Category Archives: Travel

This Luxurious lounges and hipster haunts In Venice

Venice may not be renowned for its nightlife, with most of its citizens tucking themselves in bed well before midnight, but Venetians do like a tipple, particularly at aperitivo time.

The city boasts more bars than you can shake a cocktail stick at, from spectacular rooftop views to hole-in-the-wall music joints, and whether you prefer to be shaken or stirred, our list will help you find your perfect watering hole.

Take in the view from Giudecca’s Skyline Bar

There are plenty of reasons to love rooftop Skyline Bar, despite its slightly awkward location on Giudecca island. First off, you get a free shuttle service from the city across the Giudecca Canal. Secondly, it offers great views of southern Venice and thus multiple photo ops. Then there is the lengthy – and idiosyncratically translated – cocktail menu. A nice touch has been to provide a Venetian take on the classics, with the drinks covering the six sestieri (districts) of the city. The free boat ride makes a cocktail (€16-20) at this glamorous hotel bar an affordable treat.

Join the young, hip crowd at Osteria da Filo

Known to locals as ‘La Poppa’, this buzzing watering hole has a great wine list and cocktail selection (€3.50-6), including the Zaza, a mean house speciality involving copious amounts of rum and fresh ginger. One of the few venues in Venice offering live music (early evening on Wednesdays), Osteria da Filo is crammed with a young hipster and alternative crowd. On Wednesdays, arrive early to grab a comfy sofa or seat near the stage; alternatively, squeeze yourself in at the bar. The music ranges from traditional swing to contemporary jazz with local and international acts performing. The staff are friendly and the mood convivial.

Bring out your inner Bond on the Terrazza Danieli

A Venetian institution, the Danieli Hotel has been frequented by James Bond, as well as featuring in 2010 comedy The Tourist. From May to September, the Terrazza Danieli is open for aperitifs on the roof. Take in the stunning views of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Doge’s Palace as you sip on a soothing Bellini (cocktails €15-18) after the heat of the day. In winter, head to the ground floor bar for a cosier aperitif.

Drink in the luxury at the Bar Longhi

The newly restored Bar Longhi at the Gritti Palace hotel is sumptuous, elegant and the epitome of luxury. The interior is all marble and Murano glass and even boasts paintings by eighteenth-century artist and local son Pietro Longhi. The bar has a delicious eponymous signature cocktail, the Longhi, consisting of Campari, vermouth and stock orange liqueur, as well as an extensive cocktail list (€19-22). Sink into a plush sofa as you look out onto the Grand Canal in one of the loveliest hotels in the city.

Sip on a sun-downer at the Villa Laguna

During summer one of the best places in the city for a sun-downer is the bar at the Villa Laguna hotel on the Lido. The decking is right on the waterfront and offers a view of the city and her islands. Brush the sand off your feet after a day on the beach, order a spritz or classic cocktail (€12-16) and check out the setting sun as it steeps Venice and the lagoon is a rich rosy-orange glow. The Lido might boast fancier hotels with views of the Adriatic Sea, but none of them can match a summer sunset seen from here.

Gaze on the Grand Canal at Ancora

Offering outdoor seating overlooking the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal, swish Ancora (ancoravenezia.it) is ideal for lunchtime aperitifs among the hubbub of the market. Indoor evenings are a more relaxed affair, though the place gets pretty full at aperitif time. Plates of mixed cold cuts, local fish or Normandy oysters can be washed down with a fine array of cocktail options (€9-15). There is live music occasionally and the bar closes late (by Venetian standards), at 2am.

Exotic and inventive cocktails at classy Il Mercante

At the foot of the bridge in Campo dei Frari, this Venetian stalwart (ilmercantevenezia.com) has recently undergone a facelift and is now all velvet sofas and low lighting. Though offering great breakfasts and snacks, as well as mouth-watering lunch options, this pretty bar changes management at cocktail hour and becomes a creature of the night. An inventive and fabulous cocktail selection (€8-16) is conjured up before your very eyes by Alessandro and his knowledgeable and super-friendly staff. They occasionally squeeze in some live music in the early evening. And if you grab a sofa upstairs by the window, you will be facing the impressive Gothic facade of the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

Get cosy with the locals at Osteria All’Alba

A bar the size of a postage stamp, this rough and ready haunt is a favourite with Venetians. Hidden down a side street at the bottom of the Rialto Bridge, music lovers and drinkers converge at Osteria All’Alba for DJ sets, cocktails and bar snacks – the mini sandwiches with inventive fillings are a particular favourite. This is neither the prettiest bar in town, its walls covered in messages from previous patrons, nor the classiest, but the cocktails (€5-8) and lively atmosphere more than compensate for any dearth of elegance. Classy decor and unmatched views at Blind Spot © Michael Faggiani / Blind Spot

Find inner beauty at Mestre’s Blind Spot

While not actually in Venice itself, this swish new bar (cocktaillab.it) is worth the bus ride across the causeway to Mestre (Venice’s mainland district). Situated in a tower in a supermarket car park, the inauspicious location makes the surprise even greater when you arrive on the 18th floor and find yourself in glamorous surroundings that are more redolent of Milan than workaday Mestre. A dazzling array of traditional and new-fangled cocktails (€9-12) are served with supreme elegance by the gracious waiting staff. Sit back and gasp at the views from the closest thing to a skyscraper in the area. And if you’re not too squiffy, you can continue your evening at the equally wonderful Japanese restaurant Aki on the floor below.

Wine and dine in style at Caffè Centrale

One of the first cocktail lounge bars to open in the city, this venue tucked in a quiet street behind St Mark’s Square hasn’t lost its appeal. If you are coming by taxi or gondola you can make a classy and dramatic entrance by mooring at the bar’s private dock. Along with its heftily priced but delicious food menu, Caffè Centrale serves a mean cocktail (€9-18), with classics intertwined with imaginative new concoctions. Book the table on the tiny deck to enjoy the gondolas gliding by as you imbibe.

Travel at Castles, cairns and gin-making in the Boyne Valley

Ireland’s west coast may have the wild coastline, but the east is the country’s historic heartland. Set within striking distance of Dublin, the Boyne Valley’s rich soils and rolling hills have been occupied and battled over for millennia. As a result, ancient tombs rub shoulders with Norman castles and peaceful canals bisect battlefields.

And as well as past glories, there’s food and drink to set your lips smacking.

Older than the Pyramids: Brú na Bóinne

At first glance, the famous cairns that cluster around the River Boyne, in counties Meath and Louth might elicit a shrug – most are simple passages leading into small chambers. But the more you look, the more fascinating they get.

Almost 100 Neolithic monuments make up the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne (‘the Palace of the Boyne’), many dating from around 3200 BC, making them around seven centuries older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. They’re decorated with strange swirls and shapes and aligned with the sun and the landscape, yet so distant are their pre-Celtic creators that archaeologists are still guessing how the great stones were transported (possibly by river, or even rolled on seaweed) and whether they were built to honour the dead, the sun or the sea.

Stone Age magic at Newgrange and Loughcrew

Newgrange is the largest and most popular tomb, as well as the easiest to visit, via buses from the nearby visitor centre. Its 80m diameter is impressive, but the real thrill comes when you clamber through its dark tunnel, feeling the silence under muffled breath and gazing up at the enormous sandstone roof slabs as your heart stills and your eyesight sharpens. It’s hard not to feel a thorough connection to the living history of this place, an impression that swells as you stumble back out into the bright light and gentle hills of the surrounding farmland.

A trip to Loughcrew can be even more magical. That’s partly due to the lovely 15-minute walk from the winding R154 road, which takes you on a fairly steep climb into the Loughcrew Hills and views that stretch towards Dublin on one side and the Mourne Mountains on the other. And it’s partly due to the silence – even the most famous monument here, Cairn T, sees far fewer visitors than Newgrange. In summer, there are guides here to show you around (late April to end August), while in winter you can pick up a key from the visitor centre.

The feeling of epic discovery is heightened by the fact – only rediscovered in the 20th century – that the amber light of morning pierces the chamber at Cairn T (on the spring and autumn equinoxes) and Newgrange (at the winter equinox), bathing their mysterious symbols in a warmth and life that belies their age. At Newgrange, there’s a lottery for the winter equinox, and if you’re not lucky enough to get a place, at the end of each standard tour an artificial light is shone, mimicking its glorious effect.

Druids, monks and mercenaries

Subsequent visitors also left their mark in this fertile region. The Celts (who decided the impressive cairns must be the work of the faerie folk) arrived around 500 BC. You can ponder the roots they laid at Tara, where a hill marks the seat of the druids and the ceremonial capital of the high kings of Ireland.

Christianity arrived around 500 AD, and Irish monasteries became vital centres of European scholarship – the market town of Kells gave its name to the magnificent Book of Kells, now displayed in Dublin’s Trinity College. The monastery that was its home for six centuries is no more, but you can explore its ruins, including a 30m-tall round tower.

Twenty kilometres south of here, at a bend in the Boyne, Trim Castle is grand enough to have featured as no less than three castles (Edinburgh, York and the Tower of London) in the film Braveheart. Its atmospheric keep offers wonderful views of the countryside around, and a very solid reminder of another set of arrivals: Normans who came as mercenaries and ended up as rulers.

The Boyne’s game of thrones

The Boyne Valley was accustomed to being at the heart of Irish affairs, but in 1690 it was the site of a battle that shaped European history. Over 60,000 troops clashed a few kilometres west of Drogheda (now one of the best bases for exploring the region), as James II and his son-in-law William of Hanover fought for the British Isles. Despite the valiant efforts of the Jacobite cavalry, William’s larger, better-equipped force won the day – James fled to France, winning the nickname Seamus a’ chaca (‘James the shit’), and cementing the power of Protestant landowners and clergy across Ireland.

The site today is home to an enjoyable visitor centre, which explains the twists and turns of the battle via exhibits and video.

The landscape of the Boyne Valley isn’t the most stunning in Ireland – there’s a fair bit of commuter-belt sprawl around these lovely rolling hills. But you can give your explorations a focus by taking a boat trip up the nearby Boyne Navigation canal with Boyne Boats (boyneboats.ie). A paddle up this quiet waterway on a traditional currach is a wonderfully intimate experience – the boats were used in the filming of Game of Thrones, making them an ideal spot from which to ponder the ambition and bloodshed of the conflict.

Kings, rock and whiskey

With power came wealth, and the stately homes of Anglo-Irish landowners dot the Boyne Valley and beyond. Substantial yet elegant Slane Castle was home to Elizabeth Conyngham, the mistress of King George VI, and it’s said the road between Dublin and Slane was built especially straight to speed the smitten king’s journeys.

The great estates have mostly been broken up, and the Conynghams have diversified: Slane Castle is a famous venue for concerts (including U2 – who also recorded parts of The Unforgettable Fire in the Great Library – and Guns ‘n’ Roses), there’s now a rather lovely organic glampsite (rockfarmslane.ie) on the hills above, and a €47 million whiskey distillery opened in late spring 2017. Visits to the house and distillery offer a neat perspective on changing times, from the burnished new copper stills to the grand paintings of distant aristocrats, as the Boyne takes its peaceful path along the valley below.

Nearby Beaulieu House (beaulieuhouse.ie) has a gorgeous garden and a soaring hall, as well as connections to motor racing and the martyred 17th-century archbishop Oliver Plunkett.

Gin and local produce

The Boyne Valley is no fossil. Slane Castle’s whiskey is a traditional spirit given a contemporary twist (their first release is matured in virgin, seasoned and sherry casks), while Tayto Park uses Ireland’s most iconic crisp – and a dash of Irish mythology –  as the hook for a popular theme park.

Listoke Distillery (listokedistillery.ie), meanwhile, takes a drink more associated with England and the Netherlands and uses local botanicals to tie it into the region’s buoyant food scene. A gin-making session at this 19th century house just outside Drogheda is enormous fun – you get to research and perfect your own mix of botanicals while drinking G&Ts.

Indeed, restaurants across the Boyne Valley are proudly touting their local produce, from lamb and goat’s cheese to pale ale, and there’s fine food on offer at restaurants including Tankardstown House (tankardstown.ie) and Scholars. And eating local food ties you back – in a satisfyingly filling way – to the landscape that has made this place a crucible of Irish history.

Travel In Mexico City

The sinking city

Xochimilco has an environmental management plan in place, but Mexico City’s water problems are so much bigger than the canals. Geologists estimate that in certain areas the city sinks about 6 centimeters (2.5 inches) a year, and as water tables drop, subsidence becomes a more serious concern. To fully grasp the sinking-city phenomenon, check out the slanted Catedral Metropolitana, Mexico City’s iconic cathedral on the capital’s main square, or the teetering 17th-century Ex Teresa Arte Actual museum nearby.

Water issues may not seem all that obvious when cruising the wetlands of Xochimilco, but environmentalists warn that without a more forward-thinking approach to water regeneration and conservation, tour boat operators, chinampa farmers and the city’s inhabitants in general might find themselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Wonderfully weird Mexico City: the Distrito Federal’s most bizarre sights

Just when you think things can’t get any stranger in Mexico City, they usually do. In fact, the sprawling capital offers so many unusual sights that you can plan a whole trip around visiting oddball places. Here are 10 experiences sure to make a lasting impression.

Island of the Dolls

Slasher doll Chucky would feel right at home on spooky Isla de las Muñecas. Hundreds of weathered dolls – some missing heads and limbs – hang from trees and clotheslines on a chinampa (raised garden) deep in the heart of the Xochimilco canals. An island caretaker dredged the dolls from surrounding canals to appease the spirit of a girl who had drowned nearby.

Make it happen
Recommended visiting hours are 8am-4pm. The island is only accessible by boat so take a ‘Tláhuac Paradero’ bus from metro General Anaya to the Embarcadero Cuemanco entrance, walk a kilometer to the docks and take a 4hr trajinera (gondola) boat ride for M$1400.

Munch on bugs at Mercado San Juan

Feeling peckish? How about some escamoles (ant larvae), jumiles (stink bugs), gusanos de maguey (maguey worms), or perhaps some crunchy chapulines (grasshoppers)? Many folks are pleasantly surprised when sampling insects for the first time at this gourmet food market (that is, if they don’t mind getting grasshopper legs wedged between their teeth). Mexico’s love for bugs dates back to the pre-Hispanic era – today insects are seen as a delicacy in upscale restaurants, and they’re highly nutritious to boot. Still peckish?

Make it happen
Mercado San Juan is at Pugibet 21, Colonia Centro, metro San Juan de Letrán, and is open 8am-5:30pm.

Santa Muerte patiently awaits

Once revolving around a small cult, Santa Muerte, or Our Lady of Death, now draws millions of followers who have left behind Catholicism and turned to worshipping the popular skeleton saint instead. Throughout the city you’ll find numerous Santa Muerte altars, but the mother of all shrines is in the working-class neighborhood of Colonia Morelos, where the faithful kneel before a grim reaper figure wearing a sequined gown and wig of long dark tresses.

Make it happen
Enter Colonia Morelos at your own risk – it’s relatively safe by day, but don’t visit this crime-ridden area after dark. The Santa Muerte altar can be found at number 12 Calle Alfarería, between Mineros and Panderos streets, metro Tepito.

Go underground at El Chopo

Every Saturday afternoon, thousands of people flock to tianguis (open street market) El Chopo, a weekly gathering of black-clad punks, die-hard head bangers and just about every other youth subculture imaginable. Vendors hawk random band T-shirts, indie music, cult videos and all kinds of quirky stuff, while at the market’s north end, young-and-hungry bands grind out garage punk, metal and rockabilly. After the market closes, Chopo regulars unwind in the raucous neighborhood bars.

Make it happen
Tianguis Cultural del Chopo is on Calle Aldama in Colonia Guerrero, metro Buenavista, and is open 10am-5pm Sat.

Mercado Sonora – for all your witchcraft needs

Ward off evil spirits or rid yourself of a curse at Mercado Sonora, aka ‘the witches’ market’. Aisles are lined with stalls offering black magic items, strange potions and limpias, a pre-Hispanic cleansing ritual involving clouds of incense and a herbal brushing. Amulets and talismans abound – some stands even sell ceramic figures of Jesus Malverde, a narco folk saint who brings good luck to drug traffickers.

Make it happen
Mercado Sonora is on Avenida Fray Servando Teresa de Mier 419, Colonia Merced Balbuena, metro Merced, and is open 10am-7pm.

A shrine to Mexico’s masked marvels

Former pro wrestler Super Astro has turned his downtown sandwich shop, El Cuadrilatero (The Ring), into a lucha libre (wrestling) shrine. Colorful masks encased in glass boxes pay tribute to Mexican wrestling greats such as Blue Demon and El Santo. Hungry? If in 15 minutes you can devour the 1.3kg/2.9lb torta gladiador (an artery-choking sub stacked with various meats, egg and cheese), it’s free. Chewing is optional.

Make it happen
El Cuadrilatero can be found at Luis Moya 73, Colonia Centro, metrobus Plaza San Juan. Tortas cost M$65-95, the gladiador costs M$270, and it’s open 7am-8pm Mon-Sat.

Get your freak on at Disco Patrick Miller

People-watching is downright fascinating at Disco Patrick Miller, a throbbing nightclub known for its ‘Hi-NRG’ music (up-tempo disco). The venue draws a highly diverse clientele, ranging from ‘80s throwbacks and working-class regulars to cross dressers and break dancers. The real fun begins when circles open up on the floor and locals pull off moves that would have made Michael Jackson proud.

Make it happen
You can dance every Friday night away (10.30pm-4am) at Mérida 17, Colonia Roma, metro Insurgentes; cover M$30.

Marvel at mummies in a crypt

Shortly after occupying this convent during the Mexican Revolution, Zapatista soldiers came across a surprising find while digging for buried gold – a dozen mummified corpses. The unidentified bodies, now on display in a muraled museum crypt, are believed to be 17th-century benefactors and friars of the Carmelite order. The mummies’ horrific facial expressions have been remarkably well preserved for your morbid viewing pleasure.

Make it happen
El Museo de El Carmen is at Av Revolución 4, Colonia San Ángel, metrobus La Bombilla, and is open 10am-5pm Tue-Sun. Admission is M$52, Sun free.

Find your inner kid in a funky toy museum

Japanese-Mexican Roberto Shimizu claims to have amassed the world’s largest collection of antique toys. His Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico is a hoarder’s paradise with a collection of more than one million items, of which around 60,000 are on permanent display in unique cases Shimizu himself designed from recycled objects. Exhibits across the three cluttered floors come in all sizes, from tiny action figures to life-size robots.

Make it happen
The museum is at Dr. Olvera 15, Colonia Doctores, metro Obrera. Admission is M$75, and it’s open 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm Sat, 10am-4pm Sun.

The sinking city phenomenon

Downtown Mexico City is sinking fast. The vast valley of present-day D.F. sits atop a lake bed that was drained by the Spanish at the beginning of the colonial era meaning that many weighty old buildings in the Historic Center continue to sink into the sloshy soil. Nowhere is this more evident than inside cultural center Ex Teresa Arte Actual, a teetering 17th-century former convent. From the moment you walk into the slanted edifice, it feels like you’re walking around a funhouse, but instead of mirrors you get trippy experimental art on display.

Destination Places to go for culture

Travel back in time with this round-up of living monuments to bygone eras.

Explore ancient cities in Iran before the heat builds

The land once called Persia is where misconceptions come to die. Political posturing wins column inches, but there are so many treasures that really deserve the headlines: the extraordinary Islamic architecture of Esfahan, with its intricate blue patterned tiles; the huge, bustling bazaars of Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz or Tabriz; the magnificent remains at Persepolis, dating back two-and-a-half millennia; the deserts; the poems; the food; and – most of all – the warm, welcoming people.

By June the mercury is rising fast at lower altitudes, but prices and crowds are dropping. Summer is also the season for hiking in the Alborz Mountains, particularly the ascent of Mt Damavand, a true icon of Iran.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Tehran, head south to the desert city of Yazd, the ancient ruins at Persepolis, sophisticated Shiraz and majestic Esfahan, before scooting up to the Alborz Mountains to tackle Mt Damavand and roam among the Castles of the Assassins.
  • Need to know: Most visitors require a visa – apply well before you intend to travel. Females over the age of nine should wear a headscarf in visa application photos.
  • Other months: Mar-May – spring, cool, biggest crowds and highest prices; Jun-Aug – hot in lower regions, best for mountains; Sep-Oct – cooler, lower prices; Nov-Feb – cold.

Explore Armenia, the world’s oldest Christian country in the summer

Armenia does ancient like almost nowhere else. This landlocked nation is packed with churches, monasteries and caravanserais dating from the first millennium AD, and with relics stretching back even further, including Karahunj (literally: ‘stone henge’), reputedly constructed 7000 years ago. More than that, the dramatic backdrop of the Caucasus, with snow-capped Mt Ararat peering across the Turkish border, matches Armenia’s turbulent history of invasion, oppression and aggression by neighbouring states.

The weather is most clement in June, after the icy chill of winter and before the mercury soars into the high 30°Cs. From capital Yerevan’s chilled cafe culture to the cave village of Khndzoresk and hilltop monasteries such as Tatev and Noravank, it’s a mesmerising, diverse land that’s not quite like anywhere else. The wine’s not bad, either.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Yerevan and head south to Khor Virap, Noravank, Tatev and Karahunj, then skirt Lake Sevan (stopping to admire the field of Khachkars – engraved cross-stones) to explore the forested hills around Dilijan. Many add a visit to Georgia, just to the north.
  • Need to know: The non-country of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave of Armenian heritage surrounded by Azerbaijan, is a fascinating coda to Armenia – but check the current safety situation before travelling.
  • Other months: Mar-Jun – pleasant warmth, wildflowers; Jul-Aug – can top 40°C/104°F; Sep-Nov – cooler days; Dec-Feb – very cold.

Discover the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’ in Croatia

A crescent of terracotta roofs curling round to embrace an azure coin of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik has been assaulted many times through the centuries – besieged by Saracens, overtaken by Venetians, devastated by earthquake in 1667, then by Napoleon and the war of 1991–92. Yet it’s emerged more beguiling each time, and never more so than in June, the tipping point between spring’s warmth and summer’s somnolent heat, but before cruise passengers cram every alley.

Once you’ve promenaded a circuit of the Old Town’s walls and roamed the marbled streets (ideally very early in the morning), escape to a nearby island – perhaps Lokrum, Mljet or Šipan – to find a quiet beach, and a taverna serving fine seafood and local wines. Or head around the bay to peaceful Cavtat, founded by Greek settlers who fled Slavic attack to build the more famous Dubrovnik in AD 614.

  • Trip plan: Reasonably priced accommodation in the Old Town is limited; you’ll find more in Lapad, a mile or so to the west, which also has a couple of beaches.
  • Need to know: The best spot from which to admire the city at sunset is the top of Mt Srd’s cable car.
  • Other months: May-Oct – warm, clear days (Jun-Aug: busiest, priciest); Nov-Apr – cool, few tourists, many facilities closed.

Head to St Petersburg to float through the daylight of the White Nights

The great city founded on the Neva River by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 was always designed to impress. Its palaces, museums and theatres are as grand as its early masters (and mistresses) could imagine, and in midsummer, when the sun never sets and the city is bathed in a luminous glow 24/7, it looks that much more romantic.

During the White Nights, roughly from the second week in June to the start of July, St Petersburg is a whirl of opera, ballet, music and general zhizni radost (joie de vivre). Stroll alongside the Neva or the Summer Garden, watch the bridges open and the ornate fountains of the Peterhof sprinkle.

  • Trip plan: You could spend a week wandering the riverbank, parks and streets, but make time for St Petersburg’s grand palaces and churches, the incredible Hermitage Museum in the white, green and gold Winter Palace, and the monuments of the Peter and Paul Fortress, at least.
  • Need to know: Tourists must obtain a Russian visa, usually through a tour agency or invitation from a hotel, before arriving. Be prepared for high prices during White Nights.
  • Other months: Apr-Sep – warm, bright; Oct-Nov – cold, grey; Dec-Mar – dark, freezing, but magical.

Tips to build a perfect road-ready camera kit

With mobile phones that feature sophisticated cameras in the hands of most travelers, taking photos has never been easier. But if you want to level up your Instagram game with quality images beyond the typical smartphone fare, follow our tips for picking and packing a travel photography kit.

Selecting your system

There’s a perfect setup for every kind of adventure – pack according to the likeliest scenarios you’ll encounter and stay mindful of factors like climate, seasonality, the local culture and the length of your trip. Pick the proper camera system for yourself – think about features and controls you’ll need and get familiar with them long before you hit the road.

Bodies

DSLRs by big brands like Canon and Nikon have long been the go-to brands for serious shooters, but lighter and smaller mirrorless options are gaining traction with hobbyist and professional photographers alike. Mirrorless systems like the Fujifilm X Series (fujifilm-x.com) or Sony Alpha (alphauniverse.com) have the advantage of being extremely compact– half the size of traditional DSLRs – and many models host interchangeable lenses for an image quality that’s superior to point-and-shoot cameras.

Lenses

Lens selection depends on the nature of the trip and your planned itinerary. In general, opt for wide angle lenses (20mm and lower) for landscapes and telephoto lengths (50mm or higher) for shooting faraway subjects.

A versatile zoom lens that shoots from wide angle to telephoto provides enough range to capture a variety of travel scenes and situations. On the other hand, prime (fixed focal length) lenses are often more compact and an overall better choice for their faster optics and broader aperture settings. You can’t zoom with these lenses, which can be a good thing – it forces you to interact more with the environment as you work toward that perfect shot.

Select primes that cover a range of bases: 50mm is a popular ‘standard’ lens with a field of view that closely resembles the human eye; 35mm is a good wide length for landscapes, street scenes and architecture; 85mm is a solid choice for portraiture. When shooting wildlife, pick primes between 300mm and 600mm. Because animals tend to move quickly, a telephoto zoom lens ranging from 70mm to 400mm is also a good option.

Filters 

Thanks to digital editing, the use of filters on camera lenses to modify an image isn’t as necessary as it used to be, but there are still a couple of useful ones. UV filters cut atmospheric haze and protect your lens (many opt to leave them on at all times). Circular polarizer filters are good landscapes; they can boost color saturation, reduce glare and cut reflections on water or glass.

Flash

With the world as your studio, it’s typical to rely on available light when shooting your travels. That said, a flash can be beneficial when the ambient light isn’t sufficient indoors or when you’re trying to capture quickly-moving subjects outdoors at night. Luckily, hot shoe mount flash units are compact enough to pack with ease. For travel photography, use ‘through the lens’ (TTL) metering rather than manual flash for travel photography. The unit to select depends on the camera’s brand, as most are only compatible with specific models.

Bag basics

Luggage is a significant consideration for anybody who travels, but for the itinerant photographer, it’s key that the form fits the function. A camera bag’s style and capacity should suit not only your gear (an expensive investment, after all) but also the nature of the trip.

Spring for a bag with just enough room for your essentials so you won’t be tempted to overpack. Size and weight are important not only for airline carry-on restrictions, but also because the burden of toting cumbersome luggage can get annoying and painful quickly. Save your back and shoulders by selecting something comfortable enough to carry for an extended period of time. Backpacks are best for hands-free movement, and messenger styles allow easy access to your gear.

Ensure it has well-made protective features like padded, Velcro-adjustable compartments and waterproofing elements to help safeguard your gear. Typical bags (made from black nylon or polyester fabric) can be conspicuous – try one of these trip-specific designs to keep a low profile:

Best for adrenaline junkies

The MindShift Gear (mindshiftgear.com) Rotation 180 Series backpacks are made for photographers with a passion for high-octane adventure. Their rotating belt packs allow quick access to your camera when you see a shot, and safe stowing when you need to focus on the adventure in front of you – all without ever taking the backpack off. There’s ample room for essentials like snacks, extra layers of clothing and a hydration bladder.

Best for urban-to-outdoor adventures

For city slickers who regularly heed the call of the wild, the Langly (langly.co) Messenger Tote or Alpha Pro Backpack are ideal for seamless style that fits into photography settings from bustling urban centers to cozy campsites. Removable and adjustable inserts allow for customizable configuration. Bonus: you can match your bag with one of their sturdy and stylish camera straps or memory card and battery holders.

Best for style-savvy snappers

Fashion-conscious traveling photographers don’t have to sacrifice style for function. Beautifully-crafted bags like the Claremont by Lo & Sons (loandsons.com) are ideal for those who prefer to keep their kits covert. The comfortable cross-body looks like a chic satchel from the outside; inside are ideal features to protectively transport your gear.

Other necessities

With your camera picked and packed, get the most out of it by bringing the right accessories to help you get the shot in any situation.

Travel tripods

Tripods are necessary if you plan to do any kind of long exposures. There are compact models that provide steady support while minimizing weight and bulk. Try one from the Gitzo Traveler series (gitzo.us) or Joby’s GorillaPods (joby.com), whose flexible, rubberized segments can be set up like a traditional tripod or wrapped around available structures like trees, light poles or furniture.

Mind mother nature

Protect your camera from any kind of elemental forces (sand, snow, dust, salt spray) with a rain cover. Choices run the gamut of price point and sizes – disposable plastic covers can be picked up for under $10 from a photo supply shop. High-tech versions include the ThinkTank Hydrophobia (thinktankphoto.com) or Aquatech (aquatech.net) Sport Shield.

Power up

If there’s one thing to overpack in your kit, it’s batteries – especially if you’re shooting in situations where it’ll be tough to find a power source and recharge. The Watson (poweredbywatson.com) Duo LCD Charger, available for different battery styles, allows two batteries to charge at once. If you’re carrying different types of batteries, Watson’s Compact AC/DC Charger has interchangeable plates so you can save space and charge them all with one device.

Memory cards and storage

Bring at least two or three memory cards (in case one gets corrupted) and a card reader to regularly transfer your images off your camera. Transcend (transcend-info.com) has compact readers for multiple card formats to transfer and backup images onto a laptop. If you can’t bring a laptop with you, you can offload images onto an external hard drive using a portable memory backup device – the HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA2 (hypershop.com) and Nexto DI (nextodi.com) ND2901 allow you to review images and single out selects on the go.

Cleaning supplies

Keep your camera clean with a squeeze-bulb blower, retractable brush (never touch the bristles), and microfiber lens cloth or pre-dampened lens wipes. If you choose to clean your camera’s sensor yourself, Photographic Solutions (photosol.com) Sensor Swabs are small enough to pack and remove dust from quickly and easily

Just because you’re not shooting with a smartphone doesn’t mean you can’t take selfies – remote shutter release controllers are great for setting up self-portraits and help eliminate vibrations caused by physically pressing the camera’s shutter release during long exposures. Most brands make models specifically for your camera, but Foto&Tech (fotoandtech.com) sells good, cheap versions for nearly all makes and models. Also see if your camera brand has an app to turn your smartphone into a remote controller – that’s one less thing to pack.

Destinations to go for Relaxation

Soak up the Caribbean sun away from the hurricane belt

It’s the Caribbean, but not as you know it. The ABC islands, as Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are playfully known, sit just off the north coast of Venezuela. Although they’re geographically part of South America, they’ve been governed by, and been part of, the Netherlands since the early 17th century. June is the sweet spot between the high season (which also happens to be the rainy season) in the northern winter, and the slightly hotter summer months. Since the islands are outside the hurricane belt (unlike most of the other Caribbean islands), they’re a safe bet at this time of year, yet hotel rates are low and beaches less crowded.

And what beaches: from gorgeous Eagle Beach on Aruba, beloved of honeymooners, to the resorts of Curaçao’s southwest. Come to Aruba for nightlife, Bonaire for wonderful diving and snorkelling, and Curaçao for Dutch-influenced culture and cuisine, and to explore its colourful capital, Willemstad.

  • Trip plan: Direct flights from New York and Amsterdam serve Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba, with flights from Miami to the first two.
  • Need to know: Corals spawn off Bonaire around September or October – a nocturnal spectacle for scuba divers.
  • Other months: Feb-Sep – consistently warm and dry; Oct-Jan – rainy season.

Dive and snorkel clear, warm, turquoise waters in Mozambique

Are these the most beautiful tropical islands on Earth? The Bazaruto Archipelago faces stiff competition from other Indian Ocean destinations (and Mozambique’s own Quirimbas Archipelago) – but wriggle your toes into the silky sand on a glorious June morning (the start of the dry season), or gaze through your mask at impossibly colourful reef fish, and maybe a humpback whale migrating past, and they could stake a fair claim.

Much of this chain of five islands off Mozambique’s southeastern coast is protected as a national park, conserving dolphins, dugongs, sea turtles and around 2000 fish species. Oh, and Nile crocodiles – but perhaps you’re not so keen to see those… This is a paradise for divers, but also for anyone seeking a truly barefoot beach holiday.

  • Trip plan: Several islands have airstrips, and access is usually by plane or helicopter, speedboat or dhow from the mainland port of Vilankulo. Day trips from Vilankulo are possible but most visitors arrive on a package to one of the luxury lodges with an upmarket tour operator, often incorporating South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
  • Need to know: Humpback whales migrate past the archipelago from June or July to September or October.
  • Other months: Jun-Oct – dry; Apr-Jun & Sep-Nov – best diving; Nov-Mar – rains build.

Soak in the sun and Mediterranean before the crowds hit Sardinia, Italy

Italy’s second-largest island is, fair to say, famed mostly for one key asset: beaches. Nowhere else is the Mediterranean such an incredible shade of jade-turquoise-azure, lined with such perfect white-sand beaches. Best known is Costa Smeralda, the archetypal millionaire’s playground, but there are plenty more for mere mortals to enjoy. And June’s the time to enjoy them, with fine, clear weather but before the hordes of high summer descend.

Which beach? South of capital Cagliari is Chia, with not one but five fine beaches; The Sinis Peninsula has good snorkelling and Greek ruins; Alghero has popular resorts; from Cala Gonone on the east coast boats depart for secluded beaches; and the Costa Rei further south is exquisitely beautiful. If you can stir from the sand, you’ll find great hiking in the Gennargentu Mountains, historic old town centres – Cagliari included – and 3000-year-old nuraghi dwellings to discover.

  • Trip plan: International airports at Cagliari, Alghero and Olbia all receive low-cost flights.
  • Need to know: Many facilities close for a siesta in the early afternoon, particularly outside the main tourist resorts.
  • Other months: May-Jun – clear days; Jul-Aug – high season; Apr & Sep-Oct – shoulder, lower prices; Nov-Feb – colder.

Relax in the tropical paradise of Bora Bora in its balmiest season

Blue, turquoise, azure, teal, indigo… there aren’t enough words to describe the hues of the Pacific Ocean around French Polynesia on a clear, calm, sunny day. And there are plenty of those in June, the start of the driest season, when the main island of Bora Bora and its motu (ringing islands) bask around the high 20°Cs.

This is the stuff of movies, with luxurious resorts perched over the crystal waters, shaded by swaying palms – and you need to be a film star to afford the prices at the very top hotels and resorts, though more modest accommodation can be found. As if the scenery wasn’t paradisiacal enough, the snorkelling and diving, over coral gardens and with sharks and rays, is spectacular.

Walk on the wild side with these animal encounters that invite you to get up close and personal with some of the planet’s most incredible wildlife.

Between silverback gorillas, whale sharks and manta rays, these adventures will see you rub shoulders with some of Mother Nature’s giants. Alternatively, downsize the creatures but scale-up the number, watching legions of baby turtles hatch in Borneo; or discover the whole cast of the Lion King with a walking safari on Zambia’s vast plains.

Dive with giants on Australia’s other barrier reef

Now’s the time to think Big. Visit Australia’s largest state (area: around one million sq miles; 2.5 million sq km) in June to swim with the world’s heftiest fish, the whale shark (length: up to 60ft; 18m) and manta rays (wing width: up to 18ft; 5.5m) as well as watching humpback whales (weight: up to 30 tonnes) on – OK – only Australia’s second-largest reef, Ningaloo.

Coral spawning from March prompts a zooplankton explosion, attracting the sharks until mid-August, while manta rays – present year-round at Coral Bay – tend to visit Exmouth May to November, and humpbacks migrate past June to November. The turquoise waters are beautifully clear for snorkelling and diving among dazzling reef fish, too.

  • Trip plan: Coral Bay and Exmouth are both good bases for visiting the reef. Learmonth airport near Exmouth is served by flights from Perth, an 800-mile (1300 km) drive away. For a road-trip, stop off en route at the Pinnacles Desert near Cervantes, craggy Kalbarri National Park and the ancient stromatolites of Shark Bay.
  • Need to know: No more than 10 people are allowed in the water with a whale shark, and must not approach closer than 10ft (3m).
  • Other months: Apr-Jul – moderate heat, whale sharks; Oct-Apr – summer, high 30s°C/90s°F; Aug-Sep – warm.

Explore jungles and see turtles hatching in Borneo’s dry season

For some of us, Borneo seems a long way to travel for a beach. But if that beach is liable to erupt with hatching turtles and is backed by wildlife-rich rainforest, in which former head-hunters live largely traditional lifestyles – well, then the long journey seems entirely worthwhile. That’s Borneo – or, more specifically, the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, at their best in the (relatively) dry month of June, when turtles hatch and orangutans thrive on plentiful fruit.

Sarawak has the longhouse communities along the Batang (River) Rejang, the bat-thronged caves of Gunung Mulu National Park, the proboscis monkeys and enormous rafflesia flowers. Sabah has mighty Mt Kinabalu, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, fine diving and those turtle-nesting beaches. Both offer incredible wildlife and cultural experiences. And yes, both have beautiful stretches of sand on which to simply lie back and relax.

  • Trip planner: Fly to Kuching or Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur. There are regular flights between those two state capitals, and buses and boats serve other regional destinations.
  • Need to know: Some governments advise against travel to islands off the far eastern coast of Sabah. Check the latest advice before visiting those areas.
  • Other months: Apr-Sep – driest, but rain possible any time; Oct-Mar – wet, still hot.

See eye to eye with a silverback gorilla in Rwanda

That something so huge (a male gorilla can top 180kg) can be so vulnerable is hard to understand. Yet only 700 or so endangered mountain gorillas survive in two isolated subpopulations. June, the start of Rwanda’s dry season, is the time to venture to Volcanoes National Park to track one of its 10 habituated groups; prepare for muddy, steep trails, heady altitude (around 9850 ft; 3000m) and the heart-melting sight of a precious primate family.

A gorilla encounter is far from the only reason to come to Rwanda. The calm, neat capital, Kigali is a fine place to start, redolent with the aroma of Rwanda’s great coffee; Nyungwe Forest harbours large populations of chimpanzees and Rwenzori colobus monkeys, while to the east Akagera National Park is a pretty mix of savannah, hills and valleys, with giraffe, zebra, elephant and some shy lions.

  • Trip plan: Fly to the capital, Kigali. Independent travel is fairly straightforward, with a good minibus service, though it’s easiest to book a tour (including gorilla tracking) with an international operator.
  • Need to know: Book your gorilla-tracking permit (currently US$750) well in advance for this popular season.
  • Other months: Jun-Aug – driest season, gorilla-trekking easiest; Mar-May & Nov – heaviest rain; Sep-Oct & Dec-Feb – damp, possibly cheaper, better gorilla-permit availability.

Walk with the wild animals in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

The eyes of a lion give nothing away: not anger, not fear, not curiosity. That’s something you notice when you encounter this majestic carnivore without the protection of a vehicle – on foot in the birthplace of the walking safari: Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. June’s the ideal time to explore ‘the valley’ as it’s the start of the dry season, before vegetation has withered.

Amble alongside one of the continent’s finest guides, spotting elephants, giraffes, dazzling birdlife and, if you’re lucky, even wild dog. Seeing wildlife of any kind on foot is both electrifying and enlightening, bringing into focus not just the sights but also the sounds and smells of the bush. Leopards and various nocturnal species are often seen on night drives, too.

Trips for All travellers who want to learn something new

Whether it’s perfecting your front crawl in an English lake or getting to grips with your camera on a photography safari, these trips will thrill knowledge lovers as much as pleasure seekers.

Cook up a storm in Chiang Mai

Blessed with some of the world’s best street food, you could be forgiven for coming to Chiang Mai and spending your entire trip indulging in everything from the spiciest tom yum soup to searching for the perfect pad thai. But chances are you’re going to want to learn how to make these delicious dishes yourself. Thankfully, Chiang Mai has several options for curious cooks looking to pick up new culinary skills, with schools dotted through town.

Based on the edge of the city, teachers from Thai Farm Cooking School (thaifarmcooking.net) will collect you from your guest house, take you shopping in local markets and teach you about spices, rice and flavours. You’ll then decamp to its organic farm base, where you’ll learn to cook six dishes. After cooking up a storm, pupils and teachers sit down together to taste everyone’s creations.

Become a gaucho in Argentinian Patagonia

Forget childhood riding classes on sleepy farmsteads. Hopping on a horse in Argentina’s spectacular Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in Patagonia means scaling mountains and splashing through rivers, all while learning how to round up cattle on vast ranches.

23km north of Bariloche, Cabalgatas Carol Jones (caroljones.com.ar) is the ideal place for first-timers and seasoned riders. The eponymous Carol Jones runs half-day, whole-day and multi-day trips around her ranch and beyond, teaching you how to control your steed and bring cattle to heel as well as giving consummate lessons on the area’s wildlife and history. She’s eminently qualified, too – her grandfather, Jarrod Jones, was a Texan pioneer who came to the area in 1889.

Sharpen your photography on a Kenyan safari

For many people, an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that’ll see your camera called into service constantly. But those who want to get incredible shots of big game need an expert guide and plenty of time in one of the continent’s richest reserves.

Paul Goldstein, Exodus Travel’s resident safari photographer (exodus.co.uk), leads six-day trips in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, where visitors will learn how to capture leopards, cheetahs, lions and black rhino perfectly. Drives start before daybreak and can last all day, but the rewards are plentiful. Few travel experiences can match standing in the back of an open-sided 4×4 taking pictures as a pride of lion pads across the open plain or a herd of elephants stops for a drink at a waterhole as the sun comes up.

Get to grips with yoga in Bali

Stretching out on a yoga mat is a surefire way to feel healthy and blissed out on your travels. The pretty town of Ubud, deep in the heart of Bali, is arguably the best place on the planet to get your fix and perfect moves you only practise once a month at the local gym.

The Yoga Barn (theyogabarn.com), set on the edge of town and overlooking green paddy fields and swaying palms, has 15 classes a day to choose from, as well as offering regular, multi-day retreats and multi-class passes for those staying longer term. The three large, open-sided studios have views to die for, while the in-house café is the perfect place to prolong that chilled vibe once class is over.

Become a kendo master in Japan

The Japanese martial art of kendo, literally ‘sword way’, sees hardened participants don armour and take each other on using bamboo swords. Its techniques are similar to those used by ancient samurai warriors, making the modern sport a gateway into the history of this fascinating country.

Atlas Japan Tour (atlas-japantour.com) runs a special class for visitors in the northern town of Nonoichi, taught by locals every other Saturday. They’ll give you a crash course in the sport’s past, as well as teaching you how to safely take on and beat your opponents. Fear not, all kit is supplied and you don’t need to be a hardened swordsman to take part either.

Dive into wild swimming in the English Lakes

The mountains of England’s Lake District have long been a magnet for walkers. But there’s a quiet revolution going on, with visitors wading out into the waters of Buttermere, Wast Water and the area’s other stunning lakes for a refreshing dip instead of taking a long hike.

For those who’ve never swum outside the confines of an indoor pool, Swim The Lakes (swimthelakes.co.uk) has a half-day ‘introduction to open water swimming’ course, suitable for complete beginners through to hardened triathletes. Experienced guides will take you into the cooling depths of Windermere and tell you about technique and how to build stamina, all while getting a frog’s eye view of this beautiful corner of the British Isles.

Master painting in Virginia

Carving out time to learn how to draw or paint can be tough when everyday life gets in the way. The glorious Shenandoah Art Destination (shenandoahartdestination.com) in Virginia is the ideal spot for anyone looking to perfect their artistic streak while on holiday. It offers weekend, four-day, six-day and ten-day vacations for artists of all levels.

Printmakers, painters and illustrators are all welcome, with the gorgeous plantation house providing a base for visitors to explore their muse in the surrounding Shenandoah Valley. Jan-Willem and Nancy Boer, the in-house instructors, have decades of experience in creating and selling art, with classes no larger than 10, ensuring you get plenty of time to hone your techniques with expert guidance.

Some culinary adventures in northern Kyūshū

Fukuoka and Saga prefectures, in northern Kyūshū, are accessible places to start a food-inspired tour of the region. From ever-popular ramen to the more nuanced flavours of fermented vinegar, here is a small selection of the many local specialities worth savouring on your trip.

Ramen in Fukuoka

Any conversation about food in this corner of Kyūshū has to begin with ramen (and for some it ends right there, too). The ubiquitous noodles may have their origins in China, but they are hugely popular in Japan, with every region having its particular variations. Fukuoka is the country’s top ramen destination, famous for its signature tonkotsu ramen, also called Hakata or Nagahama ramen: straight, thin noodles in a thick, rich pork-bone-based broth. You can slurp back a bowl at one of the many food stalls around Fukuoka city. There are about 150 of these hawker-style stalls (yatai in Japanese), which typically have a simple counter with a few stools and start service in the evenings. Most stalls set up along the river in the Nakasu area, in the Tenjin area, and in Nagahama near the docks.

Or, for ramen indoors, head to 40-year-old Ichiran, where customers dine in individual cubicles (presumably so one can give the noodles their full deserved attention). Fukuoka city is also home to the now international Ippudo ramen restaurant chain. There are a few Ippudo dotted around the city (the flagship store, established 1985, is at 1-13-14 Daimyo); a collaboration between Ippudo and the Kyushu-based Drum Tao performance group means that the ‘Ippudo Tao’ store at 1-13-13 Tenjin (ippudo.com/store/tao_fukuoka) has taiko drums as decor.

Kudzu in Akizuki castle town

All that remains of the castle in Akizuki is a large gate and some hulking stone-wall ruins, but the 800-year-old village still draws visitors, especially when the laneways flush with pink in cherry-blossom season. Amid the old samurai residences, pretty bridges and temples of the historic centre is the similarly historic store Hirokyu Kuzu Honpo (0946-25-0215; 532 Akizuki), a 9th-generation family business. The speciality here is kudzu (or kuzu), also called Japanese arrowroot, a kind of woody vine whose large roots are processed into a starch powder. Heated with water and set, kudzu forms the basis of Japanese summertime favourites such as kuzu-mochi – a chilled firm jelly-like ‘cake’ sweetened with syrup or topped with nutty-tasting kinako (roasted soybean flour).

Hirokyu uses traditional methods to process the kudzu root at its Akizuki factory, dishing up kudzu-based fare at the attached cafe and store, which is housed in a 260-year-old wooden building. The cafe interior – with its stone floors, low tables, and old scrolls and photos – is worth a look even if you’re not keen on kudzu. Akizuki is about 40km southeast of Fukuoka city.

Fermented vinegar in Ōkawa

Shoubun Vinegar (shoubun.jp; 0944-88-1535; 548 Enokizu, Ōkawa), run by the Takahashi family in the small riverside town of Ōkawa, has been a purveyor of rice vinegar for some 300 years. In a world of short cuts and mass production, Shoubun has kept true to handed-down techniques, fermenting organic brown rice in half-buried earthenware pots and allowing it to mature in wooden vats (kept warm in the winter months with a snug layer of straw matting).

While the original vinegar recipe may have been passed down from the ancestors, the modern-day Takahashi clan have developed a wide range of vinegar products, which you can peruse in the 250-year-old townhouse that fronts the factory. The yuzu-flavoured drinking vinegar (you mix it with water like a cordial) makes a great souvenir for that foodie friend who has tried everything. Upstairs from the shop is the small, low-ceilinged Ristorante Shoubun. In former times this would have been a storage area, but now visitors can dine under the dark-wood beams on a multicourse lunch in which every item features vinegar as an ingredient – from the soup and salad to the fish and even the (surprisingly tasty!) dessert. Ōkawa is about 60km south of Fukuoka city, and 12km southeast of Saga city.

Beef in Saga

If you’re more a meat-and-potatoes kind of eater, never fear, this part of Kyūshū also has some of the best wagyū (Japanese beef) in the business. Saga beef, of Saga Prefecture, is on par with Kōbe and Matsusaka beef when it comes to fine marbling and melt-in-the-mouth tenderness: a result of farmers paying careful attention to quality feed, clean air and water, a long fattening period, and providing their prized bovines with a relatively stress-free life. Not just any beef raised in Saga can be officially labelled ‘Saga beef’. It must meet strict certification standards (the right kind of cow, the right farm environment), and score above seven (out of 12) on the ‘beef marbling standard’ scale. If it doesn’t meet those standards then it’s just wagyū.

Kira (kira.saga-ja.jp; 0952-28-4132; 3-9-16 Otakara, Saga city), not far from Saga Station, specialises in serving both official Saga beef and other wagyū in various styles – try it as a chef-prepared steak, grill your own thin slices at your table, have it in a shabu-shabu or sukiyaki hotpot, or steamed. There is also a Kira in central Fukuoka city.

Tea in Yame

After all that eating, a nice cup of tea might go down well. The forested, mountainous Yame region of Fukuoka Prefecture has been producing tea for centuries. The story goes that Buddhist monk Eirin Shuzui brought tea seeds and growing methods here from China in the early 1400s. A bronze statue of Shuzui (with tea seed in hand) stands outside Reigan-ji, the temple he founded in the area around the same time. Yame is particularly renowned for its gyokuro tea (translated as ‘jade dew’ or ‘pearl dew’), one of the highest grades of tea in Japan. Gyokuro has a slightly sweet taste – in part a result of the plants being shaded for a few weeks prior to harvesting.

Among the most well-established local tea merchants, Konomien (konomien.jp; 0120-72-0201; 126 Moto-machi, Yame city) got into the tea wholesaling business in 1865 and runs a small store for the public selling packets of tea leaves, tea bags, and tea-flavoured sweets and biscuits. At Konomien, the gyokuro leaves are dried using an old-school method: the leaves are scattered and gently swirled around by hand on a sheet of heavy paper, which is fixed atop a wooden box over a charcoal fire. (You’ll know if this process is happening by the earthy aroma wafting from behind the store.) Konomien also has a 120-year-old tearoom where you can sample the lauded gyokuro, a sencha or matcha, with a side of wagashi (Japanese sweet). Reservations to partake in tea should be made by noon of the day prior to arrival (reservation form online: konomien.jp/contents/about/kissa).

Make it happen

Getting there Fukuoka city is the main gateway to Kyūshū and is on the shinkansen (bullet train) line, about 2.5 hours from Kyoto and Osaka. There are also direct flights to Fukuoka from Tokyo and other major cities in Japan.

Getting around Local train lines and buses connect the main towns but a rental car is much more convenient for exploring this region. Large agencies such as Toyota Rent-a-Car and Nippon Rent-a-Car are at Fukuoka’s airport and main rail station (Hakata Station). Tip: Japanese addresses can be confusing; the best way to set your destination in the satellite navigation system is by inputting the phone number.

Stay Fukuoka city has a range of accommodation across all budgets and styles. For a ryokan (traditional inn) experience further afield, try Ohana (ohana.co.jp) in pretty canalside Yanagawa, just south of Ōkawa; or Akebono (akebono-saga.jp), in central Saga.

Info Shipwrecks, tin mines and smugglers’ coves In Cornwall

There are many things for which Cornwall is famous: wind-blown cliff-tops, white sandy bays, crumbling tin mines, the Cornish pasty. But a new spotlight is shining on this ancient Celtic kingdom thanks to the smash-hit BBC series Poldark, which is set and filmed here, and has transmitted the county’s charms to a global audience.

Based on Cornish author Winston Graham’s historical novels, written between 1945 and 2002, the story traces the fortunes of the Poldark dynasty during Cornwall’s 18th and 19th century mining boom (tin and copper, as well as tungsten, arsenic and silver, were all extracted) with a particular focus on the brooding, troubled Ross Poldark.

First adapted for television in the 1970s, Poldark’s recent big-budget makeover has proved a massive hit thanks to its rollicking plots, cracking cinematography and the smouldering good looks of its cast, particularly Aiden Turner, who plays Ross and is now notorious thanks to his shirtless scythe-wielding in season one.

But the cast are mere understudies to the series’ real star – the spectacular Cornish scenery that’s on display in almost every frame. With the series now in its third season, here’s a run-down of some of its most memorable locations, from golden bays to smugglers’ coves and wild headlands to windswept moor.

Charlestown

This small granite port a couple of miles from St Austell has provided a ready-built backdrop for several harbour scenes. Originally built to serve Cornwall’s china clay industry, which was based around St Austell and Fowey, the port has now found a new lease of life as a filming location. It’s been used in countless films and costume dramas, including Poldark – admittedly with a bit of help from set-dressers and CGI to add period detail. While you’re here, drop into the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre (shipwreckcharlestown.com), which traces the harbour’s maritime history and also displays lots of flotsam and jetsam collected from nearby shipwrecks.

Porthcurno

You don’t need to be a cinematographer to spot the photogenic qualities of Porthcurno, a couple of miles south of Land’s End. A deep, sloping wedge of white sand framed by granite cliffs and the blue Atlantic, the beach is one of the most beautiful in Cornwall. It provided the location for a memorable Demelza Carne dream sequence in season one. It also happens to be home to Cornwall’s most stunning theatre, the Minack – an Ancient Greek-inspired amphitheatre carved into the clifftops by a redoubtable theatre enthusiast called Rowena Cade. It’s still regularly used for summer performances.

St Agnes

Nowadays it’s mainly frequented by surfers and second-homers, but a hundred years ago the coastal village of St Agnes was one of the epicentres of Cornish mining, and the countryside is littered with abandoned stacks and rocky mining valleys cloaked with heather and gorse.

Various sites around the village and nearby St Agnes Head have been used to represent the Nampara Valley, a key part of the Poldark family’s estate – notably the iconic cliff-top mine at Wheal Coates above Chapel Porth, now owned by the National Trust. The Chapel Porth Café is a lovely spot for lunch, too.

Porthgwarra

This tiny, cliff-backed cove looks so picture-perfect you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a studio set. It was used for a risqué scene in which Ross goes for an impromptu dip while his future wife Demelza spies on him from the cliff-tops. You can swim here too, but be careful of swells and currents – and afterwards, don’t miss warming up with a mug of hot chocolate at the cute Porthgwarra Cove Cafe, where cast and crew refueled during filming.

Botallack to Levant

Another area rich with mining heritage and littered with photogenic mining ruins – including the cliffside, sea-sprayed workings of Botallack and the 19th-century Levant Beam Engine, believed to be the only one of its kind still working in the world. Unsurprisingly, it’s cropped up regularly in the series, largely since Levant Mine doubles as Poldark’s fictional Tressiders Rolling Mill. From Levant, you can hike along the coast path to Botallack and the ruined mine at Wheal Crowns, or if you prefer to dig deeper, you can also take an underground tour of an actual tin mine – it only closed in 1990 – nearby at Geevor. For lunch, drop in to the excellent Gurnard’s Head (gurnardshead.co.uk) near Zennor for some hearty grub and local ale.

Predannack Wollas

The rugged cliffs, wheeling gulls and booming surf of the Lizard peninsula are a favourite for hikers, bird-watchers and photographers, and they’ve barely changed since the era in which Poldark is set.

They’re also a natural fit for big-sky scenes, and Ross Poldark is often glimpsed riding along the clifftops around Predannack Wollas during seasons one and two. The nearby National Trust-owned Kynance Cove was used as a double for Nampara Cove, and it’s a glorious spot for a picnic lunch – or you can drop by the eco-friendly Kynance Cove Cafe for a crab sandwich and some homemade cake.

Church Cove

Also on the Lizard, near the village of Gunwalloe, this quiet beach is home to a medieval church dedicated to St Winwalloe. Once a hideout used by smugglers and free-traders, the beach’s past was brought back to life when it was used for a memorable sequence in season one, in which a shipwreck is plundered by locals for booty. At the nearby beach of Dollar Cove, legend has it that there’s treasure to be found from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon – so definitely a place to bring along your metal detector.

Bodmin Moor

Stark and wild, and spotted with granite rock-stacks known as tors, Cornwall’s ‘roof’ is a landscape that radiates natural drama – something the makers of Poldark exploited by using Bodmin Moor as the location for Ross’s lonely cottage at Nampara, not to mention numerous scenes of the lovelorn hero galloping against suitably moody skies. Equestrian activities notwithstanding, the main reason to visit is the chance to hike to the top of Cornwall’s highest hill, Brown Willy.

Perranporth

A location of a different kind: this popular beachfront town on the north coast was Poldark author Winston Graham’s home for more than four decades, and he wrote most of the novels here. A memorial seat on the cliffs above Perranporth Beach commemorates the writer’s literary achievements – it’s on the coast path near Droskyn Point, but it’s a bit tricky to find, so you may have to ask a local or consult a map. It’s also a fitting spot to conclude your Poldark tour: staring down over golden sands framed by craggy cliffs and white-horse surf, it’s not hard to see where Winston Graham found his inspiration.

This A walk through Kyiv’s Soviet past

Ukraine has been a proudly independent nation since 1991, but for decades before that it formed part of the Soviet Union. Many elements of that era – and of the Russian empire before it – remain in the heart of Kyiv, intertwined with remembrances of the city’s medieval glory. It’s a fascinating array of clues from the past, within strolling distance.

As I step out of Kyiv’s Khreshchatyk metro station, the Ukrainian capital’s tumultuous postwar history is laid out before me – in concrete and steel. The busiest, grandest boulevard of downtown Kyiv, Khreshchatyk street is lined by buildings of communist-era vintage. Some are highly decorated, others bear plain facades; but all are lofty, intimidating structures.

There are hints, however, of post-Soviet adjustments. Down the street I spot a large star surmounting an imposing apartment building. When Ukraine was part of the USSR, it must have been painted revolutionary red; now it’s a striking blue over yellow, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. And the metro station houses a branch of an American fast-food chain, sandwiched between Stalinist facades.

It’s outside this eatery I meet Anna, the guide who’ll be taking me on a walking tour of communist Kyiv. As I grew up in Australia during the Cold War years, I’m keen to learn what those times were like in the former USSR. Anna says I’ve come to the right place: after Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg), Kyiv was the third most important Soviet city. That’s one reason nuclear power plants were situated in the region, with catastrophic results in 1986 at nearby Chornobyl (commemorated in Kyiv at the sombre but interesting Chornobyl Museum).

The modern-day appearance of Khreshchatyk, however, was a consequence of the arrival of the German military. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the retreating Red Army had time to booby-trap and detonate its grand 19th-century buildings. With the additional destruction caused by aerial bombing of industrial areas, Kyiv was a mess by the end of WWII. Its makeover after the conflict was extreme.

‘We lost the opportunity to live in a fun city, because the architecture was gone,’ says Anna. The authorities saw the devastation as an opportunity to create a new Soviet-style city, rather than to re-create its old look. To my eye, it doesn’t seem that bad: on one side of the metro station, for example, an apartment building contains a surprising amount of detail in its tiles and pillars. On the other side, a slightly later building has a flatter, plainer facade. Even Soviet architects went through decorative phases, it seems.

Strolling along Khreshchatyk, we also see recent additions. One is a striking bust of the national poet Taras Shevchenko, mounted on a zig-zag frame of girders. A 19th-century nationalist who wrote in the Ukrainian language, Shevchenko is often compared to Shakespeare. Anna prefers to liken him to Robbie Burns, as she feels his role in sustaining Ukrainian identity mirrors that of the Scottish poet in regard to the Scots.

We turn onto Khelmnitsky Street (formerly Lenin Street), which housed many bookshops in Soviet times, then descend into the Teatralna metro station – one of the great legacies of that era. Moscow is famous for its elaborately decorated underground railway stations, and Kyiv has its own version of this splendour. Past huge recessed barriers designed to be lowered in the event of a nuclear war, we admire a concourse decorated with detailed bas-reliefs. One has the word ‘peace’ in various languages including English, beneath doves flying across the wall. Further below, the brown marble pillars between platforms were constructed of the same stone used for Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow.

The most lavish decor is yet to come, however, as we stroll through a passage connecting to Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gate) station. The arches leading to its platforms are decorated with mosaics of kings and saints, underlining the connection between Ukraine’s modern history and that of the medieval state of Kyivan Rus. As we inspect the art, a sea of commuters flows around us, passing beneath chandeliers. Kyiv’s metro has some of the world’s deepest stations, serving over a million daily passengers.

Outside the station is the Zoloti Vorota itself: a massive brick gate, a replica of fortifications which stood here during the city’s glory days as a trading hub. ‘In the 12th century, Kyiv was bigger than London, Paris and Rome combined,’ says my guide. Its only rival was Constantinople (now Istanbul), from where Kyiv drew its architectural and spiritual inspiration.

But this tour is about the more recent past, so we pass by a statue of 11th-century Prince Yaroslav the Wise to pause in front of an imposing grey building. This was once the local headquarters of the feared KGB, also used by the Gestapo during the German occupation. This sinister place is surrounded by an eclectic mix of architecture, including a pretty yellow commercial building from the 19th century, and a grim apartment block of crumbling concrete from the 20th. ‘If you see an ugly building, it was definitely built during the Soviet times,’ says Anna. She goes on to describe her mother’s life in one of these apartments with their shared facilities. Incredibly, each family would own its own toilet seat for use with the communal facilities.

We also encounter sites of religious significance on our route: the beautiful St Sophia’s Cathedral which became a museum under the communists, and St Michael’s Monastery with its memorial to those who died in the horrific 1930s famine caused by Stalin’s agricultural policies. Next to the monastery is a vast, overbearing structure featuring enormous grey pillars. Now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was intended as the first building block of a vast modern square which never came to fruition.

A more welcoming plaza, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) is a long open space, with solid Soviet-era buildings at one end and the elegant 60m-high Independence Monument at the other. There are other Soviet-era relics worth seeing farther afield in the city, particularly the soaring Rodina Mat memorial and the adjacent Museum of the Great Patriotic War. However, bustling as it is with visitors and locals enjoying a sunny day, the Maidan seems the perfect place to end this initial walk through Kyiv’s complicated past.