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Category Archives: Travel

AMERICA’S EERIEST GHOST TOWN

There’s no looking back now, as a cloud of whipped-up dust in the rear window distorts any memories of the modern world.
The tarmac road reaches a sign that reads “Bodie Historic Park” and a crunch falls beneath your tyres as you land on the sun-bleached dirt track. There’s no looking back now, literally, as a cloud of whipped-up dust in the rear window distorts any memories of the modern world.

Slowly and jerkily I approached Bodie, air conditioning blasting the hell out of my face. You can’t help but feel a bit intrepid on this track near the border of California and Nevada, but I knew mine was just one in a long list of vehicles that had pounded the road over the last 160 years.

The first horse and carts arrived in 1859, when prospector William S Bodey discovered gold and established a mill here. Over the next couple of decades the dozen-strong population swelled to ten thousand – families, thieves, miners, journalists. All moved to this remote town in the foothills of Eastern Sierra in hope of a more prosperous life.

These days, it’s tourists who make the journey – about 200,000 per year – in cars during summer and snowmobiles during the treacherous winter (Bodie is over 2500m above sea level). And there are some unwelcomed guests, too.

“The ghost hunters are a pain in the neck,” the park ranger told me as we wandered along Main Street, her swagger reminiscent of a gun-totin’ sheriff. My flip-flopped feet were chalky white, the camera slung around my neck already disconcertingly hot in the midday sun. “They watch these ghost hunting TV shows about Bodie and try to break into the park at night. Now we have to patrol the place twenty-four seven.”

During the day there was something intoxicatingly unsettling about the place, I couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the dead of the night.
I empathized with her. California State Parks probably does have better things to spend its time and money on than foiling ghost hunters. Although a small, devious part of me – a part I would never reveal to this ranger – could relate to the impulse to break into Bodie after dark. During the day there was something intoxicatingly unsettling about the place, even with the tourists milling about. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the dead of the night.

As we walked I recognised the buildings that flanked Main Street from the infinite Instagram photos I’d scrolled through before arriving in Bodie, all padlocked doors and faded wooden beams propping up improbably angled roofs. But what the photos can’t capture is the arthritic creaks that the buildings make in the lightest breeze, barely strong enough to propel a hay bale.

“Don’t be tempted to take anything home with you”, the ranger said, seeing me pick up some piece of twisted metal off the ground. If you remove anything from the town, the legend goes, you’ll be haunted by the “Bodie Curse”. In the museum I read accounts of visitors who had taken items – nails, bottles, books – and written in to say they had been plagued by bad luck. Yeah, right. This was a fantasy one step too far for me.

The ranger led us around some of the town’s best-preserved spots with the tallest of accompanying tales. The old school which was burnt to the ground by a pupil, whose family was subsequently banished from town. The tiny jail consisting of only two cells but nonetheless frequently occupied during the height of Bodie’s lawlessness. The road where Chinatown used to be, with its Taoist Temple and sordid opium dens.

But I was just as interested in everything that wasn’t covered by the tour.

This is no Disneyland, I thought, this is real.
One particularly unassuming house caught my eye and I slipped off from the group. I half expected to peer through the window to see a perfectly presented scene, complete with waxwork models and a faded information board, maybe a broomstick propped up against the wall. But what I saw was a collapsed ceiling and rips of wallpaper defying gravity with the very last of its fibres. On the floor, ochre-drenched sheets of paper that were dropped and never picked up. This is no Disneyland, I thought, this is real.

I peered into the carriages of the battered old cars lying about, inspected the random bits of metallic junk that have been left to rust in the greying bush. Were it not for the blistering heat I could have spent hours exploring this ghost town, and what remains is only five percent of what was once here.

After a couple of hours I traipsed back to my car. Before putting the keys in the ignition, I paused. Quickly, I rummaged around my pockets to check I hadn’t accidentally picked up an unwanted souvenir from the park.

best places to get off the tourist in Rome

Lose yourself in the Quartiere Coppedè

There’s so much to grab tourists’ attention in central Rome that a magical spot like the Quartiere Coppedè can go unnoticed. Tucked away in the Trieste quarter (tram 3 or 19 to Piazza Buenos Aires), northeast of the centre, this flight of fancy was conceived by architect Gino Coppedè in 1919.

The predominantly Art Nouveau architecture is embellished with a riot of details – Florentine turrets, frescoed facades, medieval motifs and Gothic gargoyles – and sports such whimsical creations as a frog-embellished fountain, a “fairy cottage” and a “spider’s palace”.

Get lost in time at Cinecittà film studios

If you’ve visited the Roman Forum and struggled to summon up the epicentre of the ancient world from this large open space littered with rubble and broken columns, you could always cheat and head to Cinecittà.

Within easy reach of the centre by metro, these film studios house the set of the HBO/BBC blockbuster Rome, with its impressive reconstruction of the Forum, its buildings intact and brightly painted as they would have been in ancient times.

Littered with props from iconic films, Cinecittà has plenty of tributes to the “Hollywood on the Tiber” classics of its Dolce Vita-era heyday, as well as spaghetti western memorabilia and more.

Take in some quirky culture at Villa Torlonia

Few tourists make their way to this palm-shaded park north of the centre – it’s not only a shady retreat on a scorching summer’s day but also has an intriguing history.

The estate was given to Mussolini in the 1930s to use for as long as he needed it, and his home, the frescoed Casino Nobile, is open to the public.

Nearby, the World War II bunker built for Mussolini and his family has recently been opened to the public and can be visited on engaging guided tours.

Another offbeat sight, nestled in the corner of the park, is the Casina delle Civette (“Little House of the Owls”), a Liberty-style building packed with beautiful Art Nouveau features: eagle-eyed visitors will spot the owls and other birds that feature in stained glass throughout the house.

Admire Tor Marancia’s street art

If you’ve had your fill of Renaissance and Baroque art, head to the city’s fringes for a glimpse of some modern-day masterpieces. Rome’s street-art scene has blossomed in recent years, as part of a council-run initiative to regenerate downtrodden and neglected areas.

A case in point is Tor Marancia (walking distance from Garbatella metro stop), where a housing estate has been given a colourful facelift by twenty international artists. Monumental murals in different artistic styles emblazon the sides of eleven buildings – from US artist Gaia’s De Chirico-inspired giant orange on a cobalt background to French artist Seth’s outsize child, whose crayoned ladder allows him to scale five storeys.

Picnic in Parco degli Acquedotti

Film buffs might recognize the Parco degli Acquedotti from the opening scene of Fellini’sLa Dolce Vita, in which a statue of Christ is helicoptered from the city’s working-class outskirts to the Vatican.

The park is even more impressive in technicolour: criss-crossed with the hulking remains of ancient Roman aqueducts, which brought thousands of litres of water into the city every day, and dotted with wildflowers and grazing sheep, it’s a popular spot with picnicking locals and joggers.

It’s pretty much undiscovered by tourists, though, and easy to get to (a short walk from Giulio Agricola metro), making it a great spot to appreciate the genius of the ancient Romans without battling the crowds.

Pay your respects at the Protestant Cemetery

The Protestant Cemetery, tucked away behind high stone walls in the Testaccio district, might not be your first sightseeing choice, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable place for a wander, with lichen-covered headstones and ornate tombs carrying some fascinating and poignant stories of the non-Catholic foreigners that ended up here.

The cemetery’s most famous residents are Keats and Shelley; the former, who died of tuberculosis in Rome in 1821, has an unnamed grave, engraved at his request with the words “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”.

Discover Rome’s quieter side in Garbatella

A curiosity in the industrial Ostiense district, Garbatella (metro line B) was built in the 1920s following the English “garden city” model, with rustic, low-rise buildings clustered around peaceful communal gardens and courtyards.

Originally built to house people displaced by Mussolini’s demolitions in the city centre, Garbatella’s inclusive design fostered a strong sense of community that still survives today. It’s an appealing place for a breather from central Rome, and is gaining a reputation as a foodie hotspot, with a good mix of earthy trattorias and hip new venues.

guide to India’s Golden Triangle

What is the Golden Triangle?

The Golden Triangle is the route between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and is named for the almost-equilateral triangle that the three cities make when plotted on a map. Starting in the capital, Delhi, and taking in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, it’s India’s most well-trodden tourist track. Why “Golden”? Well, for the extraordinary religious and historical sights that the three stops offer.

What are the highlights?

Most people start in Delhi, where the majority of international flights arrive. While you could spend weeks exploring the city’s sights, from the museums of the Mughal Red Fortto the towering Qutb Minar and the British Raj-era India Gate, the best way to get a feel for the capital’s dynamism is by walking through its streets and bazaars. Two of the most vibrant are Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi and New Delhi’s Paharganj.

The magnificent Taj Mahal is, unsurprisingly, Agra’s premier sight, and nothing can really prepare you for the sheer scale and regal splendour of the structure up close. Try to time your visit with sunrise or sunset, when the Taj is at its most majestic. Nearby Agra Fort is also well worth a visit; from its walls, you can spot the Taj Mahal rising up in the distance.

At the triangle’s third corner is Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, which is known as the “Pink City” for its walled, pink-hued cluster of buildings. Wander around the centre to stumble across historical highlights such as Hawa Mahal and the impressive City Palace. Jaipur is well known for traditional crafts and designs, so it’s the place to shop for fabrics and presents to take home.

Where can I escape the crowds?

Throughout the Golden Triangle, the best way to escape from the throng is often to step into one of the many Hindu, Sikh and Muslim buildings scattered around the cities. Inside, you will find oases of calm, as well as some of the circuit’s most beautiful structures.

In Delhi, just a short drive away from the city centre, visit Swaminarayan Akshardham. This Hindu temple was built in 2011 using traditional methods, but its grandness and intricate decoration evoke a far older era. It’s a huge complex, and photography is banned, both of which give the opportunity for peaceful reflection away from the selfie sticks and smartphones snapping away in most of the city’s monuments.

The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are invariably jam-packed, so consider taking a day trip to nearby Fatehpur Sikri if you really want to get away from it all. The small city, which was once the capital of the Mughal empire, is an hour from Agra, and the grand, red sandstone Jodha Bais palace buildings and imposing Jama Masjid mosque remain comparatively untouristed.

Jaipur is the least hectic of the Golden Triangle’s cities, and just wandering around the backstreets you’ll be able to find yourself off the main tourist track. Outside the city, Nahargarh Fort gives the best viewpoint over the sprawling streets, while a visit to Galtajiis an entertaining opportunity to admire the hundreds of rhesus macaque monkeys that have taken over the ancient temple complex.

What’s the best way to get around?

The Golden Triangle is well connected by public transport. If you’re on a strict budget, the cheapest way to travel is by bus; Indian bus journeys are an experience in their own right, as people tumble in, perching on armrests and sitting in the aisle.

Far and away the best way to travel is by train, and you’ll have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of rural India as you roll through the countryside. Book your ticket in advance, either online or at a train station.

Otherwise, if you only have a few days, consider hiring a taxi from a government-approved company to take you around, allowing you to see as much as you can in the time available.

Within the cities, take an autorickshaw (or tuk-tuk) between destinations – thick traffic makes these small vehicles the most effective way to travel, as they dip and dive between taxis and trucks. They can be hair-raising, but also fast, inexpensive (make sure you agree a price beforehand) and a fun way to see India at its most chaotic.

How can I avoid Delhi belly?

Not everyone gets ill in India, but it can put a downer on your holiday. So-called “Delhi belly” comes from drinking unsafe water, and the cheapest and most environmentally friendly strategy to avoid it is to use water purification tablets. If you struggle with the taste, bottled water is also readily available (just ensure that the lid is sealed).

Make sure your food is always hot and freshly cooked, and avoid raw fruit and vegetables, which may have been washed in unfiltered water. Finally, don’t worry too much and you’ll be able to make the most of the delicious curries and Indian snacks on offer.

9 The most beautiful places in India

9. Madikeri, Coorg, Karnataka

Our Delhi team voted for Madikeri as an excellent base from which to explore the lush national parks, natural beauty and gorgeous coffee plantations that abound in this scenic stretch of the Western Ghats.

8. Mawlynnong, Meghalaya

Described by one of our editors as magical, this village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya is simply stunning. The surrounding areas are just as unforgettable, with natural bridges made by twisting the roots of rubber trees crossing the rivulets and streams.

7. Kumarakom Backwaters, Kerala

At number seven in the list, Kerala’s scenic backwaters, edged with coconut palms, lush green rice paddies and picturesque villages, make for a beautiful escape from hectic city life.

6. Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

One of central India’s most atmospheric monuments, this medieval ghost town is set on a scenic plateau still prowled at night by leopards and panthers.

5. Hampi, Karnataka

This vast archeological site would have been one of the largest and richest cities of its time. The design, detailing and ornamentation of the best-preserved ruins are astonishing.

4. Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

This hot and desolate landscape is reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. Situated right on the border with Pakistan, its striking white plains call out to many of the more intrepid explorers in our team.

3. Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand

From July to September, when its rolling alpine meadows are carpeted with wildflowers, this sprawling National Park is a bucket list destination for many in the Rough Guides office.

2. Pangong Tso, Ladakh

This icy saline lake, cradled by stark and sombre mountains 4350m above sea level, comes second in our list. We think it epitomises the breathtaking majesty of the high Himalaya.

1. Lakshadweep

Quiet lagoons, crystal-clear waters, coral reefs teeming with aquatic life and secluded white-sand beaches… The list goes on. The absolutely spectacular Lashadweep (‘100,000 islands’ – though there are actually just 36) was a unanimous choice at the top of our list for the most beautiful places in India.

7 most romantic places in Cuba

1. The northern cays

The romance of Villa Clara’s northern cays starts with the drive: a 48km cruise along a causeway flanked by turquoise waters. The beaches here are of the white-sand #nofilter kind; in fact the late Fidel Castro himself is rumoured to have described them as being superior to Varadero‘s. Head to Cayo Las Brujas for a less expensive, non-package experience, or splash out at one of the glitzy hotels at Cayo Santa María.

2. Trinidad

Trinidad is one of Cuba’s most complete colonial towns, with its pastel-coloured buildings and cobbled pedestrianized centre. But, unsurprisingly, Cuba’s most photogenic streets lure in a healthy tourist crowd, and after a day or two you may want some respite. There are a few options for scenic horseriding trips out of Trinidad, including clip-clops into the foothills of the Sierra del Escambray or guided excursions to the hamlet of La Pastora.

3. Havana’s Malecón

This is the place to get romantic like the locals. Havana’s sociable seafront promenade follows the sea wall for four kilometres, and attracts as many smooching teenagers as it does guitar-strumming musicians and fast food vendors. In the evenings this is the place to crack open a can of Bucanero beer with a loved one, although be prepared for your romantic moment to be interrupted by a friendly local innocently looking to strike up a conversation.

4. Casa de la Trova, Santiago

Santiago de Cuba has loads of brilliant live trova music venues, but if you’re only going to visit one the Casa de la Trova is a solid bet. Musicians play soulful and melodic trovasongs here day and night; originally the genre developed from solo travelling musicians who would disperse news through their songs, but these days you’re more likely to hear two voices in perfect harmony. If you want a slightly less touristy experience, just follow your ears as you wander Santiago’s insomniac streets.

5. Museo Ernest Hemingway, Havana

Literary associations aside, the Museo Ernest Hemingway is a romantic spot for an afternoon excursion from Havana, with its lovely views over the city, well-kept gardens and the villa’s attractive late nineteenth-century architectural detail. Hemingway lived here between 1940 and 1960, and the house has been preserved with exquisite attention to detail.

6. The back seat of a classic car

Don’t even think about leaving Cuba without taking at least one ride in a classic American car. There are around sixty thousand of these vintage motors in Cuba, many of them still on the road. Spare parts became hard-to-come-by following the US trade embargo of 1962, so pretty much all of these cars have been kept running by that Cuban ingenuity you’ll encounter everywhere. The engine splutters and exhaust coughs are all part of the charm.

7. Viñales Valley, Pinar del Río

The undulating, lost-world landscape of the Viñales Valley makes it one of the most romantic spots on the island. Less romantic are the dark, dripping cave systems that are dotted around the area, but they’re still well worth checking out. The labyrinthine Cuevo del Indio is the most accessible if you’re staying in Viñales village.

7 tips for travelling in Costa Rica

1. Plan for the high season

With so many North Americans flying south for the winter – not to mention locals travelling home – it’s pivotal to book in advance for the Christmas and New Year period.

Both rooms and buses can sell out weeks ahead, but by being savvy and using several transport links (such as a private shuttle to one hub, paired with a public bus from there) it’s still possible to make things work, even at the height of peak season.

The week leading up to Easter is another pressure point to bear in mind, though the parades and processions that take place can prove well worth the extra effort.

2. Consider an organised tour

Veteran independent travellers might sniff at the idea of taking an escorted tour, especially in a country where hostels and hotels seemingly line every corner and English is so widely spoken. But with high demand, surprisingly high prices and few regular public bus services, a group tour means you can pack a lot of experiences into one 10-day trip without fretting about availability or logistics.

For those who can’t stand the thought of group travel, yet don’t want to plan every last detail in advance; hiring a car is another viable alternative.

3. Be prepared to spend

Costa Rica is among the most expensive countries to visit in Latin America. And it’s not just pricey when compared to its neighbours – for certain supermarket items such as bottled water and sunscreen it can even rival the UK and USA.

To save some bucks eat plates of gallo pinto at small family-run sodas, pay for groceries and other small purchases with local currency colónes instead of dollars and travel during the low season (aka the rainy season) for reduced room rates.

4. Choose between the adventure gateways

Monteverde and La Fortuna are two of northern Costa Rica’s backpacker favourites, and great jumping off points for outdoor activities. But getting between them can prove a lengthy process and much of the adventure offering is similar.

If you don’t have time for both, Monteverde boasts the trump card thanks to its drier climate and bohemian hilltop charm.

5. Heed the caution when it comes to the weather

Even in the dry season (between December and April) visitors to the central highlands and the Atlantic coastal plain should prepare for frequent downpours.

No matter how clear the skies looks at daybreak make sure you pack waterproof clothing and dry bags for valuables on any trips into the rainforest. And if the showers are dampening your spirits you can always head west to the sun-scorched plains of the Pacific slope.

6. Learn the language

You won’t struggle to find locals with good English, but picking up some Spanish can not only earn you kudos and a warm welcome – it can really boost your bargaining power.

Those with a good chunk of time on their hands can go one step further and enrol in one of the many local language schools that are scattered across the country, putting theirTico accent straight to the test.

7. Respect the country’s sustainability credentials

Costa Rica has set its sights on becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2021. To help support its green aims opt for locally owned eco-lodges and operators that practice sustainable tourism wherever possible.

To help distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly, the Costa Rica Tourism Institute has developed the CST, or Sustainability Certification program. Businesses are ranked from levels one to five based on their commitment to the cause.

5 seriously spooky places in America

1. Bannack, Montana

When you think about quintessential ghost towns in western movies, you think of a places like Bannack. Abandoned by its residents and forgotten by time, it’s a place full of tragic stories hidden inside the dilapidated, rotting walls of its buildings.

With the major discovery of gold in 1862, Bannack was established and the hope of a thriving city emerged. Soon, though, things went horribly wrong. The sheriff, Henry Plummer, was a well-known criminal and leader of a gang accused of over a hundred murders.

Cut off from the rest of the world, with the only way in or out of the town being the Montana Trail, residents of Bannack abandoned their homes by the 1970s. Today, travellers can visit this ghost town and explore the abandoned buildings as a reminder of a dark place in America’s history.

2. Estes Park, Colorado

Nestled deep in the mountains of northern Colorado, the town of Estes Park is best known as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Yet amid the alpine attractions is one structure that lures your eye with eerie fascination: the legendary Stanley Hotel.

Best known for its role in Stephen King’s The Shining, this behemoth has spooked more than a few guests and staff members since its opening in 1909, and today is reputed to be one of America’s most haunted hotels.

Spend a night in this lavish estate, and you could find yourself among guests both living and dead, including the spirit of Flora Stanley, the late wife of the original owner. Supposedly, if you listen closely at night you can sometimes hear her play her cherished piano.

3. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is one of America’s prettiest towns, boasting a historic district packed with multicoloured homes and a sedate palm-lined waterfront. But look beneath the surface and you’ll find a darker side to this popular destination.

The infamous Old City Jail housed many of Charleston’s most dangerous criminals – including America’s first female serial killer, Lavinia Fisher. A few blocks away, St Philip’s Graveyard is said to be haunted by the ghost of Sue Howard, a woman who tragically died shortly after giving birth in 1888. Legend has it that in 1987, a local photographer snapped a photo of Howard’s ghost roaming the cemetery.

4. Salem, Massachusetts

The Salem witch trials were one of the deadliest witch hunts in American history. From 1692 to 1693 many residents of Salem were accused of witchcraft and 19 were executed by hanging on Gallow Hills, now said to be haunted by their ghosts.

Another notable landmark is the House of Seven Gables, built in 1668 by sea captain John Turner, which is said to have a secret room where he could hide his sisters from the overzealous witch hunters that often frequented a nearby tavern. Today it’s open to visitors to explore if they dare – many believe the house to be haunted.

5. Savannah, Georgia

Thanks to the Spanish moss that clings to the trees throughout Savannah, this city ceratinly looks spooky. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find it’s not all about looks.

A stop at the haunted Old Candler Hospital will bring visitors to the infamous morgue tunnel, which runs from the hospital under the neighbouring park. It once held the recently-deceased bodies of victims of the city’s many Yellow Fever epidemics. Today, a tour through the tunnels is bound to chill even the living.

Guide to Stay in Venice

Best for luxury: San Marco

The sestiere of San Marco has been the nucleus of Venice for more than a millennium. Many of Venice’s visitors make a beeline for this spot, spend a few hours here, then head for home without staying for even one night. But if you’re looking for luxury, stay around here to make the most of the city’s plushest hotels, the most elegant cafés and the swankiest shops.

Best for architecture and art: Dorsoduro

Some of the finest minor domestic architecture in Venice is concentrated here and the area’s superb collection of galleries makes it the perfect base for art lovers. The Gallerie dell’Accademia is the highlight, but there’s also Scuola Grande dei Carmini and the Guggenheim Collection.

Best for daily Venetian life: San Polo and Santa Croce

The focal points of daily life in San Polo and Santa Croce are the sociable open space of Campo San Polo and the Rialto area, once the commercial heart of the Republic and still the home of a market that’s famous far beyond the city’s boundaries. The bustle of the stalls and the unspoilt bars are a good antidote to cultural overload.

Best for backwaters: Cannaregio

The pleasures of this sestiere are generally more a matter of atmosphere than of specific sights, but you shouldn’t leave Venice without seeing the Ghetto, the first area in the world to bear that name and one of Venice’s most evocative quarters.

Best for culture: Central Castello

Castello’s central building is the immense Gothic church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (or Zanipolo), the pantheon of Venice’s doges. The museums lie in the southern zone – the Querini-Stampalia picture collection, the museum at San Giorgio dei Greci, and the Museo Diocesano’s sacred art collection.

Best for city views: Eastern Castello

Sights are thinly spread in the eastern section of the Castello sestiere, and a huge bite is taken out of the area by the dockyards of the Arsenale, yet the slab of the city immediately to the west contains places that shouldn’t be ignored – the Renaissance San Francesco della Vigna and the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, for example. East of the Arsenale, the entire waterfront offers panoramas of the city.

Review of the InterContinental Hong Kong

Wow. Is all you can say when you walk into the huge living room complete with grand piano and double-height, floor-to-ceiling windows. And through the windows you can spy the room’s private, infinity-edge pool against the 180-degree uninterrupted backdrop of Hong Kong’s famous city skyline.

This is the Presidential Suite at the InterContinental, and at 7,000 square foot, it’s the largest suite in Hong Kong.

The bathroom, too, is something else. Firstly, the bathtub complete with countless jets is so big that you could fit a whole Hong Kong Rugby Sevens team in it. It’s also perched right by floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering sweeping views of the city while you bathe. The super–high-tech showers also offer the same stunning view. And then there’s the private steam room and sauna. Oh, and Chanel toiletries.

But it’s the suite’s private pool that has really become an iconic image across the world. And it’s not hard to see why. It’s large for worldwide private villa standards, let alone space-starved Hong Kong standards. Nestled alongside the pool is a private sunbathing area. And to the right, a trellised hangout spot where many-a-celebrity has hosted a luxurious private party.

But if the Presidential Suite is a little out of your budget, the rest of the hotel ain’t too shabby, either. Many of the rooms offer awesome city views, and all include InterContinental’s top-notch customer service.

The hotel’s pool deck is a huge draw. There’s the large main pool surrounded by ample deckchairs, as well as a three-temperature, infinity-edge Jacuzzi pool, which has more of those amazing city views. Sitting in the Jacuzzi pool at 8:00 pm has got to be one of the best places in Hong Kong to watch the city’s nightly laser show – aside from the pool in the InterContinental Presidential Suite, of course.

If after all that swimming you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll be pleased to find that the dining options at InterContinental do not disappoint. There’s acclaimed Japanese restaurant Nobu, Steak House Wine Bar & Grill, and the elaborate buffets at Harbourside.

6 of the most adventurous places to travel

Atacama Desert, Chile

For an out-of-this-world adventure, look no further than the Atacama Desert in westernChile. With jagged ravines, billowing geysers and arid salt flats, there’s an extra-terrestrial quality to its landscapes that NASA once harnessed to field test Martian rovers. As one of the driest places on the planet, there’s very little in the way of human development surrounding its barren plains. That said, the resulting lack of light pollution makes the sky perfect for stargazing.

Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), Colombia

Deep in the jungle-swathed mountains of Sierra Nevada lies La Ciudad Perdida,Colombia’s fabled ruined city dubbed “the new Machu Picchu”. Built in 800AD by the indigenous Tayrona tribes, it was abandoned following a run-in with Spanish conquistadors and largely forgotten, until looters rediscovered it in the 1970s. You’ll need to make like Indiana Jones if you want to see it for yourself, as the high-altitude trek up involves a three-day trudge through humid cloudforest.

The Gobi Steppe, Mongolia

The Gobi Steppe was once home to some of the largest herds of horses the world has ever seen, and even today there’s barely a trace of human activity. Nomads live here in felt tents called gers, and you can channel your inner Genghis Khan with a ride on a Mongol horse and a hearty bowl of airag (fermented mare’s milk). Head to Ulaanbaatar in July for the Naadam festival, where locals compete in macho sports like wrestling and horseracing.

Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Set atop volcanic fields, the landscapes of the Tongariro National Park almost seem alive. Vents hiss with gas, scree slopes shift under tumbling rocks and geothermal springs emit thick wafts of sulphur – altogether, the effect is otherworldly. The park is home to New Zealand’s top day-trek, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which makes for a great adventure. You can hike past emerald lakes and steaming craters before reaching Mount Ngauruhoe, which featured as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings.

Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway

Svalbard is one of Europe’s last great wildernesses, an untamed Norwegian archipelago 650 miles from the North Pole, where polar bears outnumber people and stocky reindeer regularly trundle into town. The primary settlement, Longyearbyen, sits high above the Arctic Circle amid rocky crags and ice-clogged fjords. It spends several months of the year in the eerie darkness of the polar night, which is perpetual during this time save for the ethereal glow of the northern lights.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea has stunning snow-capped mountains and jungles teeming with birds of paradise, yet it’s still largely undiscovered. One of the highlights here is attending asing-sing, when local tribes don colourful headdresses in a celebration. Travelling here is tricky due to the lack of infrastructure, so it’s best to take an experienced guide – many tribes speak their own languages and have only recently been in touch with the outside world.