Friday, October 28, 2011


Blessed (or is it cursed?) with broad swaths of darkness and foreboding swirls of fog, the Golden Gate National Parks harbor countless spine-tingling, goosebump-inducing sites. In honor of Halloween, just around the corner, we present the top five spookiest places in our parks. Click through and venture forth, if you dare….

5) Haskell House at Fort Mason

At the end of Franklin Street in Fort Mason, you’ll find a sign indicating an 1850s-era structure as the “Haskell House”—originally home to an early San Francisco developer, Leonidas Haskell. Haskell, along with several other residents of the “Black Point” area in Fort Mason, was an anti-slavery “free-soiler” and supporter of David Broderick for California’s U.S. Senate seat. After a volley of insults, Broderick’s opponent, California State Supreme Court Justice David Terry, challenged the anti-slavery candidate to a duel near Lake Merced on September 13, 1859. Broderick, mortally wounded, was rushed to the home of his friend, Leonidas Haskell. He died there three days later.

In the intervening years, the military men who lived in the Haskell House have reported mysterious happenings: lights flickering on and off, framed pictures falling from walls, and a figure flitting through the home—the figure of a man in a top hat, presumably the ghost of David Broderick.

4) Muir Woods At Night

By day, Muir Woods is a beautiful sanctuary of peace among the redwoods. When dusk falls, though, a person’s imagination runs to far more sinister places in the profound darkness of the forest. You know it’s the same place, but when the sun goes down your heart rate goes up nonetheless. Maybe it’s because of the chill-inducing hoots of owls, northern spotted owls and the invasive barred owls, winging their way above. Maybe it’s the whispers from the leathery wings of 10 species of bats as they embark on their nocturnal hunt. Or maybe it’s the soul-freezing fact that, in the dark, you are confronted with the massiveness of the mystery of it all.

Although Muir Woods is usually closed after dark, you can see for yourself on a Muir Woods After Hours tour, November 10—one of the few times during the year when you can experience the National Monument at night.

3) Battery Townsley

While most of the mysterious batteries and bunkers in the Marin Headlands are sealed off, the most extensive facility is open for public tours. Built in the late 1930s on a hill above Fort Cronkhite, Battery Townsley was so high-security that few knew of its existence. During World War II, it mounted two massive guns (capable of firing 2,100-pound projectiles 25 miles out to sea) and housed more than 100 men in a warren of underground tunnels and rooms.

If the thought of spending days in a dank concrete cave isn’t creepy enough, consider this: soldiers sometimes had to drill in complete darkness—in the event of electrical failure.

Picture right after construction

2) The Presidio

In addition to its persistent and eerie fog, the Presidio has three essential ingredients for hauntings: a deep and ancient history (the post was founded in 1776), many gravestones (see the San Francisco National Cemetery), and tragic events (the wife and three young daughters of John “Black Jack” Pershing died in 1915 when a fire consumed their home, marked now by the flagpole in Pershing Square).

Other spooky sites in the Presidio include the grounds of the Letterman Digital Arts Center (built on the site of the old Letterman Army Hospital, where tens of thousands of wounded soldiers were treated during World War II, and where many of them tragically perished); the area behind the Presidio Landmark apartment building (where hundreds of foreign merchant seamen were interred, far from home, behind the Marine Hospital during the late 1800s); and of course the Pet Cemetery (think Stephen King).

To begin your explorations, check out the new temporary Presidio Visitor Center, located in Building 105 on the Main Post, open Thursday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.

1) Alcatraz Cellhouse

The infamous island of Alcatraz is where you can find one of the most famous haunted “houses” in America: the Cellhouse. It is the site of numerous suicides and tragic escape attempts, including the one in May 1946 during which two guards and three inmates were killed in a violent skirmish. The spirits of the three convicts are purported to haunt Cellblock C, where they died. Other seemingly inexplicable goings-on have been reported over the years: mysterious crashing sounds, running footsteps, swinging doors, and screams. In particular, the “holes” (cells for solitary confinement) and the prison hospital have been especially fraught with reports of alleged paranormal activity.

The best way to experience the bone-chilling nature of the Rock is to go on an Alcatraz Night Tour. Winter, the “quiet” season on Alcatraz, is a great time for locals to make a trip to the island. And, in this season of atmospheric mist and rain, the scene is set for a perfectly spooky trip!

For your next trip to San Francisco let Unique Travel Concepts plan a very "Unique" trip for you!!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

10 Great Mountain Towns of the World

From the Alps to Alaska, here are 10 mountain towns that shamelessly seduce with good looks, affordable deals, and year-round appeal. Read on for ways to see some of the best views in the world.  
1-Riobamba, Ecuador

Like many cities in the Pacific Ring of Fire, Riobamba lives in the shadow of a sleeping giant. Clouds wisp at the tip of the inactive Chimborazo volcano, Ecuador's highest point, while native llama, alpaca, and vicuña graze in the protected habitat below. You'll see why some call Riobamba the Sultan of the Andes when you explore the colonial city center's cathedrals and museums.

Do: Shop for handicrafts at the Saturday market on the streets northeast of Parque de la Concepción. Try the market's snow cones (raspados) made from blocks of ice transported from the glacier by mules, a local tradition. Another favorite is the zigzagging Chiva Express train ride up a 45-degree pitch called Devil's Nose. Latin Trails will take you to the train or on an ice-harvest adventure.

2-Girdwood, Alaska

Next to the state's largest ski resort, just outside Anchorage, Girdwood was originally called "Glacier City" for the colossal icy peaks that surround it. Calving glaciers thunder into the Prince William Sound, and humpback whales play in nearby Kenai Fjords National Park. Set amid this idyllic valley's rugged beauty is one of Alaska's most productive and still active placer gold mines, Crow Creek Mine, where you can pan for gold.

Do: Find adventure and great photo ops year-round on a guided glacier hike or ice-climbing trek. A trip to the top on Alyeska Resort's aerial tram nets you a splurge-worthy dinner destination: Seven Glaciers Restaurant. The town's best cinnamon rolls are at The Bake Shop near the base of the ski hill.

3-Bled, Slovenia

Not far from the Austrian border, Bled in the Julien Alps has all the elements of a classic fairy tale: a clifftop castle, frosted peaks, an emerald lake, a church steeple, a wishing bell, and a signature sweet treat. This alpine town even sits at the edge of a dark forest (Triglav National Park) with a waterfall and mountains known for legends of the Zlatorog, the golden-horned chamois that is said to live here.

Do: Hike up to the 1,000-year-old Bled Castle, where you can bottle wine in the cellar, indulge in the herbal gallery's aroma, or stay for a meal with a view. Visit Bled Island in Bled Lake by rowing a boat or hitching a ride on a local gondola-like pletna, then ring the famous church bell. Don't miss the town's signature cream cake (kremna rezina) at Slascicarna Smon (this website in Slovene only).

4-Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

Coverage of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games introduced the world to this ski town's stunning beauty and cosmopolitan allure. At the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, icy blue streams gurgle through the pedestrian village. Boutique shops, lively pubs, and restaurant patios open onto great people-watching thoroughfares, where you can take in high fashion and sexy foreign accents in one delicious shot.

Do: Ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola from Whistler to Blackcomb, or soak in the outdoor hydrotherapy baths at Scandinave Spa. In winter you can try the Sliding Centre's skeleton and bobsleigh runs—reaching speeds of up to 135 kilometers per hour—or race the luge track from spring through fall. At the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre cafe, sample traditional bannock fry bread and salmon chowder. Hit Zog's Dogs food cart for cinnamon BeaverTails or bratwurst and poutine (a mix of fries, cheese curds, and gravy).

5-Stowe, Vermont

Stowe is the quintessential New England village. In a fertile valley between the Green Mountains' peaks, this quaint town of 4,500 is a throwback to all things wholesome. The historical Main Street area is home to a general store, a malt shop, and even a mercantile with fresh handmade fudge. Head to the surrounding countryside for a grazing tour of Vermont's farm treats.

Do: You can stop in for free samples year-round at Laughing Moon Chocolates on Main Street or at Cold Hollow Cider Mill and Ben & Jerry's in the Waterbury area. Harrison's Restaurant & Bar, a popular watering hole in a historical Main Street basement, is like the Cheers of Stowe. Browse Stowe Craft & Design for handmade items, including great furniture for mountain retreats.

6-Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand

This South Island lake town, away from the crowds of its popular Queenstown neighbor, sits in a glacier-carved basin near the edge of Mt. Aspiring National Park's Southern Alps. Mountains rise out of Lake Wanaka, vineyards drape the hillsides, and tiny islands harbor uninhabited sanctuaries for the flightless buff weka bird. It's no wonder the laid-back Kiwi vibe has such a stronghold here.

Do: Relax with a local beer and a slice of pizza at Kai Whaka Pai, which has the best view in town. Eco Wanaka boat tours take you to Moa Wahu Island to see the native weka. At Cinema Paradiso you can watch movies in comfy old couches and eat warm homemade cookies during the intermission. Experience the scenery from an open-air Vintage Tigermoth flight with goggles and a leather helmet or on a canyoning trip in a wetsuit, helmet, and booties.

7-Taos, New Mexico

This Southwestern town, in a high desert valley, is a study in contrasts. Rich blue skies meet an arid countryside dotted with adobe dwellings and the Taos Pueblo village. The Sangre de Cristo Range towers majestically above the desert floor. And the Rio Grande's whitewater cuts a deep gorge in red sandstone below. Is it any wonder Georgia O'Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, and countless others have been inspired here?

Do: Find kitschy kachina dolls, baskets, pottery, and other treasures at Robert Cafazzo's Two Graces Gallery, Curios and Bookstore in Ranchos de Taos. Sip a local specialty—the Buddha Margarita—during Taos Inn's Adobe Bar happy hour from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. For dinner, don't miss El Meze, a restaurant that puts a Spanish/Moorish twist on traditional local cuisine.

8-Gyalthang (Jiantang Town), Yunnan Province, China

Set among Himalayan snowcaps, this ancient rural town near the Tibetan border is a hidden highland utopia. Here in Gyalthang (Jiantang Town), renamed after the fictional land of Shangri-La in 2001, locals live simple, long lives far from the influence of the outside world. Shaggy yaks drag plows through rich soil, and the sound of chanting floats out of Tibetan monasteries. Just outside town, pastures open up to alpine lakes, gorges, and swift rivers fed by mountain snow.

Do: Shop for colorful scarves, blankets, and local handicrafts in Old Town, or stop at Bhuskar's Kitchen for authentic Tibetan and Indian/Nepalese food. View seekers can climb the local Shika Mountain or take a cable-car ride to the top. Songtsam Retreat leads excursions to Pudacuo National Park, home to 100 endangered species.

9-Breckenridge, Colorado

Gold seekers founded this Victorian mining town in 1859, and many of the original buildings that housed hotels, dance halls, and saloons still stand. The new occupants—quirky boutiques, restaurants, outfitters, and microbreweries—capture Breckenridge's pioneering spirit and down-to-earth character. It's an unpretentious Rocky Mountain high 90 miles west of Denver.

Do: Meet local sled dogs in their off-season and hop on a dogcart for a back country tour. Check out the whimsical, handmade clothing at Magical Scraps. Try Breckenridge Brewery, the Breckenridge Distillery, or the Blue River Bistro for drinks. For dinner, indulge in locally sourced cuisine in a historical Victorian house at Hearthstone Restaurant. Lucha's breakfast burritos are legendary.

10-Lucerne, Switzerland

This picturesque Swiss Alps city is like a model-train set come to life. Medieval-style homes and shops with flower boxes line cobble stoned streets. The wooden 14th-century Chapel Bridge (Kapllbrücke) spans the Reuss River flowing through the town's crystal-clear Lake Lucerne. And in the backdrop, little red cog railway cars climb the steep Mt. Pilatus.

Do: Take the cog railway up to Mt. Pilatus for lunch or for a hike at what feels like the top of the world. There are also high ropes courses, zip-lines, tubing slides, and summer toboggan runs here. Return by train and boat or by gondola and bus to the historic Old Town, a pedestrian-only shopping area where you can stroll narrow, winding streets to the Hermès shop. Splurge at Max Chocolatier, or save by hitting the impressive chocolate aisle at a local grocery store.

Call Unique Travel Concepts
for your Mountain Town Vacation

Friday, October 21, 2011

Unique Travel Concepts “Dream” Vacations

Hayman Resort

Hayman is a private island resort in the Great Barrier Reef a scenic and serene setting, ideal for couples and those looking for a more exotic honeymoon. It’s the perfect place to relax by the pool or beach or have a day full of adventure and activities.


Hayman Resort Amenities
  •  You can enjoy a vast amount of activities - from relaxation, indulgence to adventure – Ocean Massage, Night Dives, Sea Plane/Helicopter over to Whitehaven Beach, Great Barrier Reef and Cruise Whitsundays outer reef in a pontoon.
  •  The Beach Villas is the newest most luxurious accommodation in Australia. Designed by Kerry Hill, the villas are very spacious, over 1,300 square feet, with private plunge pools and situated right on the beach
  • Coral-fringed beaches and majestic pools accentuate the secluded style of this private-island resort
  • Hayman offers elegant resort living with 210 guest rooms, suites, penthouses and beach villa, all with private terraces or balconies. Room types for each style of traveler in the Pool Wing, Lagoon Wing or Beach Wing
  • Winner of over 50 Australian and International Best Resort and Excellence awards

Remember our motto:


Call Unique Travel Concepts today at 1-800-879-8635