The resurrection of Nantes: how free public art brought the city back to life

After a carousel ride aboard a giant octopus with moving tentacles, we emerge to find an oversized mechanical elephant wandering down the street, steam blowing from its trunk. In the moat of a 14th-century castle lies an electricity pylon, crackling sinisterly. This is not a surreal version of Disneyland, but the north-western French city of Nantes. The elephant and marine-themed carousel are just two of the highly original attractions created by La Machine, a street theatre company that has given this city’s old docks and shipbuilding warehouses a new lease of life.

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A holiday on the high seas? Aye aye, captain!

'Appropriate evening formal wear for women is an evening gown or cocktail dress" reads the cruise information guide that I receive in a beautiful leather travel wallet at home but choose to read – helpfully – on the plane to Barcelona where I am to board my ship. I panic, and hope my understated grey COS number will make the grade. Luckily, there are only two formal nights every eight days. Phew. My very next thought is how different it all sounds from those several-thousand-capacity floating behemoths you see ploughing their way out of deep Mediterranean harbours, full to the brim with mini-golf and climbing walls. Not an experience I've ever wanted to participate in.

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The Retrofit Revolution

“There is no doubt that reworking existing buildings is a highly rewarding and responsible area of work for architects,” says Rab Bennetts, director and co-founder of Bennetts Associates, a London-based firm known for its strong sustainability ethos. Recycling old buildings is not only a matter of reducing environmental impact, he says, but also an opportunity to “retain memories, discover richer textures and use ‘found’ spaces that require innovative design solutions.” Reusing existing buildings can also act as a natural curb on emissions, Bennetts explains, because they are often more compact. 

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Craving the crater

The first time I visited Stromboli was in my imagination. After seeing the volcanic island in Nanni Moretti’s quirky and poignant film “Caro Diario,” I dreamed of its alluringly wild landscapes, Mediterranean oleander, grape vines and olive trees. I conjured its white sugar cube houses in daydreams, encouraged by friends who had been once and couldn’t stop going back.

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10 Things to do in...Rome

Giovanna Dunmall lists what you shouldn't miss when in Rome - and not necessarily in this order

You've visited the Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, Piazza Navona, the Roman Forum and the Coliseum. What next? Rome's heady mix of architecture, ranging from the ancient Roman to the present day, of culture and brashness, of delicately coloured palazzi and intoxicating traffic should provide entertainment enough. This is a city where the most ordinary of pastimes, or a spectactular view, can become unforgettable or charmed events. Here are ten simple ways to get under contemporary Rome's skin.

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