Lisbon, Park City, Curaçao, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel—relieve your post-holiday slump and expand your horizons with our picks for exciting winter travel.
More than 20 centuries of history meet in Lisbon, Portugal, a capital filled with tradition, culture and inspiration. Considered one of the most fascinating and forward-thinking European cities, Lisbon is a haven for artists. The Portuguese government legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year.
Lisbon has an annual temperature of 63ºF, 260 days of sun a year, and the warmest winters of any European metropolis—making it an obvious choice for Americans wanting to escape December’s cold and snow. The lesbian scene is hot, especially in three neighborhoods—Bairro Alto, Principe Real and Chiado—where everything is gay or gay-friendly. Consider a stay at Les Suites du Bairro Alto (Rua da Rosa 35,
351-21-343-32-12, suitesbairroalto.com) or the Lisbon Poets Hostel (Rua Nova do Trinidad 2, 351-21-346-10-58, lisbonpoetshostel.com) in Chiado for chic, affordable accommodations in the heart of the gay scene.
Called the “city of the seven hills,” Lisbon is one of the world’s oldest municipalities. Two Lisbon landmarks—the Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery, both dating from the early 16th century—are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while its highest hill is crowned by the medieval Castle of Sao Jorge. More recently, Discoveries Monument on the River Tagus was unveiled in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator's death. Surrounding the old city are ancient Roman and Arab neighborhoods where one can really breathe the soul of Lisbon. Contemplate the views of the old city’s orange rooftops, listen to Fado (Portuguese folk music) in a local fish restaurant or soak up the atmosphere of the narrow streets. It’s almost impossible not to feel transported to the past.
While Lisbon proper has a multitude of charms, don’t forget to hit the beach. Take a 30-minute train ride along the coast to Cascais and Estoril—small, traditional fishing ports that have become two of the most popular tourist destinations in Portugal. A four-mile seaside promenade offers awe-inspiring views of the ocean. At the gay/nude beach, Praia 19 (12 miles from the city center), clothing is optional and anything can happen. Further along, Sintra is a region of mystical mountains and fairytale-like scenes. Here you can visit Renaissance castles, palaces and other amazing monuments kept almost intact.
But there’s much more to Lisbon than sunny days, parks and monuments. Lesbians will find restaurants, pubs and discos welcoming in Bairro Alto, Principe Real and Chiado, although the LGBT community is often mixed in with the rest of society. It’s very common to see a lesbian couple holding hands or showing affection in public. Though there are no venues specifically for lesbians, mixed-gender clubs are very accepting.
The best place to launch a night out is in one of the excellent Bairro Alto gay restaurants like Maria B.A. (Travessa do Inglesinhos, 48-50, 351-91-177-68-83, mariaba-restaurantebarlounge.blogspot.com) or fashion-focused Pap´Açorda (Rua da Atalaia, 57, 351-21-346-48-11). Near Principe Real, check out Tsuki Sushi Bar (Rua Nova de S.Mamede, 18, 351-21-397-57-23, tsuki.pt) and the vegetarian spot Terra (Rua da Palmeira, 15, 351-70-710-81-08, restauranteterra.pt). A generation of younger lesbians—seemingly influenced by either The L Word or Buffy—hang out at Browns Coffee Shop (Rua da Vitoria, 88) in Baixa-Chiado. Don't miss one of the old city’s best-known cafes, A Brasileira (120 Rua Garrett, 351-21-346-95-41), which opened in 1905 to sell imported Brazilian coffee. It still sports a gorgeous Art Nouveau interior, and a bronze statue of patron and poet Fernando Pessoa sits outside at a table.
After the dinner hour, around 11pm, the streets of Bairro Alto fill with people drinking outdoors and mingling on their way to the many bars in the area. You can, and should, stay for a drink in the streets until heading to a disco—and not before 3am.
Around midnight, start your pub crawl at the Bairro Alto lesbian-friendly gay bars Salto Alto (Rua da Rosa, 159, saltoalto-bar.com) or Purex (Rua das Salgadeiras, 28, 351-21-342-80-61). After 3am, move on to the mixed gay and lesbian disco Trumps (Rua da Imprensa Nacional, 104 B, 351-21 395-11-35, trumps.pt) in Principe Real; the lesbian-oriented Maria Lisboa (Rua das Fontainhas, 86, 351-21-362-25-60, marialiboadiscoteca.blogspot.com) in Alcantara, five minutes' drive from the city center; or Lux (Av. Infante D. Henrique, Armazem A, Cais da Pedra a Sta Apolonia, luxfragil.com) a mixed club 10 minutes from the city center.
Finally, plan your vacation (if you can) around the Lesboa Party (myspace.com/lesboaparty), the biggest LGBT (with an emphasis on the L) event in the country. Happening three times a year, Lesboa Party brings in top-tier DJs and more than 1,500 revelers. The next one is slated for March 5, 2011.
In Curaçao, “Bon Bini” means welcome—and you’ll hear it over and over again. This local greeting says so much about the island, and highlights Curaçao’s differences from its Caribbean neighbors. With its magical flair for eccentric and vibrant colors, untouched beaches and friendly locals, Curaçao is full of personality and character.
Located in the southwest section of the Caribbean near South America, Curaçao is part of the “ABC” (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) islands of the Dutch Caribbean. The island’s heritage is represented by both European and African cultures, and that melting pot can be experienced just by walking through the capitol of Willemstad. The main languages spoken are English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamentu, an indigenous creole language derived from Portuguese with Spanish, African, Dutch, English and native Arawak influences.
Curaçao’s off-the-beaten-path ambience comes from its lack of restaurant chains, high-rise hotels, tourist traps—and tourists. Its pristine beaches, lost-in-time villages and welcoming attitude mean you can immerse yourself in the local culture. If you seek adventure, Curaçao’s crystal-clear waters are perfect for diving and snorkeling, swimming and sailing. At Willemstad’s Dolphin Academy (at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium, Bapor Kibra z/n, 599-9-465-8900, dolphin-academy.com), thrillseekers can meet dolphins up close and even take a SCUBA dive with their new finned friends.
Curaçao’s gay-friendly claim to fame begins with the government-run Curaçao Tourism (gaycuracao.com), a big advocate for the LGBT community; and a local group, Gay Plasa, that promotes monthly LGBT parties and the annual Get Wet Weekend. Casa Rosada, the country’s first gay center, opened in Willemstad’s Otrabanda neighborhood in July 2010. There are several gay-friendly hotels, bars and restaurants offering a relaxed, “live and let live” attitude.
The beautiful Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino (Baden Powellweg 1, 599-9-435-5000, renaissancecuracao.com), in Willemsted, features an infinity pool and a man-made beach along with modern, colorful décor and comfortable amenities. Inside its colossal casino, you could spend hours hitting the tables for Black Jack, Three-Card Poker or Roulette. Luck be a lady!
Gay-owned Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa and Casino (Langestraat 8, 599-9-434-7700, kurahulanda .com) is within walking distance of Willemstad. Owner Jacob Gelt Dekker designed the resort as a historic village: along the resort’s cobblestone streets, you might pass the corner store, the Museum Kura Hulanda (which focuses on the history of the Caribbean’s slave trade), restaurants, bars, two pools, a spa and a casino.
A romantic traveler’s dream, the Baoase Luxury Resort (Winterswijkstraat 2, 888-409-3506, baoase.com) challenges any couple not to fall in love. With a great beach, stunning sunsets and grounds strewn with Asian décor, you’ll feel transported to Eden—and if your heart desires, you can legally marry your partner on Baoese’s designated wedding island.
Though you might be drowsy from sunning yourself on sugar-sand beaches, don’t forget to hit Curaçao’s bars and restaurants for a taste of the local gay scene. Mundo Bizarro (Nieuwestraat 12, Pietermaai Smal, 599-9-461-6767, mundobizarrocuracao.com) is gay-owned and serves up innovative drinks amidst shabby-chic coffeehouse decor. The banana soup (trust us) at the gay-friendly Gouverneur de Rouville Restaurant and Café (De Rouvilleweg 9, 599-9-462-5999, de-gouveneur. com) is a must, while the best place to catch the sunset over a bright blue Curaçao cocktail is the trendy MOON Restaurant (Pietermaai 152, 599-9-461-7713, mooncuracao.com).
Two more must-see places you won’t find anywhere else in the world: Downtown Willemstad’s Floating Market (along the Sha. Caprileskade) is populated with boats from South America laden with fresh fruits and vegetables. For a taste of the old world, visit the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue (snoa.com), founded in 1651, with the oldest active congregation in the western hemisphere and a floor covered in powdery sand.
Just a three-hour flight from Miami, Curaçao is the Caribbean’s best bet for LGBT travelers.
Park City, Utah
Sun, snow and cinema: come winter, Park City, Utah has all three. Just 36 scenic miles from the Salt Lake City International Airport in the magnificent Rocky Mountains, Park City is a cosmopolitan outpost surrounded by the massive Wasatch National Forest. The wilderness locale doesn’t deter the thousands of film fans who descend on the former mining town for the annual Sundance Film Festival (sundance.org) an orgy of independent film screenings, industry workshops, celeb-sightings, distribution deal-signing and legendary parties. Past Sundance standouts include sex, lies and videotape, An Inconvenient Truth, Precious and The Kids Are Alright. This year’s event takes place January 20–30, 2011.
Among the notable films with gay content at Sundance 2011 include first-time feature director Madeleine Olnek's film Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, a rom-com in the manner of Ed Wood (and that’s a good thing). In it, three lesbian aliens are sent to earth to explore the New York dating scene. Jane, a shy greeting-card store clerk, falls for her new bald-headed customer, Zoinx, who speaks in a bizarre monotone; yet Jane doesn’t realize she’s head-over-heels for an extraterrestrial. As their relationship blooms, they attract the attention of two government agents hot on their trail.
Gregg Araki’s Kaboom, his 10th film exploring the teenage rebellion motif, focuses on a young man exploring his bisexuality. In typically outre form, Araki’s characters experiment with drugs and sexuality, but Kaboom introduces a new sci-fi aesthetic to Araki’s oeuvre.
!Women Art Revolution, from director Lynn Hersman Leeson, documents women who have used art as a form of protest and activism. The score and soundtrack is by former Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein.
Kevin Smith’s highly anticipated Red State, a horror film, is notable for its villain modeled on real-life anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps. And directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato take a personal journey with Chaz Bono in Becoming Chaz, which documents Cher’s progeny through his female-to-male transition.
Guarantee your tickets to the next Napoleon Dynamite by purchasing ticket packages now, and save some dough on Park City’s many lodging options when you reserve your accommodations through Sundance Film Festival’s Destinations. Both services are available through its Web site.
In addition to the LGBT film screenings, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s cineGLAAD series raises LGBT visibility in the snow-capped wilds of Utah. This year’s schedule offers panels related to the film industry and the LGBT presence within it, and a networking event for LGBT filmmakers and cineastes. A full range of other seminars and discussions delve into the art and commerce of independent and mainstream film. Live music and parties round out the festival’s nightlife.
But Park City isn’t just cocktail-sipping and swag bags. Two popular ski resorts lie within five miles of downtown, while the Utah Olympic Park (3419 Olympic Pkwy., 435-658-4200, olyparks.com), eight miles to the northwest, features sports facilities used during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Try your skills at bobsled, luge and skiing on apparatus built for the best athletes in the disciplines. Park City Mountain Resort (1310 Lowell Ave., 435-649-8111, parkcitymountain.com) is conveniently located in downtown Park City—so close to the action, in fact, that skiers can hop on the town lift to the resort from Main Street. Two of the resorts’ runs zoom directly to Park City’s restaurants, shops and galleries, justifying Park City Mountain’s reputation as the most accessible resort in America. Its 3,300 pristine acres of varied terrain has a base elevation of 6,100 feet, rising to a summit height of 10,000 feet. Sixteen lifts, 108 ski trails, four terrain parks and a snowboarding pipe with 22-foot walls offer year-round thrills for seasoned slalomists and snow bunnies alike.
The largest ski and snowboard resort in Utah, The Canyons (4000 The Canyons Resort Dr., 435-649-5400, thecanyons.com) is a stone’s throw from Sundance. Four thousand acres of trails, 18 lifts, terrain parks and open powder runs form the resort’s outdoor centerpieces. If you’re new to the slopes, Olympian and World Cup champion skier Holly Flanders teaches women-only skiing workshops in January, February and March, 2011. Apres ski, take advantage of the Canyons’ Winter Romance Package for two, which includes luxury hotel accommodations, a bottle of bubbly and complimentary breakfast for each night of your stay.
Sweet: Isla Mujeres Resort
Winter blues got you down? Start planning your 2011 travel itinerary and look forward to sunning yourself in Mexico with Sweet.
Isla Mujeres—which means "Island of Women" in Spanish—is "quickly becoming the traveler's choice for Mexican destinations," says Shannon Wentworth, CEO and founding partner of Sweet, the lesbian travel company. "It's the best place to relax, it's very quaint. It's really an undiscovered gem." Sitting just off the Yucatan peninsula, Isla Mujeres is near Cancun and Cozumel, but far from those cities’ tourist trappings.
More than a hundred "Sweeties" will take over the Palace Isla Mujeres for the week of April 30–May 7, indulging in an all-inclusive Caribbean getaway with all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink perks. "Not only is the island and the resort stunning, with five-star, luxury amenities like in-room jacuzzis, it's also a really good deal. We feel blessed to have partnered with Palace Resorts because they really understand our guests and meet their every need," Wentworth adds. Sweet's activities include golf, snorkeling, diving and island tours, in addition its roster of top-tier lesbian entertainers, parties and gourmet dining.
But while Sweet excels in high-end-yet-affordable vacations, it emphasizes voluntourism and giving back to the communities they visit.
In an interview with GO last April, Wentworth described how her lifelong dedication to environmental stewardship is realized in Sweet. “My objection to big package vacations is the toll they take on the environment. I wanted to find a way to make that type of vacation totally guilt-free and that’s what we’ve done with Sweet,” she said. The company has partneredwith Carbonfund.org, a leading carbon offset organization, to reduce the environmental impact of its vacations’ energy usage and waste generation.
At Isla Mujeres, Wentworth has plans for at least two voluntour activities. To reduce the feral animal population on the island, Sweeties may take part in an animal rescue mission in partnership with a local shelter. And, as on Sweet’s inaugural cruise to Cozumel in 2009, participants can put on work gloves and clean up Isla Mujeres’ beaches. They’ll likely find all manner of plastic trash, from disposable pens to beverage bottles to shoes. “There’s a lot of trash washing up on Mexico’s beaches,” Wentworth adds. The payoff? Knowing you helped beautify one of the world's premier SCUBA and snorkeling spots.
After your good works, enjoy luxury linens and an in-room liquor dispenser as your reward. (Sweet,877-793-3830,discoversweet.com)
R Family Vacations: “r time” Winter Escape
R Family, the LGBT family-friendly vacation company, sets sail for the western Caribbean on its first adults-only “r time” Winter Escape, March 5–12, 2011. Debarking from Miami aboard the state-of-the-art Norwegian Epic, the cruise calls at the pristine fishing village of Costa Maya, Mexico; the up-and-coming resort destination Roatan, Honduras; and Mexico’s Isla Cozumel, the Caribbean’s diving paradise.
“r time” won’t take over the entire ship; rather, it offers group cruising, a more intimate setup in which vacationers enjoy dedicated entertainment, ensemble dining and exciting activities onboard and on land. Kelli Carpenter, co-founder of R Family, told GO in an interview last May that despite some initial concern, R Family’s first group trip to Hawaii was “a tremendous success.” As a bonus, single passengers are welcome: the Epic is the only ship that sells at a single rate, so guests aren't charged extra for traveling solo.
Though the baby rattles and pool floaties might be left at home, the cruise will offer R Family's distinct brand of entertainment just for its guests, plus 22 restaurants and productions of the Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil in the ship’s own theaters.
“r time” guests will have reserved space in the restaurants for each meal and a private beach party at the ports of call—a format that makes meeting new people and forming fast friendships easy.
"Our greatest growth has been among people without children," Carpenter says. "That includes gay singles and couples, as well as their straight family and friends.” Theye're dubbing the experience “r time” to reflect its adults-only character. But though the company is associated with gay families, Carpenter says there is "no typical passenger" on their expeditions. "We always have an eclectic group of people, including couples with kids, grandparents, friends. We're accepting of all people, and because of that we have an very accepting group."
Looking ahead, R Family will offer "summer camp" at the Club Med in Sandpiper, Fla. July 9–16, a week of family-friendly relaxation, tennis, golf, spas and field trips to theme parks in nearby Orlando. Or, sail from beautiful Venice, Italy on R Family's Greek Isles Adventure on board the Norwegian Jade. This fun group cruise visits Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos and Katakolon, the site of the first Olympic games, in August, 2011.
(R Family Vacations, 917-522-0985, rfamilyvacations.com)