Month: May 2016

secret-paris

Secret Paris

Paris is a city that instantly conjures images of romance: the sparkling Eiffel Tower, bridges across the River Seine and views from the rooftops. But according to the dictionary, romance is: “A quality or feeling of mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life.”  While it can be difficult to feel remote in Paris (as it’s officially the world’s most-visited city, with more than 30 million visitors every year), luckily there are still places that aren’t on absolutely every visitor’s itinerary. Races that are full of mystery, history and – of course – romance.

Here are some inside tips on where to experience romance away from the madding crowds.

the-kiss

The Kiss

The Kiss. The Rodin Museum (Musée Rodin) is easily one of the nicest museums in Paris. Rodin’s former residence – which reopened in late 2015 after a three-year restoration – is a beautiful, classical mansion. It’s situated in a park dotted with his sculptures, and features views of the golden dome of Les Invalides, Napoleon’s tomb and the Eiffel Tower. There’s a garden cafe selling decent croissants and very good macarons – which alone are worth the visit. But take a stroll through the gardens and you’ll also see the well-known sculpture, ‘The Thinker” contemplating life. Inside the exhibition area there is again, finally, “The Kiss”. The 1889 marble sculpture depicts the first kiss of lovers Paolo and Francesca (from Dante’s Divine Comedy) who were slain by Francesca’s husband and condemned to wander through hell for evermore. It’s love, lust and romance (and, um, murder), all in one.

 

Maison Magic. Next to lovely Parc Monceau, full of follies and even a pair of turtles in the duck pond, is the perfectly preserved Musée Nissim de Camondo, the private mansion of a banking family who lived there in the early 1900s. Moïse de Camondo had the villa built to house his collections, and a collector he certainly was. From paintings and furniture to decorative items and china. Moïse had it all. But the rich Jewish family was destined for tragedy, with the heir Nissim dying in World War I, and the daughter and her family eventually dying in Nazi camps during World War II. None of the Camodo family survived, and the house was preserved in its original condition by Les Arts Décoratifs foundation. It’s an amazing and touching insight into how this family lived in early 1900s Paris.

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Moïse de Camondo’s Appartment

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Red Hot Chile

Santiago was first settled by Spanish colonialist because of its fertile soils and access to water. Now the Chilean capital is central to everything.

Lastarria is considered to be Santiago’s bohemian neighbourhood. “The barrio is known as the Little Paris of Santiago,” says my guide, Mauricio. “Up the road a bit is Little Italy, while the area around the Plaza de Armas, the city’s historical heart, is known as Little Peru.
“Chile is a country of immigrants,” he continues. “The Spanish came here first, ahead of the English, who moved to Valparaiso and then to the mining areas of the Atacama. The Germans and the Swiss went to the Lake District while the Croatians settled in Patagonia. But this is where they all mingle –  here, in Santiago. And everyone meets in Lastarria.”
From being the original site of Spanish settlement (at the foot of nearby Santa Lucia Hill), Lastarria has grown to become Santiago’s hipster hub. It’s not hard to believe:
I count at least a dozen cafes and eateries from my hotel steps. The people on the sidewalks are tattooed and bearded or pierced and dreadlocked. None would look out of place in Fitzroy or Newtown.
One block ever is Parque Forestal, a green space overlooked by period residences borrowing architectural styles from early-20th century Paris.

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Parque Forestal – Santiago, Chile

It’s a favourite hangout for friends and lovers, who meet on the lawns beside monumental fountains and bronze statues of forgotten heroes. Most of the city’s museums, galleries and theatres are within walking distance, often bearing similarities to their French peers. And the pedestrian street after which the barrio is named is just around the corner, hosting a street market selling crafty offerings and secondhand collectibles.
As much as I’d like to, I don’t linger with the writers and artists in Lastarria’s avant-garde cafes. And I don’t loiter inside its groovy wine bars with the yuppie crowds. They’re both tempting, but across the Mapocho River, beneath San Cristobal Hill, the bars and dubs of Bellavista are even livelier than those in Lastarria.
As I walk along Pio Nono street rowdy Chileans spill on to the streets, cradling beer bottles and wine glasses. I was led to believe that Latinos like to start late and finish early (the next morning), but this lot look like they might have got into the swing of things well before dark. I long to join them, but the scene is too young and energetic for me. Besides, I’m after something more cultural.

lastarria-chile

Lastarria is considered to be Santiago’s bohemian neighbourhood

I’ve heard whispers about a newly opened cabaret venue where restaurant diners can eat while they watch music and dance shows that highlight differing streams of Chilean culture. I’m told the idea came from the tango houses in Buenos Aires and that it’s the first of its kind in Santiago, so I hunt the venue down and find it inside a restored Spanish colonial residence.
The performers at De Pablo a Violeta mingle with guests around an open barbecue and bar area, sipping terremoto (or “earthquake”) cocktails and glasses of Chilean-style sangria, borgoña (red wine mixed with strawberry).The enthusiasm of these actors, poets, musicians, singers and dancers creates a festive atmosphere that rubs off on those around them. Upbeat numbers have me tapping my feet and guests are actively encouraged to link arms and tag along during the final session.

mornington-peninsula

On the trail – The Mornington Peninsula Wine Food Farmgate Trail

An hour south of “the world’s most livable city”, Mornington, the Mornington Peninsula has enormous charm and appeal, with a plethora of romantic options including excellent wineries with award-winning vineyard restaurants, quality art galleries, hot springs and spa facilities, and world-class golf courses. There’s also fabulous regional produce, and endless surf and bay beaches – edged with those wonderful, brightly coloured bathing boxes that are so… well, Victorian.

So bountiful is the region – with myriad small producers, quality gardens and farms, fresh produce markets, gourmet brewers and wine experiences – that the clever people at Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism have come up with a user-friendy, fold-out Wine Food Farmgate Trail map and guide, with directions and relevant details. Fortunately for food and wine-lovers, many of the 100-odd farmgates are concentrated around Red Hill – the ridgetop village centrally located between Dromana on Port Philip Bay and Shoreham on Westernport Bay. You can even visit several on a fun Horseback Winery Tour. You can also pick your own berries and cherries, make your own gin and charcuterie, buy top local goats’ cheese and fresh organic produce, sip wine with winemakers, savour cider and beer with local brewers, and choose rare-breed meats, salamis and produce to take home. Some of the stops on the farmgate map include:

“You can pick your own berries and cherries, make your own gin and charcuterie, buy top local goats’ cheese…”

Mock Red Hill

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At Mock Red Hill, Sheryn Mock runs a cider lounge in a former apple cool-room. The property has been an orchard for more than 200 years, and in the Mock family since 1960, when Sheryn’s great-great-grandfather (and orchardist) moved from Blackburn to escape the threatening suburban sprawl of Melbourne. Today, the 50-acre property of 8,500 apple trees and 150 pear trees produces a range of excellent ciders, from dry, classic and sweet to non-alcoholic sparkling apple and pear juices – even a cherry liqueur blended with a 10-year-old brandy. Take home flavoursome freeze-dried fruits and naturally fermented apple cider vinegar that’s been oak-aged for 12 months.

cape-breton-nova-scotia

Northern Soul – Cape Breton

Empty roads, dramatic landscapes – Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton is a driver’s dream. (Apart from the moose.)

I don’t ordinarily seek travel advice from my local dry cleaner, but at some point between a rudimentary exchange on jam removal and the weather, I mention I’m thinking of a trip to Nova Scotia. Ulla’s eyes light up as she tells me her son recently visited Cape Breton, its northernmost island, and drove for a day without seeing another car. “Not one. For 12 hours!” Nothing speaks to me more powerfully of escape than an empty road, so I book my tickets the next day. The journey is the destination on this trip, and the end point is the Cabot Trail – 300km of (empty) road encircling Cape Breton. Nova Scotia is a blustery outcrop on Canada’s wild Atlantic edge, joined to the rest of the country by just a neck of land across the Bay of Fundy – and Cape Breton is attached to the rest of Nova Scotia by a slender causeway.

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Bay of Fundy – Nova Scotia

‘Remote’ doesn’t come close (the area was only opened up to cars in the ‘30s), which explains why the Trail’s richly forested Highland stretches, seat-grippingly dramatic oceanic sections and tenacious little settlements attract so few visitors – as I explained to my friend Wynn, to persuade him to join me.

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Barbados Golden Sands

Pack your Fendi with your flip-flops. Beloved of the glittery Brit pack, Barbados has all the sea and sun you want from the Caribbean, plus a social scene from the Big Smoke.

“I used to fly both the children from their school in Switzerland to Barbados each Christmas, but it just got toooooo stressful.” The lady patted her tanned, diamond-speckled neck so that her spritzer partner was in no doubt as to whom it was too stressful for. “Now I take one for Christmas week, the other for New Year’s. It’s so much easier.” This snippet – overheard at high tea, as a pretty grey bullfinch flitted delicately from my silver teapot to the top tier of my cucumber sandwiches – went straight on to my list of ‘Things that could only happen in Barbados’. (Recounted without a smidgeon of exaggeration, I might add.) For years, I’ve been keeping an amusing mental record of extraordinary Barbados moments, and had been given a perfect addition as soon we landed at.

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Grantley Adams airport – Barbados

A suited gent clutching a gold ‘Sandy Lane’ clipboard was discreetly plucking passengers from the long, sweaty immigration queue and whisking them off to a separate fast-track line.

“Is that allowed?” huffed one red-faced chap. (We weren’t sure, but we were all too British to make a fuss). Then there was the straight-from-Surrey pony club we passed in the taxi (“Practice makes perfect, Imogen!” shouted a David Cameron-alike dad); the kippers at breakfast (“I don’t suppose I could get a spot of lemon with these, old boy?”); and the vintage Bentley transporting an elderly dame from the airport to her cruise ship (well, it is a 20-minute journey). Every one of these moments was a perfect candidate for my list.

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Have these moments ever put me off Barbados? No way. Should they you? Absolutely not. It is this unique Tunbridge-Wells-in-the-Tropics personality that earns the beautiful island such loyal fans. It’s serene and sun-kissed like the rest of the Caribbean, but brilliantly entertaining – and, unlike the rest of the Windies, everything just works. Like to go diving, but want the boat to arrive on time, every time? Of course. Want a nanny with Ofsted qualifications and three languages? Sign right here.

travel-asia

10 Asian Sensations

1. Palawan, Philippines

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Nagtabon Beach, Palawan

The Philippines checks all the boxes for a romantic tropical getaway, but the Province of Palawan – comprising Palawan island and its reef-ringed neighbours – goes above and beyond. Not only is it visually spectacular (in 2014 Condé Nast Traveller readers voted the island the most beautiful in the world for its aquamarine waters, jungle-carpeted emerald green mountains and idyllic, multi-hued fishing villages backed by limestone cliffs), but there’s plenty to see and do, too. Foodie hub, Puerto Princesa is home to a UNESCO-inscribed subterranean river, voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. You’ll find great places to sail and dive as you hop from islet to island, and may even sight rare species such as the Philippine pangolin or tiny mouse deer. Palawan isn’t short on luxe resorts – Amanpulo offers beach, hillside and canopy accommodation, while each of the El Nido properties is more gorgeous than the last – and as you can get there by boat or a 90-minute flight from Manila, it probably won’t be long before the madding crowds roll up.
2. Cambodiacambodia
Laidback provincial town Siem Reap is arguably best-known as Cambodia’s gateway to the ancient Angkorian temple complex, but its sophisticated restaurants, boutiques and luxurious, pool-fringed accommodation will keep you lingering long after you’ve had your temple fix. We love Belmond La Residence d’Angkor, Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and taking time out to enjoy Wat Damnak’s local produce-focused degustation menu. Cambodia has lots more for couples to explore – you can cruise up the Mekong, go jungle trekking in Ratanakiri and wander through gilded wats and striking examples of 1960s New Khmer architecture in the French colonial capital, Phnom Penh. From here it’s a 35-minute flight (or 3.5-hour drive) to the southern beach resort of Sihanoukville, named for Cambodia’s former king. Song Saa Private Island is the perfect setting for couples looking to escape, and when the Kenzo-designed Arovada by Akaryn – the first private island wellness retreat on Koh Krabey — opens later this year, it’II be one more good reason to go.

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Travel South Africa

1. Roamers Rest Safari Lodge, Greater Kruger Arearoamers-rest-safari-lodge
Set in the 40 000-hectare Balule Nature Reserve about 45 kilometres from Phalaborwa, you are able to stay in a bush lodge perched high on a ridge above a waterhole that’s regularly visited by elephant and lit up at night so you can spot lion drinking below the lodge deck when night falls. Roamers Rest sleeps a maximum of seven in two luxury-style safari tents, while Ingwe sleeps three and has a beautiful bushveld birding deck. The other is called Nyala and can sleep a family of four with an open-air Jacuzzi on the private deck. The lodge is owner-run by Kyle and Charlotte Preston, who’ll treat you like childhood friends and are both incredibly knowledgeable about the bushveld, complementing the unfenced wilderness stay on the Big Five reserve.
2. The Fernery, Tsitsikammathe-fernery
Hidden away at the end of a road that cuts through six kilometres of plantation bordering a protected national park, The Fernery is attached to a nursery that exports ferns. There’s a mix of self-catering chalets and B&B cabins linked by boardwalks and spread along the cliff edge, but we love the position of the main lodge which stands like a sentinel on stilts, poised dauntingly high on the one side of the Sanddrift River Gorge. From the fabulous ocean-facing suites you experience a full-scale drama of waves crashing against the near-distant headland where the river finally meets the Indian Ocean. The nearby chalets, meanwhile, are ideal for families – the best of these are private and secluded, and spiffily decorated, with full kitchens, braai facilities, and loads of space.
3. Isibindi Kosi Forest Lodge, Isimangaliso Wetland Parkisibindi-kosi-forest-lodge
This is one of SA’s top wildlife destinations thanks to its varied habitat. Set in an indigenous forest under gorgeous old trees, you’ll find this magical lodge with its cosy chalets and outdoor showers where resident monkeys peep out at you. It’s fantastic for birders, and don’t miss a canoe ride on the Kosi Lake System.

malaysia

Wondrous Malaysia

Kissed by the South China Sea and framed by white sands, the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia is visually enchanting. The same can be said of its incredibly colourful handicrafts, heritage, and cuisine. From kaleidoscopic kites and candy-colored cakes to tranquil islands and primordial jungles, it’s a magical microcosm of cultures.

The northeastern state of Kelantan is a modern-day melting pot of Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Malays. The Capital’s Siti Khadijah Market is a dizzying array of local produce, spices, and exotic fabrics. A cluster of tantalizing food stalls line the first floor. Get there early and fuel up with a traditional breakfast of nasi dagang – steamed coconut rice with tuna curry.

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Siti Khadijah Market

Next, head to the Handicraft Village and Craft Museum to browse hand-painted batiks, stunning silverwork, and rice-paper wau kites. Watch an embroidery demonstration, or take a batik-making class, and bring souvenirs back with you.

Just south of Kelantan, Terengganu’s tropical spell is impossible to resist. Hop the ferry to Redang, where you’ll find the perfect mix of picturesque beaches and world-class comforts. Or visit the tiny island of Pulau Kapas and settle into a rustic, ocean-front chalet. Whether you’d like to swing in a hammock or dive World War II shipwrecks, Terengganu is otherworldly.

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Terengganu State Museum

Continue south and into Peninsular Malaysia’s largest state, Pahang. Here, Tioman Island offers every possible shade of paradise. Cascading waterfalls, stunning jungle paths, and laid-back fishing villages create unlimited curiosities.

And once again – there is the sea. Just like the white-sand beaches it kisses, it beckons you to dive into all the wonders of Malaysia and enjoy.

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Tioman Island

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Two Outstanding Resorts in the Dominican Republic

One Caribbean beach somehow landed two outstanding resorts.

The Dominican Republic wants you back. And this time it’s ready to earn your love – with two equally stylish (yet totally distinct) retreats sharing a mile long crescent of sand on the island’s north shore. At one end you’ll find the nine bungalow Playa Grande Beach Club, with its laid back communal vibe and bright, playful design by Celerie Kemble. At the other is Amanera, the second Aman outpost in the Caribbean and the brand’s first golf resort. Expect the group’s customary polished minimalism and obsessive attention to detail, plus panoramic beach views from the cliffside pool and bungalows. Suddenly, the D.R. feels very much like the place to be.

amanera-resort

Amanera Resort

Hawaiian Hideaways

The Hawaiian Islands’ collection of varied landscapes — tropical rainforests and lava plains, blackand white-sand beaches, sheer cliffs and wide-open bays — make it a true paradise. Want to experience the authentic aloha spirit year-round? Here are new options to buy on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island.

Hawaii Island – Hualalai Resort

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Imagine looking out of your kitchen window to see rolling fields punctuated with dark lava flows and the Pacific Ocean filling the horizon, while the lush Kohala mountains dominate the views from the bedroom. You’ll find that at this sprawling resort on the Big Island’s Gold Coast, 10 minutes from Kona International Airport. Hualalai encompasses 24 development sites, and it’s expected to have 475 total residences by its completion in 2020.

Resort owners can apply for club membership when they are in escrow; after closing, they’ll enjoy privileges at the Keolu Clubhouse and the Hualalai Canoe Club, as well as the two championship golf courses. They’ll also have access to the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai’s facilities, which include a spa and a sports club.

Up for sale are wholly owned, two-to four-bedroom villas, three- to seven bedroom single-family dwellings and lots; five or six phases are still to come. Villas start at $1.4 million; single-family homes range from $4.25 million to $30 million, and lots start at $2 million. The homes are designed for indoor and outdoor living with lanais, landscaped gardens and pools. hualalairesort.com

Try before you buy: From $845 per night