India’s most romantic city? If you enjoy having the hackneyed Hollywood idea of romance shoved down your throat by every guide book, then yeah, I s’pose it’s romantic. We arrived there for our three day, two night stay on 14th February.
It’s certainly pretty: a wide stretch of shallow water (the lake) is surrounded by limestone and marble hotels and a Monte Carlo-esque palace. Decorative islands float in the middle. At night, with the soft orange lights from the surrounding buildings bouncing off the water, it is like something out of A Thousand and One Arabian nights. If comparisons with Italy must be made then it’s more like Lake Garda than the Lido. Of course, it’s impossible to get away from the James Bond island hysteria that surrounds the Taj Lake Palace Hotel (Jag Niwas island) on every page of every guide to Udaipur (it is where they filmed some of the scenes in Octopussy). It’s also where the nouveaux stay. And at £430 a night for the cheapest room (breakfast not included) or £6,200 for the Presidential suite, they’d better be riche as well. We decided not to stay there.
My choice of accommodation for Udaipur turned out to be a winner which I can happily recommend. We enjoyed an enviable 360° view across the city from the rooftop of the sixteenth century Anjani Hotel.
On the first day we were a little disheartened by the streets and lanes packed with touts and shops around the lake and palace. We felt like aliens in this wholly touristy area. Nevertheless, we shelved our reservations and joined the throng. Shunning the ‘antiques’, carpets, and tailoring being thrust at us, we enjoyed a leisurely walk around the main area and across a scenic bridge over Lake Pichola. Ending up at the end of a track by the water, right opposite the City Palace, we watched the sun go down over Udaipur from the best viewpoint in town, in the company of professional photographers and the homeless.
The next day we joined the queues at the fairytale City Palace. With its balconies, cupolas, ornate towers, palaces within palaces, opulent state rooms and extravagant private rooms (check out one of my favourites, the nursery), it is a fabulous museum of wealth and privilege. The corridors went on forever, and I wasn’t surprised to discover that it is Rajasthan’s largest palace. Built by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1559, it was extended over the next few hundred years. Although from different eras, the palace has retained an overall elegance and is a nice way to spend half a day.
We wanted to get out on the water, but there are very few ways of doing this. If you stay on Jag Niwas island, of course, your price includes the hotel’s own taxi service; for the rest of us transport options are limited. We bit the bullet and queued up for the Lake Boat Ride. At 300Rs (£4.20) each it is expensive by Indian standards. Excitedly we waited to be dropped off at Jag Niwas, but the boat circled the island and then carried on. Damn. It seems that you can’t visit the island because it is wholly owned by the hotel, and you can only go there if you are a guest (we know because we tried every way we could think of to blag an entry). Still, we headed over to the older Jagmandir island.
The palace here came to prominence when Maharana Karan Singh built a safe haven for the future Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz (of Taj Mahal fame). Although Karan’s ancestor had fled from Akbar, and his own father had been defeated in the endless battles between Mughals and Mewars, some believe Karan helped Shah Jahan (known as Khurram before he became emperor) because the Mughal’s wife was Hindu. Whatever the reason, it was a shrewd move: by keeping Khurram under Mewar protection during 1623–1624 he backed the right horse. When Khurran became 'Emperor Shah Jahan', he gave back six districts to the Mewar kingdom, and a nice fat ruby to Karan’s son, Jagat Singh. We didn’t get quite such a good deal. We were allowed to see about one third of the palace buildings, and a cup of tea cost 130Rs (£1.85). To put it into perspective, a cuppa in the station cost 2Rs.
Feeling disappointed with our boat trip, despite the prettiness of the palace, we decided to get off the beaten track, so out came the walking boots. This proved to be a wise decision. We found life-as-it-is-in-India going on in the shops, houses and workshops outside the expensive tourist area. What a breath of fresh air to find women doing all the work, as men sat around drinking tea in the back alleys and children pumped water from standpipes.
We walked northwards, towards the distant music we had heard all morning, which became louder until it nearly split our ear-drums. Distorted noise poured out of strategically placed giant speakers along narrow alleys: just as the pain began to subside you would be hit by a fresh onslaught of decibels at every turn. We had stumbled upon a Muslim festival, it was the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s birthday celebrations. Great vats and plates of food were being prepared for the afternoon’s revelry by men (yes, men for a change!) while the women stayed in the background looking after excitable children. Jamie and I were offered a kind of semolina to eat. It had raisins in it and was rather sweet, but very good. Presented on a small paper plate, the trick was to eat it with your (right) hand and then throw the empty plate on the ground. I found the throwing of the paper plate on the ground more uncomfortable than eating semolina with my hand.
As usual, I was glad that I had kept a scarf with me and was reasonably covered up with a long top and trousers: I was treated with respect and kindness by everyone.
Before we left Udaipur we were lucky enough to come across one of the best places we have eaten in India. The city has loads of hotels and restaurants, and many are recommended in the guide books and online (not always accurately). We struck out on our own and ended up at the Nayee Haveli. What a serendipitous discovery. The rooms -- there are only six of them -- are comfortable and full of character; and the three roof terraces have million dollar views. It’s the sort of place you can spend the day just relaxing and hanging out. Our lunch, served in the Moonlight Tandoori Restaurant on the roof, was exceptional. Cooked by Raju, who had been working in the hotel for three years, we ate the best vegetable jalfrezi of our lives. Admittedly it took a little while, but the whole meal, including chutneys, was made freshly for us.
If you want a really sour, hot and tasty chutney just mash together all of these: mint, garlic, ginger, coriander, lemon, fresh green mangoes, salt, pepper, cinnamon, all spice, oil. Make sure all the ingredients are fresh and don’t overdo the cinnamon.
For similar tales have a look at www.lizcleere.com
55, Gangaur Ghat, Udaipur, India
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Lake Kivu, a volcanic lake, lies on the border between Rwandan (east) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (West). The city of Gisenyi lies just on the border and from there you can get fantastic view Rwanda’s famous volcanoes and the DRC on the other side of the lake. This is also a great area for those who like water sports as you can rent small boats to go on the lake. For bird lovers, Lake Kivu is a treasure: you will see a very large variety of birds, including multicoloured humming birds, macaws, African Grey Crowned Cranes and the magnificent Rockefeller’s Sunbird. For the more adventures ones, go across the border into Goma (DRC) for a day. It is a very different sight - imagine UN peacekeepers, Red Cross trucks and ruins - compared to the peaceful atmosphere of Gisenyi but it is an inspiring experience nonetheless. Or you can just lie on the small beach and enjoy the sun.
One tip, if you want a fantastic view of the lake take a car, motorbike or small taxi-bus to Rubona, home of Bralirwa breweries and the main harbour to Gisenyi (it lies of a six kilometres away from Gisenyi town centre). First enjoy the scenic route then stop at the Brewery and walk around towards the water. This little bay area is much more peaceful then Gisenyi. You are away from the fancy hotels and gated houses around the lake (they sometimes make it difficult to go next to the water). Look at the small fishing pirogues, enjoy an African tea and caramelized pineapple at one of the few small hotel/cafes there (such as Paradis Malahide, B.P 535, Rubona, Gisenyi) and just contemplate the lake, the fauna and flora for a couple of hours. There are supposed to be hot springs in the area as well. Some tourists have managed to find them, others not. Locals had no idea what we were talking about.
three and half hours from Kigali by bus.
Google map: tinyurl.com/32nwbqj
Lugano is a beautiful city but it's hard to do it justice if you're not on a banker's salary.
One surprisingly cheap option is to hire one of the boats on the waterfront and explore the lake. The views are wonderful and you can make it over to restaurants on the other side.
Just walk along the main waterfront, the hire places are easy to spot.
A fantastic, super modern, two-stage revolving cable car which whisks you up 1,660m from the olive groves at lake level to a very impressive top station. Great coffee, panoramic views north and west over the blue lake to the high snow-capped mountains of the Adamello and east towards the Adige Valley.
Take the Alta Via di Monte Baldo south along the ridge and climb through flower strewn meadows and along rocky winding paths to the highest point, Cima Valdritta at 2,218m. So many picnic sites it is almost impossible to select just one.
Return to the cable car for the descent. If you have the energy (and a bike) cycle north from Malcesine and take an early evening swim from one of the many pebbly bays. The water is crystal clear. Then eat in a lakeside restaurant. A perfect day.
Malcesine, Provincia di Verona
On eastern shore of Lake Garda.
Some 714m up, at the foot of Mt Paganella in the Dolomite region of northern Italy, Lago di Lamar is 45,000 sq m of sheer bliss. You can swim and snorkel safely, walk or cycle in the surrounding forest, jump off the old-fashioned rope swing, potter around in a small boat or simply sunbathe and stare at the stunning scenery. There is one very family friendly restaurant/bar, plenty of free parking and a great campsite nearby. The local Italians love it but there are few foreign tourists. I only know about it as my daughter lives a 10-minute drive away. Lucky me! The winding drive up to it among the fertile orchards, olive groves and vineyards is also a treat in itself.
From the Trento Centro exit on the A22 follow the road to Cadine and branch off to Terlago and Monte Terlago. Lamar and its sister lake, Lago di Santo, are both well signposted.
To say that the Italian lakes are picturesque is a mighty understatement, but if you can imagine that the essence of the beauty and romance of all of the lakes could all be condensed into one small town by the side of one of the smallest lakes, then you can begin to conjure up a picture of Orta San Giulio.
Whilst many of the popular resorts on larger lakes suffer traffic problems, cars are banned from the streets of Orta San Giulio, indeed many of the streets are too narrow for anything other than scooters. Day visitors and residents alike have walk down medieval streets and alleyways, which all lead to the main square and the stunning view across to Isola San Giulio.
www.ortasangiulio.com (in Italian)
This is a place about 5km outside the Carcassonne - takes about 25 minutes on the number 1 bus from the Bastide among other places in the city and costs E1.20 eachway. It is a lake/reservoir with a beach and the opportunity to go swimming. There are walks around the lake (a circuit took us about one hour 15 minutes) and pathways leading off. We went late October and the weather was wonderfully warm and it would have been ideal for a picnic especially as there were no facilities available but nevertheless it was one of the highlights of our trip to Carcassonne. If using the bus check the times of the return journeys because they are irregular and be aware that the bus may not follow the same route once it is back in the city.
Carcassonne Plage - Le Lac de la Cavayere
Google map: tinyurl.com/yc5w2dj
I admit that when I arrived at Limnopoula Camping in Ioannina (Epirus, Greece), I was tired and smelly. Any welcome and comfort would have made me ecstatic. What I was not ready for was the best view in Ioannina: forget all the hotels in town, here you can have a ground level lakeside pitch, close enough to the water for the slightly eggy smell of the lake to fill your nose and for the noise of jumping fish to punctuate your sleep like a curiously soothing and spasmodic metronome.
For just €12 I effectively got the best view in town. In the evening I watched the local kayaking club training. Go there and enjoy the historic town, the lake, the mountains and access to the villages of Epirus.
Some pictures attached on my travel blog:
A few minutes north of the old fort and on the edge of the lake
Nothing wakes you up quicker than a dip in the icy glacier waters of Lac Bleu in Morillon, slap bang in the middle of the famous Grand Massif skiing area. The water is shockingly cold, but beautifully clear and refreshing, particularly during the hot summer months when a swim in the lake is much needed. The location is just like a scene from a postcard, with the Alps on one side and a recreational park and pine forest on the other. Even during peak season, the lake never seems to be overcrowded. This makes it ideal for family outings and picnics. My favourite part was plunging into the water from the jetty and scrambling back up, shivering, about ten seconds later.
We camped at Blair Atholl a few times when I was young. We'd generally stay around the area since it's such a stunning spot with plenty to do. The most memorable moments for me were when my brother and I went swimming in the absolutely freezing cold waters of the River Tilt. I remember it being so scary and exhilarating! It's a narrow little river but pretty deep; you can't see the bottom in many parts which means there's lots of pools to jump in to! Each time we'd stay in the water until we couldn't feel our fingers or toes. I like to think that I'll do it again one day.
Chicago, my home town!
The highlights from my point of view, in no particular order:
Lake Michigan (including the Outer Drive and the many parks along it), ethnic foods and neighbourhoods, Hyde Park (yeah, yeah, we stole the name) and University of Chicago area, music of all kinds, architecture.
For many area and architecture tours, including the very popular Chicago River Cruise (seasonal, of course – brrrr!), and for architecture information, see the Chicago Architecture Foundation which has an office at 224 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s downtown (not technically in Chicago’s famous Loop which is defined by the elevated train tracks downtown). They are in the Santa Fe building; while in the downtown area see the Rookery (in both it and the Santa Fe building be sure to see the lobby areas inside), Monadnock Building, Carson Pirie, Scott Building.
The Chicago Architecture Foundation 'tour' pages will give you plenty of ideas for visits and their tours are high quality and reasonably priced.
The Howgills are an oft-ignored area, nestled between its larger cousins, the Lakes and the Dales. Great scenery, lovely walking. A nice base town at Sedbergh, with good food and pubs.
Take Junction for Kirby Lonsdale off M6 and then turn right following signs, or via A65
I've done a guide to the walk at www.seanliquorish.co.uk/blog/?p=11
This is a lakeside suburb in Eastern Berlin which still retains a village atmosphere. It's a great centre from which to explore the less familiar lakes and woods that were once the main recreational area for the 'capital of the DDR'. As in West Berlin, you can take boat trips, or walk up to the Muggelberg, the highest point in Greater Berlin. The town itself escaped much of the world war two bombing, and is full of restored 18th century houses and plenty of places to eat and drink. Schloss Kopenick, on its island, has also recently been restored properly, and now contains a Museum of Applied Art.
Kopenick S-bahn station is a short walk from the town centre, and is a 20-minute journey from central Berlin.
A trout, pike and coarse fishery, Esthwaite Water is a completely natural lake with stocked with Rainbow Trout. At over 280 acres you can find a quiet spot even during peak seaon. The Pike fishing season lasts all winter and the largest caught was 38lb!
Near Ambleside/Hawkshead LA22 0QF
A family-run four-star hotel right on the edge of the lake. Large comfortable rooms; wonderful lake views; great food and welcoming and helpful owners.
Fly or take the train to Milan or Como; use the public boat or bus service to reach Tremezzo
The Kai Iwi Lakes in the Taharoa Domain reserve are an absolute gem. The area itself feels like you're off the beaten track but it's not too far north from Dargaville township. Perfect for a day- or week-long trip. The campsite has great basic facilities but can get busy in summer so book ahead. The freshwater lakes are perfect for any watersports and there are great walking tracks around the area too.
You can't go to Annecy and not see its most famous sight - its lake, it's framed by towering mountains on the south side and green hills on the Annecy side, there are plenty of boats which go around the lake but it's far better to walk and take as many photos as you can.
You can't miss Lake Annecy - just follow 'Le Lac' signs from the train station
This is a great little hotel in a superb location for both (snow-sure) skiing in winter and outdoor activities the rest of the year. Amazing views in all directions. Good home-cooked food and very reasonable prices. They've got a lovely big garden and sunny terrace where you can relax/read/gaze at the stunning mountains across the valley. It's easy to reach from Salzburg, Linz or Graz airports.
We've been there in winter and also on walking holidays in summer and can't decide which we liked better. The village (Bad Mitterndorf) is really unspoilt by tourism - no package tours go there and the atmosphere is really Austrian. It's on the edge of the Austrian Lake District - great for swimming in the hot summers! We just keep on going back for more. Oh, and they've got mountain bikes that guests can use free of charge, too.
Köyceğiz is a beautiful quiet town with hot summers and friendly local people.
The Lake of Köyceğiz is often said to be as "as smooth as glass" till noon and then great for wind surfing in the afternoon. The Köyceğiz Lake contains almost every kind of seafood from fish to crab.
The Rock Tombs are tombs carved into the rock in Dalyan and date back to the ancient harbour city of Caunos.
The Mud baths are natural hot mud baths - very good for the skin!
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