to do here. Golfers won’t feel short-changed either, with dozens of fabulous courses to hack around, including Royal Portrush (which will stage the British Open in 2019) in Antrim, and the sublime Royal County Down course in Newcastle; indeed, Northern Ireland currently boasts one of the world’s great sporting superstars in Rory Mcllroy. Big cheers, too, for the national football team, which has just qualified for Euro 2016 in France, its first major finals since 1986.

9. Derry’s medieval walls are among the finest in Europe

Neatly positioned within a bend of the River Foyle, Derry’s medieval walls are among the best-preserved anywhere in Europe, their survival all the more remarkable having withstood three major military sieges. Enclosed within the mile-long circuit is the original medieval street layout, itself spotted with a cluster of eminently enjoyable attractions, the pick of which are the Tower Museum and the Verbal Arts Centre.

10. It has the largest lake in the British Isles

To the surprise of many, Northern Ireland ranks the largest lake in the British Isles. Lough Neagh is just to the west of Belfast but actually bordering five of the country’s six counties. Its tranquil waterways and secluded bays provide ample opportunity for boating, fishing, walking and cycling; a great way to get a handle on the lake is to tackle the 113-mile long Loughshore Trail – but don’t worry, it’s almost completely flat.

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

Few countries in Asia boasts such dramatic natural diversity and such a range of hiking opportunities as Japan. Mountains make up two thirds of the country, with beaches fringing the coast and the balmy southern islands.

There are active volcanoes to tackle, epic long-distance pilgrimage routes once smoothed by the feet of emperors, and steep hikes that take you from the beach to lofty peaks thousands of metres above the sea.

Japan is well set up for hikers, with the ultra-efficient rail network making getting around the country a breeze, and a handy system where you can forward bags for little cost between hotels. Here are seven of our favourite places to go hiking in Japan.

1. Shikoku Henro

This is an essential pilgrimage for those with an interest in the roles that tradition and religion play within Japanese culture. This island adventure is both a fascinating physical and spiritual journey, which is undertaken by many religiously-minded Japanese, as well as overseas hikers.

You will need plenty of time on the smallest of Japan’s main islands, Shikoku. If you want to conquer the whole route – taking in a whopping 88 temples in the process – you are going to have to hike for over 1000km. You can do it in just over a month, but most devotees allow closer to two. Savvy hikers and pilgrims alike can use public transport to cut out some of the sections and skip a few temples too.

Japan, Vine suspension bridge at Shikoku Mura Village, near Takamatsu

2. Kumano Kodo

Another pilgrimage route, the Kumano Kodō is so highly rated that its temples have been placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Battling across the thickly wooded slopes in the Kii Peninsula on Japan’s main island of Honshū was a task emperors themselves used to often undertake. There are three main routes, all are challenging but rewarding. A large part of the fun is staying in traditional ryokans (inns) en route where your nightly feast will be preceded by an onsen (communal hot spring bath).

3. Mount Fuji

One of the world’s most famous mountains does not disappoint. It is Japan’s most iconic peak, unmissable on any bullet train trip south of TokyoIt is a 3776m-high volcanic monster, famous for often being capped with a dusting of snow, which isn’t ideal for hikers – note that it’s only open for trekking between July and mid-September.

Fuji can be tackled in a day trip, though altitude sickness can be an issue even when you do an overnight in the area, so going easy on your body is advised.

Mount Fuji with lake in foreground, Japan

4. Japan Alps

Honshu’s most impressive mountain scenery comes in the form of the deeply dramatic Japan Alps. There are myriad options for getting your boots on here. Relatively gentle hikes are can be found in in the Kamikochi Valley, though you can also use the valley as a staging point for tackling more serious ascents, such as Yarigatake (3180m) and Hotakadake (3190m). The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route uses a mixture of walking and public transport to cover a swathe of the finest scenery in the Alps.

5. Nakasendo Trail

A route with serious heritage, which has been walked since the eighth century, this ancient highway from Kyoto through what are now Shiga, Gifu and Nagano Prefectures culminates in Tokyo’s predecessor, Edo.

Venture on it today and you are following in the footsteps of the Tokugawa Shoguns (Japanese military chiefs), who used it to travel through the mountains on their military campaigns. It would take them around three weeks to cover the 533km distance, which was split into 67 stages.

Today you can take on the various stretches of it that survive, using public transport to link sections. En route you, stop at charmingly-preserved old towns, where weary travellers could rest up and enjoy a bed for the night before moving on, such as Tsumago and Narai.

Hiking in Japan, Naksendo Trail20120829-DSC_0031 by inefekt69 on Flickr (license)

6. Daibutsu Hiking Course

This popular three kilometre hiking trail opens up a short, but scenic landscape of temples and mountains and can be tackled in between one and two hours. To really get the most out of the area, extend this walk with a detour to the cave-shrine dedicated to the goddess Zeniarai Benten, known as the ‘Money-Washing Benten’. This goddess was said to be associated with good fortune, music and water.

7. Yakushima

The UNESCO World Heritage listed island of Yakushima is worth visiting whether you are a hiker or not. Its beaches are lovely, as are its onsen, which are ideal after a tough hike.

The biggest challenge is taking on the towering 1935m high mountain of Miyanoura-dake, which is southern Japan’s highest peak. The island actually boasts six mountain peaks over 1800m. Make sure to fill in a form with your route on it before heading out; this safety system has saved many lives on the island over the years.

Explore more of Japan with the Rough Guide to Japan. 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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