q. I've heard that there's no place more exquisite than the Canary Islands. Where should we plan to go?Do the islands' birds live up to the name?--B.R., Jackson, Miss.
a. The Canaries -- a group of Spanish islands off Africa's northwest coast -- exist in a kind of perpetual spring. March through October is the best time to visit, though a Sahara wind can cloud up a few summer days. If you go then, though, you'll avoid the hoards of European tourists who come for the sun and beaches from December through February. The easiest way to reach the islands is on a connecting flight to Tenerife from Madrid. For intra-island travel, there are dozens of ferries, hydrofoils, and jet foils. Hikers generally choose to visit Tenerife, the largest island and the one with the highest volcanic mountain, the 12,198-foot Pico del Teide; 20 trails wind through the national park that surrounds it. There's also an archaeological park with pre-Hispanic step pyramids in Güímar. On Tenerife, stay at the Hotel Botánico (1 Avda. Richard Yeoward; 34-92/238-1400; doubles from $163) in Puerto de la Cruz, a town on the north shore. It has two outdoor pools and great views of the Valle de la Orotava.
Gomera, the small island directly west of Tenerife, sees fewer tourists and is a beautiful place to explore. Its Parque Nacional de Garajonay, an ancient laurel forest, shelters more than 400 species of flora. The best place to stay on Gomera is in the capital, San Sebastián. The clifftop Parador Nacional La Gomera (Pista de la Gallarda; 34-922/871-100; doubles from $110) is a mansion surrounded by gardens and palm trees. As for the feathered namesakes, don't expect brightly colored canaries -- the wild variety are brownish, but still enchantingly musical. And the islands are home to more than 200 other bird species.
q. Which cruise lines offer golf?My husband and I are fanatics and it would be the perfect vacation for us. --C.L., Vancouver, B.C.
a. Silversea's Silver Links program, which runs year-round, visits 59 golf courses in 26 countries. Select where you want to cruise -- the Mediterranean, northern Europe, Indonesia, South Africa -- and the ship's officers will handle all the golfing arrangements, taking care of greens fees and ensuring that your golf bag is waiting at the clubhouse (800/774-9996; cruises start at $5,895 for a 7-day excursion, golf program from $995). Norwegian Cruise Line also has golf itineraries year-round. Next year, ships sailing the Caribbean plan to participate in the Tee-Up program, which can include time on St. Thomas's beautiful Mahogany Run course. Beginners don't have to worry -- Norwegian will send a pro along for lessons and tips, or to fill out a foursome (800/327-7030; from $699 for seven days, not including greens fees).
q. I have only one day off in Budapest during an upcoming business trip. What should I see?--O.W., Raleigh, N.C.
a. The good news in often-cynical Budapest is that Art Nouveau masterpieces are being renovated. Make time to see the iridescent-tiled interior of the Music Academy (8 Liszt Ferenc Ter) and the landmark Orthodox synagogue (27 Kazinczy Utca). For people-watching, stop at a Belle Époque-style bistro with sepia walls and bentwood furnishings, such as Café Kor (17 Sas Utca) or Lou Lou (4 Vigyazo Ferenc Utca). Both draw bohemians and bankers alike, while the platform-shod szupermodell crowd poses at Café Vian (9 Liszt Ferenc Ter).
The better antiques stores have congregated on Falk Miksa Utca: Try No. 13 for paintings and turn-of-the-century ceramics, and No. 18-20 for lace and embroidery. The best guidebook yet to post-Communist Budapest was just published: Budapest, by Annabel Barber and Emma Roper-Evans (Somerset Books; available from Amazon.com or through firstname.lastname@example.org). For an insider's view, contact American expat Kristin Faurest; her custom tours start at just $15 an hour (email@example.com; 36-209/582-545).
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