A cool guide to Europe

ART
Brest Hero-Fortress, Belarus

Here’s a lesson in how to make a 19th-century fortress even better. The original Brest Fortress, constructed in about 1830, helped protect the Soviet Union from marauding European invaders, including during World War II, the Germans. Eventually, having been battered by thousands of Hitler’s troops, it fell. When it was liberated once more, the Soviets decided to turn the crumbling hulk into a memorial for fallen soldiers and called it Hero Fortress. Then they added not one but two humongous Brutalist statues. One, called Thirst, depicts a dying soldier crawling towards a river; the other (pictured here) is just the head and shoulders of a square-jawed giant looming over the scene and threatening you to take a swing at what is now Belarus if you dare. We wouldn’t.
brest-fortress.by

FROM THE SKY
Heli Skydiving, Hungary

Sure, if you’re after a buzz you can always have a crack at normal skydiving, but anyone already game enough to jump out of a plane and plummet to earth probably won’t mind taking the adrenaline levels up another notch. Enter heli skydiving, which – you guessed it – involves a helicopter instead of a small plane. The Millennium Tandem Team in Hungary are the thrill-seekers behind this venture, and will take you up in a Mil Mi-8 troop transport helicopter. The one-minute freefall takes place over Lake Balaton, an hour’s drive from Budapest, and the scenic views from an altitude of 4000 metres are out of this world – if you’re brave enough to keep your eyes open.
skydivingbudapest.org

ADRENALINE RUSH
Paragliding, Georgia

Forget the Swiss Alps. Word on the street is that the hottest new paragliding playground in Europe is Georgia. With the rugged, snow-capped Caucasus Mountains providing a near-perfect setting for high-flying antics, there are multiple locations, including Gudauri and Mestia, where anyone seeking an adrenaline rush can take to the skies. Fly Caucasus is the go-to paragliding team in the region and flies year-round. Its experts are more than happy to cater to your anxiety levels – if all you want is a relaxing experience they will glide you through a super cruisy scenic flight, but if you’d prefer to soar off the highest point in Georgia, they can make that crazy wish happen, too.
flycaucasus.com

ANCIENT RUINS
Pula Arena, Croatia

If you think Rome’s Colosseum is impressive, wait till you get a load of the Croatian version. Of the approximately 200 Roman amphitheatres left in the world today, Pula Arena is the only one to have four complete corner towers. Much like its Italian cousin, gladiators took to the amphitheatre, cheered on by 20,000 spectators sitting on the stone tiers or standing in the gallery; in the Middle Ages, it was used for knights’ tournaments. These days, as well as being the starting point for most visitors coming to the city, it hosts replica gladiator duels during summer, the Pula Film Festival, concerts, ballet and sporting events.

OFF THE GRID
Punta Grande Hotel, Spain

There are hotels by the ocean, but there are not too many hotels in the ocean. Punta Grande Hotel, in El Hierro in the Canary Islands, is one of the rare latter varieties. The accommodation, which currently holds the record for smallest hotel in the world, literally sits atop a lava rock that extends into the sea. If you choose to secure one of only four rooms, each one facing the ocean and nautically inspired, be prepared for a truly off-the-grid experience.
hotelpuntagrande.com/rooms

TREEHOUSE
Cabane 7eme ciel, France

If you’re aching to be at one with nature but are too fancy for camping, then this treehouse getaway is exactly what you need. Located in the historic region of Aquitaine, Cabane 7ème Ciel sits seven metres above the ground and is an evergreen destination for two. Plus, the tree trunk goes right through the room for genuine treehouse vibes. Couple that with the stunning views of the Gave d’Oloron and you’ve got yourself a pretty relaxing time.
abracadaroom.com

COASTAL DIGS
Dexamenes Seaside Hotel, Greece

What do you do with an abandoned wine factory located on a prime stretch of untouched coastline on the Greek mainland? Turn it into a super luxe hotel, obviously! And that’s exactly what acclaimed architecture firm K-Studio has done, transforming the dilapidated 1920s property into Dexamenes Seaside Hotel. Old wine tanks have been converted into 34 boutique guestrooms, while adjacent buildings have been renovated into a taverna, history room, bar-lounge and bakaliko (meeting point) where local crafts and produce are sold. Design wise, it’s all muted tones, clean lines and plenty of timber, glass and steel finishes – think a Greek take on the minimalism aesthetic. With the Ionian Sea just a stone’s throw away, this is barefoot luxury at its best.
designhotels.com

HOTEL POOL
Monte-Carlo Beach, France

You can almost imagine the Hollywood starlets reclined on chaises longues at this classy boutique hotel that sits atop a rocky outcrop on the border with Monaco. Built in the 1920s and reimagined for modern luxury travellers in 2009, this 40-suite bolthole is the place to be in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. And while we can all appreciate that the best way to arrive is on a yacht – there’s a private dock, of course – the only place you’ll want to be once you set foot on dry land is by the pool. Its expansive dimensions coupled with its proximity to the shimmering Mediterranean Sea – oh, and the old-school high-dive platform, ample loungers and poolside bar – offer up charm and ambiance relaxante in spades. Monte-Carlo Beach and its pool are open to guests from March to October.
relaischateaux.com

LIGHTHOUSE
Viirelaid, Estonia

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live near a lighthouse, here’s your chance. Across the sea, on the Islet of Viirelaid, both the lighthouse keeper’s house and the lighthouse complex offer accommodation for the nautically inclined traveller. With every window looking out to the sea, the keeper’s house comes with seven bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, separate fireplace room, and wood-fired sauna and hot tub. The complex is more suited for company events or private parties, with a whopping 50 beds.
viirelaid.ee

ANCIENT CITY
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Get this: the first evidence of habitation of what is now Bulgaria’s second-largest city has been dated back to the sixth millennium BCE during the Neolithic era. Then it was a Thracian settlement and ever since has been home to a mess of invaders, from Goths to Turks. These days in Plovdiv it’s possible to explore a Roman amphitheatre – built by Emperor Hadrian when the city was called Philippopolis, and only excavated in the 1970s – and the atmospheric Old Town with beautifully painted wooden buildings and cobbled laneways.

PARTY
Sparty, Hungary

What do you get when you combine an ancient bathing culture with free-flowing booze, laser lights, cracking DJs and hundreds of people in various states of undress? Only the biggest SPArty in Europe! It’s wet, it’s wild and it’s a rite of passage if you’re ever passing through Budapest on a Saturday. Held in the historic Széchenyi Baths, which is the largest medicinal bath complex in Europe, the weekly parties kick off at 10.30pm and rage long into the night. There are two thermal pools to swim between – you better believe the temperature of both is cranked up to hot and steamy – set against the epic backdrop of an ornate Baroque Revival palace. It makes for a pretty incredible sight, although you’ll probably be too busy knocking back novelty-sized cocktails and splashing water in your mate’s face to notice.
spartybooking.com

MUSIC FESTIVAL
Waking Life, Poland

If Burning Man were underground – hard to imagine, we know – and had a Portuguese accent, it would be this summer arts and music festival set on the edge of a lake in the cultural region of Alentejo. Stretching over five days, Waking Life features a chorus of sound from people, instruments and machines, and provides an intimate and immersive experience for its goers. The lineup is meticulously curated to showcase fresh talent, while the artwork is meant to stimulate and provoke interaction. Did we mention it’s alongside a beautiful lake?
wakinglife.pt

SLEEP OUT
Levin Iglut, Finland

Say hello to the one place where glass ceilings are welcome. The clear domes of the Levin Iglut igloos offer a panoramic view of the Arctic sky and pristine snowy fells of Lapland. If you’re worried about the cold, there’s no need. Aside from heated glass walls, the igloos also boast in-floor heating and luxuriously dressed beds complete with down covers and fur throw. Absolutely perfect for a cosy night in under the stars. Tip: it’s worth spending the extra for a Prime Superior igloo for a front-row view of the stars and snow.
leviniglut.net

TRAIN
Glacier Express, Switzerland

Wind from Zermatt through three stunning alpine cantons to St Moritz on what is possibly Switzerland’s most famous rail ride. Not that express means you’ll be going fast. The 291-kilometre journey takes eight hours, with the express part relating to the fact this train doesn’t stop at any of the local stations. From your comfy seat with panorama windows you’ll see the Matterhorn, cross the highest point of the Oberalp Pass at 2033 metres, traverse 291 bridges and pass through 91 tunnels. It’s such an eye-popping ride you’ll probably want to do it twice – once in the winter when the snow is at its peak, then again in spring when you get the perfect combo of green valleys and snowy mountaintops. Earlier this year, the Excellence Class launched and it certainly ups the ante, with guaranteed window seats, five-course meal, an exclusive bar and a concierge who can fill you in on all aspects of the journey as you roll along. Pro tip: if you’re travelling from Zermatt to St Moritz try to snag a seat on the left-hand side of the train.
glacierexpress.ch

DIVING
Blue Hole, Malta

Carved over the centuries by the forces of wind and water, the Blue Hole on the island of San Lawrenz is part of a limestone rock formation that makes for a spectacular entry and exit point for divers. Colourful coral, tubeworms, sponges and marine life cover the walls of the 15-metre hole, plus there’s a large cave and archway to explore. With diving here available year-round, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the islands’ most popular and stunning dives. Tip: it’s common for the Blue Hole to be busy in the afternoon, since divers will come here as the wind picks up and makes other dive sites around the islands less accessible.

HIKE
Ladder of Kotor, Montenegro

Not so much a ladder as a whole lot of stony steps, this hike isn’t the longest you’ll ever do but it is one steep mofo, rising 940 metres from Kotor’s Old Town along the old city walls and up to the Krstac Pass. For centuries, it was the only connecting road between Kotor and Cetinje, the former Royal Capital of Montenegro. As you’re traipsing up the 70-plus switchbacks, just imagine what it would be like if you and your donkey were carrying bounty for the king – Petar II Pertrovic-Njegos, the prince bishop, once ordered a billiard table be bought over the pass – as well as your bottle of water. The hard work is worth it for the spectacular views of the Bay of Kotor and the mountainous landscape surrounding you.

MUSEUM
Museum of Broken Relationships, Croatia

You may think nothing good can come from a break-up, but this quirky space, located in Zagreb, celebrates the art of hearts rent asunder and romantic dreams dashed. Fun fact: when their four-year relationship broke down, artists Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic joked they should put the possessions left over after their split into a museum. Now, this crowd-sourced collection has been recognised as one of the most innovative museums in Europe. Probably not the place for a first date, though.
brokenships.com

PHYSICAL
Canyoning, Austria

Look, we admit it’s probably going to get a little chilly, but for adrenaline junkies and lovers of extreme water sports, leaping into rapids, abseiling down waterfalls and slip-sliding down gullies should shove any thoughts of the cold to the back of their minds. Area 47 offers the chance to get wet in the Ötzal Valley, which runs through Tyrol. With tours ranging from beginners to expert level, there’s a full day of peak excitement waiting for everyone.
area47.at

LANDSCAPE
Faroe Islands, Denmark

Fast catching up to Iceland as one of Europe’s most Instagrammable locations, just one glimpse of the Faroe Islands is all it takes to understand why. Wild, untouched and insanely beautiful, this rugged cluster of 18 volcanic islands has an otherworldly feel about it, and a magic you don’t just find anywhere in the world. Located somewhere between Norway and Iceland, in the North Atlantic Ocean, its total isolation adds to the drama of the scenery, which is all craggy cliffs, green valleys, snow-capped mountains and deep fjords, with a smattering of shaggy sheep (fun fact: there are more sheep than people here). Even the small towns and villages, made up of colourful buildings and grass-roofed cottages, are ridiculously photogenic. We could go on, but it’s one of those places you just have to see for yourself.

COUNTRY
Slovenia

What if someone told you there was a secret European country with a classic medieval capital, a mini Venice without the crowds and 2017’s World’s Best Female Chef (trust us, she’s only gotten better since then)? Oh, and it also has one of the longest cave systems in Europe, world-class wineries and as many adrenaline thrills as you can chase.

Do all that and you’ll still only have scratched the surface. And it’s all within just a couple of hours’ drive. Capital Ljubljana is a tale of two cities separated by the winding Ljubljanica River. Cafes line its banks with spritzes lighting up like beacons in the afternoon sun as the young Ljubljana population jostles for the best seats. Stroll the cobblestone lanes past buskers and artists and find a seat in one of the many quaint restaurants for a Slovenian seafood feast. There’s a handy underground craft beer scene, too. Get along to Lajbah for a selection of the country’s best and some local live music. It’s very cool.

Now head south and in about 45 minutes you’ll arrive at Postojna Cave Park, a 24,000-metre-long karst system with a rickety train dating back to the mid 1800s that transports visitors deep into the darkness. Keep an eye out for the five-metre-high bright white stalagmite called Brilliant. It grows at less than 10 centimetres every thousand years, so we’ll let you do the numbers. Also find the eyeless baby dragons that live deep in the bowels of the cave. Yes, we did say baby dragons.

The same distance south again will see you arriving in Piran. Part of the Slovenian Riviera and sitting on a peninsula that juts into the Adriatic Sea, it was ‘owned’ by Venice in the 15th century and shares certain architectural characteristics. It has its own charms though, not least of which is the lack of crowds. Starting at Tartini Square, stroll through the maze of Venetian-style buildings housing shops, bars and cafes. Be sure to catch a sunset from an outdoor table at Cafinho – it has the best music selection in town.

Speaking of the best, in 2017 a former diplomacy student was awarded the world’s best female chef on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Located in the stunning Soča Valley – itself surrounded by the snow-capped Julian Alps – chef Ana Ros’s Hiša Franko is a gastronomic experience like no other. With dinner consisting of 23 courses and a matching wine option – her specialty is tortellini, but not as you know it – make sure you have a designated driver. Even more so if you decide to stop in the Goriška Brda region on the drive in. It pays to spend a night in what is the Slovenian equivalent of Tuscany, since the wine on offer is world class.

The lush Soča Valley offers a lot more than simply food and wine. Go white-water rafting on the ridiculously emerald green Soča River, zipline across 250-metre-high gorges, mountain bike, skydive, kayak, ski, snowboard… If you base yourself in Bovec, you can pick a different adrenaline thrill each day. You’ll probably want to finish up with a crafty at the Thirsty River Brewery as the sun sets.

Slovenia’s size allows for a full tour of the country to be accomplished in under a week, but that would hardly be cool. Take your time and discover your own secrets in the coolest of the cool European destinations. Oh, did we mention Žalec’s beer fountain?

MARKET
Markthal, Netherlands

If you’re anything like us, a trip to the local produce market is always high on our just-got-here-need-to-eat agenda. Sometimes, however, the unusual aromas and slippery floors of death can put a damper on our hunger. Not Rotterdam’s high-end offering, designed by local architects MVRDV and combining food hall, art space and apartment building. It’s the first of its kind in the world, and features a mural of market produce created by Arno Coene and Iris Roskam that’s been printed on aluminium panels and set into a huge internal arch. When you’re done ogling the roof, there are more than a hundred fresh food stands, as well as restaurants, food shops and a massive supermarket.

BEER
Oude Markt, Belgium

Beer, glorious beer – if that’s a mantra of yours, do we have a treat for you. Any good beer aficionado knows that Belgium, and in particular the town of Leuven, is an important location on the ale trail as it’s home to the world’s biggest brand-name brewery, AB InBev. But Leuven also lays claim to having what’s widely considered the longest bar in Europe: Oude Markt. This lively city square comprises 40 bars, with every single building on the pedestrian-only thoroughfare (apart from two pharmacies) serving froffies. Outdoor terraces blend into one another, and patrons – beers in hand – spill out onto the central walkway in what can only be described as one enormous street party. Steer clear of the obvious tourist bars and head to De Kroeg, which claims to be the square’s oldest cafe, or Café Belge and its impressive selection of beers. Proost!

SNACKS
Bear sausage, Slovenia

A hunter in Canada once told us that bears who’ve been stealing local winegrowers’ grapes taste the best. You might have to take his word for it, even in Slovenia where limited numbers of these lumbering beasts are hunted in forests where their numbers have become unsustainable. The best spot to find yourself some bear sausage is direct from the maker at places like Ljubljana’s Central Market. We suspect it doesn’t taste like chicken.

RESTAURANT
Alchemist, Denmark

To even begin to get your head around the concept that is Copenhagen’s most ambitious dining venture, Alchemist, it’s worth looking at the mind-boggling stats: four kitchens, 10,000 bottles in the cellar, 40 seats, 30 chefs, 20 waiters, two sensory experience rooms, 50 courses and one insanely talented 27-year-old head chef, Rasmus Munk. After closing in 2017, Alchemist was due to reopen at press time with a renewed appetite for challenging the limits of a meal. Using a concept called Holistic Cuisine – incorporating ethical and social issues with art, theatre, science and technology (a former signature dish, pictured right, of lamb heart tartare with cherry sauce encouraged diners to become organ donors) – Munk and his army of chefs meticulously create boundary-pushing dishes that stimulate the senses. So how do you finish a five-hour feasting extravaganza? With a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.
restaurant-alchemist.dk

DINNER AND A SHOW
Bar Jeder Vernunft, Germany

Although completely unassuming on the outside, within Berlin’s Bar Jeder Vernunft a glittering festival awaits. Stellar comedy acts and musical performances are staged within a tent festooned by a glitzy sea of mirrors and decorated with red velvet curtains, strings of lights and candlelit tables. Before the show starts, check out the seasonal menu on offer, or book a three-course meal in advance, with the starter and main course served prior to the show, and dessert in the intermission.
bar-jeder-venunft.de

SPECTATOR SPORT
Chessboxing, United Kingdom

Really, it does what it says on the tin. This is a combination of brains versus brawn, mentality versus muscle. In venues across London, hard men get in the ring to move their pieces then slug it out in three-minute rounds. The win comes from either a checkmate or a KO. The next big bout, Oktoberfist, takes place on 5 October, but if you’re keen to give it a go classes are held in Islington on Saturday mornings.
londonchessboxing.com

UNDER THE RADAR
Ghent, Belgium

Competing with the fairytale charm of Bruges, cobbled lanes of Antwerp and all-mighty lure of Brussels, it’s no wonder the medieval city of Ghent has managed to keep a low profile. Currently considered one of Belgium’s best-kept secrets, we have a sneaking suspicion this port town is about to start popping up on must-visit lists everywhere. A wealth of classical architecture is on display in the streets, and as one of Belgium’s oldest cities it’s home to more listed buildings than anywhere else in the country. Don’t miss the chance to feel as though you’ve been teleported back to the Middle Ages with a visit to Gravensteen Castle, while St Bavo’s Cathedral is a stunning example of Gothic design (it’s also home to The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb – the most stolen artwork of all time). Speaking of, some of Belgium’s best art collections are housed in Ghent. Get a closer look at them at MSK, the Museum of Fine Arts, STAM, the City Museum and S.M.A.K., the Museum for Contemporary Art. And with the largest student population in the Flanders region, you know there’s going to be some cracking places to eat, drink and let loose. Grab a drink in one of the many bars in the trendy district of Patershol, catch a gig at Vooruit and tuck into a steaming bowl of waterzooi (chicken soup) with a side of French fries and mayo. This is Belgium, after all.

WELLNESS
Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

You’ve probably heard a lot about the benefits of salt lamps and salt therapy rooms, which are said to cure a myriad of allergies, respiratory difficulties and skin conditions. So it should come as no surprise to learn there’s a wellness centre located 135 metres below the ground at one of Poland’s oldest working salt mines. The air in Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is a maze-like subterranean labyrinth of passageways and chambers, is completely pollution-free and rich in micronutrients – the ideal conditions for a successful health resort. Whether you’re visiting for the day or staying overnight, treatments include medical tests, massages, cardio training, aerobics classes and breathing exercises. Look, it may not be considered a traditional pamper sesh (there’s certainly no mani-pedi combos on offer), but we’re certainly not going to complain about a new-and-improved immune system.
health-resort.wieliczka-saltmine.com

ARCHITECTURE
V&A Dundee, Scotland

There must have been a time when the good citizens of Dundee thought their new museum might never happen. Originally slated for 2014, the doors finally swung open in September 2018. But they say good things come to those who wait and Scotland’s first museum dedicated to design is jam packed with inspiring exhibits. Even if you don’t wander inside, architect Kengo Kuma’s jaunty, angled creation that cantilevers, in part, over the River Tay is one worth casting an eye upon. For his first commission in the UK, Kuma looked to nature and Scotland’s rugged northeastern coastal cliffs for his vision. The curving concrete walls of the museum are made from 2500 pre-cast rough stone panels each weighing up to 3000 kilograms. As an added bonus, history buffs will love that Discovery, the ship used by Scott and Shackleton on their Antarctic expeditions, is moored outside.
vam.ac.uk/dundee

CITY
Bucharest, Romania

File Bucharest under Europe’s most surprising city, because this is one destination that doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. Romania’s capital, long thought of as nothing more than a stopover on the way to Transylvania, is finally coming into its own with a lively nightlife, interesting array of museums and galleries, plenty of green space and cheap beers. While the mark of Communism is still evident throughout the city – the menacing Palace of Parliament (the heaviest building in the world, and the second largest administrative structure behind the Pentagon) is the most extreme example – there’s also a beautifully mismatched collection of Orthodox churches, Byzantine apartment blocks and Art Nouveau manors well worth ogling. Trendy cafes, one of the prettiest bookstores this side of Paris in Carturesti Carusel, and a noticeable lack of tourists, long lines or crowded attractions only further validate Bucharest’s newly minted cool status.

ISLAND RESORT
Island Lodge, Sweden

When you picture an island resort, your first thought probably isn’t of a collection of luxury tents tucked away on a forested private island in the Stockholm archipelago. Admit it – you went tropical island vibes, didn’t you? Island Lodge is a 40-minute boat ride from the Swedish capital, and it’s just as indulgent as any five-star beachside resort. There are seven dome-shaped tents, each with a wooden deck. The interiors resemble the set of a magazine shoot and showcase the latest in Scandinavian design – we’re talking plush linen, reindeer skins and wood-fire stoves. Meals are prepared using seasonal, local and organic produce, and served up at a sea-front dining setting. Massages can be arranged, and there’s also a hot tub, floating sauna and wine cellar. Who needs palm trees and fruity cocktails when you’ve got this sort of cosy comfort?
islandlodge.se

ISLAND
St Agnes, United Kingdom

Glittering turquoise waters, secluded sandy coves, sunny days and warm nights – all this and more natural splendour is just a 20-minute flight from England’s Cornish Coast. Yes, you read that right. This is the UK. So what is this secret paradise the Brits have been keeping from us? St Agnes, a tiny landmass in the Isles of Scilly. Measuring less than two kilometres in width, it’s the most southwesterly island in the archipelago and consists of a community of 72 people, a few cute cottages, bird sanctuary, pub and an ice-creamery – you know, all the remote island essentials. You can camp (or glamp) at Troytown Farm, and days become surprisingly busy as you squeeze in kayaking, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, walking and birdwatching. Don’t forget to have a meal at the Turk’s Head pub either – the views from the beer garden are the best on the island.

CHURCH
Sedlec Ossuary, Czechia

From the outside it looks like your run-of-the-mill place of worship, but step inside and you might find yourself questioning whether you’ve stumbled upon the lair of a prolific serial killer. Sedlec Ossuary, also known as the Church of Bones, is a small chapel in Kutná Hora decorated entirely with human bones. Thankfully, they aren’t the remains of murder victims, and have instead come from the tens of thousands of people buried in nearby Sedlec Cemetery. In 1870 a local woodcarver began working his dark magic on the bones, creating macabre highlights like a fetching 2.5-metre bone chandelier, an insanely detailed family crest, bone candelabras, skull candleholders and crosses crafted from hip and femur bones. Creepy? You bet. Cool? Abso-bloody-lutely.
sedlecossuary.com

ANIMAL ENCOUNTER
Orcas, Norway

Norway may be home to polar bears, walrus, reindeer and moose, but there’s one particular creature that lures animal lovers like no other: whales. On a cruise with Majestic Whale Encounters it isn’t just any old cetacean you’ll be getting to know, though. During this nine-night tour you’ll not only be cruising fjords to spot humpbacks and other marine life, you’ll also be pulling on a wetsuit and actually diving into the ocean to swim and interact with orcas. Taking a dip with these inquisitive and highly intelligent animals is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’s no need to worry about these gentle giants taking a cheeky chomp out of you. Norwegian orcas eat only herring.
majesticwhaleencounters.com.au

CASTLE
Pałac Warmątowice Sienkiewiczowskie, Poland

If you ingested a diet of Disney films as a child, chances are you probably dreamed of growing up, meeting your Prince (or Princess) Charming and living happily ever after in a castle. While we can’t do much about the royalty part, you might be interested to hear about Pałac Warmątowice Sienkiewiczowskie, a real-life castle you can stay in. It’s situated in the Legnica region of Poland and was originally built in 1602 as a fortified manor complete with epic moat. Almost destroyed in World War II, it has since been restored to its former glory and now accommodates up to 10 guests across five elaborately furnished guestrooms. If that’s not fairytale-esque enough for you, dense woodlands where deer, birds and small forest creatures reside surround the castle – how’s that for some Snow White vibes?
palac-warmatowice.pl

BEACH
Cala Biriola, Italy

Who said a landslide had to bring you down? In the case of this Sardinian gem, it was the start of something heavenly. Located near the town of Baunei, Cala Biriola was formed when the landscape fell away about half a century ago, leaving behind a semicircle of smooth white pebbles surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and turquoise water. At one end of the beach, there’s also a natural rock arch. The walk in is epic, but you can easily take a water taxi from one of the local villages. Do that early in the morning and you’ll practically have this picture-perfect scene to yourself. Oh, there are plenty of fish in this sea, so don’t forget your mask and snorkel.

Wine Tour Luxury On A Budget

Along with opportunities to taste some of the country’s most tantalising drops, you’ll nibble local delights and dine at hatted restaurants for much less than you might imagine. To top it all off, make a trip of it and stay at charming country cottages and even lavish five-star hotels for prices that leave plenty of cash in the wallet to visit exciting local attractions and truly kick up your heels.

Escape in WA

Heading to the magnificent state of Western Australia, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to wine regions. One great thing about WA is that you can find most of your favourite common wine varieties grown locally, along with your preferred wine-growing climate. From the warmth of the Swan Valley to the cool temps of Denmark, there’s something for everyone.

One wine region that must be on your hit list when you’re in WA is Perth’s closest and most historic. A mere 25 minutes from Perth’s CBD is Australia’s second oldest wine region, the Swan Valley. Established in 1829, this region has been making its mark on the local community for nearly 200 years, and has also been impressing our foreign friends for quite some time. It’s a region that is bursting with vibrant, handcrafted ‘old vine’ wines along with outstanding local produce. The Swan Valley isn’t spread out like many wine regions you see. You can jump from winery to winery within a few minutes. Throw in a brewery, a chocolate factory, perhaps a distillery and you have yourself the perfect day trip from Perth.

When visiting a wine region, many of us like to do it in style. Style can come in many different formats but, no matter what way it’s presented, you shouldn’t have to break the bank. That’s another thing that’s lovable about the Swan Valley – you can luxe it up on a budget. One way of having a more luxurious experience is by joining a wine tour run by Swan Valley experts. Think about it… You don’t have to plan a thing! Only what you’re going to wear and how you’re going to get to and from the pick-up point. Easy! Let someone else organise a day where you’ll taste premium wines, indulge in cheese and chocolate delights, and sit down for a gourmet lunch. How lavish is that?

Finding the right wine tour can be tricky. One that’s popular and well thought out is the d’Vine Swan Valley Tour by d’Vine Wine Tours. d’Vine Tours has been running premium and professional daily tours, as well as fully customised private and corporate tours, for almost seven years. Its tours are fun yet informative and give the perfect snapshot of the Swan Valley region.

This full-day tour includes six stops that are all unique and offer something to tantalise those taste buds. Once you are picked up by your host and whisked off to the Swan Valley, you’ll start the day with a premium wine tasting at a small boutique winery. The first wine tasting is always paired with sumptuous local cheeses (wine and cheese? Yes, please!). Following this, it’s on to another winery for more tastings and a delicious gourmet lunch with a glass of wine, beer or cider to savour. From there you’ll visit more cellar doors, a chocolate factory for decadent chocolate tastings, a micro-brewery for your choice of drink – whether that’s a craft beers, cider or local wine. Also, as a treat on weekdays, you are taken to a French patisserie that specialises in macarons – Perth’s best by the way. Here you can choose from 20 different macaron flavours and try to tell us they aren’t as good as the ones you had in France.

Finish the day by being dropped back to the pick-up location, feeling completely satiated while also having learned a lot about the Swan Valley region and the wine world. Everything from your transport and tastings to your lunch experience and drinks is included in the cost of $120 a person. Now, if that doesn’t sound like luxury on a budget then we don’t know what does.

If your style is to plan it yourself and perhaps spend a night or two in the beautiful wine region then we certainly have some tips for you. One of our favourite luxury places to stay is the Colony Hotel situated at Mandoon Estate. It is the only five-star winery accommodation in Perth – in fact, it’s the only five-star spot in the Swan Valley. It oozes comfort, style and top-class service. You have an award-winning winery at your disposal and let’s not forget that Wild Swan, one of WA’s few hatted restaurants, is situated on the property. You would think with all of this excellence you would be paying quite a lot to stay. Prices, however, start from as little as $169 a night (with inclusions) depending on your method of booking and what deals are on.

Seeing as though you’re staying in the Swan Valley and visiting wineries at your leisure, one vineyard we consider a must for a wine tasting is Faber Vineyard. Faber wines are considered among the best in the region. Its cellar door experience is intimate yet casual – order some delicious grazing platters and a bottle of wine to wash it down. On arrival you’ll be greeted with a friendly smile by one of the owners or winemakers. Cruise through an informative, sit-down wine tasting – there are no tasting fees – and choose a wine to take home if you like.

The style of the property itself is a cross between country Australia and rustic European – sitting out on their back veranda and sipping on the drink of the gods transports you to a Tuscan vineyard. A winery affair like this can feel increibly indulgent, however the gourmet platters at Faber Vineyard cost as little as $40 for two people, and wine starts at $23 a bottle.

The excellent news is that there are many more wineries like this in the Swan Valley.

Head to the Hunter Valley

Just soaking up the rolling vineyard views is enough to give you a sense of luxury in the Hunter Valley. Not only that, but with more cellar doors than any other wine region in the country, your options for tastings are outright lavish. All you need to do is book a Hunter Valley wine tour, sit back, relax and let local guides take you right to the sparkling highlights. Talk about a luxurious treat without the price tag.

You could easily spend weeks sipping and swirling your way through the greater Hunter region. However, the three main areas are Pokolbin, Lovedale and Rothbury. Vineyards like Tyrrell’s and Tulloch bring the history and the fame to gorgeous Pokolbin. It’s often the little things in life that deliver the most decadence, and you’ll find delicious bites at the Hunter Valley Cheese Company and the Pokolbin Chocolate and Jam Company shop.

It’s hard to drag yourself away from so much scrumptiousness, but the effort is worth it to visit the affordable Hunter Valley Gardens. The names alone – the Sunken Garden, the Italian Grotto, the Lakes Walk and more – give you a hint of the extravagant landscapes awaiting your meandering feet.

Lovedale, with its picturesque country scenery and boutique cellar doors, is just up the road from Pokolbin. Pretend you’re in Tuscany, without the cost of the flight, at Wandin Valley Estate  and check out the views of the Brokenback Range from Allandale. The 20-year-old vineyard at Capercaillie Wines offers an Instagram-worthy homestead, and Binnorie Dairy ensures you’ll tuck into as many soft cheeses as you can handle. Even more cellar doors greet you in the quaint town of Rothbury, along with Hope Estate Brewery and breathtaking mountain views around every scenic corner.

All three towns offer luxurious spa retreats, romantic boutique hotels, country cottages and sprawling homesteads for overnight and longer stays. While the top hotels can be pricey, it’s easy to find countryside charm and elegance on Airbnb. To save your cash for guided wine tours, it’s often more affordable to stay on the outskirts of the main tourist towns. Don’t worry about transport, as Tastes of the Hunter Wine Tours offer door-to-door service to the surrounding towns.

If colonial history sounds grand to you, stay in Cessnock. When you’re not sipping, pop into the Marthaville Arts and Cultural Centre and the Regional Art Gallery. A base in the gorgeous village of Broke lets you indulge in cosy cafes and plenty of local olives. For a riverside escape, gather some friends and book a country cottage in Singleton, or unleash your inner artist with a stay in quirky Maitland.

Choosing a luxury base on the outskirts, without that touristy price tag, doesn’t mean missing out on anything. In fact, if you want to sample a little bit of everything, you’ll get the tastiest highlights on a Hunter Valley Wine and Beer Tour from just $79. For this price, settle in for the luxury of door-to-door service, an air-conditioned minibus, a local guide and driver, bottled water and all your bookings sorted for you. It’s your choice as to how much you spend on tasting fees and yummy lunch feasts.

You’ll visit a mix of established and boutique vineyards and taste up to eight wines at each, so get set to discover your new favourite reds, whites and blends. Switch things up with local craft beers, ciders and liqueurs that pack a serious punch for the taste buds. Speaking of which, mouthwatering cheeses and lunch at popular local restaurants help to soak up all that liquid in the most delightful way possible.

If you haven’t stopped reading yet to go and pack your bag perhaps you should. Whether you decide to visit the stunning Swan Valley or head for the undulating hills of the Hunter, a gourmet experience is a given. The best thing is it’s easy to stretch your budget to fulfill your desires, with something for everyone to splash out on. From innovative craft beer to award-winning wine labels, a little luxury in two of Australia’s most dazzling wine regions is a dream come true, without the nightmarish price tag.

Crack open that bubbly, because there’s plenty to celebrate while you’re planning a gourmet wine tour on a budget.

Top 5 Overland Rallies

Put your foot to the floor
Southern Africa

SUV, RV, scooter, 1970s Volkswagen Beetle – anything goes during the annual Put Foot Rally. And entrants can expect the same loosey-goosey approach when it comes to almost every element of the race, which the coordinators declare is definitely “not a race”. A lack of organisation, resources and a general mentality of insouciance is held in high regard on this “roughly, sort of, in the region of 8000-kilometre” rally, and responsibility for organising the route, accommodation, food and insurance rests with you. Meander through six southern African nations – South Africa (Cape Town is the starting point), Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique – stopping at six different checkpoints for six different parties in 19 days.
putfootrally.com

Rove on rickshaws
India

You’re standing at the start line of the Rickshaw Run, 3,500 kilometres of India stretching out before you and all you have to traverse it is a three-wheeled, seven-horsepower rickshaw that is really just a glorified lawn mower. At least your trusty steed looks fly: participants design their pimped-out ride from the comfort of their own home, arriving on the subcontinent to be greeted by a freshly painted set of wheels. You’ll race with two pals for two weeks, crossing paths with other like-minded (read: non compos mentis) travellers, as you putter, slowly, across the country. Between Cochin, in India’s tropical southern state of Kerala, and Jaisalmer, a city almost encroached by desert in the northern state of Rajasthan, riders can choose their own adventure by following the ‘unroute’, i.e. making it up entirely as they go.
theadventurists.com

 

Time warp
Italy

Unlike the infamous Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles) endurance race that was banned in the 1950s following a particularly devastating crash, the annual amateur re-enactment – with the same name – doesn’t slap down a thrill a minute. What it does boast, however, is one of the most beautiful rally routes in the world, traversing a course of cobbled streets, Tuscan hills and lofty mountain passes. The event draws thousands of spectators each year, all of whom share a love of classic cars: only models that participated in the original races – held between 1927 and 1957 – are welcome to enter. Even so, more than 400 teams cruise in with their vintage rides from all corners of the globe. While the route varies slightly each year, these ancient engines always rev to life during May in Brescia, at the foothills of the Alps, where motor races have been held for more than a hundred years. If you don’t happen to own a 1951 Jaguar XK120 or a 1927 Bugatti T40, make for one of the checkpoints and watch these charming beauties roll by.
1000miglia.it

Outback assembly
Australia

Negotiate narrow dirt roads, career around snowy alpine passes and wobble over water crossings in deep rainforest – all from the seat of a diminutive 105cc Honda motorcycle. Alongside 50 other mavericks who have a taste for the open road you’ll tackle 3,500 kilometres of sand, gravel and dust on the Postie Bike Challenge, although mercifully you’ll also have a full support team behind you if (and when) things get a little hairy. After each day spent with wind whipping your face and Australia’s rugged landscapes sailing by, you’ll pitch a tent in rodeo grounds before recounting the events of the past 24 hours with your new pals over a catered dinner. This 10-day outback odyssey traces a different route every year, and has raised more than AU$1 million for charity since its inception in 2002. Rustle up the AU$5,650 entry fee and experience a two-wheeled endurance event like no other.
postiebikechallenge.org

Ice rider
Russia

Quite possibly the most extreme adventure since Shackleton’s polar expeditions, the Ice Run sees motorbike riders careening across a frozen landscape in the depths of Russia’s winter. Form your own team of two and hop aboard a Ural motorcycle to traverse the world’s largest, deepest and oldest lake – a body of water so vast that it’s often mistaken for a sea – in temperatures that can reach –27°C. Three days of training preps bikers for the Siberian slogathon. Sharp gusts of 20 different winds can abruptly materialise, threatening to freeze your face; snow is pockmarked with patches of polished ice, creating a veritable skating rink; and the barren landscape, almost entirely devoid of landmarks, means riders have almost no sense of perspective. Come the big ride, the frosty beauty of Lake Baikal will take your breath away – if the freezing temperatures haven’t already – while the camaraderie will warm your heart, even if every other part of your body is frozen. The entry fee is AU$6,250 per duo, which gets you a bike and all your training. Competitors are also encouraged to raise at least AU$850 for the charity Cool Earth.
theadventourists.com

Top 5 Saunas in Europe

Wellness on Ice
Finland

If you thought an igloo using a frozen lake for a floor was cool, picture one boasting more than just an icy interior. This ice-brick structure by Rukan Salonki Chalets conceals a steamy sauna right on top of Lake Salonkijärvi, out in the heart of Finland. Illuminated by the reflection of sunlight and ice and heated by a stove, which is only brought inside when guests are there to avoid melting the walls, the ice sauna is one of the most unusual ways you’ll ever get a sweat on. Warmed to steamy 60°C, the heat is less aggressive than at most saunas but the humidity is high, causing your body to perspire as soon as you enter. It also promises relief to those with breathing issues and colds. Up to 10 people can enter the igloo at once, and when it’s time to simmer down, custom dictates you plunge through a hole in the ice for a shrivelling winter swim.
rukansalonki.fi

A Golden Experience
Sweden

Willy Wonka, eat your heart out. This is your golden ticket to an art-meets-spa experience. Glimmering in Sweden’s northernmost town us this gold-plated, egg-shaped public sauna. Designed by Swedish artists Mats Bigert and Lars Bergström, the Solar Egg was gifted to the town of Kiruna after it was announced the entire city district was to be relocated because of crumbling foundations following decades of mining for iron ore. A heart-shaped wood stove heats the aspen and pine interiors to between 75ºC and 85°C, while solar panels incorporated into the geometric design offer eco-friendly lighting. The eight-person egg isn’t immobile either – it visited Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Minnesota, before rolling back to heat Swedes in the Arctic Circle once more.

Heat Rises
Finland

When it comes to Finland, ski slopes and saunas are two things that roll with the territory. But what about a sauna built into a gondola floating above a snow-slathered mountain? Throw in some heavy metal music and traditional karelian pies, and you have yourself the ultimate Finnish experience. Get your Finn on at Sport Resort Ylläs, where snow bunnies can unwind in the Ylläs 1 Gondola after a day carving up the slopes. The world’s first suspended sauna cruises a two-kilometre line, treating up to four riders at a time with 20 minutes of spectacular views of Lapland’s powder-white landscape. Skiers looking for extra respite should book a two-hour package and soak in the outdoor hot tub at Café Gondola 718, situated on the mountaintop, which can be enjoyed privately by up to a dozen guests.
yllas.fi

An Apple a Day
Italy

While it may resemble a set from Lord of the Rings, we promise a visit to this little hidey-hole sauna is far more relaxing than a day spent in Hobbiton. Located in Northern Italy’s Passeier Valley, the luxe Applesauna is hidden on a green hill in the expansive apple orchard at farm-turned-three-star Apfelhotel Torgglerhof. Using the Finnish method, stones are heated on a stove and water poured on top to create the warm and steamy atmosphere. Timber benches frame concrete walls and floor-to-ceiling windows welcome natural light. Best of all, guests steaming inside are treated to panoramic views of the treetops and the surrounding Sarntal Alps. When the steam has settled, a nearby cottage has been transformed into a rest area where cups of tea and fresh fruit (no doubt an apple or two) are served as body temperatures cool.
apfelhotel.com


Sweden

At Frihamnen port in Gothenburg, a strangely shaped, corrugated-iron structure stands at the end of a bridge, its reflection wavering in the waters below. Inside this weathered, metallic building is a small slice of luxury that adds a softer side to Scandinavia’s largest port. Recycled materials feature in the design, with timber lining the walls and 12,000 bottles surrounding the changing rooms to create privacy while allowing natural light to permeate. Stewing in the steamy interiors offers views past cranes and shipping containers and out across the harbour, which is undergoing a redevelopment due to be completed in 2021. The experience is free, and when you’re  toasted and lobster-red, there’s a chlorine-free pool nearby with enticingly cool waters.
goteborg.com

Top 5 Rockstar Blowouts

Holy Writings
India

Forget Eat, Pray, Love – if anyone has inspired a pilgrimage to India’s ashrams, it’s The Beatles. Chaurasi Kutia, the ashram of guru and creator of transcendental meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was the holy site where the band famously spent weeks penning songs that would eventually fill The Beatles, or what is known by most as the White Album. While it’s rumoured the group left shortly after they arrived – Ringo Starr departed after just 10 days, while Paul McCartney only hung around for a month – this ashram is a famous part of the Beatles’ history. Until recently, the abandoned buildings – like the Beatles Cathedral Gallery, which was brought to life by the art of street artist Pan Trinity Das – had been reclaimed by the surrounding wilderness. In 2015, however, the grounds were reopened to the public. As for what comes next for the ashram, future plans are yet to be confirmed, but it looks bright.

Art and A-listers
Germany

Take a step back in time at Berlin’s Paris Bar. Beneath its glowing neon sign, artworks by German artist Martin Kippenberger adorn almost every surface of the bar’s interior, which was once the haunt of many A-list artists, actors and rock stars, including Madonna, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and Yoko Ono. It’s also the place of the infamous 1979 Rolling Stone interview with an inebriated David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and where Iggy drunkenly rolled around in the snow outside. It serves classical French cuisine and while a visit here is accompanied by a somewhat hefty price tag, it’s still worth sitting with the locals among the bar’s rich old-world glamour, admiring the art that decorates the walls and, if you’re lucky, rubbing shoulders with a celebrity.
artberlin.de/restaurant/paris-bar

The Makings of a Hero
Germany

In a bid to escape the bedlam of Los Angeles, a move to Berlin in the late 70s was a pivotal experience for David Bowie. While living on Haupstrasse in the quiet district of Schöneberg, he once described the city to Uncut magazine as a place of “virtual anonymity” and could often be found popping into cafe Neues Ufer for an espresso. The cafe’s name means ‘the new side’ (formerly it was Anderes Ufer, aka The Other Side). Coincidence? We think not. During his self-imposed exile, Bowie penned the enduring hit ‘Heroes’, which was inspired by a young couple kissing against the Berlin Wall, a moment he was said to have witnessed from a window in Kreuzberg’s Hansa recording studio (he would later reveal the couple was producer Tony Visconti and his girlfriend). Today, Neues Ufer is one of Berlin’s oldest gay cafes and retains its original ambience, with the addition of a few photos of the famous rock star. Join the Bowie Berlin Walk by Berlin Music Tours, where you’ll discover his other haunts in the Kreuzberg and Mitte districts, before finishing off with a bevvy at this enduring favourite.
musictours-berlin.com

Mercury Rising
Zanzibar

Some may not know this, but Queen front man Freddie Mercury was actually born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents. While he spent years studying in Bombay, it was in Zanzibar’s Stone Town that this showman spent most of his childhood. In Shangani, where Mercury was born and later returned before leaving for London at the age of 18, the Bulsara family home still stands, now labelled Mercury House. It’s not open to the public, but Zanzibar Gallery, where Mercury also once lived, sells a bunch of souvenirs and a t-shirt or two in this Freddie-obsessed town. Visitors to the Tanzanian archipelago can also visit the Zoroastrian temple where the Bulsara family once worshipped. A number of tours offer the chance to trace his footsteps along Shangani’s streets, connecting you to the life of Freddie before he became a huge star. Plus, no visit is complete without a stop at the Mercury Restaurant.

Bed-in Bonanza
Canada

John Lennon and Yoko Ono: this twentieth-century power couple has never ceased to amaze the world. In 1969, the pyjama-clad newlyweds spent eight days in a peaceful bed-in protest against the Vietnam War in Suite 1742 of Montreal’s Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel. It was here ‘Give Peace a Chance’ was also recorded. While the couple’s first bed-in – a room at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam – can still be visited, Suite 1742 in Montreal’s Fairmont has been refurbished for a truly immersive experience. The two-bedder has the iconic song lyrics splashed across the walls, as well as an interactive cabinet installation packed with videos, images and podcasts, and a virtual reality experience that allows guests to view the room as Lennon and Ono did half a century ago.
fairmont.com

The 5 Most Beautiful Forests in the World

If Trees Could Talk
Japan

Come face to face with Japan’s oldest living trees. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed forests of Yakushima are inhabited by flourishing yakusugi, also known as Japanese cedar, some which are believed to be more than 7,000 years old. To ensure the natural growth of these magnificent trees remains undisturbed – they’re also the habitat of many animals including Yaku macaque monkeys and sika deer – trails have been created to wind around the tangled roots and mossy stones. With miles of terrain to cover, you have every chance of getting a glimpse of these local creatures in this magical place. To access the island, you can either jump on the ferry or fly directly into Yakushima airport. For adventurous visitors who want more than a day trip, there are cabins available within the forest that can be used by night hikers and campers.

The Sunken Place
Kazakhstan

Along the ancient paths of the infamous Silk Road lies the untouched beauty of Kazakhstan. Far from the tourist trail, these lands have remained a well-kept secret, none more so than the mystical Lake Kaindy, which sits 2,000 metres above sea level. In the early 1900s, when a vicious earthquake struck and a limestone landslide ensued, the gorge became blocked and eventually water cascading down from the mountains above formed the 400-metre-long lake, swallowing dozens of Asian spruce trees along its banks. Infused with limestone deposits, the water’s seemingly unnatural greenish-blue hues are punctured by stark white tree trunks that cast eerie reflections in the glassy surface. Below the surface leaves still cling to their branches, preserved by the lake’s cold temps. With multiple companies offering tours to Lake Kaindy and the breathtaking sights surrounding it, this forest is well worth the hike.

Gone With the Wind
Poland

The peculiar trees in Poland’s Crooked Forest in Krzywy Las look more like an upside-down question mark – it’s a fitting shape for the puzzling place. Shrouded in mystery, the trees were planted in the 1920s and 30s, however the question behind the warped shape of these pines, while largely debated for decades, remains unknown. Some theorise tanks passing during World War Two pushed them aside and they have been stuck ever since. Others believe they were covered by a heavy snowstorm in the early years of their lives and, when spring came, they could no longer stand tall. Surrounded by a larger forest of straight growing pines, the true reason is likely to remain a secret. A half-hour drive from the city of Szczecin in Poland’s northwest, the forest is easily accessible for those who are keen walk among the unusual formations and ponder the theories of this fascinating enigma.

Got Spiked?
Madagascar

Sculpted by water over many millennia, gouging the earth’s rock and soil, Tsingy de Bemaraha is a forest unlike any other. Vast caverns and jagged limestone karsts pucker the land, some peaking at a hundred metres tall, like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. While the landscape appears unforgiving, this geological phenomenon and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the west coast of Madagascar is home to a range of wildlife – simply peer down into the cavernous depths of the tsingy where vegetation has taken root for a glimpse of lemurs, birds and reptiles, many of which don’t exist anywhere else in the world. The unfriendly terrain and its location also means much of the forest has remained mostly untouched by humans, which has ensured the preservation of this stunning landscape. Don’t fret though; this doesn’t put it out of your reach. Despite the tough environment, a series of ladders, suspension bridges and trails have been laid out, each with varying levels of difficulty. There are also guides for hire at the park’s entrance to help keen adventurers tackle the peaks. Just don’t look down.

The Upside Down
USA

Although unassuming from the surface, La Jolla Cove hides more than just a colourful array of marine life. Sprouting from the rocky reefs that blanket the ocean floor, with stalks reaching between nine to 25 metres in height, is a stunning kelp forest. Swaying dreamily in the underwater currents, flashes of red and orange-hued fish and colourful reefs are a vibrant contrast against the green and brown kelp. If you’re lucky, you might even spot an excitable sea lion twirling through the tall stalks. The only way to truly experience it is to suit up and take the plunge. As you glide between the long, rippling ribbons of kelp, you’ll feel as though you’ve left the world behind and entered the pathway to Atlantis – not bad for a place just a 20-minute drive from the busy streets of downtown San Diego. There are a number of dive companies that offer guided scuba tours of the spectacular aquatic world, so you’ve got plenty of opportunities to experience it.

Top 5 Local Experiences

Crossing Country
Australia

Northern Territory’s East Arnhem Land is home to the Yolngu people. This vast land has remained unchanged for more than 40,000 years and will touch you with its strong sense of tradition. Journey to one of the homelands with Lirrwi Tourism on a five-day adventure and you’ll be welcomed by a family and immersed into the Yolngu culture. Women will be guided through activities such as weaving, cooking and crafts, while spearfishing and didgeridoo making are available to the men. An exploratory hike along the coastline will bring home just how pristine this land is. By night, Dreamtime stories, passed down over generations, are told by a crackling fire. It’s an experience that will move you to your core.
lirrwitourism.com.au

Picnic with the Penan
Malaysia

In Sarawak’s jungle, learning to live and survive as the indigenous Penan is a journey back to basics. Taking visitors deep into the heart of the jungle, exploring the national parks and trekking beneath a tangled rainforest canopy to the traditional homes of the Penan tribe, Adventure Alternative offers travellers the opportunity to learn from the indigenous people about their way of life on this epic 16-day adventure. You’ll identify medicinal and edible plants, undertake jungle survival skills and craft traditional gifts, as well as shower in waterfalls, light fires and sleep in a hammock. Once you’ve completed your time with the Penan, you’ll be expertly equipped to embark on a wetland river safari, take a visit to an orangutan rehabilitation centre or search for the native proboscis monkey and Irrawaddy dolphin.
adventurealternative.com

Catching up with the Kanak
New Caledonia

Culture is alive in New Caledonia, with an estimated 40 per cent of the archipelago’s total population still made up of the Kanak people. Dedicated to Kanak culture is the architecturally spectacular Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Nouméa. Nestled between Magenta and Tina bays in the Tina Peninsula, the curved wooden structures rise above surrounding woodland and mangroves in this preserved natural site. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the Cultural Centre was designed to replicate the island’s traditional architecture and houses a museum, performance spaces, a library and art centre. Inside the monument, which is named after Kanak leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, visitors will find sculptures, paintings, photographs and regular dance performances that represent Pacific culture. Outside the hut-like buildings is a botanical garden that outlines the importance of nature to the Kanak people and the myth of the creation of man. Get the timing right and you’ll even be treated to a performance by the We Ce Ca group, proving the Tjibaou Cultural Centre is a totally immersive cultural experience.
adck.nc

Hanging with the Hadzabe
Tanzania

As you traverse the plains near Lake Eyasi in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, you can almost hear the rhythmic footfalls and pulsating chanting of the Hadzabe people. One of the last ancient tribes of hunter-gatherers on the planet, whose way of life has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years, the Hadzabe live in harmony with nature, finding everything they need to survive within the arresting landscapes they call home. A stay at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania offers the opportunity to meet the Hadzabe and immerse yourself in their way of life. Here, you’ll learn hunting methods and how to forage for tubers, honey and berries in the surrounding shrubbery. After a day of dancing, practising the intricacies of beadwork and listening to stories, you can unwind in your banana leaf-domed stilted suite, inspired by the Masai mud and stick manyatta and decorated with rich fabrics and African antiquities.
andbeyond.com

Pow Wow celebrations
Canada

Convention centres generally don’t come to mind when imagining indigenous cultural gatherings and celebrations, but Manito Ahbee is an event unlike any other. Held annually in Winnipeg, the festival draws its moniker from the sacred site in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park, where First Nations people gather to share their traditions and teachings and perform ceremonies (its name means “where the Creator sits”). The celebrations kick off with the lighting of the sacred fire, held at The Forks National Historic Site, which signifies the opening of its numerous events. Witness Pow Wow – the celebration of culture and friendship among First Nations communities – where more than 800 dancers come together to show off their skills. See the square dance exhibition and the jigging competition in honour of the Métis community. Discover the myriad trinkets and traditional artworks at the Indigenous Marketplace and Tradeshow. Marvel at artists as they put brush to canvas in live art challenges. Manito Ahbee takes place in May each year.
manitoahbee.com

Top 5 Beach Clubs

Grand Africa
South Africa

Any bar that has a giant, shiny disco ball as part of its decor means partying business. And disco balls are just the beginning. Cape Town’s Grand Africa also boasts an enormous red lounge in the shape of some very luscious-looking lips, two huge lion statues and a floating love heart. Despite the audacious styling choices, the interiors are inviting and relaxing, complementing the wooden boardwalks that sit atop marshmallow soft sand and fairy-tale–style day beds. The incredible Table Mountain makes up the backdrop while the Atlantic Ocean glistens out ahead. A wide-ranging menu – we recommend any of the seafood dishes – keeps the energy levels up for the DJ sets, which kick off at about 4pm during summer, while the cocktail menu keeps the party going. As things heat up and the nights cool down, this playful, and a little bit cheeky, Cape Town beach club is the place to be.
grandafrica.com

Scorpios
Greece

Forget everything you know about the Mykonos party scene, at Scorpios there’s no doof-doof music, no sweaty, gyrating bodies and definitely no overpriced alco-pops. Ideally situated on the sun-kissed southern tip of the island overlooking Paraga Beach, Scorpios is designed to represent a contemporary interpretation of the ancient Greek agora (a gathering place for people to come together to socialise and collaborate). The rustic space, much of it open air, is littered with wooden cabanas, whitewashed walls, knitted hammocks and a quirky assortment of straw baskets, rugs and light fittings. There’s even a boutique bazaar, which stocks a carefully curated selection of products by local artisans – ensuring you can party in the hottest slip dress, should you forget yours. You’ll need to arrive early if you want to secure one of the highly sought-after cabanas by the water – the ideal spot to treat yourself to a Mediterranean feast from the 200-seat restaurant. The setting sun signals a change in tempo, and before you know it you’re kicking up your heels at the chicest party in Mykonos.
scorpiosmykonos.com

Coco Tulum Beach Club
Mexico

All-white everything is the theme of Coco Tulum’s beach club and, we gotta say, this stylish hotel-turned-bar is one of the prettier venues in Mexico’s crowded Yucatán Peninsula. With the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea lapping at the white sand beach, it’s hard for Coco Tulum to look bad, but the team behind the design has really taken things to the next level. It’s still a little bit unpolished but that just adds to its charm, alongside a sense of sophistication and cool confidence. Think hammocks, bean bags and deck chairs, rows of hanging fairy lights, and an impressive range of signature cocktails. Plus, recognising a good thing, Coco Tulum has added to the number of its signature over-water swings, meaning there are more seats than they’ve ever had before. The mood is chilled-out here, and the music reflects that, so don’t expect hardcore trance parties that rage into the night. That said, Coco Tulum knows how to throw a pretty epic Sunday sesh, and it’s known to get quite lively so best not to lock in plans for the next morning, just in case.
cocotulum.com

Rockaway Beach Surf Club
USA

Yellow sand, salty water and summer beach vibes don’t exactly spring to mind when we think of New York City, but The Ramones were on to something when they decided to “hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach”. Set on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, this arty-vibe beach is growing in popularity, which makes a nibble and drinks at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club even more appealing. What started as a place for surfers to store their boards is now a beach club with a difference. Rockaway Beach Surf Club embraces the destination’s chilled-out urban beach vibe. Guests, many of whom are locals, are welcomed by the phrase “Live. Surf. Die”, and the club hosts a number of cultural and art events at its on-site gallery. Chow down on some tacos while sipping a fresh watermelon juice or a delicious cocktail or two. It might not be quite the luxury poolside hangout you’d except of the term “beach club” but we’d be happy hitching the next ride to this NYC hangout.
rockawaybeachsurfclub.com

Aiyanna
Spain

With a reputation as the hottest party island in the world, you expect a certain level of unruliness when it comes to clubs in Ibiza. Tucked away on the sandy shores of Cala Nova, Aiyanna is a breath of fresh air. It’s significantly quieter than the party hot spots of Ibiza Town, Playa d’en Bossa and San Antonio, and refuels drained souls with morning yoga and an on-site Airstream caravan serving fresh cold-pressed juices. There’s a boho-meets-luxury aesthetic happening here, with natural colours and earthy textures dominating the landscape and creating some seriously zen vibes. But it’s fun too, with bright Guatemalan parasols adding vibrant pops of colour, oversized bean bags scattered throughout and strings of sparkling sequins cascading from the roof. Evening live music performances generally get the party started, and when night falls, Aiyanna really comes to life. Best of all, there’s not a hint of exclusivity here. Foregoing a VIP zone, Aiyanna is access all areas, and that’s just how we like it.
aiyannaibiza.com

Top 5 Desert Experiences

Giddy up
Namibia

Saddle up on this horseback adventure that traverses what might well be the world’s oldest desert, the Namib in Southern Africa. This 10-night crusade across challenging terrain requires four to eight hours of riding each day, so only experienced horsefolks need apply. Your route begins near the settlement of Solitaire, crosses the Naukluft Mountains then continues towards the Namib Desert. It can be rough going and, at times, you’ll need to dismount to cover tricky territory. Of course, none of that will matter once you’re galloping, wind whipping your hair, past a tower of giraffes or a herd of springboks. By the time you reach the dunes of coastal Swakopmund, you’ll have clocked in almost 300 kilometres of riding, camping under the stars in between. If you’re up to the demands, there’s little chance this horseback desert voyage will disappoint. In hindsight maybe even your glutes will thank you.
inthesaddle.com

Desert of a different kind
Antarctica

What do you get when you swap sand for snow and dunes for glaciers? A white desert. That’s right, deserts aren’t strictly characterised by hot, hostile conditions and sand as far as the eye can see. With an icy, largely uninhabitable landscape devoid of vegetation, Antarctica qualifies too. Which is why we couldn’t have a list of awesome yet desolate experiences and not include White Desert, a once-in-a-lifetime Antarctic journey. The voyage begins in Cape Town, where you board the private White Desert jet bound for the exclusive six-pod Whichaway Camp, your base for the duration of your stay in Antarctica. While the pods look more like a settlement on Mars than luxury lodgings, inside you’ll find plush throws, timber furnishings and rich textures. The expeditions, which range from a one-day, fly-in fly-out tour to an incredible eight-day trip, give you the opportunity to venture where very few humans get the chance to tread. We’re talking getting up close and personal with a 6,000-strong emperor penguin colony, wandering through glowing neon blue ice caves or travelling to the lowest point on earth, the South Pole.
white-desert.com

Desert indulgence
USA

Protected from the harsh elements of the Southern Utah desert by nothing more than a rocky, rugged escarpment, luxury hotel Amangiri appears like a too-beautiful-to-be-real mirage. Minimalist lines and neutral tones allow the luxe digs to blend into their age-wearied backdrop, while concrete walls, timber fittings and blackened steel elements serve to enhance the features of the natural surroundings. Private pools, courtyards or rooftop terraces adjoin each of the 34 suites, further ensuring the desert landscape remains the focal point for visitors. If you do manage to tear yourself away from the stunning vistas, adventure awaits in the form of dawn hot-air balloon rides, rock climbing and horseback riding. Navajo guides are also on hand to share stories, traditions and ritual dances. Amangiri’s open-plan kitchen, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows to maximise the ever-changing outlook, is the ideal dining location, the views matched only by the impeccable quality of the food. Your tummy will rumble at the sight of traditional southwestern dishes served with a modern twist. It may look like an mirage, but we’re sure glad this desert oasis is real.
aman.com

Ride the wave
UAE

What’s the last thing you’d expect to see tucked away in the far-flung sand banks of the United Arab Emirates? We’re guessing you didn’t just say the world’s largest surf pool, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Wadi Adventure, a world-class water-based adventure park on the outskirts of the palm-fringed city of Al Ain. At 150 metres in length, with a maximum depth of 2.4 metres and the capacity to generate three-metre-high waves every 90 seconds, this surf pool is one super impressive man-made accomplishment. Considering Kelly Slater, a legend of the surfing industry, has taken to the Wadi Adventure waves, you know this place is legit. While the chance to hang 10 in the middle of the desert is as good as any reason to visit, Wadi Adventure is also home to the world’s longest man-made white-water channels. The complex has hosted the Middle East’s World Rafting Championships and serves as an elite training ground for the UAE National Rafting team as well as other kayaking professionals. Forget the water slides and kiddie pools of Wet’n’Wild, this is one seriously soaked experience in the desert.
wadiadventure.ae

Fast and the Furious
USA

It’s hard to believe the biggest thrills in Las Vegas happen about 30 minutes from the famous Strip. And, no, we’re not talking about a hedonistic pool party or an all-night club. This is dirty, dusty and easily the biggest injection of adrenaline you’ll have in years. Strap yourself into a dune buggy and hit the bumpy tracks of the Mojave Desert with the guys from Vegas Off Road Tours. This is definitely no ‘stay in line and follow at slow speed’ experience. Far from it, actually. An instructor in full denim overalls and looking a bit like Jeff Lebowski offers up a few instructions before thrill-seekers hit the accelerator: “Don’t go too hard on the corners. Some dude died out here last week. Not with us… But watch your turns. Oh, and keep up.” With that he’ll shoot through in a cloud of Mojave dust. During the following two hours of insanity there are times when you’ll be sure all four wheels leave the ground, as well as moments when you – whether you’re driving or reluctantly filling the passenger seat – will find yourself screaming from a combination of fear and exhilaration. The trip ends with local craft beers and a barbecue lunch at the Pioneer Hotel. Viva Las Vegas indeed!
vegasoffroadtours.com

Top 5 Boozy Adventures

Six feet under
France

Beneath the historic vineyards of Épernay in the Champagne district
is a series of winding tunnels and hidden caves dug into the chalk. Some date back to Roman times and, apart from a period during World War I when the townspeople hid there to flee the conflict, they’ve been used to store and mature bottles of the region’s famous sparkling wine. Until recently this labyrinth below UNESCO World Heritage-listed Avenue de Champagne was mostly off limits to the average punter. That’s now changing, with more maisons opening their doors. That includes Champagne Boizel, which has been in the same family for five generations and offers English-language tours of its tunnels at 11.30am and 4pm from Tuesday to Saturday. When you’re done, head to Atelier 1834, Boizel’s wine bar, where you can sip on its exceptional offerings by the glass.
boizel.com

Flying over the limit
Australia

It would take you at least 90 minutes to drive from Darwin to the Lodge at Dundee, the bar at the local holiday park in this remote, seaside town. In one of Airborne Solutions’ helicopters though, you’ll be ordering your first icy beer in a mere 25 minutes having taken in some pretty speccy views of the NT coastline along the way. And that’s just the beginning of your day on a seven-hour Heli Pub Crawl that takes in five memorable Top End establishments. Interesting locals with tall tales, some of the country’s more colourful publicans and even a wildlife encounter – one of the stops is Goat Island Lodge on the Adelaide River, where Casey the Croc often comes for a feed – are guaranteed.
airbornesolutions.com.au

Hospitality on Tap
USA

What’s better than spending a whole day at a brewery? Staying there overnight. You can now do just that at the DogHouse, a 32-room hotel on the site of Scottish company BrewDog’s Columbus, Ohio, beer factory. The rooms, not entirely surprisingly, have a masculine vibe – some like the Brewmaster Suite overlook the sour beer works – with plenty of suds on offer throughout the stay. It starts at check-in with the lobby bartender ensuring guests enjoy a welcoming ale, while two fridges – one in the room and the other in the shower – are loaded up with the company’s best-known craft beers and seasonal specials. Oh, there’s an in-room tap, too, that can be hooked up to a growler of whatever bevvy your tastebuds desire. Of course, while you’re here, it would be churlish not to do a tour of the facilities and the huge interactive craft beer museum. We’ll raise a glass to that.
brewdog.com

Tickets Please
South Africa

Finding a designated driver for a vineyard crawl is always a drag. Even more so if you’re voted it. There’s no need to worry in this part of South Africa, located about 80 kilometres east of Cape Town, because here you can board the Franschhoek Wine Tram. The vintage-style railway employs open-air trams and buses to ferry folks around the region, which boasts fine views and a 300-year history of winemaking. Choose from eight hop-on, hop-off lines taking in all the major estates. We think it’s hard to go past the Red Line, which stops at, among other places, glorious Mont Rochelle, where you can partake in wine and canape pairing. Make sure you get an early start if you want to get up close to a cheetah at Grande Provence or take the cellar tour at Rickety Bridge.
winetram.co.za

Have a vine time
Portugal

It’s hard to forget what surrounds you when you settle into your unique accommodations at Quinta da Pacheca in the Duoro Valley. These rolling hills have been home to vines for almost 500 years – back then they were the purview of local monasteries – and nothing about your environs lacks atmosphere. Designed by owners Paulo Pereira and Maria do Céu Gonçalves, each of the 10 mega barrels has a pine exterior and an elegant fit-out that includes a round bed, private bathroom and deck overlooking the vines. Grab yourself a bottle of Pacheca Grande Reserva Tinta Roriz (aged for 18 months in oak barrels) or tawny port, since the region is famous for it, and stare out across the landscape. Otherwise, tour the vineyard, do a tasting, take a cooking class or tuck into a meal of traditional Portuguese cuisine in the restaurant.
quintadapacheca.com