Island Paradise: Aruba

September 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog, Uncategorized

Sunset from Pincho’s Grill & Bar

 

Island Paradise

Plan your next getaway on Aruba

Story and Photography by Laurette Veres

 

The wildly popular tropical island of Aruba is part of what’s known as the ABC islands (Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire). Sunny and sultry Aruba is just outside the line of fire for hurricane season, making it an ideal location for a tropical vacation. It’s also the Caribbean’s hottest spot for adventure and fun!

 

Have fun poolside at the Aruba Marriott

The incomparable Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is tailor-made to host your once-in-a-lifetime event. With 411 stylish guestrooms and 23 lavish suites, this hotel has room for everyone. Each room features a 100-square foot balcony with a breath-taking view of the sparkling waters of the Caribbean Sea. There is something for everyone at this resort, from the party pool with cascading waterfall to the adults-only H2Oasis pool. Where else can you see a Zumba class break out in the middle of the day? The party is always hopping at Stellaris Casino. Family and friends of all ages will be happy on this happy island.

The real fun in Aruba takes place in the ocean. The currents are calm in these waters…lake calm. Your drinks can actually float, undisturbed, alongside you in a fabulous, inflatable flamingo (if you were brilliant enough to bring one). Aruba is the perfect island to push your limits and try some new water sports. Stand-up paddle boarding is very popular. Stretch yourself even further and try a paddleboard yoga class by Vela Aruba. There’s nothing more “zenful” than the peaceful Caribbean Sea swaying beneath you as you find your center. Looking for something more exhilarating? Book a kayaking tour, take a ½ day snorkel sail, parasail above it all or bounce to heart to your heart’s content on floating inflatable trampolines!

 

Looking for a group activity that’s fun for all ages? Beach tennis is big here! It’s the official sport of the isle. In fact, the sport is so popular here, Aruba hosts international beach tennis tournaments. We signed up for private lessons with Aksel Samardzic, currently ranked #9 in the world. It’s like playing tennis on a beach volleyball court, the racket is similar and the ball is a bit smaller. Scoring is identical to tennis and your group will be ready to play a match after only a thirty-minute lesson. It can really be a great team building activity for family and friends who might not know each other well.

What better way to get a real taste of authentic cuisine than spending one-on-one time with the chef. Learn from Chef Ever as he expertly seasons the catch-of-the-day. Watch his demonstration, or don an apron and join him at the stove. Compare your finished plate to his, then take a seat and enjoy the bountiful results.

Walkways connect the beaches together in Aruba

One of my favorite things about the Aruba coastline is the walkway that connects the beaches, creating miles of scenic beachside boardwalk. This family friendly, “walkable” esplanade is great for baby strollers and wheel chairs, speed walkers or casual promenades. Guests with young children will appreciate the multiple play areas right on the beach.

After an evening stroll along the Marriott boardwalk, dinner literally “pops up” at Atardi beachfront restaurant- just in time for sunset. Enjoy a toes-in-sand sunset supper starting with sashimi snapper, tomato caprese, or crab salad. Popular main course items are fresh blackened mahi mahi, grilled sea bass, tropical red snapper and more.

 

Healthy brunch items at Aruba Marriott Governor’s Suite.

The Marriott’s Governor suite is the perfect brunch spot. Your guests won’t be able to get enough of the expansive Palm Beach views. Think mimosa bar and hot and cold brunch buffet on the balcony. Enjoy mini-quiche, pancakes, and pastries or get your granola on. Your guests will be impressed with the food and the views.

In Aruba, almost every location is picture-perfect and Pincho’s Grill and Bar is no exception. Arrive at the Aruba Surfside Marina in time for sunset and don’t miss the “Love Potion” premium margarita. Absorb the soothing sound of whispering waves as you enjoy a meal of luscious crab cakes, crispy coconut shrimp, dark rum-infused blue cheese tenderloin and pan- seared Caribbean grouper. As the sun sets over the water and the moon rises over the palm trees, you’ll understand why you came to this special island for an unforgettable trip.

 

Essentials:

www.arubamarriott.com
www.velaaruba.com
www.pinchosaruba.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Food & Arts event San Miguel de Allende- from July 12-15

June 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

With summer here and travelers seeking fun festivals, one of the hottest tickets in July will be the international Food & Arts event taking place in one of Mexico’s most popular destinations – San Miguel de Allende- from July 12-15:
Dozens of dinners, events and activities are planned over the four days including themed feasts, tastings, art exhibits and performances, and a grand marketplace of food, spirits and art.  The themed dinners and lunches, which cost between about $77 and $150 each, and the After Party can be booked at www.magmexico.com. 
MAG will get underway on July 12 with a Kickoff Dinner in Moxi at Hotel Matilda themed “Beyond Borders – Mexico.” The event will feature acclaimed Mexican chefs Eduardo Garcia of Maximo Bistrot, Alan Mendez of Pasillo de Humo and Francisco Ibañez of Moxi, along with exhibits by artist Eugenia Martinez and music by Los Rumberos de Massachusetts.
A series of themed dinners and lunches will celebrate the cuisine of different countries with noted chefs cooking and artists exhibiting their works. In addition to the Mexico-themed dinner at Moxi, there will be:
  • July 13: Dinner at Rosewood San Miguel with Reylon Augustin, chef of One-Michelin-Star Madeira at Rosewood Sand Hills, and artist Adrian Gonzalez.
  • July 13: Dinner at Casa Dragones with chef Norma Listman and Saquib Kebal from restaurant de Masalá in Mexico City, artist Pedro Reyes.
  • July 14: Brunch at Moxi with chefs Eduardo Echeverria, John Gallo and Rene Reyes from PINCH based in Miami.
  • July 14: Australia dinner at Bovine Brasserie with chefs Paul Bentley and Duncan Welgemoed from Africola, a restaurant in Australia
  • July 14: Dinner at L’Otel with Chef Justin Smillie from Upland Restaurant in NYC
  • July 15: Brunch at Fatima 7, Casa Blanca 7 with Chef Donnie Masterton and artists from Colectivo Hoja Santa.
A grand market of gastronomy, food, drink and art, the Marché, was a huge hit in the inaugural MAG last year and it will be back for three days, July 13-15. Held in San Miguel’s beautiful Parque Juárez, it will feature some 100 booths offering tastings ‒ dishes by leading restaurants, tequila, spirits, beers, wines and cheeses, as well as an installation by artist Eugenia Martinez.

 

Birdies, Boats and Brews

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

by Greg Wettman

If world-class golf, beautiful lakes and rivers, and delicious craft beer are things that interest you, put North Alabama on your bucket list. The folks in this area take the tourism industry very seriously and have made it a prime destination for Houstonians wanting to take an affordable but luxurious vacation.

The Silver Lakes clubhouse; photo by Michael Clemmer

Legendary Golfing

In the early 1990s, a man named Dr. David Bronner managed the retirement systems of Alabama. He felt strongly that the state’s pension fund would stay healthy if its investments were diverse, and believed that building and operating a group of championship golf courses would be a sound investment. Somehow he convinced legendary golf course designer Robert Trent Jones to come out of semi-retirement to design the courses for this huge undertaking.

The original courses opened in 1992 and 1993, with seven locations and 324 holes of first-class championship golf. It became known across the golf world as the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (RTJGT), and has since expanded to 26 courses in 11 locations around the state. These courses were designed to challenge the world’s best golfers while still providing an enjoyable and memorable round for beginners and casual golfers.

Five of the locations are in Northern Alabama, between Birmingham and Huntsville. These courses are particularly spectacular because they incorporate the beauty of the many lakes and rivers in the area as well as the stunning Southern Appalachian Mountains. Elevated tees and greens with gorgeous panoramic views are common on these courses. Here are the details on two of the can’t-miss courses:

Silver Lakes
Located near Gadsen, AL, Silver Lakes is one of RTJGT’s premier locations, with 36 holes of forests, wetlands and grasslands. There’s a short course and three championship nines named Backbreaker, Mindbreaker and Heartbreaker. Surrounded by the Appalachian foothills and Lee’s Lake, they each provide their own unique challenges and beauty, and feature dramatic elevation changes. All 36 holes boast Champion ultra-dwarf putting surfaces.

Hampton Grove

This location outside Huntsville has two championship courses: the Highlands and the River course. It also features an 18-hole links-style short course. The Highlands course was renovated in 2008 and restored to its original Scottish links design; long-waving grasses frame rolling terrain and many fluctuations in elevation. The River course is mostly flat as it winds its way along the Flint River, and has the distinction of being the only RTJGT course with no bunkers. Before thinking that might make it an easy course to score on, take note that it has water on 16 of the 18 holes! The course features massive oak trees, including an enormous, 250-year-old black oak behind the 18th green, touted as the third oldest in the state.

Green fees along the RTJGT average $50; during peak season, the highest fee at most courses is $64.

More Golf Heaven

There are other great courses to play in North Alabama that are not on the RTJGT. Twin Bridges Golf Club in Gadsen is a 6,800-yard layout set along the Coosa River featuring Bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens. This course is enrolled in the Audubon’s Silver Signature Sanctuary program, which integrates natural resource conservation with economic progress and community education. It has a beautiful clubhouse atop a bluff overlooking the river, and houses a fully stocked pro shop and clubhouse grill. After golf, head over to Local Joe’s at Little Bridge Marina. Relax indoors or outdoors and enjoy some of the best smoked barbecue anywhere. Get the ribs!

Heading north, about halfway between Gadsen and Huntsville, is Guntersville. It’s nestled along scenic Lake Guntersville, home to Guntersville State Park. Alabama has six state parks with lodges and golf courses. The lodge and convention center at this location is outstanding in every way: It sits atop a foothill overlooking the lake, and each modern room has its own balcony with incredible views, not to mention the amenities of a fine hotel. The dining room and cocktail lounge are also excellent.

Across the road is The Eagle’s Nest Course at Lake Guntersville State Park. This unique course sits on top of Taylor Mountain and offers golfers majestic mountain scenery. It has many elevation changes throughout the course; the fairways are wide but tree-lined, and welcome strolling deer from time to time.

 

Also located in Guntersville is a course that is a true masterpiece called Gunter’s Landing. Some of the views from the tees will take your breath away, as they overlook the mountains and the Tennessee River. The elevation changes are dramatic, and some of the par-3s are over gorges. The staff goes the extra mile to make your golfing experience one you won’t forget.

About 10 miles from Guntersville, in Union Grove, AL, is a treasure known as Cherokee Ridge Country Club. This beautiful tract features a 17-acre lake on the front nine and an 80-foot waterfall cascading into Lynn’s Creek on the back 9. The lush fairways are Bermuda, and the greens are bentgrass. The signature par-3 fifth hole features five separate tees with bulkheads on the lake—it’s a photographer’s dream. Cherokee offers lodging at the newly renovated seven-bedroom Lake House overlooking the course and the lake. This Cape Cod–inspired facility has all the comforts of home, including a full kitchen, conference room, bar and living rooms. The huge back patio overlooking the lake has barbecue pits, rocking chairs, cozy tables and chairs. It will accommodate 15 to 20 guests for group gatherings, family reunions or just a weekend getaway.

Water, Water Everywhere

North Alabama has some of the most beautiful lakes, rivers and streams in North America, including the Tennessee River and Lake Guntersville. Lake Guntersville is Alabama’s largest lake—it’s 75 miles long and covers 69,000 acres—and was created by the building of Guntersville Dam on the Tennessee River. Surrounded by mountains and foothills, the scenic views on this lake are stunning.

Free boat ramps and private marinas dot the lake’s perimeter, and so do great places to eat and drink. One of the best is Somewhere on the Lake in Guntersville. This place is a beach bar that’s nowhere close to a beach. Not only does it have a fun atmosphere, but it offers an excellent menu featuring a wide variety of entrées from grouper to prime rib.

Lake Guntersville; photo by Brian Weis

The lake is widely known as one of the best bass fishing spots in the nation. Large-mouth bass are the main draw for anglers but the lake also has an abundant supply of other fish including brim, crappie and catfish. Boating, camping, kayaking, hunting and eagle watching are also popular activities on and around the lake.

The Tennessee River runs from the northwest corner of Alabama down through the heart of north Alabama and back up to the northeast corner of the state. It has been dammed up to form several lakes, and provides recreational activities as well as commercial transportation use. Flint Creek is a major tributary along the river, and is utilized for many water sports near its confluence with the river because of the vast width of the creek and calm waters that are created by the sheltering geography.

Beer Blast

The North Alabama Craft Brew Trail was unveiled in 2016 by the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association to invite beer enthusiasts on a self-guided tour of eight craft microbreweries. Each microbrewery offers tours of the facility and awesome taprooms, where their unique beers can be sampled and purchased.

Back Forty Brewery in Gadsen is one of the first breweries to open in the area, and is currently the largest producer of alcoholic beverages in the state. Owner Jason Wilson is a walking encyclopedia of beer. The tour here is amazing: Back Forty uses almost only locally grown ingredients in its beer, and recycles the grain used in production through local cattle companies and bakeries so the hamburger patties and buns served in the taproom are “coming home.” The brewery produces a beer called Cart Barn that’s the official beer of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and is available at all their locations.

Yellowhammer Brewery in Huntsville is another mandatory stop. General manager and part owner Ethan Couch has built one of the best taprooms anywhere. In addition to the wide variety of award-winning beers offered, in 2015 the brewers paired the brews with popular former food truck Earth and Stone Wood-Fired Pizza to open a brick-and-mortar version at Yellowhammer’s new location. The result is a beer and pizza lover’s dream. Yellowhammer’s T-Minus Kolsch is a tangerine Kolsch named in honor of Tang, and is the official beer served at Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center nearby. The center is an official NASA visitor center and home of Space Camp. It provides a great experience while in Huntsville.

North Alabama offers these great destinations and more. There is a Wine Trail, a Barbeque Trail, a Birding Trail and a Hallelujah Trail featuring historic churches more than 100 years old.

Seven Miles of Bliss

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

by Matthew Abernathy

On a recent weekend getaway, my wife and I discovered a hidden gem on the west coast of Jamaica. The Royalton Negril Resort and Spa is nestled on one of the Caribbean’s most idyllic settings along a stretch of seven miles of the most beautiful beaches imaginable.

The Royalton Negril is an all-inclusive experience (they call it “All-In Luxury”), and we were blown away at the attention to detail put forth. (For starters, we were greeted with the warmest of welcomes that included chilled cocktails and cool eucalyptus wash cloths after a somewhat arduous trip from the airport in Montego Bay.) The resort features 407 elegantly appointed yet modern suites, as well as world-class, reservation-free dining, a top-tier spa, a splash park for the kids and a fitness center with all the bells and whistles. There’s no shortage of daily entertainment, and the nightly shows don’t disappoint. (More on those later.)

The lush view of Bloody Bay at the Royalton Negril.

A Dreamy Start

The resort is made up of three distinct sections—the Resort, the Diamond Club and the adults-only spot called The Hideaway at Royalton Negril—with the goal of personalizing your stay. Being that my wife and I were looking for a romantic getaway, we opted for The Hideaway. When we arrived at our room, we were greeted by our own personal butler who showed us around. Right away, I fell in love with the bed, which the butler explained was the resort’s very own handcrafted DreamBed—dreamy indeed! The rooms come equipped with Wi-Fi (there’s connectivity throughout the resort), and there’s also complementary long-distance phone calls to North America if you need to stay in touch with your loved ones back home.

Once we settled in, it was time for a bite to eat. We were delighted by the outdoor dining experience at Ocean Point Bistro. The food was excellent—we ordered the Chef’s tasting menu filled with delectable, fresh seafood and local fare. The staff was attentive, and the atmosphere on the bay was breathtaking. To finish off the night, we stopped by the popular Martini Mix; when you visit, you must try the espresso martini.

Natural Beauty

The next morning, we hit up the buffet at the Gourmet Marche. The restaurant offers a wide variety of both international and local favorites to please even the most discerning of palates. They even have a good selection of healthy options, and a designated section for the kiddos.

After our a.m. fuel session, we hopped on a bus to one of the most beautiful regions of the island that proved to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. We traveled off the beaten path and through the deep countryside and into the heart of Westmoreland, which includes the renowned Mayfield Falls. The picturesque area comprises several widely spaced cascades and all-natural pools (folklore purports healing powers of these pools).

The property is approximately 14 acres of exotic plants and wildlife, and our guides took the time to explain almost everything that we encountered along the way. With one mile of river and numerous cascades along the way, comfortable water shoes are a must At the end of the tour, we were treated to an authentic Rastafarian lunch of curried chicken and dirty rice—it was a real treat.

The stunning view from The Hideaway rooms.

A Meal to Remember

Later that evening, after a short rest in our room, we attended the C/X Culinary Experience. This seven-course meal was truly unique in both the ambience and the delicious food. Each course was presented by the executive chef with wine pairings and musical selections.

To round out the evening, we decided to attend one of the resort’s nightly entertainment venues. Magical Michael—inspired by Michael Jackson, of course—was the show of the night; it was lively and energetic, making for a fun night out.

A Bittersweet Goodbye

With one day left, it was time for some much-needed relaxation at The Royal Spa. The spa has an amazing hydrotherapy circuit, along with a full roster of treatments, including full-body massages, couples massages, body wraps and other therapeutic practices such as authentic shiatsu and Hawaiian Lomi Lomi.

Now we were relaxed and ready for our next outing at the iconic Rick’s Cafe. After a short bus ride, we were greeted at the front door of a very unassuming entrance; once we entered, we were left speechless!

Overlooking the bay on the far west end of Jamaica, the cliffs at Rick’s are known for some of the most beautiful, uninterrupted sunsets in the world. It’s a must when visiting Negril. The café was the first public bar and restaurant of its type on the West End Cliffs, offering an alternative to the majestic seven-mile beach.

The night was just getting started, though, and we were off to Hunter’s Steakhouse. The open-kitchen eatery made it the ideal place to watch as the chef and his crew cooked our aged beef steaks to perfection. We capped off the evening at the XS Disco Bar, where we knocked back creative cocktails and danced until the wee hours of the morning.

If you get the chance to visit Royalton Negril, make sure you have more than a few days to explore this side of Jamaica. I wish we would have had more time to discover the rest of the area, as we truly enjoyed every minute we spent in paradise, along the seven miles of bliss.

You can take exercise classes at this pool, complete with a swim-up bar and an ocean view.

Test the Waters

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog, Uncategorized

by Marion Jacob

Perched on the majestic Caribbean shores of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the Mayakoba Resort offers four exclusive luxury hotels surrounded by natural forests full of wildlife, freshwater lagoons and crystalline beaches. The newest is the long-awaited Andaz Mayakoba-Riviera Maya, a welcome addition to round out this spectacular master-planned retreat.

Mayakoba—which literally means “village of water”—prides itself on sustainability and protecting the natural environment, while creating a luxurious escape to what feels like another world. Wake up to bird calls from more than 200 species, and experience nature right from your room.

Get Appointed

Stay in the presidential suite at the Andaz, enveloped in tropical scenes of serene lagoons and lush greenery, or behold the Fairmont’s hypnotic waterfront views and superbly cultivated gardens. Lose yourself in the Rosewood’s ultra-comfort service and white-sand beaches, or rent a villa at the Banyan Tree with your own private plunge pool and garden terrace.

The Andaz Lobby.

Get Busy

Start off the day with a farm-to-table breakfast buffet at Cocina Milagro at the Andaz, overlooking the pool, or enjoy a good book while swinging in one of the hanging-egg wicker chairs. Set up tee time at El Camaleón, a world-class golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman and home to the PGA Tour OHL Classic.

Like a chameleon, the surrounding vistas change from mangroves and cenotes to sand dunes and white beaches. Take a ride in a golf cart tram through the winding roads of the exotic forests to El Pueblito, El Corazón de Mayakoba (the Heart of Mayakoba). Here, you can shop at boutiques filled with handmade textiles and pottery, take a cooking class at El Pueblito Cooking School or eat lunch at La Fondita. In between meals, enjoy a refreshing fruity drink at Bang Teng Thai or coffee at El Cafecito. On Sundays, they hold Mass at Santa Cruz Chapel, which is followed by the weekly farmers’ market.

Mayakoba offers a variety of activities, including hiking and biking through meandering nature trails, bird watching for those rare and unique species, honing your archery skills on the four-target range, or taking a guided kayak tour through the Mayakoba waterways.

A boat in the lagoon.

Get Fed

You can also take a leisurely tour of the entire resort via the Mayakoba Connection ferry service. Stop by each of the hotels to enjoy a meal and live music from the myriad restaurant options: tasty tostadas and tequila from Olla Ceviche at Andaz; authentic Thai cuisine from Saffron at the Banyan Tree; sushi from Agave Azul at the Rosewood; or golf club standbys and Latin wines at Koba on El Camaleón.

Get Rejuvenated

The 24-hour butler service at the Rosewood, with personalized room service and housekeeping, is the ultimate way to relax. Use the Rosewood Mayakoba app to request services for those special moments. Think: a romantic bubble bath, an intimate dinner or even a helicopter ride over the Kulkulcan Pyramid in Chichen Itza.

The private villas at the banyan tree.

For rejuvenation and spiritual healing, opt for treatments rooted in ancient Mayan rituals, such as the Mayan Clay Purification treatment at Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont, or a fresh honey body scrub and massage at the award-winning Banyan Tree Spa. The spa at the Andaz has six treatment rooms and two hydrotherapy areas dedicated to your relaxation, as well as a full-service salon to keep you looking as great as you feel.

Palmetto Bluff

April 21, 2018 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

By Tom Flynn

The costal regions and islands along South Carolina’s coast make up the Lowcountry, a collection of historic communities, natural habitats and southern hospitality. With all that comes tourism.

Deep in the Lowcountry, between Hilton Head and Savannah, sits Palmetto Bluff. The 20,000-acre development is nestled along the May River, a coastal estuary teeming with wildlife. Entering the community is like stepping back in time. Building exteriors resemble 1930’s architecture, winding roads lead to quaint shops and restaurants, parks, chapels and outdoor activities; classic one-speed bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation. Residents of the 700 homes and guests of the Montage Palmetto Bluff are pulled together through an extensive list of activities and events and form a strong sense of community.

 

Life in this mainly getaway community can be tailored to individual desires. The amenities are reserved for residents and Montage guests, so tee times on the Jack Nicholas designed golf course are readily available, parks are never crowded and traffic jams are nonexistent. Reading a book on a park bench and watching neighbors play Bocce Ball is a good way to spend the afternoon. Preplanned activities are numerous, 10-20 per day. Yoga, cycling, tennis clinics and paddle boarding entertain the athletic. Beachcombing, Sip- n-Sail river cruises amid the dolphins and porching (tea and lemonade gatherings on a porch) for the social. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy archery; shoot sporting clays, fish and kayak. There are tons of kids activities, a state of the art four-lane bowling alley and everyone gets together evenings for S’mores at the fire pits.

 

The property touches 32 miles of May River shoreline. The marshy estuary has an eight-foot daily tide change. When the water is out you can walk out and harvest oysters by hand. When the tide comes in so do the dolphins, chirping, playing and feeding. Alligators and beautiful white egrets are always plentiful. A good way to experience the May River is a cruise on Grace, a luxurious wooden yacht built in 1913. Many holes on the golf course play along the river, diners enjoying Lowcountry cuisine at Cole’s have stunning views of the marsh while eating fried pickles. Numerous preplanned activities and excursions take place on the river.

 

In heart of Palmetto Bluff sits the Montage Palmetto Bluff, a luxurious gem of the south. The resort rests on a tranquil lagoon, miles of hiking and biking trails lead through the nature reserve. With dining options and bar, the Montage is the liveliest spot in the community; many residents gather there in the evenings and listen to live music.

The world class Spa Montage is an attraction all its own with the finest treatments and amenities. Enjoy the fitness center, eucalyptus steam room, redwood sauna, pool and cold plunge after your signature 90 minute facial. Most of all, the Montage’s amenities and guests inject energy into Palmetto Bluff.

 

If one tires of paradise and feels the need to getaway from their getaway, Bluffton is less than a 30-minute drive. Virtually every building in this historic town was burned to the ground during the Civil War by Union troops. The guides at Bluffton Bike Taxis will show you the few surviving structures, outline the towns history and show the best places to eat and drink with the locals. The Old Town Dispensary has lots of outdoor seating, Lowcountry grub and live music. Farm arguably has the best food in the region, possibly any region. Many restaurants have a chef who runs the kitchen and a Matre D in charge of seating and service. Farm adds a third partner; the farmer who grows produce and sources the best meats and seafood. Their fresh, light tappas sized plates are absolutely amazing; the crafted cocktails are an added bonus.

 

Palmetto Bluff feels hours and ages away from the real world. It’s actually less than 25 miles from Savanah, Ga. In 30-40 minutes after departing the plane, you can be sitting in one the Montage’s luxury rooms, snacking on the shortbread cookies and bourbon milk jam they leave as a greeting gift and watching alligators sun on the banks of the lagoon. Enjoy the Lowcountry!

 

Luxe Playa del Carmen Resort Brings Good Times + Tan Lines to Spring Breakers

February 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

The idyllic Mexican destination, Thompson Playa del Carmen is a luxury lifestyle hotel located on the famed La Quinta Avenida – Playa’s two-mile, pedestrian-only shopping and dining district – and Calle 12, which boasts the trendiest bars and nightclubs in Riviera Maya. During the Summer, Thompson is offering the ultimate package for a perfect getaway full of luxury, leisure and nightlife in the form of Good Times + Tan Lines. Gather your group and head south for an unforgettable vacation this Summer. The Good Times + Tan Lines package includes:

  • Luxury accommodations for 3 nights or more

  • One day exclusive use of poolside cabana with a chilled bottle of rose and a $250 food and beverage credit to splurge while in cabana

  • Two 60-minute massages per stay

  • Morning coffee and juice delivered to your room

  • Daily breakfast for two

 

Thompson Playa del Carmen’s vibrant 30,000-square-foot rooftop is the social mecca of the property (and the highest point in Playa). The rooftop playground at the 5th Avenue Building boasts NYC-famed concept CATCH, a massive infinity pool, swim-up bar, panoramic ocean views, and luxury cabanas. Guests can sip signature CATCH and Cinco cocktails under the sun and relax listening to the DJ-spun tropical house music, or privately in a plush cabana or daybed. Located on ‘Calle Corazon,’ the 5th Avenue Building is perfect for Spring Breakers looking for a colorful urban atmosphere and a real connection to downtown Playa’s local shopping, restaurant and nightlife offerings.

For rates and availability, visit www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/playa-del-carmen/thompson-playa-del-carmen/special-offers/exclusive-offers

 

A Family Escape for All Ages

August 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Laurette Veres

Photo by Laurette Veres

Families return to The King and the Prince Beach Resort year after year. Southern hospitality, great beach access, and expansive resort pools are just some of the reasons to love this escape. The resort is nestled along a beautiful stretch of beach on St. Simons Island, off Georgia’s coast. Travelers come from all over the world to enjoy this amenity-rich property.

Steeped in History

Frank Horn and Morgan Wynn opened this regal property in 1935. Fires, grand re-openings and Navy takeovers are part of this seaside tale. During the winter of 1942, German U-boats were sighted off the Georgia coast and the hotel became a radar training facility for the U.S. Navy. It reopened to the public in 1947.

The historic property has been lovingly restored throughout the years. From the stained glass windows to the portraits of King George II and Prince Charles Edward Stewart, you’ll note attention to history at every turn. The Ocean is the star here with most guests spending their days walking, searching for shells or participating in water sports. The beach is expansive during low tides; but only a sliver of sand is left to walk on when the tide rolls in. No worries, the luxurious pool area has two large pools and a kiddie pool; plenty of room to play and relax within the private, gated complex.

Fun for the whole family

Catch the St. Simons Colonial Island Trolley for a historic island tour or visit the shops in the village. Children under five are free at the St. Simons Lighthouse. Fort Frederica National Monument features ruins of an 18th-century town and a fort established to defend the southern boundary of Georgia against Spanish forces.

Golf

The King and Prince Golf course is about a 20-minute drive from the resort. The front nine holes meander through majestic oaks and around lakes in an upscale neighborhood that was once a cotton and rice plantation. On the back nine, golfers veer away from the neighborhood and take wooden bridges into the marsh. Four spectacular holes are situated on islands in the saltmarsh, teeming with wildlife, scenic views and challenges.

Dining

ECHO, serving classic coastal cuisine and handcrafted cocktails, is the island’s only oceanfront restaurant. Enjoy shrimp & grits and find out why the nutrient-rich waters of the Georgia coast create super tasty shrimp. The name pays tribute to the Hotel and St. Simons Island’s history during World War II. Radar was a new technology, and this hotel was the center of it all. The King and Prince bar was an after-hours gathering spot for soldiers, their wives and members of the local Civil Air Patrol.

The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort became a member of the Historic Hotels of America in 1996 and it was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. So,if you enjoy historic hotels and beautiful beaches, this is a great wedding destination.

For more information visit:

www.kingandprince.com

www.ColonialTrolley.com

www.SaintSimonsLighthouse.org

www.nps.gov/fofr

Kiwi Rising

August 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Laurette Veres

Photo by Laurette Veres

Most Americans dream of visiting New Zealand and— thanks to a new direct flight— those dreams can easily come true!

New Zealand is a commitment.The introduction of a direct flight to Auckland on Air New Zealand makes this commitment much easier for Houstonians. The flight is perfectly timed— leaving at8:00pm. Premium Economy seating includes hearty, and surprisingly tasty food. Air New Zealand has also smartly paired their food with delicious New Zealand wines. The flight also includes New Zealand Films, entertainment, and a high-tech, in-seat console allowing you to instant message fellow passengers. With all of these great accommodations, the fourteen hour flight literally flew by (pun intended).

Mentally prepare for it, enjoy a movie, take a nap, and you’ll be refreshed and ready to greet this beautiful country. The flight lands in Auckland, which is a great launch pad to tour this dynamic country.

The perfect start to a day in Auckland is to go up the SkyTower right in Auckland. Viewing this breathtaking city from 1,076 feet above gives you the chance to really see the expanse of the harbor and to get a look at interesting buildings and neighborhoods. I was there during the holidays, so the giant Santa on the side of a four-story building caught my eye.

I walked to the Langham Hotel and had time to tour the Symonds Street Cemetery. This was the first official cemetery in Auckland, which has been closed to burials since 1886. High Tea at the Langham is a great holiday tradition. Enjoy some bubbly before selecting from over 30 different tea flavors. I opted for the white blossom tea, a delightful blend of white tea handpicked from China’s mountaintops.

The lodge experience in New Zealand allows travelers to traverse most of the country, and see many facets of the land all the while enjoying five-star, luxurious service. Three well- known lodges are American- owned and offer distinct New Zealand experiences. All of them also offer stunning accommodations and first class food overseen by group Executive Chef Dale Gartland.

With their superb cuisine and an exceptional wine cellar, you’ll find yourself looking forward to drinks and canapés each evening before dinner. Many guests follow similar itineraries and it’s fun to see familiar faces as you compare travel stories.

The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs

Because there are no security checks or lines, inter-island flights are fast, easy, and carefree. First stop: Bay of Islands and The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs. This quaint lodge is set into 6,000 acres of farm, forest, and beach land. The Kauri trees here are anywhere from 700 to 900 years old. This slow growing tree was previously used to build houses and repair ships. Get to know the property by taking a guided quad-bike tour. Follow Malcolm from SeaToys around the property or see what it’s like to be a farmer with Farm Manager Jonathan.

Although I’m from Texas, I was up close and personal with more sheep and cattle on this excursion than ever before! Ride through the Pine Forest and livestock-filled paddocks while enjoying expansive breathtaking views of the Cavalli Islands and Pacific Ocean. Three private beaches and an on-property waterfall give you the opportunity for a quick swim. The Pink Beach is a great place for a picnic. It’s also a breeding ground for the Tuturiwhatu and other native New Zealand birdlife. Manuka honey is known for its healing qualities; so hop on over to the spa for a signature Manuka honey treatment.

Once a week a local dance troop comes to the property. While we sip on Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, the Kerikeri’s Kapa Haka’s authentic performance offers a glimpse into the area’s cultural heritage. The dancers mingle with the guests, inviting us to get involved in the performance.

Most of the fun is available right on property and with surroundings this luxurious, you won’t want to leave. However, some off-site options include Manginangina, a park where nature walks teach the story of the forest with its massive trees and lush vegetation. Here, see how the forest evolved from young trees to the mature established forest during a guided walking tour of the Puketi Forest. Barbara, from Adventure Puketi, can arrange a private or group tour for you. This is a great activity for team building, conferences, and weddings. The Marsden Estate Winery is also a picturesque place for lunch and a charming rehearsal dinner location.

From my balcony, which overlooked the golf course, I could see the Southern Cross constellation. It definitely made me appreciate the true wonder that is New Zealand.

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers

The town of Napier is unique simply due to its unique architecture. It’s one of the few cities featuring Art Deco architecture. The city was re-built after a storm at a time when Art Deco was popular. The land here at Hawkes Bay is extremely fertile making it perfect for ranching, farming, and growing wine grapes. It’s here you’ll find The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, another stop on your luxury lodge tour.

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is a working sheep and cattle ranch. It’s also a nature sanctuary with fencing around the property to protect the flightless kiwi from predators. The kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand, yet most locals have not seen one. (How many Americans have seen a Bald Eagle?) The Kiwi Discovery Walk is an excursion unique to this property. Two  full-time staffers are committed to kiwi protection tracking 130 kiwis each day. Join one of these experienced sanctuary guides as they monitor kiwi chicks previously released on the property. Get up close and personal as they check the radio transmitters and weigh and measure the birds to monitor their well-being. Finding a kiwi is not guaranteed, but if you’re lucky, you’ll hold one before this tour is over.

A great way to see the 6,000 acre property is to hitch a ride in a jeep as it traverses this vast terrain. You’ll grab the roll bar on this real-life roller coaster ride until you make it safely to the serene beach. You can also visit the shearing barn and learn about the crew of shearers who arrive annually. See vast terrain changes and end up at the largest, most accessible mainland colony of gannets in the world. The gannets have distinctive blue markings around their eyes and a pale gold crown. They are a slightly larger than seagulls. Visiting the colony, you’ll see adults and young nesting. Look closely to see eggs and chicks in various stages of development. You’ll be amazed at how close you can get! It was nothing less than a National Geographic experience. Visitors to the colony will see adults and their young nesting in rows, carrying out their daily routine.

The birds can be seen from September until early May when they leave New Zealand and fly for Australia. In September, they return and build their nests, ready for the hatching of chicks during December and January. Due to the migratory nature of the birds, this activity is only available from September through May. Designed by legendary golf architect Tom Doak, the Cape Kidnappers par 71 golf course challenges golfers of all skill levels. The course is located above the ocean, providing dramatic cliff views. Avid golfer or not, this course is an absolute must.

We only left this property once and it was in search of wine. See the sights on a bike ride that starts, stops, and ends at various vineyards. Lunch at Elephant Hill winery was perfectly paired with the delectable food that they had to offer.

Matakauri Lodge

Just when you think New Zealand can’t get any better, you step foot into Queenstown and the gorgeous Matakauri Lodge. This is the crowning jewel in the trifecta of luxury lodges on our journey. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge stayed here. Need we say more?

Queenstown of New Zealand is the “adventure capital” where bungee jumping was invented. It’s also a cute town with great pubs, restaurants, and shopping. A few minutes from town is Matakauri— a picture perfect location on the banks of Lake Wakatipu framed by The Remarkables mountain range and Cecil Peak. Taking advantage of the view is an absolute MUST. The main lodge and each of the twelve separate guest suites feature a wall of windows that overlook the lake. Speaking of the view; soaking in the tub will become a nightly ritual. For dinner, the view is spectacular. You are surrounded by so much water, it looks as though you could be on a ship. The bounty is local and plentiful with a degustation menu carefully curated to pair perfectly with New Zealand wines.

If you’ve golfed at each stop in New Zealand, crown the trip off with an extreme golf experience like none other. Lift off with Over the Top Helicopters and enjoy a scenic flight over Queenstown before landing on Cecil Peak. Tee off from 4,500 feet at the world’s most picturesque golf course and enjoy a wine and cheese basket to celebrate!

New Zealand is a once-in-a- lifetime trip for many Americans. Why not mark it off your bucket list now and have a honeymoon for the ages?

ESSENTIALS

www.KauriCliffs.com

SEATOYS: www.hendersonbayrentals.com

ADVENTURE PUKETI: www.forestwalks.comwww.capekidnappers.com www.elephanthill.co.nz

TAKARO TRAILS: www.takarotrails.co.nz , www.matakaurilodge.com

OVER THE TOP HELICOPTERS: www.flynz.co.nz

Tantalizing Taos/ Mountain in Tamaya

August 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Laurette Veres

Photo by Laurette Veres

Just 135 miles from Albuquerque International Sunport and a short, 90-minute drive from Santa Fe, lies the sunny town of Taos, New Mexico. It’s here that you’ll find world-class skiing, hiking, camping, whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, and mountain biking.

Taos is also a city steeped in culture and history. It is home to the country’s oldest continuously-inhabited Pueblo community.

In fact, many cultures blend together in Taos’ rich heritage including Hispanic, Native American, African American, Anglo, and more. The diverse cultural traditions that built this community are beautifully evident in the eclectic art and dining scene.

Other hidden gems include cultural sites like the historic San Francisco de Asis Mission Church (a National Historic Landmark), the downtown plaza known as “El Corazón de Taos,” not to mention a wealth of museums and art galleries.

New Mexicans have a tradition of inviting travelers into their homes and offering incredible hospitality. Bed and breakfast style inns all throughout Taos keep this tradition of hospitality alive. We started our B & B tour at Hacienda del Sol, which is situated on 1.2 majestic acres. The hacienda adjoins 95,000 acres of Taos Pueblo land with Taos Mountain. This stunning, picture perfect vista provides the ideal backdrop for an unforgettable wedding ceremony. We stayed in the oldest of three historic adobe buildings, constructed in 1804. Each morning we awoke to the aroma of freshly-ground, special blend coffee and a delicious breakfast in the air. This property is the perfect launch pad to explore the streets of Taos, or if you’d rather ski, head up to the Taos Ski Valley.

The big news on the slopes this year is the availability of the Mountain Collective Passes.

The Mountain Collective gives adventure seekers a two-day pass to 16 mountain resorts including Taos.

The legend of Ernie Blake, founder of Taos Ski Valley, is alive and well as people are newly-introduced to skiing and snowboarding daily at the Ernie Blake Snowsports School. It is often said that Taos Mountain has the ability to make you a better skier. Blake knew that a long day of skiing could improve your skills but it could also wear you down so, he planned ahead.

He buried martinis in Spanish flasks called Porrons at the base of certain trees along the slopes then marked the trees with a bow so skiers knew where to look. This tradition continues at the Martini Tree Bar where it’s always après ski time.

Also new this season is The Blake at Taos Ski Valley. The Blake, named for the Blake family, is an 80-room alpine guesthouse conveniently located next door to Lift 1 to deliver carefree mountainside adventures to its guests. If you’re looking for a unique wedding venue, The Bavarian Lodge & Restaurant provides a beautiful backdrop to make your Taos wedding celebration even more distinctive and memorable.

We continued our bed and breakfast tour at the Casa Benavides Inn. This property, a complex of several converted buildings, boasts 37 rooms on the property. Each themed room has a different name and décor from “The Blue Lady Room” to a “Painted Desert Room.” Casa Benavides is conveniently located just steps from the main square in the heart of Taos and all it has to offer. We arrived mid-afternoon and were greeted by tea service and a plethora of sweet pastries. The rooms at Casa Benavides are quite spacious with heated tile floors and our large bathtub had a mountain view. Breakfast was spectacular— the homemade yogurt is perfectly sweet with coconut and cranberries, but be sure to save room for the homemade muffins.

Looking to be pampered? Just down the street from Casa Benavides you’ll find the El Monte Sagrado Living Resort, home to the The Living Spa. With a view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; the Living Spa offers all modern spa amenities with New Mexican flair. The couple’s massage room features a high ceiling and a private bath and shower. Here, you will be pampered by some of the best therapists in the area. Don’t skip the “Sagrado High Desert” massage. This service blends indigenous plants such as cedar, sage, and ginger then crafts them into an herb- infused, body scrub treatment. Next, you are wrapped in an ancient sea-clay mask, which they say helps to “draw toxins out of the body.” After a quick shower, enjoy a gentle butter cream massage. When your treatment is over, enjoy refreshing coconut water in the outdoor garden.

Want some down-home, authentic New Mexican food? Head to Orlando’s New Mexican Café in nearby El Prado. Enjoy the outdoor fire and a margarita while you wait to be seated. Husband and wife team, Orlando and Yvette Ortega are consistently “Best of ” award winners for their Grilled Carne Adovada— a pork cutlet topped with their homemade Red Chile Caribe and fresh tortillas.

ESSENTIALS

www.taos.org www.skitaos.com 

www.taoshaciendadelsol.com 

www.casabenavides.com

www.elmontesagrado.com/taos-spa-resort-amenities

THE DRESSING ROOM WEST

by Owner, Christina Ferrara

In the heart to the Santa Fe historical district, a new retail concept is energizing the bridal business. Offering the thrill of a sample sale coupled with the exclusivity of private appointments, The Dressing Room West is a bridal boutique catering to the needs of today’s brides. “Everything here is off-the-rack,” says boutique founder Christina Ferrara. “You can take it home today.”

What a change from the typical bridal gown appointment! All gowns at The Dressing Room West are brand spanking new and direct from designers or designer warehouses. With this constantly changing, curated collection of discontinued or overstocked gowns, it’s the perfect boutique for the girl who finds it hard to visualize her perfect dress. If the dress fits, buy it. Nothing in the store is over $1,200. – LMV

WHAT’S TRENDING NOW?

“Gowns are featuring open backs and the sheer, illusion backs now. Also, sleeves are very popular” says Ferrara.

FERRARA’S TIPS FOR BRIDES

#1 Always have some sort of idea (about what you are looking for)

#2 Don’t bring too many people

#3 Have an open mind

 

Mountain in Tamaya

Courtesy of Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort

On the majestic Sandia Mountains of New Mexico, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa offers a picturesque setting for an extraordinary wedding or honeymoon getaway.

The Tamaya is located on the Santa Ana Pueblo, one of the 19 ancient pueblos in New Mexico. As you enter the property, the scenery is so breathtaking that you just might forget you are heading toward a luxury resort. In fact, The Tamaya blends right into its surroundings like a perfect painting with its pueblo-style architecture against the indelible Southwestern landscape.

In the main hotel, there are three glorious options designed to fit your unique wedding plans. For a smaller guest list, consider the Sunrise Amphitheater, a gorgeous flagstone area set against the canvas of the nearby mountains. The Sunrise is an ideal space for an outdoor ceremony particularly in the early evening. The light is just right for your closest friends and family to celebrate and snap unforgettable photos of your happy occasion. This outdoor space can seat up to 350 guests and the adjoining veranda can be set up for cocktails or act as a backup location in case of inclement weather.

For weddings during colder months or large groups, the versatile Tamaya Ballroom might be a better choice. You’ll love the dazzling chandeliers in this capacious yet functional room that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests.

Perhaps the most unique of these spaces, The House of the Hummingbird, duplicates the rustic charm of adobe pueblo ruins complete with views of the Sandia Mountains and the sacred Tuyuna Mesa. This space has it all; it is the quintessential New Mexican setting. This 8,600 square-foot multi- purpose venue can hold up to 300 guests. At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom can make an unforgettable grand exit in a romantic horse- drawn carriage.

The Cottonwoods Gazebo and Pavilion seems so far removed from the hotel’s main property, you’ll forget you are at a resort. The gazebo and adjoining pavilion, located right on the Rio Grande River, is the ultimate space for an outdoor ceremony.

It features a unique indoor/outdoor ballroom that can host up to 300 guests for your ceremony and reception.

If you want to offer your guests a destination wedding with an authentic New Mexican flair, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa is the perfect option.

For more information on the Hyatt Resort:

https://tamaya.regency.hyatt.com

Pops of New Glimmers Old

August 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Stephanie DiCiro

Courtesy of Visit Mobile

The charming port city of Mobile, Alabama has a character all its own. Deeply rooted within its rich history are streets lined with live oaks and azaleas, time-honored traditions and a remarkable, enduring spirit, all wrapped up in a big dose of Southern hospitality. When you step into Mobile, it always feels like a celebration.

With over 300 years of history brimming with countless stories and traditions celebrated, Mobile can be described as: historic, cultured, celebratory, and above all, unique. Once known as the “Paris of the South”, Mobile has long been the cultural focal point of the Gulf Coast. Even a short visit will provide you with a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience you won’t find anywhere else in the Southern United States!

Recent revitalization in Mobile’s many historical districts provides a picture window to the past. The Steeple on St. Francis is one of old Mobile’s most inspired new event venues that has emerged from the hallowed halls of an old Methodist church.This vintage space holds history within its timeworn walls although it has been renovated and repurposed to host concerts, parties, and weddings. Couples are drawn to this space because it tells an interesting story while also providing the exceptional aesthetic of immaculate stained glass windows and intricate wood-working details. If you visit in the spring, be sure to hit the Mobile Historic Homes Tour. Ancestral homes, churches and house museums are open to the public for this two-day event to benefit the Historic Mobile Preservation Society.

Mobile holds the distinction of being the original and unsung home to the infamous Mardi Gras parade and celebration. Each spring the parade rolls through the historic streets of downtown with its elaborate and vibrant floats, flooding the streets with beads and pelting the townspeople with Moon Pies. This parade is a grandiose finish to the revelry of a two-and-a-half-week citywide celebration called Carnival! Carnival time in Mobile is a family-friendly time to attend balls, parties, and parades filled with non- stop celebration. In Mobile, the fun doesn’t stop on Fat Tuesday. The Mobile Carnival Museum captures the essence of the Mardi Gras legacy year round, with stunning displays of parade floats, elaborate, century- old costumes and a wonderful history lesson.

Everywhere you turn, Mobile is buzzing with creative souls displaying their amazing expressions of art. Much of Downtown Mobile and in particular Lower Dauphin Street or LoDa, as it is known, is a creative hub for artists to express their talents with studios, galleries and art centers showcasing everything from dramatic murals, contemporary sculptures and abstract paintings, to endless other types of artful creations. The Mobile Arts Council, located in the heart of LoDa, is an agency that partners with art organizations to bring events like the LoDa ArtWalk to the public. The outrageously popular LoDa ArtWalk brings thousands of people together to appreciate the latest in local art, music, food and culture. If carefully curated art is more your style, the Mobile Museum of Art showcases approximately 10,000 eclectic pieces from around the world and hosts exhibits, classes, programs and special events for the community.

The Saenger Theatre brings performance art to life in a historical theater experience; prestige, poise, presentation, and pizazz are all present when describing this glorious concert hall that has played host to local, national, and international performers. From classic and contemporary art, music and dance to luxury hand-made furnishings and homemade crafts, visiting these diverse local galleries and pop-up markets will be an unforgettable experience and will leave you with an enduring appreciation for the southern charm this quaint town has to offer! The arts community in Mobile is flourishing with countless creative and artistic activities and festivals to enjoy. Your calendar will be booked throughout your visit!

Hit the streets of downtown Mobile for some retail therapy where you’re sure to find a hidden treasure or two in one of the local boutiques! After a busy day of shopping, you can choose from a variety of delicious dishes sure to satisfy your taste buds. From the award winning seafood gumbo at Wintzell’s Oyster House to the locally sourced ingredients from the esteemed Kitchen on George, you won’t be disappointed with any food choice in Mobile!

If you’re seeking adventure, whether you take a Delta Safari for an up-close view of local wildlife or take an airboat tour across the picturesque Mobile- Tensaw Delta, Mobile is the perfect place for those of you who love the outdoor life. From boating, kayaking, and duck boat tours to a guided tour of the famous Bellingrath Gardens, this town has the total package for a weekend getaway full of adventure and excitement! Located in the heart of downtown, the Admiral Hotel

Mobile offers a lavish setting and modern conveniences for guests to return to after a leisurely day of shopping and dining. The Admiral has it all; deluxe guest room suites and two delightful dining options on- site, and just walking distance from everything this engaging town has to offer!

Perfect for a family weekend getaway, a romantic escape for two, or even a group of festivalgoers, Mobile attracts a variety of visitors because it provides an authentic experience you can’t find anywhere else!

ACCOMMODATIONS

www.mobile.org

www.theadmiralhotelmobile.curiocollection.com

www.mobilecarnivalmuseum.com

www.mobilesaenger.com

www.mobilemusuemofart.com

www.mobilearts.org

www.thesteeplemobile.com

www.wintzellsoysterhouse.com

www.kitchenongeorge.com

Cabo is Calling

August 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Vicki Dill

Courtesy of Grand Velas Resort

After taking hundreds of pictures of breathtaking views and stunning scenery, I am heading home from the brand new hotel, Grand Velas Los Cabos, that just celebrated its grand opening in December I feel refreshed, tan and ready to book my next trip back to this luxurious resort that catered to my every whim!

Whether you’re planning a destination wedding, a honeymoon, an anniversary trip or just because you’re in love, Grand Velas Los Cabos will go above and beyond at every turn.

Upon my arrival, the smiling hospitable staff warmly greeted me by name. The bold entrance to the hotel features what appears to be a keyhole to a paradise of turquoise waters, purple gardenias and swaying palm trees framing a pristine blue sky. Checking in is stress free when presented with a refreshing welcome drink, a cooling towel and (the clincher) a welcome shoulder and neck massage.

Rooms are modern and sexy with rich, dark, wooden doors, sliding bathtub walls that open to the suite, and a mini bar filled with the promise of lively afternoons and seductive nights. Your own private butler is on hand to ensure that all of your needs are met. Soak up the expansive views of the Pacific Ocean, three infinity pools and the colorful gardens all from the chaise lounge on your own private terrace.

All-inclusive has never looked this good. Upscale, stylish, and award-winning are terms that best describe the dining experience at Grand Velas Los Cabos. With seven restaurants, in addition to several casual dining areas, you’ll want to stay as many nights as possible to enjoy the culinary genius at each unique Grand Velas establishments. The shining star of their gourmet restaurants, Cocina de Autor, was the world’s first all-inclusive resort restaurant to be awarded Five Diamonds by the AAA. Two Michellin Star Chef, Sidney Schutte, prepares meals that ignite your senses and really should be showcased in a museum of exquisitely presented fine food! For an authentic Mexican experience, Frida, a restaurant honoring Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, offers live music and contemporary dishes reflecting the traditions of Mexican cuisine. The French restaurant, Piaf, is romantic and evokes the feel of 1940’s Paris.

You can’t go home without eating at Lucca, their Italian/ Mediterranean restaurant, which is sure to leave you feeling full and happy!

The spa…wow–Just WOW! You begin your spa adventure with a guided hydrotherapy called The Water Journey. This tranquil area of the spa has a massive pool with several small coves. Each cove has a different type of water pressure, designed to massage your muscles and de-stress your body. There are waterbeds that elevate you with hydro pressure, and knead your joints and muscles as you relax. After that peaceful journey, you can add traditional spa treatments like the sauna, steam room, ice room and a series of unique showers. The steam room was a favorite. It features delicate lights that dim and change colors giving you a feeling of serenity. I had a Blue Agave Candle Massage; something I had never experienced and thoroughly enjoyed. A multitude of services are offered and the Grand Velas Spas are among The Leading Spas of the World. It would be easy to spend your entire vacation at the Grand Velas Los Cabos Resort. Spend a dreamlike day at one of the three infinity pools. Keep cool at the swim-up tables and bar and enjoy sipping the specialty drink of the day. The service is attentive, the beverages plentiful, and the menu is perfect for poolside dining. In addition, Grand Velas Los Cabos offers many activities to keep you engaged. There’s poker, darts, water aerobics, bingo, Ping-Pong, and a fully loaded fitness center with classes. There’s also a kids club and a teen club that even the adults will find entertaining.

If you are a person who likes to take in the sights, there are countless ‘once in a lifetime’ adventures available in Cabo! Situated at the tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, the Los Cabos region is well known for deep- sea fishing and seasonal whale watching, but also boasts a lively nightlife. Cabo Adventures is a leading tour and activity operator dedicated to providing memorable experiences for vacationers in Cabo. I was lucky enough to be a guest on their Luxury Sailing Tour aboard the elegant Beneteau Yacht. Our cruise took us to the Sea of Cortes where we jumped off the boat, snorkeled, paddle boarded, swam and enjoyed the breathtaking beauty of the Pacific Ocean. We enjoyed great music, upscale, tasty meals, all you could eat and drink margaritas, mimosas, cervezas, and more! Cabo Adventures also offers dolphin swims, camel safaris, scuba diving, whale watching tours, sunset dinners, whale shark encounters, zip-lining, mountain biking, air adventures and even fly boarding.

If you are planning a wedding or a honeymoon, Grand Velas Los Cabos is a picturesque, accommodating and endlessly romantic destination. Their experienced team will assist you with every detail.With so many beautiful and unique restaurants you’ll have many options when planning your wedding events. A Grand Velas wedding is beyond your imagination. Whether you choose a beach wedding among the oceanside boulders or opt for a garden ceremony overlooking the vast ocean, a private terrace wedding or even a wedding in one of their many ballrooms;it will be a day you’ll wish you could relive over and over again.

Grand Velas Los Cabos will exceed your every expectation. Step away from real life for a few days and treat yourself to the luxury you deserve.

ESSENTIALS:

www.grandvelas.com/resorts 

www.loscabos.grandvelas.com 

www.cabo-adventures.com

Gateway Canyons

July 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Laurette Veres

Courtesy Laurette Veres

John Hendricks, founder of the Discovery Channel, recalls his dad’s love affair with the majestic landscape of Western Colorado. Years later, when he finally took the time to see it for himself, he was hooked!

John regards this part of the world as some of the most awe-inspiring, scenic terrain in creation and his vision is to share it with others. First, he built a ranch. Then he was inspired to add a car museum followed by a café and a few guest rooms to accommodate visitors. Today, Gateway Canyons Colorado Resort and Spa is a full-service, 58-room/14-casita luxury resort.

This one-of-a-kind resort sits at the mouth of five converging canyons, creating a picture-perfect setting for your destination wedding. The exposed rocks near Gateway Canyons are 300 million years old. Most notably, The Palisade is a three-mile long butte and the most prominent geologic feature in the area. Whether you capture it on film from afar or climb to the top, you’ll be in awe of its beauty and grandeur. Surrounded by breathtaking red rocks in every direction, you and your guests will never tire of the scenery here.

As you might expect at a Colorado resort, outdoor activities reign supreme. Whether you’re keen on mountain biking, hiking, riding ATVs or horseback riding, they’ve got you covered. If you’re feeling adventurous, opt for the scenic heli-tour. Heli-Yes!

For $525 you and four friends can get an aerial tour of these beautiful red rock canyons and the surrounding area.

The resort’s full-time curator, Zebulon “Zeb” Miracle (yes, this is really his name) is on hand to help guests interpret the curiosities of this land. Accompany him on a Rock Creek Ranch Art Hike and discover an ancient world of art and storytelling. Zeb explained that before the Ute Native American tribes inhabited the land, the Anasazi and Fremont people left their mark on the rocks with both abstract and realistic figures. Since none of their descendents remain, we are left to interpret the art for ourselves. If there are youngsters in your group, Zeb is also the guide for the Jurassic Experience, a dinosaur tour that includes a dinosaur dig and a chance to actually see prehistoric footprints. Get a bird’s eye view of the five canyons as you ride an ATV to the top. The stables also offer horseback rides taking you to scenic locations. Still a working cattle ranch, you just might see cowboys at work on your stay.

The bride and her maids can enjoy panoramic views from the treatment rooms at the full- service spa. The women-only outdoor Jacuzzi is the perfect place to kick off the relaxation. Their signature treatment, the Desert Flower Poultice Therapy, is their twist on a hot stone massage. As you enter the room, fragrant sage, lavender and other herbs simmer in muslin sachets similar to large tea bags. In fact, from an auditory perspective, this treatment is reminiscent of a facial due to the relaxing hiss of steam filling your senses. Deep tissue massage is administered using the herb packet.

A rare and unexpected offering here at the Gateway Canyons is the Driven Experience, allowing guests to drive some of the world’s most luxurious cars. Speeding down one of America’s most scenic roads such as the Unaweep/ Tabeguache Colorado Scenic Byway, a spectacular 133-mile road running around the National Forest and the Dolores River, feels exhilarating in a luxury car. Surprise your guests with an airport pick up in a Bentley or take a 4-hour spin in a Viper. Driving experiences such as these and more are available right on property. For a historic perspective of American cars, a visit to The Gateway Canyons Auto Museum is a must; don’t miss the one-of-a- kind 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car, considered a rare American icon.

Accommodations are five- star, each room containing a balcony with personal fire pit and in-room fireplace. The barn door entrance adds a dose of rustic charm as you enter the full bath with floating bathtub, walk-in shower, double sinks and ample counter space. One and two bedroom casitas are also available. There are 14 in all and a complete buyout for your wedding allows private access to the casita pool.

Your group will surely come hungry and they are in good hands. The Kiva Café is open daily for breakfast and lunch.

The Paradox Grille Patio is the perfect outdoor location for a quick Angus burger, Cobb salad or grilled cheese with tomato soup. Entrada offers fine dining nightly and can cater to any dietary needs. Wedding menus are customized, of course, but you might consider staying true to Colorado character with their signature Garlic-crusted Venison Loin.

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF SPACIOUS AND ELEGANT VENUES AVAILABLE FOR YOUR CEREMONY AND RECEPTION:

  • The Mission Bell Amphitheatre sits near the center of the property andis the perfect location for a cocktail reception or ceremony. As the name implies, this structure resembles a historic mission reflecting the Pueblo Revival style of the 1920s.
  • Cottonwood Terrace is the perfect grassy area to stage a small ceremony. Views of the surrounding canyons lend a unique sense of place to this setting.
  • Paradox Grille Courtyard is an outdoor brick courtyard perfect for a small, casual reception.
  • Gateway Ponds reflect the red sandstone mesa or the Palisade and can accommodate an intimate ceremony up to 75 guests.
  • The Palisade Grand Ballroom is the largest indoor venue accommodating 200 guests. These functional rooms are mainly used as weather back up spaces.

For more information visit:

www.GatewayCanyons.com

Mystical Mayan Adventure

July 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Jade Lewis

Photo by Jade Lewis

After a short 15-minute drive from the Cancun International Airport, you arrive at Kukulcan Boulevard, home to Cancun’s Zona Hoteleria and two JW Marriott resort properties. Prepare to be greeted by name by an upbeat, attentive staff if you stay at either of these 5-Star resorts.

After checking in at the JW Marriott Cancun Resort, the staff provided a mini tour of the property and luxurious guestrooms. The JW Cancun offers 448 elegant ocean-view rooms and suites, all just steps from beautiful white-sand beaches. Featuring five sparkling pools, the JW caters to couples, adults and families alike. The CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort located just up the beach is tailor-made for a family vacation with its tantalizing pool, kid’s club and amazing restaurants. The resorts are connected with a walkway so that you can choose either location and have an unforgettable stay.

Feeling hungry? There are a number of great choices within the adjoining Marriott properties and the nearby local eateriesto have an amazing dining experience. If you have a taste for Italian, Gustino Italian Beachside Grill boasts a phenomenal menu and a 4-Star rating from AAA. During my visit, Gustino’shosted high quality tequila tasting in their private tasting room, offering a sampling of Don Julio Luxury Tequilas in a wide range of vintages. Are you ready for food that is as beautiful as it is tasty? Try the fantastic Sasi Thai Cancun restaurant in the CasaMagna next door. Sasi Thai’s menu is a combination of nouveau Thai cuisine and traditional favorites. You simply can’t leave Cancun without getting out of the hotel and having some great tacos. Although good tacos are not hard to find in Cancun, I was lucky enough to attend the main event of Cancun’s annual Wine & Food Festival, the Star Chefs: Gourmet Taco Competition. This event invites you to taste signature tacos from 16 award-winning chefs along with the best wine, tequila and spirits and vote on your favorites.

With loads of great adventures to be had in Cancun, it can be hard to choose but visiting a Mexican cenote is a definite must! The Cenote Samulà and Cenote Xkeken are located about two hours outside Cancun but this adventure is well worth the trip.

A cenote is a freshwater sinkhole that creates a natural swimming hole of beautiful, refreshing water often surrounded by an underground cavern. While swimming at Cenote Samulà, the sun beamed through the roof of the cave and reflected off the water creating mystical lighting all around us. It was an unforgettable experience! After our swim, we grabbed lunch at El Meson Del Marques, a very traditional Mexican restaurant just like something from the movies. Another “must-do” on the Riviera Maya is snorkeling in the Mexican Caribbean. Visualize yourself navigating the Nichupte Lagoon in a speedboat, then jumping in and snorkeling in the clear, blue coastal waters. What better way is there to spend time with a loved one than exploring the Caribbean together?

After an adventurous day exploring Cancun or if you just want a little bit of heaven, escape to the luxurious spa experience at the JW Marriott. This 3-story Mayan-themed spa offers 17 treatment rooms, plus a steam room, sauna and lounge all dedicated to guests’ health and relaxation. Customized facial, massage and body treatment packages are available or you can opt for the ultimate Mayan traditional massage, the Hunab Ku Ritual. Of the three Mayan treatments available, the Hunab Ku is a mixture of unconventional healing movements and energy flow rituals based on traditional Mayan beliefs. They also offer relaxing couples massage therapy, perfect for honeymooners.

Adventure and mystical beauty await you at every turn on the Riviera Maya.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION AND RESERVATIONS:

www.marriott.com

www.mesondelmarques.com

www.wineandfoodfest.com

www.marinabarrcuda.com

Paradise Forever

July 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Marian Jacob

Photo by Marian Jacob

Mayakoba – “Village of Water”

On the majestic Caribbean shores of Mexico, the Mayakoba Resort on the Riviera Maya offers four exclusive luxury hotels surrounded by natural forests full of wildlife, freshwater lagoons and crystalline beaches. The newest of these is the long-awaited Andaz Mayakoba-Riviera Maya, a welcome addition to round out this spectacular master-planned retreat.

Mayakoba prides itself on sustainability and protecting the natural environment, while creating a luxurious escape to another world. Wake up to bird calls from over 200 species, and experience nature right from your room.

Stay in the presidential suite at the Andaz enveloped in tropical scenes of serene lagoons and lush greenery or behold the Fairmont’s hypnotic waterfront views and superbly cultivated gardens. Lose yourself in the Rosewood’s ultra-comfort service and white sandy beaches, or rent a villa at the Banyan Tree with your own private plunge pool and garden terrace.

Start off the day with a full breakfast buffet at Cocina Milagro at the Andaz, overlooking the pool or enjoy a good book while swinging in the hanging-egg wicker chairs. Set up a tee time at El Camaleón, a world-class golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman and home to the PGA Tour OHL Classic. Like a chameleon, the surrounding vistas from the fairways change from mangroves and cenotes to sand dunes and white beaches. Take a ride in a golf cart tram through the winding roads of the exotic forests to El Pueblito, “El Corazón de Mayakoba”- The Heart of Mayakoba. Here, you can shop at boutiques filled with handmade textiles and pottery, take a cooking class at El Pueblito Cooking School or eat lunch at La Fondita. Enjoy a refreshing fruit drink at Bang Teng Thai or coffee at El Cafecito. On Sundays, they hold Mass at Santa Cruz Chapel, followed by the weekly Farmer’s Market.

Mayakoba offers a variety of activities from hiking and biking through meandering nature trails, bird watching for those rare and unique species of birds, honing your archery skills on the four-target range, or taking a guided kayak tour through the Mayakoba waterways. Take a leisurely tour of the entire resort via the Mayakoba Connection ferry service. Stop by each of the hotels to enjoy a meal and live music from myriad restaurant options: tasty tostadas and tequila from Olla Ceviche at Andaz, authentic Thai cuisine from Saffron at the Banyan Tree, sushi from Agave Azul at the Rosewood or enjoy golf club favorites and Latin wines at Koba on El Camaleón.

Get pampered with the 24-hour butler service at the Rosewood, with personalized room service and housekeeping. Use the Rosewood Mayakoba app to request services for those special moments on your honeymoon; from a romantic bubble bath or an intimate dinner to a helicopter ride over the Kulkulcan Pyramid in Chichen Itza.

For rejuvenation and spiritual healing, choose spa treatments rooted in ancient Mayan rituals such as the Mayan Clay Purification treatment at Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont or a fresh honey body scrub and massage at the award-winning Banyan Tree Spa. The spa at the Andaz has six treatment rooms and two hydrotherapy spaces dedicated to your relaxation as well as a full-service salon to keep you looking as great as you feel.

If you’re planning to tie the knot, Mayacoba offers a variety of unique spiritual ceremonies to cater to a couple’s vision for their wedding. Consider the Mayan Ceremony at the Rosewood where couples are blessed by a shaman who invokes happiness and abundance on their union. There is certainly no shortage of striking, one-of-a-kind backdrops and glamorous venues available to grace your ceremony.

Whether it takes place alongside a crystal blue lagoon, barefoot on a pristine beach or in a lush jungle hideaway, your wedding will be one to remember!

Book your paradise wedding or honeymoon at Mayakoba Resort.

For Further Information and Reservations:

www.mayakoba.com

www.mayakobamagazine.com

http://mayakobamfwg.com

Prague

June 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

Three Days in Budapest

June 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog, Uncategorized

by Dick Dace and Joel Hoopaugh

Day One

We arrived in Budapest at eight in the morning after an extremely bumpy and exhausting overnight train from Prague. We blamed the Soviet-era tracks, the heavy-footed brake man, and the Animal House rejects who partied next door. Our hotel was the sister property to our Vienna accommodation, The Kempinski Hotel Corvinus. Conveniently located in the city center and surrounded by

other high-end hotels, it is nestled between the Ritz-Carlton Budapest and two metro stops. There is nothing like staying at the Kempinski, where one is rejuvenated just by walking through its revolving door.

First stop of the day was Memento Park. We caught the 11 a.m. Memento Park Bus less than one block from our hotel, for a short 20 minute drive outside the city. Created in 1993, the park includes several of more than 1,000 communist-era statues that were an intricate part of the intimidation and propaganda campaign the Soviets used to control the Hungarian people from 1945 until 1989. In the center of every community was a statue showing a benevolent soviet soldier protecting a Hungarian peasant, or a three-story tall statue of Joseph Stalin looking down like a mythical God.

Other statues feature Lenin, Marx, and Engels. The statues made me depressed, sad, and angry. Apparently, most Hungarians agreed with me. In 1989, with the fall of the Soviet Empire, citizens toppled the soviet era statues all across the country, and many were melted down to create new works of art.

Hungary even used some of the communist statues to remodel the ones at Hősök (Heroes) Square, originally

built in in 1896 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin. In 1989, the statues of the Holy Roman Emperors were replaced with other important national leaders, and a tomb honoring the Unknown Soldier.

Heroes Square is surrounded by a beautiful park, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Palace of Art, and the Serbian Embassy. During the summer the lake is dotted with watercraft, and ice skates gliding on top in winter. It is also the site of the first underground subway station in all of Europe.

As we walked back to our hotel, we stumbled upon a small Hungarian restaurant, Pater Bonijac Etterem. Once inside, the waitress/owner Monika stopped by to take our order. I ordered a chicken dish. She rolled her eyes and exclaimed, “Why you order that? You don’t want that. I bring you what you want!” and off she went. And she was right. She delivered a large plate of chopped veal and her version of potato dumpling for me, and a Gypsy-style meat stuffed crepes typical to Hungary (Hortobagyi Palacsinta) for Joel. Every bite was better than the last.

We decided to take public transportation, then a local taxi to the world famous Formula One Grand Prix racetrack. While most of the track was closed the day we visited, there was a spirited go-kart race happening on one part of the compound, and in another, Hungary’s largest waterpark.

Back in Budapest, we decided to walk along the Danube River which separates Buda from Pest. While admiring the Buda Castle compound across the river, we came upon an interesting grouping of bronze old-fashion shoes on the waters’ edge. It looked like dozens of folks had slipped off their shoes before going for a swim.

We learned later from a tour guide that the shoes are a memorial commemorating the execution of Hungarian Jews by the fascist Arrow Cross members during World War II. The Fascists took the Jews to the river and ordered them to remove their shoes, so they could be used by others, then shot in such a way that their bodies fell into the river.

Day Two

On our way to Buda Castle, we walked along the river to the very impressive Hungarian Parliament. Directly outside is Kossuth Square, a large square with monuments, classical buildings and an underground memorial to the Revolution of 1956. Across the river are Budapest’s most famous landmarks; Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle and Liberty Statue.

Atop the hill is Fisherman’s Bastion, built in 1902 on the foundation of a 13th century church. From one of its seven towers, there is an amazing panoramic view of Buda. For the price of meal, one can sit on the Bastion’s terrace walls and enjoy the view.

At the base is the famous Buda Castle. After being almost completely destroyed by Soviet forces at the end of World War II, the castle was painstakingly rebuilt according to historical photos and paintings. The castle is now a museum, where it is possible to see some of the castles recreated furnishings. A 700-car garage is being constructed underneath the grounds.

Because we wanted to see other sites not accessible by public transportation, we decided to hire a car for our trip to Vienna. First stop: Slavin, Solvakia, which provided us with a birds-eye view of Bratislava, Austria and Hungary.

Day Three

Our driver was Gyuri, a moonlighting professional soccer player who had been a high school exchange student in upstate New York. He spoke excellent English, and drove a late model sedan. First stop: Slavin, Solvakia, which provided us with a birds-eye view of Bratislava, Austria and Hungary.

On our way to Devín Castle in Bratislava, (which was destroyed by Napoleon in 1810) we drove over the famous UFO bridge over the Danube river that was built in the late 1960s and early ’70s during the height of Soviet Communist propaganda building spree. It features a flying saucer-shaped restaurant at the top of the bridges only pylon, the largest such bridge in the world.

Our favorite stop was Carnuntum, a Roman army base established in the first century. Over the years, Carnuntum grew to be an important outpost of the Roman Empire, and was the site where the Emperor emeritus Diocletian and the co-emperors Maximian and Galerius granted freedom of religion for every citizen of the Roman Empire.

It is now an Archaeology Park where they have rebuilt The House of Lucius, complete with period furniture, heated floors, heated baths, and water-flushed latrines. You could say life was good for the generals, and the merchants of Carnuntum. They loved their baths, as do citizens of Budapest, who keep four city bath houses hopping.

Resources:

www.Kempinski.com

Pater Bonijac Etterem Restaurant

Budapest 1068

Dozsa Gyongyut 108

DayTrip.com

Foodie Getaway at Rancho Pescadero, July 6-9

June 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

Rancho Pescadero in the artsy, laid-back beach town of Todos Santos, Mexico is hosting a fun and food-filled Guest Chef Series over July 6-9 for foodies around the world. Nestled on a pristine beach of the Pacific Ocean an hour north of Cabo San Lucas and a world away from the everyday, Rancho Pescadero’s weekend-long Guest Chef Series culinary event will feature the talented Jason Dady.

The executive chef / owner is behind the restaurant concepts Tre Trattoria, Tre Enoteca, Two Bros. BBQ Market, The DUK Truck, B&D Icehouse, Shuck Shack, and Dady Premier Catering in San Antonio, TX. He was awarded “Star Chef Restaurateur” by Star Chefs and was a semi-finalist nomination by James Beard.

The full weekend starts with a cooking demo and farm-to-table lunch followed by a traditional tequila and mezcal tasting. The next day entails a Baja wine tasting followed by a dinner of the guest chef’s tasting menu in the resort’s signature restaurant, the Garden Restaurant. Rancho Pescadero sources ingredients for these meals from its on-property organic farm and local purveyors in a 20-mile radius, making each meal extremely fresh and full of flavor. The Baja-specific farm-to-table are sure to delight culinary connoisseurs and casual foodies alike.

For more information, visit http://ranchopescadero.com/special-offers/guest-chef-series.

Three Days in Vienna

June 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

by Dick Dace – Photos by Joel Hoopaugh

Day One

After Joel and I check into the Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel, we met our tour guide, Ilse Heigerth, for a walking tour of the city center. With seven hundred years of history, 27 palaces, 150 churches, and more Hapsburg royals, princesses and Emperors than I can count, Ilse proved invaluable with interesting stories and tales about this remarkable city and its people. We walked around the first of 23 districts on the ring road, created when the Emperor tore down the medieval wall, creating a green space with a walking path, bike path and roadway, in the footsteps of Roman soldiers, romantic princes and bloodthirsty assassins.

The Hapsburgs ruled Vienna from 1273 until 1918, and were a dynastic powerhouse that was created by marrying off their fifteen year-old daughters and sons to other royal houses in political alliances. “They weren’t very good at winning wars,” Ilse shared. “So inheritances allowed them to expand their empire, and stuff their treasury.” At one point, their empire included everything from Spain in the west, to the Baltic States (including Hungary and the Czech Republic) to the east, and north to Denmark and south to Rome, Italy.

During the eighteenth century, Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen children. Among the ten that survived to adulthood, would emerge a Queen of France, the Queen of Naples and Sicily, the Duchess of Parma, and two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II.

One of Maria Theresa’s children was Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna aka Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. She was Maria Theresa’s fifteenth and second youngest child, and was just fourteen years-old when she married the fifteen year-old future King of France, Louis XVI.

Franz Joseph and Elisabeth were the last Habsburg emperor and empress of Austria. Sisi, as Elizabeth became known to the world, was one of nineteenth-century Europe’s most famously beautiful women. She was known as the world’s unhappiest royal, though not an actual princess (think Princess Diana). She bristled at the traditions and demands of court life, writing in her diary, Marriage is an absurd arrangement. One is sold as a fifteen year-old child, and makes a vow one does not understand, and then regrets for the next thirty years. Love her.

Two of the Hapsburgs most romantic royals were Duke Albert and Duchess Marie Christine, briefly ruling Brussels until French revolutionary troops forced them back to Vienna. Marie Christine was the only child of Marie Teresa’s who was allowed to marry for love. When she died by drinking tainted water, Duke Albert underwrote the cost of building two pipelines from the Swiss Alps to bring spring water to the citizens of Vienna, which Viennese still drink from to this day. He also commissioned a moving memorial in St. Augustin, the parish church of the imperial court of the Habsburgs.

The Hapsburg royals believed in elaborate funerals. They had their hearts buried in the Herzgruft (Hearts Crypt) inside St. Augustin Church, their entrails entombed in the Ducal Crypt below St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and their bodies buried at the Capuchin Church and Monastery. Famished, we were about to be funeral-ready ourselves.

So Ilse invited us to a traditional Viennese dinner in the hills surrounding Vienna. We took their safe, clean underground subway, a tram then a bus, all of which have efficient, intuitive signage event directionally challenged like myself can figure it out. We dined at Mayer am Pfarrplatz in hills above the city, feasting on Wiener schnitzel (think chicken fried steak) roasted pork and potatoes, all washed down by local wine.

The wine tavern’s most famous guest was Ludwig van Beethoven, who in 1817 came seeking a cure to his hearing difficulties, and it is where he completed his Symphony No. 3, “Eroica.”

Day Two

The next day we visited both the Upper and Lower Belvedere Palaces and gardens, which houses an art collection worthy of Emperors. Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss is here. The rooms, with their Rococo ceilings and walls, are the perfect backdrop for the art. The Belevdere’s beautiful gardens inspired us to lunch at Palmenhause in the Burggarten Park. It was our first opportunity to enjoy a slice of Sachertorte, one of desserts for which the Viennese are most famous.

A visit to Vienna isn’t complete without an outing at its famous amusement park Prater, and a ride on one of Vienna’s landmarks, the Giant Ferris Wheel, which Alfred Hitchcock made famous in his movie, The Third Man.

The Ferris wheel cars remind me of 18th century a train cars, same red color, made of wood. The view revealed our first sight of the modern skyline across the Danube. The park had a retro feel, with old-time amusements, and tree-shaded beer gardens, which the locals really seemed to enjoy. On the way out of the park, we stopped for dinner.

Vienna is famous for its street food, especially its sausages, so we stopped at Bitzinger near the entrance. We shared a bratwurst stuffed with cheese and pomme frites, washed down with local draft. Our meal was so delicious, we doubled our order.

Day Three

On our last day in Vienna, we visited the former summer residence of the imperial family, Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens. Its last residents, Franz Joseph and Elisabeth (Sisi), are very present in portraitures, and extravagant displays of their personal items in the very same rooms in which they and their children lived.

We discovered Vienna’s love for coffee in our hotel lobby, where from morning to late at night, Viennese gathered and mingled with hotel guests over a cup of Joe. The worldwide coffee culture began in Vienna during the Thirty Years war. People could not afford to heat their homes, but could afford a coffee in the local cafes. The Viennese still expect to enjoy a cup of coffee, a fresh glass of water every thirty minutes, and to read all the local newspapers and discuss the news of the day with anyone who will listen. No surprise the Age of the Intellectuals began here.

Our last meal in Vienna was at Edvard inside the Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel, where Executive Chef Anton Pozeg had just won his first Michelin Star, the third star in three years for the restaurant. Chef Anton served us his seven-course tasting menu—adding four other courses that we just had to have. These featured local seasonal produce (he works with a local farmer who brings him this entire crop of fruits and vegetables). Chef Anton’s inspired use of wood ash, for that hint of smoke, and dust he created out of different herbs, layered flavors and textures that left you wanting more.

I can’t say I know where Joel will wind up. But I can tell you that Mr. Dace is not going to heaven when he dies.

You’ll find me at the Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel.

Resources:

www.ViennaPass.com

Private Tour Guide

Ilse Heigerth

heigerthi@gmail.com

Wine Tavern

Mayer am Pfarrplatz

Pfarrplatz 2, 19th district,

www.pfarrplatz.at/en/startseite.html

Edvard at Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel

https://www.kempinski.com/en/vienna/palais-hansen/dining/restaurants/edvard/

Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel

www.Kempinski.com

Healdsburg

June 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

Head to Healdsburg for a day of wine tasting

Healdsburg, California, is a picturesque escape for newlyweds. This authentic farming town— with its winding roads and rolling vineyards— is located north of San Francisco, a little over an hour from the Golden Gate Bridge. Healdsburg features top of the line wine tasting rooms, authentic cuisines, and exciting outdoor activities.

Located one block from Healdsburg’s Historic Town Square, is Hotel Le Mars. Dedicated to the tradition of old-world luxury and European service, the hotel offers complimentary French breakfast every morning as well as wine and cheese tastings in the evenings. Each guest room is beautifully fitted with antique furnishings, which includes a hand-carved four-poster bead, and a fireplace.

 

This charming hotel is a luxurious and traditional getaway for couples seeking a scenic escape or a romantic honeymoon. Whatever you might be looking for, the hotel promises a stay that you’ll never forget and never want to leave.

 

If you’re looking to take in some of Sonoma’s breathtaking scenery, a trip down the Russian River might be for you. Russian River Adventures offers full-day or half-day rafting trips down the river. What could be better than paddling down the Russian River through Sonoma’s vineyards and redwoods? Bring a cooler along and stop for a picnic on the banks of the river.

 

If pedaling through Sonoma’s rolling hills and quiet country roads sounds more like your pace, take a trip around town with Wine Country Bikes to taste the great wine that Healdsburg has to offer. This 17 mile trek includes pit stops at four different local vineyards and wineries. The one-day tour includes a tour guide and a fresh made, locally grown lunch.

 

Or take a hike with Jordan Winery as you learn the history of Sonoma’s wine culture, which boasts the freshest wine closest only to that of Tuscany. Sonoma County has over four-hundred vineyards, so try some for yourself and you can be the judge. We recommend Roth, located in the Chalk Hill region. They, along with their sister company Lancaster, pride themselves on crafting full-flavored wine and superb wine-pairings.

 

If craft beer is more your style, visit one of Healdsburg’s own beer companies: Bear Republic. Located in the heart of Healdsburg’s wine country, Bear Republic is one of the top craft brewing companies in the nation.They feature a wide variety of beers (over 90 in total) ranging from their “Big Bear Black Stout” to their “Hop Rod Rye.” They also offer tours of the brewery, which will give you a glimpse of how their delicious beer is produced. Bear Republic’s goal is to bring you fresh, never-filtered, hand-crafted beer.

 

After all of that wine and beer, be sure to stop at one of Healdsburg’s staples, Mateos Cocina Latina. They specialize in Yucatan food, from chilaquiles to huevos rancheros (rancher’s egg). And with namesake chef Mateo Granados at the helm, you know you’re in for a delicious meal. He has created a signature menu that showcases the local Sonoma ingredients combined with the flavors of his culture. Locals recommend the margaritas. I had a salad tossed in eel sauce alongside a strawberry margarita.

 

However, if you are looking for something fun and unique to do with your bridal party, then Relish Culinary Adventures might be up your alley. Learn how to prepare and create one-of-a-kind authentic food while pairing it with more wine and homemade peach drinks. Most classes don’t require any prior cooking knowledge, but they do offer classes for those with more advanced culinary skills. Learn to make chicken breast with quinoa, for instance, and top it off with some grilled peaches and ricotta cheese for dessert. Relish is sure to be a perfect compliment to your wine country experience.

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