The 10 Best National Parks in the World

The 10 Best National Parks in the World

A visit to a world-famous natural reserve is a good way to remind yourself of the spectacular beauty and diversity of planet Earth. In the United States, national parks cover 84.6 million acres; in the UK, there are a total of 15 breathtaking protected natural areas, while Italy counts twenty-four. On the Asian continent, Thailand offers remarkable treasures, boasting over 130 awe-inspiring parks. In short, if you’re after an unforgettable adventure that involves plenty of natural surroundings and wildlife, you’ve got a wealth of options to choose from. Read on for what we consider to be the 10 best national parks in the world: selected for their sheer wild beauty, biodiversity and potential to make your jaw drop.

 

1. Yellowstone National Park, USA

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Extending across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, established by the U.S. Congress in 1872. The park spans an area of almost 9,000 km, which comprehends breathtaking canyons, clear rivers, mountain ranges and one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America, Yellowstone Lake. This magnificent area has been inhabited by Native Americans for at least 11,000 years, and it’s still home to hundreds of species of birds, fish and mammals. The park offers an impressing variety of exciting activities, including ranger programs, camping, hiking, boating, fishing and much more.

 

2. Zambezi National Park & Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls National Park

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe is a precious wildlife refuge that’s home to a stunning array of wildlife and some of the globe’s most jaw-dropping natural scenery. From the mist and rainbow-filled wonders of Victoria Falls, with its thunderous falls and green surroundings, to the Zambezi river and surrounding plains where you can embark on a safari to see everything from elephants and leopards to crocodiles and hippos, this is the place to head if you want to get a sense of what the Earth might look like with fewer humans– and more animals.

3. Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Italy’s first National Park was established in 1999, and it’s probably one of the most spectacular places on the whole peninsula. This park comprehends the territory of five gorgeous towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare – “cinque terre” literally means “five territories” – as well as the communes of Levanto and La Spezia. This means that when traveling to Cinque Terre, you can enjoy open-air activities such as hiking and camping, and visit some evocative cliff-side villages which are famous around the world.

 

4. Jasper National Park, Canada

A lake and forest at Jasper National park, Canada

Jasper is the largest and wildest of the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, encompassing over 11,000 square kilometres. While summer is peak visitor season, we strongly recommend visiting the park during the winter, when the abundant snow creates a truly magical tableau.

Read related: The World’s Most Beautiful Spots for Leaf-Peeping and Fall Foliage

The park is also famous for its “dark sky”: this is a perfect location for stargazing, as the second dark sky preserve in the world. In October, Jasper National Park hosts the Annual Dark Sky Festival, celebrating the astonishing beauty of the night sky with special activities and talks by scientists, experts, night sky photographers and astronauts.

 

5. Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

By Tucanrecords [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Opened in 1972, this National Park consists of an archipelago of nearly 350 islands and cays situated in the Caribbean Sea. These small, white-sanded islands are almost uninhabited; surrounded by crystal-blue water and coral reefs, they harbour some of the best diving and snorkel spots in the world. In fact, Los Roques’ biodiversity is incredible: the park harbors over 60 species of corals, 200 species of crustaceans, 140 species of mollusks, 45 species of echinoderms and 280 species of fish – a real paradise for scuba-divers and sailing lovers!

 

6. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitivice Lakes National Park, Croatia

This Croatian park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Located halfway between Zagreb and Zadar in the mountainous northwestern region of Croatia, it represents the country’s most popular attraction. Over one million visitors throng on the park each year, with peak numbers in the late spring and summer.  Immersed in deep and wild forest vegetation, sixteen bigger lakes and several smaller ones are interconnected by a series of breathtaking waterfalls. Seven different routes are available to tour the stunning lake system, as well as four hiking trails.

 

7. Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China

Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China

By Dariusz Jemielniak, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This protected area situated in southeastern China is rightfully famous for its lush, deep forests, limestone cones, cylinders and solitary hills, which are also printed on the country’s paper currency. Among the rocks of Guilin flows the Lijiang River and its tributaries, producing spectacular scenery which has long inspired various Chinese poets.

Read related: What to do in Seoul, South Korea

In order to best appreciate the treasures of this National Park, we particularly recommend taking the 30-mile long boat trip along the Lijiang River, from Guilin to Yangzhou, or embarking along the parallel hiking route on the riverside. Both Guilin and Yangzhou, picturesque cities surrounded by the natural splendors of the National Park, are equally worth a visit.

 

8. Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Are you a true snow and mountain lover who would like to experience glacier river rafting or snowshoe hiking? If this is the case, Jostedalsbreen park is the ideal destination for your next trip. Jostedalsbreen glacier covers half of the National Park, and it’s the largest in mainland Europe. The park is also famous for its amazing variety of natural environments all clustered within a small area, and it hosts different activities year-round. During the winter months, make sure to visit the famous blue ice caves hidden beneath the Nigardsbreen glacier. When accompanied by a guide, groups of tourists are allowed to hike on skis or snowshoes up to the front of the glacier and to explore the fascinating blue caves.

 

9. Kui Buri National Park, Thailand

Kuri Buri National Park, Thailand

By: Tontan Travel via Flickr

Not far from the Burmese border, Kui Buri National Park is a stunning site for wildlife viewing. The park is well-known for the presence of herds of elephants, which can be seen pretty much everywhere in the protected area. Tourists are allowed to drive their own cars around the park, but must take a guided tour to visit the protected sections of the natural preserve. For a real up-close-and-personal experience of the wildlife here, it is also possible to rent tents and bungalows to stay overnight.

(Read related: Top 8 Travel Photography Tips)

 

10. Snowdonia National Park, Wales, UK

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

The name of this beautiful National Park comes from Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, while the Welsh name for this area is Eryi: legends state that this name derived from a word meaning “the land of eagles”. The park is best known for its wonderful hiking opportunities, but it offers much more than that: come here for splendid waterfalls, lakes and mountain biking paths. In particular, we recommend that you hop on one of the vintage steam trains that climb up to the highest peak in Wales. Taking the old-world train will allow you to experience the area just as a traveler would have back in 1896, and you will see for yourself how gorgeous and mythical this mountainous area is, journeying through the clouds to Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon.

 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her work, stories and pics. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy: What to See & Do?

Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy: What to See & Do?

Think Italy is too popular with tourists to reserve any real secrets? Think again. The hilly region of Montefeltro, located between Marche and Emilia-Romagna in central eastern Italy, is a fascinating off-the-beaten-path destination. It’s situated twenty kilometers west of Rimini and the Riviera Romagnola.

The Marecchia Valley. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

The Marecchia Valley. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Ruled by the Montefeltro family since the 12th century, this area will surprise you with its charming castles, beautiful villages and delicious traditional food. It’s even the stuff of literary legend, since one powerful member of its ruling family, Guido da Montefeltro, makes a starring but infamous appearance in the Italian poet Dante’s The Divine ComedyDoes this sound like the right place for your next trip to Italy? If so, read on for our complete guide to the hidden treasures of Montefeltro.

Let’s proceed north from the capital of Marche, Urbino, to discover all of the riches of this lesser-known but magnificent region.

Macerata Feltria: A Roman Town in the Heart of Montefeltro

Our first stop is Macerata Feltria, an ancient Roman town first known as Pitinum Pisaurense. It’s situated in a small valley overlooked by Mount Carpegna. It is divided into two main areas: the upper part of the town, whose main attraction is the medieval castle; and the lower part, built during the Renaissance.

In Macerata Feltria, it is possible to visit the archaeological area of Pitinum, which is composed of a medieval graveyard and a Roman main street, called decumanum maximus. Here, roam among some impressive Roman ruins.

For a treat between sightseeing, we particularly recommend you taste the town’s signature cake, made with raisins, walnuts, sugar, flour and olive oil.

Carpegna and the Prosciutto Festival

Carpegna is located 45 kilometers from the seaside and it’s mainly famous for the production of a delicious variety of prosciutto. Every year in July, prosciutto experts travel to Carpegna to join a four-day festival in the center of the town, where gastronomic stalls offer free tastings of the pork-based delicacy and others that are typical of the area. In the evenings, live music and performances from street artists bring the town to festive life.

Palazzo dei Principi, Carpegna, Italy

By Germano Perugini [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

During the festival, it’s also possible to visit Carpegna’s Principi Palace, a gorgeous site which was built during the 15th century and opens to the public only on special occasions. The Palace holds original furniture and a library where Renaissance books and documents have been preserved. For those who love trekking, the Montefeltro Jockey Club arranges amazing trips to Mount Capregna, following remote dirt paths and picturesque routes.

Pennabilli: Not Just a Place, but a Myth

Pennabilli, Italy

The next stop we recommend is Pennabilli, a village on the west side of the Mount Carpegna. According to legends, Pennabilli was created when the two independent towns of Penna and Billi decided to merge together during the 12th century. Nowadays, the village is home to antique furniture shops, a vintage one-screen cinema, restaurants and stimulating festivals. Tonino Guerra, a famous Italian writer and poet, fell in love with Pennabilli and wanted to enhance the beauty of the village. Poems and lines from his works are scattered around the town, for visitors to read and reflect on while strolling through it and discovering its legendary charms.

One of the poems by Tonino Guerra in Pennabilli. “There are people who do not know where to go, and they are rushing to get there now.” Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved.

 

Here is what the writer said about his childhood in Pennabilli: “The village was the Himalaya of my childhood. Not a place, but a myth. When I was a little boy, my parents used to come here to sell fruit. They took me with them, because here the air is fresh.

A street in Pennabilli. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Guerra also created “L’Orto dei Frutti Dimenticati” (The Orchard of Forgotten Fruits), a fascinating garden where time seems not to exist at all. Plants and fruits that are very difficult to find in any common garden of the present day are cultivated here, and interesting works of art were donated by local artists to decorate the orchard.

“La Strada delle Meridiane” (The Street of Sundials) divides the town center in two: walking with your nose up, you can notice several sundials decorating the walls of the houses. Pennabilli attracts international visitors, in particular from Tibet, after the XIV Dalai Lama’s visit to the village in 2009.

In June, a festival called “Artisti in Piazza” (Artists on the Streets), brings music, dance and circus arts to the town. In July, Penabilli hosts the biggest antique furniture market in Italy, which attracts collectors and experts from all over the peninsula.

Maiolo, the Bread Festival and the Maioletto Rock

In Montefeltro there’s a small village that made a daily practice, the baking of bread, its main attraction. During the last weekend of June, Maiolo hosts the Festa del Pane (Bread Festival), a unique chance to taste delicious bread, prepared following traditional recipes. The festival lasts two days, starting on a Saturday evening with live music in the central square of Maiolo, where a long wooden table is set.

Spianata (a particular kind of pizza produced in this region, which we strongly recommend you try) and freshly baked bread with different toppings are served for dinner. This is an occasion for conviviality that will make you feel at home even if it’s your first time in Maiolo. On Sunday, the Bread Festival continues with visits at the stone ovens scattered around the village (in private houses, cottages or bakeries) where the bread is made. A different variety of bread is baked in every oven, together with other local products, which are then available to purchase.

Torta di Pane. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Our personal choice is torta di pane (literally ‘cake of bread’), a thin cake made of cocoa, raisins, walnuts and, of course, Maiolo’s bread. At the end of the Festival, the bakeries compete in a contest and a prize is awarded to the best bread.

The Maioletto Rock. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

If you get the chance to visit Maiolo, we also advice to take a trip to the Maioletto Rock. The very few ruins of the old castle of Maiolo, which crumbled during a flood in the 16th century, have recently been restored;  the walk to reach the top is guaranteed to leave you speechless.

Petrella Guidi: a Medieval Jewel

By lo.tangelini from Soliera / Modena, Italia (Petrella Guidi) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The painter Antonio Saliola, known for his landscapes featuring fantastic creatures like fairies and gnomes, often chose his garden and house in Petrella Guidi as subjects for his art. This village, situated on the right bank of the Marecchia river, is the smallest on our suggested itinerary around Montefeltro, but it’s definitely worth a visit. The medieval atmosphere is kept alive in Petrella Guidi thanks to several festivals staged here during the warm season. The ruins of a medieval fortress add to the dramatic effect. The tower, all that remains of a 12th-century castle that once stood here, was renovated a few years ago. A climb to the top offers breathtaking views over the Marecchia Valley.

Novafeltria: Food, Classical Music and Much More

Novafeltria, Italy

Novafeltria, called “Mercatino Marecchia” until 1941, is the biggest town center in this part of Montefeltro and has a lot going on, especially if you enjoy trying local food. Every Monday, the town hosts a massive market, that, from the main square, stretches through the streets of Novafeltria, and that sells literally everything you might wish to buy, from shoes to fruit and vegetables, toys, and the famous and tasty pesce fritto (fried fish), a street food that we strongly recommend.

Read related: These Are the World’s 11 Best Food Markets 

The Marecchia river, which can be reached in ten minutes from the center of town, is the ideal place to sunbathe and enjoy picnics during summer, or to stroll during autumn and spring. Some very good restaurants are located on the river bank– perfect locations for a quick stop or a proper lunch.

Our pick is Ristorante Il Parco, a family restaurant run by friendly people, which has a wonderful terrace overlooking a garden on the riverbank. The restaurant serves the typical food of the region and on Wednesdays, you can enjoy cocktails and finger food on the terrace, for an Italian-style aperitivo.

Ristorante Il Parco in Novafeltria, on a summer night. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Every year in August, the theater in Novafeltria hosts the Montefeltro Belcanto Festival, a series of opera and classical music concerts in the town and in the other villages of Montefeltro. Singers and musicians from all over the world travel to Montefeltro to perform in these concerts, which take place in splendid locations, not only theaters but also churches and in the open air.

Montefeltro is also very well known for its delicious truffles, which can be found pretty much everywhere in the region. About ten minutes by car from Novafeltria, there’s one of the most renowned restaurants of Montefeltro, which has been on the Michelin Guide to Italian Restaurants for decades, Da Marchesi, which we heartily recommend if you want to try black truffles at a very reasonable price.

San Leo: Italy’s Most Beautiful Town?

Umberto Eco, an internationally renowned writer and journalist, was fascinated by San Leo’s Fortress and churches, and defined the town as Italy’s most beautiful. The village bears the traces and the scars of Italian history, and offers many occasions to celebrate Italy and its historical and artistic heritage. Situated on a spur of rock, San Leo is accessible via a single road, excavated in the rock itself. Due to its remote location, this village was a refuge to Dante and Saint Francis of Assisi, but it was also a prison to the magician Cagliostro, who died in the fortress in 1795.

View of the Fortress from a terrace in San Leo. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

The Duomo of San Leo is a real master piece of Romanesque art, while the other church in town, the Pieve, just a few footsteps away, is the most ancient religious building of the region. The Fortress, designed during the Renaissance by one of the most important architects of the period, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, was turned into a prison in 1631 and is nowadays open to visitors.

The convent of Sant Igne. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

A lesser-known but equally fascinating attraction near San Leo is the small church and convent of Sant’Igne, a quiet place for meditation, immersed in the woods. At the end of August, San Leo hosts a festival called Alchimia Alchimie, which aims to celebrate holistic arts through shows and conferences. The exceptional quality and unique location of the festival make it the most famous in the area.

Talamello: Of Art and Cheese

Last but certainly not least on our suggested itinerary for exploring the charms of Montefeltro: the town of Talamello. In the central square here, the church of San Lorenzo holds on display a painted crucifix attributed to a disciple of Giotto, Giovanni da Rimini, which was brought there by the monks of Poggiolo in 1374. In fact, this precious crucifix is not the only work of art that Talamello has to offer: The Gualtieri museum holds over forty paintings – spectacular oils on canvas, still life pictures and self-portraits ­ – donated by the famous artist Fernando Gualtieri, who is himself from Talamello.

The village is also renowned for its formaggio di fossa, a local cheese which is produced in distinctive pits. Some of these, hidden in the basements of restaurants or in private stables, are open for tourists to visit and to enjoy the cheese’s peculiar and strong taste.

Not far from Talamello, the Mount Pincio is the perfect location for mushroom and chestnut picking in autumn, and for sports such as paragliding and hang-gliding. Given the absence of light pollution, the mount is also an amazing place for stargazing, especially during the summer.

 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

 

Low on Travel Inspiration? 7 Ways to Kick-start Your Trip Planning

Low on Travel Inspiration? 7 Ways to Kick-start Your Trip Planning

Trip planning can sometimes be overwhelming, especially when you feel low on inspiration and not especially motivated to start a new adventure. It’s tempting to avoid all the stress of finding the right destination and the perfect hotel, or of booking your flight and packing just the right amount of clothes. However, traveling makes us feel alive and healthy, and we encourage you to cultivate the habit of discovering new places and experiencing different cultures. If you can’t quite muster the energy and excitement to get started, we’ve got you covered. Here are 7 ways to help you to find your travel inspiration again– and to get started with planning your next adventure.

 

1. Start your own travel journal.

Travel journal styles and ideas

If you feel less than motivated to start planning your next getaway, a simple way to put you in the right mindset is to start your own travel journal. This is essentially a diary where you can write down trips and tricks you’ve learned during your travels, describe the best places you’ve visited and why you’ve loved them. You can take notes about the activities that inspired you the most in your past travels and write about the food you’ve tasted.

Read related: Travel Journal Styles & Techniques to Suit Your Personality 

There are notebooks especially designed to be travel journals, which you can buy in any stationary shop, or on Amazon, but it’s much more satisfying to create your own, using a diary you already had at home and personalizing it as you wish. You can also make a travel journal out of a photo album, inserting pictures, plane tickets and postcards into its pages. The best travel journals tend to combine photos and writing, and are an effective way to remind yourself of the excitement of your past travels, to reflect on the beautiful places you’ve seen, and to motivate you to start plotting your next adventure.

 

2. Plan your trip around activities that inspire and motivate you.

When you don’t know where to start with planning your trip, let your passion guide the way. Think about your favorite activities, hobbies and sports, foods you’d like to try or places that have always tugged at your heartstrings– and make a list. You can then choose one or more of the items you’ve listed and plan your trip around them. For example, let’s say you really enjoy eating pizza: you could plan a trip to four major cities in Italy and choose cities reputed for making some of the best (Naples, anyone?)

Read related: These Are the World’s 11 Best Food Markets 

Or maybe you’re interested in the history of Buddhism and Buddhist art: you could plan a trip to Southeast Asia or Japan, choosing places in the region that harbor breathtaking Buddhist temples and art museums. Choosing an inspiring theme or two for your trip makes the hard work of planning your adventure much easier. It can also help you find the perfect destination or destinations.

 

3. Follow inspiring & colorful social media accounts with a travel focus.

Social media is an amazing source of inspiration for travel lovers. There are literally hundreds (or even thousands) of interesting accounts to follow and blogs to read, which can help you plan your trip when you don’t feel like it. YouTube is an excellent place to find different kinds of travel videos and documentaries. Travel vlogs are blogs that primarily use video to tell stories or offer tips, and are often inspiring and fun to watch. They’re a good way to get you started, when you feel low on ideas.

There are many different kinds of travel vlogs: some focus on the best activities to do in a particular destination, some on the best airline to get there, others still on typical foods from a given country or region. There’s plenty of choice and you can decide which topic interests you the most.

Instagram can also be a very good source of inspiration. Many travel writers and journalists have their own Instagram account, where they post pictures about their trips and where they offer tips and recommendations. Use the hashtag search function on Instagram to find topics that interest you and follow inspiring travel accounts.

The Loftus Guides on Instagram: Follow Us

 

(Hint: You can follow our own Instagram page here.)

 

4. Think about seasonal activities to plan the perfect trip.

The splendor of autumn at Niagara Falls

Look again at the list of hobbies, activities and sports you love: which are best enjoyed during a winter trip? Which are ideal for hot weather or fall getaways? For example, if you enjoy taking in natural scenery during the fall, why not plan an autumn leef-peeping trip in Canada, Europe or even New Zealand?

How about a winter adventure? If you’d love to try snowboarding, you could start your trip planning with some research about the best places to go snowboarding during the winter holiday season. You could look for the best Christmas markets in Europe, and plan a trip to the cities that inspire you the most. Alternatively, if you don’t like the snow, plan a winter trip where the weather is hot in December and you can swim in the sea, enjoy the sun and go snorkeling. Greece, Southern Europe or even Central America might be just the ticket.

5. Look for your dream self-catered house or other accommodations.

Look for a dream holiday home online

Here at The Loftus Guides, we frequently recommend that you choose self-catered accommodations, because they allow you to experience your destination like a local. You can shop from local markets, learn to cook some local specialities, and even meet a neighbor or too.

The advantage of starting your trip planning process this way?  No one said you have to choose your dates and destination first. Instead, you could look online for your dream accommodations, then build your trip around them. Most vacation home websites are extremely easy to use these days, and you can refine your search according to country, city, price and other criteria.

If you’re interested in unusual experiences, why not stay in a lighthouse? How about a houseboat? There are so many interesting ways to feel at home away from home, these days.

Why not stay in a lighthouse?

Visit this page for some great tips on how to book a self-catered house or apartment online, including advice on the most trustworthy websites to book with. While Air b N B has become very popular, it’s not always reliable, depending on your destination, and in some countries it has run into complicated legal problems. We recommend you book with other self-catering companies if possible.

 

6. Visit the travel section of your favorite library or bookshop.

Reading books and travel guides is an effective and time-honored way to get you inspired for your next trip. A whirl through your favorite bookshop is often the best way to start planning your next journey. If you don’t have the time to read a whole book, simply look through the titles of the travel section. This could spark your interest in a country or a city you’ve never thought about visiting before. Take some time to go through the books that capture your attention. Photography books and travel essays can also be inspiring, giving you plenty of ideas and expanding your sense of what’s out there.

7. Ask yourself what was missing in your last trip.

Why Traveling Is Good for You

Starting your own travel journal (see tip # 1) can also help you to think about what was missing in your last trip, providing you with some crucial inspiration for what to do differently next time. Go through all your memories, pictures, notes and tickets and then ask yourself a simple question: what was missing?

Maybe you would have liked to spend more time in the great outdoors. Perhaps you’re an art lover who didn’t see as many museums and galleries as you would have liked to. Or you didn’t sample the local delicacies you hoped to because you were staying at an all-inclusive resort where meals were all covered. This time, you’d like to experience your destination in a more authentic and local way.

Read related: Which Vacation Style is Right For You? 

Taking this sort of inventory is a good way to feel inspired again, and to start planning your trip around something you’ve never tried before. You may find out you’d like to try a new water sport, or a different kind of food, or even to explore a museum you didn’t have the chance to visit.

We hope these tips have been helpful– and that inspiration comes knocking again soon! 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

 

Spotlight on Beaucaire, France: A Gem Near Nimes & Avignon

Spotlight on Beaucaire, France: A Gem Near Nimes & Avignon

At The Loftus Guides we seek to inspire you with suggested destinations that are unique and off-the-beaten-track: places that many travelers overlook, but shouldn’t. While we do aim to provide you with plenty of inspiring lists to peruse, we also want to bring you some local flavor, showcasing places around the world that deserve a closer look. This week, we train a spotlight on the charming town of Beaucaire, France. 

Beaucaire is nestled in the department of Gard right beside the Rhone River, which forms a natural boundary between Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. The massive floodgates at the water’s edge are proof that flooding has at times been a real threat to this low-lying part of the region. The surrounding landscapes are lush and green, and the town is bathed in that extraordinary Southern French light that so many of us know and love. 

The Light of Beaucaire, southern France

An Easy Trip From Nîmes, Arles or Avignon

Beaucaire lies at the centre of a triangle formed by the important Southern cities of Nimes, Arles and Avignon. Only 30 to 40 minutes away by train or car, it makes an easy and lovely trip from all of these places. It also lies in close reach of the ancient Roman town of Orange, the village of Uzès, the UNESCO-listed Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard, and numerous other iconic destinations in the South of France. 

Read related: A Visit to France’s Lascaux Caves and Their Paleolithic Wonders

Starting to understand just how well-situated this little town is? Now let’s take a look at why it’s special in its own right.

Top Things to See & Do in Beaucaire

Although it’s not especially touristy, Beaucaire has so much to offer, from picturesque strolls to canal-side cafes, restaurants serving delicious local gastronomy and quaint little shops. Do turn down the town’s many small alleys and streets: you never know what you’ll find!

Take a Walk by the Canal

Port and boats in Beaucaire

The canal adds much to the charm of this little town, with its lush waterside trees, decorated houseboats and opportunities for boat tours. Visiting around Christmas-time? The boats are all decked out with lights, and there’s a festive Christmas market to explore as well. 

Visit a Local Market

Beaucaire is very much a market town. There’s a colorful food market that springs up each Thursday and Sunday morning on the Place Georges Clemenceau. Here, you’ll find everything from delicious local cheeses and produce to fresh bread, olives and flowers. 

For clothing, household items and textiles, take a whirl at the Cours Gambetta market along the canal, held on Thursday and Sunday morning.

Read related: These Are the World’s 11 Most Enticing Food Markets

During the summer, don’t miss the Beaux Quais de Vendredi, an evening market held along the banks of the Canal in Beaucaire each Friday night through July and August. Arts and craft stands, live musical performances and other festivities take over the canal strip, adding plenty of summery ambience.

Market Day in Tarascon

A lively market in nearby Tarascon. Image: Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

For a bonus, follow the bridge over the river to the adjacent town of Tarascon which has its own share of treasures to discover, including a vibrant, large open-air market and numerous cafes. 

Visit Two Castles (Overlooking One River)

Beaucaire Castle/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Beaucaire Castle/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Beaucaire and Tarascon each have an impressive castle and ramparts facing one another on their respective sides of the Rhone river. The walk and climb up the hill to Beaucaire’s medieval castle is a treat, with the view becoming more and more impressive as you climb. Free to visit, this impressive site gives you a glimpse of its past grandeur.

Chateau de Tarascon/Wolfgang Staudt/Creative Commons 2.0

Chateau de Tarascon/Wolfgang Staudt/Creative Commons 2.0

The Tarascon castle across the river is extremely well-preserved and is considered one of the grandest examples of a medieval fortress in France. It was built starting in the 15th century by the Dukes of Anjou.  

The Chateau often hosts events such as concerts and performances; ask at the tourist office for current details.

Enjoy Music & Dancing on a Hidden Square

Dancing at Place de la Republique, Beaucaire

Dancing at Place de la Republique/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Find the Place de la République, which the locals call la vieille place (the old square). This is a term which might come up frequently when you’re asking for directions, so don’t be confused by it!

The charming square is surrounded by restaurants and café terraces. On certain evenings there’s free entertainment by local musicians, offering the perfect opportunity for an evening of free dancing.

Taste Locally Made Olives and Olive Oil

Olives and olive oil are a local delicacy, and we recommend you spend some time tasting some of these gourmet specialties. You can notably visit a local olive oil mill at Huiles Robert. Take a tour of the facility and taste the delicious oils! The shop here has many options for gifts to bring back home.

Read related: Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France

Address: 105 Allée Sergius Respectus, 30300 Beaucaire

Telephone: +33 (0)4 66 74 40 46

See the Abbaye Saint-Roman

Saint-Roman Abbey Beaucaire View

Situated right on the edge of town, this Abbey is a truly exceptional site. Carved into the caves and hillside by hermit monks from as early as the 5th century, it’s absolutely worth the uphill walk. The views alone are spectacular.

Address: Abbaye de Saint-Roman, 4294, route de Saint-Gilles, 30300 Beaucaire

Telephone: +33 (0)7 81 56 44 51

Visit the Pont du Gard Aqueduct 

Pont du Gard Aqueduct, France

The famous Pont du Gard aqueduct is nearby, so if time allows we recommend you see it firsthand. Enjoy this tour de force of Roman architecture and its mythical setting, as well as the onsite museum. For a fabulous evening outing, witness the spectacular son et lumière (a light and music show) that brings the site to life in the summertime.

 

See an Exhibit or Light Show at an Old Quarry

Chateau des Baumes and View

 Also just under half an hour from Beaucaire, take in the superb exhibits and light shows at the old quarry known as the Carrières des lumières. Then enjoy breathtaking views from the Chateau des Baux, a vast ruined castle situated high in the hills at the village of Les-Baux-de-Provence and billed as one of the finest sites in historic France.
Click here to see a full events calendar for the Carrière des lumières.

Accommodations We Recommend in Beaucaire 

Our general recommendation at TLG is almost always to book local holiday rentals and lodgings. Rent a flat, a house, a studio or even a furnished houseboat: in today’s world, this is possible just about anywhere you might choose to travel. 

What better way to experience a destination locally? You’ll be able to bring home local fare from the market, eat on your own schedule, pack a picnic for a day-long outing– all the while treating yourself to a morning or afternoon pause café, to use the French term. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to eat out at every meal. 

Visit one of our favourite sites to find the perfect place to stay in Beaucaire. You can also find accommodation reviews and recommendations at sites such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor.

If you do choose to stay in a hotel, be aware that in Beaucaire and in Tarascon most of these offer basic comforts (remember that French 3-star hotels are about equivalent to 2-star counterparts in North America). You can expect good service, but grand luxury isn’t usually on offer here. This may be another good reason to consider self-catering accommodations, at the end of the day!

Where To Eat in Beaucaire?

Restaurant Menu Beaucaire

Beaucaire, like most towns in France, boasts plenty of restaurants serving high-quality fare. We recommend that you simply take a canal-side stroll to make your choice. Daily menus are displayed on traditional chalkboards outside of each establishment.  You can ask the servers to help you translate if you don’t quite understand the options.

In addition to the typically-offered menu— consisting of three and sometimes more courses– there is usually also a daily ‘set menu’ that is more affordable. You can also order a la carte, of course. 

For specific restaurant reviews and suggestions in and around Beaucaire, we recommend that you visit this page. 

 

For More Info: Visit the Tourist Office

In our opinion, the local tourist office should always be one of your first stops– no matter your destination. There’s no better way to find out about local events and activities such as market days, art tours, current exhibitions, concerts and performances, to name just a few.

Interested in a canal cruise with lunch? They’ll have a recommendation. Want to visit an olive oil mill? They’ll set you on the right course.

Getting There: The Beaucaire Tourist Office is located at 8, rue Victor Hugo. You can also visit the official website here for more information ahead of your trip. 

Please leave your comments below if you have any questions about your plans to visit Beaucaire: we’re here to help. Especially since some of the above resources are available in French, you can feel free to get in touch with any questions you may have about your trip.

You can also use our contact form and connect with us on Facebook.

Bon voyage! 

 

 

How to Take Top-Rate Smartphone Pictures: 12 Tips From an Expert

How to Take Top-Rate Smartphone Pictures: 12 Tips From an Expert

by Max Therry

You don’t need a state-of-the art DSLR camera to take good shots, and you don’t need the most modern and expensive device to take top-rate smartphone pictures, either. These tips are aimed at helping you to get the best out of your mobile phone photography, from setting up the shot to taking the photo through to editing it.

1. Download a Camera App For Your Phone

Your built-in smartphone camera is fine, and you don’t have to have the latest model, but the mobile phone’s built-in camera does have some limitations. If your phone will support it, think about downloading a dedicated mobile camera app. Adobe Lightroom mobile is a great choice, but there are others like the totally free Open Camera app, or Camera ZOOM FX Premium. Find one that suits you and your skill level.

Download a smartphone photo app to take better pictures

These apps allow you much more control over how you shoot your photos. You can manually adjust shutter speed, ISO, white balance and other settings when you take photos using these apps.

Read related: Essential Travel Photography Gear to Buy Before Your Next Trip 

 

2. Back up Your Images

To keep your memory free, get into the habit of downloading your photos to another device, to your cloud storage, or both. Backing up your precious images to at least two different storage formats means that if something happens to one lot, the other will still be safe.

 

3. Learn About Different Smartphone Camera Modes and What They Do

There are several dedicated modes for different types of photography available on smartphones, and these are the most common ones to familiarise yourself with:

  • HDR Mode: This mode basically takes multiple images of the subject at different exposures in quick succession. It then merges them using the software, and will produce a final image that has detail in both shadow and highlight areas, as well as brighter color and contrast. This mode is great for shooting skies in daylight, landscapes, architecture, or in the case that there is minimal light in the subject’s foreground. For example, compare those two photos, and look closely at the sky to spot the difference:

How to use HDR setting on a smartphone

How to change exposure on your smartphone camera

  • Panorama Mode:This mode allows you to capture much more in a single shot. To use it, you need to move the smartphone horizontally along a predefined line to take your shot. The camera takes multiple shots and stitches these images together to create one wide, panoramic image.

How to use the Panorama mode on your smartphone camera

  • Portrait Mode: This mode adds an artistic effect to your portraits by keeping your subject sharp, and blurring the background to add depth of field. This mode is great for shooting people from up close.
  • Burst Mode: This mode takes a burst of shots in rapid succession, and it’s great for capturing action or sports scenes, as you won’t miss a thing! The only issue with this mode is that it will quickly fill up all your memory storage, so delete the images you don’t need soon after taking them.

 

4. Use a Tripod in Low Light

You can get specialized tripods for your phone to keep the camera steady while you shoot. If you’re shooting in low-light situations, hand-holding your phone will result in blurry photos, and you don’t want that unless that’s the effect you’re going for.

Why to use a tripod in low light for your smartphone camera

If you don’t want to use a tripod in low light, you’ll have to use the flash or go somewhere where light conditions are better. I personally don’t ever use the flash on my phone, as I have never seen a good shot taken with direct flash on either a phone or a DSLR camera. You end up with harsh, dark shadows around your subjects, and it makes their skin look washed out. That’s just my opinion, though – if you want to use flash, go for it!

 

5. Don’t Neglect Exposure and Lighting

Exposure is controlled by three things: ISO, shutter speed and aperture. On a smartphone, you have no control over the aperture, as the lens isn’t adjustable. You can adjust ISO, which relates to how sensitive your sensor is to the light coming in, and shutter speed, which relates to how long your camera shutter stays open.

Read related: Top 7 Tips For Taking Amazing Travel Photography

 

The longer your shutter stays open, the more light it lets in, and the higher your ISO, the more sensitive your camera is to the available light. On a bright day, you may need the lowest ISO, and a high shutter speed to get good exposure, while in low light, you may need the ISO up high, and the shutter speed under 1/30th second to get correct exposure. For lower shutter speeds, you’ll need a tripod or you will get blurry images. Modern smartphones let you control the exposure by simply tapping on the screen. However, if you learn how to use the manual camera mode, you’ll have much more control over your images.

For example, trying to photograph  sunrise in the desert, the camera focused on the wrong area,  and the photo (especially the sky) came out too bright and over-exposed:

How to avoid overexposure in smartphone photos

But tapping on the white part can help you correct the exposure, bring out more colors and produce an overall better photo:

How to control exposure on your smartphone camera

As for lighting, natural light is better for smartphone photography, but not direct sunlight. If you can, take images in shaded areas, or while the sky is overcast. Another good time is the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, while the sun is low in the sky, as it gives a beautiful, soft light. You don’t need to stay in the shade if you are shooting at these times.

 

6. Learn How to Focus

Different smartphone brands will offer different ways of fixing the focus, but often it’s just a case of tapping on the screen where you want the camera to focus. For instance, if you’re taking a portrait, tap the eyes on the screen, and the focus should be fixed there.

For example, focusing on the plane window:

How to use focus on your smartphone camera

And focusing on the wing:

How to adjust focus in your smartphone photos

For some phones, you can manually lock the focus by tapping on the screen and holding it down for a few seconds until the focusing square or circle changes color;  this tells you that the focus is now locked. You can then re-compose your shot, and the focus will remain the same because you have locked it. Read your phone’s manual to find out if you can do this with your phone camera.

 

7. Try to Shoot in RAW Format

Many camera apps have the capability to shoot in Raw file format. Although this is the best format for photography in general, it does have one drawback on a phone camera.

Pro photographers shoot in Raw format because it is totally uncompressed, and contains all the information from a photo. JPEG format is compressed, and is called a ‘lossy’ format because the camera discards some of the image information to enable the compression. This is the reason why JPEG file sizes are much smaller than RAW files.

How to shoot in RAW format on your smartphone

For example, increasing brightness on Jpeg (on the left) and Raw (on the right) photo

That brings me to the main drawback of shooting Raw files on a phone – memory, or lack thereof. Raw files take up a vast amount of your phone’s memory, so before you start shooting, make sure you have enough space. The same applies to shooting video on your phone, as that is another feature that eats massive amounts of memory.

If your phone doesn’t support Raw format or you don’t want to use up your memory, don’t despair. Go into the camera settings and select the highest resolution Jpeg settings it has. The larger the Jpeg, the higher the image quality.

If you do shoot in RAW, you’ll need a Raw file converter to work on the photos after you’ve taken them. Lightroom mobile will let you do that on your phone, but it’s often better to upload your Raw images to a computer.

You can get totally free Raw converters like GIMP, or you can install inexpensive editing software such as ON1 or Luminar. The latter allow you to work directly on your Raw files to make adjustments before saving your finalized image as a JPEG.

 

8. Choose Your Background

Before you start taking photos, look for objects behind your subject and in the frame of your phone camera. Is there a tree branch or lamppost directly behind your subject? Move them away, or it will look like they’re growing out of your subject’s head.

If you’re taking food photos, a plain background is best, as it lets the food be the star. Check that there are no dirty dishes or other unwanted objects in the background. Either remove them, move your food, or change the angle of your shot so that they are not in the photo.

 

9. Try Different Angles

Try to get creative with your shots. Most people will only take a photo from directly above or from straight ahead at eye level. When you get a different angle on your subjects, the image stands out from the norm. Why not try shooting from the sides, from up above, or getting down and shooting at ground level for a different perspective?

A related tip: Take lots of shots. If you have plenty of images, it makes it easier to find the really good ones when you come to edit them.

Learn how to use different angles and perspectives for your smartphone pictures

10. Check Your Composition

How your image looks has a lot to do with composition: It should be balanced, with all the elements in the shot working to create a harmonious photo.

Your phone camera probably has a ‘rule of thirds’ grid that you can overlay your shot with to help improve your composition.

A quick explanation of the rule of thirds grid in photography is this: The camera screen is split up into nine squares, with three lines running vertically, and three lines running horizontally. Where those lines intersect, along one of the lines or just above one of the horizontal lines, is where you want to place the items of interest in your photo for the most pleasing composition.

Look at your favorite photos for inspiration. What makes them good? Why is the composition visually appealing? Can you use some of these ideas in your own photos?

 

11. Don’t Zoom – Get Closer if You Can

If you use your phone’s zoom function to get in close and fill the frame, you’ll end up with very poor image quality when you look at it closely: It will look pixelated and strange, especially if you’re viewing it on a larger screen.

Try to get in closer to your subject if you can instead. You can crop unwanted objects out later in post-processing to keep your image quality and resolution high.

 

12. Learn Some Good Post-Processing Techniques

Your phone will probably have a built-in editing suite, or you can use an app to help crop and adjust a given pic. You may be wondering if editing your images is really necessary, but even the best shots will be enhanced by some careful adjustments for color, contrast, sharpness etc.

If you have the time and access to a computer with editing software, I’d suggest uploading your images to it and editing them on the larger screen. It makes a world of difference to be able to see the good and bad points of your image on a big screen.

The main rule of photo-editing? Don’t overdo. You want your photo to be bright and attractive, but still real (unless you want to achieve some artistic effect –  in that case, don’t hesitate to express your creativity!)

Final Thoughts

These days, anyone with a phone camera is a photographer, and that’s no bad thing. There are so many smartphone pictures out there that just blend into the masses, or don’t reach their full potential, and that’s a shame. If you follow my tips above, you’ll be well on your way to creating images that stand out from the crowd– for all the right reasons!

About the Author

Max Therry is an architecture student who is fond of photography and wants to become a professional photographer. He is also working on his photography blog about photo editing, modern photo trends, and inspiration. Visit his website and feel free to reach him by email.

Visit Max’s Website

Contactphotogeekymax@gmail.com

How to Choose the Right Travel Insurance: 7 Tips & Tricks

How to Choose the Right Travel Insurance: 7 Tips & Tricks

We generally love travel insurance: It gives you peace of mind, reduces hassles, and makes a crisis while abroad much easier and less expensive to deal with. Though you won’t necessarily need it for every trip you take, it’s a good option that you should always consider– especially when heading to a foreign country where your usual healthcare coverage won’t likely be valid. If you’re wondering how to choose the right travel insurance amid seemingly endless options, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll find that most providers offer the same base options, which can make choosing between policies quite a challenge. Here are our top tips to help you make an informed decision before you click “buy”. 

Decide whether you really need it

Some travel insurance companies present insurance as a one-stop option for all travel plans, but that’s really not the case. Travel insurance is best for longer trips that involves a lot of movement from point “A” to point “B”. We suggest insuring any trip that takes you more than 100 miles from home, and if it involves many pre-paid, non-refundable expenses or cancellation penalties. Essentially, travel insurance protects the investment you make into your trip, so if you’re only flying home for the holidays, you probably don’t need to go through the expense of insuring it. But if you’re taking a vacation across the world? It’s definitely  a worthwhile investment in that case. 

Read related: How to Stay Safe During Your Trip Abroad– But Still Have Fun 

Is travel insurance really worth the money?

How much of your trip is pre-paid and non-refundable?

If you’ve decided that travel insurance is right for you, the next step is to carefully consider your coverage options. Before you leave home, we recommend you do the following: Add up all your non-refundable costs to determine your insurable amount. Usually, this takes into account the cost of your hotel, rental car, flight, and attraction tickets. Don’t bother insuring any refundable tickets, as your package will almost never cover any losses from those. In brief, if you’ve pre-paid for anything on your trip (meaning it can’t be refunded if something goes sideways), you need to insure those items. If you don’t do so, it may invalidate some of the coverage of your chosen plan.

Read related: Our Top Tips to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling 

Identify your most important areas of coverage

Though your pre-paid, non-refundable expenses are where you start, you also need to consider the other types of coverage that are most important to you. For example, heading to Disney World or another park? You’re definitely going to want a weather policy in case of a hurricane.

Wondering what typical policies cover? Most insure the basics: Medical emergencies, evacuation, cancellation, lost luggage, and so on, but here are some of the more specific coverage categories that you might want.

    • MEDICAL EMERGENCIES: If your medical insurance doesn’t cover overseas emergencies, an accident might cost you a small fortune. Travel insurance bridges the gap so you don’t end up bankrupt over an injury abroad. That said, if you’re staying domestic, medical insurance is probably redundant.
    • EMERGENCY EVACUATION: If you’re seriously injured, being flown out of one hospital to a different hospital for specialized treatment can be very expensive. Evacuation insurance covers the cost of a flight on a medical jet.
    • TRIP CANCELLATION, INTERRUPTION, AND FLIGHT DELAYS: One of the basics in travel insurance is trip cancellation insurance, because flights, hotel stays, and rentals are often the most expensive part of the trip; they’re also usually non-refundable. Build in some flexibility with a reimbursement package for cancellations or interruptions. Insurance will cover these if you get sick, have a death in the family, or if there’s a natural disaster. Many plans will cover the cost of a rescheduled ticket if your previous flight was delayed.
    • LOST LUGGAGE AND THEFT: The only thing worse than an airline losing your luggage or a theft stealing from you is having to pay to replace all the stolen goods. Travel insurance covers the cost of lost luggage or property damage done by airlines or thieves, which can be a real help if you’ve brought valuables with you.

Read related: Are RFID-Blocking Wallets a New Necessity for Safe Travel? 

 

The pros and cons of buying travel insurance

Choose specific policies for high-value items

Though the basic categories of travel insurance make sense for most trips, you should also consider specific supplemental policies for more specific circumstances. Bringing an expensive laptop along with you? Insure that item specifically, because many travel insurance plans only cover the value of up to $500 per individual item. The same goes for expensive photo equipment. 

Read related: Essential Travel Photography Gear For Your Next Trip 

If you’re bringing a lot of high-value items, you may consider a specific package for your industry. Photographers may want to purchase a travel insurance policy designed specifically for them, for example, especially if they photograph professionally and could lose substantial income from a stolen piece of equipment.

Don’t wait too long to buy

If you’re putting off buying your travel insurance, be aware that most policies require you to purchase your policy before or near the time of your first payment towards the trip- usually when you purchase your flight or tour package payment. This is why it’s crucial that you decide on your insurance plan before you buy your tickets.

Make sure to buy travel insurance well before your trip-- and to read the fine print

Read the fine print

While scouring through a lengthy contract is no fun, travel insurance is no different from any other sort of policy: there’s fine print and loopholes for every package. Know what you’re getting and do your research ahead of time, especially for your specific needs. This will keep you from finding out all too late that your policy doesn’t cover something important during your trip– an unpleasant experience, to say the least.

Read related: Why Traveling is Good For You (And 6 Reasons to Take The Plunge)

Check your credit card benefits

Surprisingly, many credit cards offer insurance for items such as rentals, lost luggage, and trip cancellations. Coverage can be iffy, so read through the details carefully. This is always a good step to take, as it ensures you won’t buy a separate policy needlessly or pay for coverage you already have through your credit card. 

Some credit card companies offer travel insurance coverage