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Walking the Alpe-Adria Trail

The Alpe-Adria Trail is Europe’s newest long distance hiking route and runs for 750km from the foot of the Grossglockner (at 3,798m Austria’s highest mountain), into Slovenia and ends in Italy, near Trieste on the Adriatic coast.
Alpe Adria – Signpost at the Pasterze Glacier, Austria (c) Rupert Parker

It’s divided into 37 daily stages, each around 20 km, although it’s possible to do the whole lot in a month it is better to do it in sections – Austria has 22 stages, Slovenia has five and the last ten mix Slovenia and Italy. There’s also a Circular Route which connects Austria, Italy and Slovenia in seven days.

I’ve only got eight days, so decide to sample the most interesting bits. I start at the beginning in Carinthia, Austria and catch the post bus from Heiligenblut up to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe, a short 30 minute journey. There had been thunderstorms overnight and dusted the Grossglockner with a covering of snow.

Pasterze Glacier, Austria

The Pasterze Glacier, the longest in the Eastern Alps, gleams in the morning sunlight and my first steps on the trail are down a steep path to the Sandersee, filled with meltwater. The path is well marked and, after crossing another lake, the Margaritze Stausee, I’m back in the valley approaching Heiligenblut, my starting point. It’s taken me around five hours and has been a pleasant morning’s walk.

I’m now transferred by taxi to Mallnitz from where I tackle Stage 7 next day.

Groppensteinschlucht gorge, Austria

The trail follows the Mallnitzbach stream as it plunges through the Rabischschlucht gorge in a series of waterfalls. It’s pleasant underfoot and I have the trail all to myself. That changes as I enter the adjacent Groppensteinschlucht gorge, a popular route for day trippers. There’s an entrance fee, and I’m going in the opposite direction to most people. They’re certainly not friendly and don’t return my greetings. One person even tries to tell me it’s one way only.

The walls of this gorge are much steeper than the previous one and a system of walkways has been grafted onto the rock so you’re suspended in mid-air for most of the journey. You don’t really need a head for heights but two old men tell me at the top that it’s too dangerous to proceed. I think they’re rather over estimating the danger and there are stunning views of the various waterfalls.

Danielsberg Hill, Austria

The stage ends in the village of Obervellach, but I plough on, climbing up the side of the Möll valley to an almost perfectly conical hill, the Danielsberg. It’s been a sacred site for over 6000 years, first for the Celts, then the Romans and the Catholic Church of St. George dates back to the 12th century. My pilgrimage ends in the Herkuleshof, originally a 19th century hunting lodge but now a charming inn with excellent food.

Valbruna, Italy

That’s the end of my time in Austria, a shame since there are a total of 22 stages. Instead I’m whisked to Valbruna in Italy where I tackle Stage 4 of the Circular Route. This a major ski centre and, indeed I could just take the cable car up. Instead I climb gradually on a stony 4×4 track, gaining over 1000m, to the village of Monte Lussari. The chapel here is a major pilgrimage destination as a 14th century shepherd discovered a statue of the Madonna when he was searching for his sheep. Most people just come for lunch and enjoy the spectacular views.

Kranjska Gora, Slovenia

Next day, I hop over the border into Slovenia and start Stage 23 in Kranjska Gora. It’s Saturday and the town is packed with cyclist and hikers, all keen to get a taste of the Triglav National park, the only one in Slovenia and one of the largest in Europe.

Vršič Pass, Slovenia

I’m going to be tackling the Vršič Pass, at 1611m the highest pass in the Julian Alps, and the road up to it was built by Russian POW’s during WW1. Many were killed in an avalanche and there’s an Orthodox Chapel halfway up, built in their memory.
Russian Chapel, Vršič Pass, Slovenia (c) Rupert Parker

The trail criss-crosses the road before reaching the summit of the Vršič at 1688m, still guarded by the remains of gun emplacements. I descend to the pass and eat my sandwiches, watching the day trippers.

Soča Trail, Slovenia

From here it’s all downhill to the River Soča, and I follow it from its source to Trenta which consists of a handful of houses and an information centre. I’m surrounded by mountains including Mt Triglav, at 2864m the Slovenia’s highest peak and I watch the sun set as I munch pizza outside. The Soča trail continues and the emerald blue waters of the river are an effective way to cool off. There’s rafting here and attractive campsites line both sides of the river, as I make my way to the town of Bovec. This was the location of fierce fighting between the Italians and the Austrians during WW1 and they’ve restored a complex of bunkers and trenches on a hill just outside the town.

Brda region, Slovenia
Slovenian Vineyards (c) Rupert Parker

There’s another change of scenery as I’m transferred to the Brda region, Slovenia’s wine centre, all gently rolling hills terraced with vines and topped by church spires. I walk Stage 30, stopping for a wine tasting at the old renaissance castle in Dobrovo, before reaching Šmartno.
Šmartno, Slovenia (c) Rupert Parker

Its attractive narrow cobbled streets are enclosed by defensive walls and towers but I stay in the Hotel San Martin, just outside. Here I’m treated to a delightful dinner with matching wine pairings and it’s one of the best meals on the trail.

Walk into Romania’s Retezat Mountains.

 The start of a three day walk into Romania’s Retezat Mountains. Nik, my son-in-law, and I were going with Iulian Panescu, a mountain guide and photographer. Instinctively I’m not keen on being guided in the mountains, preferring to do my own thing. However, I began to consider the advantages of being with somebody with local know-how after learning of the aggressive Romanian sheep dogs. Iulian knows what to say and do with such creatures like a Transylvanian Crocodile Dundee. Also, local maps are not always reliable.

The Retezat Mountains are one of the highest massifs in Romania, being part of the Southern Carpathians. The highest peak is Peleaga, at an altitude of 2509 metres.

For some time we had been wanting to visit these mountains whose 80 lakes seem to mirror the sky. The Retezat region was Romania’s first national park and has over twenty peaks higher than 2000 metres (over 6,500 feet). It is strictly protected both nationally and internationally.
One of the Retezat ‘blue eyed lakes which mirror the sky’ (c) Iulian Panescu

We strode upwards on a path into an autumnal mountain forest. Leaves, like free-fall butterflies, fluttered downward as we zig-zagged between tangled roots, colourful fungi and scattered rocks. We settled into our stride.

After six kilometres of walking, we spotted Gentiana Cabin, our temporary abode. I regard all mountain huts as places of undeniable charm, simply because of their very location. This cabin was more than able to wear that mantle with its attractive wooden construction and cosy situation amid the trees. Inside, a huge shiny Transylvanian terracotta stove provided the majestic centre piece for the interior along with solid wooden bunks, chairs, tables and solar powered light. Petre, the hut guardian, brought us all large mugs of mountain tea and so we ate a little, enjoyed some chatter, laughter and then crawled into our sleeping bags but not before a meditative moment staring at myriad of stars that shone from every corner of the crystal clear sky.

Outside Gentiana Cabin (c) Iulian Panescu

The following morning Iulian led the way up the Valea Pietrele through thinning trees, onto a stony path and into a zone of one metre high dwarf pines. We came across the paw-print of a bear; its claw marks were easily discernible where it had tried to steady itself over the mud. There are estimated to be around 6,000 bears in the Romanian forests, one of the largest populations in Europe that roam around the park fauna along with chamois, wolves, lynx, otters and marmoEventually we arrived at Pietrele Lake, the first of many ‘blue eyes’, born like all the other Retezat lakes, at a time when glaciers were receding. Higher, we entered a vast world of pure rock. Facing us was a ridge of pinnacles and sculptured rock faces.

Valeu Pietrele translates as the Valley of the Stones”, explained Iulian.
The Valley of the Stones (c) Iulian Panescu

Now, as a professional guitarist, such imagery provided Nik with much to muse upon as he began seeing the features of his ‘Stones’ heroes, Jagger, Richards and Watts, within each weathered slab of rock. As the path zig-zagged to the saddle of Curmãtura Buccurei we could now see over into the next valley and a further four tarns. Even on an overcast day such as ours, these glacial lakes possessed a turquoise and mystical gaze. Iulian pointed to a scrambly route ascending Bucura Peak at 2433 metres (7982 feet). From a summit of stacked rocks the panorama revealed numerous peaks with draping ridge lines and yet more glacial lakes.

We began clambering downward and then along a ridge towards our next peak. Peering into the valley below us, we counted over a dozen chamois grazing on patches of grass, no doubt stocking up before the inevitable onset of winter.

We reached the final scramble which would take us to the very top of Peleaga Peak, the highest of the Retezat mountains at 2509 metres (8231 feet). Snow and ice had gathered beneath a Romanian flag fluttering in the wind. Standing at the top we enjoyed a spectacular view of the entire Retezat mountain area with its peaks, ridges, valleys and shimmering lakes. A truly breathtaking scene. Luckily the weather remained clear but the cloud-base was gradually sinking.

Roat to Ukraine

Ukraine, the country famous for banning Hollywood Steven Seagal from visiting, is opening up to tourism with visa-free travel. Add to that direct flights from the UK and the fact that it is still remarkably good value for money, this is as good a time as any to visit. We suggest you get behind the wheel or a hire car or indeed to hop on a train.

Carpathian Mountains
Carpathian Mountains (c) Rupert Parker

The Carpathians form an arc running roughly 1000 miles across Central and Eastern Europe, making them the second-longest mountain range in Europe. They occupy the South West of Ukraine, separating the country from Romania, with the highest peak, Mount Hoverla, reaching over 2000m. Life carries on here much as it’s done for centuries and during the Soviet period was left almost untouched. Even guerrillas fighting their Russian oppressors stayed holed up here for years.

Carpathian Orthodox Church (c) Rupert Parker

Kolomyia Easter Egg Museum (c) Rupert Parker

It’s a three hour drive across the Ukrainian steppes to Kolomyia, famous for the world’s only Pysanka or Easter Egg Museum. Of course it’s built in the shape of a giant egg and houses an impressive collection of intricately decorated specimens from all over the world. Nearby is another museum dedicated to the Hutsuls, the largest ethnic group in the Carpathians, scattered through both Ukraine and Romania. It’s an excellent introduction to their culture with an exhibition of ethnic costumes, arts and crafts.

River Prut Yaremche (c) Rupert Parker

The landscape begins to change as I climb up to the town of Yaremche at 580m. The wide cornfields give way to forested hills, wooden houses and quaint chapels by the side of the road. The River Prut runs through the centre of town in a series of rapids, and there’s a rather tacky craft market on either side of the ravine. However if you’re in the market for woolly slippers or dodgy fruit wine, this is the place for you.


Bukovel (c) Rupert Parker

Another 40 minutes of climbing brings me to Bukovel, the largest Ski resort in Eastern Europe at 900m. It opened in 2000 and has 16 ski lifts with roughly 30 miles of pistes, and more are promised. There’s a boating lake but otherwise there’s not much character here. A few of the ski lifts remain open and, at the top of one of them, there’s a rather terrifying Roller Coaster Zip line which hurls you high through the trees. I prefer a spot of gentle hiking.


I head deeper into the Carpathians and the roads worsen, potholes everywhere and rickety bridges to traverse. The railway arrived in the 1880’s, attracting tourists with fresh mountain air, and Vorokhta is an attractive spa town. Further on, just outside Verkhovyna, is Kryvorivnia, a Hutsul village where the movie “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” was shot in 1965. It’s nothing more than a collection of attractive wooden shacks with a restored fortified Hutsul house, known as a Grazhda, filled with traditional artefacts. It’s Sunday and the singing from inside the tiny church drifts across the valley.


Leaving the mountains and journeying East, I come to the city of Chernivtski, capital of the region of Bukovina. Also a part of the Hapsburg Empire, it was known as Little Vienna because of its architecture is similar. It’s only 30 miles from Romania and, between the wars was part of that country. The Romanians were responsible for the city’s attractive art deco buildings. Chernivtsi University, a red bricked Moorish fantasy, with a Technicolor tiled roof, was built by a Czech architect in 1882, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kamyanets Podilsky (c) Rupert Parker

Nearby is another stunning fortress protecting the bridge connecting the medieval city, built on an island, with the mainland. The 14th century castle sits high above a bend of the Smotrych River, its steep cliffs forming a natural moat. It originally had as many as twelve towers but only a few remain today. It’s still relatively well preserved, however, and is one of the few medieval constructions left in Ukraine.


I catch the overnight train to Kiev, the carriages built in former East Germany and full of communist charm. It’s slow but comfortable, although all the windows seem to have been nailed shut.

Night Train to Kiev (c) Rupert Parker

Ukraine’s capital city has wide leafy boulevards, onion-domed churches and relatively few of those dull Soviet architectural monstrosities. Since Ukraine’s independence many of the building have been restored and repainted as symbols of national pride.

Don’t miss the 1980’s reconstruction of the Golden Gates of Kiev or the 11th-century Orthodox cathedral of St. Sophia. I like the 19th century St. Volodymyr’s cathedral which was a museum of atheism during Soviet times. The big attraction is the Lavra Cave Monastery which is a complex of religious buildings with catacombs below contained mummified bodies of former monks. Nearby is the huge Motherland Monument, known locally as “Brezhnev’s Daughter”, 62m high, dominating the skyline. It’s part of the WW2 museum and you can climb up to the mother’s hand in an interior elevator.

Climbing in Merapi

Known to locals as Fire Mountain, Gunung Merapi sits on the border between Central Java and Yogyakarta in Indonesia. There have been regular eruptions since 1548, with the most recent in 2010 where 30 people died.

Our walk was to start at 4:30am, under night at Desa Deles, the ranger’s hut at 1,300 metres. By 10am that day I’d be up 2,930 metres high on the summit of Merapi.
By 10am that day I’d be up 2,930 metres high on the summit of Merapi (c) Oliver Jarvis

The smell of sulfur was in the air, and our torches pierced through a feint haze that slid up the cliffside, our visibility was low and we had to mind shrub, after fern when making our way up the gentle incline.

Our three Javanese guides were trekking without torchlight, one was even in sandals, they used the moon and the stars to guide

When the sun rose the air felt cold and we had our first rest break. Looking back down our path we could see the vast settlement that bowed down by the foot of Merapi. It’s hard to believe that so many people still choose to live there, but locals have their reasons; ideal farming soil and religious beliefs. Many believe that the previous eruptions are a result of spirits being angered by not receiving gifts, which they offer them at the summit annually.

The sun rise rays was flowing through the trees and the hike was about to get harder, as the gentle slalom route suddenly inclined along the cliff face.

The sun rise rays was flowing through the trees (c) Oliver Jarvis

We had to wrestle with branches, and grab what we could to pull ourselves higher. We’d sometimes encounter clearings in the jungle where we could peer out, always seeing Merapi to our left.

The group of 15 people was now dwindling, as experienced hikers thought they had met their match. Even the hike leader, German Carl had suspiciously caught a chesty cough when the path started to get steeper around 2,000 metres up. In the end five of us remained, with the guide in sandals who had now fashioned a ragged towel into a head scarf that made him look like Little Bo Peep.
We found ourselves alone on the side of the mountain (c) Oliver Jarvis

Those that remained were determined to conquer Merapi whether our blisters bled, our water ran out or Bo Peep lost his sandals. The steep incline under thick forest meant that we would gain altitude at a faster pace, and gradually the hills, and rice paddys below shrunk and cold streams of air came and went as we entered different air pockets. We found ourselves alone on the side of the mountain, no sign of Indonesian settlements in the distance, or anybody on the mountain top.

The ash was becoming difficult to grip with my shoes, and I found myself bouldering, up vines and branches just to follow the path. It was then that I misplaced my foot and the side of the path that I was on collapsed. Dangling off a cliff face isn’t like they show it in the Mission Impossible films; I wasn’t coolly gripping the edge of the cliff with my fingers, nor was I suspended up in mid-air like a character from Looney Toons, instead I was holding onto a fern root for dear life as Khalid grabbed my arm and yanked me back up.

Shortly after our stop at around 2,500 metres (10:30 am), we reached the dusty, dead plain of Devil’s Bazaar. This is where the locals gather every year to place their offerings to calm the spirits of Merapi. The volcano has erupted every 5 – 10 years without fail, yet the locals still make the treacherous climb to hopefully bring peace between themselves and the mountain.

With every step a rock would tumble down and ash would be kicked up into our shoes and mouth. We passed weather stations that looked like they hadn’t been touched since the Seventies, and yellowing shrubs trying to survive as we continued our walk through what felt like the world’s most depressing desert getaway. We were now face-to-face with the clouds that wrapped around our ankles and passed along the cliff tops.

We were now face-to-face with the clouds (c) Oliver Jarvis

The head of Merapi stood above us and the surrounding wasteland with the white haze of sulfur circling it like a halo, we had reached the final stretch.

With smoke rising from the peak we began our ascent. The remaining point was like an old pub fireplace covered in ash and dust which covered our faces as we tried to scramble up the cliffside on all fours.

 Oliver Jarvis

It was slippery. Every step we took we fell two steps down. Even Bo Peep in sandals seemed to tire, as more dust kicked up into our faces and the wind blew the clouds and ash into our sides. But I had to see the top, and so I pushed up the cliff face, hopping from rock to rock.

Standing on the shoulder of a giant, when I broke through the clouds I was surrounded by a deep blue and the air felt clearer. Finally I had reached the summit. I clambered up to the peak, which was an uneven rock around the width of a boardwalk and surrounded by a 200 metre crater drop which was covered by eery sulfurous fumes that seemed to escape from every rock crack. I was an ant on a pen nib, anxiously looking around, watching my step. The others joined me, and we waited a while in silence as the clouds sifted through our hair, and the monster of Merapi quietly slept.

Place Travel 2017

 GreenvilleSouth Carolina

The next Charleston?

Though small, Greenville, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, may be the next major food destination, with four big openings: Husk from Sean Brock, the Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Jianna from Michael Kramer and the speakeasy Vault & Vator. Before feasting, enjoy the city’s many public art works along the tree-lined streets, or grab a pour over at Methodical Coffee en route to biking the 21-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail. 

A natural beauty that’s still natural — for now.

The earthquake that rattled Ecuador last year mostly shattered areas where international travelers seldom go. Now man-made threats may compromise El Pedregal, a popular place for visitors before or after Galápagos excursions. The valley south of Quito is surrounded by huge volcanoes and grassy steppes where haciendas serve as bases for travelers to go hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Go before June to see the valley before new power lines encroach on condors and views. 


A glimpse of ‘Poldark’ country.

Penzance, the Cornish port town in the southwest of England, is having a moment, thanks to the popularity of “Poldark,” the BBC costume drama set in 18th-century Cornwall. The new Chapel House B&B joins a local favorite, the Artists Residence, while restaurants such as the Tolcarne Inn, in nearby Newlyn, and the Shore have put Penzance on the map as a culinary destination. Perhaps the best thing to see in Penzance — aside from the scenery — is the Art Deco-inspired Jubilee pool, one of Europe’s last saltwater lidos. The enormous triangular public pool was built in the 1930s and just underwent a $3.73 million renovation. 


The ultimate Japanese feast awaits.

If Kyoto represents Japan’s spirit, and Tokyo its heart, Osaka is the country’s insatiable appetite. The city’s culinary legacy is alive and at work in the neighborhoods of Tsuruhashi and Fukushima, and in the 91 Michelin-starred restaurants spread throughout the city — like Ajikitcho, specializing in traditional Japanese cooking, and Taian, with a chargrilled focus. On April 28, it will all come together at the International Festival Utage (“feast”), a 10-day food festival, celebrating flavors from Japan’s 47 prefectures. 


Scandinavia need not be a wallet-buster.

Free state-owned museums will make visits to Sweden’s capital less expensive in 2017. Over a dozen dropped their hefty entry fees last year, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Swedish History Museum and Skokloster Castle. Add to that a favorable exchange rate for Americans — the krona is about 20 percent weaker against the dollar than it was two years ago — and this beautiful city suddenly looks even more attractive.  .

Rabong Buddha Park. Evan Wexler for The New York Times


A haven for spiritual seekers, soon more accessible.

With its first airport opening this year and its first rail link in the works, the remote northeastern Indian state of Sikkim keeps getting closer. Adventurous souls can trek Khangchendzonga National Park, a Himalayan haven of forests, valleys and mountains — including the world’s third-highest peak — that earned Unesco World Heritage status this year. Spiritual seekers, meanwhile, can pursue nirvana around the historically Buddhist land, from centuries-old Buddhist monasteries like Tashiding and Pemayangtse to the museum-like Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. And load up on spices, fruits and vegetables. Sikkim became the first fully organic state in India last year. The harbor on Île de Porquerolles. Andy Haslam for The New York TimesÎle de PorquerollesFrance

Plage, pétanque, pastis: parfait.

Only 10 minutes by ferry from the mainland, this four-mile-long under-the-radar Mediterranean island is an unexplored refuge with mountain-biking trails, sandy beaches and a single rustic vineyard offering free daily wine tastings. Mostly national parkland, the car-free island has one idyllic village where you’ll hear the clinking of both pétanque boules and glasses of pastis. The place to stay is Le Mas du Langoustier, an upscale hotel perched between two coves on the western end of the i

The northern coast of Madagascar. Oliver S./Shutterstock


An island nation re-emerges as an ecotourism paradise.

Madagascar has stabilized since its elections in 2013 and is luring tourists back to its stunning combination of jungles, beaches and reefs. Lemurs and chameleons are just the headline attractions in this island nation the size of France, which lies off the east coast of Africa. Whale sharks and humpbacks cruise the undersea world, fat-trunked baobab trees dot the land, and more than 90 percent of the island’s mammals are not found anywhere else. Eco-friendly lodging options include luxurious island retreats like the new Miavana and rain forest camps like Masoala Forest Lodge. And it’s not as hard to get to as you might imagine: Air France and South African Airways offer one-stop flights from New York. 


China’s beach destination of choice.

With its stunning white sand beaches and shimmering blue waters, Sanya on Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province, is known as the Hawaii of China. The destination is in the midst of a resort boom, and these eye-catching properties are reason enough to visit. There are already a Park Hyatt, a St. Regis and a Shangri-La. And late last year, Ian Schrager’s luxe Edition — a 500-room resort with a long list of amenities — made its debut. Next up, in March, is the tony One & Only Sanya, set amid 28 acres of coconut palms. 

Travel Photography

There’s travel photography, and then there’s traveling for photography.

An increasing number of travel companies and hotels today offer learning excursions and tours aimed at aspiring photographers, spanning a few hours to a few weeks.

Janine Yu, an adviser at the New York City-based travel company Indagare, said that because of photo-sharing apps like Instagram, more and more people are taking up photography as a hobby.

“The travel industry is catering to this growing interest in a fun way,” she said. “After all, what more enjoyable way to learn how to improve your camera skills than by exploring a great destination at the same time?”

Below are 10 tours, trips and hotels to bring out your inner Ansel Adams.

A Photo Safari at andBeyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya Learn how to take frame-worthy images with the new photo safari at this camp, in an area rich with game, including wildebeest, lions and hippos. Guests can book the safari for as little as a half-day or for up to several days and are lent the equipment they need, including a camera with a Nikon 600 mm lens. The safaris are led by a naturalist who is also a skilled photographer, and they take place in a jeep equipped with electrical charging stations for the cameras, 360-degree swivel chairs with camera mounts for long-lens stability and a fully stocked bar. Prices from $275 for a half-day. Camp rates start at $330 per person, per night, including all meals, game drives and transfers. (AndBeyond’s Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp and Serengeti Under Canvas offer similar tours.) Book at

Strabo Photo Tours Aspiring photographers have their pick of more than 50 trips a year from this travel company specializing in photography vacations, which are offered in six continents (only Antarctica is excluded) and run the diversity gamut. Trips to Slovenia’s glacial lakes and vineyards and to the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica are two examples. Most journeys last 10 days to 14 days, and all are led by a professional photographer as well as a local guide; there are usually 4 to 12 travelers on every itinerary. From $2,595, including accommodations, some meals, daily photography lessons and destination tours. Book at or by calling 607-756-8676.

Vermejo Park Ranch, Raton, N.M. Owned by the media mogul and conservationist Ted Turner, this property, a 585,000-acre expanse of terrain ranging from shortgrass prairie to alpine tundra, offers themed photography packages three times a year. Each is for four nights and led by a professional photographer, but their focus varies. The September package, for example, covers shooting the elk-mating season. Prices from $3,500 a person, inclusive of accommodations, all meals and nonalcoholic beverages and non-guided activities such as horseback riding. Book online at or by calling 877-288-7637 or by emailing

Quasar Expeditions Photo Safari Galápagos Cruises The Galápagos Islands are renowned for abundant wildlife like iguanas and green sea turtles, and these seven-night cruises, offered nearly monthly, supply a chance to photograph the animals up close. The naturalist guides turned photographers who lead the cruises run nightly briefings where they review guests’ photos and teach them techniques to get the best shots for the animals they will likely see the following day. Also, guests disembark the boat early to get sunrise shots of the islands and come back to the ship in the early evening so that they can capture sunset images of the islands, too. Prices from $4,620 a person. Book by calling 800-247-2925 or emailing

Manhattan Architecture Photography Tour, New York City Hit some of New York City’s top architectural landmarks such as Grand Central Terminal, the Chrysler Building and the New York Public Library with this three-hour tour from TripAdvisor. Led by a photographer, participants will learn how to work with lines and angles to bring these buildings to life, and also learn how to photograph architectural interiors. This tour is offered several times a week and scheduled in the afternoon to take advantage of the sky’s changing colors. From $100 a person. Book online at or by calling 855-275-5071.

Paris Night Photo Tour, Paris The already picturesque City of Light becomes even more photogenic at night, and this three-hour private tour, tailored to every skill level, is an opportunity to learn how to capture it after dark. A photographer teaches travelers techniques for shooting famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Place de la Concorde and also shares tips on taking images of common sights in the city like boats sailing along the Seine River. 180 euros for the first person and 30 euros for each additional person for up to a total of four people. Book online at

PhotoWalks Freedom Trail Tour, Boston This 90-minute tour is a photography class and history lesson in one. A photographer who is also a historian leads the excursion to famous sites associated with the American Revolution such as Boston Common, the Benjamin Franklin statue and the building where the Boston Tea Party meeting took place. In all, participants visit more than a dozen spots and learn the best camera settings and angles to capture keepsake images of the iconic attractions. Prices from $40 a person. Book online through or by calling 888-651-9785

Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia Set in the heart of Siem Reap, this property has an in-house photographer who leads daylong excursions allowing travelers to photograph a variety of scenarios in the town and its surrounding area. The trip starts off on a longboat down the Kompong Phluk water village and includes a kayaking excursion around Tonle Sap lake and a trip to a food market to shoot pictures of local delicacies. The tour is $300 for two people and includes a car with a driver. Guests can also book the two-night Zooming in on Cambodia package, which includes accommodations, the tour and a three-day pass to the Angkor Wat temple complex. From $1,400 a person. Book online at

Photography Tours of Ireland It doesn’t matter where in Ireland you’re visiting or how adept at photography you are — the Dublin-based travel company Adams & Butler has a team of professional photographers throughout the country and can arrange for photography tours at every skill level. Possibilities include Dublin by night for after-dark shots, the mountains and lakes along the Ring of Kerry at sunset and the sprawling estates throughout the countryside by day. The company can also arrange for camera loans. From $300 for two people for a full-day tou

King Can’t Travel Without

While Mr. King is best known for his horror novels featuring terrifying clowns and serial killers, his own particular fear is much more mundane. “I travel by plane when I have to — I travel by car when I possibly can. The difference is if your car breaks down, you pull over into the breakdown lane. If you’re at 40,000 feet and your plane has trouble, you die. I feel more in control when I’m driving than when I’m flying. You hope that the pilot won’t have a brain embolism and die at the controls.”

And while work occasionally brings him overseas, he’d really prefer to stay home. “I’m not a big travel buff. I do it when I have to, and I try to enjoy it — and I’ve done more of it than I want to.”

Vacation for him means wintering in Florida — his wife flies, but he drives. “It’s so much easier now because you have Siri to guide you along the way and if the traffic gets horrible along the turnpike or something, she’ll take you around by back ways and usually there are no hillbillies that are going to eat human flesh.” And his needs are modest – he stays at Motel 6 and eats at the Waffle House. “I’m not hard to please. Give me a motel room somewhere near the Interstate with a chair out front where you can sit and read a book and I’m just as happy as can be.

He’s not kidding around, either. He’s a Motel 6 expert. “A tip for the lonesome traveler: Always ask for a room on the end of the motel because the chances of having a party next door are a little less. Or, if it’s a three-story hotel, get a room on the top floor and then you don’t have to worry about the couple above you deciding they’re going to go at it all night long.

The author Stephen King.CreditKenzo Tribouillard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

And when it comes to packing, he keeps it simple there, too. “I take the basics. And I don’t have any particular requirements for shampoos, emollients, anything like that. They usually have it in the Motel 6.”

Here’s what he takes on every trip.


“I’ve got to have my audiobooks, which I keep on my iPad now, it’s much more convenient than having to drag along a CD player and earphones and all that jazz. Got to load in at least one or two movies that you really want to see so that you have something to watch. Or two or three episodes of ‘The Americans.

Crossword book

“I gotta have my big crossword book because you can’t always read. If you’re on an airplane flight from, let’s say Maine to Los Angeles, you have to have something to do.”


“I’ve got this old suitcase that my wife hates that I’ve been carrying around for probably 30 years now, it’s an old battered gray Samsonite suitcase. My feeling is that if you can’t get everything you need into that one suitcase, you don’t really need it. It doesn’t have any wheels. It’s old school.”


“I always carry a couple of books. There’s the book that I’m going to read and the backup in case the book is terrible. The best book that I read recently was ‘My Absolute Darling,’” which is just a knockout, maybe the best thing I’ve read this year. But you’ve got to have at least one book by someone that you trust. You don’t want to be caught short.”

Hurricanes and Travel

Hurricane Harvey hit and battered much of Houston on Aug. 25, and now Hurricane Irma, which is considered to be the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded, struck the Caribbean island of Barbuda early Wednesday morning and is expected to reach Puerto Rico and other islands later in the day or this evening. The tropical storm Jose currently trails behind Irma, and early Wednesday, a fourth tropical storm, Katia, was strengthening in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico.

These storms raise the question of what travelers should do if they are scheduled to travel to a destination in the path of a storm. And what should they do if they’re in a destination where a storm is imminent or has already made landfall, and how should they stay safe while there?

Here, answers to storm-related travel questions.

What about if I’m in a destination and a storm is about to hit?

Act quickly to leave town, says Tim Horner, a senior managing director at the New York-based security company Kroll and an expert on staying safe during a natural disaster. “Your first line of defense should be to evacuate if you can and follow the evacuation directions of the local authorities,” he said.

If you’re flying, call your airline to get a seat on the next available flight. If no seats are available or if the flight isn’t until the next day, consider buying a one-way ticket back home on another airline. Mr. Horner emphasized that it’s important to take action to leave the area in the days before a storm is predicted to hit and not the day of; otherwise, chances are that you’ll get caught at the start of the storm, which means your outbound flight will be canceled.

Also, before you leave your hotel to head to the airport, ask if it’s possible to return in case your flight is canceled — you want to avoid relying on the airport as a shelter, if you can.

Additional tips: Stock up on a flashlight with extra batteries, blankets and plenty of water and food. Properties in hurricane-prone areas often provide these items to their guests in the event of a storm, according to Christine Sarkis, the deputy executive editor of the online travel magazine SmarterTravel, but if that’s not the case, you can buy them at a local grocery or supply store.

And if you’re staying at a hotel on the beach, Mr. Horner advised finding alternative accommodations at a property inland because the chances of flooding are greater along the water.

I’m stranded in a destination where a storm has hit. Now what?

Mr. Horner said that it’s critical to let your family members and friends at home as well as your employer know where you are and stay in constant communication with them throughout the storm. “People tend to get displaced during a storm,” he said. An anecdote from his career reflects the importance of this advice: when Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, Mr. Horner was hired by a company to find 260 of its employees, who were in the city but could not be located. “Nobody knew where they were,” he said. (They were all ultimately found and safe.)

Also, be sure to keep your cellphone charged. Mr. Horner recommended always traveling with a few portable power chargers or power packs, which need to be pre-charged but don’t need a wall outlet to work.

Other advice: have your bags packed so that you’re ready to move at a moment’s notice. Ms. Sarkis’s close friend got stuck at his hotel in Cabo San Lucas when Hurricane Odell hit in 2014 and had to move quickly to another part of the property because the storm blew out the glass doors leading to his balcony.

And in the midst of preparing the necessities, don’t forget to plan for some leisure activities. Books, board games and cards all do the trick. “Being occupied with something fun can help keep you calm when a storm is happening and will make the time go by faster,” Ms. Sarkis said.

What should I do if I have an imminent trip planned to a destination in the path of a storm?

Call your airline and hotel immediately, Ms. Sarkis says. “If you haven’t yet left for your trip but see that a hurricane is predicted to where you’re going, it’s essential to call your hotel and airline right away to determine their rebooking and cancellation policies,” she said.

According to Ms. Sarkis, airlines flying to a destination where a storm is predicted will often have travel alerts on their websites indicating the instances in which travelers can rebook their tickets without paying change fees and how long they have to do so (American Airlines, for example, has an alert on its site related to Hurricane Irma). However, if your trip looks unlikely to happen at all — say because your hotel has severe damage from the storm — Ms. Sarkis advised working with your airline (a phone call with a live person is best) to explore alternative destinations. Instead of that trip to Puerto Rico, for example, you may consider a trip to Southern California or to another warm-weather destination.

When it comes to your hotel, keep in mind that many properties in hurricane-prone destinations know that a hurricane could strike in the summer and early fall and tend to be pretty flexible when it comes to offering refunds or rebooking for a future stay, potentially even if that stay is six months or more down the line. “Hotels situated in hurricane zones are used to guests changing or canceling their trips when a storm is predicted to hit,” Ms. Sarkis said.

Explore a City Like a Local Using Smartphone

This app costs $3.99 per city (67 major cities are available worldwide), while the others are, for the most part, free. But you get what you pay for: this was the most well-rounded of the three I tried. One of its many perks is that it runs entirely offline, so you do not need to stress about data usage.

Like all of these apps, Spotted by Locals provides recommendations submitted by actual local residents on where to eat, shop, be entertained and more. The idea is to keep you away from tourist traps and steer you toward hidden gems.

I used it to explore a neighborhood where I used to be a local (Astoria, Queens) to see if it could deliver. The fact that it included a wide assortment of suggestions in a borough not named Manhattan was impressive enough, compared to the other apps I tested, but the recommendations themselves were also spot on.

For example, Astoria’s popular Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden was rightfully featured, but so was SingleCut Brewery, a lesser-known, but worthwhile, beer spot.

The advice for each location is the perfect length — detailed but not overwhelming, and the “Nearby” tab on the map makes it easy to scope out places wherever you are.

Cool Cousin

This app scored points for originality as well as its practicality, and is perfect for travelers who don’t have any cool cousins of their own.

Cool Cousin gives you access to contributors in 40 large cities around the world. Each “cousin” has a profile, with name, age, photo, occupation and a lot more information. The idea is to add those to your network who seem to have similar tastes to your own. After each add, the cousin’s recommendations are added to your map and broken down into eight different categories, such as food, coffee, night life and outdoors.

The app seems geared toward younger travelers — it feels like a cross between Facebook, Tinder and Foursquare — and most of the cousins themselves have an appropriately hipster look. For New York, this leads to a higher concentration of recommendations below 14th Street in Manhattan and several in Brooklyn (very few in Queens), and heavy in the food and night life areas.

But the app itself is easy to figure out, and the map includes the option to download and use offline (for free). No matter where you are, just hit the location arrow to see what’s nearby.

The recommendations themselves are solid and are written casually — think Yelp, minus the negativity. I added 26 of 55 available cousins in New York and was impressed with what was revealed, including free public gardens and lesser-known art galleries, as well as a wide variety of intriguing bars and restaurants.

Your new cousins will even message you through the app to say hello, and you have the option of writing them back to ask for more tips. You will also get a push notification every time you receive a new message, which you can turn off by adjusting your settings. After asking two of my paired cousins, I received additional restaurant recommendations.

Like a Local

Well-designed and easy to navigate, Like a Local has fewer contributors than the other apps (28, providing 197 tips for New York at the time of writing) but it is in more cities than the others (over 300) and best functions as a complementary tool.

The recommendations are detailed yet concise, giving an excellent general overview and a “special tip” for each location. For example, at the Brazilian restaurant Beco in Brooklyn, Kelly advises: “Come early because the restaurant’s seating space is limited. CA$H ONLY.”

You don’t have to sign up to use the app, so you can dig right in and explore — though if you want to use the app offline, you have to pay $1.99 per city.

There’s also an option to “ask locals,” which works like a message board. I asked for Upper East Side restaurant recommendations (it is a neighborhood not represented well on any of the apps) and after a week had yet to get a response.

The recommendations included mainstream spots like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Central Park more often than the other apps did. These are not underappreciated landmarks, but not necessarily bad places to check out if you’ve never been.

A Vacation Paradise

 The staff of Mamba Point Hotel threw an impromptu going away party for my 6-year-old nephew, Cooper.

The kid had already been spoiled shamelessly during our two-week stay. He had cleared Mamba Point’s sushi restaurant of all its edamame, and had devoured, by my count, more than 65 eggs, scrambled carefully for him every morning by the breakfast chef Leroy Blehsue, (one morning he consumed eight).

This was over the holidays, and the hotel was empty since tourists don’t go to Liberia. For Cooper, that meant a huge edifice to explore. He swam in the new pool. He explored the corners of the hotel casino. He sprawled on the couch in the bar playing Minecraft on his mom’s iPad. He heckled the doormen by running in front of them to open doors for ladies as they came in, before saying between giggles: “I’m doing your job.”

I would not have blamed them if they had shooed him away. But they didn’t. “Hi Cooper,” Edward Quad, the second-floor doorman said, grinning as Cooper invaded his turf.

In fact, “Hi, Cooper,” had become the refrain for my family’s big trip, and for all of my inner grumbling, I was ecstatic. This was the first time my entire family — from my mom to my two other nephews to my brother-in-law to my sisters all the way to Cooper, were all together back in Liberia, the land of my birth. Cooper had never before been to Africa and, let’s face it, Liberia is Africa on steroids.

“We’ll be tourists!” I had cajoled. “We’ll go to the beach, we’ll go to Kpatawee waterfalls, we’ll go to Sapo National Park. And think of the food!”

The mention of the food had eroded their initial dubiousness. Liberian food is “sweeeeeeet” — Liberian English for “so delicious you want to cry.” We boarded the flight home with thoughts of palm butter, bitterleaf, fufu and proper Liberian jollof rice, in our heads.

The central question, though, was: Could we really spend two weeks in Liberia as tourists? Liberia had long been that fantastically beautiful place that had never seemed able to deliver on its travel destination potential: sandy white empty beaches, but with no roads leading to them; lush tropical rain forests but with no place to go to the bathroom; an open people who love foreigners but few flights to link them.

About a year and a half ago, I had stumbled on a Liberia tourism videoon YouTube that started to answer the question.

The video, set to highlife music, was enticing yet real at the same time. “Experience our Children!” a bunch of adorable uniformed schoolchildren said, laughing into the camera, which nonetheless captured the dirt roads these children walked on every day. “Experience our Culture!” was followed by a clip of a pekin (Liberian English for frisky child) with no shoes doing a complicated dance involving wide leg sweeps, accompanied by drummers. “Experience our Natural Beauty!” had a wide gorgeous smile from a Liberian park ranger showing off peaceful rain forest lagoons, tented lodges on the beach and real-life Liberian surfers cresting waves. Whoever put the video together hadn’t shied away from the tattiness of the capital city of Monrovia, which was featured in all of its dilapidated glory.

This trip was Cooper’s first visit to the Third World, and I was eager to see how he would do. In the back seat of the car as we navigated Monrovia’s traffic, Cooper was glued to the window: Market women with baskets of oranges on their heads and babies on their backs battled with young boys selling small plastic bags of ice water. At major intersections, all manner of bushmeat, fish and poultry were available for purchase by car passengers too lazy to pull over and walk to the side of the road. So sellers came to them. One guy thrusted what looked like an aardvark at us.

“Bucket,” Cooper said, quietly to himself, at one point, when we passed a woman balancing a bucket on her head. He seemed particularly fascinated by the size and weight of what the Liberian women carried on their heads, plugging into the image that more than anything else, tells the story of the continent of Africa as a whole. “Look, she’s carrying two things on top of each other!” he exclaimed.

He struggled with the heat at first — on Day 1, at a party a friend of mine had for children who had lost their parents to Ebola, Cooper, fascinated by the traditional Liberian dance and the drummer Emmanuel Lavelah, shuttled back and forth from the band to the porch to stand directly in front of the fan with a glass of ice water, looking pitiful and torn.

But I knew “Experience our Beaches!” would help that. The next day, we headed on an overnight trip to Libassa, an eco-resort outside Monrovia that came with thatched rondavels, multiple terraced swimming pools, a lagoon, and a “lazy river.” All of this was set to the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.

Libassa, run by a French and Lebanese couple on a pristine spot that they leased from local Liberian villagers who now comprise the staff, is serene by morning and frenetic by afternoon. When the sun rises, the place is peaceful, as the lagoon laps at its mangrove forest and barracuda, snapper and grouper enjoy the solitude. Overnight guests emerge from mosquito-netted beds and make their way from the porches of their rondavels to the breakfast area.

The calm remains until around early afternoon, when the secluded oasis turns into a water park, as families show up to play in the lazy river, letting the current jets do the swimming for them. It’s a total scene, amplified by Liberia’s strange breed of cultural quirks: We generally don’t swim well (maybe because the country’s tropical coastal location gives the ocean a fierce undertow), so Libassa’s lazy river was full of young Liberian couples on dates in which guys were supposedly teaching young women how to swim.

When we were there, the floating deck on the lagoon that had been so peaceful in the morning was crammed by afternoon with Lebanese expats smoking hookahs in gender-segregated groups. We even got to see a fight, when a group of Lebanese women started demanding loudly of their men why they were in Liberia for Christmas instead of Rabat or Casablanca. Then the women got up en masse and stomped back up to the resort’s restaurant area.

Still, my quest to experience Liberia as a tourist was going well. What to hit next?

“Experience our wildlife!” O.K., so about that. Listen, this is West Africa, not East Africa. So instead of lions and cheetahs,

we’ve got Monkey Island! Actually, we have six of them. And surely six islands, inhabited solely by chimpanzees (which does not stop Liberians from calling the islands Monkey Island) is something.

Rain kept the crowds away at a beach in Robertsport. CreditCarielle Doe for The New York Times

The Monkey Island story is typically Liberian — foreign exploitation, war, disease, redemption, all rolled into one. For 30 years, the New York Blood Center used a colony of chimpanzees in Liberia for medical research. That finally ended in 2005, and the chimps and their children were given free rein on the islands, on the Farmington River just outside Monrovia. In 2015 the blood center said they wouldn’t pay to feed and care for the chimps anymore. A public furor ensued, and eventually the Humane Society and other donors stepped in to continue the feeding and care program.

The chimpanzees now live on the six islands on the river. There are around 50 of them altogether. One morning we paid some local fishermen $25 to paddle us an hour each way through mangrove forests to the islands. We saw the chimpanzees’ caretaker toss them bananas from his canoe. (Because people don’t set foot on Monkey Island, it’s solely for the chimps.) The most famous one, Bullet, was shot in the arm during the civil war so only has the use of three appendages, but he, like his Liberian compatriots, has proved himself pretty resilient and is one of the dominant chimps. There are no organized tours, but going with the local oarsmen is a great way to help the local economy.

For Experience our Natural Beauty! day, we headed to Robertsport, in my opinion the coolest of all of Liberia’s, um, resort towns. Robertsport is where the ship the Harriett landed, carrying my great-great-great-great grandfather Randolph Cooper and his four brothers, all freed American blacks who boarded in Norfolk, Virginia, back in 1829. They and other black people were sent to settlements in West Africa that became Liberia as part of an effort by the American Colonization Society to rid the United States of black freemen. A lot of Liberia’s recent political turmoil, including the civil war, can be traced back to its tortured history that is rooted in American slavery.