Monthly Archives: April 2016

Best experiences of the scenic barrier islands

download-9This semitropical string of islands is rife with opportunities to enjoy the landscape at a leisurely pace – after all, you’re on island time and in the South. Though degrees of development and infrastructure vary from island to island, encountering nature on each one is a great way to find solace in a bit of solitude.

Tybee Island: Savannah’s offbeat enclave

Twenty miles east of Savannah’s historic district, Tybee Island (known by locals – or at least the ones dwelling on the mainland – as ‘Savannah Beach’) features five miles of easily-accessible public shoreline, popular to visitors from other parts of Georgia and beyond.

Enjoy surfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding or jet skiing with your own craft or rent from a local outfitter (tybeeisland.com/water-sports). The lively pier on the south end of the island is popular for picnicking and people watching – but if you prefer to peep birds and wild dolphins rather than humans, head to North Beach off Strand Avenue. You’ll also find the oldest and tallest lighthouse in the state here.

If you’re seeking seclusion and feeling adventurous, try a jaunt to Little Tybee Island. It’s completely uninhabited and perfect for camping, beachcombing, birding and hiking. It’s within easy eyeshot of ‘big’ Tybee and might seem close enough to swim to, but the currents can be treacherous, so don’t attempt it. Kayak if you’re experienced or look into boat charter services (visittybee.com).

McQueen’s Island Trail: amble down an ex-railroad track

McQueen’s Island Trail (parks.chathamcounty.org) is a hit for travelers who want to bike (bring your own), hike, or jog along what used to be a stretch of the Savannah & Atlantic Railroad Line. The scenic six-mile path is fringed with cordgrass, cabbage palms and coastal cedar trees. Terrain ranges from hard-packed dirt to pebbly crushed limestone and the western portion of the trail was recently restored due to erosion, so tread with care on this fragile turf.

The McQueen’s Island Trail, also known as the ‘Rails to Trails’ path, runs along the marshes near Savannah © Joseph Shields / Getty Images

Paralleling the Savannah River, the trail takes you right up to its marshy banks at some points. These are great resting areas for a deep breath of sea salt-air and a glimpse of the river’s impressive breadth, where massive ships drift out to sea. Spot native wildlife like dolphins, turtles and the occasional bobcat or alligator. A bit of island kitsch awaits at the end, where you’ll encounter an oak tree adorned with buoys, flags and trinkets. The trailhead is just off US Highway 80, 15 miles east of Savannah – keep your eyes peeled for the Fort Pulaski National Monument (nps.gov) sign and park along the road or at the fort for free. The only animals allowed are the ones who dwell here, so leave your pups at home.

Off-the-beaten-track island odysseys

Set southward to see under-the-radar islands that get overshadowed by big hitters like Tybee, St Simons or Jekyll. These tucked-away natural treasures take a little more effort to get to but their unmarred and primordial beauty is worth the trek.

Coastal Georgia features a rich, complex system of rivers and estuaries © Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

Take Wassaw Island, for example. What it lacks in development is made up for by an experience of primitive grandeur while birding, hiking and biking along 20 miles of trails and seven miles of seashore. Visitors can explore diverse wildlife in their unique habitats year-round and national refuge regulation ensures all species are protected.

Wassaw’s live oak and slash pine trees converge to form canopies where rookeries of herons, egrets and other local birds dwell, and endangered loggerhead sea turtles swim ashore to lay eggs on summer nights. Ensure wildlife here continues to thrive by adhering to all signage and don’t venture beyond areas marked off-limits. Wassaw is open daily from sunrise to sunset and only accessible by boat. Charter services can be booked with eco-conscious outfitters like Savannah Coastal EcoTours (savannahcoastalecotours.com) or Wilderness Southeast (naturesavannah.org).

Sapelo Island sits right in the middle of Georgia’s string of barrier islands and is well worth a visit for die-hard naturalists. Tours of the island’s extensive system of estuaries must be booked in advance through the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (SINERR) Visitors Center (sapelonerr.org) and ferry service runs from the nearby mainland town of Meridian, accessible from I-95. Camping is also available for groups of 15-25 on close-by Cabretta Island.

Sapelo Island Ghost Crab © Lisa Santore / Getty Images

Other than science and research workers, the only residents on Sapelo dwell in the community of Hogg Hummock (sapeloislandga.org). Its inhabitants are the only remaining collective of the Gullah and Geechee peoples, direct descendants of the West African slaves brought to the area 1802. This remaining permanent group of around 50 people proudly carry on the unique culture, language and traditions of their forebears despite their dwindling numbers.

The Golden Isles: retreat beyond the resorts

Halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville are the popular barrier islands known as the Golden Isles, dubbed as such by Spanish explorers in search of gold over 400 years ago. Though popular for their resorts, exclusive residential communities and some of the best golfing in the state, there are alternatives for imbibing the natural beauty of these islands.

Dublin’s best pubs

Home to one of Dublin’s most popular beer gardens, the Bernard Shawalso houses an Italian cafe and a big blue bus, which whips up freshly-made pizza out back. If it looks thrown together, it acts like it too, hosting everything from a flea market every Saturday afternoon to regular pub quizzes, gigs, paint jams (to refresh the colourful graffiti) and even the world’s first coffee-throwing championship. If you want to explore further, head south across the bridge and you’ll find yourself in the trendy Rathmines neighbourhood.

Pet spaniels and eat spuds at MVP

With a wonderful combination of strong, original cocktails – ever heard of a Poitin Colada? –  and fresh baked potatoes to protect you from said cocktails, MVP (mvpdublin.com) is in vibrant Portobello, a stone’s throw away from the beautiful, tree-lined Grand Canal (and the childhood home of Leopold Bloom). It’s one of the few dog-friendly watering holes in Dublin, so you might meet some furry friends up until 10pm. Beat the barman at chess on Tuesday for a free pint and keep an eye out for regular Sing Along Socials where you can screech your heart out to your favourite songs without being judged.

Make yourself at home in House

Located across two former upper-class residences, House (housedublin.ie) is decorated in an eclectic Georgian style yet still manages to be both elegant and welcoming. Choose to hide beside the fire in the library, enjoy the sunlight through the bright windows of the conservatory or perch on a stool in the pantry. Surrounded by historical townhouses on charming, residential Leeson St, it has one of the nicest beer gardens in the city, with a cover that can withstand the temperamental weather. Open late Monday to Saturday and attracting an older, upscale crowd,  it’s a peaceful place to have a gin and tonic in the evening while enjoying the boppy swing soundtrack and sampling a cheese board.

Sing along in the Cobblestone

Simply the best place to catch some Irish traditional music in Dublin city centre, the Cobblestone describes itself as a ‘drinking pub with a music problem’. It’s popular with Dubliners and tourists in equal measure, and everyone is welcome to join the free nightly music sessions. If you want to sit near the musicians, you’ll have to be quiet and respectful – head to the back of the bar for a chat. Use your visit as an excuse to explore the revitalised Smithfield area, complete with restaurants, cafes and the Old Jameson Distillery.

Get inspired at Toners

Popular with Dublin’s after-work crowd, Toners (tonerspub.ie) is the perfect place for a Guinness after visiting the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology or taking a stroll around Merrion Sq. A deceptively snug interior lined with dark wood leads out to Toners Yard, an incredibly spacious outside area where you can enjoy relaxed table service. Personally recommended by literary giants Patrick Kavanagh and WB Yeats, it doesn’t get more Dublin than this.

Challenge your friends in the Square Ball

Tucked away down the street from the Grand Canal Quay, the Square Ball (the-square-ball.com) is in one of those curious Dublin neighbourhoods full of council housing and the world’s biggest tech companies. Chill with a craft beer in the front lounge or watch every major sports fixture in a back room kitted out with fake turf. When you’re ready to compete yourself, head to the vintage arcade upstairs to challenge your drinking buddies.

Travel tips and what is the happiness

I travel because… Away from home, everything – from road signs to what snacks people are eating – suddenly becomes fascinating. It’s so much fun to have every day feel like a series of mini-adventures.

Travel highlight of 2016: I visited the Latvian capital of Riga during the depths of winter when its cobbled streets are dusted with snow. It was absolutely freezing, but one evening I found the best place in the city to warm up. Tucked into a basement in the old town, Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs is a traditional tavern that hosts weekly folk dances. Though I planned only to watch, over beers I got chatting to one of the band members – a charming violinist and former Eurovision star – and she convinced me to take a turn around the floor. It was full of young people who knew all the moves, but they were extremely patient with the mal-coordinated novice in their midst. Mercifully the steps were quite repetitive, and I had more fun than I could have thought possible!

Next on my travel wishlist: Austria and Kenya

I travel because… It frees my mind. The brain shifts into autopilot in a familiar environment; I suppose that’s just the way we’re designed. Travel isn’t the only way to jolt yourself back into manual, but it might well be the most enjoyable method.

Travel highlight of 2016: Island-hopping in Bohuslän, West Sweden, edges out stiff competition to top my list this year. I just adored the laid-back atmosphere of this region, which stretches from Gothenburg up the coast to the border with Norway. It’s a beauty parade of fishing villages cum summer resorts – Lysekil, Smögen and Fjällbacka among them – that share a distinctive look and feel: red wooden huts, pink granite boulders, deep blue sea.

Up near the border, you can catch a ferry to the car-free Koster Islands, which lie at the heart of Kosterhavet, Sweden’s only national marine park. I joined a kayak tour of the archipelago at dusk, which is a magical time of day to explore the tiny islets and secret bays uninterrupted by a single sound apart from your paddle entering the silky, clear water and the occasional sea bird flying home to roost.

Next on my travel wishlist: Namibia, Madagascar, Alaska

Gemma Graham – Destination Editor for Northern Europe

I travel because… For me, travel is the best way of offsetting the stresses of living in a busy city. My favourite destinations are places where I’m surrounded by nature, and that needn’t be in a far-flung land (although that always seems more adventurous); it could be a day trip to the countryside just a few hours’ train ride from home.

Travel highlight of 2016: I’d count the experience of taking an aerial safari in a six-seater plane over the Greenlandic ice cap as the travel highlight of a lifetime. I’d hiked on the ice cap the day before and been in awe of its perspective-shifting vastness then, but witnessing it from above was genuinely breathtaking. The endless jagged white expanse stretched out beyond the horizon and then hundreds of kilometres more, interrupted only by the piercing blue of crystal-clear meltwater lakes. Looking down, I felt like a giant and a tiny, insignificant creature at the same time. Having experienced somewhere so remote, stepping off the plane at a very busy Heathrow was quite a shock to the system.

Next on my travel wishlist: Japan, Canada and Iran

Tom Hall – Editorial Director

Favourite countries: Slovenia, Iceland, Tanzania

I travel because…  Everything about travel is exciting. The movement, sense of discovery and constant promise of what might be round the next corner. There’s nothing better than the chance to meet new people and see incredible things.

Travel highlight of 2016: I thought I knew Italy well, then I spent a week exploring Lazio, a province that hides in plain sight just north of Rome. It’s home to painted palaces, precariously-balanced hill towns and the ancient ruins you’d expect. All come with the bonus of much sparser crowds than you’d find in Rome or Umbria and Tuscany in the north. This being Italy, fortifying espresso and unbeatable gelato were never more than a few steps away. I was travelling with my family, and having this retinue in tow meant we were thoroughly spoilt by everyone we met.