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How will you broaden your horizons next year? Perhaps you’d like to go hiking in China or visit a hip neighborhood in Sao Paulo. Travelers who prefer their creature comforts might opt for a whisky tour in Scotland or a cooking class in Paris. Legal Times reporters did some of the groundwork and report their discoveries here.
CHINA by Jason McLure With China’s rapid development, the country has ever fewer truly off-the-beaten-path tourist gems. But one spectacular spot that hasn’t yet been overrun is Tiger Leaping Gorge. Perhaps that’s because the gorge is located in Yunnan Province in southwestern China, not far from the Old Town of Lijiang (which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the border of Tibet. There the cliffs of the Haba Mountain and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain rise a spectacular 2,000 meters above the banks of the Yangtze River. The hike through the gorge generally takes two days along a narrow dirt path that hugs the northern cliff a thousand feet above the Yangtze’s rushing waters. Guesthouses and tiny villages are sprinkled along the route, so there’s no need to lug sleeping bags or cookstoves along. Tourist traps are few, but mule drivers are known to follow older or unfit-looking hikers for hours over the path’s most rugged parts in hopes of getting hired as porters. A “must stop” is the appropriately titled Halfway Guesthouse (about seven hours into the hike, $10 per night), which offers a pretty darn good take on apple pie as well as cliffside rooms that feel like they’re suspended in midair over the river. Near the village of Walnut Grove, about three-quarters of the way into the hike, there’s a trail offering a two-hour hike down the cliffs to the edge of the Yangtze. At that spot, legend has it, a tiger once leaped 25 meters over the river’s rushing waters. But be forewarned: A toll collector will charge $1.25 to let the climber go back up the cliff on one of two trails. The routes are named “safe trail” and “dangerous ladder” trail. The former is strongly recommended. To reach the gorge, fly to Lijiang (which can be reached by air from most major Chinese cities — it’s about a 4 1/2 hour flight from Shanghai) and then hire a car and driver ($20) for the three-hour trip to the trailhead in the village of Qiaotou. But go soon, as the Chinese government is engaged in a herculean effort to bring a new tide of tour buses to the gorge by blasting a road out of the cliffs along the gorge’s southern edge — even as it’s simultaneously pushing forward with plans to build a massive dam in the gorge.
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].
BRAZIL by Emma Schwartz The streets of Vila Madalena, an upscale neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil, are steep and uncompromising. But the mix of elegant high-rises, art galleries, and boutique shops creates a Bohemian enclave inside this otherwise-sprawling city of about 20 million. And on the weekends, Paulistas, as the city’s residents are known, descend upon the neighborhood. Vila Madalena blossomed during the 1960s, when professors and students from the nearby University of Sao Paulo moved in. Artists soon followed, naming the streets (in Portuguese) “Sunflower,” “Glitter,” and “Harmony” — words that now seem like relics from the counterculture era. Though the artists still display their work in stores and on walls along the graffiti-covered alleys, Vila Madalena is now among the pricier and hipper parts of town. It’s also home to some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, and clubs. The choices are as diverse as Sao Paulo’s population, which includes sizable and long-standing ethnic groups from Italy, Germany, Lebanon, and Japan. Of course, there is ample opportunity to indulge in the traditional Brazilian fare of meat, rice, and beans. One of the newest additions is Madda, a high-ceilinged corner restaurant and bar on Rua Mourato Coelho with fine meats and strong caipirinhas, the national drink made of cachaca (a sugar cane liquor), lime, and sugar. But some of the most popular spots are Italian or Japanese. Unlike the fast-food-style pizza many Americans are accustomed to, Brazil’s pizza is often considered fine dining. Oficina de Pizza (“Pizza Workshop”) on Rua In�cio Pereira da Rocha is a great example. Sushi is also common in Sao Paulo, home to the largest population of people of Japanese descent outside Japan. Though the city’s major Japanese-Brazilian neighborhood, Liberdade, is across town, more than a dozen sushi restaurants dot the streets in Vila Madalena, including Kabuki on Rua Girassol and Chumar on Rua Fradique Coutinho. Both have a pleasant ambiance and all-you-can-eat meals for about $14.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].
SCOTLAND by Alexia Garamfalvi Ah, Dufftown! For fans of FOX’s animated series, it might sound like Homer Simpson’s idea of paradise, where the rivers flow freely with Duff beer. But to a more refined tippler, the name conjures up images of some of Scotland’s finest Scotch whisky distilleries. Dufftown, home to Glenfiddich and Balvenie, is a key stop on Scotland’s 70-mile Malt Whisky Trail, which meanders through the River Spey valley in northeastern Scotland. The seven distilleries on the trail represent only a portion of the distilleries in this corner of Scotland between Inverness and Aberdeen, many of which offer tours. So if you have failed to spot the monster in nearby Loch Ness, what better way to drown your sorrows than to visit a few distilleries and find out how the fine spirit is made? And what better place to start than Glenfiddich? Many brands of Scotch whisky now available on the market are blends of malt whiskies from different distilleries and some grain whisky, which the locals dismiss as only fit for cooking. The distilleries in this region, though, focus on producing single malts, which are the product of a single distillery and use only malted barley. Glenfiddich is one of the best-selling single malt Scotch whiskies, accounting for about 20 percent of single malt sales worldwide. William Grant founded Glenfiddich in 1886 and nearby Balvenie in 1889, and his descendants still run the business. (Many distilleries in Scotland are no longer owned by Scots, having been bought by international beverage companies such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard.) Although some dismiss Glenfiddich as lacking in character, it’s the only highland single malt to be distilled, matured, and bottled at its own distillery, so that you can see the entire Scotch-making process in one place. It all starts with the water, announces a kilt-clad tour guide with long strawberry-blond hair, who looks far too young to be a whisky aficionado but nonetheless has a deep knowledge and appreciation for the spirit. The word “whisky” comes from a Gaelic word meaning “water of life,” and natural spring water is a critical ingredient in producing a fine-tasting Scotch. Distilleries are concentrated in the area in part because of the purity of the springs. Local legend has it that the smoothness of their Scotch derives from the fact that the spring water runs through heather. As visitors tour the Glenfiddich distillery to see the elaborate process of whisky production, they can be overwhelmed at times by the sharp smell of fermenting barley and fumes almost powerful enough to make them tipsy. From mashing to fermenting, distilling, marrying, and bottling the whisky, it soon becomes clear why the stuff is so expensive. The stone buildings that Grant and his children built by hand in 1886 are still standing, and a great deal of effort goes into maintaining the production process as it was then: The massive wooden vessels, or “washbacks,” where fermentation takes place are made of Douglas fir, although other distilleries now use stainless steel. The huge copper-pot stills, where the wash is distilled, are exact reproductions of the original stills bought by Grant. Tourists can still visit the damp, dark warehouse, with dirt floors, stone walls, and low ceilings, where Scotch ages for 12 to 30 years and in some cases much longer to produce vintage and rare whiskies. The oak casks are secondhand, first having been used to age sherry in Spain or bourbon in the United States. Previous use is said to mellow the casks and give the Scotch subtle flavors. The tour, which is free, tops off with a wee dram in the distillery’s bar. Glenfiddich and many other distilleries in the area also offer in-depth tours and guided tasting sessions for those who seek more. Another way to continue that education is to visit the local Scottish pub, ask the punters what the best Scotch is, and watch a lively debate begin.
Alexia Garamfalvi can be contacted at [email protected].
PARIS by Joe Crea We were minutes into a weeklong Paris cooking class, and already my father was picking up pieces of freshly cut lamb from the floor. Given the task of cubing the sinewy, crimson meat, direct from a farm in Provence, and coating it with North African spices, my father was attempting to rub cumin, ginger, and cayenne pepper into the lamb when his prep bowl slipped. Half of the meat ended up on the kitchen floor of famed food journalist Patricia Wells, our instructor for the next five days. It’s going to be a long week, I thought. Dad is not much of a cook, but he could always make breakfast. Bacon and eggs were his Sunday morning specialty. He crisped the slices of bacon until they nearly crumbled with each bite. Then, with all the flair of a short-order cook, he cracked eggs into the swirling, speckled grease. The aromas of greasy eggs and bacon still take me back to childhood. His cooking had not extended much beyond that. For years, I thought breakfast was all he could (or wanted to) make. Yet more recently he’s developed a greater interest in cuisine. Part of this passion stems from his late uncle, who for many years owned and operated an Italian restaurant in Cleveland. A year ago my father asked me what I’d like for my 30th birthday. I told him I wanted to take a cooking class with him in Paris, taught by Madame Wells. Wells, who has lived in France since 1980, has been offering small, weeklong classes at her studio in Paris and at her estate in Provence for the past 10 years. My father frowned. Not one for French food, he casually suggested we head to Bologna or Sicily and learn from “our people.” I admitted to some apprehension myself. Would he be at all interested in concocting complex demi-glaces or in gingerly wrestling buttery pastry dough? “A disaster in the making,” declared my brother. “You should have gone to Italy.” Despite the prophecies of doom, we went ahead with the trip. The first week of October, we arrived in Paris and headed to Wells’ small studio. It’s a cozy place, with a old French bistro clock hanging from the ceiling. Her tiny but well-equipped kitchen is crammed with gadgets and spices, including fresh vanilla beans in her sugar canister. “It just gives the sugar more flavor,” said Wells, a petite woman with short blonde hair. On the first day, she already had a pot of chicken stock on the stove, simmering to a deep golden brown. As we inquired about the ingredients she used, Wells shared with us the secrets to a good stock: Don’t stir. Never let it reach a boil, as this makes the fat emulsify, leading to a cloudy mixture. Use a 10-quart pasta pot fitted with a colander to make straining the broth easy. And scorch the freshly cut onions (with the skins on) over a gas flame to give the broth a richer flavor. Then insert a clove into each onion half. Our schedule was simple. Each day, six students would gather around her dining-room table, and Wells would assign us recipes. Then we’d head into the kitchen to prepare our lunch. She designed the daily menu inspired by morning trips to the markets — almond-stuffed dates saut�ed in olive oil with fleur de sel and a chilled, marinated heirloom-tomato soup, for instance. One salad in particular stands out in memory: blanched broccoli, crushed pistachios, fresh slices of avocado, lemon juice, and pistachio oil from Huilerie Leblanc & Fils, a stone mill in Burgundy that has produced artisanal oils since 1878. The contrast of greens made the salad instantly appealing (I wanted to copy those colors on the walls of my home). We devoured the dish in minutes. In addition to cooking, we also shopped, repeatedly and voraciously. We visited cheese shops and bakeries with Wells as our guide, as well as heading to the March� Pr�sident Wilson, a food market in the 16th arrondissement. The market, which is open only on Wednesdays and Saturdays until 2 p.m., is a food haven with seasonal produce and fresh cuts of meat and fish. In broken French, I asked one butcher why the French sell plucked, raw chickens with their feet and heads still attached. It maintains the freshness of the meat, he said. If the feet and head were removed, oxygen would permeate the flesh faster, hastening its spoilage. With no breakfast in his stomach that day, my father approached a baker’s stand at the market and purchased a crusty baguette. He tore into the bread, passing half to me. Fresh, plump figs overflowing from a plastic green basket caught my eye. I dropped five euros on just seven figs, offering one to my father. When I pierced the purple skin with my teeth, the juicy pink innards dribbled down my chin. My father said they reminded him of the figs he would pick from his uncle’s tree when he was a kid. Even with his initial dreams of making Italian delicacies, my father soon found happiness in preparing dishes such as seared duck breasts with Espelette pepper and arugula salad topped with freshly seared chanterelle mushrooms and Parmigiano. But pure heaven was watching Dad put together an olive marinade early in the week. Every Saturday when I was growing up, he took my brother and me to the Italian markets in Cleveland to load up on thick wedges of Parmigiano-Reggiano, paper-thin cuts of prosciutto, crusty bread, and (always) tubs of freshly cured olives. Now he was marinating olives in a combination of olive oil, red wine vinegar, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, garlic, and strips of lemon and orange rinds. We grazed on this combination all week long as we prepped our meals. Watching him take the time to learn, carefully slicing the garlic into thin layers and asking me how to zest fruit, I was in awe. My father. The financial consultant. Republican. Reticent. Unable to ask for advice. Now in need of his son’s help. I grabbed the zester and orange and demonstrated. Soon enough, he was grating long slices of springy zest, perfuming the air and shooting me a Jack Nicholson smirk. I can’t remember having seven minutes of his attention growing up. I now had seven days. We were happy.
Joe Crea can be contacted at [email protected].

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