Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: South Korea, Portugal, New England and Slovenia

Peace ribbons at the Demilitarised Zone in South Korea Peace ribbons at the Demilitarised Zone in South Korea © Chris Zeiher

As always, our travel-obsessed staff have been off exploring new destinations around the globe. This month they share some of their recent adventures from hitting the hiking trails in New England to finding the perfect pastéis de nata in Portugal.

Exploring the DMZ in South Korea

Clutching a piping-hot coffee I attempted to warm myself on a cold winter’s morning in Seoul, South Korea, as I located a small tour bus emblazoned with three letters: DMZ. The ‘Demilitarised Zone’ is one of Korea’s most popular tourist attractions, but what makes a visit to this 4km-wide buffer zone between the North and South so fascinating?

I’d heard stories of K-Pop being blasted over loudspeakers as the South attempt to block out the constant din of propaganda messages from the North. But on arrival at Imjingak, a park dedicated to the 10 million South Koreans separated from their families, it was oddly silent. The audio war is at an end and the park itself is now a mixture of memorials and carnival rides. Ribbons, containing messages of peace, tied to the border fence flap in the cold wind as merry-go-round music softly plays in the background. Weird.

The zone continues to offer up oddities from the unused Dorasan Train Station, where the platform to Pyongyang (North Korea’s capital) sits deserted, to the Dora Observatory offering telescopic views across the zone – all topped off by a claustrophobic walk down the Third Infiltration Tunnel which gets you within 170 metres of North Korea. Part creepy theme park, part unsettling testament to an unresolved conflict, and part symbol of hope, the DMZ has everything a dark tourist could desire.

Chris Zeiher, Director of Sales and Marketing in Australia and the Pacific. Follow his tweets @chriszeiher.

A secluded beach in Portugal How can kids resist the bright sandy beaches and hidden coves of Portugal? © Becky Henderson

Keeping the kids happy in Portugal

There’s no doubt about it, travelling with your children can be a stressful experience. Before kids, travel meant taking long-haul flights to far-flung places, enjoyable days of exploring and doing pretty much whatever I wanted to do. Now, before we can even get to the exploring part, I’m sweating at the prospect of two hours in a confined space with two mini people, hoping I have enough snacks and entertainment to stop them annoying other travellers. Then once we’re there, will there be enough kid-friendly activities to please the little ones which will also allow us to really experience the destination?

Step up Portugal! A super family-friendly, laid-back, welcoming country that had us all enthralled. Travelling out of the main tourist season, we spent lazy days exploring hidden coves along the Algarve’s glorious coastline, pottering around small towns and searching for the perfect pastéis de nata (custard tarts) in local markets. Once the sun went down and the kids were asleep, we relaxed with a drop or two of the excellent local wine. Kids happy – tick. Adults happy – double tick!

Becky Henderson, International Licencing Manager.

The Pogue, decked in fall colours, in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park The Pogue, decked in fall colours, in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park © Katie Clowes

Veering off the beaten path in Vermont, New England

In hindsight, leading my mum who suffers from incapacitating vertigo along the ‘Precipice Trail’ probably wasn’t my best idea. However, after consulting the map at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, we'd realised it was the quickest route to the South Peak of Mount Tom, where we were promised a fantastic lookout over the charming town of Woodstock, Vermont. Short on time before our afternoon of cheese, maple syrup and craft beer tasting we decided that, as the trail was only two miles each way, it would make for a nice morning walk to work up an appetite.

One panic attack, nine miles and four hours later we made it back to the car. Whilst we did eventually reach the Mount Tom lookout and saw the stunning view of Woodstock and the surrounding valley in all its fall glory, it was the extra hours spent in this beautifully tranquil park and the unforeseen adventure that I’ll take away from our walk in the woods. That and a promise never to take my mum hiking on an unknown route again!

Katie Clowes, Marketing and Communications Executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Follow her on Instagram @kclowes3.

Misty Bled Island (centre right) looking like a scene from a fairy tale Misty Bled Island (centre right) looking like a scene from a fairy tale © Laura Brown

Castle-hopping and fairy-tale frolics in Slovenia

Even in winter, Slovenia is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Stone castles are nestled on mountainsides and cobblestone streets wind around picturesque canals and traditional European architecture. We began our trip in Ljubljana, the country’s capital city. Cars are not allowed in the city centre, so we spent an entire day freely wandering up and down the canals, drinking gluhwein and exploring the Christmas markets.

The next day, we drove out into the countryside with a tour guide to see the Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle carved into the side of a cliff face, and ended the day at the magical Lake Bled. We took a traditional Pletna boat to Bled Island, before watching the sunset over the region from yet another castle perched on a mountainside.

The whole experience was like being in a fairy tale. The people were marvellously friendly, the scenery was beautiful, and I’m completely in love with Slovenia. I can’t wait to go back in the summer when I can get stuck into the mountaineering and hiking that the country is known for.

Laura Brown, Director of Business Operations.

Split by a hair-trigger border, the Korean Peninsula offers the traveller a dazzling range of experiences, beautiful landscapes and 5000 years of culture and history. Lonely Planet will get you to the heart of Korea, with amazing travel experiences and the best planning advice.