With narrow medieval alleys, 16th-century castles and the shimmering reflection of pastel-painted shopfronts in its canals, Annecy glows in its own splendour. But the true allure of the ‘Venice of the Alps’ is its diamond-cut lake and crown of snow-sieved alpine peaks. Rising above the lightly lapping shore are steep mountains with rugged roads to test the legs, though flatter alternatives cater for cyclists who prefer to admire their massifs from below.
Route one: Beside Lake Annecy
Route: Easy. Bike: road or hybrid. Distance: 20/30km. Hills: none.
This relaxed ride is ideal for beginners or families. Heading away from the lullabying sways of the boats moored at Annecy’s Quai de la Tournett, a piste cyclable (cycle track) winds along the lake’s west shore, past yacht clubs and people-peppered beaches, and onto a landscape of quiet parks, sleepy villages and fields of idly grazing cattle.
The route follows a former railway, so gradients are minor, but there are plenty of opportunities to divert from the path. Take the tunnel near the village of Duingt to discover the fairy-tale wisps of Château Ruphy. Some of the former train stations are now cafes, so refuel and turnaround at Coup de Pompe (10km out) or Loisirs du Bout du Lac (15km) for an easy tootle back to Annecy.
Make it easier
For a more moderate route, complete a low-level circuit of the lake. Follow the piste cyclable along the west shore from Annecy, before indulging in a mixture of main roads, cycle track and quiet streets along the east shore (with one hill at Talloires) until you’re back to where you started, a total of 40km.
Route two: Semnoz and Forclaz
Route: hard. Bike: road. Distance: 80km. Hills: two major climbs.
Grappling mountains that have defeated Tour de France riders, this circuit of Lake Annecy is for serious cyclists only. From Quai de la Tournett, take the D41 road to Semnoz, where the gradient immediately rears up, setting the thigh-burning tone for the next 17km.
It’s not the severity of the climb that gets you but its utter relentlessness: continuous bends weave through thick pine forest before breaking out into alpine meadows at the summit of Semnoz. Efforts are rewarded with spectacular views across neighbouring peaks and down to the distant glistening waters of Lake Annecy.
Descend around sweeping switchbacks to St Jorioz, before following thepiste cyclable along the west shore of Lake Annecy to reach the D42 near Vesonne. Here you’ll meet the Col de la Forclaz, a demanding ascent with tight hairpin bends and some very steep sections that will have you straining on the pedals. Pause for a breather at the col and admire the paragliders launching from the sheer cliffs above. Then it’s a technical descent to the main road and onto Annecy for well-deserved celebratory ice cream.
Make it easier
Peak-bagging roadies can reduce their sweat by choosing either Semnoz or Forclaz and combining it with the easy lakeshore roads to make a bespoke Tour du Lac.
In Annecy, Roul’ ma Poul (annecy-location-velo.com) has a massive fleet of hybrids. For road bikes, visit nearby Sévrier where Cycles Toinet (cycles-annick-toinet.fr) and Sévrier Sports (location-velo-annecy.com) each have a small selection.
Even with the snow gone and the skis packed away, the mesmeric might of Mont Blanc still holds court at lofty Chamonix. In the warmer months, when the traffic-free streets are bedecked with flowers and pavement cafes cool beneath glacier-flanked peaks, its wild meadows and craggy rock routes beckon off-road adventurers. Chamonix also has plenty of tremendous tarmac to try out as well.
Route three: Les Petits Balcons
Route: medium. Bike: mountain bike. Distance: 20km. Hills: constant up and down.
Numerous off-road bike trails start at the Richard Bozon Sports Center and are graded green to black for difficulty, just like ski runs. Follow the red arrows to reach the tiny village of Le Lavancher, where traditional wooden chalets sit among golden hay fields. Here you’ll meet the Petit Balcon Nord, a narrow rocky trial that grinds northward up the valley.
About 10km on, the trail descends to the little town of Argentière. Pause for a performance enhancing espresso and climb the other side of the valley before following Petit Balcon Sud back to Chamonix. As you pedal southwards, the snow-covered peaks surrounding Mont Blanc are visible through gaps in the trees, but with steep technical drops to the left, make sure you stop to admire the views.
Route four: the Chamonix triple climb
Route: hard. Bike: road bike: Distance: 85 km; Hills: three (the clue is in the name).
Don’t be fooled: the first few flat kilometres are just for limbering up – this route is strictly for grimpeurs (cyclists that love hills). Leave Chamonix on the D1506 and continue through Argentière, where the gradient gets steeper as you pedal up the Col des Montets, a muscle-melting hors d’oeuvres on this menu of mountains.
Eighteen churches, a palace and numerous houses once stood here. A sacking by the Turks in the 14th century reduced the complex to rubble, though a 20th-century makeover has returned much of its grandeur. Tramp along the fortress’ weathered walls, pose with cannons, and peer inside the Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God, built on the foundations of an early Christian sanctuary.
But the biggest thrill is the view. Veliko Târnovo is folded into a hairpin bend in the Yantra River and encircled by forested hills, a spectacular panorama when viewed from lofty Tsarevets. Once you’ve had your fill of medieval splendour, stagger into nearby Ivan Asen restaurant for satch (a sizzling hot plate piled with meat and veggies).
Walk west on the main road and turn north along ul Mamarchev to reach Veliko Târnovo’s most enchanting quarter, Samovodska Charshiya. This market square was once crowded with fruit, vegetable and wool sellers who piled in from surrounding villages. It grew into a crafts centre during the late 19th century, with silversmithery, leatherwork and ceramics thriving here. These traditional crafts endure: all along ul Rakovski you’ll find butter-soft belts, unique jewellery (try Artissimo Gallery) and eye-popping hair-and-wood masks – still used in spring rites in some Bulgarian villages – at Galeria Manya.
For a late-afternoon pick-me-up, sip a Turkish-style coffee at Shekerdzinitsa, ideally with some rose and pistachio lokum (Turkish delight); just try not to get confectioner’s sugar all over your new hand-stitched scarf. Alternatively, roll straight into dinner at Han Hadji Nikoli, a Bulgarian inn that has been going strong since the mid-19th century.
Belly full, walk to the western end of ul Rakovski and take the stairs down to the main drag, ul Stambolov and ul Nezavisimost. Though it teems with traffic, this busy artery through town has some excellent drinking haunts. One of the best is Sammy’s Bar (just off ul Nezavisimost), a merry cocktail place with a terrace overlooking the river – it’s an atmospheric spot to raise a glass of rakia (potent fruit brandy). For an even better glimpse over night-time Veliko Târnovo, watch out for signs to the Skywalk (ul Stambolov) on the way. From this lookout platform you can lean out to a dizzying view of the valley.
A hundred years back, the Lower East Side in Manhattan (the area between Houston St, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Bowery and the East River) was the largest Jewish quarter in the world. Since then waves of different nationalities have washed over it and left their mark, from bagel stores to Puerto Rican restaurants.
Fast forward to today and the Lower East Side is the coolest district in New York, as hipsters and in the know tourists dive down its shaded network of streets, discovering brunches that are more like after-midnight dance parties, contemporary photo galleries and prohibition-style cocktail bars. A world away from the brownstones and penthouses of the Upper East Side, on the Lower East Side steam rises from manhole covers in scenes straight out of a movie, the buildings are crisscrossed with steel stairways and possibilities hang in the thick city air.
Let’s be clear, there are no shortage of places to grab a beer or sip a cocktail in this neighborhood – the hard part is choosing which ones to hit up first.
For cocktails, sultry Dirty French (dirtyfrench.com) once had the corner on unusual vintage-inspired drinks but it has quite a few rivals nowadays. This is probably a good thing as it requires a big bank account to be a barfly here. Pop in for one and move on if you are on a budget. Just down the road is the Hotel Chantelle (hotelchantelle.com), which has recreated a mini Paris on its rooftop, complete with French street lamps, traditional park benches and a retractable roof.
Some of New York’s most well known mixologists have recently flocked to the area, opening up a raft of cocktail dens (invariably hidden behind velvet curtains) with each attracting their own cocktail cheerleaders. There’s Nitecap (nitecapnyc.com), which may look pretentious at the outset but has a great after hours crowd, and Attaboy, for an Art Deco ’30s evening. The Suffolk Arms (suffolkarms.com) however, takes its cue from the humble British pub and has a love letter menu to the spirit of the ’90s, vodka.
For something a little less pretentious, locals love Pianos (pianosnyc.com). A good time bar that’s open til 3am, it’s a kind of a ‘one last drink’ place (often followed up by a $1 a slice pizza from around the corner).
Cake Shop is pretty easy to walk past but it’s one of the cool-but-kind kids in the area. It’s also a record store and music venue – propping up the small bar serving craft beers is a quick way to feel like a local.
Once upon a time Meg Ryan faked an orgasm in Katz Delicatessen(When Harry Met Sally) on the corner of Ludlow St, and back then it was probably the only late night place she could have gone for food. Now it really only attracts tourists keen to see where the famous scene took place.
Today the Lower East Side is awash with tiny spots to sample the fashionable dishes du jour (chicken and waffles at Sweet Chick (sweetchicknyc.com), meatballs at The Meatball Shop) and every part of the world feels represented, redefined and remade. Try Thai meets Aussie fusion at the Lucky Bee (luckybeenyc.com) or veggie-French fare at Le Turtle (leturtle.fr). For a taste of the original Lower East Side, Russ & Daughters’ bagel shop is the real deal – smoked salmon bagels have been bought from here for over a hundred years. There’s a cafe now too for matzo ball soup, hot on the spot.
For something a little more fun, the brunch over at dimly lit Sons of Essex (sonsofessexnyc.com) is a Saturday lunchtime party, with stacks of pancakes so big they should be illegal, carafes of mimosas and blissfully big bowls of hangover busting tater tots.
The Jordaan may be the prize-winner for the most picturesque neighbourhood in Amsterdam, but the artistic and the creative soul of the city is concealed in the charming Western Islands. This small archipelago bathes in amazing quietness, only nudged from its slumber by bobbing houseboats and bikes rattling across the wooden bridges. Among the former grain, herring and tobacco warehouses, intrepid travellers will now find artists’ studios creating everything from film and music to painting and designer furniture.
Brunch on Kadijksplein
Forget the neon glare and scramble for seats on Leidseplein, and swerve the statues and sunbathers of Rembrandtplein; tiptoe instead to Kadijksplein, a delightfully quiet square that is also home to one of Amsterdam’s best brunches at Bakers & Roasters. This New Zealand-style cafe serves mouth-watering Navajo eggs, healthy salad bowls and decent coffee. Try a brekkie (a decadent mix of eggs, crispy bacon, fat sausages and creamy mushrooms) and wash it all down with a Bloody Mary. Waddle off your waist-expanding brunch at Entrepotdok, a dockside line of former Dutch East India Company warehouses, just around the corner.
Go for drinks at the hip bars on Javastraat
Forget struggling to get served in the city centre, informed barflies are buzzing along Javastraat. The heart of up-and-coming Indische Buurt neighbourhood, Javastraat chimes with the clink of glasses at trendy bars. With low-hanging lights, overgrown ferns and bamboo birdcages (but no actual birds, thankfully), those in search of a soothing G&T should try the Javanese colonial ambiance at the Walter Woodbury Bar (walterwoodburybar.nl). Bar James (Javastraat 49) meanwhile, pairs vegetarian dishes with whiskies, cocktails, wines, and local beers.
Relax on the beach at Amsterdam Roest
Forget heading to the coast, Amsterdam Roest in the Eastern Islands offers the complete weekend package without the need of a train ticket. Part urban beach, part art space and a whole lot of laid-back bar action, this urban escape revels in its graffiti-strewn industrial heritage as live bands and DJs head up an on-going roster of creative excellence, which swings joyfully between film, theatre and get-me-on-the-guest-list festivals. Take it all in with a glass of punch.
Hang out with the locals at Weesperzijde
With unrivalled views over the Amstel, Weesperzijde is where the locals come to picnic right by the water’s edge. Join them for a beer at De Ysbreeker, a historic café-restaurant from 1702, or take in the scene at Girassol (girassol.nl), where you could almost be in Lisbon: the cooling blue-and-white Azulejo tiles, the cosy cotton-covered tables, the soft Fado music drifting from the speakers. The food is authentic Portuguese too: fresh octopus carpaccio and thick-filled cod croquettes, all seasoned with a Dutch sunset on a waterside terrace.
Go shopping on Czaar Peterstraat
Framing the fringe of the city centre, Czaar Peterstraat is peppered with independent boutiques, innovative brand outlets and rails and rails of vintage clothes. Trendsetters should browse the racks at the CP113 concept store (cp113.com), where stylish retro wear and good coffee are on the menu. Peanut nuts, meanwhile, should make a trail for De Pindakaaswinkel (depindakaaswinkel.nl), the first (and possibly only) peanut butter shop in the Netherlands. Its flavours spread from honey and walnut to sea salt caramel. Souvenir shopping? NJAG (njag.nl), which stands for Not Just a Gift, has more necklaces, soaps, ceramics and toys than you could ever fit in a suitcase.
Start at the spires of La Ville Rose (The Pink City). A profusion of pink marble and rosy bricks have given Toulouse an unforgettable skyline, and one of its standouts is the Romanesque Basilique St-Sernin.
The octagonal bell-tower of this 11th-century masterpiece became the blueprint for churches built in the surrounding Gers region. Step into the church and stroll around the ambulatory, beneath the watchful gaze of marble cherubs, before descending into the vaulted crypt. Numerous holy relics here cemented the basilica’s importance as a stop on the French Way of St James pilgrimage route.
Swing east along Rue du Périgord for a detour to Les Halles Victor Hugo. This food market brims with dried sausage, cheeses, and ripe-to-bursting tomatoes. The best produce is cooked up at restaurants on its upper level.
Belly full, head south out of the market along Rue du Rempart Villeneuve before walking west along Rue Lafayette. Soon enough you’ll spy Place du Capitole, home to Toulouse’s 18th-century city hall. Continue west and duck south down Rue Lakanal, which leads to theCouvent des Jacobins. This grand complex with peach-coloured cloisters is the heart of the region’s religious life, and celebrated its eighth centenary in 2015.
Striking a balance between elegance, centrality and value, rooms atHotel Albert 1er have crimson drapes, crisp white sheets, and lean-out-and-sigh balconies.
Day 2: step through history in Auch
Leave vibrant Toulouse in your rear-view mirror and drive west towards the placid town of Auch. It’s an easy 80km journey along the N124, passing meadows strewn with hay bales.
The town’s centrepiece is the Cathédrale Ste-Marie. This twin-towered masterpiece took two centuries to build, so its architectural flourishes range from Gothic to Renaissance. Most impressive is its choir. Saints and philosophers are carved in wood and a set of 18 stained-glass windows dating to the 15th century sparkle above. Reward your introspective visit to the cathedral by ambling north to Rue Dessoles, where you can enjoy inventive duck dishes and local cheese at La Table d’Oste.
Just southeast of the cathedral (follow Rue Laborde to Place Salinis) is the Escalier Monumental. A mighty 234 steps flow down this Baroque outdoor staircase, bypassing medieval to modern landmarks along the way. As you walk down, admire the Tour d’Armagnac, a former seat of power for the counts who held sway here in the 14th century. Also note a statue of semi-mythical musketeer D’Artagnan and contemporary sculpture by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa.
Auch’s most glamorous place to stay is the Hôtel de France, a 300-year-old hotel mere moments from the cathedral, replete with stained glass windows and wrought-iron railings.
There’s only one reason travelers go out of their way to visit the rural village of Cachora, and it’s to see a set of ruins that lie just out of sight on the far end of the Apurímac Valley: Choquequirao. Said to be up to three-times the size of the more widely-known Machu Picchu, these ruins astoundingly see only about a dozen visitors each day.
I’ve always wondered what it must have been like to visit Angkor Wat,Chichén Itzá or Machu Picchu before the roads and tour buses arrived. Then I found out about Choquequirao, a citadel so far up in the Andes of Peru that archaeologists have only freed about 30% of it from the jungle.
Before American explorer Hiram Bingham ever laid eyes on Machu Picchu, he was whacking his way through the Apurímac Valley, surveying the remarkable carcass of its so-called sister city. Scared off by the prospect of a grueling, four-day round-trip journey, however, few tourists have bothered to visit over the years. That could change now that the government has announced plans to build a cable car across the valley that would cart up to 3,000 visitors per day to the ruins in a trips lasting just 15 minutes.
This news has sparked something of a now-or-never moment to visit Choquequirao before it becomes the next Machu Picchu.
Crossing the Apurímac Valley
I set off on my own journey to the ruins with a muleteer in tow. There’s 45km ahead of me before I’ll see Cachora again, so it’s a relief knowing I won’t have to carry my pack, food and camping gear the entire way.
Cachora lies in a bowl of terraced farmland, so my first objective is to climb out. Then I spend the remainder of the first day descending 1500m into the Apurímac Valley, walking ever closer to the orange-brown waters of its namesake river. I camp for the night at Playa Rosalina, along the Apurímac River’s windy edge, and wake up early the following morning to cross over to the sun-baked side of the valley. It’s here that I’ll begin my ascent to the base of the ruins high up in the clouds at 3050m.
It’s a vertical desert of thorny cacti and dusty switchbacks for the first hours of morning light, but the landscape becomes exceedingly greener the higher I climb. By the time I reach the remote village of Marampata that afternoon, I’ve entered into a high-altitude jungle.
About a hundred people have etched out a meager existence in Marampata, some two days away from the closest road and far-removed from modern comforts. Marampata is the gatekeeper to Choquequirao and home to the humble headquarters of the archaeological park that protects it. This hilltop settlement also has a basic campground and a store to purchase whatever provisions may have been hoofed up to these Andean heights in recent days by pack mules.
I overnight in Marampata and am awake on day three in time to arrive at the ruins for sunrise. I’ve prepared a traditional cup of coca tea (from the leaf used to make cocaine) to stave off altitude sickness. It serves the dual purpose of jolting me awake with euphoria by the time the archaeological site’s tumbling terraces come into view.
It’s tradition in Lima to start the morning (or night) off with piping hot cups of herb-infused drinks that are boiled with grains like quinoa or boosted by maca, a revitalizing root from the high Andes of Peru. Find the carts set up at bustling intersections from the break of dawn until stock runs out, and back again when the sun sets. Don’t forget to ask for the yapa, the leftover pour that couldn’t fit in the first serving. Top spots include Grau at 28 de Julio in Barranco, Brasil at Grau in Magdalena del Mar, or Emancipacion at de la Union in central Lima.
You say potato, I say papa rellena
When life gives you 4000 varieties of potatoes, get creative. The papa rellena is Peru’s equivalent to a twice-baked potato. Completely enclosed and thus easy to eat on the go, mashed potato is stuffed with seasoned ground beef, onions, olives and egg before being fried to golden perfection. You’ll find plenty of options within the first three blocks of Av Petit Thouars, near central Lima, where students of nearby universities scramble to get the best and tastiest deal. Top it off with ketchup or Peru’s ever-present spicy chili sauce, aji.
Stick to the basics
Chocolate-covered pretzels aren’t the only salty-sweet combo: choclo con queso (corn with cheese) is a popular standby meal and proof that something must be in the water to make Peruvian food taste this good. In the case of Peru’s giant-kernel corn, that ‘something’ is anise. The small, aromatic seed gives the boiled corn a hint of sweetness that, when paired with a thick slab of queso Andino (a typical salty cheese in Peru), bursts into big flavor. Carts neighbor Lima’s Museum of Artduring lunch hours, but at night, find the tastiest on Angamos at Jr Dante in Surquillo.
Although pollerias (roast chicken restaurants) appear to be on every corner in Lima, huevos de codorniz (quail eggs) rule the roost when it comes to street food. Vendors with small push carts first hard boil the eggs then, if you prefer, peel the spotted shells to reveal the creamy insides which are then generously sprinkled with salt. Nearly half a dozen of these small eggs can be purchased for one sol, and are found outside of shopping center Polvos Azules in central Lima or any district market.
To do or donut?
In Peru, such hole-y goodness as the donut and other fried pastries are upped a level by incorporating native starchy vegetables. Picarones opt for sweet potato and squash, hence their orange hue. Rings of this naturally sweet batter are lightly fried before being bathed in a generous pour of Peruvian honey. Their pastry cousins, yuquitas, use flour from the yucca root to become a warm, air-puffed treat. Get the best bang for your buck (or sol) at Mercado Palermo in La Victoria for yuquitas, and Parque Kennedy in Miraflores for picarones.
Kona Cafe & Grill (facebook.com/Kona-Cafe-Grill) is a good place to try local drinks, such as palm wine or asaana, which is made from caramelised corn. The wood pallet furniture is spread out all over the garden area and first floor bar. Kona is a nice place to relax during sunset, but if you stop by later in the night, the bar turns into a vibrant party spot flooded with loud music and energetic young Ghanaians.
Time-travel back to the ’70s at Clear Spice
It’s just a restaurant and office during the week, but come Friday night, Clear Spice (between Presidential Dr and Sunyani Av, behind Flagstaff House) transforms into a disco straight out of the 1970s. It might only be a small dance floor with a disco ball, but this club is one of few places in Accra playing funk and soul music from back in the day. The crowd, Ghanaians in their 30s and 40s, dances all night in a relaxed trance.
Catch a live performance at +233
Hosting live local music under the stars almost every evening (except for a quiet night on Mondays) is the simple but successful idea behind+233 Jazz Bar & Grill. Although open-air stages are common in Accra, not many offer such refined lightning and speaker systems as what’s at +233. Whether the musicians play their own repertoire or covers ranging from R&B to soul and obviously jazz, the crowd is always wowed with a top-quality music experience. The kitchen is open until late, so many enjoy the music while biting into a club sandwich or steak.
Discover a slice of Europe at Plotseven
Its high ceiling is reminiscent of an old factory, but Plotseven (plotseven.com) is one of the newest and most exclusive lounges and nightclubs in Accra. The Italian owners successfully brought some European chic to town, with slick interior design, impressive lighting and a range of fancy drinks, from well-mixed cocktails to sinfully expensive champagnes. Well-dressed Ghanaian youth and expats alike get going to electronic music and local dance hits.
Meet the father of hiplife at Rockstone’s Office
Internationally known rapper Reggie Rockstone, who grew up in Accra, invented a musical style called hiplife, a Ghanaian version of hip hop. Drop by Rockstone’s Office (facebook.com/Rockstones-OfficeGrand-Papazz), his three-in-one space consisting of Django Bar, Grand Papazz Club and the recently opened rooftop lounge AfTaWeRk. White leather sofas create a casual but elegant backdrop for funky tunes, proving that the industrious music legend has a flair for design too. You might even spot the sociable Rockstone himself, as he’s often there offering rounds to his guests.
Take your pick of fun at Champs
Situated inside the Paloma Hotel complex, Champs Sports Bar & Grillis more than the name suggests. You can time your visit to watch a Champions League match on one of the many HD projectors and experience just how loudly and passionately Ghanaians support their team, but if you’re not much of a sports fan, stop by for weekly quiz, pool, karaoke and movie nights in the spacious, air-conditioned interior, as well as regular parties on Saturdays.
Feel the street vibes at Republic
Republic Bar & Grill is a long-time favourite among expats and young, creative Ghanaians. The small interior, with its red-painted walls full of vintage knick-knacks, is an underused gem because most patrons sit outside on the narrow street. It’s the perfect place to chill out, but potent drinks mixed with local spirits and the beats from live gigs, DJs and karaoke sessions mean you won’t be sitting still for long.
Get cultured at Alliance Française
If you want to see a famous African band in concert, a dance performance or a similar cultural event, check Alliance Française’s programme first. This is the cultural arm of the embassy of La Grande Nation, but the entertainment lineup extends far beyond French-speaking Africa. The events are well attended, and the amphitheatre is far enough away from the restaurant area of the compound to not disturb those eating some of the best pizzas in town.
It was just under 160 years ago that 87 Chinese prospectors paddled up the Klang river in search of tin deposits, thus establishing the settlement that would become KL. If the ghosts of those men returned to the city today, the one spot they would likely still recognise is the KL Forest Eco Park, a lush island of primary forest surrounded by some of the city’s most expensive real estate.
The park occupies 9.3 hectares of Bukit Nanas, a hill that once was the location of a long-gone Malay fort and is so named because pineapple(nanas) trees once grew around its base, their spiky foliage providing a natural defensive wall. Today visitors are very welcome, with a paved road leading to the summit crowned by one of the city’s top tourist attractions and visual icons, the Menara Kuala Lumpur.
Having taken in the 360-degree panorama of the city and its surrounds from the 421m telecommunications tower, don’t rush off as the park is threaded with several short hiking trails. There’s also a new canopy walkway that puts you at eye level with the tops of the soaring trees, such as Jelutong and Merawan Batu, some of which are as old as KL itself.
Go in search of the herbal and orchid gardens behind the Forest Information Centre (located on Jln Raja Chulan at the southwestern base of the hill), and you’re also likely to encounter the resident troupe of silvered leaf monkeys. Watching these animals as they swing between the branches and nonchalantly groom each other to a soundtrack of chirping insects and twittering birdsong, you’ll get a sense of what the area was like when the rainforest stretched as far as the eye could see.
Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park
Nature tamed and shaped into pleasing, tiger-free vistas was what Alfred Venning, Selangor State Treasurer, had in mind when he gained permission from the colonial administration to create a botanical garden around the Sungai Bras Bras stream. That 1888 project resulted in the Lake Gardens, a 101-hectare green district now officially known as the Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park, after Malaysia’s second prime minister.
At the park’s heart, the Perdana Botanical Garden remains a showcase for local flora and fauna with sections dedicated to multiple varieties of hibiscus and orchid flowers. You’ll also find a small enclosure that’s home to mouse and spotted deer, a boating lake and a creatively designed kid’s playground.
Fanciers of feathered friends should fly straight to the park’s fabulous aviary, the KL Bird Park. Alongside ostriches, eagles, flamingos and parrots, you can also see a pair of rhinoceros hornbill, Malaysia’s national bird. One of them is often found hopping among the trees close by the balcony of the Hornbill Restaurant, a great spot for close-up photography.
Titiwangsa Lake Gardens
KL’s second lake gardens park, Titiwangsa capitalises on its setting on the northeast fringe of the city. The views across the mirrored surface of the lake towards the distinctive outlines of the nearby theatre Istana Budaya and, further away, the Petronas Towers and Menara KL, are stunning – particularly at dusk, as the city’s night lights flicker into life. Westwards, there are also grandstand views of The Capers @ Sentul East, a wavy-shaped pair of condo towers which stretch up 40 storeys. Popular with courting couples who come to stroll around the lake edge, Titiwangsa also has a jogging track, exercise area and plenty of options for floating on the lake from regular rowboats to giant transparent spherical balloons.
Hidden behind a bush of colourful foliage near the busy shopping centre Kisementi, a hedged path leads to Endiro Coffee, a beautiful little space serving coffee ground and brewed in-house. Grab a seat in the homey, comfortable loft upstairs, and with the right company, you’d think you were having coffee at the family dining table. Endiro’s motto of ‘brewing a better world’ highlights their commitment to buying coffee directly from farmers they know, train and equip in the town of Bududa on the slopes of Mt Elgon.
Good African Coffee
In the popular shopping area of Lugogo, Good African Coffee (goodafrican.com) is a trendy place for weary shoppers to put their feet up and relax. Grab a cup of the single-origin coffee that empowers thousands of local Ugandan farmers and communities and pair it with one of the heavenly handmade chocolate bars.
The heat of the city will drive you into the haven of CaféJavas (cafejavas.co.ug) sooner or later. With branches all over Kampala, this cafe is undoubtedly one of the most popular spots for a cup. Try CaféJavas’ signature blend: a mocha or cappuccino amped up with a shot of espresso made from locally grown coffee. If you seek refuge from the bustling streets, order a drink in the location on Kampala Road opposite the main post office, which sports an old-school atmosphere with green velvet-covered booths, old books, dial-up phones and hooded reading lamps.
An import from Uganda’s neighbour to the east, Java House (javahouseafrica.com) brews delicious cups of Kenyan coffee that’s hand roasted daily in small batches. Java House is popular for their ice-blended coffee frappes topped with a generous clouds of whipped cream, a perfect cool-down after a warm afternoon of sightseeing. Java House is not just about the coffee, and it’s worth seeking out the amazing chocolate fudge. The tables are often taken up by coffee drinkers bent over their laptops, lapping up the fast wi-fi.
Dropping into the self-proclaimed ‘happiness capital’ is one of the best ways to start your morning in Kampala. The baristas at Café Pap take a few extra seconds of their time to make each drink special by carefully writing kind words like lovely, cherished and dear in chocolate syrup on top of your coffee. The beans used here come from the slopes of Mt Elgon near the underground Sisiyi River are roasted to perfection at the shop, giving a satisfyingly sweet flavour.
Brood is the Dutch word for bread, which tells you immediately what this place’s forte is, but the freshly brewed coffee is up there too. Several branches of BBROOD (bbrood.ug) dot the city, but each shop can hold only about 10 customers at a time. The best one is tucked into a corner of New Day, a little bookshop inside Acacia Mall, a great stop for sandwiches and coffee at lunch.
After strolling through African Village, a huge handicraft market that’s open daily from 8am to 7pm, walk across Buganda Road to 1000 Cups, one of the first coffee shops in Kampala. Pass by the vintage stools and grab a seat on the cosy balcony outside in a low chair with overstuffed pillows. The cafe is a favourite of travellers from all over the world who are drawn to the cafe’s down-to-earth feel.
Away from the noisy city in the suburbs of Kololo, you’ll find Prunesamongst a sprawling garden. The coffee served here is a secret blend created by the proprietor from locally sourced beans, making a rich fruity espresso. Prunes is also one of the best places to get delicious healthy food or breakfast in Kampala. Time your visit for a Saturday when the farmers market selling local fruits, vegetables and handmade art is on.
When famed architect Le Corbusier dotted the isometrics and crossed the tees on his brutalist masterpiece La Cité Radieuse in 1952, little could he imagine that it would become a Unesco World Heritage Site. Three floors up, suave restaurant Le Ventre de l’Architect (hotellecorbusier.com) is a treat for architecture and interior buffs alike, mixing the elegance of the 1950s with tables designed by Charlotte Perriand. Naturally, a terrace aperitif will lead into a main meal with views across the Mediterranean for company.
Marvel at the panoramic views from the R2 Rooftop
Perched above Marseille’s new shopping mecca Les Terrasses du Port, the R2 Rooftop (airdemarseille.com) offers startling panoramas and a diverse DJ line-up in a single, unique outdoor event space. Open from Wednesday to Sunday, its six shipping containers dole out international street food and feisty cocktails alongside countless Mediterranean jaw-falling opportunities.
Travel back in time at La Caravelle
Located on the first floor of the Hotel Bellevue on Quai du Port, the legendary La Caravelle brims with vintage nautical decor and cosy, lacquered wood seating. If you can beat the crowds, snag one of the coveted tables on the small terrace which has views across Vieux Port. If the organic wine doesn’t take your fancy, get the talented barman to shake you up something special. Small nibbles are free and there’s live jazz from time to time.
Enjoy sweeping views from Restaurant Rowing Club
Hidden at the end of boulevard Charles Livon, the 5th floor of Restaurant Rowing Club (rowing-clubrestaurant.com) serves up Mediterranean and Provençal tapas alongside some great local wines. Once you see the stellar views of the MuCEM museum, the curves of the 17th-century Fort St-Jean and the glimmering sailing boats in the Vieux Port, you’ll be glad you stuck your oar in here. Reservations recommended.
20,000 leagues from the city centre
Located in Les Goudes, known for its quaint fishermen’scabanons (cabins) and lunar-like landscape, the Jules Verne-inspired pub 20,000 Lieues (20000lieues.fr) is like nothing else you’ll seen in Marseille. The decor is sports-bar-meets-diving kitsch (complete with vintage diving suit), but it’s the spectacular terrace view of the wide open sea at sunset that makes the trek to the city’s southern tip worth it.
Squeeze in at Café de L’Abbaye
Don’t worry if you can’t get a seat on the triangular-shaped terrace at petite Café de L’Abbaye (facebook.com/CafédeL’Abbaye), simply follow the lead of the locals and place your drink on the nearby wall, where the view of Fort Saint-Nicolas is even better. To complete the scene, order a classic aperitif drink pastis (an anise-flavoured spirit mixed with water and ice) and a bag of fried panisse (chickpea chips) – it doesn’t get more Marseillais than that.
Wine and dine Corsican-style at Viaghji di Fonfon
Nestled in the quaint port of Vallon des Auffes, Viaghji di Fonfon (viaghjidifonfon.com) is the place to come if you want to gaze out at fishing boats and arched stone bridges. As this tiny enclave radiates at dusk, it’s all picture postcard stuff, enhanced further by simple Corsican, Sardinian and Provençal dishes. Wash the food down with a crisp white wine as the stars begin to twinkle above the sea.
Make a splash at Bistrot Plage
For sublime views of the Mediterranean without the need for inflatable armbands, peel south from the city centre along Corniche J.F. Kennedy until you reach Bistrot Plage (bistrot-plage.fr), a terraced restaurant which clings gallantly to the coastal wall. For nibbles, the tapas and pizza are the mainstays, but you’re really here to soak in the warm glow of a sunset aperitif.
Soak up the city’s history from Bistrot L’Horlog
quire a body of water. Case in point: lively Bistrot Horloge, a modern industrial bar in historic Cours d’Estienne d’Orves. Mere steps away from the Vieux Port, the scent of the sea’s salt still catches the air from the tables outside as lingering customers take in the pastel-shades of the historic local architecture. The bar even serves the best mojito in town, making this an unexpected delight in an otherwise touristy enclave.