A tiny crescent shaped strip of perfect white sand on Indonesia's most remote island right off the tip of the country. You will find almost no tourists here, quite a few turtles and the snorkelling and diving are second to none. Crystal clear waters, an abundance of marine life and warm tropical temperatures. There is virtually no accommodation on Pulau Weh so be prepared to book in advance if you can for one of the handful of places available.
Pulau Weh, Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia
Ranging between 20 and 200 feet in diameter, these Orwellian sentinels tower eerily over the shingle peninsular of the Dungeness National Nature Reserve. Erected between 1928 and 1930 the three concrete 'listening ears' detected the approach of enemy aircraft, but when radar was invented before WW2 they became redundant.
You can get up close to these impressive feats of engineering is by joining one of Dr Richard Scarth's walks organised by the Romney Marsh Countryside Project. Check the noticeboard on the Project's website for dates.
Spain may not be the first destination that springs to mind when looking for the ultimate cider experience, but head to the lush green lands of Asturias on the North West coast and that’s exactly what you’ll find. The natural “sidra” is an icon of the region, due partly to the distinctive style in which it is poured; from the bottle held high above the head onto the rim of the glass held sideways at the waist. This creates a momentary fizz and is why only a mouthful is poured at a time and relished in one gulp.
"Siderías" ancient and modern are the life blood of the tiniest villages and major cities, and there are cider festivals all year round. One of the best can be found in the seaside city of Gijón, where you can enjoy free tasting sessions in the town square or join thousands who gather annually on the sandy beach to break the world record for simultaneous cider-pouring (see pic in where to find it section).
Easyjet fly daily to Asturias from Stansted.
Gijon is 30 min drive from the airport.
Gijon info: www.spain.info/en_GB/ven/otros-destinos/gijon.html
Cider pouring world record: proyectos.elcomerciodigital.com/panorama/images/20090526085632_escanciandosidra.jpg
Google maps: tinyurl.com/2f9sctf
The distinctive red sandstone ruin of Edzell Castle in Angus is perfect for exploring, but the real treasure is finding an Italian Renaissance garden nestling at the foot of a Scottish glen. This walled garden or pleasance was originally built in 1604. Triangular beds of dwarf box hedging create amazingly intricate designs while the wall is home to 16th century German carvings using heraldic and symbolic imagery, plus flower-filled recesses. You won’t meet one of the former guests – Mary Queen of Scots – but will you encounter the ghost of the White Lady?
Castell y Bere is a Welsh castle built by Llewellyn the Great in around 1221. It was besieged by the English in 1283 then later abandoned. It is a fabulous ruin with remains of towers, walls and a barbican. It is like walking back in time when you walk up the path to the castle entrance. The views from the towers are peaceful green hillsides that rise to heights above the castle. It is easily accessible, completely free and often deserted.
A childhood favourite, Carreg Cennen Castle is unique in Wales as it is the only castle built by the Welsh, for the Welsh. The other castles you are likely to recognise and visit west of the border were instruments of subjugation, used by English (or, more accurately, Norman) rulers to keep the Welsh under control.
Carreg Cennen is all the more interesting because of its isolation and spectacular location, perched on a ridge in the remote west of the Brecon Beacons national park, its romantic setting has inspired generations of artists, including Turner.
Approached through a farmyard, you will need decent shoes for the steep path and, unusually, a torch. The latter is necessary to follow the tunnel which starts within the castle walls and descends deep into the cold, wet rock below - a spooky climax to the visit for children and grown-ups, where it is believed prisoners were held captive for months on end in the pitch black.
Once you step, blinking, back into the daylight, the downhill trek will return you to the farm and car park where lunch, snacks and cream teas can be bought.
Nearest village is Trapp. Nearest station is Ffairfach on the Swansea - Shrewsbury line. Llandeilo, Carmarthen and Swansea are all 20-45 minutes away.
01558 822291, carregcennencastle.com
Adults £3.70, children 5-16 £3.30
Google map: tinyurl.com/3yznou3
Who says that a beach needs to be by the sea? The beaches on the mystical Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal provided me with some of the most beautiful views and enjoyable moments of any backpacking trips I have taken.
Staying at Nikita's Homestead I met many other backpackers railing their way across Russia, as well as groups of schoolchildren on their summer vacations; ate large quantities of Baikal's native fish 'omul' and spent many hours on the beaches attempting to brave the lake's freezing waters or watching the sunset with a few beers. As a result of the hectic journey every traveller must endure to reach the island, six hours from the nearest train station, an oasis of relaxation and calm is created.
The owners are incredibly welcoming and have almost single-handedly created the tourist industry on the island. To any backpacker travelling across Russia I thoroughly recommend a visit to the island.
Nikita's Homestead www.olkhon.info/en/
Nearest rail station is Irkutsk (80 hours from Moscow) and from there take a six-hour marshrutka taxi and a ferry from Khuzir to reach the island (almost inaccessible during months when the ice is melting or forming).
Google map: tinyurl.com/348wldl
There are not many family friendly attractions in the UK that allow pet dogs within their grounds, but Beeston Castle in Tarporley, Cheshire is one exception.
As a tight knit family unit, we love (to try) and incorporate our canine family member into any planned days out, but alas most things which include an entrance fee normally exclude dogs ( for good reason of course in many cases).
So it's a delight to find one which welcomes dogs (on a lead).
Beeston castle is a picturesque attraction with a real family friendly feeling.
It's super to explore on a fine day and picnics are welcome, a great addition to any family day out, and of course so much cheaper than paying to dine out.
The pretty sloping grounds often host reenactments and interactive demonstrations for the children. Along side this there are woodlands and bat caves to discover and explore.
The walk up to the castle summit is wonderful, but very steep in part, however the buggy pushers did not seem to falter!
At the top of this "Castle of Rock", the views are incredible and on a clear day no less that eight counties can be seen, from the Pennines to the Welsh mountains.
As a budding photographer, my husband was in his element and the children loved tearing around while the adults marvelled at the view.
The admission price is reasonable enough when you consider the price of some family outings, around £16 for a family of four. It's also worth noting that if you sign up to become an English Heritage member for a year, not only are many places free of charge thereafter to enter, but they will also refund the cost of the entrance fee paid on the day.
Beeston Castle, Tarporley, Cheshire, CW6 9TX
Located 11 miles SE from Chester
Local Tourist Information Tel. 01829 260464,
Adults £5.30, children £2.70
Google map: tinyurl.com/3xczead
The Palatinate in Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate has at least 27 major signposted cycle routes stretching over 1,400km on quiet country roads, forest tracks and agricultural byways through vineyards, orchards, woods and fields. Many are ideal for family cycling even with a trailer. The area has a mild climate, good wines, reasonably priced hotels, picturesque villages and excellent regional cooking. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, renowned as a trencherman, often brought guests here. Cathedrals in Speyer and Worms, ruined castles galore and the Hambacher Schloss, one of the birthplaces of modern day Germany, combined with excellent public transport make this an ideal area for a cycle touring holiday.
It is easy to reach with airports in Frankfurt and Baden Baden as well as good bike carrying TGV connections from Paris to Strasbourg.
Converted from an old barge, the Badeschiff pool in Berlin floats on the river Spree. In the summer the open-air wooden decks heave with sun and fun seekers. In winter the pool and decks are covered with cocoon-like white canvas pods. You can chill on loungers, indulge in a sauna and dive into the cool blue in the nude if that takes your fancy.
The Hemingway Days Festival is a bonanza of white beards, safari shorts and rum cocktails, taking place annually in Florida's idyllic Key West.
The week long festival (21-26 July) celebrates the life of literary giant Ernest Hemingway, who made the (then) sleepy town of Key West his home in the 30s. The festival kicks off on Hemingway's birthday, when up to 150 "Papa" lookalikes from around the world converge on his favourite rum shack, Sloppy Joes, for the annual look-a-like-competition.
Other testosterone fuelled events throughout the festival including arm westling competitions and the unique 'Running of the Bulls'; a slow moving and not-so-dangerous tribute to Hemingway’s obsession with Spanish culture and bullfighting.
Sloppy Joes Bar, Key West, Florida. keywestvacationguide.com/hemingway-days.php
Rooftop pools always do it for me. There is something surreal about sipping a poolside cocktail perched in the clouds. Century Park's pool is a gorgeously appointed, luxurious experience 24 stories above Bangkok's bustling Pratunam District. The pool is a tongue-in-cheek (surely) design classic of its type, complete with a raised infinity-effect platform, mock Buddhist Temple bar and palm fringed seating areas. But the view from the pool seals it. The hotel is located just to the north of the main centre and affords a revealing view of high-rise Bangkok and a bewildering sight of the seething traffic around Victory Monument at sunset.
CENTURY PARK HOTEL
9 Ratchaprarop Road, Pratunam-Victory Monument, Bangkok.
+66 02 246 7800
E-mail : email@example.com
This large open air pool in Austria's second city is a beautiful and lively place to be on a summer day. The pool has a gravel floor, trees for shade, a pleasant view and usually a few ducks paddling between the swimmers. The pool is a bus ride from the enchanting city centre with its astonishing mixture of modern and older buildings and is next door to Camping Central (free entrance for campers). The pool also has trampolines, a separate naturist area and table tennis. Early morning and evening swimming is possible from 06.00 until dusk. Prices vary depending on the time of day; for example, Euro 5.70 for an adult for a full day. Graz has six swimming pools, as well as a river beach in the city centre; so it is ideal for a watery holiday.
The pool is on Martinhofstrasse.
If you've seen Cirque du Soleil in London at the Albert Hall - forget it. This is a whole other level. KA is a Cirque du Soleil show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, with a theatre specially built for the show, which makes all the difference to what the performers can attempt. People fall twenty metres or more through the air, the whole stage goes vertical, tons of 'sand' fall into a bottomless pit. We sat with our mouths literally open and would go back to Las Vegas just to see it again. If you're in town you have to go.
Cirque du Soleil KA show, MGM Grand, Las Vegas
The finals of the national rodeo circuit are a real piece of Americana - real cowboys, very scary events (throwing themselves off galloping horses to grab young steers and rope them up in a given time slot), the national anthem sung with enormous gusto and the fantastic commentary "America is the greatest nation there has EVER been on earth" (!), all make this a not-to-be-missed event in Vegas.
Lee&Mack Centre, Las Vegas, every December
Thomas & Mack Centre, Las Vegas, every December.
+1 888 637 7633, nfr-rodeo.com
This is the most bizarre combo of gardens, stunning scenery and the tackiest fairytale grotto you are ever likely to see. The rope suspension bridge is not for the faint-hearted and even better it has had a song written about it - "See Rock City" by Caroline Munroe (we played till we couldn't take any more on our trip).
Visit Santa in May. This is fabulously OTT celebration of Christmas and all the better for being open all year round. Lots of kitsch displays, every Christmas ornament you could want and even more you would not. And it's in Paradise, Pennsylvania (even the location is too good to be true).
It's a museum which celebrates the history of the city of Bridgeport and the life and times of P.T. Barnum.
As a child, I lived in Connecticut for a few years. One of my overriding memories of this time, was a visit to the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport. Over twenty years later, I'd still recommend it (I have been back since). The museum has a great range of exhibits (including there very own elephant), but probably the most interesting aspect is the display about P.T. Barnum and family. P.T. Barnum was the famous US showman responsible for creating the "Greatest Show on Earth" and the collections include a good range of items from his career, including a replica of the hoax Fejee Mermaid. Admittedly, some of Barnum's entertainment endeavours are, to modern eyes, ethically questionable, but this is still a fantastic exhibition about a fascinating man. It's a bit odd and a bit frightening if you're a child (as I can well attest) but well worth a visit. The building that houses the museum is an architectural gem too.
Astrid Lindgrens World is a theme park in Sweden based on the numerous children's books by Astrid Lindgren (most famously Pippi Longstocking) but this is a theme park without rides. Instead, you walk around the park and woods to find model villages with the houses and shops of the books' settings. Children (and adults) can roam freely in and out, go upstairs, sit on the beds, whizz down the slide from the giant's house, run through a maze, haul themselves across a (small) river... Actors in costume stroll about, speaking Swedish and English, and there are some shows throughout the day, which my daughter seemed to enjoy even though they were in Swedish. As grown up fans of the books, my mother and I enjoyed the place and my then 18-month-old daughter loved going into the little houses. There are cafes but there are also lots of picnic areas, and there are plenty of toilets. There are a few shops selling rather expensive costumes, toys, books and stationery. We were staying nearby but there is camping and chalet accomodation attached to the park. It makes for a lovely day out for people of all ages who know the books or young children who simply appreciate child size houses to explore.
+46 492 79800
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