Monthly Archives: January 2017

Destination Places to go for culture

Travel back in time with this round-up of living monuments to bygone eras.

Explore ancient cities in Iran before the heat builds

The land once called Persia is where misconceptions come to die. Political posturing wins column inches, but there are so many treasures that really deserve the headlines: the extraordinary Islamic architecture of Esfahan, with its intricate blue patterned tiles; the huge, bustling bazaars of Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz or Tabriz; the magnificent remains at Persepolis, dating back two-and-a-half millennia; the deserts; the poems; the food; and – most of all – the warm, welcoming people.

By June the mercury is rising fast at lower altitudes, but prices and crowds are dropping. Summer is also the season for hiking in the Alborz Mountains, particularly the ascent of Mt Damavand, a true icon of Iran.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Tehran, head south to the desert city of Yazd, the ancient ruins at Persepolis, sophisticated Shiraz and majestic Esfahan, before scooting up to the Alborz Mountains to tackle Mt Damavand and roam among the Castles of the Assassins.
  • Need to know: Most visitors require a visa – apply well before you intend to travel. Females over the age of nine should wear a headscarf in visa application photos.
  • Other months: Mar-May – spring, cool, biggest crowds and highest prices; Jun-Aug – hot in lower regions, best for mountains; Sep-Oct – cooler, lower prices; Nov-Feb – cold.

Explore Armenia, the world’s oldest Christian country in the summer

Armenia does ancient like almost nowhere else. This landlocked nation is packed with churches, monasteries and caravanserais dating from the first millennium AD, and with relics stretching back even further, including Karahunj (literally: ‘stone henge’), reputedly constructed 7000 years ago. More than that, the dramatic backdrop of the Caucasus, with snow-capped Mt Ararat peering across the Turkish border, matches Armenia’s turbulent history of invasion, oppression and aggression by neighbouring states.

The weather is most clement in June, after the icy chill of winter and before the mercury soars into the high 30°Cs. From capital Yerevan’s chilled cafe culture to the cave village of Khndzoresk and hilltop monasteries such as Tatev and Noravank, it’s a mesmerising, diverse land that’s not quite like anywhere else. The wine’s not bad, either.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Yerevan and head south to Khor Virap, Noravank, Tatev and Karahunj, then skirt Lake Sevan (stopping to admire the field of Khachkars – engraved cross-stones) to explore the forested hills around Dilijan. Many add a visit to Georgia, just to the north.
  • Need to know: The non-country of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave of Armenian heritage surrounded by Azerbaijan, is a fascinating coda to Armenia – but check the current safety situation before travelling.
  • Other months: Mar-Jun – pleasant warmth, wildflowers; Jul-Aug – can top 40°C/104°F; Sep-Nov – cooler days; Dec-Feb – very cold.

Discover the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’ in Croatia

A crescent of terracotta roofs curling round to embrace an azure coin of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik has been assaulted many times through the centuries – besieged by Saracens, overtaken by Venetians, devastated by earthquake in 1667, then by Napoleon and the war of 1991–92. Yet it’s emerged more beguiling each time, and never more so than in June, the tipping point between spring’s warmth and summer’s somnolent heat, but before cruise passengers cram every alley.

Once you’ve promenaded a circuit of the Old Town’s walls and roamed the marbled streets (ideally very early in the morning), escape to a nearby island – perhaps Lokrum, Mljet or Šipan – to find a quiet beach, and a taverna serving fine seafood and local wines. Or head around the bay to peaceful Cavtat, founded by Greek settlers who fled Slavic attack to build the more famous Dubrovnik in AD 614.

  • Trip plan: Reasonably priced accommodation in the Old Town is limited; you’ll find more in Lapad, a mile or so to the west, which also has a couple of beaches.
  • Need to know: The best spot from which to admire the city at sunset is the top of Mt Srd’s cable car.
  • Other months: May-Oct – warm, clear days (Jun-Aug: busiest, priciest); Nov-Apr – cool, few tourists, many facilities closed.

Head to St Petersburg to float through the daylight of the White Nights

The great city founded on the Neva River by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 was always designed to impress. Its palaces, museums and theatres are as grand as its early masters (and mistresses) could imagine, and in midsummer, when the sun never sets and the city is bathed in a luminous glow 24/7, it looks that much more romantic.

During the White Nights, roughly from the second week in June to the start of July, St Petersburg is a whirl of opera, ballet, music and general zhizni radost (joie de vivre). Stroll alongside the Neva or the Summer Garden, watch the bridges open and the ornate fountains of the Peterhof sprinkle.

  • Trip plan: You could spend a week wandering the riverbank, parks and streets, but make time for St Petersburg’s grand palaces and churches, the incredible Hermitage Museum in the white, green and gold Winter Palace, and the monuments of the Peter and Paul Fortress, at least.
  • Need to know: Tourists must obtain a Russian visa, usually through a tour agency or invitation from a hotel, before arriving. Be prepared for high prices during White Nights.
  • Other months: Apr-Sep – warm, bright; Oct-Nov – cold, grey; Dec-Mar – dark, freezing, but magical.

Here Many Amazing Spots in Goa You Never Want to Miss

Goa is not the place you visit once and tick down from your checklist. The western state of India is one of the most scenic places to visit. Right from the spice gardens, to sand and from adrenaline pumping water sports to hotels in Goa; everything presents you with something or the other.

After your first visit it turns into an inclination and after the second, a custom! This Portuguese Shangri-la on Indian soil has such a large number of beguiling universes that even the most prepared explorers can’t make the best of their Goan occasion. However, as the saying goes, when in Goa, do as the Goans do.

Here are some amazing spots in Goa that you can explore as a traveler.

Excellence and the Beach – An immaculate day at the shoreline…

It needs to begin with beaches! While coastlines in North Goa take the spotlight, South Goa shorelines are less swarmed. We choose Arossim Beach and Utorda Beach close to the town of Majorda for the best South Goa shoreline grant. For North, Baga, Calangute and Anjunapack the people’s choice award for favorite beach! Water sports on these seashores incorporate jet skiing, parasailing (the view from the top is justified, despite all the trouble), scuba dives (the glimmering undersea life adjusts for the missing corals) and tumbling from a banana boat (most exciting of the lot). To make the best of your shoreline encounter, book yourself a hotel in Goa which is located near the Northern beaches.

Spice Plantations are Serene

No, it’s not what you thought truly! I’m talking about the Spice Plantation in the Ponda region called Sahakarispice gardens and your nostrils will remind you why Europeans came to India! This biggest spice plantation of the locale gives you a chance to cull and taste pepper, nibble a Peri (most hotchillies of the world), bathe through an ‘elephant shower’ and devour a customary Goan lunch cooked with farm spices. While not many people are aware of these world class spice gardens in Goa, but who do are all praises for them.

Old Goa is Gold Goa!

Popular for the design, Goan houses of worship are justified regardless of a visit. In Panjim, history is still alive.This is Old Goa, the state capital for most of three centuries and known as the ‘Rome of the East’. The processions of churches, chapels, cloisters, museum halls, art displays, government structures, cottages and bakeries together make it intense to propose what to not find in Goa.

However, Basilica of Bom Jesus (for its architectural greatness) and Sé de Santa Catarina (biggest church in Old Goa) are the most visited ones. Not to overlook, Old Goa is right now an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So, if you are in the mood to beat the summer heat this year, do yourself favor by booking hotels in Goa through online websites (as they present you the most affordable rates), and relive the serenity of Goa, with spice gardens, churches, and yes, some heart pumping water sports.

The trekking through Borneo’s rainforests

Dressing for the climate

Borneo – made up of the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, the sultanate of Brunei and Indonesian Kalimantan – has wetter seasons and dryer seasons. Exactly when depends on where you are, but downpours of biblical intensity are possible any time of the year. And even when you’re not slogging through a deluge, the heat and nearly 100% humidity will ensure that you’ll stay soaked with your own sweat. The best way to minimize discomfort is to bring kit made from materials that do not retain water. That means cotton is out, while synthetics – such as nylon, polyester, Lycra and (for higher elevations) Polar fleece – are in. All your gear, from socks to photographic equipment, should be packed in waterproof bags.

Bring two sets of clothing – one for hiking and the other to wear at the end of the day and at night. Your trekking duds will be soaked within minutes and will stay that way until you get back to civilisation. Keep your day and night kit strictly separate or you’ll find that you have two sets of wet clothing. Talcum powder can help alleviate chafing caused by wet underwear.

Coping with creepy-crawlies

Mosquitoes are not a huge problem in most parts of Borneo, thanks in part to the millions of insect-eating bats that inhabit the island’s countless caves, but you are likely to find yourself in a battle of wits with two varieties of leech. First is the ground-dwelling brown leech, notorious for its painless bites (you won’t know you’ve been tapped until you see blood soaking through your socks). The other is the tiger leech, which drops onto passing humans from overhead branches, inflicting a bite that stings like some ant bites.

You’ll hear lots of theories about the best way to keep the slimy blood-suckers at bay but one widely accepted method is to put an impenetrable fabric barrier between their jaws and your capillaries. Knee-length ‘leech socks’, made of tightly knit calico, do the trick. You can find leech socks on Amazon but you should really just buy them in Borneo – they’re made here and can be found for much cheaper. Some also use Spandex and some even use panty hose. Either way, a barrier is key. Beyond that, if you find that a leech has attached itself, salt is your primary weapon – touch the leech with a thin-fabric bag filled with a spoonful of salt and it will recoil pronto. Show good form when dealing with a leech – my Borneo trekking guide, Al Davies, advises that if other people are around when you’ve removed the leach, you should permanently neutralise it by chopping it in half with a parang (Bornean machete).

Sleeping safely and dryly

To keep yourself safely isolated from ground-dwelling insects, reptiles and small mammals while you sleep, hang a lightweight hammock between two trees. There are two great hammock companies to check out if you’d like to pack your own – Hennessy Hammocks (hennessyhammock.com) and DD Hammocks (ddhammocks.com).  To protect yourself against flying insects, wrap the hammock with a mosquito net soaked in permethrin. Then, to stay dry, hang a wide basha (tarpaulin) over the entire ensemble. Finally, climb into a lightweight sleeping bag with a comfortable liner to make this whole setup cosy.

Overnight, the rain-protected space under your basha bivouac can also used to dry out your footwear, socks and trekking clothes.

Rainforest first aid

Even a seemingly innocuous scratch can quickly get infected in the heat and humidity so bringing along proper first aid is essential. Apply an antiseptic such as povidone-iodine to cuts and scrapes. To reduce itching from insect stings and bites (and thus the urge to scratch, which can invite infection), use calamine lotion, sting relief spray or aloe vera. Purify local water using a filter or tablets.

Foot care is essential so after you take off your boots and peel off your soaking socks, completely dry your feet and then apply anti-fungal cream or powder as needed. Ask your doctor about bringing along a just-in-case supply of broad-spectrum antibiotics – and the conditions under which they should be used.

List of essentials

For a healthy, safe and enjoyable trek in the Bornean rainforest, here’s a checklist of the essential kit you’ll need:

Basha – waterproof tarpaulin for keeping the rain off your hammock.

GPS tracker – in the rain forest, figuring out where you are can be tricky. All day long, no matter where you are, all you can see is trees.

Hammock – string it between two trees to keep you and your sleeping bag comfortably above the slime, snakes and centipedes.

Hat – a wide brim will keep the rain off your face (and, if you wear them, your glasses); an absorbent band will prevent sweat from dripping into your eyes.

Hiking shoes – for well-used trails, running shoes with good traction should be fine, but for trekking in remote areas you’ll need serious hiking boots with mud-gripping cleats; make sure they’re well broken-in before you set out.

Leech socks – these serve as an impenetrable barrier between your blood and the leeches that crave it.

Medications – anti-fungal cream or powder will keep your feet, groin and other areas free of rot; talcum or prickly heat powder can soothe chafing from wet clothes; and sting relief spray, calamine or aloe vera will reduce itching from bites.

Mosquito net – keeps the bugs at bay while you sleep; especially effective if soaked in permethrin.

Parang – used by the indigenous Dayak peoples, Borneo’s version of the machete is essential for everything from whacking thorny vines to finishing off leeches.

Rain poncho – help keep some of the rain off you and your pack in a downpour.

Water purification agent or water filter – makes local water supplies safe to drink.

Waterproof bags – use a dry bag to create a waterproof space inside your pack, then fill it with plastic zipper storage bags containing, separately, your hiking clothes, dry clothes, electronics, medications and other gear.

Trips for All travellers who want to learn something new

Whether it’s perfecting your front crawl in an English lake or getting to grips with your camera on a photography safari, these trips will thrill knowledge lovers as much as pleasure seekers.

Cook up a storm in Chiang Mai

Blessed with some of the world’s best street food, you could be forgiven for coming to Chiang Mai and spending your entire trip indulging in everything from the spiciest tom yum soup to searching for the perfect pad thai. But chances are you’re going to want to learn how to make these delicious dishes yourself. Thankfully, Chiang Mai has several options for curious cooks looking to pick up new culinary skills, with schools dotted through town.

Based on the edge of the city, teachers from Thai Farm Cooking School (thaifarmcooking.net) will collect you from your guest house, take you shopping in local markets and teach you about spices, rice and flavours. You’ll then decamp to its organic farm base, where you’ll learn to cook six dishes. After cooking up a storm, pupils and teachers sit down together to taste everyone’s creations.

Become a gaucho in Argentinian Patagonia

Forget childhood riding classes on sleepy farmsteads. Hopping on a horse in Argentina’s spectacular Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in Patagonia means scaling mountains and splashing through rivers, all while learning how to round up cattle on vast ranches.

23km north of Bariloche, Cabalgatas Carol Jones (caroljones.com.ar) is the ideal place for first-timers and seasoned riders. The eponymous Carol Jones runs half-day, whole-day and multi-day trips around her ranch and beyond, teaching you how to control your steed and bring cattle to heel as well as giving consummate lessons on the area’s wildlife and history. She’s eminently qualified, too – her grandfather, Jarrod Jones, was a Texan pioneer who came to the area in 1889.

Sharpen your photography on a Kenyan safari

For many people, an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that’ll see your camera called into service constantly. But those who want to get incredible shots of big game need an expert guide and plenty of time in one of the continent’s richest reserves.

Paul Goldstein, Exodus Travel’s resident safari photographer (exodus.co.uk), leads six-day trips in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, where visitors will learn how to capture leopards, cheetahs, lions and black rhino perfectly. Drives start before daybreak and can last all day, but the rewards are plentiful. Few travel experiences can match standing in the back of an open-sided 4×4 taking pictures as a pride of lion pads across the open plain or a herd of elephants stops for a drink at a waterhole as the sun comes up.

Get to grips with yoga in Bali

Stretching out on a yoga mat is a surefire way to feel healthy and blissed out on your travels. The pretty town of Ubud, deep in the heart of Bali, is arguably the best place on the planet to get your fix and perfect moves you only practise once a month at the local gym.

The Yoga Barn (theyogabarn.com), set on the edge of town and overlooking green paddy fields and swaying palms, has 15 classes a day to choose from, as well as offering regular, multi-day retreats and multi-class passes for those staying longer term. The three large, open-sided studios have views to die for, while the in-house café is the perfect place to prolong that chilled vibe once class is over.

Become a kendo master in Japan

The Japanese martial art of kendo, literally ‘sword way’, sees hardened participants don armour and take each other on using bamboo swords. Its techniques are similar to those used by ancient samurai warriors, making the modern sport a gateway into the history of this fascinating country.

Atlas Japan Tour (atlas-japantour.com) runs a special class for visitors in the northern town of Nonoichi, taught by locals every other Saturday. They’ll give you a crash course in the sport’s past, as well as teaching you how to safely take on and beat your opponents. Fear not, all kit is supplied and you don’t need to be a hardened swordsman to take part either.

Dive into wild swimming in the English Lakes

The mountains of England’s Lake District have long been a magnet for walkers. But there’s a quiet revolution going on, with visitors wading out into the waters of Buttermere, Wast Water and the area’s other stunning lakes for a refreshing dip instead of taking a long hike.

For those who’ve never swum outside the confines of an indoor pool, Swim The Lakes (swimthelakes.co.uk) has a half-day ‘introduction to open water swimming’ course, suitable for complete beginners through to hardened triathletes. Experienced guides will take you into the cooling depths of Windermere and tell you about technique and how to build stamina, all while getting a frog’s eye view of this beautiful corner of the British Isles.

Master painting in Virginia

Carving out time to learn how to draw or paint can be tough when everyday life gets in the way. The glorious Shenandoah Art Destination (shenandoahartdestination.com) in Virginia is the ideal spot for anyone looking to perfect their artistic streak while on holiday. It offers weekend, four-day, six-day and ten-day vacations for artists of all levels.

Printmakers, painters and illustrators are all welcome, with the gorgeous plantation house providing a base for visitors to explore their muse in the surrounding Shenandoah Valley. Jan-Willem and Nancy Boer, the in-house instructors, have decades of experience in creating and selling art, with classes no larger than 10, ensuring you get plenty of time to hone your techniques with expert guidance.