Monthly Archives: October 2017

24 hours in Genoa, Italy

Often overlooked by sun-seeking tourists in a rush to get to picturesque Portofino and pastel-painted Cinque Terre, Genoa is one of Italy’s most underrated and historically significant cities.

Genoa alternative ©Luca Volpi
Genoa © Luca Volpi
This former maritime power has much to boast about: birthplace of world navigator Christopher Columbus, home to the prison from which Marco Polo dictated accounts of his travels, Italy’s first football team, and inventors of pesto.

Genoa’s topography, nestled between mountains and sea, means that the city is blessed with temperate weather all year round and, with direct two hour flights from the UK, it’s the perfect escape for those in search of history, culture and hearty Italian fare, any time of the year.

Genoa port
(c) neufal54
This compact city is more than a gateway to the Italian Riviera, it’s a destination in its own right.

Must stay
Reacquaint yourself with the renaissance at Vecchia Genova, a Sixteenth Century palazzo located in the historic centre of Genoa, just 300m from San Lorenzo Cathedral.

Days begin with homemade brioche and organic jam breakfasts served on the terrace and end in blissful slumber in spacious, stucco-walled bedrooms.

For something a little more luxurious, treat yourself to the Grand Hotel Savoia, Genoa’s most opulent lodgings. This five star hotel was established in 1897 and has long been a favourite amongst old Italian aristocracy. Soothe your sightseeing-worn limbs in the hydro-pool on the terrace or at the on-site spa.

Must visit
Following a large-scale regeneration project in the early 1990s, the old port or Porto Antico is now an oasis of waterfront restaurants and bars, complete with a panoramic lift, a tropical rainforest biosphere and Europe’s largest Aquarium.

Genoa arcade street
(c) Samueles
But, to experience Genoa at its most enchanting, wander around the tangle of narrow alleyways named “Carruggi” which unfurl behind the port and lead to impressive palaces like the Palazzo di San Giorgo, formerly one of Europe’s first banks and before that a prison for Venetian captives such as Marco Polo.

One of Genoa’s most splendid streets is the 250m long UNESCO protected Via Garibaldi or “Street of Kings”, a completely pedestrianised street lined with magnificent Sixteenth Century palazzi.

Genoa Piazza de Ferrari
Piazza de Ferrari (c) Kreactiva
Two of the most illustrious palaces – Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Bianco – are now art galleries housing works of art from old masters, including Van Dyck, Caravaggio and Veronese. Take the glass lift to the panoramic roof at Palazzo Bianco for one of the finest views in the city.

The bears of Katmai National Park

I was just six feet away from a 800lb giant in brown fur with huge paws and a jaw that could cause serious damage. Yet I was able to photograph this huge bear and come away safely.

It was exhilarating and it’s the type of incredible wildlife experience you can only have at the Katmai National Park in Southeast Alaska.

There are around 2,200 Alaskan brown bears that live in this active volcanic landscape that surrounds Mount Katmai and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. They are related to the Grizzly Bears found elsewhere in America.

They hibernate for around seven months of the year and lose a lot of body weight during that time. Of course they wake up hungry and just in time for the summer months when salmon returns to the Alaskan rivers in their millions. This means these bears are so well nourished they soon become plump up and often grow to be the biggest in the world.

So, the best time to be there is during the summer months when you can watch the adept way they fish, feed their cubs and teach the cubs how to fish.

They can be seen at Brooks River and even more so at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park catching sockeye salmon in June and July and silver salmon in late August and September.

Getting there is an adventure in itself. I had to catch a small four-seater plane and the Beaver floatplane I was in skimmed over the emerald green expanse of Southeast Alaska and ended with a smooth landing on a calm and glassy Lake Naknek finally coasting up to a sandy beach at Brooks Camp.

If I was nervous about arriving at Katmai National Park I was more nervous about getting there in small plane with only one engine.

Bear & Floatplane c Jim Chamberlain
Bear & Floatplane (c) Jim Chamberlain
I knew any adventure to Alaska, even in the summer, would be weather dependent. I was there in late July and was lucky that it was warm, partly cloudy with patches of blue sky peeking through the cloud cover.

I couldn’t wait to get my camera out of my backpack and get going but first I had to attend “Bear School” by a Park Ranger before before continuing my trek to the bears. This lasted around 30 minutes and we learned about the bears and their habits and especially how to keep all of your parts intact. The rules of engagement are simple and easy to follow. Testament to that is that I still have all my parts even after having a very close encounter on the trail.

Travel Guide to Tel Aviv, Israel

I defy anyone to be bored during a short break to Tel Aviv. The high octane vibe is almost tangible and urges you to walk its streets and explore. Do so and you’ll find this is a moody city: beautiful chill-out beaches hemmed by high rise hotels and lapped by the blue Mediterranean sea and a fantastically beautiful promenade. Yet just a road or two inland buildings look in need of some love, yet the vibe prevails.

Israel – Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Jaffa (c) israeltourism
At its commercial centre the high rises look like a New York mini-me while the ancient port of Jaffa in the south exudes charm in its yellow stone architecture and winding hilly alleyways.

Then there’s museums, markets, shopping and above all, a simply sensational foodie scene. This city has it all and, unbelievably, all packed into a compact area of just 52 km² (around 20 miles).

Check out the beaches
Grab your fiip flops because Tel Aviv is a seafront city with a Tayelet (promenade) that hems a gorgeous stretch of 12 soft sand beaches, each with its own – if somewhat insouciant – personality.

Metzizim in the north is a superb family beach with shallow waters and a life guard. It’s followed by the Religious beach with allocated days for men and women.

Israel – Tel Aviv – beach
Tel Aviv beach (c) Gil Silberman
Further along is the gay beach in front of the Hilton Hotel right off Independence Park. It has become a trendy hotspot because of its fun vibe. During Pride Week it’s the busiest place in the city.

Three popular beaches Gordon, Frishman and Borashov cover the central stretch and this is where locals and tourists hang out sometimes playing matkot (paddleball).

Guela beach has its own al fresco gym while bizarrely, Drum beach is where anyone can turn up at the weekend and beat their drums.

The stretch ends with a dog beach followed by Alma (home to the wonderful Manta Ray restaurant) and Jaffa beaches in the south of the city much loved by surfers because there are no wave breakers which means huge waves on a windy day.

The Markets
Shuk HaCarmel – Carmel Market
Israel – Tel Aviv – Carmel Market – vegetable
Carmel Market (c) israeltourism
Oh the joy of a vibrant market and Carmel Market is just that. It’s been there since 1920s when it was just a humble Yemenite market, but today it’s colourful, aromatic, noisy and THE place to buy all sorts of bric-a-brac and food such as local vegetables, nuts, fruit, dates, halva – a sweet flaky, dense, tahini based candy – and street food to go.

Food on the go
Pick up a Cuba bulgur (cracked wheat and minced onions), or a spicy beef cigar to eat on the go but save space for the Humus restaurant at 11 HaCarmel Street. It’s easy to miss so keep an eye out for for a doorway flanked by Judaic Hebrew text behind a couple of fruit vendors. Go straight to the counter and point to what you want on your plate of humus; pickles, boiled egg, onions, that kind of thing, and you’ll get freshly made pitta to dip into it.

The Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

I’m in a cosy cottage at the heart of Wales. The log-burning stove is glowing and I am too. It’s been another day of healthy walking and I’m now torn between two very attractive options.

From the front window, past the playful tangle of roses, I can see the Star Inn. A few steps away through the open-plan lounge and kitchen is the equally rose-strewn garden with Welsh Dragon sausages (infused with leek and chilli) grilling in the warm evening air and views over a Brecon Beacons hillside.

Wales can be wild, with extreme activities such as climbing, canyoning, caving and kayaking, along with bunkhouses, hostels and hillside campsites. And yet it’s possible to experience the great outdoors to the full while still being able to appreciate a comfy bed in relaxed, picturesque surroundings.

Brecon Beacons National Park, a wonderworld of rounded peaks, waterfalls, market towns and tiny roads, is an excellent place for a short break, reachable in three hours from London, far less from places such as Birmingham.

The village of Talybont, halfway between the charming towns of Brecon and Talybont, is a perfect hideaway, on both the River Usk and the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, and with three pubs to go with its village store and Canalside Cafe.

It’s the base of Brecon Beacons Holiday Cottages with several in the village (including my Grove’s Cottage) along with many others in the area. It’s also great for long hikes, being on the 55-mile Taff Trail that links Brecon with Cardiff as well as many shorter (and easier) options.

Here are five very different walks:

1Talybont Waterfalls

Talybont Reservoir (c) R3pul5e
A sensational six-mile stroll around the rim of Craig Fan Du, the bare, grassy ridge of a horseshoe-shaped valley, before diving into the steep cut of the mountain stream in the middle. It starts with a steep, 1,500ft climb (from the Forestry Commission Blaen y Glyn car park just past Talybont reservoir) and as you reach the rim the world opens out before you, dotted with the white flecks of wandering sheep.

The walk, much of it on the flat, follows the dizzying edge above grassy slopes, stone steps crossing the stream near its start, before circling around and taking you past the wreckage of a Wellington bomber that crashed in 1942.

The sheep stare as you tackle rocks and grassy humps on the way down. At the Caerfanell, a stream that cuts through the middle, a path of sorts takes you into trees and over rocky outcrops as the water splashes over a succession of small falls. Just before the road path up a tributary gives you a couple more falls before reaching the car park.

2 Pen y-Fan

Pen y fan c. Nick Dalton
Pen y-Fan is the highest peak (2,906ft) in southern Britain and a tourist trail. Dozens of holidaymakers take the straight, relentless path to the top where there are two anvil–shaped summits (with steps) to climb, one Pen y-Fan itself, the other Corn Du, both flat and slatey with 360-degree views.