Category Archives: Poland

Haute Springs: World’s top thermal baths

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For centuries, the earth’s thermal springs have been harnessed for their curative and restorative properties. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out top spa regions across Europe.

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What better way to beat the winter chill than soaking the warmth of thermal baths that spring forth from the bowels of the earth? While India has its share of hot water springs known for their healing properties – from Tattapani, Vashisht and Manikaran in Himachal Pradesh to Surajkund in Jharkhand, thermal baths around the globe have raised the bar on relaxation and rejuvenation experiences. Here’s a list of top international hot spa destinations where the beau monde (fashionable elite) submerge in nature’s bathtubs. It’s time to get out of your thermals and get into one!

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Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
Bad Ragaz, a tiny town snug in the foothills of the Pizol Mountains in Switzerland’s St Gallen Canton, has been a famed destination for health care since Baroque times. The concept of wellness dates back to 13th century, when hunters discovered the hot springs and Benedictine monks built the first bathhouse near the source. Monks risked life and limb to lower people down into the thermal waters of the cavernous Tamina gorge, sometimes leaving them there for a week to heal! Back in the day, only the Russian aristocracy could afford such luxuries. Channeling the pure 36.5˚C ‘blue gold’ waters from a spring deep within the splendorous Tamina Gorge in the Pfӓfers, the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is Europe’s award-winning top Wellbeing Thermal Spa and Medical Resort. The warm healing waters form a vast watery oasis comprising the azure colonnaded haven Helenabad, the Sportbad and Garden pool besides a dreamy white public Tamina Therme replete with an outdoor waterfall and panoramic views of snowy peaks.

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A place for blissful wintertime rejuvenation, Bad Ragaz is an ideal sanctuary for personal wellbeing. Indulge in massage and aqua therapies, beauty treatments, specially designed health packages and menus, romantic private couple spa suites and outstanding cuisine in a choice of 8 elegant restaurants (including the Michelin-starred Abestube relaunched as Swiss top chef Andreas Caminada’s gourmet nook ‘Igniv’). True to the vision of its founding architect Bernhard Simon, the Grand Resort retains much of its historic architecture. Bad Ragartz – the triennial art festival virtually transforms the whole place into a sculpture park. Other wonderful distractions include its backyard casino and wine-tours in nearby villages of Malans and Maienfeld, visits to the highlands of Heididorf which inspired Johanna Spyri’s literary children’s classic, winter sports in Pizol’s ski resorts, mountain biking, quaint horse carriage rides and tours in the Schluchtenbus to Tamina Gorge and Altes Bad Pfӓfers (old thermal spa). 2015 marked the 175 Year Anniversary of routing the Tamina waters to the resort where guests have the privilege of enjoying its abundant curative powers on tap or, in its waterfalls, pools, saunas and steam chambers.

Getting there: Fly to Zurich and take the train to Bad Ragaz, 1 hr away.

For more info, visit www.resortragaz.ch/en.html, www.myswitzerland.com

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Bukowina Tatrzańska, Poland
South of the old Polish capital of Krakow on the Slovakia border lies the tiny village of Bukowina Tatrzańska. Tucked at the base of the Tatra Mountains, thermal geysers have been used for their restorative powers throughout the Carpathian range for centuries. But the geothermal health complex at Bukovina Hotel is the largest of its kind in Poland. Thermal waters rich in sulphur, calcium, chloride and sodium are piped from fissures as deep as 2400-2700 m. Rejuvenate in 20 indoor and outdoor swimming pools equipped with hydro-massage, choice of eight saunas including Roman, Finnish, Highlander, Floral and Infrared, besides spa and wellness treatments. With thermal waters ranging from 30 to 38°C, the outdoor pools are popular in winter as well! The adventure sports hub and Poland’s winter capital Zakopane is just 14 km away. Enjoy all things Polish with a traditional meal and highlander music at Bakowo Zohylina Wyznio and pick up unique local souvenirs such as the ciupaga (shepherd’s axe), highlander hat or oscypek (mountain cheese).

Getting there: Fly to Krakow and drive 80km south to Bukowina Tatrzańska.

For more info, visit www.termabukowina.pl, www.poland.travel

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Black Forest, Germany
Wellness has been a longstanding tradition in Germany with health resorts harnessing natural springs and spa towns often prefixed with bad meaning ‘bath’. The invigorating climate, woodland air and therapeutic waters create the perfect recipe for wellness vacations. From iodine-rich salt waters of Bad Bevensen in the heart of Lüneburg Heath to Bad Driburg, a family-run mud and mineral spa set in a nature reserve, there are plenty of other options. Bad Harzburg’s  saline thermal spring wells, the mineral and saltwater spa of Bad Salzuflen, the restorative properties of spring water, Ahr wine & Eifel mud at Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, the erstwhile royal spa of Bad Homburg vor der Höhe and the 150-year-old Bad Reichenhall in the Alps known for treating respiratory illnesses. In Bavaria, get pampered at the mineral spa and golf resort of Bad Griesbach or in the sprawling 120,000 sq m pools at the legendary spa resort Bad Füssing. However, Germany’s largest nature reserve Black Forest, has the highest number of hydrotherapy, climatic, thermal and mineral spa resorts. From the world-famous thermal spa Baden-Baden or salt-water spa and climatic health resort Bad Dürrheim, the Northern Black Forest Spa Route is a 270 km circuit of idyllic valleys, mineral springs, spa towns and health resorts, besides immaculate half-timbered buildings, castles, palaces, monasteries, lakes, coniferous forests, peat bogs and vineyards. Relax in the bubbling waters of mineral baths and peat spa at Bad Rippoldsau, the adventure pool at Bad Wildbad or Paracelsus Spa at Bad Liebenzell.

Getting there: Fly to Zürich, Frankfurt or Stuttgart and drive to Black Forest

For more info, visit www.schwarzwald-tourismus.info, www.germany.travel

Pamukkale Turkey Thermal bath

Turkey
Steamy hamams (Turkish bath), soft Turkish towels and stepping out of a thermal pool into the comfort of a bornoz (thick traditional bathrobe), there’s no place like Turkey for hot water relaxation. The country ranks among the 7 richest places in the world in terms of thermal sources. The presence of seismic faults has blessed the vast country with nearly 1300 hot springs across Anatolia, with temperatures ranging between 20-110oC. Start at the historic capital Istanbul with several hamams designed by master architect Mimar Sinan for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Many have been restored and modernized to provide a superb hamam experience – Çemberlitaş Hamamı, the five-century-old Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı or Roxelana’s Bath and Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, part of a historic mosque complex dating to 1500. An hour’s cruise by ferry south of Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara and a short taxi ride gets you to Termal, 11 km southwest of Yalova, a resort popular in Roman times and rebuilt by the Ottoman sultans. However, the highlight is the UNESO heritage site of Pamukkale. Perched on a 200 m high cliff overlooking the plains of Cürüksu in southwest Turkey, the name literally means ‘Cotton Palace’ after the calcite-laden waterfalls and dazzling white terraced basins resembling fluffy cotton clouds. The nearby thermal spa city Heirapolis established at the end of the 2nd Century B.C thrived throughout the Greco-Roman and Byzantine periods. Soak in the ethereal crescent basins in pools of warm 35°C water and dream of a once vibrant city full of baths, cathedrals, churches, necropolis and theatre; now in ruins.

Getting there: Fly to Istanbul and Denizli, from where Pamukkale is just 50 km.

For more info, visit https://goturkey.com, www.yalovatermal.com

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Budapest, Hungary
Thanks to a unique geological feature, Budapest sits on over 100 thermal springs that feed the city’s famous bathhouses. It’s called the ‘City of Baths’ for good reason. Budapest is the world’s only capital blessed with thermal waters. Enjoy a unique spa experience at its prime health spa resorts like Four Seasons Gresham Palace or Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget. Take a dip in any of the historic thermal baths in town – the Széchenyi Baths in City Park ranks among Europe’s largest public baths and boasts 18 pools. The century old Gellért Baths, built in Art Nouveau style with a Romanesque swimming pool, is easily Hungary’s most photographed spa. Budapest is also one of the few places to experience traditional Turkish baths built during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in 16th-17th century. Designed with traditional octagonal roofs, domes and pools, the typical Turkish baths at Király, Császár or Rudas Bath hark back to a bygone era where public bathing was not mere indulgence but a way of life.

Getting there: Fly to Budapest via London, Paris, Dubai or Doha.

For more info, visit http://visitbudapest.travel

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the January 2016 issue of JetWings magazine.

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Seventh Heaven: 7 Amazing Honeymoon Vacations

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Andean vow renewals, secret beaches, thermal geysers to romantic escapades by Mayan ruins, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY choose an eclectic list of honeymoon destinations that are truly off the beaten track

Seychelles_Photo courtesy - Fregate Island Private

Couples take seven marriage vows, walk seven rounds around the sacred fire and promise to be with each other for seven lives. So what’s a wedding without a celebration of togetherness that makes you feel you’re in seventh heaven? Here are seven secret hideaways for a dream honeymoon…  

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Romantic baths in thermal geysers of the Tatra Mountains (Poland)
Get on a flight to the charming old Polish capital of Krakow and drive 80km south to the tiny village of Bukowina Tatrzańska near the Slovakia border. Thermal geysers have been used for their restorative powers across the entire Carpathian range for centuries. But the geothermal health complex at Bukovina Hotel is the largest of its kind in Poland. Thermal waters rich in sulphur, calcium, chloride and sodium are channeled from fissures as deep as 2400-2700 m. Rejuvenate yourself in 20 indoor and outdoor swimming pools equipped with hydro-massage, choice of eight saunas including Roman, Finnish, Highlander, Floral and Infrared, besides spa and wellness treatments. With thermal waters ranging from 30 to 38°C, it is possible to use the outdoor pools in winter as well! Just 14 km away, Poland’s winter capital Zakopane is an adventure sports hub with Nordic hikes, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping and skating. For a more leisurely experience, take a ride in decorated horse-pulled sleighs called kuligs or a romantic stroll down the popular Krupówki Street lined with stores, restaurants, carnival rides and performers. Shop for unique Zakopane souvenirs, such as the ciupaga (shepherd’s axe), highlander hat or oscypek (mountain cheese). Enjoy a Polish meal at Bakowo Zohylina Wyznio with highlander music, Polish vodka and a celebration of local Goral culture through traditional dances, music, costume, cuisine and stunning wooden architecture.

For more travel ideas across Poland, visit www.poland.travel

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Private beaches, secret coves and isles of love (Seychelles/Maldives)
Located 1,000 miles away from any major landmass in the middle of the Indian Ocean but reachable by a 4-hour flight from Mumbai, Seychelles opens a hidden world of tiny islets, secluded coves and private island resorts surrounded by endemic flora and fauna which bestow an air of unprecedented privacy and romance. Dive or snorkel hand in hand in crystal blue waters, stroll through tropical forests to spot iridescent birds or go on nature trails over the islands’ granite mountains. Head to remote hideaways like Desroches Island Resort, 230km southwest of Seychelles’ largest island Mahé, voted among the world’s best remote island resorts. Enjoy sailing trips, romantic cruises, spectacular fishing, indulgent spa treatments, exploratory island cycle rides and breathtaking sunsets. Laze in private pool villas nestled along the coastline at Fregate Island Private, a 3 sq km ecological sanctuary where the only other guests are 2,000 free-roaming Giant Aldabra Tortoises and 100 species of birds. Or choose from great hotels on the main isles – Constance Ephelia or Northolme on Mahé, Constance Lemuria and Raffles on Praslin or Le Domaine de l’Orangeraie at La Digue. And, honeymoons needn’t cost the moon. Find romance on a budget with distinct Seychellois flair, thanks to Seychelles Tourism Board’s packaging of the finest small hotels, chalets and guesthouses into one brand – Seychelles Secrets! For a quicker escape, Maldives is just a short hop from Kochi. A private seaplane sweeps you up from Malé Airport to Viceroy Maldives Resort at Shaviyani Atoll in the unchartered north where 60 villas encircle a lagoon resembling the hull of an inverted Maldivian dhoni (fishing boat). A 15-min luxury speedboat ride from Malé takes you to Taj Exotica, an exclusive, romantic island resort set in one of the largest lagoons in Maldives while Vivanta by Taj – Coral Reef at Hembadhu Island in North Mal Atoll has numerous dive sites, a private reef and a shipwreck!

For a romantic holiday that doesn’t break the bank, visit www.seychellessecrets.com

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Luxury and adventure among Mayan ruins (Belize)
Horse rides to Mayan ruins, hikes through tropical rainforests, champagne picnics by the river and ancient cuisines and massages handed down across a thousand years; Belize has all the ingredients of an exotic honeymoon vacation. Located on the eastern coast of Central America, it served as a British colony between 1862 and 1973 known as British Honduras. Caracol, easily one of the most impressive Mayan sites in Central America, has as many as 35,000 buildings dominated by the spectacular Caana or Sky Palace. Inspired by it, the small luxury resort of Ka’ana at San Ignacio in Western Belize is the ideal spot for a romantic tryst. Stay in a private pool villa, with gardens, plunge pools and your own personal houseman. Laze over breakfast in bed with chaya (Belizean super food), eggs and fried jacks. Learn the secrets of Mayan cuisine from a traditional cook and prepare ancient recipes on a fogon (brick and mud stove) – tortillas, tamales, caldo and dukunu, a corn dish similar to polenta. Get a Mayan Abdominal Massage at Ka’ana Spa and ride on horseback to the majestic Mayan site of Xunantunich accompanied by an archaeologist. For exotic adventures, hike through the jungle, cross three rivers and swim into the hourglass-shaped entrance of Actun Tunichil Muknal, a sacred cave in the heart of the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, where ancient sacrificial ceremonies took place. Or drive through rugged terrain to a private 400-acre reserve where you zipline through the subtropical jungle, a suspended bridge and a hydraulic elevator that whisks you 50 feet above the canopy.

To book your Belize holiday, visit http://kaanabelize.com/

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Luxury yachting in the British Virgin Islands (Caribbean)
While a cruise ship is great for a luxurious holiday, for a honeymoon you might prefer the privacy of a yacht. SeaDream’s ultra-luxury twin mega-yachts SeaDream I and II operate 5 to 20-night sailings in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Amazon River and the British Virgin Islands of the Caribbean between November and April. Its compact size allows you to sail into exotic ports and unexplored harbours beyond the reach of larger cruises. Stop by at idyllic islands like Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Nevis, Norman Island and Virgin Gorda, famous for The Baths, a geological wonder. Soak up French flavours at St. Barts, Tobago Cays in the Grenadines or Gustavia with its stunning beaches, resorts, restaurants and adventures. Plan a boutique yachting experience of 6, 7 or 10 days, with just over a hundred guests for company. All-inclusive fares include an impeccable wine cellar, ‘Cuisine A La Minute’ and an open bar with unlimited Sushi, and enough to do on the yacht besides offshore activities like mountain biking, helicopter rides and swimming with dolphins.

For more cruise itineraries, visit www.seadream.com

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Coastal Drives, Castles & Fairytales in the Emerald Isle (Ireland)
A landscape of lakes, glens, sandy beaches, rolling hills and winding roads around a patchwork of emerald green countryside; the romantic scenery of Ireland is the stuff legends are made of. Little wonder that the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ chose Northern Ireland as its filming location. (There’s even a 3-day medieval tour retracing plot points and key scenes!) Treat yourself to a fairytale castle or enjoy seclusion in a quiet country cottage. There’s no better place to start than Dublin, a city founded by Vikings a thousand years ago. Today, a vibrant city buzzing with art, culture and music, here you can go on Viking tours, Literary trails and pub walks. For a long drive, go north to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland and begin your road trip up the Antrim Coast. The 155-mile Causeway Coastal Route, one of the most scenic road journeys in the world, takes you past Larne, gateway to the Glens of Antrim and Glenarm Castle, one of Ireland’s oldest estates. Stop at Ballycastle, a seaside resort and walk across the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge suspended across a 20-metre chasm. Drive to Armoy to see a road lined by a drooping canopy of trees called The Dark Hedges. Continue to Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site with thousands of hexagonal basalt columns lashed by the sea. The audio tour captures its legends with typical Irish wit and charm. The ruins of Dunluce Castle nearby, is a scenic spot. Head inland to Bushmills, Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery for a tipple and end your tour at Londonderry (Derry, for short), the only walled city in Europe.

For more tourist trails, visit www.ireland.com or www.discoveringireland.com

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Take a train, ski or paraglide from the Top of Europe (Switzerland)
If you are feeling on top of the world and want a destination to match your mood, fly to Zürich and take a quick train to Interlaken. As the name suggests, it is ‘the area between the two lakes, named after the towns of Thun and Brienz. Check into the exclusive Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa overlooking the large central meadow of Höhematte for an unhindered view of the majestic Mount Jungfrau (the Virgin), soaring 13,842 ft. With casinos, restaurants and souvenir shops, the main street Höheweg is quite literally the tourist highway. Enjoy a horse carriage ride, explore Interlaken on foot or take a guided e-bike tour to a local Swiss farm to try local cheese and bread. If you’re into skiing, take the amazing century-old narrow gauge Alpine railway to Kleine Scheidegg or ride past stations like Wilderswil and Schynige Platte to Grindelwald. After a typical lunch of rostis and fondue, walk to the cable car station for a ride to First (7,170 ft) for a great view of the Bernese Alps. Zoom down at 80 km per hour on the exhilarating First Flyer and take the cable car from Schreckfeld to Grindelwald for the train to Interlaken. But for the ultimate high, escape to Jungfraujoch, the very Top of Europe at 3,454 m for a guided tour of the snowy attractions – Alpine Sensation, Ice Palast, Plateau and the Sphinx Observatory, at 3,571 m, the highest structure in Europe. Perched on snowy crags against a dramatic backdrop of peaks and glaciers, the domed astronomical station has served as a lair for super villains and mad scientists in several films from Bond to Krrish 3. After the customary selfie at the fluttering Swiss flag, drop by at Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven, opened by Swiss tennis star and Lindt ambassador Roger Federer. He even played a tennis match on the Aletsch Glacier overlooking the Sphinx! Savour a romantic meal at the Restaurant Crystal, touted as the highest in Europe. And if weather permits, paraglide from Jungfrau all the way down to Interlaken! On your way out, visit St. Beatus Caves at Beatushöhlen, Switzerland’s first and only underground cave museum around a maze of stalactites, stalagmites, lakes and waterfalls. Stop for lunch at the Castle Oberhofen and continue to Thun for a guided city walk, before flying out of Zürich.

For more Alpine trails, visit www.interlaken.ch or www.myswitzerland.com. www.victoria-jungfrau.ch/en/meta/home

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Vow renewal ceremony at Machu Pichu (Peru)
Fly to Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, where Pre-Colombian architecture and dramatic Inca wall art on the streets will enchant any visitor. Stay at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio as you visit the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, the formidable fortress of Sacsayhuaman, the amphitheatre, the Inca baths and other impressive sites like the Plaza de Armas or Square of the Warrior. From Cusco, board the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham train and rumble through the dramatic landscape of Sacred Valley before arriving at Machu Pichu. Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, just steps away from the citadel, is the only hotel adjacent to the Lost City of the Incas. Enjoy an earthy dinner at the in-house Tampu Restaurant and wake up early to have privileged access to the site at sunrise. You could enjoy your honeymoon or make this dramatic backdrop your wedding venue or renew your marriage vows in the ancient Andean tradition with live Andean music and an authentic Shamanic ritual to strengthen the bond of love.

For more exotic vacations around the world, visit www.belmond.com/luxury-hotels

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Select Magazine for Spenta Publications.

Krakow: The Trumpeter’s tune

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There’s a myth attached to every small facet of every great city. ANURAG MALLICK demystifies the myths and legends of the old Polish capital Krakow, a city immersed deep in history and tradition

IMG_1989 Horse carriage ride at Rynek Glowny_Anurag Mallick

It was noon at Rynek Główny, the largest medieval market square in Europe. Men in Viking armour posed with tourists threatening to decapitate them, horse carriages clip clopped along the cobbled path as makeshift stalls dished out Polish sausages, muddled wine, czarna (strong black coffee), oscypek (smoked mountain cheese) and obwarznek (Krakow’s signature bagel) topped with poppy and sesame. Wrapped in a maze of cafes, restaurants and historical buildings, the 10-acre plaza wore the air of a carnival. The sudden flight of pigeons announced the hourly trumpet call issuing from the main tower of St Mary’s Basilica… For a brief moment, time stood still as everybody froze at the minute-long musical interlude that ended as if someone had throttled the bugle player.

Hejnał mariacki, the trumpet signal used to announce the closing of the city gates, goes back to the Tartar attacks in 13th century. As per legend, when the trumpeter in the church tower was warning citizens against an impending Mongol raid, a Tartar archer shot him in the neck and he died mid-note. Even today Krakow’s bugle call ends off-key and the noontime version is beamed live on Polish national radio! Four men on the tower play facing the cardinal directions – one towards Wawel Castle to honour the kings, one faces Krakow’s Town Hall to honour the citizens, another faces Florianska Street as a welcome to guests and one faces east to mark the first Fire Hall, a shelter built after the great fire of the 1850s. The bugle players are usually firemen and it’s a matter of great pride to be among the chosen ones.

IMG_1897 Cloth Hall and clocktower_Anurag Mallick

Another fascinating legend pertained to the basilica’s twin towers, allegedly built by two brothers. The one who completed it first was afraid his brother might build a higher tower, so he killed him. Overcome by guilt for his heinous deed, he jumped off the same tower. The knife supposedly used to kill the brother is kept in the Sukiennice or Cloth Hall (it was actually used to spite the nose and ears of thieves in the old days). The brothers’ tale could just be a legend as the towers had to be of different heights for an unhindered view of the city from the topmost point.

From bright sunshine we entered the woody gilded interiors of St Mary’s Basilica, face to face with the world’s largest Gothic altarpiece. Artists from Nuremberg were commissioned to create it in 15th century as the old one was destroyed in an earthquake. Ironically, Nazis stole the altar during World War II and kept it in a basement under a bunker in Nuremberg Castle! When the altar was found after the war, it was in 2000 fragments! Painstakingly pieced back, it was reinstated in the church in 1957. Krakow escaped much of the aerial bombing in the war because of its location far south of the country. Unlike the present capital Warsaw where almost 90% buildings were destroyed and later rebuilt, Krakow still retains an old world charm.

IMG_1969 St Mary's Basilica organ_Anurag Mallick

Krakow’s roots go back to the 7th century when the Slav Vistulanian tribe established it as their base. The city lay on the legendary Amber Road, a trade route from the Baltic to Byzantine traversed by merchants carrying amber and precious jewels wrapped in saddlebags. Our guide Schustoff Stachniak led us from the square through Grodzka Street to St Andrew Church, one of the oldest in town. Polish writers from the Middle Ages noted how Krakow’s citizens survived Tartar attacks in 1241 by hiding in this church.

An intriguing sculpture of a dragon near the Vistula river represents an ancient legend about a ferocious dragon that lived under Wawel Hill. A shoemaker in Krakow hatched a cunning plan to kill it. He sewed a big lump of sulfur inside a sheep and left it at the dragon’s lair. When the dragon ate it, it burned him from the inside and he went to the Vistula river to slake his thirst. The water he quaffed reacted with the sulfur and caused an explosion that killed the beast.

IMG_1876 Archbishop Seminary near Wawel Castle_Anurag Mallick

Poland abounds with folklore. Once, a magic tree stood on Wawel Hill, inhabited by white crows. When Christianity stamped out all signs of pagan worship, the tree was burned down and the crows escaped. Their caws could be heard long after they were gone and locals thus called the place Krakow after their raucous cries. However some contend the city was named after its first ruler Krak.

Krakow developed under Boleslaw V the Chaste (a cheeky nickname for his all-night revelries rather than his religious convictions), who laid out a grid of streets emanating from a central square, a plan that survives till today. It was a short walk to Wawel Castle, which sat ceremoniously aloof on the hilltop. Walking up the incline, we entered through the 17th century Vasa Gate, named after the Swedish kings who ruled Poland. Just past the entrance was a sculpture of Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Krakow, anointed as Pope John Paul II in 1978, the first non-Italian pope in nearly 500 years! The same year, UNESCO placed Krakow’s Stare Miasto (Old Town) on the first-ever list of World Heritage Sites.

Wawel bones

Before we entered the cathedral, our guide pointed to some rather large bones suspended from the ceiling. Believed to be the bones of Krakow’s dragon in the Middle Ages, they are actually the tusks of the woolly mammoth and a prehistoric rhino found on Wawel Hill. They were placed inside the cathedral as a lucky charm. Locals believe that if the chains break and the bones fall to the ground, it would signal the end of the world. Thankfully, the bones that hovered overhead were borne by probably the heaviest chains we’d ever seen.

The golden-domed cathedral, hailed as the Pearl of the Renaissance north of the Alps, is considered as the most important church in Poland because almost all Polish kings were crowned here. The 14th century king Władysław the Elbow-high (His Highness was only 1m 38 cm in height) was the first to be coronated and later interred here, starting a royal tradition. The crypts held the bones and ashes of all the kings from the Middle Ages.

IMG_1863 Wawel Castle_Anurag Mallick

Casimir the Great, whose bearded visage graces the 50 Zloty note, gave the city a Gothic makeover in 14th century. In 1335 Casimir also founded the Krakow Academy and the suburb of Kazimierz, named after him. Between 14th and 16th centuries Poland prospered due to the amber trade and salt mined from Wieliczka. Crops and grains from Poland were shipped to Western Europe from ports like Toruń. For nearly 300 years Krakow served as Poland’s capital, until Sigismund the Third from the Vasa dynasty shifted the capital to Warsaw in 1596 and Krakow lost much of its political clout.

You could easily spend a day touring the castle’s chambers, treasury and state rooms ornamented with paintings and tapestries. Inside the Representation Chamber royal weddings and dance balls took place. In the courtyard, knights fought against each other in special armour called frogface, which prevented wood splinters from piercing their eyes.

IMG_1774 One of the many heritage buildings in Krakow_Anurag Mallick

In February, people from the cathedral would collect ice from the Vistula river, and store it in the dungeons by interspersing ice blocks with weed. In summer this ice was used to cool drinks that were served to royalty. Though there were vineyards in the castle, the Polish kings preferred beer. One Polish prince even refused to go to Holy Lands for the Crusades as ‘there was no good beer there and a normal man could not survive without beer.’

The King’s Chapel had stucco decorations from 1602 and walls covered with cordovan (leather). The adjoining ‘Bird Room’ had carved birds in the roof. A chamber called ‘Under the Zodiac Signs’ was based on the astrological signs with a tapestry depicting the Tower of Babel. ‘Under the Eagle’ had a gold eagle on the roof and a Reubens painting of Spanish Queen Elizabeth from the Bourbon dynasty. ‘Under the Heads’ had 194 wooden heads in the ceiling, including a delicate depiction of a veiled lady from Silesia.

IMG_1985 Rynek Glowny historic buildings_Anurag Mallick

We entered a ministerial chamber dominated by a large wooden table to entertain guests and a Renaissance chair, which was so uncomfortable you couldn’t sit on it for more than 5 minutes! Fireplaces and wall-to-wall tapestries and carpets kept the castle insulated in the extreme cold. At one time there were 368 tapestries, all sponsored by Polish king Sigmund August of the Jagiellonian dynasty. From Trojan Wars, Old Testament to Asian motifs, they depicted various themes with recurrent images of the three heraldic symbols – the Polish white eagle, the snake and the Lithuanian white knight. A stunning tapestry showed The Goddess of Victory with a broken spear that represented friendly relations between Poland and Lithuania.

Portraits of various kings lined the walls. Perhaps the most valuable painting was that of Polish prince Władysław of the Vasa dynasty. Painted in Belgium by the great Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens when the prince was on a Europe tour, the painting was owned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York but was exchanged for the armours of Hussars and knights. Polish King John the Third of the Sobieski dynasty defeated the Ottoman Empire in 1683 at the Battle of Vienna and was hailed as the defender of Christianity in Europe. Sobieski, the famous Polish brand of vodka is a tribute to him! His family portrait depicted children with strange haircuts. The close crop, called the ‘knight cut’, prevented the helmet from wobbling. It’s the same principle applied by US marines and various armies today!

Krakow tapestries

The Vasa kings sold off many tapestries to raise money for wars. Some landed in the hands of Russian aristocrats who treated them callously like ordinary carpets; often cutting them up to fit in corridors. In 1921 a peaceful pact with Bolshevik Russia ensured the return of several tapestries to Poland. Between 1939 and 1945, Nazi soldiers pilfered many artworks and shipped them to France, Canada, Argentina and Colombia, where they ended up in private hands. One such masterpiece is the ‘Portrait of a young man’ by Renaissance painter Raphael Santi. The Princess Czartoryski Museum still has an empty frame in the hope that it would return one day. Besides a Rembrandt, a Bruegel and other antiquities, the museum’s best-known exhibit is Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting ‘Lady with an Ermine’. While buying it, Lady Isabella of the Czartoryski family had famously remarked ‘If this is a dog, then it’s very ugly.’

Like its tapestries, Wawel Castle too faced the brunt of several conflicts. Sandwiched between belligerent neighbours like Germany and Russia and fights with Sweden over the Baltic Sea, Poland was always at the heart of power struggles. In 1702, Swedish soldiers burned down the castle, though some frescoes survived. The Austrians remodeled the castle in 19th century, knocking down structures and building barracks for soldiers as well as a Military Hospital. Wawel also served as the headquarters of Nazi officer and Governor General Hans Frank. An 8m long Nazi eagle totem was found in recent excavations on the hill. It’s believed the Germans left the pole there in the hope of returning to stake claim to Krakow.

Krakow Holocaust monument_Chairs

During World War II, 55,000 Jews from Krakow were sent to concentration camps like Belzec and Auschwitz, an hour’s drive from the city. The streets of Krakow’s former Jewish quarter Kazimierz have synagogues, markets and cemeteries that survived. Across the Vistula River lies Podgorze, site of a wartime ghetto and Oskar’s factory, immortalized in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. When the Jews were being deported, their chairs and belongings were left abandoned at the town square. This was the inspiration behind the art installation of empty chairs one finds by the tram stops in Podgorze.

Despite deep scars of Nazi occupation and genocide, the Polish spirit lives on. From the time it was erased from the map of Europe in 1795 and divided between Germany, Austria and Russia to its rebirth as an independent nation 123 years later, Poland has risen from the ashes each time. As if on cue, an eagle glided majestically above Wawel Castle and in the distance a trumpeter played a centuries old tune…

IMG_1879 Grodzka Street is the city's oldest avenue_Anurag Mallick

Fact File

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Poland’s capital Warsaw, from where Krakow is a 50 min flight by LOT Polish Air or 3 hrs by EIC (Ekspres InterCity) train. Located south of the country, it is as a great base to cover Auschwitz, Wieliczka Salt Mines and the Tatra mountains around Bukowina and Zakopane.

Where to Stay: Radisson Blu Hotel at Straszewskiego, a stone’s throw from Wawel Castle, is centrally located and a great place to stay.

Where to Eat: Wentzl Restaurant in Rynek Główny, with its impeccable drapes, tapestries and cutlery, is the oldest restaurant and a good place to enjoy Polish cuisine. For a taste of India, try Ganesh Restaurant nearby with dining in cavernous chambers.

Where to Eat: Wentzl Restaurant in Rynek Główny, with its impeccable drapes, tapestries and cutlery, is the oldest restaurant and a good place to enjoy Polish cuisine. For a taste of India, try Ganesh Restaurant nearby with dining in cavernous chambers.

IMG_1787 Polish cuisine at Wentzl Restaurant_Anurag Mallick

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of JetWings International magazine.

In Poland, do as the Poles do

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Thermal bath, snowmobiling, salt mine tours, kulig rides, hot chocolate and trying out local fare from oscypek to obwarzanki; ANURAG MALLICK lists out 10 quintessential Polish experiences

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Hot chocolate at Wedel’s Chocolate Lounge
Wedel is not merely the most famous Polish chocolate company; it’s a much-loved institution! Karol Wedel opened Poland’s first chocolate cafe in 1851 on Warsaw’s Szpitalna Street and 160 years later it’s still in business. Relish handmade chocolate pralines and hot beverages in bitter, milk or white with various degrees of chocolatiness at sixteen cafes across Poland.

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Take a dip in the thermal springs of Tatra mountains
On Poland’s southern border with Slovakia, nestled in the Tatra mountains, is the snowy retreat of Bukowina. It is a centuries old Polish tradition to bathe in therapeutic thermal geysers emanating from fissures in the earth that go down as deep as 2400m. The best place to experience it is at Bukovina Tatranzska Hotel, with both indoor and outdoor temperature controlled pools. Besides steam, sauna and Jacuzzi, a natural setting has been recreated with caves and caverns!

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Subterranean tour of Wieliczka salt mines
Wieliczka’s ‘Kopalnia Soli’ (salt mine) is the world’s oldest mine still in operation and perhaps the oldest corporation dating back to nearly 800 years! The conducted tour takes visitors down the shafts to various komoras (excavated chambers) where miners toiled with pulley systems. After a tragic accident burnt down the wooden church, mine workers began carving altars, statues and chandeliers out of rock salt, thus unfolding a jaw-dropping legacy of saline architecture. Visit the stunning church, dine in an underground restaurant and pick up salt memorabilia.

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Snow mobiling at Zakopane
Head south to the winter capital of Zakopane for a funicular ride to Mount Gubalowka for snowmobile rides against a backdrop of the Tatra mountains. A good place to see the mountainous Góral culture with traditional food, music, costume and wood architecture, Zakopane is a popular adventure destination. Go alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding or ski jumping. In summer, go hiking, rock climbing and spelunking. Stroll down Krupówki Street, the town’s most popular avenue lined with stores and restaurants or take a ride in decorated horse-pulled sleighs called kuligs.

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Try Oscypek or mountain sheep cheese
Small street side stalls across Poland churn out Oscypek (mountain sheep cheese) on a hot griddle served with cranberry sauce and often a glass of mulled wine. Made of salted sheep milk as per a strict recipe, the patented smoked cheese is exclusive to Poland’s mountainous Tatra region. There are other variants like the cylindrical gotka or mountain farmer’s cheese and redykotki or cheese figurines.

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Walk through the Old Town in Krakow
Krakow’s historic Stare Miasto or old town was among the first sites chosen for UNESCO’s inaugural World Heritage List in 1978. Home to six thousand historic sites – palaces, churches, theatres and mansions in Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic styles, the central district boasts over two million works of art. The main square Rynek Główny is the largest medieval town square in Europe. Lined with kamienice (row houses) and noble residences, it has architectural gems like St. Mary’s Basilica and the Renaissance cloth hall Sukiennice, which houses the National Gallery of Art. Ride a horse-drawn carriage with pigeons flying about Kraków’s square or head to Wawel Castle overlooking the Vistula River.

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Polish off a Polish meal with highlander music
Polish cuisine evolved over centuries with influences from nearby regions of Europe. The national dish bigos, a cabbage and meat stew, was introduced by a Lithuanian Grand Duke who became King of Poland in 1386. Pierogi, an influence from Russia and Italy, are soft dumplings stuffed with meats or vegetables. Hungarian style thick soups are served in edible bread bowls. Obwarzanki or Polish bagels are a traditional Hebrew snack and a Krakówian symbol, available in poppy seed, sesame, rock salt and pizza sprinkles. Dine at the European style Belvedere at Warsaw’s Lazienki Park, try Polish cuisine at Wentzl restaurant in Krakow and for a traditional experience try Bakowo Zohylina Wyznio in Bukowina with highlander music and Polish vodka.

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Know your Kieslowski from your Polanski
For years, Polish cinema has been an artistic movement and a creative force to reckon with, whose most known faces were Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kieślowski, known for his Three Colors Trilogy (Red, Blue, White). Most of Poland’s luminaries received their training at the National Film School at Łódź (pronounced Wuch, don’t ask why). Poland’s third largest city has a youthful air with academies of film, music, art and the University of Łódź.

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Pay your respects at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Once known for its large Jewish population, Poland became the site of the largest Nazi concentration camp in German-occupied Europe. Over a million people, mostly Jews from 28 countries, perished at the notorious Auschwitz camp during World War II. The gate bears the sinister motto Arbeit Macht Frei (Work makes Free) and prison blocks exhibit personal items taken from victims, photographs and documents related to the genocide. Besides death camps like Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzec and Birkenau, visit Oskar Schindler’s factory and the Krakow Ghetto in Podgorze District.

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Pray at Chopin’s enshrined heart
No one captures the national imagination as vividly as Frederic Chopin. Holy Cross Church, the largest in Warsaw, is where the composer’s heart lies enshrined. As per his wishes, Chopin’s remains were brought to Poland in 1882 and an urn containing his heart was placed inside the church pillar. After surviving several wars and many hiding places, the urn returned permanently after nearly a century. The plaque reads ‘17. X. 1945 the heart of F. Chopin returned to Warsaw’.

Author: Anurag Mallick. This is an abridged version of the article that appeared on 8 Sep 2014 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the full story here: http://www.cntraveller.in/story/when-poland-do-poles-do         

Travel in Style: Around the World in 2014

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out 14 exciting destinations and new ways to explore the world in 2014 

River safaris, luxurious cruises, coastal drives, seaplane ride to private island resorts, salt mine tours, sightseeing on the run, Vinotherapy holidays, wildlife watching tours and spectacular festivals; the new year promises many new experiences for the global traveller. 

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Poland 
Besides Auschwitz, Sobibor and Oskar Schindler’s factory in the old capital of Krakow, Poland has a lot more to show than its war wounds. Listen to legends of dragons, mermaids and fairytale castles as you discover the legacy of composer Frederic Chopin. Visit the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw where his heart is enshrined or take the Royal Route from the reconstructed Old Town to Łazienki Park lined with palaces for a meal at the Belvedere. Try hot chocolate at Wedel’s Chocolate Lounge or warm your cockles with a glass of mulled wine, Polish mead and smoked Oscypek (mountain sheep cheese) served with cranberry sauce. But for something truly spectacular, head to Wieliczka’s Kopalnia Soli, the world’s oldest salt mine still in operation and perhaps the oldest corporation! Marvel at its jaw-dropping saline architecture with altars, statues and chandeliers carved out of rock salt by mine workers, ending the tour with dinner in an underground chamber. Head south to the winter capital of Zakopane for a funicular train to the top of Mount Gubalowka for snowmobile rides against the stunning backdrop of the Tatra mountains. At the unique Bukovina Hotel, bathe in therapeutic thermal pools channeled from 2400m deep geysers! With ICE Krakow, a new convention centre slated to open in 2014, Poland makes for a great destination for holidayers and corporate groups alike.

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Ireland   
After clocking a million visitors at Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland takes its maritime legacy a notch up with the renovated SS Nomadic, the feeder ship used by first-class passengers to board the Titanic. Get a dose of adrenalin at SKYTrek, a new outdoor high ropes activity centre near Belfast and head out to the Coastal Causeway Route. The 120-mile drive along the North Antrim Coast ranks among the world’s top road trips. Stop over for English tea and scones at the Londonderry Arms Hotel, once owned by Winston Churchill and try Irish cuisine at Bushmills Inn. En route visit Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge over a deep chasm and Dunluce Castle, a medieval structure dramatically perched on a cliff. At Giant’s Causeway marvel at the hexagonal basalt columns formed 60 million years ago, when molten lava cooled suddenly on contact with water. Enriching the scenic walk are excellent audio guides explaining Irish folktales behind the distinctive formations like the Camel, the Wishing Chair and the Harp. The recently opened £18 million visitor centre has a great interactive exhibition and souvenir shop. The Causeway Crossing Marathon in May, Adventure Travel World Summit at Killarney in October and Giants Causeway Coast Sportive cycling tour in November make it a great year to visit Ireland.

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Oman 
Just a 2½ hr drive from Dubai and an hour’s flight from Muscat, Mussandam is emerging as Oman’s hottest destination. With a rich sea-faring tradition, Oman’s northern-most governorate overlooks the strategic Strait of Hormuz, with Portuguese-built forts-cum-museums at Khasab and Bukha. Go dolphin sighting on a dhow cruise in the fjords of Mussandam (described as the Norway of Arabia) and watch amazing marine life while snorkelling at Telegraph Island, named after an undersea telegraph system set up by the British in 1854. Head on an off-road drive to Jebel Harim (Mountain of Women), named after local women who flocked to the hill to escape pirates when their husbands were away fishing. Hunt for fossils and petroglyphs high in the mountain caused by the collision of the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates. Enjoy Arabic platters and fresh catch from the sea at Golden Tulips hotel and pick up Omani halwa and dates at the new Lulu Hypermarket.

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Alligator Snapping Turtle, River Safari © Singapore Tourism Board

Singapore
Embark on a journey of discovery at the brand new River Safari, Asia’s first and only river-themed wildlife park in Singapore. Explore eight freshwater habitats with over 5,000 aquatic and terrestrial animals representing 300 species. Meet rare giants such as the giant river otter, giant salamander and the Mekong giant catfish. From the mighty Mississippi to the majestic Yangtze, stroll through freshwater galleries and walk-through exhibits. Watch giant pandas at the lush Giant Panda Forest, Southeast Asia’s largest panda exhibit and witness the annual flooding of the Amazon jungle at the Amazon Flooded Forest, the world’s largest freshwater aquarium. Located between Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, it has all the makings of a wild holiday.

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© Shangri-La Bosphorus Hotel

Turkey
With films like Skyfall, Ek Tha Tiger and Race 2 shot in Istanbul and the sea resort of Antalya, Turkey has captured the imagination of the Indian traveler. Roam around the iconic Blue Mosque, spice-scented bazaars and narrow streets around the Golden Horn, gaze at the soaring dome of Hagia Sophia, soak yourself in a hammam (Turkish bath), drop by at the upscale boutiques of Nisantasi or visit the Dolmabahce Palace with opulent chandeliers and rooms built for Ottoman sultans. Go on the perfect romantic holiday or opt for a stylish wedding at the Shangri-La Bosphorus Hotel. Travel Shop Turkey’s new Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours offer a new way to discover the country beyond Istanbul – boutique cave hotels in the underground city of Cappadoccia, the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Trojan Horse of Troy, one of the Seven Churches of St John at Pergamon, the ancient city of Ephesus, the calcium pools of Pamukkale and the beautiful scenery of the Mediterranean coast.

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Run Cape Town © South African Tourism

South Africa
Ever done Sightseeing on the Run? Run Cape Town offers Running Tours of the city through its streets, with Western Cape Tourist Guide Philippa sharing anecdotes and history of major sights. With a backdrop of Table Mountain, an incredible coastline and great weather, Cape Town is the perfect city to discover on foot. The Historic City Centre tour can be adapted to routes of 5km, 8km or 12km (1 hr 40 min) with new running tours at Darling, Lions Head and Gugulethu. Stellenbosch Wine Festival from 24 Jan–2 Feb 2014 promises tasting programs from over 75 wineries in the beautiful surroundings of Die Braak. But don’t just sip your wine; try vinotherapy, South Africa’s hot new trend with treatments inspired by merlot, chardonnay and pinotage. Librisa Spa at Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town offers a special head-to-toe Vine Secret Vintage Experience. Or perhaps Your Highness may prefer Constantia Uitsig’s signature treatment Les Aromes Du Vin?

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Holi in Berlin © German National Tourist Office 

Germany
With special focus on its 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Germany is celebrating the ‘Royal Heritage Route’ in 2014 to mark the 300th anniversary of Hanover’s succession to the thrones of UK and Ireland. The year also marks the 300th birth anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s illustrious second son CPE Bach, about whom Mozart remarked to a Viennese patron “Bach is the father. We are the children!” The six ‘Bach cities’ of Weimar, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Berlin, Potsdam and Hamburg where the composer lived and worked are planning year-long celebrations. With concerts, exhibitions, conferences and festivals celebrating his life and work, it’s Bachanalia of another kind! Germany’s exciting electronic scene is abuzz with clubs and nightspots in Berlin. Let your hair down with thousands of revelers during Holi at Olympic Park. Events like the Berlinale International Film Festival in Feb, the Long Night of Museums in March and Long of Night of Opera and Theatre in April promise a lot of action for any visitor.

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Magical sunsets © Royal Caribbean Cruises

Royal Caribbean Cruises
From dramatic landscapes of the Arctic to South America’s beaches, rainforests and tango salons; ancient temples, open-air markets and cuisine of the Far East to culinary trails in Australia and New Zealand, Royal Caribbean Cruises is a great way to explore the globe. Get aboard the largest and most innovative cruise ships in the world including Allure of the Seas in the Caribbean and Asia’s largest cruise Mariner of the Seas that sails from Singapore. The 7-Night Argentina & Uruguay Cruise aboard the Splendour of the Seas has several fixed departures in Jan-April. On-board amenities include surf simulators, ice skating rinks, zip line, sports courts, casinos, aqua sports and Broadway-style entertainment. Tirun Travel Marketing, India’s premier cruise counselors in 2013, offer exclusive holidays and exotic Spa at Sea packages. Choose from Elemis Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage, rasul organic mud baths on Royal Caribbean International or award-winning AquaSpa treatments aboard Celebrity Cruises.

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Private pool © Song Saa Island, Cambodia

Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia’s fastest growing city, serves as the gateway to the world famous Angkor temples and ruins of a string of Khmer capitals between the 9th to 15th centuries. But there’s more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat, the world’s largest single religious monument, the massive stone faces of Bayon at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm’s Buddhist temples entwined by roots. The once inaccessible Koh Ker has been recently de-mined and reachable by a new toll road. But for something truly offbeat, visit Song Saa, the first and only private island resort in Cambodia. Arrive in style by a private seaplane from Siem Reap (1hr 15min) or Phnom Penh (1 hr). Luxuriate in Jungle, Overwater and Ocean-view villas built from sustainable materials with private pools as you indulge in the Sanctuary spa. Try watersports, nature walks and excursions to 20 deserted islands nearby like The Sweethearts that spans two islands connected by a footbridge over a marine reserve. The best part, there’s wi-fi all over the island!

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Canada by VIA Rail © Canadian Tourism Commission

Canada 
North America’s oldest tourist attraction, the legendary Maid of the Mist retires in 2014 after 165 years of service. Replaced by a Frisco-based company, the Hornblower will take tourists to Niagara from the Canadian docks past the base of the American Falls into the basin of the magnificent Canadian Horseshoe Falls. For a different perspective, take a Heli-Tour or ‘Journey beyond the Falls’ in a lift. However, as the second largest country in the world, Canada offers much more. Traverse the country on a budget with great deals and circuits from VIA Rail and try the recently launched Canadian Signature Experiences. Relive Canada’s railway building heritage and castles at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. View wild polar bears at Churchill by all-terrain Tundra Buggy or saddle up for the Calgary Stampede, billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’. Go dog-sledding, glamping in forests, culinary boot camps or Aurora tours to view the Northern Lights, which will be at their best in 2014. If Toronto’s CN Tower Sky Walk seems too urban, go for a Cliffwalk at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver. And if all this seems too much, just chill with some Inniskillin Ice Wine!

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Thailand
Beyond the known haunts of Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi and Bangkok’s 426 bejeweled temples, the famed City of Angels now offers a range of immersive experiences. Learn to prepare and feast on a full course of delicious traditional Thai fare at Amita Thai Cooking Classes run by Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon. Set in a cherry wooden cottage and organic garden by a canal, the sprightly cooking expert gives you a hands-on approach to a range of dishes. Get a good workout with a round Thailand’s famous martial art – MuayThai Kickboxing classes at S.Vorapin Boxing Gym. Soothe your tired muscles as you learn the intricacies of authentic Thai massage – traditional Wat Po or relaxing hot stone massages at RarinJinda Wellness Spa. Immerse yourself in the luxury of Siam Kempinski Hotel, a stone’s throw from Siam Center’s buzzing malls (MBK, Platinum and Pratunam). Shop till you drop at Asiatique Riverfront and dine at Baan Khanitha or Supatra River House, a ferry ride across the Chao Phraya River to gorge on exotic Thai fare. A short drive to Kanchanaburi lets you pay tribute to those who lost their lives building the Death Railway to Burma during WWII at historic sites like the Bridge on the River Kwai, the War Cemetery, Jeath War Museum and Hellfire Pass Memorial as you unwind in swanky tents at Hintok River Camp, a former Japanese military base.

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Daranshi Oreum, Jeju © Korea Tourism Organization 

Korea
Psy’s global success after Gangnam Style has elevated not just K-Pop but Korea Tourism into instant international stardom. In a witty Wiki Korea campaign, Psy introduces concepts like Gi (universal energy) and Heung (inner joy), besides tourism icons like Korea’s famous dish samgyeopsal (pork belly), Myeongdong Cosme Road and Jeju Olle Trail. The largest volcanic island in Korea, Jeju recently won the Global Geopark certificate and ranks among the New7Wonders of Nature. Visit its famous sites like Hallasan National Park, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak and Manjanggul Cave, the world’s longest lava tube recognized as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. A high-speed train connects Korea’s capital to its largest port city Busan, which hosts famous international fireworks and film festivals. But with historic sites like Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces and the traditional Bukchon Hanok Village, Korea’s surely got Seoul!

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Zell am See © Austrian National Tourist Office

Austria
Stunning mountainscapes, green pastures, lakes and ice; the alpine beauty of Austria’s Zell am See and Kaprun circuit is breathtaking. Besides the country’s highest mountain Grossglockner and the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, Austria boasts 267 peaks over 3000m, nearly 342 glaciers and mighty waterfalls like the 1,247 ft high Krimml Waterfalls, the tallest in the country. The newly opened waterfall center Wondrous Worlds of Water offers interactive experiences with an aquatic theme. Experience the world’s biggest ice caves at Eisriesenwelt or visit the 900-year-old castle of Burg Hohenwerfen, with a falconry centre, weaponry and museum. At Saalbach, a 20 min hike along the highest treetop path in Europe takes one to the end of the valley in Hinterglemm. Combined with the Golden Gate Bridge and a newly introduced high rope course, it’s an unparalleled alpine experience. Visit the baroque city of Salzburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a fortress, cathedral and church steeples.

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Felicite and Sisters Island © Raymond Sahuquet

Seychelles
Thrumming with the strains of Creole music, Seychelles is a tropical paradise with 115 unique islands. Hop by plane or ferry between the 16 islands that provide stay options. Victoria, the world’s smallest capital, is so tiny you can explore it on foot while the largest island Mahé alone has 65 beaches! Nearly a fifth of Mahé’s landmass constitutes the Morne Seychellois National Park, named after the country’s highest peak. Enjoy dramatic views from Mission Lodge and Tea Factory as you learn the secret behind Seychelles tea – the cool crisp air of Mount Morne Blanc. Praslin, Seychelles’ second largest island once had such dense vegetation that explorers mistook it for the original Garden of Eden! Explore Craft Villages, Takamaka Bay Rum Distillery or go birdwatching for the Seychelles Black Parrot, one of the rarest in the world, besides the best fishing, snorkeling and sailing!

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 5 January 2014 in  Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald.