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Japan’s arty-pelago: Naoshima and beyond

Among shrines, rice fields and abandoned buildings, contemporary art has transformed 12 rural islands into a creative paradise – the setting for the 2019 Setouchi Triennale

I’m sitting on a concrete floor watching water droplets as they skitter across the smooth surface. Around me, other people seem equally transfixed. They stand in silent contemplation staring at beads of water bubbling up from tiny holes in the floor, or lie gazing at the vast domed roof, where two oval openings let natural light flood in. The slightest movement echoes around the space. I take a pen out to make some notes and a member of staff suddenly appears at my side and indicates that I should put it away. Phones are also a strict no-no.

Teshima Art Museum turns the standard idea of what a museum is on its head. For a start it’s empty. Or to be precise, there is nothing on display. Instead of looking at art works or objects, the visitor is invited to contemplate nature in its purest form: light, water, air. The effect is deeply calming. After 20 minutes, I practically float out.

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The joys of the UK’s best walking festivals

The UK’s 150 walking festivals make hiking convivial, as we found on a Black Mountains trek in Wales. Plus, read on for more events around the country

We started in drizzle, progressed into blow-you-off-your-feet wind, moved into milk-chocolatey mud and finished in stair-rod rain. But it was great to be outside. Following guides Anthea and Wally, their energetic collie and a bunch of other waterproof-encased walkers along this Black Mountains route, I’d ticked off 11 miles, three hills and one legend-laced lake (home, they say, to the Afanc, the Loch Ness Monster of Wales). Had I been alone, I’d have been lost – or, more likely, wouldn’t have ventured out at all in such inclement weather. But spurred on by walking with others, I’d had a mini-adventure. At the end, I bade goodbye to a new walking mate. As he was peeling off his sopping gloves and over-trousers, he smiled: “This is what it’s all about.”

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10 great European art anniversaries in 2019

From 100 years of Bauhaus to 500 years since Leonardo’s death, a host of landmark art events and exhibitions open around Europe this year

It is 350 years since the death of Rembrandt van Rijn. There is a year-long programme of events in nine Dutch cities, focusing on Rembrandt and the Dutch golden age (listings at holland.com). In Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum (15 Feb-10 June) will display all of its 22 paintings, 60 drawings and 300 engravings – the biggest Rembrandt collection ever seen in a single exhibition. Later in the year it has a Rembrandt and Velazquez show (11 Oct-19 Jan), while the Rembrandt House Museum has three exhibitions and the City Archives tell his personal story (until 7 April). In the Hague, the Mauritshuis (until 15 Sept) is showing 18 paintings attributed to Rembrandt; there’s a display of the painter’s early work at Leiden’s Museum De Lakenhal (3 Nov-9 Feb 2020, lakenhal.nl); and the Fries Museum (to 7 March) has an intimate show devoted to his wife, Saskia . Exhibitions are also taking place in Germany and the UK.
See codart.nl for details

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‘I have lost my wallet and brother’: reuniting at Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest festival

As an estimated 15m Hindus gather at convergence of holy rivers in India, the huge lost-and-found centres go digital

Day and night, through crackling loudspeakers, the announcements ring out. “It is Babu speaking,” says a shrill voice. “I have lost my wallet and brother. Please come here the moment you hear this.”

“Lal Ram is here,” a woman says a few times. “Come and collect him from the yellow tower.”

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Top 10 budget beach hotels and B&Bs on Mexico’s Pacific coast

Enjoy ocean views from rooftop bars or just step out and get the sand between your toes. From Mazatlán to Pochutla, here are 10 charming beachside escapes

Mexico’s Pacific coast, more than 1,000 miles of it, is renowned for its beaches, as well as the resorts which have attracted Hollywood royalty. However, it’s also an area that can experience tropical storms, usually between June and December. The most recent was Hurricane Patricia, the strongest hurricane ever recorded at sea, which swept across the region at the end of October, but caused less damage than anticipated. Hotels are now operating as normal.

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Top 10 budget beach hotels, guesthouses and hostels on the Yucatán peninsula, Mexico

Well-known and deservedly popular for its jungle, coast and ancient ruins, the Yucatán peninsula can be a pricey place to stay – unless you pick one of these brilliant budget hotels and hostels

On the surface, this mid-size hotel in Cancún’s hotel zone is pretty unremarkable. The tile-floored rooms are big and clean, with terraces or balconies – though they’re not notably stylish. The restaurant is good, not gourmet. The pool is a sensible size. But set this against its glitzy, high-rise neighbours and check the rates, which are often lower than similarly appointed hotels on the mainland, 30 minutes from the water – and Beachscape starts looking pretty good. Then walk out on to the palm-shaded beach, one of the prettiest stretches in the hotel zone, and the place becomes a minor miracle.
• Doubles from $109, +52 998 891 5427, beachscape.com.mx

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Top 10 budget beach B&Bs in the Seychelles

The Seychelles islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue may be known for their luxury resorts but there is also a great selection of family-run, more affordable guesthouses just as close to the archipelago’s famous, world-class beaches

For a room with a five-star view, Colibri is hard to beat. Nine rustic rooms – all wood and stone – ensconced amid tropical foliage that tumbles down a hillside to the turquoise waters of Baie Sainte Anne. There’s no beach but you can use the small infinity pool overlooking the bay at neighbouring B&B Chalets Cote Mer, also owned by Sylvie and Stephan, and costing about €10 more a night. You also share the waterfront creole restaurant. The owners can help with car hire but it’s a five-minute walk to a bus stop – which will take you to Praslin’s most famous beach Anse Lazio and the Unesco-protected Vallée de Mai nature reserve – and the jetty for ferries to Mahé and La Digue.
Doubles from £112 B&B, +248 429 4200, colibrisweethome.com

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Top 10 budget beach guesthouses and B&Bs in South Africa’s Western Cape

From Cape Town and its peninsula to the Garden Route and the West Coast, the Western Cape is a dazzling part of South Africa, and its beachside accommodation doesn’t have to break the bank

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Booking a holiday: everything under the sun you need to know

Many people will be planning a break – but is it really the right time to find a deal?

With the Christmas break fast becoming just a distant memory, thoughts are turning to the next substantial holiday during the summer, with travel companies getting ready for a booking blitz.

This weekend traditionally marks one of their busiest periods as people try and the decrease the gloom of returning to work by putting two weeks in the sun in the diary.

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Real Christmas Trees are the greener choice | John Rudolf

Unlike their plastic counterparts, real Christmas trees are a product of nature, and easily recycled, with no toxic afterlife

A fake Christmas tree has some obvious advantages over the real thing. There’s no sticky sap. No needles shedding everywhere. It never needs watering, and at the end of the season, it can be folded up, or disassembled (depending on the model) and stowed away in a closet, basement or attic until next year’s Yuletide rolls around.

What’s more, machine-made pines are evolving, steadily gaining ground on their biological forebears. Every year, more realistic models emerge, with fuller branches, softer needles and subtler, more life-like colors. One day, it may take the arboreal equivalent of a Voight-Kampff test to separate the real from the faux.

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The best towns and small cities in the US: Ithaca, New York state

This progressive lakeside town has gone its own way since the hippy years: we showcase its best bars, live music venues and restaurants

In this series: Eugene, Oregon | Chapel Hill, North Carolina | Portland, Maine | Ventura, California | Missoula, Montana

When 24-year-old Svante Myrick was elected mayor of Ithaca five years ago, he gave up his car. He also gave up his parking space outside City Hall, decorated the spot with benches and plants and welcomed all and sundry to use it as they pleased. For several years it was Ithaca’s smallest park.

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Athens city guide: what to see plus the best bars, hotels and restaurants

Tour classical sites with locals and discover the guesthouses, restaurants and bars being opened by young entrepreneurs in a city buzzing with creativity

The revival of Europe’s classical capital has attracted plenty of artists, curators and digital nomads. But it’s entrepreneurial young Athenians who are opening pop-up restaurants, design collectives and guesthouses, regenerating derelict buildings in rough-around-the-edges areas such as Pangrati, Kypseli and Keramikos. Messy and unpredictable, Athens fizzes with an intense energy that burns bright into the night.

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Cantal, France, holiday guide: what to see plus the best restaurants and hotels

In central France, the Auvergne’s volcanic landscape offers year-round activity holidays, with peaks to climb, lakes to swim, restored farms to stay in and great value mountain cuisine

The Cantal is the rural heartland of France’s wild Auvergne region, right in the centre of the country and part of the Massif Central. Locals joke that there are more cows here than people and there certainly are not many tourists, despite a range of adventurous outdoor activities in summer and winter. Hotels and B&Bs could not be more reasonably priced, and the hearty regional cuisine – rustic rather than gourmet – comes in formidable four- or five-course bistro set menus, ideal for big appetites and small budgets. The Cantal also boasts some of the most spectacular sites in La Chaîne des Puys, the 80 or so extinct volcanoes that have just been recognised as a Unesco world heritage site.

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Holiday guide to Basilicata, Italy: what to see plus the best restaurants and hotels

‘Tourist hordes’ is not a phrase you’re likely to hear in Basilicata but given its rich cuisine, stunning national parks, ancient towns and great beaches, it’s hard to fathom why this seductive region remains so quiet

Imagine a region that has miles of white sand beaches on one coast, picturesque rocky bays on the other, two mountainous national parks, and one of the world’s oldest cities. Add lots of warm sunshine plus fine food and wine and you might expect the area to be a tourist mecca, busy with hotels and tour buses. However, Basilicata, the arch and instep of Italy’s boot, has all the above but – thanks admittedly to a history of poverty and difficult access – little mass tourism.

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Holiday guide to the Llŷn peninsula, north Wales

A haven for surfers and adventurers, ‘a timeless island feel pervades this often-overlooked peninsula’. Writers of the new Wild Guide Wales select the best coves and beaches, places to eat and seasonal campsites

With tiny lanes lined with wildflowers leading to empty coves and rugged cliffs, this magical, often-overlooked peninsula has a timeless island feel – some say the Llŷn is like Cornwall 50 years ago. Welsh is spoken more often than not, and sacred places abound. But it’s not stuck in the past: there’s a strong surf culture around Porth Neigwl (Hell’s Mouth), and you can taste the beginning of a good-food revolution.

The coast starts in rugged fashion on the north side with the towering peak of Yr Eifl, home of Tre’r Ceir, an iron age settlement with some of Wales’s best roundhouse remains. To the south, the coast is gentler – a string of pearly coves with tiny seasonal campsites. And at the distant tip sits Bardsey Island, glimmering across the tidal waters.

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