Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Picture of the Month

April's picture of the month is taken from the Zanzibar coast line, looking out to the sun and ocean. It was taken by a good friend on his honeymoon. The detail of picture is in four Dhows. Across the water to Madagascar, if you can get there, I've been recommended island hopping by Dhow as a means of slowmoves!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Great historic journeys across the world

People have been travelling since the beginning of time, it just took them a lot longer to get anywhere. As well as going from a to b, travel allows us to escape and discover new landscapes, people and culture. It's dreamy and aspirational and the subject of many great books and films. Take Jules Verne's 'Around the world in 80 days', or Jack Kerouac's 'On the road'.

Good magazine brilliantly documents some of these inspiring historic journeys, from the silk road to the trans-Siberian Railway. You can click on any of the adventures, real or fictional, and learn about the interesting points along the journey. Why not base your next trip on one of these voyages? You can walk in the footsteps of great explorers and get a history lesson in the process. And of course you'd travel 'slowly', as they really didn't have another alternative back then.



Monday, 6 April 2009

Mont Blanc Express

I mentioned in a previous blog that just this week before last I had travelled from Swiss Alps to French Alps. I made the same trip back by train the following day but in daylight rather than after hours. The exact route was Martigny to Chamonix, on the Mont Blanc Express.

I was told the Mont Blanc Express is one of the most stunning train rides around and I cannot think of a more striking train journey I have been on (Bergen to Oslo was the best I had been on before this trip). The train takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The train goes at a leisurely pace throughout, stopping regularly, including at the Swiss boarder so don't forget your passport. A highlight is certainly the descent to (or climb from) Martigny. Also look out for stops at Finhaut and Salvan. Mountain, village and gorge scapes.

There are windows in the roof of train there is so much to see!

It would be hard to justify a slowmoves to Martigny or Chamonix especially for the train but the ride maybe of interest if you ever have to think about travelling between the two places, or if you have a day to spare next time you are in the area.

As a side I have to mention the fantastic La Vache Qui Vole restuarant in Martigny. Unexpectedly fantastic food, service and ambience, even for a vegetarian.


Sunday, 5 April 2009

Rural retreats in Italy; the home of 'slow'

The slow movement began back in the 1980's in Italy to counteract fast food and fast life and promote local, traditional food culture and a slower pace of life. Guido, the owner of Barbialla Nuova guesthouse (pictured) in the Tuscan countryside sums up his devotion to slow living:

"We are Slow through and through: we wait for just the right moment to collect truffles; we raise our cattle in a leisurely way, giving them all the time they need to grow naturally. We run our agriturismo in a way that we feel helps our guests to leave behind the stresses of modern life."

As I read this, I thought; 'when's my next holiday? I'm going to Tuscany'. I couldn't have come across a more relevant article for slowmoves as I flicked through last weekend's Observer and read an article about rural retreats in Italy called 'A slow traveler's guide to Italy'. Alaistar Sawday has just published a new book called 'Go Slow Italy' and he's hand-picked a selection of the places to stay for the Observer. They all have a focus on home-grown products, the pleasures of the communal table, abide to social and environmentally-sound practices.

Here is a selection of the wonderfully dreamy and inspiring places... let me know if you ever have the pleasure of making your way to any of them, I would love to hear about it.

Locanda Casanuova, Tuscany (pictured below)

Locanda Casanuova is a place of contemplation - and always has been, for it began life as a monastery. Bedrooms are almost monastically simple, but have splashes of colour and style to introduce a perfect measure of modernity.

The 23 hectares of vineyards and olives produce 7,000 litres of wine and a lot of olive oil; there is an organic vegetable garden too. It is an intensely personal place. It was 20 years ago that they came here and resolved to rescue it. They have done so much more: Ursula practises yoga in the early mornings - you are welcome to join her - and is a superb cook; meals are wonderfully convivial affairs in the refectory, off which is a library where you can pore over trekking maps at a big round table.

• Locanda Casanuova, near Figline Valdarno (00 39 055 950 0027; casanuova.info). Twelve doubles, two suites, four singles - from €70 per person half board. Two apartments, from €75 a night for two. Nearest train station: Figline Valdarno

I Mandorli Agriturismo, Umbria

Wanda is the overseer of this 45-hectare estate. With her three daughters, Maria, Alessandra and Sara, and their daughters, you have the privilege of seeing Italian family life in action. I Mandorli is a higgledy-piggledy house with little steps here and there leading to rooms and apartments, outhouses, lofts and old olive mills. Flowers tumble from pots, capers scale stone walls and fruit and cypress trees give shade in the garden. Bedrooms are simple affairs with wrought-iron beds and pale homemade patchwork quilts; the small bathrooms are spotless. The vineyard is managed organically; vegetables and sunflowers are grown and there is a little outlet for the estate's produce; you can buy wine, lentils, oils and jams to take home.

Guests can wander the land, pick herbs, help with the olive harvest, take cookery lessons, cycle, walk and go rafting. Children will love the wooden slide and seesaw, the old pathways and steps on this shallow hillside, the new pool - wonderful to return to after outings to Assisi and Spoleto.

• I Mandorli Agriturismo, near Trevi (00 39 0742 78669; agriturismoimandorli.com). One twin/double, two triples, from €40. Three apartments: one for two; two for four, from €65 a night. Nearest train station: Trevi

Thursday, 2 April 2009

CouchSurfing your way around the world

Driving a few extra hours to avoid spending a night in a shady motel; an uncomfortable overnight stop-over at an airport because you wouldn’t know where to go; too little money on the last leg of a trip to be able to enjoy it; or leaving a city with mixed feelings because the tourist spots didn’t do it for you. Those are situations that we have all been exposed to at one point or another during our travels.

I wish I had known about CouchSurfing during those ‘hitches’. CouchSurfing is a website connecting people throughout the world by sparing their extra bed or couch (for free!), thereby offering an affordable way to plan your itinerary but the real attraction of this website is the cultural exchanges taking place between guests and hosts who often go out of their way to provide a meal or offer a guided tour of their city with a local perspective.

Safety features have also been planned out to minimize misadventures and consist mainly of member referrals as well as a system to verify names and addresses. And it all seems to work fine.

The first random search led me to the following referral of a female UK traveler to Santiago de Chile:

“If Carlos ever gets tired of the day job he should become a tour guide (or a bartender thanks to his excellent pisco sours!)! He gave me a wonderful and very thorough tour around Santiago when I surfed his couch there, and I enjoyed every minute of it. He´s a very friendly, informed and easy-going person - thanks so much, Carlos, for your hospitality and help in Chile.”

To date, CouchSurfing has over 1 million members across 232 countries and is growing by the day. All there is left to do now is dig out a map and hit the road! Happy surfing!

Website: www.couchsurfing.com