Exploring the Yucatan Peninsula: Glorious Haciendas & Mayan Culture

Traveling to the Yucatan peninsula is such a short journey but feels like a million miles away! Flights into Merida are currently non-stop from Houston, Miami, and Mexico City. I enjoyed an unplanned stopover in one of my favorite food cities in the world: Mexico City.

I took advantage of this quick stop to check into the gorgeous boutique property, Las Alcobas which has its own fantastic restaurant on property and a renowned restaurant near by.

Anatol Restaurant is a seasonal, consciously-sourced, ingredient-driven restaurant. The menu consists of composed small plates, presented in a social and casual environment. Renowned Chef Justin Ermini has assembled a menu that is ideal for those seeking a laid back dining experience with a touch of Italian influence. Anatol’s contemporary and fresh environment amplifies the passion its food inspires.

Dulce Patria, directed by talented Chef Martha Ortiz, is a 90 seat, high energy venue that has redefined the Mexican dining experience. The menu is comprised of traditional plates reinterpreted in a modern context, set in a lively, stylish and urban environment. The restaurant boasts two terraces that give the inside of the restaurant a serene, spacious and open-air feel.

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As we arrived very late into the city, we walked a block down to Pastor for some truly delicious tacos!

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The next morning we arrived into Merida and were met by our driver for our drive through the beautiful remote and ancient villages of the Yucatan and to our first Hacienda visit.

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This simple and delicious and healthy little snack is served all the time – jicama, cucumber, mango with lime and a chile citric spice! Love it!

Hacienda Tamchen was an absolute favorite for me. This 4 bedroom home has a massive master suite and two additional modern suites plus a fabulous bedroom with views in the main house. The suites are so large and set up to easily accommodate a family of 4 who would like to share an accommodation or wonderfully spacious just for a couple.  Ideal hacienda for a couples trip or several families sharing.

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The pool is surrounded by a lily pond
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Just the place for an after lunch nap
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Looking back at the main house
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The suites have a king bed on one side….
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….and a spot for two kids on the other
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One of the two modern suite additions
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Lunch time on the terrace

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View from the suite in the main house
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This is a sweet room with a bit of a view of the grounds
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What a delightful surprise to have a cold mini-coronita waiting for me.
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Expect homemade tortillas at every meal
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The meals are always creative and locally sourced – this is a cucumber stuffed with a pumpkin seed puree!
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Delicious frijoles at nearly every meal
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Wonderful Yucatan products
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One of the many Cathedrals and churches throughout the region

Next was Hacienda Itzincab Camara, which boasts 14 bedrooms – five in the main house and eight in the original hacienda outbuildings.  I fell in love with this dramatic property: its gardens, pools, and very own Mayan pyramid!

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The lovely team here was so welcoming!
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Always a delicious welcome drink and cold towel
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The indoor and outdoor public areas
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The natural gardens throughout are stunning!
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One of three swimming pools
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Two Bedrooms in the former Stables
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One bedroom is in the charming school house

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My room is in the Secret Garden – I love it!
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Morning bird watching with our absolutely wonderful guide!

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A breakfast surprise
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I love huevos motulenos for breakfast!
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My room is called the Secret Garden – so romantic!

Today we head out to explore the area:

First we are led on a private tour of Uxmal, the largest of the sites famed for their elaborate Puuc-style architecture, whose principal buildings are aligned to observe astronomical events. We visited the Pyramid of the Magician and the Palace of the Governor—two of the finest pre-Hispanic Mexican structures in existence—as well as the Nunnery Quadrangle and the House of the Turtles.IMG_4014IMG_4025

In the afternoon – another WOW experience that we can’t wait to plan for our next clients visiting the Yucatan. Hacienda Xocnaceh—a private & exclusive property is something unique. At its zenith, Xocnaceh produced cattle and henequen, the “green gold” that brought tremendous wealth to the Yucatán in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After a visit to the pyramids, we were surprised and delighted with a  delicious lunch served in the chapel ruins!

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Oh my, what have we come upon…

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…a jungle affair prepared just for us!
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Bienvenidos!
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“Jungle love, its driving me mad, its making me crazy!” – well they were not playing that, but these musicians made my heart sing.
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Perspective!
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That is my kind of quesadilla!
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Can you name these local fruits?

After a wonderful night’s sleep, I awake to birds singing and wandered in the main house early in search of a coffee. The team informs me that this morning coffee is served at the top of the pyramid (which sits incredibly just adjacent to the main house).

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Out is 7am and the Pyramid climb awaits!
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Oh the details and the view at the top. I imagined what the Mayans felt and saw.
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Indeed worth the trip up – strong and lovely brewed coffee!

This morning as we set out for our next adventure we came upon another simply magnificent restored hacienda. We saw it being prepared for a jet setter wedding from abroad. I envisioned so many over the top parties being held here! We can absolutely help! My iPhone pictures won’t do justice so I won’t try but if you are looking for a truly singular experience ask me about Hacienda Tekik de Regil.

IMG_4083Next I had the privilege of visiting the new Chable Wellness Resort and Spa. I have been talking about it incessantly since its debut and finally got a peek. The groups and buildings are very special, and the spa and wellness regimes are completely customized. It is a first class resort to relax at while visiting the area, but it’s also an excellent destination spa to completely focused on well being. Like all of the properties I am highlighting in this blog, it is a former hacienda with a rich story.  The restoration and modern additions are gorgeous!

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The modern bar
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The welcoming terrace

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Their villas are designed for maximum relaxation and boast spectacular jungle views, indoor and outdoor showers, and a private pool. It also features a signature restaurant by Jorge Vallejo, one of the most prominent chefs in Mexico, where we’ll taste their specialties.

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The entrance to the ruins of the Presidential Suite

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Of course the spa is a significant part of the experience and the resort:

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One of the main pools and restaurants….where we enjoyed lunch

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The largest tequila selection in the world!

Since the Spanish conquest, Mérida has been the cultural capital of the entire Yucatán Peninsula. At times provincial, at others ‘muy cosmopolitano,’ it is a town steeped in colonial history, with narrow streets, broad central plazas and the region’s best museums and restaurants.  Many consider Merida the new San Miguel de Allende where artists, free spirits, and those looking for something different are settling.

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Our hosts were the TOPS!  These are the people that make our clients’ experience in the Yucatan over the top special!
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Some of the best chocolate you will ever have!

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Perfumes from Coqui Coqui
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Who knew beans and pork is a coveted ice cream flavor!IMG_4139

Finally we arrive to Izamal —where almost every structure is egg-yolk yellow! But Izamal is no mere tourist trap—it’s a living Maya town and art colony.

We stayed at two private villas here: Casa de los Artistas and Casa de Madera. Both full of character and charm and perfect for those wanting a fully serviced home in a more urban setting in order to explore the peninsula.

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Dinner at the One Bedroom Casa Azul –

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Waking up at the 4 bedroom Casa Madera:

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A morning visit to the 6 bedroom Casa de los Artistas:

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Perhaps my favorite day was our afternoon at  Xocempich, a private cenote on the ruins of an historic ranch. We had a refreshing treat where we swam in the cenote’s crystalline waters and relaxed for hours in total privacy.

The cenotes through out the region are very unique to Yucatan. They are sink holes hundreds of feet deep that have pure filtered water from underground rivers – a pure delight to swim in! Some are in caves and some are in collapsed caves with lovely sunlight.

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The best treat of all was a lunch of cochinita pibil – my favorite Yucatan specialty – pork slow cooked in sour orange, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground.

Here the delicacy is being dug up and served – tremendous!

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The slow cooked pork is unearthed
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succulent local pig is slow cooked in sour orange and banana leaves – incredible.

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Served with all the local Yucatan accompaniments makes for a feast!

Many people have been to Chichen Itza but if you have tried to go in the past 10-15 years, you know that the crowds are insufferable. Let us set you up with a private after hours tour with a reknowned archeologist!

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Fascinating afternoon with this world renowned expert archeologist

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Touring after hours with our private guide…
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….means access to areas not open to the general public.
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Another spectacular surprise – a flutist so moving that many of us were in tears.

Farewell dinner was held at one of the three Haciendas that are small hotels, also restored haciendas, and now run as small exclusive hotels managed by the Luxury Collection – Temezon, San Jose and Santa Rosa.

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Here is our fun arrival to Hacienda San Jose for our farewell dinner.

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I have always loved the Yucatan Peninsula – the Mayan culture, the history, the food, the people!  My heart has been captured yet again and I will most definitely be back to this rich civilization quite simply on our door step!

Venice in the Spring!

We started our journey by flying into Venice for the night. Winter and spring are always my favorite times to visit Venice, when the city is visible and not overrun with tourists. It’s when the Venetians are there and it feels more authentic and beautiful!

Since we have been to Venice many times, we decided to do a food and wine tour through the city, stopping for wonderful Cicchetti and glasses of wine at the best local spots, all in the expert hands of our sommelier and guide.

Here are some of the stops, snacks, and sips we enjoyed on this lovely arrival day:

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Venetian Cicchettis as we tour Venice
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We stopped in this stunning hospital in Venice just for a look!
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Even the Ambulances are Boats in Venice
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One of two bridges with such architectural style in Venice

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In the great company of our expert sommellier and tour guide through Venice.
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Heading to dinner in a water taxi!
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Our traveling sommelier introduced us to several of her favorite wines along the way!

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There are many magnificent hotels in Venice. This visit we stayed at Ca’Sagredo, a former  palace belonging to an important noble family.  Such character, grandeur and history!

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Ca’Sagredo Hotel

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The Bar at Ca’Sagredo
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A grand canal junior suite at Ca’Sagredo
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The view from my room!

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Venice has many of the beaten path places to dine; a water taxi may come in handy!

We were so happy to learn about Pane Vino (there are two completely un-related so make sure you are heading to the correct one) and you will be treated like royalty by the husband and wife team who run this delicious little place.

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Beef Cheek on Potatoes

Next we headed off to ski the Dolomites, which you can read about in this blog post!

The Italian Dolomites: Hut-to-Hut Ski Safari

The Dolomites – These UNESCO World Heritage mountains may be the most beautiful in Europe! Located in Northeastern Italy at the Austrian border where “guten morgen” works as well as “buongiorno,” the gorgeous limestone peaks of the Dolomites wind through four ski resorts, seven centuries-old villages, and four mountain passes!

As is typical with European skiing, you’ll have a cappuccino in one village, a “bomarbardino” (a brandy-laced eggnog) in the next, and a Michelin star lunch in another — just a typical day in Alta Badia! Oh and yes, there are also 4,000-vertical-foot runs and off-piste trails that rival the most sought after ski resorts in the world.

This hut-to-hut trip was focused on skiing from village to village and through National Parks, with each night ending at an incredible “rifugio” or small “hut” – (really a nice inn).  The inns are family run with love and passion. The rooms: simple, comfortable, and spotless. The decor is so charming and unique, including collections of mountain and family memorabilia displayed proudly. While the inns just have a hand full of rooms, they each have kitchens, wine cellars, and service to blow your mind and create a culinary experience worth the trip!

While the Sella Ronda is stunning and a photo op “must” for experienced skiers, heading off-piste or from village to village will be much more exciting.

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OFF TO THE MOUNTAINS – DOLOMITES BOUND!!

We had a 2.5 hour drive to Alta Badia – a stunning drive as we approach the majestic Dolomites and arrive into the town of San Cassiano and check into the Five Star, family run Relais & Chateau property, Rosa Alpina.

Cute village of San Cassiano including a cute Chapel and a little apres lounge:

An incredible meal at the two Michelin Star restaurant at Rosa Alpina! What a first night in the Dolomites! Restaurant St. Hubertus with 2 Michelins Star Chef, Norbert Niederkofler!

Day 1 of our Ski Safari – Alta Badia & Cinque Torri area

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Meet your local English speaking UIAGM/IFMGA professional mountain guide Marco Spazzini for a trip briefing and enjoy your first ski day in the Dolomites. In the morning you will ski in the area of Alta Badia, located between 1,400 and 2,700 meters (4,593;8,858′) above sea level and this altitude ensures optimal ski conditions throughout the winter, and offers breathtaking views of the most beautiful peaks of the Dolomites. Fast and comfortable ski lift connections (53 total), miles of wide, well; groomed slopes (130km / 81 miles), and the spaciousness of the ski area allow you to enjoy pleasant and safe skiing days. Charming mountain huts and first class mountain restaurants round out the appeal, making Alta Badia a ski area for connoisseurs. You will have the opportunity to venture on the famous World Cup slope of Gran Risa or on the more relaxed slopes of Piz La Villa, Gardenaccia, and Santa Croce. In the afternoon, ski on the slopes of Cinque Torri (Five Towers) area in the heart of the Eastern Dolomites, at the confluence of three valleys: the Ampezzo valley, Val Badia and upper Val Cordevole.

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RIFUGIO GIAU:

After a great day of skiing, we arrived at our first “hut,” or as the Italians call them our first “rifugio.”  These are mountain top family run inns that are incredible! Simple and charming rooms with friendly and immaculate service and wonderful Alpine character. The wines and cuisine are simply spectacular with the local food being a wonderful mix of Italian and Austrian influences.

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Our room with a Panoramic View at Rifugio Giau
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Charming touches throughout the Rifugio including this heater
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Room with a View at Sunset
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The Owner’s Son loves his Harley Davisons and a fun motorcycle collection is found throughout
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The wines in this area are astoundingly delicious and diverse
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What a wonderful surprise to discover this little inn has a wonderful cellar – love the delicious bubbles “Franciacorta”, “TrentoDOC”, and “Prosecco”  –  all bubbles widely enjoyed in this area.
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Pumpkin stuffed pasta called “candies”
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The lovely family who own and run Rifugio Giau – absolutely charming!
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The view as I open my eyes this morning
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Breakfast involves multiple homemade cakes and strudels – I better ski my tail off today!
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Our two incredibly capable and fun mountain guides – Marco and Marco!

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Breakfast of champions – no shortage of prosciutto in Alta Bada

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Day 2 – Ski Safari Recap – Civetta and Passo San Pellegrino

In the morning, ski down to Passo Giau where you will take a transfer to the Civetta ski area. Surrounded by plenty of uncontaminated views and majestic peaks, the valleys of Alleghe, Selva di Cadore, Zoldo, and Palafavera of Monte Civetta are rich in history and tradition. This area became famous during the 19th century, during the final century of the Venetian Doges, when the first winter guests discovered the imposing beauty and timeless charm of Monte Civetta and in particular Monte Pelmo – known as “God’s Throne.” On the slopes of these two giants surrounded by the Sella Group, the Tofane Massifs and the imposing Marmolada, you will find the largest ski district in the Veneto region. The Ski Civetta area offers a wide range of slopes and attracts skiers of all levels, for a total of 80km / 49,7 miles and 23 lifts. The hotels of the area are very welcoming and comfortable, and families with children are more than welcome. In the afternoon you will have a private transfer to Falcade, where you will ski at Passo Pellegrino, with more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) of slopes of varying length and difficulty, spread out at altitudes between 1,918 and 2,513 meters (6,293;8,245′), all equipped with 26 cutting edge lift systems. At the end of the day of skiing this beautiful terrain, a snowmobile will pick you up on the pass and bring you to your rifugio (1,980m / 6,496′) for the night. Set in a magnificent group of isolated old huts, this rifugio is immersed in the marvelous silence of a wide valley with a view of the Pale di San Martino. You will get to taste delicious dishes typical of the Trentino region. The renowned and traditional restaurant, mentioned in several culinary guides, will be appreciated not only for the quality of the food, but also for its warmth and welcoming hospitality.

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What a lunch stop!

And if breakfast was not enough to fuel us up for the day, stopping at this little 3 star inn for an incredible lunch, was just what we needed! SUCH A TREAT!!

Arriving to our mountain top rifugio – “Rifugio Fuciade”

It is the end of the season so not as much snow as they often have but an incredible welcome after a long day of skiing!

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The chapel at Rifugio Fuciade located at Passo San Pellegrino

 

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Always glad to serve you an espresso or a delicious glass of wine!
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Our sweet and bright little room at our rifugio
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Oh my, incredible to find this caliber of a kitchen at this tiny mountain top inn – travelers come from all over just for the food and often find themselves staying the night!
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The restaurant is worth the trip alone!
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Walking down to the wine cellar
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Superb collection of wines!
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How charming is our dinner table?
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All the cheeses and sausages and hams are house made!
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No words!
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Aperitif time – bubbles of course! With service to match! First class!

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We were incredibly well cared for by this lovely gentleman!

Day 3 – of the Ski Safari – Val di Fassa – Alta Badia

Today we skied a part of the Sellaronda, one of the most spectacular ski tours of the world, circumnavigating the Sella Massif. Considered somewhat of a “merry-go-round” for intermediate level skiers, this unique circular connection of lifts and runs was once the only way the ancient inhabitants of the Ladin villages could maintain a connection with each other. Nowadays it’s a modern day carousel that connects four Dolomite passes, four Ladin valleys (Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Val di Fassa, and Livinallongo), and three districts – you’ll have the opportunity to see more of the Dolomites in one day than many see on an entire trip! Although the Sellaronda is a relatively short tour that can be easily done in one day, with a length of just under 40 kilometers (25 miles), 26 of which are ski slopes (16 miles), but requiring approximately 2 hours of ski lift travel time and high elevations, you will begin the tour in the morning to ensure ample time for completion before lift service closes for the day.

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First morning stop for the famous hot drink in the Dolomites – the BOMBARDINO – part egg liquor or egg nog and part brandy (it can also include espresso). The Italian name comes from the original imbiber who said it was “like a bomb”!
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What is a few more calories, top it with whipped cream!

We stopped for a fabulous lunch of wonderful cuts of meat, fresh vegetables, and absolutely stunning wines in a cozy mountain top lodge with views!

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So the safari starts and ends at the Five Star fantastic Rosa Alpina. We arrived for our last night in to this welcoming and cozy suite! I know eating wonderful meals like this 3 x a day is not sustainable, but I am also am not ready for our last night to be here already!

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Last meal and yes a little after-dinner antics in the lounge with a fun group of new friends!!

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These mountains are incredible – I never imagined how beautiful the Dolomites would be! I can’t wait to return in the summer. Hut-to-hut hiking in the summer time is equally fabulous and cycling, rafting and climbing and repelling with our expert mountain guides complete with wonderful dining, make this a fabulous way to explore Italy during the summer months! Contact me to help plan your perfect family or romantic Dolomite adventure!

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Berlin: Germany’s Hip Capital City full of History, Music, Art, & Nightlife!

Berlin is a fascinating city and one of Europe’s most exciting capitals! My last visit was the year the wall came down so returning after so many years was a thrill.  Berlin is an exhilarating city for history, but it is also a creative hub for artists and musicians.   The art scene, museums, and night life here are worth the visit alone!  I stayed at the incomparable Das Stue, Berlin’s first luxury boutique hotels located in the peaceful diplomatic district but a short drive to the art, entertainment and shopping of the East and West sides of Germany’s capital city! Even if you are not staying here, plan on a dinner with famed Spanish chef Paco Perez one evening – you won’t be disappointed!

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Das Stue ” The Room ” is a cozy life-style and design hotel situation in the former Danish Embassy

 

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I have definite arrived!
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Berlin is always energizing, but with this welcome, I am ready to go!

 

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This is the way one should be treated after an overnight transatlantic flight!
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Tapas from famed Spanish Chef, Palo Perez, are a treat at Das Stue

 

 

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A Massage and a Swim kicks any jet lag to the curb!

The Guests rooms  & suites at Das Stue, the former Danish Embassy, are bright and chic and each one a bit different than the others.

 

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The Beautiful bath amenities are by Etro
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How whimsical is this suite?
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High Drama
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The Summer Garden

Dinner by Paco Perez is an affair and not for the faint of appetite!!

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Time to Explore Berlin!

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Brandenburg Gate
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Berlin’s Victory Column, The new symbol of Berlin!

 

 

 

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Reichstag Building -Parliament

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
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Parts of the Wall
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Check Point Charlie

Great political art on parts of the Wall

 

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The Socialist Fraternal Kiss

The socialist fraternal kiss or socialist fraternal embrace is a special form of greeting between the statesmen of Communist countries. This act demonstrates the special connection that exists between Socialist states.

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UNESCO HERITAGE Museum Island

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Neferiti was an Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife. Someone said I looked related!

 

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A great little German sandwich shop to recharge the batteries!

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KaDeWe is the Harrods of Berlin and has a most impressive food hall!
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Look at the size of this claw!
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Who doesn’t love a beer advent calendar?
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The Brandenburg Gate created in Chocolate.

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There are over 80 Christmas markets in Berlin alone! This is the thing to do in December for locals and tourists alike! So much fun!

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Never far from a hot cup of Gluhwein – mulled wien with spices and orange.

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Roasting Chestnuts on An Open Fire!
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Our fabulous hostesses from Das Stue – Love these girls!

 

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Typical German meal including Wienerschnitzel
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..and sausages and kraut
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How cute are these guys!
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..and her!
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Carbon and Electric bikes available at Das Stue. Everyone rides their bike year round in Berlin!

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A little breakfast cake to keep us fueled up!
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Farewell, Das Stue, you now how to make Berlin feel like home!

Cabo – Sophisticated and Luxurious, if you know where to go!

Cabo is such a perfect beach holiday destination. While arriving by car would be a grueling 25 hour drive from San Diego down to the tip of the Baja Peninsula, arriving by plane from much of the continental USA is a breeze and the remote location pays off quickly!

Cabo is most simply defined as the cities of Cabo San Lucas in the far South and San Jose del Cabo in the North, connected by the “Corridor” made up of a variety of unique and varied resort properties. While the purpose of my trip was to check out the newly opened and spectacular Chilean Bay, I took advantage of my time in Cabo to see and experience several of the properties that clients of Resort to Laura Madrid love.

I was taken aback by the dramatic rocky and cliffy topography where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific ocean sandwich the desert between! Incredible food, service, design, natural beauty, and a fantastic array of activities are a huge draw for Cabo’s well heeled-clientele.

Chileno Bay is the new kid in town and will absolutely get everyone considering a return to Cabo!

The vibe at Chileno Bay is sleek and sexy, chilled out but fun!  Large rooms with terrace or balcony and large bathroom including outdoor showers are their standard accommodation,  but families or a group of friends will absolutely love their 2, 3 and 4 bedroom suites and villas. I am in love with the 3 and 4 bedroom sky suites!

Due to its geographic location between the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez and its rocky nature, most beaches in Cabo are not swimmable.  Chileno Bay has one of the few swimmable beaches in the area and lots of fun toys to take out on its calm waters.

 

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One of the swimmable beaches at Chileno Bay
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Three dramatic pools wind down to the beach.
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One of several comfortable spots to sit and chill through out the resort.
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Loved my make your own welcome amenity – the Chileno fast became my favorite cocktail!

 

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Terrific snacks to accompany my welcome cocktail!

 

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One of the TOP selling points of Chileno Bay is its food. This is not just good resort food, this is incredible cuisine making the resort a destination in itself. The talented culinary team right down to a pastry chef who will knock your socks off is the reason you will not miss a meal while on holiday at Chileno Bay!

Dinner at Comal was absolutely phenomenal!

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Mexico offers fantastic wines these days!

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However, nothing beats lunch and cocktails at T&T (Tacos and Tequila). These tacos are NOT dumbed down for the “hotel” market, they are completely authentic and delicious!

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The team throughout Chileno Bay is so engaging and so much fun!

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Lots of fun toys at Chileno Bay

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With such great food, guests will love the incredible fitness center with top end equipment and fantastic trainers and fitness sessions from Cross Fit Northern Cal.  Here I am at one of the morning boot camps.

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Next stop was to Ezperanza, like Chileno Bay, part of Auberge Hotels and Resorts.  For foodies, this is another important property to consider. Auberge has a philosophy of insuring the culinary is a prime consideration, never an afterthought. The special touches and service are felt throughout. This property is understated luxury where you can go and completely relax. While the room product is older than some of the competition, Esperanza is romantic and relaxed and has a very loyal following. They come for the service, the view, and the high touch but relaxed service. Children under 18 are not allowed at the main pool, keeping the romantic and sophisticated feel at the main resort. That said, Esperanza has fantastic options for families in their multiple villa and residential units complete with lawns for playing sports, family pools, restaurants and shops at an attractive price point. For couples, I definitely suggest the two  bedroom villa with plunge pool and direct private beach access!

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Sunset at Esperanza
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Bienvenidos a Esperanza
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Desert meets Sea
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The service is the best! Love the genuine Mexican hospitality!
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Homemade and absolutely special micheladas prepared by the Chef (beer with clamato, mulled herbs, chili, lime and vegetables – a meal in itself!)
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Guacamole station with all the fixings including chicaron.
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Ahi tacos – incredible combination of fish tacos served sashimi style.

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Oh what a night at Esperanza!

The Resort at Pedregal has always been a favorite of my clients. It’s ideal for couples, but also a terrific option for families.  The location at the Tip of Baja makes it a dramatic and beautiful setting for whale watching and privacy but definitely a dangerous and non-swimmable sea. Enter the resort through a tunnel carved in the mountain and let the magic begin. While completely private and unreachable by non-guests, Pedregal guests have the option to walk through the tunnel and into Cabo San Lucas if they wish to go to some local restaurants. This may be an ideal place to come with teens who may wish to go out and party while the parents enjoy the sophistication of the resort.

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As I exit the vehicle on arrival to Pedregal a margarita is offered.  Si, como no?!

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In my room, beers and guacamole await and I am told this is replenished every afternoon during my stay.

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Walking through the resort on my way to the spa, I encountered this tree hung with glass hearts. The following images are of the spa. Terrific spa and outstanding treatment!img_3164img_3169img_3170img_3172

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Healthy spa snacks
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For my cliff side dinner, I simply choose my fish and all the chef’s nightly accompaniments come automatically.

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The day time pool and bar setting is truly beautiful!

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My final visit was to One & Only Las Palmilla. This stunning and incredible property is high energy with excellent and scripted service. The staff to guest ration is a jaw-dropping 5 to 1. This property has a swimmable beach, fabulous service and very chic and trendy restaurants. This is the place to see and be seen.

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Guests are welcomed with a homemade “paleta” – popsicle
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I chose the guava and coconut – unreal!
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Welcome to One & Only Palmilla

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Loved this artist in residence –

 

 

 

 

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The meats on display in their steak restaurant

The resort has many room types that will appeal to couples and families or groups of friends. They even have multiple types of suites and even queen/queen accommodations if a family prefers to share a room.img_3097img_3098img_3100img_3101img_3102img_3103

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Tequila and snacks replenished daily.

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The swimmable beach at One & Only Palmilla
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Lunch with a view
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In Baja California, it is all about the fish tacos!

The only property that I did not get to see on this trip, is the incredible Las Ventanas. Quiet and romantic, with outstanding attention to detail, this is without doubt a great spot for couples wanting to completely chill out and not be bothered. There are several new hotels in Cabo that I can talk to you about including Grand Velas for those wanting the best of the all inclusive experiences and The Thompson for young couples of friends who want to party. Cabo has something for everyone and is a MUST do destination!

Magical Morocco with Relais & Chateaux

MOROCCO is magical!  I visited Marrakesh and the High Atlas mountains with my husband and kids for Spring Break years ago. I had always wanted to return to see the other fascinating cities of Fes, Rabat, and Essaouira.  Morocco is a captivating destination for adventurous and patient travelers – getting around the country to anywhere besides Marrakesh requires connecting flights through Casablanca or very long drives – 8-10 hours days.  The drives are incredible with gorgeous landscape and village after village living what appears to be a still a very primitive life.

While Marrakesh can easily be a long weekend for those seeking a cosmopolitan and romantic escape complete with dining, shopping, spa and night life, for travelers wanting to see the rest of the country, count on at least a week for adventures from the High Atlas mountains to a tented camp in the Sahara.

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Our Journey with Relais & Chateaux

The perfect start is to fly into the capital Rabat (or if necessary into Casablanca for a night at the new lovely Four Seasons) or a 90 minute  drive to Rabat, the serene, lush and spotless capital of the country.  Because the Royal Palace is here and all of the embassies, Rabat is very beautiful and polished – this makes for the perfect way to “ease” into what will feel in some cases like a chaotic Morocco.

I loved the 12 room perfectly positioned Villa Difaya – lovely gardens, a superb restaurant, an excellent fitness center, and spa with hammam.  Additionally families will love the two bedroom private villa.

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Living Room at Villa Difaya
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Gardens at Villa Difaya

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The Spa and Hammam at Villa Difaya

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Moroccan Pastiche
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Moroccan Tagine
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Magical first meal – Fish Tagine

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Mausoleum of Mohamed V Rabat

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Hassan Tower Rabat

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FES – What an authentic, marvelous, and raw city.  Fes is like Marrakech with out the European influence.  One feels that they have really arrived in Morocco here.  The markets, the artisans, the history, the food and the Riad Fes are all special highlights.   Arriving to Riad Fes is quite mysterious and exciting.  An original Riad surrounded by 4 other newer Riads built it the same historic architecture and tradition.

 

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Entering the walled city in Fes
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The Astonishing Riad Fes
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The bellmen delivering our luggage to the Riad Fes
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A Welcome fit for a Sheikh!

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Riad Res Living Room

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Dramatic and Historic Riad Fes
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My Room
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Another beautiful Dinner
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Each Tagine is better than the last!
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How beautiful is this place?

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Rooftop cocktails overlooking the Medina at Riad Fes

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The Fes Medina

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Making pancakes
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Camel

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Making very sweet sweets
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Wedding glitter

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Call to Prayer at the Mosque in the Medina
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Candles

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Breathtaking Lights

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One of oldest Quranic Schools
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Leather Tannery
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Dying the leather hydes

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Aspgaragus, poached egg, hollandaise perfection
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Cermanic workmanship
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Freestyle design is incredibly precise
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I almost took home a fountain! Custom made and shipped for an incredible price! They are beautiful!!
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The work that goes into cutting the tiles alone is astounding
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Putting together the puzzle – such talent!

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We were invited to tea at this simple home
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Our hosts were so welcoming. This room is for meals, entertaining guests and for some even sleeping.
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What a beautiful spread for afternoon team in a Moroccan home
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Back at Riad Fes, another meal fit for a Sheikh
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And I got to hold this little guy!!
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Dessert is always a good idea!
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Drives in Morocco are very long but unavoidable – a few treasures along the way!

MARRAKESH –

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Arriving to our hotel in Marrakesh -Villa des Orangers
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The staff stoke the many fireplaces throughout the Riad
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Our crew all cleaned up after a 9 hour drive from Fes to Marrakech and ready for dinner with the General Manager, Jean Paul
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Gorgeous Detail…
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..with a meal to match

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Villa des Orangers is romantic and beautiful and very much all about LOCATION TOO! Walking distance to the main square!

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My bathroom…
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…and bedroom at Villa des Orangers

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The spa and hammam is very special – a must!
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The hammam at Villa des Oranger

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Walking the Medina – beautiful spices, herbs, and colors!
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Entering the Bahia Palace

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19th Century Palace

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Yves St Laurent Majorelle Gardens
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Moroccan Salad’s are always delicious!

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Wow wow wow – Arriving to incredible gem outside of Marrakech in the Palmerie – Ksar Shar Bagh
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Ksar Shar Bagh is incredibly sophisticated, yet an oasis just outside the hustle and bustle of Marrakech

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In my room – long stemmed roses.
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The private garden and pool of my suite at Ksar Shar Bagh

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Love my bed in this cozy alcove!
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My suite’s private pool area
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Delicious Sweets
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After Dinner Pool Game
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Our dinner room was designed with such attention to detail!
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Once incredible course after another – may have been best meal of the trip!

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And to return to my room after dinner and I find it completely bathed in flowers and candle light – so romantic. No detail left unturned!
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The Fire Lit….
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The bath drawn….
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Ksar Shar Bagh is unforgettable!
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Several Suites are terrific for families with multiple rooms and fabulous views!

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Roof Top Private Pool  – This Royal Suite is an incredible value!

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Such a Fond Farewell from the Team at Ksar Shar-Bagh

 

ESSAOUIRA – Is a fabulous ancient port town which should not be missed.  Some of the weeks best images were captured here on my iPhone so don’t miss it now, or when you go to Morocco!

 

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Entering the Walled City
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Arriving to our Hotel L’Heure Bleue
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Roof top View of the Medina from our hotel
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It is always time for Rose

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Yes, they make wine in Morocco and it is delicious.
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Happy Crew having a relaxing beach lunch in Essaouira.

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Shopping in the Medina

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Our Last Supper at the L’Heure Bleue was phenomenal!! We ate so well and loved this Moroccan Salad before my lamb!

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À tout à l’heure, Morocco!!

 

Cuba Libre: A Magnificent Island on the Verge of Transformation

Cuba is an isolated island nation full of life, music, and people that give so much!

It is such an exciting but tenuous time as Americans are starting to travel legally under the 12 officially allowed categories enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The one by which most American travelers enter the country is on a educational trip or a People-to-People.  I can legally arrange a completely customized itinerary on a private basis for just you, a couple, or a small group of friends. We arrange our visits with our hand-selected private guides and ensure you are staying the best possible hotels and dining in the most exciting restaurants in Cuba. If budget is a concern or you like the idea of traveling on scheduled and escorted small group itineraries run by outstanding and trusted tour operators, Resort to Laura Madrid can suggest and reserve the best options.

Check out my photos below for a taste of Cuba Libre – this happy and impressive island nation! (Tip: Hover your mouse over photos in order to see the captions)

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Commercial flights have started from the US to Cuba and we flew from Miami directly into Santa Clara (in the past Charter flights generally from Miami and in and out of Havana)

For our first stop, we traveled to the gorgeous and historic city in the rural area of Trinidad and we luckily arrived on the last day of a week long festival. The Cubans know how to party and the streets were lively until the wee hours!

We walked the streets and came across a mobile brewery, lots of art, and many historical buildings. When walking past the bank, there was a line out the door! Americans cannot get cash anywhere in the country – bring all the money you will need. There were chalkboards in stores we went to outlining what you can get per capita of different items. In Cuba, everything is rationed and each person is entitled to a certain amount.

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In Trinidad, Yes, We Can!
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Ham and cheese
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Bring your own bottle and fill it up at the mobile brewery
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Rum everything!
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Showing off his colorful glassware
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Che Guevara is a national hero and his image is more prevalent than even Fidel
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Taxi Luis can take you
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The Cathedral
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The bank -There is always a line to get into the bank. Americans cannot get cash anywhere in the country – bring all the money you will need!
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The library
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Cuba has stores where everything is rationed and each person is entitled to a certain amount.
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Here is the chart of what you can get per capita, eggs, rice, coffee, soap…

Music and art are everywhere on the streets of Cuba!

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Music is everywhere, it is spontaneous and it is always very, very good!
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This artist carves older Cuban figures in wood – the talent is incredible….

Below you can see a cathedral, the bell tower, a wealthy colonial home, the courtyard of that home and an image from inside a Santeria Church.

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The Cathedral
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The belltower
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A wealthy colonial home

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Visiting a Santeria Church – Afro-Christian

We had a beer break, saw a whole roasted pig on a spit, and listened to some incredible singers! Lobster was served at almost every meal–it was never more than $15 and was always delicious!

Our fun and motley crew was led by the unflappable Marcel, our expert guide for the week.

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Beer break
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A whole roasted pig on the spit
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Their voices were incredible!!
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Lobster served at nearly every meal – never more than $15 and delicious!

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Marcel, our expert guide was unflappable.

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Banana anyone?
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….I think I will!
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Climbing the watch tower on a sugar plantation
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The view from above.

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The plantation house
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Stopping for a drink of fresh coconut water
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Our guides Marcel and David took amazing care of us!

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The drive from Trinidad to the UNESCO world heritage city of Cienfuegos involved a stop at the local yacht club

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It is Rum O’Clock somewhere!
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Our driver, Fernando, and guides David and Marcel really made the trip!
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Taxi?
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A cigar with famous Cienfuegos musician Benny Moré
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Even a lady on the phone stops to smile – the Cuban people are lovely!
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Gil and Tony posing with our guides – great group of guys (Conrad missing in action)
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The Colonial architecture is stunning…
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…inside and out!
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This is a serious shave!

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Schoolgirls with their sitter
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Schoolboys
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Political art everywhere!

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When in Cuba, the answer is always rum!

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When on our bus, this crew was always sleeping off the last party!

If you are lucky, you will dine in several Paladares, or private homes. It is a very exciting time to eat in Cuba, and this was the best meal of the trip at La Guarida. La Guarida is a massive mansion in the process of being restored – it will take years and years and a lot of money!

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Roof top bar at La Guarida

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A stroll through Havana:

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The Cubans are proud of their defeat of the Americans at Bay of Pigs – propaganda everywhere.

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Old city walls
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A square in Old Havana

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School kids in old Havana – the color of the uniform designates elementary, middle and high schools.

We visited and had a private performance at the Habana Compas Dance School and Professional Troupe. These talented musicians played with sticks on the back and on the seats of beautifully decorated chairs.