Monthly Archives: April 2016

Top beach in the world

Fakistra, greece

More of a cove than a beach, backed by cliffs and dense woods, with white sands and pebbles and clear blue waters – is Fakistra on the Pelion peninsula (mainland Greece), below Tsagarada village. It’s a steep walk down but it’s the sort of place that, apart from in July and August, you may well have to yourself.
The Architect’s House (sleeps 12, from €290 a night, i-escape.com)
A holiday guide to Greece and its islands

Flamenco Beach, Puerto Rico

If asked to design the perfect tropical beach, Playa Flamenco on Culebra island, off the east coast of Puerto Rico, is probably what you would come up with. It’s a U-shaped cove with white sand, warm turquoise water, palm trees, lush vegetation and a peaceful lagoon. The island’s undeveloped state is partly thanks to the US military, which used to use it as a gunnery range – a rusting Sherman tank remains in the middle of the sand. It makes a day trip by ferry from Fajardo on the Puerto Rico mainland ($4.50 return): a shuttle bus runs from the ferry port. Culebra has an excellent government-run campsite right on the sand at the western side of the bay. It’s quite basic, with showers open only three hours a day, but pitch your tent under mangroves ($20 for up to six people), stock up on water, pina coladas and local snacks (comida criolla) and you may never want to leave. If you do, though, there are bikes to hire.
The solitary beauty of Vieques island, Puerto Rico

Koh Kradan, Thailand

Choosing the best beach in Thailand is a near impossible task. But one Thai island that’s still relatively peaceful is Koh Kradan, near busier Koh Lipe, in the Andaman Sea. With powdery sand, excellent snorkelling on a reef just off the beach, hammocks and crystal-clear water, it would suit those who don’t want to drink buckets of spirits under a full moon. You can kayak round the whole island – 90% of which is part of Hat Chao Mai national park – in three hours to more isolated spots, and take longtail boat trips to Ko Waen, Ko Chueak and Ko Muk’s Emerald Cave.
Paradise Lost (dorm bed from £4.80, basic bungalows from £14,kokradan.wordpress.com); Reef Resort (doubles from £78, reefresortkradan.com)

Playa del Amor (Hidden Beach), Mexico

An underground beach sounds like the stuff of legend, but the Marietas Islands, where Hidden Beach lies, were used as a military testing ground by the Mexican government in the early 1900s, and it’s suspected that a bomb may have created the crater in which it sits. Access to this crescent within a gaping circular hole in the landscape, is by swimming or kayaking through a long tunnel. Many operators run boat trips here from Puerto Vallarta ($76 with ecotoursvallarta.com), but the sea is rough and you have to swim in beside treacherous rocks. But it’s stunning – Jacques Cousteau was a fan – with the bonus of possibly spotting a humpback whale on the way.
Casablanca Hotel up the coast in Sayulita, has a suite for four from $95 room-only
Top 10 places to stay on a budget on Mexico’s Pacific coast

Greenfield Beach, Australia

A three-hour drive from Sydney, Greenfield beach sits next to Jervis Bay’s calm waters and blindingly white sand. It is about 500m north of the more famous Hyams beach, so crowds tend to gravitate away from it and framed by a dense forest of gum trees and a small sandstone cliff. It’s a walk from Vincentia town, from where you can easily drive into the Booderee national park to meet a kangaroos or visit other spectacular beaches.
Jervis Bay Cabins has tent pitches from £24 a night
A guide to the Great Barrier Reef: where to dive, snorkel and stay

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Sugar sand, palms, breeze, sea that’s 26-29C year round and the colour of peppermint mouthwash… Bora Bora is a cliched vision of the heavenly beach. Even if you never get to go, this is one for the mental image bank at least – use it when meditating. Matira has to win as the only public beach on the island, and somewhere you could mingle with locals. The Bora Bora Hotel Eden Beach(bungalows from £1,852 a week half-board including transfers, boraborahotel.com), built on its own coral isle, has its own private beach that may be a grain prettier, for its view of beautiful rock peak Otemanu.

Indonesia traveling guide

The world’s largest island nation, Indonesia comprises about 17,000 islands sprawling over almost two million square kilometres either side of the equator. It includes half of the world’s second-largest island, New Guinea, and most of the world’s third-largest, Borneo, as well as rugged Sumatra and busy Java. Its distinctive wildlife includes pygmy elephants, tree kangaroos and the Komodo dragon; its dramatic landscape embraces ancient rice terraces, untamed jungle, islands with pristine coral fringed by white sands and lava-spewing volcanoes. And now that national carrier Garuda has launched the first direct flights from the UK to Jakarta, the nation’s capital and transport hub, Britons are just two flights away from pretty much anywhere in the archipelago.

Indonesia’s cultures are as diverse as its geography. Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, it’s also studded with ancient Hindu temples, and its quarter of a billion inhabitants practice six officially recognised religions, as well as a range of animist rituals.

Swept by the Indian and Pacific Oceans, it’s one of the best diving destinations in the world – many would argue the best. Year-round breaks in warm, tropical waters bring surfers flocking to Bali, as well as nearby Sumbawa and the westerly Mentawai islands.

Like any developing nation, Indonesia presents its travel challenges. Litter, particularly plastic, is an issue, while traffic, grime and massive inequality can make cities grim places at first glance. While cheap air travel has opened up great swathes of the nation, it can still take huge amounts of time to get from A to B. Java has a working rail network and Sumatra a handful of lines, but many journeys will involve internal flights, jolting bus journeys, ferries of a range of shapes, sizes and safety standards, or, quite often, all of these. Travelfish.org is a great Indonesia travel planning resource.

You could spend years exploring Indonesia and barely scratch the surface. We focus on the most-visited areas – Bali, Java, Lombok and up-and-coming Flores – with some suggestions for adventures further afield.

BALI

While parts of lush, approachable Bali are textbook examples of the impact of mass tourism, it remains, in essence, the island that enchanted western artists in the 1930s. A well-rounded trip will include a bit of beach as well as time in Ubud and a few days elsewhere inland.

Bali in general is less about the beaches themselves than the water. Pemuteran on the north coast and Amed on the east coast offer outstanding diving and snorkelling: don’t miss the remains of the USS Liberty near Amed, one of very few substantial wrecks to lie in relatively shallow and calm waters close to shore. Euro Dive offers two dives for £40. Hipster Canggu on the west coast and the peacefulBukit peninsula in the far south are surfing destinations. Uluwatu and Padang-Padang on the Bukit peninsula have waves to challenge experts. In Canggu, Old Man’s Beach is kind to beginners (expect to pay under £20 for a two-hour lesson with board hire from any of the guys with board stands on the beach), while Echo Beach is better for intermediates and above.

Inland, Ubud, the island’s cultural and spiritual capital, may be touristy but still offers top-notch food, ancient temples and colourful ritual, handicrafts and self-improvement activities from silver-smithing to every kind of yoga on the planet. The annual Ubud Readers and Writers Festival runs from 28 October-1 November this year.

The real Bali can be found deep inland. To the east is Besakih, with its Hindu Mother Temple, the sacred volcano, Mount Agung, and popular Sidemen for rice field walks and staggering views. To the north and west, Munduk has waterfalls and highland hikes, Bedugul is cool enough for strawberries to grow, and there’s nothing quite like easing sore muscles in lakeside hot springs after a sunrise climb of the Mount Batur volcano.

And today, thanks to metered taxis, Uber and a host of shuttle services including the new Kura Kura bus with its mobile app, Bali is easy to get around without braving the hectic traffic or the bemo minibus network.

The rainy season peaks between December and February, bringing high humidity and grey days: weather is at its best between April and August, although traffic is particularly bad over the August peak.

What to eat

Must-try Balinese dishes include babi guling (roast sucking pig with spices). This is usually eaten in the mornings or at lunchtime, from specialist restaurants with low prices and plastic chairs. Look out for duck or chicken betutu (a smoky, spicy dish originally served at ceremonies), and sate lilit (lemongrass-heavy minced meat satay) in similar, street-style places that offer them as a speciality. Those with cash to splash can enjoy fine dining and cocktails at restaurants such asLocavore in Ubud (Jalan Dewisita 10, locavore.co.id), or in the beach resort ofSeminyak at Mozaic Brasserie (Jl Pantai Batu Belig, mozaic-beachclub.com/mozaic-brasserie) or Mejekawi (Jalan Kayu Aya 9), a “kitchen and laboratory concept” with five- and 12-course tasting menus (from £37 a head).

Where to stay

Serenity Eco Guesthouse (doubles from £26 B&B), is 150 metres from the beach inCanggu, with simple rooms, pool and yoga studio. In Ubud, Taman Indrakila(doubles from £30 B&B) has pretty bungalows on a dramatic jungled gorge, and a cliffside pool. Teras Bali (doubles from £32 B&B, terasbalisidemen.com) sits amid rice fields near Sidemen with a striking swimming pool. Arjuna Homestay(doubles from £21 B&B) in Pemuteran makes a great base for diving the coral walls off Menjangan island, and has a pool.

The budget that you need when visit on France

That doesn’t sound very interesting,” says my five-year-old son with a frown. I’ve just broken the news to him that we’re going on a vineyard tour. “To find out how they make wine!” I say, as if we’re going to see a spacecraft, hoping he’ll catch my enthusiasm. He doesn’t. He’s struggling to compute that holidays aren’t just about what he and his three-year-old brother want to do. It’s a tough lesson.

Planning a summer trip to meet the needs of my two energetic sons, my super-chilled husband and somewhere-in-the-middle me was never going to be easy. For the kids, the beach has to be safe for paddling and sandcastle building, yet I like beaches with waves strong enough for surfing. My husband likes sea swimming, surfing and sandcastle building too but he also craves the chance to unwind with some decent food and wine.

Luckily we all love cycling, so we decided to come to the Médoc-Océan region, north-west of Bordeaux to see if it could meet our various holiday needs. We based ourselves at Village Western, a lovely, forested campsite in Hourtin Port, which is not on the sea but by Lac d’Hourtin, France’s biggest freshwater lake. With shaded pitches for tents and comfy mobile homes, it was quiet, particularly for mid-August, and had a cowboy theme, with on-site horse riding, tipis and totem poles aplenty. The mostly French clientele flocked to evening classes in making lassoes and dreamcatchers. Our kids loved the pool and the fact they could cycle everywhere (there was bike hire on site): from our pitch to the pool, to buy woodfired pizza in the evening and pains au chocolat in the morning.

The campsite was just five minutes’ cycle, via off-road paths, from the lake, 1½ hours by bike from the Médoc vineyards and an hour, according to Google Maps, to the Atlantic Ocean surf beaches.

Eager to hear the roar of the ocean, we set off first to Hourtin Plage on an off-road route through ancient pine forests. It was 13km, so we put the kids in a trailer – great for them as they told Gruffalo stories all the way, but a little harder on our legs. We emerged from shaded forest to the bright skies and buzz of the popular surfing town an hour and a half later, dunes stretching into the distance on either side.

We grown-ups tag-teamed a quick surf each, the eldest caught his first waves on a bodyboard, and the youngest jumped small but strong waves with my husband in the lifeguarded section. Refuelled by pizza at Le Grillon in town, we rode back to the campsite as the early evening light slanted through the pines.

The next day we headed out for our first wine tour, the children baffled as to why we weren’t going back to the beach. The 30km cycle, often on busy roads, took well over two hours, and we arrived at Chateau Lynch Bages (jmcazes.com) near Paulliac, hot and sweaty and with the kids already restless. The tour (€9) was, perhaps, a little too formal, the wine a bit pricey.

Château Larose which we visited a few days later, proved more of a success. We cheated a little by driving to Paulliac, hiring bikes there (funbike.fr) and riding through pretty vineyards on quiet country roads to the stunning 19th-century chateau, which was the first European vineyard to win awards for sustainable development. Staff greeted us and our children with smiles, and I watched the boys play in the children’s area while my husband went on the (free) tour and tasting, and bought a crate, a seal of approval.

To save the kids from wine boredom, we limited more tastings to friendly local wine shop Cave l’Atlantide in Hourtin town and spent the rest of our time on ocean beaches, exploring pine forest trails, and at the nearby lake, where the water was as warm as a bath and super-calm, though it was lifeguarded too.

The children loved charging about in the soft, squelchy sand and swimming in the seemingly neverending shallows. They played for hours, building sandcastles and watching older children on dinghies, stand-up paddleboards and windsurfers.

I’m sure they would have been happy at the lake or the campsite pool all week, but as we sat amid the pines while the children looped around us on the bikes, we raised a glass of our local wine to a holiday that ticked a few parents’ boxes, too.