Forest bathing among California’s redwoods

On California’s Redwood Coast, the art of de-stressing comes naturally. Under the canopy of California’s giant redwoods, each breath seems to restore serenity, perspective and even lost hope. So if your scenery lacks greenery, your reserves of awe are running low and you have to remind yourself to take deep breaths, venture among the ancients while indulging in the time-honored cure for this modern condition: forest bathing.

Sounds like something a California hippie guru would invent, but the term was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Shinrin-yoku (forest therapy) is the act of wandering in the woods, breathing in essential plant oils that restore the senses and may even enhance immune system functions, according to recent research. The Shinto-inspired practice has been promoted in urban centers from Tokyo to Washington, DC.

Fill your prescription
Urbanites cautiously dipping their toes in forest bathing may start with Muir Woods, just an hour from San Francisco. In 1945, delegates from the newly-founded UN convened here to honor Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Cathedral Grove, reached by wheelchair-accessible shuttles and Main Loop Trail. The event is captured for posterity in English and Braille: “Here in such a ‘temple of peace,’ the delegates would gain a perspective and sense of time that could be obtained nowhere in America better than in such a forest. Muir Woods is a cathedral, the pillars of which have stood through much of recorded human history. ”

For the full immersion experience, head another four hours north to Humboldt County. Here a scenic 31-mile stretch of old US Highway 101 flanked with redwoods is better known as Avenue of the Giants. Hand-painted signs along the route beckon travelers to retro roadside attractions: hermit huts carved into lightning-struck trees, redwoods big enough to drive through, and life-size California grizzly bears carved with chainsaws from fallen redwoods. But the finest destination here is unmarked, even hard to find off the road through Humboldt Redwoods State Park: the Women’s Grove.

When this stand of old-growth redwoods was threatened by commercial logging interests back in 1923, Humboldt women reached out to women’s organizations across California. Sixty thousand Californian women contributed a dollar each to buy this grove for the park, and save these magnificent giants for posterity. Immerse yourself in the dappled light of the Women’s Grove loop trail, and you can feel the velvet humidity rising from the forest floor, along with something else: the enduring resolve of the women who blazed these trails century ago. The trailhead is marked by a stone hearth monument from California’s first licensed woman architect, Julia Morgan (of Hearst Castle fame), with a carved motto over the mantle that could be an early forest bathing testimonial: “For lo in the forest there comes contentment, peace, and the sweet companionship of nature.”

Get ready for adventure

A new year symbolises a new beginning, providing the perfect excuse to refresh some of the more well-worn items in your travel gear arsenal.

In this set of reviews, we cast an eye over a range of staple travel kit – bags, clothes and more – that’ll endure whatever adventures 2018 has in store, whether you’re planning on strolling the boulevards of Paris, trekking the jungles of Brazil, or both.

Eagle Creek Flatbed 28 luggage case
Neatly combining the practicality of a suitcase and the flexibility of a duffle bag, with handy features such as chunky wheels and a telescopic handle, Eagle Creek’s Flatbed 28 is well-suited to multifarious travel itineraries. With a functional yet stylish appearance, it’s tough enough to protect your stuff on a taxi roof rack in India, but you can still pull it proudly through the lobby of a fancy Venetian hotel.

The single lid gives access to the bag’s capacious interior (although our tester said the flap covering the zip could be larger for more protection), while external straps provide extra strength and security during transit.

Plus points: small top pocket handy for quick access to essentials
Worth noting: no internal compartments; best used with packing cubes
Cost: GBP165, US$200, €180 (77L) – 100L version also available
Rating: quality 9/10; practicality 8/10; value 8/10

Make the most of the city’s biggest party of the year

People travel from far and wide to join in the city’s biggest party of the year and sate their fancy-dress appetites – the Venice Carnival packs the city with crowds of elaborately costumed people, colourful sights, a slew of sounds and an flurry of events.

Visit the watery wonderland in February for glamorous evenings and to be wowed by elaborate traditions as well as sample carnival-exclusive sweet treats.

What is it and when is it?
The carnival takes place every year in the weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday. The final day is a last hurrah to gluttony and excess before the forty days of Lent begin. Venice was renowned for its partying during the 18th century, when its carnival was the height of hedonism. Revived in 1979, the Venice carnival today attracts revellers from all over the world to participate in the open-air costume extravaganza.

The final weekend, from Giovedì Grasso (Fat Thursday) to Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday), is the best time to come as there are more events leading up to the final crescendo. Be prepared: this is not for the claustrophobic or the ascetic, as staid old Venice lets its hair down and kicks up its heels along with almost three million visitors.

Dress like royalty
Or a cowboy, or a superhero, or a pop star. If you are simply heading out and about, then anything goes. If you are not quite ready for a full-on costume, you could add a quirky touch to your everyday outfit. Giovanna Zanella has an amazing selection of special-occasion footwear, including shoes shaped like gondolas.

However, if you are heading to a more prestigious event and you want the full regalia, you need Nicolao – simply the best costume shop in the city. The lovely Atelier Flavia can also deck out the entire family in fabulous 18th century garb. Remember that it’s February and freezing, so outfits need to be accessorised with cunningly hidden thermals or a faux-fur coat.

If the mask fits
No carnival costume would be complete without a mask. In fact, you really only have to wear a mask in order to be carnival-ready. One fantastic mask-maker is Ca’ Macana, which famously produced the masks for Stanley Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut. Tragicomica has a cornucopia of masks and can sell or hire you a traditional costume if you want to complete your look. In the Castello district, Papier Maché has long been crafting intricately beautiful masks.

A taste of Zürich’s food revolution

With a focus on local produce and a thirst for new food festivals, Zürich is becoming a hot gastronome destination. Embracing a more playful approach to cuisine, the renowned business hub is now abuzz with spectacular restaurants, bohemian cafes and legions of street food stalls. Here’s what to try for starters.

Artisan eats
‘I was a film-maker,’ says Mika Lanz, tall, spectacled and moustachioed, striding around a small, sterile studio in wellington boots. ‘Feature films, commercials, music videos. Now I make sausages.’

And not just any sausages. In his workshop beneath a church, Mika and his mum (who stitches the sausage packaging on a sewing machine) run Mikas, a company that produces small batches of handmade Stadtjaeger, using pork sourced from organic pigs raised within Zürich city limits.

The output is very much quality over quantity, and a delicate slice of Stadtjaeger, marinated with blueberry, lemon peel and spices, will make you grateful he called time on his film career. Around two dozen delis and shops stock it, including the excellent Berg und Tal in the Viadukt.

Where to eat Zürich’s signature dish
Zürich’s signature dish, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, is something most visitors will try: sliced veal in a creamy white wine sauce. It’s as straightforward as it sounds, but if you want to see how exciting veal can be, take the train from Römerhof to Saltz, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant in the Dolder Grand hotel.

The trip is worth it for the views over Zürich alone, but also for the hotel’s famous art – over 100 pieces by Damien Hirst, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and others are splayed casually along the corridors. Here, a satisfying saddle of veal steak is served with a jus, chanterelles, pan-fried romaine lettuce and mashed potato.

Search out heavenly Swiss chocolate
It’s not just the heavenly treats that make visiting Max Chocolatier something of a celestial experience. Located down a charming cobbled street in the Old Town, the store is just around the corner from the splendid Fraumünster, whose Marc Chagall-designed stained glass windows are enchanting when lit up.

A vital star in the constellation

Sometimes lightning does indeed strike twice; such is the case for Pittsburgh, a vital star in the constellation of so-called Rust Belt cities. The city’s recent economic developments have re-energized its long culinary legacy, and new restaurants are popping up each week alongside some of the city’s stalwart faves – both types worthy of international acclaim.

Once the apex of industrial America, the Steel City was Andrew Carnegie’s fiefdom, minting him gobs of money as the country quickly expanded outward and upward. Pittsburgh thrived during the Industrial Revolution, and then Western Pennsylvania’s metropolis fell out of favor as technology evolved. But Pittsburgh is back with a vengeance as a refreshed locus of modern industry, with its tech boomlet buoyed by Google’s mini-hub headquarters, Uber’s super-future self-driving vehicle technology and Carnegie Mellon’s world-famous robotics and engineering labs. The promise of forward-thinking careers and a seriously good-value lifestyle has started to attract many newcomers to the city; it’s even encouraged the locals who fled to other cities to return home.

In order to properly get acquainted with the edible side of Notorious P.I.T., we’ve compiled a shortlist of some of the city’s musts with some knowledgeable locals weighing in on their picks from the menus.
If there’s one name on every Pittsburgher’s lips, it’s Morcilla, a Spanish-style setup created by Chef Justin Severino. Severino has solidified his reputation as the city’s champion of slow, thoughtful food, pulling the very best produce from the city’s surrounding farmlands and showcasing the bounty in inventive and – most importantly – extremely tasty ways. He’s mastered the art of charcuterie, with meaty piñatas of Iberico ham ready to be shaved into thin strips of salty-umami heaven.

Local tip: ‘You have to try one of the Gin & Tonics,’ suggests Meredith Meyer Grelli, co-owner of Wigle Distillery. ‘They mix them up with housemade tonic and jam them full of artful, fresh garnishes.’

Primanti Bros.
Before there were Pittsburghers, there were ‘Yinzers’– blue collar citizens with a distinctive local twang. Primanti’s is from that generation, pioneering the brilliant idea to take the standard cold-cut sammy, scoop of coleslaw and side of fries, and cram it all into one sandwich. Brilliance often comes from pure simplicity, and no one will argue with the fact that hot Primanti’s takeaways are the perfect midnight snack. You’ll find wings, pizza and cheese fries on the menu too, but we suggest sticking to their so-called ‘almost famous’ sandwiches of sliced meats tucked between two slices of Italian bread. The best part? The joint’s joined the chain gang, which means there’s probably a location within stumbling distance of where you’re staying (or where you’re going out…).

Artisanal craft of Midcoast Maine

“There’s a quality of life in Maine which is singular and unique,” said Jamie Wyeth, a notable third-generation artist from Maine’s most famous artistic family. “It’s absolutely a world unto itself.”
Anyone who has delighted in the nature, townships, land- and seascapes, and even light of the US state of Maine knows this to be true. But there is arguably no place where this is more in evidence than its Midcoast region, the beguiling stretch of shoreline from Brunswick up the western edge of Penobscot Bay.

Artists and artisans could hardly ignore this, which was the genesis of what has become a full-fledged focus on arts and crafts in the area. “The cities of Midcoast Maine have a lot of art going on and the art economy is a very important part of who we are and why people are coming here,” notes Steve Ryan, Executive Director of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce.

Great galleries in Midcoast Maine
Given the long-growing attention to artistic and artisanal creation, the proliferation of galleries in Midcoast Maine has been truly remarkable. In many places, and not just the cities known for their art appeal, “I’ve seen growth from one or two galleries, if that, to vibrant art scenes,” remarks Anthony Andersen, publisher of the Maine Gallery + Studio Guide, the self-styled “ultimate guide to Maine art.”

Unfortunately, given the size and shape of Maine, many visitors never get past Portland, already a great center for art. However, those who do venture farther north along the coast are rewarded with very rich pickings. Here are just a few of them.

Great Destination on Tel Aviv

On Saturdays, I… head to the beach like the rest of Tel Aviv. My favourite is Hilton Beach, on the city’s northern coast, which includes TLV’s unofficial gay beach and a dog-walkers’ beach. Off-season it’s a tranquil stretch of sand to walk my dog, Boots, and on-season, it’s party central, filled with tanned sun-worshippers and locals throwing frisbees. Right behind this beach is Independence Park, an often overlooked green space that offers spectacular vistas of the Mediterranean and even Old Jaffa to the south.

My children love going to… Park HaYarkon, where they can run around grassy parkland and play to their heart’s content at one of the many playgrounds with slides, wooden climbing frames and swings. For a grand day out with the little ones, we head out of town to Safari Ramat Gan, famous for its drive-through area and zoo.

No trip to Tel Aviv would be complete without… tucking into a messy falafel. Although said to have originated from Egypt, this fried chickpea ball, usually served with salad in pita bread, has become synonymous with Tel Aviv. Falafel stalls can be found on almost every major street corner, and a manna (‘portion’) costs less than 20NIS. Other street food favourites include shawarma (kebab meat in a large wrap) and sabich (fried aubergine with egg) – all of these can be found at HaKosem.

The best way to cool down is… by sampling the world-class ice cream at Arte, which serves up bona fide Italian gelato, including a whole range of vegan varieties on Nahalat Binyamin St. The frozen yogurt at Tamara on Rothschild Blvd also offers healthier sweet options of tapioca or granola with fruit.

Mysticism and inspiring contradictions seem to surround Isabel Allende

Magic, mysticism and inspiring contradictions seem to surround Isabel Allende. She is arguably Chile’s most famous living writer, and yet, she doesn’t live permanently in her homeland, opting instead to continue her exile, which dates back to the dangerous days following Salvador Allende’s removal from office in the 1973 coup d’etat.

Her relationship to the socialist president – he was her father’s cousin, thus her uncle once removed – coupled with her work as a journalist and commentator, necessitated her hasty departure from her homeland. But Chile still remains front and center in her life and her work, and Allende returns for several months most years to revisit and reconnect with the land and people that inspire her.

As a writer, Allende has enjoyed massive success. Her books have been translated into 35 languages, selling more than 65 million copies worldwide. She is perhaps most famous for the novels The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna, but she’s authored more than 20 books over her long career, winning countless international accolades for her work, which draws its inspiration not just from her past, but also from the idiosyncrasies and intricacies of her homeland’s landscape and people.

Isabel Allende: Hospitality… I think we’re very hospitable people, especially with foreigners. Not so much with each other. But you’ll always find opened houses and people ready to welcome you. You know people just drop in, you don’t need to call or be invited. Just drop in. As soon you cross the threshold of a Chilean house you’ll be offered something to drink. Even in the most modest house, where they have nothing, they will offer you tea or water or whatever they have. I think that’s our nicest trait.

A guide to Venice’s neighbourhoods

While most cities are broken into quarters, Venice is divided into six districts or sestieri. Although it’s a compact city, each of Venice’s neighbourhoods has its own characteristics, offering you something a little different and distinctive wherever you wander.

Read on to find out the best place to stay if you’re keen on cuisine, which neighbourhood will indulge your artistic eye, or where to head for a bit of uncharacteristically quiet Venice.

Shopping in San Marco
San Marco contains the Venetian crown jewels in the form of the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale, located in the eponymous square. For this reason, it is also the most densely populated in terms of tourists and purveyors of souvenirs. Whether you are just visiting or a local, this is definitely the neighbourhood for shopaholics. Via XXII Marzo is the Holy Grail of shopping in Venice, showcasing the biggest and the best of Italian designers. It is the most prestigious postcode in town and the plethora of antique shops, chichi clothing stores and art dealers, as well as the yacht club, are testimony to this. This district contains some of the loveliest hotels and is ideal for first-time visitors and those with little time as the main sights are on your doorstep.

The community of Cannaregio
Cannaregio once had a reputation for being a little rough and it still wears its working-class badge with pride. There is a strong sense of community here and the neighbourhood has managed to retain butcher shops and bakeries, along with other local enterprises that have been priced out of other areas. The sestiere has seen a recent revival of vibrant Jewish cultural life, with shops and kosher restaurants reflecting this.

The district is a pleasing paradox, being both family-friendly thanks to its two parks (the Savorgnan and the Groggia) and swimming pool, as well as the place to go for the best in wine bars and restaurants on the Fondamenta della Misericordia. So stay here if you have kids who need to let off steam, and stay here if you like to let off steam with a late-night tipple or two!

Cruising down Russia’s ancient waterway

You might recall the names of great Russian rivers like the Volga or the Yenisey from geography lessons, but the Oka is unlikely to be one of them despite its easy-to-remember and affirmatively sounding name. Yet, as the main transport route of the ancient Muscovite princedom, it has more history and at least as much appeal for travellers as its more famous sisters.
With Oka cruises now resumed after a 20-year break, a chain of millennia-old historic towns along its banks are beginning to rival the Golden Ring as worthwhile destinations in the vicinity of Moscow.
The Oka river is one of two major tributaries of the Volga, and its basin borders on that of the Dnipro, which is why Kievan Slavs – led by their Viking princes – used it as the main route for colonising the lands that form the historic core of what we now know as Russia. Wooden Viking-style boats, the ladyas, were pulled by ropes across narrow and low-lying watersheds in the manner lately depicted in the Netflix series Vikings (the siege of Paris episodes).

Originating in southern Russia, the Oka flows north via the pretty town of Oryol before resolutely turning to the east near the industrial city of Kaluga. For the next few hundred kilometres, it skirts the border of the Moscow region – its wooded banks have long been favoured by the residents of the Russian capital as a place for weekend picnics and for building their summer cottages. The river passes the first cluster of dachas (country houses) and bohemian haunts near Serpukhov and Tarusa.
This upper section of the Oka is not covered by cruises – they originate in Moscow and follow the Moscow river down to its confluence with the Oka at Kolomna (120km east of Serpukhov and 113km south of Moscow), a little gem of a town and a popular day-trip destination for Muscovites. The main highlight is a section of the wall and the two towers that remain from the town’s kremlin (medieval fortress). Other remainders of the ramparts and towers are scattered around the courtyards of 18th-century merchants’ stone houses and traditional wooden cottages.

A couple of local museums stage shows celebrating major local crafts. One is dedicated to the production of large bread loafs, known as kalachi. Another is all about the Russian-style marshmallow, pastila. Both shows end with a tea party prominently featuring each of the products. But the quirkiest sight in Kolomna is Artkommunalka – a museum-cum-art-residence that meticulously re-creates the atmosphere of a 1960s communal flat, which housed millions of people during Soviet times. A variety of interactive tours and quests are on offer (all in Russian), but perhaps the best experience is to pre-order lunch in the communal kitchen and play kitchen dissidents for the duration of your stay.