Monthly Archives: June 2017

5 hotel rooms around the world have stunning views

1.Oliver’s Travels, Tamarind House, St Lucia

Made from local stone with high greenheart ceilings, and Barbados tiled floors, this exceptionally large Caribbean house offers the rare luxury of space, privacy and sensational views of the Pitons. The 640sqft master bedroom is furnished with a beautiful antique king size four-poster bed, a hand carved standing cheval mirror and private terrace. From the bed, the view of Piton is framed by bougainvillea climbing up the stone walls. The main house has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, while the separate cottage is the master bedroom suite with its own living room, kitchen, dressing area, marble bathroom, and terrace.

2.PurePods, Canterbury / Kaikoura, New Zealand

Made completely of glass from roof to floor, guests can sleep under the dazzling stars of the Southern Cross and awake to pure New Zealand native bush. With sliding glass doors for hot weather and bio-fuel fires for winter months, the Pure Pod offers unique year-round nature experiences. Reached only by a walk through the bush land into a completely private haven, the Pure Pod offers 360-degree views of the valley and the Pacific Ocean in the distance. There are three PurePods – one in Little River, Canterbury, and two in Kaikoura.

3.Uma by COMO, Ubud, Bali

Uma by COMO, Ubud, immerses guests in the culture of Bali. The Terrace Rooms are serene and magical, with French doors that open onto a private terrace overlooking the gardens, paddy fields and hills of the lush Indonesian island. Carved wooden panels give the room the charm of a traditional Indonesian home, while the contemporary furnishings including a four-poster bed, sunken bath tub, outdoor shower and a private pool, make it the ultimate luxury jungle escape.

4.ITC Maurya, New Delhi, India

Nestled in greenery, in the heart of Delhi’s diplomatic corridor, ITC Maurya is the city’s premier luxury hotel (President Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton have all stayed at the hotel). The Luxury Suite offers breathtaking views of Delhi’s green ridge, and blends grandeur and exemplary hospitality soaked in Indian traditions. The hotel is also home to Bukhara, one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, where guests can experience authentic North-West Indian cuisine in a traditional and rustic setting.

5.Beachspoke, Blackmoon, Cornwall, UK

Ever dreamed about lying in a super king sized custom made bed whilst watching the sun set or rise over the ocean? At Black Moon, that’s exactly what guests can do. With the bedroom separated from the living room by a huge sliding mirrored wall, guests can enjoy truly spectacular coastal views towards Gwithian lighthouse. A striking one-bedroom property, Black Moon transforms the ubiquitous luxury cottage into a private hideaway.

 

Travel guide is wonderful to Palm Springs

Palm Springs sign

Crafted out of the desert, Palm Springs still rocks nearly a century after it was created. Just ask Obama. The former US President is a regular visitor and he is just one of a long list of superstars who have holidayed or indeed lived here.

Glitterati of yesteryear would escape to Palm Springs from their gruelling filming schedules to enjoy some rest and relaxation reassured that they were less than 2 hours away from Hollywood should they be called back urgently.

This is the kind of town where you can spend a swell night in Twin Palms, the house where Sinatra threw his legendary cocktail parties or rent the home on Ladera Circle, where Elvis honeymooned with Priscilla. Or take a spin along freeway Bob Hope Drive. Turn up here in January and you could spend your time star spotting when the Palm Springs International Film Festival attracts the Clooneys of the world into town.

This celebrity-imbued region and its nine manicured resorts has in recent years, become thought of as a pensioners paradise; albeit, vitamin-boosted, healthy, wealthy silver-haired city refugees. For many it’s the dry desert climate and guaranteed sunshine for at least 10 months of the year that keeps them coming back. But things are changing with swanky restaurants and funky hotels now filling up to the brim with the next generation of holiday-makers.

Things to do in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is set in a tea-cup shaped valley and is completely surrounded by mountains that rise to nearly 11,000 ft at an angle of 75 degrees. In between the peaks are 54 miles of lush hiking trails, interesting rock formations and lovely waterfalls that nature lovers adore.

You can see it all when you alight onto Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. A rotating gondola rises 8,500 feet across two and a half miles of amazing views on its way up and down. Or stay at the top to explore, as this is the gateway to the cliffs of Chino Canyon.

On ground level there is the designer shopping especially in the palm-lined, highly manicured El Paseo, dubbed the Rodeo Drive of the Desert. In the town centre the art scene is thriving. Antique shops and those selling arty interiors unfold along North Palm Canyon drive.

The Backstreet Art District is easy to miss yet worth seeking out on South Cherokee Way. A community of a dozen or so acclaimed artists have opened up shop offering an opportunity to spend an hour or so milling and perhaps buying unique artwork.

The townsfolk have cleverly turned its last century provenance into a tourist trade. It simply loves to show off its quaintly retro architecture – the largest concentration of mid-20th century architecture in the world.

Get there in December and the boutique hotels and historic inns throw their doors open for public Walk of the Inns tours. Walking from one retro-designed hotel to another gives an interesting peek into the minds of past architects and their creations from 100-year old adobe inns to Mediterranean inspired villas. I particularly loved the motel with a kidney-shaped pool and ornamental pink flamingos. Apparently, Marilyn Monroe did too.

Those with a penchant for history and culture may find the Palm Springs Historical Society of interest. It is housed in an adobe house built by John McCallum who was the first white settler in Palms Springs. It is full of antiques and Indian artifacts, tools and images. Also, check out the Art Museum and the Architecture and Design Center.

If like Obama you love to play golf, there are several to choose such as the championshipIndian Wells golf course looking lovely with its mountain backdrop and water features.

Proof Palm Springs used to be the desert

I had to pinch myself to remember that this land had been desert for more than 11,000 years and by the time I had wined, dined, spa’d and tee’d off with the local trendies it dawned on me that I had no choice; I had to go on a jeep tour to get a glimpse of this region’s true nature. The tour was a fascinating drive to the lands where the Cahuilla people lived 400 years ago.

I could see the San Andreas Fault where the collision of Pacific and North American plates have created a twisted and tormented landscape that would not look out of place at the Tate. Our guide tells us that palms are not trees, they are monocots – “think grass on steroids” she said. The landscape here is phenomenal and this is where you actually get to see the palm springs.

Where to eat in Palm Springs

The town is full of designer-diners such as the amazing and plushly decorated, three-levelledLulu on South Palm Canyon Drive.

In the town centre located on the corner of South Indian Canyon and Arenas Road theJohannes restaurant offers some truly tasty Austrian dining. The menu has a Schnitzel lover’s menu including the classic Weiner or chicken varieties alongside more unusual offerings such as Mama’s with tomato and gruyere and fonina cheese. Traditional deserts include a sumptuous strudel, tiramissu and chocolate mousse.

In El Paseo, the region’s shopping area, a lively joint is the Tommy Bahama shopping and restaurant combo – a retail recipe that seems to be popular in the US and for a little more authenticity I nipped out to the Coachella Valley to dine in the Jackalope Ranch restaurant where meat dishes are served with live entertainment in its wild west style saloon.

When to Go to Palm Springs

From January to May the weather is warm but not too hot and sunny. During the summer months, the weather can be extremely hot, but then again, some like it hot.

Palm Springs – need to know

Where to stay: Ace Hotel – a funky, retro style, motel-cum-hotel with some great mod cons and a pleasant, come-as-you-are vibe. Read our review here.

Travel Guide: walking distance from Boston

In Boston you can cram more into a couple of days than in most American cities. You can brush up on the history of the War of Independence, eat clam chowder on the hoof or cherrystones at a bar, snap up a bargain or two – and learn why you shouldn’t hang out a sweaty T-shirt to dry in the woods.

The city centre is so compact that you can do it all on foot – or at least by relatively cheap public transport. There’s no need to rent a car. Parking downtown is a nightmare.

The best possible introduction is the Freedom Trail* – which of course means freedom from British taxation without representation – a walking route marked with a thick red line. It starts on Boston Common, crosses the broad Charles River, climbs to the Bunker Hill monument, site of the revolution’s first great battle, and finishes at Charlestown Navy Yard where the USS Constitution is moored – a warship whose oak hull was so resistant to cannonballs that sailors nicknamed her “Old Ironsides”.

The walk should take about two hours but allow the best part of a day. You will want to linger in the old burial grounds and the churches with their spare, uncluttered interiors, where box pews serve as a reminder that temperatures here swing between extremes. Early worshippers would bring their own stoves or even dogs into them – to keep warm in the sometimes bitterly cold winters.

Make time for lunch en route. Graze, perhaps, among the stalls of Quincy Market. There, you could choose anything from steamed lobster or scallops to pizza. But best of all is a cup of creamy chowder, Boston’s staple, served in a paper cup, with crackers. If you’d rather eat sitting down, drop into the Union Oyster House, which claims to be America’s oldest restaurant. It started serving food in 1826. Six of the said shellfish will cost about £11 at the bar. A half dozen cherrystones – sweet little clams on the half shell – are £2 or so cheaper.

For coffee, follow the trail to the North End, settled first by Irish immigrants, later by Jews from Eastern Europe and now so overwhelmingly Italian you might fantasize that this middle aged men chewing the fat in the depths of its restaurants are accustomed to making offers that can’t be refused. Stop for one of the best cappuccinos you’ll ever taste. Maybe pick up a Sicilian cannolo for dessert. You’ll pass Mike’s Pastry, a Boston institution since 1946, which is famous for them. But chances are you’ll face a long queue.

Back in time, then, at Paul Revere’s wooden house, built in 1680 and the longest surviving in Boston. It was Revere who rode to warn the rebel militia that British troops were preparing to crack down on them, his famous midnight ride immortalized poetically, if not entirely factually, by Longfellow. In case he didn’t make it past the army patrols a light was shone from the steeple of the lovely Old North Church, where John Wesley once preached.

After absorbing all that history a little retail therapy might be in order. Head east across the Common to Downtown Crossing, where shops include TJ Maxx. Newbury Street (lots of cafes) and Boylston Street are smarter but the latter has a branch of Marshalls, worth trawling for cut price designer label clothes. There are also several big malls, including those at the Prudential Centre and Copley Square.

Climbing the Fann Mountains in Tajikistan is very beautiful

There is a place where the mountains stretch up to touch the sky, turquoise lakes shimmer like jewels against a dusty backdrop, and — so they say — Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander the Great, rises from the deep, dark waters on a full moon night, and grazes on the shore. History and legend here are intimately entwined, but one thing is for certain: the views alone will take your breath away in Tajikistan.

Where is Tajikistan?

Tajikistan is one of those funny places we know exists, but few people could actually place on the map. Nestled between China, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan it’s a small, mountainous state which was historically of great significance — Alexander the Great built cities here, it was central to the Silk Road, and the Great Game was played out along its rivers and passes — but in recent years it has fallen, undeservedly, into obscurity.

It’s all about the trekking

Thankfully, a new generation of trekkers, climbers, and other adventure seekers have decided it’s time for all that to change, and the Fann Mountains in northwestern Tajikistan look set to become one of the wildest and most exciting travel destinations of 2017.

Pioneering the development of trekking and tourism in Tajikistan is Luca Lässer, owner of Kalpak Travel, who fell in love with the ‘Stans whilst completing an exchange programme at the American University of Central Asia. He describes the Fann Mountains as “a magical destination [which] will quite literally take your breath away,” and as the peaks here soar to well over 5,000m, that’s no exaggeration!

The roads, often unmade, could do little more than cling to the mountainsides, rivers rushing hundreds of feet below, and a sheer face of rock above. Often I couldn’t see the sky: that required getting out of the vehicle and craning my neck back, staring straight up. The natural barrier created by the mountains was so high.

Amazing landscape

From the main road, we crossed a rickety metal bridge, rusted and barely holding together, and climbed and climbed, one hairpin bend after another. Clouds of dust blew up from the track, and on the barren slopes around us, there was little to see but scree.

But then we passed over a hump, and another bend, and laid out below us was a turquoise lake, the surface of the water glittering in the sunlight.  Around the lake, the vegetation was lush and jade green, a veritable oasis which until now had been completely hidden from view.

This lake was Iskanderkul, named for Alexander the Great. It is said that he came here whilst on campaign, and when his favourite horse, Bucephalus, died, he was buried in the lake. The shepherds will tell you that on a moonlit the ghost of this horse rises again, but though we watched intently from our campsite on the shore, we didn’t catch a glimpse of Bucephalus.

The people

Though the landscapes in the Fann often seem empty, in fact that’s far from the truth. People have lived here for millennia, and some of them have preserved their languages and cultures since ancient times. Their villages sit by the riverside, and in summer the shepherds drive their flocks to high meadows over mountain passes. And so my second fond memory is of the people, and in particular a family in Aini who took me in for the night. The concrete wall around their plot encompassed not only the family home, but also a beautifully tended garden. The grandmother of the house sat with me beneath the apricot tree, telling stories I’ll never understand. But in the warmth of the sunshine, relaxed in the company of new friends, there was no better place in the world to while away an afternoon.

Access

Unlike the Alps or the Pyrenees, the Fann Mountains are hardly easily accessible, but their remoteness is part of their charms. You won’t find yourself following another trekking party up the pass, or competing for space at the best camping spots. The attraction of this wilderness is exactly that — it’s still wild. And the thrilling thing is that it’s waiting to be explored.

Practical Information

Kalpak Travel has 13-day trekking tours to the Fann Mountains, with scheduled departures in July and August. The tour costs €1,690 and this includes ground transportation, accommodation, meals, camping equipment, and services of an English speaking guide.

There are no direct flights from the UK to Tajikistan, but there are reasonable connections from London to Dushanbe (the capital) with Turkish Airlines, Air Baltic, and Air Astana. You will need to apply for an e-visa before you travel, and this currently costs $50. No additional permits are required to visit the Fann Mountains.