The Album: Cathy Winston

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

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Freelance travel writer, Cathy Winston, takes us on a tour of her five favourite destinations

Beirut, Lebanon

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Beirut is still associated with the war-torn images of the 80s but while it’s currently quiet in the Lebanese capital, it’s a great time to visit the country. The whole atmosphere is electric – wherever you look the skyline is packed with cranes for the building work but you’re still able to get a glimpse of the old city too, from the bullet-ridden houses along the old Green line to the Muslim quarter in Hamra. And there’s another glamorous side, with chic bars and restaurants, as well as funky boutiques dotted around Gemmayze, Achrafiye and Downtown, plus people watching on a walk along the seafront Corniche. You’re also within driving distance of the incredible temple ruins at Baalbek and the Crusader castle at the fishing village of Byblos.

Lapland, Finland

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Northern-most Finland, in the Arctic Circle, is best known for its Santa connections, but it’s a great place to visit after Christmas for the fairytale landscapes and adrenaline-fuelled activities. You can try snowmobiling out into the countryside, as well as taking a husky sled ride, which seems almost as fast thanks to the dogs which simply live to race. It’s romantic too – you can curl up in a fur-lined sleigh pulled by reindeer and sleep in glass igloos looking out to the Northern Lights. And the skiing is great too. The slopes are relatively quiet for beginners and the main resorts have some challenging black runs if you’re more advanced. It does get cold in January and February, but that just gives you an excuse for a daily sauna to defrost as well.

Istanbul, Turkey

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One of my favourite cities, I love the mix in Istanbul – there’s centuries of history and culture, with gorgeous buildings including the Blue Mosque, Agia Sofya and the Topkapi Palace as well as buzzing bars like 360istanbul for fantastic views out across the city over pomegranate martinis. The Grand Bazaar is like a rabbit warren and if you ignore the knock-off watches and cheap bellydancing costumes, you can see craftsmen working, haggle for spices and just absorb the atmosphere. But what gives Istanbul its real sense of possibility, of being at the forefront of events, is being split across Europe and Asia – you can cross from one to the other in about 30 minutes.

China

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There is so much sheer variety in China that it’s hard even to compare one city with another, as they’re each so fascinating and different in their own way. The Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo has some of the world’s most beautiful scenery and sailing through the towering gorges of the Yangtze is breath-taking. In Xi’an, you get to see a less well-known side of the country, with a big Muslim population and one of the strangest mosques with its pagoda, plus the deservedly famous Terracotta Warriors. And scrambling along a quiet section of the Great Wall a few hours from Beijing, while getting an impromptu Mandarin lesson from my guide, is a memory that will stay with me forever. And that’s only a small taste.

Sri Lanka

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For such a small island, you could easily spend weeks exploring Sri Lanka – from the tea plantations in the hill station of Nuwara Eliya to the Buddhist temples in Kandy and the sultry town of Galle at the southern tip, as well as leopard spotting in the Yala National Park. But what fascinated me most was the Cultural Triangle including Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, the cave temples at Dambulla and the mountain fortress at Sigiriya with its beautiful gardens and frescoes. While Europe was still in the Dark Ages, Sri Lanka had been enjoying its golden age for over a millennium and even the ruins of the old capitals, with their palaces and intricately carved temples are impressive today. Walking through the giant stone lion paws to discover the palace at Sigiriya on top of an apparently impregnable hunk of rock and learning about the advanced system they used to get water to the fortress reservoir is astonishing. Despite its turbulent history, the people are still so friendly and welcoming too.

Thanks Cathy! For more on Cathy and her travels, please visit www.cathywinston.com
Fancy sharing your top travel experiences with fellow CD Traveller readers? Email kaye@justabouttravel.net

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