Unforgettable on Athenian Riviera

download-7Both public and private beaches line the Riviera’s 48km stretch of coastline, many of which have met the stringent quality standards to earn Blue Flag accreditation. The privately operated, stylish beachside venues feature luxury sunbeds, volleyball courts and gourmet dining options. Astir Beach has one of the highest admission fees on the coast; regulars pre-book their lounge chairs. The well-appointed Baluxis the choice for all-day relaxation thanks to the plush beach loungers set on the sand. At the Yabanaki VIP section, guests enjoy special attention at a private lounge complete with cocktail and sushi bar service.

The public, state-run beaches are just as beautiful without admission fees to worry about. Amenities like umbrellas or loungers – if available – cost a few euros. Limanakia is perfect for those seeking to dive off the rocks into the crystal-clear water. Mikro Kavouri is a picturesque rocky beach with a great lookout point to enjoy views of the Saronic Gulf. Thymari beach is a local favourite known for its shallow turquoise sea.

Relaxing at Anavissos

Athenians head to the Riviera beach town of Anavissos for two things: windsurfing and great seafood. Beaches here are less crowded, the water is extra clean and the scenery beautiful. Anavissos is home to a variety of simple fish taverns with dining areas overlooking the sea.  For traditional Greek dining, join the locals at the authentic Ta Pefka (facebook.com/tabernapeuka).

Therapeutic waters of Lake Vouliagmeni

Almost hidden off the main beach road, Lake Vouliagmeni’s (limnivouliagmenis.gr) entrance is easy to miss but that would be a mistake. It’s named after a Greek word for ‘sunken’, and legend has it that a lost city fell into the deep lake which is bordered by a huge limestone cave. Managed as a stylish resort, its 24°C therapeutic waters boast mineral properties proven to heal various skin problems, rheumatism and arthritis.

Shopping in Glyfada

The US airbase may have closed years ago, but the businesses that once catered to American families in the upmarket seaside neighbourhood of Glyfada are still thriving (it helps that some of the remaining residents include millionaires and celebrities). Glyfada’s downtown area is an energetic shopping hub where boutique stores are sprinkled between cafes, eateries and bars.


Sailing the Riviera

The Athenian Riviera is the Greek capital’s hub for sailing, and the several harbours along the coast are the starting point to explore fantastic coves and islets or go on a day trip to nearby Saronic Gulf islands such as Aegina, Poros or Hydra. The most popular harbours to set off from include Flisvos, Agios Kosmas, Alimos and Glyfada. For day cruises and boat hire, try yachts-sailing.com in Paleio Faliro.

Open-air cinema at Flisvos Marina

Some of the most impressive yachts in the Mediterranean dock at Flisvos Marina (flisvosmarina.com), whose pedestrian promenade is the destination for a relaxing stroll, a fancy cocktail or a great meal with a perfect sea view. Also nearby is the Cine Flisvos (cineflisvos.gr), one of Athens’ classic open-air cinemas which operates under the moonlight by the sea every summer.

Cape Sounion’s Temple of Poseidon

Cape Sounion is the southernmost tip of greater Athens, where the ancient Greeks built the inspiring Temple of Poseidon in honour of the god of the sea. Perched high on the rocky headland jutting out over the Saronic Gulf, the gleaming marble columns once welcomed the ancient Athenians home as they sailed back into the Aegean Sea. Today, Cape Sounion is one of the most coveted spots on the Riviera to admire the sunset.

Fine dining on the Riviera

In addition to their gastronomic delights, the finest restaurants on the Riviera feature incredible sea vistas.  President Bill Clinton and Hollywood celebrities Sean Connery and Leonardo Di Caprio have all enjoyed the seafood specialties at Ithaki (ithakirestaurantbar.gr). World-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa brings magnificent flavours from Japan to the Riviera at Matsuhisa, set on a prime spot on the Astir Palace Resort complex.

Fresh air and sea in San Diego

download-8It can be hard to get a handle on downtown San Diego from the street. More high-rise than you might imagine and more densely-packed than other Californian cities, it is also divided into distinct districts. Happily, some of the best places to get an overview of the city are from rooftop bars which offer sensational vistas accompanied by a tempting array of cocktails.

San Diego’s harbour is dominated by the two towers of the Grand Hyatt Hotel whose 40th-floor Top of the Hyatt bar gives unbeatable sunset views over the marina. Further downtown, on 6th Avenue, the Nolen (thenolenrooftop.com) attracts a more local, fashionable crowd, who down cocktails and local craft beer above the busy Gaslamp Quarter.



Further north in La Jolla, paragliders emerge each morning from the clifftops at Torrey Pines. Taking advantage of the unique soaring conditions (westerly sea breezes deflected upwards by the sandstone cliffs) gliders can stay aloft for hours and land back on the clifftop. Unlike many paragliding venues, flying here is a year-round activity (although they do make a grudging exception for Christmas Day). Tandem flights (flytorrey.com) take you straight out over the sea where, floating above the vast Pacific Ocean and with dolphins and surfers sharing the waters of Blacks Beach below, you can see the expanse of the La Jolla coastline spreading out on one side and North County on the other. The flight even gives you aerial views at startlingly close quarters of La Jolla’s poshest clifftop communities. It’s worth sticking around afterwards for a sandwich at the Cliffhanger Café to watch others in flight and enjoy the views with your feet on the ground.

Helicopter flights

The best way to get the full panorama of San Diego is undoubtedly to take a helicopter tour, which in one flight takes in the city’s entire area.  Most fly over La Jolla (some venturing further north up the coast to glitzy Del Mar) as well as downtown and waterfront San Diego andBalboa Park, with perhaps a swoop down to the Mexican border towards Tijuana. Variations on the theme include a stop-off for wine tasting in nearby wine country. These trips don’t come cheap – prices tend to start at around $250 for the most basic tour – but they do cover a huge distance.

Combat flight

If you’re a fan of classic Tom Cruise movie Top Gun, a trip to San Diego is all about visiting locations from the movie, and a combat flight over the city is the ultimate Top Gun experience. Admittedly less sightseeing and more adrenaline adventure, this is your chance to experience a flight in a fighter jet (skycombatace.com), complete with aerobatic manoeuvres and even the option to take the controls yourself. It’s wildly expensive but, for Top Gun buffs especially, unforgettable.

By sea

Harbour cruise

San Diego is built around a sea port and with its grid formation you often get tantalising glimpses of the ocean as you walk around. To get the best water views though, you need to head out into the harbour.  Tours take place at regular intervals throughout the day in cruise ships, and give you a feel of the scale, depth and history of San Diego, as well as impressive shots of the skyline. The tours typically take you past the glamorous residences of Coronado and under the Coronado bridge, passing the military base (where you get an excellent close-up look at navy destroyers and aircraft carriers) and commercial shipyards with huge floating dry docks. If you want to turn the tour into more of an experience there are dinner and champagne cruises as well as blue whale tours on some days of the week.

Seal tours

There aren’t many major cities that don’t have a boat-on-wheels tour in one form or another (often called a Duck Tour) and there’s a reason – it’s an incredibly popular, fun trip, especially for families. After a whistle-stop drive around the city, the San Diego version makes a splashy entry into the bay. From then on, there’s more of an emphasis on wildlife than in most of the harbour cruises – there’s a detour to see the sea lion colony – and the commentary is aimed at a mixed age audience.

Sea kayak trips

For messing about on the water under your own steam join one of the many kayak tours that head out from La Jolla every day into the marine ecological reserve. You need to be tolerably fit to keep up, and you will get wet, but it’s worth a little exertion to paddle with pelicans flying overhead and rays swimming beneath, out to the seal and sea lion colonies. La Jolla has attracted the rich and famous for generations and you’ll get the lowdown from the well-informed tour guides about who has lived in the grand, colonial-style mansions that dot the coastline, as well as picking up a fair bit of local history and geology. The highlight of the trip is venturing into the La Jolla caves, strong waves permitting. Prices vary substantially so it’s worth shopping around; La Jolla Sea Caves Kayak Tour is a good option.

Best experiences of the scenic barrier islands

download-9This semitropical string of islands is rife with opportunities to enjoy the landscape at a leisurely pace – after all, you’re on island time and in the South. Though degrees of development and infrastructure vary from island to island, encountering nature on each one is a great way to find solace in a bit of solitude.

Tybee Island: Savannah’s offbeat enclave

Twenty miles east of Savannah’s historic district, Tybee Island (known by locals – or at least the ones dwelling on the mainland – as ‘Savannah Beach’) features five miles of easily-accessible public shoreline, popular to visitors from other parts of Georgia and beyond.

Enjoy surfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding or jet skiing with your own craft or rent from a local outfitter (tybeeisland.com/water-sports). The lively pier on the south end of the island is popular for picnicking and people watching – but if you prefer to peep birds and wild dolphins rather than humans, head to North Beach off Strand Avenue. You’ll also find the oldest and tallest lighthouse in the state here.

If you’re seeking seclusion and feeling adventurous, try a jaunt to Little Tybee Island. It’s completely uninhabited and perfect for camping, beachcombing, birding and hiking. It’s within easy eyeshot of ‘big’ Tybee and might seem close enough to swim to, but the currents can be treacherous, so don’t attempt it. Kayak if you’re experienced or look into boat charter services (visittybee.com).

McQueen’s Island Trail: amble down an ex-railroad track

McQueen’s Island Trail (parks.chathamcounty.org) is a hit for travelers who want to bike (bring your own), hike, or jog along what used to be a stretch of the Savannah & Atlantic Railroad Line. The scenic six-mile path is fringed with cordgrass, cabbage palms and coastal cedar trees. Terrain ranges from hard-packed dirt to pebbly crushed limestone and the western portion of the trail was recently restored due to erosion, so tread with care on this fragile turf.

The McQueen’s Island Trail, also known as the ‘Rails to Trails’ path, runs along the marshes near Savannah © Joseph Shields / Getty Images

Paralleling the Savannah River, the trail takes you right up to its marshy banks at some points. These are great resting areas for a deep breath of sea salt-air and a glimpse of the river’s impressive breadth, where massive ships drift out to sea. Spot native wildlife like dolphins, turtles and the occasional bobcat or alligator. A bit of island kitsch awaits at the end, where you’ll encounter an oak tree adorned with buoys, flags and trinkets. The trailhead is just off US Highway 80, 15 miles east of Savannah – keep your eyes peeled for the Fort Pulaski National Monument (nps.gov) sign and park along the road or at the fort for free. The only animals allowed are the ones who dwell here, so leave your pups at home.

Off-the-beaten-track island odysseys

Set southward to see under-the-radar islands that get overshadowed by big hitters like Tybee, St Simons or Jekyll. These tucked-away natural treasures take a little more effort to get to but their unmarred and primordial beauty is worth the trek.

Coastal Georgia features a rich, complex system of rivers and estuaries © Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

Take Wassaw Island, for example. What it lacks in development is made up for by an experience of primitive grandeur while birding, hiking and biking along 20 miles of trails and seven miles of seashore. Visitors can explore diverse wildlife in their unique habitats year-round and national refuge regulation ensures all species are protected.

Wassaw’s live oak and slash pine trees converge to form canopies where rookeries of herons, egrets and other local birds dwell, and endangered loggerhead sea turtles swim ashore to lay eggs on summer nights. Ensure wildlife here continues to thrive by adhering to all signage and don’t venture beyond areas marked off-limits. Wassaw is open daily from sunrise to sunset and only accessible by boat. Charter services can be booked with eco-conscious outfitters like Savannah Coastal EcoTours (savannahcoastalecotours.com) or Wilderness Southeast (naturesavannah.org).

Sapelo Island sits right in the middle of Georgia’s string of barrier islands and is well worth a visit for die-hard naturalists. Tours of the island’s extensive system of estuaries must be booked in advance through the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (SINERR) Visitors Center (sapelonerr.org) and ferry service runs from the nearby mainland town of Meridian, accessible from I-95. Camping is also available for groups of 15-25 on close-by Cabretta Island.

Sapelo Island Ghost Crab © Lisa Santore / Getty Images

Other than science and research workers, the only residents on Sapelo dwell in the community of Hogg Hummock (sapeloislandga.org). Its inhabitants are the only remaining collective of the Gullah and Geechee peoples, direct descendants of the West African slaves brought to the area 1802. This remaining permanent group of around 50 people proudly carry on the unique culture, language and traditions of their forebears despite their dwindling numbers.

The Golden Isles: retreat beyond the resorts

Halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville are the popular barrier islands known as the Golden Isles, dubbed as such by Spanish explorers in search of gold over 400 years ago. Though popular for their resorts, exclusive residential communities and some of the best golfing in the state, there are alternatives for imbibing the natural beauty of these islands.

How to exploding craft beer scene

Although its beer history isn’t as famous or marketed quite as well as that of some of its European neighbours, Portugal-produced beer predates the country itself, going all the way back to pre-Roman Lusitania. But foreign influence was heavily muted during the Estado Novo, the totalitarian dictatorship that ran the small Iberian nation from 1933 to 1974. Two rebel-rousing domestic brands, Sagres and Super Bock, flowed freely from the taps with little competition. Coincidence that Lisbon-speak for a draught beer is imperial? Not likely.

“During the dictatorship, society was so nationalistic; they didn’t want to import or export, or the influence of anything coming in,” says American chef/brewer Adam Heller, who recently opened Chimera Brewpub in Lisbon’s industrially hip Alcântara neighbourhood. “They wanted to preserve their identity.”


The taps they are a-changin’

Fast-forward a few decades and Lisbon is emerging from the crippling global financial crisis with guns blazing: the city is suddenly finding itself in the unusual position of European tastemaker. Booming on the backs of returning waves of creatives, many of whom left the country to explore opportunities abroad during the thinnest years of the recession (and were no doubt exposed to imperial pale ales, porters and saisonsalong the way), Lisbon in 2016 is hungry for hops and thirsty for choice.

Lisbon’s first craft beer bar, Cerveteca Lisboa, opened its doors in 2014 on leafy Praça das Flores, thus opening the cerveja artesanal floodgates. After just two short years, Lisbon now counts two brewpubs, at least five dedicated craft beer bars, nearly a dozen established microbreweries and numerous contract and home brewers among its craft arsenal.

Rui Bento, founder and head brewer at Amnesia Brewery, is a shining example of Portugal’s new generation of hopheads. At his day job, Bento keeps the peace as a police officer in the Lisbon suburb of Oeiras. Off-duty, his homebrews are changing Portugal one police officer at a time. “A lot of my fellow officers have tried some of my beers and liked them lots,” he says. “They now understand the difference between craft beer and industrial beer, and realise why I drink craft. I’m trying to show them that there’s another life beyond industrial beers!”

Bento won Portugal’s National Craft Beer Contest last April for his Juniper Smokin’, a Baltic Porter-based smoked beer brewed with juniper berries, the likes of which most Portuguese have never experienced.

Ironically, the same sort of “Buy Local” movement that was prevalent during the dictatorship is driving Portugal’s craft beer scene today, albeit not dictatorially forced; the country’s newly installed national confidence has extended to its suds. “I want to keep things local,” says Bento. “Craft beer only makes sense for me this way. Sure, I would love to sell my beer all over the country, and maybe outside Portugal, but my focus is, and always will be, local.”

Craft brew breakdown

“The craft beer explosion is happening in Lisbon for basically the same reason it’s happening everywhere – drinkers are demanding better quality and more variety in the beer they drink,” says American Scott Steffens, who in 2015 opened Dois Corvos, the first Lisbon brewery with a taproom (bar on the premises). “When we started, the scene was nearly a blank slate with only a few styles represented. In our first year we introduced 26 beers!”

But where to find them? Here’s the latest rundown of where to quench your thirst for cold cerveja artesanal.

Cerveteca Lisboa

The original and still the best, Cerveteca devotes 12 daily-changing taps to a mix of American, European and Portuguese craft beers (the latter indicated by an asterisk on the traditional chalkboard beer menu) in a casual, living room-like atmosphere on a picturesque plaza along hip Príncipe Real. This is Lisbon’s lupolomaníaco (hophead) gathering point, led by the city’s nicest and most knowledgeable staff.

Tips to travel in Serbia north

The rolling ranges of Fruška Gora national park are the perfect antidote to Vojvodina’s pancake plains. Clean, green and almost impossibly bucolic, the 80km stretch is dotted with picture-perfect villages and a sprinkling of 16 working Orthodox monasteries built between the 15th and 18th centuries. It’s one of Serbia’s oldest winemaking regions, and the hospitable locals are more than happy to clink a glass or three with visiting oenophiles. Look out for signs reading vinski podrum – this means there’s a wine cellar within and you’re welcome to sample from it. Wander at your whim by car or on foot, or see fruskagora-dunav.rsfor a list of monasteries and wineries. The Tourism Organisation of Sremski Karlovci (karlovci.org.rs) can arrange private visits.

Mellow meanderings

For exploration sans exertion, the flatlands of Vojvodina can’t be beaten. The region is criss-crossed with gentle hiking paths (see vojvodinaonline.com), including easy ambles along the six lakes of Bela Crkva and around placid Palić Lake; boat hire is also available at both spots. If you don’t mind getting (slightly) vertical, a 160km marked trail runs along the low hills of Fruška Gora.

Prefer to pedal?  The Danube Bike Path (danube-cycle-path.com) – suitable for cyclists of all stripes – wends along the eponymous river past idyllic villages and Pannonian panoramas all the way to the majestic Iron Gates gorge on the Romanian border. Its sister trail, the Euro Velo 6 (eurovelo.com), crosses the Deliblato Sands. Billed as the ‘European Sahara’, the 300-sq-km area is the continent’s largest sandy terrain and home to a massive array of rare plants, birds and animals, including a large wolf population.

A potpourri of the past

Vojvodina is liberally sprinkled with reminders of its mixed-bag past – everyone from the Huns to the Hapsburgs had a stint here – but to see it all would take weeks. For a concentrated hit of history, head to Bač (turizam.bac.rs), 65km west of Novi Sad. The town’s star attraction is its glorious, partially ruined fortress. Records indicate it was first built in AD 873, before being annexed, renovated and destroyed repeatedly by various empires until the 18th century. The Knights Templar planted their flag in Bač too, establishing a monastery in 1169. The cloisters were taken over by the Franciscans in 1312; it remains operational today and welcomes visitors. For a taste of Turkish times, check out the preserved rooms and water pipes of Bač’s 16th-century hammam, the only surviving Turkish bath in Vojvodina.

Architectural ambles

Sitting snug against the Danube, Sremski Karlovci has a huge history that belies its cosy size. Originally home to an ancient Roman fortress, the village peaked as a major cultural and spiritual centre during the 18th century, a legacy still visible in beautiful baroque edifices including the St Nicholas Orthodox cathedral (1758–62), the working Karlovci Orthodox Theological Seminary (1794) – the second of its kind in the world – and the magnificent Four Lions fountain.

Further north, Subotica charms comers-and-goers (it’s on the border with Hungary) with a comely collection of art nouveau buildings. An easy amble will reveal streets and squares lined with architectural eye candy; the tastiest is the sumptuous Raichle Palace (home to a modern art gallery), a 1904 marvel of mosaics, floral patterns and wrought-iron flourishes.

Finland on tourism

In the self-proclaimed ‘cloudberry capital’, Ranua, locals pounce on the season with a biological urgency, downing tools, seizing buckets and heading out into the boggy wilds. They are foraging for the honeyed taste of summer in berries that will linger long into the snowbound winter. ‘Cloudberry fever’, they call it.

Into the swamps

There is an art to cloudberry foraging. I’ve been traipsing through deep bogs, wisped with the pearl-tipped strands of cotton grass and plumed with tall pines, for hours. There is nothing to judge the passing of time but the changing position of the sun as it emerges through billowing clouds. ‘Don’t pick the red ones,’ advises my guide Riikka Tuomivaara. ‘They aren’t ripe yet.’ Counterintuitively, Finland’s most elusive, sought-after berry becomes paler the riper it gets: ranging from deepest crimson to peachy orange, with just one precious berry per stalk.

I compare my handful of berries to the pile in Riikka’s amply filled bucket. ‘You’ll get the hang of it,’ she encourages. And I do. Little by little my eyes alight on the amber berries. The swamps that threaten to suck me down into a watery grave become easier to negotiate, as I hop between spongy islets of dry moss. I develop the knack of tentatively picking with one hand whilst wildly beating away swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes with the other. My bucket begins to slowly fill. The picking becomes methodical, almost meditative.


We stop to picnic by an open fire in a middle-of-nowhere glade, the sun sluicing through high treetops. I try my first berry. It is tarter than a raspberry, with a creamy, syrupy juice that reminds me of biting into a luscious peach. Born from the melting snow, the berries flower in June when the last trace of ice melts then ripen six weeks later. More than just berries to Finns, they herald the arrival of summer after a dark, bitterly cold winter.

Lapland’s wilderness

Prized as much for their scarcity as for the flavour they bring to a pie or jam, cloudberries are notoriously hard to find. They thrive in the boggy wetlands in remote Arctic climates, such as here in Southern Laplandbut, even then, finding them demands a degree of skill and stamina. While they grow in other pockets of Northern Scandinavia, Russia andCanada, it is fair to say that no country puts them on a pedestal quite like Finland.

Ever since I first heard about these berries – called hilla in Ranua andlakka almost everywhere else – these swamps and forests had taken on a mythical quality in my imagination. Foraging for them brings a dash of back-aching, mosquito-ridden reality to the equation, but it is no less magical for it. The breezy silence, the wide open skies, the looking-glass lakes, the die-straight roads piercing through endless tracts of forest in a beautiful monotony: cloudberries in every sense draw you further away from civilisation and deeper into nature.

Indeed, the solitary pursuit of cloudberry picking sums up the Finnish psyche neatly. ‘Here in Lapland we need space,’ explains Riikka. ‘If our nearest neighbours are less than a mile away, we start to feel claustrophobic.’ Most cloudberry pickers go alone. They like it that way – the peace and time to reflect as they move between the marshes for many hours. They have plenty to choose from, with more than 60% of the region given over to swamps that subdivide into three kinds: räme(pine bogs), korpi (drier swamps with trees) and avosuot (treeless bogs).

‘Other berries grow in Lapland, too,’ says Riikka. ‘There are blueberries in July, lingonberries in mid-August and cranberries in September.’ Then there is one hard-to-find berry that excites locals even more than the cloudberry: the Holy Grail that is the mesimarja (Arctic raspberry), which is three times smaller and flourishes by lakes and rivers. As I edge my way around a lake in the hope of finding one, Riikka points out wild bees. ‘We have a saying that if you stand on one, you will lose 10 kilos of berries,’ she warns. I watch my step.

By the time we call it a day, Riikka is visibly glowing with health and happiness. ‘I love it, this time of year,’ she breathes. ‘The berries. The exercise. The nature. The fresh air.’ I can see her point as we emerge from woods onto a road as wild reindeer cross, their antlered forms backlit by the pastel flare of a would-be sunset.

Cloudberry fever

Everywhere you go in Ranua in summer, the excitement for cloudberries is palpable. ‘It’s total cloudberry fever from the first berry until the festival celebrating them in August,’ says Riikka. This is partly due to the fact that the berries cannot be grown commercially as they require too much water; so finding them is a treasure hunt. Hence the reason why many locals become protective about their patch, going to great lengths to keep them a secret, in some cases quite literally. ‘I’ve walked along fences 10km long only to discover the very best cloudberries hidden behind them,’ Riikka tells me. ‘Then there are the tales of bears to scare away potential pickers – cloudberry bears, we call them.’

While the cloudberry is much more than a passing food fad in Finland, its appeal has certainly been bolstered by its ‘superfood’ status: one single berry contains more vitamin C than an orange, and is packed with omega-3 and omega-6, among other substances reported to have health-giving properties.

At the tiny cloudberry market in the centre of Ranua, there is one man who knows more about the virtues of hilla than any other: his name is Taisto Illikainen, simply the ‘cloudberry professor’ to locals, and he has been 50 years in the business. Taisto determines the start of the cloudberry season, records the number of kilos of berries picked and fixes the prices. In 2016 a kilo is bought for €10 and sold for €15, which is roughly average. ‘A couple of years ago, it was too cold and berries were scarce so the price rose to €35 per kilo,’ he nods, eyes sparkling at the chance to talk about his favourite subject.

Tips when visit in Pistoia

Stepping into Pistoia’s Piazza del Duomo for the first time, you get an eerie feeling that you’ve time-travelled. The ground beneath your feet was first a Roman forum, then a medieval market place and then the civic heart of a rich Renaissance town. A fine, 67-metre-high campanile sits in the centre of the square, drawing your eyes upwards to the expanse of blue sky and giving the square a feeling of grandeur.

The square is largely unchanged since the days of Dante and Machiavelli. To the left of the campanile is the Palazzo Comunale with its bold Medici insignia, while to the right is the Bishop’s Palace and a beautiful green-and-white marble baptistery, which faces off with the Romanesque cathedral. To see them in perspective, climb the 200 steps of the campanile. From the cool, dark base of the tower you ascend into the bright light of the crenellated roof terrace. From here you can peer down on the square and a sea of terracotta roofs framed by the swooping foothills of the Apennines.

Explore the subterranean passages beneath the Ospedale del Ceppo

The underground tour of the Ospedale del Ceppo offers a more visceral view of medieval life. As the Black Death laid waste to the Tuscan population in the 13th century, the hospital needed to expand rapidly and the only way to do that was to divert the nearby river below ground. It’s along this damp water course that the walk takes place, in a barrel-vaulted tunnel that holds the historic city above your head.

Beside the stratified clues to the city’s construction there are a host of other curiosities. As the concept of ‘hospital’ changed from hostelry to hospice and then medical centre these underground chambers found uses as a laundry, oil mill and even a publicly-rented grain mill powered by the underground river. Fragments of pottery reveal advancing knowledge of infectious diseases (black pots for plague victims only, please), while new surgical blades advanced anatomy classes in the anatomical theatre upstairs.

Discover Marino Marini, the Tuscan Henry Moore

The monks of the order of St Anthony who built Palazzo del Tau would probably have felt right at home with the epic modernist sculptures of Marino Marini that are now displayed in its halls and corridors, and the chapel next door. Like Niccolò di Tommaso’s moving frescoes of sad-eyed Adam and Eve and St Anthony exiled in Egypt that have adorned the chapel walls for centuries, Marini’s sculptures speak volumes about man’s daily struggles.

Many of them depict a mythic horse and rider in various stages of conflict and cooperation: sometimes the horse is stiff and unyielding, at other times it rears wildly, its rider clinging on for dear life. In September 2017 Marini will also receive top billing at the city’s premier contemporary art gallery, Palazzo Fabroni, with a retrospective of his work held in collaboration with the Guggenheim Foundation.

Make friends and drink spritz in Piazza della Sala

You might not be in the market for bull’s heart tomatoes or bags of chestnuts, but like every shopping-trolley toting nonna (grandmother) you’ll be magnetically drawn to Piazza della Sala. ‘La Sala’ is one of the oldest squares in Pistoia and there has been a market here since the 11th century. It sells everything from fish to fruit, vegetables to flowers, all of which are piled high on benches beneath shady canopies. It’s like an open-air food court and a community hub rolled into one.

Galway city to visit

Situated at the mouth of the River Corrib, Galway (Gaillimh in Irish) started out life as a fishing village, Claddagh, and really took off in the 13th century when it came under the Anglo-Norman rule of Richard de Burgo (aka the Red Earl) and its city walls were constructed. It’s likely the Spanish Arch, which protected moored merchant ships from Spain, is a remnant of the medieval walls. Another surviving portion has been incorporated in the Eyre Square Centre shopping mall. Fascinating archaeological finds are on display at the Hall of the Red Earl, a medieval tax office/courthouse/town hall whose remains were uncovered by accident in 1997. In 1396, Richard II transferred power to 14 merchant-family ‘tribes’; the most powerful, the Lynch family, builtLynch’s Castle, Ireland’s finest town castle (now an AIB bank). More recent history – from 1800 to 1950 – is on display at the Galway City Museum, where exhibits include a traditional wooden Galway Hooker fishing boat.

To appreciate the city’s storied history, book a guided tour with Galway on Foot, which departs from the Spanish Arch.

Character-filled pubs

Galway is famed far and wide for its pubs, most of which are just a crawl from the next. Join the friendly locals as they bounce from place to place, never knowing what fun lies ahead but certain of the possibility. A brilliant starting point is Tigh Neáchtain (or just Neáchtain’s – pronounced ‘nock-tans’ – aka Naughtons), a bright-blue-painted 19th-century treasure that attracts all walks of life beneath its low ceilings and on its tree-shaded terrace. Old-school O’Connell’s, with stained glass, pressed-tin ceilings and a partially covered beer garden, is another enduring gem.

Pints of ‘the black stuff’ (ie Guinness) are popular, of course, but be sure to look out for Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale, a local success story brewing locally for over a decade. Whiskey specialists include laid-back Garavan’s (garavans.ie).


Live music

Galway’s brightly painted pubs heave with live music. You’ll hear high-spirited trad tunes featuring any combination of instruments – fiddle, tin whistle, bodhrán (goat-skin hand-held drum played with beater), guitar, banjo, squeezebox and more – pouring out from inside. It’s possible to catch a céilí (traditional music session and dancing, pronounced ‘kay-lee’) or spontaneous seisún (pronounced ‘seh-shoon’) virtually every night of the week. Cherry-red-coloured Tig Cóilí is a fantastic place to catch music, as is the two-storeyed Crane Bar.

Bands of all genres get their break at legendary venue Róisín Dubh, which also hosts comedy. You’ll catch buskers along Shop St (and its extensions, High St then Quay St) and around the Spanish Arch.

Seafaring cuisine

Seafood reigns in Galway. Terroir-focused Aniar uses local catches in many of its Michelin-starred multicourse menus. Celebrated seafood bistro Oscar’s is a superb place for Galway Bay oysters. Ard Bia at Nimmo’s serves local flavours like West Coast monkfish with spelt, preserved lemon, spinach and sorrel yoghurt or pan-roasted Atlantic hake with braised fennel, clams, beetroot and grilled asparagus. West Coast crab (washed down with Galway Hooker) is a speciality of hip Kai Café & Restaurant. And down-to-earth McDonagh’s is an essential stop for phenomenal fish and chips at its chaotically sociable communal tables.

Galway Food Tours provides a taste of the city’s best artisans, purveyors and dining highlights.

Outdoor pursuits

Shoals of salmon and sea trout surge upriver at Salmon Weir in May and June; tackle shops can provide angling advice, or visit www.fishinginireland.info for permit information. The Corrib Princessruns cruises here in summer. Another favourite outdoor activity is a 2.5km stroll along the Prom to Salthill (be sure to kick the wall near the diving boards in true Galwegian tradition). If you just want to unwind in the sunshine, the lawns of central Eyre Square are ideal.

Timeless finds

One of the joys of wandering through Galway is stumbling across its small speciality shops selling everything from Irish-made fashion to local art and jewellery, including its Claddagh rings (with a heart, signifying love, between two hands, symbolising friendship and topped by a crown, representing loyalty), named for the original fishing village; jewellery shops producing them include Ireland’s oldest, 1750-established Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold. Other favourites include the warren of book-lined rooms making up Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore, and P Powell & Sons and Kiernan Moloney, both selling traditional Irish musical instruments.

Cape Town regenerated seaside

Though there has been no return to bloomer-clad ladies lifting their petticoats to paddle in the Atlantic Ocean, or day-tripping picnickers piling off the train to watch Punch and Judy shows on the sand. Instead the remarkably infectious regeneration, which has spread along the beachfront of Muizenberg and back into the side streets, has lured eclectic customers – long-haired surfers, creatives looking for a casual office and commuters popping in for a bite or a beer on their way home from the train station – into equally eclectic cafes. The intrepid surfers, to their credit, have never actually turned their backs on Muizenberg’s break, but they no longer hightail it out of the neighbourhood as soon as they’d had their fill of waves.


Grab a bite

Food and drink have played a major role in the renewal of Muizenberg. These days you can wander from restaurant to bar, grazing on wood-fired pizza, gourmet burgers, vegan treats, sushi and plenty of good coffee and craft beer. The most pumping place on the strip is Tiger’s Milk, a laidback bar serving a local spin on pub grub – with spicy chicken livers and Bunny Chow (a loaf of bread filled with curry) making an appearance alongside burgers and ribs. Further along, choose from seafood and sushi at Live Bait (livebait.co.za), veggie-friendly fare at Yoffi Falafel (Balmoral Building), or if it’s breakfast you’re after, join the families at Knead where great coffee is combined with a kids’ play area. Across the train tracks there is Empire Café, an old favourite known for breakfast and coffee, and the brand new bar The Striped Horse, the flagship of the local craft beer brand of the same name.

It’s not all about ocean views though. Eateries are also emerging in a hidden quarter known locally as ‘The Village’ – an area of narrow streets north of the beach. Grab a latte at Kitch Kombuis (34 Palmer Rd) or sip on fresh juice while browsing for books and vinyl at Roots Bar (rootsbar.co.za). If you’re hereabouts on a Friday evening, wander a few streets further to the Blue Bird Garage Market to sample international cuisine from local vendors.

Art in the streets

Cape Town has a promising street art scene and Muizenberg is one of the suburbs where graffiti-style murals are easily found. Vibrant paintings by local art collective One Love Studio (theonelovestudio.co.za) can be spotted on walls around the region; their best-loved work is the giant surf mural etched on to the side of theStoked Backpackers building next to the station. The station itself is also a work of art, its Edwardian façade one of many reasons architecture enthusiasts are as happy in Muizenberg as surfers are. The renovated beachfront buildings date back to the early 20th century and contain a mix of Art Deco and Edwardian styles – something that developers strived to retain when revamping the buildings. Perhaps most striking of all though are the brightly painted Victorian beach huts that have become the emblem of Muizenberg. These days the huts are empty, but as regeneration continues, plans to give the huts a new purpose are in the pipeline.

Get active

There is one thing that has kept Muizenberg going, even through its rougher times – surfing. The beach break here is ideal for beginners, who come to join a surfing lesson with one of the ‘Berg’s half-dozen surf schools. More accomplished surfers stick to the back line, but Muizenberg is well known for being one of the most welcoming surf spots in South Africa when it comes to newbies. The local outfitters also hire out stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) and offer lessons in both wind- and kite-surfing, which take place at the eastern end of the beach.

For families

If you can drag the kids out of the ocean, there are a few attractions built with them in mind. Behind the beach, some well-established pursuits await – mini golf on the seafront, a pair of well patronised waterslides and a kids’ playground. For something a little more exhilarating, book in advance to try out the blo-karts at Sunrise Circle (blokart.co.za). A cross between go-karting and windsurfing, ‘blo-karting’ is an ideal way to take advantage of Muizenberg’s perpetually breezy weather.

Fun place in DC

The Franciscan Monastery is a tree-shaded oasis of peace in Northeast DC’s Brookland neighborhood. It features replicas of Holy Land shrines – including the Chapel of the Ascension, Tomb of Mary, and Grotto of Gethsemane – as well as the Grotto of Lourdes. Winding, flower-edged pathways beckon leisurely strolling. But the most relaxing spot is hands-down the nearby cloisters, which enclose a formal rose garden with benches ideal for quiet contemplation. The tiny Portiuncula Church here replicates St. Francis’s original church in Italy.

Artful repose

Sit in the alcove in front of Albert Bierstadt’s “Among the Sierra Nevada, California” at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and you are swept into the depths of this enormous oil painting. Golden sunlight splashes on a glassy mountain lake, surrounded by soaring mountains. Looking closer, you spot a family of deer pausing by the lake shore, perhaps struck by the idealized wild beauty. A flock of ducks takes off in the shadows. It’s the next best thing to being out in the middle of Mother Nature herself.

Waterside reflection

A brick and gravel pathway along the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, the C&O Canal Towpath leads you into a shady, serene realm just steps from Georgetown’s frenetic streets. Find a bench between Thomas Jefferson Street, NW, and Wisconsin Avenue, NW, and reflect on how the placid water mirrors the leaves, listen to the sweet song of cardinals, sparrows, and, in season, chickadees. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a great blue heron, standing statuesque in quest of a fishy meal before taking flight on its broad, graceful wings, long legs trailing behind.

Georgetown Park’s labyrinth

Most people head to Georgetown for shopping or nightlife, not a labyrinth. But there it is, in Georgetown Waterfront Park, a painted spiral path based on ancient methods of meditation and prayer, in the most stunning of scenes overlooking the Potomac River. All you have to do is start walking (or dancing or singing) the labyrinth to its center, then make your way back out again. Your mind relaxes, the world’s chatter disappears, and – who knows? – you may discover inner peace.

Kayaking the Potomac

Hop aboard a kayak at Thompson Boat Center and within seconds you’re paddling around Theodore Roosevelt Island, a woodsy isle in the middle of the Potomac that the wilderness-loving, 26th President of the United States himself would have loved. You can float upstream to Georgetown and beyond, or downstream for a waterborne take on the National Mall’s marble monuments. Wherever you go, the quiet dipping of your paddle and birds flitting overhead are the only sounds you’ll hear.

Cool contemplation

The repetitive shapes strike you first. Circles representing Heaven and squares representing Earth, a design inspired by the gardens and architecture of the sacred, Ming-Dynasty-era Temple of Heaven in Beijing. You’re at the Moongate Garden behind the Smithsonian Castleon the National Mall, a tranquil space centering on a small granite island surrounded by a black granite pool. Sit on one of the surrounding stone benches and contemplate the relationship between the concepts of Heaven and Earth. The water offers a cool respite from hot summer days.

A stunning stroll

One of the country’s most scenic paved trails is the Mount Vernon Trail. It winds along for 18.5 miles along the Virginia side of the Potomac River between Rosslyn and Mount Vernon, providing five-star views of Washington’s marble-clad monuments across the way. Strategically placed benches offer a place to stop and take it all in. Better yet, throw down a blanket (or yoga mat) along the river’s grassy banks and count how many bald eagles you can spot. The most stunning segment is between Memorial and Key Bridges.

Sleek serenity

The Kreeger Museum is an unsung gem in upper Georgetown. It hides away off busy Foxhall Road, NW. Pay the entrance fee and you’ll be rewarded with a nearly empty, über-modern house filled with priceless works of contemporary art. Seek out the dining room where the pretty pastel colors of several Monets can put even the noisiest mind to rest. If it’s sunny, pay no fee and stay outside in the grassy sculpture garden, a blissful, songbird-friendly kingdom where picnicking is encouraged.

Relax among foreign flora

Washington, DC is a hub of international people, places and things.United States Botanic Garden is a beautiful, glass-enclosed garden on Capitol grounds that has a political raison d’être – to assemble plants from military and exploring missions, foreign governments, and government agencies. But there’s absolutely no need to know that as you enter the balmy, birdsong-filled space and wander pathways edged by more than 4,000 flourishing seasonal, tropical, and subtropical plants. In the Garden Court, find a bench, close your eyes, and listen to relaxing ambient music as water splashes in the Alhambra-style fountain.

Where are you go on next holiday

Start with a stroll along Calea Victoriei, lurching with belle époque sensations and upscale boutiques. Bucharest’s oldest artery is arguably its most revealing. From the stately Cantacuzino Palace (today housing the George Enescu Museum) to the grandeur of the Romanian Athenaeum, bordering the scar-marked Revolution Square, it’s clear why the Romanian capital was once dubbed ‘little Paris’. Crowning wide, tree-lined boulevards, the city even boasts its very own Triumphal Arch.

But Bucharest is best enjoyed from the seat of a garden terrace, watching life go by. Contributing to a long-standing cafe culture, the Garden of Eden (facebook.com/gradinaeden107) – so appropriately called – boasts a vast urban garden seemingly veiled behind Știrbei Palace, complete with swings and hammocks. Come fall, sip your coffee inside the covered terrace whose artsy-industrial design scores extra points.

Before you set off into the maze-like streets of the Old Town, refuel with hearty Romanian fare at Caru’ cu Bere, Bucharest’s oldest beer house. Despite the tourist crowds, this stained-glass architectural landmark from 1897 is worth a stop, both for the food and occasional song-and-dance traditional performances.

With your belly full of beer and ciorbă (the customary sour soup), journey on the cobblestone streets of Lipscani, the area named after the many German merchants from Leipzig once retailing here. With quirky street names redolent of the craftsmen of yesteryear – such as Blanari (furriers), Covaci (blacksmiths) and Gabroveni (knife makers) – the pedestrian district will keep you entertained for hours.

On the left as you exit the restaurant, notice the OrthodoxStravropoleos Church, a magnificent example of Brâncovenesc style built by Greek monks in the 1700s. Head to the tranquil garden in the back for the masterfully carved arcades and a few minutes of silence. Moving on, the discreet courtyard of Strada Hanul cu Tei unravels a heap of art galleries and antique shops. Also in the vicinity is the Old Princely Court, built in the 15th century by the infamous Vlad Ţepeş, more widely known as Count Dracula.

But if you’d rather seek the modern, there’s plenty on that front to keep you busy. Envisioned as a cultural habitat where one can retreat to read and savour organic food and drinks, Carturesti Carusel library (carturesticarusel.ro) – an Instagram magnet in the Old Town – is an impressive six-level structure in a restored 19th-century house. Next door, the brought-to-new-life Gabroveni Inn (arcub.ro/arcub-gabroveni) is the capital’s newfangled cultural centre (renamed ARCUB), often hosting free exhibitions and events.

Finally, take a peek inside the oldest operating hotel in Bucharest, Manuc’s Inn (hanulluimanuc.ro). Here, the picturesque balconied courtyard acts as a perfect backdrop for fairs and folkloric acts, while also housing a restaurant, a few bars and a coffee shop.

Closing in a tireless afternoon of Old Town crawling, cool off with an Aperol Spritz at Bordello (bordellos.ro), a 3-in-1 hotspot thanks to its gastro pub, 1930s speakeasy and cabaret. Whether you start withForeplay snacks or Quickies, you can wine, dine and get your groove on, all in the same building.

Bucharest is known for its nightlife, and Lipscani is where the action is. Try club-hopping on the adjacent streets, a pastime that in Bucharest goes on well after midnight, or hop over to newcomer Energiea (energiea.ro) for some of the city’s most ingenious cocktails.

Start the day right at Origo Coffee Shop (origocoffee.ro), a speciality store offering the best brew in town, along with breakfast snacks and herbal teas (return at dusk for an introduction to Romanian wines, accompanied by an assortment of local cheeses and cold cuts). Properly energised, take advantage of one of the best English-language bookstores in Eastern Europe, at Anthony Frost on Calea Victoriei; it’s stocked with several titles on Romania.

If weather permits, hop on a 20-minute taxi ride north (around €3) for a unique morning outdoors at the National Village Museum. Here you can witness a page of Romanian rural life and a display of a few dozen peasant homes, barns, wooden churches and mills from all regions of the country. Stroll past tall-roofed houses, with beautifully crafted shingles and doorways, in a bucolic setting on the shores of Herăstrău Lake.