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Grand Cayman

GRAND CAYMAN has all the Caribbean musts—beach, snorkelling, marine life, sunsets…and enough food and drink to warrant an annual festival.

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Ensconced beachside, on an alabaster swath of sand guarded by elegant hotels, stretching 10 km along Grand Cayman’s west coast, nuzzled by waters so clear you can see starfish on the bottom, I wonder how I’m going to fill tomorrow.

grandcayman07Right now, entertained by a perfect sunset (one of the Caribbean’s best), I don’t feel like doing anything, though tonight it’s fine dining at Abacus at Camana Bay (camanabay.com), a modern town centre boasting boutiques and other fine dining options beside the water. Wherever I dine, I’ll be sated: many consider the Cayman Islands the Caribbean’s culinary capital. It’s also home to the annual Cayman Cookout festival with renowned host, Chef Eric Ripert (this year it’s on from January 12–17, @caymancookout).

Tomorrow’s first stop, I decide, will be a helping of history. Pedro St. James (pedrostjames.ky) is both refurbished 17th-century great house and host to an interpretive centre worthy of Disney World. I’ll stroll here by the sea amid stands of banana and mahogany trees, tour the outdoor kitchen and then explore the furnished house itself.

Then maybe bond with nature. Welcome to the Cayman Turtle Centre (turtle.ky)—combination wildlife sanctuary, turtle hatchery and theme park—where I’ll learn about efforts to save the sea turtle, pet these huge animals and maybe even swim with them. Or maybe I’ll just cross the road and swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery.

Or I’ll get really close to nature—and bond with the sea. Maybe book a catamaran tour to Stingray City (stingraycitytrips.com) , snorkelling with those graceful creatures—or take a side trip to Starfish Point where I stand in water up to my waist as the stingrays wheel and soar between my legs.

grandcayman04Then it’s time for some R and R. Make for Rum Point (rumpointclub.com) . Stake out a claim in the shade near a congregation of pastel-painted picnic tables; do frosty Caybrew beers at Wreck Bar, once rated among the world’s top-50 beach bars. Go for a swim in bathtub-warm waters.

After some downtime, maybe I’ll take things up a notch: the Cayman Islands are considered among the world’s best dive destinations. I’ll take a lesson in the pool at the Westin Grand Cayman (westingrandcayman.com), then out on—or in—the water. Maybe I’ll dive Babylon or Ghost Mountain.

grandcayman05We’ll stop en route back to our hotel and be mesmerized by the beauty and might of the Caribbean at Blow Holes . Then, it’s home James, for ringside seats to another spectacular sunset , the perfect finish to another perfect Grand Cayman day. — Mark Stevens

To discover even more activities to round out perfect stay here, go to visitcaymanislands.ca.

 

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix has plenty of Arizona’s desert heat but it has also sparked a spicy and vibrant art and culinary scene…with some sweet spots to rejuvenate

After my Lotus Blossoming Chakra massage, I discover that some of my seven chakras aren’t quite as aligned as they should be. Apparently I need to meditate more. I try to remedy this immediately by walking the labyrinth at The Boulders Resort & Spa. Round and round I shuffle, the scent of sage wafting over me, the sun warming my face, the dry desert wind softly fluttering my robe. I think it’s working.

Or it could just be this place, the huge rocks the resort is named for, the tall saguaro cacti, the amber and rusty hues of the baked landscape. The next morning I rise early in my adobe-style casita at The Boulders (theboulders.com) and venture into the desert for a run as the sun is just starting to spread its heat. I feel my chakras realigning…

2The Sonoran desert may seem harsh but it teems with beauty. Closer to Phoenix (The Boulders is in Scottsdale, just outside Arizona’s capital and largest city), I walk through the Desert Botanical Garden (one of only a few botanical gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums; dbg.org) and then hike nearby Camelback Mountain to marvel at the range of colour this arid land sprouts, like the magenta spikes of a barrel cactus.

3The southwest vibe continues at The Camby (thecamby.com), one of Phoenix’s newest hotels (a major refurb and rebrand on the site of an old Rat Pack bar and former Ritz property). Inspired by the surrounding desert (its name is a play on that iconic Camelback peak), the swish hotel is infused with the five Cs of Arizona—cattle, copper, citrus, climate, cotton—including lamps the shape of cow skulls and grapefruits, turquoise and copper accents, luxe pima-cotton sheets and local art.

4And there’s art everywhere. In the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM; mim.org), a sophisticated conference/meeting site as well as repository of some 15,000 musical instruments from around the world, art is in the form of objects like a horse jawbone from Mexico that rattles when its teeth are scraped or struck with a nail. In downtown Phoenix, Roosevelt Row or RoRo (rooseveltrow.org) is a wild display of commissioned street art that’s as vibrant as some of those desert blooms. The revitalized ’hood is home to artist studios, galleries, boutiques, co-ops, small-stage theatres, coffee shops, restaurants and even a craft brewery and gastropub, Angel’s Trumpet Ale House (angelstrumpetalehouse.com). Every first Friday night of the month, thousands of people gather in revitalized RoRo for the First Friday Art Walk.

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At the nearby Phoenix Public Market Café (phxpublicmarket.com), art comes in the form of local food, from coffee roasted in nearby Tempe (try the Desert Dawn: oj and a splash of lemon topped with cold brew coffee) to “Eat the Rainbow,” a combo of farmers’ market veggies (and cool t-shirt), or the Arroz & Frijoles bowl, a healthy, heaping, hipster take on southwestern fare. More foodie inspiration is found uptown at The Yard, at the graffiti-art-clad Barrio Urbano (barriourbanophx.com). It’s an urban take on traditional Mexican cuisine by Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, a four-time James Beard Award nominee, where craft cocktails and killer tacos come together in an atmosphere that’s part gritty barrio and part art gallery. And it’s yet another way of finding that desert zen. — Barb Sligl

For more info on Phoenix, go to visitphoenix.com, for
nearby Scottsdale, check out experiencescottsdale.com,
and for Arizona, visit visitarizona.com.