You'll want to add these amazing experiences to your travel bucket list.
Photo: Julien Capmeil / Shutterstock
Why come to Italy to learn what can be gleaned from cookbooks, videos, and nonstop food television? Well, first, it's the setting: seashell-colored towns clinging to granite cliffs, airy and expansive villas perched hundreds of feet above the sea, and a cosmopolitan culture that puts la dolce vita in luxury's lap. Can education come more beguilingly packaged?
Further, I'm after what I call the Italian DNA—a casually virtuoso approach to food and cooking that I'm hoping will rub off on me. So I've come to Positano on a culinary getaway that combines lessons like today's—in a local restaurant—with market tours, cheese and olive oil tastings, and even a snorkeling adventure below the surface of the sea that has sustained Positano and its people for millennia ...
Photo: Justin Bailie
My sky blue kayak bobs in the Sea of Cortez. I stop paddling and stare across the surface of the water to the tawny peaks of Isla Carmen, which don't seem to be getting any closer. I look behind me at the Baja California Sur mainland, which looks equally distant. Here, in the middle of this great body of water, called "the world's aquarium" by that equally great adventurer, Jacques Cousteau, I feel outmatched. Like a fish with not much power in its tail.
I chose this trip to explore the uninhabited islands of Loreto Bay National Park because I dreamed of getting close to the creatures that call this place home—fish, dolphins, and whales. Using my own power to get far from shore and truly into their world was my goal. But I'm finding that I might have underestimated how hard it would be to get there from here ...
—Susan Hall Mahon
Photo: Courtesy of Club Nautique
"Grab the winch handle," says Peter Leib, my sailing instructor, as he takes the helm. I quickly move to the furling lines, and then clumsily look around.
Prior to today, I had never stepped foot on a sailboat, ogling them from afar in marinas and envying the culture's carefree glamour. But now I've traded fantasy for reality and signed up for a two-day introduction with Club Nautique, a Sausalito-based sailing school that has shepherded novices for more than 35 years.
My base of operations: Sausalito’s elegant and recently redesigned Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa, a glorious waterfront mansion from 1885 that puts sea captain’s homes to shame and arranged my foray into proper seafaring with Club Nautique as part of its Learn to Sail package ...
Photo: Chris Cheadle / Getty Images
The view from my tiny floatplane window makes me gasp: Mountains bristling with cedar and spruce rise steeply from the margin of the dark sea. But it's not a gasp of wonder. I'm more about stilettos than salmon fishing, and that's some serious Canadian wilderness down there.
To be fair, while I'm freaking out about heading into a part of Vancouver Island only accessible by floatplane or boat, I will not exactly be roughing it. We're touching down at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, a redoubtable destination known for putting the "glam" in glamping. Our group is met by a horse-drawn carriage, which transports us elegantly up a dirt road for check-in at Clayoquot's cedar-log lodge, poised right at water's edge ...
Photo: Courtesy of Yemaya Island Hideway & Spa
You have to admire the ambition in selling a vacation experience called a "Happy Pack." Sure, we all want to get happy, but the concept is pretty subjective. For some, happiness lies in the quest to become a better person; others might crave nothing more profound than massages and cocktails. Yemaya Island Hideaway & Spa in Nicaragua targets bliss-seekers of all kinds with a spectrum of activities, from private meditation classes to dedicated margarita and hammock time.
Intrigued by the alluring premise, I sign up for a three-day Happy Pack experience at this year-old resort on a tiny Caribbean island. Before I arrive, the resort's wellness director e-mails me about my goals for the retreat. I tell her that I'm seeking a more serene self (preferably one with a washboard stomach), and together we formulate a plan of attack: private yoga practice, meditation, a little snorkeling, and some spa treatments ...
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards/Redux Pictures
Jazz music emanates from everywhere: an open window, a car radio, a duo playing violin and guitar in the middle of the road. At first I wonder whether the notes are coming from inside my head, a soundtrack to how I always imagined New Orleans would be.
I hear the same tunes coming from a paint-covered boom box outside a weatherbeaten house in Algiers, a neighborhood still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina nearly a decade after its destruction. I've arrived at this tarp-covered site to volunteer for Rebuilding Together New Orleans, which organizes helpers to repair storm-damaged houses ...
Photo: Gallery Stock; Frans Lanting
“The three most important principles are look forward, relax, and stay low," says my instructor, seven-time Costa Rica national surfing champion Alvaro Solano Delgado. We're perched on a wooden platform on a hillside a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. After practicing my pop-up to surfer crouch a few times, Delgado deems me seaworthy. We load into the Vista Guapa Surf Camp truck and drive five minutes down to Jaco Beach for the real thing.
Once there, Delgado and his teenage nephew Titi unload a quiver of surfboards in varying sizes. "We'll walk out until the water is here," Delgado says, motioning to his chest, "and then we'll get on the board and paddle."
Gulp. Somehow, until we're paddling toward them, I haven't processed the size of the waves. Jaco is known for its beginner-friendly surf break, and I try to believe this despite the rushing walls of water coming at me ...
—Susan Hall Mahon
Photo: Todd Mintz/Alamy
Is it my fifth day aboard the luxury Silver Galapagos expedition ship, the newest addition to the Silversea line, and my transformation is almost complete. As I swim through the waters of Champion Island, well insulated and buoyant in my wetsuit, I believe I am becoming part sea lion. Snorkeling once or twice a day, I am on the hunt as they are, chasing penguins and colorful fish. My ears stick out slightly, pushed down by the tight strap of my mask. (External ear flaps are one of the most obvious ways to distinguish a sea lion from a seal.)
Suddenly, a pod of sea lions greets me as its own, swimming toward me and peering straight into my eyes, then bending and twisting as they spiral down below me, only to pop back up by my side. What I do, they mimic: a twirl, a splash, a dive. I watch as one playfully picks up a starfish in its mouth and starts a game of sea lion Frisbee for which I now have a front-row seat ...
—Antonia van der Meer
Photo: Mike Kemp/Blend Images/Getty Images
After four days spent pedaling past tiny lobster shacks and towering lighthouses on our way through quiet fishing villages, it's the final ride of the trip. When we cross the finish line, our Discovery Bicycle Tours group members will scatter back to our home states. We have our heads, fingers, and noses buried in all three of our maps, periodically looking up to see if the signage is pointing us toward Bar Harbor.
We've taken a detour to avoid a busy highway and now we need to decide if we should reverse the morning's directions and retrace our trail. If only the GPS would work! Instead, a handsome man on a bike—barely out of breath—stops at our group. "Did you just come from Bar Harbor?" someone asks. "Can we get there from here?" "Yes, of course," he says. "Just take a right, and then it's all lefts." With his directions, the ride back is downhill—and I am nothing if not an excellent coaster ...
—Kristen Shelton Fielder
Photo: Justin Lewis/Getty Images
I am in a 16-seater flying above the aquamarine waters of Belize, and already my life has changed: Being claustrophobic, I have always avoided anything much smaller than a jet for air travel, yet I'm feeling a mixture of peace and exhilaration in this tiny space with an outsized view of the Caribbean.
It's a short flight from Belize City to the country's largest island, Ambergris Caye, and I'm soon in a water taxi speeding to El Pescador, a colonial-style resort facing the big draw of Belize: its barrier reef. The world's second-largest (after Australia), it's home to some 500 species of fish, and I am here to swim among them ...
—Jennifer Brunnemer Slaton
Photo: TravelStock44/Getty Images
From the white, scallop-edged balcony at Mykonos Grand Hotel & Resort, I can see golden rays of sunlight streaming down from the sky, igniting the wispy edges of a plump cloud and warming the cobalt surf below. It's an ethereal scene—for a moment I wonder if Apollo himself might descend from that cloud and find a seat on the sandy beach.
After all, I'm staring at the island of Delos, birthplace of the god of light (and today's destination). I wander among the ruins of early Aegean civilization, the stark landscape punctured with rock walls. I stare up at the tall columns, what we're told was once the foundation of a grand home. I feel an electric charge that starts at my feet as I trace my fingers over some ancient Greek letters carved into sandstone.
On the way back to Mykonos, I sit next to a French woman; she says she's wearing SPF 50, but marvels at her rosy tinge from the sun. We dub this the "Mykonos glow"—bronzed by the gods ...