Whether you prefer holidaying solo or with family and friends, our selection of hand-picked summer getaways from across Europe, Africa and Asia promises a range of travel experiences. Our five-point programme for each destination.
The Great Wall is to China what the grand Taj Mahal is to India – a source of awe and adulation. But beyond that Wall – much like beyond the Taj – there are many things to see and do in this vast country, which is more than twice the size of India.
Beijing: Beijing has many attractions. Right at the heart of the city is the Tiananmen Square, the biggest public square in the world. Next to it is the Forbidden Palace from where Chinese kings once ruled the country. When I first went around the palace, it reminded me a bit of the Delhi Red Fort. Other attractions include the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and the Houhai lake area, which is dazzlingly lit up every evening. (My personal favourite at Houhai is the East Shore Jazz Café with its weekend live music and fairly cheap single malts.)
A tour of Beijing’s hutongs or narrow alleys lined with courtyard houses is rewarding and allows tourists to get an idea of what this city was like decades ago.
Chengdu in the Southwest Sichuan province: A visit to the Panda Breeding Research Centre and Sanctuary located close to the city is a must. It would be especially rewarding for children who will love to see the cuddly animals eating bamboo. English-speaking guides give you a tour of the sanctuary for about 100 Yuan or Rs 1,000. On your way out, you can buy refrigerator magnets with pandas on them. For a few hundred Chinese Yuan, children are allowed to touch and hold baby pandas.
Lhasa: Perfect for a solo traveller or a small group. Ideally, spend the first day in the hotel room to acclimatise.
Step out the next morning to visit the magnificent Potala Palace – a museum now – once the primary residence of the Dalai Lama. Wander around the streets, listening to Tibetan chants and picking up local handicrafts. One drawback: Lhasa is an expensive destination.
Shanghai: Parts of Shanghai will remind you of certain cities in India. Visit the Bund or the riverfront area. On one side are old colonial structures now housing banks and bars. The other side has skyscrapers. The evening view is stunning. Take a sunset/evening cruise on the river. Late evening, visit the former French Concession area with its many restaurants and bars to get a sense of the Shanghai hip. At the Propaganda Poster Art Centre, buy cheap prints of posters from the early part of the 20th century and the Cultural Revolution.
Food: You will not find ‘gobi manchurian’ in China. Beijing’s signature dish is the Peking Duck, thinly sliced duck (often mostly skin, little meat) with cucumber and sweet sauce. The other dish to be tried is the ‘hot pot’ – the most popular Sichuan variety. Vegetarians need to be careful because meat is an intrinsic part of Chinese cuisine.
– by Sutirtho Patranobis
Before you travel to Africa for the first time – even if you’re politically correct and stay away from stereotypes – you may associate it with statuettes of Maasai men and women, some shows on National Geographic and Madagascar 2.
A lot lies between these disjointed symbols.
The one that you will only do once: The Carnivore Restaurant hilltop in Nairobi is a hardcore feasting experience. Right from the entrance, you notice an orange glow from the spits on which huge pieces of meat are being cooked. Carnivore is famous for the variety of grilled meats it offers – crocodile, elephant, zebra and giraffe. The restaurant is structured like an amphitheatre, with tables on every step looking down at the pit where you can shake a leg between courses of zebra and wildebeest. Waiters come around with the meat on skewers and slice off pieces onto your plate. Once you’re done, you can lower the white flag on your table – a sign that you’ve finally had your fill. You can’t be shy here, or a vegetarian.
Upside: The copious amounts of Dawa, a local cocktail, to help wash the meat down.
Downside: More novelty, less taste. You will end up asking for chicken because the crocodile is just too hard to chew.
The one that you’ll never forget: Getting into the Maasai Mara National Reserve isn’t the most comfortable ride owing to the uneven dirt track leading to it. But the sight of baby giraffes walking along the mini-van will make up for the backaches. The Mara is a visual feast. You’ll begin slowly but soon enough, behind every bush, you’ll spot lion families, elephant herds on the horizon and hippos bubbling up from the swampy pools. This 360-degree, beautiful animal kingdom will alter, once and for all, what you know about your planet.
Upside: The Great Migration in action! Thousands of wildebeest and zebras cross the massive rift valley between July and November. The size of an army but the discipline of a kindergarten class – an amazing sight.
Downside: You may overdose on zebra sightings and cease to find them cute anymore.
The one that’s all too familiar: As Indians, you may think you’re immune to the tourist trap of souvenir shopping. But the tables are quick to turn because there’s nothing – from animals to people to weapons – that hasn’t been miniaturised in Africa. Every loo-stop, every mall and even the gate to the National Reserve has Maasai men and women in make-shift curio stores. And they make sure you never leave empty-handed.
Upside: The statuesque Maasai, both in human and curio form.
Downside: Bargaining is tough with limited language skills.
The one that will shake you: As Africa’s – and arguably, the world’s – largest slum, Kibera is often a site for philanthropic tourism. A huge population – along with beauty parlours, bars, social enterprises and schools – thrives in its narrow lanes and shacks. Not unlike Dharavi, it quickly developed an entrepreneurial spirit to battle the adversities it grew in.
Upside: The welcoming residents and their wide smiles.
Downside: You can’t do this walk without a guide who knows Kibera well.
The one that will see you through it all: Tusker Beer is Kenya’s answer to Kingfisher. As the orange sun hangs low in the sky and the day is coming to an end, you can let your trip finally sink in over a few Tuskers.
Upside: A great dinner accompaniment.
Downside: You’ll spend time at duty-free deciding whether to buy a six-pack. You will eventually buy much more.
– by Olina Banerji
For the activity-hungry tourist, Mauritius may just live up to its moniker of Paradise Island. One of the best things about the tiny, and strikingly beautiful nation, is just that – it is tiny. This means you can travel the country, from one end to the other, in a little more than two hours by car. Although you will be spoilt for choice among the plethora of water sports and land activities – scuba diving, kite surfing, sunset cruise, hiking and much, much more – you just haven’t experienced Mauritius if you come back without doing the following:
Walk with the Lions: There is plenty to do at The Casela World of Adventures, a nature and amusement park – ziplines, quadbikes, buggies, Segway rides, treks, safaris, canyon swings (like bungee jumping, with a twist)... the list goes on. The best, however, is the Walk with the Lions – an opportunity for you to be in close proximity to the majestic animal. One catch: only visitors aged 15 and above can do this. The other absolute success, especially with the young ones, is the Petting Farm where you can feed deer and rabbits. It also houses animals such as wallabies and ostriches.
Dolphin and whale watching: Travel southwest for another visual treat: pods of dolphins flipping through the water, leaving a silvery wake. The west coast of the island is a haven for dolphins that rest here before heading into the deep sea. You can even try swimming with the dolphins.
Most cruise packages include drinks, lunch, a visit to the Benitiers Island and the landmark Crystal Rock (which looks like a giant floating rock). If you want to see the whales, you will have to go further into the deep sea. But a lot depends on the weather and your luck.
Parasailing at Île aux Cerfs: This tiny island is just a boat ride away from the main island. It offers beautiful vistas and calm waters for swimming and a host of water sports activities. The most popular among these is parasailing from the platform set in the sea. One can go in tandem or opt for solo rides. Other places for parasailing are Grand Baie in the north and Belle Mare in the east.
Underwater scooter: Pilot an underwater submarine scooter or ride pillion three metres deep to get a great view of the reef and discover marine life. You don’t have to know how to swim for this. You could also opt for the under-sea walk.
Water sports: Sea kayaking, stand up paddling, windsurfing, water skiing, sea karting, tube and banana boat riding – Mauritius has all the adrenaline rush you need.
If you have more time, go for the catamaran cruise, laze around at the Caudan Waterfront and travel to Blue Bay down south after a tour of the Mahebourg village to see the most amazing shades of blue sea, and yes, shop at Port Louis market for local knick-knacks.
– by Kuheli Sen
UAE’s capital city, Abu Dhabi attracts those uninterested in the hectic pace of life in Dubai. Once inhabited by tribes whose history can be traced back to 5000 years, present-day Abu Dhabi is a bustling city with famous buildings and a cosmopolitan vibe. The must-do activities that we recommend:
Marvel at the architecture: If you’re looking to spend some time admiring the architectural beauty, visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The inscribed calligraphy, gold-plated chandeliers and the lovely semi-precious stone-studded walls are just a few of the attractive sights this place has to offer.
Paddle down the Corniche: If you’re in a mood to relax, then take a walk or cycle down the Corniche. The extensive promenade in the gulf waters, is purifying for the soul – it has a blue flag label, which means it’s one of the safest and cleanest waters you can be around. At one end of the Corniche, the Emirates Palace hotel awaits you. Affordability might be an issue at this luxurious property, which is known to house celebrities and royal families of the world, but it is worth a trip for a cup of tea.
Feast your palate: Some of the world’s best restaurants have their branches here – Hakkasan, Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill and Asia de Cuba to name a few. But the city is also dotted with many affordable restaurants for the budget foodie. If you love seafood, then take a stroll through the Al Mina fish market. There are a number of kiosks offering an array of seafood that will grill your choice of fish, fresh and right in front of you.
Indulge in Shopping: Dubai may host one of the biggest shopping festivals on the planet, but Abu Dhabi has its own share of shopper’s paradises – such as the Marina Mall, Yas Mall or the Al Wahda – all accessible by a short taxi/bus ride.
Get an adrenaline rush: Multiple desert safaris happen throughout the week. For automotive enthusiasts, the Jebel Hafeet hillside road offers brilliant roads to drive on. Another top pick would be Ferrari World, where you can take a trip through the story of Enzo Ferrari, the founder of Ferrari, or learn how Scuderia Ferrari, the racing division of the automobile giant, functions. For the braver ones, a ride on the Formula Rossa, the fastest rollercoaster in the world is a must. This is located next to the Yas Marina circuit, which comes alive towards the end of the F1 season.
Ahlan Wa Sahlan (Welcome)!
– by Sarath Sreekumar
It is tough to say what’s so special about the Principality of Monaco. Is it the fairytale marriage of Prince Rainier III of the Grimaldi family to actress Grace Kelly or the picturesque Côte d’Azur? Is it the glitzy casinos or the historic Monaco Grand Prix? Is it the quintessential Monte Carlo, the legendary heart of Monaco, or Fontvieille, the newest area of Monaco which has been created on land reclaimed from the sea?
The richest of the rich have their yachts housed along the Mediterranean coastline and also have set up home here. Monte Carlo’s unpolluted environment owes much to the city’s preference for hybrid cars.
Apart from seeing the many sights of Monte Carlo, we would recommend you indulge in some must-do activities.
Visit the monuments: The Monaco Cathedral, built in a Byzantine design, houses the burial places of the Grimaldi family. Atop the Rock, do not miss the unique change-of-guard ceremony at the Place du Palais, which takes place every day without fail at 11.55 am.
Gamble away at casinos: The Casino de Monte-Carlo has European Roulette, Trente et Quarante, Black Jack, English Roulette, Craps and Ultimate Texas Hold’em Poker tables. The Casino Café de Paris and the Monte-Carlo Bay Casino are the perfect haunts for smokers, and offer a wide range of open-air slot machines. Dress code: Formal. No shorts, sports shoes or flip flops.
Watch the races: Monaco is the spiritual home of F1. The city boasts of one of the first street circuits in Formula One. When the Monaco Grand Prix is on, everyone watches.
The streets of Monte Carlo have hosted a grand prix since 1929. The track is considered to be one of the toughest in the world. Even a small error on the streets can be fatal. The Grand Prix takes place this year from May 26 to 29 at the Circuit de Monaco.
The meanest F1 machines in the world do 78 laps of over 260.286 km on race-day. What makes it even more alluring for Formula One fans is that Monaco is home to champions such as Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Jenson Button. And Nico Rosberg grew up there!
Think vintage: Located on the Terrasses de Fontvieille, the vintage car museum brings together over a hundred four-wheeled beauties. Some of those that caught my eye included a Lincoln, a Packard, an Alfa Romeo, a Maserati and a De Dion-Boutton, circa 1903. Plus, a Lexus used for the royal wedding in 2011, sharing space with Formula 1 automobiles from the Monaco Grand Prix.
Explore the neighbourhood: Make an overnight visit to Cannes, which is just 34 miles from Monaco. For those bedazzled by movie glamour, the Festival De Cannes is on from May 11 to 22 this year. And if scenic beauty and powder beaches are what entice you, then head to Nice, the capital of French Riviera, which is 13 miles from Monaco.
– by Vidit Shankar Gaur
From HT Brunch, March 27, 2016
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