Why is it a great time to visit Luxor?

Getting On Travel

It’s a perfect time to visit Luxor, Egypt because you’ll be able to soak in 3500 years of history—without being surrounded by hordes of tourists.

If you want to see some of the world’s greatest temples, and what could be the world’s richest archaeological site, go to Luxor!

An hour’s flight up the Nile from Cairo, Luxor grew out of the ruins of Thebes, Egypt’s capital from about 1500 to 1000 B.C.

Now is a great time to visit Luxor!

Although Luxor has been one of the major attractions in the Middle East, the city is suffering badly at the moment because tourism has almost collapsed. Direct flights from many European cities have ceased and once-thriving river services to and from Aswan are virtually non-existent. Most of the 300 or so riverboats that took tourists along the Nile in relative luxury are now tied to its banks, many rotting away.

This means it is a very good time to visit Luxor: Hotels have cut prices, tour guides are readily available, crowds are nowhere to be seen, and everyone is going out of their way to be friendly, helpful, and courteous. Safety is on everyone’s minds and I must say my wife and I (two middle-aged Western tourists) felt completely at ease everywhere we went.

Inside the Sonesta St George Luxor Hotel

After dreaming about it for decades, we had gone to Luxor to see two massive temples – the Temple of Amun at Karnak and the Temple of Luxor – as well as the alluringly-named Valley of the Kings. Each of these attractions met our expectations, and we then discovered there was much more to see and do for those with time.

The Temple of Amun (Karnak Temple)

This complex of three temples built over a 2000-year period is probably the biggest temple on earth.

Our expectations were high and as we wandered the site, we became more and more impressed.

The stillness of the whole place with its stone columnssoaring against the brilliant blue sky was breathtaking.

The surfaces of the grand courtyards are all covered with fine carvings. The scale and detail is staggering. I thought of the vision, the work, and the investment that went into this huge structure and then was told that all this could not even be seen at the time by the public; it was only for priests, royals, and the gods.

A millennia later, the public entered. We saw marks on the columns where Roman soldiers sharpened their swords, and early Christian images of Mary and Jesus carved on the ancient pillars like graffiti.

The Luxor Temple

Entrance to the Luxor Temple

The Luxor Temple is all about the great warrior pharaoh, Ramses II, even though it was started 100 years or more before his reign (around 1380BC). Two 25-meter pink granite obelisks built by Ramses once stood before the entrance gateway but today only one remains; the other is at the center of the Place De La Concorde in Paris.

The Luxor Temple has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship.

During the Christian era, the temple’s hypostyle hall was used as a Christian church. Then for many centuries the temple was buried and a mosque was eventually built over it. This mosque was carefully preserved when the temple was uncovered and forms an integral part of the site today.

Originally, an avenue lined with sphinxes ran the entire three kilometers between the Luxor and Karnak Temples. This avenue is currently under excavation and reconstruction, and you see a short completed section near Luxor Temple.

The Valley of the Kings

Entrance to the Valley of the Kings

In about 1600 B.C. there was a big change in the style of royal tombs. Until then, kings were buried in pyramids, but these were consistently being robbed, which meant kings were waking up in the afterlife without their precious earthly possessions. So, rather than mark their tombs with big pyramids, the kings started hiding their tombs underground in the valleys on the west side of the Nile.

Each buried king was provided with all the necessary things that would provide a comfortable existence in the afterlife, however, most of this has been looted over the centuries so most tombs were empty when they were rediscovered in modern times. After all these centuries, the condition of the 63 tombs that have been discovered and the details on their walls, however, is incredible. Most are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology.

The majority of the tombs are not open to the public. The entry ticket to the Valley allows you to visit three tombs out of several that are open but some require additional payment. The cost is reasonable, and the visitor arrangements are good, however, be aware that in summer the temperature can be stifling. Photography is not allowed inside the tombs.

The Hatshepsut Temple

Len Rutledge at the Hatshepsut Temple

The Hatshepsut Temple is, perhaps, the most spectacular structure on the West Bank of the Nile.

The mortuary temple was only discovered about 150 years ago and some on-going restoration work is still under way. The temple rises out of the desert in a series of terraces that from a distance merge with the sheer limestone cliffs behind.

The Colossi of Memnon on the West Bank

This temple was built by Queen Hatshepsut, the first known female monarch, who ruled for about two decades. Her reign was one of the most prosperous and peaceful in Egypt’s history. Although unknown for most of history, in the past 100 years her accomplishments have achieved global recognition and her stunning mortuary temple has become one of the most visited structures on the West Bank.


What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • Lack of crowds and helpful locals make traveling easy.
  • Hotels and restaurants in Luxor are good and prices are very reasonable at present.

Take note

  • There are few facilities for visitors on the West Bank. Most stay in Luxor and travel to the West Bank by bus or on a tour. All the major Luxor hotels offer tours.
  • Because Luxor is in the desert, the surroundings are hot and dusty. Visitors of all ages, but particularly older travelers, need water to stay hydrated and perhaps a snack when you are visiting most of the sights. You might want to bring a hat along for protection from the sun.
  • Don’t rush it! A minimum of a two-day visit is necessary to see the major attractions but we would recommend that you stay longer to really appreciate the lifestyle and culture.

IF YOU GO

 


*All photo credits: Phensri Rutledge 

Brisbane to Townsville

This story appeared in eglobal Travel Media in February 2008.

Brisbane to Townsville — Len and Phensri Rutledge take the long way

It seemed crazy driving 750 kilometres west from Brisbane before turning north but small outback towns, some man-made icons and friends on a cattle property all contributed to the choice. Six days later we arrived in coastal Townsville enriched greatly by the experience.

Miles and Charleville

The Warrego Highway rolls through the Lockyer Valley then climbs the range to Toowoomba. The garden city was in full bloom for the Festival of Flowers and despite the drought, the city was a picture. If you have never seen this colour extravaganza you have missed one of Queensland’s premier regional festivals.

Pressing on westward we made our first stop at the Miles Historic Village. This was established by volunteers in 1971 and it now contains over 30 buildings from the early 1900s. They include a hospital, cafe, bank, post office, bakery, hotel, jail, school, church and so on. It is a great opportunity to see how our grandparents lived.

As well as the buildings, there is a railway station and steam locomotive, an aboriginal area, a world-class collection of fossil woods and Australia’s most extensive display of petrified plants from the Jurassic period. If you are out that way, don’t miss it.

Charleville is one of the larger towns in western Queensland. Tourism is a growing industry and the Charleville Cosmos Centre has put the town well and truly on the tourist map. The spectacular clear night skies of Outback Queensland offer some of the world’s best sky watching conditions and the Cosmos Centre takes this to a new level.

The Centre operates both day-time and night-time shows. We did an evening tour which started with a short film then we were taken into a large hall where four telescopes were set up. Magically the roof rolled away and the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. We learned that our galaxy contains up to 400 billion stars. It is one of billions, possibly trillions of galaxies in the universe. It all ended too soon but we will be back.

Barcaldine

Barcaldine is 410 kilometres north of Charleville. It is home to one of Australia’s most famous ghost gum trees. Unfortunately, in an act of vandalism, the 200-year-old tree was poisoned in 2006 and all that remains is the preserved trunk under a man-made shelter.

The tree is connected to an important time in Australia’s political development as it was used as the meeting place for shearers during the Great Shearers Strike of 1891. During that strike, a crucial connection was forged between unions and what was to become the Australian Labor Party.

Just around the corner is the Australian Workers Heritage Centre. This was established to remind us of the history and traditions of working Australians who built Australia and fought for freedoms that all citizens now enjoy.

Longreach

Longreach is the largest town in Queensland’s central west and is 110 km west of Barcaldine. It is home to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum, two major attractions.

The Hall of Fame building is stunning and inside, the five themed galleries display the history behind some of Australia’s greatest and bravest explorers, stock workers, pastoralists, and Aborigines. There is an eclectic mix of objects, images, 12 touch-screen audiovisual films outlining the history of outback life, and open displays. There is also the Hugh Sawrey Art Gallery and the Wool Bale Café for refreshments and snacks.

Some of the highlights of the Qantas Founders Museum are the original 1921 Qantas hangar, an open-cockpit Avro 504K, one of the first two aircraft owned by the airline, a DC3, a Boeing 747 and a Boeing 707. Another aircraft awaiting proper restoration is a Catalina, famous for flying the Qantas blockade buster services across the Indian Ocean during World War II.

It is possible to just visit the museum but I strongly recommend also taking a tour of the two modern aircraft. You get to see parts of the aircraft that passengers never see and there is even an opportunity to do a unique wing walk.

Winton

We travelled for 165 kilometres from Longreach towards Winton then followed a sign to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a working museum which has the most productive fossil preparation facility in the southern hemisphere and the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils.

The tour involved visits to two different areas. It started in the Collection Room where through talks and film we learned how the Winton area has evolved over the last 600 million years, where and how the dinosaur bones are found, and what’s involved in digging them up. Then we visited the Laboratory where fossils were being worked on.

Winton is home to the Waltzing Matilda Centre. Tragically this iconic outback museum was destroyed by fire two years ago but the good news is that it will reopen in April with a four-day music festival after a $22 million rebuild.

Hughenden and Charters Towers

The final part of our 2200km drive was through Hughenden where we stopped to visit “Hughie”, the seven metre-tall Muttaburrasaurus, and an impressive fossil collection at the Flinders Discovery Centre. Our last stop was at Charters Towers where there is plenty to occupy you for a full day and it was then only 120 km to Townsville.

Words: Len Rutledge. Pictures: Phensri Rutledge

Petra will be a mind-blowing experience

This story appeared in Pique News Magazine, Canada in January 2018.

Petra will be a mind-blowing experience

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - The Monastry

Imagine walking a one-and-a-half kilometre narrow, winding passage through 200-metre high red sandstone rocky cliffs and then coming upon the vast façade of a huge structure precisely carved into the sandstone towering over the young Bedouin men and camels that congregate at its base.

This is your introduction to Petra, Jordan’s biggest tourist attraction, and it is mind blowing. It has world-heritage status and is also known by many for being the setting for the finale of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The entire ruined city is a huge work of art, with a natural stone backdrop that changes colour every hour.

Petra is a honeycomb of hand-hewn temples and tombs carved from sandstone, most 2,000 years ago, overlaid by more recent Roman structures. Hidden by time and shifting sand, it was built by the Nabateans — a nomadic desert people who acquired great wealth from trade between the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas.

The Nabateans remained unconquered for centuries until the Romans arrived in 63 B.C., and this led to a new era of massive expansion and grandiose construction at Petra. Then it was lost to all but the local Bedouins.

Petra was only rediscovered by the outside world when Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt visited in 1812, and even now, archaeologists have explored less than half of the sprawling site.

Petra’s engineering achievements are legionary, including the sophisticated water system that supported some 30,000 inhabitants. You see evidence of this as you walk through the Siq (entrance passageway). It’s the raw beauty of Petra, however, that draws in visitors today.

Tourist numbers are down at present because of the perception many have of the Middle East. In fact, we found it was perfectly safe to visit and because of lack of visitors, the vast classical Treasury building, carved into the rock in the first century BC, and the rest of the site, felt very peaceful. There were no crowds with selfie-sticks and no umbrella-waving tour guides.

While donkeys, camels, and horse buggies are available for travel between highlights, in my opinion, most of Petra’s sites are best reached on foot. Be prepared for a long, hot day though. My wife and I ended up walking about 15 kilometres one day and we didn’t see everything by any means.

We were overwhelmed by the number of beautiful tombs and facades and decided that photographs we had seen before we visited did little justice to the splendour of the site, the monumental architecture and the colour changes of the rock as the day progresses.

It is relatively easy to reach the city’s parched core, the Colonnaded Street and the temple of Qasr al-Bint and there are places to eat along the way in simple shelters. But then you need to be ready to hike some steep terrain if you want to see more.

Apart from the Treasury, the Roman Theatre and the spectacular Royal Tombs, most of the other highlights involve quite a bit of climbing. Some visitors decide not to do this and are content to watch the camels wandering past or listen to a grizzled Bedouin playing a melancholy tune on a one-stringed rababa.

Petra’s biggest monument, the Monastery, sits at the top of an 800-step rock-cut path. It is easy to imagine the months of carving that went into its creation. It was built in the 3rd century BC as a tomb and was probably later used as a temple. From here you have sweeping views across to Israel and Palestine.

The Monastery is similar in design to the Treasury, but it is much larger and much less decorated. The interior consists of a single room with double staircases leading up to a niche. The flat plaza in front was carved out of the rock, perhaps to accommodate crowds at religious ceremonies. The best time to climb to the monastery is in the afternoon when the path is mostly in shade and the sun is shining on the Monastery’s facade.

Even if you decide not to go to the Monastery, it’s worth going up the 670 steps, past tombs and Bedouin houses, to the High Place of Sacrifice — the exposed mountain plateau where the Nabateans performed religious rituals. There are great views and below you will see groups of camels sitting on the ground, and visitors scurrying past.

When we visited, “Petra by Night” was only available two nights a week. This gives you the opportunity to walk the Siq in the dark and then to see the Treasury lit by hundreds of candles and later by coloured spotlights. The effect is stunning but, unfortunately, the arrangements are haphazard and disappointing to some visitors. I still suggest you go to this unique event but keep your expectations low and take a torch with you.

There are many accommodation options in Wadi Musa, just a few hundred metres from the entrance to the Petra site. Some have rooftop bars and cafes. Restaurants are available where you can enjoy hummus, fried lamb meatballs, char-grilled eggplants, stuffed vine leaves and other local favourites.

Petra is a three-hour drive from Jordan’s capital, Amman, and two hours from the Red Sea port of Aqaba. Buses run the route daily, along with organized tours and private taxis. Taking a visit of the site with a local guide is highly recommended.

Jordan has many other attractions worth seeing such as the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum and Jerash. I’ll do stories about these another time but I suggest you give serious consideration to a visit right now.

www.LenRutledge.com

Think outside the Box

A travel story which appeared in The South African

Think outside the box for your next travel experience

With some places in the world becoming tourist unfriendly because of the sheer number of visitors, and others feeling overcrowded when you get there, now may be a good time to think of travelling to somewhere new.

Image Credits: The Fortress, Sri Lanka; The Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland; Shinta Mani Angkor, Cambodia

5
SHARES

Excellent hotels, fabulous tours and exciting experiences are available in most destinations today. It just depends on you to make the most of the opportunities.

The following three destinations may not immediately come to mind when making travel plans but each will reward you with untold memories. I’ve also included some accommodation suggestions.

Sri Lanka

Those looking for new experiences in South Asia need to consider Sri Lanka. This has emerged recently as an interesting travel destination because of its beaches, wildlife safaris and adventure tours.

Along with its native land mammals – elephants, leopards and wild buffalos – the island is also a great destination for whale and dolphin watching. Sri Lanka also offers top-notch surfing and diving experiences, jungle treks, hikes and rock-climbing adventures.

Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital and largest city. Stylish eateries, galleries and shops line shady boulevards and there are ancient temples, mosques, and colonial landmarks to see. Accommodation is diverse with everything from five-star to budget available. One place particularly worth a mention is Maniumpathy, a 19th–century jewel offering an oasis of serenity and luxury in busy Colombo but with direct access to art, shopping, entertainment, and dining.

Hill-enclosed Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. It is a World Heritage Site and has a number of tourist attractions. The city is famous for the Kandy Perahara-a huge cultural pageant that takes place in the month of July or August. It is one of the most colourful processions in the world with thousands of drummers and dancers accompanying a parade of ornamented elephants. The Kandy House is a beautiful example of a luxury Kandy boutique hotel. In the gardens, a stunning infinity pool has been landscaped into the hillside with views of the paddy fields. With only nine rooms it provides a private escape.

Sri Lanka’s beaches are attracting world interest and most are focused on the south coast. Endless stretches of pristine, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear seas await you at the historic town of Koggala. Not far away is the UNESCO World Heritage Galle Fort, the best preserved fortified city built by European colonial powers in Asia. The fort is a small walled town which is home to about 400 houses, churches, mosques, temples, and many commercial and government buildings.

Once again, excellent accommodation is available. The Fortress Resort and Spa is fashioned in the style of a strong fortress, its walls enclosing verdant gardens and water features, a spa, a huge swimming pool, wine cellar, restaurants, boutiques and exquisitely appointed accommodation. The resort is a perfect place to enjoy the beach, the village and the history while providing a quiet escape when you need it.

Switzerland

Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as a country with a great tradition of hospitality. It probably started in the 19th century when the world’s elite started sending their children to be educated in Swiss boarding schools. Every visitor today can quickly see that the reputation continues strongly.

One of the secrets to Switzerland’s success is its diversity. You can visit an enchanted castle or a first-class museum, gaze at breathtaking glaciers and stunning mountains, pass palm trees and grottos, explore World Heritage Sites and enjoy unspoilt natural landscapes and easy-to-manage cities.

Many names are legendary – Geneva, Zurich, Zermatt and St Moritz – but the surprise is the interest to be found in places you probably have never heard of. Take Avenches as an example. Two thousand years ago it had 20,000 inhabitants, and stately mansions and temples protected by a five-kilometre-long, nearly seven-metre-tall wall with over 70 towers. Today you can see the eastern gates and a wall tower, the forum’s thermal baths, the amphitheatre with a capacity of up to 16,000 persons, and temple ruins.

Switzerland has some great modern hotels such as the Alpina Gstaad which opened in 2013 but I also love to experience the grandeur of the more classic properties. The 150-year-old Bellevue Palace in Bern, the Hotel Des Bergues in Geneva, founded in 1834, which is now a Four Seasons Hotel, and the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano which is celebrating 130 years, are three of my favourites.

Cambodia

For many people, Cambodia means Angkor, the remarkable Khmer city of stunning temples. I rate this as one of the better sites in the world but the country, of course, has much more than just this.

Phnom Penh is the country’s lively capital city which is blessed with a picturesque riverside promenade and lovely colonial buildings to make a quite beautiful city. From the contemporary restaurants and bars to crowded markets, museums and glittering Royal Palace, there is much to see.

The sparsely populated and wild district of Mondulkiri is rich in a stunning landscape with its valleys, waterfalls, jungles and rolling hills. The wildlife-viewing opportunities, great scenery and cool climate make this part of Cambodia a fascinating place to visit for trekking adventures. Kratie is rich in striking French colonial buildings along the length of the riverfront. This charming area is a perfect place to sit and watch the brilliant sunsets over the Mekong River.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s premier beach town is a place to unwind by the beach, enjoy the fresh seafood, take in a snorkelling or scuba trip, and generally slow-down, lay back and chill-out. In recent years, the islands off the coast of Cambodia have become a tourist destination in their own right with new accommodation being built on nearly all of them, along with a host of bars, restaurants, dive shops and so on.

Angkor, near Siem Reap, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Highlights include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan and Ta Prohm. All are wonderful examples of Khmer architecture.

Siem Reap has grown dramatically in recent years and now there are an amazing number of hotels from which to choose. If classy interiors, good service and closeness to places of interest are important to you, Shinta Mani Angkor, an upscale boutique property with a pool, soothing spa and dreamy swing-seat dining, may be for you. The hotel enjoys a tranquil and leafy setting within the French Quarter of Siem Reap.

Just a short walk from Shinta Mani you’ll discover Siem Reap’s rising arts’ and culture precinct. Kandal Village is home to a vibrant and eclectic new mix of around 25 cafes, galleries, arty homewares, shops, spas and cool fashion stores. Go explore!

A travel story from i2mag

Hot Travel Destinations For 2018

Posted on Oct 31 2017 — 9:31am by Len Rutledge

As 2017 is fast disappearing, travel writers, tour companies and the general public are starting to look at 2018. Between now and the end of the year there will be many articles about the recommended travel destinations for next year. Many will include out of the way, fanciful destinations that few are likely to actually visit.

While these unusual destinations make good stories, the real hot destinations will be some of those that have been popular for decades. They keep expanding and improving their tourism offerings and continue to meet the needs of most segments of the market.

Here are four that will continue to shine.

Switzerland

Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as a country with a great tradition of hospitality. It probably started in the 19th century when the world’s elite started sending their children to be educated in Swiss boarding schools. Every visitor today can quickly see that the reputation continues strongly.

One of the secrets to Switzerland’s success is its diversity. You can visit an enchanted castle or a first-class museum, gaze at breathtaking glaciers and stunning mountains, pass palm trees and grotti, explore World Heritage Sites and enjoy unspoilt natural landscapes and easy-to-manage cities.

Many names are legendary – Geneva, Zurich, Zermatt and St Moritz – but the surprise is the interest to be found in places you probably have never heard of. Take Avenches as an example. Two thousand years ago it had 20,000 inhabitants, and stately mansions and temples protected by a five-kilometre-long, nearly seven-metre-tall wall with over 70 towers. Today you can see the eastern gates and a wall tower, the forum’s thermal baths, the amphitheatre with a capacity of up to 16,000 persons, and temple ruins.

Switzerland has some great modern hotels such as the Alpina Gstaad which opened in 2013 but I also love to experience the grandeur of the more classic properties. The 150 year-old Bellevue Palace in Bern, the Hotel Des Bergues in Geneva, founded in 1834, which is now a Four Seasons Hotel, and the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano which is celebrating 130 years, are three of my favourites.

Thailand

Thailand is a kingdom in south-east Asia filled with spectacular natural, cultural, and historical attractions. It is no surprise that the tourism industry has prospered despite some short-lived problems in recent years.

The North has the country’s highlands where vast mountain ranges dominate the landscape and you find hill-tribe people, isolated villages and the city of Chiang Mai. The Northeast features some highlands but also large plateaus where rice is grown and traditional culture is preserved.

Central Thailand is mainly plains and is a huge area of rice farming and agriculture along The Chao Phraya River. This is the most intensively developed part of the country and includes the huge city of Bangkok. The South contains many beautiful beaches and islands including Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Phi Phi.

Eastern Thailand has mountains, golf courses and tourist places like Koh Samed, Koh Chang, Bang Saen Beach, and Pattaya. The West is mountainous with many woodlands, waterfalls, and dams and this is home to Erawan Waterfall, Mon Bridge, Three Pagodas Pass, Underwater City, The Bridge of the River Kwai, and Kanchanaburi.

Thai cuisine is renowned world-wide and there is a great variety of authentic Thai food for you to try. Most Thai dishes are stir fried or grilled and served with rice but noodles are also popular. Thai beer is cheap and fruit smoothies and fruit juice are both very popular. Eating and drinking are two of the real pleasures throughout the country. Combine this with excellent accommodation, good transport and happy smiling people and it’s not hard to see why this country is so popular and will continue to be so.

New Zealand

New Zealand is a land of immense and diverse landscape. You’ll see things and have experiences here that are unique to this country.

There are spectacular glaciers, picturesque fiords, rugged mountains, vast plains, rolling hills, subtropical forests, a volcanic plateau, and thousands of kilometres of coastline with rocky bluffs and sandy beaches all within hours of each other. Don’t forget the cities. Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and others all have their own special feel.

Most New Zealand visitors find that they are quickly into experiences even though this may not have been their reason for visiting. At Waitomo Caves you can explore with a walking or boat tour, try blackwater rafting where you’ll crawl, swim and float through the caves on a rubber tube, or abseil or zip-line through the darkness.

The 53 kilometre Milford Track leads you across suspension bridges, board walks and a mountain pass. Queenstown has helicopter flights, the world’s first and most famous bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge and jet boat thrills through the rugged beauty and unspoilt grandeur of the white-water rapids of the Shotover River.

Rotorua has bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, as well as fascinating Maori culture. And these places are just a fraction of what is on offer.

Another feature of New Zealand is its high-quality accommodation, some of it in lodges in spectacular locations. Typical of this is Marlborough Lodge (http://www.themarlboroughlodge.co.nz/) a luxury country estate located in the heart of the famous Marlborough wine region. There are elegant, contemporary suites, gourmet local cuisine, beautiful parkland surrounds and attentive staff on hand 24 hours a day. It is a great place to relax and unwind.

Tahiti

For many, the name evokes visions of an island paradise, exotic days, romantic nights and South Sea adventure. And this is exactly what you’ll find here. Officially known as French Polynesia, the area possesses one of the most spectacularly beautiful and diverse environments on earth in a mixture of high volcanic islands and low-lying atolls.

There are 118 islands but none impress me more that Moorea which rises magically out of the ocean like a cathedral. There are waterfalls tumbling down fern-softened cliffs, peaceful meadows and a bright blue lagoon which will bring to life the South Seas idyll of your dreams. Pastel-painted houses with gardens of hibiscus circle the island in a necklace of simple villages.

The quiet waters of the lagoon allow for a variety of activities, from swimming, fishing, scuba diving or snorkelling and outrigger canoeing to paddle boarding, kite boarding, and water skiing. The on-shore area is area is good for hiking, horseback riding, quad biking or exploring on a four-wheeler.

Many painters, carvers, jewellers and tattoo artists live on the island because of its beauty and serenity and you will find your own peace while watching fishermen on their outrigger canoe or listening to the sound of the ukulele while sitting on the sand under a tree.

The Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa (www.moorea.hilton.com) offers bungalows set amongst gardens or suspended above the lagoon. Guests enjoy a swimming pool, a fitness centre, a tennis court, 3 restaurants and 3 bars. Arii Vahine Restaurant, which faces the lagoon, serves French and Polynesian favourites; the beach-side Rotui Grill & Bar offers a relaxed setting for lunch; and the overwater Toatea Crêperie & Bar is a popular hangout for evening cocktails and crêpes under the stars. This resort is great for both active and passive visitors.

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Norway available as an e-book or hard copy book from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W5BKZJ8 and eight other guides in the Experience Guide series.

The Best Travel Destinations for 2018

Len Rutledge

This article appeared in Travelfore October 4 2017

The travel and tourism industry is booming as more and more people take advantage of low airfares and increased opportunities to see new places. While there has been some resistance to increased visitor numbers in some European destinations, much of the world is still welcoming visitors with open arms.

Here are some suggestions for places to travel and activities to experience in 2018.

The Philippines

Brilliant green rice fields, teeming cities, colourful jeepneys, stunning beaches, and smiling, happy-go-lucky people are all part of the Philippines scene. With more than 7000 tropical islands to choose from, you can find what you are looking for. Divers have long known about the country’s underwater attractions while Northern Palawan is perfect for sea kayakers, and Boracay is a world-class kiteboarding and beach destination.

The Philippines was colonised for 400 years and vestiges of the Spanish era can be seen in exuberant town festivals and centuries-old stone churches while huge shopping malls, fast-food chains and widespread spoken English come from the influence of the Americans.

travel

Boracay Beach. Credit: Philippines Tourism

Manila, the capital, is a pulsating hub that blends the quaint with the modern, the mundane with the extraordinary. Cebu is a choice tourist destination with balmy weather, pristine beaches, crystalline waters, and luxurious resorts. Banaue is a place for nature adventures and cultural immersion and the rice terraces are quite extraordinary. Palawan has thick green forest, white-sand beach, sparkling water and magnificently sculpted jade islands.

Philippines Airlines operates from most continents to Manila and there are some direct services to Cebu.

South Africa

Go almost anywhere in South Africa and you can experience a combination of nature, wildlife, culture, adventure, heritage and style. During these tough economic times, it’s good to find a bargain destination where you can even afford luxury and have spending money left over. There is natural beauty in mountains, forests, coasts and deserts and world-class facilities.

It is not possible to talk about South Africa without mentioning wildlife. Everyone wants to see the Big Five, but there are also whales, penguins, meerkats, wild dogs, birds and much more. If you are looking to experience wildlife viewing in luxury, Tintswalo Safari Lodge, in the pristine private Manyeleti Game Reserve could be the answer. It shares an unfenced boundary with the renowned Kruger National Park and suites are decorated to reflect colonial times.

Tintswalo Atlantic Resort. Credit: Tintswalo Atlantic

The same company has beach-side Tintswalo Atlantic, a 5 star, award-winning boutique lodge nestled at the base of Table Mountain National Park near Cape Town. This is one of the city’s hidden gems. The views of a wild sea crashing below contrasting with a roaring fire and fabulous welcome drinks will set the tone for a memorable stay.

For a city location, the all-suites Michelangelo Towers in Sandton, Johannesburg appeals because it is directly connected to the Michelangelo Towers Mall and the Sandton Convention Centre, and is located directly opposite Sandton City and Nelson Mandela Square in the in heart of South Africa’s  Richest Square Mile.

Monaco

Situated at France’s southeastern corner near the Italian border, occupying an area of just 2.8 sq. km, Monaco might be the second smallest country in the world (after the Vatican), but what it lacks in size it sure makes up for in attitude and variety.

There is an ornate opera house, Michelin-starred restaurants, and casinos, palaces, cathedrals, supercars, mega yachts, deluxe hotels and designer boutiques. There are also museums and galleries, festivals, nightclubs, and gardens with exotic plants and sea views.

Monaco. Credit: Monaco Government Tourist Bureau

The country is one of the most surprising and rewarding destinations in Europe. It is just 30 minutes by car, bus or taxi from Nice Airport through hairpin bends and along rocky cliffs. Monaco enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year and a temperate climate.

Berlin

As most readers will know, Berlin has had a chequered history in recent decades. It is now emerging as one of Europe’s leading centres of culture. The modern Mitte district has the Museum Island UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also two opera houses and six major theatres, as well as museums, innumerable galleries and arts venues. Now, many new major cultural projects are locating here, just a few minutes’ walk apart.

Opened earlier this year, the new Pierre Boulez Saal is a major international concert hall with the elliptically-shaped hall regularly presenting concerts and chamber music. A complete contrast is provided by the 1740s Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin’s first opera house, which reopened in October 2017. Unfortunately, Berlin’s most popular museum, the Pergamon, is partially closed but from mid– 2018, visitors can view part of the Pergamon Altar’s treasures at a temporary exhibition building directly opposite Museum Island.

The James-Simon-Galerie will be the Museum Island’s new central entrance and visitor centre with central ticket office, cloakrooms and facilities, cafés and a museum shop when it opens in 2019.

To complement all this development, several major hotels have opened in 2017 and more are scheduled for 2018.

The Berlin City Centre Alexanderplatz, opened in May offering 344 rooms with a modern design over nine floors. Later, The Yard,  4-star boutique hotel with 55 rooms opened, followed by the Orani Berlin, a classy hotel with 42 subtle but rather luxuriously furnished rooms. Between now and year’s end the 60-metre-high Motel One Berlin-Alexanderplatz with 708 rooms, The Meininger Hotel Berlin East Side Gallery with 245 rooms and the Hilton Berlin City East with 254 rooms will all open.

Bargain rooms may well be on offer during the European winter.

Los Angeles

Many readers will have been to Los Angeles, USA but most will not be aware of the wide range of museums, art galleries and concert halls that are spread throughout the city. In the downtown area, the futuristic Walt Disney Theatre is an architectural masterpiece and is right next door to the city’s newest cultural and design showpiece, The Broad. L.A.Live is another vibrant entertainment complex offering restaurants and live music venues.

The Westside perhaps has even more attractions. There is the Getty Center located atop the Santa Monica Mountains then on Museum Row, there is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pettersen Automotive Museum, the Craft and Folk Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. In Century City you will find the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Hollywood, known as the entertainment capital of the world, is an essential part of the L.A. experience. Film enthusiasts will love the renovated TCL Chinese Theatre and you can tour the Dolby Theatre, home of the Oscars. Not far away is Universal Studios Hollywood with its rides, shows and tours.

If you consider L.A. nothing more than a gateway to the USA, you had better re-think. It is one of the top picks for places to visit in 2018.

The Best Travel Destinations for 2018www.LenRutledge.com

www.LenRutledge.com

Len Rutledge
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Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 35 travel guide books.He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com

Banff to Vancouver, Canada

A Road Trip From Banff To Vancouver, Canada

Posted on Aug 7 2017 in i2Mag by Len Rutledge

Soaring mountains, rushing rivers, spectacular gorges, desert panoramas and sparkling wineries dot the landscape in western Canada. The best way to see it all is by rental car. We took five days to travel from the Rocky Mountains to the west coast but it could equally have taken us five weeks.

Banff is a resort town and one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations. It is surrounded by spectacular mountains and the Banff National Park. There are numerous hotels, restaurants, shops, spas and everything else required by visitors. We spend our day browsing, eating, and visiting the Cascade Gardens, the Parks Museum, and the terminal of the Banff Gondola.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is an opulent 1888 Scottish baronial-style resort where we spend an hour or so exploring its myriad nooks and crannies. The class of the hotel is seen in its detail and we vow to come back and experience it for ourselves. Bow Falls provides a pleasant interlude just a kilometre or so out of town and the short trip along Tunnel Mountain Drive provides great views and some animal sightings.

# DAY 2 – 285km

We are on the road early with the aim of seeing bears. The Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise is very scenic and is a well-known wildlife drive. After 10 minutes we have seen an elk and deer. As we come around a corner two cars are stopped on the road and as we approach we see a black bear grazing just off the roadside. Fifteen minutes later the number of cars has swelled to a dozen but the bear is still there. We are satisfied.

Back on Highway 1 we climb Kicking Horse Pass, the point where the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trans Canada Highway cross the continental divide between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and at the same time go from Alberta to British Columbia. After the top, we stop at a viewpoint to see the famous spiral loop on the railway and are rewarded by a view of an enormous freight train crossing over itself.

Field, an historic railway town with a dramatic river outlook, gives us a reason to stop as does Golden, a tidy town just off the highway. We have already passed through the Yoho National Park and now we enter the Glacier National Park. The country is spectacular and it is tempting to stop at every turn. We do stop at the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre and learn about the intrepid railroaders who built the railway through this wilderness and the avalanche scientists and others who keep this wintery pass open today.

Further on, the Hemlock Grove Trail, an interpretive boardwalk through the world’s only non-coastal cedar-hemlock rainforest, and the Skunk Cabbage Trail through a unique wetland, let us stretch our legs before stopping at Revelstokefor the night.

# DAY 3 – 320km

West from Revelstoke is the historic site of the Craigellachie Last Spike, hammered into the Transcontinental Rail Line that united Canada from coast to coast in 1885. At Sicamous we leave Highway 1 and travel south through the Okanagan Valley to Vernon. There are more than 100 lakes within a one-hour drive, world-class golf, mountain and wellness resorts, great beaches and trails, and outstanding mountain biking, but for us it is the start of Canada’s best wine country.

Kelowna, the largest city in BC’s interior, fronts Okanagan Lake and there are beaches and parks along the shore but we are not into cities at the moment so continue to tiny Peachland for a stroll along the lake edge and to grab something to eat.

The next few hours are a pure delight as we pass through orchards and explore some of the wineries. Greta Ranch is attractively set high above the lake. At Dirty Laundry Winery you pass under a washing line hung with underwear to get into the tasting room and restaurant. Poplar Grove has a beautiful building high above Penticton and a great cabernet franc wine. In Penticton we catch a glimpse of the old stern-wheeler boat but have no time to explore the Naramata Bench wineries before pushing on to Osoyoos for the night.

Here we find the splendid Waterfront Beach Resort and decide to stay for two nights in absolute luxury. The resort has lake frontage and the views from our huge balcony are stunning. This is Canada’s warmest lake and the area calls itself Canada’s only desert but to us it is paradise. We lap up the space, have a great meal in the restaurant and sleep happily.

# DAY 4 – 50 km

After a lazy start we explore some of the local attractions. The spectacular Desert Cultural Centre which is at Nk’MIP has a museum and interesting walk with First Nations guides. The Desert Centre is a not for profit boardwalk that meanders through the desert and provides an opportunity to learn about this ecosystem. The Model Railway with more than 40 computer controlled trains running through European style towns and landscape is quite remarkable and well worth the stop.

The wineries call us back this afternoon. We go to Oliver, which calls itself the wine capital of Canada, before visiting Hester Creek winery, Road 13 winery with its spectacular tasting room, Church and State winery with its dramatic indoor/outdoor tasting area, and Black Hills winery with its award winning tasting area and wine shop. We finally stumble back to the resort, enjoy a massage and sleep like babies.

# DAY 5 – 395km

Reluctantly we leave Osoyoos and make a stop after 20 minutes at cute Keremeos, a vibrant agricultural community located in the beautiful Similkameen Valley. There is a grist mill here with well tended Heritage Gardens and a tea room. Just outside town is a hundred year old covered bridge.

Highway 3 bounces along the USA border with Manning Park the highlight as it winds through the Cascade Mountains. The park has wet coastal rain forests, jagged snow-capped peaks, alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, a chain of small lakes, and broad river beds along the valley floors. For awhile we think we were back in the Rockies but on reaching Hope and returning to Highway 1 it is clear that most of the mountains are behind us.

Bridal Falls is our last stop before the traffic volume increases and Vancouverappears ahead. It has been a wonderful 5 days that could have easily been extended for weeks.

Photo Credit – Phensri Rutledge

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Norway available as an e-book or hard copy book from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W5BKZJ8

Lose yourself in Lisbon

From Pique newsmagazine

Lose yourself in Lisbon

CLICK TO FLIP THROUGH (3)SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Alfama District with Santo Estevao Church and the Tagus River estuary seen from Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Lisbon, Portugal.ALFAMA DISTRICT with Santo Estevao Church and the Tagus River estuary seen from Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Lisbon, Portugal.

Getting lost while overseas can be quite frightening but at times, it is just what you want to do. I have discovered hidden gems and charming, talkative locals simply because I wandered aimlessly along narrow lanes and up and down steep stairs without worrying where I was going.

I did this recently in Alfama, the oldest part of Lisbon, Portugal, and discovered it was a quarter just begging to be explored. It spills downhill south of the castle to the Tejo Estuary and is a “must” for those looking for the soul of the city.

Visiting Alfama is to experience the architecture, the sounds, and the smells of old Lisbon. On its narrow and winding streets I found all sorts of treasures and on its steep stairs, I learned much about what makes Lisbon so special. Life is lived, for the most part, on the street and the smells and noises are a major part of its atmosphere.

It is still possible to see Roman and Arab remains, two of the most dominant civilizations in Lisbon’s past. The narrow streets place little value on building facades but a much greater value is given to the interiors of the houses. Some houses still stand on foundations dating from the times of the West Goths but the whole structure of the area was essentially shaped by the Arabs. Although no houses remain from this era, the confused arrangement of its maze of streets and alleyways certainly does.

There are a few grand buildings such as the cathedral and some other churches that are worth seeing. The solid Se Cathedral from the 12th century resembles a fortification rather than a religious building, but the inside, with its gothic arches and ancient cloister, is well worth a visit. The castle is a major attraction. This is entwined with Portugal’s early history and is where the Christian Crusaders defeated the North African Moors in 1147. The citadel was transformed into a royal residence and prospered until the early 16th century when Manuel I built a new palace down by the river.

Alfama was initially an upmarket area before it became home to the poor and unlucky, together with delinquents, dockworkers and sailors. Some of this remains today but the quarter has now largely shrugged off its grim image. The advent of mass tourism has brought gentrification to the area.

It is now full of curious little cafes — many of them serving bacalhau, the rehydrated, salted cod that is one of the city’s staples. Many old houses are being repainted and repaired. Whitewashed houses are picturesquely framed by a sudden riot of colour and a blaze of geraniums, while upmarket restaurants and fado houses attract individuals and tour groups.

You should have plenty of time when you visit Alfama. You can easily spend half a day or more looking, wandering, and taking in all the action, sounds and smells of daily life playing out on the streets. It’s probably best not to plan a route in detail because you will have trouble following it anyway. Just follow your instincts. Wandering through the labyrinth of alleyways, small archways, tiny squares, and little flights of stairs, will lead you to many idyllic and picturesque corners.

Getting lost is par for the course. Blind alleyways reveal a bewitching world of medieval customs and rituals, where women haul their washing to public fountains, others sell fish from their doorways, and late at night the brooding sound of fado music seems to come from every nook and cranny. The restaurants with fado range from large affairs which attract tour groups to small “holes in the wall” with only half a dozen tables.

There are a few streets not to be missed. Rua da Sao Pedro is one of the most animated streets where craggy old fishermen and fishwives still offer the catch of the day. Largo do Chafariz is the tourist hub where steep stepped streets meander to view points where the shimmering River Tejo (Tagus) is framed by a latticework of terracotta rooftops, a few pines, and clumps of bougainvillea. Most of Alfama’s shops and tourist restaurants are clustered in this area.

On Tuesday and Saturdays, Campo de Santa Clara, a lop-sided square set below the looming dome of the Santa Engrácia Church, is transformed into a colourful and sprawling flea market, the largest in the city. This “thieves’ market” is a huge jumble sale of hand-me-down curios, unwanted bric-a-brac, and second-hand cast-offs. Don’t expect any bargains, just go for the atmosphere.

Along Beco do Carneiro, houses are stacked a metre apart, nestled with tiny taverns and chaotic corner grocers. If you are looking for fado music, tiny A Baiuca on Rua de S.Miguel stages amateur fado shows where residents literally walk in off the street and sing in front of diners. The atmosphere is great, the food less so, and you need to be aware that the food and drinks that are brought to your table without you ordering will be charged for if you touch them.

There are several notable hotels that cater for budget travellers as well as the more discerning visitor if you chose to stay in this area. I don’t believe it is the best place if you want to do some wider Lisbon sightseeing, but there is no disputing the local atmosphere.

www.LenRutledge.com