Category Archives: Travel

Quarries and surf lagoons

With its grand mountains, rolling hills and stunning coastline, the castle-packed, Welsh-speaking heartland of North Wales has always been an epic place for the active. And the addition of new facilities – including an innovative surf lagoon and record-breaking zip lines – to those age-old charms has created arguably the best place for adventure sports in Britain.

Go underground at Llechwedd Slate Caverns

Slate mining once dominated the economy in northwest Wales: slate from these hills supplied most of the roofs in Victorian Britain and was transported around the world. Its decline over the last century hit local communities hard and left quarried hillsides, great caverns and dark tunnels in its wake.

They’re all visible around the small town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Surrounded on all sides by Snowdonia National Park, its quarry-scarred landscape means it didn’t qualify for park status. Yet the area has a hard beauty of its own, and once you head downwards you discover another world. You can explore the Llechwedd Slate Caverns just outside town via numerous tours, and adventurous can spend two hours exploring the eerily magnificent mines on a Caverns tour, using zip lines, rope bridges and footholds hammered into the walls, gazing into dark holes and across cathedral-sized caves. It’s a great feeling – you get to put your hands on history, and set your heart pounding.

If that sounds a bit much, operators Zip World also offer Bounce Below, a series of enormous interconnected trampolines and slides. Trampolining in a cave is a unique experience, and the atmospheric lighting and chiselled walls around you give the giggling fun of bouncing up and down a nice counterpoint.

Fly high and low on record-breaking zip lines

Outdoor zip lines offer up a different perspective. You can build up quite a lick heading down these, a physical thrill that’s matched by the awesome spectacle of North Wales swooshing by beneath you. Blaenau Ffestiniog’s three zip lines take you down from the hills above to the mine itself. At Bethesda, northwest of Blaenau, Zip World Velocity (zipworld.co.uk) boasts the longest line in Europe and the fastest (up to 100mph) in the world.

More records are smashed elsewhere. Go Below, outside the appealing town of Betws-y-Coed, has the world’s longest underground zip line and can take you to the deepest point in Britain that’s accessible to the public – almost 400m below ground.

Outdoor activities in Seattle

Often referred to as the ‘Emerald City’ thanks to the lush evergreen forests nearby, Seattle’s sobriquet is no tourist-brochure euphemism. Bears and cougars have been sighted in the city’s rugged Discovery Park, fleece-wearing diners fresh from kayaking trips show up in downtown restaurants, and on clear days from numerous vantage points, Mt Rainier, a 14,411ft glacier-encrusted volcano, appears so close it feels as if you could almost touch it. No wonder such a high proportion of Seattleites choose to ignore manic East Coast work ethics and regularly escape into their ‘backyard’ for a dose of the great outdoors.

On your bike

Cycling in Seattle is one of the most instantaneous ways for visitors to fend off museum claustrophobia and get some fresh gulps of Pacific Northwestern air. Fortunately, with the inauguration of Seattle’s bike-sharing scheme, Pronto (prontocycleshare.com) in 2014, getting about on two wheels has become a lot easier. Intended more as city hoppers than zippy racers, Pronto’s new seven-gear bikes available from 54 city-wide docking stations are adept enough to get you out of downtown and enjoy a brief taste of Seattle’s finest greenway, the Burke Gilman trail. Check out our guide to Pronto for more info.

Stretching 21 miles from the shores of Lake Washington to Puget Sound, the Burke-Gilman follows the course of an old disused railway line. Along the way it meanders past moored houseboats, weird urban sculpture and numerous green oases. If you’ve only got time for one stop, hit the brakes in Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union, a windy promontory popular with kite-flyers where a rusting coal plant was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To enjoy the trail in its entirety, you’ll need to swap your short-loan Pronto bike for a more flexible day-rental. Dutch Bike Co in Ballard rents well-appointed, two-wheeled machines from $45 a day. The shop, which also pedals pastries from an adjacent cafe, is strategically located in Ballard at the west end of the Burke-Gilman trail close to Hiram M Chittenden Locks, where lush botanical gardens overlook the point at which Puget Sound’s seawater meets the freshwater of Lake Union. Here you can watch a merry array of working boats as they negotiate the lock system, or disappear underneath to see salmon wriggling up an ingenious fish ladder. Cycle two miles further west and you’ll end up inGolden Gardens Park, well-known for its Bloody Mary sunsets framed by ghostly silhouettes of the Olympic Mountains.

Best experiences of the scenic barrier islands

images-15Coastal Georgia’s barrier islands constitute one-third of the entire East Coast’s saltwater marshes and span 150 miles along the Atlantic coast, beginning with northern-most Tybee Island, a 30-minute drive fromSavannah, down to Cumberland Island above the Florida border. Visits to some can be as simple as a stop-over on a drive along the I-95 corridor, while others demand more intrepid seafaring-only means to get there.

This semitropical string of islands is rife with opportunities to enjoy the landscape at a leisurely pace – after all, you’re on island time and in the South. Though degrees of development and infrastructure vary from island to island, encountering nature on each one is a great way to find solace in a bit of solitude.

Tybee Island: Savannah’s offbeat enclave

Twenty miles east of Savannah’s historic district, Tybee Island (known by locals – or at least the ones dwelling on the mainland – as ‘Savannah Beach’) features five miles of easily-accessible public shoreline, popular to visitors from other parts of Georgia and beyond.

Enjoy surfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding or jet skiing with your own craft or rent from a local outfitter (tybeeisland.com/water-sports). The lively pier on the south end of the island is popular for picnicking and people watching – but if you prefer to peep birds and wild dolphins rather than humans, head to North Beach off Strand Avenue. You’ll also find the oldest and tallest lighthouse in the state here.

If you’re seeking seclusion and feeling adventurous, try a jaunt to Little Tybee Island. It’s completely uninhabited and perfect for camping, beachcombing, birding and hiking. It’s within easy eyeshot of ‘big’ Tybee and might seem close enough to swim to, but the currents can be treacherous, so don’t attempt it. Kayak if you’re experienced or look into boat charter services (visittybee.com).

McQueen’s Island Trail: amble down an ex-railroad track

McQueen’s Island Trail (parks.chathamcounty.org) is a hit for travelers who want to bike (bring your own), hike, or jog along what used to be a stretch of the Savannah & Atlantic Railroad Line. The scenic six-mile path is fringed with cordgrass, cabbage palms and coastal cedar trees. Terrain ranges from hard-packed dirt to pebbly crushed limestone and the western portion of the trail was recently restored due to erosion, so tread with care on this fragile turf.

Paralleling the Savannah River, the trail takes you right up to its marshy banks at some points. These are great resting areas for a deep breath of sea salt-air and a glimpse of the river’s impressive breadth, where massive ships drift out to sea. Spot native wildlife like dolphins, turtles and the occasional bobcat or alligator. A bit of island kitsch awaits at the end, where you’ll encounter an oak tree adorned with buoys, flags and trinkets. The trailhead is just off US Highway 80, 15 miles east of Savannah – keep your eyes peeled for the Fort Pulaski National Monument (nps.gov) sign and park along the road or at the fort for free. The only animals allowed are the ones who dwell here, so leave your pups at home.

Off-the-beaten-track island odysseys

Set southward to see under-the-radar islands that get overshadowed by big hitters like Tybee, St Simons or Jekyll. These tucked-away natural treasures take a little more effort to get to but their unmarred and primordial beauty is worth the trek.

Take Wassaw Island, for example. What it lacks in development is made up for by an experience of primitive grandeur while birding, hiking and biking along 20 miles of trails and seven miles of seashore. Visitors can explore diverse wildlife in their unique habitats year-round and national refuge regulation ensures all species are protected.

Wassaw’s live oak and slash pine trees converge to form canopies where rookeries of herons, egrets and other local birds dwell, and endangered loggerhead sea turtles swim ashore to lay eggs on summer nights. Ensure wildlife here continues to thrive by adhering to all signage and don’t venture beyond areas marked off-limits. Wassaw is open daily from sunrise to sunset and only accessible by boat. Charter services can be booked with eco-conscious outfitters like Savannah Coastal EcoTours (savannahcoastalecotours.com) or Wilderness Southeast (naturesavannah.org).

Sapelo Island sits right in the middle of Georgia’s string of barrier islands and is well worth a visit for die-hard naturalists. Tours of the island’s extensive system of estuaries must be booked in advance through the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (SINERR) Visitors Center (sapelonerr.org) and ferry service runs from the nearby mainland town of Meridian, accessible from I-95. Camping is also available for groups of 15-25 on close-by Cabretta Island.

Trivia for travellers

To give you a taste of Lonely Planet’s wanderlust-inducing The Travel Book, we’ve rounded up an alphabet’s worth of weird and wonderful facts about some of the places you’ll discover in its pages (okay, okay, we confess: there’s no ‘x’, but it’s close enough, damn it).

Read on to find out which country inspired the phrase ‘banana republic’, where people consume vodka with gusto to cure all their ills, and what world-class museum relies on a pounce of resident cats to keep its masterpiece-clogged galleries mouse-free…

A

  • Antarctica: Antarctica’s ice sheets contain 90% of the world’s ice – 28 million cu km – holding about 70% of the world’s fresh water.
  • Azerbaijan: ‘Layla’, Eric Clapton’s classic rock song was inspired by the Azeri epic poem Layla and Majnun.

B

  • Bangladesh: The national game of Bangladesh is kabaddi, a group version of tag where players must evade the opposing team while holding a single breath of air.
  • Belarus: Many Belarusian folk-remedies involve vodka: gargle with it to cure a sore throat, wash your hair with it to alleviate dandruff and pour it in your ear to treat an earache.

C

  • Canada: Every year the British Columbian town of Nanaimo holds a bathtub race, where competitors speed across the harbour in boats formed from bathtubs.

  • Chile: The Atacama Desert has the planet’s best star-gazing potential: the Alma Observatory here is the world’s largest astronomic project.

D

  • Denmark: Denmark really does have an extraordinary inventive streak: many innovative creations including the loudspeaker, magnetic storage and Lego have Danish roots.

E

  • Ecuador & The Galápagos Islands: Tiny Ecuador is home to some 300 mammal species and over 1600 bird species – more than Europe and North America combined.
  • Ethiopia: When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front tanks rolled into Addis Ababa in 1991, they were navigating with the map in Lonely Planet’s Africa on a Shoestring.

F

  • Finland: Finns are renowned for being quiet – there’s an old joke that they invented text messaging so they wouldn’t have to speak to each other.

G

  • Gabon: High on nature – Gabon’s forest elephants are particularly fond of iboga, a shrub known for its strong hallucinogenic properties.
  • Greenland: Numbers in Greenlandic only go up to 12 – after 12 there is only amerlasoorpassuit (many); otherwise you have to use Danish numbers.

H

  • Honduras: Honduras was the original banana republic – the American writer O Henry coined the phrase in the 1890s to describe the influence American banana companies wielded over the Honduran government.

Dublin best pubs

Get arty at the barnard shaw

Home to one of Dublin’s most popular beer gardens, the Bernard Shawalso houses an Italian cafe and a big blue bus, which whips up freshly-made pizza out back. If it looks thrown together, it acts like it too, hosting everything from a flea market every Saturday afternoon to regular pub quizzes, gigs, paint jams (to refresh the colourful graffiti) and even the world’s first coffee-throwing championship. If you want to explore further, head south across the bridge and you’ll find yourself in the trendy Rathmines neighbourhood.

Pet spaniels and eat spuds at MVP

With a wonderful combination of strong, original cocktails – ever heard of a Poitin Colada? –  and fresh baked potatoes to protect you from said cocktails, MVP (mvpdublin.com) is in vibrant Portobello, a stone’s throw away from the beautiful, tree-lined Grand Canal (and the childhood home of Leopold Bloom). It’s one of the few dog-friendly watering holes in Dublin, so you might meet some furry friends up until 10pm. Beat the barman at chess on Tuesday for a free pint and keep an eye out for regular Sing Along Socials where you can screech your heart out to your favourite songs without being judged.

Make yourself at home in House

Located across two former upper-class residences, House (housedublin.ie) is decorated in an eclectic Georgian style yet still manages to be both elegant and welcoming. Choose to hide beside the fire in the library, enjoy the sunlight through the bright windows of the conservatory or perch on a stool in the pantry. Surrounded by historical townhouses on charming, residential Leeson St, it has one of the nicest beer gardens in the city, with a cover that can withstand the temperamental weather. Open late Monday to Saturday and attracting an older, upscale crowd,  it’s a peaceful place to have a gin and tonic in the evening while enjoying the boppy swing soundtrack and sampling a cheese board.

Sing along in the Cobblestone

Simply the best place to catch some Irish traditional music in Dublin city centre, the Cobblestone describes itself as a ‘drinking pub with a music problem’. It’s popular with Dubliners and tourists in equal measure, and everyone is welcome to join the free nightly music sessions. If you want to sit near the musicians, you’ll have to be quiet and respectful – head to the back of the bar for a chat. Use your visit as an excuse to explore the revitalised Smithfield area, complete with restaurants, cafes and the Old Jameson Distillery.

Get inspired at Toners

Popular with Dublin’s after-work crowd, Toners (tonerspub.ie) is the perfect place for a Guinness after visiting the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology or taking a stroll around Merrion Sq. A deceptively snug interior lined with dark wood leads out to Toners Yard, an incredibly spacious outside area where you can enjoy relaxed table service. Personally recommended by literary giants Patrick Kavanagh and WB Yeats, it doesn’t get more Dublin than this.

Challenge your friends in the Square Ball

Tucked away down the street from the Grand Canal Quay, the Square Ball (the-square-ball.com) is in one of those curious Dublin neighbourhoods full of council housing and the world’s biggest tech companies. Chill with a craft beer in the front lounge or watch every major sports fixture in a back room kitted out with fake turf. When you’re ready to compete yourself, head to the vintage arcade upstairs to challenge your drinking buddies.

Brush up on your history at Confession Box

Stuffed full of memorabilia, the Confession Box (facebook.com/confessionbox.dublin) flaunts its historical connections. In a previous incarnation, this was one of the favourite haunts of Michael Collins, one of the most prominent leaders in Ireland’s fight for independence, who used it as a safe haven. The name comes from the rumour he would call in to get communion and confession from local priests sympathetic to the cause. Despite being a minute’s walk from O’Connell St’s Spire, it’s always packed with regulars and was voted best Guinness in Dublin for two years in a row.