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Category Archives: Travel

A regional guide to Europe’s

Italy

Few countries can rival Italy’s wealth of riches. Its historic cities boast iconic monuments and masterpieces at every turn, its food is imitated the world over and its landscape is a majestic patchwork of snowcapped peaks, plunging coastlines, lakes and remote valleys. And with many thrilling roads to explore, it offers plenty of epic driving.

Recommended trip: World Heritage wonders – 14 days, 870 km/540 miles

Start – Rome; finish – Venice

From Rome to Venice, this tour of Unesco World Heritage Sites takes in some of Italy’s greatest hits, including the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and some lesser-known treasures.

France

Iconic monuments, fabulous food, world-class wines – there are so many reasons to plan your very own French voyage. Whether you’re planning on cruising the corniches of the French Riviera, getting lost among the snowcapped mountains or tasting your way aroundChampagne’s hallowed vineyards, this is a nation that’s full of unforgettable routes that will plunge you straight into France’s heart and soul. There’s a trip for everyone here: family travellers, history buffs, culinary connoisseurs and outdoors adventurers. Buckle up and bon voyage – you’re in for quite a ride.

Recommended trip: Champagne taster – 3 days, 85 km/53 miles

Start – Reims; finish – Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

From musty cellars to vine-striped hillsides, this Champagne adventure whisks you through the heart of the region to explore the world’s favourite celebratory tipple. It’s time to quaff!

Great Britain

Great Britain overflows with unforgettable experiences and spectacular sights. There’s the grandeur of Scotland’s mountains, England’s quaint villages and country lanes, and the haunting beauty of the Welsh coast. You’ll also find wild northern moors, the exquisite university colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and a string of vibrant cities boasting everything from Georgian architecture to 21st-century art.

Recommended trip: The best of Britain – 21 days, 1128 miles/1815 km

Start and finish – London (via Edinburgh and Cardiff)

Swing through three countries and several millennia of history as you take in a greatest hits parade of Britain’s chart-topping sights.

Ireland

Your main reason for visiting? To experience the Ireland of the postcard  – captivating peninsulas, dramatic wildness and undulating hills. Scenery, history, culture, bustling cosmopolitanism and the stillness of village life – you’ll visit blockbuster attractions and replicate famous photo ops. But there are plenty of surprises too – and they’re all within easy reach of each other.

Recommended trip: the long way round – 14 days, 1300 km/807 miles

Start – Dublin; finish – Ardmore

Why go in a straight line when you can perambulate at leisure? This trip explores Ireland’s jagged, scenic and spectacular edges; a captivating loop that takes in the whole island.

Spain

Spectacular beaches, mountaintop castles, medieval villages, stunning architecture and some of the most celebrated restaurants on the planet – Spain has an allure that few destinations can match. There’s much to see and do amid the enchanting landscapes that inspired Picasso and Velàzquez.

You can spend your days feasting on seafood in coastal Galician towns, feel the heartbeat of Spain at soul-stirring flamenco shows or hike across the flower-strewn meadows of the mountains. The journeys in this region offer something for everyone: beach lovers, outdoor adventurers, family travellers, music fiends, foodies and those simply wanting to delve into Spain’s rich art and history.

Recommended trip: Northern Spain pilgrimage – 5-7 days, 678 km/423 miles

Start – Roncesvalles; finish – Santiago de Compostela

Travel in the footprints of thousands of pilgrims past and present as you journey along the highroads and backroads of the legendary Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.

Portugal

Portugal’s mix of the medieval and the maritime makes it a superb place to visit. A turbulent history involving the Moors, Spain and Napoleon has left the interior scattered with walled medieval towns topped by castles, while the pounding Atlantic has sculpted a coast of glorious sand beaches. The nation’s days of exploration and seafaring have created an introspective yet open culture with wide-ranging artistic influences.

The eating and drinking scene here is a highlight, with several wine regions, and restaurants that are redolent with aromas of grilling pork or the freshest of fish. Comparatively short distances mean that you get full value for road trips here: less time behind the wheel means you can take more time to absorb the atmosphere.

Recommended trip: Douro Valley vineyard trails – 5-7 days, 358 km/222 miles

Start – Porto; finish – Miranda do Douro

The Douro is a little drop of heaven. Uncork this region on Porto’s doorstep and you’ll soon fall head over heels in love with its terraced vineyards, wine estates and soul-stirring vistas.

Germany

Grandiose cities, storybook villages, vine-stitched valleys and bucolic landscapes that beg you to toot your horn, leap out of the car and jump for joy – road-tripping in Germany is a mesmerising kaleidoscope of brilliant landscapes and experiences.

Recommended trip: the Romantic Road – 10 days, 350 km/218 miles

Start – Würzburg; finish – Neuschwanstein & Hohenschwangau Castles

On this trip you’ll experience the Germany of the bedtime storybook – medieval walled towns, gabled townhouses, cobbled squares and crooked streets, all preserved as if time has come to a standstill.

Switzerland

A place of heart-stopping natural beauty and head-spinning efficiency,Switzerland lies in the centre of Europe yet exhibits a unique blend of cultures. Dazzling outdoor scenery, such as the ever-admired Alps, pristine lakes, lush meadows and chocolate-box chalets, combines with local traditions, cosmopolitan cities and smooth infrastructure.

In short, Switzerland makes it easy for you to dive deep into its heart: distances are manageable and variety is within easy reach. You can be perusing a farmers’ market for picnic provisions in the morning, then feasting on them on a mountaintop come lunchtime. At nightfall, try gazing at stars in the night sky from cosy digs or revelling in the cultural offerings of one of Switzerland’s urbane cities.

Recommended trip: the Swiss Alps – 7 days, 612 km/382 miles

Start – Arosa; finish – Zermatt

From Arosa to Zermatt, this zigzagging trip is the A to Z of Switzerland’s astounding Alpine scenery, with majestic peaks, formidable panoramas, cable-car rides and local charm.

Find The Best Beach in Sydney

Secluded spots

Sydney is famous for its surf beaches but there are many secluded hideaway beaches dotted all around the harbour. Some are more popular than others, depending on their accessibility, but our top tips are the diminutive Lady Martins Beach at Point Piper, not far from central Sydney and tucked between the salubrious suburbs of Double Bay and Rose Bay.

On the northern side of city, head for Balmoral Beach near Mosman. It is an excellent beach for families, with a netted enclosed swimming area and large shady Moreton Bay fig trees to escape the heat. Lastly, look for Collins Beach at Manly, a long circuitous walk from the Manly ferry pier, where you may well find yourself alone for a good part of the day.

Autumn sun

This may surprise many first-time travellers to Sydney, but autumn (March to May) is a perhaps the best time to hit the beach. Sydney is blessed with a fairly temperate climate so it can stay sunny and reasonably warm right into late May (the beginning of the Australian winter). It takes some months for the ocean to cool down to the same temperature as the land which means the sea can still be surprisingly warm even if days are not baking hot.

Rise and shine

You can beat the heat, and the summer hordes, by heading down to the Sydney’s most iconic surf spot, Bondi Beach, early in the morning. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the ocean, and you’ll be sharing the experience with locals surfing, running, and doing their early morning sun salutations. Bondi gets busier as the day wears on – by midday traffic can clog the main routes down to the shoreline. Book an early lunch at Icebergs, which overlooks the iconic ocean pool, then make your escape.

Go south

If you do hit Bondi in peak hour, you can also head south to Bronte andCoogee via a cliff-side walking path (unfortunately you won’t be the only one doing this walk!). Beyond Bondi there are further ocean pools for the less confident swimmers to take a paddle where you’re protected from sharks as well as the swell. You’ll still be swimming with the same breath-taking views of sandstone headlands, sea birds and the occasional band of whales ploughing their migration routes along the Pacific.

A Lesson in Avant Garde Architecture For First Time

After its completion, the avant-garde architecture of the now unrecognisable port city was initially given mixed reviews by critics. But not unlike a fine French Bordeaux, Le Havre’s exceptional qualities took a few years to realise – embodied by its bold designs that embraced a new form of urbanism.

Unesco, which made Le Havre a World Heritage site in 2005, helped lead the way, and the city has since reclaimed its place in the spotlight, attracting architecture fans from across the globe. Although Le Havre lacks the medieval atmosphere found in other parts of Normandy, there’s no city like it anywhere in France. Here are a few suggestions for first-timers to make the most out of Le Havre.

Amble past Le Havre’s best architectural sights
One of the best ways to take in the architecture of Le Havre is on a stroll through the city centre. The light is best in early morning or around dusk, when the buildings have a faint roseate glow. No mere trick of the imagination, locals used pulverised red brick from destroyed city buildings in the new construction, which helped cement a link to the past.

On a day of exploring, you can take in grand plazas, blocks of artful symmetry and cunning designs that evoke something far beyond stone and concrete. Even the disused hilltop fortress, a 1km stroll from the city centre, has been converted into Jardins Suspendus, a peaceful oasis of flower-filled gardens and greenery.

Take in the heart of the city
Spread across five hectares, the Town Hall Square (Place de l’Hotel de Ville) is the grand epicentre of downtown, and one of the largest squares in Europe. This vast plaza is also an appropriate introduction to Le Havre. It was designed by Auguste Perret, the mastermind behind much of the city’s post-war design.

Gardens, fountains and sculptures lie at the centre of this light-filled space, with a periphery of striking modern buildings that create a remarkable sense of harmony. The pièce de résistance is the Town Hall, a stolid 72m-high tower that’s visible from the sea and one of the icons of the present-day city.

Experience a cultural eruption at The Volcano
Formerly known as the Niemeyer Cultural Centre, this sculpture-like edifice was one of the city’s most astonishing sights when it was unveiled back in 1982. Rising from a small square just off the Rue de Paris, its voluminous base and sweeping curves tapering skyward quickly earned it the moniker Le Volcan (the Volcano).

Oscar Niemeyer, the visionary architect behind Brasília and one of the grandfathers of modernism, came up with this unusual work – one of his few designs outside of Brazil. On one side of the building a larger-than-life hand reaches out, with a fountain flowing beneath. This is a cast of Oscar Niemeyer’s own hand, a remarkably personal record of the architect’s involvement in the work.

Today Le Volcan (the name was officially changed in 1990) houses a theatre and a public library. The luminous white facade, with its captivating lines, looks better than ever following an extensive renovation project completed in 2015.

A portrait in 1950s living
Take a step back in time by visiting the Appartement Témoin Perret (the Perret show flat). This fully furnished apartment gives a taste of family life during the post-war boom years. All the pieces hail from the 1950s, from the gas stove in the kitchen to the record player in the living room.

There are clothes in the closets and the table is set, the only thing missing is the family – though the tour guides do a fine job bringing those absent characters to life. All in all, it’s an intimate portrait of Le Havre and fine counterpoint to the more abstract architecture outside those sun-drenched windows.

Visit Le Havre’s spiritual beacon
If there’s one building that can’t be missed in Le Havre, it’s the Église de St-Joseph (St Joseph’s Church). The monumental facade, with its 107m-high tower, is visible all over town, and glows like a lantern against the dark night sky. The interior breaks all conventions, with few statues of saints or other Catholic iconography, and an altar placed at the centre of the building, its lantern tower soaring into the heavens above.

Of course, the design might have seemed overly bleak if it wasn’t for the marvellous stained glass windows lining the tower. These are the works of Marguerite Huré, who used some 13,000 pieces of stained glass – all created using mouth-blown techniques, just like in the Middle Ages. The brilliant use of colour creates different moods depending on the time of the day and the changing position of the sun.

7 Best Places to Visit in EUROPE

1. THE ALBANIAN COAST

Looking for Mediterranean sun and sand, but your budget doesn’t quite stretch to Capri or the Côte d’Azur? Simply head further east and you’ll find sun-drenched beaches untouched by modern development. Albania is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, and as yet under explored by the tourist hordes. On its southern Ionian coast, steep grey mountains frame azure seas and golden sands.Saranda – almost in touching distance of Corfu – is a handy entry point from Greece, from where you can aim for the beaches of Ksamil and nearby islands. Cheap seafood, warm seas and a smattering of isolated Greek ruins and Ottoman towns: the perfect recipe for a classic European sojourn.

2. SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

Though the scars of Sarajevo’s past as a city under siege are still evident – in the remnants of mortar shell explosions, filled with red resin to form “Sarajevo Roses” and in the museums documenting the horrors of Sniper Alley – today’s city buzzes with life.One of the most welcoming capitals in Europe, its central district of Baščaršija is a delight to wander through, browsing in the Ottoman-era bazaar or lingering over a Bosnian coffee, while the after-hours scene is quirky and cool, with tucked-away drinking holes and an ever-evolving club scene.

3. BANSKO, BULGARIA

Hitting the slopes without breaking the bank can be a challenge – not least as the main Alpine resorts are located in some of the most expensive countries in Europe. However, eastern Europe has a few intriguing ski destinations, including Bulgaria’s Bansko on the Pirin mountain range.The country’s main ski resort, with good beginner and intermediate runs, is reached via a scenic – but very slow – narrow-gauge railway. The town itself has considerable charm beyond the tourist development, with numerous traditional old pubs hidden down its cobbled alleyways.

4. THE CZECH REPUBLIC

Though ever-popular Prague is not quite the dirt-cheap city break destination it once was, you’ll still find the Czech Republic to be a good-value country for independent travel. The country that invented Pilsner is justifiably famous for producing some of the world’s best beer – at pretty good prices.In Prague, the choice of watering holes ranges from traditional beer halls and monastery taverns to a new generation of microbreweries. Continue the Czech beer trail with a visit to the Pilsner Urquell brewery in Plzeň, before striking out to the country’s lesser-known spots, such as charming Olomouc, a pint-sized Prague without the tourists.

5. ESTONIA’S BALTIC COAST

Known for its popular capital Tallinn, little Estonia also provides swathes of wilderness, with beautiful stretches of coastline, a scattering of islands and forested national parks along its long Baltic coastline. An hour from Tallinn, 725-square-kilometre Lahemaa National Park is best explored by bike. You can cycle its coastal paths, discover rugged coves, windswept beaches and fishing villages, and sleep on hay bales in a farm.Venture further west, and the summertime resort of Pärnu has fantastic beaches, while the island of Saaremaa offers more pine forest countryside and very affordable spas.

6. LEIPZIG, GERMANY

Berlin is an anomaly – it’s one of the few capitals where the cost of living is lower than the national average, a legacy of the country’s former divide, which still means former East Germany is notably cheaper than western centres like Frankfurt and Munich. As prices gradually rise in gentrifying Berlin, there are other eastern cities to venture to, including buzzing Leipzig.The city that kick-started the 1989 protests that led to the country’s reunification has long had a fierce, independent spirit. Over the past few years, it’s also developed quite a reputation for its thriving artist enclaves and offbeat nightlife, a scene that is in constant flux, with old industrial buildings, such as former cotton mill the Spinnerei, converted into cutting-edge spaces.

7. LONDON, ENGLAND

London and budget aren’t words that usually go together. However, with the pound currently reaching historic lows, now is a good time to visit. But it’s not just a currency thing – London has more free world-class attractions than any other European city. TheBritish Museum, home to enough treasures to satisfy the most curious of history hunters; vast Tate Modern, with stupendous views from its terrace and ever-changing art collections; the Natural History Museum with its magnificent dinosaurs; and beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum – all free, all of the time.

And don’t forget the open spaces: spend a day tramping across Hampstead Heath, another meandering along the South Bank or perusing East End markets and you’ll get more of a sense of city life than if you’re stuck in a queue at an overpriced attraction. For food, opt for the popular street-food markets and your budget will stretch further – you might even have enough left for an overpriced pint.

Joys Of Winter in The Lake District

The Lake District is one of Britain’s most popular hiking destinations, but in winter it sees far fewer walkers. Ben Lerwill went to beat the crowds and take in this stunning landscape out of season.

They do a mighty fine goulash in the Dog & Gun, using a recipe that’s been bringing in hikers for five decades. It’s the kind of sustenance the body craves after seven cold hours on the fells. We spill into the rosy warmth of the little Keswick pub, peeling off damp jackets and stamping the muck off our boots. The windows are fogged with condensation. Two pints are pulled, food ordered, a corner found. We settle. “Yep,” says Daniel, one long swig later. “Tired.”

The two of us have travelled up to the Lake District for four days of winter walking. A trip here is always something of a meteorological lottery, so by arriving at the start of the year there’s already an acceptance that getting chilly, and probably soaked, is a given. It helps take the uncertainty out of the equation.

At the same time, it’s also a season that heightens the solitude and bristling drama of the hills. We’re here – with about seven months to spare – to beat the summer rush. And when you’re alone on Maiden Moor in February and it’s blowing a gale, you know about it.

We’re starting in the northern fells with a long, looping yomp around the slopes above Derwent Water. The morning is shrouded in low cloud, rendering the islands in the middle of the lake as ethereal outlines.

At the river bridge, there’s a man lobbing a ball into the water for a soggy spaniel. The dog is half delirious with joy. We veer south and clamber up past the falls of Greenup Sikes.

My last time in the Lakes was a winter two years ago, when everything had been snow and ice. The temperatures are less fierce now, but the winter skies are still raw and blustery. Beds of wilting bracken lie across the slopes, coating the hills in a coppery red. We pause to watch a sparrowhawk glide past us: it tilts its wings to gain speed, then disappears over the brow of the rock.

For the next few hours the massed grey clouds tease us, revealing deep views then closing them up again. At the pinnacle of Cat Bells, a sudden, mighty panorama opens up to the west. We debate: is that Grasmoor? Grisedale? Ten minutes later it’s gone, and we hike on into the spitting wind, gossiping our way back to Keswick.

The mountain forecast is poor for the next day. Bad visibility, relentless rain, but little wind. There’s a chance of beating the cloud by rising above 750m, so we opt to trek up Scafell Pike – not a handsome mountain, but the tallest of them all.

The results are glorious. After a two-hour climb we find ourselves in the clear, striding above a thick bed of cloud, every underfoot sound made crisp. At the summit we gorge on sausage rolls and apples, the highest, hungriest men in England.

Neither of us are true, feral outdoorsmen – picnics yes, pick-axes no – so by the time we thread our way down the gully under Broad Crag and join the downhill trail, the distant lights of the Wasdale Head Inn have taken on the feel of a promised land.

It’s cold early evening when we arrive. The famous old climbers’ pub sits near-isolated in the valley. There’s a log-burner glowing in the bar, and Yates Bitter on the pumps. A blackboard reads: “No, we don’t have wi-fi. Talk to each other.” It’s a hard place to leave.

The following morning we’re spoiled. It dawns a billowing, bracing February day, with wind rushing through the dales and a charged, purple atmosphere on the uplands. We’re now in the southern fells, and make the most of the conditions by snaking our way up to the Langdale Pikes. The tops are gusty but the views are extraordinary: an ocean of ridges and clefts, Windermere glinting in the distance, sporadic sunbeams spearing through the clouds. In six hours of hiking, we pass one other walker.

People obsess over the Lake District. Some dedicate – even lose – their lives to it. It has much to do, I suppose, with how consuming the place can feel.

Squeezed between the North Pennines and the Irish Sea, it always seems far bigger than its borders, folding and contorting itself so endlessly that even when you’re poring over an OS map, it seems impossible that the valleys, peaks and overhangs all find the space to fit together. Wainwright famously described 214 fells, but each one is a world of its own.

The weather hurls its worst at us on the final day. Fuelled by flapjacks and a sense of duty, we troop up into the wet clag to reach the Old Man of Coniston, getting lashed with rain. The view from the summit is non-existent: 360 degrees of murk. Only when we reach the surface of Goats Water on the way back down does the land re-emerge, unfurling a windblown spread of yawning basins and far-off tarns.

7 Tips to Backpacking Through Europe

1. Pick your season wisely

If you decide to travel during the peak summer season, try heading east – the Balkan coastline, the Slovenian mountains and Baltic cities are all fantastic places for making the most of your money. When tourist traffic dies down as autumn approaches, head to the Med. The famous coastlines and islands of southern Europe are quieter at this time of year, and the cities of Spain and Italy begin to look their best. Wintertime brings world-class skiing and epic New Year parties. Come spring it’s worth heading north to theNetherlands, Scandinavia, France and the British Isles, where you’ll find beautifully long days and relatively affordable prices.

2. Take the train

Getting around by train is still the best option, and you’ll appreciate the diversity of Europe best at ground level. Plus, if you make your longest journeys overnight and sleep on the train, you’ll forego accommodation costs for the night. Most countries are accessible with an Interrail Global pass or the equivalent Eurail pass. Depending on your time and budget, choose one corner of the continent then consider a budget flight for that unmissable experience elsewhere. Make sure you check out our tips for travelling by train in Europe.

3. Be savvy about accommodation

Although accommodation is one of the key costs to consider when planning your trip, it needn’t be a stumbling block to a budget-conscious tour of Europe. Indeed, even in Europe’s pricier destinations the hostel system means there is always an affordable place to stay – and some are truly fantastic. Homestays will often give you better value for money than most hotels so they are also worth considering. If you’re prepared to camp, you can get by on very little while staying at some excellently equipped sites. Come summer, university accommodation can be a cheap option in some countries. Be sure to book in advance regardless of your budget during the peak summer months.

4. Plan your trip around a festival

There’s always some event or other happening in Europe, and the bigger shindigs can be reason enough for visiting a place. Be warned, though, that you need to plan well in advance. Some of the most spectacular extravaganzas include: St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, when Dublin becomes the epicentre of the shamrock-strewn, Guinness-fuelled fun; Roskilde in Denmark, Glastonbury’s Scandinavian rival with a mass naked run thrown in for good measure; and Italy’s bizarre battle of the oranges in Ivrea.

5. Eat like a local

You’ll come across some of the world’s greatest cuisines on a trip to Europe, so make sure to savour them. A backpacking budget needn’t be a hindrance either. If you shun tourist traps to eat and drink with the locals, you’ll find plenty of foodie experiences that won’t break the bank. Treat yourself to small portions but big flavours with a tapas dish or two in Spain; relish the world’s favourite cuisine at an Italian trattoria; or discover the art form of the open sandwich with smørrebrød in Denmark. Don’t skip breakfast, either – an oven-fresh croissant or calorie-jammed “full English” are not to be missed.

6. Find the freebies

Being on a budget doesn’t mean you should miss out, even in some of the world’s most sophisticated cities. Many iconic European experiences are mercifully light on the pocket: look out for free city walking tours, try the great Italian tradition of aperitivo in Rome, make the most of the free museums in London and try cooking with local ingredients rather than eating out. We’ve got lists of the top free things to do in Paris, Barcelona, London,Dublin and Berlin to get you started.

7. Get outdoors

It can be tempting to focus backpacking through Europe on a succession of capital cities – but you’d be missing out on a lot. Europe offers a host of outdoor pursuits that animate its wide open spaces, too, from horseriding in Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains and surfing onPortugal’s gnarled Alentejo coast to cross-country skiing in Norway and watching Mother Nature’s greatest show in Swedish Lapland.

7 of The Best Ethical Trips for 2017

1. Creating parks in Patagonia

The Parque Pumalín is not the end, but the beginning: Tompkins Conservation, which was the subject of our latest travel podcast, will continue its rewilding mission in Patagonia. But the organisation can’t do it alone and is encouraging volunteers to come to Chile or Argentina, where they can get involved in tree planting, wildlife monitoring and, sometimes, reintroducing locally extinct species.

2. Going on safari in Laos

The last remaining home for tigers in Indochina, Nam Et-Phou Louey is a hotbed of biodiversity and an unexpectedly brilliant place to go on a safari. And we’re not talking about any old safari; we’re talking about the Nam Nern Night Safari and Ecolodge, which ploughs most of its profits into local outreach programmes that educate locals about conservation and sustainability. Twice a winner at the World Responsible Tourism Awards, guests on the safari not only support admirable conservation work but also have the opportunity to spy endangered species, mingle with locals and sleep in low-impact bungalows.

3. Crashing with locals in India

For remote Himalayan communities there can be scant opportunity for employment. However, thanks to an organisation called Village Ways, some of these isolated societies now have a steady income from sustainable tourism. The organisation puts intrepid explorers into homestays in India and Nepal, providing locals with a revenue source and an opportunity to celebrate their Himalayan traditions, culture and cuisine.

4. Supporting Maasai landowners in Kenya

The Mara Naboisho Conservancy in Kenya is a 50,000-acre reserve created by 500 Maasai landowners. The park is home to bountiful wildlife – including big cats – and revenue from tourism provides the Maasai community with a sustainable livelihood, which in turn helps preserve this diverse corner of Kenya. The conservancy’s stellar work was rewarded in 2016 with a gold medal at the African Responsible Tourism Awards.

5. Trekking with ethnic minorities in Vietnam

As tourism booms in Vietnam, not everyone is feeling the benefit: some of the country’s ethnic minorities are reportedly being left behind. However, Shu Tan, from the Hmong ethnic group, is trying to address that. The former street vendor has set up an award-winning social enterprise, Sapa O’Chau, which offers guided treks and homestays for tourists in Sapa, northern Vietnam. Managed by ethnic minorities, her organisation generates revenue for impoverished communities, where some people can’t afford to send their children to school.

6. Turtle conservation in Mexico

The deserted shores of Veracruz are just the tonic for hectic lives. They’re also a breeding ground for endangered turtles, which face a range of challenges including pollution and habitat loss. Cue the Yepez Foundation, a non-profit organisation that has spent the best part of half a century safeguarding turtles and their habitats in this corner of Mexico. They’re always on the lookout for volunteers who can help with a range of projects, from beach clean-ups and community outreach programmes to coastal reforestation.

7. Conducting reef research in Malaysia

The world’s coral reefs are, alas, in grave danger, as pollution, disease and climate change wreak havoc with these underwater ecosystems. Cue Biosphere Expeditions, which is running an eight-day excursion to the colourful colour gardens of Malaysia, where participants can help collect data from reefs, which could be used to preserve the beleaguered ecosystems. Open for qualified scuba divers only, the 2017 expedition takes place August 15-22

Prepare For a Perfect Voyage to Antarctica

 Lean on an outfitter for the logistics

Antarctic cruises have the benefit of organized pre- and post-voyage transportation and sometimes include additional excursions aroundUshuaia, Argentina (where most Antarctica-bound vessels call in to port) plus accommodations, on-board meals and expedition gear included in the price. Pick a reputable, International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators-affiliated (iaato.org) outfitter to ensure a safe and environmentally responsible experience.

The more you know, before you go

Reading about Antarctica’s history, geography and wildlife will not only provide pre-trip inspiration, but will help you appreciate the journey as you reflect on the tales of those first explorers who charted the very same waters you’ll be sailing. Antarctica showcases wildlife on a magnificent scale, so learning about the life-cycle and food chain of the continent’s species will provide insight on the mesmerizing and sometimes curious behavior you’ll bear witness to.

If you don’t get a chance to read up before you go, most ships have reference libraries and offer lectures by on-board scientists. You may find yourself sitting next to one of them in the dining hall – pick their brains and you’re guaranteed top-notch dinner conversation.

Get the right gear

Many outfitters supply essentials like parkas, boots and waterproof trousers. These items are likely to commandeer most of your luggage space, so check with your operator to find out if these will be provided or if you must bring your own. Consult any packing list they supply, which should include items like hats, scarves and gloves (it’s wise to pack a back-up of each), wool socks and base layers.

Layers are everything on an Antarctic expedition, which goes for on-board time as well – you may be cozy with a cup of tea and a book one moment, then rushing outside to spot a pod of killer whales porpoising beside the ship the next. Best have a fleece and a down mid layer quick at hand, plus a pair of waterproof shoes with good grip for the slippery decks.

Non-clothing essentials

Bringing a quality pair of binoculars is wise, and if you want to get good photos of fast-moving wildlife, a zoom lens is ideal for your camera. Be sure to bring some kind of waterproof casing for your camera or mobile phone as splashes while riding on Zodiacs (the smaller boats used to venture out from the cruise ship) are certain.

Despite being a land of ice, the sun is incredibly strong in Antarctica and reflects blindingly off the snow, so sunscreen (at least SPF 45) and sunglasses are necessary. The cold wind can wreak havoc on your lips, so stock up on lip balm with SPF.

As minimal as you should strive to be, it’s nice to have a couple of creature comforts…particularly, edible ones. Most voyages have set meal times and the grub is plentiful, but outside of that, food may be hard to come by. Bring along some trail mix and chocolate or protein bars.

There’s often a strict weight limit on what you can bring on the ship (checked and carry-on luggage combined) and the average ship cabin is scant on square footage. Unless you find comfort in clutter, leave any unessential items at home – your cabin mate will appreciate it.

Shape up to ship out

You don’t have to be a triathlete to go on an expedition cruse to Antarctica, but general physical preparedness and sound mobility make for a much more comfortable voyage. One of the defining realities of a cruise expedition to Antarctica is the crossing of the Drake Passage – twice. This 600-mile stretch of sea between Tierra del Fuego (shared between Argentina and Chile) and the Antarctic Peninsula is notorious for rough waves. It’s the confluence of three oceans: the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Southern; their temperatures and currents meld to create swell that once saw explorers perish.

Though the vessels of today are well equipped to maneuver such choppy waters, brace yourself for what will be a bit of a bumpy ride at best and vomitous at worst. When the ship starts to sway as you amble from deck to deck, good balance and leg strength well keep you sure-footed as a goat. When walking around, always keep one hand somewhere on the boat. The handrails you see everywhere serve a purpose (just don’t forget to hit a hand sanitizing station every time you pass one).

Top 7 Free Things to do in Paris

 1. Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris

Festooned with gargoyles and Gothic touches, this imposing icon ofParis is essential for every visitor. Entering this grand medieval edifice is free (although it costs to climb its twin towers) as is a stroll along the neighbouring Seine for an alternate view of the cathedral’s spiky apse and naturalist sculptures.

2. Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen

Window-shopping (or lécher les vitrines to the locals) is a great way to take an indulgent peek at objets d’art and wild curiosities you’d never actually buy. The St-Ouen flea market and antiques fair is the perfect place to let your imagination run riot. Marvel at bearskin rugs, antique tapestries and brass diving bells in this decadently eccentric marketplace. (But try to keep your eyebrow-raising in check when you look at the price tags.) Hop off the metro at Porte de Clignancourt (line 4) and continue under the bridge until the souvenir stalls give way to side streets crammed with beautiful buys.

3. Parc du Champ de Mars

A lift to the peak of the Eiffel Tower can squeeze the budget but views below can be equally stunning, albeit from a different angle. Parc du Champ de Mars has lawns and flowerbeds manicured with military precision (as you’d expect from a former army marching ground). Bring a blanket, wine and the best brie you can find to this expanse of greenery and wait for the light show at dusk to set La Tour Eiffel a-twinkle.

4. Cimitière du Père Lachaise

The most haunting spot in Paris allows you to rub shoulders with literary greats like Proust and Balzac, and modern icons like Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. Jim Morrison also lies in this ancient cemetery, his grave barricaded off to protect it from over-zealous fans who make a musical pilgrimage here. The tree-lined avenues and calling crows make Père Lachaise the most atmospheric walk in Paris. Head to the 20th arrondissement, jumping off the metro at Père Lachaise (line 2) or Gambetta (line 3).

5. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

For a surreal view of French culture, dive into the permanent collections of Paris’ Museum of Modern Art. From the bolshy cubism of Braque to Matisse’s dancers, there’s sure to be something to lift your spirits. Take metro line 9 and alight at Alma-Marceau.

6. Marché d’Aligre

Feast your eyes on the finest local produce at this fabulous covered food market on Place d’Aligre in the 12th arrondissement. Mountains of cheese, artisan butchers and a field of flower stalls can send you into sensory overload after wandering through a few aisles. Stop for a discreet glass of Bordeaux and get your hands floury on some crusty baguette. Ride metro line 8 to the Ledru-Rollin stop.

7. Basilique du Sacré Coeur

This palatial white marble church crowns the lively Montmartre district in the 18th arrondissement. Its interior is bedecked with gold mosaics and towering stained-glass windows, and you can listen for the peal of one of the world’s heaviest bells. Visiting the basilica is free, but there’s a charge to ascend into the dome or explore the crypt.

Best Free Things to do in Delhi

 When visiting India’s historic capital, it’s worth paying out for big-hitting sights such as the Red Fort and Qutb Minar, but don’t overlook the abundant free sights and experiences in this fascinating city.  Take your pick from verdant parkland, centuries-old monuments, mysticism and faith, colonial pomp and circumstance and exploring contemporary Indian culture and the arts.

Keeping the faith at the Bahai House of Worship

This lotus-shaped temple was conceived and created by architect Furiburz Sabha in the suburbs of South Delhi, close to the burgeoning commercial district of Nehru Place.  In step with the tenets of the Bahai religion, the house of worship is open to all and everyone is invited to worship according to their own customs. Reflected in nine encircling pools, the gleaming marble structure is set in expansive gardens that teem with visitors, yet it retains a peaceful air of prayer and contemplation. Dusk finds the monument painted in surreal colours by floodlights as the sun sinks over the cityscape.

Soulful stirrings at the Nizamuddin Auliya shrine

You can step back seven centuries at the shrine of Delhi’s most beloved Sufi mystic. Every Thursday evening, singers fill the air with soulfulqawwalis (spiritual songs) honouring both the Sufi mystic Hazrat Khwaja Syed Nizamuddin Auliya and his disciple, the poet Amir Khusrao, also buried here. A warren of narrow streets lined with hawkers, mendicant holy men and snack stands leads to the shrine, which is a riot of colours, fragrant with heady incense and sweet-smelling rose petals.  Irrespective of faith, gender, or age, the Nizamuddin Dargah is one of Delhi’s most emotive and stimulating spots.Islamic motifs on the Athpula Bridge, Lodi Gardens © Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu / Lonely Planet

Calm green spaces and crumbling mausoleums

The Lodi Gardens, formerly Lady Willingdon Park, are one of the city’s favourite green spaces, visited by neighbourhood residents for daily constitutionals, and a favourite spot for canoodling couples and picnicking families. Sitting pretty in the heart of New Delhi, these sprawling but well-tended acres are criss-crossed with tree-lined walking and jogging paths. Between the flowerbeds are crumbling medieval monuments – mosques, tombs, and ceremonial bridges harking back to vanished Afghan dynasties – lending the park a romantic demeanour; unsurprisingly, it’s a favourite spot for romantic selfies.Lavish ornamental gates surround the Rashtrapati Bhavan © PapiyaBanerjee / Getty Images

Pomp and circumstance, Indian style

Despite only being introduced a decade ago, the splendid ceremony held once a week at the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s Estate) is reminiscent of the richest excesses of India’s colonial history. Highlights of this public show of military precision include an equestrian display by the President’s Body Guard – an elite mounted unit founded in 1773 to escort and protect the British governor-general, and later the presidents of independent India –and a foot drill by the Army Guard Battalion, selected from one of India’s infantry regiments every three years on rotation. There’s no fee but spectators are required to present photo IDs at the point of entry. Drills take place on Saturdays at 8am (15th March to 14th August), 9am (15th August-14th November) or 10am (15th November-14th March).The distinctive architecture of Delhi's Habitat World © Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu / Lonely Planet

Cultural synergy at Habitat World

After all the history, take a moment to explore Delhi’s contemporary culture. Part of the landmark India Habitat Centre, Habitat World was founded to promote synergies between cultural institutions and artistically minded individuals, and there’s always something interesting to see. This is where Delhi’s arty and scholarly set can be found admiring modern artworks at the Visual Arts Gallery, sitting in on academic presentations at the Stein auditorium or encouraging amateur performers in the centre’s public amphitheatre. If you work up an appetite, you can fall back on the popular All American Diner.Children ponder the significance of the Delhi Durbar obelisk © Punteerinder Kaur Sidhu / Lonely Planet

Raj resonance at Delhi’s Coronation Park

Almost forgotten, Delhi’s calm Coronation Park was created to mark the centenary of the 1911 Delhi Durbar, a grand assembly of Indian royal families hosted by Viceroy Lord Hardinge. A major event on the colonial calendar, durbars honoured the ascension of a new monarch to the British throne, which also enshrined the king or queen as sovereign ruler of India. These grand occasions were marked by processions, elephant parades, polo tournaments and parties, but today, the parade ground slumbers quietly, except for the occasional cricket match between locals, or when promenading couples stroll by. In the heart of the 60-acre park is a stone column, marking the spot where King George V anointed Delhi as the new capital of British India, and five statues of the kings and viceroys who once ruled India, now quietly fading into history.