Water is one of the most intriguing and frightening aspects of the natural world. Sometimes serene, it invites you to enjoy, relax and admire. Other times, it can create chaos and swallow entire townships in a matter of moments. The introduction of a man-made lake into the Italian villages of Graun and Reschen in the 1950s left more than one hundred houses submerged with a 14th century church tower the only indicator a town ever existed. For many reasons, architecture can suddenly find itself in the deep blue, from Romania’s Tricule Fortressto to the imperial Jal Mahal or “water palace” in India. As the world moves constantly forward, it leaves behind beautiful shadows of a past life in tiny villages and bustling metropolises alike.
For those who slowly shuffle their way through Brisbane’s streets for the annual Zombie Walk, or for fans of the apocalyptic television hit The Walking Dead, your mecca awaits. The Zombie Mall experience answers that age-old question: what would it be like if zombies roamed free and our mission was to survive doomsday? In an appropriately themed abandoned shopping mall on the outskirts of London, you and your fellow survivors will hunt a zombie horde using airsoft weapons, all the while avoiding being eaten and/or infected by the undead. Three hours of non-stop, end of days, good old fashioned zombie hunting. Hurry though, the site is set to be demolished as all good zombie hangouts usually are.
Having earned a reputation as a Mecca for raucous, sunburned tourists, Phuket, Thailand, is often avoided by those who seek authentic cultural travel experiences. But the true treasures of this island lie beyond the crowded beaches filled with debaucherous holidaymakers. Look a little further and this jungle-woven stretch of paradise will reveal a people who live a life of simplicity that radiates with a quiet joy fuelled by kindness. (more…)
The magical tales of Enid Blyton have stirred the imaginations of young readers for generations. Our collective inner child will remember the story of the Magic Faraway Tree in the Enchanted Woods with fondness and whimsy. Like something from a Blyton novel, in the small French farming village of Allouville-Bellefosse, there stands a tree steeped with history, invoking a sense of awe. The so-called oldest tree in France holds a treasure that has been preserved for centuries: two small chapels, the Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace) and the Chambre de l’Ermite (Hermit’s Room). When a bolt of lightning struck the heart of the tree, fire spread and perfectly hollowed out the inside. Villagers claimed it was a miracle and built a place of pilgrimage within. A wooden staircase spirals around the twisted trunk of the Chêne Chapelle (oak tree chapel), inviting visitors to escape to another world hidden in the treetops.
Beneath the generous shade of a verdant canopy in the heart of Buenos Aires sits a feat of design that provides a sleek home-away-from-home for design-savvy visitors
to the enchanting South American city. An eco-friendly urban refuge of a mere 17 rooms, Home Hotel welcomes its discerning guests as if they had always lived within its cosy designer perches.
There’s music coming from somewhere – perhaps a window opening out onto the street or a doorway left slightly ajar, or maybe a nearby cafe. The beat that emanates from the unknown is an infectious Latin rhythm; one that captures your feet with its irresistible cadence. Basking in the early morning sunlight, I look around at the other pedestrians, mostly locals, wandering this particular street in the heart of Buenos Aires. But the magic of the moment seems lost on them – perhaps because it’s part of their everyday. To me, a wide-eyed visitor setting foot in the city for the first time, it’s a sheer delight.
Buenos Aires is a charming mix of the world’s most enchanting cities – a touch of New York mixed with a dash of Paris, a hint of New Orleans and a pinch of Barcelona, with glimpses of many others in between. As I round each corner on my wanderings through the city, flashes of travel nostalgia run through me, making me feel like I’ve known Buenos Aires forever.
A beautiful constant of the summer here is the dancing carpet that lines the streets, composed of the rustling shadows from the foliage above. The verdure that imbues the city is breathtaking, and forms a cosy canopy overhead with ample shade offering respite from the shining summer sun.
My temporary residence in Buenos Aires is Home Hotel, which sits unassumingly on Calle Honduras in the chic suburb of Palermo Viejo. Blink and you might miss it (in fact my cab driver did, twice), this boutique hotel framed picturesquely by greenery is a design delight in the heart of one of the city’s most fashionable neighbourhoods.
Named Best New Hotel by Wallpaper* in 2007, Home Hotel possesses a vibe so welcoming that you feel as though you’re staying exactly where the name implies.
That is, if your home were a cosy 17-room shrine of design adorned with vintage European wallpaper and the coolest retro Scandinavian furniture. The idea for the hotel came to its stylish benefactors Patricia O’Shea (who grew up in Palermo) and husband Tom Rixton (British DJ and record producer) when they were arranging their wedding in Buenos Aires in 2002. With all of their friends flying in from around the world, the fashionable pair realised that there was no hotel in the city that suitably catered to their discerning visitors’ tastes. So they created a hotel (in what used to be a furniture factory) that embodied exactly the kind of designer refuge that they and their friends would want to retreat to whilst on holiday. An intimate, welcoming space adorned with impeccable design juxtaposed with the charm of vintage adornments.
The hotel’s greatest virtue is its personal touch, from the soaps crafted lovingly by local artisans, to the hand-tended flower gardens. The first boutique hotel in Buenos Aires to incorporate a sustainable side into its being, Home shyly reveals its greener tendencies through the smaller touches. Electricity cards turn off the power when your room is empty, and there are motion sensors in the common areas, so that the lights will never be on when nobody’s home. Custom-made reusable pump dispensers for toiletries reduce unnecessary disposal of plastics (the average hotel room otherwise discards six small plastic bottles per guest). And then there’s the hotel’s enviably efficient recycling scheme, which gives a second lease on life to everything from kitchen fats and oils to TV remote batteries and plastic bottle caps.
The neighbourhood of Palermo Viejo is polished but pulsating with creativity. Artfully fusing the old-fashioned with the contemporary, the barrio is full of beautiful ageing French-style townhouses now home to design studios, quaint little boutiques and cafes. Known as a gastronomic centre of Buenos Aires, Palermo Viejo is home to endless restaurants of all tastes and budgets.
Returning from my early morning sojourn through the neighbourhood, I wander back into the hotel’s airy lobby. Smartly dressed guests mill about, reading books in the lounge, tapping into the WiFi on their iPhones or chatting animatedly with
the charismatic staff.
I return their welcoming smiles and stroll through the lobby to the back of the hotel, where the bar and restaurant are located. As I sit down to breakfast on the outdoor deck that looks out onto the lush garden, all feelings of being in a big city vanish. I am surrounded by greenery and flowers; the water from the pool laps lazily against the sides, nudged seductively by a gentle breeze.
The few guests seated nearby are of all kinds. Dapper young men seated poetically in a Byronic manner, penning furiously in journals or immersed in books. Young couples deep in conversation over tempting liquid fruit concoctions. Breakfast (made from local ingredients and inspired by the cooking of Patricia’s grandmother) is an artistic affair served with the same discerning hand of design that has brushed over the entire hotel. Freshly baked bread served with chocolate butter, fresh jam and perfectly scrambled eggs (served in a glass), sit alongside creme caramel and a shotglass of exotic melon juice, followed by a steaming pot of herbal tea or a fresh espresso.
After breakfast, I’m enticed to try out the hotel’s spa, located in the base of the hotel. As the lift bounces delicately to stop at the basement level, the doors slide smoothly open to a divinely scented refuge accented by the soothing tones of exotic world music. I’m led into the massage room, where the intimate light of flickering candles dances around the walls. The menu of massages on offer is vast, but my travel-weary muscles beg me to select the most vigorous. I settle down onto the sunken massage table on the floor in the middle of the room and close my eyes in relief. If only home were truly like this.
Text by Mikki Brammer
There are few things that could be considered more rejuvenating than a week spent at a spa retreat set amongst the glacial glory and pristine landscape of Patagonia. Indigo Patagonia Hotel & Spa is a glorious luxury haven perched at the bottom of the world in Puerto Natales, Chile. After a day spent galloping through the countryside, kayaking the fjords or hiking to glaciers, you can relax in an outdoor jacuzzi surrounded by glowing chimney fires and embraced by panoramic natural vistas. Or, even better, simply snuggle up on one of the hotel’s cosy, all-engulfing sofas, draped in a pure handwoven wool blanket, and just revel in the pure tranquility.
I feel like I’m at the edge of the Earth. It’s 10:00 pm and the sun is still shining, glistening against the rippling surface of the crystal blue fjord. A stately row of snow-capped mountains watches eruditely from the horizon, and a flock of birds swoops gracefully across the sky. The crackle of the woodfire beside me nudges me from my reverie and I take a sip of the robust Chilean syrah from the glass I have been balancing on my knee.
I am curled up on the all-engulfing couch in the lounge of Indigo Patagonia Hotel nestled on the shores of Puerto Natales, a little fishing port near the southern tip of Chilean Patagonia. A hemisphere away from everything and everyone I know, the remoteness of my location fills me with a certain freedom of spirit.
Indigo Patagonia is like an uber-contemporary Nordic lodge, a beguiling mix of handcrafted tradition and modern design. Designed by lauded Chilean architect Sebastián Irarrázaval, Indigo has become a haven for travellers seeking an intimate bespoke experience. The hotel’s 29 rooms are positioned around a huge open central space, composed of an MC Escher-like system of bridges, staircases and ramps aimed to encourage open human interaction. Soaring ceilings, exposed rafters, and vertical screens constructed from eucalyptus complement the cosy colour palette of warm reds, ochres and chocolates. The hotel’s glossy interiors are juxtaposed with unexpectedly rugged details, like firewood logs stored in the open and old euphoniums and typewriters tucked into corners.
The rooms here are so cosy it’s hard to make yourself leave, but what lies beyond your door is what is most enticing. The hotel itself is like one great lounge, with little nooks throughout encouraging you to snuggle up in a swing-chair hammock with a book, or spread out with a loved-one on one of the generous daybeds on the rooftop spa, or catch up on the latest Chilean and international design magazines while sprawled on a voluptuous couch. With such a small number of guests, the hotel quickly becomes kind of a community – a design haven of sorts – as the retreat’s occupants find a sense of togetherness in their exquisite refuge.
When I awaken early the next morning, the sun is again shining and I wonder if it ever actually turned in for the night. I make a mental note to endeavour to catch a glimpse of the elusive Patagonian night sky tonight, though I wonder how much of the midnight oil I’ll be required to burn. Following a hearty breakfast in the hotel’s sun-drenched restaurant, I bound down to the lobby where a man named Gustavo awaits, and we pile into his jeep waiting outside the hotel.
Soon we are bouncing along a dirt road through the Patagonian countryside, past verdant meadows dotted with a rainbow of wildflowers, flocks of flamingos sipping delicately at lustrous lakes, and cows munching languidly on their cud. We arrive at an estancia, a local ranch, nestled on the banks of the Fjord Eberhard, where two local men are tending to a cluster of magnificent horses. Resplendent in leather jackets, pantaloons, riding boots, berets, and bandanas fastened around their necks, the elegant gentlemen wear the traditional attire of the Chilean huaso (horseman) with pride. Nearby, a young chocolate-hued foal, a mere week old, trots clumsily around its mother, whinnying with excitement.
The younger of the two Chilenos, Victor, introduces himself as my personal guide for the day-long cabalgata through the surrounding countryside. My trusty steed for the day is Canaria, a placid caramel-coloured mare with a penchant for wildflowers. With a start we canter off down the hill and are soon making our way across fields surrounded by views so stunning, it takes my breath away. Our morning is spent moseying through meadows, trampling through babbling brooks and galloping across sweeping plains with the glacial wind pinching our cheeks. Lunch is a welcome respite from the morning’s exercise, and we feast on a hearty meal of roasted hare marinated in red wine, with creamy quinoa risotto and freshly baked bread. As we wander back through the fields to collect our steeds, a wily young fox trots across our path with a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his bushy tail.
On our journey back to the estancia, the ominous shadow of a condor looms on the ground in front of us. I wonder aloud if he might be hunting, but Victor reminds me of the reason why the bird is revered with such honour – it never kills its prey, but merely feeds on animals that are already dead, playing its part in the circle of life. A few minutes later, a tiny bluebird joins us on our journey, cheekily looping in and out of our path as we navigate our way through the brush, only bidding us goodbye as we near the gate of the ranch.
Later that evening, as I arrive back at the hotel, exhaustion embraces me. But it feels like sacrilege to waste too many precious moments in this paradise at the edge of the Earth. Following dinner, I wander up the maze of ramps to the spa that sits atop the hotel. The pleasant scent of incense tickles my nose as ambient music caresses my ears. The rooftop spa is a sight to behold. A crackling log-fire dances in the centre, surrounded by inviting lounges and expansive floor-to-ceiling windows that offer panoramic views of the stunning Fjord Última Esperanza. I brace myself to brave the Patagonian chill as I ease my way into the outdoor jacuzzi. Steam writhes off the surface of the water and the cool, glacial air cleanses my lungs. I settle back and begin my wait for the company I’m seeking. Then, just as the evening chill begins to deepen and I think I’m being stood up, the elusive stars begin to twinkle in the night sky.
Text by Mikki Brammer
A sacred place can be physical, metaphorical, intimate or public domain. It can be somewhere to escape to when you are seeking clarity, or an open space to join with like-minded kin in celebration. Since the mid 19th Century, Lithuania’s Hill of Crosses has been a sacred site shrouded with prayer, hope, joy and devastation all at the same time. Some 100,000 crosses adorn the site, despite the hill being leveled and demolished three times during the Second World War. From tiny rosary beads to ornately carved crucifixes, symbols of spiritual power are constantly added to the hill by pilgrims from all over the world. On windy days, beautiful music can be heard as the breeze travels through the dense forest of crosses.
Creeping behind a guide along a 50 cm-wide mud track lined with thick bushes, in search of the fatally venomous Komodo Dragon, I am quietly nervous. The guide’s weapon of choice, strangely, is a long stick with a fork at the top, similar to the tongue of our predator. Peering through the bushes on either side, I am desperately hoping to see, but not be attacked, and am stunned as a dragon approaches us on the track. Lying down, these creatures look like very large lizards, but thumping towards us, lifting each arm and leg with brutal force, it’s more reminiscent of a dinosaur. As we crouch in the bushes to let him pass, the guide displays the power of his magical stick and eases the massive reptile out of harm’s way. (more…)
While the cuisines of Thailand and Vietnam have garnered much praise, Cambodia, due to years of political and social unrest, has flown largely under the radar. With the Angkor Wat ruins, stunning islands and a wealth of palaces to explore, this is fast becoming the region’s hottest destination. So, what can you expect on your plate when visiting this small country in Indochina? Thankfully, something very special. (more…)
Resting beside a lagoon in an old coconut plantation on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, an ageing banyan tree sits stoically with a temple at its base. In the grounds surrounding this ‘Temple Tree’ are eight renovated colonial villas of Chinese, Eurasian, Malaysian and Indian descent, given new lives as boutique dwellings in a pristine tropical setting. But the beautifully ornate exteriors, awash with once-bright colonial colours subdued with age, are just the beginning of the magic of this unique resort. (more…)
With verdant coffee plantations, laid-back haciendas and a host of adventurous activities on offer, Colombia’s Zona Cafetera is proving there’s more to this country than the trigger-happy stereotype. While the Caribbean coast is luring tourists looking for the next big thing, it’s the lush coffee region, right in the heart of the country, that remains its workhorse. Here, every available slope is covered in the country’s signature crop – high-quality coffee beans – and old-time coffee growers continue to work the land much as they always have. This is old-style Colombia, a place where the coffee is free flowing and the future is looking bright. (more…)
If you think Rio is all beaches, parties and well-oiled bodies, then think again. Away from the crowds, up in the hills, sits the atmospheric suburb of Santa Teresa. This is bohemian territory, where the artists outweigh the beach bums, and the views across the city take your breath away. With its mix of artistic charm and crumbling mansions, ‘Santa’ is luring travellers away from the shoreline and into the hills. And once there, very few of them ever want to come down. (more…)
On August 15, 2007, Pisco, Peru was at the epicentre of an 8.0-magnitude earthquake that destroyed up to 80% of the city, killing more than 600 people and leaving thousands homeless. A year later, funding intended for the rescue and rebuilding effort had reportedly been squandered by local officials, leaving the citizens of Pisco with virtually nowhere to turn, and many ended up living in tents in shanty towns on the city’s outskirts. After working with one of the American-based relief organisations, Burners Without Borders, local twenty-something Harold Zevallos decided that something needed to be done on a grassroots level. So he started Pisco Sin Fronteras, a volunteer organisation that, for the last three years, has attracted people from across the globe to lend their hand to rebuilding the community and the hope of its people. (more…)
Looks like a painting doesn’t it? Or, an optical illusion of sorts. This is Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat. Located between the Potosi and Oruro departments of southwest Bolivia, the area is 10,582 square kilometers in size and elevated nearly 400 meters above sea level. There is no denying that such conditions make for the most beyond belief and picturesque of imagery. Once an area covered in prehistoric lakes, the area is now covered by meters of salt crust; it is estimated that up to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves are contained here. This salt dessert, which is a major breeding ground for pink flamingos, is subject to huge tourist numbers, with travellers and photographers alike hoping to take advantage of the clear skies and vast, uninterrupted landscape.
There is no denying that the French have a great sense of pride and keep their history and the people who inhabit it, close to their hearts – despite the nation often being subjected to much criticism and cruel stereotypes. Although perhaps best known as the home to various iconic monuments such as Notre Dame and Arc de Triomphe, the nation is also home to the world’s most visited cemetery. Père Lachaise Cemetery in the 20th Arrondissement in Paris is reputed to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Opened in 1804, the Christian people of Paris refused to lay in their graves in a place that had not been blessed by the Church, and as a result the cemetery experienced a slow and highly criticised start. Through a clever marketing strategy, the administrators of Lachaise organised for the transfer of the remains of Pierre Abelard, a well-known French philosopher, to the cemetery and made his grave’s canopy from fragments of historically significant French abbey, Nogent-sur-Seine. Fulfilling the desired effect, the cemetery’s popularity grew and the French people began stipulating to be buried there. Whether visiting to remember loved ones, or visiting to celebrate the lives of those who have enchanted French life over the past 200 years (Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf are among its most famous inhabitants) life after death at the cemetery comes at a great expense and is subject to strict rules.
According to Vietnamese legend, the gods sent a family of dragons to defend their country. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels of jade that turned into the islands and islets dotting the north-eastern coast of Vietnam, now called Ha Long Bay. Magically, between these islands and islets, numerous rocky mountains suddenly appeared creating a formidable fortress against invading ships. After the Vietnamese won the battle, the dragons decided to live peacefully in the bay and remain its protector to this day.
Excellent wine and award-winning food are descriptors of most good wine regions around the world, and Stellenbosch, in South Africa’s Western Cape just 50 km from Cape Town, is no exception. With a long and rich history that rivals most European wine regions, Stellenbosch has deep roots in Southern Hemisphere wine-making. But there is something else that the region offers that makes it truly memorable, and has you planning your return trip the moment you leave. Set amongst towering mountains and linking multiple fertile valleys, Stellenbosch’s spectacular scenery will take your breath away.
The French can be renowned for their baguettes, cheese and Pepe Le Pew whilst the Americans for their bagels, cosmopolitans and Mickey Mouse. The two are ultimately distinct culturally, but every Ying has its Yang. Blogger and graphic designer, Vahram Muratyan depicts a friendly match between two of the most beautiful cities in the world with a series of beautifully designed art posters, New York et Paris. Playfully putting the two metropolitan cities against one another visually- fashion, film, food, transportation, drink, art, sports and cultural icons are placed side by side in a minimalist style of illustration accented with retro-style typography. The creative artist will release his first book ”Paris vs New York- A tally of two cities” in January 2013. Save the date and pre-order here!
Located on the outskirts of the town of L’Arbresle, just 29 km north-west of Lyon, the convent of Saint-Marie de la Tourette is not only a religious centre for Dominican monks, but today is also a place of pilgrimage for many architects from around the world. Designed by the famous French modernist architect Le Corbusier in the late 1950s, La Tourette is an inspiring example of modern religious architecture, with its concrete structure and contrasting elements. But when I make my way there in the early French summer, what I am most amazed to find is not just an incredible building, but rather an aura of peace and calm that surrounds me from the moment I enter. (more…)