Q My husband and I recently returned from Kauai. Is there a Caribbean island that can match Hawaii's Garden Island?
A With the Caribbean islands' tropical fauna, towering mountains, waterfalls and sunny attitude, it's easy to imagine that you are in Kauai -- without the grueling flight. "The majority of the destinations in the Caribbean are lush and green with beautiful flowers, mountains and more of a landscape similar to Kauai," says Richard S. Kahn, spokesman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. "Lesser-known destinations for this type of landscape are Dominica, Tobago, Grenada, St. Lucia and Antigua."
Dominica, the largest and most mountainous of the Windward Islands, is the self-titled "Nature Island of the Caribbean." It has orchid-filled rainforests, a 150-foot waterfall and Ti-Tou Gorge, a series of cool watery nooks tucked between high cliff walls. Other attractions include Champagne Bay, which fizzes like a large glass of warm bubbly, and the Rainforest Aerial Tram. And while you won't hear ukuleles and Don Ho, calypso and steel drums are just as dreamy. Flights to Dominica can take up to seven hours (there are no nonstops from D.C.); by comparison, air time to Kauai is about 12 hours. In addition, Dominica is only one hour ahead of Washington.
As for the other islands: Grenada is known as the "Isle of Spice," and one-ninth of its land is protected as parks, natural sanctuaries and wildlife preserves; Tobago has the oldest protected rainforest in the Western Hemisphere; and Antigua has 365 beaches. And with its volcanic crater, birds of paradise and fruit trees, St. Lucia is a dead ringer for a South Pacific isle.
For info: Caribbean Tourism Organization, 212-635-9530, www.doitcaribbean.com.
I am interested in touring the estates on the Hudson River. Can you provide info on where to stay within driving distance of the estates?
About 80 estates and other grand attractions blanket an 80-mile stretch of New York's Hudson Valley, and not all are "rich white-guy homes," says McKelden Smith, director of marketing of Historic Hudson Valley, a nonprofit that operates historic sites in the region. Indeed, Vanderbilt's neighbors include FDR's presidential library, Washington Irving's abode, and a working farm and grist mill. Unless you have weeks or can knock off multiple estates per day -- Smith says "three is a lot, but two and a nice lunch is a good day" -- you might want to concentrate on a select few.
To help winnow down the choices, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area's Web site (www.hudsonrivervalley.com) ranks the attractions by the "Absolutely Must See," for first-timers; "Highly Recommended," for return visitors; and "Special Interest," for those fascinated by such varied topics as decorative arts, great Americans, etc. You can also view the mansions by water: NY Waterway (800-53-FERRY, www.nywaterway.com) has cruises that depart from Manhattan and ply the Hudson, with ground transportation to historic houses. The 71/2-hour Kykuit Cruise, for example, visits the Rockefeller Estate and the Philipsburg Manor, and costs $64.
Picking a central location for your overnights depends upon the estates you plan to visit, but Smith recommends Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck (845-876-7077, http://beekmandelamaterinn.com; nightly rates from $140 for the main inn), America's oldest continuously operated hotel; the 1897 Castle on the Hudson in Tarrytown (800-616-4487, www.castleonthehudson.com; from $320); and Tarrytown House Estate (800-553-8118, www.tarrytownhouseestate.com; from $119), which overlooks the Hudson. For more info: Hudson Valley Tourism, 800-232-4782, www.travelhudsonvalley.com.
I am planning a trip to Paris over New Year's Eve. Will there be fireworks at the Eiffel Tower?
The Eiffel Tower fireworks start at midnight Dec. 31 and attracts mobs -- so go early to set up your blanket and noisemakers. The best viewing stations are the Trocadero esplanade and the Champ de Mars park, which is just over 500 yards from the steel construction. For a more distant yet equally dramatic view, head to Sacre Coeur, the highest point in Paris, or the Champs-Elysees, aka Party Boulevard, where the joyous crowds give a kiss-kiss and shout "Bonne annee" at midnight.
Info: Maison de la France, 514-288-1904, www.franceguide.com. For the Eiffel Tower: 011-33-1-44-1123-23, www.tour-eiffel.fr.
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