A bolt of Greece lightning.
Thessaloniki’s sparkling harbour is almost empty—a good thing. It remains one of the last urban seafronts in southern Europe not hemmed in by a giant marina. Instead, wooden caïques still ply the quiet bay while footpaths trace the meandering waterfront of Greece’s second largest city, some 320 miles north—and a world away—from chaotic Athens.
Although the euro crisis has caused ripples of discontentment here, it’s the century-old street markets filled with ripe fruits and barrels of fresh feta that symbolize this city. Tucked between relics of Byzantine and Ottoman antiquity are art galleries, bohemian nightclubs, and culinary hot spots, all part of a grassroots vision turned reality by Thessaloniki’s large (about 50 percent of the population) do-it-yourself youth culture. “We are driven by our optimism and positive energy for a new way of living that embraces our heritage,” says Vicky Papadimitiou, a university graduate who helped Thessaloniki garner official status as the 2014 European Youth Capital.
The best way to get the feel of this mission-driven city is on foot, walking from the ruins of Ano Poli to Aristotelous Square on the waterfront. Then cozy up to a café to nibble grilled calamari washed down with dry Macedonian wine.
Caribbean with a smile.
It’s one of the last truly Caribbean islands, not yet overwhelmed by resorts and cruise ship crowds. The charm of this lush island lies beyond the white-sand beach of Grand Anse and its string of hotels.
Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, is one of the prettiest towns in the Caribbean, its jumble of orange roofs tumbling down to the harbour. There, the grey stones of Fort George evoke a history that runs from 1705 through the dark days of 1983, when a military coup by a Communist hard-liner prompted President Ronald Reagan’s invasion of the island.
That was an unhappy exception to a happy rule: Grenadian traditions are an amiable mix of African, Indian, and European—much of it coming together every April on the country’s little Carriacou island. The Maroon Festival features drums, string bands, dances, and the “Shakespeare Mas,” in which costumed contestants hurl island-accented recitations from Julius Caesar at each other. The weekly “Fish Friday” festival in Gouyave, Grenada’s seafood town, offers a marine taste of true Caribbean. Vendors fill the air with scents of fish cakes, shrimp, conch, and beer. Street music makes it a party, with visitors welcome. For most Grenadians, tourists are guests, not sales targets.
Nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and mace made Grenada the “Spice Island,” and culinary opportunity persists today. The Belmont Estate serves up such local fare as callaloo soup and bergamot ice cream. The dark slabs from the Grenada Chocolate Company are so determinedly organic that chocolate bars exported to Europe have been shipped by wind power on a square-rigged brigantine.
With mangrove-fringed coastlines and coral reefs just offshore, there’s plenty of nature. At Mount Hartman, with the right guide at the right time, you might see the national bird: the shy Grenada dove. Fewer than 150 remain on Earth. Indeed, Grenada is becoming a rare bird itself.
Norway’s gateway to the Arctic
Flying into Bodø, the plane descends over a seascape covering thousands of isles, while the final approach offers a close-up view of the majestic glaciers and peaks guarding this small capital of Norway’s Nordland Province. Arriving by sea (often and deservedly called “the world’s most beautiful sea voyage”), the famous Hurtigruten coastal ships give passengers a glimpse to the northwest of the imposing 62-mile chain of spiky mountains that forms the mythic-seeming Lofoten archipelago.
Bodø is less than one degree north of the Arctic Circle. Without the warming effect of the Gulf Stream, the landscape would be a frozen, inhospitable waste at this latitude. In fact, Bodø offers cycling, skiing, hiking, caving, climbing, and fishing. Many visitors come here for the unique Arctic light, whether the soft pastels of winter that crescendo in a display of aurora borealis or the orange glow of summer’s midnight sun (the best viewpoint for both is from the Landegode lighthouse). Don’t leave without seeing the Saltstraumen sound, where deep, swirling eddies form every six hours with the change in tides as the equivalent of 160,000 Olympic-size pools of water surge through a narrow passage. Above all, northern Norway has this to offer: the absence of distractions and the chance of an intimate encounter with awe-inspiring nature.
Chile’s soulful port apart
Generations of creative pilgrims have been hooked by Valparaíso’s weathered beauty and bohemian vibe. Travellers have followed suit, coming for the romantic allure of its 42 cerros (hills) that ascend sharply from the water. Stacked high with faded mansions, 19th-century funiculars, and battered cobblestones, Valparaíso stands in contrast to the glitzy Viña del Mar resort town to the north. As Chile’s vital harbour, it retains the signature grittiness and edge that often endow ports. Valparaíso is also welcoming a boom of eateries serving inventive Chilean fare, quirky bars offering hoppy microbrews, and antiques-packed B&BS.
Pablo Neruda, whose former home, La Sebastiana, still lords over Cerro Bellavista, wrote Valparaíso-inspired verse: “I love, Valparaíso, everything you enfold, and everything you irradiate, sea bride … I love the violent light with which you turn to the sailor on the sea night.” A meander through its tangle of steep alleyways and stairways reveals eye-catching street art and ocean views from pedestrian passages that hug the slopes. Then a cool breeze comes off the Pacific, night falls, and silhouettes of hills appear against darker skies, infusing Valparaíso with poetry that seeps through its every pore.
Missouri River Breaks
Big sky, bigger adventures in Montana
Today Lewis and Clark wouldn’t recognize most of their route from St. Louis to the Pacific. But there’s one place they’d know in a heartbeat: a 149-mile stretch of the Missouri River in north-central Montana. It still contains the “scenes of visionary enchantment” the explorers found in 1805, where rugged sandstone canyons meet the river, then climb to a seemingly limitless prairie full of life. Bighorn sheep and elk sip from the river while antelope scamper. Eagles scream, coyotes sing, and prairie dogs do that funky dance. Even bison are back, thanks to the American Prairie Reserve, a group stitching together three million acres of public and private land for wildlife. For locals, this place where erosion slashes the prairie is simply “the Breaks.” Some people explore it by canoe, often starting at Fort Benton (make time for the frontier history museums) and paddling for days and days. Others keep their feet dry, but the one thing everybody can find is quiet, the kind of hush that amplifies birdsong, a flutter of leaf, the melody of wind, and your own heartbeat. It’s not easy country. You’ll find more cactus and prairie rattlesnakes than people. You’ll expose yourself to weather that can peel your skin, freeze your flesh, and bake you to the bone. Bring sturdy shoes, lots of water—and an open mind. In the Breaks, you can fill it with something good.
Photograph by Russell Kord, Aurora
Florida’s fountain of youth History books taught us that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León “discovered “Florida 500 years ago in 1513 while seeking the fabled fountain of youth. But before the peninsula was claimed by de León, it was home for more than 12,000 years to Paleo-Indians who built civilizations around its water-filled sinkholes and left behind archaeologically rich middens (giant piles of oyster shells) as proof of their bayside existence.
Today, finding a genuine slice of “Old Florida” can be a scavenger hunt. The breezy Spanish colonial city of St. Augustine is an exception to the rule. A pair of marble lions greets visitors crossing the regal Bridge of Lions into the walled city. Looming over it is Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century fort surrounded by a moat and occupied at various times by Spanish, British, Confederate, and U.S. soldiers. The fort’s warren of chambers echoes with the stories of pirates, three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Spanish-American War deserters, and even Seminole Chief Osceola, who was incarcerated here in 1837 for leading the native resistance against the U.S. Along King Street sit historic Flagler College and the Lightner, an antiquities museum housed in an 1887 Spanish Renaissance Revival masterpiece. It was commissioned by oil tycoon Henry Flagler, who is credited with salvaging the city and planting Florida’s tourism seeds. St. George Street, St. Augustine’s main drag, may have become overly touristy and crowded with T-shirt emporiums and fudge shops, but the side streets still harbour scrubby garden courtyards and off-the-radar bars, such as the 130-year-old Mill Top Tavern, where you can imagine what Old Florida was like before it became the Sunshine State.