DESTINATIONS

Toronto

Toronto

Canada’s largest city, the fourth largest in North America, is consistently ranked one of the best places to live in the world. Cosmopolitan and cultured, fun and fun-loving with an icing of unpredictability just to make things interesting, Toronto takes pride in being the dynamic, creative and safe sum of all its parts.

The city’s roots show in myriad ways, with more than 200 cultures represented on the streets. This is one of the reasons why the culinary scene is such a big deal—there are more ingredients in the pantry to pull from. With four world-class sports teams, 20,000 acres of parkland, a spirited arts scene and a vibrant waterfront with its own airport, Toronto makes a rewarding end destination—and a great pitstop.

Watch stingrays swim over your head. The Ray Bay at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada sports stingrays and sharks, just one of about a dozen tanks filled with 1.5 million gallons of water, home to 20,000 animal species. The backlit and colour-changing Planet Jellies exhibit is mesmerising. Aquariums have a tendency to reek of “something for the kids,” that now-famous shark-tank skinny-dipper notwithstanding, but this is total fun.

Go for a walk in the sky. The CN Tower, the 1,800-foot icon that has anchored the Toronto skyline since 1976, is visited by 1.5 million people each year. On a clear day, its 360-degree view from the LookOut level through floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass floor is spectacular. But the teeth-chattering draw is the EdgeWalk, where groups of six take a tethered walk around a ledge at 1,168 feet, to drink in the view, conquer a fear of heights, scream loudly or all of the above.

Picnic on the beach. Take the short ferry ride to one or more of the three main sections of Toronto Island. The inhabited Ward’s Island has a beach and a few cafés, while Centre Island is geared to families gathering to picnic, ride tandem bicycles, explore the gardens or take their kids to the small amusement park. Those in the know head to Hanlon’s Point and pick a spot on the clothing-optional beach to chill out for the afternoon and people-watch.

Hail the hockey heroes. Make a pilgrimage to the Hockey Hall of Fame. This collection of hockey artifacts is both a sports museum and a hall of fame, exhibiting memorabilia, records, statistics, and trophies on players, teams, officials and honourees across 65,000 square feet. This is your chance to find out more about Canada’s national winter sport (the summer one, and until recently the only one, being lacrosse). Keep an eye out for moving doors and chairs, general moaning and the odd cold spot on the second floor. The Hall is haunted.

Step back in time. The Gooderham & Worts Distillery sold their first bottle of whisky the same year Victoria became queen: 1837. Now, the Distillery District is an arts, culture and entertainment hub, perfect for passing a very pleasant few hours. The 47 industrial buildings are like a cobblestone-paved, pedestrian-only village of boutiques, housing fashion retailers, gift shops and galleries, artisanal treats, coffee hangouts, restaurants and pubs.

Get to know Group of Seven. One of the largest galleries in North America at 54,000 square yards, the Art Gallery of Ontario features more than 95,000 works, from the first century to the present day. The permanent collection includes the largest public collection of Henry Moore sculptures. But the highlight for visitors is the Canadian Collection, which includes work by Thom Thomson and the Group of Seven, a noted group of landscape artists from the early 20th century.

Dig the dinosaur bones. With 13 million artworks, objects and specimens in its collection, the Royal Ontario Museum is one of the largest museums in North America, welcoming one million visitors every year. A national landmark founded in 1914, its myriad exhibitions, collections, events and research projects span the globe and the centuries.

Cross a cultural boundary. Promoting mutual understanding and tolerance, the Aga Khan Museum in north Toronto highlights the artistic, intellectual, and scientific heritage of Muslim civilizations across the centuries, from the Iberian Peninsula to China.

Challenge their little minds. While you’re in the north end, check out one of the world’s first interactive science museums, opening in 1969. The Ontario Science Centre maintains eight exhibit halls with installations, live demonstrations and hands-on learning, digging into everything from biology to astronomy. Plan for several hours, as there is a lot of ground to cover.

Spark one up. Recreational cannabis is now legal in Canada, so if you’re so inclined, you can buy and smoke or vape marijuana on the street, in the park or in someone’s private home. Visit agco.ca for a map of authorized retail stores in Toronto.

Iceland: Akureyri

Akureyri

Settled in the 9th century, the unofficial Capital of North Iceland at the bottom of Eyjafjörður Fjord is a little pocket of pure Icelandic flavour, with just an icing of kooky to make things interesting.

With just 20,000 people, Akureyri is big enough to be bustling, but small enough to be cozy, the best of both worlds. It’s the main port and fishing centre in the north, thanks in part to an ice-free harbour. This is due to a mild, sub-Arctic climate, which puts the winters at about -2ºC and summer’s highs at about 15ºC.

Whether you’re going in June to take advantage of the 23-hour sunlight or visiting in November to see the Northern Lights, rent a car and drive around for a week. The landscape is incredible, the people sensible and the activities unique.

Make camp. There are a number of hotel offerings to sift through, but you’re staying at Icelandair Hotel Akureyri. Cozy, comfortable, bright and airy, this no-nonsense spot is used to the traffic of people popping in for only one or two nights. In the winter, the hotel also makes extra effort to accommodate skiers with a heated ski storage area with lockers and a private entrance. And the ski bus stop is right at the hotel’s front door.

Make a splash. Right across the street from the Icelandair Hotel, the geothermal Akureyri swimming pool is one of the best in all of Europe. There are two 25-metre outdoor pools, an indoor pool, four hot tubs, a steam bath and sauna and all of it is open year-round. This is a perfect winter afternoon, pre-nap soak.

Fill up. There’s a surprising number of great places to eat in Akureyri, depending on what you feel like. Head to Greifinn for pizza, Bautinn for comfort food, Rub23 for steak and sushi (this is a night out), Götubarinn for tunes and suds (this is where all the kids are) and Hamborgarafabrikkan for square hamburgers on square buns. Tipple tip: Lava-filtered water makes Reyka Vodka an international award-winner.

Get out. Besides the different museums, gardens, Hof Cultural Centre and the amazing Akureyri Church, there are multiple things on the to-do list, many of them out of town. Godafoss and Dettifoss waterfalls and Asbyrgi canyon are well worth the drive. Make the road trip a complete circle, encompassing a trip around Lake Myvatn and a stop at the peaceful and rustic Myvatn Nature Baths, a geothermal spa—seriously, do not miss seeing this place.

THINGS TO DO: IN ICELAND

Straddle the crack. Before heading back to Akureyri, stop at the nearby Grjotagja Cave. Iceland is on a volcanic seam, at what’s called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, essentially where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet. Here you can stand with one foot on each plate, astride two continents.

Get crazy. Halfway up the inlet, there is a Beer Spa where you can have a beer bath. And just south of town, there’s a Christmas store with giant liquorice allsorts on the roof. This is where your souvenir money comes out.

Hit the slopes. With seven lifts, 23 slopes and a 450-metre vertical, Hlidarfjall Ski Hill is Iceland’s top place for skiing and snowboarding, the snow lasting longer than anywhere else in the country. Bonus points for it being only 5 km from town.

Zen out. Minimal light pollution means more chances to see the Northern Lights in Akureyri on a clear winter night.

VISITAKUREYRI.IS

Comox Valley

Comox Valley

Wandering the twin towns of Comox and Courtenay in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island makes for a relaxing weekend of fun.

With mountains and a glacier to the west and the Strait of Georgia to the east, this thriving lowland offers nature-lovers plenty of adventure. Well known for its air force base installed during the Second World War, Comox Valley is just as popular for wildlife tours, mountain biking over 250 trails, year-round golfing—even caving on a rainy day. Take the ferry to Nanaimo, rent a car and head north. You can’t miss it.

Bunk down. Drop anchor at the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa, a beach resort, yoga retreat and destination spa noted for its detoxifying water circuit, the unique Pacific Mist Hydropath. Top off your visit at top-rated Ocean7 restaurant. The adjacent AQUA Bistro & Wine Bar serves more casual fare and has a nice patio overlooking a tailored courtyard garden filled with gas fire pits.

READ THE REVIEW: THE KINGFISHER

Drink up. The Comox Valley Wine Tour will hit all the high tasting notes, including 40 Knots, the Island’s largest winery. Big on biodynamic wines—vegan and gluten-free—the winery is located on a slope facing the Salish Sea, letting its sun-soaked microclimate inform its distinct Pinot Noirs, Pinot Gris and Chardonnays. Dozens of craft breweries will keep the beer-lovers busy, but if you only have time for one, make it the Gladstone Brewing in downtown Courtenay. Pop by for lunch or a snack on the patio or in the fun tasting bar.

Knees up. There are about a million festivals in the region. These include: The Filberg Festival, four days of arts music, food and fun in Comox · Vancouver Island Music Fest, three days of outdoor concerts near Courtenay · Cumberland Empire Days, since 1891, an annual celebration with a street market and parade · Comox Nautical Days, since 1958, includes dragon boat races, music and fireworks · Comox Valley Exhibition Fall Fair, open-air markets and mainstage entertainment · Comox Valley Shellfish Festival, celebrate with local food and wine producers

Branch out. You’ve got food tours to indulge in, bikes to ride and salmon to fish. Plus, helicopter rides over the Vancouver Island mountain range and Comox Glacier will make for more than a few stories. And critters! Whale-watching and marine safaris add both inspiring scenery and wildlife adventure to your memory mix.

DISCOVERCOMOXVALLEY.COM

Barbados

Barbados

Blue skies, even bluer waters, plenty of sand and surf, safe streets, magnificent food and a nuanced café society—the easternmost island in the southern Caribbean delivers all this and more.

Mixing more than a dash of island whimsy with a the slightly button-down vibe due in part to the island’s British roots, Barbados gives you lots of opportunity—and encouragement—to let your hair down.

Hit the beach. The west and south coasts of Barbados offer one beach after another of finely ground coral sand—take your pick. Then take a Cool Runnings Catamaran cruise, go kayaking or paddle-boarding, or just sit on a lounger and enjoy the million different shades of blue. There are also dozens of dive sites to sink your mask into, with Barbados Blue at Needham’s Point Pebbles Beach being the dive shop of choice—an excellent launching point for shipwrecks in Carlisle Bay.

Eat local. The street food trucks and rum-shop takeout counters are crowded with locals and tourists for good reason: They harbour some of the most delicious home cooking you will ever taste. The Oistins fish fry is a Friday-night highlight, with dozens of market stalls sizzling with goodness. And the lineups at Cuz’s Fish Stand in the Garrison in Bridgetown are so healthy on weekdays, he takes the weekend off. For fine dining, there’s a ton of home-grown talent, notably at Hugo’s in Speightstown, where Chef Avion Caine leans on his childhood food memories to present a tantalizing, local-flavour-infused menu. For a sexy, barefoot-chic culinary experience, head to La Cabane at Batts Rock Beach for the sunset—but stay for the coconut mojitos and fresh grilled fish.

F&B: HOW TO MAKE COU-COU

Get inside intel. Spend some quality time with Chef Michael Harrison from Island Market & Food Vibes Tour, who will take you around town to the markets, then out into the countryside to taste-test the best local cuisine at places like the iconic Village Bar and the bucolic Country View Bar & Grill.

Try the rum. Barbados is by all accounts the birthplace of rum. Mega-distiller Mount Gay dates back to 1703, when it was discovered that the molasses they had been discarding after processing the sugar cane fermented quite nicely. Traditional rum “shops,” roadside bars where people gather to watch cricket and play dominos, are scattered throughout Barbados. But you need to venture outside the fray to experience the best of the island’s rum: Make sure Foursquare Rum Distillery and St. Nicholas Abbey Distillery are both on your list. Make sure there is room in your suitcase to take a bottle home.

Catch a wave. The easy-going east side of Barbados is where locals go to relax on the weekend—or surf. A day trip to the rugged Atlantic coastline of Bathsheba will reveal stunning views and a few heritage hints, particularly if you venture into the Atlantis Hotel, which dates back to the 1880s. Make a pit stop on the patio before taking a hike along the old railway tracks to watch the surfers at the Soup Bowl, a world-famous reef break. The east side is also home to the top vegetarian restaurant in town, tucked under the palm trees at ECO Lifestyle Lodge.

ALSO ON THE EAST SIDE: THE CRANE

Cheer on the ponies. When the beach gets boring, head to the sports pitch. Cricket isn’t the only game in town, either. The popularity of polo in Barbados reaches back to colonial times, the first match being played in 1884. The Polo Club regulates four playing fields, welcoming international teams in a season that runs from January through May. Prince Charles and Prince Harry have both played polo here many times.

VISITBARBADOS.ORG

Columbus

Colombus

The modern Mid West’s favourite boom town is still booming. Columbus is kind of like the overlooked middle child that never gets the attention it’s due. Slowly reinventing itself since the early 1980s, the 14th biggest city in the United States (with a population of just over two million) is a revitalized and relaxed weekend waiting to happen. Get it happening.

Make camp. Set yourself up in the trendy part of town, the Short North arts district, the art and soul of Columbus. This urban and urbane enclave on North High Street is packed with sharp boutiques, craft-beer bars, coffeehouses, eateries, galleries and general fun stuff. (The name was coined by the police decades ago, a shady part of town that had fallen “short” of the CBD’s more prosperous north end.) You’re staying at the value-driven Moxy Short North, distinct for its colourful vibe, warm welcome and efficient yet stylish digs.

Look at art. The Columbus Museum of Art is a community oriented art space loaded with beautiful things and a very enthusiastic and varied programming mandate. Collections include late 19th– and early 20th-century American and European modern works, plus contemporary art, folk art, glass and photography. The Wexner Center for the Arts is the Ohio State University’s multidisciplinary melting pot for contemporary art, home to exhibitions, performances, film screenings and more. Check the website of each to see what’s what and then wander over.

Walk in the park. The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens celebrates nature with 13 acres of lush gardens, botanical enclosures, horticultural and art exhibitions, and seasonal shows. The very cool Topiary Park near the big library is just that, a showcase for shrubs, currently depicting figures from the George Seurat painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”

Chow down. You’re spoiled for choice in Columbus when it comes to impressive culinary fixings—this is not just a throw-away overstatement. The Guild House serves three square American meals a day showcasing local, artisanal goodness; breakfast is especially good. The paella and tapas at Barcelona befits its ranking as one of the top restaurants in town, going on 25 years. The absolutely fantastic Service Bar delivers inventive American food from a mix of influences in a distinctly Danish-inspired interior. The bold and varied New American cuisine at Goodale Station Restaurant & Bar is worth the trip to the top floor of the Canopy by Hilton—go early and have a cocktail first. The hip Ambrose & Eve sports an eclectic menu loaded with global flavours and simple comfort in quaint, quasi-kitschy surroundings. If you find yourself near the 145-year-old North Market, grab a bite of something on-site or pick up a selection of doughnuts, hot sauce, ice cream, spices, pastas, the list goes on.

F&B: MORE BREAKFAST

Have a gay old time. The LGBTQ trifecta on South High Street is a bar-hopping good time, relaxed and uncrowded. Start off at Club Diversity piano bar for a show tune or two, or maybe a smart cocktail in the garden patio, before taking the party over to the Tremont Lounge for craft beers and shots. Finish up by loving up the drag queens at Boscoe’s Bar. If it’s Saturday night, the Axis Nightclub is where everyone heads for the stellar drag revue.

Shop local threads. Keep an eye out for Olly Awake, a cool line of simple-chic, gender-equal, clothing made of ethical fabrics by Celeste Malvar Stewart and Kevin Terry Smith. For glamming up, luxe and local formalwear from Ferreyros Couture by Peru-born Juan Jose Saenz-Ferreyros hits all the high-style notes.

Face off. If your timing is right, watch the Columbus Blue Jackets in action at Nationwide Arena. The goaltender’s name is Elvis.

EXPERIENCECOLUMBUS.COM

Hawai’i: Maui

Maui

With volcanoes, rainforest and waterfalls, plus white, red, green and black sand beaches, Maui is a cross-platform, multi-culti eco-retreat.

You and your Chrysler Sebring convertible can easily get lost in Maui if you want, finding Hawaiian villages that look the same as they have for decades, or dip your toe where the action is—or both. The old whaling town of Lahaina, which used to be the Hawaiian capital, is now a mix of heritage and hotspot with galleries and shops.

If you’re thinking about braving the road to the isolated Hana, note that Hana Highway is also referred to as Divorce Highway, so swim at your own risk. George Harrison used to live along here, though, so it must be cool.

Do the strip. The Kaanapali Beach string of hotels is worth investigating for the terrific value and for the busy beach fun. Work this into your itinerary for a few days, just to shave a few dollars off the credit card. There’s terrific golf nearby and of course, the cliff-diving. The beach is more swimmable than others, with tide pools that make it family-friendly.

Dig your pig. A traditional Maui luau, particularly the Old Lahaina Luau, serves incredible meals wherein your supper is buried in the ground with a bunch of hot rocks for a few hours before you arrive at the party, then dug up and served. Along with a show of course: the traditional cultural dancing is quite fun, like you’re in an Elvis movie. Coconut bras! Skimpy shorts on the boys! Yes, this is a touristy thing to do, but servers have it down to a science and the open-bar drinks are strong.

Eat on the street. Fish tacos from the trucks in the beach parking lots are incredible. Do not pass these up, even if you’re not hungry. Just have lunch twice.

Get spammed. Canned Spam, a.k.a. mystery meat, worked its way into Maui’s diet during the Second World War—most likely for its portability and indestructability—and never left. You can find it on restaurant menus in a variety of dishes, stir fries and sandwiches, and even on convenience store counters as point-of-purchase spam musubi, wrapped with rice and nori.

Climb the crater. Stunning panoramic views, unique flora and fauna, frosty fresh air—all this and more at the dormant Haleakala Crater, where you get a birds-eye view of the island. This eroded volcanic mountaintop within a national park is well-worth the scary drive up. Many people go for the sunrise. Whatever time of day, bring a toque. Not kidding.

Go big or go home. Spa Grande was named one of the Top 10 Spas in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure magazines. Not bad clout. Located within the Grand Wailea Resort, the spa has a philosophy that straddles both Eastern and Western ideologies. There are more than 100 treatments, including a Seashell Massage, a Haleakala Dream Bath, a Volcanic Ash Facial and the Pohaku (Hot Lava Stone) Massage.

Take it off. Speaking of big, while you’re over in the Wailea area of Maui, pop into nearby Makena Big Beach for an afternoon, just a 10-minute drive south. (Mind the waves.) From Big Beach, walk over the lava-flow trail to Little Beach, the island’s clothing-optional, gay-popular beach. (Mind the bushes.) A certain redhead I know braved the sand with no sunscreen and so our visit was short-lived but memorable.

Put on the Ritz. If you find yourself renting one of the private villas and condos in the northern Kapalua district, if and when you tire of lounging by your plunge pool, book a spa appointment at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, then ask if you can spend a bit of time at the pool. Order up a post-treatment Lava Flow and let your experience really sink in.

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Rhone River: Cruise

Rhone

Drinking Beaujolais in Beaujolais, lunching on quaint terraces, wandering through medieval townships—cruising the South of France reveals all this and more.

I always knew the Baby Boomers would “de-geezer” the luxury cruise industry and make it actually cool. And while the big ocean liners are undergoing a certain “degrampafication” of their own, it’s the small-ship experiences that the cool kids are booking, both on the seas and down the world’s celebrated rivers. Australia’s Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours is a case in point, and a Rhone River Cruise confirms that cruising is more hip than people think.

Prep for luxury. Stepping on board the Scenic Sapphire in Chalon-sur-Saône, the first things that register are the tasteful touches of luxury, things that say “five-star” in a heartbeat: a cold towel, a glass of actual Champagne, marble everywhere, and a butler who gave me his number. “Call me anytime,” he said.

Taste the wine. At Mâcon, I hop on a bus tour through the Beaujolais Golden Stone region, so named after the bright yellow limestone buildings. I spend the morning at Château de Montmelas, a winery run by descendants of the Marquis de Montmelas since the mid-17th century, drinking everything they put in front of me along with the gorgeous countryside.

Mind the day-drinking. Because it’s free, you’ll be tempted to drink constantly, but don’t. A glass of wine at lunch, sure, but steady on. And if you don’t keep drinking water, you will dehydrate in the blink of an eye and have giant headaches and worse by the end of the week. I speak from experience. Europe gets really hot in the summer.

Find the foodies. Further down the Rhone in Lyon, the Saône forks with the Rhone, and my fork gets a workout; this is the gastronomic heart of France after all. The traditional Lyonnaise bouchons are the places to hit, bistros that serve French classics like creamy pike dumplings in crayfish sauce, perfectly spiced steak tartare and succulent Bresse chicken. (This is France, so even the chicken has an appellation.) The chef’s tasting menu at Michelin-starred La Mère Brazier puts me right over the edge, and that was long before they wheel out the cheese trolley.

WHERE TO STAY: IN LYON
MORE BOATS: MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE

Walk it off. Visit the castles, climb the watch towers. Do stuff. I manage hikes to keep from gaining too much weight. I have an excellent trek through the city of Vienne, a major centre of the Roman Empire, noted for the Temple of Augustus and Livia, built at the end of the 1st century BC. Don’t skip Viviers if it is on your itinerary. Guests who don’t feel like following the crowd can strike off on one of the ship’s e-bikes, with the help of GPS-assisted self-tour gadgets.

Ogle the bridge. If one of your stops is Avignon, work in some history on a tour to the ancient Roman aqueduct at Pont-du-Garde, near the town of Uzès. It was in use as late as the 6th century and then became useful as a toll bridge.

Hit the theatre. The last stop of Tarascon set me up for visits to the Instagram-friendly medieval villages of Les Baux-de-Provence and St Remy-de-Provence, as well as to the Roman Amphitheatre in Arles. It is an incredible, 2,000-year-old arena still in use today.

Lollygag. The very essence of visiting the banks of the Rhone is that you can do nothing but wander in and out of shops full of gorgeous things, and fill your suitcase with lavender soap and handmade bonbons. Or you can patio hop to your heart’s content, going from breakfast to second breakfast to lunch to tea to dinner. Or you can sit on your rear and watch the swans. This is your cinéma vérité—do as you please.

SCENIC.CA

Danube River: Cruise

Danube

A legendary river, quaint medieval towns, stunning scenery and five different countries—Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Czechia and Germany—makes for a busy week on the water.

With the famous Strauss waltz planted firmly in my head, like an ear worm, I close my eyes for a second and say a small prayer to the rain gods regarding a week-long drift down the beautiful blue Danube River. But guess what? The Danube is kind of a greeny-brown. Maybe it was blue back in the 1860s when the song first hit the charts, I don’t know. Climbing aboard the Scenic Jasper in Budapest, big smile on everybody’s face, we head for Vienna, then to Dürnstein, Melk and Linz in Austria, then on to Passau, Regensburg and eventually Nuremburg, Germany.

The variety of extracurricular activity is one of the changes the cruise industry has been floating through in recent years, as it aims to offer something for everyone—no small feat. And it was only a matter of time before somebody like Scenic turned river cruising from codgery to cool. What was once the realm of retirees, is now a multiage, often multigenerational holiday, offering a wider variety of things to do than in the past, as guests skew younger and itineraries get more active.

Make fast friends. Within the first hour of being onboard, one suave guy, Monte, starts making friends immediately, pumping hands with a smile. He makes so many friends the first day, he can relax for the rest of the week with a few “I knew I’d find you at the bar, David” and “Staying in the shade today, Deborah?” Everyone loves him. Connect early, then coast.

Have a pool party. On the Scenic Jasper, there is an actual pool scene, even though the pool only holds about a dozen people. The rest of us just pull up chairs for moral support, leaning in to the conversation. But here’s the tip: This is also where the server hovers doling out Aperol Spritzers by the trayful. So, if the texture of your cocktail has a tendency toward sad face, stick with the pool people.

Hike it off. Exercise to balance out the indulgences of the night before. While moored at the small medieval town of Dürnstein, I glom onto the plans of fit fellow passengers heading up the hillside to the ruins of Dürnstein Castle. This was where King Richard the Lionheart (Richard I) was supposedly imprisoned in 1192 during the Crusades, so we are able to work in both exercise and a history lesson. The view is insane, a little moment in time that so many travel brochures promise but few deliver.

Pop into the palace. An evening of Strauss and Mozart at the opulent Palais Liechtenstein in Vienna is totally enchanting and yes, I will say all that with a lisp. Vienna is just so beautiful you don’t really have to do anything there other than gawk at the art and architecture.

Take the side trip. Skip the crowds of Sound of Music fans in Salzburg and head instead to Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, and the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov, Czechia. I wander the 600-year-old streets thick with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style buildings, stunned by the preservation. The castle here dates back to 1240 and its now-dry moat is home to a brown bear.

Off-road it. One morning we climb on e-bikes for a three-hour guided cycling trip along the riverside path from Dürnstein to Melk, more or less racing the ship along the Danube. Highly recommended.

CRUISE: THE RHONE

Look the part. As such, pack for cycling, hiking, walking, dinner with the captain, cocktail parties, dry summer heat, air conditioning and rain. Scenic ships have an excellent and affordable laundry service. Keep in mind that summers in Europe can get blisteringly hot.

Pick a different river. As well as the Danube, Scenic also sails down the Douro in Spain and Portugal, the Rhine in Germany, the Rhone and Seine in France, the Volga in Russia, the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, and the Irrawaddy in Myanmar.

Panama: Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

On the southwestern tip of Panama City, adjacent to the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, sits the city’s picturesque old quarter, Casco Viejo, a historic district that is getting its groove back. And for good reason: significant injections of restoration money and UNESCO World Heritage status have made it the coolest part of town.

Dating from 1673—a couple of years after pirates destroyed the original city—Casco Viejo exudes a relaxed vibe yet can be sexy and thrilling. It has a Havana feel: Ramshackle 200-year-old properties with trees growing out of the rooftops sit beside restored architectural treasures. Scaffolding is everywhere, eventually thrown off to reveal a beautifully reconditioned Spanish Colonial-style apartment, a vacation retreat or a retail complex, complete with pastel colours, wrought-iron balconies that encircle entire floors and an absolute ton of windows.

And unlike the downtown concrete jungle where you could walk for blocks before finding a cold drink, Casco Viejo has an actual café society and is totally walkable: Everyone from all over town comes here to play. It truly is the perfect historical complement to what has become a very busy city.

Go luxe. While the brand-name lodging in Panama is plentiful, your best bet for real luxury is in one of Casco Viejo’s stylish smaller hotels. The American Trade Hotel & Hall, built in 1917 and restored in 2007, fits this bill. Serene and stunning, the 50-room hotel stays true to its roots, with vaulted ceilings, white walls, dark reclaimed wood, colonial-style furnishings and an original limestone staircase.

Syncopate. The American is also home to Danilo’s Jazz Club, its roster of international and local talent presided over by Grammy-winning Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Perez.

AFFORDABLE LUXURY: CENTRAL HOTEL

Sip at sunset. An elegant scene awaits at Casa Casco, a five-storey restored colonial building complex, featuring a rooftop lounge, a nightclub, and three concept restaurants that offer eclectic African-Caribbean, Asian fusion, and Panamanian cuisines. The roof bar is perfect for sunset cocktails.

Feel the fusion. At 16-seat Donde José, chef José O. Carles infuses Panamanian traditions and cooking techniques into his tasting menu. A mirror over the prep table allows guests to watch the proceedings. It’s like dinner theatre, with each dish telling a different story of Panama.

CRUISE: THE PANAMA COASTLINES

Dress it up. Tantalo Hotel & Kitchen has a mere 10 rooms, each with its own arty design concept. But the star of the property is the rooftop, where the local in-crowd, the ex-pats and the tourists meet to prop up the long bar.

Shake it. The rooftop Lazotea restaurant and bar at Hotel Casa Panama draws the nighttime revelers, who clamour for the frothy cocktails poolside—often with a live band lending the soundtrack.

Head up hill. Tie on your walking shoes and take a morning hike up Ancon Hill, a nature reserve in the middle of Panama. The walk takes about 90 minutes round trip, delivering Instagram-worthy, 360-degree views of the city once you reach the top, including that of the canal and Casco Viejo. If you want to see any of the park’s wildlife—39 species of birds and 15 different mammals, including sloths and monkeys—go either very early in the morning or later in the day.

Call on the Causeway. Ecotourists can head to the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo on the Amador Causeway, which features eight galleries that focus on Panama’s unique biodiversity and geological history. After your visit, rent a tandem four-wheeled bike nearby and carry on out to the end of the Causeway for a look around the three islands, and pop into the Punta Culebra Nature Center, an arm of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, to learn more about tropical biodiversity.

VISITPANAMA.COM
CASCOVIEJO.ORG

Wales: Cardiff

Cardiff

Sure London is cool, but on your next trip, skip it’s crowded weekend ways and hop on a train west to Cardiff for full-on fun.

You may have the perception that the Welsh countryside is a bit sleepy, and you’d be right. But it’s just so beautiful and, well, old (the oldest castles in the U.K. are in Wales). To balance things out, Cardiff is bustling with energy and things to do in the city centre: historical significance, castles, real beer, great farm-fresh food, a revived waterfront, soccer, music, and acres of pedestrian-only shopping streets.

Storm the castle. In a region with more castles per capita than anywhere else, you would be remiss not to visit one. Luckily, there’s one in the middle of town. Cardiff Castle is small enough to not be overwhelming and historical enough to be actually interesting. Older than dirt, the castle became one of the biggest home reno stories of the 1860s, rebuilt into a Neo-Gothic dream palace.

Step back in time. St Fagans open-air National History Museum is a sprawling heritage attraction attached to the grounds of St Fagans Castle, a late 16th-centre manor house. The gardens alone are worth the cab ride.

Hit the arcades. Cardiff is the sixth biggest shopping destination in the U.K. so make sure the credit cards are sharpened. Find 1.4 million square feet of shopping in the middle of Cardiff at St. David’s shopping centre, anchored by John Lewis. The Queen’s Arcade is parallel to shopping stalwart Queen Street, linking that main drag to St. Davids. The ornate and extremely old Victorian and Edwardian Arcades house smaller designer shops and gourmet food shops. The Hayes pedestrian shopping thoroughfare, featuring the likes of Molton Brown and Hugo Boss, links the old stores with the new. And nearby Howell’s Department Store will let you stock up on Welsh cheeses, chocolate and whiskey.

Cover the waterfront. Cardiff’s waterfront, once the world’s busiest coal-exporting port, is anchored by the stunning Wales Millennium Centre, home of the ballet, opera and live music shows. The area is also home to public art exhibitions and events, The Red Dragon Centre with its cinemas (Wales’s only IMAX screen), bowling alleys, and the shops and restaurants of Mermaid Quay. Wander down for a whole afternoon; the throng is never too crowded and there’s lots to eat.

Party down. Mill Lane and the Brewery Quarter are the two best spots in town to find fabulous meals at a variety of price-points.

Get out of Dodge. Squeeze in a trip to Llanerch Vineyard and the Cookery School there, created by the heroine of Welsh cuisine, chef Angela Gray. The school has an aggressive year-round schedule with “taster courses” for every level of home chef. Gray is exciting and fun, and loves a good “dish,” having worked for European aristocrats and Andrew Lloyd Weber.

UK: DRIVING TIPS

Get your rest. The party has to come to a screeching halt sometime, and when it does, Cardiff hotels are plentiful and offer the type of value you will never again see in London. Get away from it all and get a facial while you’re at it at The St. David’s Hotel & Spa on the water at Cardiff Bay. Given the romantic setting, with private balcony views of the bay, I’d say the terry robes will be off in a flash.

VISITWALES.COM

Turkey: Istanbul

Istanbul

The Republic of Turkey has been pushed and pulled by the eastern and western worlds for centuries, absorbing influences and cultural attitudes from both Europe and the Middle East.

Wherever you head, Istanbul, with 15 million people, will be your first stop. It has been the cosmopolitan centre of the region since it was founded as Constantinople in 330 AD. The Bosphorus Strait, a shipping lane that links the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea dividing Istanbul in two, is one of the boundaries between Europe and Asia. So geographically, half the town is in Europe and the other half across the Bosphorus is in Asia.

Hit the sacred sites. When you realize that the obelisk you’re looking at is 3,500 years old—in the ancient Hippodrome once used for chariot racing—you begin to get a sense of the scope of the history here. Everywhere you turn in the Old City of Istanbul, you will uncover evidence of civilizations past through the churches and mosques. An exemplary example is the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, a museum with delicate mosaics and frescoes lining the ceiling.

Of the many mosques in Istanbul, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) is the one the tourists flock to, a marvel of Ottoman architecture dating from 1616, containing more than 20,000 Iznik tiles within its cascade of domes.

Nearby Saint Sophia Basilica is one of the most important monuments of all time, originally built in 6th century AD and now a museum. With its giant dome and marble slabs, it was the biggest church in the world for more than 1,000 years, a marvel of engineering at the time. The architect was said to be receiving instructions from angels during the night. One of the doors is from 2 BC, the oldest door in the world, covered with chiselled bronze plates. Be sure to check out the Viking graffiti from the 9th century on the marble in the upper gallery.

Pop into the palaces. Topkapi Palace, the home of Ottoman sultans between roughly 1500 and 1850, is situated at the water’s edge, a city within a city. Go early in the day, and make a beeline for the Treasury first, as there is usually a long line of people waiting to see the feast of artifacts—including two 50-kg solid gold candelabras with 6,666 diamonds each and the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s diamond.

Dolmabahçe Palace, built in 1856, was the next home base for the sultans up until 1923 when the Republic was created. Visit just for the opulence: more than 250 chandeliers, 500 candelabras, beautiful parquet flooring, baccarat crystal everywhere. Everything that looks like gold, is gold—almost 14 pounds of it over 265 rooms. The 2,000 square-metre grand hall, with it’s 4.5 ton English chandelier, was definitely designed to impress foreign dignitaries. Only 3,000 visitors are allowed in per day, so go early.

SHORT HOP: CAPPADOCIA

Make a deal. The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest covered markets in the world, dating from 1461. Famous for its shopkeepers just about as much as the jewellery, carpets, leather, embroidery, spices and antiques they sell, its 60 streets house 3,000 of shops.

A stop at the Spice Market at the southern end of the Galata Bridge near the Eminönü ferry docks will net you superb coffee and everything your spice cabinet requires, and then some.

Smell the rich. A sail on the Bosphorus Strait will net you a look at the trillion dollar homes that line it. The wooden mansions are some of the most expensive homes in the world. Maybe this is a sunset cruise? Try to work it in, along with a pop over to the Asian side of town for a full day of shopping along Bagdat Avenue, chockablock with both high- and mid-range international shops and small boutiques.

Chow down. Most meals in Turkey start with a meze, an array of small dishes including cheeses, eggplant salad, red peppers, yogurt, humus, olives, fava beans and sarma or rice-stuffed grape leaves. Resist the urge to fill up on all this, though, because a nice whole grilled sea bream, grilled lamb or kofte (meatballs) will not be far behind. Keep an eye out for testi kebab (nothing to do with testicles), an Anatolian beef, lamb or chicken stew baked slowly in clay jugs with green peppers, tomatoes, garlic and butter—perfect harmony, served on bulgur wheat.

ALSO VISIT: EPHESUS

Pop the corks. Turkish wine is well worth trying and will surprise you; this is the Old World after all. Be sure to try the national spirit racı, a grape brandy flavoured with anise (similar to ouzo).

When you go. Turkey is great for both back-packers and those who have already done Europe and are looking for something more exotic. Because traffic congestion is beyond terrible in Istanbul, making aggressive driving commonplace, it’s best to do as much exploring as you can on foot. Watch out for pickpockets, especially in the crowded tourist areas.

April, May, September and October are the best months to visit Turkey, as the summer is generally really hot and humid.

GOTURKEYTOURISM.COM

Australia: Melbourne

Melbourne

Cosmopolitan and creative, fun and friendly, Melbourne is consistently voted one of the most livable cities in the world.

From the eclectic northeast and thriving central business district to the riverside parks and chic bayside south, Melbourne hums with variety, sporting covert boutiques and bars, mind-blowing cuisine, unrestrained architecture and an all-around, great attitude.

Make camp. There are dozens of places in Melbourne to lay your head, at multiple price-points, from the super up-market to the cheap and cheerful. Inspired by and dedicated to Australian contemporary artists, each property within the Art Series hotel group features the work of a particular artist, with Adam Cullen being the focus of The Cullen. Two restaurants, hip neighbourhood, you’re all set. Six, luxury airstream campers imported from the U.S. sit on top of a car park on Flinders Lane at Notel—futuristic and fun, but also beautifully designed, quiet and comfortable. Find gourmet chocolate, private decks, and free mini bars. And with sophisticated, high-design, gel-topped beds, and a beautiful rooftop lounge, The QT chain is one of the most popular high-end hotels trending at the moment.

Order up. You could eat out in Melbourne every day for a year and barely scratch the surface. The dining scene is a healthy and hearty, headed up by innovative and award-winning chefs. Casual but dramatic Russell Street wine bar Embla highlights unique wines to wash down inventive wood-fired oven dishes. Capital C cool. Old-world char-grilled goodness at San Telmo on Meyers Place parades the very essence of Argentinian culture and cuisine. Warm and welcoming. Gertrude Street nightspot Marion blends small plates with small-batch wines in a rustic setting. One of top chef Andrew McConnell’s many Melbourne restaurants. And hallowed Crossley Street staple Becco does authentic Italian up perfectly, right down to the terrazzo floors and starched whites. Simple and superb.

Drink up. Five o’clocktails or midnight nightcaps, Melbourne knows how to prop up a bar in the best possible way. Dark and sexy, L.A.-like Russell Street juke joint Heartbreaker shakes the meanest cocktails under a neon glow. Pick up a gift box of their bottled best-sellers to-go. Noted cocktail bar Eau De Vie Melbourne off Flinders Lane is sexy and fun, with a 16-page whiskey list and a private whiskey room to peruse it in.

Wander the laneways. The secret passageways that wind through Melbourne’s central district are full of surprises—Centre Place and Degraves Street among them. Many connect two major streets while others hit a dead-end. What looks like a nothing alleyway can yields a cool bar, top restaurant or fab hair salon. Many of them began life as market lanes, with stalls congregated near pedestrian thoroughfares. Today, they’re home to gift shops, food pit stops, arts and crafts, vintage goodies and more. Five lanes earmarked for graffiti artists make for great photo ops. Top fashion laneways include Howey Place and Scott Alley.

Take a wine tour. Plan ahead to get out of town to the Yarra Valley to devour some of the region’s best wines. Add in the rolling countryside, terrific views and kangaroo-spotting, and you’ve got a brag-worthy day trip. The Australian Wine Tour Company is the pick of the pack for getting you there and back with maximum winery coverage.

Soak up the art. The National Gallery of Victoria has not one but two locations: one for international exhibits opposite Queen Victoria Gardens and one focusing on Australian art, a.k.a. the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Both are free.

Go for a walk. There are 50 walking tours in the city, but the one you want is Walk Melbourne, a culinary romp through the Melbourne side streets. Monique Bayer and her team can take you on one of eight different tours built around dumplings, coffee shops, rooftop bars or a combination thereof (The Melbourne Experience).

Troll the arcades. Get lost in the three square blocks of shopping malls clustered around the Bourke Street Mall at Bourke and Elizabeth Streets. Mega retailers sit side-by-side with the beautifully preserved Block Arcade and Royal Arcade, which exude Victorian glamour.

Hit the beach. Hop on the St. Kilda Road streetcar south to St. Kilda beach, where you can dig in the sand, walk the pier, cool off with a swim or hop on an amusement ride in historic Luna Park. Cafés and bars along the boardwalk at the weekend see the cool crowd stepping out for late-afternoon beverages.

AUSTRALIA: ISLAND PARADISE
VISITMELBOURNE.COM

Bermuda

Bermuda

Bermuda is a connect-the-dot maze of 180 bits of island in the Atlantic Ocean, on the same latitude as South Carolina, about a two-hour flight from New York. With a temperate climate, as opposed to tropical like many of the Caribbean islands, this little paradise is calm and cool, with no income tax, no unemployment and no guns.

More than just the baggy shorts and big onions it is commonly associated with, Bermuda is unequivocally one of the wealthiest islands in the world, shy and private, a little mysterious. The coral walls and white roofs mimic the sand and clouds, framing the lush landscape and winding narrow roads. Left-hand drive and roundabouts reminds you of the British roots, as does the fairly buttoned-down vibe, a residual of the colonial past—all wooden tennis rackets and drinks trollies. Though far from stiff, this cheerio-ness creates a kind of time warp, and the turn-of-the-century photos on barbershop walls will look remarkably similar to the ones you’ll have on your camera.

Check in. The relaxed Reefs Hotel offers stylish comfort, and one of the cutest places to have lunch—Coconuts. The colonial-style Rosedon Hotel is a step back in time and a perfect haven for afternoon tea.

Dig into the past. Bermuda was discovered by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermúdez in 1503, and quickly became the Shipwreck Capital of the Atlantic, mostly due to the storms and a large ring reef that together have sunk an absurd number of ships off its 120 km of coastline. The first real settlers showed up nearly 100 years later, mostly all British. The first native North Americans came to dive for pearls.

Cozy up to Mark Twain. The Fairmont Hamilton Princess was a favourite watering hole of Mark Twain, whose statue sits on a bench in the lobby, as well as Ian Fleming, who dreamed up Dr. No at the bar.

F&B: MAKE A RUM SWIZZLE

Look at art. Located in the Botanical Gardens, Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art has a local focus, but it also houses a small but interesting collection of black-and-white drawings by Georgia O’Keefe, who visited the island in 1933 to recuperate from a nervous breakdown.

Go deep. Even if you’re not a diver, the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute is informative, interactive and fun, documenting the area’s famous and plentiful shipwrecks. Just the recovered treasure and shell collection in the lower level is worth the trip.

Hit the links. If you’re a golfer, Bermuda has a number of excellent options. Port Royal Golf Course has been ranked by Golf Digest as the world’s best public course. Turtle Hill Golf Club at Fairmont Southampton is also not too shabby.

Do a day trip. Take the ferry to St. George’s, where not much has changed in the last century, except for perhaps the plumbing. Stop at St. Peter’s, the oldest Anglican church in the Western hemisphere, which dates from 1612. Stop at the Bermuda Perfumerie, as well as Unfinished Church, which dates from the 1870s.

Wander the docks. If you can dodge the docked cruiseshippers, explore the Royal Naval Dockyard on the northwestern tip of the islands, and take in The Royal Keep, the Clocktower Mall and the Victualizing Yard where they used to prepare and store food for the military. Stop for a pint at The Frog and Onion pub, which “continues in the victualizing business” within the 1850s-era cooperage.

Watch the birdie. If you’re just in it for the pristine paradise, ecotourism is big here, due in part to the delicate ecosystem and the fact that the early settlers enacted what is considered the first conservation laws in the New World way back in the 1600s. As a result, there are 650 types of fish and 360 varieties of birds to keep you occupied on either an underwater adventure or a lazy afternoon in a hammock.

GOTOBERMUDA.COM

 

Germany: The Spreewald

Spreewald

Once part of relatively untouristed East Germany, the Spreewald is one of the Brandenberg region’s best-kept secrets. The pickles aren’t bad, either.

I could barely pronounce Spreewald, but I knew I was going to like it here. And this wasn’t just any canal. It was one of the 300 natural, ice age-created canals weaving through forest and farmland in this UNESCO-designated bio reserve just one hour south of Berlin.

Centred around the towns of Lübben, Lübbenau and Burg, the Spreewald is a tourist-friendly farming-community and summer-home kind of place, complete with quaint inns, lush parkland, camp grounds, ancient castles, engrossing museums—and a giant quirk: There are almost no roads. People get to and from their homes by hand-paddled, flat-bottomed, pine river boats called “punts.” The kids go to school by punt; even the postman delivers mail on a punt.

The first tourists arrived in the 1850s along with artists who came to paint the landscape, allegedly before the tourists ruined it. This created a considerable melting pot, the fancy Berliners and their bohemian friends rubbing shoulders with local farmers. Happily, this mix continues today to the benefit of all involved.

Explore. More than 300 km of waterways thread through the more than 475 square km of meadows, islands, trees and forests in the Spreewald—which translates to “Spree woods” in connection with the Spree River—with 44 locks keeping it level. Tourists take boat rides from the marina in Lübbenau through the woods or find a cycling route to the adjacent villages.

Step back in time. The Spreewald Museum highlights what life was like 100 years ago, with dioramas depicting the general store, various workshops such as the bakery and cobbler, even the pub. Tours conducted by staff in period dress are part of the weekly event schedule. Steam locomotive the Spreewaldbahn takes up an entire adjacent building, surrounded by railroad artifacts.

WHERE TO STAY: IN THE SPREEWALD

Eat a pickle. This is the land of the Spreewald gherkin, a pickle so famous it is actually trademarked. More than 500 hectares of land are dedicated to cucumbers, which favour the warm and humid climate, or so it says in the nearby pickle museum, which is more interesting than it sounds. With 150 different pickle recipes, the Spreewald clearly has this market cornered.

Try the sauce. At Quappenschanke in nearby Lehde, I fell in love with the simply named Frankfurt green sauce, a traditional cold concoction of sour cream, boiled eggs, spices and herbs, among them chives, chervil, parsley and sorrel.

Milk a plastic cow. Lehde’s noted Freilandmuseum brings together buildings from various Spreewald forest farms into one open-air walkabout space. Visitors meander through typical turn-of-the-century farmhouses and outbuildings, including workshops and barns. At least the fibreglass cow doesn’t kick.

SPREEWALD.DE

Colorado: Copper Mountain

Copper Mountain

Copper Mountain, home to a fabulous 148 trails and 24 lifts, plus the only full-length, early-season training venue in the world, the U.S. Olympic Ski Team Speed Center.

Ski! The 2,500 acres of pristine slopes of Copper Mountain steepen naturally from west to east, with the elevation topping out at 3,800 metres (with a 835-metre vertical drop). Despite the calibre of skiing that goes on there, you still find green runs at the top of the mountain, allowing for groups of varying skill to actually spend the day together; the experienced don’t have to say goodbye to the beginners at the bottom of the hill. Expect breath-taking views and perfectly groomed runs.

Play! With one million guests a year, this resort plays host to all crowds, international and local—family, college and otherwise. A quaint and very manageable centre village is full of après ski fun in the form of skating, zip-lining, big drinks and tiny doughnuts. And after the ski hill does you in, an hour (or two) on the four-lane tubing hill will bring out your inner child, and make beer time all the more rewarding.

MORE HILLS: STEAMBOAT SPRINGS

Jump! The indoor Woodward at Copper Barn facility, an indoor year-round training ground with Olympic-grade trampolines, you can play away with foam pits, a skate bowl, ramps, jumps, the works. It’s worth a visit if only to watch the cool kids do their thing on mountain bikes and skateboards, or see aerialists practice their jumps. An intro session will see you on the trampoline for a couple of hours with a coach.

Hydrate! There’s only one hiccup to being up in the clouds so high: It’s all fun and games until somebody gets altitude sickness. Common after 8,000 feet above sea level, this ailment leaves you feeling like you have the flu or a hangover or both. Two litres of water before noon is almost mandatory, and throw in the odd Gatorade to feel sporty. Speaking of drinks, you will also notice that one vodka can actually feel more like two vodkas. Bonus! You’re a cheaper date than you thought!

Rest! Copper Mountain has a sort of communal reception for accommodation, where they then mete you out to the various lodges surrounding the centre village, each with underground parking. Chalet-type furnishings (log lamps, Murphy beds) are comfortable and cool. Each lodge is equipped with a large outdoor hot tub, but sadly no time machine.

Drink! You can’t throw a stone and not hit a drink of something in this place. The college kids favour Mulligans Irish Pub because it stays open the latest, while the older set goes east to JJ’s Rocky Mountain Tavern, which will most likely have live music.

COPPERCOLORADO.COM
VISITCOPPERMOUNTAIN.COM

Portugal: Eastern Algarve

Algarve

While the west side has enjoyed the lion’s share of the tourist trade since the 1970s, the Eastern Algarve of Portugal, stretching from the central city of Faro to the Spanish border, is far more relaxing and infinitely more cool.

The Eastern Algarve is where the smarter Europeans are buying (and renting out) their summer properties, and where hip expats are opening boutique hotels and hot restaurants. The sleepiness of the tiny towns and empty beaches weeds out the people who can’t sit in a chair for more than 10 minutes. The common denominator here, for both locals and tourists, is an innate ability to appreciate life. It’s easy to see why. Secluded beaches can stretch for many kilometres with no one in sight. Centuries-old towns—with their winding narrow walkways, whitewashed markets and village square cafés—are beyond quaint. Exquisite mosaic tile work is everywhere you look.

Fly to Faro. This hub city separates the Eastern and Western Algarve. There’s a lot of history here, and a visit to the Arco da Vila Interpretation Centre, built within one of the city’s oldest Moorish gates dating from the 11th century, provides visitors with the basics. From there, you can pop into nearby Faro Cathedral, but perhaps more intriguing is the Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, noted for the 1,000 monk skulls that line the rear chapel.

Hit the suburbs. The town of Olhão, just a 20-minute drive east, is the hip part of the region. This busy fishing port has slowly been adopted by artists and creative people over the years, drawn to its no-nonsense grittiness, tumbledown chic, and to the mix of old and new. Boutique hotel developments mingle with mom-and-pop restaurants on tiled pedestrian streets.

WHERE TO STAY: IN THE ALGARVE

Eat ice cream. Clearly, these people know how to live: It seems like there’s a gelato shop every 10 metres. Tastes to try include traditional salt-cod fritters, octopus salad, seafood rice and the freshest bread, all plentiful, tasty and inexpensive. Each bakery has its own unique recipe for the ubiquitous pastel de nata, or egg tart, which makes repeat taste-tests essential. And the wine is not only sublime, it can be had for €2 a glass.

Go to the beach. The beaches from Olhao all the way to the Spanish border will spoil you for life. You can do a different one every day. Barril Beach on Tavira Island is a former tuna fishermen’s camp, reached by walking from the mainland across a pontoon bridge, then hopping on a little train that wends its way through the sand dunes to the Atlantic. The ancient Moorish fishing village of Cacela Velha has a favourite local beach where you can walk or wade out to the sand bars, keeping an eye on the tide, then have fresh oysters for lunch.

Shop for trinkets. The border town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio is filled with tranquil cafés and craft-filled markets. Stock up on local crafts like cork home furnishings, ceramic bowls and tiles, terra cotta cookware, wool rugs and fine-milled soaps.

Have lunch in Spain. When you tire of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, get on the short ferry to Ayamonte, Spain, for a tapas lunch and a jug of sangria. (Note that there is a one-hour time difference.)

Go with golf. Tee off at Monte Rei Golf and Country Club just north of Vila Real, ranked by Golf Digest magazine as the No. 1 course in the country. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, it blends into the landscape, with views of the Serra do Caldeirao mountains to the north and the ocean to the south.

Wallow. Near the tiny town of Castro Marim, home to 12th-century castle ruins, you can pop into Spa Salino, an open-air mud bath set amongst the surrounding salt pans. Nothing like saline clay scrub to reveal the real you.

VISITPORTUGAL.COM

Scotland: The Highlands

Scotland

Perhaps due to the fact that the population is one-tenth that of England, Scotland feels a bit more small-town, even in the city. People tend to actually converse with you rather than just talk and you get the straight goods without having to fish for it.

With the Scottish, there always seems to be a silent standing invitation to join in—on the fun, the meal, the joke.

Scotland isn’t a place where you want to spend your whole time in the cities, nice as they are. Motoring around the Highlands is achingly beautiful and you can easily do the trip in a week. Or longer. Or a lot longer. The scenery is the biggest draw in the Highlands—endless hills and rock, trees and lakes. Driving actually becomes your main activity, as if you were on your own personal treasure hunt.

UK: DRIVING TIPS

Do some drinking. A good place to start your tour is in Speyside on the Malt Whisky Trail. This is a grouping of eight distilleries that bank the fast-flowing River Spey to take advantage of its crystal clear water. Speyside produces more than half the whisky distilled in Scotland. The Scots, to their credit, credit the Irish for inventing whisky—they just don’t talk about it much.

READ MORE: ABOUT SPEYSIDE

Look for Ness. Next up is a swing west to Inverness for a cruise down Loch Ness, just to buy the t-shirt. This picturesque lake is long and skinny, cold and clear, and apparently, extremely deep. Certain tours of it will drop you off at the ruins of Urquhart Castle, where you can wander around, wondering what life would have been like constantly on the look-out for marauders climbing over the stone walls.

Get love. Relax into the loving arms of The Lovat, an award-winning eco-friendly boutique hotel in Fort Augustus. Skip the touristy Fort William and stop here instead, a beautiful village nestled at the base of Loch Ness. You can spend hours here just watching the sky change colour or waving at barges and boats being guided through the Caledonian Canal and locks, on their way through the lake system to the sea.

WHERE TO STAY: IN EDINBURGH

Stuff yourself. Carry on west around Lochs Garry, Loyne and Cluanie to Loch Duich, then cross the bridge to the Isle of Skye. A region of farming and fishing, this is a place for tourists to get back to the land—and the seafood. The Three Chimneys at House-Over-By is booked for months in advance by the foodies. The fabled Seven Courses of Skye uses ingredients sourced in Skye and Lochalsh, including the freshest oysters and crab, succulent smoked fish and a marmalade soufflé you could practically swim in. Book the chef’s table to get in on all the backstage activity. Watch out for sheep sleeping on the warm tarmac on the way home.

Find your clan. Of the castles you need to have on your list, Eilean Donan Castle near the town of Dornie is one of the best restored, the ancient home of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. Built up and torn down for centuries, it lay derelict for 200 years before being rebuilt by John MacRae-Gilstrap in the 1920s. The castle opened to the public in 1955, and has enjoyed its time in the limelight as a location for many films, including The World Is Not Enough, Entrapment and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

VISITSCOTLAND.COM

Grenada

Grenada

The tri-island paradise of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique at the bottom of the Grenadines, is gearing up to lure loads of high-enders to the white sand, azure shorelines, hidden waterfalls, unspoiled nature and now, increasingly more barefoot-chic situations to find yourself in.

Grand Anse Beach, just south of the main city of St. George’s, anchors a Kimpton resort, the tony Spice Island Beach Resort and the Silversands with its 100-metre pool, the longest in the Caribbean.

With few high rises and less development, Grenada still manages to possess the island charm that can seem slightly manufactured elsewhere. You enjoy the natural beauty simply because it is all around you. Nicknamed the Spice Island due to the plethora of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric and more, Grenada boasts white-sand beaches, multiple hiking trails and gorgeous waterfalls in its lush rainforests.

Get on the water. Cruise along Grenada’s southwestern coastline in a traditional, handmade wooden boat and cast your minds adrift, rum punch in hand. There’s nothing like gazing at paradise from the water while connecting with the island’s nautical heritage. The team at Savvy Sailing can sort you out.

Get in the water. Bottom-time spent with Aquanauts Scuba completely takes the cake with a swim through the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park. This protected area just off the coastline features more than 65 concrete works, the bulk of them by British sculptor James deCaires Taylor, set around natural gullies, creating an artificial reef that teems with marine life. The haunting “Vicissitudes” is the most noted work: 26 life-size children standing in a circle facing the current holding hands, symbolizing the cycle of life. “The Lost Correspondent” consists of a man at his desk and typewriter, like a relic from a simpler time.

WHERE TO STAY: ON GRANDE ANSE
WHERE TO STAY: IN THE NORTH

Get a massage. One of the more secluded and seductive spots on the island is also one of its most rejuvenating. Even if you’re not staying at Laluna Boutique Beach Hotel and Villas, stop in for a massage at their world-class Asian spa, with masseuses melting away cares with Eastern techniques.

Hike the hills. Find a guide to take you up forest-covered Mount Qua Qua in the Grand Etang National Park. When you reach the summit at 565 metres, pause to drink in the view of Grand Etang Lake below, a crater lake in an extinct volcano.

Trip up north. A few days at the very top of Grenada on the north coast reveals a completely different island vibe. Spend some hammock time at Petite Anse Hotel near the town of Sauteurs stretched out in front of one of the best views on the entire island. Hosts Philip and Annie Clift have developed the perfect romantic escape with their 11 cottage-style rooms. A muster of peacocks strut their stuff over at Mount Edgecombe Plantation on the northeast, where you and your pals can take over an actual Colonial-style plantation. There’s a self-contained restored historic home that sleeps eight and four rooms in what was the original spice storage house.

When you go. The best time to visit Grenada is the high-season months, from January to April when weather is the driest and 30-degree days are cooled by trade winds. May and June generally offer more affordable rates.

TASTE TO TRY: GRENADA GASTRONOMY
GRENADAGRENADINES.COM

Switzerland: Zurich

Zurich

Zurich is many things, but stiff certainly isn’t one of them, contrary to its reputation—and lucky for you. An international meeting place with four official languages (none of them English), the city is captivating mix of cultures, cuisine and attitudes.

Save and splurge. I remember arriving in Zurich first thing in the morning via a train from the airport, when rush hour was in full swing. I got a coffee and paid in cash, making a mental note to check the exchange rate so I could “feel” what I’m spending. Well, that little cup of black coffee was $6. So, the advice is: save where you can. My hotel advice is Hotel Platzhirsch which translates to The Leading Stag, a Swiss equivalent to top dog. It has a great central location so you also save money on cabs.

Shop. This is the splurge part! With luxury mecca The Bahnhofstrasse being the third most expensive shopping street in the world (everything from H&M to Hermès), your credit card will likely see plenty of action. And don’t forget to load up on chocolate for your suitcase or your belly, whichever comes first.

Geek out on design. If you can tear yourself away from the shops for one second, get lost in the variety of visual candy at Museum für Gestaltung, which focuses on design, visual communication, graphic design and architecture.

TRY NEARBY: LUCERNE

Get your gay on. For a start, Zurich Mayor Corine Maunch is homosexual, so away we go. The city is known as the first real hotbed of gay activism, beginning with Der Kreis (The Circle), the first real gay and lesbian network in the world that began meeting in the 1930s. Not surprising, then, that the first gay bar in Europe is here—Bar Barfüsser, now known almost as well for the sustainable sushi restaurant within it. Snappy cocktails can be found at Cranberry: loud, lively and a little saucy. Zurich Pride is in June.

Melt. Just a bit west of centre is hot mineral springs Thermalbad & Spa Zurich, constructed around 100-year-old stone in the vaults of an old brewery. Afterward, relax in the open-air rooftop pool with the city laid out at your wrinkling feet.

TASTE TO TRY: KIRSCH BRANDY

Go west. Zurich West is a business and entertainment zone created from the shells of old industrial buildings, a transformed and trendy end of town flooded with 30somethings on the weekend. Renoed old warehouses, such as the Schiffbau, have new lives as theatres, nightclubs, restaurants, shops and markets, including the stores of supercool Im Viaduct built underneath the tracks and the stylish Lasalle Restaurant and Bar. This is also where to find the fun flagship of Freitag, purveyors of recycled-tarp messenger bags and wallets.

TRY NEARBY: MOUNT RIGI

Bunk here. If you choose to hang your hat out here, go with the elegant Renaissance Zürich Tower Hotel, rich with dark wood floors and sumptuous colours. It is walking distance from Hardbrücke Station, which has express trains to the airport.

ZUERICH.COM

Switzerland: Lucerne

Lucerne

With four official languages, Switzerland has always been a healthy mix of cultures, cuisines and diplomatic points of view, drawing influences from its neighbours for centuries. But while Zurich, Geneva and Bern pretty much run the place, it’s Lucerne everybody heads to for a week off. And so should you.

This charming little town where the Reuss River flows out of Lake Lucerne was once ruled by monks, and founded in the 12th century. Tourists started showing up around 1850 when new rail lines connected the city with other parts of Europe. Now, five million tourists visit per year—summer and winter—to walk down the cobblestone pedestrian streets and across wooden foot bridges, drinking in medieval town squares and ancient churches.

See street art. Wander Lucerne’s Old Town checking out the 15th-century art that decorates many of the building façades. Better yet, find a tour guide to walk you through all of the frescoes, so you get the full backstory.

Ogle Picassos. Absorb some serious art at The Rosengart is in the city centre. Art dealer Angela Rosengart (and her father Siegfried) nurtured the talents of many of the artists they dealt with over the years, which has resulted in an impressive collection of painting—Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Klee, Miró and others. A friend of the family who painted Angela several times, Picasso takes up the lion’s share of wall space.

TRY NEARBY: MOUNT RIGI

Sing along. Music lovers should make a point of checking out the calendar for the Culture and Convention Centre Lucerne, the elegant concert hall at the water’s edge known for its sublime acoustics.

Have the mac and cheese. Rathaus Brauerei is just the best name. With traditional everything, this place is heavy on the meat and generous with the beer—have the stout. By the way, the mac and cheese comes with apple sauce.

TASTE TO TRY: KIRSCH BRANDY

Check the view. How can you pass up the only hotel in the world where you take a funicular from the street to the lobby? Check into one of the penthouse spa suites at Art Deco Hotel Montana Lucerne and put your feet up. Built in 1910, the hotel features not only one of the best views of the lake, but six penthouse spa suites on the rooftop, built from what used to be staff quarters. The very busy and sexy Restaurant Scala, and more importantly it’s terrace, has undoubtedly one of the best views in town.

TRY NEARBY: ZURICH

Lay your head. Lucerne has many decades of getting hospitality down right, particularly with the hotels. The Chateau Gütsch was a favourite of Queen Victoria. The luxurious Grand Hotel National Luzern has a celebrated culinary pedigree—French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier once worked in the kitchen. Old Town is filled with lots of small inns, including cute Hotel des Balances, which dates from the 1200s (not a typo). For a full-on mod alternative, Hotel Astoria is right near the train station, an affordable home-base designed by the architects who produced the famous Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing.

MYSWITZERLAND.COM

Switzerland: Mount Rigi

alps

What happens in Weggis—well, you should actually share it with everyone. This little town just a short jaunt across the river from Lucerne is a springboard to your down-time up where the air is fresh and clean: Mount Rigi.

Take a break. Mere steps from the ferry dock is the Post Hotel Weggis, a great spot to get over the Lucerne weekend. Making full use of punchy colours and high-octane art, the “PoHo” is a touch of glam in this little seaside burb. Rooms are rich with textures, patterns and decadence. Take time to chill at the cozy spa after a dip in the illuminated pool. Make a point to duck into Weggiser Stübli, a smaller adjunct restaurant that is a rustic step back in time, with portraits of the town’s forefathers lining oak-panelled walls.

Get high. To say the gondola ride from Weggis up Mount Rigi is a complete thrill would be a gross understatement. This 1,800-metre mountain in the pre-Alps is enjoying a resurgence of its former status as a health-oriented spa playground. The 90-square-kilometre car-free recreational region has been known for its healing waters since the 16th century, when people would make the pilgrimage to the village of Rigi Kaltbad (literally “cold bath”) to take the waters and be inspired by a spectacular view.

THINGS TO DO: IN LUCERNE

Channel Twain. Queen Victoria, Goethe, Mark Twain and artist J.M.W. Turner were all fans of Rigi, the latter painting it several times, many of which hang in London’s Tate Gallery. Twain ambled up the mountain (and really took his time, according to local legend) as part of a tour for his book A Tramp Abroad, published in 1880. In the 1940s and ’50s, the mountain was the spot to spend the weekend—or longer—skiing, sledding, hiking and relaxing in the quaint chalets and small hotels.

Bathe regularly. Leading the revival of the wellness tradition of the area is Rigi Kaltbad Mineral Baths & Spa. Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, it is built into the mountain underneath a village square, and features indoor and outdoor pools, mineral water couches, neck showers, herbal steam baths and more. The spa has a tempting index of treatments and everything is connected via tunnel to the 50-room Hotel Rigi Kaltbad.

TASTE TO TRY: KIRSCH BRANDY

Keep going. Don’t stop now! Head to the very top of the mountain via cable car to Rigi Kulm, the highest peak of the mountain. The cogwheel railway was installed in 1871, the first of its kind. Sledding (if your tailbone can handle it), skiing and hiking are all part of the day’s activity sched. Check into the Rigi Kulm Hotel, even for just one night. People make this pilgrimage particularly for the sunrise, winter and summer, a sight that will be etched into your memory for a long time.

MYSWITZERLAND.COM

Australia: Whitsunday Islands

Whitsunday

Sheltered by the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands deliver pockets of pure opulence and camera-ready topography in Queensland, Australia.

The first thing you notice after hopping off your flight into Hamilton Island are the immaculate golf carts—dozens of them waiting to whisk you to your villa. The second thing are the cockatoos, winging their way onto your balcony railing to welcome you to your new favourite place in the world.

The hub of the Whitsunday Islands archipelago, Hamilton Island is a luxury retreat off the coast of Queensland, Australia, rife with posh pampering, exclusive boating, fine dining and full-on Great Barrier Reef adventure. The island runs like one big happy town, the marina its high street, ringed with the basics: post office, general store, pharmacy, liquor mart, novelty shops and galleries, and quite a number of specialty restaurants. Luxury condos—big and small—are self-catered with all the comforts of home.

Grocery up. Visitors pre-order supplies in advance from a grocer in the mainland port of Airlie, which are then picked up after check-in. A fish monger in the marina delivers the freshest seafood right to your doorstep.

Explore! With the golf cart as your wheels for the week, to get you to and from the island’s pools and beaches, attractions and distractions, marina and yacht club. There’s even a small zoo, where you can commune face-to-face with kangaroos, koalas and wallabies. Or how about soaring over Heart Reef by seaplane or helicopter and picnicking on a private beach? You can also explore the Ngaro Sea Trail and stop in at the historic aboriginal caves at Nara Inlet.

HEADING TO MELBOURNE? STAY HERE

Hop on a boat. Guests can take in a wide cross-section of marine activities—everything from a romantic tall-ship cruise to a sporty yacht adventure. You can even explore the region by raft or jet ski, or sail around all 74 Whitsunday islands if you like, skippering yourself or chartering a crew.

Hit the reef. Cruise Whitsundays tour company will get you to Reefworld, their pontoon platform stationed at Hardy Reef, where you can snorkel or scuba dive with up to 1,500 species of fish around 400 types of coral. White, red and green feather sea stars light up the ocean floor. A crown-of-thorns starfish looks like a fir tree. Sea cucumbers resemble big, fat worms. Mangrove jacks hide in their shells, while bumphead parrotfish do everything but bump heads. Sergeant fish are everywhere, supervising. Giant schools of yellowtail fusilier are a cascade of beauty. The turtles and stingrays you may spot are always an added bonus.

Stop at the famous beach. An afternoon on the fine white silica sands of world-famous Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island proper is time well spent. This seven-kilometre strip of sand consistently makes the world’s top-10 lists. The sand is so fine, it feels like you’re walking on cornstarch, making a squeaking sound when you drag your heels.

Take a hike. If you can’t justify spending all of your time swinging in a hammock, take a hike: The views from the trails are superb. The Passage Peak hike in particular offers 20 kilometres of trail, with a guided audio tour you can listen to via app. And when you’re done with the beach, the marina and the exercise, you can simply sit on your balcony and drink it all in. Your cockatoos will always be up for the company.

When you go. Although you can fly to Airlie Beach on the mainland and take a ferry, the best route to Hamilton Island is to fly into its tiny airport directly. Qantas Airways or Virgin Australia can get you there and back from Sydney. The best time to go is October through May, keeping in mind that December and January can get very busy. June to September is a great time for sailing and whale-watching.

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Brazil: Chapada Diamantina

Chapada Diamantina

The rocky hills, valleys, waterfalls and caves of northern Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina National Park deliver a feet-on-the-ground, head-in-the-clouds adventure.

Take the waters. A happy little stray dog latches onto us one afternoon hiking the trails near the village of Lençóis (population 5,000) in the state of Bahia, Brazil. She is our unofficial tour guide, following us over rocks, through caves and around the pools and waterfalls that skirt this small town, which was once the nucleus of the diamond mining industry that flourished here about 150 years ago.

Follow the rivers. Just a short flight from Salvador, Lençóis has the feel of a 19th-century European village plopped down in the middle of a big park. With the last mine closing 25 years ago, it is now a hiker’s paradise, the vegetation slowly reclaiming the surrounding hills, rivers, streams, pools and caves. It’s this transition that lends Chapada some of its magic, as the various fauna return as well: beetles, tarantulas, squirrel monkeys, foxes and jaguars.

Read the rocks. The Chapada Diamantina region is composed primarily of sandstone, pelites and diamond-bearing conglomerates. The many trails, once used by miners in their search for diamonds, makes it one of the best destinations in the country for hiking. Following the Lençóis River, we swim in the red-tinged pools, letting the Primavera Waterfall crash over us, and hike through green valleys surrounded by sharp cliffs. The red colour of the water is not due to the presence of iron, but to organic matter from the forest floor. The Saloon of Colourful Sands is a geologist’s dream, the sediment evidence of the millions of years of movement and sandstone erosion.

Release the inner child. Our little dog is still at our ankles when we walk along Mucugezinho River, then up to Middle River, where water cascades down a huge sheet of sloping rock, forming a sort of natural waterslide that has us sliding down it at break-neck speed. Though it is a little hard on the rear, it’s worth it. On the way back, our canine guide ditches us to play with a couple of little pigs.

MORE BRAZIL: JERI BEACH

Dip and zip. Jumping in a van the next day and heading into Chapada Diamantina National Park, my intrepid travellers and I stop for a swim in Devil’s Pool, so named because it is said to be a site where diamond mine slaves were tortured. This pool and its 18-metre-high Devil’s Falls is popular with the locals on the weekends who come to get their thrills on the zip lines. Conveniently, a bar is built into the side of the mountain, in the style of the old miner houses.

Explore the underground. The Diamantina caves here need to be seen to be believed, all part of an environmental protection area. Gruta Lapa Doce, the Cave of the Sweet Water, is one of the most popular due to the incredible stalagmite and stalactite rock formations inside, sculpted by water circulation, dripping, condensation and other processes. Midway through, we switch off our flashlights for a minute or two of complete silence and darkness—a moment of eyes-open meditation. Nearby Gruta Pratinha is good for more zip lining, as well as for snorkeling down an underground river.

Keep an eye on your watch. For a short span of time in the late afternoon, the sunshine plays tricks at Gruto Azul: The calcium carbonate and magnesium in the crystal-clear water at the edge of the cave turns the pool a supernatural shade of blue in the direct sunlight. Not only that, the refraction leads you to think the water is maybe a metre deep, when in reality the depth is more than 15 metres.

Head for the hills. We finish the day with a trek to the top of Pai Inacio Hill to watch the sun go down, with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the nearby cliffs and canyons.

When you go. Visiting off-season is best, from July to November. December to March is the busiest time. Intrepid Travel offers a guided tour to Chapada Diamantina within a Northern Brazil carbon-offset experience to and from Salvador. Consider a three-day romp in Rio before or after.

INTREPIDTRAVEL.COM
VISITBRASIL.COM

Greenland

East Greenland

Kayaking through East Greenland’s Scoresby Sound, the largest fjord system in the world, offers up pure Arctic adventure—glacial bays, calving icebergs, muskox and more.

From the tiny airport of Nerlerit Inaat, a.k.a. Constable Point, we walk to a flotilla of Zodiac boats that sweeps us out to the Ocean Nova, and a Quark Expeditions East Greenland cruise.

Arctic expedition travel is the ultimate adventure, an experience more than a vacation, one you can barely believe is real at points. It has a special beauty—a scale and ruggedness to it—that is addictive.

Take to the kayak. The variety of kayaking conditions in the different bays and fjords of East Greenland and the experiences that go with them is amazing: hugging a rocky shoreline one day, digging through ice the next, paddling past glacial faces and blue icebergs, bobbing along in “bergy bits,” mist, fog, sunshine, seals swimming under the canoe, the works.

One afternoon in Flyer Fjord, a veritable iceberg graveyard, we have to kayak single file through the ice, crunching and cracking, getting stuck, getting free, getting stuck again. We stop in open water for a few minutes to take it all in, bergs calving like thunderclaps, no wind, no birds, no fog, just us. The next day hugging the shore of Little Island, the bay is chocka-block with brash ice, like we are floating in a giant cocktail.

Spot the oxen. Before an afternoon paddle in Eskimo Bay while we are still in the Zodiac, we suddenly spot two muskoxen in full gallop quite close to shore. They stop abruptly when they see us; one retreating while the other stares for several minutes before trotting off. It’s a moment that takes a while to sink in—what just happened?

Roam the ruins. Following sessions in the water, we often catch up with the rest of the passengers, taking a short hike to get the lay of the land, careful to stay behind the rifle—this is polar bear country, after all. On a few occasions, we wander through untouched ruins of Indigenous settlements, used by more than one different culture over the centuries. We find hand tools made out of bone and actual human graves. Meat caches are made evident by small piles of lichen-covered stones; decades-old wooden fox traps still sit atop hillside rocks.

Look at the lights. After midnight, the call goes out that we’re making a night landing. Our Zodiac heads right for the red light on the shoreline, to find that the perimeter of our viewing area is ringed with—glow sticks. People set up their photo gear or stake out their spots in the deep grass, barely visible despite our bright yellow parkas. And then the show starts. The Northern Lights dance across the sky in kaleidoscope of colour for more than a half hour. I almost drift off, my nose tucked into my jacket, almost forgetting to watch.

Break new ice. The Ocean Nova captain impresses even himself with an incredible sail through uncharted waters into ice-filled Goose Fjord, home of the Magga Dan Glacier. The ice cracks and calves, falling into the bay in slow motion. The crew is incredibly excited to get so close to the glacier given the amount of ice in the fjord. This is the kind of thing that turns a trip into an expedition: taking what you’re faced with, and running with it.

Keep an eye out. A polar bear is spotted on the morning of our last full day of East Greenland adventure, in Viking Bay, making everyone eager for more of the same. We kayak down the quiet coastline before landing on a small island made out of octagonal basalt columns, where we join the other passengers for a chat on the rocks and one very large group shot. My gloves are wet and my hands cold, but they warm up considerably when the Irish whisky comes out. The only bear I see is a sun-bleached bear scull, but he looks good in my pictures all the same.

When You Go. Quark Expeditions has a few different itineraries that take you into the fjords of East Greenland, with departures in August and September. Kayak groups paddle multiple times per voyage, weather permitting. Visit QuarkExpeditions.com.

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore virtually sizzles with a fascinating mix of sophisticated, multicultural fusion, fun and flavour.

With everything under one roof so to speak—city, state and country all rolled into one island—Singapore is a very unique Southeast Asian enclave, its history as a trading settlement influencing all aspects of modern life in profoundly original ways. The population comprises Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures—Peranakans descended from people who immigrated to the Malay archipelago between the 15th and 17th centuries—with an icing of English due to the more than 145 years of British rule.

The incredible architecture is a profusion of colourful, mixed-use “shophouses” with retail space on the main floor and residences above, extraordinary Buddhist and Hindu temples, edgy new skyscrapers and colonial-era buildings infused with modern glamour.

Eat constantly. This place is a foodie’s wet dream. The traditional dishes sold in the “hawker stall” food courts lay the foundation for the Modern Singaporean restaurants (Mod-Sin for short) that yield homespun food with a twist. Singaporeans have distinct opinions on where to get the best crab or buns or laksa or chicken rice or coffee or anything. Discussing food is a national pastime.

TASTE TO TRY: TRADITIONAL DISHES

Find the star. You can eat the world’s least-expensive Michelin star meal at Hawker Chan’s Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, the first hawker stall to be awarded a Michelin star. The signature dish goes for just $2.50.

Roam the streets. Singapore is a series of neighbourhoods. Trendy Tiong Bahru is filled with cool boutiques, design shops, bookstores and small cafés, including your must-do: the Tiong Bahru Bakery. The Katong area is a multicultural community filled with fun concept stores, great restaurants, massage parlours and karaoke joints. Kampong Glam, Chinatown, Little India and Dempsey Hill should also be on your wander list.

HOW-TO: ORDER KOPI COFFEE

Soak up art. National Gallery Singapore exhibits the largest collection of Southeast Asian art in the world in an interconnected complex linking the old Supreme Court and City Hall buildings. Expansive courtrooms, hallways, offices and judges’ chambers were converted into galleries, some documenting Singapore’s history and independence.

Go play in the park. Gardens by the Bay is a nature reserve complete with its own family of free-range otters who you can find sleeping off lunch at the water’s edge. A series of three gardens here is dominated by a grove of “supertree” structures and by two domed conservatories, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

Hit the high street. At one time merely fruit trees, nutmeg plantations and pepper farms, Orchard Road is now Singapore’s grand shopping boulevard, home to all your fashion favourites—the higher-end retailers, landmark shopping plazas and more.

WHERE TO STAY: THE ANDAZ
WHERE TO STAY: THE WAREHOUSE

Stop for toast. Weirdly, Singapore is obsessed with toast. Toasted sandwiches are filled with a thick slice of cold butter and a gooey, sweet layer of kaya jam, a coconut jam made from coconut milk and eggs, sugar and pandan leaf. This is then served with a hard-boiled egg.

TASTE TO TRY: RIBS FOR BREAKFAST

Learn new words. Due to the cultural mix, there are four official languages—English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil—but you will also hear many other tongues, including the colloquial “Singlish.”

When You Go. The best time to visit Singapore is from February to October, with May and June being the hottest months. November to January is the wet season. Pack lots of linen—and your flip-flops!

VISITSINGAPORE.COM
SINGAPOREAIR.COM

Mediterranean: Tall-Ship Cruise

Star Clippers

There’s a fine line between cushy cruising and adventurous sailing, and Star Clippers manages to walk this well. This tall-ship cruise company gives modern luxury a heritage twist, taking passengers on true-to-life tall-ship adventures.

Launched in 1991 and based in Monaco, Star Clippers operates three ships—Star Clipper, Star Flyer and Royal Clipper. Just right for sailing enthusiasts, these vessels are the perfect escape, whether you lend a hand with the rigs, climb the mast, or just stare out to sea, awaiting drop-anchor. Speaking of which, researching Star Clippers ports of call thoroughly will help make the most efficient use of your time on land. Here are a few highlights on what to do in the Western Mediterranean and what to bring back.

PALMA DE MALLORCA (SPAIN)
Must-Do:
The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma—or La Seu—is an imposing Gothic masterpiece dating from 1601. The nearby Royal Palace of La Almudaina was originally a 13th-century Arabian Fort. Both are the centrepieces of a tranquil Old Town dotted with shops, cafés and boutique hotels, and very popular with visitors.
Take-Home: The soil, climate and sea breeze work miracles on Mallorca’s centuries-old olive trees, which produce some of the finest extra virgin olive oil in the world.

MAHON, MENORCA (SPAIN)
Must-Do:
Wandering is the order of the day here—along the shops of Carrer de ses Moreres and Carrer Hannover, and on through to the restaurants along the waterfront. Wander through the marketplace at Claustre del Carmen, a former convent beside the Carmen Church.
Take-Home: Menorca is famous for its shoe industry—in particular, the traditional leather sandals known as avarcas, an icon of the island. As well, gin has been made here since the British occupation in the 18th century and they have the recipe down pat.

BONIFACIO, CORSICA (FRANCE)
Must-Do: Make the trek up to the Old Town, a maze of narrow streets and medieval five- and six-storey walkups, all encircled by the ancient citadel walls. For a real workout, take the King Aragon Steps down the limestone southern cliff wall. These 187 steps were carved by monks creating a path to and from an underground well.
Take-Home: Corsican honey comes in a variety of strengths and tastes, from the fruity, caramel and cocoa flavours harvested in May to the aromatic, bitter and strawberry varieties gathered in summer and fall.

CALVI, CORSICA (FRANCE)
Must-Do:
The port citadel and beach are de rigeur, but try to get out of town and take a winding tour up the nearby mountains to visit the tiny villages of Sant’Antonino, Cobara and Pigna to the northeast. Stop at the nearest fresh-squeezed lemonade café you find.
Take-Home: Napoleon once said he could smell his homeland before he could see it. He was referring to the aromatic plants and trees—cedarwood, cypress, juniper, rosemary, thyme and many more—whose scents fill the air. Essential oil distillers use both wild and cultivated plants to make natural beauty products and perfumes.

TROPEZ, PROVENCE-ALPES-CÔTE D’AZUR (FRANCE)
Must-Do: After you’ve climbed up to the citadel and before you find the perfect café table at the marina to ogle the millionaire yachts, stop in at the Annonciade Museum, a converted 16th-century chapel. This tiny space is noted for the collection of modern art it has been amassing since 1922, and for championing artists such as Paul Signac, who introduced many painters to St. Tropez on his arrival in 1892.
Take-Home: The while town’s famous pastry the Tarte Tropézienne can’t be packed in your suitcase, you can buy the cookbook and DIY.

Utah: Park City

Park City

Half hour east of Salt Lake City, the town of Park City, population 8,400, is best known as home of Sundance Film Festival. The borough anchors Park City Mountain and the more posh Deer Valley Resort (which doesn’t allow snowboarders).

Park City Mountain was purchased by Vail Resorts in 2014 and combined with nearby Canyons Resort, making it the largest lift-accessible ski resort in the United States.

In the late 1860s, silver veins attracted adventurers here from around the world, with silver mining the base of wealth for numerous suddenly rich millionaires, including the father of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. The region has been a snow destination since the 1930s when the shiny stuff ran dry.

Eat breakfast. Go directly to hotcakes at Five5seeds. Do not pass Go.

Ski your heart out. At 3,000 hectares, Park City Mountain bills itself as the Greatest Snow on Earth, with 350 trails, 41 lifts, eight terrain parks, 13 bowls and one super pipe.

Get a facelift. Via G-force! Take a Winter Comet Bobsled ride down the actual bobsled, luge and skeleton track of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. After donning helmets, we break into groups of three and hop in the back of a truck with our sled for the ride up to the starting line. Thankfully, an experienced pilot takes the helm, and we don’t have to run and jump in on-the-fly like real racers, but we do have to hold on. This is why they make you sign a waiver, I think. The 45 seconds feel like an eternity. Sixty-four miles per hour—information that is on my Instagram feed in minutes.

Check out the museums. Also at Utah Olympic Park, spend quality time in the Games museum and in the Alf Engen Ski Museum. I get lost in case after case of black-and-white photos and mid-century memorabilia, and try to imagine what it would be like to do aerials on wooden skis in a V-neck sweater and tie like Stein Eriksen, the father of freestyle skiing.

Ski with a champ. The Deer Valley Resort’s Ski With a Champion program lets you ski with an actual Olympian for an afternoon. This is not cheap, but incredibly memorable.

Eat meat. At The Farm restaurant in Canyons Village, the server makes the mistake of putting a platter of local charcuterie right in front of me – heavenly prosciutto, salami, house mustard. Then, I almost wet myself when I discover that my smoked bone marrow entrée comes with oxtail marmalade. We also try the T-bone, which comes with black trumpet mushrooms, roasted radishes and radish chimichurri. At Firewood on Main Street, chef John Murcko and his team cook the entire menu on a custom-cast, 14-foot-long wood-fire grill. It’s the kind of kitchen where beef is one of the accompaniments to the steak: American Kobe Bavette comes with beef belly and a garlic sauce.

Pound ’em back. At the Spur Bar and Grill, I make friends with the bear tending bar, only to have him line up shots of something that smells mostly like bourbon, inset into little holes on a wooden ski—a “shotski.”

When You Go. Delta and WestJet fly non-stop from Toronto to Salt Lake City in about four and a half hours. Ski season is from late November to early April. Consider a Vail Epic pass. The breadth and variety of accommodation is considerable, so shop around.

PARKCITYMOUNTAIN.COM
EPICPASS.COM
VISITPARKCITY.COM

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

My appetite for meat and potatoes knows no bounds. Ditto bread and butter. So when I find an abundance of all four and more while road-tripping around Northern Ireland, I am beside myself with delight—and I’m not the only one: food tourism is trending here. When food is such a big part of the culture, it’s part of the journey.

“More and more visitors are coming to Northern Ireland, to see the Giant’s Causeway, to go to the Titanic Museum, to learn about their ancestors maybe and to get in on the great food we have,” says Derry-based chef and author Emmett McCourt, a champion of Irish food heritage. “Tourists want to learn about Irish food customs and traditional methods of food preparation. They like the stories behind the food. They want the connection to the food producer to lend meaning to what they’re experiencing.”

Drink in the scenery. On our way up the legendary Coastal Causeway, we are stunned into silence by the pastoral beauty, absorbing picture-postcard views at every turn. Farmland, villages, ocean, forest—the variety is mesmerizing. Between the castles, the cheese, the cliff walks and the gin, this is one of the best road trips in the world.

WHERE TO STAY: NEWFORGE HOUSE
HOW-TO: DRIVE ON THE LEFT

Break bread. When we reach the North Atlantic Ocean at Ballycastle, we wander into Ursa Minor Bakehouse, where baker Dara O hArtghaile and his wife Ciara treat us to a lesson in sourdough. They use methods that can be traced back hundreds of years, long before the birth of commercial yeast. The O hArtghailes dress up their loaves with things like linseed oil, nuts, grains or beer, and feature them prominently in the hearty menu at their busy vegetarian café.

TASTE TO TRY: VEGETABLE STEW RECIPE

Brave the bridge. The 250-year-old Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge was once used by fishermen to reach the region’s salmon, but now used merely to thrill the tourists.

Visit the giants. Reaching the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we head out with a guide to see the 40,000 basalt columns. This geological anomaly was created by volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, the columns formed by molten lava cooling into hexagonal stone steps. This being Ireland, there’s an alternate version of the story that has little to do with volcanoes, and more to do with Celtic warrior Finn MacCool and his Scottish rival Benandonner.

Relive Game of Thrones. Twenty minutes’ drive inland, we take a spooky stroll through The Dark Hedges—a favourite stop on all the Game of Thrones tours.

Go to the beach. The famous Strand, a two-mile stretch of golden beach in Portstewart, is the ideal spot for picnicking, surfing, birding or just taking in the view. The beach also makes the perfect backdrop for dinner at Harry’s Shack. As the name implies, it is a big, wooden shed tucked at the edge of the dunes, family-run by people with restaurant resumés as long as your arm. Inside, the interior is raw and rustic with a wood stove crackling away. We tuck into perfect fish and chips and fried chicken, washed down with a bottle of wine, watching the sand slowly turn from gold to blue to black.

DISCOVERNORTHERNIRELAND.COM

UK and Ireland: Driving Tips

left-hand drive

Left-hand drive is easier than you’d think—once you get the hang of it, of course.

Mind the curb. With left-hand drive, it’s not so much driving on the other side of the road that’s the challenge, it’s driving on the other side of the car that takes some getting used to.

Opt for GPS. This is always worth the money and they call it sat nav here (satellite navigation). Map out your adventure in advance; winging it is for amateurs. That said, the GPS will take you on the main routes, whereas the sideroads may be much more interesting.

Check your speed. Northern Ireland is part of the UK, so road signs are in miles per hour, whereas if you’re coming from Dublin, Ireland—being part of the European Union—favours the kilometre.

THINGS TO DO: IN NORTHERN IRELAND
THINGS TO DO: IN SCOTLAND

Slow down. Be on the lookout for sheep, cows, RVs, tour buses, motorcycles, etc.

Relax. Though the roads are narrow, they are far less crowded than those in the Republic of Ireland or in England or Scotland, so this is a good region for beginner left-hand drivers.

Shift gears. Note that if your car has a standard transmission, the gears will be in the same place with left-hand drive—you will just be sitting on the other side of the gearbox. (So, first gear is up and away from you.)

Share the view. If you’re able, take turns driving, so one of you doesn’t miss out completely on the gorgeous scenery.

DISCOVERNORTHERNIRELAND.COM
VISITSCOTLAND.COM

Belfast: Gin Jaunt

gin

I’m one of those people who always has a bottle of backup gin, should the actual gin ever run dry. It’s the larger size, a two-litre bottle, which we call the Super Big Gulp. People laugh, but they’re more than happy to partake in said backup when the need arises.

My interest in gin began years ago, when I mixed drinks at my parents’ card parties in the 1970s: gin fizzes, gimlets and rickeys. A martini for me is always gin-based unless otherwise specified—I’m that committed. Being invited to the opening of the new home of Bombay Sapphire at Laverstoke Mill south of London a few years ago was like a reward, a pilgrimage—one I still talk about, especially when I’m trying to impress other gin aficionados. (This always works.)

But England doesn’t have the market cornered when it comes to gin any more as things turn out, particularly small-batch gin: A trip to Ireland proved very much otherwise.

This truth comes out in Belfast, while spending a full Saturday afternoon with Taste & Tour, a food and drink touring company that takes you “off the eaten track” to experience the top food and drink establishments in the city centre with a couple of different walking tours, including a Whiskey Walk and a Gin Jaunt. Basically, they walk people around town getting them drunk. A simple but fun business model—and they do well by it: The Jaunts sell out weeks in advance. I soon see why.

“There’s a real fascination with gin at the moment,” says Taste & Tour founding director Phil Ervine. “Gin is a fascinating spirit category, as no two gins are the same. There are so many different styles to explore, from London Dry and Old Tom to New Western and Plymouth Gin.”

THINGS TO DO: IN NORTHERN IRELAND
TASTE TO TRY: SHORTCROSS GIN

Hello, Doug? It’s me, gin. The tour takes us to five different locations where we taste very generous pours of seven different gins in three hours, starting off in one of Belfast’s oldest pubs: the Victorian gin palace that is the Crown Liquor Saloon. We learn first about the pub (built in 1826 and restored to the tune of half-a-million pounds) and then embark on the gins, softening the first one with a Fever-Tree tonic, which I immediately dislike. The second tasting, a wet martini at Rita’s nightclub around the corner, provokes a few grimaces at the cocktail’s potency but our group’s general volume increases. I’m shocked how many people admit to never having tried a martini before, but I guess that’s the whole point.

At the third stop, I have to wave away the tonic and win kudos from Phil for just drinking the local Jawbox Gin on the rocks. It’s delicious, with fresh citrus notes balancing flavours of juniper and pine. The founder of this Belfast distillery, Gerry White, is on hand to provide a bit of context, including background on the name, which is taken from the old Belfast communal sinks in the poorer parts of town, around which neighbourhood gossip was readily shared.

Farther along our tour, Boatyard Double Gin from Enniskillen in the southwest corner of Northern Ireland lights up everyone’s eyes—mind you, we’re five in, so the lights were kinda already on and we are all really, really good friends by now. Boatyard has an even more pronounced juniper taste with a floral tinge. One of the organic botanicals is sweet gale, a type of wild myrtle that grows on the distillery property.

The last magnificent example comes in a shelf-worthy blue-glass bottle. Distilled in Drumshanbo in the Republic of Ireland, Gunpowder Irish Gin has a citrusy, tea-like taste, with one of the more noticeable botanicals being something called gunpowder tea, a type of Chinese tea that is rolled into a tiny pellet. And yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus—Gunpowder has made its way to the LCBO.

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DISCOVERNORTHERNIRELAND.COM

Chicago

More than just deep-dish pizza and hot dogs with no ketchup, Chicago can really tick all the right getaway boxes. Let me count the ways.

There’s nothing like a decadent city escape to take you outside of yourself and “unquiet” the mind. Toronto’s partnership with Chicago began in the early 1990s, in part because we had a lot in common, both being big, international, cultural hubs propping up a Great Lake. Today, despite the exchange rate, a weekend in Chicago is pretty good value, primarily because the hotel room rates are relatively low, like, often under $200.

Do touristy things. One can never get enough of the Art Institute of Chicago or take too many pictures of one’s reflection in Cloud Gate, a.k.a. the “Bean.”

Ogle the big buildings. The Architecture River Cruise never gets tired either, mostly because new buildings are joining the skyline here all the time—Chicago invented the skyscraper, after all. The 150 North Riverside building seems to almost defy physics. The Skyscraper Gallery at the Chicago Architecture Center exhibits scale models of famous buildings in Chicago and around the world in a big space overlooking the river-cruise dock. Also terrific fun is the Center’s interactive model of the city, which now includes 3,000 buildings, its film and light show highlighting the city’s history and distinct neighbourhoods. This is very cool.

WHERE TO STAY: CHICAGO HOTEL ROUNDUP

Hit the ’hoods. Scoping out different parts of town is one of the best ways to get under the skin of Chicago. Once you’ve combed through downtown, getting lost elsewhere gives you the bigger picture. Neighbourhoods are also quieter, so you actually get some relaxing in sans hustle and bustle. Thankfully, the elevated “L” train system is easy and efficient, albeit deafeningly loud. Try Wicker Park, Bucktown, Ukrainian Village, the West Loop, Pilsen and Andersonville.

Go Italian. Chicago is well-known for its culinary adventures, thick pizzas and ketchupless hotdogs aside. There’s a ton of great Italian food, thanks to the town’s rich, 100-year Italian history. Eat your way through the menu at Siena Tavern, a cavernous, made-from-scratch kind of place, all rustic and raucous. At Coda di Volpe, you cut your pizza with shears and devour house-made pasta. This neighbourhood spot is up near Wrigley Field, an area reinventing itself, the dingy watering holes being replaced with cool eateries and rib joints springing up amongst the city’s dozen or so comedy clubs, also clustered here for some reason.

Drink up. When the sun sets, the Logan Square area is littered with countless bars and clubs, including classic-cocktail bars Pink Squirrel, a bar and bowling alley named after a 1950s drink of the same name, and Spilt Milk, housed in what was once a 1920s apothecary. Seriously, they make it so easy to get into trouble here.

F&B: TIKI BAR ACTION

When you go. One thing you have to watch out for in Chicago are the diagonal intersections, where three streets create six corners. Tim headed the wrong way down the wrong street and was more than an hour late for dinner one night. I drank a whole bottle of pink bubbles waiting for him. “Meet you there!” now takes on a whole new shadow of doubt, sadly.

CHOOSECHICAGO.COM

Iceland

The arts-oriented culture, amazing food, other-worldly topography and healing waters are just four of the many reasons to head to Iceland.

Reykjavik stands as a true European cultural capital, while still maintaining a small-town feel. The hip factor is extremely high. Couple that with the steady stream of visiting Europeans of all stripes, just hanging out or there on business, and you’ve got the one of the coolest café society melting pots.

Start your adventuring in the Old City and work your way out. Reykjavik is full of art, with coffee bars and cafés providing the pit stops. Yes, there’s the Icelandic Phallological Museum filled with mammal penises, but that only takes a few minutes.

Visit any time. Like anywhere, visiting Iceland depends on what you want. Midnight sun? Go in June. Northern Lights? November through April. The biennial multidisciplinary Reykjavik Arts Festival is a cultural extravaganza in June. April through August sees a half dozen really good music festivals. The Fringe is in July. Pride is in August. Winter Pride is in March. The Laugavegur Ultra Marathon in July and the Reykjavik Marathon is in mid-August.

Make the food scene. The Food and Fun Festival is in March, but Iceland’s top chefs are busy reinventing the national cuisine all year long, embracing traditional foods and giving them a modern twist. Reykjavik’s Dill Restaurant is one of those at the forefront of this wave, with things like geothermally baked rye bread, salted cod, goose breast and incredible cheeses. The more casual Grill Market is another Reykjavik highlight. Grilled monkfish skewers, rack of lamb, grilled red fish, big steaks and puffin sliders (not kidding) top the menu here.

Get in the swim. Locals treat the public swimming pools like a social event, a way to start the day or unwind after work, year-round. Kinda like the pub. Check out the popular Laugardalslaug or the iconic, Art Deco Sundhöllin.

Head for the hills. The time you spend in the countryside will be what you talk about most when you get home. Iceland is the closest the Earth will ever get to looking like the moon. Sweeping beauty is absolutely everywhere, from the moss-covered lava fields to volcanic craters in the north. There is such a variety of breathtaking geology, you will find it hard to pick which tours to take. There’s something for all interests and fitness levels, from day trips to overnights. The big 4 x 4 trucks that take you out onto the glaciers have a Mad Max meets Monster Truck feel to them.

Trip up north. People stream to the northern city of Akureyri to watch the aurora borealis dance, sometimes all night. The geographical anomalies that dot this region are also a major draw, a veritable freak-show of sprawling waterfalls, volcanic oddities and geothermal go-sees. After you hike around crater ponds and explore lava ridges and caves, you can straddle the region’s giant fissure at the Grjótagjá Rift, standing with one foot on the Eurasian tectonic plate and the other on the North American plate. The Myvatn Nature Baths just east of the rift is a true delight; a man-made, mineral-rich, 36-degree hot spring pulling water from up to 2,500 metres below ground.

THINGS TO DO: IN AKUREYRI

Hit the big spa. Spend an hour or two at the famous Blue Lagoon on your way back to the airport. Mucking around in volcanic mud is the perfect way to say goodbye to this arresting and mesmerizing land—and your skin will thank you for it.

When you go. Average July temperatures are 12 C but of course can reach the 20s. And because Iceland lies in the path of the North Atlantic Current, its winter temps are mild considering how close you are to the Arctic Circle—hovering around +2/-2 C. Icelandair has some great packages worth investigating that also include the northern city of Akureyri.

VisitIceland.com
Icelandair.com

Buffalo

A road trip to a revitalized Queen City yields warm hospitality, rich heritage, vibrant art and landmark architecture.

My friends all pulled a big face, screwing their noses up as if I smelled. “Why the hell are you going to Buffalo?” Morons. Because it’s right around the corner, I told them. Turns out we were on the Peace Bridge in two hours and nine minutes, and well on our way to an excellent weekend away.

A quiet revival is taking place in the Queen City: cool neighbourhoods you could picture yourself living in, old buildings and homes getting a new lease on life, once derelict parts of town now the talk of the town. We also locked into the hospitable vibe from all the nodding; people actually acknowledge your presence—in store lineups, on street corners, bellying up to the bar—like a small town. Turning off the Toronto anonymity is often like a vacation in itself.

Peg a whole day for art. Spin through the Albright Knox Art Gallery in the north end of town to absorb its incredible collection of modern and contemporary art. Follow that with a visit to The Burchfield Penney Art Center across the street, a museum exhibiting works by Western New York artists.

Pay homage to the master. Completely nerd out the restored Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House. This 1905 home is one of Wright’s architectural masterpieces. From the open-concept living areas, crazy talk at the time, to the nature-inspired embellishment of more than 400 art glass windows to the pergola through to the conservatory, now full of orchids, the home is a solid marvel. Wright’s legendary controlling nature is on full display in many rooms, especially those with built-in cabinetry—he didn’t want anybody moving the furniture around.

Fill your belly. Buffalo is a bubbling-under town on the scope of the national food scene, chefs often returning here having made their name elsewhere. We manage to eat our way through a chophouse, a diner, a whisky bar and a Southern restaurant, before our jaws drop at Las Puertas, the city’s much-lauded Mexican restaurant. This 35-seat gem in the West Side, founded by 2018 James Beard-nominated chef Victor Parra Gonzalez, who hails from Acapulco, is thoroughly and distinctly modern Mexican, yet executed with classic French techniques elevating it to top-10 status.

Dance it off. The gay watering holes in Allentown are fun, and mostly old-school, like the town itself. We start off dodging drunk pool players at Cathode Ray on Allen Street, then proceed around the corner to Fugazi, where a slightly younger crowd is throwing back martinis. Gotta love the American free-pour.

Dip south for a side trip. More art and architecture came in the form of a small side trip to the town of East Aurora, a half-hour southeast of Buffalo. Hit the trail to visit Roycroft Campus, a cluster of historic buildings that was once home to a community of Arts & Crafts movement artisans in the early 1900s. Known as Roycrofters, the group began as printers and publishers, expanding under founding father Elbert Hubbard to become a self-sufficient guild of furniture-makers, metalsmiths, leathersmiths and bookbinders. It’s a rare survival of an art colony, the story and art kept alive through several restored workshops and an excellent museum.

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HOTEL HENRY
INNBUFFALO OFF ELMWOOD
THE ROYCROFT INN

Panama

Small-ship cruising along Panama’s two coastlines yields unrivalled R&R, jungle adventure and a type of unstructured holiday you don’t have to save for your old age.

On a nine-day small-ship journey with UnCruise, an adventure travel outfit from Seattle, I toodle around the bays and islets off Panama’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts on Safari Voyager with 40 or so other intrepid travellers.

“We are the antithesis of the big ships,” says UnCruise owner Dan Blanchard. “Everything we do is not about the boat, it’s about what’s off the boat—the nature and wildlife. Essentially, the boat is a floating lodge we ‘hub and spoke off’ all day, the tool to get us to the places we can’t get to otherwise.”

Spot the boobies. I rarely get excited about boobies. But then I spot my first blue-footed boobie—and I’m mesmerized. On an inflatable skiff looking through binoculars, we see their cliffside bird colony on Little Pacheca Island in the Gulf of Panama. My boobies aren’t alone: I also see cormorants, pelicans and more, each commanding their own particular real estate around their wee island rookeries.

Find your tribe. Further down the Pacific coast, we spend an afternoon at an Indigenous village in the Darién province, communing with a tribe of welcoming Emberá villagers still living the same traditional jungle life that goes back centuries. After a formal welcome and a bit of ceremonial dancing, we buy crafts—beaded pendants, woven baskets, carved wooden dishware—and taste raw sugar cane.

WHERE TO STAY: IN PANAMA CITY

Kayak the mangroves. Existing before humans, the salt-tolerant coastal vegetation of the sub-tidal zones is its own ecosystem, filtering the salt out of the tree roots. Paddling through the mangroves yields an exquisite sense of peace and an arresting realization that I’m visiting a place few people ever get the chance to visit. We languish in the approaching sunset, drinking in the silence, watching the pelicans dive-bomb for fish in the estuary. No wonder these poor creatures go blind from this daily grind.

Traverse the Panama Canal. Tick.

Find a desert island. On the Atlantic side, we make for the Indigenous province of Guna Yala, a grouping of 360 picture-postcard islands, all white sand, palm trees and thatched roofs. We snorkel, paddleboard, kayak some more, eat, play volleyball and shop for molas, the colourful embroidered tapestries the locals have brought to our island-for-the-day.

THINGS TO DO: CASCO VIEJO

When you go. Uncruise Adventures offers seven- and 10-night trips around Colombia and Panama in October, December and January, and July and August. Pack the linen.

Vancouver Island

A Vancouver Island road trip yields bold libations, divine seafood, big hikes and heavenly hydrotherapy. The British Columbia coastal regions have a myriad of spots to explore, east and west.

First stop: Comox. Hop in a car and onto the ferry at Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, then head north. This thriving region offers nature-lovers plenty of adventure via wildlife viewing tours, mountain biking over 250 trails, year-round golfing—even caving on a rainy day. Add a tasting at 40 Knots Winery to your list of must-dos. You’re staying at Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa for the picture-postcard views of the Strait of Georgia and the unique Pacific Mist Hydropath at the resort spa. We take the waters in an almost Flintstones-like cave, guided through five different sandstone-sculpted alcoves and pools—a shower, a pool, a waterfall, a steam, an ice-cold waterfall, a hot-cold bath, a mineral soak and a scrub.

Second stop: Forest. Before you head down famed Pacific Rim Highway #4 that winds through the mountains to the Island’s west side, stock up on car snacks in Coombs, where the roadside Old Country Market has goats grazing on its rooftop pasture—not kidding. Along your two-hour drive, make time for two short walks: one at Little Qualicum Falls and the other at Cathedral Grove, home to the largest Douglas firs and red cedars in Canada. The island also has some of the oldest fir trees in the world, many commonly living up to 750 years old.

Third stop: Ucluelet. Once you reach the ocean, dip south for a night or two at The Francis, a self-contained, high-style boutique inn. It’s walking distance from the Wild Pacific Trail, a gorgeous eight-kilometre stretch of hiking through old-growth coastal rainforest. The seasonal Ucluelet Aquarium is Canada’s first catch-and-release aquarium, with an annual Release Day in early December.

Fourth stop: Tofino. Carrying on north, a few nights at the hip Tofino Resort + Marina is next on the itinerary. This combo hotel, restaurant, bar, gym, marina and outdoor adventure centre is a hub of activity night and day with both tourists and locals. Dinner at the resort’s 1909 Kitchen is a smorgasbord of taste sensations. Tofino is considered Canada’s surfing capital, with year-round waves enticing surfers to 35 kilometres of sandy coastline. Before you leave town, try to spend an afternoon with Tofino Food Tours to get in on some of the area’s top local culinary specialties. The Island produces some of the best hot-smoked sockeye and chum salmon in the world. Take some home from Dockside Smoked Fish Store in Tofino.

F&B: TOFINO FOOD TOUR

Fifth stop: Parksville. On your way back to Nanaimo or Victoria, book in for a night or two in one of the log cabins at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort, and make sure to hit the detoxifying mineral pool at its award-winning Grotto Spa. After that, you can start planning your next visit.

VANCOUVERISLAND.TRAVEL

Anguilla

Anguilla

In this Eastern Caribbean delight, you’ll find blissful bays, white sand, cool rhythms and warm welcomes. Just head to St. Martin and turn left.

Settling into Anguilla, our little private pool overlooking Crocus Bay was just the right refreshing temperature and ditto the meltiness of the gin and tonics. And there would be time for another while we waited for the private chef we had hired for the night to work his magic in our glassed-in kitchen.

This British island just north of St. Martin/St. Maarten has one of the highest rates of repeat visitors in the Caribbean. And for good reason: The beaches are insane, the food is phenomenal, and the people are charming—a sun-spot’s triple threat. Anguilla has the right amount of semi-poshness to make it luxe, mixed with just enough normal to make it affordable.

Set up at CéBlue Villas. This gorgeous hillside resort sports five-bedroom homes, each with its own little pool, media room, kitted-out kitchen and gorgeous ocean view. It’s far enough away from it all to enjoy the serenity, but just a few minute’s drive from the heart of the island action. The Crocus Bay beach is just down the hill, complete with attendants, ample watercraft for those inclined, and Da’Vida, a cool beachfront restaurant.

Pop into the posh. The Kelly Wearstler-designed Four Seasons Anguilla is beyond dazzling. Sunset at the Sunset Lounge couldn’t be more special. People flock to this elegant waterfront bar overlooking the infinity pool at cocktail time to see how the other half lives and to prime the night with the signature Jalapeño Margarita.

Set sail. I highly recommend an afternoon of sailing from bay to bay aboard the classic sailboat Tradition, a handmade wooden boat from 1978. Book a trip to Prickly Pear Cay or Little Bay and enjoy a lobster lunch or hop on for the sunset cruise. Mind the fizzy doesn’t go to your head.

Get Scilly. Earmark Wednesday or Sunday for lunch on Scilly Cay, a tiny coral islet off the village of Island Harbour, reachable by a free, 10-minute boat ride. The whole island is a rustic open-air restaurant run by the Wallace family, who whip up Anguilla’s deadliest rum punch, plus platters of barbecued lobster, snapper and chicken. Have a punch, have lunch, then wallow in the shallow waters on the soft sandbars.

Go dancing. Live music is a huge part of Anguillan culture. Locals and tourists lap up reggae, jazz and R&B bands almost every night at the many venues scattered around the island, including the Powerhouse, Johnno’s Beach Stop, Gwen’s Reggae Grill, and the Dune Preserve, owned by music icon Bankie Banx. Time your visit to coincide with the annual Moonsplash Music Festival in March/April.

When You Go. Off-season between May and August is the best time to visit Anguilla to get prime deals and avoid the rains. Book a sea shuttle in advance to get you from the airport to Anguilla via the 25-minute ferry, which runs all day. Keep an eye out for Denzel Washington and Robert DeNiro. No, not together. Go to ivisitanguilla.com for more.

Florida Keys

A road trip down Overseas Highway to Key West nets the freshest fish, pesky pelicans and sublime sunsets. The pie’s not bad either.

This is the straightest road I’ve been on for a while, and I’m from the Prairie. We’re bombing down Florida Highway #1 heading south. In a few minutes, we’ll be on the famous Overseas Highway of the Florida Keys, the longest overwater road in the world, with 42 bridges, including one that is 11 kilometres long. This Florida Keys road trip is an adventure I’ve been looking forward to ever since watching the chase scene in True Lies, where Jamie Lee Curtis holds onto the helicopter skid for dear life. More than two million people visit the Keys each year. That’s a lot of convertible Mustangs.

Duck into a roadhouse. These iconic eateries line the highway, some quirky, some plain—all delicious. At The Fish House, we slide into the start of what becomes a week-long routine, selecting a fish—grouper, yellowtail snapper, mahi mahi, and more—then choosing how we’d like it prepared—grilled, blackened, breaded, pan sautéed, jerk, the list goes on. The Keys restaurants have menu staples that quickly become a good habit: conch chowder, spicy tuna nachos, lobster done every which way, stone crab claws, crab cakes, fried oysters and of course, variations on the celebrated Key Lime Pie. Open-air places like Sundowners and Keys Fisheries sport large wooden terraces filled with locals and tourists alike, inhaling right-off-the-boat fish along with decent local craft beer.

Escape into the sea. If you are in any way watersports-inclined, the tiny History of Diving Museum is a gold mine of stuff relating to the underwater world, fun even if you’re not a diver. The collections of helmets and masks is beyond good, as is the exhibit on the history of underwater photography.

Feed the tarpon. At Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada, tourists hand-feed the giant tarpon that favour the pier here. We sink into stools on the deck of the adjacent, aptly named Hungry Tarpon restaurant, order Trailer Trash Bloody Marys and fish burgers, then watch the big pelicans bite the children. One even drew blood. So fun.

Feed the turtles. The tour of The Turtle Hospital in Marathon is well worth a visit. This non-profit rescue-rehab-release facility is the only hospital dedicated to endangered sea turtles in the world. The patients suffer mostly from accidents with boats and from a disease that gives them tumors. Turtles that can’t be released because they would never survive live in what was once a giant swimming pool. You can throw them pellets.

Rest in Key West. We find a comfortable, devil-may-care attitude here spilling into all the different parts of the culture. This two-by-four-mile island was originally an eclectic haven for Native Americans, Spaniards, freed slaves, sailors and pirates, eventually welcoming the creatives, the queers and the misfits. You’ll fit right in. I sure did.

THINGS TO DO: VISIT THE BUTTERFLIES

When you go. The best time to visit The Florida Keys is between March and May, when the volume of tourists and nightly rates are down. Check out fla-keys.com and visitflorida.com to plan your trip.

Scotland: Speyside

Home to more than half of Scotland’s distilleries, Speyside sits right on the Malt Whisky Trail—a sure-fire route back to your roots.

Speyside is the region in northern Scotland along the banks of the River Spey more or less between Inverness and Aberdeen. Difficult to categorize because there are so many, the whiskies here have a strong character, with smoky toffee and floral flavours.

UK: DRIVING TIPS

The concentration of distilleries in Speyside dates back to a time when making it was illegal, and the distillers needed seclusion among the rolling hills and winding roads. The amazing water here was also a big draw. Be sure to hit Benromach and Cardhu, plus all the Glens: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glen Grant and Glen Moray.

Learn about whisky. Whiskies are either blended or single malts. To qualify as a single malt, whisky must be made in Scotland, bottled in Scotland and aged at least three years. The age on the label always refers to the youngest whisky in the blend. Whisky is aged in oak casks, bought from U.S. bourbon distilleries, who are required by law to only use a cask once. Casks can also be procured from Spanish sherry-makers. The whisky then takes on the taste of the cask’s previous occupant.

THINGS TO DO: IN THE HIGHLANDS

Mind the angel’s share. While it’s aging away, whisky actually evaporates through the casks, something known as the Angels’ Share. The joke goes that this is why older whisky is more expensive—customers like you have to pay for what the angels pilfer.

Visit the cooperage. Casks that need repairing are taken to Speyside Cooperage, the last one in existence in the UK. Twenty coopers and apprentices rejuvenate older oak casks—an art that goes back 5,000 years.

WHERE TO STAY: IN EDINBURGH

Bunk down. Opened in 1893 where the Fiddich and Spey rivers meet, the 26-room Craigellachie Hotel was built to cater to business people making sales calls to the region’s whisky producers. Not much has changed, as visitors travelling on the Malt Whisky Trail stop here for a break or to stay the night to rest up for more tasting the next day. The Macallan and Aberlour distilleries are two of the hotel’s nearest neighbours.

Many guests come specifically for the salmon fishing nearby, to hike to the beach at Lossiemouth or to visit nearby Ballindalloch Castle. The dining room is a must-do: organic Aberdeen Angus beef, fish from the Moray Firth, Walkers Shortbread and wild venison. After supper, congregated in The Quaich bar, where more than 900 bottles of whisky line the walls. Uh-oh.

VISITSCOTLAND.COM
MALTWHISKYTRAIL.COM
CRAIGELLACHIEHOTEL.CO.UK

Curaçao

Curaçao, the gem of the southern Caribbean, yields the best of island life with an exquisite icing of European chic to make things even more interesting.

Curaçao and its capital city Willemstad form a complete vacation checklist: brilliant-blue waters, 35 white-sand beaches, a heritage comprising more than 55 different cultures (including Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese), beautiful European Colonial architecture with more than 700 listed buildings and a healthy perspective on the LGBTQ, including their own.

The benefits don’t stop there. This island of 160,000 is also outside the hurricane belt and blessed with trade winds that make it not seem quite so hot. Visitors find excellent and eclectic museums, some of the best scuba diving in the world and an actual café society due in part to the thousands of Dutch tourists who flock here year-round, including a large number of students.

• Mix up your accommodations and their locations. Spend a few days in the Pietermaai district at one of the boutique hotels, a day or two at Floris Suite Hotel (particularly for Friday night’s lobby party at 6 p.m.), maybe rent an Airbnb in the Jan Thiel area. There are all-inclusives, but you don’t really want that.

• Don’t be afraid to go out at night. Pietermaai is where the action is. Hit Mundo Bizarro for cocktails, Ginger for Asian Caribbean or Kome for a steak, then Miles Jazz Café for live music. Don’t shy away from the local food stalls and markets.

TRY THE TASTE: IGUANA STEW

• Spend at least one full day or two in Westpunt. Hike up to the top of Mount Christoffel (at dawn, before the heat begins), drop by Shete Boka National Park to see how the crashing waves have sculpted the coastal limestone, and try the iguana stew at Jaanchie’s for lunch (mind the bones).

• Beach-hopping is an actual thing. Each little bay has its own personality. Playa PortoMari has resident red pigs Woody and Willy (not kidding) to romp with, while Playa Piscado is busy with half a dozen wild turtles who clamber for treats from the local fishermen and delight the families swimming along just a few feet away. Lagun Beach is tiny and more peaceful, popular with divers and locals. Really, the whole island is a diver’s paradise with more than 60 sites.

• Rent a car right at the airport. Take note that gas is expensive.

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England: Stratford-Upon-Avon

Stratford

You don’t have to be an English major to be moved by a visit to Stratford, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

Stratford, the Bard’s stomping grounds, is a vibrant and busy little overnight side trip you can easily make, about a two-hour train ride northwest of London. And like a lot of famous out-of-the-way destinations, there is a tawdry, touristy side thriving happily alongside the peaceful, countrified atmosphere of this city of 25,000—riverboats, statues, swans and all.

• Head to the house. A visit to Shakespeare’s actual birthplace is a must and you absolutely have to go inside. Some of the flooring on the main floor is original—Shakespeare actually walked on the same floor. (I truly can’t remember whether this was the kitchen or a different room.) It’s so tiny it takes just a few minutes to see. But you need to hang out in the back yard, because actors regularly perform one of his plays right on the premises. You can even write in with a request to join the resident actors.

• Book well in advance. A night at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or the Swan Theatre will be absolutely magical. It won’t matter what play you’re seeing, it will be a superb experience that you will dine out on for years afterward.

UK:DRIVING TIPS

• Hang with the actors. After your night at the theatre, pop up the street to the dual-named Black Swan/Dirty Duck pub for a pint, and wait for the actors to wander in later to bask in the groupie glory. The critics also congregate here after curtain calls to bitch. Take time to look at the signed black and white headshots and see who you recognize. This is the only pub in England to have a licence under two names.

• Go in comfort. Stratford has hotels at different price-points, but you want to stay at either the 400-year-old Church Street Townhouse or the 45-room The Arden Hotel, both central and within walking distance of the theatres.

VISITBRITAIN.COM
VISITSTRATFORDUPONAVON.CO.UK

Cuba

historic cuba

You’d think that once Castro was dead, things would take a turn for the better in Cuba, but you’d be wrong. This country has been repressed and messed up for what seems like 100 years.

There are many great reasons to go to Cuba, but you have to be ready for all the crap. You need to be able to copy with a great many things, which I simply cannot. These include the black market, the two currencies (such a slap in the face!), the self-importance of the privileged, the irksomeness of the apathetic, the tourism prostitution and the desperation the citizenry. Sorry, but I could really go on.

• The island has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is more than any other Caribbean nation.

• The beaches are stunning. And the scuba diving in the south is incredible (Caribbean side). I sat on a bus one day for two hours to dive the wall in the Bay of Pigs and it was like a Dali painting. I truly can’t compare it to anything else. I even broke my own rule and went deeper than I wanted, but it was worth it.

• The art and music are both exceptional. And the colonial architecture will charm the pants off everyone, and not just in Havana.

• There is an arts enclave. Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second largest city founded in 1515, has been pushed and pulled by Spanish, African, French, Haitian and Antillen influences. It is a cultural hub, home to many artists, musicians and writers. The fortress of Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, built in 1700 and restored in the 1960s, overlooks the bay just a few miles southwest of the city.

• It’s really old. Trinidad is one of the oldest European Cuban settlements, a UNESCO Heritage Site and architectural gem best known for its churches and museums. The centre of town is very well-preserved. Trinidad’s province, Sancti Spiritus, is great for nature-lovers and outdoor exploration. Nearby Topes de Collantes is a nature reserve park known for its hiking, waterfalls, spa mud baths, and postcard vistas.

CUBATRAVEL.CU

GOCUBA.CA

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Head to Pennsylvania’s largest city for the cheese steak sandwich—stay for the history lesson.

On top of 300-year-old architecture and a rich heritage, Philadelphia promises all the food and fun of New York, but with way better prices. And with only 25 blocks from river to river, it’s an easy place to get around.

There are touristy boxes to tick, of course: The Liberty Bell is on display here, plus you need to visit Independence Hall where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. The Italian Market is a real hub, the oldest open-air market of its kind in the U.S. The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses more than 200,000 works spanning 2,000 years.

The city of brotherly and sisterly love, though, is widely known for its staple sandwich. The story goes that two hot dog vendors, the Olivieri brothers, got tired of eating hot dogs everyday for lunch, so one went to the butcher for a steak, which they then chopped and fried and ate it on a hot dog bun with some fried onions. A regular customer, a cab driver, lured by the smell, asked for the same. A star was born. The crusty Italian roll soon subbed in, and the provolone cheese was added a decade later, reportedly by an employee of the brothers. This morphed into Cheez Whiz at some point, but you can still find provolone versions. There’s even a vegan version if you lean that way.

And to walk off the sandwich, the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art will do fine—forever captured on celluloid by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky.

VISITPHILLY.COM

Nantucket

Nantucket

Southern Massachusetts, baby! I just like saying “Nantucket.”

Nantucket is not just for the summertime anymore, either. Autumn really is the best time to visit, because the population drops from 80,000 to 10,000. Absolutely everybody who doesn’t live there has gone home, so you can wander the cobblestone streets and rub elbows with the locals without tripping over other tourists. Plus, in the fall, you can still bike, sail and golf, and generally enjoy the outdoors a bit longer—and you can get a table at any of the nice restaurants. Table tip: Scallops are smaller and more velvety at this time of year, harvested from the chillier waters.

Digs in the fall are cheaper: Three to try include the three-storey mansion the Jared Coffin House (circa 1845), the Wauwinet (circa 1875) for lobstering and surfcasting, and the gorgeous and sprawling White Elephant (circa 1920s).

Be sure to pop into the Whaling Museum, which relates the island’s 19th-century history as a whaling hub.

If your visit coincides with December, the annual Christmas Stroll is classic New England: markets, carolers, dozens of trees decorated by local artists and special sales. Santa arrives by coast guard.

When you give in and plan it, Cape Air can take you there from Boston in about 45 minutes, or you can make it a road trip. If you plan to visit the whole state, here are 100 things to do in Massachusetts from Your RV Lifestyle.

NANTUCKET-MA.GOV
MASSVACATION.COM

Maine

maine

Sure you’re been to Sugarloaf, but that was the wintertime. Maine’s outdoor offerings in the summer are big on big-sky adventure, both on land and at sea.

Outdoor adventure resort Northern Outdoors in central Maine has full-day whitewater rafting (and a brewery) on the Kennebec and Dead Rivers every day. You can also fish, hike, kayak and canoe, or tear around on ATVs. The resort lodge is cozy and kitted out, with rooms there or cabins to rent, including open-loft “logdominiums.” I just like saying “logdominiums.”

In the state’s Western Mountain region, Maine Huts & Trails is a non-profit that runs a world-class system of backcountry trails and eco-lodges for what they refer to as “people-powered” recreation. There are four interconnected huts (quite near Sugarloaf) that you can hike, mountain bike, and paddle between, staying in the lodges and huts. This is the great outdoors, but with way better food.

And if sailing is your thing, Maine Windjammers has nine sailing ships leaving from Rockland or Camden for three to six nights touring Penobscot Bay. These schooners are like works of art, with home-cooked meals and daily shore excursions. Look at it as camping at sea. Swim, tour around in a dinghy, visit lighthouses, eat a ton of lobster, and hike among puffins. Did we mention lobster?

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Portugal: The Azores

Azores

While it used to be a stopover point on the way to Portugal proper, the nine islands that make up the archipelago of the Azores are a destination in their own right—and one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.

Lush and green despite being made up of 1,766 volcanoes, The Azores is an autonomous region within the Portuguese state that has made great gains since the 1970s, when it was still a relatively low-key fishing outpost.

Island life in the Azores teems with opportunities for visitors to sail, dive, go deep-sea fishing and explore more than 120 geotourism sites—everything from volcanic caves and ravines to hot springs. This is one of the main reasons the destination is on so many ecotourism-friendly lists. Surfing, yachting, paragliding, too.

The whale-watching is phenomenal, as the Azores is one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries, boasting visits from 20 different kinds of whales. April to October is the time for this, depending on what kind of whales you want to see. (Like, any old whale would certainly do me.)

THINGS TO DO: IN THE ALGARVE

The best time to go is really August and September when the rain is down, and both the air and ocean temperatures are high. We realize these are busy months at home and at our cottages, but maybe it’s time you broke with tradition just this once. These people could use a little tourism right now.

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SATA.PT

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro is one of those Balkan countries that has a bit of everything—beaches, mountains, rapids, fresh-water lakes, breathtaking scenery, medieval villages, ruins—and maybe some new friends.

From the capital of Podgorica, rent a car and head to the Adriatic Sea, setting yourself up in one of the many cool apartments in the towns that dot the Montenegro coast. Then, you can drive through places like Bar and Budva, Przno and Sveti Stefan, drinking in the scenery. Spend a day wandering around the city of Kotor at the foot of Lovcen Mountain. One of my dream trips is to drive all the way around the entire Kotor Bay, visiting all the little villages, lunching on fresh fish or cruising to one of the seven islands in the bay, including Our Lady of the Rocks.

The nearby city of Tivat is home to the opulent marina Porto Montenegro, dripping with luxury yachts. Hire a boat to tour the area and ogle the shoreline properties—or simply hang out at the Lido pool. Hotels are dear here; your best bet is to rent one of the beautiful old houses, which can be had for less than $200.

MONTENEGRO.TRAVEL

Japan: Kyoto

Kyoto

When my partner Tim gets something in his mind, there is no shaking it out. Such was the case in Kyoto the day he decided we would bike around Kyoto to visit all the temples.

A guide book had told him that that was the most efficient way to see Kyoto, which he took this to heart, despite the forecast. “One hundred per cent chance of rain today,” the concierge said, trying to deter us. No dice. The bikes were free, too, which made matters even more rigid.

We got to the first stop and it started to rain. It then rained for hours. The bikes were e-bikes, so less pedalling was required, which was a blessing because my whole body felt like I had gained 50 pounds, the rain water soaking through my clothes and into my underwear.

I’m not really a history buff, but you can’t help feel awed by Kyoto. Gawking at gorgeous, centuries-old stuff has a humbling effect, to say the least.

Shoot for April. Cherry blossom time, while very busy with people from all over Japan arriving to enjoy the annual show, is absolutely gorgeous. Families gather in their traditional formalwear for the annual family photo will make your Instagram shots look so authentic!

Lose count. The 1,001 statues of Kannon the goddess of compassion line the hall at Sanjusangendo temple, also known for the 28 guard statues in the front row and for the willow trees out front. The simple, wooden Yogenin temple is nearby.

Take in the terrace. Kiyomizudera Temple is noted for its wooden “patio” jutting out from the main hall. The Jishu Shrine is nearby, dedicated to love and matchmaking.

Find a quiet moment. Carry on to the Otani Hombyo, where things are more peaceful, particularly in the morning. The hauntingly beautiful Higashi Otani Cemetery is worth a climb up the steps for the view at the top. Pop into Maryuama Park for a while, too.

Go for the gold. Over on the city’s north-west side, the Golden Pavilion Kinkaku-ji shimmering in the pond out front is a true spectacle, always busy but very worth visiting. It was built in 1397, but reconstructed in 1955 in magnificent gold leaf and is surrounded by the most perfect garden.

F&B: BEWARE FAUX FOOD

Feel small. Also on the west side, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Sagano is almost otherworldly. The trees are so tall, you feel microscopic, like the flea on that dog’s back in the cartoon.

Feed a monkey. Just over the river, the Iwatayama Monkey Park is inhabited by more than 100 macaques or snow monkeys, all wild but still willing to accept food from you, which you can buy before you climb up the hill. It takes about an hour or so and again, the view at the top of the mountain is incredible. Tip: Don’t look into the monkeys’ eyes!

On our return ebike trip to the hotel, it rained so hard, everything in our backpacks was soaked, including the map. We managed to piece it together—only to find that we had matched the sections incorrectly and were solidly lost for more than two hours. My poor passport never did recover.

KYOTOTOURISM.ORG

Morocco

Morocco

You’ve seen the movies and sang the songs – it’s time you got on the road to Morocco.

Marrakesh and Casablanca are three hours apart by train; Casablanca is the economic and business centre, while Marrakesh is the tourist hub. This part of the world is steeped in history with a culture so rich and colourful, you may have to spend a month winding your way through all its compelling corners.

Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque features the world’s tallest minaret and the small island of Marabout de Sisi Abderrahmane is where locals go to get away from it all. The Morocco Mall is the largest in all of Africa.

Marrakesh is a bit more relaxed, awash in traditional markets, lush gardens, tombs and palaces, including the famous Bahia Palace. The real draw, though, is the Moroccan countryside, which has it all: two coasts, forest, rock, farmland, desert and palm trees. Start planning at VisitMorocco.com.

Nashville

Nashville

Go for the music and stay for the bologna sandwich. Or vice versa—whichever gets you down to Nashville, Tennessee, the famed Music City.

Nashville is a live music-oriented spot that totally amps up its country roots while making plenty of room for the new talent, just like it always has. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-visit, as is the Johnny Cash Museum and the 2,000+-seat Ryam Auditorium, the winter home of the Grand Ole Opry (from November to February).

Nashville may also be the place to visit an actual honky-tonk, and Lower Broadway is full of them, brimming with country, western, folk, bluegrass, gospel, zydeco and rock. Oh, and lots and lots of cold beer.

And fried bologna sandwiches. For whatever reason, the fried version of this classic sandwich is a specialty. The top four places to mow down on one include: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Puckett’s Gro. & Restaurant, Robert’s Western World and Tenn Sixteen Food & Drink Co. The sandwich is a mix of kitsch kuisine and kid’s comfort food, a budget-conscious staple in diners for decades.

Outside the honkey tonks, the city’s emerging food scene is starting to see some ink in the national magazines, featuring way more than just the southern comfort fare. Keep an eye out for Dolly.

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Mexico: Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas

It’s hard to believe Cabo San Lucas was once just a sleepy fishing village. Along with sister city San José del Cabo, this tourist-friendly town walks the line between seaside desert escape and jet-setting hotspot.

Besides the requisite water sports, including great snorkelling and diving, Cabo San Lucas has plenty of outdoor adventure, plus a marina full of boats waiting to cast off for a secluded beach. This is also where more than a few Hollywood celebrities venture down to when they need a break from the limelight, so celebrity-spotting is also a regular pastime.

Don’t be afraid to step outside the all-inclusive resort. Cabo is not only brimming with excellent restaurants and lounges, it’s also a really safe place to wander around, even at night. Cap it all off with some of the most amazing sunsets you can imagine, and you’ve got a date made in paradise.

Visit the Arch. The tourist brochures weren’t lying when they touted the famous arch, El Arco at Land’s End, as a sight to remember. This is on the very tip of the Baja Peninsula where the Pacific Ocean meets the Gulf of California (a.k.a. the Sea of Cortez). Hop on a glass-bottom boat or your preferred watercraft and breeze on over to the end of the world. A popular spot for sea lions, this sheltered neck of the bay is where can sink your toes into the sand of Lover’s Beach or hit the water for a snorkel. Take a quick walk to the Pacific side of the peninsula to watch the waves crash onto Divorce Beach—just don’t dwell on it for too long.

TASTE TO TRY: SANGRITA

Find calmer waters. While the ocean here is notorious for it’s riptides, there are many bays and secluded strips with calmer waters perfect for snorkelling. The thing to do is find a touring outfit that specializes in zodiac-type inflatable watercraft that can zip along the water at 50 mph, stopping at various spots for a snorkel. Some of these beach-hopping adventures wind up on a floating restaurant near the marina for lunch.

Go for the whales. If you can work in your visit around March, that’s the best time to marvel at the humpback whales that wander by Los Cabos in droves, often with calves in tow. You’ll also see sea lions and pods of dolphins that seem to like all the attention they get. Pontoon craft can put you as close to the action as possible, with some tour boats offering hydrophone listening technology that lets you listen in on the whale song.

ME Cabo is gorgeous. Relax in comfort with a cool beach club vibe and really the only swimmable beach in town.

MEBYMELIA.COM
VISITLOSCABOS.TRAVEL

Turkey: Ephesus

Ephesus Turkey

Abandoned in the 11th century during the Byzantine era, the ancient city of Ephesus near Selçuk in Turkey’s Izmir province was built 3,000 years ago, the largest marble city in the world.

An archaeological museum, Ephesus is best known for the Temple of Artemis (built in 550 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and for the Celsus Library (pictured), the facade of which is a noted example of Roman public architecture. Visitors walk on the 2,000-year-old marble streets, through temples and a giant arena—even a public lavatory.

ALSO VISIT: CAPPADOCIA

Ephesus was once a port city and important cultural centre, as well as the site of many biblical events: Saint John was said to have preached in Ephesus and the Gospel of John may have been written here. Saint Paul did missionary work in Ephesus and what is believed to be the last home of the Virgin Mary is about seven kilometres away.

It truly is a miracle that Ephesus still exists and is worth a bus ride from Izmir. Or do the circuit from Istanbul and hit Gallpoli and Troy, too.

GOTURKEYTOURISM.COM

Turkey: Cappadocia

Cappadocia

Istanbul is incredible, but a one-hour flight into the heart of Turkey brings you to Cappadocia, a historical gem in Nevşahir province.

Here, visitors soak up the traditional lifestyle and amazing topography right alongside the apricot farmers, making time for ancient churches and underground cities, roadside markets, regional cuisine, and artisanal rug makers and ceramicists.

Cappadocia is characterized by a landscape of soft rock created from layers of volcanic ash millions of years old. The unusual swaths of aptly named “fairy chimneys” in the valleys are steeples of rock that remain behind as the supporting rock around them erodes.

Go underground. This region was once the realm of the Hittite Empire, laying claim to settlements that date back to Roman times and further. Ongoing archeological excavations are unearthing entire villages, such as the Sobesos Ancient City, as well as “hideout” cities deep within the hills, once used to protect townspeople from marauders and religious persecution. Of the 35 underground cities, Kaymakli and Derinkuyu are the widest and deepest, respectively, where visitors can wind through a multi-storey, thousand-year-old stone maze of rooms, including stables, kitchens, storage and prayer rooms.

Find God. The still-vibrant frescoes in the rock-cut churches of the Göreme Open Air Museum preserve the religious history of Cappadocia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this cluster served the spiritual needs of people for centuries, acting as a monk settlement, a pilgrimage site and now one big history lesson on early Christianity. The Church of the Buckle is the largest cave church, its ninth to eleventh century frescoes representing the 12 apostles and many saints, along with scenes from the life of Christ.

ALSO VISIT: EPHESUS

Get up in the air. One of the best ways to see the lay of the land in Cappadocia is from a hot-air balloon. On a nice day, you can see more than 100 balloons coasting in and around villages, vineyards and fairy chimneys. These typically leave the ground at dawn.

Sleep in a cave. Many boutique cave hotels dot the map near Göreme National Park, Nevşahir and Ürgüp, with rooms that were originally carved into the mountainside centuries ago. Two in particular stand out a mile for their attention to detail and all-out luxury: Yunak Evleri Cave Hotel in Ürgüp and Gamirasu Cave Hotel in Ayavalı.

Watch for clay pots. Kebabs are not all the same. Keep an eye out for testi kebab, an Anatolian beef, lamb or chicken stew baked slowly in clay jugs with green peppers, tomatoes, garlic and butter.

Trafalgar.com, turkishairlines.com goturkeytourism.com

Antarctica

Antarctica

It really doesn’t get more “bucket list” than the 7th Continent. You wouldn’t think a place with permanent ice and snow would be much of a draw, but you’d be wrong.

Antarctica is all about zipping through icy bays on pontoon boats, hiking up glacial hills, kayaking or just plain penguin-watching. And a Quark Expeditions cruise through the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula is the perfect bucket-list adventure for anyone—thrill-seekers, nomads, romantics.

A quick Google search of “things to do in Antarctica” turns up “survive” as one of the main activities. The explorers that started arriving in the early 1800s can attest to that. The real activity, of course, is the journey itself—and this will likely be the furthest you will likely ever get from your house. Most cruise lines will have you landing in Ushuaia the day before you set sail. It bills itself as the City at the Bottom of the World—just a few kilometres from famous Tierra del Fuego National Park. (Weirdly, it used to be a prison colony.)

Pack your summer stuff. You will spend a few days in Buenos Aires first, where it will be full-on summer. You would be remiss not to take advantage of the weather, even for a day or two. 

Pack your ski stuff. While daytime temps in Antarctica’s “summer,” from December to February, hover around -2ºC, you’ll find yourself outside a lot. As well, ship corridors in this part of the world generally aren’t exactly toasty.

Get your awe on. Nothing can prepare you for the beauty of the giant walls of ice, frosty clouds rolling in low with full sun behind them, shimmering vistas across icy bays. Some of the ice we were looking at was thousands of years old.

ARCTIC ADVENTURE: IN GREENLAND

Spot the critters. Despite being a big deep freeze, the Antarctic archipelago has its fair share of wildlife. You will see different kinds of penguins (including the Gentoo, Adélie and Chinstrap) and seals (including the Weddell, Leopard and Crabeater) and soon be able to tell them all apart. All feed on krill, an algae-eating form of crustacean. Keep an eye out for whales. You will also see birds flying alongside the ship, nesting in rocky crags or feasting on krill at the shoreline: blue-eyed shags, Antarctic terns, brown skuas, snowy sheathbills and numerous varieties of petrels. On-board experts share their knowledge of ornithology, marine biology, zoology and geology with talks during downtimes.

Say yes to camping. At an overnight camping trip at Rongé Island, those brave enough not only survived but actually slept.

Take the plunge. On Deception Island, many brave souls stripped down and ran screaming into minus-one-degree water, part of a polar plunge. From my dry spot on the shore, this all looked very invigorating.

Don’t forget anti-nausea medication. The first and last legs of the journey are the most wobbly: crossing the notorious Drake Passage. We noticed the hooks under our dining-room chairs that would allow us to attach ourselves to the floor if need be. I remember one particular dinner where servers spent more time replacing utensils that slipped off the tabletops than they did delivering plates.

Be patient. It takes about 100 hours of sailing (not including touring around the peninsula itself), 30 hours of flying and four hours of taxicabs to get to Antarctica and back—truly the trip of a lifetime.

Quark Expeditions

Colorado: Steamboat Springs

Steamboat

There is so much to love here. This little, remote town sits comfortably in the Yampa Valley at the foot of Mount Werner, three or so hours northwest of Denver. (Scroll down for the slideshow.)

At 7,000 feet above sea level, this region of 12,000 is so named because the bubbling of natural hot springs resembled the sound of a steamboat coming down the river, back when French trappers first arrived in the early 1800s.

The gold rush of the 1860s opened up this part of the country, paving the way for ranchers and settlers. And ever since Norwegian Carl Howelsen came to town circa 1910 and awoke an interest in ski jumping and recreational skiing, Steamboat Springs has been a thriving community that eats, sleeps and breathes skiing. More than 70 people from the region have competed in the Olympics in the past century.

Enjoy quality slope time. With 65 runs, 23 lifts, tons of snow and plenty of fresh air, the Steamboat Ski Resort will take your breath away—particularly at the top of the mountain, which tops 10,000 feet above sea level. Find perfectly groomed hills for every level of skiing ability. The après ski crowd is always fun—and thirsty. For a real workout, hit the cross-country ski trails.

Take the waters. After a winding 15-minute shuttle into the woods, you arrive at Strawberry Park Hot Springs to melt your cares away in the rustic pools. Beware: One of them is really cold! Unfussy and unhurried, this romantic spot sees bathers changing in a teepee (don’t be shy). And because there is no electricity, clothing is optional after dark. Closer to home base, the Old Town Hot Springs is mid way between Steamboat the town and Steamboat the mountain, with a lap pool, hot spring-fed small pools, a gym and a water slide.

Hop on a horse. Ranching (and skiing) has been in the Heid family for generations. Triangle 3 Ranch, just 15 minutes or so outside of town, is where you can trail ride through snowy canyon trails on horseback—likely with a couple of dogs in tow.

Hit the shops. The wall of cowboy boots at F.M. Light & Sons on Lincoln Avenue will be more than your eyes can take in. Just try not to paw over all this fine-crafted footwear, hats and belts. The shop opened for business in 1905 and is still in the same family. Across the street, poke your head into Cowboys and Indians and get lost among the locally made jewellery, antiques and crafts.

Cuddle up in the corner. Head to the Ore House at the Pine Grove, built in a 110-year-old barn, for the best steaks in town. Daily prime rib and Angus steaks headline the hearty menu. • The deeply intimate Café Diva is the top restaurant of the region, nestled in the ski village at the base of the mountain. Duck confit pockets come bloated with gouda and maple-bourbon sauce, while a cabernet veal demi-glace dresses up a lean elk tenderloin. • Clever cocktails and shared plates are the orders of the day at Laundry Kitchen & Cocktails, where bartenders resurrect cocktail recipes from the ’40s and ’50s, much to the delight of the après-ski crowd. And if suds are more to your liking, the award-winning craft beers in Colorado are some of the best in the U.S.

Steamboat Springs

Mexico: Playa del Carmen

Mayan

The Mayan Riviera, running from Cancun to Tulum on the Caribbean side of Mexico, is best known for the multitude of resorts anchoring a string of 10 beach towns that dot the coast from Puerto Morelos to Punta Allen. All offer the best in sun and white, white sand.

And just 40 minutes south from Cancun, the city of Playa del Carmen (population 150,000) sits near the middle of the Riviera, opposite the island of Cozumel. Calm, cool and collected, the vibe is assuredly unhurried. And whether you’re touring around, enjoying the water, hunting for souvenirs or just sitting in a chair, you’ll find great people, sublime scenery and amazing food.

Drag the main drag. Avenida Quinta (Fifth Avenue) is the main pedestrian strip, where you can get your shop on any time of the day or night. Hundreds of restaurants, bars and stores line this little main drag, catering to the daily influx of tourists popping off cruise ships for a poke around town. They dock near the south end of Fifth Avenue, making it more touristy; stick to the north end for some peace and quiet, plus a better quality of both shopping and dining.

Do a day trip. While sitting in a chair staring at the surf has it’s benefits, block off a day to rent a car for a drive to Tulum, and a visit to both the 13th-century ruins and the surrounding beaches. The only Mayan city built on a coastline, the Tulum pre-hispanic ruins are ringed by a limestone wall seven metres thick, with the prominent castle sitting at the top of the limestone bluffs. This is a very popular tourist site, so try to get there as close to opening time as possible (8 a.m.) to avoid the throngs and take advantage of the best sunlight of the day for your photos.

ALSO VISIT: COZUMEL

Check out the reef. Scuba diving put Playa del Carmen on the map. It was just a sleepy little fishing town until a ferry service began from there to the island of Cozumel, one of the best places to dive in the world. The Great Mesoamerican Reef, which stretches 725 kilometres from Cancun south to the Bay Islands of Honduras, is the world’s second largest reef. It marks the spot for surveying 150 varieties of reef fish and 100 species of coral.

Swim in a cave. Freshwater sinkholes, called cenotes, make for a fun afternoon of crystal-clear diving or snorkelling in and around caves where the visibility can reach up to 125 metres year-round.

Learn something. The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, at 1.3 million acres, is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean, and includes the 23 archeological sites of the Maya civilization. Promoting ecosystem conservation and the sustainability of natural resources, the Centro Ecológico champions low-impact tourist activities, while educating visitors about the region at the same time. Pasttimes include flyfishing, kayaking, “ponga” boat tours and more, and you can even stay at the centre in deluxe, eco-friendly cabins.

VISITMEXICO.COM

Costa Rica: Guanacaste

Guanacaste

The Guanacaste province of Costa Rica has hit the all-terrain jackpot—with beaches, mountains, canyons, volcanos, waterfalls, wetlands, plains, parks and rain forests.

This variety, coupled with great weather practically year-round leaves visitors to Guanacaste revelling in the spirit of Pura Vida. Literally “pure life,” this iconic and health-oriented philosophy encourages an appreciation of life, body and soul. Costa Rica takes this to heart. The people here are also so completely conservation-conscious, the government has set its sights on the country being carbon-neutral by 2021. And with such a strong bio focus comes a great respect for the land, its preservation and the protection of its wildlife.

Stay at a real ranch. Rancho Humo in the district of Nicoya is a 1,000-acre working cattle ranch along the Tempisque River at the edge of Palo Verde National Park. While cattle remains the going concern, conservation is of equal importance since the area became a protected wetland, home to countless species of birds, including herons, hawks, storks, egrets and ducks (just visiting from Canada). This is one of those places where they actually encourage you to drink the water: It is one of the reasons given to explain why life expectancy in this region is among the highest in the world.

Treat yourself. A little pampering on the Papagayo Peninsula can reveal even more of the Pura Vida philsophy. This is the Gold Coast, the most exclusive part of the country, famous for its posh resorts like the Andaz and Four Seasons, an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, and the elegant homes of the rich and famous (Madonna had a house here). In fact, the new refurbishment of the Liberia airport was due in part to attract and cater to the influx of celebrities and millionaires—and now yacht-owners: the $15-million Papagayo Marina jutting out into Culebra Bay is the largest in the country.

READ MORE: THE ANDAZ PAPAGAYO

Go green. Despite all the elegance, 80 per cent of Papagoya is protected land. The resorts go to great lengths to ensure a sustainable tourism experience. Driving through the forests, you can spot howler monkeys and white-faced capuchin monkeys, as well as inquisitive coatis who hail from the raccoon family. Distinctive orange-legged caracara birds of prey don’t actually hunt, but instead wander the ditches looking for roadkill—Pura Vida of a different stripe to be sure.

Climb on a horse. Outdoor adventure is also a huge draw in this region, much of it hooked to popular working cattle ranch Hacienda Guachipelin, where visitors can spend a few days connecting with nature and getting some exercise: in the form of ziplining, rock-climbing, rappelling, river tubing and horseback riding.

Take the waters. A visit to Guanacaste wouldn’t be complete without dipping your toe in the healing spa waters and mud baths produced by all the volcanic activity—and there is a lot of it: This area has seven active volcanos, all generating energy. The 9,000-year-old Rincon de la Vieja Volcano is attached to a major power plant, helping to generate steam for electricity for the entire country. At nearby Rio Negro Hot Springs, bathers congregate in six thermal pools heated naturally by Rincon, then paint themselves—and each other—with volcanic mud.

VISITCOSTARICA.COM

Ski Resort Report

Ski

Six of your best bets to ski, snowboard, aprés-drink, conference or celebrate.

Red Mountain Resort, Rossland, B.C.

Overview: Charming heritage town, really nice people, no lines, terrific skiing.

Selling point: The consistent and brilliant snow, top-rated because of the resort’s location along the famous Powder Highway.

Meeting space: A new conference centre (120 people, theatre-style) is great for cozy and compact multi-day group retreats. A variety of on- and off-mountain lodges and chalets to choose from.

Skiing: 4,200 acres of fun. The resort recently added 1,000 acres of intermediate-level runs on Grey Mountain, an entirely new peak.

Getting there: A scenic 2.5-hour drive north of Spokane Airport. As well, Air Canada Jazz flies into Castlegar Municipal Airport from both Calgary and Vancouver.

Closing remarks: As their website says, “The only fluff we offer is our snow.”

Website: RedResort.com

 

Le Massif de Charlevoix, Quebec

Overview: The perfect mix of meeting, mountain and après-ski, not to mention the heavenly (and homemade) Quebec cuisine.

Selling point: The gorgeous Le Germain, which is just a few minutes’ drive from the ski hill, built on the site of what was once a nunnery and farm.

Meeting space: A flexible business area in the main hotel building can handle from 50 to 110 people, depending on the configuration.

Skiing: The lodge is at the top of the hill, with breathtaking views of the St. Lawrence River below. There’s a 7.5 km sled track as well, the third longest in the world. (And not just for the kids.)

Getting there: Take the private train from Quebec City, which stops right at the lobby of the hotel.

Closing remarks: Pure Canadiana at its finest.

Website: LeMassif.com

 

Lake Louise, Alberta

Overview: Mountains, glaciers, lakes, forests, big steaks and the beautiful Fairmont Lake Louise in Banff National Park.

Selling point: Voted one of Canada’s best ski resorts, and one of the world’s top ski regions that doesn’t require a car.

Meeting space: The Fairmont Lake Louise has 36,000 square feet of conference room—along with the Banff National Park for themed group exploring.

Skiing: One of the largest resorts in North America, with 4,200 acres of terrain across four mountain faces.

Getting there: Frequent two-hour transfers from Calgary International Airport are available and an efficient shuttle system takes over after that.

Closing remarks: This is old-school skiing at its finest.

Website: SkiLouise.com, Skibig3.com

 

Aspen Snowmass, Colorado

Overview: World-class service and reputation, glamorous, huge off-slope activity list, great powder.

Selling point: The variety of four mountains—Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk—plus the giant-size scope of everything that goes with it, from dining to racing.

Meeting space: Choose from a variety of rooms, restaurants, decks and log cabins, such as Snowmass’s new Elk Camp, accessible via a nine-minute gondola ride and holding up to 300 people.

Skiing: 11,111 feet, 42 lifts, 5,300 acres, one lift ticket.

Getting there: Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is six miles away, with direct flights to Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis and more.

Closing remarks: With snowcat rides, treasure hunts, picnics and moonlit dinners, your team will love it here.

Website: AspenSnowmass.com

 

Sugarloaf, Carrabassett Valley, Maine

Overview: Reliable snowfall, loads of space, a real variety of skill levels and terrain, plus a ton of things to keep you otherwise occupied.

Selling point: Never really gets crowded, with 154 trails that draw only about 350,000 skiers a year.

Meeting space: A very popular Maine conference centre. Nine salons can handle from 50 to 1,000 people.

Skiing: This is the largest ski resort in New England with the east’s only above-the-tree line skiing. Even mix of easy, intermediate and black diamond runs.

Getting there: A four-hour drive from both Montreal and Quebec City, and a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Portland International Jetport.

Closing remarks: With just one base area, expect a real “village” feel.

Website: Sugarloaf.com

 

Arosa, Switzerland

Overview: A charming Alpine town in the mountains of Graubünden, cheese fondue like none other and more than 60 kilometres of runs.

Selling point: The Tschuggen Grand Hotel, where a private funicular whisks guests directly to the ski area, bypassing the masses starting at the bottom.

Meeting space: While the hotel has rooms for up 24 people boardroom-style, the nearby Arosa Sports and Congress Center has conference capacity for up to 400.

Skiing: A full-on skiing experience with sublime runs in a variety of levels. This is the Alps, after all.

Getting there: Take a scenic two-hour train ride from Zurich via Chur. Limousine and helicopter transfers available (naturally).

Closing remarks: An Alpine fairytale at 1,800 metres above sea level. And where else can you snowshoe to supper in the moonlight?

Website: Arosa Tourism

Miami Beach: Hotel Bars

Miami

Drop by any one of these Miami Beach hotel hangouts to wet your whistle day or night. (Scroll down for the slideshow.)

The Eden Roc
Well, this one is actually in Miami Beach proper. The terrazzo floors of the sunken lobby bar at the Eden Roc have welcomed the footsteps of Frank Sinatra, Katharine Hepburn and Nat King Cole, who sang “Unforgettable” for the first time in what is now the Mona Lisa Ballroom. Elizabeth Taylor used to circle the bar, carrying on out the door if she didn’t see anybody worth hanging out with. EdenRocMiami.com

Soho Beach House
While the Soho is a member’s-only club/hotel, the main-floor courtyard houses Cecconi’s Miami Beach restaurant, which is open to all. The bar is long, lean and comfortable: Green and white tile floors, tufted sofas, fairy lights in the trees. The incredible Sunday brunch spread takes over the whole lobby: salmon tartare made to order, whole grilled mahi mahi, flatbread pizza with Parma ham, bottomless drinks if you’re up for that. CecconisMiamiBeach.com

The Standard
The Lido Restaurant and Bayside Grill is a true local hangout, the name a homage to the hotel’s original name: Lido Spa Hotel. Thirsty regulars congregate beside the pool at the low four-tops or along little banquettes built around flat-leaved sea grape trees. Gorgeous servers keep Ketel One martinis coming as fast as you can throw them back. This is one of the city’s most beautiful spots for a nightcap at the water’s edge. StandardHotels.com/Spa-Miami-Beach

The Metropolitan
The Met’s Traymore Bar, propping up a restaurant of the same name, manages to be both modern and nostalgic for the old Miami spirit. The bar’s claim to fame is its dedication to gin: They stock more than 30 artisanal varieties. Original pink and pistachio flooring is offset with white scalloped drop-ceilings, white walls and white rattan chairs. The whole place smells heavenly of the hotel’s eucalyptus and geranium signature scent. ComoHotels.com/MetropolitanMiamiBeach

Germany: Berlin

Berlin

The history, the architecture, the incomparable rhythm of life—Berlin really has it going on. (Scroll down for the slideshow.)

Step back in time. While Berlin itself is very in tune with its past, Museum Island is really steeped in history. Much of this five-museum complex has been cleverly restored since World War II, and now houses centuries of priceless art and cultural artifacts. The New Museum holds Early History collections and Egyptian treasures, including the famous 3,300-year-old bust of Nefertiti, while the Pergamonmuseum features reconstructions of massive archaeological structures. SMB.museum

Get some retail therapy. For shopping, head to the Kurfürstendamm, one of the most elegant boulevards in the city, lined with all the big-name shops. Rounding the corner onto Tauentzien Street, you’ll soon hit the Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe), the largest department store in Europe. Find time to also visit both the Friedrichstrasse and the Hackesche Höfe, a series of interconnected courtyards north of the River Spree that date back to the early 1900s. Kurfuerstendamm.de, Friedrichstrasse.de, Hackesche-Hoefe.com

Head to the beach. Almost one-third of Berlin is either parkland or water, so it would be a shame not to take advantage of it. Rent a bike and head southwest over to the Strandbad Wannsee on the eastern shore of Wannsee Lake, the largest inland beach in Europe at 1,000+ metres long. Find waterslides, boat rentals, volleyball, soccer, trampolines and private cabanas. This Cultural Heritage site has been packing them in for more than 100 years—including the nude bathing section.

Hit a beer garden. The stereotyping is real: Beer-drinking on picnic tables is a national pastime. What’s great about this tradition is both the simplicity and the inclusivity, with everyone from university kids to retirees hunkering down to plates of hearty fare, mugs in hand. Nowhere is that more evident that at Café am Neuen See in the heart of the Tiergarten Park, a romantic lake-side retreat in the middle of town—and one of the best spots to people-watch. CafeAmNeuenSee.de

Stay up late. Hip Berliners step out around midnight. The Kreuzberg area’s Watergate nightclub, at the south end of the Oberbaum Bridge, has both inside and outside dance floors with an amazing view of the River Spree. Be sure to do both sides of the river, crossing north into the Friedrichshain district to Revaler Street, which is teeming with clubs and bars. An outdoor concert at Arena Berlin in front the Badeschiff beach bar makes for a perfect summer night.

VISITBERLIN.DE

French Polynesia

Bora

If you took the American-ness out of Hawaii and replaced it with French-ness, added a dash of exotic class, then took away about a billion tourists, you’d have French Polynesia.

When you can wake up, mainline a perfect espresso, pop a bonbon into your mouth left over from the night before, then plunge into a crystal-clear lagoon at your doorstep while you wait for breakfast to arrive via canoe, you know you’re in for a red-letter day. This is the essence of French Polynesia, a swath of 118 islands spread out over 2,000 kilometres in the southern Pacific Ocean.

Go all out. Over-water bungalows of the major hotel chains are worth the splurge, and provide the perfect spot to keep an eye on the beach, the lagoon, the ocean and your book—all at the same time.

Start on Moorea. A 20-minute ferry ride from Tahiti, Moorea is a lush and unhurried nirvana encircled by a small lagoon. Make time to walk the hiking trails, climb island peaks, discover secret rivers and ancient maraes or stone religious shrines, and trip to Belvedere Lookout for a stunning view of Secret Mountain, with Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay stretched out before you.

Island hop. Little 20- and 30-minute flights get you from place to place relatively easy, most for less than $100 one way. You get the complete Polynesian picture this way, and will soon start recognizing fellow passengers—especially the surfers. Yum.

WHERE TO STAY: IN HUAHINE

Get real. On the island of Huahine, vacationers get a modern-day Tahitian island experience, a chance to see how real people live. A bit of an artist enclave, Huahine is also the site where archaeologists have found the oldest carbon-dated remains of pre-Polynesian civilizations, pre-dating Hawaii.

Get wet. Go snorkeling and swimming with wild stingrays, black point sharks and lemon sharks while cruising the lagoons.

Binge at Bora Bora. A bigger lagoon here makes for more hotel choices to be sure, but try to fit in a night or two at the Four Seasons. On top of having the coolest private boat in the lagoon, the hotel is as teeming with opulence as the water is with tropical fish. The Sunset Bar has the absolute best view. For a more intimate and perhaps more rustic experience, check out the Sofitel Private Island.

When you go. Air Tahiti Nui flies to the capital city Papeete from Los Angeles up to five times a week in only eight hours. All inter-island domestic flights are operated by the very similarly named Air Tahiti, which flies to 46 islands in the five archipelagos, as well as to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Peak season is from March to October, with May and June being the driest. Avoid the rainy season, from November to January, when it can rain for three weeks straight.

TahitiTourism.com
AirTahitiNui.com
AirTahiti.com

Puerto Rico: San Juan

San Juan

Drinks with Rickie Martin and Orlando Cruz? Sign me up! Wouldn’t that be a dream? I swear I like this town even more since Rickie rescued it from its own government that time. And double respect to Puerto Rico for surviving the neglect it weathered after Hurricane Maria.

Beautiful beaches, great food, rich history, secluded places to escape to, an actual café society and amazing SCUBA diving—San Juan is the perfect getaway—even an extended long weekend.

Set up camp. La Concha is a tropical, modern, architectural masterpiece with well-executed contemporary décor, a fabulous clamshell-shaped restaurant, and a location just a few steps from Condado’s gay beach. Everyone who is anyone will eventually turn up at the lobby bar. Entering the lobby at Hotel Casablanca is like stepping into an art gallery. Very old and right in Old San Juan, so you can stumble home after dinner. Ditto El Convento Hotel, a restored former convent and a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. And the Fairmont El San Juan is a classic overlooking two miles of beach in the Isla Verde Beach district, a super-nice neighbourhood just two miles from the airport. It sports four pools, 15 bars, the island’s top nightclub, Brava.

See the sights. Old San Juan makes for plenty of roaming, so carve out an afternoon of exploring it. A few hours at the forts—Fort El Morro and Fort San Crisóbal—will yield a small peek at the town’s history. Founded by the Spanish in 1521, this thick-walled museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and well worth a visit.

Hit the beach. Condado Beach is my favourite, at the foot of Calle Vendig, where there are two terrific café bars to prop up, morning, noon and night. Unlike a more secluded resort beach where you see the same tourists getting redder and redder every day and the same tanned torsos jogging every morning, the people-watching here varies by the minute, with the San Juan population mixing right in. Ocean Park Beach is just a bit further east, attracting a younger crowd out for the rec activities (volleyball, paddleball, etc.) and a louder good time. Windsurfers head farther east to Punta Las Marias.

Chow down. The cuisine in San Juan is largely geared to tourists, particularly the cruise-ship crowd which docks in the Old Town. This is a good thing, because you won’t tire of the fresh seafood platters, salads and the infamous mofongo: fried green plantains mashed with garlic and olive oil, and served with crab, shrimp, chicken, beef, vegetables and broth, or any combination of the above. When you come across fried chicken on any menu, order it. And if your idea of a good time is enjoying a nice basket of ribs and a bit of local colour at the same time, the crowd at Mango’s at Ocean Park will fit this bill in spades.

Party down. Ask your hotel doormen for the newest spot to hit for drinks after dinner (which is late, by the way). Tiny bars pop up and the latest and most fun hole in the wall won’t be obvious during the daytime.

Go rogue. For a relaxing overnight or two, ferry it to the pristine island of Vieques, just off the eastern shore. There’s a W Hotel, so you will be in good hands. The island is also a major dive centre. There’s also Mona Island, off the west coast, a designated ecological reserve offering crazy different kinds of wildlife and cool cave exploring.

Amuse yourself. El Distrito is an immersive, multisensory, audio-visual experience combining art, music, technology and hospitality. Visitors can eat and drink, but also try out the urban zipline, the first day/night disco, eight movie theatres and the dazzling plaza displaying a digital scenery system comprising more than 4,000 square metres of LED screens.

DISCOVERPUERTORICO.COM

Charlevoix

Charlevoix

Winter in Charlevoix is pure Canadiana—all cozy firesides, dogsledding, skiing, art galleries, hot apple cider, amazing local cuisine, you get the picture.

When life hands Canadians winter, we make it fun. No one knows this better than Charlevoix, which has been doing this for more than 200 years. Tucked up along the St. Lawrence, north east of Quebec City, this resort area still remains a bit of a hidden gem—almost 80 per cent of tourists to Charlevoix come from within Quebec itself. And for good reason: relaxed vibe, friendly locals, exceptional food, great skiing and picture-postcard scenery.

Take le train. Train de Charlevoix is a scenic rail line that runs from Montmorency Falls on the outskirts of Quebec City all the way to La Malbaie. You’re hopping off first, though, at Baie-Saint-Paul.

Hit the spa. Check into Le Germain Charlevoix to take full advantage of the Spa Nordique’s treatments, thermal spa, Finnish sauna, steam bath, snow fountain and indoor-outdoor pools. Paying creative homage to its former life as a series of farm buildings in connection with a nunnery, the hotel also houses one of the town’s hot spots, Restaurant Les Labours, and there’s a skating rink in the middle of the courtyard. Be prepared for impromptu games of shinny.

Hit the slopes. Charlevoix’s biggest draw in the winter is Le Massif ski resort just outside Baie-Saint-Paul, which has come a long way since the days when busses drove skiers from the river’s edge back up to the top of the hill, where the main lodge is situated. The hill has an 800-metre drop and lots of (natural) snow, both of which make for a long, smooth ride.

Wander the town. Baie-Saint-Paul owes its picturesque backdrop to a 56-kilometre-wide crater, the result of a meteorite impact a few hundred million years ago. Due to this anomaly, the whole municipality has been designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. A stroll down Saint-Jean-Baptiste will net you a chocolate factory, a microbrewery, a cider shop and an ice cream parlour—all will tantalize, as will the donkey-milk soap shop. Be sure to swing by the Musée d’art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul.

Wander the other town. Charlevoix’s other main centre is 40 minutes up the road. La Malbaie, so named because of the shallowness of the river at that point, which has beached more than a few ships. This wee town was once the playground of wealthy Americans in the summer (including President Taft). The community is immensely proud of the fact that it has been teaching tourists how to fish since the early 1800s—long before Canada was a country.

Bunk down. The Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, originally built in 1899, can kit you out for cross-country skiing, whale-watching, snowmobiling or stargazing—it has it’s own astronomy classes. The spa also maintains an outdoor, year-round pool.

WHERE TO STAY: IN QUEBEC CITY
WHERE TO STAY: HÔTEL DE GLACE

Go gourmand. Tantalizing food will tempt you at every turn. The gorgeous little Auberge l’Estampilles near Baie-Saint-Paul has just 11 rooms and a bijoux of a restaurant spotlighting regional delights. Laiterie Charlevoix in Baie-Saint-Paul not only has amazing cheddar, they also sell delicacies from across the region. Don’t skip the museum upstairs. Have the duck at Auberge des 3 Canards in La Malbaie. What else?

Go to the dogs. André Heller at Descente Malbaie will have you harnessing and driving your own team of dogs in no time flat, through the heart of the hinterland of Charlevoix, in the National Park of the Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. This husky pack likes nothing better than to show people around its backyard, but they only take commands in French, so leave the “mush” at home.

LEMASSIF.COM
TOURISME-CHARLEVOIX.COM
GERMAINHOTELS.COM

Cayman Islands

Cayman Islands is a trio of islands in the western Caribbean noted primarily for its plethora of the rich and famous. Think giant seaside homes worth millions of dollars—and how come? With more than 600 banks, Grand Cayman is the fifth-largest banking centre in the world after London, Tokyo, New York and Hong Kong. (Mostly hedge funds.)

Grand Cayman is therefore the prime spot for luxury beach resorts and café society, but there is plenty of room for the rest of us who crave maybe a mix of upmarket and down, so you can save and splurge without the major cashectomy—including the calm and peaceful other two islands: Cayman Brac is a deep-sea fishing launch point and Little Cayman is known for its unspoiled wildlife habitats.

Make camp. The famous Seven Mile Beach is home to the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, named after the island sunset. The Instagram-worthy open-air design, sumptuous rooms, gorgeous views and ample pools keep it on all the Top 10 lists. It also happens to be at the forefront of the island’s dining scene in a town well-noted for its amazing food.

Play in the sand. The famous Seven Mile Beach where all the resorts are isn’t the only game in town. Governor’s Beach is great for a family snorkel, East End Beach is a bit of a local secret, sunrise at tiny Spotts Beach is sublime for a quiet moment, and Point of Sand is a secluded paradise.

Bring a hollow leg. The annual Cayman Cookout is an international culinary event hosted by chef Eric Ripert and anchored to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman. It brings together incredible chefs, wine and spirit experts and culinary influencers for a few days of exclusive and interactive cooking demos and tastings, with massive dinners and fun local tours.

F&B: CHAMPAGNE TASTING NOTES

Savour more flavour. This is the island of the Scotch Bonnet chili pepper! One of the hottest there is. There are many wonderful hot sauces and stews here. But if your tastes are more mild there is nothing more delicate than the wahoo white fish, wonderful as a crudo or rubbed with lime and pepper, and grilled. The local conch is a sweet gastropod, a true delicacy, eaten raw or cooked. And when they are in season, the Cayman green mangoes are beyond extraordinary.

Snorkel a ship. The USS Kittiwake was a submarine rescue ship launched in 1945, decommissioned in 1994, bought by the Cayman Islands in 2008 and scuttled off Seven Mile Beach in 2011. Visiting snorkellers get an eyeful thanks to crystal clear waters and a 35-foot depth at her shallowest, deeper than she originally sat thanks to Tropical Storm Nate in 2017. But divers can reach her lowest depth of 85 feet and venture inside: This was the first ship I ever swam through as a diver, gliding over counters in the mess hall and waving at myself in the bathroom mirrors. Still talking about it.

Go West. West Bay is home to two checklist tourist attractions: The Cayman Motor Museum is a privately owned, 10,000-square-foot showroom filled with exotic and classic cars and motorcycles. And the Cayman Turtle Centre is an education hour or two learning about sea turtle conservation, and the centre’s the release program and online tracking initiatives.

Spot the celebrity. Caymans keep mum about the celebrities but not me. Taylor Swift, Richard Branson, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cameron Dias, John Travolta, Dwayne Johnson, Al Pacino, Tiger Woods, Oprah, you get the picture. Apparently Powerhouse Gym is the place to work out. Bring your autograph book if they even exist anymore.

VISITCAYMANISLANDS.COM

Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Nabbing a cool, mid-century modern bungalow in Palm Springs for a week by the pool could well be one of your better ideas.

It certainly was one of mine. The Palm Springs resort community of 45,000 people 175 kilometres east of Los Angeles is a great spot to relax and explore, gold and play tennis, and generally soak up the Hollywood playground vibe. If it was good enough for Frank Sinatra, it’s good enough for you. The more friends you can arm-twist to come with you, the bigger your pool will be.

Sing along. Both the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals are big draws, normally in early spring. Don’t get them mixed up or you will be disappointed. The International Short Film Festival—Shortfest—is in June. There are numerous film festivals throughout the year.

Take the tram. The Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tram car and heads up the Chino Canyon cliffs into the arms of the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area. Here, you trek along 80 kilometres of trails at about 2600 metres. You can even camp overnight.

Go Modern. Palm Springs has the biggest concentration of Mid-Century Modern homes in the world, inspiring an aesthetic movement now referred to as Desert Modernism. There are a number of trust groups and heritage societies dedicated to preserving the sites, and, of course, a number of guided tours. You can even stay in a retro gem: Many small hotels and vacation rentals are Modern classics, you just have to dig.

Go Mexican. Of all the eateries, fancy and not fancy, the absolute must-do is one of the Las Casuelas restaurants—opt for Las Casuelas Terraza over the original location if the weather is nice. Pick a day when day-drinking just feels right and load up on giant margaritas followed by giant plates of Mexican comfort food at these family-run fun, fun places. Four generations of family recipes can’t be wrong, the history dating back to copper mine times.

Go Hollywood. Take a celebrity tour of the star’s homes through the Old Movie Colony and soak up the cheesy goodness of Hollywood’s Playground. You hit famous neighbourhoods, secret little spots with a good story attached, and the homes of Sinatra of course, Elizabeth Taylor, Sonny and Cher, Bob Hope, Liberace, Elvis Presley, Dinah Shore and more.

Shake it. Speaking of Dinah, the Dinah Shore Weekend, a.k.a. The Dinah, is the biggest lesbian party in the world, with concerts, pool parties, club events and celebrity special guests for a weekend in late September. Palm Springs is also a big stop for the White Party in late October for the LGBTQ and fans.

VISITPALMSPRINGS.COM

Mexico: Cozumel

Cozumel

Mainland Mexico is lovely, but the island of Cozumel just south of Cancun is off-the-dial beautiful. A little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll, Cozumel is regaining its footing since hurricane Wilma crashed through in 2005.

Quiet and unhurried, it is considered one of the best places in the world to SCUBA dive, with more than 30 incredible sites on the west coast and a burgeoning dive scene opening up on the east side. Multiple coral reefs are mere minutes from the shore.

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Dressel Divers, which operates from the Iberostar Cozumel dock, even takes short breaks back on land between tanks. The all-inclusive resorts are unfussy and quiet, definitely good value. If you feel like adventuring, leave your resort for the day and try out the fun beach clubs around the island, such as Beachclub Buccanos Bar & Grill and Money Bar Beach Club. Margarita, anyone?

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Ecuador

Ecuador

This South American country is like four places in one. You get the Pacific coast, the Andes Mountains with its active volcanoes, the Amazon rain forest packed with wildlife and the iconic Galapagos Islands, all in one package.

With these four distinct eco-systems, Ecuador is more than just a jumping-off point for the Galapagos. Exploring the interior delivers Andes mountain magic and Amazon jungle surprises.

Explore the capital. Quito is a series of mini-neighbourhoods, each with a different essence and identity. Old Town brims with historic buildings, churches and museums. La Marsical comes alive at five, with young locals and tourists spilling out of the bars and restaurants near Plaza Foch. Head over to Calle de la Ronda for an authentic Ecuadorian snack and a happy-hour two-for-one. Cabs cost next to nothing, so you can skip the too-busy bus.

Head for the hills. A trip up the winding highways to the highlands nets you volcanic vistas, indigenous realism and misty forest. The city of Otavalo, in a lake region known for its textiles, has the largest outdoor market in South America, with row after row of stalls selling crafts and souvenirs. Spend a night at 200-year-old Hacienda Pinsaqui nearby, and enjoy a canelazo in the legendary bar—a spiked cinnamon tea.

Get sporty. Adventure sports are hot in Baños in south-central Ecuador, a relaxing spa town best known for paragliding, canyoneering and zip lining, as well as its picturesque parks, hilltop hikes and calming waters. Spring for a massage at one of the spas or pop into the local mineral baths for $2, and do the hot-and-cold healing-water circuit.

Hit the rainforest. Journey into the jungle for a night or three at one of the remote lodges in and around Yasuni National Park, accessible only by motorized canoe. You get the full rainforest effect communing with monkeys, fishing for piranha, scanning the treetops for rare birds, and watching parrots play along the clay riverbanks. Local community visits yield eye-opening simplicity.

Eat local. Traditional Ecuadorian food is plentiful, reasonably priced and delicious, particularly the barbecue. Fresh fish, fried chicken and churrasco beef dishes are dolled up with a variety of home-style hot sauces, patatas fritas, flavoured rice or deep-fried plantain. Steer clear of the street food, as your stomach may not react as positively as your eyes, but do step outside the taste-bud box and experience some of the authentic delicacies.

When you go. You can visit Ecuador all year round. January to May are the warmest months, but also the wettest. From June to December tends to be cooler and crowds are rare. GAdventures offers a nine-day Ecuador tour as part of its National Geographic Journeys adventure series.

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Mexico: San Blas

San Blas

Once a prominent Pacific port and shipyard, the small fishing town of San Blas (population 10,000) between Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta is home to giant stretches of beach, winding estuaries and mangrove-laden wildlife reserves.

San Blas history dates back to the late 17th century, but the town was founded much earlier than that, in 1530. While not exactly a day trip from either of these cities, it is a worthy add-on, despite being a relatively poor area, and particularly if you’re venturing to the beach town of Sayulita, from which is a mere two hours.

Dig old stuff. Lots of it! Trek through the Contaduría, a fort on San Basilio Hill, the spot for the accountants way back in 1770 when the hacienda was in full colonial swing. A few steps away are the ruins of the Nuetra Señora del Rosario Temple dating from the same time. A giant bust of priest don José María Mercado stands watch over the scene up there.

Look at the birdie. San Blas is also one of the most important natural bird shelters in the Western Hemisphere. In La Tovara National Park, you can find more than 300 different species of birds—pelicans, terns, egrets, blue heron, ocelots, the works—not to mention quite a few crocodiles.

Cruise. The tropical marsh that includes the El Pozo estuary, the La Tovara National Park, and the San Cristóbal River makes for a fascinating afternoon or two. A boat tour through the watery maze of vegetation and wildlife will remind you of every prison escape movie ever made. Turtles and herons and termites and snakes—this is every kid’s dreamland. You’ll also come across a movie set of floating wooden homes, replicas of those occupied by some of the first settlers here.

Cuddle the crocs. No, you can’t do that. The crocodile sanctuary Cocodrilario Kiekari down the river rounds out the critter list.

Catch a wave. The fine, golden sand of El Borrego beach stretches for three kilometres and is an optimal spot for surfing—or if you’re me, watching others surf. From here, hop on a boat to Isla del Rey for a little quiet me-time on the sand. The beaches are also the best places to savour the traditional seafood dishes served up in the wee thatched huts.

Savour the flavour. Speaking of dishes, you are staying at the Hotel Garza Canela, home to El Delfin Restaurant, headquarters of celebrated Mexican food ambassador, chef Betty Vázquez, the Riviera Nayarit region’s unsung hero of the regional cuisine. Before an incredible meal, I had a tequila with a lime and a sangrita chaser—a mix of orange, onion, lime and tomato juices. Try it at home.

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Australia: Tasmania

Tasmania

The remote Australian island of Tasmania is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, as famous for unspoiled natural environment as it is for the Tasmanian Devil.

For such a tiny island, Tasmania has a diverse mix of environments—alpine ranges, wetlands and grasslands, coastal heaths and extremely large temperate rainforests. Almost half of Tasmania is parkland and designated heritage land, with five regions and two islands. No wonder the fleecies love it.

The capital of Hobart is your jumping off point for cool excursions, including a picnic visit to Mount Wellington for one of the best views in the world. Hobart’s Salamanca Market is a must-see on Saturdays, as is the quirky Museum of Old and New Art. There are also five, count them, five World Heritage-listed convict sites. Grim but also fascinating.

The 200 species of native orchids make up for the sad convict stories, though, with at least one species blooming somewhere throughout the year. Autumn is the best time to see some of the more rare species, including the autumn bird orchid and the mosquito orchid.

The animal kingdom here is both rich and fascinating—this is the home of platypuses, penguins, wallabies, kangaroos, possums, bandicoots, dolphins, seals, whales in the winter, eagles and the above-mentioned snarling, carnivorous marsupial, to name just a few. December to May (summer to fall) is the best time to see Tasmanian devils, who breed in March.

Skip the ferry from Melbourne and just take the (almost) two-hour flight.

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Brazil: Jericoacoara

At the first donkey sighting, you know you’re in for more than just a regular few days at the beach.

Twisting around sand dunes and scrubland in a 4×4 with the tires deflated for better traction is a surreal experience, like you’re auditioning for The Amazing Race. Then, the town of Jericoacoara appears out of nowhere, popping out from of behind the dunes.

About 300 km northwest of Fortaleza in the Brazilian state of Ceará, Jericoacoara Beach, population 1,200, was once a simple fishing village without electricity, roads or telephones. Now, it’s a full-on beach retreat, complete with kite and wind surfing, dune buggies and drivers to hire, surfing lessons to take, sand boards to rent for $1 an hour, palapas to sit under and beer to drink.

The town’s tourism boom is fairly recent history: Visitors started arriving in 1985; surfers lured by the calm seas and high waves. Electricity followed in 1998, and the region became a national park in 2002. Because there are still no roads; all the supplies for each and every hotel and business is trucked in over the dunes. A medical helicopter is on hand for emergencies and plans for an airport are in the works.

MORE BRAZIL: CHAPADA DIAMANTINA

Visit the rocks. The stone arch at Pedra Furada is the photo-op-friendly rock formation but the real significance of the rock sites is their cave paintings dating to 12,000 BP. Archaeologists put the rock shelters at this place at more than 40,000 years old. (Fuck you, Clovis people.)

Hop in a dune buggy. Short hops by 4×4 are the order of the day. Check out the Lazy Tree and Dunas de Tatajuba.

Visit other beaches. At nearby Lagoa do Paraíso, a freshwater lagoon about 20 minutes away, a chilled-out vibe prevails, quiet and unfussy, rather bohemian. This is the best beach club in the area, the perfect spot to sip your caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. Visit Lagoa do Amâncio and Buraco Azul (the Blue Hole) for more open space.

Do not miss sunset. Make sure you’re back in Jericoacoara before nightfall, when everybody congregates on the giant Sunset Dune at the water’s edge west of town to watch the sun sink behind the sea, the horseback riders and the determined sand boarders. This is also where you can watch the spins and kicks of kids performing the capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that dates back to the 16th century. 

On your way out of town, you can understand why the wild donkeys—once domestic pack animals for the fishermen—never left this place. You won’t want to either.

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