Monday, March 30, 2015

Unknown Beautiful Parks Around the World

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Gran Paradiso, Italy

It may be one of the oldest protected areas in the Alps, but the wild lakes and mountains of Gran Paradiso national park often get overlooked by tourists, who are more likely to visit northern Italy’s more popular destinations: the lakes of Como, Maggiore and Garda. In the summer, visitors can hike up the mountains, taking in stunning views, and in winter clip on the skis for cross-country touring. The Orco, Soana and Cogne valleys are great areas to explore, as are villages of traditional stone-built houses. There’s a wide range of accommodation in the area – with plenty for those who don’t fancy camping – and the park authority also offers a guide service.

Triglav, Slovenia

Slovenia’s only national park, Triglav, is a beautiful alpine expanse filling the north-western corner of the country. Although it’s easy to explore from the resort of Bled, a lakeside town just beyond the park’s border, you’ll get a better sense of its tranquility if you stay within it. Lake Bohinj may not have a church on an island in the middle of it as Bled does, but it is far quieter and it is easy to find a snug place to stay in one of the Christmas cake-style wooden houses in the village beside it. From there you can go on hikes, bike rides, canoe trips or just paddle in the clear water that reflects the peaks surrounding it. Taking the trails up to the top of the steep forested hills overlooking Bohinj will reward you with breathtaking views.

Oulanka, Finland

In Lapland near the Finnish-Russian border, Oulanka National Park looks stunning all year round. The Karhunkierros trail that runs through it is Finland’s most popular hiking route; the full 80km trail can take up to seven days to complete – through forests and over rivers on wooden footbridges. You can, however, stay overnight, for free, in the log huts dotted along the way. There are also canoeing routes through the rapids of the Oulankajoki River, as well as more easy-going, family-friendly routes to take downstream. Established in 1956, the park is known for its reindeer and its diverse mix of natural features and rare plants. The pink-and-white calypso orchid, the emblem of the park, is scarcely seen elsewhere, but is common in Oulanka.

Peneda-Gerês, Portugal

Wild Garrano ponies trot about freely in this national park in northern Portugal, and you can even arrange to hop on the back of a domesticated one for a tour through its oak forests and sierras. As well as being an area of natural beauty it has compelling remains of human occupation: a Roman road winds through the park, marked with 2,000-year-old milestones. Serra do Gerês is the park’s most popular settlement, where you’ll find pools to swim in. It’s also worth noting the date of your visit: every Friday 13th, the village of Montalegre, just beyond the park’s eastern border, enjoys the Noite das Bruxas, a street party fuelled by queimada, a local liqueur drunk with honey.

Sarek, Sweden

Things you won’t find in Sarek: marked trails, cabins, cafes, other people. Things you will find: about 100 glaciers, six of Sweden’s highest summits and white-water rapids. The tourist board advises good map-reading skills and knowledge of this type of terrain for those who want to visit. Sarek consists of 2,000 sq km of untouched natural habitat, making it a natural playground for experienced adventurers. Still, it’s possible to join a trekking tour in order to have an experienced guide for your trip across one of Europe’s last wildernesses.

Kalkalpen, Austria

Four-fifths of Kalkalpen national park is given over to forest, forming the largest forested region in central Europe. Cutting through the dense trees are rivers, canyons and gorges, popular with rock climbers, as well as cyclists, walkers and skiers. Despite its striking natural beauty – which you can absorb in all its panoramic glory from the 21-metre Wurbauerkogel viewing tower near the town of Windischgarsten – the park is relatively unknown. The park authority offers guided tours from rangers who can take you into the heart of the forest and help you spot some of its wildlife, ranging from pygmy owls to black grouse and their elaborate courtship ritual.

Rago, Norway

Even the non-national park bits of the Nordland region of Norway are spectacular: flying or sailing into Bodø airport takes you along the dark, jagged edge of the country’s coastline, but Rago itself is a particularly impressive sight to behold. Rugged rock formations, boulders and steep mountains jut out of the often other-worldly landscape. One of the highlights is the Litlverivassforsen waterfall, which tumbles off the edge of Litlverivatnet lake. There are trails to follow, as well as cabins to pitch up in at night, and nearby Sjunkhatten and Junkerdal national parks are also within easy reach for those who want to explore further.

Port-Cros, France

Port-Cros is the smallest of the three Iles d’Or off the Côte d’Azur. Just one kilometre wide and three long, its hilly, wild terrain is crossed by signed trails and its ridges provide fantastic views of the sparkling sea. Its protected status extends 600 metres around the coast so the clear waters are rich in protected marine life – snorkellers can even follow an underwater trail. Car and bike-free Port-Cros is accessed by ferry from the Giens peninsula, as are its sister islands, Porquerolles, and Levant, the latter said to be the birthplace of European nudism. The Giens peninsula is extremely popular among French tourists – who descend on the many campsites and holiday villages in July and August – but off the British radar. The nearest city is Hyères, famed for its gardens and palm trees.

Ordesa, Spain

Spain’s oldest national park offers some of the best hiking in the Pyrenees yet it is little-known beyond the Spanish border. “It’s amazing it is not better known among British walkers,” says Phil James, a British mountain guide based in the area, who runs Hike Pyrenees, offering guided and self-guided holidays. “It’s one of the most spectacular areas in Europe. If it was the Alps, it would be teeming with Brits.” Famed for its three kilometre-deep glacial valleys, all coming to a head at the 3,355m Monte Perdido, it has trails for all levels, including paths along “sajas”, natural ledges in the limestone – some just a metre-wide. Most walks start at the Pradera, an information point in the Ordesa valley, where there is a car park, and where shuttle buses from nearby Torla drop walkers. Late June and early July are the best months to see the park’s abundant flora.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Milan's New Fashion District Hotel Hotspot

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Checking In
From the outside, Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Gran Spa looks like any of Milan's modern office buildings — glassy windows, metal frame, business-y. Just take a deep breath and walk inside. If the magnificent Murano glass chandelier doesn't blow your mind, then the "I wanna wear a ballgown and traipse down this luscious marble staircase" will. Palazzo Parigi is neoclassical luxe with a French twist throughout its ten floors. Its vibe is cosmpolitan and stylish, shown off by its staff, a well-heeled team of polygots straight from the runway. Location is key: Turn the corner, and you're in the Fashion Quadrangle, the very epicenter of Milan's finest.

What's New
Palazzo Parigi is what's new. This is the very first of Milan's next generation hotels — a large-scale boutique hotel. It's in the thick of things, just around the corner from Via Solferino, my favorite street in the city, and an easy to walk to Piazza del Duomo.

In the Room

All 98 rooms and suites are styled to be mod Milanese or chic Parisian, which means either Italian design touches (dark wood and metal) or French ornamental details accenting the overall neutral tones by architect and owner Paola Giambelli. Somehow, Giambelli is able to fight the Milan greys to make the rooms bright, airy, and luminous. If you think the minibar is well stocked, the Clarins lineup in the bathroom will make you never want to leave.

What's on Site

The third floor spa is poised to wow. Ground level lounge bar Caffé Parigi feels like Daddy Warbucks' study, while the restaurant is a neoclassical homage to a catwalk. The garden is where you want to head to for afternoon/evening cocktails in warmer months. WiFi connection is a bit tricky but easy to get after a few tries.

The Food
Old-school cocktail bar with excellent vintage drinks. Palazzo Parigi's restauranti is all about traditional Milanese dishes.

This Place is Perfect For 
A weekend of fabulousness. Palazzo Parigi is like lathering up in luxe.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone looking for a cheap escape.

Checking Out: Neighborhood Vibe
Very Milanese. In other words, quiet and stylish. The hotel is just around the corner from Giardini Pubblici, one of Milan's large public parks where you can hang out, picnic, work out.

Fishbar de Milan
 Via Montebello, 7; +39-02-6208-7748 Clever little fish joint whose sister restaurant MeatBar is right around the corner.

Open Baladin
 Via Solferino, 56; +39-02-659-7758 Artisanal beer and burgers, the sister to the Roman eatery of the same name.

La Briciola
Via Solferino, 25; +39-02-655-1012 Old-school Milanese.

 Via Solferino, 48; +39-02-9176-5472 Fancy pants bistro.

Bar Brera
Via Brera, 23; +39-02-877091 Historic bar, best for people watching.

Galleria Arte Moderna
 Via Palestro, 16; +39-02-8844-5947

Villa Necchi Campiglio
 Via Mozart, 14; +39-02-7634-0121

Antonio Colombo Galleria Pinacoteca Brera
Via Solferino, 44; +39-02-2906-0171

Shop: You are walking distance to the best shopping and window shopping streets — Via Montenapoleone, Via Pontaccio, Corso Como, Via Manzoni — and just around the corner from Matia's (piazza Carlo Mirabello, 4; +39-02-6269-4535), an excellent multi-brand designer outlet.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Have You Hugged Your Wolf Today?

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Zoological Wildlife Foundation is a 5-acre zoo in Miami offering intimate guided wildlife tours that include hands on encounters with a vast variety of our wildlife. Their goal is to educate the public about the danger these animal face in the wild and what can be done to help.

On the tour you will take a trolley around our grounds making several stops where your tour guide will educate you on the conservation status of the animal and more. You will have opportunity to interact with many of these animals- you can feed the camels, hug the wolfs and even smooch with a baby tiger.

In route to our Encounters Amphitheater you will also see amazing predators and felines and more as close as 6 feet away. Once in the Amphitheater you will have full hands on interaction with reptiles, birds, primates and other small mammals!

End your tour with a special private encounter with our baby felines or some of our other amazing animal ambassadors!

Reservations are absolutely mandatory and some tours have age restrictions. Contact us for more information!

Monday, March 23, 2015

South Florida's Hotel Hotspots SPECIFICALLY for the Munchkins

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Trump International Beach Resort
Location: Sunny Isles, Miami, Florida 

Unlike at most other Miami hotels, the Kids Club at the Trump is free. The large, family-size rooms all have kitchenettes, and many suites also include washer/dryers. The grotto-style pool comes with a broad shallow area that's great for little swimmers. Plus, there's always Globie -- the hotel mascot -- who entertains kids around the pool.
Acqualina Resort & Spa
Location: Sunny Isles, Miami, Florida
Since more than two-thirds of the Acqualina is dedicated to family residences -- not hotel rooms -- the hotel comes with a relaxed, kid-focused air. All standard rooms come with elegant sofas that pull out to queen beds. The hotel's kids' program, AcquaMarine -- open Wednesday through Sunday for children ages 4 to 12 -- focuses on all things oceanic, from the Coast Guard to science projects about waves. The kids' room features a complete computer gaming center.

Loews Miami Beach Hotel 

Location: South Beach, Miami, Florida

The Loews is one of South Beach's first family hotels, and its "Loews Loves Kids" motto still rings true. Enthusiastic counselors host beach tours and Nintendo Wii competitions at the Kids Camp, the Toy Library loans out beach shovels, and the hotel can even send DVDs and PlayStation games up to your room. Plus, there's the Loews' enormous -- and shallow -- free-form pool.
Newport Beachside Hotel and Resort
Location: Sunny Isles, Miami, Florida
Kids gone wild, with parents (usually) in tow. The Newport Beachside is a lot like a cruise on land, with organized kids' activities all day long, entertainment at night, and tykes dominating the landscape. Plus, the hotel has two video-game rooms, a make-your-own-album CD creator, and family-appropriate movie nights.
Trump Doral Golf Resort & Spa
Location: Doral, Miami, Florida
The $80-per-day Camp Doral, for kids 5 to 12, includes swimming, arts, fishing, karaoke, sports, and more. The Doral even makes golf family-friendly: Club rental and greens fees are free for adolescents (or anyone under 15 who can play 18 holes) after 3 p.m. when they're accompanied by an adult. Kids' menus are available at most restaurants.
Turnberry Isle Miami

Location: Aventura, Miami, Florida
With a newly renovated pool and a serpentine waterslide, the Fairmont is an excellent place for families -- especially considering its large, comfortable rooms and bathrooms. Well-lit tennis courts with coaches on hand are great for older children, and the supervised Kids' Connection club -- available with 24 hours advance notice -- offers younger kids everything from arts and crafts to karate classes. It'll even take them to the resort's kid-friendly beach (a free 10-minute shuttle ride away).
Fontainebleau Resort Miami Beach
Location: Miami Beach, Miami, Florida
Among the Fontainebleau's eight pools are several shallow pools for kids to splash around in, as well as a swing for the water-shy. The kids' club -- for 4- to 12-year-olds -- features supervising instructors to lead various sports, art, and drama activities. Full-day programs are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and include a lunch for $75 per child. Half-day programs -- held twice daily and excluding the meal -- are $50. A crib or rollaway can be a tight squeeze in the small, Art Deco-era rooms, but larger suites are also available.
Biltmore Coral Gables - Miami
Location: Coral Gables, Miami, Florida
There's no kids' club, but the Biltmore offers great activities for children. Apart from tennis lessons, children can also learn how to play golf on the freshly restored Donald Ross 18-hole par 71 course. Kids receive training from the hotel's award-winning chefs at the unique culinary class. And let's not forget the massive, free-form pool, with synchronized swimmers doing vintage routines
The Ritz-Carlton South Beach
Location: South Beach, Miami, Florida
Though the Ritz-Carlton is located in a prime party section of South Beach, families still flock to its enormous pool. "Ritz Kidz" -- the hotel's supervised club for children ages 5 to 12 -- is open from Thursday through Saturday and offers various activities, from kite decorating to video games to basic Spanish lessons.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Little Slice of Heaven in the Philippines

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The Villa Escudero Plantations and Resort is pretty much everything you’d expect a tropical dream resort to be. Delicious food, warm wonderful weather, and a restaurant at the foot of a waterfall where guests dine while water rushes under their tables. In other words, it’s pretty much paradise. 

The Villa Escudero in the Philippines is one part luxury resort, one part adventure experience, all wrapped up inside an amazingly picturesque hotel, where guests can spend the day stretched out on a hammock, or tackling the waves on the Bamboo Rafts tour. 

The biggest attraction however, is the amazing waterfall restaurant where guests can pig out on delicious local Filipino dishes while soaking their feetsies in the warm river water. I'm talking, clear spring water tickling your toes while you soak up some of the local color and delicious culinary treats. Two words: Heck yes.

If you’d rather head off the resort, you can always take the Rural Village Tour, where you climb aboard an ox pulled jeepney and head into town. Don’t worry history lovers, they haven’t forgotten you! Take the AERA memorial museum tour, housed inside one of the country's most beautiful replica churches. 

“The core of the collection is its trove of colonial religious art. The superbly executed silver altars, gilded carrozas, ivory santos, embroidered vestments and intricately carved inages and bas-reliefs and tableaux, most dating from the Spanish colonial era are a testimony to the artistry and piety of the Filipino.”

The resort also has loads of bike trails, tennis courts, birdwatching, ping-pong, and they even have a karaoke hall, so once you’ve had one too many Banana Mammas you’ve got somewhere to embarrass yourself. 

The Villa Escuedero Resort is pretty much a perfect slice of heaven, and if the waterfall restaurant wasn’t enough to convince you, they’ve got something for anyone looking to have fun.