There’s plenty to love on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, in LOS CABOS

“Niño de mis ojos.” It’s what Frida Kahlo called Diego Rivera: “boy of my eyes.” I learn the phrase at a restaurant that’s named for and inspired by the colourful and iconoclastic Mexican artist. The backdrop is similarly wild, beautiful and full of ardour. Waves crash. The sun blazes. Palm fronds sway. Ah, Baja.

Frida is just one of seven evocative restaurants at the all-inclusive Grand Velas Los Cabos, which sits in the middle of the corridor between San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, the two towns of Los Cabos—or “the capes”—at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula.

Go west, some 20 km, and Cabo San Lucas offers bars and revelry (hello, Cabo Wabo, rocker Sammy Hagar’s legendary joint) as well as the iconic El Arco (“the arch”) and aptly named stony appendage of Land’s End. A panga or water taxi will drop you off at Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach). But beyond this, past the serrated rocks and barking sea lions, it’s just thousands of kilometres of Pacific Ocean. Or, 15 km on the other side of the resort, are the colonial buildings and historic missionary church of San José del Cabo.

But at the Grand Velas Los Cabos, between the two, is a bit of a hideaway on a swathe of wild beach (no swimming here; stick to the three tiers of infinity pools or go to nearby Chileno Beach). I spend an afternoon settled on a day bed in the sand, set amidst craggy rocks that look like they could have crumbled from El Arco itself, and just listen. It almost feels as if I’m lounging at Land’s End. Except that I have a mezcalita in my hand (that’s a margarita made with mezcal, also known as a mezcalgarita and on-trend).

Other Mexican concoctions I sample: chelada (cerveza with lime juice), michelada (add Worcestershire or Maggi plus chili spice) and ojo rojo (add tomato or clamato for the “red eye,” which also happens to be a hangover cure). I could sip and sit on the sand, by the pool or in it all day, but there’s much more to do here: a spa with a workshop (make your own mask with natural ingredients) and guided tequila and mezcal tastings, from joven to anejo. Yes, back to the sipping. I discern notes of citrus, spice, grass…and learn another Mexican saying. “First one without water, second one with water, third one like water.” Indeed.

Next stop: the spa, where there’s a hydrotherapy ritual (and a thermal lounge chair with my name on it) and treatments with blue agave. After which the feast begins anew. After Frida, it’s hard to choose. I’d be happily sated eating bowl after bowl of ceviche poolside at Cabrillo, but just steps away, at Cocina de Autor, there’s a multi-course menu by two-star Michelin chef Sidney Schutte. Buen provecho.  — Barb Sligl

[STAY] Grand Velas Los Cabos  loscabos.grandvelas.com

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

Iconic BUENOS AIRES is bueno indeed

On the menu in the colourful ’hood of La Boca. Photo by Janet Gyenes

Every city has its icons. Places, people and landmarks that reveal its history and culture. The heartbeat of Buenos Aires’ porteños (“people of the port” as locals are called) thumps in its tango halls, parrillas and fútbol clubs—a trifecta of romance, indulgence and rivalry. With 48 neighbourhoods or barrios, this metropolis of three million people is alive and electrifying. But I also want to peer into its past.

So I head to the upscale Recoleta barrio and visit the historic Cementerio de la Recoleta. This somnolent city of the dead is home to Argentina’s military heroes and politicians, including Eva “Evita” Perón. It’s surprisingly serene strolling the lanes crowded with 6,000 statues, sarcophagi and crypts. Palms offer shade from the fierce sun. Flowers find footholds in the stone. Cats play hide-and-seek under the wings of angels.

Cementerio de la Recoleta, where famous Argentinians like Eva Perón are buried. Photo by Janet Gyenes

The sheer scale of some of the city’s sights, however, almost overwhelm. Like the 71.5-metre Obelisco de Buenos Aires erected in 1936. I get a peek of its point on a blistering bus ride down 16-lane Avenida 9 de Julio (the widest on the planet) whose name honours Argentina’s Independence Day in 1816. At Parque Thays I watch people smirk and smile at Fernando Botero’s Naked Male Torso, a bronze behemoth. But I’m more mesmerized by the work of Argentinian architect Eduardo Catalano in nearby Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Floralis Genérica is a 23-metre, 18-ton aluminum and stainless-steel flower. Its six outsize petals open daily at 8am, representing “hope reborn” according to Catalano. They close at sunset like a gargantuan Venus flytrap swallowing the sky.

Left to Right: Botero’s Naked Male Torso; The 18-ton Floralis Genérica opens and closes daily. Photo by Janet Gyenes

During a graffiti tour of the working-class barrios La Boca and Barracas I see a woman’s kerchief stencilled on a wall. It’s not just a cute piece of artwork, explains Sorcha O’Higgins from Graffitimundo. The words above it—La Boca no olvida a sus desaparecidos—pack a punch: The Boca does not forget its disappeared. We pass a jumble of corrugated-metal buildings painted in primary colours, pausing at a mural of fists, faces, names, dates and the words Ni olvido ni perdon. Do not forget or forgive. It’s another reference to Argentina’s Dirty War. From 1976–1983 as many as 30,000 people suspected of opposing the military regime were executed or thrown off planes in “death flights” over the Rio Plata. In 1977, 14 mothers of these “disappeared,” wearing kerchiefs with their children’s names embroidered on the back, silently marched in front of the presidential palace on the Plaza de Mayo. That promise has endured. Families of the missing still march there every Thursday at 3:30pm.

Mural in La Boca barrio memorializing Argentina’s “disappeared”. Photo by Janet Gyenes

Kerchiefs and fists aren’t the only symbols on the streets. In recent years “graphic design [collectives] Dome and Fase decided to create happy characters… as a positive visual antidote,” says O’Higgins. Many murals, products of a recent city-funded graffiti fest, are lively and self-referential. Like a multi-storey man painted by an artist who works in a parilla, says O’Higgins. His shirt is unbuttoned to his naval. Gold medallions are splayed across his chest. And his massive hands are curled, not into fists, but around a knife and fork. They’re slicing another symbolic staple: chorizo sausage. It’s a welcome jolt of optimism in this super-charged South American city.  — Janet Gyenes

[MORE] Check out turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en

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Chicago, IL

CHICAGO has some big-time charm

Lyric Opera House

“This is my kind of town, Chicago is…” So go the lyrics of the famous Frank Sinatra song, his paean to the city and its character, architecture, music, people… And with more than 5,195 restaurants (25 of which have Michelin stars!), 250 theatres (hello Hamilton, the must-see musical that’s on an extended run in Chicago until January 2019), 200 dance companies, iconic opera house, some 56 museums and 700-plus public artworks, Chicago entertains and charms as much as the so-called Sultan of Swoon.

Lobby ceiling of the Palmer House Hotel; On the Loop’s elevated “L” train circuit

Start and stay in the Loop, Chicago’s business district and downtown core, where the historic Palmer House Hotel is the longest continually running hotel in the US (since 1873, when it reopened in grand fashion after the Great Chicago Fire). Step out onto State Street (“…that great street”!) and into the buzz of the city amidst iconic architecture. Better yet, take a ride on the “L” train’s elevated circuit through the Loop and marvel at the cornices and columns here, the glass and steel there, and how it all comes together in this cityscape created by the likes of Mies van der Rohe. After the train, take a boat on the Chicago River for another perspective on the birthplace of the skyscraper.

Architectural cruise on the Chicago River

The towers that skirt the snaking river also seem to embrace Chicago’s go-to gathering spot, Millennium Park. Here, you’ll be wowed by yet more cool structures and art: amphitheatre by Frank Gehry, Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor (simply known as “The Bean”) and Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa. On a hot late-September day, this interactive artwork’s two giant spouting video sculptures become a spontaneous waterpark, filled with families and foodies taking a break from the Chicago Gourmet fest (September 28-30).

Cloud Gate (also known as “The Bean”) in Millennium Park; Crown Fountain, public art and video sculpture
Seurat at the Art Institute of Chicago

More art is just steps away at the Art Institute of Chicago, voted number-one museum in the world (TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards). Its permanent collection has 300,000 works, including Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which has a famous cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Stand and stare like Ferris and his crew did (and everyone else).

And then, just across the river, there’s the Magnificent Mile (900 stores within eight blocks) and another set of iconic buildings that induce neck craning: the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower (its façade dotted with stones from historic buildings around the world, including the Taj Mahal), John Hancock Center (now called 875 N Michigan) and Willis Tower (where you can step out over the city on a glass-bottomed ledge—103 floors up). To the south is the Museum Campus, made up of Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum (home of “Sue,” the world’s largest, most extensive and best preserved T. Rex). Also in the South Loop: Soldier Field, the stadium of the Chicago Bears (da Bears!), and McCormick Place, the largest convention centre in the US.

Deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s

Walk back towards the Loop with football fans after a Sunday-afternoon game, along “Chicago’s front yard” of Grant Park, for one other must-stop. Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. The debate is fierce over Chicago’s best pizza, but you won’t be disappointed with an order of the “Lou” (spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, mozza, romano and cheddar in a garlic buttercrust). You’re welcome.

And, yes, Frank was right. Chicago is “One town that won’t let you down. It’s my kind of town.” — Story & photos by Barb Sligl

MORE: Check out - choosechicago.com

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