Monthly Archives: May 2017

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.