Three-Day Weekend: Curacao
"Are you ready? 1.. 2.. 3.. NOW!" our diving instructor shouted as the eight of us took a deep breath and swam beneath the waves that roared and crashed above our heads onto the walls of the entrance to the underwater cave. I remember thinking as I swam: How much farther until we can come up for air? What happens if I come up too soon? What if there's a shark swimming around in there?
Ten seconds later, those fleeting thoughts disappeared as I spotted my fellow swimmers shooting to the surface, laughing, and saying this was one of the craziest things they'd ever done. I couldn't agree more.
The sight before us was almost psychedelic. We had entered an underwater cave named the Blue Room, appropriately dubbed for the different hues that surrounded us as the light reverberated around the chamber, bounced off the walls, and illuminated the water below. We took turns snapping silly underwater photos of each other on someone's GoPro camera as we explored the cave and swam around the coral reef that lay 20 feet below.
One thing I'll say about Curaçao: You're in for a real treat if you're willing to push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Slightly off the beaten path and throroughly gorgeous, this Dutch Caribbean island paradise is located in the southern Caribbean safely beneath the hurricane belt, ensuring a warm, tropical climate all year long. The best part: It's super-affordable.
Wander through colorful, dreamlike Willemstad
The multi-hued Dutch buildings that line St. Anna Bay in Willemstad are so quaint and picturesque, they're like a 3-D postcard. Take your perfect, trip-defining photo with the giant CURAÇAO and DUSHI signs in Queen Wilhelmina Park, the Dutch Caribbean counterpart to the famous "I Amsterdam" signs in Europe. Visit the Queen Emma Bridge, a pontoon bridge that locals call the Swinging Old Lady because it swivels open and runs parallel to the land to allow boats to pass by. Watch for the flags and clear the bridge when the alarm sounds to avoid being trapped on the bridge until it closes again, or catch a free ferry nearby to get to the other side if you're suddenly stuck across the water.
Eat island cuisine right alongside the locals
You're bound to work up an appetite walking around downtown Willemstad. Stop by the Old Market, or Marsche Bieuw, for a taste of island cuisine with generous portions and affordable prices. Sit among the locals in this first-come-first-served cafeteria-like setting and sample local favorites like fried plantains, stobá (stew), funchi (polenta), and pumpkin pancakes, and wash it all down with a deliciously fruity batido smoothie ($7 for a plate with stobá, funchi, fried plantains, beans, and rice; three pumpkin pancakes for $1; batidos are $3 each). If you're into steak and seafood, check out The Grill King in downtown Willemstad, known for its grilled surf and turf dishes and overwater dining (entrées from $20), or for a bit of fine dining, try the St. Tropez Oceanclub in the trendy Pietermaai district, where you can feast on dishes like salmon sashimi tapas in a swanky club-like atmosphere while a lounge singer roams the crowd belting out everything from Whitney Houston to Katy Perry (tapas from $7, entrées from $29).
Hang with new feathered friends
When you think of the Caribbean, what comes to mind? Palm trees, sure, but how about the majestic ostrich? Curaçao is home to the largest ostrich farm outside Africa. The island's year-round warm, dry climate makes the ideal atmosphere for these birds to flourish. Spend some time touring the Curaçao Ostrich Farm on one of their hourly Safari Tours ($16 per person). You'll see other animals like emu, potbellied pigs, and Nile crocodiles, but the big birds are the main event: Hold a real ostrich egg, watch the young chicks running around in the wild, and try your hand at feeding the adults—a photo op so terrifically bizarre you'll want to make it your Facebook profile pic immediately.
Swim in coral reefs and hidden underwater caves
Most of the island's attractions are located in and around Willemstad, but it's worth taking a 40-minute car ride to explore the scenery along the north and west coasts. Check out awe-inspiring views from Shete Boka National Park, where you can hike to a large underground cavern and watch as the waves roll in from the top of the hill at Boka Tabla (admission is $5.50). Book a snorkeling trip with Go West Diving for a chance to visit the Black Sand Reef and Curaçao's famous Blue Room, a secret underwater cave you can only reach by holding your breath and swimming under the crashing waves at the entrance to the cavern. Don't worry; it's perfectly safe thanks to the help and direction of your trusty tour guide. Just make sure you dive down deep enough so you don't bump your head on the roof of the cave ($40 per person for a 2.5-hour tour).
Go green with a visit to an herb garden and an aloe plantation
Meeting Dinah Veeris, the island's legendary herbalist and healer, and touring her precious Den Paradera Herb Garden, was worth the trip in itself. Veeris, the friendly, soft-spoken owner, eagerly shows visitors around her garden, teaching the importance of preservation, explaining how to cure common ailments using plants, and occasionally bursting into songs and chants used during the healing process. She started this adorable one-acre botanical garden plant by plant in the 1990s after interviewing the island's elders about natural ways to cure ailments, and it continues to be a resource for local botanists with its 300-plus species of plants. You can purchase natural herbal teas and soaps made from the garden's ingredients in the gift shop: Try the "love tea," rumored to be the best love potion on the island ($4 for a bag of tea leaves). Beauty junkies will want to stop by the Aloe Vera Plantation in the St. Joris area to learn about the aloe plant's health and immune system benefits. For a local souvenir, the plantation's Curaloe natural beauty products—including body gel, aloe shampoo, and pure aloe vera juice—are top-sellers (from $16).
Bask without guilt: Curaçao luxury is affordable luxury
Stay near all the nightlife and historic sites in downtown Willemstad, like Fort Amsterdam and the Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue, the oldest continually used synagogue in the western hemisphere, at the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino (from $145 per night). If it's seclusion you're seeking, opt for the Santa Barbara Beach and Golf Resort, a lush property located on 27 acres of natural preserve on the eastern side of the island (from $229 per night, check website for more affordable packages). For the best of both worlds, the Floris Suite Hotel and Spa gives guests a taste of luxury closer to the action—the 72 sleek modern-meets-Caribbean-style suites at this adults-only, LGBT-friendly hotel come with private balconies, kitchenettes, and lots of room to spread out and relax, perfect for a girlfriend getaway or romantic escape with your S.O. (suites from $129 per night). If you're traveling from the New York City area, JetBlue's Curaçao vacation packages start at only $669 per person for a flight from JFK and three nights' accommodations at the Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort and Emerald Casino.
Always, always use mosquito repellent
At Budget Travel, we believe it's always better to be prepared. Throughout the Caribbean and other places around the world known for their warm, tropical climates, you might encounter chikungunya, a flu-like mosquito-borne illness characterized by joint pain, fever, and a rash. The virus isn't fatal, but it is painful and can be avoided if you take the proper precautions. Pack your favorite mosquito repellent products, apply them liberally before going out at night, and slather them on again after swimming.
11 Spectacular Labor Day Getaways
Labor Day weekend may be just around the corner, but it's not too late to plan the perfect three-day getaway. From coast to coast and around the world, there are plenty of free and budget-friendly activities to choose from. Whether you're in the mood for a Jazz Festival in Chicago, a quirky traditional event held every year in Park City, or an American music extravaganza in Virginia Beach, we've rounded up 11 exciting events and festivals around the country you won't want to miss. SEE THE DESTINATIONS! Daytona Beach: For family-friendly fun on a famous Florida beach While the words Daytona Beach may conjure up scenes from MTV's Spring Break, the area has come a long way since then, and is now much more of a family destination offering a wide variety of kid-friendly events, festivals, and beachfront entertainment fit for all ages. This Labor Day Weekend, catch a free concert at the Daytona Beach Bandshell on Saturday night starting at 7:15 p.m. featuring a performance by Rocket Man, an Elton John tribute band—stick around for a fireworks show starting at 9:45 p.m. Baseball lovers can watch the Daytona Tortugas play ball on Sept. 4th, 5th, and 6th at the Jackie Robinson Ballpark, where dogs are welcome and the kids will have a chance to run the bases—don't miss their fireworks show Saturday night. Also while you're in town, stop by the Daytona International Speedway for a behind-the-scenes look at all things NASCAR. Hotels in this part of Florida are super affordable over Labor Day Weekend, too, with rates at the Courtyard Daytona Beach Speedway/Airport starting at $109 a night and rates at the Residence Inn Daytona Beach Speedway/Airport starting at $159 a night. Lake Tahoe: For carnivals, boat races, and great discounts on ski gear On Saturday, Sept. 5th, you'll have the opportunity to board one of South Shore's two Mississippi paddlewheeler boats, California's Tahoe Queen or Nevada's M.S. Dixie II, for the 23rd annual Great Lake Tahoe Sternwheeler Race, a unique only-in-Tahoe experience that can be yours for from $25 per adult ($10 per child) including brunch and drink specials. If you'd rather be a spectator, cheer runners on from the sidelines as they compete in the fourth annual Heavenly Mountain Run, racing from the California Base Lodge at 6,565-feet all the way up to the Tamarack Lodge at 9,150-feet. You can also enjoy live music with an impressive fireworks display over the lake Sunday night starting at 8:30 p.m. Another notable weekend event is the 6th annual Sample the Sierra Festival on Sept. 6th from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Bijou Community Park, where you can sample fresh farm-to-table food and wine creations by local chefs and farmers. Don't miss the chance to stock up on ski gear for next season at the annual Heavenly Sports Labor Day Tent Sale, where you can save up to 70 percent on ski and snowboard equipment at Heavenly's California Main Lodge on Sept. 5th from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sept. 6th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sept 7th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Puerto Rico: For a no-passport-required Caribbean beach break Airfares to this sizzling U.S. island (no passport required!) are around $445 for Labor Day travel. Sound good? Picture yourself lounging on the beach listening to the waves crash in the distance, fruity drink in hand. Spend some time exploring Puerto Rico at your own pace with this travel package to San Juan that includes ocean view accommodations at La Concha Resort, a Renaissance Resort located in San Juan's trendy Condado neighborhood. You'll also get daily breakfast for two at the resort's Ocean Café Restaurant among other perks, from $186 a night. (Note: While Labor Day falls during the Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season, the NOAA has predicted a quieter season than average for 2015, with only 1 to 4 hurricanes, and possibly only 1 ranked as a Category 3, serious, hurricane.) RELATED: 25 Incredible Road Trips BT Readers Love The Jersey Shore: For beachside water parks on the pier The beaches along the Jersey Shore have definitely bounced back from last year's storm damage with style—some of them even made our list of America's Most Awesome Boardwalks, and Ocean City, N.J. was featured as one of BT's favorite beach towns. This Labor Day weekend, pay a visit to one of New Jersey's many beachside waterparks, like Raging Waters and the Ocean Oasis Waterpark & Beach Club at Morey's Piers in Wildwood, now celebrating its 46th season, for a fun way to cool off in the hot summer sun, whether you prefer to relax in the lazy river or take on adrenaline-pumping attractions like the Cliff Dive slide and WipeOut. Waterpark passes start at $44 for adults and $36 for children under 48". Seniors over age 65 get in for $20 with a valid photo ID. Paris: The perfect place for a romantic three-day weekend getaway A three-day weekend in Paris? Yes, you can! In fact, Budget Travel Senior Editor Jamie Beckman just did it. Find a neighborhood that you like, book a comfortable hotel, and relax—don’t overschedule and you’ll enjoy exploring on foot, visiting green spaces, and soaking up the romance. Hotel 29 Lepic’s stellar location, near the Sacré-Coeur basilica and Moulin Rouge in Montmartre, is tough to beat for the price (from about $70 per night, 29lepic.fr). And though average airfares from the U.S. to Paris are around $1,063 right now, WOW airlines has round-trip flights to Paris out of Boston and Washington, D.C., starting at about $384 after taxes. Washington D.C.: For free concerts and kayaking on the Potomac Each year on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the National Symphony Orchestra performs a free concert for the public on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at 8 p.m. While no tickets are required, it is recommended that you get there early to get a good spot—gates open as early as 3 p.m. and you can watch them rehearse at 3:30 p.m. The 27th annual DC Blues Festival is slated for Saturday, Sept. 5th at the Carter Barron Amphitheater from noon to 7:30 p.m., with performances by Sharrie Williams, James Armstrong, and The Mojo Priests among others. You'll also have the opportunity to attend vocal, guitar, and harmonica workshops led by talented Blues artists at the John Cephas Workshop Stage. The DC Blues Festival is free and open to the public. Want to enjoy the great outdoors during your long weekend? Consider renting a kayak or canoe from the Thompson Boat Center for a totally different view of the city from the Potomac. Canoe rentals cost $16.50 per hour or $33 for the day and can hold up to three adults or two adults and two small children. Rent a single kayak for $16.50 per hour or $44 per day, or a double kayak for $22 an hour or $55 per day. RELATED: 20 Best-Kept Secrets of Washington D.C. Chicago: For free art fairs and a jazz festival The 37th annual Chicago Jazz Festival takes place this year from Sept. 3rd to Sept. 6th at the Chicago Cultural Center in Millennium Park. Admission is free and you'll have the chance to view performances by Muhal Richard Abrams, Jose James, and Dee Dee Bridgewater among others. From Friday to Monday, Washington Park is home to the 26th Annual African Festival of the Arts, an event featuring exhibitions by Chicago's best artists. General admission tickets cost $20 for adults at the gate, $15 in advance; family and weekend passes are available for $40. Click here for more fun things to do in Chicago year-round. Virginia Beach: For three days of bands on the beach—and a half-marathon Music lovers, rejoice! For three days over Labor Day weekend (Fri-Sun), more than 20 bands will take the stage for the 32nd annual American Music Festival playing all kinds of music—rock and roll, jazz, blues, country, and R&B—by local, regional, and national bands on a giant beachfront stage on 5th Street as well as several outdoor stages at the 17th Street Park, the 24th Street Park, and the 31st Street Park. Highlights include big-name artists like the Steve Miller Band on Friday night, Rebelution, The Wailers, and G. Love & Special Sauce on Saturday night, and a performance by Sheryl Crow on Sunday night. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show. This year, you can purchase a Passport Pin for access to all three shows, from $40 when purchased in advance. Those seeking a more active vacation can sign up for the Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half-Marathon, a race through the streets of the city on Sunday, Sept. 6th, that raises money for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. Registration prices may vary; check the website for more details. Miami: For parties, brunches, and bike rides on the beach Party people won't want to miss Reload, a pool party event from noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6th, at the Shore Club featuring international DJs and the best house music in South Beach. Refuel at the Shore Club's Sunday brunch, where ladies pay $44 per person including unlimited mimosas and bellinis (men must pay $44 for the brunch plus an additional $20 for unlimited drinks)—access to the Bloody Mary bar is an extra $20. Tickets to the Reload pool party start at $40 per person for all day access or from $30 per person for pool party access between noon and 3 p.m. Early bird tickets start at $10 per person when ordered ahead of time online. Take a spin on Miami's public bike sharing program,Citi Bike Miami (operated by Deco Bike Miami), for a spin, and rent a bike anywhere from 30-minutes to a full day. 30-minute passes are available for $4; one-hour passes for $6; two-hour passes for $10, four-hour passes for $18; and one-day passes are available for $24. Looking for a calmer beach experience? Stake out the perfect spot on any of Miami Beach's seven miles of sand. The best part: it's free. DON'T MISS: 20 Most Awesome Boardwalks in America Park City: For historic parades and the Running of the Balls Labor Day is more commonly referred to as Park City Miner's Day in this part of Utah—a tradition dating all the way back to 1898. Each year there's a celebration in honor of the area's rich mining heritage, complete with a community pancake breakfast, live music, races and games for the kids, the Funky 5K Fun Run, and the annual Miner's Day Parade down Historic Main Street. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the celebration is the annual Running of the Balls, a charity fundraising event held on Monday at 10:45 a.m. where participants "adopt" a ball for $5 (or 5 balls for $20), and watch in awe as thousands of them are released down Main Street, racing to the bottom of the hill. The first ten to reach the bottom of the street are tracked, earning their owners a grand prize of airline tickets, season ski passes, or any number of other donated surprises. LEGOLAND: Kiddie paradise in Florida & Southern California If you’ve got little ones, LEGOLAND is like Paris for kids—always a good idea. With fun rides, hands-on activities, and a hotel that feels like it’s built out of those iconic colorful blocks, the theme park’s So. Cal and Florida locations are a fun way to say bye-bye to summer. Even better, if you purchase LEGOLAND dollars (now available on the TravelEx currency exchange) through Labor Day you’ll get free parking, free admission to the park’s water park, and a free order of the theme park’s famous Granny’s Apple Fries.
48 Perfectly Romantic Hours in Paris
I grabbed my fiancé’s hand outside the ivy-draped, trellised garden walls of brasserie La Closerie des Lilas, at the tip of a razor-sharp corner in Montparnasse, and half-led/half-tugged him inside, through a gauntlet of friendly “Bonjour!”s from waiters, alongside tables of alfresco diners, over the restaurant’s tiled mosaic floors, past the grand piano, and, finally, to the low-lit cocktail bar tucked in the back. Save for a few French women quietly sipping white wine and barkeeps in vests and ties hustling to fill drink orders, the glowing red space was blissfully empty—as was the spot at the bar I desperately wanted. It was early, around 4 p.m. That was deliberate. I stepped as swiftly as I could to the curved bar and placed my hands on either side of a small brass plaque nailed to the varnished wood. “Here it is!” I announced, as much to myself as to Neil. He moved in closer to read the engraved script: “E. Hemingway.” La Closerie des Lilas was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite cafés to write in. He called it his “home café” and argues with a nosy acquaintance there in a particularly amusing story in A Moveable Feast. Neil and I had both read it prior to the trip. I hopped up into the red leather seat facing the plaque, and overflowing bowls of complimentary green olives and potato crisps soon appeared in front of us. I ordered a Hemingway Daiquiri, made from pineapple juice, citron vert, and Havana rum; Neil asked for an Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, and seltzer). Before the drinks arrived, Neil snapped a picture of me at Hemingway’s perch. “You look so happy,” he said. Being in Paris, at your favorite place, with your favorite person, following in the literal footsteps of a writer you admire, will do that. I had only 48 hours to spend in the City of Light, but a single special moment in Paris is enough to justify an entire trip. For me, it was that one. Last month, my fiancé was called away on a last-minute business trip to Paris. “Do you want to meet me there for the weekend?” he asked. Before he uttered the “d” in “weekend,” I was researching flights online. Problem was, I had only one summer Friday to burn, meaning I’d arrive at our hotel around 4 p.m. on Friday and leave for the airport at the same time on Sunday. Two days. That’s it. I still said yes. You always say yes to Paris. True, Paris has plenty of elegant ways to take your budget, strap dynamite to it, toss it into the air, and shoot it like it’s skeet, but that does not have to be the case. Here’s how we made our trip work on a conservative, hey-we’re-still-saving-money-for-a-wedding budget. You can too, the next time you say yes to Paris. Prioritize location. Schlepping from outer neighborhoods to save cash wastes valuable minutes, and I wanted Neil to experience one of my favorite Parisian neighborhoods, centrally located Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The area can be pricey, but we found a deal on TabletHotels.com for boutique Hôtel Le Sénat, less than a block from the lovely, historic Jardin du Luxembourg (from about $171 per night; see below for more hotel recommendations). The moment I walked in, I knew we lucked out: Our quirky duplex room—the WC downstairs, a shower with a steeply slanted skylight upstairs—had air conditioning (not a guarantee in Parisian hotels), first-floor windows that swung open to reveal a sprawling array of warm yellow atelier windows, and a private upstairs balcony where we sipped café au laits in the morning and drank affordable Bordeaux late at night, a view of Sacré-Coeur basilica on the horizon, the needle of the Eiffel Tower poking up in the west. Tear up your itinerary. Following your heart, not your head, is essential to immersing yourself in Paris. The minute you start adhering to a strict schedule, you’re doing it wrong. When I first visited Paris, on a solo trip in 2011, I created an airtight itinerary of pastry-making classes, day trips, museum visits, and restaurant reservations. Ironically, the activities I enjoyed most—like seeing Marie Antoinette’s cell at the Conciergerie (about $9) and scoring a cashmere sweater on super-sale at Eric Bompard—weren’t on my docket. This trip, I swore I wouldn’t make the same mistake; instead, the first thing I wanted to do was take my sweet time in a café, not writing postcards or scrolling through emails on my phone, but sitting back with Neil, eating ham sandwiches on perfectly baked baguettes, ordering more cheese than necessary, and practicing our French. Le Rostand, a classic café around the corner from our hotel, quickly became our home base (33/1-43-54-61-58). Thirty minutes after I stepped off the RER train from Charles De Gaulle Airport, much cheaper than a taxi (about $11), we were seated at an outdoor table, a French feast before us—baguettes, fromage, vin rouge, jambon beurre—with people-watching at the Luxembourg Gardens across the street as our live-streaming entertainment. Nothing expensive, but everything we wanted from Paris. Walk. The best thing in Paris is free. Clouds are never fluffier and sunbeams never more rapturous than when seen from a bridge over the Seine. After our café outing, we walked hand-in-hand along the river, stopping to wind through the charmingly haphazard bookshelves at Shakespeare and Company and take a selfie on the Pont de L’Archevêché bridge. I insisted on a photo instead of clamping a love lock to the railing, even though I could tell Neil wanted a padlock of our own. We wandered to the Île St.-Louis for a salted caramel ice cream cone at Berthillon, doled out by an impossibly chipper blond woman to each person in line. Walkability is Paris’s great gift to visitors. Ambling when the city is quiet is so rich that tossing a coin into the Fontaine Saint-Michel becomes a toll you’re glad to pay: a token for looking up to find the soaring architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral in your sight line, or the simple pleasure of making a mile and a half trek along the Seine, with a brief detour to gaze at bronze Étienne Martin sculptures at the Tuileries, capped off with a long kiss under the filigreed edges of the Eiffel Tower. Picnic hard. By the time I joined him, Neil had already acquainted himself with the local grocery stores, purchasing brie and Bordeaux from the St. Germain covered food market (4-6 rue Lobineau, 33/1-48-85-93-30) and cocoa-dusted truffles from Patrick Roger to surprise me. On Day 2, we packed an inexpensive bottle of red wine, brie, a baguette, a ham sandwich, a slice of duck pâté en croûte, a chocolate croissant, and Badoit sparkling water into a paper shopping bag and toted it to the Jardin du Luxembourg for a picnic. The manicured hedges, incongruous palm trees, and massive fountains were more bustling than peaceful on this summer Saturday, but we swooped in and found a concrete bench, where we spread out our bounty and took in the scene—children pointing at miniature sailboats, teenagers on dates holding hands, an orchestra under a pavilion playing a free concert for everyone within earshot. Total price for the full picnic: less than $35. Plan one splurge. Everyone has a financial weakness in Paris: expensive shows, fine dining, beauty products, pricey shoes… My advice: Budget for one big-ticket purchase and enjoy it. Mine was a classic canvas tote bag from Parisian fashion designer Vanessa Bruno’s airy, modern Rue Saint-Sulpice clothing boutique, a sartorial utopia bathed in white, where genial saleswomen assist guests in beautiful French and broken English (totes from about $93). On our last day in Paris, after we’d returned from the Eiffel Tower with a sliver of time to spare before our eight-hour flight, Neil and I made a beeline for Le Rostand for one last glass of red wine. We savored it slowly at a table next to an elderly Parisian couple eating bright-pink sorbet, and we wished we didn’t have to go. There is still so much left in Paris we want to share with each other. But I would do a weekend trip again in a heartbeat. Or, should I say, un battement de coeur. Yes, You CAN Take a Weekend Trip to Paris Flights to look for: My ticket on France’s XL Airways cost less than half the price of a last-minute ticket on Air France. XL, which flies out of Miami, San Francisco, L.A., and New York City, currently offers round-trip tickets to Paris from about $706. Beverage service in the cheap seats is limited, legroom is tight, and the weird guy sitting next to me was blasting Van Halen’s “Jump” through his tinny headphones, but you’ll get to Paris, and with a hot meal to boot. Another discount option: Icelandic airline WOW has round-trip flights to Paris out of Boston and D.C. from about $384. Hotels to try: If you decide against an apartment rental—more popular in Paris than ever before—send an email to the Hotel Du Lys, a 17th-century mansion between the Latin Quarter and St. Germain, to nab unadvertised rooms from about $116 per night, breakfast included. On the Right Bank, Hotel 29 Lepic’s stellar location, near Sacré-Coeur basilica and Moulin Rouge in Montmartre, is tough to beat for the price (from about $70 per night). Markets for stocking your picnic: Creatively flavored macarons such as “lemon and olive oil” from Pierre Hermé’s shops are garnering serious buzz (seven for about $20). Patisserie/boulangerie Gérard Mulot’s pastries and petits fours taste as good as they look; be polite and use French phrases when paying—the young women behind the busy counter appreciate it (baguettes from about $1.25). Le Marché Couvert Saint-Germain (translation: “St. Germain covered food market”), in the 6th arrondissement, kept us in wine and cheese, and hawks everything from fruit to flowers to freshly sliced noir de bigorre ham (4-6 rue Lobineau, 33/1-48-85-93-30). Pro picnic tip: Don’t forget a corkscrew.
Great Getaways: Fiji
Bula! The islands of the South Pacific boast some of the world’s most perfect climates, with sunny days and cool breezes off the ocean essentially delivering an endless summer. The most popular destination in the South Pacific, Fiji draws more than 600,000 visitors each year. Maybe that's because this string of 333 islands combines a reasonable price tag with a wide array of sights, flavors, and experiences for every travel personality whether you're looking for a romantic honeymoon spot or your next family vacation. Psst! If romance is your priority, consider that Fiji's tourism board says there are 600 proposals there in a typical year—oh, and 600 of them end in a yes! Pick a beach, any beach If beaches are the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Fiji, you're not alone. Don't miss a legendary sunset at Natadola Beach on Viti Levu, considered by locals to be the best spot on the island to bid the day adieu. If you're in the mood to party with your fellow travelers in style, check out Beachcomber Island, where you can dance the night away and stay on the island at the Beachcomber Island Resort (private rooms from $115 per night). Feel like unleashing your inner Brooke Shields? Head to the Blue Lagoon (same one from the 80's movie!) on Nacula Island to enjoy enough swaying palm trees, crystal blue waters, and coral reefs to make you want to stay forever. For family-friendly fun, you won't want to miss Treasure Island Resort's natural marine reserve, perfect for aspiring snorkelers of all ages (rates from $389 per night for an island bure). Feeling adventurous? Try one of these tours TerraTrek offers a number of guided self-drive dune buggy tours around the mountains and beaches at Pacific Harbour. Their Waterfall Tour is an epic 4-5 hour trip that includes a guided ride to the falls, lunch, and plenty of time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor (from $160 per person). Up the ante by signing up for Terratrek's Combo Tour, a guided snorkel trip around Beqa Lagoon followed by a self-driven dune buggy ride through the highlands above Pacific Harbour (from $139 per person). Looking for something more low-key? Opt for a scenic tour, designed with photographers in mind, and spend an hour driving through the hillside enjoying the view (from $106 per person). For a beautiful break from the action, stop by the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, located on Wailoko Road about four miles north of Nadi Airport, home to one of the world's largest Asian orchid collections. Get to know local Fijian culture and heritage Fiji's people are known for being warm and welcoming, often going out of their way to make sure you're having a wonderful time visiting their country. Spend a full day exploring Nadi's Coral Coast with this guided trip by Fiji Eco Tours that includes complimentary pick-up and drop-off from your Nadi area hotel, a 30-minute trek along the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, a National Archaeological Heritage Site, the Nakabuta Pottery Village, Sigatoka Town, and Natadola Beach. Fiji Eco Tours also offers a full day tour of the Nalesutale Highlands, where you can learn about Fijian herbal medicines, visit Nalesutale Village, trek to a nearby waterfall, and enjoy a Fijian-style lunch before a therapeutic stop at a nearby mud pool (both tours are from $82 per adult, $41 per child ages 6-12). Explore Fiji's underwater wonders Our favorite thing about Fiji: there's just as much natural beauty under the water as there is above it. In Taveuni, Rainbow Reef's Great White Wall of luminescent coral is a knockout for scuba divers, as the Somosomo (Fijian for "good water") Strait is home to one of the most diverse eco-systems on earth. Try a guided dive or snorkel trip from Taveuni Dive to one of 25 popular reef sites. Adrenaline junkies can try shark diving (gulp!) on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. from the Coralview Island Resort (from $100 per person through Dive Yasawa Lagoon), where you can swim among nine species of sharks native to the area. Tee off in paradise You may not think of the South Pacific as a golf destination, but with warm sun and cool breezes, Fiji supplies some of the world’s most beautiful courses, including four championship courses in Viti Levu—Denarau, Pacific Harbour, Suva, and Natadola, where the Fiji Golf International takes place this October. Stay at these BT-approved hotels & resorts So where should you stay? How about these affordable island retreats: Crusoe's Retreat bills itself as "Fiji's best-kept secret" and lives up to its name with affordable beachfront bures from $87 per night. Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Denarau Island is an everything-you-could-want property on the beach with rates starting at $235 per night. For a real treat, splurge for a few nights of swanky Fijian luxury at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Fiji Sonaisali Island, re-opening in July 2016 with rates from $285 per night. Having a great time? Just stay longer! One of the things we love about a Fiji getaway is the option to extend your trip: Fiji Airways, awarded “Best Airline in the South Pacific” by Global Traveler for the past two years, flies nonstop from L.A. and Honolulu to Fiji, Australia (just 4 hours from Fiji), and New Zealand (ony 3 hours from Fiji!), not to mention other islands such as Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga, and Christmas Island. Translation? A Fiji vacation can include stops in a beautiful array of South Pacific destinations. Not only that, on Fiji Airways your South Pacific experience begin the minute you board the plane—you can even enjoy a taste of the islands before you get there thanks to traditional Fijian meals, regional wine and beer, and a signature drink onboard.
Eat Like a Local in Queens
Thanks to a few Michelin-starred restaurants and high-profile food markets like Smorgasburg Queens and LIC Flea & Food, the dining scene in Queens is finally getting more well-deserved attention. But this isn’t a borough that runs on what’s hip or trendy. Here, in one of the most diverse places on Earth, eating like a local is akin to traveling the world: a cultural experience in which you’ll encounter people and dishes from countries as far-flung as Nepal, Thailand, Colombia, and Greece. It’s about neighborhood stalwarts and local legends that support those neighborhoods where the melting pot has survived and thrived, beloved eateries long content to fly under the radar of the general New York City public, and newer restaurants that seamlessly fill a culinary need without fanfare or pretension. Want to eat Queens right? Here are 10 palate-expanding spots that’ll jump-start your sense of adventure and impress any borough resident worth his or her salt. Go forth and explore. Astoria Seafood Best known for its excellent Greek food, Astoria has no shortage of tavernas at which to get your saganaki fix. But for fresh fish prepared Mediterranean style, at dirt-cheap prices, you’ll want to head to Greek-owned market-cum-eatery Astoria Seafood. Start by choosing your meal from the displays of raw seafood on ice—whole branzino, sea bass, and red snapper; calamari and octopus; shrimp, scallops, lobster tails—then bring it to the counter for weighing, paying, and cooking: grilled in garlicky olive oil or breaded and fried. Add a Greek salad, some rice, and lemony potatoes, and you’ve got yourself a feast, simply prepared and absolutely delicious, that’ll set you back about $30 for two (the place is also BYOB). It’s a winning formula; there’s nearly always a wait for a table come dinnertime. Sure, you’ll be dining with plastic utensils under florescent lights in a well-worn space, but nobody among this convivial, diverse local crowd—which has been known to erupt in spontaneous dance—gives a damn. 3710 33rd St., Long Island City; 718-392-2680 Dhaulagiri Kitchen It’s appeared on Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern and is a popular stop on neighborhood food tours, but Dhaulagiri Kitchen, in the heart of Himalayan-heavy Jackson Heights, is so much of a hole-in-the-wall that it’s remained a strictly local favorite. Perhaps this is due to its easily missable exterior—the only signage is for Tawa Food Corp., the small roti bakery that shares its already-cramped space—and the extremely limited seating inside. No matter: The tiny Nepali eatery serves up wonderful, inexpensive regional food from Kathmandu, the chef-owner’s hometown, from momos (thick-skinned dumplings with various fillings) to sukuti (air-dried and stewed beef, buffalo, or goat jerky). But it’s the generous plates of thali—traditional rice platters with dhal, mustard greens, pickled vegs, fried bitter melon, roasted soybeans, and your choice of curry (from $9)—that best show off the complex range of flavors at play here: bitter, spicy, sour, earthy. If the food’s too fiery, arm yourself with just-cooked sel roti, a subtly sweet, deep-fried doughnut-like ring made from ground rice. Don’t forget to pick up some fresh roti and paratha to bring home. 37-38 72nd St., Jackson Heights; 718-877-7682 Plant Love House With stalwarts like Ayada and Chao Thai anchoring an ever-growing “Little Bangkok,” Elmhurst is ground zero for the city’s best Thai food. Since joining the scene last November, Plant Love House has quickly become a go-to for local Thais and the borough’s chowhounds, for good reason: The homestyle cooking, made by a Thai mom and her two daughters, specializes in spicy street food and the kind of Instagram-friendly desserts beloved by Bangkok’s youth—plus the overwhelming majority of dishes clock in under $10. The small, cheery restaurant’s eight signature dishes include the popular num tok, a fiery pork-blood noodle soup with pork balls, and yum khanom jeen, fermented rice noodles topped with crispy salmon; one of several can’t-miss desserts is the Plant Love toast, a thick, buttery square of bread topped with vanilla ice cream and bananas. This is not your run-of-the-mill Thai menu. In fact, it’s quite compact, meaning you can probably try every dish in just a few visits. (Trust us: You’ll want to.) 86-08 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst; 718-565-2010 New World Mall’s Food Court Flushing, Queens’ large and bustling Chinatown, has no shortage of outstanding Chinese (not to mention Korean, Malaysian, Vietnamese, even Indian) restaurants, but locals know the best way to experience the neighborhood’s sheer diversity of cheap East Asian eats is to hit up a food court in one of its several malls. They are each worth visiting for a few standout stalls, and the huge, modern, fluorescent-lit court at the basement level of the New World Mall is no exception. Start with some juicy, crispy-fried pork and leek potstickers, or guo tie, from the corner stall called Li Lanzhou Stretch Noodles/Shanxi Sliced Noodles, then move on to cold-skin noodles from Beijing Cuisine and hand-pulled noodle soup from Lanzhou Handmade, or perhaps Szechuan fried chicken, Taiwanese pork buns, and Japanese-style crepes from some of the other 32-plus vendors. It’s hard to go terribly wrong here. 136-20 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, 718-353-0551 The Queens Kickshaw Since opening in 2011, The Queens Kickshaw, with its exposed brick walls and dangling Edison bulbs, has been a breath of fresh air amid the discount shops and hole-in-the-wall eateries of southeast Astoria. But it’s what’s on the menu that makes this an undying local favorite, and the kind of place where it’s all too easy to while away half your day. The husband-and-wife owners nail just about everything a city dweller needs: specialty coffee, craft beer, cider, wine, mead, and, well, fancy grilled cheeses (from $9). Beyond those signature sandwiches, the from-scratch seasonal cooking here is thoughtful and delicious; for summer, we love the watermelon- feta salad and excellent creamy sweet-corn farro risotto—and of course, homemade ice cream. 40-17 Broadway, Astoria; 718-777-0913 Uncle Zhou Here’s a secret: You needn’t travel to Flushing proper for top-notch Chinese food in Queens. Located in Elmhurst, this unassuming eatery specializes in food from Henan, the region known as the breadbasket of China thanks to its wheat production. At Uncle Zhou, diners gorge on handmade dumplings and wheat noodles prepared every which way: thick and knife-shaved with tomato and egg; skinny and hand-drawn, swimming in soups; threadlike and baked to a crisp atop a whole fish; broad and nestled amid the chile-studded “big tray of chicken.” Pro tip: Start with some of the cold appetizers, like vinegary ribbons of cucumber and wood-ear mushrooms, selected from under the counter in back, before moving on to the to-die-for steamed lamb dumplings. 83-29 Broadway, Elmhurst; 718-393-0888 Arepa Lady What started as a late-night, weekends-only street cart with a cultlike following is now a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Colombian Jackson Heights, where, despite a slew of press over the years, Arepa Lady remains as revered as ever. Maria Cano—the lady in question—still operates her legendary cart under the 7 train in warm months, but thanks to the cozy new space, run by her two sons, those buttery, cheese-filled griddled corn disks (from $5) are available to the masses seven days a week, at lunch and dinner. (The masses, it should be noted, lean toward a pretty local, regular crowd.) Try the arepa de queso, kneaded with mozzarella and topped with salty queso blanco, as well as the sweeter, golden-hued arepa de choclo, made with freshly ground corn and folded around more queso blanco and the grilled meat of your choice—and pair it with a blended Colombian juice, like guanabana (soursop) mixed with milk. 77-02AA Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights; 347-730-6124 Cannelle Patisserie The original location of this pastry and cake shop is hardly impressive: smack in the middle of a nondescript strip mall in East Elmhurst, a solid mile from the nearest subway. No matter—the place is packed every weekend with customers clued into the serious baking that goes on at Cannelle, courtesy of a Brittany native (now Queens resident) who was formerly the pastry chef at the Waldorf Astoria New York hotel and his Sri Lankan partner. This is food for the people by the people, if exquisite French pastries and tarts can be such a thing. At one end of the spectrum are the buttery almond croissants, glistening peach tarts, and fine quiches; at the other, a glass case filled with gorgeous little treats, from napoleons and choux Chantilly (cream puffs) to red velvet mini cakes. You’ll stare dumbfounded at that case deciding which to order, but at $3-$4 apiece, it’s easy to try several (the bliss-inducing rectangles of praline crunch and refreshing lemon squares are always good bets). A second branch opened last year in Long Island City. 75-59 31st Ave., East Elmhurst; 718-565-6200 Tito Rad’s In Woodside, Queens, a.k.a. Little Manila, lies the ideal opportunity to explore Filipino food, itself an underrated, endlessly interesting cuisine. Newly expanded and remodeled, Tito Rad’s is a welcoming place to start—specifically with the chicharon bulaklak (deep-fried pork intestines), lumpia sariwa (fresh spring rolls), and an avocado shake. From there you might try the satisfying crispy pata, or pork knuckle; spicy laing (taro leaves with shrimp, pork, and hot peppers in coconut milk); delicious dinuguan (pork-blood stew); or inihaw na panga, a massive grilled tuna jaw. Entrees are generous (most are $8.95) and perfect for sharing among a large group, thus inviting an epic Filipino feast. Fear not if the large menu overwhelms with its exoticism: You can always ask the advice of a neighboring table, which is sure to have some Filipinos present. 49-10 Queens Blvd., Woodside; 718-205-7299 Rincon Criollo Just steps off the 7 train in the heart of Latin American Corona, this one-room Cuban restaurant opened its doors in 1976, sharing the same name as the Acosta family’s first restaurant in Santiago de Las Vegas, Cuba. Here you’ll find legit, homestyle Cuban comfort food in friendly quarters: croquetas and frituras de bacalao (cod fritters) in a tasty homemade mojo (garlic sauce); well-done traditional standards (from $10.95) like vaca frita, arroz con pollo, and rabo encendido (stewed oxtail); spot-on maduros (fried sweet plantains) and flan de coco (coconut flan). But regulars will urge you to examine the daily specials, for that’s where you’ll find the more interesting dishes, like Monday’s tamal en cazuela, a soupy pork-and-cornmeal casserole of sorts. Order off that menu and you’ll be one of la familia in no time. 40-09 Junction Blvd., Corona; 718-458-0236 This article was written by Laura Siciliano-Rosen, co-founder of food-travel website Eat Your World, a guide to regional foods and drinks in destinations around the globe, and a proud Queens resident since 2008.