Monthly Archives: July 2016

Paradise in the Tuamotus

A wicked seducer, the atoll of Fakarava has lots of temptations: an assortment of atmospheric guesthouses (with the mandatory terrace overlooking the lagoon), gorgeous stretches of silky sand edged with palm trees, sensational dive sites and a slow-motion ambience. The pretty village of Rotoava is a good place to get a sense of atoll life. You can rent a bike and head to Plage du PK9, a dreamy stretch of white coral sand lapped by turquoise waters.

For divers, Faka, as it’s dubbed, is the stuff of legend – it’s like visiting an underwater safari park. With its amazing drift dives and fabulous array of fish life, Garuae Pass (Northern Pass) is a quintessential site. In the mood for an otherworldly experience? Dive Tumakohua Pass (Southern Pass), where hundreds of grey reef sharks (up to 400 individuals on a single dive) can be seen. Sign up with Dive Spirit, a reputable dive centre with personalised service.

Ahe

Spectacular coral reefs, pristine islets fringed with white sand and an unhurried pace of life make Ahe an ideal destination for anyone looking for an authentic local experience. Only two accommodation options and one village can be found here, so opportunities to decompress abound.

Taking a cruise around Ahe’s lagoon is a highlight of any trip to the Tuamotus, and you’ll get the chance to swim and snorkel in otherwise inaccessible places. Pull on a snorkel mask and drift over rainbow-coloured coral, keeping an eye out for delicate angel fish, friendly turtles and swooping manta rays. Back on dry land, head to Motu Manu, which has the only remaining patch of native forest in the Tuamotus, or learn about cultivating Tahitian black pearls at a pearl farm or simply relax on the terrace of your bungalow with a cocktail in hand. Tempted? Arrange your stay with Cocoperle Lodge (cocoperlelodge.com), which has a stunning beachfront location.

Tikehau

Looking for low-key paradise? The Polynesian speck of Tikehau is lovely and laid-back. Swimming and sunbathing on a rose-golden stretch of sand tops the daily checklist for many visitors, but energetic types can fill their holiday with diving, kayaking and snorkelling. Whether you’re an experienced diver or a novice strapping on fins for the first time, you’ll find superb sites near the extraordinary Tuheiava Pass, about 30 minutes from Tuherahera, the atoll’s only village. Diving Safari Tikehauis a reputable dive centre. Within the lagoon, don’t miss snorkelling or diving at La Ferme aux Mantas, a cleaning station where little fish scour parasites from manta rays.

If you want to do the Tuamotus in style, Tikehau is your answer, with a good range of charming accommodation and a couple of top-notch small-scale resorts. Book a bungalow at Ninamu or Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, which both overlook wonderfully turquoise waters. All lodgings can organise boat tours that take in idyllic spots on the lagoon, including Motu Puarua (a bird island), fish parks and pink-sand beaches.

Mataiva

The captivating atoll of Mataiva has all the prerequisites for an idyllic getaway, with an added bonus of culture. With only one village, two family-run guesthouses and limited infrastructure, this bijou atoll is a dream come true for those looking to come down a few gears. The slim beach that edges the lagoon is an astonishing sight. Highlighter-pen emerald and turquoise water laps a stage-set-perfect crescent of white coral sand. It’s great for sunbathing, picnicking and swimming.

Activities on offer at the guesthouses range from cruising around themotu (islets) and snorkelling spots to kayaking and fishing. Small-scale diving is also available with Mataiva Plongee. Need some cultural sustenance? Head to Marae Papiro, one of the few noteworthy archaeological sites in the Tuamotus. It consists of a traditional sacred platform built of coral slabs in a coconut grove beside a lovely strip of sand.

Gorgeous Place In Peninsula

unduhan-29The frenetic nature of modern times seems to have been kept at bay in this gorgeous part of the world. Don’t let the leisurely pace fool you – the opportunities for nail-biting adventure, outdoor exploration and snow and water sports are endless in the UP in all seasons.

Plenty of room to breathe

Perhaps life isn’t so harried in the UP because there are simply fewer people here. Around 320,000 residents (three percent of the Mitten State’s population) live among the region’s 16,500 square miles – making up 28 percent of Michigan’s landmass. That’s a lot of elbow room. All this bodes well for visitors who want to explore the 4,000 inland lakes, some 40 picturesque lighthouses and 300 waterfalls, sunken shipwrecks, colonial forts and more than a thousand years of Native American history.

Hearty provisions

Stop in at Steinhaus Market (steinhausmarket.com) in the adorable and bustling downtown Marquette for charcuterie, pretzels and a bottle or three of beer.  Lagniappe (marquettecajun.com) serves Cajun fare, and it’s a lively spot, even on the grayest winter day. For locally-sourced, modern small plates and craft cocktails, duck in to The Marq (marqrestaurant.com) for deep fried Wisconsin cheese curds withromesco and giardiniera or smoked whitefish salad with currants, zucchini, almonds and mint. Their sassy Hipster cocktail (Campari, lemon, PBR and fresh lemon balm) may make you want to grow a beard and cuff your jeans.

The very hip and hardworking team at Blackrocks Brewery (blackrocksbrewery.com) nearby will regale you with fat bike stories over one of their beers. Each can has a story, many honoring the area’s seafaring history or showing local love, including the Hiawatha Wheat, brewed just for the three-day Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival (hiawathamusic.org) that takes place the last full weekend of July each year. The bash was founded in 1978 and features bluegrass, Cajun, Celtic, acoustic blues, folk and dance music with a trophy for the best decorated campsite.

Michigan’s winter wonderland

With 17-plus feet of natural snowfall on the slopes, Big Powderhorn Mountain (bigpowderhorn.net) in Bessemer offers up 33 runs from 10 lifts. One of 14 ski resorts in the UP, it shares lift tickets with nearby Indianhead Ski Area (indianheadmtn.com) in Wakefield. These Huron and Porcupine mountain ranges once towered over today’s Rocky Mountains. Successive glacial shifts have brought them down to a still skiable 2,000 feet, Michigan’s highest.

Off piste, fat tire biking is tearing up snowy trails, like the 10.58 miles groomed trail at the Noquemanon trail Network in Marquette. An annual race there is among the 45NRTH Great Lakes Fat Bike Series (greatlakesfatbikeseries.com), the country’s biggest series, which runs between December and March every year.

There are also more traditional Nordic ski trails available throughout Marquette South Trails. The country’s largest ski jump (one of only six in the world) is 80 miles south in Iron Mountain and is set to reopen in 2017. The  man-made “sky flying” hill is a 35-degree, 469-foot structure that sits 26 stories high and saw its last official run in 1994. Check the local calendar for events, or just stand underneath it in a brisk breeze to witness the Copper Peak (copperpeak.com) swaying as much as 18 inches by design.

Inside the Eben Ice Cave on Lake Superior © Getty / dpenn

Explore ice caves (mightymac.org/ebenicecaves) by clamoring over a snowy Lake Superior beach to see where waves, melting ice, wind and extreme temperatures combine to form translucent blue caverns. The tiny town of Eben Junction is just outside Marquette and is the gateway to these fantastical formations. Depending on recent snowfall, snowshoes may be handy for the near mile hike from the well-marked parking lot to the ice caves. Caves start to form as early as December.

Spring’s thaw

May temperatures in the UP will reach the mid-60s and dip back to the low 40s at night, perfect for hiking or exploring. Whitefish Point is located in the northeastern UP and is best spot in the upper Midwest for viewing bird migrations. In the spring, huge flocks of raptors and waterfowl pass by here. Rarities such as the Boreal Owl and Jaegers are occasionally seen. The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory (wpbo.org) has recorded more than 340 bird species on their books. During the last week of April, their Spring Fling is an ornithological riot of workshops and birding.

More of a history hound than a bird buff? The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (shipwreckmuseum.com) opens each year on May 1, and tells visitors about the lake’s shipwrecks, including the wreck of the famousEdmund Fitzgerald. At 729 feet and 13,632 gross tons, it was the largest ship on the Great Lakes until her demise, which was immortalized in popular culture by the eponymous Gordon Lightfoot song.

New Berlin for Travelling

Budapest? No, Bucharest! Years after taking the back seat to next-door neighbour Budapest, Romania’s edgy and opportune capital is now touted as the ‘new Berlin’. A city of contrasts, where staunch Orthodoxy coexists with vibrant nightlife, Bucharest sets itself apart by a mix of Balkan and Latin spirit, speaking a Romance language in a hotbed of Slavic neighbours.

Dusting off its communist past following decades of transition,Bucharest is increasingly popular for visitors travelling through Eastern Europe. Many come to one of Europe’s most affordable capitals for the gaudy 1100-room Palace of Parliament, the second-largest administrative building in the world that stands as a testament of Romania’s power-hungry dictator. But considering a slew of interesting museums, parks and trendy al fresco cafes peering from art nouveau villas, factor in at least two days before you dash off toTransylvania.

Start with a stroll along Calea Victoriei, lurching with belle époque sensations and upscale boutiques. Bucharest’s oldest artery is arguably its most revealing. From the stately Cantacuzino Palace (today housing the George Enescu Museum) to the grandeur of the Romanian Athenaeum, bordering the scar-marked Revolution Square, it’s clear why the Romanian capital was once dubbed ‘little Paris’. Crowning wide, tree-lined boulevards, the city even boasts its very own Triumphal Arch.

But Bucharest is best enjoyed from the seat of a garden terrace, watching life go by. Contributing to a long-standing cafe culture, the Garden of Eden (facebook.com/gradinaeden107) – so appropriately called – boasts a vast urban garden seemingly veiled behind Știrbei Palace, complete with swings and hammocks. Come fall, sip your coffee inside the covered terrace whose artsy-industrial design scores extra points.

Afternoon

Before you set off into the maze-like streets of the Old Town, refuel with hearty Romanian fare at Caru’ cu Bere, Bucharest’s oldest beer house. Despite the tourist crowds, this stained-glass architectural landmark from 1897 is worth a stop, both for the food and occasional song-and-dance traditional performances.

With your belly full of beer and ciorbă (the customary sour soup), journey on the cobblestone streets of Lipscani, the area named after the many German merchants from Leipzig once retailing here. With quirky street names redolent of the craftsmen of yesteryear – such as Blanari (furriers), Covaci (blacksmiths) and Gabroveni (knife makers) – the pedestrian district will keep you entertained for hours.

On the left as you exit the restaurant, notice the Orthodox Stravropoleos Church, a magnificent example of Brâncovenesc style built by Greek monks in the 1700s. Head to the tranquil garden in the back for the masterfully carved arcades and a few minutes of silence. Moving on, the discreet courtyard of Strada Hanul cu Tei unravels a heap of art galleries and antique shops. Also in the vicinity is the Old Princely Court, built in the 15th century by the infamous Vlad Ţepeş, more widely known as Count Dracula.

But if you’d rather seek the modern, there’s plenty on that front to keep you busy. Envisioned as a cultural habitat where one can retreat to read and savour organic food and drinks, Carturesti Carusel library (carturesticarusel.ro) – an Instagram magnet in the Old Town – is an impressive six-level structure in a restored 19th-century house. Next door, the brought-to-new-life Gabroveni Inn (arcub.ro/arcub-gabroveni) is the capital’s newfangled cultural centre (renamed ARCUB), often hosting free exhibitions and events.

Finally, take a peek inside the oldest operating hotel in Bucharest, Manuc’s Inn (hanulluimanuc.ro). Here, the picturesque balconied courtyard acts as a perfect backdrop for fairs and folkloric acts, while also housing a restaurant, a few bars and a coffee shop.

Evening

Closing in a tireless afternoon of Old Town crawling, cool off with an Aperol Spritz at Bordello (bordellos.ro), a 3-in-1 hotspot thanks to its gastro pub, 1930s speakeasy and cabaret. Whether you start withForeplay snacks or Quickies, you can wine, dine and get your groove on, all in the same building.

Bucharest is known for its nightlife, and Lipscani is where the action is. Try club-hopping on the adjacent streets, a pastime that in Bucharest goes on well after midnight, or hop over to newcomer Energiea (energiea.ro) for some of the city’s most ingenious cocktails.

Atrractive place to visit

For those who want to take it easy (it’s vacation, after all), head to one of the country’s highly touted beaches. There are plenty to choose from, but some of the best vistas can be seen from the south side of Bermuda. Closest to the bustling town of Hamilton is Elbow Beach, which boasts some of the calmest waters on the island. Warwick Long Bay Beach has beautiful streaks of the pink sand and blue sea, and close by you’ll find the world-famous Horseshoe Bay Beach. Perfect for families, Horseshoe Bay offers rentals, changing rooms and food.

Over in St. George’s, hit up Tobacco Bay Beach. The original British settlers grew tobacco there when they first landed in Bermuda, and now it’s home to a pretty stretch of sand that’s beloved by locals – revelers hold popular bonfires at night and there’s a restaurant on site.

Biking

Biking might not be the first activity that comes to mind when you think of Bermuda, but thanks to the Bermuda Railway Trail National Park, it’s an enjoyable option. In the 1930s and 1940s, Bermuda operated a train that ran from St. George to Somerset. That now defunct route is home to nine sections of one mile to three-and-three-quarter mile stretches of biking and walking paths. You can navigate it yourself with a bike rented from companies like We Ride Bermuda (weridebermuda.com), or you can join a comprehensive bike tour such as those done withFantasea.

A word to the wise: in Bermuda, a bicycle is known as a ‘pedal bike’, whereas a moped or scooter is known as a ‘bike’. Be sure to clarify when you’re reserving a rental.

Fishing

Fishing is a huge draw throughout the summer months, when marlin, yellowfin tuna, and wahoo frequent the surrounding waters. Spiny lobster season spans September through March, and the conditions are right for shore fishing year round. Many companies offer charters, including Albatross Fisheries and Charters and Jump Dem Bones (fishwithalbatross.com; bermudabonefish.com). June and July are popular times to go to Bermuda for their fishing tournaments.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Because of the hundreds of shipwrecks that dot the waters around Bermuda, it’s often lauded as one of the best dive sites in the world. Many companies (like Dive Bermuda) will do guided tours to the wrecks – expect to see wildlife ranging from parrot fish to sea bream to the occasional sea turtle.

Snorkeling is an excellent alternative, especially for families, and there are many places where the water is shallow enough for children, such as Clarence Cove. It’s a small beach, but it’s rarely frequented by tourists and it’s close Hamilton. Alternatively, check out Church Bay Beach, one of Bermuda’s most popular snorkeling sites, thanks to the close proximity of the reef to the shore.

If you prefer to enlist the help of a guide, try an outfitter like the Island Tour Centre (islandtourcentre.com), where three and a half hours of activities include sightseeing and a snorkel. They also have a shipwreck snorkel available.

Other Watercraft

One of the most adrenaline-pumping ways to explore the island is on a jet ski. They’re fast and furious, but they also afford you up-close views of shipwrecks, beaches, and inlets. Many places will do a guided tour, complete with a brief history of the islands, such as K.S. Watersportsor Somerset Bridge Watersports on the Dockyard end of the island (bdawatersports.com).

If you’re looking for something a little quirkier, try hydro-biking. What looks like the love child of a bike and two kayaks is actually a fun way to cruise the waters around the islands. Speeds top out at 10 miles an hour.

Galway city for visit

Situated at the mouth of the River Corrib, Galway (Gaillimh in Irish) started out life as a fishing village, Claddagh, and really took off in the 13th century when it came under the Anglo-Norman rule of Richard de Burgo (aka the Red Earl) and its city walls were constructed. It’s likely the Spanish Arch, which protected moored merchant ships from Spain, is a remnant of the medieval walls. Another surviving portion has been incorporated in the Eyre Square Centre shopping mall. Fascinating archaeological finds are on display at the Hall of the Red Earl, a medieval tax office/courthouse/town hall whose remains were uncovered by accident in 1997. In 1396, Richard II transferred power to 14 merchant-family ‘tribes’; the most powerful, the Lynch family, builtLynch’s Castle, Ireland’s finest town castle (now an AIB bank). More recent history – from 1800 to 1950 – is on display at the Galway City Museum, where exhibits include a traditional wooden Galway Hooker fishing boat.

To appreciate the city’s storied history, book a guided tour with Galway on Foot, which departs from the Spanish Arch.

Character-filled pubs

Galway is famed far and wide for its pubs, most of which are just a crawl from the next. Join the friendly locals as they bounce from place to place, never knowing what fun lies ahead but certain of the possibility. A brilliant starting point is Tigh Neáchtain (or just Neáchtain’s – pronounced ‘nock-tans’ – aka Naughtons), a bright-blue-painted 19th-century treasure that attracts all walks of life beneath its low ceilings and on its tree-shaded terrace. Old-school O’Connell’s, with stained glass, pressed-tin ceilings and a partially covered beer garden, is another enduring gem.

Pints of ‘the black stuff’ (ie Guinness) are popular, of course, but be sure to look out for Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale, a local success story brewing locally for over a decade. Whiskey specialists include laid-back Garavan’s (garavans.ie).

Live music

Galway’s brightly painted pubs heave with live music. You’ll hear high-spirited trad tunes featuring any combination of instruments – fiddle, tin whistle, bodhrán (goat-skin hand-held drum played with beater), guitar, banjo, squeezebox and more – pouring out from inside. It’s possible to catch a céilí (traditional music session and dancing, pronounced ‘kay-lee’) or spontaneous seisún (pronounced ‘seh-shoon’) virtually every night of the week. Cherry-red-coloured Tig Cóilí is a fantastic place to catch music, as is the two-storeyed Crane Bar.

Bands of all genres get their break at legendary venue Róisín Dubh, which also hosts comedy. You’ll catch buskers along Shop St (and its extensions, High St then Quay St) and around the Spanish Arch.

Seafaring cuisine

Seafood reigns in Galway. Terroir-focused Aniar uses local catches in many of its Michelin-starred multicourse menus. Celebrated seafood bistro Oscar’s is a superb place for Galway Bay oysters. Ard Bia at Nimmo’s serves local flavours like West Coast monkfish with spelt, preserved lemon, spinach and sorrel yoghurt or pan-roasted Atlantic hake with braised fennel, clams, beetroot and grilled asparagus. West Coast crab (washed down with Galway Hooker) is a speciality of hip Kai Café & Restaurant. And down-to-earth McDonagh’s is an essential stop for phenomenal fish and chips at its chaotically sociable communal tables.

Outdoor pursuits

Shoals of salmon and sea trout surge upriver at Salmon Weir in May and June; tackle shops can provide angling advice, or visit www.fishinginireland.info for permit information. The Corrib Princessruns cruises here in summer. Another favourite outdoor activity is a 2.5km stroll along the Prom to Salthill (be sure to kick the wall near the diving boards in true Galwegian tradition). If you just want to unwind in the sunshine, the lawns of central Eyre Square are ideal.

Timeless finds

One of the joys of wandering through Galway is stumbling across its small speciality shops selling everything from Irish-made fashion to local art and jewellery, including its Claddagh rings (with a heart, signifying love, between two hands, symbolising friendship and topped by a crown, representing loyalty), named for the original fishing village; jewellery shops producing them include Ireland’s oldest, 1750-established Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold. Other favourites include the warren of book-lined rooms making up Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore, and P Powell & Sons and Kiernan Moloney, both selling traditional Irish musical instruments.