Just back from: Australia, France, Bulgaria, Berlin and Italy

Cliff astride his noble steed Turbo on Rainbow Beach, Queensland © Clifton Wilkinson Cliff astride his noble steed Turbo on Rainbow Beach, Queensland © Clifton Wilkinson

At Lonely Planet we’re simply obsessed with travel; rarely a week goes by when someone hasn’t just got back from an epic adventure. To celebrate our infatuation with exploration, each month Lonely Planet staff will be sharing some of their recent travel stories from the road. Read on for horseback beach escapes, birthday celebrations in Berlin and more…

Horse riding along Rainbow Beach, Queensland

Turbo was having none of it. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my otherwise compliant horse to take the two of us into the ocean as we ambled along the magnificent Rainbow Beach in Queensland. It’s not like I wasn’t having an amazing time already. It would be difficult not to on what is regularly named as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches; a stretch of golden sand that goes on for miles, bordered on one side by dunes and forest, and on the other by the glistening Pacific.

But I’d always wanted to ride a horse on a beach, galloping through the waves, man and horse and the elements combining in an exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Turbo clearly had not got the memo, so I had to make do with a gentle stroll along the sand, every now and again trying, unsuccessfully, to coax my clearly ironically named steed to head just a little closer to the water, but still revelling, grin spread across my face, in the stunning surroundings.

Clifton Wilkinson, Destination Editor for Great Britain, Ireland and Iceland. Follow his tweets @Cliff_Wilkinson.

A cycle path and bike on Ile de Re Traffic on Ile de Re may include the odd donkey © Jessica Ryan

Cycling around idyllic Île de Ré, France

Last September I spent five glorious days in Île de Ré, near La Rochelle on the west coast of France. We stayed in an area called Le-Bois-Plage-en-Ré, a 15-minute cycle from the island’s main hub, Saint-Martin, a quaint, upmarket port town. Cycling wouldn’t normally be my preferred method of transport, but you really need a bike to experience what makes this place special. And with an elaborate network of flat, smooth cycle paths that take you past fields of donkeys, vineyards, oyster farms, beaches and salt flats, it was a pretty dreamy way to get around.

By day, we criss-crossed the island en vélo, stopping for an ice cream at the famous La Martinière in Saint-Martin. Its winding streets are lined with charming white houses, decorated with shuttered windows and climbing plants. You can stop for a dip in the sea when it gets too hot, and have lunch at the many beach restaurants before exploring the rest of the island. By night, dine at La Cible; or if you’re on a tighter budget, pick up a takeaway pizza and beers from one of the roadside vendors, pedal onto the beach and watch the sun set.

Jessica Ryan, Product Editor. Follow her on Instagram @jessimica_ryan.

Tasmin Waby in the mountains, Bulgaria Tas taking in the Bulgarian mountains © Tasmin Waby

Soaking tired muscles in Bulgaria’s hot springs

I love mountains and I love thermal hot springs (known as banya in Bulgaria), so I was pretty happy to find both just an hour from the country’s capital, Sofia. After a full day walking around Seven Rila Lakes in Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains, photographing glacial lakes, icy waterfalls and wild alpine flowers, I convinced my travel buddies we should check out the town we had come through the night before. Surely Dolna Banya has a banya, right!?

We rolled up to a public hot springs complex in the early evening, and despite having zero Bulgarian vocabulary at our disposal, the immensely patient staff hired us towels, a locker and pointed out where the hot pools were, as well as the steam room, sauna, and snow fountain – for cooling back down. We relaxed our weary bodies after a long day hiking, watching the sun set and the thermal steam waft through the crisp mountain air while we floated around various indoor and outdoor pools, soaking ourselves in the therapeutic waters.

Tasmin Waby, Destination Editor for Australia and the Pacific. Follow her tweets @TravellingTaz.

Jen, mama and stepdad David enjoying a bevvy in Gendarmenmarkt Jen, mama and stepdad David enjoying a bevvy in Gendarmenmarkt © Jennifer Carey

Ladies about town in Berlin, Germany

Berlin is famous for its wonderful nightlife, but I experienced the city in a brand new light when I brought my mum on her first trip to Germany. Bernadette had a big birthday in November (60 and sensational), and I wanted to treat her after a tough year. Is there anything better than day drinking in Christmas markets and buying 400 tree decorations? The answer is no.

Mama only deserves the best and that was the Regent Berlin. It’s a hotel I’ve lustfully eyed from afar, but didn’t feel sufficiently fancy or rich enough to stay in. Turns out November Jennifer is both rich (credit card) and fancy (discount designer bag) enough to shimmy through its marble entrance. The staff were a joy and showered my mum with champagne and cake to celebrate her birthday. In fact half of Berlin gave her free cake for the occasion – we basically told everyone we met.

We hit up the joyously festive market in Gendarmenmarkt, fangirled the Berlin Symphony Orchestra in the Konzerthaus, and generally ate and drank our way around the city in grand style. Berlin is a great option for intergenerational travel: loads of chilled bars and restaurants, and all the major sights are in an easily navigable area. Next time we’re hitting up Berghain – the city’s most exclusive nightclub!

Jennifer Carey, Managing Destination Editor. Follow her tweets @JenniferCarey01.

Peter Grunert in his 1955 AC Ace Peter looking the part in his 1955 AC Ace © Peter Grunert

Driving a classic car through Lombardy, Italy

As a massive fan of the nostalgic character and many peculiarities of classic cars, the idea of taking one on a tour through Italy had long sat at the peak of my bucket list. And so, with a little help from a friend of a friend of a friend, I found myself clambering behind the timber-rimmed steering wheel of a beautiful old British convertible, a 1955 AC Ace, in Brescia.

We chugged out at dawn from the dusty courtyard of the Mille Miglia Museum. The Mille Miglia was once known as the world’s most dangerous road race, originally running from 1927-57 on a 1000-mile loop from Brescia to Rome and back. My co-driver Paolo and I were taking the AC on an event called the Coppa Franco Mazzotti, which retraces the first 200 miles of the Mille Miglia through Lombardy.

Over the next couple of days we wound between graffiti-spattered suburbs and sprawling medieval fortresses; through the vineyards of the little-visited Franciacorta region and selfie-stick-wielding hordes in the spa town of Sirmione by Lake Garda. We also soaked up some of the happiest of rural Italian clichés: roving packs of nuns; farmers harvesting olives; and grandparents with their grandkids, leaning from terracotta-coloured roadside houses – all cheering our cartoonish convoy as we came barrelling on through.

Peter Grunert, Group Editor, Magazines. Follow his tweets @peter_grunert.

Peter Grunert travelled with support from Scuderia Classiche. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

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