Nusa Lembongan Island, Indonesia – Part I

You´ll find Nusa Lembongan just off Bali. If Bali is the raucous upstairs neighbour, Nusa Lembongan is the quiet old man who lives down the street. I love this island and I hope it remains as it is – relatively liberated from the pitfalls of mass tourism. You can easily walk around Nusa Lembongan (or take a scooter or taxi at night) and there are some great surf spots by Jungut Batu Beach!

In this article, you´ll find visual inspiration from Jungut Batu Beach, Mushroom Bay, Devil´s Tear and Sandy Bay. Part II of this article focuses exclusively on Dream Beach.

Scroll to the bottom of this article for tips on where to stay and where to eat.

Jungut Batu Beach

The main beach on the island, more touristy than the rest of it but it´s also where the surf breaks are and you´ll find no shortage of accomodation options + restaurants.

Mushroom Bay

A much quieter alternative to Jungut Batu. Walk 3 minutes away from the beach and you´ll find yourself in jungle-like confines.

Devil´s Tear

Sheer nature at its best. Go there either really early in the morning or late in the afternoon when all the day tourists are done flocking here in their hundreds.

Sandy Bay

A lovely little bay north of Devil´s Tear (walk here from the former – the seaside here is a story in itself.)

Where to stay

Naturale Villas – Basic but very charming. Read my Tripadvisor review here.

Where to eat

Hai Bar & Grill: Try the tuna steak! Read my review here.

Hai Ri Zen: Right alongside the aforementioned Hai Bar & Grill: It´s more upscale but I prefer the former.

Thai Pantry: Waterfont bliss – try one of their juices! Read my review here.

The Deck Cafe and Bar: Also by the water (on the quiet side of Jungut Batu Beach – a great place for morning juice / brunch. Read my review here.

Mola Mola Coffee Shop: A quiet cafe by Mushroom Bay – perfect for watching the sun go down. Read my review here.

Sandy Bay Beach Club: Amazing setting (right by the epic Sandy Bay,) average vibes. Read my review here.

Where to Surf

*The main breaks are all along the long stretch of beach called Jungut Batu.

⁣ * Of these, Playgrounds is the easiest but also the most crowded (get there early.) It´s also the southernmost break of the 4 main breaks here (excluding Tamarind which is further south but poor if you ask me⁣

* Further up, you will find the breaks called “Lacerations,” “No-man´s land,” “Razors” and “Shipwrecks.” – in this order as you go up the coast. As the names suggest, these are not for beginners or intermediates so only paddle out there if you know what you´re doing.⁣

* There are plenty of surf rentals along Jungut Batu (I prefer the ones that are not on the main beach.)⁣

* Carry a water bottle with you if you, like me, walk from one end of the island to the other (you can also hitch a scooter ride.)

Nusa Penida Island, Indonesia

For how to get to this island, read my Tripadvisor review of Ketut´s taxi service . I strongly suggest steering clear of all the many all-inclusive offers for trips to Nusa Penida that your hotel or accommodation will no doubt have on offer. We found Ketut´s service to be cheaper and cosier. You can tailor your trip with him – these are the three sites we visited that were worth photographing (Angel Billabong is not featured here as it´s on the way to Broken Beach (see below) and I personally didn´t find it appealing.

Kelingking Beach

Broken Beach (Pasih Uug)

Crystal Bay

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Where to stay:

Atta Mesari Villas: Check out my review on TripAdvisor

Where to eat:

The Spell Creperie: Read my Tripadvisor review here.

Must-do: The Campuhan Ridge Walk – the best way to see Bali

Don´t do: Tegallalang rice terraces (or similar tourist traps. You can see the plenty of rice terraces on your own.) I found the monkey forest in the middle of Ubud rather unpleasant as well – a bona fide intention to have humans and monkeys co-exist but tourism spoils this relationship (my opinion.)

General: Ubud is scenic and worth a visit. I preferred other areas of Bali, such as those by the seaside. However, it is a great base from which to see the unspoiled north (Munduk and other areas as well as Amed – a great place to Snorkel!

Monumental European attractions — a Guide to

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

Berlin's Molecule Man in the River Spree.
Berlin’s Molecule Man in the River Spree. Photo by Daniel Lonn on Unsplash

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

Admire the drop into the valley below from the iconic rock village of Rocamadour
Admire the drop into the valley below from the iconic rock village of Rocamadour. Photo by Cab on Unsplash

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, on Denmark's West Coast, affords great views of the North sea on sunny days like these
Rubjerg Knude, on Denmark’s West Coast, affords great views of the North sea on sunny days like these. Photo: Allan Kortbaek

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

Sweep across the Scottish countryside in The Jacobite Steam Train
Sweep across the Scottish countryside in The Jacobite Steam Train. Photo by Corry on Unsplash

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

You would be forgiven for thinking that a UFO landed here. The Buzludzha Monument is a bizarre relic of the Communist era
You would be forgiven for thinking that a UFO landed here. The Buzludzha Monument is a bizarre relic of the Communist era. Photo by Stefan Spassov on Unsplash

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.

Find a flight to nearby Sofia

The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium

The Atomium stands tall high above Park Europe and the city of Brussels beyond it
The Atomium stands tall high above Park Europe and the city of Brussels beyond it. Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

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

A hallmark of The Renaissance, Villa d'Este is an oasis of green and quietude in the town of Tivoli, Italy
A hallmark of The Renaissance, Villa d’Este is an oasis of green and quietude in the town of Tivoli, Italy. Photo by Glen McCallum on Unsplash

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.

Find a flight to nearby Rome

Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon's Padrão dos Descobrimentos and the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge in the backdrop
Lisbon’s Padrão dos Descobrimentos and the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge in the backdrop. Photo by Tania Mousinho on Unsplash

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.

Find a flight to Lisbon

The Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania

The Palace of Parliament - a giant of an administrative building, replete with countless chambers and hidden tunnels
The Palace of Parliament – a giant of an administrative building, replete with countless chambers and hidden tunnels. Photo by Ondrej Bocek on Unsplash

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).

Find a flight to Bucharest

Delphi Ruins, Delphi, Greece

Even today there is still something mystical and inexplicable about the sanctuary of Delphi, located on Mount Parnassus
Even today there is still something mystical and inexplicable about the sanctuary of Delphi, located on Mount Parnassus.
Photo by Victor Malyushev on Unsplash

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.

Find a flight to nearby Athens

Franz Kafka’s Head, Prague, Czech Republic

Czech author Franz Kafka may be long gone but his legacy continues to shine on, thanks in part to this statue in Prague
Czech author Franz Kafka may be long gone but his legacy continues to shine on, thanks in part to this statue in Prague. Photo by Jonny McKenna on Unsplash

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

.Find a flight to Prague

Popeye Village, Mellieħa, Malta

Popeye Village in Mellieħa - a colourful former movie set
Popeye Village in Mellieħa – a colourful former movie set. Photo by Magdalena Smolnicka on Unsplash

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.

Find a flight to Malta

Bled Island and Castle, Bled, Slovenia

The emerald waters of Lake Bled are a magical experience
The emerald waters of Lake Bled are a magical experience. Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

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.

Find a flight to nearby Ljubljana

Hotels with views of the Northern Lights – a Guide

Original article written for momondo, available here.

The Northern Lights are a spectacle to behold. Photo by Vincent Guth on Unsplash

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

How best to see the Northern Lights? Check out these tips from Joonas Linkola

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.

Find a room at ION Hotel

Find a flight to Reykjavik

Hotel Rangá – Hella, Iceland

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.

Find a room at Hotel Ranga

Find a flight to Reykjavik

Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel – Alta, Norway

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!

Find a room at Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel

Find a flight to Alta

Hotel Kakslauttanen – Saariselkä, Finland

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.

Find a room at Hotel Kakslauttanen

Find a flight to Ivalo

Santa Claus Holiday Village – Rovaniemi, Finland

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!

Find a room at Santa Claus Holiday Village

Find a flight to Rovaniemi

Abisko Mountain Lodge – Abisko, Sweden

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!

Find a room at Abisko Mountain Lodge

Find a flight to Kiruna

Treehotel – Harads, Sweden

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.

Find a room at Treehotel

Find a flight to Lulea

Hotel Alyeska – Anchorage, Alaska, USA

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

Find a flight to Anchorage

Blachford Lake Lodge – Yellowknife, Canada

Grab a fat tire bike from Blachford Lake Lodge and pedal under the Northern Lights
The Aurora spectacle setting the night alight at Yellowknife. .Photo by Emily Hon on Unsplash

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.

Find a room at Blachford Lake Lodge

Find a flight to Yellowknife

Mexico: A guide to the real Mexico

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.

Find a flight to Mexico City

Highlights of the north

Loreto, Baja California Sur

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.

Find a flight to La Paz

Highlights of the west coast

Sayulita, Nayarit

Sayulita. Quintessentially Mexican
Sayulita. Quintessentially Mexican. Photo by Mike Scheid on Unsplash

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

Palizada, Campeche

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

Enjoy the idyllic Cascada de La Concepcion - a basalt waterfall near Aculco
Enjoy the idyllic Cascada de La Concepcion – a basalt waterfall near Aculco. Photo by Germán Rodríguez on Unsplash

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.

Delve more into it with a visit to the National Museum of Viceroyalty, where much of the Aztec-rich heritage of the region is documented in considerable detail.Find a flight to Mexico City

Highlights of the south-east

Izamal, Yucatán

All things yellow - cruise the brightly-coloured streets of Izamal, a town with a rich religious heritage
All things yellow – cruise the brightly-coloured streets of Izamal, a town with a rich religious heritage. Photo by Ivan Cervantes on Unsplash

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

Isla Holbox is an undisturbed island paradise just north of the Yucatán Peninsula
Isla Holbox is an undisturbed island paradise just north of the Yucatán Peninsula. Photo by Michiel Ton on Unsplash

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

Take a refreshing dip in the pristine waters of Lake Bacalar
Take a refreshing dip in the pristine waters of Lake Bacalar. Photo by Max Harris Brassil on Unsplash

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

Mazunte, Oaxaca

Enjoy the peace and quiet of the beaches around Mazunte
Enjoy the peace and quiet of the beaches around Mazunte. Photo by Juan Pablo Garcia on Unsplash

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.

Find a flight to Oaxaca

Mauritius: a guide to

The southern Indian Ocean island nation has a mixed heritage, offering a unique blend of two continents’ cultures

Mont choisy beach at sundown

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.

Mont Choisy Beach by day

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.

Dive to the ocean floor with Blue Safari

The East

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 (kersleyboattours@gmail.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 view of the small harbour near Laguna Beach Hotel & Spa

The North

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 epic Chamarel Falls -a must see on any trip to Mauritius

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.

Surf on Mauritius’ rugged south coast

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.

The seven colours of Chamarel – one of nature´s icons

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).

Jet across the ocean in a Seakart

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.

Dolphins off the coast of Le Morne

Istanbul, Turkey – a guide to the city of two halves

Istanbul: a tale of two continents. Photo by João Marcelo Martins on Unsplash

Original article written for momondo and Atlas Global – available here.

From ancient islands, homely local restaurants and colossal religious monuments with a great heritage – here is our guide to what to see and do in the metropolis of Istanbul

* Sponsored content: This trip to Istanbul was facilitated by Atlas Global

Straddling the Bosphorus, a natural strait that divides Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a tale of two cities. On the European side of this pulsating metropolis lie some of the city’s iconic landmarks, such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia – prominent features that give this part of Istanbul a fair share of fame internationally.

Venture into the Asian part of Istanbul and things are more laid-back – local cafes and a smattering of micro businesses give this part of town a vintage and homely feel, when compared to the more brazen nature of its European counterpart. In our guide to this diverse, gargantuan city we explore both parts of Istanbul – touring through the more iconic sights as well as some of the lesser-known ones.Find a flight to Istanbul

What to do in the European part of Istanbul

The most iconic sights of the European part of Istanbul are located in close proximity to one another and can easily be seen over the course of a full day if you delve into detail. However, if time isn’t on your side, you can easily breeze through the main sights of the Sultanahmet area in half a day or less.

Brush up on your world history in Sultanahmet

The bold aura of the Blue Mosque - venture inside it for a glimpse of some very detailed architecture
Sultanahmet is a great place to brush up on your history. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

The Sultanahmet neighbourhood in the district of Fatih houses the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the opulent Topkapi Palace, all of which are linked by expansive, verdant gardens. Start at the iconic Blue Mosque (so called due to the handmade blue ceramic tiles in its interior).

200 stained glass windows and over 20,000 tiles and hundreds of square metres of soft red carpet knitted with arcane symbols such as tulips await in the lavishly-decorated interior of the mosque.

Keep an eye open for the ostrich eggs placed on the roof chandeliers – an age-old spider web repellent system that has been keeping arachnids from making the mosque their humble abode (or so they say).  As you digest the vivid impressions of the blue mosque, make your way to the only building that can rival it for miles around – Hagia Sophia, which you will find less than 10 minutes away on foot.

Hagia Sophia began as a church around AD360 at which time it was known as Magna Ecclesia (The Great Church), before being pillaged in 1453 by Ottoman forces that overthrew Constantinople (now Istanbul). The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, put a stop to the looting and converted the church into a mosque, a status it retained until 1934.

While inside this rustic, ancient museum, keep a lookout for the clash of religious affiliations that have left their mark on its architecture – from desecrated crosses to pagan installations such as the wish column: a small hole that you can stick your hand into and rotate your palm 360 degrees while making a wish.

Complete your tour of the iconic behemoths of the Sultanahmet area with a trip to the Topkapi Palace, the imperial residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years. Much of the complex remains off limits to the public but you can still venture into the Harem – a domestic space reserved for wives, concubines and female servants. If only walls could talk …

Get lost in a bazaar

Lose yourself among the trinkets and gadgetry in the Grand Bazaar
Lose yourself among the trinkets and gadgetry in the Grand Bazaar. Photo by Wei Pan on Unsplash

Stretch your legs and venture over to the Grand Bazaar, which you will find a kilometre and a half from the Topkapi Palace, still in the Fatih district. Located inside the walled city, this is one of the oldest covered markets in the world, stretching over 61 covered streets that house an excess of 4000 shops.

Trinkets galore and all manner of spices, lanterns and other goods line the alleyways here. Take a deep breath and bring your bargaining game along for a saunter through these ancient passages.

Getting lost in it all is part of the fun. Take a minute to look up and admire the elaborately decorated ceilings along the streets and alleyways. If you fancy a market that’s less complex, head to the Egyptian Bazaar in the Eminönü quarter, where a plethora of scents (albeit in a more cramped environment) await. Cross the Galata Bridge at the start of the Egyptian Bazaar and strike up a conversation with one of the many local fishermen who cast their lines into the water here.

Hang out around Taksim Square

Stretch your legs around the hilly area around Taksim Square. Photo by Drew McKechnie on Unsplash

Head across the Galata Bridge and keep on going for a couple of kilometres until you hit Taksim Square and the surrounding area, in the throbbing heart of Istanbul. You will find restaurants and cafes aplenty here, the world’s second-oldest subway line and İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), a long pedestrian street that is perennially abuzz with activity.

What to do in the Asian part of Istanbul

The Asian part of Istanbul is less grandiose than its European counterpart and can be seen over the course of a relaxed day. It’s not so much the sites that define it as it is the local ambience and homely feel, accentuated in no small part by the amicable nature of the people of this part of town.

Turn back the hands of time on the Prince Islands

Of the myriad of things to do in Istanbul, a visit to the Prince Islands has to be the pick of the bunch.

The Prince Islands are a scenic archipelago in the Sea of Marmara that have preserved their ancient ways, in contrast to the rest of Istanbul. You won’t find multi-lane highways here, where the horse still reigns supreme as the sole means of transport.

Ferry departures to these peaceful parts leave from Bostancı, Kartal and Maltepe on the Asian side, and from Kabataş on the European part of the city and run all-year round. The summer months are without a doubt the best months to explore the islands.

Roam the streets of Kadıköy

Kadıköy at sunset. Photo by June O on Unsplash

The area of Kadıköy is the perfect antidote to the more widely visited sights of the European part of Istanbul. Mesmeric sea views along the waterfront and a multitude of restaurants, cafes and small markets give Kadıköy a warm, welcoming feel that is only accentuated by the inviting culture of the Istanbulites that frequent this area.

Grab a seat at one of the many establishments, order a Turkish coffee and let it all sink in. While you’re here – swing by Haydarpaşa Terminal, where services are currently suspended indefinitely, for a peek at a historic icon of the Orient. If you’re on the prowl for some local shopping, join the rest of the locals at the Marmara Balık Market, where succulent fresh fish never fails to draw its fair share of shoppers.

Sample traditional yoghurt in Kanlıca

Kanlıca is home to numerous waterside cafes that serve a creamy yoghurt topped with a generous sprinkling of castor sugar. Beyond the scrumptious dairy products, enjoy the serenity of this quiet pocket of Asian Istanbul and drop by the Kanlıca cemetery on the hill overlooking the Bosphorus for some great vistas.

Go on a boat trip on the Bosphorus

Cruise the Bosphorus by boat for some great views of Istanbul. Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

Any trip to Turkey’s economic and cultural epicentre, Istanbul, would be incomplete without a boat trip on the Bosphorus. This natural waterway at the apex of continental Europe and Asia connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and beyond that, the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.

You will find no shortage of options when it comes to hopping aboard the many vessels that call the strait their home. The Şehir Hatları Ferryboats serve an extensive network of routes around the city, giving you plenty of flexibility for a fare that will set you back a mere 4 TRY (less than £1). Alternatively, splash the cash on a two-hour private tour.

Admire the quaint, oddly-placed Maiden's Tower as you sail past it in the Bosphorus
Admire the quaint, oddly-placed Maiden’s Tower as you sail past it in the Bosphorus. Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

Keep a lookout for some of the ritzy architecture on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus and admire Maiden’s Tower (also known as Leander’s Tower) if you happen to sail past the southern entrance of the strait. This remarkable little tower has a history as a lighthouse, quarantine station and most recently, a restaurant.

Where to eat in Istanbul

Krependeki İmroz – Nevizade, Taksim

Krependeki İmroz lies in the beating heart Nevizade, a street lined with great eateries
The bustling alleyway, Nevizade, Taksim. Photo by Allan Kortbæk

Krependeki İmroz is one of several cosy restaurants on the bustling alley of Nevizade in the Taksim area. Scrumptious meze and seafood await. Wash it all down with a shot (or four) of Raki, an anise flavoured aperitif, also called lion’s milk or milk of the brave. While you’re in town you will definitely want to sample a kebap or two. Hamdi Restaurant Eminönü is THE place to do so.

This traditional eatery serves no less than 17 different varieties of kebap in addition to mouth-watering meze (traditional Turkish starters). Sat atop the restaurant’s main room you can enjoy the view of the Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn (Haliç) – the estuary that joins the Bosphorus strait at the Sea of Marmara.

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* Sponsored content: This trip to Istanbul was facilitated by Atlas Global

Beirut, Lebanon: a guide to the Lebanese capital

Original article written for momondo – available here.

From Mediterranean coastlines and world-class ski resorts to unrivalled clubs, there is something for everyone in Beirut. Here is our city guide to the Lebanese capital

Contradictory at the best of times, Beirut is a city of blind corners that approach you at breakneck speed.

It is a place in which you will find a fascinating mix of religious persuasions, spanning Druze to Islam and a raft of Oriental influences crammed into one beautiful, boisterous and at times overwhelming city.

What to do in Beirut

Saunter along The Corniche

Watch the waves pound the shoreline along The Corniche. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

Beirut’s Corniche is to Lebanon what Havana’s Malecón is to Cuba. Built under the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon, this 2.9 mile long promenade separates the crashing waves of The Mediterranean from the streets of Beirut and offers pleasant views of the summits of Mount Lebanon in the distance.

Walk, run, skate or join the old fishermen as they cast their lines into the choppy waters and keep an eye open for the endearing pigeon rocks – two natural offshore rock formations in the neighborhood of Raouché.

Believe the hip – explore Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael

If you are looking for a bit of edge, Gemmayzeh is just the place. Gentrified but not snobbish, unpolished but accessible, Gemmayzeh is home to numerous narrow streets and historic architecture. It is also an area of Beirut that is rich in street art.

Venture further north into Gemmayzeh until you hit the frenetic Mar Mikhael hood, where the volume of bars and cafes makes it a bar-hopping mainstay. Splash a hint of color into your stay in Beirut with a visit to the famous colored steps while you’re in the area.

Relax at The Sfeir Semler Gallery

The Sfeir Semler Gallery focuses on contemporary art, with emphasis on conceptual and minimal art, in its bid to showcase works by pivotal Arab artists.

When the pacey streets and their clattering become overwhelming, this is an ideal location for a bit of reprieve and contemplation in the company of some iconic works.

Gain perspective at Shatila refugee camp

While it may not appear in many a guide to Beirut, a visit to Lebanon would be incomplete without a trip to one of its refugee camps, home to thousands of Palestinians, Syrians and other Arab nationalities who have fled war and conflict in their countries of origin. This is also a facet of Beirut, in addition to the other qualities of the city.

A visit to Shatila is not entirely without its perils so if you do decide to visit, be sure to do your research and contact one of the many NGOs who work in the area so that you can plan your visit through them. Be respectful to its residents when you are in the area and ask for people’s consent before taking pictures.

Go for a walk in Horsh Beirut

Stretch those legs at Beirut’s largest open park, Horsh Beirut, which was reopened to the public in 2015 after a lengthy hiatus following reconstruction after the Lebanese civil war. Once a lush woodland extending over many miles, Horsh Beirut has lost some of its swagger and is much smaller today but is nonetheless a relaxing spot to recharge.

A tale of 2 buildings — The Egg and The Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque

The Mohammad Al-Amin mosque. Photo by Ramy Kabalan on Unsplash

Lebanon’s civil war has left their mark in Beirut. Nowhere is this manifested better than at the remains of a multi-complex city centre project that was bombed while under construction.

At the center of these ruins lies The Egg – what would have been a spacious cinema but is now a withering concrete mass. While you won’t be able to go inside The Egg, you can still get close enough to it to appreciate the concoction of melancholy, beauty and ambiguity that it gives off.

The Egg is a favorite among locals, many of whom have campaigned for it to be a permanent fixture in Beirut’s architectural landscape. For now, it stands defiant, in the shadow of the Mohammad Al-Amin mosque, amidst an uncertain future rocked by potential reconstruction plans.

This elaborate mosque (inaugurated in 1998) decorates Beirut’s skyline with its 236 feet high blue minarets and is one of the symbols of the nation’s resurgence from its civil war in the 70s. Built in the mold of Istanbul’s Byzantine-epoch Hagia Sophia mosque, it is both imposing from the outside and elaborately decorated on the inside.

Paint Beirut red

Indulge in Beirut´s pulsating nightlife. Photo by Pim Myten on Unsplash

Boasting of an unrivaled club scene, Beirut is very liberal when it comes to its nightlife, compared to much of the Middle East.

Of the many bars and clubs on offer, B 018 – a gargantuan tomb-like space frequented by some of the biggest names in electronic music, stands out as THE place for a night out in Beirut.

Kick back and watch the sunrise as the roof of this basement behemoth folds to let the light in at dawn.

Rivaling B 018, and located in Beirut’s central district, O1NE Beirut is another of the city’s clubbing bastions worth visiting. The club is as impressive inside as it is on its iconic exterior, which is draped in colorful street art designs.

For a less fanciful night out, try some of the smaller bars and pubs around Hamra street – one of Beirut’s main avenues, that is also home to a wide range of shops and cafes by day.

Alpine slopes and seaside après-ski

Ski due West from Mzaar and you will start descending towards Beirut. Photo by Pim Myten on Unsplash

Adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers will find plenty of spoils in and around Beirut. In the months of December to early April, you can ski or snowboard down the slopes of the Mzaar Kfardebian mountain range, a mere 31 miles to the east of the city.

On a clear day, enjoy the view of Beirut and The Mediterranean yonder. Given its proximity to Beirut, you can ski in Mzaar in the morning and relax on The Corniche in the afternoon.

Where to eat in Beirut

Cafe Em Nazih

Cafe Em Nazih is part of the Saifi Urban Gardens complex, located in the heart of the Gemmayzeh district. The lush setup includes a hostel, rooftop bar, language school and even artist studios.

Feast on local dishes such as grilled halloum (halloumi), msabaha (breakfast hummus) and fried kebbeh (meat and bulgur balls) and while you’re here, be sure to try the plate of the day for a unique Lebanese culinary experience.

Falafel Freiha

Complete your Beirut experience with a well-made falafel or shawarma in spartan surroundings where focus is almost entirely on the food. Sitting in the packed confines among an erstwhile local crowd is every bit a part of the experience here.

As the name suggests, falafel is the specialty here, though you will also find basic meat sandwiches and shawarma to feast on at great prices.

The Gathering

Staying true to a staunch belief in organic products, The Gathering serves up a tasty mix of culinary delights, chiefly of Italian or French origin.

You’ll find ample opportunities to relax over a good glass of wine in the confines of its spacious courtyard and its centrally-placed olive tree.

Where to stay in Beirut

The Mayflower Hotel Beirut

The Mayflower is one of Beirut’s oldest privately-owned hotels. In its heyday, it was one of the hot spots frequented by the waves of tourists who thronged to Beirut in from far and wide in the late 1950s and early 60s. Retrace the good old days here with a visit to the Duke of Wellington pub, whose decor reverberates with a longing nostalgia for the past.

Find a room at The Mayflower Hotel

Monroe Hotel

Another centrally-located hotel, Beirut’s Monroe hotel features rooms with partial or full sea views overlooking the bay area and the Mediterranean beyond it. Treat yourself to a visit to the solarium or sauna while you’re here and enjoy some of the scrumptious international cuisine at the hotel’s own restaurant, The Sanderson.

Find a room at Monroe hotel

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