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Monthly Archives: October 2016

8 best places to camp around the world

1. Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

You can’t talk about camping without waxing lyrical about New Zealand’s out-of-this-world landscapes. Mount Cook (or Aoraki to the Maori) is the country’s highest mountain and the entire surrounding rugged region is the South Island’s finest outdoor playground. Views from the campgrounds here are simply staggering.

2. Devon, England

The southwest of England feels a million miles from the rest of the UK. The campsites on Dartmoor and Exmoor are fantastic places to pitch a tent, while you’ll find spots with unbeatable vistas along the craggy cliffs that sweep down to the Atlantic on the north Devon coast. Come in autumn, when you can watch a huge red sun dip slowly over the horizon.

3. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, Scotland

The scattered peaks, valleys and villages of the Trossachs – often called the Highlands in miniature – make an incredibly scenic backdrop for a camping trip. Amid these romantic lochs and glens you’ll find everything from sprawling caravan parks to remote wild camping spots; be sure to read the Outdoor Access Code before you go.

4. The Alps, France

The dominion of skiers in the winter months, the Alps transform as the snow thaws. Once the balmy spring weather arrives, so do hikers and campers. You’ll find beautifully fresh alpine air and quaint villages nestled in the foothills. It’s a magical place to camp, made all the more special by the glittering night sky above.

5. Hossa National Park, Finland

Finland’s newest national park (set to open in June 2017) is in the wild northeast of the country, a rugged landscape of rivers, lakes and old-growth spruce forests. Finland welcomes wild campers and the park is dotted with remote lean-to shelters and rustic cabins, all with spots for campfires.

6. Skåne, Sweden

Long bright summer days pass delightfully slowly in Sweden’s most southerly region. Gentle countryside backs the coastline and there are many tranquil places to camp near Skåne’s beaches, lakes or forests. As in much of Scandinavia, wild camping is positively encouraged under Allemansrätt, the “right to roam”.

7. Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Zion is one of the most spectacular parks in the Southwest, with its red sandstone cliffs, rugged plateaus and forested canyons. Watchmen and South are the established campgrounds, but if you really want to get away from the crowds you can get a permit to overnight at one of the otherworldly wilderness campsites in the park’s interior.

8. Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Vancouver Island’s mind-blowingly diverse ecosystem gets ever more wild as you head north. Pacific Rim National Park and the West Coast Trail are spectacular places to set up camp – you might catch sight of orcas breaching offshore, sea otters playing in the shallows or brant geese flying overhead.

Alternative London Off The Tourist Trail

Take a walk – or the bus

Mews, alleyways, yards, courts – London does atmospheric walking like few other places on Earth. And the more you walk, the more you find; roads seem to call out to you, leading you on, ensnaring you in a wonderful riddle. Getting lost in London is one of its great pleasures.

Feeling ambitious? Writer Will Self reckons it takes a whole day to walk from central London to green fields – in other words, to actually leave the city on foot. A more manageable variation is to take a bus to the end of its line and walk back in.

Slightly less ambitious, but a lot of fun, is to take a bus back into London from the start of its route. Getting on before anyone else, you’ll have your choice of seats – which of coursemeans top deck, front row. Picnic and hip flask optional.

You could try the number 18 from out by the legendary Ace Café, a petrolhead hub on the North Circular. The 74, meanwhile, is cut out for better things: hop on at Putney Bridge and spend the next hour or so peering in at the windows of some of London’s wealthiest residences in the likes of Fulham, South Kensington and Knightsbridge.

Follow the other river

London’s lost rivers are its most powerful ghosts. Largely built over now, they run in subterranean silence, locked away from the living city, feeding its urban legend. Some twenty of them have been accounted for and a good number you can see for yourself if you know where to look.

Walk down to Blackfriars Bridge, for instance, peer over the side and you’ll see the Fleet emptying into the Thames. Stand on the platform at Sloane Square station and look up – see that pipe? That’s the Westbourne in there.

But there’s another river, not yet lost, which remains little known by tourists – the Lea.

Head out to Tottenham or Walthamstow and you can follow the Lea all the way down to the Thames. It’s a gritty vista for much of the way – if you can’t find the beauty in wetlands, industrial landscapes and so-called ‘edgelands’, it might not be for you.

But the Lea also takes in some undeniably evocative spots, such as Three Mills Island, where a rare tidal mill still stands; the eerie sculptural concrete of Middlesex Filter Beds; Trinity Buoy Wharf, site of London’s only remaining lighthouse; and, of course, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which the Lea snakes all over.

See the real East End

It has in recent times been known as the epicentre of London’s ‘cool’, yet many tourists still don’t make it out east. Brick Lane, Shoreditch graffiti spotting and altogether questionable Jack the Ripper tours (it wasn’t that long ago) tend to be the limit of their explorations.

But while many working class East End families have shifted out to Essex – some by choice, others by the march of gentrification – the east of the city is still where you can sample some good old Cockney culture. Fancy a knees-up? Try the Eleanor Arms pub on Old Ford Road.

Get a side of banter with your bacon at Bethnal Green’s E Pellicci (perhaps the best looking of all the classic London “caffs”, with its touches of chrome and Formica).

For a taste of music hall, meanwhile – the true Cockney’s evening entertainment of choice – it’s got to be Wilton’s, near Shadwell Overground.

Enjoy London’s island oases

Paris has its famous Île de la Cité, home to Notre Dame. What has London got? The Isle of Dogs, home to the utterly un-bewitching scramble of skyscrapers that is Canary Wharf.

But London can lay claim to a whole lot of other islands (and islets and aits and eyots, as they’re variously known), none of which are much visited – which is why they’re often of a distinctly unusual character.

Take Isleworth Ait, for instance, managed by the London Wildlife Trust, which is home to a population of two threatened snail species: the German Hairy Snail and the Two-Lipped Snail.

Then there’s the human-inhabited Eel Pie Island in Richmond, which has a long and colourful link to London’s musical heritage (not least with The Who and Rolling Stones playing there in the 1960s). Today it’s still a hub of alternative culture.

Get up early

Tourists get up and out early. London draws them out. Or perhaps that’s the budget English breakfasts on offer at their digs. Either way – you need to get up earlier.

Make it out of bed at dawn, and you’ll be handsomely rewarded. Two of London’s most venerable markets get going as the sun rises: Smithfield and Billingsgate have flogged flesh and fish respectively at these hours for centuries. Smithfield runs from 2am until mid-morning (Mon–Sat) but you should definitely arrive by 7am to see it at its bustling best and Billingsgate is open from 4–8am (Tues–Sat).

They’re very much working markets, not tourist attractions. Yet they’re open to all – you’re guaranteed a lively atmosphere (in spite of the ungodly hour) and will be rubbing shoulders with top chefs amongst other punters. Towards the end of their trading hours (still relatively ungodly), you can pick up a bargain or two too.

And, when your body’s actually ready for breakfast, there are some fantastic greasy spoons near both.

best places to visit in Iceland in summer

To get off the tourist trail: the West Fjords

Summer is the perfect time to hike through the stunning Icelandic scenery, and if you can camp, so much the better (and cheaper). Dynjandi is a particularly good spot to pitch up – the waterfall may not be as famous as Gullfoss, but it still attracts plenty of visitors. Stay the night and you may well get the thunderous falls, glittering in the early-morning sun, all to yourself.

For a more remote West Fjords experience head to Hornstrandir, right on the edge of the Arctic Circle and barely accessible out of summer. This peninsula in Iceland’s far northwest is entirely wild, its inhospitable but beautiful terrain preserved as a nature reserve.

It’s the perfect place to escape the crowds of the southern coast – though even in the middle of summer the weather is unpredictable, so hikers should take precautions to stay safe.

For wildlife: Vestmannaeyjar, the Westman Islands

One of Iceland’s biggest draws is its wildlife and the Westman Islands are the prime place to go for puffin spotting. Every year between April and August, the archipelago becomes the biggest puffin colony in the world. The friendly town of Vestmannaeyjar is located on the only inhabited island, Heimaey, and is the best base for seeing these cute orange-beaked birds.

Visit in early August and you might be lucky enough to witness a truly heart-warming event: local families collect lost baby puffins, or “pufflings”, who’ve found their way into the town by mistake, and bring them to the shore to safely release them.

The summer festival, Þjóðhátíð, is also held in early August; its popularity among Icelanders is reflected in the fact it’s known, quite simply, as “The Festival”.

For a rugged adventure: the Interior

The Interior (also known as the hálendið, or highlands) is generally only accessible in summer, and the window can be as short as a few weeks.

If you’re not keen on carrying a tent, try staying in one of the huts (sæluhús) which dot the highlands; book ahead, as Icelanders and visitors make the most of the short season.

However you choose to do it – day-hike, camping, staying in huts – if you’re a keen walker you shouldn’t miss the chance to explore the Interior on foot. It’s the archetype of Icelandic nature, with a bleak and otherworldly beauty you can find nowhere else: smooth glacial valleys; colourful, iron-streaked earth and milky sulphur springs.

Be sure to also take advantage of these warm rivers and hot springs for a traditional dip. Hveravellir is a good option, but perhaps the most isolated spot for outdoor bathing is Viti, a small crater lake in the Askja caldera. However, the volcano is still active; while this definitely adds a bit of extra excitement to your swim, it also adds some real danger.

To take a hike: Siglufjörður

In Iceland’s northwest is the small fishing town of Siglufjörður (or Sigló). This is the most northerly town in the country, and the road here – usable only in summer – is the highest in Iceland.

The town’s laidback, low-key feel and dramatic setting are reasons enough to visit – not to mention the freshly smoked kippers and summer Folk Music Festival. But it’s also a perfect base for hiking in the surrounding area.

Eyjafjörður, the fjord to the east of the town, is the best place to go to spot wildlife. Hrísey, the island at the mouth of the fjord, is renowned for its birdlife – and it’s not only twitchers who’ll be charmed by the sight of its famous ptarmigans casually wandering around town.

Alternatively, head to the villages of Ólafsfjörður and Dalvík for a whale-watching trip – some operators even run midnight sun tours.

Try to time your visit to coincide with the local summer festival, the Great Fish Day: a popular event that draws the whole community together for delicious (free) food and warm Icelandic hospitality.

For a festival: Reykjavík

Around Iceland National Day (also called Independence Day; June 17) there are parties throughout the country, but the biggest and best are in the centre of Iceland’s charming capital city. Expect parades, poetry readings and dancing all night long. After all, the sun hardly sets.

For some background on Iceland’s history, head to Reykjavík’s Árbæjarsafn (Open Air Museum). The big draw on Independence Day is that anyone wearing national dress gets in for free. So if you happen to own your own upphlutur you can save on the entry fee.

For a different kind of festival, book tickets for Secret Solstice, set up in 2014 with the rationale that the sunny nights of the Icelandic summer are perfect for a weekend-long party. The line-up is consistently brilliant, and every year they hold special events away from the main Reykjavík venues. Who doesn’t want to dance inside a glacier?

For bathing in the buff: Reykjadalur

Falling shortly after National Day, midsummer can get a bit overlooked in Iceland. However, there’s one tradition well worth trying out if you’re brave enough: bathing naked in a river at night.

The most convenient place to head – not far from the capital – is Reykjadalur (“Steam Valley”). The river running through this valley is warmed by a geothermal spring, making it a popular spot for an alfresco dip.

best places to go in spring

Ōsaka, Japan

With the natural phenomenon known as hanami (cherry blossom), spring in Japan is simply stunning. Head to Ōsaka, one of our top 10 cities for 2017, in early April to see the city’s castle rise high above a sea of petals, or walk through the Expo 70 Commemorative Park beneath a canopy of pink.

Alentejo, Portugal

After years of economic crisis, Portugal is finally on the up. Spring is a beautiful time of year for the Rota Vicentina, a network of walking trails on the west coast of Portugal’s Alentejo region. There’s an inland route – the Historical Way – for the sea-scraping Fishermen’s Trail cliff-top paths stunning ocean views shrubs and flowers are aromatic beyond belief and the native storks should be returning from their winter holidays around now too.

New Orleans, USA

Mardi Gras isn’t the only reason to make a trip down south. Louisiana’s capital is just as enchanting when things have quietened down. Take your time soaking up the faded beauty of the French Quarter’s backstreets before heading to Frenchmen Street for a night of live jazz and cocktails.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Amsterdam really comes to life in the spring, as cafés and bars spread out over the cobbled streets. Get to know the city’s ins and outs in a canal-boat ride, or take a trip to the unforgettable Keukenhof , 25km out of town, where tulips bloom in spectacular colours from late-March to mid-May.

The Wye Valley, Wales

This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has never wanted for visitors, and for good reason. The river itself is fantastic for canoeing and kayaking, while your inner twitcher will rejoice at the sight of the gorgeously flecked goshawk engaging in its so-called ‘sky dance’, a mate-attracting display of flying prowess that is a spring (and late-winter) phenomenon.

The Romantic Road, Germany

Travelled on foot, by bike or car, the scenic 400km Romantische Strasse from Würzburg to Füssen takes in medieval walled towns, traditional villages with half-timbered houses, vineyards and the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein. This picture perfect route through Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg was created to attract visitors after WWII – more than sixty years later it’s hugely popular and often overrun by the summer months.

Cornwall, England

Cornwall has plenty of activities to help burn off all the delicious seasonal food available, like a wander among blooming flowers on the moors, or a dip in the sea if you’re brave (or mad). If there are a few spring storms, all the better – the waves make for an incredibly dramatic scene.

Barcelona, Spain

Looking like a kids’ lego experiment, the spanking new Disseny Hub arts centre in Barcelona brings four museums under one roof and is set to open its doors this . After all that culture grab a burger at Makamaka, a beach where Hawaii meets Catalonia.

The Loire Valley, France

The Loire’s sleepy villages are just shaking off their winter chill around now, while out in the vineyards buds are starting to burst and wildflowers are cropping up along the riverside. Whether you’re in search of the most memorable cuvée or the most magnificent château, spring a great time to come.

Essaouira, Morocco

For active types, this popular eighteenthcentury port makes for a perfect long weekend getaway in spring. With pleasant temperatures and the high winds – locally known as the alizee – it’s the prime location for windsurfing and kitesurfing along Morocco’s Atlantic coast. And if you’re not drawn to the waters, you can enjoy afternoons strolling past the whitewashed and blue-shuttered houses, nipping into art galleries and sipping on mint tea.

Montréal, Canada

Montréal is beautiful at this time of year; as the snow melts off the roofs of its technicolour houses, everyone gets excited about the sunshine. Plus, you can officially indulge in as much maple syrup as you want – the locals call it “sugaring off”.