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Monthly Archives: June 2017

Travel 24 hours to Moscow

The name Moscow is used synonymously with the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin, yet the city is so much more than a political city and has plenty to offer visitors.
The beating heart of Russia is a global commercial hub, a cosmopolitan metropolis with 1,000 years of history and more than 10 million inhabitants. It boasts some of the finest hotels in the world, iconic buildings, rich cultural sites, and fine restaurants, so whether you are just passing through in transit, or have a day at leisure between business meetings, be sure to make the most of the most impressive capital city between London and Beijing.
Unlike its sister city St Petersburg, the Venice of the north, few foreign visitors think of coming to Moscow. The Cold War memories of a cold, grey city still linger, but in 2017 they couldn’t be further from reality. Now is the time to immerse yourself in everything Moscow has to offer.
Must Stay
In Moscow, location is everything, and you can’t do better than to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Moscow (read our review), a stone’s throw away from Red Square. An historic hotel where the decor is inspired by the decadence of Imperial Russia, you’ll live like a Tsar in this palace. Superior guest rooms start from £225 at the weekends, and whether you’re treating yourself to fine dining in Novikov Restaurant, relaxing in the spa, or soaking up the stunning views of Red Square from the rooftop O2 Lounge, you’re not going to want to leave.
Must Visit
The Kremlin is Moscow’s fortress and it is the city’s cultural centrepiece as much as a political institution. Inside the vast fortified compound you will find three cathedrals, the Patriarch’s Palace, a church and the bell tower of Ivan the Great, and together these buildings are the holiest sites of Russian Orthodoxy — Moscow’s Vatican, if you like. Exquisite religious frescoes decorate the walls, incense drifts in the air, and every now and then it is possible to hear the sound of devotional plainsong. Here too is the Armoury Chamber with its extraordinary collection of state regalia, gold and silver plate, and jewels. Prepare to stand entranced by the craftsmanship and the wealth, the shear number and variety of sublime artefacts.
Must Be Seen At
The old Red October Chocolate Factory, a converted industrial area on an island in the Moskva River, is the coolest place to be seen. Hipsters working at Digital October, one of the city’s most successful start-up incubators, hang out here, and you can join them for a contemporary art exhibition at Red October Gallery or the Lumiere Brothers Centre for Photography. There’s a bar serving fine wines at the neighbouring Strelka Institute, a creative space hosting open lectures, conferences and film screenings, or you can pop into Urban Kitchen for a drink and a bite to eat.
Must Drink
Forget the stereotypes: Moscow has so much more to offer than vodka, though if that is your tipple of choice, you’ll certainly be in for a treat. The city’s best mixologists are to be found in the O2 Lounge on the rooftop of the Ritz Carlton hotel. Dress to impress so you fit right in, and as you stand on the terrace gazing across the city, you’ll never forget the sight of St Basil’s Cathedral lit up at night.
Must Shop
Catherine II commissioned the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi to build her a neoclassical trade centre after the 1812 fire in Moscow. Today the complex is the GUM Department Store, and you should come here as much to appreciate the impressive metal and glass vaulted ceiling as for the designer stores. The delicatessen displays put even Fortnum and Mason’s to shame, and the shoe and handbag selections may well prompt hysteria.
Must Eat
The Radisson Royal has a flotilla of ice breaker yachts, and every evening you can step aboard for a dinner cruise afloat on the Moskva River. The gourmet menu includes fresh seafood platters, and the hot smoked sturgeon is undoubtedly a culinary highlight.
For authentic contemporary Russian cuisine, prepared with seasonal, organic ingredients from local farms, go to LavkaLavka. Think of it as Moscow’s answer to River Cottage. Our absolutely favourite dish on the menu is the beetroot spelt with porcini mushrooms, though the duck breast with stewed plums, honey, and ginger is also a highlight for your tastebuds.
Must See The View
The 540m high Ostankino TV Tower was the tallest free-standing building in the world until the completion of the CN Tower in 1976. Built to mark the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, this iconic structure is a masterpiece of Soviet engineering and unexpectedly beautiful when it is lit up in many colours at night. The observation deck is open daily until 21.00 and on a clear day you can see right across the city in every direction.
Must Watch
No one should come to Moscow without taking in a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, even if ballet and opera aren’t really your thing. As much as £730 million has been spent on the recent renovation, and yet if you turn up at the box office half an hour before a show, you can still pick up a ticket for as little as £3. Major productions such as Swan Lake and Cosi Fan Tutte are usually staged in the main theatre, but you can also see contemporary works and rehearsals on the New Stage next door.

5 beautiful beaches in Greek Islands

Greece is famous for many things: it’s bright and exuberant culture, a fascinating and complex history, tales of legendary monsters and heros and, of course, its stunning scenery and beaches.

With thousands of islands and a diverse mainland, Greece’s coastline is the 11th largest in the world. Couple that with its hot, but comfortable climate and the glorious Mediterranean sea, and you have ample opportunity for some truly stunning beaches.

While it is impossible to tell you about every beach worth visiting in Greece, there are a few that are simply unmissable.

Navagio, Zante
Probably one of the most famous beaches in Greece, this tucked away gem can be found on the island of Zante – known locally as Zakynthos. Surrounded by steep cliff edges and only reachable via boat, Navagio owes its reputation to a wrecked smugglers’ ship that ran aground in the early 20th century and now sits on its pristine sandy shore. A beautiful place to spend the day, many tour companies also offer boat and beach parties that stop on Navagio; adding a bit of excitement for those after more than just a relaxing afternoon of sunbathing.

Red Beach, Santorini

Found on the volcanic island of Santorini, the Red Beach proves that white sand isn’t a necessary ingredient when it comes to producing a top quality beach. Covered in red and pebbles and backed by tall red clifftops, you can probably guess how this beach got its name. A beautiful and quiet place to unwind, it is the uniquely charming setting of this beach that makes it a place you simply have to experience when visiting Greece.
Elafonissi, Crete
Forget the golden coast of Australia, or the shores of Thailand, if you want a truly tropical beach, head to Elafonissi on the island of Crete. The most southern of the all the major Greek islands, Crete boasts a lot of incredible beauty spots, but none are quite like this one. A long and soft white sandy beach, its coastal waters are very shallow and have the same silky sand resting below the surface; perfect for dipping you feet into. When the sun shines, the water is a gentle and enticing baby blue and at low tide sandbars appear, allowing visitors to walk to the island just off the beaches shore. Here, you’ll find businesses offering straw roofed cabanas, sunbeds and umbrellas right on the water’s edge. Out in a place like this, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d ended up in the Bahamas.
Egremni, Lefkada

You’ll find a number of beaches around Greece with the name paradise sprinkled somewhere in their title, but for a true taste of heaven you’ll want to head for Egremni on Lefkada. A long winding shoreline, backed by towering white cliff tops, Egremni a great example of the perfect traditional Greek beach recipe. Take some pristine sand, bright white and soft on the feet, add turquoise mediterranean waters, clear and warm. Mix together with beautiful rock formations and overhanging trees, then finish with great sunset views. The result? One stunning Egremni Beach.

Sarakiniko, Milos

Located on the gorgeous isle of Milos, Sarakiniko is probably the least beachy beach you’ll ever visit. No sand in sight, instead this coastal area consists of smooth rock formations that glide down towards the glimmering Med. Here, in protected bays, visitors can swim and enjoy the crystal clear waters; sheltered from the winds and currents by the rocks, with great visibility thanks to the lack of sand grains floating around near the surface. An unusual place, the utter uniqueness of this place makes it something rather special. You’ll struggle to find a place like Sarakiniko anywhere else in Europe.

Top Big Museums in Berlin

Berlin is big on museums, with hundreds dotted around the city. The city’s turbulent history is the focus of some of them, while others cover topics from around the world. There’s enough for weeks museum exploration, but when you are short of time go be sure to choose one (or more) of these.

1. Pergamon Museum

The Pergamon is one of the five museums that make up Museum Island, and is the most visited museum in Germany. It has relics and artefacts from around the ancient world, including parts of ancient cities, dug up and brought over to Berlin. The Pergamon Altar, which gives the museum its name, is probably the most famous artefact on show – an enormous 2,200-year old stone altar, with a detailed frieze depicting a battle between giants and gods. The Ishtar Gate from ancient Babylon is also fascinating to see, as are the Mshatta Facade from today’s Jordan. The Pergamon also houses the Islamic Art Museum, as well as many smaller collections of ancient artefacts.

Entry: 12 euro (18 euro gets you in to all the museums on Museum Island). 
Free for children under 18. 
10am – 6pm, closed on Mondays. 
Included with Berlin Pass.

2. Topography of Terror

Germany is fairly open about confronting its difficult past, and the Topography of Terror Museum, housed in a former Gestapo HQ, tries to put that past into words and exhibitions. The museum covers the period from the rise of the Nazi party in 1933, to the end of World War II and the division of Berlin. The exhibitions combine personal stories with Nazi propaganda and descriptions of their crimes. The museum also holds the longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall, and describes life in the city during that time. The museum isn’t pleasant, and isn’t meant to be: it shows the darkest parts of Berlin’s history, so that they won’t be forgotten.

Entry: The museum is free, and open from 10am to 10pm.

3. Jewish Museum

Berlin’s Jewish Museum tells the story of 2,000 years of Jewish life in Germany. It focuses on the complex relationship between Jews and Germans over the centuries. The extensive exhibitions describe the pogroms, discrimination and expulsions, as well as Jewish involvement in the wider community and the German-Jewish Enlightenment movement, which started in Berlin and left its mark on Judaism ever since. The museum’s jagged modernist design gives a sense of discord and disorientation, with three underground tunnels, or ‘axes’, guiding visitors through different exhibitions, and an inaccessible void in between them. Menashe Kaddishman’s installation, ‘Falling Leaves’, is dedicated to all victims of war and violence.

Entry: 7 Euro. 10am - 8pm (until 10pm on Monday). 
Included with Berlin Pass.

4. DDR Museum

We often picture the Berlin Wall from the west, with the iconic images of Western leaders and artists speaking out against it, and its eventual fall in 1989. The DDR Museum is an interactive museum dedicated to recreating life in communist East Germany. For local children and visitors from the West, it’s a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life in East Berlin: queuing for food, spying on neighbors, prisoner interrogations and communist propaganda. A visit to the museum is a nice peek into the past, and raises as many questions as it answers.

Entry: 6 Euro. Daily, 10am – 8pm.

Seven of the most beautiful gardens in world

If you missed the Chelsea Flower Show and are still looking for inspiration for your garden help is at hand. We pick out seven fabulous gardens that you can weave into your next holiday.

1. Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France

It’s unlikely that any other garden will have been painted as often as Monet’s in the small French town of Giverny. Some of his most famous works were of this garden. The landscape includes archways of climbing plants and coloured shrubs, the water garden, a Japanese bridge and the water lily pond as well as beautiful patches of wisteria and azaleas.

2. Villa Lante, Rome, Italy

These gardens are the work of Cardinal Gambara whose love of outdoor living and eating al fresco was the inspiration for creating these gorgeous gardens. It is a Mannerist garden designed to surprise and comprises a harmonious choreography of cascades, fountains and dripping grottoes achieved by Tommaso Ghinucci, a hydraulics engineer.

3. Château de Versailles, near Paris, France

The grand home of Louis XIV and its exquisite Versailles gardens are nothing short of decadent. The gardens sprawl over 800 hectares of land landscaped by Andre Le Notre in the classic French garden style.

4. Sanssouci Palace Gardens, Berlin, Germany

Surrounding the former summer palace of the King of Prussia, Frederik the Great in Potsdam, these grounds are splayed out in an intimate baroque style. The king was inspired by Versailles and wanted to compete. The terraces have low grapevines and niches planted with fig trees. The lower levels have the fountains, statues, ornamental gardens and panterres and the borders are planted with a mix of colours and textures of perennials giving a lively, informal look.

5. The Majorell Garden, Marrakech, Morocco

This two-and-a-half acre botanical garden was created by French artist Jacques Majorelle in 1924. Much loved by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, they bought it in 1980. The garden has 300 plant and flower species including cacti and exotic plants, ponds, streams and fountains.

6. Kew Gardens, London, England

Kew may well be the world’s most famous botanic garden. The breathtaking landscapes and the and iconic glasshouses full of rare and beautiful plants are part of the appeal. But on the grounds there are also historic buildings, botanical art galleries and the soaring treetop walkway.

7. Bahai Gardens, Haifa, Israel

From Mount Carmel you can marvel at the botanic vision stretching downward. There are six hundred cream-hued steps through nineteen monumental water-featured gardens that cascade over the north side of the mountain, each perfectly symmetrical, with clean flower bed lines, brightly coloured shrubs and green, green lawns to die for. The tenth garden frames a colonnade and a golden domed shrine and beyond the shrine a further nine stunning gardens tumble neatly to street level.