World travel icons and how to do them

Posted on August 22nd, 2017 by Dave in categoty Travel

World travel icons and how to do them

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Around two billion years in the making, America’s 1.6km-deep masterpiece is a justly famous geological marvel. So it’s no wonder it was a pilgrimage site for native peoples — the Havasupai Indians still live here.

The crowd-beating shortcut
Heli-tours are overpriced and peeking over the South Rim, as the Vegas coach parties do, is no way to have your socks knocked off. Instead, get up close to the Canyon’s coursing rivers and gold-and-ochre landscapes on a day hike. Not the overrun route from Grand Canyon Village, mind. The Skeleton Point Trail is the one that outdoorsy locals will tell you about if you buy them a Budweiser: 11km of dress-circle views, with not a Midwesterner in sight.

The frame-it photo
Those iconic Grand Canyon shots? Forget the busy Bright Angel Trail, the pro-snappers use the Grandview Trail, 20km east of Grand Canyon Village. Here you’ll capture rippling-red sweeps of the North Rim, backdropped by cobalt Arizona skies. Light-stalkers come at sunrise for softened Canyon ochres and the Colorado River glowing like an omen.

The guide line
Mine pits and angry rattlesnakes make Grand Canyon licensed guides essential if you’re heading far from populous trails. You wouldn’t know it from an ad-littered web search, but Wildland is the guiding operator with the best local rep (00 1 928 379 6383,wildlandtrekking.com; day hikes from £73). Charismatic canyon guide Josh takes the edge off the ‘butt-burn’.

The pitfall
From above, the Colorado River looks like a long, cool drink — but don’t think you can make the 16km trek to its edge from the South Rim in a day. Old canyon hands know that it’s 30oC hotter at the canyon bottom (summer average 47oC) — like climbing a mountain from the top down. You’ll need to camp overnight and secure a good guide.

The base camp
Flagstaff, all ersatz conference hotels, is the Canyon’s gateway town, where most hang their dusty boots. For one of the rare local boltholes with soul — plus insider hiking tips and rucksack-sized breakfast bagels — drive 15 minutes east of town on the I40 to Whispering Pines Inn (2222 North Whispering Pines Way; 00 1 928 853 5335,whisperingpinesinnflagstaff.com; doubles from £98, B&B).

The details
See nps.gov/grca. Enterprise (enterprise.com) has a week’s car hire from £80. BA (ba.com) has returns to Phoenix, Arizona, from Heathrow, from £743.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

The cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-museum was, for 1,000 years, the world’s largest church. Rumours suggest it may be turned back into a mosque. Get in to see the stunning mosaics and cupolas while you can.

The crowd-beating shortcut
Istanbul’s crowning glory welcomes 3.5 million visitors per year — all through the same high-security gate. Breeze in past the masses with a foreigners-only, three-day Müzekart (www.muzekart.com; £20) — but don’t queue at the gate for it. Pick one up at the sleepy Archaeological Museum next door. Or come late: few realise that, in summer, last entrance is at 6pm, after the cruise groups have sailed away.

The frame-it photo
For the breathtaking money shot that most miss, clamber the stone steps to the Upper Gallery. The vertiginous view from the spot where Byzantine court ladies gazed down over court drama (it’s marked by a circular green stone) takes in the emperor’s coronation platform and the so-gold-it-glows Virgin Mary mosaic.

The guide line
Ignore any shifty characters in the Sultanahmet area offering tours. What they won’t tell you is that non-licensed guides aren’t allowed into the Hagia Sophia. Genuine guides wear an official photocard (usually on a lanyard around their necks) — and can get you straight to the front of the queue. What’s more, you’ll need an expert to explain the eerie column that ‘weeps’ miracle-working water, and the 9th-century Viking graffiti. Try the team at My Local Guide Istanbul (00 90 534 200 5565,mylocalguideistanbul.com; from £36).

The (p)refuel
Five minutes from the Hagia Sophia, and one of the few Old City restaurants that isn’t inundated with Instagramming tourists, Tarihi is a köfteci (meatball joint) par excellence (Divanyolu Caddesi 12; 00 90 212 520 0566, sultanahmetkoftesi.com; mains about £3). Order kuzu şiş (lamb chunks grilled on a blazing skewer) and pine nut irmik helvası pudding.

The base camp
It not only has a better view of the Hagia Sophia than any other hotel in town (from its rooftop cocktail bar), the Four Seasons (Tevkifhane Sokak 1; 00 90 212 402 3000,fourseasons.com/istanbul; doubles from £250, B&B) also serves the best brunch in Istanbul (£51 for a 100-platter blow-out).

The details
See ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr/en; £7.50. Pegasus (flypgs.com) has returns from Gatwick and Stansted, from £87.

San Francisco: the Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco: the Golden Gate Bridge (Sakis Papadopoulos)

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The graceful 2.7km-long Art Deco bridge that’s become the city’s symbol isn’t red but vermilion orange — the colour of the primer that coated the steel parts in transit. We guess it just worked.

The perfect timing
Hiring a bike (blazingsaddles.com; £25 per day) gives you access to the best viewpoints. But avoid 11am and 2pm, when tours make the bridge congested (especially on the east sidewalk, shared with pedestrians). After 3pm on weekdays and 5am-9pm on weekends, cyclists have sole use of the west pavement. You won’t have the city views but you’ll make it across in time to catch the skyline at sunset.

The frame-it photo
Most people opt for the up-close angle from the bridge, the city skyline shot from the end of the ride or the classic side-on snap from the ferry back. But take a slight detour up to the Marin Headlands, left of the bridge on the Sausalito side, and park up in one of the lay-bys for a spectacular aerial view.

The crowd-beating shortcut
Can’t face a long cycle? Head instead to Marshall Beach, on the San Fran side. Lock your bike on the railings in Baker Beach car park, then walk one kilometre north to Marshall Beach. It’s popular with bathers in summer, but come after 5pm and you’ll have the sand to yourself. Get as close to the water’s edge as you can for a compelling upward shot of the bridge.

The (p)refuel
Sausalito has loads of seafood restaurants but the oldie is the best: the Spinnaker (100 Spinnaker Dr; 00 1 415 332 1500, thespinnaker.com; mains about £10) juts out into the water on stilts, so every table has a killer view of the bay and bridge towers. If you haven’t booked ahead, expect a wait — but ask for one of the side-by-side seats just past the maître d’ stand, as they free up quicker.

The base camp
The Cavallo Point Lodge (601 Murray Circle, Sausalito; 00 1 415 339 4700,cavallopoint.com; doubles from £257, room only) isn’t cheap, but it’s the only place you’ll have private, 24/7 views of the Golden Gate. Ask for ‘Contemporary Lodging’ with a bridge view. (Or, if you’re not staying, just rock up like a guest to the Farley bar and ask for an outside table and a bowl of truffle fries.)

The details
See goldengatebridge.org; free. Virgin Holidays (0844 557 9266, virginholidays.co.uk) has seven nights at the Cavallo Point Lodge from £1,339pp, room only, including Heathrow returns.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Locked in a vast tangle of Cambodian forest, the magnificent ruins of the Khmer temple complex form the largest religious monument, and one of the largest archaeological sites, in the world.

The perfect timing
Everyone else thinks November to February is the best time to go, but visitor numbers plummet by 90 per cent between May and July, so the canny visit then. May is sweltering, so go in June or July, when cooling bursts of afternoon rain make Angkor’s gnarled jungle pop in vivid shades of green.

The frame-it photo
For the ultimate boast post, skip the more famous temples such as Ta Prohm, where shots are spoiled by ugly signs, rubbish bins and wooden walkways, and head instead to Preah Khan or Ta Som — both have those classic Tomb Raider scenes of serpentine silk-cotton trees engulfing ancient doorways. And try slipping the guards a few dollars to let you stay on a few minutes after closing time — they may just give you long enough for a crowd-free snap.

The guide line
Angkor is vast, so booking a guide really helps you home in on the highlights. Do it on two wheels, and you can ride around the top wall of Angkor Thom (much too far to walk), detouring around crowds and into lesser-known sections such as the Death Gate, with its spooky stone faces and knobbly temple tops. Cycling specialist Grasshopper Adventures (grasshopperadventures.com) has day trips for £25.

The pitfall
Cambodia is overrun with heartbreakingly small, hungry street kids who sell trinkets or beg for money. Donate nothing — ready cash only serves to keep them on the streets. It’s far better to resist handing over your change and, instead, give to one of the local charities, such as Friends International (friends-international.org) or Anjali House (anjali-house.com).

The base camp
There are no hotels in the grounds of Angkor but you’ll get that royal connection at the grand Amansara (00 855 63 760333, amanresorts.com; doubles from £723, half board), the former guesthouse of the late King Norodom Sihanouk. It’s only 10 minutes from the temple gates and rates include twice-daily private tours.

The details
Site entry £13. Selective Asia (01273 670001, selectiveasia.com) has a 13-day ‘Cambodia in Style’ trip, including four nights at the Amansara, from £4,270pp, B&B, with flights.