Features // Discovery

Exploring Matera’s cavernous dwellings in Italy
Exploring Matera’s cavernous dwellings in Italy

Italy’s southern region of Basilicata is home to one of the country’s most distinctive towns: Matera. It’s a fascinating place, not least for its unique topography and intriguing history as a Mediterranean troglodyte settlement. Thanks to its biblical, otherworldly feel, it’s been used as the setting for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ too. Rough Guides…

Great rivers of the world – China’s Yellow River
Great rivers of the world – China’s Yellow River

The Yellow River, or Huang He, is the second longest river in China stretching almost 5500km through nine provinces, making it the sixth longest river in the world. Its nickname, the ”Mother River”, is apt as these snaking waters have sustained Chinese civilizations since ancient times. There is an abundance of sights, sounds and smells to experience along the Yellow River’s course, from the thousand-year-old Xiaoji mountainside statues in Bingling, to the collection of…

Solving the mysteries of Pompeii, Italy
Solving the mysteries of Pompeii, Italy

Pity the poor folk picking through the rubble of the Forum in Rome. To make the most of the ruins there you have to use your imagination. In the ancient Roman resort town of Pompeii, however, it’s a little easier. Pompeii was famously buried by Vesuvius in 79 AD, and the result is perhaps the…

Heading into deepest mafia country, Italy
Heading into deepest mafia country, Italy

The deep south, toe-end region of Aspromonte is still considered by many Italians to be out of bounds. For it is here, among the thick forests, crenellated mountain peaks and tumbledown villages, that the n’drangheta, or Calabrian mafia, based their empire until the 1990s. The organisation had its origins in landless nineteenth-century peasant workers who…

Snapshot: Myanmar (Burma) Highlights
Snapshot: Myanmar (Burma) Highlights

Myanmar (Burma) is a beautiful and culturally rich country, but has been cursed for decades with a brutally oppressive regime. Now, following the softening and then removal of the 15-year-long tourism boycott, tourist numbers have swollen. This is a fascinating time to discover Myanmar’s temples, rice fields, and mountains, and meet the people eager to…

Masada: conquering Herod’s hilltop palace
Masada: conquering Herod’s hilltop palace

The steep cliffs rising out of the Judean Desert look like an unlikely place for a fortress, but there, 400m up, overlooking the Dead Sea, sits the legendary stronghold of Masada. Masada was first fortified by Herod the Great in the late first century BC, who was apparently so scared his people would revolt that he built this…

Checking out the Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv
Checking out the Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is a city with chutzpah, a loud, gesticulating expression of urban Jewish culture. Revelling in a Mediterranean-style café culture, it has dozens of bars and clubs, all aimed squarely at the under-30s. It doesn’t seem likely to have much in the way of architectural interest – it was only founded in 1909 –…

The World Outgames, Antwerp
The World Outgames, Antwerp

From synchronised swimming to same-sex dancing, the World Outgames is an Olympic-style competition with a difference – it’s one of two sporting competitions held by the world’s gay community. In August Antwerp played host to the third ever World Outgames, and Rough Guides writer Michael Turnbull went along to discover more about the city’s LGBT community. The…

Fighting off the cats in Israel & The Palestinian Territories
Fighting off the cats in Israel & The Palestinian Territories

The Middle East isn’t all desert, desert, desert. Take a break from sand and head for the water: stand on the walls of Acre and watch the sun sink into the Mediterranean. Acre is one of the most evocative Palestinian towns inside Israel. There are ancient walls, mosques, gardens and museums here, but this old…

Arrivals: a travel news round up (September 16)
Arrivals: a travel news round up (September 16)

Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel topics and unpicks the top stories of the week. Thousands apply for one-way trip to Mars More than 200,000 people have applied for the chance to help colonise Mars. Just four of the applicants will be picked for the first one-way mission being…

Follow Jesus to Nazareth, Israel
Follow Jesus to Nazareth, Israel

Secreted away in the souk quarter behind the Basilica of the Annunciation, in a maze of streets too narrow for cars, lies the Fauzi Azar Inn – a 200-year-old mansion that has been converted into the most welcoming place to stay in Nazareth. Centred on an arched courtyard, its ten adjoining rooms are decked out…

23 things you never knew about Japan
23 things you never knew about Japan

This collection of islands has fascinated travellers since Japan picked itself up from World War defeat, and became one of the leading economic and technological centres of the world. Ancient gods and traditional customs sit side by side with cutting edge technologies and trendy pop culture, and there is always something new to learn about…

Winning the prehistoric lottery, Ireland
Winning the prehistoric lottery, Ireland

Every year in Ireland, thousands of people do the Newgrange lottery. Entry is by application form, with the draw made in October by local schoolchildren. And the prize? The lucky winners are invited to a bleak, wintry field in the middle of County Meath on the longest night of the year, to huddle into a…

Wash an elephant in the Rapti River, Nepal
Wash an elephant in the Rapti River, Nepal

Each day, at around 11am, a strange combination of sounds – excited laughter, lots of splashing and the occasional burst of trumpeting – can be heard drifting through the village of Sauraha in southern Nepal. Elephant bath time has begun. This ritual takes place in the Rapti River, which separates Sauraha from Chitwan National Park,…

10 free things to do in Montréal, Canada
10 free things to do in Montréal, Canada

As the largest city in Québec province, there’s plenty to do in Montréal. Fill up on complimentary samples at the Jean-Talon food market and then take advantage of the city’s huge variety of free cultural and outdoor activities, from festivals to art exhibits to tango. Here’s our roundup of the best free things to do…

20 Facts about Turkey you never knew
20 Facts about Turkey you never knew

You probably didn’t know Turkey’s real name, you might have been confused about which city is the capital, and you probably thought tulips came from the Netherlands. It turns out, you were probably wrong. There is a lot more to Turkey than meets the eye – between the beaches and bustling markets lies a wealth…

Meditating in the Himalayas, Nepal
Meditating in the Himalayas, Nepal

People have looked to the mountains for spiritual consolation for millennia. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,” say the Psalms, “from whence cometh my help.” For Nepalis, the link is especially powerful. The Himalayas are where the Hindu gods go to meditate and replenish their tapas, or spiritual “heat”, and the Buddhist…

Everest: the hard way, Nepal
Everest: the hard way, Nepal

By the time you’re halfway up the notorious Lamjura Pass – which rises in one lung-busting, 2km-high staircase of green, terraced hillside from steamy river to airy ridge – you’ll be asking yourself why. Why did I ever think of walking to Everest Base Camp? Why did I carry so much stuff? And why did I not fly…

Arrivals: a travel news round-up
Arrivals: a travel news round-up

Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel topics and unpicks the top stories of the week. More tourists welcome, but heavy planes are not Climbers could soon be getting their crampons into five additional Nepalese peaks over 8,000m. Currently, just eight of the country’s highest mountains are accessible, but overcrowding…

The Taj by moonlight, India
The Taj by moonlight, India

When it comes to viewing the Taj Mahal, there isn’t really an unflattering angle or wrong kind of weather. Even the Dickensian smog that can roll off the Jamuna River in midwinter only serves to heighten the mystique of the mausoleum’s familiar contours. The monsoon rains and grey skies of August also cast their spell;…

Whale watching in Husavik, Iceland
Whale watching in Husavik, Iceland

The fact that in Icelandic the word for beached whale is the same as that for jackpot or windfall may give you some clue as to how these seaborne beasts are seen by the locals. Yes, you may well find whale on the menu in Iceland’s restaurants – but thanks to a temporary moratorium on…

Top ten gap year destinations
Top ten gap year destinations

It’s that fateful A-level results day again, when hundreds of thousands of hard-working students will be taking one last trip back to school to discover the outcome of those arduous and intense exams they took at the beginning of the summer. Essentially, two years of hard work will all culminate in one single letter today,…

Discover Mayan ruins at Lago de Petexbatún
Discover Mayan ruins at Lago de Petexbatún

If you like your Mayan ruins a little less grandiose than Tikal but all to yourself, then try those in and around Lago de Petexbatún, a spectacular expanse of water ringed by dense forest to the south of Sayaxché. The region is home to several ruins, including Dos Pilas, Ceibal and Yaxchilán, though the most…

Six spectacular sights in Bolivia
Six spectacular sights in Bolivia

From the heights of La Paz to the Amazon rainforest, the immense Lake Titicaca to the blindingly white Salar de Uyuni salt flats, Bolivia is blessed with a wealth of spectacular sights. Neil McQuillian reveals his six highlights.    The Death Road Any reputable Death Road mountain biking operator will bore you to tears with safety instructions, dos and don’ts, and…

Conquering Mount Olympus, Greece
Conquering Mount Olympus, Greece

Work off that moussaka with a hike up the most monumental of the Greek mountains – Mount Olympus. Soaring to 2920m, the mountain is swathed in mysticism and majesty, mainly due to its reputation as the home of the Ancient Greek gods. Reaching the peak isn’t something you can achieve in an afternoon – you’ll…

Turkey in twelve meals
Turkey in twelve meals

Updating a guidebook is fascinating, exhausting, repetitive and exhilarating work. Nothing spurs you under the skin of a place more than 40 pages of listings that need checking in detail and the thought of thousands of travellers following your footsteps and relying on your diligence. Pounding the streets in search of that new café, lifting…

Hot coals for Constantine, Greece
Hot coals for Constantine, Greece

In a handful of sleepy farming villages in northern Greece, the fire-walking ritual is an annual celebration of a thirteenth-century miracle, when locals rescued icons from a burning church – without being burned themselves. By nightfall, the towering bonfire in the main square has dwindled to glowing embers. Every light is put out and all…

Schloss Neuschwanstein – the fairy-tale castle
Schloss Neuschwanstein – the fairy-tale castle

If you could only visit one castle in the world, then Schloss Neuschwanstein must be it. Boldly perched on a rocky outcrop high above the Bavarian village of Hohenschwangau, the schloss lords it over some of the most spectacular countryside in the country. It looks every bit the storybook castle, a forest of capped grey…

Island-hopping on the Aegean, Greece
Island-hopping on the Aegean, Greece

There’s an indefinable scent that, in an instant, brings the Greek islands vividly to mind. A mixture, perhaps, of thyme-covered slopes cooling overnight and the more prosaic smells of the port, of fish and octopus, overlaid with the diesel exhaust of the ferry that’s carrying you there. A moment at night when you can sense approaching land but not…

Interactive Map: 20 best places to pitch your tent
Interactive Map: 20 best places to pitch your tent

Picking the best place to pitch up for the night is an art that requires precision. Rocky terrain makes for an uncomfortable sleep; hard ground means battling with those tent pegs; and soft spots mean you might fly away. Put all these concerns aside for a moment though, and imagine waking up in the shadow…

A Phallic Journey: Italy’s Penis Café
A Phallic Journey: Italy’s Penis Café

Outside the progressive town of Taormina, Sicily, Rough Guides writer Kiki Deere finds phallic fun at a penis-themed café. My long hair brushes against an erect penis as my hand firmly grips onto a dark phallus that protrudes from the bannister. Rows of excited male members line the windowsill, while others seemingly pop out of…

Ten things to do in Kenya after your safari
Ten things to do in Kenya after your safari

Whatever your budget, Kenya has no shortage of post-safari pursuits, writes Richard Trillo, author of the Rough Guide to Kenya and Kenya Programme Manager at Expert Africa. Whether you’re after a relaxing beach break or another adventure, there’s plenty to see and do in Kenya once you’ve left the wildlife behind. Share a beach house…

Beautiful Detroit: photos of the city at its best
Beautiful Detroit: photos of the city at its best

Empty buildings, decrepit houses and economic decline – the newly-bankrupt Detroit has been hit by a barrage of bad press of late. The Guardian, Time and others have all run (admittedly fascinating) “ruin porn” galleries of the city’s fall from grace. We thought we’d show you some of the more beautiful sights of Detroit instead,…

Things not to miss in India
Things not to miss in India

From the white, snowy tops of the Himalayas, to the greenery of Kerala and then the sands of Goa, India is a hugely diverse, intense but addictive country. It has deserts, rainforests, rural settlements and big cosmopolitan cities – some will love it, and a few will hate it, but with such variety there is…

Go on a Dive Safari in The Red Sea, Egypt
Go on a Dive Safari in The Red Sea, Egypt

Packed with coral reefs, abundant tropical fish and an assortment of World War II wrecks, there is something for every diver in the Red Sea. Yet if you go to many of the popular offshore sites you can find them swamped with dive boats, while below water there can often be more divers than fish.…

The world’s most intense storms, Venezuela
The world’s most intense storms, Venezuela

Every night on Lake Maracaibo the clouds gather to perform the world’s most intense storms. Thunder and lightning crash about in the skies as residents of the local villages, built on stilts, sleep peacefully in their shacks. Alasdair Baverstock went to investigate. The towering thunderclouds that had been swelling upwards into the enormous skies were…

10 unexpected highlights of Croatia
10 unexpected highlights of Croatia

By now we all know what’s on the Croatia bucket list – the Plitvice Lakes National Park, Dubrovnik’s medieval walls, and at least one of Croatia’s growing roster of music festivals. However there’s a lot more to Croatia than meets the eye, so it’s well worth planning a few detours to take in some of…

A day at The Eden Project, Cornwall
A day at The Eden Project, Cornwall

Home to over a million plants and more than five thousand different species from around the world, the iconic “biomes” (gigantic greenhouses) at the Eden Project are the focus of the UK’s premier green attraction. Built on the site of a former clay quarry, the Rainforest Biome houses plants from tropical islands, Malaysia, West Africa…

Exploring Burma’s beaches on a budget
Exploring Burma’s beaches on a budget

As the tourism boycott has ended, Myanmar (Burma) is becoming a popular destination on the Southeast Asia trail. John Oates has been travelling across this untouched country for the upcoming Rough Guide Snapshot to Myanmar (Burma). Here he escapes the fast paced city of Yangon to relax on the sandy beaches of Myanmar. After several…

Equatorial differences in Quito, Ecuador
Equatorial differences in Quito, Ecuador

If you find yourself in Quito, a visit to the equator is more or less obligatory – the middle of the Earth is only about a thirty-minute drive north from the Ecuadorean capital. As you get closer, the highland vegetation gives way to sandy plains punctuated by uninspiring brown hills. The “Mitad del Mundo” monument…

Trekking in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Trekking in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

The road to Corcovado National Park was once paved with gold – lots of gold – and although most of it was carried off by the Diqui Indians, miners still pan here illegally. These days, though, it’s just an unpaved track that fords half a dozen rivers during the bone-rattling two-hour ride from the nearest…

Turtle-watching in Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Turtle-watching in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

It’s a clear, moonless night when we assemble for our pilgrimage to the beach. I can’t understand how we are going to see anything in the blackness, but the guide’s eyes seem to penetrate even the darkest shadows. We begin walking, our vision adjusting slowly. We’ve come to Tortuguero National Park, in northeast Costa Rica,…

Santiago out of the shadows
Santiago out of the shadows

New boutique hostels, quirky nightlife and a medley of world cuisines are making Santiago stand out among the crowd of popular Latin American capitals. After spending a long time in the shadows of its more illustrious South American neighbours like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, Santiago is finally coming into its own. The Chilean…

Climbing Mount Sinai, Egypt
Climbing Mount Sinai, Egypt

The interior of the Sinai peninsula is a stark, unforgiving place. Beneath a strikingly blue sky lie parched mountains, rocky outcrops and great expanses of barren sand, interspersed with isolated oases and crisscrossed by medieval pilgrimage routes. It is, in the truest sense, a landscape of biblical proportions. In the south of this region, just…

Tread the Plitvice boardwalks, Croatia
Tread the Plitvice boardwalks, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park, some 80km from the Adriatic, is Croatia’s most enticing natural attraction. Like a colossal water garden, this 8km string of sixteen crystal-clear, turquoise lakes descends through some of Europe’s most primeval forests (complete with brown bears, if you know where to look), connected by rushing waterfalls and linked by footpaths, wooden…

The rise and fall of Valparaíso
The rise and fall of Valparaíso

In a tour of the city’s cultural and architectural legacies, Shafik Meghji discovers that it’s not just the steep hills and ancient elevators that rise and fall in Valparaíso, Chile. In the mid nineteenth century Valparaíso lived up to its nickname of “The Jewel of the Pacific”. It was one of the world’s most important…

Discovering Green Glasgow
Discovering Green Glasgow

Despite its industrial heritage Glasgow is actually one of the greenest cities in Europe, writes Helen Ochyra. Clip clop. I am travelling at nineteenth-century speeds along the main road of a country estate. On one side are formal gardens, planted with shaped hedges in lush greens, on the other, open fields dotted with dun-coloured Highland cattle.…

Dodging danger among the stunning national parks of Honduras
Dodging danger among the stunning national parks of Honduras

Among the chaos and danger of drug wars and organised crime Honduras can be a surprisingly beautiful and tranquil country. Shafik Meghji explored one of the country’s northern national parks on foot. “There are sometimes drug gangs in the park, but not in this part,” said my guide Jorge Salaverri, as our beat-up Jeep bumped…

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