Month: September 2017

museums-around-the-world

9 Marvelous Museums Around The World

Think you’ve already viewed the best in class? Expand your must- visit list of world-class museums with this selection of spectacular institutions around the globe!

Singapore

ArtScience Museum

artscience museum singapore

ArtScience Museum, courtesy of Marina Bay Sands Singapore

Built as part of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Resort, the world’s first art and science museum features an unusual lotus-shaped structure. While it hosts several leading travelling exhibitions from around the world, its new permanent exhibition Future World showcases 16 incredible art installations and is said to be the country’s largest interactive digital playground, exploring themes including nature, town, park and space.

 Japan

Chichu Art Museum

Walter-de-Maria-Chicha-Art-Museum

Walter de Maria – Chicha Art Museum

Japan’s ‘art island’, tiny Naoshima boasts a disproportionate number of world-class installations, unexpected cultural distractions and world-class museums. In the latter category, Chichu Art Museum is built mostly underground – so as not to sully the island’s largely unblemished beauty – and features vast exhibition spaces largely built to complement the artworks by the likes of Monet and Walter De Maria, which they now house.

 Sweden

Bildmuseet

bildmuseet umeå

The contemporary art and design museum in the Swedish city of Umea, the former residence of Stieg Larsson (author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and others from the Millennium book/film trilogy) and European Capital of Culture for 2014, was named as one of the most beautiful university art galleries in the world following a redesign in 2012. The building itself is a thoughtful work of art, made with a facade of Siberian larch wood panelling, which will fade to a silver grey colour in a few years’ time, staggered with randomly-placed windows.

Its stark white interior is warmed by the natural light piercing through its windows, which offer scenic views from the museum’s riverside location.

 Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum

RIJKSMUSEUM

The Dutch national treasure-house of art has at last re-opened after a decade-long renovation. Golden Age masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and so many more are on show alongside centuries’ worth of fine furniture, Delftware, costume and jewellery. There’s a superb Asian collection, and new acquisitions that bring the display up to the present day.

 Croatia and Los Angeles

Museum of Broken Relationships

museum of broken relationships zagreb

Museum of Broken Relationships – Zagreb

Described as a “genuinely touching window on the human soul” by Telegraph Travel’s Chris Leadbeater, the brilliant attraction showcases a bizarre collection of objects connected to romances that are no more. Subtly illustrating the tragicomedy that is love, it is now one of Zagreb’s most visited museums.

The museum opened its second branch last year in the City of Broken Dreams – Hollywood. The new collection of items studying failed relationships and their ruins follows in the footsteps of the original one in Zagreb, promising to take visitors on an emotional journey through a showcase of 115 unwanted artefacts from relationships past, exploring the “love, pain, drama, irony, humour and reconciliation” of break ups.

Casa Da Graca: A Boutique Lover’s Dream

I have barely left the airport and II we’ve already taken the sharp II right turn, down a dusty side II road that we could have nearly II missed seeing. As the wrought II iron gates that lie before me m creak open to reveal a definitively Portuguese edifice, I feel a sense of nostalgia for the future: I’d rather like to own a house like this. Matieu greets me with the effortless charm that only the French can muster. How was my flight? Anything for lunch? How about the Caprese salad? Bon appetite. An air of tranquility sweeps its way through the inner courtyard, welcome as an afternoon zephyr. As I sat out on a breezy terrace, watching the Zuari River ebb and flow away, so too does the babble of modem day life.

Zuari River

Zuari River

This, I realise, is what they mean by susegad. Formerly known as Villa Morgado, Casa da Graca is a passion project between owner and dreamer, Simran Kaur, architectural visionary Alex Von Moltke, and the indispensible contractor Abbas Sheikh. Working tirelessly together, it took almost three years for this inexorable triumvirate to transform the unloved former home of the de Siqueira Nazare family, back to its current splendour. Over a century old, there are hints to the property’s grand past: the family crest greets guests as they enter, traditional blue and white Portuguese murals adorn the walls of the bathroom. An oasis like swimming pool in the courtyard is a welcome modem addition.

Far from the maddening crowds of Goa’s northern beaches, Casa da Graca is located in the fabled ‘real’ Goa. That’s right it’s not lost, it’s just hiding. Just a short drive from colourfully tiled Latin quarter of Fontainhas, with its independent boutiques and local cafes, and the church-lined streets of Old Goa, few travellers bother to visit this comer of India’s smallest state. And that’s exactly why you should go there.

Peace, small but perfectly formed, is the only room with views of the River Zuari, from its own private garden terrace; while Compassion and Devotion overlook the pool. My room, The Creation Suite, was palatial. Not misinformed travel-website ‘palatial.’ No, getting something from the other side is to embark on your very own Camino de Santiago, palatial. While in the bathroom there was a bathtub so enormous it probably warranted an on-duty lifeguard. Goodness, I thought, deciding phone battery was not essential and I’d probably be safer with a shower; they must have had staff for this in those days. And they do. Matieu runs a small team like a family unit.

Casa-da-Graca

In fact the property retains the feel of a well-run family home—like you’re staying with that wealthy, eccentric aunt you don’t have. He admits to not being a chef by profession, hut he shouldn’t, because the food is delectable. Kingfish steamed in banana leaf with fragrant jasmine and seafood linguine are their signature dishes. Romancing couples coo across candle-lit tables overlooking the pool while even the most ardent epicure will feast their eyes on the breakfast. Fresh yoghurt set the night before accompanied by homemade granola and crepe Suzettes so delicate they could have been flambeed by Henri Charpentier himself. As much as possible is either made in house or locally sourced, and everything is fresh and of the best possible quality. Mon dieu, I’m glad the French are such snobs about their food.

Casa da Graca’s melange of styles and flavours is an immaculate reflection of the influence of Goa’s colonies over the years; executed with all the attention to detail of a labour of love. Its walls whisper the message susegad where guests are lulled into a sense of blissful indolence, often garnered with proximity to the sea. And is that not, after all, what we are all in search of in the sunshine state?

KUDA HURAA

Four Exciting Escapes on The Radar

MALDIVES 

FOUR SEASONS RESORT MALDIVES AT KUDA HURAA

FOUR SEASONS RESORT MALDIVES AT KUDA HURAA

3 nights starting from USD 1 ,475 per person

Includes: Stay in a Beach Pavillion with private pool, daily breakfast and return speedboat transfers.

Offer: 30% discount on room rate.

Validity: Until 30 September 2017. Escape to this private coral island with all the charm of a Maldivian village, where palm-thatched pavilions and bungalows adorn the white sand and crystal clear waters.

SRI LANKA

ANANTARA PEACE HAVEN TANGALLE RESORT

ANANTARA PEACE HAVEN TANGALLE RESORT-2

4 nights starting from USD 745 per person

Includes: Stay in a Premier Beach Access Room with daily breakfast and return airport transfers.

Offer: Stay 3 nights with one extra night free; upgrade to next available room type; a free dinner for two; and complimentary stay for two children under 12 years old.

Validity: Until 31 August 2017. Sri Lanka’s hottest new hideaway.

 USA

THE PIERRE NEW YORK, A TAJ HOTEL

The Pierre New York a Taj Hotel

4 nights starting from USD 850 per person

Includes: Stay in a Superior Room with return airport transfers.

Offer: Stay three nights and receive an additional night for free.

Validity: Until 31 August 2017. A Manhattan landmark located on the corner of Central Park and the Upper East Side where prime real estate and architectural heritage meets luxury living.

ITALY

GRAND HOTEL VIA VENETO

grand hotel via veneto rome

3 nights starting from USD 567 per person

Includes: Stay in a Superior Room with daily breakfast and return airport transfers.

Offer: 23% discount on room rate.

Validity: Until 31 August 2017. When in Rome, live la dolce vita in this haven of Art Deco inspired decadence where art, culture and refined elegance come together to create a timeless experience matched with superb service.

mexico-unesco-sites

Take This Unique Tour And Visit All Mexican Treasures

Discover a selection of Mexico’s most culturally rich states, including its vibrant capital, and immerse yourself in mariachi, folklore and colonial cities before heading to the beautiful beaches of Punta Mita. Start in Mexico City for a glimpse into this modern, yet history- rich capital before travelling up to the ‘cradle of the Mexican Independence’ movement in Guanajuato.

Making your way towards the Pacific Coast, stop in Guadalajara to discover the folklore and traditions behind Mexican mariachi culture. After travelling the state of Jalisco, journey on to Punta Mita on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, where you can enjoy vistas of Riviera Nayarit.

 Highlights

  • Visit historical sites, such as The Zocalo in Mexico City, The National Museum of Anthropology, Xochimilco, Coyoacan and San Angel.
    the-angel-of-independence-mexico-city

    The Angel of Independence – Mexico City

  • Explore the stunning archaeological complex of Teotihuacan, famous for some of the world’s largest pyramidal tructures, the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon.
    teotihuacan

    Teotihuacan ruins

  • Discover the charms and traditions of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Guadalajara. Visit the Diego Rivera house and museum, dedicated to one of Mexico’s most famous and renowned muralists. Experience Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco and the home of mariachi, to learn all about  the history of Mexico’s musical tradition.
  • Relax on the beautiful beaches of Punta Mita, Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, or try watersports including snorkelling, scuba diving and surfing.
    st-regis-punta-mita-resort

    St Regis Punta Mita Resort

  • Spend a day in Puerto Vallarta and marvel at the sun-drenched colonial seaside town. Picturesque colonial and whitewashed buildings, cobblestone streets that wind in and out and a brilliant profusion of flowers and jungle-like fauna await.
    puerto-vallarta-mexico

    Wonderful view of Puerto Vallarta

sir-bani-yas-island

Be Spoilt For Choice at Anantara’s trio of Sir Bani Yas Island Resorts

Feel at one with nature and discover a different way to experience all the UAE has to offer, with an island sojourn that combines Anantara luxury and Emirati culture. Established by the late ruler and founder of the UAE, HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, as a royal nature reserve, Sir Bani Yas lies off the coast of Abu Dhabi’s emerging Western Region and is Arabia’s largest wildlife sanctuary.

The instant you step onto the island with its picture perfect white sand beach, wandering wildlife and scenic landscape, you’ll feel an immediate sense of relaxation. The only difficult choice you need to make is which of the three resorts dotted across the island to stay at.

Live out the ultimate wildlife adventure at Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort, for an ultra-private African lodge-style experience; enjoy contemporary design and traditional heritage elements at the beachfront Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort, reminiscent of the pearl fishing villages of the past; or relax with the family from the comfort of Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara where Emirati cultural motifs blend with 21st-century facilities.

Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort

Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort

Upscale your summer experience and plump for one of the exclusive Al Sahel villas with private plunge pool and the occasional roaming gazelle for company ; spoil yourself with beach and private pool luxury at Al Yamm; or sequester yourself away in a two-bedroom family pool villa at the main Desert Islands resort.

Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort

Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort

When you manage to tear yourself away from your temperature- controlled swimming pool, the 87-square-kilometre island offers a diverse collection of nature and cultural activities to enjoy.

Get an up close view of the island’s 15,000 protected animals and birds and take the opportunity to learn about Sheikh Zayed’s conservation programme as you spot giraffes, gazelles, Arabian oryx, cheetahs and sea turtles on a guided wildlife drive.

Culture mavens can explore the island’s 42 archaeological sites with an expert guide, complete with a lesson in traditional qahwa (coffee) drinking etiquette and chance to leave your own conservation legacy by planting a mangrove seedling.

Re-energise body and mind after an outdoor excursion with a time- honoured Arabian or Eastern ritual at the Anantara Spa, including couples-only options, for signature top-to-toe relaxation.

 Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara

Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara

Culinary satisfaction is never far away with five restaurants serving world-class cuisine ; but the resort’s Dining by Design experience is the gourmet piece de resistance with your choice of tailor-made menu, prepared by a personal chef and enjoyed on the beach in a Bedouin setting or at a secret African bush-inspired location.

sharjah

Sharjah Will Keep All Your Family Members Happy During Holiday

From grandparents who want to put their feet up to your energetic toddler who requires a constant stream of entertainment, finding a destination that’ll keep all your family members occupied while on holiday can be a challenge. The good news is that you don’t have to look far to find a vacation spot that appeals to travellers of all ages. Sharjah is emerging as an increasingly popular escape for those in search of variety and great value. Here, we highlight some of the best of the emirate’s attractions for multi- generational travellers.

 For grandparents

Sharjah Heritage Museum

Sharjah Heritage Museum

Feed your mind by learning more about the rich history of the UAE at Sharjah Heritage Museum. There are six different galleries to explore, each of which focuses on a different aspect of local life. The museum is situated along Sharjah Creek where the city first sprang from the sand and is entirely indoors, so is perfect for the summer months.

The non-profit creative space, Maraya Art Centre at A1 Qasba, is also worth a visit for its innovative exhibitions programme, showcasing the work of leading Middle Eastern and international artists.

For mums

Sahara Centre in Sharjah

Sahara Centre in Sharjah

In Sharjah you can shop until you drop. For starters, head to Mega Mall which has more than 150 outlets spread across four floors, with five anchor stores: Zara, Mango, Paris Gallery, Mega Mart and Sharaf DG. Those who shop there during the summer will have the chance to win one of two brand new cars. Next, head to Sahara Centre, which boasts a plush extension and key anchor stores including Debenhams, Marina Exotic Home Interiors, Toys ‘R’ Us and Home Centre.

It opens late into the evening so you can feel free to browse the boutiques while the children are safety tucked up in bed. Afterwards, treat weary feet with a soothing treatment at Altitude The Spa at Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club.

For dads

Sharjah-Golf-and-Shooting-Club

Sharjah Golf and Shooting-Club

Speaking of Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club, this popular venue is a must visit for action men. The complex boasts an impressive nine-hole, fully floodlit golf course that is ideal for an evening round. For another way to test your aim, why not try your luck at archery?

There is an indoor target area that’s popular at this time of year. Lastly, you can get to grips with shooting at the 50-metre-long range, which is equipped with a selection of pistols, rifles and revolvers to use under the guidance of a fully trained safety instructor.

For teens

eye-of-the-emirates

Eye of The Emirates

Al Qasba is causing quite the buzz among teenagers in Sharjah. Featuring a pleasing mixture of entertainment, leisure and culture, this lively waterfront district is home to attractions including the Eye Of The Emirates Ferris wheel, which stands 60 metres tall and has fully air-conditioned cabins.

As you journey to the top you can enjoy spectacular views of the Arabian Gulf. Watch the Musical Fountain in action before heading to one of the nearby cafes for an indulgent milkshake as a treat.

For tweens

arabian-leopard

Arabian Leopard

Those in that awkward in-between stage will enjoy a visit to the Arabian Wildlife Centre. It’s the only place in the emirates where you can find wildlife that’s otherwise extinct in the region, including the incredibly rare Arabian leopard. The centre is located about 26 kilometres from the city centre and can be enjoyed all year round thanks to the temperature controlled viewing platforms.

Or, they can enter into a world of science and natural history by enrolling in the Island Explorer summer programme at the Butterfly House on A1 Noor Island. For ages 13 to 16, the course takes place every Monday and Wednesday from 14 to 23 August.

For tots

Splash Park, Al Majaz Waterfront

Splash Park, Al Majaz Waterfront

Make a splash at the 800-square-metre Mini Splash Park at Al Majaz Waterfront. Open from 10am until midnight, you can cool off amid the waterfalls and perch in the shaded seating area with a cooling drink. It’s suitable for those aged 12 months to 12 years, but big kids at heart will love it too.

Summer of fun

Fantastic summer holiday deals are being offered in Sharjah until 8 September 2017. Packages include taking in some of the emirate’s key attractions and world-class events, from theatre shows to shopping expeditions. Plus, you could be in with a chance of winning a Mercedes-Benz courtesy of Sahara Centre.

Discover The Secret Italian Cowboy Lifestyle

At daybreak, the sun was already scorching as I coasted into the Tuscan village of Spergolaia on a rusty silver cruiser. I passed cream-coloured stucco buildings, stables, and cattle chutes before arriving at a dirt lot where an athletic-looking Italian man in his 30s, dressed in a pristine tan gilet, a white shirt, and dark riding breeches, was bending over to put on a pair of leather boots. He looked quizzically at me and my bike. “Buongiorno,” he said.

Buongiomo,” I replied, and asked if a horseback ride with the butteri was scheduled for that morning. He nodded. As this would be my first time, I asked him how difficult it would be. “Impegnativo” he said. Challenging. I’ve been riding since I was a little girl, but I’m no pro. Still, there was no way I would be deterred from riding with Italy’s very own cowboys, which I’d been dying to do since learning about them when I lived in Rome, two decades ago.

Maremma

Maremma, Italy

The butteri are the cattle breeders and horsemen of the Maremma, a rugged coastal region that stretches across southern Tuscany and northern Lazio from the coast to the plains. Their way of life dates back to the spread of agriculture during Etruscan times. But beyond Italy, few are aware that among the celebrated vineyards, hotels, and restaurants that now dot the countryside between Florence and Rome, a vibrant cowboy culture has existed for thousands of years—and is today struggling to survive.

The man in the lot directed me across the road to the main stable of the Tenutadi Alberese, a state-owned, 10,000-acre ranch six miles from the Maremma coast. There I met Stefano Pavin, a 51-year-old buttero with golden hair and sun-bronzed skin who was placing military-style scafarda saddles on a row of Maremmano horses, a bay-coloured breed indigenous to the region. Pavin wore a stylishly simple outfit—straw hat, olive-green cotton work shirt, khaki pants, dark brown riding boots—typical of the butteri, whose sartorial preferences have inspired fashion designer s like Dolce & Gabbana. A pair of Italian visitors and l would spend the next four hours helping him and two other men check fences and move a herd of is foals from a hilly pasture to the salt flats on the other side of the ranch.

Because of the low wages and physical demands of their work, the butteri have been in steady decline, a trend accelerated by Italy’s economic downturn. Fewer than 50 are thought to remain in the Maremma. Most earn a living raising livestock, making wine, and producing organic grains, olive oil, and meats for Slow Food purveyors. Pavin is one of two full-time cowboys at the Tenutadi Alberese, where he cares for 70 horses and 450 cows. “Being a buttero is away of life, not a fashion style,” he said as he rode beside me. “It’s not easy. There’s the extreme heat and the cold, and getting thrown on the ground and stomped on. The weak go away.”

Tenutadi Alberese

Tenutadi Alberese

There are about two dozen associations in Italy dedicated to preserving butteri culture. In spring and summer, several stage spettacoli, in which horsemen demonstrate their gallantry before a paying audience by performing elaborate dressage routines and cattle drives in traditional costume. Working farms have also adapted to modern times by embracing tourism. The Tenutadi Alberese now offers farm stays, some in historic buildings like the Villa Fattoria Granducale, built as a fortress by the Knights of Malta in the 15th century. For US$65, the ranch also invites experienced riders to show up in Spergolaia on any workday at 7 am, as I had done, to accompany the butteri as they go about their morning chores.

We cantered across the fields, making sure the rough-hewn chestnut fences were still intact. We visited a watering hole for the horses, passing a herd of robust gray-and-white Maremmana longhorns, before continuing along rocky switchbacks, through a grove of olive trees and into a meadow where the reddish-brown foals were grazing. This terrain was inhospitable marsh, rife with malaria, until Mussolini drained it in the 1930s. Today, it is still fierce. “I wear a straw hat to protect myself from the sun and a long shirt to protect myself from the horseflies,” Pavin said. He swung his uncino, a hand-carved wooden stick with a hook on one end that he uses to open gates, herd cattle, and train horses.

There was a rumbling of hooves as the foals dashed up the hill. Pavin spun his horse around in pursuit, his uncino resting casually on his shoulder. I followed gleefully at a full gallop, crouched low in the saddle, holding the reins in one hand. After falling behind, I caught up with the group at the gate to Maremma Regional Park, a protected 25,000-acre nature reserve. Inside, we followed a meandering dirt path through Mediterranean pines, grassy meadows, and the occasional cow pasture—a landscape that felt untouched by time.

Maremma Regional Park

Maremma Regional Park

We posted speedily, passing the Tower of Collelungo, a crumbling 13th-century stone lookout. The path gave way to sand dunes, which we crossed to reach our final destination, the Spiaggiadi Collelungo, a pristine gray-sand beach that was completely deserted. I followed the butteri into the emerald waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. As the horses splashed in the shoals, we gazed at the islands of Giglio and Elba and the Monte Argentario Peninsula on the horizon. Even with all that’s changed for the modern butteri, the view was as breathtaking as it must have been for their ancestors when they roamed the Maremma so many centuries ago.

 Yerevan Has Plenty To Captivate Culture Seekers

A FAMILY AFFAIR

victory-park-armenia

Victory Park – Armenia

Head to Victory Park in the Kanaker-Zeytun district for fairground rides, boating on the lake and lots of running around in open green spaces.

More child-friendly attractions: Souvenir shopping at the open-air Vernissage flea market (held behind Republic Square metro on Nalbandyan street); tuck into sweets with fresh fruit fillings at homegrown confectionery store Grand Candy Ponchikanoc; and take a dip at Lake Sevan – a popular holiday spot that’s less than an hour’s drive away.

 STEP INTO HISTORY

geghard-armenia

Medieval architecture at Geghard

The medieval monastery of Geghard, in the Kotayk province, contains a number of buildings and tombs that are partially cut into the rock and surrounded by towering cliffs at the entrance to Azat Valley. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Museums to visit: History Museum of Armenia, founded in 1919, and Matenadaran Manuscript Museum, which houses a rich collection of ancient manuscripts and books.

CULTURAL DELIGHTS

the-cascade-yerevan

The Cascade – Yerevan

Since its first performance – Swan Lake in 1935 – the Opera House has been the pride of Armenia’s musical culture. Prepare to marvel at the work of architect Alexander Tamanyan, whose building is steeped in classical beauty.

Other cultural picks:
Cafesjian Center for the Arts is the place to go to view contemporary works. Ascend the giant stairs at the Cascade for beautiful views of the city and toward Mount Ararat.

 ARMENIAN EATS

armenian-fare

Armenian Traditional Fare

Dolmama Restaurant
This popular eatery in the heart of Yerevan has been serving up tasty Armenian fare since 1998. There, you can try a unique take on classic dolma – ground meat mixed with rice, herbs, spices and wrapped in grape leaves.

Malkhas Jazz Club
The best place in Yerevan to enjoy jazz music over dinner, this laid-back spot often requires advance booking. The venue is named after its owner Levon Malkhasyan – the best jazz pianist in the country who often performs there at the weekend. The service, food and atmosphere is as excellent as the music.

 CITY STAYS

grand-hotel-yerevan

Grand Hotel Yerevan

A central abode
In the heart of the famed Republic Square, Armenia Marriott Hotel Yerevan is housed in a Soviet-era institution where rooms are truly sprawling. Indulge in Italian cuisine at Cucina and treat the children to homemade delights at the cute ice-cream parlour.

Grand dame
Only 200 metres from the National Art Gallery, Grand Hotel Yerevan is the place to stay for a glimpse of old- world glamour. The handsome ochre building is framed by towering white columns and boasts modern rooms with balconies, fantastic city views and a rooftop pool.

cebu-city

White Sandy Beaches and Spectacular Dive Sites – Cebu City

Cebu is a splendid place. Home to over three million people, the island offers something for everyone, from centuries- old buildings to white sandy beaches, majestic corals and breathtaking marine life – not to mention the perks of being in a modern city coupled with island-vibe living. Centrally located in the heart of the Philippine archipelago, Cebu is a cultural melting pot shaped by centuries of tradition. I’m proud to call it my home.

Whenever I visit, I make a point to enjoy some downtime with my friends and family in Compostella, a municipality just north of the city. In my opinion, this is where you can find the best Filipino hospitality in the country. Make sure you schedule time to check out one of the local markets where you can sample the  freshest seafood you’ll ever taste. Cebuano cuisine is also famous for its Spanish- influenced dishes. Menus are packed with everything from adobo to paella and kare- kare – try it all.

kare-kare

Traditional Filipino Kare-Kare dish

Next, drop by Carbon Market to pick up the freshest Carabao mangoes and get a taste of Cebuano street-food – the tasty chicken barbecue and puso is a must.

Cebu is also blessed with a wealth of diverse natural resources, which keep tourists flocking to the island. From the gorgeous corals off  Moalboal to the thresher sharks of Malapascua and the amazing whale sharks of Oslob, there is plenty to admire.

moalboal

Scuba Diver on Coral Reef in Moalboal, Cebu

Adventure seekers can try a spot of canyoning in Alegria and Badian, or be brave and take a wild plunge into the majestic Kawasan Falls. Alternatively, take it to the extreme with a skydive on Bantayan island.

Kawasan Falls

Kawasan Falls

Nature lovers will delight in the mountains of Osemena Peak or by taking a trek around Mount Manunggal, the highest peak, in Balamban.

Indian Wildlife: Wonderful Lodges & Views

Driving through the state of Madhya Pradesh, in the heart of Indian tiger country, it was difficult to reconcile the tranquil scenes flashing past my window with nonstop reports about the animal’s slide toward extinction. Tigers, it seemed, were the topic of the moment. As I set off from New Delhi on a six-day safari, global specialists were converging to discuss how many of the world’s largest felines are left, and how best to save them. With so many vested interests resting on the creature’s survival (it’s estimated that just six of India’s tiger reserves are worth US$1.2 billion to the Indian economy), it’s hard to know whose version of reality to believe.

Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh

On the one hand, the World Wildlife Fund and Global Tiger Forum claim the worldwide population has risen by 22 per cent since 2010, to 3,890. On the other, in spite of investment of about US$500 million since the start of former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger in 1973—when nine tiger reserves were created and dozens of camps built—global tiger populations have plummeted. Since 1993, numbers worldwide have halved, and in the past 80 years, three of the nine subspecies have become extinct from habitats including Indonesia and Central Asia.

In India, where two-thirds—or about 2,200— of the world’s tigers live, in and around 49 reserves, there is grounds for cautious optimism, with one study recording an increase of 30 per cent in numbers between 2010 and 2014. Having been on five tiger safaris in India in the past decade, I wanted to see if there was any perceptible improvement in terms of the numbers that were visible and the protection they were being given. Along the road from Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur Airport to Bandhavgarh National Park, where more than 60 cats roam through 1,11,000 acres of forest, it was clear the species is a big part of local identity. I noticed their image everywhere: on a packet of cookies bought at a stall, sculpted on an arch, painted on a village temple. I was also informed of a discouraging report stating that 19 tiger deaths had been recorded in Madhya Pradesh in the first half of 2016 (almost half of all Indian tiger deaths in that period).

As I’ve learned over the years, there’s nothing straightforward about conservation in India, and with so much conflicting information in my head, I was relieved to arrive at Samode Safari Lodge, on Bandhavgarh National Park’s periphery. Built by descendants of the royal family of Samode, the camp’s colonial-style interiors are reminiscent of an African safari camp, with whirring bamboo fans and elegant tea-planter’s chairs. My room was designed in the style of local farmhouses: roughly rendered in mud and decorated with naive, nature-inspired bas-reliefs and murals. Outside, there was a tub for starlit baths and, on lamplit communal patios, trays laid with spicy fried okra, flame-grilled prawns, and fresh coal-baked roti.

 Samode Safari Lodge

Samode Safari Lodge

There wasn’t much time to sit around feasting, though. Bandhavgarh park authorities allow visitors to take three- and four-hour safaris twice a day, starting around 5.45 am and 2.30 pm. While that does leave a little time for a midday massage or a swim, I spent most of my days in a safari jeep in the company of my guide, Anshuman Shah. He warned me right at the start of our first drive that not every guest sees a tiger. “Most people staying three nights should see one,” he said as we made our way to the park gates. “A group from Canada recently saw eleven in four days. It’s a question of luck: being in the right place at the right time.”

A decade ago, Bandhavgarh’s roads used to be clogged with cars full of colourfully-clad passengers who would spill out, often yelling into their cell phones. Today, only a limited number of registered 4 x4s are allowed into each zone, radios and phones are banned, and a park guide has to accompany every vehicle. The experience is far more peaceful and organised—not dissimilar to a safari in a popular park in Africa— even if visitors all still want the same thing “Just tiger, tiger, tiger,” as Ramkripal Ram, our park guide, put it. But cat sightings that day weren’t good. After spending four hours in the morning and three that evening listening, watching, and tracking, we returned, slightly dispirited, to camp.

The next day, I was assured, we would have more time, since the hotel had secured one of only five 12-hour, US$750 permits issued every day: a popular move by Bandhavgarh’s authorities. “You will see a tiger before you leave, I am sure,” Shah told me. In fact, I saw not just one magnificent cat on my full-day safari, but two. When, mid-morning, we ascended a hill to find a male cub lying languidly on a shaded sandstone rock, I was so thrilled my eyes welled up. Banbayi, a handsome 18-month-old, is seen regularly in this area, Shah said. From his supine position, the cub occasionally looked up at us as we examined him through binoculars, trying to memorise every detail: the long white whiskers; the striped tail that flicked every now and then to dislodge a fly; the muscles that rippled beneath his taut, light-orange hide as he slowly padded off into the long grass to the accompaniment of hooting langurs.

Our second sighting evoked a different emotion. After lunch, we spotted an eight-year-old tigress, Pattya, slinking into a bamboo thicket to rest. Keen to see her properly, we decided to sit and wait for her to re-emerge. By the time she padded out, two hours later, another 18 safari vehicles had lined up beside us, as well as two open-topped buses of schoolchildren. Thanks to the presence of park officials, the crowd was remarkably quiet. Nonetheless, the scene was more zoo than safari, and the striped star of the show was clearly aware of her audience. After performing a quick turn—drinking delicately from a water hole, rolling like a kitten in the sand— she took a final look at the crowd and vanished. And with the evening performance over, the cat paparazzi dispersed in clouds of dust, leaving us to make our way back to camp, as the red ball of the sun sank below the tree line.

 Bandhavgarh National Park

Bandhavgarh National Park

It’s a sad truth that, were the tiger a less beautiful creature, its future might be more secure. But the glorious Shere Khan archetype of The Jungle Book is in the unenviable position of being not only the beast that most tourists want to photograph, but the one poachers most want to capture for use in Chinese medicine. It is wanted both dead and alive. The fact that there are any still in existence is in part thanks to Project Tiger, and in part thanks to a handful of enlightened state leaders, said hotelier Jaisal Singh. Singh, a co-founder of Sujan Luxury, a chain of high-end Indian camps and hotels, spent much of his life studying tigers with his uncle, the well-known conservationist Valmik Thapar.

He told me that in states such as Maharashtra and Rajasthan, chief ministers have diligently implemented conservation policies. These have included programmes to turn poachers into gamekeepers, the launch of responsible-tourism organisations that link public and private companies (a pilot project of privately-run nature reserves is underway in Maharashtra), and schemes to compensate villagers if they or their livestock are harmed by a tiger. What they are up against, though, is an exploding human population that increasingly encroaches on forests, creating man-animal conflicts. “India has one and a quarter billion people, with goodness knows how many cows and goats that need land to feed on,” Singh said. Another problem is that forests are run by individual states—whose local bureaucrats make their own rules.

The central government spent US$57 million on the issue in 2015 but, according to Singh, “no matter how much money is pumped into tiger conservation, it gets sucked up by bureaucracy. Until you have a national strategy, nothing will happen.” Most conservationists agree that, under current prime minister Narendra Modi, there is little sign of positive change at a national level. Last year, Modi’s government not only cut funding for the environment by 25 per cent, and support for tiger protection by 15 per cent, but fast-tracked projects that could have disastrous environmental consequences.

Panna-Tiger-Reserve

Panna Tiger Reserve

These include a river diversion that will submerge nearly a third of the Panna Tiger Reserve and the expansion of a country road along the Pench Tiger Reserve into a four-lane highway. And despite signing an international agreement promising to protect tigers and their dwindling environment, the country currently loses an average of 333 acres of forest a day, which partially explains why the creatures now occupy just 7 per cent of their original habitat. As Julian Matthews from Travel Operators for Tigers explains: “Now less than two per cent of India is protected, far less than is needed for the tiger’s ecological security. Forests are being decimated for pasture and charcoal. So tigers are increasingly forced to live off cattle, which further worsens man-animal conflict.”