Must See Places for 2014 (with just 21/2 months to go)
When to Go: May-October
Where to Stay: Newer (opened in 2011) Crimea Breeze Residence is a posh, southern peninsula oasis with low-rise stucco-and-stone luxury villas, seawater pools, and a helpful English-speaking staff.
How to Get Around: Marshrutka (minibus) routes crisscross the region. Private and public bus and train routes connect most cities, and taxis are readily available. Luxury train tour options include the two-week Crimean Express Railway Journey from St. Petersburg to Yalta.
Where to Eat or Drink: Sample traditional Crimean Tatar dishes like lagman (spicy noodle soup), chee-börek (meat turnover), and plov (rice pilaf and lamb) at Harem in Yalta, Kafe Marakand in Simferopol, and, in summer, at the small beach stands and cafes in Koktebel and Sudak.
Cultural Tip: English isn’t spoken widely outside the major tourist areas. Bringing a Russian phrase book and learning a few basic phrases before your trip will make it easier to ask directions, order food, and interact with locals.
What to Read Before You Go: Lady With the Little Dog and Other Stories (1896-1904), by Anton Chekhov (2002). The legendary Russian playwright and modern short story master penned these 11 tales during his final years, spent living in a Yalta villa.
Fun Fact: Joseph Stalin stashed wines confiscated from the tsars’ palaces in the Massandra vineyard cellars, located in underground tunnels. Temporarily relocated during the 1941 Nazi invasion, these rare vintages remain the jewels of Massandra’s estimated million-bottle collection.
|Notre Dame Cathedral, Marseille|
When to Go: June-August for beaches, April-May and September-October for comfortable temperatures and lighter tourist traffic.
Where to Stay: Walk to the Vieux Port from the sleek and affordable Mama Shelter Marseille or see the boats from your private terrace at the luxurious Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port.
How to Get Around: The Régie des Transports de Marseille public transportation network includes metro, bus, and tramway lines. Consider a tourist City Pass for one or two days’ travel, museum admissions, and tours. March-September, a batobus (water shuttle) runs between the Vieux Port and Pointe Rouge. Kitschy, blue-and-white tourist trains wind through the streets of the oldest districts.
Where to Eat or Drink: Bouillabaisse is the homegrown culinary art form. Try Le Miramar in the Vieux Port or Chez Fonfon or L’Epuisette in Vallon des Auffes.
What to Buy: Wander through the maze of indoor and outdoor stalls at the Marché aux Puces and the daily Prado Market. Shop for santons (clay crèche figures), olive and lavender soap, olive oil, navettes (small, rowboat-shaped orange or lemon cookies), and pétanque balls.
What to Watch Before You Go: The Fanny Trilogy (Marius, Fanny, Cesar), 1948 (DVD 2004). Beloved 1930s French films (English subtitles), adaptations of the plays by Marseille’s preeminent writer, Marcel Pagnol, are considered national cultural treasures.
Fun Fact: France’s newest national park, Parc National des Calanques, is located on the outskirts of Marseille. Created in April 2012, the land (lagoons, cliffs, beaches) and sea (dolphins, turtles, seabirds) preserve is accessible only by foot or boat.
Raja Ampat has been dubbed the Amazon of the Oceans. Is that hyperbole? Not really. There are single reefs here containing more species than the entire Caribbean. A mini-archipelago of rain-forest-clad islands, cays, mangroves, and pearlescent beaches off the coast of West Papua, Indonesia, this marine frontier brims with life.
When to Go: Late September through early June. Be aware that mid-June through mid-September is monsoon season, with rains typically contained to the afternoon.
Where to Stay: Exclusive Misool Eco Resort is a secluded tropical hideaway on the remote, private island of Batbitim. Book your personal water cottage-on-stilts (veranda stairs lead directly into the translucent lagoon) to snorkel and dive in one of the world’s most biologically diverse marine environments.
How to Get Around: Travel by boat from Sarong to Wasai. Longboats, speedboats, motorboats, and dive boats connect Wasai to other islands. Outside the resorts, on island travel is primarily by foot or ojek (motorcycle taxi).
Where to Eat or Drink: If you’re not staying in an all-inclusive resort or on a dive boat, Raja Ampat dining options are limited to the small stores, outdoor markets, and warungs (family-run cafés/stores) in Wasai, Raja Ampat’s capital. Another option is to stock up in Sarong before traveling to Wasai.
What to Buy: In the established tourism villages Arborek and Sauwandarek local women make and sell wood and orchid bark nokens (string bags), pandan leaf hats and bags, and wood or banana fiber skirts.
What to Read Before You Go: Raja Ampat Through the Lens Of, by the Raja Ampat Research & Conservation Centre (2009).This coffee table hardcover is a 288-photo journey above and through the Realm of the Four Kings. Proceeds support local conservation efforts.
Fun Fact: On Raja Ampat’s Um Island, bats circle the blue skies by day and seagulls take flight at night. The compact island (one lap around takes about 15 minutes) is dotted with caves, home to the diurnal bats that feast on ripe fruit.
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