Listed City Guide - L
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Louisiana

Baton Rouge Travel Guide

Situated about 75 miles (121km) northwest of New Orleans, along Louisiana’s winding ‘Great River Road’, Baton Rouge, the state capital, is in the middle of plantation country. Surrounded by sugar cane fields and grand plantation homes, haunted southern mansions and beautiful gardens along the banks of the mighty Mississippi, the city is filled with historic buildings and a vibrant nightlife.

Baton Rouge was named by French explorer D’Iberville about 300 years ago when he found a red stick on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi. Today the one-time swampland settlement is one of the largest port cities in America, known for its riverboat casinos where high-stakes gambling, stage shows and Cajun cuisine reign supreme. The city has an academic side too, being home to Louisiana State University and Southern University, the largest historically African-American university in the country. There are museums aplenty, art galleries, a planetarium and active theatre and ballet companies to complete the scene in this dynamic and diverse city. Incidentally, Baton Rouge also has the tallest capitol building in the United States, an art deco building dating back to 1932 that stands 34 storeys high.

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LAOS

Luang Prabang Travel Guide

Encircled by mountains and charmingly situated at the meeting of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, Luang Prabang, the ‘Jewel of the Mekong’, conveys an atmosphere of remote serenity and informal splendour. Its main attraction is its old temples and the thriving religious life of its people, which seems to endow everything with meaning.

The heart of a powerful kingdom for more than a thousand years, today it is a sleepy mixture of ancient temples, cobbled lanes, interesting backstreets, French-Indochinese architecture and ochre-coloured colonial buildings. Trees line the streets above the banks of the river where children swim and play, while farmers carefully tend to their tiny, irregular riverside plots of agricultural land. In the mists of dawn, throngs of barefoot orange-robed monks silently make their way from the monasteries to the streets, where locals wait to gain spiritual merit by filling their wooden alms bowls with rice, before disappearing once again into their places of refuge and meditation. Unhurried people drift past stalls of spicy papaya salad, noodles, omelettes and fruit drinks. Luang Prabang gives visitors a taste of the real Laos; it is an ancient city with a distinctly village-like feel, endowed with a historical legacy so rich that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourists to Laos simply shouldn’t miss this unique and fascinating city.

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Vientiane Travel Guide

Life in Vientiane, the modest capital of Laos, flows along as languidly as the Mekong River, on the banks of which the city is situated. Resembling more a sprawling series of villages than an inter-connected urban metropolis, Vientiane is a sleepy place dotted with a mix of Laotian temples and French colonial buildings, most of them crumbling into decay. Paddy fields still dot the outlying suburbs and even intrude into the city centre in places. Downtown is characterised by narrow lanes that run off the main streets, where bakeries sell croissants alongside vendors touting noodle soup and sticky rice.

Most of the city’s places of interest are concentrated in a small area in the commercial district, easy to explore on foot, between the bamboo-and-thatch beer gardens on the riverbank and Talaat Sao, the morning market. Tourists to Vientiane will find that there are some fine Wats (temples) to visit, like Wat Si Saket, one of the city’s oldest, surrounded by a lush tranquil garden. Other grand buildings include the Patuxai Monument, resembling the Arc de Triomphe, and the new Chinese-financed Cultural Centre. The Lao National Museum is worth a visit simply because it is a surviving example of a communist propaganda collection, while the Kaysone Phomvihane Museum is dedicated to Laos’ famous post-war leader, but lacks English information.

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LATVIA

Riga Travel Guide

The enchanting city of Riga, capital of Latvia and the biggest city in the Baltic States, has emerged from behind the Iron Curtain and is slowly coming into its own as a major European tourist destination. Situated on the south-western coast of the country, Riga is split in two by the River Daugava, and served as a major trading port and a crossroads between western Europe and the East. The modern founding of the city dates back to the 12th Century with the arrival of German traders, mercenaries and missionaries; while its older roots date back to a settlement of the ancient Finnic tribe, the Livs.

The city, and Latvia as a whole, was long caught in a tug of war between the Germans and the Russians, and suffered greatly in World War II when roughly a third of the country’s population was exterminated, displaced or fled Nazi persecution. However, despite this lamentable past, there are still plenty of things for tourists to see and do in Latvia.

Riga boasts a collection of exquisite Art Nouveau buildings that rival those in Vienna, Barcelona and St Petersburg, and the fairytale-like historic city centre is a delight to explore. As the cultural and economic centre of the country, Riga is home to plenty of top-class museums, galleries and performing arts centres, as well as a range of sophisticated bars, clubs and restaurants. The city is fast gaining a reputation as a party capital, and its vibrant nightlife draws hundreds of weekenders from all over Europe.

For a more traditional Latvian experience, it is well worth braving the winter cold to enjoy a spot of ice fishing, ice-skating on the frozen Daugava River, or a pirt – a rigorous sauna that involves being beaten with dried birch branches. With over 800 years of history, a UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed historic city centre and a modern buzz, Riga remains a largely undiscovered gem with plenty to delight and enchant the visitor.

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LEBANON

Beirut Travel Guide

The capital of Lebanon, Beirut is a surprisingly beautiful city, home to a multi-cultural society. Sometimes, white roses sit in the bullet holes of Martyrs Square statues, a reminder to citizens and guests of the dividing lines and meeting points of the city’s tumultuous past and flourishing present.

Today, Beirut is in the flings of an architectural and social renaissance, slowly re-establishing and renewing its reputation as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. Its population includes more than 10 religious groups, and the call of the Muezzin rings alongside the sounds of Indie Rock gigs in bars spilling into the streets. Hospitality is a way of life here, where compromise and curiosity, learning and growing among strong cultural legacies is all part of living in the city.

The architecture reflects its history, a blend of French colonial buildings and religious structures sprinkled between modern skyscrapers and apartment buildings. Beirut is divided into several districts, including Ashrafieh, which is the focal point of Western culture in the city; Hamra, home to an abundance of shops and restaurants; Centre Ville, the city’s Central Business District and one of the oldest parts of the city; Manara and Jnah, which are home to hotels and beach clubs; and Ramlet el Baida, which features the city’s only public (and sandy) beach.

Beirut has not been left untouched by the recent surge in terrorist activity. Tragically and ironically, Beirut suffered devastating twin suicide bombings the day before Paris was attacked in November 2015. While the city has weathered this storm, as it has many before it, tourists are advised to be cautious and aware of travel and consular warnings.

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LESOTHO

Maseru Travel Guide

For a modern capital city, Maseru is quite a strange place, as tourists visiting Lesotho will soon find out. Way off the beaten tourist track, the main commercial and administrative centre of ‘The Kingdom of the Sky’ is a sleepy, dilapidated city with a distinct small-town feel. Most mid-range and budget accommodation is basic, shopping opportunities are few, and the restaurant scene isn’t exactly sophisticated.

Maseru is, however, situated in one of the most beautiful regions in the whole of Africa: in the foothills of the prehistoric-looking Maloti Mountains, with a view of the jagged peaks of South Africa’s Drakensberg mountain range extending to the east. Despite being situated in a slight valley (an area known as Hlabeng-Sa-Likhama), Maseru is still 5,200 feet (1,600m) above sea-level, a fact which, though contributing to harsh weather in winter, makes for impossibly beautiful, clear and crisp skies, and great mountain air.

Although there is not much to see and do in Maseru, outdoor enthusiasts will soon come to view Lesotho as a giant playground of sorts. A country full of walking and hiking trails, leading tourists up into the mountains and past rural villages and hamlets where life goes on in blissful disregard for modernity, there are also some great outdoor activities for tourists to try their hands at in Lesotho. Activities diverse as pony trekking, fishing, birding, abseiling, skiing and even paragliding are available – and these are generally well organised, and easy to get involved in (just enquire at any upmarket hotel in Maseru).

For well-heeled travellers looking to do Lesotho in style, the country also has a small but up-market selection of four and five-star hotels, game lodges, and even a hotel/casino complex.

Maseru isn’t full of great shopping opportunities but does boast some unique local art and craft products that make for great souvenirs. Hand-woven mohair blankets and tapestries are probably the country’s most famous export – but tourists will also find hand-made traditional music instruments, clay pottery, wire and tin figurines (these are wonderful trinkets), and beaded jewellery.

With a famously friendly local population, a slow pace of life and outstanding natural scenery, Maseru can be a gentle introduction to the African continent for foreign tourists, and holds real promise for those looking to try some outdoor activities while on holiday in southern Africa.

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LIBYA

Tripoli Travel Guide

*Serious travel warnings have been issued for Tripoli, with many foreign governments advising against travel to the Libyan capital. Travellers should note in particular that clashes have periodically forced the closure of the international airport.

The Libyan capital of Tripoli is ordinarily filled with wonderful sights, charm and hospitality. Situated on the Mediterranean Sea in the northwest of the country, Tripoli has one of the largest harbours in North Africa; it is a city constantly abuzz with activity. The many historical sites and ruins dotted throughout the city stand testament to its rich and fascinating history. Visitors to Tripoli can stroll in the bustling bazaars, shopping for holiday souvenirs and trinkets as well as beautiful textiles and exquisite jewellery. Tourists are spoilt for choice when it comes to the amazing sights in and around the city, from the Red Castle to the Gurgi and Karamanli Mosques. Tripoli is overflowing with places to discover and sights to behold.

Unfortunately, this wonderful city has seen hard times in recent years thanks to rebel and terrorist activity during and in the aftermath of civil war. While its many wonders remain undimmed, travellers are advised to do careful research before visiting the city, and to take note of the serious travel warnings issued by various international governments.

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LITHUANIA

Vilnius Travel Guide

The Lithuanian capital of Vilnius is somewhat unique compared to the major cities in the rest of the Baltic States, its old architecture being a hodge-podge of styles with Scandinavian, Russian and German influences. The mix blends well into a charming ‘Vilnian Baroque’, that fills the cobblestoned, winding streets of the old quarter. The city is further enhanced by its picturesque setting in a valley at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers, nestling beneath wooded hills in the southeast corner of Lithuania.

Overlooking the city from a central hill is the landmark Gediminas Castle (named for the medieval Grand Duke who founded the city) with its impressive tower, from which visitors can enjoy an unrivalled view of the old town and the shiny new section on the right bank of the Neris. Gediminas Square is the heart of the old quarter, featuring the splendid classical cathedral. The city boasts numerous other interesting churches, beautiful historic buildings, museums, monuments and parks, and the splendid University of Vilnius, one of Europe’s oldest institutions of learning, chartered in 1579.

In its ‘golden age’ in the Middle Ages, Vilnius was renowned as the region’s centre for culture and learning, and today it has reclaimed that reputation, with a packed programme of events always on the go, from classical music evenings at the Philharmonic Society Hall and performances at the Opera and Ballet Theatre, Youth Theatre and Academic Drama Theatre, to exhibitions in numerous art galleries and a vast modern art centre. The city also plays host to numerous commercial fairs and exhibitions annually.

Last, but not least, when the sun goes down Vilnius reveals the fun side of its nature, with a nightlife that is fast gaining a reputation as one of the hottest in Eastern Europe.

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LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg-Ville Travel Guide

In the early morning mist Luxembourg is reminiscent of an ancient fairytale city, full of towers and turrets. The old centre of town, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can trace its history back to the 10th century, when Siegfried, Count of the Ardennes, built a castle on a rock above the Alzette River. He named the castle Lucilinburhuc. Over the centuries the castle and surrounding town was strengthened with numerous additional fortifications, walls and gates until it became known as the ‘Gibraltar of the North’. Today the various components of the fortress are the city’s chief tourist attraction. There are some other interesting sights in the old centre of town though, including several museums.

Modern Luxembourg, on the Plateau du Krichberg, is more concerned with business than pleasure, as the work of a major international financial centre goes on inside the many modern office complexes in the city. Luxembourg is chock full of banks and is home to numerous European Union institutions. The European Council of Ministers holds their sessions in the city for three months every year, and the European Court of Justice presides here too. Although tourists come to the city to enjoy the medieval charm and history, the financial prestige attracts businessmen and the modern buzz of the place ensures that there are good restaurants and lots of quality hotels. Luxembourg is a tiny country and there are many wonderful excursions from the city into the countryside and to surrounding towns.

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