Denmark: Fairytale footsteps in Odense

With an historic core reminiscent of a storybook village, Denmark’s third largest city, Odense, takes its name from Odin, the king of the Nordic god. But much of its more recent charm is built upon the stature of its most famous son, author Hans Christian Andersen.

Just a 90 minute train ride west of Copenhagen, it was the legacy of the story-teller extraordinaire that had lured me to his birthplace. Utilising Hotels.com, I staked out a cute little roost, City Hotel, right across the road from the author’s old stomping ground. Fun and easy to navigate, loaded with innovative tools and filters, you can nail down your perfect stay with Hotels.com The mobile app is also a breeze for bookings on the go and Hotels.com Rewards gift you a free night’s stay for every 10 nights booked.

As much as Odense is a pilgrimage for H.C. Andersen devotees, the town never seemed to appreciate the boy until well after the world discovered his writing. There are some loose parallels with how Salzburg treated Mozart. The storyteller had a profoundly unhappy childhood in Odense and fled the city as soon as he was old enough to make tracks for Copenhagen. His cobbler father was always broke, and had been forced to marry Hans’s tempestuous peasant mother when she was 7 months pregnant. Further up the food-chain, the Andersen grandmother was insane and, as Andersen wrote himself, was a pathological liar. But his depressing upbringing is long forgotten today and Odense is proud of its world-famous son, milking his legacy for all its worth. Massive building activity is radically changing the fabric of this ancient town, but its safe-guarded historic core still evokes the fairy-tale town that Hans would have known so well.

My first stop was a visit to Andersen’s birthplace, a small yellow corner house, situated in what was the poorest part of Odense. Born in 1805, the small, half-timbered house was bought by the city in 1905 to celebrate his centenary. Next up, his modest childhood abode, where the fairy-tale writer lived from 1807 to 1819, developing his extraordinary imagination which ended up producing 156 fairytales, 14 novels , 50 dramatic works and over 1000 poems. Exuding a serene cottage charm today, the unpretentious house has incredibly small rooms and the “garden still blooms,” as in The Snow Queen. The garden is packed with plants that feature in his stories. The home has been furnished precisely as described in his biographies.

I also passed by the old town prison he would visit with his parents, who knew the caretaker. The atrocious prison conditions are described in his novel, “O.T.” Nearby, down by the river, his mother plyed her trade as a washerwoman and the austere conditions were the inspiration for his story, “She was Worthless.”

Recently opened, the most illuminating insight into the famous writer’s life story can be savoured at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. This colourful and imaginative exhibition is packed with personal possessions including his workshop, while also highlighting his love affair with poetical papercuts. They are enchanting fairytales in themselves.

In the latter part of his life, Odense finally recognised his greatness and in 1867 he was made an honorary citizen of the city, despite leaving it many decades earlier. The torch-lit tribute took place in the gorgeous square fronting the Town Hall. Alongside it is the Church of Saint Canute, or Odense Cathedral. Hans was confirmed here and the experience inspired him to later write The Red Shoes.

Dating from the 13th century, this is the only purely Gothic cathedral in Denmark. It was named after King Canute, who reigned from 1080 to 1086. Admittedly, I had a ghoulish interest in heading down into the crypt to see his skeleton. This is the king who was slain by farmers angered at the taxes he’d imposed on them. He was killed just a stone’s throw from the church. Miracle healings supposedly occurred at King Canute’s tomb which led him to be canonised in 1100.

Hankering for some retail therapy, Odense is blessed with myriad design and gift stores. In the heart of town, pop into Inspiration Zinch, on Vestergade, brimming with a bumper selection of Danish design and handicrafts. All the big names are here, everything from Royal Copenhagen to Georg Jensen, but you will also come across younger and more modern designers. Opposite Hans Christian Andersen’s house, you’ll find a great display of Danish crafts and traditional Christmas decorations. Finally at Smykker, on Klaregadem you can buy museum copies of Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Viking jewellery — all made in gold, sterling silver, and bronze in the outlet’s own workshop.

has all your rail needs covered across Denmark and Scandinavia. Whether you want to pre-purchase a Eurail Pass, Scandinavia Pass, point-to-point tickets, or make seat reservations in advance, Rail Europe are the experts in great rail travel.

Queensland: Sailing in the Whitsundays

Bronwyn Sell gets inspired amid the island beauties off the coast of Queensland.

It’s disconcerting to paddleboard for the first time off a boat in a breezy bay in tropical North Queensland that’s frequented by sharks and rays. A few weeks ago, a 2.5m bronze whaler circled a board paddling out from this sailing cat, and the crew have also seen tiger sharks and reef sharks.

“You’re all bloody cack-handed,” the skipper, Dave, calls out as I push off and float away to sea clutching the paddle, wobbling even on my knees. “Turn ya hand around.”
Rather than sharks, it’s Stonehaven Bay’s resident green turtles we’re hoping to meet, after a fruitless search by snorkel that morning, and time is running out — it’s sails-up in an hour.

As I sort out my grip and figure out how to manoeuvre, Dave yells again: “Make sure ya save ya cap and sunglasses first if you fall off. The paddle and board will float — they won’t.”

I’m less worried about losing the hat and sunglasses than about losing a limb or four. I have skin that spontaneously combusts when touched by direct sunlight, so I’ve brought spares on this two-day sail around the Whitsunday Islands — hats and sunglasses, that is. Limbs and skin, not so much.

Seesawing, I push to my feet. The board sways, my stomach lurches and a paddleboarder a couple of metres away yells, “Whoa, check out that stingray! It’s huge!”

Someone speculates that it’s a manta ray. I’m in no position, physically or emotionally, to give my opinion because I’ve spotted a bullet wind headed my way — aptly named gusts that whoosh off the islands and skid across the water, darkening and rippling the surface. I adjust my leg muscles for, well, dear life. It occurs to me that though I took out travel insurance, I failed to inform the husband that the repatriation of my remains is fully covered.

As well as the whole paddleboarding in shark-infested waters thing, it’s also disconcerting to be travelling solo on a shared charter trip. Granted, ISail Whitsunday’s On Ice is a 14m cat with plenty of cabins and three bathrooms, but it could disintegrate into Dead Calm pretty fast if you don’t get the right kind of people.

I’m in the tropics for work but it’s work of the “work” variety. I’m researching a novel that I had the brilliant idea of setting on a tropical resort in this glorious 74-island group, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. My resort is fictional, so I can create a world that suits my story, but I needed to refresh my memory of the environment (at least, that’s what I told the husband to secure the leave pass), which is something like the Abel Tasman meets the Bay of Islands but in the tropics.

Fortunately, the company is excellent — a laidback young English couple, the hilariously irreverent Dave, two deckhands, and “four poofs from Sydney” (self-described).
It’s also fortunate that I have quads like tree trunks, feet like flippers, and years of experience of the wobbles in yoga, so the bullet whistles by without claiming a victim.

By the time we paddle into the shallows of the bay — part of Hook Island in the north of the Whitsundays — I’ve pretty much got this. When someone spots a turtle — finally — I manage to manoeuvre up beside it as it scoots through the clear-to-the-sand water. We soon spot several more. Dave reckons they’re constantly stoned because they eat toxic jellyfish, with which Queensland is well supplied.

We paddle up to a tiny beach shaped like a boat ramp, guarded by charcoal-coloured boulders. With native forest carpeting steep cliffs, it feels like the disembarkation point for Jurassic Island. (In fact, part of the Planet of the Apes remake was filmed here.) Dave points out the stony remains of a fish trap in the shallows that was created by the local Ngaro people, possibly thousands of years ago.

We fit a surprising amount into a two-night trip out of Airlie Beach. We moor off bushclad islands, retire early and drift to sleep with water sloshing against the hull and rain brushing the roof. We snorkel with “George” — a massive brilliant-blue Māori wrasse — and his harem of lady fish at Manta Ray Bay. We sip tea as dawn breaks in pastel pink and amber. We play cards, we eat and drink well. We swim in a bay that could be straight out of From Here to Eternity. We watch cockatoos swoop from a rocky peak that resembles the ruins of an ancient castle, their wings flashing in the morning sun, to land, screeching, in the tallest branches of a hoop pine. We sail, of course, flying along in the trade winds. There’s a moment of drama when we hit a heaving squall with the sails up, so I curl into a ball while the real sailors sort it out.

But mostly, I’m here for the snorkelling — with clear waters and abundant coral and fish, it’s among the best in the world. With sun on the backs of our wetsuits, we tootle around for an hour or more at a time, tropical fish scattering in their dozens. The English woman makes it her mission to find a potato cod. “Fish ‘n’ chips in one go!” She doesn’t, but we do see a massive elderly clam, and a fish-cleaning station just like in Shark Tale — a little gully in the coral. When a bigger fish cruises in, a cluster of little fish dart out to nibble around its gulls and other difficult-to-reach places.

Perhaps most memorably, one morning we moor off Whitsunday Island and climb over a hill to admire the white silica sand of photogenic Whitehaven Beach. This place also has a Hollywood claim to fame — a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here.
While we wade through the shifting shallows, with stingrays pulsing past our legs, a laden charcoal-blue cloud builds along the horizon, contrasting dramatically with the sunlit turquoise water and dazzling sand.

We’re warned not to take souvenirs — no sand, no shells, no coral. With thousands of tourists disembarking daily, it wouldn’t take long for the entire beach to be shipped jar-by-jar on to mantelpieces throughout the world.

Like the sign says, we leave only footprints and take home only photos — and, in my case, plenty of novel inspiration, three hats, two pairs of sunglasses, and all my limbs.

Bronwyn Sell visited the Whitsundays with the help of Tourism Whitsundays.

Checklist: The Whitsundays

Getting there

: There are daily flights to Proserpine and Hamilton Island from Australia’s main cities.

Details: Family-owned ISail Whitsundays offers two-night crewed sailing charters (shared or private) around the islands from $570 per person, out of Airlie Beach.

Onlinetourismwhitsundays.com.au

Queensland: Airlie Beach, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, is back in business and better than ever

Airlie Beach is the gateway to reef royalty, writes Christine Retschlag.

The sailing vessel Spank Me is creeping into Abell Point Marina, almost as if it is performing the dirty walk of shame after a big night out.

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Whitsundays and from my perky perch overlooking the marina at the new Gardens Bar, I have pole position in which to survey the boatloads of backpackers clutching casks of fruity lexia wine as they saunter towards the slew of sailing boats at port.

I’m in Airlie Beach, home to affectionately-named grotty yachties, boisterous backpackers, and well-heeled reef and resort lovers all seeking the same thing: a slice of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef and her 74 surrounding islands in this delicious destination.

But try as I may, it’s impossible to define eclectic Airlie Beach, which boasts sailing, skydiving, sushi, and shucking bars for oyster and champagne lovers.

It’s a tiny town built on backpackers and boho chic and cocktails and dreams, combined with five-star resorts and restaurants galore. And let’s not forget the locals swimming languid laps in the lagoon.

From high on the hill in the Italian-inspired Toscana Village Resort and later, in the luxury Pinnacles Resort, I can hear the hum of its heart, the buzz of the bars down below, throbbing almost like a dull headache.

But there is nothing dull about Airlie Beach, for this is the gateway to reef royalty.
Cruise Whitsundays ferries me to the outer reef, a three-hour boat ride out of Airlie Beach, pausing briefly at Hamilton Island and punching into to the open ocean beyond, before I arrive at the Reefsleep pontoon where I will spend the day snorkelling before remaining with just nine other guests to sleep on the reef in swags under the stars.

Early afternoon and I board a semi-submersible submarine which soars like a stingray over the coral gardens of Hardy Reef. There’s both soft and hard coral out here and a giant grouper called George, plus a massive Māori wrasse named Maggie, her much-loved predecessor Wally having finally succumbed to old age.

The original Reefsleep pontoon was damaged beyond repair two years ago when Cyclone Debbie struck the Whitsundays, in a 36-hour rampage that caused more than one billion dollars damage to the region.

Not only did this Category 4 storm destroy 93 boats in Airlie Beach, it wrecked Daydream Island and Hayman Island, which are opening again this year.

And by the end of the year, an even newer Reefsleep pontoon, replete with several underwater bedrooms with windows looking out on the reef life, and en suites, are to open.

Late afternoon when the tide drops, I snorkel the reef, gliding around the coral drop off, delighting in snaring this spectacular spot all to myself.

Dinner is reef and beef, served with the local version of lobster – a Moreton Bay bug – while the noisy noddy terns are lined up along the pontoon railing like black-tie function waiters.

I drink a fine Australian red from the on-board bar, before retiring to the underwater observatory for some reef reality television.

There are grouper galore and I swap counting sheep with fish before I slink into my swag under the stars with a full moon to boot.

Eggs cooked to order, fruit, cereal, croissants and brewed coffee greet me in the morning out on this remote pontoon, where there’s time for more snorkelling before the day trippers return.

Back in Airlie Beach, things have changed too, with a little help from Cyclone Debbie.
The Airlie Beach Hotel suffered significant damage during the deluge but it’s back with a new dining establishment The Pub, boasting the type of pub grub you’d expect, such as schnitzels, parmas, pizzas, pastas and burgers, but with black and white wicker chairs more redolent of a pavement cafe in Europe.

But as always in Airlie, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Head to the Fat Frog Cafe at Cannonvale Beach and you’ll discover a gem that has been popular with locals since it opened six years ago.

It’s retro to the core, replete with the 1950s metal chairs you’d find in an old community hall and other memorabilia, but with a modern menu such as the Green Frog breakfast of pea, broadbean and mint fritter; poached eggs; grilled halloumi; labne; and sourdough.

Just around the corner sits Abell Point Marina and those cask-wine backpackers.
Yes, a new day has dawned in Airlie Beach but it’s not so much a case of spank me, rather pinch me, as the Whitsundays are back even more beautiful, bluer and better than before.

GETTING THERE

The easiest way to travel to Airlie Beach from New Zealand is to catch an international flight to Australia’s east coast capitals of Brisbane or Sydney. From here, there are regular domestic connections to Proserpine Airport with Jetstar Airways, Tiger Australia and Virgin Australia.

For great views over Airlie Beach, stay at Toscana Village Resort or Pinnacles Resort.

Cruise Whitsundays operates the Reefsleep experience.

DETAILS
queensland.com

Rotorua: Kelly Makiha experiences the best ‘staycation’ at home

We live here, we love it, but do we really know what amazing stuff Rotorua really has to offer families? Kelly Makiha packs up her kids and heads just down the road for a “staycation” to her home city.

“Muuuuuuu-uuuum, I’m bored.”

In just a few weeks you might be hearing these words from your delightful offspring as they grapple with keeping themselves entertained during the school holidays.

If term two whizzed by so quick you forgot to plan that awesome family holiday to Fiji, Gold Coast or Bali, never fear. Something more spectacular awaits in Rotorua.

Our tour started with a walk through the valley where we were gobsmacked by the beauty of the geothermal features and the colour of the water features. It’s not like anything you see in Rotorua.

We took in fascinating history such as the Pink and White Terraces and the Mount Tarawera eruption, which is enhanced if you get the Waimangu app beforehand.

One of the highlights for my bunch was being allowed to hold the thermometer gun, which meant they could point it at anything across the valley, pull the trigger and read the temperature of that spot.

Stargazing at Skyline Rotorua

You are never too old to learn and you’re never too young to allow the smallest of things to blow your mind.

Paying to look at stars wasn’t something that automatically jumps on to my list of things to do. Until now.

We headed to Skyline Rotorua on a clear crisp winter’s night and had the lovely Bryce take us on an informative trip of the universe.

Yes, there were nine of us standing in the freezing cold for nearly an hour but not once did our group of kids ask “are we done yet?”.

They were truly mesmerised by what Bryce was telling us about the planets, the stars and the moons.

It’s all stuff us parents should know, right? Like where to find the Milky Way or the Southern Cross. Now there’s no more guessing.

The kids were able to look through what felt like the world’s largest telescope and see right up close on many planets.

Bryce’s astronomy knowledge is second to none – especially fielding that question from the kids that was bound to come, “where is Uranus?”, to which the quick-witted Bryce replied with a deadpan face “behind you”.

Redwoods Treewalk

Confession time. Heights give me the heebie jeebies so for years I’ve just marvelled at the magic of our beautiful Redwoods firmly from the ground.

But you can’t come to or stay in Rotorua without experiencing the Redwoods Treewalk and this self-confessed scaredy cat didn’t feel the slightest bit nervous.

Like many true-blooded Rotoruarians, I’m fiercy protective of our beautiful forest and it’s so comforting to know this eco-friendly tourist attraction is taking care of our prized patch.

Despite the extensive construction, not a single tree was damaged in the building of the bridges.

For those keen to soak up more than just the spectacular views, there’s a bunch of fun facts you learn along the way.

If being suspended between 9m and 20m into the air on 28 bridges over 700m isn’t enough to tickle your fancy, imagine doing it at night.

Open until about 10pm, the Treewalk transforms by night into a completely different experience.

It’s romantic, it’s moody, it’s exciting and it’s an experience like nothing else on this earth as coloured lights and illuminated lanterns bring the forest to life.

Te Puia

A blend of Māori culture, geothermal wonders and, wait for it, the best Māori buffet I’ve ever eaten, awaits at Te Puia.

No matter how many times we stand on a marae, listen to a karanga (call) and slowly walk on accepting the challenge as manuhiri (visitors), it still sends a wee shiver down my spine.

A day at Te Puia has it all and what a way to kick it off than with a traditional Māori welcome and concert.

We were all mesmerised with the action songs and loved our chance to stand up and have a go at poi and haka.

Then around the village we headed, going into the kiwi house and spotting a few of our namesakes, before heading down to the spectacular Pohutu Geyser.

We were lucky enough to have the best view while our bums were being warmed on the hot rocks when this beauty spouted its boiling water high into the air.

There were so many questions, like how, when and why coming from the kids which the expert guides were happy to answer.

Just as the stomachs started to rumble like that geyser, we headed into the newly-built restaurant.

Now, without sounding like a glutton, this was the highlight for this hungry mamma.

With favourites like boil up and rewena bread, stuffing and hangi-cooked kumara and pumpkin, you won’t be disappointed. My personal favourite was the watercress and corn soup. To make it even better, this Coeliac felt comforted in the gluten free preparation of the food.

Food fit for the angels: What to eat in Downtown Los Angeles

David Skipwith gets fed up with LA in the best possible way.

Los Angeles has always been popular with Kiwi tourists heading to Hollywood and Disneyland but the City of Angels is also a dream destination for food lovers.

Temptations are everywhere in the form of traditional diner meals and classic fast food, but LA has a wealth of eclectic eateries and high-end restaurants providing myriad options beyond chicken waffles, hotdogs, burgers and fries.

From coastal locales such as Manhattan Beach, to the revitalised Downtown and Hollywood areas and beyond, LA boasts a vibrant culinary scene that reflects the city’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity.

A hidden gem of the South Bay, Love & Salt has established itself as one of the city’s most popular restaurants, laying down rustic, Italian-inspired dishes just steps from the renowned Manhattan Beach Pier.

The large open space features a slate-blue and grey dining room, long granite bar and an open kitchen, providing a relaxed and lively setting for a fun date, or group or family meal.

Share plates, pasta and pizza are the go-to options here — standouts from our table include an entree of prosciutto and pear with bufala mozzarella, a grilled skirt steak with Jerusalem artichokes, grilled radicchio, and chimichurri, plus grilled octopus salad.

The cocktail and wine lists are suitably laidback and complement the menu well; there’s a good selection of French and Italian labels and their California equivalents and several tasty local craft beers are available on tap. If you lived in the neighbourhood, you’d be here every week.

A similar buzz has been created in Downtown at Broken Spanish — an award-winning modern Mexican restaurant, just a stone’s throw from the Staples Centre entertainment precinct.

The menu follows the evolution of its classically trained head chef, Ray Garcia, an LA native, whose food is strongly influenced by his Latin upbringing. Drawing inspiration and flavours from a diverse and colourful community, Broken Spanish offers a unique experience serving up shared crowd-pleasing home-style dishes.

The duck meatballs and bacon, with salsa chipotle are a must, before mixing and matching tortillas with a variety of sumptuous dishes such as esquites — corn, with bone marrow, guero chile, and Cotija cheese — and barbacoa short rib, with Sangre de Toro beans, bacon, and chipotle.

The restaurant features a beautiful bar area adjacent to the main high-ceilinged dining space, where you can indulge in a cocktail or two, or choose from a well-rounded wine list and quality selection of beers.

If you’re Downtown during the day around lunchtime, or are looking for a more casual setting for a bite in the evening, explore the international fare on offer at Grand Central Market.

Having celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2017, the bustling thoroughfare building packs in more than 50 food stalls of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, and fish from California and around the world.

Choose from an almost endless variety of creative cuisine, from vegan ramen and handmade pasta to authentic street tacos and award-winning coffee.

I did the rounds and queued at Prawn Coastal’s seafood counter to order a soft bread roll chockful of Maine lobster stewed in a broth with roasted onion and red pepper, fresh Thai basil, tangy coleslaw and aioli. Superb flavours abound and the sandwich provides ample fuel to keep you going for the rest of the afternoon or night.

Another casual dining option is The Fields LA — a new foodhall next to the recently opened Banc of California Stadium in Downtown’s Exposition Park.

The 200-seat dining area features seven hip eateries from multi-award winning chefs and a spacious outdoor cafe, while upstairs houses Free Play DTLA — a gastropub run by chef Tim Hollingsworth.

If you want to treat yourself come dinner time, take things up a notch at Gwen, a European-style, chef-driven butcher shop and restaurant that is redefining fine dining culture in LA.

On Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, Gwen is the second restaurant from Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone (his first is Maude) and offers an elegant feast-style menu presenting up to 20 dishes that call on fire-based cooking techniques.

Gwen’s in-house butcher shop is the heart of the restaurant, sourcing hormone-free, ethically raised and slaughtered meats and game direct from ranchers, to provide to the kitchen and the home chef seven days a week.

Vegetarians be warned — the tasting menu is dominated by meat, and a focus on steaks, which range in price and size from $95 for a 500g New York strip to a $199 1kg aged ribeye, with sides of duck-fat potatoes and Josper roasted carrots the perfect complements.

No matter where you are in LA, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Dowtown on the up

Downtown Los Angeles used to be a place to avoid but in recent years the district has been dramatically transformed into a bustling cultural hub well worth your holiday time.

The once-desolate area has been revamped and has grown beyond housing the city’s drab business centre, sparking life into a collection of neighbourhoods each with their own distinct personalities.
Deciding what not to do Downtown is now the hard part for tourists, with a huge range of first-class hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping on offer, along with museum attractions, and live sporting and music entertainment.

I was fortunate enough to bunk down at the Freehand Los Angeles — a
high-end hotel/hostel hybrid featuring mostly private and exquisite rooms along with a range of comfortable shared accommodation spaces for groups of four, six and eight.

Located in the former Commercial Exchange building at 8th and Olive (formerly the publishing house of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs), the Freehand is full of beautiful dark cedar and hand-woven textiles, which give it a film-noir feel.

Be sure to pop up to the popular Broken Shaker bar on the rooftop pool deck before dinner and enjoy a cocktail or craft beer while casting your eye across the beautiful LA skyline.

Countless attractions are within striking distance of Downtown — including the magnificent Natural History Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits, or contemporary art museums such as The Broad and Getty Center.

If you have the time and are visiting during the NBA season (October-April), make the effort to catch a Lakers or Clippers basketball game, or big-ticket concert at the Staples Center.

You don’t have to be a sports nut to enjoy US basketball — entertainment is the name of the game. All the glitz and hype, with amazing selections of food, beverages and merchandise conveniently at hand, ensure the spectator experience is far above and beyond anything served up at Auckland’s Spark Arena or Eden Park.

Downtown shopping offers something for everyone but avid readers simply can’t go past The Last Bookstore — a giant two-storey space packed with more than 250,000 new and used books and magazines, rare collectibles, and a large space dedicated to new and used vinyl records.

If you feel like venturing further afield, take an afternoon trip to the Griffith Observatory, where you can enjoy incredible views of the Hollywood Sign, Downtown LA and the Pacific Ocean.

Entry to this iconic cultural attraction — featured in many Hollywood films including Rebel Without a Cause, The Terminator, and La La Land — is free. Time your visit for sunset to get the best photos but be prepared for crowds looking to do the same.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand flies direct

from Auckland to LA with return Economy Class flights from $1099.

DETAILS
discoverlosangeles.com

Mexico’s fake avocado scam will guac your world

Mexico is facing a guacamole crisis. And tourists travelling to inhale truckloads of the delicious dip are being scammed with a very convincing fake.

What is a holiday to Mexico without gallons of their glorious guacamole while taking in the Caribbean? Well, turns out you may be getting duped with a cheap alternative when ordering your favourite taco.

Turns out avocado prices have skyrocketed through the roof, forcing some taquerias to ditch the avocado in their guacamole recipe and bring in a cheaper alternative.

The clincher? Customers are none the wiser and paying the same amount for the fake dish.

Poor harvests and cartel control are allegedly to blame for the soaring price of avocados in Mexico, forcing chefs to substitute them for “green courgettes” — or zucchini — in the dip.

When blended, these impostors look and taste identical to the real deal, and the trick is successfully scamming customers across the country.

According to Bloomberg, the price of Hass avocados from Michoacán, the heartland of Mexico’s avocado production, jumped some 7 per cent to a record-breaking 650 pesos ($50) for 10 kilograms.

So how is this cheap alternative being made and scamming punters keen for a bit of guac with their corn chips?

According to Javier Cabral, editor of LATaco, once the zucchini are boiled and blended with the rest of the ingredients — green tomato, coriander and chilli peppers — and pureed into a creamy, smooth consistency, few can tell the difference.

The zucchini impostor substitutes the green colour formed from an avocado, and “the recipe gets its creaminess thanks to the oil used to blister the jalapeño that emulsifies the rest of the ingredients”.

“The scariest part is that it tastes almost exactly like your standard taqueria guacamole: bright, spicy, rich and very satisfying,” Cabral said.

“For someone who has eaten over a thousand tacos this last year alone with all kinds of taqueria guacamoles, it almost fooled me.”

According to Cabral, the main difference between the poser salsa and the real thing is the “faintest, subtly sweet flavour” from the zucchini dip that is not present in the guacamole.

“But even for an experienced taco palate, when spooned over a nicely toasted tortilla, juicy meat or oozy cheese, onion, cilantro, and lime, it would be extremely hard to notice,” he said.

Cabral said the chances of being duped while dining were high, with the cost of avocados getting more and more expensive each week.

“I’m willing to bet that we have all had it at least once,” he said.

“Just think of the last time you have complained to yourself or aloud that the guacamole is too watery? It doesn’t help one bit that we have been living through a severe avocado shortage for the last couple of weeks that has rippled across the US.”

In Mexico, the production of avocados in the first five months of this year was down 1.2 per cent or 9071 tonnes compared with the corresponding period last year.

The Vanlife Companion: West Coast America’s Pacific Coastal Route in a campervan

In this extract from Lonely Planet‘s book The Vanlife Companion, find out the best stops on a campervan trip along America’s Pacific Coastal Route.

Bewitching ribbons of Hwy 1 and Hwy 101 await all along this route up the West Coast, from California into Oregon and Washington. Uncover beaches, seafood shacks and piers for catching sunsets over boundless ocean horizons — better yet, your odds of finding an overnight spot with an ocean view along this route are excellent.

San Francisco
There will be gridlock, but don’t despair. Hwy 1 runs straight through the city’s biggest, most breathable greenspace: Golden Gate Park, a conservatory of flowers, arboretum and botanical gardens.

Follow Hwy 1 north over the Golden Gate Bridge. Guarding the entry to San Francisco Bay, this iconic bridge is named after the straits it spans, not for its “International Orange” paint job. Park in the lot on the bridge’s south or north side, then traipse out on to the pedestrian walkway for a photo.

Slow-moving, wonderfully twisted Hwy 1 runs along the Marin County coast, passing nearby Point Reyes. Over the next 161km from Bodega Bay to Mendocino, revel in a remarkably uninterrupted stretch of coastal highway. More than halfway along, watch for the lighthouse road turnoff north of Point Arena town.

Around Point Arena
The fishing fleets of Bodega Bay and Jenner’s harbour-seal colony are the last things you’ll see before the highway dives into California’s great rural northlands. Hwy 1 twists and turns past the Sonoma Coast’s state parks packed with hiking trails, sand dunes and beaches, as well as underwater marine reserves, rhododendron groves and a 19th-century Russian fur-trading fort. At Sea Ranch, don’t let exclusive-looking vacation homes prevent you from following public-access trailhead signs and stairways to empty beaches.

Further north, guarding an unbelievably windy point since 1908, Point Arena Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in California where you can actually climb to the top.

It’s an hour-long, 56km drive north along Hwy 1 from the Point Arena Lighthouse turnoff to Mendocino, crossing the Navarro, Little and Big Rivers. Stop and stretch (or stop for the night) at one of the wind-tossed state beaches or parklands along the way.

Mendocino & Fort Bragg
Looking more like Cape Cod than California, the quaint maritime town of Mendocino has white picket fences surrounding New England-style cottages with blooming gardens and redwood-built water towers. Its dramatic headlands jutting into the Pacific, this yesteryear timber town and shipping port was “discovered” by artists and bohemians in the 1950s and has served as a scenic backdrop in more than 50 movies. Once you’ve browsed the souvenir shops and art galleries selling everything from driftwood carvings to homemade fruit jams, escape north to workaday Fort Bragg, with its simple fishing harbour and craft brew pub.

About 40km north of Mendocino, Westport is the last hamlet along this rugged stretch of Hwy 1. Rejoin Hwy 101 northbound at Leggett for another 145km to Eureka, detouring along the Avenue of the Giants and, if you have more time to spare, to the Lost Coast.

Redwood national & state parks
At last, you’ll reach Redwood National Park. Commune with the coastal giants inside Lady Bird Johnson Grove or the majestic Tall Trees Grove (free drive-and-hike permit required). For more untouched redwood forests, wind along the 13km Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (parks.ca.gov), passing grassy meadows where Roosevelt elk roam. Then follow Hwy 101 north to Crescent City, the last pit-stop before the Oregon border.

Brookings, Oregon

Your first stop on the Oregon coast, Brookings has some of the warmest temperatures on the coast, and is a leader in Easter lily-bulb production; in July, fields south of town are filled with bright colours and a heavy scent. In May and June you’ll also find magnificent floral displays at the hilly, 12ha Azalea Park.

Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor
This 19km stretch of coastal splendour features giant stands of Sitka spruce, natural rock bridges, tide pools and loads of hiking trails. Along the highway are more than a dozen roadside stops and picnic areas, most of which allow you to stay for 12 hours — so they make excellent dry camping spots, and you’ll wake to an Instagrammable ocean view.

The viewing platform at Natural Bridge Viewpoint (Mile 346, Hwy 101) offers a glorious photo op of rock arches — the remnants of collapsed sea caves — after which you can decide whether you want to commit to the hike down to China Beach.

Port Orford
Perched on a grassy headland, the hamlet of Port Orford is in one of the most scenic stretches of coastal highway, and there are stellar views even from the centre of town. If you’re feeling ambitious, take the 4.8km trail up Humbug Mountain, which takes you up, up, up past streams and through prehistoric-looking landscapes to the top, where you’ll be treated to dramatic views of Cape Sebastian and the Pacific. If it’s time to stop for the night, a parking lot atop the hill at the end of Harbor Rd charges a nominal fee for overnight camping (and restrooms at the visitor centre nearby).

Bandon
Optimistically touted as Bandon-by-the-Sea, this little town sits happily at the bay of the Coquille River, with an Old Town district that’s been gentrified into a picturesque harbourside shopping location. Along the beach, ledges of stone rise out of the surf to provide shelter for seals, sea lions and myriad forms of life in tide pools. One of the coast’s most interesting rock formations is the much-photographed Face Rock, a huge monolith with some uncanny facial features that does indeed look like a woman with her head thrown back — giving rise to a requisite Native American legend.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
This stretch of coast offers something altogether different in the landscape: sand. Lots of it. Stretching 80km, the Oregon Dunes are the largest expanse of oceanfront sand dunes in the US. Sometimes topping heights of 150m, these mountains of sand undulate inland up to 5km. Hikers and birdwatchers stick to the peaceful northern half of the dunes, and the southern half is dominated by dune buggies and dirt bikes. At Mile 200.8, the Oregon Dunes Overlook is the easiest place to take a gander.

In Reedsport, the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park offers summer tours of the 1894 lighthouse.

Cape Perpetua
Whatever you do, don’t miss the spectacular scenery of the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, 5km south of Yachats. You could easily spend a day or two exploring trails that take you through moss-laden, old-growth forests to rocky beaches, tide pools and blasting marine geysers. At the very least, drive up to the Cape Perpetua Overlook for a colossal coastal view from 245m above sea level — the highest point on the coast. While you’re up there, check out the historic West Shelter observation point built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. There’s a good campsite here, too.

Just south of Cape Perpetua, look for Cook’s Chasm, a rock formation that spouts water when the waves churn around it; the parking lot here offers endless views (and no signs forbidding overnight stays). This entire area was once a series of volcanic intrusions that resisted the pummelling of the Pacific long enough to rise as oceanside peaks and promontories. Acres of tide pools are home to starfish, sea anemones and sea lions.

Newport
Don your marine-biologist cap and head to Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, a spit of land that protrudes nearly a mile into the ocean. This headland is home to some of the best touch pools on the Oregon coast. You’ll also get a good look at the tallest lighthouse in Oregon, Yaquina Head Lighthouse (not to be confused with Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, 5km south). At the cutting-edge Oregon Coast Aquarium, seals and sea otters are cute as can be, and the jellyfish room is a near psychedelic experience.

Lincoln City
The sprawling modern beach resort of Lincoln City serves as the region’s principal commercial centre. In addition to gas and groceries, the town does offer a unique enticement to stop: from mid-October to late May volunteers hide brightly coloured glass floats — which have been hand-blown by local artisans — along the beaches, making a memorable souvenir for the resourceful and diligent vacationer.

Tillamook

Not all coastal towns are built on seafood and sand. Tillamook has a different claim to fame: cheese. Thousands stop annually at the

Tillamook Cheese Factory

for free samples and a picture-window view of the massive cheese-making factory floor.

Manzanita
One of the more laidback beach resorts on Oregon’s coast is the hamlet of Manzanita. You can relax on the white-sand beaches, or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, hike on nearby Neahkahnie Mountain, where high cliffs rise dramatically above the Pacific’s pounding waves. It’s a 6km climb to the top but the views are worth it: on a clear day, you can see 80km out
to sea.

Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach is one of the most popular towns on the Oregon coast. The wide sandy beach stretches for kilometres, and you’ll find great photo opportunities and tide-pooling possibilities at glorious Haystack Rock, the third-tallest sea stack in the world. For the area’s best coastal hiking, head to Ecola State Park.

Seaside
Oregon’s busiest resort town delivers exactly what you’d expect from a town called Seaside, which is wholesome, Coney Island-esque fun. The 3.2km boardwalk — known as “the Prom” — is a kaleidoscope of seaside kitsch, with bike rentals, video arcades, fudge, caramel apples, saltwater taffy and more.

Check your tide table and head to the beach; Gearhart is famous for its razor clamming at low tide. All you need are boots, a shovel or a clam gun, a cut-resistant glove, a licence (available in Gearhart) and a bucket for your catch. Watch your fingers — the name razor clam is well earned. Boiling up a batch is likely to result in the most memorable meal of your trip. For information on where, when and how to clam, visit the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife website; it’s a maze of a site, so just Google “ODFW clamming”.

Fort Stevens State Park
Thousands of vessels have been lost in the Graveyard of the Pacific, from warships to barges to freighters. A few are occasionally visible at low tide, but the easiest one to spot is the Peter Iredale, resting at Fort Stevens State Park. The ship was driven on to the shore by rough seas on October 25, 1906, and the wreckage has sat embedded in the sand ever since. Today, kids have made a jungle gym out of the rusted skeleton and families picnic and build sandcastles on the nearby sand at low tide. (No lives were lost in the wreck, so don’t let the thought of ghostly sailors dampen your fun.)

Astoria
Astoria sits at the mouth of the Columbia River, where you’ll find some of the Pacific’s most treacherous waters, thanks to river currents rushing out where ocean tide is trying to get in. The town has a long seafaring history and has seen its old harbour attract fancy hotels and restaurants in recent years. The Columbia River Maritime Museum sits right on the edge of the Columbia River, offering a look at everything from old boats to washed-up maritime mementos. A Coast Guard exhibit — featuring a rescue boat plying dramatic, fake waves — makes you really appreciate the danger of their job.

Oysterville & Nahcotta
The charm of these old communities — the only ones on the bay side of Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula — derives not just from their history but also from the absence of the beachfront towns’ carnival atmosphere. Tiny Oysterville stands largely unchanged since the oyster boom of the 1870s.

Read more at lonelyplanet.com

Food fit for the angels: What to eat in Downtown Los Angeles

David Skipwith gets fed up with LA in the best possible way.

Los Angeles has always been popular with Kiwi tourists heading to Hollywood and Disneyland but the City of Angels is also a dream destination for food lovers.

Temptations are everywhere in the form of traditional diner meals and classic fast food, but LA has a wealth of eclectic eateries and high-end restaurants providing myriad options beyond chicken waffles, hotdogs, burgers and fries.

From coastal locales such as Manhattan Beach, to the revitalised Downtown and Hollywood areas and beyond, LA boasts a vibrant culinary scene that reflects the city’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity.

A hidden gem of the South Bay, Love & Salt has established itself as one of the city’s most popular restaurants, laying down rustic, Italian-inspired dishes just steps from the renowned Manhattan Beach Pier.

The large open space features a slate-blue and grey dining room, long granite bar and an open kitchen, providing a relaxed and lively setting for a fun date, or group or family meal.

Share plates, pasta and pizza are the go-to options here — standouts from our table include an entree of prosciutto and pear with bufala mozzarella, a grilled skirt steak with Jerusalem artichokes, grilled radicchio, and chimichurri, plus grilled octopus salad.

The cocktail and wine lists are suitably laidback and complement the menu well; there’s a good selection of French and Italian labels and their California equivalents and several tasty local craft beers are available on tap. If you lived in the neighbourhood, you’d be here every week.

A similar buzz has been created in Downtown at Broken Spanish — an award-winning modern Mexican restaurant, just a stone’s throw from the Staples Centre entertainment precinct.

The menu follows the evolution of its classically trained head chef, Ray Garcia, an LA native, whose food is strongly influenced by his Latin upbringing. Drawing inspiration and flavours from a diverse and colourful community, Broken Spanish offers a unique experience serving up shared crowd-pleasing home-style dishes.

The duck meatballs and bacon, with salsa chipotle are a must, before mixing and matching tortillas with a variety of sumptuous dishes such as esquites — corn, with bone marrow, guero chile, and Cotija cheese — and barbacoa short rib, with Sangre de Toro beans, bacon, and chipotle.

The restaurant features a beautiful bar area adjacent to the main high-ceilinged dining space, where you can indulge in a cocktail or two, or choose from a well-rounded wine list and quality selection of beers.

If you’re Downtown during the day around lunchtime, or are looking for a more casual setting for a bite in the evening, explore the international fare on offer at Grand Central Market.

Having celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2017, the bustling thoroughfare building packs in more than 50 food stalls of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, and fish from California and around the world.

Choose from an almost endless variety of creative cuisine, from vegan ramen and handmade pasta to authentic street tacos and award-winning coffee.

I did the rounds and queued at Prawn Coastal’s seafood counter to order a soft bread roll chockful of Maine lobster stewed in a broth with roasted onion and red pepper, fresh Thai basil, tangy coleslaw and aioli. Superb flavours abound and the sandwich provides ample fuel to keep you going for the rest of the afternoon or night.

Another casual dining option is The Fields LA — a new foodhall next to the recently opened Banc of California Stadium in Downtown’s Exposition Park.

The 200-seat dining area features seven hip eateries from multi-award winning chefs and a spacious outdoor cafe, while upstairs houses Free Play DTLA — a gastropub run by chef Tim Hollingsworth.

If you want to treat yourself come dinner time, take things up a notch at Gwen, a European-style, chef-driven butcher shop and restaurant that is redefining fine dining culture in LA.

On Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, Gwen is the second restaurant from Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone (his first is Maude) and offers an elegant feast-style menu presenting up to 20 dishes that call on fire-based cooking techniques.

Gwen’s in-house butcher shop is the heart of the restaurant, sourcing hormone-free, ethically raised and slaughtered meats and game direct from ranchers, to provide to the kitchen and the home chef seven days a week.

Vegetarians be warned — the tasting menu is dominated by meat, and a focus on steaks, which range in price and size from $95 for a 500g New York strip to a $199 1kg aged ribeye, with sides of duck-fat potatoes and Josper roasted carrots the perfect complements.

No matter where you are in LA, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Dowtown on the up

Downtown Los Angeles used to be a place to avoid but in recent years the district has been dramatically transformed into a bustling cultural hub well worth your holiday time.

The once-desolate area has been revamped and has grown beyond housing the city’s drab business centre, sparking life into a collection of neighbourhoods each with their own distinct personalities.
Deciding what not to do Downtown is now the hard part for tourists, with a huge range of first-class hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping on offer, along with museum attractions, and live sporting and music entertainment.

I was fortunate enough to bunk down at the Freehand Los Angeles — a
high-end hotel/hostel hybrid featuring mostly private and exquisite rooms along with a range of comfortable shared accommodation spaces for groups of four, six and eight.

Located in the former Commercial Exchange building at 8th and Olive (formerly the publishing house of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs), the Freehand is full of beautiful dark cedar and hand-woven textiles, which give it a film-noir feel.

Be sure to pop up to the popular Broken Shaker bar on the rooftop pool deck before dinner and enjoy a cocktail or craft beer while casting your eye across the beautiful LA skyline.

Countless attractions are within striking distance of Downtown — including the magnificent Natural History Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits, or contemporary art museums such as The Broad and Getty Center.

If you have the time and are visiting during the NBA season (October-April), make the effort to catch a Lakers or Clippers basketball game, or big-ticket concert at the Staples Center.

You don’t have to be a sports nut to enjoy US basketball — entertainment is the name of the game. All the glitz and hype, with amazing selections of food, beverages and merchandise conveniently at hand, ensure the spectator experience is far above and beyond anything served up at Auckland’s Spark Arena or Eden Park.

Downtown shopping offers something for everyone but avid readers simply can’t go past The Last Bookstore — a giant two-storey space packed with more than 250,000 new and used books and magazines, rare collectibles, and a large space dedicated to new and used vinyl records.

If you feel like venturing further afield, take an afternoon trip to the Griffith Observatory, where you can enjoy incredible views of the Hollywood Sign, Downtown LA and the Pacific Ocean.

Entry to this iconic cultural attraction — featured in many Hollywood films including Rebel Without a Cause, The Terminator, and La La Land — is free. Time your visit for sunset to get the best photos but be prepared for crowds looking to do the same.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand flies direct

from Auckland to LA with return Economy Class flights from $1099.

DETAILS
discoverlosangeles.com

Queensland: Brisbane, a little ripper fully transformed

Perhaps it goes with the territory, of being the little brother. While Sydney and Melbourne bicker about everything from who’s got the bigger population, better coffee or best football code, Brisbane is getting on with life and with living.

Queensland’s capital buzzes. Look up and it’s in the tower cranes; look around and it’s on the street, in the lanes and along the riverbanks. Apart from Christchurch, you won’t find a Pacific city that is transforming itself as dramatically, or as rapidly.

Rewind six years and Brisbane’s prime real estate — the riverbank beneath the famed Story Bridge — was a rubbish dump of rusting, dilapidated warehouses and wharves at the end (or start) of the riverside boardwalk. No more: welcome the state’s hottest new dining and lifestyle precinct, Howard Smith Wharves.

The 3.5ha, $200m-plus redevelopment is about much more than bars and restaurants. Sure, there are plenty of those: Mr Percival’s, an octagonal bar and deck sits over the water underneath the bridge. The DJ and often musicians perform, literally, on the top shelf.

Felons craft brewery mashes and pours inside an 800-seat gastropub; Greca is a contemporary taverna; Toko a casual Japanese diner and Stanley a Cantonese restaurant.

Incorporated are a dozen “cutting-edge event spaces” from heritage buildings to outdoor spaces nestled under cliffs and green landscapes for pop-ups, weekend markets and concerts. Event venues and a boutique hotel, too.

CEO Luke Fraser emphasises that 80 per cent of the area is allocated to public space and designed to reacquaint locals with their waterfront — to walk, ride, scoot or sit and chill in the grounds. It extends beyond the riverfront, he says.

“We’re part of a large-scale vision to transform Brisbane into a must-visit tourism, recreation, dining and lifestyle destination. While we’re embracing the site’s history, our focus is on creating spaces where locally made food and beverages can thrive.

“We are investing $17.5m on landscaping to create grassed play areas, inner-city edible gardens to supply our restaurants, a walking track and dedicated cycle path, a kayak base and soon our own ferry wharf.”

James St in Fortitude Valley was a Mad Max landscape of car yards, decaying buildings and vacant lots a few years back. Now it’s a tree-lined, vine-laden street of vibrant architecture and life.

In fashion, ambitious locals, Australian designers and international labels cluster here, names like Gail Sorronda, Natasha Schweitzer, Francis Hendrie; brands such as Camargue, Calexico, Aje, Camilla, Zimmermann; flagship stores you’ll see in malls and main streets from New York to Newmarket. Ditto homewares. Jewellery. Furniture. Decor, galleries and spas.

James St is also home to some of the finest of Aussie dining — Middle Eastern-inspired Gerard’s Bistro and the Italian favourite Bucci — , alongside casual eateries and more cafes than you could shake a recyclable stirrer at. There are upwardly mobile take-home treats at the James St Market, and coffee roasters abound.

For wine or cocktails Cru Bar (think about it) and Gerard’s are best. For something more relaxed head for Sixes and Sevens, a swish version of the traditional Queensland pub, or the craft-beer haven Tippler’s Tap.

City-dwellers spend so much of our urban life on high streets that we often overlook the byways. Sue Hammond, from the free and highly recommended Brisbane Greeters volunteers, took me into the city’s little-known lanes.

The most extensive is Fish Lane, running five blocks from the Southbank artery of Grey St deep into original suburbs.

Cafes, bars, artisans, street art line the cobblestones; don’t miss Wandering Cooks, a kitchen and outdoor dining-room for food entrepreneurs and wandering musicians.

Hidden near Queen St Mall is Burnett Lane, where you can kick start the day with coffee in deep, dark Brew or brighter, breezier Felix, shop yourself silly, and come back for a late-night bar hop at the same places.

Next to Central Station are Gresham Lane, with its out-of-time whisky bar and contemporary food court, and Albert Lane’s global cuisines.

In Fortitude Valley, two entrepreneurial brothers with long family connections to the suburb have revived three unloved service lanes that were once home to dumpsters and delivery vans.

Winn Lane is now the place for bohemian boutiques, burgers and live music; Bakery Lane for fashion, craft and cafe startups; California Lane for a slightly more upmarket offering of coffee, cocktails, food and fashion.

Brisbane is exciting already, but they’ve only just begun. The mega-project is the $3.6b, 27ha Queens Wharf redevelopment in the city’s heart, on the riverbank where — I’m sorry to remind them of this — history records the British convict colony was founded in 1825. It later became the heart of state government.

Now, promising to “change the face of downtown Brisbane forever”, are rising a casino, hotels, restaurants, bars, outdoor public spaces and foreshore, and a new pedestrian bridge to South Bank.
Scheduled for completion in 2022, the project is taking shape on the site of former government buildings between the city’s CBD and riverbank, reframing many heritage buildings.

The “little brother” can often surprise everyone.

I keep telling my big brothers that.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

House of Travel

has flights and seven-night stay packages for Gold Coast ($749pp), Sunshine Coast ($779pp and Tropical North Queensland ($1049), for travel on selected dates.

Budapest: Christmas holidays in Hungary’s capital

Go now

The festive season kicks off early in Budapest. Its Christmas market usually opens in early November, the first in Europe to celebrate winter with colourful stalls, traditional dancing and cups of steaming forralt bor (mulled wine). It adds an attractive veneer to one of Europe’s great cultural capitals.

Stay here

The five-star Corinthia Hotel Budapest in the heart of bustling Pest has the class that one expects from a grand dame hotel. With just 10 rooms, Pest-Buda is a true boutique hotel with bags of character in Buda’s romantic historic centre.

Walk here

Starting at the impressive Chain Bridge, hike uphill (or ride the funicular) to the Castle District. Wander cobbled streets, admire views across the Danube and tick off landmarks such as Buda Castle: once home to Hungarian royalty.

See this

Heroes’ Square was created in 1896 to commemorate Hungary’s millennium. Its monuments and museums provide a memorable backdrop to City Park, whose lake becomes an ice rink in winter.

Try this

A leisurely soak in mineral waters is a Budapest tradition. The city has 118 geothermal springs and numerous public baths. The grand facades and steaming pools of Szechenyiare the perfect place to warm up after wintry sightseeing.

Shop here

Follow pedestrianised Vaci Street, the city’s major shopping thoroughfare, to Vorosmarty Square for stores spanning high street to high-end. The square hosts Budapest Christmas Fair every year, with more than 100 festive stalls, wine and traditional dancing.

Drink here
Szimpla Kert is Budapest’s original “ruin bar”: a bohemian, pop-up pub in a formerly derelict factory. The salvaged furnishings and fairy lights spawned many imitators, but its 400-strong list of cocktails, wines and craft beers draws a loyal following.

Eat here

Work up an appetite at the Downtown Market, then bag a table at Stand 25, an informal bistro serving local dishes such as goulash soup and chicken stew with noodles. Expect to pay $30 for lunch (three courses) or $50 for dinner (four courses), without wine.

Off the map

Many of the showiest landmarks lie along the river. See them on a 70-minute cruise from Vigado Square – unless it’s so cold that the Danube ices up.