Unexpected Gems: Azores, Baltics, Madagascar
Ready to travel somewhere, but not sure where? We’ve got destination tips from Merit Expert Jenn. Jenn provides some great insights into three amazing, adventure-filled destinations that are sure to leave you with some unforgettable memories.
Do you like the idea of a European vacation but without the crowds? Look no further than the Azores.
Fun Fact: These 9 islands are governed by Portugal and are located mid-Atlantic serviced by direct flights from Toronto. They are characterized by dramatic landscapes, fishing villages, green pastures, and hedgerows of blue hydrangeas. Sao Miguel, the largest island, has lake-filled calderas and the Gorreana tea plantation. Pico Island is home to the 2,351m Mt. Pico and vineyards sheltered by boulders.
Spend your days here free diving, volcano hiking, whale watching – even rappelling down waterfalls! Anything is possible. If you feel the need for a more laid back day, you can explore local fishing town squares, 15th century churches and an underground lake.
Small group tours operate here from April until October with local guides revealing many of the hidden delights of the flora, fauna and island landscapes. If you prefer being more independent, your Merit Travel expert can book hotels and a car rental so you can discover the emerald beaches, volcanic caverns and cascading falls yourself. It’s Europe, but wilder!
And now for something completely different – the wildlife anomaly of Madagascar.
The most well-known animals are the lemurs but you’ll also spot dwarf hippos. Hundreds of these animals are not found anywhere else in the world.
Other appealing features of this island separated from the African mainland are their tropical rainforests and reefs. Travel fact: the periwinkle flower from Madagascar is used as a basis for treatment medicines for Hodgkins Lymphoma and Leukemia.
Madagascar is rumored to be the site of the 18th century independent pirate nation of Libertalia. According to the story, pirates renounced their national identities and called themselves Liberi, making their own system of government and law. They waged war against states and lawmakers, releasing prisoners and freeing slaves.
For the foodie, there’s a big draw to Madagascar. Malagasy cuisine uses garlic, onions, ginger, tomatoes, curry, coconut milk, vanilla, cloves, and turmeric as common ingredients. Zebu, a kind of African cattle, is a common meat, and peanuts, greens, bananas, and rum all feature prominently. Madagascar is among the world’s main suppliers of vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang, and also a major supplier of coffee, lychees, and shrimp.
For a distinctly enlightening take on a more northerly part of Europe, test your knowledge of USSR history with a tour to the Baltics: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Here are some interesting starter facts:
• Europe’s largest market is located in Riga
• Miles of tunnels below the cobble stone streets exist in Tallinn
• Vilnius is home to the KGB museum
• Baroque churches abound in Vilnius
• A long coastal area is home to picturesque fishing villages leading to the unspoiled countryside beyond.
We have a number of options for small group summertime tours from standard sightseeing to cycling groups. Street art, sculptures, incredible architecture, and fascinating historical sites will undoubtedly satisfy your cultural hunger.
July 6, 2017