Tag Archives: Ireland

The World’s Strangest Beaches

29 Apr

While white sand beaches with azure waters and billowing palms are nice, they’re far from unusual. For those looking for a truly unique coastal experience, the following beaches provide just that. Barking sand, star-shaped fossils and natural underground hot springs are just a few of the strange experiences you can have on the following strangest beaches.

Hoshizuna Beach, Okinawa, Japan

Hoshizuna Beach is one of the unique beaches in the world where you can find star-shaped sand (the other two are on Taketomi Island in Okinawa, Kaijihama Beach and Aiyaruhama Beach). The tiny stars are actually fossils from thousands of tiny crustaceans. That being said, locals have a mythical story to go along with why the beaches contain star-shaped sand. Legend has it that there once was a star mother and father who had a star baby. While they consulted God of Sky about the birth they left God of Ocean out of the decision making, who became infuriated and killed the baby star with a big snake. The snake’s feces became the fossils we see today on the beach. Additionally, God of Sky put the baby star into the heavens as a fossil, which is why you see stars in the sky today.

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain

Gulpiyuri Beach; World's Strangest Beaches

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain. Photo courtesy of guillenperez via Flickr.

While there’s nothing unusual about a beach with golden sand, crystal waters and waves, it is when its location is in the middle of a meadow. The 131-foot (40-meter) shoreline of Gulpiyuri Beach offers a whole new type of beach serenity, as you can cool off in the translucent salt waters while taking in both beach and rolling countryside hills.

Loango National Park, Gabon, Africa

For those who want a mixture of pristine beach and wildlife spotting, Loango National Park is the place for you. The park extends all the way to the white sanded coast, where you can watch hippos, gorillas, buffalos, leopards, elephants and wild pigs take a dip in the water — and sometimes even surfing. It’s definitely not your usual day of building sand castles and playing beach volleyball.

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. World's Strangest Beaches

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. Photo courtesy of brewbooks via Flickr.

Petroglyph Beach will take you back in time. Nobody is quite sure how the 40 rock carvings got there, but they make the beach quite unusual as you take in the boulders etched with faces, birds and fish, thought to be carved over 8,000 years ago. For a mix of mystery, history and culture, Petroglyph Beach is a must.

Barking Sands Beach, Kaua’i, Hawaii

Just as the name says, the sand on Barking Sands Beach makes a barking noise when rubbed. This means that as you walk over its 17 miles (27 kilometers) of coastline it will sound like a rambunctious dog. What makes this strange beach even more unusual is it’s also home to a rocket-launch site and missile-defense testing center.

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. World's Strangest Beaches

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. Photo courtesy of dany13 via Flickr.

While white- and golden-sand beaches are commonplace, when is the last time you laid out on a beach of striking pink sand? Pink Sands Beach is over three miles (5 kilometers) long and 50 to 100 feet (80 to 161 kilometers) wide. The cause of its unusual hue is Foraminifera, a coral organism that leaves behind its pink shell when it dies.

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. World's Strangest Beaches

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of eliduke via Flickr.

Due to intense geothermal activity on the Coromandel Peninsula, visitors to Hot Water Beach can dig holes into the sand to create natural hot spring pools. The water gets as hot as 147°F (64°C), and makes for a relaxing and unique beach experience.

Schooner Gulch, Mendocino Coast, California

Also known as “Bowling Ball Beach,” visitors to Schooner Gulch can witness thousands of boulders of equal shape, size and spacing sit lined up like soldiers defying the tides. What’s truly amazing about this rare phenomenon is it is completely natural, with no human interference. The geological explanation is that these concretions are created from resilient minerals and materials that have been able to withstand damage from the Pacific Ocean.

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland. World's Strangest Beaches

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway is home to 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, created by volcanic eruptions. These natural formations feature precise hexagonal shapes laid out like honeycomb clusters that disappear into the sea.

The landscape is so dramatic in appearance it has inspired local legends of giants walking over the water to Scotland, hence the word “causeway.”

Chandipur Beach, Chandipur, India

At high tide Chandipur Beach may appear like any other; however, at low tide the water recedes about three miles (five kilometers) from the shore, exposing the seabed to beach-goers. Visitors can see unusual seashells, driftwood, crabs and  other organisms  usually not exposed on the beach, giving them the feeling they’re walking into the sea.

Genipabu Beach, Natal, Brazil

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. World's Strangest Beaches

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. Photo courtesy of Leandro’s World Tour via Flickr.

Genipabu Beach offers much more than just swimming, as the landscape is a mix of beach and desert. Enormous sand dunes allow for sand boarding and camel riding, while the Atlantic Ocean provides opportunities for water sports. Basically, this unusual beach offers two completely unique experiences in one.

Perissa, Santorini, Greece

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece. World's Strangest Beaches

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece.

While we’ve all seen white and gold sand — and sometimes even strange beaches glowing with hues of pinks, oranges and reds — Perissa Beach in Greece is the complete opposite. The endless beach’s pitch black sand creates a strikingly eery yet beautiful landscape. These dark volcanic granules are extremely soft and fine, as well. From the beach you can also walk to the ancient city of Thira, thought to have once been a Spartan colony, by hiking up the Perissa’s backdrop mountain of Mesa Vouno. Warning: Because of the sand’s dark color it tends to get extremely hot, so bring your flip flops.

The World’s Strangest Beaches

Lucky Landmarks

20 Mar

Trevi.jpgWith St. Patrick’s Day approaching, there are two things you need to be ready: Stylish green apparel and somewhere lucky to show it off. Here are a few suggestions for a charmed vacation.

 

The Blarney Stone – Built into the walls of Blarney Castle, the Blarney Stone is a worldwide symbol of luck. According to legend, when one kisses the Blarney Stone they are gifted with “the gift of gab.” This gift endows the lucky lips with flattering words and the power to convince. Naturally, it is a popular destination for salespeople and politicians worldwide. (I would assume)

The Trevi Fountain – This is one of Rome’s great masterpieces. The Baroque fountain was finished in 1762 by Guiseppe Pannini and has since become, arguably, the most famous fountain in history. Legend holds that those who throw a coin into the fountain are ensured a return to Rome. It’s estimated that 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. If you ask me, that’s a good enough reason to return to Rome. Just think of it as the Pot o’ Gold at the end of your rainbow.

St. Patrick’s Day is a lucky day, but don’t push your luck. When you travel, be sure to Stay with people who care℠. Best Western locations can be found nearby these and many other lucky destinations around the world.

Lucky Landmarks Ireland , lucky travel , rome , St. Patrick’s Day

The Stay List: Ireland’s Green Scene

11 Mar

Cape Clear Island, off the southern tip of Ireland in County Cork.  
(Photograph by Peter Gorman, Flickr)

Ireland’s notoriously “soft” weather makes the fields gloriously golden, but it also makes the ground soggy for would-be campers seeking to experience nature in dramatic landscapes off the beaten path. Leave it to Irish ingenuity and hospitality to adapt the camping experience with refined yurts, pods, and safari tents outfitted with duvet-covered beds, antique furniture, and woodstoves.

Since the economic crash, savvy entrepreneurs have seen new demand for nature experiences away from the tourist trail. They’ve set boutique camping sites in secluded spots where permanent structures might be out of place, with access to outdoor adventures and on-site enticements like a wine bar, marina, or pub. Although you won’t get a hot Irish breakfast, there are plenty of rainbow sightings and other photo opportunities.

Shoreline Chic

No on knows posh indulgence like Dromquinna Manor owner John Brennan, also a partner in the five-star Park Hotel Kenmare with brother Francis. So it’s no surprise that the safari tents on the 40-acre property fronting Kenmare Bay have reading lamps, plush towels, a welcome basket of snacks, and custom “wilderness beds” crafted from fallen logs and topped with goose down comforters.

Guests enjoy horseback riding from Dromquinna Stables and cruising the bay to the seal colony aboard Seafari, which departs right at the pier. The food is upscale, too, with croissants and cappuccino in the shop for breakfast, wine and artisan cheese for afternoon noshing, and the Boathouse Wine Bar and Bistro offering tapas and grilled pizza along the waterfront. “There’s a massive appetite for something different,” says Brennan. “This type of camping attracts couples and families who want to be in nature but don’t want to slumber on the ground in a sleeping bag.” (From $165)

One of the yurts on offer at Boutique Camping. (Photograph courtesy Boutique Camping)

Sculpture Park

Situated in Ireland’s midlands north of Kilbeggan, Boutique Camping is part upscale camping site. The 100-acre property is the creation of owner Adrian Murphy, who transformed the rolling farmland by installing roads and walking trails, planting more than 200,000 trees with clearings for the yurts and shepherd’s huts, building two shared kitchens and an eating deck, and carefully placing works of art to encourage discovery.

A circle of standing stones carved with Celtic symbols tops a two-tiered mound; a group of totem poles overlooks the pond; druids and mythical figures emerge from massive tree trunks. Iron beds, woodstoves, and the dreamy effect of candles set the night scene. “I’ll never be done adding to the property,” says Murphy. “I wouldn’t have any fun then.” (From $128)

Glamping and Guinness

After a day of boating, fishing, or hiking, what could be more satisfying than a pint of ale in an atmospheric pub while listening to a traditional music session? At Battlebridge Caravan and Camping Park near Leitrim, 100 miles northwest of Dublin, the pub is right on site.

When Joe and Eilish Beirne took over the family’s Battlebridge Pub along the Shannon River, they developed a marina and campsites but soon realized people wanted even more conveniences and pampering. They added carnival-style tents with wooden beds, chandeliers, and linen service, plus four wooden pods that look like upside-down boat hulls and a deck overlooking the river. You can rent a boat for a day or book a weeklong camping-boating package. (From $230 for two nights)

Island Outpost

It takes 45 minutes on a small ferry to get to Cape Clear Island, one of Ireland’s most remote inhabited islands, off the south coast of West Cork. Guests walk over the hill to Chleire Haven, where eight canvas yurts (and tepees) cling to the edge of a 30-foot bluff overlooking South Harbor. They feature stunning Atlantic views, comfortable beds, gas stoves, cooking utensils, and solar-powered lighting.

Co-owners Dave Calvert and Sally Davies recommend weeklong stays to take in the nearby heritage museum and bird observatory, go kayaking or whale watching, and check out a 5,000-year-old burial chamber entered through a tunnel passage. Off-island adventures include a cruise to Fastnet Rock to explore a century-old granite lighthouse. (From $105)

The Stay List: Ireland’s Green Scene Battlebridge Caravan and Camping Park , Beirnes Pub , Boutique Camping , Cape Clear Island , Chleire Haven , Dromquinna Manor , Dromquinna Stables , dublin , Fastnet Rock , Ireland , Kilbeggan , Park Hotel Kenmare

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in March

7 Mar

Holi is also known as the Festival of Colors, for obvious reasons.  (Photograph by Anurag Kumar, My Shot)

There are some amazing events on tap all over the world, all the time. Here’s a taste of what you can see and do in March:

  • As the summer sun sets on the Southern Hemisphere, one Australian beach town isn’t quite ready to bid the season adieu. In Coolangatta, surfing greats like Kelly Slater duke it out on the waves at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast (March 2-13) competition. While the riders paddle their way toward big cash prizes prize, spectators can keep their toes in the sand with meet and greets, live music, and shopping.
  • Call it a bruja brouhaha. Subscribers to the supernatural flood the streets of Catemaco, Mexico for the annual Noche de Brujas (March 1), a festival that fetes the ancient tradition of Mexican sorcery in a community that claims to be the world capital of witchcraft. Healers and local shamans abound, but if the magic fails, don’t fret. The calming lap of nearby Laguna Catemaco may be just as entrancing.
  • The Gathering Ireland, a yearlong initiative intended to draw the Irish diaspora back to their homeland, takes a literary turn this month at the Ennis Book Club Festival (March 1-3). Acclaimed author Joseph O’Connor will headline the event, but he’s not the only draw. The weekend will be filled with enough readings, seminars, and literary love-ins to appease even the most hardcore bookworms.
    Many women --

    Many women wear traditional dress during Las Fallas. (Photograph by Alexander Rostocki, My Shot)

  • Once a simple feast intended to honor the carpentry of Saint Joseph, today’s Las Fallas (March 15-19) in Valencia, Spain is a veritable ode to pyrotechnic prowess. Watch as local tinkers construct enormous effigies, only to set them ablaze on the festival’s final night. Not all the statues face the stake though. A citywide vote bestows clemency to the crowd favorite.
  • Foodies and oenophiles the world over have been flocking to Sonoma County for decades. Discover why at the California’s Artisan Cheese Festival (March 22-24). Farm tours, cheese making seminars, and pairing demos are all part of the program, but the festival’s location — with Napa Valley, San Francisco, and the Muir Woods just a stone’s throw away — may be the biggest star of all.
  • Music festival season is upon us. From Austin to Glastonbury, large crowds and loud sounds are an inextricable part of spring. This year, take the path less traveled to the principality of Andorra as it hosts its first ever ElectroSnow festival (March 30-April 1). What traveler in their right mind (and with enough scratch in their pocket) could resist a trip to the Pyrenees for a weekend of skiing and electronic music?
  • Savannah, Georgia may be known for its Southern charm and delightful squares decorated with Spanish moss, but it bleeds green on at least one day of the year. The Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade(March 16), now in its 189th year, is one the largest in the world, and pays jubilant homage to the city’s unique Irish heritage.
    The National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the March 1912 gift of cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C.  (Photograph by Sachin Nayak, Flickr)

    The National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the March 1912 gift of cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C. (Photograph by Sachin Nayak, Flickr)

  • Baseball hasn’t always hit it out of the park with the International Olympic Committee. After being axed from the summer games in 2012, the international baseball community responded with the World Baseball Classic (March 2-19). With opening games staged in stadiums from Taiwan to San Juan and everywhere in between, the quadrennial event is on pace to become a global institution.
  • Devotees of Krishna the world over descend on Vrindavan, India for Holi. The Hindu holiday celebrates Radha and Krishna’s love bond and the beginning of spring, with each major Krishna temple celebrating on a different day. But the most anticipated event takes place at the Banke Bihari Temple on March 27, where worshippers and visitors alike are doused in brightly colored powder.
  • Washington, D.C. ushers in spring with the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20-April 14). Celebrating the end of winter and the enduring friendship between the U.S. and Japan, the beloved festival centers around the willowy sakuras that Nat Geo’s first female board member, Eliza Scidmore, played a vital role in bringing to the capital city.
  • Bali is back. A string of attacks left the island reeling, but tourists are once again flocking to this Indonesian paradise. Discover it for yourself during the Bali Spirit Festival (March 20-24), where music and movement come into perfect balance. By day, festival-goers attend yoga, meditation, and dance classes. When the stars come up, international musicians take the stage.
  • In Birmingham, England mankind celebrates man’s best friend at Crufts (March 7-10), the “largest annual dog show in the world.” Founder Charles Cruft’s first show, staged in 1886, boasted 600 entries. This year, the four-day event — which includes competitions, displays, and a trade show – will play host to more than 25,0o0 four-legged friends.

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in March Andorra , Australia , bali , Banke Bihari , Birmingham , California , Catemaco , Coolangatta , ElectroSnow , Ennis , Georgia , Holi , india , Ireland , japan , Laguna Catemaco , Las Fallas , Mexico , Muir Woods , Napa , National Cherry Blossom Festival , Phoenix , Quiksilver Pro , San Francisco , San Juan , Savannah , sonoma , Spain , St. Patrick’s Day , Taiwan , tokyo , USA , Valencia , Vrindavan , Washington D.C. , World Baseball Classic

14 Festivals and Events Worth Traveling For in 2013

7 Mar

There’s nothing quite like visiting a place when it’s in the middle of a party – especially if it’s the kind of celebration that doesn’t happen every year. In addition to the many festivals and events that occur annually around the world, there are some that are on a far less frequent schedule – some will only happen this year.

Here’s a selection of some of the must-see festivals and events happening exclusively in 2013.

Queen’s Day in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Queen's Day

Queen’s Day celebrations

Amsterdam likes to party, and Queen’s Day on April 30 has long been an incredibly popular holiday on the Dutch calendar. In 2013, however, the holiday will take on added significance as Queen Beatrix announced in January that she will be abdicating the throne this year. Her son, Prince Willem-Alexander, will be “honored as King” on Queen’s Day this year. Although there aren’t any details yet about other specific changes to 2013’s festivities, you can bet this will be a Queen’s Day to remember.

British and Irish Lions Rugby Tour in Australia

Through June into early July, the British and Irish Lions Rugby Tour takes places at stadiums all around Australia (and one in Hong Kong). The nine-match tour has been 12 years in the making, and is expected to be the biggest rugby tour in Australian history, with 400,000 people expected to attend the games.


Venice Biennale

Venice Biennale

Art installation at one of Venice’s Biennales. Photo credit: ecosistema.urbano via Flickr.

Venice’s famous festival of the arts, the Biennale, gives away its schedule in its name. Every other year (always in the odd-numbered years), there are special art exhibits, theater and dance performances, and concerts. The festival starts in June and continues through November, which gives visitors a chance to skip the summer crush of tourists and still catch some of the exhibits. Check the schedule now to find out what sorts of things you can see, and plan to spend a couple of nights in Venice in order to take full advantage of the performances as well as the city itself.


International Festival of Music in Bogotá

The folks at UNESCO do more than just add places to their list of heritage sites – they also declare various cities capitals of culture, music, and art (among other things). In 2013, Bogotá is a UNESCO City of Music – and we can think of no better way to honor that designation than by attending the debut edition of the city’s music festival. The 2013 International Festival of Music (I Festival Internacional de Musica de Bogotá, if you’re looking for the official Spanish name) is dedicated to all things Beethoven, and runs from March 27-30. Rock music more your thing? Head for Simón Bolivar Park during Rock al Parque, Bogotá’s annual rock festival (Latin America’s largest), which is held annually (typically in June-July).

Wagner’s Ring Cycle

Richard Wagner

Catch Richard Wagner’s music at orchestras all over the world. Photo credit: MITO SettembreMusica via Flickr.

200 years after Richard Wagner’s birth, orchestras all over the world will be staging performances of the composer’s entire Ring Cycle. The Berlin production (a partnership with Milan’s La Scala) is particularly notable, since Wagner was German and the conductor is a renowned Wagner expert, but almost regardless of where you are in the world, you’ll find a Ring Cycle production somewhere nearby. Music aficionados can check out performances in Seattle, Taipei, New York City, London, Bangkok, St. Petersburg, Palermo, Riga, Paris, Melbourne, and many more cities. Just be prepared for a multi-night event – it is, after all, roughly 16 hours of music.

The Gathering in Ireland

There may never be a bad year to visit Ireland, but in 2013 the country is making a concerted effort to invite the millions of Irish descendants around the world to return for a sort of “family reunion.” Called “The Gathering,” the invitation lasts all year long and will feature different festivals, exhibits, and other events in different parts of the country – including special “clan gatherings” to really emphasize any Irish ancestry you might have. This is, after all, one of those countries in which most of us feel like family whether we’re Irish or not – but if you are Irish, 2013 is a stellar year to be in Ireland.


150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg

Gettysburg. Photo credit: Donald West via Flickr.

Gettysburg National Military Park is marking the 150th anniversary of both the infamous Battle of Gettysburg and President Lincoln’s subsequent Gettysburg Address with a slate of events throughout 2013. There’s a lecture series, musical and theatrical performances, and a new exhibit featuring rare Civil War artifacts. From June 30-July 4 there will be several National Park Service programs to mark the official anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and then on November 19 there will be a ceremony to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.


The Opening of the New Bay Bridge in San Francisco

By the end of the year, San Francisco will be home to the world’s largest Self-Anchored Suspension Span (SAS) supported by a single 1-mile long main cable. The new East Span of the bridge cost more than $6 million to build and is expected to open on Labor Day weekend, an event marked by several celebrations, a foot race across the bridge, and the opportunity to walk across the bridge before it opens to vehicle traffic. More than 150,000 people are expected to walk across the bridge on Labor Day (paying a $37 toll to do so) so this is sure to be a great weekend to visit the city.


Sharjah Biennial

Sharjah

Sharjah. Photo credit: yeowatzup via Flickr.

One of the emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, Sharjah has long been regarded as a cultural capital. In fact, UNESCO named it the Cultural Capital of the Arab World in 1998. Sharjah’s biennial arts festival has been held in odd-numbered years since 1993, and in 2013 it runs from March 13-May 13. This 11th edition of the festival is called, “Re:emerge, Towards a New Cultural Cartography,” and nearly 100 artists have been selected to participate. There will be concerts, films, dance performances, and art exhibits – and 2013 is also the first year when the Sharjah Art Foundation will host the festival from its new Art Spaces, under construction since 2009.

500th Anniversary of Ponce de Leon Landing in Florida

Ponce de Leon

Ponce de Leon statue in St Augustine. Photo credit: Dave via Flickr.

It’s hard to call it a “discovery” when there were already people living there, but it was 500 years ago that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed at present-day St. Augustine and gave the place its name – La Florida. In 2013, there are special events throughout the state to mark the anniversary, including historic exhibits and lectures, parades, musical performances, scavenger hunts, a re-enactment of de León’s arrival on Melbourne Beach on April 2, and a Ponce de León celebration in St. Augustine from April 2-7.

Istanbul Biennial

Another arts festival that gives away its infrequency in its name is the Istanbul Biennial, held every two years (in the odd-numbered years). Istanbul’s festival focuses on contemporary arts, and runs from September 14-November 10 this year. 2013 is the 13th edition of the Biennial, and the concept this year is called “Mom, am I barbarian?” (the title refers to a book by Turkish poet Lale Müldür). As the festival won’t begin until mid-September, the program of events isn’t yet available – but in a city that’s becoming more and more art-centric every year, it’s a safe bet to assume that booking a trip to Istanbul for the Biennial will make any contemporary art lover smile.

Toronto Fringe Festival

Toronto Fringe Festival

Comedy at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Kevin Konnyu via Flickr.

You may be familiar with the huge Edinburgh Fringe Festival that takes place each August, but that’s not the only Fringe. In fact, Toronto’s Fringe Festival is in its 25th year in 2013. While it’s primarily a theater festival, The Toronto Fringe (like its Edinburgh cousin) also features musical performances, comedians, art displays, and childrens’ activities. This year’s Fringe will include more than 150 productions at 25 venues across Toronto from July 3-14.


200th Anniversary of “Pride & Prejudice”

Jane Austen's house in Chawton

Jane Austen’s house in Chawton. Photo credit: Herry Lawford via Flickr.

The house where Jane Austen was living when she penned one of England’s most beloved novels is an obvious destination for any Austen fan in 2013, 200 years after “Pride & Prejudice” was first published. The cottage in Chawton, however, is only one of the places around the world that’s celebrating Austen (and the novel) this year. Chawton is hosting “Pride & Prejudice” readings, writing workshops, “Pride & Prejudice” study days, musical performances, and even lace making classes. Elsewhere, you can attend a Jane Austen Festival in Louisville (USA), a “Pride & Prejudice” Festival in Cambridge (UK), “Pride & Prejudice” celebrations in Sydney and A.C.T. (Australia), and “Pride & Prejudice” readings in places as far afield as Brazil, Portugal, and Italy.

International Day of Happiness in Bhutan

Many travelers have heard about how Bhutan measures its own success as a country not by the familiar “gross domestic product” but by what it called “gross national happiness,” or GNH. Last summer, Bhutan’s campaign to bring greater global awareness to GNH bore fruit – the United Nations declared March 20 the International Day of Happiness. 2013 will mark the first time the day has been recognized by the UN, and although there’s no indication yet that Bhutan will be holding any special events on March 20, the Bhutanese calendar is already crammed with national and local festivals – including several in March. Besides, where else would you rather be on the first International Day of Happiness than in the country that essentially invented it?

14 Festivals and Events Worth Traveling For in 2013 amsterdam , Bhutan , Bogotá , featured , festivals , florida , Ireland , Istanbul , toronto , United Arab Emirates , venice

Leprechaun Luxury

21 Jan

Dromoland Castle in its full glory. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Confession: I’ve seen Shrek with my boys at least a half-dozen times, bought them every Harry Potter book in the series, and, if I had a daughter, would relish the chance to dress her as princess on Halloween. I haven’t felt the need to give up on fairy tales and am proud to have an imagination that transports me back to the Middle Ages.

After spending a hectic week running around London with my family at the Olympics this summer, I decided to book a four-day stopover in Ireland in the hopes that I could recapture some of the magical innocence of childhood while exposing my kids to a country steeped in both history and folklore.

The interior of Adare Manor is exquisitely appointed. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Anyone who has ever dreamed of being a fairy princess or medieval knight can have this fantasy come to life by staying in a genuine Irish castle. After spending a couple of nights at Dromoland Castle, we made our way to the nearby Adare Manor for another taste of Irish luxury.

Located on the banks of the River Maigue in the charming village of Adare, this architectural scheme of towers, turrets, and stonework ornamentation dates back to the mid 19th century when the Earl of Dunraven commissioned it built.

Though it was made into a luxury resort in the 1980s, the house’s grandiosity and gothic style remain largely intact. And its gardens, majestic landscaping, and the 13th-century ruins that surround the estate are just equally magnificent.

While the kids were kept busy cruising the grounds on bicycles, I ventured out to play one of the finer golf courses in Ireland. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (the last of his legendary career), Adare Manor’s 18-hole championship course was ranked the “No. 1 Parkland Course in Ireland” by Golf Digest Ireland, and I immediately saw why. Even though my score wasn’t memorable, I didn’t much care. The setting was spectacular enough.

Adare Manor’s golf course was designed by the late, great Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Archery, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, horseback riding, and falconry were also offered, so the kids never got bored. The only thing they complained about was not having enough time to try everything on offer. Hey, I thought we came here to relax, guys!

One of Adare Manor’s biggest selling points is its proximity to Shannon Airport. But even though it might not be a necessity, I would highly recommend renting a car, because driving in Ireland is an experience in its own right.

If you’ve never driven on the left-hand side of the road, you’re in for some fun. Their two-way streets are about as wide as single lane roads in the U.S., so there might be a few white-knuckle moments. The good news is that there’s relatively little traffic outside the major cities, so once you get the roundabouts down (stay left!), you’ll be ready to do some exploring.

If you have kids, I suggest making a side trip to the picturesque village of Bunratty and its renowned castle and folk park on the River Shannon just a few miles south of Dromoland Castle. Although a bit touristy, this fully restored Irish tower house retains many of the furnishings that belonged to the family who occupied the castle in the 15th and 16th centuries and is well worth a visit.

Leprechaun Luxury

Southern Ireland Road Trip: 7 Spots Not to Miss

19 Jan

Castles, coastline, verdant countryside. Beer. This part of Ireland lives up to its somewhat clichéd reputation: it’s a lush and scenic land, dotted with castles and filled with small towns with pubs on every corner. There’s so much that’s quintessentially Ireland in this region, but here are your best bets for a road trip tour of Southern Ireland.

Dublin

Guinness Storehouse

Don’t miss the Guinness Storehouse when you’re in Dublin

Start and end your trip in Dublin, but be sure to save time to see the city itself before you hit the road. It may be one of Europe’s great cities, but it might not always come across as interesting or unique. A walk through the crowds of tourists on O’Connor Street and a drink in historic but commercialized Temple Bar is enough to put you off Dublin altogether.

But visit the Guinness Storehouse for a tour and tasting, traipse through the lovely and historic campus of Trinity College, and take a tour at historic prison Kilmainham Gaol and the real Dublin will reveal its charm.

Skip the line at the Guinness Storehouse and read more about things to do in Dublin

Trim

Head next to tiny Trim, about an hour outside Dublin. Here’s where the Irish countryside begins to take over the suburban clutter around Dublin. Trim is quiet, so you won’t find any busy pubs or great live music, but you’re here for the history. The obvious, major landmark in Trim is the medieval Trim Castle, once Ireland’s largest fortification and a film location for the epic Braveheart. The tours here are excellent. Hit the walking paths of Trim to visit other ruins of the town’s gates, abbeys, friary, and cathedral.

Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle. Photo credit: Irish Typepad via Flickr.

Continue on to Kilkenny, where the narrow streets are jammed with historic store fronts; inside, you’ll find worthwhile shops, great restaurants, and lively pubs. The pubs in Ireland generally also serve excellent food, so it’s not uncommon to eat a fantastic leg of lamb and linger into the evening over pints and live music. High Street is the place to go for such evening entertainment. St. Canice, the medieval cathedral, is high on the list of sights here, as is Kilkenny Castle. If you’re not tired of historic sites yet, visit Kells Priory and the Black Abbey. A tour at Smithwick’s brewery is also a must.

Waterford

Heading south out of Kilkenny you’ll hit Waterford, of Waterford Crystal fame. The sparkly showroom at the visitor’s center is open for browsing, and tours of the factory start here. Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city, and you’ll find plenty of historic relics here, too. The most impressive is Reginald’s Tower, built in the 12th century as an important fortification. The tower is now a museum, and the displays are as interesting as the tower itself. Just watch your head in the tight stairwells.

No trip to an Irish town is complete without a stop in a church, and Waterford has two of interest: Christ Church Cathedral (look for the macabre tomb of James Rice) and Holy Trinity Cathedral (with 10 Waterford Crystal chandeliers).

Kinsale

Kinsale

Kinsale. Photo credit: Shadowgate via Flickr.

The narrow, winding streets of Kinsale are a welcome respite from busier Waterford. Kinsale is known for its food and had earned a reputation as the gourmet capital of Ireland. The streets are filled with shops and restaurants and pubs so densely packed you can hit the highlights in a day. Explore the harbor and consider a cruise on the Brandon River. Also of note is Charles Fort, just outside the town, a well-preserved star fort with great views and interesting displays.

Kenmare

Kenmare is often used as a launch point for the fantastic Ring of Kerry, a breathtaking road through mountains and countryside encircling the Iveragh peninsula. It’s also one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland, and the tour buses that squeeze on the cliffside roads can make the drive a bit harrowing at times.

But here’s where you’ll find southern Ireland’s best scenery: dramatic coastline, grazing sheep, and quiet fishing towns. It’s also close to the Ring of Kerry’s less populated alternative, the Ring of Beara. The scenery is dramatic here, too, as is the cable car ride to tiny Dursey Island. Back in Kenmare, there’s the usual charming storefronts and pubs, but not much else that stands out. One historic site to visit, though, is the Stone Circle, a Bronze Age burial monument.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher may be crowded and a bit out of the way (they’re three hours from Kenmare), but you’ll soon forget all the hassle when you step—not too close—to the edge and look down. The cliffs plunge 200 meters to an angry sea, where puffins dive for fish. You can walk along the rim and, on clear days, spot the Aran Islands and the hills of Connemara. A visitor’s center hides from view under a hillside, where the displays show a bird’s eye view of the cliffs and information on the ecosystem. For a more close-up view that doesn’t involve risking your life by jumping the safety fence, book a cruise to see the cliffs from below.

Visit the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin

From Kenmare, it’s a four-hour trip back to Dublin, but the highways here are easy to navigate. An alternative is flying home–there’s an airport at Limerick, a shorter two hours from Kenmare.

Southern Ireland Road Trip: 7 Spots Not to Miss