Friday, January 31, 2014

Corliss Group Travel: Forbes Travel Guide Names Five-Star Properties

Forbes Travel Guide has added 36 hotels, restaurants and spas to its exclusive list of Five-Star properties.

Among them are 15 hotels, bringing the total number of Five-Star hotels to 97 worldwide, the most in its history.

A number of the hotels on the list are newly-opened or recently renovated, which Forbes Travel Guide President Michael Cascone says is proof of an uptick in investment in the luxury hotel industry.

"In other words, the capital is flowing back into this segment," Cascone says. "The outlook remains strong for this segment."

Luxury hotels suffered the most during the recession. Many projects came to a halt, as occupancy levels and average daily rates dropped.

Still, through November of last year, 75.4% of luxury hotel rooms were filled, while the average daily rate was $287.94, according to STR. In 2009, at the height of the economic downturn, 63.7% of luxury hotel rooms were occupied with an average daily rate of $243.98.

Forbes Travel Guide has been handing out stars since 1958. A team of inspectors anonymously evaluates properties against about 800 standards, the company says.

Cascone says those include such factors as décor and cleanliness. But most importantly, it's about consistently top-notch service, he says.

"It's first and foremost service," he says. "That consistency is what we look for, and that's what ultimately the best of the best end up doing."

The newly renovated Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco and The Pierre New York, A Taj Hotel earned Five Stars.

The recently constructed St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto and Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto also earned Five-Star ratings.

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts had a strong showing. It's the brand with the most Five-Star properties this year, with a total of 18 hotels in 11 destinations. The company has tripled its number of honored hotels in the past decade.

California has the most Five-Star hotels of any U.S. state with 17. That includes four additions this year: El Encanto in Santa Barbara, Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa near San Diego, Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills and Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco.

Montana got its first Five-Star hotel with The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg.

Outside of the U.S., Shanghai doubled the number of Five-Star hotels to four. That brings China's total number of Five-Star hotels to 19.

Restaurants and spas

There are now 48 Five-Star restaurants in Asia and the USA. New York alone has seven Five-Star restaurants.

There were 16 new Five-Star restaurants. Eleven of them were outside the U.S., including Caprice at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong and Iggy's at the Hilton Singapore Hotel.

In the U.S., New York's Del Posto and Chicago's Grace received Five Stars.

Five spas catapulted to the Five-Star list, including The Reméde Spa at The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in Miami and The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco.

There are now a total of 41 Five-Star spas.

Triple Crown and Four Stars

An even more exclusive list of hotels earned Five Stars in all three categories.

The "Triple Five-Star" properties include both Wynn Macau and Encore Macau, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, Mandarin Oriental hotels in Miami, Las Vegas and Hong Kong, and The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

The 2014 Forbes Travel Guide includes 1,000 hotels, restaurants, and spas in the USA, Canada, London, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Macau, and Singapore.

Forbes Travel Guide also recognizes 296 Four-Star hotels, 186 Four-Star restaurants and 149 Four-Star spas.

It also has a list of 82 Recommended hotels and 42 Recommended restaurants in those markets.

This year's complete list of new Five-Star hotels:

  • Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford, Calif.
  • El Encanto, Santa Barbara
  • Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, Los Angeles
  • Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco, San Francisco
  • Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, Rancho Santa Fe
  • The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Miami
  • The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, Mont.
  • The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, New York
  • Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, Vancouver
  • Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, Toronto
  • ump International Hotel & Tower Toronto, Toronto
  • Banyan Tree Macau, Cotai Strip, Macau
  • Four Seasons Hotel Macao, Cotai Strip, Macau
  • Seasons Hotel Pudong, Shanghai
  • Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai

The complete list of new Five-Star restaurants:

  • Aubergine the Restaurant at L'Auberge Carmel, Carmel, Calif.
  • La Mer, Halekulani, Honolulu
  • Grace, Chicago
  • Del Posto, New York
  • TÈ, The Inn at Leola Village, Leola, Pa.
  • Amber, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
  • Caprice, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong
  • ung King Heen, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong
  • Mandarin Grill, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
  • e, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
  • Aurora, Altira Macau
  • Golden Flower, Encore Macau
  • Jade Dragon, Crown Towers, Macau
  • Wing Lei, Wynn Macau, Macau
  • Iggy's, Hilton Singapore Hotel, Singapore

The complete list of Five-Star spas:

  •  The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco
  • The Spa at Pebble Beach, Pebble Beach Resorts, Pebble Beach, Calif.
  • Remède Spa Bal Harbour, The St. Regis Bal Harbour, Miami
  • Banyan Tree Spa Macau, Banyan Tree, Macau
  • The Spa at Crown, Crown Towers, Macau
  • The complete list of of 2014 Forbes Travel Guide Star Rating recipients can be found here.

Discover More:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Corliss Group Travel: Early Valentine’s: Hidden Romantic Getaways Perfect for Couples

Valentine's is coming up and there are more than enough ways for couples to experience something different but altogether romantic. Instead of going the traditional route, why not go for an intimate getaway in the offbeat track?

Planning early? Travelers Today has prepared a list of some of the world's lesser-known gems couples deserve to discover.

1. Plitvice, Croatia

For couples who love nature, Plitvice National Park in Croatia can make for a fantastic, educational and unforgettable tour. It's a UNESCO site and is home to Europe's most beautiful nature reserves, which consist of 16 emerald lakes each, connected by a waterfall.

Couples should look close enough and focus less on taking photos, as it's incomparable to personally see the colors of the lakes change from turquoise to navy. To add to the experience, it's best to stay in a rustic yet homey B&B.

2. Hiddensee Island, Germany

For both beach bums and nature enthusiast, Hiddensee Island is a dream come true. It's a place that's seemingly stuck in time with a picturesque view of the sea and a virgin beach perfect for a romantic escape.

Couples should try snuggling into a big beach basket made for two, which locals call Strandkorb and enjoy the view of the sunset.

3. Bettmeralp, Switzerland

For nothing short of a cabin romance, settling in Bettmeralp is the best choice a couple can make while in Switzerland. Guests board a cable car, which leads them to a car-free zone and into the quaint little village.

There's an incomparable view of Snowcap Mountains. Not to mention the best-tasting Swiss chocolate to add to the sweet vacation.

4. Canary Islands, Spain

While Barcelona and Madrid sound good for a vacation, a true romantic getaway this Valentine's Day in Spain is to be brought to the Canary Islands.

These lands have everything any couple wants in a perfect trip. Secluded beaches, cozy tapas bars, wine vineyards, volcanic hills and cliffs possessing the most breathtaking views.

A nifty tip is to rent a car in order to maximize the trip.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Corliss Group Travel: The Best Souvenirs from a Lifetime Travelling Europe

With each trip I take, I make it a point to bring home cultural souvenirs — gold nuggets of experiences I’ll remember all my life. Whether it's sitting and talking with a Muslim at the Great Mosque of Granada in Spain, waving a flag at an Irish hurling match, or getting naked with Germans at a spa in Baden-Baden, it's experiences like these that give each trip that extra sparkle.

Whenever I'm in Turkey, I make it a point to see a whirling dervish. This is not a performance, but rather, a religious ritual done by the Mevlevi, followers of a 13th-century Muslim mystic named Rumi. Dervishes whirl while praying in a meditative trance. A dervish once explained to me: “As I spin around, my hand above receives the love from our Creator, and my hand below showers it onto all of his creation. “

One night, while walking through Istanbul, I came upon a big patio filled with tourists, enjoying a single dervish whirling on an elevated platform. My immediate reaction was negative, as I have a bad attitude about dervishes doing their whirl for tourists, who have no idea what’s going on. I prefer seeing the real deal at a place like the Galata Dervish Monastery or the Foundation of Universal Lovers of Mevlana. But on that night, I buried my bad attitude and simply enjoyed the beauty of his performance there in the Istanbul night.

In Barcelona, it’s a joy to join in the sardana dances to celebrate Catalan culture. Locals of all ages seem to spontaneously appear in the cathedral square. Everyone is welcome. Participants form a circle, hold hands, then raise their arms-slow-motion, Zorba the Greek-style — as they hop and sway gracefully to the music of the band. The rest of Spain mocks this lazy circle dance, but for me, it is a stirring display of the Catalan region’s pride and patriotism.

Good things come to those who participate. All of my Protestant life I’ve watched hardscrabble pilgrims and frail nuns climb Rome’s Scala Santa Holy Stairs on their knees. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, had these stairs brought from the Holy Land because they’re thought to be the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to being condemned by Pontius Pilate. I had always observed the stair-climbing pilgrims as though they were in a parallel universe. But one day, on a whim, I decided to enter that universe. I picked up the little pilgrim’s primer explaining what holy thoughts to ponder on each step, knelt down, and — one by one — began climbing. Knees on stone, I experienced each step. In my pain, the art that engulfed the staircase snapped into action. And, while my knees would never agree, the experience was beautiful.

For 30 years, I've been going to see Malcolm Miller, resident guide and scholar at the great cathedral at Chartres, near Paris. Approaching the cathedral from a distance, my heart leaps at the sight of its spires rising above the fields, just like the hearts of approaching pilgrims must have done centuries ago. I go to Chartres on a kind of pilgrimage of my own — to be a student again, to be inspired. On most days, Malcolm sits down with curious travelers on pews in front of his stained-glass “window of the day” and, as if opening a book, tells the story that window was created to tell. There, in Europe’s most magnificently decorated Gothic cathedral, Malcolm gives voice to otherwise silent masterpieces of that age.

Of course, not every experience has to be spiritual. Some are just plain fun. Whenever I'm in the British countryside, I enjoy getting a taste of farm culture. And for me, nothing beats a good sheepdog show. I recently saw my favorite ever, at Leault Working Sheepdogs in the Scottish Highlands.

As I stepped onto the farm, a dozen eager border collies scampered to greet the group of us who’d arrived for the demonstration. Then came the shepherd, whom the dogs clearly loved and followed like a messiah. He proceeded to sit us down in a natural little amphitheater in the turf and explain all about his work. With shouts and whistles, each dog followed individual commands and showed an impressive mastery over the sheep. Then, with good, old-fashioned shears, we each got our chance to shear a sheep — who took it calmly, as if at a beauty salon.

I'm often asked about the difference between a tourist and a traveler. To me, a tourist visits all the big sights, sees spectacles on stage, and returns home unchanged, with a suitcase full of knickknacks. A traveler becomes a temporary local, engages with the culture, and comes home enriched, with a vivid collection of experiences and a broader perspective.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Corliss Group Travel: Best Places to Party Around the World

Vacation is the time to kick back, relax…and have one hell of a party. A new book rounds up the best places  to experience a new culture by getting down with the locals.

Researching a book entitled 101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Partying Around the World may seem like the most fun job ever. But editor David S. Miller stresses there’s more to it than one might think. He describes the compilation of wild, first-person adventure stories pulled from the community of travel writers that comprise the Matador Network as a “Trojan Horse:” the sensationally-dubbed cover opens to reveal real cultural experiences.

The book’s crazy title gave Miller pause when he was first approached about the project, but he soon realized there was a lot missing in the current travel literature. Most features flaunt the best beaches and sunsets, but they lack details on how visitors can have authentic cultural experiences. “People are just trying to sell the destination,” he says. But he wanted this book to provide readers with “culture and stories you wouldn’t find in every travel book.”

“The whole ethos behind the book is: it doesn’t really matter where you go…even in Antarctica or the middle of the Bolivian salt flats…if you’re the kind of person who isn’t much of risk-taker, this is a time to get out and mix it up,” says Miller.

The crazy stories told in the book, organized into booze—and, occasionally, drug—fueled chapters like “High Elevation” and “Under the Radar,” give readers tips on how to have fully immersive experiences while on vacation. Intertwined among tales of getting “f*cked up” are accounts of how to make real connections with local people who can serve as guides to the region, taking the traveler to the most genuine spots.

Miller’s love of travel was sparked while hiking the Appalachian Trail soon after he graduated from college. Later, he saved up and spent a few years in Latin America, surfing, camping and backpacking. “If you’re a surfer, you don’t just blast out into the break—you find the crew who’s there and [can] tell you what the great stuff is, and a lot of how you meet these people is [by going] to a bar or someplace like that,” he says.

But for the 41-year-old father, partying nowadays is “maybe having some wine when I’m whipping up a meal.” Getting “f*cked up” was never the end goal anyway, he says. “The point to me is not inebriation for inebriation’s sake; the point is traveling and getting into a wave of exuberance, and to not hold back.” The book may not inspire binge-fueled travel in Miller, but it’s added a whole slew of new spots to his travel list and surfaced some old memories. His favorite, from 2000, was a visit to Montañita, Ecuador when the inaccessible coastal spot was, as he describes, “a confluence of beautiful people, no police or authority presence, an ongoing rave,” with music and dancing and very limited connection to the outside world.

Miller hopes 101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die, which was churned out in a mere five months, won’t be just another commoditized guide. “It’s more [about] the sense of opening up yourself and not being heads down in your device, and connecting to people face-to-face,” he says. So, turn up your gaze and raise your glass to Miller’s top picks for where to have the greatest party adventures around the globe.

Tokyo, Japan

You don’t just bring your karaoke A-game to Tokyo, but your willingness to dwell in a futuristic world where the referents include horse sashimi, ninja-themed bars, and maid outfits.

Whistler, Canada

The most epic party experiences should be visceral; the terrain itself should play a big role in the story. With the right snow conditions, Whistler is all-time during the day, and then at night turns into a fucking hot mess of beautiful people with goggle tans and Volcom V-necks.

Raglan, New Zealand

Few places in the world allow the level of same-day access to snow and surf as found in the region of Waikato in the North Island. It’s just three hours on state highways from Whakapapa and Turoa, the largest ski area in New Zealand, to Raglan, with its world-class surf breaks. Raglan itself is just a small pastoral town with, as writer Evan Timpy says, “musicians, photographers, environmentalists, and free-thinking itinerants to get wasted with.”

Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Louisiana

People may just associate Mardi Gras with titty flashing for beads, but there are all kinds of cultural layers, such as the Mardi Gras Indians. Stretching back to at least the mid 1800s, the “Indians” of Mardi Gras pay tribute to Native Americans who helped African Slaves escape the bayou to freedom. If you can’t make if for Mardi Gras, just make it down to New Orleans whenever.

Berlin, Germany

Writer Josh Heller explains, “Everyone has their own version of where to go totally fucking bonkers in Berlin, and each one of these prescriptions is 100 percent right. No matter how early you arrive in town, you’ll hear the thumping bassline of a familiar track. You’ll soon realize that it’s 8:00 a.m. and they’re playing an extended remix of the theme song from Ferris Bueller. This is Berlin.”

Phuket, Thailand

The place where 10-million backpackers have lost their self-respect (hopefully just temporarily). Make the most of Phuket, but after your logic reaches a point where you’re like, “If I just rent a beach chair, someone will bring me a coconut to wash down my Vicodin,” it’s time to leave.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco is where everything goes off on a quietly atomic scale: the waves at Ocean Beach, tech startups, next-generation electronic music, and a party culture (ever seen Bay to Breakers?) born of a tolerance decades ahead of the rest of the country. It seems like you can only understand how much it’s like a treasure chest at the bottom of the sea if you really spend time there.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires (and most of Argentina in general) has a culture where socializing comes first. Parties are de la familia, meaning if there’s a big celebration, kids are part of it, and bedtimes are out the window. Thus, kids grow up with a partying stamina, and you’re liable to hurt yourself if you try to keep up. Ease into it.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

I love places that completely subvert people’s expectations. Halifax is actually an insane surf town; you can fly in and be surfing within two hours, and during certain times of year there are tidal bores to paddle and surf. The city has a population of only 400,000, but with more than 5 major universities, the population skews young and boisterous.

Barcelona, Spain

As writer Sarah Briggs puts it, “Throughout the year, multi-generational party-seekers travel to Barcelona or BCN as cool people abbreviate it, many remaining to embrace the Mediterranean and the opportunity to nap on a daily basis without tan lines or scorn.” ‘Nuff said.

New York City

To me partying in New York always feels like walking in and out of an endless series of doors, each leading to a completely separate, often incongruent universe, and each with limited bathrooms. Every time I’m there I feel simultaneously happy I don’t live there and envious of people who do.

Dublin, Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day

Writer Pietro Buzzanca wrote, “If there were a school to learn how to get f*cked up, the headmaster would be Irish. The average Irishman can drink up to two six-packs of Dutch Gold on a quiet Tuesday night while staying in watching a movie, just for the exercise.” Don’t try to keep up with anyone here.

Munich, Germany, Oktoberfest

Journalist Jessica Peter puts it this way: “Guys in little leather shorts and girls with healthy racks squeezed into corseted dresses. Start practicing now: Ein Maß bitte.”

Ibiza, Spain

As Larissa Coleman writes, “In the 1950s, hippies were drawn to Ibiza’s postcard beaches. The rich and famous followed suit. Now, every flip-flop clad backpacker can be spotted shuffling to house music in Space.” Forget you have (or ever had) a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Burning Man, Black Rock City, Nevada

This is already on most people’s radars, but it just has to be part of this list. As Josh Johnson writes, “This is the type of scene you could parachute into stark naked and singing the Star Spangled Banner, and upon landing you would be absorbed by the great 50,000-person organism—clothed, fed, and imbibed before your ’chute touched the desert ground.”

Monday, January 27, 2014

Corliss Group Travel: Tips for Travelling with Kids in Europe

Another canal-lined city, Amsterdam, has a special charm for kids. (Fotolia)

When parents tell me they're going to Europe and ask me where to take their kids, I'm sometimes tempted to answer, "To Grandma and Grandpa's on your way to the airport."

It's easy to make the case against taking the kids along. A European vacation with kids in tow is much more about playgrounds and petting zoos than about museums and churches. And traveling with kids can be expensive. Out of exhaustion and frustration, you may opt for pricey conveniences like taxis and any restaurant with a child-friendly menu. Two adults with kids can end up spending twice as much to experience about half the magic of Europe.

But traveling with kids, you'll live more like Europeans and less like tourists. Your children are like ambassadors, opening doors to new experiences and countless conversations. With kids, you'll be forced to discard your tourist armor and become a temporary European — as a parent.

Some of my best travel memories wouldn't have happened without my kids. Because my son was in the car, I once detoured to watch a "Petit League" baseball tournament in southern France — and debated ball and strike calls behind home plate with a pan-European bunch of parents. I'm no horseman, but because my daughter had her heart set on it, I've trotted along leafy bridle paths in the Cotswolds (next time I'll wear long pants).

Let the kid in you set the itinerary, and everyone will have a good time. Somehow even the big-ticket family attractions — the kind I normally avoid — have more appeal in Europe.

Europe's Disneyland, outside Paris, has all the familiar rides and characters. But Mickey Mouse speaks French, and you can buy wine with your lunch. My kids went ducky for it. With upward of 15 million visitors a year, Disneyland Paris has become the Continent's single leading tourist destination.

Also a hit, but on a more Danish scale, is Legoland, a fun sight for kids (lots of them blond) and their parents. Sixty million of the plastic bricks are arranged into extraordinarily detailed depictions of such wonders as Mount Rushmore, the Parthenon, and "Mad" King Ludwig's castle. Anyone who has ever picked up or stepped on a Lego will marvel at these meticulous representations.

Nostalgic parents and their children enjoy Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, which recently celebrated its 150th birthday. This 20-acre park is happily and simply Danish, without commercial glitz. You pay one admission price and find yourself lost in a genteel Hans Christian Andersen wonderland of rides, restaurants, games, marching bands, roulette wheels, and funny mirrors.

Certain European cities seem built for kids. London eliminates the language barrier, and has some of the best museums for children — the Natural History Museum (dinosaur bones), Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood (toys, doll houses, and games going back to the 1600s), and Science Museum (hands-on fun). Hyde Park, London's backyard, is the perfect place for kids to play, ride bikes, and run free. My kids enjoyed the pirate-themed playground.

Barcelona bubbles with inexpensive, quirky sights and an infectious human spirit. There's a fun, hill-capping amusement park, "magic" fountains that put on a free light-and-sound spectacle most summer nights, a chocolate museum (no explanation needed), and one of Europe's best urban beach scenes.

Venice doesn't need an amusement park — it is one big fantasy world. It's safe and like nothing else your kids have ever seen. Riding a vaporetto across the lagoon to the Lido, Venice's beach island, is nearly as fun as the beach itself.

Another canal-lined city, Amsterdam, has a special charm for kids. Its electric trams are an enjoyable ride, as are the boats that tour the canals. At NEMO, the kid-friendly science museum, it's forbidden not to touch. Older kids will want to make a pilgrimage to the house where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary.

Whichever city you are in, take advantage of the legacy of Europe's royal past: spacious parks and an abundance of castles. Give in to your inner toy soldier and line up with your kids for the changing of the guard at Prague's Castle or London's Buckingham Palace. Take a picnic break in Berlin's sprawling Tiergarten Park, once a royal hunting ground. Vienna's formerly royal Prater Park tempts young and old with its sprawling amusement park, huge red Ferris wheel, and miles of green space.

Because my parents imported pianos from Germany, our family travelled there when I was a kid, during my "wonder years" — when travel experiences fed and shaped my core values about the world and my place in it. If you can afford it, do the same for your kids. Getting your children comfortable in the wider world is great parenting.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Corliss Group Travel: Telegraph Travel Guides App

Telegraph Travel's new app promises to cut through the white noise to bring you only the very best of a destination. Written by resident experts, the free app offers innovative functionality and intuitive advice.

The free app features five city guides, with five more to be added in the coming weeks
Want to make the most of your holiday? Let our award-winning experts help you explore the world's leading destinations with this must-have app. Already selected by Apple as one of their “best new apps” it includes New York, Amsterdam, Rome and Paris among its initial destinations, with Barcelona, Edinburgh and Venice among those to follow.

Our resident experts have personally reviewed every attraction, restaurant, bar, beach and shop to bring you only the very best the destination has to offer. Built with offline access and solely reliant on GPS to track your movements, there is no risk of expensive roaming charges.

Once you have downloaded them – and some 15,000 of you have this week already done so – you can use the apps to navigate around the destination with the Telegraph as your guide. Short, insightful reviews written especially for the app, easy-to-use interactive maps and simple categorisation will help you ensure your next choice is the right choice.

We won’t just leave you at the door either - each recommendation comes with tips and insider knowledge about the local delicacies to order, how to get the best table, how to beat the queues and how to save money. As well as hand-picked recommendations, our experts have created customised itineraries to help you plan the perfect trip.

All the key information - such as phone numbers, prices, websites and booking advice - will also be at your fingertips. Every location is plotted on your iPhone’s map, so you can see where you are and quickly get where you need to go and all the information is constantly reviewed and updated.

Over the coming weeks we will be adding new destinations and new functionality, but we also want to hear from you. Where do you want this app to take you? For this is your passport to a better trip.

Launch destinations: Amsterdam, New York, Paris, Rome, St Kitts

Coming soon: Barcelona, Edinburgh, Malta, Venice, Rio de Janeiro

Expert selections

Our experts live and breathe these destinations – and it shows in their selections. These are the places they would take their friends. Simple categorisation allows you to search by distance, area, price and type. These recommendations will evolve: as chefs change, standards drop, better attractions open or prices fluctuate, so too will our selections.

Looking for a little Roman trattoria away from the tourist traps or a St Kitts beach far from the crowds? Want to know the best table to sit at or how to beat the queues at the gallery you’ve always wanted to visit or how to save money on getting around town? Then this is the app for you. Every recommendation comes not only with a full review and practicalities but precious nuggets of insider advice.

What’s nearby

It’s that left brain, right brain thing. Some like to plan and have an itinerary all mapped out before they leave home; for others spontaneity is a key ingredient of the holiday experience. For the latter the “nearby” functionality will be a godsend. Press the button and the app will tell you everything that we recommend that is nearest to you right there and then. You can refine your search by category and see every location on our interactive maps and plot the best way to get there.

Inspiring itineraries

Each of our experts has put together their suggestions for how to spend a perfect 24 hours in the destination. Ordered chronologically and plotted on a map, the itineraries will lead you to the best places – at the time when they are their best. Over the coming weeks we will be adding new itineraries with differing themes.

Offline access

One of the great criticisms of any application is the crippling expense of operating it in a foreign country. The beauty of this app is that not only is it free to download but, once you have it, it works offline, using GPS roaming, so you can see what you want, when you want, without spending any of your hard-earned pounds.

Free to download

Simply go to the App Store and search for “Travel Guides by the Telegraph” and then click to download. The app is designed for all iPhone 4 and 5 devices, but is also compatiable with iPod Touch and iPad. It requires iOS 7.0 or later.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Exciting new destinations for 2014

Johannesburg - Insight Vacations has released its 2014 Exotics Collection brochure featuring a range of new premium escorted journeys, a brand-new destination, stopovers in the Middle East and a wonderful range of signature hotels, dining and experiences.

Pieter Beyers, general manager for Insight Vacations, says: “All are thrilling, inspiring and impressive countries, some of the most culturally and historically rich destinations in the world.”
Bhutan, the Dragon Kingdom, is a new destination for Insight Vacations this year. This real-life Shangri-La will offer exceptional natural beauty, magnificent fortresses that command the hilltops and prayer flags that flutter in the breeze.

The citizens all wear national dress, and the country measures its wealth in “gross national happiness”. Equitable social development, cultural preservation, conservation and good governance are the cornerstones and this truly special destination will touch your soul.

With travel to India about to become easier with new visa regulations and Indian carriers looking to expand into Africa, Insight Vacations has increased the number of itineraries to this mystical country.
The 11-day Colours of Rajasthan itinerary will see guests enjoying a game safari with an expert naturalist in Ranthambhore National Park.

Guests will visit Delhi, Agra, Ranthambhore, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.

The 11-day Mystical South India takes in the unforgettable Kerala and Tamil Nadu provinces with visits to some of the oldest and most celebrated Hindu temples in India. Join an expert naturalist for a cruise through the waterways of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Guests will visit Kochi, Thekkady, Maduai, Trichy, Pondicherry and Chennai.

The Exotic Collection’s Signature Experiences include game safaris in search of the Royal Bengal Tiger, Bhutanese cooking classes, and a guided tour of Bhutan’s only commercial cheese factory. Guests stay at hand-selected Signature Hotels, with highlights like the Taj Lake Palace Hotel and Bangalore’s opulent Leela Palace.

New 2014 features include four-day stopovers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, hotel upgrades, transfers, flight inclusions and extensive Wi-Fi availability. - Saturday Star

Corliss Group Travel: Unusual Attractions: Readers' Tips, Recommendations and Travel Advice

"The power of the exaggeratedly happy facial features in the early posters promoting Chairman Mao"

Power of the poster

The taxi driver left us in a quiet residential area. There were no signs to indicate the existence of the Propaganda Poster Art Centre in Shanghai. We entered a block of flats, walked down long corridors, past front doors and a windowless flight of stairs to a plain wooden door with a tattered handwritten sign on it. The furtiveness of it made it feel illegal. The small museum was packed with more than 5,000 posters which, up to 1979, were a very powerful tool for propaganda.

The power of the exaggeratedly happy facial features in the early posters and the presence of red-and-black art style, promoting Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution in the later ones, were evocative. Photographs showed the posters and political slogans daubed over buildings. It was surreal to be in a secretive, windowless basement in China and actually see and imagine the ways that public opinion had been moulded in former times.

Judy Langworthy, from Derbyshire, wins a walking holiday with Mickledore

Queenstown, New Zealand – on every street corner it seems there is an opportunity to buy an adventure: rafting, bungee-jumping, zip wire, jetboat - the list seems endless in the macho atmosphere of the adrenalin capital of the world. But turn the corner into Beach Street and at No 45 you find a complete contrast. For this is the gallery of New Zealand’s leading landscape artist, Tim Wilson, who paints the spectacular world of the Southern Alps and Fiordland on a grand scale. Huge panels, diptychs, triptychs, all painted with up to 30 layers of paint, which produce a dramatic three-dimensional effect that mesmerises the senses. State-of-the-art lighting can be adjusted to completely alter the visual effect, bringing out features that were hardly noticed at first. If you’re lucky, Tim will be there, working on one of his creations, but not too busy to speak to admirers of his work. What a gem.

Let us go to Brighton beach and watch surf rolling and hear the seagulls squawking. Take a breath. Hold that breath. In fact, take another and keep it spare. You’ll wish you had. We’re going underground, 40 feet to be precise; and back in time, a hundred years and more. We’re going to admire some Victorian handiwork – in Brighton’s sewers. Brickwork, lots of it; much beloved of Victorians. You get to see, admire and coo at 400 yards of close curvature.

It’s quite clean down there. Not the best for claustrophobes, though surprisingly spacious between the tunnels.

Dark and dank; darker if the lights fail; which they do through half of the experience. You have to do it once.

Now, back to the beach, waves breaking, seagulls and breath.

Neil Kenning, Gloucs

Another time

In a small corner of far western France we discovered an ancient medieval tower known as the Donjon presiding over a tranquil stone village called Bazoges-en-Pareds. The honey-coloured stone tower and surrounding buildings look as if they belong in Spain or Italy. Black crows circle above the watchtower, their harsh cawing cries echoing around the village.

Inside, the Donjon has been restored and a climb to the top rewards you with stunning views of the Vendée countryside. A barn houses a small museum and a beautiful dovecote sits beside a peaceful medieval garden, planted with herbs, medicinal plants, and a pair of chickens who shared our picnic lunch.
In the summer there are fairs and torchlit evenings, but on the day we visited we were the only ones there and it seemed as if we had been transported back to another time.

Jill Ellis, Essex

Rodin’s John the Baptist at Glenkiln Sculpture Park

Walking the White Rose Way, a 100-mile walking trail from Leeds to Scarborough takes you through some surprisingly interesting areas. These include Louis le Prince’s workshops where he produced the world’s first moving images on film, ruined mills which prompted the building of the world’s largest single room (two acres), two battle sites centuries apart, which saw 28,000 men killed in a single day, and the site of the Vikings’ last defeat on English soil.

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as the delights of the North York Moors National Park are encountered before reaching Britain’s first seaside resort in Scarborough. Enough to keep any history buff entertained and educated!

Paul Brown, Yorkshire

All mine

There is a lovely small town in California called St Helena. It bills itself as Napa Valley’s high street and we were there for the winery tours. A famous author had preceded us, apparently, but not for the chardonnay tasting. Robert Louis Stevenson spent part of his honeymoon nearby in a disused bunkhouse at an abandoned mine called Silverado. The Silverado Museum in St Helena is dedicated to his life and works. We escaped the hot Californian sun to find ourselves surrounded by memorabilia of the man, his writings and his Edinburgh upbringing. Exhibits include a framed page or two of the manuscript from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, complete with amendments. This was pointed out to us by one of the enthusiastic volunteers who staff the collection. Entrance is free, but I’d have happily contributed some pieces of eight.

John Samson, Edinburgh

Industrial dinosaur

Crossing the Menai Straits to Anglesey affords views of wooded slopes and the picturesque Menai Suspension Bridge. Further along the A5025 towards Amlwch – rolling countryside, grazing cattle, sandy bays and the sea. As you approach Amlwch, there is a brooding presence to your left, a dark brown, grey and purple “mountain” with a ruined windmill, stone pump house and chimney. These are the remnants of the 18th century’s biggest copper mine in Europe: Parys Mountain, a conical “volcano” with rubble spewing down its sides towards the precipitation ponds below – full of copper-coloured mud – and the copper river “Afon Goch”. Pollution from copper and other minerals created acidic soils and drainage, prohibiting vegetation and contaminating water.

From the viewing platform on the mountaintop, look down into the huge crater from where 3.5 million tons of rock were dug. A myriad colours reflect the evening sun, contrasting with the gorse, heather and lichen now colonising the edges of this industrial dinosaur.

Penny Welsby, Gwynedd

Unexpected Liverpool

Liverpool? The Beatles, docks, the cathedral, football teams and Ferry across the Mersey is what you would expect and what most people come to see. The unexpected Liverpool takes you under and over ground. Beneath it you find a labyrinth of tunnels built by the tobacco entrepreneur Joseph Williamson. They are still being excavated and no one seems to know much about him or why he built the tunnels: to keep men employed, because he feared the end of the world, or perhaps both. Liverpool was also home of the world’s first elevated railway, although there is little sign of that now, apart from a train in the Liverpool museum, but it’s a surprise to find the start of something there you’d associate more with New York or Chicago.

Chris Allen, Bucks

Natural world

I stumbled across the Fairy Sanctuary, a tiny tranquil place, while exploring the small town of Swellendam, South Africa. An enchanted forest garden filled with mushroom rings and wishing wells, faeries, gnomes, elves, pixies and leprechauns. The place makes you feel childlike again. It has its own ecosystem and is filled with an abundance of wildlife not seen in many gardens any more.

A true sanctuary dedicated to the protection and preservation of all the positive energies of love, light and magic, reconnecting you with the natural world.

Karen Nice, Sussex

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Chama, New Mexico

Take a ride

Who would expect that in Chama, a one-horse town in New Mexico, would be the home of the amazing Cumbres & Toltec Scenic railroad, which has been transporting passengers between Chama and Antonito, Colorado, some 64 miles away, since late 19th century. Today, passengers ride along the scenic railway to Antonito and then return to Chama by coach. The surrounding area is well worth a visit too, forests, fields and rivers providing many hiking opportunities – with plenty of wildlife to keep a discreet eye on you. Consider staying at the Parlor b & b ( and expect delicious home-cooking and warm hospitality – but keep your bedroom windows closed to keep out the railroad soot.

Carol Gardner

No regrets

When you’re in India, make sure you visit Nagaland - you won’t regret it. The beautiful scenery, the simplicity of life and the hospitality of the various tribes were most welcoming. Visits to the homes of some locals and sharing stories with them over meals and rice beer.

Kathy Cakebread, Kent

Heavenly stop
At the base of Mount Hua Shan near the city of Huayin in Shaanxi province there is a set of giant stone steps called “The Heavenly Stairs”. They go all the way up the mountain and lead to some extremely dangerous paths that can be no more than a few planks attached to the side of the mountain in places. When you walk up it has the most incredible view and a heart-pounding drop. When you get to the top you expect peace and harmony and a green mountaintop, yet you find a beautiful temple as well. How they got the materials up there I’ll never know, but it is amazing.

Christopher Phillips, Oxfordshire


Suomenlinna is an inhabited sea fortress around 20 minutes away from Helsinki. Reachable by boat, it is like going to a whole new world; you really wouldn’t expect such a place to be so close to the busy capital. With only around 850 people on the islands, it is really a traveller’s heaven with days of walks viewing the war artillery and unique cafés and museums – you really couldn’t see everything in a day.

Underground tunnels and views that are dreamlike make it a destination you really cannot miss. A hidden gem.

Charlotte Geoghegan, West Midlands

Fogou hunting

Carn Euny is an ancient village in Cornwall that dates back to the Iron Age. The remains of stone houses and an intriguing underground passage called a fogou can be seen there. The purpose of the fogou is a mystery, although there are theories it was a burial chamber. Those who are fascinated by the fogou can also find one in nearby Chysauster and in the grounds of the Trelowarren Estate on the Lizard Peninsula. Happy fogou hunting.

Pauline Dring, Northants

Boys toys
We came across a most interesting, intriguing and wide-ranging collection of “big boys’ toys” at the Château des Savigny-Lès-Beaune in the village of the same name in France, south of Dijon. The collection consists of a large number of Abarth racing and rally cars, antique powered bicycles, small-scale models of old cars, motorcycles and hundreds of old aircraft from France, America and Britain. All were set in and around the château, which also makes its own wine.

Margaret Delves

Motor marvel
There is a strangely unknown Motor Museum in the small town of Newburn Hall, next to the River Tyne, about five miles east of Newcastle. It is located in an old territorial army drill hall built in 1924, which became derelict in 1977. It reopened as a Motor Museum in 1981.

This large, ramshackle building even contains a lounge bar and dining room. It contains a varied mix of cars of all ages, most seemingly in reasonable condition, and there are boxes and cabinets containing all sorts of car-related bits and bobs. The admission is only £2 and is worth visiting if you are in the area and the weather is not the best, and even people who live nearby do not know of it.

Allan Dixon, Northumberland

Messge memory
Within a mile of the bustling M25 and A3 stands a solitary figure. Once instrumental to our naval history, it now stands as a memorial to a forgotten form of communication. Horses from London used to take a day to relay messages to Portsmouth, but the Chatley Heath Semaphore Tower aided bringing this time down to less than eight minutes. The 60ft tower was only in operation for 25 years before Morse’s telegraph arrived; but it remains one of the best preserved towers of its kind with an operational mast. A victim of vandalism in the Eighties, this red-brick building has now been restored by the council to tell its tale of history.

Surrounded by the Surrey heathland and its native wildlife, this tower remains a hidden treasure that few of the thousands of motorists who drive by daily will ever know about.

James Glover, Surrey

Sculpture zone
My recommendation for a little known place of interest is the Glenkiln Sculpture Park at Shawhead just off the A75 east of Dumfries. Once there were six sculptures by Henry Moore, Rodin and Epstein, but following the theft of Moore’s Standing Figure last year, only five of these magnificent sculptures remain, placed around the Glenkiln reservoir.

The sculpture park was created by landowner William Keswick between 1951 and 1976. It’s well worth a visit, as is this often forgotten but beautiful and unspoilt corner of Scotland.

Jane Cole, Wiltshire

Raving caves

The guide books say that “Gruta de las Maravillas” in Aracena, an hour west of Seville, “ranks among Spain’s largest and most impressive caves”. You wouldn’t know it from the main ring-road where signs only point to Portugal. There are no flags or tourist plaques declaring this marvel.

Next to the tourist office, a small kiosk sells tickets for €8 plus €3 for an mp3 guide in English. Opposite, between two gaudy souvenir shops, a doorway like the entrance to a block of flats is the way in to an underground world more magnificent than anything in Britain. One thousand 200 hundred metres of limestone caverns the size of cathedrals, complete with underground lakes, were opened to the public in 1914, yet they are only feet below Aracena’s streets and 700-year-old castle.

Tim Nuttall