Sunday, 25 September 2011

Greek Tragedy Tops World's Debt List

(CNN) – Greece has hit another low point in the 18 months since its debt problems worried global markets and even threatened the existence of the European Monetary Union.

On Monday, Standard & Poor’s – one of the ‘big three’ credit ratings agencies – cut the ratings of the troubled Mediterranean nation three notches to CCC with a negative outlook. That makes Greece the least credit-worthy country rated by the credit agency and signals the belief that Athens will default on its debt payments.

So if Greece is the worst, who is the second worst? According to the S&P, these are the top 10 nations least likely to pay back debts :

1. Greece (CCC rating)
2. Jamaica (B-)
3. Ecuador (B-)
4. Pakistan (B-)
5. Grenada (B-)
6. Fiji (B-)
7. Belarus (B)
8. Argentina (B)
9. Belize (B)
10. Ghana (B)

The good news for Greece: Unlike Ecuador and Argentina, it hasn’t recently defaulted on its debt. Ecuador defaulted in 1999 and in 2008; Argentina defaulted in 2001.

S&P’s revised rating comes a week after another Big Three ratings agency, Moody’s Investors Services, downgraded its rating on Greece, saying the nation has a 50-50 chance of defaulting on its debt. (However, Moody’s rates Ecuador even lower than Greece.)

But the risks for the financial world are much larger with the Greek situation, because of the pressure it puts on the 17 nations united under the euro currency. A default from Greece is bound to rekindle fears of possible defaults from other euro nations, like Portugal and Ireland, and reignite the debate on whether the eurozone can survive.

Last year, Greece got $145 billion in aid from the EU and IMF to make its debt payments. Greek press is reporting the country now will seek an additional $58 billion.

Why? To borrow cash in the form of bonds, the market is demanding 25% interest payments for a two-year loan.

On Tuesday European ministers will gather to discuss possible solutions to the ongoing Greek drama. As CNN’s Emily Reuben explains, Germany wants private sector to take a hit with a “soft restructuring,” for example, which will extend Greece’s repayment dates. ECB fears any kind of prescribed restructuring could broaden the crisis.

“We are advising them to have a voluntary scheme (to reduce debt) and to avoid schemes that would trigger a credit event or selective default or default,” Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank, told CNN’s Richard Quest.

The Greek Ministry of Finance, meanwhile, says the reduced rating “ignores the intense consultations taking place currently between the (the ECB and European Commission) and the IMF aimed at designing a viable solution that will cover the financing needs of Greece in the coming years.

“The Government remains determined to implement the difficult policies required for Greece to exit the crisis.”

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Best Beaches In The World

Camps Bay, Cape Town, South Africa
Anyone thinking of sun tanning topless in Cape Town should beware. A South African newspaper just revealed that for the past five years, photographers have been snapping photos of topless women sunbathing and selling them to pornography sites. If you spend a sunny afternoon on a Cape Town beach, make sure no one with a telephoto lens is in sight. Cape Town has plenty of beaches to choose from, like Clifton, Camps Bay and Llandudno. Our vote is for Camps Bay because of its proximity to a huge range of stylish bars, lounges and restaurants. The penthouse of The Place on the Bay offers panoramic views of Camps Bay and starts at $975 per night.

The water may be chilly in Cape Town but the beaches are warm and the scenery--rolling hills, Table Mountains and tanned beach goers--is all beautiful. The hottest beach along Victoria Road is Clifton (Camps Bay is a close second); both stretches of beach are located across the road from stylish neighborhoods crammed with shops, bars and restaurants. Paragliders often land on a corner of Clifton Beach. The place to stay is the small but sophisticated Bay Hotel, directly across the street from the beach. Rates start at $83.

Playa d'en Bossa, Ibiza, Spain
The entire island of Ibiza is pretty hedonistic, but some beaches have more of a party vibe than others. Playa d'en Bossa is the longest beach on Ibiza. It is lined with bars and cafes, as well as beautiful bodies on display. Since there's very little in the way of natural shade, rent a beach umbrella and a chaise lounge. At night, the beach is one of the best places for partying in mega-clubs like Space and DC10. The Cas Gasi is a cozy little inn with terracotta colored walls and hand painted tiles. Rates start at €252 ($329).

Estepona, Spain
Some of Spain's best beaches are found along the Costa del Sol (literally, the sun coast), which includes Marbella and Malaga. Slightly less crowded is the town of Estepona. True naturists can head to Costa Natura, about two miles west of Estepona, the only official nudist colony along the Costa del Sol. The new Kempinski Resort Estepona is serene and away from the main strip. Rates start around €220 ($239).

Playa El Agua, Margarita Island, Venezuela
Playa El Agua is arguably the most popular beach on Margarita Island, and with good reason. Apart from the beautiful people who flock there, the three-mile-long beach is lined with palm trees, bars and cafes. The visitors who come here tend to be European and South American, with hardly any Americans. The Hesperia Isla Margarita has the island's only 18-hole golf course, and the bedrooms have dark wood floors and rattan furniture. Rates start at $60 per person.

Sydney, Australia
Few places are as synonymous with laid-back beach culture as Australia, and Bondi Beach in Sydney is one of its best. Bondi is a mile-long stretch of protected beach cove, with powdery sand and dark blue water. It's easy to spend the entire day (and night) at the beach, with its stretch of cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels. Tamarama beach, on Bondi's south end (nicknamed "Glamorama"), is another popular choice. There's also an outdoor gym. At night, escape to the quiet of the Observatory Hotel in Sydney. Rates start around $286.

Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Some of the most beautiful beaches--populated by some of the most beautiful people--in the world exist in French Polynesia, with its shimmering blue and green lagoons. While Moorea and Tahiti are both fine choices, Bora Bora has the magnificent Le Meridien Bora Bora hotel, with glass-bottom bungalows perched over the water. Guests can also dive off their front deck into the water. Rates start at $439.

Capri, Italy
When thinking of the island of Capri, it's hard not to associate it with the famous photograph of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis walking barefoot through its cobble-stoned streets. Capri (as well as the less-crowded Anacapri) still draws an international crowd hell-bent on partying. The beaches tend to be rocky, so the best place to lay out is simply on a large boulder. The opulent Grand Hotel Quisisana, originally built as a sanatorium in 1845 by an English doctor, overlooks the sea. Rates start at $395.

Anse du Gouverneur, St. Barts, French West Indies
All the beaches on the French-owned island of St. Barts allow topless sunbathing. But Anse du Gouverneur has nice scenery even before the beach, which is arrived at via a winding mountain road. Nearby Anse de Grande Saline is pretty as well, but residual tar from a long-ago oil spill has a tendency to stick to one's feet. The luxurious Hôtel St. Barth Isle de France is about 15 minutes from the beach. Room rates start at $820 per night during the winter.

Clifton Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
Clifton Beach, Camps Bay and Llandudno Beach are among the most popular in Cape Town, but if you're planning on going topless, we recommend Clifton. That's because the beach consists of four sheltered coves, which protect sunbathers from chilly summer winds. The fourth cove is the busiest, especially during their summer months (December and January) because of its excellent public changing and bathroom facilities. The Bay Hotel, located right on Camps Bay, is a few minute's walk from Clifton Beach. Room rates start at $200 per person per night from October through April.

Illetes, Formentera, Spain
Formentera, a tiny Balearic island just below Ibiza, shares the temperate climate and sensuous beaches of its neighbors Ibiza, Menorca and Mallorca. But it's smaller and best navigated by bicycle, which works to deter hordes of summertime party-goers and render the beaches safe for families and intimate groups of friends. That's not to say that they are staid, however: Illetes, a stretch of white sand and green water, is home to water sports like sailing and rafting and provides more than enough inspiration for even the most intrepid topless tanner. Formentera is accessible by boat, and we recommend a day trip from Ibiza, where there are more and better places to stay. Pikes Hotel is an island mainstay and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this July. Room rates start at $244 per night.

La Voile Rouge, St. Tropez, France
Technically speaking, St. Tropez is a little port town on the French Riviera. But it rose to international prominence in the 1950s with the arrival of artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso and Jacques Prevért, who were drawn to the laid-back charm and seductive weather of St. Tropez in the summer. When Brigitte Bardot arrived in the '60s, St. Tropez's reputation was secured as the place to sunbathe, swim, mingle and while away the summer. La Voile Rouge is one of St. Tropez's hottest spots during the summer season. Located eight or ten minutes away by bicycle is Villa Marie, with acres of private grounds and a pool. The hotel opens for the season on April 20, and room rates start at $495 per night during high season.

Las Salinas, Ibiza, Spain
Las Salinas in Ibiza is framed with pine trees and located at Ibiza's southern-most point. The beach is the center of the action for the party-seeking crowd that takes over the island every summer, but that doesn't mean it's for everyone. Exclusive beach bars will deliver drinks right to your towel or lounge chair, but they aren't cheap--you'd do well to remember your wallet even if you leave your bathing suit behind. For a break from the beach, the wildlife conservation area surrounding the beach is perfect. At night, the Cas Gasi, a cozy inn, is located nearby. But like everything else in Ibiza during the summer, it's expensive. Room rates start at $335 per night.

Manly Beach, Sydney, Australia
There are nearly 200 beaches in the greater Sydney area, and with summer weather making an appearance in early November, there's plenty of time to explore during the North American winter. Manly Beach, accessible via ferry from Sydney, has all the trimmings that make a day at the beach comfortable: water-sports facilities (especially surfing), homey restaurants and places to buy postcards, sun screen and ice cream. The Radisson Kestrel Hotel, right on the beach, just finished a $4 million room renovation: Every room has a private balcony, many of which look out over the ocean or Sydney Harbour. Room rates start $185 per night.

Nikki Beach, St. Tropez, France
Along with La Voile Rouge, Nikki Beach is one of St. Tropez's most stylish and outrageous beaches. The sand is as packed with body guards as it is with tan bodies, and music blasts from nearby cafés, where prices are geared toward the rich, the famous and their hangers-on. Hotel Les Palmiers is a relatively cheap option for accommodation. Located in Place des Lices and hidden in a grove of orange trees and palms, the hotel is open year-round. Room rates start at $125 per night.

Plage de Pampelonne, St. Tropez, France
Plage de Pampelonne, with its clear water and uninhibited bathers, is the center of the St. Tropez beach scene, and Hotel Byblos is the place to stay while there. Built in the style of a Mediterranean mansion, the hotel opens on April 12 this year. Nightly room rates during high season (July and August) are $630 per night.

Santa Maria, Forte Dei Marmi, Italy
Forty miles outside of Florence, Forte dei Marmi is a prime resort on the Italian Riviera. A favorite among the wealthy Tuscans who own pine-screened villas here, as well as of visiting Europeans and Americans, Forte dei Marmi is famous for its weekly market, where shoppers can score fabulously discounted designer shoes, beachwear, crockery and almost anything else you can think of. For the most part, the sandy beaches are meticulously combed and clean, and it's not unusual for one family to reserve a block of tents and beach chairs for the entire summer. Santa Maria beach has some of the best people-watching, and we recommend the California Park Hotel, just two minutes away. Room rates start at $280 per night during August

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
de Janeiro is home to Carnival, Copacabana and some of the tiniest bikinis on the planet. On a warm day, it seems that half the population of Rio is enjoying a dip in the ocean or a game of volleyball. Although Ipanema beach is infamous thanks to the song, spread your towel on Copacabana Beach, preferably in the shadow of the Copacabana Palace Hotel, where rates start at $254.

While the beaches of Ipanema are more beautiful than those of Copacabana, we chose the latter because of the famed Copacabana Palace hotel, which faces the beach and offers its guests--what else?--complimentary cabana service--as well as some of the most beautiful rooms in the city. This being Brazil, even standard bikinis are micro-sized.

Black's Beach, San Diego, Calif.
Black's Beach is one of the best areas for parasailing in San Diego--thanks to the high cliffs as well as its status as a semi-nude beach. Black's Beach is also one of the most popular surfing beaches in San Diego, and it's perfect for taking long walks and sunbathing on the rocks. If you're planning on leaving part of your bathing suit on the rocks--be careful. Since Black's is a state beach, in some areas nudity is prohibited. When in San Diego, make the elegant Hotel del Coronado your base. Rates start at $200.

Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Bali's Kuta beach is one of the most popular places on the island to gather and watch the sunset. It's also the heart of Bali's nightlife. But during the day, it's ideal for people watching. Beyond the huge swath of white sand, there's a huge selection of restaurants and nightclubs. Book a stay at the new Uma Ubud from Como Hotels, the group behind the Caribbean's Parrot Cay resort. Rates start at $185.

South Beach, Miami, Florida.
South Beach is arguably the best topless beach in the U.S., thanks to the party atmosphere that attracts the young, beautiful and buff. Just about anywhere you go on South Beach is ideal for beach spotting, but one of the best areas is upper Collins Avenue, near the Delano and Raleigh hotels. But if you need a break from the chaos, check into the serene new Ritz-Carlton South Beach, where rates start at $499.

South Beach has miles of powdery white sand, clear turquoise water and throngs of celebrities, models and perfectly tanned and toned bodies. While the Delano is a top choice, the new Shore Club Hotel is the kind of place where it's perfectly acceptable to wear strappy high heels with your bikini as you lounge poolside with a cocktail in hand. It's also home to an outpost of Nobu, the hip sushi restaurant owned by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa. Rates start at $208.

Anse du Gouverneur, St. Barts, French West Indies
The French-owned island of St. Barthelemy, known as St. Barts, exudes a typical Gallic sang-froid towards beach nudity. Topless tanning is allowed on all beaches but especially on Anse de Grande Saline and Anse du Gouverneur, ("anse" is French for beach). Anse du Gouverneur is our top pick because it's the prettier beach, and on a clear day you can see the islands of Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Kitts. The Hôtel St. Barth Isle de France is a small, family-run hotel that is directly on the beach. Rates start at €655 ($857).

St. Martin, West Indies
Because of its French and Dutch heritage, a European attitude towards nudity prevails on the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten. Most beaches are topless, but a few--Orient Beach, Coconut Grove and Tintamarre--are clothing optional. Be forewarned: You'll roast in the Caribbean sun. La Samanna, which just underwent an extensive renovation, is one of the most luxurious and romantic resorts in the world. Rates start at $765.

Plage de Tahiti, Saint Tropez, France
Film icon Brigitte Bardot is one of the best embodiments of Saint-Tropez style--sexy, barefoot and glamorous. Some would consider the French Riviera the birthplace of topless tanning, and although the beaches tend to be rocky, the glamour quotient more than makes up for it (renting a chaise lounge will take care of the rock problem). The best time to travel there is during July and August, where you'll see such Saint-Tropez regulars like Joan Collins, Naomi Campbell and Roman Abramovich. The recently renovated Carlton Inter-Continental has been a popular choice for celebrities and wanna-bes for generations. Rates start at €255 ($333).

Cannes, France
Some would consider the French Riviera the birthplace of topless tanning. While the beaches tend to be rocky, the glamour quotient more than makes up for it (renting a chaise lounge will take care of the rock problem). Plan a trip during the Cannes Film Festival, which kicks off May 14, where there's more flesh on display than usual. The recently renovated Carlton Inter-Continental has been a popular choice for celebrities and wanna-bes for generations. Rates start around $280.

Paradise Beach, Mykonos, Greece
Although most beaches on Mykonos turn into one big party during July and August, Paradise Beach has most of the action. During the day, the beach is chock-a-block with tanned bodies. There are plenty of beach bars, tavernas and water sports, too, in case sitting on a towel makes you bored. At night, there's music, and the crowds dance in the sand until the sun comes up--and then do it all over again. Once a month the beach hosts a full-moon party. The stylish Hotel Belvedere is built like a typical white-washed Cycladic village, with a free-form pool in its center. Guests stay in a converted 18th-century mansion. Rates start at €105 ($137).

Santorini, Greece
Santorini becomes a den of debauchery during the summer, thanks to its hot, dry weather and its clubs, which stay open until the sun comes up. (Many people tend to go straight from the clubs to the beach to sleep off the previous night's excess.) Two of the best beaches on Santorini for people-watching are the black-sand beaches of Kamari and Perissa--the sand is black because of volcanic activity, and flip-flops (or sprinting) is necessary when moving from towels to the water. Stay at the cliffside Katikies Hotel, which consists of white domed cottages and a series of pools. Rates start at €177 ($191).