Monthly Archives: March 2017

First trip to Europe

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts more than 700 million people, in excess of 450 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. This means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip…

 

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, many travellers see this city as a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

 

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

 

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Travel around Poland by train

Polish cities are undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Thanks to a combination of urban renovation, bold contemporary architecture and blossoming nightlife, there’s never been a better time to travel around Poland. And never a better time to travel by train. Here’s why:

 

1. You can cover more ground

Poland’s cities all have very different personalities, and you can’t really get to grips with the country’s culture until you’ve visited a handful of them.

For many people it’s Kraków that tops the list. It’s got all the classic Central European charms of Vienna or Prague, but on a more manageable, human scale.

However, it would be a shame to miss out on the Gothic canal-side warehouses of Gdańsk; the Baroque magic of Lublin; the grand architecture and ebullient nightlife of Wrocław; or the magnificent red-brick factory buildings of post-industrial Łódź.

The joker in the pack is the gruff coal-and-steel town of Katowice, home to a fabulous semi-underground museum and hedonistic weekend nights. And it’s all an easy train ride away.

 

2. Poland’s stations are a sight in themselves

Gdańsk boasts a delightful nineteenth-century Neo-Renaissance pile, while Warsaw Central is an archetypal slab of grey 1970s brutalism (recently spruced up, it’s now an asset rather than an eyesore).

Many stations have been totally rebuilt in recent years – the semi-submerged glass-and-concrete palace that is Łódź Fabryczna is one of those temples to modern travel that make you wish you could take the train more often.

Big-city stations such as Katowice, Kraków and the alien spaceship that is Poznań Głowny have been redeveloped in conjunction with large shopping malls, which – whatever your views on consumer culture – have returned the railway station to the heart of urban life.

A neighbourhood guide

Until recently, running a club in Japan was a risky business. The fueihō laws, created in 1948, put restrictions on any small venue where patrons had to “actively seek out pleasure” – including dancing. Though usually these laws weren’t enforced, any club or bar owners caught by police letting their patrons bust a move could face jail time.

But in 2016 the laws were finally amended – not entirely rescinded, and not helping everyone, but marking a cultural shift in how Japan views its own nightlife. Here’s our guide to some of the best places to enjoy a totally legal drink, dance or robot show in Tokyo.

 

Best for perfect cocktails and secret bars: Roppongi

It’s impossible to talk about Tokyo nightlife without mentioning Roppongi; though it’s reinvented itself as an artistic hub, in most people’s minds it’s still all hostess bars, aggressive touts and overpriced drinks. Stick to the main drag and that’s what you’ll get, but you’ll find some unexpectedly chic and clever spots in the side streets, especially towards Nishi-Azabu.

One which you’ll have to try harder than usual to find is Roku-Nana, a small “secret bar” in a nondescript residential building. You can either relax in the warm, low-lit bar or head up to the roof terrace for a gorgeous view of Roppongi Hills. We’d give you directions, but we promised not to tell…

There’s a similarly exclusive feel at Gen Yamamoto, though at least the address is made public there. The eponymous owner creates a daily-changing tasting menu of four or six cocktails, adjusting it to match customer preferences, the time, the weather, or just his own intuition. It’s an opportunity to see a master at work – and as there are only eight seats and no background music, you’ll be fully focused on watching him create these works of art.

Festivals for escapism

Festivals are a different beast in 2017. They used to be associated with drinking warm cider while watching crusty bands in your naffest clothes; now the best events are kaleidoscopic extravaganzas designed to tease out the hidden, spectacular you that doesn’t get aired in the office.

From Morocco to Norway, we pick 10 summer festivals that’ll give you true escapism from the “real world”, whether it’s through remote locations, fantastic production or a hedonistic outlook that’ll mean you won’t remember where home is anyway.

 

1. Trænafestivalen, Norway

Trænafestivalen is the grandaa of remote festivals, taking place on a tiny island 65km off Norway’s coast. It’s only accessible by motorboat and, as well as gigs overlooking the ocean and hot saunas, it has the kind of vast, horizon-filling sunsets that’ll get you reflecting about how we’re all “just tiny flecks of sand”.

 

2. Pete The Monkey, France

Pete The Monkey started life as a small party to raise funds for a monkey sanctuary in Bolivia. It’s grown, but not by much. Now 2000 people descend onto a beach in Normandyfor a weekend of music, art, love and escapism sur-la-mer. This year’s theme is ‘the Amazonian playground’ so expect plenty of colourful outfits and Brazil football kits from the lazy lads.

 

3. Oasis, Morocco

Is it a festival? Is it a spa? Oasis twins the hottest names in house and techno with a location in a super luxury resort called The Source. Taking place in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, its clued-up clientele spend the days doing yoga or hanging out by the pool, and the evenings having a twanging rave until sunrise.

 

4. Secret Garden Party, England

No day at Secret Garden Party is like another, and that’s down to the scale of its often mind-bending production. Its reputation as a playground for the ra youth of the Home Counties is only half-deserved and this year, with a ‘Sweet Dreams’ anti-celebrity theme, is the last so expect emotions amongst the madness.  Tip: don’t skimp on the fancy dress. You’ll stick out.

Croatia Island Guide

With its mountainous coastal backdrop, scattering of tawny islands and giddyingly translucent waters, the Croatian Adriatic offers one of the most compelling seascapes in Europe.

Indeed it’s something of an island-hopper’s paradise, with a veritable shoal of ferries providing the opportunity to stride up the gangplank, sprawl on the sun deck and soak up the maritime scenery.

Considering a trip? Here’s what you need to know:

 

Where should I start?

Where you start largely depends on which airport you fly into. The mid-Dalmatian city of Split receives the largest number of incoming flights and is also the Adriatic Sea’s largest ferry port, serving the ever-popular islands of Šolta, Hvar, Brač, Korčula and Vis.

Dubrovnik is also a useful gateway thanks to its catamaran services to Mljet, Lastovo, Korčula and Hvar.

The two other entry points are the northern city of Rijeka, providing access to a varied group of islands in the Kvarner Gulf; and the north Dalmatian port of Zadar, with its own group of laid-back island getaways.

 

What’s the best way to get around?

Car ferries run by state company Jadrolinija serve the main islands, providing public transport for the locals as well as sustaining island tourism.

Faster and slightly more expensive than the ferries, passenger-only catamarans run by both Jadrolinija and Krilo Jet whizz across the water to a selection of destinations.