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 (; +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

“No condition is permanent” – a work from a previous exhibition at the Sfeir Semler gallery @ Saima Mir

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

Visit Shatila and gain perspective on some of Lebanon's present-day challenges
Visit Shatila and gain perspective on some of Lebanon’s present-day challenges @ GAME Lebanon

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

Relax in the lush confines of Horsh Beirut - Beirut's largest green area
Relax in the lush confines of Horsh Beirut – Beirut’s largest green area @mayolight 

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

Feast on gastronomic delights in The Gathering's vast courtyard
Feast on gastronomic delights in The Gathering’s vast courtyard @ 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

A symbol of Beirut's golden days - relax in the cool confines of The Mayflower
A symbol of Beirut’s golden days – relax in the cool confines of The Mayflower

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

Take in the splendid views of the Mediterranean from your room at Beirut's Monroe hotel
Take in the splendid views of the Mediterranean from your room at Beirut’s 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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Japan: A guide to its street markets

Original article written for momondo – available here.

Japan is a nation of contrasts and diversity, sporting everything from a rich Samurai heritage to immaculate landscapes. It is also famous for its numerous markets and shopping areas, be they kaleidoscopic arcades or traditional fish markets crammed with a plethora of Japanese culinary delights to suit all tastes.

Here is a carefully selected mix of 10 of the best street markets and shopping areas in Japan:

Street Markets are the perfect spot to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Photo by Lan Pham on Unsplash


Nishiki Market

Fresh fish in “Kyoto’s Kitchen” Photo by Roméo A. on Unsplash

One of the marquee food markets in Japan, also known as “Kyoto’s kitchen” in the local vernacular, Nishiki Market is a long shopping street that is home to hundreds of small shops and stalls. Spanning several centuries of history, many of these stalls are family-run establishments that specialize in one particular type of food and often work closely with an adjoining shop.

Feast on pickled vegetables (tsukemono), tofu, rice crackers, yakitori chicken and other staples of Japanese cuisine at will. You will also find numerous shops selling kitchenware crafted for chefs, hobbyists and amateurs alike. All of this is a brief five minutes away from Shijo Station, on the Karasuma Subway Line.


Shinsaibashi and Dōtonbori

Take the plunge – immerse yourself in the buzzing streets of Dōtonbori. Photo by 𝗔𝗹𝗲𝘅 𝘙𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘳 on Unsplash

Osaka’s iconic shopping streets, Dōtonbori and Shinsaibashi warrant high placement on your “to do in Japan” list. Shinsaibashi-Suji is a 600-meter covered arcade packed with restaurants and cafés selling a range of local as well as imported delights.

Dōtonbori, located further down this pass, is a neon bubble of bright lights and electronic signposting, best enjoyed in the dark of night when the shimmer from the adjacent canal is, in itself, a dashing spectacle.  Revered for its numerous okonomiyaki (pancake) stalls, you will find much more than just food here – an armada of souvenirs, make-up products, bags and other items awaits you on your riverside stroll.


Heiwa Dori Shopping Street

If you find yourself on the island of Okinawa, you will definitely want to visit the Heiwa Dori shopping street. This buzzing location is lined with various specialist shops selling glassware, pottery and clothing in the popular covered arcade format.

The shopping and dining options on offer here are equally endless – you will find bare necessities such as umbrellas and gloves to trademark Okinawa shisa dogs, which make for excellent souvenirs.

Feast on fresh produce which you can buy and have cooked on the spot in some places along this street and if you are feeling adventurous, try some awamori (a revered rice whisky from Okinawa).


Nijo Market

Should you have the good fortune to travel to Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island, you will want to check out the Nijo Market in the city of Sapporo. Boasting over 100 years of history, the Nijo Market is one of Hokkaido’s landmark markets, raking in swarms of locals and travelers who come here in search of authentic Japanese cuisine.

Noodle shops, grocery stalls, scallop vendors and crab mongers are the order of the day in these parts. You will also find several restaurants and bars nestled in-between the many shops. While the Sapporo Nijo Market is open from 7am to 6pm, get here early if you want to sample the freshest produce and get the most variety. Keep a lookout for the narrow Noren Yokocho alleyway, where you will find an array of closely-packed restaurants offering popular Japanese cuisine, such as sea urchin and salmon eggs on rice.


Ameya Yokochō

Ameya Yokochō is a great place to interact with loud, proud vendors. If you´re persistent, you may strike a bargain. Photo by Lan Pham on Unsplash

The variety of what can be bought at Ameya Yokochō makes it a must-see site on your Tokyo itinerary. Once a thriving black market for sugar and potatoes, Ameya Yokochō is a loud, proud bustling hub of activity located in the Ueno area of north-eastern Tokyo. Here, you’ll find anything from fresh fruit and vegetables to tofu, cosmetics, jewelery and all manner of motley that oozes with a charm of its own.

The passionate price war between all the shouting vendors makes for a great spectacle – and a handsome reward for the persistent shopper. Ameya Yokochō opens at 10am through to 7pm daily, though some shops are closed on Wednesdays.

Omoide Yokochō

Yakitori heaven, Omoide Yokochō. Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash

Omoide Yokochō  is a crammed alleyway that is home to over 60 yakitori restaurants, which roast their scrumptious wares primarily on coal burner grills. You will find this shopping area on the Western flank of Shinjiku station – come hungry as there are spoils galore to be had here.

Wash down your meal with a swig of sake (Japanese rice wine), which you will find plenty of in Omoide Yokochō. The alleyway’s charm is not in its elegance, however – brace yourself for a smoky cocktail of grill fumes and the nocturnal cacophony of vendors luring you in for a good meal. It is, however, elements such as these that give the area a revered, authentic quality which makes it an unforgettable experience.

Nakamise Dori

The Nokomise Dori is located a stone’s throw away from the Sensoji Temple (the oldest in Tokyo) and is THE place to buy souvenirs in town. Stock up on kimonos, geta (Japanese snow sandals), chopsticks, folding fans, mini-lanterns and other iconic gadgets and gizmos.

If you’re feeling peckish from all your souvenir shopping, tame your hunger with snacks such as senbei rice crackers, Manju buns and Dango dumplings, which you will find plenty of here.

A trip to Nakamise Dori is not complete without a visit to the nearby Sensoji Temple, whose placid interior provides a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the adjoining streets, and is a veritable slice of Japanese culture.

The Oedo Antique Market

Weather permitting, The Oedo Antique Market is your one-stop Japanese antique hangout in Tokyo. Held on the first and third Sunday of every month by the Yurakucho Station, The Oedo Antique Market is one of the larger street markets in Japan, replete with antique wares such as old clocks, paintings, ornaments, pottery, kimonos, and lots more.

Bagging a bargain is not the easiest task in the world though – you will find many treasures here, but they are closely guarded by a force of adept dealers who keep their prices high, so bring your A-game along for the hunt.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Fresh fish? You´ll find plenty of it at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

If you do nothing else in Tokyo, be sure to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.  As the name suggests, this is a veritable seafood Mecca. Sushi, sashimi, bluefin tuna and ramen are in plentitude here and, as you may imagine, it is not a site for the squeamish nor the faint-hearted.

If you are up to the challenge, however, start your day at the crack of dawn by attending one of the iconic tuna auctions (you will need to join the queue as early as 3:30am due to limited places.) Fear not, if you are not up at daybreak – Tsukiji Fish Market offers plenty during the day too.

Primed for a move to the nearby adjoining Toyosu district in 2017, where a modern facility has been built to house it, Tsukiji as we know it won’t be around for much longer – so reel in a slice of Japanese history while you still can.


Boheme Shimokitazawa by night. Photo by Charles on Unsplash

Extraordinarily popular among students and musicians,  Shimokitazawa, also known as “Shimokita” is a hefty concoction of second-hand record shops, theaters and bars.  You will also find several exceptional restaurants in this area. Given how expensive Tokyo can be, you’ll find more bang for your buck here compared to the high-street prices of other shopping districts, such as Shibuya, Shinjuku or Ginza.

Shimo-Kitazawa is at its most beautiful in the late afternoon, during the evening and on weekends, when the narrow streets of this hip suburb come alive.

Whilst you’re here, drop by Bear Pond Espresso – a coffee shop that typifies the grungy originality of the area.

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Cuba: A guide to what to see and do

Original article written for momondo, please click here.

In a time of transition, travel to Cuba is on the rise. Here are our must-visit, authentic experiences to have when visiting the Caribbean’s biggest island.

After wallowing in a trade embargo imposed by the United States for over 50 years, there are promising times ahead for Cuba, as it looks to become a part of the global trading community. While the trade embargo is still active today, there are encouraging signs that it will soon be lifted, opening a whole new world of possibilities for Cuba. Trade with other countries will be easier, triggering an increase in tourism. This impending trend is already evident in our search data, which shows a 59% increase in flight searches for Havana from 2015 to 2016. If you are thinking about visiting Cuba, consider doing so in a manner that allows you to experience the full range of its rich cultural heritage. Start by planning a sustainable trip that supports the local culture and commerce – the only risk of doing so is that you may actually experience the real marvels of the island, not just the ones in guide books. In addition to the main highlights, you might want to travel deep into rural Cuba, where unknown charms await. Keep this in mind when starting your trip in the land of guajiros (countryside Cubans).

Cuba: a concoction of colours, sights and sounds – picture by Allan Kortbæk

Where to stay in Cuba

No hotel? Are you crazy? Where will we sleep then? Fret not, Cuba offers a different kind of accommodation, one that will give you a more authentic view of the country while contributing to the local economy at the same time. Cuban guest houses are legally- authorized accommodation options run by locals.

These guest houses provide genuine doses of Cuban life and culture, giving you the chance to live like a local. Keep a lookout for the iconic blue anchor painted on the front of the guest houses, as you saunter through Cuba.

Sip rum in Havana and saunter along the Malecón

The view of El Malecón from Havana’s Hotel Nacional in the former Mafia-run district of Vedado where Lucky Luciano & co reigned supreme. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

The Argentinian songwriter, Fito Páez, famously proclaimed that Havana lures one to fall in love with it and that the rum of the city is the best in the world. What better way to ascertain the validity of these valiant claims than a visit to the iconic capital? Havana’s old town is the sort of place you can lose yourself in for days at a time. As such, aimlessly wandering its streets is a must for any traveler.

On your saunter through Havana, you will be entertained by an array of intriguing buildings of all shades, many of which are in an advanced state of decay. You will also be treated to potent Afro-Cuban rhythms that echo in back alleys and crystallize into beautiful graffiti murals. Nowhere is this magical combination epitomized better than in Callejón de Hamel (the Hamel alley).

Get ready to embrace a city that exudes the sensation of going back in time, as classic cars from the 1950s decorate a backdrop of vintage architecture. While in old town Havana, The house of Conde Lombillo is a compulsory stop. Inside it, you will find Café Bohemia, an establishment that has borne witness to the last century of Cuban history.

The cafe originally opened its doors to celebrate the memory of Ricardo Sáenz, commonly known as El Gallego, the former chief editor and assistant director of Bohemia magazine. One of its idiosyncrasies consists in naming their dishes and cocktails after well known Cuban journalists, writers and filmmakers.

A wander through Havana’s old town leaves you thirsting for the ocean and its quietude. As such, a leisurely stroll along Havana’s well known boardwalk is essential. El Malecón is Cuba’s and one of the world’s most popular boardwalks, extending over five miles populated by street musicians, artists, poets, philosophers and fishermen cast against the backdrop of the city skyline and the serene sea.

Varadero: Cuba’s take on paradise

os coches de Cuba – a yellow classic in Varadero. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

A trip to Cuba is not legit without a stop in Varadero. Soak up the warm Caribbean sun on beaches brimming with soft, fine sand and visit some of the peculiar routes Varadero has to offer. If you want to know more about Cuban history, visit some of the old mansions previously owned by colonists, many of which have been transformed into museums. Varadero is also a thrill-seeker’s paradise, replete with caves, cayas and rare virgin forests that are unique to the region. If these spoils are not enough, you can follow the footsteps of the infamous Al Capone by traipsing through some of the tourist complexes that this prohibition era kingpin once roamed.

Explore the Cuban countryside around Viñales

Viñales – classic Cuban countryside at its best. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

The rural region known as Pinar del Río, 90 minutes by car from Havana, is home to the quaint town of Viñales and a national park that carries the same name. A lush, green zone primarily populated by farmers, Viñales is virtually car-free, thanks to the popularity of the horse-drawn wagon. Tobacco and coffee plantations are the key protagonists here, providing a different if not peculiar experience for curious travelers.

The countryside in this unique part of Cuba is intricately decorated by small, colorful houses,quaint farms and haciendas (estates), that are home to a mix of young and old Cubans who you will often see sat in rocking chairs, staring blissfully into space.

Viñales is also surrounded by an eponymous natural park. Together with the settlement, the Viñales valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, characterized by its lush vegetation and its endemic mountainous formations, referred to as mogotes locally. One of these mogotes is home to one of the park’s most visited attractions – a 393-foot long painting on a rock wall, known as Mural de la Prehistoria, which depicts the history of evolution with graphic edge.

The Cays: Jutías, Levisa, Largo, Coco and Guillermo

A day trip to one of Cuba´s many Cays (Cayos) will leave you feeling refreshed. Pictured: Cayo Levisa. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

Any proper trip to Cuba requires more than one stop, however brief, at some of its breathtaking cays. Cayo Jutías is the first stop after Viñales and is revered as one of Cuba’s most beautiful beaches, replete with white sand and crystal clear waters. In fact, It is rivaled only by the spectacular beauty of Cayo Guillermo and its beach, Playa Pilar.

Cuba’s numerous cays are perfect spots for unplugging and taking a break from the world. One step closer to paradise, they are serene, nirvanic locations where one can take a dip in transparent waters and relax in veritable natural splendor. In fact, the only hassle here are the mosquitos that have also found a ticket into these otherworldly heavens.

If relaxing all day by the sea gets tedious, get your adrenaline kicks at Cayo Levisa and Cayo Coco, both of which offer diving opportunities as well as other aquatic sports. Choose from a wide range of companies specializing in equipment rentals and organized tours and get acquainted with the area’s flourishing marine wildlife.

Delve into the past at Bahía Cochinos

History lovers will find plenty of gateways to the past in Cuba. The bay area known as Bahía Cochinos (The Bay of Pigs) is one-such gateway, rich in natural beauty as it is in history. The beaches of Girón and Larga are among the least visited in Cuba and as such, carry themselves with an aura of mystique, shaded in historical events such as the famous battle of Bahía Cochinos which took place on the Girón beach in the early 1960s, at the peak of Cold War tensions.

In fact, the road to Bahía Cochinos is still lined with old posters that reference the attempt to invade the area and the Cuban revolution.

Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey

While not often visited, these two cities definitely deserve to be on your list of things to see in Cuba. Both of their old town areas are noteworthy – replete with monuments that commemorate the revolution and low buildings painted in eye-catching colors that teleport this area back in time.

Ciego de Ávila is an old and rather small town that seems frozen in time. Spend your afternoons discovering traditional restaurants, charming taverns and revolution memorabilia while music reverberates off every wall.

Camagüey on the other hand, is more modern and developed. Here, the old town has been proclaimed a World Heritage Site and is home to a plethora of restaurants – subsidized by the government – that offer delicious homemade food (such as the rice and bean dish, Moros y Cristianos).

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Why a Trip to The Belgian Grand Prix Should Be Your First Formula 1 Experience

Why a Trip to The Belgian Grand Prix Should Be Your First Formula 1 Experience

Original article written for Yakondi, available here.

When it comes to ticking things off one’s Bucket List, there is little that compares to the thrill of a Formula 1 Grand Prix. As a lifelong fan of Formula 1 fan, I had been looking forward to my first Grand Prix experience for a long time, having driven around the Monaco Grand Prix street circuit earlier this year. In the aftermath of this casual drive (the Monaco Grand Prix takes place on public roads,) the urge to see one of the 20 races on the calendar was stronger than ever.

I chose to experience the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa Francorchamps, as one of the races closest to Copenhagen, where I live, and faced by exorbitant accommodation prices in and around Liege, Belgium, I ended up spending 2 days in one of the best Airbnb stays I’ve been on in the border region of Eiffel, Germany.

Here are some of my tips and tricks for how to get to and experience the Belgian Grand Prix, for anyone who wants to experience a Formula 1 race – fans and newbies alike.I visited The Belgian Grand Prix with my family and we sat on The Kemmel Straight

I visited The Belgian Grand Prix with my family and we sat on The Kemmel Straight @Kortbaek_Travels

The Belgian Grand Prix in a Nutshell

The Belgian Grand Prix is one of the quintessential classics on the F1 calendar, snaking through lush forests in The Ardennes Forest for around 7 kilometres, thereby making it the longest circuit in the series.

Unlike some of the more modern circuits, Spa retains a rustic appeal that gives it an iconic, festival-esque feel. Spa is all about Pommes Frites, sausages and an overdose of Mayonnaise in changing weather conditions where the sun shines on one part of the circuit while there’s a downpour on the other. For this reason, pack your bag with essentials such as brollies, rain anoraks and wellies – it has rained at Spa at some point or other in each race for many years now.Fans galore: Spa Francorchamps is all about mingling with the fans of other racing teams

Fans galore: Spa Francorchamps is all about mingling with the fans of other racing teams @ Kortbaek_Travels

Beverages and refreshments at Spa are very pricey for what’s on offer (a small portion of Pommes Frites, for example, costs 7 Euros, while a micro-cup of coffee retails for 5.5 Euros). Packing light snacks and refreshments of your own is, therefore, a good idea, just make sure they are in plastic, not glass containers if you want to get let past security.

Spa’s proximity to The Netherlands also means that the event is visited by legions of Max Verstappen fans, clad in the orange colours of Holland or Red Bull Racing’s distinct dark blue shade. Personally, I’m a Mercedes fan and support Lewis Hamilton but there is an undeniably special feeling of sportsmanship between the fans of different teams at Spa Francorchamps.There are Dutch Formula 1 fans aplenty at The Belgian Grand Prix

There are Dutch Formula 1 fans aplenty at The Belgian Grand Prix @Kortbaek_Travels

Where to Stay & How to get there

Even if you are early, accommodation prices at Spa skyrocket around the time of the annual Formula 1 race. Everything tends to get fully booked very quickly so your best option, rather than struggling to find somewhere to stay in Liege or the surrounding area is to look in neighbouring Germany (if you’re travelling by car).

We found one of the best Airbnb stays (Charmantes Ferienhaus) I’ve had the pleasure of buying – located in Simmerath, in the middle of the lush Eifel National Park. Located a mere 43 km away in the mountains, our Airbnb stay was the perfect antidote to the roars and skids of motors at Spa. Do yourself a favour and explore the Eifel National Park area while you’re there – it is one of Germany’s undiscovered pearls!

As we drove from Denmark, a trip down the autobahn was the easiest way to get to Spa. A tip for travellers coming from Scandinavia and Northern Europe would be to avoid hitting Hamburg and the Elb Tunnel area on a Friday, which tends to be one of the peak traffic days, particularly during the summer, when roadworks slow things down even more.

For those flying – Brussels or Cologne are the closest airports to Spa and I can recommend finding tickets via the convenient and easy-to-use metasearch tool, Momondo, who are also a really cool company when it comes to pushing for a more open and tolerant world through travel. You can also use Momondo to find hotel stays and car hire.

Find a flight with Momondo

Find a hotel with Momondo

Rent a car via Momondo

Getting tickets for The Belgian Grand Prix

Starting with the basics – Formula 1 tickets can be bought directly from the official Formula 1 webpage and in the case of The Belgian Grand Prix, retail for 125 EUR for Bronze tickets valid for the whole weekend. Since I drove there by car, we also included parking tickets for all days of the Grand Prix – which, including postage of the tickets and payment charges, ended up at 174 EUR per person.  Some would argue otherwise, but I think that Bronze tickets (there are also silver and Gold available) are more than ideal when it comes to experiencing a race at Spa Francorchamps.

Where to sit at The Belgian Grand Prix

Blink and you'll miss it. A Mercedes racer streaks past The Kemmel Straight at over 300 Kph!

Blink and you’ll miss it. A Mercedes racer streaks past The Kemmel Straight at over 300 Kph! @Kortbaek_Travels

Spa Francorchamps has many different seating options for all ticket holders. As it’s a long circuit, it can take time to navigate from one area of the track to another, so have a good idea of where you would like to sit before race day.

Bronze tickets give you access to all race sessions from Friday through to Sunday so there is ample time to check out different areas of the circuit. Wherever you do sit though, I recommend that you have a  good view of one of the many giant broadcast screens so you can follow the race on the rest of the circuit.

I personally recommend sitting on the famous Kemmel Straight, just after the high-speed turns of Eau Rouge and Raidillon – two of the best corners in Formula 1, where downforce levels on the cars can be up to five times their weight (Eau Rouge.) The Kemmel Straight is one of the main overtaking opportunities at The Belgian Grand Prix, where speeds of up to 340 kph are clocked, with the drivers on full throttle for 20 seconds, so expect action on this part of the circuit.

Other good spots to sit at for Bronze ticket holders include the grassy hill at Pouhon and the Bus Stop chicane, which feeds into the pit lane entry.One of the Renaults' whizzes by on The Kemmel Straight

One of the Renaults’ whizzes by on The Kemmel Straight @Kortbaek_Travels

Parking at The Belgium Grand Prix

Parking tickets are a must if you are to get the most of your Spa experience and come included in your ticket price if you select them as add-ons. We parked close to the circuit entry by Combes Gate. There are four entry Gates to Spa in total -be prepared for waiting times and security checks as you go through them.

Dismal parking administration once the race is done means that you should be prepared to spend up to 3 hours waiting to get out of the parking lot itself, as Europe’s best “every man for himself get out of the parking spot” contest kicks in, with each car squirming for the same outlet. While Spa’s rustic charm has its merits, this is one the elements of this experience we could have done without and something that the organisers must look to address in future years.Parking chaos at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix

Parking chaos at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix @Kortbaek_Travels

What session to attend?

A Formula 1 weekend packs experiences of all sorts in for the entire family. In addition to race day, you will probably also want to see some of the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday and of course, qualifying on Saturday. There are also Formula 3000 and GP2 races (seeding series for Formula 1 where some of tomorrow’s stars are doing their best to carve a name for themselves in motorsport). It goes without saying that on race day, the best seats in the house belong to the early birds, so get up in good time and find your spot.

This being Spa, be prepared to walk some distance to take a leak every now and again as things fill up very quickly. I can also advise bringing or buying something to sit on – either camping chairs or simply foam plates, as it can be wet, muddy and uncomfortable to sit at some areas of Spa. The build-up to the race is also an event in itself. As such, get your lunch well before the Driver’s parade around the track (the closest most people will ever come to their racing idols) so you can also experience this element of the race.Mercede's Lewis Hamilton waves to the ground during the driver's parade

Mercede’s Lewis Hamilton waves to the ground during the driver’s parade @Kortbaek_Travels

We were unfortunate enough to have Disc Jockey, two Twerkers and a very bad MC across the track from us who, tasked with warming the crowd up, did a very poor job of churning out a mix of cheesy requests, loud, unbearable hard dance music and dance moves that should probably never have seen the light of day. This dynamic quartet also managed to disconnect the sound from the paddock and race commentary and were eventually booed off by most of the spectators.

A full map of the track can be found below or via the link in the caption.Map Courtesy of Spa

Map Courtesy of Spa

The Belgium Grand Prix 2018 – a Roundup

Renault had a bad race at Spa, with Nico Hulkenberg causing a turn 1 melee at the start of the race

Renault had a bad race at Spa, with Nico Hulkenberg causing a turn 1 melee at the start of the race @Kortbaek_Travels

After a tense Saturday qualifying session which saw the rain wreak havoc late on in the session, Mercedes were well-poised to put in a strong showing at The Belgian Grand Prix. Come race day on Sunday, however, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had other plans. Powered by the best-performing engine of all the cars in the field, he took the lead on The Kemmel Straight early on, flying past Lewis Hamilton and going on to build an unassailable advantage lap by lap.

Further down the advancing pack, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point by some distance into the first corner, sending Fernando Alonso’s Orange McLaren hurtling over the Sauber of Charles Leclerc – an incident that brought out the yellow flags and spiced things up for the spectators. Vettel went on to win, followed by Hamilton and Max Verstappen in his Red Bull racer, some distance off the pace but on the podium in front of his legions nonetheless.

What to bring with you on your trip to Spa Francorchamps

Be prepared for a bit of everything at The Belgian Grand Prix!

Be prepared for a bit of everything at The Belgian Grand Prix! @Kortbaek_Travels

Last but not least, as with most of the content I will be producing, here is a list of what to bring with you on your trip:

  • An anorak / waterproof jacket
  • Wellington boots for the fainthearted
  • Camping seats or foam pads for your bum
  • Sunglasses
  • A good camera
  • Earplugs
  • Snacks and beverages
  • Merch to support your favourite team (obviously)

The Seychelles – What to see and do on the islands of The Seychelles

The Seychelles are a truly spectacular group of islands off the coast of Africa. Life here is placid and free of the stress and fusiness of Western civillasation yet it’s also a nation with one of the highest GDP per capita in Africa.

A country that defies the stereotypes and often lives in the shadow of other wrongfully hyped destinations such as The Maldives, The Seychelles were a natural travel choice after my trip to Hawaii. Here is a video from my journey to The Seychelles, plus a few pictures from paradise. I explored the islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, each of which brim with their own distinct personality and panache.

Scroll to the bottom for  flight links.

Anse Severe – La Digue Island

La Digue is my favourite of the islands in The Seychelles. This small island paradise contains very few cars and most people use bikes to get from A to B. With almost no theft here, it’s not even neccessary to lock one’s bike. Anse Severe, on the Northeastern shore  of La Digue, not so far from the endearing Takamaka Cafe, is probably the best of all the many snorkelling spots on La Digue.

Recommendations for where to eat on La Digue:

Fish Trap Restaurant & Bar – La Passe

This establishment is located by the beach (in fact some of its tables are in the sand, hence its charm). Meals are plentiful and well-cooked but prepare to pay handsomely for them. The service is highly commendable and the bar area is quite cosy.

Cafe Takamaka

This family- run shack serves some of the best octopus i’ve eaten anywhere in the world, at a decent price and with all the crudeness, love and quirky touches you’d expect.

There are also cheap sandwiches and several other hot meals on offer. Beachside seating and a passing Aldabra tortoise on the side of the road added even more charm to this quaint place.

Gala Takeaway

This quaint takeaway serves up a riveting selection of dishes at great prices. We had the tuna salad and an avocado salad, both of which tasted great! The ladies in the kitchen know their stuff.

Ice cream scoops for a cool 15 rupees.

Where to stay on La Digue:

La Diguoise

Anse Gaulettes – La Digue Island

Venture north from Anse Severe and experience the rocky, untamed wilderness of this part of the island. Look out for wild Giant Aldabra Tortoises that wander the narrow roads (please don’t sit on them).

Anse Source D’Argent – La Digue Island

Anse Source D’Argent is the sort of place you’d shoot a Bacardi commercial – and many have been made here. This slice of paradise offers one of the Seychelles’ best and most picturesque beaches.

Wade around the rocks at the southern fringe of the beach around midday and you’ll end up on  Anse Pierrot which you will probably have all for yourself. Be sure to wander back up through the shallows before the tide comes in the afternoon or you’ll end up having to swim.

Anse Source D’Argent is part of L’Union Estate so you’ll have to pay a small fee to enter the area. Stop by the Giant Aldabra Tortoise enclosure where you’ll see some of these magnificent reptiles in action, quite literally.

If you’re thirsty, there’s a small beach bar at the start of the beach that serves a refreshing selection of fruit drinks and cocktails.

Grand Anse, La Digue Island

At some times of the year, Grand Anse is a great surfing spot as the waves hit the beach with verve. When I was here, however, the waves broke right by the beach and faded into the steep bank almost immediately. This didn’t stop the local body boarders from riding their luck at dusk though.

If you’re feeling adventurous, clamber over the rocks and make your way to Petite Anse, a more exposed beach that you can also access by following the rocky trail between the two beaches.

Getting to Grand Anse is only possible by bike and the path winds up and down the hillside so pedal carefully lest your chain fall off (speaking from experience 😉 .) You’ll also find a decent restaurant at Grand Anse.

Beau Vallon, Mahe Island

Mahe is the biggest of the islands of The Seychelles and Beau Vallon is to its capital what Copacabana is to Rio – a lively, riveting stretch of sand that everyone seems to love. Beau Vallon was the first beach I set foot on as I did away with my jet lag with an all-day snooze. Head to the hills to watch the sun dip over Silhoutte island in the distance at the end of each day.

Where to stay in Beau Vallon:

Villa Roscia

My girlfriend and I arrived at Mahe airport in the morning, where Paulo was on hand to pick us up. He’s attentive, flexible, amicable and goes the extra mile to ensure his guests are informed and have what they need at all times.

The property itself is modern, clean and even a tad edgy, with a small swimming pool at the bottom of the garden. A lot of attention has been paid to the details – USB and European power sockets being but a couple of observations of note.

Paulo’s wife and kids live on the ground floor and are very friendly ,making it an unparralled homestay with all the modcons you’d usually have to fork out a small fortune for at large hotels and resorts.

Do yourself a favour and sample the breakfast platter – fruits, bread, fresh crossaints, tea / coffee, yoghurt and lots more. There’s also tea / coffee on the balcony from 5 pm on, where you can watch the sun drop serenely over the ocean horizon.

Villa Roscia is located a stone’s throw away from the less touristy end of the endearing Beau Vallon beach. Jetty transfers (ferry to Praslin) also available at a fair fee. Highly recommended.

Anse Major Nature Trail, Mahe Island

There are hikes galore on many of the islands in The Seychelles and The Anse Major Nature Trail is one of Mahe Island’s most endearing.

Catch the bus from Beau Vallon police station to the small settlement of Danzilles and walk up to the end of the road from there. Watch out for Batman Studios on your left as you enter the trail (a tourist trap that lures bypassers in for a sight at their caged bats). The trail is easy to walk and is graced with lush vegetation on all sides as well as jaw-dropping vistas of Silhoutte island in the distance.

The tranquil Anse Major beach awaits you at the end of the trail. Grab a water taxi back to Beau Vallon for the full Anse Major Nature Trail experience.

Read more about the Anse Major Nature Trail here.

Anse Major, Mahe Island

Anse Lazio, Praslin Island

Praslin Island is the second-largest of the islands of The Seychelles. Life here is more quiet and sedate than it is in Mahe and its smaller size means that everything is much closer and easier to get to.

Anse Lazio is probably the most beautiful beach i’ve ever set foot on. This spectacular gem of a beach is best reached by car (or taxi) and is located on the north of Praslin. Crystalline waters, smooth (rounded) boulders and silky white sands give it a distinct look and feel.

Beneath these placid waters you will find all manner of colourful fish and marine life- tame  as they are in these parts. The left and right-hand sides Anse Lazio are best for snorkeling but watch out for sharks in the deeper waters.

I came within 12 feet of a Grey reef shark and though the odds of a shark attack are very low, being rounded by a 2-3 metre giant of the sea was a hair-raising if not unforgetable experience. Stay out of the water if you have even the slightest of cuts and treat the marine life with respect.

Where to eat on Praslin:

Pirogue Restaurant & Bar, Cote D’or

As the most centrally located restaurant in the small town, Pirogue pulls a crowd and serves up some decent dishes. It’s a great place – lunch offers are pretty decent, for dinner – prepare to wait for a table (or book in advance)

Where to stay on Praslin:

Villa Bedier, Cote D’or

Villa Beddier has all the amenties and mod cons you’ll need for a stay in C’ot D’or, Praslin. Book via their own webpage for the best prices but expect to pay in cash at the end of your stay. Look out for the complementary jetty drop-off at the end of your stay.

The rooms are well furnished and very spacious – spanning a long balcony, Master bedroom, toilet, kitchen and living room.

Located by the beach and in the heart of the little village, guests are endowed with several supermarkets, restaurants, ATMs and souvenir shops in close range.

Vallée de Mai, Praslin Island

If you’re looking for the garden of Eden – this is it. A giant palm forest that takes you back to the days when Africa was known as the massive continent of Gondwana, the place feels like a cross between Jurassic Park (minus the dinasaurs) and The Amazon.

The giant Coco De Mer palms are endemic to The Seychelles and bear a striking resemblance to both male and female genitalia.

Cote D’or Beach – Praslin Island

Cote   D’or Beach is an uderstated stretch of beach along the shore of the adjacent town, which is home to several cafes, restaurants and accomodation options.

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