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2008 road trips: three ultimate routes: Geneva to Zurich San Francisco to L.A. Auckland to Wellington.

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THE SWISS ALPS

Story by MATTHEW LINK

Photograph by ALEX TREBUS

Linking the diplomats of French-speaking Geneva to the bankers of German-speaking Zurich, the awe-inspiring Swiss Alpine route tunnels into the rugged heart of the country, through the stunning lake-and-mountain-choked towns of Montreux, Gstaad, Interlaken, and Lucerne. Cowbells clank while gondolas whoosh to peaks overhead as you submerge yourself in the supernaturally spotless scenery that makes this one of the great road trips of a lifetime.

SWITZERLAND

Geneva To Zurich

Still-Life Photography by ANTHONY VERDE

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1. GENEVA

The United Nations' impressive Palais des Nations (+41-22-917-4896) can be toured from April to October. Of special interest are the rooms pertaining to Dag Hammarskjold, the reputedly gay secretary-general who died in a plane crash in 1961. Dialogai (+41-22-906-4040), Geneva's 26-year-old LGBT organization, holds a group dinner every Wednesday in its social Cafe Lingua, where you can practice your French and other languages with queer locals and U.N. staffers.

2. MONT-SUR-ROLLE

The northern slopes of Lake Geneva produce fine white wines made from the distinct chasselas grapes, the perfect companion to radette or fondue. Call ahead to the tiny gay-owned winery Cave de La Muscadelle (+41-22-825-1962) and sample wine in a room built inside an enormous barrel while drinking in the lake views.

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3. LAUSANNE

The stylish apartments of the gay Rainbow Inn Guesthouse (+41-21-311-6969) feature huge living rooms and panoramic terraces. This is the best place to stay while sampling Lausanne's enthusiastic gay life. Free admission to Pink Beach, the sophisticated gay sauna across the street, is included. Time your trip to coincide with one of the gay Jungle Parties (2008 dates: March 23, May 11, July 31, August 3, September 21, December 31; +41-21-340-6969) thrown at the four-story Mad nightclub with rooms ranging from Buddhist to ancient Greek. The parties attract top DJs and thousands of queers from all over Europe and beyond. Lesbians should check out the Kill Your Idols parties (2008 dates to be announced; +41-21-311-1719), which are held five times a year in an old movie theater in the heart of town. For the finest watches in Switzerland, stop by the elegant, gay-owned Junod (+41-21-312-8366) watch shop, which has been run by descendants of the same family since 1867. Junod has unique examples of Swiss brands such as Blancpain, Chopard, TAG Heuer, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and, of course, Rolex. Head upstairs to the stunning watch museum, and don't miss the rare $20,000 Keith Haring Swatch (the gay artist was a longtime resident of Lausanne).

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4. MONTREUX

Freddie Mercury, the flamboyantly gay lead singer of the rock band Queen who died of AIDS complications in 1991, spent the last months of his life in his beloved Montreux. Now a lakeside statue of him attracts flocks of fans who lay flowers at his feet. They also congregate on the first weekend of September for the Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Day (+41-21-966-4427) to take tours of local sites associated with him. Mercury often stayed at the mansion-like Fairmont Le Montreux Palace (+41-21-962-1212), built in 1905. His lake-view suite (number 1721) is filled with photos of him. One of the most famous gay poets Europe ever produced, Lord Byron (1788-1824), made Montreux's Chateau de Chillon (+41-21-966-8910) famous in his epic poem The Prisoner of Chillon. Walk in Byron's footsteps in this breathtaking, towering 13th-century castle built over Lake Geneva.

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5. GSTAAD

Enter German-speaking Switzerland and rub elbows with the rich and famous (like queer icons Liz Taylor and Julie Andrews, not to mention King Juan Carlos of Spain) who flock to this moneyed yet hidden mountain village. Check into the celebrity-popular five-star Gstaad Palace Hotel (+41-33-748-5000), which was built in 1913 on a mountain perch with 360-degree views.

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6. INTERLAKEN

Hunky George Lazenby played James Bond in frilly tops and a kilt sans slip in 1969's camp-tastic On Her Majesty's Secret Service, in which he wooed the ladies in the villain Blofeld's lair atop Schilthorn (+41-33-826-0007), one of the highest peaks in the Swiss Alps. Nowadays tourists can soak in the top-of-the-world views in the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant (the world's first), where parts of the movie were filmed. The menu includes the James Bond Breakfast: Swiss cheese, scrambled eggs, and, naturally, champagne.

7. LUCERNE

Come for the perfect lake and mountain views in this ancient town; stay for the edgy nightlife at Club Alcatraz (+4178-645-9141) in the Jailhotel Lowengraben-which is actually a former jail converted into a hotel where you can slumber in the nicely refurbished cells. Or swing by the parties at the local gay center Uferlos (+41-78-360-1460), with its relaxed upscale bar and lounge that can accommodate up to 100.

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8. ZURICH

Overlooking the city, explore the Thomas Mann Archives (+41-44-632-4045), where the fully reconstructed office of the gay German writer (Death in Venice) contains a gorgeous painting above his sofa of naked boys bathing. Once wealthy from the silk trade, Zurich is now home to out designer Andre Stutz's stunning Fabric Frontline shop (+41-44-241-0700), where many of Europe's famous opera singers get decked out. Dine in the artful ambience of his Restaurant Seidenspinner next door, which features ceilings and walls made of swirled mirror shards. Restaurant Kronenhalle (+41-44-262-9900) is probably the most famous eatery in Switzerland. Patrons dine on classic Swiss and Bavarian cuisine in a wood-paneled salon dripping with original works by Chagall, Picasso, Kandinsky, and Miro-all of whom frequented the place along with queer glitterati such as Yves Saint Laurent and Rudolf Nureyev. During the summer, head directly to the gayest lakeside swimming area, the Strandbad Tiefenbrunnen (+41-44-422-3200), with men-only nude-sunbathing decks and gay-themed parties. Book in advance for the one-of-a-kind homosexuality in animals tour at the Zurich Zoo (+41-44-254-2533) for an up-close and personal look at the queer flamingos, penguins, and other sexually nonconforming inhabitants.

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CALIFORNIA

SAN FRANCISCO TO LOS ANGELES

By MATTHEW LINK

From the crunchy granola coastline of Northern California to the star-studded Riviera towns of Southern California, the time-honored way to spy the Pacific dramatically kissing the West Coast is road trip down California State Route 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway. With the California coast's rolling hills cascading above seal-lined beaches, lush vineyards, sexy surfer enclaves, and artist villages, it could take a lifetime to explore one of America's most famous sun-drenched drives.

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1. SAN GREGORIO

Despite the frequent fog and bone-chilling waters, the coastline between San Francisco and Santa Cruz is riddled with gay-popular nudist beaches. By far the best is San Gregorio Beach, a half-hour's gorgeous drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco. Between mileposts 18 and 19 you'll find the entrance to a dirt parking lot run by a gay couple who oversee the expansive cliff-lined sands of the country's oldest nude beach (since 1967). Driftwood structures make for natural sunbathing fortresses. Call the adjoining San Greqorio State Park (650-879-2170) for weather conditions.

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2. SANTA CRUZ

This quintessential Californian college surf town is not only home to the one-of-a-kind Santa Cruz Surfinq Museum (831-420-6289), but it also harbors another rarity: a gay surf group, the Rainbow Surfers (831-4256562), whose members welcome visitors to join their casual surfin' safaris. The town's gay-owned Vino Cruz wine shop (831-426-8466) specializes in over 150 wines all made within the Santa Cruz Mountains, an area that is quickly making its mark. Swing by the cool, modern, glassed-in store in the historic downtown for tastings.

3. MONTEREY BAY

The small Latino farm town of Castroville is famous not only for being the self-proclaimed "artichoke center of the world" but also because it crowned the then-unknown Marilyn Monroe as Artichoke Queen in 1947. In Monroe's honor, the very local Franco's Norma Jean Club (831-633-2090) hosts Saturday-night Latino drag performers on its velvet-curtained cabaret stage amid posters of Marilyn.

4. CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA

This millionaire's village (Doris Day lives nearby, and Clint Eastwood was once the mayor) is a walkable hamlet overflowing with quaint if pricey cottages and more upscale art galleries than you can shake a credit card at. Works by iconic queer Big Sur artist Emile Norman, famous for his intricate wood sculptures, can be found at Carmel's oldest gallery, the Carmel Art Association (831-624-6176).

5. BIG SUR

This mystical region where steep mountains plunge into the Pacific has long served as a refuge for artists in their quest for divine inspiration. Seek sanctuary at the gay-owned Eagle's Nest guesthouse (831-667-2587), perched high on a mountain, with a sunbathing veranda that takes in colossal ocean views and an interior with exquisite Asian furnishings. In Jack Kerouac's Big Sur, he notes of a visit to the local hot springs: "A gang of fairies there naked all standing around in various bathhouse postures that make me hesitate to take my clothes off just on general principles." These spring-fed pools are still nude but now luxuriously renovated by the Esalen Institute (831-6673000), which allows the public nighttime access to the private springs. Be consumed by the stars above as waves crash below your cliffside perch.

6. SAN SIMEON

The world-famous Hearst Castle (800-444-4445) is the monumental hillside retreat built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst over the course of almost 30 years to house his monolithic art collections and host celebrity guests (bisexual actor Errol Flynn was supposedly kicked out for breaking Hearst's house rules against excessive alcohol consumption and unmarried guests sharing a bed). The castle's genius architect, Julia Morgan, designed some 800 buildings during her lifetime and was believed to be lesbian.

7. SAN LUIS OBISPO

Do gay dude ranches really exist? Well, it may not have horses, but Temptation Ranch (888-213-7733), a gay men's retreat with clothing-optional swimming nestled in a private, golden, oak-filled valley, comes darn close to queer cowboy paradise. Tasteful cabins and a well-appointed ranch house rental-not to mention a gym, lake, and Jacuzzi-make this one of the best-kept gay travel secrets in California.

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8. SANTA BARBARA

One of California's most stunning and wealthiest towns (and that's saying something), Santa Barbara is a Mediterranean-style gem known for its innovative restaurant scene. Two lesbian-run local fixtures especially stand out: Shalboob's (805-963-0378) has been serving fresh fish and steaks in casual elegance since 1987, and Sojourner Cafe (805-965-7922), Santa Barbara's original coffeehouse in 1978, dishes up an eclectic menu of gourmet international cuisine.

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9. MALIBU

Following the recent renovation of its famous pier, Malibu is further gussying herself up-thanks to gay Hollywood icon David Geffen-with the only luxury oceanfront hotel between Santa Monica and Santa Barbara. The Malibu Beach Inn (310-456-6444) reopened in reopened in 2007 after a plush multimillion-dollar refurbishment. It occupies a exclusive "Billionaire's Beach," with glassed-in balconies, premier artwork, and a European-trained staff.

10. SANTA MONICA Will Roders State Beach

(310-305-9503) is better known to many L.A. gays as "Ginger Rogers Beach," since this three-quarter-mile stretch of sand and mountain views has remained gay-popular since the '50s. Along adjoining West Channel Road there was once a gayborhood anchored by Friendship bar, which closed in 2005 after a 68-year run as a watering hole made famous by queer patron-author Christopher Isherwood, who lived in the canyon above.

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NEW ZEALAND

AUCKLAND TO WELLINGTON

By PETER WELLS

Starting from the easy-livincj gay mecca of Auckland (coincidentally nicknamed "Queen City") and finishing in the charming boho capital city of Wellington, you'll be smitten with the contrasts of New Zealand's North Island. This classic driving tour takes you to vineyards amid gently rolling pastures, past the relaxing hot-mud pools of Rotorua, through huge mountain ravines lifted up by earthquakes, and then on to the beautiful little art deco city of Napier and the cute carpenter-Gothic gay-friendly village of Greytown (a.k.a. Gaytown).

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1. AUCKLAND

Head straight to the leafy, gay-buzzy inner-city suburb of Ponsonby and check into the Moana Vista (+64-9376-5028), a gay Victorian guesthouse, a stroll away from the harbor and a cruisy tidal beach. Visit gay eateries on Ponsonby Road like SPQR (+64-9-360-1710) for people watching, excellent paella, and flamboyant waiters. The city's Civic Theatre is an Arabian carpet ride of a building where iconic local lesbian Freda Stark nakedly danced her way to fame in the 1930s. Take a private tour with former ballet dancer Eric Kearney (civictheatre@xtra.co.nz). Hop on a 45-minute ferry ride to vineyard- and mansion-filled Waiheke Island and its gay-popular, clothing-optional Little Palm Beach.

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2. NGARUAWAHIA

This was the traditional seat of the Maori monarchy and the residence of the late Maori queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu. The decor in the Royal Palace is a winning combo of a 1940s-vintage cocktail lounge and brilliant local tribal carvings. In March, watch magnificent ornately etched canoes race in the century-old Nqaruawahia Regatta, in which well-built shirtless Maori men ply the paddles down the river.

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3. HAMILTON

An easy 90-minute drive south of Auckland, this is the town where Rocky Horror Picture Show creator Richard O'Brien spent part of his youth-hence the statue in honor of his psycho butler Riff Raft on Victoria Street, the town's main thoroughfare. Opposite the statue, sip excellent coffee and watch the beefy cow-town "brads" stroll by at the narrow and elegant Scotts Epicurean Cafe (+647-839-6680).

4. ROTORUA

Amid the pastureland of the Geyser Highway, this sulphur- and mud-springs city has been an international center of tourism for over 150 years. Stop by the upscale Polynesian Spa (+64-7-3481328). It's a great spot for hot springs bathing, hydro spa therapies, and warm-mud facials in a tranquil outdoor setting overlooking Lake Rotorua. The Rotorua Museum of Art and History (+64-7-349-4350) is housed in the Tudor-style castle of an old hydrotherapy spa that dates back to 1908. It's an Edwardian hallucination amid the boiling mud with a show providing an earthquake experience. See the faintly seedy remains of the all-male mud baths where guys hung out nude all day as part of their "treatment."

5. WAIOTAPU

This lunar-like landscape of geysers includes the Lady Knox Geyser, which spectacularly ejaculates 20 meters daily around 10:15 A.M., and lesser-known thermal pools like Kerosene Creek, which is clothing-optional one Saturday each month-and where the water and men are all hot.

6. NAPIER

After a dramatic drive through mountainous hills and valleys, you'll sight magnificent Hawke's Bay and the art deco town of Napier. Drop by the Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery (+64-6-835-9240), run by gay curator Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, who happens to be the top writer on New Zealand design history. View a film about the town's devastating 1931 earthquake as well as funky exhibits like cyberpunk London men's dresses. For an utterly restful and beautifully designed stay, check into the men-only Nqatahi Lodqe (+64-6-877-1525). Set amid 12 acres of orchards (including a garden with penises made out of native plants), Ngatahi radiates a lovely, clothing-optional peacefulness. Your gay host, John, takes you on walking tours of the Spanish Mission architecture of nearby Hastings. The bistro at Black Barn Vineyards (+64-6-8777-85) combines excellent food, wine, and views with a contemporary art gallery. Its grassy amphitheater has hosted concerts by Dame Kid Te Kanawa and Rod Stewart.

7. GREYTOWN

Called "Gaytown" by the locals because so many queers reside there, this charming little hamlet set among the vineyards of the Martinborough area is filled with antique shops, wooden villas, pretty gardens, and French cafes. At The Village Cafe (+64-6-306-8814) proprietors Chris and Bruce cure their own bacon and make their own preserves. The Grape and Olive (+64-6-306-9043) is a carpenter-Gothic cottage villa that comes with a fully stocked kitchen, Egyptian cotton linens, an outdoor courtyard, and a roaring hearth in the library. Your hosts, Kevin and David, can direct you to excellent river swimming holes in the local forest parks.

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8. WELLINGTON

New Zealand's small capital (the world's southernmost) is an artsy Seattle-style city with a gorgeous seafront lined with sculptures celebrating local artists. Wellington was put on the world's map by local director Peter Jackson (the Lord of the Rinqs trilogy), and nowadays you may spot the likes of Sigourney Weaver or Sir Ian McKellen. As in most capitals, the gay scene tends to be a bit closeted, especially when compared with Auckland, but it's active under the surface. An interestingly odd place to stay is Koromiko Homestay (+64-4-938-6539), perched on a steep cliff at the end of a winding, narrow road. Run by a cheeky trio of guys in a relationship, the multilevel '70s architectural masterpiece has two Yellow Submarine-like guest suites overlooking the harbor. Be sure to make a pilgrimage to the Victorian birthplace of Katherine Mansfield (+64-4-473-7268), New Zealand's famous bisexual writer and the only author Virginia Woolf envied. Marvel at the claustrophobic interiors that produced the fiery writer, and check out the clothes that made her a consummate style vixen. Finish with a meal and a drink at Nikau Gallery Cafe (+64-4801-4168) inside the elegant City Gallery Wellington. Its Anglo-Indian kedgeree dish is superb, and in a city that's often windy and cold, the cafe sunny atmosphere is a true treasure.
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Author:Link, Matthew
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Apr 22, 2008
Words:2847
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