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Gellért Baths and Spa, Hungary
Buda, District XI
Budapest 1118, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 889 5500
The quintessential city spa is fed by Gellért Hill's mineral hot springs, flush with calcium, magnesium, hydrocarbonate, alkali, chloride, sulfate, and fluoride, and is good for what ails you—especially if that happens to be rheumatism, osteoarthritis, neuralgia, lumbago, ankylosing spondylitis, and pretty much any chronic degenerative joint disease. But you don't need to be sick to bob around with the nénis and bácsis (aunties and uncles) in the gorgeous, dimly lit Roman temple–like pool, with its marble columns, stained-glass roof, and mosaics, inhaling the slightly stinky steam. Despite signs warning of the perils of long immersion in high concentrations of minerals, it's common practice to wallow all day, bringing your snacks, newspapers, and chess boards and ending up with skin that resembles the hippopotamus you've been impersonating. Massages and other therapies take place in the medical suites and are a terrific bargain (though they bear no relation to scented hotel spa sessions with padded benches, Enya soundtracks, and fluffy towels). This is all burly Hungarians, wooden tables, and soap suds—and forget about modesty. There are many other spas in Budapest, of course, but this is the classic one you've seen in pictures, and it's conveniently sited by the Liberty Bridge. Note: It's operated independently from the eponymous hotel by the Budapest Spas Co., so it's not necessary to be staying in the very faded Gellért Hotel. No treatments on weekends.
Closed Saturdays and Sundays between October and April.
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Castle Hill, Hungary
The funicular from Clark Ádam tér is the nicest way to approach the romantic, scenic, and egregiously misnamed Castle Hill. There is no castle. However, there is a Royal Palace, which dates from the 13th century—not that you'd know it. Having been destroyed 31 (yes, 31) times, its latest, Communist-built incarnation is remarkably dull, though it does house the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Also up here is the residence of the president of the republic, Sándor Palace, and, in Szentháromság tér (Trinity Square), the church Mátyás Templon, where King Matthias was married and Franz Liszt's Coronation Mass had its 1867 world premiere when Emperor Franz Joseph was crowned king of Hungary (www.matyas-templom.hu). The Fishermen's Bastion—the part of the medieval ramparts that once protected the fisherman's market—is another landmark up here, as is Ruszwurm, which catered to the sweet tooth of Queen Erzsébet (a.k.a. Sisi) in 1827 and is still serving cakes today (7 Szentháromság; 36-1-375-5284; www.ruszwurm.hu). Altogether, it's pleasant to stroll the cobblestone streets, admire the views, and maybe succumb to the touristy boutiques.
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Beaches on Crete, Crete, Greece
While none of Crete's beaches approach the household-name status of Mykonos's Paradise or Super-Paradise, there are hundreds of them, offering clear water, almost guaranteed sun, and, usually, a taverna you become more appreciative of as the afternoon grows warmer. The better beaches tend to be on the south coast, and at the eastern and western extremities of the island. Visit them in September, when the summer crowds and umbrella-snatching meltemi winds have dissipated but the water is still warm.
Beginning in the northwest, Falasarna is a long stretch of yellow sand far enough from Chania that you can find some quiet time here, if you need it. The water is especially clean, but the wind can blow, so try to go on days when the locals' cigarette smoke rises straight up into their umbrellas. At the southwest corner, Elafonisi, with its pinkish sand, sits on a lagoon bounded by islets and sandbars you can wade out to. The wading is hardly strenuous, but prepare anyway by stocking up at one of the snack bars. The new paved road along which the snack bars are popping up is, of course, a shame.
On the south coast, not far east of the Samaria Gorge, is Sweetwater Beach, named for the freshwater seeping up from the rocks at its edge. It is a favorite of nudists, no doubt because as appreciators of natural beauty they admire the dramatic cliff backdrop. Another of Sweetwater's virtues is that the only way to reach it is by boat or by walking an hour from Loutro. Directly south of Rethymnon town, another beach often reached by boat is tiny, palm-fringed Preveli. Boat rides to it are so popular that you may be happier going out of season, and walking the steep path down to it from the Preveli Monastery.
Way southeast is long and lovely Makriyalos Beach, where alternating stretches of sand and pebbles are backed by pine trees and a lively, growing resort town. At the northeast corner is the also lovely—and in this case, overloved—Vai Beach, famous for its large grove of date palms. Looking more like North Africa than Greece, it's a place where you'll find every beach enticement, from jet skis to sailboards to umbrellas without number.
Four Seasons Budapest Gresham Palace, Hungary
Budapest 1051, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 268 6000, Fax: 36 1 268 5000
Location, location, location. Glamour, glamour, glamour. At the Pest end of the Chain Bridge, this is the 2004, 179-room Canadian contribution to the ever-posher former home of goulash communism. A 1906 Art Nouveau landmark was co-opted into service, its lobby made melodramatic by tens of thousands of mosaic tiles laid in a Frank Lloyd Wright design, and a vast, glittering glass cupola with a chandelier suspended beneath like a giant, exploded crystal artichoke heart. Rooms are generously sized (the smallest is 350 square feet) and plush in their subfusc palette and deep-pile carpets, with king beds and deep tubs in the marble bathrooms. Seeing you're already paying the city's highest rates, you might as well go all out and insist on a Danube room, maybe even one with a balcony; the Pest-view rooms are fine, but a courtyard view could be disappointing. All guests get to use the top-floor spa and gym, plus the infinity-edged indoor pool with underwater music. As usual with Four Seasons, kids are well catered for—and you can house your under-18s in your room gratis. Even if you're not staying here, stop by the cocktail lounge and soak up the grandeur.
Grecotel Amirandes, Crete, Greece
Iraklio, Crete 71100, Greece
Tel: 30 28970 41103
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Diocletian's Palace, Croatia
Since visitors usually make a beeline for the islands, Split is overlooked as a destination. A pity: Croatia's second city is home to this 416,000-square-foot retirement villa Roman Emperor Diocletian built for himself in 305 AD. Today, the Palace is a living monument—a walled city home to 3,000 residents, reams of cafes, bistros, boutiques, and even a hotel. It's a surreal intermingling of past and present: The very same pieces Diocletian used to decorate his villa—such as the Egyptian sphinxes, which look down serenely from pedestals—still adorn the place. Kids play soccer alongside monuments like the Cathedral of Sveti Duje (Saint Domnius) and the Baptistery of St. John (Jupiter's Temple, in Diocletian's time). You realize that the Croatians not only take their history seriously, they still live in it.
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Blue Cave, Biševo, Croatia
Just across the water from Vis, the island of Biševo is famous for its waterlogged rock cavern, locally called the Modra Špilja, that can only be reached by boat. For an hour or so a day, usually beginning around 11 a.m., the grotto seems to glow from underneath with an incandescent blue light. Charter boats leave every morning from Komiža, on Vis, though once there, you'll have to swim or hop on a rowboat to get inside the cave. And while there's no question that most visitors feel an otherworldly connection to the place, on summer days it can get distractingly crowded.
Adriana Hvar Marina Hotel & Spa, Hvar, Croatia
Hvar Town, Hvar 21450, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 750 200
It's no surprise that this 59-room hotel became an instant favorite of the Croatian Riviera crowd when it opened in the summer of 2007. The Adriana's views of the megayachts are unparalleled, and the Top, the hotel's sleek roof bar, is the coolest place to party. On warm nights during the high season, it's the spot to sip a cocktail or a glass of Champagne while overlooking the twinkling lights in the harbor. The rooms are decorated in an Asian-inspired minimalist style, with dark wood floors; Japanese-patterned lamps; and touches of amber, persimmon, and lavender (the island's ubiquitous fragrant herb also pops up in lavender-scented massages at the on-site spa). But be careful when you book: Some rooms and apartments look out onto the city, but the best come with a million-dollar view of the mammoth vessels and humble fishing boats moored in the harbor.