last looks: languedoc

vineyard panoramaMy experience in the south of France has been one of daily discoveries and simple pleasures – one I won’t soon forget. But I won’t lie: I’m really looking forward to giving my liver a break. And I can’t tell you how much I’m craving a kale salad.


there’s a bright golden haze on the (sheep) meadow



panorama: maracas beach

maracas beach panorama

As always, double-click the image then click again for greater detail – this time for the best beach on which to beat that Carnival hangover.


upon a floating gypsy village we come

After leaving JBI we came upon Ko Payni, a floating gypsy village at the head of Phang-Nga Bay. Anachronistic as that sounds, it was nevertheless established by nomadic Malay fisherman near the end of the 18th century. (Check out the brief video clip or double-click the panoramic below to get a sense of the scale of the environs.) At that time Thai law limited land ownership solely to people of Thai origin, so the resourceful gypsies built a settlement on stilts, skirting the law on a technicality while giving themselves easy access to the fisherman’s life. As the community grew prosperous, it expanded and today the village is home to some 1,500 people, a mosque, and even a football pitch, all built on barnacle-covered poles over the sea. As I arrived late in the day, I had time for little more than a coffee and a quick poke around, but it left me wondering what the village must be like in the moonlight – and at bed time as the water laps beyond the gaps of the wooden slatted floors.

gypsy panorama

ko payni


a panoramic hangover

Not having seen either of the rowdy Hangover movies I had no idea that The Dome at lebua is considered a place of pilgrimage in certain circles – I’d just gone for dinner and the promise of one of the best views in Bangkok. Located on the 63rd floor of The Dome, Sirocco is one of the world’s highest al fresco restaurants and indeed, the panoramic view over the city’s middling skyline is as good as it gets. If you can the handle crowds and the relentless flash of camera-toting tourists the adjoining multi-hued Skybar - cantilevered out over the building - is something to see, even if only for the Bangkok bravado of the bartenders.


cabot links

I must take a minute to mention where it is I’ve been staying on Cape Breton Island: Cabot Links, Canada’s only authentic links course. And while regular readers of this site might be aware that my knowledge of and interest in golf ranks right up there with hockey, clad in cedar shingles the Lodge at Cabot Links is a beautifully modern riff on the maritime traditions of the area, with spectacular views of the beach, dunes and Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s luxurious in a low-key way; sensible - Canadian, you might say – with an attention to detail that doesn’t feel compelled to call attention to itself. The fantastic food I’ve been featuring over the last few posts has come from the in-house restaurant, Panorama, which manages to maintain a level of fine dining without feeling pretentious – an impressive achievement in a town with less than a thousand full-time residents. Were I a golfer I’d think I died and gone to heaven. It says something that even a philistine like myself can appreciate how the course – which only opened in June – looks not so much impressed upon the landscape but coaxed out of it, as though the terrain had been merely lying in wait for the right person to come along and scatter a few pins. When a planned second links course opens in 2014 you’ll be hearing a lot more about Cabot Links. And when the bunker spa opens I, too, will be back.


williamsburg panorama

Double click the image above for a closer look – and marvel at the amazing degree of detail to be found in the panorama mode of the new iPhone 5.


the stare on the square

Another revitalized area of Belfast’s city center city is Victoria Square, the site of a tasteful multi-story shopping mall. Parallel to the downtown shopping area it hasn’t so much supplanted Royal Avenue as the main drag as provided a high-end complement to the High Street. The structure is semi-enclosed, like a giant breezeway with levels of restaurants and movie theaters sandwiched between the retail raison d’etre. Crowned by a central geodesic dome the public spaces are flooded with the rarest of Irish commodities: natural light. That alone would be enough to warrant a round of applause yet the designers did something really clever with what could have easily been wasted negative space: utilizing the practical aesthetics of the dome toward a civic end. From the top-level of the shopping center the public can ascend a circular staircase to a sheltered viewing platform. And while Belfast doesn’t come close to having a skyline that warrants a Top of the Rock, the Stare on the Square – public monuments in Ireland requires a mellifluous moniker if you hadn’t heard; the sculpture at the entrance might officially be known as The Spirit of Belfast but to locals it will always be Onion Rings – is an ideal height for views out to the Harland & Wolf shipyards, where Titanic was built, and Napoleon’s Nose, the inspiration for Swift’s tales of Lilliput. Shopping, it seems, really can qualify as a cultural pursuit. Double-click the panoramic image at the bottom for greater detail.



more than meets the eye

For a hiking trip there’s been a suspicious lack of physical activity noted on this site over the past two weeks, wouldn’t you say? Time to fix that today with a straight climb up highest hill on Mull. All mountains have a certain magnetic attraction for those who enjoying a good harrumph, but Ben More has more than you’d suspect. At 3,172 feet, the peak is a true beauty because every inch of it is climbed from sea level and that’s a rarity. Plus, the views from the top are spectacular. Beneath the summit are the glens and table-lands carved by retreating glaciers some 10,000 years ago. Eastwards across the sea are the serried mainland mountains; to the north, the sawtooth peaks of Rum and Skye; southwards, the Paps of Jura; and if you look westward on a clear day, you can almost see as far as Ireland. Bound by lochs on either side – and Iona and Staffa seemingly close enough to touch – the panorama is superb. (Double click each image for a greater sense of scale.) Many hikers mistakenly assume Ben More is a volcano. It is not, despite the picturesque “smoking” that often appears near the summit. In fact, it is a much rarer phenomenon: a highly magnetic mountain. Extruded 55 million years ago, the iron-rich basalt is so strongly magnetic that chippings will jump on to a proffered magnet. More importantly, compass readings can’t be trusted, particularly at the summit, which has been struck by lightning and remagnetized so often that readings vary enormously even within a few feet. Another surprise is the lack of a well-marked trail, which led to more than a few heated discussions on the extended hike up – all of which evaporated into thin air once we had summited and, more to the point, returned back to ground level unscathed.



live blog: doonbeg panorama

To say The Lodge at Doonbeg is dramatically situated is a bit of an understatement. You’re going to want to click the image  – then click it again – to get the full effect of the Clare coastline.


not quite the peak

Perched on the Peak at almost 1,000 feet above sea level, the Peak Tower is one of Hong Kong’s  most recognizable architectural icons, featured on millions of postcards and key chains. While not exactly on par with the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building, it nevertheless makes an enduring statement – and stylish emblem -  of the British Empire’s belief in man’s dominance over nature. More than just a scenic viewing platform, the Peak Tower is the upper terminus of the Peak Tram, the first funicular in Asia and a late 19th century triumph of engineering. (Prior to the building of the tram most people were carried up and down via sedan chair.) And although the Peak isn’t technically even atop Victoria Peak but rather situated alongside it in Victoria Gap, that fact does nothing to diminish its building. Moreover, in a city that prides itself on developing ever taller and more spectacular vantage points, nothing quite compares to the Peak’s utterly old school outdoor panorama.



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