AirBnB’s top 10 most popular stays have been revealed
Itching to discover where the most diehard wanderlusters among us are wish-listing? We’ve got the lowdown on the 10 stays around the world that have caught the attention of the people – and for good reason. Amalfi Coast villas, Joshua Tree cabins, Marrakech riads and even a secluded Aussie property, these Airbnb gems clocked up the most likes on the site’s Instagram page in 2018. And when you see the images, it’ll be crystal clear why each of these incredible places deserves a spot in the top 10.   So, the only thing left to ponder is… will you bag yourself a stay before everyone else does? Fingers and toes crossed for you. 10. The Triangle Siargao – General Luna, Siargao Island, Philippines Got a grown-up fascination with teepees? Well this life-sized A-framed cabin in the Philippines is sure to tickle your fancy – it sure did for the 45,000-odd people who liked it on Instagram. Thanks for the pic, @thetriangle.siargao! [caption id="attachment_46224" align="alignleft" width="600"] The magnificent Triangle Siargao[/caption] Tucked away in the jungle, this property may look a little secluded, but you’ll have more than enough to live with, two friendly dogs as your welcome party and an indoor swing to pass the time. Pretty cool, eh? 9. Exclusive Villa with Private Dock and Swimming Pool – Piano di Sorrento, Italy Well, this is living, isn’t it? A cliff-side Amalfi Coast property that’d make anyone want to pack their bags and head for Italy. It’s not hard to believe this blue-soaked shot by @lizbedor received over 49,000 Instagram likes. [caption id="attachment_46223" align="alignleft" width="600"] A private oasis in Italy, anyone?[/caption] The property has its own private dock: the ideal starting point for a daily of sailing or the setting for a simple stroll after your private pool swim – whatever you prefer really. 8. Incredible Apartment & Views! Pool! – Perledo, Lake Como, Italy Was there ever any doubt that a Lake Como property would feature in this list? Not in our book; it’s one of the most magical places on Earth – and this photo captured by @sssoph90, which garnered almost 50,000 likes shows you why.   Situated high above the village of Varenna, you can see why visitors are itching to stay here, and we haven’t even mentioned the property’s three balconies, which happen to be just perfect for stargazing. 7. Vintage Design and Contemporary Art at Casalibera – Trastevere, Italy This could be the only balcony in the world where you don’t mind staring into the neighbour’s – and vice versa.   Set in Rome’s trendy Trastevere neighbourhood, this stylish apartment is the perfect place to sit with a good book and a glass of wine and watch the world go by. It’s no coincidence that the photo, taken by @jonisan, amassed more than 50,000 likes.   The apartment feels serene but is also within walking distance to all things Roma, which means – you guessed it – incredible pizza is never too far away. 6. The Boat House – New South Wales, Australia Hooray, Australia made the cut! Yep, a blissful little oasis on the NSW Hawkesbury River that can only be accessed by boat. Imagine laying out on the sun-kissed deck all day long, winding down the clock with a glass of wine.   It’s no wonder this pic, taken by @sarahlianhan, racked up over 55,000 likes. [caption id="attachment_46222" align="alignleft" width="600"] Some pretty nice Australian real estate[/caption] All we want to do is lay out on the property’s private pier and swim to the secret beaches scattered around the home. 5. BEAUTIFUL RIAD – Marrakech, Morocco Well this is not your average poolside by any stretch of the imagination. This stunning Moroccan homestead is your own private piece of heaven during your stay, ideal to curl up with a good book in, and waste the day in utter bliss. [caption id="attachment_46221" align="alignleft" width="600"] Moroccan paradise[/caption] The photo taken by @theresatorp was liked on Instagram just under 60,000 times and we can see why, we feel positively peaceful just looking at it. 4. Joshua Tree Campover Cabin – Joshua Tree, USA Tell us, where on Earth can you stay at a place with a lookout reminiscent of a setting of an old Western movie? Looking at this photo, you almost expect Clint Eastwood to ride by on horseback, tilt his hat in your direction and say, ‘nice digs’. [caption id="attachment_46220" align="alignleft" width="600"] Joshua Tree perfection[/caption] It’s no surprise this image taken by @alalam100 received over 65,000 likes on Instagram.   The Joshua Tree cabin is the perfect spot to appreciate the calm of the Mojave Desert and provides pretty much undisturbed daily sunrises and sunsets. Bliss. 3. Willow Treehouse – secluded, unique, and romantic – Willow, NY, USA A modern version of Robin Hood-style dwellings, this treehouse gives guests that ‘you’re on your own’ feeling in a somehow soothing way. During your stay, the swimming pond nearby will be your best friend, before you ascend up to your bedroom loft and take in the stars.   The treehouse is located near Woodstock in New York state and this image alone shows you why visitors are drawn to this woodland escape.   2. Lazzarella Room in Old Mill – Ravello, Amalfi Coast, Italy Like something out of a romantic movie, this Ravello property perched above the Amalfi Coast screams ‘Italy’ in every stereotypical sense – and we couldn’t be more pleased about that.   The vine-strung window looks out to the quaint town and hillside, and immediately gives you both the feeling of peace and the thirst to get out and explore.   The image is taken from the dining room of an old mill that has been turned into a homestead, just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Amalfi Coast.   1. LUC 22 Boutique Alpine Retreat – Queenstown, New Zealand Imagine staring out a window from the comfort of your bath tub and seeing this. By ‘this’ I mean a stunning vista of horizon-stroking mountains, a smooth pool of bright blue water and a crisp, cloud-covered sky. That’s what you’ll get when you choose to take your baths at this Queenstown alpine retreat, which overlooks the stunning panorama of Lake Wakatipu. [caption id="attachment_46218" align="alignleft" width="600"] The most impressive AirBnB view of all[/caption] It’s not hard to determine why this place scored the number one spot with almost 110,000 likes. Can we stay?! Image taken by @chachi86.
Azamara Pursuit Cruise Ship
7 reasons to take a trip aboard the Azamara Pursuit
Not your average mode of transportation between Ol’ Blighty and marvellous France, but as I learnt, climbing aboard the Azamara Pursuit is absolutely the best way to do it, and there are a few reasons why… It should be made clear before you read another word, that I, Olivia Mackinnon love cruising.   It’s in my DNA, you see. My parents actually met while working on board what they called, ‘The Love Boat’, but I suspect it was just a regular boat, with no links to TV cruising royalty whatsoever.   So for as long as I can remember, I have been wooed by the incredible grandness of cruise ships, and up until recently, I’d never been lucky enough to board one in the Azamara fleet.   The brand new Azamara Pursuit was setting off for her maiden voyage, and I had been invited on the two-night journey to experience all she had to offer… Grand is an understatement [caption id="attachment_46070" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Azamara Pursuit is grand in scale[/caption] Landing in London and then travelling to Southampton, UK, I was instantly desperate to climb aboard Azamara’s newest ship, Pursuit as soon as I clapped eyes on her. One of my favourite things to do aboard a ship is familiarise myself with the facilities: ‘Where is the restaurant, how far is my cabin from the pool, where is the spa?!’ I’m simply not satisfied until these questions are answered. However, aboard Pursuit I was enamoured with the luxury feel of the ship. The detail in every hand rail and piece of art. As a small-time cruiser, I simply didn’t feel worthy.   The common areas were furnished with incredible plush chairs, decorated with velvet trimmings and chic finishes, while the restaurant took the whole ‘white tablecloth’ dining experience to a new level with a sense of European style I haven’t ever seen on board a ship before. [caption id="attachment_46073" align="alignnone" width="600"] Spending time in the common areas was a joy thanks to this stunning and comfortable arrangement[/caption] The cabin The feeling of luxury was extended down the hall of the starboard side – as I’m sure it was on port side – and all the way inside my cabin. The bathrooms had more sink space than I was accustomed to. There was an established seating area, a roomy balcony and a beyond-comfortable bed. In fact, with the deluxe sheets combined with the gentle sway of Southampton’s River Itchen, I don’t know if I’ve ever slept so soundly.   I was particularly fond of the colour palette used in the cabins, a mix of moody greys, deep woods and a touch of blush. The marble finishes added a chic cherry to an already delectable cake.   Also, the shower pressure was near-normal – maybe even on par with what you’d get at home. Anyone who has ever cruised before will understand what a big deal that is. A Titanic experience, minus the tragedy What excited me about this trip was that I was going to get the chance to arrive in an entirely different country by the time I woke up in the morning. Yep, we were en route to Cherbourg, a port city in France where you could delight in both French naval history and quality croissants for the day. I also learned that this was the place the Titanic made its final stop on its fateful journey to America – but I tried not to focus on that as I disembarked. [caption id="attachment_46074" align="alignnone" width="600"] The furnishings were elegant, comfortable and luxurious[/caption] If that sounds appealing to you, visitors to Cherbourg are encouraged to visit Cité de la Mer, one of the port’s main tourist attractions, where you can find out more about the infamous ship’s final visit. The on (and off) board delicacies The Pursuit frequents many European ports during its varied itineraries, which means the food always complements your destinations. During my day in Cherbourg I was treated to fresh crepes, soft cheese, macarons and sparkling wine. I pretty much had to roll back to the ship. [caption id="attachment_46071" align="alignnone" width="600"] There are many sights to take in and they aren't all experienced from the ship's deck[/caption] Back on board, passengers celebrated the ship’s maiden voyage with a decadent oyster and Champagne buffet dinner. Chefs were ready and waiting at a personalised pasta station, ready to combine fettuccine with pesto, or spaghetti with carbonara sauce if your heart so desired. It’s differences like these that showcase the level of care – and luxury – you can expect to experience on board an Azamara ship – and from what I hear, the Pursuit’s elegance is certainly no exception to its sister ships: Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey. The pool Despite being August, the weather was a little cooler during our short cruise, and I’m almost certain that I was the only guest to brave the ship’s water amenities. I swam not only in the pool’s accompanying spa on the main deck, but also in the larger spa provided to guests before their scheduled treatment, as an indulgent precursor to what is already guaranteed to be a ‘cloud nine’ level of pampering.   Due to the lack of company in the spas, I felt there was more than ample room – my only gripe would be that they could be made a little warmer – however on a standard August day in Europe I imagine the cooler temperature would ordinarily be ideal. Destination Immersion experiences [caption id="attachment_46072" align="alignnone" width="600"] Just because you're on a cruise ship doesn't mean you don't get to experience the culture of the ports you travel to and from[/caption] The thing that makes the Azamara fleet different to regular luxury cruises is its desire to get passengers off the ship at port and truly immerse them in the activities and culture of that destination. This is what they call their ‘Destination Immersion’ programming.   For example, during my time in Cherbourg on the Pursuit’s maiden voyage, in addition to being treated to iconic French delicacies, we were also wowed by a side-splitting performance by a French dance ensemble. The short itinerary meant that while a full-day of exploration wasn’t an option, Azamara brought a taste of Cherbourg’s culture to us at port – and we loved every second of it.   Sailings with longer itineraries can expect even more incredible immersive experiences. From a three-day/two-night stargazing experience in Chile’s Atacama Desert, to exploring the inside of a volcano in Iceland, they somehow manage to make it about guaranteeing you have as great of a time off the ship as you will on board. They get around, a lot As of 2019, Azamara’s very first Melbourne departure will take place – and the list of destinations worked into their itineraries is longer than ever. This year, the ships will visit a record 250 ports across 69 countries with 94 overnight stays and 145 late-night stays – meaning you get the most out of the places you want to visit. Plus, this year marks the first visit to Alaska – yippee!
Milan Piazza Duomo
How to live la dolce vita in Milan
Discover the unforgettable treasures and simple pleasures of Italy’s cultural capital. While Rome is the historical heart of Italy and Florence is home to its artistic soul, Milan is the cultural capital where all the good things meet; fashion, food and the arts. Its treasures aren’t as obvious as those of other Italian cities, you have to dig a little deeper to discover them – but that makes them all the more satisfying. Shop like you mean it [caption id="attachment_46052" align="alignnone" width="600"] For the best of Milan's high street shopping you'll want to head to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II[/caption] If you fancy a designer bag or three, Via Montenapoleone is where it’s at. This narrow street houses all the luxury brands in one handy location. Visit for the window shopping and people watching alone.   Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is also a designer haven and the main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II is where to find all the high street brands. [caption id="attachment_46051" align="alignnone" width="600"] Inside the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II[/caption] La Rinascente is a luxe department store stretching over 10 floors while 10 Corso Como offers a tightly edited mix of designer fashion and art. Think Milan’s version of Paris’ famed, now closed, Colette boutique.   For a designer bargain, the top of Via Manzoni towards Archi di Porta Nuova is where you’ll find designer outlet stores such as DMag. Wander the Navigli [caption id="attachment_46050" align="alignnone" width="600"] Explore the canals of Naviglio Grande.[/caption] Venice isn’t the only Italian city with canals. A 10-minute metro ride from the centre of Milan to Porta Genova will take you to the Navigli, a set of intersecting canals which were once the city’s main trading routes with Europe.   These canals were fed by two different lakes, Maggiore and Como, so the water levels weren't even. Enter Leonardo da Vinci who designed chiusuras, or dams, so the boats could travel along them.   You can take boat rides along the canals or simply spend the day strolling beside them and soak up the charm of the area’s boutiques and bars. At night, it’s a buzzing hub of people taking aperitivo by the water. Discover Brera The boho artists that called Brera home have made their stamp on this little corner of the city and it’s still an art hub. As well as cool independent galleries you’ll find the impressive Brera Art Gallery or the Pinacoteca di Brera, which displays one of the most comprehensive collections of Italian art.   There are also chic boutiques, upscale restaurants and picture-perfect cobblestone pedestrian streets such as via Fiori Chiari. Peruse the work of Leonardo da Vinci [caption id="attachment_46049" align="alignnone" width="600"] Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper is on display within the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie[/caption] His most famous artwork, The Last Supper, is a mural in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Seeing it in a book doesn’t do it justice. Stand up close and let the details slowly reveal themselves to you; the folds in the tablecloth, the veins on the hands of the apostles, the use of light to tell the story of good and evil.   Book ahead. Numbers are limited to protect the priceless piece and if you turn up on the day, you might miss out.   The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana also pays homage to Da Vinci. It’s the caretaker of the Atlantic Codex, over 1000 pages of his notes and sketches. The display, which changes every three months, showcases about 10 pages at a time and can cover anything from his theories on soundwaves and music to the optic nerve and how sight works.   His notes are hard to decipher, until you learn that he was a lefty who wrote from right to left in mirror script. It’s an intimate insight into the great man’s mind. Visit La Scala The sumptuous red velvet and gilded gold interiors of this iconic opera house are enough to make you swoon, even if you’re not a fan of the theatre. But if you are, it’s worth splurging for a ticket to the opera or ballet. Then there’s the more-affordable behind-the-scenes tours. [caption id="attachment_46048" align="alignnone" width="600"] Experience one of the opera at Milan's iconic La Scala.[/caption] Composer Giuseppe Verdi’s operas Otello and Falstaff premiered here and the stage has hosted performances by the greatest opera singers such as Maria Callas and ballet stars including Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. Fondazione Prada Miuccia Prada is considered the most intellectual woman in fashion and this sprawling contemporary art museum may be a bigger legacy than decades of shaping how we dress. Housed in a former gin distillery, the privately-funded collection is open to the public and is more a cultural compound than regular museum.   In addition to the 13,000 square metres of exhibition space, there are cinemas, bars and a new restaurant Torre, which opened in 2018 and has sweeping views over Milan. Indulge in aperitivo The Italian tradition of pre-dinner drinks and snacks originated in Milan thanks to the popularity of the bitter liqueur Campari, which was distilled nearby. The idea being that it whets the tastebuds and gets the digestive juices flowing.   From about 5pm till 8pm you’ll see people sitting outside enjoying a spritz or negroni with a few nibbles before they head off to dinner.   Order a negroni at Officina 12, a hip gin bar in Navigli, head to the top floor of the Rinascente department store and enjoy an aperitivo while overlooking the spires of the Duomo or hang with the locals at Morgan’s, a dive bar in the historic centre just off Via Lanzone. Eat up [caption id="attachment_46047" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rovello 18 serves up their own inspired version of risotto Milanese al salto.[/caption] The city’s most famous dish is the saffron-hued risotto Milanese, served on its own as a primo or with ossobuco as a secondo. For something a little different, try risotto Milanese al salto, where the risotto is cooked then fried so the outer edges of the rice cake crisp up. At Rovello 18, it’s served in little patties while Antica Trattoria della Pesa does a giant disk as big as the plate.   You’ll find fabulous seafood at El Brellin and Langosteria if budget permits, or the more accessible Langosteria Café.   For a taste of luxury, Italian celebrity chef Carlo Cracco opened Ristorante Cracco inside the historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II earlier this year.   For something truly dolce, the original Marchesi Pasticceria has been satisfying sweet tooths since 1824. Sleep with the stars Fancy staying in the same room as composer Giuseppe Verdi, singer Maria Callas or author Ernest Hemingway? They were all famous guests at the five-star Grand Hotel et de Milan and the suites they called home all have a personal touch: from the desk Verdi wrote at to a copy of Hemingway’s visa framed on the wall. [caption id="attachment_46046" align="alignnone" width="600"] Follow in the footsteps of some of history's biggest names and spend a night at the Grand Hotel et de Milan[/caption] This family-owned property is part of the Leading Hotels of the World Group and has an unbeatable location just a block from La Scala and a stone’s throw from the start of the shopping mecca, Via Montenapoleone. More information Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza del Duomo, 20123 Milano   La Rinascente, Piazza del Duomo, 20121 Milano Phone: +39 02 88521 La Rinascente   10 Corso Como, Corso Como 10, 20124 Milano www.10corsocomo.com   DMag Outlet, Via Alessandro Manzoni, 44, 20121 Milano Phone: +39 02 3651 4365   Pinacoteca di Brera, Via Brera, 28, 20121 Milano Pinacoteca di Brera   Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie, 20123 Milano www.legraziemilano.it   Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Piazza Pio XI, 2, 20123 Milano Phone: +39 02 806921 www.ambrosiana.it/en/   Teatro alla Scala, Via Filodrammatici, 2, 20121 Milano www.teatroallascala.org/en/   Fondazione Prada, Largo Isarco, 2, 20139 Milano Phone: +39 02 5666 2611 www.fondazioneprada.org   Officina 12, Alzaia Naviglio Grande, 12, 20144 Milano Phone: +39 02 8942 2261 www.officina12.it   Morgan's Milano, Via Novati 02, 20123 Milano Phone: +39 02 867694 www.facebook.com/Morgans-Milano   Rovello 18, Via Tivoli, 2, 20121 Milano Phone: +39 02 7209 3709 www.rovello18.it/en/home-en/   Antica Trattoria della Pesa, Viale Pasubio, 10, 20154 Milano Phone: +39 02 655 5741 www.anticatrattoriadellapesa.com   El Brellin, Vicolo dei Lavandai, Alzaia Naviglio Grande, 14, 20144 Milano Phone: +39 02 5810 1351 www.brellin.com   Langosteria, Via Savona, 10, 20144 Milano Phone: +39 02 5811 1649 www.langosteria.com   Cracco, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 20121 Milano MI Phone: +39 02 876774 www.ristorantecracco.it/en/   Marchesi Pasticceri, Via Santa Maria alla Porta, 11/a, 20123 Milano www.pasticceriamarchesi.com/en/   Grand Hotel et de Milan, Via Alessandro Manzoni, 29, 20121 Milano Phone: +39 02 723141 www.grandhoteletdemilan.it/en/
11 Europe travel hacks that will save you BIG money
Travelling is an expensive hobby, especially when travelling tourist hotspots in Europe. But there is hope!   Whether you’re headed on a romantic trip to Paris, a meander along the canals of Amsterdam or on a discovery of the castles and estates of Britain’s countryside, this is a must-read guide on how to save – BIG time. Make a list Here we start a list with making a list, in true traveller fashion.   The first list you should make is of the places you want to visit, this allows correct planning of your holiday to optimise travel from east, to west and north to south. This also allows you to research which method of travel will be most effective: train (and if so can you buy a five- or 10-trip train pass?), coach or plane?   The second list should consist of all the things you want to do in each place. In Paris, you may want to see the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, take a bike tour and go out for a French degustation. Planning your to-do list means that you are less likely to get stuck in the trap of filling your holiday with touristy (and expensive) activities. This doesn’t mean you can’t live in the moment while overseas, but gives you the option to stay traveller savvy. Free museum admission Do your research on entry to Europe’s most famous museums, as most offer free or reduced entry on specific days.   The Louvre offers free entry to the museum on the first Saturday of every month from 6pm to 9.45pm, and free admission to under 26s on Friday evenings from 6pm until close. At €17 euros a ticket, this is a saving close to $30 per person. The Prado Museum in Madrid also offers free entry to its collections from 6pm to 8pm Monday to Saturday and on Sundays from 5pm to 7pm. [caption id="attachment_7660" align="alignleft" width="1000"] The Pyramide at Musée du Louvre.[/caption] Other museums including the Berlin Wall Memorial and the National Gallery in London always have free entry and are well worth your time. Skip the hotel Hotels, although delightfully convenient and reminiscent of luxury holidays, can cost you the earth in a main city in Europe. Other alternatives, such as Airbnb, youth hostels and campervans can save you a motza, and can even offer a more authentic European experience.   Airbnbs to look out for are the ones with rave reviews, close to the main amenities. Try and stick to places that have a ‘superhost’ status; this means that the host is not only experienced in the game, but they also have been really well rated by their previous guests. If you pick a humble, but well-kept place, you are bound to save $$$.   Hostels, with both shared and private rooms, can cost just a fraction of the price of a good hotel. Try Hostel One Camden in London, The Yellow Hostel in Rome and Coco Mama in Amsterdam.   Campervans, although not ideal when city hopping, are the best way to visit the countryside, especially in places like the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland. Spaceships’ compact and easy-to-drive campervans are an ideal place to start, with a bed, fridge and cooking gear all in the back. Only setting you back around $100 a day, these are the best combination of bedroom and transport. Pack a picnic. Every. Damn. Day. Eating, perhaps the best part of any European holiday, is very expensive.   Most meals out cost an excess of $30 per person at a restaurant, and when you think about the fact that eating is necessary more than once in a day, the money mounts quickly.   The best practice to exercise is packing a picnic lunch, with a collection of items purchased at the local grocery store.   In France, pack some fromage and jambon to put on a baguette, in Spain pack some chorizo and cheese or in Malta just grab a few 60c pastizzi, and sit yourself in a glorious park.   This not only saves money, but allows you to soak in the ambience of your locale. Join the National Trust Picnics are best had in the gardens of historic estates, whilst you admire outdoor fountains in the foreground of period homes.   These estates can be found all over Europe, particularly in England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy and the Netherlands. To enter these estates costs between $20 and $40 per entry, and can add up to be an expensive experience.   Joining the National Trust in Australia, however, means that you can pay a one off fee (of $110 for adults, and $90 for concession) for a yearly membership. With reciprocal visiting arrangements with heritage organisations in other countries, membership allows access to 800 heritage sites outside of Australia.   An added bonus is that these estates are also a great place for learning about the history and culture of the country, as well as an excellent photo op. Free activities Every single city or town in Europe has a range of things to do that are absolutely FREE. [caption id="attachment_19367" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Promenade des anglais in Nice[/caption] These are often activities in the natural environment: go for a hike in the Black Forest in south-west Germany, float down the fast flowing, turquoise waters of the river Aare in Bern or go for a swim on the pebbled beach of Nice. Hire a bike Not only reserved for the streets of Amsterdam, bike riding is a great way to both see a city and get around it.   Hiring a bike, at around $20 a day, is a great way to avoid paying for buses, cabs, trains or trams. [caption id="attachment_28164" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Use a bike to travel around cobblestoned town squares[/caption] Also, let’s cut to the chase: while travelling in Europe the exercise certainly wouldn’t go astray.   You can usually hire bikes from local bike shops, or from mobile, dockless bike hiring platforms such as Santander bicycles in London. Check out Airbnb Experiences   Not always the cheapest (although sometimes they are!) Airbnb Experiences offer authentic, locally run and reasonably priced experiences. Ranging from equestrian tours through Tuscany to cooking classes in a home kitchen in Paris, there is something for everyone on this app.   These experiences are usually far superior to the heavily tourist centred activities found in main cities, and for the same price often offer a lot more. Research passes in each city Passes, be it for a collection of museums or for travel around a city, can be a great way to save money.   Some notable passes are: the I Amsterdam card, which you can buy in iterations of 24, 48, 72, 96 and 120 hours from between $95 to $180, offers free access to 60 museums including the Rijks and Van Gogh museums, a free canal cruise and free public transport; the Eurail pass (for international travel between European countries via train); and the London Pass, which allows access to 80 famous attractions across the city with iterations ranging from one day for $123 to 10 days with travel included for $429.   Make sure that you are only purchasing passes to places you actually want to visit (remember your list!). These passes are not ideal if you were only looking at visiting the Rijks museum on your trip, but got roped into all the other because it seemed like good value. Don’t frequently withdraw money abroad Avoid costly ATM withdrawal fees on your travel money card by nabbing your cash while still in Aus.   Carrying wads of notes abroad can be daunting, so if you do have to withdraw cash, make sure you do a week’s worth at a time. Or alternatively, try to shop and eat at places that deal only in Eftpos transactions.   Also investigate cards that offer money back on ATM fees, even overseas. ING offers money back on ATM fees globally, if you meet the minimum requirements of the card ($1000 deposited and five transactions made each month). Make sure you claim your GST refund! If you’re an avid shopper, make sure you keep all your receipts – you can claim the tax back at the airport on your way home!   Make sure you have your forms and receipts stamped by each country’s officials before departing, and when heading home ensure that all mentioned products are accessible in case the officials need to see them.  
6 picturesque places to go on a long weekend near London
London is a great jumping off point for exploring the United Kingdom, and is certainly where most travellers begin (often without heading out of the city at all). This is a list of the best towns, counties and villages to get you out of the city for a long weekend, and explore the history of England along the way. Oxford Oxford, dubbed ‘the city of dreaming spires’, has been home to the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde and Emily Davison, all who attended the world famous Oxford University.   If you visit however, you’ll be quick to learn it’s much more than a university town.   The city boasts incredible architecture, history and food, with a trip promising romance, relaxation and a little bit of learning in the middle. Getting there from London: Oxford lies approximately 90 kilometres north-east of London. The journey will take approximately one hour, by both train and car. Best things to do during your stay: EAT Gail’s Bakery Jericho on Little Clarendon Street offers the best in baked goods. Stop in for a croissant/cinnamon bun hybrid, a serve of thick cut sourdough toast with home-made jam and clotted cream or a ham and gruyere cheese croissant. The eat-in dining experience offers quality service, or alternatively, grab it take-away and seat yourself in one of the many university gardens. [caption id="attachment_45908" align="alignleft" width="600"] Gail’s Bakery Jericho on Little Clarendon Street offers the best in baked goods[/caption] For dinner, hit up the best restaurant in Oxford, the Oxford Kitchen, where you can enjoy rabbit croquette for starters, confit pork belly for main and finish it all off with a nectarine parfait. With exposed brick interiors, industrial meets chic in this acclaimed venue. [caption id="attachment_45909" align="alignleft" width="600"] Inside the Oxford Kitchen[/caption] Café Rouge is another great spot, particularly for a nice lunch in the courtyard on a sunny day. Grab a croque monsieur and a coffee, to hit the spot.   DO Punting, usually whilst sipping on a glass of Pimms, is one of the most iconic Oxfordian activities.   Punting is the English version of riding in a gondola, with the punter at the back of the seven-metre boat, rowing with a long pole that reaches the bottom of the river bed.   The best punting can be found at Cherwell Boathouse, where hiring a punt for up to six people on a weekend will cost $34 per hour or $170 for a full day, and slightly less on weekdays. [caption id="attachment_45907" align="alignleft" width="600"] Expect understated but upscale European dining on the river at Cherwell Boathouse[/caption] If you paddle far enough along the river you can stop at a riverside pub for a beverage, or to say hello to the cows grabbing a drink from the river bank.   SEE There are plenty of things to see in Oxford: just walking the street for one, or exploring the libraries and university buildings or shopping.   The University of Oxford Botanic Gardens and Arboretum are a must-see when on a visit to Oxfordshire, and the perfect spot for a picnic lunch or to sit and read a book (how appropriate!). [caption id="attachment_45910" align="alignleft" width="600"] The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in Great Britain and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world[/caption] If you are looking for something spectacular to see, and happy to drive 30 minutes out of the town, Waddesdon Manor, built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the late 19th century, is a sight for sore eyes.   Set on over 2000 hectares of mostly manicured gardens and forest, the residence boasts a French renaissance style and is home to the Rothschild Collections of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. You can come and see how the other half lived as the manor house is now managed by the Rothschild Foundation on behalf of the National Trust and open to visitors. Poundon A country hamlet in Buckinghamshire, less than half an hour’s drive from Oxford, Poundon is the ultimate town for a romantic weekend away.   Surrounded by flowing fields of farmland, old local pubs and humble English cottages, Poundon (and a number of surrounding hamlet towns) is an amazing escape from busy London town, offering the authentic country experience you’re looking for.   Getting there from London: An hour and a half by car, Poundon offers a unique country experience not too far from the city. EAT For a fully immersive experience in an English country town, an old local pub can’t be beaten. With plenty in this area the choice is difficult. Perhaps you could be tempted by a roast at the Red Lion, a tiny pub just out of Poundon with a thatched roof and ceilings so traditionally low that you can scarcely stand up.   With its white facade in the centre of Poundon, the Sow and Pigs dates back to the 1800s. Describing its own menu as ‘swine dining’, this pub will not disappoint. Try the chef’s crackling with apple sauce and the baked camembert with garlic and thyme for starters and the slow-cooked beef brisket for main. You also have the choice to create your own burger for £11.50 and an array of daily desserts to finish it all off. DO Book yourself into a bed and breakfast for a cosy and romantic stay. The charming and peaceful Manor Farm Bed and Breakfast – right in the centre of Poundon and with gorgeous countryside views – has three en suite guest rooms, a communal kitchen and elegant lounge room that invites playing board games and reading books (with many of each supplied). Breakfast is made fresh daily and consists of homemade bread and condiments, or yoghurt, fruit and local honey. [caption id="attachment_45915" align="alignleft" width="600"] Book yourself into Manor Farm bed and breakfast for a cosy and romantic stay[/caption] Another great thing to do when in Poundon is to venture out to Bicester Village: a collection of factory outlets for upper-end brands. Here you’ll find Montblanc, Timberland, Cath Kidston and Gucci at a fraction of the retail price. [caption id="attachment_45914" align="alignleft" width="600"] Bicester Village is home to more than 160 boutiques of leading brands, each offering savings of up to 60%[/caption] SEE: The best thing to soak up in Poundon is the countryside. Take a walk around the narrow country lanes to relax, and even take a stroll past Poundon House, an Edwardian estate nothing short of breathtaking. [caption id="attachment_45916" align="alignleft" width="600"] Take a stroll through Poundon House[/caption] Bath Formerly the home of Jane Austen (and now home to the Jane Austen Centre), Bath is a cultural hub filled with history and atmosphere. [caption id="attachment_45920" align="alignleft" width="600"] Evening view of Royal Crescent, a heritage street in Bath[/caption] With much to do and see in this gorgeous West Country city, any visitor to London must venture out and explore it, at least once. Getting there from London: A two-hour drive or one and a half hours by train will get you from London’s city centre to Bath. EAT If you enjoy a bit of spontaneity, and very fine cuisine, Menu Gordon Jones is the best place in Bath. The concept, created by the up and coming chef Gordon Jones, is that every meal is a surprise. At £50 for a five-course meal, you sit and wait patiently for whatever the chef decides to serve you. This is not only fine dining, but an experience that can only be had in Bath.   Although this isn’t Cornwall, stop into the Cornish Bakery when in Bath for a pasty, scone and an excellent coffee.   For a brilliant breakfast, stop in at Bill’s for a stack of buttermilk pancakes (and nab yourself a side of bacon too!). Bill’s, with a gorgeous deep green frontage, reminiscent of an English pub, is hard to miss – so don’t. DO Bath’s compact city centre can be easily enjoyed by foot, but for a sweeping overview of its majestic architecture and attractions – from the Royal Crescent to the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey – hop on an open-top city sightseeing bus. [caption id="attachment_45922" align="alignleft" width="600"] Visit Thermae Bath Spa: where you can bathe in naturally warm, mineral-rich water[/caption] And for a little R&R after all that sightseeing, visit Thermae Bath Spa, where you can bathe in naturally warm, mineral-rich water, just as the Romans used to do. This spa retreat in the middle of the city is inspired by (you guessed it!) the Roman Baths. SEE The Roman Baths, ancient religious spas situated right in the centre of the city, are a must see-in Bath (considering the city’s named after them). The baths, built in opulence, were public bathing houses that were filled using aqueducts and ancient heating systems, showcasing the sophistication of the Roman Empire. To make the most of your visit, book the ‘above and below’ tours, to see the site below and above ground. [caption id="attachment_45921" align="alignleft" width="600"] Enjoy Bath's rich history, brought to life at the Roman Baths[/caption] Cornwall A county to the south-west of London, Cornwall is made up of many picturesque towns and villages, and is best explored with a car. Getting there from London:  From London, to the most westerly part of Cornwall (and indeed, England), Land’s End is a five-hour drive and almost seven hours by train. EAT Wherever you are in Cornwall, make sure you’re eating clotted cream: on toast, on scones and even as ice-cream.   Another delicacy is the Cornish pasty – a hand-held meat and vegetable pie originally developed as a lunch for Cornish tin miners in the 17th and 18th centuries. If you’re looking for something more than cream and pastry, the 13th-century Turks Head pub in Penzance, complete with underground smugglers’ tunnel, is fabulous for enjoying local beer and seafood. DO Head to the Eden Project, home to the largest indoor rainforest in the world. With a giant flying fox across the tops of the forest, this is not only an educational experience but also an exhilarating one. [caption id="attachment_45924" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Eden Project: the largest indoor rainforest in the world[/caption] SEE Visit Polperro, an ancient fishing village in Cornwall. With narrow winding streets, this small, unspoilt town feels like something out of a fairy tale. There is also a resident stray dog, who hangs with the fisherman who still shuck their oysters on the shore. [caption id="attachment_45926" align="alignleft" width="600"] The harbour of the fishing village Polperro[/caption] Another noteworthy town in this gorgeous county, mostly unknown by tourists, is Charlestown. [caption id="attachment_45927" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Phoenix sets sail from Charlestown[/caption] An untouched 18th century port town that used to be bustling with trade. The port, still completely intact, was used as a set for the first season of Poldark. It’s perfect for photographs, antique shopping and a bite to eat; try scones and English breakfast tea in the Pier House, an inn with accommodation that overlooks the town’s Georgian harbour.   Penzance is another beautiful Cornish town. It boasts great shopping and friendly locals and amazing architecture that sparkles on a sunny day. Not far from the centre of the city is Saint Michael’s Mount, which can be ventured to via boat when the sea is not too choppy, or by foot when the tide is low. This mount, a small island just off the coast, is a civil parish and a Cornish Icon.   A 20-minute drive from Penzance is Cornwall’s furthermost point and one of England’s most famous landmarks, Land’s End. Steeped in history and ancient legend, this clifftop destination affords views out of the Atlantic Ocean and more opportunities to indulge in some of the things that Cornwall does best – from pasties to clotted cream ice-cream. [caption id="attachment_45925" align="alignleft" width="600"] Land's End is one of Britain's most magnificent (and visited) landmarks[/caption] Devon Another county south-west of London, Devon is home to exquisite country, coastal and riverside towns.   With so much to do in Devon, a car is the best way to make sure you can get a taste of everything it has to offer. Getting there from London: Approximately three hours by train, and a 3.5-hour drive from London to the centre of Devon. EAT Whilst in Devon, and England for that matter, it would be a sin not to sit down to a Devonshire tea. With English breakfast tea and scones, act like an authentic Devonian. [caption id="attachment_45929" align="alignleft" width="600"] A Devonshire tea is unmistakably a truly British custom known worldwide[/caption] While Devonshire teas can be found at all good cafes and restaurants in Devon. I suggest heading to Exeter for the Hidden Treasure Tea Rooms cream tea. Additionally, The Strand tea rooms, in Plymouth, does the perfect cream tea situated in an old cobbled street location. Finally, the Cream Tea Café in Barnstaple is devoted to Devonshire cream tea and is a must-stop in when visiting this county. DO Why not visit Agatha Christie’s private holiday home, ‘Greenway’ in Brixham, and wander through the rooms where she wrote many of her books? Whether you’re a Christie fan or not, this experience is imperative on a trip through Devon. [caption id="attachment_45930" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wander through Agatha Christie’s private holiday home, ‘Greenway’ in Brixham[/caption] Another must-do in Devon is to hike through the Valley of the Rocks, spotting ancient rock formations, herds of goats and picturesque views of the ocean. SEE Travel through Dartmoor via Dartmoor way, which follows a scenic route through the most beautiful villages and homesteads in the area.    
5 reasons to add Ludlow to your UK itinerary
Every second couple featured on UK show Escape to the Country wants to move to this idyllic market town (or so it seems), and we can see why... Something happens to you as you walk the picturesque streets of Ludlow, known off-record as one of England’s prettiest towns.   One minute, you’re an urbanite trying desperately to find a flat white that doesn’t convince your soul to just keel over and die, and the next, you’ve soaked in enough of the South Shropshire countryside to find yourself wandering around in a middle-aged, pearl-and-twin-set haze saying things like, “It has real chocolate-box charm, doesn’t it?” and “Ooh, look at those lovely exposed beams!”; it all feels like a still from Escape to the Country (you know you know it). This is the power of Ludlow.   For the uninitiated, the medieval town is located bang on top of a cliff overlooking the River Teme and surrounded by the Welsh Marches, as well as that aforementioned gorgeous green countryside. It’s famous for its food and wine, including the annual Ludlow Spring Festival that promises revellers over 200 varieties of real ales plus cider, perry (similar to pear cider) and wine, more than 60 local food producers, live music and hopefully, a decent flat white or two.   And here are five more reasons to stick Ludlow on your itinerary… The Ludlow Food Festival We could talk about the lengths members of Ludlow and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce went to in order to boost the image of Ludlow and surrounding areas or how the popular festival, established in 1995, helps promote the area’s terrific artisan food and wine producers against the backdrop of the town’s historic castle, but instead we’ll just say: sausage trail, cake competition, ale trail, pork pie competition. [caption id="attachment_45559" align="alignleft" width="600"] The festival features a huge range of top quality food and drink producers[/caption] There’s a reason the town’s population doubles from its usual 10,000 at this time of year – why not make it 20,001? Ludlow Castle  In England, it’s hard to visit a simple corner store without tripping over a castle, but gosh this one is pretty. [caption id="attachment_45557" align="alignleft" width="600"] The construction of the Ludlow Castle started around 1085[/caption] Construction on this privately owned castle began in the late 11th century and over the centuries it hosted everyone from Prince Arthur, brother of Henry VIII, who honeymooned here before his untimely death, to Henry’s daughter Mary Tudor, who spent three icily cold winters here. Although it fell into decay, many of its buildings still stand and historians note that it’s a castle where its history is very much reflected in its varied architecture (everything from medieval to Tudor). Top tip? Rug up because it is seriously cold at the top (also a good rule of thumb for life, kids) and warm up afterwards by sipping a hot tea at the Castle Tea Room beneath. Ludlow Food Centre It’s difficult to put this delicately, so here goes: come all the way to Ludlow so you can experience the world’s greatest truck stop.   It’s not just any kind of truck stop, of course, but a gourmet wonderland located on the Earl of Plymouth’s 3000-hectare Oakly Park Estate just off the main road on the outskirts of town, which features a play and picnic area, the Clive Arms restaurant and boutique hotel (highly recommended), and on-site cafe Ludlow Kitchen (also highly recommended). [caption id="attachment_45561" align="alignleft" width="600"] Ludlow is famous for its selection of fresh produce[/caption] There are countless reasons to stop by the food centre, but the number one reason is surely Ludlow Pantry, a delicatessen that will leave you gasping at the wonders of culinary life. Just think of a smart food hall filled with the smell of freshly baked Cornish pasties, serving up hundreds of varieties of cheese, meats, baked goods, fresh produce and conserves.   More than 30 per cent of the food sold here is handmade on site, with a further 30 per cent sourced from Shropshire and its surrounding counties. Load up your suitcase; it’s worth making an appearance on Border Security for. The locals I’ll admit it, I’m a big fan of the English.   Not only is my husband originally from England, so are many of my exes and some of my best mates. But I have to say the locals are some of the best people I’ve ever encountered. To illustrate the point, here’s a short tale: I fell in love with what could be the world’s craziest hat at Ludlow’s open-air market, yet walked away without buying it. [caption id="attachment_45556" align="alignleft" width="600"] Famous architecture[/caption] When I went the following day to purchase said hat just before I was due to leave town, the vendor was not there. The story could have ended there, but it didn’t. [caption id="attachment_45555" align="alignleft" width="600"] Ludlow, in South Shropshire, is one of the most attractive towns in England[/caption] Another vendor who heard my woolly plight alerted Tony, the market manager who then called vendor after vendor at home until he found the maker, Heather, who then drove 40 minutes from her home to meet me with a bagful of hats slung over her shoulder. She then drove 40 minutes home, happy that I’d reconciled with the World’s Craziest Hat. That’s Ludlow. Ludlow Walking Tours On paper, Dorothy Nicolle is a qualified Blue Badge guide for the Heart of England region, and a local author, but to me, she’ll forever be known as a national treasure, ready to put herself on the line when it comes to promoting the exquisite towns of Shropshire. [caption id="attachment_45553" align="alignleft" width="600"] Ludlow was famously described by John Betjeman as “the loveliest town in England“[/caption] Rather than wandering aimlessly around town, engage the services of Dorothy and she can run you through one of her extensive, and incredibly thorough tours that include everything from ‘Shropshire’s oddities’ (of which, she informs me, there are many), to ‘People immortalised on pub signs’. [caption id="attachment_45560" align="alignleft" width="600"] Explore the picturesque city on foot[/caption] I went on the standard Ludlow tour that takes in the streets lined with quaint boutiques, cheesemongers and traditional pubs, and the scenic countryside around nearby town Ironbridge. Contact Dorothy at nicolle.me.uk
Hotel Review: Hotel Providence, Paris
Paris is cool again, according to Susan Gough Henly, who Checks into Hotel Providence in the heart of the action. From the moment we arrive at Hotel Providence, on cobblestoned rue René Boulanger in the hip 10th arrondissement, we are entranced. Wrought-iron balconies dot a cream limestone building adorned with delicate carvings. Metal tables and wicker chairs grace a tree-dotted terrace shaded with green awnings.   And just inside, a crackling fire warms a lobby cosy with leather smoking chairs and sink-into-me couches.   There are those who describe Paris as a museum piece with none of the edginess of Berlin or vibrancy of Madrid. They have clearly not spent time in the 10th arrondissement. This former working-class neighbourhood, still rich with immigrant diversity, is now the epicentre of hip and happening Paris.   Tech start-ups and boutique fashion labels perch beside African barber shops, artisan fromagers and hip bars. If you’re young or young at heart this is the place to explore.   Sit next to real Parisians at Melbourne-style cafes while you admire the exquisite symmetry of elegant Haussmann limestone buildings. That’s if you can bear to drag yourself away from the intimate environs of Hotel Providence.   The reception desk is next to the bar, right where I like it, and the very helpful receptionist says those magic words when you arrive before noon: “Yes, your room is available."   There are five categories among the 18 rooms: Mini, Classic, Superior, Deluxe and the top-floor Suite under the eaves of the mansard roof with views all the way to Sacré-Cœur.   Owners Pierre and Elodie Moussié and Sophie Richard have combined sumptuous velour wallpapers from House of Hackney with custom-designed bars (in each and every room) and antique gems from flea markets and second-hand stores that evoke an atmosphere of bohemian chic.   Our fourth-floor Classic room overlooks giant carved cherubs that adorn the theatre across the street. We can watch backstage staff haul up sets with a giant pulley but, we’re more entranced by the marble-topped bar with its antique cocktail shakers, martini glasses and jars of olives.   There’s a smart phone, chock full of insider Paris tips, which you can take with you during your stay. It even includes unlimited local and international calls.   The room, though compact, has oodles of charm, with deep forest-green velour wallpaper, a crystal chandelier, bronze storage rack and a metal-framed frosted-glass bathroom. The bathroom also has a vintage feel with old-fashioned white tiles yet its spacious glass stall complete with rain shower and high-quality toiletries is thoroughly up-to-date.   Come evening, the lobby bar has a warm glow. Locals and hotel guests are sitting at tables inside and on the terrace. We settle in to enjoy tuna tataki and avocado and a smoky roast lamb with an excellent, well-priced Bordeaux. Retiring to our sumptuous boudoir for the evening, in the interests of partial journalistic disclosure, all I can say is that the bedding is so sublime I order the sheets the next day.   Breakfast, which can be delivered to your room or enjoyed in the restaurant, is copious by French standards and includes excellent breads and pastries, cereals, yogurt, fruit and juice as well as hams, cheeses and boil-your-own eggs. Afterwards, we hop on a couple of the hotel’s comfortable bikes to pedal to the Canal Saint Martin. Nearby is one of the finest bakeries in France, Du Pain et Des Idees, as well as Holybelly, which takes its cues from a Melbourne-style cafe, where the coffee is excellent and the food inspired and affordable. Welcome to the new Paris. Details Hotel Providence 90 rue René Boulanger, 75010 Paris, France The IT verdict   Stylish boutique hotel with bundles of charm, perfect for young-at-heart Paris-bound travellers wanting to tap into the city’s design, fashion and tech scene.   Location: 8.5/10   Away from central (read touristy) Paris, the Hotel Providence is in a quiet nook of the uber-hip 10th arrondissement, chockablock with tiny boutiques and cafes.   Style/character: 10/10   Chic, stylish boutique hotel with a lot of attention to detail.   Service: 9/10   Front desk staff excellent. Some waiters could focus on client requests more attentively.   Rooms: 10/10   Whimsical and practical, each room had bucketloads of distinctive charm, plus a private cocktail bar. Bedding is sublime.   Food and drink: 9/10 Excellent expansive breakfast (for France) and an interesting range of tasty, reasonably priced dishes for lunch and dinner. There are plenty of excellent places to eat nearby too, such as Restaurant 52.   Value for money: 10/10 Exceptionally good value for money, especially on weeknights. We paid $338 per night. All IT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.
The best castle and manor house hotels in Ireland
Sample some of the best castle and manor house hotels in Ireland to help you find just the right retreat for an indulgent stay. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! The old joke that you don’t travel to Ireland for the weather is entirely true. Ireland is not the kind of place that a ‘sun-worshipping, cocktails-by-the-pool-from-11am-till-late’ wife like mine would naturally seek out. So to convince her to spend a valuable week of her European travel time on the Atlantic Ocean’s eastern break wall required a compelling itinerary.   Hence my ‘Great Castle and Manor Hotel Stays of Ireland’ itinerary, featuring a series of properties that stretch from the approachable and affordable to those of the more wallet-busting once-in-a-lifetime variety. But no matter how stately or opulent, they all reveal the heart and history of Ireland and its people. Ballyfin, County Laois 105 kilometres; a 90-minute drive south-west of Dublin Talk about a sense of arrival: two butlers wait on the steps of this magnificent Georgian manor house as we edge the car gently over the driveway that divides it from the lawn, the helipad and the man-made lake.   After soaking in the vista, we enter the foyer. Underfoot is an ancient Roman mosaic, purchased in 1822 by the home’s then owner, Sir Charles Coote. His family’s unofficial motto ‘cost what it may’ explains a lot about Ballyfin’s grandeur.   With a glass of Billecart in hand we pass under two enormous Irish elk antlers as we enter the reception room; each antler is perhaps two metres from tip to tip. Some 10,000 years old, having been petrified in an Irish bog, the antlers were bought by Ballyfin’s current owners.   With check-in completed, we are presented with a bewildering array of civilised leisure activities to indulge in. The sun is shining so boating on the lake may be just the trick; or perhaps a horse and cart tour of the grounds? The walk to the castle ruins at the top of the hill, with views to seven different counties seems a little too strenuous so we can opt to take the golf cart instead. Clay pigeon shooting might be too noisy, while a tour of the vegetable garden requires more energy than everything else put together thanks to the endless rows of pampered veggies.   Instead we opt for a dozy read, but yet again we are faced with options. The Gold Room is remarkable, but the shimmer from Napoleon’s sister’s chandelier (no kidding) is a little distracting. The fireplace in the Saloon is comfy but there are no windows to take in views of the grounds. We settle for the Library with its outlook to the fountain. Tea and home-made biscuits are served.   This remarkable grand home, set on over 248 hectares, is a refined sanctuary indeed. It survives today as a 20-room hotel thanks to a meticulous eight-year restoration by its new American owners. Or perhaps patrons would be a more accurate description.   The effort that went into not only rescuing the house from abandonment and decay, but also into elevating it to its original glory is breathtaking. It’s hardly surprising that it took out Condé Nast Traveler’s best hotel in the world in 2016. But it’s not the rare artefacts, four-poster beds or fine linens that make a hotel of this calibre, it’s the sense of place in landscape and in time. Everything is true to the property’s heritage; the owners even found, purchased and reinstalled many of the original family’s portraits.   A great example of this craftsmanship and devotion can be found in the Conservatory. Over a traditional Irish lunch of smoked salmon potato salad and gammon, I crane my neck to admire the 3000-plus unique panes of glass painstakingly measured and cut to fit each slightly different frame.   Staying at Ballyfin is a privilege; nowhere else in the world has so much been done to preserve an experience, place and style. Cost what it may indeed. Ashford Castle, County Mayo 241 kilometres; a 2.5-hour drive west of Dublin Ashford is probably the most famous of the castle hotels in Ireland. Once the home of the mighty Guinness family, the estate has been operating as a hotel since 1939.   Now part of Red Carnation Hotels, the castle is more a Disneyland of posh adventures than mere accommodation, where you can live the life of the landed gentry, if only for a day.   Visitors and guests alike come to enjoy the myriad experiences: the castle, the lodge, golf course, a tea boutique, a falconry school, equestrian centre, clay pigeon shooting, fishing centre, spa, zip line, a tree-climb park. The estate sits between the shoreline of the country’s largest lake, Lough Corrib, and the beguiling village of Cong.   The castle itself is a maze of rooms filled with porcelain and silver collections. It’s the kind of place where finding a billiards room complete with a cigar terrace is par for the course. The walls are decorated with images of the countless celebrities who have either visited, stayed or been married here, from presidents (Ronald Reagan) to rock stars (John Lennon).   There are three restaurants that cater to guests and the public, who mostly come to admire the magical gardens and the castle itself.   We sleep and dine in the castle’s more ‘approachable’ (read: affordable) accommodation, Ashmore Lodge, as the castle is booked out; it’s a tough ask to get a room in the middle of summer. The lodge is more modern-American than Irish-heritage. Our suite has a fireplace and is homelier than the much more ornate rooms of the castle.   At Wilde’s, the lodge’s restaurant, the food is fabulous with quirky touches: the dough for our bread is smoked, adding an extra five hours to the baking time; the duck arrives in the pan in which it has been cooked with sprigs of pine needles and orange in an aniseed jus.   [caption id="attachment_44593" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Junior Suites[/caption] Ashford Castle is faultless, but with 60 per cent of its guests coming from America, it sometime presents like a little slice of the US in Ireland. Gregans Castle Hotel, County Clare 238 kilometres; a three-hour drive west of Dublin More country home than castle, Gregans is a cosy hotel in one of my favourite regions of Ireland, the Burren (pronounced the ‘burn’). A geological marvel in County Clare, the Burren is a stark landscape of grey limestone pavement that looks beaten by the Atlantic gales; it was in fact carved by glaciers 60 million years ago. Gregans sits at the very bottom of the test-tube-shaped Ballyvaughan valley, with views across Galway Bay to the city itself.   The hotel, compact in size with a bar, library and dining room, is a refined and calming experience of luscious interiors and beautiful food operated by the second generation of owners, husband and wife Simon Haden and Frederieke McMurray.   Locally, the restaurant is famous for being one of the best in the Burren. We feast on local smoked salmon with crème fraîche and chocolate mousse while lounging in the bar. An elegant meal, it betrays the deep quality of everything at Gregans; the food, wine list, service and interiors are all sumptuous.   Our room has views down the valley to the bay. A subtle green and white colour palette is understated and muted (Frederieke’s career as a textile designer shows in the beautiful textures and exquisite fabrics that cover all the surfaces), resulting in a soothing aesthetic. Simon’s cats can often be found sleeping on the lounges and chairs throughout the hotel.   In fact, Gregans is so intimate and seductive that it’s hard to tear yourself away to explore the Burren. Ballynahinch, County Galway 275 kilometres; just over three hours’ drive west of Dublin Ballynahinch is a snug and refined castle hotel set on the Salmon River below the Twelve Bens mountain range in what is a gorgeous slice of Ireland, Connemara. A castle has been standing on the grounds here since 1546, when the husband of Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s Pirate Queen, built a defence-orientated abode.   But the turreted roof on today’s building is all for show; it was largely built in 1756 and then renovated in 1813 by ‘Humanity Dick’, AKA Richard Martin who was famous for duelling and introducing the first animal protection bill into the Irish parliament. In 1923 the estate was bought by Maharaja and cricket legend Ranjitsinhji, better known as ‘Ranji, the Prince of Cricketers’, a fishing enthusiast who would arrive each summer with five cars and then gift them to locals when he left in October.   Today Ballynahinch is everything you imagine a castle hotel should be. Our elegant cream-carpeted suite with cinnamon and grey tartan throws against salmon and white striped wallpaper has large windows that deliver exquisite views of the lawn, forest and river beyond.   The rustic Fisherman’s Pub and Ranji Room are the heart of Ballynahinch, where guests mingle on wooden tables and benches, sip Guinness and enjoy hearty Irish fare; the seafood chowder is comfort food at its best. The fine-dining option, the Owenmore, takes full advantage of the vista, with its terraces overlooking the river making it the place to be come summer.   Of course, Ballynahinch’s reputation is based on its fishing. Angling addicts flock here, but beginners like me can get their first taste of the regal art of fly-fishing under the learned tutelage of experienced guides; with the assistance of my guide Sean, I actually land a small trout. Castle Durrow, County Laois 108 kilometres; a 1.5-hour drive south-west of Dublin At the heart of Castle Durrow is a warm and unaffected Irish welcome that draws thousands from across the world. Husband and wife owners Peter and Shelly Stokes rescued the building in the 1990s, and after a three-year restoration of love, care and determination, opened it in 2002 as an approachable country escape.   Shelly’s unique aesthetic could best be described as quirky. In the bar it’s the battle of the taxidermy; animal skins compete with gleaming silver deer heads on the walls, while the bar itself is pure Art Deco, with stacked crystal lamps reminiscent of New York’s Chrysler Building. The green tea-coloured Chinese wallpaper in the waiting room, which is stuffed with lounges, contrasts brilliantly with everything else. It is all so unpretentious and whimsical.   Our room, Lady Hannah, named after one of Peter and Shelly’s daughters, comes complete with a four-poster bed and stylish en suite filled with Molton Brown’s finest.   The grounds cater to the lucrative weddings market; the walled garden, grotto and lawn are designed with wedding albums in mind. And on Sundays locals pile in for ‘the best Sunday lunch in the county’ in the bar, with the convivial atmosphere making guests feel a part of village life.   Of all the castle stays, Castle Durrow is one of my favourites for its unaffected welcome. It’s like going home for the weekend, just to a really, really big house.
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Candelaria, Paris.
5 secret bars in Paris and how to find them
In theory, going out for a cocktail in Paris should be a thrill in itself, discovers Ruby Boukabou. Yet sometimes it can be disappointing – rude service, a crowded bar but with no actual mingling and an un-inventive cocktail list.   However, thankfully, things are changing on the cocktail scene in the French capital, and it’s not just the service. Secret cocktail bars have sprung up through central Paris where you arrive through restaurant kitchen doors, pizza fridges and even via a washing machine in a laundromat.   Not only do these establishments promise exciting entrances, but also thoughtful, themed decor, delicious cocktails and friendly (!) French mixologists. Welcome to the other side.   (NB: Most open at 6pm so if you want to be sure to grab a good seat and have time to chat leisurely to the bar staff, arrive early; if you prefer to arrive when there’s plenty of action, it’s after 10pm. Most close at 2am, some later on weekends.) Moonshiner [caption id="attachment_44355" align="alignnone" width="600"] Moonshiner cocktail. Image via Pierre Lucet Penato[/caption]   How to get there Push through the walk-in fridge inside Da Vito pizzeria in Bastille, 5 rue Sedaine, 75011 (right near metro Bréguet-Sabin, or a five-minute walk from metro Bastille). Vibe Very dimly lit prohibition speakeasy style with couches, an old record player and 1920s-style decor. A cool crowd, quite a few groups of friends, busy and fun. Signature drink Go for a classic Old Fashioned. Candelaria [caption id="attachment_44354" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Outside Candelaria. Image via Fabien Voileau.[/caption]   How to get there   Through an unmarked door at the back of the tiny, popular taqueria in the Marais at 52 rue de Saintonge, 75003 (metro Filles du Calvaire). Vibe   Candlelit, shabby-chic, small, cosy and low key with relaxed staff and a DJ. Date friendly. Signature drink   ‘La Guêpe Verte’ – The Green Wasp! Tequila Altos Blanco with chilli mixed with cucumber, coriander, agave and lime. Bar a Naan [caption id="attachment_44356" align="alignnone" width="600"] Baranaan, Paris.[/caption]   How to get there   Push through the door with the tiger artwork down the hallway inside the Indian canteen-style restaurant Elaichi, situated near the Porte Saint-Martin at 7 rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 (metro Strasbourg- Saint-Denis). Vibe   Imagine the swinging dining carriage of a train travelling through India (video footage of the view from the window is screened on the walls and there’s dining car-like booths). It’s festive and friendly with delicious, inventive cocktails, a naan oven by the bar and flamboyant, bindi-wearing staff. Signature drink   Try the Casa del Kali (Kali is an Indian divinity and the cocktail lives up to its name). It combines Tequila, Mezcal, Campari, lime juice and more surprises. Made with love. Lavomatic [caption id="attachment_44357" align="alignnone" width="600"] Signage outside Lavomatic, Paris.[/caption]   How to get there   Climb through a washing machine (!) at the Laundromat at 30 rue René Boulanger, 75010 near metro Republic (don’t worry, you’ll know which one and won’t get tangled up in someone’s wet washing as the bar is now quite popular and there’s security controlling numbers –  so get there early, or be patient). Vibe [caption id="attachment_44358" align="alignnone" width="600"] Inside Lavomatic, Paris.[/caption]   Colourful, appropriately sparkly clean and rather like being in someone’s trendy apartment (low tables, benches, stools, books to browse and swings to kick back in). You’ll find a young, hip French and international crowd. Signature drink [caption id="attachment_44359" align="alignnone" width="600"] A fruity cocktail inside Lavomatic, Paris.[/caption]   Many to try, but the Basil Instinct is pretty delicious and refreshing with cucumber, elderflower, lemon and gin. La Mezcaleria  + Malicia [caption id="attachment_44360" align="alignnone" width="600"] Inside Mezcaleria, Paris.[/caption]   How to get there   Through the kitchen behind the hotel bar at the Inka (1K) hotel at 13 Boulevard du Temple, 75003 (metro Filles du Calvaire or Oberkampf but also a short walk from Republic). Vibe   You’re instantly transported into a cool, laid-back bar in Oaxaca in Mexico, known for mezcal. If you’re a little claustrophobic this is the one for you – with high ceilings and space to move (and you may want to after a mezcal or two as its playlist is pretty groovy). Signature drink   The Rangolada cheekily combines mezcal and rum, but before diving in, check with the expert mixologists behind the bar who can talk you through the various options to match your taste including frozen slurpy-style mezcal creations.   NB: If you see the famous Ben Tyler (slim with tats and often darting around somewhere in the background), tell him Ruby sent you and if it’s possible, he may sneak you into Malicia – another secret bar – behind this secret bar. Très mind bending! Le Ballroom du Beefclub How to get there   Head through the fire escape-looking door next to the Beef Club restaurant (in central Paris near metro Chatalet/Les Halles) and wind down the fairly light-lit concrete stairs to arrive at this very cool bar run by the reputed Experimental Group. Vibe   Prohibition speakeasy feel with dark colours and dim lighting through three intimate rooms, the bar staff clad in waistcoats and a DJ playing on weekends. Perch at the bar or get cosy on a couch.  A good place to discuss life, love and the universe. Snacks are available. Signature drink   The Lillibiscus – made with Mezan Guyana 2002 rum, homemade hibiscus syrup and ginger ale.        
The 'Sleeping Beauty' castle, (Deutsche Märchenstraße) in Hofgeismar on the Germany Fairytale Route.
The German Fairytale Route: where your childhood favourites were born
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