The Daily Telegraph, September 3, 2014
Our writers share their favourite hidden attractions and lesser-known places in river cruise destinations around the world.
In a country which has just recently opened its doors to mass tourism, secrets (still) abound and there are plenty of family-run restaurants and tucked-away temples to choose from.
Eat with the locals at this simple streetside eatery which serves the best Shan food in the city. Choose from trays of curries, steamed fish, noodle soups and stir-fried vegetables arranged canteen-style on a long counter. It's on 23rd Street near 84th Street junction.
If you want to know what the Royal Palace looked like before it was torched by the British in the Second World War (the present 'palace' is a poor reconstruction), visit this peaceful teak monastery a few streets away which has exquisite woodcarvings. It was once used by King Mindon as his personal quarters and was moved here by his son after his death in 1878. Get quick access via public transport at 67th Street.
Thein Nyo silk weaving
A 30-minute taxi ride from the river dock, this is a fascinating silk workshop where you can watch men dying the silk skeins, supervising the spinning and reeling, before the women weave intricately patterned longyis sold for hundreds of dollars. The attached shop sells lengths of silk and cotton in bright jewel colours and covetable woollen scarves. Prices are fixed. The atelier is found near Ubein Bridge, Amarapura. Open 8am-6pm; theinnyosilk.com .
Kinsana Garden Theatre
This intimate open-air theatre in the gardens of the Mandalay Hill Hotel (10th street) showcases the dance, music and costumes of the different Burmese dynasties. Book ahead if you can or arrive early (show starts at 7pm) and costs US$20 including a good barbecue dinner. www.mandalayhillresorthotel.com
This is a superb Indian restaurant on the corner of 22nd and 63rd streets in a teak annex to the Hotel on the Red Canal with tables in the garden on fine nights. It serves both north and south Indian specialities, all freshly made each day. The biryanis are especially good. www.hotelredcanal.com
Gill Charlton, Burma expert
Holland's waterways are one of the most popular destinations for river cruises and Amsterdam, with its maze of canals, features in most itineraries and rarely fails to impress.
As soon as you’re on land...take to the water again. It may sound like predictably touristy pursuit, but a journey through Amsterdam’s canals in a glass-topped boat is a fascinating way to see the city. When the leaves have fallen from the trees you get a full view of the historic façades. A variety of cruises leave from Central Station, try canal.nl or lovers.nl
The newly renovated Rijksmuseum home not only to paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and other Old Masters, but also other artwork and precious objects from the whole of Dutch history, is a must. For the first time ever, from November 1 2014 to January 11 2015, the museum will display the pick of its huge 20th century photograph collection in its upcoming ‘Modern Times’ exhibition. Tickets for the museum cost €17.50, and it’s best to book online to avoid queues. www.rijksmuseum.nl
Brouwersgracht and Beyond
Weather permitting, a walk through the historic city centre is one of the greatest pleasures Amsterdam has to offer – and it’s free. Even if the weather isn’t that great, there are plenty of cafés you can take refuge in along the way. Tram 26 will take you on the one-stop hop to Central Station (almost next door to the cruise ship Passenger Terminal), but don’t make the mistake of many and walk straight out from there – rather duck hard right, around the corner to Brouwersgracht, and walk along to Prinsengracht, for a more atmospheric experience.
Festival of Light
From November 27 2014 to January 18 2015, all manner of light-related activities and displays, from light sculptures to installations, will illuminate Amsterdam. It’s an uplifting way to experience the city, when nights get longer and begin to gobble up much of the afternoon. A walking route and boat route will help you experience the best of what’s on offer, and are available through www.amsterdamlightfestival.com .
Nip into this teeny proeflokaal (tasting room) for a bracing shot of jenever (Dutch gin) or liqueur – which does wonders on an icy winter’s day. Tucked down a little alley off the Dam, the distillery has been going strong since 1679. www.wynand-fockink.nl
Rodney Bolt, Amsterdam expert
Bordovino travel company
Companies queue up in Bordeaux to offer you trips, and insights, into the world of wine. Our favourite, though, is Bordovino – a young company in both senses of the phrase. It’s only been going for a couple of years – and is staffed almost entirely by bright and pleasant men and women an awful long way from retirement age. Their take on viticultural matters is notably unstuffy, lacking the stiff-necked arrogance which often engulfs their elders. Bordovino can fix up almost anything you might fancy, wine-wise – though their small-group (eight, max) morning jaunts to the Médoc, with tastings at two excellent châteaux, explanations in English and coniviality to spare, are particularly useful – and, at €69/£57pp, not ferociously over-priced. www.bordovino.fr
14 Cours de l’Intendance
Should you wish to stick around the city centre for your wine experience, consider ambling to 14 Cours de l’Intendance, where you will find Max Bordeaux ... and the opportunity to taste some of Bordeaux’s very finest crus, as well as some humbler ones, by the glass. The place, created by a Norwegian wine dealer, doesn’t at all resemble a trad wine cellar. It’s more like a minimalist art gallery, or even a lab where they work on critical diseases .. all stainless steel, glass, a little sterile but with wine glases hanging from the ceiling. Once within, one buys a card – like a credit card, minimum price, €25/£21 – which one then uses in dispensers dispensing dozens of different Bordeaux wines. These range in price from €1 for 25cls, to €35 for 25 cls of Latour 1998. It’s an intriguing way of tasting, keeps you out of the hands of people who might keep asking your opinion – or, worse, giving you hints on how to taste – and lays a vast rane of the world’s greatest wines before you. www.maxbordeaux.com
Aux 4 Coins Du Monde
You can taste wines by-the-card from dispensers at one of Bordeaux centre’s loveliest wine bars, too. This is Aux 4 Coins Du Monde at 8 Rue de la Devise, which also has a counter service and a very lively buzz. It’s a terribly friendly spot – perhaps our favourite wine bar in Bordeaux - where you might also order up platefulls of cold meats and cheese. And wine selections aren’t confined to Bordeaux crus www.aux4coinsduvin.com
Medieval Quarter and Opera House
Come evening-tide, you need to be in the medieval St Pierre quarter, for fun, frolics and pleasures of the flesh. If you’re aspirations are higher, then do consider popping along to Bordeaux’s splendidly classical Opera House, whose productions are as highly reputed as the local wines. The 2014-2015 season highlights include La Bohème from September 26 – October 7, Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust (dates in Feb 2015) and Tristan And Isolde in March. Get the details of these, other operas and a terrific programme of concerts at www.opera-bordeaux.com
Anthony Peregrine, France expert
You can't go wrong with a destination that has been tried and tested and still dazzles everytime. Here's our pick of Paris's well-kept secrets.
The garden square at rue de Babylone in the 7th arrondissement
Paris has immaculate garden squares and this quadrilateral opposite Le Bon Marché, the renowned department store, is no exception. The benches, all curly sides and back-friendly proportions, make a pleasant spot for a picnic of gastronomic offerings from the Grande Epicerie food hall at Le Bon Marché.
Musée Marmottan Monet
This exquisite museum in the 16th arrondissement is often missed by those drawn to the Monet pieces in the much larger and better known Musée d'Orsay. However, here in this former hunting lodge, visitors will find numerous versions of Monet's most recognisable scenes, including the waterlilies and landscapes dominated by the rising sun. The next exhibition is "Impression, soleil levant", from September 18 2014 to January 18 2015. www.marmottan.fr
Eric Kayser bakeries
For some of the best bread and patisserie in Paris, head to Eric Kayser's shops of which there are several in the capital. They sell everything from cute little tarte aux fraises (strawberry tarts) to chunks of excellent sourdough, perfect for consumption with cured meats and some suitably smelly French cheese. www.maison-kayser.com
Rue Mouffetard Market
Ernest Hemingway described Mouffetard Market as a "wonderful, narrow crowded market street" in his memoir A Moveable Feast. A mandatory stop for most serious chefs in the vicinity, Rue Mouffetard encapsulates the old romantic Paris everyone looks for. It's in the 5th arrondissement but should you get lost just follow the smell of roast chicken.
Wrapped in that particular kind of romantic grit so common in Portugal's northern cities, Porto is where you go for all things authentic, from food to alternative culture.
A boutique hostel as well as an art gallery, concert venue and restaurant using only locally-sourced produce, everything in its space was designed to teach you something about Porto's historic traditions. If you're on a short stay in Porto, you must see the Clerigos Tower, and is just a few minutes away. www.missopo.com
Miguel Bombarda and adjacent streets
The official hang-out of the emerging artist community in Porto, this maze of alleys is less than a 10-minute taxi drive away from the port and there are dozens of pop-up galleries, photography and illustration workshops as well as independent grocers and artisan bakeries. A visit to Fine and Candy, which sells vintage, hand-made stationary, is a must, as is PATCH, which is full of unique gifts to bring home and clothes by independent local designers.
Rosa et al Townhouse
Even if you’re not spending the night, this converted 19th century building is not only a great place to have a meal – in the herb garden with the chef popping in to fetch some parsley - but a master lesson on urban revitalisation. Its blend of shiny and geometrical wood furniture from the Sixties blends perfectly with its more traditionally Portuguese design aspects such as the recovered flower tiles on the floor of their suites. www.rosaetal.com
Pimms offers impeccable food, such as breaded prawns, as well as views of the river and Port wine warehouses from its al fresco dining area. www.pimms.com.pt
The Austrian capital is one of the crowning glories of a Danube river cruise. River cruise ships may dock at either Nussdorf or Reichsbrücke. The latter is much closer to the center and U-bahn line U1. But neither are very far from some of hidden places in these lesser-known parts of Vienna's second district.
Augarten (Park and Palace)
See how exquisite chinaware is still lovingly hand-crafted at Vienna's Augarten porcelain manufactory, founded in 1718. Comprehensive guided tours through the factory and museum are available. There are tours every weekday at 10.15am and 11.30 am. www.augarten.at
Until November 23, you can visit Carsten Höller's jaw-dropping exhibition 'Leben' (Life). If you fancy an over-night stay to experience a flotation tank, dream-enhancing toothpaste or a very special elevated bed, that's possible too. Museum TBA21 is located within the Augarten Park. www.tba21.org
Vienna Boys Choir
If you are around on a Friday don't miss the angelic voices of these boys. No more than school children, their talent is internationally recognised. Concerts are held around the corner of the Augarten Park (Am Augartenspitz 1). Performances take place every Friday at 5:30pm.
Vienna - and most European capitals - now present an extraordinary range of coffee shops doubling up as bookshops, spoken word venues and art galleries. In Vienna, a perfect city to be an early riser in given the excellency of its coffee scene, Café Philwas a pioneer. Most of what you see you can buy and the mini-bookshop was assembled according to the personal preferences of some of their regular guests. The music is great as well. On Grumpendorferstrasse. Open 9am to 1am; phil.info
A city that needs no introduction, Venice can also be the base for both ocean and river cruises.
Finding a quiet oasis in which to catch your breath can be tricky in Venice but all you have to do is be willing to explore past the central canals. Walk along and before you know you've step out of the packed perimetre around San Marcos Basilica and into the locals' domain.
Located in the Dorsoduro district, not far from the San Basilio cruise terminal in Calle Lunge, is Fujiyama. This Japanese-style tea room spills into a walled garden-courtyard draped with camellias, jasmine and wisteria. Choose from a range of healthy teas and good coffee. www.bedandbreakfast-fujiyama.it/intro.html
Cantinone Gia Schiavi
Amble along the Zattere (canalside promenade) to Fondamenta Nani and you’ll find Cantinone Gia Schiavi on your right. They don't have a website but the rustic canal-side enoteca overlooks the Squero San Trovaso - one of Venice's few remaining boat-building yards - so you can enjoy the view while you wait for a table. It’s lovely inside but weather permitting take your plate of cicchetti (tapas-style snacks) and wine to the wall outside and watch the squeraroli tinkering with their gondolas under the shadow of the gleaming white church of San Trovaso.
San Giorgio Maggiore
Part of the sestiere of San Marco, but located across the Giudecca Canal, the campanile (bell tower) of San Giorgio Maggiore offers views of the fabled city far superior to those seen from the Basilica San Marco. A lift takes you to the top for panoramic views towards San Marco and over the monastery’s cloisters. If you’re visit coincides with the hourly chime – cover your ears. Whilst here have a walk around the Giudecca – so near, yet so far from the world across the Giudecca Canal. (Take the number 2 vaporetto to San Giorgio).
Bacareto da Lele
This quintessential watering hole encapsulates the spirit of Venice: cramped, with standing room only, it’s open before sun-up but serves nothing but wine and the simplest Panini to hordes of workers across the mainland, including boatmen, students and locals. Your little 60c shot of perfectly drinkable wine at any hour you choose, rubbing elbows with voluble Venetians, will get you in the mood for the city. Sorry, no booking online either.
Teresa Machan and Anne Hanley, Venice expert
The most popular section of the Rhine itself is between Cologne and Mainz. Cologne is Germany's oldest city and given its organised network of public transportation, it is easily accessible for a day trip. Most attractions are right by the river and the best pictures of Cologne's cathedral, are often taken from a boat.
A curious outing (advance booking essential) that features cellar barrels where the world-famous Eau de Cologne was developed over three centuries ago. www.farina.org
Afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen is a German tradition worth observing and this is the place to go. This pricey but elegant coffe house looks right out over the city's cathedral, the Dom, which is Germany’s most visited monument dating back to 1248. www.cafe-reichard.de
Get this date down in your diary: On November 11 around 70,000 carnival revellers will gather on Heumarkt Square to celebrate the start of the carnival season. The party lasts all day and well into the night. It is one of the largest street festivals in Europe. www.cologne.de/events/cologne-carnival
Ever wanted to know how they make gummy bears and rock? At CiuCiu you can see candy-makers in action and then buy what you’ve asked them to create for you. ciuciucologne.de
- Bee Rowlatt
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The Mekong courses some of south-east Asia’s most popular tourist areas but Phnom Penh, the recovering capital of Cambodia, is often given a miss in favour of a longer stay in Siem Reap, home to the Angkor Wat ruins. Phnom Penh is changing rapidly, with an aim to make the city better for its inhabitants and tourists.
If you’re thinking about driving a tuk-tuk to tour the city on your own, bear in mind there are hundreds of hidden temples, colonial houses and modernist buildings in Phnom Penh that you might overlook without the help of a local. KA Tours offers an architectural tour of the city, from its main attractions to private houses and backyards. They’ll pick up from your hotel. www.ka-tours.org
Jars of Clay
This small café is a bit away from the harbour but well worth the journey, especially if you’re in need of a quiet place with good food, including local specialities. Their Cajun nuts, chicken and mango dish may be one of the best meals you'll ever have in Phnom Penh. Good Wi-Fi connection is also available. jarsofclay.asia
Central but still frequented mostly by locals and expats, this mobile pizza truck offers wood oven pizzas at $2,50 (£1.25) and it tastes much better than most dishes you’ll find in any smart-looking Italian restaurants nearby catered for tourists. You can either sit on the sidewalk or stand as it is served out of the back of a tuk-tuk on the corner of 51st and 172nd Street.
- Ana Franca
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