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Monthly Archives: March 2018

Things to see and do in San Sebastián

1) Tackle a favourite trek…

Along with food and wine, the outdoors plays a huge role in Basque life. Misty peaks dotted with weathered farmsteads surround the city, and it’s a common sight to see locals packing up their cars to spend a weekend scaling a summit.

Those with a proclivity for plodding should amble to the top of Monte Urgull (123m/404ft), where a 12m-high (39ft) sculpture of Jesus Christ overlooks the city. Experienced ramblers should head to the iconic crucifix-strewn summit of Hernio (1,075m/3,527ft), a more challenging peak and a popular pilgrimage point in September.

2) Pinch a pintxos or three…

The perfect symbol of the sociable and indulgent nature of the Basque people, pintxos (a bite-sized snack consumed during drinking sessions) has become synonymous with easy-going San Sebastián.

As the sun begins to dip behind Monte Igueldo, the tiny taverns that line the snaking alleyways of the city’s old quarter fill their bars with miniature portions of fish and meats, often spread on small slabs of crusty bread. Jolly locals wander in for a beer and a bite then wobble off to find their next haunt. Fish lovers will adore the anchovies at Bar Txepetxa (Calle de la Pescadería 5), while sweet-toothed punters should sample La Viña’s (Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto 3) famous baked cheesecake.

3) Sample the Spanish surf scene…

While the swells don’t measure up to those that pound the shores of cross-boarder cousin Biarritz, San Sebastián has a healthy and flourishing surf scene spanning across its two crescent-shaped shores.

The beauteous La Concha Beach (named after its iconic shell-like shape) is the ideal setting for complete novices, with gentle swells favoured by the city’s paddle-boarding crowd.

Across the Urumea River, the Sagüés district is the crest of the city’s main surf scene, with bars and cafés around Zurriola Beach continuously crammed with olive-skinned locals with surfboard in tow. Here, lessons are offered to visitors by numerous schools, including Pukas Surf Eskola, the longest running surf school in Spain.

4) Get lost in a dream world…

One of the standout events of San Sebastián’s chocked 2016 schedule will be the immersive open-air performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, the play will run for four weeks from the 21 June.

The city’s atmospheric Cristina Enea Park provides a fitting stand-in for the play’s fairy woodland setting, where audiences chase the action through the trunks of ginkgo and redwood trees as peacocks prowl nearby. The play will incorporate a banquet and be performed in modern English, Spanish and Basque.

5) Catch a game of Basque pelota…

Capturing the imagination of great minds, including Paul Newman and Ernest Hemingway, Basque pelota is perhaps the most famous and visually spectacular of the traditional Basque sports.

The game has many varieties but loosely resembles an old-fashioned form of squash. Initially played on the exterior walls of churches, you’re likely to find a simple version of hand pelota (where the hand is used to hit the ball) being played on makeshift frontons (courts) throughout San Sebastián.

For a real spectacle, head to the Galarreta Fronton in Hernani, where the pros bestowed with xisteras (gloves that extend into a long pointed curved basket) do battle in front of bellowing sell-out crowds.

6) Scout out some new street art…

Specially commissioned for this year’s festivities, the city and its surrounds have benefited from a lick of paint courtesy of acclaimed local and foreign street artists.

The Walls That Talk project sees artists teaming up with local communities to create large murals that depict images of coexistence painted on large walls, traditionally a symbol of division and separation. Don’t miss Harsha’s Fisher of Dreams in Roman Irigoyen Park or Hormachic’s comment on immigration in the neighbouring town of Errenteria.

7) Experience a proper Basque booze up…

If you envisaged a night out in the rural regions of the Basque country as a civil affair comparing notes on the acidity of wine, then a night in a sagardotegis (traditional cider house) may shock you.

In a centuries-old tradition, from January until late April (the cider season), locals gather at large, barn-like structures to sit round communal tables and indulge on a feast of steak and cod.

When the txotx is called, everyone scrambles towards one of the hefty wooden cider barrels and attempt to fill their glasses from the spurting jet of cloudy liquid. A piss up with cultural integrity? Cheers to that.

8) Give the galleries a go…

From seascape oil paintings to looped videos of girls repeatedly falling over, thought-provoking artistry abounds in San Sebastián.

The beautiful San Telmo Museoa (Plaza Zuloaga 1) is the first port of call for aesthetes, which is hosting a special Basque art constellation to coincide with the Capital of Culture celebrations.

The museum itself is an old Dominican convent from the mid-16th century, with grand chambers and arresting wall murals. Other worthy art galleries in the city include the modern Arteko Galeria (Calle de Iparraguirre 4) and Enelestudio art gallery (Zaragoza Plaza 3), which also houses a functioning studio.

9) Roam around an abandoned graveyard…

Weathered, overgrown and forgotten, the English Cemetery doesn’t attract the click of many camera phones. However, hidden away around the shaded side of Monte Urgull public park, its eerie, empty grounds strike a beguiling note.

Plucked flowers decay beside unmarked graves and statues of gallant English soldiers, who lost their lives here fighting for the Spanish liberal cause in the 1930s, stand headless, victims of vandals. The centrepiece, a large crumbling vigil topped by an eagle, has been splattered with paint, which drips over the English inscription. It’s a sombre spectacle, especially for those with a penchant for local history.

10) Chill out…

San Sebastián is a town that pulsates with activity. Endless streams of joggers jostle along the seafront, while their aquatic counterparts thread through the silky blue swells come rain or shine.

But after all this activity comes the down time. When the afternoon sun is out, the city seemingly empties towards the seafront, where locals loll on benches listening to musicians piping away on clarinets for spare cents.

Grab a copy of Don Quixote from one of the city’s second-hand bookshops and pitch up with the crowds chilling at the harbour edge near Lasta Plaza – there’s no better way to absorb the ambience of the city.

Tips how toTravel Solo

Tips 1: ditch the well-made plans

Wasn’t it Woody Allen who first said if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans? Travelling solo is one of the few times in life when you can throw all your plans out the window if you want, or just not make any at all. Unlike going on holiday with friends or – worse still – the family, you don’t need to compromise. Forget lengthy discussions over financial planning, the challenges of badly rehashed route maps and squabbles over who gets the bottom bunk; travelling solo is all about you.

If you’re a people-pleaser to a fault or have a tendency towards OCD then this is the way to go, free from all the obligations and stresses an infuriatingly disorganised friend or selfie-stick addict brings.

Tips 2: don’t ditch the friends

Travelling solo doesn’t mean going it wholly alone, though. While the appeal of disconnecting with everything and everyone back at home might be strong, try to keep in touch with family and friends as you go. Sharing over Skype and investing in international call-time credit can really help gain perspective on your adventures and also keeps a much-needed link to life back home. Pre-download the essential apps like Skype, FaceTime, Viber and WhatsApp and you won’t have a hefty phone bill at the end, either.

Tips 3: make new friends

Far easier said than done, especially in an age where the soft glow of a smartphone screen uplights every sorry drinker, sat lonely at their bar stool with thoughts of their next whiskey on the rocks. This is where an old school charm offensive comes in good use. Hostels, hotel bars, and clubs are still the best place to start – places where like-minded solo travellers can stop, unwind and quench a thirst.

If you don’t fancy your chances mixing ice-breakers with weary old-time travellers why not up your odds? Almost every major city around the world hosts a sightseeing tour of some kind, and you might not be surprised to find out that we recommend a late night guided bar crawl. Another sure-fire way to feel at home in any city is to experience its karaoke culture, even if you find yourself joining in with a particularly bad rendition of ‘All By Myself’.

Tips 4: make friends ‘appen

Ignore the traditional stranger-tapping methods and just make sure you have some juice in your phone. Travelling in the 21st century is all about digital connections. Backpackr ( and Travel Buddies ( are the leading apps for making travel companions in this brave new world, while Tinder ( is branching out too, giving users a chance to swipe right on their next travel adventure and find a new pal with more than just a night in with Netflix on their mind.

Tips 5: you don’t have to talk to strangers

Travelling solo doesn’t necessarily mean coming home with a phone full of names and numbers you’ll never hear from again, either. For many, solo travel is all about escaping the idle chitchat and inanity of the everyday and substituting it with the clarity of me, myself and I. The trend for self-reflective tourism – whether in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment or not – is booming, with monasteries reporting a surge in enquiries for retreats completed in near silence (with exception of the daily chanting, of course).

A stay at the Insight Meditation Society ( in Massachusetts, for example, starts with 5.30am wake up call, is inclusive of daily chores and meals, and allows guests the use of 240 wooded acres of land, perfect for a meditative stroll on your super-silent Sunday afternoon. No whistling allowed.

Tips 6: write a blog

It was Socrates who once said the unexamined life was not worth living, now it seems the undocumented life is just as worthless. Clichéd though it may be, writing a travel diary really can help put everything in perspective and gives you a way to share your holiday experiences – even if no one is reading them.

Some of the best travel blogs are the ones kept to oneself; honest and unedited, they make great bedtime reading back at home and can give your travels a whole second life. The most popular blogging platforms?

Destinations in South America

While natural and man-made draws like Iguazu Falls and Machu Picchu are certainly excellent reasons to book a ticket to South America, there are plenty more off-road adventures to experience as well. From lesser-known Carnival celebrations to the world’s largest wetland, South America has plenty to offer travelers that live and trek by Robert Frost’s immortal words of taking the dirt, possibly non-existent, road less traveled.

1. Uribia, Guajira, Colombia

Held from August 16-18 every year in the northeast Caribbean state of Guajira, the Wayúu Cultural Festival showcases the tribe’s rich cultural rituals, folklore, music, food and more. The matriarchal society in has hosted the festival since 1985 and allows visitors to feast on traditional dishes like goat, check out wrestling, horse racing and stone-throwing matches, and see up close how women make their hammocks. Wayúu children also perform their traditions, including weddings, wakes and spiritual celebrations. This is the place to soak up culture with nary another foreigner in sight.

2. Chuao, Venezuela

Home to some of the world’s best cacao, Chuao overloads the senses with chocolatey smooth finesse. The town is best accessed by boat, as it sits between a mountain and the Caribbean. From the boat it’s an hour’s walk into town, where piles of cacao beans dry in the sun in the main square, and the scent of the finished product wafts from storefronts. The town itself has been widely known for its premium chocolate for centuries, but it still retains a sleepy small-town feel. After playing on the empty beaches, visitors can work off all that sweet tooth indulgence with a two-hour hike in Henri Pittier National Park to the El Chorreron waterfalls.

3. Panantal Wetlands, Brazil

Split between Paraguay, Bolivia and two Brazilian states, the world’s largest wetland is rich in diverse wildlife and practically untouched by visitors. The immense marsh, which is 80{366fd96cafa0f4e0a0792ec51b5ae23d0d382a45048f3472f659daa7f919dd0c} flooded in the rainy season, hosts rare jaguars, howler monkeys, anacondas and an incredible array of butterflies and birds. With no access roads and no towns, most travel by small airplane and motorboats. Burgeoning cooperation between environmental organizations and cattle ranchers is slowly bringing awareness to the need to preserve this special, absolutely out-of-the-way place.

4. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Tiny Guyana is often overlooked and vastly underrated, but the lack of infrastructure and a tourist sector puts Guyana squarely on the off the beaten path list. One of the country’s crowning jewels is Kaieteur Falls, an impressive 822-foot high cascade and highest single drop waterfall in the world, in the middle of Kaieteur National Park. Make it a truly memorable and muscle-building experience by taking a week-long trek through the Amazon up to the falls.

5. Cordillera Real, Bolivia

Stock up on coca leaves to alleviate the altitude sickness, because the Cordillera Real waits for no complaints of dizziness. Southeast of tourist favorite Lake Titicaca, the sometimes excruciating but always worth it Cordillera is a test of strength, with seven peaks measuring in at above 6,000 meters. Intrepid trekkers will need to hire a guide and bring good equipment. One of the main advantages is the ability to travel at your own pace, soaking in the oversized mountains and glaciers and occasional Quechua villages until you catch your breath, only to have it stolen away again around the next bend.

6. Montevideo, Uruguay

Carnival is synonymous with Brazil, but it’s actually Montevideo that has the world’s longest Carnival celebration. The 40-day long festivity of course includes fabulous women in headdresses and little else, and also integrates traditional Uruguayan culture. The most famous element is llamadas, the iconic drum parades. In Uruguay, drum groups dress up as magicians, old women or medicine men, and play candombe beats, keeping alive a tradition started with black slaves. The other local custom are muras, or political satires, and judges travel the country to see the performances before crowning the winning troupe at the final parade. Rio’s Carnival may be the biggest, but Montevideo’s is the longest, and since it’s lesser-known, it’s slightly easier to get in on the action.

7. Coyhaique, Chile

Coyhaique is in a bit of a no man’s land for visitors to Chile, as it’s just too north of tourist favorite Torres del Paine to make it a viable option for visitors with limited time. However, ditching those plans for a few days or a week in Coyhaique and the surrounding area is a gorgeous alternative. From the town center, bike ride to the nearby national park or rent a car to do away with the reliance on guided tours. Along the drive to Capillas de Marmol, stopping will be a frequent occurrence to photograph the stunning scenery, and it only gets better. Capillas de Marmol is a natural marble structure in a glacial lake, which has been smoothed out by the waves, and boats can navigate through the shallow caves. Get back on the road to see a dead forest rising out of a lake, typical southern Chile cemeteries and a receding glacier, all while enjoying the peace and quiet of an undiscovered place.

8. Salkantay trek and Choquequirao, Peru

Machu Picchu is deservedly one of the best places to see in South America. Getting there requires taking the train or the well-trod Inca Trail. However, there’s a less traveled alternative, especially outside the July-August high season, called the Salkantay trek. Unlike the Inca Trail, there’s no restriction on the number of people who can go on the trail or permits required. Choquequirao, or the other Machu Picchu, is currently only accessible by a 4-hour drive up mountain roads and then a 12 to 16-hour trek. This place won’t be off the beaten track for much longer though, as there’s plans to open an aerial tramway in late 2015, so the opportunity to share the heavenly views with just a few others and some condors won’t last for much longer.

9. Cerro Cora National Park, Paraguay

Landlocked and overlooked, Paraguay still remains at the tail-end of must-see South America. One of the country’s jewels is Cerro Cora National Park, which lies on the Brazilian border. Even where it’s not inaccessible, it’s still pretty much void of visitors. Slather on the mosquito repellent and bring plenty of water as it can get well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit complete with punishing humidity. After cooling down in the Rio Aquidaban, search the savannah for tortoises, monkeys and the elusive jaguar among the red sandstone mountains. The park’s also famous for its historical sites. Visitors can check out pre-Colombian petroglyphs, and the park’s also the site of the end of the Triple Alliance War. There’s a small cabin open to overnight guests behind the visitor’s center, and much like the park itself, it’s unlikely you’ll have to share it with anyone else.

10. Lanin National Park, San Martin de los Andes, Argentina

Torres del Paine National Park is, for good reason, a renowned place to continually have your mind blown by sheer beauty. For a more low-key but no less beautiful trek through Patagonia, try Lanin National Park in Argentina. Lanin has 20 glacial lakes and the towering, now-extinct cone-shaped Lanin volcano, which is a two-day climb. With over 413,000 hectares, the park is unsurprisingly a boredom-crusher. Trek to the Saltillo Waterfall, climb Chivo peak, kitesurf in the summer and ski in the winter, all with fewer visitors but a no less awesome adrenaline rush.

10 Most Scenic Self-Guided Walking Holidays in England

Blessed with ancient woodlands, rolling meadows, mystical moorlands and a rugged coastline, England’s stunning and varied landscape offers excellent walking opportunities.

A couple of our writers who are keen walkers have researched many scenic routes in order to recommend the 10 best in England. It’s a mixed ability bag; some routes will take days, while others only require an afternoon to complete.

1) Seven Sisters clifftop walk – 21km (13 miles)

A definite highlight of the popular 161km (100-mile) South Downs Way is the section where the National Trail passes through the Seven Sisters Country Park. So if you want something shorter than the full South Downs Way (but strenuous nonetheless), try the 21km (13-mile) Seaford to Eastbourne coastal walk that offers swoon-inducing views of the famous white cliffs of Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, before ending in the seaside town of Eastbourne. If you’re after a postcard-perfect picture of Seven Sisters, make a stop at Hope Gap (before taking a diversion inland to cross the Cuckmere River). In the summer, you can have a dip or go rock-pooling along the route too.

2) Sennen Cove to Porthcurno via Land’s End – 10.5km (6.5 miles)

We can’t talk about walks in England without including Land’s End, the most westerly point on the country’s mainland. Starting from the sandy beach at Sennen Cove, this 6.5-mile walk winds through Land’s End before ending at Porthcurno, home to the magnificent open-air clifftop Minack Threatre. If you’d like to press on, continue along the coastal path to Porthgwarra, where many scenes from the TV series Poldark were shot.

3) Shakespeare’s Way – 235km (146 miles)

It’s possible that the great poet himself walked this 146-mile route from his hometown Stratford-upon-Avon to London, where he worked as an actor, writer and part-owner of a playing company. The route meanders through charming Cotswolds market towns before descending into Woodstock, home to the magnificent and history-rich Blenheim Park and Palace. It continues to lead southeast to the city of dreaming spires (Oxford), passing through the beautiful riverside town of Marlow before following the Grand Union Canal and the River Thames into London and ending at the Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. The last part is a bit tricky as there are diversions and locked gates along the Thames Path. You could do this trail in 10 days or longer.

4) Hadrian’s Wall Path – 135km (84 miles)

When the Roman emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall in AD 122, his intention was to keep out the ‘Picts’ (ancestors of the Scottish people) by marking the northern limit of Britannia. Recognised today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this 84-mile long pathway stretches from Wallsend on the east coast of England to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast. Highlights along the path include the longest continuous stretch of the wall at Birdoswald Roman Fort, which has a charming tearoom for walkers to relax their legs; and probably the oldest outhouse you’re likely to see in England at Housesteads Roman Fort.

5) The Norfolk Coast Path – 100.5km (62.5 miles)

From Hunstanton to Sea Palling in Norfolk, this coastal way takes you through many charming fishing villages where seagulls will be swooping down for a go at your fish and chips. Highlights along the way include the red-and-white striped Hunstanton Cliffs; Cley Marshes, the oldest nature reserve in England; West Runton Cliffs, where important vertebrate fossils were found; and a fine sandy beach at Mudesley. You should also keep a look out for seals and humpback whales passing along the shoreline.

6) Ambleside-Troutbeck Circular Walk – 10.5km (6.5 miles)

With literally hundreds of walks offering awe-inspiring views over the Lake District, it’s hard to pick a favourite and ultimately the Ambleside-Troutbeck Circular Walk won by a slim margin. This walk leads you through stone pitched paths, open farmlands and leafy woodlands where you can peer up at giant Douglas Fir. It also includes a gentle climb up Wansfell Pike and rewards your hard work with a stunning view of Windermere and beyond. If you can’t get enough of the view, stop by the viewpoint of Jenkin Crag for another great view of Windermere on the return trip.

7) Cotswold Way – 164km (102 miles)

The Cotswold Way scenic route runs along the Cotswold Edge escarpment, where rolling hills and picturesque villages are often shrouded in morning mist. The route is also close to many historic sites, including the Broadway Tower, Hailes Abbey, Sudeley Castle, Tyndale Monument, Somerset Monument and of course, the ancient Roman town of Bath where you can relieve your sore muscles and aching joints in natural hot spa water.

8) Mam Tor Circular Walk – 12km (7.5 miles)

A historic fort offering a 360-degree dramatic view of the Peak District National Park, Mam Tor is featured highly on the National Trust site. Instead of only visiting Mam Tor, we’d recommend you continue following the ridge and walking to Hollins Cross, Back Tor and Loose Hill, and tracking back to Castleton. The walk offers you panoramic views of the ruined 11th-century Peveril Castle and the beautiful Edale Valley and beyond.

9) The Ridgeway – 140km (87 miles)

Often described as Britain’s oldest road, the Ridgeway stretches from Overton Hill in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. The starting point for the Ridgeway National Trail is near Avebury, a World Heritage Site largely encircled by the prehistoric Avebury henge, a set of stone circles built during the Neolithic period more than 4,000 years ago. After crossing the River Thames, the walk leads you through Henley-on-Thames, a beautiful riverside town famous for its Royal Regatta every summer. After that you’re practically walking along the spine of the Chiltern Hills to Ivinghoe Beacon.

10) Cleveland Way – 175km (109 miles)

If you love stunning coastlines and moorlands covered in heather, Cleveland Way is the ideal route for you. Starting from the ancient town of Helmsley, the route leads west then skirts the rugged and atmospheric North York Moors National Park. At Saltburn, the route meets the coast, then heads south along dramatic cliff-tops to end on the seafront at Filey. Most people finish walking this route in eight days, though you may choose to stay longer in Whitby, a charming seaside town with a beautiful abbey and winding cobbled streets. You can easily see why Bram Stoker found some of his inspiration for ‘Dracula’ here. If you’re a history buff with a passion for haunting ruins, then a visit to Rievaulx Abbey near Halmsley is a must.

Tips travelling with children

The thought of traveling with children in tow may bring you out in a cold sweat but provided you plan ahead it can hopefully be plain sailing. Auto Village provides your convenience for traveling.

From my experience, the less traveling time the better, particularly if you are holidaying with under-fives who have limited tolerance when it comes to sitting still!

There may be no avoiding traveling further afield if you have a family occasion or are planning to visit relatives but after several disastrous attempts with two little ones I have put long-haul flights on hold. Toddler tantrums are not a pretty sight at the best of times but in the confines of a small space, it can be super stressful!

If flying further afield, prepare yourself for the disruption of traveling across time-zones. Traveling can also use Cars to be more comfortable and safe. Kids like routine and the onset of jet lag can be extremely difficult to deal with. Some families like to remain in UK time but this can prove extremely difficult as there is no way your child will agree to go to bed when it is bright outdoors.

A few tips though if you do travel abroad, especially if it’s somewhere exotic, be sure to know when the rainy season is or if the country gets a period when extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes, are possible. Places such as Florida and parts of the Caribbean, for example, can get torrential rainstorms that last for weeks in the early autumn.

On the other hand, remember that while some countries – such as those in the Far East and the Indian Ocean – have quite a long rainy season that doesn’t mean you’ll get rain all day, every day. During this low season, you can get much better deals and you may only get a short, sharp tropical downpour each day while the rest of the time the sun will be out.

Also, keep in mind if traveling within Europe, August is peak holiday season time so the beaches of Italy, Spain, and Portugal can be heaving. If you can travel on either side of August it is worth doing so, especially as most hotel prices dip towards the end of the month.

As for the best form of accommodation, if you have younger kids I always found self-catering was the way forward. The last thing my kids wanted to do was sit in a restaurant for more than five minutes and on the rare times we have dined out abroad the frustration of spending a huge amount on a kids meal only for half the food to be wasted proved too much to bear.

Many families select their resort on the basis of its ability to offer a kids club to keep the children happy and entertained and I am certainly one of them! When researching my holiday, I always check the accommodation I choose has facilities for kids as provided they are happy, everyone’s a winner!

Some of the best hotel kids clubs I have discovered are very close to home. They include The Grove Hotel in Watford which boasts an incredible kids club, complete with its own swimming pool, an endless list of activities and playground. In a bid to make it more family-friendly, Scotland’s Gleneagles Hotel has so much to offer kids there’s little chance you will see them.

On a past visit, my kids took part in a baking workshop and even drove mini cars around the hotel’s grounds. And then there is the Four Seasons in Hampshire that again has everything available for kids, from its bay area to the teenage zone. The hotel even greeted my kids on their first night with their name written in biscuits!

However, for many families spending time with their kids is important and precious so a kids club may not be a necessity!

It’s worth considering though that your hotel or apartment has a swimming pool where the kids can enjoy the company of other kids their own age.

Whatever the age of your kid, beaches are always appealing; be it to build sandcastles, go crabbing, hunting in rock-pools and simple beach games such as bat and ball. Provided the kids are protected from the heat and have plenty to drink, it will be happy families all around!

Destination in Bogotá

One of the biggest cities in the Americas, Colombia’s vibrant capital Bogotá embraces an outward-looking modernity while still celebrating its rich colonial past.

Today’s post-conflict Colombia is enjoying a meteoric boom in tourism, fuelled by visitors’ seemingly insatiable appetite for its Andean peaks, Caribbean beaches, Amazon jungle and lively urban centres. At the heart of all this is Bogotá, Colombia’s sprawling capital, subtly reinventing itself as one of South America’s trendiest destinations.

With the cartels and criminals on the run, there’s never been a safer time to visit. Leave any irrational apprehensions around personal safety at the arrivals hall and dart straight for the city’s historic centres in Usaquén and La Candelaria.

These colourful colonial districts, founded by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, have cobblestone streets punctuated with major historic landmarks. The great riches of the bygone colonial era are best seen at the Banco de la República Gold Museum, which has an extensive stash of gold pieces from almost every major pre-Hispanic culture to grace Colombia.

Other essential sightseeing highlights in Bogotá include the impressive modern art collection at Botero Museum and the well stocked shelves of Luis Ángel Arango Library – home to more than one million books.

But you don’t have to be a bookworm to swat up on the city. Our Bogotá travel guide will get you started with information on routes into the city via El Dorado International Airport. Home to more than eight million people, Bogotá is one of the largest cities in the world without a metro system. Thankfully its cheap, electric-powered TransMilenio bus network is unrivalled in the Americas for size and efficiency, carrying more than two million passengers every day.

Colombia’s fiery fiesta scene is the stuff of legend and the country’s capital doesn’t disappoint when it comes to after hours options. Armando Records ranks among the hippest hotspots in town. An amalgam of record label, gig venue and club, Armando’s legendary rooftop parties only really get going from 11pm, when most Bogotános are ready to rumbear – Colombian slang for going partying.

Bogotá’s nightlife truly offers a smörgåsbord of options, catering to almost every taste. Those with a thirst for hops should pay a visit to Bogota Beer Company, an artisan brewery with nearly 20 establishments across the city. While those with a flair for latino dance moves should experience the live salsa bands of Quiebra Canto, a club that attracts some of Bogotá’s best dancers every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.

Beyond its rhythmic dance scene, Colombia has a strong culinary heritage and it’s not hard to find excellent Latin American fare along the streets of Bogotá. In fact, no visit is complete without trying the tamales colombianos – a street food classic. For the best homemade Colombian dishes, and chance to eat out on a roof terrace overlooking the sea of terracotta tiles and narrow lanes that make up Bogotá’s old city, a visit to Restaurante Fulanitos is essential. Our Bogotá restaurant guide has recommendations for every budget and palate, as the cuisine options available here seem ever-expanding; Peruvian, French and Asian fare are all easy to find.

After a long and no doubt tiring day exploring the city often dubbed “The South American Athens”, there’s a hotel bed in Bogotá with your name on it – whatever your budget. For a five star experience, check in to the palatial Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogotá, recently declared a monument of cultural interest by the Colombian Ministry of Culture. At the other end of the scale, Abitare 56 Hotel is a bright, modern establishment with affordable rooms and free breakfast buffet included in the price. Explore a range of recommended accommodation choices with our Bogotá hotel guide.

For an unforgettable day trip out of Bogotá, take a local bus to Zipaquirá, a city famed for its Catedral de Sal. This huge cathedral complex, some 180m (590ft) underground, is carved entirely out of salt. Located right at the heart of a disued salt mine, the three-nave church extends along an incredible labyrinth of tunnels, connecting a series of smaller chapels.

Best Nude Beaches in Europe

Bikini season is nigh, but this summer, ditch the expensive swimwear and show off those hard-won abs on a nude beach. For maximum seen-and-be-seen appeal, make sure it’s one of Europe’s top nude beaches, where the relaxed and tolerant attitude is as welcoming as the sparkling sunshine and warm waters. From Brigette Bardot’s former playground of St. Tropez to Croatia’s many nude options, Europe’s liberal beaches are a great way to work on that seamless tan while enjoying the all equally stunning landscapes.

Plage de Pampelonne, St. Tropez, France

Pile on the kohl eyeliner and sport your best Breton top, because it’s time to go to St. Tropez, which French bombshell Brigette Bardot put on the map in the 1950s and 60s. Today, St. Tropez is still a magnet for the rich and famous. Beachgoers are welcome to show off the latest runway swimwear or strip off, and they can rent beach beds and parasols for stylish lounging in between dips into the warm water. Nudity isn’t fully confined to the beach, either. After dark, head to the nearby clubs where hedonism and Champagne mix for an epic, glittering cocktail.

Playa de los Muertos, Almeria, Spain

The name, which translates to “Beach of the Dead,” may conjure up gloomy images, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The view from the top of the cliffs eases the effort of a steep walk down to the pebble beach, and the deep turquoise waters wash away stress. The lack of facilities and relative out of the way location keep numbers down, and nudists and textiles splash about in equal numbers outside the high season. Volcanic cliffs frame the picture-perfect scene.

Espalmador Island, Formentera, Balearic Islands, Spain

Recover from the non-stop partying in Ibiza with a short trip south to the Balearic Islands. It seems like the entire place is a haven for nudists, as only one beach doesn’t cater to the less-is-more crowd. Get away from the day-trippers from Ibiza at white sand Playa Illetes, where nudists and textiles mingle happily. Nearby lies the privately owned Espalmador Island, whose beaches are open to the public. In low tide, beach-goers can wade to the island, although due to the undertow, the ferry is a safer alternative. Once on the island, many nudists get dressed up in mud from the mud baths that supposedly contain rejuvenating qualities.

Red Beach, Crete, Greece

A favorite of hippies in the 1960s and 70s, Red Beach has a long nudist history. Today, nudists mainly stick to the north side of the beach near the rocks, although there is a tolerant and accepting vibe throughout the beach. Getting there either requires a boat ride or a fairly steep walk, and watching the sunset from the top of the hill is an ideal way to finish off a perfect day. Limestone cliffs back the beach, and near the nudist section, a Belgian named Gerard has carved out Minoan and Egyptian sea creature sculptures from the rocks, adding to the offbeat vibe. Get there early for a chance to nab an umbrella, and be prepared to make the trek down to the beach with all the necessities needed for a day in the sun.

Island of Rab, Croatia

Get back to naturists’ roots in Lopar, where nudists have enjoyed all-over sunshine since the beginning of the 20th century. The island of Rab has three nudist beaches. First is Ciganka, on the north side of the island, where sunbathers can walk or drive to the beach and then explore the sand dunes before catching some rays on the sand or rocks. Sahara is only accessible by foot, and the shallow warm waters are a comforting welcome for first-time nudists. Stolac beach is surrounded by rocks for extra privacy, and visitors can walk through the clear water to a small islet for a family-friendly adventure.

Agesta Beach, Stockholm, Sweden

Agesta is Stockholm’s official nude beach, where families, friends and couples can hang out and enjoy the many amenities including restrooms play areas, picnic tables and barbeque areas. The government-owned and operated beach lies at the southern end of Lake Magelungen, and is easily accessible by bus, making it a quick escape from the city.

Plage Linguizzetta, Corsica

Nudists can romp over the four-kilometer beach of Plage Linguizzetta, the longest nude beach in Corsica. Outside the high season, the beach is a pocket of tranquillity, aided by clear waters and fine sand. The heart of the beach is the Bella Riva naturist resort that’s right on the beach and fully kitted out with amenities, including a few friendly llamas.

Guvano Beach, Corniglia, Italy

This gem requires a walk through a dark abandoned railway tunnel where visitors can literally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once back in sunlight, this little beach is a great escape from the tourists, and the unusual way of arrival and backdrop of cliffs add to the hideaway vibe. There’s room to spread out on the pebbly beach, and the crystalline waters require a dip.

Ilha Deserta, Olhao, Portugal

Uninhabited Ilha Deserta features just one restaurant and a whole lot of peace and quiet. Take a 30-minute water taxi ride and then it’s time to do nothing but relax in your birthday suit. It’s easy to find an area all to yourself on the clean beach, and the water is clear and warm. Literally meaning “Desert Island,” Ilha Deserta is the place to act out all those Lost fantasies with just the parts about being alone in a really beautiful place.

Wenningstedt-Braderup, Sylt, Germany

Germany’s island of Sylt packs in family friendly beaches, dog beaches and nudist beaches into its slim anchor shape. The nudist Wenningstedt-Braderup beach is wide and spacious, and as part of Germany’s FKK, or Free Body Culture, movement, extremely tolerant of one’s right to bare all. Set in the North Sea, the island’s temperatures are certainly cooler than other hot spots on this list, but the laidback attitude and glorious open spaces make it a must-see.

Reasons to Visit Seattle

Up in the top left corner of the map, Seattle retains a sense of mystery with its slightly isolated location, legacy of grunge music and rumors of non-stop rain. But as any local will undoubtedly clarify, New York annually receives more precipitation than Seattle. It just so happens that the Emerald City receives its rainfall little by little over the better part of nine consecutive months. Locals also don’t mind that this reputation keeps tourists to a relative minimum most of the year.

In the short, sweet summer, though, Seattle is a playground for all types. Go outside the city to the mountains or islands, get lost in neighborhood record stores and organic restaurants, or just try to fit in as many concerts and shows as possible. And for those who don’t believe in Seasonal Affective Disorder, winter is also a prime time to ski, snowboard and to test out every coffee shop within walking distance. This gem of a city has plenty of reasons to be a must-see destination.

1. Speaking of green…

Held every August in Seattle’s waterfront Myrtle Edwards Park, free of charge Hempfest promotes a “protestival” vibe as thousands advocate for the further repealment and relaxation of marijuana laws and promote the benefits of cannabis (tie-dye not required). Although Washington, along with Colorado, legalized simple possession of marijuana in 2012, the founders and participants of Hempfest continue to spread their message, especially as the fest has grown exponentially. Since 1991, Hempfest has expanded from just 500 pot aficionados to thousands dropping in over a three-day period to check out panels with local politicians, groove to local and national acts, and become more aware of the political, health and social benefits of Mary Jane.

2. Ahead of its time

In regards to sex, LGBTQ equality and conservation, Seattle remains ahead of the curve. Seattle’s alt-newspaper The Stranger is edited by sex columnist Dan Savage, and the city is home to The Center of Sex Positivity, the annual Kinky Carnival and Erotic Art Festival, all of which retain a welcoming attitude for all types. In addition, the state legalized gay marriage in 2012, and the annual Pride Parade is much more than just a parade. There’s Pride Idol, a Pride Brunch, and much more. Adding the green in the rainbow, Seattle has been crowned the greenest in the nation. The city banned disposable plastic bags in 2012 and is a leader in recycling and hydropower.

3. The land of music gods

Grunge gods Nirvana and Pearl Jam put Seattle on the map, and they’re just a few of the legends and under-the-radar awesome acts from here, including Jimi Hendrix, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Heart, Blue Scholars and Soundgarden. The city’s renowned radio station KEXP and record label Sub Pop Records can consistently be counted on to deliver quality new music. For live shows, check out historic Paramount Theatre for stunning architecture to complement the music. And to walk through music and pop culture history, head to the Experience Music Project, an eyesore or futuristic perfection depending whom you ask, which was designed by Frank Gehry and sits right next to the Space Needle.

Festivals define summer in Seattle. Memorial Day weekend kicks off with chill — and free! — Folklife, which promotes the respect and sustainment of the Northwest’s diverse cultures and their respective traditions. The family friendly fest, held at Seattle Center, also boasts international food stalls, participatory dance venues and professional and amateur regional musicians. The same weekend is Sasquatch, a three-day long festival held at Gorge Amphitheater, which is carved into the cliffs above the Columbia River Gorge about three hours outside Seattle. Sasquatch also features a completely different lineup over 4th of July weekend.

Back in the city, bask in the sun and rock out at the Capitol Hill Block Party, which reliably brings in big-name regional and national acts. The three-day long festival also promotes progressive politics and local non-profits and food trucks. End summer with a bang at three-day long Bumbershoot, which is also held at Seattle Center over Labor Day weekend. Bumbershoot features comedy acts, writing panels, a family-friendly area called Youngershoot and of course, tons of huge and up-and-coming bands and artists.

4. Heaven on earth

Mt. Ranier National Park is about a 2.5-hour drive south of the city, and it would be a sin to miss. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail encircling Mt. Rainier is strenuous, but it’s possible to turn back if it’s too much. That trail or one that branches off all offer incredible vistas of meadows, glaciers and the snow-capped peaks of Mts. Hood, St. Helens and Adams. Another option is just a slice of the 2,650-mile long Pacific Crest Trail. Try the 11-mile long Kendall Katwalk, which is not for those with vertigo, as it trails along the cliff face between Kendall Peak and Red Mountain.

Equally gorgeous is the Olympic Peninsula, a three-hour drive west of the city. One entrance is Hurricane Ridge outside Port Angeles, where there are even more glacial views. The other entrance is the Hoh Rainforest outside Forks (as in Twilight). Take the Hall of Mosses trail to fully experience the ethereal, temperate rainforest. Bring raincoats no matter the time of year. Finish the trip with a hike to Third Beach and a glimpse of sea lions playing past the rocks jutting out into the water.

Inside the city limits, visitors can bike along the 14-mile long Gilman-Burke Trail, which travels north from Ballard to Kenmore. Biking through the Arboretum or to Golden Gardens is also beautiful and highly recommended. Golden Gardens is also notable as this beach is one of the few places where it’s legal to have a bonfire.

5. Independent spirit

One of the most charming things about Seattle is the emphasis on independently owned shops. Many can be found in tourist favorite Pike Place Market, including crammed-full Golden Age Collectibles and the four fish stands. Easy Street Records has a knowledgeable staff and a calendar full of in-store appearances and performances that are perfect for those who prefer to see their artists in a more intimate setting. Movie buffs can enjoy concessions from local shops and a full-service bar at certain local theaters and the city also hosts an annual independent film festival.

6. Island hop with ease

Whether a quick afternoon or long weekend away, the nearby islands provide the perfect getaway. Only accessible by a 20-minute ferry, Vashon is now slightly more gentrified with its influx of retirees and corporate employees, but the island maintains its hippie vibe. Pick berries at local farms in the summer, watch for whales in the winter, or hike around any time of year. Get a dose of history on gorgeous Bainbridge Island, where visitors can check out the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, as the first group to be transferred in internment camps during WWII came from this island. Just to the north, in Suquamish, visitors can pay respects at Chief Seattle’s grave and take in the view of the city named after him across Puget Sound.

For those with time, take a ferry up to the San Juan Islands for out of this world scenery. The archipelago is famous for its orcas as well as a rich and diverse animal population. While the islands are a popular tourist destination, it’s also possible to find plenty of alone time on a motorbike ride, chartered sailboat or hiking and whale-watching in Lime Kiln Point State Park. Those who don’t have time for San Juan Islands can still see marine wildlife up close at the top-notch Seattle Aquarium, which features a stunning underwater dome, an emphasis on conservation and daily activities.

7. Indoor and outdoor art and museums

The Seattle Art Museum is full of riches, and is notable for its focus on Northwest, Pacific Island and Japanese art. The museum also operates the nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park on the waterfront, which is a wonderfully relaxing place to have a free date or sit and daydream away the afternoon. The Seattle Asian Art Museum is also under SAM’s umbrella, and is located in the utterly relaxing Volunteer Park, which has a conservatory, water tower and is an ideal setting for an afternoon suntan. Oftentimes, the space that houses the museum is just as interesting. The Nordic Heritage Museum is in an old schoolhouse, and the can’t-miss Museum of History and Industry is in the renovated Naval Reserve Armory.

8. Local-minded food and drink

Coffee and Seattle go together like… well, like grunge music and Seattle. Die-hard Starbucks fans can see the original shop in Pike Place Market, but don’t stop there. Of all the options,one that stands out is Street Bean Espresso, which takes the call of social justice seriously. In addition to only using direct-relationship, sustainable and locally roasted coffee, the shop also helps marginalized and homeless youths find not just a job but a career in a community-minded space.

For a more adult beverage, head to tiny Woodinville, which lies 30 minutes northeast of the city. Woodinville makes up for its lack of vineyards with over 90 tasting rooms dedicated to the riches of wines from the Columbia Valley on the other side of the Cascade Mountains.

To even scratch the surface of Seattle’s culinary treats would require several column inches, so let’s make do with these two instead. For breakfast, turn to Mighty-O Donuts, which does the seemingly impossible by creating incredibly delicious organic and vegan treats. And for dinner, Belltown’s Local 360 is so named as it sources almost all its food within a 360-mile radius of the city. The restaurant works with local farmers who are taking care to preserve their land for future generations and only serves organic and antibiotic-free food.

9. A real neighborhood feel

Throw a dart on a map of Seattle, and more than likely it’ll land somewhere worth seeing. For those with just a day, take the morning to explore vibrant Capitol Hill with the caveat that this is barely scratching the surface, then check out all the vintage clothing shops and boutiques on the walk downtown. Once there, Pioneer Square, which is unfairly maligned as “sketchy,” upscale Belltown, Pike Place Market and more are all quickly accessible.

Beacon Hill is one of Seattle’s more diverse neighborhoods, and the neighborhood’s 45-acre park and Tippe and Drague Alehouse, which features 16 locally crafted beers, are just two of the reasons it’s necessary to visit. Chinatown-International District is a foodie mecca with Chinese festivals and a summertime night market. West Seattle provides some excellent views of the city when biking past Alki Beach. Save some money for Fremont and next-door Ballard, as it’s sure to go fast at the upscale boutiques, vegetarian restaurants and Sunday-only market on Ballard Avenue. In free-spirit Fremont, a two-ton troll sculpture with one gleaming eye crouches under the Aurora Bridge. For a cheaper day, simply walk around South Lake Union, which positively glitters in the sunshine.

10. Take in the views

On a cloudless day, head up to the top of the Space Needle to enjoy the boundless views in every direction. An equally good view of Mts. Baker and Ranier, the city and Elliot Bay can be seen from the 73rd floor Sky View Observatory in West Seattle. At sunset, ride the Seattle Great Wheel, the West Coast’s largest ferris wheel. Thrillseekers can take a ride when winds pick up — within reason, though, as the wheel shuts down if winds go over 55 mph.

Best Places to Watch the Sunset

Watching the sun set seems like a rare treat with all the day-to-day nonsense, but it’s possible to make it a real luxury by seeing the sun melt into the horizon from a spectacular location. Whether from a mountaintop, next to the ocean, on a glacier or at the top of a skyscraper, looking to the west has never been so inspiring than from these 10 incredible vantage points.

1. Santorini, Greece

The Greek island of Santorini is all that remains of an ancient volcano that once exploded leaving a huge volcanic caldera, now filled with water, at its center. Visitors know they’re in for something special as soon as their boat pulls into the harbour, with the island’s cliffs rising vertically hundreds of feet straight from the sea. The island’s settlements sit perched on top of these cliffs and every sundown thousands of people come out to watch the sun dip below the horizon and witness the colorful hues juxtaposed against the white buildings of Santorini and the blue Aegean Sea.

2. Uluru, Australia

Rising out of nowhere, the massive monolith dominates the outback and the eye. Visitors can watch spellbound as the rock’s light show cascades through otherworldly reds, oranges, yellows and pinks, reflecting the clouds and sky above. It’s also possible to walk around or climb the sandstone giant. Sunset is when the rock literally glows, though, and practically pulses through the light changes, cementing its status as the heart of Australia.

3. Tanzania

Home of the Serengeti and Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is achingly beautiful. The luminous sunset sets off the wide spread acacia trees and occasional herd of animals, looking like something straight out of The Lion King. From Barafu Camp on Mt. Killimanjaro, the sun sets into a sea of clouds, giving the impression that you may well be in heaven. If the sky clears, climbers can see both the stars above and the lights of Moshi from 10,000 feet below for double the glow.

4. Atacama Desert, Chile

Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley, is a popular area for visitors to see the sun set and the stars glow. The otherworldly look of the endless rocky outcroppings and sand dunes emits a rather forbidding feel, and the slashes of color that light up the sky at sunset offer one last hint of warmth before the cold really settles in. Seeing the moonrise and cosmos simply heightens the fantastic appeal. Alternatively, drive up to the El Tatio geysers, the highest geyser plain in the world, to see the sun sink into the sand dunes.

5. Maui, Hawaii

There’s really no wrong place to watch the sun go down on Maui. Pulling over on the way back from Hana to watch the sunset is just the cherry on an already perfect day, while simply enjoying a beer next to the beach is also pretty ideal. There’s the chance to chase the sunset on Mt Haleakala. The list could go on and on, but it’s really just enough to know that it’ll be nothing less than stunning from whichever location you choose.

6. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

One of Asia’s most beautiful ancient sites, Angkor Wat is enchanting all day long, but at sunset, it’s like the whole reason for this being built suddenly becomes clear. There are more than 30 vantage points to see the sunset, from hilltops to a gondola ride. From nearly every available point, visitors can see the sky turn from searing yellows and oranges to much more mellow purples, which is pierced only by the ridged tops of the temples and the “oohs” of others standing near.

7. Tahiti

Sunset doesn’t get any more picturesque than on the South Pacific island of Tahiti. The last bits of daylight filter through the palm fronds, before pulling back and throwing vibrant warm hues across the sky. In no time, the palm trees, hills and the occasional boat are nothing but silhouettes, turning the show into distinct parts that equal the sum of a spectacular sunset.

8. Stonehenge, England

Stonehenge may have mysterious origins, but there’s no doubting that there’s definitely a celestial element to it. On clear days, the sunset is always spectacular, but it certainly deserves extra attention on the solstices and equinoxes when modern-day Druids, Pagans and visitors pack in to witness what the ancients saw thousands of years ago.

9. Empire State Building, New York

This one’s a must for rom-com lovers everywhere. Cemented by Sleepless in Seattle as a place of true love, the Empire State Building evokes a feeling that everything will be alright, especially when watching the sun go down over one of the most vibrant cities on Earth. And who knows, maybe certain someone will be waiting up on the viewing deck!

10. Taj Mahal, India

Dulcet tones of yellow, orange and pink enhance the warm glow of the Taj Mahal at sunset. With such a saturated palette against the white marble and delicate carvings, this striking sunset is a paragon of romance, and one that will whisk away any negative thoughts, along with the sun, into the night.