Friday, April 27, 2012

In Love in India!

Catch a little taste of unexpected romance in India. James Ruggia covers the country's vast array of experiences that are sure to ignite the senses and spirits of couples seeking culture, history and a little bit of scintillating love.

So far, international travelers have only scratched India’s surface, but that will be changing over the next decade as business travelers perform their traditional role of pioneering new areas for exploration by leisure travelers. Already many destinations unknown to many have improved their infrastructure, including Uttaranchal, Himachal, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim and the exotic “Seven Sister” states of northeast India.

As we all know, India is renowned for its ancient culture. The extent of cultural achievements is astounding – just consider the length of its list of World Heritage Sites: the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Humayun’s Tomb, Agra Fort, Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Sanchi’s Buddhist Monuments, the Khajuraho Temples, the Sun Temple at Konarak, Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Elephanta Caves, the Temples of Pattadakal, Hampi’s monument complex and the monuments of Mamallapuram.

The Natural Side
Nature-loving couples will relish India’s rich abundance of some 59 national parks, 372 sanctuaries and a multitude of wildlife species including 1,200 types of birds and 350 mammals as well as the iconic tiger. Remember the “Jungle Book?” You get the picture. There are 11 official tiger preserves in India and a growing number of luxury safari lodges…Be sure to include this unique experience into your India journey: Luxury hospitality in your own private cottage surrounded by hundreds acres of private jungle wilderness, yet with easy access to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 1,000-year-old temples.

Exploring the Villages
The heart and soul of India is in its villages. Sprouted throughout the country, here is where you’ll find traditional rural life. Seeking an immersive experience to get the authentic feel? Look no further. These villages allow one to discover the real culture, history and cuisine of India.

How to truly discover the authentic India?
Train travel is known to overcome many obstacles for that certain traveler who may be fearful of being overwhelmed by India. Several of India’s luxury leisure trains explore individual regions, and the Maharaja Express wanders the entire country.

Anyone who has travelled by train or plane through India, or who has been driven on Indian roads, will be amazed to learn that there is actually a way to travel through the country in total serenity and comfort. Yet it is in fact possible to cruise for some 1750 miles on the rivers and inland waterways of India, passing through great cities, alongside wildlife sanctuaries and historical monuments and into the heart of rural India.

Assam Bengal Navigation are pioneers in this exploration by offering unique luxury expedition cruises onboard two 24-passenger luxury riverboats proposing 2 distinct cruise experiences:

ASSAM CRUISES: Wildlife and wilderness are the main features of a cruise in Assam on the vast Brahmaputra river – the river bed is often 20 or 30 km across, an empty world of sand spits and water with marvellous bird life and the occasional Gangetic Dolphin. The cruises here also give access to a number of India’s National Parks, including Kaziranga, perhaps the finest of all, and Manas, a Project Tiger reserve on the Bhutan border.

Brahmaputra cruises feature visits and attractions such as wildlife viewing (both by jeep and on elephant back), village walks, visits to tea gardens, exploring country towns in cycle rickshaws, barbecues on deserted river islands, dance performances, and visits to craft workshops.

BENGAL CRUISES: The waterways of the old Bengal Presidency now lie in the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal, and in independent Bangladesh. Here in the north of the region the rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra meet head to head and then flow out to the sea through the world’s largest delta. Inland, however, on the rich agricultural land lie prosperous towns and villages, rich in history and culture. This is village India at its best, completely unknown to tourists. Cruises go north from Calcutta on the intimate River Hugli, and can be linked with our cruises on the Ganges proper from the Bangladesh border up to the historic city of Patna.

Ganges and Hugli cruises can be taken separately or together to offer a choice of durations from 4 to 15 nights. Ganges and Hugli cruises upstream from Kolkata are all about visits to villages, towns, temples and monuments in a little-known but fascinating and culturally rich part of India, on foot, by cycle rickshaw or minibus. The Sonepur Cattle Fair, on the banks of the Ganges in rural Bihar, is one of India’s great undiscovered spectacles, and we are able to anchor offshore to visit it in comfort. More

Catch more information on Assam Bengal Cruises here!
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Belgium’s River Towns: Undiscovered Gems

The river towns in Belgium don’t receive the credit they merit. At least that’s what Pierre-Yves Dalem, president of GET to Belgium thinks. And I couldn’t agree more. Not only are they attractive destinations, but they depict ingenuity at its finest. Maria Lisella, contributor to Jax Fax Magazine, uncovers these hidden gems like they deserve.

Namur and Dinant
Namur and Dinant are located on the banks of the Meuse and the Ourthe Rivers in the Wallonia region. The French-speaking “Walloon,” as it is sometimes called, takes about 55% of the territory of Belgium. Namur hosts a magnificent Citadel and is renowned for shopping and boat cruising along the river. Alternatively, Dinant also has its own fortified Citadel. Plus, the city was home to Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone.

Located 20 miles from Holland is the cultural city of Liège. Although the town initially began as a working-class mining place, it now has seven beautiful hills to keep it looking pastoral even in the face of its past. The city is home to the glorious The Curtius Palace, built for 17th century Liège gentleman Jean de Corte. The Grand Curtius museum holds extraordinary artifacts from prehistoric, Roman and Frankish medieval periods - coins, furniture, decorative art, glass and famous weaponry- the latter which made Curtius wealthy selling gunpowder to Spain. The city’s cathedral, St Paul's Collegiate Church, founded in the 10th century, features some of the most the most beautiful Gothic cloisters in Belgium. Discover its 16th-century and contemporary stained-glass windows, a baroque Christ in white marble, and brilliant 19th-century furniture.

The Sunday market in the town recruits hundreds of vendors, buyers and visitors who can’t get enough of the gigantic pans and old-fashioned kitchen appliances from the 50s. Walk to Le Bistrot d’en Face to savor the legendary Liège meatballs. Looking for fine gourmet? Take a visit to L’Epicerie, serving Italian and French cuisine.

A visit to Wallonia wouldn’t be the same without taking a leisure excursion to Durbuy. Back in the day, this tiny town was known for its thriving agriculture, but now a view around calls to mind a flourishing valley of resorts. However, once you take a good look behind the resorts – literally – you’ll discover charming, narrow streets with small, shops, restaurants and boutique hotels. Among the popular places to stay is Jean de Bohême, known for its exceptional staff service and out-of-this-world cuisine at its “Boheme” restaurant, and Le Sanglier des Ardennes.

Take a seat and soak up Belgium's river towns on a river cruise!
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Monday, April 2, 2012

Budapest: A destination of its own

If you think you’ve seen it all, think again. Budapest is dotted with interesting and unique attractions and activities that will keep the whole family longing for more. And that’s perfectly okay, since Budapest has so much to offer it will probably take someone weeks to cover half of it. Additionally, food enthusiasts will rejoice with city’s abundant restaurants and markets carrying traditional and modernly inventive Hungarian cuisine. Claudette Covey covers Hungary from top to bottom.

Interestingly so, the Danube River divides the city into “Buda” and “Pest.” On the west side lays Buda, the more residential side, filled with baroque, turn-of-the-century stately homes and buildings. This side also hosts the city’s Old Town with its Buda Castle District and its castle, a World Heritage Site, housing the Ludwig Museum, Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Other highlights include St. Matthias Church, once the coronation site of Hungarian kings, and the Gellert Hill and the Citadel, a military fortress perched atop the city.

Alternatively, Pest is considered the more commercial side, yet still brings the good charm like its counterpart. You’ll find world-class hotels, restaurants and vibrant nightspots. While visiting “Pest,” one must visit the majestic Parliament, a Budapest landmark, the renowned State Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the largest church in the city, and Heroes Square, one of the largest squares, which pays tribute to Budapest’s legendary heroes. For those who enjoy live shows, the Danube Palace Hotel hosts the Rajko Ensemble folkloric show, filled with lively dancing and music.

Dining is an experience of its own in Budapest. From trendy restaurants to colorful markets, one will find bountiful culinary options unique for the whole family to enjoy.
Restaurant 2 - Dishes at this establishment put a modern twist on traditional Hungarian cuisine. Here you will only find Hungarian wines, featuring some vintages that would be difficult to find elsewhere.
The Citadella Lounge - Outdoor area affording sweeping views of Pest. Everything from Hungarian sampler plates to traditional foods like pizzas.
Central Market Hall - the city’s largest indoor market, which is housed in a building more than 100 years old. Find Hungarian goose liver, paprika, Unicum (a bitter Hungarian spirit) and much, much more. Care to learn how to cook Hungarian cuisine? Visit Fakanal at the market, where participants will learn how to make traditional Hungarian goulash and pancakes under the supervision of a master chef.
New York Café - Travelers should come for the dessert and coffee located inside the opulent New York Palace Hotel.
Gundel – a legend in Budapest, serving up Hungarian eats for more than 100 years. Savor goose liver dishes and crème of pumpkin soup.
Peppers! - An eclectic menu featuring duck and meat specialties, seafood and pastas.

After dinner, one should take a visit to “ruin pubs,” which are found in abandoned buildings in the city’s Jewish quarter. You’ll encounter hipsters, artists, musicians and tourists. A must-see is the Szimpla kert, the city’s first ruin pub. Or if bar hopping isn’t your thing, try a riverboat cruise to experience Budapest at its finest. Acclaimed for its skyline, the city is a mesmeric vision at night. Witness the beautiful monuments of the city set to golden hews.

Experience Hungary's premier destination with a river cruise!
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