How to find best hotel in cuba

With the relaxation of certain parts of the US’s trade embargo, American hotels are moving into Cuba for the first time since 1959. Starwood has agreed a deal to rebrand two hotels in Havana, and signed a letter of intent to convert a third; Marriott has received the green light from the US government to begin operations on the island; will launch Cuba hotels soon; and AirBnB has just announced that the whole world – not just Americans – can now book its Cuba listings.

But while these global brands are moving in, Cuba still offers authenticity: check out our selection of off-the-beaten-track B&Bs (casas particulares), and other accommodation across the island.

Waterfalls and spit roasts, near Trinidad

High above the shimmering Caribbean sea in south-central Cuba, protected by peach and avocado trees, is invitingly rustic Ecoalojamiento El Manantial in the mountain resort of Topes de Collantes, with four rooms, its own natural pool for swimming and a tasty line in spit-roast pig lunch cooked by owners Oscar and Aray. Relax in the gardens and enjoy the spell-binding vista from the look-out. Topes de Collantes is in a nature reserve of the same name, a great spot to savour the high-altitude cool air and nearby waterfalls.

Rooms CUC$25 (around £17), Carretera Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, +53 42 541325, on Facebook

Snorkelling and cinnamon piña coladas, Arcos de Canasí

MontECOrales is a three-roomed countryside casita, 300 metres from the sea and surrounded by fruit gardens with a natural pool and barbecue. Natacha Fábregas’ funky little haven in Arcos de Canasí is only an hour east of Havana. Natacha barbecues seafood, bought from the fishermen down the road, and makes cinnamon-spiked piña coladas. Snorkel out to sea through the Canasí river mouth, jump into azure coves, hike the hills, explore a cave where huge Cuban boas live, and talk into the cocktail-fuelled night with gregarious Natacha and friends.
Rooms £17 a night, three meals a day £10pp, Vía Blanca km65, Mayabeque, +53 7205 9015,

Bay watching, Playa Blanca, Gibara

The new one-room Bayview B&B has a four-poster bed and its own private sliver of honey-hued sand with a thatched umbrella and a plunge pool facing the 19th-century fishing port of Gibara, in Cuba’s far east. Kick back with a cold Cristal beer while admiring the view of Silla de Gibara hill – sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1492 – or explore the sparkling white sands of Playa Blanca. Take the ferry across the bay of Gibara to San Antonio, a cluster of homes amid Taíno archaeological sites. Gibara is known for its Cine Pobre film festival(
£17 a night, +53 24 424216,

Rustic retreat, Jovellanos

Sheltered in gardens of avocado, coconut, guava and cashew trees, Finca Luna, in untouristy Jovellanos (30 minutes south of Varadero, Cuba’s biggest beach resort), is a relaxing, arty escape. It’s run by potters Nancy Rodríguez and Luis Correa, whose ceramics adorn the place, and visitors can try their hand at the wheel before taking a dip in the pool and tucking into a barbecue and a beer in the garden. En route to Luna, call in at Finca Coincidencia in Coliseo, a permaculture farm and sculpture workshop run by Luis’s brother.
Rooms from £21 B&B, Avenida 10 final, +53 45 813986,

Arty summer house, Soroa

Amid a riot of colourful flowers and bushes, Casa Estudio de Arte is a family home in the western mountains, ideal for escaping the summer heat of Havana. The two bedrooms are set in the lush gardens of the family home, less than an hour south-west of the capital. The rural B&B is run by a charming Spanish teacher, Aliuska, and her artist husband, Jesús Gastell Soto, whose home peers out over the royal palm tree-peppered mountains of the Sierra del Rosario. Enjoy Soroa’s orchid garden, waterfall and Castle in the Clouds before dining on Aliuska’s cooking in her orchid-festooned garden.
Rooms from £17, Carretera Soroa Km8.5 +53 5 3995091, on Facebook

Concrete jungle, Topes de Collantes national park

Kurhotel Escambray, 12 miles north of Trinidad, is one helluva of a kooky spot to spend the night. A former tuberculosis sanatorium built in art-deco-ish monumental style between 1937 and 1957, the eight-story concrete building sits 800m above sea level in the Topes de Collantes nature reserve. It’s a no-frills, state-run hotel, with even fewer frills if you book in for the weight-loss programmes – one of the medical treatments on offer at Kurhotel. On the plus side visitors might prefer to lose weight on the nearby Topes jungle walks, while also enjoying waterfalls, the hotel’s delicious mountain coffee and the 1980s Cuban art on its walls.
Rooms from £43, +53 42 540 180,

Fidel’s fiefdom, Sierra Maestra mountains

The best thing about Casa Sierra Maestra is the riverside location and the creole food. Santo Domingo is a remote village in the Sierra Maestra mountains in eastern Cuba, the starting point for a trek to La Comandancia de la Plata, the camp established by Fidel Castro in 1958 after a year on the run. The B&B’s food, especially the cerdo asado en púa (spit-roast pork) will power you along the rebels’ jungle route – and owner Ulises will have icy mojitos ready for your return at his alfresco bar overlooking the river Yara. Walks up the stony river bed to swim in river pools (outside the rainy season) are a boon for weary travellers.
Rooms from £17, Santo Domingo,+53 23 564491, and on Facebook

Beside the seaside, near Cayo Levisa

Cayo Levisa, a tropical island of butter-soft sand fringed by palm trees has an eponymous, government-run hotel with some beautiful high-spec rooms and hammocks floating in the breeze – but the food is abysmal. For a fraction of the price, Casa Mario & Antonia, a cute blue-and-white farmstead in Palma Rubia on the “mainland”, is a steal. Rooms are basic but Antonia’s bountiful platters of food, coffee and warm welcome make up for that. You can get a day pass to Cayo Levisa for £24, including the ferry over, lunch, a drink and a welcome cocktail.
Rooms from £17, Calle Palma Rubia, +53 5228 3067,

Roll your own cigar, Vuelta Abajo

Staying at La Finca Quemado del Rubi offers a rare chance to see up close the craft of caring for the intensely deep green leaves of the tobacco plant (nicotiana tabacum). The farm belonging to Hector Luis Prieto Díaz, which is said to produce some of the world’s most sought-after cigars, is in Vuelta Abajo,140km from Havana and close to western Cuba’s stunning Viñales valley. Hector Luis rents out one pretty blue-and-white clapboard casita close to the San Sebastían river, which runs through his farm, and overlooks the plantation. Get to work with Hector on learning to craft your own cigar before relaxing with a stogie and a mojito on your tobacco field terrace.

A Guide to Find Great Camping Place

South America is all about the freedom of the great outdoors. That’s what we have been embracing during a 1,500-day, 44,000-mile campervan trip that’s taken my husband Jeremy and I to hundreds of camping spots from Colombia’s Caribbean coast through deserts and plains, around volcanoes and over the Andes down to the continent’s most southerly tip: winwhipped Tierra del Fuego.

We’ve woken up on tranquil beaches, beside sparkling highland lakes, at the foot of snowy mountains and in plenty of petrol stations. In four years we’ve learned a thing or two about camping and living with the elements, from hot and bug-infested to downright freezing … and we have never felt more free.

Camping map, South America

South America may not be as well-known for camping as Europe or North America, but the continent is rich with opportunities for a camping holiday of any duration. Whether you’re backpacking with a tent, or hiring a car or motorhome, here are a few tips and our favourite discoveries for unforgettable nights under the stars.
• Unless stated, campsites are open all year and reservations are not required. Tent hire is available at some sites. Prices rounded to the nearest pound.

Camping in the Tayrona national park, on Colombia’s spectacular Caribbean coast.
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Camping in the Tayrona national park, on Colombia’s spectacular Caribbean coast. Photograph: Alamy
Tourism in Colombia is increasing as the country has become safer, and camping has recently been embraced in a big way. Good coastal spots for camping include the area around Palomino and the Tayrona national park on the Caribbean coast, east of Cartagena. The Andes region and coffee country are also attractive places to pitch up. Vehicle hire is not common though, and driving conditions can be on the hairy side.

Desert camping, Villavieja
Colombia’s Tatacoa Desert takes sleeping under the stars to a whole new level. Camp out, rustic-style, at the Observatorio Astronómico de la Tatacoa, 4km east of Villavieja. It’s also possible to wild camp or pitch up alongside cabins or restaurants – look for camping signs. Once the sun has set – an extraordinary sight in itself as the rock formations turn pink – it’s eyes upwards to take in the stars.

Finca San Pedro, Sogamoso, Boyacá
The English-speaking owner of this pretty farm well off the beaten track runs Agama yoga courses and organises hikes to see the unique flora of the Andes’ Páramo de Ocetá, a landscape that only exists in high mountains in tropical areas.
• Pitches from £2 per head, £5 to hire tent or hammock, inc breakfast, reservations preferred,

La Serrana Hostel, Salento, Quindío
To the south of the huge Nevado del Ruiz volcano is this hostel-camping combo with great relaxation areas, overlooking green pastures. La Serrana offers coffee tours and has easy access to hiking the Cocora Valley, which has phenomenally tall wax palm trees.
• Pitches £4pp inc breakfast, glamping tents from £16 for two, reservations preferred

Hacienda Venecia, Manizales, Caldas
This site, also in coffee country in central western Colombia, is close to the verdant Los Nevados national park and ticks lots of boxes. It’s a working coffee finca, has Wi-Fi, a swimming pool and drinkable tap water. Fascinating coffee tours and tasty meals available, too.
• Pitches from £4pp, reservations required,

A view of Imbabura volcano from Rose Cottage.

A view of Imbabura volcano from Rose Cottage. Photograph: Paula Dear
There are a number of superb campsites in the country, including in its network of national parks and reserves, and along the Pacific coast. There are even a few designated camping areas on the Galapagos Islands. Decent main roads make it more attractive for vehicle hire than neighbouring countries.

Rose Cottage, Mojandita, Otavalo
As the name might suggest, this Andean resting spot is part-British owned, which also shows in the country-garden flowers and cutesy cabins. The hammocks, with views of multiple volcanoes, are undeniably more Ecuador than England though. It’s a 3km walk to the northern Ecuadorian town of Otavalo, with its famous craft market and Saturday animal fair, where some vendors trade guinea pigs to eat. Quito is two hours’ drive to the south.
• Pitches from £7pp, reservations preferred,

Tambopaxi, Cotopaxi national park
There can be few more dramatic places to camp than beneath one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes. This hostel and campsite has a privileged position at the foot of 5,897-metre Cotopaxi, a perfect snow-cone surrounded by Andean grasslands. Prepare for chilly nights – the fact it’s almost on the equator is outweighed by the camping ground’s altitude of almost 4,000 metres. Beyond Tambopaxi the national park has several rustic, but free, designated camping areas, but visitors should ensure they arrive before the national park entrance closes at 3pm. The park is two hours’ drive south of Quito.
• Pitches from £9pp inc breakfast,, reservation required
Camping in Bolivia is still a low key affair but there’s a growing network of quality sites in popular areas such as Sorata, Samaipata, Coroico and La Paz. Elsewhere, it’s possible to get creative by asking to stay in the gardens of out-of-town restaurants or hotels. Wild camping is common around the other-wordly salt flats and lakes of the altiplano in the Andean south-west and the Jesuit mission towns of the eastern lowlands. In the highlands, allow time for acclimatising to the altitude and prepare for potentially cold, windy weather. Vehicle hire for foreigners is not common.

Sol y Luna Eco-Lodge, Coroico, Yungas
This is a tranquil resting spot in a sub-tropical cloud forest near the bottom of Bolivia’s infamous “Death Road” – otherwise known as the Yungas Road, which claimed scores of lives annually until new sections were opened in 2006, bypassing the dangerous stretches. Following the trails through the campsite’s huge garden is a fascinating wander in itself, especially for birders. The garden camping area is near one of two swimming pools, and the site boasts a restaurant, Wi-Fi, yoga and meditation room. It’s just under three hours’ drive from La Paz.
• Pitches from £5pp, camping often closed during the Jan-Apr rainy season, reservations preferred,

Colibri Camping, Mallasa, La Paz
Perched high above a river valley with incredible views, this is a friendly British/Bolivian-owned outfit in a village with a rural feel. It’s close to the Valley of the Moon and 30 minutes from La Paz. Cooking classes, horse-riding and language lessons are available. There’s an outdoor kitchen and hot-tub, plus teepees and a cabin for glamping.

Visit in Manchester City Tips

When MP Andy Burnham announced his bid to become Labour’s Manchester mayoral candidate, his opinion on the city’s music scene was curiously downbeat. “The Manchester of my youth was the most vibrant place when it came to music. We’ve maybe lost a little bit of that,” he told the Guardian.

It is a view that many share – not just out-of-touch fortysomething politicians. From the film 24 Hour Party People to the recent Stone Roses’ stadium gigs in the city, it can feel, certainly from a distance, that Manchester is now permanently mired in Madchester nostalgia.

It does not help that few of the stories emanating from modern Manchester are of wild sub-cultural creativity. Instead, nationally, the city is perceived through regeneration projects such as Spinningfields – a kind of toy-town Canary Wharf – or the race among the city’s restaurants to bag a Michelin star – an example of the kind of establishment validation Manchester once scorned.

Yet, beneath all that glitter, independent, left-field Manchester is thriving. The underground club scene is as vibrant as it has been in 20 years and, musically, there is a huge diversity of interesting work being made here – from the internationally renowned techno label Modern Love or Manc grime MC Bugzy Malone to Liz Preston’s gorgeous looped-cello folk. The same is true in other fields. As well as headline-grabbing arts developments such as HOME and the newWhitworth Art Gallery, several small, artist-run galleries and studio-event spaces are giving the arts scene new life. The city’s railway arches house an extraordinary concentration of innovative breweries and, even among the city centre’s restaurants (where, too often, money talks and creativity walks), a hardcore of indies continues to defy the odds and serve incredible food.

In short, Manchester’s stubborn DIY spirit is undimmed. This is still a creative city. Here is a selection of that activity.


Soup Kitchen

Manchester’s once “alternative” Northern Quarter is increasingly besieged by hen dos and identikit bars, but Soup Kitchen remains defiantly left-field. Upstairs in the bar, you might find anyone from electro-punks Trash-O-Rama to Manchester techno outliers Space Afrika, DJing into the small hours. Downstairs, in the grimy basement, there are gigs early doors (anything from the latest psych weirdos to alt pop star Jessy Lanza), before the club nights kick in. Outside of dancehall and grime party, Swing Ting, expect a rolling programme of the sharpest names in US/European house and techno. “Speakers hanging from chains, walls blasted with sweat, that small, amazing dance floor. It’s my favourite city-centre venue,” says Thomas Ragsdale from the band Worriedaboutsatan (see playlist below, and playing The Castle on 9 August).
31-33 Spear Street,


Like Antwerp Mansion (a gloriously ramshackle Victorian villa in Rusholme, and Mantra in Ancoats (, Hidden is, almost literally, hidden on the edge of the city centre. A rough-edged, industrial space in an off-grid location, it attracts a self-selecting group of dedicated clubbers to nights that might include a showcase by sprawling Manc bass collective Levelz, or slots from Berlin-based techno titans such as Levon Vincent. “Purpose-built clubs seem so sterile now, whereas on the outskirts you can find these raw spaces full of like-minded souls. That has struck a chord,” says Homoelectric DJ and promoter Jamie Bull.
17 Mary Street,

Night & Day Café

It may look like a 1990s cafe-bar but, after dark, Night & Day is – along with theRuby Lounge – one of the few city-centre venues still pushing new local bands. It’s a stalwart indie venue but an important one, says Blossoms’ bassist Chaz Salt. “It has served as a live stronghold for a hatful of great bands over the past 25 years. We love the fact that it’s escaped closure and that, strangely, it used to be a chippy.”
26 Oldham Street,

Islington Mill

On the city centre’s border with Salford, the Mill is both an important complex of creative studios and gallery space. “It’s the mothership of Salford’s burgeoning grassroots arts ecology,” says Buy Art Fair’s Thom Hetherington, and a late-night-into-next-day rave space, where things get seriously strange, both on- and off-stage. “I’ve had brilliant nights here,” says Ragsdale, who is also half of electronic duo Worriedaboutsatan. “It’s incredibly welcoming and I love how, one week, you can see intense experimental hip-hop like Dälek and the next hazy dub techno.”

Tips to visit in Edinburgh

It is easy to visit Edinburgh and feel you have not got under its skin. During the festival you are more likely to meet Oxbridge students doing satirical street theatre than locals and, even outside of that jamboree, this visitor-oriented city maintains an unreal air. Edinburgh can feel like an improbably handsome stage set where, from Michelin-star restaurants to smart museums, high-quality leisure activities abound at the expense of less commercial, distinctive creativity. Where is the real Edinburgh? Does it even exist? Well, yes, if you know where to look.

There are locals who complain that, even in the arts, Edinburgh is too complacently bourgeois. Music, they sigh, suffers particularly. But tell that to hip-hop trio Young Fathers, who have railed against what they described to the Guardian as: “A city for tourists and rich, middle-class people.” Similarly, a core of small, idiosyncratic Edinburgh labels such as Song, By Toad, Gerry Loves Records and Firecracker are putting out innovative, off-beam music here, despite a dearth of music venues (OTT local noise restrictions are often blamed for that). A network of clubs persist, however, supporting a tight-knit local scene that – this is Scotland, remember – knows how to party, as veterans of the seasonal Nightvision events will tell you.

Finding space to pursue quieter creativity is less problematic, in a city where every publican recognises the value of offering not just pints, but poetry or theatre nights, too. This is a city of ingrained creativity, particularly in the visual arts, and grassroots activity blossoms even in the shadows of the big, publicly funded institutions.

And when it comes to food and drink, all those tourists are a boon – a weight of numbers that means cutting-edge restaurants and bars generally find an audience. In grub and booze, there is always something happening in Edinburgh.


Sneaky Pete’s

This loud, boisterous box holds just 100 people but it is essential to Edinburgh’s underground. It hosts live gigs and club nights and encompasses everything from psych-folk to brute techno. “It’s one of the few places that still has that anarchic, 1990s basement feel to it,” says Lindsay Todd, whose left-field house label, Firecracker, runs a bi-monthly night here. “It’s intimate, it has a friendly, knowledgeable crowd, and the guy that runs it, Nick Stewart, is really passionate.”
73 Cowgate, 0131-225 1757,

The Dissection Room

A one-time veterinary college, Summerhall is now a creative fulcrum housing artists’ studios, galleries, a brewery and a gin distillery. The Dissection Room, a gig space mainly used by touring bands, is booked by Summerhall’s team, under the ironic banner Nothing Ever Happens Here.
1 Summerhall, 0131-560 1581,

The Jazz Bar

Despite its name and its candlelit tables, this basement jazz bar is full of musical surprises. “It’s one of my faves,” says DJ Eclair Fifi, an Edinburgh native and key member of the LuckyMe collective, a record label and design studio. “I love popping in for a malt whisky and not knowing what you’re going to get. I’ve seen free jazz there, brass bands, also Moodymann playing live.”
1a Chambers Street, 0131-220 4298,

The Mash House

At this refuge for discerning clubbers and gig-goers, look out for No Strings Attached parties, with guests such as Optimo and Andrew Weatherall, and events by the roving Braw Gigs, who push experimental music of all stripes. “You can maybe fit 300 in there and, these days, the smaller the venue, the better the vibe,” says Todd.
37 Guthrie Street, 0131-220 2514,

The Banshee Labyrinth

Relax. Any blood-curdling screams you hear in “Scotland’s most haunted nightclub” will probably come from a thrash metal band or some experimental noise act’s malfunctioning hardware. These vaults contain seven rooms wherein regular punk and metal nights are accompanied by (free) cult cinema screenings and occasional off-the-wall electronic gigs. Says Todd: “It’s a real punky dive, and when it goes off, it’s a great little vibe.”

Top London clubs that you should to visit

Village underground shoreditch

“The tube carriages on the roof; the ever-changing mural on the wall outside; the exposed brickwork and giant skylights; that green room. There are several features that make Village Underground one of the capital’s most distinctive spaces. Of course, there are some venues where ‘charm’ or ‘character’ (grot, basically) prevail over the alcohol company-sponsored, homogenised hegemony of nightclubs all over the planet. But VU is neither – salubrious yet louche. The team that runs the place are perhaps the nicest, warmest family of people behind any venue in this city, and in my opinion, the security team there is the best; the iron fist in the velvet glove, correctly executed. But for me, it’s about the people who go there. It’s a beautifully colourful cross-section of London’s revelling tribes: hipsters, fashionistas, voguers, goths, privates, choisers, geriatrics, Zoroastrians, Beliebers … all are welcome, and ostensibly, all attend. This eclectic roll call reflects the venue’s programming. A little something for everyone in a time when it is vital for our nightclubs to offer more.”
Ajay Jayaram is co-founder of London event series The Hydra

Corsica Studios, Elephant and Castle

“Corsica Studios has to be the best club in London: it showcases world-class artists in two (sometimes three) contrasting rooms on an incredible Funktion-One sound system. It’s the only place I’ve always kept going to for all the time I’ve lived here. There’s a broad crowd that goes, but the common theme is that everyone has a passion for music. Room one is my favourite booth to play. You feel like you’re in a treehouse overlooking people’s heads and seeing arms punch the air, but I’ve had my best dancefloor experiences in the darker, murkier room two. It’s intimate and moody and feels like you’re at a wicked house party when it really gets going. The smoking area deserves a mention as it’s a complete vibe! You pop out for a bit of air and end up bumping into loads of friendly faces. I’ve caught blinding sets from Dynamo Dreesen, Veronica Vasicka, Lee Gamble, Mick Wills and more recently Jlin there, and Kyle Hall’s album launch party in 2013 was a highlight. I remember charging around with my mates to electrifying music and feeling pure elation. Bonds were definitely strengthened that night. I’m back at Corsica Studios next month, playing for the Discwoman x Find Me In The Dark collaboration; it’s going to be special.”
DEBONAIR is a DJ and hosts a bi-weekly show on NTS Radio,,

“I like a club to be dark, kitsch and naughty, and Metropolis has all of that in abundance. It’s in unassuming Bethnal Green; strippers gyrate for businessmen amid the neon lights Mondays through Thursdays, then on Fridays and Saturdays it transforms into a gay club. The girls are replaced by bearded drag queens in jockstraps on the poles. Saturdays is the disco night Savage, the crowd is the coolest you’ll find in London. The line down the street makes it the modern equivalent of Studio 54 and inside it looks like a sweaty music video. It’s a three-storey pumping pleasure palace where every room is themed. There’s even a beach on the top floor with cabanas and real sand – try finding that in a club anywhere else. In a city where money talks and the conversation can be so bland, this place serves up the craziest nights out.”
Jodie Harsh is a DJ, producer and promoter

Pickle Factory, Bethnal Green

“Our favourite place to play at the moment is the Pickle Factory, where we hold our monthly All Night Long parties. It’s an intimate, 200-capacity venue, with a killer D&B sound system, great staff and all the right components to create a special atmosphere. The layout has the right balance, so that there’s always a great connection with the crowd. We seem to attract quite a few ‘heads’ there too, that are keen to hear us dig deeper and hear some of the more obscure records in our collection that you are bound to dust off for a long set.”
James Priestley and Giles Smith are the founders of Secretsundaze, which celebrates its 15th birthday this year,

Bloc, Hackney Wick

“I’m a big fan of this place. It has a capacity of around 500, has a big square dancefloor and is out of the way enough for it to have become a destination dance – so everyone in the building is there for the right reasons. The sound is great, staff and security are lovely and its bookings are fantastic. Ostgut Ton, Body Hammer, Trilogy Tapes have all thrown parties there, and to declare an interest – I also run a sporadic gay rave called Chapter 10 at Bloc. One thing that makes the club work for me, is that there’s a window on the dancefloor that frames Anish Kapoor’s Olympic sculpture – just across the river Lea behind it – which adds nice sunrise drama.”
Dan Beaumont is a DJ and co-founder of Dalston Superstore and Voodoo Rays

Brilliant Corners, Dalston

“Brilliant Corners is more of a listening experience than a club, but it’s a lovely one. An impressive roll call of selectors play vinyl-only, in a well-attenuated room on an old analogue sound system and through vintage Klipschorn speakers. Last time I was there Ade Fakile was spinning records. There are similarities between Plastic People and Brilliant Corners: the intrepid programming, the darkened dancefloor and cocoon-like quality to the space – and that night it truly felt like the Plastic People legacy lived on. One of the best things about Brilliant Corners is that it always seems to be packed when you want it to be, but there’s always room to pull up a stool at the bar and nurse one of its natural cocktails. That and its fine Japanese food selection. One of the few places in London I wish I’d opened myself.”
Jordan Gross, owner of Oval Space and The Pickle Factory

Bussey Building/Rye Wax, Peckham

“Bussey Building and Rye Wax (below it) in Peckham are my joint favourites. The Bussey Building, tucked away down an alleyway off Rye Lane is an old warehouse that has become the creative hub of south London. It recently came under threat from building development next door but the community came together and the developers withdrew the application – unprecedented in an age of clubs closing down (Power Lunches, Dance Tunnel). It shows just how important it is to the local area. It doesn’t just hold parties either: it plays host to workshops, theatre and cinema. It has also hosted legends such as the Egyptian Lover and Lee Bannon; the latter played obscure music as his alias Dedekind Cut at ‘As Below, So Above’. That particular night sees Rye Wax DJs team up with propulsive promotor types to ‘take you on a series of ‘journeys’ across many sonic soundscapes’. Rye Wax is one of the few small venues left in London where you can hear truly exciting music made by people who live around the corner or across the globe. It’s seen some of the most important parties in London, such as new wave of grime enthusiasts Boxed and SIREN – the all-female techno crew. Last time I DJd for Converge they let me pick the lighting too – neon pink Drive vibes, obvs. The bouncers deserve an honourable mention for being amazingly friendly – it’s not often you get waltzed around the stage by a bouncer during Ce Ce Rogers Someday at 4am.”

Top beaches that you should to visit

Source d’argent, seychlles

As if a beach like this needed any enhancement, pink-hued sand ups the ante in the picture-postcard stakes at Source d’Argent, a secluded cove on La Digue, the Seychelles’ third-largest island (in an archipelago of 115). Huge, weathered granite boulders bookend the shore, and there are nearby restaurants for sampling Creole-inspired cuisine.
Airbnb has 33 pads rented as a whole property on La Digue, including lovely Holzveranda (£120 a night for four, in a tropical garden

Dune du Pyla, France

This beach is Europe’s tallest dune at over 100 metres. It’s an hour’s drive from Bordeaux and is literally dazzling. You will shield your eyes as much from the shimmering heat haze as the pristine sand. After you’ve taken in the panoramic views over the Atlantic and pine forests behind, there are miles of beaches to explore along the Bassin d’Arcachon. Take a ferry from Arcachon pier to Cap Ferret for the best view of the dune. To eat, head to the oyster cabanes, where fishermen set up tables and serve oysters, prawns, paté, bread and rosé wine.
Panorama du Pyla campsite ( has pitches from €18 a night for two, wooden bungalows for four from €30 a night

3 Shoal Bay, Antigua

Icing-sugar sand, 3km of it, crystal-clear Caribbean water, off-shore coral reef with spectacular snorkelling or diving, a smattering of bars and open-air restaurants … job done! This stretch on the east of the fun yachtie island, near Dickenson Bay town, is quieter than nearby Jabberwock beach.
Dutchman’s Bay Cottages (doubles from $140) has seven options with verandas right by this eponymous beach
Get off your sun lounger – Antigua’s active side

Cala Saona, Formentera

There is no shortage of beautiful beaches on the smallest of the Balearics but everybody seems to want to cram on to Illetes and Espalmador. Much better to hire a bike or moped in the main port, La Savina, and head a few kilometres across the island to Cala Saona. It has perfectly clear water, white sand and dramatic red cliffs on both sides. It faces west, so is the ideal spot for a sundowner at, say, the charmingly simple Cala Saona chiringuito.
Ferries to Formentera (30 minutes) run frequently from Ibiza Town for about €50 return. For a treat, stay at the cool, modern Cala Saona Hotel (summer doubles from €280 B&B)

5 Glass Beach, California

A beach made from years of dumped litter sounds like a hellhole but, at Glass beach, on the Mendocino coast in California, the result is quite beautiful. From 1906 to 1967, glass, appliances and even vehicles were chucked into the sea. A clean-up programme removed all the metal and non-biodegradable waste, and the waves broke down the glass and pottery, which washed up as jewel-like, translucent stones. Nowadays, the beach is part of MacKerricher state park, and visitors are forbidden for removing the sea-glass baubles.
Beachcomber Motel and Spa has doubles from $119 B&B
Top 10 beaches in California and the Pacific Northwest

Starfish Beach, Panama

Panama has three archipelagos: San Blas is pricey to get to, the Pearl Islands are pricey to stay on, but Bocas del Toro, just south of Costa Rica on the Caribbean side, puts virgin beach utopia within a backpacker budget. From the funky town hub of Bocas on Isla Colón, boat taxis cross between the 10 inhabited islands and some 300 islands and islets, although this protected beach, gloriously decorated with a liberal smattering of starfish, is on Colón itself.
Palmar Tent Lodge (tent dorm bed $13.50, doubles from $50,

Fakistra, Greece

More of a cove than a beach, backed by cliffs and dense woods, with white sands and pebbles and clear blue waters – is Fakistra on the Pelion peninsula (mainland Greece), below Tsagarada village. It’s a steep walk down but it’s the sort of place that, apart from in July and August, you may well have to yourself.
The Architect’s House (sleeps 12, from €290 a night,
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Flamenco Beach, Puerto Rico

If asked to design the perfect tropical beach, Playa Flamenco on Culebra island, off the east coast of Puerto Rico, is probably what you would come up with. It’s a U-shaped cove with white sand, warm turquoise water, palm trees, lush vegetation and a peaceful lagoon. The island’s undeveloped state is partly thanks to the US military, which used to use it as a gunnery range – a rusting Sherman tank remains in the middle of the sand. It makes a day trip by ferry from Fajardo on the Puerto Rico mainland ($4.50 return): a shuttle bus runs from the ferry port. Culebra has an excellent government-run campsite right on the sand at the western side of the bay. It’s quite basic, with showers open only three hours a day, but pitch your tent under mangroves ($20 for up to six people), stock up on water, pina coladas and local snacks (comida criolla) and you may never want to leave. If you do, though, there are bikes to hire.
The solitary beauty of Vieques island, Puerto Ric

Koh Kradan, Thailand

Choosing the best beach in Thailand is a near impossible task. But one Thai island that’s still relatively peaceful is Koh Kradan, near busier Koh Lipe, in the Andaman Sea. With powdery sand, excellent snorkelling on a reef just off the beach, hammocks and crystal-clear water, it would suit those who don’t want to drink buckets of spirits under a full moon. You can kayak round the whole island – 90% of which is part of Hat Chao Mai national park – in three hours to more isolated spots, and take longtail boat trips to Ko Waen, Ko Chueak and Ko Muk’s Emerald Cave.
Paradise Lost (dorm bed from £4.80, basic bungalows from £14,; Reef Resort (doubles from £78,
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Playa del Amor (Hidden Beach), Mexico

An underground beach sounds like the stuff of legend, but the Marietas Islands, where Hidden Beach lies, were used as a military testing ground by the Mexican government in the early 1900s, and it’s suspected that a bomb may have created the crater in which it sits. Access to this crescent within a gaping circular hole in the landscape, is by swimming or kayaking through a long tunnel. Many operators run boat trips here from Puerto Vallarta ($76 with, but the sea is rough and you have to swim in beside treacherous rocks. But it’s stunning – Jacques Cousteau was a fan – with the bonus of possibly spotting a humpback whale on the way.

Tips when you visit in Athens city

What to do

Benaki Museum, Pireos Street
It would be criminal to come to Athens and miss the Acropolis but visitors who stick only to the city’s ancient past are missing out. Part of the excellent Benaki art and design museum, which sprawls across seven sites, the Pireos Street gallery is a forbidding pink cube in the warehouse district of Gazi that hosts some of Athens’ best contemporary art exhibitions. It is particularly popular on weekend evenings, when it closes at 10pm.
138 Pireos Street, Open Thurs-Sun 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10pm. Admission €6

Athens Central Market
While London and Paris have converted their historic markets into tourist traps and shopping malls, Athens’ glorious Central Market is just as it’s been for decades. The sheer variety of fish and meat on sale in its grand, slippery-floored arcades is a sight in itself, but it’s also a good place to buy whole spices, cheese and olive oil. Four fine no-frills restaurants dole out tripe soup, supposedly a hangover cure.
Athinas Street, Mon-Sat 8am-6pm

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery
One of Greece’s most important 20th-century artists, Nikos Ghika was also a seriously minted scion of an aristocratic family (and a Rothschild by marriage) with exquisite taste in mid-century modern design. The artist’s grand art deco house at 3 Kriezotou Street, just off Syntagma Square, was reopened to the public two years ago, and contains the artist’s studio and apartment, plus a beautifully laid-out three-floor survey of mid-century Greek art and culture., Wed-Sat 10am-6pm. Admission €7

Open-air cinema
Thissio open-air cinema. Photograph: ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images
With more than 90 outdoor screens across the city during the hotter months (including September), open-air cinema is a key part of Athens’ cultural life. The best selection of films is arguably at historic Vox cinema in the Exarchia neighbourhood, which mainly screens arthouse films with subtitles. For the experience itself, however, it’s hard to beat the Thissio cinema, with its dramatic floodlit view of the Acropolis looming behind the screen.
• Apostolou Pavlou 7, Tickets from €6, late April-late October

Athens is, as you’d expect, a great place to buy hard-to-find and often reasonably priced Greek designer goods. Try Plaka’s Forget Me Not (100 Andrianou Street) to hunt down products from the cheekily named Salty Bags, a Corfu-based startup making beautiful bags out of old sails. Over in Exarchia, Paul Sarz makes intriguingly spooky jewellery that looks part-Victorian, part-classical. For souvenirs that go beyond the usual tat, meanwhile, call +30 210 92 45 064 to book a visit to appointment-only design shop Greece is for Lovers, which sells such tongue-in-cheek mementos as marble ice lollies and Zeus-style lightning bolt paper knives.


Philopappos Hill park
For the perfect view across to the Acropolis, Mount Lycabettus and out to the Saronic Gulf, visit the monument and park on Philopappos Hill. You probably won’t have to share it with anyone else.

Classical ruins
Athens boasts some of the most spectacular, imitated classical ruins in the world. From the Parthenon to the Hill of Pnyx, these crop up unannounced on street corners in Athens the way shops do in other cities.

The Acropolis
The Acropolis Museum is almost flawless in content, architecture and layout: the only improvement could be replacing its mock-ups of the marbles frieze with the British Museum originals.

Alfresco drinking
Athens’ bar terraces are among its best features, especially at night. Go upscale on tree-lined Kolonaki Square, or try the punkier Plateia Exarchion in anarchist stronghold Exarchia, just down the road.

Where to eat

Retooling traditional, local dishes at decent prices, Melilotos is at the forefront of an Athenian restaurant wave not unlike Britain’s gastropub boom. In a neo-rustic pistachio-coloured dining room, this restaurant near Syntagma Square serves excellent grills and unusual specialities such as one-year-old Cretan gruyère and aubergine salad with walnuts.
• 19 Kalamiotou, +30 210 32 22 458,, €25pp


The back of a humdrum shopping arcade may not sound like an obvious gastronomic hot spot, but Kriti has a reputation for serving the best Cretan food in Athens. Especially popular with local lawyers at lunchtime, this small taverna’s excellent menu includes such classic Cretan dishes as barley rusks topped with tomatoes and mizithra cheese and peppery sautéed wild greens.
• 5 Veranzerou, Kanigos Square, +30 210 38 26 998. Open Mon-Sat 11am-11.30pm, dinner from €20pp

Late-night drinkers from Agias Irinis Square fill this classic souvlaki place, queuing for Kosta’s classic wrap of pork skewers or beef meatballs in pitta bread with salad, chips, tzatziki and hot tomato sauce. Quality is high and service is decent, given that you only need spend €5 to fill up here.
• 2 Agias Irinis Square. Open 6am until late, wraps from €2

Ama Laxei
It’s hard to imagine Ama Laxei’s beautiful courtyard, now packed with bougainvillea and palms, in its former role as the playground of a school. The food is a similarly attractive revamp of Greek tradition, with highlights including pork sausage with orange juice and mussels with ouzo.

Tips to visit in Málaga

For most visitors, Málaga is simply a gateway to the beach resorts of the Costa del Sol, with few venturing far from the airport or into the city. Well, they’re all missing a trick because this once-shabby port has undergone something of a reinvention. There’s a sparkling new waterfront and millions of euros have been pumped into the art scene, thanks to mayor Francisco de la Torre’s vision to turn his city into a cultural hub, with a branch of the Parisian Pompidou Centre among the latest museum openings.

The Alcazaba fortress, Málaga’s more modest answer to Granada’s Alhambra, sits proudly in the historic centre – a maze of gardens and fountains – and above it 10th-century Gibralfaro castle stands guard over the coast. Round the corner lies the vast Renaissance cathedral, nicknamed La Manquita (“one-armed woman”) because its south tower was mysteriously left unbuilt.

While the city beaches are nothing to write home about, the food definitely is. The subtropical climate and maritime location mean there’s plentiful fresh produce, exceptional local wine, melt-in-the-mouth jamón and top seafood – the locals are nicknamed boquerones (anchovies) because of the quantities they eat. There are countless great bars and restaurants, and more opening all the time, but eat late if you don’t want to look like a tourist – Malagueños go out late, and dining after 10pm is the norm.

With dozens of low-cost flights a week, Málaga ticks all the boxes for an alternative city break or a stopover on the way to a beach holiday. It’s just surprising more people haven’t cottoned on yet.


You can’t turn a corner without finding a museum in Málaga: there are over 30 here. The newly opened Pompidou Centre is that museum’s first foray out of France. It’s entered via a striking, giant glass cube and houses permanent and temporary contemporary exhibitions (€7, under-18s free,

The brand new Collection of the Russian Museum in an old tobacco factory is also impressive – five rooms tell the tale of Russian art over five centuries, with works from the state museum in St Petersburg (€6, under-18s free,

Next door is the Automobile Museum, which is surprisingly fascinating even for non-petrol-heads as, alongside the vintage and modern cars, high fashion from the 1920s-50s is on display (€7.50, under-threes free,

Of course, the city is proud of its links with Picasso, who was born here. Besides his childhood home, the Picasso Museum (€7,, under-18s free) in a restored palace is a must-visit with over 200 sculptures, drawings and ceramics by the artist. A temporary exhibition of Louise Bourgeois (noted for her giant spider sculptures) runs until 27 September, too. If that’s not enough, the Carmen Thyssen (€6, showcases 19th-century Spanish art and, for cutting-edge curating, head to the brilliant Contemporary Art Centre (free, in the Soho district – shows by Brit urban artist D*Face and Korean street artist Shepard Fairey run until 27 September.


Marqués de Larios street.
Marqués de Larios street. Photograph: Alamy
Besides the grand, marble-paved main shopping street Marqués de Larios, where shoppers can find high-street and designer names at bargain prices, thanks to the weak euro, Málaga is a treat for those who like discovering little independent boutiques. Calle Andrés Pérez, in what was a run-down part of town, is also a good place to browse. The shops and restaurants clubbed together to clean up the street and pay for street lights. Top finds include organic clothing at ColorHueso (no 7), antiques at Patio Almanzora (no 5) and vintage goods at Quasipercaso (no 1). For beautiful handmade jewellery, try P&C in the old centre (Calle Santa María 13).

The newly hip Soho district is being turned into an open-air gallery by the Maus (Málaga Arte Urbano Soho) project which has invited big-name international artists to create artwork on the city’s walls. There are giant animal murals by the Belgian Roa, pop-art style creations by D*Face and smaller works by local artists. More work to be added by Kenny Scharf, Aryz and Abraham Lacalle soon. Pick up a map and explore by yourself or join a guided tour by CAC (three free tours at 10, 11 and 12 on Mondays). For another alternative arty experience head to Plaza De Jesus de La Pasion, where artist Valerio “fishes for people” by dangling a rose and a note inviting guests to his studio to have their eye sketched for free for his “Eyecylopedia” or just to browse his work. Valerio is the man behind an alternative “art currency” circulating in the city – “the Valerio”, notes made from his printed etchings are being accepted by a range of “wholesome” businesses, from yoga studios to cafes (

Hammam Al Ándalus
In the old city centre, this new Arab-style hammam is exquisite – beautifully tiled with candle lanterns lining the corridors, marble floors and hot and cold baths. Massages include the traditional kessa with exfoliation and big bubbly rub down.
• Entrance €30, check website for special deals. Plaza de los Mártires 5, +34 952 21 50 18,

Food tour

Spain Food Sherpas tour.
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Spain Food Sherpas tour.
Málaga’s coming into its own as a culinary destination and a tour (group or bespoke) with the recently launched Spain Food Sherpas takes foodies off the beaten track to discover everything from traditional crisp makers to the best churros (doughnuts) and hidden restaurants. From the buzzing Mercado Atarazanas (the main food market), to the specialist ultramarinos (traditional, family grocery stores), visitors learn about – and try – the best local fare.

Toledo city guide: what to see plus the best restaurants, tapas bars and hotels
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Highlights might include a picnic of the best Iberian jamón, cheese and local wine in the courtyard of the 17th-century Cardinal’s House (, now a high-end antique shop, or a stop at La Recova (Pasaje Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de San Juan 5, la, a ceramics and secondhand shop with a cafe where locals linger over breakfasts of bread, tomatoes, crema (delicious flavoured lard) spreads and coffee – all for €2.20.
There’s tasty tapas too – olives marinated with oranges and lemons, cheese with homemade marmalade and salchichón salami, great paired with local Moscatel wine.
• Three-hour Tapas Tour €65,

El Cabra, Pedregalejo beach

sardines, Malaga
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Ten minutes east of the city centre, the old fishing village of Pedregalejo is the place to eat fresh fish and seafood at one of many beachside bars. Cooked on embers in boats on the sand, the must-try is espeto de sardinas (just-caught grilled sardines on a stick, €4.50). El Cabra on the promenade is a favourite for families for juicy mussels, clams in garlic and mixed fried fish – and great for people-watching. Afterwards, take a peek at the boat building workshop near the entrance to the beach.
• Paseo Marítimo Pedregal 17, Playa Pedregal, +34 952 29 15 95,


Bodega Bar El Pimpi
El Pimpi is a Málaga institution. With a big terrace right opposite the Alcazaba, it is a tourist hotspot, but remains authentic and popular with locals, too. Inside it’s all old tiles, wood beams and barrels signed by visitors including celebrities such as local boy Antonio Banderas and Paloma Picasso. The food lives up to the hype – plates of the best Iberian ham, simple but delicious tomato salad and marinated fish (mains €10). Finish with a glass of typical Málaga moscatel wine. The new section next door is all glass and white walls, attracting a younger crowd.
• Calle Granada 62, +34 952 22 54 03

There are tapas bars galore but one that won’t disappoint is Gorki, which uses local ingredients with a twist (small tapas €3.50, larger plates are served, too). Seating is in stalls in the shabby-chic interior and dishes include tangy cheeses, smoked cod with crushed tomatoes and baked salmon with gherkins on mollete (soft white bread). It’s all fresh and delicious, and there’s an extensive wine list.
• Calle Strachan 6, +34 952 22 14 66, (second branch at Muelle 1, Puerto de Málaga)

Los Patio de Beatas
Tucked away on a side street, two 18th-century mansions have been converted into this restaurant with tapas and wine bar, with original features such as a stained-glass ceiling making the setting rather special. There are over 200 wines – a four-course tasting menu pairing each course with a different vintage costs €50 (€35 without wine). Head chef Christopher Gould (a UK Masterchef quarter-finalist) puts his own stamp on traditional Spanish fare with the likes of mushroom-and-truffle croquettes and suckling Málaga goat with couscous.
• Calle Beatas 43, +34 952 21 03 50,

There are lots of cool restaurants popping up in arty Soho. Mamuchis (meaning mother – owners Marcel and Leiticia want guests to feel like they’re in “mama’s kitchen”) serves healthy sharing plates featuring such delights as courgette burger and dim sum, influenced by their travels around the world (from €5). All mismatched chairs and upcycled furniture and paintings by Leiticia’s father, it’s like stepping into someone’s front room.

Tips to visit in Durban, South Africa

The whole of KwaZulu-Natal province certainly has glorious beaches. You can surf your heart out along Durban’s Golden Mile – in water that won’t make your feet go numb within seconds, unlike the icy swells in Cape Town. But these days, beyond the sand and waves, the more comparisons that are made with its Western Cape sister city, the more substance Durban has.

It’s got a thriving craft food, beer and spirits scene, an internationally respected annual film festival, and a new homegrown musical movement (gqom – pronounced qwom) that has one aim: getting people on the dance floor. So infectious is the lo-fi sound of Durban’s underground that arecent UK compilation of gqom tracks has made its way into the playlists of hip Westerners hungry for a different beat. There are also attempts at cutting-edge city renewal: with the development of the Rivertown Precinct, Surf City is starting to rival Johannesburg’s urban regeneration thunder, too. Add in the steamy climate – with an average of 320 days’ sunshine a year – and it’s clear why some people are now looking east.

The city is well set up for large events, with many big international touring artists including it on their itineraries, along with major annual music awards such as theMTV Africa Music Awards (the Mamas). The United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2011 put the city on the map for the international development community, while its Playhouse Company and KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra add to Durban’s respectability.

Speak to Durbanites about their city and you get a distinct sense of polarisation. The lively harbour feels like the headiest cultural mix, with a downtown edge, but other worlds are not far away. Culturally, Durban still divides itself into pockets. Northern suburbs such as Umhlanga are fairly white, with sedate cafes and beachfront hotels; areas like Chatsworth, Phoenix and Tongaat will offer authentic curries and sari shops as part of a massive Indian community, dating from the British use of indentured labour from the subcontinent in the 19th century to work on sugar cane plantations; and vast – mainly black – townships like KwaMashu and Umlazi are often avoided by tourists who believe too much of the hype of the Western media. But downtown, the vibe feels more mixed and an adventurous explorer can sample all of these flavours – from some of the best curries outside the Indian subcontinent, to barbecued meat and house music in KwaMashu, and café culture or fine dining in the northern suburbs.

All of which might be a bit bewildering for a short stay. But Durbanites’ lack of pretension and dedication to lighting up the night means there’s always a party somewhere to even things out. As local gqom superstar DJ Target says: “People in Durban, they don’t want to sleep …”

Music and clubs

By Sandile Phakathi, aka DJ Target, whose song Umthwalo Wami, with DJ Ndile,became a dance-floor anthem last summer

People in Durban love dancing, drinking and partying. They don’t like to sleep. We call the parties “morning bangs”.

I was a dancer, and used to dance to electro – I loved the fast-step music. I always wanted to make that sort of music, but mix it with South African house. I started to play in taverns and they used different words to describe it – but gqom (meaning “drum” in Zulu, “noise” in youth culture) – that was the name that people loved. Gqom is South African electro, fast music. When you’re playing it, people dance. And gqom is special to Durban.

The main club I play in is called Chill Action Bar Point, which is on Dr Pixley Kaseme Street, in the Belmont Shopping Arcade, right next to South Beach. Every weekend, people come in huge numbers. On its two dance floors people will be bouncing to gqom, but they also have slot machines for those feeling lucky – or tired.

There are good clubs all over the city, such as Club101, on Samora Machel St in Central, which is a favourite for gqom lovers, and where the dance floors are packed until dawn. Another in Central isHavana Music Lounge, on Monty Naicker Road, a small club that’s always full. During the day, it’s an upmarket bar where people can have a drink while listening to music, but at night it throws great parties.

Away from the city centre, there is Eyadini in Umlazi township, which has cheap drinks and appeals to a mixed crowd, aged between 20 and 40, who party to DJs and bands in an open-air space. In my home town of KwaMashu, north of Durban, there’s Enhlanhleni Tavern, and in Inanda, a township in eastern KwaZulu-Natal,Under the Moon has regular DJs and a spacious outside dance floor. For people who follow a softer type of music Egagasini in South Beach plays deep house and R&B.

Each of these Durban hotspots has a different crowd, from a who’s who of Durban politicians and celebrities, to tourists wanting to experience the city like locals.

Food and drink

The early mornings are the best time of day in Durban during the summer, and the Circus Circus beach cafe in Central (it has five branches in and around Durban), offers about as close as you can get to breakfast on the sand. Watch the sun rise and enjoy breakfast options from scrambled eggs to a full farmhouse breakfast for 64 rand (about £3).

Durban is rightly famous for its curries, and Little India in Musgrave serves a wonderful selection. I particularly like the red and yellow potato curries on its veg mains menu for under £2, and traditional dishes such as breyani (biryani elsewhere), rogan josh and madras in a quintessentially Indian setting. Sunrise Chip ‘n Ranch (Cape Town branch on Facebook) in Sparks Road is known locally as Johnnies and serves legendary roti rolls all night long.

For drinks, Panorama Bar at the luxurious Elangeni Hotel is the best place to watch the surf while enjoying a sundowner, with great views of the Bay of Plenty. Simple but stylish Umhlanga (north Durban) venue Lucky Shaker is the brainchild of renowned mixologist Michael Stephenson. His knowledge and passion for cocktails is unmatched, down to the ice cubes that he makes on site to achieve the perfect mix. Try his Nectar of the Gods – gin with fresh nectarine, raspberry liqueur, lychee and freshly pressed apple.

Tips to visit in Porto city

It’s spirit that turns table wine into port, spirit that turns crisis into creativity and spirit that allows dignity to flourish among Porto’s glamorous dereliction. Here the Douro river pushes into the cold Atlantic and the city sits on one steep riverbank, with its thrusting towers and opulent city hall, its people defiant of austerity. The past defines much of Porto’s look, but her people have found a way to get on and look forward with hope and panache.

Stunning blue-tiled 14th-century churches and 19th-century palaces lie all but abandoned. There are Meccano bridges designed by Gustave Eiffel. Grand art deco theatres sail like pale liners over the city’s cobbled hills, and great modern buildings rise like phoenixes. There are green parks and shady silent squares, seaside and riverbank, wealth and poverty – and all in a walkable city.

The Baixa district is postcard Porto, rising from the riverbank – all pitched terracotta roofs and stucco painted in shades of mustard, Elastoplast and estuarine grey. At night it glows like honeycomb. Across the river is Vila Nova de Gaia, where 1950s signs on port lodges proclaim old English names – Cockburn’s, Graham’s and Croft.

And there’s the seaside. Empty surf beaches lie a few minutes from the city centre. South of Gaia, the fishing villages are salty and sweary; on the Porto side of the river, Foz do Douro is a posh suburb where the river meets the ocean and, further north, Matosinhos offers rock-cut swimming pools, sunsets and superb fish dinners.

Porto’s life and soul is on her hilly streets, in the many hipster bars and smoky cafes, in portions of tasty food and drinks that are huge and silly-cheap, in a pace of life where a gentle stroll is full speed ahead and a commitment to slow food makes meals lingering and rhythmic.

Getting around the city is a cinch: you stroll, or buy an Andante ticket (€15 for 3 days, and jump on any bus, metro or train.

What to see

The Casa da Música concert hall (auditorium and backstage visits from €6, performance tickets around €15) is perhaps Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’ best building. It’s four stops from Metro Trinidade station, a five-star stunner.

The 15th-century Igreja (church) de Santa Clara, on Largo 1 de Dezembro, is impressively ornate. Igreja de São Francisco on Rua Infante Don Henrique is gothic outside and Liberace-baroque within. And if so much ecclesiastical culture (and gilt!) is quite enough for one morning, chill out at Horto das Virtudes, the peaceful park below São António hospital.

Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (€8.50) is Portugal’s most important modern art museum. The building, filled with light and shade, was designed by local architecture god Siza Vieira (he’s 82 and still working). As well as exhibitions, there’s a cinema, a performance space and a huge, elegant park.

Casa Museu Fernando de Castro (€5, €2.50 concessions, free first Sunday of every month) is a house on a quiet residential street, filled with the wild jackdaw finds of collector, poet and cartoonist Fernando de Castro, from jokey ceramics to 17th-century church panelling.

The Military Museum (€3.50) is where dictator António Salazar’s goons tortured anti-fascists. Five steps away, a disused shopping mall, Centro Comercial Stop(enter at the Gala sign), has been appropriated by Porto’s rock and jazz musicians: each shop is now a rehearsal studio or tiny concert space.

Get a feel for the real Porto on a half-day walking tour from The Worst Tours(“free”, donations welcome). They’re run by three brilliantly provocative activist architects. There’s 70km of cycle track along the river and in town – Porto Rent a Bike has electrics and tandems, too.

Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia, is on the south side of the Douro and home to the city’s famous port lodges. The best of the tasting tours is at Graham’s (from €8, Rua Rei Ramiro 514, +351 223 776 484) and its in-lodge Vinum restaurant is very good, too. Niepoort (Rua Cândida dos Reis 598 +351 223 777 777) doesn’t do tourist tours but visits on request are sometimes possible if you ask nicely – the emphasis is on its excellent table wines as well as port.

An hour’s walk (or 10-minute cycle) along the riverside boardwalk towards the Atlantic is Afurada, an entirely authentic fishing village. Eat perfectly grilled fish and listen to the salty backchat at Taberna do São Pedro (Rua Costa Goodolfim 42, +351 220 993 883). There’s an ad hoc ferry service across to Porto, and regular buses, too.

Eat and drink

There’s great eating and drinking all over Porto. Starting east of Porto’s centre,Maus Hábitos (Rua Passos Manuel 178, 4th floor, +351 222 087 268), which means bad habits, is a hip space on the roof of an art deco car park. The restaurant serves brunches, lunches (€5 and up), dinners and great pizza, such as the Nan Goldin, which is topped with artisan smoked bacon and confit onions. There are regular exhibitions and talks, plus nightly DJs playing everything from shoegazers to jazz funk. A few doors away at number 137, Passos Manuel (+351 222 058 351) is an art cinema and bar.

South on Muralha Fernandina (the eastern city wall above the Eiffel bridge) is community-run Guindalense Futebol Clube (+351 222 034 426), a convivial, welcoming cafe-bar. Posh it’s not. But its terrace offers the city’s most jaw-dropping views, and beers and coffees cost around 50 cents a throw. Food is simple and sturdy: a full-on francesinha (Porto’s massive doorstep sandwich, layered with a pork, smoked sausage, bacon and a medium rare steak, topped with an egg and a thick overcoat of cheese), hot dog or burger is around €6. There are occasional fado music nights; book ahead for carnival nights and New Year’s Eve fireworks.

O Buraco (Rua do Bolhão 95, +351 222 006 717) is fun, reliable and offers “food like grandma used to make”, such as frango pica no chão cabidela (chicken-and-rice stew with chicken blood). Her grandkids must have had huge appetites.

South of São Bento railway station (with its stunning azulejo tile panels), Cantina 32 (Rua das Flores 32, +351 222 039 069) is a friendly, attractive place with appealing options for vegetarians. A few doors downhill, Mercearia das Flores(Rua das Flores 110, +351 222 083 232) is a deli crammed with local products and wines whose kitchen produces very good brunches, salads and sandwiches.

On the roof of posh mini-mall Passeio dos Clérigos is BASE (+351 910 076 920), Porto’s coolest hangout: open from 10am to 2am, it offers a full menu from the restaurant below, plus sunloungers, jute coffee beanbags beneath olive trees, beautiful people, fresh juices (€3), sushi (€11) and rocket-y sandwiches (from €6). It’s closed in cool or wet weather.

Don’t miss Miss’Opo (Rua das Caldeireros 100, +351 222 082 179), a buzzy restaurant, exhibition space, guesthouse and shop. A meal of small plates likesalada bonita (pretty salad), grilled swordfish, umami mushrooms, good bread and sausage plus wine costs around €20 a head.