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Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China
Peter Frankopan, historian and author
The world of 2016 is not all doom and gloom. In Asia, things are changing fast as the Silk Roads rise again. In September, I was in north-west China, in Dunhuang, between the Gobi and the Taklamakan deserts, on the southern Silk Road. The city is an oasis, the last stop, going west, before nearly 1,000km of sand, and near the Mogao caves, a Buddhist complex founded in the fourth century.
My favourite spot is in the desert, above crescent-shaped Yueyaquan lake. The best views are at dawn from the top of a series of metal ladders pinned into the steep dunes. As you look down to the lake and city, you feel the heat and oppression of the desert behind you. Deciding to head west required determination, commitment and courage. As new connections are woven across Asia, it is hard not to feel awed by how easy it is to travel today – and how difficult it once was. It feels like the present meeting the past, and brushing against the future.
Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World is published by Bloomsbury. To order a copy for £24.60 including UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop
Six Depot Roastery and Cafe, West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, US
Mark Vanhoenacker, pilot and author
In the late 1990s, on a weekend break in Copenhagen, some friends and I stopped at a cafe and ordered what turned out to be the best sandwich I’d ever had: a splendid, open-faced, pesto-laden creation that I would talk about incessantly. Years later, when I became an airline pilot and had the chance to return to Copenhagen often, I spent evenings walking the city, but I could not find that cafe again.
This past August, though, I came across a sandwich that’s just as good – at Six Depot Roastery and Cafe in West Stockbridge, a classic New England village in the Berkshires, the Massachusetts area where I grew up.
As a long-haul pilot whose main pleasure is coffee, I can report that Six Depot, which opened in 2013, is one of my favourite cafes in the world. An armchair caffeinator could spend weeks exploring the menu of beans curated by owners Lisa Landry and Flavio Lichtenthal, while the venue itself, a modern adaptation of an old railway station that also serves as an art gallery and live music venue, is thoroughly New England. And the sandwich? It’s a panino called Chicken Mechado. The chicken is seared, braised and pulled, then smothered in something called Miami salsa – yoghurt, mint, coriander and a few other ingredients. This glorious sandwich is something to tell all your friends about.
Mark Vanhoenacker flies Boeing 747s for British Airways. He is the author of Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot. To order a copy for £13.93 including UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop
Cámara Oscura, Cádiz, Spain
Katharine Norbury, writer
In Cádiz the streets are long and narrow. The architecture of the city acts as a giant cooling system that funnels Atlantic breezes through shaded streets in a triumph of civil engineering. The city is full of treasures, though finding them can be a hit and miss affair. But in 1994, Spain’s first camera obscura was erected on top of a former watchtower, the Torre Tavira. When I noticed a stream of Brownie guides with backpacks tripping down the steps of a white-painted building, I knew I’d found it.
Inside, the tower was cool and airy. A small group of us were ushered into a dark room at the top – a notice urged Silencio. We clustered around a large white-painted bowl, its edges stained with the grey bloom of fingerprints. Our guide extinguished the light and began to open the shutter, rotating the lens with a brass handle.
People the size of ants suddenly swarmed across the concave surface. I reached out my hand and the ant-people climbed over my fingers. A woman cycled past Roman ruins and a container ship drifted into the harbour. Two summer-flowering South American magnolia trees attested to the city’s colonial past. Then it was over. Outside, on the roof, I picked out the Roman ruins and the tops of the magnolia trees. And armed with this new perspective, I returned to Cadiz’s shaded streets.
Katharine Norbury is author of The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream (Bloomsbury, £9.99). To order a copy for £8.19 including UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop
Dhara Dhevi Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Steve McCurry, photographer
The Dhara Dhevi is the kind of place you could spend a week in and never feel the need to leave the grounds. I have spent many hours exploring its classical Thai architecture, exotic trees and working rice paddies. I’ve always had a passion for art and Buddhist iconography from south-east Asia, and the Dhara Dhevi’s collection is museum-quality. I found it fascinating that this project was the vision of one man, Suchet “Pom” Suwanmongkol, who is as comfortable hanging out with the workers who built the hotel, as he is with the royalty who frequent it.
On one visit, I fell asleep under a tree and woke to the feeling of something nuzzling my leg. To my surprise, it was a small horse, the size of a St Bernard dog. At first, I thought I was still dreaming, and then I saw several more of these tiny horses grazing in the distance. It was surreal, but not really unexpected in a place that is so amazing it feels like you are staying in a dream.
Dancing in the Zócalo, Veracruz, Mexico
Kevin Rushby, Guardian travel writer
For many years, Veracruz was a city people avoided – gang warfare rarely attracts the right kind of visitor. But with governor Javier Duarte gone, there is hope that the bad times are over. If they are, travellers are in for a treat. This magnificent city loves to party. Every weekend the Zócalo (central square) hums with activity. Around the fringes, strolling mariachi, norteño and marimba bands compete to entertain cafe-goers, while in the centre, dancers gyrate to local danzón bands. A cheerful assortment of hustlers, clairvoyants and street vendors work through the crowds. Wares might include lung-buster cigars, mouth-blasting chilli snacks and, most bizarrely, electric shocks to fry your fingers. The idea is to hold two electrodes until the pain is unbearable – and pay for the experience. The polite refusal is ahorita!, meaning “in a minute”. The sellers know that actually means “never”.
Around the corner on Callejon de la Campana, the dancing is several degrees hotter. Few would dare start to learn Latin dance here, but if you do, no one will bat an eyelid. Later, the party shifts to the malecón, the harbour wall, and continues till dawn.
• Sustainable tourism company Sumak Travel offers tailor-made journeys to Veracruz, and other parts of Mexico
Los Islotes, Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico
Steve Backshall, naturalist and TV presenter
Just two hours from La Paz in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, Los Islotes is a rocky California sea lion colony, peppered with resting blue-footed boobies, cormorants and pelicans. The waters are deep blue, and packed with tropical fish flitting like butterflies among the blocky rocks and through a dazzling natural archway. The stars of the show, though, are the sea lions. You need to know a bit of marine mammal psychology: if you chase after them, they’ll treat you with disdain, but if you figure out what makes them tick, they’ll dance with you under water for hours, pirouetting and prancing around you in an intoxicating aquatic ballet. Los Islotes was a happy discovery, made on honeymoon with my wife, Olympic rower Helen Glover. Helen got scuba qualified, and we spent hours diving alongside whale sharks and manta rays, but the sea lions stood out as our finest animal encounter.
Manuela’s restaurant, Puyuhuapi, Chile
Karen Darke, paralympic cyclist, adventurer and author
The Carretera Austral, the 1,240km highway through southern Chile, felt like being on a Patagonian forest roller coaster. Cycling over gravel – with the odd blissful stretch of asphalt – we were coated in dust and mud, suncream and Vaseline. Our days were measured in kilometres, not time; 1,240km seems an excruciatingly long way when the average speed is just 3km an hour. In the worst of the gravel – “grade three”, we called it – it was quicker to walk.
Does this tempt you to cycle the Carretera Austral? It should. Among the gravel and grind were many wonders. Everything was supersize: trees reached for the clouds, valleys yawned wide and leaves cast shadows big enough to shelter under. And at 370km on the way south is the village of Puyuhuapi, where the forest is broken by colourful timber houses and shops on the edge of a fjord. There, we filled stomachs and souls with giant portions of cod and chips, bread and salad. At Manuela’s there is one set menu, a view over the small harbour and the Christmas tree in the square – a reminder in the warm evening sun that we were in the southern hemisphere.
The Gastrobus, Bantham, Devon
Pat Riddell, editor, National Geographic Traveller (UK)
A winding single-track road leads to the village of Bantham in south Devon. The estate – snapped up in 2014 for £11.5m by a friend of David Cameron after he saw it advertised for sale in the Sunday Times – covers 728 acres including the village, beach and estuary. But one of the main attractions in this sleepy part of the South Hams predates the arrival of Nicholas Johnston by two years.
The Gastrobus – a laid-back surfers’ retreat offering locally roasted coffee, gourmet burgers and hotdogs, freshly baked bread and cakes, and luxury ice-creams – may not be one of south Devon’s best-kept secrets, but this summer, Claire Bishop’s creation saw the addition of two vintage Citroen H vans (along with Wi-Fi, card payments and a licensed bar), making it even more appealing.
The Bakewell slices are one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Granted, it lies by one of the UK’s finest stretches of sand, but the Gastrobus’s curry nights and acoustic sessions make it practically an attraction in itself.
Running alongside the Atlantic, Porto, Portugal
Katie Parla, Rome-based food writer
In 2016 I trained for two marathons – challenging enough for a person with no natural athletic ability. But when I’m on the road, the physical challenge of long-distance running is amplified by a lack of motivation. On a recent trip to Porto, I would have much preferred to explore the city’s food and drinks scene than hit the pavement, but I dug deep and got in a good 30km.
I did a quick Google search and read that Gaia, the area on the other side of the Douro from downtown Porto, had a long, safe well-lit path along the ocean. Beginning in the Afruda district and ending near Espinho’s golden beaches, the path includes wooden walkways above undulating dunes and paved promenades with ocean views. There are cafes and restaurants along the way, so when I needed water, I could make a quick stop. I prefer to run at night, so it was pure joy to go so far afield, safely, in a new city.
Statue at New York Public Library, US
TC Boyle, author
One of my favourite destinations on the planet is the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, where I recently basked in the beauty of the Public Reading Room, then secreted myself in Special Collections, to do a little note-taking for my next book.
After a period I went out into the hallway to stretch my legs and spotted a glazed statue of a little girl. She refreshed me. So much so that I took her hand – took her in my arms, actually – and we danced the length of the hall to stately melodies for I don’t know how long. Afterward, wanting a whole lot more, I asked her out for cocktails and dinner, but, sadly, she had a previous engagement.
TC Boyle is author of The Terranauts (Bloomsbury, £18.99). To order a copy for £15.57 including UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop
Barter Books, Alnwick, Northumberland
Adrian Tempany, Guardian journalist and author
Barter Books, a five-minute walk from Alnwick centre, was opened in 1991, in the town’s derelict Victorian railway station. The name comes from the swap system it was founded on and still uses (customers can exchange books for credit against future buys). It usually has a stock of about 350,000 books, in a huge range of genres. The New Statesman dubbed it “the British Library of secondhand bookshops”. This is a place to linger, to sit in a high-backed armchair by a real fire. On the walls, writers such as WB Yeats, Jane Austen and TS Eliot (plus Flossie, Anne Bronte’s beloved spaniel) adorn three 12-metre-high murals, while overhead, toy trains chug around on a track.
Food is served in the Station Buffet, a room the owners discovered in 2008: they slid the key in a door and found a room they believe had stood untouched since the last train departed 50 years earlier.
It was in Barter Books that the Keep Calm and Carry On legend was born. The poster was commissioned during the second world war, but was never officially released. It was first seen by the public here during the 1990s, when Mary found an old copy in the stock room and framed it by the counter.
Adrian Tempany is the author of And the Sun Shines Now: How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain (Faber & Faber, £14.99). To order a copy for £12.29 including UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop
Roses Hut, Wanaka/Makarora area, New Zealand
Anna McNuff, adventurer
In the Motatapu mountains, Roses Hut, owned by the department of conservation, is a paradise for lovers of the outdoors. It’s on an open, grassy plain, surrounded by peaks 1,200 metres high – sharp ridge-lines softening into rolling hills. The view from the veranda is of a valley awash with yellow and green, punctuated by the meander of the Motatapu river.
Roses’ decor is minimalist-chic, but for backcountry accommodation it is five-star. There’s a mattress for each of the 12 bunk beds (allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis; there are no bookings), so a great night’s kip in the wild is guaranteed.
The journey to the hut is as rich as the destination itself. I ran this section as part of a six-month journey along New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail. It’s a challenging two-day, 25km hike (or run) from Arrowtown. Or it can be reached on a three-day journey from the shores of Lake Wanaka at the other end of the valley.
Majorica jazz bar, Kyoto, Japan
Kim Stravers, managing editor, Nowhere magazine
Kyoto’s thronged streets border the Kamogawa river, with restaurant patios overhanging its grassy banks. On Pontocho alley, not far from Bar Brown Sugar, a sign with hand-cut lettering and a broom-mounted witch advertises “Majorica Jazz LP Disc Since 1974”. After sundown, the words glow orange and red.
Inside, it’s all golden lamplight in a smoky haze. So What by Miles Davis plays softly. We are the only occupants besides the sixtysomething proprietor. We glimpse the record player amid stacks of coasters, magazines and empty cigarette cartons. The owner opens a wooden cabinet and skims through a library of vinyl, selecting jazz pianist Yosuke Yamashita’s version of It’s Easy to Remember.
Jazz is the owner’s meditation, and it becomes ours. Behind him, shelves are groaning with ephemera: yen notes, postcards, liquor bottles, snapshots, stuffed pandas, a box of tissues, a sleeve of cupcake liners, certificates from the Kyoto Food Sanitation Association. It borders on hoarding. Yet there is no shame in it. Majorica is a sanctuary built one worn, precious object at a time. Majorica has no website, appears to be open at the owner’s whim and is best discovered with a slow walk – and faith in witches.
The Slow Adventure Co, Devon
Jini Reddy, travel writer
What do you do if you hanker after a dose of solitude somewhere scenic and remote, but can no longer heft a heavy rucksack because of a dodgy back? A tip-off from Rob Joules of the North Devon National Trust alerted me to the Slow Adventure Co, and it was a revelation.
First, helpful founder Tor McIntosh suggested Exmoor’s National Trust-owned Foreland Bothy, half a mile from Foreland point, a rocky headland a few miles from Lynmouth. Not only would she supply me with the kit I needed, she’d pick me up from Barnstaple station, deposit me at the bothy, unload the gear, then return to pick me up three days later.
Bar a lighthouse down the coast, the property was the only dwelling visible. Surrounded by sea and hills, rowan trees, hawthorn and holly, it had a fragrant compost loo-with-a-view. The bothy is also close to the South West Coast Path, and the cliff walks, rarely interrupted by footsteps other than my own clomping (aided by a trusty walking stick), are predictably stunning. It was the interlude from heaven.
Jini Reddy is author of Wild Times (Bradt, £14.99). To order a copy for £12.29 including UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop
Buying a canoe
Simon Ingram, editor, Trail magazine
Canoes aren’t new to me. In Canada they were a way to explore without bear anxiety. In Scotland, they offered a way of avoiding a six-mile walk around a quaggy loch. But now, when two tiny kids make far-flung travel less appealing, the canoe has become the travel itself, this daft little boat has made my home patch suddenly, intensely exciting. As an anthropologically pure form of travel, canoeing is second only to walking. Apart from the plastic paddle, this is remarkably similar to what conveyed some of the earliest people we know of. The Netherlands’ Pesse canoe dates from around 10,000 years ago. So you’re not just travelling – you’re time travelling. But the real appeal is discovering a known place from a novel angle, deepening curiosity that begins locally then spirals outward along nature’s watery ways. Maps become not only diverting but necessary: strange navigation charts of where the river goes, and how. Once on the water, you have your way mapped out in the most unambiguous way, yet still feel intrepid. How far will you go today? Upstream or downstream first?
It’s been my biggest travel revelation for years. There’s nothing like a good canoe, and mine is nothing like a good canoe. But minutes from my front door, I’m slicing through green water into unfamiliar, familiar territory.
Simon Ingram is author of Between the Sunset and the Sea: a View of 16 British Mountains (William Collins, £9.99). To buy a copy for £8.19 including UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop
Gros Morne national park, Newfoundland, Canada
Niamh Shields, food writer at Eat like a Girl
Western Newfoundland sucked me in, and held me close. It reminded me to look at the sky, absorb the air, and listen to the wind that bristles as it hurries by. As I hiked across Gros Morne national park, waterfall after waterfall revealed themselves at each turn of the road. The park feels huge and bold and brave. Golden brown in autumn with flecks of red and fading green. Lakes reflect the gorgeous broad sky, eagles circle overhead, and black bears on mountain tops forage berries.
I hiked the Lookout Trail (from the Discovery Centre near Woody Point), winding through a wood carpeted with gold, brown and red autumnal leaves. From the top of Partridgeberry Hill, I spied a small herd of caribou, unaware of me watching. I worried about the bear that had been spotted there the day before, but he wanted fruit and lots of it, and had wandered elsewhere.
Western Newfoundland felt like a privilege for a Londoner weary from the stresses of 2016. We formed a bond, and I will return there, aching for more clean air and bright beauty.
Ordnance Survey’s digital mapping service
Melissa Harrison, writer
I spend a lot of time exploring the British countryside on foot, often by myself; but while I am a careful map-reader and route-follower, I don’t possess an innate sense of direction, so discovering the Ordnance Survey’s digital mapping service this year has been wonderful. The paper maps I love now come with a code giving access to an identical digital version, which can be loaded on to a mobile device; or you can subscribe for £3.99 a month.
The OS app uses GPS to locate you, so you don’t need phone coverage – though it does drain your phone battery. But what a joy! Now I can walk unencumbered, paper map and compass in my backpack, every so often checking my phone, where a pink arrow moves precisely across that familiar Explorer landscape, not only reassuring me that I am where I thought I was but providing quick answers to questions such as, “Is that distant clump of trees a copse, or hiding a horse-pond?” and “Where exactly should I plunge into this chest-high bracken to find this ruddy burial chamber?” The result is more time to think and daydream as I walk, and an even closer relationship with the place I am exploring.
Melissa Harrison is author of Rain: Four Walks in English Weather (Faber, £12.99). To buy a copy for £9.25 with UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop
Tiwi Beach, Kenya
Gillian Burke, biologist, film-maker and TV presenter
Tiwi Beach is a throwback to the Kenyan coast of my childhood: empty, white beaches and sleepy villages. The large resorts, tourists and hawkers are distant specks, kept at bay by a spit of rock that leaves Tiwi Beach in splendid isolation on the incoming tide. A coral reef runs the length of the east African coast and, at Tiwi, 50 miles north of the Kenya-Tanzania border, it’s so close to shore that you can easily snorkel to it. Access is along a two-mile dirt road through settlements and villages.
Breakfast is mahamri na mbaazi – cardamom-infused doughnuts with beans cooked in coconut milk. Days are spent on the beach or in the forest, spotting vervet monkeys, monitor lizards and “changalulus” – my kids’ term for millipedes and possibly my favourite word of all time. Evenings are enjoyed with an ice-cold Tusker beer and the smell of freshly caught fish cooking on a charcoal jiko stove.
Eldheimar museum, Westman Islands, Iceland
Robert Hull, Guardian travel writer
The summit of Eldfell – the volcano formed by the eruption on Heimaey, the only inhabited Westman Island, in January 1973 – was only a few metres away but as the wind increased, my nerve diminished. I felt gusts threatening to blow my glasses off and into the caldera below. Maybe. “I’m scared,” I shouted, voice wavering, to my wife of less than two weeks.
She was, and remains, unimpressed at me “bottling it” but, after a silent trek down, at the foot of Eldfell we visited Eldheimar – which made us both happy. This “museum of remembrance” has as its centerpiece the excavated house of Gerður Sigurðardóttir and Guðni Ólafsson, and is dedicated to what started on 23 January 1973 and lasted until the July. Almost 400 homes were destroyed (a third of all buildings on Heimaey) but, miraculously, none of the 5,300 inhabitants died as a direct result. Eldheimar opened in May 2014 and is everything visitors would want in a modern museum: the poignant experience of eruption and evacuation movingly told through a mix of audio and video clips, photographs and interactive exhibits. The superb audio guide even features GPS technology that identifies where you are in the museum and triggers playback accordingly. A fittingly memorable evocation of a defining chapter in the island’s history.
Cervejaria Ramiro, Lisbon, Portugal
The best thing about editing a restaurant guide is that I’m never short of places to try out, wherever I go. That’s how I ended up in Cervejaria Ramiro, visits to which bookended my first trip to Lisbon. It’s a favourite of chef Nuno Mendes, whose father used to take him there and which later provided some of the inspiration for Taberna do Mercado, his Portuguese restaurant in London’s Old Spitalfields Market. Cervejaria means beerhouse, and while you can still grab a cold Sagres at Ramiro, these days it’s all about the seafood.
Opened in 1956, it gradually morphed from humble bar to seafood destination. From its tiled mural to the tanks around the room, there is shellfish everywhere: crabs, prawns and clams, all prepared with deliciously antisocial amounts of garlic – are a must. As are the toasted soft white rolls they put on the table to mop up any leftover garlic butter. Finish with a prego, a steak sandwich, best eaten with a generous squirt of the mild, sweet local mustard. There are no bookings, so get there early or be prepared to queue, particularly if there’s a football match on.
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