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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Easy To Get To From The UK Destinations

1. Lanzarote, The Canaries

The island of Lanzarote is part of a clutch of islands called The Canaries – that make up the Spanish archipelago and is ideal for beach lovers. Peurto Del Carmen is notorious for its heady nightlife, and those that prefer a bit more quiet and elegance should head for the beautiful beaches at Famara and Papagayo.

Putting aside the beaches, the volcanic island of Lanzarote puts on quite a show away from the coastline too.

The stretches of black volcanic rock landscape is trimmed by a chain of multi-hued mountains only broken by the green of the odd cactus plant that has managed to flourish.

The dark shades of the landscape offer a sensational contrast with the low-rise white-washed towns that have sprouted up along the coastline. There is the odd dash of colour courtesy of painted window panes usually, green or brown but overall the island has been protected by the kind of tourism that demands high rise architecture.

This is thanks to the initiative taken by celebrated artist and designer Cesar Manrique who insisted on maintaining the island’s natural beauty. Often his architecture works with it and he created some amazing homes by integrating them into the rock face of a volcano. Famously, Hollywood actor Omar Sherif had one built for him in Nazaret which he lost to the developer during a game of bridge.

2. Tenerife, The Canaries

Tenerife, the largest of the seven Canary Islands, has a year-round spring-like climate and an impressive mountainous landscape that makes for an ideal getaway especially if you like to ramble. But the island has a surprising secret.

Best known for its debauched night life, it’s worth raising an eyebrow at what naturalist Alexander von Humboldt said when he climbed Mount Teide, the largest peak in Spain: “I have never beheld a prospect more varied, more attractive, more harmonious in the distribution of the masses of verdure and rocks, than the western coast of Tenerife.” Teide National Park has been named a Starlight Tourist Destination, which means low pollution and a pristine night-sky superb for star-gazing.

3. Paphos (Pafos), Cyprus

This ancient harbour is a town of two halves. Here’s why: its lower part, Kato Pafos, has neon lights, bars and heady clubs and its upper part Ktima, is calmer, where locals live and work.

Yet Pafos is where you will find the island’s most fascinating archaeological sites and is famed for being the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love at Petra tou Romiou. The town’s forest has probably the most spectacular scenery on the island and the Pafos Mosaics, a compelling meze of intricate and colourful mosaics, is a pleasure. It tells of all sorts of hedonistic stories including the famous tale of Narcissus.

The main attraction is the Tomb of the King’s, a Unesco World Heritage site around two kilometers from Kato Pafos. It’s a bit of a misnomer, as these tombs do not have a single royal resident but they do look grand therefore where dubbed so.

There are several museums in Pafos, but if you only have time for one then make it the Byzantine Museum in Ktima’s main square. The oldest icon on the island, the Agia Marina, is housed here and dates back to the ninth century.

And as for the sun, it may not be exactly T-shirt wearing weather but it is most certainly an agreeable 12°C in January.

4. Bodrum, Turkey

It may have long been held in the traveller’s mind as a sleepy fishing port, but behind the pretty white-washed facade of this natural harbour there’s lots to entice the style conscious holiday-maker. And it seems it has always attracted sophisticates. Way back in the the 1st century BC, star-crossed lovers Mark Antony and Cleopatra would enjoy time here on their way to Egypt.

Several cafes huddle along the front and the promenade where tea is served in curved glass tea cups and ornate rugs add a dash of authenticity. And there are plenty of bars and restaurants to entertain as the evening draws in.

It’s most popular tourist site is inside the 15th century castle. This is where you will find the Museum of Underwater Archaeology though the display of shipwrecks is interesting enough, from its heights you get to see peaceful views over the town and the Aegean Sea.

At the foot of the castle is a wonderfully colourful bazaar. There’s plenty of traditional gear to buy, but like Donna Karan and Mick Jagger, don’t leave without a pair of typical sandals.

This is a beach destination and some of its best stretches of sand and bays within this peninsula are accessed by boat—choose between chartering a dinghy or catch gulet (a typical Turkish wooden boat) from the harbour.

5. Antalya, Turkey

Around 2,000 years ago King Attalos II of Pergamon came across a glorious ribbon of coast that trimmed the deep blue sea where the waters met with spectacular cliffs. The backdrop was the Taurus Mountains. This was the Turquoise coast and this is where ie founded Antalya, the largest Turkish city in the Western Mediterranean coast. He thought he had found “heaven on earth”.

The natural scenery hasn’t changed much and over the years Greek, Roman and Byzantine antiquities were left here and there to be stumbled upon by today’s holiday-maker.

It’s old centre, Kaleici, is where most people stay. It sits just above the marina on an the site of an old Roman port. Mainly car-free it has a swathe of old Ottoman houses and quaint souvenir shops within a maze of narrow cobbled streets and for some light-touch touring, there’s a pleasant tram ride that runs along the sea front to the beach at Konyalti.

Exotic Winter Sun Breaks From The UK

1. South Africa: Johannesburg and Cape Town

The passing of the late Nelson Mandela has put the world’s focus on one of South Africa’s major cities – Johannesburg. Also known as Jo’burg or Jozi, the big city vibe is discernible. Life is fast-paced and buzzes with cafes, theatres and a burgeoning art scene especially in the cultural districts of Newtown and Braamfontein. Indeed what was once a no-go zone is now a sought destination by tourists who enjoy its a stunning skyscape.

Since South Africa has hosted the world cup in 2010 the city and the nearby township of Soweto, Mandela’s birthplace have been regenerated. This is where the Apartheid Museum and the Old Fort Prison complex that held Mahatma Gandhi and Mandela captive can be seen.

From here, it’s just a short domestic flight to South Africa’s mother city, Cape Town – possibly the most beautiful in the land. To see it all take a trip to the top of Table Mountain – named so because a flat layer of cloud unfurls over its top) and from their choose your favourite beach. An hour’s drive away is the winelands grown out of fertile valleys and producing the famous wines of Stellenbosch.

2. Dubai

It was once a fishing village, but today Dubai artfully crafts its world-wide reputation as playground in the sun. With so many shopping centres and high rise hotels it may be easy to forget that this is the Middle East.

This means you won’t see any debouched night clubs, Las Vegas style shows or casinos (gambling is illegal even though Dubai famously hosts the world’s must lucrative race horse). But you will see sensational architecture. One example is the seven-star hotel, Burj El Arab that overlooks reclaimed land that has been fashioned into sensational palm tree shapes. The Beckhams reportedly have a home here.

In August 2016 the city became home to the largest theme park in the world. They are expecting over four million visitors over the year. Every day it can host up to 30,000 adventures and offer several zones over 1.5 million square feet: Lost Valley – Dinosaur Adventure, Cartoon Network, Marvel, and IMG Boulevard. Incidentally, the haunted house is said to be so frightening that children under 15 years old are not alllowed in.

The brilliant skylines shows off modern and Moorish architecture, modern shopping malls galore – one with its own ski resort – and away from all this there is still the souq where you can haggle for something oriental. Weather here is extremely hot and the best time to visit is from November to March.

3. Delhi

India, a country of a billion people, is not for the faint-hearted but Delhi, home to 25 million, is a good place to ease you into what is a uniquely shocking culture, of in-your-face friendliness and tenacious touting. In the centre, in New Delhi, there are monuments that speak of the Day of the Raj such as The Parliament house a circular colonnaded building that houses ministerial offices and India Gate an Arc-de-Triomphe look-alike memorial to British soldiers designed by Edwin Lytyens. Elsewhere, in Old Delhi are narrow lanes and sensational mosques that reflect Islamic India.

Some shoppers may find the noisy, chaotic bazaars exciting places to shop and haggle yet elsewhere there are mega malls. It is impossible to ignore the Red Fort, a sandstone fortress surrounded by an 18ft wall which founded Shah Jahan in 1648.

From here it’s just a train journey to Agra to see the great Taj Mahal.

4. Sydney

It’s about fun in the sun right now down under and affluent Sydney as a good place as any to be. It is on Australia’s south-east coast on the Tasman sea with a well-recognised shimmering harbour and an iconic opera house. And that’s without considering made-for-surfing beaches such as Bondi and Manly, the lively night life, shopping and myriad of festivals and galleries.

The city is built on hills around Sydney harbour and further in is the metropolitan area dotted with several national parks as well as the Royal Botanic Gardens. Life is outdoors and sporty and you could be tempted to jog, surf or cycle with the locals as they go about their daily routines.

5. Barbados

When it comes to going on winter holiday we could do worse than follow Sir Cliff Richard’s lead to Barbados because for winter sun, this tiny island is a classic. The hurricane season ends in November after which the island is showered in sunshine for 10 whole hours a day.

The island certainly has everything you would expect of a tropical paradise – coconut trees, humming birds, a rain forest, blue coral-reefed seas and miles of sandy beaches.

Bridgetown, the capital, is also the bustling commercial centre of the Island. Everywhere there are signs of the country’s heritage as a former British colony and also its passion for Cricket – Barbados’ national sport.

6. Cancun

This remote corner of Yucatan has quite the party reputation. Between the Caribbean sea and the lagoon are many all-inclusive hotels shimmering along the 15-mile strip of Zona Hotelera. It is the place to enjoy tacos while soaking up the rays and perhaps later moving to the salsa rythms. But when you are all partyied out, it’s easy to make your way down to visit the fascinating Mayan world of Chichén Itzá for the day.

Trekking in Fann Mountains Northwestern Tajikistan

There is a place where the mountains stretch up to touch the sky, turquoise lakes shimmer like jewels against a dusty backdrop, and — so they say — Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander the Great, rises from the deep, dark waters on a full moon night, and grazes on the shore. History and legend here are intimately entwined, but one thing is for certain: the views alone will take your breath away in Tajikistan.

Where is Tajikistan?

Tajikistan is one of those funny places we know exists, but few people could actually place on the map. Nestled between China, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan it’s a small, mountainous state which was historically of great significance — Alexander the Great built cities here, it was central to the Silk Road, and the Great Game was played out along its rivers and passes — but in recent years it has fallen, undeservedly, into obscurity.

It’s all about the trekking

Thankfully, a new generation of trekkers, climbers, and other adventure seekers have decided it’s time for all that to change, and the Fann Mountains in northwestern Tajikistan look set to become one of the wildest and most exciting travel destinations of 2017.

Pioneering the development of trekking and tourism in Tajikistan is Luca Lässer, owner of Kalpak Travel, who fell in love with the ‘Stans whilst completing an exchange programme at the American University of Central Asia. He describes the Fann Mountains as “a magical destination [which] will quite literally take your breath away,” and as the peaks here soar to well over 5,000m, that’s no exaggeration!

The roads, often unmade, could do little more than cling to the mountainsides, rivers rushing hundreds of feet below, and a sheer face of rock above. Often I couldn’t see the sky: that required getting out of the vehicle and craning my neck back, staring straight up. The natural barrier created by the mountains was so high.

Amazing landscape

From the main road, we crossed a rickety metal bridge, rusted and barely holding together, and climbed and climbed, one hairpin bend after another. Clouds of dust blew up from the track, and on the barren slopes around us, there was little to see but scree.

But then we passed over a hump, and another bend, and laid out below us was a turquoise lake, the surface of the water glittering in the sunlight.  Around the lake, the vegetation was lush and jade green, a veritable oasis which until now had been completely hidden from view.

This lake was Iskanderkul, named for Alexander the Great. It is said that he came here whilst on campaign, and when his favourite horse, Bucephalus, died, he was buried in the lake. The shepherds will tell you that on a moonlit the ghost of this horse rises again, but though we watched intently from our campsite on the shore, we didn’t catch a glimpse of Bucephalus.

The people

Though the landscapes in the Fann often seem empty, in fact that’s far from the truth. People have lived here for millennia, and some of them have preserved their languages and cultures since ancient times. Their villages sit by the riverside, and in summer the shepherds drive their flocks to high meadows over mountain passes. And so my second fond memory is of the people, and in particular a family in Aini who took me in for the night. The concrete wall around their plot encompassed not only the family home, but also a beautifully tended garden. The grandmother of the house sat with me beneath the apricot tree, telling stories I’ll never understand. But in the warmth of the sunshine, relaxed in the company of new friends, there was no better place in the world to while away an afternoon.

Access

Unlike the Alps or the Pyrenees, the Fann Mountains are hardly easily accessible, but their remoteness is part of their charms. You won’t find yourself following another trekking party up the pass, or competing for space at the best camping spots. The attraction of this wilderness is exactly that — it’s still wild. And the thrilling thing is that it’s waiting to be explored.

Practical Information

Kalpak Travel has 13-day trekking tours to the Fann Mountains, with scheduled departures in July and August. The tour costs €1,690 and this includes ground transportation, accommodation, meals, camping equipment, and services of an English speaking guide.

There are no direct flights from the UK to Tajikistan, but there are reasonable connections from London to Dushanbe (the capital) with Turkish Airlines, Air Baltic, and Air Astana. You will need to apply for an e-visa before you travel, and this currently costs $50. No additional permits are required to visit the Fann Mountains.

Visit in Mallorca Spain

Some say Mallorca is a beacon of calm, sophistication, beauty and A-List celebrity. It is also an Island of great wealth with its 870,000-strong population enjoying the highest per capita level of disposable income in Spain.

Some believe only what they read in the papers – tales of union jack shorts, binge drinking and abandonment of inhibitions – this classy portrayal may come as some surprise.

Mallorca is in fact breathtakingly stunning. From deserted white sand beaches to craggy pine-clad mountain ranges, the exquisite architecture of historic buildings to flower-filled fields heavy with citrus trees, Mallorca offers every kind of beauty for everyone.

The trick is to get behind the wheel of a car (or indeed the helm of a motoryacht or charter a day out on a small yacht), explore and discover your personal piece of Island paradise.

Serra de Tramuntana

For me, the best place to start is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Serra de Tramuntana, the western backbone of the Island that offers steep mountain scenery set against a Mediterranean backdrop.

Cala Deià

My favourite beach, Cala Deià, can be found here, one of the most bewitching inlets on Mallorca’s entire coastline with the clientele to match.

The littoral outlet for well-heeled Deià, a village that has been home to Mick Jagger, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Branson and poet Robert Graves who is buried there, Cala Deià may be small (200m wide), far from sandybeaches but the water is crystal clear, the rocky outcrops imposing and the atmosphere convivial.

Either lunch at one of the delightfully primitive beach restaurants or, as I prefer, pack a hamper with a chic-nic of smoked salmon, cheeses, baguettes, leafy salad, strawberries, linen napkins, champagne flutes and iced cava and become the envy of the west.

Fornalutx Village

The Serra de Tramuntana also hides my favourite Mallorcan village, Fornalutx. Twice elected Spain’s most beautiful, Fornalutx is surrounded by fragrant orange and lemon groves set against an imposing mountain backdrop.

The miniature main square is fringed with immaculately presented pavement cafes who’ll reward you with a cool beverage after you’ve tired your legs mounting the never-ending steps to nosy at the patios and flower-decked balconies of the lovingly preserved stone Mallorcan houses.

Son Marroig and Monestir de Maramar

As you drive back down south, take the coastal road and nip into Son Marroig and Monestir de Miramar on the way. Both former residences of the Habsburg Archduke Ludwig Salvador (who fell head over heels with Mallorca) and both open to the public for a few euros entry, it’s undoubtedly the views that will captivate you more than the houses for they are the stuff of dreams – particularly from the neoclassical marble temple at Son Marroig which is now a popular venue for post-card perfect weddings and acoustic concerts.

Palma

From village to city, capital Palma is Mallorca’s only real city and deserves your full attention for at least a day. It shares many characteristics with big sister Barça – a Gothic Cathedral that has received the Gaudi touch, refurbished old buildings, mazy shopping streets, gardens with splashing fountains, art museums and an impressive city beach.

The best vantage point for looking down over Palma’s rooftops, endless marina front and visiting cruise ships is the Castell de Bellver. In a wooded hilltop just west of the City, this 14th century fortress is immaculately conserved and built in a canny circular design with a central keep. Climb up to the rooftop for the most attractive and peaceful views and go on a Sunday – it’s free.

The wine route

Whatever your penchant; following the wine route of the Island’s 60 plus bodegas, scaling the countryside to a hilltop monastery or swinging a club on one of Mallorca’s 22 immaculate golf courses, all of Mallorca is within easy reach.

Puerto Pollença

A drive from Palma in the south to Puerto Pollença in the north takes just 50 minutes on smooth motorway and to reach the beach resort of Cala Millor on the Island’s east coast is just one hour 15 minutes from the capital. Nothing requires great logistical planning.