Not all summer holidays have to be hot! Discover some of the coolest destinations to beat the heat
Chalkmarks: Riga, Latvia, July 2024

Good morning. This is what happened in the world of travel this week: Friday 5th July 2024

BY THE time you read this, we’ll be in Riga, Latvia (pic above doesn’t lie). While everyone was voting and staying up until 4am for the results we exercised our democratic right to flee. Between that and the UK’s topsy-turvy weather it made sense to get out. We will be walking the Old Town and taking a boat trip down the Daugava. Has anyone tried Riga Black Balsam btw? We’d never heard of it. And did you know in 2022 they changed the street name where the Russian Embassy is to Independent Ukraine Street, so all their post has that address? There’s a lot going on in this city split between its Soviet and European heritage. And did you know a four-night stay in a five-star hotel costs the same as one night in that brand’s hotel in London or Paris? Instead of scrolling on our phones for election results we’ll only be taking snaps of bridges and potato pancakes. That’s all we have so far. We’re in no hurry. And best of all, we’re out of the heat. Up here in the Baltics summer comes in around the mid-20s. If you want to turn away from the heat of the Mediterranean here’s a round-up of some cooler climes at home in the UK and away! Usual travel headlines to resume next week!

Chalk’s away!

Discover the moon: When we think of Iceland, we think ice. We think cold and freezing. But we were here in the summer and it’s green. It’s 17C. It’s summer! Plus here they have the midnight sun – that’s 24hr daylight. We need our sunglasses on all day long. We travelled to the northern city of Akureyri – situated on the waterfront with the white peaks of the Eyjafjörður fjord in the background. This place is a gem. It’s filled with unique volcanic landscape where Nasa astronauts train, there are natural thermal spas where the water is 40C, there’s waterfalls, lava fields, puffins and a Eurovision museum. In the winter it becomes the best spot for skiing and seeing the Northern Lights. And all this before you have done anything interesting, like super Jeeping. If you’re very lucky (we weren’t) you’ll see humpback whales. But there’s more. Best of all it’s just three hours from the UK. Did I mention there’s Icelandic fish and chips? Check out our pix of the trip.

Rolling and riding: The world’s coolest water sport in the world’s coldest waters – way up in the Arctic Circle. There are six of us at the Unstad Camping surf school in the Lofoten Islands, northern Norway. It might not be the place to sunbathe but Unstad Beach on Vestvågøy island offers some of the best waves in the world. While it’s easy to think that a trip into these Polar isles would be blisteringly cold given that they lie further north than Iceland and parts of Alaska, it is actually warmer than you’d think because of the Gulf Stream that sweeps across the Atlantic Ocean. This means there are no polar bears or sea ice. The average winter temperature is around the same as in Britain while in the summer it has been known to hit 30C. The landscape is stunning with needle peaked granite mountains covered in fresh snow and paradise-white beaches that provide the perfect playground for outdoor-types.

All at sea: Stockholm is a capital city of 14 islands built around Lake Mälaren. For a whistle-stop run down, the city is divided into neighbourhoods, and Gamla stan is its 13th century medieval heart made up of three islands: Stadsholmen, Riddarholmen and Helgeandsholmen. Here you’ll find the Royal Palace, Parliament Building, The Prime Minister’s home, Sager House, and City Hall where they feast after the Nobel Prizes have been handed out. You’ll also come across the Rune stone carving, the narrowest street, Mårten Trotzigs gränd, and the tiny statue Järnpojke or Iron Boy. Finish on Plaza Stortorget filled with its mustard-coloured buildings that are the backdrop to many holiday snaps. It’s filled with cafes and people sitting out on the pavement. Even though this is northern Europe, the Swedish capital can get super hot in July. With the sun beating down, it’s Scandi eye-candy. Oooh, hot dogs!

Sweet dream: For chocaholics, the Swiss city of Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva, is the perfect place to get your fix. We found some of the best chocolate shops in the world there including La Chocolatiere which hand makes sweet treats to traditional recipes. You don’t have to imagine, here it is.

The crystal kingdom: For your next road trip visit the southeast corner of Germany for a drive along the ancient Glass Road. This iconic 155-mile touring route winds through the towns and villages in the depths of the Bavarian Forest taking in an emporium of glassmaking factories. For hundreds of years this has been a kingdom of fine crystal glass blowing and today many still use the traditional method. Drop into and shop at the world’s finest glass manufactures including Theresienthal, Eisch and Schott. Taking three-to-four days, stop to see the “Glass Forest”, the biggest glass pyramid in the world and the Glassmaker’s Village in Frauenau. If you haven’t discovered it you can explore it here. 

Then there’s the Sekt: A perfect start to any weekend away in Germany is with a glass of fizz. We always thought there were just three choices when it came to bubbles: Champagne, Prosecco and Cava. Who knew the Germans had their own version? Pronounced as sect, this is crisp, fruity, golden and winey miracle can be found in the romantic Rhineland – an area of vineyards, castles and river cruises. Best enjoyed after long day, making a historic speech in the Bundestag. Read all about it!

Feastern Europe: Slovenia maybe one of the smallest countries in the world but it ticks all the holiday boxes. It’s mountainous, covered in forest with lots of protected landscapes, and Unesco-listed spas and castles. It touches the snowcapped Alps in the northwest and the shores of the Adriatic Sea in the southwest. Ljubljana is its capital, Maribor is renowned for wine making and Lake Bled in the Julian Alps is its number one tourist pull. Slovenia was named Europe’s culinary capital in 2021 – the first country, as opposed to region, to get the title. If you don’t know where to start, click here.

Have you seen our pictures: Our fantastic travel photos, which capture some of our favourite destinations around the world, are now available for sale on Alamy. Woohoo!

Let’s talk about sex. Yes, it’s Amsterdam. Jump on the Eurostar and Centraal welcomes you with a very distinctive smell, if you know what we mean. It wasn’t tulips! But it was warm and sunny – it was sandal season. What puts this famous city on the map? It’s the museums, Europe’s highest swing, canal boat trips, and its neon-lit red light district. Chalkmarks has been reporting how the city council had told Britons to “stay away”. They said they’d had enough of stag parties and pub crawls. Did it work? No. We came anyway – but tbh we’re not here for a messy weekend. We’re here to explore the Dutch capital. But first a coffee. Anyone know a good joint? Peace and love to all! 

Off piste: I’ve died and reached the city of heaven. No, I haven’t. I’ve just been on the piste in the French Alps. One minute I was standing up, the next I was on my back looking up at domes of soft, white powder. It was mid-morning in Les Contamines-Montjoie at the foot of Mont Blanc and this was my first skiing lesson. This is a great place to learn for nervous nellies like me.  Some would rather it was kept hush hush unlike nearby skiing mecca Chamonix – one of the most famous for advanced skiers. Just across the Swiss border – an hour from Geneva airport – Les Contamines’s billed as a Scandinavian-style resort, which means you can tick off Nordic sports such as ski jumping, snowshoe walking, biathlon, ice climbing and telemark skiing. There’s also ice-skating, snowboarding and Arctic dog sledging. Here’s one of Europe’s best kept skiing secrets.

Stout-standing: “You’ve got the moustache,” I’m being told in that fine Irish accent. “Welcome to Dublin.” This is my first Guinness tash – and it’s true, the black stout doesn’t taste half as good without one. A pint must never be sipped. It needs to be a blend of the creamy head with the dark beer. For my next lesson, I should try – in one slug – to drink all the way down to the harp emblem on the glass. I thought the tour guide was pulling my leg but he was serious. I look into his green eyes and give it a go. It’s an ordeal, and I cover my nose in foam. This is the tour… inside the legendary Guinness Storehouse. Learning how to pour and drink is all part of the experience. And the biggest secret of all, despite its famous black and white branding, Guinness is actually red in colour. It’s 100 per cent true. You heard it here first!

Holiday in Wales: The first thing we noticed when we arrived at Swansea train station was that the signs and announcement were in Welsh. It felt like a great adventure. This Welsh city has a glorious coastline, a rich history and, for the best food head to the main market. We feasted on fresh seafood and Welsh cakes – and we dare you to try the laverbread. The beach is the best sight in the city. It’s a great half circle of a bay. When the tide is out and the sand stretches for miles. And apparently when the sun is shining you can see over to Ilfracombe in north Devon. It must be gorgeous (we never saw it)!

The city that stole the crown: London is really a city within a city….within a city. Within the old Roman City Walls you’ll find the Barbican, Leadenhall Market and St Paul’s. The Tower of London didn’t come along until a thousand years after the Romans arrived in 43. It was built outside the City Wall in 1078, which was around the same time that London became the nation’s capital. Modern additions to the City include a handful of skyscrapers all located around Bishopsgate, including the Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie, the Scalpel and the Cheesegrater. The latest, is known by its address, TwentyTwo, and was completed in 2020. 

The majesty of Britain: The Great West Way is one of England’s newest tourism projects designed to shift visitors out of the capital and into the rest of the country. It’s a 500-mile picturesque route from London to Bristol taking in three World Heritage Sites, royal palaces, and rolling English countryside. 

Famous highlight: Stonehenge of course…the Stone Circle Access Experience, which allows you to visit this great heritage site up close at sunrise. Two-day road trip: The Day One tour starts at Salisbury Museum and finishes with a visit to Salisbury Cathedral. Day two begins at Stonehenge for sunrise followed by Wiltshire Museum, a walk to West Kennet Long Barrow, which is one of the longest and most impressive Neolithic chambered tombs in Britain, and a final stop to Avebury to see the world’s largest stone circles.

Highland magic: If ever there was an excuse for a wee dram this is it. Our must-try recommendation in Scotland is Glen Garioch. It was at this distillery, in the whisky-producing region Speyside, we tasted a single malt straight from the barrel. Before this, we thought all whisky tasted of petrol – but there we picked up the vanilla, spice and even sweetness. We now understand why Robert Burns became a poet! 

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