Monday, March 31, 2008

Goa still top tourist destination

The beach paradise of Goa is the top tourist destination for Summer of 2008, despite the recent Scarlet Keeling controversy. Besides the regularly visited locales such as Ooty, Mahabaleshwar, Shimla and Manali the list of top 10 domestic tourist destinations this summer include Auli and Matheran. Munnar (in Kerala) is the destination that the high-end holiday makers are eyeing.

On the other hand, tourists headed to foreign shores are exploring Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, Mediterranean cruises and East Europe, according to travel search company, Holiday IQ’s ‘Holiday Intelligence Forecast’.

Though there is still time for families to head to their holiday destination, the verdict is out. Hill Stations, which appeal to families and not just backpackers, are the flavour of the season, Goa being the only exception.

“Munnar is registering fastest growth among the top 10 summer destinations. Though for North Indians a trip to the city can be more or equally as expensive when compared to a foreign destination like Bangkok. But that’s not deterring holiday makers,” says Hari Nair, CEO and founder, Holiday IQ. Another interesting trend is that that the demand among domestic tourists is highest for moderately priced hotel rooms. While 30% searches are for premium range packages, 40% are for mid-priced and 30% for budget holidays. The yardstick which categorises these packages is the room rate per night. A premium holiday would mean spending more than Rs 6,000 for a room per night, while mid-priced means shelling out Rs 2,500 to Rs 6,000. Anything below Rs 2,500 for a room falls in the budget category.

The forecast shows that domestic travellers are planning their trip to Goa too as they can avail of some cheap hotel deals there, unlike the New Year time.

Those flying to foreign locales now prefer travelling alone rather than opting for plain-vanilla package tours for groups. “A fall out of this trend is that new and unexplored destinations are also being considered by travellers. Most packages offer regular destinations.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Houseboat in Hoode Backwaters to make Udupi a new tourist destination

For the first time in the history of Karnataka the introduction of the Boat House Cruise by the well known Paradise Isle Resorts of Malpe will help in putting the Kemmannu Hoode of the Udupi region onto the world map as one of the best chosen holiday destination.

The survey of River Swarna revealed that the best high tide cruise can take the tourists cruising along and enjoying the beauty of the surrounding Kemmannu backwaters with a breathtaking view of the green gardens, the tall and majestic palms swaying with the breeze and nature's wonders like migratory birds on the sand reefs and the shellfish habitats in the shallow waters near Thimman Kudru.

The arrival and introduction of the new Boat Houses in Kemmannu back waters of River Swarna is a new and a rare viewing experience for the onlookers and the hundreds of local people living on this beautiful ridge of land between the sea and river at Bengre Kemmannu.

This place is astounding and distinctive as it is surrounded by the natural beauty and this ridge of land between the sea and the river is unique at Bengre beach. The back waters here are comparable to the backwaters seen in Gods own country and this makes Kemmannu the perfect destination for tourism.

The coastal region including Udupi, Kaup, Kemmannu, Bengre, Kundapoora and Baindoor are favourable for all kind of tourism activities including water sports, But Kemmannu in particular has the advantage of being a town which has a beach and a river and it is located just about 9 Km from the main City Udupi.

With this tourist destination gaining popularity the people of Karnantaka and the world over can now enjoy a holiday in Kemmanu like they would have had in Kerala as this place too now boasts of the popular House Boat Cruise that will attract tourists from India and the world over. A cruise on Paradise lagoon boat house is a fabulous way to explore the fascinating beauty of the backwaters.

The houseboat is about 67 feet in length and has a width of around 13 feet in the middle. The materials that go into the making of the boat are; bamboo poles, coconut fibre, ropes, bamboo mats, carpets etc which are local and eco-friendly. The main wood used is "Anjili". These houseboats are fully furnished and have single room, double room and triple rooms for tourists to rent.

All the houseboats have sundecks, private balconies with comfortable chairs, a kitchen and restrooms. Traditional lanterns are used as a source of light and this gives the tourists a perfect ambience of a typical costal home. Traditional Udupi cuisine is served on the boat with local specialties that include delicious fish and prawns. There are single bedroom houseboats for couples and houseboats with two bedrooms for four people or a family of four. The houseboat crew includes a chef, and two oarsmen.

A holiday on the houseboat of the enchanting backwaters of Kemmannu Hude and Bengre is sure to rob your heart. Palm fringed narrow canals winding through the neat tiny hamlets lined up along the either side of the canals is a panoramic sight to behold.

Tourists can perceive the flashes of toddy tapping (natural Kali), traditional techniques of the shellfish gathering,(Koyyol, Marvayi), village walk, and they can visually capture the flocks of cormorant, egret, herons, four species of moorhens, water ducks, Siberian storks, Purple herons, seagulls, teals, and the different types of King fishers in the waters.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How to see the real London

You've whizzed around in a red double-decker tour bus, watched the changing-of-the-guard at Buckingham Palace, wandered through Fortnum & Mason and ogled at Westminster Abbey.

But this time you're after something a touch more local yet within easy reach of central London.

Try taking a walk along the Thames River around Bankside and South Bank. Even if you only have a few hours to spare while stopping over in London, it provides a good blend of markets, museums, attractions and shops.

The once-disreputable south side of the river has been transformed into a vibrant showcase of urban regeneration. Bankside was once packed with seedy drinking dens, brothels and bear pits. South Bank left its industrial past behind when drab concrete factories and power stations became trendy museums and hip entertainment precincts.

I begin my stroll at the Borough Market, where a typical Saturday scene sees Londoners flock to fill their larders with fresh produce.

Surrounded by barrows of fresh carrots, artichokes and apples, the apron-clad greengrocer enthrals the crowd with an operatic rendition of Bizet's Carmen.

His music weaves its way around shoppers clutching brown paper bags and past nut sellers pushing free samples of their wares.

A few metres along, the Sillfield Farm stall is a flurry of activity as butchers in theatrical red, white and maroon uniforms complete with bowler hats bustle about.

Perhaps it's their eye-catching outfits or perhaps it's the sign advertising "A major supermarket purchased our special dry-cured bacon last week" that is drawing a crowd.

At one stall, there's nothing but wooden buckets filled with varieties of olives, feta cheese and Greek dolmades, while another throng is pressed around the Dark Sugars confectionary stall, eagerly piling freshly made sweets into paper bags.

Near the market is a little-known historic gem. The Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret is a quirky chamber of horrors tucked away in the garret of St Thomas's Church.

A shoulder-wide spiral staircase leads me to a cramped souvenir shop where another flight of creaking steps opens up into a reminder of life before anaesthetics and antiseptic surgery.

The museum looks like a set from a science-fiction horror movie complete with exhibits of 19th-century medical instruments once used by surgeons to amputate limbs, perform skull operations and childbirth procedures.

Next to the museum, the Herb Garret has displays of herbs and potions that would make a witch blush with pride.

In those days, the operating theatre was a godsend for the poor, whose only means of receiving treatment from a skilled surgeon was to agree to be operated on in a public arena watched by an enthusiastic audience of medical students. Rich patients were treated and operated on in the privacy and comfort of their own homes.

It's drizzling outside and up goes my umbrella as I make a dash for another museum-like attraction just a few blocks away. At the entrance of Vinopolis, I'm furnished with an audio guide that steers me through exhibitions of wine regions around the world. The section on Australia is fairly extensive with wall maps, photographs and free wine samples. At the central wine-sampling table, Jacques, an effusive Frenchman, plies me with wine from far-flung destinations like Georgia, Israel and Thailand.

Walking along the river reveals a vibrant culture of colourful street performers and sidewalk artists, historic bridges and re-developed wharfs, galleries and museums.

I arrive at Shakespeare's Globe just in time to check out the world's largest exhibition devoted to Shakespeare, before joining a guided tour of the theatre.

Opened in 1997, the theatre is a replica of the 1599 open-air playhouse for which Shakespeare wrote many of his greatest plays and is one of London's key Shakespearean attractions.

Enthused by tales of the bard, I'm inspired to test my acting skills in a scene from Romeo And Juliet. Inside one of the multimedia recording booths at the exhibition area, I practice being Juliet with a pre-recorded reading of Romeo performed by a Globe Theatre actor.

Another Shakespearean-influenced attraction on the south side of the river is Southwark Cathedral, where William Shakespeare's brother Edmund was buried and where a large 19th-century stained glass window depicts scenes from well-known plays.

The cathedral also holds a statue of a reclining Shakespeare, posing with his trusty quill.

Next to the Globe Theatre is the contemporary Tate Modern, London's national gallery of international modern art.

Created a few years ago from the decommissioned Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern's vast display of artworks spans a period of more than a century, from 1900 onwards.

Opposite the Tate Modern, crowds of pedestrians amble across the river over the Millennium Bridge, which is a streamlined structure built to commemorate the year 2000 and London's first new central river crossing for over a century.

A restaurant with a riverside view at Gabriel's Wharf is my idea of a top spot to put my feet up and watch the world go by.

What were musty old garages have been converted into colourful studios and retail shops that sell funky jewellery, fashion and home accessories.

There are lots of shops and restaurants to choose from in this precinct. Next to Gabriel's Wharf, the ex-power station and meat factory - Oxo Tower Wharf - has also been converted into a fresh new retail space with designer shops and more riverside restaurants.

Further along the river, outside the National Theatre underneath the Waterloo Bridge, I thumb through hidden treasures at the South Bank book market.

There are ancient maps, old magazines, out-of-print books and faded prints that look like they might make unusual mementos.

My final stop is the London Eye where, from my glass capsule in the sky, all of London is laid out like a giant three-dimensional Monopoly board with a bird's-eye view of the city's attractions.

BridgeClimb named top tourist attraction

Tourism Australia managing director Geoff Buckley said the awards, handed out in Canberra tonight, recognised the standards of excellence achieved by tourism businesses across Australia.

"Australia has some of the world's best tourism experiences and through Tourism Australia's activities in 23 markets across the globe, including Australia, we aim to take this message to the world," Mr Buckley said.

"In promoting our country we are selling dreams about what an Australian holiday can offer, but the challenge is to make sure that we live up to the dreams and expectations of our international and domestic customers."

In the tourist attraction category, Clipsal 500's Adelaide Racetrack event was the winner.

Montague Island Tours, which offers coastal and historical tours to the southern NSW island won the ecotourism award.

Mr Buckley said Australia received a record 5.6 million visitors in 2007, two per cent more than the previous year.

"Australia had its best ever year on record for international tourist arrivals in 2007," Mr Buckley said.

"However, we have seen some slowing in growth as a result of a number of factors including increased competition from other destinations."

Mr Buckley said there was greater potential to build on Australia's success in tourism.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Best Adventure Holidays in the World

These days people want more from their holiday than just a holiday - they want an adventure holiday. It has to be a holiday that will take them far away from working life and give them something to talk about in the pub when they get back.

Now that backpacking in Thailand or tea-house trekking in Nepal has become mainstream, travellers are looking for new challenges to fill their time off.

The world's largest adventure travel company, takes 70,000 people on 1,000 adventurous holidays annually and sales director John Warner says the sector is continuing to show strong growth.

He quoted a 2005 Mintel study that showed one in four Europeans would go on an adventure holiday.

The market for adventure holidays is particularly robust in the UK, with several generations of former backpackers now grown up, with disposable income and often a family in tow.

Above all they are looking for an experience, maybe even a life-changing one. They have got over their fear of the unknown and they're looking for something exotic and different - an adventure holiday.

"They don't want to just be able to say they've been to Cambodia. They want to say they've been rafting down the Mekong river, met the local people, got to the heart of the country and really experienced it," explains Mr Warner.

Adventure holidays appeal across all age groups and may not necessarily involve physical challenge.

For many people going to a developing country and finding they have no familiar cultural or language references and no communication with the outside world is enough of an adventure holiday.

"Sitting five feet away from a gorilla is just sitting there but believe me it could be one of the most exciting things you'll ever experience," said John Warner.

"And when a big silverback gorilla walks past and picks up a baby - you'll never forget that."

The independent writers at have looked around the globe for the best adventure holiday destinations and activities:

North America adventure holidays – Yosemite National Park

America's national parks offer some of the most beautiful and varied locations for adventure holidays, and the lush green utopia of Yosemite in California is surely one of the very best.

The perfect paradise for those wanting to do something more with their holiday than simply sitting by the pool, Yosemite national park offers plenty of activities, from horseback riding and river rafting in the summer to snowboarding and skiing in the winter.

For the rock climbers among you, the Yosemite Valley features one of the most famous and inspiring of all challenges - El Capitan - the largest exposed granite monolith in the world.

While there are plenty of places in the park for beginners to try their hand at rock climbing, this is certainly not one of them. The sheer cliff face is more than a kilometre high, and the task of conquering it takes most climbers three to five days - surely a must for experienced climbers wanting to add to their list of achievements.

If attempting to perform standard bodily functions while precariously hanging off El Capitan for 100 hours straight is a little too adventurous for your liking, the natural wonderland of Yosemite is also perfect for hiking and backpacking.

There are many different suggested routes for scenic walks and treks throughout the park, which will suit people of different fitness levels.

However, for the more serious adventurers out there, the 17-mile round-trip up to the peak of Half Dome is perhaps the most breath-taking, with views across the valley to El Capitan.

The National Park Service classify this hike as "extremely strenuous", and the trip is generally estimated to require between ten to 12 hours, but if you're the type to not do things by halves then the view from 9,000ft up is certainly worth it.

There are a number of excellent lodges for visitors to stay in the base of the Yosemite Valley as well as the famous Wawona Hotel.

Yosemite can be quite inaccessible during the winter as heavy snow often leads to road closures, so particular attention to your route is needed in deciding when to travel.

Robert Hastings

Europe adventure holidays - Via ferrata in the Italian Dolomites

This popular adventure sport has a fascinating history and offers the opportunity to combine a holiday in Italy with adventure amid some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world.

The Dolomite mountains once formed the first world war's most extreme battle ground as the Italian and Austrian armies fought a ferocious two-year campaign.

They tunnelled and fixed wires across the Dolomite mountains, building fortifications and gun emplacements along miles of narrow pathways and across ridgelines at high altitude.

Their legacy is the basis of the via ferrata (Italian for "the iron way") routes enjoyed by adventurous holidaymakers today.

War-time routes have been restored and expanded into a network of ferrata that allows anyone with a head for heights and reasonable fitness to enjoy the exhilaration of being high in the mountains without specialist skills.

The tunnel system of the Sentiero de Luca/Innerkofler route offers superb views of one of the most iconic images in the Dolomites: Tre Cime di Lavaredo (the three peaks of Lavaredo).

These three giant tombstones of rock stand in splendid isolation on what was the Austro-Italian border until 1919. The tallest is 1,640 feet (500m) high.

Despite its violent past, the valley today is a place of peaceful recreation. The clamour of cow bells in the high pastures and alpine meadows full of harebells, hawkbit and the tiniest of miniature pink rhododendrons surround walkers.

The highest point on this via ferrata is Monte Paterno (2,744 metres) and the ascent is a combination of walking and mountain climbing.

It is as easy as snapping your carabiners onto the steel cable fixed into the mountain, reaching up to find a hand hold and scrambling up the rocky face.

The views from the top are breathtaking, with mountains receding into the distance in every direction. The south faces are like gothic carving covered by cobwebs in the evening sun.

No special training or techniques are required to follow via ferrata. There are plenty of guided tours available but people who are confident about being in the mountains should be able to go it alone after some instruction.

The equipment needed includes a climbing harness, a helmet and a specially designed via ferrata kit. This is a Y-shaped rope which is attached to your harness at one end and clipped into the fixed wire on the mountain at the other ends.

A friction plate in the middle means that if you fall the shock will be absorbed by the rope. The whole lot can be hired in Cortina sports shops for around 14 euros per day.

The best time to take this adventure holiday is during the summer. Many ski-lifts and telecabine continue to operate and provide useful (and painless) access routes to the higher via ferrata routes.

There is plenty of accommodation and you can get some good deals in summer. There are a number of excellent campgrounds, including Camp Rochetta.

Climbers and walkers can also stay in comfortable Rifugios along the mountain trails, enabling an earlier start or multi-day routes. These are fully catered and serve delicious meals.

Outside Italy, via ferrata routes have been developed in many of Europe's mountainous regions.

For more information see the guidebook Via Ferratas of the Italian Dolomites: Vol 1 (North, Central and East) by John Smith and Graham Fletcher, published by Cicerone,

Natasha von Geldern

Australasia adventure holidays - New Zealand is the adventure holiday capital of the world

New Zealand is the adventure holiday capital of the world and offers endless opportunities for adventurous fun in the great outdoors.

A highlight for many travellers in New Zealand is kayaking in the Abel Tasman national park.

Whether you take a tour with an expert guide or choose to do it yourself with a freedom kayak rental, this stunning park will seduce you with its clear turquoise waters and golden sand beaches.

It takes around three days to kayak from Marahau to Totaranui (or the other way around), although there are shorter or longer adventure holiday options.

As you kayak along the forest-fringed coastline you can explore quiet lagoons, stop for a spot of afternoon tea and sunbathing on a beautiful beach, and visit a Maori village site.

The wildlife around the offshore islands is a highlight for many, particularly the Tonga Island marine sanctuary.

Here you can kayak among frolicking seals and watch the sea birds nesting on the cliffs. You may even be lucky enough to see a little blue penguin.

The sea kayaks have plenty of room for camping equipment, food and beverages and there are campgrounds on the way, all designed to minimise human impact on the environment.

Once you've had your fill of kayaking and relaxing on the beach at Totaranui, continue the adventure holiday with a day or two hiking inland or along the coastal track.

With excellent trails, pristine native forest and great views out along the coast, the Abel Tasman national park has something for everyone.

There are a number of companies offering tours and kayak hire in the holiday villages of Kaiteriteri, Totaranui and Marahau, including Abel Tasman Kayaks.

Kayaking adventure holidays can be undertaken from spring through to early winter but are always weather dependent.

Summer is a very popular time but it is also common to get calm good weather for kayaking in spring and autumn.

There are a number of small-boat ferry services which stop on certain beaches, so you can make this holiday as adventurous as you choose or head for civilisation at the end of the day.

And if camping is not your thing, Awaroa Lodge in the heart of the park offers comfortable accommodation and meals.

Asia adventure holidays – Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan

The central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan is another adventure-holiday-lovers' paradise.

With 93 per cent of the country at over 1,000 metres, the spectacular scenery and rugged terrain create an adventure holiday destination that is truly off the beaten track.

This is a country of horsemen and saddling up for an adventure holiday trek into the wild mountain landscape is the perfect way to see the real Kyrgyzstan.

There are a number of places where treks can be arranged, including the little town of Kochkor.

Arranging a guide and horses is a simple matter through the excellent scheme office, which also arranges simple but comfortable homestay accommodation in the town.

Depending on the time of year and how much snow is still in the mountains there are a variety of treks that can be undertaken from here into the mountain ranges that seem to stretch on forever.

Kochkor is bounded on one side by the Terskei Alu mountain range, and by the Khyrgizia range to the north.

Around Kochkor, long lines of poplars and willows frame the green farmland but the sturdy horses soon carry you up into the velvety brown hills.

It is a day's ride to Lake Kol Ukok, still frozen over in late May and surrounded by oxidised red hills and snow-covered peaks.

Golden marmots scamper about in the sunshine but it is impossible to get anywhere near them.

In these hills of central Kyrgyzstan the semi-nomadic people herd their flocks of fat-bottomed sheep, cattle and horses for their wool, skin, milk and meat.

They stay in a village on the plain, like Kochkor, during the winter and at the first sign of spring head for the jailoo, or summer pastures.

Then they follow the grass all summer, moving their herds and yurt from place to place.

Meeting these hospitable and kind people is an incredible experience. The yurt our hosts live in was built of thin wooden slats covered in thick woollen felt and it smelled of mutton-fat.

We feasted on delicious fresh cream and yoghurt with home-made bread and jam. The pot-belly stove kept us all warm until it was time to snuggle down in our sleeping bags on the sheepskin rugs and quilts.

The best time to go on a horse-trekking adventure holiday in Kyrgyzstan is late spring through to early autumn.

Natasha von Geldern

South America adventure holidays - Colombia is the next big thing

South America has always been a popular adventure holiday destination, offering a diverse range of adrenaline filled activities, including trekking and climbing.

Colombia is set to be the "next big thing" with the Hollywood film of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' novel Love in the Time of Cholera, starring Oscar-winner Javier Bardem, enjoying its UK release in March 2008.

The stunning shots of the Colombian city of Cartagnena in the film, as well as the unspoilt Magdalena River and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, will get travellers excited about visiting the country.

Adventurous treks such as the (Lost City) in Colombia are proving increasingly popular for those who want to get away from the tourist hordes and find the real South America.

Back in Peru the is also becoming popular as adventurous holidaymakers discover Machu Picchu's sister site Choquequirao, hidden deep in the Salkantay Mountain Range.
Climb mountains in the Andes, trek Inca routes, raft the Urumbamba River into the Amazon rainforest, sand board in Huacachina and drive off-road to discover a country of contrasts.

Or trek to the Colca Canyon - one of the world's deepest at 3,400m - to view the magnificent condors.

There are plenty of white water rafting opportunities in the Amazon and Andes regions and rafting on the Tambopata and Apurimac rivers is among the best in South America.

Travel through lush tropical forests in deep canyons and view the incredible wildlife up close.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

London Budget Hotels

Historians of the English constitution said “London acted constantly as the purse and sometimes as the brain of England”. Time-by-time, its evidence can be seen thru various incidents. In 1665 it overpowered the great plague bravely and in the following year again its supremacy was proved by recovering itself from the great disaster of fire which destroyed more than 13,000 houses, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Exchange, 86 churches and most of the guild halls.

Nowadays, London is known as the most expensive city in the world but still concept of budget hotels exist here. Bayswater and Victoria are the places in London where one can get budget hotels of own choices. One must remember that budget hotels London may misinform you. Hence, visitors must be conscious while choosing accommodation in budget hotels. London is identified as financial as well as educational hub in the world.

But perhaps, the tag of expensive is depleting its reputation and British government is perfectly aware with this fact. Hence, the cultural department along with media and sport department have prepared multi agency strategy entitled: “Winning – A Tourism Strategy for 2012 and Beyond”. Under this strategy, government has decided to promote budget hotels London to attract all income groups to visit London with friends and family.

Suitability of hotels in London mainly depends upon one’s planned activities, interests and budget. It is quite possible that one can get a hotel in London which will match entire required needs. For instances, if someone likes theatre than definitely West End should be the choice. West End is very famous for sound of music and dirty dancing. Some fashion conscious persons also may visit London and in that case Knightsbridge district will be the optimum location. It is famous for fashion boutiques and top department stores like Harrods and Harvey Nichols. If person has visited London due to its beautiful sights than Dockland may be the perfect location due to the proximity of world famous landmarks like St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.

Wherever, you are staying in London but if you are looking for budget hotels then don’t forget to check travel certificate before selecting the accommodation. Beside this one must check linens and carpet on the floor which represent the cleanliness of hotel. Budget hotels are self rated hotels so don’t fix with the tag of three or four stars. Visitors should not depend upon the food service of the budget hotels as there may not be specified criteria about quantity and quality of food items. Hence budget hotel must be close to a good restaurant which could serve delicious and nutritious food. Security issue also may be main area of concern while choosing the budget hotel.

Thus, budget hotels are all about the wise decision of visitors. If, they have wisely checked each and every measures than undoubtedly it may be the amusing deal. On the contrary few stupid acts may ruin you.

Get active in Norway

Escape your everyday routine and try an adventurous activity holiday in Norway. Get back to nature as you experience this relatively undiscovered activity destination offering a variety of resorts and activities.

Norway’s stunning scenery is the perfect backdrop to enjoy the peace and quiet in a canoe, horseriding or for more adventure join FlatEarth and go glacier walking, abseiling, paragliding and much more.

Activity Holidays in Vradal Log Cabins
Visit the Telemark region of Norway on a self drive break. The beautiful resort borders placid Lake Nisser. Sail from Newcastle to Stavanger late on a Sunday night and your adventure begins as soon as you board the ship –great restaurants, bars, shops, even cinema swimming pool and casino.

Prices include 2 nights onboard ship, carriage of a standard vehicle 4/5 nights in a Vradal lodge, plus live onboard entertainment. After you arrive in Stavanger is about a 4 hour drive through picturesque country to Vradal where you stay in pretty lakeside log cabins. You can enjoy watersports, cycling and hiking. 7 nights from £155 pp 6May – 17 June and 2 Sept to 30 September / 6 nights from £203 pp 20 June – 26 August.

6 night activity holiday at FlatEarth
Sail from Newcastle to Bergen on the DFDS Seaways cruise ferry. If you like Adrenalin sports this is for you. Enjoy 3 fun packed days of activities with FlatEarth in the heart of the Norwegian Fjords. With over 25 years experience and located on the fabulous Hardangerfjord you’ll be enjoy individually tailored activities.

Each day you can choose a different activity including river and fjord Kayaking, glacier expeditions, climbing, abseiling, fishing, sea kayaking, canoing or mountain biking. Prices from £633 pp include sea crossings, return carriage of standard car, 4 nights at the Eidfjord Fjell and Fjord hotel, 3 days FlatEarth pass as well as breakfast and dinner at the hotel

6/7 night activity holiday at Voss
From £578pp for high season 19th june- 27th August, from £444pp for low season 25 Jan – 18 June and 28 August to 27 December.

Situated between the two famous fjords or Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord – Fleischers Hotel in Voss is a popular year round destination. The ideal base for various activities and in a beautiful setting. The attractive swiss style 19th century hotel is still run by the Fleischers family and offers modern amenities and traditional charm.

The hotel’s restaurant is renowned for delicious food including local fish and Norwegian specialities. Summer activities in Voss are extensive. Price includes 2 nights onboard, 5 nights at Fleischers, carriage of a standard car and great onboard entertainment

Activity Holiday to Lilland Hotel near Pulpit Rock
6 nights from £476pp in high season 20 June to 26 August). 7 nights from £505 pp in low season 6 May – 17th June and 2nd September to 30th September.

Pulpit Rock near Stavanger is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Norway with its unrivaled views. It is a popular hiking site. Sail to Norway from Newcastle and stay at the Lilland Hotel 30 minutes from Stavanger, the perfect base from which to visit Pulpit Rock. Two ways to visit Pulpit Rock –3 to 4 hour hike or a boat ride- both offer great views from the top. Price includes 2 nights onboard, 4/5 nights at the Lilland Hotel, carriage of a standard vehicle and a wide range of onboard entertainment.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Coined “A Paradise on Earth” by one of the early Mughal emperors and a favourite summer escape for the British Raj, Kashmir still captures the hearts of modern day travellers with its magnificent Himalayan peaks, tranquil lakes, untouched wilderness and friendly open people.

To coincide with the height of India’s summer, specialist Tour Operator to India, Indus Tours have introduced two new escorted group tours up into Kashmir to enjoy its wonderfully clement weather, serene waterways and lush green foothills.

Commencing in the ancient lakeside town of Srinagar, with its colourful mosques and temples, formal Mughal gardens and intriguing old city, guests get to experience the beauty of the city’s waterways firsthand staying in the beautifully ornate houseboats (which were built to house British‘Days of the Raj’ holidaymakers) and cruising the sights by shikara (Kashmiri row boat). Both tours then head further afield to experience village life and the beauty of the surrounding countryside.

The first of the two tours, ‘Escape in Kashmir’ takes place from 4 – 15 June 2008 and will be escorted by Royal Geographic Society fellow, Joan Pollock. This trip includes a fascinating water safari along the backwaters of the Jhelum River to a majestic Pir Panjal mountain backdrop, two nights camping at a picturesque spot on Lake Mansabal with its myriad of birds and two nights in the peaceful foothill village of Gulmarg which just happens to sport the highest golf course in the World!

Accompanied by Kashmiri-philes Ian and Penny Fleming, ‘The Vale of Kashmir – A Secret Paradise’ tour then takes place from 14 to 23 June 2008. Also covering Srinagar in detail, it gives travellers the option of going to Gulmarg or to the caravan road town of Kargil to see the famous Mulbeck statue with its avid followers of devotees.


Trip of a lifetime

Solon Springs Advance Placement students know how to work hard.

The students in Lydia Lewis’ Advance Placement English literature and European history classes have worked odd jobs and sold pizza, carnations and raffle tickets for two years in an attempt to raise money for a trip to Europe this March.

Leaving at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and arriving in Rome at 7 a.m. Italian time, the 13 students and their 11 chaperones are visiting the cities of Rome, Florence, Paris and London.

All the students are juniors or seniors. They’ve had to come up with their own money for the trip either through fundraising or savings, Lewis said.

The students ran two pizza dinners during basketball games and sold items from catalogs, carnations for Valentine’s Day and Christmas wreaths.

Lewis even put Rent-a-kid advertisements in the local shopper for community members to hire students for odd jobs. The advertisement turned into the most profitable fundraiser for most of the students — who were willing to do any number of odd jobs to pay for their trip.

When a job would come in Lewis asked her students who would be available and willing to take it on.

They did all manner of jobs. They cleaned, raked and built a wall out of boulders.

Every student in the class, and most of their parents, raised money for the trip. They could choose how much or how little they wanted to fundraise on an individual basis. One student, Kate Klinzing, raised every penny to pay for the estimated $2,000 trip.

Other students’ parents are helping them with the trip and they’re using their fundraising money for spending money in Europe, Lewis said.

The students did a heroic effort fundraising for this trip, which is the most expensive field trip Solon Springs students have ever taken. The rising value of the Euro over the U.S. dollar is keeping the price of the trip high.

The first trip Solon Springs students took with EF Tours in 2003 cost $1,295; this trip is costing students $1,795 on paper, but with fees not listed on the main price the entire cost is about $2,000, she said.

A number of community groups also supported the students’ trip. Through donations of money and items for a raffle, the Solon Springs Parent-Teacher Association, Lions Club and American Legion all donated funds to help the students afford their trip, Lewis said.

These groups know the district cannot afford to help and that it’s the trip of a lifetime for these students, she said.

Besides fundraising, students need to have good grades, be enrolled in Advance Placement English literature or European history, have a track record of good behavior and hand in any work they’ll miss in order to go on the trip, Lewis said.

Only two of the students have traveled outside of the United States before this trip, and now they’ll all see the Colosseum, the Louvre, the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and Tower of London among other sites, she said.

The trip isn’t just about sightseeing. Students going on the trip are required to research one place they’ll visit and write a paper about it. After the trip, they must add to their paper to explain how the experience matched up with their expectations, Lewis said.

“The whole point is it’s a curriculum connection, not just a random vacation,” Lewis said.

She centered much of her curriculum for the two classes around the trip.

Students are visiting Florence and will see Dante’s house, so during the year they read from his works. In England students are seeing the setting of plays and books they’ve read in school.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Make the most of Bank Holidays this May

Working out how to make annual leave allowances stretch that little bit further can be a bit of an obsession for travel-hungry workers, but help is at hand from Native Escapes.

The tour operator, which specialises in luxury small group adventure trips in Southern Africa, has availability for trips leaving over both bank holidays during the month of May, giving a prime opportunity to use the bank holiday as part of a proper break.

Don the snorkel & mask and you could find yourself swimming with a pod of wild dolphins on our guided Wildlife, Tribes & Dolphins trip to South Africa & Mozambique this May Bank Holiday. Through a snorkel mask, it’s easy to see these curious mammals interacting with each other, but of course from the side of a boat they are equally fun to watch jumping out of the water alongside the boat. The excursion is run by a research project, and the welfare of the mammals is uppermost in organisers’ minds.

The trip includes Big 5 game drives with a qualified guide whose keen eyes are used to seeking out telling signs of wildlife presence, such as recent elephant tracks in the ground or a kettle of vultures circling prey overhead. Their trained eyes make the difference between spotting a camouflaged leopard and driving straight by it. Night-time wildlife activity is a real eye opener: a game drive after dark might involve keeping up with hippos running at up to 30mph!

Accommodation en route is a treat, and includes a small B&B with tropical gardens, and tented lodges set in the African bush or right on the beach complete with private en-suite facilities and verandas. Falling asleep to the sounds of the African bush after an evening spent round the fire is a special experience – and rivalled only by the enthusiastic dawn chorus as Africa’s birdlife announces the break of the new day.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

It may be the world's most beautiful beach

I recently spent a fabulous two weeks in Cuba, staying in Varadero and Havana.

Varadero, perhaps the most beautiful beach in the world, attracts tourists from all over the world and is a wonderful place to visit if you're looking to relax on a pristine, white-sandy beach with unbelievably gorgeous turquoise water.

I've been to the beaches of Australia, New Zealand, southern California, Portugal, Spain and the south of France and I've never seen a more beautiful beach than the 20-kilometre stretch of pure, white sand at Varadero.

Varadero was the winter home for super-rich Americans prior to the Cuban Revolution on Jan. 1,1959, with the likes of Al Capone and Joseph Kennedy (father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy) owning beachfront mansions. After building dozens of new hotels in the 1990s, Varadero now rivals Havana as Cuba's No. 1 tourist attraction.

Since first visiting Cuba in 1986, I've stayed at eight different villas and cabanas in Varadero, but my favourite is the Hotel Internacional. Opened in December, 1950, it was Varadero's premier hotel until the more luxurious hotels were built on the eastern edges of the town over the past 15 years.

A classic art-deco hotel located right on the beach, the Hotel Internacional, like much of Cuba, is a throwback to the 1950s. Its large, beautiful swimming pool is vintage '50s -- so much so that you can imagine Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner, sipping a piña colada and daiquiri poolside.

The hotel has a classic room called the Continental Cabaret, which is home to a spectacular dance show that rivals Havana's world-famous Tropicana nightclub for glamour. The room turns into a disco at midnight.

I always try to visit Havana, and this trip was no different as I took a two-hour bus ride to the capital city and spent three nights in the moderately-priced Hotel St. John's located in the lively Vedado area. It is an exciting, cosmopolitan city, teeming with life, energy and excitement, not to mention classic 1950s American cars.

I've decided that Havana is among my Top 5 cities in the world, up there with Amsterdam, New York, San Francisco and Sydney. I love walking around the city, whether along the Malecon -- the seaside road beside the Atlantic Ocean -- around Vedado or La Habaña Vieja (old Havana).

On my latest trip, I walked to the bronze statue of John Lennon, which has the former Beatle sitting on a park bench near the corner of 17th and 6th Streets. President Fidel Castro unveiled the statue of Lennon -- who has become a hero in Cuba for his stance against the Vietnam War and his fight for world peace -- on Dec. 8, 2000.

Music is everywhere in Havana and you can hear incredible music emanating from any number of patios, terraces, bars, lounges and restaurants. You walk in free of charge and have a Cuban beer (Cristal and Bucanero are the best), Cuba Libre (rum and coke) or a daiquiri while listening to amazing music.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Travel Hongkong Gallery

Travel Hongkong Gallery
Travel Hongkong Gallery

Travel Hongkong Gallery
The tourism industry has been an important part of the economy of Hong Kong since it shifted to a service sector model in the late 1980s and early 90s. There has been a sharp increase of mainland Chinese tourists due to the introduction of the Individual Visit Scheme in 2003.

Tunisia Emerging as Top World Tourist Destination

Tunisians and Koreans have several similarities and many common features: in their attachment to their respective homeland, in their firm willingness to upgrade their countries to the highest level of progress, in some traditions and way of life, when they show respect for elderly people and in their utmost concern to give the most appropriate and best education to their children, Tunisian Ambassador to Korea Mustapha Khammari said.

"Tunisia has no abundant oil resources. As Korea also, Tunisia - and we have to precise at this point that this is a fundamental choice of the policy carried out by His Excellency Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, President of the Republic of Korea,- rely on the capacity and creativity of its own children and young people to pay the efforts necessary to the development of the country," he said in an interview with the Seoul Times.

Briefly, "you" in Korea and "we" in Tunisia, we endeavor to overcome the challenges of progress with our own brains and labor, said Amb. Khammari who assumed the Seoul post on Dec. 7, 2007.

"If we add to those similarities, the beauty Tunisia offers with its vast stretches of glistening and white sandy Mediterranean beaches covering 800 mile coasts, its magnificent countryside panoramas, its lush oases and sweeping Saharan landscapes as well as its rich and deep-rooted history …you will understand why Tunisia can definitely attract Korean tourists, catches their interest and curiosity and offers to them all the ingredients of " Joie de vivre" at a very competitive costs," he went on .

On the other hand, Korean tourists who are lovers of natural and biological products can feast on in Tunisia where vegetables, fruits and fish have a unique taste that comes from the beautiful sun of Tunisia and nurtured by its rich soil, which produces excellent biological and healthy agricultural items, he said.

"This is why Koreans who choose to visit Tunisia will be satisfied. I am confident that their choice to visit Tunisia will be a judicious one, especially that they will be able to follow 3000 years of history of brilliant civilizations that have marked Tunisia since the Phoenicians and General Hannibal with his warlike saga that enables him to cross the Alps on elephants .. to arrive to today's Tunisia, a very stable and safe country with its so blue sea and glistening coasts in the heart of the Mediterranean sea,"Amb.Khammari maintained.

In fact Korean can follow a unique historical itinerary in Tunisia by choosing to visit some of the exceptional and historical treasures, including over 20 000 archeological sites and hundreds of monuments, museums and historical centers and a total of eight world heritage sites. The most frequently visited are Carthage, Bardo Mesum (hosting the world largest mosaic collection) and El Jem Coliseum (second only to Rome), according to Tunisian envoy who has journalistic background before joining the foreign service.

Tunisia ranks 30th in the world hierarchy of the economic competitiveness, according to the latest World Economic Forum Report. The per capita GNP grows five times over the past 20 years.

The efforts that were undertaken during the last two decades under the wise and farsighted leadership of His Excellency the President Ben Ali qualified as "The man of the Tunisian Miracle," have endowed Tunisia with unprecedented assets and infrastructures in all fields..

Tunisia enjoys magnificent football stadium, like the 7th of November stadium built by Koreans, more than 20 golf courses, indoor halls for all kind of sports Infrastructure for yachting …splendid beaches for surfing..Swimming pools…whatever the activity of sport tourism you are willing to practice, he said adding:" Tunisia open its arms to welcome you."

For whom they like sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, horseback riding, pedestrian walk, fishing, underwater fishing, hunting…Tunisia is an ideal place with very reasonable prices, according to Amb. Khammari.

"You can also enjoy Health tourism, which is already the principal magnet for many tourists from all over the world. With 25 Thalassotherapy centers- medical treatment with seawater-, today Tunisia is amongst the top world destinations for this cure," he said. My answer is that "There are more ways to Tunisia than one," You know that Tunisia is located in the center of the Mediterranean basin which makes it a destination at the next door of the main European capitals. Less than three hours flying time from major European and Middle Eastern Cities, the Land of Carthage and Hannibal is a preferred destination, 50mn from Rome..2 hours from Paris, Madrid, Barcelone.. 2 hours 30mn from Frankfurt, London..Brussels..3hours from Cairo, he explained.

Korean Tourist whom, like Americans and Europeans don't need visa to enter to Tunisia, can choose several itineraries to get to there ..

"Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways, as Air France, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa could bring you to Tunisia…waiting that Korean Air and Tunis Air establish direct liaison between Seoul and Tunis… We are working on it and we hope to find out the appropriate solutions. Meanwhile, I ask you ..Korean tourists.. to choose from now on Tunisia to spend their vacancies… you will be delighted," he went on .

The Mediterranean Sea, the Mountains, the greenery and the Sahara mix their beauties so they offer to visitors an extraordinary and unique deal of diversity which associates beach to desert in a very eco friendly and warm area.

Tunisia is in fact among the few countries in the world which can offer its visitors the impressive Sahara desert within easy reach of beautiful beaches, thickly-forested mountains and bustling towns and cities

"You can stretch out on the white sandy Mediterranean beaches of Hammamet in the morning and spend, during the same day, the afternoon and the night in the heart of the Sahara under the enchanting blue sky contemplating stars …and their splendid reflection on the golden sand hills," Tunisian envoy pointed out.

he next day you can visit "Djerba," the Island of the Legendary Ulysses, ranked recently by the famous American travel guide 'Trip Adviser" as the 1st tourist spot in the world for 2008, where you can find all the tourist commodities through its luxury world class hotels. From Djerba you can change the cap to Sousse where you can visit El Kantaoui Marina with its beautiful sailing boats.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Top 10 places to see in Idaho

Idaho is one of America’s best-kept secrets and in recent years has emerged as one of the West’s premiere vacation destinations with its timbered mountains, pristine lakes, wide-open vistas, vibrant cities and irrigated farmlands that dot the state from Nevada to Canada.

The Gem State’s door is wide open to family travelers looking for fun, outdoor enthusiasts in search of the thrills of nature, adventure seekers or those just looking to relax.

Adjacent to Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho is a big state with lots to see and do. Whichever part of the state you choose to discover for yourself, you’re bound to find spectacular scenery, helpful, friendly locals and impressive wildlife.

To help you decide what to do first, take a look at Idaho’s top 10 places to see and you’ll be on your way.

1. Sun ValleyThe Sun Valley/Ketchum area sits at the edge of the Sawtooth and Challis National Forests in a setting found nowhere else in Idaho.

Nestled among mountains and pastures, clean air and water, Sun Valley is the very definition of the American winter vacation, being the nation’s first destination ski resort.

Sun Valley attracts a mix of Hollywood movie stars and Olympic champions, some of whom own homes in the Wood River Valley. Steven Spielberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis are just a few of the many celebrities who own vacation homes locally.

“Sun Valley is just a very special place,” Sun Valley Company Director of Sales, Marketing and Public Relations Jack Sibbach said. “The weather is fantastic year-round and that brings in many families and groups who come for the quality of the experience we offer.”

Sun Valley boasts a world-class mountain, with a quality ski school, experienced instructors and some of the best snow in the state. Casual elegance is the style at the resort’s stately Sun Valley Lodge and Sun Valley Inn.

Born out of a desire to bring the magic of the European ski resorts to America, Sun Valley quickly became a phenomenon and continues to be ranked among the best in North America.2. McCall/Tamarack Known as one of Idaho’s most popular resort areas, McCall is a small mountain community nestled along the shores of Payette Lake just a two-hour drive from the Treasure Valley.

McCall is home to popular vacation destinations such as Brundage Mountain, Ponderosa State Park, the U.S. Forest Service Smokejumper Base and the annual Winter Carnival that draws more than 70,000 people each January.

Traditionally a logging community, McCall’s last sawmill closed in 1977. Since then, the city has transformed into a popular year-round destination and welcomes visitors from all over the world.

Known for having the highest average snowfall in the state with an average annual accumulation of 300 inches, McCall’s Brundage Mountain Resort is a favorite among skiers and snowboarders for its friendly, family atmosphere and top-notch powder skiing.

Visitors enjoy alpine and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating, lift-served snow tubing or simply settling in beside a warm fire.

McCall’s summers are generally mild, influenced by the mountains, lakes, altitude and latitude. The area offers swimming, boating, water skiing and fishing on Payette Lake.

Just a short distance from McCall near Donnelly is Tamarack, the first newly permitted resort in North America in more than two decades. The resort features an incredible blend of mountain, meadow and lake amenities, including skiing, mountain biking, zip-line and more. Tamarack played host to President George W. Bush in 2006 and is the site of a luxury hotel under development by tennis superstars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff.3. Boise The city of Boise is perhaps best known across the nation for its college football team, the Boise State Broncos, who won the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

While fans and tourists alike come to Boise to see Boise State’s iconic blue turf at Bronco Stadium, the capital city’s claims to fame run much broader and deeper.

Boise is a beautiful city with a delightful blend of traditional and non-traditional sights and attractions. Known as the City of Trees, Boise boasts one-of-a-kind museums and picturesque urban parks that residents and visitors enjoy year-round.

The Boise River flows through the heart of the city and features a 25-mile riverfront greenbelt, cherished by walkers, bikers and runners alike. And the city offers the broadest selection of dining, shopping and entertainment choices in Idaho.

“Boise is an incredible city that people around this country are just now starting to discover for themselves,” Owyhee Plaza Hotel front office manager Sandra Pack said. “Boise offers so much to all different types of people — and that is what makes it so unique.”

Visitors have plenty to see and do when they come to Boise, including the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, Morrison-Knudsen Nature Center, Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, Idaho Black History Museum and the World Center for Birds of Prey.

Boise is also home to professional sports teams like the NBA Development League’s Idaho Stampede, NHL affiliate Idaho Steelheads, Arena Football League 2’s Boise Burn and Chicago Cubs farm team the Boise Hawks.

Folks can also enjoy nearby mountains, breathtaking canyons, the Canyon County Wine Country, whitewater rafting rivers, deserts and dunes and more.4. Coeur d'AleneABC’s Barbara Walters once called Coeur d’Alene “a little slice of heaven” and included it in her list of most fascinating places to visit.

Located about 30 miles east of Spokane, Wash., Coeur d’Alene is the largest city in the northern Idaho panhandle and lies at the northern end of Lake Coeur d‘Alene, a 30-mile-long body of water that showcases breathtaking vistas and crisp, blue waters ideal for water skiing, parasailing and fishing.

The city has grown substantially in recent years as a result of increased tourism. Two major ski resorts, Silver Mountain Resort to the east in Kellogg and Schweitzer Mountain ski resort to the north in Sandpoint, have helped Coeur d’Alene become one of the most desirable destinations in the state.

Coeur d’Alene also draws golf enthusiasts from across the nation. The Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course is considered one of the best in the United States, largely because of its scenic setting and the fact that its 14th hole boasts the world’s only movable floating green.

Coeur d’Alene is always abuzz with activity, including art shows, athletic events, outdoor fun and an endless list of things to do and see.

The city may be best known for its waterfront Coeur d’Alene Resort, a world class, full-service destination resort featuring multiple restaurants and lounges, European spa, tennis, recreation center and lake cruises on Lake Coeur d’Alene.5. Twin FallsLocated on the high plains of southern Idaho, Twin Falls is perched on the edge of the Snake River Canyon and is home to unique attractions.

Despite the name and the unusual location of the city, the most impressive falls nearby are actually Shoshone Falls, a towering, commanding waterfall taller than Niagara that draws big crowds in high water years.

Another scenic feature near Twin Falls is the Snake River Canyon, brought into the national spotlight in the 1970s by famed stuntman Evel Knievel, who aborted an attempt to jump the canyon on his rocket motorcycle. The Sawtooth National Forest to the south features hiking, camping, skiing and fun for the whole family.

Unpopulated until about 100 years ago, extensive irrigation from the Snake River paved the way for the beginning of farming and habitation on the arid plateau. The landscape and scenery is enhanced by brilliant night skies undimmed by light pollution.

Twin Falls is home to the College of Southern Idaho, an institution that has helped the city grow into one of Idaho’s largest cities. It is also home to the Perrine Memorial Bridge, which spans the Snake River Gorge nearly 500 feet above the water and is a popular stop for BASE jumpers and their spectators. The bridge design is distinctive and is considered a tourist attraction in itself.6. StanleyIf you want to see Idaho the way Lewis and Clark saw it more than 200 years ago, look no further than Stanley.

Surrounded by the splendor of the Sawtooth Mountains, Stanley is a picturesque playground for all seasons. Visitors can discover Stanley on foot, on skis, on horseback, from a snowmobile, kayak or car, and can sense the wonder and beauty of this small slice of heaven on earth.

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a day of fishing, biking, rafting, hiking, climbing, skiing or sledding while viewing the majestic snow-capped mountains and breathtaking foliage of this special place.

View wildlife in beautiful meadows full of wildflowers, read a favorite book by the lake, visit a ghost town or historic museum or watch Chinook salmon return home after swimming 900 miles to their birthplace beneath the towering peaks.

Visitors who come in the fall are treated to aspen leaves turning red and gold, uncrowded trails in the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains and quiet, crisp fall mornings.

In the winter months, clear blue skies and glistening white snow combine to create the perfect setting for cross-country skiing, hunting, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and photography.7. Craters of the MoonFor more than 15,000 years, lava eruptions created a bizarre and unusual landscape that is unlike any other in the state. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is part of the Snake River Plain, a volcanic terrain that spans across all of southern Idaho and can be found 18 miles southwest of Arco.

Craters of the Moon is considered by some to be one of the best places in the world to see the effects of volcanism. In various places, this volcanic plain is 60 miles wide, and drilling into it has shown its lava deposits to be more than 10,000 feet deep in some locations.

Visitors can feast their eyes upon features like cinder cones, spatter cones, lava tubes and several types of lava flows.

In 1969, the second group of astronauts to walk on the moon visited Craters of the Moon, but did not train there. Instead, they studied the volcanic geology of the area and were also able to explore the remarkable and harsh environment in preparation for their historic trip into space.

Many visitors wonder if Craters of the Moon will ever erupt again. Geologists say the site is dormant rather than an extinct volcanic area. The volcanoes here are not dead, only sleeping, and are expected to become active again within the next 1,000 years.8. Hell's Gate State Park/Hell's CanyonHell’s Gate State Park, located in north-central Idaho, serves as a gateway to both Idaho’s Lewis and Clark Country as well as Hell’s Canyon, the deepest river gorge in all of North America, making it a popular destination for tourists.

Wildlife, fishing, boating and sightseeing make Hell’s Gate one of Idaho’s best and most sought-after parks. It is situated in an area not far from Lewiston and is just 30 minutes away from the Nez Perce National Historic Park.

For those up for an adventure, boat excursions to Hell’s Canyon leave regularly from Hell’s Gate Park and allow visitors to behold the canyon’s majesty, depth and unusual formation.

The park, which is elevated at 733 feet above sea level, also offers a calm camping atmosphere along the shores of the Snake River. A large beach and day-use area is available for recreational activities like horseback riding, hiking and biking, making this a must-see location for sportsman and campers alike.

Wildlife lovers are likely to find pheasants, quails, chakras, hawks, geese, ducks, owls and cottontail rabbits within the park.9. Priest Lake Long considered a crown jewel, Priest Lake is an outdoorsman’s paradise. Breathtaking scenery and surroundings that are unspoiled and spectacular make Priest Lake one of Idaho’s premiere destinations.

A location that is truly sensational in all seasons, Priest Lake is a year-round family vacation stop as well as a location for group conferences, seminars and retreats.

The centerpiece of this spot on the map is a magnificent 23,000-acre azure lake that stretches for 25 miles nestled beneath the majestic Selkirk Mountains, making it one of the most beautiful wilderness areas you will ever see.

Located about 75 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, Priest Lake actually consists of two lakes joined by a two-mile long slow moving river known as the Thoroughfare. The landscape offers 80 miles of shoreline and many popular accesses and beaches for swimming, picnics and an array of boating sports accommodated with marina and vehicle services, boat rentals, as well as grocery and tackle shops.

This oasis in the mountains also boasts 400 miles of groomed, marked and patrolled snowmobile trails. Ample snowfall and open spaces make Priest Lake a winter wonderland. Cross-country skiers come from far and wide to enjoy over 70 kilometers of groomed trails throughout the area. 10. Bruneau Sand DunesThe Bruneau Sand Dunes, located in Bruneau Dunes State Park in the high desert south of Mountain Home, features the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America. The dune rises to a 470 feet high above a collection of small lakes located in the park.

Massive sand-piles remain trapped in a semi-circular basin, due largely to opposing wind currents, contributing to the dunes’ unusual makeup.

The state park is perfect for anyone who loves to fish, bird-watch, camp, hike or swim. The park also features one of only two public observatories in Idaho and gives visitors the chance to look through a 25-inch Obsession, the largest telescope in the West that’s accessible to the public.

Visitors are welcome to climb the unique dunes and explore some of the park’s most attractive and popular features, including desert, dune, prairie, lake and marsh habitat. Some are even lucky enough to observe nocturnal species when the opportunity presents itself. No vehicles are allowed on the dunes.

The visitor center is a popular stop on the way through Bruneau Dunes State Park, where you’ll find a detailed exhibit on the area’s desert denizens, among them the coyote and the golden eagle, along with fossils from former residents such as the mammoth.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Northern Ireland emerges as a tourist hot spot

Since the Good Friday Peace Accord of 1998, Northern Ireland has morphed from the land of "Troubles" to an up-and-coming tourist destination.

Before that, sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics made headlines around the world as Loyalists to the British Crown battled those who wanted Northern Ireland free of English rule. Skirmishes between the British military and paramilitary forces broke out on a regular basis.

The Good Friday agreement, however, ushered in equal rights, legitimization of the Irish language, demilitarization and arms decommissioning. As a result, violence subsided and the streets of Belfast and Derry became safe. With peace came economic prosperity.

Investment companies formed to develop and reconstruct vast areas of Belfast. New restaurants and bars opened; more jobs resulted in a population with more sterling to spend.

Suddenly, 19th-century Ireland's most industrial city became a bustling European hot spot.

The airlines have helped. Belfast is Aer Lingus' new hub, making it a popular weekend getaway for Europeans who come for the food, drink, attractions, shopping and entertainment. (One of the U.K.'s biggest Ikeas just opened nearby and throngs of shoppers arrive from the Republic of Ireland.) On Thursday, a new mixed-use Victoria Shopping Centre opened, with leisure facilities, apartments and over 70 retailers.


It's hard to imagine that a century and a half ago, famine forced millions to flee Northern Ireland when today the country's food is so plentiful and tasty that food tourism is one of its many draws. Seafood such as monkfish, oysters and mussels, together with local cheese, beef and produce, form a larder for the region's fresh, innovative menus.

Don't miss Belfast's restaurant scene. Malmaison Belfast, housed in two former warehouses near the River Lagan, sports a stylish hotel, bar and brasserie, which in addition to the regular menu features a popular and reasonably priced local one. Chef Colin Manson uses producers like Maurice Kettyle for his locally reared and aged beef, Bob Couhoun for organic tomatoes and Courtney's Orchard for local Armagh apples.


A decade ago, even locals wouldn't venture into Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. The neighborhood stood derelict, victim of severe economic decline and years of sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants. Now it's the city's art and entertainment center, and brand new restaurants, like No. 27, cater to visitors and natives alike.

Weekend Window: Lanai, Hawaii

Hawaii is a popular tourist destination and the state's bigger islands usually get the most visitors. That's why the state's smallest island is the perfect getaway for those looking for more low-keyed relaxation.

"It's just so different from any other Hawaiian island. You won't believe it," said Kathy Caroll of Mike Caroll Gallery. "I think people should come to Lanai if they want to experience complete and utter solitude. I can't think of a more relaxing place to be."

The destination spot may have a calmer vibe than the sometimes-crowded beaches and tourist destinations on the larger islands of Oahu, Maui and Hawaii.

"You come to Lanai and you commune with nature. It's a real experience; it's not something that's contrived," said Kepa Maly, of Lana'i Cultural Heritage Center.

Lanai, which also is known as the Island of Mystery and the Secluded Isle, only has about 2,800 inhabitants, which adds to its feeling of quietude.

The island's geography offers a view of different cliffs and rock formations.

"[The] cliffs go [to] 1,000 feet. God has made all these rock formations," said Mike Lopez, of Trilogy Excursions. "I believe each formation represents something within itself."

Many see Lanai's landscape as a divine experience.

"One of the most amazing places to see here is Keahikawelo, otherwise known as the Garden of the Gods. It looks like a surreal landscape. It almost feels like you're walking onto the surface of Mars," Carroll said.

"When you go up onto the slopes, there's this amazing geology. The wind erosion that's occurred where the core of lava flows have remained intact," Maly said. "You get up on the flatlands, and onto the slopes above us, and you have this amazing mounding and piling of stones that some people would think, that's man-made. But in reality, it's God-made."


Friday, March 7, 2008

Top 10 coastal wildlife hot spots

Stingray City, Grand Cayman

The clear, shallow water of Grand Cayman's North Sound teems with southern stingrays. They began to congregate here because it's where fishermen cleaned their catch. Now, they come for handouts from tourists. Ebanks Watersports (345/925-5273) offers trips to visit the sandbar, where passengers can touch, feed and snorkel among these gentle swimmers.

Depoe Bay, Oregon

From now until June, Oregon's "whale-watching capital" welcomes roughly 18,000 gray whales en route to Alaska. Visit the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay to learn the best spots to view the grays. (Insider's tip: Northbound whales, which migrate now, swim closer to shore than southbound winter travelers.) Spring Whale Watch Week, when center volunteers will be stationed along the coast to provide viewing tips and facts, starts March 22. Or, for an up-close glimpse, hop aboard a Tradewinds Charters tour

Assateague Island National Seashore, Virginia and Maryland

During spring and fall, this area's famed wild horses spend much of their time grazing the Virginia and Maryland coastlines. The best way to see the privately owned Virginia herd is aboard the Pony Express Nature Tour cruise. Captain Mark Coulbourne knows where the horses hang out (tours run May through October, 866/766-9794). On land, hike or bike the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge's 1 1/2-mile Woodland Trail to an observation platform overlooking the ponies' habitat

Big Pine Key, Florida

This is the only place in the world to see the pint-size Key deer. A subspecies of Virginia white-tailed deer, they stand just 30 inches tall at the shoulder. Go to the National Key Deer Refuge in the early morning or at dusk for the best viewing -- you may spot a newborn during the April-to-May fawning season. Stop at the visitor center before heading to an observation platform, or hike trails to see the deer.

Maui, Hawaii

Many green sea turtles (or honu) that gather off Maui's shores eventually make their way to Maluaka Beach, also known as Turtle Town. To view the sea turtles in their natural habitat, grab your snorkel or scuba gear. Maui Eco Tours' Seafari claims an average of 15 turtle sightings per snorkel trip . Sign up with Tropical Divers Maui for an introductory lesson with a guided dive . The Turtle Lagoon at the Maui Ocean Center offers a chance to see the reptiles and stay dry.

Stonington Peninsula, Michigan

During August and September, thousands of monarch butterflies swarm Michigan's Stonington Peninsula on their long southern migration. You're likely to find many at Peninsula Point, a resting spot on the Upper Peninsula. Visitors can climb the 40-foot lighthouse for a bird's-eye view of the butterflies' journey across Lake Michigan, or observe them resting in the surrounding cedar trees. Pack a picnic, and don't forget a camera.

Delaware Bay, Delaware

Head here to visit one of the world's largest spawning grounds for horseshoe crabs. These crustaceans are protected at five community-based sanctuaries --Broadkill Beach, Slaughter Beach, Fowler Beach, Pickering Beach and Kitts Hummock, all accessible to the public. There are also plans for a horseshoe-crab museum and research center in Milton (the only other museum of this kind is in Japan). You can help save the crab: If you see one turned on its back, "just flip 'em."

Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico

Often called bio bay, this is one of the best places in the world to experience bioluminescence, a natural glow produced by living organisms. You can observe the glowing dinoflagellates (a type of microscopic algae) throughout the year, but the best time to visit is during a new moon when the night sky is darkest. Blue Caribe Kayaks in Esperanza leads educational expeditions and invites you to swim among the "stardust" (787/741-2522/; reservations are highly recommended).

San Simeon, California

Winter is a great time to observe one of California's largest resident populations of elephant seals. Visit Friends of the Elephant Seal's Web site to learn about these funny-looking marine mammals and to get recommendations for the best places to find them. One top viewing spot: the Piedras Blancas rookery just north of San Simeon, where on-site docents will answer questions.

Knight Inlet, British Columbia

To see black bears and grizzlies, head to Knight Inlet, northwest of Vancouver. The Knight Inlet Lodge, open June through mid-October, offers three-, four- and five-day packages. A boat takes guests to a channel brimming with salmon and to other areas the bears frequent.