Monthly Archives: October 2016
Best for luxury: San Marco
The sestiere of San Marco has been the nucleus of Venice for more than a millennium. Many of Venice’s visitors make a beeline for this spot, spend a few hours here, then head for home without staying for even one night. But if you’re looking for luxury, stay around here to make the most of the city’s plushest hotels, the most elegant cafés and the swankiest shops.
Best for architecture and art: Dorsoduro
Some of the finest minor domestic architecture in Venice is concentrated here and the area’s superb collection of galleries makes it the perfect base for art lovers. The Gallerie dell’Accademia is the highlight, but there’s also Scuola Grande dei Carmini and the Guggenheim Collection.
Best for daily Venetian life: San Polo and Santa Croce
The focal points of daily life in San Polo and Santa Croce are the sociable open space of Campo San Polo and the Rialto area, once the commercial heart of the Republic and still the home of a market that’s famous far beyond the city’s boundaries. The bustle of the stalls and the unspoilt bars are a good antidote to cultural overload.
Best for backwaters: Cannaregio
The pleasures of this sestiere are generally more a matter of atmosphere than of specific sights, but you shouldn’t leave Venice without seeing the Ghetto, the first area in the world to bear that name and one of Venice’s most evocative quarters.
Best for culture: Central Castello
Castello’s central building is the immense Gothic church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (or Zanipolo), the pantheon of Venice’s doges. The museums lie in the southern zone – the Querini-Stampalia picture collection, the museum at San Giorgio dei Greci, and the Museo Diocesano’s sacred art collection.
Best for city views: Eastern Castello
Sights are thinly spread in the eastern section of the Castello sestiere, and a huge bite is taken out of the area by the dockyards of the Arsenale, yet the slab of the city immediately to the west contains places that shouldn’t be ignored – the Renaissance San Francesco della Vigna and the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, for example. East of the Arsenale, the entire waterfront offers panoramas of the city.
Wow. Is all you can say when you walk into the huge living room complete with grand piano and double-height, floor-to-ceiling windows. And through the windows you can spy the room’s private, infinity-edge pool against the 180-degree uninterrupted backdrop of Hong Kong’s famous city skyline.
This is the Presidential Suite at the InterContinental, and at 7,000 square foot, it’s the largest suite in Hong Kong.
The bathroom, too, is something else. Firstly, the bathtub complete with countless jets is so big that you could fit a whole Hong Kong Rugby Sevens team in it. It’s also perched right by floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering sweeping views of the city while you bathe. The super–high-tech showers also offer the same stunning view. And then there’s the private steam room and sauna. Oh, and Chanel toiletries.
But it’s the suite’s private pool that has really become an iconic image across the world. And it’s not hard to see why. It’s large for worldwide private villa standards, let alone space-starved Hong Kong standards. Nestled alongside the pool is a private sunbathing area. And to the right, a trellised hangout spot where many-a-celebrity has hosted a luxurious private party.
But if the Presidential Suite is a little out of your budget, the rest of the hotel ain’t too shabby, either. Many of the rooms offer awesome city views, and all include InterContinental’s top-notch customer service.
The hotel’s pool deck is a huge draw. There’s the large main pool surrounded by ample deckchairs, as well as a three-temperature, infinity-edge Jacuzzi pool, which has more of those amazing city views. Sitting in the Jacuzzi pool at 8:00 pm has got to be one of the best places in Hong Kong to watch the city’s nightly laser show – aside from the pool in the InterContinental Presidential Suite, of course.
If after all that swimming you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll be pleased to find that the dining options at InterContinental do not disappoint. There’s acclaimed Japanese restaurant Nobu, Steak House Wine Bar & Grill, and the elaborate buffets at Harbourside.
Atacama Desert, Chile
For an out-of-this-world adventure, look no further than the Atacama Desert in westernChile. With jagged ravines, billowing geysers and arid salt flats, there’s an extra-terrestrial quality to its landscapes that NASA once harnessed to field test Martian rovers. As one of the driest places on the planet, there’s very little in the way of human development surrounding its barren plains. That said, the resulting lack of light pollution makes the sky perfect for stargazing.
Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), Colombia
Deep in the jungle-swathed mountains of Sierra Nevada lies La Ciudad Perdida,Colombia’s fabled ruined city dubbed “the new Machu Picchu”. Built in 800AD by the indigenous Tayrona tribes, it was abandoned following a run-in with Spanish conquistadors and largely forgotten, until looters rediscovered it in the 1970s. You’ll need to make like Indiana Jones if you want to see it for yourself, as the high-altitude trek up involves a three-day trudge through humid cloudforest.
The Gobi Steppe, Mongolia
The Gobi Steppe was once home to some of the largest herds of horses the world has ever seen, and even today there’s barely a trace of human activity. Nomads live here in felt tents called gers, and you can channel your inner Genghis Khan with a ride on a Mongol horse and a hearty bowl of airag (fermented mare’s milk). Head to Ulaanbaatar in July for the Naadam festival, where locals compete in macho sports like wrestling and horseracing.
Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
Set atop volcanic fields, the landscapes of the Tongariro National Park almost seem alive. Vents hiss with gas, scree slopes shift under tumbling rocks and geothermal springs emit thick wafts of sulphur – altogether, the effect is otherworldly. The park is home to New Zealand’s top day-trek, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which makes for a great adventure. You can hike past emerald lakes and steaming craters before reaching Mount Ngauruhoe, which featured as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings.
Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway
Svalbard is one of Europe’s last great wildernesses, an untamed Norwegian archipelago 650 miles from the North Pole, where polar bears outnumber people and stocky reindeer regularly trundle into town. The primary settlement, Longyearbyen, sits high above the Arctic Circle amid rocky crags and ice-clogged fjords. It spends several months of the year in the eerie darkness of the polar night, which is perpetual during this time save for the ethereal glow of the northern lights.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea has stunning snow-capped mountains and jungles teeming with birds of paradise, yet it’s still largely undiscovered. One of the highlights here is attending asing-sing, when local tribes don colourful headdresses in a celebration. Travelling here is tricky due to the lack of infrastructure, so it’s best to take an experienced guide – many tribes speak their own languages and have only recently been in touch with the outside world.
7. Coyhaique, Chile
Coyhaique is in a bit of a no man’s land for visitors to Chile, as it’s just too north of tourist favorite Torres del Paine to make it a viable option for visitors with limited time. However, ditching those plans for a few days or a week in Coyhaique and the surrounding area is a gorgeous alternative. From the town center, bike ride to the nearby national park or rent a car to do away with the reliance on guided tours. Along the drive to Capillas de Marmol, stopping will be a frequent occurrence to photograph the stunning scenery, and it only gets better. Capillas de Marmol is a natural marble structure in a glacial lake, which has been smoothed out by the waves, and boats can navigate through the shallow caves. Get back on the road to see a dead forest rising out of a lake, typical southern Chile cemeteries and a receding glacier, all while enjoying the peace and quiet of an undiscovered place.
6. Montevideo, Uruguay
Carnival is synonymous with Brazil, but it’s actually Montevideo that has the world’s longest Carnival celebration. The 40-day long festivity of course includes fabulous women in headdresses and little else, and also integrates traditional Uruguayan culture. The most famous element is llamadas, the iconic drum parades. In Uruguay, drum groups dress up as magicians, old women or medicine men, and play candombe beats, keeping alive a tradition started with black slaves. The other local custom are muras, or political satires, and judges travel the country to see the performances before crowning the winning troupe at the final parade. Rio’s Carnival may be the biggest, but Montevideo’s is the longest, and since it’s lesser-known, it’s slightly easier to get in on the action.
5. Cordillera Real, Bolivia
Stock up on coca leaves to alleviate the altitude sickness, because the Cordillera Real waits for no complaints of dizziness. Southeast of tourist favorite Lake Titicaca, the sometimes excruciating but always worth it Cordillera is a test of strength, with seven peaks measuring in at above 6,000 meters. Intrepid trekkers will need to hire a guide and bring good equipment. One of the main advantages is the ability to travel at your own pace, soaking in the oversized mountains and glaciers and occasional Quechua villages until you catch your breath, only to have it stolen away again around the next bend.
4. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
Tiny Guyana is often overlooked and vastly underrated, but the lack of infrastructure and a tourist sector puts Guyana squarely on the off the beaten path list. One of the country’s crowning jewels is Kaieteur Falls, an impressive 822-foot high cascade and highest single drop waterfall in the world, in the middle of Kaieteur National Park. Make it a truly memorable and muscle-building experience by taking a week-long trek through the Amazon up to the falls.
3. Panantal Wetlands, Brazil
Split between Paraguay, Bolivia and two Brazilian states, the world’s largest wetland is rich in diverse wildlife and practically untouched by visitors. The immense marsh, which is 80% flooded in the rainy season, hosts rare jaguars, howler monkeys, anacondas and an incredible array of butterflies and birds. With no access roads and no towns, most travel by small airplane and motorboats. Burgeoning cooperation between environmental organizations and cattle ranchers is slowly bringing awareness to the need to preserve this special, absolutely out-of-the-way place.
2. Chuao, Venezuela
Home to some of the world’s best cacao, Chuao overloads the senses with chocolatey smooth finesse. The town is best accessed by boat, as it sits between a mountain and the Caribbean. From the boat it’s an hour’s walk into town, where piles of cacao beans dry in the sun in the main square, and the scent of the finished product wafts from storefronts. The town itself has been widely known for its premium chocolate for centuries, but it still retains a sleepy small-town feel. After playing on the empty beaches, visitors can work off all that sweet tooth indulgence with a two-hour hike in Henri Pittier National Park to the El Chorreron waterfalls.
1. Uribia, Guajira, Colombia
Held from August 16-18 every year in the northeast Caribbean state of Guajira, the Wayúu Cultural Festival showcases the tribe’s rich cultural rituals, folklore, music, food and more. The matriarchal society in has hosted the festival since 1985 and allows visitors to feast on traditional dishes like goat, check out wrestling, horse racing and stone-throwing matches, and see up close how women make their hammocks. Wayúu children also perform their traditions, including weddings, wakes and spiritual celebrations. This is the place to soak up culture with nary another foreigner in sight.
The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne landmark and superb example of heritage architecture, the library is made up of 23 buildings and takes up an entire city block. Building construction started in 1854 and the facility features some of the most breathtaking heritage interiors in Melbourne. Considered by many to be one of the greatest libraries in the world, the State Library houses over two million books, hundreds of thousands of maps, manuscripts and newspapers and a variety of digital material. The works contained in the library reflect Victorian culture over the past 150 years and visitors to the institution can take a free guided tour to learn more about the establishment and its history. One of the highlights of the library is the La Trobe Reading Room, which features a stunning domed ceiling. Tourists can also browse two free permanent exhibitions, one of which features famous bushranger Ned Kelly’s armor and the other a history of books. Visitors can play chess, watch films and admire art — the library is home to three free art galleries.
The Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark
The Royal Library in Copenhagen is a “must-see” destination in Denmark’s capital. Spread over four sites, it is home to almost all known printed Danish works, including the first book that was published in 1482. While Copenhagen boasts many fine buildings, one of the most impressive is the 1999 extension to the Royal Library that’s known as the Black Diamond. With a black marble and glass exterior and a magnificent interior featuring an eight-story atrium with wave-shaped walls and a huge ceiling fresco, this is a visually stunning library. The Black Diamond wing doubled the size of the original Royal Library, and is connected to it by a number of bridges. The architectural masterpiece leans out over a canal and provides beautiful water views and a peaceful place to get lost in the works of Hans Christian Andersen.
The Stuttgart City Library in Stuttgart, Germany
Another library with a simple, modern design that has the feel of an art gallery, the Stuttgart City Library is one of Germany’s premier destinations for book lovers. The library has been designed as an intellectual and cultural center for Stuttgart and features a huge, white, four-story central space called the Heart that represents both the spatial and meditative center of the building. Above this core lies a five-story, pyramid-shaped, atrium reading room. The neutral, white-colored design of the interior is designed to showcase books, and indeed the whole library is a stunning architectural wonder that stands out in the city.
The Central Library in Seattle, Washington
With a design that makes it look more like a classy hotel than a library, the Central Library in Seattle features 11 levels and is made from glass and steel. The modern building opened in 2004 and is divided into eight horizontal layers, each with a varying size to fit a relevant function. The Central Library currently houses over one million itemsand has 9,906 shelves devoted to books — it has a capacity to grow even larger though and will be able to hold 1.45 million books and materials when at capacity.
The Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland
The Trinity College “Old Library” is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Dublin and was first constructed in the 18th century. One of the most beautiful libraries in Ireland, it houses the famous Book of Kells, a gospel manuscript created by Celtic monks around the year 800. The library contains a collection of 200,000 of Trinity’s oldest books and features a distinctive barrel ceiling, marble busts of famous authors and philosophers and a central walkway that spans nearly 200 feet.