TNTOnline

Little Black Book to Buenos Aires

Want to know where to eat, stay and play in Argentina’s charismatic capital? JAT has the answers…

 

Until recently the Paris of the South was starved of direct, affordable flights from the UK but - happily - change is on the horizon.

From Valentine’s Day, budget airline Norwegian Airlines will be showing its love for the South American giant with the launch of the longest-ever nonstop route from Gatwick to Buenos Aires.

On arrival, spend the money you have saved on fantastic food (Argentina’s steakhouses are legendary), Malbec (Argentina’s signature grape which is responsible for the lush, dark red wines we all know and love) and futbol games, before tangoing up a storm.

TNT’s Argentine aficionado, Kaye Holland, opens her address book and shares some of her favourite spots in her beloved Buenos Aires.
 

Eating out: Peron Peron restaurant
For a politically charged dinner, pop into Peron Peron - a Palermo hotspot where food and fun are always on the menu.
The heart of Humboldt Street (a popular haunt of Buenos Aires’ middle classes) isn’t where you would expect to find a restaurant paying homage to Evita and her husband General Juan Peron but regardless of the fact that Mauricio Macri - Argentina’s first non Peronist president in over a decade - is in power, this place is always packed.
The menu is packed full of Peron’s favourite foods - think Pastel de papas (shepherd’s pie) and loco (pork and red chorizo stew), while Evita memorabilia and graffiti adorns the walls.
Expect your meal to be punctuated by Evita's passionate speeches to the Peronist masses, which play every so often from loud speakers - as does the Peronist march, with diners rising to sing along while slapping the table.

www.facebook.com/ElPeronPeron/


The Office: The Clubhouse

IMG_1989.jpg


Looking for somewhere to work? You’re in luck: co-working in Argentina is on the rise but, as remote offices go, The Clubhouse stands head and shoulders above the competition.
By day this Palermo Soho destination for all things cool serves as a much needed work sanctuary for the creative industries, in a metropolis plagued by poor WiFi.
By night it’s a lively scene straight out of a magazine: model-esque staff serve top notch cocktails around the prettiest of pools, while other ‘after work’ events include art exhibits, tastings, talks by opinion leaders, theme parties, fashion shows and private dinners.
The Clubhouse also features four distinctive rooms (like the guests, no two rooms are the same) for those who are keen to make their ‘commute’ to the ‘office’ as short and sweet as possible.

www.clubhouseba.com


Shop to it: Feria de Mataderos
An excellent market - and one of BA's best kept secrets - is the Feria de Mataderos, which is held every Sunday in the working class barrio of Materados.
Admittedly Materados is a bit of a schlep to reach (you’ll need to take bus 126, 155 or 180 from downtown for around 90 minutes) but it’s worth it to watch gauchos (Argentine cowboys) and folk singers entertain the crowds, while chewing down on hearty dishes such as humitas (corn cakes).
However the standout of La Feria de Matadero is without a doubt the La sortija show: gauchos gallop at their fastest along a corridor of sand, before rising up out of their saddle – leaving just their feet in the stirrups – in an attempt to spear a small ring, all the while cheered on by rowdy locals.
www.feriademataderos.ar
 

Sleepover: 133 Libertad

IMG_1853.jpg


Most people will tell you to stay in a hotel in Palermo but personalIy I’d advise avoiding the pre packaged path and checking into Airbnb abode, where you’ll get character and local charm rather than inflated prices. 
There are lasting memories to be gained from staying at 133 Libertad – a gorgeous courtyard apartment that will have you checking house prices before you leave. Many of the rooms boast patios and all are tastefully furnished – proof sophistication is possible on a shoestring budget.
The atmosphere is instantly relaxing and the hosts, Matias and Cande – a friendly and unfeasibly good looking young Porteno couple – will go out of their way to make sure you fall under the spell of their city. T
he central location can’t be bettered either, enabling you to hastily tick of the sights and then lose yourself in the street life. 
http://life.www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/2087059


After dark: La Bompa del Tiempo
Buenos Aires may be famous for its sultry tango – a passionate dance that has seduced the world – but La Bompa del Tiempo is out to change this.
Every Monday from 7-10pm in Abasto’s Konex Cultural Centre, this hugely talented percussion group takes to the stage to blend Argentine rhythms with Central American and African beats to enraptured gringoes and locals alike. It’s fast becoming one of Buenos Aires’ biggest and best parties and is an experience not to be missed.
Two tips: unless you like a queue arrive early (by 7pm the queue snakes half way around the block) and leave your iPhone et al at home. Argentina has banned the sale of iPhones meaning shiny Apple products are irresistible to the city’s pickpockets, something I can, sadly, attest to.

www.labombadetiempo.com


Coffee break: Las Violetas

IMG_2006.jpg

 

Buenos Aires has a great and enduring obsession with coffee. Caffeine runs in the blood of Portenos, bringing them out of their homes and onto the streets, in search of a coffee house like Las Violetas - a French style 1884 patisserie and cafe that’s located over in Buenos Aires’ Almagro neighbourhood and was declared a Heritage Site back in 1998.
Here the cortado (a shot of espresso, with an equal amount of steamed milk) is served on silver platters by waiters in white jackets, in stunning surroundings: think black and white floors, stained glass windows and marble columns. This special spot offers more than merely a cup of Joe: it guarantees a thick slice of middle class Porteno life. 

www.lasvioletas.com/

 


Tango time: La Viruta

Tango 2.jpg

Only a philistine would leave Buenos Aires without taking in some tango (arguably Argentina’s greatest contribution to the world). One caveat: skip the overpriced tango shows (the preserve of tourists) and make for a milonga (tango club). Even if you’ve got two left feet, milongas like La Viruta are worth visiting for the atmosphere and phenomenal people watching alone. Just don’t forget to factor in a power nap before you head out: Buenos Aires is all about the night and, as such, if you leave a milling much before 4am (when it comes to partying, Portenos don’t do things by half), you’ll be labelled an amateur.
www.lavirutatango.com

 

Culture vulture: Buenos Aires Street Art

Street art.jpg


The Argentine capital is one of the world’s best cities for street art. Graffiti artists have quite literally made BA their canvas, helped by the fact that there are almost no restrictions as to where they can paint in the city: all that spray-paint Picassos require is the permission of the home-owner. As such, expect to see inspiring murals brightening up every barrio from Villa Crespo to Colegiales.

One of the best ways to see Buenos Aires’ spectacular street art scene is by signing up-to a walking tour with Buenos Aires Street Art. Founded by Matt Fox- Tucker, a Brit who co-authored the book Textura Dos – Buenos Aires Street, the tour takes guests through the grime and glamour of the ‘Paris of the South’ via the streets of number of different neighbourhoods in the northwestern part of the city.

www,buenosairesstreetart.com/


Read all about it: El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore

El Ateneo.jpg

 

Book lovers rejoice! Book shops may be shutting down left, right and centre in every other city, but Buenos Aires is brimming with brilliant bookshops including  El Ateneo Grand Splendid – voted the world’s second best bookshop by The Guardian

El Ateneo Grand Splendid was once a theatre – as the balconies, white and gold-leaf boxes, crimson stage curtains and high painted ceilings bear testimony to. 

Subsequently El Ateneo attracts as many photographers - and gourmands (the stage has been turned into a majestic cafe) - as it does book-worms.It’s a must see see.

www.yenny-elateneo.com

 

Bar chick: Floreria Atlantico
Floreria Atlantico – a secret, basement speakeasy – is arguably the hottest bar in BA right now. And that’s saying something in a city with no end of trendy places to go….
Upon entering the rather charming flower shop, look for the industrial freezer door and then descend the stairs to this decadent drinking den – the brainchild of renowned Argentine mixologist Renato ‘Tato’ Giovannoni.

Thanks to its modernist lighting and decent drinks mixed (plump for the Principe de los Apóstoles, aka gin mixed with yerba mate, Argentina’s iconic herbal tea) by cool staff, this long and narrow bar is great place to meet both hip locals, expats and a perhaps a few celebs: Mexican actor and director, Gael Garcia Bernal, is a fan. 

www.floreriaatlantico.com.ar


Vegging out: Vita
Argentina’s meat obsession is intense, but veggies are far from neglected either.
If you’re looking to go meatless in the metropolis, venture to Vita which serves as refuge from the madness of nearby Plaza de Mayo – an always lively square. Choose from an array of homemade vegetarian and vegan salads, sandwiches, soups and hearty hot dishes like lasagne. Desserts don’t disappoint either: the coconut tart is definitely worth the calories.
The complimentary and reliable (a rare thing in Buenos Aires) WiFi is a further treat.

Hipolito Yrigoyen 583,Buenos Aires, Argentina (43420788)


Tea time: Queen of Tarts

Queen of Tarts.jpg

 

A British tea room serving the daintiest of sandwiches, fluffy freshly-baked scones and a selection of cakes, is the one thing you almost certainly wouldn’t expect to find in Argentina’s capital.

Think again. Queen of Tarts - a traditional British tea room - was opened 18months ago by Brits, Emily Farmer and Claire Griffiths, and business has been better than either expected.

Homesick expats, curious locals and inquisitive travellers, in need of a break from beef, who are looking to experience BA’s secret world of dining (the exact address of the tea room is revealed, once a reservation has been made) are flocking to Queen of Tarts in their droves.
They come for the classic afternoon tea but also for the antique-style furniture, that’s aimed at transporting guests to olde England.
www.queenoftarts.com.ar/

View the post here: http://www.justabouttravel.net/2018/04/09/little-black-book-to-buenos-aires-2/

Snow business

In search of a cool winter break? Look to Les Arcs where quality snow, top notch accommodation and array of activities come as standard, says Kaye Holland

Winter holidays have a glamour all of their own. Perhaps it’s the thrill of swishing through perfect powdery snows, the apres ski or the gossip (guessing which celebs are on the slopes, where they’re staying and, crucially, with whom).

However attempting to select the best ski resort to visit this winter is akin to pick the spottiest dog in a kennel full of Dalmatians: nigh on impossible.

Fortunately for you, dear reader, TNT has a suggestion for the 2017/18 ski season - regardless of whether you’re in the process of finding your ski legs or a wannabe downhill champion.


Say hello to Les Arcs - the popular French winter sports destination that is part of the huge Paradiski area and caters to everyone from casual skiers (like yours truly) to experienced skiers and families alike.

IMG_4016.jpg

Regardless of your ability, you won’t be short of options. For Les Arcs is home to a huge network of groomed pistes, 70 per cent of which are situated at above 2,000m and rising to 3,250m - a height that virtually guarantees snow -  meaning that Les Arcs remains open even when other European resorts struggle.

Day one of our trip to Les Arcs saw me awake excited, yet with a certain amount of fear and trepidation in my heart, about making hitting the slopes. (It had been three years since my first and last foray into the white stuff).

IMG_4906.JPG


First though I had to be fitted out with ski boots and I won’t lie: I had forgotten that they’re heavy, hard to put on and, yes, can hurt (10 days down the line, I’ve still got welts on my calves from where the boots cut into my skin). It was all a bit of a faff to be truthful so I couldn’t help but hope that skiing in Les Arcs would live up to my great expectations.

Happily, however, it did.  Skiing, I soon discovered, is a bit like learning to ride a bike: once mastered, the basics don’t desert you.

IMG_4025.jpg


And so it was that, to my delight, I found myself slaloming - albeit a little shakily -  down the slopes against the backdrop of the breathtaking Mont Blanc (aka the highest mountain in the Alps) with the wind whipping my face. 

Coming from London, where I have had to train myself to block out the cacophony of daily life, there’s something incredibly special about swishing through the snow and drinking in the blue skies, mesmerising mountain views and late afternoon sun in silence. (Our group went early in the season, ahead of the crowds, which meant that often we felt as though we the only people on the pistes).

IMG_4927.jpg

On day two, in a bid to be able to end the trip effortlessly gliding down the mountain like US skier Lindsey Vonne, I signed up for a lesson with ESF Ski School (France’s largest ski school).  If you’re short on confidence - or serious about improving your skiing - than a few hours of tuition with an EFS instructor will certainly help you brush up your skills.


Our instructor Thomas dispensed advice such as “don’t  look down at your ski tips” (tougher than it looks, as having long planks attached to your feet isn’t exactly the most natural feeling in the world) and to “always bend the knees” (the tendency is to want to straighten them) with good humoured patience.

IMG_4034.jpg

 

 

And, after a few hours under Thomas’ tutelage, our entire group had swapped snow ploughing for parallel skiing (the sort of skiing that looks good on the slopes) and learnt to side step - a key technique to have in your arsenal, when you find yourself on challenging terrain. 

 

IMG_4011.jpg

 

After a long day on the slopes, we invariably looked forward to returning to our accommodation, Chalet Panda - which mixes the comfort of a hotel with sociable aspects of a hostel - shattered but elated.

If you want to stay in the thick of it, to be an easy stroll from both the slopes  (the nearest ski-lift is just 250m from the front door) and Les Arcs’ array of acres ski bars, then Chalet Panda covers these bases and adds the kind of delightful touches you hope for but don’t always get. Think friendly chalet hosts who will welcome you back every afternoon with a warming cup of tea, served with a slice of heavenly homemade cake. It’s hard to think of a better way to top off a day on the slopes.

Guests can also enjoy a swim in the large pool in the neighbouring Altitude residence or, if that seems too much like hard work, indulge in a sauna at Chalet Panda’s own private sauna before dinner.

You’ll find a menu filled with dishes so delicious, you’ll return a dress size larger - despite all the exercise you are doing. The cuisine is accompanied by a wine list that is compact but well chosen.

After dinner, it’s time to soak up the buzzing atmosphere of the resort at night. There’s plenty to do from pub quizzes every Sunday at Red Rock Cafe & Restaurant to swapping ski boots for dancing shoes at Whistler bar (which promises the best night you will never remember), before somehow staggering back to your bedroom.
 

IMG_4037.jpg


Speaking of the rooms, each one is furnished with natural wood to create a cosy, rustic atmosphere and boasts a private balcony (to make the most of those magnificent mountain views). And with twin beds, they are well suited to single skiers as well as couples and friends. What’s more, every morning your chalet hosts arrive to crisp up the sheets, fluff up the towels and replenish the shampoos.

All told, this is a place that guarantees a good time - I defy even the most tightly wound city worker not to feel the tension slip away after a spell in Les Arcs.

IMG_4038.jpg

 

Sure after a costly Christmas, money is no doubt tight but Ski Total offer plenty of budget friendly packages. And at the end of the day, you can either look back on January 2018 and say “I spent it skiing in a stunning French resort” or you can whack on the heating at home, hunker down and watch Celebrity Big Brother.
 

Ski you there?

IMG_3888.JPG

 

IF YOU GO
Ski Total (www.skitotal.com / 01483 791 935) is offering seven nights at the four-diamond plus Chalet Panda in Les Arcs, France from £499 per person this season. Price includes flights from London Gatwick to Geneva, resort transfers and chalet catering (daily skiers breakfast, afternoon tea with homemade cake and three-course evening meals with complimentary wine). For more information please visit www.skitotal.com

View the post here: http://digitaledition.tntmagazine.com/snow-business/

10 reasons why Athens is Europe’s coolest new city break destination

Our lives are short and the world is interesting so why do we spend so many of our weekends away in bland, well behaved cities? Athens is anything but.
The charismatic Greek capital - easily one of the most exhilarating cities right now - is often overlooked by travellers in favour of Barcelona, Berlin, Paris and Rome. Error.  If good nightlife, bars and shops are your thing, then Athens is where it’s at.

Here’s 10 reasons to book a sun drenched city break….

 

The Acropolis

Views.jpg

There are many sites to explore in Athens, but the best is the iconic Acropolis - the greatest symbol of ancient Greece and a wonder of the world.
Crowned by the Parthenon, this epic monument towers over the city with a history that dates back to 447 BC.
Even if you’re of the opinion that you’re after a holiday, not a history lesson, it’s worth climbing the citadel for Instagram worthy views of Athens.
For more information, visit http://odysseus.culture.gr/ 

 

Cafe culture

Cafe culture.jpg


Despite being home to blockbuster sights such as the aforementioned Acropolis, Ancient Agora and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens isn’t about sightseeing per se but about exploring.
It’s about wandering around neighbourhoods like Kolonaki and stopping for a leisurely coffee in a people watching cafe.
Make no mistake: Athenians have  great and enduring obsession with coffee. Coffee culture brings people out of their homes and into the streets cafes. Coffee lovers would do well to indulge their cravings at Da Capo (https://www.facebook.com/CAFFEdacapo/) which pours inarguably some of the best coffee in the world.

 

Best bars

Greek Nights.jpg

Behind heavy unmarked doors lie lively bars with courtyards and secret rooftops - the perfect place for some raucous antics in a city that exudes sheer joie de vivre.

Hip spots include Clumsies (www.theclumsies.gr), where you can enjoy the most gripping people watching in the world, and Drunk Sinatra (210 331 3733; Thiseos 16, Syntagma). The lines at the latter can be long, but they’re worth it for a mean cocktail at what is currently the hottest place gather post midnight.
Be warned though: bars only close when the last customer has left, so pace yourself as the nights are long. TNT never made it to bed before 2am - this is how Athens rolls - so it’s best not to make too many plans.



Fantastic food
 

Greek foof.jpg



Chances are all this partying will make you feel hungry but fortunately food is a passion in  Athens - just ask locals to recommend favourite spots to start a lively debate.
TNT can vouch for Nikitas (210 325 2591; 

Agion Anargyron 19, Psyrri) - a tried and true taverna in Psyrri that serves reasonably priced and tasty, traditional food.
Chow down on dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), baked moussaka, mouthwatering mezze, succulent souvlaki, feta and Greek fava dip mopped up with delicious bread so good that you won’t be able to resist munching your way through the whole basket. You'll fast find yourself slipping into a food coma when in Athens….

 

 

Wallet friendly

Food seller.jpg


What more could you want from a city break? Bargain prices? Well since you ask, Athens offers those too - great news for those whose budget is more push bike than Porsche.
The cost of a coffee or cocktail is embarrassingly low - especially if you’ve arrived from London - and we reckon that a long weekend in sunny Athens would cost you the same as a couple of hours in icy Scandinavia. Hmmm, tough choice.

 

 

The weather

 

Food seller.jpg


Athens puts out the welcome mat all year round: the city basks in sunshine for the majority of the year, and even if you travel in the height of winter, you can expect temperatures of around 10 degrees.
TNT visited in mid November when it was t-shirts by day and jumpers by night. What’s more if you visit in autumn/winter, the weather is less stifling than in summer while going now also whittles down the crowds.

 

Fab accommodation
Move over dark and dingy hostels. Athens is home to a plethora of accommodation options that are worth your time, as well as your money.
We love Fresh Hotel (www.freshhotel.gr) - a boutique hotel in the hectic heart of downtown Athens - whose bright white balconied bedrooms are perfect for urban explorers who don’t like too much fuss. However the jewel in Fresh Hotel’s crown is the ninth-floor Air Lounge bar which serves up unrivalled views of the floodlit Acropolis, together with a decent drinks list.

 


A creaking calendar of events

Athens Marathon.jpg

 

Athens is a city that rarely sleeps. Each month of the year, there’s something happening somewhere - a festival, a show or an exhibition - and often at the same time.
TNT was in town for the Athens marathon - aka the mother of all marathons, whose finish line is in Athens’ magnificent Olympic Stadium (the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games).
According to legend, the race covers the same ground that the Athenian messenger Pheidippides ran when he brought news of victory from the battlefield of Marathon 2,500 years ago. All of which means that when you run the Athens Marathon, you run in the very footsteps of the ancient gods and heroes that gave birth to western civilisation. 

 

To market, to market

Central market.jpg

 

Athens’ buzzy Central Market - a cacophony of shopkeepers, food sellers, scents and performers - is remnant of an older, miraculously unspoiled world

Put your bargaining skills to the test by haggling for spices and this year’s olive oil, then make for the famous Monastiraki Flee Market at Avissynias Square to barter for everything from books to paintings, clothes and trinkets. Even if you come away empty handed, listening to stallholders sing and shout about their wares is half the fun.

 

 

Athenians
Athens is made even more inviting by its people who are happy to share their world with you. Charming and hospitable, they always have time to talk.  Everyone knows somebody who has a friend, who has a cousin, who can help you out.



For more information on Greece, visit DiscoverGreece.com

To make the most of your time in Athens, pick up Lonely Planet’s Pocket Athens (http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/greece/pocket-athens-3/)

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

More views.jpg

View the post here: http://digitaledition.tntmagazine.com/10-reasons-why-athens-is-europes-coolest-new-city-break-destination/

Eight things you need to know before visiting Ecuador


Ecuador may be of the the smallest countries in South America but don’t be fooled by its size for there is plenty to see, do and experience in Luz de América (the light of America). Planning a visit to this Andean country? Here’s 10 things you need to know before you go

 

 

Middle monument is in the wrong place

Mitad del Mundo .jpg

Ecuador is named after the equator that runs through the country and, as such, standing on the thin yellow line that marks the middle of the world tops most travellers’ to-do lists. One caveat: make sure you select the right spot.
Built in 1979, the Mitad del Mundo monument and complex dedicated to the equator is the most visited site in Ecuador but it’s not actually on the equator.
If you want to genuinely stand with one foot in each hemisphere, you’ll need to head 240m down the road to the real equator - a site that was discovered only a few years back thanks to Global Positioning Services (GPS) devices. The true spot is called the Intiñan Solar Museum and aims to answer all your equator related science queries including “Can you balance an egg on a nail?” and “Does water really change direction in different hemispheres?”

The real Middle of the World.jpg

 

 

Get ready to gorge on guinea pigs
Cuy asado (roasted guinea pigs) is one of the country’s most famous dishes that reportedly dates back to Inca times and is said to be high in protein and low in cholesterol.
Ecuadoreans traditionally eat cuy either on holidays or special occasions as these little furry creatures don’t come cheap (a whole roasted guinea will set you back around   $US25). Cuy are typically skewered with a thick rod before being rotated over a fire during roasting, and taste like gamey chicken.
However the furry rodent isn’t just for dinner in Ecuador. Cuy are used to warm the house and keep rats away, in addition to being used for medicinal purposes. Folk doctors called curanderos will rub guinea pig over a patient’s sick body, with the furry creature set to squeak when it passes over an afflicted area.
Consuming cuy may seem controversial given that in the UK and Australia,  guinea pig are cherished as cuddly companions for children, but when in Rome…right?

Ecuadorean dishes.jpg

Roses are ridiculously cheap
You might think of Ecuador as athe ultimate “banana republic” - the small South American country is the world’s biggest exporter of bananas - but in recent years Ecuador has become famous for its flower industry.
Ecuador is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers, 73 per cent of which are roses thanks to the country’s volcanic soil, perfect temperatures and abundant sunlight. And no one beats the equatorial sun in terms of rose variety.
Even better? Visitors can discover unparalleled colour, radiance and aroma - for a pittance. You read right: it costs as little as US$2.50 for 25 long stemmed red roses in Ecuador meaning even cash poor travellers can play Romeo.

Roses.jpg
Roses are a bargain in Ecuador.jpg

 

Cocoa leaves can help cure altitude sickness
Head spinning? Having trouble sleeping? Or perhaps the hotel stairs are making you breathless? If you answered yes to any of the aforementioned questions, chances are you’re suffering from altitude sickness which isn’t surprising given that most visitors arrive in Quito, the Spanish colonial stunner that has an elevation of about 3000m. Symptoms typically dissipate within a day or two but you can help minimise them by  avoiding alcohol and caffeine and drinking plenty of water and tea de coca (coca leaf tea). After a couple of sips pf the latter, you’ll notice that the throbbing in your head has begun to subside and you can breathe again.
Just don’t even think about bringing a stash of coca - the plant that is used in the manufacture of cocaine - leaves back to the UK, where they are banned.


Ecuador uses the US dollar
Ecuadoreans waved goodbye to their national currency, the 116-year-old sucre,  during a severe economic crisis in 2000 and has been using U.S. dollars ever since like nearby Panama (where the US dollar is called a balboa) in order to stabilise its economy.
Nearly 18 years later, dollarisation remains highly popular, with 85 percent of Ecuadorean supporting the continued dollarisation of the economy. However although on an emotional level, not everyone is happy that U.S. historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington  have replaced Ecuadorian national heroes on their currency.

Dress like an onion when in Quito
Visiting Ecuador’s enchanting capital, Quito? Don’t forget to pack layers - and lots of them. 
The weather in Quito is unpredictable  - Quitenos claims that they experience all four seasons in one day - so it’s essential to dress in layers. Be ready to take your coat and sweater off and put them back on again, in a matter of hours.

Panama hats are made in… Ecuador
The toquilla straw hat that most of the world knows as the Panama hat was actually invented in Ecuador.
The mistake dates back to the 18th century when Spanish entrepreneurs in South America recognised the quality of the brimmed straw hats and began exporting them via Panama.
During the 19th century, workers on the Panama Canal wore these hats to protect their heads from the tropical sun. On a visit to the Panama Canal construction site in 1906, US President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing a Panama hat. The picture went on to appear in The New York Times and ever since then, the headwear has been misleadingly known as Panama hats.
The best Panama hats are made in and around Montecristi, a village some 90 miles from the coastal city of Guayaquil.

A limpiadora (herb healer).jpg


Look to a limpiadora
Suffering from insomnia, angst, nervous tension or depression? Forget visiting a traditional doctor when in Ecuador and look to a limpiadora (herb healer) who can cure virtually any ailment using candles herbs, nettles and egg yolks.
While limpiadoras have been performing limpia (spiritual cleansing rituals) for centuries, in recent years, the Ecuadorean folk medicine has become increasingly popular.
This sudden surge of interest in a medicine that has been around for thousands of years can be attributed, in part, to the twenty first century wellness mantra of illness prevention over the modern approach of cure. For while western medicine is high cost and high tech, something that in this age of austerity feels uncomfortably wrong, limpias cost on average US$8 meaning they are affordable - in addition to being a safe and natural form of medicine.

Arriving in Ecuador.jpg
Quito calling.jpg

Remarkable Rwanda: seven reasons to visit

Let’s face facts: if we’re talking about which country to visit next, we probably wouldn’t put Rwanda  - an African nation whose name will always be tinged with tragedy - at the top of the list. But we’d be wrong. For there’s more to this tiny state - measuring a mere 10,169 square miles, Rwanda is the fourth smallest country on the African mainland, behind The Gambia, Swaziland and Djibouti - than genocide and gorillas.

Here’s seven reasons why the Land Of A Thousand Hills should be top of your travel bucket list this winter…

 

Getting there is now a doddle
eaching Rwanda hasn’t always been easy. Bordered by Burundi to the south, Uganda to the north and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west - three destinations best described as ‘off the beaten track’ - the country could be regarded as one of the more unreachable areas of Africa.

Fast forward to 2017 and it’s all change: RwandAir  - Rwanda’s national carrier - now flies direct from London Gatwick to Kigali three times a week meaning that reaching Rwanda has never been more accessible or affordable. The flight takes approximately nine hours, with return fares starting from a reasonable £368. (01293 874 922; rwandair.com).

Rwandan dancers.jpg

 


Rwanda is clean and safe
“You’re going where?” they said.
“Rwanda,”  I replied.
“Isn’t that where they had the genocide? It isn’t safe,” they asserted.

This conversation was repeated many, many times in the run up to my trip to this little African nugget. Even as I left for the airport, the last thing everyone said to me was: “Stay safe.” Clearly friends, family and work colleagues were all sceptical of my most recent travel plans.

Happily I’m here to tell you that their fears and concerns were misplaced.
Sure you should always exercise caution and common sense when travelling in sub Saharan Africa - for example, don’t drink the water - but Rwanda is one of the continent’s safest destinations.

What’s more it’s capital, Kigali, is not only free from danger it is - unlike most big cities - astonishing well kept. Plastic bags are banished and on the last Saturday of each month, every single citizen is required to spend half a day cleaning the streets. Subsequently not only do the streets sparkle, but there’s an onus not to litter in the first place.

Bottom line? Rwanda can be explored with confidence. But don’t just take TNT’s word for it. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office claims that “Rwanda is generally safe and crime levels are relatively low.” For more information visit www. gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/rwanda.

 

Rwandan roads.jpg

 

Gorillas in our midst
There’s only one place in the world where you can look a mountain gorilla in the eye and that place is the Virunga Mountains - a chain of volcanoes which runs along the north of Rwanda, the south-west of Uganda and a stretch of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Here - if lady luck is on your side - you’ll find around 800 mountain gorillas. (https://virunga.org)
 
One caveat: getting up close and personal with the mightiest primates doesn’t come cheap as the Rwandan government doubled the fees for gorilla encounters from US$750 to US$1,500 a head earlier this year.

However should the steep price prove perturbing, keep in mind that the money you are shelling out goes towards safeguarding the gorilla population (10 years ago, Rwanda was home to fewer than 60 gorillas).

More than this, you’re guaranteed a moment that you’ll remember for the rest of your life - something the great Sir David Attenborough can attest to. The veteran broadcaster and naturalist famously recounted in his 1978 Life On Earth series that meeting Rwandan gorillas was “one of the most exciting encounters of my life. There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know.”

Book your pass (80 are available per day) through the Tourism and Conservation Reservation Office of the Rwanda Development Board (00252 57 65 14; reservation@rwandatourism.com).

 

Traditional dancers.jpg

 

Supreme safaris
Rwanda maybe famous for its gorillas but it’s also the place to gawp at golden monkeys - another species found only in the Land Of A Thousand Hills.

Stir into the mix the full quota of the Big Five (think lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard) plus crocodiles, hippos, zebras and giraffes - all of which can be spotted at Akagera National Park (akageranationalpark.org) over on the east flank of the country - and you have an unsung safari destination.

Meanwhile bird lovers will want to make a beeline for the Nyungwe Forest National Park (rwandatourism.com/destinations/nyungwe-national-park) to see more than 300 species of birds. Covering over 1,000 square kilometres of pristine mountain rainforest, the park is also home to East Africa’s only canopy walkway that will bring you face to face with Rwanda’s wonderful wildlife.

Rwanda is an African success story
Case in point? A record 64 per cent of Rwanda’s MPs are women, the highest percentage of any country, helping make Rwanda one of the most gender-equal nations in the world.

That’s not all… Rwanda has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has emerged as one of Africa’s leading business tourism destinations.

Just last month the architecturally splendid new Radisson Blu Convention Centre – whose design was inspired by traditional Rwandan basket weaving – hosted no fewer than three prestigious events. Step forward leading hotel investment conference AHIF, AviaDev Africa - a unique event bringing together airports, airlines, governments, industry suppliers and tourism authorities - and World Travel Awards (aka the travel industry’s leading awards programme) Africa Gala Ceremony 2017.

Radisson Blu Convention Centre.jpg

 

 

Fab accommodation
Until now those visiting Rwanda have had to hunker down in clean but basic, simple places to stay. But just because it was, doesn’t mean it is…
In Kigali, seek out the Serena Hotel (serenahotels.com/serenakigali) which opened its doors earlier this year and serves up five-star accommodation and a refreshing courtyard swimming pool.

 

Kigali Serena Hotel.jpg


Further afield Wilderness Lodges - famed for its gorgeous accommodation in seven other African countries - has opened a jaw dropping six bedroom lodge called Bisate. The lodge has been built on land bought from farmers and is embedded in the local community: expect to wake in your room (all of which boast spectacular views of Mount Bisoke, an active volcano) to the sound of a goat or cow. (www.wilderness-safaris.com/camps/bisate-lodge)

And there’s more still to come: a new luxury lodge – here’s looking at the One & Only Nyungwe (www.oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-nyungwe-house-rwanda) -– is scheduled to open at the end of this year on the edge of the Nyungwe National Park.
 

Culture vulture
While in Kigali - Rwanda's modern, bustling capital city - do take the time to visit the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre (a collective that runs walking tours, hair braiding and basket-weaving classes, www.nwc-umutima.org/). Follow this up with a trip to the Niyo Cultural Centre which displays local art and teaches traditional Rwanda dancing and drumming to street kids. (www.niyoculturalcentre.org)

 

Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre 2.jpg


Then make for the Kigali Memorial Centre to confront the horrors of the genocide - which saw an estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus butchered during 100 days of madness in 1994. The memorial is movingly done and genuinely unmissable - not only out of respect for the victims of the genocide who met their fate as the rest of the world watched, but out of necessity.

Or as the great philosopher, George Santayanas, once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (www.kgm.rw)

City scape.jpg