Breath some fresh air and shake off the city cynicism for a day. Just a hop and a skip from the middle of Paris there are 49,000 acres of ancient forest waiting to be explored. With numerous trails and paths running through this vast area, you can cycle or walk off the patisserie pounds in no time. If rock climbing and horse riding are more your thing, classes and tours can be arranged in Fontainebleau.
Locals and tourists to the area respect nature and enjoy the animals, but remember to steer clear of the wild boar, they're not always friendly.
Fontainebleau Tourisme, 4, Rue Royale - 77300 Fontainebleau
+33(0)160 749 999
Google map: bit.ly/PCD57Y
Train: From Gare de Lyon, the train journey takes 40 minutes. Trains run all day.
A very pretty small town, with good hotels and restaurants. This place is a bit of an oasis among the busy stretch along the Calais coast. But the location is perfect for anyone who wants to stay overnight on a day trip or shopping trip to France via the ferries or Channel Tunnel. It sure beats hanging around Calais!
We only had a few days in Siem Reap but wanted to see more than Angkor Wat so decided on a different day out and were so glad we did. There are various organised tours to visit floating villages but many are said to take you to places on the Tonle Sap lake which are now overly touristy and therefore not very authentic. We got a tuktuk to drive us to a point where we could pick up boats for Kompong Phluk which is only accessible by water. Even the drive out of the city and through more rural villages was interesting and took about 30 minutes. We reached the pontoon where the boats depart and paid $20 each at an office where it looked like a visitor centre was being built. We had the whole boat to ourselves and only saw a few other tourist boats during the day. You travel up the river and reach a village where all the houses are on stilts in the water. It was fascinating to see how the local people lived. We then paid a man $5 to take us on a canoe and paddle through a flooded forest which was amazing and so peaceful and calm. Then we headed back into the village and saw children playing in the water and paddling home from school in canoes. Everyone was very friendly and didn’t seem to mind us being there as hopefully tourists help the local economy. We were taken to a local house which had set up as a restaurant and paid $5 each for a nice fresh lunch. The only downside to the day was on the return leg on the boat when we stopped at the temple and school which would have been a highlight had we not felt pressured by hawkers trying to sell us stuff. They approached us as soon as we set foot on the banks and then followed us round asking us to buy a bundle of exercise books for $6 or a pack of pencils for $3 saying they would be given to the schoolchildren to help their education. Other tourists seemed to have fallen for the scam, not realising it was just a money-making scheme as there is no way the materials would have cost that amount of money and even if the stationery ended up at the school, the cash was destined for the pockets of the local women who were peddling it. Enterprising maybe but we felt it spoiled an otherwise pleasant day out. We made an offering in the temple instead and would rather have given a cash donation directly to the school so be prepared and perhaps bring stationery supplies yourself instead. Otherwise we had a wonderful day out with an incredible insight into another lifestyle and the total round trip from Siem Reap took about four hours.
Lindau Insel is an island connected to the mainland by a causeway. It sits in the Bodensee (Lake Constance). The town itself is a wonderfully preserved historic town, very easy to walk around. Standing on the harbour, one looks directly forward to Switzerland and look to the left to the Alps and the pretty Austrian city of Bregenz. Travel to Bregenz takes 10 minutes by train around the lake or around 20 minutes by boat across the lake (highly recommended).
Further along the German coast of the lake lies Friedrichshafen with the very interesting airship museum and on to the far west of the lake to medaeval Meersburg and majestic Konstanz and the beautiful flower island of Mainau. These areas can all be visited by boat from Lindau harbour.
Train station is Lindau (Bayern) - right on the harbour.
Google map: bit.ly/fRAd2Y
Despite being only a short car or train journey from bustling Berlin, the idyllic region around the Scharmützelsee and its surrounding smaller lakes is as off the beaten track, as reasonably priced and as untouristy as they come. You can pamper yourself in the thermal brine spas at Bad Saarow, spend the night in the opulent surroundings of the fairytale Schloss Hubertushöhe, a former royal hunting lodge, or just take in the protected beauty of the unspoilt beaches, woodland and wildlife in, on and around the lakes.
Scharmützelsee region, www.scharmuetzelsee.de/dateien/HOLIDAY.pdf. Nearest railway stations coming from Berlin: Bad Saarow - Pieskow, Wendisch-Rietz, Storkow/Mark.
Schloss Hubertushöhe, www.hubertushoehe.de/. Nearest railway station coming from Berlin: Hubertushöhe.
Bad Saarow thermal spa, www.bad-saarow.de/de/bad-saarow-therme/saarowtherme/Cached. Nearest railway station coming from Berlin: Bad Saarow-Pieskow (some direct trains, else change at Fürstenwalde)
Google map: bit.ly/e0d9T4
Just spent a lovely weekend in Bruges, you just must take make the canal boat trip. All the restuarants we ate in were great but I would especially recommend the Maximillian which faces towards the Lake of Love.
The horse drawn carriage ride sounds a bit tacky but its great fun, about €35 for a 30-minute ride, the Bruges people are very forward about asking for tips! Look for special offers in the museums.
We stayed at the Boat hotel de Barge, great quirky place, the bedrooms were surprisingly spacious, and very clean and airy with views over the canal. Bird watchers delight, with Barnacle Geese tapping on the windows as you breakfast, from the canal they can see what you are eating! Great fun and good value all round.
I was most impressed by the hotel booking information provided by the online booking agent and easy navigation of the whole site. We booked with Just one hotel who have a website dedicated to Bruges.
There are a number of megalithic sites just outside Evora that make a great day out. At 7000 years the Almendres Cromlech is one of the oldest stone circles in the world (2000 years older than Stonehenge), made up of 95 stones of varying heights arranged in a horseshoe on the side of a hill covered in cork oak forests. Nearby there is a large menhir, the Almendres Menhir, and the largest dolmen (burial site) in the Iberian peninsula with a central chamber over six metres high, the Anta Grande do Zambujeiro. A nearby cave with sketches of bison and horses at Escoural is currently closed.
All sites can be reached by car down dirt tracks, and would make a great day's mountain biking. The Evora Tourist Information have a good booklet in English and Spanish (and presumably Portugese).
It's hard not to feel a connection when you see these sites that our ancestors built thousands of years ago.
A very important archaeological World Heritage site, set in a National park surrounded by Lake Butrint.
Originally a Neolithic settlement, later developed by the Greeks, Illyrians, Romans and Venetians. Comprising ruins of 6CBC fortifications, 3CBC Hellenistic amphitheatre, acropolis, 4CBC Temple of Asklepios, Roman Baths, 5C Byzantine Baptistry and mosaics, 6C Basilica, impressive Venetian tower and fortress.
A protected site with excellent museum housing original artefacts. Outdoor stalls selling local handicrafts.
Set in beautiful woodland, reached from the south via a small chain ferry. Access now possible by day tour from Corfu and northern Greek resorts. Local currency is the Lek but Euro is accepted. Prices somewhat lower than in Greece. A rare opportunity.
Southern Albania,opposite the Greek island of Corfu, close to the Greek border in Epirus and the mainland resort of Parga.
There's plenty to keep you occupied on a day trip to Bath. You might well take in a visit to the Assembly Rooms and its Museum of Costume. But if your visit coincides with certain Sunday afternoons, you have the opportunity to dance in the sumptuous Georgian surroundings of the Ballroom.
In the 18th century the Assembly Rooms would have been packed with guests dancing, playing cards, tea drinking, talking and flirting. Today, at the monthly dances both experienced and novice dancers can waltz and quickstep around the Ballroom to a live band. Afternoon tea and refreshments are available.
This may be the most atmospheric dance venue in England. The next dances are on 13th September and 11th October.
The Assembly Rooms, Bennett Street, Bath
Montepulciano itself is a wonderful base for day trips throughout the region, and it really struck me since it's not as touristy and packed as many other places feel. It's still got its fair share of travellers, but it's not as stifling as say, Venice can be.
The scenery is straight from a fairy tale and the cuisine is beyond even that. Mix that with some architecture, and the destination is already perfect.
Perfect places are made more memorable by perfect places to stay, and this place took the cake on my last trip. It used to be a small village actually, but was remodelled as a hotel with all the modern amenities - yet it still has that homey-country feel, almost as if a well loved relative prepared everything exactly to your liking before check in.
Quiet, friendly, and absolutely beautiful with a terrace to take it all in, Borgo Tre Rose has relax written all over it and it's exactly what I wanted. The reception desk isn't 24-hour, but that's ok because at least they tell you. Get all your questions in by 19:30 (it closes at 20:00, so why make a poor receptionist suffer by prattling on at 19:55?....obviously they'll still help you then though, as I found when I needed a phone number urgently) and they're helpful as ever, with warm friendly smiles to boot.
For moments when you're not relaxing, the washing machine and internet point are really really convenient and to relax after all that, there are actually hot springs nearby (S. Albino).
Anyway, a great stay in a great place, and if you have a little more time than I usually do, look into regional wine tastings! Superb!
Via Dei Palazzi, 5 but these people were VERY helpful with all, including directions: www.italiancollection.com/en/hotel-borgo-tre-rose.html
A city hugely popular as a tourist destination, Granada is problematically populated by people who don't like outsiders. The Andalusians are not famed for their friendliness. This is something you have to accept before going, but you must go, it's quite spectacular.
However, be careful, stay away from the city centre. The Hoteles and Pensiones in the middle of the city are crammed full of zealous foreigners and 'Granadinos' with attitude.
Perched up on 'the' hill, overlooking the Alhambra, are the white houses and cobbled streets of the Sacromonte, just next to the Albayzin. It's a world within itself, yet close to everything. The views over the Alhambra are breathtaking. To the north, the snow-capped Sierra Nevada towers over the province.
The beauty of this place is also the lack of tourism. No one knows about it. I shouldn't be telling, perhaps. If you see this, and get the urge, go, if you don't you're making a mistake. There's no way one would fail to enjoy this area.
It's easy to get into the centre, too. Simply drop a ball, and follow it. It'll take you all the way there.
Send them an email, say you want to stay, tell them when, and roll up.
Christie's is one of two internationally famous auction houses, the other being Sotheby's. Only clients of the auction house seem to be aware of the beautiful and varied works of art you can see at the auction house galleries. Both in the St. James and South Kensington offices you are free to walk in, browse the pre-sale exhibitions with no charge - and, fear not, there's no obligation to buy.
Christie's on King Street holds fantastic modern art, impressionist art and British art sales, as well as countless furniture and jewellery sales.
In South Kensington it's all a little more light-hearted with pop memorabilia, sporting memorabilia, musical instruments, clocks and house sales where you can often pick up good antique furniture bargains.
South Kensington is also famous for its drop-in valuations, so if there's something on your wall, in your attic or basement that you've always wondered about, take it to Christie's for a free valuation.
They're quieter than museums, and somehow much more personal. No ropes or screens to keep you back.
Their website will tell you what's coming up and when. And if you have time, attend an auction - the bigger sales at Christie's are fascinating to watch. Just don't twitch, stretch or fix your hair.
Christie's auction house, King St, St James and Old Brompton Road, South Kensington.
Oficina Francisco Brennand is a sculpture garden, ceramic gallery and art gallery. The work is of 82-year-old Francisco Brennand, an internationally recognised sculptor, sometimes referred to as the Salvador Dahli of Brazil. His work is sensual, bordering on erotic, natural and mythological.
He travelled to Europe in 1949 and was influenced by Gaudi, Miro, Leger and Picasso.
The water gardens are by Brazil's most famous landscape artist Brule Marx, and the sculpture gallery is housed in an old ceramics factory. His painted art is housed in a new gallery. All are within a protected area of Atlantic forest on the outskirts of Recife.
If in the area this is a "must see". His work can also be found around the city of Recife, especially on a section of the reef in Recife Antigo, home to his sculpture park inaugurated in 2000 for the new millennium. It can be accessed by row boat from the quay side in Marco Zero square, the centrepoint of the city from where distances to all other cities are measured.
Lefkada is a fantastic and relatively unknown island. The small tourist strip of Nidri is not the most attractive part of it, but if you head down to the pretty harbour front you can rent a motor boat for the day and live out those James Bond fantasies on the cheap. We paid sixty euros all in - very good value considering that a boat can hold six people.
You then have about twenty square miles of sea and several gorgeous islands to call your own. We spent a very pleasant day cruising between them, stopping off at a small harbour-side cafe on Meganissi for a frappe, anchoring in various deserted bays for a spot of snorkelling, and inspecting the Onassis family's private island of Skorpios.
We used Trident Hire and found them to be reliable and good value, but there are two or three other companies at the harbour offering similar deals.
Tel: +30 697 798 8610
On a recent trip to Singapore I took a day trip to Malacca in Malaysia by coach. Malacca is a small historic town with plenty to see and it all fits into a day, albeit a long one, with a delicious buffet lunch at a central hotel, it is well worth the visit at a reasonable price. Don't forget to take your Passport!
From most Singapore Hotels or day trip Coach Companies
Nestled high in the Moroccan hillside is Volubilis, the most far-flung post of the Roman Empire. Play at Roman warriors, cobblers and vestal virgins in this small-scale Pompei; wide carriageways, intricate mosaics, olive trees and awe-inspiring, if rather time-rugged, arches make for marvellous photos and a great place to listen to the call to prayer and donkey brays from neighbouring valley villages.
Take the train to Meknes and then get a grand taxi.
Fascinating boat trip you can book and join for an unforgettable day with the dolphins.
Every day (9.30-17.30) the catamaran KRILL (takes max 10 people) leaves from the Viareggio harbour, called “Molo della Madonnina”, for a cruise in the sea of Versilia.
Florence is a beautiful city packed with culture and vibrance. But if you only have a day or two, and on a shoestring budget, I recommend hiring a bicycle for a half a day or a day, especially when the weather is warm. It's one of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences my wife and I had, and it's fairly inexpensive.
The city is not big, and you can easily cover most of the top sights if you're willing to do a bit of pedal power, plus you'll be doing your bit on travelling green!
Also, to stretch your deflated pound that little bit further, scoff down as much breakfast as you can (Italian brekkies are simple fares), and have a late lunch. Find a pizzeria the locals recommend, and don't be ashamed to order a very large pizza. Eat half, and ask to take away the rest (a good pizza should still be good even when it's cold and bashed around in your rucksack). While you're there, soak in the atmosphere, and enjoy the distinct flavours of each ingredient. Savour the bursting flavours of the tomatoes, the freshness of the artichokes, the subtle hint of basil, and the purity of the extra virgin olive oil drizzled on fresh mozzarella on the perfect stone baked dough base. Bellissimo! Enjoy it while you can, you simply won't be able to find pizza like they make it in Italy!
Back to the bicycle ride, I would start somewhere by the river, visiting some of the markets and the shops that are just about to open by mid-morning. Florentine streets are narrow, but you should always be able to find somewhere to lock the bicycle during stops. Be equipped with a sense of adventure, and feel free to wander off the beaten track, as somehow it'll always bring you back to the centre anyway. If you prefer, zip around the many piazzas and use speed to your advantage to get to queues early if you like museum hopping.
As the sun starts to sit low, return your bicycle (making note of the closing time where you hired it), and head up to the Piazelle Michelangelo (Michelangelo Hill) by bus. It's a very touristy part of Florence, but find a place to sit down, relax, and enjoy the spectacular changing hues of the sunset as it sails below the beautiful Florentine skyline.
Jelsa is a small fishing town around 20km east of Hvar town. With several restaurants, bars and ice-cream cafes it has a charming, family feel. It is a great base to go on and explore from, with day trips to Brac Island and lots of places to hire bikes and scooters.
The catamaran goes once a day from Split to Jelsa via Brac Island and costs no more than a few pounds. Word of warning though: the bus services to and from Jelsa are somewhat limited.
Pézenas is a small town about 50 kilometres from Montpellier and is well worth a visit for its old town centre that encompasses Medieval, Rennaissance and 18th century architecture. The Medieval section includes a Jewish quarter and an old sign still indicates this above the slightly menacing and dark entrance archway. There are plenty of delightful little houses and tiny courtyards to explore here.
One of Pézenas’ most famous former residents was the playwright Molière who lived, wrote and performed here for a while in the mid 17th century. He is remembered now by a monument and a hotel named after him.
Car - take the RN113 towards Béziers. Trains and buses are also available following the same principle.
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