Lacanau isn't one of France's most appealing beach towns and pales in the shadow of grand Arcachon with its Dune du Pyla to the south. However, it lies in the heart of the Landes pine forest, between the Atlantic and a chain of lakes, and the surrounding area's natural beauty is well worth exploring. Numerous establishments on the main road, Avenue de l'Europe, hire out bikes for the day or half day at very reasonable prices, and it's easy to get hold of a map of the extensive biking trails around the town from the tourist information centre (on the same street). Head south along the coast for views of the seemingly endless sandy beaches and atlantic breakers in either direction, or inland to explore the beautiful pine forests (some of Europe's most extensive). Dappled sunlight and the scent of pine and wild flowers add to the peaceful magic of leisurely riding through almost entirely flat back country. A perfect alternative to lying on the sand, and a healthy way to redress indulgence in local wines.
Lacanau Océan, Gironde, France. An hour's drive west from Bordeaux.
Avoid the heaving crowds and pretentions of much of the Italian Riviera and head to the beautiful, and far quieter, little beach town of Camogli. In terms of sheer physical beauty it gives the Cinque Terre a run for their money, and unlike neighbouring Portofino its picturesque setting isn't ruined up-close by crowds of tourists, huge yachts and designer boutiques. It would be untrue to say tourism had completely passed Camogli by but the town still feels like a genuine fishing port and its handful of tourist-orientated shops and eateries don't detract from its considerable charm. Rows of pastel coloured baroque houses line streets cut into the steep hillside above a picturesque little bay, complete with (shingle) beach, azure waters, fishing port and fort. A postcard-designer couldn't dream up anything prettier, and it is a pleasure to simply wander round the town with its sense of history and beauty unspoilt by mass-tourism. If you want more of an escape than swimming in the Mediterranean, then there are plenty of opportunities to walk into the Appenine hinterland of hills cloaked in olive and orange groves - particularly breathtaking is the walk from Camogli along the cliffs of the Portofino peninsula, with stunning views along the whole length of the Ligurian coast from the too-picturesque-to-be-true hamlet of San Rocco. Camogli's further added bonus is that its relative lack of popularity with tourists means restaurant prices are considerably lower than in nearby Santa Margherita and Rappalo.
Camogli is a brief train journey from Santa Margherita Ligure, Genoa, Rappalo or any of the other major settlements along the riviera. It also lies just off the main coastal highway.
Straddling the spectacular Belledonne mountains, Les Sept Laux is a gem of a ski resort that is little known to foreign skiers. A small resort, only 45 minutes by bus or car from Grenoble, there is little in the way of accommodation, and you don't come for the apres-ski, Les Sept Laux is nonetheless a fantastic option for those who wish to beat the crowds and save money. Its easily accessible location means it gets busy with day-trippers at the weekends but never to the same degree as the more famous resorts, and come during the week for blissfully empty pistes. Sept Laux doesn't have the largest pisted terrain in the French Alps by any means, though there are certainly a variety of slopes for all abilities, however what makes the resort stand out is the seemingly endless expanses of soft, luxuriously powdery off-piste areas. And all this comes with superlative views on both sides of the Belledonne ridge (there are three base stations for the resort), and a mixture of jagged peaks, lush, scented pine forest and fresh, clean mountain air. Ski heaven.
Les Sept Laux, Isere, France.
Yosemite Valley may have the famous sites - Half Dome, El Capitan, and of course the waterfalls. But it also has the tourist hordes and the intense heat. It shouldn't be missed but once you've been and seen, head out of the valley and then north-east toward Tuolumne Meadows. About an hour's drive through the spectacular Sierra Nevada scenery, the road skims the shores of Lake Tenaya. Instead of passing it by like the majority of the park's visitors, park your car and get out. The clear mountain air and almost complete absence of sound or other human presence, makes this remote, crystalline lake a supremely tranquil location. I visited in late summer, when the valley was suffocating in 100-degree heat, but Lake Tenaya, at a considerably higher altitude, was pleasantly warm, and it's shallow waters cool but not freezing. Standing waist-deep in its waters, surrounded by white-sand beaches, pine forests and silver mountains, I could not imagine anywhere closer to paradise.
Yosemite National Park, ask at the visitor centre for a map and/or directions.
Three hours by land from Saigon (or less than two hours by ferry and bus). Quiet and cool beach area with great seafood. Cute cabanas in Palace Hotel resort with swimming pool. Palace Hotel is 100 years old, built by the French and used in modern times as a reception place for French embassy.
A beautiful small fishing island just 45 minutes' away from central pier by ferry. Has lovely beaches and a real village feel to it, such a great atmosphere.
You can have the best seafood down by the pier, relax on the beach, swim in the sea, go for walks or cycles or try windsurfing (the womens' world champ lives there). Has an altogether slower, friendlier pace than HK and is so close and easy to get to.
Take ferry from pier 5 - 30-50 min journey depending on ferry. Ferry every 30 mins.
Botanical park near the airport. For only two euro, you can stroll around its various environments and admire all the amazing plants. A tropical hothouse includes an aquarium and iguanas. Worth a visit anytime for a budget urban nature fix and terrific for passing a couple of relaxing hours prior to check-in.
405 Promenade des Anglais
+33 (0)4 92 29 77 00
opposite Nice Cote d'Azur airport
Stay at the Feathers Hotel. Although there are several hotels in Helmsley, Feathers appealed for friendliness, convenience, and low-key comfort.
Use this as your headquarters to visit the abbeys - they are all quite wonderful and unique. And when sick of people, drive into the moors, especially in the "off" season such as November.
Feathers, Helmsley, Yorkshire
A few miles south of Truro, hidden in trees above the creeks, is Trelissick. It has beautiful gardens with a nice tea shop and is an escape from the crowds on a week day.
Afterwards, if you leave the car parked and walk down towards the ferry via the road, you can take the footpath north or south along the wooded edge of the river to find many tranquil deserted creeks where you may spot a lone heron. This is a very different side of Cornwall that many people don't see.
4 miles south of truro on the B3289
Rough Tor is a beautiful granite-boulder strewn hill on the northern edge of Bodmin Moor.
On opening the gate on to the moor you cross a small stream and then start the gentle slope up the hill - past ancient stone hut circles and wild ponies - to the top where you can sometimes see the north and south coasts of Cornwall, as well as other craggy peaks, the odd coniferous forest and pools and reservoirs.
If you have more time, you can continue across to Brown Willy - the highest hill in Cornwall - passing another stream and through an abandoned hamlet.
The Priory is a former hospital dating from the end of the 17th century. It was later used as a religious retreat. In 1913 the painter, Maurice Denis, who was deeply religious, as well as being a leading theorist of Post Impressionism, acquired the building and its grounds.
The Priory now houses a small but good collection of French art from the period 1880 to 1940, including Symbolism and Post Impressionism, especially the work of the Pont Aven artists and the Nabis.
The gardens are very beautiful and show sculpture by Bourdelle and Maillol. It's a quiet and contemplative sort of place except when the primary schools are in for an afternoon of art.
2 Rue Maurice Denis, 78100 St Germaine-en-Laye, west of Paris. Metro/RER from Chatelet to St Germaine-en-Laye. Then 10 minute walk through the town. There is said to be a bus but I never saw it.
This is a small public gallery showing paintings and some sculpture in a former private house (often the best way to show art collections) and concentrates largely on Danish work of the 18th and 19th centuries.
If you like landscape, interiors and small genre painting, this is a good place to visit. The house is around the back of the main national gallery and across a small park.
Stockholmsgade 20. Metro stop Norreport. Buses 6A, 14, 40 and many others (check bus stop signs). www.hirschsprung.de
Loch Ness is well known and visited by thousands, but when you've tired of Nessie tartan gonks, there is a more beautiful and less visited landscape to the north.
Glen Affric has been referred to by those in the know as Scotland's most beautiful glen. It stretches for many miles upriver from the village of Cannich, becoming progressively wilder and more desolate. There are beautiful lochs, mountains and waterfalls, but it is the pinewoods that make this glen so special. You might think you've seen one forest, you've seen them all - but this is different. It is one of the largest remnants of the original ancient Caledonian Forest that once covered Scotland, and walking amongst the trees, it has a really special atmosphere and beauty. Look out for plentiful, incredibly cute red squirrels, pine martens and other wildlife.
This website features walks and accommodation.
Rome's zoo is being gradually improved and has been renamed the Bioparco. A greater emphasis is now being placed on its ecological and environmental credentials. I visited it on a Wednesday afternoon. Apart from three Russians who asked me for directions to the exit, I was the only visitor. I think the animals were glad to see me. If you like wolves there are lots here. Very wolfish and sleek. Apart from its intrinsic merits, it's one of the few places in Rome where you can get away from the crowds.
Viale del Giardino Zoologico. Trams 3 and 19, plus a short walk.
These are some nice districts to explore. Not far from the city centre, the high streets of the following areas are nice to walk about with good shops, bars and restaurants. Chorlton, Fallowfield, West Didsbury, Didsbury.
All within 3 or 4 miles of the centre. Chorlton high street spreads out from the junction of Wilbraham Road and Manchester Road. Fallowfield from Junction of Wilbraham Road and Wlmslow Road. West Didsbury highstreet is on Burton road, from junction with Lapwing lane southwards and also along Lapwing lane. Didsbury from junction of Barlow Moor Road and Wilmslow road.
Don't follow the crowds. Come instead to idyllic Isla Canela on the Portuguese border, 90km from Seville. 7km of uncrowded golden sands, terrific range of bars and restaurants, attractive marina. An exclusive resort set amongst natural spaces and in easy distance of delightful Andalucian villages, chief of which is the little Andalucian pueblo of Ayamonte, with palm fringed squares, cobbled streets, tapas bars and historic buildings. An hour from Donana National Park, teeming with indigenous wildlife. Less than 40 minute drive to 6 top-flight golf courses.
A beautiful tiny island off the west coast of Scotland famous for its slate exports of the 1800's. No cars, good pub, friendly locals, fabulous wildlife and THE most breathtaking scenery and skies on the planet. Just south of Oban, Argyllshire and a few minutes ferry ride from Seal Island. Go there, find peace within and come back feeling the most wealthy of travellers. Heaven can't surely be as good as Easdale!
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