Category Archives: Travel

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.

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.