Sit at a cafe table in this small quiet square by the church and watch the storks fly to and from their nests on the church steeples.
Travessa do Ferrador, Alcácer do Sal, Setúbal 7580, Portugal
Google map: bit.ly/Rn4nOz
We had a superb two-week holiday with two teenage children. We flew to Zagreb and picked up a hire car. Drove to Pula, Beli on Cres (heaven, do walk to the lost villages), Rab, Zadar and finally dropped the car off at Split. We then took ferries to Korcula and on to Dubrovnik to fly home. Get to Krka National Park very early for the magic - it felt like Alton Towers on a bank holiday when we left at 11.30am. We recommend booking hostels - we stayed in them in Pula, Rab, Zadar and Split. Basic but really clean, friendly, central and cheap. Particularly liked the Old Town hostel in Zadar. You can spend hours jumping off the harbour wall listening to the sea organ and then return in the evening to the sun salutation to enjoy the Saturday Night Fever light display.
Across the river from the main town of Vang Vieng are a couple of places which provide cheap bungalow accommodation with hammocks. Even if you're in town for tubing, the all night party noises are not what you want for the duration of your stay. On this side you can relax in your hammock by the river and choose to join in the fun on the other side if and when you're ready instead of having to put up with it.
Google map: bit.ly/MnALlp
This place is comfortable, and a bargain. Room 101 had a lofty, timber ceiling and double doors onto a terrace. The room was enormous and contained a wardrobe; a vanity area; a luggage holder big enough for all your bags; two lounge chairs, with a coffee table between them; a desk and chair; a hard, but comfortable, double bed (which was actually two singles pushed together); plenty of power points, and all kinds of lighting options. A high speed fan blew like the monsoon south westerlies coming in from the Arabian Sea outside, and negated the need for a/c (although the YMCA does offer an a/c option). The big bathroom was spotless, with large sink/shelf area, walk-in shower with hot water (from a geyser), western loo and brisk shower hose. The TV had plenty of English channels, including news and excellent films. All of this, in the centre of town, for 734INR (around £8.50) a night.
Set up camp in a fragrant and ancient pine forest overlooking the Adriatic just a short walk from the centre of Rovinj. (Porton Biondi Campsite is less than £4 per adult per night). From the waterfront in Rovinj you can hire little motor boats to explore the nearby waters, snorkel, swim and relax. The town itself is old and crumbling and charming and best reached by boat from Venice. So you get to see Venice too! (Affordable flights to Venice Treviso with Ryanair). Pick up some Italian cheese, bread and beer: the four hour ferry ride across the Adriatic, beer in hand and late afternoon sun is the perfect way to melt into holiday mode.
Aleja Porton Biondi 1, 52210 Rovinj
+385 52 81 35 57
Google map: bit.ly/LT3Emn
Decent bar a few streets off the main Borgo Stretto street, north of the Arno river. While it does feel a 'student type' of bar, we saw all ages there. A Counting Crows album was playing in the background the afternoon we visited.
Quite a big bar which has some free nibbles on the bar. Good choice of beers - the beer I had had an unusual passion fruit tinge to it!
Prices were very reasonable.
Great trattoria and pizzeria in the heart of Florence just yards from the Santa Croce church. In our three days in the city, we had the best pizzas here.
Pizzas were between €6 and €8. For two pizzas and a bottle of white wine, we paid €29.
Surprisingly good value in a central location in Florence.
Amazing hotel in the heart of the longshen rice terraces. Stunning views from the balconies and wonderful air conditioned, en-suite rooms at really good prices. It's family run and they could not be nicer or more helpful. A bonus is the amazing food they serve, I would go just for dinner! Ping'an is beautiful beyond words, walking through the terraces and seeing the long haired Hao women is an experience I will never forget.
With warm weather comes the opportunity to partake in the favourite past time of many Parisians: le pique-nique. The possibilities for picnics in Paris are endless, though my favourite spot is the Pont des Arts. This pedestrian bridge stretching out over the Seine from the Louvre is a perfect place to join the families, friends and lovers for an impromptu picnic; bunched on blankets laid across the wooden slats, while the sun sets behind the Eiffel Tower further down the river. Free of traffic, you can enjoy your picnic to the sound-track of the gentle hum of boats and barges that pass beneath and the the soft ripples of the river lapping the banks below.
Pont Des Arts. Metro: Pont neuf (line 7)
Google map: bit.ly/LwX98t
In the summer months in Paris, I enjoy nothing more than strolling up the canal Saint Martin to Parc de la Villette in the northeast of Paris. Here a giant inflatable screen that sways slightly in the evening breeze shows old films to anyone who cares to watch, both in English and French. What’s more, rather than just popcorn, you can bring a blanket with some cheese, bread, and wine and enjoy it with a proper Parisian picnic.
211, avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris, France
+33 1 40 03 75 75
Google map: bit.ly/JKOvSs
Equity Point is a hostel, or albergue as they say in Spanish, where you can have a quiet stay in a two-bed dorm, or, like me, rough it in their huge 12-bed dorms. The service is 24-hour with friendly staff and a lovely terrace bar which overlooks the Passeig de Gracia, and is itself looked over by Tibidabo mountain. This place houses all ages and nationalities, but everyone has a passion for staying in the centre of Barcelona and exploring the day and night life together. The hostel offers guided tours in the day, such as the street art tour or the bike tour for the more adventurous, or you can explore the nightlife on one of their nightly bar crawls. Also, if you're on a tight budget, you can visit the 24-hour supermarket three blocks away and cook yourself dinner in the hostel kitchen. Who says you can't have homemade tapas!
Paris parks, gardens and squares and their surroundings are the best way of tracing the city’s social and architectural history while providing variety and interest. Older, more formally designed parks tell of Paris’s wealth or otherwise and more recent parks have been created on former railway lines, abbatoirs and car works. Look out for fantastic statuary, false cliffs, magnificent trees, beehives, original children’s play areas, cafés, fountains, and small allotments. There’s plenty of seating and wi-fi if you need them! Take Lonely Planet’s Paris Nature by Lisa Garnier and Nassera Zaid (in French).
The village on Bakie Island has recently refurbished a guest house that was built decades ago by a Frenchman. There are now four very comfortable rooms, with en-suite facilities. They will prepare meals for you at a very reasonable rate. I can't remember what the price per night was, but I paid $100 for three full days and nights, room and board all inclusive, other than drinks. The particularly nice thing about it is that the proceeds from the guest house are shared by the whole village, because the income is shared, you get a very warm welcome from everybody you meet.
There's no phone reception on Bakie Island, but the fellow there who coordinates things (Isagah Jalloh) takes a boat out every day to a spot where there is reception to check his messages. The best plan is to text him, and then he will call you back when he gets the message. His number is 076 440 230. He knows a boat captain in Tombo who is reliable, so can arrange a safe (but likely a bit expensive) trip out to the islands. You can also take the weekly boat from Shenge or Plaintain Island, agan, contact Isagah for the details of the schedule.
Google map: bit.ly/LJgHpp
Instead of getting a taxi for approx €60 or taking the Arlanda Express for approx €20-30, I'd recommend using the far cheaper public transport option.
There's a frequent bus from the terminal to a nearby station and a very pleasant train ride into the city centre.
The info desk in the airport are also very helpful and will point you in the right direction.
Google map: bit.ly/L7A0Nq
A home away from home. There are both dorm rooms and very affordable private rooms. The owner and his team are warm, friendly, welcoming and helpful. They're happy to suggest plentiful activities locally or you can also snuggle up in the living room with the wood stove when it's cold and wet outside. You can hike, surf, kayak, there are live shows, galleries and beaches aplenty. The guesthouse has a kitchen where you can cook, dine and share some wonderful conversations with the other guests. Breakfast is included and it is probably the most reasonably priced place in town!
When those ancient traders sailed from the Arabian Sea into the hectic spice port of Fort Cochin, they were greeted by rows of shore-based Chinese fishing nets. Crowding along the estuary, these primitive machines—like gigantic alien sentries from a Ridley Scott sci-fi film—have been in use for hundreds of years, and are found throughout Kerala's famous backwaters. Legend has it they came from the court of Kublai Khan, but the precise date is not known. Still in use today, the cantilevered contraptions stand around ten meters high, and about twenty meters wide. The nets dip in and out of the water all day, staying down for only five minutes before being levered back up. Fort Cochin is the best place to see them up close. Choose a fish straight from the net then watch it being grilled in front of you for a tasty supper.
River Road, Nr Vypeen ferry terminal, Fort Cochin
Google map: bit.ly/Ldl7Hy
This guesthouse is exceptionally well-run, with superb facilities and a friendly atmosphere. A dip in its inviting swimming pool provided the perfect antidote for two hot, tired and weary travelers after a long bus journey from the north. Comfy and attractive rooms, attentive and knowledgeable staff and a well-resourced communal kitchen offering a great place cook up a treat after a day’s walking and swimming. All set within a stone's throw of Costa Rica's magnificent Manuel Antonio National Park, WMF is the perfect place to relax, unwind and explore some of the beautiful areas Costa Rica has to offer. (Dorm beds from $10; Private Rooms with a Bath $40).
With rooms and restaurant built out over the Rio Dulce, this quirky, wooden hotel creaks pleasantly as the water flows underneath. What other budget hostel has the towels on your bed fashioned into swans? All profits go towards supporting Casa Guatemala Orphanage nearby and its cheerful youngsters gain work experience in the kitchen and as waiters in the restaurant. The food’s good and the views are superb. Accommodation ranges from $5 for a dorm bed to $60 for an a/c room with private bath. It’s fairly basic but the location is perfect for cruises down to the Caribbean coast, expeditions north to the Mayan ruins of Tikal and local forays to the small Spanish fort of San Felipe (which sports British cannon with GR 1796 on them).
Under the Bridge, El Relleno 18021, Guatemala
El Castillo is small town on the Rio San Juan. Getting there is quite a trek but it is peaceful (there are no cars) and the area is stunningly beautiful. The hotel was basic but clean and comfortable and I have great memories of relaxing in a hammock on the terrace to escape the hot afternoons. I went on a guided trek through the jungle and it was truly like being in another world. A definite highlight of two months travelling through Central America!
From the boat dock turn left down the main road, go past the church and it is a couple of minutes further along on the right hand side.
Google map: bit.ly/JjcTtm
A couple of hours out of San Jose, the small town of Turrialba nestles in a verdant valley of coffee plantations and montane forests. The fresh air and mild climate make it perfect for outdoor activities, and adrenalin seekers can enjoy world class white-water rafting on the Rio Pacuare. If you prefer a more relaxed approach, take a day trip to the country's largest ruin site Guayabo National Monument, or trek around the Turrialba Volcano National Park. Casa de Lis is an excellent hostel in the centre of town, offering spotless dorms and private rooms at rock-bottom prices (£6.50 and £10 p.p. respectively). The delicious free coffee served in morning is the icing on the cake!
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