Robert Q Travel Byron's Blog

The Longest Suspension Bridge In North America Has Opened and it Overlooks America's Most Visited National Park
More than 10 million people every year travel to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – that's more people than visit the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone parks combined!  And now there's a whole new view on this breathtaking, seven-thousand foot range of mountains and the dramatic, 'smoky', haze that gives them their name.
The forests and ridges of this UNESCO World Heritage Site straddle the states of North Carolina and Tennessee. On the edge of the Tennessee side, at the town of Gatlinburg, you'll find the new SkyBridge. It's the longest pedestrian suspension bridge on the continent – 680 feet wide! With spectacular views all the way from one end to the other and back. 


Plus, at the mid-point where you're at the highest, and feeling your most vulnerable, the designers cleverly added another view that tests your taste for heights. There's a glass floor the full, 5-foot width of the walkway that has you staring all the way down to the valley floor 140 feet below.


It's an attainable adventure for the youngest to even the eldest members of any family, reached by the SkyLift, a 3-seat chairlift from the heart of town that sweeps you 500 feet up through ever-changing views to the top of Crockett Mountain, where you'll find yourself at one end of the Sky Bridge.

If the walk across a suspension bridge is too intimidating, capture sweeping vistas from the expansive SkyDeck, also at the top of the SkyLift.

The record-breaking SkyBridge may be the most unforgettable way to experience the ancient mountains when their forests hint at the first green of spring, through hazy summers, legendary brilliant fall foliage, and sparkling snowfalls. The newest Smoky Mountain attraction is all-season, open every day, all year round. Gatlinburg SkyLift Park tickets include access to the lift, the SkyBridge and the SkyDeck.


SkyBridge is 2 hour's scenic mountain drive from Asheville, North Carolina's hub for exploring the Smoky Mountains. Even if you're not planning a whole vacation in the Smoky Mountains (and you should), it's only an hour's detour off the I-75 at Knoxville, Tennessee for people driving the north/south corridor to their holiday.

Start your Trip!


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10 Amazing Facts about the Tasmanian Devil
Move over, cuddly koalas and cute kangaroos. Meet the Tasmanian Devil. 

No, not the Looney Tunes cartoon character that travels like a spinning top, drooling, snarling and terrorizing Bugs Bunny's friends. The real animal, found in the wild only in one state Down Under.

In Australia's collection of one-of-a-kind creatures, the Tasmanian Devil is a stand out member. So between photo ops with koalas, and watching kangaroos hopping through wildlife parks, head to Australia's southern, island state, to get to know the Tasmanian Devil.

It's a keystone species in Tasmania and the symbol of many organizations in the state. We visited a wildlife sanctuary only a half-hour's drive from Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, and discovered amazing things about Tasmanian 'Devils'.


By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip TV
 
1. Cute and cuddly they are not. Tasmanian Devils look a bit like bear cubs, or like a big-boned small-ish dog at under 30 pounds fully grown. When they're not aggressive, they look a bit sweet. But I had a chance to touch a baby being raised at the sanctuary, and even so young, its fur was like coarse bristles. And they are not sociable or friendly, living alone and coming out at night. 
 
2. They smell bad, too. Tasmanian Devils have a 'scent gland' used to mark territory with very strong and repulsive scent.
 
3. They have a great naming story. Tasmanian Devils are aggressive if they feel threatened or are competing for food. They bare teeth, lunge, and emit loud, blood-curdling shrieks in the dark hours that made early settlers imagine demons had surrounded them in the wilderness. That's how they were dubbed Tasmanian 'devils'. (Check out this video to hear Tasmanian Devils screeching).
 
4. Their oversized heads have incredible jaws that can open to 80 degrees wide! and deliver the strongest bite for its size of any mammal in the world. They have the power to bite through thick metal wire! The staff at the sanctuary joked to keep fingers away from the babies' mouths; even at that size and age, if they'd bitten onto our hands, 'they wouldn't stop til they reach your elbow'. Possibly a joke to make the point, but it paints a picture of:
 
5. The world's largest carnivorous marsupial. (Marsupials are mammals that carry their newborns in pouches). Tasmanian Devils eat only meat: they hunt birds, snakes, other mammals up to the size of small kangaroos, but they also eat carrion – dead animals. They put those tremendous jaws to good use, eating 'pretty much anything they sink their teeth into', crushing and ravenously ingesting even the bones.  
 
6. Even a Tasmanian Devil's teeth are unique. They have the same number of teeth as a dog - 42 – but unlike dogs, a Devil's teeth grow continuously throughout its life, contributing to its phenomenal ability to consume bones of its prey.
 
7. Like all marsupials, Devils store fat in their tails, which thicken up (like humans' waistlines!).  

8. Although Tasmanian Devils once thrived throughout Australia, now they are native only in the island state of Tasmania. There, they have adapted very well to a variety of environments in Tasmania, from coasts to forests to even suburbs. So rather than environmental change, it's believed their extinction on Australia's mainland can be blamed on the arrival of dingoes – which never spread to Tasmania to threaten the Devils.
 
9. It wasn't all smooth sailing for Tasmanian Devils in Tasmania, either. Those settlers who christened the 'Devils' mistakenly believed they killed livestock (a theory which has now been debunked) and hunted and poisoned them nearly to extinction, until the government stepped in to protect them in the 1940's.

 
10. The Tasmanian Devil population rebounded, but today, they're in danger again. Not from angry farmers. Tasmanian Devils adapted to modern life, with these carrion eaters finding a new food source in the form of roadkill … except these black animals eating roadkill at night are invisible to oncoming traffic, and they, too are killed in great numbers on roads. In addition, a catastrophic facial tumor disease is spreading through the population. The tumors build up in affected animals' mouths and stop them from eating, and they eventually starve to death. Tens of thousands of Tasmanian Devils have died since the disease appeared in the late 90's. 
 
Since 2008, Tasmanian Devils have been listed as endangered. Wildlife sanctuaries attempt to save and raise young in the pouches of mothers killed on the roads, and programs are isolating and breeding populations unaffected by disease. 
 
Devils are also being sent abroad to partner international zoos to contribute to population insurance programs for Tasmanian Devils too.
 
You can see Tasmanian Devils in some zoos – but better yet, by visiting and supporting a sanctuary on their home turf in Tasmania.
 

Start your Trip!

 
(Images: Getty)
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If you're like me, Spring can never come too soon. And nothing says Spring like new flower blossoms.

This year, treat yourself to an abundance of Spring in one of these famous floral travel destinations.


By: Lynn Elmhirst, Host/Producer, BestTrip TV
 

Tulips in the Netherlands

Where: Keukenhof Gardens and surrounding tulip fields
When: April

It's the world's largest spring flower garden. The Keukenhof Gardens are a showcase for the Netherlands' biggest agricultural export: flowers and bulbs. The tulip is the ultimate symbol of a Dutch spring, and there are an astounding 7 million bulbs – tulips and other spring flowers - bursting into bloom on the 80 acres of castle grounds at Keukenhof. Open just a few weeks every spring, Keukenhof is a gardener's dream: themed garden plots and pavilions, an windmill you can climb for a viewpoint over acres of surrounding tulip fields in bloom, boat rides in canals lined with never-ending blossoms.

You can also order bulbs of the blooms you can see at Keukenhof; they'll be shipped to you ready for planting in the fall.

WATCH VIDEO, TOP: THE WORLD'S LARGEST SPRING FLOWER GARDEN ON AN AVALON RIVER CRUISE
 
Also Find Tulips at:

The Ottawa Tulip Festival, Canada


There's a Dutch connection to this flower festival in Canada's National Capital. During the Second World War, the Dutch Royal Family took refuge in Canada's capital, and a royal baby was even born on Canadian soil, as overseas, Canadian soldiers led the liberation of the Netherlands. In thanks, after the war, the Dutch sent tulips. 100,000 tulips, and tens of thousands more each year since. The mid-May Ottawa Tulip Festival is not only a symbol of Spring, it's a symbol of peace and cooperation between nations.
 

Chelsea Flower Show

Where: London, England
When: 5 Days Late May

(getty/ BethAmber)

This might be the most famous flower and landscaped garden show in the world. Members of the British Royal Family join garden lovers from around the world at the 11-acre site of the Royal Horticultural Society's annual love-in of traditional, trend-setting and even avante-garde flowers and gardening. You'll see glorious displays of beautiful and also rare spring flowers, floral exhibits and cutting edge design as well as traditional English gardening that is loved and imitated the world over. 

The Chelsea Flower Show is the perfect place to buy English gardening tools and gifts for yourself or your friends at home.
 

Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Where: Japan
When: Peak season on Japan's main island is early-mid April

(Getty/ Torsakarin)

The Japanese don't just have a word for cherry blossoms: 'sakura'. The also have a word 'hanami' that means to view the cherry blossoms. It's a tradition that dates back a thousand years or more, originating with the Imperial Family and continuing today for all Japanese. It's one of the most festive times of the year, when Japanese gather with friends, family and colleagues under cherry blossom trees filling parks, surrounding historic castles, temples and shrines, and lining riverbanks, drinking sake and picnicking under the trees long into the twinkling evening hours.

It's not just the stunning beauty of clouds of white and pale pink blossoms hovering overhead; the Japanese also view short-lived cherry blossoms as a poetic symbol of the fleeting nature of life itself.

Also Find Cherry Blossoms in:

Vancouver, British Columbia
An estimated 50,000 blossoming cherry trees line streets and grace parks from February all the way through April, including the city's famous urban Stanley Park.  The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is held every year for most of the month of April.

Washington DC

(Getty/ zrfphoto)

America's capital has a glorious annual reminder of the thousands of cherry blossom trees given by Japan to the US in the early 1900's as a sign of friendship. Famously lining the shore of the Tidal Basin, DC's cherry blossoms are celebrated annually during the National Cherry Blossom Festival from mid-March to mid-April. 
 

Texas Bluebonnets

Where: Throughout the state, especially the City of Ennis and its 'Texas Bluebonnet Trail'
When: April

(Getty / leekris)

This wildflower is the state flower of Texas and believed to be named from its resemblance to a pioneer sunbonnet. Bluebonnets are actually several varieties of lupins. They thrive in lesser soil and so line roadways as well as fill public lands and pastures. 

The city of Ennis, south-east of Dallas-Fort Worth, is the official home of the bluebonnet, with over 40 miles of flower-bedecked roadsides, as well as an annual Festival. The Texas highway department not only delays roadside trimming so people can enjoy the spring bloom, its early officials were instrumental in encouraging these wildflowers to thrive. Today, they still plant about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year, contributing to the preservation of Texas' native vegetation.
 
Also Find Lupins:

In Canada's maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

 (Getty / bilbowden)

The lupins you'll find growing wild in Canada's eastern provinces are a larger variety than Texas bluebonnets, and although they're more purple-y blue as well as pink and white, they're an equally cheerful sign of spring. Well, actually early summer. The cooler climate means peak lupin season here is late June – early July.
 
 

Azaleas in America's South-East

Where: Gardens throughout the region and especially: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, South Carolina
When: Throughout April

(Getty/MargaretW)
 
Azalea shrubs originated in Asia and were successfully taken to many places in the world. But in America's south-east, they've gained a special place as an iconic garden favorite and symbol of gracious Southern living. Unlike other spring blooms, they're quite long lasting, spreading joy for weeks of the season.

Many public and private gardens have a spectacular spring showing of azaleas, but special mention goes to Charleston's Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. The former rice plantation dates from the 1600's, and is the oldest public gardens in the U.S, opening its doors in 1870 to visitors who wanted to enjoy its thousands of cultivated flowers and plants. The less-formal, 'Romantic' style garden is not only on the list of one of 'America's Most Beautiful Gardens'. Magnolia was also the first garden in the country to plant azaleas outdoors, in the 1840's.
 
Today, hundreds of thousands of azaleas bloom in flame pinks, oranges and reds, lining paths and lakes in a breathtaking spring bloom.

Start your Trip!


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They say on St. Patrick's Day everyone's a little bit Irish. So it's fair to say that on Rabbie Burns' Day, we're all a little bit Scottish. The national poet of Scotland – he wrote the song you likely sing every New Year's Eve: Auld Lang Syne – was born on January 25, 1759. And every year on January 25th, Scots and people of Scottish ancestry world-wide celebrate the man voted the 'Greatest Scot' in the country's history.

In Scotland and in many communities with Scots heritage, especially in Canada, where more than 15% of the population have ancestors from Scotland, the day is marked with Rabbie Burns Day Suppers. Gentlemen lucky enough to own a kilt suit up, bagpipers pipe in the haggis, Burns' 'Address to a Haggis' is read as the stuffed sheep's stomach is ceremonially carved and served, many toasts are made with whisky (all the better to wash down the haggis!), and it wraps up with everyone singing Auld Lang Syne.

If you're one of the millions of North Americans of Scots ancestry – or are an honorary Scot on Rabbie Burns' Day – we hope you attend a Rabbie Burns supper on January 25th in your hometown. Even better, once in your life, make the trip to join the festivities in Scotland itself. It's a bucket list trip much like being in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day. You'll feel like a true Scot for the rest of your life.

Here's our salute to Robert Burns Day: BestTrip's video / love letter to the Shetland Islands, the most remote part of Scotland and northern-most point of the British Isles. (Click on the video above to watch).

The Shetland Islands are where 'Scotland meets Scandinavia and the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean'. Directly due west of Norway, the Shetland Islands are as far north as St. Petersburg, Russia, and Anchorage, Alaska.

With over 4000 years of history, enchanting wild coastline and charming farms - and an estimated 1500 of its famous, local namesake breed of Shetland ponies roaming its green pastures - the Shetland islands are a time capsule of unique Scottish history, heritage and traditional lifestyle. 

(Seabourn Ovation docked next to Oslo's historic fortifications)

We sailed to the Shetland Islands on our luxury Seabourn cruise of Scandinavia and the Northern British Isles. The Shetland Islands are yet another reason we love sailing on smaller ships like Seabourn, whose itineraries include not just marquee destinations like Copenhagen, Oslo and Edinburgh, but also small ports in remote destinations - like the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Imagine a cruise port where you barely see another tourist while you experience untouched Nature and authentic local life. 

It's cruise travel as the explorer inside you dreams it will be.

Start your Trip!


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5 Little-Known Facts about Africa's 'Big Five' Animals

'Safari'. It's a Swahili word simply meaning 'journey'. But for travel lovers, the word 'safari' ignites our imaginations of exploring vast Sub-Saharan landscapes and encountering majestic creatures in their natural environment .

Africa's 'Big Five' list dates from a time when human/animal encounters ended badly for the animal. The Big Five were the hardest to hunt on foot and therefore the most valued trophies.

Today, the Big Five remain essential African animal encounters on safari to capture through your camera lens. 

Here are some things you didn't know about Africa's Big Five:

Lions:

Possibly the most iconic of African large animals, this big cat is unmistakable. Lion sightings are even more impressive as lions are very social and live in groups called 'prides' so you may well see more than one at once. Although they are 'apex' predators – the top of the food chain! – they don't spend a lot of time hunting. Lions can sleep up to 20 hours a day! But when they are awake you'll know about it.  A lion's roar can be heard up to 5 miles away! This helps communicate with the rest of the pride; calling for stray members back, declaring territory, and for females, communicating with cubs and calling for help when threatened.

Leopards: 

This famously spotted creature is the least seen of the Big Five as it's the most nocturnal. Unlike lions, leopards are not social and spend most of their lives alone. They are like the superhero of the big cats: they are sleekly graceful and almost perfectly camouflaged in the dappled shade of trees; they have excellent night vision and are incredibly powerful, able not only to regularly climb trees, but to drag prey 3 times their own weight 20 feet high into trees to protect their dinner… and they are even strong swimmers who sometimes fish! Even feline superheroes need a break, though. Leopards are known to take naps in the treetops.

 

African Elephants:

These vegetarians are the largest land animals… whose closest relatives are rodents! Elephants have shock-absorbing pads on their feet that allow them to walk much more quietly than you'd believe of such enormous creatures. They also have rather delicate skin than can sunburn and get irritated by even an insect! That's why you see elephants using their trunks to throw sand over themselves to protect against the sun and bugs. They are also avid swimmers and can swim long distances using their trunks as built-in snorkels. Those trunks also come in handy for drinking and grabbing food – even something as small as a single grain of rice. Elephants can communicate with each other across great distances by making sounds in frequencies lower than humans can hear. And these social creatures mourn dead members of their herd with rituals that can last days. 

Cape Buffalo:

Africa's Cape Buffalo has never been domesticated even though it's the only type of wild cattle in Africa. It's probably due to the danger factor. These unpredictable and aggressive animals are said to have killed more hunters in Africa than any other, and still kill over 200 people every year, earning them nicknames like 'Black Death' and 'Widow Maker'. Cape Buffalos use attack as their first line of defense, circling back at anything hunting them. That's a lot of rock-hard muscle and horn and surprisingly, brains coming at you. They have excellent memories, even ambushing creatures who have previously attacked them. Lions are their number one natural predator. But it will still take several lions to take down a Cape buffalo, risking the fury of the rest of the herd, which will ferociously defend and rescue fellow buffalo and kill lions who have attacked one of their own.

Rhinoceros:

The rhino is the most endangered species on the Big Five list. Poachers go to shocking lengths to kill protected rhinos, just for the horns that are said in Asian cultures to hold medicinal properties. Rhino horns are actually similar in composition to human fingernails or horses' hooves. Rhinos look fierce, almost armored, and like an immovable wall. In fact, they run much faster than you'd think – and they run on their toes! Rhinos have three hoofed toes on each foot, and they graze on leaves and twigs, just like their relatives: horses and zebras. Rhinos don't have any front teeth and use their lips to pick up their food. Much more dainty than they look.


Africa's Big Five are so much more than poster children for safari tours or wildlife conservation. They, and other unique African creatures like giraffes, cheetahs, gorillas and chimpanzees, zebras, hippopotami, birds and marine creatures, are complex, fascinating animals with beauty and characteristics incredibly evolved to this unique environment. 

Many reputable safaris and river or ocean cruise + land safaris in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia know the best places and times of the year for different wildlife experiences; some even guarantee you'll see the Big Five plus some of your other favorite African animals.

Encountering any of these creatures in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience that transforms any traveler forever.

Start your Trip!


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The World's Tallest Geyser Is At It Again

It's a geological mystery and a rare spectacle of Nature at the world's first National Park. Yellowstone National Park occupies over 2.2 million acres of land in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho – larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined! The park's famously magnificent vistas include forests, lakes, waterfalls and petrified forests, all home to a treasure of American wildlife.

But beneath its surface beauty, that's where Yellowstone National Park gets even more interesting. It's over top of a giant volcanic hotspot, which has created over 10,000 thermal (heat-related geological) 'features', and more than 300 geysers.

The conditions that create geysers are rare. Yellowstone is one of the few places on earth where you see them. Geysers erupt when magma (underground molten rock from volcanic activity) heats up gas and water trapped below ground until they erupt like a teapot coming to boil. The hot water and gas generate enough pressure to break the surface of the earth and gush upwards in a tower of water that lasts minutes, followed by days of steam continuing to release.

That's what's happened at least 4 times in just a couple of months during the spring of 2018 at the park's Steamboat Geyser (photo credit). Each time, about 70,000 gallons of water have erupted from the world's tallest geyser, where powerful eruptions can spew steaming hot water over 300 feet into the air.

Like most geysers, Steamboat is completely unpredictable. Yellowstone's most famous geyser, 'Old Faithful', fulfills the promise of its name and erupts almost on clockwork every hour or so, and you can even monitor them on the dedicated Twitter feed created by the National Park Service. Scientists think Old Faithful's predictability is due to a simple underground structure, whereas Steamboat's structure is believed to be more complex, and the magma movement irregular.

In fact, it's the first time in 15 years that Steamboat has erupted 3 times in one year. The last time it erupted at all was in 2014. But in 1964, Steamboat erupted a record 29 times!

The truth is, other than general knowledge of how the park's underground volcanic activity activates geysers, scientists don't know for sure why Steamboat has started erupting again – or why it has already blown four times in a couple of months.

So the show may not be over.

That's why this might be the best year to make a trip to Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park; for the possibility of witnessing a rare display by Mother Nature you won't see many other places on the planet.

Let us help you plan a trip to Yellowstone and other National Parks in America's West this year; tour packages bring you to the heart of Yellowstone National Park, and hopefully, you'll have a once-in-a-lifetime experience with Yellowstone's famous geysers. Start your Trip!

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A New Marine Reserve in Mexico is the 'Galapagos of North America'

Giant manta rays, sharks, whales, turtles, sea lizards and hundreds of other species are now protected in Mexico's vast new Revillagigedo marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean off the Baja Peninsula.There are four Revillagiegedo Islands about 240 miles (390 km) southwest of Baja California. They are small, uninhabited volcanic islands, but uniquely positioned where two ocean currents converge. (Top photo credit). That makes the islands and the waters around them a hub for hundreds of species of marine plants, birds and animals that live there or migrate there especially for breeding.

Previously, only the waters 6 miles around the islands were protected, leaving vital feeding, breeding and migration areas open for fishing. But in 2016 the area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its biodiversity and in November 2017, the Mexican government created an immense marine reserve 57,000 square miles (148,000 square km) surrounding the islands. That's a protected area the size of the entire state of Illinois, and the largest marine protected area in North America.

(Photo Credit)

All fishing is now banned inside the reserve – a move that will actually support the fishery. Protecting breeding grounds of commercial fish like tuna will allow hard-hit fish populations recover to the benefit of local fisheries outside the reserve. (Other marine reserves around the world have seen the local fisheries benefit from the conservation of breeding grounds).

Mining, resource extraction and hotel development will also be prohibited. Plans for active protection are now in place. The Mexican Environment Ministry and Navy “will carry out surveillance, equipment and training activities that will include remote monitoring in real time, environmental education directed at fishermen and sanctions against offenders".

Already, conservationists are celebrating and calling it 'the Galapagos of North America'. The Revillagigedo islands are considered one of the wildest places remaining in tropical North America, where you can see the most giant manta rays and sharks and large fish in the world as well as soft coral gardens with sea fans, sponges and crabs.  

(Photo Credit)

What does this mean for us travel lovers? In addition to knowing some of the Earth's biodiversity and natural marine beauty are being protected, Mexico's creation and protection of the new Revillagigedo marine reserve is expected to increase the opportunity for dive tourism in the area. Boats currently often depart for the Revillagigedo islands from the popular resort destination Cabo San Lucas. Not a diver? It's anticipated that carefully monitored wildlife adventure cruises, like trips travelers can take to the Galapagos Islands in the waters of Ecuador, will also allow travelers to experience the biggest marine reserve in North America.

Start your Trip!

This is a cruise line private island experience we haven't seen before.  Our Caribbean cruise on Regent Seven Seas Cruises included a day at Harvest Caye, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable days of our cruise. And when you watch the video you'll see why.

Harvest Caye is an island a mile offshore mainland Belize.  Like other cruise line private islands, Harvest Caye was developed as a beach port of call in the Caribbean for its guests by parent company Norwegian for its Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Oceania guests.

It's a spectacular, resort-style experience. There's a 7-acre pristine beach. You can relax in clamshell tents or even better, in one of the luxury beach villas with porches over the water, hammocks, dining and beverage options and dedicated concierge service.

Or head to the pool.  This extravagant 15,000 square foot oasis has a swim-up bar and tables in the water, elegant lounges and canopy pool cabanas with beverage service.

A 130 foot tall 'Flighthouse' looks a lot like a lighthouse, but gets its name as the island's point of departure for adventure:  an over water zipline or ropes course. There are also eco/ water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing in the lagoon alongside the wildlife.

Authentic and Sustainable

The Shopping Village, with its outdoor art festival, local musicians and dancers, high-quality local retailers of locally made chocolates, spirits and artwork including local woodwork, features street-style Belizean cuisine for that truly authentic local flavor.

The development preserves and improves the local eco system, uses indigenous, responsible hardwoods in the buildings, and is creating 500 direct and 1500 indirect jobs for the local economy.

All those things you might expect from a well-planned cruise line private island that also wants to support and authentically reflect its host community, Belize.

But Harvest Caye takes that responsible approach one step further with a Wildlife and Conservation program.

Wildlife and Conservation:

The development of Harvest Caye has boosted local environmental conservation. More than 15,000 new mangroves have been planted to increase the natural estuary habitat for birds, fish and other marine species.

Conservation programs and education efforts have been developed by award winning author and wildlife expert Tony Garel, Harvest Caye's Chief Naturalist, who supervised a wildlife interaction program so you can actually meet and learn about local wildlife.  Tony is on the island daily to lead tours of the wildlife experience. 

Tony's love for and commitment to Belize's plant and animal life were the highlight of our visit, and meeting Tony will be the highlight of your visit to Harvest Caye, too.  (And his friends, Belize's National bird, the toucans.) 

Start your Trip!

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A Carry On Kayak

The world's first nesting performance kayak may not actually reduce to airplane carry on size.  But its 6 interconnecting sections pack into a custom-made wheeled backpack bag that's a mere 3 feet long and weighs only 55 pounds.  

So you can store it in a closet.  Then roll it like a piece of luggage and take it with you in a car trunk, a cab, train, ferry, check it on your flight, or even carry it on your back hiking to any body of water begging to be explored.

Once you reach the water, the Pakayak Bluefin 14-foot sea/touring kayak assembles in under 5 minutes – with no small, loose parts to lose in the sand. 

So even in a remote location anywhere in the world, you can create your own kayaking adventure.

Pakayak is a crowd-funding, adventure-travel success story. A Connecticut outdoor adventurer / entrepreneur designed and patented the nesting Pakayak. The company raised 125% of its kickstarter fundraising goal, supported by lovers of the outdoors eager for a full-scale, easily-stored and easily-transported kayak.  One supporter has pre-ordered one for each member of the family.

The interconnecting sections are made from high-grade kayak industry resin that nest into each other, then assemble with a series of patented clamps and seals resulting in a watertight and rigid performance kayak.

Once assembled, it looks and performs just like a conventional kayak.  It has a thick foam seat for comfort, adjustable foot braces and seat back, two watertight hatches, watertight bulkheads fore and aft, a padded folding seat, adjustable foot braces, reflective safety lines, bungee deck rigging, front and rear carry handles, and it's rudder-ready.  

Future planned developments include additional models of different lengths, and seats for fishing, kids and dogs.

Pakayaks aren't just the ultimate mobile kayaks. You can also feel good about the company's commitment to social and ecological responsibility.  Clamps and shells are made in the U.S., where the kayaks are also molded and assembled, providing local jobs. Manufacturing, assembly and distribution all take place at the same facility to minimize environmental impact.  The design reduces shipping and fuel costs compared to conventional kayaks. In fact, 6 times more Pakayaks than regular kayaks fit in a tractor-trailer.

Pakayak takes seriously the responsibility of outdoor adventurers to be active stewards of the environment and puts their money where their mouth is.

The first model, the Bluefin 14 is named after the endangered species, and future models will also be named after a threatened marine animal or fish, with a percentage of profit from each sale going towards efforts to protect that species and sustain the world's marine ecosystems.

Pakayaks are inspiring and empowering. They have opened up a whole new way to travel the world with your own kayak and the complete freedom to spontaneously explore the rivers, seas and coastlines on your list.

Start your Trip!

 

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Cowboys. Wild white horses.  Wild black bulls. And pink flamingos.

Hard to imagine any place on earth where you'll find all of them together, but the vast Camargue delta in the South of France is home to all of these colorful creatures.  You can't miss BestTrip.TV's introduction to French cowboys and the beautiful wilderness of the Camargue.

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Do you ever see social media posts of magnificent wildlife photos from someone's trip to Alaska and think: This just can't be real?But it is. BestTrip.TV cruised from Vancouver to Seward (near Anchorage) on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, hoping Nature would be kind and we'd encounter at least a couple of the animals and birds Alaska is famous for:
  • Whales
  • Salmon
  • Crab
  • Bald eagles
  • Puffins
  • Brown (grizzly) bears
  • Sitka deer
  • Sea otters
  • Sea lions
Like you, we were skeptical of shore excursion guides who jokingly promised guests 3 out of 5 of a list of iconic Alaska wildlife 'or your money back'. For Regent guests, this is truly a joke, because Regent has included shore excursions, so you can take wildlife tours in every port of call without going over your vacation budget. If you don't see the animal your heart is set on, another day, another port, another excursion just might bring you luck.
The truth is, our shore excursion guides and boat captains really know their corners of an enormous state; where whales feed or sea lions congregate. Plus we got lucky with weather and time of day...
In the end, over the course of a week-long cruise, we ended up seeing all of these creatures and others we didn't expect, and capturing them on video to share with you.
We think this video is the next best thing to actually being there watching whales come up for air or puffins fly past or a bald eagle swoop down into the water to capture a fish to feed her young in the nest. 
But don't take our word for it. Add an Alaska cruise to your travel bucket list.
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Why Canadian Gardens Rock

Not all of Canada's natural wonders are wilderness. Communities across Canada have cultivated oases of trees and greens, colorful flowers, fresh air and serenity in the heart of busy urban centers.

Tara Nolan is a garden and travel writer, author of the best-selling book Raised Bed Revolution and co-owner of popular gardening website Savvy Gardening. She shares her list of favorite Canadian gardens, from west to east.

You don't have to be an avid gardener to appreciate Canada's public gardens. Gardens give residents and visitors a different perspective and experience in a city. The popularity of visiting gardens is astonishing: in any given year, more people visit public gardens in America than go to Disneyland and Walt Disney World combined! Canada's gardens are just as appealing, with engaging activities including some special programming for Canada's 150th birthday.

UBC Botanical Garden – British Columbia

Photo Credit

Not only does the UBC Botanical Garden play host to fabulous food and alpine gardens, the GreenHeart TreeWalk, a highlight of my trip to Vancouver last summer, takes visitors through the treetops of 100-year-old trees along canopy walkways, the highest of which is 23 metres above the forest.

The Butchart Gardens – British Columbia

Photo Credit

Magnificent Butchart garden draws a multitude of tourists, but it’s worth the visit to see the lush, colourful displays, from the Sunken Garden, which is beautiful through every season, to the Night Illuminations throughout the summer. I’ve visited in the fall when the dahlia walk was in full bloom.

The International Peace Garden – Manitoba

Photo Credit

Though a little remote, this garden is unique because it straddles the border with the United States—North Dakota on one side, Manitoba on the other. The message of this garden is one of contemplation and peace. You can even book a campsite to stay for longer than a day. This garden is on my list for a more rugged, outdoorsy trip that involves hiking and biking.

University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Garden

This 240-acre gem, 15 minutes from Edmonton, features a lovely Japanese garden and a Tropical Plant and Butterfly Showhouse. I made sure to visit the Herb and Sensory Gardens, as well as the Native Peoples Garden to learn more about what indigenous people foraged for and used for medicine, meals and ornamentation. When you visit this garden, time it so you can lunch at the Patio Café.

Toronto Botanical Garden

Photo Credit

This urban garden, nestled among leafy neighbourhoods, is looking at expansion to up its garden game even further. In the meantime, check the schedule for weekly entertainment, visit the bustling farmers’ market on a Thursday and sign up for a yoga class in the garden—it’s good to de-stress while on vacation, right?

Royal Botanical Garden – Hamilton, Ontario

Photo Credit

Not only does the Royal Botanical Garden have multiple sites (the RBG Centre, The Rock Garden, etc.), it also has multiple hiking trails that take you through the wilderness of Hamilton and Burlington and make you forget you’re in a city. Take the kids to the LEGO exhibit and check the schedule for jazz, blues and country music nights in Hendrie Park.

Gatineau’s Jacques-Cartier Park – Quebec/National Capital

A special exhibit has been built to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial: MosaïCanada 150. Expect massive, living sculptures packed full of plants and flowers. There will be 40 on display, representing the country’s history. And admission is free!

Reford Gardens/Jardins de Métis

Photo credit

This inimitable garden above the shores of the St. Lawrence River will appeal to especially arty types because of the International Garden Festival that invites landscape architects from around the world to design spaces based on a theme. The garden also features a fantastic culinary program. Visit the Estevan Lodge Restaurant to see what chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry, Gold Winner of the Canada Good Food Innovation Award, is concocting from his plant collection.

The Halifax Public Gardens

(Pictured, top. Photo credit)

If you’re wandering around Halifax, this is an easy garden to get to on foot for a visit—I strolled through last year for the first time and loved its proximity to shops and restaurants. Like Canada, it’s celebrating its 150th birthday. A special website has been put together—check it out for theatre and music events, special tours and more.

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Vancouver may be Canada's most famously 'outdoorsy' major city. Even in a city that drives Canada's vast Asia-Pacific business, athletic wear is more common than pinstripes! Nature thrives right on the city's doorstep: a gorgeous, picturesque harbor and bay, snow-capped mountains surrounding the city, and breathtaking Stanley Park, one of the world's top urban green spaces. For vacationers and cruise travelers in Vancouver, outdoor activities top the list of things to do. Even if you're traveling to Vancouver on business, if you don't take the opportunity to get outdoors, you've missed essential Vancouver.

Luckily, it's not only one of the most enticing big cities to be outdoors, it's easy to get outdoors and get active on a trip to Vancouver.

BestTrip.TV's Ryan McElroy 'test drives' Vancouver luxury harborfront hotel Westin Bayshore's active travel program. With cycling, run concierge, superfoods, yoga, and fitness equipment loan programs, Ryan discovers there is no excuse to miss enjoying the great Vancouver outdoors.

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The Bicycle's Big Birthday

This month marks a big milestone for the bicycle. We've had two hundred years of two-wheeled travel.

On June 12, 1817, German inventor Karl von Drais took a little ride on his new invention, the 'Laufsmaschine'. His first reported trip, from a castle courtyard in Mannheim to a coaching inn 5 miles away on Baden's best road, took a little over an hour – and changed travel forever.

Reproducing Karl von Drais' First Ride. Image courtesy of City of Mannheim

Von Drais' 'Laufsmaschine' was heavy, awkward, had no pedals, and riders moved it with uncomfortable running/ skating motions of their feet. Laufsmaschine even means 'running machine'.

This does not look fun to ride. (Photo credit)

Travel Game Changer

But it was the start of something that literally moved the world. The patent that Drais filed in 1817 for the earliest form of the bicycle fulfilled the saying 'Necessity is the Mother of Invention'. A volcanic eruption in Asia in 1815 had sent so much ash into the skies that the following year the sun in Europe was blocked, causing crops to fail, and widespread famine. People were forced to slaughter their oxen and horses to feed their families, leaving them with no form of transportation.

In this sad scenario, the earliest form of the bicycle was a game changer. For the first time, humans were their own form of faster-than-walking propulsion. It was the first form of land transportation without using an animal, and set the stage for all future mechanized personal transportation. It not only increased the speed at which humans could travel on their own, it was even faster than available transportation! Drais' first, 5-mile, one-hour trip in Mannheim was twice as fast as it would have taken a traditional horse-drawn coach.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Happily, Drais' invention evolved through the 19th century and the bicycle spread from Germany across Europe and overseas. There were some bumps along the way – literally. Terrible rutted dirt and cobbled roads sent early cyclists onto crowded sidewalks (a controversy that continues today), endangering pedestrians. That resulted in bans of bicycles in its birthplace, Germany, as well as Great Britain, the US, and even cities in India!

Hard to imagine, when today, the bicycle has become such a fundamental part of the local culture and lifestyles of people around the world. The bicycle is the answer to the need for inexpensive, effective transportation in some of the most fascinating, densely populated cities in Asia, where seas of bicycles have become the very image of local lifestyle. And Northern Europe's health and eco-friendly culture is symbolized by city bikes.

The Netherlands has more bicycles than people! Photo: BestTrip.TV

More and more travelers are also choosing to experience destinations by bicycle. The relaxed pace, off-the-beaten track, and health features of cycling journeys answer the call for active, authentic travel experiences.

Cycling tour of Peterborough & the Kawarthas, Canada. Photo: BestTrip.TV

And innovations like E-bikes and power-generating bicycles will keep Karl von Drais' invention moving us into the future.

Celebrating 200 Years of Bicycles

Mannheim and the region have a year-long calendar of activities commemorating the bicycle's birthday, with concerts, exhibitions, bicycle tours, shows and much more. Visit Mannheim's Technoseum for a special exhibition, "2 Wheels - 200 Years," which brings to life the technical development of the bicycle since Karl Drais, to the present cycling culture and the future role of the bicycle in cities. (Top image courtesy Technoseum).

Courtesy City of Mannheim

Courtesy City of Mannheim

And get outdoors and bike! SouthWest Germany is a bicycle rider's paradise, with hundreds of bike routes that pass through beautiful landscapes, from vineyards to castles and the Black Forest to Lake Constance. The ADFC (German Bicycle Club) notes and rates cycling routes; don't miss the region's five-star "Liebliches Taubertal - der Klassiker". The route is one of the oldest in Germany and travels by castles, monasteries and fortresses for 100 beautiful kilometers.

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Nature and Heritage at Jamaica's First UNESCO World Heritage Site

A first for Jamaica and a first for the Caribbean. In 2015, Jamaica's Blue and John Crow Mountains became the country's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also the Caribbean's first World Heritage Mixed Site for both natural and cultural riches.

The emerald mountains define the eastern part of the island and cover an area of 480 km2. The UNESCO site is 260 km2 within Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.

Nature and Biodiversity

It's a rare 'tropical mountain' environment on the steep (nearly 1,000-meter) slopes, with cloud forest, a unique ecosystem that only occurs in 2.5% of the world's tropical forests.

The Blue and John Crow Mountains are a global biodiversity hotspot, one of the world's 78 most irreplaceable protected areas for plant and wildlife species conservation.

The park has 1,357 species of flowering plants; a quarter of them are only found in Jamaica, and 87 are found only within the park.

It is the last of two known habitats of the giant swallowtail butterfly, the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere, and the habitat for 200 species of birds including the endangered Jamaican blackbird. It is one of the largest migratory bird habitats in the Caribbean. It's also the home of the Jamaican boa and the threatened rodent hutia.

Culture and Heritage

This is where indigenous Tainos and former slaves fled to escape colonial enslavement. The thickly forested mountains provided the seclusion and natural resources for the Maroons' survival and fight for freedom. They developed a profound knowledge of and spiritual connection to the mountains, creating a cultural legacy that survives in modern Jamaica.

Tangible history of the Maroons' life and resistance in the mountains also remains today. The Nanny Town Heritage Route includes settlements, trails, viewpoints, and hiding places.

The Blue and John Crow Mountains sustained Maroons and supported them as they struggled to survive and achieve recognition and liberation. Their example influenced other slave resistance in the region, and is a powerful story of humanity for all people of the world.

Jamaicans and Visitors

The Blue and John Crow Mountains' designation as a dual UNESCO World Heritage Site was a momentous occasion for Jamaica and Jamaicans.

It was dedicated to the legacy of the Maroons of Jamaica, "strong, cunning and resourceful persons who found ingenious ways to dismantle a system that blighted peoples of the region… They have helped to shape our identity of self, and community."

As a Mixed World Heritage Site, the Blue and John Crow Mountains' one-of-a-kind environment and profound cultural heritage will be preserved for ancestors of the brave Maroons, and for visitors to the country looking for a deeper connection to Jamaica.

To plan your visit, contact  the Office of Park Managers, Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust by email at jamaicaconservation@gmail.com; or by phone at (876) 960-2848-9 or (876) 960-8278-9. Photo Credit - Jamaica Social Investment Fund

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See Stars in Utah during Dark Sky Week at the World's First International Dark Sky Park

We often think of our travels as an 'escape' - have you thought of them as an escape from ... light? Or do you simply love gazing up into the mysteries of the universe, in a clear, clear night sky, unpolluted by man-made lighting? Utah is one of the best places for avid stargazers to celebrate International Dark Sky Week 2017, April 22-28th.

The state is home to seven of the world’s 42 International Dark Sky Parks as well as Natural Bridges National Monument, the world’s first International Dark Sky Park, as certified by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) . A Dark Sky Park is an area defined by the IDA where the night sky can be viewed clearly without any "light pollution.”

Southern Utah offers remote areas where 15,000 or more stars are visible in the night-sky (astronomers believe people who live in urban areas can see fewer than 500 stars). During International Dark Sky Week 2017 and throughout the year, visitors to these Utah Dark Sky Parks offer outstanding quality night skies:

  • Canyonlands National Park is known for its dramatic desert landscape carved by the Colorado River.During the spring and fall, Park rangers offer programming on a rotating basis with other Parks with the ultimate goal being to introduce visitors to the wonders of the night sky. Stargazing and telescope viewing follow ranger programming
  • Dead Horse Point State Park: This Park has partnered with Canyonlands National Park to host dark-skies programming. This state park overlooks the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park, covering 5,362 acres of high desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet. Even if you've never been, you've probably seen it already; it was used in the iconic final ‘Grand Canyon’ scene of the film Thelma & Louise
  • Capitol Reef National Park: This Park has some of the best night sky viewing opportunities of the western national parks. The park is famous for its layers of golden sandstone, canyons and striking rock formations, including Chimney Rock pillar, the Hickman Bridge arch, and Capitol Reef white sandstone domes, and the towering monoliths of Cathedral Valley. Past summer stargazing programs have included Night Sky Tours by visiting astronomers
  • Goblin Valley State Park: In addition to its claim to fame (and name), its thousands of hoodoos and hoodoo rocks, referred to locally as "goblins", which are formations of mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles, some as high as several meters, the National Park Service’s Night Sky Team determined this park to have some of the darkest night skies on Earth. Here you'll find unparalleled views of the Milky Way. Visitors can experience a variety of ranger-led monthly moonlit hikes and telescope tours
  • Hovenweep National Monument: Until recently best-known for the six groups of ancestral Puebloan villages, there is evidence of occupation from 8,000 to 6,000 B.C. The Monument’s night sky remains about as dark as it was 800 years ago due to its geographic isolation. The Monument’s Rangers offer visitors stargazing programs throughout spring and summer so you can literally see the stars like North America's first peoples did.
  • Natural Bridges National Monument: Named for its primary feature, the thirteenth largest natural bridge in the world, carved from the white sandstone, the park was designated the world's first dark-sky park in 2006. Here you can gaze at the very same stars the ancestral Pueblo people observed 800 years ago. Park rangers will offer astronomy programs beginning May 2017
  • Weber County North Fork Park: Unlike the majority of International Dark Sky Parks, North Fork Park sets itself apart from the others because of its adjacency to urban areas and its innovative public art incorporating dark skies themes.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is a United States-based non-profit organization incorporated in 1988 by founders David Crawford, a professional astronomer, and Tim Hunter, a physician/amateur astronomer. The mission of the IDA is "to preserve and protect the night time environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting". To promote awareness about the issues about the disappearing darkness in the world and its effect on human and wildlife wellness, the IDA has an International Dark Sky Places program that aims "to protect locations of exceptional nighttime visages for future generations". Since 2006, it has been designating International Dark-Sky Parks, International Dark-Sky Reserves, and even International Dark-Sky Communities for star gazers and our global natural heritage.

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Video: Tree-Top Champagne Bar in Champagne, France

It's the elixir of lovers and those who love the good life.  Champagne is perfection, and how do you improve on perfection?

Drinking it in the tree tops at the Perching Bar.  BestTrip.TV traveled to the source, the Champagne region of France, and to the National Forest outside its capital of Reims.  The Perching Bar is an eco-tree-house bar at the end of a tree walk.   High concept design has even the seats and champagne buckets suspended from the rafters... floating, just like the bubbles in your glass of effervescent champagne.

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Did you know there are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam? 

It's one of the original and influential cycling cultures that helped set the trend towards urban cycling and our love for touring new destinations by bike.

The Dutch bicycle - the original workhorse urban bike for entire families - sets the bar in style, function and cool factor.  BestTrip.TV discovers cycling culture in legendary Amsterdam, and meets the maker of custom Dutch bikes.

If there's anything better than cycling through the streets of one of the world's favorite cities, it's a souvenir custom bike that will be the envy of all your cycling friends at home.

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Laurisilva of Madeira, The Mustn't Miss Destination In Portugal Laurisilva of Madeira comprises of 15,000 hectares and is located in the larger 27,000 hectares Madeira Nature Reserve. The site is made up of primary laurel forest, a vegetation species that is only found in the Azores, Canary Islands and Madeira. read more
Whether you are into wintersports or the sunny summer, this region will have something special for you.Here, you get to hike, ski, fine dine, sightseeing and photography and many more. read more
Things to do when on an adventure tour in Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort In Canada's British Columbia province on the Pacific coast lies some of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world. The Whistler Mountain is one such mountain as it is part of the Fitzsimmons Range of the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains. read more
5 cool facts about St. Moritz St. Moritz is a resort town located in the Engadine valley in Switzerland. The town is a municipality in the tourist friendly district of Maloja in the Swiss canton of Graubünden. The town's southern tip offers the scenic views of the highest summit in the Eastern Alps, the Piz Bernina. Below are a few cool facts about the towns that a tourist to the town would be interested to know. read more

Portuguese wines offer some of the best value in the world. The country may be small, but its geography – with coast on one side, mountains in the center, and an arid region to the east – has created a number of diverse wine-growing regions. While most people know Port and many have come to love Vinho Verde, other Portuguese wines and the regions that produce them are just starting to burgeon. The country itself is low-key and scenic – and currently, a bargain, even factoring in euro-to-dollar exchange rates.

One of Portugal's two best-known wine regions (the other being Douro, where Port comes from), the Alentejo sits in the southeast part of the country, away from the Atlantic's influence. Its best-known wines are reds, both spicy, savory traditional styles and more intensely fruity modern wines.

The Winery: Herdade do Esporao
While many wineries in the country are still adapting to the surge in vinotourism, Esporao has it nailed – the state-of-the-art facility that houses its winery has an architecturally stunning visitors center complete with restaurant, wine bar, and shop constructed in a contemporary style. The family-owned winery routinely wins awards for its more traditional wines and its modern riserva styles, both reds and whites. Don't neglect to taste the olive oils, either – there are four varieties ranging from mild to spicy. You'll want extra room in your luggage to bring home bottles of both wine and olive oil, many of which are available at the shop for under $10. Vineyard and winery tours are available for those who want to learn more, and there's even an archeological museum on site.

The Great Blue Hole of Belize Belize has the world's second longest coral reef - with an extraordinary natural feature. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth and sometimes is referred to as 'the mother of all caves'. read more
Experience a Cycling Adventure in the Kakadu National Park Enjoy cycling in the Kakadu National Park read more