After you have visited the villages around Lake Como head north for the Balcone d' Italia. Standing on the edge of a cliff you cast your eyes over the green valleys and vineyards of Italy and Switzerland but are drawn to the mountains behind them. In one astonishing sweep you have the south slopes of some of the biggest mountains in the Alps - Monte Rosa at 4634m and the Matahorn at 4478m and nestled beneath them are Lake Lugano, Lake Varese and Lake Maggiore. Travel north from Argegno to Lanzo d'Intelvi where you can drive, bus or walk through the forests up to the Balcone. For those who want to stop awhile and absorb the spectacular views and atmosphere have a coffee in the small cafe or relax on one of the seats nestled in the trees. The day we arrived we were lucky enough to be entertained by some local 'singing' walkers who just added that something special to make our trip unforgettable.
Take the S340 along side Lake Como, turn left at Argegno and travel through the Intelvi Valley. The road climbs steeply offering increasingly wide beautiful views of Lake Como, the villages and villas along both shores. 12 miles further on through the spa resort of Lanzo d'Intelvi, the road leads to the viewing point of Balcone d'Italia.
Google map: bit.ly/MmWDyL
If you are going to, or passing through, Milan make time to get the train to Como (just over an hour) and then the slow ferry to Bellagio. Perch yourself by ancient cobbled streets at the Trattoria San Giacomo and feast on freshly made pasta washed down with exquisite local Bardolino wine. Heaven.
Almost hidden valley, just inland from the village of Toscolano-Maderno on the western shore of Lake Garda is the Valle delle Cartiere. Now a peaceful and green place - not on most tourist agendas - this valley has a history of paper production on a huge scale, making use of the river to power the machinery. The ruins of the old factories litter the valley and some are made visitor friendly with exhibits and information plaques and there is a visitor centre at the start of the trail. Allow a couple of hours to walk to the top and back. Pack reasonable walking shoes for the walk, and swim wear if you want to cool off in the icy stream - good shallow swim area at the top of the valley.
Interesting day out, with a chance to see some different scenery from the lakes - despite being very close.
Driving north on the main road up the lake, take the first left after crossing the small river, follow the road past some houses and then through some tunnels until you come to the car park - you will have to continue on foot after this.
Google map: bit.ly/LJFHMW
There are spectacular views from the elegant lakeside promenade to the Borromean Islands while the restaurants and bars have a more relaxed, less “touristy” atmosphere than the larger resorts on Lake Maggiore. Baveno may not be as famous or as fashionable as its larger neighbour, Stresa – it’s probably as well known for the red granite quarried behind the town as for tourism, but it was good enough for both Queen Victoria to stay and as the destination for Winston Churchill’s honeymoon. It’s also an ideal centre for exploring the lake, either to visit the nearby islands or to sail to the Swiss towns at the north of the lake.
Tema Beach Club is just outside the Tema Container Port, some 15 miles from the capital, Accra.
The container port itself is one of the biggest port facilities in West Africa, and lacks charm. But head along the beach road from Accra and you drive along a thin spit of land with a serene lagoon to one side and the crashing waves of the Atlantic on the other. Under a full moon it is a journey of unworldly beauty.
At the start of the road is the Tema Beach Club. The Queen stayed here in 1962, and in her honour the place appears not to have been redecorated since, but you swim in a seawater pool, sit almost above the breakers, drink ice-cold Star beer, snack on octopus kebabs and watch queues of giant container ships waiting patiently to enter the container port.
Google map: bit.ly/MrTPzH
One of the most amazing sights to see if you're near Alghero, the large coastal town to the north of Sardinia, is the Grotta di Nettuno, an incredible cave network of stalactites which are tens of thousands of years old. Standing only one metre above sea level, the caves can be reached by a winding staircase of steps cut into the rock, leading you down 100 metres from the cliffs above. It costs 10 euros, but you won't regret paying for this experience once you're inside - the clever lighting and majesty of the stalactites creates an eerie subterranean environment that makes you feel like you've travelled back to the beginning of time. Guided tours run every half hour, and although these are nearly always full, the enormity of the caves and the long and winding trail through them means that you never feel too crowded by other tourists. Well worth a visit, particularly if you have kids.
With just a population of 1500 and a spattering of small hotels, the gulf of Orosei's Cala Gonone is the perfect base to explore the surrounding regions. It is so small that there is no taxi firm, so you will need a car from the closest airport, some two hours away.
The gulf's many beaches are some of the best in the world and only one is obtainable by foot, Cala Luna, the rest you will need a boat for. Stranded on a perfect beach for a couple of hours - the horror.
Gorropu gorge is the most unbelievable walk you'll ever do. It's so off the beaten track it took us 45 minutes to actually get IN to it from the path we'd enjoyed for three hours around mountainous, beautiful scenery - there are no signs. There are no roads. It was akin to a level of Tomb Raider, circa 2000.
Cala Osala to the north was a deserted kilometre of white sand perfection, mid week.
The fresh gulf fish and local Dorgali wines are something to shout about and the little delis in Cala Gonone make taking packed lunches on mega day walks/bathes a truly delicious experience.
It's the luxury package of life people pay a lot for but you don't have to pay the huge prices if you know it's there.
After enjoying the beaches and busy old town of Alghero, take the bus down the winding coastal road to Bosa and from there to Oristano. Make sure you sit on the righthand side for the best views and photos of the cliffs and beaches! Explore the alleyways and narrow cobbled streets between Bosa’s multicoloured buildings. Cross the river to gain a better perspective of the Havana-esque street next to the river. Oristano is a smart city with a stunning baroque cathedral and pleasant streets to wander around and have a coffee or gelato. The city is also a great base for visiting the famous Is Aruttas beach and the Roman site of Tharros. Bed and Breakfast Porta a Mari is a great budget option – it’s a traditional Sardinian house within walking distance of the city centre.
B&B Porta a Mari
Via Cagliari 308, 09170, Oristano
Google map: bit.ly/MAz3KG
Bus timetable for Alghero - Bosa
Bus timetable for Bosa - Oristano
The plateau of the Giara di Gesturi stands 500 metres above the surrounding Sardinian farmland: a startling, rocky ecosystem of twisted cork oaks, scrubland and shallow lakes.
A thunderstorm was building one September evening when we first encountered the surreal terrain and we were so spooked by its sharp contrast to the rest of the island we left almost immediately.
The following morning, feeling braver in the sunshine, we returned and hired mountain bikes to explore.
We’d been warned of the feral pigs who can be rather curious of visitors, but the highlight was undoubtedly the scores of miniature wild horses we encountered – another oddity in this curious landscape.
The Sacro Monte di San Francesco is a pilgrim route devoted to St Francis of Assisi, on Lake Orta’s eastern shore. This UNESCO World Heritage site has wonderful views across the lake, and along the pathway are twenty-one chapels containing colourful, vibrant frescoes which depict the life of the famous saint. They were constructed between 1591 and 1750 and encompass a range of architectural styles from Baroque to Renaissance. In all, there are no fewer than 900 frescoes and 376 sculptures, recreating the tumultuous life and times of St Francis. Art lovers, historians and contemplative individuals come here from all over the world to drink in the views and breathe the fresh air. It’s a place for meditation and relaxation, and speaking of drinking there’s a fine restaurant beside the church of St Nicholas with great views across the lake – just the place to refresh with an iced tea or something stronger.
Eastern shore of Lake Orta in the Italian Lakes (Piedmont & Lombardy).
Google map: bit.ly/MbaCYy
This 8km fairytale system of underground caverns is truly magical, consisting of tunnels and rock-rooms encrusted with minerals and festooned with magnificent stalagmites and stalactites that glitter in the lamplight. They’ve been created by the rivers Placido and Rapido in their underground courses. Although the caverns delve deep into the mountain, the first cave has walkways for visitors to get up close and marvel at these natural wonders. If you want to explore further you can go in with a group of experienced cave explorers from the local speleologists’ association. Not for the claustrophobic, or if you’re afraid of the odd bat, but certainly a breathtaking experience even if you just visit the first vast cavern.
Grotte di Su Mannau s.r.l, Via Vittorio Emanuele, 3 – 09010, Fluminimaggiori
Google map: bit.ly/LV5Yxr
A short water taxi from Hvar Town takes you to the beautiful islet of Marinkovac, the highlight of which is not the amazing, sheltered bay in the southern corner, but rather the small, blink-and-you'll miss it bar by the taxi pontoon.
Having missed our boat we had to console ourselves with a glass of their own wine and were invited by the owner to take a walk around the vineyard from which the grapes came. Truly locally sourced.
The owners are wonderfully enthusiastic and knowledgeable about wines, and it was a pleasure to settle in and miss a few more boats while we chatted with them.
Take the water taxi from Havr Town to Marinkovac, the bar is right next to the pontoon.
Google map: bit.ly/LuIS1k
We have just spent a month in Croatia travelling by bus from Istria down the coast to Dubrovnik, taking ferries to Korcula and Mljet on-route. Our stay at Zadar was a gem, full of Croatian character but not full of tourists. Accommodation can be found in private houses in area around the bus station - look for the blue 'apartman' signs, or book in advance using hostelworld.com. In the old town: enjoy the view from bell tower of Anastasia's cathedral, feast on a gelato and walk along the esplanade to the large 'disk of light' solar panel, listen to the sea organ, visit St Donat's church built on a roman site, appreciate the art museum. Eat at Pet Bunara restaurant (close to the city gate).
I recommend taking a flight to Dubrovnik and flying home from Split. The reason is that going in that direction you will be able to book your island hopping ferries in advance and avoid getting up at five or six am (to queue for tickets) on the day if you travel in the opposite direction. We visited Korcula where we stayed with the redoutable Priam in Karbouni,who made us feel part of their family summer, the canoes were free and the sea clear and enticing. We also went to Mljet which was more touristy but stunning. Trogir was used to film Dr Who and is small enough to get to know in three days, Split is an extraordinary a old town built in a Roman Palace. We could do the whole thing again with a completely different list of islands.
One more thing: the ice cream parlours were to die for and there was an ice cream "barista" in Dubrovnik who juggled the scoops as he served them. We took the kids with small backpacks each and they thrived on it.
Ferries to Korcula from Dubrovnik come in to Korcula Town and some Split ferries leave from Vela Luca a bus ride down to the other end of the island. Try starting with www.croatiaferries.com/ and itinerise!
Easily accessible from Dubrovnik, but a world away from it, Kolocep Villas is a fantastic hotel on a brilliantly peaceful and relaxing island that you can walk across in an hour or kayak the whole way around in an afternoon. Blue seas, secluded coves, amazing fish restaurants, friendly and efficient staff at the hotel, and four ferries a day into Dubrovnik for only a few euros, it's the absolute perfect place to unwind!
The last time we were in Brsec we were lost and it was going to take a similar lack of navigation skills to get us back there this time.
So we headed optimistically more or less south-east across the Istrian peninsula hoping for signs for Hrastovlie, Pozane, Buzet, Vranja and make Brsec in time to check into the B&B and head for the only restaurant/bar in the village and chilled pints of the local Favorit beer. They don’t get many English/British visitors and in the absence of us having any Croatian language skills German is the common tongue. “Do you have any vegetarian dishes”? “Yes, we have chicken and fish, where have you come from”? It is now that we learn that Buzet is pronounced Tzb, Pozane, Nzp and Vranja, Jnrv. Just take out all the vowels and pronounce it backwards - you get the picture.
Brsec and this stretch of the coast are truly beautiful. The sky is blue and cloudless and there’s a path leading from our B&B down through wild asparagus and sage scattered woods to a secluded cove where the Adriatic Sea is aqua-marine and crystal clear and that’s where we spend the majority of our weekend. Mostly we have the beach to ourselves but at some point the cove fills with a family of seals, their black heads bobbing in the sea as they dive and play. On closer inspection the seals turn out to be a scuba diving club. One of the islands nearby is the home of a flock of Griffon vultures and squadrons of long-necked jet black swan/goose-like birds zoom across the surface of the water.
We venture as far as Labin for gnocci and gorgonzola sauce and walk along the promenade from Lovran to Opatije for ice cream and pizza and that’s as much effort as we want to make.
B&B: +385 51 290 159
Google map: bit.ly/Mc3msD
Bisevo is only five nautical miles and is located southwest of Komiza on Vis Island. The Blue Cave is perhaps the most beautiful of the 10 caves stretched along the island. Visit the cave in the sun and see it illuminated by a luminous blue light while objects beneath the surface shimmer in silver and pink. The best experience here is that it is not a crowded tourist attraction, even in the summer.
The easiest and cheapest way to get to Bisevo and the Blue Cave is to take one of the excursion boats that runs daily from Komiza in the summer. There are also agencies that run fast boat excursions from other islands.
For a more private experience, hire a boat in Komiza and motor out yourself. Afterwards you can boat around the tiny island and stop to bathe in hidden coves. Take a fishing rod because the waters are teeming with fish. There is a small harbour on Bisevo with a pier for fishing boats. On the island, you'll see ruins of the Benedictine monastery of St Sylvester, founded in the 11th century and the remains of a church. There's no accommodation on Bisevo.
Vis Tourist Board:
Setalište stare Isse 5, 21480 Vis
+385 (0)21 717 017
Google map: bit.ly/MAij6B
There can be no better way to see the beautiful islands of Croatia than from the sea. Adriatic Kayak Tours offer a variety of trips where you can paddle round the islands and in to lots of secret places along the coastline you'd never get to see from on land. We had a fantastic trip paddling round the gorgeous island of Mijet. You don't need to be an expert, and if you get puffed out with all that paddling...well just roll out of your kayak and cool off in the azure blue sea!
Bubion is an unspoilt village nestling into the hillside of the southern Sierra Nevada.
The white wash walls of the traditional Moorish properties are providing stark contrast to the deep blue sky above.
The area is laced with a myriad of walking trails that, with the exception of the odd mountain biker, horse rider or donkey, are your own private wilderness for miles on end.
Should this be too remote there are shorter walks to the neighbouring villages of Pampaneira and Capileira, on either side, both having their own charms.
There is no better way to celebrate an enjoyable days walk than by returning to one of the villages few, but beautifully positioned bars where you can enjoy a cold cerveza, and free tapas as you enjoy the view across to the Atlas Mountains of Morroco.
In terms of things to consider - the public transport infrastructure is rural at best - and you would be wise to hire a car, or bike to assist in getting about; Granada may appear close but requires you to circumnavigate the Sierra Nevada range - it is still worth visiting, however; and lastly, it is worth noting that few locals speak English, and the local dialect can be hard to grasp even if you are a Spanish speaker.
Google map: bit.ly/OiubQ0
Set up camp in a fragrant and ancient pine forest overlooking the Adriatic just a short walk from the centre of Rovinj. (Porton Biondi Campsite is less than £4 per adult per night). From the waterfront in Rovinj you can hire little motor boats to explore the nearby waters, snorkel, swim and relax. The town itself is old and crumbling and charming and best reached by boat from Venice. So you get to see Venice too! (Affordable flights to Venice Treviso with Ryanair). Pick up some Italian cheese, bread and beer: the four hour ferry ride across the Adriatic, beer in hand and late afternoon sun is the perfect way to melt into holiday mode.
Aleja Porton Biondi 1, 52210 Rovinj
+385 52 81 35 57
Google map: bit.ly/LT3Emn
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