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Posts from December, 2013

Mirador Del Rio Sunsets And El Golfo Lagoon, Lanzarote

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Lanzarote is the most remarkable of all the Canary Islands.  The eastern most of the seven islands that make up the archipelago, its extraordinary landscape seems to be of another planet.  Great parts of Lanzarote are covered by ash and lava.  Lanzarote also offers a wide array of quiet beaches with fine sand unspoilt, beautiful bays and turquoise waters.  It has many spots that are undisturbed making for a serene environment.

Sunset at Mirador Del Rio

Of all the numerous scenic pleasures Lanzarote has to offer, its sunsets are the most memorable.  The island is not very large, which means that you can get a view of the glorious phenomenon from almost anywhere.  However, the most sensational views are to be had at the north of the island – at Mirador Del Rio.

Mirador Del Rio is a slight, rocky hill, which is a beautiful place to sit and watch the sun go down.  The salmon pink, orange and purple of the setting sun are complimented by other Lanzarote delights.  Sitting on the cliffs overlooking the sea, you will have fields of bluebells on one side and a panoramic view of the sea and its changing colours on the other.

The tiny island of La Graciosa, not far from the Lanzrote coast, adds further magic to the already incredible vista.

A picnic hamper with a bottle of one of Lanzarote’s many excellent wines are great accessories to accompany your viewing of the celestial special effects of the setting sun!


El Golfo Lagoon

On the opposite side from Mirador Del Rio, on the southwest, is another spectacular Lanzarote gift.  This is El Golfo.  It is the remains of a volcanic crater that has been broken into and eroded by the might of the Atlantic Ocean.  Inside this crater the lagoon – “Charco de los Clicos” – has emerged.

This semi-circular lagoon is intriguingly bright green because of the algae and minerals in the water.  This crater is one of the few and rare examples of hydro-volcanism, a phenomena produced by the interaction of magma or with salt water.  The concentration of special seaweed blossoms pretty well due to the extreme high salt content present in the lake.  This makes an oddly interesting contrast against the sand and rock formation of the crater.

The remains of the volcano are like a painter’s palette with grand brush strokes of black, red, yellow-green and russet layers of cooled lava.  The beach comprises of black volcanic pebbles interspersed with semi-precious green stones valued by jewellers.

The nearby village also called El Golfo is a lovely, small community that has restaurants where you can get some excellent seafood.  You can dine al fresco and enjoy the sunset.

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Al fresco Tapas Bars In Lanzarote

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TapasBefore we start out lets understand what Tapas is.  Tapas are a wide variety of mouth-watering appetizers or snacks of the Spanish cuisine.  It is not the Sanskrit word for deep meditation, though after a tummy-full of Tapas you might want to drift off into a very satisfied mental state.

Tapas can be cold or hot and of many different kinds.  From the humble snack it has become sophisticated.  In most instances, it is a whole meal in itself with diners combining several tapas dishes.  It evolved from light snacks you nibbled on while you sipped your sherry, chatted and waited for the main meal to arrive – to the main course.  Having tapas has grown into a ritual in Spain – a favourite one too.

Way back in time tapas would be a piece of meat (usually salty) like Jamón (cured ham) that would be nibbled on while sipping drinks.  Bars and restaurants then became creative in their snack-making and started incorporating ingredients from around the world.  The Romans brought the olive; whole almonds, citrus fruits and spices came from North Africa and the Americas delivered tomatoes, peppers, corn and potatoes.  All these edible incursions have turned the tapas into gourmet must-do.  

Its evolution continues with the regular use of garlic, chillies, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, saffron, other seasonings and olive oil.  The fillings often include anchovies, sardines, mackerel, squid or a huge variety of produce from the sea.  These are all mixed in an infinite variety of combinations and accompanied by tomato-based sauces, with a number of types of bread including Boccadillo, the Spanish version of the baguette.  It is quite usual for bars and restaurants to have over a dozen kinds of tapas sitting in warming trays to temp and cajole you into ordering them.

Now that you have a much better understanding of what makes tapas, let’s move to its consumption and the culture surrounding it, especially on the island of Lanzarote.

Al fresco dining started out (more or less) in cooler climates where a sunny day was a good reason to sit out in the garden or and have a meal.  Al fresco is Italian meaning “outside” or “in the fresh air.”

The gorgeous warm and sunny Canaries weather of Lanzarote means that it is almost de rigueur for bars and local restaurants to have sit-out arrangements where dining is casual and encourages a party-like scene.  All the villages in Lanzarote have numerous al fresco and so do the beaches.  The bars in the larger towns place tables out on the sidewalks and pavements.

Enjoying a leisurely tapas meal at these bars is usually enhanced by fantastic blue skies, pink and orange sunsets and the magical scenery of the island.  Your happy taste-buds and the location that made them so, ensure you will remember the experience(s) for years to come.

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Romantic Winter Getaways (Part 2)

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This is the second and final part of our feature on romantic experiences around the world. You can read part one of this feature here

1)    DINNER ON THE GRAND PEARL FLOATING RESTAURANT, BANGKOK

Wat Arun Temple at sunsetLeave Bangkok’s chaotic traffic behind and whisk your loved one for a delightful cruise along the Chao Phraya river in Thailand’s capital city. On board the luxurious Grand Pearl floating restaurant you will be able to marvel at famous Thai landmarks – Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace; shimmering in the night while you enjoy sumptuous Thai and international cuisine with your partner in a candle lit ambience.   

2)    PORTRAITS IN PARIS PHOTO SHOOT, PARIS, FRANCE

Portrait in ParisWrap yourself in the beauty and romance of the City of Love by booking a professional vacation photographer to capture your love story. Packed with charming vintage locations, Paris is a lover’s fantasy and a photographer’s delight. Get your photos taken in the most eclectic neighbourhood of Paris. Latin Quarter is situated on the left bank of the Seine, in the 5th and 6th arrondissement of Paris. There is no better setting to capture your engagement, honeymoon or anniversary photos.  

3)    MOUNT PILATUS EXCURSION FROM LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND

Cable car to the Swiss AlpsWith the snow-capped Mount Pilatus towering over the city, and the pristine Lake Lucerne in the heart of it, Switzerland is everything that a romantic getaway should be. After you and your partner are done gallivanting through picture perfect Swiss villages, medieval walled towns and enchanted castles, take a panoramic cable car ride (40 minutes) to Mount Pilatus, at an altitude of 2132 metres. Enjoy the vibrant skyline of the Swiss Alps and the snow decked slopes of Mount Pilatus while you savour traditional Swiss cuisine from the delectable restaurants or on the terrace where the views are to die for.

4)    METROPOLITAN OPERA & DINNER – WITH PRIVATE TRANSPORT, NEW YORK

When in New York City, a visit to The Metropolitan Opera is a must for Opera lovers. Make it extra special for our beloved by booking a luxurious package that includes a limousine pickup from your hotel, a meal at the popular Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse, drinks, and opera tickets for your favorite production. This is perfect for an elegant proposal or a Valentine’s Day treat!

5)    ROMANTIC PRIVATE HELICOPTER TOUR FROM QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND

Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New ZealandThe magnificent scenery and views around Queenstown can only truly be experienced from the air via a scenic helicopter flight which will fly you over the highpoints of Lake Wakatipu. Look down on snow-capped peaks, dense forests and gleaming blue waters. The highlight of the luxury helicopter tours has to be shutting down on a remote alpine peak to take some time out to enjoy a delicious gourmet picnic and sparkling wine while you take in the pristine beauty of the alpine landscape. Perfect for couples looking to celebrate a special occasion. 

6)    ALHAMBRA PALACE GUIDED TOUR AND HAMMAM EXPERIENCE, GRANADA, SPAIN

Hammam in Granada, SpainThe city of Granada has one of the most dramatic locations in Spain, poised right below the magnificent “snowy range” Sierra Nevada. It is the perfect setting for one of Europe's most stunning monuments – Alhambra Palace, a romantic palace-fortress of the Nasrid Sultans, rulers of the last Spanish Muslim Kingdom. This red castle in Granada contains some of the world's finest examples of Moorish architecture. Relive the charm, magic and opulence of Alhambra’s glorious past by dipping in Arab-style public steam baths or ‘hammam’ where you and your partner can unwind in warm thermal baths complete with an exotic oil massage. 

7)    NEW YEARS EVE IN GRINZING – TOUR FROM VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Celebrating in a traditional tavernCelebrate the end of the year in one of the most famous wine growing villages in Austria. Just minutes from Vienna lies the wine hamlet of Grinzig with its traditional taverns serving local wine and hearty food, often accompanied by live Viennese music. The district of Grinzing is full of such beautifully preserved establishments that lend the whole district a magical feel. Numerous vineyards are located nearby and make a great place for a tranquil, romantic walk. Welcome the New Year in a traditional tavern, with "dinner à la Grinzing", sparkling wine and classical Viennese music.

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Timanfaya National Park

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The landscape of Timanfaya National Park is absolutely unreal.  In fact it is so alien that it could well be on another planet.  The Park occupies the southwestern portion of the island of Lanzarote (one of Spain’s Canary Islands).  It is a harsh and barren region formed by volcanic activity.  In that harsh alienness lies its magic and beauty.

Timanfaya National ParkTimanfaya National Park covers some 51 square kilometres (20 square miles) and the soil is entirely volcanic.  As late as 300 years ago the island was treated to some very large eruptions.  That activity continues till today as geysers of steam still spout occasionally from volcanic tubes, sometimes aided by park attendants pouring into them for the benefit of tourists and their cameras.

Timanfaya volcano is still an active one and is the highlight of some amazing volcanic features.  The blue-black lava fields (known as the malpais – meaning badlands), craters, lava tunnels, lava lakes and multi-coloured volcanic cones make for spectacular viewing.

This bleak and awesome landscape is however, thanks to Mother Nature, showing signs of life.  There are some rare plants growing among the volcanic rock.  There are over 200 lichen species and some very ancient fig trees growing, incredibly, among the volcanic cones.  So valuable and rare is the environment of Lanzarote that in 1993, UNESCO designated the entire island a Biosphere Reserve.  The heart of the reserve is Timanfaya National Park.  

camels in timanfayaTo protect and preserve the delicate ecology and rare flora and fauna, getting into Timanfaya National Park is very tightly regulated.  Private vehicles are not allowed into the park and one can tour it by coaches.  The care for the region extends to treks and walks too.  You can only take a trek in the company of authorised guides and even that is via one or two footpaths.  There are also camel safaris through the park.

One of the highlights of a visit to the park is having a meal at the El Diablo restaurant near the Timanfaya crater.  It has a natural oven where food is cooked on a grill by the heat arising out of a vent.  It can be quite a sight to watch chicken legs and potatoes being cooked by the underground heat.  The heat comes from superheated magna some 4 kilometres below the surface!

A trek or a coach ride through the amazing and awesome Timanfaya National Park will leave you with a lasting memory and experience that is like no other you have had or will have.

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Romantic Winter Getaways (Part 1)

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In this first of a two part series, we feature romantic experiences around the world, handpicked by us for you and your loved one to experience in the cold cold months. We’ve covered all geographies and topographies so you have a diverse set of experiences to choose from. We’ve hit the Arctic Lapland, glamour capital Miami, canals of Venice, sunny Mexico, Scottish Highlands and artistic Budapest. 

1) SEEING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS AND REINDEER SLEIGH SAFARI, FINLAND

Northern Lights in FinlandCreate memories of a lifetime as you and your partner witness nature’s finest lightshow in Finnish Lapland.  Aurora Borealis or the northern lights paints the night sky in greens, violets and blues in the darkest winter months. Be part of this mystical phenomenon by chasing the lights between December and April, when all you have for company is the frosted forest, a blanket of snow, stories of the Arctic from your guide and Finnish style hot berry juice by the campfire.  For more fun in the Arctic wilderness, be sure to visit the reindeer farm and dash through the snow on a reindeer sleigh safari

2) PRIVATE GONDOLA RIDE FOR TWO, VENICE, ITALY

Venice by eveningA private gondola ride for two in Venice is the perfect occasion to pop the question. Wait till early evening when the crowds are gone and the light is right. On this gondola ride you glide through your own private Venice far from the hubbub of modern tourism. Glide through hidden canals, cross landmark bridges amongst Venetian gothic architecture and reflect on once upon a time grandeur. Prebook your gondola ride without having to haggle for the price at the destination.


3) LOBSTER DINNER CRUISE CANCUN,  MEXICO

If your perfect romantic getaway involves being surrounded by clear turquoise blue waters and walking on white sandy beaches then head to Cancun - Mexico’s premiere coastal destination. Opt for a sunset cruise on board the Spanish Galleon Colombus where you and your partner can enjoy gorgeous views of the Caribbean sea while you dine on delicious seafood and unlimited fine wine as the relaxing music of saxophone fills the air.  

4) MIAMI BEACH WEDDING, FLORIDA, USA

Tropical beach weddingIf you both love the outdoors, why not exchange your wedding vows in an outdoor wedding ceremony with soft sand under your feet, gushing ocean waves and cool sea breeze for company? The warm glow of the setting sun will give you lush photo opportunities to capture your special day. 

 

5) LOCH NESS, GLENCOE AND THE HIGHLANDS DAY TOUR FROM EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND

Scotland castlePerfect getaway for couples who relish myths, folktales and legends – Scotland is abundant with such stories. Experience the rugged beauty of the Highlands as you walk through ancient ruins of magnificent palaces and fortresses strewn along the coast. Soak yourself in the misty beauty of Glencoe, voted as Scotland’s most romantic glen in a poll. Centuries of Scottish history shall come alive as you pass from one charming town to another, crossing many a lochs in the stunning Scottish landscapes.

6) THE CHAMPAGNE REGION: TASTINGS AT MOET & CHANDON AND HOUSE OF MUMM, CHAMPAGNE, FRANCE

Champagne in the vineyardWe know that Paris never gets old, however a short day trip from Paris to the  Champagne-Ardenne region encapsulates a quintessential French experience unlike no other. Start your day exploring the quaint streets of Reims, known throughout the world for its sparkling wine, Champagne and follow it up with a guided tour of Reims UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral. Journey through Rheims Mountain Regional Park in the Epernay region where you can get a tour of the Moët & Chandon wine cellars. Get a real sense of the history and how the champagne is produced, along with tasting sessions and plenty of opportunity to stock up on your favourite champagne! 

 

7) NEW YEAR’S EVE CELEBRATIONS IN BUDAPEST

What can be more romantic than welcoming the New Year on a boat on the Danube? Partake in the bonhomie created by live Hungarian gypsy music, and traditional folk dances. Watch the illuminated landmarks of the city from the comfort of your boat, while you tuck into some delicious Hungarian food. A boat trip on the river ensures a memorable New Year's Eve party in the Hungarian capital.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this feature…

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Whooping It Up At Rancho Texas In Lanzarote

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Lanzarote is one of the largest Canary Islands and closest to the Spanish mainland.  Without meaning to give a geography lesson, it is interesting to note that it was created by volcanic activity way back when.  The results are huge tracts of solidified lava fields, rugged, craggy mountains, fantastically shaped rock formations and the El Jable sand dune desert.

In fact the ancient name of the island was Titerro(y) gatra meaning “red mountains.”  All these physical features are very reminiscent of the rocky badlands and deserts of the American southwest.  So to have a theme park called Rancho Texas on an island in the Atlantic Ocean just off Europe doesn’t seem so incongruous.

What is not widely known is that folk from Lanzarote had immigrated to the US many, many years ago and settled in the ‘southwest’ of that nation giving it a Spanish flavour.  So that is another connection!

In addition to nature’s handiwork the Rancho Texas has created a setting, including Cowboys, Cowgirls and Indians redolent of the old west adding some modern touches.  It has plenty for small and older children and adults to do.  You can spend the whole day enjoying its pleasures and in the evening some energetic entertainment.

Rancho Texas has compact, beautiful and carefully maintained promenades, flower-filled gardens, terraces, mini waterfalls and outdoor spaces.  The animal and bird areas are kept meticulously clean and as natural as possible.

Rancho TexasThe park houses snakes, boa constrictors, pythons, sea lions along with rabbits, donkeys, goats, small pigs and hens.  There are free-flying eagles, vultures, falcons and a giant condor hovering around, sometimes just over your head.  The bird section has smart and cheeky parrots and cockatoos that perform and show off their skills with panache. They guarantee everyone a good hearty laugh.

The California sea lions are not far behind when it comes to displaying intelligence, talent, fun, frolic and entertainment.  They are noisy, playful and relish the attention and contact with people.  Visitors can swim and interact with them too.  Then there are the big guys!  Rancho Texas Park’s animal section features rare white tigers, pumas, buffaloes and Nile crocodiles.

There are pretty little ponies for children to ride on. The Rancho Texas has a water feature section called ‘El Corral del Agua.’ It has a splash pool with play area for children, this has buffaloes standing in the water, a play house, slides, a canoeing facility and water jets everywhere.  There is also a swimming pool that provides relief from the Lanzarote heat.

The park also has an Indian Village, which is a trifle kitschy but forgivable.  In keeping with the western theme Mister Dakota is a lasso and whip wielding cowboy who puts on a daily and regular display.

Food at the Park is basically burgers, pizzas, chips and salads.  Servings are large but very reasonably priced.

To keep the grownups involved and interested there is evening entertainment.  In case you may have missed the point of the park’s theme, it is billed as Country & Western Night.

The ambience involves Cowboys and Indians on horseback and saloon girls.  The entertainment is made up of comedy sketches, dance demonstrations, and Mister Dakota’s whip and lasso show.  The interactive parts involving the guests are a western style all-you-can-eat BBQ buffet, free flowing beer, sangrias and soft drinks.  There is a live band playing popular old and new country tunes.  You can get up and join in the line dancing.

Rancho Texas Park is genuinely one for the whole family where both the kids and parents can come away very happy.

The Park is open daily 9.30 am to 5.30 pm.

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