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Monthly Archives: January 2018

Romantic Destinations in Europe

Romance is a deeply personal expression of love. It means different things to different couples.

While some define a stroll on the local beach as romantic, others may turn to having a glamorous city break in a foreign land. With this in mind, we have selected romantic destinations in Europe – every place in our list is perfect for loved-up couples. If you are a hopeless romantic who is keen to surprise your significant other with a magical holiday, this is the list for you.

1) Santorini, Greece

Your heart will likely skip a beat when you stand before these classy white-washed buildings with blue domed roofs in Santorini, with Aegean Sea below you and the glare of the sun flickering above you. This is the place of romance for countless couples. While most people unwind at Fira, head to Oia for a lovely beach retreat. You’ll need to take over 200 steps to reach the Ammoudi bay – but expect soft sands, warm blue waters and plenty of sunshine. With one of the world’s most romantic destinations as your backdrop, you’ll feel loved, contented, and incredibly happy. Such is the magic of romance!

2) Cinque Terre, Italy

The Cinque Terre region is arguably the most charming destination in the Italian Riviera; its five colourful fishing villages boast cute terrace buildings that seemingly defy gravity, bravely clinging to the rugged cliff-faces. Head to Manarola, perhaps the oldest town in the Cinque Terre, for a photo that will make your friends envy. Don’t forget to take a stroll on The Way of Love (Via dell’Amore) with your loved one. If the perfect setting doesn’t put you in the mood, the local wine Sciacchetrà certainly will.

3) Lapland, Finland

If your utopia is riding a snowmobile into the wild and watching the aurora borealis (northern lights) dance across the night sky, then Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region, is the place for you and your loved one. Once you have enough of luminous green and blue hues flowing above you, you can retreat back to a cosy and intimate log cabin complete with sauna and crackling log fire. The outside world is a distant memory and you only have eyes for each other.

4) Fussen, Germany

At the end of the 400km (249 miles) theme-route Romantic Road (Romantische Straße), you will arrive in Füssen and be spellbound by the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle, half expecting Prince Charming to arrive on horseback at any second. If this castle looks familiar to you, that’s because Disney based the designs for its Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland, California on the Neuschwanstein. Visit the castle and create your own chapter of a fairy-tale story here amidst the magnificent Bavarian Alps.

5) Isle of Skye, Scotland

A land of Norse legend, the Isle of Skye impresses all who visit her with otherworldly scenes that appear almost straight from a Tolkien epic. The jagged mountain ranges, vast lochs and dramatic waterfalls make this unspoilt terrain a romantic destination without any glamour or pretense. Put on your hiking shoes and head to the Old Man of Storr. Go for a wild swim at the Fairy Pools. After experiencing the magic of Skye, you will realise romance has a supernatural facet too.

6) Copenhagen, Denmark

The capital of the happiest country on Earth, Copenhagen is effortlessly romantic and very ‘lagom’ (pronounced ‘lar-gohm’) which means to say it’s ‘just the right amount of everything’. Pay a visit to Cupid at the Thorvaldsen Museum. Enjoy a quiet stroll along the waterfront. Experience the city’s sophisticated café culture with a cup of hot coffee and some mouth-watering pastries. Take it all in, one step at a time, and you will soon realise the perfect dosage of romance has already synchronised with your pace.

7) Dordogne, France

The winding river, the soft-green rolling hills, medieval châteauxs, and postcard-perfect villages of the Dordogne valley have long been a favourite destination for couples who have mellow souls. Head to the charming Beynac-et-Cazenac and enjoy spectacular French food and wine in one of the straw-colour stone cottages. Buy truffle and foie gras from the market in Sarlat. Rest in a magnificent château. Or simply find a quiet spot by the Dordogne river, let the sun kiss your skin and together watch the world float by. Dordogne is as blissful as love itself.

8) Toledo, Spain

On first impression, Toledo can appear chaotic with its houses stacked closely together nonchalantly, but as you walk deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of cobbled streets, you will discover unrivalled cultural wealth in this old walled city. This is a place where Arabs, Jewish and Christians lived together for centuries. They left behind stunning monuments as well as a whimsical atmosphere which crosses time and space. Past, present and future all rolls into a singularity – this is a romantic experience you’ll never forget.

9) Prague, Czech Republic

Away from the stag strips and basement bars, the “City of a Hundred Spires” exudes an irresistible charm for romantics. Its winding cobbled streets, statue-studded Charles Bridge and magnificent buildings from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque era are primed for loved-up couples to visit, arm in arm. There is also a popular poem in Czech which starts “Late evening, on the first of May, the twilit May, the time of love…”, so on 1 May kissing your significant other under the blossoming cherry trees on Petrín Hill will guarantee your love to bloom forever.

10) Bled, Slovenia

Set in the foothills of the mighty Julian Alps, the resort town of Bled is heart-meltingly beautiful. Like a pearl resting on a glazed surface, the island that sits in the middle of the emerald-green Bled Lake is a must-see. Hire a pletna (traditional wooden boat) to the island and climb up the 99 stone steps to reach the Assumption of Mary Church and its “wishing bell”. Legend has it, listening to the church bell and ringing it yourself will make your wish come true. Next to the church is a bell tower which houses a beautifully restored pendulum clock. For an even better view of the lake, stop by the 12th century clifftop Bled Castle and enjoy a fantastic meal by the large windows. The view, the food and the service are all first-class.

Cheap Travel Destinations in Asia

Asia’s always been a prime destination for gap year students and adventurers thanks to the thriving backpacker culture and cheap lifestyle. Cities like Bangkok and Hanoi have long been recognized as places where the dollar becomes positively acrobatic in its ability to stretch its value, but it seems that nowadays, travelers can travel more and spend less with some basic informal planning. All across Asia, quality doesn’t necessarily come at a price, making it easy to really enjoy the adventure.

1. Pokhara, Nepal

As a backpacker haven, Pokhara has a huge array of budget, mid-range and premium hotel choices. The sheer amount of outdoor activities also make it possible to customize a cost-effective stay. The town’s a jumpoff for tons of treks, but there are plenty of other options before the big adventure. Paddle to the middle of Phewa Lake and drift the day away, see the sunrise from Sarangkot hilltop and check out Davi’s Fall, a stunning waterfall. Street food costs just pennies, and a nicer dinner will run you about US$4.

2. Vientiane, Laos

The Laotian capital resembles a sleepy riverside town more than the political center of a country, but that just adds to its charm. The capital is largely walkable or can be easily crossed with a cheap bike rental. Unlike the foreigner-packed Vang Vieng, the capital doesn’t have quite the tourist-inflated prices. In fact, a day of wandering, a nice meal, and a few beers down by the river should set you back barely a few dollars. Excitement is definitely not the name of the game, but since it’s so money-friendly, why would you want it to be?

3. Sapa, Vietnam

Vietnam as a whole is a haven for saving money. The country’s home to the world’s cheapest beer, hoi bia, and it practically requires more effort learning how to order it in Vietnamese than it does to pay for it. In Sapa, rent a motorbike for the day for around US$5 to do some exploring. Sapa is also an ideal location as it sits in the center of some of Vietnam’s best scenery. Take the motorbike and find Silver Waterfall, one of the many markets or nearby villages. Going in winter also cuts costs, as the entry visa is cheaper than in summertime.

4. Bagan, Myanmar

Chock-full of temples, pagodas and stupas, Bagan practically comes with a foolproof itinerary. Renting a bike to explore the temple-dotted landscape is the cheapest way to spend a day, which will offset the US$300 needed to see the sunrise in a hot air balloon over the temples. Another way to see the sights is by horse-drawn cart, which is comparatively a total steal at around US$20. Like pretty much the rest of Asia, food and drinks are dirt cheap.

5. Sihanoukville, Cambodia

For a truly cheap stay, spend the whole time on the beach and just eat street food. And while that is some people’s version of paradise, doing more won’t put much of a strain on the bank account. Many guesthouses offer boat trips to nearby islands for less than US$20, or it’s possible to rent any kind of boat from kayaks to party junks for cheap as well. Answer the call of adventure with a 4X4 excursion or learn how to windsurf without breaking the bank and relax with a strict diet of cheap beer and beautiful sunsets.

6. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand’s capital remains cheap and cheerful, but it’s the northern part of the country that really satisfies wanderlust and a tight fist. Even splashing out on a hotel doesn’t necessarily mean a busted budget. Cheap eats abound, and the night markets are also wallet-friendly. In Chiang Mai, there are a plethora of free or insanely cheap things to do, many with an tinge of adrenaline to them. Cliff jump, go zorbing, or ride an elephant for nothing or next to it, and then relax at the hot springs or with a massage at the women’s prison.

7. Sri Lanka

Yala National Park is one of the more expensive ways to spend a day in Sri Lanka, where the entrance fee, jeep rental and driver’s tip will set you back about US$30. The emphasis on natural beauty and ancient sites keep even the most restless occupied. Visit a turtle hatchery, hang out with elephants, climb Adam’s Peak and check out all eight World Heritage sites. Taking the train not only ingratiates visitors to a local way of life, but it’s also a super cheap way to travel. Hanging out of the beach is of course the cheapest way of all to laze away a vacation, and eating endless amounts of curry keeps stomachs and wallets stuffed.

8. Bohol, The Philippines

The Philippines is a country of cheap delights. Even places like Palawan and Boracay, which are no secret to hoards of tourists, remain easy to do on the cheap. Bohol is notable for it’s nature, whether man-made, like the mahogany forest, or natural, like the decidedly unnatural-looking chocolate hills. Crossing the rickety bamboo hanging bridge costs a few cents, and the Tarsier Sanctuary is an unforgettable, if short, experience.

9. Penang, Malaysia

Malaysia tends to be left behind on must-see lists, but the country is cheap and gorgeous, and the food is delicious, providing a trifecta of reasons to visit. Penang offers a dazzling mix of cultures, architecture and food so that all visitors are sure to find something to fit their budget. Must-see museums like the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion costs just US$4 for a guided tour, while climbing Penang Hill or the Temple of Supreme Bliss is free. The wide range of culinary delights, whether from street stalls, Little India or local pastry shops keep bellies and wallets happy.

10. Taipei, Taiwan

Perhaps because of its low-key reputation, Taipei does not often get recognized for the cheap paradise it is. While taxis and hotels can be more expensive that the other places on this list, it’s the food and shopping that really matter. The endless night markets provide a way to indulge in conspicuous consumption and stuff your face on the cheap. The subway fees are also incredibly reasonable, topping off around US$2. The city contains all the international comforts of home on a great price scale, perfectly mixing ease and excitement.

African music festivals

From Morocco’s north east coastline to Cape Town on the south westerly tip, Darren Loucaides spreads his gaze across Africa to find the five objectively best music festivals on the continent.

Gnaoua World Music Festival
Essaouira, Morocco
Next year, the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival marks its 20th birthday, and artists from across the African continent and Middle East will converge on Essaouira on the west coast to celebrate. Held in honour of Morocco’s Gnaoua community, which traces its roots back to sub-Saharan Africa, and boasts a unique musical traditional borne out of animist ceremonies, the festival also strives to cast light on Morocco’s mixed cultural identity, as well as promote Morocco’s African heritage. The setting alongside battlements of the ancient port town, as well as stages on the windswept beach, is the icing on the cake.

29 June – 2 July 2017, www.festival-gnaoua.net

Harare International Festival of the Arts
Harare, Zimbabwe
Founded in 1999, this music and arts festival is a sprawling six-day event that aims to showcase the very best that Zimbabwe’s creatives have to offer. Apart from music concerts and dance performances, there’s street theatre, circus, spoken word and visual arts to marvel at. There are also various workshops for visitors to learn and participate in. The founders of HIFA are proud of the positive impact they have on the local community, which is one of the main goals of the festival. HIFA didn’t take place in 2016, but is back next year.

25-30 April 2017, www.hifa.co.zw

Abene Festivalo
Abene, Senegal
Going into its 23rd year, Abene Festivalo is fast becoming Senegal’s most important traditional music festival. The idea is for each of Senegal’s many ethnic groups, including Wolof, Serer, Diola and Mandinka, to demonstrate their music and dance. “It’s a celebration of our Senegalese African culture and traditions,” says Abene Festivalo’s director, Seyni Souane. “Young people today are so influenced by western culture, they forget their roots. At least with this festival, one week a year is dedicated to their traditional culture. Identity is important – you have to know where you come from to go forwards.” The festival lines up a mixed programme of established and emerging artists from across the country, and sometimes beyond. Each year there’s a different theme, with past instalments bearing the tags ‘migration’ and ‘environment’.

26 December 2016 – 2 January 2017, www.abenevillage.wix.com/abene

Lake of Stars
Mangoochi, Malawi
Inspired by WOMAD festival, Lake of Stars is perhaps best known for its setting. Taking place on the stunning Lake Malawi, the natural palm-fringed location ever threatens to steal the limelight. Despite this, the calibre of the artists has never failed to match up. Hailing from the UK, Will Jameson set up the festival in 2004 as a way of promoting Malawi’s rich music, as well as encourage international tourism. Apart from local acts, international artists including Groove Armada, Basement Jaxx, Beverley Night and others have graced the Lake of Stars stage, and the festival has grown to become one of the most important in Africa.

2017 dates TBC, www.lakeofstars.org

Cape Town International Jazz Festival
Cape Town, South Africa
The biggest annual music event in the sub-Sahara, Cape Town International Jazz Festival is also one of the largest of its kind anywhere. Jazz stars from across the planet swoop on the southernmost tip of Africa for the event, though the organisers aim for a fifty-fifty split with local South African artists. There are more than 40 acts performing over the two nights.

31 March – 1 April 2017, www.capetownjazzfest.com

Special mention: Festival au Desert
For many years, African music lovers descended on Timbuktu for the holy grail of music events. In recent years Festival au Desert has sadly been displaced by the conflict engulfing the country; that Mali, so proud of its musical heritage, should be partly subjected to a regime that outlaws music, has only compounded the tragedy. Ever resilient, the founders have set up Festival au Desert in Exile in neighbouring countries. See www.festival-au-desert.org for more, and check out new documentary Mali Blues, which explores the country’s rich musical heritage and current crisis.

Destination in New York City

New York City can only truly be understood through its five historic boroughs, as each distinct area has a character and charm all its own. Central to them all is Manhattan, the island city with a population of more than 1.5 million. On weekdays, Manhattan sees an influx of workers and tourists that more than doubles that number to nearly 4 million people – that’s over 170,000 per square mile.

When you can get a millimetre of pavement to yourself, treading New York’s sidewalks is an endlessly fascinating exercise. One minute you’re in a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the next you’re Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, or walking down Jones Street feeling like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan darting for Greenwich Village.

Built by migrants, New York has always been a meeting place for world cultures, a port city welcoming arrivals to the shining beacon of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a place where you can still experience the frenetic buzz of Chinatown, a wealth of black culture in Harlem and the aromatic flavours of Little Italy along Mulberry Street, all in the one afternoon.

Bewildered and wondering where to start? Our New York Travel Guide is the perfect companion for a trip to the city that famously never sleeps.

When it comes to travelling to New York City, it might be one of the best connected metropolises in the world, served by not one but three international airports: JFK, La Guardia and Newark Liberty. Getting around New York is a breeze too, with help from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and its well-connected system of buses, trains, bridges, tunnels and 24-hour subway service which, all together, claim more than 11 million passenger journeys on an average weekday. Otherwise an iconic yellow taxi can whisk you downtown in a sea of horns and flashing lights – elbows out if you want to catch a ride at rush hour though.

A hotbed of bohemianism that gave birth to the American folk music revival and built the legendary Café Society, New York City has been inspiration for everyone from The Sugarhill Gang to The Ramones, Paul Simon to Gloria Gaynor. New York’s legendary nightlife has recently ballooned beyond its old epicentres in Soho, East Village and Manhattan’s Meatpacking District to trendy Brooklyn neighbourhoods Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The Bowery Ballroom is still the city’s most buzzworthy music venue, an art deco house of worship that delivers the faithful a stream of the latest artists emerging from the worlds of indie and alternative music. Pre-booking tickets is recommended.

New York City has contributed more than its fair share of dishes to our menus over the years – it even lays claim to being birthplace of eggs benedict, the humble hamburger and of course its eponymous classic, the New York cheesecake. For a traditional taste of Big Apple cuisine, try the hand-rolled bagels at Absolute Bagels (2788 Broadway), the homegrown hamburger phenomenon Shake Shack (Madison Ave) and the legendary deep pies at Bleecker Street Pizza (7th Ave South). If you still have an appetite after all of that, see our New York restaurant guide.

New York is the city that never sleeps but you’ll be out like a light when you check in to one of the city’s many exemplary hotels. Legendary names, like the Waldorf Astoria and Roosevelt Hotel, abound in Manhattan but a growing number of boutique establishments, aparthotels and homestay options have signalled a revolution in New York accomodation.

Part-owned by famous Manhattanite Robert de Niro, The Greenwich Hotel in the Tribeca neighbourhood is one the newer additions to the Lower West Side and offers a rich combination of exotic style and decadence. Just avoid the toxicity of Trump Towers and check out our top New York hotel recommendations for an unforgettable stay in the city.

Place Most Visited Caribbean Islands

The choice destination for daydreamers everywhere, the Caribbean easily surpasses even the most fantastic images that spring to mind. Grab a pina colada and get ready to leave the slush behind because it’s time to check out the top 10 most visited Caribbean islands. A few more sips, and yes, there’s the warm breeze and the azure waves lazily lapping at your feet while you feast on mango and fried yucca.

1. Dominican Republic with 4,306,000 visitors

The beauty and the sense of being a part of a buzzing, pulsing atmosphere makes the Dominican Republic a fine choice for a holiday. The scenery just doesn’t stop, from beaches and waterfalls to deserts and mountains packed into its half of the island of Hispaniola. Santo Domingo, the Caribbean’s largest city, bounces along to a blasting merengue soundtrack, stealing the title of the city that never sleeps. And the near guarantee of new friends and a push to eat more all signify the makings of a perfect getaway that requires a sequel.

2. Puerto Rico with 3,048,000 visitors

Although small, Puerto Rico requires at least a week’s stay to truly experience the wide range of activities and day trips available. The flawless island features world-class beaches, stick-to-your-ribs food and the El Yunque rainforest. Added to the charming colonial architecture and electric hum of life, Puerto Rico is one place that fits the bill for all types. The rum tastings certainly don’t hurt the island’s image, either.

3. Cuba with 2,688,000 visitors

Although restricted for U.S. citizens, Cuba sees a steady stream of worldwide visitors every year, including a growing number of American visitors arriving from Canada or Mexico. The Antilles’ biggest island lack of economic powerhouse pales in comparison to its incredible rich heritage, food, and history. The faded architecture looks more shabby chic than run-down, and the preservation of iconic sites and traditions presents visitors with a deep look into Cuban history and pride. And the country’s popular medical tourism proves that Cuba has plenty of modern offerings. Of course, it should go without saying that the lush countryside, bays and inlets are just as vivid as the houses, music and people in the cities.

4. Jamaica with 1,952,000 visitors

Jamaica’s probably the best known out of all the Caribbean offerings thanks to Bob Marley, reggae and Rastafarianism. Swirled together with jerk seasoning, Jamaica presents a rich mix of culture and history unlike the rest of the Caribbean. The island is also the poster child of elopers and newlyweds everywhere, with its romantic all-inclusive resorts and dreamy landscapes. Outside the resorts, visitors can find breathtaking waterfalls and trails as well as the Caribbean’s dependable crystalline waters and the chance to swim with dolphins.

5. The Bahamas with 1,346,000 visitors

Consisting of 700 islands, of which just 23 are inhabited, it seems the possibilities are endless in The Bahamas. From Christopher Columbus to the pirate Blackbeard, the chain of islands has seen its fair share of history’s noted adventurers, but these days the visitors tend to be of a calmer ilk. Honeymooners, adventure seekers and families can soak up a wide range of activities, including the endless beaches and pampering in the many resorts. Get moving with all sorts of water sports or a dive for some sunken treasure. For even more traveling, check out the unique sights and history of the various islands.

6. Aruba with 870,000 visitors

Just off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is outside the the main hurricane avenue and has a dry, sunny climate, making it the ideal for a Caribbean getaway. The island has it all, from Arikok National Park, which covers almost 20% of the island, to world-class wreck diving and surfing to an all-night nightlife. Whether chilling out on Eagle Beach or horseback riding through the countryside, Aruba’s motto of “One Happy Island” immediately rings true.

7. Barbados with 568,000 visitors

As if the beaches and slow pace of life wasn’t enough, Barbados is also the birthplace of rum, and no visit is complete without a night of too many rum punches. Enjoy the signature drink while watching the horse races, at a fish fry, at the club or at any point of the the 70 miles of beaches. Honeymooners and travelers can snorkel or swim in the reefs on the south side of the island or surf on the choppy waves on the eastern edge, which is considered one of the best surfing spots in the world.

8. U.S. Virgin Islands with 536,000 visitors

Water Island, St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas comprise the U.S. Virgin Islands, each with their own unique, must-see qualities. Over half of St. John’s 12,500 acres are national park, and each beach comes standard with clear waters, pristine sand and unspoiled views. For a historical take, walk the Heritage Trail on St. Croix and then visit the protected sea turtles at Sandy Point. Splash around in shallow Magens Bay and walk through the capital on St. Thomas. And if that isn’t enough, truly get away from it all on Water Island, where there’s no cars and nary a store, and barely 200 inhabitants.

9. Sint Maarten with 424,000 visitors

Sint Maarten is a mix-and-match of various cultures, cuisines and things to do. The Dutch constituent country shares the tiny island with the French collectivity of Saint-Martin. Visitors can feast on cuisine that mixes Dutch, French and native elements, test their luck at the casinos, spend the winnings at the duty-free shops, party until dawn, and then finally, take in the natural beauty. Adrenaline junkies can parachute over the island, explore the central mountain range and partake in any number of water sports. Sint Maarten is also ground zero for yachting, echoing the over-the-top indulgence of the whole island.

10. Turks and Caicos Islands with 354,000 visitors

Turks and Caicos is the ideal Caribbean destination, with around 230 miles of white sand beaches lining the 40-island archipelago. Avid divers and snorkelers can enjoy pristine reefs, thanks to the protected status and lack of industry. Additionally, visitors can fish, bird watch and explore caves and shipwrecks. Or just unwind and indulge at the upscale resorts that often play host to vacationing celebrities.