Monthly Archives: November 2016
Prime climes mean that wine is the star of the show this time of year with New Zealand, Australia and Argentina beckoning with delicious bevvies aplenty, but we’d be remiss not to mention balmy Singapore and it’s burgeoning Michelin-starred eateries. There’s never been a better time to loosen that waistbelt and indulge…
February is a New Zealand sweet spot. It’s one of the hottest months (20-30°C; 68-86°F), yet Kiwi families have taken the kids back to school. This makes it a good month for popular, weather-sensitive places, such as Abel Tasman National Park – far better to walk, kayak and camp amid the golden sands and forested headlands here when it’s sunny and quieter. While you’re in northern South Island, tag on the Marlborough region too. It’s home to more than 150 wineries, which will be thickening with grapes, before the March-May harvest; utilise February’s good weather to tour between cellar doors by bike. And February is when the Marlborough Food and Wine Festival (in Blenheim) showcases the region’s best produce: cherries, strawberries, apricots; Kaikoura cheese and Cloudy Bay clams; blue cod and green-lipped mussels from the Marlborough Sounds. There’s also good eating at vineyard restaurants and chances to take seafood cruises to catch your own.
- Trip plan: Combine activities in Abel Tasman with arty Nelson, Marlborough wine-tasting and whale-watching in Kaikoura.
- Need to know: The ferry from the North Island docks at Picton, 62 miles (100 km) east of Nelson, 19 miles (30 km) north of Blenheim.
- Other months: Dec-Feb – warmest, busiest; Mar-May – cooler, foodie, quiet; Jun-Aug – cold, wet; Sep-Nov – warming.
Arabian exoticism, fragrant spices – and lovely low prices. Morocco’s hard to beat for bargain romance. Marrakesh, Fez and Essaouira offer time-warp medinas chock-full of character and cheap cafes. Eschew your sense of direction to get lost in the maze-like souqs – the shopping possibilities are plentiful, with everything from carpets to babouches to be snapped up. Converted riads (traditional courtyard houses) offer accommodation with oodles of atmosphere; some are pricey but many are astonishingly reasonable, enabling palace-like stays on a pauper’s budget.
Portugal is liberating. The little anxieties – is that cafe too posh for us? Can we afford another coffee? – don’t exist here. Even in fancier establishments, espressos usually cost less than US$1, beers no more than US$2. You find yourself ordering a second pastel de nata (divine Portuguese custard tart) – well, why not? There are cute casas and converted farmhouses oozing charm for under US$100 a night, too.
Numbers are high, costs are low in Indonesia. Rooms might start from a startling-sounding 350,000 rupiah – but that’s only US$25. It’s easy to be a millionaire here, so even budget ’mooners can afford plenty of fun. Obvious-choice Bali has great beaches, boutique stays, culture in Ubud, cracking surf. But Indonesia has 17,000 isles! Consider Lombok and the Gili Islands, culture and volcanoes on Java and jungle adventures on Sumatra.
In the middle of the city centre is Cardiff Castle, a medieval castle encircled by Roman walls. William Burges’ opulent interiors epitomise Victorian Gothic design, and once inside you can marvel at intricate woodcarvings, epic murals, stained glass and rich colours that stretch from wall to ceiling.
Climb to the top of the Norman keep to see views over the entire city. On a clear day you can see its sister castle, Castell Coch, in the distance.
Stretching for nearly a kilometre between the main shopping streets and the castle end of the city, the Victorian, Edwardian and contemporary indoor arcades give Cardiff its nickname, ‘the city of arcades’. Along the winding corridors are independent boutiques, family-run cafes and quirky pop-up spaces, all much more charming than the chain stores in St David’s shopping centre. Browse the vinyl racks at Spillers, the world’s oldest record store, or hug a mug in Coffee Barker (instagram.com/coffeebarker), a coffee shop with cosy nooks and exposed bricks.
Home to Wales’ art, geology and natural history collections, as well as touring exhibitions, the National Museum is educational and vast. It contains the UK’s largest collection of French Impressionist paintings outside of London and works from artists as diverse as Van Gogh and Picasso. The Evolution of Wales charts the story of Wales from the Big Bang up to the 21st century, and features epic dinosaurs.
Cross a sea-spanning barrage
Built to regenerate Cardiff’s docklands, the barrage is Europe’s largest waterfront development. It’s essentially an unwalled path for pedestrians and cyclists stretching across the water from Cardiff Bay to Penarth, a nearby seaside town, but it’s a great viewpoint from which to appreciate the scale and history of the city.
For land-lovers, snow leopards and huge vistas of ice await in India; underwater explorers can swim with whale sharks in the balmy waters of the Philippines; and there’s a special treat for spotters who can bear witness, not only to spectacular birdlife in Japan, but to the spectacle of millions of monarch butterflies taking flight in Mexico.
Brrrrrrr! It’s not warm in the Himalayan heights of northwest Indiaright now (days around 21°F; -6°C). But it’s worth braving the cold for a couple of very special experiences. Wildlife fans should head for Hemis National Park, home to a 400-year-old monastery, and one of the few places on the planet where the elusive snow leopard isn’t quite so elusive. During winter mating season – which peaks in February – the high-dwelling big cats descend to the valleys here to find mates, making them easier to spot. Alternatively, trekkers can check out the Chadar. This challenging winter hike starts near Leh, and uses the frozen Zanskar River as its path – walking on this icy meander is the only way to access the highland villages at this time. February is when the ice is at its most stable; the temperature is biting, but the snow-cloaked mountains spectacular.
- Trip plan: Fly to Leh. Hemis is 6 miles (10 km) south, where guided treks in the Tarbuns Valley may yield leopards. The Chadar hike starts in Chilling, 40 miles (65 km) from Leh, and takes six days.
- Need to know: Leh is at 11,483ft (3500m) so stay well-hydrated to help altitude acclimatisation.
- Other months: Nov-Mar – cold, snowy (Jan-Feb: Chadar possible); Apr-May & Oct – quiet, cool; Jun-Sep – best for regular trekking.