A travel story from i2mag

Hot Travel Destinations For 2018

Posted on Oct 31 2017 — 9:31am by Len Rutledge

As 2017 is fast disappearing, travel writers, tour companies and the general public are starting to look at 2018. Between now and the end of the year there will be many articles about the recommended travel destinations for next year. Many will include out of the way, fanciful destinations that few are likely to actually visit.

While these unusual destinations make good stories, the real hot destinations will be some of those that have been popular for decades. They keep expanding and improving their tourism offerings and continue to meet the needs of most segments of the market.

Here are four that will continue to shine.

Switzerland

Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as a country with a great tradition of hospitality. It probably started in the 19th century when the world’s elite started sending their children to be educated in Swiss boarding schools. Every visitor today can quickly see that the reputation continues strongly.

One of the secrets to Switzerland’s success is its diversity. You can visit an enchanted castle or a first-class museum, gaze at breathtaking glaciers and stunning mountains, pass palm trees and grotti, explore World Heritage Sites and enjoy unspoilt natural landscapes and easy-to-manage cities.

Many names are legendary – Geneva, Zurich, Zermatt and St Moritz – but the surprise is the interest to be found in places you probably have never heard of. Take Avenches as an example. Two thousand years ago it had 20,000 inhabitants, and stately mansions and temples protected by a five-kilometre-long, nearly seven-metre-tall wall with over 70 towers. Today you can see the eastern gates and a wall tower, the forum’s thermal baths, the amphitheatre with a capacity of up to 16,000 persons, and temple ruins.

Switzerland has some great modern hotels such as the Alpina Gstaad which opened in 2013 but I also love to experience the grandeur of the more classic properties. The 150 year-old Bellevue Palace in Bern, the Hotel Des Bergues in Geneva, founded in 1834, which is now a Four Seasons Hotel, and the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano which is celebrating 130 years, are three of my favourites.

Thailand

Thailand is a kingdom in south-east Asia filled with spectacular natural, cultural, and historical attractions. It is no surprise that the tourism industry has prospered despite some short-lived problems in recent years.

The North has the country’s highlands where vast mountain ranges dominate the landscape and you find hill-tribe people, isolated villages and the city of Chiang Mai. The Northeast features some highlands but also large plateaus where rice is grown and traditional culture is preserved.

Central Thailand is mainly plains and is a huge area of rice farming and agriculture along The Chao Phraya River. This is the most intensively developed part of the country and includes the huge city of Bangkok. The South contains many beautiful beaches and islands including Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Phi Phi.

Eastern Thailand has mountains, golf courses and tourist places like Koh Samed, Koh Chang, Bang Saen Beach, and Pattaya. The West is mountainous with many woodlands, waterfalls, and dams and this is home to Erawan Waterfall, Mon Bridge, Three Pagodas Pass, Underwater City, The Bridge of the River Kwai, and Kanchanaburi.

Thai cuisine is renowned world-wide and there is a great variety of authentic Thai food for you to try. Most Thai dishes are stir fried or grilled and served with rice but noodles are also popular. Thai beer is cheap and fruit smoothies and fruit juice are both very popular. Eating and drinking are two of the real pleasures throughout the country. Combine this with excellent accommodation, good transport and happy smiling people and it’s not hard to see why this country is so popular and will continue to be so.

New Zealand

New Zealand is a land of immense and diverse landscape. You’ll see things and have experiences here that are unique to this country.

There are spectacular glaciers, picturesque fiords, rugged mountains, vast plains, rolling hills, subtropical forests, a volcanic plateau, and thousands of kilometres of coastline with rocky bluffs and sandy beaches all within hours of each other. Don’t forget the cities. Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and others all have their own special feel.

Most New Zealand visitors find that they are quickly into experiences even though this may not have been their reason for visiting. At Waitomo Caves you can explore with a walking or boat tour, try blackwater rafting where you’ll crawl, swim and float through the caves on a rubber tube, or abseil or zip-line through the darkness.

The 53 kilometre Milford Track leads you across suspension bridges, board walks and a mountain pass. Queenstown has helicopter flights, the world’s first and most famous bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge and jet boat thrills through the rugged beauty and unspoilt grandeur of the white-water rapids of the Shotover River.

Rotorua has bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, as well as fascinating Maori culture. And these places are just a fraction of what is on offer.

Another feature of New Zealand is its high-quality accommodation, some of it in lodges in spectacular locations. Typical of this is Marlborough Lodge (http://www.themarlboroughlodge.co.nz/) a luxury country estate located in the heart of the famous Marlborough wine region. There are elegant, contemporary suites, gourmet local cuisine, beautiful parkland surrounds and attentive staff on hand 24 hours a day. It is a great place to relax and unwind.

Tahiti

For many, the name evokes visions of an island paradise, exotic days, romantic nights and South Sea adventure. And this is exactly what you’ll find here. Officially known as French Polynesia, the area possesses one of the most spectacularly beautiful and diverse environments on earth in a mixture of high volcanic islands and low-lying atolls.

There are 118 islands but none impress me more that Moorea which rises magically out of the ocean like a cathedral. There are waterfalls tumbling down fern-softened cliffs, peaceful meadows and a bright blue lagoon which will bring to life the South Seas idyll of your dreams. Pastel-painted houses with gardens of hibiscus circle the island in a necklace of simple villages.

The quiet waters of the lagoon allow for a variety of activities, from swimming, fishing, scuba diving or snorkelling and outrigger canoeing to paddle boarding, kite boarding, and water skiing. The on-shore area is area is good for hiking, horseback riding, quad biking or exploring on a four-wheeler.

Many painters, carvers, jewellers and tattoo artists live on the island because of its beauty and serenity and you will find your own peace while watching fishermen on their outrigger canoe or listening to the sound of the ukulele while sitting on the sand under a tree.

The Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa (www.moorea.hilton.com) offers bungalows set amongst gardens or suspended above the lagoon. Guests enjoy a swimming pool, a fitness centre, a tennis court, 3 restaurants and 3 bars. Arii Vahine Restaurant, which faces the lagoon, serves French and Polynesian favourites; the beach-side Rotui Grill & Bar offers a relaxed setting for lunch; and the overwater Toatea Crêperie & Bar is a popular hangout for evening cocktails and crêpes under the stars. This resort is great for both active and passive visitors.

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Norway available as an e-book or hard copy book from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W5BKZJ8 and eight other guides in the Experience Guide series.

The Best Travel Destinations for 2018

Len Rutledge

This article appeared in Travelfore October 4 2017

The travel and tourism industry is booming as more and more people take advantage of low airfares and increased opportunities to see new places. While there has been some resistance to increased visitor numbers in some European destinations, much of the world is still welcoming visitors with open arms.

Here are some suggestions for places to travel and activities to experience in 2018.

The Philippines

Brilliant green rice fields, teeming cities, colourful jeepneys, stunning beaches, and smiling, happy-go-lucky people are all part of the Philippines scene. With more than 7000 tropical islands to choose from, you can find what you are looking for. Divers have long known about the country’s underwater attractions while Northern Palawan is perfect for sea kayakers, and Boracay is a world-class kiteboarding and beach destination.

The Philippines was colonised for 400 years and vestiges of the Spanish era can be seen in exuberant town festivals and centuries-old stone churches while huge shopping malls, fast-food chains and widespread spoken English come from the influence of the Americans.

travel

Boracay Beach. Credit: Philippines Tourism

Manila, the capital, is a pulsating hub that blends the quaint with the modern, the mundane with the extraordinary. Cebu is a choice tourist destination with balmy weather, pristine beaches, crystalline waters, and luxurious resorts. Banaue is a place for nature adventures and cultural immersion and the rice terraces are quite extraordinary. Palawan has thick green forest, white-sand beach, sparkling water and magnificently sculpted jade islands.

Philippines Airlines operates from most continents to Manila and there are some direct services to Cebu.

South Africa

Go almost anywhere in South Africa and you can experience a combination of nature, wildlife, culture, adventure, heritage and style. During these tough economic times, it’s good to find a bargain destination where you can even afford luxury and have spending money left over. There is natural beauty in mountains, forests, coasts and deserts and world-class facilities.

It is not possible to talk about South Africa without mentioning wildlife. Everyone wants to see the Big Five, but there are also whales, penguins, meerkats, wild dogs, birds and much more. If you are looking to experience wildlife viewing in luxury, Tintswalo Safari Lodge, in the pristine private Manyeleti Game Reserve could be the answer. It shares an unfenced boundary with the renowned Kruger National Park and suites are decorated to reflect colonial times.

Tintswalo Atlantic Resort. Credit: Tintswalo Atlantic

The same company has beach-side Tintswalo Atlantic, a 5 star, award-winning boutique lodge nestled at the base of Table Mountain National Park near Cape Town. This is one of the city’s hidden gems. The views of a wild sea crashing below contrasting with a roaring fire and fabulous welcome drinks will set the tone for a memorable stay.

For a city location, the all-suites Michelangelo Towers in Sandton, Johannesburg appeals because it is directly connected to the Michelangelo Towers Mall and the Sandton Convention Centre, and is located directly opposite Sandton City and Nelson Mandela Square in the in heart of South Africa’s  Richest Square Mile.

Monaco

Situated at France’s southeastern corner near the Italian border, occupying an area of just 2.8 sq. km, Monaco might be the second smallest country in the world (after the Vatican), but what it lacks in size it sure makes up for in attitude and variety.

There is an ornate opera house, Michelin-starred restaurants, and casinos, palaces, cathedrals, supercars, mega yachts, deluxe hotels and designer boutiques. There are also museums and galleries, festivals, nightclubs, and gardens with exotic plants and sea views.

Monaco. Credit: Monaco Government Tourist Bureau

The country is one of the most surprising and rewarding destinations in Europe. It is just 30 minutes by car, bus or taxi from Nice Airport through hairpin bends and along rocky cliffs. Monaco enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year and a temperate climate.

Berlin

As most readers will know, Berlin has had a chequered history in recent decades. It is now emerging as one of Europe’s leading centres of culture. The modern Mitte district has the Museum Island UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also two opera houses and six major theatres, as well as museums, innumerable galleries and arts venues. Now, many new major cultural projects are locating here, just a few minutes’ walk apart.

Opened earlier this year, the new Pierre Boulez Saal is a major international concert hall with the elliptically-shaped hall regularly presenting concerts and chamber music. A complete contrast is provided by the 1740s Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin’s first opera house, which reopened in October 2017. Unfortunately, Berlin’s most popular museum, the Pergamon, is partially closed but from mid– 2018, visitors can view part of the Pergamon Altar’s treasures at a temporary exhibition building directly opposite Museum Island.

The James-Simon-Galerie will be the Museum Island’s new central entrance and visitor centre with central ticket office, cloakrooms and facilities, cafés and a museum shop when it opens in 2019.

To complement all this development, several major hotels have opened in 2017 and more are scheduled for 2018.

The Berlin City Centre Alexanderplatz, opened in May offering 344 rooms with a modern design over nine floors. Later, The Yard,  4-star boutique hotel with 55 rooms opened, followed by the Orani Berlin, a classy hotel with 42 subtle but rather luxuriously furnished rooms. Between now and year’s end the 60-metre-high Motel One Berlin-Alexanderplatz with 708 rooms, The Meininger Hotel Berlin East Side Gallery with 245 rooms and the Hilton Berlin City East with 254 rooms will all open.

Bargain rooms may well be on offer during the European winter.

Los Angeles

Many readers will have been to Los Angeles, USA but most will not be aware of the wide range of museums, art galleries and concert halls that are spread throughout the city. In the downtown area, the futuristic Walt Disney Theatre is an architectural masterpiece and is right next door to the city’s newest cultural and design showpiece, The Broad. L.A.Live is another vibrant entertainment complex offering restaurants and live music venues.

The Westside perhaps has even more attractions. There is the Getty Center located atop the Santa Monica Mountains then on Museum Row, there is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pettersen Automotive Museum, the Craft and Folk Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. In Century City you will find the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Hollywood, known as the entertainment capital of the world, is an essential part of the L.A. experience. Film enthusiasts will love the renovated TCL Chinese Theatre and you can tour the Dolby Theatre, home of the Oscars. Not far away is Universal Studios Hollywood with its rides, shows and tours.

If you consider L.A. nothing more than a gateway to the USA, you had better re-think. It is one of the top picks for places to visit in 2018.

The Best Travel Destinations for 2018www.LenRutledge.com

www.LenRutledge.com

Len Rutledge
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Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 35 travel guide books.He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com

Banff to Vancouver, Canada

A Road Trip From Banff To Vancouver, Canada

Posted on Aug 7 2017 in i2Mag by Len Rutledge

Soaring mountains, rushing rivers, spectacular gorges, desert panoramas and sparkling wineries dot the landscape in western Canada. The best way to see it all is by rental car. We took five days to travel from the Rocky Mountains to the west coast but it could equally have taken us five weeks.

Banff is a resort town and one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations. It is surrounded by spectacular mountains and the Banff National Park. There are numerous hotels, restaurants, shops, spas and everything else required by visitors. We spend our day browsing, eating, and visiting the Cascade Gardens, the Parks Museum, and the terminal of the Banff Gondola.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is an opulent 1888 Scottish baronial-style resort where we spend an hour or so exploring its myriad nooks and crannies. The class of the hotel is seen in its detail and we vow to come back and experience it for ourselves. Bow Falls provides a pleasant interlude just a kilometre or so out of town and the short trip along Tunnel Mountain Drive provides great views and some animal sightings.

# DAY 2 – 285km

We are on the road early with the aim of seeing bears. The Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise is very scenic and is a well-known wildlife drive. After 10 minutes we have seen an elk and deer. As we come around a corner two cars are stopped on the road and as we approach we see a black bear grazing just off the roadside. Fifteen minutes later the number of cars has swelled to a dozen but the bear is still there. We are satisfied.

Back on Highway 1 we climb Kicking Horse Pass, the point where the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trans Canada Highway cross the continental divide between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and at the same time go from Alberta to British Columbia. After the top, we stop at a viewpoint to see the famous spiral loop on the railway and are rewarded by a view of an enormous freight train crossing over itself.

Field, an historic railway town with a dramatic river outlook, gives us a reason to stop as does Golden, a tidy town just off the highway. We have already passed through the Yoho National Park and now we enter the Glacier National Park. The country is spectacular and it is tempting to stop at every turn. We do stop at the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre and learn about the intrepid railroaders who built the railway through this wilderness and the avalanche scientists and others who keep this wintery pass open today.

Further on, the Hemlock Grove Trail, an interpretive boardwalk through the world’s only non-coastal cedar-hemlock rainforest, and the Skunk Cabbage Trail through a unique wetland, let us stretch our legs before stopping at Revelstokefor the night.

# DAY 3 – 320km

West from Revelstoke is the historic site of the Craigellachie Last Spike, hammered into the Transcontinental Rail Line that united Canada from coast to coast in 1885. At Sicamous we leave Highway 1 and travel south through the Okanagan Valley to Vernon. There are more than 100 lakes within a one-hour drive, world-class golf, mountain and wellness resorts, great beaches and trails, and outstanding mountain biking, but for us it is the start of Canada’s best wine country.

Kelowna, the largest city in BC’s interior, fronts Okanagan Lake and there are beaches and parks along the shore but we are not into cities at the moment so continue to tiny Peachland for a stroll along the lake edge and to grab something to eat.

The next few hours are a pure delight as we pass through orchards and explore some of the wineries. Greta Ranch is attractively set high above the lake. At Dirty Laundry Winery you pass under a washing line hung with underwear to get into the tasting room and restaurant. Poplar Grove has a beautiful building high above Penticton and a great cabernet franc wine. In Penticton we catch a glimpse of the old stern-wheeler boat but have no time to explore the Naramata Bench wineries before pushing on to Osoyoos for the night.

Here we find the splendid Waterfront Beach Resort and decide to stay for two nights in absolute luxury. The resort has lake frontage and the views from our huge balcony are stunning. This is Canada’s warmest lake and the area calls itself Canada’s only desert but to us it is paradise. We lap up the space, have a great meal in the restaurant and sleep happily.

# DAY 4 – 50 km

After a lazy start we explore some of the local attractions. The spectacular Desert Cultural Centre which is at Nk’MIP has a museum and interesting walk with First Nations guides. The Desert Centre is a not for profit boardwalk that meanders through the desert and provides an opportunity to learn about this ecosystem. The Model Railway with more than 40 computer controlled trains running through European style towns and landscape is quite remarkable and well worth the stop.

The wineries call us back this afternoon. We go to Oliver, which calls itself the wine capital of Canada, before visiting Hester Creek winery, Road 13 winery with its spectacular tasting room, Church and State winery with its dramatic indoor/outdoor tasting area, and Black Hills winery with its award winning tasting area and wine shop. We finally stumble back to the resort, enjoy a massage and sleep like babies.

# DAY 5 – 395km

Reluctantly we leave Osoyoos and make a stop after 20 minutes at cute Keremeos, a vibrant agricultural community located in the beautiful Similkameen Valley. There is a grist mill here with well tended Heritage Gardens and a tea room. Just outside town is a hundred year old covered bridge.

Highway 3 bounces along the USA border with Manning Park the highlight as it winds through the Cascade Mountains. The park has wet coastal rain forests, jagged snow-capped peaks, alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, a chain of small lakes, and broad river beds along the valley floors. For awhile we think we were back in the Rockies but on reaching Hope and returning to Highway 1 it is clear that most of the mountains are behind us.

Bridal Falls is our last stop before the traffic volume increases and Vancouverappears ahead. It has been a wonderful 5 days that could have easily been extended for weeks.

Photo Credit – Phensri Rutledge

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Norway available as an e-book or hard copy book from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W5BKZJ8

Beguiling Bagan — Myanmar’s top attraction

Beguiling Bagan — Myanmar’s top attraction

From Canada’s Pique Newsmagazine August 31, 2017

CLICK TO FLIP THROUGH (2)PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Beguiling Bagan
 Bagan, located on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) River about 630 kilometres north of Yangon, is Myanmar’s premier tourist attraction because of its 11th — and 12th-century Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins. These are the most impressive in the world. This was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, which at one point controlled much of what now constitutes Myanmar.

VISITING BAGAN

Bagan is becoming very popular, so flights and bus services are growing in number, particularly in the November to March tourist season. At the height of this season, large numbers of visitors converge on the more famous temples and viewpoints, and at times these are starting to feel crowded.

Most international tourists arrive here by air via Yangon. The Nyaung U Airport is the gateway to the Bagan region and this is only 15 to 20 minutes from most hotels. Several domestic airlines have regular flights from Yangon, Mandalay, and Inle Lake.

Myanmar Railways operates train services between Bagan and Yangon, and Bagan and Mandalay, but these are slow and not particularly comfortable. There is a daily direct train from Yangon to Bagan with a sleeping car with two — and four-bed compartments. Bagan station is a modern pagoda-style building in the middle of nowhere about five kilometres southeast of the Nyaung U township.

Overnight buses and share-cars operate from/to Yangon and Mandalay and there are some day buses to Mandalay. An express ferry service runs between Bagan and Mandalay on the Ayeyarwaddy River during peak periods, and slower sailings are available all year.

WHERE TO STAY

Where you stay will be determined partly by how much you want to spend, how you plan to get around, and how many of the top temples you want to visit. There are basically four options. Old Bagan is the most central to the sights and there are some lovely riverside hotels here, a few restaurants but little nightlife outside the hotels.

New Bagan is on the southern edge of the zone but there are many midrange accommodation choices, some expensive riverside restaurants and some cheaper accommodation and eating places. Nyaung U is the largest settlement and a real town with the most restaurants and some good budget value. It is on the northern edge of the archaeological zone.

The two highest category hotels are in relatively remote locations in the general direction of the airport and you would not choose them if you planned on visiting many temples by bicycle or horse cart, or planned on eating in local restaurants.

EXPLORE THE TEMPLES

There is little doubt that the ancient temples are the big draw in Bagan. To many visitors, it matters little that much of the restoration work done on hundreds of temples bears little relation to the styles and techniques used by the original builders. They still see the restored buildings as impressive monuments and frankly, this is probably the only practical approach to take. A headlamp or torch is useful for seeing the insides of many of the temples and for cycling out before sunrise and back after sunset.

The ruins of medieval Bagan, nowadays officially known as the “Bagan Archaeological Zone,” are scattered over an area of roughly 50 sq. km. Formerly inhabited by an estimated 200,000 people, the lost city is now largely deserted, leaving the monuments in a state of charismatic isolation that appeals to most visitors.

An estimated 2,200 temples, pagodas and other religious structures remain from the 14,000 or so that were erected between 1057 and 1287. The spectacle of towers rising from the scrubland is appealing at any time of the day, but especially so early mornings, when river mist and smoke often shrouds the brick and stucco structures, or in the evening as the sun settles below the horizon.

SUNSET CRUISE

You shouldn’t leave Bagan without doing a sunset cruise on the Ayeyarwaddy River. At dusk, the river comes to life in beautiful warm evening hues and local life is on display. You see locals involved in their late-afternoon bathing rituals, starting cooking fires and relaxing before darkness. The trips are in wooden long-tail boats which leave from the bank adjacent to Old Bagan.

Boats power upriver then drift down again on the flow. Initially, it is quite loud but then the engine is turned off and you can listen to the natural sounds of the vast river while watching a wonderfully majestic sunset.

VISIT THE MARKET

The Nyaung U market is different from most other markets in Myanmar because it combines a traditional market with an area popular with tourists who are attracted by souvenirs and antique shops. You can get bronze statues, old lacquer ware, paintings copied from the original frescoes in the Bagan temples, and many other things of interest.

But, frankly, it is the traditional market which has the most appeal to me. It is primitive, quite extensive, a riot of colour, and absolutely genuine. You can see novice nuns from a monastery nearby do their alms-collection round. Be fascinated by the yellow face powder worn by almost everybody. See stacks of freshly caught butterfish from the nearby Ayeyarwaddy River.

SHOPPING

Souvenirs, sand paintings and lacquerware are available everywhere. Most of the main temples and pagodas have stalls with displays of souvenirs and paintings. There are also stairway stalls selling books and Myanmar-made crafts. The paintings and souvenirs are at affordable prices. Bargaining is possible in most places.

Bagan is famous for lacquerware. The products can be seen everywhere and can be bought at reasonable prices. There are lacquerware manufacturing factories which have been producing the finest quality wares for decades. The step-by-step process of making lacquerware can be seen at a number of these places.

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Myanmar, available as an e-book or paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XC2WXHJ/

or at www.LenRutledge.com.

Lose yourself in Lisbon

From Pique newsmagazine

Lose yourself in Lisbon

CLICK TO FLIP THROUGH (3)SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Alfama District with Santo Estevao Church and the Tagus River estuary seen from Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Lisbon, Portugal.ALFAMA DISTRICT with Santo Estevao Church and the Tagus River estuary seen from Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Lisbon, Portugal.

Getting lost while overseas can be quite frightening but at times, it is just what you want to do. I have discovered hidden gems and charming, talkative locals simply because I wandered aimlessly along narrow lanes and up and down steep stairs without worrying where I was going.

I did this recently in Alfama, the oldest part of Lisbon, Portugal, and discovered it was a quarter just begging to be explored. It spills downhill south of the castle to the Tejo Estuary and is a “must” for those looking for the soul of the city.

Visiting Alfama is to experience the architecture, the sounds, and the smells of old Lisbon. On its narrow and winding streets I found all sorts of treasures and on its steep stairs, I learned much about what makes Lisbon so special. Life is lived, for the most part, on the street and the smells and noises are a major part of its atmosphere.

It is still possible to see Roman and Arab remains, two of the most dominant civilizations in Lisbon’s past. The narrow streets place little value on building facades but a much greater value is given to the interiors of the houses. Some houses still stand on foundations dating from the times of the West Goths but the whole structure of the area was essentially shaped by the Arabs. Although no houses remain from this era, the confused arrangement of its maze of streets and alleyways certainly does.

There are a few grand buildings such as the cathedral and some other churches that are worth seeing. The solid Se Cathedral from the 12th century resembles a fortification rather than a religious building, but the inside, with its gothic arches and ancient cloister, is well worth a visit. The castle is a major attraction. This is entwined with Portugal’s early history and is where the Christian Crusaders defeated the North African Moors in 1147. The citadel was transformed into a royal residence and prospered until the early 16th century when Manuel I built a new palace down by the river.

Alfama was initially an upmarket area before it became home to the poor and unlucky, together with delinquents, dockworkers and sailors. Some of this remains today but the quarter has now largely shrugged off its grim image. The advent of mass tourism has brought gentrification to the area.

It is now full of curious little cafes — many of them serving bacalhau, the rehydrated, salted cod that is one of the city’s staples. Many old houses are being repainted and repaired. Whitewashed houses are picturesquely framed by a sudden riot of colour and a blaze of geraniums, while upmarket restaurants and fado houses attract individuals and tour groups.

You should have plenty of time when you visit Alfama. You can easily spend half a day or more looking, wandering, and taking in all the action, sounds and smells of daily life playing out on the streets. It’s probably best not to plan a route in detail because you will have trouble following it anyway. Just follow your instincts. Wandering through the labyrinth of alleyways, small archways, tiny squares, and little flights of stairs, will lead you to many idyllic and picturesque corners.

Getting lost is par for the course. Blind alleyways reveal a bewitching world of medieval customs and rituals, where women haul their washing to public fountains, others sell fish from their doorways, and late at night the brooding sound of fado music seems to come from every nook and cranny. The restaurants with fado range from large affairs which attract tour groups to small “holes in the wall” with only half a dozen tables.

There are a few streets not to be missed. Rua da Sao Pedro is one of the most animated streets where craggy old fishermen and fishwives still offer the catch of the day. Largo do Chafariz is the tourist hub where steep stepped streets meander to view points where the shimmering River Tejo (Tagus) is framed by a latticework of terracotta rooftops, a few pines, and clumps of bougainvillea. Most of Alfama’s shops and tourist restaurants are clustered in this area.

On Tuesday and Saturdays, Campo de Santa Clara, a lop-sided square set below the looming dome of the Santa Engrácia Church, is transformed into a colourful and sprawling flea market, the largest in the city. This “thieves’ market” is a huge jumble sale of hand-me-down curios, unwanted bric-a-brac, and second-hand cast-offs. Don’t expect any bargains, just go for the atmosphere.

Along Beco do Carneiro, houses are stacked a metre apart, nestled with tiny taverns and chaotic corner grocers. If you are looking for fado music, tiny A Baiuca on Rua de S.Miguel stages amateur fado shows where residents literally walk in off the street and sing in front of diners. The atmosphere is great, the food less so, and you need to be aware that the food and drinks that are brought to your table without you ordering will be charged for if you touch them.

There are several notable hotels that cater for budget travellers as well as the more discerning visitor if you chose to stay in this area. I don’t believe it is the best place if you want to do some wider Lisbon sightseeing, but there is no disputing the local atmosphere.

www.LenRutledge.com

Australia’s east coast

From the South African

Six stops on Australia’s East Coast you really shouldn’t skip

Australia continues to attract many visitors because of its wildlife, lifestyle and sunshine, but just about all are surprised at its size.

Circular Quay with fountain, Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Sydney. Phensri Rutledge

Image Credits: All images by Phensri Rutledge

 

17
SHARES

Australia is larger than Europe so don’t expect to be able to see the whole country in one visit unless you are planning on a three-month vacation or a two-year working holiday. The East Coast is the most populated area so this is not a bad place to start. From Melbourne in the south to Cairns in the north is around 3000 kilometres but there are several great places to visit in between.

Melbourne

We start in the World’s Most Liveable City and quickly see why it has scored this award for several years. Melbourne is Australia’s sporting, coffee, restaurant and arts capital. Depending on your interest you can attend the Australian Tennis Open, the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, the AFL Football Final Series, the Melbourne Cup Horse Racing Carnival and international cricket tests. A recent study found Melbourne hosts over 60,000 live concerts annually, making it one of the live music capitals of the world. The city has more theatres and performance venues than anywhere else in Australia. There are approximately 5000 cafes and restaurants in the city, the highest per capita in the world. Many are top class.

Flinders Street Railway Station, Melbourne

Canberra

Australia’s little-known capital is well worth a visit. There is nothing old here but there are modern buildings aplenty. Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia, the National Science and Technology Centre, the National Zoo and Aquarium, the National Museum of Australia and more, will have you extending your stay.

Looking towards Parliament House from the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Sydney

Sydney is the oldest and largest of the Australian cities and today the city’s attractions are dominated by the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. There is a guided walking tour of the Opera House and you can join a guided ascent of the bridge. Between these two is Circular Quay, the city’s main ferry terminal and just nearby is The Rocks where more than 100 heritage sites and buildings jostle along the narrow streets. Elsewhere, Darling Harbour is a waterfront pedestrian precinct packed with shops, restaurants, museums, exhibitions, and entertainment venues. Sydney is famous for its beaches from tiny harbourside strips of sand to Bondi, Coogee, Bronte, Tamarama, Maroubra, Manly Collaroy, Dee Why, and Narrabeen on the Pacific Ocean.

Circular Quay with fountain, Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Sydney

Brisbane

Once it was called a big country town but Brisbane has now grown up. Across the river from the CBD, South Bank is home to the Cultural Centre with its world-class galleries and entertainment. You can climb the Storey Bridge, cuddle a koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, while Morton Island is the place to feed wild dolphins and snorkel around an old ship wreck. One hundred kilometres to the south is the famous Gold Coast with its excellent beaches, theme parks, restaurants and nightlife. To the north is the Sunshine Coast for more beach activity.

South Bank artificial beach looking towards Brisbane CBD

North Queensland Islands

With rugged coastlines and surrounding reefs bursting with life, you are spoiled for choice when choosing an island off the coast of North Queensland. Many are wholly or partly National Parks and many have nature viewing, snorkelling and sailing opportunities, and bush trails. Quite a few have accommodation. Some are very up-market such as One & Only Hayman, Hamilton, Orpheus, Badarra and Lizard while others have a range of rooms from excellent to budget. Magnetic Island off Townsville is the easiest to reach with ferries and car barges making the crossing multiple times a day.

Visitors to our room on Daydream Island

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world’s largest coral reef. This is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, larger than the Great Wall of China, and the only living thing on earth visible from space. A visitor can enjoy snorkelling, scuba diving, aircraft or helicopter tours, bare boats (self-sail), glass-bottomed boat viewing, semi-submersibles and educational trips, whale watching, and swimming with dolphins. Townsville is the headquarters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and it is home to the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium. Reef trips leave from many other northern towns including Cairns and Port Douglas.

The headquarters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville

The Big Bus features Townsville

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, food, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. We call them our Big Five and they’re everything you’ll need to experience the essence of a new city. Here, local writer Len Rutledge shows us around fabulous Townsville in Queensland’s tropical north. With its palm-fringed waterfront, cosmopolitan culinary scene and Magnetic Island right on the doorstep, Townsville has all the ingredients for a top travel experience…

As the largest city in tropical Australia, Townsville combines federation and modern architecture with sophisticated restaurants, accommodation, events and shopping like no other Queensland regional city.

It basks in more than 300 days of sunshine each year and is surrounded by a myriad of natural wonders from the Great Barrier Reef and magical islands to the Wet Tropical rainforests and the gold mining centres of the Outback.

Here’s a city guide to the top things to do in Townsville.

Top things to do in Townsville

Need to know

Base yourself: City centre, The Strand, South Townsville
Average hotel price per room/per night: $140
You can’t go wrong with: Seafood, Thai, Mexican, Modern Oz, pub grub
Great breakfasts: Jam, The Ville Resort-CasinoStone’s Throw cafe and Bar, Betty Blue & The Lemon Tart
Awesome coffee: Juliette’s The Strand, Specialty Coffee Trader
Top spots for a beverage: Crown on Palmer, The Taphouse, Townsville Brewery
Must-dos: ReefHQ, Magnetic Island, The Strand, Billabong Sanctuary

Best times to visit

The tropical winter (April to November) is the best time to visit. Days are warm, nights are cool, and there is unlimited sunshine and very little rain. December to March is hot and humid and there can be rain periods which last several days. The advantage of this time of the year is that accommodation prices are low and most tourist attractions and tours still operate.

Top things to do in Townsville

Culture

If museums, live theatre, local artisan and farmers’ markets, or visits to attractions are your style, then you’re spoilt for choice in Townsville.

Reef HQ allows you to explore the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet. The world’s largest coral reef aquarium is home to thousands of fish, sharks, and turtles and, of course, a wide range of living corals. A highlight for some will be a visit to the aquarium’s Turtle Hospital where sick and injured turtles are cared for.

Top things to do in Townsville

Billabong Sanctuary encourages you to get in touch with your wild side. This picturesque area allows you to hold a koala, cuddle a wombat, smile at a crocodile or wrap a python around your neck. There are animal talks and feedings throughout the day.

Top things to do in Townsville

There always seems to be a festival or event happening in and around Townsville. Some of the best are the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Strand Ephemera: the North’s Sculpture Festival, the Townsville 400 Supercars, and Magnetic Island Race Week.

Castle Hill is the perfect place for visitors to orientate themselves. The hill is just metres from the CBD and there is vehicular access and a number of popular walking tracks. Lookouts at the top provide stunning panoramas of Townsville, Magnetic Island and the Coral Sea.

Top things to do in Townsville

History

Townsville was founded in 1864 as a port and remains a major import and export centre today, while developing into a university and research institute city.

Top things to do in Townsville

To experience some of the city’s history, visit the award-winning Museum of Tropical Queensland where you can explore a shipwreck, visit a rainforest and discover the reef, all in one day. Then head outdoors to the 15 hectare heritage Jezzine Barracks precinct, which commemorates the military and Aboriginal heritage of the Kissing Point headland.

Another outdoor venue is the Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park, where the historic Quarantine Station is a highlight. Across the water on Magnetic Island, the Forts Walk leads to historic WWII fortifications and infrastructure. Lookouts along the way afford excellent views to the Palm Island Group and Bowling Green Bay National Park. Koalas are often seen in trees along the track. The walk culminates in 360 degree views from the top of the fortifications.

Top things to do in Townsville

Food

From award-winning fine dining to casual eats to suit every taste, Townsville offers an enviable range of cafes and restaurants.

You can enjoy Australia’s best breakfast at Jam on Palmer Street. That’s according to the Savour Australia Awards. While on Palmer Street, capture the essence of fine dining and international cuisine at Michels Restaurant or Ribs and Rumps.

Top things to do in Townsville

Discover City Lane – a creative laneway bursting with dining options with New York flair, street art, funky decor and an atmosphere to match. Here you can travel the world without leaving town. Donna Bionda is an Italian restaurant, Sakana serves Japanese, Shaw and Co has burgers and more, while The Courtyard offers Americana-style street food. Also here is The Taphouse, North Queensland’s first self-pour craft beer bar.

Top things to do in Townsville

For more chances to refresh with a locally brewed beverage or enjoy a great meal, head for the Townsville Brewery or the Cowboys Leagues Club in Flinders Street. Further east you’ll find an eclectic mix of restaurants, nightclubs, pubs and cocktail bars on Flinders Street East.

Shopping

As North Queensland’s biggest urban centre, there’s no shortage of top things to do in Townsville that revolve around retail therapy.

Townsville is served by many of Australia’s popular department and chain stores but the real treats are in local boutique outlets. The Home Room in Gregory Street has locally crafted items like scented retro milk bottle candles or super cute sustainable bamboo tumblers for long-lasting memories of your Townsville visit.

The Strand Emporium on Flinders Street is a cool little coastal store with blue and white prints and seashell accents. Pop in for beach inspired decor, batik resort wear, accessories and homewares.

Stellar Moda on Palmer Street stocks edgy, bohemian and vintage styles from labels like Lucette, Kachel, Talulah and Mogil.

Relaxation

Magnetic Island, just 8km from Townsville, is a unique blend of national park, holiday paradise and small residential villages.

The island has some of the best beaches in Queensland and the lifestyle is relaxed and friendly. You can choose to jetski, sail, skydive on the beach, scuba dive, snorkel, fish, fly in the Red Baron seaplane, ride horses on the beach, play a round of golf or just relax in a peaceful bay.

Top things to do in Townsville

The Strand is Townsville’s thriving beach foreshore. There is a 2.5km walkway with spectacular views, restaurants and cafes, BBQs, the popular Water Park, the Rockpool and plenty of places to chill-out under the palm trees.

Top things to do in Townsville

Why not take advantage of the great weather and warm water to learn to scuba dive? Several operators on the mainland and on Magnetic Island can get you certified in a few days. For those with more experience, the Yongala wreck is considered Australia’s best dive site and is in the world’s top 10. The coral-encrusted structure attracts prolific marine life and is justifiably popular. Adrenalin Dive offers day trips and liveaboards.

Five tours we love

Great Barrier Reef Dive and Snorkel Cruise from Townsville

Explore the magnificent underwater world off the coast of Townsville on a custom-built snorkelling and diving vessel. Choose from an introductory dive with an experienced instructor, or two certified dives in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which is UNESCO World Heritage-listed. You’ll journey out to Lodestone Reef for the chance to see reef fish, sea turtles and stingrays. A delicious lunch and your equipment for the day are included.

Top things to do in Townsville

Townsville City Sightseeing Tour

Townsville is considered the unofficial capital of North Queensland and has a rich history and culture to explore. On this afternoon tour you’ll get to experience many of the highlights, including a stroll along The Strand, stunning views of Magnetic Island from Castle Hill, and visit to the Jezzine Barracks precinct. Travel by air-conditioned minibus, and enjoy your local guide’s commentary. You’ll pick up plenty of tips for great places to eat during your stay.

Scuba Dive the S.S. Yongala Wreck on the Great Barrier Reef

The SS Yongala wreck is considered to be one of the best dive sites anywhere on the Great Barrier Reef. Enjoy a day trip out to the wreck site, including two dives, lunch and refreshments on board.

Top things to do in Townsville

Townsville Military History Walking Tour

There has been a military presence in Townsville since the 1800s and this engaging military history tour will give you much of the back story. Led by a former member of the Australian Defence Force, tour highlights include Kissing Point Fort, the Royal Australian Air Force Museum, the Black Hawk Memorial and Lavarack Barracks. You can add a city tour that takes in many of Townsville’s scenic landmarks.

Townsville Helicopter Tour

Get a bird’s eye view of Townsville and Cleveland Bay on a scenic helicopter flight. Choose from a shorter flight around Townsville or a longer flight that also takes you over stunning Magnetic Island. You’ll enjoy expert commentary from your pilot and breathtaking views of Castle Hill, The Strand, Townsville Port, Ross River and the Coral Sea.

Do you have any tips for top things to do in Townsville? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.

Additional images: Bigstock

 

About the writer

Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 35 travel guide books. He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others. He has lived in nine countries and currently resides in Townsville. Along the way Len started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award and other recognition. He is the author of the Experience Guides series of travel books – available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com.

Luxury around the World

Luxperience is an annual 4-day global business exchange trade show held in Sydney, Australia. It is the only such event in the southern hemisphere covering high-end experiential travel. I wrote this article on a few of the participants in last year’s show. http://travelfore.com/luxury-around-the-world/

Luxury Around the World

Posted on Oct 5 2016 — 10:40pm by Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge

Luxury and experiential travel are changing the travel industry and the way many people think about travel. While trips to see grandma will always occur, family trips today are often camping safaris through Africa or visits to remote lodges in Bhutan.

Today’s travellers are braver than ever and are prepared to travel well off the beaten track. They are looking for something unique and individual.  As new destinations emerge, traditional tourist hotspots and resorts have to rethink their approach in order to stay relevant.

I have just returned from Luxperience, an unmissable annual get-together for all those associated with the high-end travel industry. It was a meeting which exposed all the newest and best operators and showed where this growing part of the industry is heading.

I have selected five products which show the level of luxury and diversity that is now available to world travellers. Any of them would be an experience of a lifetime for most people.

Deccan Odyssey

This is a luxury train in India comprising 21 luxuriously appointed coaches; 11 are to accommodate guests and the rest are used for different purposes such as dining, lounge, conference car and health spa. All the cabins of Deccan Odyssey are fully equipped with air-conditioning, internet connectivity, and personalized guest amenities that make sure that your journey is a comfortable and memorable one. There are two restaurant cars available which serve Indian, continental and oriental delicacies.

deccan

There are six itineraries which travel to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an excellent vineyard, palatial residences, sun-kissed beaches, magical cities, and tranquil backwaters. All is done with the luxury and pomp that only India can muster. Truly, this is the journey of a lifetime.

Over the Top

This New Zealand helicopter company based in Queenstown provides more than just a helicopter ride. You can visit alpine glaciers and remote lakes, for hiking, boating, extreme golfing, winery visits, heliskiing or fly fishing. For guests wanting an interaction with some distinctive New Zealand characters, you can fly with eco-guides, chefs, artists – genuine New Zealanders who delight in making your stay a once in a lifetime experience.

over-the-top-golf-tee

One activity that is gaining in popularity is Over the Top Golf. This provides access to New Zealand’s most picturesque golf hole. Nestled at 4500 feet in the New Zealand alps this par 3 hole overlooking Queenstown has four tee boxes so you can attempt your hole in one. Players have to fly in, drive, chip and putt out on the top.

The Racha

This deluxe island hideaway in Thailand is set on a pristine beach on Racha Island 18 km south of Phuket. The resort features 85 luxurious villas and strives to be recognized as a leader in responsible and environmentally sustainable tourism. The island is known for its natural beauty and for its excellent corals and marine life. It is also a wonderful place for relaxation and for doing nothing.

lighthouse-pool

Many rooms have a large living area and a spacious private terrace. Each villa is superbly designed and features a luxurious bathroom and a rain-shower outside. The Earth Cafe is a contemporary chic international café serving Western and Thai food in air-conditioned comfort or on the terrace. Sunset Beach is a casual restaurant serving local specialties and snacks for lunch and fresh barbequed seafood and steaks for dinner right next to the beach. Firegrill is a fine dining restaurant offering Mediterranean cuisine.

R.M. Williams Tour

R.M.Williams was an Australian hero who did much to put the Australian Outback on the map. His famous boots became a symbol of toughness and style which continues to this day. The Tailor, in conjunction with R.M.Williams, has designed the ultimate tribute to RM Williams. In RM’s Footsteps is a 4-day journey which traces his personal history, telling the story of how he created the famous leather boots now sold around the world.

This amazing trip offers guests a rare opportunity to explore the legend of RM Williams by visiting several magnificent Outback destinations, such as the Flinders Ranges and Lake Eyre, enjoying traditional country hospitality and eating delicious regional cuisine. Guests travel in ultimate luxury aboard a Swiss-built Pilatus PC12 aircraft.

nilpena-station-with-the-flinders-ranges-behind

The trip begins in Adelaide with a private tour of the RM Williams workshop, factory, and museum, plus a chance to be fitted with your own boots, clothing and other bush apparel. You will receive a complimentary pair of Craftsman Boots. Another highlight is a visit to the historic Nilpena Station, a tour of the nearby red desert dunes, and a rare visit to the heritage listed Ediacara fossils made famous by the likes of Sir David Attenborough.

The Strand Cruise

On a languid journey along the Ayeyarwady River, the new luxurious Strand Cruise reveals the core of Burma in exceptional comfort. Cruise itineraries include 4 nights from Bagan to Mandalay and 3 nights from Mandalay to Bagan. While cruising you can clear your mind with a rejuvenating massage, or relax by the swimming pool. Enjoy the magnificent sunset from the upper deck while the sommelier delights you with a wide variety of wines. At dinner, the Chef will take you on a journey through refined cuisine.

slide-strand-cruise-b

Pampering and relaxation are the goals of the spa. You can heighten the experience with a massage in either an individual room or share the experience in our double room. The foot reflexology station will leave you ready to take on a new day of exploration and discoveries. The fitness room comes complete with treadmills, weights, and other gym equipment; everything needed for an invigorating workout.

Excursions allow you to explore the royal cities of Mingun, Amarapura, and Ava by horse-drawn cart; take in landmarks such as the U Bein bridge; and marvel at the enduring beauty of the country’s innumerable temples and monasteries.

Further information:

Deccan Odyssey: http://www.deccan-odyssey-india.com/

Over the Top: http://www.flynz.co.nz/

The Racha: http://www.theracha.com/new/index.htm

R.M.Williams Tour: http://www.thetailor.com.au/rmwilliams/

The Strand Cruise: http://www.thestrandcruise.com/

www.LenRutledge.com

Len Rutledge
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Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 25 travel guide books. He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide and the Nile Guide amongst others.
Along the way he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV guide and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award and other recognition.
He is the author of the Experience Guide ebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore and Experience Ireland.

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