European Autumn tips

Autumn has arrived in Europe and cheaper holiday deals are opening up during the shoulder season. 

Here are a few suggested European destinations that you should be able to consider without battling the crowds and breaking the bank – especially if you avoid the Euro countries.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic – a picturesque walled city, with attractions galore and remarkably reasonable prices. The nearest airport is probably Prague and a bus or train trip to Cesky Kromlov takes about three hours.  Attractions that caught our eye included the massive Ceský Krumlov Castle — the biggest in Eastern Europe; the striking church of St. Vitus which can trace its origins back to the 13th century; several museums; and the view from Mount Klet on the city’s fringe. There are plenty of budget hotels.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Sofia, Bulgaria – regularly rated as Europe’s most affordable capital, Sofia can be a base for visits to the Black Sea. Although more and more people discover the city each year, it is  still known for cheap accommodation, food and public transport; exquisite Ottoman churches, buzzing nightlife; pretty city parks and budget flights from the UK.

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Athens, Greece – it’s amazing that one of the world’s great destinations should remain such a  travel bargain. Like most of Greece, the capital city is eager to attract travellers, especially during the off-season. There is so much to see and do at Athens – and most of it is particularly well-priced. We always recommend the Pan Hotel, which provides excellent accommodation in the heart of Athens at an attractive price.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia – also no longer a hidden jewell, this picture-postcard, affordable city sits beneath a backdrop of snow-capped Alps, close to the stunning beauty of Lake Bled. Ljubljana has a compact and beautiful Old Town area, free of traffic and complete with a beautiful castle, stunning medieval architecture, a winding river and a host of restaurants and coffee shops. Scenic trains link the city with the Austrian and Bavarian Alps, neighbouring Italy and the Balkan countries. We found budget accommodation in the Old Town.

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Brasov, Romania – another beauty for the penny-wise, this quaint town is set in the heart of Transylvania and boasts colourful houses, charming cafés and a fascinating mixture of history and local legend. Romania remains one of Europe’s cheapest destinations, so just about everything here is attractively-priced.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Belgrade, Serbia – with relatively well priced accommodation and cheap attractions, public transport, food and beer, Belgrade is also known as a bargain destination. The city is easy to navigate on foot and many attractions are free.

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Tenerife, Spain – although Spain is a Euro country and not generally considered a cheap destination, Tenerife is in the Canary Islands and is generally well priced at this time of year. Delivering a blend of Spanish culture and African sun, Tenerife is one of the darlings of international travel – and is fast becoming an international hotspot. It is the biggest of the seven Canary Islands and its many features include stunning beaches, abundant wildlife and astonishing volcanic rock formations.

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Naples, southern Italy – also a Euro country, but a vibrant city of art, history and awesome food. Naples is one of the least expensive Italian destinations and has a rawness and gritty beauty all its own. We love the city’s narrow, busy streets and find it a warts-and-all snapshot of Italian passion and colour. 

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Edinburgh, Scotland – the UK doesn’t usually make our lists of reasonably-priced cities, but we fell in love with this awesome city at first sight – and its charming cobblestone streets, storybook castle and spectacular views are even more attractive than usual amid the leafy hues of Autumn. If you don’t mind cooling temperatures and are prepared to do a bit of research to keep the price down, this beautiful Scottish city could be an enticing Autumn destination. 

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Aix-en-Provence, France – The South of France may be on our list for a visit we’re planning in 2021. And, during initial research, we’ve been astonished to discover that Provence currently offers good value for an Autumn break. Temperatures are still quite warm in this beautiful region and the area is also keen to attract visitors in the off-season. We’re yet to test it, but this part of France looks both beautiful at the moment and financially attractive.

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram at @memorable_destination; @memorable_travels;  @memorable_ hotels and @ww_australia.

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Scoot upgrades premium service

Singapore-based airline, Scoot, is renaming its premium service.

Previously known as Scootbiz, the premium offering was the subject of a detailed review on this site in late 2017.

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It is being renamed ScootPlus on all Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights to and from Australia and various destination on the airline’s network.

Travellers on ScootPlus will continue to enjoy comfortable wide, leather reclining seats with a footrest and twice the legroom of an economy seat; individual in-seat power outlets; 30KG check-in baggage allowance; 15KG carry-on baggage; priority check-in and boarding.

Following a customer survey, Scoot has also replaced  its inflight entertainment  with 30MB complimentary WiFi in ScootPlus.

Scoot says it’s ScootPlus service allows travellers to take advantage of value-added fares, and the option to purchase add-on items such as SATS lounge access in Singapore. KrisFlyer[2] members can also continue to earn and burn their KrisFlyer miles on Scoot flights.

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Scoot boasts one of the youngest fleets in the air, with its signature Boeing 787 Dreamliners having an average age of two-years-11 months. 

Overall, the average age of Scoot’s fleet of 20 Dreamliners and 28 Airbus A320 family aircraft is five-years-and-one-month.

Two additional Dreamliners, 31 Airbus A320neo and 16 A321neo aircraft are on order. 

Scoot’s network presently encompasses 68 destinations across 17 countries and territories, with nine more destinations from India, Indonesia and Malaysia scheduled to join the network by the second half of 2020.

Featured Airlines Scoot

The fascinating story of the ‘jungle juice’

Every country has its folklore and its share of what might be called ‘colourful characters’.

Some are famous; some infamous; some have shone brightly in history; and others faded all too briefly.

Mel Jurd certainly made his mark on life – although information about this Australian entrepreneur isn’t easy to find.

In fact, we had to visit the historic eastern-Australian village of Wollombi to track down the details.

Wollombi is an attractive little place on the fringe of Australia’s Hunter Wine Region.  

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We set off from the coastal city of Newcastle and travelled via the villages of Bulga and Broke, driving through vineyards and stunning rural countryside into the Wollombi Valley.

Situated on a crossroad, Wollombi’s boasts a series of grand 19th Century sandstpone buildings that reflect its history along the Great North Road, a convict-built link between Sydney and the Upper Hunter.

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Early 19th Century sandstone building, Wollombi, Australia.

However we had come to visit a more humble structure – the Wollombi Tavern.

And it wasn’t for the beer, as fine a drop as that may be.

We were interested in the story of Mel Jurd, who apparently operated the tavern when it was called the Wollombi Wine Saloon and later the Wollombi Wine Bar.

Mel is somewhat of a legend in the area and locals explained that, in the 1960’s, he came up with the idea of creating a distinctly local brew that could only be purchased at Wollombi.

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Image courtesy of Wollombi Tavern website

Folklore has it that Mel took to collecting the leftover wine from each day at the wine bar and learning all he could about various brewing techniques.

A mate had mentioned a wartime ‘cure-all’ used by soldiers to ward off illnesses – something like a double-nip of port wine, mixed with a nip of brandy. 

When this was added to muscat or sherry dregs from bottles left on the bar and occasionally mixed with blackberry and goodness knows what else, it became the basis for a new brew.

Mel eventually called the finished product ‘Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice’ – and, to this day, the brew can be purchased only at the Wollombi Tavern or ordered on its website.

The product has remained the trademark of the establishment ever since.

How does it taste? Such judgements are personal ideed – so why not order a bottle online or add Wollombi to your bucket list to see for yourself.

Mel Jurd eventually exchanged the title of ‘Dr’ for ‘Friar’ and moved to operate a local restaurant – before heading for a warmer climate in his retirement.

He left behind  both his jungle juice and a great story about a truly colourful character.

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Follow me to Australia’s secret valley

Here’s a valuable tip for people planning to visit Australia’s east coast: you can now experience the world famous Aussie bush, while staying in luxurious surroundings only a couple of hours from Sydney.

It’s called the Secret Valley Escape – a secluded, romantic wilderness retreat in Australia’s famous Blue Mountains.

We spent four nights at the retreat – and here’s our review:

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Introduction

And as the name suggests, the emphasis at Secret Valley Escape is on isolation and a hands-on taste of stunning rural scenery

Secret Valley Escape is snuggled in the Kanimbla Valley, west of Sydney, amid soaring  sandstone escarpments.

It provides high standard, secluded accommodation in handmade mudbrick cottages or a Aussie homestead with a sweeping verandarah – all set in 200 acres of mountain wilderness.

You can wander through the many walking tracks and witness the secret valley as it opens before your eyes beneath the escarpment, criss-crossed by Blackheath Creek.

In many years of undertaking ‘Age-Friendly Reviews’ across the globe, we had never experienced anything like this; isolation and luxury so close to an international airport, while still deep in the quiet splendor of untamed wilderness.

Q: Was the booking process simple and problem free?

A: Yes. We had heard a lot about Secret Valley Escape and its popularity, often among celebrity visitors to Australia.

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Secret Valley Escape is active on social media, including Instagram – so we were able to see photographs of the facilities before we even made contact. This is a huge plus.

As well, Secret Valley Escape has an easily-read and detailed website.

The initial contact was made over the phone – and the formal booking was completed online.

The process was straight-forward, flexible and easy.

Q: Did Secret Valley Escape communicate after the booking?

A: Yes. We cannot speak highly enough about the communication. Secret Valley Escape was highly professional, thorough, friendly and extremely helpful – the equal of any we have encountered worldwide. 

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From the first conversation until our arrival, Secret Valley Escape kept in contact, provided ongoing information – and anticipating any questions. 

We received detailed directions to the area and a map to show the location of our homestead within the valley itself. 

On the day of our arrival, we also received three telephone calls, primarily to offer help with directions etc.  

Such thoroughness and professionalism was reassuring and appreciated. As a result, we found our way without difficulty.

Q: Does Secret Valley Escape have street appeal? 

A: As you approach the valley, it is everything you would expect from a wildnerness retreat.

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A country road winds a short distance from the Great Western Highway at Cox’s River through dense bushland – passing occasional farms and tiny streams. 

You cross a narrow wooden bridge and turn into the retreat, via a security boomgate. 

This is deep in the Australian bush, 25 minutes from the nearest town and silent except for a never-ending chorus of wild birds. That’s street appeal in anyone’s language. 

Q: How did check-in go?

A: Seamlessly. As outlined in the post-booking communication, our lodge awaited. 

The on-site owners stopped by to check that everything was to our liking – and then we were left to ourselves. 

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You could immediately see why Secret Valley Escape is so popular with celebrities,  honeymooners and corporate workshops.  

As well as the cottages scattered through the bush, the nearest neighbours are the birds, the towering mountains and the bubbling creek.

Q: How was accessibility, particularly for senior travellers?

A: Secret Valley Escape is located amid dense, almost untouched Australian bush. That’s the charm of it:  however a certain level of mobility is desirable to get the best out of a stay.  

Obviously, it would be neither possible nor desirable to put safety fences and wheelchair paths along ancient bushland clifftops, but neither is it necessary to wander the bush trails of this wonderful retreat to enjoy its incredible appeal.

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Even at the homestead and cabins, visitors are deep in the bosom of nature; able to watch the sun bouncing off ghost gums in the early morning and afternoon; hear the sounds of the bush echoing down the valley; and see the dark skies ablaze with stars.

The area around the cottages, homestead, workshop facilities and car parking areas are level, largely clear of obstacles and well lit at night.

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There are a small number of steps to the cottages and the homestead is two-storey with an internal staircase. 

However, once inside, the surrounding sun-decking and the rooms are readily accessible – including the ensuite bathrooms. 

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For example, hand-basins were high enough on the wall for a wheelchair to move close, should it need to. 

Light switches and power-points were sensibly mid-height;  door handles opened with little effort; there were clothes hangers at mid-height in the wardrobes; and outside stairs were illuminated by security lighting.

In both the homestead and cottages, the emphasis was on high-quality fittings and furnishings. 

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Q: Were the bedrooms big enough?

A: The homestead contains five bedrooms – all a decent size. Three of the bedrooms had King-sized beds (one of them a four-poster bed) while the other two were Queen-sized

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All bedrooms had individual lights; bedside drawers; air-conditioning, overhead fans; en-suite bathrooms, suitcase stands, complimentary slippers and built-in wardrobes  

The beds were fluffy and comfy, with high quality coverings. Some of the bedrooms opened onto the wide veranderah that surrounds the homestead, while one of the upstairs rooms had its own private balcony overlooking the sweeping bushland.

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We checked out one of the spa cottages.  It was cosy but spacious and had a four-poster Queen-sized bed.

Q: Did the homestead have adequate charging points?

A: The bedrooms easily catered for our electronic devices – always a key point for us.

There were plenty of charging points, including some on either side of the bed, ideal for using mobile phones as alarm clocks. 

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There were also plenty of powerpoints in other rooms, including the downstairs general bathroom, loungeroom and livingroom.

Q: Were the bathrooms to the expected standard?

A:  Both the main bathroom and the walk-in en-suites in the homestread were modern and fitted with luxury toiletries. 

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There were adequate fluffy towels, hairdryers, robes and slippers. 

The ensuite bathroom in the biggest bedroom also contained a luxurious full size standalone bath.

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Although there were 10 people in our party, there was never any shortage of hot water.

Q: Were the general facilities in keeping with the star rating?

A: Secret Valley Escape has everthing you expect from a four-star facility. We’d heard a lot of good things about this retreat from fellow travellers and tourism authorities – and it certainly lived up to the reputation.

The location is a good start – amid stunning Australian bushland far from the madding crowd, yet within easy reach of Sydney and its international airport.

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Our experience with farm-stay type facilities in Australia was that most seemed to have an emphasis on catering for young families – or required a lengthy trip to reach them.

Secret Valley Escape proved an exception.

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The combination of seclusion and luxury, Aussie bush and a relatively short distance to Sydney is a  winner for international tourists, celebrities looking for privacy, or couples after a romantic stay. 

The retreat is also a photographer’s dream – and is a perfect base for exploring the world famous Blue Mountains in general.

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The homestead, Illowra House, is spacious and fully self contained  with quality furnishings and a high level of finish. 

As well as the luxurious bedrooms, bathrooms, living areas and modern kitchen and laundry, there is a large log fire, air-conditioning and individually-controlled fans.

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The homestead and each cottage also featured individual, private outdoor jacuzzis on the north facing timber deck.

Q: Were kitchen and laundry facilities adequate?

A: The homestead kitchen was fully self-contained, with modern appliances, including a large cooker with a double oven, refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave.

There was a jumbo-sized dining table; a general living area off the kitchen and a separate lounge room – all finished in quality furnishings.

An electric bar-b-que is situated on the homestead’s decking – and is ideal for cooking a convenient meal for small groups.

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In the kitchen, there were complimentary fruit, detergent and a range of teas and coffee, crockery, cutlery and more-than-adequate bench and cupboard space.

The laundry included a washing machine, clothes dryer and a large amount of pantry and storage room.

During our four-day stay, the homestead was serviced and we were offered replacement toileteries, tea and coffee and detergent.

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Q: Were there any problems with Secret Valley Escape?

A: Just the opposite. Secret Valley Escape was exactly as we expected – luxury, secluded accommodation within easy reach of other Blue Mountains attractions and the transport hubs of Sydney.

While the bushland setting means that a level of mobility is needed to experience all corners of the 200-acres, the operators have made concerted efforts to ensure Secret Valley Escape is as ‘Age-friendly’ as it can be (see below)

Our only suggestions involve the need for a DVD player and screen in the living areas, complimentary wifi (if possible) and perhaps a bigger bar-b-que to cater for large groups.

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However, on the whole, we found Secret Valley Escape to be luxurious, modern, spotlessly clean, extremely comfortable, secure and a wonderful retreat from the pressures of today’s life.

And, the approachable, helpful and highly professional attitude of the managers made our stay all the more comfortable and memorable

We have no hesitation in recommending Secret Valley Escape. It is a true gem!

Age-friendly rating

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9/10:

Based on this four-night experience, it is our opinion that the operators of Secret Valley Escape have made the retreat as accessible as is possible for a genuine wilderness getaway.

They have tackled it in a whole range of practical ways – from providing visitors with a map that shows the various bush walks and the topography around them; to the care taken to guide people into the valley; and the inclusive and intelligent accommodation layout.

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On-going communication with customers; the Instagram photographs; and the easily-navigated website all indicate to us an obvious management policy of providing accurate information and informed assistance.

We hope to return to Secret Valley Escape to write a more detailed review of this outstanding retreat.

Location: Secret Valley Escape is situated in the Kanimbla Valley, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. 

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Is mass tourism reaching a tipping point?

It remains divisive, but the question of whether mass, packaged tourism has reached its tipping point continues to boil.

The negative effects of too many tourists visiting somewhere at once is playing out widely and almost daily on the world stage.

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Obviously, tourism is a massive source of employment and prosperity – a central plank of many economies. And, many responsible travel and hospitality firms, for some time, have been introducing measures aimed at reducing mass tourism damage as much as possible. 

Just as obviously, however, the current tourism system – where mass visitor numbers keep rising each year – is unsustainable.

From Central Rome to the Greek Islands, the Great Wall of China and the jam-packed beaches of Phuket, towns, cities and attractions are feeling the pinch as more and more tourists each year severely test infrastructure and the patience of local residents. 

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It seriously threatens to ruin many of the very attractions that mass tourism wants to see.

Fatal cruise ship and bus accidents in Venice, Hungary, Norway, Portugal and the Mediterranean have caught public attention recently, as have protests on the waterways of Venice and the streets of Barcelona.

However, it was the Dutch who really caused the world to sit up and take notice this year when they decided to stop encouraging tourism in favor of managing current visitor numbers.

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To stem the flow of mass tourism into Amsterdam, officials limited Airbnb rentals; promoted outlying districts as alternatives; banned new tourist shops; and outlawed so-called ‘beer bikes’.

At Venice, the lagoon ecosystem is struggling to handle ever-growing tourism and cruise ships. 

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These ships have also reduced the effectiveness of the city improvement tax imposed on overnight stays

Across Italy, hordes of day-trippers arriving along the Cinque Terre coast are putting pressure on its picture-postcard towns.

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It’s a similar story at the Greek island of  Santorini; the medieval town of Kotor in Montenegro; Dubrovnik in Croatia; Prague; Easter Island in Chile; Iceland; Cairo; Banff in Canada; Scotland’s Isle of Skye and Bali.  

In each of these places, local infrastructure – much of it extremely old – is battling to keep pace with demand. 

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In Iceland, for example, tens of thousands of cruise ship and plane passengers arrive each summer, creating crowds so big that locals are now concerned about the impact on a relatively fragile environment. 

In the blue and white dreamland that is Santorini, it can be extremely difficult to battle the crowds in the streets of Fira – so difficult that locals are leaving in big numbers.

Authorities at Dubrovnik were forced to limit the number of cruise ships allowed to dock each day because of fears that the ancient walled centre of the Croatian city should not have more than 8,000 people at a time. 

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A similar limit on arrivals has been introduced at Barcelona.

Possibly the prettiest body of water in Europe, Lake Bled, doesn’t have cruise ships to worry about, but is still fast becoming a victim of its reputation, with crowds flocking to the beautiful Slovenian town in search of the perfect Instagram shot.

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Some popular beaches across Asia have been closed to allow them to recover from the impact of tourism.

And because of damage to the ruins of Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, the government of Peru has been forced to introduce a daily limit of 2,500 tourists.

While attention focuses on the problems of ever-growing mass tourism numbers, there are numerous examples of travel and hospitality firms taking the lead and introducing excellent sustainability measures.  

From airlines moving to fuel-efficient planes; to cruise companies offering carbon-offset tours and low-emission ships; and hotels reforesting wilderness in Africa, there are many sincere examples.

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However, another downside of mass, packaged tourism is that, although it creates many jobs and brings in export income as a whole, the bulk of money outlaid by tourists goes to the tour companies rather than communities along the way.

Travellers who are journeying by themselves tend to integrate more and leave money in the communities they visit.

It’s hard to see how the current mass tourism model can continue. 

Technology and transport improvements, along with high disposable income in many countries, has made travel more popular than ever. 

But the crushing impact on the world’s most popular destinations is taking an ecological toll that simply cannot last.

Caps, limits and bans will probably just move the problem to a neighbouring harbour.

It has been suggested that an answer may lie in a hefty minimum daily expenditure such as that imposed in Bhutan or a sustainability accreditation scheme like one used in Costa Rica.

These are almost certainly part of the solution, but the most likely answer is a gradual change in community attitudes involving tourists, government, and the travel and hospitality providers. 

 

Features

Now THIS is a real cultural experience

Italy’s Amalfi Coast is a paradise on earth – but, unfortunately, many travellers know only the coastal towns scattered along the Bay of Salerno.

Organised coach tours and cruise ship day-trippers tend to stick to the well-worn tourist trail of Positano, Ravello and perhaps Amalfi, after first visiting nearby Sorrento and the Isle of Capri.

A stroll among the pastel-coloured cliffside houses; everyone photographing the same scenes; a coffee at the beachside cafes; and then back on the coaches.  It’s a scene repeated each day of summer on this incredible slice of heaven.

But less than a stone’s throw from this tourist crush, travellers can experience traditional southern Italy in the ancient hamlets of the Lattari Mountains that rise up behind the coast.

Venture a few kilometres inland to the likes of Scala and Pontone and you encounter a whole new world based on the rhythms of nature and the traditions of old Italy.

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Here, you can wander along trails carved in the Middle Ages and used by mules to transport goods between settlements scattered through the mountains.

It is a landscape dominated by goat farms, lemon, olive and chestnut groves – areas where you can almost hear the noise of the fashionable Costiera Amalfitana, yet be surrounded by nature in an almost alpine environment.

Ancient stone steps carved into the hillsides will carry you from hamlet to hamlet, past farmhouses, churches and the ruins of castles.

In past decades, many of the area’s young people have been forced to seek work in the tourist centres along the coast, leaving the farms to be tended by an ever-ageing generation.

These men and women are known as the ‘Flying farmers’ because of the way they scale the hillsides often using mules or three-wheeled vehicles called ‘Apes’.

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So, if you want a genuine cultural experience off the well-worn tourist trail, the hamlets of the Lattari Mountains serve up ample traditional southern Italian lifestyle. 

You’ll be well rewarded if you step out of the comfort zone and journey instead to the real Italy, where you can experience local culture first hand – rather than just observing.

Follow  our travels on  Instagram at @memorable_destination, @memorable_travels or @memorable-hotels.

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One-way airfares: the dilemma

As more countries crack down on illegal immigration, one-way airfares are becoming a big talking point.

Many travellers were accustomed to flying into countries on a one-way ticket, then buying  a fare for the next leg of their journey later.

Often they needed to show an itinerary or proof of funds in the bank before they were allowed in.

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However one-way fares, increasingly, have come under scrutiny as countries move to prevent people ‘over-staying’.

There have been reports of some airlines refusing to board people with one way tickets to certain countries – and of customs refusing entry on arrival.

This has particularly affected Travel Influencers and digital nomads who are often flown from country to country for years at a time.

A entire industry had grown up offering cheap one-way airfares primarily for these people.

But, as countries cracked down, there were many stories of nomads side-stepping regulations by buying online refundable return tickets — and seeking a refund of the cost as soon as they passed through immigration.

No matter how you look at this practice, in essence, it is misleading – and we wouldn’t do it.

And. it ’s a similar situation with websites like onewayfly.com which appear to charge a fee for renting travellers a return ticket.

We gather that the websites later seek a refund on the ticket.

Personal travel planning Tips