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Monthly Archives: December 2016

7 Most Beautiful Places in Alaska

1. Denali National Park and Preserve

Encompassing six million acres of pure Alaskan interior wilderness topped by North America’s highest peak (Denali, 6910m), this national park is Alaska’s ultimate showstopper. Bisected by one solitary ribbon of road, this pristine ecosystem plays home to a menagerie of wildlife – from wolves to bears, caribou to Dall sheep – which is often easily spotted on a bus ride through the park, or on a ranger-led programme.

2. Glacier Bay National Park

Alaska is famed for its Inside Passage cruises, and for many visitors passing through this UNESCO-listed national park en route is the highlight of their trip. Here, you can watch in awe from a boat (or kayak) as the majestic Margerie Glacier calves hundred-tonne icebergs into the tidewater while orcas, sea lions, seals and other marine animals frolic in the crystal clear waters surrounding it. Bring your binoculars to spot bears on the shore, and mountain goats on the cliffs above.

3. The Alaska Highway

Stretching 1387 miles from Delta Junction, southeast of Fairbanks, all the way to Dawson Creek in British Colombia, Canada, the Alaska Highway (also known as the ALCAN) is considered one of the world’s top scenic drives. Constructed during World War II, this well-maintained road winds through some truly spectacular terrain, offering excellent wildlife viewing and countless other photo opportunities along the way.

4. Katmai National Park and Preserve

If you’ve seen one of those photographs of a brown (grizzly) bear perched on the edge of a waterfall snagging salmon in mid-air, there’s a good chance it was taken in Katmai National Park. Brooks Falls, to be exact – Alaska’s most famous bear viewing area. Unconnected to any town by road, the park – also famed for its fishing, hiking, rafting and kayaking possibilities – is most commonly accessed by floatplane. This grizzly has caught a starry flounder.

5. The Arctic Coast

Alaska is known as the Last Frontier, and nowhere does this seem more fitting than on its Arctic Coast. Here, along this starkly beautiful stretch of rugged tundra, Alaska Native communities live side-by-side with one of the world’s greatest predators: the polar bear. The Inupiaq village of Kaktovik, located on Barter Island just off the mainland, is one of the best places to spot these vulnerable mammals, which congregate here in large numbers in the summer while they wait for the Beaufort Sea to freeze.

6. Ketchikan

It’s known as the salmon capital of the world, but Alaska’s southernmost city is also an attraction in itself. Backed by the lush, forested slopes of Deer Mountain and facing the buzzing Tongass Narrows waterway, picturesque Ketchikan hugs the shoreline of Revillagigedo Island for 30 miles, with many businesses located in pastel-hued overwater bungalows accessed via suspended walkways. Native Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian arts are visible everywhere throughout the city – from museums to totem parks – adding to its cultural appeal.

7. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge

Its lush, green hills and mountaintop vistas that give Kodiak its ‘Emerald Isle’ nickname are pretty enough, but the island’s key draw is a brown bear subspecies that lives nowhere else. Spanning parts of Kodiak, Uganik, Ban and Afognak islands, the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge offers unparalleled wildlife-watching opportunities (from Kodiak brown bears to puffins, red foxes to sea lions) on top of some of the best salmon fishing in the state.

7 Ideas For Cheap Vacations in The US

Museum madness: Washington, DC

Price-wise you can’t do any better than free, and in Washington, DC, some of the best museums don’t cost a dime. Along the National Mall you’ll find ten Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol Building. Free admission to these museums means you can save your money for the Newseum or International Spy Museum. Stretch your dollar by staying at The Embassy Row Hotel, where off-season rates can be a steal.

An art escape: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Creative types make note: Santa Fe is it. Artists draw inspiration from the nearby mountains and 1.6-million acre National Forest, filling the town’s 250 galleries with works. Don’t neglect the culinary creativity of Santa Fe either; hit the Santa Fe Margarita Trail (with 31 stops) and sample some of the earthy, chile-laden cuisine of Northern New Mexico at Tia Sophia’s and El Parasol, where you can feast for under $10. And if you want to save on your room, try a Route 66 classic like the El Rey Inn.

Island isolation: Put-in-Bay, Ohio

An island getaway in Ohio? Indeed. Put-in-Bay sits in Lake Erie just a few miles from the Canadian border and it may just be Ohio’s best-kept secret. Midwesterners are notorious for frugality, and they love Put-in-Bay for its views, the killer fishing, and all the hiking, biking, kayaking and swimming. Accessible only by boat – bring your own or take the Miller Ferry – it’s the kind of place where you can book a B&B for as little as $100 a night in summer.

Back to nature: the Appalachian Mountains, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains are a wild and beautiful part of the state. As well as holding 230 miles of the Appalachian Trail, they’re also home to several state parks and forests – including Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the trail’s mid-way point. Outdoor activities abound here, and one of the best places to make the most of them is Buck Valley Ranch. Surrounded by 2,000 acres of state game land laced with hiking and biking trails, the property is also close to the C&O Canal Trail and Potomac River if you want a long ride or a day on the water.

Big-city cool: San Francisco

To see San Francisco on a budget, visit in the fall or late spring and you’ll find that both the weather is good and the hotels are cheaper. This city was made to be explored on foot, and there are numerous fascinating neighborhoods to discover, from hectic Chinatown to quirky Haight Ashbury– check out our two-day itinerary for starters. And don’t forget the best free activity in San Francisco: people watching.

Foodie delights: Denver, Colorado

After a day in Denver, you’ll be ready to move here. Now that you’ve been warned, know that dining in the Mile High City can cost you a pretty penny, but it doesn’t have to. Visiting a spot like Avanti Food & Beverage, a European-style food hall, will give you some big bargains. The fried chicken sandwich at The Regional, Brava! Pizzeria’s margherita pizza and the overstuffed arepa from Quiero Arepas will all fill you up without setting you back. At dinner, splurge and head to Rioja, an outstanding restaurant where your money will be well spent.

Unbridled hedonism: Las Vegas

Typically you don’t see “Las Vegas” and “cheap” together, but keep in mind that “cheap” is a relative term. To do Las Vegas right, you’ll need to spend a little money, but if you plan carefully it might not be as much as you’d think. Check out our list of the best places to stay, keep an eye out for package deals (including freebies like meals and fully stocked mini-bars) and get the Pocket Rough Guide to Las Vegas for the low-down on which shows, buffets and bars are really worth the splurge.

The 7 Best Beaches in Portugal

1. Praia de Tavira, Ilha de Tavira (The Algarve)

Linked to the mainland by ferry, the superb Praia de Tavira, is located on the Ilha de Tavira, a sandbar island that stretches southwest from Tavira almost as far as Fuseta.

Strung along this are miles of soft, dune-baked sand, without a hotel in sight. The main part of the beach is dotted with umbrellas and pedalos for rent, and scattered with a handful of bar-restaurants.

In high summer this part of the beach can get very busy, but you only have to wander fifteen minutes or so to escape the crowds. Come here out of season and you’ll probably have the place to yourself.

2. Praia da Marinha and Benagil (The Algarve)

The stretch of coast between Armação de Pêra and Centianes is strung with a series of delightful cove beaches that have mostly escaped large-scale development. Of them two stand out: Praia da Marinha and Benagil. A classic cliff-backed warren of coves, the only trace of development on Praia da Marinha is the seasonal beach restaurant.

Follow the clifftop path on from here as it winds round to the next bay at Benagil, a pint-sized village with its fine beach sitting beneath high cliffs. Fishing boats can take you out to an amazing sea cave, as large as a cathedral, with a hole in its roof.

3. Nazaré (Estremadura)

Now a busy seaside resort – with all the hustle and trimmings that you’d expect with that title – the former fishing village of Nazaré has a great town beach. The main stretch is an expanse of clean sand, packed with multicoloured sunshades in summer, while further beaches spread north beyond the headland.

The water might look inviting on calm, hot days, but it’s worth bearing in mind that swimming off these exposed Atlantic beaches can be dangerous. Nazaré has a worldwide reputation among surfers seeking serious waves – this is where the world’s largest-ever wave was surfed. 

4. Foz de Minho (The Minho)

Just 2km southwest from the charming, sleepy town of Caminha, Foz de Minho – Portugal’s northernmost beach – is a hidden gem.

Located on an idyllic wooded peninsula where the broad estuary of the Rio Minho flows into the Atlantic, here a wooden boardwalk hugs the water’s edge, leading to a sheltered river beach. Wander slightly further on for five minutes through the pines, and you’ll reach a great Atlantic beach, with a little fortified islet just offshore and Spain visible opposite.

5. Praia da Figueira (The Algarve)

You’ll have to walk to get here, but it’s worth it to find this often deserted beach. The small village of Figueira, is the starting point for a rough track to Praia da Figueira, that lies below the ruins of an old fort. This is one of the least-visited beaches along this stretch of coastline, mainly due to the fact that it’s not reachable by car. The walk takes twenty to thirty minutes, with the path passing through some lovely countryside.

6. Praia de Odeceixe (The Algarve)

Sleepy out of season, the charming village of Odeceixe comes to life in the summer when it draws a stream of surfers and holidaymakers, lured by it’s magnificent beach, which lies just 4km west of the village.

In the summer take the road train to Praia de Odeceixe, or follow the road on foot through the river valley to the broad bay framed by low cliffs. The beach here is one of the most sheltered along this stretch of coast, where you can enjoy fantastic surfing, and relatively safe swimming.

7. Comporta (Alentejo)

Tucked into a remote part of the northern Alentejo, a drive west of the historical port town of Alcácer do Sal, is one of the region’s best beaches.

Here at Comporta, deserted sands stretch as far a the eye can see – a magnificent, swathe of soft beach that is served by a couple of seasonal café-restaurants, which double as popular hangouts for wealthy Lisboetas.

The 7 Most Beautiful Places in Italy

1. Florence

This Renaissance beauty has it all. For starters, there’s the glorious architecture – who could resist the cheerful pink-and-green facade and iconic cupola of the Duomo, the photogenic Piazza della Signoria with its statement statuary, and the Ponte Vecchio’s jumble of shops spanning the river Arno? For most, though, Florence’s biggest draw is its staggering hoard of world-class paintings, frescoes and sculptures: according to UNESCO, thirty percent of the world’s most important works of art are to be found here.

2. San Gimignano

Tuscany has no shortage of winsome hill-towns but San Gimignano stands tall above the rest for its distinctive skyline, bristling with medieval towers, and its remarkably intact historic centre, a gorgeous assemblage of honey-coloured stone buildings. Its winding backstreets hold frescoed churches and Gothic palazzi, and beyond the city walls on all sides, the hills are blanketed with vineyards and olive groves.

3. Lake Garda

With a more down-to-earth feel than glitzy Como but with plenty of class, Lake Garda is the largest of Italy’s spectacular lakes. Rugged mountains encircle its deep blue waters, with boats zipping between the pretty towns that hug the shore. You could base yourself here for a week or more – choose between luxury spas and faded waterside hotels – or day-trip it from Milan. Whatever you do, make time for a Spritz overlooking the lake, preferably at sunset.

4. Positano

The Amalfi Coast is wildly beautiful, and the few towns strung along its length are ideal vantage points for taking in the coast’s dazzling ensemble of craggy cliffs, lush forests and dramatic seascapes. Chichi Positano is the pick of the towns: a dramatic huddle of pastel-coloured houses tumbling down to the sea, its centre a warren of stepped lanes framed by pink bougainvillea and lined with smart boutiques.

5. Puglia

With its crystalline seas, white-sand beaches and hidden rocky coves, Puglia is many Italians’ favourite place to soak up the sun in the summer months. Its interior is just as beautiful, with wooded hills, wildlife-rich lakes, and endless olive groves: the region produces around forty percent of Italy’s olive oil.

6. Capri

The legendary island of Capri, beloved of the emperor Tiberius, any number of artists and writers in search of inspiration, and legions of modern-day celebrities, has star appeal in spades. Away from its twin centres, Capri Town and Anacapri – bursting with designer boutiques and chichi cafés – picturesque lanes wind past Roman ruins and grand villas, with staggering views over the deep blue Mediterranean.

7. Venice

No one forgets their first glimpse of Venice: however many times you’ve seen it in pictures, you can’t prepare yourself for the sight of a city of stately marble palazzi sitting pretty atop a dazzling green lagoon. Mesmerizing in sunshine, moodily atmospheric when wreathed in mist, colourful at Carnevale, unforgettable when it floods: Venice is never anything short of a knockout.