Where to stay in Sweden

A country of outstanding natural beauty, it is only fitting that Sweden‘s beautiful coastline and ancient forests are home to such fantastic cities. Delightful winding alleys give way to old castles and churches while pagan sites border these picturesque and lively cities. Atmospheric cafes and bars dot their streets and delightful museums are interspersed amongst daring modern architecture and more traditional buildings. The nightlife options on offer are fantastic and many of its cities are home to sizeable student populations. With a youthful and dynamic feel to their streets, the best cities in Sweden seamlessly mix the old and new together; the perfect smorgasbord for you to enjoy.

Karlstad

Karlstad

Set on the shores of Lake Vanern, with the Klaralven River running through it, Karlstad is an excellent city to visit if you love the outdoors. With the colossal lake lying next to it, there are lots of watersports for you to try out, and some scenic spots along the lake shore that are also worth stopping by. Despite its small size, its large student body means that Karlstad is a surprisingly lively place with a youthful feel, and there are numerous bars and restaurants for you to enjoy.

Halmstad

Halmstad

Although most of this once-fortified city’s buildings and monuments were destroyed in the fire of 1619, Halmstad is still a pleasant and popular place to visit. While there are many great restaurants on offer, as well as a good museum, most people head here for the beaches just outside the city center. In summer, they teem with visitors, and the outdoor bars are a popular spot to party at.

Sundsvall

Sundsvall

Lying on the Bothnian coast, Sundsvall is a cosmopolitan city with a lot to offer. While there is not any standout landmark per se, its uniform appearance makes it lovely to walk around, with wide boulevards lined with pretty stone buildings. Almost completely burnt down in half a day in 1888, the city was hastily rebuilt at an impressive speed and is now often referred to as ‘stone city’. With plenty of great restaurants, cozy bars and cafes hidden around, Sundsvall is well worth stopping by.

Orebro

Orebro

While the stunning and beautiful castle is undoubtedly the highlight of Orebro, its delightful moats and grounds are not the only thing worth seeing in the city. A lively university town, its sizeable student population provides an endless choice of terrace cafes, bars and cheapish eateries for visitors to enjoy. Located not far from Stockholm, Orebro also has some peaceful parks, laid-back lanes, and the nearby Vanern Lake to attract tourists.

Vasteras

Vasteras

Approaching Vasteras from afar, you can be forgiven for the slight trepidation you feel – the industrial areas and soulless shopping complexes surrounding the city seem unappealing. At its heart, however, the old town is an absolute joy to explore; lovely cottages and pretty, flower-filled gardens line its cobbled streets. A large city, it has some great museums and restaurants and also acts as a base from which to explore the nearby countryside. Here, you can find some old pagan sites worth checking out, as well as the lovely Malaren Lake and a huge water park, among other sites.

Visby

Visby

A delightful medieval city, Visby is the capital of Gotland and is one of the most spectacular cities in Sweden. Its web of ancient, cobbled streets and alleys is mesmerizing to wander around. Picturesque cottages, beautiful ruins of Gothic churches and the amazing walls surrounding the Old Town make it an enchanting and picture-perfect city. The stunning Saint Maria Cathedral is beautiful to behold and there are lots of bars and restaurants to stop by. In the summer, it can get a bit crowded, but once a year, Visby hosts a fun and festive Medieval Week, where the city is awash with medieval costumes and events.

Uppsala 

Uppsala

One of the oldest cities in Sweden, Uppsala is considered to be the heart of the nation. Despite its long and rich history, it has a lively and energetic feel to it – its large student body breathes fresh life into the ancient streets. A laid-back place that comes alive at night, the city straddles the Fyris River. Atmospheric cafes and lively bars line its banks and there are some lovely waterside paths to wander along. Nearby, there is a captivating archaeological site with the remains of old Uppsala. Easily reached from Stockholm, Uppsala is a great city to stop by.

Umea

Umea

With a plethora of things to see and do, Umea is a somewhat hidden gem, despite it being the European Capital of Culture in 2014. It has a huge art gallery, fantastic vintage guitar museum, and some lovely museums looking at the culture of the indigenous Sami people. Away from its range of cultural attractions, this lively college town has loads of great bars and restaurants, some good shopping on offer, as well as nice little parks dotted about the city. Located around 400-kilometres below the Arctic Circle, many people stop here on their way to see the Northern Lights.

Linkoping

Linkoping

While its stunning medieval cathedral is the undoubted highlight of Linkoping, there is much more to the city that is worth seeing. Although it is quite industrial in parts – as Saab has taken over the city – pockets of its fantastic past can be found interspersed amidst more modern and soulless buildings. For instance, there is a lovely old castle, numerous churches, as well as some great museums for visitors to check out. Parts of the city are absolutely gorgeous, and you’ll have a magical time searching them out. The site of a famous battle, it is here that Duke Karl managed to finally win control of Sweden in 1598.

Lund

Lund

The second oldest city in the country, Lund is a picturesque place just begging to be explored. With lovely old lanes weaving their way around the city, delightful architecture lining its streets, and beech forests surrounding it, it is the stunning medieval old town that is the highlight of any trip to Lund. Its leafy parks give way to some great museums, and cobbled streets hide an array of picture-perfect spots. With the most prestigious and oldest university in Sweden at its heart, there is a youthful feel and energy, which has manifested itself in a lively arts and cultural scene. Beautiful to wander around, there are some great nightlife spots as well as a thriving gastronomic scene.

Karlskrona

Karlskrona

A military-base town, Karlskrona is renowned for its delightful naval architecture that can be found everywhere in the city. While the 17th and 18th Century buildings are beautiful, you’ll often need to join a tour to see them – many of them are still used by the military. Originally established so the King of Sweden could control the Baltic Sea, Karlskrona has grown over the years into the country’s third-largest city. Consequently, there is lots to see and do. Check out some lovely old churches, modern shopping malls, and an array of restaurants and bars. In the summer, there are lots of charming, secluded swimming spots around the archipelago to go and explore.

Helsingborg

Helsingborg

Once the site of numerous battles between the Swedes and the Danes due to its strategic position and proximity to Denmark, Helsingborg has some impressive castle ruins which look out over the harbor. Set on the Oresund, it has a lovely waterfront where there are lots of cafes and restaurants to while away an afternoon. Millions of people pass through Helsingborg and its Danish neighbor Helsingor each year, and there is a fantastic theater and arts scene to woo people with. Its delightful cobblestone streets weave their way through the city, past distinctive turreted buildings which give Helsingborg such a special look.

MalmoMalmo

The third-largest city in the country is a multicultural place, with over 150 different nationalities calling Malmo home. Consequently, there is a progressive and welcoming outlook. Bordering Copenhagen, with Germany just across the Baltic, Malmo has long been influenced by different people, so there are some fantastic Middle Eastern markets for visitors to explore, as well as an astounding array of cuisines to sample. Its art and culture scene is thriving and there are lots of interesting architectural pieces for you to check out. With its delightful old castle, lovely squares in the Old Town, and modern waterfront with its fantastic promenade, Malmo is ripe for discovery.

Gothenburg 

Gothenburg

A laidback city that is nice to visit and charming to live in, Gothenburg’s maritime identity pervades everything. Walking along its waterfront is delightful, with numerous 17th Century canals crisscrossing the city. Ships lie alongside its port and sea-related museums can be found here and there. With some lovely architecture on show, there is a vibrant arts and cultural scene and lots of different events and festivals going on throughout the year. Its large student body gives it a youthful feel, and the bustling bars, cafes and fine shopping options – as well as its delicious fish-filled cuisine – provide yet more reasons to visit Gothenburg.

Stockholm

Stockholm

Spread across fourteen islands, residents understandably call their capital ‘beauty on water,’ and it is easy to see why. With its fantastic mix of modern and traditional architecture, there are different sides to Stockholm – the old town is particularly delightful. Lovely cathedrals, a sumptuous palace and winding cobbled streets are surrounded by water, making it magical to explore. Practical yet attractive design is everywhere you look, whether it is in cafes, bars and restaurants, or demonstrated in the buildings themselves – there are a couple of great museums on the subject. A fashionable place, Stockholm is a trendy city to go out in, whether it is to the lively nightclubs or the incredible restaurants that deal up such delicious and varied cuisine.

Source: touropia.com

Where to Stay in Thailand

Thailand is famous the world over for its rich culture, incredible natural landscapes, and dynamic cities. There isn’t much you can’t see or do in the Kingdom. This warm, fun and friendly country has developed from a stop on the humble backpackers’ Southeast Asian itinerary to become a fully-fledged vacation destination.

Thailand draws people to it with images of unimaginably beautiful beaches and turquoise blue seas. Then it charms its visitors with openness, vibrancy and an incredible amount of delicious food, of course. Buddhism is an important part of Thai society and many old, magnificent temples gleam golden in cities and countryside, making for interesting places to visit – if not for their beauty, then to understand more about Thai culture.

With the rise in tourists flocking to Thailand, it has become easier and more straightforward to reach various destinations by plane. Many of the best places to stay in Thailand are connected by the charming and fairly reliant train network, and places that aren’t can be reached by numerous tourist and local buses.

There has never been a better time to explore this wondrous, vibrant and dynamic country, but we warn you – once you’ve been to paradise, you will always dream of returning.

Bangkok

From glowing Buddhist temples underneath skyscrapers to meandering markets and shining malls, modern Bangkok meets the past. Street food stalls now jostle for space as more and more trendy cafes and restaurants pop up around the city. The Thai capital is a huge sprawling city with many different areas in which to base yourself for your trip. Well connected by public transport, traveling around the city is simple via the many water taxis and busses, plus the Skytrain and metro system.

Bangkok is the most populated and developed city in Thailand, so there’s a huge amount of choice when it comes to accommodation. Budget backpacker hostels culminate around the notoriously lively Khao San Road, while high-end offerings are scattered throughout the center of the city. Choose to stay a little further out from the city center in more residential districts and be rewarded by the buzz of the local communities.

Chiang Mai

Charming Chiang Mai is the biggest city in Thailand’s northern region and a popular stop-off point on Thai backpacking itineraries. Once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, the city dates back to 1559. Evidence of Chiang Mai’s rich cultural heritage can still be seen throughout the city streets – especially inside the crumbling walls of the Old City and in the hundreds of temples that dot the town.

Staying a few days in Chiang Mai is enough to take in the sights, but many who visit end up being wooed by the city’s amiable nature and local atmosphere and stay longer. It’s easy to get around on foot as many of the attractions are in the city center, but if you want to travel further afield, use the bus network or just take a tuk-tuk.

Accommodation in the city mainly caters to budget tourism; even the mid-range hotel offerings are affordable. Before you leave on the train to your next stop, make sure to check out Chiang Mai’s famous night market and try some of the tasty Thai treats on sale.

Phuket

This lovely island is the largest of all of the Thai islands and attracts hordes of holidaymakers every year, all looking to enjoy a slice of paradise for themselves. The island may have undergone a lot of changes since the tourist industry moved in, but much of Phuket Town has retained its culture and history. Phuket is used as jumping off point for travelers heading to the smaller islands in the area, meaning it’s extremely easy to catch a bus or a boat to anywhere you want to go.

Phuket even has its own international airport and enough luxury hotels and spa resorts to cater to the many foreign tourists. There are a lot of guesthouses and hostels for budget travelers, mostly around the culturally rich Phuket Town. Even with the huge influx of tourists, the island still has so much to offer. Take a trek in the national parks in the North, hit the white sandy beaches, or just spend your days eating some of the most delicious food in the area.

Ko Samui

Ko Samui is a sumptuous, stunning, tropical Thai island. A welcome stop on many people’s Thailand itineraries, the island is drenched in virgin rainforest and edged by palm-lined beaches. People are attracted to this piece of paradise by the lure of pampering at spa resorts, partying on the beach and by its delicious local cuisine.

For a spot of luxury, head to the old Fisherman’s Village and join other tourists sipping on wine and enjoying freshly caught seafood. If you’re more of a beach bum, Mae Nam beach is the place to go for a little peace and quiet; if you are an early bird, sunrise at Chawend Beach is unforgettable. Continue onto the next island by taking one of the regular island ferries, or catch a flight from the small airport.

Pattaya

The closest beach resort to Bangkok, Pattaya is a brash, fun and vibrant place where anything goes. Well known for its late nights and sex tourism, in recent years the local government have tried to make the town a little more family-friendly. Beaches in the area have seen much development since tourism started to rise in the 1960’s and, as such, they lack a lot of the luster that Thai beaches are famous for.

Always awake, Pattaya is a party city – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anywhere to unwind. The three main tourist areas have each their own attractions: Nuklua has retained much of its classic Thai charm and Jomtien is much more sleepy, whereas Pattaya Beach is brash and busy. The best way to get around town is by taking the local bus, or just walk. Nothing is ever too far away.

Krabi

Blissed out Krabi sits in the South of Thailand in the amazing Andaman Sea. Well known for pretty beaches, lush natural landscapes and jutting limestone formations, Krabi province boasts an incredible 150 islands, many of which have rocky, jungle-coated interiors and are laced with white sandy beaches lapped by gleaming blue seas.

Krabi is a magnet for travelers who want to take some time out to chill on the beach, but for the more adventurous, Krabi offers a whole range of activities. Caves, waterfalls, and clear waters give the chance to try out rock climbing, kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking. Just a short flight from Bangkok, the most popular islands are easily reachable by boat from the mainland. Stay in a variety of accommodation from low priced to luxury on the Phi Phi Islands, rock climb in Railay, or find yourself living out scenes from The Beach at Maya Bay.

Hua Hin

If you’re looking for secluded beaches and local towns then this isn’t the Thai destination for you. Hua Hin might be Thailand’s original and well-trodden seaside resort, but it still has a lot going for it. The fun, energetic city is full of places serving great food at reasonable prices and boasts a wide selection of accommodation from budget hostels to mid-range family offerings and huge, luxury complexes.

The affluent coastal city was once the favored holiday destination of the Thai Royal family; it’s quick and easy to reach by train from Bangkok. Keen kite surfers and watersport fans flock to Hua Hin beach, but with plenty of golf courses, water parks, and spas, there’s a whole host of activities to keep the many tourists entertained.

Ko Lanta

Think luminescent sands, cloud-topped mountains, and jungle interiors, Ko Lanta is the quintessential castaway island. The exotic and far-flung island was once home to seafaring nomads and today remains a chilled out place to enjoy island life. A humble stop on the backpacker itinerary, there’s a good choice of budget places to stay and – more recently – a whole host of luxury accommodation, too.

This welcoming and friendly place is a haven for scuba diving and snorkeling – the crystal-clear waters surrounding the island are home to coral reefs that teem with marine life. Calmer than other Thai islands, it’s easy to arrive by one of the daily boats and then, once you’re there, travel around on a motorbike.

Source: touropia.com

The Most Picture-Perfect Hotel Pools in California

Splish splash! Who doesn’t love fabulous hotel pools? No wonder many travelers consider the swimming situation before booking a stay. If you fall into that category, you’re in luck. We’ve rounded up the most gorgeous spots to take a dip in the Golden State. Refreshing waters, sweeping views, attentive service, loads of amenities—these hotel pools aim to please.

The Resort at Pelican Hill

The Resort at Pelican Hill

Inspired by the iconic Roman landmark, the circular Coliseum Pool measures 136 feet in diameter and holds 380,000 gallons of chemical-free saltwater, heated to a temperature of 82 degrees. More than a million hand-cut iridescent glass mosaic tiles decorate the bottom. Classic architectural elements—including corniced columns and an amphitheater-style deck—are complemented by eye-popping panoramas.

Auberge Du Soleil

Auberge Du Soleil

Nestled in the heart of Napa Valley, Auberge Du Soleil is the epitome of a romantic wine country retreat—and its picturesque piscine is certainly no exception. Set on a sun-splashed terrace, the pool is surrounded by gauze-draped lounges and envy-inducing vineyard vistas. Local vino, farm-to-table fare, and five-star service enhance the exceptional experience.

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

Equal parts playful and pampering, this revamped 1940s roadside motel brings an unbuttoned sensibility to Calistoga. The spa takes cues from an old-school bathhouse with three outdoor pools, fed by geothermal hot springs from deep below the earth. As you float in the mineral-rich waters and stare out at the Mayacamas mountains, your stresses melt away.

Monarch Beach Resort

Monarch Beach Resort

Situated on a golden hill, overlooking the sand and surf, the expansive main pool at Monarch Beach Resort is the perfect place to catch some rays or go for a refreshing swim. The expanded patio displays 150 chaise chairs plus perk-packed cabanas. Think: dedicated hosts, cold towels, comfy couches, and fruit platters.

Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara

Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara

Ever dreamed of doing the front crawl where Esther Williams once swam? The Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara is steeped in history. Perhaps its most fabled feature is the larger-than-Olympic-size Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club Pool, with its 160-foot length, separate area for laps, diving board, and stunning oceanfront setting.

Post Ranch Inn

Favored by celebs and couples seeking a serene escape, this adults-only property is perched atop the dramatic cliffs of Big Sur (between San Luis Obispo and Monterey). The infinity-edge Meditation Pool is a slice of peaceful paradise. Relax in the warm 104-degree waters alongside your sweetie and soak in the spell-binding views.

By Lindsay Cohn om www.brides.com

Danai Beach Resort Halkidiki

Danai Beach Resort Halkidiki

Why visit?

We visited this most elegant of luxury hotels – favoured by film stars and dotcom millionaires – to sample some new additions to an already-exquisite offering. These included a beautiful renovated spa area and a new range of spa and dogcare services. The most intriguing of these has to be the pooch day trips, where your canine pride and joy can sail in a catamaran sipping pure spring water from a crystal bowl.

Location: (see on the map >>>)

Situated on the second finger of the three-pronged Halkidiki peninsula in Southern Greece, overlooking the Aegian sea, everything seems well with the world. Even in the Autumn the sky is pure and dazzling blue, the turquoise water is 26C and the bone-dry air temperature in the early 30s. It’s said that film stars hire this place out for weddings and you can well believe it.

Ambience:

It’s truly idyllic. When you first arrive, it’s slightly disconcerting because the front gate is guarded. But you forget that immediately, as you pass through a spectacular complex of beautifully-kept lawns and an array of classic Greek villas, to wooden steps that lead down to a private white-sand beach and white tents.

Accomodation:

The 40,000 square metres of garden contains a sprawling ‘hotel’ made up of 64 suites and villas that have been gradually designed and put together by the Greek architect mother of current owner Kimon Riefenstahl, over the past four decades. No two are the same – and yet they have clearly been put together by the same person, painstakingly building them item of furniture by item of picture, bed, sofa and carpet. If that wasn’t enough, each has its own pool.

Food and Drink:

The hotel has a headline grabbing food and drink offering – from boosting the largest, multi-award winning, wine cellar (1,700 different types, the most of expensive costing 40,000 euros a bottle) in Greece to having the country’s top restaurant. Known as the Squirrel, this offers dishes such as glazed seabass with pear jus, parsley root cream and kalamansi, roasted foie gras with chicken gravy, white mushrooms and lemon fluid gel and dry milk foam infused with star anise, liquid honey and chamomile. Another restaurant, The Andromeda, offers a wide-ranging Mediterranean menu in the evening and a great breakfast in the morning, including an exquisite lobster omlette with an extraordinary velvety texture. Meanwhile, the Seahorse Grill, overlooking the beach, has an amazing array of grilled fish and steaks. With tables and chairs dotted around the grass overlooking the sea and traditional Greek music and dancing, the scene felt a bit like being on a film set.

What to do:

There isn’t a huge amount to do nearby but it is a lovely place to potter – or better, drive – around. The area has a pine-forest beauty, secluded harbours and lazy beachs. And with traditional villages – including the nearby village of Agios Nikolaos where a square encircled by various cafes and outside chairs hosts frequent concerts. The nearby sea-side village of Nikiti is also a lovely place to sunbathe or enjoy long meals stretching into the afternoon or evening. Meanwhile, nearby Mount Athos, a fellow finger on the peninsula, is famous perhaps for the wrong reasons. Home to 20 monasteries, the 130 square mile peninsula is thought to be the largest area in the world from which women – and even female animals – are banned.

Worth writing home about:

The service was incredibly friendly and attentive which, combined with the extraordinary setting, food and drink, made the hotel a lovely place to hang out – as long as you have plenty of money.

11 of Croatia’s best beaches

When the summer wind comes blowing in the Dalmatian Coast, the beaches of Croatia polish their pebbles and fluff their plumage for the peak season from July through to August.
The secret of Croatia’s stunning Adriatic Coast and its award-winning beach destinations is well and truly out, thanks in part to the popularity of shows such as “Game of Thrones,” which used the Eastern European country as a backdrop.

More than 100 Croatian beaches have earned blue flag status for their remarkable purity on land and in the sea.

Much of this is thanks to the white pebbles that cover most beaches in the country, keeping the water a clear, jewelry-grade tone of turquoise.
Inside nearly every curve of the Croatia’s coastline, from Istria in the north to Dubrovnik in the south, lies a fabulous Adriatic beach where you can play. Here are 11 of the best when you travel here:

Stiniva Beach, Vis

Stiniva Beach, Vis

Stiniva beach is based on the island of Vis, which is in southern Croatia.

Now one of the country’s hottest beaches, Stiniva lies on the south side of Vis, an island laden with legend as the staging area and hideout for Tito’s partisans and British commandos fighting Nazi invaders in World War II.

Situated a two hour and 30 minute ferry ride from Split, it was named the best beach in Europe by European Best Destinations, a Brussels-based organization that promotes culture and tourism, in 2016, and looks every bit the part.

Set in a natural limestone arena, sheer tufted walls of rock all but encircle the smooth, sunken, white pebble floor, with the only break at the 16-foot wide “cliff gate,” which opens the beach to the sea.
The unusual formation, thought to be the result of the collapse of an ancient cave, could easily serve as a heavenly Hollywood vision, or at least a refuge for the Mother of Dragons from “Game of Thrones.”
Stinivia has grown in popularity over the years, and the beach is usually filled with swimmers, sun bathers, and snorkelers by late morning, many of them ferried in by a small fleet of taxi boats.
Others arrive via the somewhat treacherous land route down the steep south slope — which is definitely not for the young, the clumsy or the sandaled.

Thankfully the challenge of reaching Stinivia is still strong enough to protect it from the worst cases of crowding, making a coveted spot on the beach feel very well earned.

Bršeč Beach, Bršeč

Bršeč Beach, Bršeč

Bršeč Beach offers views across the Kvarner Gulf to Cres Island.

Beneath the clifftop medieval village of Bršeč sits one Istrian beach that escapes the attention of many tourists (as the locals prefer).

Seemingly scraped out of solid rock by a giant paw, Bršeč Beach is small in comparison to most Croatian beaches but comes with all the spectacle of the best, including views across the Kvarner Gulf to Cres Island.

Like Stiniva, the challenge of getting here, along a wild and windy half-mile trek, keeps away the busiest crowds.

Be sure to bring all your own amenities as there are no facilities on or near the beach.
The sheer limestone cliffs below Bršeč are a favorite with experienced climbers as well as abseilers and definitely worth a visit.

Kamenjak National Park, Premantura, Istria

Kamenjak National Park, Premantura, Istria

Kamenjak National Park — a stunning nature reserve.

Croatia’s most exciting beach can be found at the southernmost tip of Istria, on the Kamenjak Peninsula, a national park, which dribbles into the sea for nearly four miles before ending in 70-foot high cliffs.

From here, daredevils leap into the sea.

Its protected status keeps both land and water pristine for the passing dolphins and Mediterranean monk seals that frequent.

Dinosaurs also loved this area, leaving fossils and footprints in the limestone, some of which can be seen on “The Dinosaur Path” near Penižule beach. More recently, humans have added the kitsch, with life-sized dinosaur models.

Oprna Beach, Krk

Oprna Beach, Krk

Oprna Beach can be reached via a narrow path down a slope.

With more blue flag beaches than any other island in Croatia, Krk offers spectacular swimming and sunbathing around almost every bend of its shoreline.

But Oprna Beach is undoubtedly one of its stand outs, as well as one of the hardest to get to.

The calm, clear waters and long shallow shoreline here make it a favorite for snorkelers and divers.

Plus, its remote location means the beach remains quiet and relaxing throughout the summer.

As with many wild beaches Croatia, reaching it requires navigating a narrow path down a slope.

While you’re there, you can also take a boat out to 16th century Franciscan monastery on Košljun, a tiny island within the island of Krk.

Beach Mali Bok, Cres

Beach Mali Bok, Cres

Mali Bok is home to the endangered Griffon vulture.

Squeezed between Istria and Dalmatia in the Kvarner Gulf, Cres island drips north to south like a Rorschach test inkblot.

Outside the village of Orlec, long walls of barren jagged limestone act as the bookend for a dramatic channel that funnels to a small pebble beach.

There’s no shade here, so it’s best to bring an umbrella if you don’t want to burn to a crisp under the sun, which fades quickly in the afternoon once it passes behind the rock.

Keep an eye skyward for the endangered Griffon vulture, which nests in the rocks above

The island is also known for its fabulous conditions and there are many scuba diving centers in the area.

Zlatni Rat, Bol

Zlatni Rat, Bol

Zlatni Rat’s name translates to “golden horn.”

Croatia’s most photographed beach extends like a “golden horn,” as its name translates, south from the island of Brač.

A Mediterranean pine grove fills in the bell side, but the mouthpiece is naked beach, with golden pebbles so fine, they actually feel like sand.

Owing to the shifts in wind, one side usually takes the brunt (attracting surfers), while the other remains calm, and therefore more carpeted with towels, tents, and tourists.

Another highlight is the curly sea snail shell, dubbed “lucky stone” by locals, which is located among the pebbles on the beach.

Punta Rata, Brela

Punta Rata, Brela

Punta Rata is popular with families.

Along the Makarska Riviera, stretching south along the rocky coast from Split, some of Croatia’s most famous beaches spread out against the backdrop of the Biokovo mountain range.

The arrow-shaped Punta Rata beach flashes more bling than most and is often rated among the best beaches in the country, if not the world.

Its crown jewel is the “Brela Stone,” a giant boulder just off shore miraculously sprouting pine trees.
The beach also comes with a complete range of facilities such as sun beds and showers and is hugely popular with families.

Visitors can also opt to rent a bicycle and explore paved and unpaved trails running along the coast from Brela and into the hinterland.

Nugal Beach, Makarska

Nugal Beach, Makarska

Nugal Beach is a favorite with nudists.

Makarska’s most cinematic beach comes complete with its own 30-foot waterfall, fed by a stream coming down from Mount Biokovo and cascading down the rock face into the sea.

Perhaps unfortunately, it’s most impressive in winter, when swimming is not possible.

The actual beach area open to the sun is relatively small, but the surrounding pine forest surrounding offers plenty of shade and privacy, which is much appreciated by the many nudists who gather here.

It’s also worth budgeting some time for a hike in the seaside Forest Park Osejava, which extends for almost two miles from the beach.

Sunj Beach, Lopud

Sunj Beach, Lopud

Sunj Beach features 800 meters of sand.

A rare example of a sandy beach in Croatia, Sunj rolls out half a mile along the bay of the same name at the south end of Lopud, west of Dubrovnik.

This is matched perpendicularly by long, gently sloping green hills extending far out into the sea on both sides.

The island is car free, so accessibility relies on golf carts running to and from the main town.
Going by foot or bike is possible, but the slopes may challenge those without modest fitness, particularly under the sun.

The area is also home to various ruined monasteries, palaces, villas, and forts that speak of the island’s medieval heyday before decimated by earthquake and repeated occupation and are definitely worth exploring.

Sveti Jakov Beach, Dubrovnik

Sveti Jakov Beach, Dubrovnik

Sveti Jakov Beach overlooks Croatia’s Lokrum island.

What’s could be more cinematic than swimming under the walls of King’s Landing in “Game of Thrones?”
As every fan knows, Dubrovnik loaned its inimitable visage to the series, and remains every bit as impressive in person as it is on screen.

The city’s main beach, Banje, rolls out an attractive enough pebble carpet.

But the wilder Sveti Jakov, a 20 minute trek away, keeps the Dubrovnik backdrop while adding quiet, privacy, shade, snorkeling, and excellent sunsets.

Largely overlooked by tourists, it can be reached by the no.5 bus from the Old Town of Dubrovnik, or on foot

Betina Cave, Dubrovnik

Betina Cave, Dubrovnik

Sixteenth century scientist Marin Getaldić performed experiments in optics at this cave beach.

Visitors are almost always guaranteed shade (bar a few hours in the late morning when the sun hangs opposite) at this cave beach, situated about a mile south of Dubrovnik.

A small strip of pebbles jutting out front offer the only direct exposure to sunlight, which suited 16th century scientist Marin Getaldić, who conducted experiments in optics here, including creating the first parabolic mirror.

The only way to reach the hollowed out cliff is by taxi boat or kayak, which keeps large crowds away.
Be sure to catch the sunset (and a cocktail) from Bar Giardino, on the back terrace of the nearby five-star Villa Dubrovnik.

Originally published on CNN Travel

In Milpa Alta people still speak Aztec

Milpa Alta – which maintains traditions from its pre-Columbian past – feels like a tiny mountain village, making it hard to believe that it’s part of Mexico City.

In the 1970s, before workers laid the asphalt that became a two-lane highway connecting Mexico City with Milpa Alta, the southernmost of the city’s 16 delegations, Javier Galicia-Silva’s grandmother would hike down the hills to Xochimilco each day at 04:00. From here she would take a chalupa (a large water taxi) along the ancient canals that lead towards downtown, where she’d spend the day selling fresh produce in the La Merced district near the grand Zócalo (historic centre). With a bit of money and some supplies loaded on her back, she’d return to the village around 16:00 in time to sleep and do the six-hour round trip all over again the next day.

Although farmers from Milpa Alta now make the trip by road, bringing nopal (an edible cactus), mole (a traditional Mexican sauce), honey and tortillas fresh from their homes and gardens to sell in markets and on street corners across the city, not much else has changed.

By Megan Frye on http://www.bbc.com/

Top 5 Slow Luxury Travel Hotspots

From Montego Bay Jamaica – to serene Riad in Morocco – this is the pick of eco conscious, considered luxury, where you will come away feeling you have truly lived and dined like a native on the very best local, artisan and kitchen garden organic produce.

Sit back and let us transport you on a far flung gourmet trail, with irresistible stories of local, food, chef alchemists and warm-hearted local people who can’t wait to share their culture, food, nature and wildlife and a better way to holiday in style and protect endangered species, bio diversity and the environment.

How would you like to feast on the freshest organic vegetables, herbs and sustainable, local seafood from the hotel kitchen garden and local fisherman? Or learn to cook exquisite, authentic, regional cuisine, whilst admiring the wildlife on a pristine, verdant biosphere in Myanmar? Come with us, and we will show you how with my top five eco conscious, sustainable luxury resorts to visit soon.

Costa Rica – Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge

Stay at the heart of a sequestered private nature reserve founded thirty-five years ago by an American naturalist, at the Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge and you can look forward to an eco wildlife adventure that is like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

If you are drawn by a sense of adventure, and love the idea of responsible tourism, truly off the beaten track, then this is your ideal sustainable, wildlife holiday adventure. The only access to the lodge is by boat. Your holiday adventure begins the moment you dock at the Hacienda, in the sleepy town of Sierpe. From there, it’s a 90 -minute boat ride gliding through the mangrove wetlands of Central America’s Pacific Coast. Along the way, you can expect to see monkeys, crocodile; a plethora of birds and there’s a very good chance of spotting dolphins and whales too.

Situated on the edge of the Corcovado National Park, the jewel in the crown of Costa Rica’s celebrated national park system, the Casa Corcovado is set on a commanding hilltop, and offers the ideal marriage of organic local design and all the authentic creature comforts you could wish for including four poster beds, hammocks and mosaics made my local craftsmen. Even better you can watch the monkeys play from your stylish, open air shower, and it will only take you a minute to walk to the perfect, palm-fringed beach, barefoot, of course.

Food is an haute cuisine tropical feast at the lodge, and the chef makes full use of sun, sea and forest for the freshest ingredients. Dine in the elegant Los Vitales restaurant on traditional Cost Rican dishes, prepared with local plantain, squashes, hearts of palm and giant local mangoes. Don’t forget to sample the local rum and Tico cheese, made on the slopes of the local volcano.

Casa Corcovado is about getting away from it all with a spirit of eco adventure. Activities revolve around the rainforest and ocean, and include: hiking tours, night safaris, scuba diving, and bird watching and kayaking. The hotel is noted for its use of solar and hydroelectric power. Recycling has been in place since the nineties, and the hotel funded a waste recycling centre, which benefits a local school in Sierpe.

Miramar – Villa Inle

Villa Inle, Miramar, is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Inle, in a Unesco biosphere nature reserve, in the land that time forgot – a place of floating villages, ancient monasteries and fishermen gliding serenely across Burma’s second largest freshwater lake.

Villa Inle is a boutique hotel that sets the benchmark for eco conscious luxury by truly embracing the idea of localism – from employing more local people to celebrating the heritage and customs of a remarkable water-bound eco system.

The hotel consists of 27, handcrafted lakeside wooden villas inspired by the architecture of a local monastery and traditional local houses. Expansive picture windows afford endless vistas of flocks of migratory birds and the water buffalo cooling off in the shallows. Local craft skills have been thoughtfully applied to the exquisite interior décor and the serene interiors are furnished with handcrafted furniture made by local carpenters, artisans and sculptors. There are day beds dreamily positioned to capture all the activity on the lake, covered in local kapok cloth and beautiful lamps are fashioned from bamboo and the famous local Shan paper, which is embedded with local flowers.

Want to escape the madding crowd and live like a local? Then come to Villa Inle and you can look forward to intimate farmhouse kitchen suppers, trips to see the famous hanging tomato gardens by local boat, and the highlight? The not to be missed opportunity to participate in mindful, healthy, Burmese cookery classes with the chef, using produce from the hotel’s botanic and organic kitchen garden, while you sip a glass of local wine and admire the dreamy view. You can also discover the thriving artisan craft culture, with visits to see local handicrafts, including silk and lotus weaving and cheroot making. At the end of fascinating, carefree day, you can relax with cocktails at sunset and dream about your return visit.

Jamaica – Secrets Wild Orchid and St James’s Bay

Set on its own secluded peninsula, stretching like a garland out into the celebrated ‘Mobay’ in the Caribbean, this super chic, adults only, holiday pleasure dome, offers every comfort, luxury and opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation, whilst treading lightly on the local environment.

There are eight restaurants, cafes and bars to feast in, serving local produce and foodie delights, including the jerk chicken cart and famous local Jamaican patties; all making use of jewel green, aromatic herbs from the resort’s kitchen garden.

There is a weekly, craft market, featuring the work of the local artists, or you could take a Jamaican cookery class or get up close with nature on a guided walk or bicycle ride. The resort employs 98% of its staff from the local community; runs beach clean ups, donates to local hospitals and schools and composts its waste.

Morocco – Riad Al Massarah

You only have to read the reviews for the Riad Al Massarah, to see that Michel and Michael, the attentive, French-British owners have created a refined oasis of sustainable luxury and calm, that utterly exceeds visitors expectations. Local food is a highlight at the Riad, which is furnished with exquisite taste and flair with handmade pieces by local artisans and treasures from Europe.

Food ingredients are purchased daily from the local market and transformed into a colourful, scented and vibrant fusion of European and Moroccan cuisines with flair and imagination. Feast on authentic tagine and when you are tired of this rich, filling stew, your hosts will be delighted to prepare a dish which is light, healthy and delicious.

Madeira – Galo Resorts, Hotel Alpino

Do you crave complete rest and mind and body rejuvenation? Then the Galo Atlantico Ayurvedic Resort is the place to kickstart your detox and healthy reboot. Ayurveda is the ancient medicine system of India, focused on the art of living wisely and in harmony with all living things. During your stay, you will have a consultation with the in-house Ayurvedic chef, and discover your constitutional type – pitta, vatta or kapha. Then you will graze on delicious, gourmet vegetarian and vegan food prepared according to your type and designed to promote optimum health and wellbeing. Sip organic tea made from herbs grown in the organic garden and eat vibrant, light, healthful local organic produce based on – herbs, shoots, roots, fruits, seeds and spices that follow the seasons and are designed to energise, strengthen and renew.

By Alison Jane Reid on http://ethical-hedonist.com

Strasbourg: The bicultural crossroads of Europe

Strasbourg: The bicultural crossroads of Europe

Nestled on the Rhine across the border from Germany, Strasbourg offers your best chance to experience the urban side of France’s Alsace region. Each time I walk its people-friendly streets, I’m struck by how forward-thinking and inviting the city feels, with generous space devoted to pedestrians and bikes, sleek trams and meandering waterways. With delightful big-city energy and a name that means the “city of streets,” Strasbourg is the ultimate crossroads.

While the city dodged serious damage in both world wars, Strasbourg has a dizzying history. It was hit hard during the Franco-Prussian War, becoming part of Germany in 1870. After that, there was a period of harsh Germanization, followed by extreme Frenchification after World War I, a brutal period under Nazi rule during World War II, and then the strong need to purge all that was German after 1945. Now, while probably more definitively French than it’s ever been, the city exudes a bicultural gentleness in its architecture and all-around ambience. Street signs are commonly bilingual, with both French and the Germanic Alsatian dialect.

After World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for a union of European nations, with the goal of winning an enduring peace by weaving the economies of France and Germany together. Given that Strasbourg had changed hands between Germany and France so many times, it seemed logical that it be a capital (along with Brussels) of what would eventually become the European Union. And today, Strasbourg shares the administrative responsibilities of the European Parliament with Brussels and Luxembourg.

Most visitors come to Strasbourg to see its massive Notre-Dame Cathedral — and for good reason. On my last visit, I stood in front and craned my neck way back … and I still couldn’t fit the facade into my camera’s viewfinder. I tried to imagine the impact this unforgettable edifice would have had on medieval pilgrims. The delicate Gothic style of the cathedral (begun in 1176, not finished until 1439) is the work of a succession of about 50 master builders. The cathedral somehow survived the French Revolution, the Franco-Prussian War, World War I and World War II.

An earlier church burned down in the 12th century, and Strasbourg was so wealthy that it rebuilt très fancy — with a lacy, innovative design — and tall (at 466 feet, its spire was the world’s tallest until the mid-1800s). A matching second tower was planned but was never built, out of fear that it would place too much stress on the foundations. You’ll see the famous spire from all over town.

Inside, enjoy the cathedral’s marvelous stained glass — 80 percent is original, surviving from the 12th to 15th centuries. The cathedral’s windows traveled a lot during World War II: hidden by the French in southwestern France first; then carted to northern Germany by the Nazis; and finally saved and returned by the Monuments Men (British and American troops dedicated to returning art to its rightful place after 1945). Travelers should note that the cathedral closes daily between 11:15 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Nearby is the wonderful Strasbourg Historical Museum, which sweeps through the city’s complex and compelling history. You’ll learn how Strasbourg was once fortified with concentric walls and 80 towers, which were then destroyed by French King Louis XIV in the 1680s. The museum also has an exhibit about Johannes Gutenberg, who worked here from 1434 to 1444, a section about the French Revolution and a description of how the Prussians rebuilt the city after destroying parts of it in 1870, ushering in its glory days (1880–1914). The saddest section details life here in the Nazi years, and the happy finale explains Strasbourg’s leadership role in the EU.

For a different slice of history, visit the Alsatian Museum, located in one of Strasbourg’s oldest houses. Thanks to its many artifacts and printed English explanations, you’ll learn much about Alsatian life and traditions from birth to death. Rooms you’d find in traditional homes are beautifully re-created here (wrapped around a fine old courtyard), and models explain the ins and outs of half-timbered construction.

End your day in Strasbourg’s popular Petite France quarter. It’s here where the river splits into several canals with weirs, a lock and a swing bridge — all reminders of a time when trade came by river and watermills powered local industry. The district was slated for redevelopment but was saved by a progressive French minister of culture in the 1970s. Today, these fine buildings are protected and give us a sense of this pre-electricity world.

The history of Strasbourg — the capital city of the political pawn zone between France and Germany — is fascinating to contemplate. With its high-powered and trendy bustle and hybrid culture, it’s one of France’s most intriguing cities.

By Rick Steves on https://www.mystatesman.com/

Munich Named The Most Livable City In The World

Monocle, the urbane lifestyle magazine founded in 2007, has named Munich, Germany the most livable city in the world in 2018. In this twelfth edition of its Quality of Life Survey, Monocle scoured the globe for cities, big and small, that combine healthy work-life balances with happy residents and effective public services. Munich jumps up from third place in 2017, replacing Tokyo in the top spot in this year’s survey.

Munich strikes a strong balance between a city that’s fun to live in yet runs like a well-oiled machine. The city’s public transportation is comfortable and clean, the streets are safe and well-maintained, and its airport, which offers connections to over two hundred international destinations, was recently ranked number six in the world. As a result, Munich is highly international; with eighteen universities attracting international students and a higher percentage of foreign residents than Berlin, Munich has preserved its rich Bavarian roots while enabling other cultures to thrive, too. As Monocle’s Robert Bound explains, “Beer gardens remain the classic summer hangout. The city’s proximity to the Alps, as well as lakes and rivers, means that hiking, skiing, cycling and sailing have been favored pastimes for over a century. Plenty of public space means that everybody gets to enjoy their city.”

Economically, Munich shines just as strongly. The city’s unemployment rate is an enviable four percent, and even lower among youth. It plays home to an assortment of global titans in the automotive, biotech and engineering industries, balancing that scientific prowess with world-class museums and an easygoing demeanor. Of course, all of these benefits don’t come without a price. Munich’s property prices are the highest in Germany, though when you compare them to places like Hong Kong or New York, they’re still quite affordable.

Beyond Munich, the rest of Germany and Northern Europe as a whole are the real winners in this year’s Quality of Life Survey. With four German cities making the top twenty-five, including three in the top eight positions, there’s no doubting the efficacy of Germany’s carefully progressive urban policies and measured approach to building sustainably comfortable cities. With capitals Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Oslo, Helsinki and Stockholm also on the list, Northern Europe is clearly on the right track. Japan and Australia claim three spots apiece in the top twenty-five as well, leaving just ten positions for the rest of the world to divvy up.

North America, on the other hand, did not pull its weight. Vancouver was the only Western hemisphere city to make the cut, and while Monocle praised it for having “better access to nature than any other city,” its exorbitant housing prices continue to mount pressure on local residents. Tokyo, which received the top honor each of the past three years, dropped below Munich to number two this year, with Monocle noting, “As ever more tourists prepare to visit for the 2020 Olympic Games, Tokyo’s community spirit and civility should be safeguarded.” Cities, just like corporations, are ever-changing entities.

Here are the top twenty-five cities from Monocle’s Quality of Life Survey 2018.

Munich, Germany
Tokyo, Japan
Vienna, Austria
Zurich, Switzerland
Copenhagen, Denmark
Berlin, Germany
Madrid, Spain
Hamburg, Germany
Melbourne, Australia
Helsinki, Finland
Stockholm, Sweden
Lisbon, Portugal
Sydney, Australia
Hong Kong
Vancouver, Canada
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Kyoto, Japan
Dusseldorf, Germany
Barcelona, Spain
Paris, France
Singapore
Fukuoka, Japan
Auckland, New Zealand
Brisbane, Australia
Oslo, Norway

By Jordan Bishop on https://www.forbes.com/

Rotterdam: Europe’s showcase of bold modernity

Rotterdam: Europe’s showcase of bold modernity

The famously cute and sweet side of the Netherlands — with its canals, windmills and tulip fields — is indeed a delight to experience. But to see how big-city modern Dutch life is lived, visit the no-nonsense “second city” of Rotterdam.
Mighty Rotterdam has a gleaming skyline and Europe’s largest port. Locals say that while the money is spent in Amsterdam, it’s made in Rotterdam. They boast that shirts in Rotterdam are sold with the sleeves already rolled up.

Once it was quaint and cozy like Amsterdam, but Rotterdam was leveled by the Nazis in World War II. Hitler ordered a systematic bombing of the city, and its center was, quite literally, flattened. Following the bombing, a fire raged for three days, consuming what was left. When Hitler threatened to do the same thing to Utrecht, the Dutch government surrendered immediately.

Photos of WWII Rotterdam are startling: A scant few historic buildings are still standing — barely — and the outlines of the streets around them are barely visible. But after the war, rather than rebuild quaint (as most Dutch towns did), Rotterdammers embraced the chance to go in another direction: boldly modern. Ever since, the city has been a stimulating urban showcase of architectural experimentation, with buildings big and small designed by a Who’s Who of contemporary architects. You’ll see wildly creative and futuristic train stations, libraries, market halls, office towers, bridges, subway stations and apartment complexes that push the envelope toward science fiction.

In the late 1970s, architect Piet Blom turned urban housing on its ear with a striking design: 39 identical yellow cubes, all tilted up on their corners, each meant to house a single family. Taken together, the Cube Houses look like dozens of dice in mid-toss. If Rotterdam has a single icon representing its bold approach to postwar architecture, this is it. To get a look inside one of the cubes, visit the Kijk-Kubus Museum House.

More arresting architecture is south of the city center, near the Erasmus Bridge, which was built about 20 years ago to link the north and south banks of the Maas River. The southern bank, then underdeveloped, exploded into a new “downtown” zone of commerce. At the far end stands a lineup of creations — nicknamed “Manhattan on the Maas” — by some of the world’s top architects, including Renzo Piano, Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster.

Their works tower over Rotterdam’s harbor, the ninth largest in the world. The port handles about 30,000 ocean-going vessels each year — that’s about 80 ships a day, hauling a total of 420 million tons of cargo. You can appreciate the immensity of it all with a harbor tour. You’ll see the sprawling Staatspark (marked by the Euromast tower); several innovative waterfront housing blocks; and one small section of the bustling port, with stacks upon stacks of containers and a forest of busy cranes.

But not everything in Rotterdam is postwar mod. One of the few well-preserved bits wasn’t even originally part of Rotterdam — it was the port for Delft. Historic Delfshaven is just a short subway ride away from Rotterdam’s city center, but it’s a world away from the 21st century. There’s an idyllic canal pulled straight out of a Vermeer painting, with old boats, a cantilevered drawbridge and even a windmill still churning away in the distance.

In the heart of the city is Rotterdam’s oldest structure, St. Lawrence Church — completed in 1525 and a rare survivor of the 1940 Nazi bombing campaign. The church’s nondescript exterior belies its vast, pristine interior, which sports a huge organ. If you enter, be sure to look up to appreciate its roof, one that was clearly made by a city of shipbuilders — it feels like you’re huddled beneath an overturned boat.

Grotekerkplein, the “Great Church Square” in front of St. Lawrence Church, honors Rotterdam native Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) with a 17th-century statue, which also miraculously survived the bombing. A great humanist, Erasmus forged the notion of identifying as European — seeing oneself as a citizen of the world and not tied to a single nationality. In many ways he’s the intellectual forebear of the European Union. On the pedestal, in Dutch, is an excerpt from one of his most famous remarks: “The entire world is your fatherland.”

Some dismiss modern Europe and its attempts at political union as a failure. I’m not blind to the fact that Europe has its flaws and is grappling — not always very well — with some serious challenges of its own. But I love the Europe of today — the one Erasmus foresaw — and a visit to his hometown of Rotterdam, rising out of the ashes of war, is a chance to witness its stunning success.

By Rick Steves on https://www.mystatesman.com