The wine destination you never knew existed

Asked to name the world’s best wine country and you’ll most likely tout the undulating vineyards of Italy, France or California. But Thailand? With its smouldering weather and chalky soil, Thailand is not top of a vinophile’s bucket list. But Tamara Hinson discovers why it should be.
Cocktails and Chang beer are no longer the only drinks being served in Bangkok‘s chicest rooftop bars. The city’s upwardly mobile masses have a new-found thirst for wine – but the extortionate taxes slapped on imported alcohol mean that it’s a luxury few could enjoy. Until now.
Tucked between the rolling hills of Hua Hin, away from the coastal region’s sandy beaches and five-star resorts, Monsoon Valley Wines‘ vineyard is a hive of activity. Local workers move slowly along the vines, filling baskets with ripe grapes and wafting away the heat with homemade fans. A family of four cycles past, leaving behind wisps of chalky soil.
This hot, humid chunk of Thailand isn’t an obvious choice for a vineyard. The same could be said for the entire country. But that didn’t deter Chalerm Yoovidhya, who founded Monsoon Valley Wines in 2001.Yoovidhya, the Thai billionaire behind the Red Bull empire, had always loved fine wine, and felt that a Thailand-based winery would boost the blossoming wine culture in his country.

Critics scoffed, pointing out that decent wine simply couldn’t be made in this hot, humid country, with its chalky soil and searing heat. But Yoovidhya persisted, and today his company is one of Asia‘s most successful wine brands, with the largest network of international distributors.

Despite being a safe country with no shortage of breathtaking historical sites, friendly people and some of the world’s most stunning wilderness Jordan is often overlooked by travellers.

The next place you take your kids

Sri Lanka is blessed with all the essential ingredients for the family trip of a lifetime. Comparatively compact, with a colourful cultural identity, incredible wildlife and food you will never forget, this is the subcontinent at its most manageable. Rough Guides Managing Editor Keith Drew has the lowdown on why this tropical island paradise should be next on your family’s holiday hit list.

 

1. There are ancient kingdoms “ruled” by monkeys

Most children will be able to tackle the climb up Sigiriya, a royal citadel remarkably perched atop a weathered hunk of rock at the centre of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle – though a head for heights is needed for the metal staircase that marks the final push to the summit.

After this, you should be able to fit in another sight before temple fatigue kicks in, so pick the former capital of Polonnaruwa. Fifty-five kilometres to the east, it’s colonised by macaques and enlivened with tales of King Parakramabahu I (and his 300 wives).

Where to stay: The ground-breaking Jetwing Vil Uyana is set in former arable land now returned to paddy-fields, marsh and forests. Large thatched “dwellings” share an infinity pool, but the best thing for kids is the variety of wildlife, including the rare (and ridiculously cute) slender loris.

 

2. You can learn to surf on a laidback beach

The best waves in Sri Lanka crash onto the long expanse of beach that curves around Arugam Bay, a low-key settlement in the southeast of the country. The vibe here is very different to the more popular west coast, and it’s a good place to drop out from a sightseeing itinerary for a few days.

Several surf schools run lessons for children around Arugam Bay and Pottuvil Point further north; Baby Point is an aptly named break to start things off on.

Where to stay: There are lots of rustic choices on the main road through Arugam Bay, but for something a bit more relaxing, head to Kottukal Beach House at Pottuvil Point. It’s a breezy villa with two family rooms in the main house and instant access to an empty stretch of beach.

First timers guide for travel

One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Victoria Falls are wider than Niagara and higher than Iguazú – and have more activities on offer than both of them combined. Rough Guides Managing Editor Keith Drew has the lowdown on everything you need to know about Africa’s adventure capital.

 

So which side should I visit: Zimbabwe or Zambia?

Both. The lion’s share of the Falls are in Zimbabwe, and it’s here that you’ll get the best overall impression of their epic scale – all 1700m of thundering whitewater cascades. The numerous lookouts that run along the gorge inside Victoria Falls National Park include show-stopping views of the Devil’s Cataract; precarious Danger Point; and the spectacular Main Falls, the largest single sheet of water in the world.

On the Zambian side, the lookout points in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park give you another angle entirely. Watch the water plummet over the edge from just a few feet behind the Eastern Cataract, or cross the sliver of a bridge to Knife Point Island for that in-the-thick-of-it feeling.

You can also climb down to the river’s edge to the so-called Boiling Pot, named for the way the water rebounds off the rock face to create a treacherous swirl of criss-crossing currents.

 

Will I get wet then?

When the water levels are high, from around March to June, you’ll get absolutely soaked, particularly at Viewpoints 9 to 15 on the Zimbabwean side and around Knife Point Island in Zambia. The spray from the Falls can be so heavy that the island (and its bridge) are showered in a constant “downpour”.

Wear quick-drying clothes and flip-flops and hire one of the ponchos that are available to rent on both sides – they’ll also protect your camera.

 

The coolest city in Britain

Earlier this year a deafening “clink” of cider glasses reverberated around Bristol when the city was voted as Rough Guides’ Top UK City of 2017, shrugging off London, Oxford and Edinburgh for the top spot in the list.

It wasn’t a hard decision. The city’s first-rate nightlife, thriving creative and tech industries and proximity to the great outdoors made it an obvious choice. Think London, but smaller and (dare we say it) cooler – or at least more committed to its offbeat counterculture, and with an enormous gorge cutting an improbable chunk through part of the city.

Bristol frequently gets voted as one of the UK’s most liveable cities, too. But for the 7,516,570,000-odd humans who don’t have the honour of living there, here are five reasons why Bristol should be your next UK city break.

 

There are some weird and wonderful places to sleep

Sleeping in a “bedroom” in a “building” is so 2016.

Arguably taking the glamping craze to its logical conclusion, the visionaries at Canopy & Stars have converted one of the Harbourside’s iconic 1950s cranes into a treehouse. The ingeniously designed Crane 29 offers sweeping views of the harbour and prime people-watching opportunities from a window-side hammock, while the rainforest walkway and wooden furnishings make this a truly unique stay with green credentials to boot.

You will be serenaded to sleep by the buzzing chatter of the city centre and awoken by the dawn chorus, led by the shrill trumpeting of seagulls. It’s only around until September, though – to grab one of the final spots, enter Canopy and Stars’ competition.

A permanent, but no-less eccentric option are the retro Rocket caravans that have been airlifted to the top of chichi Brooks Guesthouse, just by St Nicholas Market. There are four of these aluminium vans, each kitted out with pocket-sprung mattresses and cosy bathrooms to a design spec that meets the high boutique standards of the guestrooms downstairs. Eating breakfast in the whitewashed courtyard is a pure delight.

Best scenic train rides in Europe

Easier than a car and more comfortable than a bus, taking the train is one of the best ways to experience Europe’s most picturesque regions. Sit back and admire spectacular mountains, lakes, rivers and incredible feats of engineering – here are 10 of the best scenic train rides across the continent.

 

1. West Highland Line, Scotland

Settle back for at least five hours and take in the mesmerising Highland scenery from Glasgow to Fort William, and then onwards to the small fishing port of Mallaig.

Most of the 264km journey is along a single track that slithers past moors, lochs, some of the most remote stations in Britain and – adding a dash of Harry Potter magic – the Glenfinnan viaduct used by the Hogwarts Express.

 

2. Bernina Express, Switzerland

It’s not often you find a train ride listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, but you can see why this four-hour journey through southern Switzerland is included.

Starting in Chur, the bright red, narrow-gauge train trundles through the Engadin Alps for 144km through chic St Moritz until it reaches Tirano just over the border in Italy. The mountains are glorious – either covered in snow in winter or in lush meadows in spring and summer – and the train’s passage along the Landwasser viaduct is breathtaking.

3. Le Train Jaune, France

For more than a century, this metre-gauge yellow train has been winding its way through the French Pyrenees from Villefranche-de-Conflent to Latour-de-Carol. What it lacks in distance – it’s only 63km and about three hours long – it more than makes up in the dramatic mountains of the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Catalanes.

It also stops at France’s highest railway station, Bolquère-Eyne, which sits at 1592m above sea level, and crosses the Pont Gisclard, a railway suspension bridge.

The time to go is now in Jordan

It’s one of the world’s top adventure destinations yet, in recent years, tourists have been eschewing Jordan due to widespread unease about travelling in the region.

But while the country has struggled to maintain its reputation as a safe oasis in more dangerous surrounds, it is still ranked by the World Economic Forum as one of the safer countries in the Middle East. And its mesmerizing sights – now with fewer crowds – are more spectacular than ever. Here’s what you need to know before your trip.

 

Why should you go?

From clapping eyes on the sandstone-hewn temples of Petra for the first time, to hunting for ancient petroglyphs in the desert wilderness of Wadi Rum, Jordan is an adventure-lover’s paradise. But it’s not just for adrenalin seekers.

From cooking with local families to getting a taste of nomadic Bedouin life, there are plenty of cultural experiences on offer in Jordan. The country’s top sights are well maintained, and can be visited in less than a week – though you could easily spend a fortnight exploring further afield.

 

Why is now a great time to visit?

Jordan’s tourism industry has taken a battering in recent years. Visitor numbers to Petra alone halved between 2010 and 2015 and are only creeping back slowly. Go now, and you can enjoy Jordan’s sights without the crowds – sometimes even all to yourself.

If you’re a keen hiker, you can also be one of the first to tackle the Jordan Trail – a spectacular 650km hiking trail that spans the entire country from tip-to-tail – which opened earlier this year. Choose a manageable section, or set aside a month to hike its entire length.

Making for a smoother visit, the Jordan Pass (from 70JD) launched in 2015. It offers hassle-free prepaid entry to more than 40 sites across the country and waives the standard 40JD tourist visa fee. Don’t forget to purchase the pass in advance of your trip.

a journey through San Francisco

San Francisco was the epicentre of the Summer of Love, a movement intent on changing the foundations of American society forever. Half a century later, Tamara Hinson journeys through the city to discover how much of that hedonistic era still lingers. 

In Haight-Ashbury, a Bob Marley track blares from Amoeba Music, an independent bookstore. Nearby, fragrant clouds of smoke billow from an apartment above a street art-adorned smoke shop.

Modern-day hipsters are slowly replacing those in the neighbourhood with the closest ties to 1967’s Summer of Love. But look closely and you’ll still see reminders: in the tie-dye filled windows of Love on Haight, a glitter pot-filled store owned by Sunny Powers, a local woman whose motto is “Never be afraid to sparkle”. And in Jammin on Haight, an explosion of psychedelic T-shirts and Grateful Dead music posters.

The Grateful Dead’s former publicist, Dennis McNally, is the man behind On the Road to the Summer of Love, an exhibition helping refresh the memories of those with little recollection of that heady, marijuana-fragranced summer, 50 years on.

One of the stranger exhibits at the California Historical Society’s exhibition is a sheet of LSD. Its owner avoided prosecution by claiming his glass-covered sheet of class A drugs was clearly for display, not consumption.

It’s one of several events commemorating the 50th anniversary of 1967’s Summer of Love, when more than 100,000 activists, artists and entrepreneurs flocked to the city to change the world with music, art and positive vibes. They protested about the Vietnam War, set up organic food movements and sang about healing the world. And, as the LSD exhibit suggests, they got high.

Surviving solo travel tips

Stuck for summer holiday inspiration? Lithuania has loads to offer, from wild, dune-backed beaches to even wilder festivals. And, with the country gearing up to celebrate 100 years since the restoration of independence (in 2018), there’s never been a better time to visit.

The Centenary Song Festival (in the capital Vilnius, June 2018), an extravaganza of folk music, dance, art and costume, will form a major part of the commemorations – but there’s plenty more to keep you entertained this summer.

From café culture in Vilnius to street art in Kaunas, and from peace and quiet on the coast to adventures deep in the forest, here are seven reasons why Lithuania should be your next trip.

 

1. For midsummer madness

Lithuania kicks off festival season with nationwide celebrations for St John’s Day (June 24), also known as Day of Dew, which has been celebrated on midsummer’s eve for centuries.

Locals stay up until dawn, taking over town and village squares, or heading to the countryside where bonfires are lit, herbs gathered and dew collected – magical powers can be harnessed, it is believed. Of course, all this is experienced against a backdrop of feasting, drinking, music and barefoot dancing.

 

2. For a glimpse of history

Kernavė, 40km northwest of capital Vilnius, is a quiet spot for most of the year. But this rich archaeological site comes to life when thousands descend for the summer solstice.

The area includes hill forts and burial grounds and has UNESCO World Heritage status. Finds dating back to Paleolithic times were first uncovered in the seventies and are strikingly well preserved thanks to the layers of silt that submerged them when the River Neris flooded. Many are on show at the site museum, from padlocks and arrowheads to fine jewellery and what look like extremely well-worn shoes.

The newest UNESCO World Heritage Site

William Wordsworth once described the UK’s Lake District as “the loveliest spot man hath ever found”. And the people at UNESCO seem to agree.

The national park has just been rewarded UNESCO World Heritage status, joining the likes of Bath and Stonehenge in the UK – as well as bucket-list international sights like the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canyon.

Delegates from the Lakes first tried to obtain UNESCO status in 1986, so we at Rough Guides think the announcement is cause for celebration.

Here are five ways to celebrate the Lake District’s new UNESCO World Heritage status, from osprey-spotting at Bassenthwaite Lake to a white-knuckle afternoon at the Via Ferrata.

 

1. Spot wild ospreys at Bassenthwaite Lake

Wild ospreys recolonised Bassenthwaite in 2001 and, although there’s no guarantee, they have returned every year since to nest and breed on the lakeshore here.

At the upper viewpoint, high-powered telescopes are provided. On most days during the season (April till August or September) you’ll be able to see these majestic birds fishing and feeding, hovering over the lake, then plunging feet first to catch their prey.

 

2. Test your nerves at the Via Ferrata

The Via Ferrata (“Iron Way”) uses a system pioneered in the Italian Dolomites as a way to get troops and equipment over unforgiving mountain terrain.

By means of a permanently fixed cableway and clip-on harness, you follow the miners’ old route up the exposed face of the mountain, clambering up and along iron rungs, ladders and supports to reach the top of Fleetwith Pike.

The Classic route is exhilarating enough. Die-hard thrill seekers can take things one step further with the Xtreme route, with more vertical climbs and cliff-face ladders.

 

3. Visit the Castlerigg Stone Circle

One of the Lake District’s most mysterious landmarks, Castlerigg Stone Circle sits atop a sweeping plateau, dwarfed by the encroaching fells. Some 38 hunks of Borrowdale volcanic stone, the largest almost 8ft tall, form a circle 100ft in diameter. The stone circle probably had an astronomical or timekeeping function when it was erected four or five thousand years ago, but no one really knows. Whatever its origins, it’s a magical spot.

Underrated cities that you must to visit

Elegant and artsy Buenos Aires and humid, hedonistic Rio de Janeiro are some of South America’s biggest urban draws, notching up hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

But for each city flush with tourists, there are plenty still under the radar. For those looking to escape the crowds, here are six South American towns and cities you’re guaranteed to fall in love with.

1. Jardin, Colombia

Few guidebooks even mention Jardin, a charming Colombian town that by all accounts has changed little since it was founded more than 150 years ago.

As per tradition, each morning locals occupy the main square to sip a cup of rich, Colombian coffee, seated on colourful chairs that are painted in vibrant hues to match the exuberant facades of the town’s colonial houses. Across the plaza, the extravagant neo-Gothic Basilica Menor, with its striking turquoise interior, offers another excuse to tarry here.

Encircled by the mountains of the Cordillera Occidental and boarded by surging rivers and streams, Jardin’s colourful streets are matched by its surroundings. A short cable car passing over lush plantations of coffee and banana – the region’s principal crops – brings visitors to Mirador Cristo Rey and the best views over town.

2. Punta Arenas, Chile

The gateway to the splendid mountain landscapes of Torres del Paine National Park further north, Punta Arenas is a city that most pass through quickly.

But it’s the historic heart of Chilean Patagonia; a city of neo-classical mansions that belonged to the merchants at the centre of the international wool trade in the late 1800s. The most extravagant, Palacio Braun-Menéndez is evidence of the wealth that once poured into the region.

The next European weekend break

The ingredients for a great European weekend break are simple. You’ll need a walkable city centre, a handful of excellent restaurants, some cool bars, affordable places to stay, interesting attractions and good transport.

Lyon, one of France’s most delightful small cities and the country’s culinary capital, offers all these and more. Here’s why it should top your travel wish list.

 

1. It’s gourmet heaven

With more than 2000 restaurants and a prestigious culinary history stretching back to the nineteenth century, Lyon easily ranks as one of the top foodie destinations in Europe.

Visiting traditional bouchons for dishes such as andouillette and tarte aux pralines is a must, while the city’s indoor market, the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, will keep you occupied for hours; stop at one of the market bars for locally cured charcuterie and a light red from nearby Beaujolais.

 

2. It’s the perfect size to explore in a weekend

Lyon is a delight to wander. You’ll spend most of your time between the ancient alleys of Vieux Lyon and the grander streets of the Presqu’île, perhaps with forays into the appealingly gritty district of Croix-Rousse. You’ll rarely find yourself walking for more than half an hour, with café terraces aplenty for stops en-route.

Venture a little further, and there’s even more to discover: inventive contemporary restaurants in the modern quarter of the city; the vineyards of the northern Rhône; the charming village of Pérouges.

 

3. It’s home to some of France’s best museums

Chief among Lyon’s attractions is the stand-out Musée des Confluences, devoted to science and anthropology.

The city also holds an excellent Musée des Beaux-Arts, with works from the likes of Rubens and Rembrandt, while you’ll find exhibitions by big names such as Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol in the Renzo Piano-designed Musée d’Art Contemporain (MAC). Make time, too, for the Institut Lumière, which celebrates the birth of cinematography.

Backpacking Japan can be both memorable and affordable

With its tech-centric entertainment, ancient temples, lightning fast rail system and traditional art forms, Japan offers a fascinating mix of the new and the old. Between rural Hokkaido and the tropical islands of Okinawa, you’re bound to find something to embrace as a curious backpacker. And with the following insider tips, backpacking Japan can be both memorable and affordable.

 

1. Skip the train

Rail passes can be pricey and often completely unnecessary given the cheap deals offered by airlines, ferries and buses. Low-cost carriers such as Vanilla Air or Peach can whisk you to another major city for as little as ¥3000 one way.

Overnight ferries – such as the Sunflower, which runs from Osaka to Beppu – give travellers tatami mat sleeping space and the chance to party with locals on deck (just be sure to bring an eye-mask and earplugs if you actually want to sleep). Similarly, overnight buses crisscross the country at highly discounted rates.

 

2. Or buy discounted train tickets

If riding the shinkansen is a non-negotiable part of your Japan experience, opt for deals such as the Puratto Kodama. This one-way ticket saves you ¥4000 off the regular bullet train fare between Tokyo and Osaka. Or take advantage of the seasonal Seishun 18; five days of unlimited local train travel.

 

3. Come prepared with socks

It’s customary to remove your shoes before entering most indoor spaces in Japan, including shrines, traditional restaurants and ryokan. If you’re going to wander around in your socks (make sure they’re clean), they might as well be stylish. If you’ve not got anything suitable from home, head to a local Don Quijote store to up your sock game.

 

4. Shop at Daiso

Forget something? Need a makeshift costume for a random night out? A cheap souvenir? Visit one of the 3000 Daiso stores scattered throughout the country, where most items are ¥100 and you can buy anything from craft supplies to shampoo.