Snow business: the epic appeal of Greenland

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Nuuk Fjord in Greenland. (Shutterstock)
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Greenland is a great location for whale-watching. (Shutterstock)
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The island is home to a variety of wildlife. (Shutterstock)
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Ittoqqortoormiit, at the entrance to the Scoresby Sound fjords in eastern Greenland. (Shutterstock)
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There are more dogs than humans in Greenland. (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 June 2019
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Snow business: the epic appeal of Greenland

  • The world’s largest island is spectacular, and more accessible than you might think
  • Greenland is wonderfully welcoming to visitors, with the locals happy to show you their country

DUBLIN: Greenland is not the first country most in the Gulf would think of visiting, but it’s one of the most striking places on the planet, and a country that has become increasingly accessible in recent years. The least densely populated nation in the world — two-thirds of it is covered by an ice sheet — this is a land with jaw-dropping scenery: epic mountain ranges, sheer ice walls, whales, and, of course, the otherworldly spectacle of the Northern Lights.

The only part of Greenland accessible to travellers is the east coast. The capital, Nuuk, is usually the first port of call and there are direct flights there from both Reykjavik and Copenhagen. Nuuk itself is a charming fishing town, with plenty to see. Head first to Nuuk Tourist Office, housed in a charming wooden structure built in 1922. It can provide a host of information about Nuuk and Greenland in general, and it’s a great place to plan out an itinerary. Just outside of town lies Ukkusissat, a mountain more than 2,500 feet high that looms over the capital. Best to get a local guide who will bring you to the summit, which offers spectacular views of the city and the surrounding coast. Back in Nuuk, head for the Greenland National Museum and Archives, which provide a compelling look at the history of Greenland and its people. Close by is the Nuuk Art Museum, which offers a cultural entry point to the country’s heritage. For most travellers, Nuuk is just a starting point, with the real highlights located further north. There’s a local ferry which goes up and down the east coast on a daily basis. It’s the most cost-effective way of getting around and most travellers base their journey around the ferry timetable.

One of Greenland’s highlights is undoubtedly Ilulissat, a picturesque fishing village about two days (yes, days… it’s a big country) by ferry from Nuuk. The jewel in the crown of this region is the mammoth Sermeq Kujalleq, the world’s largest glacier, which creates 46 cubic kilometers of icebergs annually (the iceberg that sunk the Titanic came from this glacier). A world heritage site, you can hike from the town to the glacier, and there are few more awe-inspiring views than the one that greets you as you trek through the tundra and the glacier reveals itself. Five kilometers wide and 65 kilometers long, it pushes icebergs out into the sea, and the views overlooking it are truly spectacular. Take a seat and watch nature do its thing, as whales breech in the bay below and the ice cracks and grinds. It’s hard to overstate how inspiring the view is, and how lucky visitors feel. The whole area is a UNESCO world heritage site and is worth the flight price alone.

There are more dogs than humans in Greenland and there are few things cuter than a group of Arctic puppies. These are working dogs and while some are perfectly friendly, caution is advised when getting that Instagram picture. Get the ferry from Ilulissat north through Disko Bay, which offers the most spectacular views of icebergs, and head to Aasiaat, a beautiful coastal town dotted with colorful wooden houses overlooking the sea. There is plenty to do, from kayaking and whale-watching to fishing and sailing. The sea dominates every aspect of life here, and there are numerous opportunities to interact with the locals. For many of them the burgeoning number of tourists is both a blessing and a curse — as they try to balance catering for visitors while holding onto their way of life. Aasiaat manages to do both and is a wonderful way to experience what life is really like for Greenlanders.

Another issue right now is the one of independence from Denmark, which many locals want to see happen by 2021, the 300th anniversary of Danish colonial rule. The country’s 40,000 inhabitants are divided on the matter, with some nervous about what life would be like without Danish subsidies. Whatever happens, Greenland is wonderfully welcoming to visitors, with the locals happy to show you their country. The best time to go is late summer to early autumn, when there are about 12 hours of sunlight and the winter snows have yet to move in. If you are dead set on seeing the Northern Lights, then September and October are the best months to go.

 


Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

Biarritz is one of the best surfing locations in Europe. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 June 2019
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Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

  • The French seaside town mixes old-world glamour with a very modern surfing scene
  • This patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own

DUBLIN: It’s hard to put a finger on what makes Biarritz so special. Maybe it’s the faded charm, maybe it’s the sprinkling of stardust that the numerous guests (the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra) brought to the city, or maybe it’s the low-slung surfer’s vibe, but this patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own. It’s something of a hidden gem, with surfers, Parisian hipsters, retired French tourists and a smattering of in-the-know Europeans descending here every year.

Its most recent heyday was during the 1950s, when luminaries including Sinatra and Coco Chanel visited. From the 1960s onwards, Biarritz’s star fell, with Hollywood and the European elite favoring France’s Riviera as a holiday destination. Yet recent years have seen the town emerge back into the spotlight — although these days you are more likely to see surfers rather than film stars, as the town has embraced its position on France’s rugged southern Atlantic coast.

There are countless surf schools, and Biarritz is the birthplace of the sport in Europe. The (reportedly) first surfer here, appropriately enough, had Hollywood connections. Peter Viertel, a screenwriter, was in town as the movie he had co-written, “The Sun Also Rises,” was being filmed there in 1957. The long, wide sandy beaches provide the perfect place to learn, with the crashing Atlantic surf offering ample big waves to ride.

The town is small enough to explore in an afternoon, with countless cafés and restaurants dotting the narrow streets. There’s plenty of shopping too, with local boutiques such as Jox & An (which sells rope-soled espadrilles) next to the likes of Gucci and Duchatel, which features labels including Nina Ricci and Belenciaga. Indeed much of the town’s charm is seeing moneyed old French couples in their designer clothes rubbing shoulders with dreadlocked surfers in board shorts.

It might officially be in France, but Biarritz is Basque country, something very much apparent at Caroe, which mixes Basque and Nordic cuisine. This minimally designed pintxos bar specializes in local seafood and serves up everything from monkfish foie gras, smoked eel and trout gravlax. If you prefer a venue overlooking the water, head to Alaia, an ultra-stylish beachfront joint on Socoa Beach, 30-minutes south of Biarritz. You can enjoy lamb, mashed-potato pancakes, and hake and cabbage in front of the bobbing fishing boats. If you prefer to eat on the go, or grab something for a picnic on the beach, head to Les Halles market, which is filled with stalls dishing out sumptuous fare: from local goat’s cheeses and anchovies in olive oil and vinegar to limoncello jelly and hazelnut bread.

The most salubrious lodging in town is the Hotel du Palais, the brainchild of Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III, who chose a patch of hillside overlooking the Bay of Biscay for the Imperial residence. The hotel became the center for France’s elite, who holidayed at the sumptuous building and held balls, picnics and fireworks displays, while welcoming world leaders and royalty from around the world. These days the hotel retains all its old-world glamour, and its breakfasts are worth the room price alone.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Biarritz, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a place to while away the hours in a café, or to take long walks on one of the numerous beaches. It’s a place to relax in, not to do too much. If you do want to exert yourself, then there are a number of surfing schools where you can learn to ride the waves. Most offer similar courses (and prices), with La Vague Basque being the best reviewed. All ages and nationalities come here to learn to surf, so don’t be shy about getting that wetsuit on.

After a reviving dinner, head to the promenade and grab yourself an ice cream. One of the great French pastimes is people-watching, and the cafés along the promenade offer the perfect place to watch the world go by. Part French, part Basque, and with a wonderful mix of elegance, cool and Fifties chic, Biarritz might just be the best beach town in France.