• Transatlantic flight forced to make emergency landing after chemical spillage
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    The Independent

    Transatlantic flight forced to make emergency landing after chemical spillage

    A transatlantic flight had to divert to Ireland when crew members were reportedly left unconscious due to spilled cleaning fluid mid-flight.American Airlines flight 729, which was flying from London Heathrow to Philadelphia, had to make an emergency landing in Dublin due to the smell from a “spilled cleaning solution” in the plane galley.

  • Christmas travel disruption: Millions of rail passengers face chaos during holidays
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    Christmas travel disruption: Millions of rail passengers face chaos during holidays

    Millions of rail passengers face disruption to journeys across Britain over Christmas and New Year as a result of engineering work.Many travellers to and from the capitals of England, Wales and Scotland will be adversely affected.

  • Flight forced to divert due to ‘suspicious’ mobile phone
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    Flight forced to divert due to ‘suspicious’ mobile phone

    An Air France flight had to divert to Shannon after a “suspicious” mobile phone was found onboard.Flight AF136 was two hours into the scheduled service from Paris to Chicago when the pilot informed air traffic controllers that they thought it best to land in west Ireland “for security reasons”.

  • Rome’s horse-drawn carriages labelled ‘animal abuse’ after video shows horse falling in the street
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    Rome’s horse-drawn carriages labelled ‘animal abuse’ after video shows horse falling in the street

    Animal rights activists are calling for a complete ban on horse-drawn carriages in Rome after a video emerged of a horse that had collapsed in the street.The animal had slipped on a manhole cover, according to reports, but the carriage driver saw no need to seek medical attention.

  • Climate-change campaigners deplore Qantas nonstop New York-Sydney flight
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    Climate-change campaigners deplore Qantas nonstop New York-Sydney flight

    The first-ever flight from New York to Sydney has been deplored by climate-change campaigners.At the weekend, Qantas flew a Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” over 10,000 miles between the biggest cities in the US and Australia.

  • Compensate Northern passengers using old Pacer trains, say politicians
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    Compensate Northern passengers using old Pacer trains, say politicians

    Passengers forced to use outdated Northern Rail Pacer trains should benefit from reduced fares, politicians have argued in a letter to the train operator.Northern Rail, a subsidiary of Arriva, has said that a “small number” of Pacers will remain in service into 2020. The trains were originally due to be withdrawn this year.

  • Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa: See Canada's capital through the eyes of its PM
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    Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa: See Canada's capital through the eyes of its PM

    The Independent’s hotel recommendations are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and book, but we never allow this to affect our coverage.Want to wolf down a cookie with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s face on it? Of course you do. The candy red, maple leaf-shaped shortbread, iced with a hockey-rink white "Canada" across its stem, is on sale at French-style boulangerie Le Moulin de Provence in the belly of the city’s Byward Market. Tasty? Yes. Moreish? That too. But also an opportunistic take on the bakery’s "Obama cookie", so-named because the former US president once bought two (one for himself, the other for family) when visiting Canada’s capital in 2009.

  • 'Please say hello to my mum': a local's guide to Grafton, New South Wales
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    'Please say hello to my mum': a local's guide to Grafton, New South Wales

    Towards the end of spring, the town is awash with vivid purple as the town celebrates the annual Jacaranda festival. Grafton is the most boring place in the entire world, EVER. Well, that was the deeply considered view of 16-year-old me. Like most people who grew up in the country and then moved to the big city, and like most people in general, I did not appreciate what I had when I had it. I have a big family back in the town I still consider home and on my fairly frequent trips I am still amazed at times by how beautiful it is. I couldn’t see the forest for the jacaranda trees when I grew up there. Grafton is spread across both sides of the Clarence River and although it is one of the bigger towns on the north coast of New South Wales, it’s still very much a place where a stranger in the supermarket can look at me and say, “You must be a Jabour.” (It’s the nose.) Travellers on the Pacific Highway will know it for its two-storey McDonald’s (iconic when I was a teenager), but venture past the Maccas and across the bridge and you will find a charming town with great bars and restaurants, as well as some surprising shopping finds. Jacaranda season (last week of October/first week of November) is when it really shines and when non-locals should try to visit. Grafton hosts its annual Jacaranda festival with a float parade, a markets day and fireworks. The week begins with the crowning of the Jacaranda Queen. There’s plenty to do and a real carnival vibe about the place – school kids are given a day off on “Jacaranda Thursday”. Spend a weekend walking the streets, visiting the gloriously old-school Saraton Cinema and eating and drinking in the various cafes and pubs. It’s also only 20 minutes-ish from some of the most gorgeous beaches on the north coast, including Minnie Water and Wooli (suck it, Byron Bay). If you’re scared of waves, Grafton also has one of the best local pools I’ve encountered, with lots of grassy space, a huge water slide and separate pool for little kids. Ulmarra, a village about 15 minutes away, is worth an afternoon trip. There you can have lunch on the river at the local pub. Afterwards explore the eccentric book shop, whose phenomenal range of books is stacked so precariously, you feel you could be buried at any minute. It’s all part of the charm. Grafton also has a shopping centre, which you don’t really need to go to, but if you have a spare 45 minutes to chat and you meet a woman with a Northern Irish accent in there, please say hello to my mum. This is a place where you will need a car. To get to the pool, to get to some of the places to eat, to get to the beaches and to get to Grafton itself. Don’t leave without: Visiting Jacaranda Avenue, which is lined with trees and magnificent when they are in full bloom. Have a drink at the Crown, which has the best views of the river. Where to sleep: You’re not going to get the luxury hotel experience in Grafton, but I enjoy the Quality Inn for its convenient location and lovely rooms. There are also some cute rental homes around. The nicest ones are on the north side of the river, which is usually just referred to as Grafton. Where to eat: The Emporium at South Grafton has the best lunches and will also mean you can have a look around Skinner Street which has some truly original clothing shops. I have found a lot of gems there. The best steak is cooked by my cousin Brad Pye at the Grafton Hotel. I give him no extra points for being family. Annola Thai Restaurant on Prince Street is deadset one of my favourite Thai places in Australia. Big River Pizza IS my favourite pizza in Australia. When to go: October/November when the jacarandas are in bloom and it’s perfect swimming weather.

  • Powder sharing agreement: plans to create Italy’s biggest ski area
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    Powder sharing agreement: plans to create Italy’s biggest ski area

    The small Alps resort of Champoluc, with its famed off-piste, is set to be linked with mighty, pricey Zermatt. So go now, while it’s relatively untouched. Is there such a thing as too much snow? The week I arrived in Champoluc, in Italy’s Valle d’Aosta, the whole village seemed to be buried. Trees resembled sticks of candyfloss, huge mounds hid cars that would take days to dig out, and the air itself was laced with a diaphanous glittery frost. Each morning a fresh set of hastily printed warning posters was plastered over the walls of the Chalet Hotel Champoluc, which can be booked through Inghams, one of few operators that offer trips to this resort: “High avalanche risk today,” read one. “Avoid the area around the church.” When even going to church becomes dangerous, you know things are serious. We may be on the cusp of the extinction of winter, but this was one of those freak weeks when there is such a heavy dump the resorts all but grind to a halt. At first I was delighted: I had long yearned to ride the famed steep off-piste of the Monterosa ski area, which is all the better in deep powder. I was with a bunch of old friends and our children, whom we’d envisaged would soon master the basics in the resort’s friendly, easygoing ski schools, and make the most of the 180km of varied runs across its three valleys. But it seemed the snow would scupper our plans: ski school was shut, the avalanche risk was too high for heading off-piste, and the connections to the area’s other resorts, Gressoney and Alagna, to the east, were closed. At least the main Crest gondola, right next to our hotel, kept rolling, leading to fun blue and red runs fringed by trees, so it was easy for half the adults to hammer a few runs while the others minded the children, then swap. We felt lucky, though, as over the border in Switzerland, just on the other side of the Matterhorn, that iconic peak beneath which Champoluc sits, it was worse, with almost no skiing open in neighbouring Zermatt. That wasn’t the only reason I felt glad to be on the southern, Italian, side. Zermatt, despite its 120 years of gruff mountaineering history, has become obscenely high-end, an Alpine colossus drawing the world’s wealthy to shop for diamonds and Tag Heuer watches, feast on Michelin stars and bed down in glassy architect-designed super-chalets. In contrast, tiny Champoluc, in its wooded valley, is down-to-earth, low-key and caters mainly for Italians. They come for one brilliant pizzeria, a salumi shop, and a bar that does great panini. It’s easy to meet locals who’ve never even been to Zermatt. Yet these differing worlds could be set to collide, as there are plans to connect the two resorts by lift. Given that Cervinia, at the head of the next valley to the west, is already connected to Zermatt, the link would create Italy’s biggest ski area, and one of the largest in the world. Perhaps ironically, expansion is seen as a way of protecting the resorts as winters get warmer and less snowy. Champoluc’s business people are already spooked by increasing winter rain. “The snowline is rising each winter,” Giorgio Munari, president of local association Monterosa Ski, told me. “The lower slopes may be unskiable in the future.” Given that Monterosa’s highest piste is 3,275 metres, and Zermatt’s 3,883 metres, you can see the logic of being able to access more snow. But despite the plan being approved by local referenda, it is stuck at the discussion and planning stage, partly because of concern over the environmental impact. If it does get the green light, though, things here could change dramatically. Local regulations prevent any new houses or chalets being built in Champoluc, yet the opening of its first five-star hotel, Camp Zero, last season, followed by eco-hotel Au Charmant Petit Lac last summer, indicate confidence in potential growth, as does recent investment in the existing lifts. For now, though, Champoluc feels quiet and untouched, with just enough of what you need close by – the atmospheric bar of the century-old Hotel Castor, the Dolce e Salato gelateria (because even in a blizzard, kids want ice-cream) and the sleek public baths of the Monterosa Terme, which are more posh spa than leisure centre, with indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs and white robes for guests. That Champoluc is pretty much just one street seemed wonderfully handy when the snow-drifted pavements were covered in icy pools and heaps of slush. On the one night the hotel didn’t provide dinner, we headed out after dark, snow pelting down in huge flakes, but got no further than the restaurant across the road, Lo Bistrot, a place for kid-pleasing pizza, pasta and polenta among noisy Italian families. The night ended with a few lurid yellow bombardinos – the custardy regional après ski cocktail of brandy, cream and advocaat egg liqueur – and dancing in the bar, with the kids dancing on the tables too. We were having fun. Yet at the back of our minds lurked a hunger for the once-in-a-lifetime conditions we knew waited at the top. Surely it was only a matter of time before more lifts opened? Over breakfast we sized each other up, working out whether doing the childcare shift in the morning or afternoon was more likely to land us in the right place at the right time to access the deep powder that had lain untouched for days. I was in luck. A barrier between Champoluc and Frachey, a few kilometres north, was removed, the Bettaforca chairlift got going, the link to Gressoney reopened and I was riding rolling steeps in waist-deep powder with some of my oldest friends, our faces plastered with snow and silly grins, as a thrilling backcountry playground opened up. All the while, the beautiful, gargantuan Matterhorn towered above. Yet I never wished to ride closer and beyond it; I was happy for the mountains on that horizon to still possess an element of mystery. . The trip was provided by Inghams , which has a week at Chalet Hotel Champoluc from £589pp half-board including wine and afternoon tea, flights from London to Turin and transfers. To travel by rail, take Eurostar to Paris then a TGV to Turin (about six hours) to pick up the Inghams transfer or a bus (one hour). See visitmonterosa.com and aosta-valley.co.uk for more information Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips

  • Ultra long-haul: Qantas completes test of longest non-stop flight from New York to Sydney
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    Ultra long-haul: Qantas completes test of longest non-stop flight from New York to Sydney

    A Qantas plane has flown more than 10,000 miles from the Atlantic coast of the US to the Pacific coast of Australia,The brand-new Boeing 787-9 flew nonstop from New York to Sydney in 19 hours 16 minutes.

  • Plunge into a new pastime: 10 of the best creative breaks
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    Plunge into a new pastime: 10 of the best creative breaks

    Water colours … pursue your own art project or join a workshop at Villa Lena in Tuscany. Photograph: David Kaliga Artistic retreat: Tuscany, ItalyTucked in the hills between Pisa and Florence, Villa Lena, a 19th-century neo-Renaissance palazzo set amid 500 hectares of vineyards and woodlands, is something unexpected in the wide-open spaces of Tuscany: a rural outpost combining creativity with culture.Guests can pursue their own creative projects, but there are also workshops, classes and performances run by artists-in-residence. The country hotel and non-profit art foundation is the creation of Lena Evstafieva, a former art consultant, and her musician husband Jérôme Hadey. The couple transformed the derelict estate into a creative haven, converting farm buildings into 14 perfectly rustic-but-chic loft apartments. “The beauty of it is being able to connect with nature as well as the resident artists,” says Evstafieva. “You can be as social or isolated as you want.” Since its opening the place has drawn many artists, offering a sanctuary in exchange for work exhibited on the walls of the hotel.The place has its own rhythm and every day there is something different to try: creative workshops from Italian cocktail- making to cooking and wine-tasting classes, foraging and truffle-hunting with the resident dogs, candlelit concerts and storytelling. Everywhere you wander, there is someone painting or playing a musical instrument. • A one-night, half-board stay from £70; £123 for two nights, villa-lena.it Britt Collins Photography: MoroccoThrough the lens … head into the Sahara with a camera Photograph: PRSnap your way through the souks of Marrakech or capture the dunes and Bedouin camel herders on a tour of the Sahara. Creative Escapes offers tailor-made photography courses, catering for beginners and amateurs in small groups of up to eight. There’s expert one-to-one tuition, and you can experiment with genres, from landscape to reportage, as well as receiving top technical tips. All trips include a pop-up exhibition as the grand finale. • From £2,480 for a 10-day trip including boutique hotels, transport and all tuition –flights extra, creative-escapes.co.uk BC Writing: Loire valley, FrancePen pal … begin that book at the Circle of Misse in France Photograph: PRWriters in search of an ensuite room of their own, a writing desk and professional writers on hand to advise and inspire should head to the Circle of Misse. Housed in a 19th-century maison de maître, it offers guided courses catering for beginners and advanced writers alike. Sign up for a studio retreat, emerging only for meals and creative camaraderie, or for more forensic input opt for a mentored retreat. • Seven-day studio retreats, £645. Seven-day courses, £895. Meals, snacks, drinks, excursions and designated transfers included, circleofmisse.com Genevieve Fox Sculpture: WalesClay day … create your own figure in a country house in the Brecon Beacons Photograph: PRArtist Simon Cooley and his wife Anna run sculpture workshops in their beautiful 18th-century country house in the Brecon Beacons. Choose from three-day clay courses or a four-day taster in a converted barn, where you can get your hands dirty creating clay busts and stone carvings and experimenting with metal. Stay at their farmhouse B&B, a vintage Airstream trailer, or glamp in the garden – and dine on Anna’s delicious home-cooked meals and cakes. • From £300 for a two-day Sculpting the Head course. Accommodation from £55 a night single occupancy, studysculpture.com BC Cooking: VeniceGood enough to eat … learn Italian cooking, canalside. Photograph: AlamyThis out-of-the-ordinary cookery school in Venice offers half and full-day classes. Celebrated chef and restaurateur Enrica Rocca teaches students the secrets of authentic Venetian cuisine, wine and culture in the beautiful setting of her family’s canalside palazzo, where you can stay a day or a week. A typical class can include making fresh focaccia and hand-rolling pasta. Also on offer are outings to markets, wine producers and trattorias to sample the local cuisine. • From £168pp for a one-day cicchetti-making class (enricarocca.com) BC Singing: EdinburghHit the high notes with a course in traditional Scots singing in the heart of the capital, under the tutelage of acclaimed folk singer Robyn Stapleton. The week’s holiday includes four half-day workshops in which singers learn traditional Scottish songs and discover the stories behind them, a guided city walk, entry to a night at Edinburgh Folk Club and a final get-together with local singers and musicians in a pub. Here’s tae us, wha’s like us! • From £1,650pp, based on two sharing, including five nights’ B&B in Ten Hill Place Hotel, lunch and two evening meals, wildatartscotland.com Debbie Lawson Knitting: IrelandWoolly thinking … get crafty on Ireland’s stunning west coast Photograph: PRSettle down to six days’ knitting and crochet amid the stunning scenery of Ireland’s west coast. Carol Meldrum’s course teaches traditional cable knit and crochet, culminating in a hat or cowl. Sarah Hazell tutors students in making an infinity loop scarf using twists and bobbles, among other techniques. The price includes visits to Galway, the Leenane Sheep and Wool Centre in beautiful Connemara, and Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran islands. • From £1,545 including flights from London, half-board accommodation and four half-day workshops, arenatravel.com DL Pottery: CornwallGame of throwing … make pots on the Penwith peninsula Photograph: PRLearn how to throw with confidence at Primrose Cottage on the Penwith peninsula. All courses are taught by Caroline Winn, who has been exhibiting her work for more than 20 years. Her classes run for five days. You’re also in one of the most dramatic areas of Cornwall, a landscape known for its coastal cliffs and coves: perfect for a rugged walk when you’re done glazing. • Rooms start at £990pp and include the course, meals, materials and an excursion, cornishpotteryholidays.co.uk Emma Cook Sewing: Charente, FranceSew some inspiration into your life on a crafty residential holiday led by textiles technology teacher Bronwen Shepherd at the charming Le Jardin du Berger in Charente, near Bordeaux. Courses range from sewing for mindfulness to patchwork and quilting to advanced dressmaking. Relax in the gardens, swim in the pool and enjoy the immaculate accommodation – both self-catered and fully catered – and alfresco dining. • From £700 a week, textileholidaysfrance.com GF Crime writing: HighlandsWhere better to plot your twisty Scottish noir thriller than at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre, 14 miles from the city of Inverness? Crime tutors for this five-day retreat include award-winning authors Louise Welsh, Karen Campbell and thriller critic Adam LeBor. With the remote and stunning scenery of the Scottish highlands on your doorstep, creative inspiration is bound to strike. From £540, including twin room, food and tuition, moniackmhor.org.uk ECLooking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips

  • Why Virgin Atlantic is wrong to go after ‘flag carrier’ status
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    Why Virgin Atlantic is wrong to go after ‘flag carrier’ status

    How many “flag carriers” does the UK need? The chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, Shay Weiss, believes the answer is two.The airline boss has even launched a website, twoflagcarriers.com, and is asking travellers to lobby their MPs for the cause of stronger competition and better value.

  • Tour de northern France: a new cycling trail in Flanders
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    Tour de northern France: a new cycling trail in Flanders

    Top of the hill … Cassel inspired the Grand Old Duke of York nursery rhyme, and has been voted France’s favourite village. Photograph: Olivier Leclerq/GettyI’m sitting down to a picnic breakfast at a sun-flecked table beside the River Lys in Flanders. Consulting my map, I write the following numbers on something approximating a waxed luggage tag: “22-37-71-34-33-32-31-30-08-01-33”. I put the map away, slip the tag around my bike’s handlebars and I’m set for the morning. I’ve never been to this part of Flanders before – it’s the lesser-known French part, on the northernmost tip of the country, bordering Belgium – but I’m now confident I can cycle today from my table in the riverside town of Saint-Venant, through Haverskerque, across the Nieppe forest, down into Merville and finally into the town of Estaires.Welcome to French Flanders’ ingenious new cycle network. Launched earlier this year, the catchily titled Réseau Points-Nœuds Vélo (literally Network Node-Points Bike) comprises 830km of minor roads and cycle paths covering the Vallée de la Lys, the Monts de Flandre hills and a small slice of southern Belgium. The clever bit is its hundreds of numbered signposts – or “node-points” – each directing cyclists to the next numbered signpost. All riders need to do is pick up the map (€8), note down the node-point numbers on their chosen route and pedal away. The map also highlights restaurants, breweries, museums, attractions, campsites and eco-lodges, and shows the distances between the node-points, which makes tailoring your own Tour de Flandre extremely simple. And once you’ve set off, there’s no need to consult the map again, or worry about your phone dying.Node point north of Estaires Photograph: Dixe WillsLess than three hours after setting off from London, I picked up my hire bike (eeuwenhout.info) at Bailleul, one of the many small towns and villages within the network served by a railway station. On my three-day circular tour I would cover 180km, starting with a gentle climb into the low hills of the Monts de Flandre.It was lunchtime when I rolled into Terdeghem, a village of neat brick cottages and the Het Kerk Hoek, holder of the much-prized Estaminets flamands marque, awarded to authentically Flemish restaurants and bars. I think it’s fairly safe to say that, like the rest of Flanders – which loves its beef, chicken, mussels and cheeses – it has yet to receive the memo about veganism. However, it’s wonderful how far cow eyes and a sad inflection in the voice will get you. In no time, I was tucking into a beautiful platter of locally grown crudités, complete with little pots of dressings, sauces and a compôte, along with a 3 Monts beer. “Brewed just 3km from here,” according to the barman.Lots of bottle … Bellenaert brewery in Outtersteene Photograph: Dixe WillsIt was the first of many Flemish beers I sampled. At the Bellenaert eco-brewery in Outtersteene, where all the energy comes from renewables, I learned a little about the nuances of bitterness, density and colour. Flemish beers are usually fermented a second time in the bottle, which gives them a delicate crispness.I also discovered that the Flemish have a sceptical attitude to Mondays, and opening hours in general – my attempts to visit the museums dedicated to life on the French/Belgian border and bees were rebuffed by musée fermé signs. However, I had more luck when I breezed along the few kilometres (“59-23-27-22-33”) from Terdeghem to Cassel.Perched on the saddle between two hills, and sprinkled with gorgeous Flemish architecture, Cassel is said to be the inspiration for the nursery rhyme The Grand Old Duke of York, and was voted France’s favourite village in a TV competition last year. On the beautiful old Grand’Place I popped into the Musée de Flandre to unearth something of the region’s history. It was rather bloody: the area was fought over by Burgundians, Dutch, Spanish, French and Germans (though not all at once). However, its people did inspire Pieter Bruegel the Elder, so there’s that.Where there’s muck … the brass band competition in Cassel Photograph: Dixe WillsI was just about to leave when I heard Harpo’s 1975 smash, Movie Star, being played outside by a marching band, striding over the cobbles. And then came another. And another. I had stumbled upon a competition – six brass bands from local villages taking turns to roam around Cassel’s Grand’Place blasting out three-minute renditions of popular classics, from Abba and Aha to the White Stripes and, well, AC/DC. Until you’ve heard Highway to Hell played by 30 mild-mannered, uniformed village folk, you cannot truly claim to have lived.The elegant gîte in Tilleul. Photograph: Dixe WillsMy days rolled away as I bowled languorously along quiet back roads. This is farming country: the path alongside the River Lys from Thiennes to Haverskerque made for a pleasant off-road stretch, while the track through the Nieppe forest provided a sylvan interlude.Accommodation in the region is plentiful: I spent my first night in a Cabane Rando, a rustic wooden pod the shape of an A-frame tent (€25 single occupancy, €46 double); my second in what looked like a charming folly converted into an elegant little gîte (sleeps 4 from €110), where I listened to a pair of owls calling back and forth across the woodland garden; and my final night in Flandre Lys eco-lodge (sleeps 4, €36) at a fetching little pleasure boat marina on the Lys, where my thrillingly lofty bedroom was reached by a ladder.Over the next two years, the network will expand north to Dunkirk, and one would hope that it’s only a matter of time before this brilliantly simple idea makes the leap across the Channel. For this surely is the future of cycle touring: the days of the old-school map are numbered.• The trip was provided by Nord Tourisme (jadorelenord.fr, in French only), which sells the Réseau Points-Nœuds Vélo map (€8); it’s also available from tourist information centres. Rail tickets were supplied by Rail Europe: London-Lille from £58 return; Lille-Bailleul €14.40 return. Bicycle hire at Bailleul was provided by Eeuwenhout (eeuwenhout.info, Dutch only), which can deliver to the station: electric bicycle €30 a day/ €175 a weekLooking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips

  • Brexit march route: How to get to and from the Final Say rally today in London
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    Brexit march route: How to get to and from the Final Say rally today in London

    This Saturday 19 October will see huge numbers of people take to the streets in London to demand a Final Say referendum, just 12 days before the UK is currently due to leave the European Union on 31 October.It is the fourth demonstration calling for a people’s vote and is set to attract thousands of participants.

  • Go loco: top 10 autumn city breaks in Europe by train
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    Go loco: top 10 autumn city breaks in Europe by train

    Nîmes’ remarkably well preserved Roman amphitheatre. Photograph: Iakov Filimonov/Alamy Nîmes, FranceFastest journey from London 6½ hours via Paris Cheapest Nov fare with Eurostar £168 returnWith its remarkably well-preserved Roman amphitheatre plus its new museum of artefacts, not to mention great shops and restaurants, Nîmes makes a superb autumn destination. The crowds have gone and although the intense heat has rescinded, the surrounding hills trap the summer temperatures, making it warm enough to sit out on a cafe terrace and watch the world go by.Make your first port of call the amphitheatre - Les Arènes (entrance €13, including the other two Roman attractions mentioned below). Explore the interior corridors (vomitories), then climb to the top of the terraces to see the amphitheatre (133 metres long by 101 wide) in its full glory. The top tier also offers views of the surrounding hills (seven, just like Rome), including Mont Cavalier, the highest point of the city, on which the Roman Tour Magne, built by Augustus, stands sentinel.Opposite the amphitheatre, explore the Musée de la Romanité, which opened in 2018 and holds a fascinating collection of artefacts, from large and exquisite mosaics to statues and glassware that survived 2,000 years buried in sarcophagi. There are interactive exhibits, too, which help bring the history to life. The museum’s own architecture is also impressive – from its glass mosaic-tiled facade that represents the ripples of a toga, to the different levels within the museum that allow you to view the exhibits from above.Next stop should be Nîmes’ old town: the warren of streets that runs north of the amphitheatre is punctuated with sunny squares, cafes and restaurants, along with independent boutiques for clothes, jewellery and homewares. Stop for lunch at Le Vintage, where you can devour bistro classics on its pavement terrace. Skip dessert though, because the best ice-cream and patisserie in town is a few steps away at Maison Villaret, which was established in 1775. Try its speciality, croquants – delicate almond biscuits flavoured with orange water. Nîmes is also famous for another kind of biscuit, caladons, with almonds and honey.The old town opens out into a grand square where La Maison Carré, the only surviving intact Roman temple in France, stands proud on a plinth with bright white pillars. Inside, there’s a screening of the film Nemausus, the Founding of Nîmes.Nearby, the Jardins de la Fontaine are the town’s breathing space: these ornate baroque gardens feature terraces, statues and ornamental ponds, as well as the remains of the town’s original water source, housed in the remains of the Temple de Diane. Up the hill behind it is the Tour Magne.For dinner, L’Imprévu serves seafood and Italian-inspired dishes and has a terrace on one of the city’s liveliest squares, Place d’Assas.Example journey Take the 09.24 from St Pancras, crossing Paris to Gare de Lyon for the 14.07 to Nimes, arriving at 17.05. Returning, the 07.58 gets to Paris Gare de Lyon at 10.53, then across Paris to Gare du Nord for the 12.13 to London, arriving at 13.30.Stay at cosy, beautifully decorated La Maison Rousseau B&B (doubles from €105pn). It’s in a peaceful spot and an easy walk to the main sites. Carolyn Boyd Angers, FranceL’Apocalypse Tapestry (1375) in Angers. Photograph: AlamyFastest journey from London 5 hours via Lille Cheapest Nov fare with Eurostar £95 returnThough it isn’t as well-known as other cities of the Loire, Angers makes the most of its unique position on the River Maine, just before it joins the Loire, with riverside restaurants and enchanting cycle trails, as well as art deco architecture, distilleries and an imposing chateau at the heart of the city.Château d’Angers is a good place to start. This mighty fortress is surrounded by 17 towers which punctuate its mighty 2½-metre thick walls. For superb views of the city and river, walk around its ramparts, which enclose a tiny vineyard and gardens. Inside, the rooms and exhibits tell the story of the Dukes of Anjou who held court here in the 14th and 15th centuries and were great patrons of the arts. The main draw, however, is the 104-metre Tapestry of the Apocalypse illustrating the Book of Revelations. It took seven years to complete in the late 14th century and its six-metre-high panels, which depict 90 scenes, are beautifully lit in an atmospheric gallery. The chateau’s own restaurant serves good hearty dishes with mains from around €10.Outside the chateau, follow the blue line painted on the pavements to guide you around a loop of the best sights in the old town. Highlights include the beautiful medieval Cathédral Saint-Maurice with its wonderful stained-glass windows. Just behind it is the six-storey, half-timbered Maison d’Adam, built in 1491 and home to decorative carvings of bawdy figures. A chain department store wouldn’t usually star in a city’s list of must-sees, but the elegant facade and art deco glass roof of Galeries Lafayette will delight fans of fine design. For more art deco, keep following the blue line to La Maison Bleue, an apartment building built in 1929 and decorated with colourful mosaics and ornate ironwork.Autumn is the ideal time to pedal along the Loire à Vélo cycling track, which follows the famous river. Hire bikes at Vert Event Angers (from €15 a day) and cycle 8km down to the attractive village of Bouchemaine, where Le Noé is one of the region’s many guinguettes – riverside cafe-bistros that offer a host of entertainment, music and activities.Three kilometres to the east, just outside peaceful Sainte-Gemmes-sur-Loire village, is another hub of activity at Guinguette de Port-Thibaut, with superb views over the broad river. Further down the Loire, a 30-minute cycle away, is the Île Béhuard – an island with monastery and historic chapel at the heart of the characterful village.Angers is the home of Cointreau: the orange liqueur was created here in 1875 and visitors can tour the distillery. On the other side of town, Distillerie Giffard also has a visitor centre, with a range of liqueurs, including the Menthe-Pastille that made its name. Example journey Though most Eurostar journeys go via Paris, it is easier to go via Lille as there is a direct train from there to Angers. It also means you only have to cross the platform to change, rather than crossing Paris from Gard du Nord to Gare Montparnasse, and only one change. Take the 15.04 from London St Pancras, then the 17.52 from Lille. Returning, take the 12.41 to Lille, then the 17.35 back to London. Stay Hotel 21 Foch (doubles from €89 room only) is a small, contemporary hotel in the city centre. CB Biarritz, FranceSurfers at Biarritz. Photograph: Getty ImagesFastest journey from London 7½ hours via Paris (about an hour longer inbound) Cheapest Nov fare with Eurostar £120 returnFor fresh sea air, fabulous food and Basque culture, a short break in Biarritz fits the bill even in the cooler months. Though its glorious golden beaches and surf culture may suggest it’s a summer-only destination, there is plenty to draw you there in autumn.Try to time your visit with the Fête de la Saint Martin (8-11 November) to see the town celebrate its Basque heritage through concerts, dance shows, workshops, food events and the Basque racket game, pelota.Foodies will love Restaurant Week also in early November (4-10), when many of the town’s restaurants showcase their best Basque dishes for €20 for lunch or €30 for dinner. Though you can embrace the French Basque country’s piquant cuisine any time of year at Les Halles market – tuck into pintxos (Basque tapas) and sip local wine at the many stalls.For goodies to take home, explore the town’s many chocolateries, such as Pariès or Maison Adam, and Rue Victor Hugo, home to the ultimate cheese shop, 1001 Fromages, and the Maison Arostéguy épicerie, which is rammed to the rafters with fantastic Basque and French products.The other streets that surround the market are great for restaurants, as is Rue Gambetta, leading south from the market. Elsewhere, one of the best tables in town is Le Pimpi Bistrot on Avenue de Verdun, where chef Manu Michel’s dishes showcase the seafood, fish and charcuterie that the Basque country does so well, while nearby locals’ favourite Tantina de Burgos on Place Beau Rivage serves excellent dishes flavoured with the local chilli pepper, piment d’espelette.Autumn sees the mighty Atlantic waves roll ever more fiercely to shore, and if you dare take to the water there are several surf schools (try hastea.com, 90-minute group lessons from €40) to hire you a board, wetsuit and the guidance of an instructor. A more indulgent way to enjoy the sea, though, is with a thalassotherapy session – seawater therapy – which will blast, drench or sprinkle you with seawater in a variety of treatments said to help circulation and skin tone. Try it at the Sofitel (treatments from €45).Or to enjoy the ocean without getting wet, take a coastal walk from the lighthouse along the Grande Plage, through the cluster of fisherman’s cabins at Port des Pêcheurs, and on to Le Rocher de la Vierge – a rock formation topped with a Virgin Mary statue, on the site of a miracle. Then follow the road around to the small Plage de Port Vieux, and finish at the incredible Côte des Basques beach. At this end of town, you can also explore the Cité de l’Océan, an interactive nautical museum, which includes a virtual reality surf experience – the cheat’s way to hit the waves.Example journey It’s quite a distance, but a relatively quick and very easy way to whizz down to the south of France, and the scenery is a treat in itself. Take the 11.31 from London to Paris Gare du Nord, then from Paris Gare Montparnasse the 15.52 gets you to Biarritz in time for dinner at 19.58. Returning, the 09.58 gets to Paris Montparnasse at 14.08, then the 16.13 from Paris Gare du Nord gets into London at 17.39.Stay Hotel de l’Océan (doubles from €69 B&B) is a friendly three-star hotel in the town centre, just above the Port des Pecheurs. CB Ghent, BelgiumMedieval buildings overlooking the Leie River. Photograph: Getty ImagesFastest journey from London 3½ hours via Brussels Cheapest Nov fare with Eurostar £78 returnGhent’s cobbled streets, art nouveau townhouses and imposing gothic architecture initially give the feeling of having stepped back in time. But it doesn’t take long to notice the city’s other main appeal: a very modern eco-friendly shopping and food scene. The vegetarian food is varied and high quality – the city became the first in the world to introduce a weekly vegetarian day a decade ago. For a taste of the veggie scene, head for Lokaal, which serves €12 homely vegan bakes and quiches made using in-season produce, or fill your plate up at a wholesome vegan buffet of colourful salads and pulses at cooperatively run Lekker GEC.For something higher-end, Lof offers an elaborate five-course vegetarian dinner (€65) that can be paired with vegan wines, while Michelin-starred Vrijmoed has an award-winning seven-course vegetarian menu (€102) that ranges from Japanese-inspired glazed aubergine with kombu seaweed to more typically Belgian fare such as a pavé of goat’s cheese swirled with honey and nuts. Among Ghent’s other charms are its prettily decorated independent shops. Lots of these sell locally made homeware and decoration, with tea towels, crockery and stationery designed by local artists (a Made in Ghent badge scheme provides helpful signposting). There’s also an emphasis on fairly-made clothing from around the world at shops such as Just Hazel, Visitrice, Mieke and A.puura.a. If you want to shop and relax in a low C02-environment, Broesse is a plant shop which is part tropical jungle, part rattan-furnished cocktail bar, where a young crowd sip creative vermouth-based cocktails surrounded by palm fronds.It wouldn’t be a trip to Belgium without sampling craft brews. The country’s signature Trappist beers are arguably the original green business model: brewed by monks in small batches that prioritise sustainability and quality, they’re available in most bars. For something more modern, go for a tour and tasting of the home brews in the giant taproom at microbrewery Dok, which is reinventing Belgium’s storied beer tradition with new recipes and flavours; or ascend to historical music venue Vooruit’s relaxed roof terrace to catch the last afternoon rays before winter.Ghent is also known for its thriving music scene, which keeps up the city’s rootsy image through bands which play anything from punk to futuristic jazz in dimly lit bars like Trefpunt, Bar Mirwaar and Charlatan. The Vrijdag markt is a good place to start a bar-hopping evening – and thanks to the city’s sizable student population, things are lively most nights of the week. Try nights run by the city’s legendary Democrazy promoters.Getting there The Eurostar runs from London to Brussels eight times a day and a ticket includes a free onward journey to any Belgian station within 24 hours of departure. Trains to Ghent depart from Gare du Midi, where the Eurostar arrives, every 15 minutes and take 29 minutes.Stay Ghent’s Eco Hostel Andromeda (doubles from €68) is a series of simple rooms and colourful shared spaces on a converted barge, and calls itself carbon-neutral. Water is purified on the roof, breakfasts are vegetarian, organic and fair trade, and mattresses are made from natural fibres. For a higher-end but still low-impact option, there’s Studionomie’s chic one-room hotel – the room features furnishings from local designers and Egyptian cotton sheets, all inside a shipping container (double from €130 room-only). Rachel Hall Antwerp, BelgiumPakt, a sustainably run warren progressive businesses in a disused factory Photograph: PRFastest journey from London 3¾ hours via Brussels Cheapest Nov fare with Eurostar £78 returnAntwerp’s most obvious appeal is its winding, cobbled streets culminating in the spectacular gothic cathedrals of the Grote Markt. But Belgium’s second city is its uncontested capital of cool. It has a longstanding reputation as an international fashion hub, buoyed by the fame of the Antwerp Six, a group of designers who graduated from the city’s art school in the early 1980s, but it’s also a port city, where bars, clubs, art galleries and restaurants vie for space in converted warehouses.Those looking for Antwerp’s hipper side should head to the formerly seedy docks area in the north. MAS, a skyline-dominating red brick and glass block, is a museum that explores the city’s maritime heritage where you can ascend to the roof for spectacular city views free of charge. Nearby is aBc, a brewery and taproom, which produces beers exploring Antwerp’s brewing history, from the Seefbier, based on a 16th-century recipe, to Bootje’s Bier, spiked with ginger and coriander. Move on to grungy Het Bos, a former anarchist squat turned cultural centre that hosts an eclectic mix of gigs, film showings, workshops and pop-up dinners.The city’s post-industrial appeal extends to the south. One of the highlights is Pakt, a sustainably run warren of progressive businesses in a disused factory. The heat from the pizza oven warms the offices on the top floor, and laid-back restaurant Racine sources vegetables for its seasonal salads and cold-pressed juices from its rooftop garden.For more traditional flavours, the legendary Frituur No 1 does Antwerp’s most famous chips and mayo, presided over by owner Maria’s unique, occasionally brusque style of service.The city is a shopper’s paradise and winter collections will be arriving in store now. The most obvious stop off is its fashion strip, Nationalestraat. Antwerpians particularly love “concept stores” that mix fashion, lifestyle, food and art, such as Stay, which champions “slow shopping” by serving cappuccinos and style advice to encourage people to take their time and choose beautifully made pieces they’ll keep forever. Visitors on this street should also rifle through pre-loved pieces at Melting Pot Kilo, which sells vintage threads by weight.A five-minute walk away, towards the sea, is Kloosterstraat, an iconic strip of antique shops, art galleries, vintage boutiques and designer outposts – try Five Fridays for Scandi style or Made By Hand, which showcases handcrafted jewellery and beautiful knits by local designers. Getting there See Ghent, above, for Eurostar details. Trains to Antwerp depart from Gare du Midi, where the Eurostar arrives, every 15 minutes and take from 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the train.Stay The stylish Hotel Indigo (doubles from €115 room-only) is part of a small international chain with decor in contrasting shades of pink and blue, with velvet and brass accents. Hotel Julien (doubles from €140 room-only), echoes Antwerp’s signature mix of the historical and contemporary with beautifully renovated rooms in a 16th-century building. RH Rotterdam, the NetherlandsCube houses in Rotterdam. Photograph: Ellen van Bodegom/Getty ImagesFastest journey from London 3¼ hours direct (4 hours inbound) Cheapest Nov fare with Eurostar £86 returnThe Netherlands’ second-largest city has world-class museums and galleries, excellent seafood and a feisty spirit – which makes it perfect for those who want to see the “real” modern Netherlands, away from the tourist hordes of Amsterdam. Autumn is the perfect time for a short break.Rotterdam’s biggest attraction is probably its architecture. Bombed heavily during the second world war, the city today boasts several daring modern tower blocks which would not look out of place in Manhattan. Begin your day with a walk along the riverbank to take in the skyline, perhaps followed by a visit to the famous Cube Houses, an apartment building which looks like a string of discarded yellow Rubik’s Cubes.Nearby stands the Markthal, a striking indoor food market housed in a building that looks like an upturned horseshoe. Browse the stalls and enjoy a basket of kibbeling fish nuggets, some local cheese or perhaps a glass of jenever (gin) brewed in nearby Schiedam.Rotterdam grew prosperous thanks to its location near the mouth of the River Rhine, and the city’s giant port – the largest in Europe – has given it a tough, streetwise character.However, it also has a lively cultural scene. Highlights include the Fotomuseum photography museum and the Kunsthal art museum, which this autumn displays photographs by Daniël van de Ven telling the story of Rotterdam’s astonishing postwar rise. If you feel like roaming further afield, take a tram or metro to Delfshaven, where old sailing barges line the canals and you feel you might bump into Rembrandt or Vermeer around every corner.In the evening, watch the sun set as you walk over the famous Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge) which connects the north and south sides of the city (once neglected, the south is now being gentrified). Have dinner at Hotel New York, a grand brownstone building perched imperiously on the riverside. Soak up the panoramic views and dine on local mussels cooked in Pernod or fresh chilled crab legs. Afterwards, walk over the nearby footbridge to Fenix Food Factory, a hipster food market and craft brewery where the glasses are always half full. If the dark local beer goes to your head, you can always order a water taxi to zip you back across the river to bed. Example journey The Eurostar goes direct from London St Pancras to Rotterdam Central seven times a day (five times on Saturdays): depart at 07:16 and arrive at 11:32. Returning, border restrictions mean you will have to change trains in Brussels: depart Rotterdam at 16.58 and arrive Brussels Midi at 18.08. You will then have time for a quick coffee before boarding the 18.56 Eurostar to London, which arrives at 19.57. Stay Hotel Bazar (doubles from €70 B&B) is quirky, colourful and surrounded by lively bars and restaurants. Ben Coates, Netherlands-based author of The Rhine: Following Europe’s Greatest River from Amsterdam to the Alps Arnhem, the NetherlandsArnhem’s John Frost Bridge Photograph: Visit HollandFastest journey from London 5¼ hours via Amsterdam or Brussels Cheapest Nov fare with Loco2 £140 returnAs first impressions go, Arnhem railway station makes a grand statement. A soaring modernist structure made of undulating glass, exposed concrete and steel, it took two decades to build, at a cost of €37.5m. It ushers travellers into a city that has had its fair share of makeovers – most notably after the second world war battle in 1944, depicted in the film A Bridge Too Far, which left only 212 houses undamaged.Right outside the station is the 1oo-metre-long art wall called The Reconstruction. Painted by local artists and residents, it displays figures and events that played an important role in rebuilding the city. One of the icons is Marga Klompé, who in 1956 became the Netherlands’ first female cabinet minister, and whose work led to the social welfare law.The story of Operation Market Garden, the biggest airborne landing operation of the second world war, is told at the Airborne at the Bridge museum, the British headquarters during the battle. It’s next to the John Frost Bridge over the Lower Rhine – the one that British, Canadian, Polish and American forces tried and failed to capture.Today, Arnhem is a city of fashion and design. Its art academy was home to internationally acclaimed fashion designers such as Viktor & Rolf and Pauline van Dongen, and industrial designer Marcel Wanders. For unique items made by a local designer, visit the fashion district in the Klarendal neighbourhood, with its many studios and boutiques – try sustainable fashion label Studio Elsien Gringhuis, or Atelier Judith van den Berg for beautiful, handmade leather bags.Afterwards, go for a bite atop Karendal’s hill at cafe/restaurant Sugar Hill, popular among Arnhemmers for its no-nonsense food (quality burgers, sandwiches, and three-course meals) and calm atmosphere. A 10-minute walk away is Café Restaurant Caspar, with a wide variety of craft beers, like Mooie Nel (Pretty Nel) or Dunkel CC, and impressively large cups of coffee.While tourists have taken over the streets of Amsterdam, chances are you’ll have those in Arnhem to yourself. Despite its lively cultural scene – 18 museums and many concert options – the city is less of a tourist attraction, and has a much more laidback vibe. And it’s much greener (or red and orange, this time of year).For the perfect autumn stroll, and to get your bearings, visit Sonsbeek city park and climb the spiral staircase of the 25-metre 19th-century Belvédère. The tower offers an excellent vantage over the city and its surroundings, but is only open to climb on the last Sunday of each month. Warm up afterwards in Stadsvilla Sonsbeek with a hot chocolate and Arnhemse meisje (sugary biscuit) on the side. Follow your Sonsbeek stroll with one in Hoge Veluwe national park, a sprawling nature reserve that includes one of Europe’s largest sculpture gardens, featuring 160 artists including Barbara Hepworth, Aristide Maillol, Marta Pan and Pierre Huyghe. The park is also the home of the Kröller-Müller Museum, which boasts the second-largest Van Gogh collection in the world, with nearly 90 paintings and over 180 drawings.In the evening, make your way to cosy cafe Stella by Starlight, near Arnhem central station, for live music and beers selected by Arnhem’s beer sommelier, Maarten Exel. Or go to cafe Stan&Co, round the corner, to end the night dancing. Example journey Take the 11.04 from St Pancras, arriving at Amsterdam at 16.11; get the next (half-hourly) direct train to Arnhem central station (1 hour). To return, take the 13.56 from Arnhem central station, transfer at Breda to Brussels-Midi, arriving at 17:17 (1 hour 35 mins) and take the 18.04 to London, arriving at 21.05. Stay Hotel Molendal (doubles from €80 B&B) is in an art nouveau building in Sonsbeek overlooking the park and a stone’s throw from the concert hall Musis Sacrum (home to dance company Introdans) and the city centre. Caroline van Keeken, Netherlands-based writer and journalist Wiesbaden, GermanyBalthasar Ress vineyards, Wiesbaden Photograph: PRFastest journey from London6¼ hours via Brussels and Frankfurt or Cologne (with short transfer times); 7¼ hours inbound Cheapest Nov fare with Loco2 £125 returnIn the 19th century, Wiesbaden was revered as the “catwalk of the society spa”, with royalty, aristocracy and dignitaries from across Europe visiting this elegant town to see, be seen and benefit from the medicinal properties of the water. The heart of the spa town is the Kurhaus, which was rebuilt in 1907 in neo-classical style to house a restaurant, casino, ballroom and concert hall.The casino is located in the former wine parlour, a handsome room with cherry wood panelling and crystal chandeliers. The roulette wheel where Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky allegedly lost his fortune in 1865 – and which inspired his short novel, The Gambler – is on display. It’s a pleasant way to while away a few hours, and a few euros, in splendid historic surroundings, while sipping a glass of sparkling Henkell trocken, the locally produced sekt sparkling wine.To experience the healing water, try the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme, a beautifully restored art nouveau baths with green-tiled interior and Roman frescoes. As the nights draw in and temperatures drop, do as the Germans do and go textile-free into the tranquility of the soothing, warm water.If art nouveau decor piques your interest, the Museum of Wiesbaden’s recently opened permanent exhibition is a must. It’s one of the most important private collections in Europe, donated by local patron and former art dealer FW Neess with over 500 original objects, paintings and pieces of furniture – look out for the Nature sculpture by Alphonse Mucha, and furniture and glass pieces by belle époque designer Louis Majorelle.Art and spas aside, wine is the reason many visitors come to Wiesbaden. Known as the “gateway to the Rheingau”, the most distinguished wine-growing region in the Rhine valley, this is the place to discover refined rieslings or a full-bodied spätburgunder. Among the stalls overflowing with flowers, fruit, cheese and bread, the Wiesbaden Winegrowers stand can be found at the weekly Saturday farmers’ market, where various wineries take turns to present their produce to try for a few euros a glass. For a more formal tasting, Balthasar Ress in the centre of town offers wines at good-value winery prices, along with plates of local cheeses, meats, gherkins and bread.This chic little town is also home to one of the few urban vineyards in Germany, the Neroberg. Take the cute yellow funicular train, the Nerobergbahn up to the hillside estate for panoramic views across the vineyard, town and over the Rhine to Mainz. From here, there are various nature trails through the forest to enjoy and a magnificent, if a little incongruous, Russian Orthodox church, an opulent monument to Princess Elizabeth Michailowna, the Russian wife of Duke Adolph von Nassau, who died here in childbirth. For something more testing, the Kletterwald Neroberg offers 10 gradients of rope-slung courses high in the treetops, a great activity for families with children aged four and over.Head back into town for a shopping spree along upmarket Wilhelmstrasse and get cosy in Webers Wikinger for a traditional fireside schnitzel, roast potatoes and more of that glorious riesling. Example journey Take the 08.55 Eurostar from London St Pancras, arriving in Brussels at 12.05; board the 12.25 to Frankfurt Airport, arriving at 15.16; then depart for Wiesbaden on the 15.50, arriving at 16.10. The return journey leaving Wiesbaden at 07.41 arrives in London at 14.05.Stay The laid-back Hotel Klemm (doubles from €90 B&B) occupies a smart red-brick art nouveau villa and has a stylish decor. Celia Topping Cologne, GermanyFastest journey from London 4 hours via Brussels Cheapest Nov fare with Eurostar £115 returnCologne cathedral. Photograph: Getty ImagesCologne station is in the shadow of the city’s dramatic gothic cathedral. It’s well worth a trip up the 533 steps, past Fat Pete (the largest free-swinging church bell in the world) and up to the observation platform for panoramic views of the city and beyond. Walking south from the cathedral takes you through the charming cobbled streets of the old town, with its skinny pastel-coloured houses and architectural gems such as the Romanesque Gross St Martin church. Enjoy a traditional halve hahn (gouda cheese with a rye roll, raw onions, pickles and a dollop of mustard) from Peter’s Brauhaus and wash it down with a cold Kölsch, the local beer.Venturing further south along the river will take you to the recently modernised, popular waterfront district of Rheinauhafen. The Kranhäuser (crane towers) dominate the skyline of this former industrial dockland area, and the curious blend of old and new buildings makes for an interesting stroll. On a chilly autumn day, warm up in the boat-like Chocolate Museum, reached by a swing bridge, and enjoy fine Rhine views.The west is traditionally seen as the classy side of the river, whereas the east bank was known as Schäl Sick, the rather undesirable “wrong” side. But things have changed in recent times, with prices pushing residents over the river, and regeneration projects such as the Rheinboulevard making a trip across the Hohenzollern bridge genuinely worthwhile – rather than just for “that photo” of the bridge and cathedral.Turn left and head north from the bridge, stopping for a drink at the Rheinterrassen, and onwards through the Rheinpark, one of the region’s green spaces. From here, catch the Kölner Seilbahn (cable car) back over the river to Cologne’s truly wonderful zoo. This is a zoo for people who don’t like zoos, with happy animals that produce lots of babies, huge enclosures and a delightful programme of special events. But if this really isn’t your thing, the botanical gardens are just next door, perfect for brisk autumn days, with a deliciously warm Palm House and beautiful greenhouses filled with tropical plants.With two such exceptional attractions nearby, the Sculpture Park often goes unnoticed, which is a shame, as this small, free-to-enter park houses a remarkable collection of international contemporary sculpture, and is newly curated every two years. Cologne is also home to several superb museums, including the Roman-Germanic Museum and Museum Ludwig. If you can, plan your visit for Museum Night on 2 November, for over 200 concerts, exhibitions, DJs and other artistic events at locations across the city until 2am.For a more low-key evening’s entertainment, head over to the hip Belgisches Viertel (Belgian Quarter), buy a Kölsch from a kiosk and go people-watching in Brüsseler Platz as night falls. From here it’s a short step to some of the area’s coolest bars, with classics like the super-popular Sixpack, or Salon Schmitz, where the bold and beautiful of the city go out in style.Example journey Take the 8.55 Eurostar from London, arriving in Brussels at 12.05; catch the 12.25 to Cologne arriving at 14.15. The return journey leaving Cologne at 08.55 arrives in London at 14.15.Stay Maison Marsil (doubles around £95 room-only) is in the old town between the Rhine and the Belgian Quarter. CT Lausanne, SwitzerlandFastest journey from London 7¼ hours via Paris Cheapest Nov fare with Loco2 £175 returnThere’s a back-to-work atmosphere in Lausanne each autumn, after a summer in which most people spend their free time lazing by Lake Geneva or escaping the heat for the cool of the mountains, leaving the city centre in a slumber. Energy returns in September, building to a crescendo when the Christmas market kicks off at the end of November, sparking a month of vin chaud-fuelled revelry all over town.In between times, autumn has its own special appeal. For starters, it’s the best season for walking. Head to the terraced vineyards of Lavaux, just outside the city, where the turning leaves are at their most glorious and activity peaks with the annual grape harvest. Taste wine in the various caves as you stroll through the vines between the pretty medieval villages of Lutry and Saint-Saphorin, high above the lake.Alternatively, Sauvabelin park, on a hill in the north of Lausanne, is a lovely spot to wander among kaleidoscopic trees – climb the wooden viewing tower to see the city and lake spread far below. On your way back downhill towards the town centre, stop at the wonderful Fondation Hermitage to see the permanent collection of impressionist and post-impressionist painters.A new museum district opens in the city this autumn: Plateforme 10, so-called because of its location near the nine platforms of the main rail station, will house three museums by 2021. The fine art museum, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, is the first to move in this October, followed by the Musée de l’Elysée (photography) and Mudac (contemporary design and applied arts).As it is home to the International Olympic Committee headquarters, Lausanne is also dubbed Switzerland’s Olympic city, and it hosts the Winter Youth Olympic Games next January. The flashy Olympic Museum, in the lakeside resort of Ouchy, south of the city centre, features a temporary multimedia exhibition, with 50 athletes sharing tales of their personal Olympic experiences. While it’s always fondue time here (Café du Grütli does a good one), autumn in Switzerland means la chasse (hunting season), so game meats are on the menu at many restaurants in October and November, typically accompanied by spätzle (a sort of Swiss pasta), chestnuts, red cabbage and fruit. Try wild boar stew at Brasserie de Montbenon, or venison filet mignon with truffles and grapes at La Croix d’Ouchy, where you should turn up ravenous, since you get two servings.For a non-game lunch or brunch, Le Pointu is a good bet for salads and tranches (fancy open sandwiches) if you can get a table – it’s hugely popular; or head to Lausanne institution La Chandeleur for a simple sweet crêpe. For an apéro, Les Boucaniers has a good beer list, or try local wines at crowdfunded bar, Ta Cave. Example journey Take the 11.31 Eurostar from London to Paris Nord, arriving at 14.47; cross to Paris Gare de Lyon by taxi/metro, to take the 15.57 TGV to Lausanne, arriving at 19.37. To return, take the 13.31 from Lausanne, changing again in Paris, and you’ll be back in London by 21.37. Stay The Alpha Palmiers (doubles from €129 room only), a light, bright space with a central tropical garden, near the railway station. Caroline Bishop, Lausanne-based authorLooking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips

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    White sands, forest-topped islands and sapphire waters. The scene screams Hawaii, yet technically I’m in Tokyo. I’m in the Ogasawara Islands, an archipelago of over 30 islands in the Pacific Ocean which, despite being sprinkled 1,000km south of the frenetic skyscraper-filled capital, are considered a subprefecture of it.These oceanic islands, formed by undersea volcanic eruptions some 62 million years ago, are Japan’s equivalent of the Galapagos – never connected to a continent, home to unique flora and fauna, divine beaches and world-class diving. During three weeks’ travel across Japan, not a single person I met had visited. Most hadn’t even heard of the Ogasawara Islands.

  • Qantas launches first 20-hour test flight to see how human body holds up on New York-Sydney journey
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    The Independent

    Qantas launches first 20-hour test flight to see how human body holds up on New York-Sydney journey

    Qantas launches its first 20-hour test flight today to check how the human body copes with its planned ultra-long-haul routes.The airline intends to fly direct between both London and New York and Sydney – the world’s longest nonstop services.

  • How to fly business class to the Seychelles for £1,138 return
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    The Independent

    How to fly business class to the Seychelles for £1,138 return

    Every so often, Jack Sheldon from Jack’s Flight Club selects a flight deal from the UK for Independent readers that you can’t afford to miss. This week: return business class flights to the Seychelles for £1,138.British Airways is offering these business class fares to the Seychelles as companion fares, meaning you need to book at least two tickets to get the deal price. This route flies direct from London Heathrow, with a quick stopover from everywhere else.

  • ‘No third runway at Heathrow before 2035,’ predicts Emirates boss
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    The Independent

    ‘No third runway at Heathrow before 2035,’ predicts Emirates boss

    The president of one of the world’s most successful airlines, Emirates, has predicted the planned expansion of Heathrow airport will be delayed or cancelled.Asked when the proposed third runway might open, Sir Tim Clark replied: “2035 if you’re lucky.”

  • Boeing 737 Max: Tui Airways mulling changing name of jet before it returns to service
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    The Independent

    Boeing 737 Max: Tui Airways mulling changing name of jet before it returns to service

    The UK’s biggest operator of the Boeing 737 Max may change the name of the aircraft before it returns to service.Tui Airways flew the plane, mainly from Manchester, until regulators grounded the aircraft in March.

  • Sparkling Surrey: Englands’ first vineyard hotel
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    The Guardian

    Sparkling Surrey: Englands’ first vineyard hotel

    A champagne cork’s throw from Dorking – and 40 minutes from London – our wine critic toasts English plonk’s progress at a vineyard that feels like part of the local community. It’s an early autumn afternoon and I’m standing at the top of a vineyard. Below me is a sea of greens and golds, acres of vines heavy with ripened grapes – the harvest is well under way. The sky is azure, clouds scud over and butterflies flutter past. It could be the Loire, or even Sonoma, but in fact I’m just outside Dorking, in commuter belt Surrey, just 40 minutes from London Waterloo. My trek up the hillside is part of Denbies Secret Vineyard Trail, an escorted tour round parts of the 265-acre estate that are not normally open to the public, punctuated, if this sounds too much like hard work, by tasters of cheese and honey, and glasses of wine. The estate was established in 1984 when a local entrepreneur, Adrian (now Sir Adrian) White, took over a former pig farm and planted it with vines on the advice of his neighbour Professor Richard Selling, a geologist who recognised that the soils were similar to those in France’s Champagne region. It was an extraordinarily far-sighted project for a time when English wine was regarded as a bit of a joke. Things are very different these days: an exceptional 2018 harvest saw England and Wales produce 15.6 million bottles, compared with only 4.15 million in 2016. Planting has also taken off, nearly doubling in the past five years from 1,884 hectares (4,665 acres) in 2013 to 3,778 hectares in 2018. Even the French have got involved, with champagne house Taittinger buying vineyards in Kent, and Pommery collaborating with Hattingley Valley in Hampshire. Denbies, like the rest of the UK wine industry in the early days, used to be known for rather weedy medium-dry whites made from grape varieties such as seyval blanc and müller thurgau. Now, half the production is sparkling wine and the rest is dominated by the popular sauvignon-blanc-like bacchus, ortega (which is often used for sweet wines) and even some red varieties. Denbies has actually planted syrah (shiraz to the new world) in its experimental vineyard, which sounds hopeful, even as global temperatures surge. It’s already well set-up for tourism, too, with a vast visitor centre and a slightly Disney-esque train trundling through the vineyards. But this summer, it added a hotel which proudly claims to be the first English winery hotel. (There is already one at Llanerch in Wales, whose former chef, Michael Hudson, it has lured to Surrey to oversee the new restaurant.) The accommodation is functional rather than flash – with its somewhat spartan corridors it feels a bit like a posh Premier Inn – but the views over the vineyards and the hum of a tractor in the background give it a bucolic vibe. The south-east of England is home to three-quarters of the UK’s wineries. There’s a handful of urban wineries in and around London, including Blackbook in Battersea, and one near Bristol, Limeburn Hill, but most English wine comes from Sussex, Kent and Hampshire. Wine has become a lucrative second career for former financiers such as Ian Kellett of Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire and hedge fund manager Mark Driver of Rathfinny near Alfriston in Sussex, which boasts an upmarket B&B, The Flint Barns. Guardian readers may not be quite so keen on patronising the glamourous new facilities at Gusbourne in Kent, which is owned by Tory donor and Leave supporter Lord Ashcroft, but it and nearby Hush Heath winery – which also has a lavishly decked new visitor centre – are part of Kent’s new Wine Garden of England trail. Denbies, too, is continuing to innovate. While the estate isn’t organic (the British weather makes this too tricky, they say – and it did chuck it down the morning after my vineyard walk), it puts great emphasis on sustainability, is moving away from plastics, and installing solar panels on the roof and electric car charging points outside the hotel. In a pair of circular, tiled cabanas on the “infinity lawn”, with views down to the vineyard beyond, parties of up to 10 can enjoy a food and wine matching exercise with the Denbies range £45pp plus £100 for a wine expert to talk you through it). The pairings are enjoyably whacky. I’m impressed by the combination of local Chalk Hill Bakery bread and Marmite butter with Denbies’ Cubitt Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine (Marmite and bubbly – who knew?) and am amazed to try its Brokes botrytised sweet wine with vanilla pannacotta and caramelised apricots. It’s a bit of a treat given that only 100 bottles are made each year, which presumably accounts for the £60 price tag. Surrey’s answer to Chateau d’Yquem, maybe? As we sip and munch, cyclists and joggers speed past. To foster goodwill locally, the grounds, with seven miles of public footpaths, are open to the public. After asking for feedback from residents, the winery changed the colour of the train that runs through the estate from blue to a more subtle green that blends into the trees. A local group organises a park run every Saturday morning which attracts some 350 runners. Seasonal events such as a Santa fun run and Easter Bunny Hop run pull in even more. But maybe the biggest draw is that it’s within easy walking distance of Dorking station, which is probably just as well after all that “tasting”. And all the more reason for going into the hotel business. . Accommodation was provided by Denbies Vineyard Hotel (doubles from £135 B&B). The Secret Vineyard Trail runs throughout the autumn in fine weather, from £25pp (check website and social media for dates). The food and wine matching experience is available to hotel residents only, book ing essential Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips