Volcanoes, gelato and canals: Italy’s great small cities chosen by readers | Italy holidays

Winning tip: Happy wanderer in Puglia

A little piece of my soul was left in Polignano a Mare, a beautiful slice of real Italian life in Puglia. Pretty houses perching on clifftops overlooking emerald seas, a labyrinth of streets leading to a stunning old town, delectable gelato and a buzzy atmosphere as locals promenade and music plays, all combine to create a real gem. The contemporary art museum is worth a gander. It is the wandering, however, getting lost in delightful white-washed streets, stumbling across the poetry written on doorways and stairs, finding a clifftop bar beloved by locals, which is the key to enjoying this romantic town.
Vivienne Francis, Kent

Lovely Lucca

Photograph: JM_Image_Factory/Getty Images

Lucca is the hidden jewel in the Tuscan crown of Italy, and September is the best time to visit. Just 20 minutes from Pisa, its medieval walls, cobbled streets and shaded squares create a calm, quiet atmosphere. Cars are absent inside the walls, so it’s great to stroll around at any time, and not uncommon to hear Puccini’s music playing from open windows or balconies – Lucca is the composer’s home town. Around mid-September a candlelit procession followed by fireworks and open-air festivities mark the climax of the Holy Cross festival – simply magic.
Yasmin, Cambridge

Venice without the hype

Great water view of Chioggia with vintage cabins and bridgeChioggia, little Venice in Italy
Photograph: LianeM/Getty Images

Chioggia is like Venice without the crowds and the high prices. At the southern end of the Venetian lagoon, it combines views of the snowcapped peaks of the Dolomites on a clear day and the Adriatic from its fine, sandy beach. The pastel-coloured houses create a colourful canvas to its waterways, as the fishing boats chug slowly along, dispensing their catch to local trattories. A medieval clocktower watches over the city and the Museum of Adriatic Zoology showcases the area’s maritime traditions. Sit at a cafe sipping your cappuccino with vistas of calm canals and chatting fishers.
Gonca, Birmingham

Baroque gems in Vigevano

Italy, Lombardy, Vigevano, Ducale Square
Photograph: AGF Srl/Alamy

Just 35km south-west of Milan and easily accessible by road and rail, the town of Vigevano is an architectural gem. Its centre is dominated by the Castello Sforzesco, now a museum which is closely linked to that of Milan: it is connected to the town’s outer fortifications by an amazing and unique 200 metre-long medieval, covered bridge and roadway which allowed horsemen to ride directly from the castle to defend the town. Alongside the castle is the breathtaking 15th-century porticoed Piazza Ducale, enclosed at one end by the baroque cathedral – it is one of the most breathtaking open spaces in Italy.
Ian Statham, Cardiff


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Artisanal Anghiari

alley in the medieval village Anghiari, Arezzo, Tuscany
Photograph: Getty Images

The vast, 13th-century defensive walls of Anghiari still loom high over the plain of the Valtiberina, location of the decisive Florentine victory over the Milanese in 1440, and celebrated annually by a colourful, viciously contested Palio. Hidden within, a flower-strewn labyrinth of winding alleyways reveals linen looms, artisans’ workshops and boutiques hewn from the bedrock. The Southbank Sinfonia performs in the piazza under the stars each July, and the town revels in seasonal celebrations of Tuscan gastronomy, culminating in the “Chequered Tablecloth”, in which local produce is served at candlelit, communal tables, accompanied by performances of folklore, poetry and song and dance.
Benedict Leonard, London

Roman Christian mosaics in Ravenna

Mosaic of the baptism of Jesus, in the Arian Baptistry of Ravenna.
Mosaic of the baptism of Jesus, in the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna. Photograph: Michael Honegger/Alamy

Go to Ravenna – it is perfect for a long weekend, and close to Bologna. The imperial capital in the dying days of the Roman empire, it houses the most amazing collection of early Christian mosaics you’ll ever see. The art mostly dates from the fifth and sixth centuries and adorns just a handful of ancient churches in the compact city centre. The imagery is a real shock. There are no crucifixions or other signs of Christ’s suffering, and everywhere you’ll see sheep. Yes, they took the idea of us all being a flock very literally 1,500 years ago.
Chris Wilson, Fife

Sunsets in Sicily

Taormina with Mount Etna at sunset.
Taormina with Mount Etna at sunset. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

The city of Taormina in Sicily has it all. It’s perched on a hilltop, therefore boasting amazing views of an active volcano, Mount Etna, while also having beautiful sandy coves, which can be accessed by a steep hike or via cable car. The town’s piazza is one of the best places to watch the sun set in Sicily and a visit to the ancient Greek-Roman theatre is not to be missed– you can even catch a show here today.
Rachel W, Cumbria

Blown away in Sardinia

The Roman amphitheatre of Cagliari
The Roman amphitheatre in Cagliari. Photograph: Luis Leamus/Alamy

Try a short break in Cagliari, a beautiful and bustling port city on the island of Sardinia – . Countless places to eat and drink, all fiercely proud of the local produce. Bombas, a modern burger restaurant, is nestled inside a cave within the stunning medieval city walls. Sightseeing includes La Torre dell’Elefante, an imposing 14th-century limestone tower, the sprawling ruins of the Roman amphitheatre and a host of museums and galleries. We visited not expecting much, but were blown away by what Cagliari had to offer.
Dom S, Accrington

Railway rapture in Genoa

funicular railway Genoa
Photograph: Roberto Lo Savio/Alamy

Genoa is steep, built into the Ligurian cliffs. But if you don’t fancy walking up and down the many staircases, there are a series of delightful funicular railways. The Zecca-Righi funicular gets you from the city centre to the high hills in minutes. But best of all is the cute and weird Ascensore Castello d’Albertis-Montegalletto – a delightful little carriage that trundles you 300 metres into the hillside, before boarding its own lift to leave you high up above the city, overlooking the port and just around the corner from the Museum of World Cultures. Journeys are €0.90.
Thom, London

Friuli had you fooled?

Piazza Libertà in Udine.
Piazza Libertà in Udine. Photograph: MassanPH/Getty Images

Italy but not Italy … That’s the feeling that strikes you as you wander the streets of Udine, in the lesser-known region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Sitting in the shadow of the castle, Piazza Libertà is considered to be the most beautiful Venetian square on terra firma, but it’s the people and food that hint towards a more unusual mix of influences. The local language, Friulian, and the hearty dishes of frico, cjarsons and gubana give clues to the city’s mountainous hinterland and its intoxicating Germanic and Slavic influences. Yet as your senses are filled with new sights, tastes and sounds, a glass of bianco from the Collio vineyards reminds you that, well, maybe this is Italy after all.
Steve Bassett, Exeter

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How she was chosen to be the only tourist in Bhutan

(CNN) — Fran Bak never read “Eat, Pray, Love.”

But when her husband of 30 years passed away in 2018, Bak set off on a not-unlike-Elizabeth-Gilbert spiritual journey that would take her though Bali and India, and end with her being the only tourist given permission to enter the kingdom of Bhutan since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mourning brought Bak, now 70, through a range of spiritual practices. During a six-month stint on Bali, Bak stayed next door to a cafe where gong meditation — a practice where different kinds of metal gongs are used as a form of sound therapy — was going on. Initially skeptical, she fell for the practice and then began doing it herself.

“I literally woke up one day and said, I’m taking the gongs to Bhutan,” Bak tells CNN Travel.

From visitor to relative

Bak wasn’t sure what to expect when she first arrived in the Land of the Thunder Dragon in late 2019. She was assigned a driver, Gambo, and a tour guide, Tashi, through MyBhutan, the tourism company she’d chosen to work with.

At first, Bak thought her two Bhutanese companions were too quiet. They thought she — and her gongs — were too loud. But on a visit to Gambo’s native village of Nabji, in central Bhutan, Bak became ill and the villagers helped care for her. A deep bond was formed. Now, she says, the villagers call her lah, or sister.

By the end of her trip, Bak says, she, Gambo, and Tashi were “becoming a family.” Together, they visited 18 of Bhutan’s 20 districts. After she left the country in February 2019, they remained in touch via phone calls and WhatsApp.

It wasn’t only the Bhutanese people who won her over. Bak fell in love with Bhutan’s dramatic countryside, which she calls “a dreamscape.”

Fran Bak on her first trip to Bhutan.

Fran Bak on her first trip to Bhutan.

Courtesy Fran Bak

Bak is far from the only person to find serenity in Bhutan. In the 1970s, as it began opening up to tourism, the Himalayan kingdom established the “Gross National Happiness Index.”

A national body is tasked with periodically polling Bhutanese people on nine “key areas” of happiness — psychological well-being, health, education, good governance, ecology, time use, community vitality, culture and living standards.

The government, a constitutional monarchy, must take these factors into account when considering a new law or policy. Plastic bag bans may be fashionable in western countries, but Bhutan banned them all in 1999. Tobacco is also illegal, so Bhutan calls itself the world’s first nonsmoking country.

“Bhutan is a gift of perfect offerings,” Bak says from the apartment in Thimpu where she will be spending the next few weeks before heading on the road to do gong workshops in rural villages.

An insider’s view

MyBhutan co-founder Matt DeSantis is one of few foreigners who has had the opportunity to live as a long-term expat in Bhutan.

A Connecticut native, he met Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck when they were students together at the elite Choate Rosemary Hall prep school and forged a lifelong friendship on the basketball court.

DeSantis wears many hats: his tech company is working to digitize all of Bhutan’s cultural relics and, due to the lack of a US embassy in the kingdom, he serves in the role of “warden,” the closest thing to an American ambassador. He was instrumental in getting Bak back into Bhutan as a test case for how the country’s reopening could go.

“In the end, the three parties that had to grant approval (for her visa) were the tourism council, the department of immigration, and the Covid task force,” he explains.

Although the government has said that visas for tourists can be granted on a case-by-case basis, Bak was the first visa granted since March 2020 — and, so far, the only application.

However, getting to Bhutan would require jumping through a series of hurdles. Bak had to deal with multiple canceled or rerouted flights, a series of airport personnel who didn’t know which paperwork she would need, and a battery of Covid tests, then spend 21 days in a hotel quarantine where she only left her suite to take more Covid tests.

Still, Bak believes all the trouble was worth it.

“It wasn’t until i got here that I realized I was making history,” she says. “I was not expecting to get messages from people welcoming me and thanking me for coming to the country. It brings me to my knees.”

Local media featured Bak’s arrival in Bhutan the way they might have covered a visiting dignitary in the pre-Covid times.

Among those following her story was DeSantis. “Fran was the groundbreaker in a lot of ways,” he says, “and the beacon of hope for the tourism industry.”

Fran Bak poses with one of her gongs.

Fran Bak poses with one of her gongs.

Courtesy Fran Bak

A country beyond Covid

Even before the pandemic, going to Bhutan required a fair bit of coordination. Under the kingdom’s “High Value Low Impact” policy, visiting is prohibitively expensive and designed to prevent overtourism.

All travel visas must be issued through a government-approved tour operator company, and a mandatory daily tariff of $250 is applied to every visitor.

After she got permission to come back to Bhutan in 2021, Bak was required to spend three weeks quarantining upon arrival. Though she’s the only tourist in the country, there are existing quarantine policies and faciities because medical personnel have been coming into the country.

A representative for the Bhutanese government confirms that the tourism department offered to cover the cost of Bak’s quarantine, but she chose to pay for it herself. Bak describes the decision as “my way to show solidarity.”

DeSantis used Bak’s visit as a sort of test case for how Bhutan’s fuller reopening could look.

“Bhutan is poised really well to bounce back with tourism. Tourism is so important to us and we’re doing things right,” he says. Though there’s nothing concrete yet, DeSantis says he has heard rumors of a reopening sometime between December 2021 and February 2022.

It helps that the Covid situation in Bhutan is in good shape. Nearly 90% of adults in the kingdom were vaccinated by July. That’s no small achievement in a country where many people live in remote villages without mass transit.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck made a point of traveling around the country on horseback and by foot to encourage citizens to get vaccinated. He also met with healthcare workers and volunteers to thank them for being involved in the vaccine rollout.

Despite the logistics and challenges of being the only tourist in town, Bak never considered doing anything other than returning to the country she loved.

“My dream started in Bhutan,” she says, “and it never ended.”

Image of Taktshang Goemba via Adobe Stock.

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Warriors, cathedrals and carnivals: Spain’s best smaller cities, chosen by readers | Spain holidays

Winning tip: Seductive Salamanca

I stopped in Salamanca for lunch when driving from Madrid to Lisbon and ended up staying there for a week, caught up in the lovely atmosphere of the city. Its graceful red sandstone architecture, with two cathedrals and splendid university buildings dating from the 15th century, gives the city the quality of an alfresco cultural living room – where academics, students and locals live on a sort of dreamy, theatrical open-air film set. Street names are hand-painted in scarlet on signs and the youthful population creates a hedonistic vibe at night when darkness descends. By day, check out the Plaza Mayor and the lovely Doll Museum.
Yasmin Cox

That’s Zamora

Church of San Pedro de la Nave, near Zamora.
Church of San Pedro de la Nave, near Zamora. Photograph: Alamy

Approached by a wonderful medieval bridge over the Duero River, Zamora, perched on its sandstone cliff, offers so much. More romanesque churches (24) than any other city, with their pink-tinged sandstone glowing warmly in the sunlight. Add to this the Baltasar Lobo sculpture museum near the medieval castle, the Duero wines from the surrounding gentle hills, the famous Holy Week processions, an eclectic collection of art deco buildings and you might not find time for the greatest gem of all, the Visigothic church of San Pedro de la Nave, 12 kilometres to the northwest.
James Kay


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Segovia … sigh!

Cathedral of Santa Maria de Segovia, Castile and Leon, Spain
Cathedral of Santa Maria de Segovia. Photograph: Getty Images

Segovia. A heavenly city roughly one hour north-west of Madrid. I lived there for my Erasmus year but still sigh whenever I think about it. The centrepiece of this stunning place is the Roman aqueduct, built in the first century AD. If that doesn’t impress you then the Disney-inspiring Alcazar certainly will. The cathedral is the most modern gothic one in Europe, and Segovia offers beautiful views whichever way you are facing. For award-winning tapas pop to El Fogón Sefardí, or for casual bites go to El Sitio. This is a treasure trove of gastronomic and architectural delights, not to be missed!
Rhiannon Pattison

Breathtaking Ronda

Sunset view of Ronda, Spain
Sunset view of Ronda. Photograph: Getty Images

The Spanish town that will definitely take your breath away is Ronda (in the province of Málaga, Andalucía). Between a 150m-deep rocky gorge, which you can admire from the bridge called Puente Nuevo, Ronda is a perfect place to see architecture influenced by the Romans, Arabs and the Catholic Monarchs. Going down the steps of the Water Mine at Casa del Rey Moro, admiring omnipresent beautiful mosaics, strolling around Ronda’s cobbled streets and passing by the oldest bullfighting rings in Spain, Plaza de Toros de Ronda, are some of the things you can do in beautiful Ronda!
Magdalena Rasmus

Bustle and beaches, Vigo

A beach in the Cies archipelago, near Vigo.
A beach in the Cies archipelago, near Vigo. Photograph: Getty Images

We had little knowledge of what Vigo would be like before we visited it in 2017. What we found was a bustling port city with welcoming people and delicious food. Being on the Galician coast means the local speciality of octopus is abundant. Every restaurant does their own version of this delightful, meaty delicacy. In contrast to the prices in some of Spain’s more popular cities, Vigo is affordable – for less than €2 you could have a beer, or small glass of wine, and a small, free tapas. The highlight of our visit was a trip to the Cies Islands (a 45-minute ferry from Vigo), with golden beaches that have, rightfully, been named among the most beautiful in the world.
Graham Tait

Saints and storks in Tarazona

Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Huerta, Tarazona, Aragon, Spain, Mudejar cimborio
Cathedral, Tarazona. Photograph: Getty Images

Tarazona, halfway between Soria and Zaragoza, has kept its medieval Arabic street plan and is therefore easy to get lost in. From the Romanesque church of St Mary Magdalene, high above the town, you can admire the ancient roofs and see the pattern of the town, with the 18th-century bullring at its centre, and, opposite, the Mudéjar Cathedral, with its gothic wall paintings and amazing windows. In between are the hanging houses of the Jewish quarter, the ornate Renaissance town hall, and clusters of friendly bars and restaurants. At Easter it’s columns of women who carry the statue and beat the drums in the procession from St Mary Magdalene, and at that time of year the storks are everywhere.
Barbara Forbes

Warrior pose, Toledo

View on Puente de Alcantara and Alcazar de Toledo from side of Tagus river, Toledo, SpainFDX5YA View on Puente de Alcantara and Alcazar de Toledo from side of Tagus river, Toledo, Spain
View on Puente de Alcantara and Alcazar de Toledo from side of River Tagus. Photograph: Sergey Dzyuba/Alamy

Toledo is my best Spanish city. You feel like you are living in old centuries, or you are watching a real life of ancient soldiers. You even think that you are a warrior and you have to win the battle. It is really an interesting city with extraordinary walls and gates. After one hour’s walking, you will find the best view ever at mirador, where you can see a panoramic view all over the city. It is really so unique and you will fall in love with the majesty of this city.

The treasures of El Burgo de Osma

Facade of the Cathedral. El Burgo de Osma, Soria, Spain.FCK86T Facade of the Cathedral. El Burgo de Osma, Soria, Spain.
Photograph: Alamy

Among the rolling landscapes by the Duero River, a gem of a small town is waiting to be discovered. Midway between Zaragoza and Valladolid, El Burgo de Osma is a treasure trove of history, from Roman ruins, a medieval castle, to perfectly preserved city walls, beautifully manicured gardens and an elegant plaza mayor. The centrepiece, though, is the magnificent cathedral, built of honey-coloured stone over five centuries. We stayed in a spacious, stylish apartment at El Balcón de la Catedral overlooking the cathedral square for €60. The historical centre is barred to traffic, so wander the streets, grab a table, soak it in. It’ll probably be just you and the locals.
Jean Rich

Carnival in Cádiz

Aerial view of Cadiz and the tower of the Cathedral of Cadiz in Cadiz Andalusia, Spain in summer.
Aerial view of Cádiz. Photograph: Daria Pavlova/Getty Images

The warmth of the Spanish sun is second only to the warmth of the heart and soul of the ancient city of Cádiz. An island, not geographically speaking, but surrounded almost entirely by water. The scenes and beautiful beaches of Cádiz rival any Andalucían paradise. The endless maze of streets are lined with lively taverns and stunning buildings, providing enough adventures for a lifetime. The Atlantic Ocean plays a vital role in the life of the city, crashing against the city walls and filling the plates with an endless bounty of fresh seafood and fuelling the energy of its citizens come carnival day. In Cádiz, every day feels like carnival day.
Elliot Greest

Medieval Trujillo

Plaza Mayor, Trujillo, Spain.
Photograph: Juan M Casillas, All rights reserved/Getty Images

The medieval town of Trujillo, in the unjustly overlooked province of Extremadura, made a surprisingly stunning stopoff on our road trip to catch the Bilbao ferry. Our excellent boutique accommodation was in an unassuming street; however, a 20-yard stroll brought us to the main square. More Game of Thrones than Game of Thrones, the panorama was stunning: medieval buildings encircled the square, which was in turn encircled with battlements. A multitude of bell towers rose around us, and a distinguished church took centre stage alongside an oversize statue of conquistador Pizarro. Evening dinner in the square was a delight, local peasant derived food washed down with an Extremadura red.
Douglas Stewart

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Hidden idylls and stunning sunsets: late summer breaks in Europe, chosen by readers | Europe holidays

Winning tip: wild shores and exotic plants, Lanzarote

The north of the island of Lanzarote is a hidden idyll where sunsets burn golden orange and surf pounds the wild shores. Famara Beach is a surfing paradise for families looking for winter sun and a relaxed beach community. Staying in a yurt in nearby Arrieta is fantastic: at night you can watch the stars from your bed as you gently drift asleep listening to the waves. La Graciosa is a 20-minute boat ride away and hosts two tiny but perfect beachside restaurants serving freshly caught sardines. Spanish fills the air and British voices are rare. The mountains here are home to huge agave plants, aloes, bougainvillaea, date palms and pepper trees.
Vikki Rimmer

Beaches near Porto

Matosinhos beach
Matosinhos beach. Photograph: Manuel Fernando Araujo/EPA

Porto is rarely considered as a beach destination but it has lovely long autumn days for sunbathing and swimming 20 minutes from the city, with beaches such as Matosinhos and at Espinho to the south that are easy to get to on public transport. Unlike in the Algarve, you will find plenty of space on the sands and the west-facing bays means the sun lingers longer. The little known Costa Verde to the north is a rocky coastline full of golden beaches, natural headlands and lovely scenery. You can eat outside in the city in September and October. A superb day trip would be a boat trip on the canals of Aveiro 70km to the south.


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Guardian Travel readers’ tips

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

Thank you for your feedback.

Perfect peninsula, Mallorca

View from the mountains to the beach Platja des Coll Baix, Alcudia, Majorca, SpainCF3MJ6 View from the mountains to the beach Platja des Coll Baix, Alcudia, Majorca, Spain
Platja des Coll Baix on the Alcanada peninsula. Photograph: Alamy

Aucanada peninsula (also called Alcanada) between Alcúdia and Pollença has a beauty that comes into its own in the lazy days of autumn. The sea is warm, even on a rainy day and the beaches as mesmerising as ever, with their backdrop of pine trees and mountains. Snorkelling is good here too: you may see an octopus along with plenty of fish. I’ve found that if the Med is choppy on one side, it is usually sedate on the other. It’s a lovely 15-minute cycle between the northern and southern side. Try the favourite beach of the locals – S’illot. It is partly pebbly but the water is pristine and the views to the mountains are timeless. The menú del día at La Casa Gallega (on Carrer de l’Hostaleria in Port d’Alcúdia, no website) is the perfect way to finish the day.
Antony T

Island of pines, Croatia

Croatia - The landscape of national park Mljet island
Photograph: Jozef Sedmak/Alamy

Scenic and secluded, the island of Mljet in Croatia is a wonderful place for enjoying a peaceful, extended summer. Reached from Dubrovnik by ferry, this unspoilt island is two-thirds forest. Take a relaxing bike ride through the national park in the north, swim or kayak in one of two saltwater lakes, Veliko Jezero and Malo Jezero or, if you are feeling more adventurous, hike or take a boat to the cave of Odysseus on the stunning south coastline. Though the island has only one hotel, options for private accommodation, including camping, are plentiful.
Lindsay Wilson

E-bike to the bay, Gozo

Dwejra Bay.
Dwejra Bay. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

My partner and I recently rented e-bikes to get around the island of Gozo, Malta. It’s a great way to power up the hills, wind through the cute towns and pootle to the coves and caves. You can visit the likes of Dwejra Bay for views of the Fungus Rock and the valley of Wied-il Ghasri with its secluded beach, all on two wheels. We hired them from a lovely couple in Marsalforn who owned a bar/restaurant next door. The bikes cost £25 a day. We were allowed to return the bikes when it suited us in the evening.
Sophie Delamothe

Laurel forest and a tranquil finca, La Gomera

Garajonay national park.
Garajonay national park. Photograph: Violeta Mesa/EPA

The green oasis of La Gomera is not as touristy as its Canaries sister islands and a true walkers’ paradise. Traipse through the enchanting laurel forest of the Garajonay national park, which boasts many endemic species of birds and amphibians. Visit the lively Valle Gran Rey on the south coast with its black sand beaches and stay at Finca Argayall, where meditation and yoga are practised. Enjoy ripe mangoes straight from the trees in this warm and welcoming community. Fresh and super-tasty vegetarian food is served and at night the chirping crickets will sing you to sleep. You’ll be ferried round to the finca after a landslide blocked the road late in 2020.
Monique Gadella

Satisfy your soul, Crete

Stavros Beach
Stavros Beach Photograph: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto

North-west Crete’s Akrotiri peninsula is a wonderful place to visit in September and October. Whether you are seeking the golden beaches of Stavros or Marathi, the serenity of the 16th-century Gouverneto monastery and 11th-century Katholiko or the lively nightlife of downtown Chania with its Venetian seafront, this corner of the island satisfies the soul. Good food abounds in the numerous tavernas offering traditional fare, local produce, mamma’s kitchens and hearty portions. At Vlamis Villas (doubles from €60) in Stavros, where Manolis welcomes his guests, the toughest decision is whether to head to the pool or the warm blue sea.
Chris Watson

Serene shores, North Macedonia

Dusk on Lake Ohrid.
Dusk on Lake Ohrid. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

The Robinson Sunset Guesthouse (doubles from £39 for two nights) in Lagadin on the shores of Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia, welcomes visitors with bowls of cucumber, tomato and feta salad known as shopska. Home-cooked suppers, washed down with the local Zlaten Dab beer, are shared around trestle tables as the sun sets over the peaks of neighbouring Albania. Kayaks are available for a leisurely 5km paddle in the crystal clear waters of Lake Ohrid to the photogenic Bay of Bones Museum – a reconstructed prehistoric settlement built on stilts over the lake.

Sue Bell

Turn left at Lisbon

Ribeira beach in Cascais.
Ribeira beach in Cascais. Photograph: Edson De Souza/REX/Shutterstock

October or November are perfect months to visit Cascais, 30km west of Lisbon. The crowds have left, the weather is warm and sunny, the air crisply clear. Push the boat out and stay at the Albatroz (doubles from €150 B&B), for wonderful old-fashioned service and rooms you could get lost in. Take a seaside stroll for clams-with-a-view at the restaurant Mar do Inferno, or opt for a breakfast of pastel de nata (egg custard tart) at their spiritual home, Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon. Walk off the calories in the stunning Cascais/Sintra national park, and when evening comes, head to neighbouring Estoril for people watching around the casino.
Jayne Pearson

Late summer Bonaparte bonus, Elba

Portoferraio, Elba.
Portoferraio, Elba. Photograph: Alamy

My tip for a late summer getaway would be to the island of Elba. Although it’s most famous for Napoleon’s absence without leave, there’s lots more to it when you begin to scratch below its Napoleonic surface. The Romans loved it and left lots of fabulous architecture for the historian to fathom. The sea is a delicious salty, clear and a sapphire and turquoise mix – perfect for late-afternoon snorkelling. Unlike Napoleon, escape is the last thing you’d really want to do. Instead, dance in the moonlight, swim under the stars, lose yourself. You’ll never want to leave.
Lisa Honan

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Fitzgerald chosen for travel industry advisory board | Community-news

SPOFFORD, N.H. — Professional travel advisor Lisa Fitzgerald, of Fitzgerald Travel in Spofford, was selected by Travel Weekly and TravelAge West to serve on the Global Travel Marketplace (GTM) Advisory Board. The 11 advisory board members were selected from among hundreds of qualified past attendees and will serve a two-year term.

GTM is a travel industry event that connects top-producing advisors in North America with leading cruise, hotel, tour and destination suppliers through one-on-one appointments, boardroom presentations and networking events over the course of two-and-a-half days. Participants undergo a screening process, which evaluates their business model, confirms annual sales and requires industry references prior to being accepted into the event.

GTM takes place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, July 8-10, followed by its sister event, GTM West, held in Tucson, Arizona, Sept. 17-19.

“I am extremely excited and honored for the opportunity to meet, support, and educate such an amazing group of elite professional travel advisors from all over the World,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “This networking event and opportunity is essential for building bonds with travel suppliers and our clients, especially post COVID-19. Vacation planning is forever changed and I am honored to serve on the Global Travel Marketplace Advisory Board”.

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10 of Britain’s best small museums, chosen by readers | Day trips

Winning tip: When king coal ruled Somerset

Somerset is saddled with stereotypes: cider, cheddar cheese and yokels who say ooh-arhh a lot. Few people know that for more than 250 years it was the centre of an advanced and highly mechanised coal industry covering an area greater than the Levels. The industry, its technology, characters, tragedies and distinctive way of life are on show at the superlative Radstock Museum. It’s a beautifully laid-out, informative, often poignant gem barely 10 miles from Bath, and much less predictable than that city’s museum offerings.
Reopens 2 June, 2pm-5pm Wed, 11am-5pm Sat, 2pm-5pm Sun; then from 6 July 2-5pm Tues-Sun and 11am-5pm Sat, free entry until end of August, donations encouraged
Christopher Inge

Beauty and the beach, Bournemouth

The Russell Cotes Museum and Art Gallery gardens
Art nouveau and pre-Raphaelite art both feature at the Russell-Cotes. Photograph: Gregory Davies/Alamy

The Russell-Cotes art gallery is beckoning our family back if we go to Bournemouth after it all reopens. It may be the nearest museum and gallery to a beach in the UK, as we discovered last summer, when we chanced upon it 200 metres from the sea and pier after a hot day sunbathing and swimming. It was so good we spent several hours wandering around the beautiful building, enjoying art nouveau tiled ceilings and pre-Raphaelite paintings. It’s an elegant, lovingly maintained old Victorian house. We want to spend time on the tea terrace with sea views to complete a sensual, arty afternoon.
Reopens 18 May, 10am-5pm Tue-Sun, adult £7.50, 5-17s £4
Nigel Cox


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Something Specials, Coventry

Reminders of 2 tone – singer Pauline Black of The Selecter.
Reminders of 2 tone: singer Pauline Black of The Selecter. Photograph: Lynn Goldsmith/Getty Images

Coventry Music Museum will take you back
To 2 Tone gigs of white and black
And Top of the Pops on Thursday nights
Pork pie hats and tonic suits
Reggae dancing, Doc Marten boots
The best three quid you’ll ever spend
The museum’s Ghost Town to Host Town exhibition opens on 20 May (£4, £2 kids and concessions, open Thur-Sun), phone ahead (0797 117 1441) to book
Nick Knibb

Knit wits, Nottinghamshire

The sock knitting room at the Framework Knitters Museum
The sock knitting room at the Framework Knitters Museum. Photograph: lowefoto/Alamy

I know, I know, a museum about knitting? (Stifled yawn). But Framework Knitters Museumin Ruddington is so much more – from interactive videos such as “Breaking The Frame”– to find out if you would have supported the Framebreakers – to the history of Ned Ludd and the Luddite movement and even a pair of Queen Victoria’s stockings! The museum is attached to a cottage where you can see how the workers would have lived and get an idea of their working conditions. There are regular displays of working “frames”, an art gallery and wonderful tea and cakes.
Behind the Scenes days 6-12 June for pre-booked groups, full reopening late summer, with new shop and exhibition space and more cottage rooms, adult £5, 5-15 years £2

Steaming ahead, Wiltshire

The pump house at Crofton Beam Engines, Kennet and Avon Canal.
The pump house at Crofton Beam Engines, Kennet and Avon Canal. Photograph: Christine Strover/Alamy

Set beside the beautiful Kennet and Avon canal south of Marlborough, Crofton Beam Engines are an awe-inspiring triumph of industrial engineering from the age of steam. The huge iron pumps kept water levels topped up at the highest point of the canal linking London to Bristol. I love the contrast between the tranquility of the surroundings and the reminder of the power of the Industrial Revolution. If you can, visit on a steaming day and see these monoliths in action.
Reopens 22 May, Tues-Sun 10.30am-4.30pm, self-guided tour £5 adult, under-16 free

West African society and the horrors of slavery, Liverpool

International Slavery Museum in Liverpool
The slavery museum not only explores slave trade history but the sophistication of West African society before the arrival of Europeans. Photograph: Ed Rooney/Alamy

Interest in transatlantic slavery is running high, so staycationers are advised to book early for the International Slavery Museum. Some displays remain closed but multimedia exhibits in the Middle Passage gallery will leave patrons open-mouthed at the horrors endured. (Tip: don’t bypass the window overlooking the graving docks.) The Life in West Africa and Legacy galleries do more: they will open minds to the sophistication of West African society prior to the landing of Europeans, and Black achievement notwithstanding contemporary discrimination.
Reopens 18 May, 10am to 6pm Tues-Sun, free but donations requested
Lee P Ruddin

Bagpuss at the Beaney, Canterbury

Artefacts from pilgrims are among the attractions at Beaney House, Canterbury.
Artefacts from pilgrims are among the attractions at Beaney House, Canterbury. Photograph: Tim Stubbings/Alamy

The original Bagpuss, “saggy old cloth cat” and beloved title character of the 1970s children’s TV show, is just one highlight of the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. Bagpuss resided in a shop for lost items, with each episode exploring the story of a different object. The Beaney, a striking Tudor revival building, is a place to explore the stories of a range of exhibits, from paintings to pilgrim badges, old and new artefacts from Canterbury and beyond, and has something to interest all ages of visitor.
Reopens 18 May, 10am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat, free but book timed entry in advance
Sharon Pinner

Croft story, Orkney

Cra’as Nest crofting museum, Orkney
A dresser and other ancient furnishings in the restored croft on Hoy. Photograph: Paul Kirkwood

The Cra’as Nest Museum at Rackwick on Hoy in the Orkney Islands is in a restored 18th-century croft, complete with dresser and two box beds as well as a byre and barn with a kiln for drying oats. The museum tells the unlikely story of two tailors, both sons of Hoy crofters, who invented the suspender clasp based on a device originally used to hold up baggy farm dungarees. They patented their idea of a clasp in the US because of the outrage that would’ve be caused by such a concept in their tight-knit Victorian community.
Open daily, free
Paul Kirkwood

Back before Broadchurch, Dorset

West Bay Discovery Centre, Dorset
Storms, shipwrecks, Victorian resort history are among subjects brought to live in West Bay’s museum. Photograph: Karen Heaney

West Bay Discovery Centre is so close to the beach you can hear the surf pounding on the shingle. Run by super-helpful volunteers, this small, child-friendly museum punches way above its weight. Through a fantastic collection of artefacts and archive photographs, it provides a fascinating insight into West Bay’s past, from its shipbuilding heyday, through its reinvention as a Victorian resort, to recent fame as the location for the TV series Broadchurch. It’s strong on natural history too, with interactive exhibits about the geology and wildlife of the Jurassic Coast, its storms and shipwrecks.
Reopens 18 May, 11am-4pm Tues-Sun, free
Karen Heaney

Town and country, Reading

Main exhibition space at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading.
Main exhibition space at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading. Photograph: Edmund Sumner/Alamy

The Museum of English Rural Life, part of Reading University, has a vast and fascinating collection chronicling the changes in countryside life since 1750. Everyone will find their own favourite objects and insights among the diverse displays. Unexpectedly, I loved the collection of farm wagons, whose distinctive designs reveal their region of origin. Visitors are greeted by a wonderfully meditative animation, showing a rural landscape shifting through the seasons. Upstairs, you can peek behind the scenes, and browse rows of meticulously labelled objects in open storage. The nostalgia extends to books: the museum has an impressive collection of Ladybird books on display.
Reopens 18 May, 9am-5pm Tues-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat, Sun, free but donation recommended

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10 of the UK’s best places for fun on the water, chosen by readers | United Kingdom holidays

Winning tip: city and broads, Norfolk

I love paddleboarding on the River Wensum in Norwich. This stretch of the Norfolk Broads offers winding meadows, endless tranquillity and wildlife such as kingfishers, herons, swans and a family of non-native terrapin turtles. It’s an escape from reality only minutes from the city centre. We use Norwich Paddleboard Hire (£19.99 for half a day) every time the sun is shining: they have fantastic access to these waters and a pub on site for a beer or wine by the river when you finish.
Adam Tiffany

Fairytale loch, Perthshire

Watersports on Loch Earn
Watersports on Loch Earn on the eastern edge of the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs national park. Photograph: Alamy

Imagine a fairytale loch surrounded by majestic snow-topped Munros, with its own water horse or each-uisge living under the surface. This is the stuff of paradise. Launch your paddleboard from the deserted sandy beach and make your way across the shimmering water to a tiny shale beach only accessible by boat. You can gaze in amazement at Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin and wonder about the dark history of nearby Edinample Castle. Loch Earn offers watersports from wild swimming to canoeing and the mindfulness of paddleboarding.
Paddleboard hire £15 an hour from Loch Earn Watersports Centre

Paddles at dawn, North Tyneside

The sandy beach at Cullercoats Bay
The sandy beach at Cullercoats Bay is perfect for kayaking and paddleboarding. Photograph: Philip Naylor/Alamy

Cullercoats Bay, between the better-known Tynemouth and Whitley Bay, is the perfect place to SUP, kayak or swim, especially at sunrise. You start off on the beach and can explore the piers, rocks, caves and even go round to the bigger bays if you’re feeling confident out at sea. Cullercoats Bay houses the RNLI lifeboat station, which is great peace of mind if you’re a beginner! CCBK Adventures hires out wetsuits and equipment (SUP from £15 for two hours) plus great advice about the tide, weather etc. It’s easy to get to via the Metro from Newcastle, and there are plenty of independent eateries nearby.

Camp and canoe, Cornwall

Watersports equipment by Stithians Lake.
Stithians Lake is five miles south of Redruth. Photograph: David Chapman/Alamy

Stithians Lake (reservoir) water sports centre near Redruth in Cornwall is an established and friendly RYA-certified centre offering hire and lessons for paddleboarding, windsurfing and sailing. The adjacent campsite has some hook-ups plus new shower and toilet facilities. There’s a popular cafe in the centre and a good food pub, the Golden Lion, within easy staggering distance.
Tent pitch from £16 a night, paddleboard hire from £15 an hour, windsurf, canoe or sailing dinghy from £20


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Jurassic paddling, south Devon

People landing kayaks by the sea stacks at Ladram Bay.
Kayaking in calm waters by the sea stacks at Ladram Bay. Photograph: Ian Woolcock/Alamy

The quaint, Regency town of Sidmouth provides a pretty window into a chocolate-box past. But hire a kayak or SUP from Jurassic Paddle Sports (based on the beach) and you can splash even further back in time along the Jurassic coast. Guy and the team gave me and my siblings directions to the enormous sea stacks of Ladram Bay, with lush cliffside greenery creating an absolutely epic, prehistoric scene. Be warned – it’s a couple of hours’ sea kayaking there and back, so consider booking a guide unless you’re experienced and completely confident on the water.
Single kayak hire £14 an hour
Tom Sillars

Sheltered harbour or peaceful river, Dorset

The River Stour and Christchurch Harbour from Hengistbury Head.
The River Stour and Christchurch Harbour from Hengistbury Head. Photograph: Jo Chambers/Alamy

Picturesque Mudeford and Christchurch harbour, watched over by ancient Hengistbury Head, is an extra-special location for all manner of watersports. It offers safe shallow waters within its harbour for kayaking and paddleboarding and is surrounded by spectacular scenery. Mudeford Sandspit, with its colourful beach huts, acts as a barrier from the open sea, where people enjoy windsurfing and sailing. Inland from the harbour you can gently meander along the River Stour to the quaint village of Tuckton with its traditional tea gardens and boat hire. Equipment can be hired from Shore Sports on Mudeford Quay (kayaks from £10 an hour).
Jeanette Bain

Teapot time, River Medway, Kent

The River Medway at Teston Bridge country park.
The River Medway at Teston Bridge country park. Photograph: Andrew Beck/Alamy

Teston Bridge country park, on the River Medway near Maidstone, has a recently built pass next to the lock to allow kayakers and paddleboarders to adventure up- or downstream. It’s a pretty little stretch of river: you can paddle hard up towards Tonbridge via Teapot Island museum and (takeaway) cafe, or just meander up and down close to the park and take in the countryside. There are always plenty of other rivergoers for friendly chat and advice but it never feels too busy.
Lee Crump

Swap books for boats, River Wye

Canoeing on the Wye near Hay-on-Wye.
Canoeing on the Wye near Hay-on-Wye. Photograph: Paul Painter/Alamy

Hay-on-Wye is best known for books, but the River Wye running through the village is perfect for novice kayaking. The river is impressive: wide, fast and beautiful, yet surprisingly easy to enjoy. You don’t need an instructor; you can simply rent equipment from Ultimate Canoe and Kayak beneath the bridge and let the river carry you downstream along the meandering border between England and Wales. You don’t even need to paddle back upstream, because the company will come and pick you up from the pub on the bank in Whitney-on-Wye.
Half-day trip Hay to Whitney-on-Wye, £25pp
Mary Hudson

High adrenaline, South Yorkshire

Child kneeboarding at Sheffield Cable and Waterski Park.
Kneeboarding at Sheffield Cable and Waterski Park. Photograph: Paul Kirkwood

A trip to Sheffield Cable Waterski and Aqua Park in Rother Valley country park is great fun regardless of age and ability. Our group, which included three mid-teenagers, loved being towed around on a kneeboard by a wire high above the lake. If you complete a full lap without falling off, it’s quite an achievement. There’s waterskiing for the more experienced or adventurous, and a Total Wipeout-style inflatables course to clamber around.
Two-hour kneeboard/wakeboard session £28pp
Paul Kirkwood

Honey for tea, Cambridge

A punt and canoe on the River Cam by Grantchester Meadows.
A punt and canoe on the River Cam by Grantchester Meadows. Photograph: Geoffrey Robinson/Alamy

Hire a punt at Scudamore’s beneath the Anchor pub in Cambridge, then drift along to the Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester for scones and tea in the apple orchard. You will pass swans on their nests, six ducks (they’re always there, in Paradise nature reserve), and goats. “It’s like being on the set of Red Joan,” said my sister. As you punt through Sheep’s Green, watch out for the wild swimmers!
Punt hire £37.50 for 90 mins

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10 of the best places to visit in Portugal, chosen by readers | Portugal holidays

Winning tip: Walk to Spain on a Roman road

If you want something out of the ordinary with fantastic scenery and fascinating history, then go to Terras de Bouro in the far north of the country. This town is well worth a visit because it offers the chance to walk along a Roman road complete with original milestones. The Via Geira was built to link Braga with Astorga, now in Spain. It is signposted within Terras de Bouro. The trail winds through woodland and round mountains with spectacular views, waterfalls and, of course, the milestones. It goes through the Peneda-Gerês national park to Portela de Homem on the Spanish border. It’s magical – .
Margaret Ainsbury

Perfect islands and seafood east of Faro

Olhao town square, Algarve, PortugalJ0C26G Igreja Matriz parish church at night, Olhao, Algarve, Portugal
Olhao town square. Photograph: Robert Harding/Alamy

Olhão on the eastern Algarve is a real fishing town that’s only just properly warming up to tourism. The town is a mashup of old tiled cottages and backstreet restaurants with a fishermens’ chapel displaying votive offerings of plastic prosthetic legs and breasts. There’s no town beach, but a ferry takes you to the glorious islands of the Ria Formosa national park, where deserted beaches and the best ever seafood awaits. The efficient train service will take you to the border town of Vila Real de Santo António going east or Faro to the west, should you feel the need to explore.
Andrej Znak


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Guardian Travel readers’ tips

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

Aerial spectacular, Algarve

Cabo de São Vicente near Sagres, Algarve, Portugal
Cabo de São Vicente near Sagres. Photograph: Jacek Sopotnicki/Alamy

The dramatic landscapes and pristine beaches of the Sagres peninsula, at the western tip of the Algarve, are a draw throughout the year. The highlight in October is the Sagres Birdwatching Festival, which coincides with autumn migration as birds head to Africa. Nature lovers from many nations descend on the peninsula keen to witness the vast number of species passing through, including vultures and eagles. They can also explore the geology and diverse flora of the coast and may spot dolphins and whales. They leave having socialised, eaten fabulous food, made new friends, shared experiences, and been inspired. An experience not to miss.
Jennifer Jones

Alt Algarve

Alte village on the south of Portugal.
Alte village. Photograph: Ross Helen/Alamy

Nestled away in the hills of Serra do Caldeirão, 13 miles inland from Albufeira on the Algarve coast, lies the beautiful and unspoilt village of Alte. Here, a tiny haven of meandering streets lined with whitewashed houses and laced chimneys ooze the aromas of traditional Portuguese food. At the heart of the village lies tranquillity. Two springs form pools of crystal-clear spring water for families to bathe in and picnic around, amid a glorious backdrop of trees. Alte’s pièce de résistance is its waterfall, Vigário, which cascades into a serene and inviting pool. An exquisite site of natural beauty.
Julia Husband

Huge waves – and doughnuts – south of Lisbon

Wooden staircase down to Gale beach, Comporta.
Wooden staircase down to Gale beach, Comporta.
Photograph: Manuel Ribeiro/Alamy

Three years ago, recently separated and in need of adventure, I took my two young sons to Comporta for a week, a 90-minute drive south of Lisbon. Laid-back, boho, with glorious sandy beaches, it was the best holiday we’d ever had. Lazy mornings in the infinity pool, afternoons at the beach in Carvalhal eating huge doughnuts and jumping huge waves. Stopping at Ti Glória on the way home to pick up the most delicious roast chicken, chips, grilled prawns, rice and pickled veg – and only €7 for a huge takeaway tray. Everything felt easy about this holiday: parking at the beach, friendly people, beautiful landscapes … go before it becomes Ibiza!
Polly Dorner

Across the Tagus to Ponto Final

Restaurante Ponto Final, Calcinhas Lisbon Portugal
Restaurante Ponto Final. Photograph: Age Fotostock/Alamy

If you’re in Lisbon, don’t miss the chance to visit the south bank of the River Tagus and enjoy a meal from the terrace views at the restaurant Ponto Final of Lisbon’s red-tiled rooftops and the 25 de Abril Bridge. Take the enjoyable ferry from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré (every 10 minutes, weekend every 20 minutes) to the other side of the river Tagus: Cacilhas, then walk along the riverbank for 10 minutes. Our family sampled olives, fresh cheese from the Alentejo as starters, then sea food salad, a huge octopus soup, then custard tarts, washing it down with a few tasty glasses of Ponto Final’s house wine for €30 a head last spring.

Cycle south from Porto

A woman cycles on a cycle-path at Espinho in Portugal.
Cycle path in Espinho. Photograph: Stuart Forster/Alamy

Renting a bike in Porto is the ideal way to explore outside the historic core. Matosinhos offers beaches, a fortress and a parade of exceptional restaurants along Rua de Herois de França, where you can rest in the sun watching freshly caught fish sizzle on outdoor grills. Glide along tram tracks, then head south and pop your bike on to the Flor de Gás ferry across the River Douro. From the river mouth there is a succession of golden-sand beaches and a dedicated cycleway for 10 miles to Espinho. The open skies and Atlantic waves provide a wonderful contrast to Porto’s bustling centre.

Strolling in the Alto Alentejo

Marvao village, Alentejo, Portugal
Marvao village.
Photograph: Luis Davilla/Getty Images

Discover the Alto Alentejo and the tiny São Mamede natural park, 110 miles east of Lisbon. The park is just 25 miles long, so is easily explored in a few days, but it’s better to take a week. Stay a few nights in Marvão, one of Portugal’s highest inhabited villages with views across to Spain, and on clear days all the way to the Serra da Estrela. Walk from Marvão to Castelo de Vide, another castle fortification village, passing through vineyards and cork and holm oak forests. Castelo de Vide has a tiny artisan brewery and many great restaurants with huge portioned meals and delicious local wine.
Sarah Lawson

Camping in the north, by the River Minho

A couple of years ago, we visited a less-well-known part of Portugal close to the northern border with Spain, with campervan and bikes, and found it terrific. From the Termas de Melgaço campsite, we walked four miles to Melgaço town on a trail along the banks of the River Minho. In Melgaço we had lunch at the family-run Adega Sabino. A soak in the ornate mineral baths adjacent to the campsite was perfect after a day exploring. Next day we visited Monção, 16 miles to the west, where we cycled along a former railway line, now the Ecopista Minho, and took a dip in the river before driving 25 miles south-west to our next campsite at Covas. This proved a great base for hiking and wild swimming. The evening meal at the campsite cafe was served with what the campsite owner called the “Pope of vinho verde”, the local Alvarinho wine.
Elgan Lloyd

City of water, south of Porto

Striped candy-colour hoses in Aveiro, Portugal.
Striped candy-colour hoses in Aveiro.
Photograph: Alamy

After 10 wonderful days spent exploring the hidden towns and vineyards along the Douro Valley, my friends and I pulled up in picturesque Aveiro, set on canals about 44 miles south of Porto. With so much water and plenty of boat traffic, the town reminded me of Nyhavn in Copenhagen. We gorged ourselves on delectable arroz de marisco served up in traditional pots at Restaurante Ferro. But visitors should also make time to stop off at Praia da Costa Nova, six miles to the west on the Atlantic coast. The striped houses are like candy, and there is something quietly appealing about the ordinariness of the seafront. Mini-golf and cornettos all round.
Bekki Field

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Top 10 railway walks in Britain, chosen by readers | United Kingdom holidays

Winning tip: mystic river, Peak District

My favourite railway walk is along the Manifold Track, a narrow gauge railway in the Peak District that closed in 1934 and was probably one of the first railways to become a footpath, thanks to the foresight of Staffordshire Council. This is limestone country and full of interest. The mysterious River Manifold disappears underground completely in the summer just below the old halt at Wetton Mill and picturesque Thor’s cave overlooks the tiny track bed that winds its way up the valley crossing no fewer than 27 bridges on its way from Waterhouses to Hulme End, where bikes can be hired. Kids love cycling through Swainsley Tunnel and don’t forget to stop for cream tea at Wetton Mill.
Mark Dancer

New Wye valley trail, for views and ruins

The old Wireworks rail bridge at Tintern .
The old Wireworks rail bridge at Tintern forms part of the Wye Valley Greenway. Photograph: Andrew Baskott/Alamy

The UK’s newest railway walk (and cycle ride) is the just-opened spectacular Wye Valley Greenway. This five-mile route links the outskirts of Chepstow with Tintern – thanks to the work of determined volunteers. Highlights include the 1km Tidenham Tunnel (closed at night), views of the River Wye and its dramatic cliffs, and crossing the bridge into Tintern, where there are cafes and pubs for refreshment, and the abbey ruins. You can get there on the train – Chepstow railway station is less than a mile from the start.
Ben Searle


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Guardian Travel readers’ tips

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

Victorian rail hub, Merseyside

Ducky Pond sign on the Halewood Triangle, Merseyside.
Myriad paths wander through woodland in the Halewood Triangle. Photograph: Jennifer Jones

In the 19th century, Halewood Triangle was a hub of railway activity as two main rail lines converged here. Today it is a honeypot for local people and visitors to ramble around. The former railway track hosts the Trans Pennine Trail, superb for walkers and cyclists alike. Other paths snake through woodland rich in gnarled trees. The Ducky Pond is a particularly pleasant draw for a restful break. Verges filled with wildflowers enhance a summer walk. A mini gym provides entertainment for the children. All around there are reminders of this site’s important railway heritage.
Jennifer Jones

Richmond to Easby Abbey, North Yorkshire

Walkers crossing the old railway bridge over the Swale by Easby Abbey, outside Richmond, North Yorkshire.
Walkers crossing the old railway bridge over the Swale by Easby Abbey, outside Richmond. Photograph: Phil Crean A/Alamy

The Station in Richmond is now a lovely arts venue and cinema with a cafe and small shops. Head off down the disused railway line on a circular 3½-mile walk that will take you over the River Swale, said to be England’s fastest-flowing river, and to the enchanting ruins of Easby Abbey, painted by JMW Turner (entry free). Next to the abbey is the little church of Saint Agatha’s. Continue along the path through a field of sheep (keep dogs on a lead) and down into the woods alongside the river. Pass the memorial to the Little Drummer Boy and back over Mercury Bridge to the station.

Idyllic villages and Pooh, East Sussex

Pooh Corner, near the Forest Way in East Sussex.
Pooh Corner in Hartfield village is an interesting diversion off the Forest Way. Photograph: Adam van Bunnens/Alamy

Starting from, somewhat ironically, Beeching Way in East Grinstead (Baron Beeching, who axed so many railway lines, was a local resident) walkers and cyclists can take the Forest Way to Groombridge; a 10-mile trail that takes up most of the old train track that connected Tunbridge Wells to East Grinstead. Along the way you can stop off near Forest Row for some of Tablehurst Community Farm’s bio-dynamic sausage rolls, in Hartfield for some “pooh-phernalia” from Pooh Corner before ending up in Groombridge, on the border with Kent and from where the Spa Valley Railway brings the train tracks back to life, offering steam services to Tunbridge Wells (from 22 May). In between you’re treated to some glorious views: dragonflies, damselflies, foxes, newts, birds and badgers all use this green corridor, so even though it’s only a short hop between each of the villages you feel miles away from anywhere.

Woods and water, South Staffordshire/West Midlands

South Staffordshire Railway Walk
The South Staffordshire Railway Walk can be turned into a circular route of nine miles. Photograph: Colin Pearson

The South Staffordshire Railway Walk runs from Wombourne to Aldersley in Wolverhampton. There are great cafes at either end so if you walk there and back you can refuel at the start, middle and end of your walk. The start and end points also link to canal walks with the prettiest at the historic Bratch Locks, and you can turn it into a circular walk of about nine miles using the canal link. Along the old railway line there’s interesting graffiti art under bridges, and tempting diversions along paths running through woodland alongside the main path. You can also include an amble through Smestow Valley nature reserve (a good location for a picnic).
Colin Pearson

Arthur’s Seat to the sea, Edinburgh

Cyclist on the Innocent Railway path towards Portobello from central Edinburgh.
The Innocent Railway path uses disused suburban lines. Photograph: Arch White/Alamy

Edinburgh’s former railway lines offer some of my favourite city walks, which make you feel miles away from the bustle of the town. Starting at Arthur’s Seat, you can follow the Innocent Railway path through a 518-metre tunnel and then all the way down to the beach at Portobello. The old suburban line allows an entire loop of the city, with sections of different lengths depending how far you want to walk, and with regular access points. Look out for the old station platforms along the route – my favourite down near Granton, has been turned into a house. Information boards along the route give information on the history of the areas and the railway line.

History from iron age to D-day, Hampshire

Bridge over the former Meon Valley Railway, dismantled in the 1950s and now a heritage trail.
Nature appears to be reclaiming this bridge over the former Meon Valley Railway. Photograph: David Robinson/Alamy

The trackbed of the former Meon Valley Railway, between Wickham and West Meon in Hampshire, should not be missed for walkers, families and train enthusiasts. The route provides a flat and well-managed route straight into the beautiful Meon Valley. In just 10 miles, it packs in a selection of sinuous chalk streams, ancient churches, gently sloping downland and even an iron age hillfort. The beautifully preserved former station at Droxford, meeting place of the Allied Leaders in 1944, should not be missed and demonstrates how former railway infrastructure can quickly take on a new lease of life after closure. Grab a pint at the White Lion in, wait for it, Soberton.

Strawberry fields, Somerset

A family cycles on the Strawberry Line
‘Like disappearing down a corridor into the past’ – the Shute Shelve tunnel. Photograph: Joe Dunckley/Alamy

Walking into the dark entrance of the 165-metre Shute Shelve tunnel of the Strawberry Line in Somerset is like disappearing down a corridor into the past. The 10-mile route takes its name from the former railway which carried strawberries from the fields around Cheddar. Running past the river Yeo and Sandford Orchards cider maker, this rail trail offers amazing views of the rolling countryside. Be sure to start with a coffee at the kiosk in Yatton Village, run by volunteers who helped renovate the walk, and enjoy a stop on the still-intact platforms at Winscombe station.

Follow that bus, Cambridgeshire

Couple walking beside Cambridge Guided Busway at St Ives.
Special buses follow the disused Cambridge-St Ives rail track – and so does National Cycle Network’s route 51. Photograph: Roger Fletcher/Alamy

The northern stretch of the Cambridge Guided Busway follows the course of the former Cambridge-St Ives railway line. Alongside this is part of the National Cycle Network’s route 51, a smooth asphalt track affording leisurely walks or cycles through hedge-lined farmland. It also bisects the RSPB reserve at Fen Drayton, its glistening lakes the result of former sand and gravel quarrying. Recent highlights include seeing swallows skimming the grassy earthworks of Swavesey Priory and enjoying a skylark song soundtrack. And if weary after walking, you can always catch a bus back.
Sharon Pinner

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12 of the UK’s best independent bookshops, chosen by readers | Shopping trips

Winning tip: Deep thoughts and homemade cake, Derbyshire

Scarthin Books in Cromford, Derbyshire, is a tall, thin bookcase of a building. Its many rooms, stacked one on top of the other, have new books, old books and every sort of reading matter in its nooks and higgledy-piggledy crannies. You can lose yourself for hours. Rest, revive and continue after a break in its cosy reading room. Try a homemade cake in the cafe upstairs (when Covid rules allow) or, for food for thought, attend a talk in its Café Philosophique. And whether you need it or not, take a peek in the authentic Victorian bathroom with literary memorabilia-lined walls.
Gayle Wood

Plant the seeds, Walton, West Yorkshire

Books on the Lane, Wakefield

Books on the Lane in Walton, near Wakefield, must be one of the least-known indie bookshops around. Situated in an old joiner’s workshop, it specialises in nature writing and gardening books – especially handy as the lovely owners also run a plant shop on site. The kids’ section is a highlight, and it’s heartwarming to know the profits all go towards supporting live music in the area. It’s on the edge of the village, and I recommend a walk in the nature reserve next door before stocking up on good reads, unusual herbs and even nabbing a cake as you pass.
Laura King


Readers’ tips: send a tip for a chance to win a £200 voucher for a Sawday’s stay


Guardian Travel readers’ tips

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

A new Chapter, Loftus, North Yorkshire

Chapter One, Loftus, N Yorks

Once lockdown eased, I finally stepped inside Chapter One. Vibrant displays, a friendly smile – I knew I was welcome. The shop opened in November, days before the last lockdown. After a nursing career, Paul Jones-King wanted to do something for his community – open a bookshop. The shelves reflect a commitment to Loftus: local authors, local history and local artwork. They also reflect social awareness and encouragement to explore the world. During the pandemic Paul has split his time between selling books and working for the NHS. Online sales, click and collect and free delivery in the area mean that everyone has had the companionship of books over a lonely winter.
Debbie Rolls

Hive minds, Norwich

The Book Hive, Norwich

In a narrow street in the winding medieval labyrinth of Norwich’s lanes, the Book Hive is an oasis of culture where you forget about the world outside for an hour or two. Browse new or secondhand sections at your leisure. A real treat is the way the owners arrange or display ever changing recommended titles by writer, category or themes, with handwritten notes on show highlighting key pleasure points of books. They can order books from indie publishers too. The aptly named Book Hive has a real time warp/through the booking glass vibe, and is open seven days a week, too.
Nigel Williams

Life lessons, Hackney, London

Pages of Hackney shelves and bags

Pages of Hackney, in this trendy east London area, is light and bright, with friendly staff and shelves crammed full of contemporary and classic fiction, travel books, cookbooks and children’s stories. The basement is a real treat, full of retro, vintage and secondhand Penguins from the 1960s and 70s, science fiction, philosophy and art books. The bookshop also hosts regular talks from indie writers, and bookclub chat sessions. There are comfy armchairs where you can read and exchange opinions on books with staff and like-minded customers. An afternoon here is not only literary leisure – it’s a lesson in life.

Basement that time forgot, Sydenham, London

Kirkdale Bookshop, London

Where Kirkdale meets Westwood Hill and Sydenham Road, on a busy roundabout that boasts a Nando’s and an estate agent, stands Kirkdale Bookshop. At street level it carries a range of new books that will please most book lovers, adults and children alike. But downstairs is where the gems are to be found: naval histories, speeches by black leaders, old cookbooks with sepia photos. It’s a place to lose time and forget about the hubbub above ground for a while.
Alice Schofield

Gaiety and laughter, Bloomsbury, London

Gay’s The Word Bookshop, 66 Marchmont Street, London
Photograph: Vera Jacquet/Alamy

Two things kept me going through multiple lockdowns in my small London flat: laughing with fellow members of my queer bookclub, and ordering each month’s book from a friendly man at Gay’s The Word. They have even introduced an online order form for those who are phone-shy, which allows you to filter by identity and genre.

No plastic, no batteries, Ramsgate, Kent

Masked staff at Moon Lane bookshop, Ramsgate

A child entering Moon Lane children’s bookshop in Addington Street, Ramsgate, must feel like Charlie did when he walked through the gates of Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. Every inch is covered in children’s books and appropriate toys. This isn’t about plastic and batteries; it’s about Gruffalos and dinosaurs. Everything from rag books for tiny babies, picture books, reference books, classics and yet-to-be-discovered classics are waiting for young bookworms. The toy train that runs around the top of the wall leads into an area usually used for story readings. Even older children and teens are spoilt for choice.
Karina Barker

Fat tomes and flat whites, Bristol

Storysmith Bristol books and packet of coffee

North Street in Bedminsterr was missing a bookshop, so I was delighted when Storysmith opened. It is a real gem – such a welcoming, friendly space offering tea and coffee while you browse. It has great selection of books, and for those that are not in stock they offer a super speedy ordering service. Emily, Dan and all the staff are helpful and enthusiastic. I’ve certainly missed being able to browse over lockdown but their book subscription service is something I look forward to receiving each month.
Emily Matthews

Guilty pleasure, Penarth, Cardiff

Griffin Books, Penarth

Griffin Books is at the heart of our lovely seaside town. It is an active and imaginative creative hub with many spokes: you are welcome to browse, buy online, be part of active book clubs and online meet-the-author sessions. Owned by Mel, supported by a friendly knowledgable and creative team. It is a Tardis, full of an eclectic and wide ranging mix of books – entertaining and challenging older and younger readers alike to broaden their reading journeys.

Devon Victorian, Bideford, Devon

Walter Henry’s Bookshop exterior
Photograph: Nik Taylor/Alamy

Our family favourite is Walter Henry’s Bookshop in Bideford. Whenever we visit Devon on our holidays we make a pilgrimage to this gorgeous Victorian-fronted bookshop. The amazing curved glass front is only outdone by its impressive book displays. The shop is extremely child friendly (the girls love making an addition to the chalk board) and we always make an addition or two to our ongoing collection. Plus there is the bonus that you may bump into a certain Michael Morpurgo out doing his shopping!
Darren Atkinson

Glorious miscellany, Penzance, Cornwall

Barton Books Penzance

The walk up pedestrianised Causewayhead in Penzance brings you to Barton Books. Run by Barry Sinton, the bookshop is a glorious mix of art, nature and miscellany. Past purchases have reflected this mix: a Hokusai exhibition catalogue, the Salt Path and Rudyard Kipling’s The Cat that Walked by Himself. Presents have been wrapped in the bookshop’s kimono- and insect-inspired papers, memories written in Barton’s exquisite notebooks and Barry’s “Pick an animal” competitions have supported many local charities. Relaxed browsing, unusual stock and a very knowledgable owner make this bookshop an exceptional treat.
Beverley Randle

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