1. Young Island, St. Vincent
If the plane, taxi, and then ferry ride don’t convince you that you’ve reached paradise lost then the gardenesque lushness of this privately owned 13-acre tropical island will. The most northerly of the Grenadine chain of islands, Young Island is tucked about 200 yards off St. Vincent’s southern shores and is all about luxury, lavish indulgence, and verdant scenery. Linger over five-course feasts spiced with West Indian flavors in a thatched-roof dining hut for two. Sip a Coconut Delight right out of a fresh coconut at the swim-up bar. Refresh with a Bajan cane sugar body scrub at Spa Kalina. Visit the uninhabited archipelago, Tobago Cays, by boat and snorkel the coral reefs. At Young Island, cottages step up the hillsides, each a hideaway unto itself (particularly cottages 10, 28, 29 and 30) with open-air garden showers, seductive plunge pools, and glorious sea views – but the most secluded of all is the Duvernette Suite. Sitting at the very top of Young Island, it offers breathtaking views of the sea, Fort Duvernette, St. Vincent, and Bequia. You won’t want to be found.
2. Mackinac Island, Michigan
No automobiles are allowed on Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. There are, however, plenty of horses-drawn carriages and bicycles, and an unrivaled atmosphere of romance. The entire island looks like a movie set, and that’s just what it was in 1979 when the Jane Seymour/ Christopher Reeve classic, “Somewhere in Time” – considered one of the most romantic movies of all time – was filmed on an island considered to be one of the most romantic destinations in the United States. Two island resorts, the venerable Grand Hotel, home of traditional afternoon tea and the world’s largest porch (lined with at least too rockers), and the lakeside Mission Point Resort, offer an homage to the movie. For the former, it is the annual “Somewhere in Time” weekend package, in October; for the latter, the Mackinac Island Observation Tower has a gorgeous exhibit about the filming of the movie, the attendant Hollywood Sound Stage, and the island’s only movie theatre, which also appeared in the movie and offers a full summer lineup of films and events. All this, plus shops, art galleries, water sports, nightlife, and spectacular views.
In the past few years, Mexico’s capital has reinvented itself as a stylish metropolis. A new generation of tastemakers leading the charge are both cosmopolitan and confident in their country’s heritage. And nowhere is Mexico City’s transformation more visible than on the tables of innovative restaurants serving creative dishes based on traditional ingredients.
But it hasn’t always been this way. “When I started my apprenticeship in France in 1998, there was no such thing as Mexican haute cuisine,” says Edgar Núñez, executive chef and co-owner of Sud 777, which recently landed a spot on “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants” list for 2016. The culinary talent was present, as was a host of traditional cookeries in the capital city. High-end gastronomy, however, meant anything but Mexican. Aspiring chefs like Núñez would study abroad and, when they returned home, dutifully emulate European food.
“But then I slowly began to remember how well we ate while growing up,” Núñez says. “My mother always grew her own vegetables, and I started thinking more about the importance of fresh, local produce.” It turns out that Núñez wasn’t the only one challenging the status quo. All across Mexico City, chefs young and old were getting reacquainted with their roots.
Here, five of the city’s hottest restaurants – along with the homegrown ingredients they champion – that demonstrate the depth and diversity of today’s Mexican cuisine.
At his fashionable Sud 777 in the stately southern suburb of Jardines del Pedregal, Edgar Núñez serves dishes based on simple ingredients, such as carrots that are simmered for 12 hours in duck fat, charred for seven minutes, and then topped with fresh cream.
Traditional it’s not – but this sophisticated comfort food is firmly rooted in the local soil. In fact, Núñez now grows many of his vegetables in a greenhouse behind 777.
Carrots also add life to the chef’s signature tostada, which features local tuna (“the world’s best tunas are caught off the coast of Mexico,” he boasts) tossed in lime, yuzu, soy sauce, and ginger, paired with avocados and green tomatoes. Crowning the dish: a fried corn tortilla, dotted with carrots, this time in the form of a buttery puree.
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1. Venice (above)
Someone associates this jewel of the Adriatic with brilliant Shakespeare’s tragedies; someone links it to the person of Casanova. Well, you may have your own connections. Yet no one would argue that Venice is a must-see place for those who are willing to get some of the Italian magic.
It’s hard to remember any spots in North America that would surpass Niagara in fame and beauty. Located right on the border of Canada and the United States, it attracts tens of millions of visitors from all around the globe annually.
Trivial as it may seem, Paris seems to never give up its status of the most romantic city throughout Europe. Centuries ago, the capital city of France was already the centre of sophistication and courtesy hosting a significant number of stunning landmarks.
This fascinating island lies in the southern Aegean Sea, right in between the mainland of Greece and the famous Crete Island. So if you’re planning a trip throughout the country, there will be no difficulties to include this destination to your wish list. To make a long story short: it was actually ranked as the best island on the globe by BBC Travel.
They say you always remember your first kiss. Well, l’m not absolutely sure I do (it may have been on the Isle of Man; I vomited afterwards but that was probably more to do with the ice-cream I’d just scoffed). However, I do remember kissing my first whale. It was around 3pm on Friday 28 February 2014, in San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California.
Seven of us, plus our guide, were in a small panga (motorboat), bobbing around on a sunny afternoon. We’d watched jealously as a mother and baby grey whale approached a boat mom away. Then we held our breath as they turned and headed towards us. When they were halfway, they sank from view; we stared intently at the water, eager for a sighting. Our hearts pounded as they surfaced right by our boat.
The 4.5m-long baby turned on its side, her eye peering up at us, seemingly inviting us to stroke her. Her skin was soft and smooth, like latex. The mother also rose, and we could appreciate her size: nearly 15m long. Her skin was covered in patches of barnacles, but was smooth between the outcrops.
The baby kept vying for attention, and thrust her head up towards us. Kissing her seemed to be the only thing to do. It would have been rude not to. After a few more minutes of the mutual love-in, the pair sank down, swam under our panga and headed for another boat.
The encounter was so momentous that afterwards we couldn’t recall whether we had been screaming or whether we were in awed silence. We conferred and decided it had been both. I turned to one of my companions, Lindsey, to see her wiping away tears of joy.
“Pinch me,” I said.
Foreign visitors per year: 200,000
Main town: Creel
Languages: Spanish, Raramuri
Major industries: tourism, agriculture
Unit of currency: Mexican peso (M$)
Cost index: hotel double/dorm M$700/150 (US$55/11), day’s mountain-bike hire M$300 (US$23), four-person canyon tour M$2300 (US$175), second-class Chihuahua-Copper Canyon-Los Mochis train ride M$1442 (US$109)
Topography: deepest canyon depth (1849m), highest point (3306m)
Run for your life, bike for your life, or – for real daredevils – be blasted out over a 1250m-deep precipice: the Copper Canyon was never short on thrills but its list is lengthening year by year.
The big reason for the changes is the new Creel Airport, finally set to get off the ground running connections to Houston and Dallas in the US, as well as prominent Mexican destinations like Mexico City and Canciin. Traditionally, visiting the canyons has been an undertaking of several days – approaching via the classic but time-consuming Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico rail route and letting off steam with an into-the-wild odyssey of canyon rim-to-bottom–hiking. Now travellers can get the `wow’ without the ‘ow’.
Creative tour companies will have opened by 2015 a Tarahumara running trip (far-off-road running with the region’s most distinctive indigenous people, the Tarahumara), and biking down the hair-raising but newly paved road to Batopilas, a colonial town hidden in the tropical canyon valleys. The canyons’ rim-straddling adventure park, Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre, is adding a brace of new adrenaline highs too: the world’s longest zip line, and a slingshot ride – which casts you out into the middle of the canyon on a bungee before reeling you squealing back in.
March sees the epic Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco, a 50-mile lung-buster of a race across unadulterated wilderness and your chance to compete with Tarahumara runners. Get training…
Running from March to July in locations across Chihuahua state is the Festival Internacional de Turismo Aventura (International Adventure Tourism Festival). Expect extreme dune events in the desert — or catch a trout festival in Madera just north of the canyons.
Festival Internacional Chihuahua takes place in the city of the same name throughout September, focusing on the region’s musical heritage.
Tarahumara immersion experiences, paved roads (well, a little bit), anyone who finishes the Copper Canyon’s ultra-marathon
Express trains, marijuana plantation bust-ups.
Ride the rails on Mexico’s best train journey from the desert (Chihuahua) through the canyons to the Pacific coast (Los Mochis).
Steel yourself for a cross-canyon whoosh on the world’s longest zip line at Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre.
See the canyons from the clouds with the brand new helicopter tours offered by Creel-based outfit the 3Amigos.
Flashpackers are replacing the backpackers of old among the canyons’ tourist clientele and that trend is likely to continue, as sampling the cream of the outdoor offerings here is nowhere near as cheap as it was. Add a session at the adventure park onto the price of a train ride, factor in that soon there will be more zip lines and snazzier hotels (planned for the canyon bottom) and you’ll see why it’s well-heeled thrill-seekers checking in.
The remote peaks and troughs of the Copper Canyon are a refuge not only for the Tarahumara (best-known for their legendary long-distance running abilities over hundreds of kilometres and 1500m+ elevation gains) but also many of Mexico’s Mennonites (a fair-haired, often blue-eyed people tracing their roots to 16th-century Holland, best-known for their farming prowess which yields, among other things, delicious cheeses). Such cultures lend more colour to a region that, rearing up out of the North Mexico desert in a blaze of green only to drop away again into canyons many times greater than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, would already be arrestingly beautiful.
Cuauhtemoc, a stop that the already eccentric-looking old steam train El Chepe makes on the Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico just before Creel, is a pretty singular city. It’s home to the vast majority of Mexico’s Mennonites who arrived here from Canada in the 1920s, and wear clothes reminiscent of an earlier century. The men are usually seen in loose-fitting overalls and the women attire themselves in long dark dresses and headscarves. They speak a dialect of Low German, and still do most agricultural work with equipment worthy of being acquisitioned by a museum in most countries.
This very special hotel is set in a UNESCO-listed nature reserve abutting the Pacific, at the end of a very long dirt road about 110km south of Puerto Vallarta. The wild, isolated location and indigenous flora and fauna – coconut palms, exotic blooms, 150 bird species, including dive-bombing pelicans and herons so still they look like cut-outs, and the odd armadillo – all conspire to give that irredeemable sense of couldn’t-be-any-where-else.
The 27 roomy, thatched beach – and lagoon-side stilt houses, candle-lit at night and with four-posters and terraces, are as romantic as it gets. The food (breakfast and supper are served at El Diablito on the lagoon; lunch at Nopalito, a rowing-boat ride away on the shore) is fresh, authentic Mexican: quesadillas, tacos, fresh fruit, much of it plucked from the hotel’s organic garden or fished from the ocean.
If dozing in one of the hammocks beside the infinity-edged pool gets tiresome, sail the lagoon in a catamaran, help release soft, leathery, just-hatched turtles from the hotel’s sanctuary into the Pacific (just don’t ask for survival statistics), or go humpback whale spotting on the beach as the sun sets.
The most beautiful hacienda hotel in Mexico sprawls over plant-filled courtyards and manicured gardens beneath an active volcano, deep in the coffee-plantation country of the Colima highlands; arrive at night and the whole place twinkles beguilingly by candlelight.
Built by German immigrant Don Arnoldo Vogel in 1890, the pink house was meticulously restored by the Goldsmith family, who also own beachside retreat Cuixmala, a private-plane ride away. Everything’s on a grand scale here, from the 30-metre swimming pool to the 25 vast, vaulted suites, each with a working stone fireplace, impeccably decorated with bespoke rugs and tiled bathrooms.
There are 190 hectares of grounds to explore, plus numerous public rooms filled with exquisite Mexican art, sculpture and furniture, so seeing another guest can be as rare an event as spotting one of the crested caracara eagles that occasionally swoop for prey.
There’s plenty to do beyond the hacienda walls: hike the estate’s 2,000 hectares with a picnic, tour its cheese and coffee factories, or ride on horseback through bamboo forests. And for a break from the polished nightly dinner service, drive into the whitewashed pueblo magico of Comala to eat tacos and churros from the street carts.
John Huston fell so hard for Puerto Vallarta and its winding cobblestone streets lined with bougainvillea that he used it as the setting for his 1964 film The Night of the Iguana – which prompted an influx of Hollywood’s elite to this Pacific coast town throughout the ’60s and ’70s. Though most of us now associate the place with cruise ships, jam packed beaches, and bars hosting all-day happy hours, there’s a handful of hidden gems, both in and outside town that remind us why Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton ran away here together.
Your Home Base. Burton purchased Casa Kimberly in the hills overlooking Banderas Bay for Taylor for her thirty-second birthday, in 1964. He also bought the house across the street for himself and built a bridge – known as both Lovers’ Bridge and Reconciliation Bridge – to connect the properties. Last December, after sitting empty for a decade and the undergoing a five-year renovation, Casa Kimberly and Burton’s house were reborn as a nine-suite boutique hotel. Book the Elizabeth Taylor suite and you can soak in the heart-shaped pink-marble bathtub Taylor installed when she moved in.
The Table Worth Getting To. There are three ways to reach the Ocean Grill, an open-air, reservations-only lunch spot built into a rocky cove a few miles south of town. You can hike for 40 minutes through dense jungle, take a five-minute boat ride (provided by the restaurant), or – if you really want to make an entrance – anchor your yacht and swim to the restaurant’s dock. Your order: smoked marlin tostadas and a whole grilled lobster.
The Local’s Bar. Head a few blocks inland, away from the crowded bars of Old Town, to El Patio de Mi Casa, where you’ll sink into a chaise longue and sip a raicilla – the smoky local version of mescal.
The Secret Beach. It’s a 30-minute boat ride from Marina Vallarta, the main marina in town, to remote Yelapa beach (boats can be hired on the spot). Pull up a stool at the thatched-roof bar Angelina’s Gardens Beach Club for fish tacos and a cold beer, and then spend the afternoon dozing in one of the many hammocks strung between the palms.
While many Americans view death with fear, anger, and anxiety, Mexicans maintain a vital bond between living and deceased family members, recognizing the Day of the Dead as a time to celebrate life while remembering those who have passed on. It is believed that the souls of the dead return for one week each year to visit friends and family and partake of the pleasures they knew and loved in life.
The origins of this festive celebration predate the Aztecs, and the native tradition survived the arrival of the Spanish missionaries by mingling with the imposed observance of the Catholic Church’s All Souls Day. Some rituals for El DÍa de los Muertos have remained unchanged over the centuries, and much preparation goes into the making of ofrendas of fruit, flowers, special pastries, and handicrafts for the dead, who are thought to begin to arrive on November 1.
Special foods (and the occasional bottle of tequila) are laid out for the breakfast and dinner of departed loved ones. The cemeteries are full of people cleaning, painting, and decorating the tombs and graves of their ancestors. Family altars incorporate photographs, simple or elaborate flower arrangements with orange marigolds, or sometimes nothing more than a plain candle.
The only thing more delightful than wending one’s way through the byways of Mexico’s colonial “Pink City” is to sail above it in the only teleférico cable car in the world that traverses an entire city. The effect is heady, since this once highly prosperous silver-mining city is already perched at 8,200 feet above sea level: Is it the altitude or views of the picturesque jumble of Baroque monuments below and the encircling hills beyond?
By the 18th century, the mines of Zacatecas had made it one of the New World’s richest cities. The city’s former wealth is reflected in both the ubiquitous use of pink quarry stone, called cantera rosa, and the extravagantly decorated cathedral, one of Mexico’s most outstanding Baroque buildings, whose silhouette monopolizes the view. Other stunning architectural sites greet travelers around every corner, some of them housing first-rate art collections. Two excellent museums are named for the Coronel brothers, both much-admired Zacatecan artists. Another architectural marvel is arguably Mexico’s most unusual hotel, the Quinta Heal, housed in the oldest bullring in the Americas. Many of the rooms have balconies overlooking the 17th-century plaza de toros (bullring), where echos of ¡Olé! still resonate. Stop by, if only for a drink, in the hotel’s bar, which occupies some of the former bull pens.