Monthly Archives: December 2016

Destinations for Family adventure

1. Iceland

Travel to Iceland and within one trip your family can go dog-sledding, whale watching and glacier trekking, as well as see the Northern Lights and spend plenty of time jumping in and out of thermal pools. If that isn’t adventurous enough for you, how about descending into the bowels of an active volcano?

2. New Zealand

New Zealand’s natural beauty and excellent reputation for outdoor pursuits make it a popular destination for families. Hiring a camper van is not only an economical way to explore the country but also gives you the freedom of the open road and the fun of outdoor life without having to put a tent up each night.

3. Marrakesh, Morocco

The call to prayer and snake charmers plying their trade; tiny alleys to explore; shops with wares piled high; spices, tagines and fresh juices to sample – a visit to the medina in Marrakesh is an adventure for the senses. It’s also a great opportunity to learn an important skill of travelling: the art of haggling.

4. South Africa

Seeing animals in the wild scores pretty high on the adventure meter for most people. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is recommended for children due to the high likelihood of spotting animals and the relatively small distances involved in travelling round the southern part of the park. There are also family-friendly lodges with pools for when everyone needs to cool off.

5. Snowdonia, UK

‘Bounce below’ on trampolines hidden within caves, fly through the air on a giant swing and surf an inland lagoon. It’s not hard to see why North Wales made our Top Destinations list for 2017. Kids will also love adventuring through history at the many castles, climbing to the top of Snowdon and resting weary legs on a narrow-gauge railway or two.

6. Washington, DC, USA

Exploring a world-famous city is an adventure in itself. In DC you can combine learning the art of espionage (at the International Spy Museum) with a dose of history (the Lincoln Memorial, plus a range of excellent museums) and lots of fun (the elevator ride to the top of the Washington Monument, paddle boating in the Tidal Basin).

7. Southwestern Australia

Do your kids have their heads in the clouds? Treat them to a 600m-long treetop walk in the Valley of the Giants. Or do they prefer to go underground? Check out the fascinating caves in the Margaret Riverregion. Is wildlife their thing? Go whale watching in Geographe Bay. Beach combing? Bike riding? Tree climbing? You’ve guessed it…

8. Japan

For robot-loving, game-playing, tech-happy teens a trip to Japan is a dream come true. Add some cerebral pursuits – discover manga and anime together or visit ancient temples and shrines – and include a visit to one of the national parks or island beaches for when everyone needs to breathe out. Before you know it, you’ve got a trip to please even the most reluctant adventurers in your family.

9. Sri Lanka

Between elephants and trains, ancient temples and beaches, forts and natural parks, there’s plenty to keep families busy in this little part of the Indian subcontinent. Even better, Sri Lankans welcome children with open arms, so – with a little planning and an appetite for adventure – travelling here is a rewarding experience for all.

10. Malaysia

Whether you go for beaches, jungle or one of the child-friendly cities, exploring Malaysia is a great way to introduce Southeast Asia to your kids. The mix of cultures allows just enough of the familiar (colonial architecture, shopping centres, Western food) for when the exotic (the heat, the flavours, the bustle) becomes overwhelming.

10 adventures in Naples’ underworld

The city’s inhabitants have been tunnelling into the easily quarriable yellow tuff rock beneath their feet for millennia, leaving a veritable honeycomb of crypts, catacombs and air-raid shelters for visitors to explore.

Time travel at Napoli Sotterranea

Illuminating and entertaining, the Napoli Sotterranea guided tour digs deep down, forty meters down, into Naples’ multi-layered history. You will cross through the reverberant cavities of an ancient Greco-Roman aqueduct and squeeze through a constricted channel with only a candle as your guide and the promise of an aquamarine cistern at the other end. Reminders of the underground’s use as a WWII air raid shelter cast a sombre note, whilst an experimental underground vegetable garden shines a light towards the future.

Remember WWII at the Bourbon Tunnel

No one escapes the Bourbon Tunnel tour unscathed. The sheer size and scale of this cavernous 17th-century cistern turned would-be royal escape route are humbling enough, but the cruel reminders of its use as a WWII air-raid shelter will chill you to the bone: low-voltage electricity supplies, toilets, showers, cots, toys and heart-breaking graffiti – messages of hope and fear etched into the walls for posterity. Book ahead for a longer and more immersive experience on the ‘Adventure’ or ‘Speleo’ tours.

Walk the streets of ancient Neapolis

Discover the often overlooked Greco-Roman city of Neapolis, hidden down a secret stairway in San Lorenzo Maggiore’s main cloister. Descending one flight down lands you smack in the middle of ancient Neapolis’ marketplace. Stroll amongst dimly lit shopfronts of pale-yellow diamond-patterned bricks: once premises for the butcher, the baker, even the banker. Pass through an arched cryptoportico (a covered passageway that was perhaps the city’s fish market) and beyond find precious fragments of frescoes and mosaic floors.

Explore ancient-Greek tombs at the Necropolis of Neapolis

Join a guided tour with Celanapoli (celanapoli.it, reservations required) to step behind the creaking door of an unremarkable palazzo and down a flight of dusty stairs into this treasured vestige: two hypogea of the Hellenistic Necropolis of Neapolis. An earthquake serendipitously unearthed these 2400-year-old Greek aristocratic tombs, their lavish burial practices evidenced by precious fresco fragments and extraordinarily, the ochre feet and draped legs of a partially excavated high-relief sculpture, seemingly trapped in time and rock.

Carve out time to explore the San Gennaro Catacombs

A two-level labyrinthine complex chiselled into the yellow tuff of Capodimonte hill, the San Gennaro Catacombs are the largest in southern Italy. State of the art LED lighting casts an otherworldly glow on the floor-to-ceiling burial chambers, solemn chapels and precious frescoes and mosaics. Naples’ favourite patron saint, San Gennaro, once rested here. His deserted tomb and the oldest known portrait of him remain.

Dig into Dominican death rituals at the San Gaudioso Catacombs

Decompose and drain away: this was the ghastly burial practice favoured by the 17th-century Dominicans. Left behind at the San Gaudioso Catacombs are both the hollowed-out stone seats (cantarelle) that collected body fluids as they drained away and the skull-topped frescoes that acted as Dominican grave markers. Before the Dominicans, the North African bishop San Gaudioso and his contemporaries were entombed here. Frescoes and mosaics from the 5th and 6th centuries linger still.

Both San Gaudioso and San Gennaro Catacombs can only be visited on a guided tour, with the same ticket valid for both sites.

Care for lost souls at Fontanelle Cemetery

Witness the bygone cult of the anime pezzentelle (adopting a skull and caring for it in return for good graces) at Fontanelle Cemetery. Purposefully piled into ashen skeletal stacks around the perimeter of this colossal cave, are the skulls and bones – perhaps 40,000 or more above ground, millions more below – of the indigent and victims of large-scale epidemics. Adopted skulls are adorned with rosaries, crosses, prayer cards, flowers and other paraphernalia.

You can visit the cemetery, as well as the San Gennaro and San Gaudioso catacombs on Catacombe di Napoli’s Holy Mile tour.

One more crypt for the road

Skulls and femurs on this church’s facade foretell what is hidden beneath. Its name – Santa Maria of the Souls of Purgatory – hints that the cult of the anime pezzentelle is active here too. Find flower-strewn dirt beds, skulls and bones stacked into wall niches and a decrepit altar in a small, dank and dusty underground chapel (guided tours only). Most leave their offerings for the remains of the aspiring virgin-bride Lucia near the altar.

Journey to the centre of the earth at Toledo Metro Art Station

Naples Metro’s pioneering Art Stations project has made top-quality contemporary architecture and artworks an integral part of its citizens’ daily commutes. Of all the city’s Art Stations, Toledo Station (Via Toledo, open 6am-11pm, metro ticket required to go beyond the turnstiles) shines brighter than the rest, and it has the awards to prove it. Burrowed 50 meters into the earth, this descent is not into darkness, but into the light, from the black ground, through the ochre earth and into the soft blues of the sea, where Robert Wilson’s light panels ferry passengers to the train platform.

10 reasons you need to get to Niue

From July to September, migrating humpback whales stop off in Niue’s warm tropical waters to nurse their newly born calves, and the island is one of the only places on the planet where it is possible to swim with these gentle leviathans. The whales are often in surprisingly shallow waters, around 30 metres from Niue’s rocky coastline, which means some lucky participants on snorkelling trips have the opportunity to float gently in crystalline waters above the giant cetaceans. And dolphins are also regular visitors in these waters. Niue supports marine mammal conservation and is a signatory to the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary with a 200-mile exclusive zone. Whale interactions here are from a safe distance which respects their privacy and ensures the safety of the humans in the water too.

A network of exploration-ready caves

One of the world’s largest raised coral atolls, Niue is very different geographically from other South Pacific islands. There’s only one sandy beach at Avatele, and instead the craggy shoreline is dotted with  idiosyncratic sea caves. Bathed in shadow and light, Avaiki is cathedral-like; cool and shaded Matapa Chasm was the preferred swimming spot of Niuean nobility in earlier times; and the pools at Limu offer a super-sized natural aquarium that’s perfect for snorkelling.

Descending into Togo Chasm

Just reaching Togo Chasm is a mini-adventure as a 20-minute track meanders carefully from Niue’s circular coastal road through a jagged terrace of indigo coral pinnacles. As the wild blue of the Pacific extends to the horizon, a rustic ladder at the end of the track descends into a sandy palm-studded oasis that feels more Middle Eastern than the Pacific. Niue’s more exposed southeastern edge can be windy, but inside Togo’s compact natural canyon is always a warm and sheltered haven.

Deep-sea fishing a few hundred metres from shore

Savvy fishing fans from New Zealand regard Niue as one of the Pacific’s best open water fishing destinations, and marine anglers from other countries are also increasingly drawn by the opportunity to catch marlin, tuna, mahi mahi and sailfish. Because the waters around the island become extremely deep just a short distance from the coast, local fishing charters ensure it’s always a short boat trip to the best fishing areas. Traditional Niuean fishing opportunities include fishing from a vaka (canoe) or catching flying fish with an oversized net.

Crystalline waters and an idiosyncratic underwater landscape

With no streams or rivers draining into the ocean – instead, rainfall percolates the island’s porous interior to produce a huge subterranean water lens – the ocean waters around Niue are some of the South Pacific’s clearest. Underwater visibility can extend up to 100m, and local operators Buccaneer Adventures Niue Dive (dive.nu) and Magical Niue Sea Adventures (magicalniue.com) both other dive trips exploring the caverns, spectacular drop-offs and walls of coral around the island. Snorkelling and kayaking amid sheltered waters along Niue’s coastal network of sea caves is also very accessible.

Two-wheeled island adventures

Rugged trails radiate inland from Niue’s solitary coastal road, and mountain biking is growing in popularity.  More than 170km of relatively gentle trails course through taro plantations and tropical forest – bikes are available from most accommodation – and the annual Rally of the Rock (ridetherock2017.com) across two days in early June attracts riders from Australia, New Zealand, and increasingly the world. Day one is a competitive combination of road and trail riding, while day two sees participants immersed in a slightly less serious 64km circumnavigation of the entire island.

Meeting the locals

Fourteen villages host Niue’s concise population of around 1300 people and also provide familial links to the approximately 25,000 Niueans living in New Zealand. Visitors to the island are welcome at each village’s annual show day, wonderfully authentic, low-key affairs combining singing, dancing and local foods and crafts. Niuean weaving is renowned around the Pacific, and village matriarchs specialise in delicate hats and fans. Niue Tourism’s website (niueisland.com) lists village show days and other events throughout the year. Look forward to local flavours prepared in a traditional umu (earth oven).

Heavenly harmonies on a Sunday morning

Ethereal singing, friendly welcomes from the pastors to visitors to the island, and billowing hats decorated with tropical flowers all feature at Niuean churches every Sunday morning. It’s a day of rest, reflection and family – more energetic activities are not allowed – and attending church is a wonderfully warm way to meet the local community. It’s appropriate for men to wear long trousers and for women to don a hat, and don’t be surprised if you’re invited to stay for morning tea and a chat after the service.

Serve yourself on a Sunday afternoon

Perched right above the compact curve of Avatele Beach, the rustic, open-sided Washaway Bar & Cafe only opens on Sunday afternoons, but it’s an essential weekly destination for both locals and visitors. Quite possibly the South Pacific’s best burgers and fresh fish sandwiches team with cold beer, New Zealand wine and generously-poured spirits, and guests are encouraged to help themselves and settle the tab with owner Willie Saniteli at the end of the night. Welcome to perhaps the South Pacific’s only self-serve bar.