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
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