5 Outdoor Wonders Just Beyond Berlin

By Ofer Valencio Akerman
June 12, 2014
Saxon Switzerland in Germany
Courtesy Ofer Valencio Akerman

This article was written by Ofer Valencio Akerman, a turnaround expert and lifetime entrepreneur. He is the founder of, a travel site dedicated to helping people discover amazing places in Germany.

Not sure where to spend your next weekend adventure? Take a breather from the hustle and bustle of Berlin, and broaden your horizons at one of the national parks just a stone's throw from the city. Discovered by HiVino, these five spots offer all manner of flora, fauna, and fun-filled activities with nary a U-Bahn station in sight.

Jasmund National Park
You know how the saying goes: The best things come in tiny packages, and no place exemplifies that statement quite like Jasmund. This bite-sized National Park may be Germany's smallest, but don't let the size fool you; from soaring chalk cliffs to stunning beech groves, the natural splendor here is beyond breathtaking. Stroll along the hiking trails to search for orchids, eagles, and rare plants, or hop on your bike for a relaxing ride along the Baltic Sea. Traveling with the kids? You're in for a special treat: Jasmund offers an array of family-friendly climbing trees that let little ones channel their inner Tarzans.

Nationalpark Harz
If magical forests and fog-drenched vistas dominate your daydreams, Nationalpark Harz is your ticket to paradise. Sprawled across both Niedersachsen and Sachsen-Anhalt, this vast region is filled with the sort of canyons, valleys, and woodland hideaways you see splashed across the silver screen. Spend an afternoon spotting bats and boars on the hiking trails, but make sure to budget enough time for a ride on the Brockenbach. This 19th-century railway takes you on a climb to Brocken Mountain's peak, and it still operates on a nostalgic steam engine.

The Bastei
Mother Nature definitely outdid herself with this one. Uncovered by HiVino's network of travel experts, this Saxon Switzerland rock formation is among the region's most striking landmarks, and its sky-high beauty and untouched surroundings nod to the continent's geological past. History lovers will have a special fondness for the park; the iconic Basteibrucke Bridge leads directly to the 14th-century fortress of Neurathen and its panoramic views of the Elbasandsteine.

Hainich National Park
Want to walk on top of the world? Grab your hiking boots, and make a beeline for Thuringia's one and only Hainich National Park. Tucked among the deciduous forests and wildcat habitats, you'll find the Treetop Trail: a tour that lets you climb to the heights of Germany's very own jungle. You can even explore adventure trails that combine playful activities with natural wonders or take your kiddos on a hunt for hidden treasure. Hainich truly has it all.

Muritz National Park
Welcome to the land of a thousand lakes. Protected by UNESCO, this biosphere reserve all but overflows with waterfront vistas, wetland sights and must-try discovery trails. Get the lay of the land at the observation tower of Kaflingsbergturm, test your exploring skills with a GPS Adventure Tour, or commune with nature on a relaxing stroll around the ponds and bogs. Trust us: When it comes to lakeside wonderlands, Muritz National Park takes the cake.

Need a few more ideas? HiVino's insiders' community is the place to be. From cliffs and canyons to riverside retreats, this network of local experts has the inside scoop on Germany's best-kept secrets, and they can't wait to share the finds. Pack those bags, and get ready for an adventure.

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NYC Foodies Will LOVE the Duckathlon!

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An Unforgettable Memorial Day Site

Visitors to Washington D.C. this weekend shouldn't miss the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (5 Henry Bacon Drive, This deceptively simple wall, designed by American sculptor Maya Lin, lists the names of more than 58,000 American men and women who died in the Vietnam War. The enormity of the loss and the presence of visitors searching for a loved one among the names, which are listed chronologically, make this understated memorial unique and unforgettable.


Normandy Honors D-Day's 70th Anniversary

June 6th, 2014, marks the 70th anniversary of one of the most memorable battles in history, D-Day, when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Northern France, effectively changing the tide of war in favor of victory. This is an exciting time to be in France's Normandy region, home to picturesque cities like Honfleur, Bayeux, and Caen, as well as popular scenic sites like Mont St. Michel, a UNESCO world heritage site that shouldn't be missed if you're in the area. The region is celebrating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day by hosting a series of events from June 1-15 including a parade of D-Day amphibious jeeps and British boats on June 5th at Carentan, a Memorial Parade and Concert for Peace on Friday, June 6th, at Sainte Mère Église, Glenn Miller style concerts on the beaches of Arromanches followed by an impressive fireworks display, an air show on June 7th, a Liberty Dance in Bayeux with Big Band Jazz music, and festive family picnics on Omaha Beach. A parachuting display will take place Sunday, June 8th, at Sainte Mère Église, and three 1940s-era military camps will be set up in Carentan, Sainte Mère Église, and Vierville Sur Mere to demonstrate what military life was like in an American military camp, for paratroopers, and post-liberation. Click here for a full list of area events. I'm going to be visiting the area from June 3–8, touring the WWII sites, beaches, and memorials, visiting the festivities, and hearing accounts from Veterans who were there that day. I'm going to be staying just outside the town of Bayeux at theHotel iBis Budget Bayeux, an Accor Hotel we featured on our "World's Best Budget Hotels" Pinterest board. By the time I booked my trip, car rentals in the area were down to only manual shift vehicles (which, unfortunately, I don't know how to drive) and overpriced BMW automatic shift cars that would cost upwards of $500 for just a few days, not to mention the fact that gas is now running $7–$8 a gallon! I was able to find a company in Bayeux called Bayeux Shuttle that runs day-trips to all the big sites and attractions—I'll be taking a full-day tour of the Normandy Beaches and Memorials one day, taking a half-day trip to Mont St. Michel, and testing out the local bus routes (and inevitably, taxis) as I make my way to various events along the coast. I've been reading about affordable bike rentals in Bayeux, so might look into that as well. I'll be posting photos to our Budget Travel Instagram Page, so follow along as I explore this beautiful region, and visit our new "Stunning Scenes From France" Pinterest board to get a better idea of where I'll be heading. On a personal note, my grandfather on my father's side was actually supposed to fight on the Normandy Beaches that day—he was stationed somewhere in Morocco with the U.S. Navy but got pneumonia right before his regiment was shipped out to France and had to stay behind. It's crazy to think I might not even be here today if he had gone—and to think I'll be visiting Normandy for him all these years later. We want to hear from you: have you ever visited the WWII sites of Northern France? Have you explored the Normandy region without a car? Tell us all about it below!


Great Getaways: Ko Lanta, Thailand

This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. Empty beaches. Gentle waves. Coconut drinks. Chirping birds. Beaches so lonely, it takes a 3-hour car ride and two ferry crossings to get to them. Yet, the two Thai islands that form Ko Lanta are wonderfully self-sufficient, with so much to see and do—and so much to offer even if you truly want to just lie back and relax, and not to indulge in any sightseeing activities. If you're sick of the hustle and bustle of more mainstream Thai islands and want a hideaway to clear your mind and invigorate your senses, Ko Lanta is the place for you. Lonely beaches All visitors will arrive on the north side of the island, and this is where the more commercialized beaches are. The more south one goes, the lonelier the beaches get. However, being an island only the most determined and discerning people seek, even the popular northern beaches, Klong Dao and Long Beach, hardly have more than a handful of people on them at any time. Most fresh arrivals opt for these beaches—if you have a few more nights, it would be interesting to book accommodations along Kantiang Bay and Klong Din down south as well, and split your stay between the two beaches.   Those feeling adventurous can hire a speedboat (for about 1800 baht per person) and head to the nearby Ko Rok Island—famed for idyllic white beaches and emerald waters. Monitor lizards are a common sight here, and lucky snorkelers may even spot a reef shark or turtle. From budget to luxury, there's a room for everyone I stayed at Twin Lotus Resort and Spa on Klong Dao beach, which has a gorgeous beachfront infinity pool (along with beachfront villas). Many a morning was spent lounging by the pool after a delectable buffet breakfast. The above-18 rule also meant there were no noisy children splashing or running around, perfect for those looking for serenity. The entire resort is beautifully landscaped with ponds, vivid green lawns, and coconut trees dotting the property. Rooms start at $70 a night. Prima Lai, located on the Southern end of the island, is worth a splurge (rooms from $170 a night) if you're looking for a very intimate, very exclusive experience. Overlooking Kantiang Bay, the resort is known for a certain isolated beauty, while providing everything you could possibly need for a romantic beach vacation. Those on a budget can also easily find bungalows below $30 per night. These may be more basic, with no pools or breakfast included, but with the sea so close by, and good and affordable food easily available, not having these frills should not be a problem. Delectable seafood over the sea Check out Saladan Town, with its row of great seafood restaurants (budget 450 baht or about $15 for a multi-dish seafood dinner for two, including beer). Saladan Seafood (look out for a green sign) as well as Laanta Seafood (you'll spot a small wine shack a few steps after the entrance) both serve up authentic Thai food and uber-fresh seafood on the cheap. There are also many street food carts (a whole mango expertly sliced and served over glutinous rice, topped with coconut milk and rice krispies, for 70 baht), fruit smoothies (100 baht) and all sorts of kebabs, meat-on-a-stick, and fried noodles (budget about 150 baht). Find serenity in the hands of a masseuse The streets are dotted with massage parlours, and each has its own character and are worth checking out. One is particularly worthy of mention—Serenity Massage and Spa, along the streets of Saladan, offers an experience which would cost 10 times more its 350 baht per hour price tag (about $11) in anywhere but Thailand. Beautiful paintings adorn a room bathed in yellow light; the surroundings are clean, tinkling with soft music, and zen. The masseuses are polite and friendly, though a little chatty at times. The Thai massages here did wonders for my sore shoulders. My favourite part was the after-service complimentary fruit and tea on their back balcony, which overlooks the vast sea. Talk about ambience! Animal lovers, rejoice! The island also houses a precocious set-up for a Thai island—a full-fledged animal rescue and welfare centre. Known as Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW), the center has sterilized and treated more than 8,000 animals despite receiving no government funding. It is also incredibly well-run and organized: there are tours that start on the hour every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors are welcome to play with the cats or bring the dogs out for a walk by the beach. The same folks behind the center also run cooking school and restaurant Time For Lime, a six-course Thai food tasting menu at 450 baht, with 100 baht cocktails during Happy Hour. All proceeds from the business go towards LAW. What better reason to try their signature lemongrass and chilli cocktails? How to get there The fastest way is to fly in to Krabi airport and hire a taxi or private car transfer. Check out to get a quote. My experience with them was professional and fuss-free. If you like to make a grand entrance, arriving by speedboat would cut down some travelling time. Should budget be an issue, get down and dirty with the super-cheap mini-van route—it's an experience in itself! The island is also accessible from Phuket and other nearby Thai islands.