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
After a day spent wandering the enchanting alleyways of Dubrovnik, a well hidden hole in the city walls leads to this stunningly located bar on the rocks. Watch the sunset over the Adriatic with a cold beer, while locals plunge into the water from the high rocks next to you. An astonishingly beautiful place.
'Crijevićeva 9, Dubrovnik' is the address, but ask a local for directions or head to the city walls and look for the 'Cold drinks this way' sign!
Crijevićeva 9, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia
+385 98 361 934
Google map: bit.ly/LUUW9t
Arcos de la Frontera is one of the pueblos blancos (white villages) of Andalucia. It is perched high on a hill with magnificent if vertiginous views from the main square overlooking the Guadalute river. Admire the views, get lost in the picturesque maze of cobbled streets and then reward yourselves, as we did, with a splendid lunch of regional specialities washed down with a glass or two of rioja at the Restaurante El Convento.
Google map: bit.ly/MCQ99M
Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island which means 360 degree views of the island and a breathtaking harbour vista as you look across to Kowloon side. Hong Kong's most popular tourist attraction is a definite must-see, but I have a couple of tips that the guide books don't include.
My first top tip relates to getting up to the Peak. Your guide book will tell you take the Peak Tram, a funicular railway that's been running since 1888 which creaks 396 metres up the side of the hill at a hair-raising gradient. The ride is an experience not to be missed but the queues to catch the tram up the Peak (at the Garden Road Terminus in Central) snake right around the block morning, noon and night. The queues at the top to ride back down again however, are much smaller and anyway, in my opinion, the ride down is even more exciting and roller coaster-esque than the ride up. So, I always save the tram for the way down the hill and just jump in a cab on the way up thereby skipping the maddening queues at the bottom (Hong Kong's cabs are plentiful and cheap - the red and white taxis are for hire when the red circle on the dashboard is lit up and the white taxi sign on the car's roof is alight).
My second tip centres on what to do once you get up there. The majority of visitors flock straight to the Peak Tower, a wok-shaped viewing platform 428 metres above sea level. You undoubtedly get breath-taking views from this lookout point but it sits atop a giant shopping mall packed with tacky souvenir shops and generic chain restaurants. While I see the Peak Tower as a definite must do (it’s a great place to snap a few impressive skyline photos) I’d suggest that you don't confine your Peak experience to this Disneyfied corner but instead combine it with something that not everyone does. Ask your cab driver to drop you off outside the Peak Tower and take a gentle stroll along the Hong Kong Trail, a route which loops for about an hour around the top of the Peak through lush greenery that chirrups with cicadas. Along this trail you'll get beautiful views across the city and wind past some of Hong Kong's most luxurious houses (prices of the real estate up here exceed even those of Monaco's mansions). This is a perfect walk to take during the latter half of the afternoon so that you end up back at the Peak Tower just before sunset. Head to the viewing platform in time to watch the sun sink below the skyscrapers and stay until the city’s kaleidoscopic lights come up. By this point you should have worked up a healthy appetite.
Which brings us to my third tip - where to eat. Scoot straight past the shopping mall chain restaurants and head directly across the road from the Peak Tower to the Peak Lookout, the quaint cottage-like building that twinkles under chains of fairy lights. The restaurant sits on the site of the former resting shelter of the sedan chair carriers whose job it was to ferry the Peak's wealthy residents up and down the hill. Bag a table out on the terrace which overlooks the South side of the island and refuel with jet-fresh seafood, tandoori oven fired meats accompanied by pillows of fluffy naan or a char-grilled steak from the barbeque.
128 Peak Road, The Peak, Hong Kong Island.
Google Maps: goo.gl/maps/yziA
The Hong Kong Trail
The Peak Lookout
121 Peak Road, The Peak, Hong Kong Island.
(852) 2849 1000
Google Map: goo.gl/maps/TT7Y
* Natalie is our local for Hong Kong. You can read all about her here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/hong-kong-local-natalie-robinson.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/natalierobinson
She also has her own blog at: www.3badmice.com/
Visit a local supermarket for lunch supplies and take the 10-minute, hourly boat from the port in Dubrovnik to the beautiful island of Lokrum.
Start the day with a trek to the fortress at the highest point of the island, for unbeatable views of Dubrovnik and to avoid the morning crowds, before taking the coastal path back to the monastery. On the way, take one of the rocky paths, lined with thick Mediterranean woods, down to the shore to discover your own private beach - an ideal place for a picnic lunch and a few hours of sun worshipping.
The main hub of island activity boasts a botanic garden, olive grove and (supposedly) haunted Benedictine monastery, inhabited by peacocks.
Finish the day by watching the sun go down from the comfort of a sun lounger, enjoying live guitar music in the cafe, or, best of all, floating in the beautiful tranquility of the salt lake.
Boats to Lokrum depart from the city's old harbour at least every hour between 9 and 5 (weather permitting).
Google map: bit.ly/LxqmTJ
Though Hvar is known for its posh port and brilliant beaches, those with steel knuckles and a set of wheels can go for a joy ride on the narrow, twisted back lanes of the island's old roads. Not for acrophobes, the summit near the charming village of Grablje reveals heart-stopping panoramic views of the Adriatic Sea and Croatian mainland. Ancient stone walls mix uniquely with modern patchworks of lavender bushes and olive trees; dense pine forests nestle below the horizon. Back at sea level, stop in tiny Milna where inexpensive fresh fish, delicious omelettes, and perfect white stone beaches reward hardy souls in the only open-air alfresco cafe.
Nice tree lined square surrounded by pavement cafes.
Plenty of seating in which to relax, away from the more tourist parts of Florence.
One end of the square has the church of Santo Spirito dating back to the 15th century.
On the south side of the Arno river on the right as you come over the Ponte Santa Trinita.
Google map: bit.ly/LTXFOw
Great location to sit and drink and watch the world go by, on Piazza Santa Croce. The Santa Croce church is just yards away.
For such a prime location, the prices were surprisingly good. We only had drinks but at €3.50 per large glass of house white we were not complaining.
Service was good.
Amazing hotel in the heart of the longshen rice terraces. Stunning views from the balconies and wonderful air conditioned, en-suite rooms at really good prices. It's family run and they could not be nicer or more helpful. A bonus is the amazing food they serve, I would go just for dinner! Ping'an is beautiful beyond words, walking through the terraces and seeing the long haired Hao women is an experience I will never forget.
From the hilltop village of Vejer de la Frontera I got my first glimpse of Africa: the brown crust of the Moroccan Rif misty on the horizon but surprisingly near.
Having travelled on a bus from nearby Cadiz I set out on foot to wander the tight web of streets.
Then, coming to the edge of town, looked down to a field where a donkey stood obstinately braying.
At lunchtime I entered from the sunshine into the gloom of a bar where three – what I thought to be local – men stood chatting and laughing.
I ordered a bottle of San Miguel at two-thirds the price of more touristy places and sat at a table to write postcards undisturbed.
Conil is a beautiful white town with a fantastic huge expanse of sandy beach. Lovely to walk around it's narrow streets and to discover great places to eat in the bars and restaurants either in town or along the beach.
Google map: bit.ly/LioTPF
A river island at the city limits, L'Ile de La Jatte offers memorable, tapering views of Paris along the length of the Seine. The island's park, famously painted by Georges Seurat, is also the location of 27 beehives, whose occupants harvest pollen from the city's flowers. The park is used appreciatively by the island's residents, but in our experience, they struggle to fill it, leaving plenty of room for visitors to relax or play. The handful of local eateries aren't great value, though tables over-looking the river will excuse the price to some. But the views that justified the trip for us were from the footpath that encircles the island, particularly at its most northerly point.
Metro station: Ponte de Levallois-Becon
Google map: bit.ly/Lq9UzN
I wouldn’t say the tiny, walled village of Pedraza has something for everyone, but if you like medieval dungeons, imposing castles, nesting storks and outlandishly good ham then Pedraza has something for you. Better known to the city slickers from Madrid who flood the town on the weekends, Pedraza is very much off the beaten path for Brits visiting Spain.
We visited this atmospheric village on the last day of a walking tour in the Segovia region. It may be my own bias, but I can’t help feeling that, despite the large public car park near the castle, walking is much the best way to approach the place. We felt like wandering pilgrims as we trekked up the side of a dramatic valley and through the massive stone archway to enter the village. It was a quiet Tuesday in April, and our only company were the storks making graceful circles overhead. Not a car or other human being in sight. In the spring, storks build enormous, gravity-defying nests in the belfries and ledges of the village. Watching them at their work is awe inspiring.
With fewer than 100 full time residents, the village wasn’t much busier than the scenic valley around it. We ambled through the cobbled streets, stopping at the wee exercise area that overlooks the valley near the castle. I’m sure you could get a serious workout if you were so inclined, but we goofed around like kids, swinging on the chin-up bars while enjoying the spectacular views. Later, we toured the Carcel, a 15th-century prison that still bears the evidence of a time when prisoners were kept in chains in a dark pit and had their food lowered down in buckets.
Luckily the food offerings for today’s visitors are a little more sophisticated. Visitors can belly up to any of the excellent cafes and restaurants that ring the main plaza. Vegetarians beware - meat is everywhere. The plaza also seems to be the centre of village life. We witnessed a lively parade rehearsal by local school children while we were enjoying ham sandwiches and beer. Que bueno!
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