Flawless Beaches, Cultural Traditions, and More Only in Bali

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Flawless Beaches, Cultural Traditions, and More Only in Bali

October 15, 2018

For centuries, the waters of Bali’s Jimbaran Bay have beckoned the weak and the weary. Seeking rejuvenation in the Indonesian island’s warm ocean and on its sublime, cotton-soft beaches, travelers to Bali’s exquisite southern peninsula discover a world where the four elements—earth, water, fire, and sky—converge seamlessly into a complex tapestry. And it’s not just the south of the country that intrigues.

Bali is a mystical destination where ancient cultures and wild jungles exist alongside cosmopolitan cities and authentic villages. This unique diversity is one reason that Bali, long a favorite among international adventurers, is now experiencing what can only be called “a moment.”

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Flawless Beaches

Sun-kissed surfers laid claim to Bali’s storied waves in the late 1960s. In 1972, Uluwatu, now ranked among the top surf spots in the world, gained yoga international prominence with the release of the now-classic film Morning of the Earth. Back then, the beach was accessed via a long staircase from the eponymous temple. The film broadcast the area’s isolated, stunning beauty and unleashed a torrent of visitation. 

Nowadays it’s not just surfers who come here (though there’s still plenty of opportunity to catch a wave, if desired). Visitors to Bali’s extensive coast dabble in a range of ocean sports like kayaking and parasailing, dine on fresh seafood, and lounge on the silky sand.

Puras

Beyond the beach, Bali offers unparalleled immersion in culture and tradition, both of which are embodied in the country’s estimated 10,000 Hindu temples called puras. These places of worship are designed as open-air gathering spaces enclosed by thick walls connected with a series of intricate gates. 

Built to face the mountains, sea, or sunrise, the temples range from modest to elaborate. Inside are spires, towers, and pavilions deliberately organized around three zones, known as mandalas. Typically serene and uninhabited, the puras transform into vibrant places during festivals and temple anniversaries, when visitors can experience traditional dance performances and more.

Bali Usada

A natural extension of the country’s spirituality is its reputation for holistic healing. Bali Usada, sometimes called Balinese Traditional Healing in the West, employs naturopathic remedies— herbs, massage, energy work, and other ancient practices—to treat ailments both physical and mental. Complementing this practice are the island’s burgeoning yogic opportunities. In recent years, leaders of Balinese studios have developed loyal followings, and Bali has emerged as a premier destination for yoga teacher training.

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Perhaps a great deal of the island’s popularity can be attributed to its prominence in author Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love. (Bali was where she found love.) A hit movie starring Julia Roberts followed the book, and now tourists arrive regularly on the island hoping to follow in Gilbert’s footsteps.

But Gilbert merely amplified what travelers who came before her already knew: There is no place else in the world like Bali. Lush, remote, exotic, and intriguing, Bali is a beautiful, multi-faceted destination. A vacation here can be tranquil or turbo-charged. Either way, it is guaranteed to transform.

The Dance Buenos Aires Locals Are Doing in the Streets

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The Dance Buenos Aires Locals Are Doing in the Streets

October 15, 2018

It’s not something staged for slick marketing campaigns. On summer night in Buenos Aires, porteños (local residents) really dance tango in the streets. And in public squares. And under gazebos. Tango, born in the port cities of Uruguay and Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is no longer the craze it was from the 1920s to 1940s—between 1955 and 1960 the dance’s popularity declined so much it almost disappeared—but it has been enjoying a resurgence since the late 1990s. Buenos Aires remains its beating heart, but “it has been expanding massively to the world” says native porteño Alejandro Puerta, who eight years ago left a lucrative career in microbiology in Japan to return home and focus on tango. Even though there’s a tango scene in Japan—“I didn’t experience it, but I know there is one,” Puerta says—and Moscow, and Berlin, and Sydney, Buenos Aires is undoubtedly tango’s true home.

It’s fine to wander around this European-feeling South American capital city and watch local dancers in the street. Or you could hit a milonga, an event where people gather to tango, and enjoy some local beef and wine while watching local dancers. Going to a professional tango show is exhilarating too. But Puerta encourages you to try it yourself. He teaches private lessons at a bright and airy studio in Buenos Aires’ Jewish Quarter and says, “it’s not just teaching tango and doing what I’m passionate about and making a living. It’s about making a difference, hug by hug. It’s about changing the world.”

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I’ve lived in Buenos Aires for 10 years and have tried tango, but never taken a private lesson. I’m ready to have Puerta change my world. Taking the B line subway train to Carlos Gardel, named after tango’s most legendary crooner and, appropriately, the closest station to Puerta’s studio, I’m glad I don’t need to wear heels to have my world changed. Tango shoes—strappy, often glittering, and with substantial heels—are undoubtedly sexy, but sporting them when dancing tango, at least when you’re just starting, isn’t obligatory, or expected. (But, of course, if you want to, there is no shortage of stores selling bespoke tango shoes; and “tango shoe shopping is a very special experience,” says Sasha Cagen, an American who has lived in Buenos Aires since 2012 and has led tango tours here since 2014.) I figure tango shoes can come after I’ve gotten over my problem of having two left feet.

Inside Puerta’s light and airy studio where the new wood floors are polished just so, I stand tall, my stockinged feet together. Cagen earlier described tango to me as, “a dance of hugging and walking,” and said, “a lot of Americans may find that discomforting, so you need to have some courage to try hugging a stranger.” But the thought of body contact doesn’t faze me; greeting friends new and old with a kiss on the cheek is the norm in Argentina. If it did faze me, I think as soon as I met Puerta, a 41-year-old trilingual (including impeccable English) doctor of microbiology overflowing with charm and good manners, my mind would be at ease. During our hour-long lesson, Puerta takes matters, literally and figuratively, step by step, and, along the way, teaches me about the history of tango dance and music.

Born in the rough port neighborhoods of Argentina’s capital in the late 1800s (it also emerged on the other side of the River Plate in Montevideo, Uruguay), tango was the pastime of young migrants looking for a good time. Tango music and tango dance evolved simultaneously, but Puerta says this dual evolution “is a super-tough topic and several books could be written about it.” Because tango started with the lowest classes, “there are no written accounts of what happened in the beginnings of tango.”

African and European immigrant musicians likely playing by ear mixed different rhythms popular in their cultures. (The term “tango” might have its roots in a Niger-Congo term that slaves carried with them to Argentina.) Dancers at the time probably knew a little bit of the dances that went along with the different styles of music; they mixed dance styles until, like the musicians, they felt comfortable improvising. By 1913, tango, likely via Argentine soldiers passing through the port of Marseilles, France, had taken Europe by storm. In numerous cities, tango balls were the events of the season. London’s Waldorf Hotel hosted Tango Teas (high tea with tango dancing). Once tango had gotten popular in Europe, Argentina’s upper classes finally took notice of the dance that had begun in their backyard.

Puerta, who grew up listening to his grandmother’s tango recordings, says the “official history is that the heyday of tango [in Argentina] was the ’40s—they’re actually called the “golden ’40s,” but new studies show that tango seems to have been significantly more popular in the ’20s. Unfortunately there is a very distorted official history and there are many myths that need to be corrected. That’s why I think it’s so important to teach tango history in my lessons.”

Tango’s intimacy and sensuality—partners are enveloped in a tight embrace chest to chest with foreheads almost touching—make it different from any other type of dance. But the close contact isn’t what Puerta thinks makes it intimate. “Tango demands us to be connected in the present and with our partner,” he says. “In tango, not listening is disconnection, and disconnection is trouble, so tango forces us to stay present in the eternal here and now—no past, no future.” Puerta explains that tango is built from the inside out. “In other dances it seems to happen from the outside in; students copy the movement and the more precise the copy, the better it looks and the better the dancer,” he says. Puerta likens tango more to meditation than to other types of dancing.

I leave Puerta’s in a decidedly non-meditative state; this is the most tango-y I’ve ever felt. An immersion in tango music seems a good next step, and I ask Facebook friends for their favorite tango tracks. I get more than 100 recommendations. These include crackly gramophone recordings from the 1920s and early ’30s of superstar Gardel, the French-Argentine baritone known as el zorzal (the thrush) warbling about lost loves and also contemporary upbeat, instrumental pieces. I learn about composer and bandoneonist Astor Piazzolla, who, in the 1950s and 1960s developed a new style of tango, tango nuevo. Recordings of Aníbal Carmelo Troilo, whose tango orchestra was popular in the 1940s and 1950s, transport me back to the genre’s golden days. In Roberto Goyeneche’s early music, there is a bit of the style of Gardel, but, by the time he launches his solo career in 1963, there’s no doubt he’s his own musician.
I learn tracks too—there’s La cumparsita—“the little parade”—written in 1916 and recorded by various artists hundreds of times since. And Troilo’s 1956 La ultima curda, “The last drunkenness.” The Troilo piece is heart-breaking—a man disillusioned with the pain and briefness of life, finds comfort in liquor and considers death the ultimate drunkenness.

But my favorites are Cacho Castaña singing Garganta con arena, the traditional Taconeando by Anselmo Aieta, and Astor Piazzolla’s instrumental, emblematic, Adiós Nonino. I put these on a new tango playlist, and also (guiltily) add some electrotango tracks by Bajofondo and Gotan Project, whose contemporary beats bring the genre into the 21st century and, for me, are more relatable.

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Armed with the basic history and moves Puerta taught me, and bolstered by hours of listening to my curated playlist, I’m excited to get back to dancing and sign up for a group tango class, Tango 1, at DNI Tango school. Tourists and porteños alike take this weekly initiation class that promises to introduce the dance quickly in a relaxed environment. You don’t need to attend with a partner, but, just in case I do need one, whether for physical or moral support, I invite my friend Eugenia to join me for the free 90-minute session.

After stretching—yes, you want to stretch before tango—we’re shuffling in pairs around the studio in a counterclockwise circle, me wearing alpargatas (similar to espadrilles and common footwear for beginner tango-ers to wear). I start paired with Eugenia, but we’re soon changing partners after each song. I dance with a handsome Swede, who towers above me and is totally focused on his footwork, then with an Argentine who chews gum more rhythmically than he dances. Thinking back to Puerta’s lessons on the importance of connected- ness with your partner, I do my best to connect—to be fully in the present and aware of my body and my partner’s body—but it’s not as easy with a fellow beginner as it was with Puerta. Tangoing with these men is clunky and heavy going. (I’m sure the feeling is mutual.) I don’t learn as much as I did in my session with Puerta, but the class has a huge advantage: I’ve now got a tango social network.

My next lesson is at the Néstor Kirchner Cultural Centre, a stunning, recently renovated Beaux Arts building in the San Nicolás neighborhood. (It was formerly Buenos Aires’ main post office; as the Cultural Centre, its nine floors are home to the Argentine National Symphony Orchestra, five auditoriums, 18 intimate performance spaces, and 40 galleries. It is the largest cultural center in Latin America and you should check it out whether you’re interested in tango or not.) When the class is separated into levels, I side with the beginners. I partner with a woman whose name I never get, but with whom I connect; as a pair, we’re fast- tracked to an advanced beginner group. I wasn’t aware that my basic steps had improved much, but evidently they have.

It’d be easy to continue taking lessons forever. There are hundreds of tango studios in Buenos Aires and a couple dozen organizations like DNI Tango and the Cultural Centre that do regular group lessons. But my goal from the beginning has been to achieve a base level of proficiency that will allow me to enjoy a milonga. Milongas aren’t places, but events: they are to tango like a jam session is to jazz. There are more than 150 places in the city that host milongas. They’re in all neighborhoods and usually open into the wee hours of the morning. (Milongas usually don’t start until 10 p.m. and some don’t really get going until 3 a.m.) Milongas are not to be confused with the ritzy dinner tango shows ubiquitous around the city. Yes, you can go to a milonga and not dance—order wine and dinner (usually bar food) and watch—but the dancers at these are generally not performing for spectators. Milongas are for the participants.

Even with lessons under my belt, going to a milonga and waiting for a man to ask me to dance sounds terrifying. Also, it’s not nearly as simple as it sounds. In tango, men don’t ask women to dance (and women don’t accept) with words but with subtle eye contact; this ritual is called cabeceo. Understanding cabeceo is another part of tango I’ll have to learn. In the meantime, Cagen suggests I hire a “taxi dancer.” The idea—hiring a professional dancer by the hour—sounds naughty and illicit, but it’s not at all unusual. From Cagen’s recommendations, I settle on Leandro, a charming, good-natured 30-something who, when not dancing, is a DJ at the city’s Café Vinilo. We decide to go to La Catedral, a milonga housed in former grain silo that’s decorated with mismatching chairs, crooked artwork, and fairy lights. We pick La Catedral because it’s a beginner- friendly tango institution with a relaxed feel. (It offers hour-long beginner classes almost every day, starting between 6 and 7 p.m.) I won’t see any top dancers here because the dance floor itself isn’t in the best condition, but that’s fine by me. I’m here with Leandro to work on my tango, not watch others.

I had thought hiring a dance partner would be awkward, but it’s not, especially once we’re on the pista (dance floor). The benefits of Leandro are endless. When we’re dancing, he has eyes only for me, and by dancing with me, he’s also showing me off to other leaders, upping my chances of a cabeceo from a non taxi dancer. Most importantly, following his lead, I am dancing tango! In a milonga! The icing on the cake comes when the first chords of a Piazzolla song strike up, and I recognize it.

Prague’s Architectural Wonderland of Cubist Buildings

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Prague's Architectural Wonderland of Cubist Buildings

September 12, 2018

As I first discovered in the peachy dusk of a winter’s evening in 1989 when the air in Prague still had the curious, candied smell of coal smoke, the Czech capital is one of the most spectacular living libraries of Western architecture. (It was spared much of the bombing that other Central European cities suffered during World War II.) Prague’s historic center—Hradčany Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge, and numerous churches and palaces, built mostly between the 11th and 18th centuries—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but throughout the entire city there is a remarkably varied array of architecture: Gothic to Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Beaux Arts, Cubist, and Art Deco. Walk through Prague and you walk through the history of Western architecture.

We stayed at the famous Hotel Europa, a now-closed Art Nouveau masterpiece on Wenceslas Square. Upon arrival—we got in late— we were sternly warned that the city’s few restaurants rarely served much beyond 10 p.m. Hungry, we immediately set out to find dinner, but, wandering cobblestone streets spread with fine, crunchy grit against the slippery frost, buildings sprung into real life from fantasies and fairytales repeatedly waylaid us. Obecni Dum (Municipal Hall) had a magnificent porte-cochere made of glass and verdigrised metal ornamented with fantastic lamps, lanterns, and brass. It was a joyously strange flight of architectural imagination, the likes of which I had rarely before seen in Europe. The only similar examples I could think of were several houses in Barcelona by Antoni Gaudi and his Sagrada Familia cathedral in the same city.

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Peering into one smoky tavern after another, we had a hard time finding a restaurant that looked appetizing (happily, today there’s a lot of superb food in Prague). It almost didn’t matter though, because the architectural mystery and magnificence of the city fed our souls. For a time. We finally ended up with a plate of mysterious mud-brown stew and spongy bread dumplings. For dessert we went back to the city’s architecture. We wandered home without looking at the map, but generally headed in the direction of Old Town Square. On Celetná Street, brightly lit shop windows displayed glittering Bohemian crystal, one of the Czech Republic’s most famous products. And then I saw the oddest building I’d ever seen. Terra-cotta colored, it was hulking but strangely elegant, with curiously beveled windows set into deep casements in its blocky but handsome façade.

In 1989, there was no posted explanation of what this building might be. Back at the hotel I looked it up in my guidebook—no TripAdvisor or smartphones back then either: House of the Black Madonna. We had noticed a gilded black Madonna in a niche behind a golden grill at one corner of the building at the level of its first floor. I never would have guessed the building had once been a department store, nor that it was the Czech Republic’s first Cubist building. I knew the movement of Cubist painters, notably Picasso and Braque, who worked in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, but was unaware that Cubism had ever had an architectural expression.

Enthralled, I became a student of Czech Cubist architecture; it was so compellingly eccentric. Who were the people with the nerve to build these peculiar designs in one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals? On that first visit to Prague, the dearth of information in English about the city’s other Cubist buildings—House of the Black Madonna was not alone—left me wanting more. When I returned a year later, fate intervened; I met a professor, an English-speaking Czech I fell hard for and who shared my fascination with this architectural style. One element of the regular every-other-weekend visits I came to make was the special treat of being taken to see yet another of the city’s great Cubist masterpieces. I began to learn the names and stories of the men behind these buildings: Pavel Janák, Josef Gočár (the architect of the House of the Black Madonna), Vlastislav Hofman, and Josef Chochol were the most prolific and known.

In all of its different forms of expression, including architecture, painting, sculpture, and interior design and the decorative arts, Czech Cubism flourished in Prague from 1912 to 1914, when the region was still part of the huge Austro-Hungarian Empire. These years were a prolific time for various avant-garde cultural movements. Prague’s most famous son, writer Franz Kafka, was already penning the short fiction that would make him world- renowned and the city was the world’s best-known center of Cubism outside of Paris; some might argue it surpassed the French capital.

Encouraged by advances in building technology, specifically the use of reinforced concrete, Prague’s Cubist architects designed buildings that challenged the conventions of visual reality and tradition the same way Cubist painters did. Prague’s Cubist buildings had sharp angles, slicing planes, and forms reminiscent of the inside of a crystal. There were often also large spaces unobstructed by supporting columns or pillars, made possible entirely by reinforced concrete, molded cement invisibly strengthened by steel rods and bars. Such open spaces were revolutionary at the time.

Cubist architects’ aim in disrupting the golden rules of their craft, specifically symmetry and the “appropriate” use of ornamentation, was the shared belief that most objects carry their own inner energy. The only way to release this energy was to break the flat vertical and horizontal surfaces of conventional architecture. The predominant visual feature of Czech Cubism—recurring use of beveled architectural elements—give forms an aggressive angularity that’s mathematically correct but sometimes slightly off center. Prague’s Cubist movement was also a reaction against what its practitioners considered to be the florid excesses of Secessionist architecture, or Art Nouveau.

In 1918, following World War I, the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the founding of Czechoslovakia, the graphic, angled character of the Prague school of Cubism evolved. This second wave of this evolution, which had its heyday from 1918 until it was sidelined by Functionalism and Art Deco, became known as Czech Rondocubism. This style obeyed the basic tenet of Czech Cubism, which is to make buildings pre-dimensional and added more decorative and ornamental motifs and rounded façades. This style was inspired by traditional Czech folk art and reflected the euphoria of the country at gaining its independence. (For nearly two centuries, German had replaced Czech as the main language spoken.)

Though Czech Cubist architecture never found a big following outside of the country—it was too visually extreme to move from a studiously provocative experiment into the mainstream—both Cubist and Rondocubist buildings were an important source of inspiration during the birth of Art Deco in the 1920s. And they’re still an inspiration for me. The professor and I split up, but my relationship with Prague and this quintessentially Czech style of architecture endures. Continue reading for a quick class in Czech Cubism.

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The House of the Black Madonna was the first Cubist building in Prague and remains one of the finest examples of the style. Built from 1911 to 1912 by architect Josef Gočár, it was originally designed as a department store and today houses the Museum of Czech Cubism. The museum’s fourth and fifth floors are dedicated to a permanent exhibition of Cubist art—paintings, sculpture, ceramics, glassware, and furniture— curated by the Czech Museum of Fine Arts. On the first floor, the Grand Café Orient is the world’s only surviving Cubist interior.

Emil Kralicek designed the world’s only Cubist street lantern. It’s in Jungmann Square at the side entrance of the 15th- century Gothic/Baroque Church of Our Lady of the Snows.

Palác Adria is wonderfully weird, marrying elements of Rondocubism with fortress-like towers. Architect Josef Zasche designed the opulent building for an Italian insurance company in 1924.

Emil Karlicek’s Diamant House offers a pure and potent expression of early Cubism, with a huge doorway, surprising rooftop sculptures, and a diamond-cut façade.

Architect Otakar Novotny designed the dramatic apartment houses at Elisky Krasnohorske 10-14.

The quiet, residential Vysehrad District is home to many Cubist buildings by Josef Chochol including the Kovarovicova Villa (Libusina 49) and a trio of Cubist buildings part of a longer row (42, 47, and 71 Rasinovo nabrezi). His apartment building at Neklanova 98 is charming for being such a dramatic architectural mistaken-guess at how the “modern” world would look in the coming years.

In the Hradčany District around Prague Castle, which itself dates from the 9th century and includes Gothic and Romanesque buildings, Josef Gočár’s twin houses at Tychonova 4-6 are classic Cubist.

The National Gallery (Veletržní Palace), is itself a Functionalist building, but has a permanent exhibition devoted to Cubist art and architecture.

The Dancing House was built in 1996, but it’s proof that the work of Prague’s Cubist architects still resonates today. Canadian- American architect Frank Gehry worked with Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić on the design. The result is brilliantly twisted—literally and figuratively—and it’s the most famous modern building in the city. It’s also a witty post-modern riff on the work of the city’s original Cubists that they surely would appreciate.

The Comeback of the Humpback

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The Comeback of the Humpback

September 10, 2018

The early morning conditions on Au’au Channel are ideal—calm winds and glassy water. Puffy clouds suspended overhead glow with shades of purple and pink, which the smooth water reflects as crisply as would a freshly Windexed mirror. Between these colors, I sit comfortably on the side of an inflated pontoon, part of a grey Zodiac— something needs to be monochrome—with 15 other people. Our small craft left Lahaina, on Maui’s west coast, just minutes earlier. Looking back toward land, the light of the rising sun explodes from behind the West Maui Mountains.

A mile or two offshore, with Lahaina still in sight, the captain cuts the engine, and the only sound is water lapping at the sides of the boat. We drift in silence, our eyes fixed on the water’s surface, hunting for any sign of something below. Even a small riffle can signal a humpback whale, which, although the sunrise as seen from the ocean is gorgeous, is what we’re really out here to see. For five minutes, all 16 of us on the Zodiac swivel our necks and bodies to take in as much of the 360 degrees of ocean around us. We never see a small riffle. When a humpback—“koholā” in native Hawaiian—comes, it’s a crack of thunder.

One hundred yards from the boat, a blowhole (or blowholes, humpbacks have two) breaks the water’s surface. Its release of air is like a reverse geyser. Despite the distance, I feel the blast of air; it’s like when you’re standing on a busy sidewalk and a city bus roars past. All of us in the boat sway. And the one-of-a-kind experience isn’t over. Next the whale’s small dorsal fin arches out of the water and its tail emerges as it dives back down beneath the surface. This humpback is easily twice the size of our boat, which is not unusual for the species—adults can grow to about 50 feet in length. I don’t know if I’m more afraid or humbled. There’s no way such a gigantic beast won’t trigger thoughts about your place in the world.

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Beside it, another, smaller whale—only by comparison; it’s still about 20 feet from tip to tail—surfaces. Our captain, who partners with a local research organization called Whale Trust, tells us this pair is a mother and calf. (When born, baby humpbacks are 10 to 16 feet long, so this one is likely several months old.) I get the captain’s attention to ask a question, but am interrupted. A few hundred yards beyond the mom and kid, a third whale treats us to a full breach—it launches itself completely out of the water and slams back down with a splash “large” doesn’t begin to do justice. Mother Nature’s grandest cannonball? I’ve seen boats leave smaller wakes than the waves that expand outward in a perfect circle from this whale’s crash site. The captain gives me a wink and asks if I mind holding my question. He switches on the engine, pushes the throttle forward, and we speed toward where the breaching whale has already disappeared beneath the water.

Seeing a humpback whale here in Maui is extra special for me, because it’s potentially— albeit not likely—the same one I saw just a few months ago up north. On a bright blue August day, in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, I stood by the stern of a fishing boat. Humpbacks breached everywhere. Most of the whales in the Hawaiian Islands come from either Alaska or British Columbia. After the roughly 2,500- mile swim, they typically arrive in October and can stay through May (peak migration is mid-January to mid-March). Humpbacks have an instinct for navigation that humans are still trying to understand. That they make this migration year after year, without external help, fascinates researchers. Though whales can be seen from any of the major Hawaiian Islands, Maui reports the most sightings each year, the 45-ton mammals preferring to raise their calves in the shallow, protected waters off the island’s west coast.

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There’s no shortage of evidence for Maui’s popularity among whales as we motor farther out into the channel. It seems like every five minutes a whale breaches, or some part of a whale arcs out of the water. Sometimes this is way off in the distance; other times it’s close enough for us to hear the splash when it crashes back into the water (federal law prohibits getting closer than 100 yards). A few times I try to snap a photo, but the spontaneous nature of breaching means each time I fail. It doesn’t take many missed photos for me to get the hint: put the camera away and be in the present.

Doing this is more interesting than any photo I could have taken. I begin to notice details, like how the humpbacks allow their tails to linger above the surface of the water, as if they’re airing it out. Or waving. The rest of their school-bus-sized body is hidden, but there’s a tail, itself no small feature—an adult humpback’s is about 15 feet wide—above the water. I think of these tails—if you want to sound science-y, call them a “fluke”—merely as a gorgeous detail to be soaked in, especially when backdropped against the green-faced West Maui Mountains. But the captain, who does work with whale researchers from around the world after all, tells us exposing their fluke like this has a purpose, even if researchers are still debating the specifics of it. Some say it’s a form of thermoregulation. The captain continues: even though the point of fluking remains up for debate, everyone is in agreement that it is an unusual behavior to see here.

While mine is a group of tourists, during much of the humpback season, small boats like our Zodiac instead shuttle researchers here to study whale behavior. I and my fellow passengers “watch,” but these scientists “watch over.” Maui has several permanent foundations conducting research on humpback whales. They include the Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF), Whale Trust, Keiki Kohola, Oceanwide Science Institute, and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (NMS). While there are overlaps, each organization has its own research focus: The PWF looks into issues of boat-whale collisions and marine debris; Whale Trust studies whale songs and mating behaviors; and NMS tracks rates of disentanglement.

Considering that Lahaina was the center of Hawaii’s commercial whaling industry for much of the 19th century—an industry that’s almost entirely responsible for the near extinction of humpback whales—it makes moral sense that such research takes place here. Recent research (from here and elsewhere) reveals good news about the species: Last year, for the first time since 1970, the Hawaiian population of humpback whales was removed from the list of endangered species by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The credit for this monumental achievement goes to local organizations as well as to organizations around the world who have worked hard to beat back threats against these whales such as the commercial whaling industry, entanglement, and boat collisions. Credit also needs to go to projects that have put whales into the general public’s imagination.

Modern(ish) movies like Free Willy (1993) and Blackfish (2013) raised awareness of whale-related issues. Going further back—to the 1970s, shortly after humpbacks were first listed as endangered—National Geographic inserted a vinyl record of whale songs into one of its issues. Millions of homes worldwide listened to the sounds of whales for the first time and were enthralled.

In the early 1980s, according to Whale Trust there were between 1,000 and 2,000 humpbacks living seasonally throughout Hawaii. The latest population estimate—which is a decade old and estimated to now be higher—is that around 20,000 humpbacks live in the North Pacific; about half of these migrate to/through Hawaii.

Back in the Zodiac, the show continues. It gets better than fluking. Several hundred feet from our boat, a whale slaps its tail several times against the water: whap, whap, whap. It’s like the pop of a firecracker, except not. The sound has a density and power I’m at a loss to draw any kind of comparison to. Each whap is deadened as quickly as it’s made. The captain tells us this is one of the ways whales “talk.” This form of communication can be heard for miles.

As exciting as the whapping is, whale “singing” is more so. Having missed the National Geographic vinyl by several decades, I ask our captain what a whale song sounds like. He’s ready for this query, and pulls out a long, coiled cord with a small bulb at the end: an underwater microphone (“hydrophone” to researchers). He lowers the bulb into the water, plugs the other end into a speaker that looks like a guitar amp, and clicks on the volume knob. A chorus of sound pours from the speaker, a deep-lunged, bass- driven burp that soon becomes a high-pitched, ear-piercing whine.

Before long, we hear calls across a range of tones—bass, alto, even soprano. But without the hydrophone we’d hear little. If the captain were to turn the speaker off, it’d be as quiet as can be in our boat floating on top of the water. Whale song travels through water but not air.

Whale Trust Co-Founder Meagan Jones, who researches how whales use these songs to communicate, says the singing seems to peak at winter breeding grounds. Like much having to do with whales though, it remains an open- ended question. Song isn’t even the biggest of unanswered whale questions. A bigger one? While it is widely presumed that humpbacks come to Maui to give birth, Jones says this hasn’t been confirmed, scientifically: No one has ever documented a whale giving birth or mating here in Hawaii. I find this as awesome as the showboating the whales do on the surface—fluking, breaching, whapping. For all their perceived flamboyance, their secrets remain submerged.

The sun fully risen—its full orb hangs over the mountains—we begin to make our way back to the marina at Lahaina. My session at sea is complete, but it’s left me with more questions than it answered. I want to learn more. And if this further education comes with a helicopter ride, well, I’ll make that sacrifice.

Whale watching from a helicopter is something typically reserved for researchers. Scientists take to the sky to best estimate the difference in the size of humpbacks; this is easier to do from the air than at whale level. The captain told me he’s known of non-academic whale watchers really keen on the animals chartering a chopper for the unique perspective. How many species of animals are big enough that a helicopter actually improves the view of the individual? 

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As the blades begin their warm-up, I pull on my seatbelt, and check it several times. No matter how I sit or position myself, the result is the same: The line between being inside and outside this helicopter is blurred. This is likely because its doors have been removed. The edge of my seat is literally the edge of the helicopter. My toes rest where metal meets air. When we bank and turn right—the side I’m sitting on—I’m suspended and feel completely vulnerable. Am I about to spill out and plunge overboard? The seatbelts around my waist and shoulders hold the full measure of my body weight. I look down not at the floor, but at the bright, aqua-blue of the Au’au Channel several hundred feet below. I’d scream if I wasn’t holding my breath and my stomach wasn’t twisted around my diaphragm.

And then, a pod of whales. As we hover at 1,000 feet—the distance required by law—a pod swims together across the channel. Without getting too philosophical, it’s poetry in motion, each whale in rhythm with the others; one surfaces slightly to breathe before arching back beneath the surface. And then another rises for its fresh air. Though I can’t feel their power as I did in the Zodiac, this bird’s-eye view reveals a secret: While you might see only one whale at the surface, often many of them travel together. And although they are just 10 or 20 feet below the surface, underwater whales are virtually invisible from sea level. I wonder how many I missed from the boat. I also wonder how something so large can hide so easily. (If you don’t yet have a sense of this species’ enormity, another fact: The heart of an average adult humpback weighs more than 400 pounds.)

My third (and final) whale perspective comes on a quiet, west-facing beach near Kīhei. I’ve been adjacent to whales and I’ve been above them, now it’s time to be in the water with them. Almost. With my toes in the sand, I first look out and see the whales spouting off shore in the channel. The white spray from their blowholes makes it look like the ocean is full of fountains.

I grab my goggles, dive into the surf, and swim out 30 seconds beyond the shore break. Treading water, I search for the tell-tale fountains. They’re at least one mile away, but just as easy to see from here as from the shore. Taking a deep breath, I slip below the surface, turning my palms upward, pushing the water up to propel my body down. And then I keep still. As easy as the spouting is to see, their singing is easier to hear. Howls, moans, and grunts surround me. I wonder if it’s my imagination that I can feel the sound waves. I’ll have to go back and ask the captain. Or maybe I’ll just run with my imagination. After all, there’s still so much mystery surrounding whale behavior, who’s to say they aren’t talking to me?

The Glitzy Ski Town that Has a Vision to Change the World

Aspen-Hero

The Glitzy Ski Town that Has a Vision to Change the World

September 10, 2018
We all know about Aspen, Colorado: The town is wealthy and elite and exists in a shimmering bubble of its own making. While true, these descriptions fall far short of telling the Aspen story in its entirety. In the six decades before it was a glamorous ski destination, it was a quiet mining community in the secluded Elk Mountains. After enormous booms, gold and silver busts bankrupted the town and sent it into near obscurity. But then outsiders, like the Chicago philanthropists Elizabeth and Walter Paepcke, came in and ignited and inspired a reinvention of Renaissance proportions.

Today, the town—and the entire Roaring Fork Valley in which it sits—has a status of supreme cultural relevance, on par even with some of the world’s most cosmopolitan destinations. This humanistic evolution coincided with the development of world- class outdoor recreation and is the reason why Aspen is now unlike any other mountain destination in the world.

“The Paepckes built this incredible foundation, so that when the ski bum era came in the early 1970s, people were drawn to Aspen not only to drop out of society and ski but for the cultural life,” says Andrew Travers, arts editor at the Aspen Times. “Generation by generation, the intellectual life of the town has grown and strengthened, and it enriches everyone who lives here.”

Looking for a home to rent in Aspen? Click here for your most luxurious options.

Add in the immense wealth, a culture of philanthropy, and a progressive community—Aspen was the first mountain community to actively develop an affordable housing program for the town’s low-income residents, and both the town and the Aspen Ski Company are leaders in environmental initiatives that drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions—and you have a recipe for continuing the Paepcke legacy in perpetuity.

“There are a lot of extremes in Aspen, and much of that is geared toward extreme athleticism,” says Heidi Zuckerman, CEO and chief curator of the Aspen Art Museum. “But there’s also extreme curiosity and intellectualism and culture. If you’re not pushing yourself, you don’t feel alive. And in Aspen there’s a prevailing aspiration to being exceptional and living an extraordinary life.”

Aspen might have evolved into a glitzy ski town minus the culture and intellectualism had it not been for Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, Chicago industrialists who made a fortune in Walter’s family’s business, the Container Corporation of America. In the late 1930s, Elizabeth took houseguests for a ski weekend to Aspen and returned to Chicago charmed by the boarded-up Victorian town’s potential.

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About six years later she returned with Walter, who saw a business opportunity. Soon they had bought prime Aspen properties and secured long-term leases on the Jerome Hotel and the Wheeler Opera House. Proud intellectuals, the Paepckes’ vision was to develop Aspen for their wealthy peers, but Walter then became enamored with what he dubbed “the Aspen Idea.” The town would be the “Salzburg of the Rockies,” where art and ideas would hold equal court with science and philosophy, architecture, music, and more, says Cristal Logan, Vice President, Aspen, and Director, Aspen Community Programs, of the Aspen Institute. The institute is another Paepcke legacy, which Walter established after organizing the 1949 Goethe Bicentennial Convocation. Among the honored guests at the convocation was the French-German theologian Albert Schweitzer (this was the only time Schweitzer ever visited the United States).

Today’s Aspen Institute grew from the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies (founded in 1950), the International Design Conference of Aspen (IDCA, founded in 1954), and the Aspen Music Festival and School (founded 1951). They organized their vision around the “Aspen Idea,” where a complete life would revolve around one’s ability to “earn a living, profit by healthy physical recreation, [and have] facilities at hand for his enjoyment of art, music, and education.” To that end, the Paepckes also founded the Aspen Ski Company with several other partners in 1946, determined to fashion a European-style ski resort in the mountains surrounding the town. Ultimately, the Paepckes strived to ensure that Aspen would always be a place where mind, body, and spirit could thrive.

“If you want a great place to ski, there are other places you can go,” says the Times’ Travers. “If you want natural beauty, there are other places. But if you want those things and this rich cultural life, I don’t know if there’s anywhere like Aspen.”

There’s an old saw in Aspen: that woman pouring your $90 bottle of wine at Fig? She’s probably got a Ph.D. and can hold her own in a discussion on Proust. Put simply, smart people come to Aspen, including Barack Obama, Tom Price, David Brooks, Charles Sykes, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, among many others. Many come to take part in the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual summer event organized by the Aspen Institute that’s a who’s who of the world’s powerful and influential. “Our mission is to be a place where leaders can come to solve problems and find common ground in this place that’s not only gorgeous but also substantive,” says Logan of the Aspen Institute.

Today the institute continues to foster and provide a nonpartisan space where ideas can be exchanged. Home to dozens of programs with foci that range from policy, leadership, strategy, and youth to the arts and more, the institute also hosts the annual summer Ideas Festival. Attendees pay $3,600 for a three-and-a-half-day pass. Logan says the institute also delivers abundant low-cost public talks and roundtables to ensure the exchange of ideas isn’t relegated only to wealthy participants. The institute also fosters international partnerships and launches new programs every year; in 2017 this included The Bridge, a program on race, cultural identity, and inclusion, and the Future of Artificial Intelligence, a roundtable series.

“Our world needs places of stubborn civility, where leaders are compelled to have difficult conversations with people
they don’t agree with,” says Logan. Encouraging dialogue is a common theme up and down the entire Roaring Fork Valley, even at for-profit businesses, like Backbone Media, a public relations company in Carbondale, about 20 miles north of Aspen. Backbone, often named a “Best Place to Work” by popular magazines, is also something of an unofficial diplomat on matters of environmental protection including climate change and public lands conservation. Backbone managing partner Nate Simmons has been working behind the scenes to help forge alliances between outdoor gear companies, perceived to be traditional “tree-hugger” types, and hunting groups to better advocate for public lands protection. Most recently, he mediated a meeting between a hunting advocacy group and the environmental team of a powerful outdoor apparel company to brainstorm how they could join forces to lobby politicians and create an influential voter base in favor of public lands protection.

“Right now conservative politicians cater to the ‘hook and bullet’ group, and ignore the environmentalists,” says Simmons. “To many politicians, environmentalists and sportsmen are divided constituents. So, if we can get left- and right-leaning voters to prioritize that conservation vote, then suddenly we become a very powerful voice. We see tremendous political power in bridging that gap.” Simmons says the Aspen Institute model of engagement and mutual respect drives the approach. And though there are no specific legislative victories (yet), he is heartened by the openness and commitment of all involved to use their joint economic and political power to advocate for the environment.

There’s always been plenty to do in Aspen for the body, another element of the Aspen Idea triumvirate. In 1950, Aspen hosted the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships; it was the first American destination to wrest the revered races from European slopes. That “put Aspen on the map and established our legacy in ski racing and as a top ski resort in the world,” says Mike Kaplan, President and CEO of Aspen Ski Company. Today there’s a lot more than ski racing in the winter. Skiers and snowboarders flock to all of Ski Co’s four ski resorts (Ajax, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass), and backcountry skiers and snowshoers explore the surrounding wilderness on snow from November through late May. Some travel to the state’s storied 10th Mountain Division huts, remote backcountry lodges accessible by human power; others climb one of the area’s myriad “14ers,” mountains with elevations at or above 14,000 feet; or cross-country ski. When the snow melts, wildflowers explode, providing a colorful and fragrant background for the trail runners, mountain bikers, hikers, birders, and hunters. Aspen and the surrounding environs also draw mountaineers and rock climbers, kayakers, and stand-up paddleboarders. Fly-fishing here is world- class, and even just taking a walk on the trails around town constitutes immersion in one of the world’s most beautiful places.

“Aspen is small enough that you see people doing great things and get inspired to push yourself,” says Christy Mahon, the first woman to ski all 54 of Colorado’s 14ers. Mahon is also the Development Director at the Aspen Center for Environmental Science (ACES), another legacy institution created by the Paepckes. “And there’s a big emphasis on mentorship and inclusion. We cheer each other on in Aspen.”

Part of that enthusiasm manifests every spring after the ski resorts close and the 5Point Adventure Film Festival starts. Now in its 11th year, 5Point curates long and short adventure films and has become one of the most popular cultural events of the spring. Tickets sell out in days, and filmmakers from around the world vie for slots on the big screen, says executive director Meaghan Lynch. In many ways, the festival represents what Aspen is to so many visitors and residents, she says. “Aspen has the heart of a city and the soul of a ski town. You have the cosmopolitan with the grit, everything from duct tape to diamonds.”

Aspen’s music, arts, and literature offerings are among the best in the world, and yet another enduring aspect of the Paepcke legacy, with a modern twist. Many of the valley’s full- and part-time residents support the non-profit organizations running the Aspen Music Festival and School, Aspen Art Museum, and Aspen Words, a year-round literary organization that runs a prestigious writers’ conference in the summer and hosts authors and readings year-round.

With 630 students from 40 different countries, the Aspen Music Festival and School is the largest classical teaching festival in the world, according to festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher. Renowned faculty members return annually, and when a teaching position opens, rather than advertise the position, the board determines who the greatest musician in that particular field is (who isn’t yet teaching at Aspen) and approaches them with an opportunity. “Every single time, we get our first choice,” says Fletcher.

Here promising high school musicians meet professors from universities they’re considering, graduate students do the same, and young professionals can make a name for themselves and launch prolific careers as classical musicians. The audience is sophisticated and the programming multi-faceted. With five orchestras running and playing every day of the festival, “we put on as many shows in eight weeks as the New York Philharmonic does in a year,” says Fletcher.

The visual arts also thrive in Aspen, as the Aspen Art Museum, a non-collecting contemporary art institution (it presents art on loan from other institutions or private collectors) demonstrates. The museum’s annual fundraiser, ArtCrush, routinely raises millions of dollars for the museum, which is housed in a $45 million, 17,000-square-foot building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Fundraising for the museum was controversial, with some residents decrying the influx of exorbitant galas as elitist and anti-community and others welcoming an institution they said elevated Aspen’s art scene and would draw international modern art connoisseurs.

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“The new building changed the face of Aspen,” says Heidi Zuckerman, the art museum’s CEO. “And it’s changed a generation
of Aspenites. High school kids come and hang out in the museum because it’s part of the fabric of the community.” The impact of this casual immersion exposes residents and visitors to “things that might be confusing or uncomfortable, where they can encounter polarizing stuff,” says Zuckerman. And that, she says, is a major reason why cultures need art.

“To have a community center where people can interact with people they’re different from in a place that has no judgment whatsoever—we don’t care about your socioeconomic status or your politics; just come with an open mind—is essential to a cultured society,” Zuckerman says.

Encouraging open minds and dialogue is a primary objective of Aspen Words, and Adrienne Brodeur, executive director, has elevated the institution to national prominence since taking over in 2013. A former acquisitions editor at a New York publishing house and a published author, Brodeur envisioned an Aspen literary festival on par with the best juried writers conferences in the world, with workshops and lectures taught by preeminent contemporary writers. Under Brodeur’s leadership, Aspen Words established 10 Emerging Writing Fellowships (full tuition and expenses to attend the writing conference), and residencies for published authors. The organization recently launched the Aspen Words Literary Prize, an annual award of $35,000 that celebrates a work of fiction which shines a spotlight on a social issue. Attracting literary luminaries in the publishing world has been easy, says Brodeur. “The town has a powerful draw and can make the rest of the world slip away,” she says.

But Aspen won’t rest on its laurels. “We never want to fall into the trap of just being a place to escape and play,” Kaplan says. Aspen Ski Company has taken meaningful efforts to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming, including capturing leaking coal methane from a retired coal-fired powerplant. In addition to reducing the company’s overall emissions, Aspen Ski Company also lobbies politicians to heed the advice of climate scientists. By sharing their initiatives, the company is likely to reach CEOs of other companies on vacation in Aspen who could well be inspired to co- opt those initiatives and improve their businesses’ environmental footprint. And it’s not just Ski Co, Kaplan is quick to point out. The environmental, humanist ethos thrives across industries and populations in Aspen, he says.

“We see ourselves as stewards of Paepcke’s legacy,” Kaplan says. “We— Aspen—must be a place where people can come to discuss the most important and challenging issues of our time.” And, if all goes well, help solve them.

Pedal the Val d’Orcia to Experience the Essence of Tuscany

Pedal-Tuscany-Hero

Pedal the Val d’Orcia to Experience the Essence of Tuscany

August 14, 2018

Tuscany is always a good idea. When your mind dreams of the Italian countryside—the stuff of Renaissance paintings and Puccini’s operas—the Val d’Orcia is where it’s wandering. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Val d’Orcia is the essence of Tuscany. One of the most intimate ways to experience it is from the saddle of a bike, when there’s nothing between you and the region’s sights and smells—or between you and that gorgeous Tuscan sun.

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Villa Azzurri is a restored farmhouse that can accommodate up to 10 guests.

The Val d’Orcia begins south of the provincial capital Siena and continues to the volcanic landmark, Monte Amiata. Its rolling, cyprus-tree-studded hills are best suited to touring bikes so you can access the many miles of unpaved backroads and trails. This network triangulates within the villages of Pienza (a 15th-century urban-planning experiment from the mind of Pope Pius II), Radicofani (once the stronghold of the 13th-century gentleman bandit, Ghino di Tacco) and Montalcino (the appellation of the famed Italian varietal, Brunello di Montalcino). 

Here you may taste Sangiovese and Trebbiano wines, nibble on pecorino cheese, and lose yourself in a land where you can practically hear an angelic soprano singing Puccini with every pedal stroke.

Villa San Bartolomeo, Tuscany, Italy
Villa San Bartolomeo, a historic villa that's been fully updated.

If you’re looking to experience Tuscany as authentically as possible, choosing the right accommodations is essential. Inspirato has a few options for your next stay. First, there’s Monticelli, a six-bedroom farmhouse tucked away in the rolling Tuscan hills. Next, there’s Villa San Bartolomeo, a historic Italian villa that sleeps 12 guests and boasts much of its original charm. Finally, there’s Villa Azzurri, another restored farmhouse on an Italian hillside.

Monticelli Exterior, Tuscany, Italy
Monticelli is a contemporary farmhouse in the Italian countryside.

It’s time to add pedaling the Val d’Orcia to your bucket list. Tuscany is notoriously one of the most beautiful places in the world, and there’s no better way to experience it than on the back of a bicycle riding the winding gravel roads.

How to See the Costa Rica That Tourists Usually Miss

How to See the Costa Rica That Tourists Usually Miss

Natural treasures of all kinds can be found in the Central American country of Costa Rica. History aficionados love the capital city of San Jose, beach bums have the choice of Pacific or Atlantic Ocean views, and adventure junkies can hike or zipline through the rainforests. Costa Rica has something for everybody. Read through four of the must-see stops that tourists miss below.

Not sure where you’ll stay during your trip to the island? Check out Costa Rica’s best kept secret, Villa Vientos, in the slideshow below.

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This beautiful standalone villa can accommodate up to eight guests with four bedrooms and bathrooms.

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Guests can enjoy the views at Villa Vientos from inside or on the expansive terrace.

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While the villa is just a five-minute drive from the beach, it also has a pool for guests to lounge or swim.

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Daily housekeeping and breakfast preparation will make guests feel like royalty.

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The sunset views from Villa Vientos' terrace are perfect for after-dinner lounging.

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Luxury bedding and a warm interior design will make guests feel right at home.

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The unique design details in this home give off a much desired beachside vibe.

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The rainforests in Costa Rica are some of the most beautiful in the world with wildlife and waterfalls.

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Arenal Volcano is an active volcano that visitors from around the world come to experience.

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Soaking in the volcano-fed hot springs of Arenal Volcano is the perfect end to a long hike.

Relaxing in Volcano-Fed Hot Springs

The hot springs at the Arenal Volcano are some of the most unique in the world, surrounded by lush rainforests and volcano views…just be ready to run if you hear a rumble.

Hike the Cloud Forest

Costa Rica’s tropical climate is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, especially in places like the Cloud Forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Not only will visitors have plenty of cool wildlife to see, the misty forest is the perfect photo op for adventurers.

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Visit a Chocolate Plantation

Who doesn’t want to see how this favorite food is made? With plenty of options for day tours and taste testing, chocolate lovers will adore this uniquely Costa Rican experience.

Float Down the Tortuguero Canals

This northeastern region of Costa Rica isn’t accessible by car, and it’s the perfect excursion for nature lovers and solace seekers. As visitors float down the canal, they’ll see an abundance of wildlife in the heart of the rainforest.

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And finally, to experience the best of Costa Rica, it’s important to find accommodations that let you soak in the natural beauty of the country. One home in particular, Villa Vientos, is a perfect option. View Villa Vientos in the slideshow above.

Luxury Apartments You Can Rent in the Heart of Barcelona

Luxury Apartments You Can Rent in the Heart of Barcelona

May 15, 2018

Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, is home to over 1.6 million people and some of the richest culture in the world. Notorious for its art, history, and otherworldly architecture, tourists never run out of things to see. 

Whether you’re into scenic parks, centuries-old churches, or urban nightlife, there’s something for everyone in this enchanting city.  Ranked as the #1 Place to Visit in Spain by U.S. News & World Report, it’s no secret that Barcelona has plenty to offer the Euro-traveler. Not sure where to stay when you visit? Explore inside the Majestic Residences in the slideshow below.

Hotel Majestic Barcelona

With easy access to attractions, the Majestic Residences are the ideal place to stay.

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The solarium-terrace overlooks the city with views of La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, and Paseo de Gràcia.

Majestic Hotel Barcelona Living Room

This modern two-story home is the perfect place to stay in the heart of Barcelona.

Hotel Majestic Barcelona Breakfast

The unique, oversized breakfast bar is open every morning with a variety of food to choose from.

Rooftop Terrace, Hotel Majestic, Barcelona, Spain

One of the most-loved features at the hotel is the open-air, rooftop pool with stunning views.

Hotel Majestic Barcelona Restaurant

Six on-site dining options make it easy for guests to enjoy a meal at any time of day.

Majestic Hotel Barcelona Desk

The views of downtown Barcelona from the Majestic Hotel and Residences are unrivaled.

Guests will love the hydro-massage tub, walk-in shower, and high-end bathroom design.

Every luxurious design detail was accounted for inside the Majestic Residences.

Majestic Hotel Barcelona Bedroom

Guests will rest easy with luxury bedding, blackout curtains, and high-end amenities.

Explore Parc Güell

One of the most popular sites is Parc Güell, a whimsical park that was originally supposed to house the wealthy. Antoni Gaudí decided to create a garden when the land wasn’t compatible for buildings incorporating all of the oddities. The park stretches over 42 acres and holds Dr. Seuss-style structures and plenty of picturesque landscapes and pathways to explore. 

Penthouse Majestic Hotel and Spa Barcelona Sagrada Familia view

The Gothic Quarter

For history and architecture lovers, the Gothic Quarter is the first stop. This lively neighborhood is also the city’s oldest, and it has plenty of historic sites conveniently nestled between shops, cafes, and bars on its medieval streets. Locals recommend ditching the map and pre-made plans altogether when exploring the area—unknown treasures await those who explore the Gothic Quarter.

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Just like any European vacation, the accommodations can make or break the trip. Who wants to see a new city with uncomfortable sleeping arrangements or a bad view? So if traveling to Barcelona is in your future, do your best to stay in the heart of the metro area. The Majestic Residences are the perfect option for culture lovers, foodies, and explorers. There’s no better way to experience this magical Spanish city.