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Category Archives: travel

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.

Longitude 131, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

Not giving much away with the name.

There’s no mistaking the image though. Yes, that is Australia’s world-famous and iconic landmark Uluru that you can see from your own private white-topped tent.

Oh, so we’re camping in the desert?

Not exactly. There’s no sagging canvas or dinky fly-nets here; this is next-level glamping. You’ll be staying in one of only 15 luxuriously kitted-out tented cabins all positioned to make the most of the view of the serene and dramatic expanse of the Simpson Desert and the major drawcard, Uluru.

It’s not often a holiday in the red centre turns into a top-end experience.

One of the most memorable things about a trip to Longitude 131 and Australia’s vast outback is the connection the resort honours to the land and to the land’s traditional custodians. Alongside the extravagant five-star features, the resort sports serious eco credentials and provides guests with the opportunity to learn about the centuries-old culture of the Anangu people. Listening to ancient creation stories as the sun sets over Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) is an experience not soon forgotten.

The FloatHouse River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Floating on a house on the River Kwai sounds more fun than building a bridge over it.

This is a world away from the fictional drama that played out in Pierre Boulle’s internationally renowned novel A Bridge over the River Kwai – where prisoners of war were forced to build parts of the Burma Railway across the river in 1942–43. Instead, the FloatHouse is an oasis of peace and calm.

Are we going to wake up miles downriver?

The FloatHouse is tethered to the lush, wild jungle that spreads out behind the resort. In fact, the only way to get to the private rooms on The FloatHouse is to arrive by boat. If the absence of typical Southeast Asian traffic noise isn’t enough to begin the destressing process, then step inside your private sanctuary decorated in traditional style and be soothed by the panoramic scenery from your private balcony and sundeck.

Once we wake from our soothing stupor, can we get off to explore?

Absolutely. Private boats are available to ferry you to spectacular local attractions like hot springs, waterfalls, the Hellfire Pass, Lawa Cave and Mon Villages and temples, among others.

Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, Manaus, Brazil

Visiting the Amazon rainforest should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Few places deliver a luxury Amazon experience quite like this. There are 22 private cabins divided up into 16 standard cottages, four superior bungalows and two top-of-the-range panoramic bungalows with, you guessed it, spectacular views.

What’s there to see if we venture beyond our beautiful cabin?

Perched at the tip of an island in the Anavilhanas Archipelago, the largest freshwater archipelago in the world, the Jungle Lodge has a 13m-high observation deck with stunning views over the Rio Negro (there’s a pretty good view from the pool too, just saying!). If you’re looking for adventure the lodge will organise a personalised itinerary so you can hike to local villages or take a boat tour around the tributaries, for example.

Will our footprint be light in this fragile and endangered area?

The lodge is sensitive to and conscious of its pristine surrounds. It is staffed almost exclusively by local people; there is no waste disposed of in the waters; preservation areas are strictly respected and they help to run social and educational programs with the help of the Brazilian government. All good.

Hotel De Glace, Québec, Canada

Aren’t we over the whole ice hotel/bar thing?

As gimmicky as an ice hotel can seem from the outside there’s nothing quite like spending a night encased in a room made entirely from exquisitely carved ice to stave off your scepticism.

Alright, we’ll ask the obvious question: aren’t we going to get a little chilly?

The staff at the hotel are so confident of your comfort in the ice suites that their information sheet on staying the night recommends light clothing to sleep in to avoid getting too hot! Each enormous ice slab is topped with a wooden wedge and a mattress to prevent you from shivering in your sleeping bag.

And when we’re not tucked up in bed?

There’s a long list of suggested items of clothing to bring and wear during your stay to keep the cold at bay. That said, it’s hard to imagine the cold creeping in when the surroundings are so spectacular. The Hotel De Glace is like one giant ice sculpture with individual suites designed in unique and magical themes. It’s so beautiful it will warm the cockles of your heart.

Huka Lodge, Taupo, New Zealand

It seems like every square inch of this country is a natural wonder.

I know, right? But if you get tired of parking your campervan at breath-taking sites alongside the roadside then how about soaking up a little luxury at the exclusive Huka Lodge. Honestly, it’s magic. That’s what you get with a mix of manicured grounds, spectacular wilderness, and five-star pampering.

Can you magic me there now?

I’ll try… Huka Lodge sits on 17 acres of private grounds right on the edge of the powerful turquoise waters of the Waikato River, just upstream from the dramatically beautiful Huka Falls. A short drive in almost any direction will take you to snow-capped mountains, lush wilderness, or pristine lakes and streams. After a day of exploring nature’s bounty you’ll dive into the sweet, sweet luxury of your suite. Are you there yet?

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

Sure, you might be able to hike in trainers some days, but sturdy, broken-in waterproof boots will do you a solid in shallow stream crossings, snowy passes, and puddles around town. Speaking of streams, if you bring sandals, make sure their soles are rigid enough to clamor across river stones. Gore-Tex gaiters come in useful here too – not only do they keep your feet dry, they also keep mud off your pants and prevent you from needing to relace your boots over the course of a day. Rinse them in a stream at the end of a day on the trail and they can dry overnight.

One final piece of necessary hike gear: trekking poles. The collapsible kind fits easily into luggage. Not only do they save knees from downhill pounding, they provide stability during river crossings and keep you grounded when the famous Patagonian wind blows.

Gearing up for a hut-to-hut hike

While the rugged bulk of Patagonia is straight-up wilderness, there are a few hut-to-hut hiking routes. Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park andParque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in Argentina have classic hikes punctuated by dry sleeps. That means shaving pounds off your back. No tent is required, and in Torres del Paine, no sleeping bag either, as both Fantastico Sur (fantasticosur.com) and Vertices (verticepatagonia.com) huts in Torres del Paine offer the option of sheets and blankets. Do make reservations well in advance.

On top of your trekking gear, you’ll want to invest in a good day pack like the Osprey Talon (ospreypacks.com). Make sure you have enough room for a hydration bladder, extra layers, a blister kit and food. Pack cover? Skip it. Chances are, the wind will snatch it away. Instead, keep the contents in plastic bags in case of rain. You can also get away with a day pack when hiking in Argentina’s Fitzroy range, since most trails link to the town of El Chalten. Solar chargers and single-charge units can keep your phone and camera going, though an extra camera battery adds greater insurance. Headlamps are useful in nature, on night buses and at hotels without bedside night lamps.

Camping out

Backpacking requires finding the delicate balance: bring enough to be comfortable but not enough to drag you down. There’s one way to do it: stick to an essential gear list. Prioritize a comfortable, well-fitted pack. Try it on with all the contents and decide what you can live without. Usually that’s an extra change of clothes. In general, it is helpful to have a set of camp clothes and a set of hiking clothes – it’s nice to get into something dry and relatively clean at the end of the day. Also, try to pack a week in advance. Take your loaded pack on a hike. At this point, most people further edit their selections. Invest in a cheap, lightweight duffel to keep your backpack clean on bus rides and prevent luggage belts from chewing up straps.

Restrictions to check before your flight

In Chile, both Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales have banned plastic bags. Bring a couple of small cloth grocery bags for market trips, they can also serve for sorting gear. Ditto for water bottles and coffee thermoses – bring from home and you will carry less guilt.

Blades aren’t allowed in an airplane cabin. A pocket knife with multi-use tools is your best defense against a hunk of cheese or slivers but it belongs in checked luggage. Also, some airlines won’t let you travel with camping stoves, so do some research before buying your ticket. Both camping stove fuel and lighters are no-nos – you can get them when you arrive to regional bases like Punta Arenas, El Chalten or Bariloche.

Because of customs, snacks can also be an issue when you fly. Chile has strict restrictions on food imports in order to protect its robust agricultural industry. They prohibit outside fruit, dairy, and meat, which means no nuts, jerky or dried fruit either. Most of these items can be picked up in country at grocery stores in major cities. Small towns offer a more limited selection. Tostadurias usually offer bulk supply dried fruit and nuts. Energy bars, rehydration tabs or gels can be a harder find, so if you do bring your own supply, be sure to declare all on your customs forms.

Maps and navigation tools

By now you should feel confident about getting on your way. If you are using a GPS app, make sure it will download and store maps. Don’t expect to count on your phone in an emergency. Cell service doesn’t work in most of rural Patagonia. It never hurts to pick up high-quality topo maps in major cities near your destinations.

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 is the king of surf towns around the Central Pacific Coast, but most areas have local board rentals, surf cabins and schools. The good waves continue all the way up through El Salvador from here.

Bring, buy or rent?

If you really love your stick, bring it down. It can cost anywhere from US$50-200 to do it. The online hub of surf info Magic Seaweed (magicseaweed.com) is a great resource for baggage rates to help plan this out (they have good beta on Nicaragua breaks as well). If you’d rather skip that process, you could consider buying a board when you get here and selling it when you leave. San Juan del Sur and Popoyo are the best spots to buy boards. Rentals are often pretty dinged up, but perfect for beginners. Expect to pay $10-20 per hour (negotiating better rates for weekly rentals).

Picking your board

If you’re just getting started, start with a simple soft-top board. They don’t look as cool as ‘real’ surf boards that are traditionally made with a foam core and fiberglass outer shell. But they are easier to carry to the beach, float you like a mother, and are often cheaper than the glassed boards. They are also really stable, meaning you won’t fall off the board every time a wave rolls through the lineup (and won’t get wacked in the face with a hard edge when you do fall off). Generally, rental shops will have a selection of these ‘sponge’ boards, short and longboards, boogie boards and maybe even a few stand-up paddle boards to rent.

Most beginners will start with a longboard (better for less steep waves), while more advanced riders may move to shorter boards. Bigger, heavier surfers tend to go with a bigger, thicker ride. Funboards are a good option for intermediate riders – all the utility of a longboard with more maneuverability. Fishboards are another option for intermediate riders looking for quick takeoffs, some of the bounce of a short board, but more stability and easier paddles out.

For a fun treat, try a stand-up paddle board. They’re fun even if the waves aren’t breaking. You can unleash your ‘rhino chaser’ – your big wave longboard – on some of the bigger breaks up north. If all else fails, you can rent a boogie board and just play on the beach breaks.

Extra Nicaragua surf essentials

Water temps here are around mid-20oC (75oF) most of the year. This means you probably won’t need or want a wetsuit, but in December to April water temps can drop, making an optional wetsuit top like the Rip Curl Dawn Patrol (ripcurl.com) a good idea. You’ll probably want a rash guard top just in case. Billabong (ballabong.com) has some nice options. We only wish they offered more neon! You can pop one on for long sessions to protect you from the sun.

A good leash is essential to keep the board attached to your foot. Dakine (dakine.com) has a ton on offer. You can bring your favourite surf wax with you – even though they sell it in most spots. Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax (sexwax.com) has been around since 1972 (and you gotta love the name). For first timers, the wax goes on the top of the board to make it more grippy, not the bottom.

Things people often forget to bring are sunscreen – yes, they sell it, but it can be like twice the cost as back home. Bugspray. Ditto for price, plus local quality sucks. Also bring along a pair of long-sleeve pants and a long-sleeve shirt, for bug protection, heading to churches in the colonial villages and looking nice come party night.

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 there are some serene canal-side views.

The bar where it all started

With velvet chairs and polished wooden tables, little has changed sinceBar Basso first introduced the aperitivo to Milan. As bowls of olives and plates of crisps find their way to the tables, smartly dressed bartenders still shake up signature Negroni Sbagliatos under the shimmer of a crystal chandelier. The sparkling cocktail, which comes with a huge hand-cut cube of ice, even has its own glass – a huge goblet known the Colossus.

Something a little stylish

Little brother to the acclaimed Milan bistro Pisacco, Dry strikes the perfect balance between tipples and nibbles with carefully assembled cocktails and pizzas so good they deserve their own restaurant. Michelin-starred chef Andrea Berton is the man behind this stylish idea; wash down the calzone (stewed onions, baked olives in anchovy butter with smoked cheese) with an ever-popular Gin Gin Mule (Tanqueray 10 gin, fresh mint, sharp lime and ginger beer).

A vintage emporium

Close to Porta Romana, Lacerba is an Aladdin’s cave for aesthetes, with bright Fortunato Depero prints adorning the walls and all manner of objects (empty bottles, miniature VW campers, a bike) hanging from the ceiling. Arrive early to get a seat at the low, mismatched tables and try the Bloody Mary, which can be served in eight different ways, including a fiery variation with tequila, yellow pepper and turmeric.

Drink with a biker gang

It can feel like you’re trespassing when you first arrive at the main gate of the Deus Café (deuscustoms.com), but get past the door and you’ll be immediately dragged into a world of motorcycles, bikes and surfboards. A bar, shop and workshop rolled into one, this hip place has a great selection of beers and cocktails and serves a classic selection of finger food and antipasti too.

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 by the hour. Within minutes you’re paddling around Theodore Roosevelt Island, a woodsy island in the middle of the Potomac. Float upstream to Georgetown and beyond, or downstream past the National Mall’s marble monuments.

More hardcore kayakers surf and play in the white-tipped rapids of the Potomac River Gorge just below Great Falls. This spot has become a breeding ground for top-level competitive kayakers, and it’s within 30 minutes of the nation’s capital (only experienced kayakers should tackle this dangerous, sometimes deadly run).

Hiking the Billy Goat Trail

Of course Washingtonians can hit the trails of Shenandoah National Park, within an hour’s drive of the city, which wander into a deciduous realm of waterfalls, black bear and dreamy Shenandoah Valley views. But there are amazing hikes within city limits as well, notably the intertwining trails of Rock Creek Park (Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite wilderness escape from the White House). The most popular weekend warrior hike, however, is hands-down the fabled Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls National Park, about 30 minutes up MacArthur Boulevard, where you must leap and scramble over riverside boulders just like a billy goat.

A bounty for bicyclists

Whether you like your bike trails paved or tree-shaded dirt, DC’s got you covered. There are the pathways crisscrossing the National Mall with its front-row view of the monuments; the 18.5-mile Mount Vernon Trailshooting south to Mount Vernon; or the secret gem Capital Crescent Trail, a paved trail linking Georgetown with Bethesda. But if you want to join locals in making a day of it, take a spin on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD), an old railroad bed that’s now a 45-mile paved route between southern Arlington and Purcellville, in Loudoun County. This pastoral ride winds past cows, farmhouses, picturesque towns and a brewery or two along the way.

Camping just outside the Beltway

Shenandoah National Park is an obvious camping getaway. But Greenbelt Park, known as the “backyard” national park and one of the city’s best-kept secrets, is the closest campground to DC. If you’re new to camping, Little Bennett Regional Park, up I-270 near Frederick, offers ready-made campsites that include a four-person tent, two camp chairs, a propane stove and a lantern.

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 in altitude, with the highest, Bobotov Kuk, measuring 2523m, making the park the perfect place for hiking, especially in the warmer months. There are spectacular karst or forest trails, and stunning views that stretch hundreds of kilometres.

Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal

About 300 million years ago, a continental collision pushed together the Iberian Peninsula and Europe, resulting in the amphitheatre of the Serra da Peneda, Serra do Soajo, Serra Amarela and Serra do Gerês mountain ranges, dominated by immense granite cliffs and slabs.

The glacial fields that covered these mountains during the ice age of the Pleistocene era are nowhere to be seen. Still, the moraines, glacial deposits and deep, U-shaped valleys hint at the violent climatic events that shaped this land.

Hortobágy National Park, Hungary

These vast prairies carry more than a whisper of the wild, wild West. But the puszta – the flat grasslands and marshes of Hortobágy National Park – stir the Hungarian soul. They are the bedrock of this country’s agrarian history.

The national park is part of the Great Hungarian Plain, which rolls across the eastern half of the country. This was once the homeland ofcsikósok, skilled herdsmen who thundered across the prairies. Pastoral lifestyles of lapsed centuries are frozen in time in Hortobágy: traditional sweep-pole wells dot its meadows, while herdsmen’s inns retain their original character. And while the csikós’ lifestyle has faded away, his descendants remain, many of them still learning horse-riding arts.

Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Europe’s largest protected area, Vatnajökull National Park is a stunning sample platter of pretty much every dramatic natural landscape Iceland has to offer. As you roam this vast reserve, you’ll find calving glaciers, geothermal springs, rocky canyons, snow-capped mountains, featureless ice sheets, silent lagoons, buried volcanoes, eerie ice caverns, surreal basalt formations and even wandering herds of reindeer.

Sprawling over 13,600 sq km, the park takes up a good-sized chunk of eastern Iceland, so most people take small bites from the edges – from Ásbyrgi in the north, or from Rte 1 as it sneaks between the ice sheet and the eastern seaboard.

Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

One moment you’re following a sinuous, fjord-hugging road that snakes across Norway’s west, the next you round a corner and find yourself face to face with one of the most extraordinary sights anywhere in Europe.

Mighty Jostedalsbreen is the glacier you always dreamed of – vast in scale, magical in its ice-blue beauty, and seemingly alive as it groans and inches its way like a scythe through high mountain valleys and down to the water.

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 (take exit C4 from the Kwun Tong MTR stop) is where Instagrammers should head first. With a rainbow of painted panels adorning the sides of the towers, palm trees lining the entrance and locals shooting hoops on the estate’s basketball court, the Choi Hung Estate could pass as 1970s California – and there’s always the 1977 Instagram filter to play up that effect.

4. Snap something fishy

Mong Kok is home to a number of markets selling everything from phone cases to lingerie, but keen photographers should zoom in on Tung Choi Street’s Goldfish Market where dozens of fish are separated into plastic bags and displayed for prospective pet owners to examine. It is considered good luck to bring fish into the home in China and while the humble goldfish does make an appearance here, expect to snap a wide array of colourful and exotic species.

5. The cocktail snap

What you want from a rooftop photo is an unobstructed view of the skyline, but not all of Hong Kong’s rooftop bars were created equal. While most tourists will flock to Central or Tsim Sha Tsui for a high-rise drink, Wooloomooloo (wooloo-mooloo.com) in Wan Chai offers a completely different perspective on the city. The panoramic view from the terrace is just the spot to capture Victoria Harbour in an envy-inducing Instagram shot, fruity cocktail in hand.

6. The star shot

For a different perspective of the city’s skyscrapers ride the Star Ferry. If you’re quick enough to grab a window seat, Hong Kong’s most beloved boat offers unrivalled vistas of Victoria Harbour and an upward view of the towering architectural giants that dominate the city’s eternal skyline. It’s a sight that will make you feel small, but one that will keep your Instagram game strong.

7. That ‘I’m on top of the world’ picture

For a sweeping view of all that Hong Kong has to offer, climb the moderate 2.8km hike from Wong Tai Sin to Lion Rock in Kowloon. Though not as popular or as easy as the trek to Dragon’s Back, those that make the ascent will be rewarded with piercing views that sweep across over cloud-like clusters of skyscrapers below, out across the haze of Victoria Harbour and to the silhouetted hills beyond. The 495m-high mountain is named after the feline-shaped rock at its summit, which also happens to be the city’s most recognised natural landmark.

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 the 45-minute trip to Dujiangyan’s main station.

Pingle (平乐)

Once an important stop on the ancient Tea-Horse Road trade route between tea-rich Yunnan and Tibet and believed to be at least two thousand years old, the Pingle of today is more party town than caravan route. City-worn Chengdu residents head here in droves during warm summer days to swim or engage in a little light adventure like rafting and tubing. Outside of the sunny season, Pingle is more about sitting around chatting in its numerous teahouses or under overhanging banyan trees that line both sides of the Baimo River. There are also chances to tour local museums and take an amble through the relatively untouched countryside that begins just beyond the south edge of town, but the slow pace of local life makes it easy for a day or two to slip away almost unnoticed.

Buses leave throughout the morning from Chengdu’s Xinnanmen station for the two-hour trip to Pingle, though some will require a change in the nearby city of Qionglai.

Langzhong (阆中)

In Sichuan’s east, the old quarter of Langzhong is considered one of the four great historic towns of China. Historically renowned as the capital of Ba state from 476BC, the birthplace of feng shui, and the home of Zhangfei: revered local hero and famous general of the Three Kingdoms period (220–280AD). Though nowadays Langzhong may have lost its once-great political importance, visitors still come to explore the well-restored old town and traditional buildings. The Imperial Examination Halls are considered among the best-preserved examples in China of these testing centres, which once played a central role in populating the imperial bureaucracy that maintained the vast Chinese empire. Between the historic core, surrounding forested hillsides dotted with temples, and the old town’s many renovated historic hotels, this is a town that often takes hold of travellers for far longer than they’d initially expected.

Buses leave throughout the day from Chengdu’s Beimen bus station for the four-hour trip to Langzhong.

Liujiang (柳江)

Cut by two rivers and bordered by a third, Liujiang is surrounded by verdant green hillsides and dotted with whimsical bridges. It may be an artist’s or photographer’s dream town, but its remote location away from major cities and relative lack of historical significance compared with other old towns in Sichuan (it’s only eight centuries old, after all) have kept Liujiang off the mass tourism radar for now. But it’s still packed with charming wooden architecture, waterfront boardwalks and hiking trails that wind their way through the nearby countryside; for somewhere to get away from the fast pace of life or travel in China, Liujiang absolutely suits.

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 the delta’s southern branch, offers more reeds, more birds and several kilometres of stark white beach.

3. Explore the enchanted forest of Białowieża, Poland

The last significant swathe of primeval woodland left in Europe, Białowieża Forest straddles the border between Poland and Belarus. This emerald world of trees, grasses, mosses and lichens is also home to a 900-strong herd of European bison, re-introduced in the 1920s after the last indigenous specimens had been killed in World War I.

Certain parts of the forest are off limits to casual visitors and can only be explored with a guide. But there’s still a wealth of free-to-wander trails radiating out from the main access point, the pretty village of Białowieża itself.

 

4. Hit the trail in the Northern Velebit, Croatia

Running for some 100km along Croatia’s Adriatic coast, the Velebit massif is one of the most brutally rugged mountain chains in southern Europe. While the canyon-riven Southern Velebit (site of the Paklenica National Park) is packed with summer trippers, it’s the less-trodden Northern Velebit that offers the most exhilarating hiking.

Towering Mount Zavižan marks the start of the Premužić trail, the 57km-long holy grail of Croatian hikers. However much of the route you manage to tackle, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of both the coast and the inland karst.

5. Bog-hop in Soomaa National Park, Estonia

Nothing screams “wilderness” more than a Baltic peat bog, its squelchy surface covered with mosses, lichens, cranberry bushes and dwarf confers. One of the best places to explore them is Estonia’s Soomaa National Park, where a patchwork of grassland, bog and riverine forest hosts a lively community of elk, beavers, flying squirrels and lynx.

Boardwalk paths such as the Riisa Trail lead out into this swamp-like realm. The spring thaw brings flooding and with it the possibility of canoe trips organised by local outfits such as Sooma.

6. Raft in the Durmitor mountains, Montenegro

Mountain ranges are routinely described as wild and unspoilt – but few are genuinely as wild and unspoilt as Durmitor. This limestone massif takes up a large chunk of northern Montenegro. It offers a huge variety of stunning scenery, from moon-grey peaks to grassy plateaux and lakes of eerie beauty.

Hiking possibilities are endless, with a network of trails beneath the 2523m-high summit of Bobotov Kuk. But it’s the rafting trips along the Tara Gorge – Europe’s deepest canyon – that really earn the superlatives. Local agencies such as Summit can book you a place in a dinghy.

7. Find solitude in the Urho Kekkonen National Park, Finland

In many ways the whole of Finland is a bit of a wilderness, with pristine lakes and huge silent forests lying within easy reach of even the biggest cities. To experience the country at its most awesomely empty, head north to Lapland’s Urho Kekkonen National Park. The park is a 2250-square-kilometre expanse of bare fells, birch forests and tundra-like heath.

Settlements such as Saariselkä, on the western rim, offer access to marked trails suitable for walks of half a day or more. However it’s the longer, 2–3 day trails in the uninhabited heart of the park that will truly put your frontier spirit to the test.

8. Count sheep in the Upper Eden Valley, England

Never heard of High Cup Nick? Or the Nine Standards? That’s probably because the Lake District gets all the tourists, leaving the majestically bleak and boggy hills of the neighbouring Upper Eden Valley comparatively off radar.

Green-brown fells, stone barns, hardy sheep and horizontal rain are the area’s main visual signatures. Two of England’s best-known long-distance trails – the Coast to Coast Walk and The Pennine Way – penetrate parts of the Upper Eden, ensuring that its wind-blasted trails are well documented and easily accessible. Head for the market town of Kirkby Stephen or the heritage village of Dufton to get started.

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 their homes to visitors.

Farm-to-fork restaurants will give you a true taste of the local delicacies; Moi Moi’s speciality is pork slow-cooked in bamboo tubes and delicious veggie peanut dumplings. At The Duck Stop you can feed the ducks and buy drinks and packets of fresh pepper. The legendary Pub With Cold Beer does exactly what it says on the tin, plus there are hammocks and a river to swim in. In the true spirit of farm-to-table, they will kill and cook a chicken for a shared lunch.

3. Visit minority villages around Kon Tum

The lush central highlands are a highlight for many adventurers in Vietnam. The sleepy provincial capital, Kon Tum, with its glorious riverside setting, is particularly lovely.

Curiously overlooked by tourists, the 650 minority villages surrounding Kon Tum are wonderful, welcoming places to visit too. And you’re unlikely to see another foreigner on your travels. You can stay overnight in a communal thatched rong in the Bahner villages, within easy walking distance from the centre of town.

 

4. Take a road trip to remote Ha Giang

Home to several ethnic minority groups, including the Hmong, Dao and Giay, Vietnam’s Far North is the final frontier for intrepid travellers – and nowhere is wilder than Ha Giang. Mountain roads wind through lush green landscape and open out to incredible vistas, particularly in the rugged Dong Vang Karst Plateau Geopark.

Visitors are required to have a permit to visit the province (easily and cheaply acquired in Hanoi).

5. Cycle the Mekong Delta’s An Binh Island

To experience a slice of island life on your Vietnam adventure, head all the way south to the languid Mekong Delta. The watery rural idyll of An Binh Island is criss-crossed by narrow dirt paths perfect for exploring by bicycle. All routes are fringed with palm trees, with a backdrop of lush orchards and traditional thatched houses, many of which are open as homestays. Staying here overnight and exploring at your own pace is far more rewarding than a day tour organised from Ho Chi Minh City.

6. Drink homebrew at Hanoi’s other Bia Hoi Corner

Bia hoi can be found all over Vietnam and, in Hanoi, most visitors head straight to the tourist-laden bia hoi on Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien in the Old Quarter. Come evening time, the bars, filled with plastic stools at squatting height, are full to the brim with an international crowd sipping bottled beer.

But, to get a flavour of a real bia hoi, try further west on the corner of Bat Dang and Duong Thanh. Here, room temperature 5000VND (20¢) draught beer is served in sticky glasses to a predominantly male clientele.

7. Experience Mai Chau hospitality

Surprisingly overlooked by foreign visitors considering its proximity to Hanoi (135km southwest of the city), rural Mai Chau is a world away from Vietnam’s chaotic capital. The valley is inhabited mainly by the White Thai minority, many of whom have opened their traditional stilt houses as rustic homestays. You only need to wander the villages that fan out from Bac Ha to find somewhere to get your head down.