A few hours of sumptuous coastal driving south from Muscat, the sleepy town of Ras Al Hadd, once you get there, is pretty unremarkable. Twenty minutes away, however, is the Ras Al Jinz nature reserve. There for a small fee, guests can watch Green turtles arrive on the beach to give birth and hatchlings make a break for the big blue.
Berchules is a pretty village in the mountains, near Cadiar. There is a great hotel, which is the base for a number of excellent walks in the area. There is also a mountain biking company called Pure Mountains, run by Jenny and Tim, that organises guided trails on excellent bikes. Would recommend it for the beautiful scenery and the fantastic trails, either on foot or by bike. Good for higher levels of fitness but best enjoyed by those who like big hills!
A short 2.7 km family walk in beautiful Alto Alentejo countryside along ancient pathways with olive groves and cork oak trees.
Starting at the typical Alentejo village of Barretos, along cobbled roads which merge into ancient pathways only wide enough for donkeys and carts. As you look up you will see the dramatic, imposing town and castle of Marvão on the mountain rage of the "Serra de São Mamede". Continue and you will pass through the little sleepy hamlets of Vale do Milho and Fonte Salgueiro de Cima and finally returning to the village of Barretos.
This is a short walk recommended for families where there is an abundance of flora and fauna, from farm animals, including sheep and pigs to the wonderful Alentejo countryside of wild flowers and trees. Plenty to keep the kids occupied.
Naturalism meets eco-tourism at its very best. If you want to learn about and truly see the beauty of the nature around you on this pretty little island, I highly recommend taking one of these trips.
The knowledge and passion of the guides - in particular the founder, Irshad Mobarak - turn an ordinary nature trail or fun boat ride into something that will make you appreciate where you are and reflect upon what role you have as part of nature in this world.
Many people visit Granada and the Alpujarra. They naturally tend always to go to the most obvious or easily accessed villages. This suggestion takes the walker into the bit the others miss.
There are no buses to Castaras, so you have to walk. There is always a bar open in the tiny village for lunch. Walk on the GR142, generally east, from Busquistar and you will come across it. If you must go by car then access is via Almejijar or Trevelez.
A bus from the centre of Marseille will take you to the head of the trails (through some unsalubrious bainlieues) that lead over craggy limestone peaks to one of the Mediterranean's most beautiful coastal features, the calanques. A little under an hour's walk will lead you to beautiful Sormiou and Morgiou, with pint sized beaches and tiny hamlets sandwiched between dramatic cliffs strewn with shrubs, cedars and maritime pines. The water is crystal clear and sheltered so that it is calmer and warmer than the open sea. On summer weekends, the calanques can get busy with daytrippers, but the rest of the time they are a picturesque treat to enjoy with only a few other people. There are other calanques more easily accessed by boat or from the neighbouring town of Cassis.
Calanque de Sormiou and Calanque de Morgiou, south of Marseille. You can drive the whole way along winding, precipitous, unpaved roads, but as the weather is usually good, it's best to walk - though remember to bring lots of water in summer time! Buses no22 & 23 run to Morgiou and Sormiou respectively from the Rond Point du Prado metro stop.
This is a small family run hotel in the real wild of the Pindos Mountains. The people who run it are immensely kind and helpful. For example I had flu when I went there and they provided a constant supply of lemon and honey (local natch) without charge. Most vegetables are grown organically in their garden, but guests don't get to eat the sweet corn - the bears get it first - so now they just plant plenty of maize to keep the bears happy. Babis (Dad) is very knowledgeable about the area and knows where Lynx etc are to be seen. The hotel is very plain and simple, no frills, except kindness and helpfulness. Plus Mum's cooking, using local ingredients and recipes is wonderful. She probably makes the best cake in northern Greece.
Babis or Vassili (son) will take you on wonderful walking expeditions to see the mountains from right up close. The river (crystal clear and freezing cold ) repays exploration. The area is absolutely "undeveloped" so the only people you will meet in the mountains are shepherds. The hotel is near to the famous church of St Nikolaous (which uniquely has two domes, and also the most spectacularly sited bridge in Northern Greece. Babis will explain how to get to Spilaio as the gorge is called where you can see this marvel.
The main thing that makes this hotel stand out is that it is run by local people who love Mikrolivado and all its wildlife and who are just glad that you have come there and love it too. There are no asphalt roads except the one leading to the hotel, but there are tracks for motor vehicles and hire cars can negotiate these, they don't need to be 4X4.
Mikrolivado is authentic Greek wilderness.
www.mikrolivado.gr/ (website in Greek) phone 0030 24620-25688 (very remote sometimes doesnt work all that well) fax the same. You will speak to Vassili Nanios, who speaks English. There may a moment of panic if someone else picks up the phone, but then they will find Vassili and all will be well. The nearest the nearest town is Grevena, in the Pindos mountains in Epiros, Northern Greece. There are no trains there, but you can get buses from Thessaloniki (nearest airport) or taxi from or Grevena. Best with hirecar though.
It's a small rural hotel.
Very isolated with fantastic views. The owners are very friendly, the food is great - home made bread every morning which is fantastic.
Golden eagles and vultures flying overhead, great area for walking, climbing, canoeing and rafting.
Located in the province of Lerida about 80km north of Lerida close to the market town of Tremp in the abandoned village of Tolo. The closest village is San Salvador de Tolo.
Closest Train Station is in Tremp, about 20km away.
On the slopes of Black Mountain are the Australian National Botanic gardens. They are home to a variety of Australian habitats from temperate rainforest to desert plants. Admission is free (although there is a charge for parking). There are great views across the city.
There are also free guided walks twice a day.
It is the most amazing natural wonder of the world you will ever see in your life. My jaw still hasn't come up from dropping. It is amazing. The nature, the power of the water, the wildlife, the adventure of being so close to something so great. there are cheap flights from BA: www.bsas4u.com/bsas-iguazu-internal-flight-p-160.html
I'm serious, you have got to see this.
1. Facing west, it has the most beautiful sunsets framed by the steep Welsh red earth cliffs
2. The surf that rolls in is perfect. It's sheltered from the north winds so you can get good glassy waves that you can ride forever as the beach incline is so gradual
3. It's clean; the water is clear and full of fish and plenty of rock pools to explore
At the lodge at the Centro Ecologico Sian Ka'an we slept in a bed inside a tent set inside a thatch-roofed hut. Outside our cabin was a private patio and on our stoop was a hammock. The beach, with a few thatch umbrellas, is only twelve feet or so below, but to protect the vegetation on the dune you had to find the way to a wooden ladder. The lodge has no electricity except in the restaurant/reception area, though you can borrow a lamp after dark. There’s salt water in the taps and showers (but in Mexico you have to use bottled water anyway). Meals are on the roofdecks and from here we watched a vast sunset over the lagoon, followed by Venus and then the undimmed stars.
Centro Ecologico Sian Ka'an (CESiaK) Federal Road (307) Cancun-Tulum, #68 Tulum, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Tel: (52) 984-871-2499 info@CESiaK.org
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.
About an hour and a half drive north of Toronto lies the town of Midland and its sister village of Penetanguishene.
This area was one of the first places in Ontario that was settled by Europeans. French missionaries from Quebec came back in 1639 to convert the local Huron population and a replica of their settlement, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons has been built close to the original site, just outside Midland.
In the early 1800s, the Royal Navy set up a base after the War of 1812 to prevent the Americans from dominating the Great Lakes. Some of the original buildings, mixed with more recent replica buildings and a couple of schooners can be seen in the living history museum of Discovery Harbour on the shores of Penetanguishene Bay.
Both Midland and Penetanguishene offer daytime and evening cruises of the Georgian Bay Islands National Park which pass close to some of the ritzy "cottages" perched on tiny rocky islands in Georgian Bay.
There is plenty else to do from seeing the huge murals painted on the silos and walls in Midland harbour and town centre to paddling a canoe or snowshoeing through the nature reserve at Wye Marsh.
Penetanguishene is one of the few parts of Ontario where there is still a strong French speaking presence and you can hear people chatting in French in the local shops.
Take Highway 400 North from Toronto to Barrie and then follow Highway 93. Midland is almost at the end of Highway 93, Penetanguishene is at the end of the road.
Uluru is undoubtedly a priority on every travellers list when they visit Australia. Although spectacular in its own way Uluru's beauty is eclipsed by nearby King's Canyon in the Watarrka national park. This ancient canyon created by a pre-historic inland sea allows breathtaking views over the Watarrka national park. The scenery is much more varied than at Uluru and the red domes against the azure sky are a visual treat. The walk around the rim of the canyon takes three hours - but is pleasant with lots of variation in incline and scenery. Halfway through the walk you come across the garden of eden which is a permanent waterhole. It's safe to swim here and the experience of swimming in this waterhole surrounded by sheer red cliffs with the sky above is amazing. Sunrise is the best time to visit the canyon when temperatures are bearable and the flies are few in number. Take plenty of water, sun screen and insect repellent. Nearby Kings Canyon Resort offers accomodation and there is a camp site nearby as well.
From Uluru airport Kings Canyon is a 400 km drive (takes about 3-4 hours as the roads are desserted). The drive is well signposted. Kings Canyon can also be reached from Alice Springs. For accomodation see the resort website - www.kingscanyonresort.com.au
Tehran. Ugly, sprawling and polluted. But to miss out Tehran from an Iranian itinerary would be to miss out a window into the living, breathing, and vibrant world of modern Iran. Take a taxi north into the foothills of the magestic Alborz mountains. The air is cooler and far cleaner here, and even through the smoggy haze, the views are spectacular. Beside this, the Alborz foothills are home to two of Tehran's highlights: Darband, and the Palaces of Niavaran.
A narrow valley cut deep into the sides of the Alborz mountains, with a single road leading up beside a noisy brook overhung with trees, Darband is barely even a village. This pretty scattering of buildings among nature is a completely different world from the megalopolis that lies just minutes away, and walks in the surrounding area offer fresh air, great scenery and a chance to get away from the bustle. If you don't feel so physically inclined head for one of Darband's teahouses - one is spectacularly perched like a beautifully clichéd image of the middle east. Deliciously sugary pastries and wonderful teas in luxuriant surroundings are still cheap for the western tourist.
The get a taste of how the Shahs used to live in the Niavaran Palaces. Beautiful buildings drawing on Persian and western architectural traditions are scattered through lush parkland with the city's best panoramas.
In the foothills of the Alborz mountains to the north of Tehran, taxi drivers can take you there from all over the city. Buses run up Val-e-Asr avenue from downtown to the leafy northern suburb of Tajrish, from where taxis are cheaper or a walk is perhaps contemplatable.
Summits Africa is a Kilimanjaro operator that provides essential safety devices - oxygen, pulse oximetry, mountain sickness scorecard monitoring and so on, all as standard on all trips (they also do Mt Kenya). Their safaris are also a little more off the beaten track as they prefer to practise 'leave no trace' camping trips to places like the Serengeti and Lake Natron.
A sleepy old town by the Mekhong which as yet is traditional and undiscovered . It still has wooden shop houses and cheap guesthouses by the river. It has a laid back feel and can be the start of a scenic boat ride, bike ride or car drive along the Mekhong River to Nong Khai where Ventienne, Laos, is just across the friendship bridge.
Chiang khan, Loei province north of Loei town. Thailand
This is an amazing place, a bus trip out of the city, where you can see great waterfalls, go for a hike, swim and then get a great meal at the cafe. While you wait for your food, sip endless glasses of mint tea, and take in the views and then tuck in! I had a lamb tagine (amazing) cooked in an earthenware pot in the ground. Super cheap too!
Just outside Marrakech
Haena Beach on the Big Island was one of my favourite beaches along with the north shore of Kauai. The north shores of all the islands are spectacular, especially during the winter with all the big waves (but this means it can be very windy for camping.)
There is one beach (also a campsite) on the north shore of Kauai, also called Haena (if I remember correctly) which is at one end of the Napali coast. It means that you can make it your base before hiking along the coast, as there are small and big treks along this coast to beautiful waterfalls and beaches that you can only get to by foot. There is a lot of reef off the north shore, which makes for good waves, and also some good snorkeling. We were able to see a whole family of turtles while we were there.
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