Monthly Archives: March 2017

The coolest city in Britain

Earlier this year a deafening “clink” of cider glasses reverberated around Bristol when the city was voted as Rough Guides’ Top UK City of 2017, shrugging off London, Oxford and Edinburgh for the top spot in the list.

It wasn’t a hard decision. The city’s first-rate nightlife, thriving creative and tech industries and proximity to the great outdoors made it an obvious choice. Think London, but smaller and (dare we say it) cooler – or at least more committed to its offbeat counterculture, and with an enormous gorge cutting an improbable chunk through part of the city.

Bristol frequently gets voted as one of the UK’s most liveable cities, too. But for the 7,516,570,000-odd humans who don’t have the honour of living there, here are five reasons why Bristol should be your next UK city break.

 

1. There are some weird and wonderful places to sleep

Sleeping in a “bedroom” in a “building” is so 2016.

Arguably taking the glamping craze to its logical conclusion, the visionaries at Canopy & Stars have converted one of the Harbourside’s iconic 1950s cranes into a treehouse. The ingeniously designed Crane 29 offers sweeping views of the harbour and prime people-watching opportunities from a window-side hammock, while the rainforest walkway and wooden furnishings make this a truly unique stay with green credentials to boot.

You will be serenaded to sleep by the buzzing chatter of the city centre and awoken by the dawn chorus, led by the shrill trumpeting of seagulls. It’s only around until September, though – to grab one of the final spots, enter Canopy and Stars’ competition.

A permanent, but no-less eccentric option are the retro Rocket caravans that have been airlifted to the top of chichi Brooks Guesthouse, just by St Nicholas Market. There are four of these aluminium vans, each kitted out with pocket-sprung mattresses and cosy bathrooms to a design spec that meets the high boutique standards of the guestrooms downstairs. Eating breakfast in the whitewashed courtyard is a pure delight.

 

2. You can lose your tandem bike virginity

In 2008, Bristol was named Britain’s first “Cycling City”, and its reputation as one of Europe‘s most bike-friendly destinations continues to grow. As well as having a cycling lane on just about every street – including some Dutch-style segregated lanes – the city is home of the cycling charity Sustrans and is the hub of Britain’s national cycling network.

So if you’re ever going to lose your tandem bicycling virginity, it should probably be here.

The friendly, family-run Bristol Tandem Hire has a range of high-spec tandem bicycles for hire. They offer up local knowledge on the best low-traffic routes around the city, plus a quick and necessary tutorial on how to keep your balance (and relationship/friendship) on track while on the bike. They also offer the option to take a hamper on your ride, with picnic rug and all.

Consider starting your tandem adventure at Queen Square before heading to the M Shed and west along the waterside; Pickle café offers a good stop-off for a coffee. Crossing north over the Cumberland Basin, cycle along the valley floor of the Avon Gorge before climbing up into Clifton. Here you can pedal around leafy Clifton Down before crossing Brunel’s suspension bridge into the Ashton Court Estate, with its herd of semi-tame red and fallow deer.

Tips to find the best beaches in Italy

From secluded coves to lively seafronts, there are plenty of places to sun worship in Italy. But with an increasing number of hotels charging for access to the sands, it’s hard to know where to spend your money. Here are 20 Italian beaches that won’t disappoint.

 

1. Forno, Elba, Tuscany

The main five beaches on Elba can get suffocatingly packed in high season – including the popular resort of Biodola. However, Forno, set in the bay of Biodola, is far less busy and the main beach is set in a lovely cove, surrounded by villas and dense vegetation.

 

2. Levanto, Liguria

Anchoring the westernmost point of the Cinque Terre, the small, unpretentious resort of Levanto feels quite cut off by Ligurian standards. But it has a glorious sandy beach, which, despite the number of parasols, has a great surfy vibe.

 

3. Cefalù, Sicily

Despite being one of Sicily’s busiest international beach resorts, Cefalù has a parallel life as a small-scale fishing port. Naturally, the long, curving stretches of sand are the major attraction, but Cefalù is a pleasant town and nowhere near as developed as Sicily’s other major package resort, Taormina.

Best known for nightlife in Mexico

Tijuana has many different faces – it’s at once a raucous spring-break destination and a wild, escapist fantasy land. The city, in Mexico’s northwest, features in so many films and TV shows that, for many, it’s taken on a legendary aura: the town where no matter what your vice, you can get away with it.

But there’s more to Tijuana than that. With new restaurants popping up across the city, it’s becoming a serious contender for one of Mexico’s best gastronomic destinations and has an exalted art scene to match. Here’s everything you need to know before a trip.

 

Tijuana is best known for nightlife, so where should I go?

Mexico’s state drinking age of 18 and Tijuana’s proximity to Los Angeles and San Diego means it’s a mecca for young American boozers. But although this vibe certainly remains – there are enough free-pouring dive bars to satisfy the most demanding frat-squad – Tijuana’s bar scene is evolving to include gorgeous watering holes and stylish cocktail bars.

Head to La Justina for Tijuana’s top cocktails, run by San Diego’s fabulous Snake Oil Cocktail Company — the Labios Rios cocktail comes strong and garnished with fiery red chillies. Eating here is an equally exciting experience — try the octopus tostaditos as a dreamy bar snack.

Plaza Fiesta, an old (and slightly dated) outdoor mall is without doubt the best place for local brews. El Depa is small and kitsch, but the beer selection is vast and well-worth sampling. When you get hungry head downstairs to El Tigre for sophisticated cocktails and sriracha fries.

For beer with a super local soul, head to Mamut Cerveza on the newly spruced-up Passaje Rodriguez. This venue sells brews for $1.18 a bottle with the aim to making craft beer accessible to all.

Baja California is also known for its blossoming wine scene, and luckily the Valle de Guadalupe is just an hour from Tijuana.

Tacos tacos tacos. Why eat anything else in Tijuana? Visitors to the city should hunker down on one of the bright red stools at a street side taqueria at least once.The Mazateno is regularly voted the number one taqueria in the city – locals swear by the chilli shrimp taco and the super cheesy enchiladas.

Tio Pepe Tacos is also a residents’ favourite – the tasty potato tacos come with a heaped serving of fresh cabbage carnitas and the meat options are sumptuous too. For something a little different, head to Kokopelli which serves up octopus pesto tacos and squid ink ceviche – it’s one of the rising stars of Tijuana’s foodie scene.

The city is also the place to come for super-fresh mariscos (seafood). Run from popular food hall Food Garden, Erizo is the brainchild of the city’s most famous chef, Javier Plascencia. In 2013 the Food Garden grew out of the Distrito Gastronomico and became a new home for some of Tijuana’s busiest street vendors.

There’s fine dining on offer too. Mision 19 is Plascencia’s flagship restaurant and elevates border food to next-level luxury. The design here is sleek, and typical Baja Californian ingredients are crafted into dishes such as roast suckling pig, beef tablitas and grilled octopus.

Trail in South America

Elegant and artsy Buenos Aires and humid, hedonistic Rio de Janeiro are some of South America’s biggest urban draws, notching up hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

But for each city flush with tourists, there are plenty still under the radar. For those looking to escape the crowds, here are six South American towns and cities you’re guaranteed to fall in love with.

 

1. Jardin, Colombia

Few guidebooks even mention Jardin, a charming Colombian town that by all accounts has changed little since it was founded more than 150 years ago.

As per tradition, each morning locals occupy the main square to sip a cup of rich, Colombian coffee, seated on colourful chairs that are painted in vibrant hues to match the exuberant facades of the town’s colonial houses. Across the plaza, the extravagant neo-Gothic Basilica Menor, with its striking turquoise interior, offers another excuse to tarry here.

Encircled by the mountains of the Cordillera Occidental and boarded by surging rivers and streams, Jardin’s colourful streets are matched by its surroundings. A short cable car passing over lush plantations of coffee and banana – the region’s principal crops – brings visitors to Mirador Cristo Rey and the best views over town.

 

2. Punta Arenas, Chile

The gateway to the splendid mountain landscapes of Torres del Paine National Park further north, Punta Arenas is a city that most pass through quickly.

But it’s the historic heart of Chilean Patagonia; a city of neo-classical mansions that belonged to the merchants at the centre of the international wool trade in the late 1800s. The most extravagant, Palacio Braun-Menéndez is evidence of the wealth that once poured into the region.

Situated on the shores of the brooding waters of the Strait of Magellan, the Patagonian wilderness is never far away here. For panoramic views across colourful painted rooftops and beyond, climb to Mirador Cerro. Afterwards, recover from the chill with a cup of the locals’ favourite: thick hot chocolate from La Chocolatta.