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Tips for solo women travellers


Do your homework

Do your homework

You may be the adventurous types, but it helps to do a thorough research on the place you are about to visit. You need not plan from A-Z, but you need to at least know the reputation of the hotel you will check into. Carry city guides, maps: You don’t believe in hopping on to package tour buses, but rather prefer to explore the new city on your own. If not the city tour books, at least carry a map.

Respect the local culture

Respect the local culture

Every place under the sun has its own culture in terms of food, behaviour and most importantly dress code. Never mind if you do not want to experiment with food. However, it’s very important to follow the dress code to avoid drawing unwanted attention. If it’s a conservative place and you are visiting a temple, do carry your ethnic wear. Choosing the right clothes that fit the place not only makes you feel comfortable, but makes it easier for you to blend with the local populace.

Keep emergency numbers handy

Keep emergency numbers handy

In a new place, it is safe to carry numbers of emergency services like hospital and police stations nearby. In case of an eventuality, these numbers would help a great deal

Safety precautions

Safety precautions

 You may be Jhansi ki Rani in your hometown, but unforeseen occurrences are common in an unknown city. Hence, be prepared and carry your self-defense tools like knives (make sure you buy them after landing in the city for they are banned in airports) and pepper sprays.

Do not speak to strangers

Do not speak to strangers

Being the extrovert that you are, making friends with strangers within minutes is no big deal for you. However, considering the fact that you are travelling alone, it’s best if you kept to yourself. You can speak to locals to know more about the place and make enquiries, but anything beyond that is a strict no-no, and at your own risk

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Mini guide to Menorca, Spain


The fishing village Fornells is on Menorca’s northen coast, between Mao and Ciutadella.

The most tranquil of the Balearic Islands, Menorca was declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 1993. Its 135-mile coastline is dotted with fortified baroque towns, untouched beaches, coves and ravines. The island’s green interior, meanwhile, harbours unique wetlands and ancient archaeological sites.

Dating from 2,000 BC, Menorca’s pre-historic structures include tombs and sanctuaries shaped like a horseshoe. If you only visit one site, let it be the Torre d’en Galmés, southwest of Alaior (9am-8.30pm Tue-Sat, 9am-3pm Sun, 9am-2.30pm Mon; £2.60).

A legacy of British colonial rule (1713-1802), gin was first distilled here in the 18th century. Buy and taste the aromatic Menorcan spirit at the Xoriguer Gin Distillery in Maó. Do as the Menorcans do and ask for a gin con limonada, with real lemonade (Moll de Ponent, Maó; 8am-7pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat).

Founded by the Carthaginians, Ciutadella was Menorca’s capital until the British arrived. It has a distinctive Spanish baroque style, embodied in the façade of the cathedral and its elaborate churches, Església del Roser and Església dels Socors.

The Parc Natural S’Albufera des Grau is the nucleus of Menorca’s Biosphere Reserve status. The largest freshwater lagoon in the Balearics, it is home to many species of wetland birds (00 34 971 356303; Es Grau; 9am-6pm Apr-Oct, 9am-5pm Oct-Mar).

Exploited until 1994, the vast sandstone quarries of Pedreres de s’Hostal are now used for summer concerts. Lithica quarry features a charming medieval garden with a fountain (Camí Vell; 9.30am-2.30pm and 4.30pm-sunset Mon-Sat, 9.30am-2.30pm Sun; £3.50).

Eat and drink

Featuring authentic Menorcan cuisine, the menu at Ca’s Ferrer de Sa Font is based around meat and vegetables from the owner’s organic farm. Dine on the patio of this 18th-century building or inside, below beams (00 34 971 480784; Carrer del Portal de Sa Font 16, Ciutadella; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains from £8).

Café Balear is one of Ciutadella’s classic seafood stops. Eat outside while tucking into local prawns or fish, hauled in that day off Café Balear’s own boat (00 34 971 380005; Placa de Sant Joan 15, Ciutadella; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains from £10).

Restaurant N’Aguedet serves some of the finest island cooking, with a stamp of approval from Catalan mega chef Ferran Adrià. Dine on melt-in-yourmouth suckling pig or wild rabbit with onion (00 34 971 375391; Carrer de Lepanto 30, Es Mercadal; mains from £10).

The lamps don’t match at Itake . Nor do the glasses, but it doesn’t matter a jot when the Basque menu has delightful dishes such as pato Itake – duck in a port-based sauce (00 34 971 354570; Moll de Llevant 317, Maó; lunch and dinner Tue-Sat, dinner Sun; three-course menu £18).

Fronting Maó’s harbour, Jàgaro is best for traditional fish and rice dishes. The menu also features a catch of the day Try the ortiga de mar (sea anemone) if you are feeling adventurous (00 34 971 362390; Moll de Llevant 334, Maó; mains from £15).

Sleep

Run by a delightful couple, Residencia Oasis is a quiet place located in the heart of Ciutadella’s historic quarter. Rooms, some without en suite bathrooms, are set beside a spacious garden courtyard. The homely furnishings, though trim, appear to date from the 1940s (00 34 971 382197; Carrer de Sant Isidre 33, Ciutadella; from £50).

Explore the area’s colonial past with a stay at Collingwood House, once home to Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Nelson’s commander-at-sea. With its maritime souvenirs and paintings of great vessels, you could almost be in a museum (00 34 971 362700; Maó-Es Castell; from £60).

Climb the central stairs with their wrought-iron banisters at Casa Alberti to your vast room with its whitewashed walls. Each of the six bedrooms in this 18th-century mansion is styled with traditional Menorcan furniture, while bathrooms are contemporary (00 34 971 354210; Carrer d’Isabel II 9, Maó; Easter-Oct; from £80).

In Sant Lluís, Biniarroca Hotel is a rambling retreat with heavy, country architecture, terracotta tiled floors and rooms furnished with four-poster beds. Ducks peck and sheep graze just beyond the fence of the lovely garden (00 34 971 150059; Camí Vell 57, Sant Lluís; Easter-Nov; from £90).

Set in open country, two miles outside Ciutadella, Hotel Rural Sant Ignasi is a beautiful country mansion. Each room has a sunny Balearic colour scheme. From the Cala Morell road, take a narrow lane signed “Hotel Rural” for one mile (00 34 971 385575; Carretera de Cala Morell s/n; from £130).

When to go

In March and April, spring flowers brush your boots as you walk the hillsides of the interior. In July and August, you can catch the nightly, torch-lit historical re-enactments at Maó’s forts.

Getting around

The island is well served with local buses operating between Maó, Fornells and Ciutadella. However, the best way to visit the interior is to hire a car. Autos Mahon Rent hires out cars and bikes (car/bike £30/£13 per day).

How to go

EasyJet and bmi fly to Maó Airport from May to October. EasyJet flies from London Gatwick (£170), Manchester (£170) and Liverpool (£230). At other times, connect with local flights via Palma de Mallorca

In search of the perfect road in Mallorca


One Balearic island, one new and lightweight Porsche Cayman R, one very short night. Ask yourself: what would you do?

Mallorca has blown a very big fuse. This is my first thought upon spearing out of yet another pretty-but-identikit rural village, because as soon as we leave the immediate environs, the night sky wraps around the Cayman like a black velvet shroud, turning the ice-white Porsche into a faintly glowing, unquiet ghost. Being let loose in the new Cayman R, the lightened and tightened version of one of the most useful sports cars in existence, up a Mallorcan mountain road at night sounds quite cool, but believe me, at this point there’s a horrible, gut-boiling sense of frustration running through me like a dirty infection. And it has nothing to do with dodgy tapas.

The fact is that there are precisely no streetlights to give even the vaguest hint as to which way the road goes. Not one. Any ambient starlight or moonglow is diffused by heavy cloud, and the road is simply too twisty to get any solid idea of direction. The wraithlike little Porsche is fitted with the excellent optional xenons, but it’s still impossible to drive even vaguely quickly without risking inconvenient death. Worse, the roads are actually pretty good. But you can sense the doomy drops off the inky edges, and the corners have a nasty habit of tightening at the last moment. Like trying to run across a large room in pitch darkness, you can sense the space even if you can’t see it, and you belt along cringing, awaiting the moment when you meet the scenery with your face. It’s all about confidence, and I appear to have left mine at the hotel.

I can’t believe this. Gifted a hardcore Porsche and a mountain range, and I can’t even find a decent bloody road to drive it on.

Grinding the point home is the overwhelming sense of potential in this newest Cayman. Ghosting through these orange-lit Mallorcan villages, the R potters with sublime ease, riding better than a standard Cayman S, despite being lowered a not-insignificant 20mm, failing to graunch over speed bumps, sucking lumps into the dampers like a tiny, perfect magic trick. On light throttle openings, the 330bhp 3.4 sounds, frankly, like it has a blowing exhaust, the familiar flat-six hoarseness akin to a dog coughing up an angora sweater, but on brief revels to three-quarters of the rev-range, the wail starts to build. Just as I have to slow for the next village. Frustration becomes a familiar – and infinitely bitter – taste in the back of my throat.

Eventually we stop to take pictures in a sleepy village and immediately cause a bit of a stir. It could be the sight of two men assembling a photographic rig that looks like some sort of siege engine in the middle of the street at 1am, or it could be the Cayman. A mallowy wobble of craggy old lady shuffles over to poke us with her walking stick, so I smile and point at the Porsche, miming picture-taking in some sort of bizarre late-night version of Give us a Clue, becoming increasingly camp during the whole wordless exchange. Apparently satisfied, the leathery old matriarch taps the side of her head, points at my face and undulates away. She likes the Cayman. She likes the fixed rear spoiler. She likes the massaged bodywork, the mascara’d black of the headlight-surrounds. She likes the Seventies graphics down the side, and she loves the lightweight black wheels. She even likes the interior, trimmed as it is in blood-leather and white plastic like some sort of futuristic abattoir. Probably.

What she doesn’t know is that if it were down to pure rationale, there would appear to be very little point in the R. Compared to a standard Cayman S, it’s a bit lower, a tiny bit faster, a smidge more powerful by 10bhp – though torque remains the same – has more downforce (15 per cent at the front, and 40 per cent at the rear) and a tad less weight. I’ll admit that 55kg of weight reduction is significant in a car of this size, bringing down the total to 1,295kg, but probably not a deal-breaker

To get there, the R deletes the aircon and radio to save 15kg, gains aluminium doors, lightweight wheels and CFRP bucket seats to save 15kg, 5kg and 12kg respectively, adopts a slightly smaller fuel tank and loses a few other niceties like interior doorhandles – replaced by GT3 RS-style fabric loops – and cup-holders to save the remainder. Most of which, incidentally, you can then option back in. If you also option a PDK gearbox – which weighs 25kg more than a standard six-speed manual – the R ends up weighing pretty much the same as a lightly optioned S. With only around 10bhp more.

So what’s the point? Bragging rights? Possibly. Personally, I’d probably buy the R package for the seats and interior trim alone, so wickedly perfect are they, but so far, dynamically, it just feels like a Cayman with a peculiarly sympathetic suspension set-up. It’s impossible to tell anything more significant, simply because of the ridiculous aggregation of factors denying me a decent drive. It’s 2am, and Jamie the photographer and I finally admit defeat and return to the hotel, ever so slightly broken. No road on Mallorca. No fun.

During the night, I have a dream. And no, not that kind.

I have a dream that Dan from the office emails me the location of a mythical road on Mallorca. An amazing driving road. A road not two hours from where we are. Confused as to whether dream emails actually count and fretting at the edges of sleep, I finally give in to the siren call, rouse Jamie and we head back out in the Cayman. It is 5.30am. Jamie does not look overly pleased.

Two hours of driving later, as we crest the top of a coastal mountain range and enter what can only be called low-lying cloud masquerading as dense pea-souper fog, Jamie has what we describe in the North of England as ‘a slightly mardy face on’. No road. And now, as the sun starts to rise, no forward vision. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Hard to be phlegmatic when the cards are stacked and the capricious gods are pissed and feeling vindictive. But just as we’re about to turn back, we roll around a wall of russet rock, the mist lifts, and my eyes pop out of my head. It’s like fumbling through the back of a musty wardrobe and plopping out in the lean, little Porsche’s private Narnia. I coast to a stop at the top of the mountain road, lean forward over the steering wheel with hands gripping 11 and 1, and say things my mother would not be proud to hear. Ahead and below, across and down and away is the most stupefying road I have ever seen. The island valley opens itself like a book, and between the pages is a slick of bitumen designed by a madman. Or an artist. Ropes of tarmac hang loosely around the shoulders of the mountain like an indifferent noose, trailing down the side of the hill in lazy loops. There are straights and curves and switchbacks and even, at one ridiculous point, a loop where the road curves back, around and under itself like a bow.

Not only is this vision wrought in civil engineering perfectly surfaced, free of potholes and shimmying traction changes, it is utterly, bleakly empty. Not a damn soul. Turns out this road, this awesome Sa Colobra road, is a dead end, servicing a small seaside town at its watery terminus. Hit it at the right time of day – ridiculously early in the morning, say – and you have the place to yourself. At last

I look right and down the first section, prod Sport, Exhaust and PASM off on the dash, slot first and dump the clutch. I then stop again, remove the handbrake, and repeat, leaving in the kind of dramatic fishtail you only ever see in Seventies B-movies. It feels good. Scratch that, it feels incredible. What follows is a dirty blur of exhilaration. For the first time, the Cayman R is allowed its head, rearing towards the right-hand side of the rev-counter, the breathy freedom of modified exhaust-headers finally announcing their presence.

The gearbox snaps a little clunkily once, twice, three times, before the road ducks right, down and back, so the standard steel brakes are forced into heavy work early on, dipping the nose of the Cayman, forcing it to snort hard at the tarmac. The exhaust woofles and pops, amplified by the rocks to the left, just as the gradient tries to suck the rear of the car away from the apex. But nothing happens except an insane increase in lateral g. The Cayman’s steering places it perfectly, the front end staying true, even when you would forgive it for wandering. And all the time, the road reveals a little more of itself in a teasingly burlesque fashion, glimpses of hairpins, flirty little hints of racetrackish madness. I miss two downchanges simply by becoming lost in the view.

Very much like the Nordschleife, there’s no rhythm to this road, no easy cadence. Corners tighten from regular radii down to last-gasp 90-degree bends that have your buttocks puckering so tightly they begin to gum at the Alcantara of the seats. Some parts flow and allow you speed, others have you chunking through second and third like your life depends on it, the Cayman’s tail slewing wide in glorious unfettered arcs. The standard-fit limited-slip differential helps, nudging the nose forwards into understeer and then allowing you to punt the rear away, never quite getting past a half-turn of countersteer. It is, without being overly emotional about it, sublime. Truthfully? I’m not that good a driver, but there’s something about this Cayman R that sells you on the idea of invincibility.

You sit in the middle, with the engine close behind, and you become the pivot. This is no pendulous 911 – no matter how well disguised that car’s dynamic shortcomings have become – and the Cayman R is genuinely small, reliably connected and utterly faithful. It’s a Cayman with added salt and pepper – the basic meal is satisfyingly the same, but the flavour has been subtly and significantly improved. There are very, very few cars you would dare drive this hard on this kind of road, a road where a slip, or a snap of oversteer, would likely prove expensively bloody. The Cayman R is one of them. There are no surprises. Just joy.

After what seems like an age, but is in reality little more than an hour, it starts to rain. We have traversed this little 10-mile stretch of brilliance to the sea and halfway back, but with a light smattering of water on salty tarmac, the surface becomes slick and treacherous. After one flail to the lockstops and back while staring at a rock wall through the passenger window, I opt for discretion over valour, dry-swallow my heart and pick my way back over the mountain. Back to real life. And just before I swing around that last corner and disappear into the cloudy mist, I look down the valley and grin like a horsefaced loon. One of the world’s best secret roads, just made for a car like the Porsche Cayman R, on a tiny island like Mallorca. It’s easy. You just have to know where to look.

Last Minute Luxury Vacations


Luxury vacations no longer require a lot of planning.

When the winter blues set in and want to get away to a last-minute luxury vacation, but don’t have the time to plan it, there are a number of sights that would-be travelers can access to find great deals on last minute trips. Many travel sight offer vacations to anywhere in the world, although popular destinations continue to include Europe and the Caribbean. Travelers can choose from websites that offer specific types of vacations, like spa or cruises, or websites that provide an array of vacation choices.

Spa Vacations

Book a spa trip at the last minute on the Last Minute Vacations U.S. website. Search for spa trips in the 50 states, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Canada and the Americas, Asia, South Pacific and Africa. The website offers information about each spa, spa week availability and a number of prices for studio-, one- and multiple-bedrooms. Travelers can book vacations directly on-line.

Open Destination Vacations

Lastminute.com, powered by Site59, specializes in providing luxury vacations at the last minute. Best deals can be found during the current week or the following week at significant discounts over other sites. Choose your departing city and pick a certain destination, or be open to whatever deal tickles your fancy. The United States website provides vacations to Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Mexico/Central America and South America. Once you choose your destination, the site shows you prices for one or two days, plus or minus your original departure and return dates. Vacation options include “Hotel + Flight”, “Flight + Luxury Hotel,” “Flight + Car” and “Hotel + Car.”

Cruises

If you’re looking for a relaxed vacation on the water, Vacations to Go offers luxury cruises for last-minute travelers. The website has a “90-Day Ticker” that provides discounted cruises to travelers. Guests sign up for the ticker and receive emails with cruises that are discounted up to 75 percent. The website also offers one-day sales. Vacations to Go offers cruises from 28 different cruise lines. It also provides information about the cruise lines and rates their ships. Guests can make general searches for cruises or advanced searches by cruise specialty, like weddings, 55+ discounts or military discounts.

Invitation-only Membership

Travel clubs are popping up on the Internet and Voyage Privé, a French company, is one of these businesses. The website requires that you be invited by the company or a friend to join. Each week the business sends its club members a newsletter which includes specific travel deals for long or shorter vacations. Deals can be up to 70 percent off the retail price. Voyage Privé also sends out “flash sales” which members must book within 5 days.

Living in: Hawaii


Poipu beach on Kauai, Hawaii

These heavenly islands send a siren call across the Pacific Ocean to visitors around the world. Trade winds blow the rain away year-round and the volcanic mountains covered in lush vegetation create varied microclimates; many-vowelled place names trip up the tongues of mainlanders; outdoor living is the norm; and the sunsets are what clichés are made of.

There is, of course, a modern Hawaii to discover beyond the hibiscus and mai tais, one with modern problems, but the natural beauty and out-of-this-world locations are what pull millions of visitors a year to these beautiful isles.

What is it known for?
Leis and luaus, primordial film sets for Jurassic Park and Lost, fair winds and fair weather, Hawaii wears its “paradise found” label proudly. The current American president, Barack Obama, spends his holidays here, as the first president to come from the 50th state in the union. His multicultural and bi-racial background is a common story in Hawaii, where the Polynesian, Asian, European and American waves of settlement have created a singular culture. “I wouldn’t want to raise my kids anywhere else,” said Sheree Stewart, a real estate attorney who lives on Oahu with her husband and two children. “You can never tell what race anyone is, and people are from all over, so you grow up learning about everyone’s culture and ethnicity.”

So many things here are of the superlative sort: the best surfing, the best hiking, the best volcano peeking, the best whale watching. The islands all have different personalities, each with its own soul, from the black sand beaches of the Big Island to the limpid Pool of Oheo on Maui.

Where do you want to live?
The first step of any vacation or second-home buyer is to choose the island that is right for you. “Each island offers such different lifestyles,” explained Jeffrey M Fox, broker-owner of Kahala Associates in Oahu. “Oahu means ‘the gathering place’ and is the core of Hawaii.” In fact the other islands used to be called the “outer islands”, but are now known as the “neighbouring islands”. Honolulu is the urban core with the culture, restaurants, shopping and so on. Nearby Waikiki, on the south side of Honolulu, is the number one resort area with many condos, beaches, hotels and restaurants. “I tell my buyers Waikiki is the best investment because all three types of buyers come here: the owner-occupant, second-home buyer and investor who wants to rent,” said Fox.

Kailua is more upscale (and where President Obama stays), especially on the windward side of the island, where oceanfront homes start at around $3.5 million. Buyer beware: “oceanfront” is not the same as “beachfront”. Diamond Head and Kahala are the Beverly Hills and Brentwood of Hawaii, and are especially in demand from second-home buyers from the west coast and California. Oceanfront starts at $7.5 million and goes into the double digits. “There are three vacant lots on Kahala Avenue currently on sale for $45 million,” said Fox. However, the flat land and lack of trade winds mean it gets much hotter than more established, older neighbourhoods like Manoa.

The other two islands that are the most popular for second-home buyers are Maui and Kauai. Maui is especially popular with Californians and sales there mirror southern California in volume and prices. “Maui is different because you can see the other islands from there,” said Tobi Fisher, director of sales for Hawaii Life Real Estate in Maui. Many look to Wailea on the south shore where the Four Seasons is and where many celebrities own. Entry level is about $1.7 million for a single-family, oceanfront house in a gated community.

On the west side of the island Kanapali and the town of Lahaina is the most popular spot to buy, as well as one of the most popular vacation spots because of the harbour, great snorkeling and nightlife along Front Street in the old whaling village of Lahaina. “A two-bed oceanfront unit can go from $235,000 in Lahaina to $450,000 for a one bed in Kaanapali,” explained Fisher.

Kauai is the westernmost island and has a more remote feel to it. Buyers who want to rent out their house when they are not there look in the Princeville resort area and Poipu Beach, where houses can start at $500,000. Those who want their houses to themselves may look in resort areas as well, but also in secluded areas north of Hanalei Bay and near Kilauea in the island’s north where estates can go for upwards of $10 million.

The Big Island has more development because it is the largest, so houses are more affordable there. Kona is the high-end spot, where billionaires flock to bake on the beach (and where Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell computers, just bought a triple lot). Lanai, which is actually part of Maui county, has two markets: high-end by the Four Seasons Manele Bay, and affordable up near the Four Seasons lodge, where a 900-sq-foot plantation house goes for $250,000, although reportedly sales are slow all over. Molokai is small and has a stagnant economy – the Sheraton on the island closed a few years ago.

Side trips
On Oahu, many people rent a house or go to the hotel for weekends on the North Shore, what Honolulu residents call “the country”. “All the original shaved ice places are out there and the great burger and Mexican joints with long lines of people waiting out front,” said Stewart. For a long weekend, people head to Kona on the Big Island or to Maui. You can hike anywhere, but real enthusiasts go to Kauai where the best and the most famous trails are.

Flights from Honolulu International Airport take roughly the same amount of time to go to Los Angeles as to Tokyo, about five and a half hours. Nonstop flights to New York are about 11 to 13 hours.

Practical info
The overall market in Hawaii is stable and on the rise. Oahu has suffered less than the other islands from the housing market freefall in the US, although there was a 10 to 15% drop in sale prices. Unlike the 1990s when the Japanese recession brought doom to the Hawaiian housing market, now there is a diversity in the buyer profile: mainly Canadians, Chinese and Californians.

Oahu has some built-in insulation, being the capital and business centre, so it has not seen the same foreclosures and short sales as the other islands. “The neighbour islands are truly for the second-, third-, and fourth-home buyer,” explained Fox. “So they are the first to fall off in terms of sale prices and volume.”

On Kauai, the economic downturn has had an effect. “Properties are priced a lot lower than they were in 2006 and 2007 at the height of the market,” said Forman. On Maui, the market is up overall, pushed by the strong surge by Canadians this past winter. “Usually they don’t go into debt, but come with cash and bargain,” said Fisher. “But now I’m seeing them coming in with loans.” There have also been a lot of enquiries from Chinese buyers.

Before you buy on any island, be sure to talk to your agent and get a feel for which island would fit your lifestyle. Do you want amenities? Culture? Just to lay on a white-sand beach? Or to hike and snorkel all day long? Wherever you land, you are sure to feel like most islanders do. “It’s just such a privilege to live in a place like this,” said Stewart.

Kauai’s hidden adventures


The Kauai Backcountry Adventures zipline tour soars 17,000 acres of former plantation land.

With its lush gardens and picture-perfect landscapes, it is no wonder that the island of Kauai is best known as Hawaii’s “Garden Isle”. The beautiful vistas lure a steady stream of tourists, not to mention movie directors – Gilligan’s Island, Jurassic Park and, most recently, the latest instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean have all used the island as a natural backdrop.

 

But in recent years, Kauai has also quietly developed into a prime destination for adventure seekers. From Hawaii’s largest ziplining course to a 100ft waterfall that can only be reached by kayak, a trip to Kauai can be as much about adrenaline as it is about relaxation.

One of the best ways to see the island’s natural beauty is by ziplining across the lush, rolling hills and verdant valleys that dominate the southeast corner. Kauai Backcountry Adventures runs the largest ziplining course on the island; some of the lines are are among the longest in North America. The four-hour tour has visitors soaring as high as 250 feet above 17,000 acres of former plantation land and over a dense canopy of bright, green trees. The seven-line course zigzags down to a base camp, where Backcountry Adventures provides lunch and a chance to cool down in a nearby fresh-water swimming hole.

For those who prefer to travel by boat, Wailua Kayak Adventures and Kayak Wailua offer tours that begin with a slow, two-mile paddle down the calm Wailua River, pass an old Hawaiian village along the banks and end in the middle of a tropical rain forest. From there, it is a relatively easy, mile-long hike, following the rumbling sounds of gushing water, to the 100ft-tall Secret Falls.

Adventurous travellers can swim under the waterfall via a natural swimming hole at the bottom of the falls. Otherwise, the surrounding rocks offer the perfect place to picnic with a view.

On the north side of the island, Waimea Canyon is often nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the West”. Stretching one mile wide and 3,600ft deep, the Waimea is full of hiking trails with panoramic views. Stop by the Kokee Natural History Museum and Visitor Center, near mile marker 15 on Kokee Road, to purchase a complete hiking map.

One of the most scenic treks starts with a drive to the Kalalau Lookout, slightly past the visitor’s centre. The top-down view of the canyon looks like something from the set of Jurassic Park, with cliffs that jut out into the Pacific Ocean. Starting there, a hiking trail traces the canyon’s edge, a great way to combine 360-degree views with a bit of exercise. The trail, just under two miles, continues to a second lookout point. It gets a bit steep and rocky at some points but is generally well-maintained.

In southern Kauai, locals know the place for body boarding is Brennecke’s Beach, a small inlet at the tip of Poipu Beach Park that attracts monster waves. There are a few spots for snorkelling and swimming, but the farther off shore you go, the closer to surfing territory you get.

A short walk away, Poipu Beach offers a natural, oceanic wading pool and towering palm trees. It is the perfect respite for rest and relaxation once the adrenaline rush subsides.

Space travel powered by helium balloon


Bloon flights will launch at night, so passengers can watch the sun rise over the curvature of the earth. (Bloon)

Despite the end of Nasa’s space shuttle programme, space tourism remainsthe new frontier.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, one of the commercial spaceship companies chosen to carry Nasa’s scientists into suborbital space, already has 445 passengers booked, with $55 million in deposits. However, a more affordable option is on the horizon.

“Bloon” is a six-person pod designed by Spanish company zero2infinity that will rise to the edge of the atmosphere, powered by a helium balloon. The cabin holds four passengers and two pilots for the three-hour flight, 36km above the earth’s surface. The flights will launch at night, so passengers can watch the sun rise over the curvature of the earth. While admiring the world from near space, in-flight information about the altitude and range of view will be displayed directly on the pod’s windows. To return to earth, the helium is vented slowly, then the balloon or sail separates from the pod, deploying a parafoil. The pod pops its airbags and is guided in for a landing. Bloon uses zero propellants, so there are no emissions or noise pollution.

The full ticket price is 110,000 euros, and for a deposit of 8,000 euros, customers can request when and from where they want to fly. Flights will lift off sometime between 2013 and 2015. A “minibloon” manned test flight is set for 2012.

What most people miss at Machu Picchu


On 24 July, 1911, Hiram Bingham III, a young history lecturer from Yale University, climbed a steep slope in the Peruvian Andes and, to his surprise, encountered the greatest archaeological find of the 20th Century: Machu Picchu.

 

Peru's Machu Picchu, discovered 100 years ago by Hiram Bingham III

More than a million people are expected to visit the site this anniversary year. Most of them will be day trippers who travel to Peru from the far reaches of the globe, who sit on three-and-a-half-hour train rides from Cusco and spend only a few hours at one of the world’s most spectacular ancient sites before starting their journeys home.

Machu Picchu is relatively compact, so it is possible to see the greatest hits of the Incas in a half a day: the elegant Sun Temple, the surreal Royal Mausoleum, the monolithic shrines of the Sacred Plaza and the mysteriously carved Intihuatana stone. But travellers who are willing to make a multi-day hike along the Inca Trail to arrive at dawn or add an extra day to their itineraries by spending a night in Aguas Calientes, the charmingly tacky tourist town that sits 2,000ft below the ruins, have enough time to explore some of the other wonders lurking in the hidden corners of the Lost City of the Incas.

While the day trippers are coming in by train and the most popular spots of Machu Picchu are deluged at rush hour (roughly 11 am to 3 pm), here are five remarkable but often overlooked sights that reward the most intrepid travellers.

Temple of the Moon
Early birds begin lining up before dawn in Aguas Calientes to catch the first buses up to Machu Picchu, and for a good reason. Only the first 400 people to sign in at the park’s entry gate are granted permission to climb Mt Huayna Picchu, the 679ft high green spike that appears in the background of most classic Machu Picchu photos. While the view from Huayna Picchu is impressive, few of those who climb the peak take advantage of their opportunity to see the even more impressive Templo de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon. Tucked into a complex of caves hidden from the main ruins is an otherworldly shrine — possibly a burial site — built directly into the mountain rock. The Temple of the Moon features some of the finest stonework in Machu Picchu: classic trapezoidal Inca niches and double-jamb doorways.

Mt Machu Picchu
The Machu Picchu citadel is bookended by two apus, or sacred peaks. Mt Huayna Picchu marks the north end of the site; to the south stands Mt Machu Picchu. Both offer spectacular views, but while Mt Huayna Picchu turns away would-be visitors, the summit of Mt Machu Picchu nearly always stands empty.

The reason may be the difference in height. At 1,640ft, Mt Machu Picchu is more than twice as tall as its sister peak. But the reward for the 90-minute climb up flights of ancient stone stairs is the most incredible view that can be achieved (short of a helicopter) of how Machu Picchu was carefully integrated into its natural surroundings. Distant, skyscraping Andean peaks tower in the distance while the winding Urubamba River nearly wraps itself around the main site like a python.

Intimachay
Almost from the moment Hiram Bingham stumbled, slackjawed, upon the main ruins of Machu Picchu 100 years ago, experts have struggled to figure out why the Incas chose such an uninviting — if gorgeous — setting to build in. Much recent scholarship has focused on how the buildings at Machu Picchu were designed specifically to interact with the sun, stars and surrounding landscape. The most famous example is the Sun Temple, or Torreon, where each year on the winter solstice (21 June in the southern hemisphere) a beam of light shines through a window, forming a mysterious rectangle atop a slab of granite.

Equally impressive, if much less famous, is Intimachay. The name, a modern coinage, means “cave of the sun”. This cavern, situated just below the main ruins in a spot rarely visited by tourists, was fitted with a handsome eastern-facing wall containing a single window. For 49 weeks of the year, no light enters the cave’s deepest recesses. At sunrise during the 10 days before and after the summer solstice in December, however, the sun’s first rays briefly shine through the window and illuminate Intimachay’s rear wall. The purpose of this Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque light show is still unknown.

Sun Gate
The Intipunku, or Gate of the Sun, is usually associated with hiking the Inca Trail. Virtually every package tour climaxes with a dramatic dawn arrival at this entrance, timed to witness the sunrise. What few outfitters mention is that Machu Picchu is usually misty at that hour, so the views are often anticlimactic.

You are better off visiting Intipunku during midday, when the crowds from Cusco are elbowing their way up the staircase to the Intihuatana stone. The 60- to 90-minute uphill walk runs from the centre of the ruins along a stone path that is actually the tail end of the fabled Inca Trail. The gate, a set of tall stone columns, was once probably a checkpoint for arrivals from Cusco and beyond. The big payoff is the view back toward the main ruins. Sans the mist, it is the best angle for photos of Machu Picchu.

The Rock Quarry
This large space, littered with cut granite chunks of varying sizes, should be impossible to miss. It is located right between the two popular Machu Picchu attractions, the Sacred Plaza and the Temple of the Sun. Yet thousands of visitors pass through each day without pausing.

What at first glance appears to be a jumble of boulders was probably a workshop where expert stonecutters practiced their trade. (One chunk of granite has been carved into almost-finished steps.) Another large stone, known as Serpent Rock, has snakes etched into its top surface. A recent theory proposes that the Inca Trail was a pilgrimage that concluded within the walls of Machu Picchu; if so, the quarry may have had a sacred meaning as a representation of the creation myth, in which the first Incas emerged after an underground journey.

You will not need to mount an expedition like Hiram Bingham’s to appreciate Machu Picchu, but you will probably spend months planning your trip and at least a few weeks’ pay getting there. So take your time and put in a little extra effort toward a memorable exploration of your own.

The six best cities to get lost in


Venture beyond Istanbul's tourist centre to discover tea shops, parks and amazing views

Put your map away and spin round three times – it is time to get lost. Going off the radar in a strange city can be the perfect way to uncover its secrets, get a feel for the layout and meet the locals.

Of course, there is good lost and bad lost. It is best done on purpose, with plenty of time to spare and a sound way to get found again. Some cities lend themselves to this kind of off-the-chart adventure; here are six of our favourites – and six ways to make it home again.

 

Venice
This northern Italian city is the ultimate head-spinner. First it comes at you with an endless recession of identical canals and bridges, then it veers off at odd angles and into blind corners, and all the time boggles your senses with its impossible film-set beauty. No fair, Venice! Getting lost here pays – the tramp of a thousand tourists yields to tranquil sunlit courtyards and the sound of pigeons’ wings.

Get found: Look for signs and arrows scrawled on the walls. You can follow them to hubs like the Rialto and L’Accademia.

Varanasi
You could throw yourself into Varanasi’s dark maze of streets a hundred times over and still come out at a different point. Discover temples, sweet shops and silk bargains in the back alleys of this Indian city.

Get found: Countless bicycle rickshaw drivers will be only too happy to take you home – for a price that is in range of just about every budget.

London
Most visitors to London have a fractured, point-to-point experience of the city, popping up from tube stations to visit the sights then diving underground again. It is efficient, but where is the romance? Try to wander and you will be rewarded by grand squares, secluded churchyards and one-off boutiques.

Get found: Just look for the distinctive London Underground sign. Bingo, you are back on the map!

Tokyo
The bewildering pace and flickering neon of this go-go city guarantee a bit of giddiness. Abandon yourself to the disorientation and you might just get off-road enough to find the wabi-sabi side of Tokyo.

Get found: Like London, Tokyo has an excellent public transport system. If it all gets too much, jump a train back to home base.

Istanbul
There are (at least) two great things about getting out of the tourist centre in Istanbul. One – the hotels and hard-sell rug merchants fall away, replaced by local tea shops, parks and houses. Two – the city’s rollercoaster hills reward you with Bosphorus views and toned-up legs. Get lost every day and see your fitness soar!

Get found: If you want to get back to the tourist area, stop for a glass of tea and ask the way to Sultanahmet. Soothe your tired muscles in one of the city’s spectacular bath houses.

Canberra
With its systems of circular roads, Australia’s capital city regularly traps its visitors in a hamster-wheel spiral of confusion. But there are better ways to get lost here. Head out of the city centre – yes, into the bush. Keep going. There! See those suburbs? That is where the life of the city is going on – including some of its best eating.

Get found: Hooray for GPS! Or go with the traditional Aussie method and ask for directions at a servo (service station).

The world’s most fascinating artistic gardens


Chandigarh is a junk Alhambra, born from one man clearing himself a small garden

Artists’ imaginations have turned these gardens into offbeat wonderlands. Get your green on and go wandering!

Las Pozas, Mexico
Edward James was born to a fabulously wealthy family and for years lived it up as a patron of the arts, sponsoring many of the surrealists and helping found the New York City Ballet. But a yearning for Eden caused him to give it all away and head for Mexico in search of his perfect garden. He spent the rest of his life transforming Las Pozas (in the northern mountains, named for the descending river pools on the property) into his dream jungle paradise, making immense concrete surrealist sculptures and follies to adorn it.

William Ricketts Sanctuary, Australia
Head up to green Mt Dandenong, near Melbourne, to find this whimsical sculpture garden. It is the work of William Ricketts, an Australian artist with a before-his-time bent for environmental and Indigenous issues. He spent a lot of his life living in Aboriginal communities in central Australia before settling in the Dandenongs. Some think his sculptures of Aboriginal people as spirits of the land are twee, but set among the ferns and mountain ash they have a tranquillity and power, seeming to grow right out of their surroundings. Ricketts lived here into his 90s, sculpting to the last.

Chandigarh Rock Garden, India
Nek Chand, a government official, was clearing himself a small garden and used the rubble to make a wall and a couple of sculptures. It seems he was hooked: over the ensuing years, working at night and in his spare time, he fashioned a fantastic edifice of found-object mosaics. It was eventually discovered by authorities, who liked it so much they not only spared it, but gave Chand a salary and helpers to keep building. Today it is a junk Alhambra, with waterfalls and thousands of sculptures of animals and dancing girls set in arched mosaic courtyards.

It is a three-hour train journey from Delhi to Chandigarh (if you catch the fast train). The garden is in Sector 1 of the city.

Giardino dei Tarocchi, Italy
When you think “Tuscan garden”, you probably do not think this. Niki de Saint Phalle, an autodidact artist and sculptor (and, in her day, actor and model) created the garden over years, basing it around the figures of the tarot cards. As you would expect from someone who as a girl painted the fig leaves on the school statues red, the sculpture garden is a larger-than-life riot of joyous, bulbous figures. Highlights are the Magician with his gaping mouth and mirrored face, the exuberant Sun, the Moon upheld by crabs and dogs and the massive pink High Priestess.

The Tarot Garden’s website has detailed directions from Siena, Rome and the Leonardo da Vinci airport.

Tilford Cottage Garden, England
Artist Rod Burn and his wife Pamela, a holistic therapist, created this garden around their 17th-century cottage in Surrey, and at first glance it seems like a typical charming English concoction, with a bog garden, a wild garden and a Victorian knot garden. But that is before you spot the steel giraffe looming out of the trees or notice the topiary figure falling head-first into a hedge. Or the tree with its bole painted gold. Or the apple orchard growing parallel to the ground. As well as sculptures and visual gags scattered around the place, the plants themselves have been tweaked out of the usual: check out the birch trees twisted into a screen.

The garden is open to groups of six or more. It is best to make a reservation.

Owl Garden, South Africa
Miss Helen, who created a private world of her own in her house and garden, is a classic example of an outsider artist. She was a recluse in the conservative village of Nieu Bethesda; she shunned company and was regarded with suspicion. She decorated her house with lovely, outlandish murals made from coloured glass. In 1964 she hired a sheepshearer, Koos Malgas, to help her construct a sculpture garden of camels, shepherds, donkeys and sheep, all facing east. The owl was her totem figure and she used it over and over again. At the end of her life, fearing she was going blind, she killed herself – by ingesting crushed glass.

Give the Owl House a call on 049-8411-733 to arrange your visit.

Jardin Rosa Mir, France
Something like a homemade Parc Güell, the Jardin Rosa Mir in Lyon is the creation of Jules Senis, a Spanish tiler who dreamed up the garden and vowed to make it a reality while he was in hospital battling cancer. The garden is named after his mother. It is not large, but makes up for that by being crowded with found materials (rocks, shells, coral, even snail shells) that make elaborate mosaics on walls and pillars. Teamed with lemon trees, succulents, ivy and geraniums, the effect is surprisingly charming.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, Pennsylvania
Isaiah and Julia Zagar are mosaic evangelists. They moved to Philly’s South Street neighbourhood in the 1960s, took a look around, and evidently thought “this place could use some colour!”. At the time the district was in decline, and the couple were able to buy several derelict buildings. They did them up with bright mosaics inside and out. Isaiah Zagar’s biggest work is the Magic Gardens, which he built on a vacant lot near his house – a mammoth mosaic labyrinth incorporating local trash, mirrors and tiles. It depicts events from his own life and world history. When the owners tried to sell the site, the community rallied to save the Gardens.

Millesgården, Sweden
This dreamy space outside Stockholm is something like a Swedish Isola Bella. Carl and Olga Milles, both artists, and architect half-brother Evert, transformed the rocky slope surrounding the couple’s home into a series of terraces gracefully leading the eye downwards. The garden is littered with architectural finds like the marble archway from a hotel. Milles’ sculptures – immense saints, gods and angels held aloft on pillars – hold sway on the lower terraces. The most touching part of the garden is Little Austria, a loving recreation of Olga’s much-missed homeland.

The garden features white urns designed by Milles. You can buy flowerpots based on them in the Millesgården shop.

Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens, Georgia
This garden is a gift from god. Finster was a Southern preacher who received a vision telling him to make art, and untrained as he was, that was what he went ahead and did. His paintings are done in a naive style, often with text. For Finster, the art was all about the message. The Paradise Gardens are a jumble of mosaic materials (bottles, mirrors) and found objects. There is a chapel and a folk art gallery. It might not be everyone’s idea of paradise, but you are sure to find something you like.

Just before Finster died, he put up a note in the gardens asking that they be preserved. If you would like to donate, visit Finstersparadisegardens.org. 

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