View of Ipanema

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Along with Copacabana, Ipanema beach is one of the best known beaches in Rio de Janeiro. However, there is more than just a wonderful beach to Ipanema. It is considered to be one of the more desirable areas of Rio to live in.

Naturally, the beach is incredibly popular and people arrive early to secure their favourite spot for a lazy day in the sun.

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema faces south on to the Atlantic Ocean. When the sun begins to rise and the shadows start to retreat, life starts to stir on this wonderful stretch of coastline. Joggers are a common site and dotted along the beach are a number of exercise stations when people can stop for a stretch. People are already sitting outside the little refreshment kiosks which never seem to close and always seem to have a supply of fresh coconuts.

It isn’t long before tented shelters start to appear on the beach where vendors will set up offering sun loungers and parasols to sunbathers.

As the sun climbs in the sky, more and more people arrive at Ipanema. Some just want to soak up the sun while others are more active. You don’t have to look hard to find a group of men or women kicked a football around. Sometimes there are organised games, other times people are playing football / volleyball. The level of skill is quite impressive.

Getting to the beach is fairly straight forward with buses constantly running in both directions along the road. The only exception is that every Sunday, the lanes closest to the beach are closed to motorised traffic to allow more room for walkers, joggers and cyclists.

Dois Irmaos mountains from Hotel Praia Ipanema rooftop pool

To the right of the beach the skyline is dominated by the instantly recognisable Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) mountains. The beach stretches along to the headline in the east where it borders Copacabana. The views from any of the beachfront hotels are simply stunning.

There is more to Ipanema than the beach. The streets are set out in neat grids so it is quite easy to find your way around to the various bars, restaurants and shops. Around 1km away from the ocean you will find the lagoon and if you look high up, you will see Christ the Redeemer looking down on the city of Rio.

For years, Copacabana was the place to head for when in Rio but now Ipanema offers a superb alternative and next time I’m Rio, I’ll be heading back there.


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The luxurious Burj Al Arab hotel is one of Dubai’s most recognised landmarks. While most of us will never get to stay there, it is possible to sunbathe (fairly) close by on the Umm Suqeim public beach.

The beautiful, white sands and waves gently lapping make Umm Suqeim an ideal place to relax. It offers some of the best views of the Burj Al Arab hotel and Dubai city tour buses pass along the road next to the beach to afford tourists a photo opportunity.

The one drawback is that apart from a couple of changing huts, there are no facilities or shade on the beach so you will need to bring your own towels and if possible, chairs and umbrellas. The lack of facilities probably keep the numbers of visitors down but this shouldn’t put you off visitor Umm Suqeim beach as it is a great place to soak up the sun.

Throughout the day, helicoptors circle the beach as they land on the helicoptor pad on the Burj Al Arab dropping off guests who have recently arrived at the airport. It certainly beats fighting the Dubai traffic.

The other iconic hotel next to the Umm Suqeim Beach has been part of the Dubai skyline for a lot longer than the Burj Al Arab. The Jumeirah Beach Hotel was opened in 1997 and it’s unique wave shaped design beautifully compliments the sail shape of it’s 7* neighbour. Although it is not cheap, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel is a far more affordable option if you would like to spend your visit to Dubai in this part of town.

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Categories : Big Blue Marble, Dubai, UAE
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British ColombiaOur family looks forward to spending time together, and I really enjoy those special times. We all have hectic schedules, and sometimes I think my life consists of ferrying kids to soccer practice or something like that. So we all gather at some point during the fall – to check the calendar and pick a destination for our spring break getaway. Choices – boy, do we ever have a lot of those when looking around British Columbia for a family vacation.

Snow Skiing
Typically spring break falls in the middle of March – just perfect for catching some great snow skiing before the season ends. Whistler and Big White are both outstanding resorts, and during the spring break holidays, have free skiing and rentals for the kids, which is great for a family on a budget. Only too soon they won’t be “kids” any more and won’t qualify for kid rates, but we’ll take advantage as long as we can.

Of course, the new thing is snowboarding, and the kids are all quickly becoming experts. We made them take lessons before they went out, but the instructors said they were naturals, so I watched them head up the lifts with only a bit of hesitation, which proved unfounded. My husband Ed wanted to try snowboarding, so he went with them, and came back all excited, declaring how proud he was of the boys – he thought they were amazing. My daughter and I were very content with the regular green (easy) ski slopes, thank you very much.

Pirate Adventures
Sometimes the kids decide to go the other direction, and head south to Victoria for our family getaway. They fell in love with a place called Pirate Adventures a couple of years ago. First the pirates gave all the kids pirate names. They dressed the kids up in bandanas and drew little moustaches and beards on them (yes, it washed off – I asked first), and even gave one of the boys a fake hook. When they took the pirate ship out into the harbour, the kids went nuts. They went on and on about the movies Hook and Peter Pan. Two of the crew engaged in a sword duel, swashing and buckling all over the ship. It was like a ride from Disneyland. I got a big kick out of it myself, even though I had to go take a nap at our Victoria hotel after we were through.

Bike riding
One year the kids decided they were really into cycling, and I found a couple of suitable trails near Victoria. I had to ask someone where the name of the Galloping Goose Trail came from. It turned out the trail runs along an abandoned railway line, and the noisy gas rail-car which took passengers from Victoria to Sooke back in the ‘20s sounded like – yes, a galloping goose. It was perfect for a family ride – a composition trail with just a few gently rolling hills that were easy on the legs, with forests on either side, streams and the occasional waterfall. It was very relaxing, and such a wonderful way to have the family spend time together.

Whale watching
If we go to Victoria, it’s almost assured we’re going to take a tour to see the whales. The kids love it, the whales are plentiful, and it’s a wonderful family adventure. My boys are getting to that age where they try to act nonchalant and “cool,” but that goes away when we’re out on the whale boat and they spot a plume of spray from a whale surfacing. The sight of the orca whales is really impressive, and the tour guides have tons of great information about the habits and nature of whales. We have a great time any time we do this. We always have choices when it comes to our family spring break getaway – sometimes we have to just pick a direction to see which way we want to go this year. But variety – it’s never a problem – enjoyable family activities are always available. We come back from our adventures a bit tired, but always more bonded as a family.

Carol Atkins has been traveling the world for much of her life. She enjoys of all types of travel adventures including island hopping, cruising, hiking and being lazy on the beach :). Her recent BC road trip was so much fun she can’t wait to do it again!

Follow her on twitter @atkins_carol

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Photos made available under Creative Commons license:

Flickr User: Kyle Simourd

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This is a wonderful guest post from Carol Atkins who kindly wrote about a visit to Cheyenne, Wyoming in search of the Old West. 

Cheyenne Frontier DaysMy husband Ed and I are from Fort Worth, Texas, so we grew up with tales of cowboys and cattle drives.

When we went to Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming, we wanted an authentic taste of the Old West.

We did it all – parades, rodeos and concerts. The whole experience was a blast! I was glad we had booked early, because this 10 day event draws huge crowds, understandable since it has been held every year since 1897. Of course, I love a celebration, and the Frontier Days Parade was an exquisite way to kick off our vacation in Cheyenne. I got into the spirit of things when a horse drawn stagecoach came by, driven by two cowboys in jeans, hats and boots. I overheard a man dressed up as a cowboy tell someone the origin of the term “riding shotgun” was from the stagecoach days, when the man next to the driver carried a shotgun to protect against bandits and Indians. I’d never heard that, but it made perfect sense.

When we first got to Cheyenne, I was a little self-conscious about wearing boots, jeans and my cowboy hat – I’m not sure why – but it turns out I had nothing to worry about. Almost everyone lining the streets was in Western clothes, and I felt right at home. As Miss Frontier and her court rode by, I wondered how much their outfits cost with all the bangles and sparkly things on them. I mentioned that to Ed, but of course, didn’t get much of a response.

Our second morning we tried the pancake breakfast, a big event in itself. There was a lot of rich food, and a sense of hospitality that fit right in with the Old West mindset of Frontier Days. We met some great people – Fred and Edie from New York said this was the first time they had been out west, and they were enchanted by the whole experience. They wanted to see the “Behind The Chutes Tour” at the rodeo grounds, so we all headed over to get a look behind the scenes at the Frontier Days Rodeo. The New Yorkers told us all they had learned about rodeos, and Ed and I politely listened, even though we’d been going to rodeos since we were kids.


They told us the rodeo has origins in the cattle drive. As cowboys had to “brand” their herds before moving north to the railroads, where the markets were, they used ropes from horseback to bring down the calves. The skill needed to actually rope a fast moving calf was phenomenal. Fred said that they had been to the rodeo the night before and it was one of the most thrilling experiences of their lives. Steer wrestling had similar origins – a cowboy riding on a horse twirled a rope around their head and caught a steer to rope and tie it up. As the cowboys got better and better, competitions naturally arose, and they began roping for time, which led to events like the Frontier Days Rodeo.

As we toured the chutes where the bull riders emerged, Edie said she wasn’t sure where bull riding came from, but she had never seen anything like it. A cowboy would voluntarily get on top of a huge bull – she was in awe of the whole concept – and when it was released, try to stay on top of it for 8 seconds. She said it felt much longer than that. There was also barrel racing, team roping, saddle bronc riding and of course, the rodeo clowns mixed in.

After we promised to meet Fred and Edie for pancakes the next morning, they set out to an art show, and Ed and I went to see the Native American music and dancing at Indian Village. After that, we would go back to the hotel for a rest. I had booked tickets online for a concert by one of my favorite singers for that evening, and I couldn’t wait. There was so much to do at Frontier Days, I knew we would get a taste of the Old West that I’d remember for a long time.

Carol Atkins has been traveling the globe for much of her life; she’s a travel-holic. She loves of all types of travel adventures including island hopping, hiking, biking and being lazy on the beach :). She was recently in Wyoming with her family and enjoyed an authentic frontier rodeo!

Follow her on twitter @atkins_carol

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Photos made available under a Creative Commons license by Flickr User Adrian Hu

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Fontainebleau CastleApart from the ever romantically famous Eiffel Tower, France is known for its wildlife and forest attractions. Fontainebleau Castle and Forest has been noted to have 13 million visitors yearly, surpassing the Eiffel Tower, with only 6 million visitors. Fontainebleau Forest is protected by France’s Office National des Forets which has 25,000 hectares of forest surrounding the vicinity of Fontainebleau and its neighbouring villages. The place is a former royal hunting park that is often visited by walkers and horse riders. Several sport activities are said to be perfect in this neighbourhood. Card games, Tennis, and rock climbing are the usual sports of the people residing in this area.

Card Games in the Castle 

Blackjack and poker are popularly played card games throughout Fontainebleau, France. In fact, poker uses a 52-card deck of French cards, which is said to have originated in France. The card game’s popularity in France is on the rise as it made numerous French poker players known in land based and online based casinos worldwide. One famous French poker player, Vanessa Rousso, extended her overwhelming excellent poker skills and strategic gameplays at online poker websites like partypoker français. Aside from playing poker as a sport, poker can be a relaxing alternative to those who have been working excessively. Online poker gaming websites developed their downloadable mobile applications, providing online poker enthusiasts an easy way to play through their mobile phones anywhere – even in the courtyards of Fontainebleau. Furthermore, visitors can share their great strolling experiences in Fontainebleau with their friends at online gaming portals. The Royal Courtyards listed below are also some of the most visited historical places in Fontainebleau which visitors can boast about online.

Fontainebleau Castle

Royal Courtyards 
The Real Tennis Room is known to be the oldest of the three remaining historical rooms in France. The place is normally a tennis place, and known for its popular old saying “the game of kings, the king of games.” The Real Tennis room is now a place of regular tournaments and promotes all tennis enthusiasts to play the sport all year long.

The Palace buildings are composed of five main courtyards, popular to due to its complicated infrastructures. Each area has several names according to different periods. The Court of the White Horse is prominent by its high-roofed pavilions that date back to the 16th century. Its famous double horse-shoe staircase was built in 1963 by Jean Androuet Du Cerceau.

The Ballroom is built under Francois I and then had its building completion under Henri II by Philibert Delorme. Its luxuriously gold and silver ceiling decoration never fails to be adored by its recent and regular visitors.

(PHOTO: Guilhem Vellut)

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Charyn Canyon215km east of Almaty towards the border with China is the Charyn Canyon National Park. Although it is nowhere near the size of America’s Grand Canyon, the Charyn Canyon is also a spectacular place to visit. Stretching almost 150km in length and dropping to 300m in places, there is one area of the canyon that is of particular interest.

The Valley of the Castles (known locally as Dolina Zamkov), this is the most commonly visited section of Charyn Canyon. A group of us arrange a day trip to Charyn Canyon using a local tour operator in Almaty who picked us up from our hotel and we headed out on a 3 hour trip to the Canyon.

Open Spaces, Kazakhstan

Open Spaces, Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan was one of the largest former Soviet states and as we made our way east towards the Charyn Canyon, we really got a feel for the wide open spaces that go on for mile after mile. At one point we stopped at a little village and took the opportunity to buy some fresh fruit. Buying local produce in places like this always tastes better than what is available back home in the supermarkets and was all part of the day out. Eventually we reached our destination, the part of the Charyn Canyon known as the Valley of the Castles. The plan was to walk down into the bottom of the canyon to a point on the river where we would stop for lunch. We parked up and headed down the first set of steps into the bottom of the canyon to begin our walk down to the river.

Valley Of The Castles, Charyn Canyon

Valley Of The Castles, Charyn Canyon

The landscapes in this part of the canyon were simply stunning with jagged rocks and contours that had taken thousands of years to erode away into the shapes we see today. We didn’t notice it at the time but as we made our way towards the river, we were heading down a gentle slope. Its fair to say our group wasn’t a typical collection of hardened hikers so we made a gentle pace stopping to take pictures at various places. Eventually, we reached our destination next to the wide, fast flowing river. There were some tables where lunch would be served and while it was being prepared, our guide offered me and a friend the opportunity to climb to some other parts of the canyon. Apparently, we looked fitter and more able than the rest of the group…at this point we started to seriously question the guides judgement. Approaching my 40th, its fair to say I’m not in as good shape as I was in my early 20s.

Charyn River

Charyn River

Nonetheless, we took up the little challenge but I should point out that our footwear wasn’t ideally suited to hard core hiking but for some reason, we trusted our guide. He proceeded to lead us up and down all sorts of precarious and narrow little tracks and on more than one occasion, I would have been quite happy to see an RAF Mountain Rescue Sea King appear but unfortunately, the Charyn Canyon was outside the range of operation. After what seemed like an age of nervous progress, we eventually appeared on the ridge overlooking the river and our colleagues below and we made our way down to join them for lunch. Despite a few moments of concern, it was worth the effort as we managed to see the canyon from different aspects from the rest of the group.

Looking Down Into The Canyon

Looking Down Into The Canyon

After our lunch we took time to relax and soak up a bit of the Kazakhstan sun before heading back to the mini bus. It was now that we started to realise there had been a gentle downward slope towards the river. It was only a gentle rise but the walk back to the car park was energy sapping in the hot sun. Finally we reached the last set of steps to climb out of the canyon.

The one thing we hadn’t see a great deal of was wildlife. Perhaps it was a case of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” going out in the midday sun but we did find a couple of little creatures.

CharyLizard CharynSnake

After hours in the sun, it was a relief to get into the air conditioned mini-bus for the journey back to Almaty.

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Lavenham Medieval Market Town

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MedievalTimberBuildingsLavenhamIf you ever visit the heart of Suffolk, you will find a number of medieval market towns that prospered from the wool trade during the 15th and 16th centuries. Places like Bury St Edmunds, Long Melford and others all have a charm of their own but without doubt, the most enthralling is Lavenham.

At its height, Lavenham was among the top 20 wealthiest places in England as the it reaped the rewards of the wool trade paying more tax that the large centres of Lincoln and York. Today, many of the beautiful old buildings remain and it is a wonderful place to walk around at your leisure visiting the museums, tea shops and browsing the antique stores looking for a bargain.

De Vere House, Lavenham

De Vere House, Lavenham

In the early days, the estate was owned by a tenant-in-chief of William the Conquerer called Aubrey de Vere. One of the many timber buildings in Lavenham today bears his name – De Vere House. This 14th century cottage was used to create the fictional village of Godric’s Hollow in the film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part One”. If you fancy staying at De Vere House, it is a luxury self catering accommodation with two guest bedrooms.

Of all the wonderful medieval buildings in Lavenham, the best known is the Guildhall of Corpus Christi. This Tudor building has a number of museum rooms telling the tale of Lavenham’s history. The Guildhall was probably built in 1530 although the exact date is not known. The building has a chequered history and at one point in time was used as a prison. Some of the basement windows still have bars across them.

Guildhall of Corpus Christi, Lavenham

Guildhall of Corpus Christi, Lavenham

During World War II, Lavenham was home to one of the many American air bases and Station 137 was manned by the US Army Air Force 487th Bombardment Group between September 1943 and November 1945. Much of the base has been returned to fam land although parts of the runway still remain and the Control Tower is in the process of being restored. In the square in Lavenham, there is a plaque to the memory of the men of the 487th along with a more recent British casualty Lance Corporal of Horse “Jo” Woodgate who died in Afghanistan in 2010.

In all, there are over 300 buildings of historic significance in Lavenham which today is home to around 1,700 people. If you want to visit one of England’s finest examples of medieval history then Lavenham is the place to go. It is within easy driving distance of Colchester, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge and should be one the list of any itinerary if you are ever in Suffolk.

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My Favourite Photos of 2012

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The problem with writing about all the wonderful places I’ve visited in 2012 is that I simply couldn’t do them justice in a single blog post. Instead, I’ve chosen my favourite photos I’ve taken this year.

Donbass Arena

Donbass Arena, Donetsk

Donbass Arena, Donetsk

I travelled to the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine for the Euro 2012 match between England and France. It was a beautiful summers day and I had time to look around the city and soak up the sun. The game was played in the Donbass Arena, a magnificent, modern football stadium. As it as the summer, there was still a hint of sunlight after the game and I was able to capture this photo.

Blue Dragon Nudibranch

Blue Dragon Nudibranch

Blue Dragon Nudibranch

In April, we took a family holiday to Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, a place where I have dived many times before. I’m not sure what was different about this trip but I seem very tuned in to find different nudibranchs and slugs whilst I was diving. I found this Blue Dragon Nudibranch on the wreck of the Yolanda at the very tip of the Sinai.

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour is one of the main tourist areas of the city and is wonderful place to be during the long summer days. It is also the starting point for a number of short cruises around the many beautiful fjords and inlets.

Scallop, Aldeburgh

Scallop, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Scallop, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

There are some lovely towns and villages along the Suffolk coast. Aldeburgh is one of these places and although it is probably best known for its wonderful fish and chips the Scallop just to the north of the town has been the cause of discussion. This sculpture is dedicated to the composer,  Benjamin Britten who used to walk along this stretch of beach. Some people think it should be taken down as it is inappropriate for a man made object along such a beautiful setting.


Liverpool Skyline

Liverpool Skyline

I’ve been spending a bit of time in Liverpool recently and although the city is the butt of a number of jokes, parts of the city are absolutely wonderful. One evening I took the opportunity to head over to the Wirral on the other side of the River Mersey and took this picture of the Liverpool skyline at night. It shows the iconic towers of the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building, the Port of Liverpool Building, the Echo Area and in the distance, the Anglican Cathedral.

Avebury Stone Circle

Avebury Stone Circle

Avebury Stone Circle

The stone circles in the Wiltshire village of Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe and is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain. It dates back to 2,600BC during the Neolithic period and today is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Titan Triggerfish

Titan Triggerfish

Titan Triggerfish

I wasn’t sure whether to include a second underwater picture but I really like this picture of a Titan Triggerfish. These fish can grow up to 70cm long and are sometimes incredibly agressive. I’ve been attacked by them a few times although luckily, I’ve never been bitten. The thing I like about this picture is I was able to get so close to it head on.

The Balearic Islands are known as a hedonist’s wonderland – full of clubs and rowdy young things. However, the quieter cousin of Ibiza and Majorca is Menorca. This smaller island is full of foodie delights, tranquil backwaters and 99 beaches, each with its own unique vibe and sea conditions. Whether by bike, kayak or on foot, Menorca has a treasure trove of hamlets to discover.

Magnificent menus 

Towards the north of the island is Macaret, a decent spot for a lazy lunch or tapas meal. Try the dangerously refreshing pomada, a local speciality gin that’s served with plenty of ice and lemon. Also, take a mental note of Es Mercadal. In this area, there’s a large variety of eateries, ranging from the cheap and cheerful to upmarket cuisine. An island with 99 beaches has abundant seafood morsels and a decent variety of seafood restaurants. Try Ses Truqueries, a farm combined with restaurant near the rocky shores of Cuitadella. Another gem is Can Bernat d’es Grau, a place that does local fish seared on a griddle, near Maó on the coast. In Maó, a converted convent holds a decadent market which sells local cheeses, sausages, capers and gin – all of the necessities for a fun night.

Must-see Menorca 

Menorca has 1,600 megalithic sites from aeons ago scattered around the island. Talatí de Dalt has a magnificent T-shaped structure called a Taula. The Naveta dels Tudons has an enigmatic monolith that’s shaped like an upturned boat. In ancient times, the inhabitants of Menorca mined for limestone, and recently these quarries have been restored to their glory days. The Pedreres de s’Hostal at Líthica is one such treasure of antiquity. At the early and later hours of the day, the shadows cast into these quiet, empty spaces are awe-inspiring.

An eco-view to write home about 

Menorca has been a UNESCO biosphere since 1993. Suffice to say that they take eco-living and conservation very seriously indeed. Wild camping is not allowed, but sleeping out in sleeping bags and in a small tent is tolerated, so long as you’re careful where you park your tired feet. Places like sand dunes are protected because of the local flora and fauna. Just make sure that you leave the place as you found it. Unlike Ibiza, instead of techno beats reverberating around Menorca, there is only bird song and waves. The island is largely flat, making it perfect for walking or cycling trips. The good news for the out-of-shape traveller is that these won’t prove to be too challenging.

Get lost in a kayak 

Athletic and adventurous types should try their hand at kayaking across the 216km of coastline in Menorca. Only around half of the beaches there have road access, which means that exploring by kayak could be the ticket to a little-known paradise. The Menorcan tourist board estimates that the circumnavigation of Menorca by kayak will take 10 hours in the kayak, for 10 days. If this idea seems exhausting, then there are plenty of day trips and pleasure paddles to be found. A good day’s paddle is Illa d’en Colom. An uninhabited island about 200m from the mainland, it’s a part of the Parc de s’Albufera des Grau. It’s likely that there won’t be a single solitary soul in view, only turquoise water, golden sand and a flurry of birds above and fishes below. Be sure to check accommodation arrangements before travelling, as many places are closed for the winter from November to March. However, going there during the colder period will mean that Menorca is surprisingly cheap and practically deserted – always a nice bonus. Check out cheap holidays to Spain in early spring time too. This is when the almond blossom comes out and the air is restless with new life.

The Balaerics in general are very easy to get to, with cheap holidays to Spain available through Thomson and several other travel operators.

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Want a holiday that packs a wallop like a souped-up retro car? Perhaps one set to a meringue beat? This sort of scene may bring to mind Cuba, but another place that’s similarly vibrant, sunny and loud is the Dominican Republic. Not to be confused with the small Caribbean island of Dominica, population 73,000, the Dominican Republic is the second largest nation in the Caribbean, with around 10 million people living there.

The DR in a nutshell 

When Christopher Columbus first spotted this large island in 1492, he named it Hispaniola. French pirates and buccaneers later set up camp, before there was a French colony in the 17th century, with sugar cane successes, and plenty of ships passing in the hot trade winds. The Dominican Republic is diverse, lush and teeming with different ecosystems; from high alpine and mangrove swamps, to savannah, desert and sandy beaches. It’s not only the land that’s diverse, the island is now split into independent parts: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Crossing the island, one meets African-looking folks who speak French and dress to party at all hours; on other parts of the island, bodegas are pumping out tapas and meringue music.

Day-time adventures 

There are plenty of both natural and man-made diversions. The ecology of the island means that exploration calls like a whisper on the Caribbean wind, if only to follow in the footsteps of many other curious explorers in history. Day-time exploring can include traversing through savannah, towards the windswept coastline where whales can be spotted during certain times of year. Another excellent day trip is climbing the peak of Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Caribbean at 3,175m.

After siesta time 

When the sun gets horizontal in the sky and energy levels begin to waver, it’s time to chow down on some fortifying tapas and sangria in a bodega. Or perhaps it’s worth gambling with the local poison of choice – rum and cigars. Not exactly healthy, but then some things simply aren’t healthy that feel good. The national and personal motto of everybody in the Dominican Republic seems to be “Fiesta mi amigo”. So don’t be afraid to gulp down some pungent, fiery liquids that could kill a small horse.

Quirky local haunts 

Countless beach huts and bars will be frequented by the tourists, who fling themselves into the feel-good vibes of the local scenery. But those in the know will dig a little deeper and go where the locals party. A new phenomenon that is flourishing on the island is car wash parties. It may sound ludicrous, but it’s nothing like the silly 1970s movie of the same name, starring Richard Prior among others. Car washes in the Dominican Republic come complete with a bar, plenty of amber ale of different kinds flowing freely and people milling around, partying together while washing and buffing their treasured vehicles. Each car wash will feature music that’s played at a decibel range heard from outer space. It’s not for everyone, but for travellers wanting a unique and quirky experience that’s completely indigenous to the area, this is it. Older people may want to bring the ear plugs; younger ones will want to bring along wads of cash for the reveries, which could easily rival the parties of nearby Cuba. Turn up at around 9pm but don’t expect the party to really kick off until after 1am. Getting a rental car specifically for the purpose is advisable – a designated driver for the evening is also a canny idea.

Holidays to the Dominican Republic, through Holiday Hypermarket or other travel companies, can be as quiet and tranquil as any other island hideaway, or you could pretend that you’re in the thick of a carnival in Rio. It’s really all down to where you choose to hang your hat.

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