The West Lake is one of the most popular but stress-free tourist attractions in China and is a great day out if you want to get away from the crowds of Shanghai.
The lakeside has a distinctly European atmosphere reminiscent of the south of France with many of the younger local people dressing up in locally produced fashions to promenade by the water.
There are Italian and French restaurants with many of the old colonial-style houses being converted into cafes. Some are expensive by Chinese standards but worth the price if you feel like a change from Chinese food.
There are usually musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments on the shore of the lake.
Boat trips and bicycle hire are also possible. On good days it is worth hanging around for the sunset.
Take a taxi to the West Lake (Xi Hu) from Hangzhou main railway station for the flat fare of 10 RMB.
Hangzhou East railway station is some distance away with the cab ride costing around 25 RMB. You can take a bus to the less crowded north side of the lake.
The lake gets crowded at weekends, particularly if the weather is good but weekdays are much quieter.
Dong Hu is a water park created from old quarry workings.
It offers an escape from the crowds of the Yangtze Delta Region and a chance to relax and enjoy a short boat trip on this man-made lake.
Take the train to Shaoxing. Come out of the station and turn right to the bus terminus. Get on bus number 1 and tell the driver or conductor you are going to Dong Hu.
Dong Hu is in the main guidebooks and you can point to the Chinese characters in the book if the driver or conductor does not understand you.
The staff will tell you when to get off the bus which takes around 20 minutes depending on the traffic but it is just as you feel you are going out of the city.
Just in case, look for a big brown sign for Dong Hu in English pointing to the right as you head out of the city.
North Stradbroke Island, more commonly known to the locals as "Straddie" is a terrific holiday island just a 40-minute ferry ride from the mainland.
Ideal for those fans looking to take a bit of a break from the hardcore backpacker trail. For a couple of days, Straddie has miles of fantastic beaches, several top watering holes and a unique laid back atmosphere that you won't find elsewhere.
Accomodation is plentiful and reasonably cheap and it is well worth hiring a 4WD, although not essential, to get around the many 4WD tracks and go up and down the miles of beaches to find your perfect spot.
UK visitors will find the natural charm of the island a revelation although be careful swimming as there was a fatal shark attack off Amity Point in 2005.
We spent a couple of days wandering around Panjim (Panaji) and Old Goa - for a bit of culture to break up the days soaking up the sun on the beach. The streets of Panjim were full of character without being hectic like other Indian towns. The brightly painted churches, empty streets and perfectly mowed green lawns of Old Goa seemed like another world from the tie-dyed-tourist traps on the coast, and helped explain Goa's distinct character within India.
Up in the mountains about two hours from the ocean, the wooden lodges are perched on the edge of a 500 foot plus drop. Absolutely stunning and the pool is the best I've ever seen.
We stayed a night at Elsewhere, Otter Creek Tents on the beach at Asvem in north Goa. There's a bamboo jetty over the river and four luxury tents between the river and the sea - with double beds and en-suites. They bring you breakfast to your little terrace (delicious pancakes) and serve dinner under the stars. It’s all very eco-friendly and peaceful - unlike much of north Goa. There's a small house you can rent too.
Palolem in south Goa is a fantastic laid back beach. You can check out how beautiful it is by watching Matt Damon run along it during the opening 10 minutes of the Bourne Supremacy.
There are some great beach huts to rent (average price £7 per day). My favourite has to be Dreamcatcher at the north end run by Jacky and Walter. Jacky is from Liverpool via the asteroid belt while Walter is an ex Kerelan wrestling champion. They make you feel so welcome it feels like home after about 10 minutes.
The food the cook serves up is fresh and tasty (prawns the size of bananas and curries that are far tastier than anything you've had in the UK) while the bar will serve you anything from a lasi to a Kingfisher.
If yoga is your thing, Wayne (yes I know not the most mystical sounding name) does a sunrise (well 9am) class and a sunset one. There's also a variety of massage too.
The place is magical at night as it is lit by candles. You can either sit around the campfire or relax on a daybed by the bar.
If you're going to Goa and want a place that's not commercial, Palolem and Dreamcatcher is where you should head to.
The guidebooks say that the most idyllic beaches are to the south of Goa. This is not necessarily true. We went up to north Goa for a few days and stayed at Aswem beach which is a couple of miles away from Arambol.
Aswem was gorgeously peaceful with hardly anyone on it apart from a few beach huts. After staying in Anjuna is was a complete retreat. This was a few years ago and hopefully it is still the same. Arambol had a very chilled out vibe and not full of hedonist party goers but a lovely atmosphere. There is also a fresh water lake there.
Not to mention the amazing art galleries Villa Borghese is an oasis of quiet in the bustling city of Roma - a must see for all visitors. If you want to visit the galleries you need to pre-book online before your visit ... tickets sell out fast but they are reasonably priced.
It can be reached by climbing the Spanish Steps but for the less energetic a taxi is relatively inexpensive.
Once the home and garden of a wealthy Swiss businessman, the Swiss Club was donated to the Swiss community of Egypt. Today, however, it is open to all for a small fee, although it tends to be an expat hangout. If the bustle of Cairo becomes too much to bear you can bring your family to this green oasis and enjoy reasonably priced good food and a relaxing atmosphere. Other activities include barbecues, car boot sales and bazaars.
The Swiss Club, Villa Pax, El Gihad Street (off Sudan Street), Kit Kat Square.
Tel : +20 2 314 2811
This is a great place for a relaxing in. The resort is aimed at couples and is a fantastic escape from the rest of the dime-a-dozen resorts. We went in March for our honeymoon and were very happy with the resort.
It is situated on a long stretch of golden beach with hardly anyone on it. The resort's accommdation was minimalist cool and the staff very helpfull and friendly.
For a great "switch-off" holiday then this is the place, the exact opposite of phuket.
Used to live there - fab place, 5 minute walk out of big bustling city, nice restaurants, boutiques and coffee shops. Laid back way of life out of fast pace of city.
Turn left at bottom of Queen Street and then follow road round, up big hill and there you are - it's a great place to have a slow stroll around eating drinking and viewing things and especially people watching.
An island off the north east coast, a place which is largely how Singapore used to be before development took off.
Take a short bumboat ride and spend half a day or longer strolling through the rain forest enjoying that rare Singaporean comodity: peace and quiet. If you want to move more quickly, hire a bike on the island. Don't forget to leave time to eat at the food shacks near the landing point.
This website gives all the information you need. The boats leave pretty frequently so there is no problem about getting over there.
A place to be alone, bar a couple of fishermen, with your thoughts. As the sun sets, its orangey light setting off the majestic honey hued walls of the city.
Go down the steps by the Mediterranean Conference Centre (once the Knights' "Sacra Infermeria")
It’s not signposted and its existence is denied by the locals, but this impossibly large beach is the most beautiful strand in Ireland and no-one else seems to know about it. The water is warm and the sand hot, while cattle graze the fringe of grass on the sand dunes. A little graveyard sits uneasily on the weather-worn shore.
Besides the obvious walk through the stones, go up the small hill right oposite the archeological site and behind it you will find a nice slide of stone and a small field away from guides and tourists! Great for a picnic or siesta.
Sacsayhuaman, take a taxi from the main square in Cuzco to the site, 5 min from Cuzco, don't pay more than S/.5 and get the taxi driver to come and pick you up later, for another S/.5. You need a ticket to get in, S/.35 but gets you into more than 8 other sites.
Costa de la Luz is a beautiful, as yet unspoilt part of Spain on the Portuguese border. If you go off-peak you can still find hidden, deserted beaches, traditional fishing villages, and unlike the Costa del Sol, Spanish people!
Costa de la Luz stretches from Huelva in the west to just short of Algeciras in the south.
Nearest airports are Seville or Faro.
Next time you get that flight with Ryanair to Santiago de Compostela. Leave the city behind you and visit the countryside. I would recommend the area known as the Ribeira Sacra (holy river banks). Great wines, food and a very peaceful countryside, which looks and feel ancient. They say there are Celtic connections between Galicia and Ireland.
A stay at Casa Santo Estevo is a great central location for this visit. Located near to the Rio Mino it is easy to travel to Lugo, Ourense, Monforte de Lemos plus the Ribeira Sacra. The house is run by expats, from the U.K. and The Netherlands, so language will not be so much of a problem!
The food is out of this world, mainly local receipts but with some from other parts of the world too. Look at the website for the house. Not only is there information about the property but the area around too. I had a great time there letting time wash past me.
To be transported back in time, visit the Villa Oplontis, once home to Nero’s second wife before he kicked her to death in A.D. 65. Take the train to the next stop past Pompeii – Torre Annunziata, a seedy suburb of the Neapolitan conurbation once famous for its black velvet sand beaches, now infamous for its contribution to the crime columns of the local papers. A hand – written scrawl in the ticket office of the station advises directions to villa, including, “…and if you survive the crossing of the main road, continue along …”
It is a strange site to visit, all sound is blanked out in spite of its proximity to the road. Only birdsong is heard in the gardens of this well – preserved ruin. Here are decorations on the walls far superior to Pompeii, with clever illusionist motifs of rows of columns in perspective and tiny detailed paintings of birds feeding. Little imagination is needed to re – create life in this villa, the buildings of which alone cover an area of over a hectare.
Because it is such an undervisited site, it is a delight to ramble through this extensive villa and listen to the whispers of breezes through the leaves of the lemon trees where the ancient atmosphere of relaxation and contemplation linger on in spite of its violent owner.
At the Torre Annunziata rail stop outside Naples.
From its stunning beaches (one of them being the famous Zlatni Rat) to its great, laid-back nightlife, this was our favourite place in Croatia. We camped in the grounds of the monastry, a beautiful building that overlooked the sea on both sides. It was exceptionally cheap (accommodation in Croatia on the cheap is limited if you don't have a tent) and we woke every morning with a dip in the turquoise sea that was a 1 min walk away. Heaven!
Get a ferry from Split to Supetar on the island of Brac. From there, get a bus to the other side of the island where you'll find Bol.
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