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On a Sojourn
Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writer Konrad Clapp Creative Director Lynn Ooi
It’s the start of a new year, and to celebrate all that lies ahead, we’re kicking things off with our annual Journeys Issue. We start with our cover story – a wine-themed journey through Portugal’s ancient vineyards from Alentejo to the Douro, taking in rolling farms, hilltop fortresses and ancient towns, like Estremoz and Marvão. From there, we set off into Mexico’s deep south, to the rugged region of Oaxaca. Famous for its now, über-trendy mezcal alongside its thriving communities of ancient indigenous peoples, it’s as much a journey into the past, as it is into the future. Next, it’s over to Alaska for an epic rail journey from Fairbanks to Anchorage, crossing vast stretches of untouched wilderness, past migrating herds of caribou, all under the shadow of Denali – North America’s highest peak. After which we showcase 3 unique perspectives on adventure-travel in Qatar, featuring the work of our winning photographers (Andrew, Mohan and Suhaimi), from our Qatar Photography Challenge in November. Following that, we head inland to Queensland and New South Wales’s rugged hinterland, and explore UNESCO-listed national parks, quaint country towns and hippy hangouts, all of which are just a short drive from the region’s world-famous beaches. Then it’s off to Taiwan for a round island journey that takes you from the breathtaking mountains to the dramatic coast, whether you’re on rails, in a car, or on 2 wheels. Then we go to Andorra, the quirkly micro-nation tucked between France and Spain, known for its great skiing, historic festivals, and its traditional Catalan food. We take a snapshot of 6 amazing national parks around the world, from Indonesia’s Ujong Kulon for rhinos to Venezuela for tepui and the amazing table-mountain eco-systems, and Iceland for geysers and glaciers. Finally we visit the ancient Vedda people of Sri Lanka. One of Asia’s most accessible, yet legitimately still-intact ancient peoples. Visit our website for our blogs, or drop us a line if you want to give us some feedback or contribute a travel story! Until then, happy trails!
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Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 19A Lorong 41 Geylang Singapore 387830 Tel 6732 0325 www.sportsandtravelonline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746 email@example.com
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Special Thanks Visit Mexico Visit Portugal and many, many others!
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Portugal’s endlessly open countryside, with its gently undulating plains, is home to some of the oldest vineyards in the world. A producer of wine since Roman times, the diversity of its terrain yields a wide array of Portuguese grape varietals (over 4,000) which in turn produce wines with distinctive characteristics depending on where they’re from.
In order to protect its superior wines, its appellation system was created nearly 200 years before that of France, and to this day, a great variety of Portuguese wines – port wine, vinhos verdes, and a variety of table wines – are labelled DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) which guarantees their origins. One of the best aspects of Portuguese wine is its affordability, whether it’s refreshing vinho verde from Minho, full-bodied reds from Alentejo, fortified port wines from Douro Valley, or rosé wines which were first created in Portugal in the 1940s.
Vineyards cover Portugal’s hillsides and plains from the Minho to Faro. From the regions of Alentejo and Douro to the offshore islands of Madeira and the Azores, you can explore the country’s amazing landscape and culture through its many wine trails. Along the trails are not only vineyards, cellar doors and quintas (wineries), but also restaurants, wine hotels, and classic luxury pousadas (historic hotels).
PORTUGAL’S WINE TRAILS
One can’t mention Portugal without its port (wine), the vines of which are grown on the terraces of the magnificent UNESCO-listed Douro Valley – one of the oldest demarcated regions in the world (dating from 1756).
However, the biggest attraction happens throughout the months of September and October during the grape harvest season. This is when many quintas offer visitors the chance to participate in the wine production – from harvesting (in the steep terraces) to grape stomping to bottling – which tends to feel like a big festival. You can tour the Port Wine Route by car, train or boat, since the river is navigable from Porto all the way to Barca de Alva, on the border with Spain. The journey starts by boat from the Gaia pier in Porto and follows the river to Régua, the most important railway station on the route.
Hugging the Douro River that runs through deep valleys from the border with Spain until near Porto along the coast, this region of schist mountains, with harsh soil, is ideal for port wine vines. Tens of thousands of vineyards line the steep-sided valleys. The terraces that surround the river Douro and its tributaries feature walls made of schist that support vineyards of white or red grapes, each vine planted step by step. Port Wine Route Plenty of quintas (wineries) dot the Douro Valley, with most of the vineyards reserved for port. Some quintas produce both port and table wine – Douro’s red, white and rosé wines are also highly regarded. The Douro region has 2 wine routes – one for port, and one for wine. The Port Wine route encompasses around 50 quintas (40 open to public), with options for accommodation, dining, and wine tasting. In addition, you can also go for wine classes, or even cycle touring around the vineyards.
Here, you can catch the old steam train for a historic journey to the village of Pinhão, whose train station features azulejo tiles depicting wine-related activities. From here, the undulating roads that border the river are best explored by car. Due to the size of the region, the port wine route is divided into 3 parts: the Lower Corgo covers 30 sites (including unique manor houses and taverns), the Upper Corgo is known for its handicrafts, while the Upper Douro offers stunning landscapes with ancient sites.
Porto The main city is Porto, built along the Douro River, where wine barrels from the Douro Valley used to arrive on barcos rabelos (flat sailing vessels). This UNESCO-listed city features some amazing architecture, including the Porto Cathedral (the oldest surviving structure) and a number of other churches known for their elaborate gilt work, along with the São Bento Railway Station that features beautiful azulejo tile panels. The city is often associated with JK Rowling – thanks to her Harry Potter series, the unique bookstore Lello and Majestic Café are now firmly on tourist maps.
Port lovers should drop by Gaia – located across the river from the town centre – where the port wine lodges of big brand names like Graham’s, Croft, and Taylor’s are located. Here, you can take a tour through the cellars, learn about the port aging process, and of course, taste (and buy) a variety of ports, like Tawny, White, Ruby, and Late Bottled Vintage (LBV).
CENTRO DE PORTUGAL REGION
A region of mixed landscape, the interior is dominated by mountains and plateaus, dotted with fortresses and traditional granite villages, while the coast is home to some of the world’s most famous surf beaches like Peniche and Nazaré which are known for their gigantic waves.
The capital of this region is Coimbra, home to its famed UNESCO-listed University. Coimbra University is one of the oldest in Europe, which over time has shaped its image to become a “city of students”. The centrepiece of the university is undoubtedly the Joanina Library, considered one of the most beautiful in the world with its opulent gilt interior; protecting the centuries-old collection of books from moths is a colony of bats that live within the library’s speciallydesigned bookshelves. Wine Regions Centro de Portugal has 3 wine-producing areas: Bairrada, Dão and Beira Interior, with the River Dão rising between the mountains in the interior, forming a narrow valley where vines have been cultivated since the 12th century.
Unlike Alentejo, the region is dominated by pine and chestnut tree forests, creating a lush green landscape that turn into fiery hues in autumn. While the interior region may seem isolated, there is a surprising number of options for accommodation within the villages, ranging from rustic restored farmhouses like Villa Pedra, to swanky modern holiday rentals like Quinta do Fontelo.
Wines from Bairrada are typically high in acidity and low in alcohol content, making them ideal for sparkling wines which are perfect accompaniments for suckling pig, the region’s speciality. The main grape is Touriga Nacional, and Dão is considered a prime wine region since its wines are soft and elegant. While in Beira Interior, the wines tend to be very fresh.
Vouga Valley The Vouga Valley, located in the Dão region, is a great place to explore the area’s rugged nature and its many villages, where ancient rituals and festivals remain popular. You can access the valley via Vouzela, famous for its soaring arched railway bridge, or Caramulo, a lofty village known for its sanatoriums. The Parque Natural Local Vouga-Caramulo has a network of signposted trails – both hiking and mountain biking – that take you through centuries-old pastures and ancient villages with traditional granaries known as ‘canastros’, which are small, narrow, elevated shacks used to dry corn cobs and protect them from rats. Wild grapes grow profusely here, and used to be sources of local wine, but today they are mostly grown for shade. You can follow ancient trade routes that take you through shady moss-laden forests dotted with stone barns. Farmers and their livestock can often be seen in the late afternoon returning from grazing grounds.
The drylands of Alentejo are delineated by its famous cork trees and holm oaks, both symbolic of this wine-producing region. The relatively flat landscape prevents condensation coming in from the Atlantic, while the surrounding hillsides influence the characteristics of the terrain.
The Alentejo region is also famous for its cuisine, which features plenty of seasonal local produce in addition to the prized porco preto (Alentejo’s black pigs) and cheeses made with sheep’s milk. Alentejo’s wine routes cover 66 wineries with cellar doors across the region, taking in cattle pastures, cork plantations, medieval hill towns, and historic villages along the way. There are 8 areas bearing a designation of origin: Borba, Évora, Granja-Amareleja, Moura, Portalegre, Redondo, Reguengos and Vidigueira. Despite the varied geography and grape varieties in the region, Alentejo’s red wines tend to be intense and full-bodied while its whites are aromatic and fresh. Thanks to a network of quiet country roads punctuated by vineyards and villages, you can explore the rolling countryside on bicycle – climbing steeply to citadels like Estremoz and Marvão.
Alentejo is also home to the world’s largest cork forests. Cork trees are easily identified by their reddish bark (which can be bright red right after they’re stripped in late spring and summer). The tree is never cut down as only the outer bark is stripped away every 9 years, and it takes at least 25 years for a tree’s bark to become good enough to become wine bottle-stoppers. Cork trees can live for hundreds of years. Among the cork forests you may also find olive trees. While olives from Alentejo are renowned in Portugal, don’t be tempted to eat olives straight from the tree, as they need to be processed in order to remove their high acidity.
Évora Much of Alentejo’s wines come from the central areas – Borba, Évora, Redondo and Reguengos – which produce smooth, easy-drinking reds. The largest city in Alentejo is the UNESCO-listed Évora. About an hour’s drive from Lisbon, this walled city features narrow cobblestoned streets of Moorish origin, and holds two millennia of history starting from the Roman era. Remains of thermal baths and a Roman temple, along
with fine palaces and churches from the 15th century are some of its attractions. Not to be missed is the Chapel of Bones at the Royal Church of St. Francis, an ossuary with the bones of 5,000 people interred. Beyond the city is a rolling landscape of farmland with olive, oak, and cork trees which are accessible via Évora’s network of nature walking/cycling trails. The Percurso da Água de Prata is a 8.3km trail – accessible on foot or on mountain bike – that follows the length of the Agua de Prata Aqueduct, constructed from the 1500s to supply water to Evora from the nearby parish of Graça do Divor. Portalegre The wine region of Portalegre is dominated by the hills of the Serra de Sao Mamede with its higher rainfall and cooler temperatures. The vineyards here – planted on steep slopes at over 1,000m – consist of small plots with very old vines, producing powerful, spicy red wines and highly alcoholic white wines. The vast plains are punctuated with numerous hillocks upon which sit walled citadels. One such fortress is Marvão,
perched high on a 900m-high granite crag on the border with Spain, which is home to a small village and an 8th century castle known as the ‘Eagle’s Nest’.
The neighbouring citadel of Castelo de Vide has a smaller castle atop a hill surrounded by a medieval village, and is accessible from Marvão via a scenic walk through the hills of Urra. The town of Castelo de Vide is home to one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Portugal, which include an old synagogue and a labyrinth of streets with Hebrew names.
Both Marvão and Castelo de Vide are situated within Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede, a geologically-rich landscape where you can observe rare birds of prey such as the rare Bonelli eagle from hiking and mountain biking trails.
While each region has its specialty cuisine, all across Portugal you’ll find standard fare including bacalhau (cod), prepared á bras style (shredded cod and potatoes, pan-fried with scrambled eggs), in addition to a variety of sausages including chouriço (pork), alheira (poultry), or farinheira (wheat flour and pork fat). There is no direct flight from Singapore to Lisbon, but there are plenty of flight options via Europe. For more on Portugal and its wine routes, visit www.visitportugal.com.
MINHO: VINHO VERDE
The latest darling in Portugal’s wines is the vinho verde – literally ‘green wine’, which is available in both red and white. Drunk chilled, its name is possibly related to the predominant colour of the region and has a peculiar acidity that’s particularly aromatic and refreshing. Produced in the far north of Portugal, the landscape is one of high mountains, rolling vineyards, historic towns, dramatic Atlantic beaches, and archeological sites, with vineyards typically concentrated along the rivers.
The Vinho Verde wine trail offers 5 thematic itineraries: cities and towns, the mountain route, the quintas route, the monasteries route, and the beach route. In addition to visiting cellar doors for wine tasting sessions, you can drop by historic towns and villages, tackle pilgrim routes through important monasteries, explore Roman routes in the mountainous national park, or head to the coast for a spot of kitesurfing.
ROLL WITH IT
The ORV Trunk from Eagle Creek mixes the versatility of a waterproof carry-all, with the ease of an all-terrain rolling pack. There’s oversized wheels for navigating uneven terrain and front-, side- and bottom handles for easy portage. The ORV also has a heavy-duty cargo net to secure external items, along with inner- and outer compression straps to stabilise heavy loads, and heavy-duty reinforcements across all the seams. Plus it also features a large, lined boot pocket with drainage holes for dirty footwear. The ORV is made from recycled fabric, and under a lifetime warranty. Available in 30L (S$509) and 36L (S$599) from The Planet Traveller. EAGLE CREEK ORV Trunk
The LEKI Traveller Carbon’s rigid 100% carbon shaft makes this Nordic Walking pole ultra lightweight at just 410g, and keeps it strong across its entire telescopic length which is from 62-130cm. The Speed Lock 2 quickly allows you to change that length on the fly as ground conditions evolve, with help from its all-terrain tips (or vulcanised grip pad for road users). It’s ideal for even the most strenuous and sweaty, or cold, glove-wearing use, thanks to the combined holding power of its innovative Trigger Shark grip and strap. Available from Adventure 21 at $439.00/pair.
LEKI Traveller Carbon
THE GO-TO PACK HYDRATION ON THE GO
The new AVEX ReCharge Autoseal (600ml) is vacuum-sealed, with an insulated body that keeps drinks warm (up to 8 hours) or cold (up to 24 hours), and works in tandem with an autosealing lid, which is controlled by an easy-touse slid lock that eliminate dribbles, leaks or spills. There’s also a protective external spout cover to keep the drinking surface clean, while inside, the delivery mechanism drops down for easy cleaning. It’s dishwasher-safe and 100% BPA-free. The bottom of the bottle is specially designed to grip surfaces better, and reduce metallic clinking noises. Available from Outdoor Life at S$49.
Lowe Alpine’s Manaslu is a versatile pack, with an Axiom 5 back system for simple back-length adjustment, and a rotating hipbelt for stability if the terrain becomes challenging. The ventilated spacer-mesh back is great for warmer climates, and the high spec foam in the lumbar region will help support those heavy loads. In addition, the rugged ripstop fabric construction protect the pack from rough campsite grounds. Manaslu features front entry and stretch mesh front and side pockets, with stow-away raincover and lash points for items like portable solar panels. Now available at Gearaholic in various sizes: 65:75 (65 +10L) at S$439, 55:65 (55 +10L) at S$419, and a Ladies’ model, ND55:65 at S$419.
09 LOWE ALPINE Manaslu
Tucked into the soaring mountains of Mexico’s far south, Oaxaca (pronounced “wa-ha-ka”) is home to some of the country’s most authentic indigenous cultures, its best food, and (many) of its most famous ancient sites. Historically, the state’s ruggedness made it inaccessible – a fact that’s helped Oaxaca retain its indigenous roots better today than anywhere else in the country. And now with the ascendance of its native tipple, mezcal, Oaxaca’s gone from being one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets, to a global name. At nearly the size of South Korea, the state of Oaxaca is a diverse destination. Much of Oaxaca sits at over 2,000m in altitude, giving it relatively cooler temperatures and heavy rains each summer; while its landscape is arid, it’s also starkly beautiful, ranging from forested mountains, to grassy plains and rugged desert.
Mexico Tourism Board © Ricardo Espinosa-reo
© Embassy of Mexico/Mexico Tourism Board
The Central Valleys Oaxaca’s main tourist trail runs through its famous Central Valleys: the Etla, Tlacolula and Zimatlán, the traditional homeland of Oaxaca’s ancient indigenous peoples for millennia. Together they form a vast, Y-shaped lowland, where the rugged mountains of the Sierra Madre Oriental and Sierra Madre Del Sur meet, converging on the city of Oaxaca de Juárez (aka Oaxaca City).
streets, lined with colonial-era buildings, cafes and churches, the two most famous of which are the city’s cathedral and the Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
The Central Valleys are dotted with ancient sites and architecture, some dating back more than 10,000 years, making Oaxaca home to more historically significant sites than any other place in Mexico. These range from its earliest Mesoamerican inhabitants at ancient Monte Albán and the religious ruins of Mitla, to the colonial-era heart of Oaxaca City. Oaxaca City Oaxaca’s capital was founded on the site of earlier indigenous settlements by the invading Spaniards in 1532, and the centuries of relative obscurity that followed left its historic architecture practically untouched, leading to its UNESCO listing in 1987 alongside nearby Monte Albán.
its colonial Centro Histórico is still small enough to be walkable. The city’s centred on the pedestrian-only zocalo, Oaxaca’s airy central plaza, which is ringed with cafes and surrounded by historic buildings including the Governor’s Palace and the French-modernist masterpiece, the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá.
With around 500,000 inhabitants, it’s large enough to have everything, while
From there, Oaxaca’s historic centre radiates out along dozens of nearby
Monte Albán Located just west of Oaxaca City, the ancient site of Monte Albán dates back nearly 2,500 years and was the historic heart of Oaxaca’s indigenous Zapatec culture for over a millennia before being abandoned in the 8th century. The hilltop site sits 400m above the valley below, and can be seen for miles around. Once home to 25,000 inhabitants, today visitors can wander its vast Gran Plaza, which is ringed with structures including the imposing Pirámide temple, various residential buildings, nearly 170 tombs and a juego de pelota – the quintessential Mesoamerican ball court.
Mitla The UNESCO-listed ruins of Mitla are located 45km south of Oaxaca City, at the head of the Tlacolula Valley. While the more famous site of Monte Albán was the undisputed political heart of the ancient Zapotec world, it was Mitla that was its most important religious site. The site sits within the modern town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla, which the Spaniards built after conquering the area, making ruins of much of the once-grand Mitla in the process, as they harvested the “pagan” site’s carved rocks and stone bricks to build with. Mitla is Oaxaca’s second-most famous ancient site (after Monte Albán), and in-
cludes underground tombs, the imposing Salon of Columns and El Palacio, the site’s historic temple, with its incredibly intricate, inlaid geometric stonework, along with the ruins of numerous other tombs, forts, and buildings. Yagul Mitla is part of a joint UNESCO site with the nearby ruins of Yagul, an ancient Zapotec settlement that rose to prominence in the 8th century after the decline of Monte Albán. Today the site includes dozens of tombs, the extensive walls and rooms of El Palacio de los Seis Patios, and a fortress towering above the site. Yagul is also home to the impressive Juego de Pelota (the city’s large ball
court) and second only in size in the Americas to the Gran Juego de Pelota ball court in famous Chichen Itza. Yagul is located roughly 35km from Oaxaca along the MitlaOaxaca road.
Oaxaca is home to some of Mexico’s bestpreserved indigenous cultures, with over 50% of the population still speaking indigenous languages. These include 16-18 recognised communities, such as the Mixtecs and Zapotecs. Together these modern communities formed an ancient, unbroken chain of advanced indigenous societies, with written languages and sophisticated farming techniques that stretched across pre-colonial Mesoamerica. Today they remain concentrated in their cultural heartland in Oaxaca’s Central Valley, where their archeological and cultural legacy lives on at sites like Monte Albán and Mitla.
GETTING THERE Mexico Tourism Board © Ricardo Espinosa-reo
You can fly to Oaxaca’s Xoxocotlán International Airport from Mexico City, the closest international airport. For more on Oaxaca and its various trails, check out www.visitmexico.com.
also producing pulque, an agave-based beer. The state is dotted with hundreds of palenques, small distilleries where mezcal is still hand-made. And while there’s no one official “Mezcal Trail”, there are dozens of palenques within an hour of Oaxaca City, making it easy to visit distilleries like famous local outfit El Silencio, or via operators like Mezcal Educational Tours.
Long cut-off from the rest of Mexico by its rugged mountains, Oaxaca boasts the most diverse cuisine in the country.
Oaxaca’s most famous drink is mezcal, related to, but not to be confused with tequila. It’s made by distilling mashed liquid from the heart of the agave plant, which is traditionally cooked in a fire pit, imparting its famously smoky flavour. Unlike mass-produced tequila, mezcal is entirely small-batch, with many farmers
Famous dishes include fried chapulines (grasshoppers) and mole negro, the most popular of Oaxaca’s 7 famous moles – the ubiquitous name for a wide variety of sauces. Another famous food is Oaxaca cheese. Made by stretching and rolling it as it solidifies, it’s similar to Italian mozzarella, and used in typical Oaxacan dishes such as the tlayuda, a cheese-covered tortilla.
While Oaxaca’s always been known for its mezcal, the state is also one of Mexico’s biggest coffee producers, with the capital having seen an upsurge in local cafe culture, including Café del Jardin overlooking the zocalo, Café Nuevo Mundo near the charming Plaza Alcalá, or local favourite, Cofetarika along Calle Macedonia.
© Michael W. Sullivan
For the first-time Alaska visitor, stepping aboard a train bound for the wilderness might start like any other. The train pulls away from the downtown station, the sound of metal wheels on rails building to a steady rhythm. But within minutes, majestic glaciers, mountains and Alaskan wildlife all come into view. The silhouette of Denali, North America’s tallest peak, emerges, a view only possible via Alaska’s train routes. Alaska is one of the few places in the US with a working railroad that hauls both passengers and freight. Only a third of Alaska is accessible by car and trains offer options that go beyond what a highway-bound traveller sees. Seeing Alaska from the warm comfort of glass-domed observation cars is a great way to explore the USA’s biggest state. ALASKAN RAIL SYSTEM
The state’s railway has the distinction of being one of the last remaining “flagstop” train systems, where passengers can stand by the side of the track in vast wilderness and hitch a ride. But the trains that chug across Alaska also offer something else unique in the country: access to wilderness and wildlife. The nearly century-old train system runs across Alaska from Whittier and Seward in the south, heading north to Anchorage, then into the heart of the state to Fairbanks, the main hub for the central and northern Alaska. Along the way, most of the tracks are surrounded by wilderness. Long stretches of the route parallel the rugged coastline of Southcentral Alaska,
offering spectacular panoramas – all at a pace that recalls the early days of rail travel. The state’s trains were originally founded to haul coal from the Matanuska Valley north of Anchorage, and open up the Alaskan Interior. With only the most basic tools, workers overcame harsh weather and natural obstacles while laying the tracks, and in July, 1923, the then-President Warren G. Harding drove the final ceremonial gold spike in at the town of Nenana to officially open the route. Today, more than 400,000 people ride the Alaskan rails, whether as a vital means of transport around the vast state, or for the sheer romance of it.
© Brian Adams
ANCHORAGE TO FAIRBANKS
in America. The waters of Cook Inlet meet the steep foothills of the Alaska Range, and just minutes east of downtown, the pristine wilderness of the Chugach Mountains begins.
The 12-hour trip north from Anchorage to Fairbanks on board the “Denali Star” threads through Denali National Park & Preserve and features seemingly endless views of mountains, wildlife and rivers. To fully explore the stops along the Alaska Railroad, a 5-night itinerary works well. The vast amount of scenery flashing past is almost overwhelming in scope, so knowledgeable guides are on hand to narrate the trip where you can learn about the nature and Alaska Native culture, complete with anecdotes featuring the sourdough characters who left their homes to stake their fortunes in Alaska more than 100 years ago. The route begins in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. With almost 300,000 people, Anchorage is has all the advantages of a large town, but with more stunning views and abundant wildlife than any other city
Heading south from Anchorage, the train winds through the wilderness heading toward Seward. Glaciers are visible from the track as well as spectacular marine wildlife. The train travels to Seward in Resurrection Bay, where you board a boat and take a tour of Kenai Fjords National Park and can spend the night in Seward. The next day the train arrives at the “real Alaska,” with passengers being able to experience a sled dog ride, dine at an Alaskan roadhouse and see breathtaking views of Exit Glacier. From there, the train heads north out of Anchorage, passing through the Matanuska Valley, known for scale-busting
vegetables grown under the midnight sun. While continuing north, you can catch the first spectacular views of 6,190m-tall Denali. In addition, the route affords views of several of the 20 highest peaks in the USA. Most passengers usually end with a 200km round-trip adventure through Denali State Park and into “Devil’s Gorge.” Closer to the ground, bluegreen spruce forests, crystal rivers and wildflower meadows roll past. All along this route there is an excellent chance of seeing wildlife, including bears, moose, Dall sheep, caribou, bald eagles, red fox, beavers, and the state bird, the ptarmigan. The train then returns to Anchorage for a final overnight stop at the Last Frontier.
© Stewart Sterling © Matt Hage
Currently, a journey to Anchorage requires 2 stops from Singapore, usually stopping over in East Asia and another city in the US. For more on Alaska, visit www.travelalaska.com.
OTHER RAIL JOURNEYS
The Alaska Railroad offers limited winter service between Anchorage and Fairbanks, called the “Aurora Winter”. Passengers can see the aurora borealis (northern lights) painting the sky in multi-coloured glory from the cozy carriages, or get out into the frozen wilderness for special events. Those looking for a shorter excursion from Anchorage can explore Seward or Whittier on the “Coastal Classic”, a 4-hour trip from the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet to the port city of Seward.
Established in 1903 by railroad surveyors as an ocean terminal and supply centre, Seward has a frontier-town atmosphere with homes and buildings dating back to the early 1900s.
The Nordic Ski Train operates once a year during the winter and takes passengers from Anchorage north to the historic town of Curry where backcountry skiers can spend the day in the winter wilderness.
The Kenai Fjords National Park offers coastal cruises past tidewater glaciers, whales, nesting seabirds, fur seals and sea otters. A 2.5-hour trip from Anchorage to Whittier on the “Glacier Discovery” (operating from mid-May to mid-September) takes you to Prince William Sound and the massive tidewater glaciers the sound is known for.
A number of other special trains are also dispatched during the year. The annual Great Alaska Beer Train (Anchorage to Portage; 130km) and HooDoo Choo Choo (Fairbanks to Nenana; 95km) offer a round-trip event – both in October – featuring a variety of beers brewed locally while guests take in the incredible views.
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BATTLE OF THE SKIES
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Qatar Photography Challenge
From the sand dune home of the Arabian Oryx and ancient forts to the bounty of its seas, Qatar brings together old world hospitality with cosmopolitan sophistication, the chance to enjoy a rich cultural tapestry, new experiences and adventures. Here are three different perspectives of Qatar from three Singapore-based photographers: Andrew Tan, Suhaimi Abdullah and Mohan Deitrich. Their journey began in Doha, where they explored the city’s cultural gems like Souq Waqif and Doha Corniche, before venturing to the Inland Sea (Khor Al Adaid) for a bit of dune bashing and desert camping. In the northwest coast, they visited the jewel of the desert: the Al Zubarah Fort.
Hamad International Airport is the global gateway to Qatar. Situated 30 minutes from downtown Doha by taxi, it was named Best Airport in the Middle East by Skytrax in 2015, serving millions of passengers per year via more than 50 airlines, including Qatar Airways which has 3 daily direct flights from Singapore, with a flight time of 7.5 hours. Travellers travelling on Qatar Airways are eligible for a free transit visa for a minimum 5 hours to 96 hours. Applications can be made online through https://transitvisa.qatarairways.com/transitvisa/ online/qrvisa/applyVisa/search.
• Al Zubarah
• Murwab Al Khor
• Zekreet • Dukhan • Umm Bab
Umm Salal Mohammed Al Shahania
DOHA Al Wakra
Andrew Jk Tan
“Qatar surprised me in many ways. There are so many photogenic moments here – from the ochre sand dunes to the fiery sunsets, from the soaring skyscrapers to the buzzing Souq Waqif. While Doha Corniche showcases Qatar’s modernity, it’s places like Al Zubarah Fort and Souq Waqif that give the country a unique juxtaposition of old and new. My most exciting moment was when we were dune bashing – it was more exhilarating than an amusement ride. I’m surprised I was able to get in a few shots!
Al Zubarah Fort
All in all, I wished we could have stayed longer. I will be back.”
ABOUT ANDREW Andrew has a strong passion for photography, having been a photographer for over 30 years. A multi-award winner, his works have been featured in numerous publications, from major newspapers in Singapore to Discovery Channel magazine.
Suhaimi Abdullah Souq Waqif
Al Zubarah Fort
“I’ve always been fascinated by the unique culture of Qatar. While modernity is making progress, it’s still managed to maintain its heritage. These can be seen in plenty of restored architecture like the Al Zubarah Fort and Doha Fort. Even newer buildings resemble ancient architecture – like the Katara Cultural Village with its replica Qatari dovecotes. I love capturing the locals going about their daily lives – whether they’re feeding pigeons, trading falcons, or herding camels.” ABOUT SUHAIMI Award-winning photographer Suhaimi is one of Singapore’s most highly sought-after sports photographers, having covered events like the Youth Olympics and SEA Games. His passion for travel has led him to exotic locales where he’s experienced earthquakes, tear gas and hail storms.
Katara Cultural Village
Mohan Deitrich Camel at Al Zubarah
“My inspiration was to capture local culture. The one thing that struck a chord with me was local handicrafts. They were very uniquely Qatari – during our trip we saw many intricate works produced by craftsmen.
I was also struck by the beauty of the majestic Qatar Museum Of Islamic Art, which showcases a unique symmetrical architecture. In fact, many of Qatar’s desert forts are architectural gems – functional and simple yet robust, they hark back to the romance of the Arabian Nights.
Katara Cultural Village
In addition to its cultural gems, what I wanted to showcase was the everyday life of a Qatari – whether its jewel-making, falconry, or camel herding.” ABOUT MOHAN A filmmaker by trade, Mohan brings 360º photography and filmmaking to the fore, bringing a whole new perspective to travelling in Qatar.
Al Zubarah Fort
For Tour Packages to Qatar, please contact the following QATAR SPECIALISTS: Atis Global Azza Travel Country Holidays Travel Jetabout Holidays
+65 6220 6448 +65 6292 7110 +65 6334 6120 +65 6734 1818
Let’s Go Europe MISA Travel Prime Travel Shahidah Travel
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The one thing that most people don’t realise about Australia is its vastness – in size, it rivals the USA (although it has one of the lowest population densities in the world by space). It is, after all, the world’s largest island and home to a range of ecosystems, with tropical rainforests in the northeast, mountain ranges in the east, and dry desert in the middle. Most of the population lives within 20km of the ocean, occupying a suburban, southeastern arc from southern Queensland to Adelaide.
Its harsh outback interior has forced much of Australia to become a coastal country, and for most visitors it has become a land of endless summers known for its great outdoors coupled with a thriving beach scene and casual friendly culture.
QUEENSLAND & NORTHERN NSW GOLD COAST
NORTHERN NEW SOUTH WALES
The coast is a virtually unbroken 40km-long strip of beach, stretching from South Stradbroke Island to Surfers Paradise and Burleigh Heads, and continues down to the New South Wales border at Coolangatta.
Here, you’ll find cute little turn-of-the-century towns and villages dotted throughout the rolling farm landscape, where farmers rub shoulders with city slickers, and a strong hippie vibe can be felt in towns like Nimbin and Mullumbimby. You’ll also find lush farmlands – with grazing cattle – interspersed with tracts of World Heritage parks.
One of the most popular destinations is the Gold Coast, which straddles the border between Queensland and New South Wales. This strip of land between the mountains and the impossibly long coastline is home to lively cities, beautiful surf beaches, and a chain of national parks packed with wildlife and stunning mountain views.
In spite of being known as the ‘Glitter Strip’, there are plenty of things to do that won’t cost you a cent. From the beach to the mountainous hinterland, markets and music festivals, there’s bound to be something to check out.
Providing a buffer between New South Wales’ big cities to the south and Queensland’s Gold Coast to the north, the North Coast of New South Wales offers an altogether quiet and varied escape.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet surf beach, meals made with fresh local produce, awesome hikes in the hinterlands, or a psychic reading, you can get it all here along this stretch of coast.
Tamborine National Park
Burleigh Heads Springbrook National Park
Lamington National Park Kingscliff
Queensland’s hinterland towns are known for their beautiful wooden Queenslanderstyle houses, which can be found along a scenic route from Ipswich to Toowoomba, both established at the turn of the century during the rail boom.
NSW also has a few notable towns with heritage architecture, including Chillingham which is known for its colourful store. The laid-back town of Mullumbimby is known for its meditative experiences and the weekly Mullumbimby Farmers Market as well as the eclectic annual Mullum Music Festival. A number of quirky small towns are scattered across Wollumbin National Park, including Nimbin, Australia’s most famous hippie destination; Uki, a thriving arts and crafts village with a general store and post office; and Federal, an outpost with a general store and a very popular Japanese-run cafe. These are all easily accessible from Murwillumbah, a hilly town which houses many Art Deco buildings.
The National Parks are where you’ll find the views, flora and fauna. You can trek through ancient rainforests, walk under waterfalls and swim in mountain streams. There are plenty of bushwalking trails and clubs to help you navigate the terrain. Most of these trails lead to amazing lookouts that show off the coastal skyline, beaches or hinterland.
Not far from Gold Coast is Springbrook National Park, where you can tackle a hiking route, like the Purling Brook Falls (1.5 hours; 4km) with its pretty rock pools, or simply admire the view from any of its lookouts, like the aptly named ‘Best of all Lookout’ in Mudgeeraba or the Canyon Lookout where you can see two waterfalls and the main strip of the Gold Coast off in the distance. Another highlight is the Natural Arch – a breathtaking waterfall in
a cave where glow worms hang out. Lamington National Park is home to the famed O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk (180m) which takes you through a rainforest canopy from 15m above ground; comprised of 9 suspension bridges and 2 observation decks it’s the first of its kind in Australia. Other hiking trails take you to Moran’s Falls (4.6km), Pat’s Bluff (5.4km), or Elabana Falls (7.6km); you can overnight at O’Reilly’s Guesthouse to tackle the 46km-long Border Track that takes you to Binna Burra. Approaching Lamington is Canungra Valley, where you’ll find a couple of vineyards and cellar doors.
While Tamborine National Park has walking tracks in six sections of the mountain, most are short, like the Curtis Falls track (1.5km) that takes you through towering eucalypt and gum forests along a creek. The main draw on this mountain are
Murwillumbah Wollumbin National Park
Mullumbimby Nimbin Byron Bay
the numerous wineries (and one quirky Tudor-styled distillery), in addition to a plethora of dining options. In addition, numerous lookouts provide vistas all the way to the ocean.
Located between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay is Wollumbin National Park (formerly Mt Warning National Park) which provides the perfect base to explore the cosy mountain villages, lush rainforests, towering waterfalls, golden beaches, funky craft markets, hidden art galleries and the coast. Many visitors come to conquer Mt Warning (1,157m) – an 8.8km (5 hour) return walk that culminates in breathtaking 360º views around the ancient caldera with coastal views stretching from The Gold Coast to Byron Bay. The track passes through subtropical rainforest and shrubland, and ends with a challenging rock scramble before reaching the summit (where you can picnic).
Thanks to the coast’s abundant sunny weather, it’s no surprise that the beaches swarm with bathers and board-riders all year round. Almost all open key surf beaches, including Burleigh, Kurruwa, South Stradbroke, and Coolangatta, are patrolled by ever-vigilant lifeguards (make sure to keep yourself between the red and yellow flags where the lifeguard stations are) and protected from sharks.
Just south of the border, you’ll find Fingal Head, a long finger of land separating the ocean and a long bay. Composed of basalt rock, the headland is home to a striking coastal geology, and a 19th century lighthouse.
Further south are yet more beaches – Brunswick Heads, Kingscliff, Cabarita – with Byron Bay being the region’s most famous beach, known for its surf culture and hippie vibe pouring in from the hinterland. The lighthouse located at the headland is a popular site, accessible from the beach via a coastal walk, which provides a grand view of the coastline. The beaches are a great place to stake out surfers – both expert and newbie. There’s a short walking track through Burleigh Heads National Park to a beach view from the top of the headland. If you’re lucky, you may also catch sightings of marine life like pods of dolphins or manta rays that can be seen from higher vantage points. All along the coast, you’ll find Surf Life Saving clubhouses dotted on the beaches at places like Burleigh Heads, North Kirra, and Currumbin (popular for its rocky lookout). The SLS is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes water safety and provides surf rescue services, and the clubhouses are open to non-members who can dine at their restaurants.
If you’ve got your own set of wheels, you can easily go from the beach to the mountains in an hour, and hop between the 2 states just as easily. The main road artery is the M1 that links the coastal cities, while plenty of winding country roads criss-cross the 2 states through the mountainous landscape, some offering superbly breathtaking views along the way. Scenic roads are identified with a ‘Tourist Drive’ brown badge signposted along the roads (and on GPSs), and are worth the extra time. When driving long distances, you can take advantage of Australia’s network of Driver Reviver stops (operational seasonally, usually along highways) where you can take a break from driving with free refreshments and snacks. Bear in mind that there is a Daylight Savings time difference of 1 hour between Queensland and New South Wales (with NSW being an hour ahead), and many establishments close early.
Most travellers fly direct to Taipei thanks to its numerous flight options, and while it is a major city, there’s no shortage of wilderness at its doorstep. Venture towards the outskirts in any direction and you’ll find a patch of green where you can hike or mountain bike, or take a leisurely train ride through a slice of history.
Ride a Bike: Fuzhoushan Trail As there aren’t many official MTB trails, local riders are your best bet at finding obscure tracks, like the Black Diamondgraded route from Zhongbushan to Fuzhoushan Park along dirt and gravel, and several heart-thumping descents. The trail passes plenty of scenic lookouts, and thanks to its elevation, you’ll get sweeping views of Taipei 101 and the city from various vantage points along the way. As this is a hiking route, bikes will have to be carried down certain parts where there are stairs.
unique retro architecture along the old streets, while Shifen is known for its 20+ waterfalls and hiking trails. Birdwatching & Hiking: Yangmingshan While Yangmingshan is better known for its hot springs and hiking trails, it’s also a popular birding site. About 150 species of birds have been recorded in the area, and while it’s a fairly busy with hikers, you can easily find 2 notable endemic birds: the Taiwan Blue Magpie and the Formosan Whistling Thrush. You can spot birds year-round; in spring, eagles and buzzards soar overhead. There are numerous walking trails in the park.
Take a Scenic Train: Pingxi Line Known for its annual Lantern Festival, Pingxi is located along the scenic 12.9km-long Pingxi Line at an hour from Taipei. The Pingxi Line ends at Jingtong, passing Shifen and Pingxi along the way. At Jingtong and Pingxi, you’ll find
From the north to the south, every traveller is bound to find something unique in Taiwan – from the lush green landscape and mountains that spread for miles, to its heritage-rich architecture and traditional festivals. The best is that everything is easily accessible even if you have less than a week. WEST COAST Bathe in Waterfalls: Maolin Valley Maolin is famous for its waterfalls; there are 3 easily accessible falls close to Maolin village, including Lover’s Gorge, Maolin Waterfall, and Dajin Waterfall. All of them are multi-tiered, and feature crystal-clear swimming pools. The easiest to access on foot is Lover’s Gorge, across the suspension bridge from Maolin.
KAOHSIUNG AND THE SOUTH
Expore Scenery: Tianliao Moon World Tianliao is a natural landscape that literally looks like the mountainous surface of the moon. The area has boardwalks from where you can have a bird’s eye view over the dramatic moonscape, which is also dotted with small lakes. Visit in the evening to see it in multi-colour lights.
Much of the west coast is flat, making it ideal for agriculture. In addition, getting around is easy, with numerous highways and rail access that connect you to major cities along the coast.
Road Cycling: Houbi Known as the ‘granary of Taiwan’, Houbi’s flat landscape is home to huge swathes of paddy fields. A number of narrow country lanes dissect the plots, and are great to explore on bicycle. Forest Bathing: Xitou Forest Situated high in a valley at 1,150m, Xitou boasts plenty of preserved broadleaf forests. Myriad hiking trails lead you through thick bamboo groves or towering cedar forests, with trails ranging from easy to challenging.
Grotto with its unique swallow nesting sites, as well as the Tunnel of Nine Turns which follows a dramatic series of tight turns along the very narrow gorge.
The East Coast of Taiwan incorporates some of the country’s most spectacular coastal scenery, which includes surreal rock formations, dramatic coastal cliffs and a string of white sand beaches. The East Coast is also the only area in Taiwan offering whale watching tours. Go Rock Climbing: Longdong Bay On winter days, the cool climate makes it a perfect time to head to Longdong Bay for some rock climbing. Longdong is dotted with spectacular eroded cliffs and in recent years has become a magnet for world-class climbers. The vertical rock face has literally thousands of routes of varying difficulty.
Go Paragliding: Luye, Taitung Taitung is home to the Highland Paragliding Training Center, with several launch sites. Luye Gaotai is the most popular, where tandem paragliders operate from at least 2 easy sloping launch sites near the area’s famous tea plantations at 150m above the plains; from the air, you’ll get to see the fertile Beinan valley and the rolling mountains before landing on the beautiful east coast. The best season is from April to September.
Only one road (highway) cuts through this mountainous landscape. Most people do this journey by car, although there are plenty who tackle the road on bicycle. Upwards. From Hualien, the 128km cycle itinerary takes you through Taroko Gorge towards Cingjing Farm (1,750m) and Wuling Peak at 3,275m.
Drive Through Taroko Gorge Taroko National Park is a marble-walled limestone gorge sluiced with crystal-clear waters and plenty of picturesque handcarved tunnels that allow vehicular access. Popular spots include Swallow
Taiwan’s central mountain spine is home to peaks that soar to over 3,000m high, with notable ones being Hehuanshan and Yushan, both regularly climbed. This region is also home to many of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes. Experience Europe: Cingjing Farm Cingjing Farm is unlike any other place in the country – it’s reminiscent of Europe, with its hotels resembling predominantly English manors and castles. Located at 1,700m above sea level, the cooler climate here makes it a great base for hiking the nearby mountains.
Experience Aboriginal Culture: Miaoli The mountains near the Hakka stronghold of Nanzhuang are inhabited mostly by Taiwan’s aboriginal people, including the Atayal and the Saisiyat tribes. A majority of the Saisiyat tribe still live up in the mountains at Baguali and Xiangtian Lake. The area is dotted with small mountain villages, connected traditionally by suspension bridges. Tribes usually hold colourful festivals every year, which are open to visitors.
Ride an MTB: Nenggao West Line Accessible from Puli, the Nenggao West Line in Nantou is one of the best highaltitude singletracks in the world. An Atayal tribal trail, the route starts at 2,000m and climbs steadily to a 3,080m viewpoint with a 360º panorama. Along the way, you’ll pass waterfalls, suspension bridges and breathtaking mixed-surface trails that hug precariously to mountainsides. You’ll also find historic remnants, including old Japanese police huts and charcoal kiln remains.
GEAR GUY: Ken Berg
TWO-WHEELED JOURNEYS Bikes are an integral part of many journeys that people take from one-day adventures to multi-country, multi-week excursions. Though they have been around for a very long time, the bikes themselves and the gear you use on them has been ever evolving. Here is a quick breakdown of a few things to consider.
WHAT’S IT MADE OUT OF?
DERAILLEURS OR INTERNAL HUBS
In general, bikes frames typically are made out of either aluminum, carbon or steel and each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Aluminum is in the middle of the three materials in terms of weight and is relatively inexpensive. It won’t rust and can be molded so that it is thicker near welds and points where a lot of weight or pressure might be applied. Unfortunately it is also very stiff, which means it can be responsive but also transmits road vibrations. All of this makes aluminum a great option if you are shopping on a budget and good for mountain biking. Carbon fibre frames and parts are very lightweight and do a great job of absorbing road vibrations. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive and typically only strong in one direction. If too much pressure is applied in other directions, it will break (not bend) and cannot be repaired. You can’t add braze-ons to the frame so attaching racks can be challenging. You will find carbon fibre in high-end road bike frames and in many parts meant to save weight and/or absorb vibrations (like forks and seatposts). Steel is the heaviest of the materials but also does a great job of absorbing road vibrations and is the longest lasting and most repairable of the three materials. You will typically find steel on touring or commuting frames, or on road and mountain bikes where weight isn’t a concern.
Ken grew up on the doorstep of the Canadian wilderness, backpacking, paddling and rock climbing in this rugged land. Armed with a degree in recreational studies, he has been working at Canada’s premier outdoor retailer for over 10 years, putting gear to the test whether it’s cycling in -35ºC winters, running marathons or travelling to the far reaches of the planet.
IS THAT A MONSTER BIKE?
A new type of bike on the scene and gaining popularity is the Fat Tire Bike (or Fat Bike) – bikes with very wide tires. A typical mountain bike tire is already pretty wide at 2.2 inches wide, but a fat bike is usually around 4.5 to 5 inches wide. The big advantage in the fat bike is the extra traction and balance that you gain. The wide tire itself gives a lot of surface to contact the ground, but you also have the advantage of being able to run on a very low tire pressure. While a mountain bike tire might have a minimum pressure of about 30 psi and a road bike would commonly have a maximum pressure of 120 psi, a fat bike tire can run down around 8 psi. This not only assists with the grip but also helps absorbs the bumps.
One of the things that people debate on when doing epic long rides is the way they want to have their gears to be set up. An external derailleur is what you find on the majority of modern bikes (you can actually see the cogs on the outside of the bike). They tend to weigh less and can be fixed and adjusted with only minor mechanical know-how. They are common in many parts of the world and any bike mechanic can tinker with them. Internal hubs are heavy but they are so much more reliable and durable. Because most of the mechanism is inside, they are difficult to bump and knock out of place. They also tend not to get dirty. They go for many miles and are a great choice for the epic long trips or urban adventures since you don’t have to pedal to shift gears, and you don’t have to clean them as much.
There are a few things that you should have with you on any long ride.
The big tires mean that you might not need suspension which would mean less maintenance. These bikes are most popular when biking on snow and ice but are also a great choice if you are riding on sand and in muddy conditions.
Flat repairs: Have some tire levers. Either a pump or CO2 cartridge and either a patch or a new tube. Looking for the least effort? Carry a spare tube and a CO2 cartridge, but also carry one or two glueless tire patches just in case.
The downside is that those big tires also create more rolling resistance and are heavy. Weight on any part of your bike affects efficiency, but on something far from the centre or something that spins seems to affect it even more. Fat tires are both.
Quick repairs: Carry a multitool; if you want to go really minimal carry only the allen keys/hex tool sizes that your bike needs. The vast majority of parts on your bike can be adjusted with a 4, 5 or 6mm hex key.
Is it a bike for you? If you are riding in sandy, muddy or snowy conditions they will work great, but for most people they aren’t an ideal choice if you are only going to own one bike. They are a lot of fun to be on though.
Next step: The next most common issue is a chain breaking. The only thing you can do here is to use a chain tool. Some chains do have a link that can be removed, but it usually is difficult to do and won’t help if something actually breaks.
Hidden high in the Pyrenees Mountains, tucked between its massive neighbours France and Spain, the tiny nation of Andorra had remained quietly out of view of almost everyone for nearly 1,200 years before the arrival of skitourism. Capitalising on the country’s soaring summits, since the 1950s Andorra’s been evolving into one of Europe’s most popular ski destinations, bringing it out of obscurity and into the limelight. To say tourism has been a gamechanger in Andorra is a vast understatement. Prior to the 1950s, Andorra’s population was a mere 6,000 consisting of mainly rural farmers. And while farming and livestock still exist, they make up just 1% of its economy today, with Andorra’s 11 million visitors per year accounting for 80% of its GDP, helping to give it one of the highest standards of living and longest life expectancies in the world. Due to its unique and complex history, Andorra also has “royalty” – in this case by historic decree. It is the only country with two equal-standing, foreign elected monarchs: the Bishop of Urgell and the President of France (uniquely, this makes the President of France the only elected “monarch” in the world, albeit elected by the French people, not the Andorrans). Until 1993, the token annual tribute paid by Andorra to its vice-monarch, the Bishop of Urgell, included cheese, meat and live chickens.
LAY OF THE LAND Like its fellow European principalities (Liechtenstein and Monaco) Andorra isn’t an EU member, although it does use the Euro currency. It’s official language is Catalan, which it shares with the people of neighbouring Catalonia along the Spanish border. Andorra also hides a side that most day-trippers fail to discover, from ancient mountain villages, to summer hiking routes
through the high Pyrenees, to the unique Catalan culture that defines the country. Despite tourism development, Andorra still remains largely untouched due to its rugged terrain. There’s just one main highway connecting Andorra la Vella (Europe’s highest capital city at 1,028m), while outlying villages and valleys are reachable only by winding mountain roads.
GREEN SEASON ANDORRA Despite its small size at just 468sq.km., Andorra has more than 60 summits over 2,000m. Outside of the main ski areas, like Grandvalira and Vallnord, this has kept large tracts of Andorra rural, traditional and best explored on foot along hiking trails. GR1 There are dozens of hiking routes through the mountains, including the GR1 (part of the famous trans-European Grandé Randonnée network) connecting Andorra, France and Spain via a 5-day walking circuit starting and ending at the mountain village of El Serrat (1,520m), near the popular Ordino ski area. The route is serviced by mountain huts for each night’s halt, zig-zagging across the borders, and topping out on Day 3 along the upper slopes of Port de Baiau at over 2,700m. Pic de Coma Pedrosa Another popular and challenging hike is
WINTER IN ANDORRA Andorra’s highest peak – the pyramidshaped Pic de Coma Pedrosa (2,942m) – straddling the French and Spanish borders near the GR1 which runs up the adjacent Estany Negre (2,627m). Much of the mountain lies within Valls del Comapedrosa Nature Park, insuring minimal human impact, making it home to a wide range native fauna including 77% of all species found in Andorra, such as eagles, the occasional bear and the rare Pyrenean chamois. Setting out from the village of Arinsal (1,500m), Coma Pedrosa can be climbed FIT, or via guided tours in 4-5 hours. Above 2,200m, the terrain transitions from pine forests dotted with numerous alpine lakes – including Estany de les Truites (or “Trout Lake”) and Estany Negre (or “Black Lake”) – into a scree scramble above 2,700m up to the summit.
Andorra’s Grandvalira is southern Europe’s largest ski area that includes 118 skiable slopes, and 210km of piste. With lift access up to 2,640m, there’s nearly 1,000m of vertical drop, which ensures a consistent snowfall on the upper slopes. Since opening in 2003, Grandvalira’s €93 million upgrading includes 3 freestyle areas, 6 ski and snowboard centres, 64 lifts and 3 World Cup slopes, 40 restaurants and wifi coverage across the entire resort, plus live HD webcams covering the slopes. Other activity options include snowmobile, snowshoe, skijoring (skiers pulled by sled dogs), and moonlight dogsled rides. Uniquely, Grandvalira also boasts southern Europe’s only Igloo Hotel (2,350m), with access via CAT or ski-in, ski-out. Ideal for couples, it’s privately remote but not isolated as there’s also a bar and jacuzzi serving the cluster of guest-igloos up on the mountain. Situated in eastern Andorra, at just 190 km (2.5 hours) from Barcelona, it’s also possible as a daytrip from the coast.
Due to Andorra’s mountainous nature, there are only 2 widely-used entries into the country by road: via France (N20) and Spain (highway N-145). The easiest access is via Barcelona (Spain), which is about 3 hours’ drive away. For more on Andorra, see visitandorra.com.
ANDORRAN CULTURE While it’s missed by most day-trippers, Andorra’s culture, history, and festivals – especially in summer – are a major attraction for visitors who take the time to discover them. Historic Churches For centuries, religion has had a huge influence on Andorran culture, and almost every village no matter how small has a historic, old church. Some great examples among the nearly 30 gazetted, historic churches in Andorra include the 11th century Església de Sant Martí de Nagol in the far south, the 9th century Església
de Santa Coloma just outside Andorra la Vella, and the 11th century Església de Sant Esteve within the capital itself. These are generally dedicated to particular saints, and burst into life on their respective feast days throughout the summer. Festivals The Feast of Sant Jordi is one of Andorra’s (and neighbouring Catalonia’s) most important festivals, alongside the Feast of our Lady of Meritxell, held on Andorra’s National Day (8 September), celebrating the country’s patron saint. There are also designated Parish Festival days in each
of Andorra’s 6 administrative parishes, happening throughout July and August each year. Andorran Cuisine Similar to the lowland Catalonian cuisine found in Barcelona, Andorran meals are heartier and generally begin with toasted bread, rubbed in garlic, tomato and salt. Steamed or stewed cargol (snails) are also extremely popular, as well as mountain trout, or anchovy and cod brought up from the Mediterranean. These along with various stews, soups and roast meats are also prominently on offer at any Andorran festa.
TEXT BY John Pravin
PHOTOS BY Pro Ironman athlete and photographer Jose Jeuland (www.josejeuland.fr)
The Veddas are an ancient people of Sri Lanka, widely believed to have descended from the island’s ancient, indigenous aboriginal population – archaeological finds indicate the presence of their Neolithic ancestors on the island as far back as 10,000 BC. Many also believe that they are descended from Prince Vijaya (6th-5th century BC), the legendary founding father of the Sinhala nation.
VEDDAS OF SRI LANKA
First described by English merchant, Robert Knox, in 1681 as “wild men” and “ferocious archers”, it would seem that time hasn’t changed much for the Vedda – today, many remain most comfortable in minimal clothing, with profuse beards, and armed with axes and bows. After over 10,000 years on the island, and with only about 500 true Veddas left, they remain fiercely independent. VEDDA LIFESTYLE
The surroundings of the Vedda have morphed throughout history, as deforestation has reduced their hunting grounds and territory during Sri Lanka’s colonisation and subsequent modernisation. The further unintended consequence of the reduction of forest cover has been the increased incidents of wild elephants destroying Vedda crops while foraging for food. The Vedda lifestyle is simple, and while some work as casual labourers in towns, many Vedda continue to live by foraging, hunting for food, and barter-trading with the honey they traditionally gather to buy clothes, food or rides on public buses. A friendly people, the Veddas are hospitable to strangers, often offering visitors gifts of fruit or honey. They bear
visible signs of modernisation in the clothes they wear – loincloths have given way to sarongs and Sinhalese dresses. However, many men still carry axes everywhere they go, both out of practicality and as a mark of Vedda identity. Less than a generation ago, the Vedda almost universally made their homes in airy caves close to water, but now favour houses of various forms, from a roof with no walls to more modern designs incorporating separate rooms and windows. While the modernisation process has been slowed by the absence of wifi and smartphone coverage in their territory, things are already changing with some Vedda homes already utilising solar panels, and others with mobile phones.
A peaceful tribe, each family owns a small piece of land, with boundaries identified using markers like trees and mountains. Land rights are based not on written contracts (since they have no written language), but on reciprocal understandings passed down the generations. Veddas marry by and large by agreement between families rather than by choice, with women seen as men’s equals, and being entitled to inheritances. A distinctive feature of the Veddas’ mostly animistic religion is the worship of dead ancestors, as it is believed that the spirit of their dead would haunt them, bringing disease and misfortune. They appease these spirits by invoking blessings through ritual dance.
VISITING THE VEDDA
While the Vedda people used to populate the more secluded areas of Sri Lanka, they now live almost exclusively in the curve of land between the largely Sinhalese South, West and Centre, and the mainly Tamil North and East. Today, the you can visit a traditional Vedda village in Dambana, a jungle village about 300km from Colombo, situated within the Maduru Oya National Park which is famous for its wild elephants (numbering around 200) and spotted deer. The Veddas have been given permission by the government to live within the park, where they are allowed to build traditional homes and use traditional methods to fish within the park. Members of the Vedda community are also actively employed as guides in the national park.
As Dambana is located within the Knuckles Mountain Range, there are plenty of hiking opportunities. These include the unique grassland of Pitawala Pathana and a mini ‘World’s End’, which is a deep escarpment that affords panoramic views of the Knuckles Range and the valleys below; it is possible to walk along to the rock extrusion right up to the edge for a stunning view. To experience the Vedda culture up close, you can spend a night with them – camping, hunting, trekking and gathering food. Depending on the season, you may also get to witness a dance performance. If you’re lucky you can also join a Vedda hunting party (usually during the rainy season from October to January), or search for beehives. Various operators offer Vedda village excursions, including activities like hunting and hiking, ranging from 1-3 days.
Despite Sinhalese language and mainstream culture becoming a fact of everyday life for the Veddas, they actively maintain their own language, their own “king”, their own jewellery (made with elephants’ teeth) and their own music (with monkey-skin drums). Even their food is unique, including the goya-tel-perume (the tail of a monitor lizard stuffed with its own body-fat and roasted in embers), as well as dried meat preserved and soaked in honey.
Alternatively, neighbouring Gal Oya National Park has a luxury lodge that can arrange for trips to the Vedda village.
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