Monthly Archives: April 2017

Whats The Great Staying in a Japanese

It’s a cliché to say that Japan is a land of contrasts – but, in terms of accommodation, it really is. There are some weird and many wonderful places to stay, from personal capsules and love hotels to lodgings in five-star luxury.

But there’s one type of accommodation that has preserved its tradition for centuries: the ryokan. Staying at one of these Japanese-style guesthouses is the ultimate Japanese experience. But there are a few things you should know before you go – here’s our guide for the first-time visitor.

 

So, what exactly is a ryokan?

Even if you’ve never heard of a ryokan, they might look familiar. Think traditional Japan: low, wooden buildings with translucent paper screens, sliding doors, straw tatami mats, bamboo, geisha serving tea and immaculately designed gardens – perhaps with a small pond stocked with carp and a wooden bridge.

When you walk inside, you step back a few centuries and everything slows down. It’s a moment of respite from the hectic world outside.

Many ryokan are located next to hot springs that occur naturally close to Japan’s many volcanoes. For this reason, a communal bath in the hot springs (onsen) has become a traditional activity at a ryokan.

 

What’s the history?

Ryokans were established as coaching inns back in the Edo period (1603–1868), when feudal lords from all provinces in Japan were obliged to travel to Edo (Tokyo) every other year to visit the shogun. These were places that the lords and their samurai warriors could rest after a long day on the road.

The guests of honour would spend their evenings bathing, enjoying a tea ceremony and an elaborate meal that lasted all evening, with many rounds of sake. The ryokan was a place of sanctuary, where the warriors could feel safe from attack by enemies. They were often built with simple defences, such as steep, narrow stairs and low doorways and ceilings that made swinging a sword difficult.

 

And what’s the ryokan experience like now?

Today, this accommodation comes in many forms, from historic and luxury styles, to family-run minshuku and more modern hotels with ryokan features.

Everything revolves around making the guest feel comfortable, from the choice of artworks on the wall to the absence of clutter. Don’t plan an evening out – you’ll want to enjoy the ryokan experience to the full.

On arrival, wait to be invited in. You must remove your shoes and put on a pair of slippers before stepping inside. Leave your shoes in the genkan (foyer).

The next foodie break

Not so long ago, Turin (Torino) – Italy’s great northern powerhouse – was largely ignored by tourists, unfairly dismissed as little more than a giant Fiat factory. Yet this elegant city of Baroque palaces and graceful piazzi would be a prime draw were it anywhere else other than this spectacularly beautiful country.

Since hosting the Winter Olympics back in 2006, Turin has undergone major regeneration, transforming its former industrial spaces into cultural quarters, sprucing up its museums and investing in a swanky new metro system.

The city and its hinterland, the Piemonte region, is also one of Italy’s top food destinations. Its traditional lures – wines (such as Barbera and Barolo) and the white truffles of Alba – are now joined by the Slow Food movement and a cosmopolitan approach to cooking rare in Italy. Here’s why Turin should be your next gourmet trip.

 

1. Breakfast is a grand affair

Italy’s first capital, and the seat of the royal House of Savoy for centuries, Turin’s illustrious legacy lingers on in its array of sumptuous nineteenth-century cafés.

Several grace the grand central square, Piazza San Carlo. Start your day amid acres of gilded mirrors and plush red velvet of Caffè San Carlo, where coffee – served by a bow-tied barista oozing expertise – and a croissant savoured at the marble bar will set you back little more than €2.

Festooning the counters and cabinets of Turin’s grande-dame cafés are mounds of tiny pasticcini (pastries), delicate morsels of sweet treats originally designed for aristocratic appetites. They come in dozens of varieties, from crumbly baci di dama (ladies’ kisses) to bignole, mini choux buns filled with cream.

There’s a fine selection at Caffè Torino, another of Piazza San Carlo’s august fin-de-siècle institutions, and don’t miss Caffè Mulassano on nearby Piazza Castello. With its coffered leather ceiling and a marble-and-bronze water fountain, this diminutive, three-tabled spot is a fantasy of Art Nouveau.

 

2. The world’s first ever choc ice was made here

Work off your breakfast with a visit to the brace of fine museums east of Piazza San Carlo: the beautifully restored Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano, which preserves Italy’s first parliament chamber, and, more impressive still, a wander among the pharaohs at the atmospheric Museo del Egizio.

For generations of schoolchildren, the real highlight is a stop between the two at the unassuming Pepino gelateria for a pinguino – the world’s first choc ice, patented in 1939. Still family-owned, and run by the inventor’s great-grandson, the dapper, youthful Edoardo Cavignano, Pepino focuses on quality over range, with just six flavours of artisanal gelati. For an unusual floral twist, try the violetta.

Get your hippie on in San Francisco

Born in California, the Summer of Love movement aimed at nothing less than transforming American society. And for a window of time, San Francisco was the centre of that hedonistic universe. Fifty years on, here’s where to go and what to do to relive the kaleidoscopic dreams and big ideas of the flower power generation.

 

1. Walk in the footsteps of Hendrix in Haight-Ashbury

The epicentre of the Summer of Love, this 12-block neighbourhood bounded by Golden Gate Park to the northwest still blithely clings to its past. Girls wear love beads and bracelets, while men sport woodsman beards, their faces framed by hairstyles that would have sported by Jefferson Airplane roadies 50 years ago.

The Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour delves into all that rock’n roll history (710 Ashbury is where Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead used to live, for instance), but also introduces the era’s art and fashion, and the area’s charming, pastel-shaded Victorian architecture.

 

2. Stay at a Summer of Love-themed hotel

Located in the gentrified heart of Nob Hill, Hotel Zeppelin has been designed for those who come to find the decade they left behind. Others, meanwhile, are intrigued by a weird nostalgia for a life they never lived. The hotel’s decor has a throwback, 1960s vibe with lava lamps, vintage prints, and plenty of counterculture attitude, including a gigantic “Ban the Bomb” sign in the lobby.

Besides that, there’s the name, obviously, and if it couldn’t get any more Page and Plant, deluxe rooms come with record players, while the bathrooms are decked-out, top-to-bell-bottom-bottom in psychedelic wallpaper listing an A to Z of San Francisco’s most revered bands. In short, turn on, tune-in and sleep late, man.

 

3. Turn the hippie vibes up to 11 at the Outside Lands Festival

Golden Gate Park also hosts the annual Outlands Music and Arts Festival (August 11-13 in 2017) – and this year the festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The closest millennial hippies can get to the utopian zeitgeist of the era’s defining concerts and Timothy Leary rallies, the three-day party doesn’t entirely chase the musical legacy of the 1960s (headliners have included Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and Lionel Richie). Instead, it embraces the decade’s anti-capitalist idealism by supporting local charities and eco programmes.

Get off the tourist trail in Morocco

Marrakesh? Check. The souks of Fez? Been there, bought that. Jebel Toubkal? Climbed it, twice. So what else does Morocco have in store once you’ve ticked off its most popular sights? Plenty, according to Keith Drew, who selects seven places that are far from the madding crowds.

 

1. Uncover the Roman ruins of Lixus

Think of Roman sites in Morocco and you’ll probably picture the mosaic-floored houses of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Volubilis. Everybody does. Which is why you should head to the ruins at Lixus, 5km up the coast from Larache, instead.

This is one of the oldest inhabited sites in Morocco, at one time also occupied by the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians – and, as legend would have it, Hercules, who is said to have stolen the Golden Apples for his last-but-one labour here.

The site is not as visitor-friendly as Volubilis – there’s no signage, for example – but that’s half the attraction. With no modern-day markings marring the landscape and barely any other people around, it’s much easier to picture Lixus’ Roman inhabitants packing salt at its crumbling factories, worshipping in its deserted temple sanctuaries, or baying for blood at the Upper Town’s amphitheatre.

 

2. Trek across the Jebel Saghro

The majority of organised trekking in Morocco is concentrated on the Toubkal Massif, a hiking honeypot in the High Atlas mountains south of Marrakesh. So if you want to (literally) get off the beaten track, you’ll need to venture east instead, to the Jebel Saghro.

This is very different terrain – think dry river valleys and stark volcanic spires rather than snow-capped peaks – and a very different set-up. While guides can be hired in several of the trailhead towns, the Saghro region is much less geared up for tourism.

The recommended three-day traverse will have you hiking past weirdly eroded rock formations and across a barren landscape dotted with the black nets of local nomad tribes.

THE CURRY TRAIL

Bradford in northern England has been voted “Curry Capital of Britain” for six years running. Our very own spice-obsessed editor, Helen Abramson, went to find out what the fuss is about.

At 9am on a grey, blustery Saturday morning, I’m on the outskirts of Bradford city centre, in West Yorkshire. In front of me is a plate of steaming chana (chick pea curry), a seemingly unending pile of freshly cooked puri (puffed deep-fried unleavened bread), a tray of homemade chutneys and pickles, and chunks of halwa (semolina-based sweet).

I’m embarking on a 24-hour exploration of Bradford’s curry houses to get a literal taste of why this city is so renowned for its Indian and Pakistani food. Three meals in three restaurants – all family run and started from similarly humble beginnings, but all diverged into very different establishments.

Bradford may not be overrun with tourists – but this handful of restaurants really does draw the crowds. I want to find out if this northern city is worth the journey.

The heavenly traditional Kashmiri breakfast I’m wolfing down has been served up here, at The Sweet Centre Restaurant – a Bradford institution – for over half a century.

It’s a bargain at under a fiver, including a cup of masala chai or coffee.

The faded-grandeur dining room is simply furnished, the floor carpeted. By the entrance, brightly coloured cakes and Indian sweets line the shelves of a sparklingly clean glass cabinet. Deliverymen walk in and out carrying sacks of minced meat, bags of flour and boxes of vegetables.