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How to explore the world from the comfort of your home

The Armchair Traveller reveals how to explore the world from home: See the sights of Europe on Kirsten Dunst’s grand tour and recreate a luxury spa experience

  • Kirsten Dunst tours Europe in movie thriller The Two Faces Of January
  • MarBella Collection hotels in Greece has launched online beauty tutorials 
  • Head to VisitFinland.com for glorious photos and inspiration for a future trip

From travelogues to films and even webcams, Neil Simpson reveals how you can still explore the world from your own home during the lockdown.

Seeing the sights of Europe was a far more glamorous affair in the early 1960s, so take a step back into that golden age in the sun-drenched movie thriller The Two Faces Of January. A couple of wealthy American tourists, played by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, drift from one glorious setting to another, including the Acropolis in Athens, clifftop ruins in Crete, and the minarets and markets of Istanbul.

The 2014 film is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, so there’s darkness amid the sun. But like the adaptation of her better-known The Talented Mr Ripley, starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, the real stars here are the scenery and the sparkling sea.

Golden age: Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst tour Europe in The Two Faces Of January

For a travelogue with a much lighter touch, turn to a very different American author: Bill Bryson. His classic book Notes From A Big Country from the 1990s (first published as columns in The Mail on Sunday) still paints a perfect picture of his homeland.

His description of cheap American motels, where he says that it feels perfectly normal to be woken at 3am by a female voice screaming ‘Honey, put down the gun and give me the baby’, is a joy. It’s now available as a paperback, e-book or audiobook.

Keep smiling as you explore the stunning landscapes and wide- open spaces of Finland online. The country’s tourist board sprinkles plenty of humour amid the glorious photographs that are on display at visitfinland.com.

The ‘Find The Finn In You’ section generates your Finnish name (I’m now Sampo Sammalkorpi) and tells you what the words mean. Scroll on to read all about Santa Claus, saunas and the ‘six steps to be happy like a Finn’ before researching the perfect igloo, ice-hotel, treehouse or cottage for a future trip.

A desert island might feel like the ideal place to ride out the storm of lockdown – and the BBC Sounds app offers The Food Programme: Stranded! How To Eat On A Desert Island.

Research the perfect igloo, ice-hotel, treehouse or cottage to stay in for a future trip to Finland at VisitFinland.com 

It reveals that we needn’t go hungry while we’re there. From seaweed (‘nature’s original multi-vitamin’) to sea kale, the show explains ‘the restaurant is always open on the beach’.

Apparently, there are just three ingredients are needed to recreate the spa experience of a five-star hotel at home. The group of MarBella Collection hotels in Greece has put together a series of simple (if potentially rather messy) face-mask recipes using some honey, bananas and orange juice. Find the recipes, alongside many other Mediterranean-inspired activities, by searching #Athomewithmarbella online.

If those beauty treatments have got you ready for a Zoom close-up with friends, you need to dress the part to stay in the holiday mood. Click on the fashion section of travel gift shop airportag.com for ideas. It’s an American site but products can be priced in pounds and sent to the UK. Favourite slogans on T-shirts include Do I Look Like I Fly Economy? and Jet Lag Made Me Do It. Alternatively, pick a shirt that says what most travel-fans are thinking this spring: I’d Rather Be Flying.

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Travel

Virtually explore the world with these photo tours



a view of a snow covered mountain: Lake Louise in Canada

Picture-perfect view on Canada’s Lake Louise

For the moment, armchair travel may be the only way to satisfy our wanderlust, allowing us to dream – and plan – future vacation experiences. Here are some highlights of  personal “wow” moments during our travels that will live on in our memories, thanks to the photos we captured along the way.

This view on Canada’s magnificent Lake Louise, part of a picturesque train excursion through the Canadian Rockies, is a perfect example of a cherished travel memory kept alive through photos.

a view of a rocky mountain: El Capitan at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite’s eternal splendor

There’s certainly much truth in the adage that reminds us that beauty lies in our own backyard. It took us many years to finally pay a December visit to Yosemite National Park, an easy day’s drive from our home.  

The moment we drove through the Wawona Tunnel to enter the park, our hearts stood still as this scene of El Capitan, in all its winter glory, came into view. 

a castle lit up at night: Quebec City by night

Discover Old World Europe close to home

When travel finally gets the green light, you may initially opt to venture out to destinations a bit closer to home. Just across the Canadian border in Quebec City, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the only walled city in North America north of Mexico, you’ll discover a wealth of Old World history and romance.

a body of water with a mountain in the background: Splendor in Hawaii

The magical beauty of the Hawaiian Islands

Another “close to home” destination you’ll want to dream about, and plan to visit, are the Hawaiian Islands. As much as you may be tempted to put away your camera and just relax when you visit our 50th state, its incomparable natural beauty and the ever-changing lighting will definitely inspire you to capture the moment.

And you’ll be glad you did, as you will have these photos to remind you of one of the most beautiful places on earth.

a turtle on a branch: A Galápagos tortoise

Seeing eye-to-eye with a Galápagos tortoise

The Galápagos Islands rate high on many must-see lists, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Imagine trekking down a muddy path and coming face-to-face with a massive Galápagos tortoise looking up at you with curiosity.

You’ll never forget the many creatures – from docile sea lions, blue-footed boobies and iguanas to a variety of bird species – that pose for the camera as you walk down the guided paths.

a young child eating a cake: Sakura time in Japan

Blossom time in Japan

This was our first trip to Japan, and how lucky we were to have arrived at the peak of sakura, cherry blossom season. In the ancient city of Nagoya, a stroll through the castle park will take you past a surreal profusion of cherry blossoms at every bend in the path.

Families come out to picnic under the trees and immerse themselves in this floral wonderland. At any time of the year, Japan is a country that offers the traveler a truly eclectic cultural experience.

a canyon with a mountain in the background: View of Zabriskie Point at Death Valley

Dawn over Death Valley

For many who have the opportunity, off-season travel is a perfect option for a number of reasons. These include reduced travel expenses, fewer crowds and ever-changing weather conditions, which make for stunning photos when the atmosphere is right. 

Death Valley National Park is the perfect off-season travel destination, as evidenced by this magnificent view of sunrise over Zabriskie Point on a crystal-clear December morning.

a canyon with a mountain in the background: Cable car ride from Schilthorn summit

A cable car ride like no other

With its amazing natural beauty, hip and historic cities, and quaint towns and villages, it’s no wonder Switzerland remains a beloved visitor destination for guests from around the world.

Saying you’ll be awed by the mountain scenery is an understatement. The cable car ride down from Switzerland’s famous Schilthorn summit to the stop at Bira, where you’ll pass turquoise glacier lakes and snow-covered peaks, is almost surreal in its beauty.

a castle on top of a lush green hillside: History awaits along the Rhine

Go back in time on the Rhine

There’s no better way to go back in time to explore medieval Europe, in an intimate and luxurious setting, than on a Rhine river cruise. Unpack once and relax on your balcony or go up on the deck and literally watch history drift by you.

Daily shore excursions, either by foot, bike or bus, take you to the most beautiful regions and historic attractions along this ancient river.

a group of people standing in front of a building: Explore ancient Greek attractions

The aura of Ancient Greece

Greece will forever remain one of the world’s most beloved travel destinations because of the country’s vast scope of attractions, from its archipelago of picturesque islands and beaches stretching out over more than 4,500 miles of coastline, to charming towns and cosmopolitan cities. Not to mention the wealth of ancient history that pervades the entire country.

A favorite among small to medium cruise ships, Greece is a popular destination both for island hopping as well as for a sail down the Adriatic sea.    

a large purple flower is standing in front of a mountain: Super bloom from years past

Flower power in the California desert

It doesn’t happen often, only when conditions are right, but when the Southern California deserts burst into bloom in spring, it’s a glorious site to behold. The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located 80 miles east of San Diego, California, is a perfect place to experience the super bloom when this phenomenon occurs. 

a body of water with a city in the background: View of Hvar, Croatia

Croatia’s enchanting island of Hvar

Instead of always trying to “see it all” during your travels, consider spending a few leisurely days in one beautiful place, such as the island of Hvar, Croatia, for example.

Stroll through the picturesque town, visit medieval castles, bike through the countryside, wine-taste in the local vineyards, relax on beautiful beaches, savor incredible local cuisine and shop for exquisite handmade jewelry. Turn back the clock for a few days for a memory you’ll keep with you always.

a canyon with a mountain in the background: See the Grand Canyon by rail

Discover the Grand Canyon on a vintage train

Grand Canyon National Park is considered one of the wonders of the world, attracting some six million visitors annually from all parts of the globe. For a one-of-a-kind adventure, consider a unique and relaxing ride to the spectacular South Rim via a vintage train.

a monkey sitting on a branch: Traverse deep into the jungles of Costa Rica

Monkeying around in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has come into its own as an excellent destination for eco-tourism, as the country is committed to preserving its natural habitat while promoting sustainable tourism. Consider a small-ship adventure cruise for an opportunity to immerse yourself in a truly personal adventure far from the crowds.

Come face-to-face with a Capuchin monkey at the Curú National Wildlife Refuge and bond with nature, and your family, as you visit remote islands off the Costa Rica and Panama coasts.

a group of people walking in front of a brick building with Alamo Mission in San Antonio in the background: The Alamo in San Antonio

Remember the Alamo

For those of you who have never visited San Antonio, Texas, you may just want to add this destination to your travel wish list. The famous River Walk, a hip and culturally vibrant downtown, the 18th Century Missions National Historical Park, first-class shopping and dining, and many other attractions will have you wonder why you haven’t visited one of America’s most historic places years ago.

The Alamo, the hallowed monument that commemorates the battle fought for Texas independence in 1836, is positioned in the heart of the city.

a sunset over a body of water: The midnight sun as seen from a cruise ship

Into the midnight sun

Sometimes scenarios like the present bring life into perspective and emphasize the fact that it is experiences, and not “things,” that make a lasting impression on our mind and souls. On a personal note, one of my most inspirational photos was taken from the balcony of my cabin on board an ocean cruise ship as it slowly sailed up the Norwegian coast. 

I stood for hours watching the midnight sun paint the sky in vibrant hues of pink and gold until it burst forth in a golden ball announcing the dawn of a new day. Let’s hope for a new day very soon, and may travel remain one of our most precious adventures in life.

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.

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How to explore the world from the comfort of your own home

The Armchair Traveller: Be dazzled by Italy and delve into Paris’s secret maze of tunnels – how to explore the world from the comfort of your home

  • The Secret Catacombs Of Paris podcast explores the city’s underground tunnels 
  • Remind yourself of famous sights with the World Landmarks 1000-piece puzzle 
  • Film fans can fall in love with the Italian island of Pantelleria in A Bigger Splash

The first guidebook from Rough Guides was published about 40 years ago (it covered Greece) but the company has long since had a brilliant website too. Click on it to read, in reverse order, the result of its 2020 readers’ poll into The 20 Most Beautiful Countries In The World.

Fabulous photographs accompany each entry, with Nepal at No 20, followed by Spain, Chile and Argentina. With its fascinating mix of the ancient and modern, Japan makes it into the top ten, and your travel bucket list will get longer as you scroll to the No 1 spot occupied, naturally, by Italy.

As a major tourist destination, France also makes it into the Rough Guides poll but if you think you know its capital, think again. The Secret Catacombs Of Paris podcast on the BBC Sounds app springs surprises from the start, revealing that the City of Light has a dark side: it’s built on more than 175 miles of tunnels, most of which are supposed to be off-limits.

The Secret Catacombs Of Paris podcast explores the French city’s tunnels. Pictured is a section of the mostly abandoned belt railway known as La Petite Ceinture

Host Jonathan Glancey speaks to a secretive band of Parisians who search for hidden entrances in train stations, cellars and sewers, and to police officers who patrol the tunnels beneath sensitive sites such as banks and prisons. Along the way Glancey reveals how the network was created and why it’s full of old bones.

Paris, of course, is home to some of the world’s greatest landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower. And if travel lovers want to remind themselves of various gems around the globe, they could order the 1,000-piece World Landmarks puzzle from Ravensburger.

Online retailers expect to sell a year’s-worth of jigsaws in a month as simple pleasures come back to the fore. This one includes nearly 100 cleverly hidden sights, including Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pyramids of Egypt, Rio’s epic Christ the Redeemer and Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

Meanwhile, maps of the world jump off the page amid scarcely believable stories of political incompetence in Prisoners Of Geography: Our World Explained In 12 Simple Maps, by Tim Marshall.

He races across the globe, bringing whole regions to life and showing why so many national borders have proved to be disastrous mistakes. It’s lightly told, with chapters headings such as How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?

And if you are home-schooling or compiling a family quiz, the book is a great way to catch up on geography and 20th Century history.

Film fans can fall in love with the Italian island of Pantelleria, pictured, in A Bigger Splash

If audiobooks are more your thing actress Julie Harris brings a very well-travelled Englishwoman to life as she reads West With The Night. It’s the memoir of Beryl Markham, who in 1936 became the first person to fly solo, non-stop, across the Atlantic from east to west. A genuine modesty pervades Beryl’s story as she roams the globe in the early days of air travel.

Film fans can fall in love with the sun-kissed but little-known Italian island of Pantelleria in A Bigger Splash, starring Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes.

In real life, the tiny volcanic island is where celebrities including Madonna, Sting and Giorgio Armani go on holiday.

This drama is an adult affair, with the stars behaving badly around the villa’s pool, but the scenes of slow-dancing in warm piazzas, alfresco meals by the water and a stunning, candle-lit restaurant in the hills are the stuff of holiday dreams.

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