Monthly Archives: February 2017

Beyond Melbourne

In decades past, art was a fairly conservative experience beyond the cities in Australia. But times have changed dramatically in Victoria. The creative energy of the state capital Melbourne has flowed to regional cities, creating numerous cutting-edge cultural hubs. Regional galleries have been revitalised with newly adventurous programming and the most urban of forms: street art has taken off.

 

Street art goes to the country

Also riding the street art boom is the regional town of Benalla with names famous in the global scene including Guido van Helten, Adnate, Rone, and DVATE. Around 200km northeast of Melbourne and just off the highway to Sydney, it has developed a colourful gallery of walls over the last few years since the first Wall to Wall Festival (benallastreetart.com.au) in 2015.

In its first year, 14 walls were painted with impressive murals by a team of artists hand-picked by Shaun Hossack, a street artist who’d grown up in the area. The event was such a success that for the next two years, artists were allocated more prominent walls off the main shopping street. The result is a colourful collection of works that turn this town into an open-air art gallery.

Within walking distance of the visitor information centre are such impressive murals as a tattooed woman lying in a bed covering a vast restaurant wall; an Aboriginal man with tribal markings gazing dreamily toward the north; animal-skulled characters interacting on the side of a toilet block; and the giant head of a dog on the side of a former telephone exchange.

Germanys secret islands

Islands have always occupied a special place in the imagination of travellers. Defined by their finite geography, they inspire a romanticised sense of ‘getting away from it all’, even if they’re just offshore. Yet, when thinking about a beach escape, Germany rarely comes to mind. Except to the Germans themselves, that is. They know that there’s no need to go to the Med or the Caribbean to find azure seas, white beaches and endless horizons.

Some 50 islands in the North Sea and Baltic Sea belong to Germany, nearly all of them slow-paced and pristine nature sanctuaries. The two bodies of water are quite different in character. While the North Sea is exposed to brisk breezes and crashing waves, the Baltic is like a giant protected sound with calmer waters and a more chilled vibe. We introduce four of our favourite offshore gems.

 

Sylt – the swanky beauty spot

Because of its reputation as a Dionysian summer colony for celebs and jet-setters, Sylt has often been compared to Martha’s Vineyard and Saint Tropez. Yes, there are flashy bars like the glorified beach shack called Sansibar, fancy Michelin-starred restaurants like Söl’ring Hof and plenty of cruising late-model BMWs and Ferraris. Yet Sylt is so much more. Long, narrow and connected to the mainland by a train-only causeway, it has all the prerequisites for a quintessential summer holiday.

More than 40km of sugary, dune-fringed beaches make it easy to find a spot to spread your blanket in soul-restoring solitude. The blustery west coast draws A-list windsurfers to its annual world cup competition, while on the sheltered eastern side the rhythm of the sea exposes the muddy ocean floor during low tide. Taking a barefoot ‘walk on the water’ is a highlight of any Sylt stay.

Other typical destinations to steer towards include lighthouses striped like candy canes, centuries-old Frisian cottages huddled under thickly thatched roofs, and a mysterious 5000-year-old Stone Age burial chamber. It’s easy to fall under the spell of Germany’s northernmost island. No surprise it’s nicknamed the ‘Queen of the North Sea’.

 

Helgoland – the island that rocks

San Francisco may have Alcatraz, but Germany has its own ‘rock’, although it was never a high-security prison. Some 70km from the mainland, Helgoland is a tiny, wind-battered speck of red sandstone sticking out of the North Sea like a flooded Uluru. The boat trip out here is not for the faint-of-stomach but all is forgotten when arriving at this almost mystical island – actually two islands torn apart by a killer storm in 1720.

Helgoland’s history is as colourful as the phalanx of traditional fishermen’s houses lining its diminutive harbor. Danish until 1807, it was ceded to Great Britain after the Napoleonic wars only to be traded to Germany in 1890 in exchange for the African island of Zanzibar. It was an ill-considered move, in hindsight, given that the Germans made good use of Helgoland’s strategic location in both world wars.

Today, it attracts mostly day trippers from Hamburg, Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven, hungry for duty-free deals and the island’s famous local lobster. But only those who spend a little more time will get to truly soak up its mind-clearing air (cars are banished) and mild maritime climate courtesy of the Gulf Stream. One much-photographed landmark is the Lange Anna (Tall Anna), a 47m high pinnacle jutting from the sea. There are also WWII bunkers and ruins to explore, and resurging numbers of Atlantic grey seals.

Southwestern China rightfully grabs headlines

The biggest difference these days is that, instead of trade in tea and goods, tourism is taking over as the dominant draw. Visiting any of Sichuan’s old towns is a chance to explore this vast country’s living history and, increasingly, one of the last ways to see a slower pace of life in ever-expanding China.

 

Dujiangyan (都江堰)

Though not the oldest of Sichuan’s old towns (it’s close, founded in 250BC), Dujiangyan is undoubtedly the most important, for it was here that governor Li Bing of Shu conceived of and built the town’s eponymous irrigation system during the Warring States period (475–221 BC). Visitors to modern Dujiangyan can see the workings of this still-functional irrigation system, a marvel in its day, walk the small old town area and visit numerous temples that local communities have built to give thanks. Each year on Tomb-Sweeping Day, a traditional Chinese festival that celebrates ancestors, Dujiangyan holds a ‘water releasing ceremony’ to mark Li Bing’s accomplishments and honour his memory.

 

Pingle (平乐)

Once an important stop on the ancient Tea-Horse Road trade route between tea-rich Yunnan and Tibet and believed to be at least two thousand years old, the Pingle of today is more party town than caravan route. City-worn Chengdu residents head here in droves during warm summer days to swim or engage in a little light adventure like rafting and tubing. Outside of the sunny season, Pingle is more about sitting around chatting in its numerous teahouses or under overhanging banyan trees that line both sides of the Baimo River. There are also chances to tour local museums and take an amble through the relatively untouched countryside that begins just beyond the south edge of town, but the slow pace of local life makes it easy for a day or two to slip away almost unnoticed.

Buses leave throughout the morning from Chengdu’s Xinnanmen station for the two-hour trip to Pingle, though some will require a change in the nearby city of Qionglai.

Glimpse at Europe best national parks

Europe contains some of the most charismatic and cultured cities on the planet. But the continent is also blessed with an extraordinary array of natural landscapes, which lure travellers from far and wide.

From the glacier-carved fjords of Norway to the sun-baked gorges of Greece, many of these areas have become national parks, conserving their beauty for everyone to explore and enjoy.

In this selection from National Parks of Europe, a practical introduction to the continent’s 60 best national parks as chosen by our expert writers, we give a glimpse of what to expect from a few of these wild, wonderful places.

 

Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi, Italy

A grass-carpeted valley, birds chirping in the bottle-green trees, a twinkling brook: this bucolic scene is sheltered by a castellated line of mountains, formed of an almost luminescent pale rock. The drama is heightened by the contrast between the soft, gentle curves of the pastures and the sudden eruption of vast, sculptural mountains, each prong like a cathedral tower.

Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi is geology as theatre. The scenic drama has been formed through the different consistency and brittleness of the rock, which has allowed erosion to sculpt it into jagged shapes, and hollow out deep, wide valleys and corridor-narrow gorges.

 

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

No matter from which side you approach Durmitor National Park, you will be in awe – the glorious mountain peaks are rugged, smooth, sloping and jagged, all at the same time. The ancient pine trees dot the mountainsides with perfect cones, some reaching 50m high. And amid all this are the 18 glacial lakes that range in colour from frosty blues to deep navy and turquoise, like precious beads scattered on the massif.

Durmitor has 48 peaks above 2000m in altitude, with the highest, Bobotov Kuk, measuring 2523m, making the park the perfect place for hiking, especially in the warmer months. There are spectacular karst or forest trails, and stunning views that stretch hundreds of kilometres.