Travel

Newfoundland: Explore Canada’s Traditions Like Never Before

Each December, as winter’s chill envelops Newfoundland and Labrador, in far eastern Canada, its residents prep their candy-colored houses for a series of masked visitors. The practice may sound slightly sinister, but Mummering, as it’s known to the area’s English and Irish descendants, is a joyous, Halloween-style ritual. Brought over from Britain in the 19th century, Mummering deals in the art of disguise, where groups of friends or family members travel door-to-door in their neighborhood, cloaked head to toe in costumes. The trick is for the host to identify each Mummer, at which point everyone celebrates with some whiskey or a slice of Christmas cake.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador

If you’re not a Newfoundland and Labrador native, the best way to join in the spirit of this quirky custom is by making a trip to the province’s snowy’ capital, St. John’s, where an annual Mummers Festival begins in late November. Over two weeks, it features various events, such as an Ugly-Stick Workshop, in which participants embellish sticks with bottle caps and tin cans meant to create a mighty racket during the festival’s culminating Mummers Parade, with hundreds of costumed souls marching through town. After the parade, crowds gather to unmask, mingle, and drink Purity Syrup, a sweet, fruit-flavored concoction similar to punch. Think of it as the biggest holiday block party you’ve ever seen.

The Full Guide To Getting The Best Of Georgia

HOTELS: Lopota Lake Resort & Spa – A lakeside resort in the Kakheti region, known as the Napa Valley of Georgia.

Rooms: This old Soviet printing plant in the capital has been turned into a high-design hotel where le tout Tbilisi goes to hang out. The property’s second location in Kazbegi offers breathtaking views of one of the highest peaks in the Caucasus Mountains.

Lopota Lake Resort & Spa

Lopota Lake Resort & Spa

RESTAURANTS: Cafe Littera – The beautiful garden setting is as enticing as chef Tekuna Gachechiladze’s light-handed takes on Georgia’s classic comfort food. You can also learn to whip up your own khachapuri at Gachechiladze’s cooking school and cafe, Culinarium.

O, Moda, Moda: This mash-up of cafe, art gallery, and vintage clothing store feels like a little bit of Brooklyn in Tbilisi.

The microclimate that surrounded us there in the Kakheti region is one of Georgia’s kindliest, which explains why the wide plain stretching out from the hills is lined with row upon row of grapevines. Georgians have been making wine all over the country for some 7,000 years, but Kakheti is deemed the best place for it. Many households still make their own wine the old-fashioned way, fermenting the juice with its seeds and skins, then filtering it and burying it to age in large clay amphorae called kvevri. Traditional Georgian wine often has a fresh, raisiny flavor, and the natives knock it back by the pitcher.

The man who transformed Georgia from a nation of casual tipplers into a formidable wine exporter, Alexander Chavchavadze, introduced modern European wine-making methods to the country in the early 19th century. But that wasn’t the half of it: he translated Voltaire and Victor Hugo into Georgian; he brought Georgia its first grand piano and its first billiard table; he fought Napoleon as a Russian officer, and later championed Georgian nationalism against Russia. In short, Chavchavadze spun the whole country around so that it faced west instead of east.

This patriotic polymath is regarded today as a kind of Georgian Thomas Jefferson, and Tsinandali, his estate built in 1818, is his Monticello. The two-story structure mixes Italianate stonework with a wooden, Ottoman-style loggia in an elegant multicultural mash-up. The garden, much celebrated in its day, reminded contemporaries of Richmond or Kew in England, but with a wilder soul. Dum as pere called it, simply, the Garden of Eden. The spirit of Georgia lives here.

 Cafe Littera

Cafe Littera

Paintings along the walls inside chronicle the great man’s life and melodramatic death. We see Chavchavadze in his horse-drawn carriage just as his scarf is caught in the spokes—ironically, he had brought the horse-drawn carriage to Georgia, too. Moments later, he was pitched headfirst onto the pavement, dying a few days afterward.

What happened to Chavchavadze’s home in the aftermath of his death echoes strikingly today. In 1854, the Muslim insurgent Imam Shamil swept across the mountains from neighboring Dagestan and raided Tsinandali, a reprisal for Russian expansion in the Caucasus. Shamil’s men burned parts of Tsinandali and took Chavchavadze’s daughter-in-law Anna hostage, along with 23 others. Shamil held his prisoners for nine months while Alexander’s son David scraped and borrowed the money to ransom his wife (it bankrupted him).

A painting at Tsinandali records the eventual hostage exchange, which took place on a river raft. Georgia’s past is never far away— its people refuse to let it go. In Tbilisi, which lies under the ancient gaze of the ruined Narikala fortress, this past is particularly present. I love the city for its smoky evocation of bygone centuries and cultures. Tbilisi is poor and run-down in many places, but its magnetic pull is somehow stronger for all that. Indeed, Georgia’s ongoing culture wars have left Tbilisi with a handful of sleek Modernist monuments that, while forward-looking, can appear jarring in a city so comfortable in its old skin (the locals wickedly dubbed a recent wavy-roofed footbridge the “Always Ultra” for its resemblance to a maxi pad).

The Rooms Hotel Tbilisi has managed to strike a nice balance. Like its Kazbegi cousin, it has taken a hulking Soviet shell—it used to be a printing plant for the newspaper Pravda—and made it funky inside. In the lobby hangs a large self-portrait by the flamboyant Georgian painter Eteri Chkadua—in this one she’s riding backward on a zebra. The hotel’s courtyard attracts Tbilisi’s smart set, who come to drink mojitos and nibble very good fish tacos.

Tbilisi’s Writers’ House

Tbilisi’s Writers’ House

You’ll find the same kind of cosmopolitan crowd in the spacious garden behind Tbilisi’s Writers’ House, a handsome Art Nouveau mansion built in 1903 by the man who brought brandy to Georgia (after his death, Georgia’s Writers’ Union took it over). Chef Gachechiladze now leases it for her restaurant. It’s one of the loveliest spots in town, surrounded by high walls hung with black-and-white photographs and lined with clusters of pretty people on wooden benches set around low tables. We dined there on a balmy August night under a full moon that shone through the branches of a towering pine tree.

As soon as she opened, in May 201S, Gachechiladze started taking heavy flak from the guardians of classic Georgian cooking. She puts mussels instead of meat in her chakapuli, a stew made with sour plums, tarragon, and white wine. She just happens to like mussels. In Minghrelia, Georgian cooking’s heartland, they eat a heavy porridge called elarji made of corn-meal and cheese. Gachechiladze lightens it and fries it up in croquettes. It all tasted mighty good to me, but tweaking traditional recipes is not something Georgians applaud.

Santa Fe: The Impressive History Of a Great Destination

One could argue that Santa Fe has already gotten its reset in the form of Javier Gonzales, So, the city’s first openly gay mayor. He was elected in 2014 after running on the slogan “Dare to grow young,” a reference to the town’s aging population (the median age is 44, seven years higher than the national average) and youth exodus (the under-45 population has sharply declined in the past decade).Santa-Fe-Cathedral-Basilica-St-Francis-of-Assisi

On a bright, breezy day in early May, I met Gonzales at his office in city hall. Long-limbed and handsome in cowboy boots and jeans, he told me that Santa Fe “can’t be afraid to move forward” on issues that matter to people in their 20s and 30s: affordable housing, job growth in industries other than tourism and government, green energy, and nightlife. Gonzales plans to bring more film and digital media to town, not only to increase employment opportunities but also to diversify the cultural landscape, which leans disproportionately toward crafts and visual arts. He has challenged the city’s institutions to support creative work that is more inclusive, and “not just for the patrons,” as he put it.

I thought about this mandate at the opening of “Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico,” on view until Mar ch at the New Mexico History Museum. Rather than the white, middle-aged crowd you might expect to see at an exhibition in the city’s most touristy district, the attendees were young, tattooed, and diverse. One was Julia Armijo, a seventh-generation Santa Fean who had come with her daughter, Justice Lovato, the founder and president of a local car club called Enchanted Expressions. Lowriders, Armijo told me, are works of art that are “built, not bought.”

Perhaps the best example of Santa Fe’s broadening definition of art is the ascent of Meow Wolf. The collective’s bowling-alley complex, which, in addition to the House of Eternal Return, contains studios, offices, and a youth-education center, is four miles across town from the Plaza, in the Siler Road District. The area, which was once dominated by auto-repair garages, metal shops, and old manufacturing buildings, has swiftly become a creative hub. Several small theater companies have sprung up: Teatro Paraguas, which performs in a black-box space; Wise Fool New Mexico, a nonprofit circus troupe; and Adobe Rose Theatre, which opened in January’ in a former door factory. The Arts and Creativity Center, a city-backed development prow ding live-work spaces for artists, could be completed there by next summer—a major step toward making Santa Fe, a town that depends on art, more hospitable to the people who create it.

House of Eternal Return

House of Eternal Return

Vince Kadlubek, Meow Wolf’s 34-year-old CEO, radiates the entrepreneurial savvy of Tim Ferriss and the monomaniacal intensity of Captain Ahab. As the collective’s chief fund raiser and spokesperson, he is superhumanly busy. At 9 am. on a Tuesday, he had not yet slept. Seated in aback room of Meow Wolf headquarters, Kadlubek, who grew up in Santa Fe—his parents are retired public-school teachers—expressed both pride and frustration in his hometown. “The cultural identity of Santa Fe was so valuable, and powerful, and controlled, that it had very’ little ability to change, to be agile,” he told me. A decade ago, like so many young Santa Feans, he moved away—in his case, to Portland, Oregon—but he returned after a year.

“I played this out in my head,” he recalled. “If Santa Fe keeps the same old identity, it becomes less and less attractive to anew generation. The demographic that is attracted to it grows older and older, and we just start to see the vibrancy—the actual health and sustainability—of the city that I grew up in and love start to come into question.” He pounded a fist on the table. “When I got back, I was like, ‘I’ve got to do something’.”

In 2008, he founded Meow Wolf with 11 other artists. In a former hair salon, the group hosted shows and punk-rock concerts while developing its signature creative style: immersive, colorful, multimedia, hyper-collaborative. Initially, Meow Wolf “had zero entry’ point into the art world of Santa Fe,” Kadlubek told me. But eventually the establishment took notice. In 2011, the Center for Contemporary Art commissioned the group to create the Due Return, an interactive 5,000-square-foot ship with a backstory about traveling through time and space to an alien planet. The project was a hit, and brought commissions for installations in Chicago, Miami, New York, and elsewhere.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe

Around the same time, Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin, though a sexagenarian himself, had grown concerned about his town’s lack of youthful vigor. So in 2013, he purchased a dormant 128-seat, single-screen theater, the Jean Cocteau. On a spooky, windy night, I attended a showing of Blue Velvet. It was instantly clear to me that the theater also serves as a youth hangout. There are board games and a wall of books signed by authors, like Neil Gaiman and Junot Diaz, who have given readings. In addition to popcorn with real butter, the concession counter sells com dogs, turkey Reubens, and deep-fried Twinkies. “Is George ever here?” I asked a girl with a half-shaved head. Yes, on Wednesdays for game night, she told me. “He really loves this place.”

Explore The Surprising Lands Of Santa Fe

The house of eternal return. Santa Fe’s unlikely new cultural destination, is a two-story Victorian built by the art collective Meow Wolf inside a converted old bowling alley owned by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin. The decor recalls the 1970s, with faux-wood paneling and afghan-covered bed
s and a hamster cage in a child’s bedroom. You follow various passageways—through the fireplace, the refrigerator, a closet—and find yourself in fantastical worlds that cling to the periphery ofcanyon-road-santa-fe the house like moss. The
re’s a forest of neon trees. A Star Trek-ian spaceship. A mobile home plunked down in the middle of a desert.

The 22,000-square-foot installation is a haunted house without the monsters, an amusement park without the rides, an acid trip without the drugs. It is embedded with clues about the mysterious fate of a family who lived there. You can choose to simply steep yourself in the abstract visual stimuli, or you can attempt to piece the narrative together. In an upstairs office, I found the Perry Mason crowd: visitors of various ages pulling books from shelves, riffling through spiral notebooks, unpinning papers from a bulletin board, and clicking through files on a computer.

“It’s, like, a lot of Illuminati stuff,” Anna, a blond 16-year-old, said with teenage earnestness. She could have been discussing Dungeons & Dragons. “It’s about the occult or time travel,” said her friend Sabrina, an 18-year-old with a pixie cut who was flipping through a legal pad like an extra in a crime show. The House of Eternal Return looks exactly like what it is: a surreal fantasia concocted by a group of 150 artists with a $2.7 million budget. Though it’s nothing like the soothing pastels and bright landscape paintings on display at Santa Fe’s many galleries and museums, visitors have flocked to it. In the six months after it opened in March, the exhibit brought in 350,000 visitors and revenue of $4 million.

Santa Fe’s boosters like to say that more art is sold in Santa Fe than in any American city other than New York or Los Angeles—a surprising claim when you consider that the town’s population barely grazes 70,000. Collectors from all over the world travel to buy at its internationally renowned summer fairs: the Traditional Spanish Market, the Santa Fe Indian Market, and the International Folk Art Market. Santa Fe also has more than 200 galleries and a dozen museums. Much of the work is characterized by an overwhelming Southwesternness. One friend, an editor at the Santa Fe-based Outside magazine, summed it up as “burros with sunsets.”

Santa Fe

Santa Fe

More than a million tourists come each year in search of this Southwestern aesthetic. Santa Fe, a guidebook by longtime resident Buddy Mays that I picked up in the gift shop of the New Mexico History Museum, explains that the town’s quaint image was deliberately crafted as a means of driving tourism. Beginning around 1912, the year New Mexico was granted statehood, civic leaders sought to define Santa Fe’s architectural style, set restrictions on signage, and draw attention to Hispanic and Native American arts. The idea was to give the city a historic regional identity and the patina of an exotic travel destination.

The plan worked. Too well, some would argue. For years, Santa Fe has been trapped inside its own successful branding. Besides the art, there’s the ubiquitous turquoise jewelry and the inescapable red and green chiles. There’s the low-slung-, mud-brown adobe architecture, the result of a strict zoning ordinance passed in 1957 that remains in effect today. There’s the pervasive undercurrent of New Age spiritualism. Since the early 1980s, when an Esquire cover story called it “the right place to live” and areal estate boom brought a wave of second-homers and celebrities (Sam Shepard, Ali Mac Graw, Jane Fonda, Val Kilmer), Santa Fe—or the idea of it, anyway— has been entrenched in the popular consciousness.

Countless articles have praised its clean high-altitude air, tasteful old-world aesthetic, and quiet rhythms. Magazine spreads pay homage to “Santa Fe style,” a term (codified by a popular 1986 coffee-table book of the same name) that describes the town’s characteristic mix of Pueblo and Territorial Revival architecture and an interior-decor approach that favors folk crafts, Native American artifacts, and Western accents, like bleached steer skulls. Many locals told me that they try to avoid their town’s most popular destinations, like the Plaza, the historic downtown square, and Canyon Road, the row of galleries that was once an artists’ enclave. Once in awhile, they might go to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to see the paintings that are so foundational to Santa Fe’s identity. But, my editor friend told me, “We’re due for a reset. It’s just been Georgia O’Keeffe straight through.”

holiday-usa

Useful Hints For a Worthy Holiday

Many of us plan vacations as an idyllic reward for the rigours of everyday life and now, with the increasing efficiency of digital guidance, it has never been easier to experience exactly what we want. Fingers crossed. There will always be surprises, the unknowns counting on our sense of adventure, all of which add up to a really good trip.

So what personalization, you may ask, is shaping the plans of worldwide travellers in 2017?

One of them, data shows, is an increasing quest to learn and understand how we share the planet. Its the collective desire to explore beyond the horizon, says Booking.com, referring to the preferences expressed by its global customers as they hunt for deals on accommodation in 227 countries.

“Experiencing the unknown, encountering different people and cultures, and testing new limits are all at the core of what drives us to travel,” adds Pepij Rijvers, the website’s chief marketing officer. As importantly, “while travellers are displaying an insatiable appetite for adventure, most of us are mindful of the impact those experiences could have on the local culture and natural resource sustainability.”

Specifically, here’s what your fellow travellers from all corners of the globe are planning for themselves this year, combined with a few new ideas:

JUST PENNIES TO BRING YOUR BESTIE

los-angeles

Los Angeles at night

Setting out with a favourite companion is the way to go and that includes helpful companions of the electronic variety. Mobile apps are an anytime, low-cost, personal tourguide and, in 2017, 52 per cent of travellers say they expect to use these efficient little pals more frequently. There are apps to guide you from your global position to the places you request like landmarks, restaurants, events and attractions, and to under-the-radar needs such as grocery stores, parking lots and emergency services. In Los Angeles, for example, receive up-to-the-minute happenings from KCRW Radio, or quickly find sports tickets, nearby yoga- and-spin fitness centres, or find out about wildly different physical fitness experiences like sandbox boot camp and dance parties in the morning.

PIGGYBACK WITHOUT YOUR PIGGYBANK

sailboats-and-boston-skyline

Sailboats and Boston’s skyline

Would you work for less money if your job included lots of travel? Put another way: does working around the clock as you do now pale in comparison to a frequent change-of-scene and a pampered hotel life? Of those polled, 30 per cent said yes. As well, 49 per cent said they regularly extend business trips for leisure pursuits, and 75 per cent of them said they will do the same this year. Take Boston, for instance. It is one thing to realize you’re walking on the very ground where so much milestone history happened, but if you don’t stay the weekend, you’ll miss another Boston phenomenon. Throughout the winter and spring, The Langham hotel is your singular chance to try more than 100 sensational sweet treats at the sell-out Saturday Chocolate Bar brunch, an all-you-can-eat buffet dedicated to choco-desserts only.

NOT MY GRANDMOTHER’S VACATION

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The Exumas – Bahamas

The adventurous spirit is totally taking over as travellers express a growing appetite for discovering environments in an authentic way. Fifty-six per cent of us say we’d like to do more independent travel in the future and 47 percent told Booking.com they would like to discover corners of the globe where none of their friends have been. The Exumas in the Bahamas are in that league. From lively Nassau, take a boat trip far across the turquoise abyss to these islands, so secluded you’ll likely kick off your shoes for good and become one with nature as you feed iguanas and, perhaps, swim with pigs —yep, pigs. If you find yourself in Cuba, Anguilla or Barbados, join other adventurous spirits who are renting jeeps and scooters to explore off-the-beaten-path landscapes, villages and eateries.

MASSAGE MY WOES AWAY

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Stowe Response – Vermont

Escapes designed to utterly indulge our mind, body and soul put things into perspective. And in 2017, that is exactly what 48 per cent of us say we are going to do. Imagine, for example, the renewal of a winter getaway, which includes heartpumping snow sports combined with the rejuvenation of a spa. Go to Vermont, for example, for the Stowe Response. Based on meditation, this relaxation program is known to induce serenity and soothe away stress so the overwhelming response is one of total well-being. Or, if you find yourself in the Rockies of the Southwest USA, try something new. In Utah, go snow-surfing on the slopes of Park City or Deer Valley. Add a daily massage and it won’t be long before you morph into a brand-new person.

IF I’M NOT GREEN, I’M NOT GOING

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Lowry Park Zoo – Tampa, Florida

Digging in our heels can change the world, one carbon footprint at a time. For instance, at least one-third of travellers say they are carefully choosing only eco-friendly options. So, we might ask, can tourist magnets like Florida actually measure up? Keep those green eyes peeled. By ardently protecting its coastline, Florida is in the top-tier of eco-responsible states and such initiatives are mirrored in its human-made attractions too. At Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, solar panels installed on select animal sheds produce enough clean energy every day to power 5.5 Tampa Bay homes. And if you fly when travelling, the impact of a fossil-fuelled aircraft can be offset by going non-stop to save both energy and emissions; bringing lighter luggage; choosing a smaller aircraft with fewer seats; and reducing the environmental impact of your journey by participating in a “carbon offset program.”

Dozens of airlines worldwide collect and distribute passenger donations to fund eco-revival projects at home and abroad.

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Discover The Quiet Side Of Jamaica

WHERE TO STAY

Built in the 1970s, the Trident Hotel remains the most fashionable place to stay in Port Antonio, with its 13 recently renovated villas all overlooking the sea. Enjoy a nightcap at the Time Bar, which is well stocked with Cuban rums. A collection of airy one-and two-bedroom suites, the Goblin Hill Villas are a 10-minute walk from sparkling San San Bay. Next door is a sister property, the three-bedroom Crystal Cove.

Trident Hotel

Trident Hotel

WHERE TO EAT

A half-hour drive from Kingston, Hellshire Beach is known for its no-frills, delicious seafood shacks, like Celine’s, where you can order grilled lobster or steamed fish for lunch or dinner. Set on Port Antonio’s quiet Winnifred Beach, Cynthia’s draws a mix of locals, tourists, and foodies like Anthony Bourdain, who come to feast on jerk chicken and fish at communal outdoor tables.

WHAT TO DO

With its cool waters and hanging vines, the spring-fed Blue Lagoon is one of Port Antonio’s most popular attractions.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Boat tours are popular, and there’s also a small beach for swimming. Home to species like the blue mahoe, Jamaica’s national tree, the 200-acre Hope Botanical Gardens is the largest public green space in the Kingston area.

Luxury, Sun & Flawless Water – Hellshire Beach, Jamaica

It was business as usual at Celine’s, on Hellsbire Beach, when model Tami Williams dropped in on a gloriously clear Wednesday afternoon this summer. The no frills, brightly colored seafood restaurant was well into lunch service, dishing up heaping plates of fresh lobster, fish, rice, and beans to the mostly local crowd that frequents the half-mile swath of sand near Kingston. The handful of sun-seekers who had made the trek sipped Red Stripes as the waves lapped the shore, the day grew long, and the dinner throngs began to roll in.

This lesser-known, arguably more authentic side of Jamaica—a place far from the manicured resort towns of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios—is where Williams feels at ease. She was raised in Kingston and St. Elizabeth Parish, and grew up going to Hellshire with friends and family. “Hellshire is the real Jamaica,” said Williams, who took Travel + Leisure on a tour of her favorite spots, wearing our top picks from the new resort collections. “The way the restaurants here prepare their fried or steamed lobster and fish is out of this world. And then of course you have to have a few festivals.” (For the uninitiated, a festival is like a sweet fritter.)

Goblin Hill Villas

Goblin Hill Villas

Williams has come a long way from Hellshire. She’s currently one of the most sought-after models in the business, having shot campaigns for Valentino and walked the runways for Dolce & Gabbana and Calvin Klein. New York and Paris may offer her fame and fortune, but Jamaicais the place that grounds her. “Tami was so excited to bring us somewhere she knew, somewhere she felt at home,” says photographer Jerome Corpuz, who, along with T+L fashion editor Melissa Ventosa Martin, traveled with Williams across the island.

The crew made its way to Port Antonio, another under-the-radar spot, where Williams met up with her friend, fellow Jamaican model Aneita Moore. Set on the northeastern coast, the town was a popular escape for the likes of Errol Flynn, Dean Martin, and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s, but had fallen off Holly wood’s radar by the 80s. It still attracts a discerning clientele, however. Williams brought the group along to the unspoiled beaches and bays that Port Antonio is still famous for, like tiny Frenchman’s Cove, wide, expansive San San Bay, and the jungle-shrouded Blue Lagoon. “Everything in Port Antonio is a bit tucked away—you have to work to find it,” says Corpuz, who stayed at Crystal Cove, while the rest of the crew based themselves at its sister property, Goblin Hill Villas at San San, and the elegant Trident Hotel. “In another era, people used to come with their yachts. Now, the scene is just mellow and beautiful.”

Georgia: History, Enjoyment And Beauty

THE GEORGIAN PEOPLE HAVE A TROVE OF STORIES that explain their good fortune to be living in this fertile comer of the Caucasus. My favorite is this one: when God made the world, he asked all the peoples of the earth where they wanted to live, and distributed their homelands accordingly. From the Georgians he heard nothing; they were too busy feasting. He paused to rebuke them on his way home, but the tamada—the toastmaster at a traditional Georgian feast—told God to calm down, that the Georgians had spent the whole time praising his handiwork, and that they really didn’t mind if they the-church-of-the-trinitywound up homeless anyway. God found this answer so pleasing, not to mention adroit, that he gave the Georgians the little plot of land he had been saving for himself.

I’ve been visiting Georgia off and on for years, and much about this story feels right. There’s no denying that this beautiful country enjoys the kind of Old Testament abundance that bespeaks God’s favor. Plant a seed here and it grows, rich and healthy: tea, tobacco, walnuts, grapes, everything. Crunch a Georgian cucumber (Georgian meals regularly start with bowls of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers on the table) and that most anemic of vegetables whacks you with flavor. The creation myth carries other grains of truth as well. Yes, Georgians do like to sit around feasting more than most people. And no, they’re not shy about admitting it, even if there’s something they might be better off doing—like, say, petitioning God for a land of their own.

Problematic as this quality might be when it comes to nation-building (something Georgia has been striving unevenly to do since it declared independence from the Soviet Union, in 1991), it also places Georgians among the world’s most congenial and hospitable dinner companions. Georgia must surely rank as the toughest place on earth to pick up a check. I was ruminating on all this from the broad wooden deck of Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, at the foot of snow-tipped Mount Kazbek, at 16,558 feet tall, the third-highest peak in Georgia. It’s not hard to see why you’d want to put a hotel here, or why so many of the guests were lounging in wicker chairs, wrapped in throws against the mountain chill, just staring up and smoking.

Across the valley stood ranks of jagged volcanic peaks, and perched on a treeless hill directly in front of the hotel, the lonely 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church. Georgia has been a deeply religious nation since it adopted orthodox Christianity in the fourth century, and you can see its distinctive churches, with their conical domes and layered roofs, everywhere. Rooms Hotel Kazbegi used to be a Soviet tourist dormitory, so the building is squat and blocky—perfect for accommodating large groups of workers from a far-off tractor factory. Viewed from our century, the big glass-and-steel rectangle now looks quite chic, and some very good Georgian designers have given the inside a cozy feel with the help of plenty of rough wood, worn leather, and red-brown kilims.

Hotel Kazbegi

Hotel Kazbegi

The Russians who come to Rooms today (the border is a 10-minute drive away) arrive in flashy 4 x 4s via the great Georgian Military Highway, which connects Vladikavkaz, in Russia, to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital (where there’s a second outpost of Rooms), through the Darial Pass. Russia built the highway after absorbing Georgia in 1801, opening up a savage Eden that has gripped the Russian imagination ever since. Georgia was Russia’s Wild West, inspiring a mixture of wonder, fear, awe, and desire. Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Lermontov all fell under the country’s spell. ‘I have survived the Georgian Military Highway,” wrote Chekhov in a letter.

‘It isn’t a highway, but poetry.” The food at Rooms is good, and features a dish named ‘Soviet cake’— part of a widespread nostalgic revival of GOST cuisine (a Russian acronym for the state standards that regulated every aspect of daily life in the Soviet Union, including cake). It brought on a hankering for real country cooking, so my wife, our young son, and I headed down the road to the nearby village of Arsha, the taxi radio blasting out Russian pop songs. Tsarneti, the restaurant where we ended up, is avast and shabby establishment, divided, like so many Georgian restaurants, into separate little rooms for private dining. We were ushered into a cell-likebox, and there were treated to some of the wonders of one of the world’s least-known great cuisines.

Georgian cooking has benefited from the country’s location on the Silk Road and from its history of having been overrun by hostile neighbors again and again (between the sixth and the early 19th centuries, when it came under Russia’s wing, Tbilisi was sacked many times). All the invaders—Arabs, Turks, Persians, Mongols—left something of themselves in Georgia’s stones, and in its kitchens. “Georgian cooking is the original fusion cuisine,” the inventive young chef Tekuna Gachechiladze told me. She was spending the weekend at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi on a break from Cafe Littera, her restaurant in Tbilisi. “We took what we wanted from Persia, from India, from Turkey. The soup dumplings we call khinkali came from the Mongols in the thirteenth century.”

Cafe Littera

Cafe Littera, Tbilisi

You find these addictive dumplings everywhere in Georgia; we ordered a platter of them to start the meal. They are plumper than your average dumpling, with a twisty hat of dough at the top and a filling of meat, herbs, and fragrant broth. The trick is to nip a hole in the dough and suck out the broth without spritzing yourself, then eat the rest (except for the hat—never eat the hat!).

Tsameti’s khinkali were superb, pungent with caraway, and we dispatched an even dozen without taking into proper account what was to follow: chicken chmerkuli, fried and topped with a sauce of sour cream, garlic, and walnuts (walnuts show up often in Georgian cooking). With the chicken came bread stuffed with melted cheese called khachapuri, which is ubiquitous here. The variety we ordered was packed around a stick and baked over an open fire. We washed it all down with bottles of Tarkhuna, a bright green soda made with tarragon. After all that, it felt like a minor miracle when we were able to get up and walk away.

If the mountains to Georgia’s north are its Alps, those along its eastern border are its Berkshires: greener, gentler, and equally magical in their own way. Tucked in the foothills is the cluster of lovely lodges that make up the Lopota Lake Resort & Spa. Over lunch there, we marveled at the dramatic changes in landscape visible in a country only slightly bigger than West Virginia. Tbilisi was 60 miles to the wrest, and Kazbegi about 100 miles up from there, and yet we had traversed alpine passes, humid lowlands, and lush rolling hills as we traveled between them.

Lopota Lake Resort & Spa

Lopota Lake Resort & Spa

“Georgia has fifty-three microclimates—I have that somewhere in the back of my head,” said our lunch companion in a crisp English accent. She turned out to be the British ambassador to Georgia, Alexandra Hall Hall, who tries to grab a weekend in Lopota with her family whenever she can. Hall Hall was just coming to the end of her two-year tour, but she was pushing to stay on another year. “It’s just so beautiful here,” she sighed.

Ulster: The Natural Magic Of Ireland

The Ancient Irish province of Ulster, made up of 9 counties, was partitioned in 1921 and six of the counties in it now make up Northern Ireland. These are Fermanagh, Antrim, Down, Derry/Londonderry, Armagh, and Tyrone. The other three counties are Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland. County Fermanagh has over 300 square miles of water, 365 islands, breathtaking scenery, the mystical Marble Arch Caves Geo Park, world class fishing and more historic monuments than you could shake a stick at. In short, Fermanagh is a Lakeland Paradise.

County Donegal is in the northwest of the Republic of Ireland. The name “Donegal’ come; from the Irish, meaning “the fort of the foreigners”. The county consists chiefly of low mountains, with a deeply indented coastline forming natural loughs, of which Lough Swilly is the most notable. The famous mountains or ‘Hills of Donegal’ consist of two major ranges, the Derryveagh Mountain sin the north and the Bluestack Mountains in the south, with Mount Errigalat 751 metres the highest peak. The Slieve League cliffs are the second highest sea cliffs in Europe, while Donegal’s Malin Head is the most northerly point on the island of Ireland.

University of Ulster

University of Ulster

County Antrim with its beautiful coast read and famous glens is the most north easterly county on the island. On a worldwide scale Antrim’s most famous attraction is the Giants Causeway. However the renowned’ Glens of Antrim, the Bushmills Distillery and Carrickfergus Castle are well worth visiting as well. Belfast City too has many things to see including die grandeur of the City Hall, the new Titanic Quarter and the Odyssey Arena to name but a few. This vibrant city has a culture all of its own and its restaurants, theatres and nightlife are amazingly good value.

The Most Breathtaking Places To See In Connaught

Kylemore Abbey – Few places on earth have the tranquillity and beauty of Kylemore Abbey and its majestic Victorian walled garden, which won the prestigious Europa Nostra Award in 2002.The garden comprises of roughly 6 acres and is divided in two by a natural mountain stream The eastern half comprises of the flower or pleasure garden, glass houses and gardeners’ houses. While the kitchen garden makes up the other half of the garden and is predominantly given over to the growing of food.

Kylemore-Abbey

Arigna Mining Experience – Discover what coal mining life was like for coal miners in the Arigna Valley in Roscommon horn the 1700’s until its closure in 1990. Visit the exhibition area to discover the history of the mine and then take an underground tour of the mine, where the method s used to extract coal are demon strated, with lighting and sound effects added for authenticity.

Glencar Waterfall – Glen car Waterfall is situated near Glen car Lake, 11 kilometres west of Manorhamilton, County Leitrim. It is particularly impressive after rain and can be viewed from a lovely wooded walk. The most dramatic waterfall descends from a 50ft rocky headland into a deep pool below in a haze of white spray. A paved path to the viewing area provides a wonderful vantage point from which to view the waterfall which is particularly spectacular during wet conditions.

Glencar Waterfall

Glencar Waterfall

Lovely Leitrim Barge Holiday Boatel – Mary McInerney and Jorn Bjerknes invite you to join them on their luxury custom made barge for an unforgettable experience traversing the Shannon waterways. Whether you fancy going fishing, a leisurely cruise down the Shannon, going for a round of golf, or anything else you can think of, Mary and Jorn are happy to cater to what is required.

Mullaghmore – Mullaghmore is one of the surfing capitals of the Irish Atlantic coastline, and is recognised as one of the top surfing destination sin the world. Surfers and windsurfers from all over the world have ridden waves up to 15 metres (49 ft) high off Mullaghmore Head. The area is also safe for bathing, and has all the modern facilities that you could wish for to make your stay enjoyable.