Priya Florence Shah is an author, blogger and travel writer. She loves vacations that involve peace and quiet but loves nature, wildlife, art, history and culture too. You can connect with her @PriyaFlorence
Read about Chef Massimo Bottura’s ventures and find out more about the hosted experience in Emilia-Romagna through the eyes of Massimo Bottura.
Light isn’t just a feature of chef Massimo Bottura’s restaurants, it is an essential element in all his projects, from his avant-garde culinary art through his fight on food waste and his work to uncover the invisible potential of others.
When Massimo Bottura launched his most recent Refettorio (refectory) in Rio de Janeiro, his experience was gruelling.
“When you shine a light, bad people don’t like it. We had a couple of times where they came and put guns to our heads and stole computers and telephones, so we knew we were in the right place, but we were open every night.”
It is typical of Bottura’s personal philosophy to link culture, food and human gesture and it has led to a remarkable style of cuisine: one where intense personal experiences are related to meaningful global movements.
Chef Bottura’s take on the Refettorio concept as a communal dining space that brings people together for group meals and gatherings is perfect, although not always harmonious, blend of these three elements.
Bottura’s team brought light and beauty, music and food to communities, and slowly the negative people and behaviours disappeared.
Through his “Food For Soul” non-profit organisation, Bottura brought many Refettorios to various places around the world, 11 and counting with each as a centre of good food, sharing and culture, always targeting a place in need of rejuvenation and restoration.
Massimo Bottura is a major ingredient of this success. His commitment to the power of culture to transform blighted spaces is like a spotlight – it illuminates the problem and focuses on the solution.
It is a clear-headed understanding of the need to build community at the human level, one individual gesture at a time. That’s why Massimo cooks.
Whether he is at a Massimo Bottura restaurant, working with a team that outnumbers the diners two to one, or at one of his Refettorios, cooking with other volunteer chefs for hundreds of people… He brings the same acute attention to the quality of the food, the experience of dining, and the role of culture in teaching, uniting and sharing.
The idea started in Expo 2015 in Milan, to make a unique kind of gesture about Italy’s greatest export: its hospitality.
The plan was to create a kitchen in which some of the world’s greatest chefs would be invited to cook alongside him for the city’s homeless, using food deemed unsuitable for sale in supermarkets, making a statement about waste, and about taste.
That’s how his first came to be — Refettorio Ambrosiano — based in Greco, one of Milan’s poorest districts, serving food to the homeless, disadvantaged and refugees.
“It hasn’t been easy at the beginning”, Bottura says. “The first Refettorio was unpopular with many local residents. Protesters even marched against the idea.” But slowly Bottura won them over. He began by creating utility and beauty in the form of 14 refectory tables, each created by a leading Italian designer.
At first, his unimpressed customers ate fast and left faster, but the transcendent nature of sharing began to lighten their fears. Within months they were staying longer, laughing more and even commenting on the quality of food being served to them, requesting less soup and more pasta!
This is Bottura’s vision in action – social gestures that create a collective spirit. This is the vision that drives him to play football with refugee teens outside the Refettorio or create recipes for his local cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano.
It causes him to invest in modern art that he hopes will help his diners decode the messages contained in the unique Massimo Bottura recipes, many of which dissect the essential features of famous dishes and reconstruct them in exciting new ways that Bottura describes as “we break things, we rebuild things”.
It might be a dish, a blank space on a wall or an empty building in a ghetto, but regardless, Bottura shines a light on what was, what is, and invites us to join him in what could be – something better than the past, built on the experience of the present.
This virtual event is part of the Dare to Dream series of virtual experiences, free and open to the public events organised by Satopia Travel, with world thought-leaders as they talk about how travel helps to make a difference in the world and they remind us why we all must keep travelling and continue to dream.
Many people go to Greece to visit ancient temples and look at historic landmarks. Some people, however, go to Greece to enjoy the sand and surf.
If you are a beach lover and are planning to visit Greece with a partner or with family, you might be looking for hotels close enough to the beach so you can maximize your time by the water.
Want to stay by the beach in Greece and spend more time near the water? Here are 4 beautiful beach hotels in Greece you might be interested in.
Delfinia Hotel, Corfu
Delfinia Hotel is a hotel on Corfu Island that rests amidst the lush wonders of nature just north of the Moraïtika resort’s commercial end.
Its style is an elegant rendition of Meditteranean architecture, with three wings surrounded by an assortment of trees that frame the way down towards the hotel’s private and well-catered end of the beach.
The hotel has 185 rooms including many family-oriented suites. Further encouraging families to come over, the hotel provides a fully dedicated children’s play area, along with fitness facilities, a restaurant and a bar for adults only.
Lindos Blu Hotel, Rhodes
Lindos Blu has an “adults only” policy, making it a great vacation spot for couples who can manage to get away from their children for a little while.
Situated 30 miles from Rhodes Town, this picturesque resort sits on the hills overlooking Vlýha Bay. Its interior is minimally designed, with a monochromatic blue outlay that is calming to the eyes.
All of its 74 rooms and suites come with balcony views of the bay that go as far as Haráki. The hotel has a fully equipped spa and fitness centre and offers regular free yoga classes for its guests.
Adorno Beach Hotel & Suites, Mykonos
Adorno beach is only 1.5 miles from the Old Town of Mykonos, making its namesake hotel an excellent choice of residence for those who want to get as much beach action as possible while in Mykonos and still be close to the many awesome sights and activities in town.
The hotel keeps things traditional, from its architecture to its breakfasts, and each every room is gorgeous, they either have a view of the private pool or one of the sea.
Adorno is welcoming to single guest as well as couples and families, and they encourage intending visitors to make reservations at adornosuites.com.
Skiathos Princess, Skiathos
The Skiathos Princess is among the most impressive beach hotels on the island and is located 5 miles from the Old Town of Skiathos, nestled by the beach of Agia Paraskevi Bay.
Beyond the grand marble lobby, the rest of the hotel gives off a relaxed vibe that gives its guest permission to get comfortable. The hotel has two swimming pools, which are framed by an expansive lawn which in turn leads down to the beach.
Also, a great hotel to take children, there is a kid’s club and play area. Adults are not left out as there is a small gym, and there are two yogalates classes offered daily.
These are only four of the hundreds of beach hotels that beautiful Greece has to offer. If you are planning a trip to Skiathos, Mykonos, Corfu or Rhodes, consider visiting one of the hotels on this list.
Planning a weekend getaway from Mumbai or Pune? Have you considered visiting Mahabaleshwar?
A small, peaceful hill station, located in the Satara district of Maharashtra, Mahabaleshwar has long been considered a summer getaway destination by vacationers since British colonial rule.
It was, in fact, regarded as the summer capital for the Bombay (now Mumbai) province during those times.
Mahabaleshwar offers a soothing climate to travellers all year round. However, in the monsoon, it does experience quite heavy rainfall.
In summers, you can easily spend a weekend chilling out in some of the most beautiful resorts and hotels located in Mahabaleshwar, far away from the hectic city life of Mumbai and Pune.
In this article, we list some of the best places to visit in Mahabaleshwar for a family vacation. These Mahabaleshwar points of interest are characterised by picturesque views, lush green vegetations, historic sites, and an overall sense of rejuvenation.
Even if you are planning for a 5 to 7-day vacation, you will not fall short of places to see and things to do.
Before we get into the details of Mahabaleshwar tourist spots, let us give you an idea about recent developments in Mahabaleshwar tourism.
Eco-Tourism in Mahabaleshwar
Recently, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has taken the initiative to develop eco-tourism by providing bicycles for tourists in Ganpatipule and Mahabaleshwar.
Cycling posts have been created with the help of local tour operators, where the tourists can hire bicycles to move around at the rate of INR 20 for an hour, and INR 100 for 24 hours.
Gear bicycles are also available for tourists at the rate of INR 100 for 1 hour, keeping in mind the hilly terrain of Mahabaleshwar.
This step towards preserving sustainability has been lauded by all, as it is believed to have an impact in reducing pollution in the region. So, if you’re planning a Mahabaleshwar trip, don’t forget to include cycling gear in your luggage.
Top 10 Can’t-Miss Mahabaleshwar Attractions
Here’s a list of 10 of the best places to see in Mahabaleshwar.
The Mapro Garden
If you’re visiting Mahabaleshwar with your children, the Mapro Garden should be the first place you see.
Established in 1959, this scenic garden park has its own chocolate factory, a separate children’s play area and a restaurant serving delicious cuisine. It is best to visit the Mapro Garden in Easter, because of the Annual Strawberry Festival held during this time.
The strawberry pizzas, bhel, and sandwiches available here will leave you yearning for more. Besides, hundreds of farmers bring their fresh produce and offer them to tourists for free.
The Venna Lake
Built by Shri Appasaheb Maharaj, a descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, in the year 1942, this serene lake, surrounded by lush greenery on all sides, covers an area of 28 acres.
One of the most popular places on the Mahabaleshwar points list for tourists, it offers exciting activities, ranging from boating to horse rides.
Although it was primarily built by the ruler to cater to the water needs of the area, it has become a tourist hot spot since independence.
One of the best Mahabaleshwar picnic spots, the Connaught Peak (1,400 metres) was renamed after the Duke Connaught, as it was initially called Mount Olympia.
With no entry fee, you can enjoy panoramic views of Krishna Valley, Venna Lake, Panchgani, Pratapgarh, and Pasarani, not to forget the amazing sunrise and sunset views that can leave you spellbound.
The Mahabaleshwar Temple
Lord Mahabaleshwar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, has been a holy shrine for the Maratha warriors.
Its 6-foot long ‘Shiva Lingam’, and the belongings of Lord Shiva like his ‘damru’, his bed, his ‘trishula’, carvings of the sacred bull and ‘Kalbhairava’, are the main attractions for Hindu pilgrims from all over the country.
However, the temple’s serene and spiritual environs, which depicts the calmness of the Great Lord is also a remarkable experience for general tourists.
Your trip to Mahabaleshwar will be incomplete without visiting his fascinating point, the Chinaman’s Fall, named after the Chinese prison located nearby.
In the monsoon season, the breathtaking view of the descent can leave you awestruck. It is also a favourable picnic spot for families with children. However, do not forget to carry extra clothes for your toddlers, in case they get wet.
Elephant’s Head Point
Sightseeing in Mahabaleshwar is incomplete without visiting the Elephant’s Head Point (also called Needle Hole Point), especially because of its green surroundings and the ecstatic views of the Sahyadri range.
The rocks on this site take the shape of an elephant’s head and its trunk, giving the tourist hot spot its unique name. Founded in 1930 by Dr Murray, the site is considered to be one of the best picnic spots in the region.
The temple is known to be the origin of the Krishna River, whose significance in the Hindu culture is overlooked by many.
This serene and beautiful temple in the woods looks best in the monsoon when it is covered in moss with lush green vegetation all around. You have to take a walk through the woods, following the trail from the Panchaganga temple to reach here.
Mostly preferred by filmmakers for its marvellous views and soothing weather conditions, the Tableland plateau is considered the second longest one in Asia.
It is covered by evergreen vegetation, a treat to the eyes of the nature lovers, and it is also regarded as a ‘trekker’s paradise, because of its pleasant climate.
One of the most popular places to visit near Mahabaleshwar, the Pratapgad Fort is located at a distance of 20 kilometres from the Mahabaleshwar hill station.
The ruins of the fort, which was built by the fierce Maratha rulers in 1665, lures tourists because of its exotic location on the top of a hill, its historic value and the breathtaking views it offers.
Also known as Mini Kashmir, Tapola is located at a distance of 25 kilometres from Mahabaleshwar and boasts of rich scenic beauty.
It is picturesque, serene and well-maintained throughout with a lake called the Shivsagar Lake, which is the main attraction of the place.
You can enjoy some water scooters, boating, kayaking and even swimming in the lake. Tapola also offers an exotic jungle trek to Vasota Fort, if you wish to opt for some adventure along the way.
There are plenty of good hotels and resorts in and around the Mahabaleshwar hill station to stay with your family. Many of the resorts in Mahabaleshwar offer exquisite natural views from most of the rooms.
Some of the best hotels in Mahabaleshwar are located on the Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani road and the Satara road. However, if you’re an explorer by heart, you can always go camping and live in tents to satisfy your adventurous spirit.
During our trip to Tromsø, in early September 2018, one of the places I was keen to visit was the Polar Museum in Tromsø, Norway.
Fresh from having binge-watched the Netflix series, The Terror, a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to the Arctic in 1845–1848, and my interest in Polar exploration whetted, I was eager to learn more about Arctic explorers.
Located in former Customs House on the quayside – a stone’s throw from our Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With – and dating from 1830, the polar museum in Tromsø is all about Arctic exploration and trapping.
As the centre of seal hunting in North Norway in the late 1800s, Tromsø was the “Gateway to the Arctic” and an important base for many polar expeditions.
Near the museum is a statue of Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian polar explorer who led the Antarctic expedition of 1910–12, which was the first to reach the South Pole, on 14 December 1911.
He was an important person during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and the first person to reach both poles. He also led the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage (1903–06) in the Arctic.
The museum is a shrine to these courageous men and women and the ships and equipment that were essential for life both on the sea and in the Arctic.
From the remarkably life-like exhibits, which ranged from macabre to fascinating, it is obvious that life as an Arctic explorer or trapper was hard and that they must have been used to great risk, hardship, deprivation and exposure to extreme conditions.
Some of the subjects of the exhibitions included:
Overwintering in the Arctic – The trapper Henry Rudi who killed 713 polar bears
The first woman to winter in the Arctic – Wanny Woldstad
Seal hunting in the Arctic Ocean
Fridtjof Nansen’s and Roald Amundsen lives and expeditions
Helmer Hansen and Hjalmar Johansen who accompanied Amundsen to the South Pole
Svalbard, Willhelm Barentz’ discovery of the region in the 1500s, whaling in the 1600-1700s and Russian overwintering
Temporary exhibitions with Arctic content
I feel obliged to include a trigger warning for animal-lovers. Some of the exhibits of animal trapping and seal hunting were downright distressing.
Here’s a photo-essay of some of the exhibits I found most fascinating.
Many of the exhibits are not labeled in English so it was hard to figure out what they represented.
These, of course, showcase some objects used by explorers.
This exhibit contains British and Dutch graves that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
This dog accompanied Roald Amundsen at the Gjoa-expedition, the first navigation through the Northwest passage in 1903-1906.
Objects that belonged to Norwegian trapper and polar bear hunter, Henry Rudi, who was born in Tromsø.
We didn’t actually end up spending a lot of time inside the museum because the thermostat was set so high, we found it uncomfortably warm in all the layers of clothes we were wearing.
But if you like history and creepy stuff, visiting the Polar Museum in Tromsø is one of the things you might enjoy doing.
In the novel, The Drifters, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James A. Michener, the second chapter is about the flaxen-haired Britta Bjørndahl, an 18-year-old girl from Tromsø, Norway.
After finishing school, she finds a job in an office at the docks, but eventually becomes curious about the world beyond Tromsø, and goes to vacation in Torremolinos, Spain for fifteen days.
The novel follows six young characters from diverse backgrounds and various countries as their paths meet and they travel together through parts of Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Mozambique.
When I read it a few years ago, I was as enchanted with Britta’s tales of her childhood in Tromsø, as the fictional narrator of the book, George Fairbanks.
An extract from the book reads:
Britta Bjørndahl was born more than two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle on the island of Tromsø. During World War II her father had been a notable patriot.
For three perilous years, he had resisted the German occupation, hiding out along the fjords and in the mountains to send wireless signals to London or flashlight codes to British ships as they hovered off the Norwegian coast.
At the end of the war four nations decorated him, and in the summer of 1957, the entire crew of a British destroyer flew to Tromsø to relive with him the excitement of those gallant days.
As a huge WWII history buff, I was especially fascinated with the description of the sinking of the great German battleship, Tirpitz, that would “sneak into Tromsø harbor… and hide from Allied airplanes until it was time to rush out and destroy all Allied ships.”
With the sinking of the Tirpitz in the fjords near Tromsø, Hitler lost the last influential ship of his surface battle fleet and this marked the end of Germany’s naval war in northern waters.
After the war, a Norwegian-German salvage operation recovered the remains of the great battleship, but you can see the wreck of the ‘Tirpitz’, in the waters of Tromsø Fjord, Norway, as it was in 1945 in the photo below.
When I was planning my Northern Lights bucket list tour, this is why I chose to do it from Tromsø, Norway. My fascination with the fictional young Britta’s stories, and the fact that Tromsø lies within the Northern Lights Oval made me decide that Tromsø was the place to go.
One of the places in Tromsø that I was keen to visit was the Tromsø War Museum (Tromsø Forsvarsmuseum) where the cannons of a Nazi coastal artillery battery and a restored command bunker lie.
According to the Lonely Planet, “the Tromsø War Museum also tells of the giant German battleship Tirpitz, sunk near the town on 12 November 1944, and the Nazi army’s retreat from Leningrad, when many of its 120,000 troops were evacuated by ship from Tromsø.”
The Tromsø War Museum is open on Sundays in May and September, and every day except Mondays and Tuesdays from June through August.
But on the three days that we were to visit Tromsø, the Museum was closed. Unwilling to give up on my chance to see it, I wrote to the Tromsø tourism board and they gave me the contact of the museum’s caretaker, Leif.
So I emailed Leif and asked him if I could visit the museum as I wanted to write about it. He offered to give me a private tour. Unfortunately, when I emailed him before we left, I didn’t hear back from him, so we had to skip our tour of the Tromsø War Museum.
Our Tromsø Hotel, The Clarion Collection Hotel With
It was a long, tiring journey from Pune, India, to Tromsø in Norway, in early September 2018. When we touched down in Oslo, the temperature was in the high 20s and we wondered where the Arctic chill had gone.
We reached Tromsø on a rainy evening, jet-lagged and exhausted, and checked into our charming Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With, which was right on the waterfront.
The weather was a bracing 8 to 12 degrees C, so despite our exhaustion, we decided to explore the waterfront and get our bearings in this new country.
Thanks to the lovely weather, we managed to spend a lot of time outdoors, watching the boats come in and seagulls beg for scraps in the Storgata square.
The Clarion Collection Hotel With was a fantastic choice for us. It was slightly more expensive than some of the other hotels I had considered, but it more than made up for it in terms of location and food.
The best part was that we spent absolutely nothing on our meals. Norway is an expensive place, and if we’d had to pay for our meals, it would have cost us a pretty penny.
However, at the Clarion Collection Hotel With, not only was breakfast covered, but there were free waffles in the afternoon and coffee available anytime.
To our delight – and this is the best part – we found that dinner was also on the house and it was always a delicious buffet with a fish or chicken main course. I felt like we’d died and gone to heaven!
In the afternoons, we had to make our own waffles in the waffle iron, but the hotel provided the dough and toppings.
While we were waiting for the waffle iron to heat up, an American lady came up and stood by me. She asked me if I knew how to make waffles.
Only half-joking, I said I watch MasterChef. She found that quite funny and proceeded to tell us how they saw the Northern Lights a lot in Alaska, where she lived.
Arun and I enjoyed the three autumn nights we spent at our beautiful and comfortable hotel on the waterfront.
The staff was pleasant and friendly and the hotel was very close to the Storgata (the main street) and within easy access of everything you could possibly need.
“Ahoy Matey,” I called out as I took the steering on The Golden Eagle, the yacht we boarded in central Tromsø, just a short walk from our Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With.
I would have added a more piratey “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,” if I wasn’t so busy watching the horizon, hoping I wouldn’t ram us into another boat. Luckily for us all, my stint as skipper was brief and I was relieved when Tobias took the wheel again.
We were on our fjord sailing excursion from Tromsø, and I was enjoying the splendid view and the breeze hitting my face as I kept warm in my thermo suit.
When I was planning our trip to Norway, researching what to do in and around Tromsø in September, I realised that it was the perfect time for a Norwegian fjord sailing excursion.
The weather was great (between 8 and 16 degrees C), the days are not too short, and the fall colours are lovely. Sailing the fjords of Norway was one of the Tromsø excursions on my bucket list, so it was a no-brainer.
I booked our fjord excursion in Tromsø with a tour operator called Pukka Travels, that sails in the fjords 364 days a year.
After a quick breakfast at 8 am, we met the three crew members, Tobias, Nick and Jonas (I kid you not!), near their lovely little yacht parked in the Tromsø harbour alongside the Scandic Ishavshotel.
Luckily for us, early September is the lean season in Norway, so we were the only people on the excursion and got their full attention.
Tobias gave us a rundown of all the safety measures to be followed and what to do in the unlikely event that the boat sank. He offered us the thermo suits because the wind chill was brutal, despite the pleasant weather. I gladly took one.
As we set sail along the harbour, Jonas told us about the mountain peaks up ahead and about the stone-age settlements that were found there.
They also pointed out some prehistoric stone carvings on the distant shore as we sailed through the fjord.
Tobias informed us that we needed to catch some fish so they could make fish soup for lunch, or else we’d have to settle for a vegetarian soup. I don’t like to fish, but Arun was game, so Tobias gave him a quick lesson with the fishing rod.
Arun managed to get a couple of nibbles, but they got away.
Tobias caught a little fish which he let go since they’re not supposed to catch small fry. He finally managed to snag a decent-sized one for our lunch and proceeded to gut it in a bucket.
While the crew cooked our meal, Arun and I sat at the bow of our fjord sailing boat, taking photos and enjoying the journey.
Soon our lunch was ready, and the crew called us down into the dining room where they served us a piping hot fish soup, accompanied with some bread.
The fish soup was delicious and very filling, and we downed it with the bread pretty quickly. After the soup, they offered us a choice of a number of teas or coffee.
We chose the coffee and sat around the table exchanging travel stories and enjoying a few laughs. Nick happened to be an expat from Australia who moved to Norway with his wife, so we found his experiences quite unique and interesting.
Our Tromsø fjord excursion lasted around 3 hours and, although we didn’t spot any wildlife (it was too early in the year for whale-watching), we had a very enjoyable time, thanks to the amiable and funny crew of The Golden Eagle.
“How do you sleep during the Midnight Sun?” I asked GuideGunnar.
“I close my eyes,” he said, tongue-in-cheek, eliciting a laugh from us as we waited for the Northern Lights to appear at Rekvikeidet, a chilly, open plateau near Tromvik.
Arun and I shivered in the icy winds, looking to the heavens for a glimpse of the elusive Lady Aurora until I decided to stop torturing myself and put on one of the thermo suits that GuideGunnar had offered us. Arun took one too, and we both felt much more comfortable.
It was after 10 pm on the 5th of September 2018, and the long days and short nights of autumn meant we had to leave an hour later than usual on our Tromsø Aurora chase.
The Northern Lights Tromsø tour left from Guides Central, which turned out to be just behind our Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With.
We were expected to report at 7.45 pm, so we left just a few minutes before that and climbed up the stairs of the two-storey building to where GuideGunnar was waiting.
He welcomed us and told us that one other couple would be accompanying us, so there’d be just four of us tourists on his small Northern Lights group tour from Tromsø.
The young Chinese couple who came in turned out to be from Hong Kong. They didn’t speak much, except to giggle and whisper to each other during the tour.
I was very curious to learn more, so I paid close attention when GuideGunnar told us what to expect on our Northern Lights Tromsø bus tour.
He explained that depending on the weather and if the clouds came in, we may have to drive for hours, and even cross the border into Finland, if necessary.
He also told us a bit about the history of Tromsø, which played a big role in World War II (more on that in another blog) and was generous in sharing his in-depth, local knowledge.
We told him about our upcoming trip to Lyngen North, and he said he knew Ola, and that his grandfather would probably be able to tell us more about the war since the Germans had built the Spåkenes kystfort in the area.
Because it was still early and quite bright, Gunnar took us first to a spot where some wild reindeer had been spotted, and we could see them grazing from afar.
When I asked him which supermarket was the best place to pick up provisions, he recommended the Eide Handel in Eidkjosen, where you can get the best quality produce. He even took a detour to Eidkjosen so we could pick up some stuff.
Since we didn’t want to be lugging big bags around on our Northern Lights chase from Tromsø, we didn’t pick up any provisions. Instead, Arun picked up some premium tobacco called Snus. Gunnar found this very funny, considering that the supermarket had some of the best produce available.
Our next stop was a scenic spot called Henrikvika by Kaldfjord, where we stopped to take photos of the beautiful bay at twilight.
After that, we made a stop at the fishing village of Ersfjordbotn, and enjoyed the sunset while Gunnar chatted with a fisherman.
Next, we drove to the top of a hill at Grøtfjord, where we waited by the side of the road wearing the luminous, reflective wristbands that Gunnar had given us for night safety.
We spent quite a while here, watching for the Aurora borealis and enjoying the fabulous view of the bay and the long sunset until Gunnar decided that it wasn’t happening and decided to take us to another location.
This involved a drive on some roads that seemed a bit unfinished, to an open and windy plateau where we would have the best chance of spotting the lights.
Here, GuideGunnar provided us with tripods, helped us set up the cameras and gave us an impromptu lesson in Northern Lights photography. He set the camera to manual, increased the exposure time and set the ISO to 800, telling us to change it as needed.
Since I had no experience with night photography, his guidance proved invaluable as darkness fell and the first wispy threads of the Aurora made their appearance on the horizon.
The Aurora borealis, when it is weak (GuideGunnar rated that night’s Aurora activity as 2/10) looks like translucent clouds with little to no colour to the naked eye. It’s only when photographed through the DSLR that the greens and purples appear.
Once I got comfortable with adjusting the camera settings to capture more light, I got much better photos.
I even tried my hand at some Milky Way photography when the Aurora took a break. It didn’t turn out too bad, even if I say so myself. 🙂
GuideGunnar set up a campfire for us and served us a delicious snack called Skattøra Lefse – Arctic Norway’s traditional and locally made pastry with cream and sweet goat cheese.
Since I’d taken a liking to the Norwegian brown cheese or Brunost, I enjoyed it thoroughly. He also served some hot blackcurrant jus, which was very welcome on that chilly night.
As we sat around the campfire in our thermo suits, Arun and I lay back in the grass and watched satellites drift slowly across the sky. With no light pollution, we could see them clearly. It was a rare sight for city folks like us.
Gunnar decided that we should wait till 1 am to see if the lights returned. Arun and I were still jet-lagged and exhausted by this time, and we had a Fjord sailing excursion planned the next morning, so we rested in the bus till it was time to go back.
According to GuideGunnar’s Aurora blog, we covered 120 kilometres and spent 6.5 hours on our Northern Lights chase from Tromsø. It was our first excursion in Norway and a very enjoyable one.
GuideGunnar was the perfect tour guide and his photography tips served me well when we stayed at Lyngen North. He also happens to be a local TV star of the Chasing the Northern lights TV series.
Tips for your Northern Lights Chase in Tromsø with GuideGunnar:
The best time to see the Northern Lights is from early September to early April. North of the Arctic Circle, the sun does not rise above the horizon during the middle of winter (from around mid-November to mid-January). This is called the Polar Night.
The Northern Lights are visible when darkness falls so you can see them from mid-August. The tour guides begin their Aurora chases from the beginning of September. However, when I tried to book an Aurora chase for my dates (5th and 6th September), GuideGunnar was one of the few tour operators in Tromsø willing to take small groups on a tour before the 15th. That’s dedication!
You can download the My Aurora Forecast app to see how likely you are to see the Aurora borealis and find out about solar wind activity (which is what causes the Northern Lights). However, no one can guarantee that you’ll see them. It takes a combination of good weather and solar wind activity to have a good chance of seeing them. Oh, and a good Aurora guide and a healthy dose of luck, too!
The Northern Lights are most likely to shine often and strongest between 8 pm and 2 am, but it’s also possible to see them before and after this period.
The nights can get pretty cold, even in early September, and when you’re chasing the Northern Lights outside Tromsø, the wind chill can get quite uncomfortable. Wear 2 to 3 layers of clothing when you go on a chase and if you’re freezing, don’t try to be brave and ride it out. Put on a thermo suit and stay warm, even if it looks a bit ridiculous.
GuideGunnar will show you a movie or two about the Northern Lights while he’s driving you in his bus. Soak it all in, including the fascinating science behind them and the strange beliefs and superstitions that people had about the lights in days gone by.
For Northern Lights photography, you’ll need a DSLR or mirrorless camera. A mobile phone won’t cut it, no matter how good it is, as you need long exposures (some of mine were 30 seconds long). Guide Gunnar will provide the tripod so you don’t need to carry one. Follow his guidance on taking Aurora photos as he’s an expert on it.
The Northern lights danced above our heads, cascading across the clear autumn sky in an explosion of green and purple.
As they raced in an arc across the heavens, the lights waxed and waned, and I gave up trying to use a tripod in my effort to catch something of them before they completely vanished.
The amazing performance lasted about 30 minutes before it faded to a few lights glimmering on the horizon. It was our third and last night at Lyngen North and the most spectacular one by far.
We had journeyed to Norway from India in early September 2018 – a bit too early to see the Northern Lights, some would say – and we’d travelled around 200 kilometres north from Tromsø to enjoy the Aurora borealis from the unique vantage point of a glass igloo.
Ola Berg, whose family has lived for three generations at Lyngen North, picked us up from Tromsø in his Tesla Model X, and drove us to Spåkenesveien in Rotsund, where he settled us into our glass igloo at the shore of the Lyngenfjord.
Contrary to my expectations (early September isn’t the optimum season for Northern Lights), we saw the lights on 4 out of our 6 nights in Norway, despite the long days and short nights of autumn.
On our first night at Lyngen North, the sky was clear and we saw them dance above our heads from our little wooden bench on the shore of the Lyngen fjord.
We were thrilled when we saw a shooting star streak past the lights and I managed to catch it on camera.
The second morning, we awoke to a thick fog that enveloped our glass igloo in its wet embrace, leaving droplets of condensation inside my camera lens and concealing the peaks of the Lyngen Alps across the fjord.
The Northern Lights still shone from behind the fog that night, giving it a spooky and eerie glow that would not look out of place in a Stephen King movie.
On the third morning, too, we woke to a thin fog that dispersed quickly as the day progressed, but not without leaving us a magical fogbow that left us marvelling at Mother Nature’s generosity.
Sometimes called a white rainbow, a fogbow is similar to a rainbow. However, as its name suggests, it appears as a bow in fog rather than rain.
Because of the very small size of water droplets that cause fog, the fogbow has only very weak colours, with a red outer edge and bluish inner edge.
The Glass Igloo Experience at Lyngen North
A year back, when I was planning my bucket-list trip to see the Northern Lights, I decided to go via Tromsø (for reasons I explain here).
I’d read about something similar at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland, but the glass igloos there cost three times as much as the ones at Lyngen North. At both resorts, they tend to get sold out pretty quickly.
The glass igloos at Lyngen North are self-contained studio apartments outfitted with a kitchen with stovetop, refrigerator and electric kettle.
They also have heated floors, private bathrooms with tinted glasses for privacy, free high-speed WiFi and private parking. The bed is ultra comfortable and has a slightly oversized mattress.
As of now, the property doesn‘t feature a restaurant, but the owners were in the process of laying down the foundations for one when we were there, and Ola hopes to have it running by December 2018.
The kitchen cabinets have crockery, cutlery, coffee cups, wine glasses, salt, pepper, sugar and a few spices. But, for now, you have to carry provisions and cook your own food. Ola stopped at a REMA 1000 supermarket on the way to let us pick up groceries.
Since I don’t have much faith in my cooking skills, we mostly picked up canned food, and stuff we could use to rustle up a quick meal.
If you stay in the glass igloos in the summer (for the Midnight Sun experience) you might have trouble sleeping at night because of sunlight streaming in from the top.
We went in early autumn and the short night (most of which we spent staying up to watch the lights) made it difficult to get a sound sleep since the sun rose pretty early.
The glass igloos also act as greenhouses, trapping heat inside, which makes the afternoons quite warm. Since igloos are, for the most part, designed to keep the wind out, very little wind enters the room even if you keep the door open, which we did most of the day.
But there’s an air-conditioner to keep you cool during the warm afternoons and who wants to spend all day inside anyway, when you can sit by the shore and enjoy the breeze and the spectacular views of the Lyngenfjord and the Lyngen Alps.
Since the temperature was a very bracing 10-12 degrees C in the day, we were quite comfortable sitting outside. The nights, however, got much colder and I needed 3 layers to stay warm when I was out watching the Northern Lights.
The property also features a hot bath under the stars that you can climb into when it gets too cold. We chose not to use it because of the potential for chlorine allergies.
Activities at Lyngen North
Lyngen North is located in a remote peninsula of Norway. If you’re lucky, you may get to see moose or elk, foxes and rabbits in the nearby woods and fields.
Birdwatchers will find quite a few species to spot, from noisy seagulls squawking in the distance to ducks and many more species of birds that we couldn’t identify.
Depending on the time of year you visit, there are quite a few outdoor adventure activities you can enjoy, including snowshoeing, skiing, fishing, and visiting the Reisa national park nearby.
The owners offer boats on hire to go boating and fishing on the fjord. Not being well-versed in the art of boating, we chose to opt out of these activities.
Instead, being the history buff I am, I wanted to visit the ruins of an old German fort near the property. The Spåkenes kystfort (Spåkenes coastal fort) is a ruined coastal fortress built by the Germans during World War II, and it has quite a fascinating history.
The path to the Spåkenes kystfort on the Storbakken hill
The fort is on the Storbakken hill, the highest point of Spåkenes and consists of four bunker complexes, each of which included a gun, ammunition bunker, trench, and infantry bunker.
The work to build the bunkers began in 1941. After the Germans left, one of the bunkers suffered extensive damage in an explosion.
Unfortunately, the Storbakken hill was rather steep for me and I couldn’t climb it thanks to an old injury, so we weren’t able to see the fort with our own eyes. Arun, being half-German, was not impressed with German fort ruins and didn’t care to climb and explore it on his own.
However, the view from the coastal road leading from Lyngen North to the fort and beyond was so amazing, we took a long walk along it, admiring the homes along the cliffs and imagining what it would be like to live in one of them.
If you’re a Liverpool fan, you’ll find a kindred soul in one of Ola’s neighbours who seems to be quite vocal about his devotion to the football team.
If you don’t want to drive or can’t drive yourself to Lyngen North (we didn’t) contact Ola directly and ask if he can pick you up. Of course, you must pay for the pickup and drop, but Ola’s a very thoughtful and accommodating young man and he’ll do what he can to help you. As a bonus, you get to ride in his Tesla. 🙂
If like us, you don’t speak or understand Norwegian, you might find it hard to read the labels on groceries in the supermarket, as some of them are not translated into English. Ask for help from the person at the counter. When we couldn’t locate the butter, we asked the lady at the checkout counter and she helped us find it. Norwegians speak English so communicating is not a problem at all.
The sale of alcohol is restricted in Norway and it’s only available in certain stores. Ask a local for help to find a store that sells it. Ola took us via the AMFI Pyramiden on the mainland side of Tromsø city where we bought some wine and a bottle of Jagermeister.
To identify the mountain peaks in the Lyngen Alps and some on the way, Arun used the PeakLens app on Google Play. It helps you precisely identify mountain peaks and hills in real-time and works online and offline with pre-downloaded maps.
To know how likely you are to see the Northern Lights, you can download the My Aurora Forecast app. It tells you exactly how likely you are to see the Aurora borealis and offers information about solar wind activity and high-resolution sun imagery. However, your chance of seeing the lights depends largely on a combination of solar activity, good weather, and a healthy helping of luck.
If you want to stay in the glass igloo at Lyngen North, you’ll have to book months in advance, as they have only two and they tend to sell out very quickly. Contact Ola if you’re not sure about availability.
Finally, do spend at least 2 to 3 nights (if not more) at Lyngen North. No photos can capture the magnificent views of the fjord and Lyngen Alps, and Lyngen North is truly one of the best places to stay in Norway to see the Northern Lights.
As the Official Country Winner in the Luxury Wedding Destination category at the 2016 World Luxury Hotel Awards, the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa seemed like the perfect place to organize a conference of wedding planners in Goa.
The conference was from the 13th to the 14th of August, 2018, and I had arrived a day early to relax and prepare for my talk, which was on the 2nd day.
After checking in, another speaker and I were transported by buggy to our respective rooms. The Indo-Portuguese style room and suites are a distinctive feature of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa hotel.
At first sight, my room looked like any other 5-star hotel room. But when I explored it further, I saw that it had a large verandah (balcony) with a view of the lagoon that runs through the property.
My room was part of the Indo-Portuguese style villas, called Pousadas, that are divided into five landscaped courtyards, each distinctive in theme, architecture and landscape.
The Pousadas are predominantly single-storied and have spacious balconies with stunning views that overlook the sea, lagoons or tropical spaces, perfecting the concept of ‘verandah living’ that is innate to the people of Goa.
The furniture in the rooms was styled like antique Indo-Portuguese furniture, which I love. It is locally sourced with design features from the early 1900s.
The other feature I loved in my room was the lavish bathroom with a sunken shower. I love beautiful bathrooms and this one looked and smelled wonderful.
I had mixed feelings about the fact that it led to an outdoor shower room with a pebble floor and vegetation, that opened out to the sky, and the only thing separating my bathroom from that room was a pane of clear glass.
Imagining that a peeping Tom could look into my bathroom made me cringe, so I called up the resort host, who assured me that there was “absolutely” no cause for worry.
The walls enclosing the outdoor shower were designed so no one could look inside, she said, so it was “absolutely private and confidential.” She said “absolutely” quite a few times. Although it didn’t mitigate my discomfort, I said, “Screw it, let’s do it,” Richard Branson-style.
Once I decided to take a bath, I found I didn’t really care after all. I was more focused on enjoying the bath products from Forest Essentials. From the shampoo, conditioner and shower-gel, to the delightfully lemon-scented hand soap, all the products felt luxurious and smelled divine. Even better that they’re cruelty-free.
After my nice hot bath, I felt relaxed and squeaky clean. I polished off the welcome platter, with delicious Goan sweets, like bebinca. Even the logo had an edible bottom, Willy Wonka-style. Nice touch!
For dinner, I ordered a plate of saffron arancini from the 24/7 room service and prepared to spend my evening curled up watching a movie and resting in preparation for the next day.
I also got my blazer and trousers pressed by the laundry service, which returned them promptly in an hour.
The next morning, I called for a sunny side up with sausages and potatoes. It was delivered in a steel tiffin, which I thought was wise since it’s both environmentally-friendly and keeps the food warm.
However, the breakfast itself turned out to be something of a disaster, because the kitchen had forgotten to send salt and pepper, and didn’t tell me that toast was not included as part of the order.
In the time it took the delivery boy to go fetch the salt and pepper, the eggs were cold as ice and practically inedible. I shoved them down anyway, in my hurry to get to the conference on time.
Later, when I told a sales representative from the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa about my disastrous breakfast, she notified her higher-ups, who apologized and sent a bottle of red wine to my room, to make up for the gaffe.
I called a buggy to take me to the Pyramid Ballroom since there was no way I was going to find my way around the enormous property by myself. I was all ready for the talks, engagement and networking activities and the day went off well.
The conference was very well-organised and went off without a hitch. The food at the networking luncheons was excellent and the speakers included some actual celebrities like Devika Narain, the wedding designer for Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma’s hush-hush wedding in Italy.
In the evening, we were invited for dinner and cocktails at another ballroom (whose name I can’t remember). A new friend of mine, Boi, and I navigated our way over the vast and gorgeous swimming pools to the dining area.
The resort grounds and architecture are a treat for the eyes. Designed by famed resort architect, Simeon Halstead from Spain, and landscape designer, Peter Imrik of Napa, California, it has the cheerful and relaxed atmosphere of a small Indo-Portuguese village.
Spread over 45 acres, the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa property is like a picturesque township, full of green courtyards and gardens, linked by Venetian-style canals and waterways, tiny bridges and cobbled streets.
Once Boi and I managed to find our way to the dining area, we were greeted by a lively bar area and a delightful singer who kept us enthralled with songs from the 80s and 90s.
I contented myself with a couple of Pina Coladas and enjoyed getting to know my fellow-attendees. The dinner was a multi-cuisine spread that had so much choice, I was confused at which way to go – Goan or Asian or Italian?
I finally settled for the seafood ravioli followed by Crêpes Suzette for dessert. Both were delicious. Although many of the conference attendees stayed on to party till 1 a.m. or later, I called it an early night since my talk was the first presentation on the agenda the next morning.
I retired to my room and slept early. The next morning I rushed off to the Pyramid Ballroom at 8.30 am, without a chance to eat breakfast because I wanted to run through my Powerpoint and make sure that the animations were working.
As it was my last day at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa and I would be in the conference all day, I also packed my bags and took them with me.
My talk went off well. It was well-received and I got some great feedback from the attendees.
Since I had to check out that day, I’d booked myself into another hotel for the night – a budget hotel in Nuvem called the Indismart Woodbourne Resort. It turned out that Boi was staying there too, so we decided to leave together after the conference and split the cost of the cab fare.
In the hurry for us to get to the hotel, where her father was waiting for her, I forgot to check out of the Park Hyatt. Luckily they sent me an email with my room service and laundry charges, which I paid online.
My stay at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa did not lack comfort. However, one of the things I would change was the wasteful use of plastic bottles in the rooms and conference areas. These could easily be replaced by jugs with glasses.
To their credit, they do use glass bottles at their all-day Village Café restaurant, but it would be great if they extended this eco-friendly practice to the entire hotel.
Sustainable Practices by the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa
On request, the staff outlined for me, the sustainable practices followed at the resort. Their corporate social responsibility program is called Hyatt Thrive, which includes energy-saving and water consumption reduction initiatives, engagement in community causes, and environmental clean-up drives.
In addition, the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa operates a series of initiatives under the Hyatt Thrive program that are geared for the betterment and livelihood of the local community and benefit the environment in the Cansaulim area.
These activities include an Apprenticeship Programme, organic farming programme, sustaining and promoting a local small-scale art industry, enriching the lives of village youth through sports and festive celebrations and other community activities.
Some of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa’s ‘Green Initiatives’ include:
Renewable sources of energy
Renewable sources of energy through windmills and solar panels that generate power used for the external illumination of the hotel.
Water conservation measures
The hotel implements rainwater harvesting measures. All the lagoons in the hotel are waterproofed to save water. Water circulation is kept off for five hours. Water in the sewage treatment plant is recycled and used for irrigation of landscaping.
Drip irrigation methods help reduce water consumption. Hedges are mulched with coir dust and grass clippings to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients, and suppress weed growth and seed germination.
Recycling of biodegradable waste
The hotel has a wet garbage plant that processes about 500 kg of wet garbage per day, and a vermicompost system that uses earthworms to convert pre-composted grass clippings to organic manure, which is then used for landscaping.
Air pollution control
A scrubber plant removes and neutralizes particles like dust and gases from exhaust streams.
Organic Chefs’ Garden
Their ‘Chefs Garden’ is an in-house, organic vegetable garden where fresh herbs and tropical fruits are grown and used by the kitchens at the resort.
An in-house spice farm grows cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper and other aromatic spices. Neem is a natural insecticide used for the plants.
Other green initiatives include the use of reusable cloth laundry bags and cane baskets in place of plastic, and energy-efficient light bulbs, instead of incandescent bulbs.
Types of Accommodation at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa, Cansaulim
The resort has two categories of accommodation, rooms and suites. The Suites include options like the:
Park Lagoon View Suite
Park Sea View Suite with Lap Pool
Park Sea View Suite
Rooms are available with a single bed or twin accommodation with a view of the lagoon, pool and ocean.
The busiest times of year for tourism in Goa are from October to February. The rest of the year is usually off-season – although over the last few years Goa is becoming a popular destination for MICE Events.
Activities at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa
The Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa also seems to be quite popular with Indian families, and I saw a bunch of them lounging about the lobby on my arrival. Not surprising, since it won the Most Child-Friendly Hotel award at the 2016 KidsStopPress.
Its Sereno Spa also won the #1 award for most luxurious Spa resort at the 2016 asiaSpa India Awards. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to check it out because my stay was too short and hectic.
Places to visit near the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa
Arossim beach is walking distance from the resort. Again, I was unable to visit the beach since my visit was for business and I had no time for anything else.
To see more stunning images from this property, check out the video below.