Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I promised you more on my adventures at the Hacienda Tres Lagos in Chile's Aysen region. I packed a lot into a weekend:
1. My guide took me fly fishing to a point located between the teal blue Lake Bertrand (teal blue) and sea blue colored Lake General Carrera. I was hoping to catch any of four types of trout: steelhead, brown, rainbow and spotted. I'm told the biggest fish a guest pulled in was 40 pounds! But I'm suffering from bad technique. My guide told me I need more upper body and wrist action in the final cast to shoot the line out further. Oh well. No trout, 40 pounds or otherwise. But the views were outstanding: towering peaks studded with glaciers. It was oh, so peaceful, except for the sound of the currents.
2. One day we drove to Lake Bertrand where I found out that the fly fishing is alright if you hop aboard a raft and paddle to the middle of Rio Baker. (This river is also great for rafting the class III rapids). The lake, however, has too many people vying for too few fish. Instead we continued on to the confluence of the Rio Baker and the Rio Neff. There was a beautiful viewpoint of the raging Baker cascading over boulders.
3. Later we trolled on Lake Bertrand hoping to catch something. It didn't matter, however, because the views of the Fuentes Glacier were phenomenal. Finally, another try at fly fishing Lago General Carrera, this time it's evening so I'm hoping for better luck. But, no. Not a bite. Yet the purplish-colored peaks and wisps of clouds over the glaciers made it all worth it.
4. The next day was my fab excursion to the Marble Caves where we hopped aboard a small motor boat to cruise parallel to the shore. Here, there were soaring sea cliffs of marble. And thanks to wind and sea erosions their features are cast into curious formations that look like tree trunks and arches and caves, some wide enough just for the boat to pass through. Looking into the water I found colorful marble formations below as well. The Cathedral and the Chapel are the most famous.
5. Another amazing excursion was to the Explorer Valley on the gravel road that's only three years old. Before it was built, the only way into this area was on horseback. Glacier and ice studded peaks are all about and water running down from the high country to the roadside, with the occasional cascading waterfall. This is a road that's hard to drive because you want to look everywhere but at the road. Finally, we arrived at a short interpretive trail: Sendero Interpretivo Glacier Exploradores. The plants in this lush terrain are all labeled, including a fern with a name that means ribs of the cow and the holy tree. We climbed steeply among boulders that are part of a glacial moraine. And there in front of us was the bluish-tinged Explorer Glacier.
6. My last trek was on the day we had to drive to the airport. I managed a short hike to a lovely viewpoint where you can peer at both Lago Negro and Lago Carrera. We also passed the point where you could do a canopy tour but, alas, time didn't allow it. Hopefully, next time I'll spend a week.
Monday, January 26, 2009
But, more than anything, what I soon noticed was the utter silence enveloping the hacienda. And I’m especially sensitive to this as a native New Yorker who falls asleep with the noises of a subway rumbling below the street. I walked to my luxe log bungalow and immediately wished I was spending a week here. Sliding glass doors opened to a porch with views of Lago Negro and far beyond are ice covered peaks. It was spacious, simple and comfortable with a soaring wood-beam ceiling, rough log walls, a wood burning stove and a bamboo rod for hanging clothes. It’s an interesting mix of the old and the new: sitting beside my bedside was an iPod docking station. And, though I was frustrated knowing I didn’t bring my iPod, no worries, I was told. Within moments they handed me one loaded with 175 songs, many were way better and more interesting than the ones I had at home.
The old and new theme is found also in the main house where I checked out an array of artifacts: the antique locks, old coffee grinder and mortar and pestle in the dining room and curious ceramic vessels in the study.
Aside from the placid atmosphere and yummy food (my first dinner was hearts of palm, grilled salmon and lemon meringue pie), I found the staff more than gracious and helpful. On the multitude of excursions they arrange and provide, they bring along a digital camera to take photos of the guests and then burn a CD for you; they also tote along binoculars – of course I forgot these as well. A bit chilly? Again, not to worry: they’ve got a wool poncho and a cowboy hat to lend you. Can’t figure out how to get the fire going in your wood burning stove? They are expert fire builders.
The next morning, I awoke to see horses grazing in front of my windows and the mountains were glowing with the rays of the rising sun. I could get used to this. Every meal had something regional to choose from: at dinner there was a steak topped with a fried egg; for breakfast it was homemade manjar, which is cooked milk with sugar, made into a paste and spread on bread. And then there’s the traditional asado in which a fresh lamb is cooked on a vertical spit in an open brick oven.
I found lakefront amenities galore, including a sauna, massage room and a Jacuzzi. Sure there was more peace and quiet than I was used to. But as a type A person, the Hacienda was my kind of place: they offered so many activities that you could easily spend more than a week here and never be bored -- horseback riding; a boat tour on Negro and Carrera lakes; fly fishing; whitewater rafting on Rio Baker; snorkeling Lake Negro; mountain biking; and several hikes up a mountain bearing fossils, through a valley where you could spy eagles, along lakefronts, to an old gold mine or a small hamlet. So many choices, so little time.
In a few days, I’ll post some of my activities while lodging at the Hacienda Tres Lagos.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Sardinia's Costa Smeralda on the east coast may get all the celebrity attention, but I found that bicycling the island's west coast with locally based Dolcevita Bike Tours is the way to experience the real Sardinia. For one week, I pedaled alongside Italians and native English speakers sharing mandatory and frequent espresso stops and picnicking on sheep's milk cheese, prosciutto and cantaloupe, or brochette bread with olive paste. We ventured through some of the most remote and wildest parts of Sardinia, sampling eucalyptus honey, wild boar sausage and wines made from indigenous grapes. Rolling past olive groves, vineyards and Genoese watchtowers perched on promontories, we rested on strikingly white sand beaches and parked our bikes near ancient Roman ruins. Instead of simply visiting one beachside resort after another, traveling with a local company brought us myriad intimate surprises. For example, while biking the Costa Verde with its rocky gorges and uncrowded beaches, we found giant foliage-draped sand dunes that are the highest in all of Europe.
Another day in the hamlet of San Salvatore, once a site of many a spaghetti western, the locals offered us wine that they produced for a much-celebrated religious feast where villagers race barefoot from town to town carrying the saint's statue. In the town of Arbus that's snuggled on a hillside, we met Paolo Pusceddu, the infamous knife maker who presides over the town's Knife Museum. (There we examined his 650-pound folding knife that's considered the world's heaviest.) And, given that Sardinia is dotted with thousands of nuraghi, we had plenty of opportunities to inspect these curious truncated cone-shaped stone structures dating to the Bronze Age.
I always prefer traveling with local groups rather than a U.S.-based company as a way to get a real perspective of the land and its people. And Dolcevita was everything I had hoped for and more. The guides were attentive, always available to answer questions on everything from history to cuisine. The other cyclists, particularly the Italians, were a delight. Not only were they amazing cyclists -- there were more than a few steep hills to climb on this journey that they navigated with aplomb; considering one had raced professionally and three others did regularly high-speed, heavy-duty cycling, I picked up plenty of biking tips -- but they were personable, funny and ever so stylish. In fact, I joked with them that they were the most fashionable cyclists I'd ever traveled with. As one might expect from the Italians, for our seven-day trek, many wore a different bike outfit every day. And, amazingly, everything matched, from the jersey to the tights to the gloves and socks. Overall, an unforgettable adventure with people that will remain my friends.
Friday, January 16, 2009
As soon as I set foot on the property, I knew that a one-night stay wouldn’t be enough. All week as I traveled through
This 18th century fisherman's farm is outfitted with an outdoor hot tub that sits under age-old apple trees, a white-on-white presidential suite that has hosted the president of
I plan on returning Nami Namaste for a weekend of cooking classes with time to check out the horseback riding, bicycling and canoeing in the area.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
On my recent trip to
Trendy restaurants, cafes, wine bars, galleries and boutique emporia can be found down many a cobbled lane. Last spring, an Asian fusion restaurant, Chedi, opened. Grilled Chilean sea bass with Chinese honey and stir-fried venison are a couple of the dishes served in this intimate space. The Gloria Wine Bar with its warren of cozy stone rooms and a fourth-floor attic that's home to Veini Pooning are two of
The city's relatively new vanguard institution is the modernist
On the accommodation front, these are my two picks: Three 14th century merchant homes serve as the home of Three Sisters, a boutique hotel that mixes old and new where no room is alike. An old wooden staircase spirals up to the rooms where some have claw foot tubs, four-poster beds and centuries-old wood beams. After dinner, a visit to their cellar wine bar makes a fine way to end the evening. Another accommodation, the Hotel Telegraaf is aptly named for the 19th century telegraph building where it's housed. Their spa offers Tibetan massage as well as wraps using a Balinese recipe.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
I just returned from a week in Cadaques, a town in
Since it’s a nature reserve with unique flora that carpets the rugged slopes, the only building beside the lighthouse is the Restaurant Cap de Creus, housed in a former administrative edifice. The restaurant, that features Catalan and Indian cuisine, takes reservations for the multi-course New Years Eve dinner which is amazingly popular. I didn’t make it – I was too busy dining with friends in Cadaques and then eating the traditional 12 grapes right before – but I heard they were packed. When we arrived at on the 1st we found about 15 people who had stayed all night – also very typical here. They were still dancing (the restaurant hosted a jazz big band on New Years Eve but the music transitioned to meringue as that band packed up) but now they were drinking café con leche rather than something stronger. It was cold outside with a bitter wind so my three friends and I waited in the restaurant until as more and more people gathered.
Outside, musicians with a variety of wind instruments set up as did those who would lead the national dance of Catalunya: the Sardana. At the band members started playing and several circles of dancers formed, each member’s hands were linked to the other and all had their arms raised high. Near the band, women set up long tables full of freshly-made and steaming thick hot cocoa and almond coffee cakes and biscuits. We warmed our hands with the cups of hot chocolate while staring out across the rough seas, hoping the thick cloud cover won’t obscure the event. I noticed that many people came prepared with blankets and sleeping bags and carried these partly down the rocky slopes where they perched, waiting for the big event. Others walk out to the edge of a rocky headland. Finally, a thin strip of pale yellow light appeared in the east. To the right, a tiny ball of orange. The crowd registered a collective “ahhh.” The dancing, cocoa drinking and almond cake munching continued until around 9 a. m. when most people wandered to their cars and we decided that, since we couldn’t feel our feet, it was time to get back into the car. Of all the things I’ve done to celebrate the New Year, this was probably the loveliest. A sure way to not only get in touch with
Monday, January 5, 2009
Combining a land and sea adventure is one of the best ways to explore so many of
Mljet, Sipan, Korcula,
On Mljet we rode past fig trees into a national park that's home to a unique feature: two interconnected salt water lakes. In the middle of one sits an islet where we found a 12th century Benedictine monastery.
Korcula, the supposed home of Marco Polo, has roads that wind past vineyards that grow the unique Posip grape, and later along an allee of lime trees in the town of
We were lucky to arrive in
Hvar gets plenty of tourist traffic but we avoided most of it by pedaling on roads where vendors sell lavender and cherry liquors from roadside stands. Later, we spent time in the old town of
Brac's most noteworthy feature is the