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The essential guide to backpacking China’s Silk Road

 But for adventurous travellers looking for something truly different, backpacking the Chinese Silk Road reaps glorious rewards: sand-sledding down a magical unmoving sand dune, a camel ride around an oasis, a trek up the end of the Great Wall and sipping wine under grape trellises are just a few of the possibilities. So don a sand-proof rucksack and check out our guide to backpacking the Silk Road through China.

The route

Historically, the Silk Road was not one but many routes that connected east and south Asia to Mediterranean Europe, so named because the largest commodity traded down the route was sought-after Chinese silk. The route traditionally started in Xi’an (then known as Chang’an), China and continued northwest through modern-day Gansuand Xinjiang provinces before reaching Central Asia.

Several historical splits in the road mean that you have options when deciding your route. By far, the most traversed portion of the route is from Xi’an to Lanzhou and Jiayuguan in Gansu. From here, you can choose to head northwest to Urumqi in Xinjiang, where fascinating Uigher culture, China’s

Family travel myths worth forgetting

 Long-haul’s a bad call

Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, that’s for sure. And just the thought of having to hush the baby or keep a writhing toddler still in the aeroplane seat for 10 or – gulp – up to 24 hours when, chances are, they simply will not sleep, is enough to make most parents retreat into a dark chasm of despair.

But the reality isn’t nearly that bad. Babies are often coaxed into a sleepy state by the drone of the plane’s air regulator. True, flying with young kids of a certain age – let’s say roughly between one and two years old – can be a constant trial, but once they are old enough to appreciate in-flight entertainment, two thirds of the battle is won. The trick is to understand what you’re getting yourself into and plan ahead.

Top tips: Take a night flight if you can, when your kids are at their sleepiest and the cabin lights will be dimmed, and tag-team with a flying partner so each

Madagascar: an island unlike any other

 Kirindy and the baobabs

Start your trip in the west with wildlife encounters and a walk among iconic trees

Jean Baptiste strolls cheerfully through the forest, arms swaying, flip-flops flapping. For the past hour, he has led the way through a tangle of paths that each looks identical to the last, pausing to point out brown creatures hidden in the brown undergrowth: a twig-like pencil snake here, a fist-sized land snail there.

It takes some time to locate the lemur he spotted with barely a glance, but after much gesticulating (‘To the left of the fork, down from the second branch, no, not that branch, down further’), there it is: a sportive lemur, its teddy-bear head and goggly brown eyes poking out of a tree hollow. The sighting opens the floodgates to an embarrassment of encounters in the forest of Kirindy.

A few steps on, a black-and-white Verreaux’s sifaka appears far above, swinging between the treetops with the elegance of a trapeze artist, the tiny head of her baby peeking out from the

Places to stay that will blow your mind

Bivacco Gervasutti, Mont Blanc, Italy

This is one for the adrenaline junkies, right?

It’s fair to say that couch potatoes will want to settle for the pictures. The Bivacco Gervasutti perches precariously on the Frebouze Glacier on the Mont Blanc massif in Italy. Yes, that’s Mont Blanc of the ‘highest peak in Europe’ fame.

Wow, that is totally extreme.

Everything about this place is extreme. The striking red and white capsule, containing living and dining areas as well as two sleeping quarters for up to 12 people, cantilevers dramatically out over the cliff-face. From the inside it’s like you’re floating over the mountain. Solar panels keep the tube toasty year-round and there’s even internet access so you can show off to your mates back home.

Ok, how do we get in there?

That’s the tricky bit: it’s only accessible by foot. The architects of the structure were forced to build by helicoptering in one section at a time. There is no such luxury option for prospective guests. Only those who put in the hard graft to hike to the top reap the rewards of the spectacular views.

hiking through Patagonia

Warm and cozy

Patagonia’s weather is influenced both by Antarctica and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field – that great glacial mass larger than California’s Death Valley. Coping with this influence will take attention to detail. It’s the little things. The best investment is seamless wool socks like those from Darn Tough (darntough.com) to keep you warm and comfortable. Happy feet mean uninterrupted walking: the difference will be miles of splendor that you can’t put a price on. A few extra pairs can be a godsend when you’re hiking nonstop without a day off to do the wash.

Avoid shorts – there’s plenty of thorny brush to get at your legs even when chilly gusts of wind aren’t whipping. Bring top and bottom thermals, light gloves and a hat, an insulating layer like a fleece, rain gear and a down jacket for cool nights.

And remember, crisp climates can still pose issues for your eyes and skin. Sunglasses with a leash, waterproof, high-SPF sunscreen and shade had will protect you from overexposure – a crucial matter as a hole in the ozone layer moving over Patagonia and Antarctica leaves you extra vulnerable.

Keeping your footing

Gearhead’s guide to surfing Nicaragua

Getting your bearings

Waves break year-round in Nicaragua and are best on the Pacific coast. Experienced riders should time trips according the swell and aim to get here from March through September. San Juan del Sur is the long-time surf capital of Nicaragua, and it has the partying pedigree to show for it. It’s also a good spot to gear up, hire out local tour boats to take you to hard-to-reach breaks and spend a few days cruising the colonial streets. Ironically, there’s only one half-decent break right in town. Unless you’re shelling out for daily boat charters, the real action happens in the little surf colonies north and south of here.

South of San Juan, Playa Remanso has a good beach break for beginners, with Playa Tamarindo just south offering up long left and right breaks. It’s also home to the lovingly playful Playa Hermosa Ecolodge (playahermosabeachhotel.com). On the other hand, you could head north, stopping off first at Playa Maderas and its gnarly reef break. Other worthwhile northern surf spots include Bahía Majagual and Arena Blanca.

If you continue on up the coast, you’ll find consistent waves as long as development doesn’t block your access. Playa Popoyo

Milan’s 7 best spots for an aperitivo

In the shadow of the Duomo

Located right next to the Duomo, Straf Bar is where young fashionistas tend to gather. Don’t feel intimidated though, the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. An extension of the design hotel, the bar resembles a tiny art gallery, but if the weather is good try and join the locals outside on the red sofas.

Where the hip things hang

For something creative, seek out Rita in the vibrant Navigli area, where the bartenders aren’t afraid to get inventive with their ingredients. With a wide selection of spirits arranged like a liquor library behind the bar, a drink can mean anything from a classic Campari-based pick-me-up to a sharp Gin Zen (gin, ginger, sugar and lime cordial). The nibbles change, but expect homemade pizzettas, plump green olives and stacks of vegetable crudités.

The bar that turns back the clock

One of Navigli’s more unique spots, Mag Café sells a remarkable array of cocktails with the drinks menu changing regularly. Inside, it’s all a bitMidnight in Paris as bartenders dressed in braces handcraft extraordinary cocktails, each served in a 1920s-style glass. Try and grab a seat on the small terrace where

Outdoor adventure awaits in Washington, DC

Running the National Mall

With major road races occurring year-round, including the acclaimed Marine Corps Marathon in the fall and the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in the spring (a warm-up for Boston-bound elites), Washington is a runner’s paradise. Locals never tire of jogging the National Mall, bound by trails that take you past the nation’s most important democratic monuments—all of which glow from within as dusk falls. Spring cherry blossoms, summer fireworks, autumn glory color and winter-snow wonderlands are some of its seasonal delights.

Climbing Great Falls

Rock climbers find happiness at Great Falls Park (nps.gov/grfa/index.html), just 20 minutes upstream from Washington, DC, on the Virginia side of the river. Here, neophytes and experienced climbers alike negotiate cliffs and outcrops ranging from Class 3 to 5.10. Nearby Carderock and Annapolis Rock are favorite go-tos as well. And note that in winter, when it’s cold enough, this is where Washingtonians come for ice climbing.

Paddling the Potomac

Where else can you escape the office at noon, jump in a kayak for a quick paddle, and be back in time for a 2pm meeting? Thompson Boat Center, next to the Kennedy Center, rents kayaks

Take a glimpse at Europe’s best national parks

Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi, Italy

A grass-carpeted valley, birds chirping in the bottle-green trees, a twinkling brook: this bucolic scene is sheltered by a castellated line of mountains, formed of an almost luminescent pale rock. The drama is heightened by the contrast between the soft, gentle curves of the pastures and the sudden eruption of vast, sculptural mountains, each prong like a cathedral tower.

Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi is geology as theatre. The scenic drama has been formed through the different consistency and brittleness of the rock, which has allowed erosion to sculpt it into jagged shapes, and hollow out deep, wide valleys and corridor-narrow gorges.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

No matter from which side you approach Durmitor National Park, you will be in awe – the glorious mountain peaks are rugged, smooth, sloping and jagged, all at the same time. The ancient pine trees dot the mountainsides with perfect cones, some reaching 50m high. And amid all this are the 18 glacial lakes that range in colour from frosty blues to deep navy and turquoise, like precious beads scattered on the massif.

Durmitor has 48 peaks above 2000m

Top 7 Instagram hot spots in Hong Kong

1. Hong Kong’s garden hideaway

Few photos can capture the essence of Hong Kong better than those taken at Chi Lin Nunnery in Kowloon. Instagram opportunities unfurl before your lens here as classical Chinese gardens give way to a glorious golden pagoda and a lotus pond filled with plump koi carp. This serene Buddhist complex seems all the more tranquil when snapped against the contrasting skyscrapers that tower above, creating a seamless fusion of the modern and the natural.

2. Food too cute to eat

Embedded into Hong Kong’s culture like dragon dances and milk tea, Instagram swells with shots of steaming baskets of dim sum, so head toYum Cha to snap something more contemporary. This dim sum restaurant does things a little differently: the pork buns are shaped as pigs and the sausage rolls are designed like dogs. Even the pineapple puff cookies are made to look like birds and are presented in a metal cage.

3. The iconic rainbow residence

Thickets of high-rise apartments stretch skyward across much of Hong Kong, so skyline shots and neck-craning close-ups both provide fantastic photo fodder. However, the vibrant Choi Hung Estate

Slowing down in Sichuan’s most charming old towns

The biggest difference these days is that, instead of trade in tea and goods, tourism is taking over as the dominant draw. Visiting any ofSichuan’s old towns is a chance to explore this vast country’s living history and, increasingly, one of the last ways to see a slower pace of life in ever-expanding China.

Dujiangyan (都江堰)

Though not the oldest of Sichuan’s old towns (it’s close, founded in 250BC), Dujiangyan is undoubtedly the most important, for it was here that governor Li Bing of Shu conceived of and built the town’s eponymous irrigation system during the Warring States period (475–221 BC). Visitors to modern Dujiangyan can see the workings of this still-functional irrigation system, a marvel in its day, walk the small old town area and visit numerous temples that local communities have built to give thanks. Each year on Tomb-Sweeping Day, a traditional Chinese festival that celebrates ancestors, Dujiangyan holds a ‘water releasing ceremony’ to mark Li Bing’s accomplishments and honour his memory.

Dujiangyan is a half-hour train ride from Chengdu’s main station; trains go several times daily to Lidui Gongyuan station just outside the old town. Frequent buses also run from Chengdu’s Chadianzi station for

8 of the wildest places in Europe

1. Cruise the fjords of the Lofoten Islands, Norway

When it comes to jaw-dropping natural beauty, few places can compare with the Lofoten archipelago, whose clustered mountains tower above deeply indented bays. It’s not exactly empty of people, with quaint fishing villages now playing host to a burgeoning tourist industry. But untrammelled nature is never far away.

A plethora of hiking trails, cycling routes and fjord cruises provide access to some truly heart-stopping scenery. The islands are well within the Arctic Circle too, so there’s every chance that the midnight sun will add to the drama.

2. Boat through the Danube Delta, Romania

When it comes to European wetlands, few can compete in size and diversity with the Danube Delta. Here, the continent’s greatest river splits into myriad channels before entering the Black Sea. It’s a unique landscape of sandbar islands, semi-sunken forest and dirt-road villages, the majority of which can only be reached by boat.

Disembark at the fishing village of Crişan in the heart of the delta and you’ll be able to follow trails into reed-beds frequented by all manner of birds. Sfântu Gheorghe, the end-of-the-river settlement on

7 places to get off the tourist trail in Vietnam

1. Make the journey to Bai Tu Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay is just to the northeast of world-famous Ha Long Bay – and its striking expanse is just as beautiful. However, it sees a fraction of the visitors.

More and more tour companies are now offering trips to Bai Tu Long (“Children of the Dragon”). Or, if you want to go it alone, you can take the ferry to remote Quan Lan Island – the slow boat from Cai Rong has the best views.

Quan Lan has only a handful of hotels, and very little English is spoken – but that’s part of the joy. Once you’ve taken in the bay, bask on the untouched beaches (the best stretch along the east coast) and explore the virtually empty roads by bicycle. You’ll get the impression that little has changed here for decades.

2. Enjoy farm-to-table food in Bong Lai Valley

Phong Nha National Park may already be on your itinerary, but your taste buds will thank you for venturing to nearby Bong Lai Valley. Farming is integral to the community here, and more and more locals are now opening

6 of the best road trips in the UK

1. Scotland’s North Coast 500

This circular route is a greatest hits of Scottish icons, stretching across 805km of lonely single-track. Skirting the coast from Inverness and the Black Isle, past the seaboard crags of Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross, it offers up uncanny ruins, rugged fairways, toothy castles, shingle-sand beaches, tiny fishing hamlets and peaty whisky distilleries. Even the name is a doff of the cap to The Proclaimers.

Along the way, the road becomes a symphony, building note after note, bend by bend, from its rallying start through the east coast villages of Dornoch and Wick to Aultbea, Poolewe and Gairloch on the savage west coast. Here, it reaches a crescendo below the impregnable peaks of Loch Maree.

Finally, the road reaches the nuttily brilliant Bealach na Bà, which loops up and over the Applecross Peninsula like a piece of gigantic spaghetti. It could scarcely be more isolated or awe-inspiring.

Best for: escaping urban life and unexpected traffic jams, courtesy of wayward Highland cows and stags.
Duration: 4-7 days.

2. A circuit through Yorkshire’s finest

In Yorkshire, the roads move from moor to dale through centuries of dark medieval history, once a backdrop

7 places to get off the tourist trail in New York City

1. Sample small-batch Red Hook

At the southern tip of Brooklyn, the cobblestoned blocks and red-brick waterfront warehouses of Red Hook feel like a totally different city. The area is sprinkled with artsy stores, no-frills cafés and small-batch food and drink producers. Take a tour at Red Hook Winery, grab a tasty treat at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies or feast on sumptuous pit-smoked barbecue at Hometown.

On summer weekends, head over to the Red Hook Ball Fields, where a dozen or so Latin American food carts and vendors set up around the local football (soccer) field. End the day at Sunny’s Bar, the neighbourhood’s spiritual heart, an old-school dive that opened in 1890.

2. Pay tribute to a giant of jazz at Louis Armstrong’s House

The multicultural borough of Queens rarely features on mainstream tourist itineraries – and few visitors know that the great Satchmo lived here from 1943 until his death in 1971. In fact, Dizzy Gillespie lived near Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Fats Waller and, briefly, Charles Mingus all called the borough home too.

The jazzman’s legacy is preserved at the Louis Armstrong

Castles, cairns and gin-making in the Boyne Valley

Older than the Pyramids: Brú na Bóinne

At first glance, the famous cairns that cluster around the River Boyne, in counties Meath and Louth might elicit a shrug – most are simple passages leading into small chambers. But the more you look, the more fascinating they get.

Almost 100 Neolithic monuments make up the World Heritage Site ofBrú na Bóinne (‘the Palace of the Boyne’), many dating from around 3200 BC, making them around seven centuries older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. They’re decorated with strange swirls and shapes and aligned with the sun and the landscape, yet so distant are their pre-Celtic creators that archaeologists are still guessing how the great stones were transported (possibly by river, or even rolled on seaweed) and whether they were built to honour the dead, the sun or the sea.

Stone Age magic at Newgrange and Loughcrew

Newgrange is the largest and most popular tomb, as well as the easiest to visit, via buses from the nearby visitor centre. Its 80m diameter is impressive, but the real thrill comes when you clamber through its dark tunnel, feeling the silence under muffled breath and gazing up

Drink, dine and dance your way through a Queens night out

Happy hour

If you like to get started early, the pubs, cocktail bars, beer halls and lounges in Queens are ready with enticing after-work specials.Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria has a giant patio area that makes it the perfect place to meet in the spring and summer, but the half-priced beer at happy hour makes it worth hitting up year-round. The interior and patio both have a classic beer hall aesthetic, with Czech, Slovak and American flags hung proudly from the fortress-like walls. Inside, you can catch sports and enjoy some classic Slavic cuisine with your drink.

Looking for a less conventional happy hour? Visit The COOP in Flushing. This Korean fusion spot has a great beer, sake and wine selection, but specializes in custom-made cocktails such as a lychee cosmopolitan. At happy hour you’ll find great deals on oysters and small-plate fare: kimchi egg rolls, fried chicken gizzards and their famous hot wings, which add a uniquely Korean flavor to the bar food classic. The ambiance at The COOP is tastefully modern, with dim lighting and flashes of neon – perfect to get you in the mood for a long night out.

a guide to the locations of the cult classic

The Roadhouse

The heart of Twin Peaks country is the Snoqualmie Valley, in the hills east of Seattle. It’s at an easy distance for a day trip from the big city. Drop in first to Fall City, a town that is home to the building which starred as Bang Bang Bar, generally referred to as The Roadhouse. This was Twin Peaks’ adult entertainment venue, filled with couples and bikers listening to live music and downing a beer or two.

One of the most memorable scenes here featured the mystical Giant appearing in a vision to FBI Agent Dale Cooper, warning him of a murder with the line ‘It is happening again.’ Nowadays the century-old building houses the Fall City Roadhouse (fcroadhouse.com), offering food and accommodation.

Out back is another location: the cabin used to depict The Bookhouse, headquarters of the secret society known as The Bookhouse Boys.

White Tail Falls

Heading farther south-east to the town of Snoqualmie, the next major location is this impressive waterfall, falling majestically across our screens as the opening credits played to the haunting theme of composer Angelo Badalamenti.

In reality known as

8 ways to justify booking your next trip

1. Travel is an excellent way to destress and unwind

Although it’s hardly a shocker that travel has extensive health benefits, it seems that few of us manage to make the most of it. A third of British workers don’t take all their annual leave, while only four in ten Americans use their paid vacation days.

From reducing stress – yes, there is an argument for a day of cocktails and nap time on aCaribbean beach – to invigorating your mood, travel has so many wholesome benefits that it should really be bottled and sold in health food stores.

2. It could boost your career

Opportunities to test your transferable skills can arise more often than you change your underwear while you’re abroad. Need to evidence your problem-solving capacity for a job interview? Just whip out that story of your last trip to China, where you got from A to B relying solely on pointing, a few choice words of Mandarin and the lingua-franca of the travel world: charades.

3. You’ll meet a kaleidoscope of new people

Travelling gives you the opportunity to meet inspirational, impassioned and eccentric souls from around the globe. While not everyone

The 7 best beach holidays in Europe

1. Find paradise in Rab, Croatia

Sandy beaches are a rarity in Croatia, but on this small island in the Kvarner Gulf, you’ve got 22 to choose from. Rab’s aptly named Paradise Beach on the Lopar peninsula is a good place to start for a relaxing beach holiday. It’s got a 1.5km sweep of sand and clear shallow waters. Or take a half-hour hike through woods to reach Sahara Beach in a sheltered inlet – a popular spot for naturists.

2. Take the plunge in Tropea, Italy

It’s hard to find a beach with a more dramatic backdrop than Tropea’s steep cliffs, where brightly coloured houses cling on, seemingly in defiance of gravity. Down in Italy’s toe, Calabria’s prettiest town hovers over several sandy beaches as well as a rocky promontory topped by the church of Santa Maria dell’Isola. Calabria is one of Italy’s least developed regions, and its warmth comes not just from the southern sun and the famously spicy cuisine, but from the people too.

3. Find peace on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast

Just north of Bulgaria’s border with Turkey are some of the country’s least developed beaches. Start in