Saturday, 9 June 2018

Sri Lanka Cultural Sites

Sigiriya ©Solange Hando

This is the Lion Rock, the island's most iconic site where in the 5th century, patricide king Kasyapa built his palace on the very top to ensure his safety.

Climbing up there may be a challenge but the views are spectacular while on the way you can see ancient frescoes depicting the sensuous but beautiful ladies of the Court. 


Hindu Temple ©Solange Hando

Also known as Sita Amman, this is an important site near Nuwara, Eliya, welcoming Hindu pilgrims from across the island and India.

According to the Hindu epic, this is where the Goddess Sita held captive by a king prayed to be rescued by Rama. She is the regarded as the goddess of good fortune and all feminine virtues. 


Seated Buddha in Polonnaruwa ©Solange Hando

Polonnaruwa is the site of a medieval capital with extensive ruins, lots of walking but you could hire a bicycle. Vestiges include those of a palace, temple and shrines.

It's mostly stones and bricks but most impressive are the four Buddhas in different positions carved into a single rock surrounded by prayer flags.


Kandy ©Solange Hando

Capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom before the British take over, Kandy is considered the most sacred city on the island. The Temple of the Tooth holds a Buddha's relic, celebrated every summer with a highly colourful pageant.

The lake was created for royal pleasure with a special bath-house for the Queen (above). You can walk all the way round or enjoy a boat trip.


Anuradhapura ©Solange Hando

This is the oldest of the ancient capitals, once home to thousands of monks and 113 kings. Arts and culture flourished and temples and palace were stunning.

There are plenty of remains but most pilgrims gather around the branch of the original bo tree and the huge finely restored stupa (above) surrounded by a wall of life-sized elephant statues.


Mihintale ©Solange Hando

On a hilltop above frangipani and mango trees, Mihintale is another inspiring site as the birth place of Buddhism on the island, They say that in 247 BC the king on a deer hunt met an Indian Prince who converted him.

It's a steep way up to the panoramic site scattered with rocks and temples but a colourful Reclining Buddha invites you to meditate or just relax in a cool shaded place.














Saturday, 12 May 2018

Alsace Favourite Village, images of Kaysersberg

The river Weiss in Kaysersberg ©Solange Hando

Nestling among the vineyards of Alsace on the eastern slopes of the Vosges mountains, Kayserberg was voted favourite village of the French in 2017.

Population is under 3,000 but such a charming place is sure to attract visitors for much of the year.


Relaxing al fresco ©Solange Hando

Colourful half-timbered buildings, balconies and archways, flowers everywhere, you could just while away the time, dining on fresh asparagus and three kinds of ham, with a glass of local wine.



Welcome, says the gingerbread man ©Solange Hando

Gingerbread is special all around Alsace and particularly appreciated during the famous Christmas markets. Kaysersberg is said to have one of the best.

This was also the home of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1967), and you can visit his museum in the village.


  Medieval charm ©Solange Hando

You can't deny it, this lovely village has deserved its award, sprinkled with so many architectural gems, from the Renaissance townhall, to all things medieval, houses, fortified bridge of pink granite, Constantin fountain, upper gate tower or the remains of the castle up on the hill.


Kaysersberg ©Solange Hando

Best overall view of the village is from the road going up the hill (to the Bonhomme mountain pass). Trees have grown on the parking space but just walk down a few minutes and enjoy the view. Most people visit for a day but evenings are delightful, quieter and truly romantic. 



Cherry Blossom in Kaysersberg ©Solange Hando






Saturday, 21 April 2018

Sri Lanka, Heritance Tea Factory Hotel in Nuwara Eliya

Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, Nuwara Eliya ©Solange Hando

This unique Heritance Hotel has it all: quiet hill top above a traditional village, mist drifting around now and then and when it all clears, superb views across rolling hills and lush tea plantations.

It's 9 km from Nuwara Eliya, driving along a fertile valley then up winding country lanes unsuitable for coaches. Taxis and cars are alright and the hotel has its own minibuses. 


Welcome to the Tea Factory Hotel ©Solange Hando

Step through the door and you are back in 19th century Ceylon, amid the old girders and ironwork, rickety lift, coal fire and some of the machinery briefly set to work every evening to bring back the atmosphere of yesteryear.

Guest rooms are upstairs around the open galleries looking down on the atrium. Walk up the narrow steps or if you dare, try the old-fashioned lift.


Guest Room at Heritance Hotel, Nuwara Eliya ©Solange Hando


The hotel has 52 rooms, superior and premium, two junior suites and top of the range, the luxury flowerdew suite. Rooms are spacious, colourful and light with large windows and all the amenities you would expect, tea and coffee making facilities, bottled water, free WiFi.

The Tea Factory is an eco-friendly hotel and this is encouraged in every room. No restriction on guests'comfort but a sign in the bathroom lets you know that one minute under the shower uses nine litres of water.


Enjoy the Grounds ©Solange Hando

The Heritance Tea Factory has scenic grounds with a rose garden, lawns and a plantation where you can learn how to pick tea then have it manufactured especially for you on the spot.

Other activities include horse riding, mountain biking, bird watching and eco-trekking or you could head for the gym or the 'Misty Mountain Spa' for a massage or facial based on local organic herbs.

The concierge can arrange excursions and special events, such as a Hindu style wedding or an anniversary blessing in the local temple.


Heritance Tea Factory Restaurant ©Solange Hando

In the old sifting room, the Kenmare restaurant has kept its frame work and tea crates, brightened up by Sri Lankan Lion flags and colours. Guests can choose à la carte or buffet with sumptuous choices for both international and local food, such as banana blossom soup.Tasty food and friendly staff. 

Alternatively treat yourself to a special dinner in the old train carriage kept in the grounds. This came from a railway line opened in 1903 for the benefit of the planting community.


Tea Plantations around Heritance Tea Factory ©Solange Hando










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Saturday, 31 March 2018

Astoria Hotel in Stresa, Lake Maggiore

Hotel Astoria in Stresa, Lake Maggiore ©Solange Hando

This lovely 4-star hotel is only 100 metres from the old town in Stresa and just across the road from the pleasant lakeside promenade. It is close to bus stops in both directions.


Twin Room at the Astoria ©Solange Hando

The Astoria has 100 rooms, including seven junior suites. All rooms have balconies overlooking the garden at the back or if you wish to pay a little more the lake at the front. Free wifi and air conditioning in all rooms.


The Astoria Restaurant ©Solange Hando

This is a large restaurant overlooking the garden and lake with panoramic windows. Choose from à la carte or menu of the day which usually includes regional and international dishes. Superb buffet for breakfast.
There is a bar in the lounge area and in summer another by the pool.


Secluded Swimming Pool ©Solange Hando

There is a quiet heated pool at the back of the hotel with whirlpool and solarium. Facilities also include a panoramic roof garden, Turkish bath, fitness room, table tennis and games area.


Astoria's Lawn and Flowers ©Solange Hando

Looking right across to the lake, the front lawn of Astoria  is beautiful, close to the bar with cosy chairs inviting you to relax in the day or until late at night. Definitely a highlight.


Lake Maggiore in Stresa ©Solange Hando





Saturday, 17 March 2018

French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean

Dramatic Scenery from ULM on Reunion Island ©Solange Hando

Located between Mauritius and Madagascar, this island is just 63x45 km but claims such dramatic scenery that 40% is listed by Unesco as a world heritage site. This includes one active volcano and three great calderas inland where people live, even in the remote Mafate where the only access is by donkey or helicopter.



Saint-Gilles Marina in Reunion ©Solange Hando

Yet this rugged hinterland is surrounded by a fabulous coastline and the old fishing harbour of Saint-Gilles has now turned into a mini St Tropez. It is a popular place for watersports, snorkelling, diving, surfing, sailing and more, with whale watching a top attraction during the migrating season.

Eating venues serve excellent seafood and pastries close to the local market and the island's only five star hotel is a short drive away. Euro is the local currency since Reunion is a French department and as such part of the EU.



Cilaos Caldera ©Solange Hando


Inland from Saint-Gilles, the 'road of 400 bends' climbs up through stunning scenery to Cilaos, the most visited of the three calderas which also gives its name to the colourful settlement. This is a lovely mountain resort with a lake, thermal springs and a 'Rock of Wonders' with a bird's eye view of the town, surrounding peaks and ocean on the horizon.

The resort is famous for embroidery, lentils and fruity wine and it is included in the national park which claims 80 km of walking trails. This is also a base for climbing the highest peak, the Piton des Neiges at 3071 metres, which despite its name has hardly ever seen any snow.



Beach in Saint-Gilles ©Solange Hando

But after a climb or a long day trip to Cilaos, it is always nice to return to the beach, relax on powdery white sands or sit in the shade of feathery casuarinas. There are several sandy beaches, best loved the idyllic Hermitage Lagoon protected by a coral reef.

Some sections of the coast however are truly wild with lava rocks, blow holes and steep but verdant canyons coming right down to the ocean.


Furnace Peak ©Solange Hando

Meanwhile in the south-east corner of this hot spot island, the 'Piton de la Fournaise' erupts almost every year, and often more than once. There are no settlements nearby and it is constantly monitored, keeping everyone away in case of imminent danger.

When it is safe, you can walk around this spine-shilling moonscape or join a jeep safari across the old lava fields. Alternatively you can book a helicopter ride or enjoy a really close view, as above, from a a microlight.



Colourful Reunion ©Solange Hando






Saturday, 3 March 2018

Madagascar Lemur Island, Andasibe

Lemur in Andasibe ©Solange Hando

On the edge of Andasibe National Park, a three hour drive from the capital, this river island is a lovely sanctuary for rescued pet lemurs. Canoes paddle quietly around, just a few at a time, and visitors are guaranteed some of the closest sightings they will ever get.

Above is a black and white ruffed lemur, one of around 100 species of lemurs on the island, this one critically endangered. They are diurnal creatures with a loud call, feed mostly on fruit and enjoy the canopy in low to medium altitude rainforest.


 Iconic Ring-Tailed Lemur ©Solange Hando

These cute creatures are highly sociable and may well jump on your canoe to take a look at you. They live on their own island and love to sunbathe in patches of grass. They spend about a third of their time on the ground and will eat almost anything.

They use their tail for balance and, like other lemurs, will mark their territory with scent.They are very vocal and as in other species, adult females are the dominant characters.


Close Encounter ©Margaret Morris 

Landing is not allowed on the islands but some lemurs are at ease on the river bank. As former pets, they are used to humans and will happily jump on heads or shoulders. They are highly inquisitive and surprisingly gentle and soft.

The common brown lemur stretching on my arm has short dense fur, a black face and orangy eyes. It lives in different types of forests, is diurnal but is known to feed at night during the full moon.


Diademed Sifaka ©Solange Hando

Named after the white crown-like fur around the head, this beautiful lemur also belongs to an endangered species. It has long silky fur and eats 25 different kinds of plants a day to top up its energy.

It is also known as the Dancing Lemur as when on the ground, it moves sideways by hopping on its hind legs. Colourful and truly amazing.


Time for Fun ©Solange Hando

Isn't that wonderful? Now if you visit Lemur Island, do remember this is not a zoo but a sanctuary where these unique creatures are free to roam and feed in a perfectly natural way.

They do not like water so are unlikely to leave and fall prey once again to human predators. Staff ensure full protection while tourism helps to fund conservation.






Saturday, 3 February 2018

Mauritius Images Part 2

Port Louis, Views from the Shrine ©Solange Hando

 Port Louis, the capital, has great views from the citadel or, as above from the quiet hillside shrine of Marie Reine de la Paix, closer to the peaks.


Umbrella Street in Port Louis ©Solange Hando

This is at the heart of the city, a lively shopping district near the Caudan waterfront and craft and food market. Umbrellas are for colour and shade.


Pamplemousse Garden ©Solange Hando

Close to the capital, this superb botanical garden displays 650 varieties of plants, including rare specimens, giant waterlilies, baobabs and 85 species of palms.


Lunch in Eureka ©Solange Hando

In this multicultural island, food ranges from Creole to French, Chinese, Indian and more. Look out for restored colonial mansions turned into restaurants, like this one just outside Port Louis.


The Coast North of Port Louis ©Solange Hando

Mauritius is a romantic place with honeymoon and wedding resorts but if you want to tie the knot in this little Church of Our Lady on the north coast, expect a long waiting list.



Love Flowers? Enjoy ©Solange Hando