Original article written for momondo, available here
From Bucharest’s epic Palace of Parliament to Barcelona’s Hospital de Sant Pau and Stockholm’s Vaxholm Fortress, here are 14 overlooked European attractions
Molecule Man, Berlin, Germany
This aluminium trio has been delighting Berliners since 1997, following several brotherly sculptures in the US. Designed by American artist Jonathan Borofsky, the three holy men symbolise the molecular structure of humankind; made up mostly of water and air, coming together to create our unified existence.Find a flight to Berlin
Rocamadour, Lot, France
A veritable European treasure, Rocamadour is every bit as enchanting as it sounds. Built into a limestone cliff face, this small village in the south of France is revered for its many religious sites, trademark goat cheese and impeccable medieval architecture. Access it through the sole gateway into the village, the Figuier gate.Find a flight to nearby Brive La Gaillard
Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse, Rubjerg, Denmark
Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse stands 60 metres above sea level on Denmark’s western shoreline, overlooking the North Sea. A relic from 1899, the lighthouse is engaged in an eternal battle with coastal erosion, which eats away at up to 1,5 metres of shoreline annually. In fact, it is widely believed that the entire structure will have sunk into the sea within the next 10 – 15 years. For now, though, take advantage of the recently re-opened tower and ascend it for a riveting view.
Find a flight to nearby Aalborg
The Jacobite Steam Train, Fort William, Scotland
Harry Potter fans may recognise this steam stalwart from its many appearances as The Hogwarts Express in the various films. Traversing some of Scotland’s most alluring scenery, you will travel along the shores of Loch Eli and further on to Mallaig on your journey. Keep your eyes open for the passage over the Glenfinnan viaduct — an unforgettable moment of magic.
The Buzludzha Monument, Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria
This derelict European landmark has to be seen to be believed. Erected at the peak of the Balkan Mountains in 1981, it stands at the final battleground between Bulgarian rebels and the Ottoman Empire in 1868, which became the location for the birth of the first social democratic party in the Balkans some 23 years later.
Ever since the Communist reign came to a close in 1989, the once thriving former headquarters has turned into an important, but shabbily kept monument of times past. Officially, the front doors are bolted shut, but if you follow the ‘FORGET YOUR PAST’ graffiti emblazoned on the dome’s side, you may just be able to find a small, unofficial portal into this crumbling gem.
Brussels is often associated with its Manneken Pis statue, but this shimmering treasure also warrants a visit ,if you find yourself in the EU capital. Originally devised for the Expo 58 by engineer André Waterkeyn, this intricate, shiny structure closely resembles a unit cell of an iron crystal, blown up into nine, apartment-sized spheres connected by tubes.
After the spheres were restored in 2004, they were opened up for public eyes. 8 of the spheres are used for study trips and private events, while the top orb hosts Brussels’ most exclusive restaurant. You will find The Atomium in the north of Brussels, overlooking the miniature park, Mini Europe.Find a flight to Brussels
Villa D’Este, Tivoli, Italy
When in the hilltop town of Tivoli, near Lazio, be sure to visit the Renaissance Villa d’Este — an imposing 16th-century villa and its surrounding parks. The landscaping here is a perennial ballad between the elements of stone and water, relics of the Roman world and all its ingenuity.
Portugal’s heyday as a 14th- century superpower is celebrated by this mighty concrete structure that rises 52 metres above the shoreline of the River Tagus. The detailed figures on each side of it depict the sojourns of bygone explorers who ventured out in the world from what used to be the old harbour of Belem.
The world’s second largest administrative building (after The Pentagon) was once the jewel in the crown in Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship. Despite its completion being thwarted by the revolution of 1989, the complex still stands tall today – all twelve floors of it (as well as the eight below the surface).
Delphi — the ancient sanctuary on the south side of Mount Parnassus that was once the navel of Greece’s political decision-making. The revered Oracle of Delphi, once reigned supreme here. It is said that this oracle, (the Pythia) was a link between mankind and the spiritual world, the former of whom she spoke to in riddles, while belching hallucinogenic fumes that entranced and enlightened.
Today’s ruins reverberate with powerful echoes of Delphi at its pinnacle, standing robust against a backdrop of green. It is little wonder that the area is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Franz Kafka was one of Prague’s literary greats. A troubled soul who was tormented by depression and self-doubt for most of his adult life, Kafka was known as being a particularly mercurial character.
These traits are reflected in a multi-layered mirror structure in the form of a head, designed by the artist David Černý. Each of the 42 layers rotates individually, with the help of a gear system inspired by Prague’s famous astronomical clock, adding further dynamism to this shimmering gem
After being used in Robert Altman’s film Popeye from 1980 (starring Robin Williams) this elaborately built set, whose constructions include a 76-metre breakwater that was built around Anchor’s Bay, was scheduled to be demolished.
But with some clever negotiation by the local authorities the village was saved and transformed into a theme park ‘for the young and young at heart.’ Take advantage of Mellieħa’s sandy beaches and striking nature while you’re in the north of the island.
The entire region of Bled, at the northern tip of Slovenia, is, in itself, bewilderingly enchanting.
At the heart of it, you’ll find Lake Bled — a shimmering body of water nestled between mountains and thick woodland. Be sure to drop by Bled Castle — a towering construction built on a precipice on the lake shore and, if you can, row out to Bled Island in the middle of the lake. A stunning Gothic church awaits you here – ring its bells for good luck.
Original article written for momondo, available here.
From volcano views on a rugged landscape in Iceland to igloos in Finland and cosy lodges in Canada, here are some of the best hotels from which to see the Northern Lights
To stand under the star-studded sky of the Arctic and watch the ethereal dance of the Northern Lights is to witness nature’s most spectacular light show, the kind of phenomenon that seems out of this world…
Also known as Aurora Borealis (Dawn of the North), these shifting celestial lights are the result of electrically charged particles emanating from the sun reaching the earth’s magnetic field. The poles are where the field is weakest, which is why the further north you go, the better a chance you have of seeing them.
We’ve come up with a list of several of the best hotels from which to see the spectacle of the Northern Lights.
ION Hotel – Selfoss, Iceland
Less than an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, the modern minimalist structure of the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel stands tall amidst the craggy terrain of lava fields.
Close to the Thingvellir National Park and the famous Geysir hot springs, the hotel organises everything from rafting to glacier trekking to diving in the Silfra Fissure, the rift between the American and Eurasian continents! When it comes to watching the night sky shine bright, ION has its very own panoramic Northern Lights bar, where you can even sit down with an in-house astronomer and have all your aurora queries answered.
In the quiet countryside in which Hotel Rangá is located, you can gawk at the glowing sky whilst soaking in a bubbling outdoor hot tub with a view of the Mount Hekla volcano. A special ‘Aurora alarm’ wake-up service guarantees you won’t sleep through the action and – because there’s more to the infinite night sky than those luminous waves of colour – the hotel has even built its own highly-equipped astronomical observatory for expert stargazing. You will find Hotel Rangá a mere two hours away from Reykjavik’s airport.
Staying at a hotel made entirely of ice, sculpted anew each winter, is a fantastic frosty experience in its own right. And if that’s not eccentric enough for you, at the Sorrisniva you can also camp out in a typical lavvo tent with a toasty fire to keep you warm. On the banks of the Alta River, you’re in prime aurora-spotting territory – team up with some huskies to sled you towards the lights!
Imagine if you could lie under the incandescent sky without leaving the comfort of your warm snug bed … well, in the Hotel Kakslauttanen in Finnish Lapland, this dream-like scenario is a very real possibility. The family-run establishment has built a village of igloos where you can sleep in small domes made of glass that doesn’t steam up or frost over. Other activities include reindeer safaris, horse-riding in the snow and an icebreaker cruise with an optional dip in the glacial Baltic Sea – in a dry suit, of course.
In the Rovaniemi region (land of the Sami, the indigenous people of Lapland), another out-of-the-box choice of accommodation – particularly for those travelling with little ones – is the Santa Claus Holiday Village. Besides being ideally situated to start your search for the Northern Lights, there’s plenty to keep the kids distracted during daylight hours. The hotel’s Gingerbread Club hosts everything from sledding to arts & crafts, baking and even elf school!
Nestled in the northernmost valley of Swedish Lapland, the rustic cabins of the Abisko Mountain Lodge are a cosy choice for an Arctic stay.
The hotel offers a wide range of activities – from ice-fishing to heli-skiing – to keep you busy when you’re not out scouting the main event, but its biggest selling point is its location.
From your window you can spot the icy Torneträsk Lake of the Abisko National Park, where scientists have identified a ‘blue hole’, a patch of sky that generally stays clear even when the surrounding area is overcast. Head over to the Aurora Sky Station for a privileged viewpoint!
Sweden’s Treehotel is just what the name implies, — a hotel with an incredibly inspired design where you sleep, quite literally, up in the trees! Here you can soak in a wood-fired bathtub in the heart of the forest, sign up for a photography course to capture the perfect image of the auroras or join the nighttime snowmobile safaris to chase after those radiant cosmic swirls.
Sample the very best of the Alaskan wilderness at Hotel Alyseka — a chateau-style motel that merges modern comfort with the great outdoors. The remote location of this gem of a hotel makes it an ideal vantage point from which to view the Northern Lights, which are seen best during the wee hours of the morning. The hotel staff will happily wake you from your slumber so you can catch the coruscating spectacle.Find a room at Hotel Alyeska
Blachford Lake Lodge is an ideal spot to see the dance of the Northern Lights across the dark night sky. Its remote location offers pristine views of the phenomenon from its hilltop perch. While you’re here, explore the Canadian wilderness on skis, kick sleds or fat tire bikes and take part in igloo building workshops, snowmobile forays and other activities. If the views from under the covers in your room don’t quite cut it, try the Blachford Lake Lodge hot tub, where you can enjoy the spectacle while the warm water soothes your senses.
Original article written for momondo, available here.
Sedate beaches and vivid countryside towns where the horse-drawn carriage reigns supreme … here are some of Mexico’s most underrated destinations for you to explore
From postcard-worthy beaches to pulsating cities that reverberate from dusk till dawn, Mexico is as intense a country as they come. An extraordinarily diverse population and buzzing food scene are but two of the draws of this vast nation. For Mexico has something up its sleeve for every type of tourist and boasts an extensive, comfortable domestic bus and flight network that facilitates easy travel around the country.
And while resort towns and popular destinations such as Cancún, San Cristóbal and Isla Mujeres tend to steal the showreels, far from the madding crowd, an entirely different country awaits the curious traveller. Scratch beneath the surface and explore some of Mexico’s most underrated destinations.
The quaint town of Loreto is one of Baja California’s understated pearls. Water sports and fishing are popular pastimes in these parts, whose marine areas are protected from excessive fishing and pollution through strict legislation, thus preserving them at their pristine best. Venture out to The Coronado Islands by boat, where unrivalled snorkelling opportunities in the company of the local wildlife of the Loreto Bay National Park await. While you won’t be able to set foot on the protected islands, you will still be able to enjoy its natural riches from the water.
A mere 30 minutes by car from the larger, more-boisterous town of Puerto Vallarta, the fishing village of Sayulita is a great surfing spot and an ideal base from which to explore the rest of the state of Nayarit. Treat yourself to savoury tequila, fish tacos and paletas (Mexican popsicles) – three of some of the many culinary spoils here.
When you’ve had your fill, head out to the Marietas islands where the unique Playa del Amor awaits. This hidden beach is only accessible via a long tunnel of water that links it to the ocean. There is a vacuum of roughly six feet above the water level in the tunnel, allowing for beach access by swimming or kayaking through it.Find a flight to Puerto Vallarta
Around Mexico City
The sparsely populated town of Palizada resembles an elaborate fresco with its kaleidoscopic colour scheme and warm feel. Somewhat overlooked in the shadow of the more popular town of Merida, just over two hours by bus from here, Palizada is one of those places that feels like you have to it yourself.
Mount one of the numerous triciclos (tricycles) and head to the promenade, El Malecon, at sunset, where an amber backdrop shades flocks of herons en-route to their roosts in the foothills around the town.
Aculco, Mexico City
The small town of Aculco, a couple of hours north-west of Mexico City by car is revered for its two basalt waterfalls – Cascada de La Concepcion and Tixhiñu, both of which offer great rock climbing and abseiling opportunities.
But there is more to Aculco than these alluring cascades: this magical town is also an understated star on the culinary scene, offering a wealth of dairy and meat products which are high even by Mexican culinary standards. Scoops of homemade ice cream, savoury cheeses and tantalising pastries await in its narrow, bucolic streets.
Tepotzotlán, Mexico City
A quieter, more affable town, Tepotzotlán is an easily accessible alternative to the vast, gargantuan feel of Mexico City, 40km north. As you stroll its cobbled streets, you will still hear the Aztec language of Náhuatl echoing off the age-old walls – a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the area.
The centrepiece in the shimmering gem of Izamal is the enormous yellow Franciscan monastery. Built by the Spanish colonialists, this vivid shrine may hog the spotlight but Izamal was once the centre of worship for the Mayans that roamed these lands. Thankfully, their heritage lives on, in the form of several Mayan pyramids dotted around the area, which make for excellent spots to brush up on your history.
Reserve your Sundays in Ciudad Amarilla (the yellow city) for relaxing in Parque Zamna, where live music pulls in a partisan local crowd.
Isla Holbox, Yucatán
A heavenly alternative to the hustle and bustle of Cancun, Isla Holbox (Holbox Island) is separated from the mainland by a shallow, flamingo-laden lagoon. This slice of paradise is a mere 42km in size and contains very few cars as most of its roads and streets are paved with white sand.
Sample tasty fried tortillas with salsa for breakfast at Cantina La Isla del Colibri, hitch a taxi (a golf cart in these parts) and head for the shoreline, which you will, in all likelihood, enjoy for yourself.
Bacalar, Quintana Roo
Bacalar was once a haven for many a buccaneer (Caribbean Pirate), who hid here in between their Caribbean marauding in the 17th and 18th centuries. This quiet outpost of a town is home to Lake Bacalar, affably named the Lake of the Seven Colours on account of its striking blue colour, which changes tone depending on the time of day. Fed by a vast network of underground rivers and cenotes (sinkholes), Lake Bacalar’s pearly white limestone floor makes for an otherworldly swimming experience. Exfoliate your skin in the lakeside mud and plunge into the pristine waters.Find a flight to Cancun
Highlights of the south
You will find the hushed village of Mazunte on the shoreline of Mexico’s Oaxaca state, perched smugly by a spectacular natural bay. Today, the village is an ecotourism emblem, three decades on from bans on turtle meat and eggs, which used to be its main source of revenue.
Look elsewhere if you would like a location with mod-cons – Mazunte’s charm lies in its stripped-down appeal. Things here are as they have been for many years – quiet, unannounced and pristine. Drop by The National Turtle Centre of Mexico for a glimpse into the area’s history.
Playa Zipolite, Oaxaca
Not too far off from Mazunte (a mere 15-minute drive), you will find Playa Ziploite, where the pace of life along this 1.5km stretch of sand is just as sedate, so bring a good book or enjoy many hours in the company of the waves. Once a beach-bum allurement, Zipolite is one of Mexico’s few nude beaches and the surrounding area is home to a smattering of rustic cabins, camping spots and elementary accommodation. Enjoy the water here but do take care when venturing further offshore, as there are strong underwater currents to contend with.
Original article written for momondo, available here.
From dreamy, pink-coloured lakes to kaleidoscopic geysers, it may well seem as if some of these most astonishing places in the world are on a different planet altogether
Rumbling volcanoes that spew rivers of red-hot lava into the ocean, giant glaciers at the end of the world and gaping holes in the sea floor — the list of nature’s wonders could go on. Here are some of the most astonishing places in the world that continue to astound and mystify explorers and scientists alike to this day.
Coyote Buttes (“The Wave”) – Arizona, USA
If Catalan surrealist Salvador Dalí did nature, then this would be one of his seminal works. Ochre and amber shades, layered on top of one another from the Jurassic age form an undulating backdrop that has become something of a dream for photographers and hikers alike.
You will, however, require a permit to visit this protected monument and this is not the easiest thing to get a hold of, due to the lottery system employed by the Bureau of Land Management, so start your application early. If your permit application fails, fear not. Arizona is a land endowed with many other astonishing wonders such as Antelope Canyon and The Upper Grand Canyon.
The small village of Derweze, Turkmenistan, was put on the map 40 odd years ago by the work of Soviet geologists who burrowed into a cavern filled with natural gas. To stop the discharge of poisonous gas, a fire was lit to empty the cavern of its content which the geologists thought would burn for a few days.
Fast forward 40 years and the inferno rages on — a 70-metre wide spectacle in the middle of the desert that has been dubbed the ‘Door to Hell’ by locals.
Mendenhall Glacier – Tongass National Forest, Alaska, USA
Glaciers have been likened to human beings for their ever-changing qualities. As the Mendenhall glacier’s ice composition changes due to global warming, so too do its ice caves, formed as a result of meltwater flowing beneath the ice layers and eroding them. The thinner the ice of the roof cave gets, the lighter its blue colour — the sole source of illumination in these cavernous parts.
These chambers do require an effort to see them though —you’ll have to hike or kayak to the glacier first, then scramble over it wearing crampons, before tiptoeing your way into its subterranean depths.
It doesn’t rain here often, but when it does this giant salt flat turns into an ethereal mirror that seems to run on into oblivion, stretching over an area that is slightly smaller than Jamaica. Salar de Uyuni is also one of the flattest places on the planet, a trait that has often been exploited in optical illusion (forced perspective) photography. You will find the salt flat near the crest of The Andes mountains, 3,656 meters above sea level (which means that it can get cold and the air here is thin, so come prepared.)
Grand Prismatic Spring – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
The vibrant colours of this geothermic hot spring are the same as the mini rainbow you see when light passes through an optical prism; hence the name. The red, orange, yellow, green, and blue colours are caused by different types of bacteria living in the mineral-rich hot water, whose peak temperature reaches 85C. Spanning a diameter of 370 feet, the hot spring is the third largest of its kind in the world.
Deadvlei is a portmanteau of the English word dead and the Afrikaans word, vlei, which translates as ‘a marsh or a valley in between dunes.’ The acacia trees that are strewn across the decadent landscape here have stood lifeless for over 600 years, torched skeletons who mother nature has not granted the luxury of decomposition in one of the driest spots on earth. This parched corner of the globe is also close to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world, which tower up to 383 metres above the desert floor.
Perito Moreno Glacier – Los Glaciares National Park, Santa Cruz, Argentina
At 28 km long and 4.8 km wide, Perito Moreno is one of very few glaciers in the world that are growing. During the summer, it is not uncommon to see massive chunks of ice fall into the waters of Lake Argentino, while in the winter, its imposing, behemoth-like structure casts a haughty shadow over the chilled landscape. An eerily-quiet, mystifying place of wonder in the sparsely populated region of Patagonia, Perito Moreno is a towering example of nature’s sacred awe.
The indomitable Kilauea volcano has been erupting intermittently since 1983, pouring rivers of molten lava into the Pacific, which meet the water in one of nature’s most dramatic marriages. This vehement clash is visible from afar, compliments of several tours that provide expert guides to chaperone you across the charred pastures and as close as possible to it. It is not advisable to wander into the area on your own, due to the ever-changing nature of the volcanic eruption.
Belize’s giant submarine sinkhole was formed during the ice age – carved to near-circular perfection by the force of nature. In addition to being a treat for the eyes when viewed from above, The Great Blue Hole is also a great diving spot, drawing scuba divers from far and wide with its rich concentrations of marine life.
You’ll have to have logged more than 24 dives to attempt it though, due to the dexterity needed to navigate the dark, stalactite-strewn cave of water. Alternatively, grow gills and draw inspiration from freediving guru, Guillaume Néry, who has descended and re-surfaced from these depths on numerous occasions.
Pamukkale, which poetically translates to ‘Cotton Castle’ is one of Turkey’s great natural spectacles. Hot springs and gargantuan white calcium terraces that etch themselves into the hillside make for a sight that looks like a page out of a great dream. Tread warily though (barefoot) — the calcium terraces here are easily eroded by footwear and bring your swimsuit along for a dip in the limpid waters of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. While you’re in Pamukkale, you may also want to pay a visit to the nearby well-preserved Roman ruins and museum in Hierapolis, a site that was once an ancient holy city in close proximity to the natural baths.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the tall stone pillar formations in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park are in a galaxy far away from our own. The 2009 box office sci-fi, Avatar, featured scenes that were inspired by rock pillars such as those in the Hunan province, a depiction that resulted in the renaming of the 1,080-metre Southern Sky Column.
Now known as “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain,” this towering beauty is one of many formations that hug the skyline here. Stand in awe of it all atop the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge — the longest and highest pedestrian glass bridge in the world, which as you may expect, will put your fear of heights to the ultimate test.Find a flight to Changsha
Reynisfjara – Vik, Iceland
In addition to making for a beautiful natural spectacle, the black sand beach by the village of Vik, Iceland is also home to rich birdlife in the form of puffins, fulmars and guillemots, all of whom have made it their humble abode. And with good reason — the beach radiates an otherworldly quality with its unique black colour, flanked columns of pale-toned basalt that cling to the cliff face.
The southern Indian Ocean island nation has a mixed heritage, offering a unique blend of two continents’ cultures
Just 14 hours away: The magical sunsets we long for in the winter time are not always as far off as one might think (all photos: Allan Kortbæk)
While destinations such as Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia continue to top the charts when it comes to popularity, so too do some of the impacts of excess tourism in these countries, whose visitor numbers put immense pressure on local resources.
Unique combination Luckily, the world still remains vast, with a plethora of destinations to explore. Mauritius may not be the first country on your mind, when one conjures up dreamy visions of your next trip, but perhaps it should and could be a great alternative to some of the overly-visited and documented chart-topping destinations du jour.
Mauritius is a mere 14-hour or so plane ride away from Denmark (including a brief stopover in Dubai, for instance) and offers all the comforts, sun, sea, sand and amusement that the likes of Thailand and Vietnam do, albeit with far fewer crowds and a lot more charm and uniqueness.
After visiting the Seychelles earlier this year, I had high hopes for my recent trip to Mauritius and thought much of it would be a comparable experience.
In truth, the two island paradises are very different to one another. While it is true that the Seychelles is the more raw, unspoiled and quiet of the two, Mauritius brings a rich Indian heritage and well-developed infrastructure to the table, giving it the unique feel of a veritable African nation with a strong multicultural foundation.
Here is my quick guide to what to see and do in Mauritius.
Mauritius: need to know Mauritius is a safe and stable African country in the Indian Ocean, located close to the smaller Reunion Island (which is actually one of France´s départements.)
Over 50 percent of the population are of Indian descent and you will find a compelling mix of cultures and religions here. Mauritian Creole, French and English are widely spoken by almost everyone, everywhere.
Living standards, by comparison to most other African countries, are generally high, and inequality is not as widespread as it is elsewhere on the continent.
You´ll probably fly to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in the former capital of Mahébourg.
While the main island of Mauritius is small enough for you to live anywhere on it and be able to comfortably drive from one place to another, I recommend staggering your trip into phases, allowing you to experience different areas in depth.
Renting a car and hitting the road is probably easiest, though you can also travel by taxi and, if you’re feeling adventurous, by bus.
The east of Mauritius is a great place to start your trip after you land. The area around Grand River South East is one you’ll want to visit a fair bit if you find yourself in this quadrant. Rent a boat tour via Kersley & Azur (email@example.com; +230 5756 1954) just outside Mahébourg and you´ll get to see some of the small, uninhabited coral islands of the east and ‘The Dalblair’, a 1902 shipwreck.
You’ll also have the option of sailing up the Grand River delta to the small but sweet Grand River South East waterfall. Your boat ride will also probably take you to Isle Aux Cerfs, a small island off the east coast, which is unremarkably touristy on its main beach, but much quieter further down (past the golf course).
Contrary to popular belief, it is practically impossible to walk from one end of the island to another, so check out the south side by boat if this option is available to you.
While you’re around Mahébourg, don your snorkel mask and flippers and swim in the pristine waters of Blue Bay Marine Park – one of the best snorkeling spots I have ever come across.
Recommended hotel Laguna Beach Hotel & Spa – a decent hotel that’s not too big and whose staff are extremely helpful and professional. Their buffet is scrumptious and rich in Creole delights – where possible, select the half-board option, as this gives you the benefit of breakfast and dinner included in your stay.
The North of Mauritius is more populated than the quiet east and home to some of the island’s revered beaches.
A good base would be the area around the beaches of Trou Aux Biches and Mont Choisy: two long, expansive stretches of sand on the northwest shoreline. The former has a great mix of locals and a few tourists on it and is a great sundowner spot, while the latter is also a public beach but is located at the foot of the Trou Aux Biches Beachcomber Resort and Spa, which takes some shine off it, despite the beautiful palm-fringed edge.
Further north check out the town of Grand Baie (the bazaar is a nifty spot to buy artefacts) and Perybere Beach – a favourite among the locals.
While in the north, one bucket list activity you definitely want to try is the Blue Safari sub scooter, which you will find at the northern fringe of the Trou Aux Biches beach. This three-metre dive to the ocean floor in an electric-powered underwater scooter is definitely one of the most amazing things you´ll do in your lifetime.
Blue Safari also offers a submarine service that takes you down to a depth of 35 metres in a larger craft, and this too is a memorable experience.
Recommended hotel Mystik Lifestyle Hotel – a boutique hotel with immaculately designed rooms and the famous #33 restaurant, which serves up some of the best seafood in these parts.
The West and the South
The vast majority of activities on your trip, depending on what you go for, will probably be in the west of Mauritius – for instance in or near the town of Flic En Flac, a great base from which to cruise the shoreline and wander south and inland.
Flic En Flac is home to numerous restaurants and a comfortable stretch of beach. From here, explore the rugged interior of Mauritius with a day trip to the Black River Gorges National Park, where sights such as the iconic ‘7 Coloured Earths’, Alexandra Falls and the Chamarel Waterfall await.
Hire a taxi or up your hill-driving game as the roads here are sinuous, narrow and not for the fainthearted.
Varangue Sur Morne is a fantastic restaurant to have lunch at on your way back down from the national park. Here, you´ll find a scrumptious selection of local treats and some of the best service on the island.
For something slightly less flashy, head to Restaurant Chamarel, which is further down the slopes and offers a stunning panoramic view of the west coast from above.
If you’re into your watersports, you’ll find no shortage of them in the west and down south.
For stand-up paddle and kitesurfing, head to Yoaneye Kite Centre by Le Morne. The swell on the northerly section of Le Morne is regular and easy to paddle-surf on, but be careful not to drift too far downstream with the current, as getting back takes a while.
Kitesurfing takes place further south of Le Morne, where consistent wind makes it one of the most popular spots to fly at.
As you wander further south, the coastline becomes rugged and more poignant.
Surfers looking for a good break will want to stick to the area around Le Morne, but as an alternative consider driving down the scenic beach road to the small settlement of Bel Ombre, where KiteGlobing is located – it is worth it! This is both a surf and kitesurfing hotspot.
For thrill-seekers looking for a taste of adventure on the waves, Sea Kart Mauritius offers an epic opportunity for you to pilot your own 110 bhp speedboat (no boat licence required). This powerful craft skims the surface at speeds of up to 80 km/h and is the closest thing you will find to a jet ski (since these are banned in Mauritius).
Last, but not least in the west, get yourself out of bed early and head out to spot dolphins as they surface in the morning.
Whilst among these great creatures of the deep, try not to disturb them with loud noises and splashes as they are actually sleeping (using half their brain to stay awake and the other to snooze).
You’ll find numerous boat operators to cruise out to see the dolphins with, but for the sake of these creatures and their well-being, I recommend going out to see them on a stand-up paddle board, surf board or the like.
Recommended hotel The 4.5-star Villasun is located some distance away from the beach in Flic en Flac, but a free shuttle service ad libitum is available to ferry you back and forth. Some meals are available on the premises, although shopping and cooking for yourself in the state-of-the-art ensuite kitchen is the way to go.
Original article written for momondo, available here.
We speak to Morten Kirckhoff and Jan Elhøj, two explorers with a love for picturesque decay, about their adventures travelling the world in search of abandoned places
Abandoned buildings exist in the grey zone between life and death – dim shadows of their former selves now reduced to dust-strewn relics that echo with a ghostly aura and a bewildering sensibility.
Dig beneath the dereliction, however, and there’s an inextricable beauty that surfaces for the eyes of those who dare to let their curiosity run wild.
We caught up with Jan Elhøj and Morten Kirkhoff, two avid travellers who have made discovering abandoned buildings across the globe their ardent pastime.
Their adventures have been published as a series of three glossy books (with a fourth on the way soon), exhibitions, a TV series as well as countless photos of their exploits. Here is what these two keen explorers had to share about their travels across the globe in the quest for abandoned places.
When did you start exploring abandoned places?
We grew up together, as teens. We first ran into each other during the happy 80s. Exploring abandoned places quickly became one of our pastimes and to this day, empty, abandoned places are something that we associate with great childhood memories.
What goes through your mind when you walk into an abandoned building?
There are many layers in this process. For one thing, we are in places where we’re not necessarily supposed to be, so we always think about the dangers. We also think about what sort of history a place has. Who lived or worked here? Decoding this is the most interesting part of it all for us. But there is also another layer – capturing the essence of the place we’re in.
We need to process what sort of lines and forms are present when it comes to taking a good picture. Back in the day, it was all about shooting as many pictures as possible and going home. These days, we put a lot of thought into finding where the story fits. We were once approached by a priest who told us that what we do touches everyone so profoundly because our work explores some of the biggest taboos in the West – loneliness, ageing and, the ultimate taboo of them all, death.
We never saw things this way up until we came across this priest so it was an eye-opener and something that we very much agree with.
As with many other forms of travel – the adventure in itself. For some, our exploits may seem a bit extreme, but they are actually a form of modern archaeology in which we find places that are trapped in a time capsule. The thrill of finding extraordinary, untouched places inspires us a great deal. But It’s not just about the thrill of finding abandoned places – it’s the hunt for them and the build up to it, all of which are impossible to plan from home.
In essence, we have a loose overall plan, but when other possibilities arise over the course of our travels, we take them. We seize the opportunities as they come. The experiences from doing so are monumental. We are very mobile when we travel in the sense that we have everything that we need with us – from cooking pots to tents. We set up camp exactly where we want to sleep, and sometimes this leads to some unreal experiences.
What sorts of challenges arise when you travel in this way?
There can be guards hired to watch over some abandoned places and all sorts factors that we can’t predict. We are also confronted with a lot of prejudices about the places we visit. I always think about the many times we tell people that we’ll be visiting a particular area. We are often approached with totally unfounded responses. For me, every place has its everyday life and of course, when there is something out of the ordinary, people read this on the news and it taints their perspective. It is very easy for people to sit at home in their comfort zones, browse the tabloids and believe everything that they read.
Of the many abandoned places you visit, are there any that stand out more than others?
Places with an element of familiarity stand out. Abandoned homes, for example, particularly those that we come across in Denmark contain things we can easily relate to. There are always pieces of furniture or artefacts in them that we can recognise – perhaps because our grandparents also owned something similar once.
The power station in Hungary is quite an interesting story. We travelled in search of it and set up camp nearby. There was an active power station very close to the disused one, where everything was bolted up. Shortly after setting up base, our cover was blown by a guard who was watching over the premises and we had to run away. A few days later we returned and saw that the guard was in his house but still within eyeshot of the entrance to the abandoned plant. Later that day, he hopped on his bike and disappeared so we took our chances and made our way in. We wandered around for a bit in search of an entry point before eventually crawling in through a window in the roof. Inside, we made our way to the control room, which was styled in a beautiful art deco finish as a tribute to modern technology at the time (1927).
Another place we recall fondly was an amusement park in Japan. It was spring so everything was in bloom. We were surrounded by small red flowers that shot up through the earth and there were no graffiti tags nor broken windows. We split up because it was so big and bumped into deers and other wildlife. We missed the sound of shouting children and rollercoasters and the scent of popcorn – it felt like we were all alone in the world.
Do you ever research the stories behind the places that you visit?
Not as much as we used to. More often than not there is a sad story behind it all, or money issues, if we’re talking about a private home. We think that it’s always an amazing experience when we step inside such places – there are pictures of children and grandchildren hanging on the walls, photo albums and cards with stories in them. We are often left wondering how there can be a whole family who doesn’t care about the place anymore. It’s not something we bother investigating, however, though we do think that there are others who perhaps ought to.
What advice would you give to anyone interested in exploring abandoned places?
Have a plan but always be prepared to change it. If you travel with an open mind and a mindset in which you don’t constantly have to get something done, there are countless experiences that come your way. One of our own dogmas is that we never give the exact location of an abandoned place away.
We’ve got trips to Portugal, Russia, Greenland, Greece and Kazakhstan coming up. Greenland will be split into three expeditions starting on the East coast, after which we will travel inwards over the ice. There are military installations and other hidden places waiting for us in the permafrost. We need to find the money for it first though.
You’re a savvy traveller but please approach abandoned places with caution and respect. Acquaint yourself well with the environment you’ll be exploring and be prepared for anything #staycurious!
Original article written for momondo, available here.
We explore the vast, diverse African continent and its numerous facets through the imagery of the inspiring Instagram photography movement Everyday Africa
The African continent is rich in both tradition as well as diversity. No one is more aware of this than Everyday Africa, the Instagram photography movement transforming the way people view daily life on the continent.
The first of the Everyday photography movements, from which numerous others have since spawned, Everyday Africa showcases imagery by photographers living and working in Africa, all of whom find extremes to be far less dominating a narrative than the familiar.
It is little wonder that the work of Everyday Africa resonates with momondo’s vision of a more open world. We caught up with American photojournalist Peter Di Campo, the founder of Everyday Africa, for a chat about dismantling stereotypes and portraying the continent through depictions of everyday life and everyday people.
How did Everyday Africa come to life?
I first went to sub-Saharan Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, living in Ghana for two years from 2006-2008. I constantly documented the community I lived in, albeit with images I had studied (as a photojournalist) in mind. These images were generally a negative depiction of the continent.
It was, therefore, difficult to reconcile trying to photograph daily life in Africa while also trying to photograph what was programmed into me as far as how Africa should look in terms of finding poverty, disease and so on.
Fast forward a few years, and I returned to my work as a freelance photojournalist in 2012 with the writer Austin Merrill. We documented the aftermath of the post-election violence in the Ivory Coast – interviewing, and photographing refugees and the victims as well as the perpetrators of violence. We looked for discord on a very specific trajectory. Everyday Africa came about when we pulled out our mobile phones and photographed without any limitations.
We freed ourselves from our narratives and shot pictures of everything around us. About a year later we started to see other Everyday projects popping up around the world.
What image of Africa do you aim to present through your work?
The keyword that we go back to very often is context. Obviously, a lot of the imagery on Everyday Africa is a lot more positive than we are used to seeing – at least in mainstream media. Instead of war, poverty and famine, a lot of our images are either more basic (people going to work, doing their laundry, cooking, and eating) or more positive (fashion shows, sporting events and so on).
I would like to stress that we don’t see this as a sort of PR project for the continent, in terms of us only presenting the positive. The idea is to experiment with a new idea of reporting in which one’s daily experience of walking down the street captures so many aspects of life mixed together, in a broader, contextualized way, as opposed to a news story.
Are the images displayed by Everyday Africa all taken on mobile phones?
Our imagery extends to other forms of photography. We encourage mobile phone photography but there are certainly a lot of photographers who capture moments that they feel they want to share on other cameras, so we don’t discourage this.
What, in your own words, is the impact of mobile phones on the African continent?
We’re seeing a major disruption of traditional media because people anywhere, Africa included, can now share photos and harness an enormous audience. To me, it’s amazing that so many African photographers can essentially become heroes for the continent in the art and photography world because of all the creative things that they are doing.
National Geographic wasn’t going to find these photographers and hire them so in a way it provides a continent-wide sense of people being able to look up to others in artistic practice. Mobile phone photography has done amazing things for the confidence of the African photography world.
Are there any places in Africa from your travels that you can recommend?
Africa is such a diverse continent! There are so many incredibly rich cultures. I loved my time in northern Ghana, where I immersed myself in the cultural traditions of the region – drumming, festivals and so on. I also loved my time in Kenya, waking up to seeing wildlife on our doorstep.
I am a sucker for Zanzibar as well – in some ways it feels like you’ve wandered into another century. You can drive for an hour and find some of the best beaches you’ve ever seen. I love having this sort of varied experience at one’s fingertips. The next place on my list is Dakar – which I’ve heard wonderful things about.
What is the story behind the recently published Everyday Africa book?
The book came up as a way of us celebrating how far the project has come. It was made to celebrate and encapsulate the first few years of Everyday Africa’s existence. Everyday Africa may be an Instagram project but I think people are still very excited about physical objects and about holding the book in their hands or pulling it off their shelves. The book includes a lot of Instagram commentary that is very caustic, uplifting and even paternalistic.
There’s a lot of ‘I want to save Africa’ and other comments of that sort that are contrasted with others saying things like ‘this is my home, so thank you for showing it.’ It’s a push and pull contest of a very outdated opinion of Africa contrasted with a modern and connected view of the continent. The successful Kickstarter campaign (that funded the book’s publication) was a sign of just how dedicated and enthusiastic our audience is.
Where does Everyday Africa go from here?
We are experimenting with what happens when you animate the things that people post online, in the same way that we experimented with how such comments change when you put them in a book. We are now trying to put the comments off feeds and experiment with actors using them in a dialogue. We had a small performance as part of the book launch in Nairobi and we are now in the next steps of figuring out the next steps for a full theatre production.
We also recently became a non-profit – Everyday Africa is now an umbrella organization for some of the other everyday projects. Our mission as far as this goes is twofold – continuing to grow out of Everyday Africa while finding ways to creatively display work from It and lift the profile of African photographers.
Education is our second focus – we use our work to confront the views of Africa that kids may have, predominantly in the US. We discuss the stereotypes that they may have and the relationship between themselves and the media and then teach practical photography using Everyday Africa photos as examples.
The goal is that by the end of the project, the kids have their own everyday project. We will be expanding on this idea quite a bit but we feel that now is a good time to be doing this sort of thing. There is a need for more empathy in the world, better cross-cultural communication and, as the media landscape continues to fragment, there is also a need for more localized storytelling and self-representation. We are very excited to play a role in these processes.
Original article written for momondo, available here.
momondo caught up with Everyday Brasil for a chat about the work of the Instagram movement and its efforts in presenting an authentic image of a vast, diverse nation
In a country as vast and as varied as Brazil, depicting a narrative that paints an accurate portrait of everyday life can be a challenging task. Following in the footsteps of other Everyday Projects, the viral Instagram photography movement Everyday Brasil hopes to disseminate knowledge of Brazil and its social realities.
And rather than aiming specifically at a global audience, the imagery of Everyday Brasil is just as much about portraying the country to its own citizens, exemplified amongst other things by their image captions, displayed in both English and Brazilian Portuguese.
momondo interviewed Ivana Debértolis, the founder of Everyday Brasil, to gain a better understanding of the work of the movement. We’ve also made a playlist to help get you into the groove as you scroll through the imagery of Everyday Brasil.
Everyday Brasil was born in 2015, as word of other Everyday projects such as Everyday Africa and Everyday Iran got out. As a photographer myself, I quickly realised the potential of the Everyday Everywhere projects and reached out to the people behind Everyday Africa. From there, things have grown very quickly.
As part of the Everyday projects, we aim to enrich others with knowledge of our country in a way that avoids presenting a stereotypical image of Brazil. We want to spread knowledge about the real Brazil and about the reality of life here, abroad but also locally. For instance, even though I was born in Brazil and live here now, there are so many things about my country that I have yet to learn.
We can all learn a lot more about our own country. As such, each photo on our feed brings us closer to the reality of life in different parts of the country.
What is your role in Everyday Brasil?
I’m a curator, broadly responsible for managing the Everyday Brasil project. I delegate some of this responsibility as we have almost 50 photographers and fixed collaborators scattered across the country. Our nation is large and very diverse, so even though 50 photographers may seem like a lot, it is a necessary number as we need to document our many regions and places in a natural manner.
For this reason, I often have to do a bit of research to come up with a creative and relevant caption. This is a learning process for me as I have become increasingly acquainted with Brazil. There is still so much to be learned though and more knowledge to be shared.
How is the diversity of Brazil depicted in the image selection process?
We focus on documenting events that are of relevance in the country such as some political demonstrations, national days and so on. All images are taken by our photographers, as this is a photography project that we take seriously.
Seeing how similar events are depicted differently across the country is always interesting. We vary the location of our content – for instance, if we publish a picture from Rio de Janeiro, the next one will be from another city and state.
By the same token, we also try to alternate between photographers as much as possible. If you look at our gallery, the subjects in it are all very different.
What is the role of photography in a country as large and diverse as Brazil?
Photography is a way of taking in information quickly. You can look at an image and very quickly decipher the story that it is trying to tell. Photography is accessible and in this case is for everyone. In today’s’ day and age, platforms such as Instagram have made this a reality.
We always think carefully about the role that photography can play when it comes to telling a story – the captions explaining the photos are important but we should not force them on our audience too much. In the end, it is all about people drawing their own conclusions about our images and asking themselves critical questions. Our photography is a vehicle for this process.
In your opinion, why should people travel to Brazil?
For the same reasons that I myself ought to travel as much as possible in Brazil – this is a rich and diverse country. It sometimes feels like there are several countries in one – everyday life is very different in the south than it is in the northeast for instance. The same is true of the people, our customs, food and so on – everything varies a great deal depending on where in the nation you find yourself. Brazil has problems like any other nation, but we are a proud and resolute people.
What impact has Everyday Brasil had and where do you see the project heading over the next few years?
I didn’t know which direction things would go in when we first started Everyday Brasil. Today, it has evolved into a project that is respected across the country – people write to us on a daily basis, keen on participating. At the same time, our aim of depicting an accurate and diverse social reality through photography seems to have been correctly understood, which wasn’t necessarily the case when we first started out.
We are growing but there is plenty of work to be done yet! We are of course very active on Instagram, but we’d like to have a stronger online presence and across other platforms. For instance, we would like to create an exhibition of some of our pictures later this year starting in São Paulo and spreading across the country as a national project. The eventual idea is for Everyday Brasil to become a reference point for photographs of Brazil. We would like people to think of Everyday Brasil when they think about travelling here. Similarly, we want to replicate Everyday Brasil in the form of a book or a magazine. We’d like to think outside the box, outside of Instagram.