The city of 60 gardens

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When Shanghai residents are looking to escape, they head to this tranquil city of gardens and canals.

Life in one of the world’s most populous cities can be exhausting, which is why Shanghai residents are always looking for ways to escape the skyscrapers and traffic.

A favourite option lies just 100km to the east of the Chinese megacity – and only 30 minutes away by high-speed rail: the historic city of Suzhou.

Founded in 514 BC by King Helü of the Kingdom of Wu, Suzhou is one of the Yangtze Delta’s oldest and most prosperous cities. Its position between the Yangtze River in the north and Taihu Lake to the west meant that the city always had an abundant water supply, which fed the canals and classical gardens that Suzhou is world famous for.

The tranquil Master of the Nets Garden is a popular attraction (Credit: Credit: Rita Heine/Flickr/CC-BY-ND-2.0)

The tranquil Master of the Nets...

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Himalayan views, without the danger

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Does a low-altitude Himalayan hike that includes gin and tonics and nights in comfortable lodges offer the same rewards as a more challenging journey?

“Ukaalo, oraalo,” said our guide, Naresh Gurung, describing the three-hour hike we’d just begun toward Three Mountain Lodge in central Nepal. He undulated his hand: “up” and “down”.

I’d been on treks in the Himalayas before and wondered if, in a country where the earth rises to the hypoxia-inducing heights of Mount Everest, a word for “flat” even existed. And yet the trail disappearing into distant orange groves before us looked almost flat.

Pink sunset over Annapurna in Nepal (Credit: Credit: Whitworth Images/Getty)

Pink sunset over Annapurna in Nepal. (Credit: Whitworth Images/Getty)

Nepal’s classic Himalayan treks – the Annapurna Circuit, say, and the route to Everest Base Camp – are ard...

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Never drink whisky on the rocks

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The Thirsty Explorer heads to the Scottish island of Islay where he learns the important differences between malt and whisky – and how to order it in a bar.

The first time I tasted Scotch whisky I was a broke student, chugging direct from a £3 bottle, lying outside my tent at the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain.  It was after a meal of tinned macaroni and cheese – hardly a sophisticated sampling considering I was sipping the world’s most venerated style of whisky. I promised myself that the next time I returned to Scotland, I would drink the best the country had to offer, in great abundance and straight from the source, no matter what it took.

The Caledonian Canal with Ben Nevis in background (Credit: Credit: Simon Butterworth/Getty Images)

Entrance to the Caledonian Canal with Ben Nevis in background (Credit: Simon Butterworth/Getty Images)

That first Sco...

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The lake at the end of the world

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Barely one hour from Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, Lake Bohinj is in the middle of nowhere – out of season and time – and it’s wonderful.

“We have a saying here in Slovenia,” said Grega Silc, a Hike & Bike Slovenia tour guide, as we cycled around the riotous green of the ridge. “In Bohinj, we’re a day or two behind the rest of the world.”

Silc grinned; a day or two is manageable. The lag used to be worse. For centuries, the sheep- and goat-herding villages around the glacial Lake Bohinj were cut off from the rest of Slovenia by poor roads and vertiginous terrain, clustered in the shadow of the Julian Alps. Transport to Ukanc – a hamlet on the far side of the lake whose name loosely translates to “the end of the world” – could take weeks.

Wooden houses make Bohinj feel timeless (Credit: Credit: zkbld/Thinkstock)

Wooden houses make Bohi...

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An Australian outback road trip

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Driving along the Stuart Highway, which cuts through the heart of Australia, is a journey through bleak and rugged landscapes punctuated by fuel stops that masquerade as towns.

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A 77km hike that could inspire miracles

EKDNAW Gran Canaria roque el fraile in Tejeda

With Spain’s Camino de Santiago becoming a victim of its own success, Matthew Hirtes chose to walk this less-crowded, less-known version of the pilgrimage, 1,750km to the south.

Everyone’s heard of Spain’s Camino de Santiago, the 100km-plus Way of St James route that leads pilgrims to Galicia’s cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the saint’s remains are believed to be buried. But it will probably come as some surprise to learn there’s another Camino 1,750km to the south, on the mid-Atlantic island of Gran Canaria.

Gran Canaria holds the hidden Camino (Credit: Credit: Guido Haeger/Wikipedia)

Gran Canaria holds the hidden Camino (Credit: Guido Haeger/Wikipedia)

This pilgrimage is so unknown that even people on the island couldn’t seem to give me any information...

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Bhutan’s dark secret to happiness

A Bhutanese Buddhist devotee poses for a photograph as he offers prayers at the Buddha Dordenma statue in Thimphu on October 23, 2014. Bhutan -- nestled in the Himalayas and flanked by both India and China -- is renowned for its rich Buddhist culture, and villages are still steeped in its traditions. Protecting the Buddhist culture is a key pillar of Bhutan's unique "Gross National Happiness" development model, which aims to balance spiritual and mental well-being with economic growth. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA        (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Citizens of one of the happiest countries on Earth are surprisingly comfortable contemplating a topic many prefer to avoid. Is that the key to joy?

On a visit to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, I found myself sitting across from a man named Karma Ura, spilling my guts. Maybe it was the fact that he was named Karma, or the thin air, or the way travel melts my defences, but I decided to confess something very personal. Not that long before, seemingly out of the blue, I had experienced some disturbing symptoms: shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness in my hands and feet. At first, I feared I was having a heart attack, or going crazy. Maybe both. So I went to the doctor, who ran a series of tests and found…

“Nothing,” said Ura...

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Military secrets in north Scotland

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In the Scottish islands of Orkney, the waters of Scapa Flow hide more than 150 wrecks – from German World War I battleships to a Spitfire. The eerie world is one divers can explore.

As we sat on board a retrofitted fishing boat drifting where the North Sea meets the Atlantic, each member of our group ran through a pre-dive checklist. Yes, my dry suit and vest inflated. The 12kg of weights on my hips to keep me submerged were unmistakably present. I sucked on my regulators. My air worked fine.

Readying for the dive (Credit: Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

We readied for our dive aboard a retrofitted fishing boat, floating where the North Sea meets the Atlantic (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

But even as we went through the kind of safety procedure that can stave off – or at least mitigate – underwater disaster, my mind was already deep below the surf...

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Why I’ll always love Paris

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Few cities inspire connection like the French capital. In light of recent events, we wanted to share a serendipitous encounter that inspired a life-long love for Paris.

The night I met Canadian American writer Adam Gopnik, his train from New York to Delaware was delayed. A soft breeze moved across the parking lot as I leaned into my car’s headrest; I was sweating even though the door was open.

As of that spring 2011 evening, Gopnik had written for The New Yorker for 25 years. He was an intellectual, a man of letters so brilliantly capable of casual erudition combined with self-deprecating humour and just a dash of name-dropping that I could only hope I would bask in his genius for just one evening without saying anything silly. I discreetly checked my armpits.

I rehearsed what I might sa...

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A story of rebirth in Nepal

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When I think about the chance encounters I’ve had in my travels, dominoes come to mind. Every effect has its cause, sometimes stretching back for weeks, years, or (in this case) eons. It’s as if time itself conspires, wilfully, to set up the cascade that tumbles us into the present moment, as if no encounter truly happens by chance.

The domino metaphor is uniquely appropriate in this story. It’s set in Nepal, my second home since 1979, and to where I’d return as a visitor or resident almost every year for the next three decades. But on 25 April 2015, at 11:56 am, two plates of the Earth’s crust shifted slightly...

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