Why 2018 is the Year to Visit Jordan

Jordanian coffee

Jordan was never on my bucket list, but returning to Jordan is now on that list. Heck, before my trip there, I would not have been able to find Jordan on a globe. But after 10 days exploring this simply amazing country, I cannot only tell you where Jordan is, but also where its major cities and best tourist attractions are.

There’s really never been a better time to visit the country. Jordan tourism has decreased due to the conflicts in the region, which means there are fewer tourists so you can really enjoy and explore the sites. But tourism is rebounding as the government has worked hard to send a message that the country is safe and stable, and definitely open for business.

camels in the desert for Jordan tourism

Camels are the Uber of the Wadi Rum desert; (c) Beth Graham

Here are Jordan’s Do-Not-Miss Experiences

1. Petra 

It goes without saying that this UNESCO World Heritage site, dating back to 300 BC, is one of the world’s most iconic sites and one of the highlights of Jordan tourism. What’s most amazing is that Petra was hidden in Jordan for thousands of years until it was (re)discovered in 1812.

You’ll want to spend a full day exploring as your journey starts with a walk down the Siq, a narrow gorge, that leads to Petra. You’ll walk between towering pink sandstone cliffs, dotted with facades of ancient temples, tombs and residences. But you’ll lose your breath as you round the corner and come face to face with The Treasury, a massive 43-meter tall Greek-style temple carved into the sandstone. (Be sure to watch ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ before your trip to fully appreciate this iconic site.)

But this is only the beginning of Petra. There are many many more marvels of this ancient city to explore. I highly recommend hiring a guide as there’s so much history and many hidden features you’ll miss if you visit on your own. If you’re not too weary from a day of exploring, go back to Petra at night – it will be one of your most memorable night time excursions as you walk the pitch black Siq to experience a special ceremony at The Treasury, lit up by luminaries.

Where to stay: The Petra Marriott Hotel is the perfect base for your visit. After a long day of walking, treat yourself to a Hammam in the hotel’s spa before you relax in your well-appointed room.  

Jordan tourism experience riding donkeys in Petra. FWT Magazine.

Riding donkeys up to The Treasury in Petra; (c) Beth Graham.

2. Bedouin Experience at Feynan Ecolodge

As we exited our tour bus and boarded a few older model and well-traveled Toyota pickup trucks, I wasn’t sure what we were in for. We bumped and tumbled across the desert passing a few Bedouin camps as our keffiyeh-scarfed driver navigated the rough and dusty path.

We arrived at Feynan Ecolodge, built in 2005 and the first of its kind for Jordan tourism. Clearly, there are no power lines so the lodge is completely solar-powered with open-air rooms that provide natural ventilation with fresh spring water pumped in.

At night, the entire complex is lit by candlelight. The expansive terrace doubles as the dining room where vegetarian meals are served looking out over the rugged desert terrain. The 26 guest rooms are minimalist, designed to represent those of a caravanserai, a roadside inn where travelers, in this case Bedouins, would stop for the night along their journey. As if experiencing the tranquility of the desert far away from daily life was not enough, guests can spend their days hiking the nearby desert trails followed by a sunset stroll into the mountains to enjoy a pot of tea with sage, brewed over an open flame.

The lodge’s guide will also invite you to experience the Bedouin life with a visit to a nearby family where you can join them in a cup of Jordanian coffee with cardamom and learn to make kohl (Bedouin eyeliner). The darkness of night brings on the most magical stargazing experience of your life as you lie on the rooftop of Feynan Ecolodge and enjoy a curated talk about the constellations.

Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan; (c) Beth Graham.

3. Dead Sea 

We drove by the Dead Sea on one of our first cross country drives and my first impression was the serenity and peacefulness of the long, narrow waterway. But I was also surprised to find a number of luxury resorts dotting the coastline.

No trip to this region would be complete without experiencing the magical feeling of complete buoyancy in the Dead Sea. Just don your swimsuit, walk into the thick salty water, lift your legs, and you’ll instantly float. It’s a strange feeling but definitely worth the experience. After floating, it’s time for a little au naturale spa treatment. Find one of the urns filled with Dead Sea mud and slather it all over your body. It will harden in the bright sun, rinse it off in the outdoor shower and you’ll be surprised how soft your skin is.

Where to stay: The Dead Sea Marriott Resort & Spa is a luxury resort with breathtaking views. From the resort’s multi-leveled pool deck to the spacious, well-appointed guest rooms to multiple dining options, this is where you’ll want to experience the Dead Sea.

luxury hotel in Jordan. FWT Magazine.

The luxury Dead Sea Marriott in Jordan; (c) Beth Graham

4. Jerash  

In my opinion, one of the country’s, if not the world’s, most underrated sites is Jerash. An ancient city that was another modern day discovery just 70 years ago, Jerash was a walled Greek-Roman city from the Bronze Age. The site is now generally acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. From the city center’s grand columns to hilltop temples to outdoor theatres, it’s worth a full day of exploration.

5. Wadi Rum Desert

When I heard we were riding 4x4s in the desert, I thought to myself, “I’m more of a luxury resort spa girl. Do I have to?” Well, I’m here to tell you it was one of the most awesome experiences. We climbed into the bed of pickup trucks and set out across the desert landscape that felt a bit otherworldly. We raced other 4x4s, stopped often for photos and just marveled at this vast and magical destination.

Our afternoon of dusty trevails ended with a beautiful sunset, surrounded by luminaries, against the backdrop of desert landscape. We headed back to our Bedouin campsite but the next day held promise for an even more exhilarating desert experience.

In the darkness of the (very) early morning, we boarded, not 4x4s, but camels to head out over the eerily still Wadi Rum desert to catch the morning sunrise led by our Bedouin guides. Sunrise and sunset in the desert is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Where to stay: There are over 100 camp sites in the desert. We stayed at Rahayeb Desert Camp, a remote yet authentic Bedouin-style retreat.

Wadi Rum desert adventure. FWT Magazine.

Riding 4x4s in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan; (c) Beth Graham.

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Scenic Walking Tour of Thessaloniki, Greece

As the 2nd largest city in Greece, it is vibrant, historic, diverse, chaotic and beautiful – often simultaneously.  The deep-seated cultural and historical treasures and traditions are evidenced in the monuments, architechture, cuisine.  The ancient remains feature Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman lineage along with more modern facades.  Following the devastating Great Fire of 1917, reconstruction of the city center now offers 20th-century look and feel offering yet another layer of contrast and interest.  As such, you’re sure to be entertained, enlightened, surprised and delighted along the way.  From start to finish, plan for approximately 5-hours for this scenic walking tour of Thessaloniki, including lunch and a leisurely coffee in the tradition of the Greek.

  1. Democracy Square:  Also referred to as Dimokratias or Vardari Square is a main intersection point of Monastiriou, Egnatias, Lagada and Dodekanisou Roads.  It is a symbolic representation of the past, present and future bustling with traffic, restaurants, cafes and shops.
  2. Thessaloniki Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception:  Just a few minutes walk on Dodekanisou toward the waterfront and historical portion of the city and you’ll find this picturesque and historic church situated on Fragon street.  Designed by Italian architect, Vitaliano Poselli, who is most widely recognized for his work throughout the city including the Jewish Museum.  The treasured temple was built in 1899 and remains active today and is run and preserved by the relatively small Catholic community of Thessaloniki.
  3. Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki: Next on your city stroll you’ll view the outside of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.  To properly take in the wealth of historic and cultural inside, it is recommended you reserve a tour for a separate day.
  4. Agios Minas church: In closer proximity to the port, where King Herakleiou and Dragoumis streets intersect is the Agios Minas church.  From the Post-Byzantine era, this Christian monument dates to the 9th century and is especially significant as it is one of the few not converted into a Muslim mosque after the city’s occupation by the Turk’s.  The current structure is a result of significant repairs necessary after undergoing centuries of wear, war and fire while maintaining the post-Byzantine style.
  5. Modiano and Kapani Food Markets: Situated at Platia Aristotelous and Ermou Street, this hidden marketplace with pulsing with vibrant colors, sounds, scents and flavors from the various stands offering an array of choices including fish, meat, veggies, herbs, bread, pastries.  Truly a feast for the senses.

    Thessaloniki Food Market (c) Joy Steinberg.

  6. Port of Thessaloniki: In addition to a scenic view of the waterfront, you’ll find the Museum of Photography and the Cinema Museum.  Cinephiles will also appreciate knowing there are two film festivals in Thessaloniki.  The Thessaloniki International Film Festival held annually every November and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in March.  Also situated in the port area, the Kitchen Bar is an ideal spot for a bite or drink while enjoying the waterfront vantage point.
  7. Nikis Avenue: Continue your walk along waterfront promenade Nikis Avenue. On a clear day, the promenade is bustling with walkers, runners, bikers and visitors enjoying the view of the water and charming street cafes.

    Nikis Avenue and waterfront promenade (c) Joy Steinberg

  8. Aristotelous Square: Next, stop off to explore Aristotelous Square home to luxurious hotels, vast mansions and charming cafes.
  9. Ancient Roman Agora: From Aristotelous Square, proceed to Venizelou square and take in the Ancient Roman Agora (located in upper Venizelou square)
  10. Agios Demitrius cathedral: Proceed from there to visit Agios Demitrius cathedral which offers representative Byzantine architecture. The church burned twice throughout history.  Most recent was the Great Fire of 1917 and it was rebuilt using parts of the old church that were not destroyed.
  11. Cafe Terkenlis: From the cathedral, walk down to Agias Sofias street and enjoy a leisurely and delicious coffee break at Cafe TERKENLIS in Agias Sofias square. Café Terkenlis originated in 1948 and is an acclaimed bakery and patisserie brand.
  12. Galerius Roman Palace: Now fully caffeinated and rejuvenated, carry on towards the Navarinou Square, Dim. Gounari street. This road is frequented by the university students and accordingly you’ll find shops and restaurants catering to their more modern tastes and minimal budgets. At this point, pause to take-in the ruins of Galerius Roman Palace – offering a dramatic counter to the contemporary youthful University vibe of the neighborhood.
  13. White Tower: From here, commence to walk down towards the famous White Tower considered by some to be the city’s trademark as the most recognizable landmark.
  14. Venizelou Street: Window shop along Tsimiski Avenue to Venizelou street. See the old arcades with the small textile shops.
  15. Finale: Bring your walking journey to a close at a neighborhood café while reflecting on the highlights and enjoying a traditional Greek culinary delights and a glass of wine from the regional vineyards of Macedonia.

    Kitchen Bar Port of Thessaloniki (c) Joy Steinberg

While highly recommended, it is best to plan a separate day for visits to the Byzantine Museum, Archaeological Museum and Jewish Museum properly explore and immerse yourself in the wealth of information and historic magnitude.

IF YOU GO:

As is customary in this industry, my trip was organized by PASS PARTOUT Tourism Marketing with promotional rates provided by the Capsis Hotel Thessaloniki and Airotel Parthenon Athens.

 

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The Memorable Cuisine of Croatia

Evening at the International Prosciutto Fair in Tinjan, Croatia is buzzing with energy and celebration. Wine glasses clink as thinly sliced parchments of meat are lovingly teased from immense and fatty legs of perfectly marbled pork. The fragrance of roasted chestnuts wafts through the air as they roast over an open flame. Even the ambiance feels delicious.

Anthony Bourdain has touted Croatia as the ultimate foodie destination back when he visited and filmed No Reservations in 2012. “If you like food, and you haven’t come here to eat, you’re missing the [sic] boat”, he said and the world is beginning to take notice. Tourism has increased by over 5 million visits per year since 2012.

Local Fish from the tasting menu at Toklarija. Shot by Kaila Yu

Istria, Croatia

Croatia is an emerging food destination that will soon be on your radar. The passion for food in the country is evidenced by the Prosciutto fair and countless other food festivals that pepper the year in the Northernmost Istria region of Croatia alone. Some of the festivals include a truffle festival, asparagus festival, sole fish festival, and countless others. If you are visiting Croatia for the food, the Istria region should be on the top of the list as it is famous for its truffles, wine, olive oil, prosciutto, fresh seafood and more.

Tuna Tartare at Restaurant Badi © Kaila Yu

During my trip to Istria, we visited the Gastronomija Ville Meneghetti located inside the Meneghetti Wine Hotel. The restaurant serves high brow interpretations of local Istrian ingredients and features a highly aromatic wine and olive oil tasting. The restaurant serves their own award-winning olive oil, pressed from olives harvested from trees grown on the estate. In Croatia, one of our hosts said: “we put olive oil on everything”. A highlight of the meal was the perfectly grilled, delicate turbot fillet dressed with a shot of piquant Mediterranean sauce and dressed with elegant olive oil pearls. The presentation was understated yet upscale and truly gave us a sense of Istrian cuisine.

Tuna Tartare at The Lone Hotel © Kaila Yu

For lunch the next day we were treated to a four-hour presentation at the famed Croatian slow food restaurant, Toklarija. Overseen by chef/owner Nevio Sirotić, Toklarija is a restaurant built into a converted olive mill. Sirotić possesses a meticulous attention to detail and he had turned down all other reservations for the day to focus on serving our meal. The meal started with a delicate and flaky bread sandwiching a locally raised ham and cheese paired with his own homemade pickles.  It ended with a sublimely light and airy chocolate cake and the meal reminded us of the importance of taking the time to indulge in a delicious meal, something we often forget in the US.

Opatija

The next day takes an hour south to the city of Opatija, in the Kvarner region, also known as the Monte Carlo of Croatia. Opatija is renowned for its Kvarner Scampi, distinguished as the star of all Adriatic seafood. Kvarner scampi is most often caught with longline fishing traps, This method of fishing prevents bruising and is much more highly selective than fishing with nets. Scampi starts off our first meal in Opatija, at the Villa Ariston. It’s a briny, buttery bite paired with a sun-dried tomato and pomegranate seeds. It’s a perfect bite of Opatija. The star of the lunch is the scallop course, perfectly grilled and served atop crispy, creamy spinach fritters. The accompanying sauce of celery and black truffle cream perfectly highlights the dish.

That night we settled in for the night at Design Hotel Navis. This brand new five-star hotel features stunning sea view and balconies in every room. The hotel features a generous buffet for all guests, featuring two entire self-serve prosciutto leg, one deeply crimson and one generously marbled with a thick layer of fat. Local foods were also featured with a trio of sardines harvested from the local island of Kali and a selection of pate and pickled peppers and vegetables.

Sibenik

Sparkling Fish Soup at Meneghetti © Kaila Yu

Finally, we make it to the last stop on the trip, Sibenik, which has gained some recent notoriety as it was the filming location for three episodes of the Game of Thrones. Konoba Pelegrini in Sibenik was anticipated to be one of the highlights of the trip as it has won the title of the best restaurant in Croatia for three straight years and has been called “A place and experience that foodie dreams are made of” by GQ Magazine. It’s located right next to the St James Cathedral, a UNESCO heritage site. This tavern/diner is the unofficial symbol of Sibenik and is devoted to the preservation of the Dalmatian style cuisine.

Head cook Rudolf Stefan prides himself on innovation while showcasing his passion for the Mediterranean region. We later wondered why Konoba Pelegrini hadn’t yet earned a Michelin star. The restaurant is celebrated for its 10-course tasting menu. The procession of locally sourced, yet elevated dishes included a light and airy bite of local fish ceviche – flavored by dashi, veal under the bell, a cuttlefish and black gnocchi. The “Veal under the Bell” course is inspired by the traditional Croatian dish of peca. It’s served under a heavy stone bell which is lifted with a dramatic flourish as smoky meat-scented air wafts into your face and blends deliciously into the room. The sourdough bread served is made from the restaurant’s own mother yeast. All dishes are served by a synchronized waiter train, which orchestrates the placement of each dish in front of each guest simultaneously. Especially memorable was the veal roll ćevapčić, served as a carpaccio and dotted with a bracing mustard sauce and nestled into a bed of crispy panko crumbs.

 

The KRKA National Park

The last stop of the trip was at the KRKA National Park, a 142 sq km UNESCO World Heritage site, so secluded that it is home to two monasteries. A three-hour hike through crackling leaves while enjoying the crystalline waterfalls leaves us ravenous quite hungry and treated to one of my favorite meals of the trip. It’s at the Stari Mlin i Kalikusa, and outdoor restaurant located inside the park and the meal itself is incredibly simple. We enjoyed a crispy, grilled local monk fish seasoned with only local herbs and olive oil, paired with homestyle potatoes and kale. The accompanying salad was dressed simply with just olive oil and vinegar. We savored the meal outdoors in the fresh air as we reminisced about the trip and were joined by a friendly orange tabby cat, who sat politely nearby until we donated our generous leftovers for his enjoyment.

In the end, the best meals are not only about the food but about the company and the environment in which they are enjoyed.

If You Go

Istria Tourist Board

Opatija Tourism Board

Sibenik Tourism Board

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Visiting the “SLO” Life in San Luis Obispo, California

Nestled just three hours from Los Angeles is San Luis Obispo. Known as “SLO” to the cool kids, San Luis Obispo is not just a college town (although don’t miss visiting the local campuses. Cal-Poly and Cuesta College are beautiful), but a town with a fun main drag. Along with a fantastic array of restaurants, bars and shops, SLO also has incredible wineries, hiking, museums and is home to one of the 21 California missions. Not to mention, it’s just 15 minutes from the beach!

A Fantastic Getaway to San Luis Obispo

With surfer pit stops (Pismo Beach, Cayucos) and quaint small towns like Cambria at your fingertips, San Luis Obispo has become much more loved for its diversity, foodie scene and crisp climate that is ideal for wine making. Those who live in SLO or have gone to school there know, though–it’s always been a “best kept secret”!

STAY

The Embassy Suites of San Luis Obispo recently underwent a major makeover, and they cannot wait to show it off to you. Just a six-minute drive from Downtown, the Embassy Suites offer a gorgeous and ample bar and restaurant in an atrium setting that overlooks the lobby. Open, airy and very welcoming, I felt as if I were at home with my kitchenette, living room, desk and comfy King sized bed with my TV favorites on. Some suites offer a fun patio view overlooking the hustle and bustle on the first floor.

One of the reasons I love staying at Embassy Suites is their evening reception featuring an open bar and snacks to enjoy while you get some work done or people watch. And they offer a terrific breakfast starting at 6am daily with made-to-order pancakes, omelettes, and a yogurt and cereal bar. It also makes for the ideal spot to grab a cup of coffee and snack for the road. These complimentary AM and PM perks with Embassy Suites is enough reason for me to choose them.

The Embassy Suites of San Luis Obispo (c) Mary Farah.

The History Center of San Luis Obispo (c) Mary Farah.

BREAKFAST

If you’re looking to start your day in Downtown SLO and do like the locals do, look no further than Mint+Craft.  My mouth-watering Obispo Toastie (Applewood bacon, tomato, crushed avocado, micro greens and an over-medium egg on gluten-free rye bread) was paired with an artistically crafted Matcha green tea latte. This was such a fantastic start to my first morning in town. So much so, that it made it hard to go back to a chain store coffee and snack stop post-trip. Reasonable prices and both gluten-free and vegetarian options make Mint+Craft a charming nook to begin your day; even as your coffee stop. Grab lunch or dinner, too! Breakfast is served until 2pm, and the rest of the menu 11am to close.

EXPLORE

Just a few steps from Mint+Craft is the San Luis Obsipo Mission, as well as the History Center of San Luis Obispo, the SLO Museum of Art and an array of stores that offer such a variety, everyone will want to shop til they drop.

If enjoying the great outdoors is what you have in mind, there’s plenty of hiking trails all around. Bluff Trail, Poly Canton Loop and Valencia Peak Trail are just few of the trails, parks and hikes surrounding you. If you like unusual, rather, gross history, make sure not to miss San Luis Obispo’s infamous Bubblegum Alley….its name pretty much sums it up.

Bubblegum Alley. You have to see it to believe it! (c) Mary Farah.

A hearty meal courtesy of Big Sky Cafe (c) Mary Farah.

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

While SLO is a fantastic weekend getaway option, you might to try to make it on a Thursday. Each week (as weather permits), the Downtown Farmer’s Market fills the entire block of Higuera Street with all of the locals’ favorite fare from 6pm to 9pm while the stores also stay open. Bars, too! While it was overwhelming to decide on just one vendor to try.

Several eateries offer patio dining so you can enjoy the ambiance and strollers, including Big Sky Cafe. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Big Sky is one of the several farm-to-table restaurants in the area. The dishes were so fresh and elaborate. My pesto chicken sausage scramble (breakfast until 1pm) was one of the highlights of my two-day trip. I loved watching everyone’s afternoon go by from my patio table, too. Big Sky’s staff was also top-notch. My server, Riley, was so personable and helpful in my deciding on the perfect brunch dish.

Big Sky doesn’t fool around with their coffee, either. Getting their beans around the corner at local favorite, Coastal Peaks. My organic iced latte fueled me aplenty for my ride back to LA.

IF YOU GO

The  San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center is an excellent resource. An abundance of information awaits you and they will be happy to assist you with all of your itinerary  needs. Rest your head and enjoy the hospitality over at the Embassy Suites. Sight see and learn about the city with the San Luis Obispo Mission, Museum of Art and the History Center. Then,  take your appetite to Mint+Craft and Big Sky Cafe.

And, don’t forget to pack some chewing gum to leave your mark!

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11 Best Travel Destinations for 2018

A Zodiac near an iceberg

The world’s a big, exciting place. Sometimes it’s tricky to know where to plan your next adventure. Do you go with what you’ve always done or branch out and try somewhere new?

According to our FWT Magazine travel experts, the 11 best travel destinations for 2018 take in outstanding international cities like Tokyo, as well as culture-rich destinations like Italy, Germany, France, Budapest and Sri Lanka. If craft beer and curling are on your mind, then you’ll definitely want to book time in the winter wonderland of Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada. Then again, if you want an off-the-beaten track adventure, 2018 could be the year to jump on a plane bound for Jordan or the Solomon Islands.

Whatever your fancy, it’s time to make a plan.

1. Tokyo, Japan

Best travel destination for 2018? My top pick would have to be Tokyo, Japan. The entire country is gearing up for the upcoming Olympic Games in 2020, so there is a buzz in the air as they prepare. With so much history, arts, and culture to explore in this fast-paced, very civilised, polite city, you’ll need to bring comfortable shoes and plan to stay awhile. The food is excellent, the shopping is glamorous, and the transportation network within Tokyo and all of Japan is top notch and easy to navigate. It’s a travellers dream location.

Mary Chong, Canadian travel blogger for Calculated Traveller.com

Tokyo skyline. FWT Magazine.

Tokyo, Japan is travel blogger Mary Chong’s pick of top travel destination in 2018.

2. Losinj Island, Croatia

Lonsinj Island in Croatia is, after all, known as the Island of Vitality where wealthy Europeans came to get away from the hard, cold winters for centuries. They came to this tiny island to cleanse their bodies and minds. Literally, before medical tourism was even a thing. It is said the island has special health benefits because of the fresh air mixed with sea salt and pine trees. But not only that, it is a gorgeous seaside village of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants with a simple way of life. You will absolutely be delighted to spend some time here along the coast of the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Cacinda Maloney, US travel blogger for Points and Travel.com

Losinj Island, Croatia. FWT Magazine.

Losinj Island, Croatia is US travel blogger Cacinda Maloney’s recommended must-visit destination for 2018 (c) Cacinda Maloney.

3. Abruzzo, Italy

Abruzzo, Italy is a great destination because the area is absolutely rich in culture, art, cuisine, history, and activities. It is not rife with tourists, it has the mountains and the sea, and it is a good blend of northern and southern Italy. I know it like the back of my hand as my grandparents were born in the region.

Chris Cutler, US travel blogger for ColdPastaandRedWine.com

Abruzzo, Italy. FWT Magazine.

Abruzzo, Italy is US travel blogger Chris Cutler’s pick of the best 2018 destination (c) Chris Cutler.

4. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Fredericton, New Brunswick is my pick of the best destination for 2018. Based on the East Coast of Canada, New Brunswick is filled with nature-related beauty. I am visiting during the time of year in which it can be described as a winter wonderland. New Brunswick is within the Appalachian Mountains yet it also has urban elements to it as a true bilingual province. The New Brunswick HopSpiel is an outdoor event — taking place in Officer’s Square of Fredericton — and is part of FROSTival. Its main focuses are craft beer and curling. I can’t wait to experience the HopSpiel Beer Garden.

Darren Paltrowitz, US freelancer

Fredricton. FWT Magazine.

Fredericton makes to the top of Darren Paltrowitz’s list of best destinations for 2018. Photo courtesy of Fredericton. 

5. Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux is world renowned for its fine wine, but the city itself was long an industrial port. The city’s position on the Atlantic seaboard made Bordeaux a natural crossroads between land, river and sea. Bordeaux even temporarily became the capital of France during WWI when Paris was threatened by the proximity of German armies, and the port was strategic in the industry of arms trade. Years and years of industry and boats steaming up the Garonne took their toll. Layers of thick black grime soiled the once gleaming honey-gold stone facades, earning Bordeaux the nickname The Sleeping Beauty.

But Bordeaux has, quite literally, cleaned up her act. A massive cleaning project to sand blast the stone facades to their former honey-gold glory was just the beginning of a new era for Bordeaux. New museums like La Cité du Vin, recently named as one of the best museums in the world by National Geographic, have opened just in the last two years. Wine châteaux that had long been shuttered to the public opened their doors to welcome visitors in a new age of wine tourism. Even some of the world’s most renowned chefs have opened restaurants in the UNESCO World Heritage city.

It’s an exciting time in Bordeaux. This year will see the 20-year anniversary celebration of Bordeaux’s wine festival, Le Fête du Vin. With wine producers, tastings and festivities stretching for over two kilometers along the quay, the wine festival will be complemented by the Tall Ships Regatta in an exceptional event taking place from June 14 – 18, 2018.

Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis, US travel bloggers for Luxe Adventure Traveler.com

Bordeaux, France. FWT Magazine.

US travel bloggers Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis pick Bordeaux, France for a must-visit destination in 2018 (c) Jennifer Dombrowski.

6. Capri, Italy

For 2018 the trend for travel is looking to places that are laid-back yet understatedly luxurious. Capri, a small Italian island town set high on the hill surrounded by the jewel-colored sea, has some of the best food you have ever had, gorgeous cliffside accommodations, beautiful shops, cobblestone streets and views for days. 

Kimberly Fisher, US travel blogger for KimberlyFisher.com 

Capri, Italy. FWT Magazine.

Capri, Italy is US travel blogger Kimberly Fisher’s choice of the best destination for 2018 (c) Kimberly Fisher.

7. Sri Lanka

My pick is Sri Lanka. The diversity of influence from Europe, the Far East, and the Indian subcontinent can be seen throughout Sri Lanka from its culture to its cuisine. Pair that with stretches of white sand beaches in the east to the rolling tea hills of the Central Province and it becomes clear that the beauty of Sri Lanka should be explored in its entirety.

Edward G Young III, US travel blogger for RebornStronger.com

Sri Lanka. FWT Magazine.

Sri Lanka makes it the top of the list for Edward G Young III (c) Edward G Young III.

8. Lake Constance, Germany

This natural lake, created by the Rhine River, lies on the border between southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It’s actually two lakes, the larger Obersee which measures 40 miles long and nine miles wide, and the smaller Untersee. The shoreline is dotted with enchanting small cities and towns, providing a variety of activities and places to visit. The countryside, lake and views of the Swiss alps offer great scenic beauty. Roadways, trains, ferries and buses make it easy to travel between towns and across the lake. It’s a friendly and safe destination, and conveniently close to the airport hubs of Zurich and Munich.

Tamara Muldoon, freelance travel writer and blogger for tamaramuldoon.com

Lake Constance, Germany. FWT Magazine.

One of the largest lakes in Europe, Lake Constance offers charming seaside towns with many attractions, delicious food and drink, and inspiring views, says travel writer Tamara Muldoon (c) Tamara Muldoon.

9. Budapest

Budapest is actually made up of two bustling cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the regal Danube River. Explore both sides of the city, including Heroes’ Square, the Buda Castle and Matthias Church. At the Budapest Great Market Hall, you’ll find delicious Hungarian delicacies, beautiful handmade crafts, and of course, paprika. Walk through the city and discover amazing outdoor thermal spas with people soaking in them or playing chess on large floating boards.

Visit the Jewish Quarter with the magnificent 19th Dohany Street Synagogue, complete with the Raoul Wallenberg Garden and Tree of Life memorial to those lost in the Holocaust. Also sobering is the Shoes on the Danube memorial to those who were shot into the river. Budapest holds special magic, especially at night, with the Parliament, Castle and Chain Bridge lights all aglow…a magnificent sight to behold in this medieval city with a contemporary beat. Museums, palaces and galleries all make Budapest a delightful destination worth seeing this year.

Mira Temkin, US travel blogger for miratemkin.com

Budapest. FWT Magazine.

Budapest is travel blogger Mira Temkin’s choice of where to go this year (c) Mira Temkin.

10. Jordan

My top pick of destinations to visit in 2018 has to be Jordan. Why? Because it exceeds expectations and creates a sense of wonder and awe. It has an incredible natural beauty, history, culture, community and cuisine. My top recommendations? See the Wadi Rum UNESCO World Heritage Site and Dana Biosphere Reserve. Stay at Feynan EcoLodge to enjoy a Bedouin educational excursion. And be sure to experience Beit al Baraka and its community of beekeepers, basket weavers and traditional Jordanian cooks.

Joy Steinberg, travel writer for givejoy.com

Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Dusk in Jordan (c) Joy Steinberg.

11. Solomon Islands

Today it’s difficult to find those remote, tucked-away places on the planet where tourists are welcome, but very few go. In the South Pacific Ocean, six thousand miles off the coast of Los Angeles, is a wildly stunning archipelago of nearly 1,000 islands, populated by half a million mostly Melanesian people who spend their daily lives living in and off the water.

To get to the Solomon Islands, or the Western Province, at least, where eco-tourism is taking off, you fly to the Solomon’s capital city of Honiara, then take a 16-seater twin otter to Gizo, the regional hub located in north-western pocket of the Solomons. From there, you jump in a motorised canoe to get to your chosen eco-lodge. In July, this year, my canoe will transport me 10 minutes across Gizo lagoon to Oravae Cottage, where I’ll park up, switch off and unwind. I’ve been to the Solomons twice before and I can’t wait to go again this year. No shopping, no five-star glamour, just perfect pink-tinged sunsets, the best snorkelling I’ve ever experienced and the freshest cuisine. And what’s not to love about spending a week or two in your own, rustic bungalow – miles from anyone – set over a translucent ocean?

Jacqui Gibson, New Zealand travel writer and associate editor for FWT Magazine.com

Over water bungalows of the Western Province, Solomon Islands (c) Jacqui Gibson. FWT Magazine.

Photo: Over water bungalows of the Western Province, Solomon Islands (c) Jacqui Gibson.

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Charleston Lives Up to its Honor as One of the ‘World’s Best Cities’

There is a reason Charleston, South Carolina holds the honor of being named in Travel & Leisure magazine’s ‘World’s Best Cities’ list for the past five years. The region’s history, architecture, emerging culinary scene, southern charm and strong sense of place are contributing to the city’s success.

My husband and I decided last minute to add Charleston to our East Coast itinerary and arrived from New York mid-afternoon for a quick 36-hour visit. We checked into the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel, which is centrally located in the heart of the city. It is a perfect starting point to explore the city by foot, offering the opportunity to see, smell, taste and experience what the city has to offer.

Example of Charleston's unique and beautiful home architecture

Beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Home architecture © Jan M. Smith.

Charleston Walking Tours

Walking tours are popular in the city, designed to provide visitors with interesting history and up-close views of the unique architecture found in homes and buildings. We selected a Charleston Strolls tour based on the suggestion from Explore Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Tour guides are sanctioned by the city and required to go through rigorous historical and architectural testing before being certified. Our tour guide, Kim, is a self-professed “semi-Charlestonian.” She shares that the true Charlestonian designation is reserved for those who are born and have family lineage within the confines of the actual city. Kim was born and raised in an area north of Charleston proper, so although she has lived in the heart of town for the past 18 years, she is still considered an outsider. Regardless, Kim is clearly in love with Charleston and her pride is palpable.

The tour began on Market Street where we received a short city history lesson, a warning about walking on cobblestone streets and tips on how to dodge the horse-drawn carriages that were to share the streets on the tour. Well-preserved homes dating back to the mid-18th century lined the street. Confederate jasmine (known as star jasmine in the west) shared its sweet scent and offered a fragrant gift as we passed by the shrubs and walls covered with the beautiful white star-shaped flowers.

The tour meandered through the historic streets past homes and churches standing for over 300 years, and moved on to Charleston’s French Quarter near Broad, Meeting and Market Streets. We walked down a street of art galleries, restaurants and the open-air City Market then stopped in front of the original Old Slave Mart building, constructed in 1859 for slave auctions. The building currently houses the African American History and Art Museum and reminded us of the city’s storied history.

We passed an array of antebellum styled homes, a mix of Italianate, featuring beautiful cupolas and balconies, and Queen Anne, with colorful exteriors and ornate details. Creeping fig covered the brick walls of Georgian buildings with their ornate iron balconies and gates. Colorful shuttered windows, gorgeous flower boxes and the occasional, welcoming red door made me wonder if a house could get any prettier and I considered mine was in for some changes when I returned home.

Picture of Charleston's famed Rainbow Row Homes in Historic Downtown area

Charleston’s famed rainbow row homes © Jan M. Smith.

Strict preservation laws safeguard the authenticity of the neighborhoods in the historic area. A good example of this is the famed Rainbow Row housing in an area referred to as South of Broad. Here, 13 Georgian-style homes reflect the original pastel colors dating back to the 1700s.

Eventually, all roads lead to water in Charleston. At the seawall, we could see a large bay fed by the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. From our vantage point, we looked across the water and viewed Fort Sumter in the distance. Built in 1860, the fort holds the dubious honor of being the point where the first shots rang out in the American Civil War. Today, it is a United States national park open to the public.

Throughout the tour, our guide’s go-to word to describe almost everything we saw was “charming,” which aptly fits this unique city.

Exampleof beautiful iron gate by famed ironwork artist Philip Simmons

Gorgeous ironwork gate in historic Charleston, South Carolina © Jan M. Smith.

Artistic Ironwork

The gorgeous ironwork adorning gates, balconies, fences and light posts throughout the Charleston Historic District was designed and produced by renowned ironwork artist, Philip Simmons. Simmons lived and worked in Charleston for nearly 90 years before his death in 2009.

Simmons was recognized with many prestigious awards for his work, including the South Carolina Hall of Fame and most prominently, the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor that the United States can bestow on a traditional artist. Simmons’ art is also displayed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

One of seven remaining colorful cobblestone streets in Historic Downtown Charleston

Cobblestone streets in historic Charleston, South Carolina © Jan M. Smith

Charming Streets and Alleyways

There are only eight remaining streets in the Charleston Historic District still lined with cobblestones, including Chalmer Street in the French Quarter, North and South Adger’s Wharf and Maiden Lane. It is interesting how stones can add charm to a city street – the uniqueness causes these thoroughfares to be heavily visited and photographed by tourists.

The cobblestones originally arrived on English ships in the late 18th century and were used as weights (ballasts) on the incoming empty boats. Once in Charleston, the stones were removed and tossed into the bay, replaced by cargo returning to England. As the city grew, city planners surfaced the beautiful cobblestones to line the local streets.

The cobblestone streets are still used today by horse-pulled carriages, cars and pedestrians, although they are a good challenge to maneuver by foot. In addition, a few equally charming historic brick-lined streets and pedestrian alleyways, including Philadelphia Alley, are still present in the city.

Charleston’s Emerging Culinary Scene

Charleston’s burgeoning food scene is heating up fast. Last year there were as many restaurant openings as there were closures. The popularity of this tourism destination has caused a spike in rent for both business and housing, which in turn, is affecting the cost of living and sustaining business in the city.

Regardless, Charleston’s food and beverage scene has attracted top chefs from around the country. Acclaimed restaurants require reservations months in advance to secure a table, so plan accordingly for your next trip. A visit to Charleston should include experiencing the unique flavors of the South. Here are two of our favorites to consider.

Bricklined exterior of Historic Downtown Charleston's McCrady's Tavern

Historic downtown Charleston’s McCrady’s Tavern © Jan M. Smith.

McCrady’s Tavern

A mainstay in Charleston, McCrady’s Tavern once served President George Washington. Located off a brick-lined pedestrian alleyway, the building dates back to 1778 and is on the National Historic Register. Although recently remodeled, the tavern still maintains the original brick-lined arches, fireplaces and wooden beams.

Executive chef and James Beard Award winner Sean Brock offers an innovative menu that changes often based on the availability of local ingredients. The familiar low country she-crab soup and a uniquely named side dish, ‘A Pie called Macaroni’ (Thomas Jefferson, c. 1802) top the list of regional offerings. Served on vintage mismatched china, the meals are uncomplicated and flavorful. The restaurant is open for dinner and weekend brunch.

The South's famed Sweet Tea can be enjoyed at Butcher & Bee Restaurant in beautiful Charlerston, SC

Freshly-brewed Sweet Tea from Butcher & Bee © Jan M. Smith.

This hip industrial-looking restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating and a healthy menu of various mezze platters, sandwiches and salads, each creatively designed with a Middle Eastern influence. Daily menu specials depend on locally sourced fish, meat and vegetables. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A visit to Charleston would not be complete without experiencing the South’s famous sweet tea.
My first sip detects a distinct sweetness overpowering the tea itself. I ask the hospitable and friendly server the secret to making this classic southern beverage and she replies in her charming accent, “Bless your heart, it is actually simple freshly-brewed green tea and an extra helping of block sugar.” Unquestionably, this tea’s namesake is accurate!

If You Go

Renaissance Charleston Historic District
Explore Charleston
Charleston Strolls Walking Tours
McCrady’s Tavern
Butcher & Bee

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10 Reasons to Travel to Halkidiki, Greece

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites | Halkidiki, Greece

Talk about planning a beach vacation to Greece, and inevitably, the question will surface of which islands are best to visit.  But what if an equally beautiful place in Greece isn’t an island but rather a peninsula in the north of the country called Halkidiki? Compared to the famed Greek Islands, Halkidiki is still relatively unknown as a tourist destination. But it’s worthy of consideration when planning a beach vacation, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. Unique And Diverse Landscapes

Halkidiki is one enormous peninsula that begins on the mainland near Thessaloniki and divides into three smaller peninsulas extending into the Aegean Sea.  The three sub-peninsulas (known locally as “legs”)  are Kassandra, Sithonia, and Athos, each distinctly unique geographically.

2. The Beaches

Depending on the peninsula, the beaches range from protected coves with calm, clear water to rocky shores backed by rugged cliffs.

Karidi Beach in Vourvourou | Halkidiki, Greece

Karidi Beach in Vourvourou © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

3. The People

The land is gorgeous, yes, but so are the people. The locals in cafés are quick with a smile and warm greetings, and English is widely spoken. The hospitality professionals are refreshingly attentive, enthusiastic, and genuine.

4. Stress-Free Travel

The easiest way to get to and around Halkidiki is by flying into Thessaloniki International Airport “Macedonia” and renting a car. The roads are in good shape, and highway signs are well-marked in both Greek and English. A rental car allows travelers to not be limited to one location.

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites | Halkidiki, Greece

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

5. Suitable for All Budgets

Accommodations range from national forest campgrounds to opulent resorts at the pinnacle of luxury, from half-board packages to self-catering rentals.

6. Suitable for All Types of Travel

With various levels of accommodations and diverse dining options, Halkidiki accommodates all types of travelers. Whether for the annual family beach vacation or a couple’s romantic getaway, it’s the perfect place to create memories.

7. The Food

Being surrounded by water means an abundance of fresh seafood. A common sight at beachfront restaurants is a server filleting whole grilled fish, tableside, for patrons. There is also no shortage of meze and traditional Greek dishes at the countless restaurants and tavernas.

8. Air of Mystery

Athos has been the exclusive domain of monks and hermits for more than 1,000 years, and women are not allowed on the peninsula past the town of Ouranoupolis. Men are allowed on Athos but must have advance permission. Piques the curiosity, no?

Mount Athos | Halkidiki, Greece

Mount Athos © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

9. Distinct Personalities

There are three peninsulas, all very different from one another. Kassandra is known for its nightlife and party beaches. Sithonia, teeming with thick pine forests, is more laid back and rugged. Lastly, there is Athos and its air of mystery.

10. So Much to Do

The beaches are what draw many to Halkidiki, but once there, travelers realize that outdoor recreational opportunities abound. Among the most popular activities are hiking, biking, fishing and boating.  Of course, lying on the beach and soaking up the Aegean sun is perfectly acceptable as well.

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