A road trip in the Peloponnese

No other part of Greece combines stupendous mountain scenery and scenic hikes with deserted, pristine beaches and an incredible wealth of ancient sites like the Peloponnese. After all, this is where gods and heroes were said to walk the earth and the world’s greatest sporting event was born.

Add to that terrific winery-hopping, boutique accommodation in historic stone towers and the unfailing hospitality of the locals, and you have the recipe for a memorable road trip.

The ideal place to start your Peloponnese road trip is the picturesque Venetian seaside town of Nafplio, set against the backdrop of a steep mountain topped with a fortress. An easy 45km drive north takes you to Nemea, one of the best places in Greece to get acquainted with local grape varieties. Greeks have been making (and drinking) wine for millennia; their ancestors even had a god, Dionysus, devoted to the tipple. While Greek wine is not as well known as its French or Italian counterparts, it’s becoming more prominent on the world stage.

The Nemean Wine Route takes you past a cluster of excellent wineries nestled in the rolling hills southwest of Corinth. Half a dozen of these organise wine tastings for visitors – many free, some by appointment. Domains Piropoulos (domainspiropoulos.com) has been cultivating grapes in its vineyards since 1860; the owner pioneers organic viticulture and wines to try here include Agiorgitiko, Syrah and the fruity Moschofilero. Gaia Wines (gaia-wines.gr) specialises in AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée), unfiltered wines; its signature vintage is the dry white Thalassitis, made from the Assyrtiko grape. For the best of the region’s reds head for the Lafkiotis Winery (lafkiotis.gr); their Moschofilero white is pretty terrific too.
Nafplio has perhaps the best choice of accommodation in the region, ranging from simple but comfortable guesthouses, such as Pension Marianna and Nafplion 1841, to stylish boutique hotels inside former mansions like Aetoma or Amymone.

Detour: Ancient Mycenae

Before reaching Nemea, take Route 7 south to Ancient Mycenae, the home of mythical Agamemnon who led the Greek heroes during the Trojan War. Walk up to Agamemnon’s Palace at the heart of the fortified ruins, admiring the Cyclopean stonework of the immense Lion Gate on the way. Don’t miss the Treasury of Atreus – an immense tholos (beehive-shaped tomb) a short walk from the main site.

East of Tripoli and the E65, a narrow mountain road snakes its way past medieval villages, high above Mt Menalon’s most precipitous ravine – the Lousios Gorge. The Mylaon River runs through the lush valley at the bottom of the gorge, paralleling the most popular section of the 72.5km Menalon Trail (menalontrail.eu) which connects the villages of Stemnitsa and Dimitsana.

You can descend into the gorge near Stemnitsa, to admire the Prodomou Monastery which clings to the rock face, and ascend on the opposite side, taking in the ruins of the Old Philosophou Monastery. Or begin your hike from Dimitsana, walking a mixture of footpaths, wooded trails and dirt roads through forests, past Byzantine fortress ruins and stone houses, over a mountain pass and through open countryside.

The villages of Stemnitsa and Dimitsana make the best hiking bases, with their concentration of tavernas serving typical mountain fare (game casseroles, bean soup) and comfortable guesthouses. Mpelleiko in Stemnitsa is a 17th-century converted house where you can sleep in the former ‘donkey basement’ and feast on organic produce, while Dimitsana’s Amanites has elegant rooms with balconies high above the gorge.

From Dimitsana, take the scenic Route 74 which switchbacks through the mountains towards Ancient Olympia. Wander around the tree-shaded remains of the original Olympic Games site, place your feet on the starting line of the Olympic stadium and see where the Olympic flame is lit every four years. Find sacrificial cauldrons and marble statues from the site at the nearby archaeological museum.

From Tripoli the E961 speeds south, past the snow-tipped Taÿgetos mountain range and through Sparta, before cutting west across the Mani – a wild, rugged region whose inhabitants were known for their fierce independence and murderous feuds for centuries. Take the serpentine road south of Areopoli, and you pass by the foothills of barren, forbidding-looking mountains and through silent villages bristling with stone towers – each a fortified family residence.

The most impressive towers stand in Kita and Nomia on the west coast, in Vathia, perched on a rocky spur, and in Mountanistika, reachable via an impossibly narrow road with a sheer drop to one side that requires nerves of steel to drive. At the tip of the peninsula, at Kokinogia, leave the car and have a dip in the aquamarine waters, or take the coast-hugging footpath to the remote lighthouse – the southernmost point of mainland Greece.

A number of historic stone towers have been converted into unique, luxurious lodgings. Just south of Areopoli, Antares is a lovingly restored family home with centuries-old vaulted ceilings and breakfast ingredients hand-picked from local suppliers. Citta dei Nicliani in Kita has engravings on its stone walls, heavy wooden beams and sumptuous beds. Tainaron Blue, a lonesome stone tower en route from Gerolimenas to Porto Kagio, is a luxurious retreat with clifftop views from its infinity pool, three unadorned stone rooms and gourmet Maniot cuisine.

Before taking the E961 from Sparta south to the Mani, turn off towards Mystras, once a stronghold of the Byzantine Empire, spread over a steep mountainside. Spend half a day ducking into ruined palaces and intact churches, hiking to the mountaintop fortress and visiting a working convent. Stay the night at the gorgeous Mazaraki Guesthouse in the village of Pikoulianika, where the organic breakfast is delivered to your door in a basket.

A road trip in the Peloponnese is generally hassle-free: there’s signposting in English, the petrol is inexpensive and the roads are decent and uncrowded. However, always allow more time for driving than you think you’ll need. The only road you’ll be able to cruise along at some speed is the E65 multi-lane highway which traverses the Peloponnese en route from Athens to Kalamata via Tripoli. Traffic is generally light, but local drivers have a tendency to tailgate at speed and underuse their indicators. Take it easy when driving the winding roads in the countryside and in the mountains. There are plenty of scenic stops where you’ll want to pull over, but watch out for locals speeding around hairpin bends and cutting across your lane.

 

How to prepare for a successful summit

Nothing stirs a climber’s soul quite like a beautiful summit. John Muir put it best when he wrote, ‘The mountains are calling and I must go.’ But if you want to enjoy a high-altitude escape – perhaps at the very top of the world – it’ll take much more than just willpower.

Planning and preparation are half the battle. So who better to consult than an expert – Ellen Miller, a high-altitude training specialist and endurance coach – before I attempted my highest climb yet, an ascent of 13,209-foot Homestake Peak in the Colorado Rockies.

After reaching that summit, I started dreaming of even bigger climbs – like Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Rainier – and sought more advice on how to take the next step towards becoming a serious mountaineer from Conrad Anker, leader of The North Face climbing team.

Here, two of the greatest alpine climbers on the planet offer important tips for achieving a successful summit.
Train far in advance

‘You want to go climb Everest? Go spend time at 19,000 feet and 25,000 feet before going up to 29,000,’ said Miller, the only American woman to conquer the world’s tallest mountain from both Nepal and Tibet.

As we hiked up Vail Mountain, Miller talked about hydrating twice as much at altitude as at sea level and the importance of acclimatizing gradually. I was relieved to hear that this mountain-deprived New Yorker had prepared accordingly: marching up stairwells in my apartment, in train stations and in office buildings; training a couple months out (okay, so not the five months she recommended); interspersing hilly bike rides with strenuous hikes near the city; and wearing a loaded backpack on the treadmill at the gym (okay, so apparently not full enough). ‘You want to load your pack progressively,’ said Miller. ‘Four months out, 10 pounds. Three months out, 20 pounds. Two months out, 35 pounds.’

Above all else, Miller values past mountaineering experiences. While acknowledging that today’s digital age is driving a desire for instantaneous gratification, she said it is crucial to maintain a willingness to spend years training and working one’s way up to high elevations.
Go with a guide

Conrad Anker, star of the recently released film Meru (merufilm.com), emphasised the importance of first identifying what you want to climb before joining a mountain organisation to get a greater understanding of what’s required. Consider some of his US-based guide recommendations, like American Alpine Club (americanalpineclub.org), Mazamas (mazamas.org) in Portland, Oregon, and Rainier Mountaineering, Inc (rmiguides.com), which leads skills seminars and climbs around the world, from Aconcagua in Argentina to Mt Elbrus in Russia to Vinson Massif in Antarctica. Outside the US, Adventure Consultants (adventureconsultants.com) offers climbing schools in Europe and New Zealand and does guided treks all over the world.

Whether you’re going it alone or just want to trust yourself on a guided trek, these organisations will take you from rookie to rock star, covering everything from setting up an unplanned bivy to glacier climbing techniques to navigating in white-out conditions and weather interpretation. And unless you want to be stuck in your tent for three days waiting out a blizzard, you need to know the best time to go, be it Mexico’s Citlaltepetl from October to April or Alaska’s Denali (formerly Mt McKinley) in the spring months.
Get your gear in order

You can’t over-prepare for climbing a mountain at high altitude – especially when it comes to gear. ‘If you’re going on an expedition, have your gear laid out a month in advance, particularly for a multi-day or extremely high [above 20,000 feet] or cold expedition,’ said Miller. ‘Don’t wait until the last minute to see if your gear is in working order or if you need a new item, even something as simple as glacier glasses.’

Anker agreed that the foundations for a successful climb have everything to do with being organised. ‘Start from the feet up: boots, socks, pants…make a checklist,’ he said, citing a climb he did with his son this past summer in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. ‘For the Petzoldt route to the Upper Exum Ridge, we knew we needed a helmet, climbing shoes and regular shoes.’ (If you want to follow in his footsteps, go through an Anker-approved service like Exum Mountain Guides – exumguides.com.)
Be mentally prepared

‘You have to be relentless in this pursuit of your passion,’ said Miller, who believes that mental training is as important as physical training. No matter how fit you may be, all climbers must take altitude seriously and the best way to build mental toughness is to climb big mountains. ‘The Colorado 14ers are a great intro to mountaineering,’ said Miller. ‘Mt Rainier is a beautiful place to get some glacier experience, and the Ecuadorean volcanoes of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo are easy and lovely to climb.’

And even after years of conditioning, when you think your brain and body can handle thin air and freezing temps, Miller suggests reaching altitude with caution. ‘Ease the progression, moving slowly, adjusting, that is key to acclimatization. Be well prepared, well rested and hydrated, and really think about approaching a mountain thoughtfully,’ said Miller.

To develop confidence and expertise in the mountains, Anker said an inexperienced climber would be wise to choose an adventure within his or her ability level, or train with a mentor who knows the situation and has seen something that’s more challenging.

Miller, who considers Nepal and its mountains to be like a second home, also suggested surrounding yourself with your own tribe – people who love training and believe their lives have been changed for the better because of climbing. ‘There’s no room for the naysayers,’ said Miller. ‘Tune out the folks who will say it’s too scary or too dangerous.’
Focus on the climb

While altitude can be a deciding factor in a climber’s ability to reach a summit, it’s far from the only hurdle. Even the most experienced alpinists head into the mountains with a healthy mix of reverence and fear. But the secret to a successful climb is focusing on the task at hand. ‘You can’t be climbing serious mountains, scrambling over rocks, ice climbing and thinking about your schedule for next week or the grocery list,’ said Miller. ‘It is really important to get in the zone and enjoy being so incredibly focused. Often times, life depends on that focus, that ability to reign in your brain.’

Focusing on a project at work is different from focusing on fixing a pitch in 30mph winds. The more you practise this kind of focus while training, the more disciplined you’ll be when it’s time to wake up just after midnight and push for the summit. ‘You’ve got to summon the restraint to rewire your thought pattern,’ said Miller, relaying a dizzying array of things that go through a climber’s mind. ‘Don’t rush, stay in eyesight of each other. You’re at the top when you’re at the top, not a moment before so stay focused on vitals, weather, supplies and other elements.’

 

Finding the right Greek island

With more than 2000 islands, from tiny atolls to Crete, maritime Greece is unmatched for sheer variety. Beaches, history, walking, cycling, water sports, festivals, food, ecology: chances are if you want it, they’ve got it. Here are just a few of the incomparable offerings Greek islands hold.

Best for beaches: Crete, Lipsi, Kefallonia, Skiathos, Mykonos

Almost every Greek isle has great beaches, but few come with a Venetian castle, like laid-back Frangokastello Beach in southern Crete. For lapping turquoise waters, try Platys Gialos and Kambos on quiet Lipsi, and the stunning cove at Myrtos Beach in Kefallonia. To see and be seen, bowl up to one of Skiathos’ 65 beaches, join the mainstream masses at 1200m-long Koukounaries Beach or bronze up on nudist-friendly Banana and Little Banana Beach, popular with the gay and lesbian set. Even more full-on are the legendary Paradise and Super Paradise beaches on decadent Mykonos.
Best for diving and snorkelling: Karpathos, Milos, Paros, Kastellorizo

For organised dives in sea caves full of colourful aquatic life, check out Karpathos. Milos has phenomenal diving face-to-face with deep-sea fish, dolphins and even monk seals. Snorkelling is also great here, as well as on Paros and remote Kastellorizo (Megisti).
Best for history: Rhodes, Delos, Corfu, Patmos

Gape at Rhodes’ magnificent, walled Old Town, where the Knights of St John ruled from 1309 to 1523, and explore their quarter before visiting the 14th-century Palace of the Grand Masters. Tiny Delos, near Mykonos, was once dedicated to Apollo; see ruins of shrines to the gods and explore mosaic-rich ancient dwellings. Kick back in Corfu’s Old Town, with its Venetian, French and British architecture. On ethereal Patmos, visit the Monastery of St John the Theologian, and see the grotto where the saint wrote the Book of Revelations.

Best for walking: Crete, Naxos, Alonnisos, Skopelos

The varied terrain on Greece’s biggest island, Crete, ranges from gentle plateaus dotted with windmills to canyons and mountains. Hiking the Samaria Gorge, Europe’s longest at 16km, takes you through the homeland of Crete’s famed wild goat, the kri-kri. The Zakros–Kato Zakros (a former Minoan palace site) amble in eastern Crete is more relaxed. Cool relief awaits on the forested ‘river walk’ at southern Plakias. Fertile Naxos boasts numerous walks along the old paths connecting the villages of the central plain; these traverse ancient temples, Hellenistic towers and Byzantine churches. The Sporades isles of Alonnisos and Skopelos, full of forests, orchards and wildflowers, offer more excellent walks.
Best for cycling: Evia, Kos, Thasos

The meandering country roads of Evia make for blissfully stress-free cycling. Another favourite is well-equipped Kos, bursting with bike-rental places. Excellent forested trails (and a popular international race) bring mountain biking aficionados to Thasos.

Best for responsible travel: Zakynthos, Chios, Crete

Volunteer to protect endangered wildlife such as sea turtles on Zakynthos with the Sea Turtle Protection Society. Get your hands dirty while tending endemic mastic trees, and explore Chios’ other eco-tourism opportunities in Mesta. Finally, enjoy guilt-free eating and sleeping in Crete’s secluded mountains at Milia, powered by solar energy and living off its organic farm and good vibrations.

Best for food and drink: Lesvos, Samos, Folegandros, Crete, Corfu

Lesvos is renowned for its olive oil and ouzo (it produces some 70% of all Greek ouzo). The national aperitif is served with mixed mezedhes (appetizers) at traditional ouzeries (ouzo restaurants), which blend the island’s old Turkish influences with Greek seafood specialities. Lesvos produces fine wine, as does Samos, famed for its sweet muscat dessert wine. The Cycladic specialities of Folegandros include matsata (pasta with rabbit/chicken in red sauce), astakomakaronada (lobster with spaghetti) and liokafto (sun-dried fish). Crete is famous for its olive oil and specialities like dakos (rusks topped with tomato, olive oil and cheese) and myzithra (sweet cheese, used in pastries). Horta (wild greens) provide seasoning for fish or roast lamb. Like other Ionian islands, Corfu was never Ottomanised, and its cuisine remains Italian-flavoured.

 

Diving and snorkelling in Fiji

Fiji is known for its beautiful palm-fringed islands, but some of its most spectacular scenery is found below the waves. Its warm, clear waters offer year-round diving and snorkelling in what’s often referred to as the soft-coral capital of the world. There are reefs with lush gardens of corals, deep canyons and walls, multihued fish and plenty of big swimmers like sharks, turtles and manta rays.

Dive operators and resorts offer scuba diving and snorkelling almost everywhere in Fiji. If you’re new to the underwater world, many offer PADI-certification courses that will get you below the waves quickly and safely.

Here’s our guide to some of the best diving and snorkelling locations in Fiji.
Bligh Passage

The northeast of Viti Levu offers access to the rich waters of the Bligh Passage from Rakiraki and the nearby resort island of Nananu-i-Ra. The sites here have a good balance of scenic seascapes, elaborate reef structures and masses of marine life. Names of spots such as Dream Maker and Breath Taker sound like hyperbole – until you get beneath the waves and swim among the dense concentrations of corals and thick shoals of brightly coloured fish.
Related articles:
Fiji for first-timers: how to choose an island From ukuleles to reggae: Fiji’s music scene How to choose a South Pacific island
Beqa shark dive

Some dives hold out the mere possibility of encountering a shark, but this site puts you right in the middle of more of the sea’s top predators than you could possibly hope for. It’s located in the specially designated Shark Reef Marine Reserve, where you can dive among reef sharks, lemon sharks, bull sharks and even an occasional 4m-long tiger shark. There’s a tightly regulated feed several times a week, with divers watching from the periphery. Shark feeding isn’t without its critics, but some conservationists point out its use as an effective strategy in shark education and protection.

Operators in Pacific Harbour, along the Coral Coast or on Beqa island itself all offer shark dives.

The Somosomo Strait is the narrow stretch of water which separates Taveuni from Vanua Levu. It might not be wide, but the nutrient-rich currents passing through here make this the best soft-coral diving site in Fiji – and that means one of the best in the world. Several dive sites call out for attention. The Great White Wall resembles nothing more than a snow-covered ski slope when the current runs over its white soft corals. The Rainbow Reef is appropriately named after its extravagant tapestry of corals, just like the Purple Wall with its bushy overhangs and arches. Finally, Annie’s Bommies has boulders that look like they’ve been yarn-bombed, such is the explosion of colour in this shallow reef.
Great Astrolabe Reef

The Great Astrolabe Reef is one of the world’s longest barrier reefs, stretching for over 65km around and beyond Kadavu island. It’s home to a brilliant assortment of tunnels and canyons, all festooned with coral. Halfway along its length the reef is bisected by the Naiqoro Passage, an important transit point for large fish and the reason why so many people come here to see manta rays, sharks and other large pelagics. Notable dive sites include the undersea pinnacles of Eagle Rock and the maze-like Broken Stone. There are only a few dive resorts on Kadavu, which is pretty remote for Fiji, but several offer great snorkelling straight off the beach.

Leave your tanks and dive regulators behind at this snorkel-only site just off northeast Kadavu. This is a place to swim with manta rays, which come in from the ocean each morning for a bit of a brush up at this cleaning station on a shallow reef. The mantas (with a wing span of up to 4.5m) gracefully glide across the reef until they find a spot where they can be attended to by resident cleaner wrasses. These fish swim inside the manta’s mouth and around its gills to eat parasites and dead skin – they’ll even clean up shark bites, helping a wounded manta back to health.
Namena Marine Reserve

The Namena Marine Reserve is off Savusavu on the south of Vanua Levu. It’s a great example of local conservation, as traditional fishing rights have evolved into community protection for the entire area. As a result, there’s a particularly diverse fish population, including large pelagics. The Dreamhouse is a seamount which attracts a wealth of grey reef sharks, jacks and tuna. The Nasonisoni Passage has barracuda and groupers, while the site itself is a narrow coral-clad channel. During tidal exchange, divers are sucked into the passage and propelled through the funnel by the forceful current.

On the edge of the Bligh Water, the Vatu-i-Ra Channel is best accessed on a liveaboard dive boat. At its centre is the magnificent dive site E6, which is consistently rated as one of the best in Fiji. This seamount rises from 1000m to almost touch the waves and acts as a magnet for pelagics, including hammerhead sharks. A huge swimthrough in the seamount, called the Cathedral, creates a magical atmosphere. Nearby Nigali Passage, a narrow channel off Gau island, is home to a squadron of grey sharks (almost ever-present) as well as schooling trevallies, barracuda and snappers.

Drawaqa island in the Yasawas has become so well known for its visiting mantas that it has recently rebranded itself as Manta Ray Island. The elegant rays frequent the stretch of water between Drawaqa and nearby Nanuya Balavu island. Drawn by the plankton-rich currents passing through here, they come to feed in the warm waters. April to October is the best time to visit – you slip quietly into the water to avoid disturbing the rays, then watch them breeze past on their alien and elegant wings.
Malolo Barrier Reef

The Mamanuca islands are particularly popular among those who want to combine their dive trip with a bit of South Pacific beach lazing, as the dive sites here are reached quickly and easily by boat from Nadi and the many resorts in this island group. It’s a great place to get started if you’re new to scuba diving. The Malolo Barrier Reef has several good dive sites, including Gotham City (named after its resident batfish) which has large coral heads with moray eels, and the Supermarket, a popular spot for reef sharks.

When planning your trip, remember that while it’s fine to dive straight after your flight, your last dive should be completed at least 12 hours but ideally 24 hours before getting on a plane. The reason for this is to minimise the risk of residual nitrogen in the blood causing decompression. You should take particular note of this because so much inter-island transport in Fiji involves planes.

 

Singapore’s best bars with a view

Singapore’s best bars with a view

Peppered with futuristic skyscrapers such as the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Singapore skyline is truly a sight to behold. As the sun begins to set and the temperature drops, head up to one of these sky-high bars to experience this city from its best angle – drink in hand.

Cé La Vi

Pin this image Sip a cocktail at Cé La Vie, perched on top of Singapore's iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Image by Kylie McLaughlin / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images Sip a cocktail at Cé La Vi, perched on top of Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Image by Kylie McLaughlin / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Balancing on the ‘bow’ of the equally famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, this might just be the most hyped bar in Singapore. The view is what you’re here for, and the bar formerly known as Ku De Ta (which received a facelift along with its new name in 2015) certainly delivers. Service can be patchy and at times it can feel touristy – but the sweeping views over Marina Bay really are worth it.

Dress code: rules are strict – no shorts, flip-flops or tank tops. It’s cultivating a chic vibe so it’s best to glam up.

What to order: cocktail prices are equivalent to what you’d pay to visit the SkyPark Observation Deck on another area of the rooftop – we think getting a drink and a view is a better deal. Cocktails are strong and there’s a large spirits menu, including a particularly good rum selection.

Best time to go: cover charge kicks in at 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights, plus the eve of public holidays. Check the website (sg.celavi.com) as they have DJs and special events every week.

Level33

Pin this image A row of beers with a backdrop of Singapore's skyline, seen from Level33 bar A hop-head’s delight at Singapore’s vertigo-inducing Level33. Image by Ria de Jong / Lonely Planet

One for beer enthusiasts, Level33 is (currently) the world’s highest urban craft brewery. Your attention will be torn between the sweeping views over central Singapore and the dazzling giant copper brew house kettles displayed centre stage; both are stunning.

Dress code: urban cool. There’s no need for a tie or jacket but take note: the vibe is industrial penthouse with earthy tones and mood lighting.

What to order: the beer paddle, a 100ml taster of five Level33 craft brews or their seasonal brew, only served until the tap runs dry. The beer dining menu pairs perfectly if you’re hungry. If beer isn’t your thing, a selection of classic cocktails is available too.

Best time to go: locals say 6pm is the cut-off to grab a seat on the deck. Arrive before then and settle in to watch the skyline twinkle to life. Enjoy happy hour before 8pm, because like this bar, the prices are sky-high.

Hi-So

Pin this image Iluminated tables with a cluster of Singapore skyscrapers in the background Enjoy panoramic views of Singapore as you sip at Hi-So Bar. Image by Ria de Jong / Lonely Planet

Perched atop a beautifully restored heritage building (now the Singapore So hotel), this bar is upping the urban glamour stakes of central Singapore’s bar scene. Located on the sixth floor, the 360-degree view of neighbouring skyscrapers gives the feeling of poolside decadence in an urban jungle. The Palm Beach-inspired cabanas surrounding the gold-tiled infinity pool only add to the chic appeal.

Dress code: weekdays bring cosmopolitan city workers and an artsy crowd, but come the weekend it has an international feel.

What to order: the Hi-So’s resident mixologist makes a mean mojito. Food is limited so you’re better off scooting across the road to Lau Pa Sat hawker centre for a cheap bite.

When to go: there’s generally a drink deal on every night and weekend pool parties. Check the hotel’s Facebook page (facebook.com/SofitelSoSingapore) for upcoming events.

Loof

Pin this image Wicker chairs clustered around tables at a terrace bar, with trees and greenery in the background Refresh yourself in Singapore’s verdant Loof bar. Image by Ria de Jong / Lonely Planet

The bar that started the rooftop craze in the Lion City, this green CBD escape is quirky old-school Singapore personified. Loof’s lush vertical gardens offer a stark contrast to the shiny skyscrapers and there’s plenty of seating options for relaxing in this green oasis. Stop by the onsite ‘Mama Shop’ to pick up a nostalgic Singaporean knick-knack.

Dress code: think alternative trendy, but there are no set rules. We suggest cool and comfy as it can get a little stuffy in the late afternoon.

What to order: with a Singaporean twist to the drinks and the food menu, you’re in for a few surprises. Sample a cocktail from the ‘Asian sensations’ list or get nostalgic with some classic favourites. The ‘die-die must try’ menu items are just that; the chilli crab cheese fries are superb.

When to go: this place pumps every night (except Sunday) with resident DJs and themed nights. Get there before 8pm weekdays for happy hour deals.

1-Altitude

Towering 282m above Singapore, the world’s highest al fresco bar is not for those iffy about heights. The unobstructed 360-degree view is nothing short of spectacular – on a clear day you can see to Malaysia and by night the twinkling lights from buildings below look like a carpet of stars rolled out beneath you.

Dress code: the modern décor, multicoloured lighting and exotic plants beg for smart duds – no shorts for men and no flip flops for anyone.

What to order: the cover price (S$25 every day, S$30 Friday, Saturday and the eve of public holidays) includes a house drink on arrival. They’re nothing to write home about, though they are refreshing as you take in the view. The next round will not be so kind on the wallet.

When to go: make a reservation if you’d like to enjoy your evening in a seat. Doors open at 6pm, and you’ll need to be in position by 6.30pm to catch sunset. Keep an eye on the weather as the upper roof shuts at the mere hint of rain. Ladies get free entry on Wednesdays and S$10 martinis all night.

Lantern

Pin this image People seated at tables on a deck, surrounded by trees and flowers, with a backdrop of Singapore skyscrapers Enjoy top-class service and views of Marina Bay at Singapore’s Lantern bar. Image by Ria de Jong / Lonely Planet

What Lantern lacks in height, it makes up for in atmosphere. Entry is via the luxurious foyer of the Fullerton Bay Hotel and the stylish lantern-inspired bar surrounds a shimmering pool. The service is first class, as are the views of the Marina Bay waterfront stretching out in front of you.

Dress code: hotel guests may be in their swimming attire, but it’s best to stick to smart casual.

What to order: inspired by Latin America and the Caribbean Islands, cocktails are handcrafted with herbs and freshly-squeezed juices. The signature Red Lantern with watermelon, cucumber and tequila is like drinking a tropical breeze. A good selection of wine and bubbles is also on offer. Prices are on the high side, but it’s worth starting your night here for the glamorous atmosphere and killer views.

When to go: visit in the late afternoon to enjoy the waterfront breeze, then linger to watch the Marina Bay Sands laser light show from your seat.

The Rooftop Potato Head Folk

Pin this image Brightly lit red-and-white Potato Head Folk bar in Singapore Dress hip to mingle with the crowds at kooky Potato Head Folk in Singapore. Image by Ria de Jong / Lonely Planet

The epitome of Singaporean hip, this kitschy bar is all draped lights and haphazardly placed pot plants. The mismatched garden furniture adds to the wonderful randomness of The Rooftop Potato Head Folk (pttheadfolk.com) but it all works together beautifully.

Dress code: there are no set rules but you’ll need to dress cool to blend in with the crowd.

What to order: get your hands on one of the tiki rum concoctions, which taste like a tropical holiday. Watch out for the Zombie (maximum two per person) as it can knock you flying with its
rum and absinthe combination. Tummy rumbling? There’s a barbecue menu but the burgers downstairs are worth holding out for.

When to go: the rooftop opens at 5pm (closed Mondays) and there’s a no-reservations policy so it’s best to get there early to score a seat. Check the bar’s Facebook page (facebook.com/PotatoHeadFolk) for special events.

Southbridge

Hot date? Head to this shophouse roof bar to indulge in a sexy coupling of oysters, champagne and cocktails. The view stretches across the river to Singapore icons The Fullerton Hotel, Parliament House, the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

Dress code: with a casual European feel, this place calls for classy smart casual. Most patrons look as though they’ve just stepped off their yacht in St Tropez.

What to order: oysters of course! There’s a small plate menu so pick a few items and chow down while enjoying a glass of bubbly, Japanese sake or choose from the large list of cocktails, all crafted using artisanal spirits, homemade infusions and tropical fruits.

When to go: happy hour (with deals on drinks and oysters) starts when the bar opens at 5pm and runs until 8pm on weekdays.

Meet Mumbai – India’s modern megacity

A gargantuan, pulsating metropolis that reinvents itself every time you blink, Mumbai is India’s most modern and most happening city. The best entertainment spots, the liveliest cultural melting pots, the yummiest meals at the most trendy cafés or the latest designer threads gracing the most beautiful people – Mumbai is where you’ll find them. Indeed, the city is getting a make-over unlike anything India has seen before, with more than 15 ‘supertalls’ – trade slang for skyscrapers over 300m – under construction in the northern suburbs.

 

Many travellers limit themselves to the historic neighbourhoods of south Mumbai and miss out on Mumbai’s modern cutting edge. Here’s a look at some of the sights and activities that help you to get under the cosmopolitan skin of India’s ‘Maximum City’.

Rising from the ashes of what was once a colonial cotton mill, High Street Phoenix (highstreetphoenix.com; 462 Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel West) is Mumbai’s top destination for shopaholics, particularly those with a weakness for premium designer labels. Appealing to Mumbai’s icons of film, fashion and finance, this luxury shopping complex – the largest of its kind in the city – houses top global brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Jimmy Choo and Gucci. If you have any red carpet events coming up, this is the place to get kitted out in the latest catwalk chic. Refreshingly, High Street Phoenix also has a generous smattering of home-grown haute couture labels such as Rohit Bal (rohitbal.com) and Anita Dongre (andindia.com), whose gorgeous ethnic dresses and modern-medieval ensembles find their way onto the sales racks after being showcased at the Mumbai and Delhi fashion weeks.
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There are more cafés in Bandra than there are houses, or so locals like to claim. And to be fair, this posh neighbourhood in central Mumbai does indeed boast some of India’s best delis, coffee shops, snack bars, breakfast joints and tearooms, serving a divine range of espresso-based pick-me-ups and organic comestibles in cool and laid-back interiors. The trendiest name on this circuit is The Birdsong (Off Hill Rd, Bandra West), where life-affirming organic healthfood comes to your table in imaginative and tasty avatars, such as organic khichda (like kedgeree version 2.0) and vitamin-rich quinoa salad. Then there’s Yoga House (yogahouse.in; Sherly Rajan Rd), which supplements its yoga classes with wholesome vegan and vegetarian food, including famous salads, multigrain bread and hash browns with spinach and mozzarella. To pamper your sweet tooth, swing by Theobroma (Link Square Mall, Linking Rd), a satellite branch of the famous south Mumbai confectioner, for the best walnut brownies and vanilla cinnamon custard tarts in town.

Given that Indian art now sells for millions of dollars at exhibitions and auctions around the world, no Mumbai trip would be complete without a tour of the top-flight art galleries. The Chemould Gallery (gallerychemould.com; Queens Mansion, G. Talwatkar Marg), one of India’s oldest art houses, keeps metamorphosing through the decades, but consistently represents the country’s most respected artists, from past masters such as MF Husain and Tyeb Mehta to contemporary visionaries such as Jitish Kallat and Atul Dodiya. Another creative hotspot is Chatterjee & Lal (chatterjeeandlal.com; Kamal Mansion Floor 1, Arthur Bunder Rd), which promotes contemporary mixed media, installations and video art, with a catalogue that includes some of the most sought-after artists of India’s new millennium. For a more comprehensive sampling of Mumbai’s art scene, detour south to Fort and schedule a stop at the Sakshi Art Gallery (sakshigallery.com; Grants Building, Arthur Bunder Rd), the recently renovated Jehangir Art Gallery (161B MG Rd, Kala Ghoda) and the venerable National Gallery of Modern Art (MG Rd), all showcasing the best of contemporary Indian and international creativity.

If you like to lead rather than follow when it comes to fashion, your trip to Mumbai absolutely must include pit-stops at the some of the funky boutiques springing up to showcase local design talent. Tops on this list is On My Own (OMO; Chimbai Rd, Bandra West), a store that’s ragingly popular with the city’s starlets and style-setters, with affordable but gorgeous dresses featuring block prints, jute embellishments and tie-dye motifs to go with sassy leather shoes and hippie-chic bags. Down by the sea, Bombay Electric (bombayelectric.in; 1 Reay House, Best Marg) stocks a mind-boggling range of handicrafts, jewellery and accessories, mixing traditional and modern motifs. And don’t forget to check out the fabulous Obataimu (Bharucha Marg, Kala Ghoda), a swish boutique with Japanese aesthetics, that specialises in statement dresses (they even have their own tailoring school).

Like every world city worth its reputation, Mumbai has a robust live music scene, with everything from Indian experimental electronica to international metal. Blue Frog (CD House, Mathuradas Mills Compound, Lower Parel), an iconic institution conceived as a platform for emerging musicians from India and abroad, comes to life as the weekend approaches, with bands and soloists belting out everything from Indian classical ragas to headbanging classic rock, staccato ska, and dub, funk and hip-hop beats. The space-age pod restaurant has a menu as diverse and eclectic as the music. For a more refined evening, the National Centre for Performing Arts (Marine Dr & Sri V Saha Rd, Nariman Point) has an impeccably curated schedule of cultural goings-on, from Indian and international music, dance performances and workshops, to modern theatre, photography shows, art exhibitions, lectures, recitals, and film screenings. If you visit during winter, take your tapping-foot along to the high-octane Mahindra Blues Festival (mahindrablues.com) in February, featuring the best jazz and blues acts from around the world (we’re talking Derek Trucks, Buddy Guy, and appropriately, Taj Mahal, here!).