QWe are planning a trip to the Tail of the Dragon in September. What else is there to do in the western North Carolina/eastern Tennessee area?
AIf you're driving the 11-mile Tail of the Dragon, buckle up; you don't want to take a spill on any of the 318 white-knuckle curves. "It's just turn after turn after turn after turn. It's a place for road enthusiasts," says Nancy Johnson, who with her husband runs a Web site on the area (800-768-7129, www.tailofthedragon.com).
The two-lane Dragon (officially U.S. Route 129) starts in Graham County, N.C., ends near Chilhowee Lake in Tennessee, and is lined with dense forest. A map on the Johnsons' site points out such highlights as Fugitive Bridge, which has a view of Cheoah Dam, where "The Fugitive" was filmed; Beginner's End, where many newbies wreck in the first corner; Horns of the Dragon, where photographer Killboy snaps pictures of passersby and sells them on his Web site (www.killboy.com); and Tail of the Dragon Overlook, a spot for drivers to swap tales about "taming the dragon."
Many hot-doggers spend the entire day cruising the Dragon (it takes anywhere from nine minutes to a half-hour to complete, depending on type of wheels and speed), though it's still a commercial route, used by commuters and non-thrill-seekers. For a less harrowing ride, try the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Cherohala Skyway.
Nearby attractions include the Great Smoky Mountains, for hiking, horseback riding, fishing, etc.; the Nantahala River, for white-water rafting and kayaking; and the Cheoah River, which will have its first dam release in September, with nine miles of Class IV rapids. For dining and shopping, head to the Biltmore Estate (800-624-1575, www.biltmore.com), while arty Asheville is 90 miles east of the Dragon.
For lodging, Graham County (800-470-3790, www.grahamcountytravel.com) has various accommodations, including Fontana Village (800-849-2258, www.fontanavillage.com), which is in the Nantahala Forest on Fontana Lake and has an inn, campsites, a houseboat and cabins (nightly rates from $15 to $300).
Can you recommend a nice beach near Athens?
In Athens, a strip of golden beaches called the Apollo Coast stretches for miles along the Aegean. The beaches -- the best of which are in the southeast (in Glyfada) and northeast (near Marathon) -- are a mix of private and public, and some charge a fee to play in the sand. Most are accessible by bus or tram, and many offer additional activities like tennis and volleyball, as well as snack bars and restrooms. The beaches closest to the city are often cited as being littered and overcrowded.
For the cleanest strands, look for the blue banners that designate beaches as members of the European Blue Flag environmental program. Among the approved Athens area beaches are Astir Beach, at the Astir Palace hotel in Vouliagmeni, and Avlaki Municipal Beach in Markopoulo, about 18 miles from Athens. For a list of Blue Flag beaches: www.blueflag.org.
One of the most famous Greek beaches is at Cape Sounion, home to the Temple of Poseidon, god of the sea. A number of secret coves surround the area, but you will have to do some sleuthing to find them. And then there are the Greek Islands, which aren't too far from Athens. You can take a train or taxi to the ferry depot in Piraeus, then a ferry to the islands; Aegina, for one, is only a half-hour away by hydrofoil. Info: Greek National Tourism Organization, 212-421-5777, www.gnto.org.
We're planning a trip to Argentina, Chile and a couple of bordering countries. We want to fly into one country and leave from another. Do you know of a carrier that would allow us to do this?
Varig Brasil, a Star Alliance member, offers the Mercosur Airpass, which entitles travelers from outside South America to skip around Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. To qualify, you must fly to South America on Varig (you can also make arrangements with other carriers) and take the airline on at least one leg of your trip (seven-day minimum). No more than two stopovers per country are allowed (excluding point of origin and final destination). You can purchase up to eight coupons, four per country. Prices correspond to miles flown: 1,200-1,900 miles cost $225; 1,901-2,500, $285; and so on up to 7,200 miles and over, at $870. For example, flying the 3,259 miles from Rio to Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo to Montevideo costs $420, plus tax.
The airline also offers the Brazil Airpass for travel within that country; price is $399 for up to four coupons, plus $100 for additional ones. Info: 800-468-2744, http://portal.varig.com.br/us/varig/index_html.
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