Monthly Archives: November 2016

A magical journey to Norway

This year, there’s more than the aurora borealis to draw you to ethereally beautiful Arctic Norway. On the shores of Lyngenfjord, two hours from the city of Tromsø, a team of plucky entrepreneurs have opened the northernmost distillery in the world. We went to discover why this is a magical escape for whisky lovers and northern lights hunters alike.

It might as well be midnight as we leave Tromsø. Last night’s snow crunching beneath the tyres, only the pinkish glow of street lights illuminates the ink-blue sky. This close to the winter solstice, the days here have a strange beauty. The first light doesn’t appear until just before 11am; it’s dark by 1.30pm.

We may already be 350km north of the Arctic circle, but today our journey is only just getting started. Striking out from the city, we snake along the shores of placid fjords, passing traditional red clapboard houses, candles flickering in the windows. These are the most northerly reaches of Europe – and fairytale Norway at its finest.

Even at Breivikeidet, where an isolated ferry plies passengers across the glassy expanse of Ullsfjord, the local population stands at just fifty souls. It’s certainly a challenging place to live – with temperatures dropping to -17°C (1ºF) in winter and 24-hour daylight summer – yet speak to most locals, and they wouldn’t move anywhere else.

The best European city for holiday

City breaks can be hard to plan. You want it all – art, culture, quirky hotels, top restaurants – but also the chance to relax. Fortunately, there some cities where you can find both. These eight European destinations don’t skimp on urban culture, and have nature on their doorstep for when you need a breath of fresh air.

 

1. Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavík is the ultimate city-and-nature destination. This diminutive capital brims with Nordic-chic boutiques and cool hotels, yet lies just a few hours’ drive from the country’s most earth-shatteringly gorgeous landscapes.

Catch a ferry out to the islands of Viðey, Lundey or Akurey to see thousands of breeding puffins; hike up the “city mountain” Mount Esja; and explore still-active Eyjafjallajökull volcano, just 90 minutes outside of town.

You can also use Reykjavík as your base before embarking on the famous “Golden Circle“. This route encompasses the geysers at Geysir and roaring waterfalls at Gullfoss, with bathing opportunities in thermal pools such as Fluðir or Laugarvatn along the way.

Back in the city, make time for Reykjavík’s growing number of innovative restaurants, many of which use locally sourced ingredients such as cloudberries or lamb. Try Michelin-starred DILL or the more affordable Sjávarbarinn for freshly caught seafood.

 

2. Munich, Germany

You’ll find some of Germany’s most beautiful architecture in Munich, Bavaria’s historic capital. Start by exploring the fifteenth-century Gothic Frauenkirche, or climb the tower of St Peterskirche, the oldest church in the city, for unparalleled views over the rooftops.

Other worthwhile sights include the Pinakothek trio, three galleries each dedicated to a different era of art, the futuristic BMW museum and Schloss Nymphenburg on the outskirts of the city.

Munich’s green heart is the Englischer Garten, one of Europe’s largest urban parks, designed by Sir Benjamin Thompson in 1789. If you’re looking to explore further afield, hire a bike and spend a day cycling south along the river Isar, detouring to the lakes of Sternbergersee or Ammersee for a spot of swimming.

 

The reason you need to discover Norway

Norway isn’t short of incredible landscapes. This is the country of majestic lakes, lush meadows and snow-covered mountains. Yet one part of Norway continues to hold unique appeal – the wild Arctic north where the mainland fractures into an intricate coastline of twisting fjords and remote archipelagos.

At the heart of the region is one of the country’s most delightful small cities, Tromsø, situated 350km north of the Arctic circle. That’s more northerly than all of the Icelandic mainland, Inuvik in Canada and most of Alaska. Yet thanks to the warmth of the Gulf Stream, it’s an appealing, welcoming place home to more than 70,000 people.

This is about as far north as you can travel in Europe, and one of the best places to come if you’re looking for a winter adventure. Pack your mittens and dig out your snow boots: here’s our guide to visiting this compact city and the magical sights that surround it.

 

What are the best day-trips and activities?

Topping most travellers’ winter wish-lists are husky sledding, whale watching and aurora hunting – and there is a bemusing array of operators ready to whisk you out of the city. You’d be wise to do some research before you come. The tourist office website is a great place to start, with a well-curated list of excursions and reliable providers. Unfortunately Tromsø isn’t cheap; expect to pay upwards of 1200NOK for a day-trip.

Arctic Adventure Tours are one of the longest established local companies, offering both whale safaris and dog sledding. This is a family run and considerate outfit, demonstrated by the care they show to their hundred-or-so exuberant huskies. Visitors are invited to meet and play with the dogs before they’re harnessed, and then learn to drive their own two-person sleds through the snow.

Flying along the mountain slopes is an unforgettable experience, with the “musher”, or driver, standing to guide the sled and keep the huskies’ incredible power under control – step off, and they’ll happily speed into the distance.

The most remote places in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia: steamy rainforests, sleepy rice paddies, endless beaches – and crowds of backpackers, hawkers and tourists?

Southeast Asia may have some of the most blissful destinations in the world but it also has some of the planet’s most frenetic cities, its most popular backpacker haunts and some seriously crowded sands. We’ve been far off the beaten track to find the most remote places in Southeast Asia. Here are a few of our favourites.

 

1. Mindat, Chin State, Myanmar

Mindat is known worldwide as the home of the tattoo-faced ladies of the Chin tribes, but few tourists make it out to this remote village in the shadow of Mount Victoria. Those who do are rewarded with fresh mountain air, a fascinating Christian culture and some of the friendliest people in Southeast Asia – not to mention superb trekking. If you want to visit, be sure to read up on how this kind of community-based tourism can be done ethically here.

 

2. Saluag, The Philippines

Life on Saluag is all about fishing, seaweed farming and boat making. There’s little to do here on the Philippines’ southernmost isle besides chilling out, and watching sea eagles soar above the soft waves.

How to get there: fly from Zamboang City to Bongao on Tawi-Tawi, hire a tricycle to Chinese Pier and take the ferry to Barangay Tandubanak on Sibutu. From here take a motorcycle taxi 30 minutes south to Barangay Tandu-owak where the boat leaves for Saluag, 40 minutes away.

 

3. Koh Thmei, Cambodia

Thousands of birds populate this isolated isle and there’s just one place to stay, the Koh Thmei Resort. Nothing spoils the sea view from your wooden bungalow at the water’s edge and wildlife-spotting is a breeze with some 150 types of feathery friend – plus dolphins and sea eagles. The island is part of Ream national park, but several long leases have been granted to developers in recent years; go now.

How to get there: take the bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, getting out at Ou Chamnar. Hire a moto taxi to Koh Kchhang Fishing Village, where the boat departs for the resort. The crossing is one hour.

A JOURNEY TO THE PROTESTS ON THE GREAT PLAINS

In January 2016, energy company Dakota Access announced plans to run an oil pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. A few months later, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe began protesting the threat to their water supplies. The protests quickly became a movement, a rallying point for all manner of individuals and groups to express anger about everything from dark money and corporate power to ecocide.

But while the protests came to mean many things to many people, Neil McQuillian found that they mean most to the Native Americans involved. He went to understand why this is one of the greatest scandals in US history.

Colourful flags crack in the cold wind. There are tepees that sit like crowns amongst the regular tents. A silvery grey sliver of Missouri river slicks dull beyond them. The camp is pretty, in a way.

But, in its freezing stillness, the scene feels bleak – the few figures I see are bundles of clothing, moving hurriedly to finish what they’re doing and get back into shelter. Plus I’m only dropping in – I’ve come to better understand the protests against the $3.8bn Dakota Access oil pipeline but have just a few hours to spare – which means I’m an outsider. That status weighs pretty heavily here.

So when I hear low applause, it sounds like warmth and company. I find the source, a large tent in the centre of camp, and push back the heavy flap. It is warmer in here and my cheeks begin to glow. A group of some thirty people, around two-thirds Native American, are listening to the speaker. I recognise her as LaDonna Brave Bull Allard of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who owns the nearby land where the protests began.

“I’m here until the pipeline is stopped,” she is saying. ”We are at a point in our lives where we are unifying. We are people of trauma and we have to heal. We are fighting a demon. Everything we have fought for the past 500 years.”