Savannah, with its Spanish moss, Southern accents and creepy graveyards, is a lot like Charleston, South Carolina. But this city about 100 miles to the south has an eccentric streak. Savannah College of Art and Design students mix with ghost hunters and preservationists, while Southern-fried restaurants share street blocks with edgy cafes and restored theaters. The quirky characters in the true crime story, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” say it all. Yes, eccentricity is the name of the game, but if that’s not your “box of chocolates,” as Tom Hanks famously said in the Savannah-filmed “Forrest Gump,” maybe history or nightlife is? Savannah’s antebellum past seeps from nearly every corner but “The Hostess City of the South” abandons its genteel behavior by nightfall to prove it also knows how to show visitors a good time.
The Middle East is one of history’s grand epics – a cradle of civilizations and a beautiful, complicated land that’s home to some of the most hospitable people on the planet.
Beyond city limits, the Middle East is a land of mighty rivers (the Nile, Euphrates), even mightier deserts (the Sahara and peerless Wadi Rum) and green landscapes of exceptional beauty. Exploring these wilderness areas – from snow-capped summits in Turkey, Iran and Lebanon to the kaleidoscopic waters of the Red Sea – lies at the heart of the region’s appeal. The message is simple: Forget the clichés that masquerade as Middle Eastern truth – a visit here is one of the most varied and soulful travel experiences on earth.
Home of Hospitality
At some point on your visit to the Middle East, you’ll be sitting in a coffeehouse or looking lost in a labyrinth of narrow lanes when someone will strike up a conversation and, within minutes, invite you home to meet their family and share a meal. Or someone will simply approach and say with unmistakable warmth, ‘Welcome’. These spontaneous, disarming and utterly genuine words of welcome can occur anywhere. And when they do, they can suddenly (and forever) change the way you see the Middle East.
Why I Love the Middle East
It was in Damascus that I first fell for the Middle East. Here was a city of storytellers, of warm and welcoming people, of history brought alive at every turn. Ten years later (a decade in which I had marvelled at the peerless beauty of Esfahan and struck out into the Sahara at Siwa, among many Middle Eastern journeys), I returned to Damascus and fell in love all over again. War may since have engulfed the country, but Damascus, and the Middle East, has seen it all before – nowhere else on earth is life lived with such an awareness of history.
The Middle East’s cities read like a roll-call of historical heavyweights: Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, İstanbul, Erbil, Esfahan. Aside from ranking among the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth, these ancient-modern metropolises are places to take the pulse of a region. It is in the region’s cities, too, that you find the stirring, aspirational architecture that so distinguishes the three great monotheistic faiths. There they sit alongside the more secular charms of bazaars and coffee shops that seem to embody all the mystery and storytelling magic of a land that gave us The Thousand and One Nights.
History Writ Large
In the Middle East, history is not something you read about in books. Here, it’s a story written on the stones that litter the region, from the flagstones of old Roman roads to the building blocks of Ancient Egypt, and the delicately carved tombs and temples from Petra to Baalbek. This is where humankind first built cities and learned to write, and it was from here that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all arose. Wherever you find yourself, the past is always present because here, perhaps more than anywhere else on earth, history is the heart and soul of the land.
Can’t decide where to go in Asia in the next 12 months? Not to worry because we have explored the continent’s most electrifying cities, trekked through steaming jungles and even swum in bountiful seas to seek out the spots you simply cannot afford to miss. It’s a tough job but…
The result is a hit list of classic destinations offering a fresh twist for travelers, regions packed full of action and edge-of-the-map places you’ve probably never heard of. Read on to find out where you should go next in Asia.
Hokkaidō’s perfect powder snow put it on the international map, but it has also blinded visitors to the year-round charms of Japan’s northernmost island: a wild, mountainous landscape that begs exploration on foot, bike or motorbike; alpine villages where you’ll stumble upon hidden onsen; and sumptuous seafood – including crab, sea urchin and scallops – pulled from rich, cold seas. Hokkaidō has become a lot more accessible this year thanks to the new bullet train linking its southern port city, Hakodate, to Tokyo. The route is covered by the popular Japan Rail pass (which allows for unlimited bullet train rides), and the line will eventually extend all the way to dynamic Sapporo, the provincial capital and host of next year’s Asian Winter Games.
Looking for the centre of the universe right now? It’s surely Shànghǎi, where it often seems as if all 24 million-odd residents are hell-bent on having a good time. So why not join them? Ballroom dancing in parks, sipping delicate brews in old teahouses, or bolting platefuls of vinegar-soaked dumplings. The booming cocktail and craft beer scenes amid the forest of neon-lit skyscrapers show how international the city has become, yet Old Shànghǎi is never far away: shikumen lanes bustle with life, while grand art deco buildings still line the Bund. This year’s a big one, with the first Disney resort in mainland China opening here, as well as the completion of the long-awaited Shànghǎi Tower, the world’s second tallest building.
In the middle of Jeonju is one of Korea’s best-preserved traditional villages – hundreds of wooden villas with gracefully upturned roofs housing an intriguing assortment of museums, teahouses and artisans’ workshops. Yet tell any Korean you’re headed here and they’re more likely to rave about the food than the architecture. Having long flown under the radar as the country’s top foodie destination, Jeonju has finally started to make mouths water further afield: Unesco crowned it as a City of Gastronomy in 2012, and the birthplace of Korea’s most famous dish, bibimbap – an arrangement of vegetables on rice, topped Jeonju-style with bean sprouts, mung bean jelly and beef tartar – now lures a younger crowd thanks to its fast-emerging street food scene.
The Con Dao Islands have moved from darkness into light: for decades the site of a brutal penal colony, this archipelago now ranks among Asia’s hottest emerging destinations. A national park since 1984, their appeal encompasses coral gardens that offer Vietnam’s best diving, rewarding hikes in wildlife-rich tropical forests, and a coastline studded with gorgeous white-sand coves. A crop of zany café-bars have opened in historic Con Son town to satisfy the growing backpacker market, while the luxurious Six Senses resort caters to the international jet set. With improved flight connections from Ho Chi Minh City, there is no better place right now to feast on fresh seafood, explore in search of a perfect beach and revel in a castaway vibe.
This skyward-bound metropolis always beguiles with a blend of culture, cuisine and consumerism, but now Hong Kong is focusing on its natural heritage – specifically, the Unesco-designated geopark, a 50-sq km region to the northeast. A shuttle bus between the geopark’s Sai Kung town and its ancient rock formations debuted this May, hard on the heels of a ferry service to Lai Chi Wo Village. This once semi-deserted village has a new lease of life, too – returning villagers are running eco-tours and cooking workshops. Back in the urban jungle, meanwhile, artists are brightening old neighborhoods like Sham Shui Po, and top restaurants like Fish School and Kin’s Kitchen are turning to local produce for inspiration on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.
Oahu blends cosmopolitan luxury and breathtaking scenery more than any other Hawaiian island. The state’s capital city, Honolulu, showcases the island’s urban appeal. Nearby you’ll find a host of cultural and historical sites, from the austere USS Arizona Memorial to ornate ‘Iolani Palace. In the nearby Waikiki neighborhood, a skyline of high-rises and resort hotels contrasts with sprawling white-sand beaches. For a taste of rural Hawaii, visit the North Shore. Here, you’ll find the most brilliant blue waters and meandering hikes. But those three spots aren’t all Oahu offers. Its high-class restaurants, vibrant cultural events, and wild nightlife further showcase this island as a “Gathering Place” of Hawaiian culture.
Greece, the renowned birthplace of Dionysos, the god of wine, has the longest wine production and consumption history in the world, as well as the richest heritage. Greek wine has been produced for more than 4,000 years. Wine culture – the consumption of wine as a social event and its sophisticated appreciation was developed for the first time by the Ancient Greeks. There is clear evidence that in Ancient Athens it was known that the shape of the cup affected the taste of wine. Today Greece plays a major role in the international wine culture and industry.
Through better understanding of the physiology of the vine, matching site and grape variety and attention to detail, Greek wine producers have realized the potential of further developing and improving local viniculture. Dozens of vineyards and wineries now allow visitors to wander through the magic world of the grapevines and the wine, learn the traditional and modern methods of wine-making and to taste select Greek wines, together with traditional tastes.
1. Lyrarakis winery is a family-run winery implanted in the mountain village of Alagni in Crete. Their 14 hectares’ vineyard concentrates rare Cretan grapes varieties. Thanks to this focus, the winery is recognised as one of the best on the island. They offer tours and tastings in the summer period to discover the ageing in oak barrels, try local cheeses and, of course, taste the wine!
2. The story of the Douloufakis winery started in 1930. Dimitris Douloufakis first established the wine producing company in Dafnes, Crete. Passed down from generation to generation, the grandson, Nikolas, is now looking after the estate. His vision for the winery is to promote innovation and quality upgrading. The winery opens to wine tourists all year round and offers “courses” about grapes varieties, history of Cretan vineyards as well as wine tastings.
3. Manousakis winery is perfectly located in the small village of Vatolakkos, Western Crete, where “wine is a way of life’. The winery started in the early 90’s with the determination of one man: Theodore Manousakis. The great combination of soil and sun has created the exclusively organic Nostos wines. They also produce their extra virgin olive oil and their own Tsikoudia, a local aperitif with therapeutic powers also called Raki. You can book tours, lunch, cooking classes or tastings to discover more about the winery.
4. 10 hectares of vineyard forms the Hatzidakis winery in the centre part of Santorini island. From the early premises in the late 90’s, Haridimos and Konstantina have been concentrating on producing organic wines. They believe that the Santorinian soil has a lot of secrets to reveal. Therefore, over the years, they have been trying to enrich and broaden the grape varieties to improve the character of their wines. Visits and tastings can be organised by appointment at the winery.
5. Domaine Sigalas is located near Oia, at the northern end of Santorini island. The Sigalas family has won several awards for the quality and richness of their wines. They offer a global and unforgettable wine tasting experience where wines are served with some of the most famous food of the Cyclades. Wine lovers can enjoy a tour of the property and relax with an exquisite dining experience while watching the sunset.
6. By the eastern seaside of Santorini, Gaia wines has converted an ex tomato-factory into a charming winery. They produce four main wines locally – the Thalassitis, the Thalassitis oak fermented, the Vinsanto and the Assyrtiko – and a sweet but yet aromatic exclusive vinegar. With a unique panorama, they open to the public in the summer months for tours and tastings.
7. Manalis winery is located on Sikinos island, known in the Ancient Greece as the “island of wine”. They produce three different fruity wines and a sweet “aperitif” wine. The recently opened winery offers unmissable food and wine tastings with breathtaking views. You can stroll around the vineyard to learn more about the terroir and the native vines before enjoying the Manalis blends.
8. Located on the island of Paros, Moraitis winery was founded in 1910 by Manolis Moraitis who was trading with mainland Greece using his own ship. Since, the know-how of winemaking has been passed down from generation to generation to reveal the terroir of the island in every bottle produced. The freshly renovated winery offers wine tourists the possibility to visit the wine museum, wine cellar, vineyard and taste their wide range of wines.
Sydney is both a laid-back beachside town and a thriving metropolis that boasts some of the Southern Hemisphere’s best surf, landmarks and activities. Whether you’re looking to watch a show at the iconic Opera House, take to the waves at Bondi Beach or explore trendy areas like The Rocks and Darling Harbour, Sydney features something for everyone. Even Sydneysiders have an ideal mix of both worlds: Fashion-forward attire and British-style sarcasm combine with a “no worries” attitude and relaxed coastal vibe. It’s no wonder this vibrant city down under is a natural choice for first-time Aussie visitors.
In addition to tons of beaches and top-notch restaurants and bars, Australia’s most populous city features an array of things to do. Thrill-seekers can participate in heart-pounding activities like a Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, while visitors looking to unwind will appreciate a relaxing day at Coogee or Manly Beach or a peaceful stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens. There’s also plenty of seasonal Sydney festivals and events to experience, such as Sculpture by the Sea, the Festival of the Winds and the Night Noodle Markets. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a rugby match, hit up the city’s museums or lounge on a beach, Sydney’s got you covered.
With summer vacation on the horizon, your thoughts are probably drifting to the smells of fresh-cut grass and barbecue lighter fluid, late evenings outdoors, maybe an Adirondack chair with a good book. And here in the Napa Valley, we can relax with the best of them. Here are a few ideas for kicking back, taking it easy, and recharging your batteries in the slow lane.
Take an easy ride on the Napa Valley Vine Trail. There are plenty of great cycling roads across and around the valley, but if you want to go for a spin without worrying about traffic or steep climbs, this is the route for you. The Napa Valley Vine Trail is working to build a 47-mile walking and bike trail system through the entire valley, from Vallejo to Calistoga. The current completed section is an easy 12.5 mile trail from Napa’s Kennedy Park to Yountville. This is also a great activity for families with young kids. Find information on renting bikes here.
Glide down the Napa River. Take the Napa River History Tour and learn about the rich history of the Napa Valley from a gently rocking kayak. Tours are led by a Napa native who is equally passionate about the river and local history. Or just rent your own kayak and drift down the river with no other agenda.
Finally open that juicy novel. Who said you need to have a beach to enjoy a beach book? Now’s the time to grab a lawn chair and a place in the shade and crack the spine of the latest John Grisham or Ann Patchett. Some of our favorite outdoor spots for reading: Fuller Park or Kennedy Park in Napa; Yountville Park; Crane Park or Lyman Park in St. Helena; and Pioneer Park in Calistoga. If you need a new book, try Copperfield’s Books in both Napa and Calistoga; Napa Bookmine in downtown Napa; and Main Street Books in St. Helena.
Get the full spa treatment. Still not officially chillaxed? There are more than 18 spas in the tiny town of Calistoga, from basic to luxurious, that offer hot springs, mud baths, and massage treatments. In the latter category is Solage, where you can participate in “Mudslide Mornings” at the Bathhouse and Mud Bar, including breakfast at the Michelin-starred restaurant Solbar before a three-part detox treatment. Or try the Full Moon Aqua Vibrations, an evening workshop that includes gentle movement, inner and outer sound vibrations, and a floating meditation in warm geothermal pools. Some of our other favorite Calistoga spas include Indian Springs, Lincoln Avenue Spa, Golden Haven Hot Springs and Resort, and Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort.
Paso Robles wineries run the gamut in this robust wine region. There are large resort style wineries making dozens of wines. There are also small family run places that may make just a couple of wines from their own estate grapes. Wearing a cowboy hat doesn’t seem out of place here. The region is more relaxed, rural and unpretentious than other wine areas.
There are more than 40 different grape varieties grown in Paso Robles. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel make up 72% of the regions 26,000 acres of vineyards.
The Salinas River Valley splits the area into the “West Side” and the “East Side”. There are over 200 wineries that share the appellation. The “West Side” is cooler and wetter. It has wooded hillsides with narrow valleys and chalky, limestone and calcareous-rich soils. The vineyards and wineries are generally smaller here. Most are located on country roads tucked back into the hills or along Highway 46 West. This is a great place to discover small boutique wineries. You will find some with richly priced wines and reputations. Others are family run wineries. The winemaker may even be the one pouring in the tasting room. Still others are small resort style places with grassy picnic areas and weekend entertainment.
On the “East Side” you find the largest Paso Robles wineries. Highway 46 East runs perpendicular to US 101 and is home to many of these great wine tasting stops. A few of them have grand visitor centers, wine caves, and entertainment. Off the main road (highway 46) you can still find some small wineries making less than 5000 cases a year. We featured a few of these in our Paso Robles feature.
Paso Robles AVAs
Currently there are eleven AVAs in the region. Paso Robles is the main AVA. It was founded in 1983. There are 11 sub appellations that range from cool coastal growing areas to hotter inland districts.
Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA)is large and diverse region covering 614,000 acres, growing a range of grape varieties including the noble Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah. Vineyards planted to Rhone varietals are being developed as well as vines with Spanish and Italian ancestry.
The Santa Lucia mountain range blocks the marine fog from reaching very far east into the vineyards. This creates the distinct difference in climate between the eastern and western portions of the AVA. The AVAs are clearly distinguished by topography, vegetation and the length of the growing season. The western end has chilly ocean breezes in the evenings that cool the vines. The eastern portion is warmer and more arid.
Wines produced from eastern vineyards are usually full bodied. They are fruit forward and display soft tannins and lower acidity than those from the west. You can generalize and say the wineries from the east side of Paso Robles make more approachable wines. While the western Paso Robles wines are generally more age worthy and complex.
York Mountain AVA is one of the smallest in the state located on the far western side of the region straddling Highway 46. The area is part of the Templeton Gap and covers about 9,300 acres. The ocean is only seven miles away. This influences the grapes with cooling evening fogs and breezes. There are six separate vineyards and one winery in the AVA. These wineries produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
Iceland is one of the hottest travel destinations right now, and while its jaw-dropping landscape of black sand beaches, glacial lagoons, hot springs, steaming volcanoes and endless number of impressive waterfalls make it seem as if it’s a totally different planet, it’s an ideal place to visit for first time international travelers. Iceland is easy to get to, just a four-hour flight from Boston, and Wow Air offers low airfares too, as little as $99 each way. Plus, just about every Icelander speaks English, there’s a strong tourism infrastructure, and crime is practically non-existent. Visit between late September and mid-March, and you may even get to see the northern lights. While the roads are easy to navigate if you decide to drive, there are lots of day tours, as well as multi-day tours that can be booked, many of which are rather low-key, small group adventures, allowing you to relax and let someone else do the driving and much of the planning. No matter what you choose to do, don’t miss a soak in the legendary Blue Lagoon, it’s something you’ll never forget.
The 2,713-passenger Disney Wonder first debuted in 1999 and was recently updated in fall 2016, rolling out family-oriented amenities and entertainment offerings like the classic meet and greets with Disney characters.
The ship offers plenty of activity with eight designated family areas, five youth clubs and seven adults-only spaces. While younger passengers can play at age-appropriate clubs, grown-ups can relax at the adults-only Quiet Cove pool.
In terms of dining, Disney Wonder offers six options, including one adults-only specialty restaurant. The Disney Wonder also boasts the Beach Blanket Buffet, the line’s only onboard buffet, which serves breakfast and lunch. At night, adults can unwind and enjoy a section of the ship called Route 66, which features three nightclubs and lounges.
Like the rest of the ship, staterooms are designed with families in mind. Interior staterooms can accommodate up to four passengers, while larger Suites can sleep up to seven guests. All cabins come equipped with flat-screen TVs, seating areas and classic Disney designs. Recent cruisers commented that while a trip on the Disney Wonder was expensive, the quality of service was top-notch.