Travel Picks: Top 10 scenic workouts
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As spring begins to bloom, it's easy to suddenly remember the New Year's Resolutions made a few short months ago that have gone by the wayside.
Even if you've been good, upcoming "spring breaks" can wreak havoc on your hard work, with long days spent laying horizontal by a pool drinking calories.
Rather than only packing cover-ups and hats for your impending jaunts, how about some workout clothes? To help you find some spots that are both beautiful and conducive to exercise, the members and editors of travel website VirtualTourist.com (www.virtualtourist.com) have compiled a list of the "Top 10 Most Scenic Workouts." Reuters has not endorsed this list:
1. Hiking Cinque Terre in Italy
Italy has long been a bastion of cultural icons and landmarks, from religious sites to Renaissance masterpieces. Of the sites to be visited, Cinque Terre is among the most beautiful, and also the most unique. Composed of five small villages perched above the Ligurian Sea, the towns date back to the late medieval period and are still, in 2012, unable to be reached by car. While one can access them by train and boat, neither transport provides the same experience as the hike between the towns: slowly descending from the rocky cliffs into each brightly painted fishing village is an experience unlike any other in the world. Hiking from Riomaggiore, the southernmost village, to the fifth town, Monterosso, is quite a workout (18 km, or 11 miles, and usually takes about five hours, but can take longer depending on how fit you are). Instead, many complete the first leg of the trip, from Riomaggiore to Manarola. This section is commonly called the "Via dell' Amore" and is both paved and level, so it's a great 1 km (about half a mile) stroll for travelers of all ages.
2. Stand up paddle-boarding in Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
Kauai's abundance doesn't stop with its greenery and chickens; the island also provides ample opportunities for getting exercise while on vacation. Along the island's North Shore, adventurers can find the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile route along the island's remote Na Pali Coast that is widely considered one of the world's scariest hikes. For a less dangerous athletic pursuit, visitors can try stand up paddle-boarding along the North Shore's gem, Hanalei Bay. Stand up paddle-boarding (also called SUP) has grown exponentially in the last few years, and it provides both a great arm workout and a fun alternative for when flat conditions ruin surfing plans. The bay is mostly flat during the summer, but has much stronger surf swells from September thru May, so keep this in mind when planning your activities.
3. Snorkeling in St. John's, US Virgin Islands
Few options are as convenient and cost-efficient for Americans as a quick trip to the US Virgin Islands, and equally rare are the options with the unbridled natural spectacle of St. John's. The island, accessible only by ferry, contains the Virgin Islands National Park, which encompasses 2/3 of the island's area. Visitors have over 35 beaches to choose from, including Trunk Bay, which has an underwater snorkeling trail that guides swimmers while informing them of the various species of fish. Other notable snorkeling spots on the isle are Hawknest Bay and Cinnamon Bay, which also has outstanding camping facilities. Sea turtles and rays can be found in Waterlemon Cay, accessible by the Leinster Bay Trail from the Annaberg Sugar Mill ruins.
4. Rollerblading along the "Strand" - Los Angeles, CA
Only a handful of locations can provide a pedestrian-only route the length of which is almost a marathon - and none can do so while providing a view of one of the most beautiful beach areas in the world. "The Strand" is a 22-mile bike path that runs from Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades, California to Torrance County Beach. The route passes landmarks like the Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach's infamous boardwalk. If you've seen people rollerblading on TV or in movies, most likely it was filmed along "The Strand." Rental locations and public restrooms pop up almost every ½ mile.
5. Cycling around Southeast Asia
While many think of floating markets in Bangkok and junk boats in Halong Bay upon hearing "seeing Asia at a leisurely pace," multiple VirtualTourist members said that cycling through Southeast Asia was both a great adventure, and an enjoyable experience no matter your physical shape or endurance. One exemplary location to explore by bicycle is Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The terrain is particularly flat and the distance between Siem Reap and the temple complex makes sightseeing by bicycle ideal. Cycling is so popular at the complex, in fact, it is now done for charity: every December, Village Focus International hosts the annual "Angkor Wat Bike Race and Ride," which raises money for communities in Cambodia and Laos.
Another great spot to travel via cycling is Vietnam, as its Route 1 is a straight shot from the capital city of Hanoi to the largest city in the southern region, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). This route also allows you to see smaller, seaside towns you might otherwise miss, such as Vinh, Hue, and Hoi An. While the route can be cycled alone, a number of groups, like Indochina Trekking Company and Intrepid Travel, provide guided tours from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
6. Golfing at Kauri Cliffs in Northland, New Zealand
For many of us non-golfers, the question "where is the most scenic course in the world?" elicits a simple response: "Pebble Beach!" However, among avid golfers and VirtualTourist.com members in the Oceanic area, there is an overwhelming consensus for Kauri Cliffs, the lush course situated on the eastern side of New Zealand's North Island. The course is positioned as close to the water as topographically possible, meaning players are forced to play across gorges and other natural features. Travelers (and golf addicts) should note that New Zealand's other Top 20 course (and Kauri Cliffs' sister property), Cape Kidnappers at Hawke's Bay, can easily be accessed by helicopter, so both courses can be enjoyed in one trip.
7. Skiing in Niseko, Japan
While not as famous as St. Moritz or Whistler, the town of Niseko, Japan is becoming an increasingly popular skiing destination. Located on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido, the town and its mountain, Mount Annupuri, are in a perfect location to receive high pressure systems from Russia's Siberian region. These systems create an amazing powder, making the ski season in Niseko a good six months long. While some Australian snowboarders and expats living in Singapore and Hong Kong have discovered the area, it still remains a small village and authentically Japanese. The trails overlook the dormant volcano of Mount Yotei, and hot springs can be enjoyed after a long day on the slopes.
8. Sailing in Greece
Sailing in Greece is not a new workout or concept, but it is still one of the most beautiful options in all of Europe. The Greek islands were built and developed as ports, so not only is arriving via ship the way the islands were meant to be seen, it's often the easiest mode of transportation from island to island. One unique aspect to this workout is you can plan the amount of activity you'd like to experience: you can take a cruise, you can sail the boat yourself, or you can charter a boat with a skipper. In addition to being an amazing experience, it is also an opportunity to personalize your trip, choosing the islands you want to visit and focus on. Many companies in Mykonos and Santorini organize day charters, so you can sail to another part of the island and enjoy water sports (snorkel, scuba, etc) in a new, less crowded area. Lastly, sailing or chartering a boat can be a great way to incorporate multiple countries into your trip, since Turkey and Croatia can easily be reached from Greece by boat.
9. Swimming in Capri
Despite being the sixth island mentioned in this list, it is probably the most famous...and undoubtedly, the most fabulous. For decades, Capri has been associated with a level of luxury and exclusiveness that few travelers can afford, and a beauty that anyone would be lucky to experience even once. The pointed Faraglioni or the switchback path of Via Krupp may be the sights most affiliated with Capri, but no experience resonates like La Grotta Azzurra (the Blue Grotto). Though rowboats are used to take tourists inside during the day, it is also possible to swim inside the grotto, as the location can be accessed by stairway. If you can't swim in the Grotto due to the tides or wave conditions, a close second is swimming in one of the island's secluded bays. Since many bays are only accessible by boat, you'll need to grab a willing skipper in Marina Grande, but VirtualTourist members reassured us that is not a problem.
10. Yoga in India
The power of yoga is rarely disputed: in fact, it's widely accepted that yoga can help alleviate health problems, reduce stress, and prevent athletic injuries. However, it's not something to limit to your work week; in fact, yoga-centered "retreats" are one of the fastest growing vacation markets. Rather than doing asanas (mastery of sitting still) in Costa Rica or Bali, perhaps venture to the place where the practice originated: India. Only a short trip from Mumbai, the BKS Iyengar Institute in Pune is one of the world's most venerable ashrams (Hindu and/or yoga hermitages). If you don't have the eight years of experience required to practice there, you can also take BKS Iyengar-certified classes at Iyengar Yogashraya in the Lower Parel area of Mumbai. If your interests are more in hatha yoga and ayurvedic programs, the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, located on 12 tropical acres in Kerala, specializes in both.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)