Beyond the Guggenheim


Bilbao

The charming Spanish city of Bilbao is much more than a museum.

Bilbao, in the Basque Country of northern Spain, became an international tourist destination when the Frank Gehry-designed Bilbao Guggenheim Museum opened here in 1997. It’s hard not to be wowed by the iconic building’s wavy titanium-covered exterior and the surrounding sculpture garden, but even diehard fans of contemporary art can be underwhelmed by some of the museum’s permanent collection. Not to worry: There’s much more to enjoy here.

WALK THIS WAY
Bilbao is a pedestrian-friendly city. Start with a long stroll to admire the views along the banks of the Nervión River, on which the Guggenheim sits. Cross the river via Santiago Calatrava’s graceful Zubizuri footbridge and get a great angle for photographing the Guggenheim.

If this is your first visit, definitely tour the Guggenheim (admission is usually $15*; book well before you arrive, at guggenheim.org/bilbao). Once you’re finished there, walk a few blocks to the Fine Arts Museum, considered among the best in Spain. Displays are divided into master art (El Greco, Goya and Van Dyck, among others); contemporary art (Gauguin, Francis Bacon and Antoni Tàpies); and regional Basque art. It’s $9.50 per ticket, but for $18 you can gain admission to both museums.

OLD BILBAO
Give yourself plenty of time to explore the winding streets of Casco Viejo, Bilbao’s compact old quarter, which dates from the 13th century. Small shops sell traditional foods, like baccalà (salted and dried cod) and jamón ibérico (the tasty Spanish challenger to Italian prosciutto), plus fancy pastries, toys, gifts, artisanal crafts and high-end fashions and jewelry.

The bars and restaurants in the old quarter’s Plaza Nueva attract locals as well as tourists. You’ll also find street performers here, and a popular Sunday morning flea market. At the entrance to Casco Viejo is the neo-Baroque-style Arriaga Theater, modeled on the Paris Opera house. Opened in 1890, the Arriaga was rebuilt after a fire in 1919 and beautifully restored in 1986. Theater, opera, ballet and concerts are performed here year-round.

TAPAS AND MORE
Many Bilbao restaurants celebrate Basque cuisine, from the traditional to the nouveau, along with the region’s wines—most notably Txakoli, a very dry and slightly sparkling white, and Rioja, a robust red. Tapas bars, which serve small plates of local specialties, give you the opportunity to sample a wide range of dishes accompanied by Spanish wines and beer. Residents love to argue about which of the city’s dozens of tapas bars is the best. Whatever they tell you, don’t miss the Moorish-style Café Iruña, across from Los Jardines de Albia. It has a dining room, but sit at the bar for a more authentic experience—plus faster service and a view of the tapas selection. Be sure to try the house specialty: spicy kebabs cooked in a wood-burning oven. And if you’re not sure what you’re ordering, just point. It’s the perfect way to taste and learn about Basque cuisine—and feel like a local while you’re doing it.

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Sea Safaris


Tenerife

Discover a whole new side to Tenerife with a voyage beneath the ocean. Dive into a vibrant underwater world of colour, creatures and caverns.

The more energetic visitors to Tenerife venture from the resort towns to climb the slopes of Mount Teide, Spain’s highest mountain. But in recent years increasing numbers of tourists have discovered another attraction—the colorful marine life inhabiting the subtropical waters surrounding the island. Basalt rocks form intriguing underwater caverns and piles of boulders where stingrays, moray eels and nudibranchs (sea slugs) make their homes. There are numerous dive sites around the island, with the greatest number on the northeast and southwest coastlines.

At Las Galletas on the south coast the stingrays come to feed. Cow-nosed rays and eagle rays swoop in from the darker deeper water to cover the sandy bottom. As you kneel on the sandy seabed the rays soar over your head.

With the North African coastline just 70 miles away, Tenerife is reliably warm, and even in the winter the temperature of the water rarely drops below 61°F, even reaching 78°F at the height of summer. One of the other attractions for divers is that the sea around Tenerife offers good visibility, sometimes as much as 30 meters.

Given Tenerife’s rocky landscape and volcanic origins, the underwater topography is varied. It is full of nooks and crannies, caves and caverns for scorpion fish to hide in while waiting for their prey. Small zebra bream form shoals around the rocks and bright scarlet bullseye lobsters peer out from their lairs. Divers will not expect to see vibrant coral reefs this far north of the equator, but there are black corals, and bright tubular anemones with pink tips where striped cleaner shrimp hide.

In the darkest recesses of the basalt crannies are tiger morays. Poking their snouts from their lairs they seem to threaten anything that ventures too near, though like most sea creatures they never bother divers who treat them with respect.

Close to Los Cristianos is the wreck of the Condesito, a former cement barge that ran on to the rocks in 1972. Now colonized by marine life, it sits in 20 meters of water and the hull is home to barracuda and visiting amberjacks.

In winter, as the waters cool down, Tenerife offers divers a good chance of spotting angel sharks, curiously flattened fish that cover themselves in sand and wait for their prey to swim overhead. Suddenly, with lightning speed they open their mouths and suck in their unsuspecting victims, though they are harmless to people. Like stingrays the angel sharks have flat wing-like fins and are delicately camouflaged, which allows them to stay motionless on the sea bed.

For many divers the favorite sightings are the smaller fish that offer bright shoals of color: ornate wrasses, parrotfish and red mullet. Tenerife’s underwater rock formations also mean you have a good chance of spotting an octopus, its beautiful mottled skin flashing against the basalt. Its cousin, the cuttlefish, with their torpedo-shaped bodies, are also commonly seen.

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Valencia Rising


Valencia

It’s time for Madrid and Barcelona to move over. Spain’s third-largest city is ready for its close-up.

Flamboyant architecture is nothing new to Valencia. This handsome city on Spain’s Mediterranean coast has stunning buildings around every corner. As you roam the old Barrio del Carmen, you’ll inevitably stumble upon the palace that houses the National Ceramics Museum, with heroic figures carved in the alabaster facade that look as if they’re about to spring into action in some bizarre computer-generated effect. Then there’s La Lonja, a 15th-century silk market whose 24 interior columns seem to spiral up forever, as in a soaring Gothic cathedral. And the Estación del Norte, a 1917 train terminal with spectacular mosaics inside.

The modern-day rival to all these structures is the futuristic City of Arts & Sciences, a vast museum complex designed by Valencia’s native son, architect Santiago Calatrava. Just as Frank Gehry’s provocative design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao brought hordes of visitors to a previously underappreciated Spanish city, Calatrava’s work is doing the same for Valencia. And with the addition of high-speed AVE train service, the 4-hour trip from Madrid has been cut in half. That extra time won’t be wasted as you explore this walkable city’s appealing museums, garden gems and lively tapas bars serving earthy Valencian cuisine.

INTO THE FUTURE
The City of Arts & Sciences is widely considered Calatrava’s best work (only the aquarium, the Oceanogràfic, is not of his design). You don’t need to step inside to be wowed by the five structures; many visitors simply wander the grounds, awestruck. Reflecting pools create the illusion that the glittering white buildings are weightless, floating in air.

Calatrava bases much of his work on organic shapes inspired by nature, which inevitably leads to debate over what each building resembles. Most agree that the Hemisfèric planetarium, completed in 1998, is shaped like a human eye, with a lid that opens to observe the universe. The Science Museum, which followed in 2000, is said to be modeled after a huge dinosaur skeleton on one side, a waterfall on the other. Inside, the exhibits encourage interaction—an in-depth display on the hallowed sport of fútbol lets you kick a ball into a goal; success is met with recorded cheers. Remember Foucault’s pendulum from high school physics? One of the longest ones is here. If you need to rest your feet, do it in the mirrored cube of a room showing “Zero Gravity,” vivid images of Earth and skies reflected over and over again on its walls.

Then there’s the Umbracle, an arched winter garden built over an underground car park—not that you’d know it. The opera house, the Palau de les Arts, is shaped like an upside-down boat, or perhaps a helmet with a feather on top (but let’s not argue about it). Its 4 theaters hold more than 3,600 seats. Some say that the Oceanogràfic building looks like a lily, while others see a butterfly. In any case, if you go inside you’ll see a shark tank with a walk-through viewing tunnel, some massive walruses with tusks that are worth the price of admission alone, and a beluga whale whose chunky, muscular body moves in a surprisingly balletic way.

BACK TO THE PAST
The older parts of Valencia are a maze of twisted narrow streets and passages—the kind that all visitors to Europe crave. But the city also has stately tree-lined boulevards wide enough to accommodate any amount of traffic; there’s never a rush hour here. Further proof of thoughtful urban planning lies in the site of the City of Arts & Sciences—a 5-mile-long series of formally planted, well-groomed gardens, where the Turia River once flowed (and overflowed). After some 100 people drowned in the disastrous flood of 1957, the city fathers decided to divert the Turia to the south and turn the riverbed into a park. Stop by Rent a Mega Bike and spend an afternoon pedaling its length. Plant lovers should also visit the Valencia Botanical Garden, set up by the University of Valencia to research medicinal and tropical plants. Its collection now includes orchids, bromeliads, cacti and orange trees, plus a well-tended population of cats.

To explore the city’s older sections, start with the Barrio del Carmen. The cast-iron-and-glass Central Market, which opened in 1928, was built in the Modernismo style, which basically means a mishmash of different influences—this building looks a bit like a Victorian railway station. The parrot on the top spire symbolizes the market as a place to shop and socialize. The spacious interior is fastidiously clean, bright and open, with stained-glass windows and more than 700 vendors. This is the place to buy some prime jamón ibérico (cured ham), sliced paper-thin and vacuum-sealed to take home. Other good souvenirs: Spanish paprika and bomba rice, an absorbent variety used to make paella—a dish that originated in Valencia.

Next check out the National Ceramics Museum, housed in the Palacio de Marques del Dos Aguas. As you enter you’ll see two Cinderella-style carriages, one owned by the Marquis who once lived here. Climb the stairs for the second-floor museum of the decorative arts, in rooms where the family lived and played. Don’t miss the exquisite dollhouse, the 1863 Dresden furniture with ceramic insets, and the mirrored, gilt-trimmed ballroom. Displays on the top floor cover the centuries. Look for five striking plates donated by Picasso and a kitchen covered with Valencian tiles depicting fruits, vegetables and food prep.

At the Plaza de la Reina you’ll find the Valencia Cathedral, parts of which date back to the 13th century. It’s a pleasing mix of architectural styles—of its three doorways, one is Romanesque, one Gothic and one Baroque. Six huge gilt-framed paintings decorate the altar. If the Holy Grail Chapel is open, duck inside to see what is believed to be the legendary agate cup used during the Last Supper.

Across the Turia Gardens from the Barrio del Carmen you’ll find the Museo de Bellas Artes—the Fine Arts Museum, in a former convent. Second only to Madrid’s Prado, it’s known for its ecclesiastical art, such as gilded, Gothic-style altarpieces, and works by the renowned Spanish artists El Greco, Velázquez, Goya and Murillo.

There’s plenty more to see in Valencia, but whatever you do, leave time to loiter in the cafés, tapas bars and restaurants. It’s hard to go wrong here, as the offerings range from robust, peasant-style cuisine (paella!) to avant-garde dishes with surprising pairings (anchovies, almonds, fennel). Typically, dinner doesn’t start until 10 p.m., so rest up.

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Family-Friendly Tarragona


Tarragona

Theme parks, Roman remains and tranquil beaches make the Costa Daurada one of Spain's most appealing getaways.

When you’re perched at the top of Europe’s tallest roller coaster, with the Roman city of Tarragona, the Catalonian coastline and the blue Mediterranean spread out below, you may wonder how the kids talked you into this one. Then gravity and adrenaline take over and you realize that you (and your kids) are having the time of your life.

ROME AWAY FROM ROME
Founded in the 3rd century B.C., Tarraco became an important Roman city. Today its World Heritage remains lie under modern Tarragona’s center. Kids will thrill to stories of the Roman circus, whose chariot races drew 30,000 spectators, and the seaside amphitheater where gladiators fought. Roman walls and a section of aqueduct just outside town are still visible. In May, the Tarraco Viva festival celebrates the town’s Roman heritage with recreated battles, Roman taverns and more.

ROLL WITH IT
Spain’s star theme park, PortAventura, lies just southwest of Tarragona in the resort town of Salou. The park recently added a gigantic Himalayan-themed roller coaster that includes a breathtaking 256-foot plunge. The park is divided into zones—the Mediterranean, Polynesia, China, Mexico, the Far West and Sesame Street—and appeals to all ages. Rides are gentle in SésamoAventura; the Chinese and Mexican villages have shriek-inducing roller coasters and the Hurakan Condor free fall. Thrill seekers head for the Furius Baco ride near the main entrance: It accelerates from zero to a terrifying 84 miles per hour in just three seconds. There’s also a water park, golf courses and a beach club.

WATER EVERYWHERE
Also near Tarragona is Aquópolis, a no-holds-barred water park with some steep slides, mega-splashes, softer thrills for younger kids and dolphin shows. AquaLeón, 10 miles inland, combines a water park with a safari zoo.

HIT THE BEACHES
The biggest water feature around here is the Mediterranean itself. The Costa Daurada (also called the Costa Dorada, or golden coast; Daurada is the Catalan spelling) is a family-friendly coastline with small sheltered calas (coves) separating wide, long stretches of sand. You’ll find your own favorite, but some nearby ones to try are La Pineda, a mile and a half of clean sand with a “subaquatic park” for divers and snorkelers, and La Móra, a short strand with gentle water. The next beach along, Tamarit, is equally tranquil and overlooked by the spectacular 11th-century castle of the same name. Most beaches have kiosks offering shade, seafood and pedalo and kayak rentals.

BOAT RIDES
Tarragona Blau runs jaunts around the harbor and along the coast from June to September, and child-focused fishing trips in April and May. The cheerfully painted tall ship Cyrano runs scheduled excursions and charters from Tarragona’s harbor. Leaving from nearby Salou and Cambrils, Creuers Costa Daurada offers short and daylong catamaran cruises with time for lunch and swims. One boat has a glass hull for exploring the submarine world.

BARCELONA SIDE TRIP
One of the most seductive cities on the Mediterranean is only an hour from Tarragona. Gaudí’s Sagrada Família basilica has a magic that kids will appreciate. The rambling Parc Güell invites exploration, as does one of Europe’s largest aquariums. Fútbol lovers should visit FC Barcelona’s stadium. The entrance fee includes an interactive soccer museum and the chance to walk out of the tunnel onto the field, just like the pros do before a game.

PORTAVENTURA TIPS
This theme park offers special packages, such as a money-saving 2-day pass. There are more live shows on weekends, but lines can be long; you’ll pack more in on weekdays. Express passes give easy access to only the most popular rides, and only once each per day. Bring snacks and water to beat the park’s high prices.

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9 Hot Reasons to Visit a Cool City


Malaga

Málaga oozes culture, history and Spanish style. Take a visit to the capital of the Costa del Sol and become a fan of the city’s magic.

1) Spanish Style
It may be the architecture—ironwork balconies replete with potted bougainvillea, the attractive squares lined with palm trees, such as Plaza de la Constitución—or the suntrap beaches of La Farola, and Pedregalejo. But wherever you look, Málaga embodies so much that is Spain. Swap fish and chips for tapas, lager and lime for sweet wine, and learn a little Español to get ahead. ¡Salud!

2) Tropical Varieties
The spectacular botanical gardens of La Concepción were created in 1857 for an aristocratic family. More than 800 tropical and subtropical plants, including 100 types of palm trees, thrive in the gardens’ Mediterranean climate. 

3) From the Soul
Fiery flamenco courses through the veins of many a Málagueño. It is learned and performed across the city. Susana Lupiañez teaches young dancers each week at La Lupi Flamenco. Colorful, passionate performances shouldn’t be missed. Susana says: “Flamenco is very accessible, even when you see it for the first time.”

4) Food for Thought
Food is an art in Málaga, and the humble cod is king. Tapas are beautifully served in a contemporary style at La Barra, in Calle Bolsa, or in the rustic setting of Lo Güeno, in Calle Marín García, where porra, a type of gazpacho, and Málaga salad made with cod, potato, orange and olives, are a must.

5) People Watching
Find a café, order a coffee and watch the world go by in Plaza de la Constitución, Plaza de la Merced or along the promenade at Pedregalejo beach. These areas are great for a relaxed afternoon, and local buskers are always keen to entertain for a few euros.

6) Baroque Beauty
Málaga’s Ayuntamiento, or City Hall, faces Paseo del Parque, which is full of tropical plants and beautiful purple flowering jacaranda. Its neo-baroque exteriors make it worthy of a visit outside of local government business.

7) Very Moorish
Started in the 8th century by the Moors, the Alcazaba was only completed in the 11th century. The fortification was built on the foundations of a Roman fort and housed the city’s governors. Málaga’s Alcazaba is one of the best preserved in Spain and features double walls and defensive towers, stunning archways and gardens. Skip the challenging uphill walk and take a bus from the Alcazaba to the Gibralfaro castle for spectacular views of the city.

8) Málagan Masterpiece
Few could argue with Málaga’s claims to artistic renown. The city’s most famous son, Pablo Picasso, was one of the founding fathers of cubism. His birthplace, in Plaza de la Merced, above, houses an exhibition of his works and you can discover even more about him at Museo Picasso Málaga in Calle San Augustín. Málaga buzzes with creative excitement and the Centre of Contemporary Art features a host of challenging modern works.

9) Glorious Grandeur
Málaga’s stunning cathedral, built between 1528 and 1782, is known as La Manquita—the one-armed woman—as it’s the only cathedral in the world with one tower. The other tower was never completed due to a shortage of funds. But this has not affected the grandeur inside. The spectacular interior reflects both baroque and renaissance styles. Plaza del Obispo, in which the cathedral sits, is a popular place to meet friends for food and drinks.

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Artful Lanzarote


Lanzarote

On this remote hideaway, one of Spain's Canary Islands, dramatic large-scale artworks rival the spectacular volcanic landscape.

Had artist César Manrique never lived, the island of Lanzarote would be a very different place. The easternmost of the Canary archipelago, hugging the African coast but very much a part of Spain, the 37-mile-by-13-mile volcanic isle would still have its extraordinary topography: charred in the west by the violent 1730s eruption of Mount Timanfaya, arid in the south, hilly and green in the northeast. But without the artistic genius and tireless activism of this one man, born here in 1919, the island’s pristine beaches would probably be ringed with high-rise resorts, like those of its neighbors, Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Instead, directly as a result of Manrique’s lifelong fight to save his beloved island from unchecked development, Lanzarote retains its low-rise, low-key vibe.

The island’s unspoiled quality draws nature lovers and sports enthusiasts. Cyclists train on its peaks and in its valleys; surfers congregate at Famara, one of Europe’s best spots to catch a wave; hikers tramp the lunar landscape of Timanfaya National Park. And, again thanks to Manrique, Lanzarote has an added dimension. A pioneer of Spanish abstract painting, Manrique spent two seminal years in New York at the height of the Pop Art movement. Returning home in 1966, he embarked on twin campaigns that continued until his death in 1992: one for regulations to limit the size and styles of new buildings; the other to artfully package Lanzarote’s natural wonders for the delight of visitors.

MAN WITH A MISSION
To this day, Manrique’s artistic vision dominates the island. Look almost anywhere and you may see a monumental sculpture, a sign, a gate, a mural or one of a dozen Manrique-designed sites fascinating to both children and adults. To judge by visitor numbers—more than 1.5 million a year, compared with the year-round population of 140,000—his approach is working. “Manrique reinvented Lanzarote,” says Alfredo Díaz, spokesman for the Fundación César Manrique (fcmanrique.org), which carries on his work of promoting architecture and development in harmony with the natural landscape. “It was a poor island, dependent on agriculture and fishing,” Díaz continues. “Manrique knew that the future would be tourism, and he left Lanzarote with a special cultural heritage.”

You can see Manrique’s work merely by driving around, since many traffic circles are centered on his gargantuan sculptures. It’s great fun to suddenly come upon these kinetic pieces based on geometric abstraction. The perfect place to kick off a Manrique itinerary is just a few miles from the airport at El Taro de Tahiche, the home Manrique started to build for himself in 1968 atop five underground lava “bubbles.” The house, a flat-roofed modernist structure of white stucco, serves as an art museum, displaying works by Picasso and Miró alongside Manrique’s own. Expansive windows overlook gardens of flowering succulents and a vast plain stretching toward a distant crown of extinct volcanoes. On the lower level but with openings to the sky are five chambers carved out of the lava rock and furnished with built-in seating in groovy Sixties style.

Manrique also had a major hand in designing the Gran Meliá Salinas hotel in Costa Teguise. Visitors stop by this ziggurat-shaped 1970s period piece just to gawk at his lava-rock murals in the reception area, his lagoon-like pool and an indoor garden of towering palms (gran-melia-salinas.com).

All of Manrique’s achievements possess a sculptural, sensuous quality and combine art and nature on a majestic scale. (Centrosturisticos.com is the best site at which to learn more about his projects.) Working with blackened lava rock, Lanzarote’s most plentiful commodity, he created sweeping curves, arches and rondelles punctuated by the uncut jagged masses that are nature’s own sculpture. And at every site, appealing amenities—an entry gate, a ticket office, a gift shop, a colorful café—are subtly, often whimsically, integrated into the design. (The best shop is at El Taro de Tahiche and sells a tasteful, well-priced selection of artisanal leather goods and modernist jewelry.)

UNDER THE VOLCANO
The Jameos del Agua, on the northeastern coast, is both a geological phenomenon—skylighted grottoes formed by an ancient eruption—and a massive feat of engineering. To make the site navigable, Manrique created landings and staircases, then added cafés, bars, a museum of volcanic geology and a subterranean auditorium. A few miles away, at the island’s northernmost tip, the Mirador del Río (1973) is both a cliff-side lookout with outdoor telescopes and a cave-like architectural structure that ensconces visitors within a mountain of rock. From a glassed-in restaurant hung with Manrique’s modernist mobiles, you can view colossal banks of lava, frozen in place as it flowed to the sea, and nearby Graciosa Island.

The enchanting bowl-shaped Jardín de Cactus near Guatiza, in an area of prickly-pear plantations, was carved out of a volcanic-ash quarry. It’s both a botanical garden and a masterpiece of landscape design. Wander among 10,000 exotic cacti, marveling at the surreal shapes and textures and enjoying one of the most compelling photo ops you’ll ever find.

Despite its flair, Manrique’s art didn’t enjoy instant popularity among the conservative inhabitants of rural Lanzarote. The Monumento al Campesino (Monument to the Farm Worker), an all-white, 50-foot-tall assemblage of fishing-boat parts, aroused a furor when it appeared at a key intersection near the island’s center in 1968. The discord was silenced by an influential critic’s remark that the sculpture “advanced the cause of modern art by 50 years.” Nearby is the Manrique-designed La Casa Museo del Campesino, displaying vintage farm gear, pottery and textiles. The museum may be a bit sleepy, but its lively outdoor café is reason enough to stop.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
The only major Manrique project in Arrecife, the island’s capital, is the Castillo de San José, an 18th-century fortress. Manrique masterminded its rebirth as the Museo Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo, a showcase for works by Spanish and Canary Island artists. Twisting lava-rock stairs lead down to a stylish restaurant with views of the port.

With Lanzarote’s chief aesthetic defender long gone and the number of visitors growing, the pressure to expand is on again. Some fear that a recent spate of illegal building will threaten the island’s quiet and jeopardize its 1993 designation as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. But so far, most new construction follows the native low-rise, whitewashed architecture, with doors and shutters painted deep green.

Among locals, Manrique enjoys almost mythical status. “César Manrique is still very loved,” says Daniel Espino, who helps run not-for-sissies walking tours of the volcanoes (canarytrekking.com) and knew Manrique in the 1980s. “He was a complex man and didn’t have an easy temperament. But he is like a god here.”

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Queen of the Atlantic


Madeira

A visit to the Portuguese island of Madeira, a veritable floating garden blessed with dramatic landscapes and lush plantlife.

Arriving on the Portuguese island of Madeira, several hundred miles north-west of the Canary Islands, is something of an experience in itself. The island is so mountainous that it was impossible to find a flat space to build a runway on; instead, stilts were built into the sea and a runway laid on top. It makes for an interesting landing, and is a fitting introduction to an island with more than its fair share of quirkiness.

Most visitors to the island head first to Funchal, the pretty, terracotta-roofed capital beneath the vertiginous slopes that dominate Madeira. This is not an island of gentle rolling hills; vast cliffs drop angrily into the ocean and tiny hamlets cluster among the rich, green peaks. And everywhere stepped terraces are crammed with fruit and vegetable plantations, testament to the sub-tropical climate that has led Madeira to be christened ‘the floating garden’.

If, on first sight, Funchal seems Mediterranean—pavement cafés, cobbled streets, whitewashed houses—a closer look reveals a more Caribbean feel. Private gardens and public parks are full of banana trees, palms, lush grasses and purple bougainvillea. The terraces brim with grapes, avocados and passion fruit. The island has long been loved by gardeners, but even those without green fingers cannot fail to appreciate the fertility of the Madeiran soil.

This is an island where orchids grow like daisies and the balmy climate means every inch is covered in flowers and fruit. The sheer physicality of the landscape is breathtaking – driving around the island takes hours even though distances are small with tiny roads zig-zagging up and down mountains.

ORCHID JUNGLES
Madeira enjoys good weather, with temperatures averaging 70ºF all year, so there is never a bad time to visit. Gardens are in constant bloom and the island makes a specialty of rearing rare and endangered species that find it hard to flourish elsewhere in Europe.

The Botanic Gardens alone have 2,500 different species, from the ice-blue blossom on the jacaranda trees, to magenta orchids, jade-green palms and a rainbow of fruit trees in the agricultural garden. Divided into six areas, the garden combines a shady arboretum with an area of succulents and cacti, and a large collection of plants indigenous only to the Madeiran archipelago.

Close to the Botanical Gardens lies the Orchid Gardens, with an orchid jungle unrivalled anywhere in Europe. With over 50,000 plants, it is one of the foremost collections of these rare flowers in the world.

FLYING HIGH
Visit the Botanic Gardens by cable car from the picturesque village of Monte—reachable by a separate cable car from Funchal. Perched high above the city streets, Monte is a picturesque hilltop town with a bustling central square. The traditional Portuguese black-and-white frontage of Monte’s church, Nossa Senhora de Monte, is a spectacular sight, and the town is also home to the Monte Palace Gardens. The house and grounds of an abandoned hotel site had laid derelict until it was bought by businessman José Berardo. Now transformed, there is a museum housing over 1,000 sculptures and an impressive collection of minerals, including collection of diamonds.

The gardens themselves are an eccentric counterpart to the Botanic’s quiet organization. Berardo has worked his own passions into the landscapes: there is an oriental garden, a vast collection of orchids and one of the largest collections of cycads in the world. The tranquil lake is a great place to stop with a picnic and take time to soak up the richness of the gardens.

CABLE CARS
The cable-car rides are a great introduction to the scale of Madeira. Funchal to Monte is a 12-minute glide across the rooftops, and Monte to the Botanical Gardens takes 9 minutes, swooping across the João Gomes Stream Valley, offering views down to the sea.

But there is more to Madeira than Funchal and its surrounds. A must-visit is the astonishing village of Curral das Freiras, located in the center of the island and founded by nuns in the 16th century. Surrounded by sheer mountains on all sides, no one left the valley for hundreds of years and the villagers still exist almost entirely on what they grow themselves. There was no road into the village until 1959 and no one had a television until 1986.

SHEER BEAUTY
It’s also worth exploring the north coast, where the coastal towns of Seixal, Porto Moniz and Santana are regularly beaten by ferocious seas. Vast slabs of rock jut out into the Atlantic with the villages clinging on in-between. An afternoon can easily slip past sitting in one of the beachfront cafés, watching 12-foot waves crash onto the shore.

The north is also home to the most expensive road ever built. The slim stretch of road that links Sao Vicente to Porto Moniz clings to a cliff face so vertiginous that men had to chip away at the road surface by hand. It is also one of the most exhilarating drives in Europe. Fortunately a tunnel follows a parallel route, for those who prefer their journeys a little less white-knuckle.

ON THE CRISS-CROSS
But a car is not the only way to explore Madeira; the island is criss-crossed by levadas, ancient water-carrying channels that provide irrigation across the island. They provide safe, easy-to-follow walks that can be done easily without a guide, although some of the gradients can be very steep. The older levadas, built centuries ago, tend to plummet steeply downhill. The newer levadas are wide ‘mini-canals’, and run horizontally along the island’s contours, making for easy walking.

But there are plenty of opportunities for more gentle exercise as well, with two well-maintained golf courses. The Santo da Serra course is part of the PGA European tour and the Palheiro course offers breathtaking views from its hillside location to the east of Funchal.

Of course, a visit to Madeira wouldn’t be complete without tasting its most famous export, Madeiran wine. A guided tour at Old Blandy Wine Lodge in Funchal is a great way to learn the history of the drink and take a sip or two.

Madeira is an island that constantly surprises—the island’s heady mix of natural beauty, dramatic landscapes and unique atmosphere makes it an unforgettable place to visit.

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The Unexpected Algarve


Algarve

For an alternative to Portugal’s busy beaches, head inland to villages rich in history, art and food traditions.

It’s no wonder that the coastal cities of the Algarve, in southern Portugal, have long been hotspots to escape from tepid summers into bountiful sunshine.

The streets of the Algarve pulsate with visitors, eager to try local restaurants, and around-the-clock entertainment. But fewer travelers seek out the Algarve’s interior, an hour—and worlds—away from the coast along quiet country roads winding through orange and olive groves.

A shared history and age-old traditions weave this peaceful region together. Each village, for example, has a handful of Catholic churches, and most are topped with a stone fortress or castle. Long lunches begin with bread, olives and cheese, and end with a shot of medronho, a traditional fruit brandy. An afternoon nap inevitably follows.

Despite similarities and geographic proximity, the Algarve’s landlocked towns have retained their own sense of self. They were far more isolated in centuries past, when traveling from one hilly destination to the next required more than just following satellite navigation directions. Today, however, the interior villages are easily reached via exits off the A22, the main highway (a toll road), while the roads are well paved and simple to navigate.

Each of these villages is worthy of attention, especially since the region is quickly changing. New highways and modern plazas are signs of investment in the future, and cultural evolution is inevitable. Travelers today have the rare opportunity to experience a simple, magical side of European life that may one day look entirely different. Here is our guide to three of the Algarve’s secret villages.

SILVES
This central city may be the most appealing in the Algarve’s interior. Neighbors chat across slender streets from second-story windows, orange and lemon trees give off a citrus scent, and rows of houses are covered in azulejos, Portugal’s famed painted tiles.

More than half of the world’s cork products come from Portugal. You can shop for beautifully detailed purses, wallets and shoes made from supple sheets of cork bark, which feels almost like suede, at Loja Regional A. Silva. See artists Dimitrios Mantzavrakos and Florbela Moreira at work in their studio. They often use the town as a backdrop in their watercolor, acrylic and collage paintings. Lace-bordered tablecloths are sold at the sewing shop Casa das Lãs e Retrosaria Anita. Bottles of Portuguese wine await at Rui Marisqueira, a seafood restaurant with a loyal following. Garlicky prawns and succulent spider crab are standouts. Save room for cataplana de peixe, a stew of red snapper, grouper and clams prepared in a traditional steel pot. End the meal with a mel, or honey liqueur, and take in Silves’ backlit castle crowning the village in a golden glow.

ALTE
Hidden among pine groves and fig trees, Alte has long attracted poets, artisans and expat artists. Get an overview of the current arts scene at Off the Wall Gallery, owned by enamellist Susan Searle. She aggregates works, ranging from brightly colored oil paintings to silk and merino wool scarves, by contemporary Algarve-based artists. At O Cantinho do Artista, Maria Martins hand stitches lace, one of Portugal’s oldest art forms, into tablecloths and handkerchiefs. A balcony overlooking the countryside awaits next door at Agua Mel, where you can sample almond cakes and warm custards.

While pottery is a staple at shops throughout the Algarve, Porches Pottery, 30 minutes from Alte, has some of the best examples of the craft. Its female staff paint majolica, the earthenware with floral designs. Across the street, Casa Grade stocks pottery from all over Portugal, from rustic plates to ornately painted pieces.

MONCHIQUE
This village in the foothills of Fóia, the Algarve’s highest point, has streets so steep and winding that a successful job of parallel parking may earn polite applause from entertained town residents. Once on foot, a hike to the peak is highly recommended, though not before exploring the café-filled courtyards and climbing the stone staircases, which are often lined with blue hydrangeas and dotted with bronze figurines and other public art.

Hikers can find picnic provisions at the farmers market (Estra. da De Sabóia), where residents haggle over the purchase of garden-fresh fruits and vegetables. More artisanal food souvenirs are sold at Loja do Mel e do Medronho, a modest shop where portraits of proud farmers hang above shelves filled with olive oils, liqueurs, honeycomb and tomato jams.

A 3-and-a-half-mile path leads trekkers from Monchique to the Fóia mountaintop. For those who don’t associate exercise with holiday, a scenic road also winds to the peak. In either case, the reward is a view all the way to Sagres Point, the cliff-lined tip of Portugal.

Freshly caught seafood is popular throughout the Algarve, but Monchique’s higher elevation and cooler temperatures have historically led to meatier meals. Fortunately, traditional dishes still make the menu at A Charrette, a three-decade-old restaurant with old-fashioned wooden cupboards and antique dishes. Clay bowls are heaped with rice, beans and sweet chestnuts or cabbage and pork.

In the evenings, cocktail crowds head to Barlefante, a hip lounge framed by potted succulents. Inside, rose-colored walls and sequined throw pillows lend a Moroccan vibe.

These inland village treasures offer a taste of a traditional way of Portuguese life not to be missed.

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The Art of Progress


Lanzarote

The history of the island of Lanzarote is filled with tumultuous changes — from volcanic eruptions to tourist invasions, but Joe Cawley believes that the island has benefitted from the drama.

Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.’ He could also have added progress. Very little on this planet remains the same over a long period of time – including holiday destinations. Take Lanzarote for example …

Around 35 million years ago, give or take a fortnight, the island surged from the seabed 100 kilometers from the African Coast in a powerful volcanic awakening. For years it remained nothing more than a barren rock until populated by the Guanches from North Africa and subsequently by the Spanish, who built villages, small towns and trading harbors. Then in 1730, a violent eruption spewed fire and ash for six whole years, refurbishing the landscape with rivers of lava and swathes of black volcanic rock, giving parts of the island a lunar-like look.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that the progression of the island leapt forward again. In 1970 international flights were permitted for the first time and word soon spread about this sub-tropical island with its broad swathes of golden sand. With average temperatures loitering around the 75°F mark, 3,000 hours of sunshine a year and less rainfall than parts of the Sahara, it wasn’t long before the 2,000 tourist beds available at the time became woefully inadequate. Eight years later, the resort of Puerto del Carmen was created and the capacity to accommodate visitors began to swell.

It was during this eruption of tourism that one man stepped up and vowed to save Lanzarote’s landscape from being overwhelmed by the tidal wave of tourism. That man was César Manrique, a local painter, sculptor and architect. This environmental warrior ensured that the progress of tourism developed in harmony with the island’s dramatic beauty and has been, without doubt, the single most dominant figure in influencing the progression of Lanzarote. It was Manrique who persuaded the authorities not to build any house higher than 2 stories, to only allow homes to be painted white and to limit the color of those archetypal olive green or powder blue shutters that keep rooms cool enough for a midsummer siesta.

It’s hard to explore any part of the island now without coming across Manrique’s trademark styling of Lanzarote’s natural assets. He created a feature from the underground caves and tunnels of Cueva de los Verdes and Los Jameos del Agua which now incorporates tropical gardens, a swimming pool and a 600-seat auditorium where musical concerts are held. He also worked with the volcanic landscape to create the Mirador del Rio viewpoint with its head-spinning heights and views across the Strait of El Rio to the archaic island of La Graciosa. His influence can also be seen in the wind toys dotted around the island. These large-scale sculptures are designed to work with the elements, their moving parts coming alive when the wind blows.

There’s no doubt that both tourism and Manrique have benefitted the island significantly. Lanzarote stands out for its harmonious blending of nature and man. Between the volcanic cones, the fertile plains are peppered with sugar-cube houses, the compact villages studded with palm trees. Visitors flock to marvel at the natural wonders such as the ruddy red slopes of Fire Mountain. It’s here that visitors are reminded of the island’s fiery origins with volcano-fuelled barbecues and flaming examples of the incredible heat still bubbling away inches below their sandals.

But they also come for the modern, man-made attractions: the daring cowboy antics at Rancho Texas Park; the quayside shopping and dining at the Marina Rubicon; and the lush green fairways at the golf courses of Tias and Costa Teguise. Progress doesn’t stand still. Lanzarote will see more change. You can’t halt the path of progression, either natural or man-made. Like death and taxes, that is a certain.

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Fall for Steamboat Springs


Steamboat Springs

As the snow melts, an outdoorsman’s paradise awakens. So grab your bike, kayak or fishing gear and set out into nature. You won’t be disappointed.

Steamboat Springs is best known as a winter sports town, home to the Steamboat Ski Resort and dozens of winter Olympians. Yet at an elevation of 6,700 feet, Steamboat is equally lively in summer and fall, when its dry-as-ranch-dust snow is replaced with a sunny, cool mountain climate that’s idyllic for an outdoorsy getaway. In a single weekend, you can fly-fish mountain streams, horseback-ride across rolling ranchlands, hike through wildflower meadows and aspen glades, mountain bike on a growing network of single-track, browse a downtown lined with boxy Western storefronts, and finish it off with a soothing soak in one of the town’s steaming natural hot springs.

COWBOY CULTURE
Long before it was a sports town, Steamboat Springs was a ranch town. Along with multimillion-dollar vacation homes, working ranches occupy much of the Yampa Valley—thousands of acres dotted with beef cattle and bus-sized hay bales. The cattle dogs you’ll see in the back of muddy pickups really do herd, and the cowboy hats worn in town—some of them, anyway—are the real deal, too.

The 10-block-long downtown still reflects Steamboat’s cowboy roots. Ranch supply stores sit alongside bike shops, boutiques and wine bars on the main artery, Lincoln Avenue. Foremost among them is F.M. Light and Sons, a century-old dry goods store where shoppers can browse the 2,000 pairs of cowboy boots, stop by the Hat Services counter and pick up a handbag with a built-in gun holster.

To sample cowboy culture yourself, take a horseback ride at Del’s Triangle Three Ranch, in the Elk River Valley a half hour north of Steamboat Springs. Guides lead half- and full-day rides over sage-covered slopes and through the hills, keeping an eye out for the elk herds that often gather on the property. Come fall, blooming fields of yarrow and mule’s ear daisy give way to blazing yellow aspens. At this time of year, the elk put on their own show, as the males bugle loudly for female attention.

TAKE TO THE TRAILS
For those who want to hoof it in hiking boots, trails abound. Four miles from town, an easy quarter-mile route leads to Fish Creek Falls, descending 283 feet into a deep rocky seam. Paths continue to Upper Fish Creek Falls and 5 miles south to Lost Lake. Also near town, the Spring Creek Trail climbs gently for 5 miles through a broad canyon glowing gold with ferns and aspens. The surrounding Medicine Bow–Routt National Forest offers a dizzying array of options for long day hikes.

On a mountain bike you can cover even more terrain. Locals flock to the trails on Emerald Mountain, which rises up from the southwest side of downtown, and the 50 miles of trails at the Steamboat ski area, accessible with leg power or by gondola. Explore the ski area’s trail network or leave its boundary to connect with a web of national forest trails.

STEAMING SPRINGS
A cloud of fog and the tang of sulfur hang over Lincoln Park at the edge of downtown, where several of the region’s natural hot springs gurgle out of rock fissures and ponds. When early trappers came upon a nearby spring on the Yampa River’s western bank, they thought that the funny chugging sound it made resembled a steamboat whistle—which is how this landlocked town got its unlikely name. (Alas, construction of the railroad silenced the spring years ago.)

After a day on the trails, a visit to one of Steamboat’s hot springs provides the perfect remedy for weary muscles. You’ll find two decidedly different options for a public soak. The Old Town Hot Springs right downtown and open year-round offers 8 man-made swimming pools fed by hot mineral springs. Also part of the facility: waterslides and a fitness center with a range of exercise classes.

On the more rustic end of the scale, Strawberry Park Hot Springs lies in the woods, 8 miles from town (including 3 miles on a rutted dirt road). Steamy 147-degree water trickles down a hillside into a series of stone masonry pools, where it’s cooled with creek water to about 105 degrees. For the complete experience, take at least one plunge into the cold-water creek. Though it’s not the freewheeling flower-child scene found at many hot springs, Strawberry Park is clothing optional and adults only after dark.

CAST AWAY
Hot springs may be Steamboat’s identity, but the Yampa River feels like its lifeblood. Starting from modest streams high in the Flat Tops Wilderness, the Yampa grows into a broad river that flows right through town, just a block south of Lincoln Avenue. The 7-mile Yampa River Core Trail weaves along its banks, busy with runners, bicycling kids and stroller-pushing moms. Kayakers play in its waves, while inner tubers float past waterfront restaurants. Anglers enjoy several miles of public access, casting for rainbow and brown trout.

Outfitters like Steamboat Flyfisher can offer even more, accompanying you to private stretches of river that run through ranchland south of town. Here the Yampa instantly feels wild, framed by red dogwoods and golden willows, flowing cold and clear the color of single-malt scotch.

Casting a fly rod here is an utterly peaceful way to spend a morning. You’re serenaded by the sounds of the water, the trill of blackbirds and the distant mutters and moos of ranch animals. You mend your line just so and watch it unfurl downstream, mesmerized, as you wait for the almost imperceptible tug of a rainbow.

 

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The Snows of Summit County: Copper Mountain


Copper Mountain

Wedged between behemoths Vail and Breckenridge, Copper Mountain is favored by Denverites but is still a sleeper to much of North America. Once you ski or ride there, you’ll hope it stays that way. Lovely fall-line cruisers go on forever, fringed with glades and powder stashes. High-alpine bowls crown the peaks like rough-cut diamonds.

Like the old ad slogan, Copper Mountain just tries harder. A well-designed network of high-speed lifts makes it easy to move around the mountain. Beginner and intermediate runs are impeccably groomed, as is the 22-foot half-pipe, the new Olympic standard. On weekends, a snowcat offers rides—free with a valid lift ticket!—up double-diamond Tucker Mountain.

At the end of the day, skiers and riders glide seamlessly onto sundecks that skirt the entire base. Copper Mountain doesn’t really qualify as a town—it has Frisco for that, 6 miles down the road—but it exudes a happy vibe, with live music, bonfires, festivals and torchlight parades. It quickly feels like a friendly community, where you wave and smile at newly familiar faces.

That makes Copper great for families. Along with its tubing hill and terrain parks, the resort offers loads of programs for kids—all within walking distance—including pizza-making night at a pizzeria, Bricks 4 Kidz (LEGO activities) and the Cage, a teen lounge with table tennis and video games. Frisco’s Peninsula Recreation Area offers dinner sleigh rides, an acclaimed Nordic ski center and the Frisco Adventure Park, with tubing, a terrain park and a day lodge.

But good luck dragging your kids away from the indoor ski and snowboard training facility, Woodward at Copper. “The Barn” has trampolines, rails and synthetic-snow ramps that launch riders into giant pits filled with foam blocks—a good testing ground before trying tricks on snow. One-day camps and shorter sessions let participants learn at their own pace.

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The Snows of Summit County: Keystone


Keystone

Veer south off the interstate at Dillon, and the first ski town you reach is Keystone. Its River Run base area looks as if it had been custom-made for an easy, low-stress vacation—which, in fact, it was. In its car-free village, condos and restaurants are clustered around pavilions and cobbled walkways. Families clomp around in ski boots, sprawl beside fire pits and soak up the brilliant Rocky Mountain sunshine at the Kickapoo Tavern.

Across the Snake River, the River Run gondola quietly whisks skiers and snowboarders to the summit of 11,640-foot Dercum Mountain. While its Area 51 terrain park is fairly challenging, the signature front slopes will please beginners and intermediates with their mellow groomed runs.

But first impressions can be misleading. Keystone encompasses 3 peaks; the challenge increases as you work your way south from Dercum. North Peak offers some steeper cruising and long thigh-burning mogul runs. The Outback hides stashes of powder and nice lines threading through spruce forest.

Enticing snowy bowls gape above North Peak and the Outback like hanging glaciers. Follow the locals trudging to the 12,000-foot ridge above, or hop on the Outback Shuttle, where five bucks gets you a snowcat ride to the top.

When you’re spent, it’s easy to skip the end-of-the-day crowds skiing back to the base. Keystone thoughtfully has strung a second gondola from Dercum Mountain to North Peak, so you’re just two relaxing gondola rides away from après ski.

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The Snows of Summit County: Breckenridge


Breckenridge

As soon as you head west of Denver on Interstate 70, the scenery transforms. Steel and concrete morph into pine and granite, and the front range of the Rockies fills the windshield. WATCH FOR WILDLIFE, cautions a yellow sign; bighorn sheep, pushed from the peaks by heavy snows, casually gaze through a curlicue of horn at the cars streaming by.

By the time you reach Dillon 60 miles later, you’ve nearly climbed to the roof of the Rockies. Summit County sidles up against the Continental Divide, spiked with peaks and elevations that range from 8,000 to 14,000 feet. Its ample dry snows, top-notch ski areas and picturesque resort towns—all linked by the free Summit Stage bus system—make this region a no-brainer for winter sports fans.

Fifteen miles southwest of Keystone, Breckenridge seems to have been plucked from a snow globe. Flakes drift down on a Main Street lined with brightly painted cabins and steep-pitched Victorians, now filled with restaurants, shops and galleries. The Blue River gurgles under pedestrian bridges and a snowy massif, etched with ski runs, rises right from town.

Prospectors flowed into this 9,600-foot-high outpost in the mid-1800s, bushwhacking their way up river drainages as they panned for gold. They hit pay dirt, including the largest gold nugget ever found in Colorado. “Tom’s Baby” weighed more than 13 pounds; the miner swaddled it in blankets like an infant on the way into town.

Of course, it was snow, not gold, that turned out to be this town’s greatest fortune. Today Breckenridge anchors the nation’s second most-visited ski resort (after Vail). The resort stretches across 4 peaks and seems to expand every year. Its south end, Peak 10, skirts the town; the north end, Peaks 7 and 8, sits higher, linked to town by the free BreckConnect gondola.

Some call Breckenridge “the gentle giant” for its gradual slopes; indeed, many will find the intermediate runs here quite tame. But advanced skiers and riders will find plenty of pitch in the bowls accessed from the nation’s highest chairlift on Peak 8, which tops out at 12,998 feet. Breck’s renowned terrain parks and pipes—considered some of the best in the country—ramp up the challenge, with an array of boxes, rails, kickers and other features that seem to go on forever. And everyone can enjoy Breck’s stunning serrated scenery, looking across to the Continental Divide scraping at the sky.

Even if you never intend to get on a chairlift, Breckenridge dishes up plenty of entertainment, which makes it the best base for a Summit County vacation. Take a thrill ride on the Gold Runner Coaster, where two-person sleds on rails twist wildly downhill. At the Breckenridge Nordic Center below Peak 8, some 30 kilometers of trails wind through old-growth pines, across meadows and to overlooks with postcard views of the Ten Mile Range.

In town, there’s great dining at every turn, from reliable stalwarts like the South Ridge Seafood Grill to newcomers like Ember and Twist. The Arts District is home to a growing number of galleries and art classes. Sign on with the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance for a walking tour—the town has more than 250 historic structures—or a snowshoe tour of gold-mining sites.

And be sure to check out the Breckenridge Welcome Center. Its great little history museum reveals Breckenridge “firsts,” including the nation’s first half-pipe and the first ski resort in the world to allow snowboarding. Clearly, Breckenridge recognizes a gold mine.

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From Christel House Kid to UN Employee - Maryari's Story


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Steve Holmes, Chairman and CEO of Wyndham Worldwide


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Meet Nontando, a Christel House Alumni and Biochemical Engineer


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Why RCI, and Geoff Ballotti, support Christel House's mission


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An amazing group – It’s Christel House Week on the RCI Blog


Christel DLet me introduce you to an amazing group of young people. Last year, while I was in India for my annual visit, a group of Christel House (CH) graduates who are now studying at university, working or doing both, came to say hello. They had a gift for me. It was not a painting of some flowers they had purchased on the street corner – but an oversized model of a check in the amount of 24,700 rupees—approximately $450 USD. Let me put this in perspective. That amount of money would cover the living expenses for a typical CH India family of 4 for about 3 months. Their own families depend greatly on their earnings, but these young people chose to show their appreciation and gratitude by making donations to Christel House. It was their way of saying “thank you” and becoming contributing members of society.

To say that I was over the moon would be an understatement. This giving back by our children speaks to much more than educating the child. It speaks to fostering in them social responsibility and the art of giving. Character development, social responsibility, and making the world a better place are all integral components of the CH program. To witness their manifestation in these young people was truly an impactful moment in my life.

This week on the RCI Blog, you will have the opportunity to read blogs from Christel House students, teachers and RCI associates who have visited Christel House learning centers. These stories are truly touching. To learn more about Christel House now, check out the Christel House website here.

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Nashville Nabes: East Nashville


Nashville

Feeling adventurous? Cross the Cumberland River and venture into East Nashville, a once-gritty area where trendy shops and restaurants have popped up along streets lined by humble bungalows. In the Five Points neighborhood, Wonders on Woodland has two floors full of antique furnishings, toys and tchotchkes. Next door is the Five Points Collaborative, a pedestrian lane lined with boutiques selling gifts and men’s and women’s clothes. While you roam the area, you might hear I Dream of Weenie calling your name. It’s an old VW van converted into a hot dog wagon, dishing up such delicacies as a mac-and-cheese weenie and the “Frank and to the Point.”

Not far from here is another good lunch spot: Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden, serving Tennessee beef burgers, salmon burgers, sausages and ice cream sodas. And, for your caffeine fix, make your way to Nashville’s ultimate coffee bar: the cutting-edge Barista Parlor, which targets coffee connoisseurs with state-of-the-art brewing technology. With its hip interior, dominated by a stunning ship mural by local artist Bryce McCloud, this former car-repair shop could be the coolest place to hang out in Nashville.

Like we said, the Music City offers much more than music these days.

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Nashville Nabes: Germantown


Nashville

Just north of downtown, follow the back roads past establishments with names like Southern Mop and Broom to find what looks like an abandoned meatpacking plant (that’s what it was!) with the name Peter Nappi in stylish wrought-iron script above the door. Inside is a soaring space with the regulation exposed brick walls and concrete floors, plus shelves of leather boots, shoes and bags. The town’s well-heeled musical artists have fallen for Peter Nappi’s old-world-style lace-up boots (around $700 a pair). The footwear is all handmade in Italy, but custom-distressed here in the shop—which is an über-cool space just to hang out in, facilitated by the small stage where musicians perform several times a week.

In and around Germantown are many other spots worth a stop. Marathon Village, once a redbrick auto plant, now houses Bang Candy, selling artisanal marshmallows (in flavors like rose cardamom and toasted coconut); several artists’ studios; and Corsair Artisan Brewery, whose taproom dispenses craft draft beers from microbreweries around the country. Marathon Village’s biggest tenant is Antique Archeology, a retail spinoff from TV’s “American Pickers.” The merchandise might make good souvenirs for rabid fans of the show, while others might judge that a metal “standing desk lamp,” rewired but with its authentic grime left intact, doesn’t warrant the price tag.

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