Tips

Top Caribbean Villas

Top Caribbean Villas

– Bree Sposato

Looking for even more privacy? Turn to these tried-and-true rental agencies for out-of-the-way—but far from out-of-touch—villas in the Caribbean.

  • McLaughlin Anderson Luxury Villas Expect 100 listings, from one-bedroom cottages to 10-bedroom estates, throughout the British and U.S. Virgin Islands.
  •  St. Barth Properties Owner Peg Walsh spends six months a year on the tony island, and is intimately acquainted with all 160 beach- and hill-side properties.
  • Villas by Linda Smith Owner Linda Smith stays in each of the 93 properties in her portfolio, all of which come staffed with a chef, butler, and gardener.
Top Foodie Getaways

Top Foodie Getaways

– Bree Sposato
On the cusp of harvest season, the weather is still warm and a bounty of fruit and vegetables crop up on farmland throughout the country. Now is the time to embrace your inner foodie. To make it easier, we've done the legwork for you: At these superbly operated properties and on select cruises, you can get your hands dirty in the garden, discover how to make your own cheese, learn about historic and modern food traditions, and more. All against stunning natural backdrops. Bon appétit.


SALT WATER FARM
Camden, Maine

This former sheep farm is now a food camp, thanks to Annemarie Ahearn, a veteran of Blue Hill Restaurant and the onetime assistant of Tom Colicchio. Choose from three- day in-depth workshops in cheese-making, butchery, pickling, and more. Also on offer? Monthly four-course Full Moon suppers.
TIP: Stay at nearby Camden Harbour Inn, on a hilltop overlooking Penobscot Bay. saltwaterfarm.com

BLACKBERRY FARM
Walland, Tennessee

Blackberry Farm sits on 4,200 acres in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Learn about heirloom traditions from Master Gardener John Coykendall by day and cozy up by the fireplace in one of the 20 cottages in the evening. (There are 62 rooms total.)
TIP: When you’re not out working alongside experts in the garden, indulge in a farm-inspired treatment at the brand-new Wellhouse spa. blackberryfarm.com

FEATHER DOWN FARMS
Caledonia, Illinois

The Europe-based, family-friendly operation offers two spreads, on in Illinois and the other in New York’s Delaware County. It’s rustic but authentic experience: The three-room canvas tents are comfortable (expect wood floors, oil lamps, and wood-burning stoves) and you can collect eggs, milk cows, and bake bread by hand.
TIP: You can pre-order delicious homemade meals. featherdown.com

CRYSTAL CRUISES
Europe, South America, Asia, Australia

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa heads up the restaurants on many of the cruise line’s ships. Many departures to Europe, South America, and Australia are food-and-wine themed with market excursions, chocolate tastings, mixology classes, and more.
TIP: Golfers will love the food-and-golf themed sailings, while others may prefer the recently launched programs that emphasize microbrewery. crystalcruises.com

SIDEBAR: SIP HAPPY
Food and drink go, well, hand in hand. For in-depth lessons on the west coast, try San Francisco’s Boothby Center for the Beverage Arts (415/967-1891); in New York City, the Institute of Culinary Education (iceculinary.com) offers classes on how to make summertime cocktails (such as Pimm’s Cup and Tom Collins), Mad Men-inspired concoctions like the Old-Fashion and Martinis, and courses that teach you about wines from around the world.
The Best Biking Trips

The Best Biking Trips

– Bree Sposato
Put your foot to the pedal for an up-close look at the European countryside.

CROATIA


From your base on two Croatian islands, including Hvar, you’ll explore medieval villages, swim in pristine waters off quaint fishing towns, and taste vintages from the country’s burgeoning wine scene. (VBT; vbt.com; 10 days from $3,745) •

IRELAND

Cycle over gentle roads through the emerald-green fields and little towns of Ireland’s west coast. Stop for a sudsy brew or two before retiring for the evening. (Ciclismo Classico; ciclismoclassico.com; eight days from $4,995)

HOLLAND

Take in the scenery immortalized by Dutch masters as you wind your way along the North Sea coast. On the horizon: Windmills, tulip expanses, and tiny but fantastic eateries. (Butterfield & Robinson; butterfield.com; six days from $5,795)
Spring in Europe

Spring in Europe

– Bree Sposato
Spring in Europe
We've all heard about Paris in springtime. But what about Provence or Prague? Barcelona or Berlin? Here's your cheat sheet to six of our favorite European cities and regions best explored when the weather is warm and the crowds are delightfully few.

1. PARIS
STAY: Lay your head at the 20-room L’Hôtel(l-hotel.com), the onetime haunt of Oscar Wilde. Appointed with antiques and damask silks, it's a St.-Germain beauty. EAT: Roast suckling lamb is the dish to order at Drouant (drouant.com), the century-old institution in Les Halles. Alsatian chef Antoine Westermann's generous portions are best savored slowly on the quiet sidewalk terrace. DO: Skip the tourist traps (unless you've not yet been to the Louvre, Notre-Dame, or the Eiffel Tower) and instead spend the afternoon strolling along the boutique-filled Marais neighborhood, taking a two-hour cooking lesson with L'Atelier Des Chefs, or people-watching at the Luxembourg Gardens.

2. TUSCANY
STAY: To feel like royalty, check into Castello del Nero Boutique Hotel & Spa, only a 25-minute drive from Florence. Centuries-old cypress trees dot the 700-acre property. Inside the 50-room estate, you'll find over-the-top details such as four-poster beds and claw-foot tubs. EAT: Stick to Tuscan classics including malfatti all'Osteria (spinach and ricotta gnocchi) at Osteria Le Logge (osterialelogge.it), in Siena. Top it off with a Tuscan wine from the extensive list for a meal to remember. DO: This is an immense region so it's best to devote yourself to one area, such as Siena, Lucca or Val d'Orcia, rent a car, and explore its many restaurants, wineries, and art. One highlight: In Lucca, visit San Frediano, with its historic altarpiece and 16th-century frescoes.

3. PROVENCE
STAY: Domaine de la Baume (domaine-delabaume.com) has just 15 rooms, but charm in spades. Filled with olive groves, the sprawling estate, set in Tourtour, was once owned by Expressionist painter Bernard Buffet. EAT: In Arles, La Chassagnette (chassagnette.fr), helmed by the ingenious chef Armand Arnal, serves dishes such as sea snails from St. Martin de Crau and octopus with trumpet zucchini, prepared with ingredients from the vegetable garden. DO: Wind your way through the region's medieval hill towns, such as Menerbes, Saignon, Gordes, Bonnieux, tucked within the Luberon Mountains.

4. BARCELONA
STAY: Not surprisingly, the Ritz-Carlton-owned Hotel Arts Barcelona (ritzcarlton.com) has attentive service, a Six Senses rooftop spa, and is just a 20-minute walk from the Ramblas. EAT: Uber-fresh octopus, shrimp, and clams are the reward for waiting for a stool at the counter of Cal Pep (calpep.com), off Placa de les Olles, in Barcelona. Expect an intimate, convivial vibe. DO: Take a day trip two hours north to the whitewashed town of Cadaqués on the sea. With its cobbled streets and sailboat-filled harbor, it's postcard-perfect.

5. PRAGUE
STAY: At one time a monastery, the Augustine (theaugustine.com), from hotelier Rocco Forte, is set in the Mala Strana district, near Prague Castle. But the interiors are warm, not austere, with touches such as exposed beams, vaulted ceilings, and marble bathrooms. EAT: In the spring, ask for a table on the terrace overlooking the Prague Castle gardens at Palffy Palac (palffy.cz), which dates back to the 17th century. DO: Cubism dominated the city during the 1900s and the evidence is spectacularly on display at the Museum of Czech Cubism (ngprague.cz), filled with fine examples of painting, furniture, typography, and more.

6. BERLIN
STAY: For traditional elegance, turn to Brandenburger Hof (dormero-hotel-brandenburgerhof.de). The 19th-century mansion has 72 minimalist-style rooms, as well as a modest French Michelin-starred restaurant, Die Quadriga. EAT: In East Berlin, Gugelhof (gugelhof.de) dishes up savory stews and fish, and was a pit stop for President Bill Clinton during a visit. DO: Stroll along Under den Linden from the Brandenburg Gate past Museum Island, the State Opera, the Berlin Cathedral, and Neue Wache. Don't forget to take in the city's famed nightlife.
The Caribbean’s Dreamiest Hotels

The Caribbean’s Dreamiest Hotels

– Bree Sposato
1. LADERA RESORT - Soufrière, St. Lucia
Set right in the middle of massive green mountains, this 32-cottage resort has arguably the best views in the Caribbean. Every room is open air and looks out on the two, 2,400-foot-high Piton hills and the deep green-blue ocean. In a thoughtful touch, the cottages are tiered on the hillside so you have the utmost in privacy. Since there aren’t any televisions or phones, the focus is entirely on you and the view.

TIP: Dasheene restaurant’s Executive Chef Nigel Mitchel prepares traditional St. Lucian dishes such as roast conch with pickled vegetables and sweet potato and coconut soup using ingredients sourced from neighboring plantations; foodies can request a tour of a local market alongside the chef.

2. NISBET PLANTATION BEACH CLUB - Nevis
Palms flank the wide, grassy “avenue” leading from the resort’s main Great House down to the warm water, all dark blue save for ribbons of green. Here, sunbathers stretch out on loungers that dot the resort’s half-mile white-sand beach. There’s also a freshwater pool, a beachfront Jacuzzi, an open-air bar, and outdoor tables where you can dine while digging your toes into the soft sand. During the 18th century, this property was a sugar plantation; the screened-in porch is especially lovely, as are the spacious rooms with wicker furniture.

TIP: Tack on a two-hour biking tour with Nevis’s Reggie Douglas through the island’s plantations and historic villages, and spot green vervet monkeys along the way.

3. EDEN ROCK - St. Bart’s
This is the place to be and be seen on celebrity-studded St. Bart’s. With a collection of suites, houses, and villas either facing the sea or set farther back in the garden—many with unique details such as a Philippe Starck-designed bathroom or a rock wall—there’s something to suit every personality type. You’re also directly on one of the island’s most beautiful beaches and have access to one of its best restaurants, On the Rocks—an open-air spot overlooking the bay.

TIP: Consider booking the Harbour House and De Haenen suites, which float above the bay, or the Greta Garbo or Howard Hughes suites, where both legends once stayed. They’re less modern, but make for a great humblebrag.

4. CAMBRIDGE BEACHES - Bermuda
Make no mistake—there’s a preppy, even old-fashioned vibe at this complex of cottages on a remote, 30-acre peninsula looking over Long Bay Beach. In spite of its country club style, which draws many a repeat guest, there are myriad perks. All of the 94 rooms and suites are uniquely decorated (some are done in chintz, others are more modern); it’s the only resort on the island to offer accommodations with dedicated pools; and the staff will remember your name. And a recent renovation added a fantastic infinity pool and three new suites.

TIP: Ask the concierge to arrange dinner for two on a nearby private island.

5. HOTEL EL CONVENTO - San Juan, Puerto Rico
Glamour is the trump card of this converted 17th-century Carmelite convent in the heart of Old San Juan. While it’s not located on the beach, the boutique property makes up for it with gorgeous details—think high ceilings, Andalusian tile, and exposed Mahogany beams—plus, modern tech amenities such as plasma-screen TV’s and Bose stereos. All 58 rooms are appointed with four-poster beds, and there’s a rooftop pool for sunbathing as well as a courtyard that makes the perfect backdrop for a leisurely lunch.

TIP: Book a Deluxe Room on floors 4 or 5 for enormous windows overlooking the sailboat-dotted bay.

6. AMANYARA - Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
Amanyara’s open-sided pavilions, silk-swathed daybeds, and cacti-covered gardens channel Southeast Asia so much you could almost forget you were on Providenciales, the hub of the Turks and Caicos island chain. All 40 air-conditioned pavilions have freestanding bathtubs and three glass walls that open to a terrace with a sunken dining area. They face the ocean and pond, but are set back from the beach. You can play tennis and go diving, but the staff here is incredibly attentive—the perfect complement to a truly relaxing getaway.

TIP: Splurge on a spa treatment in one of the four treatment pavilions overlooking the vast reflection pond. Also consider practicing yoga on the outdoor sala.
America’s Most Stunning National Parks - Health Tip

America’s Most Stunning National Parks - Health Tip

– Bree Sposato
If you missed the first and second parts of the America's Most Stunning National Parks list, you can find it here. On this week's tips find out how to stay healthy and safe when visitng any of the parks on our list.

  • To help prevent altitude sickness, spend a night or two at a higher elevation before attempting physical activities such as skiing or snowshoeing.

  • Bring food and water, as visitor centers may have limited supplies, as in Black Canyon. It helps to pack calorie-packed snacks for skiing or snowshoeing.
America’s Most Stunning National Parks

America’s Most Stunning National Parks

– Bree Sposato
You don’t need to travel far to fall under the spell of the mountain vistas, pristine lakes, and untamed wildlife of these iconic and under-the-radar gems.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Home to more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, including 300 geysers—the world’s largest concentration—Yellowstone is one of the most geologically spectacular national parks on the globe. Dating back to 1872, it’s also the world’s oldest. Mammoth Hot Springs is not to be missed; it’s one of the few places where you can find active travertine terraces, which look like mini-lakes stacked on top of each other at an angle. One of the largest volcanic eruptions in history happened here, creating one of the largest known calderas. Exploring the park is easy, thanks to five spaced apart entrances, 400-plus miles of roads, and 1,000 miles of trails, from which you can view the wooly bison, bighorn sheet, elk, and more. TIP: Book well in advance to stay at the Old Faithful Inn. Peak season mid-April—late October; entrance fee $25 per vehicle valid for seven days. http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm 

Olympic National Park
, Washington

Here, sea stars float in tidal pools, dolphins frolic offshore, and spotted owls whiz through dense patches of primeval forest. The park—95 percent of which is designated as protected wilderness—owes much of its biological diversity to having been long protected by glacial ice. In fact, it’s home to 15 kind of animals found nowhere else in the world, supported by three wildly different ecosystems: Glacier-capped mountains, old-growth rain forest, and more than 70 miles of Pacific coast. The globe’s largest unmanaged Roosevelt Elk herd also roams over this craggy land, crisscrossed by 600 miles of trails suitable for all fitness levels. TIP: The best place to view the snow-dusted Bailey Range of the Olympic Mountains is at Hurricane Ridge, located about three miles above sea level. On a clear day, you may spot Vancouver Island and the San Juan Islands. Busiest Aug.—Sept., least crowded Jan.—Feb.; entrance fee $10 per vehicle.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona


Carved long ago by the mighty Colorado River, this canyon’s dimensions are hard to comprehend, even if you’re lucky enough to stand at its edge. Reaching a depth of nearly 6,000 feet, a length of 277 miles, and spanning between one and 18 miles between the North and South Rims, the enormity of the preserve is rivaled only by its age. For those who count such things, limestone at the top dates back 260 million years, while metamorphic rock at the bottom is estimated to be 1.8 billion years old. Both desert and forest habitats are found here, home to everything from the California condor to mountain lions. Catch the park at sunrise or sunset to see the mesas and buttes bathed in an otherworldly glow. TIP: You’ll capture the best photos in the morning or late afternoon. Busiest in July and Aug., least crowded Nov.—Jan.; entrance fee $25 per vehicle. http://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado


One of the country’s lesser-traversed expanses, the Black Canyon—accessed via a road that travels up onto a mesa and through a pinon-juniper forest—started out as a national monument in 1933 and was only granted national park status in 1999. Today, folks come here to spot Peregrine falcons, bighorn sheep, and bobcats. Wildlife aside, the most stunning feature is geological and known as the “painted wall.” It’s a dramatic, 2,250-foot cliff comprised of black metamorphic rock called gneiss (pronounced “nice”), etched with ropes of shiny pink pegmatite twisted in the shape of dragons. TIP: You’ll need a permit to hike into the canyon. Busiest in July—Aug., least crowded Dec.—Jan. (the North Rim closes when snowfall is 4-plus inches); entrance fee $15 per vehicle. http://www.nps.gov/blca/index.htm

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee + North Carolina


It’s little wonder why this is the country’s most visited national park, clocking in at an average of nine million visitors each year. Dating back 200-300 million years, the gently undulating Smokies rise from 875 to 6,643 feet and are among the world’s oldest mountains. They’re especially beautiful during leaf-peeping season (beginning as early as mid-September), when yellow birch and pin cherry trees begin to turn. Wildlife is also a draw: There are 17,000 known species and possibly as many as 80,000 more. Most notable are the American Black Bear (there were 1,500 at last count), as well as the red-cheek salamander (the park is known as the salamander capital). TIP: Park insiders love the sandstone boulders, which fall from cliffs high in the mountains and move into steep-sided streams over time. Carried downstream, rounded, and eventually broken down, the remnants of some of these boulders have traveled as far as the Gulf of Mexico as sand. Busiest July—Aug., least crowded Jan.—Feb.; free unless you stay at developed camps. http://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm

Channel Islands National Park


These five islands off the California coast are magnets for water lovers. Kayaking, bird watching, and diving are the best ways to explore the place that’s been dubbed the Galapagos of North America. Teeming with dolphins, seals, and the largest aggregation of blue whales in the world, perhaps the most startling underwater inhabitant yet is the Giant Black Sea Bass, a gentle giant of a fish that can stretch to seven feet and 750 pounds. On the northwest coastline of Santa Cruz island, the Painted Cave is not to be missed. It’s one of the world’s largest and deepest sea caves that looks spattered with all the colors of the rainbow, thanks to its colorful types of rock, lichens, and algae. TIP: Pack a pair of binoculars. Located off the Santa Barbara/Ventura Coastline, the closest park island is 11 miles and the farthest is 55; private boats are permitted on select areas with a permit, but local operators also offer tours. Busiest July—Aug., least crowded Oct.—Dec. (visit Jan.-Mar. to see migrating gray whales, in spring to see wildflowers). http://www.nps.gov/chis/index.htm

Acadia National Park, Maine


The jewel of Maine covers 49,000 acres on Mount Desert Island. More than 2.2 million adventure types flock to what was the first national park on the east coast, established in 1916. Evergreen forests ring sparkling lakes in the shadow of craggy mountains, making it an ideal destination for hiking, camping (there are three campgrounds, Blackwoods, Seawall, and Isle de Haut), boating, even cross-country skiing in the winter. Many of the beaches are spectacular too, but the slightly crunchy sand is scattered with the skeletons of crabs, mussels, and sea urchins. Consider heading to Somes Sound, where evidence of the long-ago carving of granite by glaciers is evident everywhere in the form of striations and giant boulders. Acadia is also a bird-watcher’s haven, with a record 338 species; the eerie call of the red-throated loon will not be soon forgotten. TIP: To get there, travel just three miles north of Bar Harbor. Busiest July—Aug., least crowded Jan.—Feb. entrance fee $20 per vehicle. http://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado


Arguably the world’s most majestic string of mountains, the snow-capped Rockies hit a high note of 14,259 feet at Longs Peak. In the park, 124 peaks are 8,789 feet and higher, 118 are above 10,000, 77 top 12,000, and 20 soar past 13,000—in a word, awesome. One third of the park is above tree line, while the rest is carpeted in Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine, juniper, blue spruce, and aspen. More than a quarter of all the plants here are also native to the Arctic. One delightful exception: The Colorado columbine, whose bluish-purple bloom nods in the sun-warmed breeze. TIP: Help prevent altitude sickness by making sure to acclimatize and drink water often. Busiest July—Aug., least crowded Jan.—Feb. (visit June—July to see bighorn sheep and wildflowers, Sept.—early Oct. for elk mating season); entrance fee $20 per vehicle. http://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm

World's Strangest Beaches

– Heather Eng
World’s Strangest Beaches Supersize dunes, hot mineral pools, purple sand: These 10 beaches are as unusual as they are beautiful.

To say that Americans love beaches is an understatement. Approximately 85 percent of us visit a beach on vacation, according to Stephen P. Leatherman, Ph.D., a.k.a Dr. Beach, director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research. “There’s nothing like them,” says Leatherman. “You’ve got sand, water, and waves, plus cool, fresh air. Plus there’s the nostalgia factor: everyone loved sand as a kid.”

The fact that only Mother Nature created these beaches is perhaps what’s most astounding. No human hands were involved—just the perfect geologic storms of air, water, temperature, and pressure. Here, 10 of the world’s most stunning stretches.

Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Harbour Island is just 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, but this tiny slice of the Bahamas has one of the Caribbean’s prettiest beaches: three miles of pink sand that stretches along the island’s east coast. The red shells of foraminifera—single-celled marine animals—mix with the island’s white sand, thus creating the soft rosy hue.

Papakolea Beach, Hawaii It takes effort to reach Papakolea.

The beach is located near Ka Lae, the southernmost point in Hawaii—and the entire United States. To reach it, visitors endure a hot and rugged hike for nearly three miles along sea cliffs. The reward: ending up on a green-sand beach. The grains are almost pure olivine, a green mineral, and come from Puu Mahana, a volcanic cone that sits above the beach. gohawaii.com

Thunder Cove, Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island has more than 500 miles of beaches, and about half have red sand due to high iron oxide content. The southern coast, where many such beaches are located, is known as Red Sands Shore. However, a local favorite is Thunder Cove, on the northern Green Gables Shore, beloved for its rust-colored sand and dunes. tourismpei.com

75 Mile Beach, Fraser Island, Australia

Stretching as long as its name says, on most of Fraser Island’s eastern shore, 75 Mile Beach looks like a coastal highway—and it’s exactly that. And a runway too. The hard-packed white sand below the high tide mark allows four-wheel-drive cars to ride and planes to land on it smoothly. Despite the activity, travelers can still have a beach day without getting run over. A prime spot for splashing and sunbathing is the Champagne Pools on the north end. The shallow, sandy rock pools make perfect swimming holes, unlike other areas of the island where dangerous currents lurk. Crashing waves that create foamy water give the pools their apt name. destinationqueensland.com

Boulders Beach, Cape Town

Thousands of years of erosion weathered away sandstone on this stretch of South African coast, uncovering massive granite boulders. At aptly named Boulders Beach (part of Table Mountain National Park), visitors can splash and sunbathe in the sheltered cove—and revel in looking like extras in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. If that’s not amusing enough, add penguins to the equation. More than 3,000 African penguins live, swim, and mate in the area. Just don’t touch them; they may look cute, but those beaks are razor sharp, and they bite. sanparks.org

Punalu'u Beach, Hawaii

Jet-black sand gives this southern Big Island beach a rather postapocalyptic look. Luckily, the frequent appearance of green sea turtles brightens the mood. Year-round, visitors will find the giant reptiles basking on the shore—nearly camouflaged by rocks on the beach—or swimming right off the coast. Signs on the beach warn against petting or riding the turtles, and it’s no joke. The turtles are endangered, and touching them is against the law. gohawaii.com 

Siesta Beach, Florida

At first glance, Siesta Beach, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, looks like the standard picture-perfect shore. It has clear blue water, exceptionally white sand, and is so pristine that Dr. Leatherman rated it the number one beach in America. But once you kick off your flip-flops, your feet will experience what makes this beach so unique. The powdery sand is 99.9 percent quartz crystal and so fine and uniform in size that it squeaks when you walk on it. Plus, its composition allows it to stay cool even with the hot summer sun blazing down. siestakeychamber.com

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel, New Zealand

Craving a spa-like experience? Get one, gratis, here. Mineral water that heats to nearly 150 degrees flows beneath the sand. For two hours at the beginning and end of low tide, visitors can dig holes in the ground and settle into their own natural hot tubs. Ahhh... newzealand.com

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CA

In correcting mankind’s mistakes, Mother Nature created one fascinating beach. Until the late 1960s, Californians used the Fort Bragg shore as a dumping ground. After the government banned the practice, decades of wave erosion weathered down the glass refuse. The smooth, glistening particles washed ashore and covered what is now Glass Beach. While the sea gems may be gorgeous to look at, visitors are forbidden to take them home. fortbragg.com

Hoshizuna no Hama, Iriomote Island, Japan

Hoshizuna no Hama means “Star Sand Beach,” and it’s an apt name for this remote Okinawa seashore. Each particle of sand looks like a minuscule star or sunburst, yet they’re actually shells from single-cell organisms. The shallow water is well-suited to snorkeling.

Originally published in Travel + Leisure magazine's June 2012 issue.

Exploring the Stylish Side of Brussels

– Bree Sposato
Brussels, Belgium has been shaking off a bad rap for the past decade as the Continental redoubt of the well-heeled and slightly stuffy. There have always been hushed, pricey restaurants aplenty, swathed in stiff white table linens (with squadrons of stiff waiters to match); ditto comically expensive shops for well-groomed but terminally conservative diplos and Eurocrats.

But no longer: Just head north of Old Town, down the hill toward the Bourse, and then cross Boulevard Anspach. You’re in the once-rough, now thoroughly chic Dansaert neighborhood. Named for its main artery, Rue Antoine Dansaert, it roughly comprises Place St.-Géry to the southwest (a super-cool bar at every turn) and Place Ste.-Catherine to the east (stylish boîtes and seafood bistros; a sweet outdoor food and flower market).

Read on for our address book, revealed.

SHOP
Here, you’re surrounded by Rue Antoine Dansaert’s pioneering clothing and accessories boutiques that collectively lend Brussels its new appeal.

The progenitor of the street’s cachet is Stijl (74 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/512-0313), where owner Sonia Noël has been stocking her sprawling, high-ceilinged space—gray walls; gray concrete floor—with designs from Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Kris Van Assche, and the like for years.

The prettiest shop interior belongs to a member of Belgium’s new fashion generation, Annemie Verbeke (64 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/511-2171), a Flanders native whose Dansaert store is housed in a massive early-20th-century house with aged mosaic floors, a curving staircase, and soaring ceilings. Verbeke’s deconstructed designs in drapey, sexy fabrics—a bit Dries Van Noten, a bit DvF—are the quiet stars of the show.

For a sleek white emporium that showcases Belgium’s emerging talent, make your way to the end of Rue Antoine Dansaert and Glorybox (10 Rue Léon Lepage; 32-2/511-0488). A rotating cast of smaller labels, such as Monsieur Bul, mix with edgy clothing and accessories from Filles à Papa.

Understated chic is the neighborhood’s defining aesthetic, and Belgian jeweler Christa Reniers (196 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/510-0660), whose flagship has been on Antoine Dansaert since 1999, embodies it with her elegant designs, popular with local stylists and editors. Her signature Rainbow 8 rings (thin, hammered-gold stacking rings with tiny tourmalines and moonstones) form gorgeous constellations on the hand.

For statement pieces in the manner of Marni and Lanvin—bold, outsize necklaces and cuffs in brass, enamel, and grosgrain—the place is Les Précieuses (83 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/503-2898), a treasure box where owner-designer Pili Collado also stocks Diptyque votives and one-off accessories; you could shop here with a blindfold on and still walk away with a perfect choice.

Around the corner, on Rue des Chartreux, an outpost of Belgian sportswear brand Bellerose (11A Rue des Chartreux; 32-2/502-8953) sells its own Abercrombie & Fitch–like line for men and women as well as a vast selection of vintage clothes, books, and housewares (yes, that black-lacquered Bobbin bike against the wall is for sale).

EAT
With great shops come restaurants appealing to those who want to eat and drink well—in stylishly (and, for Brussels, refreshingly) dressed-down surroundings.

Stalwarts on the street include Bonsoir Clara (22 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/502-0990; lunch for two $35), a boho space serving an haute menu of Continental standards turned on their heads (goose-liver pâté is paired with vanilla, pears, and dates).

Just a few doors up is L’Archiduc (6 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/512-0652; drinks for two $20), a circa-1937, speakeasy-style bar (just ring the bell for entry) that’s an Art Deco fantasy of slender columns and curvaceous fauteuils, with a dimly lit mezzanine for intimate tête-à-têtes.

One of Brussels, Belgium’s loveliest afternoon (or evening, or morning) teas is on offer at AM Sweet (4 Rue des Chartreux; 32-2/513-5131; tea for two $8), a diminutive, two-story salon de thé and confiserie around the corner on Chartreux. It’s the neighborhood favorite for lesser-known artisanal chocolates (including those of local cult producer Laurent Gerbaud), delicate pastries, and obscure teas from all corners of the globe. But Dansaert’s secret weapon is its unexpected wealth of Asian restaurants.

Rue Dansaert itself is abutted on one side by Brussels’s version of Chinatown and, on the other, by Rue Jules van Praet, which is lined with Thai and Vietnamese joints serving authentic food at rock-bottom prices. Green curry at pan–Southeast Asian Lune de Miel (15 Rue Jules Van Praet; 32-2/513-9181; lunch for two $30) and shredded pork at Thiên-Long (12 Rue Van Artevelde; 32-2/511-3480; lunch for two $25) are musts.

DRINK
Whatever cuisine you choose, it’s de rigueur to end your evening at one of three irrevocably hip, endlessly packed bars flanking the Place St.-Géry.

Zebra Bar (35 Place St.-Géry; 32-2/511-0901; drinks for two $10) has metal-clad interiors and wide terrace for people-watching.

Chimay on tap and views onto the square are on offer at Le Roi des Belges (35 Rue Jules Van Praet; 32-2/503-4300; drinks for two $10). Mappa Mundo (2-6 Rue du Pont de la Carpe; 32-2/513-5116; drinks for two $10), all dark-wood rafters and low lighting, has a stealth Latin spirit in the form of the city’s best caipirinha and a thumping samba-remix sound track.

Mappa Mundo is thoroughly Flemish, but with a taste of the great wide world—the essence of Dansaert, in other words. Even the Eurocrats are loosening their Hermès ties and lining up at the bar.

First - Class Luggage

One way to cope with tighter restrictions on checked luggage is to take full advantage of your carry-on baggage allowance. Most airlines let you carry on one piece of personal luggage such as a briefcase or computer bag, and also a larger suitcase or garment bag.

Look for luggage that’s lightweight yet tough enough for the rigors of the road, rolls quietly and smoothly, doesn’t tip over when it hits bumps, and makes efficient use of packing space.

It Pays to Travel Light

Think twice before you pack your life into your bag on your next trip. Here are a few things to keep in mind when getting ready for your next trip. 

Luggage size and weight have become major issues for airlines since 2001, when the Federal Aviation Administration began limiting passengers to one carry-on bag and one handbag or briefcase. The FAA also regulated that carry-ons weigh no more than 40 pounds and checked baggage not exceed 70 pounds. Some airlines now allow a larger size and weight for the first bag travelers bring aboard, enforcing tougher restrictions on additional bags.

As a general rule, carry-ons should measure up to 45 linear inches, but some airlines are accepting luggage that falls within 51 linear inches. Despite this imbalance, airlines are advising travelers not to overpack, since heavy bags can result in penalties.

Oversize carry-ons might need to be checked and classified as “extra bags,” which often incur additional charges. Some airlines have started enforcing a longstanding rule that bags exceeding 62 linear inches can be assessed a penalty of as much as $270 per bag!

So before you pack up and go, call your airline or check its website to find out about specific baggage and carry-on guidelines. When in doubt, leave it out—and travel light on your next adventure.
Europe’s Next Hotspot: Croatia

Europe’s Next Hotspot: Croatia

– Bree Sposato
Pristine islands, rolling vineyards, fishing villages: Croatia, the newest member of the European Union, is surprisingly undiscovered. Outdoor activities—such as sailing, hiking, and diving—abound, architectural styles range from Roman to Romanesque, and the dazzling beaches invite you to don a designer suit—or, sometimes, none at all.

If you’re looking to explore the countryside, set your sights on Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula that extends into the Adriatic Sea off the country’s northern coast. Your best option for getting around is by car and a three- to five-day itinerary might include tasting pinot noir at the Kozlovic Winery; savoring the local white truffles at Toklaarija, a restaurant in a converted olive mill; and touring galleries in the hilltop town of Grožnjan.

Coastal Croatia is postcard-perfect, and hotspots include Hvar, for celebrity spotting; Bol, on Brac Island, for hitting the waves; and Split, with its labyrinth of boutique-lined streets. But if there’s one place that’s not to be missed, it’s Dubrovnik, near Croatia’ southern tip. Here, ancient defensive walls so dramatic they serve as the backdrop for many a Game of Thrones episode about the salty sea; cobblestones polished to a sheen line the romantic city center; and unmarked paths lead to laid-back cliff-side bars.

“It’s like Tuscany, 10 years ago,” is a commonly overheard refrain among travelers smart or lucky enough to come upon the country today. But with so much recent investment in tourism infrastructure—about $9 billion and counting—the landscape is sure to evolve, and draw bigger crowds, in the coming years. Our advice: Get there first. Take advantage of our latest offer in Dubrovnik, Croatia here

Just Say OM

Let’s face it: The globetrotting lifestyle can take a toll on the body. Whether you’re languishing in coach or sitting pretty in first class, hours on end in an airplane seat can wreak havoc on your back and cramp your tired muscles—not to mention your style.

The solution? During your flight, keep active with yoga or pilates-inspired moves like arm stretches, spinal rolls and twists, and even meditation. Back on terra firma, practicing yoga both before and after your trip can stave off a case of the achy, post-travel blues. Find a good yoga instructor to teach you the basics, or invest in an instructional videotape or DVD. You don’t have to be a human pretzel to reap the benefits of the 5,000-year-old Indian discipline.

Properly executed, as basic a pose as Downward-Facing Dog tones the arms and legs, and gives the body a rejuvenating stretch from hands and shoulders to calves and feet. Pretty soon it will be “have yoga mat, will travel.” And your back and those tired muscles will love you for it.

Only in Hawaii

When crimson streams of hot lava meet the cool, aquamarine seawater, clouds of steam billow out in a scene of ethereal, fire-streaked beauty. Cascading off black lava shelves, neon-orange rivulets drip into the sea in an exquisite collision of heaving waves and liquid flame. The sight draws thousands of onlookers to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, where they admire the beauty of the volcano Kilauea.

It’s a dance of water, mist, and flame—a vista you’re unlikely to see anywhere else on earth. Of Hawaii’s many lures, an oozing volcano is reason enough to make the trip to the farflung Pacific archipelago. Yet it’s just one of countless only-in-Hawaii experiences that keep these islands on a hot list of must-do destinations. 

Relaxation

Glenna Smith, principal massage therapist for Spa Grande, the sybaritic haven that graces Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa on Maui, along with her colleagues serve up fabulous island-style treatments for spa guests, like the euphoria- inducing Pohaku Massage, administered with lava rocks found only on Maui. Gathering the stones themselves in a sacred full-moon ritual, Smith and her cohorts use different-shaped stones— heated and sterilized in a rice cooker—to massage various parts of the body. 

“Guests love the stones because the body opens up,” says Smith, who holds the stones in her palms as she delivers the wavelike lomi lomi-style massage with her hands and forearms. Dipped into rich avocado and olive oils, the hot rocks help knead the deep tissues under the skin, replacing any hidden aches with wet-noodle bliss.

Surf's Up

Over on Oahu, quintessential Hawaii finds expression at worldfamous Waimea Bay, where monster waves draw legions of expert surfers in high season. From November through March, the surf’s up—up to 30 feet or higher on a good day. It all makes for some of the most dangerous, most spectacular, and most thrilling surfing in the world. From a safe vantage point along the shore, in a wash of salt spray mist, you can marvel at just how tiny the surfers look under the lip of a super-size wave.  

Natural Beauty

Where else but Hawaii can you walk in the path of a former underground river of lava? Ka’eleku Caverns formed on Maui about 960 years ago, during a two-year lava flow that cooled and solidified into spectacular formations, otherworldly colors, and even mini lava waterfalls suspended in time. Armed with a flashlight, you can explore the giant tunnel with organize walking tours through the caverns.

Back in broad daylight on Kauai, Waimea Canyon puts on a color show to rival the caverns’ brilliance. A pocket- size version of Arizona’s natural wonder, the socalled Grand Canyon of the Pacific was a by-product of lava flows, a massive earthquake, and a rock-slicing river. How best to admire the 15-mile-long canyon’s flame-like lava beds and everchanging colors? Try driving along its rim, plunging through it in a helicopter, or hiking deep within its rich-hued folds. 

On the Road to California’s Best Hotel Restaurants

California lays claim to various top hotel restaurants. It comes as no surprise that Golden State hotels dish up great flavor. After all, the West Coast may well be the country’s food-and-wine belt, blessed with abundant sunshine, a grape and produce harvest of biblical proportions, and a seacoast crawling with delicacies. Gathered here are some of the nation’s most passionate farmers and fruit growers, restaurateurs and wine makers—all in obsessive pursuit of gastronomic perfection.

Combine the state’s phenomenal fare with that great American pastime— the California coastal road trip—and you have a recipe for sublimity. I set out to find some of the best hotel restaurants gracing the Pacific coastline for a culinary odyssey of sorts, marrying the state’s edible bounty with lodgings and locations of uncommon character and appeal. The five road stops on my journey—all touted by food-world pundits—range from swanky luxury digs to seaside resorts to windswept lodges. It’s a mixed bag of lodgings, united by the aim to surround diners and guests with every kind of sensory indulgence, from foie gras to Frette linens. At each hotel you can savor a lingering, luxuriant meal, then walk back to your room without breaking the mood.

The journey begins at Studio, the signature restaurant of the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach—an ocean-hugging arts community midway between San Diego and Los Angeles. The restaurant and resort sit atop a 50-foot beach-fringed bluff, as if to snag the most spectacular vista of the sapphire-blue Pacific. Studio’s enormous open-air windows cash in on the 280-degree panorama and ocean breezes, but it’s Chef James Boyce’s global- style cuisine that’s the real show-stealer here. “I use a limited amount of top-of-the-line ingredients, letting the flavors of each ingredient come out,” says Boyce, who revels in pan-seared John Dory, butter-braised Maine lobster, and meats from New Zealand, each paired with the freshest California vegetables and herbs. He changes the menu every two to three weeks, inspired by the whims of weather and local farmers’ harvests.

The scene morphs from ocean-side serenity to L.A. cool at Whist, the hip indoor/outdoor eatery at the Viceroy boutique hotel in Santa Monica. It’s “see and be seen” at this stylish hot spot, where you can host a private party at one of the poolside cabanas, or sit inside amid Kelly Wearstler’s retro-sleek design. Restaurateurs Tim and Liza Goodell, along with Chef de Cuisine Jeff Armstrong, give American comfort food an artful makeover, with dishes like braised prime short ribs with creamy polenta, and foie gras with roasted pineapple and pink peppercorn sauce.

It’s a giant leap up the coast to Navio, at The Ritz- Carlton, Half Moon Bay—30 miles south of San Francisco but light-years away from fast-paced urban life. Perched over the rugged Pacific coastline, Navio (“ship” in Portuguese) takes the maritime theme and runs with it. Floor-to-ceiling windows inhale the salty sea breezes, and Chef Peter Rudolph capitalizes on the day’s freshest catches, from Dungeness crab with artichoke carpaccio to divers scallops with Thai red lentils. Local boy Rudolph—exuding the energy and passion of his new generation of young American chefs—selects “environmentally responsible” meats and fish, as well as produce and greens grown expressly for the resort. His New American cuisine knows no boundaries, folding in flavors from France, Germany, Spain, and England.

A culinary renaissance is on the wing in the Bay Area, where a clutch of sensational hotel restaurants harken back to the glory days of New York’s famed Delmonico. Amid the cool, tranquil chic of San Francisco’s Hotel Palomar, Fifth Floor numbers among the city’s finest kitchens. Chef Laurent Gras serves up a Modern French cuisine as bold as the dining room’s zebra-striped carpet, bringing together disparate ingredients to vibrant effect—like venison sautéed with lime and coriander, served with cherry marmalade, seasonal vegetables, and pumpkin sorbet. The City by the Bay is a perfect fit for this French-born chef. “San Francisco is very similar geographically to Nice, where I grew up,” says Gras, “so using local ingredients here is a very natural way of cooking for me.”

One hour north of San Francisco, embraced by the vast, wild beauty of Point Reyes National Seashore, Manka’s Inverness Lodge promises “honest beds, phenomenal food” in an intimate 1920s hunting lodge that fairly oozes rustic charm. Chef-owners Margaret Gradé and Daniel DeLong prefer cooking over wood fire with ingredients that have been farmed, foraged, or fished within a half-hour of the lodge—wild game, Olympia oysters, grass-fed beef, wild greens. “We find great inspiration in the wonderful starred restaurants of France, which were traditionally road stops,” says Gradé. “We’ve taken up the baton.” Yet this road stop is 100 percent California—complete with redwood groves, stunning seascapes, transcendent food, and beds piled high with down for deep sleep amid a lullaby of surf.

Hottest Travel Destinations

The experts at Travel + Leisure whittled down a list of 40-odd buzzy places around the world to bring you the hottest travel destinations of the year. Case in point: Two countries written off in recent years—Zambia and the Philippines—are safe to visit once again, and thriving with cool new safari camps and island thatched-roof villas. And a 7,000-year-old historic region in the arch of Italy’s boot may finally see its moment in the sun thanks to the debut of a Hollywood legend’s family home as a hotel. Even in our backyard, there are places that offer compelling new reasons to visit. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, two chefs are shaking up the food scene, while Minneapolis has embraced the foraging-and-farming ethos of Scandinavia. Read on for our 12 favorite picks, and then connect with our Travel Counselors to set your next journey in motion.

Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

Surrounded by mountains and jungle-fringed beaches on the Pacific, this pristine bay bordering a national marine park was long the secret of surfers and backpackers—and migrating whales. Now there’s Kura Design Villas, an upscale eco-resort whose six minimalist villas are open to the tropical air.  See our Cruise Deal to Costa Rica here.

Basilicata, Italy


It’s a mystery—no, a miracle—why this coastal region in the instep of Italy’s boot has remained so overlooked for so long. Known by Italians for its 7,000-year-old cave dwellings, peasant-style cuisine, and thermal springs, it grabbed global attention last year when Francis Ford Coppola opened a hotel, Palazzo Margherita, in his grandfather’s hometown of Bernalda. Now beachfront tavernas are getting paint jobs and sleepy agriturismos such as the 370-acre Tenuta Visconti-San Teodoro Nuovo are waking up.

Puerto Rico

His tenure at 1919—the new restaurant inside San Juan’s historic Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, whose rooms will reopen in mid-2013—has been brief. But native son Juan José Cuevas has already created something other Puerto Rican chefs only talk about: a menu dedicated almost entirely to island ingredients. Cuevas is one of the reasons food lovers are homing in on P.R. Another? Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve—which opened last month 30 miles west of the capital—where culinary wizard José Andrés showcases his own versions of such classic dishes as lechón asado (roast suckling pig).

Minneapolis

Chefs in America’s most Scandinavian city have embraced the foraging-and-farming ethos of Copenhagen’s famed Noma. The pioneering Bachelor Farmer has the city’s first-ever rooftop garden. In June, the American Swedish Institute opened Fika, serving smörgås (open-faced sandwiches). The next place to watch: Union, run by Noma alum Jim Christiansen.  See our offer to Minneapolis here.

Réunion

This far-flung French département in the Indian Ocean has begun marketing to English speakers, even offering ESL lessons for tourism workers. U.S.- and U.K.-based operator Black Tomato is introducing multiple itineraries there this year. The appeal? Secluded beaches, volcanoes—and damn good croissants. 

Philippines

Boracay hogs the spotlight, but there are thousands of other islands to lure beach lovers. At Eskaya Beach Resort & Spa, on Panglao, thatched-roof villas face the sea. Palawan, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, now has El Nido Resorts Pangulasian Island. Groups can reserve Ariara, a 125-acre private isle. 

Charlevoix, Quebec

Cirque du Soleil cofounder Daniel Gauthier has spent 10 years and $350 million developing this once-sleepy ski area into Le Massif de Charlevoix. A new diesel train makes the 41-mile run from Quebec City to the base of eastern Canada’s largest vertical drop (2,526 feet). You’ll find the coolest digs and a fireside lounge at Hotel La Ferme.

Gold Coast, Australia

More Americans are joining A-list Aussies in this beachside Queensland city, thanks in part to Qantas’s new daily nonstop from Dallas to nearby Brisbane. Tap into the scene at star chef Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill at the buzzy Hilton Surfers Paradise and the new Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, a wellness resort co-owned by actor Hugh Jackman.  See our Cruise offer to Australia here here.

Zambia

Instability in Zimbabwe continues to divert safari-goers and guides across the border. In South Luangwa, walking-safari pioneer Norman Carr’s daughter-in-law is opening Chinzombo, and the Bushcamp Company has redone several camps. In the Lower Zambezi, the Ana Tree Lodgewill have eight luxe tents with private plunge pools when it opens in April.  See our Tour offer to Zimbabwe here. here.

Nepal

This beautiful Himalayan state, with its elephants, one-horned rhinos, and incredible landscapes, is back in play and is sure to provide a memorable vacation. Yeti Mountain Home Lodges, on the hike to Everest, and the eco-sensitive, newly renovated Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge are targeting sophisticated adventurers. 

Uco Valley, Argentina

Will this sunny expanse outside Mendoza City become Napa South? New hotels are making it easier to sample the region’s Malbecs and Semillons: Francis Mallman—the Argentine Thomas Keller—runs the kitchen at Vines Resort & Spa , while Casa de Uco, Wine Hotel & Spa has freestanding tubs and outdoor fire pits.

Amsterdam

The historical capital of the Netherlands is one of the most appealing destinations in our list. The Rijksmuseum emerges from a 10-year renovation in April, with a wing devoted to Vermeer and Rembrandt, steps from the recently redone Stedelijk Museum. A few eye-popping design hotels have also debuted, including ones from Andaz and experimental collective Droog.

Marseilles, France

The scruffy charm of France’s edgiest city—one of the European Union’s Capitals of Culture for 2013—is one of the hottest travel destinations this year. Take advantage of the city’s world-known Mediterranean beauty and discover new tastes in everything from local foods to new emerging clothing designers such as Caroline Hanny and Didier Parakian. Style seekers browse the racks in the Cours Julien district; artists are colonizing the Le Panier area; and trendy types hole up at Philippe Starck’s Mama Shelter.
Travel Tips

Travel Tips

Here are a few travel tips from our experts. 
  • Always keep the receipts for your items purchased abroad, and be ready to show customs officials what you have purchased upon your return.
  • If you feel a duty is unfair, you can ask to see a supervisor to appeal the assessment.
  • When packing, a good rule of thumb is to lay out everything you think you will need for your trip—then pack half of what you’ve laid out!
Ship of Dreams

Ship of Dreams

Take a closer look at the magnificent Queen Mary 2 and her incredible amenities which will make your vacation a truly memorable experience.

Queen Mary 2’s sheer size and extravagance, makes her stand out in a class of her own. She launched in January 2004, and has taken guests to sea with amenities such as a Canyon Ranch SpaClub®, theater by London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and boasted the first ever planetarium at sea.

One can hardly describe QM2 without rolling out nearly every superlative in the book. She’s the biggest, most technologically advanced, and—at approximately $800 million—an incredibly expensive passenger liner. She boasts a vast wine collection, an enormous ballroom, and an extensive library. One thing she won’t do is pack in too many passengers. Her grand suites and staterooms hold some 2,620 guests, yet the cruise ship is still very roomy.

She hails from a long line of legendary seafarers, including the original Queen Mary and the two Queen Elizabeth liners. Like her predecessors, she is a true ocean liner, built to withstand high seas and stormy weather with perfect equanimity. Starting in 2004, QE2 set sail on sail 17 transatlantic crossings a year, taking over the sea route of her famed sister ship, Queen Elizabeth 2.

Queen Mary 2 is outfitted with ornate ceilings, wall coverings, furnishings, and about $5 million worth of art. Nearly three-quarters of the 1,310 staterooms have private balconies, and include interactive TV so passengers can send and receive email at sea. Yet QM2 will recall the grandeur of ocean liners of yore, with its classic form, expansive promenades, and sweeping staircases.

At QM2’s Canyon Ranch SpaClub, you can indulge in the ultimate pampering and wellness treatments like the classic Canyon Stone Massage or the exotic Ayurvedic. The SpaClub spans 20,000 square feet on two decks, and includes a thalassotherapypool and a thermal suite with saunas, reflexology basins, and an aromatic steam room.

Evenings can be spent at the elegant 1,000 seat Royal Court Theatre, where you can enjoy lavish musicals and memorable hi-tech productions performed by the Cunard Royal Dancers and Singers. If you are looking for a quieter option, QM2 also boasts a cinema where you can sit back and relax with a wonderful collection of movies. For a more formal affair, don your formal dancing attire at the Royal night theme balls, held at the magnificent Queens Room accompanied by the marvelous music of the orchestra.
Dos and Don’t’s of “P-etiquette”:

Dos and Don’t’s of “P-etiquette”:

If you're traveling with your pet, here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you both have an enjoyable vacations.

Don’t leave pets alone in the room too long. Some hotels even require that you take your pet with you whenever you leave.

Do be mindful of room service. If you’re going to leave your pooch in the room, you might have to forgo maid service.

Do learn the house rules. Some hotels have size restrictions for pets, and some charge extra for furry guests.
Travel with your Pets

Travel with your Pets

Who says Spot has to stay at home? There are many amenities for globetrotting pets which make travel easier, more stylish—and in some cases downright luxurious. Luxury hotels roll out the red carpet for four-legged guests. Pet spas and salons offer tail-wagging treatments for pampered pups. Airlines have pet-friendly services—and one airline even caters expressly to pets on the go. It’s never been a better time to be a jet-set pet.

As vacationing with pets has become more popular, many hotels have found it’s better for business to welcome a special breed of niche travelers: the furry kind. You’d think that luxury hotels would be among the first to turn Fido away—but they’re actually some of the most welcoming accommodations for pet guests.

“We love them,” says Edward Munz, director of guest services at Hotel Monaco, a boutique luxury hotel in Washington, D.C. Munz has seen black labs, golden retrievers, West Highland terriers, and dachshunds grace the chandelier-lit lobby of the well-appointed hotel. Canine guests are invited to choose a toy from the concierge’s stash at the front desk. Pet-designated guest rooms come stocked with ceramic food bowls, bottled water, biscuits, and a map of great dog walks in the neighborhood.

Hotel Monaco keeps dog and cat food on hand, and the kitchen can even cook up gourmet treats. A steak for your pooch? No problem. If the hotel restaurant can’t produce one, the staff has been known to pick up a choice cut from the chophouse across the street.

At the posh Peninsula New York, the hotel staff agrees that the way to a dog’s heart is through its stomach. A “Canine Cuisine” room service menu includes such appetizers as Scratch My Belly Bagels and Jump ’n Sit Bits. Pet videos like The Adventures of Milo and Otis are available on request.

Manhattan is big on deluxe accommodations for pets and their owners. Dogs are greeted with an aromatherapy coat spritz at The Ritz-Carlton, Central Park South, which will produce complimentary 22-karat gold-plated pet ID tags upon request. At the Ritz, canines sleep in style on quilted dog beds, but the real show-stealers are the dog-fitting Burberry coats available for chic walks on rainy days. Says Chef Concierge Frederick Bigler, “One poodle refused the pintsize coat, so its owner opted for the next best protection from the elements, and took the Bentley instead.”

The W New York, Union Square, ups the ante by booking spa services for pooches at a nearby pet salon, Bonnie’s K-9 Corp. Doggy jet lag is a problem? Help is on the way in the form of massages and hydrotherapy treatments.

For pet lovers seeking a country retreat, the Three Buck Inn, in North Lake Tahoe, California, offers dog-friendly digs that combine mountain cabin charm with four-star amenities. Pups get cozy on leopard-print dog beds and quench their thirst at Le Bistro water feeders, while the great outdoors beckon with hiking, boating, snowshoeing, and other pet-appropriate activities.

For destination-bound pets and their owners, there can be challenges. Most trains, buses, and cruise lines forbid pets; Amtrak accepts only trained service animals. And on aircraft, only the smallest pets make the cut for carry-on size restrictions, while the rest are banished to the belly of the plane. Checking your pet as baggage or cargo can be traumatic, and in some cases— particularly during temperature extremes— even dangerous.

Some airlines have stepped up to the plate with special transport programs for pets, heeding the demands of concerned pet owners. While they don’t promise a luxurious ride, these services—including Delta’s Pet First and Continental’s PetSafe program—at least ensure pets’ safety when they must travel via cargo. Yet even these programs won’t fly with many pet owners, who would no sooner put their pets in cargo than they would their own children. What’s a pet lover to do?

Check out Companion Air: the first-ever airline that caters expressly to pets. Formed by pet and aviation enthusiasts Rick and Diana Roof, the owners of a golden retriever mix, the Roofs understand the trials of travel with pets. Recalls Diana: “I said to Rick, ‘What do people do who don’t want to put a pet in cargo, don’t have time to drive, and can’t afford a charter?’” This airline has received a phenomenal response from animal lovers.

Companion Air flies small, jet-prop aircraft specially outfitted to hold six humans and twelve pets. Contact between owners and their pets is permitted during flights, and in-flight services include refreshments for both people and pets. Companion Air is a great option for traveling with pets!

The Best Caribbean Resorts

Translucent sea. Palm fronds waving in the breeze. Beachgoers lounging in the sun. No region speaks to total relaxation quite like the Caribbean, with its castaway islands and idyllic resorts. So how to choose? Leave it to the readers of Travel + Leisure who highlight their favorite resorts in the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas as part of the annual. 

ST. BART’S
Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France
On an island that epitomizes the glamorous, star-studded getaway, the 39-room Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France wins for location—it’s right on Baie des Flamands, the island’s longest, widest beach. It’s no surprise, then, that the 19 oceanfront rooms and suites are the most romantic; the restaurant serves lunches of lobster spring rolls or iced pea soup at tables set in the sand. 

ST. LUCIA
Jade Moutain
When you imagine a St. Lucia fantasy, you’re likely imagining Jade Mountain. Located at the highest point of the island, near the west coast town of Soufrière, the resort wraps around a hillside, its exterior all curves and rough stone. The 28 suites have only three walls, offering open-air, panoramic views of the Piton range. 

BERMUDA
The Reefs
You’ll find plenty of familiar faces at The Reefs on Bermuda’s south shore. It’s the type of place that families and couples return to again and again—perhaps one reason why the property stocks four Flip Video cameras to capture those classic vacation moments. After more than 10 consecutive appearances on the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards, this iconic cliff-side resort has clearly earned its top-ranked status.  

ST. BART’S
Eden Rock
On chic St. Bart’s, this is the hotel for celebrity spotting. What draws the boldfaced names? Each of the 34 rooms has a different aesthetic, and can include such idiosyncratic details as a rock wall or a Philippe Starck–designed bathroom. We especially love the art gallery with a rotating selection of works on display (the space doubles as a studio, where guests can paint, too). 

JAMAICA
Couples San Souci

For travelers looking for privacy in Jamaica, this 150-room hotel is a smart bet. It’s the smallest of the island’s all-inclusive Couples resorts, and it’s built on a cliff above a seaside cove in Ocho Rios. There are four pools, and the award-winning spa has a natural mineral pool, a spring-fed grotto, and additional private cabanas set at the cliff’s edge. 

VIRGIN GORDA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Biras Creek Resort
After arriving via boat trip or helicopter ride, guests at the secluded Biras Creek—set on a 140-acre peninsula of Virgin Gorda—are whisked off in a golf cart to one of the cottage suites, each of which has an outdoor shower. Deep Bay—where you’ll find a trove of catamarans, kayaks, and Boston Whalers for guests to use—is just a short stroll past the salt-pond bird sanctuary. 

GRAND CAYMAN, CAYMAN ISLANDS

Ritz-Carlton
A one-hour flight from Miami, the island of Grand Cayman delivers an easy escape that appeals to parents and the kids too. Perhaps that’s why the Ritz-Carlton chose this stretch of sand for its high-end playground. Pass the sunny days on Jean-Michel Cousteau nature tours or on the Greg Norman–designed golf course, or choose from the five restaurants, including two run by acclaimed chef Eric Ripert.  

VIEQUES, PUERTO RICO
W Retreat and Spa

Thanks to JetBlue’s new Puerto Rican airport hub, the island of Vieques is more accessible than ever. But it was the 2010 opening of the W that put this island on the map for many of the arriving beachgoers. The hotel is composed of low-slung beachfront structures, and its polished cement floors contrast with bright geometric patterns and high-design furnishings, many with views of Whisper Cove Beach.
Where to Cruise Now

Where to Cruise Now

POLAR REGIONS

Iceland and Russia
 Looking for something truly exotic? Now you can hike across Iceland’s fjords with Cunard or visit Russia’s reindeer herdsmen with MSC Cruises, Ponant, and Holland America Line.

DON’T MISS Spot puffins and walruses during a wildlife tour on the Ponant 12-day Anadyr-to-Petropavlovsk excursion along Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.

UNITED STATES

Northeastern U.S.
Cruise lines from Crystal to Holland America are adding leaf-peeping sailings around New England, to towns such as Newport, Rhode Island. The Norwegian Breakaway will be the largest ship based year-round in New York City (the Rockettes will be on board).

DON’T MISS Exploring the Gilded Age mansions of Bar Harbor, Maine, on Holland America’s seven-day Canada and New England cruise.

ASIA

Burma Since the government relaxed its stance on political opposition, several lines have announced itineraries to Burma. Orient-Express is adding a second ship for sailings beyond the Irrawaddy, and Silversea stops here on its world cruise, having added days in Rangoon with excursions to the temples of Bagan.

DON’T MISS Orient-Express’s four-day extension to Inle Lake, which stops at historic Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery.

Mekong River  Southeast Asia’s 2,600-mile-long Mekong offers views of ancient ruins, traditional villages, and a fast-changing countryside. New on the river are Uniworld, Viking, and, in 2014, Aqua Expeditions. Most itineraries focus on sights between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

DON’T MISS A stop to see Angkor Wat’s intricate bas-relief stone carvings on the 15-day Magnificent Mekong cruise from Viking River Cruises.

SOUTH PACIFIC

Australia
 Down under is one of the fastest-growing cruise destinations. Its newest port? Kangaroo Island, off the southern coast, home to 267 bird species. Regent Seven Seas and Holland America now sail there, also stopping in Sydney.

DON’T MISS Regent Seven Seas’ four-hour paddleboat tour of the Brisbane River on its 17-day Coastal Reefs and Koalas itinerary

For more cruising inspiration, visit www.travelandleisure.com/articles/ learning-vacations-cruises. Ready to book a trip? Call our Travel Counselors at 888-828-2500 (option 1).
5 Things To Do Before You Cruise

5 Things To Do Before You Cruise

  1. Buy insurance. The right policy will cover costs related to travel delays, cancellations, and emergencies. Your travel counselor will discuss the best options with you upon booking.
  2. Compare excursions. Look into outings offered by various cruise lines, exploring on your own, or setting up a private tour with an outside company.
  3. Fill out boarding documents in advance. Embarkation will be far speedier.
  4. Make reservations ahead of time for dinners in the ship’s alternative restaurants. Otherwise, you may not get a table.
  5. Review package offerings for beverages, wine, and excursions. Some are available only before you sail.
An Inside Look at Norwegian Breakaway

An Inside Look at Norwegian Breakaway

T+L Elite Traveler is excited to bring you an inside look at Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship: Norwegian Breakaway. This majestic cruise liner is the largest ship to homeport year-round in New York City and boasts an array of unique amenities including: the largest AquaPark and the most Broadway shows at sea. Here are a few more reasons why we can’t stop talking about the Norwegian Breakaway.
  1. The Waterfront. Like us, we assume you love to enjoy the wonderful sea breeze, warm sun and peaceful surroundings when aboard your cruise ship. Being able to dine outside on the magnificent Promenade deck is one of our favorite features of the Norwegian Breakaway.
  2. A new look. We can't help but admire the vibrant colors, atriums and unique artwork that make this ship feel more comfortable, pleasant and enjoyable.
  3. Entertainment. From The Rockettes to Rock of Ages, the Blue Man Group and Burn The Floor, you won't spend a minute wondering what to do after dinner.
  4. All generations. Ultra-luxury rooms found in the Haven with the added benefit of having a 1,062-foot long ship to explore, make Norwegian Breakaway strikingly convenient for multi-generational family trips. You won't have to compromise regardless of budget constraints or personal taste.
Hiking Tips

Hiking Tips

– Bree Sposato

Here are three simple ways to take your next trip up a notch.

Gear: A good walking stick can provide better stability on rough terrain. Black Diamond Equipment’s carbon-fiber Ultra Distance model ($160) is light and compact.

Health: Be sure to enjoy all of your time on the mountain. For advice on how to avoid altitude sickness, visit the Altitude Research Center.

Tech: Looking for the name of that mountain? The GPS-enabled Peaks app (iTunes; $2.99) has a database of more than a half-million summits around the world and automatically generates a tweet identifying the mountains that are closest to you.

Bree Sposato writes for Travel + Leisure, Bloomberg Businessweek, Art News, and other outlets. Want to learn more? Visit http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/tl-hiking-guide for the full story.

America’s Most Stunning National Parks - Top Winter Activities

America’s Most Stunning National Parks - Top Winter Activities

– Bree Sposato
If you missed the first part of the America's Most Stunning National Parks list, you can find it here. Meanwhile find out how snowfall transforms our favorite national parks into winter wonderlands.

  • Cross-country ski. Black Canyon’s South Rim Road isn’t plowed in the winter so you can ski to all of the viewpoints you would normally drive to. Here, park rangers also lead snowshoe tours from about January through early March. http://www.nps.gov/blca/planyourvisit/winteractivities.htm

  • Break out your snowshoes. Snowfall in the Grand Canyon varies from a few inches in the lower elevations (for example, Mammoth Hot Springs) to more than 10 or 15 feet at the higher elevations (like the South Entrance). http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/winter-recreation.htm

  • Hike, using common sense. Wear lots of layers so you can peel them off and add them back as appropriate, since hiking cold and wet quickly can quickly lead to hypothermia. Most trails at high elevation may be covered with ice so it's important to have crampons or traction devices to attach to your boots for better footing. In the Great Smoky Mountains, the Ramsey Cascades trail is a strenuous eight miles round-trip, but leads you though a beautiful old growth forest to the park's tallest waterfall. http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/ramsey-cascades.htm

  • Take a ride on a snowmobile. Guides must accompany snowmobiles within Yellowstone (rentals are available at Old Faithful and Mammoth), though you can also pick them up from nearby towns to bring them into the national forest. http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/winteract.htm

  • Go Nordic Skiing In Olympic, Hurricane Ridge transforms into a winter playground, where you can downhill or Nordic ski (late Dec.—March), go tubing (Friday through Sunday), and more. http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/hurricane-ridge-in-winter.htm
Stay tuned for next week's article: health tips to ensure your visit to these National Parks is a fun and healthy one.