The stunning natural beauty of Quebec
In summer, the lakes and forests of Quebec bask majestically under a clear bold sun. Recharge your batteries in these wide, open spaces perfectly equipped for all sorts of outdoor activities. Head east of Montreal where you will come to La Mauricie National Park. On the slopes of the Saint-Maurice River, the charming village of Saint-Jean-des-Piles comes into view, its chocolate-box houses dotted on the river bank. Settle in Le Bôme inn with its wonderful atmosphere of days gone by.
With a picnic in your rucksack, set off and explore one of the most popular parks in Quebec province. Famous for its forests of sugar maple, golden birch and spruce, this wilderness refuge boasts huge lakes, a magnet for canoeing enthusiasts. Having booked in advance, your row-and-go canoe is ready and waiting on the banks of Wapizagonke Lake. Get ready for a fantastic day of sport and adventure. After paddling for 9 km and crossing beaver dams, you then have an 8-km walk ahead of you up a steep trail. Best foot forward! You will soon hear the crashing waters of the Waber Falls. After all that exertion, this natural site hidden away in the middle of the forest, seems all the more amazing. Lay back on the rocks, swim in its swirling waters and let the powerful torrent massage your body.
Another adventure awaits in the countryside around Charlevoix in the extensive Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park. This charming spot is a favourite haunt for hikers. With your map in your pocket and a stout pair of shoes on your feet, follow the legendary Acropole-des-Draveurs trail overlooking the tumultuous Malbaie River below. The magnificent beauty of the landscape makes the kilometres just fly by! Playful squirrels prance alongside you on this invigorating walk through conifers, maple and birch. Keep your eyes open. You might be lucky enough to come across a porcupine up a tree. A lonely wooden table on the bankside makes the perfect place for a picnic in a spectacular setting.
La Mauricie National Park
Chemin de Saint-Jean-des-Piles
Shawinigan QC G0X 2V0
+1 819 538 3232
Le Bôme inn (Auberge Le Bôme)
720 2e Avenue
Grandes-Piles QC G0X 1H0
+1 819-538 2805
Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park
25 boulevard Notre Dame
Clermont QC G4A 1C2
A gentle winter in Mauritius
What about taking advantage of winter in the southern hemisphere to sample the legendary sweet life of Mauritius. Welcome to Nativ Lodge, a small-and-friendly hotel immersed in exotic natural surroundings in the south of the island. Let yourself be pampered in this tropical cocoon run by a charming French-Mauritian couple. Feel your tension float away in the small private pool outside your bungalow, enveloped in thick, lush vegetation. The hotel's chef will introduce you to the country's fruits and vegetables, such as chouchou, calabash and the many types of local tomatoes, on a visit to the market in Mahébourg. In this peaceful coastal village, street vendors attract you over with their exotic snacks: you will not be able to resist a bonbon coco, a sweet treat made from milk, sugar and grated coconut. Back at your haven of tranquillity, you might try an octopus carry with green papaya or maybe chicken confit with lemon and coriander. From the lodge, you can take an after-dinner ride in a kayak along a river leading into the dazzling blue lagoon of Blue Bay.
Not far from Mahébourg, you can enjoy the seaside delights of the appropriately named Blue Bay, one of the most stunning public beaches on the island. If you are fascinated by underwater life, pop on a mask and snorkel, and explore the marine park, where tropical fish dart happily in and out of the corals. After your swim, spend some time getting to know the islanders; their welcoming and friendly disposition is legendary. On the beach, you can quench your thirst with some fresh coconut water straight from the fruit picked by the beach vendors. If you are looking for a particularly private location, lay out your towel on the powder sands of Pointe d'Esny, another corner of paradise off of the beaten track. This is also the departure point for ecotours to the Île aux Aigrettes, a nature reserve known for its protected dry coastal forest, sea birds and giant tortoises.
Feeling rested by a few days of not doing very much, you decide to discover the lush-green treasures that the south of the island also offers. In the gentle trade winds, walk along craggy clifftops, cross vast sugarcane fields and then drift up the Savane River as far as Rochester Falls, the highest waterfall in Mauritius. This natural spot is one of the few that can also be reached by car. Lured by the inviting pool below, nestled in an enchanting green setting, you dive in to the water, obviously checking the depth first. This fabulous day comes to an end in Souillac, a charming village, also famous for its ‘crying rock' which the waves of the Indian Ocean crash against, unimpeded by the surrounding coral reefs. For dinner, book a table at Le Batelage with its terrace overlooking the mouth of the river: it offers a peaceful ambiance as well as delicious prawns in coconut or a spicy hot sauce.
+230 631 1058
Port de Souillac
+230 625 6083
Polynesian escape to Mo'orea
In August, the sky is just perfect over the islands of French Polynesia. At Tahiti airport, you are given a traditional necklace made of tiaré flowers, a symbol of the archipelago, as a welcome. Recover from your long journey by the side of the sand-bottomed pool at the Tahiti la Ora Beach Resort, a luxury hotel on the shores of a translucent lagoon. Next day, you board a ferry for the 40-minute crossing over to the sister island of Mo'orea.
As you approach this fantastical island, you feel as though you are on the edge of paradise. Separated by the imposing Mont Rotui, the island's two main bays, Opunohu and Cook's, plunge deep inland, giving the north coast a spectacular outline. So, what about exploring this hypnotic lagoon a bit closer? A traditional Polynesian canoe comes to pick you up for a fabulous day at sea. Enjoy this small-group excursion (no more than 12 people), led by experienced sea guides Wilfred and Teiki. Your adventure starts with a swim among rays and small harmless sharks. You then land on a private island, welcomed by its swaying coconut palms, and head off to an open-air kitchen to learn how to make fish in coconut milk which will eventually end up on your plate. Back in your boat, you watch the sun set over the water: a magnificent show put on specially for you… or so it seems.
Next day, give in to the enchantment of Mo'orea by climbing up to its peaks. An easy hike to the top of the Magic Mountain rewards you with a view to take your breath away. On one side, there is Opunohu Bay with its lagoon of subtle shades of blue; on the other, the jagged, jungle-clad summit of Mont Rotui. Entranced by the beauty of the landscape, you stay a while to reflect.
Your tummy tells you it is time to eat. There is a good, unpretentious eatery nestled between the Hilton Hotel and the public Mareto beach. In a caravan in the flower-filled garden of her house, the cook at Lilikoi Garden Café prepares a tuna steak garnished with a pineapple salad. Time stands still as you tuck into this delicious lunch. Next stop on your tour of Mo'orea is Temae Beach, considered the island's finest. Lined by tall coconut trees, its divine bay tempts you in for a swim in its warm waters. In front of you, Tahiti and its forest-covered peaks rise up out of the sea.
Tahiti la Ora Beach Resort
Tamanu Punaauia 98718
+689 40 47 07 07
Lilikoi Garden Café
Pihaena PK15 Papeotai
+689 87 29 61 41
Sifnos and the magic of the Cyclades
Three hours after leaving the port of Piraeus, near Athens, the airboat makes a grand entrance into Kamares harbour. Welcome to Sifnos, one of the 24 inhabited Cyclades islands. Taking the winding road climbing up through a vertical landscape, you are struck by the place's rural, rustic nature.
Apollonia, the island's capital, comes into view, spreading out like an amphitheatre on the slopes of three hills. Its maze of stepped alleyways reveals low whitewashed houses with blue shutters and doors, typical of the Cyclades islands. In summer, as the temperature subsides, the main road fills with life well into the small hours. Take a stroll with the holiday-makers, most of them from Athens, between terraces of tavernas, trendy bars and craft shops.
You are guaranteed peace and quiet, a stone's throw away in the neighbouring village of Artemonas. Hopelessly romantic, its narrow, shaded streets conceal neo-classical homes surrounded by large gardens. You wander through an explosion of colours, between cascading bougainvillea, dense thickets of jasmine and lemon groves. One pretty house with retro charm is home to Mosaico Cafe. Its friendly terrace invites you in for an iced coffee; sipping your drink, you look out over the age-old church of Panagia Kochi, its cobalt-blue dome rising into the sky.
You make your way back to the Kamarotí Suites Hotel on foot. Set below the village, this contemporary, minimalist-style refuge merges into an amphitheatre of terraces planted with olive trees, with uninterrupted views of the village of Kastro and the sea.
Go for a dip in the waters at Faros in the south-east of the island. You will love the charm of this modest fishing port, whose sugar-cube houses and tavernas huddle around three pretty coves. Head to the talcum-powder beach of Vathi, tucked away beside a clear blue bay. Soak up the utter serenity pervading this seaside village with its family atmosphere.
Artemonas 840 03
+30 2284 033562
Kamarotí Suites Hotel
Sifnos 840 03
+30 2284 032069
A cultural, foodie tour of Umbria
Smiled on by the gods, this region of vineyards and gentle wooded hills lies to the north of Rome. An hour-and-a half's drive takes you to the pretty, historic city of Orvieto, perched high on a tuff cliff. Wander into its medieval centre of stone houses, imposing palaces and crenelated towers. Down through the centuries, when Rome was under siege, the popes took up residence there. Take time to admire the Duomo di Orvieto, the city's cathedral; it is one of the most beautiful in Italy. The streets of Orvieto are crammed with fascinating ornamental wonders vying for your attention. Pinewood benches, balustrades and porches are made at the 300-year-old wood workshop of Michelangeli. Pushing open the doors of this magical store, you half-expect Pinocchio to greet you! The showroom is full of mirrors, tables, cupboards and bookcases, but also an entire collection of dolls which come to life in delicate wooden settings.
Your tour continues to Perugia. At the end of Corso Vannucci, the Piazza IV Novembre reveals a mosaic of monuments. In the shade of a mysterious street, flanked by tall palaces linked by arches, step inside the Al Mangiar Bene trattoria. Mouth-watering cuisine from locally sourced food is prepared under the vaults of this former papal prison. Its house specials include cold meats, pasta with pork cheek and tomato and a tasty spelt salad with tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and fresh rocket. If you have a sweet tooth, head to Sandri, a pastry shop open since 1860. Any attempt to resist the torciglione, a shortcrust pastry filled with almond cream, will be in vain.
Your hedonistic tour then leads to the vineyards of Montefalco. You will love the design of the enormous red arrow, planted in amongst the vines as if it had fallen from the sky. It actually marks the location of the Carapace. This futuristic, turtle-shaped building houses the cellars of the Tenuta Castelbuono estate. In the cellars, you will discover a one-of-a-kind place: barrels of Sagrantino, the ‘sacred wine', lie in a sort of temple with a sky-blue ceiling. After your visit, it is time for a tasting session, with rows of vines as your backdrop.
Via Gualverio Michelangeli 3
05018 Orvieto (TR)
+39 0763 342660
Al Mangiar Bene
Via della Luna 21
+39 075 573 1047
Sandri pastry shop
Corso Pietro Vannucci 32
06100 Perugia (PG)
+39 075 572 4112
Vocabolo Castellaccio 9
06031 Bevagna (PG)
+39 0742 361670