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!
Hostel in Panama City's Casci Viejo area. Probably one of the most friendly hostels I have been to. Great communal areas with hammocks to relax, lots of places to use the internet but good WI-FI also. Amazing views over the old town and the business district from the balconies, great for relaxing and having a beer while watching sunset. Also happens to be a great bar downstairs which is popular with travellers, good happy hour for those staying at Luna's Castle making it really cheap. Overall great place to mingle, find out about other people's adventures in Central America and plan your next places to visit.
Los Amigos is a wonderful hostel in one of the most beautiful areas in Guatemala, on the island of Flores. Buried in the back (but fairly safe) streets of the town, from the outside you would never guess what it inside. Firstly, a lovely friendly dog will greet you. Then there is the reception area which doubles up as a travel agent; the staff are all insanely friendly and helpful and will help you with any queries you have. Keep walking forward, and you enter the most magical secret garden in the world. A large communal area full of exotic plants, hammocks, a pool table, comfy chairs, with a book swap. At night, there are lights all around which light up the plants to make it look unbelievable. The bar serves local and Western food, and is the main bar in town for travellers. It turns into a bit of a party at night. Also wifi available. Run by Swedish travellers who know exactly what fellow travellers want, this hostel caters to your every need. The beds are comfy, you get a locker, plenty of space. This really is a hostel not to be missed.
Parvati beach huts are located on Palolem beach in south Goa at the quieter northern end of the beach. They have seven beach huts and ours had a spring mattress with our own attached shower/wc room. Free WiFi for the guests. They were clean and fairly priced.
Not everyone knows that you can hike in Mallorca nor that its government provides stunning refuge accommodation for hikers along a well signposted route, the GR 221 Dry Stone Route of the Tramuntana mountain range. The refuges are typical rural manor houses located in beautiful surroundings within small villages or in mountains, like Escorca's 'Tossals Verds' refuge. The Port de Soller refuge ‘La Muleta’ is particularly stunning located as it is in an old 1912 built radiotelegraphy station located on Cape Groson, next to a lighthouse and is quite the perfect spot to catch the sunset at the end of a long walk. All the refuges have been recently refurbished so the conditions are very good with staff providing a warm welcome to tired walkers.
It all leaves you with a certain image – different from the standard - of a Mallorca where you walk, the route is very beautiful and scenic, and at the end of the day, tired, you come to these beautifully located refuges that are not only refuges but a place that lets you ‘experience’ food, meet other walkers and drink great cheap coffee.
To give some background, the GR 221 Dry Stone Route is a 132 km eight stage hiking route of medium difficulty which can be walked in parts or combined with other sightseeing. The five refuges - Can Boi, Muleta, Tossals Verds, Son Amer and Pont Roma – are all located in the northern rocky part of Mallorca which both needs tourists economically and landscape-wise remains unspoilt by the brand of tourism Mallorca has long been associated with.
Price wise, the dorms are all uniformly priced at € 11 a night with optional dinner at € 8.50 which is brilliant value for three courses including a carafe of wine. The refuges can all be booked online at: www.conselldemallorca.net/mediambient/pedra
Final point, the doors close at 10pm with the lights going out at 11pm. So if hard walking and early sleeping is your idea of a good holiday, do check out the link I have put below.
Dim Sum became the noughties' sushi in the UK with the advent of fast food dim sum chains like Ping Pong. Before arriving in Hong Kong I'd eaten plenty of dim sum in London but the slightly gummy, insipid little parcels I was used to bore no resemblance to the real deal served up in Hong Kong’s dim sum restaurants. A dim sum lunch is a real Hong Kong must-do. Eating dim sum at a restaurant is known as “going to drink tea”, or “yum cha” in Cantonese. It’s customary for Cantonese families to gather at the weekend to eat dim sum together so particularly on a Saturday and Sunday, expect busy, noisy restaurants packed with large chattering groups.
While I make no claim that the Yum Cha at Maxim's Palace is the best in Hong Kong (I'm still on a quest to discover that, and will keep you posted on my findings), the dim sum's very good, you get great harbour views and it’s also one of only a handful of restaurants in Hong kong which still uses the old school dim sum trolleys. Come at lunchtime but be prepared for a wait - Maxim's doesn't take bookings and it gets pretty hectic, particularly at weekends. Queueing over, take your seat in the large red and gold dining hall and sip on Jasmine tea while keeping a close eye on the trolleys being
wheeled between the tables. Each trolley is laden with bamboo dim sum steamers. When a trolley passes by and you spot something that you fancy, stop the waitress and grab a basket. Struggling to decide what to opt for? I suggest that you try a little bit of everything but my top dim sum picks are: har gau (shrimp dumplings), char sui bau (steamed barbeque pork buns), cheung fan (rice paper rolls which come with various fillings aka Chinese ravoili), sui mai (pork dumplings), and Xiaolongbao (steamed pork soup dumplings originating from Shanghai). If you’re feeling particularly brave, try
the chicken’s feet which actually don’t taste as bad as they look but are not the easiest thing to eat if you’re a little inexperienced with chopsticks. Lunch over, leave City Hall with a tummy full of dumplings and the clatter of the dim sum carts ringing in your ears and head for a stroll along the harbour front to work it all off.
City Hall Maxim's Palace
2/F, City Hall Low Block, Hong Kong Island.
+(852) 2521 1303
Google map: bit.ly/JZ2YQ6
* Natalie is our local for Hong Kong. You can read all about her here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/hong-kong-local-natalie-robinson.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/natalierobinson
She also has her own blog at: www.3badmice.com/
A long distance walking trip taking you from Milngavie in Glasgow through some knockout scenery to Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis.
We took six days to do this last July and some parts of the walk were quite challenging, particularly ascending the Devil's Staircase at Glencoe, and descending Conic Hill into Balmaha (which most people seemed to do on their derrieres!) Despite having spent a small fortune on midge repellent, rain macs and waterproof trousers, we didn't come across one midge and only had an hour of rain in the whole week.
Walking into Glencoe in blistering sunshine is a memory I don't think will ever leave me, but some of our highlights of the trip were the very well deserved pints at the end of a long walking day! The best of these was at the Drover's Inn in Inverarnan, on the banks of Loch Lomond. Formerly an inn for the highland cattle drovers, it hasnt been decorated in centuries. A roaring fire, amazing steak pie and a folk band had us staying there til the wee hours, despite our 10 mile hike the next day.
Lowlights included a sleep-free night at the Rowardennan YHA, an otherwise beautiful old house on the banks of Loch Lomond, less enticing when trying to kip in a room full of snoring hikers. The best night's sleep we had was in the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. About half way into our week, this little hotel had all the mod cons we needed, including a bath, which at that point seemed heaven sent.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable challenge that I'd do again in a heart beat. Take walking poles and compeed blister plasters, be prepared for changeable weather and you'll have a great time.
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.
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.
Le Rhul is a three-star hotel located on a bend off corniche Kennedy (the beautiful road that goes along Marseille's Mediterranean coast line). It's not the most modern or best hotel you will go to, but it probably has one of the best views of any three star hotel in the world. The rooms also have a lot of character (not that you will be looking anywhere but out of your window). This was a real treat for a budget traveler like me, and I would never have expected getting a view like this on the coast of France without selling one of my limbs. Some of the best photos I took while traveling through the south of France were from my tiny balcony at this hotel.
Take an easy and must do day out from the urban bustle of Naples. Buy a 180 minute biglietti ticket at Naples Central station and take a train south to the university port of Salerno. Outside the station change on to a SITA blue line bus to underrated Maiori, remembering to sit on the left hand side. Hold tight as the bus winds its way along the coast with each bend offering a different breathtaking panorama. Get off at Maiori, the only town along this coast with a promenade and beach. Take a swim in the warm waters or sit under a shading palm, sipping a fizzing local wine. Walk along to the harbour and take a 10 minute water bus around the headland into Amalfi town - a jaw dropping way to arrive, plus it avoids any local traffic jams. Spend some time exploring the moped friendly alleys, the churches and soaking up the atmosphere. Continue by taking a 15 minute bus into the mountain above and the quiet hill town of Ravello. Relax in a garden bar before descending, on foot, down through fragrant lemon groves to ancient Minori below. From here take the bus back to Salerno and onwards to Naples. How much fun in one day can be bought for under 20 euro?
Naples is a fantastic city which is not too touristy (yet). There are fabulous jazz bars, cafes, museums, markets and short ferry rides to the beautiful islands of Capri and Ischia. If you want some real history, Pompeii is a short train ride away. I can thoroughly recommend staying at the quirky travelers' hostel, 'Six Small Rooms' - if guests get tired of all the fabulous cafes and restaurants they can cook in the kitchen and sit with other guests and chat about their travels. Nearby, there's a wonderful, outdoor market selling all sorts of fresh food. Naples is still unaltered - there you will find the real Italy.
Lovely, welcoming bargainous B&B (45-90 euro per night) clinging to the hillside above Taormina. Huge balconies overlooking the bay and Giardini-Naxos. Reward yourself after climbing back up the hill after dinner with a bottle of wine and fireworks; more often than not there is of course Etna or be there on 8 September when man-made fireworks are let off all evening to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Hossegor is a wonderful buzzing French seaside town with Capbreton just down the coast within cycling distance which has a stunning harbour full of extravagant yachts but it's a perfect place to watch the world go by with a cocktail. Perfect area to camp too.
Small jewellery store in Plaka area. All items are hand made, made from semi precious stones, coral or silver to name but a few materials.
The prices are extremely reasonable with turquoise or coral bracelets retailing from €7 upwards.
Very friendly service with no hard sell.
Adrianou Str 136, Plaka
+30 210 27 75 005
I've spent a majority of my life traveling around Europe in a VW Campervan, and the only place I wish I had never left was this wonderful campsite south of Bordeaux. It's a prime location for surfers, foodies and hikers alike. The weather is beautiful throughout the summer - and you're allowed BBQs. And what's best, the beach is only a minute's walk, and thanks to the dunes, you can't hear a thing of the (rather tame) beach parties in the night. Fresh fish it served at the local restaurants at a very reasonable price for such good French food.
Decent food quickly at very reasonable prices.
We had two mains, one Coke, two bottles of beer for £12.80. It should have cost £15 or so but there was an automatic 20% discount (which seems to occur frequently).
This place serves decent Asian food and not surprisingly given the student population in the area is always busy.
It is quick and cheap and while it will not be garnering any Michelin stars it is somewhere we often go back to when in the area.
Don't believe they do reservations and you can always get a table though you might have to wait a few minutes.
45 South Bridge, Edinburgh , EH1 1LL
Google map: bit.ly/IL8nH4
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