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Hike Europe's Most Famous Ancient Trail During This Jubilee Year
Only once or maybe twice a decade, the Camino de Santiago becomes an even more remarkable hiking journey through Spain.

Pilgrims and tourists have been hiking the “Way of St. James,” as it translates, since the 9th century. It’s a 500-mile (800 km) route across northern Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the spiritual home of the apostle James who preached in Spain, became its patron saint, and whose remains were returned here and enshrined.

The route of St. James’ final, return journey to Spain became a pilgrimage, one that continues to this day.

Spiritual and religious devotees walking the route today are joined by those taking the “Way of St. James” as a journey of self-discovery, to achieve a personal challenge, or to explore this unique cultural experience and northern Spanish countryside actively on foot or by bicycle.
 

Jubilee Years on the Camino de Santiago

 
And if your trip coincides with a Jacobean (from “James”) Holy Year, the experience will be all the more exceptional. The “Xacobeo Holy Year” occurs when the festival of St. James, which takes place annually on July 25th, falls on a Sunday. That means the special celebrations of Jubilee Year happen once or twice a decade.
 
Due to the pandemic, the Holy Year 2021 was extended for the first time over two years. Already, special festivities have begun for its second half. “Light up the Xacobeo” is an initiative where more than a hundred monuments and landmark buildings throughout Spain are illuminated to honor the special pilgrimage year. Half of those are along the actual Camino de Santiago. 

 (Illuminations at the terminus, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, courtesy of the Tourist Board of Spain)

They include a wayfinding arrow, pointing the way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the terminus of the Way and a long pilgrimage. They mirror the wayfinding signs that are used to mark the actual route still today.
 
This year’s Xacobeo Holy Year has gone global. Recognizing how communities and the world have come together even more during pandemic times, “Light up the Xacobeo” illuminations and wayfinding have spread beyond Spain’s borders.
 
Here, for example, is Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, Canada, illuminated for the Holy Year Jubilee – wayfinding arrow guiding pilgrims and seekers towards Spain.

(Photo courtesy of the Tourist Board of Spain in Canada)

In addition to special, wayfinding illuminations, the Way of St. James in Spain this Jubilee year will be celebrated by events including concerts, art exhibitions, films, conferences and educational activities for all ages.

Centuries-Old Traditions


That’s in addition to all the traditions of the Way of St. James, not just wayfinding markers that range from the humble to the spectacular illuminations of the Jubilee year.


Scallops are the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. The shellfish is plentiful on the beaches of the region, and originally the shells may have been practical for pilgrims to scoop shared food and water, as well as become a souvenir of the life-changing journey. 

Pilgrims still wear a shell to show they are on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. And scallop shell markers, including brass shells inlaid in cobblestone paths, or stylized sideways shells, often gold on a blue background on signposts or buildings still mark the path through towns and countryside. 


Most pilgrims then and now buy and carry the credencial. In days of yore, it provided access free accommodations and support for pilgrims along the Way. It’s also like a passport, an official record of your journey. You get an official St. James stamp in each town you eat, or official stay along the way, and presented at the Pilgrim's Office once you reach Santiago, proves that you have completed the official route and qualify for a 'compostela' – a certificate of completion.

A Pilgrim's Mass is held in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela twice daily, and pilgrims who received their compostela the day before have their countries and where they started their journeys announced during Mass.

Pilgrimages had trickled down to only a few hundred travelers along the Camino de Santiago by the 1980's. Then, in 1987, it was declared the first European Cultural Route and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Modern pilgrims and secular active travelers re-discovered the appeal of the historic route.  

These days, 300,000 or more people make the trip every year on foot, by bicycle or horseback, and in escorted tours by vehicle that stop at highlights along the way. During Jubilee years, that number swells.

The trip on foot from the Spanish border nowadays takes about a month. Not everyone who walks on the Camino receives a compostela, but you can still earn one without a month-long commitment. 

To qualify, you must make the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, even if they are your own spirituality and inner quest, do the last 100 km (approx 60 miles) on foot or horseback, or the last 200 km (approx 120 miles) by bicycle, AND you still need to collect a certain number of stamps in your credencial which you present at the Pilgrim's Office in Santiago de Compostela.

The next Jubilee Year for the Camino de Santiago isn't until 2027, so don’t wait to experience this uplifting, unique experience.
 
As the Tourist Board of Spain says: Just walk. Buen Camino.
 

 

START YOUR TRIP!


Top image courtesy of the Tourist Board of Spain.

Unless noted, other images: Getty

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The Good Travel News We All Need at the End of 2021: Elephants Return to Conservation Area and Eco-lodge in Cambodia
Anantara, the luxury hospitality company that connects travellers to the indigenous, grounds guests in authentic luxury, with over 40 hotels and resorts located in Asia, the Middle East and Europe, has had success this year hosting other types of guests – the pachyderm kind.

The company’s charitable foundation, the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) works in partnership with local communities on environmental, social and cultural conservation.
 
As a result of one of those partnered programs, The Cardamom Tented Camp in Cambodia recently recorded the return of a small herd of wild elephants to its conservation area, after elephants had been absent for over five years from the region.
 
As they are in neighboring Thailand, elephants are a beloved – even sacred – and culturally significant creature in Cambodia, even as their wild populations are threatened by development and the industrialization of processes that used to use working elephants.
 
In a piece of rare, happy news coming from travel during the pandemic, forest rangers in the conservation area in Cambodia discovered and photographed elephant footprints and droppings. The evidence of elephant inhabitants occurred inside the nearly 45,000-acre forest concession, which the camp protects with help from The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF).


Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic Anantara guests, via the GTAEF, continued to support the ongoing maintenance of the camp and its team of rangers despite borders being closed to tourism. Anantara Angkor Resort in Siem Reap also donated supplies directly to the eco lodge throughout the past year. 

GTAEF wildlife experts estimate that a herd of nine elephants, consisting of four adult females, their calves, and one young adult elephant, make up the new herd in the conservation area. Members of the herd have also been captured on motion-sensored cameras nearby. The organization hopes the elephants will make themselves at home in the safety and security of the conservation area.


There’s more good news besides. The Lodge manager, who is also a wildlife photographer and conservationist, reports the return of a group of 15-18 otters to the Preak Tachan river beside the camp. This species of otter is native to Cambodia and is one of three species that are globally threatened and at risk of extinction due to human activities. So their appearance is hoped will allow Cambodia to play a role in the global conservation of otters.


The Cardamom Tented Camp, is located in Southern Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountain range. It’s a non-profit eco lodge resting within 18,000 hectares of pristine land, and opened in late 2017. Proceeds from the camp are used to fund rangers that patrol the concession, protecting against deforestation and illegal poaching. Since funding began, the protected haven and wildlife in it have thrived. That’s as development has continued in the region. 

Guests often see otters, macaque monkeys, kingfishers and hornbills from their boat when they travel to the camp, which is only accessible by river. The camp offers multiple hiking trails for adventurous guests to join the rangers on guided wildlife and bird spotting hikes through up to 5 miles of forest before returning via kayak with rest stops at the main ranger station in each direction.


In October, Cardamom Tented Camp was included in the Green Destinations’ Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories in the world. In 2019 the camp won the PATA Gold Award for Ecotourism and was a top three finalist in the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. In the same year, it was listed in National Geographic UK’s invitation-only listing of top 36 eco-hotels around the world that are leading by example.
 
At the end of 2021, Cardamom Tented Camp is once again open and operating with a unique business model. Part of the income from the lodge’s operation goes towards the funding of 12 forest rangers who protect the area from loggers, poachers and river sandbank dredgers.
 
Fully vaccinated travellers can now enter Cambodia and it has nearly 90% of its population fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in Asia. The ideal time to visit this idyllic corner of the world is between December to April as the southwest Cambodia region near the Thai border enjoys blue skies and rain free days.

Talk to your travel advisor about planning a visit that supports the wilderness and wildlife of South-East Asia.
 

Start Your Trip!


Images courtesy Anantara Hotels & Resorts, Cardamom Tented Camp and The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF).

Celebrate the Festive Season - or Make a Gift of the Holidays at Four Seasons Across North America
There’s only one holiday season, but the luxury lifestyles of one of many Four Seasons hotels or resorts is just around the corner - either a drive or a short-haul flight - from many of us, and our loved ones.

Treating ourselves during the festive season, or giving our loved ones the gift of a recognized luxury travel brand experience in your hometown or at a favorite destination - will help make this holiday special and memorable.

Here are some suggestions to help you get into the Christmas spirit - or capture the holiday magic for your loved ones.

Your expert travel advisor can help you create the perfect luxury travel experience or give the perfect gift, from wellness, culinary, and family festive experiences.


Surround Yourself with Christmas Cheer


Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort gets into the Christmas spirit with a chocolate and gingerbread display created by its award-winning chef. Even a Christmas Grinch can’t help but smile at the charming life-size gingerbread house, with candy canes, lollipops, Santa and more, Plus - it’s the perfect holiday photo backdrop for your social media holiday post. You can enjoy festive treats including holiday gelato flavours such as chocolate peppermint, while the little ones try their hands at cookie decorating.

At Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, the holiday display takes the form of a modern arctic wonderland. A large, mirrored polar bear flanked by custom made flocked trees and poinsettias adorned with snow. The holiday magic extends to the ground floor's reflective Christmas tree and the fifth floor's life-size reindeer, creating a majestic holiday scene and the perfect backdrop for holiday photos.

Make a List, Check it Twice… then get some Help


Four Seasons Hotel One Dalton Street, Boston’s Wellness Floor has curated a holiday gift guide featuring bespoke experiences and products for mindful giving. You can fill your loved ones’ stockings with certificates for a side-by-side couples massage or Cryotherapy Energy facial and gifts such as candles, cashmere loungewear and beautiful Italian leather handbags. Maybe slip one treat in there for yourself for your next visit to Boston, too.

Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC’s Holiday Market is a goldmine of the gifts and culinary works of local artisans as well as the Hotel's craftspeople including their pastry chef’s gourmet hot chocolate bar. And you can shop for your loved ones surrounded by live music entertainment, light and snow displays. You can feel even better about holiday gift giving this seasons as a portion of the proceeds from every sale is donated to Children's National Hospital.

Culinary Christmas - and the Whole Holiday Season


Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel is ringing in the holidays in style. A series of prix fixe menus for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, along with a New Year's Day Brunch let you leave all the work to the hotel chefs - and you can choose to indulge fully with options like caviar, a seafood platter, and Bloody Mary and bottomless champagne bar. The restaurant, which overlooks the famed Rodeo Drive, will also be offering a special holiday afternoon tea, complete with delicate and elegant Italian desserts by its chef.

The Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler’s popular Vintage Camper is back for the winter, serving up decadent hot chocolate and cook-your-own s'mores. Guests can enjoy a Tipsy Snowman, the Resort's playful signature hot chocolate, or wind down with a complimentary wine tasting offered every evening featuring a selection of local British Columbia wines.

Hands-on Holiday Experiences



At Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley, a limited-time winter wonderland pop-up reimagines an alpine village. Rustic wooden chalets take center stage, while 'snowfall,' fireside movies, an après-ski menu including s'mores and hot cocktails create an inviting experience on the outdoor terrace. The village includes a sweet shoppe, Instagrammable life-sized snow globe and more.

Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina’s #FSWAYFINDERS program is a weekly series featuring art, culture, history, and in-depth workshops that make the holidays in Hawaii come alive. A curated group of artisans and crafters offers intimate and engaging learning opportunities including ukulele lessons, coconut hat weaving, lei making, evening stargazing and hula workshops with all proceeds going to the artisans themselves.

Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire keeps the holidays active, with horseback riding across the 500 acres of parkland, the ultimate treetop challenge, a relaxing ride on a traditional horse-drawn carriage or a unique bird-watching experience on a wildlife walk.


Restoring from Stresses of the Holiday Season


Four Seasons Hotel Austin’s The Spa has two festive ways to treat winter-ravaged skin and stressed-out bodies. Picture yourself or a loves one enjoying a Peppermint Facial or a Fire & Ice Massage. Up the ante with an after-hours private booking that allows for full access of the entire spa complete with the hotel’s margarita cart.

Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas uses locally sourced materials in its seasonal relaxation treatment. The Cranberry Pomegranate Body Treatment features a wrap, head massage, and full body scrub and leaves you feeling restored for another day of gaming, entertainment, and super-sized shopping of Sin City.

Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole is celebrating the winter solstice with restorative yoga and intention setting sessions. Guests can enjoy a complimentary restorative yoga session and wassail, the traditional warming drink you sing about in Christmas carols.

Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North is also commemorating the winter solstice with guided meditation, sound healing and intention setting on the longest night of the year.

#HappyHolidays




Images courtesy Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts







The Most "Amazing Journeys" in 2022, According to National Geographic's Experts Looking at travel through five lenses: nature, adventure, sustainability, culture and history, and family, NatGeo’s experts have narrowed a world of travel riches into a list of 25 can’t-miss journeys next year. read more
World First UNESCO Trail Connects 13 Sites in Scotland 13 diverse sites with natural and cultural significance, including World Heritage Sites, Biospheres, Global Geoparks and Creative Cities now form a dedicated digital trail. read more
Malama Hawaii Program: Giving Back on a Trip to Paradise
The Hawaiian Islands may draw you to their other-worldly tropical beauty, South-Pacific culture and warm welcome, legendary beaches and seaside lifestyle.

But the most memorable trip to Hawaii may be the one that gives back.

The Malama Hawaii Program connects visitors to activities that make a difference to the islands’ land, ocean, wildlife, forests, fishponds, and communities. Malama means 'give back' and it puts you in a position to become part of Hawaii, leave it an even better place… and have vacation memories of a lifetime.

It’s about building real relationships between people and place, and enriching your life as well as the destination you visit.

The Malama Hawaii Program has brought together a number of hotels and resorts, tour companies, and local volunteer organizations in a collaboration for the good the Hawaii that everyone loves. 

Volunteer projects range from reforestation and tree planting to self-directed beach cleanups, ocean reef preservation, and even creating Hawaiian quilts for kupuna (elders).

Visitors gain a more enriching travel experience through their positive impact, and may also qualify for perks like discounts or even a free night’s stay at a participating hotel or resort by participating in its dedicated volunteer activity.

There are opportunities to Malama on at least four of Hawaii’s visitable islands.

Oahu


In Oahu, check in with the community group Malama Maunalua to participate in a volunteer activity allowing them to malama aina. Volunteers will learn about ecological issues affecting Maunalua Bay and participate in removing three types of invasive algae threatening marine sanctuaries in the bay’s nearshore waters.

Get hands-on during an immersive, volunteer workday with eco-nonprofit Papahana Kualoa. You’ll sink your feet into the satisfyingly muddy earth of its loi kalo (irrigated taro terraces) to do the good work of helping plant or harvest kalo, a staple crop of the Native Hawaiian diet.


Maui


Don’t miss the ocean conservation activities at the nonprofit Pacific Whale Foundation. Visitors in the foundation’s Coastal Marine Debris Monitoring Program head out to Maui’s scenic coastline areas to collect and track debris. Data recorded by the foundation helps to mitigate and prevent shoreline and marine life damage.

You can also participate in the critical environmental work of removing invasive species from Maui’s protected lands, by volunteering to help with restoration and conservation projects of the nonprofit Hawaii Land Trust, which does vital stewardship work contributing to wildlife protection efforts at the island’s Waihee Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge.

Island of Hawaii


Visitors can volunteer to help restore and replant a 275-acre lowland dry forest preserve, surrounded by nature at the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative. You may be able to be part of building trails, tree planting, clearing invasive plant life and more, all while taking in the sights and sounds of the preserve’s tranquil landscape.

Adventure seekers interested in mountain hiking and volunteer work are encouraged to look into the workdays of Uluhao o Hualalai for a private eco-tour traversing the mature koa and ohia forests of 8,271-foot Hualalai volcano. In addition to hiking to one of the volcano’s many craters and learning about the cultural significance of the surrounding landscape, visitors are also invited to participate in the group’s reforestation efforts by planting native trees.


Kauai


You can spend a part of your vacation experiencing Kauai’s verdant and vibrant forest areas with the Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project, and participate in a remote video review to help identify the island’s protected birds and their activity and patterns. You can also join a virtual seminar to learn more about the native forest birds and the eco-project’s conservation efforts. Held monthly, the project’s Forest Fridays virtual series focus on the protection of the threatened native iiwi bird and three federally endangered native bird species — the puaiohi, akikiki, and akekee — with a goal of facilitating recovery of their populations in the wild. Visitors can also view prior series segments via the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project’s YouTube channel.


Ask your trusted travel advisor how you can Malama on your next trip to Hawaii.

#StartYourTrip!


Images: Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Heather Goodman
Rick Barboza of Papahana Kuaola and volunteers harvest kalo taro



This Entire Caribbean Island is now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
This small French Caribbean island is known as the Isle of Flowers, the Rum Capital of the World, and now, its land mass, along with the marine zone around it, has become an over 12-million acre globally recognized eco-reserve.

Martinique has been inducted into UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program, so now over 5% of the Earth’s landmass is recognized for conservation of biodiversity, environmental education research, and sustainable development. The organization describes Martinique as “the 12th biosphere reserve along the volcanic arc of the Caribbean, one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots. Its richness is unique, as it includes many endemic species living in rare and endangered habitats.”

It adds how remarkable the French Caribbean island’s geology is, featuring the 4,583-foot Mount Pelée volcano (pictured above), sleeping ‘mornes’ (or small mountains) and a coastline of bays and coves. The rainforest covering the island’s foothills and the mangroves along its coastline demonstrate its vital role as part of an ecological corridor between the Americas.


The UNESCO Biosphere recognition also comes in part as acknowledgment of the island’s commitment to sustainable economic and social development while preserving their local natural and cultural wealth, which is a key element required for UNESCO recognition.

Fewer than 400,000 people live in Martinique, and most are involved in food production or tourism.
 
With all the infrastructure as an overseas region of France, Martinique’s unspoiled beaches, volcanic peaks, rainforests, waterfalls, streams, and other natural wonders are unparalleled in the Caribbean, giving visitors the best of both worlds, and making it the perfect destination for nature lovers.

Two-thirds of Martnique is protected parkland. Its warm, humid climate nurtures a vast array of vivid tropical blooms, as well as a hundred species of orchids, leading to its nickname as the Isle of Flowers.


Rainforest trees also abound. Mahogany, magnolias, and bamboo all tower as tall as more than 10 people, and yet are still dwarfed by Martinique’s yellow mangroves, chestnuts, and white palm trees, sea grapes, and manchineel trees.
 
An incredible 80+ miles of well-maintained hiking trails of differing levels take active visitors through beaches, bays, and mountain rainforests, through nature reserves and past lighthouses, up Mount Pelée volcano, and across coastal paths.


You can also experience Martinique’s extraordinary natural wonders by horseback, mountain bike, kayaking or canoeing excursion. For even more adrenaline, try canyoning, where you climb to the top of a waterfall, look down into the mists of the tumbling waters—and take an incredible leap into the void below. Or get a taste of its world-famous surfing scene.
 
There’s much more to Martinique than its magnificent tropical eco-experiences. You’ll use Euro as the local currency, and hear French spoken as the official language, but then Martinique’s unique qualities takeover, including Afro-Caribbean Creole character, cuisine, musical heritage, art, culture, everyday language and identity.

Start Your Trip!


Images courtesy of Martinique Tourism: https://us.martinique.org/

Sloths Named the New National Animal of this Central American Country
Slow-moving, sweet-faced and gentle sloths have taken the world by storm, becoming one of the most beloved creatures in popular culture in the last few years.

Formerly a synonym for laziness, sloths have become cultural darlings, with their famously adorable countenances that always seem to be smiling sweetly, 270-degree, slow head rotations, ability to hold their breath underwater for over half an hour, and a digestive system that takes days to process food. Sloth encounters have famously turned celebrities to tears, and have become among the top requested travel experiences.

Now, two of the six types of sloths in the world today have become national symbols of Costa Rica: the Two-Toed Sloth and the Three-Toed Brown Sloth. The country made the announcement ahead of world-wide International Sloth Day on October 20th.

 
According to The Costa Rica News, while signing the new law, Costa Rica’s president proclaimed, “I celebrate the new national symbol: the sloth, the friendly and peaceful animal that is an international benchmark for animal protection.”
 
Another official explained the move “sends a clear message to our society and the entire world, that our social pact with the environment is not reduced to the simple protection of large areas of land, but also shelters the species that live there.” Nearly 30% of the country is protected as a nature park or reserve.
 
Now, areas around known sloth habitats will be protected, and traffic slowed to reduce harm to the adorable, slow-moving creatures who are not able to walk, but pull themselves in slow-motion across the ground.
 
The country’s residents see a connection between the sloth’s easy-going, relaxed lifestyle, spending most of its time swinging gently from tree limbs, to the peaceful, Costa Rican ‘Pura Vida’ mindset which focuses on a living life with little stress and instead, enriching the mind, body and soul. 
 
Even prior to its adoption as national animal, sloths were already among the best-known animals that visitors from North America look forward to spotting on a visit to Costa Rica.

Responsible Sloth Spotting in Costa Rica


Of the six sloth species in the world, Costa Rica is home to two unendangered subspecies – the Two-Toed Sloth and Three-Toed Brown Sloth, which are both typically spotted in tree canopies around the country.
 
While sloths can be spotted all throughout Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park, Limón, Monteverde, the Osa Peninsula, Arenal, and Tortuguero are great places to start.
 
But spotting a sloth in the wild can be a challenge. Although they have few natural defenses, sloths can be hard to spot as their fur blends in well with the branches they hang from.