Monthly Archives: April 2016

ROMANIA ON TRAVELLING

A vast, remarkably diverse country, Romania packs in an outstanding synthesis of natural and cultural heritage, from majestic mountain ranges and Europe’s most extensive wetlands to startlingly pretty medieval towns and timeless villages.

Add to the mix some of the continent’s most impressive ecclesiastical monuments, invigorating treks and an abundance of spectacular wildlife, and you’ve got yourself one endlessly fascinating destination. Here are seven reasons to visit Romania now.

1. FOR BRASH BUCHAREST

On the surface, the Romanian capital is not one of the country’s most obvious destinations, thanks mainly to its monstrous – though oddly compelling – Socialist-era architecture. But patience is a virtue in this noisy, chaotic city, so seek and you’ll find: much-loved ancient churches and monasteries, lush parkland, lakes and a clutch of top draw museums.

Gastronomically, Bucharest has upped its game big-time recently, manifest in a flourish of sublime new restaurants, such as The Artist and Beca’s Kitchen, as well as a coterie of hip artisan coffee shops serving up the finest caffeine fixes this side of the former Iron Curtain – for starters, check out Origo or Steam. The city’s nightlife, too, pulses with an energy unrivalled anywhere else in the Balkans.

2. FOR WONDERFUL WILDLIFE

From bears to birds, Romania rates some of the continent’s most memorable wildlife. Thousands of brown bears roam the Carpathians, and while it’s not inconceivable that you’ll chance upon one if out hiking (not the ideal scenario), you’re better off joining an organised bear-watching trip.

There are both lynx and wolves, too, but good luck trying to spot these notoriously elusive creatures, though you will see red deer and chamois.

Meanwhile, the wonderfully remote Danube Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers up an array of winged fauna unmatched anywhere else in Europe; expect egrets, herons, red-breasted geese and white-tailed eagles, but best of all, the superb great white and Dalmatian pelicans. Even if you’re not here to twitch, these stunning wetlands merit several days’ exploration.

3. FOR MARVELLOUS MUSIC

If gypsy music is currently one of the hottest sounds on the planet, then the Romanians have a lot to answer for; from the mesmerising polyphonic grooves of the Taraf de Haidouks, to the blistering brass beats of the Mahala Rai Banda, this is one sonic experience that you don’t want to miss.

Try and catch a concert or, better still, visit a music village, such as Clejani, where, for a few leu and a couple of beers, you should be able to find a group of musicians willing to bash out a few tunes.

4. TO SEEK OUT ECCLESIASTICAL TREASURES

First port of call for most visitors are the gorgeous painted monasteries of southern Bucovina, in particular Suceviţa, Moldoviţa and Voronet, all of which look utterly resplendent with their imposing, fortified walls and dazzling medieval wall frescoes.

The outstanding, eighteenth-century wooden churches of Maramureş, meanwhile, are flamboyant, Gothic-inspired works of art, distinguished by steeply-pitched shingled roofs and fairy-tale spires; those at Bârsana and Surdeşti are perhaps the finest examples.

Then there are the fortified Saxon churches of southern Transylvania; usually set atop a hillock and quartered within a ring or two of walls, these erstwhile strongholds are occasionally austere but always impressive; the churches at Hărman, Prejmer and Mălâncrav are particularly fine specimens.

Tips when you travelling in venice

download-52Venice has been depicted and described so often that on arriving in the city you might have the slightly anticlimactic feeling that everything looks exactly as expected.

Any sense of familiarity quickly fades, however, as you start to look around: seeing a stack of furniture being hoisted from a barge up to a top-floor window, or someone fishing knee-deep in the lagoon a hundred metres from dry land, you understand that life here is not like life anywhere else. And the more closely you look, the more fascinating Venice becomes.

But where should you base yourself? Insatiable demand makes Venice’s hotels the most expensive in western Europe, and high season here is longer than anywhere else in Italy. But whatever kind of trip you’re planning, there’s somewhere for everyone. Here is our expert’s guide on where to stay in Venice.

BEST FOR LUXURY: SAN MARCO

The sestiere of San Marco has been the nucleus of Venice for more than a millennium. Many of Venice’s visitors make a beeline for this spot, spend a few hours here, then head for home without staying for even one night. But if you’re looking for luxury, stay around here to make the most of the city’s plushest hotels, the most elegant cafés and the swankiest shops.

Five star views: Europa e Regina. Commanding stunning views from the mouth of the Canal Grande; its terraces are among the most spectacular viewpoints in the city.
Super-luxe: Gritti Palace. Once the home of the doge, this hotel now offers every hi-tech facility you’d expect of a super-luxe hotel, but has lost none of its famous old-regime opulence.

BEST FOR ARCHITECTURE AND ART: DORSODURO

Some of the finest minor domestic architecture in Venice is concentrated here and the area’s superb collection of galleries makes it the perfect base for art lovers. The Gallerie dell’Accademia is the highlight, but there’s also Scuola Grande dei Carmini and the Guggenheim Collection.

Impeccable cool: DD 724. In a city awash with nostalgia, the cool high-grade modernist style of this locanda, right by the Guggenheim, comes as a welcome change.
Atmospheric rooms: Ca’ Maria Adele. Five of the twelve rooms in this very upmarket locanda are so-called “theme rooms”, with every item designed to enhance a particular atmosphere.

BEST FOR DAILY VENETIAN LIFE: SAN POLO AND SANTA CROCE

The focal points of daily life in San Polo and Santa Croce are the sociable open space of Campo San Polo and the Rialto area, once the commercial heart of the Republic and still the home of a market that’s famous far beyond the city’s boundaries. The bustle of the stalls and the unspoilt bars are a good antidote to cultural overload.

Traditional meets modern: Ca’ Arco Antico. Some of the best budget accommodation in the city, this locanda has big rooms and a great location.
Gothic getaway: Ca’ San Giorgio. Exposed timber beams and walls of raw brick advertise the age of the Gothic palazzo that’s occupied by this fine little locanda.

BEST FOR BACKWATERS: CANNAREGIO

The pleasures of this sestiere are generally more a matter of atmosphere than of specific sights, but you shouldn’t leave Venice without seeing the Ghetto, the first area in the world to bear that name and one of Venice’s most evocative quarters.

A monastic retreat: Abbazia. One of Cannaregio’s most restful hotels, the light-filled Abbazia occupies a former Carmelite monastery.
A restored palace: Palazzo Abadessa. All 15 bedrooms (some of them huge) are nicely furnished with genuine antiques, and there’s a lovely secluded garden.

Explore Your Choices Prior to Selecting Commercial Flights For Your Future Voyage

With hold luggage becoming ever more expensive, it’s increasingly advantageous to be ruthless about what to take away with you. In any case, travelling with a small, light bag is much easier and more liberating than lugging around a big, over-stuffed heavy suitcase.

And it’s always nice to be able to close your bag without having to ask strangers to come and sit on it with you. Reduce your packing stress by chopping this lot straight off the list.

1. TRAVELLER’S CHEQUES

Good luck trying to exchange traveller’s cheques in *insert name of anywhere on earth*. Come and join us in the twenty-first century – leave those obsolete bits of paper where they belong: in the past.

2. CHEAP CLOTHES

Take a few high-quality items rather than lots of cheaper ones – this especially applies for longer trips. That budget yellow poncho might seem like a wonderful idea as you prance around in it at home the night before you go. But when you’re in the middle of the jungle, sweating like hell and with rain seeping through, you’ll wish you’d forked out for a proper rain jacket.

3. TOO MANY GADGETS

Let’s be clear: there are some extremely useful travel gadgets on the market; you just don’t need to take them all on every trip. Prioritise, and think carefully about the value each one will contribute, compared to the hassle of taking it with.

Do you really need a phone, laptop and a tablet? How about those over-ear and inner-ear headphones? If you’re travelling to several countries, take a world adaptor with dual USB chargers – one item, multiple functions.

4. EXTRA TOILETRIES

Despite what you might be used to in our consumer-hungry world, most of the items stuffed into your bathroom cupboard probably don’t count as essential toiletries. Leave the face serum, eye cream, day cream, night cream, exfoliating scrub, Dead Sea bath salts and green tea face mask at home.

You can buy shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and other basics in most towns the world over. Unless you’re planning on being in remote rural areas for most of your trip, consider taking the bare essentials to get you started and buying more once you’re there – or just use hotel mini bottles.

5. YOUR ENTIRE BOOKSHELF

Books can be heavy and take up lots of space. If you think you’ll read more than one novel while you’re away, take an e-reader. This applies to multiple guidebooks, too – we sell digital version of all our guides, so you can get all the advice you need, without weighing yourself down.

BEST WEEKEND IN POLAND

Poland has changed more than almost any other European country in the last ten years and Wrocław (pronounced “vrots-waff”) is one of its most transformed cities, a go-ahead place with a huge student population and a burgeoning arts scene.

As a place to visit, Wrocław brings together pretty much everything that’s good about contemporary Poland: a thoroughly modernized cross-section of attractions, an increasingly varied dining and nightlife scene, and a sack full of historical influences.

All of this is on an easily digestible level: the city is nowhere near as big and overwhelming as Warsaw, and lacks the twee and over-touristed confections of Kraków.

And the fact that Wrocław represents Europe at its most unpronounceable is no longer an excuse not to visit. It’s time to brush linguistic embarrassment aside and hop aboard that plane.

1. THE TOWN SQUARE IS ONE OF POLAND’S PRETTIEST

Magnificent main squares (Rynek or ‘market’ in Polish) are something of a tradition in Poland, and Wrocław is no exception. A spacious quadrangle of handsome merchants’ houses surrounds a town hall bristling with turrets and pinnacles. Skirted by shops, cafés and restaurants, it’s the perfect socializing space – a huge outdoor lounge which is all the better for the fact that tourists are (for the time being at least) still outnumbered by locals.

2. YOU CAN TAKE PLEASANT RIVERSIDE WALKS

Once you’ve seen the Rynek, the best way to admire the city’s architecture is from the banks of the Odra. The paths on the south side of the river provide excellent views of the gothic spires on the opposite bank. The river’s progress through the city is broken by a series of small islands, linked to each other by a scattering of picturesque bridges – many of them quaint, cast-iron affairs that have become something of a collective Wrocław trademark.

The grassy lawns of Wyspa Slodowa (Malting-House Island) are used for impromptu picnics by the city’s sizeable youth and student population, while indie rock and dub reggae are pumped out by the converted-barge café-bars moored nearby.

3. THERE’S IMPRESSIVE MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE

The UNESCO World Heritage List is usually associated with old towns and temples rather than gargantuan doughnuts of reinforced concrete. However the latter is what you get in Wrocław, thanks to its one contribution to the list, the Centennial Hall. A vast rotunda built by modernist architect Max Berg from 1911–1913, its enormous, bigger-than-the-biggest-cathedral dome still presides over concerts, conferences and trade exhibitions. Before admiring the main hall take a peek at the Road to Modernism exhibition in the foyer, where photographs of suburban houses reveal something of the city’s architectural ambitions.

4. YOU CAN INDULGE IN MODERN POLISH CUISINE

Polish chefs are increasingly turning to traditional Polish cooking in their search for a contemporary but locally-rooted cuisine, and Wrocław is one of the best places to sample the kind of treats they’re coming up with. Head for the OK Wine Bar for relaxing riverside views and Polish classics with a global twist; or Ovo for a local take on tapas as well as country-house fare like roast wild boar.

Folksy-but-refined jaDka is the place to push the boat out with Polish feast-day dishes like roast duck with apples. Just be sure to drop any preconceptions you might have about beetroot. The vitamin-rich super-vegetable is ubiquitous in Wrocław, whether you’re eating in the fancy places or the street-corner canteens.

YOU COULD DO IN ALBANIA

Albania often doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. The country still suffers from the echoes of its Communist past: few people travelled in or out for decades during Enver Hoxha’s dictatorial rule, and as travel in Europe developed, Albania got left behind.

It’s now somewhat overlooked by tourists, who would rather opt for Greece’s famously pretty islands, Italy’s gorgeous countryside or the romance of Croatia. But Albania’s low visitor numbers are no reflection on its offering for travellers. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know you could do in Albania.

1. HAVE THE BEACH TO YOURSELF

Think of Albania and you probably don’t think of the beach – but you should. The country has around 476km of coastline lapped by the warm Mediterranean sea. There are lively resort towns like Durrës in the north and Saranda in the south, but it’s the almost-untouched parts that will impress the most.

Hire a car and drive the coastal road from Durrës to Saranda stopping off in any of the remote fishing villages and towns along the way – the likelihood is, you’ll find a stretch of sand all to yourself somewhere.

2. EAT SUPERB SEAFOOD

Albanian food takes its flavours from a variety influences: the Ottomans, the Greeks, the Italians… But it’s the ocean that gives the country some of its best dishes. All along that gorgeous coastline you’ll find fish and seafood fresh off the boat.

For a perfect antidote to the meaty cuisine further inland, try a shellfish pasta or risotto, or have the catch of the day grilled with the ubiquitous white cheese dip Albania does so well.

3. HIKE THROUGH ALPINE COUNTRYSIDE

In the far north, only accessible by boat across Lake Koman or via the motorway that runs through neighbouring Kosovo, the valley of Valbona is a picture-perfect wilderness. Thanks to its remote location, tourist numbers here are pretty low, but those that do come are greatly rewarded with panoramic views of the looming mountains and superb hiking in one of the most biodiverse places in the country.

There are hikes of varying lengths for all abilities, but they’ve all got one thing in common: each offers an insight into the seriously rural lifestyle of the locals in Valbona. You’ll walk through orchards, forests and farmsteads that defy gravity on the steep slopes of the Dinaric Alps, and can stop off in one of the valley’s stans (shepherd’s huts) for lunch with a local family.

There’s ample camping and a few excellent lodges along the one road through the valley, but most of the activity centres around Hotel Rilindja, where Alfred and his American wife Catherine have been marking up trails and making their own maps for visitors for years.

4. EXPLORE UNDERGROUND NUCLEAR BUNKERS

Albania is often defined by its relatively recent affair with communism: specifically the reign of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. From 1944–85 he ruled the country with a heavy hand and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of politicians, academics and civilians who were persecuted as “enemies of the people” due to their political beliefs.

While Albania is very much moving on from some of its hardest times, small concrete bunkers all over the country serve as a reminder of that dark past, and a few larger structures remain.

Bunk’Art, in the capital Tirana, is a 106-room nuclear bunker turned museum and art gallery. Built by the military to house the dictator and his highest ranking officials in the event of an attack, today there’s a permanent exhibition on the Communist period, plus changing art exhibitions and a theatre showing films.

A similar but far more eerie bunker lies beneath the picturesque city of Gjirokastra – untouched for decades, it’s now just a damp warren of rooms suitable only for the brave.

5. SEE A LIVING CITADEL

Stroll around the hilltop kalasa (citadel) in Berat after dark and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d travelled back in time. During the day, Berat’s old city is a labyrinthine network of cobbled alleyways and confused tourists in search of an Ottoman church or a pretty viewpoint.

But at night, when the visitors retreat to their hotels, this fourteenth-century town falls quiet save the few residents that still inhabit its ancient structures.

With no street-lighting, you’re left to walk around near-darkness, the warm glow of the houses your only guiding light. If it weren’t for the occasional hubbub of a television, you might think you were in medieval Albania.