There is nothing quite like travel to provide you with an experience of utter transformation. Whether it takes place on a mountaintop or in a café, it is something you can treasure long after you've returned. At the end of each year, we look back and reflect on such moments of revelation.
Over the course of the past 13 years, Irish businessman Patrick McKillen has assembled one of the most spectacular collections of modern art in France on his 600-acre Château La Coste property in Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, just north of Aix-en-Provence. The estate and its art are open to the public and are viewed during the course of a two-hour self-guided walk. The visit begins at a striking modern pavilion designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, in front of which is a reflecting pool with a sculpture by Alexander Calder. From there, the walk incorporates works by the late French sculptor Louise Bourgeois, Tom Shannon, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Serra, Sean Scully and Frank Gehry, among others. Getting up close to works of this quality in such a glorious open-air setting is a powerful and unforgettable experience.
On a misty afternoon, we drove south through the Norangsdal Valley in northern Norway to the little town of Hellesylt. There we caught the ferry to Geiranger, a magical hourlong journey along the Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site. A recorded tape in English called our attention to the various scenic wonders along the fjord, which is widely considered to be the most dramatic in all of Norway. When the tape fell silent, the beauty of this narrow body of water, flanked by plunging cliffs of emerald-green vegetation and overlooked by tiny farmhouses in impossibly remote or steep locations, left us dumbstruck. Among other world-renowned sites, the trip takes in the Knivsflå waterfalls and also passes close to the sensational Brudesløret (“Bridal Veil”) falls.
The Bootshaus restaurant at Weissenhaus Grand Village Resort has a fine Mediterranean-inflected menu, but the real draw is its magical terrace overlooking the Baltic Sea. Because of the northerly latitude, the summer sunset lasted the entire duration of our meal, the sun lingering for more than an hour just above a bank of clouds. It dappled the mirrorlike sea with pink flecks, making the blue-gray water resemble a vast, shimmering opal. I marveled at the extraordinary quality of the light and had that wonderful sensation of feeling utterly transported, both in space and time.
On our excursion into the unspoiled desert near Los Cabos, we saw a surprising amount of wildlife from our vehicle, including roadrunners, blue-and-white scrub jays and desert iguanas. At one point, we rounded a bend and not 20 feet in front of us was a bobcat chasing a dove. Just as we spotted it, the bobcat leaped up, attempting to snatch the bird from the air. It was a close call, but the dove freed itself from the predator’s jaws and flew off. The bobcat, no doubt annoyed that we had startled it midchase, vanished into the desert.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park has the largest stand of old-growth redwoods on the planet. They have been spared from logging by the efforts of the Save the Redwoods League, which acquired its first grove in 1921 and has since raised millions to purchase its current 53,000 acres, 17,000 of which are old growth. Some of the trees are more than 1,000 years old and have attained heights well over 300 feet. Standing among them, craning our necks to see their crowns, surrounded by some of the oldest living things on earth, I felt humbled, inspired and ennobled. It was a profound moment of unity with the natural world.
It was a glorious spring day and Venice was doing its best to resemble Canaletto’s ideal. The sky was cloudless, the lagoon was glassy and by lunchtime the temperature had rendered all but a cotton shirt superfluous. Out on San Clemente Island, far from the tourist hordes, all was serene. We decided to have lunch on the terrace of Acquerello, directly beneath the façade of the 12th-century Church of San Clemente. Established at a table beneath a cream umbrella, we ordered a bottle of chilled Prosecco and gazed across to the skyline of San Marco. Occasionally, a gleaming, varnished motoscafo would slide past. The food was delicious, the staff were charming, the setting was sublime and for a while it seemed that we had been allowed to experience the closest that the world ever comes to perfection.
We arrived at Sacsayhuaman when it opened at 7 a.m. and wandered onto the huge grass-covered plaza, where the Inti Raymi winter solstice festival is still held every June, attended by tens of thousands of spectators. We were entirely alone. The enormous Inca fortress and ceremonial center stands at an elevation of 12,142 feet overlooking Cusco. It was built of massive, irregular blocks of andesite, some of which weigh up to 200 tons. Today the most imposing stretch of wall is nearly 30 feet tall and approximately a quarter of a mile long. The light was rich and golden as we strolled across the plaza. Without distraction or interruption, our imagination could vault the intervening centuries, and, not for the first time, we experienced an intense and familiar mixture of admiration and sadness: for the Incas’ extraordinary accomplishments and their culture’s brutal demise.
Fleeing the crowd in Manuel Tavares, the most famous wine shop in Lisbon’s historic Baixa neighborhood, we found ourselves at the nearby Garrafeira Nacional, which was much calmer and better-stocked. In the back, we noticed a wine dispenser containing several surprisingly expensive bottles. After consulting with the genial clerk who had been helping us select bottles of Port, I chose to taste the 1968 Madeira Boal D’Oliveiras, which is matured for 40 years in oak. It was a revelation, moving from richly sweet nuttiness to lively spice, tart acids and a note of salinity. What an unexpected treat, to sample such a delicious rarity. We drink fortified wines only seldom, but this Madeira reminded us of just how special they can be.