Madagascar: Beyond Breathtaking!
By Phumi Nkosi
With the number of countries I’ve visited it's often difficult to identify my Number One destination. I’ve got to say Madagascar is close up there.
The first time I traveled to this amazing country I was introduced to Nosy Be - an island off the northwest coast. From the time you arrive at their small Fascene International Airport you become invigorated by the tropical and warm air.
Nosy Be is originally volcanic, which endows it with crater lakes. This is a sleepy place with sugar cane plantations, rum distilleries, ylang ylang bushes and lounging lemurs.
I was pleased to discover few tourists and friendly locals. I loved the density of the forests, the tranquil calmness of the ocean - ahhhhh take me back please! It is hot and rainy from November to April and less hot and dry from May to October. The ecosystem and beaches make Nosy be an incredible place to visit.
The climate is sunny year-round and Nosy Be caters to those who love water sports - from diving and snorkeling to sailing. For those who love adventure, as I do, there are dirt tracks accessible by foot or quad bikes.
Here are examples of things to do in Nosy Be:
- Nature reserve exploring
- Bars and clubs
- Boat rentals
- Helicopter tours
- Site seeing tours
- Sailing around the islands
- Horseback riding
- Whale watching
This island has incredible resorts and the best part is exploring the nearby islands by boat. Who could possibly say no to island hopping in this paradise? The entire coastline is filled with a great number of gorgeous bays and deserted beaches lined with palm trees. All you have to do is lay down on the lounges under the trees with a cocktail. There are also a number of islets and rocks, which were by far the best part for me as you could visit them if you need some privacy. So if you plan on going with your baby, grab a picnic basket, some bubbly and kiss under the skies.
I always want to know if my destinations have great nightlife - well Nosy Be does not disappoint! You can choose between pool bars, dancing, clubs, pubs in a dense forest. I opted to visit a club that required to be driven by 4x4 for about an hour but I must say - it was worth it!
Try their local restaurants and open markets - and don't forget to indulge in the awesome seafood and local rum.
Definitely an island worth visiting - beyond breath taking!
Happy Savvy traveling
FIVE REASONS YOU MUST GO TO OAXACA CITY IN MEXICO
By Jennifer Jedda
A six hour bus ride away from Mexico City is Mexico’s food and artisan capital of the country, Oaxaca City. It also happens to be as charming as a Mariachi boy band. Having just wrapped up 4 days and 3 nights in this fair city, I have started a list of all its delights.
Here are 5 of them:
I came to Oaxaca to shop for some of the best handicrafts the country has to offer, but was pleasantly surprised that is has the most renowned cuisine in the country as well. I delighted in mole (a dark, complex sauce made with dozens of ingredients – often including chocolate -that takes several days to make), tlayudas (thin Oaxaqueño “pizzas”), mescal (a liquor like tequila but made only in Oaxaca from the rare maguey agave) and tejate (a non-alcoholic maize and cacao beverage traditional to Oaxaca and once the drink of Zapotec royalty). A true foodie heaven.
Casa Oaxaca had a wonderful atmosphere and the meal was delicious, but the best part of all, besides my bottomless glass of wine, was meeting another solo traveler from NYC. We spent the better part of the evening sharing our crazy Oaxaca travel tales. He, Michael, was also nice enough to stay with me when I was locked out of my hotel at midnight (the doorman fell asleep ).
Shopping until I dropped was definitely part of the plan, and Oaxaca didn’t disappoint. The town itself has many colorful markets full of artisan work that is prized around the world plus there is a variety of shops that showcase artists’ works from the surrounding villages. Colorfully painted wooden figures of real and surreal animals called alebrijes brighten shop windows as well as vibrant swaths of finely embroidered textiles and traditional rugs. My favorite part was hunting for the popular filigree jewelry made of .925 silver and gold that was worn as part of the original Tehuana attire (also Frida Kahlo’s attire of choice). A highlight was visiting the taller of an artisan and his father who are recognized nationally for their filigree talent. They allowed me in their modest workshop for a glimpse into the painstaking and exacting work they do on a daily basis. The results are incredible, beautiful and completely one of a kind (some of the pieces will be in the shop soon!).
Hiking the Sierra Madres
Feeling a bit of concrete fever from all my big city hopping, I found the best hike and bike tour company in town, Zapotrek, to get me out into the countryside for some fresh air and exploration.
My guide, Eric, selected a 13km hike in a region known as “Pueblos Mancomunados” – a community project made up of six towns connected by hiking and biking trails. The views of the Sierra Madres during the hike were remarkable and I was able to learn much of the history of the native Zapotec culture. My $110 all day tour included pick-up, breakfast in one of the villages, snacks, water, traditional lunch in an other village and an incredibly informed guide who loves his culture and wants to share it. It was definitely the best value tour I have ever been on and, above all, a wonderful day.
Eric was particularly interesting to me not only because he is a native Zapotec, but because his story includes being smuggled into the USA as a child in 1989. His dad was unable to support his family of 6 on Mexican wages so he put his faith in the fabled land of opportunity and found a “coyote” to get them across the border into California illegally. Eric’s family did indeed prosper in the USA, but the plan was always to return home. In 2004, as an adult, Eric recrossed the border back into Mexico. He appreciates his time in America and the education he received, but his passion is his homeland, teaching tourists about his rich culture and striving to improve his community by creating job opportunities through his small business. He is a true success story and a tribute to two great nations.
I couldn’t recommend Eric and Zapotrek more! When in Oaxaca be sure to take one of his wonderful day or multi-day trips. It will likely be the highlight of your stay.
Culture and History
Oaxaca is the most diverse and indigenous region of Mexico, and it was a treat to see the women of the different regions in their traditional garments as well as sometimes hear the different dialects.
Unlike other parts of Mexico, the pre-columbian Oaxaca never assimilated into Aztec or Mayan rule, but instead was governed from mighty Monte Albán. It was the pre-eminent Zapotec socio-political and economic center for over a thousand years (500 B.C. to 750 A.D.). While I never went to see these nearby ruins, I did enjoy witnessing the ornate treasures that were discovered in its “Tomb #7” back in the 1930s. Those and many other artifacts and historical information is found at the Museo Regional de Oaxaca.
People are always the heart and soul of any destination, and Oaxaca introduced me to some of its finest. From my exceptional guide, Eric, to my patient hotel staff who upgraded me into their largest suite after I voiced my concern of feeling over-exposed on the ground level to my new friend, Pablo, who surprised me at the bus station to say goodbye, I was always treated like a Zapoteca princess.
After my Sierra Madre hike, Eric took me to a small village to see a 2000 year old tree famous for its trunk size (it circumference is equivalent to 35 men holding hands in a circle). While he headed to the bathroom he grabbed one of the nino guias to practice their English with me by pointing out animal figures that are created by the branches and bark. Jesus, with his laser pointer took me around the tree periodically stopping to point out, “Elephant. Do you see it?” Usually as I would start to say, “Well, I am not…” he would say, “Let’s go!” and laser point to the next animal. “Dolphin. Do you see it? Let’s go.” I believe I only was able to decipher 50% of the animals…however, I did finally decipher that Jesus did not really know English. He just was taught the words of the animals, a question he didn’t really care to know the answer to and “Let’s go.” He can do the same in French.
If you need more reasons to visit Oaxaca, I got them too…but this should be enough to whet the appetite. Well, maybe the grasshoppers didn’t, but the rest should.
Vaya con Dios!
Visit Jennifer Jedda's blog at www.onegirlsadventures.com
Where you Jetting off to this Summer?............ A la Cote D'Azur!
By Alana Amber
With the close of Cannes Film Festival and Grand Prix Monaco just a few weeks ago, the high summer season has just sparked in the South of France. Yaaayyy! I have been over here in Europe for a few weeks now and figured I ‘d share some of the thoughts on the region. I’ve been going to the French Riviera or as the French say “Cote d Azur” for a few years in the spring and summer. I actually lived in Cannes a few years back. Now I just go in the spring or summer. There are many different exotic towns in the Riviera for everyone to enjoy. I personally looove Cannes! Its such a gorgeous quaint town with a mix of cosmopolitan luxury and high glamour. Being a New York City girl with a home in Miami, Cannes is a sure mixture of sun and beach fun as well as an amazing destination for restaurants, shopping and partying! My other personal favorites are Monaco and St. Tropez. I also love Antibes, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and Villefranche Sur Mer.
Antibes for its historical Picasso Museum, Fort Carre’ d’Antibes and local restaurants. The boat port, 16th-century ramparts and narrow cobblestone streets festooned with flowers, lovely Antibes is the quintessential Mediterranean town. Make sure to stay at Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, the home of many fancy galas such as the Amfar Gala during the Cannes Film Festival. This hotel was made popular by guests Elizabeth Taylor, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. As a young adult, John F. Kennedy summered here, hence the namesake of the winding road leading up to the resort. Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and Villefranche Sur Mer are neighboring towns with a natural harbor separating the two. If you are up for a long walk you can visit both in one day. Start the day eating a fromage pizza for an early lunch at one of the seafront restaurants in historical Villefranche Sur Mer, then head to the pebbly beach for a quick dip or relaxing stroll along the shore. Then head up the rocky staircase toward Saint Jean Cap Ferrat to view the beautiful hilltop villas. The pink Rothchild mansion is there and open to the public. If your tired by now, take the bus down to Sean Jean Cap Ferrat port for an evening dinner. The area contains quaint French towns, sparkling Mediterranean beaches and a host of natural wonders; it is well known in international circles as the playground of the rich and famous.
Here are some tips to keep in mind before embarking on the world renown party scene of the South of France…
The South of France contains the legendary French Riviera, known for its pristine beaches. This area of France is also known for being a celebrity travel destination. Visitors are advised that traveling through this region is very expensive.
Cannes, the home of the Cannes Film Festival brings thousands of visitors but the high season starting in late June brings tons more. Cannes is known for its resorts and beachfront hotels. If you like the more city feel, stay in the Intercontinental Carlton Hotel or Hotel Martinez. I used to live in a beachfront apartment off Avenue Dr Raymond Picaud. Every morning I would wake up to the sight of a blue Mediterranean Sea through the floor to ceiling glass wall and would have my morning tea and croissant on my balcony. On a relaxed day I would take a dip in the pool underneath my balcony, or walk through the gardens of flowers to the beach and have prosciutto, cheese and wine as I watched locals fish off the nearby sea rocks and nude sunbathers catch some breeze. I would take trips to a different town each day along the Cote D’ Azur and party in the Casino, Gotha Nightclub or Le Baoli.
Nice is a much larger town then Cannes or Antibes. In Nice, guests find four miles of uninterrupted beaches covered with huge rocks and pebbles. I personally do not prefer this beach, its quite uncomfortable to walk - never mind sunbathe. The city of Nice has a more city feel, I prefer Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and other neighboring towns of Nice. I had such a crazy experience in Nice. I was rushing back to the train station one evening and the train had left 3 minutes earlier. OMG! I missed my train back to Cannes and the next train was not until 6 am the next morning! I had to walk around the city all night. I had to protect myself from men who mistook me for a prostitute. I could see how I could be mistaken as I saw scantily clad transvestites leave a customer’s car and promptly pull his dress up and relieve himself standing up. I would have taken a picture but I did not want to get beat up. I took the picture as they walked down the block.
Monaco is a city state. France borders the country on three sides while the other side borders the Mediterranean Sea. Also another playground for the rich & famous. Monte Carlo for me was like a weekend hangout mainly Fridays and Saturdays. I love to hangout at the Buddha Bar for amazing drinks and tasty sushi or dinner at Nobu in the Fairmont Monte Carlo Hotel. Twiga or Jimmy’z are great clubbing spots. Twiga is a cavernous club opening into the sea. A lot of people who stay in nearby yachts take small speed boats to enter the club from the club’s dock. Ive done it! Jimmy’z is a staple and a late late night club. You can leave there well into the morning when the sun has already been up for hours. On some weekends I would have lunch at the chic and stylish see-and-be seen Café de Paris with my Italian playboy friends and then watch them bet at the baccarat table in Casino Monte Carlo.
Explore the town of St. Tropez, located on an inlet of the Mediterranean Sea. Mega-yachts pack into the harbor, Maseratis, Ferraris and Bentleys prowl the cobbled streets, gazillionaires arrive by helicopter at music-pounding beach clubs, and Middle East royals and Asian industrialists shell out tens of thousands of dollars on Champagne in celebrity-packed nightclubs. Many of the jet setters stay in Hotel Ermitage. If you prefer to party during the day while catching a tan, head to La Plage de Pampelonne hotspots Club55 and Nikki Beach-St.Tropez. Port Grimaud is a must see destination for a day trip or an evening dinner. Built with channels in a Venetian manner, Port Grimaud mainly a traffic free town is popular with boat owners & is known as the “Venice of the South of France.” You can take a boat ride during high season late into the evening to get back to St. Tropez just in time for a party at Les Caves du Roy, VIP Room. Graniers, one of St. Tropez’s most popular beaches, features beach-side playgrounds, shallow waters for new swimmers and a family surf beach. Visitors from America must realize that many French beaches are nude or topless.
The south of France contains several cities perfect for the urban explorer. Marseille, located in the heart of Provenance, features some of the oldest architecture outside of Paris. Known for its terracotta roofed buildings, Marseille blends classic French culture with that of nearby North Africa. Must-see Marseille attractions include Algerian-style bazaars, the Musee des Docks and the Cathedral of the Major. Carcassonne features architecture echoing the medieval history of this French city.
Those are some of the hot-spots along the Cote D’ Azur . There is many more places to visit along the Riviera. Happy Summer !
One Night in London
By Kiran Gill
We started the evening with a walk to Oxford Street. Plans were fluid as we had no specific restaurant in mind - other than it needed to be chic and atmospheric. As luck would have it, my friend was wearing incredibly high high-heels so that needed to be taken into consideration. I’m a big time foodie but ambiance, people and location are mandatory for me to have a full experience, especially on a Saturday night in London!
Our senses served us well. We stumbled upon a family-owned, North African Moroccan restaurant called Ayoush. It has two levels, with the upstairs serving coffee, drinks and sheesha. The Ground Floor level is the main dining room - very beautiful, cozy, lively and exuberant. It features Moroccan decor and is dimly lit.
We arrived at approximately 7:30 pm and the host said they were fully booked for the evening and that if we wanted to dine we would have to eat upstairs. I didn’t know what the dining room looked liked so I asked to see it anyway - even though we were told that we would not be accommodated. I insisted on seeing it, the host was not pleased with me. It's a good thing I did because the bartender saw us looking around and instructed the host to seat us at the bar (which apparently is not done at this restaurant).
By 9:30, two hours after our arrival, the place was packed. The DJ had arrived and a belly dancing show commenced at 10pm.
Here is a lesson in tenacity! We had promised to leave by 10pm because the host didn’t like that we were staying downstairs and that we were going against convention and eating at the bar. Thank goodness the bartender was awesome and gracious: we ended up trying every drink he made, lingering until 10:30. The bartender took a mixologist approach to all the drinks, making them very current and trendy. All were made with the finest ingredients, with us occupying a front seat to it all. At some point I also became a bartender assistant!
As for food, I had the Chicken Tagine and my friend the Lamb Tagine. Amazing! Very flavourful and tender, I also ordered a side of Moroccan vegetable rice and we shared the calamari.
Next, we headed to the nearby and iconic Sanderson Hotel, on Berners Street, with its famed Long Bar. The crowd was mixed, the service good and prompt, the drinks were tasty but pricey - but worth the experience.
After this we stumbled across the street to, what I now call, the sexiest bar. I loved it! Berners Tavern at the London Edition - with its ornate ceiling, captivating back-lit bar and art. I had a glass of chardonnay and Judy had a cocktail, which she described as really good and strong! (Berners is presided over by London's own, Michelin starred Executive Chef Jason Atherton. It features a "contemporary British menu).
One night in London - unforgettable!
Visit Kiran's blog about fashion, food and all the things she is passionate about: Baroque Beauty
The 'Silicon Valley' of India
By Claire Korionoff
Bangalore! They call it the “Silicon Valley of India” – but Bangalore has so much more to offer than just office buildings. Corporate conglomerates can be found here such as Dell, Convergus and Bosch – as well as visiting businessman who frequent this city to enjoy some of the most luxurious hotels in the world.
The Leela Palace is considered a seven-star (yes, seven!) hotel in India. It is about 1.5 hours from the Bengaluru Airport. How does one really gauge a top notch hotel? How about a Menu for pillows? Hard, soft, flat, down? Almost everything is served on a silver platter – when I say everything – I mean tea, towels, money exchange. Bathrooms are made of marble. There are staff at the entrance of the gym that present you with a towel and a bottle of water when you walk through the door. Already impressed? Well – try losing your luggage. A traveller called the front desk to advise that his airline lost his luggage and would they please point him to the nearest pharmacy. He wanted to buy deodorant, a shaver and shaving cream. The front desk gave him the information and – within minutes – all the toiletries he was looking for – on no less than a silver platter. Additionally – the traveler presented the paperwork for his lost luggage to the front desk and they called the airlines on his behalf (that’s right – your own riot crew) to follow up on the status.
The Leela Palace – 360 (what is around the hotel circumference – ie 360 is the abbreviation)
Restaurants – CITRUS – this restaurant offers international cuisine such as Italian and American dishes. If your Asian tastebuds are yearning for a workout – ZEN restaurant has Dim Sum, Thai Dishes and Sushi. Of course – delectable home grown Indian food is also offered at JAMAVAR. Leelas also has a cigar bar and a cake shoppe for your sweet tooth.
The Palace of Mysore – Mysore, India
Also known as the Amba Vilas Palace – The Palace is about three hours drive from Bangalore and situated in the city of Mysore in southern India. There is a cave style restaurant in the city of Mysore and some of the most majestic, ornate rooms found in the Palace. One side note – you cannot take pictures inside the palace as it is forbidden. There is beautiful old banyan trees and old churches to see in Mysore; if you love history and architecture those are worth seeing.
Bharachukki Falls – Karnataka, India
The falls are approximately a two-hour drive from Bangalore. There are two falls to see (although the bigger one was closed upon the visit in January). The Gaganachukki and Bharachukki Falls are twin water falls, Gagana Chukki (90 metres) and Bhara Chukki (69 metres), located near Shivanasamudra in Malavalli, Mandya,Karnataka, India. You can wade in the water and feel the exhilaration of the refreshing cold water after a long walk in the sun.
Dealio (great shopping deals in the country - either indigenous to the country or offered very cheap): What are some of the best deals in India? I have three: Silk, Saffron, Jewelry. Lots of markets that offer great spices, beautiful bracelets, earrings and necklaces, Silk Scarves for women; cotton shirts for men. Chanel and Gucci and more high end stores are also found in Bangalore if you need to get your "Designer" Fix.
Enchanting Bequia: 'Island of Clouds'
By Sasha Exeter
Bequia (pronounced Bek-Way), which means “Island of Clouds” is the largest of the islands in the Grenadines – a string of islands that stretch roughly 60 miles between St. Vincent and Grenada. The island is only 7 square miles with a population of around 4,300 and is relatively quiet for the majority of the year, with the exception of the annual International Easter Sailing Regatta, which draws visitors and yachtsmen from all over the world during that long weekend.
If you’re looking for nightclubs and casinos, sorry this is NOT the place for you. Local officials are so keen on keeping the island water clean and free of unnecessary noise pollution, you won’t find jet-skis or sea-doo’s speeding around the harbours as they are banned. I always refer to the destination as a location for the “well-heeled” traveler (no pun intended) as it’s very far off the beaten travel path, doesn’t have any commercial flights coming in and out of the airport or any gargantuan all-inclusive hotels. But what you can expect is extreme luxury, privacy and some of the warmest people you will ever meet in your life.
A few friends and I shacked up with my parents in their 12,000 sqft rental digs, Amitabah Villa, overlooking Lower Bay which included a tennis court, gym, infinity pool, pool table, six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, full house staff including butler, maid, chef and house manager. During our family vacays we usually steer towards renting private villas rather than staying in hotels. To be honest, once you have a good villa experience, its so hard to go back to hotels. I really enjoy the enhanced privacy of villa life and love that whatever you want to do is on your own terms.
Booking a villa in Bequia is a lot easier and sometimes can be cheaper, than what you may think. In my opinion, I can’t think of a better type of accommodation when traveling with a group of people. You can find plenty of options for any budget ranging from as low as $1,500 to $20,000 per week. The best variety of property choices can be found on www.grenadinevillas.com and www.grenadine-escape.com.
Although we enjoyed fresh and delish food prepared by the villa chef, its always nice to venture into town to experience some local food and restaurants. Jack’s Bar has always been a favourite of my family. It sits on the water at Bequia’s most famous beach, Princess Margaret, where many yachtsmen anchor their boats and the view is beyond amazing. The architecture is really unique and open with no walls enclosing the space and a makeshift ceiling made to resemble the sails on a boat. Open day and night, its offers an extensive menu with Mediterranean influences. Although a bit on the pricey side, they have the best burgers around and the beach side eating and drinking, doesn’t get any better than this.
Another foodie fave during this trip was the Thursday night Frangi BBQ and Jump Up at the Frangipani Hotel, Restaurant and Bar. Their phenomenal buffet features your choice of either an 8 oz striploin steak or fish with unlimited sides that literally seem to go on for miles. Make sure to try Frangi’s famous lime pie. The recipe has been a guarded secret for over 35 years…if you have a sweet tooth you would definitely appreciate the smoothest limey filling, fluffiest of meringue and it’s mouthwatering shortbread crust. I am 100% certain I left that evening a type-two diabetic after eating multiple slices. The buffet is more than reasonably priced at just $35 USD/person. Reservations for dinner are required.
So people keep asking me what the highlight of the trip was and without second guessing it, it had to be taking the group on a 60ft catamaran on a sailing trip through the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines. The Cays, pronounced Keys, is an archipelago of five small islands sheltered behind a horseshoe reef…far from civilization and only accessible by sea - meaning it is never overrun by an influx of annoying tourists. Our friends and owners of Fantasea Tours, Kim and Earl Halbich, took us to our first stop which was in Canouan. I swear it has the whitest of sand and the bluest water known to man. We then proceeded to eat, swim, drink copious amounts of rum punch and dance on our very own private beach for the day - Salt Whistle Bay. Fantasea Tours has always done a superb job with private chartered land/sea tours and have a variety of boats to suit any need; a 28 ft Bowen, 38ft Bowen, 42 ft custom built snorkel/dive boat and of course the 60 ft power catamaran.
If you’re heading to Bequia or any other island in the Grenadines, this is an experience that cannot be missed. One would think that after traveling to the island so many times, the novelty would eventually wear off for me, but let me tell you, the views never get old and to be able to experience it with people who are seeing it for the first time during this trip, made it that much more exciting.
How to get there
Due to the size of the island and its teeny tiny airport, commercial airlines cannot fly directly into Bequia and must connect through Barbados – this is probably the only reason why this island is still lush and untouched. Most airlines from North America and Europe fly to Barbados and you will need to purchase connecting flights on www.mustiqueairways.com. Just a heads up, because Mustique Airlines is a tiny operation, your travel agent will not be able to book you straight through to Bequia and will have to be booked separately on their website. There are only two flights that depart Barbados each day for Bequia and really only one that makes sense for connecting passengers. If you are traveling with a group of people, it actually makes sense to do a private charter. Mustique Airways has aircraft that can accommodate 9-19 passengers for private charters.
This was no doubt a trip of a lifetime for myself and everyone who joined me. It is forever etched in our memories…see you next year Bequia! Big thanks to Fantasea Tours, the entire house staff at Amitabah villa and Grenadine Villas. For more information on Bequia and the Grenadines, head to www.discoversvg.com.
This is an abridged version of an article that first appeared on www.SoSasha.com
Historic, Charming, Visitor-Friendly
After many visits to western Ukraine's most popular destination over the years, it is not difficult to explain why we love the city of Lviv. Charming cafes, many pedestrian-only streets, astounding architecture and beautiful churches, hospitable people and sumptuous food are just some of the reasons.
Judging by the multitude of languages we hear on the streets these days it is clear that word about Lviv is getting out. In recent visits we overheard tourists chatting away in Polish, Russian, German and Turkish. With its cobblestone streets, neighbourhoods seeped in history and amazing cuisine, many people say current-day Lviv is what Prague used to be like in the 1990s. Yet here you will find, thanks in part to a progressive city administration and just plain, old civic pride, an innovative spirit that has sprung charming boutique hotels, world-class restaurants, eclectic bars and cafes - all at a fraction of the cost of popular destinations in western Europe!
The centre of the city is anchored by the historic Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet (built in the late 1800s), which serves as the terminus of the wildly-popular main boulevard, itself bordered by the statue of the Ukrainian poet and bard, Taras Shevchenko. Lviv is a city for wandering: many of the narrow streets emanating from the centre lead you to undiscovered gems such as quaint wine bars and pastry shops with shelves groaning under piles of sweet delicacies that bring back visions of Vienna - apple strudel anyone?. In fact, Lviv's coffee culture is alive and well, with no lack of delightful sidewalk cafes (great for people watching) and popular kavarnyas such as Svit Kavy (6 Katydralnya Square). Lvis is for chocolate-lovers too - and a local enterprise is now opening outlets in other major centres of Ukraine. Lviv Handmade Chocolate can be found in Lviv at Serbska, 3.
Even we are challenged to shortlist our favourite eateries in Lviv, as the choices are endless. One place we do try to fast for as long as possible before visiting, is the curiously-names Meat and Justice (Перша львівська грильова ресторація м'яса та справедливости). Hidden away behind the Church of St. Andrew the First Called, you will find a covered terrace where you can get your fill of grilled meat and beer in a medieval torture room setting. There's even a small chamber which carries miscreants to a basement room. On Staroyevreiska (near Serbska) you will fine at least two wine bars that produce their own wines and serve platters of meat and cheese - a superb way to start an evening! Speaking of food, the Veronica Confectionery and Restaurant (Shevchenka, 21) is regarded by locals and visitors alike as a landmark: if anything, come here to sample some of its mouth-watering pastries.
In this city of churches, do make time to visit St. George's Cathedral (Собор святого Юра) - a baroque-rococo cathedral constructed between 1744-1760 on a hill overlooking the city. This is the third manifestation of a church to inhabit the site since the 13th century. During 19th and 20th centuries, the cathedral served as the mother church of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (Eastern Rite Catholic).
Getting to Lviv has become much, much easier since the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament, when major infrastructure upgrades were made in Ukraine - including a gleaming new airport terminal and high-speed rail link connecting Lviv with Kyiv. Taxis are cheap and the trams are a wonderful way to see the city. We even spotted a foot-propelled tram that seats about a dozen people and serves cold beer! The tournament also widened Lviv's accommodation choices and one of our favourites - not least because of the on-site wine bar - is the Vintage Hotel on Serbska and in the heart of the historic city centre. Vintage is a boutique hotel, housed in a renovated historic buildings with 29 rooms - and extremely friendly and professional staff. The regional hotel chain, Reikarz, has a property on Horodotskoho near the central train station, which is very clean, efficient and affordable. And you cannot get any closer to the action than a small boutique hotel on Rynok Square - Площа Ринок - (opposite City Hall) called On the Square Guest House. It happens to be on the second floor of the same building housing one of our favourite bars, Kryjvka. Lviv even has late night venues - such as Fashion Club facing Prospekt Svobody, complete with a dance floor, separate bar lounge and beautiful people.
Zambia: The Real Africa
By Muloongo Muchelemba
I've invited my San Francisco-based, tech savvy and well-travelled mentor, Mike Rose, to visit Zambia next year and have the seemingly impossible task of justifying why my sleepy, Third World birth country is worth the long trip.
Zambia has the unfortunate luck of being so close to South Africa - Johannesburg is two hours away - that it sets the expectation that Sandton's chic shopping, trendy bars & restaurants and urban sprawl extend across to other southern African cities. Sadly, no. For many years, Zambia's tourism slogan was ‘the real Africa’ because that is what we offer: African culture; unspoiled, natural habitat for wild life; and the crown jewel - the mighty Victoria Falls.
My top five things to do in Zambia are:
1. Whistle stop tour of the capital, Lusaka
The entry point for many visitors is the capital city, Lusaka, which is serviced by international carriers such as British Airways, KLM, Kenya Airways, Emirates, Ethiopian Airways, South African Airways, among others; with direct flights from major hubs in London, Dubai and Amsterdam. A whistle-stop tour of Lusaka is all that is required as a prominent columnist, @spectatorkalaki, remarked recently: "100 years ago Lusaka started as a village. It still is."
Lusaka offers fascinating insights into life in an urban African city. From the latest Range Rovers and Toyota VXs to overcrowded commuter buses, there are now more cars than people on the potholed roads and traffic jams will soon rival that of Lagos and Nairobi. A visit to Lusaka is best done at the weekend to avoid the traffic. Any itinerary should include a drive around the city to glimpse our few tourist attractions: the Freedom statute on Independence Avenue which is the centre of many national events; Findeco House which is the tallest building in Zambia with just 23 floors and has the dubious hint of a tilt; the Central Business District, where street gawkers sell everything from clothes (even wedding dresses) to food and stolen electronics; and the markets, particularly the Donchi Kubeba (translated as 'Don't tell’) market which the Government has deliberately turned a blind eye to despite being constructed next to a railway track.
My favourite eating place is Sugar Bush farm, which is perfect for Sunday lunch and popular with expats and locals with lots of space for children and pets to play. Run by an English couple who settled in Zambia, customers can browse through their leather goods store offering everything from weekend bags to jewellery and is a good place to pick up quality gifts for friends. Other popular places to hang out include Portico on Friday nights which has live music and a good local/ expat crowd (30s and over). Among the famous people who have been to Portico and whose pictures are proudly displayed at the entrance is my fellow Rhodes Scholar, Bill Clinton. Portico allows you to smoke your shisha but if you don't carry your own, always good to Chicago at Manda Hill shopping mall which has great music and is more popular with the 20 something set. A weekend should also include a game drive at one of two popular spots: Chaminuka, located in Lusaka East, near the Airport, offers lunch and game drives. Chaminuka is owned by Andrew Sardanis, the former CEO of Meridien BIAO, whose demise was the Lehman of its day.
After a weekend in Lusaka, its best to head out of town.
2. The Victoria Falls
When David Livingstone first saw the crown jewel of Zambian tourism on 16 November 1855, he described it as "... scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight" and named the Falls after the British Queen Victoria. The locals call the Victoria Falls by its local name Mosi-oa-Tunya or the Smoke that thunders which best describes the Falls at its most intense in April. Following the rainy season (December-March), the Zambezi river is swollen and discharges 1.5 million litres of water per second at its peak. The jaw dropping experience includes hearing that volume of water tumbling down 108m (the tallest falls in the world) and getting completely drenched as the mist envelopes you in all of nature's wonder and rainbows adorn the skies.
June is a good time to visit for many Western tourists - the falls are still spectacular though less intense and the weather is cooler which is perfect for walking across to the Zimbabwean side. Victoria Falls town across the border is a must see: from the crocodile farm to the Baobab tree that's over 1,500 years old, a quick one hour of the town can be completed with a drink on the terrace of the amazing Victoria Falls hotel.
To my surprise, I found a different take on the Victoria Falls when I spent my birthday weekend last November in Livingstone. Unlike April, there is nothing more than a trickle of water on the Zambian side as the Zambezi river water is diverted to power generation. The Falls resemble the Grand Canyon - allowing you to admire the rock formation and walk across the Falls if you're brave enough. The dry season is also the best time to see wildlife as the animals are drawn to the river.
The Falls are spectacular all year round!
3. Zambezi rapids
The Victoria Falls and Zambezi river now offer more than just tourism: from sports to festivals, the potential of Livingstone grows each year. One of the biggest event is Zambezi Man. Elite sports men and women descend on the Victoria Falls to take part in a three day event that involves water rafting 50km on the first day, a mountain bike race of just under 100km on the second day and a trail-run of approximately 35km on the third day.
The other big event is the Zambezi International Regatta which showcases crews from Oxford, Cambridge and South African universities. Brown university participated in 2007. Not quite the Thames and Boat race but nonetheless offering much needed excitement! The race has recently been reborn and I hope it becomes a regular feature bringing more crews to Zambia.
Lastly, as part of the David Livingstone bicentenary celebrations, Livingstone played host to an International Cultural Arts Festival in June 2013 with the street carnival featuring dancers from Zambia, the UK, Zimbabwe and the Seychelles.
4. South Luangwa National Park
Call me patriotic but I do believe that South Luangwa national park is one of the best in the world and gives Masai Mara and Sabi Sabi a run for their money. Covering an area of 9,050 square kilometres, this national park offers guided walking safaris and sights of Giraffes, elephants, leopards, lions, hyenas, buffaloes, zebra, wildebeest, crocodiles and hippos. It offers over 60 different animal species and over 400 different bird species. The national park is so spectacular that it was the location of the former presidential retreat - Zambia's Camp David - which is now one of the best lodges in Zambia, Chichele Presidential lodge. The best time to visit is between June to September though the closer it is to the dry season the better it is to see the wildlife. I'm spending my birthday there this November.
5. Kuomboka ceremony
Kuomboka means "to get out of water" and refers to a traditional ceremony the Lozi people of Western province hold at the end of the rainy season (typically in March or April) when the Lozi King, also known as the Litunga, makes his annual pilgrimage from his summer palace in flood plains of the Zambezi River to his winter place on higher ground. The ceremony is preceded by heavy drumming of the royal Maoma drums, which echoes around the royal capital the day before Kuomboka, announcing the event. The King's state barge is called Nalikwanda and is painted black and white, like Zambia's coat of arms. On the barge is a replica of a huge black elephant, the ears of which can be moved from inside the barge. There is also a fire on board, the smoke from which tells the people that the king is alive and well.
Zambians have a reputation in the region for being friendly and peaceful people. It is this warm hospitality that will welcome you and yours to our beautiful land.
Muloongo Muchelemba is a proud Ambassador for her birth country Zambia despite a nomadic upbringing as a diplomat's child living in the UK, Belgium, Italy, Japan and Mozambique. She recently returned to Zambia after studying and working in the UK for 10 years where she explored her passion for travelling and has visited over 25 countries around the world. Her dream job would be to showcase the beauty of Africa in a television series similar to Inside Luxury travel with Varun Sharma. But for now, she works as a Corporate Banker by day whilst pursuing her dream of writing and starting her own marketing business.
Sardegna: A Rustic Side of Italy
Little known, little explored and with no tourist crowds. Just over an hour by air from Milano and Roma, Sardegna is a destination that offers spectacular uncrowded beaches, friendly locals, low costs, and great food and wine. The average cost for accommodation and dining are far lower than major destinations on the mainland. However be prepared to have some basic knowledge of Italian if visiting smaller towns. Some of the best eateries and lodging options appear in no tourist books.
If the high-end Costa Smerelda in the north or Cagliari in the south are too congested, try basing yourself in the centrally-located and very quaint town of Guspini.
Within 20-50 minutes you of Guspini you can reach ancient ruins of the Phonecians, Romans, castles, nuraghi, tombs of the gigantic, and tombs of the fairies; there are wonderful hiking and trekking in the mountains with beautiful terrain and waterfalls, Add to that streams, rock formations and magnificent views. The close proximity to Costa Verde and wonderful unspoiled and not crowded beaches are very much some of the best kept secrets in Sardegna. And along the beaches – Torre del Corsari has a lovely long beach area and small sand dunes for hiking and views from the top. Beautiful beaches are found in and around Capo Pecora, Buggerru, Marina di Arbus, Porto Palma, and the famous beach and sand dunes of Picinias – one of the largest, if not the largest, in Europe !
Historical buffs will find pleasure in exploring the some 7,000 Nuraghi - hilltop fortresses built from the middle of the Bronze Age (18th-15th centuries BC) to the Late Bronze Age. Some historians claim the Nuragic civilization produced the most advanced and monumental architecture of the period in the western Mediterranean. Some are in good condition, but many are decayed almost beyond recognition. The nuraghi lend the landscape an aura of archaic melancholy, in which all attempts at progress seem out of place.
One of the largest uncovered sites is Il Nuraghi “Su Nuraxi” – located in Barumini, about 35 minutes from Guspini and about 45 minutes from Cagliari. This site is centered around a three-story tower built around 1500s BC. This site was recently made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Nuraghi Losa stands in peaceful timelessness on a small rocky eminence just a few dozen yards from the noise and frenzy of the traffic on the Carlo Felice superstrata below.
Near Torre Grande (Oristano) the ruins of Tharros draw many tourists. The complex is open after lunch in and late into the day in summer. A snack bar is available for drinks and also has clean lavatories. A stroll to the top of the nearby hill at sunset is a must! Rumour has it that more ruins are buried under the sea - an invitation to snorkeling buffs in summer.
- Destination notes by Karen Wheelhouse
Tip: Ryan Air, EasyJet and other discount carriers fly directly to major cities in the north of Sardegna - a fast and affordable link for travellers originating or flying through the UK and other major European hubs.
Tip: Try locally-made wines in Sardegna. Our favourite are the reds, most of which are organic and low in sulphates. Many locals buy wine in enormous plastic jugs! Wild boar is popular on the island - try it with pasta!
Sunset Hill Resort in Thailand's Magical Koh Phangan
By Zehra Fattah
Arriving at Koh Samui airport, I could straight away feel the island’s atmosphere. The airport reminded me of a little deserted cottage. Accompanied by the soft music in the background, I am ready for my vacation.
Even though, considering the size of the airport, I was able to find everything I was looking for. In just a few moments after arriving, I managed to arrange a taxi to the port. A short while after, I was already on Thailand's most famous ferry, the Lomprayah overlooking the Gulf of Thailand). The moment the ferry arrived in Koh Phangan, I got into a taxi with 3 other travellers: sharing rides is apparently very common on this island. Driving through the suburbs of Koh Phangan, I could already get a feel for this island, so tranquil. After a 25 minute car ride, my stop was the last one, and I finally arrived at the resort that I was so curious to see.
Based upon a hill, surrounded by mountains and greenery, this resort already exceeds my expectations when entering it. I must admit that thanks to my intuition and (Trip Advisor of course), I usually make the right choices when booking a hotel, and this time again, I am happy that I trusted my gut feeling. Actually, it is some kind of relief I still feel every time I travel to a new place. My first impression at the reception is very positive as the receptionist welcomes me with a very warm smile and genuine Thai hospitality. She offers me a fresh ginger drink while she explained the hotel facilities to me.
Upon entering the "Ocean View apartment", I have to stop for a moment to admire the beauty of the view. It had a large balcony overlooking the ocean. Breathtaking was the only word that came to mind!
Tastefully furnished with dark wooden floors and furniture, beautiful lamps and delightful art, I instantly felt peaceful and at home. For the rest of the evening, I had diner on the porch watching the amazing scenery of the sun going down. These moments that are truly priceless.
Other than watching the amazing sun rise on the porch of this inviting apartment complex, I start discovering that this island has so much to offer for the mind, body and soul.
Upon my arrival, I signed up at the Agama Yoga school for daily classes. Topped up with regular Thai massages and additional spa treatments, it didn't take me long to feel completely rejuvenated.
Having deliciously classy diners right on the beach as well as shopping for a variety of fresh Thai dishes in the island’s famous Thongsala market were culinary experiences I certainly wouldn't have wanted to miss.
Fishing at night was one of the experiences I enjoyed the most during my stay. Upon requesting for a traditional Thai experience, the lovely receptionist organised an authentic fishing trip to Chalok Lum Bay, a fisherman's paradise. From catching a fish to the preparation of it I experienced each step first hand. After this one of a kind experience, a lovely local fisherman's family invited me to enjoy a variety of delicacies which we then enjoyed under the stars on the ocean.
A specially tailored day trip included a visit to the wildlife park. The Eco forest and authentic Chinese temple visits were organized by the hotel manager. The morning started with a visit to the wildlife park, where we fed elephants and played with monkeys - followed by a walk through the Eco forest and visit to the temple. The afternoon was spent at Mae Had beach, probably one of the most relaxed beaches I have ever been to. Travellers from all around the world were gathering here in a very peaceful atmosphere. Snorkeling and being massaged under open air, a feeling so divine.
Whether a day on the beach or engaging in one of the various water sporting activities, this island certainly has attractive options for all sorts of travellers. Overall, it was a very beautiful and unique experience, and I highly recommend the island of Koh Phangan as well as Sunset Hill Resort for your next vacation. Thank you Kaaah!:-)
81/15 Moo 8, Haad Chaophao, Koh Phangan 84280, Thailand. Ph: +66 89 973 3205. firstname.lastname@example.org
Rooms start at about US$50/night.