Cozy place in Brisbane

Dominated by the mighty Brisbane River, Queensland’s vibrant capital, Brisbane, is a laid-back city with a cheeky attitude.

Thanks to its balmy climate and rich cultural scene, ‘Brisvegas’, as locals have it, is as popular with Australians as it is with international travellers, which makes it a pleasingly cosmopolitan place to visit.

One of Australia’s oldest cities, pre-colonial Brisbane was known to the Turrbal and Jagera people as Mian-jin (‘the place shaped like spike’) due to its unique geography.

Today, the city is still growing, and is thought to be the fastest expanding Australian conurbation on the East Coast. Less frenetic than Sydney but more vibrant than Adelaide, Brisbane boasts a bustling cultural scene and plenty of picturesque suburbs. The centre, dominated by the business district, is peppered with parks, nearly all of which are crammed with sunbathing locals on the weekends.

The South Bank is particularly loved thanks to the presence of the South Bank Parklands, which is home to Streets Beach, a public swimming area and a rabbit warren of quaint streets. Nearby is the striking glass and steel Museum of Modern Art, which is worth visiting for the architecture alone, and the magnificent Maritime Museum.

For boutique shopping, Paddington and Rosalie are key areas, particularly around LaTrobe Terrace. Some great fashion stores can be found in Fortitude Valley, while Stones Corner has a number of factory outlets.

Wonderful though Brisbane is, it’s the surrounding countryside that is the real icing on the cake. Barren peaks, a protected forest and a koala sanctuary are all within striking distance, as is the magnificent Queensland coastline – including Moreton Bay where the English cartographer, Captain Flinders, first came ashore.

If that wasn’t enough, the city is also the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the famous Australia Zoo, so skip onto Sydney if you like, but you’ll only be cheating yourself.

Learn more if you want go to Berlin

Clubber and scribe David Hillier investigates London’s moribund late night scene and asks what the city can learn from the clubbing capital of Europe, Berlin.

“A creative city with a powerful clubbing scene must have three things: affordable space, tolerance, and minimal regulation. These enable self-expression and innovation.” So says Lutz Leichsenring, press officer for Club Commission, a Berlin-based union set up in 2001 to represent the needs of its nighttime economy.

Last year London formed its own industry group, the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), and it’s desperately needed. The oft-quoted statistic that 50% of UK clubs have closed in the last decade is sadly correct, with totems such as Dance Tunnel, Cable and Passing Clouds all forced to shut. This mass cull reached its apex last month when Farringdon’s Fabric – the spiritual doyen of UK club culture – had its licence revoked following the drug-related deaths of two teenagers on its premises.

“The spiritual doyen of UK club culture”: Fabric remains closed after the latest Islington Council ruling
Creative Commons / Ben Hartley

According to Alan Miller, co-founder of the NTIA, “What people, and the authorities, need to realise is that nightclubs are a part of our ecosystem. They are an intrinsic part of a whole host of things, from fashion and design to advertising and retail. Everywhere, from Hackney to Peckham, from Tottenham to Hounslow, whole areas are being shaped by what’s happening with the nighttime economy.”

Across the country, £66 billion is spent in nighttime venues every year. The industry accounts for 8% of UK employment, with 1.3 million people pulling pints, manning doors or serving tables. And it’s increasingly a reason tourists come to the capital. “People aren’t just flying in for Madame Tussauds or Buckingham Palace any more, they’re coming for XOYO or Oval Space. Clubs are part of London’s repertoire,” remarks Miller.

Feeding this narrative – that clubs are ultimately about so much more than clubbing – is a major part of Miller’s role. He’s hoping this will be made easier when London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has come out in support of Fabric’s plight, appoints a ‘Night Czar’. The Czar will act as go-between for all the related parties and, most importantly, work in the best interests of late night culture in London.

In many senses Miller takes his lead from Leichsenring, who has championed this approach since joining Club Commission in 2004. Berlin is a long-time incubator of creativity, and Leichsenring also places heavy emphasis not just on the financial value that nightclubs bring to the city – although 35% of visitors to the city come for the nightlife – but on their ability to inspire the next generation of free thinkers and maverick artists. And he sees gentrification, a longtime bugbear of London’s creatives, as the mortal enemy of this.

“Lots of clubs in Berlin are in temporary spaces, and some owners decided that maybe they would like to turn them into a shopping mall, or a hotel, “ Leichsenring says. ”But around 15 years ago people started rethinking: maybe we don’t need another shopping mall. Because if you are young and creative, and have ideas about changing the world and you want to be free, then highly gentrified areas are not places you will go.”

Dalston’s Passing Clouds shortly before its closure in August 2016
Creative Commons / John Lubbock

One person who has keenly felt the dent of the developer’s boot in London is Gudrun Getz, Events Manager at Dalston’s Passing Clouds. In August the venue was closed down after a protracted and draining legal battle with their landlord, and they have been forced to leave a building they have lovingly spent a decade crafting into one of the city’s most forward-thinking arts and entertainment spaces. A building, it should be noted, that they also spent £200,000 redeveloping without being given an option to buy. They are currently appealing the decision.

“There’s a lot of fear in the nighttime community at the moment,” says Getz. “Every venue owner I’ve spoken to is worried that they’re going to be next on the chopping block.” According to Getz, there’s a lot more that local councils could be doing. “Wandsworth Council, for example, put Article 4 Directions in place that protected over 100 pubs and venues from being closed down. It wasn’t an easy or quick process, but they recognised the importance of their nightlife. More councils should be following their lead, and I also think some kind of national legislation should be put in place – something along the lines of a Cultural Heritage Protection Act, which marks out certain areas as being culturally significant and beyond development.”

The difference in Anglo and German attitudes to their clubs were made poignantly clear when, on the very same day that Fabric was ordered to close, Berlin’s industrial techno temple Berghain won a case that ensured it a place in a lower tax bracket. This bracket is reserved for venues providing works of cultural significance, so Berghain now sits alongside concert halls, museums and theatres as a high culturevenue. Vive le difference.

The two cities also vary greatly in their attitude towards drugs. Before Fabric was shut, this year had actually been widely perceived as a progressive year for drug policy in the UK. In September, a cross-party report calling for the legalization of medical cannabis was released, while Tory MP Crispin Blunt recently called for the regulation of all drugs. This was on the back of police-approved drugs testing, undertaken by harm reduction charity The Loop, that took place at this summer’s Secret Garden Party and Parklife festivals. Sadly, Fabric has taken the sheen off those big leaps forward.

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Fresh and clean water for your holiday

With gorgeous beaches, traditional Greek villages and a deliciously sleepy lifestyle all in store, flotilla sailing is one of the most fun and relaxing ways to cruise the Greek islands – absorbing the rich history and culture with several stops inland along the way.

One of the most popular island groups to sail around are the Cyclades comprised of Mykonos, with its profusion of bars and clubs, and Santorini, renowned for its white-washed houses tumbling down sheer cliffs.

Flotilla holidays are a great water holidays option for active families and groups of friends, as you sail with a fleet of three to 10 flotilla yachts. Pretty island breaks, good snorkelling and walks amid dappled olive groves and pine-clad hillsides await.

Water holidays: Dhows, Zanzibar

Traditional dhow boats ply the waters off Zanzibar and offer a romantic way to explore this stunning Indian Ocean island. Book a dhow trip, and relax under billowing sails as you glide to the Menai Bay conservation area where there’s a chance to spot dolphins and whales, and go snorkelling amid dazzling coral reefs.

When you get hungry, the dhow boat will anchor off an uninhabited island where you can feast on freshly grilled fish, seafood and tropical fruit, all washed down with spiced coffee. Spend the afternoon sunbathing or swimming in pristine lagoons, before sailing back to Zanzibar as the sun slips into the ocean.

Glide across shimmering turquoise waters, from one sandy isle to another all fringed with dipping palms; it’s truly tough to beat a yachting holiday in the Caribbean.

From the fresh lemon yellow sun rising over the ocean, to the fuzzy warm evening air, bobbing just offshore with a clinking icy rum punch in hand, after a day on the beach, this is a paradise water holiday at its very best.

Whether you choose the British Virgin Islands, Antigua, or St Lucia, enjoy the wonderful Caribbean on a yacht.

Take to the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, and spend an exhilarating water holiday kayaking in the territory of majestic polar bears. Norway’s Svalbard archipelago lies between Norway and the North Pole; it is an icy landscape of glinting lakes, imposing glaciers and truly impressive wildlife. Several companies offer boat trips which incorporate kayaking excursions, allowing visitors to feel the full force of this awe-inspiring landscape.

Further south, Norway’s iconic fjords provide the perfect backdrop to a kayaking holiday. Surrounded by towering mountains laced with hiking trails, it’s a dream holiday for adventurers and nature-lovers.

Water holidays: Whale watching, Mexico

Sail around Mexico’s Baja Peninsula on a spectacular whale-watching holiday for an unforgettable experience. The area’s deep waters are home to the mighty blue whale as well as dolphins, manta rays, seabird colonies and seals. Every year around 24,000 whales make their way to the lagoons and bays along Baja’s coastline, so expect to catch numerous sightings of these gentle giants.

Equally as impressive as the wildlife is the scenery: imagine endless coves, unique desert islands, burnt orange cliffs, isolated sandy beaches, all lapped by glittering turquoise waters

Do You Like River Cruises

Immerse yourself in the drama and beauty of the world’s largest river, the Amazon, on a South American river cruise with Aqua Expeditions. Departing from Iquitos, Peru, you sail down the wildlife-rich Amazon and its winding tributaries – the Yarapa, Yanallpa and Ucayali rivers, ending in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve.

The three-night voyage on board the 5-star Aqua Expeditionencompasses extraordinary diversity from flooded forests and local villages to iguana-laden islands and untouched habitats. Three daily expeditions with trained guides offer an opportunity to see wildlife up close such as dusky pink dolphins, chattering monkeys, sleepy three-toed sloths, spine-chilling caimans, and vibrant-coloured macaws. For the bravest passengers, there’s even the chance to fish for piranhas.

The luxury vessel accommodates 32 guests, with 16 private suites to choose from and a Jacuzzi on the top deck. Each of the air-conditioned cabins offers panoramic windows to soak up jungle views from the comfort of your own room. Prices start from £1,726pp.

Europe’s waterways offer a wealth of opportunity to discover some of the continent’s lesser known, enchanting historic cities.Avalon Waterways’s eight-day Romantic Rhine River Cruise departs fromAmsterdam to Zurich. Highlights include Cologne’s cathedral, Koblenz’s cultural centre, Heidelberg’s castle, Strasbourg’s statues, Breisach’s Black Forest and Basel’s romantic bridges. On board the elegantly furnished Avalon Visionary featuring spacious suites, passengers have everything they need, from a hair salon and library to a rooftop whirlpool, and an outdoor viewing platform. Prices start from £1,735pp.

Alternatively, plough a course on the Danube with Uniworld which offers premium boutique-style accommodation on board its vessels. Expect exquisite furnishings, original artworks, world-class cuisine and top notch service on board River Beatrice on an eight-day sailing through Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Nine excursions take in the best each city has to offer from Budapest’s fairytale streets, one of the world’s most gorgeous libraries in Vienna, Salzburg’s Mirabellgarten as seen in The Sound of Music, and finally, a concert and walking tour in Passau. On board, passengers can unwind on private French-styled balconies with personal butlers at their beck and call. Prices start from £2,199pp.

The beauty of Philippines island

The journey to Siargao should have taken an hour, but we’d already been in the air that long when an enormous cloud tore across the sky and chased us twice around the island.

When we finally touched down I realised that the runway we’d been circumnavigating was little more than a finger swipe through custard, a patch of scrubland disappearing into the jungle around it.

After hauling my bag from the prop plane, baffled at the lack of security checks, I climbed into a waiting jeepney, the ubiquitous and colourfully adapted American army jeeps used as public transport in the Philippines.

Bouncing along the dirt track was like stepping back in time. The only life in the dense palm jungle was around basic stilt huts clinging to the road edge. Bamboo frames held up corrugated iron roofs which acted as petrol stations. One litre of gas in a Coca Cola bottle would set you back 20p. Carabao grazed lazily in lush rice paddies; the smell of slow-cooked Lechon pig hung in the hot air.

Siargao (pronounced Shar-gow) is one of over 7,000 islands that make up the Philippine archipelago. Perched 448km (278 miles) off the coast of cacophonic Cebu, the teardrop-shaped isle is relatively unknown, except to the surfing community, for whom it is a mecca.

Compared to neighbouring Boracay (an island with a 5-star Shangri-La resort, full moon parties and a busy airport), Siargao is a sleepy sibling. There are no direct international flights and volatile weather makes current airline timetables chaotic.

But all this will change from 2015 as more than £400,000 is set to be spent on improving and extending Siargao’s Sayak Airport over the next three years.

I was in Siargao to visit the legendary surf at Cloud 9, a break on the east coast made famous by the World Surf League in 2011. I also had a profound urge to set foot on one of the world’s last remaining undeveloped spots.

Whilst on the island I stayed at Buddha’s, a hippie collection of thatched bungalows and hammocks just metres from the beach. I’d rise each morning at 6am and make my way through palm fronds to the sand. I’d heave my board onto a waiting bangkang (a traditional wooden outrigger used to fish) that transported surfers beyond the reef.

By the time we’d reach the swell, the sun would be high and the heat intense. There were only ever a handful of other surfers to compete with, so I’d spend two blissful hours carving watery tracks before heading back for a breakfast of eggs, bacon and fresh calamansi juice. By 6pm I’d sit and watch another sunset, convinced I’d found a personal heaven, my own Cloud 9.

This feeling resonated with many of the expatriates I met on the island, including Gerry Degan, the owner of Sagana, a resort with direct access to the Cloud 9 surf spot.

Gerry and his Filipino wife moved here from Australia in 1995, when the tourism industry was non-existent. With the help of a local, Gerry bought a plot of land and opened the resort. The airport extension makes him anxious, but he’s pragmatic.

“It’s a catch-22,” he says. “We would all like to keep the charm of the undiscovered tropical paradise, but as word leaks out of course more people will come. As a business owner it makes things much easier, but as a surfer my concern is that the waves will become overcrowded and I came here to surf a quiet break.”