Category Archives: Travel

UNESCO heritage list

Each year, UNESCO adds a slew of new sites to its World Heritage List, which this yearincluded a cave complex and an entire archipelago. But there’s another list that’s far less talked about. Its contents don’t feature on travellers’ bucket lists and there’s little coverage in the media when it’s updated. Yet it’s just as – if not more – important than its counterpart.

The UNESCO Intangible Heritage List is an inventory of some of the world’s greatest traditions and traditional practices, from copper craftsmanship in Azerbaijan to the summer solstice festivals in the Pyrenees. We reported on last year’s newest inscriptions, and last week the 2016 list was updated.

Here are this year’s new additions:

1. Bisalhães black pottery manufacturing process, Portugal
2. Chapei Dang Veng (a two-stringed guitar), Cambodia
3. Cossack’s songs of Dnipropetrovsk in Ukraine
4. Ma’di bowl lyre music and dance in Uganda
5. Almezmar, drumming and dancing with sticks, Saudi Arabia
6. Argungu international fishing and cultural festival, Nigeria
7. Beer culture in Belgium

8. Bhojpuri folk songs in Mauritius
9. The Carnival of El Callao, a festive representation of a memory and cultural identity in Venezuela
10. The Carnival of Granville, France
11. Charrería – an equestrian tradition in Mexico
12. The culture of Jeju Haenyeo (women divers), South Korea
13. Falconry across the Middle East, Europe and parts of Central Asia
14. Flatbread making and sharing culture in Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey

Image by Bastian on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

15. The Gada system, an indigenous democratic socio-political system of the Oromo, Ethiopia
16. The idea and practice of organizing shared interests in cooperatives in Germany
17. The Khidr Elias feast and its vows, Iraq
18. Kuresi wrestling in Kazakhstan
19. Living culture of the three writing systems of the Georgian alphabet
20. The New Year celebration of Mangal Shobhajatra in Bangladesh
21. Momoeria, a New Year celebration in eight villages of the Kozani area, Greece

 

22. Music and dance of the merengue in the Dominican Republic
23. The celebration of Nowruz across the Middle East and Asia
24. Oshi Palav, a traditional meal and its social and cultural contexts in Tajikistan
25. Palov (rice) culture and tradition in Uzbekistan
26. Practices related to the Việt beliefs in the Mother Goddesses of Three Realms, Vietnam
27. Puppetry in Slovakia and Czechia (the Czech Republic)
28. Rumba in Cuba

Inland Croatia

Falling to Serbian forces on November 18, 1991, Vukovar remained under occupation until 1998. In the meantime the restorers have been busy and, a quarter of a century after the siege, the town is at last beginning to resemble its charming old self.

Vukovar is an important symbol of resistance to Croats, and memorial tourism is deeply embedded in the fabric of the place. However it’s also it’s also the kind of town where you can laze beside the river, go cycling in parks, dine on catfish, and marvel at one of Europe’s most compelling prehistoric sites.

Vukovar is best treated as a double date with the historic fortress town of Ilok, 30 kilometres downriver, where you’ll find the best of the local wines and some great B&Bs. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Vukovar and Ilok.

 

Where exactly is it?

Vukovar lies in the green, agriculturally-rich southeast of Croatia, about as far away from the tourist-swarmed Adriatic coast as you can get. The nearest city is Osijek, a Baroque jewel 40km to the north; you can either fly to Osijek or catch a bus from Croatian capital Zagreb (5hr 30min), or from Novi Sad in Serbia (2hr 30min).

What should I see in Vukovar?

The one essential sight in the town centre is the mid-eighteenth-century Eltz Palace, a sweeping Baroque cake of a building that looks out on riverside meadows. Inside is one of Croatia’s best museums, offering everything from bronze-age jewellery to the boots made by legendary footwear manufacturer Bat’a, who set up shop in Vukovar in 1931.

The Museum of the Vučedol Culture, five kilometres out of town on the banks of the Danube, is one of the most exciting and well-represented archeological museums anywhere in Europe. Built into the hillside below the original excavation site, this award-winning structure celebrates the copper-smelting civilization that flourished hereabouts 5000 years ago.

The Vučedol people used highly decorative astronomical pictograms to decorate their ceramics, and laid out their dead in shapes imitating signs of the zodiac. Knowledge of astronomy was crucial in deciding when to sow and when to reap.

Costa Rica to Thailand Guide

Sweden’s Treehotel, built by some of the country’s finest architects, takes the humble treehouse to new levels. Its six, strikingly modern “treerooms” range from the futuristic glass Mirrorcube to the alien-like UFO. And if a night here wasn’t unforgettable enough, there’s even a sauna suspended from the pines.

2. Tree House Lodge, Costa Rica

In 10 acres behind Punta Uva beach in the province of Limón lies a treehouse that owners Edsart Besier & Pamela Rodriguez promise will take you back to your childhood. Surrounded by a tropical garden and accessed via a wooden suspension bridge, it’s the perfect place to unwind.

 

3. Garden Village, Slovenia

A short walk from the banks of Slovenia’s famous Lake Bled, Garden Village is a fairytale come to life. Neat rows of luxury glamping tents are staggered down the hillside, while six treehouses hide in the woods alongside, connected by wooden platforms and short suspension bridges. Romantic escapes don’t come much better than this.

4. Chewton Glen, England

You’ll find the ultimate in treehouse luxury at Chewton Glen in the New Forest. Four luxury treehouse cabins are squirrelled away in a wooded valley here and the extras are fittingly decadent: spa treatments, golf buggies to take you to the main hotel and gourmet hampers delivered through a secret hatch.

When you come in Morocco

These are all worthwhile destinations in their own right, but there’s a whole host of better-kept secrets to be discovered in Morocco, and Chefchaouen (often shortened to Chaouen) remains one of the most alluring of the lot.

Hidden in the Rif Mountains, half a day’s drive away from the nearest cities of Fez or Tangier, Chefchaouen is as impossible to pronounce (“shef-sha-wen”) as it is to get your head around.

Everything about it is a bit off-beat: the locals here speak Spanish, not the French or Arabic that the guidebooks prepare you for; the town has a long history of hippie-culture and hashish that is still present today; and, perhaps most extraordinary of all, the entire medina is washed in a thousand magnificent shades of blue.

 

Time-travelling in the medina

In The Rough Guide to Morocco we describe Chaouen’s medina as “surely the prettiest in the country”, and it’s hard to imagine anyone making a compelling argument against this.

Getting lost in the old town’s narrow and uncrowded streets is a photographer’s dream, with stray cats posing in front of ornate indigo doorways – many still wet from the morning’s lick of paint – and impossibly old men shuffling up and down blue staircases in conical hooded cloaks.

There are aspects of the old town that make you feel like you could have travelled back in time: the furn, or communal bakery, still delivers warm circular loaves of bread to locals every morning, while on market day hunched-over women descend from the mountain farms to sell vats of milk. It is only when you peek into a dark room full of kids gathered around a games console, or pass a carpet store blasting out Bruno Mars, that you will be politely reminded of the century you’re in.

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Hippies and hashish

Chefchaouen is notable for the absence of serious hasslers and hustlers, but anyone wearing a backpack will still probably be asked “do you smoke hashish?” a few times a day. The Rif Mountains that surround Chaouen form the epicentre of Morocco’s kif-growing industry, creating a unique atmosphere in the medina where formal Islam and bohemian stoner cultures seem to coexist in harmony.

Chefchaouen attracted pilgrims in search of its legendary marijuana long before tour operators started to include the town in their itineraries, and even today you’re likely to see the occasional dreadlocked backpacker, joint hanging from mouth, who could well have walked all the way from Tarifa.

Best places to spend Christmas

We asked our social media followers to tell us their favourite destinations for a Christmas holiday – here are the results.

1. England

There are some truly atmospheric corners of England to visit at this time of year and plenty of things to do, from country escapes in The New Forest to Christmas markets in Manchester. Thanks to @Burley_Manor and @travelred for their votes on Twitter.

2. New Zealand

On Twitter, @Kellie_Rooke chose New Zealand as her preferred Christmas destination. She recommends the country for “a BBQ near the beach, sun shining and Sauvignon Blanc in hand”. We think that sounds pretty perfect.

3. Barbados

On Twitter, @vickeblueyes was one of those voting for a sunny part of the world for this festive season. She recommends you kick back and relax on the beach with a glass of Mount Gay rum, getting that much-needed Vitamin D from the glorious sunshine.

4. Germany

For an ultra-Christmassy break, @marykingtweets recommends Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, Germany. Here you’ll find fantastic mountain scenery and a brilliant Christmas market.

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5. Brazil

There’s no better place to spend Christmas than in Brazil, according to @dianaguerra. “There’s nothing like a Santa wearing shorts and getting a tan”, she says. Spend the day sculpting sandmen (rather than snowmen) on Ipanema beach in Rio.

Japan Guide Travelling

With its tech-centric entertainment, ancient temples, lightning fast rail system and traditional art forms, Japan offers a fascinating mix of the new and the old. Between rural Hokkaido and the tropical islands of Okinawa, you’re bound to find something to embrace as a curious backpacker. And with the following insider tips, backpacking Japan can be both memorable and affordable.

1. Skip the train

Rail passes can be pricey and often completely unnecessary given the cheap deals offered by airlines, ferries, and buses. Low-cost carriers like Vanilla Air or Peach can whisk you to another major city for as little as ¥3000 one way.

Overnight ferries – such as the Sunflower, which runs from Osaka to Beppu – give travellers tatami mat sleeping space and the chance to party with locals on deck (just be sure to bring an eye-mask and earplugs if you actually want to sleep). Similarly, overnight buses crisscross the country at highly discounted rates.

 

2. Or buy discounted train tickets

If riding the shinkansen is a non-negotiable part of your Japan experience, opt for deals like the Puratto Kodama. This one-way ticket saves you ¥4000 off the regular bullet train fare between Tokyo and Osaka. Or take advantage of the seasonal Seishun 18; five days of unlimited local train travel.

3. Come prepared with socks

It’s customary to remove your shoes before entering most indoor spaces in Japan, including shrines, traditional restaurants, and ryokan. If you’re going to wander around in your socks (make sure they’re clean), they might as well be stylish. If you’ve not got anything suitable from home, head to a local Don Quijote store to up your sock game.

4. Shop at Daiso

Forget something? Need a makeshift costume for a random night out? A cheap souvenir? Visit one of the 3000 Daiso stores scattered throughout the country, where most items are ¥100 and you can buy anything from craft supplies to shampoo.

5. Escape the gaijin trail

While plenty of bucket list destinations may be among the most memorable places you visit, adventurous backpackers are bound to find more tranquility and less hand-holding away from the pockets of tourist friendly areas.

From Tokyo, consider jetting to the nearby Izu Islands, volcanic gems with deserted beaches. From Kyoto, marvel at the sand dunes of Tottori or head to Amanohashidate, nicknamed “Kyoto by the sea.” 

Travellers embark on journeys

While missed flights and lost luggage won’t make the headlines, some stories are a little more entertaining. From badly photoshopped holiday snaps to 47-year-long layovers, these are the silly travel stories that we’ll be giggling over long into 2017.

 

1. The man who x-rayed himself

Ah, border crossings. A bit boring once you’ve done enough of them, but bewildering the first time you try.

Spare a thought, then, for this man attempting to cross the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although he’s asked to put his bag through the x-ray machine, he seems to misunderstand and ends up putting his whole body through the scanner – much to the surprise of security staff on the other side.

 

2. The woman who photoshopped herself to China

Kenyan travel fan Sevelyn Gat became an internet sensation back in March 2016 when badly photoshopped images of her “travelling” began attracting thousands of likes on Facebook. Unable to afford a trip to Asia, she’d superimposed herself onto images of famous Chinese sights like the Great Wall – with hilarious consequences.

Sevelyn had the last laugh, though; a sympathetic Kenyan businessman later decided to fund her real-life trip to China.

Solo travelling guide

Ask anyone who’s ever travelled solo, and they probably wouldn’t want to adventure any other way. It might be daunting at first, and it’s certainly simpler for some people than it is for others. But spending time alone on the road is among the most rewarding travel experiences out there.

Whether it’s a long trip around the world or a habit of solitary weekend jaunts, here are 10 things everybody learns while travelling alone:

1. You always return home with lots of new friends

Ever noticed that you’re more likely to ask one person for directions than you are to ask a group of people? Solos are more approachable, plain and simple. Lone travellers learn that the benefits of this are twofold: not only will other travellers feel far more comfortable introducing themselves to you, but it’s actually easier for you to strike up conversation with others as well.

 

2. You can engage with locals on a level that only solo travellers can

You know that local folks are more open, and definitely more curious, when it’s only you walking into that hole-in-the-wall café, or sampling the pungent flavours of that roadside food stall. From a heartfelt conversation on a rickety train, to suddenly having a network of genial families happy to host you for a night, you know none of these incredible experiences would have been possible if you’d been travelling with others.

3. You’re free to adventure as you please, and it feels awesome

There is no need to compromise when travelling alone. No need to appease a friend’s unfortunate craving for an overpriced burger and fries, or their incessant complaints about mosquito bites in a jungle where you’re on travel cloud 9. As a lonesome wanderer you travel where you want, when and however you want to – all with a liberating degree of indulgence.

 

4. You gain a deep understanding of the destinations you’ve visited

Travelling solo, you’re more immersed in your surroundings. You notice the unique quirks, and subtle character that truly makes a place what it is. But walk around the same street chatting with an old friend, and your mind is often immersed elsewhere.

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5. There is something liberating about travelling to a place where no one knows you

For some, travelling alone is like a fresh start. Or a temporary escape from the life-baggage you’re forced to lug around back home. That’s not to say you’re a different person when abroad, but you may notice how much that therapeutic anonymity has changed you by the time you return home.

Eastern Europe

Bulgarian capital Sofia will only ever earn a “well-it’s-OK-I-suppose” rating on your list of travel highlights. It’s second city Plovdiv that inspires the superlatives, with its enchanting blend of Roman remains, Ottoman-era mosques, stately Levantine houses and fresco-filled churches.

There’s a bohemian nightlife district in the cobbled Kapana quarter, and a host of cultural festivals – the city will be European Capital of Culture in 2019 and is already gearing itself up for the experience.

 

For brilliant beaches: the Curonian Spit, Lithuania

People say that the Baltic Sea is too cold for a beach holiday, and they’re almost always right. However it is home to some of Europe’s most unique landscapes, most notably the stark dune-scape of the Curonian Spit (called Neringa in Lithuanian).

Deep forest and never-ending beaches characterize this narrow strip of land just off the coast, although it is the huge, shifting dunes above the fishing village of Nida that make an unforgettable impression.

For a break from the crowds: Tartu, Estonia

Estonia’s second city Tartu is one of those European gems that will have you scratching your head as to why it’s not on everybody else’s bucket list. The leafy university city offers Neo-classical architecture, cute neighbourhoods and cult drinking dens – the ideal place to take a mid-journey breather.

 

For a real metropolis: Warsaw, Poland

Big, brusque, and frequently bewildering, Warsaw is the region’s only true metropolis. The city blends haughty grandeur and gritty history, suburbs which seem stranded in different epochs, and good, cheap food with lashings of beetroot.

It offers glimpses of the region’s future, too, thanks to its soaring architecture, increasingly cool design scene, and the al-fresco summer nightlife of the Wisła riverbank.

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For an island escape: Vis, Croatia

By all means hang out with the crowds in Split and Dubrovnik, but there’s really no point in coming all the way to the Adriatic coast without visiting at least one of the islands. All of them are enchanting in their own way, but Vis is special: there’s a minimum of mass-tourist development, loads of unspoiled coves and beaches, boat trips to stunning sea-caves and some of the best food and wine in the Mediterranean.

For the best beer: Prague, the Czech Republic

Prague is the city that’s got it all, the Gothic churches, the set-piece squares, the acres of park, the vast century-spanning museums and downtown streets that you never tire of walking.

The old Jewish quarter and the Franz Kafka trail provide extra allure; and the beer, of course, is quite simply the best in the world.

 

For laidback life: Odessa, Ukraine

If you have the time and inclination to take in Eastern Europe’s outer limits then aim for Odessa, the brash Black Sea port that combines buzzing beach life with belle-époque buildings and bags of exuberant, anything-goes attitude. Home to the Odessa Steps (dramatically featured in Eisenstein’s classic 1925 film Battleship Potemkin), it’s also Eastern Europe’s most famous film location.

Journeys in South America

The four-day hike between Cusco and Machu Picchu, a spell-binding mountain trek into the Inca past, needs no introduction.

Although just one of the Inca trails you can follow across the Andes, what makes this 33km route so popular is the unrivalled reward of Machu Picchu at its end. The most famous ruins in South America are a place that – no matter how jaded you are – stop you in your tracks.

 

2. Carretera Austral, Chile

To see the wettest, greenest and wildest part of Chile, head to Northern Patagonia where the Carretera Austral, the partially paved, partly dirt-and-gravel “Southern Highway”, stretches for 1240km from Puerto Montt to tiny Villa O’Higgins.

The rounding ice-fields, vast glaciers and jagged fjords along this spectacular highway are most easily visited with your own wheels, but most are reachable by public transport; all you need is a bit of time and some organizational skills, since not all buses run daily.

3. Death Road, Bolivia

One of the most popular trips in Bolivia, and some travellers’ sole reason for crossing the border, is a chance to hurtle down the infamous Death Road. This hair-raising adventure involves a 3500m descent along the old road from La Paz to Coroico in the Yungas.

Be careful when planning a trip, though – cyclists have been killed or seriously injured on this rough, narrow track chiselled out of near-vertical mountainsides, and you must choose a tour operator with great care.

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4. Ruta 40, Argentina

The legendary Ruta 40 (or RN40) runs from the top to the bottom of Argentina, following the line of the Andes all the way to the far south from the border with Bolivia. It covers 5000km and 11 provinces, crosses 18 important rivers on 236 bridges, and connects 13 great lakes and salt flats, 20 national parks and hundreds of communities. There’s little wonder it’s one of the most famous attractions in the country.

If you haven’t got your own wheels, head to the section between El Calafate/El Chalténand Bariloche. Long popular with backpackers, with much of this route is paved and buses run its length almost daily in season – but it still retains a sense of isolation thanks to the endless pampas scrubland, interrupted only by the occasional tiny settlement or estancia.