Search This Blog


Monday, November 2, 2009

Joshua Tree National Park is an often-overlooked treasure

By Tom Uhlenbrock
Sunday, Nov. 01 2009
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK, CALIF. — Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon get
the publicity, and the visitors. But there are plenty of lesser-known national
parks that offer gorgeous vistas and pristine back country, far from the
maddening crowds.

Joshua Tree, Big Bend, Capitol Reef, Isle Royale, Kenai Fjords and Theodore
Roosevelt are national parks that may never be the stars of a Ken Burns
documentary. But each offers its own charm, and you won't find a traffic jam at
any of them. In fact, Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Isle Royale in Lake Superior
have no traffic at all; you explore them by boat or by sea plane.

When I visited Theodore Roosevelt in remote western North Dakota and asked the
ranger whether he was busy with visitors that day, he replied, "You're No. 2."

Franklin Roosevelt made Joshua Tree a national monument in 1936, and Bill
Clinton elevated it to a national park in 1994. The park is well known in
Southern California but, like some Americans living elsewhere, I first heard of
this eerie expanse of cactus-studded desert and mountains in 1973 after the
strange death of Gram Parsons, a singer-songwriter who was a member of the
Byrds and a pioneer of country-rock music.

Parsons, who may be best known for his later duets with Emmylou Harris, died of
an overdose in the Joshua Tree Inn, where his admirers still maintain a
makeshift memorial of candles, flowers and a tiny guitar in the sandy courtyard
outside the blue door of room No. 8.

In the days after his death, two of his drunken buddies absconded with Parsons'
casket and tried to fulfill his wish of being cremated in the Joshua Tree

The purported spot where the body was partially burned is in the vicinity of
Cap Rock, one of the park's geologic landmarks. A nearby rock face is scrawled
with messages, some put there as recently as this year by fans still mourning
35 years later.

Ranger Pat Pilcher, who gave me a tour during my three-day visit to Joshua
Tree, said the National Park Service does not encourage visits to the site or
the resulting graffiti.

"We don't officially sanction it," Pilcher said. "But it's in the circuit. It's
not like it's a secret, obviously."

Like many national parks, Joshua Tree had a prime mover. Minerva Hamilton Hoyt,
a Mississippi belle who moved to Southern California, founded the International
Deserts Conservation League in 1930. She worked to preserve the landscapes that
were being devastated by cactus collectors and vandals, and lobbied Roosevelt
to protect the area.

The national monument was named Joshua Tree for the forests of dagger-leaf
plants that dominate the high-desert valleys. Early Mormons, who named the
trees, thought they looked like the prophet Joshua summoning his followers.

The park's other noted image is its rock piles, which come in fantastic shapes
and sizes. Some are spheres, some are stacked like a giant's blocks. All were
formed by 90 million years of erosion.

"That's the question we get the most," Pilcher said. "Who piled those rocks up
like that?"


Although Joshua Tree is within a few hours' drive of the 18 million inhabitants
of Los Angeles and San Diego, it is easy to be alone in the nearly 800,000
acres of the national park, 80 percent of which is designated wilderness. On my
arrival, I made the short but steep climb to the top of Ryan Mountain for a
360-degree look at the park at sunset. The summit was crowded with two other

The next day, an eight-mile, round-trip hike took me through the low desert to
Lost Palms Oasis, a hidden valley filled with the park's largest grove of
stately fan palms. The only sounds were the rustling of the palm fronds and the
song of a cactus wren.

Nights were spent at the 29 Palms Inn, which was built in the 1920s, maintains
a funky ambiance and has the best restaurant in the town of Twentynine Palms.
The area also is home to the world's largest Marine base, which contains
simulated Iraqi villages for practicing desert warfare.

The Joshua Tree lore includes stories of the McHaney Gang of rustlers and
prospectors who filed about 300 claims in their search for gold. Some hit pay
dirt; most found dry holes.

Pilcher, the ranger, opened the locked gates for a visit to the homestead of
the William Keys family. Keys was a caretaker for the Desert Queen Mine, one of
the few successes, and he took over the property in 1917 after the mine owner's
death. The nearest town was a six-day ride by horseback, so Keys and his family
scavenged the mining operations for any bit of equipment that might help them
eke out a living in the harsh terrain. A cyanide tank became a chicken coop, an
old tractor was jury-rigged to cut wood.

"They were packrats, this is their Home Depot hardware department," Pilcher
said in a yard full of tables stacked with rusted nuts, bolts and tools. "They
had to haul all this stuff in by horse and wagon, and everything was cobbled
together. I'm amazed at their ingenuity."

The park service maintains the homestead exactly as it was when Keys died in


Perhaps the most amazing story of Joshua Tree is the plants and wildlife that
are able to survive in a climate in which the summer temperature reaches 115
degrees and the average annual rainfall is 4 inches. This year has been
especially dry; the park had recorded a meager 0.56 inch of rain by mid-October.

The desert tortoise, which is federally listed as threatened but holding its
own in the park, lives most of its life protected from the heat in underground

The spindly branches of the ocotillo plant appear to be dead until they burst
forth with green leaves and flame-red flowers at their tips with the slightest
bit of rain. Indeed, about half of the park's 1.3 million annual visitors come
February through May, when the temperature is mild and rain turns the desert
floor into a carpet of wildflowers.

"Some 250 species of birds occur here, and there are 800 species of plants in
the park — they're finding new ones all the time," chief interpreter Joe Zarki
said. "There are two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado deserts, and
six mountain ranges. We are one of the most famous rock-climbing sites in the
world and have some 270 miles of hiking trails."

The park does have its problems, especially because of its location within the
suburban sprawl and smog of Southern California.

"If you get out to Keys View on a clear day, you can see 90 miles into Mexico,"
Zarki said. "But that's limited to a few days out of the year now."

Exotic grasses also have moved in and provide tinder for fire from lighting
strikes that normally would burn out on the bare ground. The park's larger
plants, such as piñon, juniper and its signature Joshua trees, are not adapted
to fire and take many years to recover, altering a landscape that attracted
people like Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, Gram Parsons, and today's TV and film

"Since we're so close to Los Angeles, we get a wide variety of television
commercials filmed out here," Zarki said. "The rocks, the boulder formations,
which are of endless variations, all ringed by Joshua trees, it's one of the
iconic landscapes of the West."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The "Miniatur Wunderland"

The "Miniatur Wunderland" model railroad in Hamburg , Germany is the largest in the world, covering 16,146 square feet of space with more than 10,000 train cars running around its 6.8 miles of HO scale track. Now, the makers of this huge layout have created a video that gives you a jaw-dropping look at the vast scope of this intricate work of art.

Its construction started in 2000, and is still underway, with a tiny airport due for completion by the end of this year. This is just the beginning — there are plans to double the layout by 2014. We especially like the Las Vegas portion, complete with dazzling LEDs lighting up the night.

You have to watch the video below to get the full impact of this remarkable achievement, which has taken in excess of five hundred thousand working hours to build. There's good reason why this is Germany 's most popular attraction, already visited by more than five million flabbergasted tourists.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Butchart Gardens.

The Butchart Gardens is one of the world's premier floral show gardens located in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, Canada, near Victoria on Vancouver Island. This family owned gardens is said to receive more than a million visitors each year. These gardens have acquired an international stature that displays beautiful colors of nature throughout the year.
Jennie Butchart started the Butchart Garden as a hobby in 1904. In 1906, she created a Japanese garden with designer Isaburo Kishida. In 1909, when the quarry was exhausted, she started to turn it into a sunken garden, which was completed in 1921. The tennis courts were replaced with an Italian garden in 1926 and a large rose garden (design of Butler Sturtevant of Seattle) replaced the kitchen vegetable garden in 1929.
Ian Ross (the grandson of the Butcharts) received the Gardens on his 21st birthday in 1939; he was actively involved in its development and promotion for the next 58 year.
Lots of underground wiring was laid to provide night illumination, to mark the 50th anniversary of The Gardens in 1953. To celebrate the 60th anniversary the ever-changing Ross Fountain was installed in the lower reservoir in 1964. The Canadian Heraldic Authority granted a coat of arms to the Butchart Gardens in 1994. To mark the 100th anniversary, two 30-foot totem poles were installed and The Gardens was designated as a national historic site in 2004. Robin-Lee Clarke (Butchart's great-granddaughter) is the owner and managing director since 2001.
"The public area of The Butchart Gardens covers 22ha (55 acres) with much more, for the most part, "off stage." Twenty-six greenhouses covering almost 2 acres, along with trial growing areas, a plant and a tree and shrub nursery help to keep The Gardens in prime viewing condition."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Natural Hot Springs of New Mexico

When the Spanish explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries stumbled across New Mexico’s natural hot springs, they discovered the healing properties that the Native Americans had already known for centuries.

Some claimed they had found the Fountain of Youth in these relaxing and calming hot springs. Now guests have a chance to follow in their footsteps with a visit to some of the most spectacular locations in the “Land of Enchantment.”

Jemez Springs

The village of Jemez Springs is one of New Mexico’s most enchanting destinations.

Nestled between stunning red rock remnants of ancient lava flows – which are over a million years old - the village is world renowned for its famous mineral hot springs.
Fissures in the earth allow water near the surface to make contact with the rock below that is heated by the magma. The result is a steady supply of wonderful, hot springs that bubble up naturally throughout the valley. Jemez Springs is a great place to get away for the weekend, reconnect with nature and enjoy the healing mineral waters.

The Jemez Valley runs from an area just north of the Jemez Pueblo up through to the Valles Caldera preserve. Along this 45-mile stretch of state highway, guests will find natural hot springs, great fishing spots, endless hiking trails and lovely camp sites.

The springs include the Spence Hot Springs, Giggling Springs, and the San Antonia Hot Springs. More information for visitors can be found at the Jemez Sprigs website.

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs & Spa

Steeped in myth and legend, these ancient springs have been a gathering place and a source of healing for hundreds, even thousands of years. The use of the waters can be traced back to the earliest human settlements in the region when ancient people, believed to be the ancestors of today’s Native American Tewa tribes, built large pueblos and terraced gardens overlooking the springs.

Posi (or Poseuing) - ‘village at the place of the green bubbling hot springs’ - was home to thousands of people.

Although Ojo Caliente’s natural springs were used for centuries by the area’s Pueblo Indians, today the resort consists of an historic mission-style hotel that dates back to 1916 and is one of the longest continuously operating health resorts in the U.S.

The Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa (pictures right) is the only hot springs in the world with four different types of mineral water, and the resort’s ten pools are filled with different combinations of waters and temperatures.

There’s also a mud pool where guests can apply mud all over their bodies and then bake in the sun, releasing toxins from the pores of the skin. Recent renovations and expansions have enhanced the service offering without abandoning the authentic and historic nature of the original environment.

Accommodation includes: The Historic Hotel, charming cottages, and suites with private outdoor soaking tubs.

Other hot springs in New Mexico:

Outside of the star attractions there a host of other hot springs in New Mexico. Here takes a quick look at some of the best.

Firstly the large, 99°F hot Battleship Rock & McCauley Hot Springs are located in a high mountain meadow near the Battleship Rock in Jemez Springs, named for its similarities to the prow of a ship.

Clothing is optional.

Located along the spectacular canyon of the Rio Grande near Taos, Black Rock Hot Springs is a small grouping of hot springs that forms a small pool alongside the Rio Grande when the river is low.

North-west of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument are the House Log Canyon Hot Springs - a little hot spring found only when the Gila River is low.

It is unimproved and surrounded by trees and ferns. Clothing is optional.

The Lightfeather Hot Springs are also alongside the Middlefork of the Gila River, near Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

Finally, Montezuma Hot Springs is a collection of hot springs bubbling out of the side of a hill, feeding a variety of rock and cement tubs.

Though the springs were originally used by the historic Montezuma Castle Resort near Las Vegas, they are now accessible to the public.

More Information

Please note many of these springs are located in remote destinations and may require a certain amount of hiking, climbing or other physical activity to reach. Guests should always check with the Forest Service or local ranger station before attempting to access these pools.

The only place in the world you can buy original recipe Dr. Pepper

Spoonful of sugar is just what the doctor ordered

Out in the flatlands of Texas, a good two hours' drive from the nearest city any outsider has ever heard of, lies a town called Dublin. It has no important industry or institution to draw visitors and the main occupation of the 4,000 residents is dairy farming.

All the same, about 65,000 people a year make a pilgrimage to Dublin to tour a small factory in the centre of town that has been bottling Dr Pepper since 1891. The big draw for fans of the carbonated soft drink is that it is the only plant in the world that still produces the original recipe.

When other bottling factories turned to cheaper high-fructose corn syrup in the 1970s to sweeten their Dr Pepper - with a handful opting for processed liquid sugar - this family-owned plant refused to phase out the granulated cane sugar that had been added to the concentrate since the drink was invented back in 1885 (a year before Coca-Cola was born).

By bestowing on the drink a particular kind of authenticity to complement its long heritage, the decision to stick with sugar has turned out to be a winning marketing strategy and helped Dublin Dr Pepper - as the plant's Dr Pepper is known - to cultivate an intensely loyal customer base.

Dr Pepper was first concocted at the Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, by Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist educated in England who felt customers were bored of the fruit flavours at the store's soda fountain.

The Dublin operation came into being six years later, when Texas businessman Sam Prim tasted the new fountain drink while travelling through Waco and decided he wanted to sell it in his bottling plant. The plant is now run by descendants of Bill Kloster, the long-time manager of the factory who inherited it from Mr Prim's daughter in 1991.

The bottling plant buys the concentrate from what is now called Dr Pepper Snapple group, and rates within the top 10 per cent in per capita sales for its distribution area. That area is admittedly small, but that has proved to be another strength - adding an air of exclusivity.

Dublin Dr Pepper can be marketed only within 40 miles according to its original franchise contract because Mr Prim could only go that far in a day to deliver the soda using his horse and buggy. As a result, obtaining the drink is an achievement - something that restaurants and retailers boast about on signs for miles outside the distribution area.

Linda LaMarca, assistant professor of marketing at nearby Tarleton State University, says the exclusivity of Dublin Dr Pepper "increases the mystique" and, therefore, demand for the drink. "It's not an accident," she says. "Dublin Dr Pepper is run by very smart people."

Betsy Gelb, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston and a self-confessed Dr Pepper devotee herself, adds: "Dr Pepper connotes daring to be different, unconventionality, authenticity . . . Putting sugar in it makes it more so. What is the most authentic way to sweeten anything? Sugar."

Some fans make it a personal quest to get to the factory as often as possible, boosting the plant's total sales to between 500,000 and 700,000 cases a year - with 24 bottles or cans to a case.

Lori Dodd, the plant's in-house historian, notes there are more than a few devotees such as Joseph Graham, an attorney who makes the 1,000-mile, eight-hour, round-trip drive from Brownsville, Texas, twice a year to get 28 cases - at $16 (£11) a case versus about $13 for the corn syrup version. Mr Graham brings his own traditional 10oz glass bottles because nobody makes them any more. "I'm single, don't have to answer to anybody, so I can indulge my idiosyncrasies," says Mr Graham.

The scarcity of the traditional bottles also adds to the exclusivity and authenticity. Customer loyalty is further helped by the pride Texans take in the fact it was invented in the state. Indeed, when Coke managed to edge in on Dublin Dr Pepper's territory, winning a contract several years ago to be the only supplier at nearby Tarleton State University, it provoked protests on campus. Dublin Dr Pepper was soon back in vending machines.

Philip Hargrove, 58, makes up to six trips a year to the Dublin factory - a 240-mile round trip from his home in Flower Mound, Texas - to refill his 16 cases. "In Texas, you drink water, whisky and Dr Pepper," he says.

Bonus: They'll shipanywhere in the U.S.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

State of Independence

State of Independence
by Joe Brancatelli | See Archive
The sale of the 230-year-old Greenbrier Resort to Marriott raises a big question: Can any luxury hotel or resort thrive—or even survive—as an independent property?
Greenbrier Hotel
The 720-room Greenbrier resort sits on 6,500 acres in rural West Virginia.
Photograph courtesy of: Greenbrier

The moment I first laid eyes on the Greenbrier Resort in 2004, I blurted out what I thought was an incredibly obvious observation: "This," I said about the 6,500-acre, 720-room hideaway in rural West Virginia, "will make a great Marriott one day."

My guide, who worked for an outside PR firm hired to revive the resort's flagging reputation, was aghast. She gamely protested the accuracy of my first impression and insisted the Greenbrier was above the unabashedly commercial, cookie-cutter nature of chain hostelries. But as I wandered around still-icy golf courses, inspected florid guestrooms and outdated public areas, and noted archaic house rules (the only dining room required a jacket and tie), I was convinced that the Greenbrier would never survive as an independent.

Well, the 230-year-old lodging icon has succumbed. The owner, railroad company CSX Corp., put the Greenbrier into Chapter XI bankruptcy in late March, claiming $90 million in losses during the last six years. And CSX promptly called in—you guessed it—Marriott. CSX is so desperate to unload the hotel that it will provide Marriott with as much as $50 million to operate the Greenbrier during the first two years. Marriott will then buy the resort within seven years for between $60 million and $110 million. Pending bankruptcy court approval, the deal could close by summer.

Now, no one is aghast at the prospect of a chain running the Greenbrier. The unions seem amenable to Marriott's arrival. West Virginia governor Joe Manchin publicly applauded the deal. Newspapers statewide have cast Marriott's arrival as a "rescue." And locals in hardscrabble Greenbrier County support anything that will save the resort's approximately 1,300 jobs.

Like all luxury hotels that have hit the economic and emotional skids, the Greenbrier's tale is unique: CSX has been a distracted and ham-fisted owner, battling both the hotel's unions and the resort's former president, who sued for $50 million. The sprawling resort is physically isolated and expensive to operate. (CSX recently spent $50 million on improvements in a misguided attempt to regain the fifth Mobil Guide star it lost in 2000.) And despite the loyalty of generations of repeat visitors and fanatic golfers, the Greenbrier was disproportionately dependent on corporate meetings, a travel category that has been devastated by the weak economy and the "AIG Effect."

But the Greenbrier's sale to Marriott also raises a more universal question: Can any luxury hotel or resort thrive—or even survive—as an independent property? In a world where a handful of global hotel chains—Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, Accor of France, and InterContinental of Britain—dominate the lodging market, can a single property, no matter how famous, stand alone?

At least on the surface, the answer is no. About half of the properties on the Condé Nast Traveler Gold List and half of those that earn the prestigious five-star rating from the Mobil Guide are part of chains now, albeit luxury and ultra-deluxe operators such as Four Seasons or Fairmont of Canada; Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula of Hong Kong; Aman Resorts of Singapore; and Taj of India. The Blackstone Group, which owns many of the world's best-known luxury independents as well as Hilton Hotels, is building a deluxe brand too. It is aligning its independents like the Boca Raton Resort in Florida and the Boulders in Arizona with the Waldorf Astoria Collection, which was created by Hilton using the cachet of its eponymous New York hotel.

Other luxury brands have huge corporate parents too. St. Regis is owned by Starwood, best know for its Westin, W and Sheraton hotels. Ritz-Carlton is owned by Marriott. And some luxury hotels you may think of as independent are actually part of a chain. The Plaza in New York, which reopened last year, is managed by Fairmont. The Pierre, which reopens in New York this spring, is operated by Taj. The newly renovated Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii is run by Prince Hotels of Japan. The Dorchester in London? It's part of the Dorchester Group, which is aligned with the Beverly Hills hotel, the Plaza Athenee in Paris, and the Principe di Savoia in Milan.

"Chains always outperform" independent hotels, says LodgeWorks' Tony Isaac, a man who knows the industry from both sides of the fence. LodgeWorks manages hotels in the Hyatt and Hilton chains, helped create the Residence Inn brand (now owned by Marriott), and is building its own Hotel Sierra chain.

But Isaac has just built an upscale independent hotel too. The Avia opened in January in Savannah and was promptly named a great romantic getaway by Travel & Leisure magazine. Why does a guy who admits chains outperform independents go ahead and open an independent anyway?

"Chains add about 10 points to your occupancy rate. But if you're part of a chain, you pay 12 to 14 percent for the frequent guest plan, the reservation service, and other brand programs," he explains. "If you're in the right market, it's not too much of an economic disadvantage to be an independent—and then you have the flexibility to do what you wish and manage as you choose."

That's the argument made by Sean Hehir, managing director of Trinity Investments, a real estate firm that purchased Honolulu's iconic Kahala Resort in 2006. The beachfront property opened as a Hilton hotel in 1964 and spent most of its recent history as a Mandarin Oriental. But Hehir believes the Kahala has unique advantages that appeal to the luxury traveler who isn't interested in brands.

"We're not subject to a brand policy that may not have any relevance to a particular property," he says. "We manage for the long-term best interest of us as owners and the luxury travelers as guests."

But even Hehir admits you need the right combination of factors to survive as an independent in today's chain-dominated world. In the Kahala's case, it's the unbeatable location on a sandy beach in Honolulu's choicest neighborhood and the fact that another Trinity principal, Chuck Sweeney, has a long history as a hotel manager. (Sweeney founded the company that became Embassy Suites, now a Hilton brand.)

For James Bermingham, managing director of the spectacular Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, the advantage is a laser-like concentration on guest services and proximity to wealthy, sophisticated travelers in Southern California. Both the five-year-old Laguna Beach property and the new Montage in Beverly Hills (it opened last fall) can tap into millions of upmarket buyers within 60 miles of the resorts.

"The 'staycation' trend helps Montage," he says. "Guests who want an extraordinary luxury experience very close to home see the Montage properties and they know they won't be getting a chain hotel."

The Fine Print…
Most observers think fewer luxury hotels will still be independent after the current recession, but there is a notable dissenter. Michael Matthews, who has been the general manager of top-notch chain hotels (the Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong) and independent deluxe resorts (the Ventana Inn in Big Sur) thinks high costs will drive some luxury properties out of the major chains. "If you're 'flagged' as a chain, you have no independence at all," he says. "A lot of hotels will drop the flag and take the 14 percent fees they pay and use that money to do what they think makes most sense for their own hotel."

London 10 Quirky Places

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Affordable Fun in the Sun? Of Corsica, You Can!

By Christopher O'Toole
For lovers of the Mediterranean, self-catering is the best way to enjoy affordable family holidays, and if looking for a change from the favourite haunts in Greece or Spain - with a little je ne sais quoi thrown for good measure – how about heading from the French island of Corsica?
This beautiful French island situated north of Sardinia is less than two hours’ flying time from the UK. Known as the ‘Scented Isle’ because of its abundance of fragrant flowering shrubs, Corsica offers a wealth of beautiful sandy beaches, a rugged interior, and fine French dining as well as more fun food for the kids, lively nightlife and plenty more to see and do.

And that includes doing very little if all you want to do is relax!

So if want to make sure you can afford more of the things this lovely island has to offer, self-catering apartments in Corsica are the smart choice, especially if you’re a family with young children.

Hit the Beach

It’s Corsica’s miles and miles of golden, sandy beaches that keep people coming back to this magical Mediterranean island. And with over 200 beaches to choose from you’ll be spoilt for choice. They’re remarkably clean, even the beaches close to the towns, and that goes for the water, too.

If you want to get away from it all, you’ll find peachy little beaches tucked away in rocky coves only accessible by boat, while other (more secluded) beaches can be reached along winding coastal paths.

But if you simply want to kick back and take in some rays, you’ve come to the right place. The beaches are so spectacular that a recent survey said that five out of six visitors to Corsica can never tear themselves away from them. But if you’re one of the dedicated few who can, there is plenty to see and do.

Water sports

Warm water, sunny weather and gently shelving beaches make Corsica an aquatic playground. Corsica boasts some of the best conditions for windsurfing, snorkeling, diving, sailing and fishing to be found anywhere in the Med.

Meanwhile, back on dry land, the more adventurous can try paragliding, quad-biking and bungee jumping, which are just a few of the more extreme adventures you can experience in the rocky interior.

Porto Vecchio

The island’s capital is well worth a visit. Built by the Genoese in the 16th century, today it still stands as a proud citadel. The old town perches on a dramatic hilltop, overlooking the yachts and other pleasure boats that now fill the harbour below.

In the narrow streets, café sitting and menu browsing is the order of the day, while watching the local fashionistas walk by. Seeing and being seen is a local sport – Corsica is a mix of French and Italian influences, after all.
Food & Wine

That mixture of French and Italian traditions is also apparent in the local cuisine, creating something quite unique in Mediterranean cooking.

As you might expect, coastal areas are great for fresh seafood, with red mullet, sea bream, crayfish and oysters particularly good. While inland you’ll find good, earthy food - with wild boar and roast partridge more the order of the day.

Corsica also produces its own wines, which are little known outside of the island. The locals say it’s too good for anyone else. The grape harvest here is still cut by hand. Try one of the local fortified wines such as Muscat, or the darker, sweeter Cap Corse. Perfect as aperitifs, they can also be drunk throughout the day as the mood takes you.

And if you’re visiting in mid July, why not check out the Corsican Wine Festival in Luri.

Eating Out

You’ll find everything from top quality restaurants to laid back local watering holes and cheery cafes serving pizzas in Corsica, so there’s something for everyone. Children are always made especially welcome, and most venues have high chairs and special children’s menus.


Nightlife in Corsica tends to be pretty laid back with long, lazy evenings in restaurants top of the bill. However, the larger towns such as Porta Vecchio, Calvi, Ajaccio and Bonifacio have late night bars and nightclubs.

Fabulous Festivals

Nearly every town and village in Corsica will hold a festival at one time or another, usually during the summer months, with music, eating, drinking, markets and quite often fireworks. They’re great fun, give a real insight to traditional ways of life on the island, and visitors are always made welcome. Local tourist offices will give you an up to date list.

More Information

French self-catering holiday specialist, PV-Holidays has comfortable apartments in Corsica, including the charming Résidence Aria Marina near Mancinu beach. For information and other latest deals, visit PV-Holidays.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Best Train Journeys in the World.

In a modern world where traveling between destinations is viewed as a waste of time and resources, it is hard to actually comprehend the beauty of some of the most spectacular rides on the planet.

Far less comfortable, yet far more beautiful and interesting, the time spent between two destinations is equally captivating and offers many sights and sounds.

While we are very much in a century where we have 'no time to stand and stare', there are still some awesome train rides across the globe where the trip itself turns into a destination.

So, how about hopping on these grand train journeys?

Arguably the slowest 'express' on the planet, the 180 mile ride on this delightful route takes a good 08 hours. Not that we are complaining about the pace as this offers you loads of time to catch a glimpse of the magical panorama that lies on its path, which links the two mountain resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps.
291 bridges, 91 tunnels and an altitude of 6,670 feet make this train ride similar to an expedition through fairyland.

Spectacular, stunning and picture perfect, this is a trip that the shutter bugs will really love!

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Linking some of the best cities of Europe including London, Venice, Rome, Budapest or Prague, the Orient Express is the most charming way to travel on tracks. With scores of movies, novels and romantic Hollywood scenes captured on this luxurious trip, this is one for those with deep pockets.
The three day trip past the beautiful countryside of France, Switzerland and Austria will cost well over 2,000 Euros for the old-age charm of the Orient Express.

Pride of Africa.

The Pride of Africa is a train journey that no nature lover should ever miss if they wish to explore the beauty, majesty and the hidden grandeur of the spectacular Dark Continent at a leisurely pace.
Apart from the impeccable comfort it has to offer, the once in a year trip planned on the 'Pride of Africa' will take you on a 14-day epic expedition through Cape Town, Dar Es Salaam, Kimberley, Pretoria, the Kruger National Park, Beit Bridge, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Lusaka and through Tanzania to Dar Es Salaam.

Billed as the most luxurious train in the world, you'd better not lose the opportunity if you're planning a romantic vacation through the heart of Southern Africa.


While not many will really be happy with the fact that you get to spend plenty of time in the Eurostar under the sea, it sure offers a great mix of comfort and class. Apart from getting you to your chosen destination in a pretty short time, it is a much better option compared to choosing the flight between London and Paris. Innovative …

Flam Railway.

Remember the awesome Norwegian Fjords?
Well, here is a train ride through the world's longest fjord Sognefjord, where on a 20 kilometer trip you'll get to see an amazing descent from an altitude of almost 3,000 feet into the fjords of Flam.
The ride looks both enthralling and hair-raising with its narrow passage way and the unforgettable sights.

A popular tourist attraction in Norway, this is all about exploring unadulterated beauty of nature at a leisurely pace.

Palace on Wheels.

Step on the Palace on Wheels and you will find exactly what you have been promised with the name.
The train that starts from Delhi in India and ends up in the royal state of Rajasthan, offers complete luxury on tracks, much like the pampering enjoyed by royal kings in the days long gone. Just to roll back time, a steam engine is used to pull the train initially out of Delhi, adding further to the experience.
An elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari near Jaisalmer and an afternoon at the Taj Mahal; the Palace on Wheels is the most comfortable way to explore India.

Eastern & Oriental Express.

Stretching between the ultra-modern Singapore and Bangkok, and traveling through lush green tropical forests, the Eastern and Oriental Express is modern, stylish and comfortable.

Apart from all the delights it offers in terms of cuisine and hospitality, the train journey presents a perfect window into South-East Asia, its changing topography and the contrast between its urban present and its naturally-endowed past.

Royal Scotsman.

If you are getting on board the Royal Scotsman, then you must have really deep pockets - it's the most expensive train ride on the planet..
Just consider the fact that a 04-day trip on the Royal Scotsman costs more than an entire 19-day first-class trip on the Trans-Siberian, and you will get the idea. The observation car accommodates 36 passengers (yes, only 36 passengers allowed) in comfortable armchairs along with cabins specially designed for dining and other purposes

The train pulls over at night when you need to sleep and while the trip offers a great passage through little known waterfalls, mountains and valleys, it is obviously not for everyone.

Trans-Siberian Railway.

There is hardly any doubt that a 6,000 mile ride across the vastness of Russia that carries you over a distance of one-third the planet is the grand daddy of them all. The Trans-Siberian train ride is a journey that has already achieved a mythical status for the vastness it encompasses and the magnitude of brilliance that it has in store.

From Vladivostok across Siberia to Moscow and then to St. Petersburg, the 19-day ride offers more than you could ever find on any other train.
Carriages once used by the Politburo are fitted with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting/dining-room, complete with private chef.
Carrying you in comfort across seven time zones, this is the ultimate experience on tracks.