Ultratravel: Summer 2019
Going wild in Canada
Cuba's budding golf scene
Shopping in Lisbon
Greece's secret spots
A chat with Jean-Michel Cousteau
As we edge ever closer to another sweltering UAE summer, the mind invariably turns to plans of escape. For most UAE residents, no holidays are more welcome or eagerly anticipated than those that offer respite from the UAE’s extreme summer climes.
If you’ve yet to decide where this summer will take you, we’re offering up plenty of options. Greece is an old favourite – its turquoise waters, hospitable residents and lush landscapes never fail to delight – but we’ve put together a list of 10 destinations in the country that you may not have considered before.
There’s a shopping guide to Lisbon, which is the place to go if you have a penchant for one-off handcrafted items and bargainous prices. We scour the city’s four main shopping districts for the best handmade soaps, candles, linens, jewellery and traditional crafts.
If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-track experience, we explore the wilds of British Columbia, starting in the Bella Coola Valley and then on to Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort.
With its verdant mainland and myriad islands, Greece has much to offer the intrepid traveller. Anastasia Miari presents 10 lesser-known spots to explore this summer
Tried-and-tested Athens, Corfu and Santorini are great options for a break in Greece, but the country, composed of a lush mainland and 6,000 islands spanning from the Ionian Sea in the west to the Aegean in the east, has so much more to offer. Beyond the well-traversed destinations that we know and love, lie hidden beaches, tailor-made retreats and a flourishing gastronomy scene. Rising from the ashes of its economic crisis, Greece is as rich as ever – and here are 10 lesser-known experiences and destinations that prove it.
1. Boutique sailing
If you want to make the most of your Grecian adventure, consider chartering a yacht. Entre Cielos – the award-winning boutique hotel in Mendoza, Argentina – has chosen Greece as the spot to launch its first boutique yachting experience, crafting entirely personalised one- and two-week itineraries that’ll allow you to pick and choose exactly where you’d like to go.
Injecting its understated style into cabins that accommodate up to 12 guests, Entre Cielos transposes all the comforts of a five-star stay into its hotel-on-water, including VIP suites and top-class gourmet food. The boats set sail from Athens and guests can take part in snorkelling, windsurfing, canoeing, water skiing and wake boarding along the way. All aboard.
A two-hour ferry journey from Attica’s Rafina port, Andros is known as the island on which most of the country’s shipping magnates reside. A wealthy, cosmopolitan spot in the south Aegean, Andros outshines its neighbouring Cycladean islands of Tinos and Siros with its refined elegance and smart, neoclassical architecture.
Stay at Melisses to experience the best of Andros. These boutique apartments blend perfectly into a rugged outcrop that hugs the electric blue surf, and are tastefully decorated with repurposed marble and traditional wooden furniture. Breakfast is a bounteous affair served in the main kitchen, which overlooks an infinity pool extending out over the Aegean sea. Freshly baked cakes, home-made jams, local cheeses, and fresh milk, eggs and fruit are laid out beautifully along a long banqueting table – with barely an inch of space to spare for your own plate.
Then it’s on to a workshop: fabric dyeing with local dyes that you forage for yourself, a flower arranging class with wild flowers that you pick on a hike, travel photography lessons and cooking classes with locals, all led by Allegra Pomilio (who is at the helm of the Melisses) and her team of experts.
Boasting turquoise waters and a serene backdrop dotted with architecture left behind by the Venetians, this island offers an escape from its cosmopolitan neighbour, Corfu. Stay at Torri E Merli, a five-star boutique hotel nestled among the olive groves in Lakka, in the northern part of Paxos (this is the less frenetic side, as boatloads of tourists from Corfu are dropped off for day trips at Paxos’s south-eastern port, Gaios). Formerly a 17th-century manor house, the hotel blends seamlessly into the natural landscape, with its stone facade and olive-lined garden. Be sure to pay the “healing kiosk” a visit for a massage.
Tinos’s dramatic boulder-strewn landscape may be enough to draw you to the island, but it’s also the place to visit if you’re a foodie. The south Aegean was this year named the European Region of Gastronomy, and Tinos stands as a prime example of the exceptional produce and high food standards offered in the Cyclades.
Stay at Cross Roads Inn, hidden in the labyrinthine village of Tripotamos, for renovated Venetian apartments with high ceilings and views over the sea to the island of Delphi. Then hit the road and visit To Thalassaki, a seafood restaurant with sea views on the southwest coast of the island, for an upscale taste of the south Aegean. Make sure to try the marinated anchovies, as well as the smoked herring dip, and definitely ask for the mastika ice cream and loukoumi for dessert.
People live longer in Ikaria. The island has been labelled a “blue zone” – an area in which people live to ages that far surpass average life expectancy. This can no doubt be credited to the island’s laid-back way of life. When you head to the bakery in the morning, don’t expect to find the baker there to sell you your bread. Instead, locals select their loaves themselves and then leave their change on the counter.
In Greek mythology, Icarus, son of Daedalus, was said to have fallen into the sea just off the coast of Ikaria when he tried to fly too close to the sun. The moral of the story: do not get ahead of yourself, and Ikarians certainly seem to have adopted this ethos. The pace of the island is extremely slow, so visit if you are looking to relax.
Stay at Villa Artemis for the sounds of the Aegean in your room at night and resplendent views over the sea. The island is also blessed with year-round surf, so if you’re itching to catch some waves, this is the place in Greece to do it.
In the summer months, most travellers are in such a hurry to get to the islands that they skip Greece’s lush mainland entirely, in favour of the beach. But Pelion, a mountain in the south-east of Thessaly, offers a stunning combination of verdant natural landscapes and white pebble bays.
Drive up Mount Pelion to the mountain village of Makrinitsa, which feels alpine with its slate-topped structures, and experience an entirely new side of Greece – its ski resorts. To Stefani tis Makrinas offers luxury accommodation close to the slopes. In the winter, after your skiing session is done, you can be at Damouchari beach (the setting of the Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried-starring Mamma Mia!) within 20 minutes.
In recent years, the Cycladic island of Mykonos has become world-renown for its party scene. But while beach clubs like Scorpios may attract celebrity revellers, the most interesting thing about this island is actually its arts scene. The old town of Mykonos is dotted with exceptional galleries that are open throughout the summer. Dio Horia, one of Greece’s most successful contemporary galleries, stands at the heart of Chora. As well as displaying works by international talent, it boasts a rooftop bar with panoramic views over the whitewashed architecture and centuries-old windmills that line the coast. Stay at Kivotos Mykonos, an “art hotel” that hosts exhibitions every year, and is packed with sculptures and paintings that take art out of the gallery and into your room.
Just under two hours from the port of Piraeus in Athens, the island of Spetses lies just south of Porto Heli in the ice-blue waters of Greece’s Saronic Gulf. A favourite of European aristocracy both past and present, the island has preserved much of its former majesty, swapping cars for horses and carts, and retaining the old-world charm of its grand naval mansions.
It was here that Europe’s elite escaped for a Mediterranean getaway punctuated by society balls and extravagant dinners in the 1900s, and the island’s well-preserved neoclassical homes stand testament to its former glory. Well-heeled Greeks (many of them Athenian) still form the majority of Spetses’s visitors, often mooring their luxury yachts in the summer months and strolling through the pretty harbour’s cobbled walkways in silk kaftans and Jackie O shades.
Nonetheless, Spetses feels laid-back in spite of its illustrious history. This may have something to do with its many natural attractions. Aromatic pine trees line coastal roads that meander up hills, with views of emerald swimming spots down below. Hot-pink bougainvillaea trees dance across the cosmopolitan centre of Dapia, and the beaches of Ligoneri and Zogeria Bay are among the most peaceful in Greece. Stay at Five Star Villas’s selection of luxury properties, which are hidden among the island’s pines and offer breathtaking ocean views.
You may have heard of the Ionian islands of Corfu and Kefalonia, but Ithaca, the setting of Homer’s The Odyssey, is worth exploring for its rural feel and pristine beaches. It’s the second smallest Ionian island, making it the perfect getaway if you’re in search of some solitude. This also happens to make it an ideal spot for a yoga retreat.
Book into Itha108 – a self-dubbed “yoga retreat and creative resort” – for relaxing morning vinyasa flow sessions followed by stand-up paddle boarding, treks through the olive groves and secret swims in secluded coves.
Yoga teacher Helena Wilton will run a retreat here between June 22 and 29, working on mastering new poses in two daily classes. Dynamic yang will energise you for a day of island exploration, while yin yoga in the evening is just the ticket to help you get a good night’s sleep among Ithaca’s olive groves. Accommodation options at the retreat include a luxury yurt, a restored, cave-like stone studio or a traditional Ionian house – all are fitted with coco-mat mattresses and wood-panelled ceilings, and offer expansive views across the Ionian Sea towards Kefalonia.
It may be the most populous of the Greek islands, but Crete still has some secret spots to explore. Daios Cove, which will reopen this summer, will offer an ultra-luxurious experience on the country’s largest island. The resort is built into the rocky outcrop of Daios, with its own beach and views over the pretty bay. If you are looking for a Greek holiday that centres around soaking up the sun, Daios Cove is the place. There’s also yoga, Pilates, scuba diving, two tennis courts and a resident astrologer, Susan Miller.
Bali has year-round appeal, but the summer months are when the weather is driest and the days are sunniest. It’s also when the Bali Arts Festival kicks off. Starting on June 16, the month-long cultural celebration of music and art sees the streets of Denpasar transformed into a hive of activity.
If cooler climes are more your bag, head to Copenhagen where music festival Distortion wraps up in early June. By day, revel in free street parties, crowd-surfing sessions and street food aplenty, then get ready for nightfall, when it’s all about the music. Expect some of the biggest names in electronic on the decks.
With June marking the start of the dry season, it’s a great time to visit Peru. In Cusco, the ancient Inca capital, the Festival of the Sun takes place on June 24, drawing thousands of people to celebrate the winter solstice.
The United Kingdom
Over in the UK, attention turns to Wimbledon – a decidedly British spectacle. Commencing on July 1, the world’s oldest tennis championship is all about on-court action, strawberries and cream, and a spot of royal mingling and celebrity spotting.
The United States
Over on the other side of the pond, July 4 celebrations take place across the United States. Avoid the mainland and head for Hawaii’s Honolulu to party tropical-style amid a frenzy of fireworks, hula dancing and island vibes. The fireworks displays at Ala Moana Beach Park are consistently rated as some of the best in the country.
Feeling energetic? Go off the beaten track in Mauritius by signing up for the annual Ultra Trail Raidlight, taking place from July 28 to 29. This running event winds through fields, forests, mountains and beaches, covering anything from 10 kilometres to 100 kms. Recover at the first all-inclusive five-star resort in Mauritius, the Shandrani Beachcomber Resort and Spa.
If you can handle the crowds, Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe, running since 1947, is a must-do. For three weeks starting August 2, the Scottish capital will be an explosion of creative energy that coincides nicely with the military prowess of the marching bands, pipes, drums and acrobats on show at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Elsewhere in Europe, Portugal basks in its warmest months but savvy travellers are headed for Evora in the country’s south, where wind-dusted conditions render it perfect for a summer walking trip. Explore one of Portugal’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns, and stay at the Tivoli Evora Ecoresort for conscious-free luxury lodging.
Head south of the equator to Rwanda where the dry season is in full swing, meaning only one thing: epic gorilla-trekking experiences. Head west to the recently opened One&Only Nyungwe House in the heart of the African rainforest, where chimpanzee and colobus monkey experiences await.
Head to Munnar in Kerala for misty tea gardens and rolling plantations that glow implausibly green at this time of year. Spend your days trekking to ancient temples and visiting the nearby Attukad Waterfall.
A revolutionary approach
Mocked by Fidel Castro for being a rich man’s sport, golf is being embraced as part of Cuba’s renewed tourism ambitions. Kevin Pilley tours the island’s two courses
A starting time is hard to come by at Guantanamo Bay. I couldn’t even pay to get in and form a one-man gallery to watch the four-ball competition between Camp Echo and Camp Delta.
Lateral Hazard Golf Club is more exclusive than Muirfield, Pebble Beach, Old Head and Augusta National combined. You don’t walk on to the Gitmo golf course on the south-east coast of Cuba. You have to be deployed there. Or posted to it.
Although it has restaurants, a skate park, bowling alley, open-air cinema, Iggy’s Cafe, O’Kelly’s Bar, a nature trail, baseball batting cages, three swimming pools and a gym, the nine-hole par 30 US Naval Station Yatera Seca golf course, just north of Whitney Field’s West Gate, with its two trees, and “minimal elevations and undulations”, will never host the Ryder Cup or US Open. Only American joint services personnel, members of the Joint Task Force and Department of Defence civilians can play it. And pick up their scorecards from the camp’s Liberty Centre clubhouse.
For a long time, golf was banned in Cuba for being too elitist. It was considered bourgeois. A game for the idle rich. Not the people. Not the proles. It was loathed by the socialist revolutionaries as a symbol of social exclusion. Fidel Castro preferred baseball and had his own team, Los Barbudos, or the Bearded Ones. His only golf quote was: “I know absolutely nothing about this expensive sport.” This soon became obvious.
A month before the Bay of Pigs in 1961, photographer Alberto Korda famously captured Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara playing golf at Colinas de Villareal, which was subsequently dug up and turned into barracks. Castro wasn’t one for tailored collars or spikes, preferring jackboots, a beret or an olive green bring-military-to-the-masses corps hat and hospital laundry uniform passing as combat fatigues. Their caddies wore holstered pistols.
Castro’s stance never changed. He hated golf and what it stood for – capitalist decadence. He putted left-handed and, using what is a traditional interlocking, knuckle-up-the-barrel baseball grip, drove right-handed. He favoured a cigar to line up and “feel” putts. In one of the photographs, Guevara also employs a rather unorthodox claw grip.
Guevara liked his golf – he had caddied in Argentina. On a wall in the lobby of Cuba’s five-star all-inclusive Hotel Melia Las Americas in Varadero are photographs of the golfing greats – Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino – and Guevara. The world’s most famous guerrilla suffered from asthma as a child and his father got him to carry his clubs to get some fresh air.
Guevara beat Castro in their golf match, a propaganda exercise mocking Kennedy. Castro shot 157. Sulkily, he banished the game from Cuba. Ploughing up golf courses was part of his utopian dream of social progress. His son, Antonio, on the other hand, is now a keen golfer, and has even won a tournament on the island.
Cuba has one of the highest adult literacy rates in the world. It has more doctors per capita than anywhere else on the planet. But the largest island in the Caribbean has just two golf courses and, out of a population of 11 million, only 40 registered golfers. And two pros.
Nonetheless, a golf revolution is under way in a country where one green fee can be the equivalent of three months’ wages. The sport is spearheading the country’s renewed tourism drive, with several new golf resorts in the pipeline to join the two currently in existence.
The nine-hole Donald Ross-designed Havana Golf Club, or Rovers Athletic Club, was founded by the English in 1911. Moving to the Airport Road in 1953, it somehow survived the 1959 revolution. It is still an up-and-down diplomats’ course, with tatty red rags on bamboo poles and yardages painted on tree trunks.
There are 35 members and 20 regular players – all foreign, mostly embassy officials – and 18 holes cost Dh188. Pro Johan Vega gives lessons, but no one really wants them. The club has hosted professional tournaments and attracted big names like Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer, and it still holds an annual Commonwealth and Canada Cup.
The close link between Cuban golf and Canada is revealed on the greens at Varadero Golf Club, two hours from Havana. The golf markers have the Canadian flag on one side and the Cuban on the other. All the Taylor Made rental clubs and golf buggies come from Canada. Green fees are Dh367.
The course is attached to the all-inclusive Melia Las Americas Hotel, and its golf specialist Reynaldo Leon Diaz trained in British Columbia. “We have regular showcase tournaments, like the Melia Las Americas Cup in May, Varadero Golf Tournament in September and Grand Tournament in October. We set up the first golf academy in Cuba.
“The thing I like most is driving a golf buggy. In Cuba we don’t all drive around in flash 1950s Yank tanks. Most of us walk. Or get the bus,” Reynaldo says.
Pro Pedro Klein’s favourite hole at the Varadero is the par 3 eighth, with the beach and Gulf of Mexico down the left. It is called Paradise. Other good holes are the fourth, Iguana, the par 3 sixth, Nice Dream, the fifteenth, Devil’s Smile and the last, The Watchman, which is named after the stone Mayan God of Life statue, and is a 150-yard pull off the tee, with pink seashell markers.
Xanadu is the place to stay. Not Citizen Kane’s legendary 49,000-acre Xanadu, or Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California, which inspired it. Not Bill Gates’s Xanadu 2.0 home overlooking Lake Washington in Medina, but Irénée du Pont’s “stately pleasure dome” on the Gulf of Mexico in Varadero, Matanza, Cuba.
This property is currently undergoing an extensive makeover. The 1927, four-storey, eight-bedroom beachfront Xanadu Mansion was built by the French-American chemical magnate, who retired to Cuba, buying himself 180 hectares of the Hicacos Peninsula, including eight kilometres of beach, which cost over a million dollars to build. The gardens were planted with coconut, banana, avocado and papaya trees, and parrots and cockatoos were imported to make it “more tropically enchanting”.
Du Pont also installed the largest privately owned organ in all of Latin America. The $11,000 instrument is still in the basement, but is no longer operational. It used to work automatically and manually, with two shafts carrying the music to the balcony and lobby, calling guests to dinner. Precious dark hardwoods were brought from Santiago de Cuba for Xanadu’s ceilings, stair rails and columns, and floors and bathrooms were done up in Cuban, Italian and Spanish marble.
For Dh955 a night, half board, you can stay in the six exotically named second-floor rooms – Califa, Oasis, Irenee, Samarkanda, Marco Polo and Kubla Khan. The restaurant menu offers lobster du Pont-style (warm Caribbean lobster salad with soja) and Canadian/Uruguayan chateaubriand. Chef Lima’s signature desserts are chocolate fondant and apple pie, and Xanadu has its own extensive cigar menu. A Cohiba Behike 54 costs Dh152, but you’ll have to smoke it outside.
No handicap certificate is required on Varadero’s golf course, Cuba’s only 18-holer. The 1998 course – 6,865 yards off the “Oro” or gold, and backed with shoreline holes and seawater lagoons, was designed by Canadian Les Furber, protégé of Robert Trent Jones senior.
Cuba hopes to be a major golf destination within 30 years – and it all begins at Xanadu. In 1933, a hurricane swept away five holes outside the front door. More than $10,000 worth of soil was needed to reopen the course in 1936. At the time, the green fee was a buck – half went to the caddie and the rest to a local school. In 1963, on the day du Pont died at the age of 85, Xanadu’s Las Americas Restaurant was officially opened by Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova.
Only in Cuba.
A native's guide to Cadiz
Sara Baras, one of the world’s most successful flamenco dancers, offers advice on visiting the multifaceted Spanish city of her birth
What is the first thing everybody should do when they get to Cadiz?
You have to go directly to the beach, to the sea. It’s an important part of Cadiz – a blessing. Cadiz is an open-minded place with open-minded people, because cultures have come from everywhere, across the sea. Cadiz is one of the oldest cities in Europe and this is where the Spanish Constitution was proclaimed. Because of its position, ferries and ships come here from around the world. It’s multicultural and it’s open – and that’s thanks to the ocean.
What do you love most about the city?
Cadiz inspires. Every little thing in Cadiz is a good excuse to start dreaming.
What is your favourite place to eat?
Aponiente restaurant in Santa Maria port because the chef, Angel Leon, is a genius of the sea. They call him that because he changes the way you eat seafood. He uses things from the sea that you maybe aren’t used to eating, so it’s a totally new experience of seafood.
Where do you go shopping?
For me, the most interesting and special place is the food market. There are markets everywhere in Andalusia, but Cadiz market is very old. It’s a sightseeing experience because in the morning you have all the fish coming in really early, and you can buy, you can eat and you can taste. You have all the shops around the market, so you can stay there all morning or you can come just to have tapas at the end of the day.
When is the best time to visit Cadiz?
Anytime. Cadiz is famous for dance.
Where is the best place to catch a performance?
Los Carnavales de Cadiz takes place indoors and outdoors, but I’m more interested in the outdoor events because you can have fun, you can express your feelings, be happy or sad, and laugh and cry at the same time. Everybody can be an artist during carnival. This is the voice of Cadiz: the voice of the people during the carnival.
What is the biggest mistake a visitor to Cadiz
First, don’t forget to use some sun protection, and second, don’t try to plan everything. Just freestyle – because everything is freestyle in Cadiz. You have to just go with the flow. Don’t organise anything.
How much time do you need to spend in Cadiz to get a proper feel for the place?
You don’t have to be born in Cadiz to be a ‘Cadita’. It’s about connecting with the city. Cadiz is not just about the sea – it’s complete. It’s gastronomy, it’s food, it’s wine, it’s flamenco, it’s mountains, nature. So it depends on what you’re coming for. If you’re coming for all this, you will get what you’re searching for, and maybe more.
Into the wild
Rosemary Behan heads off the beaten path in Canada’s Bella Coola Valley and Great Bear Rainforest
As the crow flies, it is only 400 kilometres from Vancouver, British Columbia’s largest city, to Bella Coola. Yet, to drive this route involves a 14-hour, 1,000km winding route through the mountains. By air, it’s an hour on a small Pacific Coastal Airlines Beechcraft 1900D plane. From my window seat, I look down on the formidable Coast Mountains, rising to a height of 4,000 metres. On the approach to Bella Coola, we drift over a series of enormous glaciers, the ice fields savage-looking even in June.
The Bella Coola Valley, an 80km-long string of small settlements colonised in Victorian times, is much more hospitable, with a slow-moving river and green pastures lining the valley floor alongside the airstrip. Yet on either side are almost vertical Jurassic and Triassic rock walls, and the town – so small it’s still referred to as the “townsite” – only got a road out of the valley in the 1950s, when locals clubbed together and hired two bulldozers. Until then, access was via the sea, through the Great Bear Rainforest to the west, or by foot or horse on rough tracks to the south-east.
It’s this line between wilderness and domesticity that makes the area so appealing. The first white settlers, many of whom were Norwegian Christians who travelled via Minnesota on the promise of large plots of land that had to be cleared for agriculture, cleverly planned their dwellings and vegetable plots on the sheltered, sun-filled parts of the valley. Yet the isolation is still palpable – there’s no mobile phone signal and everywhere you go, you get the sense that, were the population to leave and the limited logging cease, nature would take back control very quickly.
Tamar, a guide from Tweedsmuir Park Lodge, picks me up from the tiny airport in a suitably tough-looking GMC Canyon and drives me to the smart, secluded nine-chalet lodge on 60 acres inside Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park.
Originally built as a hunting and fishing lodge by an Englishman in 1929, it has historic rights to an enviably bucolic setting. The main building features a dining room with high ceilings, a huge fireplace and Nuxalk Nation masks and embroidery; the separate cabin-like chalets are simply designed with pine interiors, comfortable beds and dreamy views across a meadow.
I walk down to the Atnarko River and back, keeping a lookout for bears, though most come later in the summer when the rivers fill with salmon. The blue skies and bright green of the tall grass, dotted with wildflowers, again contrasts with the uncompromising volcanic bluffs that tower overhead (behind, to the south, the jagged peaks are still snow-topped). It looks like an 18th-century oil painting.
I wander down an overgrown lane to a clearing and beat a hasty retreat when I hear something big rustling in the bushes. “That was probably a bear,” says Tamar later.
Dinner is a green apple salad with candied walnuts and Brie in a lime and honey dressing followed by a meaty piece of local spring salmon and home-made olive oil cake for dessert. The moonlit night is filled with the sounds of the forest as I return to my chalet.
After breakfast, Tamar takes me on a moderately difficult hike on the Burnt Bridge Loop Trail, which takes us through the forest of Douglas fir, cedar and spruce trees and incorporates a tiny part of explorer Alexander Mackenzie’s famous trek from the east coast of Canada all the way to the Pacific Ocean – making him the first European to cross North America by land, in 1793. Pure snowmelt fills the river below us and the bright green of the trees oozes purity.
After a lunch of fish tacos back at the lodge, Tamar takes me on a “river drift”, whereby she steers a low-sided boat as we drift slowly along. From late August until October, guests are virtually guaranteed to see grizzly bears at close quarters, as they fill the riversides to prey on huge salmon to fatten themselves up for winter. Frequently, bears congregate on the lawn and riverside of the lodge, meaning guests can see them from their chalets, a specially constructed “hide”, and the river. Because I’m too early in the season, the only bear I see is a brown one that lollops across the road as we drive down it. Still, on all our walks, Tamar insists we adopt a strategy of forewarning any bears in the area of our presence by making loud noises.
We pick some cloudberries, swim in the rivers and lakes, and hike on the Chilcotin Plateau above the valley, but a highlight of my trip is a two-hour “petroglyphs tour” with a First Nations guide called Clyde Young from Copper Sun Tours. He uses the art as a way of illuminating the 10,000-year history of the Nuxalk (pronounced “Nu-halk”) people, whose population was decimated by European diseases such as smallpox in the 1900s, and subsequent abuse and attack by colonisers.
His commentary ranges from natural medicines to a communal belief system and creation stories, and ceremonies such as potlatching. These gift-giving feasts were made illegal by the government and their local Indian agents because they didn’t understand them, Young says. “Wealth was shown by how much people could share or give away. It was also a way of getting rid of food which would otherwise spoil.”
The beauty of the site on Thorsen Creek, with a torrent of translucent aquamarine water cascading over smooth boulders through primordial forest, is hugely evocative. The swirling artistry of the petroglyphs beneath the moss-covered branches and among the fern-covered rocks is striking. Young also points out less obvious forms in the boulders, such as a frog, a “symbol of adaptation and change”, as relevant today as ever. “This animal has been placed here to remind us to keep moving forward in this life. You never see a frog that jumps backwards.”
Back at the lodge, a mouthwatering dinner of tomato and juniper soup, miso sablefish with coconut rice and lemon berry parfait with shortbread rounds off the day, before an early start the next morning. Rebecca, the manager, and I go on a horse ride using two of the lodge’s handsome and sturdy Icelandics; mine, named Solen, is attentive without being skittish.
“Icelandics are like the ATVs of horses,” says Rebecca. “They’re smart, sure-footed and eager but not dopey. They’re in their element in winter and grow a coat like a bear. They love being in the cold. We build shelters for them, but they only use them in summer.”
After lunch, Jamie, a trainee guide, takes me on a long circuit using new electric Giant mountain bikes worth $3,000 (Dh11,017) each. The bikes kick in as much or as little as you need them to, depending on the setting. We whizz down the valley, through the forest, over a bridge and along a rough track before she suggests we head back. Their speed is formidable and their help with hills invaluable.
My onward destination is the very different Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. Again, although it’s only 150km to the south-west, I have to fly to Port Hardy via Vancouver and be transferred to the watery depths of the Great Bear Rainforest by floatplane transfer. Again, like the previous flight, this is no bad thing as it’s an inexpensive way to see some of what you see from a helicopter, widely used for high-end tourism purposes at both lodges at considerable extra cost.
From the Wilderness Seaplanes’s co-pilot seat, I look down and watch as the relatively tame edge of Vancouver Island is replaced with a sea of bright green, increasingly mountainous islands and promontories fringed by rock and surf. In the afternoon light it’s a genuinely inspiring sight as, to land at Nimmo Bay Resort, we fly through, not over, the landscape. While the nine cabins here are built on a deck over the beach, the restaurant and outdoor deck area, complete with a fire pit and lounge chairs, is suspended on a pontoon over the glassy water.
My room, which is part-tiny house and part-cabin, has two bedrooms and a downstairs bathroom, a snug living space and kitchenette area, direct views over the bay and a stream running next to it. It feels like a luxury getaway home, but unfortunately, I’m only here for two nights.
Down at the rustic-chic restaurant – complete with a chandelier and bar area – the all-male table staff, dressed in black T-shirts and trousers and sporting beards and eccentric ties, look like they belong in Portland or Shoreditch. My dinner companions include a Lebanese-Kuwaiti family living in Dubai, an Italian couple who live on Lake Garda, a German family of four and a Texas stock broker on holiday with his son. As a spectacular dinner of kale granita, duck breast with plum, juniper and elderberry, seared halibut, strawberry and rhubarb cheesecake and a decadent cheese plate unfolds, the Texan amusingly tries to calculate how much profit the lodge is making per year, given that everything has to be flown in.
After a good night’s sleep, myself and three other guests have a full day of wildlife watching on a slick, black, James Bond-style rib that catapults you at lightning speed wherever you want to go. Rounding a corner, we spot a bear munching on mussels on the beach, after which we head into familiar whale watching territory near Vancouver Island.
Later that afternoon, I take a walk up the forested mountain behind the resort to a waterfall before relaxing in the outdoor hot tub with the Lebanese mother of two. On my final morning, I’m escorted on a private kayaking trip to a specially arranged private wood-burning sauna on a pontoon in a quiet, misty inlet. I can’t relax enough to enjoy it for hours, since after lunch, I’m off. All too soon, as the Kuwaitis and the Texans and the happy Italians and smiling Germans settle in for another night, the seaplane arrives and whisks me off back to the city.
Emirates flies direct from Dubai to Seattle from Dh5,645 return, including taxes. The flight takes 14 hours. In partnership with Quick Shuttle, the airline offers a direct coach transfer to Vancouver from Seattle International Airport. The trip takes around three hours. From Vancouver, Pacific Coastal Airlines offers connecting flights from Vancouver to Bella Coola and Port Hardy from $165 Canadian dollars (Dh450) each way, including taxes. From June 3, a new direct ferry service will be available between Bella Coola and Port Hardy, aboard the Northern Sea Wolf. The trip takes 10 hours.
A private five-night Bella Coola Explorer package at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge costs from $5,475, including accommodation, all meals, ground transportation and guided activities. A stay at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort costs from $2,155 per night, including accommodation, food, drinks, guided activities and taxes. The float plane transfer from Port Hardy to Nimmo Bay costs from $178.5 each way, including taxes.
In with the old
Offering everything from linens favoured by a first lady to delectably wrapped soaps, pretty porcelain and handcrafted, runway-worthy shoes, Lisbon’s multifaceted retail scene should be sampled sooner rather than later, says Adriaane Pielou
Poised on the brink of becoming flooded with tourists as more people discover what a brilliant bargain it is, Lisbon is a city to visit sooner rather than later.
Shabbily chic but still ridiculously beautiful, Lisbon was once the richest city in the world. At present, its grand 18th-century squares, and pistachio and pink former palaces and mansions are undergoing an extensive restoration. Scaffolding is everywhere; the sound of drilling ubiquitous.
Local residents in Portugal’s lovely little capital complain about the high taxes introduced in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. But for many foreign visitors, prices are a steal. That goes for the city’s excellent five-star hotels and top-class restaurants, as well as its cheerful neighbourhood eateries, where an espresso costs Dh4 and the famous pasteis de nata custard tarts about Dh5.
Not only does Lisbon have some of the loveliest city hotels in Europe at the lowest prices – the grand Four Seasons Ritz, for instance, is one of the least expensive of the brand’s properties anywhere in the world – but the bonus, too, of beautiful beaches at Cascais, just a 25-minute train ride along the coast.
On top of all that, the shopping is a delight. New fashion and homeware stores are proliferating as foreigner investors buy up old buildings to turn them into new shops, hotels and apartments. But Portugal’s traditional handmade goods make the best buys. The city’s steep streets are still dotted with old-fashioned shops selling old-fashioned goods at such old-fashioned prices you’ll wish you’d brought a bigger case.
No trip would be complete without a ride on one of the city’s clanking yellow wooden trams. However, nothing’s better for orientating yourself in Portugal’s sunny little capital – especially on a summer’s morning with a breeze blowing in from the Atlantic – than riding on the back of a vintage 1940s motorbike, or in its sidecar, with 57-year-old guide Joao de Lemos Soares, one of the founders of Sidecar Touring. He’ll drive you up and down Lisbon’s steep little streets, then along the waterfront to Belem to stop for coffee and cake.
Soares lost his life savings when three of Portugal’s banks collapsed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and now delivers a cogent political critique of the city’s recovery, as well as warnings against the Eastern European pickpockets who also like to squeeze on to the famous trams. “Unbelievably skilled!” he cautions.
When it comes to shopping, this is a city to explore on foot, its hilly, marble-cobbled streets best tackled in flat, comfortable, ridge-soled shoes. The city has four main shopping areas, each bearing testimony to the wealth Portugal accumulated after its 15th-century explorer Vasco da Gama discovered fast sea routes to India and South America. Thanks to him, Portugal so dominated trade in gold and silver, silks, spices and precious stones that it was able to take the devastating earthquake of 1755, which reduced most of Lisbon to rubble, almost in its stride. It was rebuilt on a wildly lavish scale.
Long, broad, tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade, the grandest boulevard, is home to most of the city’s expensive international boutiques – Gucci and the like. Below that lie the great squares and then the narrow streets of Baixa, laid out after 1755 on a grid system, and running down to the waterfront. Here you’ll find the city’s best old delis and can pause to inhale the rich fragrance of 19th-century purveyors of coffee, olive oil and Portuguese cheeses.
Above Baixa lie the elegant old streets of Chiado, where some of the city’s most beautiful stores sell from the same glass-fronted cabinets that they used to serve customers from in the 18th and 19th centuries. Above that, and reached by funicular or street elevator, is Principe Real. Here, dotted among crumbling old mansions restored to house stylish boutiques such as Amélie au Théâtre, and fashion, design and homeware concept stores such as Embaixada, traditional patisserie/restaurants such as Cister offer a toasted cheese sandwich for Dh10, and the odd old-fashioned purveyor of the handmade, such as Principe Real Linens, survives.
The fortune of this particular enterprise was ensured the day 70 years ago that the hyper-wealthy owner of L’Oréal, Liliane Bettencourt, visited, and subsequently recommended the store to friends such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Queen Elizabeth II. “The queen of the Netherlands was here last week,” the owner tells me.
Made in Portugal: what to buy where
Gloves, hats and shoes
In Chiado, the tiny Luvaria Ulisses, on Rua do Carmo since 1925, sells hand-stitched, cashmere-lined leather and suede gloves in myriad colours from Dh185. For classic men’s hats, caps and berets, the family-run Chapelarias Azevedo Rua, founded in 1886, is the place to go. Portugal’s shoe factories manufacture for the very top French and Italian fashion houses, but increasingly sell their own brands, including Moskkito and Guava (used by Versace in its recent shows). Opened in 1904, Sapataria do Carmo stocks classic men’s brogues.
Soaps and candles
Claus Porto, Portugal’s oldest soap and fragrance maker, was founded in 1887, and now also has a store in New York. It sells its exquisitely fragranced Dh37 soaps and hand creams in delectably printed wrapping. Benamôr 1925 has been famous in Portugal for its soaps and skin creams since it was established in the 1900s. The striking lime and purple packaging of its Alaintoine miracle hand cream and Jacaranda soaps make them almost too pretty to unwrap. At Caza del Vellas Loreto, which was founded in 1789, the candles scented with pomegranate, lavender or rosemary, are handmade by the eighth generation of the founding family.
Handmade linen, porcelain and jewellery
Finely woven hand-embroidered linens, a Portuguese tradition, have been found in royal trousseaus for centuries, and are still made into delicate baby clothes, napkins, aprons, tablecloths and bed linen. Teresa Alecrim and the glorious Paris em Lisboa, deeply redolent of the 19th century in its 1888 Art Nouveau store opposite Hermès and the 1905 Café a Brasileira, are lovely. Best, though, is the aforementioned Principe Real Linen, in Principe Real, where customisation rules. Any colour or design of embroidery can be ordered for tablecloths, bed linen and baby clothes. Linen pillowcases cost Dh41 to Dh185. For gilded, hand-painted Portuguese porcelain (as used in the White House), Vista Alegre has been famous since the 1820s. Costa Nova is its only rival. And for antique jewellery, the place to visit is Leitão & Irmão, appointed crown jewellers in 1875.
Burel Factory has revived Portugal’s tradition of felting wool to produce wonderfully warm and richly coloured blankets and throws, with intricately stitched cushion covers on offer from Dh78. By Stro sells finely woven linen scarves for Dh123. Tiles old and new are the speciality of Cortiço & Netos. And set up to showcase and sustain traditional Portuguese crafts and produce of all types, the A Vida Portuguesa stores have been a massive success since their launch in 2013.
Oils, cheeses and sardines
Manteigaria Silva, still operating in the Baixa premises it opened in 1890; Manuel Tavares; the gourmet floor in Lisbon’s sole department store, El Corte Ingles; Confeitaria Nacional; and Conserveira De Lisboa, a new enterprise with marvellously colourfully packaged tins of sardines, are the essential spots.
Where to stay
Countless hotels have opened in the last decade as old buildings have been renovated, but staying high up above the city is best, so you can enjoy the view. On the edge of Edward VII park and near the Calouste Gulbenkian museum, the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon not only displays Portuguese art, but also has peerless service and food in its Varanda restaurant. There’s an outdoor pool currently under construction, so if you like to sleep late, ask for a room unaffected by the daytime sound of drilling. Double rooms this summer from Dh2,550.
Travelling life: Jean-Michel Cousteau
The son of one of the world’s most famous ocean researchers, Jean-Michel Cousteau and his family have been responsible for some of the greatest ocean exploration in history. Despite having just turned 81 years old, the filmmaker and conservationist shows no signs of slowing down. As one of the first people to be officially certified to scuba dive – he holds certificate number 10 of the 27 million certificates that Padi has awarded – Jean-Michel is dedicated to travelling the world acting as a voice for the ocean. He was in Dubai last month
What sparked your love for the ocean?
As a child, we were just always in the water, all the time. I’ve been snorkelling and swimming since I was three or four years old and spent so much time on Calypso [his father Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s research vessel]. Diving just made sense; it was a way of living, and simply became something critical for me. It also opened up new adventures as it meant I could be with my dad when he was going somewhere else to discover new things.
You’ve travelled the globe. Do you have a favourite place?
The next one. The one I haven’t been to just yet.
Because I am an adventurer. I want to discover, I want to see things I’ve never seen before, and meet people I’ve never met and get to know cultures that I don’t know about.
You’ve also been diving all around the world. Where was the best spot you’ve been to?
There are so many, it’s hard to say. You have to understand that the ocean is 70 per cent of the planet, so what it is made up of varies greatly. There are places on Earth where the water is very, very cold – you dive in ice water and nature there is not the same as the rest of the planet. Then there are places like the Mediterranean Sea or certain parts of the west coast or east coast of the US, where average temperatures mean different nature and species again. And then there are the tropical places, like here in Dubai, where the temperature is way up and the species that live here are again very different.
In that case, where would you recommend for people who are new to diving?
I think for new divers, the best option is to dive in temperate or tropical waters. There are many places where you can do that and see excellent marine life. Florida is one, but it can sometimes be expensive there, so perhaps French Polynesia, Hawaii or Fiji.
Do you ever go back to the same place, or do you always try to travel somewhere new?
I do both, but mostly that’s because I meet people at many of the places that I’ve been to before and then they invite me to come back. I think I’m invited to come back here to Dubai again soon.
What’s a destination that’s special to you?
I spend a lot of time in Fiji because, in my opinion, it’s the capital of soft coral. I love the diversity and the people. I go over to the South Pacific, take people diving and we also have our educational programme there.
Where’s a place that you’ve been that really surprised you?
I’m not just saying this because I’m here, but the UAE, where I’ve been many times before, has surprised me. Seeing the explosion of the presence of humans and all the industries that come along with that has been shocking, but at the same time, it’s given me real hope. Hope because there are people here who care about the environment, who are asking questions and who are trying to do things in a better way. To achieve that, we need more education to help us stabilise the human population and stop increasing it by 100 million people every year. Then we can get to a point of managing the planet in a sustainable way. But already we’re heading in that direction and I see signs of that here. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here.
What’s the best thing about travelling?
I love to meet new people because it means learning something. From a cultural point of view, I’m looking at the human species like I’d look at species of fish or jellyfish. Think about it. If we were all the same colour, all the same religion, all the same language, it would be so ruddy boring. That’s what’s so exciting and it’s such a pleasure to travel to see new people, cultures, religions. Diversity is synonymous with stability, so thank you humans. If we weren’t so fascinating, I’d be off hiding somewhere trying to catch the last fish in the ocean.
Having travelled the world for decades, what changes have you noticed most?
The impact of technology is one. I was in India not too long ago and I was in a room where there was a man in front of a computer surrounded by perhaps 100 people, poor people, all asking questions. He was using the computer to find answers to their questions, but what amazed me was that the majority of the questions they were asking were not about India, but instead they were about the rest of the planet. It reinforced the fact that, more than ever before, we are all connected now.
Readers can show their support for Jean-Michel’s ocean conservation by signing up for free membership at the Ocean Future Society (www.oceanfutures.org).