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The highlight of my trip was this basic cooking class at Casa Luna. I had become obsessed with nasi goreng, a Balinese spin on fried rice, and was determined not to leave the island without learning how to make it. At Casa Luna, not only did I learn how to make it, but I also added a coconut milk dessert, chicken satay, and hibiscus tea to my repertoire. The school was founded by Janet DeNeefe, an Australian who moved to Bali after marrying a Balinese man in 1987, but the class was taught by a Balinese chef, who also walked us through the local spices and sauces (and how to approximate them at home) and talked a bit about the local food culture (everyone cooks!).
One of the best parts of the Yoga Barn is how customizable it is. Want to go bonkers and immerse yourself in yoga, meditation, and raw foods from morning til night? You can absolutely (and affordably) do so. Want to mix a few asanas in with an exploration of Ubud, but not give up carbs or booze? Also possible. The center is really just one giant yoga studio, offering classes in yoga, meditation, and tai chi from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. But, for those who do a little digging, it also has a small number of guest houses, which include breakfast at the on-site all-day cafe (yoga classes are extra). The best part is that it feels like it's in the rice paddies, but is really just a 10-minute walk from the center of Ubud.
It is striking to leave the hot, sunny beach and, within an hour, find yourself in the midst of a downpour so strong that the windshield wipers can't keep up. So be prepared if you head to Bali's Botanic Gardens, located in the heart of the rainforest. But it's worth braving the weather for a peek at more than 2,000 plants that represent the entire Indonesian archipelago, from epiphytes to the medicinal plants still used by local doctors. The birds are incredible too. I don't consider bird-watching a hobby, but the sounds they make here are mind-boggling—it was like a cross between a kazoo orchestra and a ringtone test sight.
By far one of north Bali's biggest tourist attractions, the crowds can't diminish the beauty of Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, located on the edge of Lake Beratan. This is where you come for the iconic shot of the layered water temples, but also to soak in the rituals and history that define Balinese culture. Built in 1663, the temple honors the lake's status as a primary source of irrigation in Bali and symbolizes power, fertility, and prosperity. The property is huge and mesmerizing, especially if you perch in one of the small gardens and watch the waves splash onto the part of the temple that extends into the lake. Tip: Make sure to bring a jacket—it can be (refreshingly) rainy and cool in this part of the island.
High in the mountains above Lovina Beach, are Lake Buyan (Bali's second largest lake) and Lake Tamblingan, two volcanic lakes separated by a swath of rainforest and home to some of Bali's best hiking options. If you just want the panoramic view, hop on a tour from Lovina Beach, which will take you to Gitgit waterfall and this viewpoint, among other stops. But, if you want to dip into the rainforest, sign up for one of the many trekking tours. Tamblingan Trekking leads four-hour tours that cover both lakes, starting from the Bencingah Temple and ending at the Pemulungan Temple, with plenty of history, bird-watching, and—my favorite—a canoe ride along the lake.
One of the newer temples in Bali, Vihara Brahma Arama is also one of the better-known—at least among the Buddhist community—thanks to its near-constant rotation of meditation retreats. Even if you're not into meditation, or know nothing about Buddhism, the temple has a calming grace that's fun to explore. Built in the '70s, the temple contains all the usual Balinese Hindu icons, from naga and panels telling tales of the Buddha to sculpted kulkul towers and water lily gardens, all in a hillside spot that overlooks the sea. Both men and women are required to wear a sarong (available at the entrance) but the entry fee is donation-only.
For those looking to escape the resortiness of South Kuta, Lovina Beach, about 50 miles north, is a chill alternative. It has all the things you want out of a beach destination—snorkeling, beachside bars, and a nice, sandy stretch—and none of the hassles (crowds, steep prices). It's especially known for dolphins, though you'll have a better chance of seeing them if you stick to the low season when there are fewer boats on the water. Two easy day trips from the beach: Air Banjar hot springs and snorkeling trips to Menjagan Island, home to one of the best coral reefs in the area (and named for the herds of deer that swim there every spring).
Legends abound about Gitgit Waterfall: Locals say that those who can see animals in the rock behind its 115-foot falls have a special spirit; others say couples that bath in the pool beneath the falls will eventually separate. Who knows whether either is true but it's a refreshing break from the heat of Lovina Beach and easy to access for hikers of all levels (they're about a 10-minute walk from the parking lot). Bonus: Gitgit is the heart of the spice-growing countryside, so spice vendors (and others) line the walkway selling affordable bundles of vanilla beans, saffron, cloves, and peppers.
Doing a home stay was, by far, the highlight of my trip to Bali. The luxury hotels are wonderful, but if you really want to get a feel for the Balinese culture, staying with a family is the way to go. I found Ker and Gelgel on Airbnb and wound up staying for three nights at their compound near Lovina Beach. I had my own room and bathroom—there's even a pool on-site—but ate breakfast and the occasional dinner with the family. This was where I honed my Indonesian, ate the local foods (lots of rice and fresh, blended fruit drinks), and explored Buleleng with my own personal guide. Most home stays come with some form of transportation and, here, Gelgel was on hand to drive me just about anywhere: We zipped up the mountain through clove forests, fed monkeys, and took a spin through the local waterfalls.
Amankila is one of three Aman properties on Bali and, perhaps, the most remote, with its private beach and views of the Lombok Strait. The suites themselves are reason enough to go: Airy and enormous, each is filled with a fabulous selection of local fruits and snacks, carved teak furniture, and outfitted with a large private balcony with views of the strait. Pry yourself from this luxury and you'll find infinity pools, a half-mile stretch of beach, and any number of activities, from Balinese massage to surf lessons from a local. As for food, stick to the local specialties: savory nasi goreng, the classic Balinese fried rice, and the sizable cocktail menu built around arak, or rice liquor.
Every November, the world's largest congregation of bald eagles gathers 20 miles outside of Haines, Alaska, for an unusually large feast. The draw? Meaty, striped salmon spawning along the Chilkat River, which never freezes thanks to an upwelling of warm water from underground springs. the late-fall run attracts more than 3,000 eagles--and hundreds of amateur ornithologists. The latter converge on the annual Alaska Bald Eagle Festival for ranger-led tours, workshops with wildlife photographers, and, or course, the sight of thousands of birds diving into blue waters in an otherwise snowy landscape. This year's festival takes place November 10-16. This appeared in the November/December issue. Photo by Angel Williams/Flickr.
Some say this cobalt blue lake is so clean, it feels like distilled water, but that isn't quite true. In fact, it is seven times more pure--perhaps the most pristine lake in the United States, fed almost entirely by snowmelt from the Cascade Range. The drive is about three hours from Portland, Oregon. Make a stop at the Brewers Union Local 180 pub in Oakridge for a burger and an IPA fresh from the cask. Then follow the signs to the Pacific Crest Trail. Hike the stunning path to the shores of the lake and dive in while you can. That's the catch: Come October, the lake disappears under a blanket of ice. This appeared in the June/July 2014 issue. Photo by April Carpenter/Oregon Department of Transportation/Flickr.
“Åland has a long maritime history so you want to try to get out on a boat if you can. I like to take visitors on the Galaesen Albanus, a replica of a wooden 1904 ship that cruises the archipelago. If you go out on a 4-hour route or longer, they serve you lunch. It’s so pretty so see the tons of little islands everywhere,” says Lotta Jansdotter, a designer who has spent her summers in Åland since she was a little girl. From $1,482 for 6 people Read more about her life growing up in the Scandinavian archipelago here. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo by Christopher Haiderer.
“Björnhufvud is beyond anything else on Aland. It’s a farm-style b&b with views on either side of the archipelago and dishes made from local foods,” says Lotta Jansdotter, a designer who has spent her summers in Åland since she was a little girl. Read more about her life growing up in the Scandinavian archipelago here. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo by Andreas Dienert.
“Salt, in Mariehamn, only sells Åland-made wares. Upstairs, artists and craftspeople have studio space; downstairs there’s a shop. Pick up traditional items: jewelry, woven rag rugs, sheepskin items, and trivets made from knotted rope by a former seaman," says Lotta Jansdotter, a designer who has spent her summers in Åland since she was a little girl. Read more about her life growing up in the Scandinavian archipelago here. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo by Christopher Haiderer.
“Judy's Hantverk & Inredning is a ceramic shop you can bike or drive to. Originally from Britain, she’s been on Aland for 36 years. A trained ceramicist, she has a really good sensibility. She found this old slaughterhouse, which she converted into a place where you can see the kilns. She serves coffee and pastries she herself.” says Lotta Jansdotter, a designer who has spent her summers in Åland since she was a little girl. Hindersvägen 1, Jomalaby, Ahvenanmaa Read more about her life growing up in the Scandinavian archipelago here. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo by Christopher Haiderer.
“My mom used to go to Kortvaruboden, in Mariehamn, for Marimekko fabrics, 45 years ago. The women who run it have been here since then. They’re always friendly and have good prices,” says Lotta Jansdotter, a designer who has spent her summers in Åland since she was a little girl. Read more about her life growing up in the Scandinavian archipelago here. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo by Carolyn Williams/Flickr.
“To eat the local food, try Smakbyn—“taste village”—where chef Michael Björkland, a local TV personality, makes a point to only source Aland ingredients. He cooks completely fresh takes on traditional Scandinavian pairings: parnship cheesecake with cured ham and pickled chanterelles, perch fillets with potatoes and crayfish compote. He also runs a distillery that turns local fruit into Ålvados, an apple brandy, and Röd Granit, a cherry liquer,” says Lotta Jansdotter, a designer who has spent her summers in Åland since she was a little girl. Read more about her life growing up in the Scandinavian archipelago here. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo courtesy of Smakbyn.
“In Mariehman, there’s Bagarstugan Café & Vin, a cottage house that looks like you’ve stepped into great-grandma’s house. Go for lighter salads—I like one with goat cheese and sprouts—and, of course, the Åland pancake. It’s a thick pancake made from cooked rice porridge and topped with prune compote or raspberry jam. Here still have local arguments about the best way to make it—it’s very provincial. She also has a wonderful selection of gluten-free and vegan pastries,” says Lotta Jansdotter, a designer who has spent her summers in Åland since she was a little girl. Read more about her life growing up in the Scandinavian archipelago here. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo by Christopher Haiderer.
“We Ålanders love our fika, or coffee break. Johanna’s Hembakta, a bakery in Saltvik, is where I go for hemvete, a black bread made from rye flour and coffee, and flecked with caraway seeds. Have a slice, or one of her amazing cinnamon buns during a fika in the garden where you’re 15 meters away from cows,” says Lotta Jansdotter, a designer who has spent her summers in Åland since she was a little girl. Read more about her life growing up in the Scandinavian archipelago here. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo by Christopher Haiderer.
No varietal excites obsessives more than pu-erh. The yunnan province tea is oddly complex, especially when prepared in shou form: leaves are fermented and aged for up to 50 years. Try it at the new Samovar tea bar in San Francisco’s Mission District. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo courtesy of Samovar.
At The Mandarin’s Tea Room in New York City, founder Timothy Hsu will walk you through the making of shui xian. The smoky oolong gets its stony flavor from its home: Nanping’s Wuyi mountains. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo by Timothy Hsu.
Outside of sleeping in Istanbul’s iconic Grand Bazaar, the new Raffles is as close as one can get to the city’s great shopping: The lobby connects to the Zorlu Center, a 1-million-square-foot complex with everything from the Italian food hall Eataly to the Turkish boutique Yargici. As for the 132 rooms and 49 suites, each features art inspired by the Byzantine empire and terraces overlooking the city. Also, not to be missed: the spa’s gorgeous hammam. From $770. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo courtesy of Raffles Istanbul.
Jongomero Camp in Ruaha, Tanzania’s largest national park, is a favorite. It’s remote—more than 500 miles south of the Serengeti—and has no crowds, so game is everywhere. Feeling adventurous? Try a two-day walking safari to see the hundreds of bird species, from the lesser kestrel to the red-billed hornbill, that live in Ruaha. This appeared in the November/Demeber 2014 issue. Photo by Paul Shaffner/Flickr.
Singita Faru Faru Lodge (a member of the AFAR Collection) is set in the privately owned Grumeti Reserves—about 525 miles northwest of Dar es Salaam—which allows its guides to lead safaris to view such nocturnal game as the bat-eared fox. The lodge doesn’t skimp on luxuries (there’s a spa and a well-stocked wine cellar), but it’s known for horseback trips. According to AFAR local expert Kerry John-Davis, "I’ll never forget what it felt like to ride alongside a herd of zebra." This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo courtesy of Singita.
Serengeti National Park is the ideal place to spot the big five: elephants, lions, leopards, Cape buffalo, and rhinos. You can take a road trip from Arusha to the Ngorongoro Crater, a grassy crater outside the park that’s home to a huge concentration of game. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo by David Berkowitz/Flickr.
Stop at Tarangire National Park to spy on tree-climbing lions and at Lake Manyara to see flocks of migrating flamingos. Trekking for chimpanzees is also unforgettable. Gombe Stream National Park, where Jane Goodall researched, is a short flight from Dar es Salaam, and trackers keep tabs on chimps, so it’s guaranteed you’ll see them. This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo from Flickr.
According to AFAR local expert Kerry John-Davis, those seeking local flair should head to Stone Town, on the island of Zanzibar, which was once a stop on the Arabian spice route. "The town is a great base for snorkeling tours of the archipelago, but I often just browse the labyrinthine alleyways for Arabian brass lamps, Tinga Tinga paintings from local artists, and, yes, spices—I go to House of Spices for cloves and mchaichai (lemongrass tea)." This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue. Photo courtesy of the House of Spices.
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