This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title
 

Monthly Archives: March 2017

Places to stay that will blow your mind

Bivacco Gervasutti, Mont Blanc, Italy

This is one for the adrenaline junkies, right?

It’s fair to say that couch potatoes will want to settle for the pictures. The Bivacco Gervasutti perches precariously on the Frebouze Glacier on the Mont Blanc massif in Italy. Yes, that’s Mont Blanc of the ‘highest peak in Europe’ fame.

Wow, that is totally extreme.

Everything about this place is extreme. The striking red and white capsule, containing living and dining areas as well as two sleeping quarters for up to 12 people, cantilevers dramatically out over the cliff-face. From the inside it’s like you’re floating over the mountain. Solar panels keep the tube toasty year-round and there’s even internet access so you can show off to your mates back home.

Ok, how do we get in there?

That’s the tricky bit: it’s only accessible by foot. The architects of the structure were forced to build by helicoptering in one section at a time. There is no such luxury option for prospective guests. Only those who put in the hard graft to hike to the top reap the rewards of the spectacular views.

Longitude 131, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

Not giving much away with the name.

There’s no mistaking the image though. Yes, that is Australia’s world-famous and iconic landmark Uluru that you can see from your own private white-topped tent.

Oh, so we’re camping in the desert?

Not exactly. There’s no sagging canvas or dinky fly-nets here; this is next-level glamping. You’ll be staying in one of only 15 luxuriously kitted-out tented cabins all positioned to make the most of the view of the serene and dramatic expanse of the Simpson Desert and the major drawcard, Uluru.

It’s not often a holiday in the red centre turns into a top-end experience.

One of the most memorable things about a trip to Longitude 131 and Australia’s vast outback is the connection the resort honours to the land and to the land’s traditional custodians. Alongside the extravagant five-star features, the resort sports serious eco credentials and provides guests with the opportunity to learn about the centuries-old culture of the Anangu people. Listening to ancient creation stories as the sun sets over Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) is an experience not soon forgotten.

The FloatHouse River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Floating on a house on the River Kwai sounds more fun than building a bridge over it.

This is a world away from the fictional drama that played out in Pierre Boulle’s internationally renowned novel A Bridge over the River Kwai – where prisoners of war were forced to build parts of the Burma Railway across the river in 1942–43. Instead, the FloatHouse is an oasis of peace and calm.

Are we going to wake up miles downriver?

The FloatHouse is tethered to the lush, wild jungle that spreads out behind the resort. In fact, the only way to get to the private rooms on The FloatHouse is to arrive by boat. If the absence of typical Southeast Asian traffic noise isn’t enough to begin the destressing process, then step inside your private sanctuary decorated in traditional style and be soothed by the panoramic scenery from your private balcony and sundeck.

Once we wake from our soothing stupor, can we get off to explore?

Absolutely. Private boats are available to ferry you to spectacular local attractions like hot springs, waterfalls, the Hellfire Pass, Lawa Cave and Mon Villages and temples, among others.

Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, Manaus, Brazil

Visiting the Amazon rainforest should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Few places deliver a luxury Amazon experience quite like this. There are 22 private cabins divided up into 16 standard cottages, four superior bungalows and two top-of-the-range panoramic bungalows with, you guessed it, spectacular views.

What’s there to see if we venture beyond our beautiful cabin?

Perched at the tip of an island in the Anavilhanas Archipelago, the largest freshwater archipelago in the world, the Jungle Lodge has a 13m-high observation deck with stunning views over the Rio Negro (there’s a pretty good view from the pool too, just saying!). If you’re looking for adventure the lodge will organise a personalised itinerary so you can hike to local villages or take a boat tour around the tributaries, for example.

Will our footprint be light in this fragile and endangered area?

The lodge is sensitive to and conscious of its pristine surrounds. It is staffed almost exclusively by local people; there is no waste disposed of in the waters; preservation areas are strictly respected and they help to run social and educational programs with the help of the Brazilian government. All good.

Hotel De Glace, Québec, Canada

Aren’t we over the whole ice hotel/bar thing?

As gimmicky as an ice hotel can seem from the outside there’s nothing quite like spending a night encased in a room made entirely from exquisitely carved ice to stave off your scepticism.

Alright, we’ll ask the obvious question: aren’t we going to get a little chilly?

The staff at the hotel are so confident of your comfort in the ice suites that their information sheet on staying the night recommends light clothing to sleep in to avoid getting too hot! Each enormous ice slab is topped with a wooden wedge and a mattress to prevent you from shivering in your sleeping bag.

And when we’re not tucked up in bed?

There’s a long list of suggested items of clothing to bring and wear during your stay to keep the cold at bay. That said, it’s hard to imagine the cold creeping in when the surroundings are so spectacular. The Hotel De Glace is like one giant ice sculpture with individual suites designed in unique and magical themes. It’s so beautiful it will warm the cockles of your heart.

Huka Lodge, Taupo, New Zealand

It seems like every square inch of this country is a natural wonder.

I know, right? But if you get tired of parking your campervan at breath-taking sites alongside the roadside then how about soaking up a little luxury at the exclusive Huka Lodge. Honestly, it’s magic. That’s what you get with a mix of manicured grounds, spectacular wilderness, and five-star pampering.

Can you magic me there now?

I’ll try… Huka Lodge sits on 17 acres of private grounds right on the edge of the powerful turquoise waters of the Waikato River, just upstream from the dramatically beautiful Huka Falls. A short drive in almost any direction will take you to snow-capped mountains, lush wilderness, or pristine lakes and streams. After a day of exploring nature’s bounty you’ll dive into the sweet, sweet luxury of your suite. Are you there yet?

hiking through Patagonia

Warm and cozy

Patagonia’s weather is influenced both by Antarctica and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field – that great glacial mass larger than California’s Death Valley. Coping with this influence will take attention to detail. It’s the little things. The best investment is seamless wool socks like those from Darn Tough (darntough.com) to keep you warm and comfortable. Happy feet mean uninterrupted walking: the difference will be miles of splendor that you can’t put a price on. A few extra pairs can be a godsend when you’re hiking nonstop without a day off to do the wash.

Avoid shorts – there’s plenty of thorny brush to get at your legs even when chilly gusts of wind aren’t whipping. Bring top and bottom thermals, light gloves and a hat, an insulating layer like a fleece, rain gear and a down jacket for cool nights.

And remember, crisp climates can still pose issues for your eyes and skin. Sunglasses with a leash, waterproof, high-SPF sunscreen and shade had will protect you from overexposure – a crucial matter as a hole in the ozone layer moving over Patagonia and Antarctica leaves you extra vulnerable.

Keeping your footing

Sure, you might be able to hike in trainers some days, but sturdy, broken-in waterproof boots will do you a solid in shallow stream crossings, snowy passes, and puddles around town. Speaking of streams, if you bring sandals, make sure their soles are rigid enough to clamor across river stones. Gore-Tex gaiters come in useful here too – not only do they keep your feet dry, they also keep mud off your pants and prevent you from needing to relace your boots over the course of a day. Rinse them in a stream at the end of a day on the trail and they can dry overnight.

One final piece of necessary hike gear: trekking poles. The collapsible kind fits easily into luggage. Not only do they save knees from downhill pounding, they provide stability during river crossings and keep you grounded when the famous Patagonian wind blows.

Gearing up for a hut-to-hut hike

While the rugged bulk of Patagonia is straight-up wilderness, there are a few hut-to-hut hiking routes. Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park andParque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in Argentina have classic hikes punctuated by dry sleeps. That means shaving pounds off your back. No tent is required, and in Torres del Paine, no sleeping bag either, as both Fantastico Sur (fantasticosur.com) and Vertices (verticepatagonia.com) huts in Torres del Paine offer the option of sheets and blankets. Do make reservations well in advance.

On top of your trekking gear, you’ll want to invest in a good day pack like the Osprey Talon (ospreypacks.com). Make sure you have enough room for a hydration bladder, extra layers, a blister kit and food. Pack cover? Skip it. Chances are, the wind will snatch it away. Instead, keep the contents in plastic bags in case of rain. You can also get away with a day pack when hiking in Argentina’s Fitzroy range, since most trails link to the town of El Chalten. Solar chargers and single-charge units can keep your phone and camera going, though an extra camera battery adds greater insurance. Headlamps are useful in nature, on night buses and at hotels without bedside night lamps.

Camping out

Backpacking requires finding the delicate balance: bring enough to be comfortable but not enough to drag you down. There’s one way to do it: stick to an essential gear list. Prioritize a comfortable, well-fitted pack. Try it on with all the contents and decide what you can live without. Usually that’s an extra change of clothes. In general, it is helpful to have a set of camp clothes and a set of hiking clothes – it’s nice to get into something dry and relatively clean at the end of the day. Also, try to pack a week in advance. Take your loaded pack on a hike. At this point, most people further edit their selections. Invest in a cheap, lightweight duffel to keep your backpack clean on bus rides and prevent luggage belts from chewing up straps.

Restrictions to check before your flight

In Chile, both Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales have banned plastic bags. Bring a couple of small cloth grocery bags for market trips, they can also serve for sorting gear. Ditto for water bottles and coffee thermoses – bring from home and you will carry less guilt.

Blades aren’t allowed in an airplane cabin. A pocket knife with multi-use tools is your best defense against a hunk of cheese or slivers but it belongs in checked luggage. Also, some airlines won’t let you travel with camping stoves, so do some research before buying your ticket. Both camping stove fuel and lighters are no-nos – you can get them when you arrive to regional bases like Punta Arenas, El Chalten or Bariloche.

Because of customs, snacks can also be an issue when you fly. Chile has strict restrictions on food imports in order to protect its robust agricultural industry. They prohibit outside fruit, dairy, and meat, which means no nuts, jerky or dried fruit either. Most of these items can be picked up in country at grocery stores in major cities. Small towns offer a more limited selection. Tostadurias usually offer bulk supply dried fruit and nuts. Energy bars, rehydration tabs or gels can be a harder find, so if you do bring your own supply, be sure to declare all on your customs forms.

Maps and navigation tools

By now you should feel confident about getting on your way. If you are using a GPS app, make sure it will download and store maps. Don’t expect to count on your phone in an emergency. Cell service doesn’t work in most of rural Patagonia. It never hurts to pick up high-quality topo maps in major cities near your destinations.

Gearhead’s guide to surfing Nicaragua

Getting your bearings

Waves break year-round in Nicaragua and are best on the Pacific coast. Experienced riders should time trips according the swell and aim to get here from March through September. San Juan del Sur is the long-time surf capital of Nicaragua, and it has the partying pedigree to show for it. It’s also a good spot to gear up, hire out local tour boats to take you to hard-to-reach breaks and spend a few days cruising the colonial streets. Ironically, there’s only one half-decent break right in town. Unless you’re shelling out for daily boat charters, the real action happens in the little surf colonies north and south of here.

South of San Juan, Playa Remanso has a good beach break for beginners, with Playa Tamarindo just south offering up long left and right breaks. It’s also home to the lovingly playful Playa Hermosa Ecolodge (playahermosabeachhotel.com). On the other hand, you could head north, stopping off first at Playa Maderas and its gnarly reef break. Other worthwhile northern surf spots include Bahía Majagual and Arena Blanca.

If you continue on up the coast, you’ll find consistent waves as long as development doesn’t block your access. Playa Popoyo is the king of surf towns around the Central Pacific Coast, but most areas have local board rentals, surf cabins and schools. The good waves continue all the way up through El Salvador from here.

Bring, buy or rent?

If you really love your stick, bring it down. It can cost anywhere from US$50-200 to do it. The online hub of surf info Magic Seaweed (magicseaweed.com) is a great resource for baggage rates to help plan this out (they have good beta on Nicaragua breaks as well). If you’d rather skip that process, you could consider buying a board when you get here and selling it when you leave. San Juan del Sur and Popoyo are the best spots to buy boards. Rentals are often pretty dinged up, but perfect for beginners. Expect to pay $10-20 per hour (negotiating better rates for weekly rentals).

Picking your board

If you’re just getting started, start with a simple soft-top board. They don’t look as cool as ‘real’ surf boards that are traditionally made with a foam core and fiberglass outer shell. But they are easier to carry to the beach, float you like a mother, and are often cheaper than the glassed boards. They are also really stable, meaning you won’t fall off the board every time a wave rolls through the lineup (and won’t get wacked in the face with a hard edge when you do fall off). Generally, rental shops will have a selection of these ‘sponge’ boards, short and longboards, boogie boards and maybe even a few stand-up paddle boards to rent.

Most beginners will start with a longboard (better for less steep waves), while more advanced riders may move to shorter boards. Bigger, heavier surfers tend to go with a bigger, thicker ride. Funboards are a good option for intermediate riders – all the utility of a longboard with more maneuverability. Fishboards are another option for intermediate riders looking for quick takeoffs, some of the bounce of a short board, but more stability and easier paddles out.

For a fun treat, try a stand-up paddle board. They’re fun even if the waves aren’t breaking. You can unleash your ‘rhino chaser’ – your big wave longboard – on some of the bigger breaks up north. If all else fails, you can rent a boogie board and just play on the beach breaks.

Extra Nicaragua surf essentials

Water temps here are around mid-20oC (75oF) most of the year. This means you probably won’t need or want a wetsuit, but in December to April water temps can drop, making an optional wetsuit top like the Rip Curl Dawn Patrol (ripcurl.com) a good idea. You’ll probably want a rash guard top just in case. Billabong (ballabong.com) has some nice options. We only wish they offered more neon! You can pop one on for long sessions to protect you from the sun.

A good leash is essential to keep the board attached to your foot. Dakine (dakine.com) has a ton on offer. You can bring your favourite surf wax with you – even though they sell it in most spots. Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax (sexwax.com) has been around since 1972 (and you gotta love the name). For first timers, the wax goes on the top of the board to make it more grippy, not the bottom.

Things people often forget to bring are sunscreen – yes, they sell it, but it can be like twice the cost as back home. Bugspray. Ditto for price, plus local quality sucks. Also bring along a pair of long-sleeve pants and a long-sleeve shirt, for bug protection, heading to churches in the colonial villages and looking nice come party night.

Milan’s 7 best spots for an aperitivo

In the shadow of the Duomo

Located right next to the Duomo, Straf Bar is where young fashionistas tend to gather. Don’t feel intimidated though, the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. An extension of the design hotel, the bar resembles a tiny art gallery, but if the weather is good try and join the locals outside on the red sofas.

Where the hip things hang

For something creative, seek out Rita in the vibrant Navigli area, where the bartenders aren’t afraid to get inventive with their ingredients. With a wide selection of spirits arranged like a liquor library behind the bar, a drink can mean anything from a classic Campari-based pick-me-up to a sharp Gin Zen (gin, ginger, sugar and lime cordial). The nibbles change, but expect homemade pizzettas, plump green olives and stacks of vegetable crudités.

The bar that turns back the clock

One of Navigli’s more unique spots, Mag Café sells a remarkable array of cocktails with the drinks menu changing regularly. Inside, it’s all a bitMidnight in Paris as bartenders dressed in braces handcraft extraordinary cocktails, each served in a 1920s-style glass. Try and grab a seat on the small terrace where there are some serene canal-side views.

The bar where it all started

With velvet chairs and polished wooden tables, little has changed sinceBar Basso first introduced the aperitivo to Milan. As bowls of olives and plates of crisps find their way to the tables, smartly dressed bartenders still shake up signature Negroni Sbagliatos under the shimmer of a crystal chandelier. The sparkling cocktail, which comes with a huge hand-cut cube of ice, even has its own glass – a huge goblet known the Colossus.

Something a little stylish

Little brother to the acclaimed Milan bistro Pisacco, Dry strikes the perfect balance between tipples and nibbles with carefully assembled cocktails and pizzas so good they deserve their own restaurant. Michelin-starred chef Andrea Berton is the man behind this stylish idea; wash down the calzone (stewed onions, baked olives in anchovy butter with smoked cheese) with an ever-popular Gin Gin Mule (Tanqueray 10 gin, fresh mint, sharp lime and ginger beer).

A vintage emporium

Close to Porta Romana, Lacerba is an Aladdin’s cave for aesthetes, with bright Fortunato Depero prints adorning the walls and all manner of objects (empty bottles, miniature VW campers, a bike) hanging from the ceiling. Arrive early to get a seat at the low, mismatched tables and try the Bloody Mary, which can be served in eight different ways, including a fiery variation with tequila, yellow pepper and turmeric.

Drink with a biker gang

It can feel like you’re trespassing when you first arrive at the main gate of the Deus Café (deuscustoms.com), but get past the door and you’ll be immediately dragged into a world of motorcycles, bikes and surfboards. A bar, shop and workshop rolled into one, this hip place has a great selection of beers and cocktails and serves a classic selection of finger food and antipasti too.