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ON TOP OF THE WORLD AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD IN PATAGONIA

[PATAGONIA, CHILE] — Going to Torres del Paine in Patagonia was always  one of my lifelong goals, well, at least for the last 25 years. Then, I finally bit the bullet and decided to go, paired with a visit to the Atacama Desert in the northern half of Chile — the driest place on the planet (you can see that part of the trip here). These are some of the best hikes in Torres del Paine. This is a summary of all the best hikes in Torres del Paine that I was able to take. Patagonia is a region that actually straddles both Chile and Argentina at the very tip of South America and I could never figure it out or decide which side to go to.

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EXPLORE THE DRIEST PLACE ON EARTH

[ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE] — The Atacama Desert. Good lord. Nestled in the upper right corner of Chile — one of the longest and skinniest countries in the world — is this freak of nature, the driest place on our planet.  It’s only a few hundred miles from the Pacific, but has some areas with no registered rainfall since they started measuring such things, over 400 years. It’s also the oldest desert on earth, been rainless for close to 3 million years. I love this line from Wikipedia “Studies by a group of British scientists have suggested that some river beds have been dry for 120,000 years.” Dry. It’s dry here. I’ve read about it, saw films about it, including this remarkable one, and was just totally consumed with

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A ROADTRIP THROUGH ARGENTINA’S SALTA PROVINCE AND THE NOTORIOUS RUTA 40

[SALTA, ARGENTINA] –You probably haven’t heard much about Salta, in the far northwest quadrant of Argentina and a roadtrip on its famed Ruta 40 highway, but word is starting to spread. This is one of the great roadtrips in the world. While everyone knows of Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Patagonia, it seems like Salta has just barely opened up. You take a two hour flight from Buenos Aires to the city of Salta which you can use as a base, driving around the region — there are a number of road tours you can take from there — driving north to Jujuy province and the salt flats of Bolivia or West into the mountains and high altitude altiplano, or South through the red canyons to the Salteño

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TOUR THE COLORED HILLS OF JUJUY PROVINCE IN NORTHWEST ARGENTINA

[JUJUY PROVINCE, ARGENTINA] — Northwestern Argentina is one of the most surprising and under-visited part of the country. Right on the Salta/Jujuy provincial borders are two must see stops: the muddy Andean town of Purmamarca and just around the corner, the incredible Paseo de los Colorado, a two mile amusement ride of colors that wrap around behind Purmamarca. Stop in for a lunch in town, dominated by the stratified colors of the Hill of the Seven Colors — you’ll see why they named it that. When I read about this place in the NYTimes, I knew I had to go there. You should, too. Here’s a great article in the Wall Street Journal about Salta.  When I read that article, I booked my trip to Northwest Argentina.

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HIKE AROUND THE EMERALD GREEN EIBSEE IN THE BAVARIAN ALPS

[GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, GERMANY] — I was posting photos from a hike in the Bavarian Alps and an Instagram follower I’ve never communicated with posted “You should go hike around lake Eibsee, the most beautiful lakes around.”  And so I did and he was right. Just outside the town of Garmisch in Bavaria is this most perfect mountain lake. The Eibsee, with Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze towering over it. You can walk around in the perfect Red Riding Hood like moss-bedecked trail that loops around it, take a dip or just sit and soak it all in. Then follow up with a brat, red cabbage and a beer at one of the lakeside restaurants.  There’ an easy, flat loop trail that leads from the nicely-run parking lot

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AN IDYLLIC RETREAT IN THE MOUNTAINS OF BAVARIA

[BAVARIAN ALPS, GERMANY] — On my last return trip from Verona to Munich, I remember flying over some killer mountains in Germany, just south of Munich. They were stupendous looking from the air as we headed in for final approach.  “Wow, wonder what those are called…” This year, I was headed back to the Italian Dolomites and realized that they were only a three hour drive from my Denver>Munich direct flight. I could save a day of travel, an extra flight and just drive directly there. Genius. But, passing through Bavaria, I thought I’d stop and see if I could find those mountains I saw before.  I did. Even better, I found this stunning hotel location. Schloss Elmau. I was researching cool places to stay

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THE PERFECT BASE TO EXPLORE PORTUGAL’S DOURO VALLEY

[DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL] — After a harrowing Google Maps-led hair-brained shortcut through curvy mountains roads (umm guess who was Navigator ), we arrived with our seasick passengers… ready for a drink. We drove through a gated entrance to a wine estate, wound up the road straight into the vines. A teeny sign on the right said “Reception ↘︎”. We slammed on the brakes. (Groans from the back) “That can’t be it…”. What we couldn’t see was the building built into the side of the cliff below us. Unlike Google Maps, we trusted this little sign. We fell out of the rental van, stumbled down the flinty steps and KABOOM. The view we were looking for. Just as Ana has prescribed. We walk into the Reception

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VISIT THE LEAST-VISITED U.S. NATIONAL PARK

[PORTAL, ARIZONA] —   Chiricahua National Monument is one of the least visited national parks in the United States. When I heard that fact I said “I am definitely in.” You can see why, tucked into this vast, barren southwestern corner of the US, you’re not “going through” here on the way to somewhere else, you came here for a reason. And so did we. This is the high desert down here, with elevations starting around 5,000 feet and going up to 7500 ft inside the park, so it’s a lot cooler than the surrounding flat desert. Refuel in Portal Arizona Portal is the gateway to the southern side of national monument, with its own funky lodge/grocery store/bar/restaurant right at the foot of the park’s

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STAY ON A PRIVATE RANCH IN THE NEW MEXICO DESERT

[RODEO, NEW MEXICO] — A coupla weekends ago, I went on a bird-watching road trip along the southern Arizona and New Mexico border with my best college buddies. Three were into birding, two of us were along for the beer. We flew into Tucson and headed straight south, stopping at popular birding spots along the way to Nogales and the Mexican border.  Then we dog-legged left and skirted the border the whole way until we crossed in New Mexico and the dusty town of Rodeo, with watchful Border Patrol hidden around every curve.  We stopped in Patagonia, Tombstone, Bixbee and finally crossed the border in New Mexico to stay at the Painted Pony Resort in the dusty town of Rodeo. This time of year, this part of southern

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TAKE A TOUR THROUGH THE TERRACED VINEYARDS OF PORTUGAL’S DOURO RIVER VALLEY

[DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL] — I see all these Instagram peeps hitting Porto taking pictures of the big bridge, climbing up its steep hills, drinking some port and then bolting. But really what they’re missing is a day trip (or longer) up the Douro River to visit the incredible, hilly stair-step vineyards of the Douro Valley, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. I dunno, I’m over wine tours, once you see a few, they’re all the same to me — “Is that French oak or American? How long in stainless??” — poke me in the eye with a stick…but that’s just me… But the Douro Valley is different. Hilly. Steep. Flinty mounds of luscious green heaven pouring down to a mellow meandering river. Each

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AN ADVENTURE HOTEL HIDDEN IN COLORADO’S CANYON LANDS

[GATEWAY, COLORADO]  — Once the private ranch of the founder of the Discovery Channel, he has slowly built this from a small, in-the-know conference center with a handful of rooms into a full-on resort, adding chunks of rooms and facilities each year until it is now one of the best resorts I’ve been to in the U.S. This is Colorado?? I thought it was all about mountains and skiing?  Yup. But then there’s here. Western Colorado is a blurred line into the canyony parts of Utah. An hour south of ridgy Grand Junction — Colorado’s Orchard slope, also known as The Western Slope — sits the teeny town of Gateway, nestled in high-hipped canyon ridges that make 80’s Meg Ryan mom jeans look low-cut. And this resort

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VISIT ONE OF THE PRETTIEST HILLTOWNS IN PORTUGAL

[Alentejo, Portugal] — From this hilltop, the highest in the region, you can see forever. That’s why this little town has been important throughout history. And not just history, but pre-history.  Monsaraz in Alentejo is the site of one of the oldest settlements in Portugal, going back to neolithic times when people were tilting stones to the sky and calling it home. Or temple. Or tomb. There are some of the best neolithic sites in the world scattered all over this region. This was such a strategic location that it has been fought and won over many many times by the conquering hoards. First, the pagans, then Romans, then the Goths came and slaughtered, then the Arabs, then another collection of Arabs, then Jewish conquerors, Christians

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AN AIRY OASIS IN THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS OF MOROCCO

[OURIKA VALLEY, MOROCCO] — The road out of Marrakesh is a great unwinding. Leaving the crowded and bustling Medina behind, the criss-crossing crowded intersections and roundabouts, vehicles of every different size and shape. Donkey- and horse-drawn carts take their place alongside screaming mopeds, belching buses and trucks loaded with construction supplies and produce. Vendors selling everything out of their trunk on the side of the road or at a waiting stoplight. Well-dressed Moroccans and expats enjoying a coffee in the many outdoor cafes. It’s an insane cacophony.   Then you pass thru the suburban apartment blocks, women in full headdress walking their kids to school. Guys repairing cars on a wide sidewalk. Then the sprawling Palmeraie, a palm grove of several hundred thousand trees, huge

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HARVESTING GRAPES IN PIEDMONT ITALY

[PIEMONTE, ITALY] — Two hours off my overnight flight, I was still goating and my Terrier hair was going in every direction. My GPS had inexplicably sent me through a frantic detour through the Centro of the Turin on my way to the land of Barolo and I was running late. Pulling down the gravel road and into the parking, my friend and host Jon and his 8 year old son greeted me as he sprinted down the steps of his house, La Casa Gialla. “Oh man, glad you’re here. I was just heading to a wine tasting, want to come along?”  “Certo.” We raced across the ridges of the steep hills, the sun bouncing off the crazy quilt patterns of vineyards filling every hilltop,

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STAY IN A STUNNING KASBAH IN THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS OF MOROCCO

[KASBAH TAMADOT, MOROCCO] — Pulling out of the crazy busy dark corners of Medina of Marrakesh, the sky suddenly opens up. Endless palm trees paint the sky like clouds. Vast estates with long pink mud walls line the highway for miles.  And that’s when you first see them, the Atlas Mountains, snow capped even in the 80 degree spring heat. Beckoning from a distance to come up to the cool crisp air. Soon the road thins out, the estates give way to small hamlets, dirt orange mud-walled buildings stacked like books up the hills. Traveling fast in the air-conditioned wifi-enabled van, I spy an old man on a donkey pulling livestock like it was a Christmas Card, which is kinda jarring when you’re in a

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THE PERFECT HOTEL TO EXPLORE THE BRENTA DOLOMITES

[BRENTA DOLOMITES, ITALY] — During the ski season, Madonna di Campiglio attracts people from all over the world. During the “off season” — which I can’t relieve believe they call it that, it is such a gorgeous time of year — it is uncrowded and the scenery is just jaw-dropping. And the view from the boutique luxury BioHotel Hermitage in the Dolomites of Italy is about as great as any I’ve seen. Stunning. _________________________________________________ We were sad to leave Milano, but we were jonesing for the next stop. After a quick lunch in quaint medieval Bergamo, finally we went, up into the Dolomites. Spindly little roads needling through small mountain towns, with pesky speed cameras the entire way. We threaded our way up the spine

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THREE GREAT HIKES IN ALTA BADIA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[ALTA BADIA, TRENTINO] — After a four hour hike down the mountain, it was finally time for a late lunch. Stanky and sweaty, I rolled into this cute little rifugio out in the woods, accessible only by foot or the brave souls driving up the narrow less-than-one-lane path — so tight the cars forced the hikers to lean their butts and packs over the wood rail fence lining the lane as they passed. I was hangry by then so hearty venison medallions in a juniper sauce, grilled mushrooms and rustic polenta seemed just perfect. And a couple of glasses of Lagrein to wash it all down.  About as good of a meal as it gets, especially in a place so inaccessible. The sun casting a

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TWO GREAT HIKES IN VAL GARDENA IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES

[VAL GARDENA, BOLZANO] — We were on a long gondola ride heading up a long valley of undulating hills outside of the beautiful town of Ortisei, no doubt perfect ski runs in the winter. But it was summer, off season, so everything was super lush and green, hardly anybody around. The lift pauses at one skier drop-off then continues on, up up up and over a steep massive wall of granite, still shaded by the stark morning sun, darkening the interior of the gondola so much that you had to take off your sunglasses.  Suddenly, you pop over the ridge and you’re thrust into the bright summer sun. Stammering to get your bearings again. We scrambled off, the hustling gondola nipping at our heels like a

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STAY AT A HIP HOTEL OVERLOOKING EUPOPE’S TALLEST SAND DUNE.

[PYLA-SUR-MER, FRANCE] — I didn’t even know this beast was here. Never heard a squeak of this giant dune before. I actually came here in search of a beautiful hotel which mentioned its prime location next to the Dune du Pilat, about an hour south of Bordeaux. But when I pulled up, holy cow! My dumb fortunate luck led me to yet another amazing natural phenomenon — the largest sand dune in Europe. Setting The Stage — The Amazing Dune du Pilat Almost 3km long and about 110m (300 ft) high, this giant Gibraltar of sand stands between the shimmering Atlantic and an inland pine forest. Fierce winds add to its height every year, shoving it inland, swallowing up houses and forests in its path. In the

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A STUNNING BEACH RESORT ON THE COAST OF OMAN

[MUSANDAM PENINSULA, OMAN] — When you land in crazy Dubai, the Six Senses driver is there to great you. A kind Indian man from Kerala, as seemingly every helpful service person in this region is, dressed in a nice black suit and tie. As you weave your way through Dubai’s twenty lane highways, the skyscrapers disappear, the highway gets successively narrower, the gigantic 200 foot-long real estate billboards become faded and empty. Sand dunes start to appear. Camels start to pop up, randomly, in the dunes on the side of the road. Your blood pressure drops a hundred points as you realize “Ahhhh, this is what I came for.” We’re on the Road to Paradise. Heading towards Oman’s famed Musandam Peninsula,  the sand dunes soon turn into rugged

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