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Category Archives: Travel

Five Days in Belarus

In recent years Belarus’ lively capital, Minsk, has caught on as an alternative weekend break. While Minsk’s worthwhile museums and impressive dining and nightlife scene make for a thoroughly enjoyable experience, the five-day visa-free scheme allows you to cut your teeth on provincial Belarus, a famously flat land of fairytale castles, rolling sunflower fields, forgotten schtetls (Jewish villages) and enchanted forests. You can’t do it all in five days, but with careful route-planning you can cherry-pick a few of the best spots before your visa expires.

First, the logistics. Assuming you’ll want a day or two in Minsk, you’ll be left with three or four days to explore the provinces. There are some great day-trip options to fill a couple of days using the capital as a base. To avoid backtracking to Minsk afterwards, we recommend flying into the country on a one-way ticket and departing overland into Poland via the pleasant western Belarusian city of Brest, where you can overnight. Departing through Ukraine or Lithuania is possible but less practical, as the main attractions are toward the Polish border.

Day trippin’

The major rental car agencies are well represented in the Belarusian capital, road rules are straightforward and provincial roads organised and traffic-free. Top on your hit list should be a pair of 16th-century castles that lie within a 90-minute drive southwest of the capital – Mir and Nyasvizh.

Both castles are Unesco World Heritage sites and both are legacies of the Radziwills, a family of Lithuanian nobles that rose to prominence under the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Nyasvizh Castle is an enormous complex whose 30-plus rooms comprise a museum detailing the history of Radziwills and the area under Lithuanian, Polish and Russian rule. The opulent interior evokes the great tsarist-era palaces of St Petersburg. Mir Castle wows with its impossibly picturesque exterior. Its five towers reflected perfectly in an adjacent pond, the castle has become the poster-child for Belarus tourism. The two castles are just 35km from each other, making them a perfect day-trip combo.

If you want to linger another night in Minsk – and who would blame you, given the wealth of restaurants and cracking nightlife – plan a second day of excursions out of the capital. You have a few choices, but the first on our list is the fascinating Stalin Line Museum, 25km northwest of the capital. It’s an impressive collection of Soviet war paraphernalia in a sprawling field that once formed part of the ‘Stalin Line’ – a defensive bulwark that stretched more than 1000km along the Soviet Union’s western border before WWII. Original bunkers have been restored, and you can even take a joyride in a Soviet tank. It’s an absolute must for WWII buffs and nicely complements the superbMuseum of the Great Patriotic War in Minsk.

Westward bound

Next, it’s off to Brest for your final couple of days. Save time and money on accommodation by taking a night train – an experience in its own right. Or you can take the daily business-class express train, which leaves Minsk in late afternoon and gets you to Brest in less than four hours.

Brest is easily the most interesting Belarusian provincial capital, and its cobbled walking streets, centuries-old churches and leafy parks provide a perfect antidote to monolithic Minsk. Just west of the city, the Bug River forms the border with Poland; the locals will often approach you to make conversation in broken English.

Brest is a great place to spend a day or so, with excellent restaurants and unpretentious bars and clubs. Enjoy a cosmopolitan meal at the city’s top restaurant, Jules Verne, then join the lively crowd for shots and no-holds-barred dancing at Coyote Bar or Korova.

Brest’s main attraction is the Brest Fortress, a rambling collection of war and art museums in restored 18th-century buildings at the confluence of the Bug and Mukhavets Rivers. A small band of Red Army soldiers held out here for a month against the invading Nazis and became Soviet legends. Some truly fantastic chunks of Soviet realism, including the notorious Courage Monument, honour these men.

You can walk to the Brest Fortress in about 30 minutes from vul Savetskaya, the city’s pedestrianised central street, via vul Holholya (Gogol St), a boulevard lined with trees and quirky statues built into gas street lamps – collectively known as Alleya Fonary. Indeed, you can walk almost anywhere in Brest, which is a huge part of its appeal.

48 hours in Chişinău

Day One

Morning

Day one is walking day, so fuel up at Coffee Molka, a quirky cafe that doubles as a coffee museum. This is where you can ogle antique presses and grinders while sipping coffee brewed over hot sand – an old Turkish method; make sure to ask for a demo. From here it’s a short stroll over to the Army Museum, home to a moving exhibition on repression under the Soviets. The deportations and other crimes committed by Stalin in Moldova are documented in vivid detail through dioramas, collages and sometimes graphic videos.

Once you’re sufficiently introduced to the horrors of Chişinău’s past, it’s time to enjoy the pleasures of its present. Walk northwest on the city’s main drag, B-dul Ştefan cel Mare, which contains some fine examples of fin-de-siècle architecture such as the City Hall (at No 83) and the Organ Hall (at No 81), as well as some imposing Soviet specimens. Veer southwest a couple of blocks to the grand National Archaeology & History Museum, marked by an old Soviet helicopter in the courtyard. It capably documents the 2000-year-long history of Moldova with some 300,000 artefacts. Art aficionados may prefer the well-roundedNational Art Museum nearby. Both museums are on Str 31 Aug 1989, a bar and restaurant hub, so you’re well positioned for lunch.

Afternoon

Sample as much Moldovan cuisine as you can in 48 hours – it’s similar to Romanian food, with Russian influences. Start at Pani Pit, where Moldovan country dishes like grilled rabbit mingle with beef tartare. Eat in the peasant-themed downstairs dining room or outside in the pleasant courtyard.

Chişinău’s spiritual heart lies in two adjacent central parks; explore these after lunch. Grădina Publică Ştefan cel Mare şi Sfînt is named after Moldova’s national hero, Ştefan cel Mare, a warrior prince who defended the borders of the Moldavian principality from the Ottomans more than 500 years ago. His statue is in the southeast corner of the park. Nearby, Chişinău’s very own Arc de Triomphe marks the entrance to Parcul Catedralei. Here you’ll find the city’s main Moldovan Orthodox church, the 19th-century Nativity of Christ Metropolitan Cathedral with its impressive bell tower. You might get lucky and catch a service or a wedding here, accompanied by beautiful Orthodox choral music.

Pedestrianised Str E Doga abuts the northeast side of Parcul Catredalei and is lined with outdoor bars and restaurants. You’d be forgiven for getting an early start on sampling a few Moldovan wines at this point. Or, if you have more museums in you, grab a coffee at delightful Crème de la Crème, then walk 10 minutes through pleasant back streets to the intriguing Pushkin Museum on the site where Alexander Pushkin spent three years in exile in the 1820s. The Russian national poet’s amorous escapades in Moldova during this period were legendary.

Day Two

Morning

Sure, the museums were interesting, but we know why you’re really here: the wine. Moldova was the Rhone Valley of the Soviet Union, and two of the largest wineries in the world are within 20km of Chişinău:Mileştii Mici and Cricova. Mileştii Mici has the records (200km of tunnels and 1.5 million bottles of wine), but Cricova, with a mere 120km of tunnels, is more charming and has better wine. Visitor numbers are limited, so book a tour well in advance through a travel agent in Chişinău. Lunch is recommended at both wineries – medieval-style dining in the caves is an experience in its own right.

Don’t care for wine? Plan a half-day excursion to Orheiul Vechi (Old Orhei), home to Moldova’s most famous sight, a mesmerising hilltop cave monastery overlooking the Răut River 50km north of Chişinău.

Afternoon

You have a few options for the afternoon, depending on how much wine you tasted earlier. Serious oenophiles can take in another winery, perhaps a smaller boutique one such as Château Vartely, 50km north of Chişinău, or Château Cojuşna, 13km northwest. Others might consider a siesta followed by a visit to another museum, such as the National Museum of Ethnography & Natural History, which has some wonderful dioramas depicting Moldovan folk life, extensive displays on Moldova’s flora and fauna, and an old dinothere (prehistoric elephant-like mammal) skeleton.

Best Bars in Jakarta for Creative Cocktails

Attarine: superbly crafted cocktails at a neighbourhood gem

With a chilled Californian vibe, Attarine stands out among the trendy hangouts of Jakarta’s Senopati area. This neighborhood spot is big on natural elements – wooden tables and benches fill the space, and potted plants dangle from ceiling. There’s even a fresh produce car standing in the middle of the room. The restaurant serves modern, unpretentious grub inspired by the legendary spice route, with a drinks list that fittingly reflects this. A Bloody Mary gets an Indonesian twist with local rawit chilli and a coffee martini is blended with espresso from local roasters.

E&O: fruity drinks and Southeast Asian bites

Conveniently situated in the happening district of Mega Kuningan, E&O is a great place to kick off a big night. Start with an aperitif: the Cucumber Collins is a refreshing little number and works wonders to cool off a plate of spicy Southeast Asian fare. Catch a seat barside to watch award-winning liquor masters in action as they mix Asian-inspired tipples using the best local ingredients and fresh tropical fruits.

FUJIN: handcrafted Japanese cocktails

At FUJIN bespoke whiskey-based cocktails are the drawcards, with visiting international mixologists on regular rotation. The drinks repertoire includes a selection of refined highballs and concoctions such as the flambéed Gomme Kyoto made with whisky, orange bitter, and gomme syrup. Line your stomach with a selection of Japanese tapas and teppanyaki cooked right before your eyes before moving on to the harder stuff – there’s everything from umeshu (plum wine), top-shelf Japanese whiskey, craft beer and of course, sake, to sample.

J. Sparrow’s Bar & Grill: outstanding rum-based cocktails

Housed in the heart of the Kuningan district, J. Sparrow’s is a relaxed yet refined venue with swish art deco interiors and high ceilings. An ode to a certain debaucherous pirate, J. Sparrow’s fittingly excels in top-shelf bottles of rum (a Jakarta first!) and stunning seafood dishes. Splash out on an outstanding selection of rum-based tipples, and make sure to try the house special, J. Sparrow, a mix of gunpowder-infused rum shaken with gin, lime and mint syrup. If that doesn’t suit, fret not, the experts behind the bar will happily mix something more to your taste.

LOLA: a hidden speakeasy with South American spirit

Whiskey speakeasies are generally the trend in Jakarta, but LOLA takes a new approach with South American flair. This tucked-away drinking den is entered through a black, signage-free door on the side of a building on Jalan Gunawarman. Head downstairs where luscious libations await. Killer live music by popular local cover bands set the mood for the intimate room, while the mix-masters behind the bar dream up fun and daring drinks like their Diablo Popsicle, a tequila-based cocktail with chilli powder and an actual popsicle, all served in a tiki cup (colourful plastic umbrella and all!).

Twisted classics at award-winning bar Union

Classic cocktails are celebrated as a house specialty at Union, and made even better when done with a twist. The New York-style brasserie has an infectious energy and award-winning mixologists who whip up bespoke beverages with skillful finesse. This is a great place to try a Pletok cocktail – Indonesia’s first president’s alcoholic beverage of choice. For a burst of nostalgia try Union’s signature Pop Rocks Martini, a crackling delight with actual popping candy lining the glass.

VIEW at Fairmont: stunning cocktails and even better view

For inventive cocktails with sophisticated surrounds, VIEW at Fairmont is a stylish rooftop bar that pulls out all the stops. Bespoke cocktails are at another level with concoctions brewed with house-made liquor infusions using ingredients like pandan leaves and jasmine tea. To soak up your drinks, graze on the equally appetizing five- or seven-course tasting menus.

Potato Head: cocktails with an Asian twist

From a Jakartan Bloody Mary for brunch to its best-selling aloe vera and pandan martini at night, Potato Head Jakarta is one of the CBD’s most iconic venues for cocktail connoisseurs. With celebrated mixologist Dre Masso at the helm, there’s a fine craftsmanship that goes into each drink; the menu tends towards classic combos with a creative Asian twist. Its central location, and fun, easy-going vibes makes Potato Head a sanctuary for office workers, and a favourite for locals and visitors alike.

Cork & Screw: tailored drinks in the CBD

With two equally bustling locations, Cork & Screw is just the ticket for late nights and strong liquor. The after-work crowd mingles with those dressed to the nines to sip killer cocktails – from the classics to the creative – and wines from a 300-strong wine list. Cork & Screw specialises in using fresh ingredients fit for the city’s tropical climate: a draught of the Pistachio Lemon Sorbet cocktail made with limoncello, pistachio-infused vermouth and homemade lemon sorbet, will refresh where other drinks fail.

Best Coastal Hikes in Sicily

Stromboli, Aeolian Islands

Start/End: Stromboli town | Length: 8km | Duration: five to six hours | Difficulty: moderate-demanding

For sheer excitement, nothing compares to Stromboli. Sicily’s showiest volcanic island has been lighting up the Mediterranean for millennia, spewing out showers of red-hot rock with remarkable regularity since the age of Odysseus.

Set off a couple of hours before sunset for the spectacularly scenic trek (guide required) to Stromboli’s 924m summit. Climbing through a landscape of yellow broom and wild capers, the trail eventually opens onto bare slopes of black volcanic rock, revealing fabulous vistas of Stromboli town, the sparkling sea and the volcanic islet of Strombolicchio below, and a zigzag line of fellow hikers slogging steadily towards the summit above.

Round the last bend and emerge into a surreal panorama of smouldering craters framed by the setting sun. For the next hour you’re treated to full-on views of Stromboli’s pyrotechnics from a perfect vantage point above the craters. The periodic eruptions grow ever brighter against the darkening sky, changing with the waning light from awe-inspiring puffs of grey smoke to fountains of brilliant orange-red, evoking oohs and aahs that mix with the sound of sizzling hot rocks rolling down the mountainside.

Fossa delle Felci, Salina, Aeolian Islands

Start/End: Valdichiesa | Length: 4km | Duration: three hours |Difficulty: moderate-demanding

The ancient Greeks dubbed this island Didyme (the twins) for its verdant pair of dormant volcanoes. These days Salina remains theAeolian Islands’ greenest island, dotted with wineries that produce the region’s renowned Malvasia wine. For sweeping views of the vineyards and the surrounding seascape, climb Salina’s highest peak, Fossa delle Felci (962m).

Starting in Valdichiesa, the trail switchbacks steeply up the mountainside, climbing through fern-carpeted evergreen forest to the summit. Up top you’re rewarded with jaw-dropping views of Salina’s shapely second cone, 860m Monte Porri, backed by the distant volcanic islands of Filicudi and Alicudi.

Pianoconte to Quattropani, Lipari, Aeolian Islands

Start: Pianoconte | End: Quattropani | Length: 8km | Duration: four hours | Difficulty: moderate-demanding

Fabled since ancient times for its rich obsidian deposits, Lipari also boasts some of the Aeolians’ most stupendous coastal scenery. This classic hike starts in the highlands around Pianoconte, descending past the ancient Roman baths of San Calogero to reach the cliffs and sea caves of Lipari’s western shoreline.

After levelling out along a series of coastal bluffs – with tantalising perspectives on the neighbouring islands of Salina, Vulcano, Filicudi and Alicudi – the trail climbs steeply inland again to the town of Quattropani, revealing yet more dramatic vistas of flower-covered slopes cascading to the cobalt sea below.

Vulcano, Aeolian Islands

Start/End: Vulcano port | Length: 4km | Duration: two to three hours (return) | Difficulty: moderate

Volcano hikes don’t get much more satisfying than the gradual climb upFossa di Vulcano (391m), the smouldering grayish-orange peak that dominates the island of Vulcano. Belching out a steady stream of noxious sulphurous fumes, the crater – mythologized by the ancient Romans as Vulcan’s forge – is only a 45-minute jaunt up from Vulcano’s port via a wide, signposted path.

Once up top, circumnavigate the rim for spectacular views of the cavernous crater in the foreground, with the Mediterranean, the cliffs of Lipari, and the distant silhouettes of the remaining five Aeolian Islands aligned symmetrically on the horizon.

Capo Milazzo                                                              

Start/End: Chiesa di San Antonio | Length: 3km | Duration: one hour | Difficulty: easy-moderate

You couldn’t ask for a more scenic hike than this easy loop around the hook-shaped Capo Milazzo peninsula north of Milazzo. The trail initially passes through a level landscape of olive groves, cactus and stone walls before beginning a steady descent towards the surging sea.

The views get truly dreamy near the peninsula’s northern tip, where you’ll find the Piscina di Venere, an idyllic rock-fringed natural pool that’s perfect for a swim. Loop back along the peninsula’s western shore, stopping en route to visit the cactus-covered ruins of the 13th-centurySantuario Rupestre di San Antonio.

a guide for newly-weds abroad

Schedule in some downtime

You’ve just thrown the biggest party of your life. You’ve people-managed warring family members, negotiated hard with scores of suppliers, and spent entire evenings hunched over a table plan. You’re pretty much a multi-tasking superhero. But even superheroes need to recharge their batteries now and again.

So even if you’re both full-on adventure junkies, don’t plan to rush headlong into a jam-packed schedule of activities, especially if you’re in a new city where you haven’t found your feet. Trust us: leave the first couple of days fairly free. Acclimatise, get to know one another again in a pressure-free zone and bask in all those wedding memories. Your brain will thank you for letting it catch up. Then chuck yourself into the fun feet first.

Resist the ‘should’ brigade

A two-week beach break doesn’t quite float your boat? Don’t feel you have to cave to others’ expectations of what a honeymoon ‘should’ be. Make no mistake: the wedding business is a booming industry, and there are plenty of people chomping at the bit to profit from your love for one another. If what you both truly desire is an all-inclusive trip to a far-flung white-sand wonderland, go for it to your hearts’ content. If the idea of lying on a beach for longer than five minutes makes you break out in a rash, don’t sweat it.

Stats show that more couples than ever before are looking for adventure and activities on their honeymoons. They’ve figured out what the packaged holiday companies don’t want them to: that romance is whatever you make it, whether that’s a dozen roses, a canyoning day trip, a windy clifftop walk, or (ahem) screeching Pulp’s Common Peopleat each other at the tops of your voices in a private karaoke booth.

Make your budget go further

If you’re on a tight budget, the idea of throwing caution to the wind and treating yourselves can be a major source of stress. Consider setting up a honeymoon-funding wedding list. Not only will it take the pressure off your finances and let you splurge guilt-free, but it’s a wonderful way to incorporate those you love into a very special trip. Set up your list to allow contributions to specific activities: your guests will feel they’ve given you a tangible experience (especially if you add a personal touch and send them a photo of you enjoying their gift), and you can toast each present-giver as you go and feel almost as though they’re with you on your trip.

A touch of luxury is well-justified on a honeymoon, but don’t forget about the budget options too. You may well find it’s at street stalls you find the best, most authentic meals, and in the most pedestrian of experiences that you meet the most genuine people and create memories that last a lifetime.

Watch out for decision fatigue

You’ll probably have made a lot of decisions in the course of your wedding planning. Colour scheme, venue, menu, flowers, pocket squares, chair covers, table runners, lighting, favours, cutlery… It’s exhausting to even think about. And if you jet off on honeymoon straight after the wedding, it can lead to an extreme case of Decision Fatigue Syndrome (DFS). It’ll hit you at the oddest times: you’ll be happily exploring, not a care in the world, when all of a sudden you’re faced with a simple choice – ‘will it be beer or wine?’ – and BAM. Your mind empties. Your eyes glaze. You don’t know. Wine’s nice. Beer’s nice. Choose one? You couldn’t possibly! What do you want? Beer. No, wine! No, beer! Your palms become slick. You can’t. Panic.

Wildlife and Nature Places in February

Head to Ladakh, India, for snow leopards and ice trekking

Brrrrrrr! It’s not warm in the Himalayan heights of northwest Indiaright now (days around 21°F; -6°C). But it’s worth braving the cold for a couple of very special experiences. Wildlife fans should head for Hemis National Park, home to a 400-year-old monastery, and one of the few places on the planet where the elusive snow leopard isn’t quite so elusive. During winter mating season – which peaks in February – the high-dwelling big cats descend to the valleys here to find mates, making them easier to spot. Alternatively, trekkers can check out the Chadar. This challenging winter hike starts near Leh, and uses the frozen Zanskar River as its path – walking on this icy meander is the only way to access the highland villages at this time. February is when the ice is at its most stable; the temperature is biting, but the snow-cloaked mountains spectacular.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Leh. Hemis is 6 miles (10 km) south, where guided treks in the Tarbuns Valley may yield leopards. The Chadar hike starts in Chilling, 40 miles (65 km) from Leh, and takes six days.
  • Need to know: Leh is at 11,483ft (3500m) so stay well-hydrated to help altitude acclimatisation.
  • Other months: Nov-Mar – cold, snowy (Jan-Feb: Chadar possible); Apr-May & Oct – quiet, cool; Jun-Sep – best for regular trekking.

Watch millions of monarch butterflies take flight in Mexico

Visit Michoacán’s forests on a sunny February morning and you’ll witness an astonishing spectacle: hundreds of millions of orange-black wings flexing then fluttering as vast clouds of monarch butterflies take to the air. Each winter up to a billion of these incredible insects migrate thousands of miles from northeastern North America to the warmer climes of Mexico, specifically, Michoacán Province’s Oyamel fir forests, some of which are now protected as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve; head to the El Rosario or Sierra Chincua sections. Here the monarchs breed before returning to their summer grounds far, far to the north.

  • Trip plan: The butterfly reserves can be visited on a day trip from Mexico City or Morelia, but better to stay nearby, perhaps in Angangueo or Zitácuaro. Another option is a clockwise circuit from Mexico City, taking in the butterflies, the colonial charm of Morelia, artsy San Miguel de Allende and the Toltec/ Aztec pyramid site of Tula.
  • Need to know: Wildlife fans travelling now could combine butterflies with whales – either humpbacks off Puerto Vallarta (Pacific Coast) or grey whales off Baja California.
  • Other months: Oct-Apr – butterflies present; May-Sep – wetter season, hot.

Swim with big fish in beautiful weather in the Philippines

Whale sharks are the world’s biggest fish, growing up to 13m long. Snorkelling alongside one is more like finning with a slow-moving train than a living creature. Simply, it’s up there with the greatest travel experiences. Donsol, a coastal village at the bottom of Luzon island, is one of the world’s best places to do it. During whaleshark season, which runs November to June (peaking February to May), there might be more than 10 whale sharks in the water at a time. Plenty of eco-operators run boat trips that allow you to snorkel with the fish in a sensitive fashion. Being the middle of the dry season, this is also a good time to explore further – the Philippines has over 7000 islands to choose from!

  • Trip plan: Fly from Manila to Legazpi, near Donsol, for whale sharks. Then fly south for cultural Cebu, the ‘Chocolate Hills’ and wildlife of Bohol, and the dazzling beaches of Panglao.
  • Need to know: Before embarking on a whale-shark trip, you must attend a briefing on how to behave around them.
  • Other months: Nov-Apr – dry; May-Oct – wet.

Visit Hokkaido for perfect powder, bird love and a whiskey or two

Hokkaido is Japan, but different. The northernmost of the country’s main islands is a wild, mountainous region with spectacular wildlife and a reputation for some of the finest powder snow on the planet. Snowstorms from Siberia sweep across and dust the west of the island – head to Niseko in February for world-class powder, with three large ski areas and plenty of backcountry to explore, with ski, board or snowshoe. Naturally there are steaming onsens in which to soak those weary bones after a hard day on the slopes – and plenty of spots to sip the local Nikka whisky. Winter is also the time for two of Japan’s most spectacular wildlife encounters. Head east across Hokkaido to Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary to witness the extraordinary courtship dance of the 5ft-high (1.5m) red-crowned crane and to the small town of Rausu to see hordes of white-tailed and Steller’s sea eagle – with a wingspan of up to 8ft (2.5m), arguably the world’s largest.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Sapporo for a few days on the slopes before crossing the island to explore the wilder reaches of the east.
  • Need to know: Refuel with Hokkaido cheeses or Ishikari nabe – salmon hotpot.
  • Other months: Dec-Mar – snow; Apr-May – spring, blossoms; Jun-Aug – warmest; Sep-Nov – fall colours.

Best Cocktail Bars in San Juan

El Batey, for dive bar vibes

Chandeliers made of old business cards, walls filled with graffiti and cryptic messages (some from the 1970s and 80s) and a vintage record player featuring the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Draco Rosa albums – these are all part of the delicious mashup that is El Batey, a dive bar found on Cristo Street. The place is tattered, scribbled on, and bewitchingly dark in the best possible way; as soon as you cross the dilapidated door of El Batey, you get into their groove, and everyone else here seems to be under the same spell – soulfully jamming to the vintage music, sharing deep thoughts with the bartender and writing stories on the walls. The bartenders are good at crafting the classics (like homemade mojitos), but when left to their own devices they improvise based on a patron’s mood, coming up with adventurous concoctions.

Oveja Negra, for turn-of-the-century charm

Oveja Negra, meaning ‘black sheep’, was created as a nod to the speakeasy, Prohibition style of the 1920s. The bar is known mostly by word of mouth, as the owner refuses to promote it anywhere and asks for a password to get in. Follow them on Instagram to get the password and then head to Bartola restaurant in Miramar. Once inside, look for a liquor shelf by the restrooms and knock as if it were a door. The shelf will open to let you inside Oveja Negra, with its burgundy wallpaper, early 20th century furniture and mixologists clad in film noir fashions and attitudes. You can stick to what’s on the menu – like the ‘Malas Palabras’, the ‘Something Sexy’, or the ‘Nutcracker’ – or ask for a drink to be invented just for you right on the spot by one of their award-winning mixologists.

La Factoria, for bar-hopping in one place

The suspender-wearing bartenders and the decaying glamour of the decor will help you identify this bar on San Sebastian street. An intriguing red bulb by the bar table goes on after 6pm, signaling the opening of three additional bars hidden behind a crooked door next to the restroom. Layers upon layers of peeling paint from decades past help set the mood, as well as the penciled name of the previous bar – the beloved Hijos de Borinquen – that peeks through the plasterwork. La Factoria is famous for their ‘Lavender Mule’ (vodka, ginger beer, and a homemade lavender infusion), but the ‘Ginger Spritzer’ (vodka, German Riesling, Cava and ginger) and the ‘Spiced Old Fashioned’ (aged rum, homemade dried herbs syrup, and bitters) will take your tastebuds on a wild ride.

Bar La Unidad, for relaxed glamour and Sinatra tunes

Following the same thread of Prohibition-era bars, this atmospheric speakeasy establishment lies hidden beside a restaurant named Soda on Cuevillas street. A minimalist symbol (three interlocking circles) is displayed on the door and is the only reference to the bar. The brainchild of restaurateur Mundi Morin, La Unidad resembles the lobby of an old hotel with over-sized vintage couches, moody decor and lighting, and Sinatra tunes enveloping it all. The same philosophy about cocktail improvisation holds true here – ask your bartender for something tailored to your taste or try one of their famous concoctions, like the ‘Cortadito’, their version of an ‘Old Fashioned’ made with hand crafted bourbon, espresso, and chocolate bitters and shavings.

La Coctelera, for a chic escape into the gastrobar world

Because it’s disguised as a run-down venue from the outside, it’s hard to believe the pristine interior of La Coctelera. With a clean industrial look and well dressed mixologists (the uniform consists of suspenders, a bowtie, and a beret), it’s obvious this is not your average cocktail bar. They call themselves a gastrobar, and serve high-end food and inventive drinks like the ‘Reina de Carnaval’, a mix of rum, lime, pineapple and a touch of ginger, and the ‘Tesla’, made from vodka, limoncello, tonic, and Jenever, served inside a light bulb.

El Bar Bero, for a drink and maybe a haircut

Need a drink and a haircut? El Bar Bero can give you both. This is a barbershop during the day and a high-end cocktail bar at night. Hair is a theme here: the perennial mustache symbol serves as decoration and barbershop chairs serve as bar stools. Three different Carlos’ run the place and they are all chatty and welcoming. The ‘Tiki Man’, ‘La Vieja del Barbero’ and their homemade ginger beer – all served in vintage flasks – are worth a sip.

Cinema Bar 1950, for rocking mojitos and a movie

Tucked inside the Ballaja barracks, by the San Felipe del Morro fort, Cinema Bar 1950 gives cinephiles a place to drink and watch foreign and independent films in the heart of Old San Juan. The place is filled with film memorabilia, styled with vintage chairs and artifacts, and it features two theaters that resemble cocktail bars from the 1950s. There’s an antique lamp for every seat and enough space to enjoy a drink with food while watching your movie. Their mojitos are simply the best in town and the food menu will take you on a journey through Puerto Rican tradition with their calamaditos (codfish fritters with shrimp), pork mofongo (garlicky mashed plantains) andchicharrones (deep fried breaded chicken with aioli).

Top 7 Ice Cream Shops in Seville

The original – Helados Rayas

A long-standing heladeria institution in Seville, founded in 1980, Helados Rayas closes down for the colder months – brave the queue from spring to early autumn, and you’ll be rewarded with cream and pine-nuts, dulche de leche and tocino del cielo (crème caramel). Two locations – in Reyes Catolicos near the main shopping area, and close to the contemporary architecture attraction Metropol Parasol and its mushroom-like shades known as the Setas.

Freskura for the boho scene

Catering to the hip Alameda crowd, Freskura offers favourites including pistachio, chocolate (also available lactose-free) and cremino (mascarpone, hazelnut and cacao); in summer fruit concoctions stretch to passion fruit and pear, while home-made ice lollies in lemon, strawberry and orange will quench your thirst. Take a seat on a bench outside to absorb the vibrant atmosphere.

Coming up (ice-cream) roses at Amorino

With the highest prices of the city’s heladerias, Amorino, the renowned Italian-owned chain (three branches, one built into the old city wall), needs to prove its quality – no problem there. Feast on delicate lime and basil, nocciola (hazelnut), or tangy Sicilian citrus. The pretty gelato rose, with ‘petals’ in different flavours, is a visual and gustatory delight. Opposite the cathedral, you can rest weary feet thanks to ample seating.

Porto Bello on the boulevard

A newcomer on the scene, Porto Bello has around 30 flavours, as well as smoothies and sundaes. Tastes worth sampling include the delectable house combination of mascarpone, caramel and fig, as well as boozy Malaga – cream, vino dulce (sweet Malaga wine) and raisins. Mojito and Sicilian lemon are among the lactose-free options. A big advantage here is the outside terrace with tables on the lively Alameda avenue – perfect for people-watching.

Elhada – market buzz in the Macarena

In a stall on the outside edge of lively Mercado de la Feria, the city’s oldest market, Elhada is probably the city’s smallest heladeria. Speak with Marieta behind the counter to try tastebud-challenging flavours such as black beer, Chinese five-spice, and curry; take her advice and try the latter (coconut-y and mild) together with chocolate and mango – a surprisingly successful combo. She has dairy-free passion fruit, lemon, mango sorbets, plus bitter (Seville) orange in spring. Four outside tables look onto the magnificent 15th-century mudejar Palacio de los Duqueses de Algaba.

Go organic with Puro e Bio

The trendy interior of Puro e Bio, with its mismatched coloured wooden stools and packing-case shelves on the riverfront Paseo de Colon, is complemented by organic ice-creams with unconventional flavours like spicy ginger and cinnamon – one of the vegan options, along with coconut, pistachio and chocolate – as well as classic sweet-tooth favourite dulce de leche (caramel) and almond crunch. Indulge in an ice-cream sandwich using homemade cookies.

Taste the city’s Moorish past at Bolas

Bolas boasts three plum locations in Seville – Calle Castilla by Triana market, next to central Plaza Salvador, and Puerta de la Carne in Santa Cruz. Flavours here range from the quintessentially Spanish (goat’s cheese and quince jam, cream cheese with figs in PX sherry) to international favourites like salted caramel (surprisingly few places offer this), along with no less than six chocolate varieties, including lactose-free and cherries in brandy. You can also taste a nod to history with Sevilla Mora (Moorish Seville – walnut, raisin, orange and cinnamon) and Medina (orange, ginger and cinnamon).

7 Best Spot to See Sunset in Dubrovnik

 Bird’s-eye views from Mt Srđ

Towering 418 metres directly above Dubrovnik’s Old Town, Mt Srđ is perhaps an obvious choice, but the views certainly deliver, stretching all the way across the Adriatic Sea to Italy on clear days. A four-minutecable-car ride, a short twisting drive or a brisk 45-minute hike up a serpentine path brings you to the top of the hill. As the sun begins to set, walk past the Napoleonic fortress to the barren karst plateau, where views of the Elafiti Islands bathing in a pink haze redefine infinity. Then toast the Old Town’s glowing terracotta roofs with a glass of local wine at Panorama restaurant by the cable-car station.

Picture-perfect views of the Old Town from St Jacob’s beach

This west-facing beach boasts full-frontal views of Dubrovnik’s Old Town from its vantage point a couple of kilometres to the east. The pebbles of St Jacob’s (Sveti Jakov) beach sit precisely 163 stairs beneath road level, so for a more serene and stylish arrival, inquire about boat transfers with any of the vendors at the Old Town harbour. The low-key beach restaurant makes St Jacob’s beach a great option for a full day of sunbathing followed by a million-dollar sunset view.

Paddle off into the sunset

If you’re looking for an active way to enjoy the Dubrovnik sunset, kayaking pioneers Adventure Dalmatia have the answer. Their three-hour sunset kayaking tours set out from the small bay below Fort Lawrence (Lovrijenac) and paddle beneath the monumental City Walls towards mystical Lokrum Island, stopping off at the striking Betina Cave beach for a snorkel on the way. The trip includes snacks and a glass of local wine to toast the sunset, and you’ll definitely feel like you earned it.

An evening stroll round the City Walls

Although Dubrovnik’s famous medieval City Walls generally close before sunset (with last entrance at 7.30pm in high summer and 3pm in winter), smart visitors come towards the end of the day when day-trippers have departed and the midday heat has begun to subside. Swallows rise for their last swirl of the day, dotting the Old Town’s red roofs with the hypnotic synchronicity of their flight. Start the two-kilometre anticlockwise walk around the walls at the Ploče Gate entrance to get the steepest climbs out of the way first and finish your visit with the best views out over the sea.

A drink and a dip at a hole-in-the-wall bar

Part of the adventure of drinking at Dubrovnik’s buža bars (literally ‘hole-in-the-wall’ bars) is finding them. After passing through Bošković square, you hit the City Walls and decide whether to turn left along the walls towards swanky Bard or right for the more rustic Buža. Either way, you’ll pass through a hole in the wall and emerge at a perfect sunset drinks venue perched on the rocks above the waves. Don’t forget to bring your swimwear if you want to take a refreshing dip from the rocks.

Sunset cruise aboard a three-masted ship

What could make you feel more like a VIP than sailing into the sunset holding a glass of champagne? It couldn’t hurt to do so aboard a ship that actually starred in hit TV-series Game of Thrones – the Karaka (karaka.info), a faithful replica of a 16th-century merchant ship. The 2.5 hour cruise includes a buffet dinner served at dusk. The route circles around the island of Lokrum and gives great views of the City Walls, all dreamy in the twilight. Departure times from the Old Town harbour vary according to sundown times, so double-check when booking.

Classy cocktails with a panoramic sea view

The Sunset Lounge bar at the Dubrovnik Palace hotel at the southwestern tip of the Lapad peninsula justifies its name in one swift glance. Enormous panoramic windows reveal a blissful backdrop: a vast expanse of deep blue sea, punctuated by the tiny lighthouse on Grebeni Island in the foreground and the Elafiti Islands on the horizon. To enjoy Mediterranean cuisine with your uninterrupted views, head down to the hotel’s Taverna Maslina restaurant. If you decide you’d like to stay, all rooms here come with a sea view. Otherwise, bus number 4 runs between the hotel and the Old Town until shortly before midnight.

Exploring Yekaterinburg

 City life

Although Yekaterinburg is spread out, most of the highlights are located in the historic centre. English-language guided walking tours aren’t mainstream yet, but in 2010 local blogger Dmitry Kalaev asked his followers to vote for Yekaterinburg’s most interesting sites, which resulted in the development of a 6.5km Red Line trail (ekbredline.ru) in 2011.

Starting at Ploshchad 1905 Goda, the main square in town, the walking route passes by 35 attractions as voted by thousands of residents, including beautiful old merchant houses, Russian Orthodox churches (Church upon the Blood is the city’s biggest cathedral, built on theRomanov death site), the first school, the first theatre, the oldest house, the peculiar QWERTY monument, street art, museums and more.

Yekaterinburg’s latest museum isn’t on the route but if voting were to happen again, residents may advocate it be included. Opened in 2015, the Boris Yeltsin Museum (yeltsin.ru) is part of the swish Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center, with quite the impressive (and somewhat unusual) collection of exhibits. There are replica rooms, video clips, sound and lighting effects and plenty of immersive displays spread out across nine rooms. If learning about Russia’s first president isn’t high on your list, head to Russia’s tallest skyscraper outside Moscow for a different perspective. The 188m-tall Vysotsky Tower has unrivalled city views from the 54th floor, and sunsets from here on a clear day are very Instagramable.

Sightseeing will, no doubt, whet your appetite and there’s plenty on offer in the culinary stakes. Russian favourites – such as borsch (beetroot soup) and pelmeni (ravioli dumplings) – are easy to find, with ample restaurants offering a Ural take on the well-loved dishes (try reindeer meat). Pozharka and Dacha are both good restaurant choices. International cuisine is popular too, with everything from Japanese and Chinese to Uzbek and Georgian easy to find.

The Russian banya

One of the top things to do in Yekaterinburg – and all of Russia, actually – is get piping hot, then get whipped and drenched in cold water (or better still, roll around in the snow). Welcome to the Russianbanya!

No bathhouse experience is as talked about as the Russian bath. If you can swing it, your best bet is to get yourself an invite to a resident’sbanya, as there’s nothing quite like the real deal. Your second best option is to book a banya session at one of the many complexes around town, where experiences range from simple home-style bathing practices to out-of-this-world extravaganzas.

Ruskie Bani (bani66.ru) was one of the first public banyas to open in Yekaterinburg in 2002. Here guests can choose to relax in traditional-style wooden banyas or splurge in contemporary fit-outs with fancy showers and Jacuzzis. Pelmeni and other Russian food can be ordered, and staff members are on hand to offer a variety of treatments including massages, steaming sessions, herbal-infusion soakings and… beatings. Visitors can choose from birch, oak, juniper, eucalyptus or fir brooms for the only-in-Russia experience.

Chapaevskiye Bani (m.chapaev-bani.ru) offers a slightly more luxurious option, and guests can stay at the Palais Royal next door if they want a multi-day banya indulgence.

Out of town

Yekaterinburg is perhaps most famous for the Romanov family tragedy. On 16 July 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, their five children and four of their employees were assassinated by Bolshevik troops in the Ipatyev house basement, where the Church upon the Blood now stands. The cremated remains were discarded in a mine pit about 15km out of town, the site now known as Ganina Yama. Today there’s a monastery made up of seven wooden chapels (one in honour of each of the murdered family members) on the site, called Monastery of the Holy Martyrs – a somber reminder of the devastation that took place a century ago.

For something a little less morose, day trips to national parks offer visitors the chance to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Olenyi Ruchyi (Deer Springs; olen.ur.ru), about 90-minutes’ drive from Yekaterinburg, has some fantastic hiking trails that traverse birch forest and lichen-steeped caves. Bachovskie Mesta (бм-парк.рф), less than an hour’s drive from the city centre, is a scenic vastness of pine and birch grove forests, meandering rivers and small calm lakes. Russians come here to hike, horse ride, cycle and drive snowmobiles in winter.

There are plenty of other nature parks nearby, too – after all, Yekaterinburg is located in the heart of the lustrous Ural Mountains. You just need a sense of adventure and a Russian dictionary or a guide, as beyond the main cities (and often even in cities) Russian is the only language spoken. Of course, if you’re travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway you’ll no doubt get some Russian language practice anyway – whether you want to or not.