Category Archives: Travel

An Island with No Income Tax

Why would someone like me stay on St Barts? Aside from the absolutely gorgeous scenery and perfect weather, it’s also a tax haven. I run some very lucrative internet sites that provide me with a very hefty income. It’s the type of income that the French government wants to get their hands on. I used to pay an enormous sum to the French government through my taxes. People in other parts of the world complain about taxes, but the French have them all beat. The taxes are practically ruinous to a businessman like myself. That’s why I sought relief in the Caribbean.

St Barts ended up being my destination. I can stay on the island for several months out of the year and that means my tax burden is dramatically lowered. I’m not alone as I know many of my fellow Europeans live on the island and they too save a lot of money. Some people think we aren’t paying our fair share, but if they wouldn’t say that for long if they had to pay the same amount.

Sand and centuries of history in Pafos

There’s more to Pafos than the beach. The ancient Greeks certainly knew that, which is why they founded their sacred city well inland, overlooking the sparkling Med from the headland at Kouklia. Modern Pafos, sitting pretty beside the sea, is a relative newcomer, dating back a measly 2400 years.

The majority of travellers to Pafos today are lured by sea, sand and sun, and Cyprus certainly gets a lot of sun – 326 sparkling, sunshiny days per year, on average. But on this island you can’t walk more than a few paces in any direction without tripping over an ancient ruin or real-life setting for a Hellenic myth. And Pafos is no Agia Napa or Protaras – this is a proper Mediterranean city, down to the veg-stacked grocers’ shops and courtyards full of potted geraniums.

 

Cultured Pafos

With more than 3000 years of uninterrupted history, Pafos was an obvious candidate for the European City of Culture 2017. Performers have been gathering on the stage of its ancient odeon (amphitheatre) since at least the 2nd century BC, and the cult of fertility worship has been active in these thyme-scented hills since Neolithic times. It was no accident that the ancient Greeks chose this stretch of coast as the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love.

Every July and August, dramas by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and others get the full amphitheatre treatment in the Pafos odeon for the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama (greekdramafest.com), while opera takes centre stage in Pafos castle every September during the Aphrodite Festival (pafc.com.cy). In 2017, the culture goes into overdrive, with art exhibitions, public performances and classical concerts amidst the ancient stones of the city’s myriad archaeological sites. Visit the Pafos 2017 (pafos2017.eu) website for a full programme of events.

 

A tale of two cities

The Greek tradition of splitting towns in two dates back to at least 500 BC, when Herodotus and Plato wrote of cities divided into parallel communities – a kato (‘below’) part on the coast, and an ano (‘upper’) part inland. In an ancient Mediterranean teeming with the battleships of squabbling empires, it made sense to have somewhere to flee to in the hills, and in Cyprus the tradition is still very much alive.

When most visitors talk about Pafos, what they actually mean is Kato Pafos, sprawling around a sandstone harbour guarded by a Byzantine castle, beside a string of beaches that have become a favourite spot for British sun-seekers. Ano Pafos, or Ktima, 16km inland, is where locals prefer to live, enjoying the cooler climate at this higher elevation, and the peace and quiet away from the beach bars and touristy tavernas.

At beach level, Kato Pafos is the classic Med, complete with sun umbrellas and all-day breakfast cafes, but you don’t have to wander far to find ancient history. The rocky headland to the north of the harbour is one big historical adventure playground. The ruins scattered across the Pafos Archaeological Site were once the capital of Cyprus, before an earthquake toppled the columns and cracked the arches in the 4th century.

Instagram hot spots in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a city of contrasting light and constant movement; a whirl of commotion that combines climbing skyscrapers and golden stretches of sand with steaming bowls of wonton noodles and ceaseless traffic. In other words: it’s an Instagrammer’s paradise.

This dynamic metropolis is prized photography country, even for those who prefer to shoot bite-sized, instantly uploadable images. Inspiration can strike anywhere, but below are the 10 best places to capture Hong Kong’s most iconic photographs.

 

1. Hong Kong’s garden hideaway

Few photos can capture the essence of Hong Kong better than those taken at Chi Lin Nunnery in Kowloon. Instagram opportunities unfurl before your lens here as classical Chinese gardens give way to a glorious golden pagoda and a lotus pond filled with plump koi carp. This serene Buddhist complex seems all the more tranquil when snapped against the contrasting skyscrapers that tower above, creating a seamless fusion of the modern and the natural.

 

2. Food too cute to eat

Embedded into Hong Kong’s culture like dragon dances and milk tea, Instagram swells with shots of steaming baskets of dim sum, so head to Yum Cha to snap something more contemporary. This dim sum restaurant does things a little differently: the pork buns are shaped as pigs and the sausage rolls are designed like dogs. Even the pineapple puff cookies are made to look like birds and are presented in a metal cage.

 

3. The iconic rainbow residence

Thickets of high-rise apartments stretch skyward across much of Hong Kong, so skyline shots and neck-craning close-ups both provide fantastic photo fodder. However, the vibrant Choi Hung Estate (take exit C4 from the Kwun Tong MTR stop) is where Instagrammers should head first. With a rainbow of painted panels adorning the sides of the towers, palm trees lining the entrance and locals shooting hoops on the estate’s basketball court, the Choi Hung Estate could pass as 1970s California – and there’s always the 1977 Instagram filter to play up that effect.

 

4. Snap something fishy

Mong Kok is home to a number of markets selling everything from phone cases to lingerie, but keen photographers should zoom in on Tung Choi Street’s Goldfish Market where dozens of fish are separated into plastic bags and displayed for prospective pet owners to examine. It is considered good luck to bring fish into the home in China and while the humble goldfish does make an appearance here, expect to snap a wide array of colourful and exotic species.

The sound of silence

At 78° north, Svalbard is both the largest continuous wilderness in Europe and the final frontier before the North Pole. In the frozen depths of winter, a snowmobile expedition is the only way to get a sense of scope in this land of bone-chilling cold and heartbreaking beauty.

 

Many who have never stepped foot on Svalbard – the archipelago midway between Norway and the North Pole – envisage a bleak, white wilderness of ice, emptiness, and polar bears. Seen in a winter blizzard, this is bang on, but then there are the days as clear as cut crystal and the brilliance they bring. Colours. Nobody ever imagines the colours. This thought plays on my mind as I cling onto a snowmobile, bouncing giddily from side to side through a gully, the lights of the main settlement of Longyearbyen fast receding.

It’s around -20°C and a bitter wind blasts my visor, stinging and finally numbing the fraction of my face exposed to the elements. My tears freeze on my eyelashes like tiny jewels, and wisps of silver-white hair escaping from my balaclava give me a premature glimpse of my older self. It’s very, very cold and beautiful beyond belief. We enter glacial valleys where the sky is painted in softest pinks, pale blues and lilacs. We rumble up slopes of downy snow, fighting to keep balance, and over frozen tundra, as the late February sun glares defiantly on the horizon after four months of absence. You can almost hear the locals’ collective sigh of relief as the rays beat down.

When we stop the snowmobiles, there is utter silence in the blue air, but for the crunch of ice underfoot. Our snowmobiles take us deeper into the Reindalen and Grøndalen valleys, where mountains, bare, muscular and denuded of trees, rise steeply in rolling masses, snow-covered for most of the year. Glowing as the light dies, they appear lit from within – some perfect pyramids, some like the prows of great ships, some like the ruins of fantasy fortresses with mighty stone ramparts and buttresses. Almost 100km into the expedition, every newly trained muscle aches as we approach the glimmer of sea in the pearl-polished twilight.

We are so lucky, our guide Marte Myskja Sæterbø admits, as we defrost over mugs of mulled wine at Isfjord Radio, a former radio and weather station turned boutique hotel in the back of beyond at Kapp Linné. The weather is exceptional for this time of year and the aurora forecast is looking promising. The incongruity of the stylishly pared-back Nordic interior doesn’t pass us by. And the level of attention devoted to food is like a small miracle given the raw and remote setting. We begin digging into Arctic specialities like smoked Svalbard reindeer but, as the wine-braised veal arrives, we down forks. The lights. The lights have arrived.

Outside, the show has begun. We stand in speechless wonder, our gaze lifted to the heavens, as greens float and ripple in the night sky – like flashes from a wizard’s wand.

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.

An island unlike any other

Lying in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa, the island of Madagascar has evolved in splendid isolation for more than 80 million years; the result is a unique and startling world full of upside-down trees, stone forests and, of course, lemurs.

Join us on a journey through a wildlife-rich destination that never fails to surprise.

 

Kirindy and the baobabs

Start your trip in the west with wildlife encounters and a walk among iconic trees

Jean Baptiste strolls cheerfully through the forest, arms swaying, flip-flops flapping. For the past hour, he has led the way through a tangle of paths that each looks identical to the last, pausing to point out brown creatures hidden in the brown undergrowth: a twig-like pencil snake here, a fist-sized land snail there.

It takes some time to locate the lemur he spotted with barely a glance, but after much gesticulating (‘To the left of the fork, down from the second branch, no, not that branch, down further’), there it is: a sportive lemur, its teddy-bear head and goggly brown eyes poking out of a tree hollow. The sighting opens the floodgates to an embarrassment of encounters in the forest of Kirindy.

A few steps on, a black-and-white Verreaux’s sifaka appears far above, swinging between the treetops with the elegance of a trapeze artist, the tiny head of her baby peeking out from the fur of her belly. In a clearing nearby, Jean-Baptiste’s guttural ‘whoop-whoop’ is catnip to a family of red-bellied lemurs, and they soon make their way down from the canopy to inspect their human visitors.

The residents of Kirindy have made their home in the remains of the last dry deciduous forest on Madagascar’s west coast. It supports eight species of lemur – and the one creature in the country whose belly starts to rumble when it spots one. The forest is one of the best places to see the lemurs’ only predator: the endangered fossa.

Three of the animals have spent the day in the camp at Kirindy’s ecological research centre. One by one, they slink out from beneath a cabin, stretching and yawning in the sunshine, before hunching down in the dirt. They look like some terrible genetic mix-up between a dog and a weasel, with grey-brown fur, yellow eyes and a tail as long as their bodies. Mamy Ramparany, who manages the centre, would rather they didn’t feel so at home here. ‘One of the major issues for them,’ he says, squatting to check for other fossa beneath the cabin,  ‘is the destruction of their habitat through farming and logging. Maybe they come here because they don’t have enough food.’

Mamy watches as the creatures rise and stalk into the forest. ‘That is the challenge of conservation in Madagascar, to work out how people profit from the forest without destroying it,’ he says. ‘But it is an exciting challenge. As long as there are animals left, there is hope.’

The broad-trunked, spindly-topped trees that rise incongruously through the scrubby thicket of Kirindy give some clue to the nature of that challenge. These are baobabs – ‘mothers of the forest’ in Malagasy –  and the region was once full of them. Lost to deforestation and agriculture over the centuries, they now commonly stand alone, trunks thick as houses, towering over scorched earth cleared by slash-and-burn.

 

The road to Tsingy

Travel is all part of the adventure in Madagascar, and never more so than on the colourful journey along the bumpy 8a road from Kirindy to the north  

‘Apart from its unique biodiversity, Madagascar is also known for its bad roads.’ So says local tour guide Dennis Rakotoson, climbing into the jeep. He is not smiling.

With less than 20 per cent of its road network asphalted, getting from A to B in Madagascar is rarely straightforward. Google Maps will tell you that it’s a three-hour journey from Kirindy up the 8a road to Bekopaka, some 100 miles north. Google Maps is wrong – very, very wrong – but neither does it tell you that a day travelling the route is at least as exciting as a day in the forest with a family of lemurs.

Best cocktail bars in the world

The city boasts more bars than you can shake a cocktail stick at, from spectacular rooftop views to hole-in-the-wall music joints, and whether you prefer to be shaken or stirred, our list will help you find your perfect watering hole.

 

Take in the view from Giudecca’s Skyline Bar

There are plenty of reasons to love rooftop Skyline Bar, despite its slightly awkward location on Giudecca island. First off, you get a free shuttle service from the city across the Giudecca Canal. Secondly, it offers great views of southern Venice and thus multiple photo ops. Then there is the lengthy – and idiosyncratically translated – cocktail menu. A nice touch has been to provide a Venetian take on the classics, with the drinks covering the six sestieri (districts) of the city. The free boat ride makes a cocktail (€16-20) at this glamorous hotel bar an affordable treat.

 

Join the young, hip crowd at Osteria da Filo

Known to locals as ‘La Poppa’, this buzzing watering hole has a great wine list and cocktail selection (€3.50-6), including the Zaza, a mean house speciality involving copious amounts of rum and fresh ginger. One of the few venues in Venice offering live music (early evening on Wednesdays), Osteria da Filo is crammed with a young hipster and alternative crowd. On Wednesdays, arrive early to grab a comfy sofa or seat near the stage; alternatively, squeeze yourself in at the bar. The music ranges from traditional swing to contemporary jazz with local and international acts performing. The staff are friendly and the mood convivial.

 

Bring out your inner Bond on the Terrazza Danieli

A Venetian institution, the Danieli Hotel has been frequented by James Bond, as well as featuring in 2010 comedy The Tourist. From May to September, the Terrazza Danieli is open for aperitifs on the roof. Take in the stunning views of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Doge’s Palace as you sip on a soothing Bellini (cocktails €15-18) after the heat of the day. In winter, head to the ground floor bar for a cosier aperitif.

 

Drink in the luxury at the Bar Longhi

The newly restored Bar Longhi at the Gritti Palace hotel is sumptuous, elegant and the epitome of luxury. The interior is all marble and Murano glass and even boasts paintings by eighteenth-century artist and local son Pietro Longhi. The bar has a delicious eponymous signature cocktail, the Longhi, consisting of Campari, vermouth and stock orange liqueur, as well as an extensive cocktail list (€19-22). Sink into a plush sofa as you look out onto the Grand Canal in one of the loveliest hotels in the city.