Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Fabulous new travel books in time for Christmas

by Laura Waters

What would move you to ditch your life and take off into the wild for six months? For Melbourne woman Laura Waters, it took the implosion of a toxic relationship and a crippling bout of anxiety. Armed with a compass, a paper map and as much food as she could carry, she set out to walk the untamed landscapes of New Zealand’s Te Araroa track, 3000 kilometres of raw, wild, mountainous trail winding from the top of the North Island to the frosty tip of the South Island.

But when her walking partner dropped out on the first day, she was faced with a choice: abandon the journey and retreat to the safety of home, or throw caution to the wind and continue on – alone. She chose to walk on.

For six months, she battled not only treacherous mountain ridges and river crossings, but also the demons of self-doubt and anxiety, and the shadow of an emotionally abusive relationship. At the end of Te Araroa (‘the long pathway’, as it is translated from Maori) it was the hard-earned insights into mental health, emotional wellbeing and fulfilling relationships – with others as well as with herself – that were Laura’s greatest accomplishments. She emerged ‘rewilded’, and it transformed her life.

The Definitive Bucket List
by Lee Atkinson

Spending the kids’ inheritance. Growing old disgracefully. Life begins at 50. You see these catchy phrases on bumper stickers, tea towels and even t-shirts, but all jokes aside, there is one thing we all know – no matter how old our driver’s license says we are, we all feel much younger at heart. And travel goes a long way in keeping you young. Inside this book you’ll find hundreds of holiday ideas across Australia and New Zealand, from luxury escapes to walking holidays, bike rides, train journeys, golfing trips, garden tours and unforgettable wildlife encounters. If you have time on your hands, if you have retired – or cut back on the working hours – and the kids are old enough to look after themselves (even if they haven’t yet left home), it’s the perfect time to travel, particularly while you’re still fit and active enough to enjoy it. After all, you’ve earned it.

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2020

Each year, Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel lists start with nominations from Lonely Planet’s vast community of staff, writers, bloggers, publishing partners and more. The nominations are then whittled down by our panel of travel experts, who shortlist in line with criteria such its topicality, unique experiences and ‘wow’ factor.

Best in Travel 2020 is Lonely Planet’s 15th annual collection of the world’s hottest destinations and journeys for the year ahead. The best-selling, inspirational travel yearbook highlights the top 10 countries, cities, regions, and best-value destinations that Lonely Planet's experts recommend for 2020. This edition places particular emphasis on sustainable travel experiences— ensuring travellers will have a positive impact wherever they choose to go.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Discover historic Philippines

Tourism in the Philippines is currently booming, with more and more travellers seeking to discover its abundance of tropical islands, white sandy beaches and natural beauty. However, with more than 7,000 islands to discover, The Philippine Department of Tourism is reminding travellers to take time to explore the rich history of the Philippines, one which can be dated back for centuries.

Ms Norjamin Delos Reyes, Tourism Attaché at Philippine Department of Tourism Australia and New Zealand said,

“First colonised by the Spaniards for 333 years, the Philippines has a rich culture and a history which is long and varied.  Today, the Philippines has become a melting pot of various cultures and its historic landmarks have played a major part in the country’s booming tourism industry. Our history is something which almost everyone will find interesting and we want to encourage travellers to enjoy learning more about our past. Here are five historic spots for tourists to consider when visiting the Philippines.”

Rizal Park, Manila

Manila’s iconic central park consists of around 60 hectares of open lawns, ornamental gardens, ponds, paved walks and wooded areas, all dotted with monuments. From the historic Rizal Monument to the Central Lagoon, lined with busts of Filipino heroes and complete with a dancing musical fountain, the park is a fantastic place to take a stroll whatever time of the day. An open-air auditorium also plays host to a Filipino rock concert every Saturday, and a Classical concert every Sunday night.

Calle Crisologo, Vigan City

Calle Crisologo is a notable tourist attraction in the heritage city of Vigan, famous for its array of old stone houses and cobblestone streets, and a place where numerous calesas await. Visiting this old town will transport travellers back to the Filipino-Spanish colonial era with its abundance of Spanish-style houses which are a perfect representation of the simple yet elegant living of the Filipino-Spanish families from centuries ago.

The Ruins, Bacolod City

The Ruins is an ancestral mansion situated in Talisay, just outside of Bacolod City and is one of the key highlights of the city.  The grounds surrounding The Ruins are beautifully decorated with lanes, gardens and arches making it a popular venue for weddings and also making it one of the most famous and photographed destinations in the area. Touring The Ruins includes a look back through the rich and colourful history through the well renowned humorous tour guides.

Fort San Pedro, Cebu City

The Fort San Pedro is a military defence structure in Cebu built by the Spaniards under the command of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first governor of Captaincy General of the Philippines.  The fort is now a historical park, open daily from 7.00am – 7.00pm and is also home to a museum that displays legacies of the Spanish government and well-preserved Spanish artefacts like documents, paintings, and sculptures.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila

A 16th-century citadel, Fort Santiago is a national landmark and a shrine to the hard-won freedom of the Philippines. The citadel was first built by Spanish navigator and governor Miguel López de Legazpi for the new established city of Manila in the Philippines. Along with a fascinating museum, within the fort grounds is an oasis of lovely manicured gardens, plazas and fountains leading to an arched gate and an idyllic lily pond.

For more information, visit Tourism Philippines at https://www.tourismphilippines.com.au/.  Follow Tourism Philippines on Facebook and Instagram.  #itsmorefuninthePhilippines #Philippines

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

India’s Lesser Known Destinations

Most people who travel to India often head to familiar destinations - ‘must visit’ places such as Delhi, Agra and Goa, but sometimes it’s the lesser-known destinations that offer a far greater cultural and less touristy experience.
So here are five places with names that are unfamiliar, but worthy of consideration on your next trip to the Indian Sub-Continent.

1 - Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh:

The cradle of a unique tribal group and with a balmy climate, Ziro is the peace seeker's paradise. Lying 115km from Itanagar, the capital city of Arunachal Pradesh, is a beautiful plateau and the headquarters of Lower Subansiri District. It is one of the oldest towns in Arunachal Pradesh, home to the Apa Tani tribe and famous for a valley full of verdant rice fields and the surrounding hills covered in bamboo and pine forests.

Named a World Heritage Site for its stunning natural beauty, Ziro Valley is headquartered in the Lower Subansiri District. This beautiful hill station is located on the Apatani Plateau, as Ziro is popularly known, at an altitude of 1,500m above sea level. The Apatanis, one of the major ethnic groups of the eastern Himalayas, have a distinct civilisation with systematic land use practices and rich traditional ecological knowledge of natural resources management, and conservation, acquired over the centuries through informal experimentation.

An imposing landscape of beautifully lush green forests, rivulets and elevated patches, famous for terraced paddy-fields-cum-pisciculture cultivation. This is how local people practice the unique system of poly-culture and water management in a valley used for wet-rice cultivation where fish are also reared. This is further supplemented with millet reared on elevated partition bunds between the rice plots. The systematic land-use pattern ensures a high level of biodiversity in the area and efficient conservation of crucial watersheds ensuring perennial streams flowing into the valley to meet the needs of the people. The agro-ecosystems are nourished by nutrient washout from the surrounding hill slopes.

The tribe is known for their colourful culture with various festivals, intricate handloom designs, skills in cane and bamboo crafts and vibrant traditional village councils called bulyañ. This has made Ziro Valley a great example of a living, cultural landscape where man and environment have harmoniously existed together in a state of interdependence even through changing times, such co-existence being nurtured by the traditional customs and spiritual belief systems.

The temperate climate during the summer makes it a favoured destination for a vacation. Ziro is relatively pleasant

throughout the year. However, September is the month to travel if you wish to attend the Ziro Music Festival, known as one of the best outdoor music festivals in India – the all day and all night festival runs for four consecutive days.

The local attractions around Ziro are the Talley Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Hapoli, which is the centre of all the town's activities, Ziro Puto and Dolo Mando hillocks, and the Meghna Cave Temple. The Siddheshwarnath Temple, houses a natural shivalinga that was discovered only a decade ago.

Where to stay: the town has stretches of lush green grasslands everywhere, especially in the the Ziro Puto hillock. You may camp on these grasslands and just revel in its idyllic nature. You can either opt to camp through the official Ziro campsite or bring your own tent. There are local camping services available, which offer tents of different sizes and various other facilities.

What to eat: Bamboo chicken is a local dish that must be tried, along with their speciality rice beer.
2 - Theni, Tamil Nadu:

The natural beauty and cultural richness of Theni have prompted the moniker, ‘Earth’s Hidden Paradise’. The Theni district broke away from Madurai in 1996 and established the district headquarters in the town of Theni. It is one of the most verdant and beautiful parts of the state where rivers and creeks crisscross the district to facilitate rice, cotton and tea production.

The word ‘Theni’ is derived from the Tamil ‘Then’ meaning honey or nectar. It is a bustling centre for cotton trade and is a region full of significant religious shrines and small but beautiful temple.. Dedicated to the Goddess Ambica, Sri Gowmariamman Temple hosts a number of important festivals. The goddess is said to cure her devotees of measles and chickenpox. Sri Saneeswara Baghwan Temple, dedicated to Saturn, is also an important pilgrimage destination. Sri Arulmigu Balasubramanya Temple – Kartikeya is one of the important deities worshipped in South India. This temple, dedicated to the God in his child form, hosts a number of important festivals as well.

April is the month for festivals. The Chithirai Thiruvizha festival of Sri Gowmariamman Temple is a grand 8-day celebration held in May. Womenfolk wear yellow and red and cook sweet pongal (a rice/lentil dish) in earthen pots on open flames. Devotees go around the temple holding a fire pot as part of their obeisance. The Karagam dance and ritual ‘Kavadi’ lifting add to the fervency. The bullock cart races held during the Pongal days are a spectacular event. Like the rest of Tamil Nadu, Aadi Perkuku is a month-long celebration that showcases the best of family bonding and religious devotion in Theni. Tamil New Year (mid-April) is also a day for many cultural programmes and temple festivities.

Theni is great to visit any time of the year. The summers are not as hot as the rest of the state, thanks to the presence of abundant greenery and many rivers. Winters, however, are the best time to visit this part of Tamil Nadu. Winter monsoons ensure that the temperatures are mild and the waterfalls overflowing. Summer monsoons make the town humid and do not have quite the same effect. The Tamil months of Thai, Chithirai and Aadi are best for tourists wanting to visit the region to participate in the grand temple festivals held here.
3 - Patan, Gujarat:

Rani Ka Vav, the latest Indian entrant to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is situated in Patan, making this destination one of the newest tourist hubs in India. Vanraj Chavda, the first of the Chavda dynasty, founded the ancient city of Anahilvada Patan.

This fortified, walled city was the capital of Gujarat for 650 years, from 746-1411, after the centre of power moved from Saurashtra around the same time that the separate kingdoms of the area were integrated into roughly what we today call Gujarat. It was ruled by a series of dynasties, and shone as a centre of trade, learning, and architectural achievements. It was also a thriving centre for Jainism, and the Solanki rulers commissioned a large number of Hindu and Jain temples, as well as other civic and religious constructions.

During the Vaghela rule towards the end of the 13th century, Ulugh Khan plundered the town and destroyed it completely. In 1411 the capital shifted to the newly founded Ahmedabad, leaving Patan just a shadow of its former glory. One of the positive effects of Muslim rule in Patan is the presence of some of the earliest Muslim buildings in Gujarat, built before the earliest constructions in Ahmedabad.

The ruins of the ancient city, with the famous Rani Ki Vav and Sahasralinga Talav, stand about 2km northwest of present-day Patan. In the bustling bazaar of this charismatic town, tucked away among the havelis (mansions) in the narrow pols (lanes) you will probably stumble upon rope or bidi (traditional cigarette) makers, working on their doorsteps. It is worth searching out the unique patola and mashru weavers, the snow-white Jain temples, as well as the Hemachandracharya Jain Gnan library of ancient Hindu and Jain texts.

Headi northwest outside the city walls to Anahilvada Patan, the ancient city that served as Gujarat’s capital for 650 years. Here you’ll find the 1,000-year-old Kali temple from where Kali Mata, the kuldevi (family goddess) of the Solanki dynasty, guards the town. Further north, you find the Sahasralinga Talav, literally ‘lake of a thousand lingas’ (symbols), which is finely constructed to channel water in from nearby Saraswati. On the edge of Rani Ki Vav, known as the ‘Queen’s stepwell’, you can descend into the cool air. Towards the water, the carved stone gods and consorts invite you into their world, the world of spirit and the sacred.
Getting there: Intercity buses from Ahmedabad to Patan take 3.5 hours, and 1 hour from Mehsana. Shared jeeps are slightly quicker but less comfortable. The train can take you as far as Mehsana, from where you'll need to catch a bus to Patan. The nearest airport is Ahmedabad.
4 - Hemis National Park, Jammu and Kashmir:

Hemis National Park is truly a beautiful place, located in the eastern Ladakh region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is considered the best place to see the snow leopard in the wild. The park has the distinction of being the largest national park in Southern Asia and derives its name from the Hemis Gompa, the largest and wealthiest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, just outside the northern boundary of Shang.

The park also has the distinction of being amongst the largest contiguously protected regions, second only to Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. Six villages exist within the confines of the park. Rumbak, Kaya, Sku, Shingo, Urutse and Chilling are home to about 1,600 people, mostly pastoralists raising poultry, goats and sheep within the park.The villages are located on or adjacent to valley floors rising up to about 4,000k. The locals are mostly Buddhists although there is a monastery at Markha Village.

Established as a national park in 1987, the total area of the park is about 4,400sqkm and is known for its unique biodiversity. It is the protected home of endangered mammals such as leopards, Asiatic ibex, Tibetan wolves, Eurasian brown bears and red foxes. It is also home to small mammals like Himalayan marmots, mountain weasels and Himalayan mouse hares.

Lofty mountains and alpine forests of juniper and subalpine dry birch make it a treat for the eyes. The Stok Kangri peak is situated within the park. The confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers acts as the park’s boundary and includes the catchments of Markha, Sumdah, Rumbak and parts of the Zanskar Range. Camping and trekking are popular activities that can be enjoyed in the park.

The area is strictly reserved for the betterment of wildlife and biodiversity, and where activities like developmental, forestry, poaching, hunting and grazing on cultivation are not permitted.

The best time of the year to visit is between May and Mid-October. The nearest airport is Leh airport and is about 10km from the Hemis National Park. The nearest train line is at Jammu Tavi railway station, about 21km away. There is a daily bus service from Leh to Hemis as well as taxis. No hotels are available in or near Hemis National Park. Trekkers mainly visit the park, but the Hemis Monastery also provides accommodation to visitors. Nearby Leh also offers many resorts and hotels to suit your budget.
5 - Auli, Uttarakhand: 

Auli is one of the less-explored hill stations in India and a fairly new entrant on the tourist map. The resort is located in the Chamoli district in the Himalayan Mountains of Uttarakhand, a place that dates back to the 8th Century AD but is nowadays known as ‘The Skiing Destination of India’.

Located at 2,800m above sea level, Auli has numerous resorts where the slopes offer a panoramic view of many famous Himalayan peaks like Nanda Devi, Kamet, Mana Parvat, Kamat Kam and Dunagiri.

There is a natural beauty about the Auli region, dotted with apple orchards, old oaks, pine trees and deodars (Himalayan cedar trees). There are numerous treks in the hills of Garhwal Himalayas and spellbinding views of the snow-draped mountains. Many religious destinations are also scattered around Auli.

Skiers are naturally provided with pristine stretches of between 10 to 20km of snow-covered mountain slopes. There is also a descent of 500m from a ridge over a stretch of 3km. The forests on the slopes also seem to help the skiers by reducing the wind velocity.

In the months of February and March, Auli often hosts the National Winter Games.

In the evenings, activity shifts from the slopes to the bukhari-warmed huts and resorts (bukhari: a quaint, wood burning stove), listening to folklore and revelling in the local music of Garhwal in the oil-lamp-lit rooms or besides bonfires.

When to visit: Auli offers a perfect mix of adventure, entertainment and it becomes a skier’s paradise during the winter season. The period from late November to late March is generally considered ideal for skiers.

Getting there: the nearest airport is Dehradun, about 298km away and the nearest railhead is Rishikesh, about 235km away. Regular road services are available from Delhi, Dehradun, Rishikesh and Hardwar to Joshimath, 16km away. From Joshimath you can also hire jeeps to Auli.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Hidden Italy Weekend: cycling on the outer islands of Venice

A weekend cycling in Venice? It doesn’t seem quite right, too many cobbles, bridges and tourists, but there are, in fact, over forty kilometres of marked cycle trials up and down the outer islands of Lido and Pellestrina. These two thin islands stretch from Punta Sabbioni in the north to Chioggia in the south forming the barrier that limits tidal flows from the Adriatic Sea, creating the lagoon. Once out if the busy northern end of Lido, the cycle trails take you through farmlands and past ancient fishing villages, a very long way from the madding crowds of San Marco.

Bikes can be hired from shops near the ferry terminal. The bustling centre of northern Lido quickly gives way to long stretches of seashore. At the end of the island there are regular ferries that take you and your bike across the narrow stretch of water to Pellestrina, an even thinner and less developed island. You go down one the ocean side and come back on the lagoon side, with Venice in the distance. Along the routes you pass through long stretches of farming land, go past hidden agriturismi (farm stays) and visit sleepy fishing villages, one of which, Malamocco, dates from Roman times and was the capital of the lagoon in the Middle Ages.

I loved my weekend staying in an agriturismo on Lido but if you haven’t don’t have that time, a cycling day-trip on the outer islands is a terrific complement to the hustle and intensity of Venice.

How to get there:

Regular traghetti connect Venice with Lido: number 1, 2, 5.1 and 6 starting from Piazzale Roma or from Sant Lucia railway station, a thirty-minute ride down the Grand Canal, past St Marks Square and then out across the lagoon. If you are coming from Chioggia (the fascinating little port on the south side of the lagoon) you take the number 11 ferry, which goes to Lido via Pellestrina.

Where to stay:

The Grand Albergo Ausonia and Hungaria in Lido town is a classic 4-star hotel that captures the charming retro air of Lido’s turn-of-the-century heyday. A double room starts at 130 euro per night.

The Viktoria Palace Hotel is another good 4-star hotel in Lido preserving the atmosphere of days gone by. A double room from 120 euro.

For a very different Venetian experience consider Country House Le Garzette (https://legarzette.it/) a lovely agriturismo surrounded by small vineyards and market gardens, near Alberoni on the south of Lido island.

The Relais Alberti is a luxurious small hotel in a beautifully restored 14th century noble residence in the hamlet of Malamocco, double from around 140 euro. While, if you decide to be really adventurous and stay on Pellestrina, the only option on the whole island is the ‘ittiturismo’ Le Valli, which has six well-appointed rooms in a natural setting, starting from 90 euro a night.

What to do:

Friday evening

Assuming you are staying in Lido, we suggest settling into your hotel and then exploring Lido town. From the ferry wharf head down the Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, the liveliest street on the island, full of shops and restaurants until you reach the Lungomare Marconi and the sea. Since its beginnings as a seaside resort in the late 1800’s, this stretch has maintained the atmosphere of an upmarket resort, lined with the grand hotels of the era on one side and a beach, lined with kiosks the famous capanne, or bathing cabins, on the other. Lord Byron used to ride horses along this beach (the story goes that he swam out here from St Marks Square, sure…) and Thomas Mann found the inspiration for his book Death in Venice while convalescing at the Hotel Des Bains. After your stroll, try dinner at Ai Murazzi, a unique restaurant set in a small timber building with seafaring decorations and marvellous views out over the retaining walls and the sea – meals for around 40 euro per person.

Saturday morning:

Go cycling. This itinerary can also be walked following the cycleways or done using the local bus service, number 11, which runs the length of the island and back again, starting from the ferry wharf and finishing at Alberoni, from where you can catch the ferry to Pellestrina and back.

If you do both islands, the total itinerary is 20 km each way, 11 kms along Lido island and then 9 kms along Pellestrina island. Bikes can be hired on Lido in Piazzale Santa Maria Elisabetta, in front of the ferry wharf at a cost of around 10 euro per day – you can also pick up a map here. If you are setting out in the other direction from Chioggia, bikes can be hired at the Pellestrina petrol station for around 10 euro per day.

Leave the Lido piazza, head back down the Gran Viale and turn right down Lungomare Marconi (being careful to avoid any movie stars who may be here in August/September for the annual Venice Film Festival). At the end of the Lungomare, you come to the Murazzi, the retaining walls that were built in the 17th century to protect the island, and Venice, from the sea.

After leaving the town and peddling for 5 kms you come to the charming little port of Malamocco, one of the oldest settlements in the lagoon (it has Roman origins) and the capital of the Duchy of Venice from the 8th century to the 10th century, after which they moved the capital to its current, and better protected, location. There is an excellent little restaurant here, the Trattoria Al Ponte di Borgo, where you can taste some wonderful Venetian culinary specialities in a simple and very amiable ambience.

From Malamocco, keeping peddling (all very easy as you follow mostly small roads without a incline in sight) until you get to Alberoni at the southern tip of the island, where there is a small nature reserve. From here you can load your bike on to the ferry for the short hop to Pellestina island, on the way passing the impressive structures of Moses, the mobile locks, designed to protect Venice from the rising tides.

Saturday afternoon:

Pellestrina is a fishing island, 11 kms long and very narrow – barely 100 metres wide in parts. Riding down the lagoon side of the island you pass through numerous little fishing settlements, with small canals and pretty, coloured houses until you get to the little hamlet of Pellestrina itself. At the southern tip of the island is Ca Roman Oasi, a small bird sanctuary which you can visit. The best place for lunch on the island is Da Memo, at Porto Secco, between Pellestrina village and the northern end of the island. Having finished you visit to Pellestina ride back to the ferry for Lido and head back to your hotel.

Saturday evening:

Two options for those feeling cashed up: a night at the casino on Lungomare Marconi or, for something completely different, and spectacular, walk up to the Airport Nicelli (Venice’s first and only airport) from where you can catch up a helicopter with Heliair and view Venice and the lagoon from on high.

Sunday morning:

After an exhilarating and energetic day, it’s probably time to chill out on the beach. The beach is sandy and wide and the water quite clean and popular mostly with Venetians. There are a number of free sections but the classic way to do it is to hire one of the numerous capanne, small beach cabins that can even have verandahs. They don’t come cheaply: at the Quattro Fontane you can spend from 44 to 122 euro per day, depending on the season and which row you are in! The ‘Tahitian’ umbrellas and mini-cabins at the Hotel Des Bains’ beach can cost from 50 to 205 euro per day, although there is a 50% discount for after 2.00pm.

Sunday afternoon:

For achange of focus, you could visit the glass factories on the nearby island of Murano, which involves catching the traghetto number 5.1 to Le Fondamenta Nuove on Venice and then the 4.1 or 4.2 to Murano.

Sunday evening:

Dinner at the Trattoria Bar Trento, a small rustic restaurant which serves classic Venetian cuisine.

Source: hiddenitaly.com.au

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