Train in Switzerland
Switzerland, land of the jaw-dropping train journey
Known for its unrivalled beauty and spectacular panoramic rail journeys, Switzerland is the ultimate destination for nature-lovers and train enthusiasts.   For a country just two-thirds the size of Tasmania, you might be surprised that you can actually embark on an epic journey through a series of majestic mountains, endless verdant valleys and glassy lakes via 1200 kilometres of tracks, encompassing four language regions, passing through more than 90 tunnels and over about 295 bridges in just 10 days! [caption id="attachment_47657" align="alignnone" width="600"] Switzerland at it's finest.[/caption] Whether you pick the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, which can be completed in a leisurely 10 days, or the specially designed Ultimate Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, which not only takes 13 days, but also includes hotel stays at some of the country’s most on-trend establishments, the sheer magnificence of the landscape will have your jaw dropping. Here, we’ve highlighted some of the most incredible journeys on rails. Jungfraujoch: Top of Europe A ride up to Europe’s highest-altitude railway station, sitting at 3,466 metres above sea level, Jungfraujoch, connected to the Top of Europe building, is where you will enjoy unobstructed views of the regions’ snow-capped peaks and glacial valleys. While you may want to marvel at the view outside, you won’t want to miss the Ice Palace ice caverns on the inside either. Make sure you allocate some time to appreciate the many ice sculptures on display here beneath the glacier. There is even a bar made of ice, if you want to take time out for a beverage or two! [caption id="attachment_47658" align="alignnone" width="600"] Switzerland has ice like nowhere else.[/caption] GoldenPass MOB Panoramic The GoldenPass MOB Panoramic is an ideal sampler of Switzerland’s premium panoramic train routes for the more time-poor traveller. This short and sweet 1 hour, 48 minute journey links the quaint village of Zweisimmen in the Bernese Oberland with Montreux, the charming French-speaking town that was once home for Queen singer Freddy Mercury, and is still home to the world’s second-largest jazz event, the Montreux Jazz Festival. [caption id="attachment_47659" align="alignnone" width="600"] Wild perfection.[/caption] For the ultimate travel-back-in-time Orient Express experience, jump on the charming ‘Belle Epoque’ train, which runs daily from Montreux to Château-d’Oex, Gstaad and Zweisimmen. For the full experience in these beautifully kept carriages, a cold dish can be requested during reservation. Glacier Express A 7.5-hour journey between Zermatt and St Moritz, the Glacier Express is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest train journeys. Thoroughly scenic from start to finish, the views through the wide panoramic windows and skylights make the most of the slowest express train in the world as it crosses an astounding 291 bridges, passes through 91 tunnels, and ascends up to 2033 metres (the highest point of the track). A large part of the Glacier Express also travels along the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Rhaetian Railway. [caption id="attachment_47660" align="alignnone" width="600"] Flowers in full bloom.[/caption] Adding to the already impressive experience is the sheer comfort and class of the modern train service and the delicious hearty meals offered on board. Bernina Express A four-hour journey between Chur in the north and Tirano in the south, the Bernina Express is another unforgettable Swiss train experience. Regardless of your start or end point, you will be utterly gobsmacked by the contrasting scenery from icy glaciers to leafy palm trees. The journey stretches 122 kilometres, passing through 55 tunnels and crossing a series of 196 bridges and viaducts, including the Rhaetian Railway. In summer, there is also an extended service on the Bernina Express bus that connects Tirano to Lugano in three hours.   Gotthard Panorama Express Operating twice a day from April to October, the Gotthard Panoramic Express is an unforgettable three-hour cruise and rail experience. The itinerary travels between the historical city of Lucerne in the heart of Switzerland and the Italian-speaking Lugano and Bellinzona in the sun-kissed Mediterranean south. [caption id="attachment_47661" align="alignnone" width="600"] Picturesque rivers.[/caption] Highlights en-route include the historic paddle steamer ride on Lake Lucerne; the church of Wassen from three different angles, thanks to the loopy railway layout; and the journey past the Rütli Meadow, which saw the founding of Switzerland in 1291.   Whether you choose to experience part of the suggested journeys or the full itinerary, by the end of your tour, you will no doubt have a much better understanding and deeper appreciation for Swiss engineering as well as the country’s pristine scenery. [caption id="attachment_47662" align="alignnone" width="600"] River deep, mountain high.[/caption] To enjoy these journeys, you’ll need a Swiss Travel Pass, which then allows you unlimited access to all the country’s public transportation system of trains, buses and boats, up to 50 percent off mountain and cableways, and free entry to more than 500 museums. Children under 16 travel for free with an accompanying adult using the Pass.   [caption id="attachment_47663" align="alignnone" width="600"] Is this the prettiest country in the world?[/caption] See here for more information on rail packages.
InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort
Hotel review: InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort
Tucked away off the coast of Cambodia lies the Vietnamese island of Phú Quoc, a hidden paradise that is set to become the next must-see destination for island lovers and experience seekers alike. Rising up from the palm-lined coast on the south-west side of Vietnam's Phú Quoc Island stands the InterContinental Phú Quoc Long Beach Resort, one of the first of many international resorts to open on the island. The design of the resort, with a 19-storey middle tower flanked by two wings that wrap around the main pool, is impressive but not imposing, thanks to an abundance of tropical plants – especially the palms and rooftop gardens that work to almost blend the resort into the natural landscape of the island. [caption id="attachment_47554" align="alignnone" width="600"] At the end of each day, everyone in the resort stops to watch the sun set over the water.[/caption] Upon arrival at the Intercontinental Phú Quoc you're met with the uniquely designed foyer of the main tower (the traditional basket boats that line the ceiling are a striking addition), and taken through to the windowless reception that opens out to give you views of the pool that seemingly stretches out to meet the sea. Details InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort Bai Truong, Duong To Ward, Phú Quoc, Kien Giang, Vietnam The room [caption id="attachment_47556" align="alignnone" width="600"] A view of one of the rooms available at the InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort.[/caption] The resort has 459 rooms, suites and villas to choose from that vary in size to cater for groups, families and couples. But three nights in the Panoramic Suite is enough to ruin you for all other accommodation. At 101 square metres, the suite features an open-plan bedroom, office, lounge and bar that connects to a large bathroom with a bath and shower, separate toilet and walk-in wardrobe. Tall glass doors open out onto your own generous-sized balcony with views of the beach to be enjoyed from your outdoor setting. [caption id="attachment_47558" align="alignnone" width="600"] The poolside Italian restaurant Ombra, is great for lunch, snack and freshly-made juices and smoothies.[/caption] It is the finer details that really make this room a standout: the sensor lights of the walk-in wardrobe, the view of the ocean from the deepest bath I have ever bathed in (complete with cushioned headrest and bath salts, of course!), the shower with sit-down bench – and multiple shower heads, and the balcony with private cabana for those days when you want to escape the other guests. Food and drink [caption id="attachment_47559" align="alignnone" width="600"] An aerial look at the resort's LAVA restaurant.[/caption] There are six restaurants and bars to choose from with a variety of different cuisines on offer. Ombra is the resort's Italian restaurant, located just beside the main pool area. You can also order fresh juices and smoothies for a lighter option; I'd recommend a mango and mint smoothie. A full buffet breakfast is served at Sora & Umi (you must go the full Vietnamese spread for breakfast at least once) and it is also a Japanese and Vietnamese restaurant at night. [caption id="attachment_47561" align="alignnone" width="600"] Watch the waves roll in as you enjoy a meal at LAVA.[/caption] For an extra special night out, you need to eat at LAVA, the resort's seafood and steak restaurant. You'll be able to watch the waves roll in from your table and dine under the stars. Then there is Sea Shack to satisfy your barbecue craving, Pearl for a fusion of international cuisines, and finally INK 360. [caption id="attachment_47562" align="alignnone" width="600"] Take the lift up to the 19th floor to find INK 360, the resort's rooftop bar.[/caption] The rooftop bar – which is the highest sky bar on the island – is the work of Australian-born interior designer, Ashley Sutton. He's famous for his Iron Fairies bar in Tokyo and The Bookshop in Bangkok, and INK 360 is the latest in his growing list of fantastical creations. The ginormous octopus tentacles that spill out from the roof to envelop the bar will have you feeling like you've stumbled upon a shipwreck floating in the sky. Make sure you're here for sunset and order a Coral Mule from mixologist Giuseppe Tronik. The cocktail is adorned with a flowery pink snow mushroom, which is guaranteed to bring in the Instagram likes. [caption id="attachment_47563" align="alignnone" width="600"] The best place to watch the sunset is at INK 360 with a cocktail in hand.[/caption] Services [caption id="attachment_47564" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Harnn Heritage Spa is an oasis of tranquility.[/caption] No island holiday is complete without a spa treatment and the HARNN Heritage Spa is a tranquil oasis of indulgence that is too good to be missed. There are eight spa treatment rooms set within individual retreats overlooking a large lagoon filled with koi fish. Try the signature bamboo stick massage – it's like a hot rock massage only better! [caption id="attachment_47566" align="alignnone" width="600"] Retreat together as a couple and indulge in one of the many luxurious treatment options at the Harnn Heritage Spa.[/caption] You'll also find four outdoor swimming pools, a 24-hour gym complete with self-defence classes, kids' clubs for all ages with certified nannies, and you can pick up food supplies from the resort's grocer Mercado (or sit down for an ice-cream, Vietnamese coffee and a snack). [caption id="attachment_47569" align="alignnone" width="600"] Cool off in one of the many pools available at the resort.[/caption] Nearby activities A holiday on Phú Quoc can be as chilled or activity-packed as you want it to be. You don't have to have a standard resort holiday with every day spent by the pool, punctuated by meals and cocktails – unless that's your jam. The island has much more to offer than nice views. Hire a catamaran and go snorkelling Of course the InterContinental has a number of activities you can book within the resort, from cooking and cocktail classes, to basket boat rides and beach yoga sessions, but you can also take a catamaran out for the day, snorkel the nearby islands and enjoy a freshly cooked seafood meal on board. [caption id="attachment_47571" align="alignnone" width="600"] Go for a ride in a traditional basket boat.[/caption] Night markets, beaches, sculptures and cable cars The bustling night markets are only a short drive away (try the warm banana and sticky coconut rice wrapped in a banana leaf), as is Sao Beach. Or better yet, hire a motorbike and make your way to the secluded Starfish Beach. You'll need to pack food, drink and sun protection and ride along sandy trails through the national park to reach the beach. You'll find a colony of red starfish sunbathing in the crystal clear waters waiting for you.   Phú Quoc even has its own mini-version of Sculpture By The Sea at Sunset Sanato Beach Club. You'll find elephants on stilts coming out of the water and a large, imposing sculpture of a head sliced in two, adjoined by a doorway that visitors can walk through. [caption id="attachment_47572" align="alignnone" width="600"] The best views on the island are found on the Sun World cable car.[/caption] The island is also home to the world's longest non-stop sea cable car. The Sun World cable car connects An Thoi town on the south of the island with Hon Thom Island and it will take you 15 minutes each way. But it's the views of the pastel-coloured fishing boats that speckle the bright turquoise water below that really make this ride one to remember. [caption id="attachment_47573" align="alignnone" width="600"] The world's longest non-stop sea-crossing cable car can be found in Phu Quoc.[/caption] The IT verdict This resort has something for everyone. Families can take advantage of the first-class kids' clubs and kids' cooking classes and facilities, while couples can relax by the adult-only pools, wine and dine at the many restaurants, and splurge on indulgent spa treatments. [caption id="attachment_47568" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Harnn Heritage Spa takes care to make every detail of your time with them an indulgent experience.[/caption] Location: 9/10   More than half the island is a UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve, making it a lush green oasis that also boasts crystal-clear waters, powdery white sand and an average annual temperature of 27 degrees. It is a quick 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Phú Quoc, and the resort is a 15-minute drive from the airport. It is the perfect end to a longer stay in Vietnam for those looking to relax for a few days before returning to reality.   Style/character: 9/10   The style and decor of the resort can only be described as understated luxury. It seems that every detail has been designed with the sunset in mind: from the layout of the resort that aims to capture the ocean from every angle, to the rooftop bar, INK 360, on the 19th floor – which is arguably the best of many excellent places to watch the sun set over the ocean.   Service: 10/10   I can't fault the service I received at this resort. Staff were kind and attentive; there is a whole office space full of staff ready and waiting to organise activities for you on the island and in the resort. Checking in and out of the resort was seamless. [caption id="attachment_47555" align="alignnone" width="600"] The view from the bathroom in resort's Panoramic Suite.[/caption] Rooms: 9/10   Nearly all rooms have views of the ocean and each accommodation type is stylishly designed with superb attention to detail and understated luxury – regardless of whether you're staying in a classic room, suite or villa. [caption id="attachment_47576" align="alignnone" width="600"] Order the El Copete (like a pisco sour) at INK 360.[/caption] Food and drink: 9/10   Incredible variety and quality: the perfect mix of Vietnamese, seafood and modern international cuisine. The architectural design of each restaurant makes dining here as much of a visual feast for the eyes as it is an edible one. [caption id="attachment_47560" align="alignnone" width="600"] Dining inside the resort's LAVA restaurant is an experience not to be missed.[/caption] Value for money: 8/10   A King Bed Resort Classic Room (without ocean views) starts at $225 a night, which is an affordable resort holiday for most. You also get a fresh fruit bowl upon arrival and complimentary access to the wi-fi, the 24-hour gym and the resort's car park throughout your stay. Getting there: Vietnam Airlines flies direct to Ho Chi Minh City from Sydney and Melbourne in under nine hours and it is an additional 45-minute flight to reach Phú Quoc Island. Spend a few nights exploring incredible Saigon before changing pace by moving on to Phú Quoc.   My Dreamliner flight from Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City was more than comfortable, with generous sized economy seats, excellent service and good quality food and drink. There was also a wide selection of TV shows and films onboard to choose from, including the knock-out hit, Crazy Rich Asians.   Once you reach Phú Quoc you'll find taxis, cars and motorbikes for hire, and resort shuttles are available for getting around the island and to and from the airport. A new wing has recently opened at the airport, roads are being relaid and there is plenty of construction work underway in preparation for the expected influx of tourists in the coming years.   Do you need more help planning your Vietnam trip? Read our guide on everything you need to know before you go.
A first-timer’s guide to Marrakesh, Morocco
Marrakech is undoubtedly one of the most mesmerising cities in the world, filled with sights, scents and colour. Work your way through its fascinating neighbourhoods, past its breathtaking architecture, sampling its culinary wonders and discovering its must-do attractions. Morocco’s fabled ‘Rose City’ is a mesmerising metropolis fringed by rolling desert, oasis-like palmeries and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.   Marrakech’s rich heritage dates back nearly a thousand years; what was once an old caravan town along the sub-Saharan trading routes flourished into one of the great cities of the Maghreb. Nowadays the blush-pink ramparts, soaring minarets and medieval-plan medina are a constant reminder of the imperial city’s storied past.   Artists, writers and musicians have long been seduced by Morocco’s ‘Jewel of the South’. Travellers find themselves entranced by the heady atmosphere, riot of colours and chaotic collision of Berber, Arabic and French cultures that lay the foundations of modern Marrakech. Design lovers will delight in the blend of ancient artistry and today’s thriving creative scene that makes up the very fabric of the city.   Iconic French fashion designer and former resident Yves Saint Laurent famously said, “A visit to Marrakech was a great shock to me. The city taught me colour”. Whilst the maze-like medina, with its tangle of alleyways and bustling souks might overwhelm the senses – one can just as easily find respite in the secret rose-scented gardens, the pools of palatial hotels and terrace cafes with sweeping views over rose-tinted rooftops, palm trees and Moorish architecture set against a bright blue sky.   So if you feel the allure of the exotic, chaotic and utterly enchanting Marrakech, here’s our guide to finding the magic among the mayhem. Getting there  Qatar Airways flies from Sydney, Melbourne or Perth to Marrakech via Doha and Casablanca. Best time to visit Avoid the scorching summer. Visit in spring (mid-March to May) when the roses are in bloom in Morocco, or enjoy a mild autumn (from September to November). Neighbourhoods The Medina This is the Marrakech conjured up in everyone’s imagination. Getting lost in the labyrinthine alleyways is all part of the experience. The 11th-century, UNESCO-listed old town is surrounded by 16 kilometres of rammed-earth walls. Once you venture inside one of the city’s grand gates it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. While the dusty, narrow backstreets are mostly for foot traffic, make way for pack-laden donkeys and buzzing motorcycles. [caption id="attachment_47539" align="alignleft" width="600"] Shopping for Berber rugs is a must in the souks.[/caption] The souks (markets) have barely changed in centuries. Souk Semmarine, the main artery that runs through the medina, is piled high with pottery, fabrics, carpets, leatherwork and antiques. As you delve deeper into the vibrant bazaar you’ll witness workmen noisily plying their trade in the blacksmith’s quarter, the dyers’ souk strung with richly coloured skeins of wool, stalls spilling over with leatherwork and handcrafted carpets as well as the Spice Square heavily perfumed with the scent of amber, musk and orange blossom.   You’ll probably hear the carnivalesque Djemaa el Fna before you see it (hint: follow the drumbeats and Gnawa music). It’s the pounding heart of the medina, brought to life at dusk as hundreds of makeshift stalls are spread across the historic square and locals gather for an evening out. Ville Nouvelle During the French protectorate in the 20th century, the ‘New Town’ was built adjacent to the medina. The wide boulevards lined with tangerine trees, European bistros and Art Deco buildings are in stark contrast to the old town.   The Gueliz district is the locale for high-end restaurants, expensive boutiques and numerous art galleries, whilst the upmarket Hivernage, on the western edge of the medina, is where you’ll find the ultra-luxe hotels such as La Mamounia and the Royal Mansour. Mellah The separate 15th-century quarter is where the Jewish community once resided. Remnants of its Jewish history are the Miaara Jewish Cemetery and a few remaining synagogues. Kasbah Bab Agnaou is one of the most impressive gateways into the old citadel. The medina’s southern district is known for its stately Saadian architecture and arty cafes. [caption id="attachment_47544" align="alignleft" width="600"] Locals gather in the medieval walled city[/caption] What to do Sip mint tea overlooking Djemaa el Fna Secure yourself a spot on the terrace of Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier as the sun begins to set. Order a pot of Moroccan mint tea (a sweet amber-coloured tea made with fresh mint and sugar) and sit back to watch the open-air theatre unfold in the famous square below. [caption id="attachment_47549" align="alignleft" width="600"] Tea is served at Riad Yasmine[/caption] There’s a dizzying spectacle of soothsayers, snake charmers, magicians, fire-eaters, drumbeat dancers, airborne acrobats and mischievous monkeys performing tricks. Cooking Moroccan cuisine Learn how to make a tasty tagine, as well as other local favourites at La Maison Arabe’s cooking school. The half-day workshops are run by the historic riad, which was the first in Marrakech to open a restaurant for foreigners and entertained notable guests such as Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Jackie Kennedy.   Your efforts will be rewarded at the end of class when you get to tuck into a feast of Moroccan flavours in the elegant dining room. The workshop costs around $88 per person. Hit up a Hammam A hammam (bathhouse) is a unique Moroccan cleansing and purifying ritual. For first timers, it’s advised to visit a hammam tailored to tourists. Splurge on a spa day at the splendid Royal Mansour, even if it’s just to see the other-worldly, white-laced interiors. Opt for the 75-minute signature treatment. [caption id="attachment_47547" align="alignleft" width="600"] The lush courtyard here is its crowning glory[/caption] Yves Saint Laurent Museum Marrakech’s headline-grabbing attraction opened its doors in 2017. The museum is dedicated to the life and work of celebrated French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The building has a wow factor of its own – curvaceous lines, intricate lace-like brickwork, as well as an earthy terrazzo and terracotta facade. Berber Museum The small but fascinating museum located inside Jacques Majorelle’s former studio is a great introduction to Berber history and culture. The space exhibits over 600 Berber and North African objects collected by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé. La Maison de la Photographie The former fondouk (merchant warehouse) has been repurposed into a gallery for vintage photography. Beautifully curated exhibitions showcase Morocco through the nostalgic lens of the past. Café Clock Located deep within the Kasbah district Café Clock is as much a cultural hub as it is a cafe. Events include hikayat (traditional storytelling) evenings and Berber-style music and dancing. If you do stop by for lunch, order the legendary camel burger. Secret Garden The recently renovated Le Jardin Secret has opened its doors to the public. It’s a true sanctuary in the Moussaine district of the medina. Find shade beneath the elaborate pavilion, take a stroll through the palatial grounds and admire the gardens brimming with lavender and fruit trees – olive, pomegranate, fig and date to name a few. There’s an admission fee of about $7 for the gardens. Jardin Majorelle The botanical oasis dreamt up by French painter Jacques Majorelle is a must-visit for fashionistas as the iconic blue villa later became the home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. The couple found inspiration in the dreamy setting, where whimsical grounds are bursting with vivid bougainvillea, bamboo pathways and lofty cacti. [caption id="attachment_47541" align="alignleft" width="600"] Inside the Jardin Majorelle, with its signature blue villa.[/caption] Beldi Country Club A charming hotel favoured by glamorous jet-setter types, Beldi Country Club is a mere 15 minutes away from the city centre on the outskirts of Marrakech. Here you’ll uncover an eco-chic paradise – a sprawling five-hectare retreat with swimming pools, ancient olive trees, rose gardens and a glorious greenhouse. Where to shop Travellers have no trouble parting with their dirhams in this city. After your first spin around the souks, you’re likely to have walked away with a Berber rug under your arm and a pair of butter-soft babouche (leather slippers) on your feet. Once you’ve exhausted the souks, here are some worthwhile retail alternatives. Leave room in your luggage. In fact, bring an empty suitcase! Souk Cherifa A hip galleria-style shopping spot with boutiques sandwiched among the traditional souks. The stores are located in Mouassine neighbourhood, a somewhat up-and-coming design district within the medina. [caption id="attachment_47542" align="alignleft" width="600"] Exploring the souks of the medina is a quintessential Marrakech experience[/caption] Chabi Chic It won’t surprise you to know that two very stylish Parisian women are behind this contemporary store in the heart of the medina; it sells pottery, tableware, decorative objects and fashion accessories. Mustapha Blaoui This long-standing emporium is a treasure trove of beautiful Moroccan pieces; from intricate lamps, quality carpets to larger furniture. La Maison ArtC A high-end boutique in Gueliz run by Israeli designer Artsi Ifrah who lives and works in Marrakech making one-of-a-kind pieces from vintage fabrics. Historical sites El Badi Palace Visit the scattered ruins of a Saadian sultan’s 16th-century palace. The grand scale of the complex hints at El Badi Palace’s former glory, meanwhile beauty can still be found in the shimmering pools and sunken gardens. [caption id="attachment_47543" align="alignleft" width="600"] The ruins of 16-century El Badi Palace[/caption] The Saadian Tombs Said to be the only remains of the Saadian dynasty that ruled over Marrakech during the golden age of 1524–1659. Impressively laid with Carrara marble and decorative plasterwork, the extravagantly embellished tombs were long forgotten until they were rediscovered in 1917. Romantic spots A riad is a centuries-old Moroccan mansion transformed into a guesthouse, typically with an interior courtyard. Marrakech is the mecca of Morocco’s hip riad scene, with hundreds of atmospheric and often very affordable lodgings in the heart of the ancient medina. Hidden behind nondescript doors, many riads vaunt lush gardens, idyllic pools and sun-soaked rooftop terraces. [caption id="attachment_47545" align="alignleft" width="600"] Riad Yasmine’s photogenic plunge pool[/caption] El Fenn This eye-catching riad is luxuriously outfitted by Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard Branson) and Howell James. El Fenn remains a perennial favourite for aesthetes as each corner of this exquisite guesthouse pops with jewel-like colours and contemporary art. L’Hôtel Marrakech The passion project of British designer Jasper Conran, where guests sleep in luxe salons, each with a four-poster bed. The swoon-worthy interiors recall the glamour of the 1930s and boast Conran’s own personal collection of antiques. Dar Kawa Talented Belgian tastemaker and textile designer Valérie Barkowski transformed her Marrakech residence (formerly a 17th-century townhouse) into an intimate guesthouse. A sophisticated monochrome palette of black and smoky-grey is set against a bright, white backdrop. Riad Yasmine If you don’t mind sharing the sun loungers with a few posing Instagram influencers, taking a dip in this picture-perfect plunge pool is one of the perks of staying at Riad Yasmine. Riad Secret Jardin As the name suggests this is a peaceful haven, cleverly concealed behind heavy cedar doors. It’s owned and run by former French fashion duo Cyrielle and Julien, and while the saffron-yellow tadelakt (plastered) walls, stucco arches and filigree balustrades all impress, it’s the lush courtyard that makes it truly special. [caption id="attachment_47546" align="alignleft" width="600"] On the roof at the peaceful haven of Riad Secret Jardin[/caption] Riad Mena & Beyond This six-room riad is a design-enthusiast’s dream, with individually bedecked rooms that combine mid-century minimalism with Moroccan style. Plus, it has Philippe Starck-designed bathrooms, a heated outdoor pool and a bougainvillea-draped courtyard. [caption id="attachment_47540" align="alignleft" width="600"] Tranquil spots are easy to find at Riad Mena & Beyond[/caption] Where to see architecture  Ben Youssef Madrasa This 14th-century masterpiece was once the largest Qur’anic school in North Africa. It remains one of the finest examples of Arabic architecture in Marrakech. Koutoubia Mosque While non-Muslims are not allowed to enter mosques in Morocco, you can admire the towering minaret from across the city and listen as the muezzin’s call to prayer echoes throughout the walls of the medina. [caption id="attachment_47538" align="alignleft" width="600"] The towering Koutoubia Mosque[/caption] La Bahia Palace The opulent 19th-century palace was once home to the harem of notorious vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed, with sumptuous rooms for his four wives and 24 concubines. Exceptional examples of Moroccan craftsmanship can be admired in the details here.
How to spend 48 Hours in Cape Town
The South African city’s dining scene serves up everything from artisan coffee to buzzing bazaars, hipster eat streets and fine diners. Embarks on a food safari. DAY ONE 9.30am: Coffee confidence “Do I look focused?” asks Nasha, star graduate of Origin Coffee Roasting’s barista school and a self-described modern coffee wayfarer. “Well, I am.” The Zimbabwean loves an audience, and coffee-tasting demonstrations here provide a pre-converted one. [caption id="attachment_47404" align="alignleft" width="600"] Meet Origin Coffee Roasting’s expert barista Nasha[/caption] “Mum had a white friend who used to drink coffee obsessively and I was fascinated because we didn’t drink it,” he says. “When I came here, I saw it everywhere. I thought, I’m gonna be an expert.”   The fact that 12-year-old Origin, on Hudson Street in the trendy De Waterkant district, lays claim to being the city’s original ‘good coffee’ place tells you just how recent the ‘scene’ here is. The 22 year old raves about the relative merits of the aeropress versus the yama siphon, and then explains why Rwandan and Tanzanian beans are better than the altitudinally challenged local ones.   “I’m just an expert in ratio and time,” he says. The brews he serves up over the post-industrial counter confirms his substance matches his style. 10.45am: Looking for ‘bunny’ Nowhere lays this city’s cultural idiosyncrasies on the table better and faster than Eastern Food Bazaar on Longmarket Street in the city centre. To the sheltered traveller, the canteen is a cave of chaos, but it has its own natural flows and rhythms; queues sprout and wither equally speedily in the dual-entrance mall.   Ten shops purvey shawarmas, tandoor dosas, local sweet biryanis et al, celebrating Cape Town’s Asian and sub-continental food heritage. Local carb-and-curry overload ‘bunny chow’ best represents this: a loaf of white bread, de-cored, then filled with the not-too-spicy, fragrant and sweet Cape Malay curry.   It should sate a couple comfortably for 50 rand ($5). 12.30pm: Bree there or be square Legend has it that if you walk from one end of Bree Street to the other, at least one brand-new boutique will have sprung up by the time you walk back down it again. This is Cape Town’s coolest foodie corridor, a breath of culinary fresh air compared to tourist-magnet Long Street, a couple of blocks over. [caption id="attachment_47407" align="alignleft" width="600"] Stroll buzzy Bree Street[/caption] The pick of Bree’s eateries is Chefs Warehouse and Canteen, with its ever-changing tapas menu. It doesn’t take reservations, but you can wait at No Reservations bar for a free table. For a side of something different with your lunch, check out cafe and art space Red! The Gallery or FOLK COFFEE ANTHROPOLOGY, which has plenty of books to thumb through over coffee.   Or join the Cape’s beautiful people at Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room, with its fresh juices and all-day breakfasts, or at purveyor of ‘slow fast food’ Cafe Frank. Don’t miss nearby Bree Street institution Jason Bakery, where you can tuck into a ‘bacon chilli popper’ sandwich with freshly baked bread, a hand-made bagel with all the works, a filled brioche doughnut or carrot cake cheesecake. [caption id="attachment_47402" align="alignleft" width="600"] Don’t miss a sweet treat from Jason Bakery on Bree Street[/caption] 3.45pm: Grown-up shakes Where Bree Street peters out to the south, pop over one block to the Fire and Ice bar at Protea Hotel on New Church Street to peruse the ‘grown-up’ milkshake menu. Distrust your initial instincts; the marshmallow, caramel and pumpkin milkshake is the bomb. No, really. 6.45pm: Sushi surprise This may be the first time that I’ve recommended dinner at a shopping mall restaurant, but always eat where the locals do, as the maxim goes. Walk past the well-heeled stores at the Gucci end of Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre (V&A Waterfront) to the weirdly sophisticated Willoughby & Co for hands down some of SA’s finest sushi.   The ‘4x4 rainbow reloaded’ selection is on another level, especially the spicy and creamy rock shrimp roll. If sushi’s not your thing, try the line-fish curry.   There may be a queue, but you can order (and drink) a glass of wine to make the time fly. 8.45pm: DRINK IN the View Head back to your accommodation on the V&A Waterfront for a nightcap. The five-star Silo Hotel is located above the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (which houses Africa’s largest collection of contemporary African art), in the elevator portion of a historical grain silo. [caption id="attachment_47406" align="alignleft" width="600"] Spend some time on the V&A Waterfront[/caption] The hotel’s new-look exterior was designed by Heatherwick Studio, its 28 rooms are funky and art-focused, and its sixth floor Willaston Bar – serving cocktails and local and international wine – affords majestic views of the city and Table Mountain through its pillowed glass windows. DAY 2 9am: Pastels with flavour Working-class Bo-Kaap (literally, ‘above the Cape’) district has the prettiest gathering of pastel houses in Africa, which will live long in your Instagram feed. Traditionally the hue of each house represented the trade of the householder (or which colour paint was on sale that day, so goes the local gag). [caption id="attachment_47405" align="alignleft" width="600"] See the colourful houses of Bo-Kaap[/caption] Start your morning’s exploration of the area on a high at Harvest Cafe & Deli, an airy plant-filled space that serves beautifully presented dishes so tasty you might forget they’re good for you too.   Try a signature smoothie bowl (think spirulina, avocado, lime and banana with homemade salted chocolate granola, pomegranate and coconut) or pumpkin fritters with Greek yoghurt, berries and maple syrup, a twist on a South African classic. Best enjoyed on the building’s rooftop, with its panoramic views of Bo-Kaap and beyond. [caption id="attachment_47403" align="alignleft" width="600"] Eat breakfast at Harvest[/caption] 11am: Visit mom and pop Bo-Kaap, where freed Malay and mixed-race slaves settled, also happens to be its own mini food safari.   The trick is to poke your nose into all the little mom-and-pop cafes and tuck shops. Atlas Trading Company is a nice education in Cape Malay spice culture. Don’t miss the wee corner shop next to Biesmiellah restaurant for a traditional koeksister (deep-fried doughnut with honey glaze). 11.45am: Garden of eatin’ For the first time in 300 years, edible plants return to the Cape’s CBD. The traditional botanic Company’s Garden (the old Dutch East India Company property) hosts allotments for nearby Bo-Kaap families. [caption id="attachment_47409" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Old Biscuit Mill is a hub of art and cuisine[/caption] The permaculture veggie patches overflow with everything from gooseberries and grapes to wild garlic and sour figs plus a plethora of indigenous plants used in the prolific home-remedy industry.   It’s supposed to be look-but-don’t-taste, unless of course you chat to one of the gardeners. 1.15pm: The Devil’s drink Frankly, you’d have to be an idiot not to find a quality bottle of wine in Cape Town, but traditionally the same could not be said for beer.   Thankfully, the whole micro-brewery party is underway in earnest. On the cusp of mercurial Woodstock, you’ll find taprooms for party-starter Devil’s Peak Brewing Company, a vanguard that helped instil in South Africans that there is more to life than Castle lager.   The hero of the five micro-brew-and-food pairing is the nuptial between the zesty King’s Blockhouse IPA and extra-zesty Sriracha chicken. The view over actual Devil’s Peak (mountain) becomes more intense with every sip. 3.45pm: The Woodstock revival (for the rest of the day) Woodstock used to be the wrong side of the tracks (literally), a seedy side of town to say the least. Artists started to colonise it during the early noughties, redefining the vibe, until the multicultural neighbourhood became an artisanal circus of cafes, gin distilleries and galleries, with something different happening every night of the week. [caption id="attachment_47401" align="alignleft" width="600"] Dine in the ‘Light Room’ at experimental Test Kitchen[/caption] All roads lead to cuisine-and-art-hub The Old Biscuit Mill. Shop for presents of thought-provoking homewares in its artsy shops, then take a tour of the bean-to-bar Cocoafair for some pre-dinner Fairtrade 71 per cent ginger dark choccy.   Fortuitously, The Old Biscuit Mill happens to house two of South Africa’s most innovative and best restaurants, both brainchildren of chef Luke Dale-Roberts. The star is craftily designed Test Kitchen, which as the name gives away, is ‘a creative world of experimentation’.   Suffice to say, whether you choose this one or the Pot Luck Club – where sharing dishes are divided into five basic tastes: salty, sour, sweet, umami and bitter – this last stop on your food safari should be booked thoroughly in advance.
The ultimate Grand Canyon travel guide
For many, Grand Canyon National Park is a sightseeing coach stop, a natural tonic for the lights of nearby Las Vegas and a ‘been there’ photo opportunity. But the world’s most famous canyon in Arizona, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a national park, deserves better. As you’ll see here, it’s been home to people for thousands of years, and it took millions of years for the Colorado River to expose billions of years of geological history as it scoured a path down into the bedrock.   Bordered by several Native American reservations, the World Heritage site is steeped in Navajo, Havasupai and Hualapai culture and you can spend days walking trails with vistas of unparalleled scale. Perhaps you should pop to Vegas for a day and spend a week here instead… Getting there The Grand Canyon is split into two distinct zones, the North Rim and the South Rim.   It’s about a four-and-a-half-hour drive to get from one rim to the other, so ensure you  plan your trip accordingly. [caption id="attachment_47355" align="alignleft" width="600"] Toroweap Point – a jewel of the North Rim[/caption] If you’re keen to visit the North Rim, your best bet is to fly to Las Vegas, then drive the four and a half hours to the park.   If you're heading to the South Rim, from Phoenix it’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive.   For those without a car, the Arizona Shittle runs vans from Flagstaff to to the village three times a day. When to visit The best times to visit the Grand Canyon are March through May and September through November, when the crowds have shooed and daytime temperatures are predominantly cool.   If you decide to visit during the summer (the park's peak season), be prepared for hordes of tourists and very limited lodging availability. What to bring When travelling through Grand Canyon National Park, it's best to over prepare with your packing. We suggest sunscreen, a water bottle, optimum snacks, a camera, a small first-aid kit and a backpack to carry it all in. What to see Fit these natural and woman-made wonders into your Grand Canyon itinerary. Havasu Falls You’ll need to reserve a permit to hike to this natural spectacle in the Havasupai Indian Reservation.   A 30-metre waterfall cascades into a brilliant aqua-blue plunge pool that owes its colour to the high levels of calcium carbonate in the water, forming a stark contrast with the steep ochre cliffs of the creek. [caption id="attachment_47356" align="alignleft" width="600"] Havasu Falls – a view from the top[/caption] The 16-kilometre trail to the campground takes four to seven hours to hike, passing through the village of Supai. Horseshoe Bend See the Colorado River at its dramatic best from this vantage point on the rim of the Grand Canyon.   A view of the river carving a tight meander through the red rock, it’s perhaps the best spot to see how the power of water has hewn the steep sides of the Grand Canyon over millions of years.   Just outside the northern confines of the park, take a short walk from the highway to reach Horseshoe Bend and get snapping. Mary Colter architecture You wouldn’t think that architecture should be on your Grand Canyon agenda, but you’ll find the works of architect Mary Colter, who designed gift shops and other tourism structures sympathetic to the landscape here in the first half of the 20th century.   One of the few female architects of her day, she was the pioneer of a rustic style that incorporated Native American touches and traditional pueblo design. Make sure you head to Colter’s Hopi House and Desert View Watchtower. Tusayan Ruins Having marvelled at 20th-century faux Pueblo Indian architecture you can see the fascinating remains of the real thing at the 800-year-old Tusayan Ruins, a snapshot into the lives of people here before European settlement.   The low stone semi-circular walls of the main living area, storage rooms and a kiva, a ceremonial space, can be explored with a guide or by yourself on a short trail.   The Tusayan Museum here is a reconstruction of a Hopi Indian house. Whitewater Rafting One of the most spectacular places on the planet to go rafting, the Colorado River surges and at times sedately pours past gargantuan cliffs. Take a multi-day trip with experts in the field like advantage. Go Hiking The South Kaibab Trail gives you a taste of the gradients that make this place so special, rewarding you with the best views for your efforts.   It winds down the canyon to a campsite on the Colorado River, taking about four to five hours each way. [caption id="attachment_47353" align="alignleft" width="600"] Views from a hike in the Grand Canyon National Park[/caption] Desert view drive Rent a convertible for this one, a scenic drive that affords sweeping vistas of the Grand Canyon dotted with pull-over viewpoints along the way.   Plus it takes in the Tusayan Ruins and Museum, and Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower. Animal spotting Mountain lion You’ll be fortunate to spot the biggest predator in the park, aka the cougar; don’t worry, they’re not interested in humans. Tarantula The Aphonopelma behlei, a species of the world’s biggest spiders, lives here. Watch you don’t step on the four-inch beasts. Gila monster Like miniature Godzillas, these lizards have orange and black blotchy scales and lounge around in the surrounding deserts. Tiger salamander Look out for this striking black and yellow amphibian in pools and creeks around the Grand Canyon’s rim.  
The best and brightest hotel openings around the world
The latest and greatest hotels, resorts and unique stays to check into and check out right now. Kāmana Lakehouse, Queenstown, New Zealand Kāmana Lakehouse is the latest addition to Queenstown’s hotel offering. [caption id="attachment_47314" align="alignleft" width="600"] The beauty of the Kamana Lakehouse[/caption] Located high above Wakatipu Lake, the boutique property’s 73 rooms feature contemporary design (inspired by the Kāmana bird and its natural habitat) and luxe amenities, while the Living Space provides guests with a convivial social space complete with fireplaces and floor-to-ceiling windows with views to the lake and the surrounding mountains. LUX North Male Atoll, Maldives With bright jolts of colour that pop against the endless blue of sky and sea, LUX* North Male Atoll in the Maldives sets itself apart from other properties in this paradise. [caption id="attachment_47313" align="alignleft" width="600"] Walk the jetty at the new Lux Maldives[/caption] Its 67 two-storey residences sit on the beach or over water, each boasting a rooftop area, private pool and butler-style host. There are numerous restaurants, one overseen by the Maldives’ only Peruvian chef, Beach Rouge with its pool-club vibe, and an over-lagoon wellness spa. Hotel Indigo Phuket Patong Reflecting Phuket’s unique history and culture through its decor and guest experiences, the 180 spacious and vibrant rooms of Hotel Indigo mimic the area’s tropical location and buzzy nightlife. [caption id="attachment_47310" align="alignleft" width="600"] Take in the views at The Cloud rooftop swimming pool[/caption] There’s also a 24-hour fitness centre, authentic local dining experiences and a Muay Thai boxing ring with professional trainer on site. Four Seasons Bengaluru In the Indian city of Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), Four Seasons has installed the 230-room Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru and Four Seasons Private Residences into the hospitality, retail and corporate Embassy ONE development. [caption id="attachment_47309" align="alignleft" width="600"] Outside the Four Seasons[/caption] Conveniently located 30 minutes from the airport and well connected to the CBD, the sleek hotel features a selection of dining options, a pool, lush botanic gardens and spa. Iraph Sui, Okinawa Located in Japan’s unique tropical paradise, the luxurious rooms of this boutique property all have balconies overlooking white-sand beaches, with several boasting private pools. Plus the spa incorporates local Okinawan ingredients. [caption id="attachment_47311" align="alignleft" width="600"] The pool at the Iraph Sui[/caption] Tengile River Lodge, South Africa Luxury safari and experiential travel company andBeyond has recently opened the brand new Tengile River Lodge, a luxurious lodge in South Africa’s Sabi Sand Game Reserve, and boy is it magical. The nine-suite lodge offers a high level of exclusivity and sense of tranquillity with a contemporary bush design. Each of the suites features a private deck with a swimming pool, an outdoor lounge and a master bedroom that opens out onto a luxurious bathroom with an outdoor shower and views over the river. Built with an extremely light footprint, using sustainable construction materials and an environmentally friendly design, the lodge has also been cleverly positioned on a bend of the Sand River, so that each suite is nestled in the tree line along the riverfront and boasts a magnificent view out over the Sand River, an area inhabited by a world-renowned diversity of wildlife. The elegant design concept is based around blending luxury with the natural landscape and bringing the outdoors inside, drawing inspiration from the textures of the surrounding bush. Pullman Luang Prabang, Laos This new five-star resort is located 10 minutes away by car from Luang Prabang’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town. [caption id="attachment_44535" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Located in Luang Prabang, it is within 2.9 miles of Night Market and 3 miles of Mount Phousy[/caption]   Its 16 hectares encompass 123 modern guest rooms with large terraces, a two-bedroom villa and a healthy scattering of infinity pools and streams. The Pullman Luang Prabang is now the largest hotel in town, but its low-rise architecture – which draws on traditional Laotian influences – sees it blend in well with the surrounding natural landscape.   Guests can dine on international cuisine at L’Atelier and sink a cocktail overlooking paddy fields at the Junction. One&Only Nyungwe House, Rwanda   Promising a real once-in-a-lifetime experience, One&Only Nyungwe House sits within the dense Green Expanse of a tea plantation, next to Ancient Montane rainforest.   Wild experiences such as chimpanzee Trekking or walking among majestic mahogany trees allow guests to max out the incredible setting.   The 23 rooms and suites combine local African craftsmanship with a contemporary look and feel, Plus there’s a Spa that uses natural products from luxury brand Africology. FREIgeist Göttingen, Germany   Located in the historic university town of Göttingen, in Germany’s Lower Saxony, Hotel Freigeist is a relentlessly modern new build (and a member of Design Hotels) featuring 118 rooms.   The décor continues the theme, with wood and copper fittings throughout contrasted against a palette of grey bricks, neutrals and shots of blue, and Basquiat-inspired artwork.   The whole thing has a Nordic vibe (enhanced by the on-site sauna), but in Intuu, its signature restaurant, it’s Japanese/South AmericaN Fusion all the way. Omaanda, Namibia   Omaanda is nestled in the Namibian savannah in the heart of the Zannier private animal reserve. Its 9000-hectare footprint, which offers lashings of peace and quiet and natural beauty, houses 10 luxury huts inspired by traditional Owambo architecture.   Ambo Delights restaurant offers cuisine inspired by the best local produce, while the bar at the edge of the heated swimming pool has views over the savannah. The Shangai Edition    A perfect blend of old and new Shanghai, the 145-room Shanghai EDITION sees Nanjing Road’s 1929 Art Deco Shanghai Power Company building fused with a new-build skyscraper.   Its various food and drink options include star chef Jason Atherton’s HIYA (translated to ‘clouds in the sky’), a Japanese izakaya-inspired eatery on the 27th floor. Six Senses Maxwell, Singapore   The Six Senses group has had a busy year, having already opened properties in Singapore and Fiji; now comes Six Senses Maxwell.   A sister property to Six Senses Duxton, the wellness brand’s first city hotel, the 120-room property is also retrofitted into a historic Singapore colonial-style building and features Euro-chic interiors courtesy of French architect and designer Jacques Garcia. The Apurva Kempinski, Bali   The first Kempinski hotel to open in Bali is a suitably grand reflection of Balinese architecture and craftsmanship.   Situated in the Nusa Dua area of the island, the hotel boasts 475 rooms, suites and villas and all the requisite inclusions expected from the luxury brand, from five dining options to a 60-metre swimming pool to an ocean-facing spa and a cigar and shisha lounge.   It even has its own beachfront wedding chapels.  
What to do in Bern, Switzerland
Bern, the capital city of Europe’s most scenic country, Switzerland, looks as though it is peeled directly from the pages of a fairy-tale book. With the old city surrounded on three sides by the turquoise waters of the flowing river Aare, a sea of medieval buildings spanning the old town and the spire of the Bern cathedral piercing the blue sky, Bern is a sight not to be missed. Staying in Bern Switzerland is renowned for being one of the most beautiful (and most expensive) countries in Europe. Bern is no exception – particularly when considering accommodation. The Bellevue Palace If you have the money to spend, for around $600 a night you can book yourself into Bern’s best hotel: the Bellevue Palace. With five stars and set in the heart of the city, the Bellevue was built in 1865 as an upmarket hotel, and has remained that way. [caption id="attachment_47240" align="alignleft" width="600"] Grand exteriors of The Bellevue Palace[/caption] Luxe red velvet curtains, decorative cornices and bay windows are some of the features of this luxurious hotel, where even sleeping is an experience in itself. Hotel Jardin For a more affordable stay in Bern, consider the Hotel Jardin for $195 a night. Offered in this price is a comfortable queen bed, free tea and coffee in the concierge and free use of public transport throughout the city. [caption id="attachment_47243" align="alignleft" width="600"] Hotel Jardin is a more affordable accommodation in Bern[/caption] With colourful rooms, all the modern amenities and great customer service, this is an excellent and less costly alternative to the Bellevue. Floating on Aare The best experience to be had in Bern, if the weather permits, is to go floating down the crystal clear waters of the fast-flowing river Aare. Dissecting the city, a swim down the river not only offers Bern’s most unique experience, but also some of the best views. [caption id="attachment_47245" align="alignleft" width="600"] The River Aare in the heart of Bern[/caption] The water, flowing from the Upper Rhine, is essentially glacial water making its way down from the mountains, meaning the river is both fast and freezing (and remarkably refreshing).   This activity is not for the faint-hearted, although reasonably safe, with exit points all along the river.   It is advisable for non-so-confident swimmers to engage a flotation device like a ‘Wickelfisch’, which seconds as a bag to store your clothes and shoes. Bear spotting at Bärengraben Legend has it that the city of Bern was actually named after a bear, the first animal that the Duke of Zähringen found on a hunt in the surrounding areas. [caption id="attachment_47246" align="alignleft" width="600"] The bears can be watched from above[/caption] Therefore, visiting the Bear Pit, stationed beside the River Aare, is a fitting thing to do while in town.   The three bears – Finn, Björk and Ursina – can be watched from above, or below (through a glass divider), paddling in the fresh river or scaling the hill to find a good sunbaking spot.   You can also enjoy a delicious dinner at Brasserie Bärengraben, situated above the bear park in a historic building. At this restaurant you can enjoy duck terrine with onion confit, foie gras with wine jam and marinated mussels. [caption id="attachment_47248" align="alignleft" width="600"] Enjoy a delicious dinner at Brasserie Baerengraben[/caption] Explore the old town on foot Only six kilomtres at its widest point, the Bern’s old town is perfect for exploring on foot.   A UNESCO World-Heritage site, it’s renowned for its perfectly preserved medieval buildings and is home to the Bern cathedral and clock tower. These monuments, straight out of the storybooks of your childhood, should definitely be on your Bern itinerary. [caption id="attachment_47249" align="alignleft" width="600"] The old town clock tower[/caption] While in the old city, have a wander through the boutique shops and admire the sculptured fountains, framed by posies of red flowers against the carved stone. These fountains, found all through the Old Town, are the perfect place to wash your face and fill your water bottle, as the water is pumped straight from the glacial waters below. [caption id="attachment_47239" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wander through the streets of this UNESCO world heritage site[/caption] Immerse yourself in Swiss cuisine Swiss food, although somewhat pricey in Bern, is an important part of exploring the city.   Swiss chocolate, the most famous chocolate in the world, is best eaten at Läderach. With three stores in the city, it offers chocolate slabs that come in an immense range of different concoctions. [caption id="attachment_47251" align="alignleft" width="600"] Laderach chocolate is a local favourite[/caption] Try the hazelnut milk (we are talking whole hazelnuts), classic milk or caramel fudge.   To supplement the above food group, head out and try a Swiss rösti. The rösti, essentially a big hash brown, is often accompanied by a range of hearty ingredients. The best rosti in Bern can be had at the famous Kornhauskeller, where they’re served with tomato, bacon, onion and cheese.   Other delectable items on the menu here include boiled beef with smoked ham and bacon, thin-skinned beef carpaccio and grilled sea bass fillets with tomatoes, olive oil and thyme. Not only is the food brilliant, but the Kornhauskeller also boasts baroque architecture and is located in a vault in the centre of the old town. [caption id="attachment_47252" align="alignleft" width="600"] Kornhauskeller is waiting[/caption] Other places to consider a night out are Krone restaurant for a delicious Mediterranean feed and Wash Bar (a trendy bar for ‘coffee, drinks and laundry’) where you can multitask your afternoon away, meeting some locals while you clean your clothes. Satisfy your inner child with a toboggan run down Gurten Gurten, Bern’s resident mountain, has a lot to offer. Standing tall at 860 metres above sea level, you can scale it by train or foot for a fantastic view over the city and three lakes region.   Add toboggan runs for all seasons into the mix – one of Bern’s most loved and cheap-as-chips activities – and you’ll find a day on Gurten is a day well spent.
Where to find Nonna-style pizza and pasta in Rome
From hole-in-the-wall pizza joints to fine diners and all the trattorias in between: here’s where to find the best traditional cuisine in Italy’s Eternal City. As any seasoned foodie traveller will tell you, a trip to Rome is incomplete without indulging in carbs, Italian-style – you know, the world’s best pizza, pasta, focaccia bread dipped in balsamic vinegar?   The city serves up a maze of authentic and traditional restaurants to discover one bite at a time. From the cheap and cheerful to the inventive and the elegant, here’s your guide to finding Nonna-approved dishes that you must eat, when in Rome. Piccolo Arancio Hidden in the warren of cobbled streets, Piccolo Arancio (meaning ‘small orange’ in Italian) is a well-concealed gem of Roman cuisine. Featuring two wide doors opening onto the narrow street, locals can be spotted dining at dusk within a quaint, quintessentially Italian, interior – chequered table cloths and all. [caption id="attachment_47190" align="alignleft" width="600"] Expect quintessentially Italian interiors[/caption] This restaurant is a local favourite located only a two-minute walk from the Trevi Fountain.   While the location is prime and the design is delightful, at this venue, the pasta is the real star. Try the house-made, Nonna-style fettuccini, penne, lasagne and ravioli, which draw a huge following.   For a mouth-watering feast, order the orange ravioli with ricotta, orange juice and zest or the cacio e pepe, a typical Roman pasta dish served with only pecorino cheese and cracked pepper. With a wine to suit every pasta base, this is the perfect place to seat yourself for a night of fine, and immersive, Roman dining – right in the heart of Rome.   Address: Vicolo Scanderbeg, 112, Rome La Fontana di Venere Also a stone’s throw from the Trevi Fountain, La Fontana di Venere is what might happen if Nonna met up with Heston Blumenthal.   The pasta here is naturally made in-house and dishes sport some incredible inventive flair: try the risotto with scallops in vanilla for an unlikely, but utterly surprising combination. Similarly, let the flavours of succulent lamb and saffron cream dance around your mouth with the cannelloni dish or try the ‘little bundle’ of phyllo pastry, buffalo cheese and crispy prosciutto with basil cream. [caption id="attachment_47191" align="alignleft" width="600"] Expect adorable pink interiors at La fontana di Venere[/caption] An added bonus of La Fontana di Venere is the traditional Roman design: pale pink walls, ancient Roman art replicas and a classical-style statue displayed as a centrepiece.   Address: Vicolo dei Modelli, 56, Rome Pizzeria Ostiense Situated in Ostiense, an up-and-coming formerly industrial neighbourhood, this pizzeria feels a lot more like a cafeteria than a fine-dining experience. You’ll find exposed brick walls, old fashioned tables, colourful wooden chairs and almost fluorescent lighting – but boy, can they make a pizza.   Expect thin pizza bases, limited toppings (in true Italian style) and a bucket load of flavour.   Order the zucchini flower pizza with mozzarella and anchovies or the classic Margherita with buffalo cheese. The real crowd-pleaser, however, is the capricciosa with the unexpectedly glorious combination of boiled egg, mushroom, artichoke and prosciutto.   With wood-fired bases and expert chefs preparing them, every pizza on the menu promises to be as delightful as the last – just make sure you book enough time in Rome to try them all. Address: Via Ostiense, 56, Rome Felice a Testaccio Traditional Roman cuisine is best had in the exposed brick and chequered-floored interiors of Felice a Testaccio. [caption id="attachment_47192" align="alignleft" width="600"] Exposed brick and chequered-floored interiors plays backdrop to traditional Roman cuisine[/caption] With a menu that changes depending on the day of the week, expect to feast on spaghetti with bacon and egg yolk on Mondays, ravioli with cherry tomatoes, herbs and ricotta cheese on Thursdays. Try something very unique (if you’re game) on Saturday, with rigatoni served with pajata (the small intestine of a dairy calf – a traditional Roman delicacy).   Address: Via Mastro Giorgio, 29, Rome Pizza e Mozzarella Characterised by a hole in the wall and a cow mat, this pizzeria is an unlikely local favourite, boasting some of the best home-style pizza in Rome.   Pizza is charged by weight here, so you can take full advantage of the variety on offer. Options include the usual suspects and more: think Margherita, eggplant and mozzarella, salami, four cheese, and potato and rosemary.   But do not leave the establishment without ordering some supplì (a magical combination of fried risotto rice stuffed with mozzarella cheese). Most options come in at a grand total of €1.30 per 100 grams, meaning a kilo of Rome’s best pizza will only set you back $20.   Address: Via del Piè di Marmo, 32, Rome Imàgo With a Michelin star, views overlooking the ancient city of Rome and red roses and wine buckets adorning the white linen-clothed tables, Imàgo is proof that Nonna has a very fancy side.   The menu is equally as impressive as the establishment, with rabbit and scampi ravioli, fettuccini quail ragout served with pecorino cheese and caviar, and the carb-on-carb dish of pasta and potatoes with baby crab.   This is the perfect place to sip on a glass of red between bites, as you look out upon the curves of the pantheon in the distance. Address: Piazza della Trinità dei Monti, 6, Rome  
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The best travel gadgets for your next adventure
If you spend a lot of time travelling, firstly, you’ve come to the right place. And secondly, you will be well aware of the advantages travel gadgets can bring to any adventure you embark on. If you’re headed for a getaway, no trip is complete without a couple of digital accessories. Here are 10 of our favourite sidekicks to help make your journey as stress-free as possible. Victorinox Connex Collection – the luggage with a brain As a company that works in travel, you better believe we have tried and tested our fair share of suitcases. And we know better than anyone, a good one can make all the difference.   Enter, Victorinox.   If you aren't familiar with the innovative styling of this luggage brand, you're probably aware of some of their other incredible successful inventions – like, say, the Swiss army knife? [caption id="attachment_47224" align="alignleft" width="600"] Sleek suitcase style for every adventure[/caption] Like the knife, their range of Connex luggage is designed with the same level of finesse, utilising on high quality materials with a striking, linear design.   As the name Connex suggests, the hard and soft side cases are perfectly connected, allowing for customers to mix and match across the collection.   They are also available in 100% pure polycarbonate or polyester, both lightweight yet extremely strong.   And as far as state-of-the art components go, their extra-quiet wheels and integrated multi-tool for on-the-go charging of electronic devices is top of the range.   Imagine that, never running out of battery during your travels again!   Ili – to stop you getting lost in translation According to research conducted by Booking.com, two thirds of Aussies believe they’re wasting their holidays, citing language barriers as their biggest obstacle.   To help travellers overcome this, the website partnered with ili, a device that will make you think you’re living in an episode of Black Mirror.   ili is a hand-held translator that lets you speak English directly into its microphone and have your words translated into Japanese, Mandarin or Spanish. Not only is ili super-fast, giving you answers in as little as 0.2 seconds, but – and here’s the beauty of this device – it also requires zero internet connection.   Need directions in a foreign country? Unable to order food at a restaurant? Need to communicate with locals in lesser-known towns? ili can help you with that. Super Straps – to take the weight off your back For most travellers, carrying a heavy backpack all day is just an unfortunate reality – and so are the trips to the chiropractor that come as a result. That’s why Super Straps are the new necessity. The ergonomic design that retrofits to your backpack can lighten your load by up to 47 per cent, instantly relieving shoulder, back and neck tension when your bag gets heavy.   For those keen on facts and science, we got you. Super Straps work by creating an arc that helps distribute the weight of your backpack across five times its surface area. After attaching them, you pull on the cords to shift the entire weight closer to your spine. Your posture will thank you later. Slick Gadget glass screen protector Is there anything worse than a cracked phone screen? We think not. Investing in a glass screen protector is a basic necessity for all tech-savvy travellers.   This titanium armour and liquid glass screen protector from Slick Gadget creates a durable coating for your number one travel accessory. The device repels oil and water, plus it is antimicrobial, heat tolerant, flexible and breathable. It is also 500 times thinner than a human hair... Weird? Yes. Cool? Also yes.   Considering how much we rely on our phones these days, the assurance that comes with guaranteed screen protection basically pays for itself. Scrubba – the pocket-size washing machine When you’re a traveller, the key to looking like you have it all together (and haven’t spent the last two weeks running for planes and trains), is clean clothes. Enter Scrubba, the pocket-size washing machine. [caption id="attachment_42653" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Scrubba portable washing machine[/caption] The key to Scrubba is its unique design. The flexible internal washboard provides a machine quality wash in just minutes, making it the perfect accessory for busy travellers, outdoor adventurers and campers.   Described as a modern take on those old-fashioned washboards, it only takes Scrubba six steps to send your clothes from zero to hero. Simply fill, roll and clip, deflate, rub, rinse and dry. And you won’t throw your back out while doing it. PakMaster – keeps your clothes crease free Another key to looking like you have it all figured out, is when your clean clothes are also ironed.   The Pakmaster, created by Victorinox Travel Gear, is a clever and practical accessory designed for crease-resistant packing, and will save the day in any sartorial emergency. [caption id="attachment_42651" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Pakmaster helps keep your clothes crease free[/caption] The device ensures shirts, blouses, trousers, jackets and everything in between, arrives at your destination with almost no wrinkles. A board eases the task of folding, as the accessory opens flat for effortless positioning of garments. FixnZip – an instant zipper fixer This little tip is for all those times you’ve broken a zip, taken it to get fixed and thought ‘there’s got to be a better way!?’   The FixnZip is a replacement zipper slider that you can install sans tools or sewing. It works on a wide range of travel and outdoor recreation items including luggage, tents, duffle bags, dresses, pants, skirts, handbags and sleeping bags.   The device comes in three sizes: small, medium and large, and like a metal chameleon, each FixnZip has the ability to fit an array of different zippers. LOFO – the world’s first lost and found app When any app creates a solution to an old-world problem, you know it’s going to be a game-changer. Enter, LOFO: the first global centralised market place for people to find their lost items or pets.   In short, LOFO is a lost and found app, helping the 78,000 Australians that lose an item every day.   The intelligent active matching algorithm will match lost items with found ones based on the information provided: such as location, colour etc. With both the loser and the finder receiving an instant notification of the match.   Forgetful humans, rejoice! Quicksand Mat – for sand-free beach time While there is an array of things that can go right at the beach, there’s also an array of things that can go very wrong. And getting sand everywhere is definitely one of them.   By investing in a sand-free mat, like the Quicksand Mat, travellers can watch sand, dirt and dust disappear before their very eyes.   The double layer weave is made from 100 per cent PE fabric, making it perfect for both camping and the beach. It also comes complete with four schmick D-rings around the outer, allowing it to be firmly affixed to the ground.   And should you have a little too much fun on your mat, rest assured. They can be easily cleaned and dried. LuminAID solar-powered inflatable light When an item’s popularity stems from an appearance (and subsequent investment) on Shark Tank, you know it’s good.   For those who have better things to do than watch a business-themed reality TV show, allow me to introduce you to the LuminAID. Basically, this handy contraption exists as a solar-rechargeable light that inflates to diffuse light like a lantern. It’s perfect for camping, hiking, and all other times light is required.   When fully powered, the highly efficient battery can last for up to 16 hours on the low setting, and eight to 10 hours on high. It’s also waterproof, lightweight and extremely entertaining to look at. The Trtl Travel Pillow – for sweet dreams inflight If you’re reading this article, chances are you love to travel. But with an affinity for travel can come a lot of time attempting to sleep on planes. If you’re like us, and the idea of using inflatable and bean-filled pillows sends a shiver down your spine, you best keep reading.   The Trtl Pillow is the answer to all of your plane-sleeping-woes. Upon initial inspection, it looks like a neck brace, which features an H-shaped wire support system that can support your head during rest.   Not only is the Trtl a scientifically proven long-haul neck support pillow, but it is half the size of a traditional travel pillow, machine washable and can be easily attached to luggage. SteriPEN – a magic (water purifying) wand There are already plenty of food-related camping hacks that can come in very handy on the camping trail, but when it comes to water, it’s best not to take shortcuts.   The SteriPEN is the world’s leading manufacturer of ultraviolet, handheld water purifiers – and if you’re into H20 health – an extremely necessary investment.   The device charges by USB and when on a full battery, will treat up to 50 litres of water.   It’s also extremely simple to use: just put one end into the water you’re attempting to treat, swirl it around a few times and voilà. Safe drinking water for travel, outdoor recreation and home emergencies.
12 things every first-timer should do in Malta
Malta might not be at the top of your European bucket list, but perhaps it should be. Discover the highlights of this under-the-radar archipelago here. Malta, the underrated gem of the Mediterranean, is a hub of history, culture and pristine waters.   From its tiny UNESCO World Heritage capital of Valletta and time-warped hilltop city of Mdina to its traditional fishing villages, natural wonders and prehistoric temples, this small island nation is a microcosm of all Europe’s best bits. Here’s what not to miss while you’re there. Explore Valletta: its streets, tunnels and St. John’s Co-Cathedral With narrow streets, made mostly of honey-coloured limestone and religious monuments on street corners, it’s clear that Valletta is the cultural centre of Malta as well as the capital. Just walking through the city feels artistically enriching. [caption id="attachment_47155" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Valletta port is a popular tourist attraction full of cafes and restaurants[/caption] If you want to delve deep into the fascinating history of Valletta, take a tour of its tunnels. Initially dug by the Knights of Malta, in reaction to an invasion by the Ottoman Empire in 1565, the tunnels have been multifunctional in protecting their inhabitants ever since. [caption id="attachment_47156" align="alignleft" width="600"] The cathedral was built in honour of saint John the Baptist between 1572 and 1577[/caption] Another key component of Valletta’s history is St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Built by the Knights of Saint John, and in honour of John the Baptist, the Baroque cathedral is adorned with delicate stone carvings and gold-leafed ceilings. It’s worth a visit just for the famous Caravaggio painting, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. Go snorkelling in the Blue Lagoon Just a boat ride from the seaside resort of Sliema on Malta (the archipelago’s main island) is the small island of Comino. Here, you’ll find the Blue Lagoon – well worth a trip for its crystal clear, turquoise waters. [caption id="attachment_47157" align="alignleft" width="600"] Take a snorkel in the blues[/caption] You could just position yourself on the rocks beside the water and sunbake the day away, but with an abundance of sea life under the water it’s worth grabbing some goggles and going for a snorkel.   An ice-cream boat is sure to be patrolling somewhere along the shore, so keep your eyes out for a sweet treat when you’re finished exploring the underwater realm. [caption id="attachment_47158" align="alignleft" width="600"] Panoramic views of the Valletta Skyline[/caption] If you’re looking for a more adrenaline-packed trip, consider a powerboat ride around the island, taking in its caves and Elephant Rock. The boat seems to jump over the choppy water, creating the sensation of being in flight. If you’re game, opt for the round trip from Sliema for around $70, which includes a four-hour stop for swimming, snorkelling and cruising the Crystal Lagoon. Take a boat trip around the Blue Grotto Another blue-themed activity is a visit to the Blue Grotto. Comprised of seven caves on the southern coast of Malta, it boasts the most luminous cobalt water thanks to the sun reflecting off the white seabed underneath.   The best way to see this phenomenon is on the water. Departing from the village of Wied iz-Żurrieq, a local Maltese guide can take you on a 20-minute tour through the caves on a traditional fishing boat. [caption id="attachment_47159" align="alignleft" width="600"] Summer in Malta[/caption] For a high-octane venture to the main arch, why not just abseil down it? Book with Malta Outdoors for a truly unforgettable way to see this landmark. [caption id="attachment_47160" align="alignleft" width="600"] Walk through the streets of Malta's old capital city[/caption] There are also some prime locations for a photo of the Blue Grotto from above, with the Blue Wall and Grotto viewpoint just a short walk from the main road above. Meander through the Silent City Mdina, the former capital of Malta, has a long history dating back 4000 years as a fortified city protecting the Maltese from invaders. The hilltop location, in those days of warfare, was perfect: with the view from the bastions, the inhabitants could see foreign ships approaching their kingdom.   With its wonderfully preserved medieval and Baroque architecture, the walled city makes you feel like time has stood still. Aside from the few cars owned by a limited number of residents, the only vehicles permitted to enter Mdina are horse-drawn carriages, creating a sense of calm that contributes to the nickname the Silent City. [caption id="attachment_47161" align="alignleft" width="600"] Mdina, The Silent City at sunrise on a crisp winter morning[/caption] While you’re here, make sure you visit the Mdina Glass Shop to buy some famous hand-blown glass. Although glass is a tricky souvenir, the attendants are more than helpful and bubble wrap (twice) the items for their international visitors. Stop in at the Fontanella Tea Garden for a cup of tea or coffee and a piece of its famous chocolate cake. Eat as much pastizzi as is humanly possible A traditional savoury Maltese pastry, the pastizzi is usually filled with ricotta cheese or mushy peas. This Maltese specialty costs a grand total of 60c each at your average pastizzi counter: they might be heavy on your stomach but they’re light on your pocket. [caption id="attachment_47163" align="alignleft" width="600"] Pastizzi: Homemade Maltese pastries[/caption] Discover Malta’s megalithic temples If you think St. John’s Co-Cathedral is old, wait until you see one of Malta’s megalithic temples. Originating 6000 years ago, these temples were constructed by the earliest inhabitants of Malta and consist of upright slabs of rock, surmounted by horizontal blocks. [caption id="attachment_47166" align="alignleft" width="600"] Interiors of Mnajdra Temple[/caption] This structure suggests that the temples were once roofed, and tells a story of a civilisation that existed many lifetimes ago. [caption id="attachment_47164" align="alignleft" width="600"] A Megalithic Temple and the surrounding area[/caption] There are seven in total, but the main megalithic temple sites to visit are Hagar Qim, Skorba and Tarxien. Take a trip out to Marsaxlokk Bay A traditional fishing village on the south-east of the main island of Malta, Marsaxlokk Bay is characterised by a fleet of coloured fishing boats moored in the harbour. [caption id="attachment_47167" align="alignleft" width="600"] Famous multicolored fisherman's boats in Marsaxlokk[/caption] Visit its daily markets along the quay, where you’ll find a collection of locally made crafts: bags, fabrics and toys. Take the time to have a chat to some of the locals, even if it is in fragmented Maltese.   There’s also a daily fish market, where the local fishermen (Marsaxlokk has the highest volume of active fisherman in Malta) sell their produce. At this market you’ll also find other homemade treats, made by the local women of the village. Enjoy the candy-coloured hues of the Popeye Village Originally built as the ramshackle fishing village film set of the 1980 musical production Popeye (starring Robin Williams), this charming pocket of Malta has been converted into a quirky adventure park themed around the cartoon sailor. [caption id="attachment_47168" align="alignleft" width="600"] Take a stroll through Popeye village[/caption] Perhaps the best part of Popeye Village is not the activities that take place here – which include meeting Popeye, of course – but actually the coloured wooden houses perched on the harbour. You can see them in their glory from a viewpoint across the water if you don’t want to pay to visit the fun park itself. Have an adrenaline-filled day on the ocean With cultural and epicurean delights in spades, it’s easy to get tied up in the easy life in Malta. To mix things up a little, try your hand at some water sports with a range of companies that deliver some seriously good aquatic activities.   Oh Yeah Malta will provide a day out on the ocean you’ll never forget. Offering jet skiing for €88 an hour, water skiing for €55, and parasailing for €80 an hour, these activities will definitely add some variety to your holiday. See Saint Mary Magdalene Chapel on the Dingli Cliffs While travelling through the barren landscape between Marsaxlokk and Mdina, a local guide took us to the chapel of Saint Mary Magdalene.   The chapel stands humbly on the edge of the famous Dingli Cliffs. [caption id="attachment_47169" align="alignleft" width="600"] Saint Mary Magdalene chapel stands humbly on the edge of the famous Dingli Cliffs[/caption] Characterised by only four limestone walls, a front door and a circular window above it, this chapel was built in the 1600s to honour the saint.   Looking beyond the chapel, to the ocean, offers a spectacular and uninterrupted view. Lounge around at Ramla Bay on Gozo Arguably the best beach in Malta, Ramla Bay sports red sand and yellow sunshades. Perfect for snorkelling, swimming and sunbaking, you’ll find it on Gozo, the second largest island of the Maltese archipelago. [caption id="attachment_47170" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Dingli cliffs in all their glory[/caption] It’s fabled that Roman remains lie beneath the sand, but what is certainly known is that there was once three batteries to prevent enemies landing on the island. The remains of one such battery are still to one side of the beach.   Follow a path from the Ramla Bay car park to the viewing platform of Calypso’s Cave. This cave was reportedly referred to by Homer in The Odyssey, where Calypso entertained the shipwrecked Ulysses for seven years before he journeyed back home. The cave itself is closed and inaccessible currently but the walk affords a great view back to the bay. [caption id="attachment_47171" align="alignleft" width="600"] Scenic view of beautiful Ramla bay from Calypso cave[/caption] Book yourself into the Hilton Malta The Hilton, a modern five-star hotel in the seaside town of Saint Julian’s, is the perfect place to base yourself during a Maltese holiday.   With giant chandeliers adorning the ceilings, marble staircases and indoor fountains, the interiors of the Hilton are exquisite. Equally as impressive are the three pools that back onto the crystal clear ocean, and the five-star service from the concierge.   Also with great access to any part of the island (and the island’s islands), the Hilton is a great base for exploration: take a taxi to Mdina (20 minutes) or a taxi boat to Valletta (just across the pond). Jet skis are also for hire for a day of exploring via the water.
The Islands of Tahiti
The Islands of Tahiti: what you don’t know will charm you
When it comes to French Polynesia, it’s often the lesser-known gems that keep you captivated.   You can rent your own piece of paradise. Overwater bungalows might be synonymous with The Islands of Tahiti, but what say you to renting your own private patch of pristine waterfront or pitching a tent in a lush camping ground? [caption id="attachment_47130" align="alignnone" width="600"] Island days.[/caption] Dotted around some of the most spectacular parts of each island, campsites and Tahitian guesthouses (also referred to as pensions or fares) give visitors the opportunity to connect with locals and immerse themselves in traditional French Polynesian life. For a few months a year, frolicking with whales is an everyday activity [caption id="attachment_47131" align="alignnone" width="600"] Beach life.[/caption] Naturally, no visit to The Islands of Tahiti is complete without a mandatory cocktail-sipping-on-a-hammock session, or simply snorkelling their vibrant coral reefs, but the adrenaline junkies among us need not miss out. Think swimming with pods of humpback whales in Moorea between July and October (in waters so rich with marine life you’ll feel like the bay leaf in ray and reef-shark soup), then hiking the lava tubes of Tahiti, or enjoying drift dives in Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass and Fakarava’s Tumakohua Pass. Fist-pump the air, then repeat. You can holiday on a shoestring [caption id="attachment_47132" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rivals the Great Barrier Reef.[/caption] Those without Swiss bank accounts can (and should) apply; budget-friendly accommodation, meals and activities are available on each of the islands – yes, even the fabled celebrity playground of Bora Bora. Close your eyes and picture roadside food trucks serving up the most decadent of crepes and super-fresh poisson cru, scenic island adventures courtesy of next-to-nix bicycle hire and those aforementioned campsites perfectly located by endless azure lagoons. As for those coral-fringed motus and beaches teeming with rainbow pops of tropical fish? They are proof positive that the best things in life really are free. You have a choice of festivals [caption id="attachment_47133" align="alignnone" width="600"] Once in a lifetime experiences.[/caption] Whether you’re into cycling, running, body ink or fashion, you can rest assured that somewhere, on one of the Tahiti’s stunning islands, there’s a festival that’s just right for you. Will you ink up at Tatau I Tahiti Tattonesia, take part in one of the famed Moorea Marathons or take a front-row seat at Tahiti Fashion Week? The choice is yours – just don’t miss Heiva I Tahiti, the biggest cultural event on the calendar which engulfs the islands over a month-long celebration every July. There are 118 islands [caption id="attachment_47134" align="alignnone" width="600"] Explore the unknown![/caption] While there’s no denying the difficulty of getting past the beauty of Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti, continue to push on through the shimmering lagoons and white-sand patchwork (hardly the most taxing journey you’ll ever make), and your curiosity will be rewarded with a series of remote islands loaded with largely unknown experiences. Swim with migrating humpback whales and hike majestic peaks on Rurutu, zigzag up the flanks of an extinct mountain to reach the archaeological sites of Ua Huka and opt out of society entirely by renting a private island escape on Tikehau. This really is a ‘choose your own adventure’ holiday – Tahitian-style.   For bookings and further information, visit Tahiti Tourisme at tahititourisme.com.au.
Tobu Railway
Travel Tokyo and beyond by train: the perfect 4 day itinerary
Once you have finished exploring the Japanese capital’s endless attractions, there’s lots more to see and do just a short train ride away. With exclusive access to some of the best sights in Tokyo and beyond, Tobu Railway offers travellers a smooth and efficient journey into the heart and history of Japan’s mesmerising capital city and surrounding areas. Its trains deliver curious visitors to the Asakusa area of Tokyo, where old and new intersect, the charming old town atmosphere of Kawagoe, the stunning city of Nikko, steeped in history and tradition, and the onsens and abundant natural scenery of Kinugawa. Here, the perfect four-day itinerary for riding the rails with Tobu Railway. [caption id="attachment_47070" align="alignnone" width="600"] Toshugu Shrine is Japan's most lavishly decorated.[/caption] Day 1 – Tokyo and Kawagoe Jump on the train and head to Kawagoe, an easy 30-minute ride from Ikebukuro Station on the Tobu Tojo line. Reminiscent of an old town from the Edo Period (1603-1867), when Japan was ruled over by the mighty Tokugawa Shogunate, the last feudal Japanese military government (the head of the government was known as the shogun), its main street is lined with kurazukuri, traditional clay-walled warehouse-style buildings. Known affectionately as ‘Little Edo’, visitors alighting Tobu Tojo line can spend the day strolling the compact city centre visiting museums, temples and shrines; don’t leave before seeing the charming Kashiya Yokocho or Penny Candy Lane, which is lined with shops selling rainbow-hued traditional lollies and sweets that make the perfect souvenir to take home. [caption id="attachment_47071" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rooftop details at Sensoji Temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa[/caption] Back in Tokyo, Asakusa is hugely popular with visitors and has the feel of an old town, with its historic buildings, temples and shops, many of which have been run by the same families for over 100 years. Once out of the railway station, you can’t miss the enormous red-painted Kaminari-Mon Gate; walk through it and along bustling Nakamise-dori Street, with its shops selling bright children’s toys and games and traditional sweets and treats.   Eventually you’ll reach the imposing Sensoji Temple, originally built in 1649 (it was rebuilt in 1958), where locals stand silent in a fragrant fog of incense smoke to pray in front of the statue of Boddhisattva. [caption id="attachment_47072" align="alignnone" width="600"] Scale models on show at the popular Tobu World Square.[/caption] Tradition and history give way to the new and modern at Tokyo Skytree Town, a shopping and entertainment complex dominated by the 634-metre-high Skytree. There are observation decks at 350 and 450 metres; on a clear day you can see the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji standing proud in the distance, while at night the entire city of Tokyo is illuminated in bright, colourful lights. Once down from the Skytree’s lofty heights, spend some time in Tokyo Solamachi, with its 300 shops and restaurants, an aquarium, planetarium and museum. [caption id="attachment_47073" align="alignnone" width="600"] Tobu Railway’s Taiju steam train.[/caption] Day 2 – Nikko’s history Head out of Tokyo on the Tobu Railway line for the comfortable two-hour train ride north from the heart of Tokyo to Nikko. Sitting at the entrance to Nikko National Park, the city is blessed with stunning mountain scenery and has been a centre for Shinto and Buddhist worship for many centuries. Visitors and locals flock here to see the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Tosho-gu Shrine, Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine. Dating back to the early 1600s, the sprawling shrine complex is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.   The shrines and temples of Nikko are reached by another compelling sight, Shinkyo Bridge, ranked as one of the three finest bridges in the country. Built in 1636, visitors can now walk across the bridge after extensive restoration and renovation works. [caption id="attachment_47074" align="alignnone" width="600"] Nikko’s autumnal colours.[/caption] Spend the evening at the Nikko Kanaya Hotel, a seamless blend of western and Japanese traditions and architecture. The city will also boast the luxury hot springs resort Nikko Fufu in late 2019, and the Ritz-Carlton, Nikko in 2020. Day 3 – Nikko’s nature [caption id="attachment_47075" align="alignnone" width="600"] The tranquil beauty of Lake Chuzenji.[/caption] Beyond its sprawling shrine complex, Nikko has much to offer nature lovers. The three sacred peaks of Mt. Nantai, Mt. Nyoho, and Mt. Taro, known collectively as Nikko Sanzan, that dominate the landscape of Nikko National Park have a long tradition of mountain worship; visitors can experience the area’s mystical side by trekking the mountains. Other natural wonders to seek out while visiting Nikko are the tranquil Lake Chuzenji and Kanmangafuchi Abyss, formed by the eruption of Mt. Nantai; you can experience it on a riverside walking trail, part of which is lined with some 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who looks after the dead. Day 4 – Kinugawa From Nikko’s Shimoimaichi Station you can take the Taiju steam locomotive train to arrive in Kinugawa Onsen, the hugely popular hot spring resort town along the Kinugawa River. First head to Tobu World Square, a theme park made up of over a hundred scale models of some of the world’s most visited attractions, including UNESCO World Cultural and Heritage sites such as the Taj Mahal, the Vatican and the Pyramids at Giza. The scenes are made complete with 140,000 miniature people. [caption id="attachment_47076" align="alignnone" width="600"] Some of the 70 Jizo statues at Kanmangafuchi Abyss.[/caption] Float down the Kinugawa River on a river boat ride complete with stories of the river’s history, and finish the day by checking into one of the traditional ryokans to soak in the hot mineral waters.   Tobu Railway’s Nikko Pass includes round trip trains between Tokyo (Asakusa) and Nikko, free buses in Nikko, and 20 per cent off express fares. Also receive discounts at sightseeing facilities, souvenir shops, and restaurants.   To find out more visit Tobu Railway or Tobu Japan Trip.

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