August 13, 2014

Top 10 Calabria Beaches to Visit in Italy

Calabria, often referred to as the Caribbean of Europe, boasts a warm climate and hundreds of miles of spectacular sun-drenched coastline that wrap around seaside villages and swooping cliffs, which make its pristine beaches world-famous, and rightly so!

A favourite summer vacation destination, Calabria offers an endless selection of beautiful beaches for sun worshippers - most equipped with lidos, watersports, cafes, restaurants and hotels - as well as lovely towns to explore on both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. If you’re considering a vacation to Calabria, then here, in no particular order, are the Top 10 Calabrian beaches to keep in mind.

Located between the slopes of the Aspromonte mountain and the Tyrrhenian Sea is Scilla, a picturesque fishing village immortalized in Greek mythology and featured in Homer’s Odyssey. The beach front is arguably the most popular attraction with its warm violet waters and sandy beaches overlooked by the 11th century Ruffo Castle. The castle sits atop a steep cliff where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Sicilian Coast and the Aeolian Islands. During the summer months, Scilla’s restaurants, cafes, hotels and beaches are abuzz with tourists feasting on fresh seafood and enjoying the pristine waters. For diving enthusiasts there’s also a diving school located in town.    

The ”Tyrrhenian pearl” as Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio once referred to it, Diamante is a spectacular jewel on the Riviera Dei Cedri on the Tyrrhenian coast. It boasts crystal clear waters, long white beaches, and sloping cliffs with olive groves. Spend the afternoon at a seaside café marveling at the sun-drenched landscape or relax on one of the beach loungers. Culture seekers should take a stroll through the enchanting historical center to see the town’s famed colorful murals, while outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy thrilling sports like windsurfing, sailing, scuba diving and water skiing.

On the Tyrrhenian coast lie the pebbled shores of Praia a Mare. Its main attraction, Dino Island, is a World Heritage site famous for its six magnificent sea caves that shoot underwater lights that magically illuminate the iridescent blue waters. Scuba diving, paragliding and trekking the nearby Pollino National Park are great ways to appreciate this incredible beauty. Praia’s black volcanic sand beaches are fully equipped with lidos, though you can still find open access to the beach at no cost. If you’re courageous, try cliff jumping off the Arcomagno Arch. This natural bridge is located over a hidden crystal bay. Simply spectacular!

The most famous of the Calabrian beaches is Tropea, home to one of Italy’s most spectacular white sand beaches, turquoise-blue water, and a stunning coastline to be rivaled by Italy’s famed Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre. Perfectly situated between Gioia Tauro Gulf and Sant’Eufemia Gulf, Tropea is swathed by warm Mediterranean breezes on a 40-kilometer coastline the Ancient Greeks named “Coast of the Gods.” What an incredible experience it is to see the dramatic cliffs rise up against the sunlit sea of blue below, and if you’re fortunate, on a clear day you can see the volcanic Aeolian island of Stromboli.

Moving further along the Coast of the Gods are the spectacular white sandy beaches and breathtaking vistas of Capo Vaticano. This crystal clear ocean of blue, in every imaginable hue, sits on the Tyrrhenian coast across the Aeolian Islands and Stromboli. It is considered one of the Mediterranean's most gorgeous beaches and boasts incomparable natural beauty with its massive rock formations, small bays and secluded beaches. Several bays can only be reached by sea and many remain totally isolated. Rich in flora, fauna and fish, its iridescent waters are perfect for scuba diving.  

Scilla, Reggio Calabria
Palmi signals the beginning of the Costa Viola (Violet Coast) named after the purple hues of its warm, inviting waters. Its location and beauty has led writers and poets to call it the ”Terrace on the Strait of Messina”. Marinella beach is literally carved in the beautiful shores of Palmi at the foot of the famous Sant’Elia’s mountain bordered by palms, orange gardens and olive trees. This beautiful cove of rocky beach is surrounded by evocative cliffs and nearby camping sites, hotels and restaurants enjoyed by locals. This is a beach how Mother Nature intended it to be; warm, inviting, full of fish and secluded from hordes of tourists.    

If you want to experience beach life like a local then a visit to the less-touristy town of Caminia is in order. Located on the Ionian coast near Catanzaro, Caminia is a little curve of fairly undeveloped beach surrounded by dramatic cliffs, pebbled sand and warm water. It’s the ideal location for relaxing and taking things at a slower pace. What it lacks in amenities it more than makes up for with its panoramic views, unspoiled beaches and pristine waters. If you crave action you can always visit the famed beach town of Soverato nearby.  Things pick up during summer holidays, but until then, pack a picnic and enjoy this peaceful pocket of paradise.

Situated along the Coast of the Gods is Pizzo Calabro, simply referred to as Pizzo. Its extensive beachfront is packed with vacationers who lounge on its gorgeous sandy beaches surrounded by spectacular cliffs.  One of the region’s most visited attractions is tucked below the road just outside Pizzo - Chiesetta di Piedigrotta – a cave-chapel carved centuries ago near the beach by a group of sailors in gratitude for surviving a storm. The famed Tartufo di Pizzo; a chocolate and hazelnut ice cream (gelato) ball containing chocolate fudge sauce can be enjoyed at any one of the local cafes, bars or restaurants.

The marine protected waters of Capo Rizzuto are one of the most fascinating areas of the Mediterranean Sea and are home to a myriad of marine life that you can explore with a number of itineraries both on and under the sea. Scuba diving or snorkeling offer you the chance to see unique sea beds, beautiful sea fauna and if you’re lucky barracudas and dolphins. If you prefer to admire the red sand beaches, cliffs and bays of Capo Rizzuto at sea, you can do so aboard a sail boat. This natural oasis remains relatively unbeknownst to foreigners, though an influx in coastal resorts means that’s about to change.

Located on a stretch of coast called Riviera dei Cedri, surrounded by clear blue waters and rugged mountains, lays Scalea. Panoramic views over the Tyrrhenian Sea make it a popular summer destination. Its unspoiled beaches range from soft, gray to rocky sand overlooked by the old medieval town of Scalea above the hilltop. The beach is fully-equipped with bathing areas, watersports, hotels, restaurants and cafes. Adventure seekers will appreciate its close proximity to the Pollino National Park which means you can go hiking, camping, mountain biking and swimming all in one day. 

Note: All of Calabria’s beaches offer public access at no cost, though most are also equipped with lidos that provide beach loungers, umbrellas, etc., for a fee.  
Click on the link to download a copy of the new issue of Panoram Italia Magazine featuring an entire Dossier on Calabria curated by yours truly!   

July 29, 2014

Panama - Where a Modern Skyline, Historical Splendors, Pristine Beaches & the Panama Canal Await You!

As the plane hovered over Panama City before descending into Tocumen International Airport, I was struck by the city’s incredible skyline. There, shooting out of the ground, were hundreds of modern skyscrapers. Not what I imagined to find in the middle of Central America’s Pacific Coast.  

Dubbed the “Dubai of Latin America”, Panama City is the thriving cosmopolitan capital of Central America known for its international trading and banking. The city is a wonderful fusion of old and new with the centuries-old buildings of Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) juxtaposed against the dense skyline of modern Panama; a skyline that according to my tour guide Jesus, will transform before your eyes.

Panama City boasts a diverse range of culture along with a trendy selection of restaurants, cafés, night clubs and art galleries. The Old Town, declared a Historical Monument by UNESCO, is filled with cobblestoned streets and charming shops selling the famous Panama hat. Its beautifully restored buildings transport you to another era. Still, part of the charm lies in the dilapidated buildings you stumble upon. And there, in the middle of ancient ruins I enjoyed a delicious meal at The Fish Market.

The Panama Canal is celebrating 100 years of connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the city is hosting festivities all year long such as the opening of Frank Gehry’s BioMuseo. While visiting the Miraflores Locks visitor center to watch a ship pass through the canal I learned that 38 to 40 ships make this crossing every day at a cost of $100,000 USD per ship that must be paid in cash by money wire. I was surprised to discover that the canal is only the fourth largest source of revenue for Panama; first being the country’s duty free shopping (second largest in the world) with an income of around 23 billion dollars a year; second is the banking industry; and third is the country’s rapidly growing tourism.         

Panama is surrounded by coastline and tropical rainforest, especially green and lush during the rainy season from May to November. Panama offers an incredible array of vacation options for travellers to enjoy a full Panamanian experience by combining their beach stay with a city break.     

During my stay in Panama, I relaxed on the beach and sipped cocktails poolside. I also enjoyed wonderful excursions like snorkelling and swimming at Farallon Island, a scenic drive through the Pan-American Highway, zip-lining over a waterfall in El Macho, shopping at a local market and lunch at La Casa de Lourdes. But I have to say that visiting local communities to witness firsthand the skillful creation of the Panama hat, carved woods and soapstone figures was truly an authentic, educational and humbling experience.

With so much to see and do and such a diverse range of experiences, Panama is a holiday like no other.

Book a city and beach stay in Panama with RIU Hotels and Resorts through Signature VacationsFor more images and information, please visit Travelweek.

July 04, 2014

Top 10 Family Summer Getaways

Each year thousands of families take a break from everyday life and share in some good old-fashioned fun on a summer getaway. It’s the best time to relish those long sunny days and warm balmy nights. Whether you have an extended family or small family, toddlers or teenagers, these great family-friendly destinations are the perfect place to create lasting memories.

This favourite summer destination is filled with fun things to do. Its location on the East Coast makes it accessible by car for those who enjoy family road trips. Cape Cod has 115 sandy beaches to explore, though Bayside beaches are much calmer for children. You can also take the ferry across to visit the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, or stop over in Boston for a few days. The options are endless.

Often referred to as the most European city in North America, Québec City is a closer and more affordable option. Besides the cultural heritage, great food, wine, cheese and outdoor cafés that the region is famed for, there’s also countless lakes, forests and a plethora of outdoor activities for the whole family to enjoy.

Go south of the US border for some family fun time in Ixtapa. Bask on beautiful sunny beaches or enjoy outdoor activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, swimming with dolphins, snorkelling and kayaking. You can also take sunset cruises, fishing trips and excursions to the charming fishing village of Zihuatenejo.

People have been raving about Myrtle Beach for ages and there’s a reason. Nestled on the Atlantic Coast, this family friendly location offers beautiful beaches, great theatre shows, countless golf courses, an exciting boardwalk, waterparks, children’s museum and many more adventures for you to enjoy.

With over 700 islands of sunny beaches, turquoise waters and nature to explore, the Bahamas is a perfect choice for a long weekend getaway or an entire week of family fun.  Wonder at the tropical wildlife, go snorkeling, diving, fishing or swim with dolphins. Take a boat ride or catch a show. Whatever you decide, the Bahamas has many fun-filled activities for the whole family.   

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

How could a country that loves family and tradition not make the list? From the delicious gelato shops to the impressive historical sites to its glorious beaches and enchanted countryside, Italy is a great holiday choice. Summer festivals are held in almost every major piazza and provide loads of fun for everyone.  So start off in Rome, the country capital, and move on from there.  

A Disney adventure is high on every child’s wish list, so why not take the entire family on a thrilling adventure to the Disneyland Resort and Downtown Disney? Bask on the bountiful beaches, take a hot-air balloon ride over Orange County, or explore Los Angeles to the north and San Diego to the south. Anaheim is a great destination to discover the treasures of Southern California.

An inviting combination of culture, coastline, delicious food and wonderful climate make Barcelona a great choice for your next family holiday. Explore Gaudi's spectacular architectural creations, relax beachside, visit the aquarium, stroll Las Ramblas and indulge your culinary curiosity at La Boqueira Market, the best in the world. This is a cultural vacation the whole family will remember.

Who said Paris is solely for romance? That’s not to say that everyone won’t be falling in love with the City of Lights. Paris is filled with things that impress from the wonders at the Louvre to the striking Notre Dame to the iconic Eiffel Tower. There’s also an abundance of outdoor markets, parks with playgrounds, as well as its very own Disneyland.  And we can’t forget the decadent array of pastries sure to fill a craving or two.   

This beautiful Hawaiian island offers an abundance of activities to do by foot, bike, helicopter or submarine. The only difficulty is choosing which one to do first. Kids will especially enjoy the Maui Ocean Centre, the Atlantis Submarine underwater tour and Hammerhead Harbour. There’s also parasailing, surf lessons, hiking, cultural performances, stage shows and musical events. The list is endless.


Click on the link to download a copy of my article - Top 10 Family Summer Getaways - in the new issue of Whatever Vaughan Magazine Summer 2014.