Press floor 64 in the State Tower in Bangkok and get transported onto a rooftop bar with a sultry jazz singer to your left, a luminous blue bar to your right and 360 degree views of the steaming city below. Step down the twinkling, sweeping staircase make your way past the beautiful people to the cocktail bar and believe it - you are living the dream :-)
State Tower, Bangkok 10500, Thailand
+66 2 624 9555
Google map: bit.ly/tdxvcL
Now Iconic, thanks to Lost in Translation, the New York Bar is situated on the 52nd floor of Shinjuku’s Park Hyatt Hotel. The bar has arguably the best views in Tokyo and if you venture up there in the day before 8pm you won’t have to pay the 2200¥ cover charge. However, the view at night is priceless. They have an outstanding whiskey list if you fancy doing your best Bill Murray impression. If not, the house cocktail list is wonderful. Try the sublime L.I.T: a fusion of Sake, Sakura liqueur, Peachtree and cranberry juice. The perfect accompaniment to the live music.
3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku Tokyo, 東京都 163-1055, Japan
Google map: bit.ly/sAYLlq
Either is a very appropriate name for, what must be, one of the coolest bars in the world. Work your way down from the Pile Gate, through the old town which is delightful, find the Jesuit Church and then the "outside wall" - there are a couple of hand written signs saying simply "Cold Drinks". There is a small doorway through the wall which leads you to a tiny bar nestling on jagged rocks. There are only about a dozen tables which all face out to the fabulous Adriatic, various rocks and small islands. Entertainment is provided by local lads slightly showing off by diving off the fairly high rocks and the conversation is a babble of languages with Australian accents to the fore (the Aussies can always find a good Buza!). Magical spot and worth the prices for the views and ambience.
My favourite Christmas was spent in Nature's Valley on the Garden Route in South Africa – a wild and remote area tucked between the Tsitsikamma Mountains and the rolling blue Indian Ocean. In South Africa, Christmas is mainly celebrated on Christmas eve and it's a very laidback, low-key affair. I stayed in a homely, rustic backpackers called Wild Spirit, where dinner was eaten together in a log cabin overlooking the native forest below, followed by a few ice-cold Black Labels round the camp fire. On Christmas day, myself and some of the other guests hiked part of the famous Otter Trail in Tsitsikamma National Park, then drove to Jeffrey's Bay for the surf and parties. Of course, you can always add in the highest bungee in the world! It doesn't get much better than this.
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
+91 9829511573 / 98296 43197 :
Beirut is an amazing city but after a few days there I kept wondering about certain things like how the civil war affected the city, why there were parts you couldn't go through and why some buildings were still in a state of ruin. All those questions and more were answered when on the penultimate day of our stay we did the Walk Beirut tour. I only wish we had done it on our first day instead.
Although Corsica has now got as popular for its inland activity as it is for its white sand beaches, there is still a very large part of the island's inner beauty that remains pretty much untouched.
Corsica's trekking has got popular through the world-renowned "GR20", a trail that crosses the island from north west to south east. However, it now gets extremely busy from June to September while a lot of other areas with fabulous settings for walks and more serious trekking remain totally unexplored.
The trails of the Taravo valley are among those. For those who will dare asking a local shepherd in the many small villages that populate the valley, lots of them will be happy to take you with them on the regular hike they take up the mountain to feed their cattle. You will follow the old donkey trails leading from one village to another, pick up thyme, rosemary or the corsican Nepita on the way... and enjoy scenic views and the mountain all for yourself.
Popular villages: Petreto Bicchisano, Forciolo, Moca Croce, Sollacaro
Or visit: www.corsicaexperience.com/places/regions-of-corsica/ajaccio-prunelli-and-taravo/
Shabby Vilanculos has silted up creeks and dirty beaches but a short and picturesque dhow ride (or a speed boat if the wind’s wrong) will take you to the heart of the Bazaruto Archipelago nature reserve. This series of platinum sand mounds rising out of the Indian Ocean are dotted with silvery driftwood trees - like sculptures sunk into the sand. £20 gets you your own personal skipper (we got two), and a day to wander aimlessly, cartwheeling along endless deserted beaches, sliding down sand dunes and snorkelling with tiny tropical fish. When we returned to our boat our two Mozambican guides had cooked up an amazing three course meal on an open fire - we sat on the beach as the rain came down, gorging ourselves tomatoey fresh squid stew and mountains of fresh fruit.
Sailaway Dhow Safaris
Rua Marginal, Bairro Central, Vilanculos, Mozambique, Mozambique
+258 29 382 385
Google map: bit.ly/w1Kckm
We have been coming to Sorrento for many years and it a wonderful place for a holiday with lots to see and do. Only 20 minutes by train from Sorrento is Pompei, which is really worth a visit, and also Herculaneum a lesser known town a little further than Pompei. Capri is only about 30 minutes on the ferry from the Port in Sorrento and much cheaper buying the boat ticket directly at the Port.
Capri is expensive but worth going to see for the day, with the blue grotto and beautiful views. We did the chair lift a few years ago which is good fun. This year we rented a house about 20 minutes from Sorrento in Massa Lubrense and it was a great experience. The house had a little garden and we sat outside in the evening, which we loved. The owner Lucia went out of her way to make us feel welcome and even took us to visit Puglia which is about three hours from Sorrento. The Amalfi drive is about 30 minutes from the house we rented and we went there three times, once going to Positano and the other times to Amalfi. We managed to go to Ravello getting a local bus from Amalfi and spent the afternoon there.
These waterfalls are utterly amazing - and if you are going to be anywhere within a couple of hours flying time of Iguazu airport it is definitely a trip that is worth making. Of course, there are scores of really rather comfortable long-distance coaches that also go to Iguazu.
We would strongly recommend (as had been suggested to us by John Fernandes the brilliant host of an excellent small B&B in Puerto Iguazu "The Secret Garden") that you see the Falls from the Brazilian side of the river first; this gives you a slowly unfolding vista of the Falls (80% of which are on the Argentinian side of the river) and the unbelievable picture postcard just gets larger and bigger and wider.
Then later see and experience the Falls from right up close on the Argentinian side of the river. An extraordinary visceral experience. No natural phenomenon anywhere has in any way matched the power and beauty of the Falls.
It's probably best to try to go at towards the end of the day when there will be far fewer people - and, ideally out of the height of the tourist season. October was ideal: neither too hot nor too humid - perfect spring weather.
Remember that dengue fever has re-appeared in the region and use lots of serious insect repellent.
And you will almost certainly get very wet (even if you do not take the boat into/under the Falls) so think about waterproof protection for cameras etc.
On the Brazilian side there is also a good bird park; while on the Argentinian side there are several great walks through the semi-tropical forest.
The National Protectorate closest to Cairo is on the fringes of the southern city suburb of Maadi, built during the 1920s and now home to a large number of expats. Wadi Degla is an ancient river bed that was gouged out of the rock 60 million years ago, leaving marine fossils and dried waterfalls behind in this desert landscape.
Walk between the high cliffs along the flat valley bed, or take a quick scramble up the right-hand side of the Wadi just after the gate. From the top of the cliffs you get views over the southern and eastern parts of the city, stretching over to the pyramids. At the weekend you’ll share Egypt’s ‘Grand Canyon’ with walkers, joggers and picnicking families.
Get the Metro to El Maadi station and then take a taxi. Ask for Wadi Degla in Zahraa el Maadi. You may need to specify you want the Protectorate, as there is a sporting club housing an Egyptian premiership football team called Wadi Degla as well! Look out for the brown signs to follow when you are on the Autostraad.
Wadi Degla costs 5LE to enter and is open from sunrise to sunset. Bring plenty of bottled water, and don’t forget your binoculars.
Bab Zuweyla is in the heart of Islamic Cairo, but actually marks the Southern gate of the old city (Bab meaning “gate”). The gatehouse has been restored, but the original arch and towers remain inside. You can enter the building to see the old gate, swing mechanism (including what are claimed to be the earliest examples of ball bearings in the world!), pottery and other fragments found by archaeologists. The main reason to visit, though, is to climb the gate towers to get a great view over this historic district of Cairo.
Your first pause for breath is at the top of the gate, where you can walk around at roof-level and peer down onto the streets below as boys cycle with balanced racks of bread on their heads, and women hang out their washing from the windows or on roofs that are also home to the family goat or pigeon coop. Then climb the dark and narrow spiral staircase in either of the two towers, to the first or second balcony and even braving the final few metal rungs if you have a head for heights and nerves of steel. Up here you can see the Citadel and Al-Azhar park, and can continue to marvel at daily life as it goes by like a busy scene in Where’s Wally.
Sharia Mu'ezz li-din Allah Darb al-Ahmar
Google map: bit.ly/vmYJBz
You'll easily spy the Revolving Restaurant if you are in downtown Cairo and look up - it's the tall building on the Nile which looks like a UFO has landed on top of it. It's not nearly as futuristic once you've made the ear-popping lift journey up to the 44th floor, but it is just very sleek.
If you really want to splash out then you can have dinner in the restaurant, but a more affordable way to enjoy the view of central Cairo is by having a drink in the bar on the floor below the restaurant. They have a minimum charge, but two or three drinks will usually meet it.
The best time to go is just before sunset as you'll see the sun going down behind the pyramids, and the city lights coming alive.
1089 Corniche El Nil, P.O. Box 63 Maglis El Shaab, Garden City 11519, Cairo, Egypt
+ 20 (2) 2791-7000
Google map: bit.ly/u89og6
Visit Svartisen Glacier from Holandsfjord to an arm called Engabreen, which appears to reach down and tickle the fjord with its icy fingers. The second largest in Europe covering 370 square kilometers. Researchers study the growth and retreat from their unique laboratory 200m below. Walk around the green lake, which is the prettiest route with a swinging bridge and rivers to ford or use the rock route, crossing moraine and rust coloured striated rock formations. Painted arrows direct you. The magical blue ice draws you nearer but the screeching and groaning reminds you of the hidden dangers. Ice caves and deep fissures abound so book a guide if you wish to explore further. They'll equip you with rope, ice picks and crampons for your unforgettable hike. Wear lots of layers even in the middle of Summer and don't forget your sunnies. The walk lasts about 5 hours and should be booked a few days in advance.
Take the train from Oslo, fly in from Trondheim or Bodø or take a boat up to the head of Holandsfjord and walk from there.
North of the Arctic Circle 66°42.4’N 13° 42.5’E
Google map: bit.ly/uF3Blw
Visit Svartisen Glacier from Holandsfjord to an arm called Engabreen, which appears to reach down and tickle the fjord with its icy fingers. The second largest in Europe covering 370 square kilometers. Researchers study the growth and retreat from their unique laboratory 200m below. Walk around the green lake, which is the prettiest route with a swinging bridge and rivers to ford or use the rock route, crossing moraine and rust coloured striated rock formations. Painted arrows direct you. The magical blue ice draws you nearer but the screeching and groaning reminds you of the hidden dangers. Ice caves and deep fissures abound so book a guide if you wish to explore further. They'll equip you with rope, ice picks and crampons for your unforgettable hike. Wear lots of layers even in the middle of summer and don't forget your sunnies. The walk lasts about five hours and should be booked a few days in advance.
Take the train from Oslo, fly in from Trondheim or Bodø or take a boat up to the head of Holandsfjord and walk from there.
North of the Arctic Circle 66°42.4’N 13° 42.5’E
Google map: bit.ly/uF3Blw
The bright blue skies and startling snow and icy landscape during the day and a night sky lit by the incredible dancing Northern Lights takes your breath away. Four days of coming 'home' to the Retreat after a days husky driving, snowmobiling, cross country skiing or sledging was perfect - warm, cosy and intimate; lovely home cooked (mainly vegetarian) food; plenty of hot water and roaring log fires. Welcoming hosts, Mikael and Maya will arrange all the above and for those wanting something less adventurous there is, among other things, yoga, massage, cooking and felt making; and around Christmas time trips to visit Santa! With temperatures averaging -30 it is a real bonus that all the necessary Outerwear and boots are provided. We watched the Northern Lights 100yds from the guesthouse standing on the frozen Torne River with the snow laden forest stretching from the far bank towards Finland in the distance. A gem of a guesthouse in a remarkable setting.
This very trendy bar is located on the seventh floor overlooking Leicester Square. Apart from it being a great bar, is has some of the best views across the square and across London for that matter.
Moonlight restaurant was found purely by chance: out of the centre of town, you could walk right by and not realise it was there. Entered at the side of the building, up steps, you climb to a tiny rooftop terrace with simply amazing views over Kalkan, probably the best. There is only space for 10 tables and all were full the night we ate. You will not get a table here without booking well in advance. The food can be chosen from a set menu or a la carte but, if the latter you must notify your choices at the time of booking. I recommend that you stick to the set menu: I defy you not to be able to find something you like and at under 35 TL it is staggeringly good value for money. The wine list is limited but contains good choices. The food is very much local in orientation and utterly delicious. This was definitely the best food we had tasted anywhere in Kalkan. So, what's the down-side? Not discovered until we came to pay, they do not accept credit cards! Fortunately, they are happy to take any currency; we paid in sterling - £40 for two, including wine and tip. Unbelievable.
Yali boyu mah. Hasan altan cad. No:17
Kalkan, Antalya, Turkey, 07960
+90 242 844 39 79
Having arrived in this dry, dusty and underrated Rajasthani desert town in the heat of the day, nothing could be more welcome than a fresh pineapple lassi in the shady restaurant of the Hotel Harasar Haveli. As a traveller on a shoestring, hotels catering for a range of budgets are a wonderful thing; however much you are spending per night, you can enjoy the same respectful hospitality, facilities and magnificent views. In a peaceful location north-east of the town centre, I was grateful for the distance from the frenetic activity of central Bikaner. There are frequent passing auto-rickshaws, meaning the Harasar guest has easy access to local sights.
My 'budget' bathroom was astonishingly state-of-the-art, as well as spacious; dazzingly clean with highly modern fixtures, and (unusally in budget Indian accommodation), a powerful shower with plenty of hot water. The bedroom was appealingly simple, with subtle and pretty Rajasthani touches like the little stained-glass topped table.
For me, the very best thing about this fabulous hotel was the views. During the day, I lingered in my cane easy-chair in the shade of the tented restaurant with coffee ... resident sparrows were brazen enough to land on my table and attempt to peck from the sugar bowl. The panoramic view consists of a plethora of rooftops and narrow winding streets leading to Bikaner's most striking building on the skyline: the red-sandstone Junagarh Fort. I was able to witness simultaneously the majesty and the minutiae of Rajasthani life, as a woman at a nearby residence hung out to dry a beautifully colourful array of saris.
In the evening, whatever your status as a guest, you can ascend to the very top of the hotel, to the exposed rooftop, where the restaurant is lit by candles and strings of fairy-lights, and the sparkling city lights spread out before you. The food is reasonably-priced, delicately-cooked and subtly-flavoured; the service formal, polite but not obsequious; and, every night, there is a (here I quote from the website) 'cultural bash: folkdance and music by gypsies with dinner'.
After a wait on a cliff edge while the road was repaired with boulders after a landslide in front of our eyes, we arrived in the small town of Kurseong, nestled on a ridge in the Himalayan foothills.
Kurseong is on the UNESCO World Heritage Toy Train route from Siliguri to Darjeeling.
I was totally impressed by the shabby grandeur of the exterior of Cochrane Place, a recreated and restored stately British Colonial home of its previous resident, Percy John Cochrane, MBE. Stone, log and cast iron splendour are complemented with regal antique furniture, colonial cuisine and the Raj ambiance.
My next intake of breath was on being shown to our en-suite room, with two huge antique burma teak four poster beds and a fireplace to die for.
But the best was yet to come.
On opening the balcony doors the world itself seemed to open up before my eyes. The views of the third highest mountain in the world, snow covered Kanchenjunga (also known as Kunchangenga), towering over the village and vast tea plantations will be impossible to forget.
But things got even better when I asked for a much needed cup of tea. The hotel tea maker took me out to a terrace, with the same incredible view and chatted to me about my tastes, likes and dislikes, as there are hundreds of teas that he can make. After going away for five minutes he returned with a crystal clear glass of the most amazing light Darjeeling tea with German lavender, so clear that I could see the mountain through the tea. I was in heaven!
I have to say he chose perfectly for my taste, but then the Indians are good at that.
The hotel serves hot and cold mocktail teas, seasonal fruit and flower blends, ayurvedic herbal teas, flavourful teas from across India or a fine roasted Darjeeling – fresh from the adjacent tea estate of Makaibari.
While eating local foods in the candlelit restaurant, the lights of the valley floor, four thousand feet below, twinkled in the distance. The stars twinkled overhead.
The hotel is full of artwork and quirky memorabilia in every available space, with sitting rooms and dining areas that were impossible to pass through without spending time.
The whole experience was unique and the hospitality second to none.
I was very sad to leave and will return for much longer next time.
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