It’s been a busy year and it’s time to take stock. Here JAT writer, Kaye Holland, shares her 2016 travel highlights
Ah Biarritz. The biggest resort in south-west France is only an affordable (easyjet and Ryanair both fly to Biarritz) one hour plane ride away. What’s more, you can see a lot in a few days….
If architecture is your bag, make a beeline for the stunning scarlet-and-cream-coloured Hotel du Palais whose high profile former guests include Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and more recently Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and their two children.
This Biarritz icon – which was built in 1854 by Napoleon 111 for his wife Eugenie de Montijo, in the shape of a giant E – proudly overlooks the Bay of Biscay and serves as proof that not all hotels are created equally. Make no mistake: if Jay Gatsby could be peeled from the pages of Scott F Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, and transplanted to Biarritz, you would find him here…
Yet it is surfing that this Atlantic Riviera destination is most famous and as such you’ll find excellent surf schools clustered all along Plage de la Cote des las Basques. By night dine al fresco on great tasting tapas and wine and start planning your return. This is the Europe you thought was done. Don’t wait: there’s no time like the present.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
To say that Buenos Aires has been through a lot in recent years is like saying Victoria’s Secret angels are hot: a major understatement.
The Paris of the South has survived a series of corrupt governments, coup d’etats, dictatorships, military rule and more - yet managed to maintain its joie de vivre.
And rightly so for, despite all its troubles, there is so much to enjoy in Baires (as the city is affectionately referred to) whose stately European facade belies its Latin soul.
Make no mistake: the fantastic food scene (Argentina’s steakhouses are legendary but you’ll also, thanks to Italian immigration in the past, find excellent pizza and pasta all washed down with copious amounts of Malbec), passion for futbol (football is a religion), tango (arguably Argentina’s greatest contribution to the world) and proud Portenos (BA residents) will warm even the most jaded traveller’s heart.
Lisbon endured an earthquake and tsunami in 1755, a huge fire in 1988, followed by the Great Recession which led to mass unemployment. Yet despite Lisbon’s turbulent history, it remains one of Europe’s loveliest cities.
Portugal’scapital sits atop seven steep hills - it’s a bit of a slog to get to the top but trust JAT when we say that you won’t regret the effort for a second (unless you forget your smartphone), as stunning vistas of Lisbon’s postcard perfect pink and yellow tiled walls come as standard.
Seeing the sights from the back of a bus doesn’t cut it in Lisbon. Instead hop aboard one of the old fashioned trams: number 28 will take you to the colourful Feira da Ladra flea market (open Tuesdays and Saturdays) at Campo de Santa Clara. Alternatively, head west on number 15 to Belem for a culture fix. Arguably the jewel in Lisbon’s crown, this old worldly neighbourhood is packed full of maritime history (this is where the Spanish Armada assembled in 1588) and museums. Even if museums aren't your thing, do make time to check out the Museum of Art and Technology (MAAT), whose striking construction was designed by Stirling Prize-winning British architect Amanda Levete. That being said, Belem is perhaps best known for its freshly baked pastels de nata (custard tarts) - sweet sugary, treats that are worth ditching the diet for.
Mention you’re going to Madrid and chances are Catalans (the people of the Catalonia region of which Barcelona is the capital), will tell you than the Spanish capital is the kind of place where your Gran would holiday.
The Catalans may have been correct circa 2006 when Barcelona – with its brilliant beaches, football team and world class art, architecture and design was regarded as one of the most desirable places on the planet – but cool never stays in one place for long.
Fast forward to 2016 and Barcelona has arguably become a victim of its success, while the once scruffy Madrid has upped its game and is now bursting with atmospheric barrios filled with friendly Madrilenos who need no invitation to tell you how great their city is.
There are many museums to take in including the Museo del Prado (Madrid’s best known attraction) and the Reina Sofia (an absolute must for art fans). For all that, Madrid is not about sightseeing per se, as it is about exploring: taking lazy strolls through flamenco soundtracked cobbled streets, dawdling the day away in an elegant cafe and eating a long late lunch in a tapas bar.
Make no mistake: in the fantasy game of "where would you like to live for three months" Madrid – with its heady mix of culinary feasts, cultural offerings, buzzing nightlife and friendly locals – would be on our list…
Hawaii was declared the 50th US state back in 1959 but, compared to the mainland, it may as well be another country (and indeed some natives are seeking sovereignty). The difference is largely down to the tropical shirt and rubber flip flop clad Hawaiians themselves – and their love of the three Fs: food, family and fun. Hawaiians don’t ask for more from life than it can give and, as such, smiling faces are evident everywhere. From the taxi driver who starts crooning his favourite Bruno Mars track (the music maestro was born in Hawaii) to the supermarket assistant who greets each and every customer with a heart felt “alo-ha!”But let’s be honest: Hawaii is best known for its beaches (Hawaii does beaches better than pretty much anywhere else on the planet). Waikiki is the most famous, with Hanauma Bay– which has a reputation for the best snorkelling – also hogging the headlines. Beyond the beaches, waking early to head out to Pearl Harbor – the target of a Japanese attack that thrust Hawaii into America’s history that recently commemorated its 75th anniversary– and pay your respects to those who lost their life on the 8 December 1941 at the USS Arizona Memorial is a rite of passage for any visitor to O’ahu. The island isn’t easy to get to, being some 2,000 miles from any country, but trust JAT when we say: you’ll leave happier for having visited.
Long overshadowed by its giant neighbours, Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay – (easier to pronounce, than it is to spell) is finally getting the attention it deserves. Make no mistake: Uruguay may be the second smallest country (after Suriname) in South America but it has a charm, energy and style all of its own, meaning a trip here is fully warranted in its own right.
Chances are Colonia del Sacramento – a characterful UNESCO world heritage listed town that’s resistant to bright lights and late nights – will be your first introduction to little Uruguay. There’s not much to keep you here for longer than a couple of days but, if you’re getting over jet lag, then peaceful Colonia del Sacramento is the perfect spot in which to do so.
From Colonia, move onto Montevideo – thenation’s capital and home to nearly half of Uruguay’s population – before hitting up Punta del Este, a fun place to top up the tan with the stylish set by day and party hop by night. However if you’re in search of a more authentic Uruguay, push onto Punta del Diablo – a former fishing village, about 175km from flashy Punta del Este – where empty beaches and wild sand dunes abound and the focus is not on nightlife, but on the waves.
But wherever you travel, chances are you’ll reach the conclusion that while Uruguay may be small in stature compared to its cousins, it deserves its spot on any South American travel itinerary.
The Aloha State maybe synonymous with surfing but Hawaii is also a haven for golfers, being abundantly blessed with gorgeous golf courses. Here's a primer on where to play: you can say “Mahalo” (thank-you) later..
Olomana Golf Club (O’ahu)
Framed by the dramatic Ko’olau mountain range in the gorgeous Windward community of Waimanalo, Olomana is where Michelle Wie - one of the LPGA's most recognised stars - got her start. It’s also where POTUS (and O’ahu native), Obama, practises his swing when in town. And for good reason: this 18-hole golf course is divided into distinctly different and challenging nines. The front nine features level fairways with formidable water hazards, while the back nine’s lush rolling hills are scattered with strategically placed sand bunkers.
Green fee from US$39 (nine holes) and US$69 (18 holes); www.olomana.golf
Mana Laui Francis H. I‘I Brown Golf Courses (Big Island)
Mauna Lani Resort's two championship golf courses, the Francis H. I‘i Brown North and South, are strikingly different, yet equally challenging.
Built on a lava bed, the north course is characterised by kiawe forests and rolling fairways. The signature hole is the number 17- an Instagram-worthy par-3 tucked into a natural lava bowl. Meanwhile the south course - which snakes through stark, rugged a‘a lava - boasts two striking ocean holes. Step forward number seven, a picturesque par-3 framed by the blue Pacific Ocean, and number 15. The latter is one of the most photographed over-the-water golf holes in the world.
Green fee from US$225 (non resort guests) and US$160 (resort hotel guests); www.maunalani.com
Turtle Bay (O’ahu)
Oahu’s North Shore is celebrated for its spectacular surf, but two legends of golf and architecture – Arnold Palmer and George Fazio – have left their mark with this 36-hole venue.
Crafted during the 70s, the original Fazio course has holes that meander along the coastline and include breathtaking views of Hawaii's iconic North Shore. However the jewel in Turtle Bay’s crown is the Palmer course, whose setting - think dense wetlands, contoured tree-lined fairways, and a crescendo to amazing ocean views from the penultimate hole – make it a bucket-list course for any avid golfer.
Green fee from US$105 (Fazio course) and US$155 (Palmer course); www.turtlebayresort.com/Hawaii-Golf
Kapalua Golf (Maui)
Voted the best golf course in Hawaii by Golf Digest magazine, Kapalua - set amid a 22,000-acre historic pineapple plantation on the popular island of Maui - boasts two championship courses. Take a bow the Bay course - an Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane collaboration offering ocean views on 14 of the 16 holes - and the Plantation course. Framed by the West Maui mountains, the Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore designed Plantation course is home to the PGA TOUR’s season opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Green fee from US$219 (Bay course) and US$299 (Palmer course); www.turtlebayresort.com/Hawaii-Golf
When to go
The dry season (April to October) is arguably the optimumtime to take to the greens.
Green fees range from £54-£23.
The Hawaiian islands are a long flight from London - you’re looking at approximately 17 hours.
UK citizens must register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) 72 hours before arrival. Registration costs US$14 and is valid for two years.
At the time of writing, no specific vaccinations are required for entry to Hawaii.
O’ahu has an excellent islandwide public transportation system called TheBus but renting a car is usually necessary on thee neighbouring islands.
Tourism board contact
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Sure the sun-lashed islands of Hawaii can be horrendously expensive but it is possible to visit this exotic chain - which this year is marking the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor - and have fun on a budget. Here's how...
Think outside the (beach) box
Hawaii is arguably best known for its beautiful beaches. Hanauma Bay (www.hanaumabaystatepark.com/) – a protected marine life park - is currently hogging the headlines having been named America’s best beach on an annual top 10 list compiled by coastal science professor Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach.
And rightly so: this beloved bowl shapedbay is the place to get up closeand personal with Hawaii’s colourful state fish – the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (humuhumu for short) – but it will cost you. (Entry is US$7.50 with snorkelling set hire, priced at an additional US$20.
Of course you could wander to Waikiki but Hawaii’s most famous beach is set against a back drop of irresistible bars and boutiques - hardly ideal if your budget is more push bike than Porsche…
Our advice? Forget Waikiki and make for Oahu’s Windward coast where you’ll find Kailua with its white sand, azure waters and wave conditions for just about every water sport imaginable and Lanikai - consistently crowned one of the world’s most spectacular beaches by travel magazines. Then there’s North Shore – a surfing mecca that draws pros from around the world owing to its waves, which are as high as houses.
Take a hike
Hawaii isn’t all about beaches… Hikers will be in seventh heaven as there are numerous trails, all of which are free to access, and serve up the kind of heart stopping vistas you’ll be dreaming about for months afterwards. Don’t miss Diamond Head Park – O’ahu’s best known landmark.The trail to the summit of this 475-acre crater was built in 1908 as part of the US Army Coastal Artillery Defense System. Allow around an hour to hike to the top of the crater rim and back and don’t forget your camera: the views of the Waianae Range (to the west) and Koko Head (to the east) are spectacular.
Alternatively lace up your hiking boots and make for Manoa Falls - a favourite of US president Barack Obama (who spent part of his childhood in Hawaii) - where you can stride out through rocky stream-beds, bamboo forests and banyan trees, before reaching the 150-foot tall waterfall. Don’t be tempted to leap in though: leptospirosis (a bacterial infection caused by exposure to water) and falling rocks makes swimming inadvisable.
Culture on the cheap
Tourists books and travel guides will advise you to experience an authentic luau (a traditional Hawaiian party or feast). Typically the sounding of a conch shell signals the beginning of the evening’s festivities: expect an entertaining evening of Hawaiian culinary delights (chow down on kalua pua’a aka roasted pig, poke – raw fish marinated in soy sauce - and haupia – coconut custard), culture, history and Polynesian dancing…. for around £60.
However if your purse strings are suffering, panic not: simply head forKūhiō Beach Hula mound on Kalākaua Ave (opposite the Hyatt Regency Waikīkī) where every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening from 6-7pm (Nov-Jan), you can catch a complimentary Hawai‘ian music and hula show by some of Hawaii’s’finest hālau hula (dance troupes) and performers, underneath a magnificent banyan tree.
Make no mistake: locals are keen to make sure that their cultural traditions aren’t forgotten and, subsequently, sites such as the the Royal Hawaiian Centre (www.royalhawaiiancenter.com/events) host free arts and craft, hula, ukulele and lomi lomi (indigenous Hawaiian healing massage) classes in addition to staging performances by Hawaiian storytellers and musicians who are keen to share with malihini (visitors), the history and heritage of their homeland.
On Friday nights, don’t miss Hilton Hawaiian Village’s (www.hiltonhawaiianvillage.com/resort-experiences/entertainment-and-events) fabulous (free) firework display on Waikiki Beach, that’s proved popular with visitors and O’ahu local alike since it was first introduced in the eighties.
Plan a visit to Pearl Harbor
Rising at a ridiculously early hour to head out to Pearl Harbor (www.pearlharboroahu.com) and pay your respects to those who lost their life in the Japanese attack on 8 December 1941 that pushed America into WW11, is a rite of a passage. Particularly this year - what with it being the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor (which resulted in five battleships being sunk and 2,500 American lives lost) and all..
While Pearl Habor sites such as the Battleship Missouri Memorial (www.ussmissouri.com) and Pacific Aviation Museum (www.pacificaviationmusuem.com) and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park charge a small admission fee, the USS Arizona Memorial - aka the most significant WW11 site - is absolutely free. Run by the National Park Service (NPS), the memorial consists of an excellent visitor centre and museum packed full of rare WW11 memorabilia and historical photos, plus an offshore shrine. Boat trips to the shrine - which was built over the midsection of the sunken USS Arizona - depart from the visitor centre every 15 minutes from 8am-3pm, but it’s best to arrive early as the day’s allotment of tickets is often gone by 12 midday.
Hawaii isn’t a cheap dining destination - prices, particularly in Waikiki, tend to be as high as the Shard. That being said, there’s no need to go hungry in Hawaii if your wallet isn’t rammed with dollars. Seek out a Farmers Markets - the Saturday Farmers Market at KCC (www.hfbf.org) gets our vote - where you can get stuck into arange of Hawaiian foods(think poi,loco moco, masaladas and more) that represent this exotic chain of islands’ multi-cultural make-up, for peanut prices while also getting to hang out with Hawaii locals who love to eat.
Or rock up at Rainbow Drive-In (www.rainbowdrivein.com) - a colourful Kanaina Avenue diner that was a favourite hang-out of the teenage Obama. Fast forward to today and the US President still pops into Rainbow Drive-In fora plate lunch. Consisting of macaroni salad served with two scoops of rice and everything from Korean barbecue to chicken katsu, the plate lunch is a popular - and crucially affordable - Hawaiian ono grind (good eat).
Last but by no means least, Look to Zippy’s (www.zippys.com) – a Hawaii institution beloved by 24k Magic singer, Bruno Mars, that’s gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary on 17 October - for fast food, Hawaiian style.
Make the most of Happy Hour
No visit to Hawaii is complete without tasting a tropical tiki cocktail (or two), for the islands are as synonymous with the Mai Tai and Blue Hawaii –as they are with pineapples, surfing, volcanoes and aloha.
One negative? The Mai Tai, which fuses two rums, fresh lime juice, orange Curacai, rock candy syrup and almond syrup), and Blue Hawaii ( a colourful fruit flavoured cocktail ) weigh in aroundthe US$15 mark. Ouch… All of which is why it pays to take advantage of happy hour (often called ‘aloha hour’) - a great way to taste the tropics at destinations like Dukes (www.dukeswaikiki.com/), a surf themed party bar named after legendary Hawaiian waterman, Duke Kahanamoku who broke world swimming recordsbefore appearing in more than 15 Hollywood films, without breaking the bank.
Local newspapers like Honolulu Star Advertiser (www.staradvertiser), Honolulu Weekly (www.honoluluweekly.com) and Honolulu Magazine (www.honolulumagazine.com) detail the drink deals to kick-start your Hawaiian holiday.
Words and pictures: Kaye Holland