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677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   

Hotel California

Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.

The place names are very Hollywood-exotic and yet almost imaginary: Cathedral City, Bermuda Dunes, Yucca Valley, Rancho Mirage. They sound like locations for gritty Westerns or pretty soap operas. But most people know the Coachella Valley by the most famous of the "desert resorts," Palm Springs.

It may be in the desert, but this corner of California is far from remote and desolate. It had, after all, taken me just over two hours to drive from Sunset Boulevard. Such proximity to Beverly Hills has promoted the area as a retreat from the stresses of the silver screen since the '30s. The valley enjoys a dry, restorative climate thanks to the San Jacinto Mountains that, at almost 2,800 meters, act like a picket fence keeping the LA smog out.

No doubt the mountains are equally good at acting as a buffer zone between uptight Tinseltown and the laid-back desert resorts. Palm Springs is healthy, wholesome, and close enough for the story-hungry West Hollywood reporter or paparazzo to motor to-for over half a century, these have been reasons enough for career-obsessed movie stars to make it a home away from home.

Marilyn Monroe was photographed at the Palm Springs Tennis Club. Doris Day graced the poolside of The Chase on West Arenas Avenue. Charlie Chaplin rested at an inn on South Cahuilla Road. In those days, you didn't need to be a star with matching initials to enjoy the air and seductive lifestyle of the valley: Other celebrity locals included Walt Disney, Steve McQueen, Liberace, Elvis Presley and Clark Gable.


Glitzy getaway
Today, Palm Springs is still a popular retreat for moneyed Californians. They come to soak up the atmosphere of spas, clubs and luxury hotels, or to play a round of golf on one of the links scattered throughout the resorts (many retire here to residential communities built around private courses).

But accommodation is plentiful and I had no difficulty finding a comfortable room with a palatable price tag. Evening entertainment across the valley is a sophisticated mix of bistros, lounges and hearthside chatter, and includes a handful of casinos conveniently built on land owned by Cahuilla and Mission Indians and therefore exempt from California law, which does not sanction gambling.

Located at the western edge of the canyon and just a champagne flute's throw away from the hubbub of Palm Canyon Drive, the Tennis Club District is a host of delightful villas and lodges. The San Jacinto Mountains rise abruptly and ruggedly at the edge of the quarter and provide a magnificent backdrop-particularly at dawn when the barren rock face is bathed in the ruby glow of the rising sun. Gradually the sunlight creeps across the valley, highlighting tall palms from the top down, and then floods along streets and into windows.

By luck, I had arrived in town on a busy pre-Christmas Thursday when many of the district's hotels and inns throw open their doors to all-comers for the annual evening Walking Tour of the Inns. It was the perfect opportunity to sneak a peek at the rooms and gardens of these inviting boutique hotels.


Lodge hodgepodge
The Orbit Inn on West Arenas Road is a beguiling '50s pastiche. Broadband Internet, CD players and microwaves are smartly hidden modern conveniences at this recently renovated hotel. Wire-o chairs and recliners polka dot the patio, pencil-legged tables and cocktail shakers decorate poolside rooms, while the board games and bedside reading are additional tokens of that bygone decade.

Neighboring hotels, such as Coyote Inn and La Serena Villas, reflect the area's Spanish heritage. Bougainvillea and hibiscus glow in the evening sun against whitewashed walls and adobe tiles, shady courtyards are cooled by the trickle of small fountains, and lush gardens surround blue pools and bubbling Jacuzzis.

After touring the hotels and having sampled a range of refreshments from mulled wine to calorie-heavy cookies, I stumbled a block over to the bustling town center for an open evening planned to coincide with the weekly VillageFest. Instigated by Sonny Bono, one-time mayor of Palm Springs, the Thursday night fair-cum-market stretches along the town's main drag, Palm Canyon Drive. It's a busy concoction of barbecues and food stalls, market farmers selling chillies or cheese, bouncy castles and a beauty queen or two. This stretch of road passes the Historic Plaza Theatre, which presents "The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies," a revue starring one-time chorus girls who, though well into their feeble years, attempt high kicks and other high jinks dressed in fishnet stockings and frilly feather hats-certainly not an evening for the squeamish or impressionable. The Guinness Book of Records lists one of the brigades as "the oldest performing showgirls."

Sometimes, of course, it's good to drive out of the Coachella Valley and head to the surrounding highlands that offer refreshing escapes and breathtaking vistas. Idyllwild is a lovely town set amidst the alpine beauty of the Mount San Jacinto State Park. The circuitous, 40-mile journey from Palm Canyon Drive pays dividends-the log cabins and stone dwellings of the town are appealing and at times seem the creation of a movie-set designer, while the pine and cedar forests offer a surprising, and fragrant, flipside to the arid valley floor. Near to Idyllwild but closer to downtown, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (ropeway) runs just north of the city and climbs to an elevation of 2,500m. It offers chilly but magnificent views of the valley. A range of fares is available including a ride-and-dine option for $30, and the last car descends at 9:45pm.

After lengthy deliberation, however, I decided that all of these activities seemed a little too active. I stretched out on my lounge chair, and was lulled by the lapping pool and the slow-mo swaying of palms. Something in the empty azure sky caught my attention and, as the thought wandered, I nodded off. Again.


Getting there
JAL ( and ANA ( fly between Tokyo and Palm Springs International Airport via San Francisco (where passengers change to United or other partner airlines). American Airlines and United offer flights between Narita and Palm Springs with changeovers at Los Angeles. Palm Springs is a two-hour drive from LAX (approx. 195km). Greyhound (via San Bernardino) and Amtrak (Indio service) also provide services to the valley.

Where to stay
There are many hotels in the valley, appealing to all pockets and tastes. The following are those in the Tennis Club District: Orbit Inn, 370 West Arenas Road (Tel: 760-323-3585;; La Serena Villas, 339 South Belardo Road (Tel: 760-325-3216); Coyote Inn, 234 South Pantencio Road (Tel: 760-327-0304); San Marino Hotel, 255 West Baristo Road (Tel 760-325-6902). Other accommodation include Movie Colony Hotel, 726 North Indian Canyon Drive (Tel: 760-320-6340, Web: and, for the budget-conscious, the Travelodge, 333 East Palm Canyon Drive (Tel: 760-327-1211), which is centrally located and offers rooms for approximately $50. Some of these hotels may be booked through websites such as

More information
The official tourist site,, presents an excellent introduction to the valley, its attractions, hotels and nightlife. The Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism can be contacted at 777 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 201, Palm Springs, CA 92262. Within the US call 1-800-927-7256, or call 1-760-778-8415, fax 1-760-323-3021 or email

Photocredit: Mark Parren Taylor