Tequila Town

A loud bang is followed by a muffled groan. I swing my legs off the bed and listen intently, silence. The person in the next room is either now dead or in a complete daze. Showered and dressed, I grab my guidebook and skip down to reception where Lula welcomes me with a radiant smile. Lula is in her sunset years and has worked at this popular hotel in Guadalajara for over three decades. "I have never taken a day off!" she proudly beams. I'm convinced Lula is the most chilled out human being in the whole of Mexico, even the world. She goes at her own pace and meditates every morning at sunrise. I mention the loud bang from the room next door, but Lula laughs and casually waves her hand in the air as if you say "don't worry about it." She asks what my plans are for today and I sing 'Tequila town!' She nods, that’s her response, a slow nod of acceptance.

I leap aboard a bus and greet the cheerful driver, who has a bruised eye. Crunching the gears, we roar out of Guadalajara and eventually the chaos of the urban jungle is replaced with blue agave plantations that kiss the horizon and cling to the slopes of Volcán de Tequila. Here is where it all began. This actual volcano and the surrounding soil gives the blue agave its full intake of volcanic minerals, and the sweet smell of the nectar is strong and smells almost stale. Two hundred years ago, the Toltec Indians first made candy from the agave sugars and this gave the Spanish the brilliant idea of turning it into alcohol.

The bus arrives in Santiago de Tequila, a town in the state of Jalisco and roughly 60km from the city of Guadalajara. Named “Pueblo Mágico" (Magical Town) by the Mexican federal government, Tequila is a World Heritage Site and was founded in 1530 by Franciscan monks. I arrive at the Jose Cuervo's La Rojena distillery housed in a beautiful restored building, with curved arches and a statue of a Raven at the entrance. Knocking back a shot of Platino, the peppery liquid hits the back of my throat and powers me through to the tequila-making process. The production of tequila is divided into seven steps: harvesting, cooking, extraction, fermentation, distillation, ageing and bottling. First, the raw material is steamed for 36 hours, so the nutrients can crystallize into sugars and then a mechanical crusher separates the fibre from the juices. It is then fermented for seven to twelve days in stainless steel tanks and distilled and purified until the sugars are transformed into alcohol. Afterwards, the tequila is stored in white oak barrels and the amount of time it ages will determine the tequila’s characteristics, type, odour and taste. The longer the tequila ages the more colour and tannins the final product will have. My guide explains the differences between the various types of tequila, from Cuervo Black sitting in charred barrels to Especial Silver where the barrel process is skipped for a crisper taste.

We arrive in the tasting room where Katerina shakes me up a margarita. Flicking on a sombrero, I jump onto a bar stool and watch her pour the Jose Cuervo Gold, Cointreau, and lime juice into a shaker. A couple of ice cubes and a good shake before she pours the liquid into a cocktail glass with salt around the rim. It tastes delicious. Katerina explains the harvesting process, in which the blue agave core or heart called ‘piña’ (Spanish for pineapple) is the raw material for making tequila. The skilled harvester or “Jimador” spends hours in the plantations removing the agave leaves with a sharp curved tool called a Coa. They trim the leaves that protect the piña and extract it from the ground. Only the heart of the blue agave plant is used to make tequila. Fifteen pounds of blue agave piñas are required to produce one litre of tequila, and over three hundred million agave plants are harvested in their plantations each year.

With a skip in my step, I return to the gift shop and buy a bottle of Platino on my way out and restrain myself from purchasing a Jose Cuervo t-shirt. Despite the rather Americanized feel, it has been an interesting experience learning about Jose Cuervo’s seven stages of making tequila. Until recently, I didn't even know there was a town called Tequila. So, the next time you are enjoying a shot of the hot stuff in some bar or sipping a margarita on the beach, be proud in the knowledge that you now know where and how Tequila is made.

Fodor's New England

Whether you want to visit Cape Cod’s beaches, eat lobster in Maine, or ski in Vermont, the local Fodor’s travel experts in New England are here to help! Fodor’s New England guidebook is packed with maps, carefully curated recommendations, and everything else you need to simplify your trip-planning process and make the most of your time. This new edition has been fully redesigned with an easy-to-read layout, fresh information, and beautiful color photos.

How to Survive Family Holidays

How to Survive Family Holidays 

One part Lonely Planet, one part tell-all family memoir, this is the definitive and hilarious guide on how to survive your family holiday, by Jack Whitehall, with a little bit of help from Michael and Hilary Whitehall.

No one family has more experience of travelling together than the Whitehalls. Indeed they've been allowing us a window to their escapades for the past five years in the hit Netflix show 'Travels with my Father' and in this hilarious book they have now decided to pool their advice for fellow travellers. To lay out the pitfalls of family holidays. The dos and don'ts, the highs and lows. In doing so they are sharing some of their best anecdotes. Their most extreme experiences and their most valuable advice. It is part memoir of family life, part travel guide, and full on, laugh-out-loud funny.

Whatever your version of holiday preparation the truth is always this: if it is with one's own family, no amount of sunshine, wine or holiday spirit will stop your worst character traits coming to the surface. You have just volunteered to spend a week in close proximity with the people who know you best and who will never ever let you forget a f***-up. No one survives unscathed. Things are always going to end in tears, you can only hope they're of laughter.

through thick jungle in Parque Nacional Tortuguero, or hike around Volcan Arenal; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Costa Rica and begin your journey now!

Lonely Planet Costa Rica travel guide

Lonely Planet Costa Rica

Lonely Planet's Costa Rica is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Find the perfect wave in Mal Pais and Santa Teresa, canoe through thick jungle in Parque Nacional Tortuguero, or hike around Volcan Arenal; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Costa Rica and begin your journey now!

DK Eyewitness Berlin travel guide

DK Eyewitness Berlin

Whether you want to get cultural on Museum Island, explore Berlin's complex history at Checkpoint Charlie, walk in the footsteps of royalty at Schloss Charlottenburg, or sample a tantalizing array of street food from around the globe, your DK Eyewitness travel guide makes it easy to experience all that Berlin has to offer.

From the Brandenburg Gate to the TV Tower, Berlin boasts an incredible array of iconic sights, as well as a world-renowned arts scene which has cemented the city's reputation as the European capital of cool. Beyond the centre, Berlin offers beautiful green spaces and idyllic lakes which provide the perfect tonic to the excitement of the city.

Lonely Planet Best of Hawaii

Lonely Planet Best of Hawaii

Lonely Planet's Best of Hawaii is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Explore downtown Honolulu, hang out in hip-again Waikiki, or hike the verdant Kalalau Trail; all with your trusted travel companion. 

Lonely Planet Greek Islands travel guide

Lonely Planet Greek Islands

 Lonely Planet’s Greek Islands is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Meander the twisting, cobbled alleyways of Rhodes’ Old Town, venture into the hollow caldera of Nisyros Volcano, and indulge in fresh seafood, soft, tangy cheese and some of the world’s best olive oil on Crete; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of the Greek Islands and begin your journey now!

The Rough Guide to the Lake District

The Rough Guide to the Lake District

Discover the Lake District with this comprehensive and entertaining travel guide, packed with practical information and honest recommendations by our independent experts. Whether you plan to take a cruise on Lake Windermere, hike the Cumbria Way or sample the region's renowned restaurants and pubs, The Rough Guide to the Lake District will help you discover the best places to explore, eat, drink, shop and sleep along the way.

Mt Elbrus to Tbilisi: An epic journey through the Caucasus by The Raven Brothers

by The Raven Brothers

CHRIS: For many years, we have yearned to explore the Caucasus region where Europe meets Asia. Naturally, my brother Simon and I were dubious about venturing deep into what is considered to be southern Russia’s Wild West. Before starting our journey, we had read reports from the Georgian and Russian consulates in London that there was a fifty percent chance the Verkhny Lars - Darial Gorge border crossing between Russia and Georgia was now open to foreigners. Fellow adventurers had written on travel forums stating this route was now indeed open, while others claimed it was only accessible to citizens of countries in the ex-Soviet grouping called the CIS. Not being able to pass through into Georgia would mean driving hundreds of kilometres back to the Ukraine and catching a ferry across the Black Sea to Batumi. It was a gamble we were prepared to take.

Mission: Drive from Mt Elbrus to Tbilisi along the Georgian Military Highway. Distance: 384 km: To Vladikavkaz (184 km). From Vladikavkaz to Tbilisi (212 km). 

Vehicle: 1991 Volvo 440. “Boxy, but good”. Bought off eBay for $500. Previous owner: A Headmistress from Cardiff. Disadvantages: Leaky pipes, rusty suspension and a grinding gearbox. Advantages: Heated Seats! 

Location: Russian’s southern Caucasus. Our current location is in the shadow of Mt Elbrus near Abkhazia and Georgia and only 330km from Chechnya. As the crow flies London is 4,000 km - Moscow is approx 1,800 km - Istanbul is 1,900 km (by road) and Tehran is 1,650 km.

Survival Experience: Drove from the UK to Vladivostok in a $500 Ford Sierra Sapphire.

We arrive at a small market in the ski village of Terskol. Local Balkar people have set up stalls selling jars of honey, sheep skin rugs and fur ushanka hats. Grabbing a coffee from a wooden hut, Simon falls into conversation with the woman making the drinks. She speaks very good English and introduces us to her grandfather, who has the face of a wise and hardy mountain man. I ask if her family are Balkar and she nods explaining that many of the people in this region are Balkar, but the younger generation consider themselves to be Russian. Some scholars believe the Balkar people may have evolved from a cultural mix of the northern Caucasian tribes with the Alans and Turkish-speaking tribes, and they had slowly been integrated into the structure of the USSR after the Russian Civil War in the 1920s.

Rain falls once again and a thick veil of mist looms around the base of Mt Elbrus. Refusing to let the bad weather dampen our spirits, we bid farewell to our new friends and take shelter in the nearby 7Summit climbing shop and tour office. We are welcomed inside the cosy shop by the assertive manager named Anna. She offers us hot coffee and we both immediately slump down on the comfy chairs. We watch a group of climbers trying on hiking boots and choosing their ice axes and ski poles. There is an air of excitement, an anxious anticipation. An eccentric chap from Moscow strides comically around the shop and tests out his new hiking boots. He hopes to climb Elbrus in two days’ time when the weather is forecast to improve. Two women from Norway inspect their poles, while a young Russian couple argue whether a blue or orange ski jacket looks better on the mountain. A local guide hears about our road trip expedition and tells us the story about the adventurer, Alexander Abramov, who drove a Land Rover to the top of Elbrus in 1997. The vehicle had become stuck on the way down and still remains on the mountain to this day. “Maybe we should drive our Volvo up to the top”, I smile, but the guide frowns and quickly dismisses the idea. Mt Elbrus is considered to be Europe’s highest summit, with regards to the seven highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Anna pours us both a glass of wine, but I’m driving so I kindly refuse.
 ‘Where is your hotel?’ she asks.
 ‘We’re sleeping in the car.’
 She shakes her head vehemently. ‘No, no, no, it is too cold to sleep in your car tonight. Please, sleep in the shop.’
  Not wishing to be any trouble, she insists so I quickly accept her kind offer. The climbing group finish choosing their equipment and the young couple, after a very long debate, finally decide on blue as their matching colour on the mountain. It’s closing time so I grab our sleeping bags from the car and drag them inside the shop. Overwhelmed by Anna's kindness, we sip a glass of the delicious wine and listen to her stories. I ask if Mt Elbrus is in Europe or Asia. 
  ‘The mountains belong to nobody,’ she smiles. 
  Mt Elbrus is considered to be one of the most dangerous mountains on the Seven Summit circuit. In March 1963, even Tenzing Norgay, the first man to climb Mt Everest with Edmund Hillary, failed to reach the summit of Elbrus because of bad weather. 
  ‘May I ask what you are doing here.’
  'We are on a journey to Tbilisi!’ Si replies.
  ‘You drive here from England?'
  'Yes, in an old Volvo. Do you know if the border with Georgia is open?’
  Anna shrugs. ‘I am sorry, I don’t know. I have not visited the border for many years.’
  ‘Is it safe to travel?’
  ‘Sure, it is no problem for you.’
  ‘Great to hear!’ Si sings, raising his glass.
  We chat late into the evening and after the last drops of wine have been consumed Anna locks the door and places the keys on the counter. Humbled by Anna’s amazing hospitality and trust towards two complete strangers, we bid her goodnight and she disappears into her adjoining apartment. I curl up on the floor in my sleeping bag. An outside lamp floods the climbing shop in dim orange light that illuminates crampons, ice axes and climbing helmets that are hung on the walls. I hear a tapping noise at the window and see a huge moth flapping around the outside light. It casts eerie shadows on the wall, so I cover my head with my sleeping bag and drift off into a deep sleep.

At sunrise, we rejoin the M29 and arrive at a heavily armed checkpoint. Police officers carrying high-powered automatic weapons eyeball us as we drive past, but we are not stopped and searched so we soon arrive at the pleasant town of Nalchik (little horseshoe). It is the capital of the Kabarda-Balkar republic, and an article in the Moscow Times reported that, “these days, Nalchik tends to make the news only in connection with government-led crackdowns on Islamic militants”. In October 2005, the city grabbed the world headlines when dozens of militants tried to seize local law enforcement offices in a raid that left 142 dead, including at least fourteen civilians. As many as 150-200 inexperienced fighters, took part in the assault on fifteen different Interior Ministry and state security buildings and police posts. According to reports, the rebels had ignored the advice of their mentor, renegade Chechen field commander, Shamil Basayev, who had warned them that they were not yet ready for combat. The operation was a complete disaster. The Guardian newspaper quoted a witness to the fighting, who recalled hearing one of the young attackers yelling to a comrade-in-arms, “How do you reload a grenade launcher?” Taking the time to visit the ‘Forever with Russia’ monument in the main square, which is dedicated to Ivan the Terrible’s wife, Maria, a native Kabardian, we push south and arrive at the state border checkpoint for North Ossetia-Alania. Waiting patiently in a long queue of cars, we buy corn on the cob from a kid standing in front of a military bunker. We creep forward and pull up alongside a control booth. Simon hands over our passports and car documents to an official. He asks where we are going. 
  ‘Vladikavkaz,’ I reply with a nervous grin. 
  He seems satisfied with my one word answer and casually slides the documents over the counter. 

* * *

SIMON: We skim along the border of Ingushetia. Chris looks rather anxious and sits hunched over the steering wheel with a somber expression across his face. I am feeling the same. This region is notorious for assassinations and kidnappings. The small Republic of Ingushetia once formed part of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. A republic plagued by corruption, the continuing military conflict in nearby Chechnya and Dagestan has on occasion spread into Ingushetia. In July 2006, less than 33km east of Beslan on the Ingushetia border with North Ossetia, Shamil Basayev, the man behind the Beslan School Hostage Crisis, was killed by an explosion. He was one of the most wanted men in the world. Controversy still surrounds who is responsible for his death, with the Russian authorities stating he was killed in an assassination.

The Caucasus Mountains create a stunning backdrop to an otherwise rather grey city, as we reach the outskirts of Vladikavkaz. Chris pulls up to a set of traffic lights and I sneak a peek at my fellow road users. What am I expecting to see – a group of Islamic militants wearing balaclavas and clutching Kalashnikovs? No, of course not, instead it’s a young family squeezed into a red Lada to my left and an overweight businessman in his fifties driving a smart Toyota saloon to my right. Ossetians are a proud people, who recognise themselves as descendants of the Alanic group of Sarmatian tribes. Most Ossetians are fluent in Russian, but they also speak an ancient Iranian language with multiple dialects called Ossetic that belongs to the eastern branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The Ossetians mostly live in the regions of North Ossetia-Alania in Russia and the neighbouring Georgian break-away state of South Ossetia; the latter of which has been de facto independent from Georgia since the 2008 South Ossetia War.

Byzantine missionaries first brought Christianity to the Alans in the 10th century, and a large percentage became Eastern Orthodox Christians in the 12th-13th centuries under the influence of Georgia. During the 13th century, Ossetia fell under the control of the Mongol Empire and the Alani were forced to flee into the mountains. The Kabarday (who we had met around Elbrus), introduced Islam to the region in the 17th century and the Digor branch of the Ossetians in the west gradually adopted the Islamic religion and practises. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states that in North Ossetia-Alania, “Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the predominant religion, and Sunni Muslims make up a small but significant minority.” Indigenous pre-Christian and pre-Islamic pagan practices also exist here alongside these and other faiths. With the establishment of a fortress in Vladikavkaz in 1784, Russian colonisation began in the northern Ossetian district. In addition to Ossetians - Russians, Ingush, Armenians, Georgians and Ukrainian Cossacks populate the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania.

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Madeira (Pocket Travel Guide)

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Madeira

With its scenic beaches, rugged wilderness, vibrant towns and award-winning wine, sun-soaked Madeira is an island that dazzles visitors all year round. Your DK Eyewitness Top 10 travel guide ensures you'll find your way around the island of Madeira with absolute ease.

You'll discover:

- Seven easy-to-follow itineraries, perfect for a day trip, a weekend, or a week

- Detailed Top 10 lists of Madeira's must-sees, including comprehensive descriptions of Funchal Cathedral, Museu de Arte Sacra, Blandy's Wine Lodge, Museu da Quinta das Cruzes, Zona Velha, Jardim Botânico, Quinta do Palheiro Ferreiro, Monte, Curral das Freiras and Pico do Arieiro

- Madeira's most interesting areas, with the best places for shopping, going out and sightseeing

- Inspiration for different things to enjoy during your trip - including family activities and things to do for free

- A laminated pull-out map of Madeira, plus five full-colour area maps

- Streetsmart advice: get ready, get around, and stay safe

- A lightweight format perfect for your pocket or bag when you're on the move

DK Eyewitness Top 10s are the UK's favourite pocket guides and have been helping travellers to make the most of their breaks since 2002.