Sat in a cobbled square, shaded by a scarlet-blossomed flamboyant (Delonix regia) tree, an old man quietly hand-rolled cigars as soulful notes from a busking guitarist threaded the balmy air. Around the corner, the sound of Spanish chatter emerged from a cocktail bar in a 300-year-old merchant’s house. I settled at a sidewalktable and sipped a mojito, gazing past locals promenading along the seawall to the turquoise ocean.
Havana? No – Santa Cruz, enchanting capital of little La Palma. The north-western most Canary Island is part of Spain, sure, but its soul is more complex. The original inhabitants, called Guanches by the invading Spaniards but known to themselves as Benahoarites, left their mark in petroglyphs, cave burials and the taste of toasted gofio (a flour made from roasted grains). Centuries later, waves of emigrants, fleeing hard times on La Palma, settled in Cuba and Venezuela, forging Caribbean ties that remain palpable in the island’s cuisine, rum, tobacco-growing and easy pace of life.
While the old mansions and whitewashed Renaissance churches of Santa Cruz might be all that cruise-ship passengers see on a fleeting visit, there’s much more to La Palma. From black-sand beaches in the west to the stark lava fields and cones of the far south, and the vast Caldera de Taburiente dominating the island’s centre, its volcanic past has created a rugged landscape, far more verdant than other islands in the Canaries.
La Palma is famed not just for its tobacco crops but also malvasia vines producing fine whites (formerly known as malmsey), reputedly favoured by Shakespeare. That’s not the only taste sensation to seek out; there’s fabulous fish and seafood, juicy figs and bananas, terrific goats’ cheeses and pan-Canarian favourite papas arrugadas (‘wrinkly potatoes’), here served with piquant mojo Palmero (hot chilli-and-garlic sauce).
Don’t worry about the calories. La Palma is laced with some 1,000km of well-waymarked and signposted footpaths, offering opportunities for burning off feasts on hilly hikes-this is, they say, the world’s steepest island. Trails mount volcanic craters, dense forests of Canarian pines and lush rainforested gorges. The central south was hit by forest fires in August, and a few trails remain closed to allow regeneration and path restoration, but most of the island is again open for business.
Despite the wonderful variety in such a compact package – nowhere’s more than an hour’s drive away – foot traffic remains fairly sparse. It’s popular with German and Spanish visitors but, for the most part, Brits are still to discover the joys of hiking on La Palma. Not for long: direct flights from London launched in October, making this an ideal short-break winter-sun destination. Take a stroll on its terrific trails and you’ll quickly discover why the Spanish call it La Isla Bonita: ‘The Pretty Island’.
Know your Italian wine regions – Where to uncork and say salute! – from the northern border to the boot heel
Lombardy – Franciacorta, Pinot Nero. Italy’s answer to Champagne is prosecco or moscato d’Asti – it’s Franciacorta, the high-quality sparkling wine favored in Milan.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia – Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana. The current orange wine trend began here near the Slovenian border, where pioneering winemaker Josko Gravner ferments ribolla grapes in ancient clay jugs.
Umbria – Orvieto Classico, Sagrantino di Montefalco. Sagrantino wines, rising stars among elite Italian reds, were first made by Franciscan friars in this, the region from which Saint Francis of Assisi hailed.
Puglia – Primitivo, Bombino Bianco. Only Veneto produces more wine than the oft-overlooked heel of Italy, whose native primitivo grape is a cousin of American red zinfandel.
Sicily – Etna Bianco, Nero d’Avola. A movement toward organic, biodynamic wines, led by young vintners such as Arianna Occhipinti, is growing in the rich volcanic soil near Mount Etna.
Campania – Costa d’Amalfi, Greco. Visit Cantine Marisa Cuomo to sample its flowery Furore Bianco Fiorduva alongside views of the Amalfi Coast and dramatic Furore fjord.
Tuscany – Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Bolgheri. After a tasting of Chianti Classico at Castello di Ama, tour the fifteenth-century property’s contemporary art installations from Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, and more.
Liguria – Cinque Terre, Vermentino. Many of the Cinque Terre’s terraced vineyards, carved into cliffs high above the Mediterranean Sea, are accessible only by foot.
Piedmont – Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto. The native nebbiolo grapem used in the region’s greatest wines, gets its name from the nebbia, or fog, that blankets the region in fall.
Dubrovnik, Croatia – After the Crowds
Endlessly photogenic Dubrovnik (above) has spearheaded Croatia’s return to tourist favour in the past two decades. It has played its role so well that authorities are now considering a limit on the number of visitors entering its historic walled centre. One way to avoid the crush is by visiting in the low season. October sees fewer swimmers and cruise ships in the Adriatic Sea, late-autumn temperatures remaining in the mid-teens, and the white stones as resplendent in the sun as ever. Take the cable car to the top of Mount Srd for one of Europe’s most memorable views, encompassing the Old Town and island-dotted coast, before heading back to explore the city’s less-thronged streets at leisure.
In Washington Irving’s 1820 tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a headless horseman terrifies the inhabitants of Tarrytown in upstate New York. In later retellings, he sometimes hurls a blazing pumpkin, in a defining piece of American Halloween lore. New York City stages its own ghoulish parades around 31 October, but follow the wide Hudson River north to the villages of Westchester County and you’ll get the last of the leaf-peeping season providing a colourful backdrop to all those jack o’lanterns. More than 7,000 of them can be seen lit up at the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, held in the grounds of the 300-year-old Van Cortlandt Manor. And on the outskirts of Tarrytown is Sleepy Hollow itself, home to the Old Dutch Burying Ground, before which Irving’s headless horseman would disappear ‘in a flash of fire and brimstone’.
Bulgaria’s Wine Village (above)
Tucked beneath imposing sandstone cliffs, Melnik is full of traditional houses with wooden balconies, and has been celebrated for its wine for more than 600 years. Bottles of local vintages are sold for as little as £2, or try the fun new Museum of Wine, with tastings included in its £2.50 entry fee.
Markets of Hamburg
This north German port is known for its Unesco-listed Speicherstadt district of vast red-brick warehouses, but it’s also home to Germany’s longest farmer’s market. At the twice-weekly Isemarkt, set up under the elevated U-Bahn tracks, 200 vendors sell all kindsof quality produce, with much for just a euro or two.
Before the log cabin became a staple of the American frontier, it was the architectural solution of choice for the rigours of a Scandinavian winter. At the Luosto Tunturi Log Cabins, part of the small Finnish forest settlement of Luosto, guests can stomp their way through thick snow to their own rustic porch, and shake the white stuff off their boots before heading inside to defrost by the fire (or, for an even deeper thaw, in their private sauna).
A three-night stay is not so long as to risk inducing cabin fever, but enough time to allow you the chance to make the most of the activities on offer, from husky-sledding and snowmobile trips to ice-fishing. The cabins are above the Arctic Circle, where the sun stays below the horizon for part of the winter, and there’s always the chance that the northern lights could put in an appearance.
Al Andalus was an illustrious chapter in the history of southern Spain, when sultans built elaborate palaces, and turbaned philosophers pondered the pressing issues of the medieval era. It is also presently the name of a train service kitted out in damask and wood, which moves at a stately pace between the great Andalucian cities of Granada, Cordoba and Seville.
Even the briefest of the itineraries includes trips to the palace of the Alhambra in Granada, a flamenco show, the Mezquita of Cordoba with its hypnotic pattern of striped arches, and the Unesco-protected neighbouring towns of Ubeda and Baeza.
Arrive: BA, easyjet and Ryanair fly to Seville from Gatwick and Stansted.
The ‘zan’ in Tanzania, Zanzibar was a byword for far-off riches in the centuries when it dominated the Indian Ocean spice trade. The island is often combined in traveller itineraries with the traditional safari sights of the African mainland, but it also functions as a self-contained short break, with little in the way of jet lag for British visitors. Snorkelling off Zanzibar’s powdery white beaches acts as a powerful disincentive to do anything more cultural with your limited time.
That would be to miss out on the ramshackle charms of Stone Town, with its Unesco-listed Arab-Swahili architecture built under the sultans who ruled until 1964, and visits to clove-scented spice plantations in the island’s interior. Intrepid Travel’s Zanzibar Beach Break trip includes three nights at an east-coast beach resort.
Arrive: The shortest flights to Zanzibar from the UK are from Heathrow via Muscat on Oman Air or via Nairobi on Kenya Airways.
Cadiz epitomises fiery Andalucian living: famed for sherry quaffing, flamenco dancing and boisterous carnivals. Participants on the Luzia Epicurus course get their bearings looking over the city (above), before moving on to the Bodegas Pedro Romero, a six-generation sherry house, and Bolonia beach, with tall dunes giving views across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa (3-day course from £365, inc excursions and meals, not inc accommodation; luzia-photo-courses.com)
Arrive: Jerez is the closest airport to Cadiz— Iberia offers flights from London Heathrow, changing in Madrid. From here, trains reach Cadiz in half an hour.
Stay: Cadiz’s Hotel Argantonio, in an elegant 19th-century townhouse
From the riotous clubs of the Weimar Republic in Cabaret to the fall of the Iron Curtain in Goodbye Lenin, Berlin’s history has made it a stirring backdrop to movies. Play a part in this cinematic tradition by joining the Met Film School on a two-day course, shooting around the Tempelhof district. Learn the ins-and-outs of making a movie, from script-editing to lighting techniques, directing professional actors and cutting a mini feature.
Arrive: EasyJet flies to Berlin Schonefeld Airport from Edinburgh, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester while British Airways flies to BerlinTegel airport from Heathrow.
Stay: The Circus Hotel has simple, bright rooms in the Mitte district.
There can be few landscapes better savoured from a saddle than the French countryside south of Carcassonne — a patchwork of tumbledown villages, looming fortresses, thickly wooded valleys and mountain rivers, with the Pyrenees as a backdrop. To see it, join Unicorn Trails’ Pyrenean short break — a three-night horse-riding trip suitable for novices, clippety-clopping atop trusty steeds. Participants are based at the village of Cranes, spending three nights stabled in a rustic b&b and passing the days trotting through the oak forests nearby with an instructor. Among the destinations on the itinerary is Rennes-le-Château, a hilltop town that enjoyed five minutes of fame after being mentioned in The Da Vinci Code.
Arrive: Ryanair flies to Carcassonne from London Stansted and Liverpool, with seasonal flights from East Midlands and Glasgow.
‘Welcome to the greatest rooftop in the world,’ says curator Silvia Vilarroya, stepping out into the sultry Barcelona evening. Stone structures coated in ceramic mosaics rise from the highest points, linked by undulating pathways around the courtyards, along which knight-like sculptures protrude like periscopes. The effect is part medieval battle scene, part futuristic chessboard. ‘All of these are chimneys or ventilation pipes’, says Silvia. ‘Antoni Gaudi was provocative – but he was also functional.’
La Pedrera was the final residential building that the Catalan architect took on, a commission from the wealthy Milà family. It polarised opinion when it opened in 1912; people either hated it or really hated it. But since then it has become much-loved – and visited. Night tours strip away the crowds, enabling small groups to linger in the Milàs’ recreated apartment and admire design flourishes, such as ceilings in which trees have seemingly taken root. Out on the roof, the embers of the day start to cool. A whisper of a breeze carries the occasional sound from the Passeig de Gràcia below, but otherwise all is quiet.
In the lobby of Hotel Majestic, a woman clutching a Chihuahua hails a bellboy with her eyebrows. Staff buzz about, obsequious.
Up on the 10th floor things are altogether less stuffy. Bathers absorb rays and cocktails around the pool, while smiling waitresses attend to those marooned in the deep sofas. There are reminders of the rarified atmosphere – a £2,400 bottle of Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac is barely out of place on the drinks menu – but as long as you’re happy to pay a little more for your rose, a slice of the high life can be yours.
It’s an appropriate democratisation. The tale of Barcelona is very much one of its rooftops. Meagre rain keeps them flat; the constant battle for space keeps them busy.
A few blocks west of the Majestic is Hotel Pulitzer’s rooftop oasis, its wood furniture, trellises and pot plants bringing to mind a Home Counties garden. Here, a bow-tied waiter serves a bottle of white to a group of friends, as cool jazz swirls around the deck.
Master slicer Juan Pairo is standing beside racks of ham in an upstairs tasting room just off La Rambla. Through the window, the celebrated street is characteristically frenzied but here, within glass walls, it’s all refinement and precision.
Juan glides his knife across the marbled, ruby-red meat and frees a paper-thin slice of Jamón Iberico de Bellota. It’s sweet and intensely nutty. Other cuts follow, Juan distributing morsels to the tasters, all amateurs in the art of ham appreciation. The parallels to a wine tasting are pronounced: the obscure vernacular, the tasting notes, the strangely sombre air for something so pleasurable. If jamón is Spain’s wine, then Jamón Iberico de Bellota is its champagne.
As the Jamón Experience’s introduction explains, its sought-after flavour is the result of the Iberian pig’s free-range lifestyle roaming oak groves in southern Spain. During this time it will consume around 750kg of acorns (bellotas). The jamóns, the back legs, are cured in salt for three years in a practice that has barely changed in thousands of years. And when the results are this good, why should it?
Inside the Museu de la Xocolata’s classroom a group of visitors in chef s hats are playing with industrial quantities of chocolate. Littering the worktops are strawberries, lollipops and moulds oozing with silky molten goo. These short classes offer a hands-on appreciation of the versatility of chocolate; next door, in a temperature-controlled exhibition space, it’s a case of look but don’t touch.
Everything from La Sagrada Familia to the Terracotta Warriors has been immortalised in chocolate; intricate artworks that are a testament to the skill (and self-denial) – of their creator.
Late evening in the suburb of Clot finds a group gathering outside a nondescript building. They chat amicably, sharing jokes and greetings. In 15 minutes’ time they’ll be walking all over one another.
This is the headquarters of the Castellers de Barcelona, one of the city’s human tower clubs. This curious mix of gymnastics and human Jenga has been a feature of Catalan fiestas for 200 years, and groups have started to invite visitors to join in and add their arms to the supportive base of the tower.
The castellers range from school children to septuagenarians, and everyone has a crucial role. The ranks of the base – la pinya, or pineapple – come together, arms locked, heads tucked in. Once set, the first bare-footed climbers clamber into position. Further storeys take shape. The last to climb is the anxaneta, the child who must raise a hand from the top to ‘crown’ the castle.
Eduard Paris’s days as an anxaneta are behind him. At 39, he’s commonly near the base, enduring the weight of up to six people on his shoulders. ‘You cannot see it but when you hear the cheers as the child reaches the top, you are pleased and you are thinking of the group,’ he says. ‘They’re helping you, you are helping them. Together the tower is complete.’
With its hushed air, exposed beams and open fireplace, the main hall at this country house could hardly look more authentically antique. So it’s a surprise to discover that this serene retreat, overlooking pastureland outside Vejer de la Frontera, was mostly created from scratch, using tiles, doors and shutters recovered from other farmhouses.
Even more remarkably, its English owners, Lee and Amelia Thornley, were in their twenties when they created it. For their guests, here to visit pueblos blancos, drink sherry and walk to the lighthouse at Cabo Trafalgar, it is a complete haven.
The seven rooms are big and uncluttered, with vintage dressing tables and roll-top baths. Breakfast is taken at little tables set among the orange trees and lavender; supper, made by Amelia and including clams cooked in fino, is served with wines from the bijou bodega.
Days can be divided between dips in the pool, massages in the yurt, or helping to rehabilitate the rescued horses stabled in the grounds. After all that, and several manzanillas under the pergola, it would be rude not to sleep very soundly indeed.
An incredibly scenic cycling route that takes you through the picturesque vineyards of Côtes-du-Rhone and Ventoux. With breathtaking views of the magnificent Mont Ventoux – where this year’s Tour de France is set to finish – this seven-day tour twists through quaint country lanes littered with pine trees and Roman sites. Pedal across green plains and foothills, before reaching the medieval village of Aubignan, which is surrounded by theatrical fourteenth century ramparts. Take the time to stop off at one of the many traditional markets and be sure to admire the well-manicured gardens.
Expect abundant culture and maritime charm; there’s no better way to explore this largely untouched destination. Rügen Island’s included in the Baltic Sea cycle route, and it takes eight-days to explore this rarely visited part of Germany. The island odyssey begins on Stralsund’s beaches, before passing sensational chalk cliffs and fanciful fishing villages. Once you reach Putbus and Baabe, you’re really off the beaten-track, which is lined with marvellous woods until the coast. Make a stop at Jasmund National Park and sample a Sanddorn ice-cream, made from sea buckthorn berries.
For 13 days, you’ll make your way through Yangon, Mandalay, Mount Popa and Inle Lake, which is an unimaginable freshwater floating village. Cycle into Bagan markets and freewheel past antiquated temples. There really isn’t a better way to explore this extraordinary land, which is scattered with gilded pagodas. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a fairweather rider; there are a huge variety of territories to explore. Descend down the grandiose, sloping plains of Bagan or through open farmland. Or climb through Pindaya to catch a boat ride into villages on stilts.
This gorgeously green northern region of Spain is a cyclist’s dream. The jagged coast is wildly dramatic, decorated with multi-coloured and vibrant fishing ports. Venture past coves and rolling hills, whilst inland, mountains soar high above deep valleys, which boast delightfully rustic villages. Stop off at the Jurassic Museum, where you can walk in the giant footsteps of a Tyrannosaurus rex – literally! Before you know it you’ll be riding along the heart-stopping San Lorenzo beach boardwalk, heading towards the harbour of Lastres, the steepest of Asturias’ quaint fishing villages.
Cycling blends the best of slow-and fast-paced travel, and its popularity among travelers has grown rapidly in recent years. Accessibility is the key to its appeal: you don’t need to have the thighs of an athlete to have yourself a two-wheeled adventure, and some trips even offer e-bike alternatives. So whether you’re looking to pedal flat plains, conquer rolling hills or challenge yourself to some unforgiving mountainous terrain, there’s a bike trip out there for you.
Pedal through colonial Cusco, the Sacsayhuaman ruins and the salt pans of the Chinchero Plateau with World Expeditions’ Cycle the Andes tour. Explore the Sacred Valley and the village of Calca before taking a ride out to see that most majestic of Incan mountain citadels, the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.
Fitness level: Moderate to hard – lots of off-road cycling at high altitude
Join KE Adventure Travel on its new Cycle the Wine Roads of Istria tour. Swap the beach-fringed peninsula for the area’s lesser-known green interior. Pedal Tuscan-like countryside pit-stopping at medieval Grožnjan, seaside Poreč and larger Rovinj – punctuate your journey with tipples from wine cellars en route.
Fitness level: Basic – 40km a day but at a leisurely pace on quiet country roads
Cycle the Camino de Santiago from León to Santiago de Compostela with Echelon. Cross Hospital de Órbigo’s bridge and pedal forests, mountains and villages between Molinaseca and Fervenza.
Fitness level: Moderate – daily climbs