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Category Archives: Travel

7 Places to Try Old School Spanish Food in Madrid

The ambience at Casa Toni couldn’t possibly be more authentic. Pictures of bullfighters line the walls, and the same waiters have been working there for decades. The dishes include black pudding, fried chorizo, tripe and – best of all – oreja de cerdo: grilled pork ear with a spicy red sauce. It’s crispy and delicious, and rarely disappoints. If fish is more your style, try the sepia (cuttlefish) served hot and fresh with lemon and parsley.

Delicious suckling pig at Restaurante Sobrino de Botín

Officially recognised by Guinness as the oldest restaurant in the world, and name-checked by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises, Restaurante Sobrino de Botín has a lot of history behind it. The house specialities are cochinillo (roast suckling pig) and cordero (lamb), both made in an oven which is centuries old. The restaurant occupies four storeys of a historic building just outside of Plaza Mayor. If you call ahead, you can book a table in the bodega – the oldest part of the building, built in the 15th century.

Mouthwatering rice dishes at El Pato Mudo

Officially, paella is the speciality of Valencia, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a great version of this rice classic here in Madrid. El Pato Mudo, just around the corner from the Royal Palace, has a variety of amazing paellas, as well as a mouthwatering black rice made with squid ink. While there are more well-known paella restaurants nearby, El Pato Mudo is great value, with professional service and food that’s just as good or better than its famous neighbours.

Delectable shellfish at Cervecería Cruz in the Rastro

The Spanish love their shellfish, and this traditional bar is one of the best places to have it. The Rastro market on Sundays (and the late lunch after it closes) is an institution in and of itself, and this bar is right in the middle of the action. Here you can try razor clams, scallops, and even stewed snails. It’s mostly standing room, and you might be stepping on clam shells as you eat, but don’t worry – it’s all part of the authentic Madrid experience. (Calle de las Maldonadas, 1.)

A modern gourmet market at Mercado San Miguel

Not a restaurant per se, Mercado de San Miguel is a gourmet market with a mix of old and modern Spanish cuisine. The numerous stalls serve everything from fried anchovies to mini-hamburgers to Serrano ham on the hoof. There’s even a gourmet olive bar. It’s a bit expensive, but even the price-conscious traveller can afford to sip a vermouth and soak up the ambience of people roving between the stalls. You can also stop by for a pastry after lunch, or for a mid-afternoon snack – sweet or savoury, you decide.

Calamari and more on Plaza Mayor

Locals in Madrid love to stop by Plaza Mayor for the market at Christmas, the numerous concerts and cultural events, or just for a stroll any day of the year. While you’re there, do as the madrileños do and stop for a bocadillo de calamares (fried squid sandwich) at one of the many speciality restaurants in the area. One of the best is Cervecería Plaza Mayor (plazamayor2.com), which has been serving octopus, shrimp, squid and more for nearly 40 years.

Modern pinchos at Taberna de Ramales

This tavern, on a lovely little square near the Royal Palace, specialises in modern pinchos – small servings on a piece of baguette – made with traditional ingredients. One of the specialities is cod with aioli, or you can get a sampler of eight different pinchos at a discounted price. If you want something more substantial, try the cazón adobado (marinated dogfish) or huevos rotos (fried eggs with potatoes and ham). On sunny days you can take a seat outside in the plaza and enjoy a glass of wine with a view of the palace.

Oxtail, fish and friendly service at Casa Jacinto

Right around the corner from the Senate and Plaza España’s monument to Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, Casa Jacinto is a local favourite and is particularly busy when the Senate is in session. Specialities include steak (cooked at your table on a hot stone) and oxtail stew, and the setas con almejas (wild mushrooms with clams). Come for the food and come back for the selection of wines and the excellent, friendly service.

Typical Spanish stews at Taberna de la Daniela

Known for their cocido madrileño (a thick chickpea stew), Taberna de la Daniela (tabernadeladaniela.com)  has several locations around the city. Many locals eat cocido every Sunday, as a sort of family tradition. It’s served on two plates: first the broth, then the chickpeas and the meat. You can also try the besugo (sea bream – a fish that’s typically eaten for Christmas dinner), the croquettes, or any number of other typical Spanish dishes.

Best places for vegetarians in Belgrade

Radost Fina Kuhinjica

Radost Fina Kuhinjica is usually the first choice for vegetarians, due to its attractive location beneath the Kalemegdan Fortress, cozy setting in a ground-floor apartment and the original menu that will make even your die-hard meat-eating friends think twice. At Radost they always try new recipes as a daily menu, but the evergreen dishes to definitely taste are the starter platter with baba ganoush, hummus and freshly baked pita bread, vegan burgers in either beetroot or shiitake variation, as well as Radost ramen soup. Don’t be in a hurry, because the cakes are more than worth waiting for.

Dining at the stylish Mayka restaurant © Nevena Paunovic / Lonely PlanetDining at the stylish Mayka restaurant © Nevena Paunovic / Lonely Planet

Mayka

Located in one of the most beautiful and historical streets in Belgrade, Kosančićev venac, the restaurant’s name is a play on the Serbian word for ‘mother’. Mayka’s (facebook.com/maykabeograd) menu consists of vegetarian dishes from various national cuisines that are made at ordinary homes, evoking the smell and the warmth of mum’s kitchen. In a stylish interior you can order samosas, curry, meals made of seitan and dhal, pizzas, spicy lemonade or Indian sweets. However, the signature dish that sublimes the restaurant’s philosophy is Mayka goulash, an authentic version of stew made with seitan, tagliatelle, heavenly spiced tomato sauce and warm, melted cheese.

Oliva

If you opt for a shopping tour across the river, in Novi Beograd (New Belgrade), make your way to this beautifully designed little eatery. You’ll be surprised by its spinach burgers with sea salt or vegan sticks seasoned with roasted sesame. The absolute winner among desserts is the avocado, dates and hazelnut mousse, which goes great with fine wines from the restaurant’s selection. Despite its out-of-the-way location, Oliva (restoranoliva.com) has an unusual frequency of guests even on a Monday evening, which is probably its best recommendation.

Jazzayoga

If you pass Jazzayoga (jazzayoga.com) at lunch time, make sure you stop by and try food from its weekly menu. Depending on the day of the week, you may run into buckwheat moussaka with green beans, oyster mushroom stew, steamed rice with chickpeas and mint, chili sin carneor other yummy food combinations. You’ll also find sandwiches made of wholegrain yeast-free bread, other wholegrain products and cookies that will make the entire world seem right for you.

Zdravo Živo

The only raw-food bar in Belgrade, Zdravo Živo (zdravo-zivo.rs) serves and delivers complete meals made from raw, plant-based ingredients. The menu varies daily and there are usually two to three options to choose from, such as raw fish and chips, stuffed peppers, spaghetti bolognese, burritos, cabbage rolls or sausages. Stuffed peppers andsarma (cabbage rolls) are among the most common meat dishes in Serbian cuisine, but transformed and dressed up as raw meals with fresh vegetables and seeds stuffing, they’re a perfect refreshing choice for hot Belgrade summers.

Hanan and Tel Aviv Hummus House

Its majesty falafel is gaining huge popularity even among non-vegetarians in Belgrade. Once rare to find, falafel is now served at several locations around the city. If you want to eat in, you can go to the central Hanan (restoranhanan.rs) restaurant in Svetogorska Street, but if you’d rather grab a really voluminous falafel sandwich on the go, stop by Tel Aviv Hummus House (telavivhummushouse.com) near the busy Zeleni Venac Market or visit Shawarma Hanan (facebook.com/pages/Hanan-Shawarma) near Cvetni Trg.

5 Best Restaurants in Addis Ababa

Oda Cultural Restaurant and Cafe

Inside the Oromo Cultural Center is the Oda Restaurant and Cafe, which you might recognise from Anthony Bourdain’s Ethiopia visit onNo Reservations. The Oromo are one of the largest ethnic groups in eastern Africa, and the Center’s restaurant showcases the best of Oromo culture. The hall is furnished with pinewood-carved furniture and curtains made of traditional fabric. Injera made of tikur teff (a black grain about the size of a poppy seed considered to be more nutritious than the more refined white teff), spiced butter and beso (roasted and ground barley) are at the heart of Oromo cuisine. Chumbo is prepared with black teff baked thick and yoghurt, cheese, and spiced butter spilled on top so that it looks like cake. Buna qalaa (roasted coffee dipped in butter) is a cultural snack that gives coffee deeper flavours. The Oromo Cultural Center is near the National Stadium.

Tikus Shiro

In the busy neighbourhood around the Lideta condominiums, you’ll find a truly local sensation: a shiro bet (shiro house). You can guess Tikus Shiro’s speciality from the name: delicious shiro, a stew made of chickpea or bean flour, served with injera. You’ll find shiro on many restaurant menus around Ethiopia, but what drives most people to Lideta is the ‘half-half’ option, where you can pick two dishes from the menu and get a half portion of each. Worth trying are bozena shiro(shiro stew with meat), misir be kuanta (lentils with dried meat),gomen (Ethiopian cabbage), and timatim kurt (a spicy tomato salad served raw or heated). Enjoy your selection in the condominium courtyard’s refreshing garden to cool off from the heat on the street. After your meal, have a strong cup of freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee or a glass of homemade tej (honey wine).

Chane’s Restaurant

In the heart of the Cazanches district near a stack of popular chain hotels, delicious Ethiopian fare is served up in a centuries-old house once owned by a military hero. The house preserves the 19th-century way of life with old artworks and black-and-white photographs of royals and foreign dignitaries. From the kitchen drifts the aroma of traditional Ethiopian dishes from the recipe book of the famous chef Chanyalew Mekonen (aka Chane), who used to cook at the German Embassy and for the Emperor of Ethiopia before starting this restaurant. Chane died in January 2017, but fortunately he left his legacy and the art of cooking to his son and wife. The restaurant serves a limited selection of dishes, many of which Chane invented.

Don’t leave without trying Ethiopia’s favourite dish, the doro wat (a spicy chicken stew that can be tempered with injera and mild goat cheese). On Wednesdays and Fridays, traditional fasting days when no animal products should be eaten, shiro wat (a mild nutty-tasting stew made from chickpea flour) is served instead. Although shiro is a common and easily made dish, Chane’s shiro is widely regarded as the best in town.

Yod Abyssinia

Yod Abyssinia highlights all of the cultures and cuisines that Ethiopia has to offer. A lot of effort has been put in to make the place look as authentic as possible. The spacious main hall is designed to resemble a typical hut and is full of eye-catching materials, from traditional hand-woven curtains to serving dishes made of woven grass. Diners sit at the traditional tables and chairs, wide, short wooden tables surrounded by three-legged stools. Yod Abyssinia serves nearly all of the dishes from the country’s many ethnicities, and the food is presented by culturally dressed staff. During the day, the mood is calm and relaxed, but at night, the meal is accompanied by a traditional music and dance performance. Pack your dancing shoes because guests are encouraged to join in. You’ll find Yod Abyssinia behind the Millennium Hall in Bole, near the airport.

Brundo Butchery

Ethiopia is home to people of diverse ethnicities, and the mix of their tastes and cultures has produced some amazing cuisine. Raw meat is one of most the highly regarded Ethiopian dishes, and it’s usually reserved for special occasions. Even if you’re not celebrating, you can try one of Brundo’s many popular meat dishes, such as kurt (raw meat taken from the choicest parts of an ox) and tibs (cooked beef tips).

However, the restaurant is best known for its kitfo, which is made from the softest and reddest parts of the meat, which is ground and mixed with spiced butter and mitmita (a spice made of ground birds eye chilli pepper, salt, cardamom seeds and cloves). If you don’t like the taste of the raw meat, ask for a heated kitfo, called kitfo leb leb, which looks like highly seasoned minced beef. Tej, a traditional Ethiopian alcohol made from fermented honey, is the perfect accompaniment to such a meal and is also served here.

Grenoble for first timers

Fly up to Fort de la Bastille
For the best introduction to Grenoble, hop onto the bubble-liketéléférique, the cable car that floats up over the Isère River to Fort de la Bastille. Perched high above the city, this 19-century military fortress was erected to defend France against the Duchy of Savoy. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the stunning 360-degree panorama breezes out as far as Mont Blanc if the day is clear enough.

Delve into the region’s history
To gain a fuller sense of the area, clamber up Montée Chalemont, the ancient Roman road that winds past the red roofs of the city, and go into Musée Dauphinois. This former 17th-century convent is now an absorbing regional museum that explores the culture and traditions of the Dauphinois people. Its ‘People of the Alps’ section is particularly intriguing as it documents the lives of locals through old photos, timeworn clothes and outdated farming machinery.

Digest some contemporary art
Founded in 1798, the stirring Musée de Grenoble is still regarded as one of France’s finest art institutions. Its abundant collection includes Egyptian antiquities and artwork from the 13th century onward, but what the museum really excels at is contemporary art. The bright, light-filled gallery has honoured the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe and Wassily Kandinsky in the past, whilst still finding space for more than 4000 paintings, including works by Renoir and Monet.

Become a comic book convert
For years, the Sainte-Cécile convent (couventsaintececile.com) has been converted for all manner of purposes. Aside from being a religious sanctuary, it has been a theatre, cinema and a military base. But since the Glénat publishing house moved in around 2009, it seems to have finally found its calling: comic books. Boasting a library of more than 20,000 titles, visits also allow visitors to see the restoration of the cloister and its impressive staircase. Jacques Glénat’s private art collection is on show too. Seek out the colourful stained glass windows designed by Dutch comic designer Joost Swarte and the statue of the famous comic book character Titeuf, which sits out front.

Cycle to the écoquartier
Despite its proximity to the mountains, Grenoble is surprisingly flat, so make the most of the city’s Métrovélo bicycle rental scheme and glide to Caserne de Bonne (la-caserne-de-bonne.com), a shopping centre that’s also home to France’s first écoquartier (green neighbourhood). Built on the grounds of a former military barracks, this sustainable development has a lovely park with fish-filled ponds and plenty of great street art. Look out for Snek’s striking L’Arme de Paix, which depicts a woman crying, and Nevercrew’s Ordering Machine which shows two whales caught up in a towel.

Indulge in some gastronomic treats
Cheese haven, Fromagerie des Alpages (les-alpages.fr), is easy to spot by the long lines stretching like melted mozzarella from the door. This award-winning cheesemongers is a treasure trove of dairy delights offering Savoie, Beaufort, Bleu de Sassenage, Saint-Marcellin, raclette and reblochon cheeses. One block down is artisan chocolatier, Chocolaterie Bochard (chocolaterie-bochard.com). This ritzy store sells an assortment of sweet treats in beautifully packaged boxes, but the star attraction is Le Mandarin, small chocolate-covered clementines.

Explore the lanes around Place Notre-Dame
There is no better place to test Stendhal’s notion about massifs lurking on street corners than the alleyways leading from Place Notre-Dame. Wander the narrow streets of this historic centre and you’ll soon stumble upon handsome squares, artfully decorated fountains and plenty of tempting terrace bars. Before long, the cobbles of Place Saint-André will appear, where the city’s most beautiful building, Palais du Parlement du Dauphiné, resides. This former courthouse from the 16thcentury splendidly mixes Gothic and neo-Renaissance elements.

Drink an elixir of life
Unless you’ve vowed to live a solitary life of quiet contemplation, don’t expect to gain entry to the Grande Chartreuse monastery, 30 winding minutes north of Grenoble. Instead, hike the surrounding mountains and wild meadows before heading to the Chartreuse Cellars (chartreuse.fr) in neighbouring Voiron for a taste of the monastery’s famous spirit, chartreuse. The pungent herbal liqueur, made from a mixture of 130 herbs, follows an ancient manuscript passed onto monks by François Annibal d’Estrées, the Marshal of France in the 1600s. The original manuscript, most likely written by a 16th-century alchemist, was thought to contain an elixir, but it proved so complicated to decipher that only part of it was used to make the spirit.

Dine at one of the oldest cafes in France
Follow in the fork-steps of Rousseau and Stendhal by eating at the feted Café de la Table Ronde (restaurant-tableronde-grenoble.com), reputedly France’s second oldest café after Le Procope in Paris. The pewter counter, antique mirrors and period chandeliers contribute to the brasserie’s classic good looks. Start with the braised diots (mountain sausages) with gratin dauphinois, and finish off with a tarte aux noix(walnut tart), made with local Grenoble walnuts, and served with a scoop of walnut ice cream.

The 7 best backpacks for travellers

1. The all-rounder: Osprey Sojourn 80

There’s no need to sacrifice flexibility for capacity, Osprey’s Sojourn 80 has a massive 80 litres of space for your stuff but can still be carried as a backpack as well as wheeled along as a trolley. The wheels are sturdy enough to withstand being bashed up and down steps or slung around by baggage handlers, and the straps are adjustable and made with a trampoline-style mesh for comfort. We also like the multiple zipped internal compartments and the robust handles both top and side for grabbing the bag quickly. A great all-rounder that would suit longer trips.

2. The ultimate cabin bag: North Face Rolling Thunder Roller 19

Looking for a cabin bag? The Rolling Thunder Roller 19 is designed to meet all European hand luggage requirements and is light on materials to leave your weight allowance for what you put inside it. There’s 19 litres of room here, with two external zipped compartments for easier organisation, and the handles on all sides make it easy to grab from overhead compartments or under-the-bus luggage holds. A solid, dependable bag for shorter adventures.

3. For the organised: Antler Urbanite Trolley Backpack

The numerous separate zipped pockets both external and internal on Antler’s Urbanite Trolley Backpack will keep the organised traveller happy – it feels like there’s a place for everything. Although designed to be pulled along by telescopic handle too, this bag looks more like a backpack than most trolley bags, and it’s both light and small enough to be worn comfortably most of the time. You still get 32 litres of packable space though, making this bag ideal for trips that last a week or two and take in multiple stops.

4. For the photographer: Manfrotto off road hiker 30L

Taking that bulky DSLR camera out and about can be a nightmare when you’re travelling. Manfrotto have the answer in the shape of their off road hiker camera backpack, which has a separate easy-access camera compartment as well as a camera strap across the chest. The modular dividers make carrying up to three extra lenses easy, while the water-repellent material and fold-out rain protector keep your gear safe and dry. There’s also an external tripod connection, and the bag is small enough to meet hand-luggage requirements yet still has 30 litres of space. Photographers, look no further.

5. For the hiker: Deuter Act Trail 24

Hiking backpacks should, above all else, be comfortable. The Deuter Act Trail 24 is one of the most comfortable bags we’ve seen: super lightweight and with fully adjustable straps, including mesh hip fins that keep it stable even when scrambling. The two-way zip on the main pocket means you can open the pack from the bottom to retrieve buried waterproofs or snacks, while the opening at its top makes it compatible with hydration systems. There are plenty of pockets too, including both outside and inside the lid and on the front.

 

6. The day bag: Knomo Cromwell

In some destinations security is a bigger concern, especially when you’re carrying a bag on your back. That’s why the Knomo Cromwell has a roll-top – wandering hands have no chance against this tough cookie. It’s weather resistant too, and has a 27.5-litre capacity with a padded internal pocket for laptops up to 14 inches, plus a chest harness and waist strap to spread the weight. A great carry-on and day bag option.

7. For the ultimate adventure: Evoc Patrol 40L Touring Backpack

Going off piste? Few backpacks can keep up with serious adventurers, unless you’ve got an Evoc. Their protective sports backpacks are built for professionals, with both ski and snowboard attachment systems, a reinforced fixation loop in the hip belt for climbing gear, and a quick-access avalanche equipment pocket complete with emergency plan information. Although this bag is perfect for the most adventurous trips, its 40 litres of packing space, rugged build and focus on ergonomic weight distribution make it a good choice for all backpackers.

Exploring Nordlandsbanen On Norway’s north

The journey

Though perhaps less well-known than the Oslo-Bergen train ride, the Nordlandsbanen, which stretches northwards for 729km between regal Trondheim and spirited Bodø, could certainly lay claim to being the more unique route. As well as being Norway’s longest train line, it also crosses the Arctic Circle, one of the few railways in the world to do so.

An efficient service and spacious, comfortable trains make it a delightfully sedate way to make the ten-hour journey, but it’s the huge diversity of scenery that’s most appealing. Gently rolling, emerald-green fields rest under huge skies, and Norwegian flags whip proudly over the pillar-box red hytter (cabins) dotted haphazardly over the hillsides. Moments later, the train will track its way through dense woodland, a wall of pine trees on either side of the train breaking just long enough to snatch a two-second-long postcard of mist haunting the treetops in a shadowy forest beyond.

Then, coasting out of a tunnel, the ground falls away to one side, and suddenly a 100m-high waterfall appears. Plummeting into a churning white froth below, the roaring deluge plays out silently on the other side of the train window. Such spellbinding scenes speed past repeatedly, and then evaporate into the distance, only to be replaced by another a few moments later.

Highlights of the Nordlandsbanen

All aboard at Trondheim

Before you board the train in Trondheim, take some time to explore the picture-postcard pretty city itself. The compact centre is relatively flat and easy to explore on foot or by bike. Marvel at the mighty Nidaros Domkirke, an ornate Gothic cathedral built on the burial ground of the much-revered Viking King Olav II, then linger as you cross over the quaint Old Town Bridge for views of the 18th-century waterside warehouses.

Trondheim’s old-world charm continues at Baklandet Skydsstasjon. Owner Gurli serves up hearty, homemade fare such as super-fresh fish soup and silky-smooth blueberry cheesecake. Wash it down with that most Nordic of spirits, the potent, herby aquavit: there are 111 varieties to choose from here. Meanwhile, across town, sleek Mathall Trondheim (mathalltrondheim.no) – part store, part bar-restaurant – offers a more modern take on classic Norwegian cuisine, serving up a variety of smørbrød and a good selection of craft beer.

Verdal for Stiklestad and The Golden Road of Inderøy

After a little less than two hours on the train from Trondheim, alight at Verdal for Stiklestad, the location of the famous battle of 1030 that saw the demise of King (later Saint) Olav. It’s now home to the Stiklestad National Cultural Centre, which hosts a variety of events throughout the year, and the 11th-century Stiklestad Church. This ancient place of worship was reputedly built over the stone on which Olav is said to have died.

Verdal (or alternatively Steinkjer, the next stop along) also makes a good jumping off point to explore The Golden Road – a route through traditionally agricultural Inderøy – which brings together a collective of sustainable culinary, cultural and artistic attractions, such as farm shops, restaurants and art workshops.

Swing by Nils Aas Kunstverksted (nils-aas-kunstverksted.no), a workshop and gallery dedicated to one of Norway’s most celebrated artists. Aas’ famous statue of King Haakon VII stands near the Royal Palace in Oslo, but a collection of his pieces is also on display in a small sculpture garden just a few minutes’ stroll from the workshop.

The highlight of the road, though, is the aquavit tasting experience at Berg Gård (berg-gaard.no), a working farm with its own distillery. Book ahead to get rosy-cheeked while tasting this fiery spirit, flavoured with herbs and spices such as caraway, cardamom and anise, as the owner explains the artistry and innovation involved in creating it.

Must-see Mosjøen

A further three-hour train-glide north brings you to diminutive Mosjøen, nestled in the imposing Vefsnfjord and surrounded by wooded peaks. The oldest part of the town, Sjøgata, is almost an open-air museum in its own right: saved from demolition in the 1960s, the beautifully-preserved 19th-century wooden buildings tell the tale of a historically prosperous town, of hardy fishermen and thriving sawmills, a story echoed at the small but informative Jakobsensbrygga Warehouse museum.

Nowadays in Mosjøen the main industry is aluminium, and a factory hums somewhat incongruously amid its pristine surroundings. Nevertheless, the surrounding hills of the Helgeland region beckon visitors to explore. Hike up the 818m-high Øyfjellet for spectacular views of the town and beyond.

The town makes for a scenic spot to overnight and break up the journey to Bodø. With its cosy nooks and unique, one-room museum, Fru Haugans Hotel, northern Norway’s oldest inn, has occupied a peaceful spot on the Vefsna river since 1794.

Blink and you’ll miss it: crossing the Arctic Circle

From Mosjøen the landscape seems to change in preparation for the Arctic Circle crossing, as lush trees give way to the rolling, rocky terrain and barren peaks of the Saltfjellet mountain range.

With no defining geographical features to signal your passage across The Circle and into the chilly wilds of Arctic north, you may have to use your imagination. But keep an eye out for the two large pyramidal cairns either side of the tracks, and Polarsirkelsenteret, a visitor centre visible some distance from the train line, to indicate that You Were Here.

Last stop Bodø for street art, sky-gazing and the Saltstraumen

The final stop on the line, Bodø is a proud and lively cultural hub, with the world-class concert venue, Stormen (stormen.no), and an impressive clutch of murals painted all over the city by international street artists. One particular gem is After School by Rustam Qbic, a heart-warming homage to the aurora borealis that ensures the Northern Lights are always on show in Bodø.

If you’re not content with an artist’s impression, cross your fingers and hope to catch sight of the elusive aurora with your own eyes. The most vibrant sightings usually happen away from the light pollution of urban centres, but gaze skywards with a cocktail in hand on the balcony of Scandic Havet’s Sky Bar (scandichotels.com), and you might just be in luck.

End your journey on a high-octane note, by witnessing the fearsome force of the Saltstraumen, one of the world’s strongest tidal currents. Swirling into a frenzy every six hours, this furious maelstrom 33km from Bodø is caused by 400 million cubic metres of water rushing through a strait just 150m wide.

The Saltstraumen Bridge overlooks the strait, but a more exhilarating way to experience the power of the current is on a RIB boat excursion. Stella Polaris (stella-polaris.no) can zip you across the icy waters to the Saltstraumen at high speed, slowing down every now and then to catch a glimpse of local wildlife such as sea eagles and whales.

Winter sports in the Slovenian Alps

Unspoilt wilderness in Vogel

The only ski area situated within the Triglav National Park, Vogelbenefits from an almost unbelievably picturesque location, surrounded by towering mountains and with views over Lake Bohinj towards Mt Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak. The terrain is unusually beautiful too – an array of snowy hillocks, which feels like skiing on the contours of a fluffy cloud or through a Renaissance vision of heaven.

Despite its relatively diminutive size (22km of pistes), the area’s varied topography makes it feel much bigger, and there’s a magical laid-back atmosphere, perfect for carefree coasting down the well-groomed blue and red runs. When conditions are right and there’s plenty of snow, it’s also a great destination for off-piste skiing and ski touring.

Most skiers stay down in the pretty Bohinj Valley, taking the high-speed gondola up from Ukanc, but there are restaurants, bars, ski-hire facilities, chalets and even a hotel up on the mountain.

Family-friendly facilities at Kranjska Gora

Uniquely for Slovenia’s major ski resorts, Kranjska Gora’s ski area is located directly adjacent to the village, allowing many of its hotels to offer ski-in, ski-out access. The piste layout is compact and straightforward, with several parallel lifts providing access to a range of side-by-side nursery, blue and red slopes. It’s a perfect proposition for families and beginners, as it’s virtually impossible to lose anyone and super-easy for parents to swing by and check on their kids in ski school.

Plenty of artificial snow cannons make up for the relatively low altitude, and night skiing until 10pm makes it easy to pack plenty of slope time into even a short visit. More advanced skiers can test their mettle on the steeper red and black runs over the hill in Podkoren, including a challenging world-cup downhill run that seems almost vertical in places.

Cross-border skiing at Kanin

Slovenia’s highest ski area, right on the border with Italy, Kaninreopened in the 2016–17 season after refurbishment of the cable-car connecting it to the town of Bovec in the Soča Valley below. In contrast to the Cold War era, when the border with Italy was guarded by soldiers with guns, skiers can now pass freely across into Italy thanks to a state-of-the-art cable car connection with the resort of Sella Nevea.

Kanin’s runs are sunny and south-facing, ideal during chillier conditions, whereas Sella Nevea’s north-facing runs come into their own as conditions warm up. The scenery on both sides is spectacular, with dramatic rocky outcrops and views all the way to the Adriatic sea on clear days.  Thanks to high altitudes of up to 2300 metres, conditions remain good into the spring, allowing the unique possibility of a combining winter- and water-sports in the same holiday once the rafting season has begun in mid-March down in the Soča Valley below.

Slovenian Alps Regional Ski Pass

Although most of Slovenia’s ski areas are relatively small, suitable for beginners, families and those on short breaks, a great option for more experienced skiers is to combine more than one resort in the same holiday, using the regional ski pass (slovenian-alps.com). This currently covers Vogel, Kranjska Gora, Krvavec (30km of pistes located close toLjubljana’s airport), Cerkno (a family-friendly area incorporating a thermal spa) and Dreiländereck, just over the border in Austria, and may be expanded to include Kanin in the 2017–18 season.

Though not a winter-sports hub itself, picture-postcard Bled, with its pretty lake and castle, is located just a 35-minute drive from Vogel, Kranjska Gora and Krvavec. You can get a great deal by buying your ski pass as a package with accommodation in Bled, with some three-star hotels charging as little as €69 for one night’s accommodation and a two-day lift pass.

Cross-country skiing and biathlon at Pokljuka

The Pokljuka Plateau is the perfect place to get back to nature, skiing through towering coniferous forests and beautiful alpine meadows, without the infrastructure and hustle-bustle of a major ski resort. The heavily forested plateau is situated on the eastern edge of the Triglav National Park at an elevation of around 1,100 to 1,400 metres.

Slovenia’s prime destination for cross-country skiing, it has over 30km of cross-country tracks that snake through the wonderfully peaceful forests and out into sunny meadows that become pastures for cows in summer. Visitors can hire equipment and take lessons in cross-country skiing, and also try their hand at biathlon (a combination of skiing and shooting), using an air rifle.

Learn to ice-climb in the Mlačca Gorge

Adventurous types who dream of strapping on crampons, wielding a pair of ice axes and hacking their way up a frozen waterfall will find that it’s easy to turn their ice-climbing dreams into reality in Slovenia.  The ideal place to get started is the Mlačca Gorge (lednoplezanje.com), not far from Kranjska Gora, where local ice-enthusiast Pavel Skumavc creates artificial waterfalls each winter by trickling water down the frozen cliffs each night.

Adventure Places Can Go in April

Tackle an Alpine classic when conditions are best

The 75-mile (120 km) Haute Route links Chamonix/Mont Blanc andZermatt/the Matterhorn via some of the Alps’ finest terrain. It ticks off two countries, skirts beneath most of the range’s highest summits, crosses cols, traverses lakes and descends glaciers. Simply, it is the crème de la crème of ski-touring, and only for those with experience.

Long days at high altitude (it tops out at 12,434ft (3790m) Pigne d’Arolla) make it a challenging prospect. The main Haute Route ski-touring season runs from mid-March to late April. This is when the glaciers are safely covered in powder, the weather is generally milder, and the mountain huts are open, heated and cooking up hearty hot meals. Don’t ski? Come back in summer to do it on foot.

  • Trip plan: Skiing the Haute Route takes six days. Allow time in lively Chamonix and Zermatt too.
  • Need to know: You will need both euros (France) and Swiss francs (Switzerland).
  • Other months: Mar-Apr – best snow conditions; Jun-Sep – route hikeable; Nov, Feb & May – conditions not ideal for either.

Discover flowers, festivals and on-foot adventures in Nepal

Quick! You can just squeeze in a trip to Nepal before the summer monsoon renders it hot, wet and treacherous. Indeed, March to April is a great time to explore the Himalaya: the rhododendron trees are in full and fabulous bloom, painting the land in incredible reds, pinks and purples, turning to white higher up.

Long, warm days also make this an appealing time to hike. In particular, there’s a buzz in the Everest region as hardcore mountaineers start gathering (most summit attempts are made mid-May); tackle theEverest Base Camp trek to rub shoulders with the climbing elite. TheKathmandu Valley is lively too – Bisket Jatra (Nepali New Year) is celebrated in mid-April, most exuberantly in Bhaktapur, where a god-toting chariot is dragged through streets and tug-of-war contests are held.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Kathmandu. Explore the temples and towns of the Kathmandu Valley, where there are also good short walks. Lukla, gateway to the Everest region, is a 35-minute flight from Kathmandu; the Base Camp trek takes 14 days.
  • Need to know: If trekking, take out travel insurance that covers you at higher altitudes.
  • Other months: Oct-Nov – clear, pleasant; Dec-Feb – cold; Mar-Apr – flowers, warm; May-Sep – hot, wet.

Visit KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, for stable weather, mighty mountains, moving history and massive mammals

For an excellent South African all-rounder, look no further thanKwaZulu-Natal. The province has golden Indian Ocean frontage, the country’s highest peaks and brilliant big-game parks (including some of Africa’s best rhino-spotting). Its earth is soaked with history too, most notably the bloody skirmishes of the 1879 AngloZulu War, best appreciated on guided trips to the battlefield sites of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift.

Soak it all up in the austral autumn, when the weather is still warm (24°C; 75°F) and the skies dry. Conditions are generally stable in the spear-like Drakensberg Mountains too, opening a world of wonderful walking of all levels, via geological amphitheatres, pools and waterfalls, imposing spires and San rock art.

  • Trip planner: Head inland from coastal Durban to the Drakensberg (Lesotho is an easy detour, country-tickers). Continue to the battlefields for guided tours. Finish with a safari in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve.
  • Need to know: In Durban, try local speciality bunny chow, a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry
  • Other months: Sep-Nov & Mar-May – stable weather; Dec-Feb – hot, thunderstorms; Jun-Aug – cold, snowy.

Avoid the crowds on this epic American hike

You’re going to need about six months and a lot of grit and stamina to complete the 2190-mile (3525 km) Appalachian Trail. But, wow – just imagine if you do? Tackling one of the world’s longest marked footpaths unravels 14-states-worth of impressive scenery, and spending that long carrying your kit, camping wild, and dealing with blisters and bears is also life-changing stuff.

Most northbound thru-hikers start at Georgia’s Springer Mountain between March and mid-April, to ensure they’re finished before winter descends on the end of the AT, at Mt Katahdin, Maine. However, better is to start late April/early May, to avoid both the chances of late snow in the south and the log-jam of other thru-hikers all setting off at the same time.

  • Trip plan: Start slowly to avoid injury (around 7 miles, or 12 km, a day), and build from there. Note: only one in four thru-hikers successfully completes the AT. If you’re short on time, walk a section. Maybe 100 miles (161 km) through Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)? Or a 2-mile (3km) hike to Anthony’s Nose (New York), from where you can see the NYC skyline.
  • Need to know: Avoid starting on 1 April, the most popular start date; weekdays are typically less busy than weekends.
  • Other months: Mar-May – thru-hike start time; Jun-Oct – warm, snow-free (for short sections); Nov-Feb – largely cold.

Diving Undersea Shipwrecks And More in Bali

For the first-time diver

With a variety of top-notch dive shops, professionally certified instructors and beginner-friendly conditions, Bali is a great place to learn how to dive. Remember to pack a few extra items to ensure your experience goes smoothly. Make sure you’ve signed up for a course from a reputable PADI, NAUI, SSI operator (ask to see certification if unsure). Bring your textbook, a pencil and a notebook.

For the marine biologist

Bali is home to 952 species of reef fish, such as eels, triggerfish and neon-bright damselfish. Elsewhere, divers can swim with eye-popping pelagics like the 1000kg sunfish or the graceful manta ray. Most dive shops sell waterproof fish identification charts that you can attach to your buoyancy control device (BCD) for underwater spotting. A writing slate is useful for recording the animals you see. An extra logbook at the surface can also help keep a long-term record of the animals spotted.

For the archaeologist

Home to the popular USAT Liberty wreck dive, Bali is great for underwater archaeologists. Bring along a compass, underwater map and dive light to aid in navigation. A marker buoy can be used to flag the start of a wreck dive, and an extra dive knife or scissors can help in emergencies. Remember, though, you’re not an underwater Indiana Jones: don’t take anything from these sites.

For the photographer

With visibility ranging from 10 to 50 meters, Bali is a great place to record your underwater experiences. Dive camera equipment can exceed thous ands of dollars with lights, underwater housings and lenses, or they can be as cheap as a few hundred bucks.

Dive sites near Tulamben, Amed and Pemuteran are also well-known for muck diving. A muck site accumulates sediment rich in nutrients, making a perfect habitat for a variety of photographic stars like nudibranchs, seahorses and mantis shrimps. A macro lens is essential for getting a shot of these tiny creatures. Be sure to pack extra batteries, a lens cleaning kit and extra memory cards.

How to pack dive gear

Dive gear bags come in all variety of sizes and colors, but at minimum you’ll need it to fit the length of your fins, plus the width of your other gear. Delicate equipment like a dive computer, regulator, and camera equipment should go in your carry-on. A soft-sided duffel bag is common as carry-on because it can fit well underneath seats or in the overhead compartment.

When packing your checked bag, start with your BCD because it usually takes up the most space. Make sure all the air is let out, fold the sides together and place it on the bottom of the bag so it provides cushioning. Slide your fins into the side of the bag. Keep your mask in its protective case while travelling. Don’t fold your wetsuit too many times or it’ll just become bulkier – one or two folds should be enough.

Leave tanks and weights at home. Operators include them in the price of a dive trip, and you’ll need those precious luggage kilos for other essential items.

What to bring on the boat

Any seasoned diver will tell you: the slightest equipment malfunction can ruin a trip. For that reason, all divers should have a ‘save a dive kit’, which contains an assortment of necessary replacements items such as o-rings (for ensuring an airtight seal), mask straps, mouthpieces, a multitool, mask defog liquid and extra batteries.

Protection from that strong, equatorial Bali sun can also mean the difference between a successful trip and joining the ranks of those pink tourists waddling between bars in Kuta. High-SPF sunscreen is essential, but make sure it’s coral safe – chemicals contained in most sunscreens are harmful to delicate coral reef systems. Sunglasses are always the first thing to get lost or squashed under a rolling air tank, so make sure it’s a pair you don’t mind parting with.

If you’re heading out to Nusa Penida or even further afield to the Gili Isl ands, the boat ride can be long. Bring an extra change of clothes for the ride back, and keep some motion-sickness medication h andy in case you start to feel queasy.

List of essentials

Although most dive shops offer complete rental equipment, experienced divers know the value of diving with your own gear for reasons like familiarity, safety and comfort. Here’s a checklist of dive essentials you’ll need for a Bali dive trip:

Mask – an adequate fit is key; the mask should comfortably stay on your face while inhaling through your nose.

Fins – from split fin to blade fin, or open heel to full foot, your choices here depend on personal preference.

Snorkel – necessary to conserve precious air while at the surface.

Regulator – attaches to the tank and reduces the air pressure to a breathable rate.

Buoyancy control device (BCD) – an inflatable vest that aids in buoyancy.

Dive computer – essential for monitoring things like depth and maximum dive time.

Wetsuit – water temperatures in Bali average around 25°C, so you’ll probably want a 3mm ‘shorty’ wetsuit.

Dive insurance – covers the cost of emergency evacuation or hyperbaric chamber treatments; some policies offer additional benefits like gear protection and travel insurance.

7 Great Ways to Explore Colombo for Free

Snake charmers charm at Viharamahadevi Park

Colombo is spoilt for choice when it comes to places to chill out, but beautifully maintained Viharamahadevi Park is a city favourite. The parades of palms and fig trees are spectacular, the lawns are dotted with statues and fountains, there are views of Colombo’s colonial-era Town Hall, and there’s always the chance of catching the odd snake charmer in action. Find a shady spot and you can people-watch for hours.

Join the locals on Colombo’s favourite promenade

Whilst it might not be quite as green as it once was, Galle Face Green is still frequented by locals in search of some relaxing downtime. There’s a tacky but loveable charm to this seafront park, which is animated by bubble-blowers, bouncing beach balls and vibrant kites swooping across the sky. It’s also a great spot for a snack – street food traders congregate on the waterfront at sunset, serving delicious Sri Lankan treats, including crispy egg hoppers and the island’s signature kottu, a griddle fry-up of chopped noodles, eggs and spices.

Dive into an open-air gallery at Kala Pola Art Market

On any non-rainy day of the week, you can catch a cohort of talented local artists as they transform the streets of Nelum Pokuna into an open-air gallery with their latest creations. The Kala Pola Art Market is the oldest art market in town, and traders have been holding court here for over a century. Some of the work on display is touristy and generic, but there are some gems to be unearthed here if you look beyond the clichéd depictions of elephants and tigers. If you feel like investing, paintings are usually on canvas and can be rolled up to carry away.

Engage with Sri Lankan contemporary art at Paradise Road Gallery

The Paradise Road Gallery (paradiseroad.lk) is a piece of art in itself. This upscale gallery is a beautiful space that exhibits contemporary Sri Lankan artists of high renown and is considered one of the most important art spaces in the country. The general ambience, decadent aesthetic and renowned Gallery Café add to its charm. With monthly rotating exhibitions, it’s definitely worth popping back again for a second visit before leaving the island.

Zen out and meditate at Bellanwila Temple

It’s a pretty tough job finding a temple in Colombo that doesn’t charge tourists nowadays, but for anyone venturing down south to Mount Lavinia, the Bellanwila Temple is a top detour. This is a real locals’ temple, where visitors can experience the authenticity of the Buddhist tradition without having to share it with camera-toting crowds. Unsurprisingly, it’s a great spot for meditation. The temple is famed for its bright and bold Buddhist statues and its revered bodhi-tree – one of thirty-two saplings taken from the sacred bodhi in Anuradhapura

Love the sunset on Mount Lavinia Beach

Just a forty-minute bus ride from the centre, Mount Lavinia beach is the perfect refuge for travellers wanting to escape the city hustle. Whilst the main drag of Mount Lavinia beach is often dotted with litter, there are plenty of tucked away spots that remain unspoiled and the sunsets here are simply spectacular. As you make your way onto the golden sands, watch for locals taking the back route, walking fearlessly along the coastal railway tracks.

Graffiti in 3D at Diyatha Uyana

Colombo’s most happening public park, Diyatha Uyana, has become an outdoor hub of cultural activity. Created by unknown local artists, trompe l’oeil graffiti artworks that seem to burst into 3D are the latest addition to the park’s artistic legacy, creating dizzying optical illusions in front of the beautiful view over Lake Batturumullam. Make a day of it and explore the serene grounds, scan the vegetation for tropical birds or check out the Good Market held on Thursdays, selling healthy snacks and Sri Lankan crafts.