This natural park south of Valencia is a secluded peninsular of lagoons, rice fields and beaches, packed full with birds, tranquility and a wonderful sense of space. As a delta, the area is flat and perfect for cyclists of any ability. Many people visit in spring and autumn for the bird migrations, but there are plenty of resident birds to see in summer and winter too.
This small corner of Spain just south of Almeria encompasses a range of different landscapes, in one day you can walk through sand dunes and on wide sweeping bays, play on rocky shores, climb mountains and sit by salt water lagoons bird watching. The scenery is stunning and this is a fantastic area for walking without seeing another soul all day or cycling on quiet lanes. Stay in San Jose, a bustling village, for some nightlife, if you still have the energy at the end of an active day.
Park by the signpost on the road between San Juan de Beleno and Viego, and discover this spectacular 10 km walk in the Ponga National Park, northern Spain. My friend and I went in September and we walked through a carpet of purple crocuses and exuberant thistles. We saw no-one apart from some old men in a hut who offered us water, unless vultures, choughs and the odd goat count. If you make the summit you’ll see the sea - we didn’t as the final ascent is vertiginous - but the far reaching views of endless rolling green hills beneath us as we gradually ascended the mountain ridge make this the most memorable afternoon’s walk I’ve ever done.
You don’t have to be religious to walk the old pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela in the north of Spain. With hostels that charge about five Euros a night at every 20km or so, following in the footsteps of this more than 1000-year-long tradition won’t break the bank. The Camino Portugues is a less crowded alternative to the main route coming from France. It follows old Roman roads through vineyards and ancient oak forests, past beautiful rias (as the coastal inlets here are called) and historical towns such as Barcelos and Pontevedra. The 295km from Porto can be covered in about a fortnight.
If you can avoid the slightly disconcerting packs of feral dogs that race across the plateau - and occasionally snarl at cornered tourists - then the Bucegi mountains are fantastic, not least because a cable car ascends to the top. Then it's an undulating plateau culminating in the huge Caraiman cross that overlooks the valley directly and vertiginously below. Airy and easy and fairly quiet until the cross is close.
Google map: bit.ly/JkkLMK
La Balagne, in northern Corsica, is criss-crossed with walking paths, ranging from the sedate to those requiring crampons.The mountains and valleys are wild, unspoilt and crowd-free; scattered with fig, olive and chestnut trees, and fragrant maquis. From timeless mountain villages such as Ville de Paraso and Speloncato, there are stunning views across the Regino valley towards the distant coast, and as the light changes in the afternoon, the jutting ridges of granite glow pink. Late spring and early summer are the best time for walking; July and August are usually too hot.
If you’re in town this week, Monday is Saint George’s Day –the Patron Saint of Catalunya– and the streets will be full of stalls selling roses and books, as well as excited, happy people enjoying this traditional Catalan festivity. It’s a kind of local Valentine’s Day.
This is one of Catalonia’s most popular festivities and people throughout the principality enjoy spending their time browsing the stalls to buy a book and a rose as gifts for their partner or, if they don’t have one, for someone else they love. Traditionally, a man would give a rose to his partner and she would give him a book, but nowadays people give both to their partners and to other loved ones as a token of affection.
Roses for Saint George's Day:
Barcelona’s streets are beautiful on Saint George’s Day; the colourful rose stalls and booksellers’ stands are everywhere, bargains and best-sellers abound –popular authors madly signing copy after copy– and the balconies are decked with the gold and red of the Catalan Flag. If you have a walk around, you’ll probably see rose stalls belonging to NGOs or charities, perhaps you might prefer to buy from these rather than some of the more commercial stalls.
Perhaps you can give a loved one a pleasant surprise as a fond remembrance of your stay in Barcelona.
The tradition of giving a rose on Saint George’s day is said to date from the 15th century Festival of Roses, celebrated on the 23rd of April by which time Saint George was firmly established as an important Saint and when the sculpture you can see on the façade of the Palau de la Generalitat in Carrer Bisbe was made.
The rose bedecked Palau de la Generalitat is open to the public on the 23rd of April, so this is your chance to see Marc Safont’s wonderful Gothic architecture on the Ceremonial Stairs, Gothic Gallery and the Chapel of Saint George, and Pere Mateu’s Pati dels Tarongers, all hidden behind the Neo Classical Façade. The Sardana national dance is widely performed on this day.
Saint George appears in several accounts of battles in Catalunya –naturally, on the winning side– and Jaume I mentions the Saint’s contribution to the conquest of both Mallorca and Valencia.
This may seem strange to some because Saint George –as the first Crusaders discovered to their dismay in the 11th century– was known to the Saracens as the Green Knight and appears several times in the Koran, as well as in many popular legends in which he rescues damsels from dragons.
The name George means farmer or person who cares for the land, the saint has always been connected with the springtime, and he is a protector of the harvest. It is perhaps also for this reason, along with his legendary penchant for rescuing damsels in distress from marauding dragons, (a rose bush is said to have grown from the dragon’s spilt blood) he is associated with the romantic gift of a spring rose. Perhaps also George’s connection with husbandry is the reason the roses all come with an ear of wheat, usually tied to the stem with a little ribbon of Catalan Flag.
The gift of the book on National Book Day is a much more recent tradition, beginning in 1926 throughout Spain. The 23rd of April was chosen because it was the date of Cervante’s death. Although the custom disappeared in many areas of Spain, the practice soon became popular in Catalonia and quickly became part of its Patron Saint’s Day, its origin soon forgotten.
Have a nice day!
Eixample, Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla Catalunya
* PeterGuest is our Been there local for Barcelona. You can read his profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/barcelona-local-peter-guest.jsp and follow his tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/PeterGuest. Meet more of our locals here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/trails/been-there-locals.jsp
This coastal walk links five hill top villages and is classed as an Unesco World Heritage Site. The paths are a combination of rugged steps and narrow soil pathways that hug the steep and jagged coastline of the Ligurain Riviera as they meander through fragrant olive and lemon groves and past precariously perched farms. The sparkling clear waters of the Mediterranean are a constant companion and it is a sheer delight to descend into Monterosso al Mare in time for a late afternoon swim. Apart from the stunning views, the excitement of this coastal path is finding the blue and white painted markers found on rocks or on the side of houses. It really felt like a mini adventure. A train pass can be bought which allows travel on the local train connecting the five villages so walkers can walk the paths in any order depending on fitness, time or if a path is closed.
Google map: bit.ly/I8hDCs
From the small town of Kobarid you can follow the amazingly aqua marine glacial river Soča up stream to find the Kozjak waterfall tucked away. It's uphill through the forest and crosses some WW2 trenches from the Italian front, as well as some small churches and a BRILLIANT Indiana Jones-esque swing bridge. If you take the circular route back to the town you walk through alpine fields which have lots of brightly coloured bee hives and some nice cows. This is in the Triglav National Park so you are surrounded by the 89000ft Julian Alps. Back in Kobarid you can get a cheap pint in one of the little pubs there. It's ace!
On A Caravan is an arts festival that takes place in Cairo and aims to bring together artists from the East and West.
The festival includes an art exhibition of pieces created under a common theme (2012's theme is 'The Road Ahead'), as well as other music, film or literature events that also aid cultural understanding.
On A Caravan 2012 festival in April/May 2012 www.oncaravan.org/exhibition4/index.htm
On A Caravan main website www.oncaravan.org/index.htm
Events take place in Maadi a suburb in southern Cairo. Take the Metro to El Maadi station and then walk up Port Said Street, or ask a taxi for Port Said Street (5LE).
Google map: bit.ly/I2Ayyp
* Alip is our Been there local for Cairo. Her homepage is here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/cairo-local-alice-allsop.jsp and you can follow her tips directly here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/alip
The “Lac Blanc”, at an altitude of 2500m, is at the heart of the National Park La Vanoise and is situated near Pralognan. Leave your car at “Pont de la Pêche”. The climb to the lake takes up to 3 hours and you’ll need a further 2h30 for the return journey. While walking, enjoy the beautiful mountains around you and the colourful flora. If you’re lucky, you might see marmots, ibexes and chamois. The “Lac Blanc” is quite a sight: a deposit of minerals gives it a strange milky colour. The slopes down the lake are an ideal setting for a picnic.
Egypt is open for business. Go NOW while there are so few tourists! Sad for the Egyptians who are desperate for tourism to pick up again, great for us as there were so few people at all the famous sites - Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel etc. No trouble, no problems. We also had a brilliant guide whose name was Amin. The crew on the boat were wonderful as was the food. Longwood Holiday agents were also very efficient.
You can’t help but be aware of the warmth and safety of Nice, a city where you can enjoy that rare freedom of being able to walk around at night with no fear of people as you thrill to the festival atmosphere of street musicians and street theatre in Place Rossetti, or getting lost down the many small streets with their abundance of interesting shops.
Superficially, Nice can seem like an expensive city, but it does not have to be as there is plenty to see and do for free. One of the most fulfilling things you can do here – and a great way to take in the feel and the atmosphere of this beautiful city – is to just walk around taking photographs. There is joy to be found here in every corner: relaxing in Jardin Botanique on a tree-shaded park bench to stay cool in the midday sun; or people watching from one of the many authentic cafes in true Gallic style! Just grab a coffee and a freshly prepared sandwich, then sit back on Promenade des Anglais and simply watch the world go by.
An opportunity to get right up close to Mont Blanc- Europe’s highest mountain.
Grand Balcon Nord 6.5 km – allow three hours.
Chamonix in the French Alps is one of the best known centres for walking in the summer and rightly so.
One of the most spectacular yet easiest walks is the Grand Balcon Nord which has you strolling through a veritable rock garden at 2000 metres and even offers the possibility of meeting a marmot or two.
From Chamonix take the Aiguille cable car to the half way point at Plan de l’Aiguille which is the starting point for your route - although it is spectacular, and literally breathtaking, due to the altitude, to take the cable car right to the top station – and then start your walk on the return journey.
The well signposted rocky mountain trail undulates north east, meandering through miniature rhododendrons, gentian and azaleas, with stunning views down to Chamonix and over the narrow valley to Plan Praz and La Flegere standing at 1877m - this is the Grand Balcon Sud and another fine walk affording views over Mont Blanc and Les Aiguilles (the needles).
As you reach the junction of the path to Montenvers mountain railway you can take the route directly there or turn right and zig zag easily up the extra 150m to grab great views of the stunning pinnacles of the Aiguille Vert at 4122m, Les Drus and the Mer de Glace (sea of ice).
Catch the picturesque little train from Montenvers back down to Chamonix. Remember to check what time the last train and cable car operate as it’s a long walk down!
This walk can be done in reverse and an early start will give you the opportunity to watch the sun come up from behind Les Aiguilles.
At only 318ha, car-free Île de Bréhat is the largest island in this tiny archipelago of pink granite islets. Idle away the days by kayaking in the ebb and flow seascape, or walk the island's bird rich coves and coastal paths. In spring, while Bréhatins enjoy some pre-season peace, its Mediterranean flowers come into celebratory bloom. Marc Chagall visited in 1924 and painted "La fenêtre sur l'Ile de Bréhat".
Starting in the carpark at the top of Rhossili and taking the long stroll either over or along the Downs is one of my favourite days out. It's perfect for all age groups, and can be done in any weather. If you're looking for something a bit more strenuous, then head over the top and take in the breathtaking views of the Gower. Or if you like something a bit easier, then the stroll along the bottom will take you past the most haunted building in Wales - also the setting of Torchwood.
Then it's an easy walk back across the beach, back to the cafe and pub. Perfect for any one looking for a walk in the country.
Rhossili Activity Centre
+44(0)1792 390567 ()
Google map: bit.ly/I6vdcV
Directly due west of Bordeaux, at the midpoint of La Côte d’Argent lies the jewel that is the Bassin d’Arcachon. From chic Cap Ferret at its most Northern edge touring past houses on stilts, stopping at some of the finest fish restaurants on the planet, and round to the spectacular Dune du Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe, offering a challenge to kids of any age, the Bassin epitomises the best of France in every way.
The diamond of the Bassin d’ Arcachon was, for us, the Parc Ornithologique du Teich. As seasoned birdwatchers, we were stunned by the variety of environments – salt marshes to fresh water habitats - that have been created there. With over 20 hides, and up to 280 species of birds to spot, this place is twitchers’ heaven.
Under-recognised but really fun for the family: my nephews went mad for the splash zone, a kids area open in summer. Plus lots of special kids activities as well.
Fantastic setting high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Southern Spain, lovely accommodation, excellent food and superb guided mountain biking. We have been twice now and intend to come back as much as possible.
This is an open air cinema screening recent releases, on the side of Monaco Prison, on top of a large rock on the edge of Monaco harbour. Wonderful to experience in the warm summer air with all the smells and sounds of summer evenings to accompany your film choice. Popcorn available too!
Le Rocher de Monaco, Terrasses Parking des Pêcheurs
+377 93 25 86 80
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