Cuba and the tropical paradise of Baracoa
A world away from the usual tourist itineraries, Cuba keeps a wonderful corner of untouched nature all to itself. After flying into Havana, head to the small colonial town of Baracoa, on the remote eastern edge of the island. This place is a jealously guarded secret and with good reason. To reach this paradise wilderness, you have to travel to Santiago de Cuba and then take the back-of-beyond road which hugs the coast and then zig-zags tortuously along the impressive sierra, a rugged chain of mountains.
As you get to know Baracoa, the first town in Cuba founded by the Spanish conquistadors, you get a strange feeling that time has stood still. Settle in at the Casa Colonial, where Nalvis and Efer greet you with a warm welcome and a glass of mango juice. From the terrace, you can look out over the town and its wind-battered wooden houses. Go down to the promenade running along the seafront and take in the fresh air. The owners of your guest house can recommend a guide who knows the region like the back of his hand. In his company, you will have a fantastic experience in this secluded corner of the world.
Time to put on your hiking boots! Just outside town is El Yunque, a forest-clad, table-top mountain shaped by millennia of erosion. As you climb your way up, you will cross a ford, watch a tocororo, the national bird, and unearth Taíno remains, the island's first inhabitants. When you get to the top, the view over Baracoa and the distant sea fills you with a deep sense of well-being. On your way back down, have a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the river to cool yourself down. The hike, of average difficulty, takes about half a day.
At some point during your stay in this luxuriant natural Eden, you have to explore the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. The footpaths through this eco-tourism El Dorado are fringed by the most diverse flora in the Caribbean. A boat trip then takes you through the mangroves. Keep your eyes open – manatees have made these waters home.
Calle José Martí 147
+53 5 2705938
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park
+53 24 461417
Glorious isolation in the Polynesian Eden of Maupiti
The soul of Polynesia permeates through this island which is a world away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Spared the excesses of mass tourism, Maupiti guarantees a tranquil break amidst scenery of captivating beauty. You will not find any resorts or luxury hotels there, just a few welcoming family-run guest houses.
Maupiti Résidence convinced you to book its Mango Tree Villa with the promise of a romantic stay in a green haven, strategically located up in the hills. From your full-width terrace, you take in the heavenly Terei'a Beach, lapped by a crystal-clear lagoon, with waves breaking over the coral reef in the distance. Feeling in seventh heaven, you go and take a dip in its glistening waters.
Intoxicated by this enchanting world, you then set off to explore the small picturesque island of Motu Auira. You come across some fishermen in their dug-out canoes and exchange a few words with them. Then you visit the Palais de la Mer, a quirky sort of place created by Polynesian singer Ak-hy Firuu, whose house made from coral and shells would not feel out of place on the seabed.
You decide to take a break for lunch at the Tarona restaurant, known for its tuna carpaccio with fresh herbs and lemon and its prawns in coconut-milk curry.
The must-do activity on Maupiti is swimming with Manta rays. To experience this emotional encounter, join one of the excursions in the lagoon organised by Sammy Maupiti Tours or the Maupity Diving Club. An unforgettable day is in store.
+689 40 67 82 61
+689 67 82 46
Sammy Maupiti Tours
+689 76 99 28
+689 67 80 30
Deep in the rainforests of French Guiana
This summer, you decide to experience the relaxing virtues of the tropical rainforest. In French Guiana, this lush-green paradise is completely different from the hostile world you read about in adventure novels. Quite the opposite – the undergrowth of this primary forest is easy to get about and reveals all of its magic to budding adventurers. Of the forest lodges on offer, all with a focus on eco-tourism, you settle on Wapa Lodge.
Your Amazonian retreat is hidden on the banks of a creek. You soon fall for the charm of this prettily decorated place and its Amerindian-style wooden huts. Some of them have beds, but you prefer the more authentic option of a hammock. Once you have found a suitable position, you will sleep peacefully under your mosquito net. Forget Wi-Fi and even electricity; in exchange, you get magical, candle-lit evenings. At first light, the screeching cries of the howler monkeys will shatter your slumber.
Prepare to unravel the mysteries of the primary forest by taking a walk with an expert guide. With your senses on full alert, you trek along marked trails amidst exuberant vegetation. The light streaming through the forest canopy allows you to watch the resident animal life. On the trunk of a tree with sprawling roots, you spot a colourful frog, on another a fascinating tarantula. Back at the lodge, canoes are available to continue your exploration along the river all on your own. For the time being, you make the most of the tranquil atmosphere that reigns over the place to sit and meditate.
+33 (0)6 94 28 18 28
Fabulous hiking in the Pyrenees
In the pure, azure-blue sky, you gaze transfixed at the mountain landscape in front of you. In the distance, the crests of the Pyrenees pierce the sky from the Pic du Midi de Bigorre Observatory to the emblematic Pic du Midi d'Ossau. Attracted by this range of mountains, you leave the historic city of Pau and head to the Ossau Valley, a protected area and hikers' paradise.
After a 40-minute drive, you arrive in Bielle, a typical picturesque village with houses dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. On the portal of the huge Saint-Vivien church, you will notice a bear and a cow, symbols of the Ossau Valley. Close by, you check in to Le Boila Laslie, a guest house with a somewhat original charm: you sleep in the classroom of a former girls' school! Awoken by the sound of bells, you enjoy a hearty breakfast of local cheeses and honey, gazing out at the peaks of the Pyrenees.
Build up your strength before taking on the surrounding hiking trails. Properly equipped with hiking boots and a walking stick, break yourself in gently at Arriu Mage. On this easy, two-hour circular route, you climb to the top of the village and then go through a wood of hazel trees and cross several streams. You succumb to the serenity of this little-visited area. On reaching the village of Bilhères, climb to Le Bénou plateau, surrounded by flocks of sheep and shepherds' huts. Let the purity of the panorama pervade your very being.
Back down in the valley, you deserve to savour a rack of roast Ossau lamb cooked by the chef at L'Ayguelade, Francis Lartigau. Through the window of his restaurant, you spot vultures circling over a cliff face.
Next day, set off again this time to the village of Aas for another, more ambitious walk, tackling Montagne Verte or Green Mountain. Four hours of sustained effort take you to pastures cut off from the rest of the world, where water springs gush down mountain slopes and gentle summits contrast sharply with the surrounding peaks.
10 rue de l'Église
+33 (0)6 27 91 18 56
10 quartier de l'Ayguelade
+33 (0)5 59 82 60 06
Madagascar – sun, sea and solidarity
Swap the lively hustle and bustle of Antananarivo, capital of Madagascar, for the peace and quiet of an area ignored by the crowds. Make Mahajanga, the largest town on the west coast, your first port of call. A forest of satrana palm trees plunges all the way down to the Mozambique Channel. Antsanitia soon comes into in sight. This far-flung spot exudes a peaceful, end-of-the-earth sort of atmosphere. Three modest villages are dotted around an unobtrusive ecolodge, the perfect base camp to explore the lands of the Sakalava people, a community of fishermen who are well known for their sense of hospitality.
Under the hotel's imposing structure of dried palms, dense vegetation entwines with the beauty of the setting. This seafront lodge sits on the River Morira estuary where flimsy outrigger boats glide into view. To the south, lapped by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, a pristine sandy beach is a treat for the eyes. Perfectly integrated into the environment, this tropical refuge lives harmoniously with the surrounding fishing hamlets; you are encouraged to go and meet the villagers, a stone's throw from the lodge. With a deep ethical commitment, the hotel aims to boost the local economy by encouraging curious travellers to connect with the locals. Today is market day and traders spread out their yams, coconut cake and mangos, sheltered from the sun.
On your next adventure, you take to the sea for a no-kill fishing trip which consists of catching and releasing live fish. Maybe you will enter into battle with a giant marlin! After a fruitful catch (and release), the Cirque Rouge comes into view from Amborovy Beach. Under the blazing sun, you enter into a kind of tropical cowboy setting, dotted with minuscule fairy chimneys. You have the whole place to yourself. On a beach worthy of Robinson Crusoe, a barbecue awaits. It is a delicious surprise – with a swim in its 28°C waters – the icing on the cake.
+261 20 62 911 00