Monthly Archives: September 2016

What to do on France

France is the world’s top tourist destination and for good reason. There’s a lot packed into just one country – artistic and architectural masterpieces, remarkable museums and natural landscapes, and a history harking back far beyond the Romans.

Top it off with fine wine, food and a culinary culture that permeates through every city and small town, and the only hard part is deciding where to go first.

 

Paris

France’s chic, sexy capital has to be experienced at least once. Mix picture-postcard icons with simple Parisian moments and you’ll truly fall in love with the city. Scale the Eiffel Tower then walk or cycle along the Seine, or cruise down it on a bateau-mouche (bateaux-mouches.fr). Venerate Notre Dame then grab a post-cathedral café at Café Saint-Régis, ice-cream at Berthillon or super juice at literary café of mythical bookshop Shakespeare & Company. Hit the Louvre then collapse on a bench with a Pierre Hermé macaron in the Tuileries or Palais Royal gardens. Delve into hilltop Montmartre with a local Paris Greeter (greeters.paris). Escape to posh leafy Versailles and come back blown away by France’s most famous chateau.

 

Loire Valley

Stunning châteaux are scattered around the lush Loire Valley. Stand in awe of the Renaissance supertanker of a castle Château de Chambord, and graceful Château de Chenonceau astride the Cher River. Château de Blois with its whistle-stop tour of French architecture, and classical Château de Cheverny where the spectacle of the dogs having dinner steals the show, is the perfect one-day combo. In summer put the gardens at Château de Villandry and Château d’Azay-le-Rideau after dark on your hit list. Base yourself in Tours, Blois or Amboise; hire a bike to pedal along the Loire riverbanks at least once; and try to catch a son-et-lumière (sound-and-light) show.

 

French Riviera

This strip of seashore on the big blue Med has it all – hence half the world crowding it out in summer. The seaside town of Nice is the queen of the Riviera with its cutting-edge art museums, belle époque architecture, pebble beaches and legendary promenade. Glitzy day trips trail film stars in Cannes, Formula One drivers in Monaco, and hobnobbing celebs ‘n socialites in St-Tropez. Sensational coastal views make the drive along the three coastal roads from Nice to Menton an absolute must. Otherwise, grab your hiking boots and stride out in the fiery Massif de l’Estérel for brilliant red-rock mountain scenery.

The Slovenian Alps who Loves Sport

Finally, spring. And after months of gray days and long nights, it’s about time. But where to go? Shake off those memories of winter and last bits of snow with one of our spring getaways.

We picked our top spring break destinations – with a couple surprises thrown in – that have direct flights from major North American airports and are sure to change the color of those winter blues. Thaw out in the Caribbean or sunbathe among the stars in LA. If something off-beat is more your style, we have some beer-bong-optional picks as well. Spring is the perfect time to night-kayak through a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico, practice your sea lion roar in Baja California, or get hopped-up in Asheville.

 

Hawai’i, the Big Island

With year-round temperatures that hover between 70°F and 80°F (21°C and 27°C), there’s never a bad time to head to the Big Island. But March marks the end of the high season, and budget travelers can usually find discounts on the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Through April, the island sees upticks in visitors hula-ing at major festivals like the Merrie Monarch Festival (a worthy trip in itself), but if you time it right you can score a spot on one of Hawaii’s most dynamic islands. Trek into the snow-capped peaks (try Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest at nearly 13,800ft), wander through a verdant Kona coffee farm, and watch the Big Island get bigger at one of the longest-running volcanic eruptionsanywhere in the world.

 

Whistler, British Columbia

For those who’d rather trade in the surfboard for skis on their spring break, head to the Coast Mountain resort town of Whistler, BC. By March the peak season has begun to die down, and the resorts offer up great deals to keep the winter momentum going. Longer days, clear skies and a good snowpack make a spring in Whistler the perfect choice for skiers and snowboarders. For 360 degree views of this alpine Arcadia, take a ride in the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, a 4.4km feat of engineering that connects the peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. At lower elevations, hike through conifer forests to spot the area’s black bears as they emerge from hibernation.

Quebec traveling tips

From late October to mid-April, Québec province becomes Canada’s icy adventure playground, and skiers flock here in droves to take to the slopes.

But you don’t have to be a pro on the pistes to get under the skin of this fascinating corner of Canada in winter. In fact, there are myriad winter activities on offer, such as dog-sledding, fat biking or tubing; or simply exploring the province’s unique identity in Montréal and Québec City – these cities can be at their most beguiling in the cold season, particularly if you time your visit to coincide with one of the big winter festivals, Igloofest or Carnaval de Québec.

 

Montréal

In place d’Armes, a historic square in Old Montréal, there is a pair of bronze sculptures standing on either side of the plaza. The first is a man clutching an English pug; the other is a woman holding a French poodle. The owners are turning their exaggerated noses away from each other, while the two dogs are staring at each other, eager to meet.

This take on Montréal’s mixed heritage says a lot about a city (and a province) characterized by dualities – it’s at once French and English, Québécois and Canadian, old and new, and all the more compelling for it. Montréal was recently voted the best city in the world to be a student, and with its laid-back attitude, hip neighborhoods, astonishingly good coffee, and lively drinking scene, it’s not hard to see why.

For an intimate exploration of the city’s streets, consider a local tour guide. Thom Seivewright (livinglikealocal.com) injects enthusiasm and knowledge as he shows visitors around his city. He tailors each tour to suit individual interests, but it’s worth asking him to show you some of the murals around boulevard St-Laurent, which are a riot of color and artistry.

Taking place each January or February, outdoor rave Igloofest (igloofest.ca), down at the Old Port, is the hottest ticket in town. Party-goers dig out their finest retro snowsuits for the electronic music festivities, held over four successive weekends.

 

The Laurentians

The Laurentian mountains are a one-hour drive or a slower bus ridefrom Montréal and are a paradise for winter sports freaks. There are few better ways to experience this wonderland of white than dog-sledding at the Kanatha-Aki activity center (kanatha-aki.com) at Val des Lacs. Brace yourself on the side of the sleigh as it careens through a maze of pines while a gang of huskies barks excitedly up ahead; the trees periodically open out, allowing you to drink in views of dramatic mountains or a snow-bordered lake along the way.

How to find wildlife and nature on your adventure

As spring hits, the northern hemisphere blossoms into life. Discover Wordsworth’s lyrical landscapes as England’s Lake District transforms under a blanket of daffodils or recline with a picnic beneath the cherry blossoms in Japan.

Elsewhere in the world, underwater worlds are waiting to be explored and brilliant birdlife throngs the ever-enchanting Galápagos.

 

Palau is the place for underwater adventures in paradise

The Micronesian nation of Palau looks pretty amazing above water: it’s a sprinkle of 200-odd lush-green limestone outcrops, sheltered lagoons, white sands and blindingly turquoise seas. But it’s under water where things become truly spectacular. This is the sub-aqua Serengeti, with 1500 fish species, soft corals and sea fans, sheer drop-offs and WWII wrecks.

Palau is balmy year-round, and there’s no really bad time to dive here. However, dry-season April, when seas are calmer and clearer, is a good choice. Also, whale sharks and manta rays are more likely January to April, while green and hawksbill turtles are most often seen April to July. The icing on the cake? Jellyfish Lake, a lagoon pulsating with a million translucent, stingless jellies – it’s like snorkelling through the chorus line of an immense submarine ballet.

  • Trip plan: Keen divers should consider a liveaboard trip, to maximise dive options and ease access to the best sites (including Blue Corner and German Channel).
  • Need to know: Roman Tmetuchl International Airport is on Babeldaob island; it’s a 1½-hour flight from Guam (which has US connections), four hours from Tokyo.
  • Other months: May-Oct – wet, typhoons more likely; Nov-Apr – drier, best diving.