Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Monkey Business or Go Ape!

by Kerry-Anne Smith of Sanctuary Retreats

Despite being primates, there are several differences between the main species of apes: gorillas, chimpanzees, orang-utans and gibbons; and monkeys, of which there are hundreds of varieties. The best way to find these differences for yourself is to see them in the wild, either on a luxury safari or a guided trek. This blog takes a look at several of the main species and gives some suggestions on where to go to experience them in the wild.


The best way to see the differences between gorillas and other types of apes is to go trekking on a Uganda safari, or visit Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of Congo to see the endangered mountain gorillas in the wild. These fascinating apes live in families of up to 30 gorillas with a silverback (the head male), several females and a number of juvenile and infant gorillas. To be able to trek in the forests on a Uganda safari, you need to purchase a gorilla permit which entitles you to spend one hour watching a specific gorilla family. At US$500, this experience is not cheap, but it is something you will remain a lifetime memory.


There are about 15 species of this smaller tree-dwelling ape. Gibbons are well-known for their leaping, they are great acrobats reaching speeds of up to 35mph as they travel 20-40 feet between branches. But you will have to look up to see them in the wild. Their home in the trees can be up to 200 feet off the ground. To see them, head to the tropical and sub-tropical forests of Asia in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Bangladesh, India or Myanmar.


There are two species of chimpanzee – the common and the pygmy - the two species being the closest living relatives to humans. Living in large community groups, to see them in the wild and find out how they differ from other apes, it is best to travel to the tropical forests of western and central Africa on a Gambia or Uganda safari.


The rain forests of the Malaysian islands of Borneo or Sumatra are the place to go to see the great orang-utans. With their long arms and reddish-brown hair, there are only an estimated 30,000 orang-utans left in the wild. Tours typically arrange visits to see and or help in conservation efforts for these amazing but threatened animals.


Not to be confused with apes, there are hundreds of species of monkeys found around the world. Unlike apes, most monkeys have tails and are much easier to see running along the tops of branches rather than hiding in forests or swinging from the tops of trees. Due to the numerous species of monkey, it is likely you will see them in any of the countries that you visit to see one of the four ape species, whether that is on a luxury safari in Africa, a holiday in Asia, or venturing further a field to the forests in Central and Latin America. Watch out, in some places they are likely to steal your lunch!

Photo Credits: gibbon, orang-utan

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Amber Fort: Living in Luxury (India)

Dressed in their pyjama-like body paint, the elephants jockeyed in the tiny village square. Gleaming in the unrelenting sun, the sandstone walls of Amber Fort (or Amer Fort, pronounced without the b in either case and named after the town of the same name) hover above clinging to the top of a rocky hill. All day the decorated elephants lumber up the steep winding ramp, their sure-footed gait travelling precariously near the edge of the roadway. Their sad eyes reveal a life of abject boredom trudging the same paths every day as they ferry visitors to one of India’s most popular sights.

With its strong defences and imposing position, Amber Fort was never captured meaning much of the palace is in its original condition (though time has wrought some damage that invading forces could never manage). While the ruler was Hindu, the palace is a fascinating blend of Mughal (Islamic) and Hindu architecture, to politically maintain peace with the powerful leaders from surrounding areas, most of whom were Muslim. Built in 1592 the palace was continually enhanced and extended for a further 130 years until the royal entourage moved to Jaipur.

The elephants park near the Lion Gate (Singh Pol) that leads to the public area of the palace. Military parades and state functions were regularly conducted in the courtyard.

The courtyard leads to the imposing Ganesh Gate, covered in glorious patterned artwork and entrance to the private rooms of the palace. Ganesh, the elephant headed deity, is revered by Hindus as the god that removes obstructions from people’s everyday lives. A wonderful image of Ganesh is painted over the entrance gate in the same way that his image is painted over the front door of many humble homes throughout India.

In the corner of the courtyard is an elegantly colonnaded open hall where the ruler granted public audiences to hear wishes and petitions from the people of his region.

Over Ganesh Gate are latticed chambers with beautiful frescoes where the royal women could view proceedings while maintaining their dignity by staying hidden from public view.

Through to the private areas of the palace, the opulence that the rulers and maharajahs enjoyed becomes truly apparent. The complex features areas that act as separate summer and winter palaces, one gathering the warming sun while the other using an ingenious cooling system.

Each feature Mirror Palaces or Shish Mahals (which sounds more like a skewered meat dish) with inlaid stained glass panels and thousands of small mirrored curved fragments of silver paint or foil. Lighting a single candle ignites the room in a sea of light the ceiling glittering like a galaxy of stars. The winter palace (Jas Mandir) has panoramic views over the lake and the gardens that helped supply the palace.

The summer palace called the Hall of Pleasures (or Sukh Niwas) has a marble water course running through the room open to the prevailing breezes, working like modern air-conditioning and bringing relief from the baking desert sun. The water, being so scarce in this dry region of India, flowed to the formal gardens. Clever water management including scented waterfalls and baths feature throughout the palace providing luxurious comfort for the maharajah and his regal wives while ensuring the water is recycled or run into the thirsty gardens.

Panoramic vistas highlight the parched land and show the strong defensive walls constructed across the surrounding hills. Strategically placed towers acted as lookouts, guards banging loudly on drums should an enemy army approach.

The final courtyard contains the original Palace of Man Singh I and the zenana, where the royal queens lived (the maharajah had up to a dozen wives or maharanis) alongside various female staff, mistresses and concubines. The rooms are a rabbit warren of passageways and staircases, carefully designed so that the maharajah can surreptitiously enter the bedroom of his choice unknown to the other occupants (maybe this should have been called the Hall of Pleasures!!). The central colonnaded badahari was curtained and acted as the meeting room for the royal queens.

Only eleven kilometres from the Pink City of Jaipur (with wonderful sights such as the Palace of the Winds and the superb observatory, Jantar Mantar), Amber is an excellent half day trip. A guide helps understands the buildings and history (the signage is poor) but take some time to simply wander the courtyards, corridors and rooms and enjoy the architecture, the elaborate decoration and the views from a time when luxuriant opulence was the standard for a maharajah. Get there early before the palace is overrun with visitors and the heat of the day wilts the mood of the people (and the elephants).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Photo of the Week: Melbourne Skyline at Night (Australia)

The Melbourne skyline reflects into the Yarra River in hues of red, blue and purple as shown in this photo taken from Southbank. As for all photos, clicking on it shows an enlarged photo.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Wonders of Easter Island

guest post by Rachel McCombie

Enigmatic Easter Island lies in the South Pacific, some five hours off the coast of Chile. It’s said to be the most isolated inhabited place on Earth, giving it an aura of inaccessibility which belies the fact that, thanks to regular commercial flights, a trip to this evocative island is by no means limited just to the most intrepid travellers.

Though the sheer mission of travelling to the most remote corner of the Earth is an attraction in itself, the real draw of the island is the iconic statues for which it is famed. Known in the local dialect as the moai, these monolithic figures represent deified ancestors and are thought to have been carved between around 1250 and 1500 AD. There are a staggering 887 of them, many of which are still set in the hillsides of the quarry from which the compressed volcanic rock was taken to create them. The most impressive, however, are those which stand lined up on ceremonial platforms known as Ahu. These are to be found on the coast around the island, with the figures facing inland keeping watch over their living clan. The heaviest weighs an impressive 86 tons; to put that into perspective, the heaviest of the standing stones at Stonehenge is only 30 tons!

The history of Easter Island is steeped in mystery. Nobody knows for sure when the first settlers arrived, though DNA tests have shown that the present-day Easter Islanders are of Polynesian descent and probably arrived in large numbers. Indeed, legend tells of a people displaced from an island being enveloped by the sea. When they first came ashore after their long ocean voyage, archaeological evidence shows that they would have found an island paradise rich in flora and fauna – a vision quite at odds with the barren landscape which characterises the island today. For this reason, Easter Island is often seen as a stark reminder of the effects of human occupation on fragile ecosystems; overpopulation and deforestation have left the island with virtually no trees and an economy which relies heavily on tourism. However, with UNESCO World Heritage status, the island draws in around 50,000 visitors a year – a figure expected to rise over the next decade – making tourism a reliable source of income for the remaining islanders.

So, what is it actually like to visit Easter Island? Well, there’s no getting away from the fact that the journey is a lengthy one. First you have to get to Santiago, Chile, and from there it’s another five hours or so by plane to Easter Island’s airport at Hanga Roa. But this is not difficult to arrange, and once you’re there, you’re certain to deem the slightly arduous journey more than worthwhile. Arguably the best method of exploring the island is on horseback, and horses, bikes, scooters and jeeps are all available for hire. The ideal way to visit Easter Island is as part of a longer trip, perhaps incorporating other Pacific Islands (there are flights to Tahiti from Easter Island) or South America. This will enable you to make the most of being out in this remote part of the world. Many operators of tailor-made holidays run optional extra trips to Easter Island as part of a visit to Chile; Audley Travel, for instance, offer Easter Island tours as part of a South America itinerary. But however brief your visit, this truly unique island is guaranteed to leave you awestruck, with the inscrutable faces of its astonishing statues etched into your memory for life.

Rachel is a keen travel writer who has written about her experiences in numerous countries, from France to Japan. You can see more of her writing on her Rome blog.

Photo Credits: sunset, two faces, moai backs, moai

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Viking Ship Museum (Oslo, Norway)

The mere mention of the word viking conjures images of wild unruly men in horned helmets sailing the seas in magnificent wooden sailing ships and raiding, plundering and pillaging lands across Europe. While science has since shown that Vikings were more civilised than their reputation and didn’t wear horned helmets, they were undoubtedly master ship builders and mariners.

Three superb Viking ships are on display in the purpose-built Oslo Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskiphuset). Fortuitously discovered over 100 years ago in a remarkable embalmed state in various local clay bogs that acted as ritual burial mounds, two of the ships are near complete.

On entering the museum, the Oseberg stands majestically for all to view. Discovered as a grave in 1904, a Viking Queen was buried with the Oseberg to aid her marine passage to the next life. At 22 metres in length with fifteen pairs of rowing positions, the Oseberg was constructed in the early 800s for access to fjords and coastal waters. It is carved in magical detail with superb swirling bow and stern features and ornate patterns of Norse sagas and gods carved on its sides.

From the viewing platform, the ship’s construction can be seen with long sweeping planks of wood joined together to form the spine of the ship before cross ribs were nailed to provide the ship’s strength. The mast adds the option of sailing to that of rowing.

Sadly looted of its most valuable treasures, the burial area held two bodies along with textiles, leather shoes, tools, cooking utensils, buckets (one with a few wild apples) and wooden carvings – all made by skilled artisans and in remarkable condition after 1,200 years. These findings are especially valued as they rarely survive the ravages of over a thousand years.

Three regal carved wooden beds and the frames of two tents offer comfortable evenings for the buried queen. An intricately carved ash and oak cart designed for two horses seems strange with the lack of roads but has a well-thought design with the carriage being demountable. Along with the cart are four horse-drawn sleds also featuring ornate carvings and clever engineering to enable easy transportation in the winter months.

Turning right, the Tune ship is the smallest of the three ships and in considerable disrepair. With only part of the keel of the ship left, it shows the advanced construction in some detail but little else.

At the other end of the museum is the Gokstad. In contrast to the Oseberg, the Gokstad (built in the late 800s) is a Viking longship and far more seaworthy with its beautifully crafted broad base, high sides, hatches for the oar holes (when sailing) and strengthened keel. Less ornate and ceremonial and capable of war, the ship was discovered with 64 wooden shields for a crew as large as seventy. A copy of the Gokstad successfully sailed from Norway to the United States. While a sizable ship, every ounce of legendary Viking toughness, resourcefulness and persistence must have been needed to travel the harsh Arctic seas and conduct the long journey to North America.

Again, being a grave site, the ship was discovered with a variety of household materials, animals and harnesses for horses. The timber burial chamber and a pair of small boats are displayed in the Tune room.

The Viking Ship Museum is a superb collection of 1,200 year old relics highlighting the craftsmanship and artisanship of a highly advanced maritime civilisation. Along with the extraordinary Vigeland Sculpture Park, the museum is an Oslo highlight bringing to life the Viking way of living and a chance to revel in their complex society and admire their remarkable seamanship in a well-presented showcase.

Note:Visit Viking Ship Museum website for more detail. Click on lefthand menu (in Norwegian) for main highlights of the museum.

Photo Credit: cart

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Photo of the Week: Cruise Ship Peak Hour (Juneau, Alaska)

Inaccessible by road, Juneau is nestled along the beautiful Gastineau Channel underneath towering mountains. Inundated with cruise ships in the summer months, large vessels carefully jockey for position in the narrow channel as viewed from the magnificent vantage point on Mt Roberts. Juneau has some superb natural sights and wildlife including Mendenhall Glacier that carves its way through the mountains only a few miles outside Alaska's capital.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ibiza - Beyond Clubber Paradise (Spain)

guest post by Mohamed Khazma

Dazzling away in the Mediterranean sun, the island of Ibiza is home to hedonists. Four months in a year Ibiza is turned into a clubber's paradise, it holds its status to date as the world's best clubbing destination. Trapping the biggest parties in the world into one location is a virtue of insanity, but it somehow manages to keep order and sustain its worldwide reputation.

Ibiza, however is far from just a playground of booze and music, it still to this day holds its own historical significance and reputation for a beach / adventure like destination to match the rest of the Mediterranean islands.

Summer Adventures

By day, the thousands of clubbers visiting the island will try and find a cure from the previous night and ready their adrenaline for the next night of boozing. Ibiza’s countless and sublime clear water beaches are just one cure, with this setting, the beaches provide a platform to allow access for diving, windsurfing, sailing, jet skiing, parachute sailing, banana rides and boat rentals – to name some.

Past Ibiza’s clichéd beach activities, the Jeep safaris provide visitors with a rugged discovery of the islands most secluded landscapes and pristine coastlines. Mountain biking is the adrenaline junkies alternative, providing a free roam platform to discover Ibiza’s true country paths, the tours start from the west coast through the hills of San Agustin; the east coast trail visiting the charming village of San Carlos and the tower of Pou d'es Lleo; and lastly a trail through Ses Salines Natural Park, to roam in its dunes and ponds.

An Alternative Summer

Located in Puerto San Miguel is the biggest cave in Ibiza. Cova de Can Marçà, an estimated 100,000 years old limestone cave is spectacularly lit by coloured lighting, together with an artificial waterfall – creating an almost unreal setting. Bounded by breathtaking sea-views, visitors enter the rocky inlet of stairs allowing the discovery of its underground stalactites and stalagmites, and lakes through multilingual guided tours.

With every island comes a mystery, when a landmark doesn't appear on maps, nor is it signposted from any nearby road or path – it is sure to be sought after. Atlantis, an old quarry island off the coast of Ibiza is seen by most locals as Ibiza’s spiritual Mecca (top photo). Atlantis leaves behind the remains of sculptured rocks from the stonecutters who used it as a source for raw material to fortify mainland Ibiza. The quarry is accessible via a short boat ride.

Winter in Ibiza

The clubs have locked-up, streets cleaned, beaches abandoned and the airport is at its quietest in the year. Ibiza’s white canvas is turned into vibrant flora, what remains is a well-kept secret creating the most tranquil time of year for Ibiza’s residents and the few discerning holiday makers.

One of the most unique experiences in Ibiza is horseback riding in the northern mountainous landscapes. Rising though Ibiza’s natural protected areas, encompassing wildly romantic scenery and overlooking the islands coastline, it is an indulgent adventure for the winter season. The tours start from a few hour rides, to a full week package including agro-tourism hotels, charming, yet small, but a far-cry from the monstrous tourist hotels in Ibiza’s main towns.

Deserted beaches can come rarely on such an island, even with Ibiza’s 300 day sunshine a year, winter season in Ibiza sees no sunbeds, nor masses of crowds to spoil the view. The water pulls in gently at shore, the lush vegetation rustling, birds singing, and the entire beach open for an invitation of seclusion. Strolling slowly along the sandy promenade, soaking up the sun and replenishing the winter sunshine – Ibiza paints the perfect winter like paradise for some.

Photo Credits: atlantis, remote road, cave, ocean

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ruta de Las Siete Lagos (Bariloche, Argentina)

With the snow-capped craggy mountains, glistening glacial lakes, dark verdant forests and stellar panoramic vistas, the lake district of Argentina is like a wild Switzerland. While cycling Circuito Chico from San Carlos de Bariloche captures some of the beauty, the twisting drive along the innocently named RP234.

More typically known as The Seven Lakes Route or the poetic Ruta de Las Siete Lagos (do places sound more exotic and entrancing with their foreign name) is a superb one or two (or longer) day drive (more stopping time allows short walks time to explore the side roads).

From Bariloche the road weaves a torturous path through steep sided valleys smothered in forest past the glittering beauty of Nahuel Haupi Lake towards the village of Villa la Angostura. Legend dictates that the lake has its own spooky monster of the deep named Nahuelito. Various tracks up the local mountains offer superb alpine views while stunning large drop waterfalls tumble into the valleys below. The aptly named Cascadas Rio Bonito (Pretty River Falls) tumbles from a dark, rocky horseshoe-shaped outcrop – its turquoise-blue waters gleam in the heavily wooded surrounds.

The tiny nearby national park hosts a forest of ancient arrayanes trees, unique to this small part of the world straddling the Chilean-Argentinian border. Growing only a metre every thirty years, a boardwalk steers through an impressive 300 and 500 years old grove of the sprawling cinnamon-coloured trees, the dappled light creating a magical setting. This fantasy environment is thought to be the inspiration for the Disney movie Bambi.

The trees feature flaky, dry bark which peels away giving a blotchy aged appearance while their branches skew off at strange twisted angles. The arrayanes unusual roots spread across the ground and start to climb other trees with a number of neighbouring trees likely to be a clone of the same original tree. Arrayanes trees are unusually cold to touch with their ability to absorb the heat from the sun’s rays.

North of Villa la Angostura the road squeezes between lakes two and three – the tranquil Lago Espejo (Mirror Lake, photo) and Lago Correntoso (Swift Lake) – with peaceful walks around the lake’s shores. All the lakes reflect the mountain scenery into their still waters so it is difficult to tell why Lago Espejo received the iconic name of Mirror Lake.

Turning right, there is a wonderful detour to Villa Traful and Lago Traful which doesn’t even count as one of the seven. The wooden houses of the small fishing town are sprawled along the lake’s shores. Quiet walking trails wander through the surrounding forests unveiling waterfalls and views of the lakes while the town provides a wonderful escape and chance to unwind for a few days. Continuing through the town the road leads back to Bariloche and the Circuito Grande route (dotted path on the map).

Returning to the Ruta de las Siete Lagos, the mediocre road surface (some not asphalted) weaves its way north, tantalising paths occasionally leading from the main road. One road leads to an interesting alpine passage into Chile while the main route leads past the fjord-like azure blue Lago Escondido (Hidden Lake, top photo) surrounded by thick forest, the twin lakes of Villarino and Falkner and the impressive Vuliñanco Falls.

Turning off and driving through a police post, the road leads to a small lake. The aptly named Lago Hermoso (Handsome Lake) is the most stunning of all the lakes, though not officially one of the seven lakes. Surrounded by forest and with a sheltered sun soaked beach quiet beach, the lake feels like an undiscovered gem with a tiny rustic campsite and small shop selling basic supplies.

From here the road runs down hill, the forest reduces and the land suddenly becomes much drier. Lago Machónico passes on the left and the wonderful vista from Pil Pil Lookout highlights the seventh and final lake of the journey – Lago Lácar and the touristy (and pricey) town of San Martin all nestled into Andes mountains. In winter, the town serves as a base for snow skiing among the nearby peaks.

The 200 kilometre Ruta de Las Siete Lagos offers a constant barrage of alpine scenery warranting time to stop, walk, view and enjoy the stunning panoramic beauty of the glistening lakes and snow-capped Andean peaks. Personally, the southern half of the route feels more remote and has greater interest but all offer a chance to commune with nature and enjoy this relatively unknown Argentinian Lake District.

Photo Credits: Escondido, waterfall, trees, espejo, hermoso

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Photo of the Week: Lego Whale (Sydney, Australia)

Using 100,000s of iconic coloured plastic blocks, artists have temporarily expanded the marine wonders of the Sydney Aquarium with life size Lego models of various familiar creatures. My favourite is a full-size breaching whale with a superb backdrop of a tiny rowboat (and its mother sailing ship) being troubled by the wild seas. The picture stands seven to eight metres in height with remarkable detail of the brewing maelstrom and the dark unyielding ocean. And to think it is all done one tiny brick at a time...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Ramble Through Las Ramblas (Barcelona, Spain)

by Emily Collins

The 1.2 kilometre Las Ramblas is the most famous street in Barcelona, and in particular the south contains some of the city’s most unique tourist attractions. Many people don’t realise that this tree-lined boulevard is actually made up of five inter-connected streets, which stretch all the way up from the marina at Port Vell to Placa Catalunya in the northern end. The street features live performers, street theatre and human statues, which makes the street extremely popular with tourists. The Ciutat Vella area in particular features a number of popular Barcelona hotels that backpackers and young tourists flock to because of the central location and close access to some of the city’s best bars and nightclubs. But Las Ramblas has more to offer than just great evening entertainment, there is so much to experience along this famous street including these places of interest.

Wax Museum

Museu de Cera or the Wax Museum is Barcelona’s answer to Madame Tussauds, but don’t expect to pose for faux photos with B-list celebrities. This museum takes you back in time to meet some of history’s most prominent figures and figurines. As well as Spain’s very own Christopher Columbus, you’ll meet kings, queens and people of great nobility. There’s even an area which traces back the origin of some of Spain’s most important traditions such as flamenco and cantaor dance – it’s one place the whole family will enjoy.

Erotica Museum

Now for an attraction that’s strictly adult’s only! The Erotica Museum at 96 Ramblas is often filled with groups of giggling tourists but in fact it’s a fascinating glimpse into the lesser seen side of history. Sure, it might feature some strange apparatus – but what it’s really known for is its wide collection of art. Featuring collections that range from 19th century Hindu art and Victorian postcards to modern contemporary art and Spanish cinema it’s definitely one to visit with an open mind.

Christopher Columbus Monument

The Christopher Columbus monument can be found at the southern end of Las Ramblas and acts as a testament to Spain’s greatest explorer. The monument reaches 60 metres into the sky and a statue of Columbus can clearly be seen gracing the top. If you turn off Las Ramblas at this point, you’ll reach Port Vell where the aquarium and IMAX cinema can be found. This area is also near to Barceloneta Beach – which was recently named the best urban beach in the world. It is certainly one of the best beaches in the Costa Brava region; the area of Spain to which Barcelona belongs. And many fantastic Costa Brava hotels can be found bordering its sandy shores, such as the H10 Montcada Hotel which boasts its own sunset terrace.

Joan Miro Artwork

Gaudi’s artwork can be seen all over Spain but few people are aware that they can also see the work of Joan Miro in the city. Miro’s famous tile mosaic is located right in the centre of Las Ramblas next to Liceu Theatre. The circular swirling pattern is automatically recognisable as classic Miro style, but just in case, if you look carefully you’ll find that one of the tiles in the piece bears the artist’s signature.

La Boqueria

Barcelona’s most famous market is located on Las Ramblas and you’ll find that this is a fantastic place to stop for lunch, particularly if you’re on a budget. Even in an expensive city like Barcelona you’ll find that you can eat out here for next to nothing. Try El Quim, a family run stall in the middle of the middle of the market for the best tapas in town. Alternatively you could pick some up traditional cured meats, chorizo and bread and take a picnic in the nearby Jardins de Victoria de Los Angeles.

Photo Credits: human statue, wax model, Miro

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Switzerland of South America (Bariloche, Argentina)

More alpine European than South American, I could have easily thought I’d accidentally wandered into a Swiss village. With its enviable location, San Carlos de Bariloche snuggles up to the majestic Nahuel Haupi Lake though the drizzling rain and fading light hid the amphitheatre of snow-capped mountains and glistening glacial lakes.

Bariloche must be the cavity capital of the world. With a main square of cute alpine stone and wooden village houses and an elegant grey stone church steeple all staring over the lake, every second shop sells chocolates and nougat, samples tempting wary shoppers into their chocolate lairs. White chocolate, dark chocolate, nut chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate-covered fruit, chocolate nougat, chocolate fountains, chocolate fondues, chocolate of every form and shape and size. Feverishly made in front of eager shoppers and sample liberally shared, it is impossible not to be tempted by these sweet flavoursome jewels. Mamushka and Rapa Nui (less sales-y) are my favourites, but it is like a child selecting a favourite toy when they are all so enchanting and enticing. Dessert in Bariloche is simply wandering the chocolate shops sampling tasty sugar-sweet morsels.

However the main reason to visit Bariloche is to travel the inviting trails among the mountains and lakes. There are four main trails to choose from – Circuito Chico runs along the southern flank of Nahuel Haupi Lake, Circuito Grande runs a triangular course around a variety of lakes and the granddaddy tour is the Road of the Seven Lakes (Ruta de Las Siete Lagos) that travels north to San Martin through spectacular landscape. A fourth path takes a variety of buses and boats to weave a marine and alpine path through the Andes to Chile, one of the world’s more scenic and interesting border crossings.

Despite the fact I haven’t ridden a bike further than ten yards in over five years, I am assured that the best way to explore Circuito Chico is by bicycle (and chico does mean little!). Running along the lake, I am assured by the smiling tourist office that the path is flatter than a sumo wrestler’s mattress and a comfortable undertaking for anyone of average fitness with lots of stops on the way for enticing panoramic views. High on chocolate and with a promise of fine weather, I relent and hire a bicycle.

Packing my backpack with nutritious sticky nougat and enough chocolate to fuel a Tour de France team, the morning is picture perfect. Bypassing further shops flogging chocolate (can all these shops really stay in business selling the same goods?), the road hugs the glistening lake for kilometres passing the inviting Cerra Otto (the view from a later mountain is vastly better) and Pretty Beach (Playa Bonito) until reaching Cerro Campanario.

A short and slightly rickety chairlift (or aerosilla) ferries my exhausted legs to the top for a commanding view proudly described as one of National Geographic’s top ten views of the world. Always suspicious of such lofty claims, the 360 degree panorama is truly staggering and apparent the second that I clamber off the aerosilla.

Stellar panoramas (top photo), bracing mountain air, and breathtaking natural scenery abound in every direction. To the west, a chain of snow-capped Andean mountains is the scenic border with Chile while mountains in layers of deepening blue fade to the horizon only blocked by a handful of taller nearby peaks. The chaotic arms and legs of Nahuel Haupi Lake glisten and highlight the deep dark forests of the shoreline while other lakes daub the landscape. Bariloche seems a long forgotten starting point and is visible to the east almost twenty kilometres away.

Named like a Chinese giant panda, the exquisitely sited Llao Llao (pronounced jow-jow) Hotel (arrow in photo) sits on a narrow isthmus of land and doesn’t spoil the vista of this natural wonderland.

Only a few kilometres further on is the Weiss Family Smokehouse. For 40 years, this Austrian-born family has been smoking various meats and fish making for a worthwhile brief detour before reaching the wooden St Edward the Confessor Chapel and the imposing and palatial Llao Llao Hotel. The chapel was closed but the hotel is open for business.

Though dressed completely inappropriately for this luxury hotel and somewhat sweaty and dishevelled, I front up for a reviving coffee and snack. The overly polite staff greet me like a long-lost son (they train staff well in fancy hotels!) and usher me to a quiet, hidden discrete corner.

Fully uplifted, the Circuito Chico leads towards a small forested peninsula for a tour around Perito Moreno Lake (who founded Nahuel Haupi National Park and for whom the famous Patagonian glacier is named) towards the hotel. A tiny forest hides the suitably named Puerto Pañuelo (Handkerchief Port) that offers boat trips to various islands within Nahuel Haupi Lake including Puerto Blest which eventually leads to Chile.

Following Nahuel Huapi Lake’s inappropriately named Tristeza (sadness) arm, Lopez Bay (Bahia Lopez) has more superb views of forested hills before crossing a small bridge that finally turns back towards Bariloche and back for further deserved indulgence into chocolate and nougat.

The Circuito Chico is a superb (and long) one day cycle (or half day bus ride) around stunning Andean scenery with a Swiss flavour and a highlight of the Argentinan Lake District.

Map courtesy of Bariloche Lake Front

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