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TRAVEL

Christmas gift guide: 20 great travel experiences

Rather than buying more stuff this Christmas, why not give an active, creative or relaxing experience? Our selection includes retreats, art classes, sailing and vegan or foraging feasts

Love Trails is a weekend festival of guided trail runs around the Gower peninsula’s woodlands and coastal paths, followed by live music – with Futureheads and Shy FX among the confirmed 2020 acts so far. Other activities include a beer-mile relay, coasteering, rock climbing, surfing, wood-fired hot tubs, workshops on race fuelling and endurance and talks from athletes and therapists
2-5 July 2020, tickets from £135

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TRAVEL

Share your best travel discovery of 2019 in the UK and Europe for the chance of winning a £200 hotel voucher

Did you come across anywhere brilliant on your travels this year? Whatever and wherever it is in Europe or the UK, we want to hear about it for our end-of-year round up

You might have found a beautiful beach, a superb walk, a particularly friendly little cafe, a wonderful bookshop, or finally succeeded in climbing a mountain you’ve always wanted to go up. Perhaps you stumbled across a bar in the middle of nowhere with live music, a friendly, family-run B&B, an unsung museum or had the best meal of your life.

Send us your favourite travel discovery of 2019 – but in the UK and Europe only please. If possible, provide addresses and websites (or Facebook pages) of any businesses mentioned, and exact locations of beaches, walks and beauty spots. Please ensure your tip stays within around 100 words.

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TRAVEL

Berlin's notorious fetish club may be forced to close

The KitKatClub, famed for its sexual openness as much as its music, faces an uncertain future with its lease yet to be renewed and property developers looking to move in

The queue at Berlin’s KitKatClub can be so long it wraps around the block. Rain or shine, partygoers wait to enter and shimmy off their jackets and trousers … revealing leather and latex, colourful lingerie, DIY costumes or simply nothing at all.

Opened in 1994, KitKatClub’s name is inspired by the burlesque Kit Kat Klub in the musical Cabaret, set in 1930s Berlin against the backdrop of the Nazis rise to power. The fetish club is famed, and notorious, for its fantastical dress code, high-profile techno DJs and also allowing sex. Guests are free to have intercourse across dancefloors and in dark rooms but must never feel compelled to – according to a club policy touting respect, discretion and safety.

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TRAVEL

Rulantica, Europa-Park’s new indoor water world

In Germany’s Black Forest, the country’s largest theme park is making a splash with a vast indoor complex of 17 water slides, plus a ‘mythical’ island, ‘rivers’ and ‘caves’ open year-round

I’m ushered into what looks like an upright glass coffin, told to fold my hands across my chest in the classic corpse position – and then push a green button. I’m wondering exactly what I’ve got myself into when the trapdoor falls open and I plummet into a tube of fast-flowing water. It’s up my nose, in my mouth; I can’t see and can hardly breathe for a few tumultuous seconds before the gradient of the water slide reduces from vertical to merely steep and I’m propelled around more bends and spat out at the bottom. I feel like I’ve been flushed down a toilet.

The Vildfål is one of the more extreme experiences at the new Rulantica indoor water park, which opened on 28 November. Half an hour’s drive north of Freiburg im Breisgau in south-west Germany, it’s next to Europa-Park, the country’s largest theme park. Both are owned by the Mack family, a dynasty of entrepreneurs who have been enticing visitors to this corner of the Black Forest since 1975. In building the €180m Rulantica, the family has made its biggest single investment to date.

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Enter the Vault: the 'secret' room at Edinburgh's new hostel

A centuries’ old vault has been turned into a ‘very well soundproofed’ room at a new hostel in the Scottish capital

How does a hostel stand out from the crowd? Sometimes by embracing novelty. A former courthouse in London threw off the shackles to become Clink; in Reykjavik the crumbs of a biscuit factory were swept away to create Kex; and in Amsterdam, one of the city’s most famous brothels has a new life as Cocomama. Now, an Edinburgh hostel looks to be upping the ante by turning what was once a secret vault into a room with just enough space for a double bed behind the original six-inch steel safe door.

What has become the Vault room – a mere 3.2 sq m, and retaining its foot-thick walls – was discovered by architects during redevelopment work at a former fruit and vegetable market in the Scottish capital’s Old Town. It is now set to act as a showpiece room in the new 139-bed hostel, part of the St Christopher’s Inn chain, which opened in late November.

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Which? brands most travel comparison sites a 'waste of time'

New survey ranks sites used to find flight and hotel deals and reveals that many offer a poor user experience – and do not list the best prices

Most travel comparison websites are a waste of time and fail to find the cheapest prices, according to new research from Which? After asking more than 2,200 holidaymakers about their experiences of using comparison sites, the consumer body found that only Skyscanner, Kayak and TripAdvisor scored highly in terms of finding the best deals and being easy to use.

“Holidaymakers spend hours and sometimes days looking for the best hotel rates and the best airfares and for many of us, travel comparison sites are the first port of call. There are really only one or two sites you should consider using,” said Which? travel editor Rory Boland.

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A local’s guide to Cork, Ireland: top 10 tips

The Republic’s second city may be small but it packs a big punch when it comes to the arts, food and having a good time

There’s a pub on George’s Quay called Callanan’s. It’s one of my favourite places to take someone who’s from out of town to have a pint of Beamish and watch the old men playing rings in the back room. I’ve taken Steve Reich there, and Aidan Gillen and Camille O’Sullivan. We use it in the Sounds From a Safe Harbour festival for some of the acoustic shows on the music trail we run through the city. It’s real, unpretentious old Cork. The family who run it live upstairs, so when you go to the loo you feel like you’re going through their house. And it does the best Beamish in the city: the atmosphere adds to the taste.
24 George’s Quay, on Twitter

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A local’s guide to Aberdeen: 10 top tips

The reopening of Aberdeen Art Gallery is a good moment to focus on the city’s wider cultural scene, and its great food, drink and shopping

Scotland’s third-largest city is known as Granite City, and has a wealth of beautiful architecture: either on the Granite heritage trail or just by having a wander around and looking up. Styles and eras vary greatly, from the three Victorian domes of His Majesty’s Theatre, the Central Library and St Mark’s Church, to the neo-gothic Marischal College, and the brutalist tower blocks – which have inspired accessories by local design collective Look Inside. While you’re taking in the refurbished Aberdeen Art Gallery (among other events, a Martin Parr photography exhibition runs until 23 February 2020), check out the 28 different-coloured granite columns in the main hall – they came from quarries around the area.

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A local’s guide to Treviso, Italy: 10 top tips

Criss-crossed with picturesque canals, this historic town also offers great art and eating – to a soundtrack of popping prosecco corks

Treviso is a cycling city. We all get around the historic centre on two wheels: it’s a good way to avoid traffic jams, and tourists have to get used to bikes weaving between them in what look like pedestrianised streets. The surrounding region is perfect for both serious 70 to 80km routes – around picturesque hilltop Asolo and the climb up 1,775-metre Monte Grappa – or a lazy ride and picnic on the banks of the Sile. There is a municipal bike-sharing scheme, TVBike (€2 an hour), but serious cyclists should head to world-famous Pinarello: the Treviso manufacturer’s bikes have been ridden by winners of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France (including current champion, Egan Bernal) but its local shop at at Borgo Mazzini 9 also hires town bikes from €15 a day.

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A local’s guide to Nantes, France: top 10 tips

With brilliant art, cuisine, river islands and muscadet, the thriving city at the mouth of the Loire is ideal for a short break, and only six hours by rail from London

It must be hard for today’s visitors to imagine the Île de Nantes, in the middle of the Loire, as the industrial wasteland it became once shipbuilding finished in the 1980s. But from 2007, it has been transformed from virtual no-go area into cultural hub – giving the island back to the people and attracting tourists. The Machines de l’Ile – gigantic, surreal steampunk animals and insects lumbering through the old shipyards – have been a big hit. For summer days, La Cantine du Voyage is a huge open-air cafe on Quai des Antilles, serving healthy meals (from €11, reopens April 2020). A huge warehouse, Le Hangar à Bananes, where bananas were once brought to ripen, is now HAB, a brilliant contemporary art venue, while at night there are bars, concerts and clubbing.

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Five eco-friendly Christmas craft activities to try around the UK

Worried about the amount of festive rubbish in your wheelie bin? Take action – and have fun – at one of these sustainable gift and decoration classes

More unwanted “stuff” at Christmas? No thanks – try giving a tasty treat instead. Chocolate workshops at the National Trust’s medieval Powis Castle and Garden near Welshpool, include handmade chocolate robins and stars, and sparkly chocolate shards (19 December, £27.50). In York – original home of Rowntree’s and Terry’s factories – chocolate workshops at York Cocoa House range from drop-in lollipop-making (£3.75), to masterclasses on specialities, such as ganaches and caramels (various dates, £55 adult, £28 child).

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