Where to eat, stay and play in Brittany, France
Boasting Megalithic monuments, extensive, pink granite coastline and fortified cities, France’s north-west region of Brittany (or Bretagne to the French) is so diverse in landscape and rich in history that it is well worth a diversion from Paris. Saint-Malo Famous for its medieval ramparts that circle the city, and the narrow, cobbled streets within, Saint-Malo is the perfect place to explore during your French getaway. Dating back to the first century BC, this port city boasts a storied history of pirates, a ‘Mad War’ between the French and the Bretons before Brittany became part of France in 1532, and German occupation in the Second World War. If only these walls could talk. [caption id="attachment_48130" align="alignnone" width="600"] Grand Rue in Mont Saint Michele[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48128" align="alignnone" width="600"] The beauty of Le Mont Saint Michel[/caption] Where to eat Le Cambusier and Maison Hector Being a coastal town that borders the Atlantic Ocean, Saint-Malo has no shortage of fresh seafood. Head to family-run Le Cambusier to try the best of coastal French cuisine, with a menu boasting dishes like fresh sea bream fillet in seaweed butter with creamy artichokes and pan-fried scallops, with fettuccine and maple syrup.   Address: 6 rue des Cordiers, Saint-Malo Maison Hector, Gaufrerie et Sandwicherie Head here for a sweet treat. It serves an amazing range of crepes, ice-cream and doughnuts, but of all the incredible desserts at this tiny establishment, the Nutella doughnut takes the cake. Do not leave Saint-Malo without trying one, but please do grab a napkin on your way out.   Address: 11 rue Porcon de la Barbinais, Saint-Malo Where to stay La Maison des Armateurs La Maison des Armateurs is one of few hotels located within Saint-Malo’s fortifications. Situated in a traditional building, but will full modern amenities (think granite exterior with lush velvet interiors), you can immerse yourself in the history of the city while staying in luxury.   Rates start at $140 per night.   Address: 6 Grand rue, 35400 Saint-Malo [caption id="attachment_48126" align="alignnone" width="600"] Saint Malo[/caption] Where to play Mont Saint-Michel Although there are plenty of things to see and do within the walled city, an hour’s drive from the centre will land you at the foot of one of France’s most historic, and awe-inspiring, monuments. Located on an island just off the north coast – and technically in Normandy, Brittany's neighbouring region – the abbey on Mont Saint-Michel was built as a tribute to the Archangel Michael in the eighth century, and has served as a perfectly preserved religious monument ever since.   From a distance, the spires of the abbey – which has housed knights, monks and paupers for centuries – can be seen looming over the city.   You can choose from several tours while in this small medieval town, but the best investment is in a ticket to the top of the abbey. Setting you back €10 per adult, the ticket allows you to make your way to its summit, exploring its history and taking advantage of the views across the marshlands below.   If you make it early enough in the morning you can witness the monks in song, as they participate in the morning vespers service. [caption id="attachment_48129" align="alignnone" width="600"] The courtyard of Mont Saint-Michel abbey[/caption] Rennes The capital city of Brittany, Rennes is a cobbled-street city with impressive open squares, period buildings and great boutique shopping. History buffs will also want to explore the nearby mythical forest of King Arthur while in Rennes. [caption id="attachment_48152" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rennes Saint Peter Cathedral[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48151" align="alignnone" width="600"] The beauty of Rennes[/caption] Where to eat La Saint-Georges creperie Breton crepes are arguably the tastiest in all of France and are best eaten at La Saint-Georges creperie. Make your selection from the novelty menu theme of famous Georges throughout history. You can order a George Clooney, served with spinach, tomato, basil, goat’s cheese and scoop of cucumber sorbet, or the George Michael, with ham, cheese and button mushroom, among many others.   This creperie is also one of the finest furnished restaurants in Rennes, with green velvet chairs, a fireplace and black walls reminiscent of a 1920s speakeasy.   Address: 11 rue du Chapitre [caption id="attachment_48150" align="alignnone" width="600"] Take a stroll through Renne's cobblestone streets[/caption] Where to stay Balthazar Hôtel & Spa Rennes – MGallery by Sofitel A culmination of modern and vintage design, this five-star hotel is the perfect place to base yourself when in Rennes. Located in the city centre, the Balthazar has spa facilities, crisp decor and a rooftop patio overlooking the city. The underground pool, a luminous blue, is an oasis of quiet.   When you’ve finished up your swim, why not go and relax in the sauna?   Rates start at $281 per night.   Address: 9 rue Maréchal Joffre [caption id="attachment_48149" align="alignnone" width="600"] The mighty cathedral[/caption] Where to play King Arthur’s Forest Head 30 kilometres west of Renne to explore King Arthur’s Forest: the mythical woodlands of Brocéliande, today known as Paimpont Forest, where many scenes from Arthurian legend played out. In the forest you’ll find the historic Château de Comper, which houses the Centre de l'Imaginaire Arthurien. [caption id="attachment_48154" align="alignnone" width="600"] Intricate windows at château de Comper[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48153" align="alignnone" width="600"] Brooding mystery at King Arthur's Forest[/caption] Between March and October, the centre hosts exhibits exploring the legends of King Arthur, Lancelot, the wizard Merlin and Vivien, Lady of the Lake. A ticket will set you back $11 per adult.   After a tour through the castle, consider a meander through the forest. Head to the Valley Without Return, where King Arthur’s half-sister and sorceress Morgan Le Fay, is said to have banished unfaithful lovers, or to the Tomb of Merlin, where the wizard is said to be buried.   Signs and information posts are scattered all throughout the forest, making the experience an educational as well as mystical one. Dinan Another small historic town, Dinan boasts the title of the most well-preserved small town in Brittany, with a warren of streets hosting local craft shops, bakeries and boutiques. The buildings – some dating to the 13th-century – are divided by a river, lined with waterside restaurants. [caption id="attachment_48141" align="alignnone" width="600"] Dinan streets appear frozen in time[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48142" align="alignnone" width="600"] Building facade[/caption] Where to eat Chez Odette Bongrain Situated directly on the river La Rance, in a medieval, exposed beam and clay establishment, Chez Odette Bongrain is a testament to French cuisine. With cream and herbed mussels, doused in white wine and Champagne tossed salad with goat’s cheese and baguette, both tradition and imagination are used in the creation of dishes.   Head to 9 rue du Quai for the best meal in Dinan, but make sure you book in advance. [caption id="attachment_48135" align="alignnone" width="600"] Cobblestoned street in Dinan[/caption] Where to stay Hôtel Arvor Dinan This hotel, formerly a convent, has a history of its own. With polished stone walls, period interior and attention to detail (please take note of the gorgeous key cabinet in the concierge), this hotel is perfect for any visitor wanting to fully immerse themselves in the history and culture of this medieval town. Great service and even better location.   Rates start at €134 euros per night in peak season, and €84 in low season.   Address: 5 rue Auguste Pavie   [caption id="attachment_48137" align="alignnone" width="600"] Your bed awaits...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48136" align="alignnone" width="600"] The beautiful facade[/caption] Where to play Dinan Castle and the streets of the old town Head to Dinan Castle, and walk the 13th-century ramparts or explore the streets of the old town, soaking in the medieval, half-timber, half-clay homes with thatched rooves. If you are lucky enough to be travelling through Dinan in July, the town is host to a medieval festival. Residents and visitors dress in costume and stalls line the ramparts. Beware though, Dinan in summer gets very hot (especially under layers of period costume).   [caption id="attachment_48139" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Dinan castle[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48138" align="alignnone" width="600"] Take a stroll through the medieval old town[/caption] Carnac Renowned for its megalithic stones of the same name, Carnac is another glorious beach town that is a must-see on your trip to Brittany. [caption id="attachment_48145" align="alignnone" width="600"] The glorious beach town of Carnac[/caption] Where to eat Restaurant La Calypso La Calypso is one of the best places in Brittany to enjoy the pearl of the ocean, having been in the oyster business since 1880. Renowned as one of the best restaurants in the region, La Calypso boasts equally delicious stuffed scallops and grilled lobster, for those who aren’t fans of oysters.   Address: 158 rue du Po Where to stay Hôtel Les Salines de Thalazur Carnac Unlike the other towns in the Brittany region that offer period-centric accommodation, this hotel in Carnac screams modern. With all the modern amenities you’d expect and only a stone’s throw from the major attractions, Les Salines is a great place to centre yourself while in this glorious town.   Address: 2 Avenue de l'Atlantique Where to play The megalithic Carnac stones and Carnac-Villes Museum of Prehistory The 6000-year-old monuments known as the megalithic Carnac stones are not to be missed on a trip to Carnac. The story has it that the 3000 stones, almost all standing to attention in lines, were once a legion of Romans marching before they were frozen in time. Other stories suggest that the Neolithic people used the stones to map the stars and to decide when to plant and when to harvest their crops. [caption id="attachment_48144" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Megalithic Stones of Carnac[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48143" align="alignnone" width="600"] Take a stroll through the French fields[/caption] Regardless of the purpose of the stones (which is still disputed) the Carnac stones are a magical monument worthy of a half-day of exploration.   To complement your trip to the megalithic stones, and to learn more about them, head over to the Museum of Prehistory – an authentic experience that’s well worth the $11 entry fee. Saint-Cast-le-Guildo Saint Cast, another coastal town in the north of Brittany, is the perfect place to settle in for a romantic getaway. With a quiet, local ambience, it’s arguably the region’s most relaxing holiday destination. Where to eat Bar Restaurant Le KNell’s Being a quiet local town to the west of Saint-Malo, food in Saint-Cast-le-Guildo is authentically French.   Le KNell’s, a restaurant and bar directly on the beach, offers the world’s best mussels in a pot of white wine and cream sauce. Enjoy your dish as you sit on the sand, looking out to beach Pen Guen.   Address: 40 Avenue de Pen Guen Where to stay Airbnb it Make the most of Saint-Cast-le-Guildo’s enviable coastal location by finding an Airbnb property to call your own right on the beach.   ‘Maison Familiale avec Vue Splendide sur la Mer’ is a beautiful old house perched on a hill above Pen Guen beach. It is spread over three floors and, with the capacity to sleep 10 people, offers great value for money with rates starting at $280 per night. Complete with its own rose garden and just a half-minute walk to the sea, you might find you’ll never want to leave. Where to play Surrounding beaches and Fort La Latte Beaches are the main attraction at Saint-Cast-le-Guildo: head to Pen Guen beach or Pointe de la Garde and plonk yourself on the shore with a book and a picnic.   If you’re up for a bit of physical activity you can trek to Fort La Latte, also known as Château de la Roche Goyon, for another fortified building experience and history lesson. [caption id="attachment_48133" align="alignnone" width="600"] The ocean at Pointe de la Garde Guérin[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48134" align="alignnone" width="600"] Trek to Fort La Latte[/caption]
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.
Bottom Bay in Barbados, the Caribbean.
Barbados – is this Caribbean’s best kept secret?
Travellers have long flocked to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Cayman Islands for a hit of Vitamin 'Sea', but just next door lies the Caribbean’s most underrated island nation, Barbados. This is why it should be your next tropical escape. A culture shock, in the best way possible Humidity, ear-splitting reggae and flirtatious crowds of islanders will greet you at Barbados' sole airport.   Though it's only 12 kilometres from the capital city of Bridgetown, the airport's open-air baggage pick-up makes you feel much more isolated than that.   To get to your first stop on the island (and for an experience you'll never forget), your best option is to catch a bus. Small white vans known as ZRs will cost you less than $2 to get to almost anywhere on the island.   They are sweltering hot, raucous and overflowing with locals on their way to work. Drivers rarely turn down passengers, so don’t be surprised if you’re squashed between two bulking Barbadian men when abiding by the four-to-a-seat tenet. [caption id="attachment_21958" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Find humidity, ear-splitting reggae and a flirtatious crowds of islanders[/caption] Stunning beaches, all around Along with its glistening turquoise waters and pearl-white sand, Barbados is also characterised by untouched coral reefs and limestone cliffs manned by wild goats.   Its beaches change vastly from shore to shore, so whether you’re after a secret spot for a relaxing dip, or an exposed coastline greeted by barrelling waves you can surf, you’ll find it on one side of the island or the other.   Past the heaving beaches of the south coast lies Bottom Bay, a quiet beach tucked behind time-worn coral escarpments. This little alcove provides sweeping views of the ocean, and proves a great place to spot turtles and breaching whales offshore. However spectacular the views, be aware that the rough waves here can make swimming tricky.   If you’d rather somewhere you can swim or snorkel, Miami Beach is Barbados’ most popular among travellers and locals alike. The water is tranquil and the charming beachfront is an idyllic setting to take in sunsets.   There’s also an abundance of colourful food trucks and tiny cafes hidden around the corner, so beach picnic supplies are never far away. Diving in the deep end Sure, lying on the beach reading a cheesy romance novel has its perks, but Barbados is also a go-to destination for thrill-seekers.   Whether you’re scuba diving between the shipwrecks of Carlisle Bay, or getting lost in the hanging granite tunnels of Harrison’s Cave, there's always an adventure to be had.   The most exciting (and may I say comical) way to get around the island is by hiring a mini moke. It’s a little Fred-Flintsone-in-his-footmobile, but the experience promises a unique side of Barbados, far from the major shopping strip of St Lawrence Gap.   Drive through the island's vast fields of sugar cane to the treacherous eastern coast of Bathsheba. Make sure you stop for one of the freshly carved coconuts sold at nearly every street corner along the way. [caption id="attachment_21964" align="alignnone" width="1500"] There's always an adventure to be had in Barbados[/caption] A holiday for your taste buds It’s fitting that a place where swimwear is your everyday attire is also be home to a bounty of fresh seafood and local rum, completing that stereotypical holiday brag shot.   Every Friday and Saturday night the sleepy coastal town of Oistins is overwhelmed by the smell of garlic, spices and frying seafood for what is known as the Oistins Fish Fry.   Grab something from one of the cheerful vendors serving an array of traditional seafood delights, and don’t forget to sample a glass of Barbados’ legendary Mount Gay Rum punch from one of the make-shift taverns along the water. [caption id="attachment_21959" align="alignnone" width="1500"] Make sure you stop for one of the freshly carved coconuts sold at nearly every street corner.[/caption] If you’re after something more sophisticated, there are plenty of options a little further up the north coast. Naru restaurant is headed by award-winning chef Barry Taylor, and serves up a sensational fusion of pan Asian and Caribbean cuisine. Try the grilled fresh water shrimp served with roasted butternut squash mash, a spicy mixed capsicum emulsion and shredded stir-fried vegetables.   There's also the annual Barbados Food and Wine and Rum Festival every November, luring some of the world’s best chefs to the island. Cooking classes, tastings and information sessions are held around the country, and you can get involved by booking tickets online.  
Romantic Switzerland
6 of Switzerland’s most romantic stays
From fairytale towns to vertiginous heights, these just might be the most romantic destinations in not just Switzerland but all of Europe. 1. An igloo stay One of the most romantic forms of accommodation in a country with an abundance of grand hotels is an igloo stay. What could be cosier than snuggling up with your significant other in a room made entirely from ice and situated in a winter wonderland of white?   There are various Igloo Villages scattered around the country, including in the resort town of Gstaad and in Engelberg, near Trübsee Lake at the foot of the mighty Titlis.   Book the Romantic Igloo, which features unique snow art, two-person sleeping bag, and thick sheep skin rugs. 2. Restaurant Schloss Bottmingen Located 15 minutes from Basel, the Restaurant Schloss Bottmingen is the ultimate candlelit-dinner location. It’s a 13th-century castle surrounded by a moat and rambling gardens where you dine on the finest French cuisine. [caption id="attachment_28154" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Entrance to Restaurant Schloss Bottmingen, it's a 13th-century castle in Switzerland that serves French cuisine.[/caption] It is after dark that the castle really sets hearts aflutter, when intricately draped fairy lights sparkle and reflect off the still waters of the castle moat. 3. Wildflowers spotting Each year from mid-June to mid-August the spectacular Bernese Oberland erupts in a blanket of colour and fragrance. [caption id="attachment_28156" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Blanket of fragrant and pretty wildflowers in Bernese Oberland, Switzerland.[/caption] To really indulge in the beauty of it all, base yourself in the lovely town of Grindelwald and hike to surrounding towns like Meiringen and Adelboden. 4. Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen Book-lovers will swoon at the sight of the Abbey Library at St. Gallen. [caption id="attachment_28155" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Majestic ceiling and soaring book shelves of Switzerland's Abbey Library at St. Gallen.[/caption] While the Abbey itself dates back to the eighth century, the sublime Rococo library was constructed between 1758–67. It is widely considered one of the best in the world, with burnished woodwork and delightful ceiling frescoes.   Among its roughly 170,000 priceless pieces are illuminated texts, prayer books and biographies of the saints dating from the ninth century.   The Abbey precinct, including the library, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 5. Mount Pilatus Mount Pilatus is regularly listed as one of the best places to propose in all of Europe. It certainly makes for a memorable experience: the peak is traversed via the steepest cog railway track in the world (or you can take a gondola). [caption id="attachment_28152" align="alignleft" width="1000"] View of a romantic sunset from Mount Pilatus over the Lake Lucerne.[/caption] Once at the top, the panoramic view, which has been marveled at by the likes of Richard Wagner and Queen Victoria, takes in 73 peaks and stretches on forever.   True romance requires Champagne: book a table at Hotel Pilatus-Kulm’s outdoor terrace for lunch. 6. Water Castles Water castles, as the name implies, are moated castles; what isn’t hinted at from the name is how evocative and ethereal they are.   Chillon Castle, located on a rock on the banks of Lake Geneva near Montreux, is the most visited historic building in the country but, for a less crowded experience, try Hallwyl Castle near Seengen. [caption id="attachment_28151" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Ethereal Hallwyl Castle in Seengen, Switzerland.[/caption] Easily accessible from Zurich, every three years an opera is held here on the grounds, with the floodlit castle as a spectacular backdrop.   Meanwhile Castle Hagenwil in Amriswil, another impeccably preserved castle, has an à la carte restaurant for dinners à deux and its annual festival in August has a roster of theatre and events in the delightful castle courtyard.
Manarola, Cinque Terre
Five of the most romantic travel experiences
Fall head over heels all over again with these partner-perfect experiences. 1. Sunset cruising Nā Pali Coast, Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i It may be a cliché, but sailing away into the sunset with one’s true love is still at the top of many a bucket-list.   Especially somewhere as beautiful as Hawai‘i’s Nā Pali Coast, located on the north shore of Kaua‘i.   This natural wonderland is a unique landscape of rugged terrain and sheer cliffs that drop straight into the aqua-blue water of the Pacific Ocean.   It’s pretty remote, so if you want to discover it you need to hike the 18-kilometre trail or – more pleasantly – hop on a cruise (champagne and loved one in hand).   There are several operating in the area, particularly at sunset, when the afternoon light plays off the turquoise waters. 2. Romance on rails Rovos Rail, Africa A journey by train is surely one of the most evocative forms of travel, and Africa’s Rovos Rail exudes the luxury and charm of a bygone era.   Its fleet of trains carry an intimate 72 guests and boast wood-panelled, Edwardian-style carriages with spacious suites (plus comfortable double beds) and elegant lounge and observation cars.   The food is impeccable and impeccably served on fine china, silver and crisp white linen (read: dress to the nines for dinner).   But the best bit is the view as you head through South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania – the scenery is constantly evolving and endlessly breathtaking. 3. Hot air ballooning Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia The best way to escape the maddening crowds at the temples of Cambodia’s national treasure Angkor and have a quiet moment to yourself is by floating serenely above it all in your own love nest…or hot air balloon.   It’s incredible to see the vastness of the Angkor complex from an aerial perspective, its hundreds of temples spread over some 400 square-kilometres.   Sunrise is our favourite time of day for this amazing experience – the orange glow of the sun breaking on the horizon at the crack of dawn signifying the final moments of quiet before Siem Reap awakens and is alive and bustling again. 4. Walk the path of love Cinque Terre, Italy The Cinque Terre is one of the world’s most dramatic coastlines, consisting of five medieval-era fishing villages built into steep cliffs.   Until the end of the 19th century, when a railway was eventually built, the towns were extremely isolated from each other.   A pathway between Riomaggiore and Manarola was built for the use of railway workers during construction of the tunnel, which became a meeting point for lovers from the two towns. The pathway was coined the Via dell’Amore – the ‘Path of Love’.   Visitors can walk the route as part of the spectacular 12-kilometre clifftop journey between the five pretty villages. 5. Skinny dipping Turtle Island, Fiji This has to be the ultimate spot for cheeky love birds. Turtle Island’s 500-acre privately owned island was the idyllic location for the 1980 film The Blue Lagoon and is one of Fiji’s most beautiful resorts.   It accommodates just 14 couples in its exotic bures (AKA love shacks), each with its own private white, powdery beach with impossibly blue water.   Beach picnics of champagne and lobster, long private walks, and snorkelling excursions (there’s an abundant of colourful sea life) can all be arranged.   The ultimate romantic stay is in the Vonu Point villa, with panoramic views of the island’s pristine landscape.
Explora Salto Chico hotel, overlooking Lake Pehoé, the Salto Chico waterfall and the Torres del Paine range.
The best luxury hotels in Patagonia
If you've never thought of visiting Patagonia, you should - there's hidden gems a'plenty. Chilean Patagonia recently welcomed its first two new luxury resorts in over a decade. These are the four most dynamic digs at the end of the world. Explora Salto Chico [caption id="attachment_48203" align="alignnone" width="600"] Explora Patagonia was one of the first of its kind[/caption] A luxury trailblazer since 1993, Explora Salto Chico is still crazily beautiful after all these years.   Many of its 49 rooms and suites have private outdoor jacuzzis, and all have panoramic views of Lake Pehoé, the Salto Chico waterfall or the Torres del Paine range.   Expeditions include treks and horseback rides through the national park, comprising the Southern Ice Fields, Lakes Paine and Sarmiento, AsciendoRiverValley and Toro Heights.   Explora’s dining room also serves an exceptional selection of Chilean wines, and offers guided tastings.   From $2660 for a minimum of four nights. The Singular [caption id="attachment_48204" align="alignnone" width="600"] Overlook the Andes at The Singular[/caption] Opened in 2012, The Singular has 57 rooms overlooking the Andes, a chic spa and unparalleled connections to Chile’s culinary history.   Located in an impeccably renovated, 1915-era sheep processing plant, the industrial-chic property is run by descendants of the 19th century Spanish agriculturalist who first brought lambs to Patagonia.   Friendly guides lead exclusive excursions to the nearby fjords and mountains, and the exemplary onsite restaurant serves the best of the local bounty – like Patagonian hare, white strawberries and, yes, pasture-raised organic lamb.   From $550 per night. Tierra Patagonia [caption id="attachment_48206" align="alignnone" width="600"] Expect breathtaking views at Tierra[/caption] This 40-room resort also debuted in 2012, within southern Patagonia’s breathtaking Torres del Paine National Park.   Interiors have a Scandinavia-on-Lake-Sarmiento vibe, with sleek furniture made from indigenous blond wood alongside the occasional sheepskin throw or cowhide rug.   Floor-to-ceiling windows provide sweeping views of the lake, sky and grassy plains filled with grazing sheep and guanaco.   The resort also has guided excursions throughout the park, a welcoming restaurant and the fantastic Uma Spa, where an outdoor jacuzzi and indoor cascade pool overlook the park’s eponymous peaks.   From $1870 for a minimum of three nights. Indigo Patagonia [caption id="attachment_48202" align="alignnone" width="600"] Expect funky interiors and majestic views[/caption] The most urban of the group, Indigo Patagonia, is located in charmingly scruffy port town Puerto Natales.   In 2006, the boutique hotel underwent a major renovation by Chilean architect Sebastián Irrazával.   The result is a funky mix of Nordic furnishings, unadorned woodwork and a multi-story eucalyptus wall.   The 29 rooms are sparse but comfortable, and the knockout rooftop spa has three outdoor jacuzzis with views of the grey fjords and glaciers.   From $265 per night.
Emerald Lake aqua Yukon
48 long, hot summer hours in Whitehorse
If you’re thinking of heading off on that grand Yukon road trip straight after you land in Whitehorse, Steve Madgwick has one word of advice for you: don’t. 
Mica Lodge in Revelstoke, British Columbia
The seven most gorgeous winter lodges in Canada
When comfort is key, Robert Upe says these Canadian lodgings rule the roost for a winter stay. Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge [caption id="attachment_23727" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper, Alberta:[/caption] Jasper, Alberta   This lodge, near Marmot Basin ski area, is a winter holiday destination unto itself, with a 100-year history that has included guests such as Marilyn Monroe and Bing Crosby.   Set on 300 hectares where elk roam beside a lake, this newly-renovated property maintains its retro 1950s ambience, which still makes you feel like you could walk around a corner and bump into Marilyn.   It is a place of warm log fires, sessions in the day spa and strolling through the woods. Snowshoeing, ice-skating, an indoor/outdoor heated pool and nine restaurants are also on the agenda.   The heritage Canadian log cabins are the pick of the 446 rooms, including Outlook Cabin, where queens and kings have stayed.   From $C470 per night for a basic room for two adults in January 2017. Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel Banff, Alberta   Originally built in 1888, this hotel is in the style of a Scottish baronial castle.   There are stories of ghosts in the corridors, but all we find is superlative service and warmth in interiors that include sweeping staircases, chandeliers, grand sitting rooms, archways and antique furniture.   There are many and varied restaurant choices at this five-star hotel – Bavarian and Japanese included – but the plates that stand out are found at the fashionable 1888 Chop House.   Here, everything is made in-house, and much of the produce is sourced in Alberta and grilled on cherry wood.   Diners are wowed with plates of bison tenderloin, elk rib-eye, beef wagyu and East Coast lobster.   From $C479 per night for a basic room for two adults in January 2017. Mica Lodge Revelstoke, British Columbia   One of the best winter experiences in Canada is heliskiing, and Mica Lodge is ensuring you’ll get the best of everything else, too.   Arrival to this remote boutique lodge is by helicopter only – although there is a snow cat to get around on those rare no-fly days.   The main building houses 12 guest suites, while private heliski groups bunk in the log chalet next door.   The lodge has a rooftop hot tub for you to soak in the silent surrounds, and both lodge and chalet offer private massage quarters.   When it’s time to hit the snow, there are three helicopters for the maximum 20 guests at Mica, to tackle the dizzying 1295 square kilometres of terrain on offer.   The lodge’s Rocky Mountain cuisine features organic meat, alongside a first-class wine list and an enviable array of single-malt whiskies.   Various packages are available, including the four-day ‘Classic Program’ for two. Island Lake Lodge [caption id="attachment_23726" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Island Lake Lodge in Fernie, British Columbia:[/caption] Fernie, British Columbia   Instead of a helicopter, guests staying here access backcountry terrain in heated oversnow vehicles.   Island Lake Lodge is one of Canada’s most highly rated catskiing operations. Powder aside, part of the experience is the lodge life.   Pampering – in the form of massages, a day spa and hot tubs – is on offer and there’s a social log-cabin ambience.   You’ll also appreciate a 3000-bottle wine cellar and fine dining, based on French-inspired Rocky Mountain cuisine. If you like it you can even buy the cookbook!   From about $C3000 for three days of skiing in the Lizard Mountains (average 12 runs per day) in January 2017. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise [caption id="attachment_23724" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta:[/caption] Banff, Alberta   You’ll feel like you are in a fairytale when you look out the window of the lakeview rooms.   There, on the frozen-over lake, people are ice-skating and enjoying sleigh rides with a backdrop of snowcapped mountains and the Victoria Glacier in this spectacular part of Banff National Park.   Inside, it’s all about cosiness, with a traditional afternoon tea of pastries and finger sandwiches as you enjoy the view view of the chilly outdoors. There are 550 rooms, multiple restaurants and a day spa.   Lake Louise ski resort is a 15-minute drive away, and Banff town 45 minutes.   From $C359 per night for a basic room for two adults in January 2017. Fairmont Chateau Whistler [caption id="attachment_23725" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Fairmont Chateau Whistler in Whistler, British Columbia.[/caption] Whistler, British Columbia   With the swish of a sabre sword, the top of a champagne bottle is decapitated and the bubbly flows, in celebration of a good day at Whistler.   This technique of opening champagne, called sabrage, is just one of the indulgences at this exquisite, landmark ski-in/ski-out property.   Aside from the usual winter comforts – open fires, day spa, piano bar – the hotel has ski valets to help you put on ski boots, as well as be there on the snow’s edge to carry your skis or snowboard back to the locker, and to hand you a hot chocolate.   From $C599 per night for a basic room for two adults in January 2017. Bighorn [caption id="attachment_23723" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Bighorn in Revelstoke, British Columbia:[/caption] Revelstoke, British Columbia   There’s a roaring log fire and a 15-metre high window in the triple-height ‘great room’ of this indulgent timber ski chalet.   The chalet holds eight suites for 16 guests, and has its own helicopter pad, high-tech cinema room, wellness area with gym and pool, a snooker table, hot tubs, a sophisticated bar area and an elegant dining room. The food is at gourmet level.   The lodge has been voted the best ski chalet at the World Ski Awards for the past three years.   As for the skiing, the daily choice is to go heliskiing or tackle the slopes of Revelstoke. Decisions, decisions.   From $C90,000 for seven days’ exclusive use of the chalet (get a group together) in January 2017, with seven staff on hand.     var axel = Math.random() + """"; var a = axel * 10000000000000; document.write('');
food culture Chefchaouen Morocco blue city god power
The treasures of Morocco’s ethereal blue gem
Morocco is a treasure trove to explore, but it pays to get off the beaten track to discover one of its most precious jewels, Chefchaouen. Hidden away in Morocco’s Rif Mountains is a sleepy, storybook town. Chefchaouen (pronounced shef-sha-wen) cascades down the rugged mountainside to nestle between the dramatic peaks.   But it’s not scenery, the rich cultural tapestry, the romance of a faraway place, or even the beguiling history of this walled city that first captivates those who visit. It’s the colour: an arresting, luminous palette of powdery blues. Travellers are instantly enchanted as they gaze upon the cobbled lanes, terracotta roofs, white facades brightened with splashes of brilliant blue paint, and intricately tiled doorways framed by bougainvillea.   If the ‘Blue City’ were a jewel, it would of course be a sapphire, that sparkles various shades depending on the light – from Majorelle to azure, and a harsh Arctic blue in the midday sun. It’s a fantastical sight to encounter as my partner and I round the final bend of a winding four-hour drive from Fez. I breathe in the crisp mountain air and feel a world away from the mayhem of the Imperial cities (Fez, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat) and the sweltering North African heat.   Set along what was once an old caravan route between Tangier and Fez, Chefchaouen (or Chaouen as it is sometimes called) is one of Morocco’s hidden gems. Many travellers overlook northern Morocco in favour of the well-worn tourist trail of the south: ‘the capital of cool’ Marrakech, beachy-chic Essaouira and the Sahara.   The steep, colourful labyrinth of alleyways is traversed by Berber tribespeople, Islamic locals, and dreadlocked hippies. The offbeat enclave has a slow pace that has held an allure for bohemians since the 1960s – and the haze of that era hangs in the air, as kif (cannabis) is still grown in the surrounding countryside. Getting there Arrange for an accredited private driver to Chefchaouen from Tangiers (two and a half hours) or Fez (four hours). Staying there There are more than 200 small hostels and boutique hotels. Book somewhere in the old medina, as the newer part of town is not as charming. Riad Cherifa This recently opened guesthouse's four suites and eight rooms all include eclectic furnishings and antiques. There’s a small pool, Hamman and rooftop terrace, and a simple breakfast is included. Eating there Restaurant Beldi bab Ssour This family-run restaurant is a challenge to find but it's worth the effort. The neighbourly atmosphere and full-flavoured fare means it’s likely you’ll become a ‘regular’ during your stay. Auberge Dardara Restaurant This hotel-restaurant is a short drive out of town, but remains a firm favourite for travellers looking for a memorable meal made from garden-fresh ingredients. The owner makes his own bread, olive oil and goat’s cheese. Try the speciality: a thick fava bean soup called bessara. Drinking there For Islamic religious reasons alcohol is hard to come by. To drink like the locals, head to a sidewalk cafe and order the ubiquitous sweet mint tea (the cornerstone of Moroccan hospitality). Handy language tips Due to the lasting effects of colonisation, Spanish is widely spoken. Locals also speak Arabic, Berber and French, but it’s easy to get by with English too. What to be aware of The Rif region is one of the world’s foremost cannabis producers. Touts typically target tourists but are best avoided. Although it’s readily available, smoking kif is illegal. You’ll soon master the art of a polite but firm 'no'. What to do Our taxi drops us off at Bab Souk, a gateway to the pedestrian-only maze of the medina. We venture inside, as if through a portal into the past; in a tradition that began over five hundred years ago, most of the gorgeous Andalusian architecture in the old town is painted in the characteristic colour. It is said that Jewish exiles from Spain blue-washed the buildings to reflect the cloudless Moroccan sky, serving as a reminder of God’s power. The resulting effect is one of the prettiest medinas in North Africa. [caption id="attachment_36891" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Blue upon blue upon blue (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] The picturesque streetscapes of Chefchaouen have become very fashionable of late. Comparable in beauty to the likes of Santorini, Jodhpur or Positano, social media ‘influencers’ have deemed Chefchaouen as infinitely Instagrammable.   Although Chefchaouen is welcoming to visitors today, it wasn’t always the case. The city was founded by Moulay Ali ben Rachid in 1471, built as a strategic base camp to launch attacks against the Portuguese stronghold in Ceuta. It soon became a refuge for Muslim and Jewish exiles from Spain fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. [caption id="attachment_36889" align="alignleft" width="1500"] The incredible palette of blue that typifies the streets of Chefchaouen (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] The increasingly isolationist city was closed to all foreigners until Spanish occupation in the 1920s. Only three westerners had managed to visit: a French explorer disguised as a rabbi, a British journalist, and an American missionary who met a grisly fate upon discovery. Although Morocco gained independence in 1956, Spanish is still widely spoken here.   A Berber boy meets us at Bab Souk to wheel our luggage over the cobblestones and guide us to the newly opened Riad Cherifa guesthouse, originally a traditional home with an interior courtyard or, in this case, a lofty atrium. Our afternoon is spent basking in the sunshine on the rooftop patio with a plate of sticky pastries and a glass of ‘Berber whisky’, an affectionate name for Moroccan tea, which is a supremely sweet, amber-coloured brew made from fragrant spearmint leaves. [caption id="attachment_36892" align="alignleft" width="667"] A patch of white breaks up the sea of blue (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] Wandering around the ‘Blue City’ feels like stepping back in time. There is a communal wood-fired oven where loaves of bread are prepared daily, farmers sell fresh produce at a weekly market, women in flowing Islamic veils walk children to school, townspeople wash laundry in a nearby waterfall and the mesmerising call to prayer vibrates within the ancient city walls. [caption id="attachment_36896" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Chaouen is an exercise in overstimulation of the senses (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] We work up an appetite traipsing through the spice-scented lanes, browsing a string of shopfronts and soaking up the atmosphere at alfresco cafes around Plaza Uta el-Hammam. As evening falls we dine at Restaurant Beldi Bab Ssour, which serves homespun fare in a rustic dining room. Our table is shared with a family who glance up from their meal with welcoming smiles before continuing a conversation in the Berber tongue.   The following day, I awake at first light to explore the surreal setting as the soft blanket of dawn amplifies the otherworldly atmosphere. I steal away from the riad and weave my way through the quiet, narrow lanes. It’s empty – save for a few stray cats and a glimpse of a man wearing a traditional hooded cloak (djellaba) before he disappears into the shadows. [caption id="attachment_36893" align="alignleft" width="667"] A typical tiled doorway (photo: Edwina Hart).[/caption] Chefchaouen is ethereal in the morning mist, the streets cast with an eerie hue before the warm tones of the sun begin to creep over the mountains. It is a scene that will leave me spellbound for a long time to come, and which, when combined with its other myriad allures, confirms Chefchaouen as a true gem.   Check out the 6 must do's when you're in Morocco's blue city: - 6 must-do’s in Morocco’s Blue City
Zoo abu dhabi osais fort Al Ain desert middle east
The Abu Dhabi itinerary that proves it’s not just a stopover
There is just too much on offer in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to relegate it to just a stop-over destination. There are ample day (and night) trips that will keep you enthralled; here, we visit the evocative oasis city of Al Ain, and spot a few of the UAE’s four-legged inhabitants along the way, writes Leigh-Ann Pow.
romantic getaways party vote yes gay marriage travel honeymoons
Seven sensational same-sex honeymoon destinations
The people have spoken and they have said, yes, Australia wants marriage equality. About time, right? OK, so gay marriage is not yet fait accompli yet – it’s up to us to ensure that our elected members follow the will of the people to pass the law. But it got us thinking; with the tide of LGBTI nuptials set to be unleashed, so will there be a demand for drool-worthy honeymoons to boot. Here’s our pick of amazing LGBTI-friendly destinations worthy of your upcoming special day, writes Steve Madgwick. 1. Thailand: Bangkok and beyond Long before the same-sex marriage juggernaut’s journey around the free-thinking countries of the world, Thailand was quietly and consistently stocking up on its gay-friendly credentials, thanks in part to Thai Buddhism’s tolerant nature.   Naturally, many gravitate towards one of southern Thailand’s Ko paradises: Samui, Pha Ngan et al or the lesser-travelled west coast islands, but ensure you schedule in some Bangkok time; it’s LGBTI scene is mercurial.   To get yourself primed for the celebration, check out: Bangkok’s best rooftop bars.   Alternatively: The Philippines has one of the highest acceptance rates of homosexuality in Asia and a tonne of honeymoon delights to match. Check out: Secret travel gems of Philippines. 2. Balearic Islands, Spain: The other side of Ibiza Surprisingly, Spain is on par with The Netherlands for its liberal attitude towards same-sex relationships (legalised in 2005), offering plenty of long-established and sunny LGBTI hotspots to spend your first weeks together in bliss. Forty kilometres south-west of Barcelona, Sitges is one of the most buoyant and long-lasting gay scenes in all of Europe, with plenty of breezy beachside bars and clubs to ease you into matrimony.   Across the Balearic Sea, Ibiza has been an open-minded sanctuary since at least the ’90s. It needn’t be a 24-hour party though; book into a chic stay like ‘designer farmhouse’ Granja Ibiza, reasonably isolated yet close enough if you feel like dipping into the action.   Time to go to Spain? Check out: Retreat from party central to Ibiza’s designer farmhouse 3. Iceland: The Nordic alternative As a same-sex marriage honeymoon destination, Iceland is a heady mix of tolerance (it was the first country with an openly gay head of government) and adventure. With filmic waterfalls and dramatic volcanoes that will grace your digital photo frame for decades to come, Iceland’s supernova popularity seems like it will never fade.   Capital Reykjavik is energetic, progressive, inclusive and just plain fun, so long as you pack your stamina. There’s plenty of queer celebrations to align your honeymoon with, such as Gay Pride (August) and Bears on Ice (September).   Time to go Inside Iceland? Check out: Inside Ieland   Add a stop-over: Super-hip Copenhagen sports Europe's oldest openly gay bar, Centralhjørnet (1950s), plus a micro-world of LGBTI-friendly boutique stays and businesses. Check out: Uber cool Copenhagen 4. Mykonos: King of the Greek Islands Statistically, Greece isn’t quite up with other progressive European powerhouses for accommodating LGBTI travel, but there are spectacular acceptations, many of which, thankfully, lie in the Greek Islands. The star is Mykonos, a hub for gay men in particular since the mid-70s, which now boasts a slew of specialist gay stays such as The Elysium Hotel.   The Greek Island trimmings are irresistible for any new couple, from archetypal whitewashed cottages to the romance-stoking clear waters of the Aegean, and you can easily avoid the island’s party scene by booking into the pared-back chic of stays like the San Giorgio Hotel.   Time to go to Greece? Check out: Mediterranean paradise: San Giorgio Hotel. 5. New Zealand: Land of the Long Pink Cloud The Land of the Long White Cloud has been a popular destination for LGBTI Australians since the country trumped us by changing gay marriage laws way back in 2013. N-Zed certainly got a huge head-start: there are already plenty of gay-friendly homestays on both islands plus destinations events, such as Gay Ski Week in stunning Queenstown.   It’s not just proximity and economy that makes Kiwiland a bounty for honeymooners, with refined, world-class high-end accommodation options such as Huka Lodge, perfect for your once-in-a-lifetime festivity.   Time to go to New Zealand? Check out: Huka Lodge: A Royal Retreat   Alternatively: If it’s lush green landscapes with progressive cities that have their own pride parades you’re after, you could just as easily consider Canada and same-sex marriage newcomer Ireland.  6. Paris: a city for all lovers Paris is unquestionably the universal city of love, which was enshrined into French law back in 2013. Classic Paris attractions need little introduction, but the city boasts an incredibly vigorous LGBTI community, which you’ll find out if you spend an evening wandering the inner arrondissements.   For a classic romantic night out with a view, head to 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant and then follow your noses through the vibrant culture of Le Marais.   Add a stopover: It’s hard to find a more pulsating gay scene (dating back to the 1920s) than Berlin’s with a world of subcultures to explore. Head to Kreuzberg, Prenzlauerberg and Schoneberg if you’re looking to celebrate your nuptials all night long. Check out 5 of Berlin’s best.  7. Outside Trump’s America: Island’s in the stream Judging by recent political momentum, the Land of the Free is not so free anymore, but don’t write off the whole of the USA as your honeymoon destination option just because of a bad egg or two. Of course, there’s the obvious first-stops; San Francisco and New York, both the scene of many an LGBTI civil rights victory, and all that goes with that.   But push on further to the ’50s flair of Palm Springs (160 kilometres from Los Angeles), which opens its arms wider than most North American cities with plenty of single sex stays (some clothing optional) for freedom and sunseekers.   There are plenty of other surprise pockets elsewhere, too, such as Providence (Rhode Island), which takes off over summer during the Rhode Island PrideFest (June).   Happy honeymooning!    
Hawaii is the leader when it comes to romance
How to make a destination wedding dream come true
With its glorious beaches and spectacular sunsets, Hawaii is the leader when it comes to romance.