Month: March 2016

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10 Unrevealed Treasures For Destinations Hunters

1. The game is afoot in London

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The interior of the RIBA headquaters, where Moriarty’s Game begins

Hidden City, the makers of clue-solving walks across the UK, has a new hunt on their books: Moriarty’s Game, inspired by Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis. The walk starts in the Royal Institute of British Architects, just a stone’s throw from Sherlock’s home at 221B Baker Street, and takes would-be detectives into art galleries and Georgian public houses as they attempt to solve the puzzle by deciphering clues sent to them by text message.

As well as testing participants’ ability to work out elementary problems, the walk provides an excellent way to explore some of London’s more hidden corners and attractions, and there’s a surprise at the end to spur all code-crackers on.

2. New flights to Porto

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Porto’s district of Ribeira, with its many cafés, bars and restaurants housed in the medieval arches

From February, BA will fly four times a week to Porto, a fitting month to set off ti this deeply romantic city of grand pastel-hued houses, soaring towers and winding lanes that tumble down to the languid Douro River. A former Roman settlement and one of Europe’s oldest cities, Lisbon’s little sister offers culture and charm to rival many a capital. For a taster, stroll the medieval alleys of Ribeira, the Unesco-listed Old Town, to discover houses decorated in hand-painted azulejo tiles, a hulking hilltop cathedral and the Baroque church of Igreja de Sao Francisco, dazzlingly bedecked in gold leaf.

Other highlights include views over the city’s red rooftops from the Torre dos Clérigos, modern art amid the gardens of Parquede Serralves, and digging into the food scene – whether joining locals getting a fix of flaky egg tarts in a quiet square, or trying petisco (tapas) in lively bars as strains of mournful fado drift by. No culinary adventure should pass without sampling Porto’s eponymous sweet wine, either. For a taster, head over the river, where traditional port-ferrying boats bob, to the town of Vila Nova de Gaia. Here, dozens of venerable wine caves offer tastings and tours of the sweet stuff – with views to match.


3. Treking among volcanoes in La Gomera

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Roque de Agando is a 1,250-metre-high volcanic plug near the centre of the island of La Gomera

About the size of the Isle of Wight, La Gomera is nonetheless large enough to host some of the most impressive hiking in the Canary Islands. Rather unlike a stroll on the Isle of Wight, you’ll amble past cloud-capped volcanoes, mighty lava plugs and shady banana groves, while steep slopes tumble down to Atlantic waves. With cool sea breezes, January is the perfect time to test your walking boots on its shepherd’s tracks. Headwater offers a guided walking trip around the island. Highlights include walking through terraced farmland to views of Roque de Agando, a jagged peak that looks a bit like Rio’s Sugarloaf, and climbing the island’s highest reaches to pick through the subtropical forests of the Garajonay National Park. Keep a keen eye out for whales in the surrounding seas – the island was the location for In the Heart of the Sea, a new epic movie about an American whaling ship sunk by a whale – albeit a CGI one.

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Magens Bay Beach – St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles (U.S. Territory)

Virgin Sands

Much has been made of the fact that National Geographic magazine voted Magens Bay one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. You’re bound to second that, especially if you visit this mile-long, horseshoe-shaped strip of white sand when it’s uncrowded (most visitors to the island are either in a duty-free shopping frenzy in Charlotte Amalie or vegetating at their hotel’s private beach). The thick fringe of palms that lines the bay’s calm blue waters makes the admission charge the best $1 you’ll spend in your life.

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Harmony Studios and The Reef Bay Trail – Cruz Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles (U.S. Territory)

An Eco-Friendly Resort on a Protected Island

For environmentally conscious vacationers who like their paradise injected with a little intellectual and moral challenge, this ecotourism phenom­enon is peerless. Harmony Studios (and the appendage of the no-frills, permanent-tent colony of Maho Bay camps), set in the midst of St. John’s verdant national park­land, was the first resort to be built almost entirely of recycled materials and designed to operate exclusively on solar and wind power. But it offers no telltale signs of its building materials’ humble origins: rubber tires, bottle glass, waste plastic, newsprint, and discarded lightbulbs.

The resort’s two hillside sites were excavated by hand, built on stilts, and linked by an intricate labyrinth of elevated steps and wooden walkways, leaving the environment undisturbed. Rather than dominate the beau­tiful, pristine tract of parkland that leads down to its own white-beached aqua cove, Harmony blends with it, leaving guests to feel like privileged interlopers in paradise. This is not everyone’s idea of a dream vacation, but with some of the highest occupancy rates in the Caribbean, they must be doing something right.

In large part due to the foresight of conservationist Laurance Rockefeller back in the 1950s, more than two-thirds of St. John is protected virgin forest, with three dozen well- marked hiking trails winding through more than 9,000 tropical acres. The Reef Bay Trail, starting not far from Harmony Resort from a spot on Centerline Road, is one of the most popular. It’s all downhill, beginning at 800 feet above sea level and winding past spectac­ular views, ancient graffiti-like petroglyphs, and the ruins of 18th-century Danish plantation houses before ending about three hours later on the southern shore.

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Caneel Bay – St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles (U.S. Territory)

A Rockefeller’s Escape

Consider the numbers: 170 lush, landscaped acres surrounded by a 9,000- acre national park on the Caribbean’s least-developed island; 170 plush, secluded rooms; 7 private, pristine beaches lapped by 5,600 acres of underwater national park; and 400 smiling staffers to make sure your vacation is supreme. Laurance Rockefeller was so stunned by St. John’s natural beauty when he visited in 1952 that he bought up a large part of the island, created an exquisite getaway for his blue-chip cronies, and donated the rest to the U.S. gov­ernment for the creation of the United States’s twenty-ninth national park.

Luxury here is low-key but five-star every inch of the way: five-course breakfasts served on your open balcony to the music of ocean breezes and birdsong; tennis on first-class courts; snorkeling with 100-foot visibility amid some of the Caribbean’s most dramatic undersea land­scapes; strolls along footpaths shaded by eighty different species of palm trees, past flowering plants with names like Flamboyant, Cup-of-Gold, and Angel’s Trumpet. Your most challenging decision during your invariably too-short stay: Which beach today?

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Buck Island – St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles (U.S. Territory)

An Unrivaled Underwater Nature Trail

The snorkeling is legendary at this uninhabited satellite island off St. Croix, where an elkhom coral reef lies in crystal-clear waters (think 100-foot visibility) at an average depth of 13 feet. Off Buck’s northeast end, a meandering snorkeler’s trail is marked with explanatory plaques so you’ll surface knowing the difference between one forest of sculp­ture-shaped coral and another. The reef abounds with more than 250 species of fish, including queen angelfish, parrotfish, irides­cent blue tangs, sergeant majors, and a host of other colorful creatures who remain remarkably nonplussed in your presence. Much of the reef is protected as an underwater national park.

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Carnival – Port of Spain, Trinidad, Lesser Antilles

A Riotous Celebration Where Calypso Is King

Carnival is the quintessential expression of Creole culture, and Trinidad’s is acknowledged throughout the Caribbean as the mother of all carnivals, with Port of Spain at its heart. Bands and masqueraders begin their preparations a year in advance, and before Christmas things really start to hum. The final two-day explosion of color, music, and unbri­dled excess officially begins at 4 A.M. on Carnival Monday with the Jour Ouvert (Opening Day) parade, and comes to a head on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the solemn pre-Easter period of Lent. Tens of thousands take to the streets in extravagant and elaborate costumes, with groups as large as 3,000 fol­lowing DJ trucks blaring out the island’s indigenous calypso music.

Introduced to the Caribbean at the end of the 18th century by the Roman Catholic French planters, the cele­bration shifted from its European emphasis after the emancipation of slaves in 1838, when the largely African urban underclass took to the streets. Raucous rivalries evolved into the heated steel-band competitions of today, in which “pan” bands 100 musicians strong per­form nonstop in a riotous celebration of King Carnival. Each band has a headquarters, or panyard, where rehearsals and preliminary playoffs are worth searching out.

To heighten your island experience, visit Veni Mange (“come and eat”), where Allyson Hennesy—the talk-show Julia Child of Trinidad – and her friendly and flamboyant sister, Rosemary Hezekiah, prepare the best lunch on the island, overseeing both the kitchen and a gallery of local art set in a typ­ical Creole home. The offspring of parents who were of English, Venezuelan, African, and Chinese descent, the charming, ebullient sis­ters will guide you through a quintessentially Trinidadian feast that might start with tradi­tional callaloo-pumpkin soup (which, according to legend, can make a man propose marriage if it’s prepared well) and end with homemade soursop ice cream or coconut mousse. Come on Wednesday’s Caribbean Night, the only day the sisters serve dinner.

Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge – Arima, Trinidad, Lesser Antilles

Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge – Arima, Trinidad, Lesser Antilles

Eden’s Aviary

Sitting on this former plantation’s screened-in veranda is like sitting in an enormous aviary. From your ringside seat you can see as many as thirty different species of bird, including toucans, squirrel cuckoos, tufted coquettes, and half a dozen varieties of hummingbirds – and that’s before breakfast! Birders are obviously in seventh heaven here, but this nature and wildlife sanctuary, located on 700 acres 1,200 feet up in the island’s northern rain forest, is a fascinating destination for naturalists, hikers, or the just plain curious as well, since Trinidad and sister-island Tobago are home to a cornucopia of exotic flora and fauna unknown elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Day guests are welcome to visit, but overnight residents in the simple guest rooms of the large, airy 1908 plantation house or in cottages scattered around the grounds get in on all the activity at dawn and dusk. Trained guides take guests on a network of rain forest trails in search of the more than 160 species of birds – not to mention innumerable vari­eties of mammals, reptiles, butterflies, and flowering plants that make you feel you’ve found the Garden of Eden.

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Diving With Tobago’s Manta Rays – Speyside, Tobago, Lesser Antilles

Weird and Wonderful Underwater Sights

The lovely little island of Tobago is gaining popularity as a world-class dive site as divers flock here for the chance to swim and interact with monster manta rays in waters where visibility can reach 150 feet on a good day. “Expect the unex­pected,” they’ll tell you, and your expec­tations will still be surpassed: A dozen or so giant manta rays measuring from 6 to 10 feet across live in the Batteaux Bay area, some stay­ing year-round because of the thick clouds of plankton, on which they and myriad other creatures feed.

Some divers may have to set­tle for a sighting of these graceful, majestic creatures, but most will be able to interact. The friendly mantas encourage divers to hold on for a free ride, returning to them time and again – a practice that once earned them the nickname ‘Tobago taxis.” Today’s more sensi­tive approach is to interact by merely swim­ming in their magical presence. Tobago, Trinidad’s sleepy country cousin, is one of those diving destinations that can reward top­side curiosity as well. Its Amazon-type forests are some of the oldest protected on our planet.

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La Samanna – Baie Longue, St. Martin, Lesser Antilles (French West Indies)

Caribbean Magic with a Moroccan Flair

La Samanna offers service, food, and ambience so special that most guests never venture beyond the tony, sybaritic enclave’s 55 impeccably groomed beachfront acres. Though located on the French side of an island split between France and the Netherlands, the feel is evocative of the Mediterranean and Morocco, with whitewashed villas and patios, hand- painted tiles adding splashes of color, and bold fabrics in hues drawn from the sea and sky.

The hotel’s glorious Baie Longue Beach, the island’s nicest, stretches for what seems like miles, promising untrammeled beauty and privacy. And in the evenings, a dramatic tented bar and terrace surrounded by bougainvillea and alla-manda is the spot for elegant candlelit dinners, and the chance to sample from the hotel’s prodigious wine cellar. Rates are high but pre­tension is low, and “name” patrons adorn the guest book but then disappear for a memorable stay that can be filled with every imaginable sport, or nothing more than a good book.

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Anse Chastanet – Soufrière, St. Lucia, Lesser Antilles

A Villa and a View Beyond Extraordinary

Located on a 600-acre estate in the southwestern comer of this lush island, Anse Chastanet is way beyond romantic, with octagonal hillside gazebos hidden amid verdant foliage and bursts of color, harmonizing beautifully with the natural surroundings: Some of the handsome suites are built around trees, others are minus a wall to let the magnificent outdoors in. The secluded palm-fringed beach 125 steps below has its own excellent five-star scuba cen­ter and school, and some of the Caribbean’s best snorkeling and diving is just a few feet off­shore.

Joining the inn’s many unrivaled attrib­utes (the kitchen is known across the island) is the amazing view of Gros Piton and Petit Piton, twin 2,619- and 2,461-foot pointed volcanic peaks that rise from the surf just to the south, looking like the jagged mountains of Bali Ha’i, adding something of a South Pacific touch to the island. It’s a vista that silences with its power and mystique, visible from your wonder­fully secluded porch, which is perfect for read­ing and snoozing once you break away from the view. There are nearby rain forest treks, a drive-in volcano to visit, and Diamond Falls, which tumbles in six stages through sulfur springs that color the waters like a rainbow – but make sure you’re back in time for sunset.