- Amalfi Coast,
- Boca Chica,
- British Virgin Islands,
- Central + South America,
- Dominican Republic,
Holly's 40th Birthday Adventure - where to go, what to see. I want to go somewhere I've never been. Top of the wish list is Amalfi Coast, but we'd have to do that in May...maybe that's an anniversary trip?? Take a look and let's figure out where we're going.
La Casa Que Canta, Mexico
Tel: 888 523 5050 (toll-free), Tel: 52 755 555 7030
La Casa Que Canta (The House That Sings) is crawling with lovebirds. There's good reason: The 25 cliffside suites have views of Zihuatanejo Bay and balconies that are perfect for sunset-watching, private plunge pools, and patios with white hammocks and cushioned loungers that invite snuggling. Each suite also has a pink marble bathroom, a complimentary minibar, and lots of folky-chic Mexican art. Pathways lead down the rocky cliff-side to an infinity pool, saltwater pool, spa, and gym—as well as to Playa la Ropa. Here sit two separate, superposh beachside villas, El Murmullo and El Ensueño, which come with private butlers, concierges, and chambermaids (Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, and Karl Lagerfeld have been among the occupants). In order to keep the general honeymoon-ness of the place intact, no children under 16 are allowed.
Amanyara, Providenciales Island, Turks & Caicos
Tel: 866 941 8133 (toll-free), Tel: 649 941 8133
With its open, distinctly Asian, architectural style (naturally-finished hardwoods, and reflecting pools all around), and half of its staff Filipino, you could easily forget this resort was in the Caribbean. For the actively inclined, there are tennis courts, diving, and a few boats you can slide off the sand, although this is essentially a place for doing little but hiding from the world for a time, and being looked after by people who, you can tell, were not taught to smile, but were born knowing how to do it. The physical aspect of the resort takes a bit of getting used to. None of the 40 air-conditioned guest pavilions, each with three glass walls that all but the most enthusiastic exhibitionists will want to pull the blinds on before making use of their free-standing bathtub, sit directly on the beach. Some are set back from the jagged coral ironshore along short paths that often lead to hidden, one-couple-sized patches of sand, and some, as the Aman literature so positively describes it, are "nestled in the vegetation". This being the tropics, that of course means you should arm yourself with insect repellent, but it's only really an issue June through October.
The Tides Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Tel: 52 755 555 5500
The Tides Zihuatanejo launched Mexico's beach-chic movement in 1978, when it was known as the Villa del Sol. The hotel was made over in 2007 by hip-arbiters the Viceroy Hotel Group (of Viceroy Palm Springs and Avalon Beverly Hills fame), which kept some of the spirit with original folk art but modernized the design with white-on-white linens and upholstery and couples-size infinity pools on the suite terraces. Streams trickle beneath bridges and beside bamboo groves between the adobe-inspired buildings that house the resort's 70 guest rooms; softly lit trails lead to the beachfront restaurant and La Cava, a wine-cellar dining room. The hotel is located on Playa la Ropa, Zihuatanejo's most popular stretch of sand, but a roped-off lounging area provides privacy and beach-butler pampering; mayordomos care for any other needs and preferences. The small spa features a yoga wellness program and a yoga pavilion on the beach.—Maribeth Mellin
See + Do
Whale Watching in Turks + Caicos, Turks & Caicos
You'll witness one of the best shows in the Turks & Caicos January through March, with the annual migration of humpback whales. Most sightings of these beasts, which can grow to lengths of 50 foot, are off Salt Cay, although whale-watching boats sail out of Grand Turk and South Caicos, too. Usually, you need to get into the water to hear the eerie, almost ghost-like singing, but to see the jumping sometimes requires nothing more than a few minute's ride offshore, or looking up from lunch at Salt Cay's Green Flash Café. In season, Salt Cay Divers offers daily whale watching trips for $95 per person or $75 for divers already taking part in one of their dive packages (649-946-6906; www.saltcaydivers.tc).
The World's Best Places for Sin
This is the year. The year that you're finally going to drink less, eat better, quit smoking, get organized, save money, get in shape, and spend more time with the kids. But let's not be hasty. Before you commit to kicking your bad habits, why not go all out and indulge your vices with one incredible last hurrah? From an all-you-can-smoke cigar odyssey in Nicaragua to a booze crawl through Oregon to a spare-no-expense, country-hopping trip of a lifetime, here are seven reasons to go buck wild before you buckle down.
Published December 2010
Cruises for People Who Hate Cruising
Don't consider yourself a cruise person? Think again. There's far more to the cruise industry these days than cheesy ports of call and Vegas-meets-megamall design. What if you could enjoy the benefits of a cruise—all-inclusive pricing, varied itineraries, knowledgeable guides—along with the freedom that comes with your own landlubber adventures? We've rooted out the ships that will tempt even the most hardened cruise carper, from an eco-friendly boat that floats amid hippos to hands-on Antarctic adventures, forward-thinking design on the Amazon, and cruises for foodies with Jacques Pépin on board. It's time to hit the high seas.
Published in May 2010; Pictured: Nour El Nil's El Nil dahabiyya by Dylan Chandler
See + Do
Canyoning + Cascading, Dominican Republic
The Cordillera Septentrional mountain range in northern DR is a mecca for the adventurous (um, crazy?) folks who dig the sport of canyoning—which involves hiking up, then rappelling down steep cliffs and through rushing waterfalls up to 100 feet high. Iguana Mama runs half-day and full-day canyoning trips from Cabarete of varying degrees of difficulty (if you're a scaredy-cat, avoid the excursion known as "Big Bastard"). The outfit also takes groups cascading—a slightly less arduous pastime, where participants swim in rivers and through a series of small waterfalls, and jump into freshwater pools (809-571-0908; www.iguanamama.com).
See + Do
Beaches of the Dominican Republic
There are literally hundreds of beaches to choose from in the Dominican Republic, but each area has its own character. Beaches on the south-central coast, like Boca Chica, have relatively calm water, so they're good for families and snorkelers. Boca's proximity to Santo Domingo makes it convenient for those visiting the capital, but the beach is crowded with city dwellers, vendors, and plastic chairs during the weekends. On weekdays, you have the best chance to enjoy the powdery sand and the reef-protected lagoon (the Caribbean's largest) in peace.
Northern beaches are the windiest, and are best for kiteboarding and windsurfing—though the islets around the Samaná Peninsula, such as Cayo Levantado, are a tranquil exception. Levantado has fluffy sand and translucent, placid waters, and between January and March, there's whale watching. Colonial Tour & Travel runs day trips that include transport to and from Samaná hotels, visits to two different beaches, and lunch (809-688-5285; www.colonialtours.com.do). Punta Cana, where 50 percent of travelers to the DR end up, is, thankfully, large enough to absorb the masses with a near endless stretch of white sand on the far east coast.
On the northwest part of the island, Playa Cofresi attracts serious tanners with its perfect sun exposure, and bodysurfers and boogie-boarders with its excellent waves. Cayo Arena (also known as Cayo Paraiso) is a small island off the northern coastal fishing village of Punta Rucia, and makes a good day trip from Puerto Plata. The islet has a long spit of white sand, surrounded by shallow water and 250 coral reefs—fabulous for snorkeling. Cayo Arena Tours, based in Punta Rucia, offers daily trips (809-224-4793).
See + Do
Island Hopping in the British Virgin Islands
There's no other place in the Caribbean where traveling between such a diverse collection of islands is not only possible, but easy and fun. There are several ferry services that run between the populated islands (www.bviports.org), puddle jumpers fly to Anegada and Virgin Gorda (Air Sunshine, Fly BVI, Ltd.), and the most popular day trips include stops at nearby uninhabited isles. Going to the BVI and seeing only a one island would be like going to the Louvre and ignoring all but the Mona Lisa. Below are our favorite lesser-known islands.
Fallen Jerusalem. This national park southwest of Virgin Gorda has underwater caves and tunnels off the northwest coast for snorkeling and the great North Lee Bay Beach for lazing.
Prickly Pear. A national park in Virgin Gorda's North Sound, this has a hiking trail over cactus-covered hills and epic beaches on the north and east shores. Vixen Point has watersport equipment rentals and a beach bar/restaurant called the Sand Box.
Norman Island. A yachters' favorite just southwest of Peter Island, Norman's most visited spots are its Bight—home to the Willie T. and a good land-based bar/restaurant Pirates Bight—and The Caves, a snorkeling spot said to have been Robert Louis Stevenson's inspiration for Treasure Island. You can swim inside the caves amid shimmering schools of fish.
Dead Chest. Legend has it that this tiny, uninhabited national park next to Peter Island got its name when Blackbeard stranded 15 mutinous sailors here with only a bottle of rum for company. Hence Stevenson's "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest/Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum…" quote from Treasure Island.
Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay. You need a boat, but it's worth it for these two tiny dots that are practically all beach off the east coast of Jost Van Dyke. Sandy Spit is the real-life version of the desert island—water, sand and a sprinklng of palms.
Cooper Island. Home of a quiet little hotel with a good restaurant (some yachties moor here and swim ashore just for the conch fritters), Cooper is a nice place to stop after diving the nearby wrecks.
Anegada. While the rest of the major islands in the BVI are all green-hilled gumdrops created by volcanic action, Anegada is a Bahamian-style isle: flat, low, hot, and almost completely surrounded by white coral-sand beaches. It's also famous for its deep-water lobster, and in season, there's no better BVI afternoon than sitting at one of Anegada's beach bars like Cow Wreck, drinking rum and feasting on fresh lobster.
See + Do
Beaches of the British Virgin Islands
The BVI's have enough beaches to pick one for every interest and mood. Surfers head to Tortola's Apple Bay to hang ten. Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay off Jost Van Dyke are the place to live out your castaway fantasies. If "yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum" is more your thing, you can bar crawl your way up and down White Bay on Jost Van Dyke or hit up Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. For snorkeling, try The Baths/Devil's Bay on Virgin Gorda, and Loblolly/Flash of Beauty, and Cow Wreck on Anageda. Couples like the secluded sunbathing at Tortola's Smuggler's Cove. And everyone can appreciate the sunsets from Cooper Island Beach on Cooper Island.
See + Do
Caves of Belize
Belize has an enviable endowment of navigable caves. Some of the best are just outside the capital city of Belmopan, along the aptly named Caves Branch River. Others include the so-called Actun Tunichil Muknal cave (a Mayan reliquary where you'll see pottery, skulls, and crystallized skeletons), and the caves at Jaguar Pawwhere a guided float through the darkness and silence is the inner tubeborne equivalent of taking tranquilizers. But ensure in advance that you're not visiting this last complex on a cruise-ship day, when not only the local caves but also the usually serene rain forest zip lines swarm with furloughed passengers. For more information on caving, go to www.travelbelize.org/cave_index.html.
Hôtel Guanahani & Spa, St. Barths
Tel: 800 216 3774 (toll-free), Tel: 590 590 27 66 60
St. Barths's only full-service resort is wedged on an isolated peninsula between two beaches, Marigot and Grand Cul de Sac. The fact that the latter—the premiere windsurfing and kiteboarding spot on the island—is reef-protected from the ocean attracts a few families to this glamorous 16-acre retreat. The 68 Easter egg–colored cottages (some with private pools and butlers; all with marble baths stocked with Bulgari and Frédéric Fekkai products), are scattered on a palm-covered bluff. Beach-front units are the most convenient but the least private. The not inconsiderable rates, which start at about $750 in high season, include breakfast and transportation to the airport. The immaculate grounds and lush gardens, which are home to some friendly resort cats, are perfect for a morning power walk before a barefoot lunch at the Beach Bar or poolside at L'Indigo. Open-air Le Bartolomeo restaurant has an island-casual dress code and serves up fine French cuisine for dinner only. A fully equipped gym, two swimming pools, two tennis courts, water sports, and the luxe Clarins Spa make it easy to never leave the property. Updated by Cathay Che
See + Do
Waimea Canyon, Hawaii
A drive through Waimea Canyonnicknamed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific"is an ideal way to start off the day: Morning offers the best views of the more-than-3,400-foot plunge, and it's also a good idea to avoid the heat of the afternoon. You can drive through and stop along the road to take in the magnificent views, or park your car and hike down any number of trails. Stop by the Kokee Natural History Museum to get a little background on the Kokee area, and pick up a map before you set out on foot (808-335-9975; www.kokee.org/natural-history-museum).
See + Do
Spa at Four Seasons Manele Bay, Hawaii
Lanai, Hawaii 96763
Tel: 808 565 2088
Spa culture is huge in Hawaii—perhaps because there are so many native traditions and botanicals to draw upon—and an expected part of a five-star hotel experience. But until a 10,000-square-foot facility opens at the Lodge at Koele in 2009, the pressure is on this small but decadent 11-room spa, the only one on Lanai. It's (expectedly) tough to snag an appointment in high season for an aromatic Ali'i banana-coconut scrub, a Ki Pola Ko'olu (cooling ti-leaf wrap) with lavender-infused aloe vera gel, a Limu (Hawaiian seaweed) wrap, or a Lomi Lomi massage. (Make your reservation when you book your room.) If they can't squeeze you in, arrange a private after-hours spa party for up to eight people, which includes a 50-minute treatment for each person, followed by pupus served in the relaxation area.
See + Do
Clinging improbably to the near-vertical coast about halfway between Amalfi and Sorrento, Positano is the best-known resort of the Costiera Amalfitana. Achingly picturesque, with its tumble of pastel-hued houses ranged in stepped ranks like spectators in an amphitheater, the town specializes in promenaders' activities—shopping, eating, sipping, boat-hopping, and, especially, people-watching. The gray shingle beach is fine for a quick dip, but most serious sun-worshippers take one of the regular boats to and from a series of smaller coves along the coast. If you're driving, be warned that the whole town has a painfully slow one-way system that can take the best part of an hour to negotiate: Best advice, if you don't have the benefit of a hotel parking lot, is to leave the car at the first space you find (not an easy task in high season) and walk—or hop on one of the regular buses.
See + Do
Amalfi, the town that gives the coastline its name, lies about halfway between Sorrento and Salerno. Its name is derived from that of the nymph, Amalfi, loved by Hercules—legend has it that he buried her in the world's most beautiful spot after she died. Though it's entirely given up to tourism today, this was once a proud maritime republic, founded in the ninth century, which rivaled Genoa, Pisa, and Venice in stature and power. The bustling, café-lined port is served by hydrofoils to and from Salerno, Positano, and Capri, while the bus terminus on the quay offers road connections to Salerno, Ravello, Positano, and Sorrento. Buses to the latter two towns also pass by the upper entrance to the Grotta dello Smeraldo, a famous cave with 33-foot deep, crystal-clear waters that shimmer with emerald-green light thanks to an underground crevice. From the harbor area, pass under the Porta Marinara gate into Piazza del Duomo, pictured, Amalfi's open-air living room, which is dominated by the magnificent Duomo di Sant'Andrea. It's well worth scaling the steps to see the cathedral's splendid bronze door, cast in Constantinople in the 11th century, and its 13th-century Romanesque-Arabian cloisters, the aptly named Chiostro del Paradiso. You should also try to get away from the touristy main street into the narrow pedestrian streets above, which offer a glimpse of the town's unusual, Moorish-influenced vernacular architecture, with its whitewashed houses linked by arches and vaults—some of them so long that they turn certain lanes into tunnels.
Le Sirenuse, Italy
Positano 84017, Italy
Tel: 39 089 875 066
After 50 years of being cherished and polished by its owners, the Marchese Sersale family (now into its second generation, with patriarch Franco's son Antonio and his wife, Carla, at the helm), "The Sirens" still has a glamour and poise few hotels in the world can match. Part of the attraction is the 18th-century palazzo itself: Located halfway up this near-vertical village (hence the magnificent views down the coast), it's stuffed with the Sersale family's own collection of antiques. Then there's the service—Le Sirenuse has 63 rooms and twice as many staff. All of this conspires to maintain the illusion that one is a privileged houseguest—though it is, of course, a privilege you pay for. The Gae Aulenti–designed Aveda spa (Aulenti renovated Paris's Musée d'Orsay), the Champagne bar with its views down to the sea over the rooftops of the town, and the family's vintage Riva speedboat that you can rent for a spin around the coast only add to the grandeur. One important point: If you're shelling out for a room here, go all the way and accept nothing less than a deluxe or above, and preferably on a high floor. If you don't have a balcony with that incredible sweep over the bay, you'll cry.