Poland’s southern border is defined by the upward thrust of the Carpathian Mountains. Europe’s second-biggest mountain range after the Alps, the Carpathians sweep over central Europe in an arc from the Czech Republic in the west to Ukraine and Romania in the east.
In Poland, they form the boundary with Slovakia and provide a welcome contrast to the mostly flat landscapes characteristic of the rest of the country.
The mountains are also home to a unique highlander culture with its own folk history and traditions and, with good access from major cities such as Kraków and Rzeszów, it’s easy to combine a tour of the country’s historic towns and castles with a few days in the open air to hike, ski or raft.
Poland’s Carpathians are divided into a series of smaller ranges (running west to east): the Tatry, Beskids, Pieniny and Bieszczady. Each offers something a little different in terms of culture and natural beauty, and the town of Zakopane is the best jumping-off spot for exploring them. Here are five of our favourite high-altitude activities and the places to do them.
Hiking the mountain trails
It’s hard to find a better country for
Italy’s northern borders are delineated by an arc of majestic mountain peaks, including some of the tallest peaks in the Alps in the west and the spectacularly beautiful Dolomites in the east.
Winter here often means sun as well as snow, and ski resorts are less about athletic prowess, and more about getting reacquainted with nature, working up your appetite and enjoying mountain life.
Though Italian resorts can no longer be called a bargain, they still offer better value than elsewhere in the Alps. Whatever your budget you can count on outstanding food and wine, inspired by some fascinating cultural mixes: Aosta’s French-tinged traditions, the Tyrolean touch in Südtirol-Alto Adige and Slavic accents in Friuli. Children are welcome in even the chicest resort restaurants and kids’ activities and playgrounds are plentiful. For experienced powder hounds, Italy offers great heli-skiing and some excellent off-piste terrain.
Best off-piste: Courmayeur
The super-hardcore head to Alagna in Piedmont’s Monterosa ski area for off-piste action, but Aosta’s Courmayeur not only offers large patches of off-piste paradise but also challenging, if limited, piste skiing and one of the region’s most charming villages, full of slate-roofed houses, lively bars and good restaurants.
Adorned with handsome heritage architecture and fringed by sandy beaches, Australia’s second-oldest city is slowly making waves on this country’s celebrated foodie scene. With the Hunter Valley’s farms and vineyards, Myall Lakes’ oyster leases and Pacific Ocean’s bounty all on its doorstep, Newcastle is now come of age in the kitchen.
Sydney weekenders and a mass homecoming of ex-pats (many tired of no-booking queues and big city egos) have helped see Newcastle’s bar and restaurant scene booming once more. Here’s the lowdown on the memorable mouthfuls and hippest haunts that chilled-out Novocastrians would probably prefer were kept to themselves.
Fine dining without the fuss
Although there’s nowhere in Newcastle too heavy with airs and graces, you should dress to impress at Subo, where you can have anything as long as it’s on this talented duo’s five-course menu: a clever, moreish synthesis of Japanese, Southeast Asian and European influences. Reservations are essential. Also make a booking at Restaurant Mason, where you can expect consistently well-executed dishes like Harvey Bay Scallops with sesame, black rice and seaweed, roast flathead
Rubbish dumped at sea off Townsville will end up on the popular Mission Beach holiday spot, while Cairns’ marine trash goes straight to the exclusive Port Douglas resort — according to new computer modelling by a James Cook University scientist.
JCU’s Kay Critchell fed local wind and tide data into the state-of-the-art SLIM modelling system. She then tracked drift patterns for an average-sized plastic water bottle that found its way into Townsville’s Ross River or Cairns’ Trinity Inlet, or was dumped at sea along the Great Barrier Reef.
Rubbish from the Ross River washed ashore in the northern beachside suburb of Pallarenda, while plastic from Trinity Inlet headed for Port Douglas. The model showed plastic debris from a shipping lane off Townsville’s Magnetic Island would land on the popular Mission Beach, about halfway between Cairns and Townsville.
Ms Critchell said the findings were consistent. “For floating plastic the big driver was the wind. The main collection points were south or south-east facing beaches and those in close proximity to a river mouth.”
She said with limited resources available to beach clean-up crews, it’s important their activities are targeted. “According to this study, the best use of their time would be to
The diversity of Chiapas extends to its geography and environment, a fertile green expanse of bird-rich tropical lowlands laced with hidden waterfalls, chilly high-altitude pine forests and a Pacific coastline nested by lumbering sea turtles. Maya ruins, including some of the best archaeological sites in Mexico, lie scattered across its vast tracts of misty jungle.
Ruled from Guatemala during the Spanish colonial era, Chiapas didn’t become part of Mexico until 1824, and a strong cultural identity persists because the indigenous population – one of the country’s largest – still uses about a half dozen Maya languages as well as traditional local dress.
Using public transit, which includes speedy vans and comfortable buses, and local tour operators, it’s easy to see many of the state’s highlights in about a week.
San Cristóbal de las Casas and around
Start your exploration in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a long-time and low-key traveler’s haunt with cobbled streets and postcard-ready colonial architecture bathed by clear mountain light. Budget at least three days to explore the city and its nearby Maya villages. Survey the baroque façade and gilded interior of the 16th-century Templo de Santo Domingo church, stroll the daily crafts market and browse the intricate textiles
The long-held acclaim of New Nordic restaurant Noma helped Copenhagen to become the world’s number one culinary hotspot.
But head west to Jutland, and Denmark’s second city, Aarhus, and you’ll find a food scene that’s taking New Nordic cuisine in new and fascinating directions.
From a booming annual food festival to a string of Michelin-starred spots, this is where to go in Denmark if you place food above all else.
The culinary scene here is beginning to take on a life of its own, thanks in no small part to the treats found in the waters of the Bay of Aarhus. Jellyfish, lobster and pungent-smelling seaweed are all harvested here: unique, hyperlocal ingredients such as these are readily available for the city’s chefs to work wonders with.
Who’s who and where to go
For a city of just over 300,000 people, Aarhus is blessed with some seriously swanky spots to grab a bite or to spend a few hours blowing your budget on food. On a cobbled street behind the imposing towers of the Aarhus Domkirke is Gastromé (gastrome.dk). It’s one of the three Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, the only places in Denmark outside of Copenhagen to earn that accolade. What’s more, Gastromé was
Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port, is a gateway for a wealth of fresh produce from across the world. The city’s location at the heart of the Netherlands’ farmland and greenhouses, along with a wave of inspired chefs and artisans, are fuelling a flourishing eating and drinking scene.
With unique markets, sublime snacks and a profusion of exceptional restaurants, cafes and bars, this is a must-stop city for food lovers.
The Netherlands’ first-ever covered market, the extraordinary horseshoe-shaped Markthal Rotterdam, with outsize, vividly coloured fruit and veggies splashed across its dramatic ceiling, is the ultimate place to start your exploration. It’s home to scores of individual stalls selling everything from Dutch cheese and cured meats to forest-picked mushrooms, fresh fish, spices, oils and vinegars. You also have ready-to-eat snacks such as stroopwafels (caramel-syrup-filled waffles) on hand, as well as sit-down eateries serving specialities from around the country and the globe. Downstairs there’s a huge branch of beloved Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn, which stocks some great own-brand products.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the sprawling Blaak street market, with produce-laden stalls, unfurls out the front.
One of Rotterdam’s most imaginative markets is the market collective Fenix Food Factory in industrial Katendrecht – aka
Back away from your iPhone – this is a travel intervention. Do you ask about wifi before you’ve checked in? Instinctively arrange meals to fit an Instagram frame? Do you miss the magic of wildlife migrations and waterfalls in your hurry to edit the perfect Snapchat Story?
Help is at hand, digital traveller. But to overcome this addiction you must accept the cold turkey treatment. These remote places will deny you wifi, muddy your phone signal, and replace the trill of instant messages with roaring waves, monastic chanting or pure silence. Shun the modern world at these eight far-flung destinations.
Luxury lodges in Namibia
Does the idea of digging your own toilet make you want to stockpile two-ply and rush back to civilization? Fortunately you don’t have to forgo comfort to disconnect from the digital world. In Namibia, you can luxuriate in a plush lodge and remain blissfully unbothered by emails from your boss. Wilderness Safaris (wilderness-safaris.com) has a range of luxury accommodation, including 26 deliberately wifi-free camps in some of Namibia’s richest wildlife-spotting territory. Their Desert Rhino Camp is set within a valley home to Africa’s largest free-roaming population of black rhinos, plus lions, giraffes, springbok and more. Out with
After spending time in Florence, you’re likely to want to take home more than your memories. This is one of the world’s great shopping destinations, with an artisanal heritage dating back to the medieval period. By the time of the Renaissance, a ‘Made in Florence’ tag had become the international badge of style that it remains today.
Florence is not a city crowded with souvenir shops selling cheap or amusing tourist tat. Street stalls may hawk plastic reproductions of Michelangelo’s David and snow domes featuring the Duomo’s famous cupola, but most Florentines find these deeply distasteful. For them – as for the vast majority of tourists – this is a place to source quality handmade products in classic designs. Some visitors find what they’re after in the famed Mercato de San Lorenzo, crammed with inexpensive clothing, leather goods and ceramics, but savvy shoppers tend to gravitate towards historic shops and workrooms specialising in traditional artisanal products.
The recommendations below are a good place to start when seeking that special something to take home; for more, check the website of the Associazione Esercizi Storici Tradizionali e Tipici Fiorentini (Association of Historic, Traditional and Typical Shops in Florence; esercizistoricifiorentini.it).
Florentines take great pride
Flashes of heat lightning pierce the darkness as we hunker down in the black sand dunes on the Caribbean shore of Tortuguero. Directly in front of us, illuminated only by a dim red light held by our guide, an enormous green turtle rocks back and forth as she lays nearly 100 glistening eggs in a nest she labored for two hours to make.
Other members of our group suddenly begin to whisper excitedly as they spot two baby turtles from a neighboring nest scuttling out to sea. This is very clearly not your average trip to the beach.
The region of Tortuguero seems like a world apart from the mountains and waterfalls of central Costa Rica: only accessible by boat or plane, the namesake town and national park remain tucked away in an intricate, steamy tangle of fresh-water canals and tropical foliage. Sandwiched between a calm lagoon and the volcanic beaches along the Caribbean Sea, the area is home to a wide variety of wildlife as well as a unique and inviting coastal culture.
Finding Tortuguero: a trip on Río la Suerte
The journey begins with the long motorized water taxis waiting at Puerto La Pavona, a farm/bus/boat stop that is the launch point for any traveler heading to Tortuguero. The winding Río
The capital of multicultural Sicily, Palermo regularly ranks as one of the world’s top destinations for street food.
The city’s frenetic markets and down-to-earth street stalls offer an authentic taste of Sicilian culture, featuring flavours that range from the familiar (pizza-like sfincione) to the exotic (chickpea fritters with minty potato croquettes) to the downright daring (spleen sandwiches and skewered entrails, anyone?).
A centuries-old tradition
Snacking on the street is a proud, centuries-old tradition in Palermo, born of both practicality and poverty. Even as street food writ large has become a worldwide fad, with celebrity chefs preparing amped-up versions of humble home-grown classics, street food culture here remains true to its unpretentious roots.
Walk Palermo’s back streets and you’ll find simple snacks designed to provide maximum calories at minimum cost (most priced between €1 and €2), still made on the spot at independently run friggitorie (fried-food stalls), where the typical vendor’s toolkit is limited to a simple grill or a battered metal cart and a vat of boiling fat.
Favourite snacks and culinary hot spots
Street food venues
Though South Korea may not spring immediately to mind as a winter sports destination, its well-developed resorts and abundance of snow make it a worthwhile choice for keen skiers and snowboarders. It’s also one of the few places in the world where you can hit the slopes by day and party in a major metropolis – Seoul – by night.
Pyeongchang county is set to host the Winter Olympics in 2018, and South Korea has ramped up development of its winter zones, including building a new high-speed KTX rail line from Seoul to the Olympic resorts, which are nestled in the Taebaek Mountains (sometimes called the Korean Alps) in Gangwon-do.
You can get a jump start enjoying South Korea’s pistes before the Olympic crowds descend. Here’s our how-to guide for discovering Korea’s best slopes and fluffiest powder.
Korea’s mountains and resorts
Korea is bisected by the Taebaek Mountains, a range that stretches along the eastern side of the Korean peninsula, from Wonsan in North Korea all the way down to Busan in southern South Korea. At their highest, the Taebaks reach 1708m in a pinnacle at Seoraksan in Gangwon-do.
We’re somewhere on the Hardangervidda plateau, on one of the world’s highest stretches of railway tracks, and we appear to have stopped. I say that with no great certainty because we’re in the middle of a white-out.
Having just left Norway’s most elevated train station, the Oslo to Bergen train may or may not be continuing its astonishing progress across a desperately inhospitable landscape. By the time we get here I am simply in awe that this railway is here at all.
Norwegians, as visitors quickly learn, don’t mess about when it comes to getting around. Mountains made of seemingly impenetrable gneiss rock are simply one more thing to go straight through. Anywhere else, the Bergensbanen, or Bergen Line (nsb.no/en/our-destinations/our-regional-railway-lines/bergensbanen), would be heralded as a wonder of the world. Here, it’s a matter-of-fact way of linking the country’s two most important cities.
But a wonder it surely is. And, unlike some things in Norway, it can be done on a relatively small budget.
I had wanted to ride the Bergensbanen ever since taking the train from London to Oslo several years ago. This journey involved one night on a bench in Brussels Midi station which gave me plenty of time to ponder alternatives to the
Oslo is known worldwide as a capital of culture, with enough cutting-edge arts, cuisine, architecture and design to keep even the pickiest traveller enthralled.
But what about visiting Oslo with kids? Will it also please those smaller, notoriously fussy travellers? With parks everywhere you look, waffles in all directions, and a public transport system that is easy (and fun) to navigate, the answer is an enthusiastic ‘Ja!’
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paddling-at-the-opera-house-750-cs Paddling at the Oslo Opera House in summertime. Image by Michael Spiller / CC BY-SA 2.0
Experimental New Nordic cuisine. Modern architecture. World-class cultural institutions. Oslo has so many grown-up delights that it’s easy to wonder if Norway’s capital city simply forgot about kids. But a quick jaunt around the city will dash such notions: kids are everywhere, and parks and playgrounds abound – Oslo is a city where kids are seamlessly integrated into all aspects of life.
A grown-up good time
Other than TusenFryd, the popular amusement park 10km south of the city, Oslo has relatively few places aimed specifically at children, but the city more than makes up for it by having kid-focused activities at nearly every other attraction.
Oslo to Bergen: Europe’s best train journey?
Hiking in Norway’s
While Italy’s natural wonders are well documented, it isn’t until you strike out into the wild mountains and trek along its vertiginous coastlines that you realise how bella this country really is.
From the cliff-hanging trails of Amalfi to the colossal granite spires of the Dolomites, volcano climbs in Sicily to hikes deep into the heart of the flower-freckled Appenines – Italy is a boot made for walking.
Sella-Herbetet Traverse, Gran Paradiso, Valle d’Aosta, Piedmont
Start/End: Valnontey | Distance: 20.5km | Length: 9½-10 hours | Difficulty: demanding
The Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso in the Graian Alps is a staggering wilderness of jewel-coloured lakes, forests and some of Italy’s highest mountains, including its eponymous 4061m peak. This classic hike takes you right to its heart. From the town bridge in Valnontey, the Alta Via 2 leads on an old mule trail uphill to 2588m Rifugio Sella, a former hunting lodge of King Vittorio Emanuele II. Between here and Casolari dell’Herbetet, a park ranger’s base to the south, hikers will find a short, airy traverse with a length of chain for protection.
Despite its breathtaking natural beauty, the central-European nation of Slovenia remains off-the-radar for many travellers.
Yet in an area less than a tenth the size of the United Kingdom you can find towering mountains, picture-perfect lakes, vast caves, elegant cities and fast-running rivers. With even just a few days at your disposal, its easy to pack all the country’s major highlights into your trip without ever feeling like you’re in a rush.
Breathe in the beauty of Lake Bled
Chances are, if you’ve only seen one photo of Slovenia, it’s of Lake Bled. And the turquoise lake, embellished with a steepled church on a tiny tear-shaped islet, set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains is just as gorgeous in the flesh. Fill your lungs with fresh mountain air as you glide across the lake to the island aboard a traditional pletna rowing boat, take a dip in the crystal-clear waters, or hike up the hill to storybook medieval Bled Castle and enjoy the magnificent views.
For active types, the area offers many hiking opportunities, as well as other sports such as mountain biking and canyoning. And if Lake Bled is a little touristy for your liking, you might find you agree with the many locals who prefer
How would you fare if dropped into the wilderness without a mobile phone or GPS signal, a map or even a compass to guide you? In circumstances such as these, Tristan Gooley would surely be the ultimate travel companion.
Gooley is an expert in natural navigation – that is, finding your way by reading clues in the environment. The only living person to have both flown solo and sailed single-handed across the Atlantic, he teaches people how to use the sun, moon, stars and other facets of the natural world to work out direction, and increase their appreciation of their surroundings.
We caught up with Gooley to find out more about getting lost on a volcano, keeping a body part as a souvenir of his travels, and why his wife refuses to sail in British waters.
Where was your last trip?
My last minor expedition was with our dog in the woods this morning. A more ambitious recent one was as the navigator aboard a traditional dhow off the coast of Oman. I was helping a crew of Omanis and western academics to navigate using the sun, moon, stars and planets.