OREGON: Cycling, Wine & National Parks! (and beer too)

Oregon has been on my list of states to visit as long as I can remember, but nothing prepared me for the WOW factor I experienced at every level! “Oregrown” says it all, as just about everything is grown and sourced locally – from incredible wines (think Pinot Noir and Pinto Gris but don’t stop there), to local beers with brewery tours and tastings galore, to spectacular coffee and coffee shops on every corner (no, NOT Starbucks!). Foodies will be delighted by all the state has to offer! I loved the beautiful fresh produce, the pasture raised lamb and wagyu beef, and the local river and ocean fish – all served up at various creative eateries on little plates of happiness! I pulled together a group of dear friends for a week of cycling in the stunning Cascade mountains. We made our way from Bend to Crater Lake to Sisters all the while taking in the stunning mountains, lakes, and deserts in between. The trip started with some pre-cycling fun in the Willamette Valley and ended with a night at the très chic The Nines hotel in Portland. I can’t say enough about the experience, but I hope some of the photos from my handy iPhone will paint the picture!

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First beverages in the Willamette Valley
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Welcome to The Allison
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The Allison is a terrific Oregon wine country hotel
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The Jory restaurant at the Allison is a must do! (English Pea, crab meat, and crème fraîche soup)

Wine tasting in Willamette Valley is always a treat! We had an exceptional day meeting in the homes of small batch producers.

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The Barn at Carlton Hill
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David picked a stunning and fortuitous location to grow his grapes
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David Polite with Gil and Ryan
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Lynne and Steve looking great!
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The boys with our guide, John and owner and wine maker at Carlton Hills, David Polite.

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David serving his favorite Pinots and even opening some Reserves for us.
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Mo Ayoub in the Red Hills of Dundee share some of his gorgeous wines
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Ayoub was definitely one of this group’s favorite stops on the wine trail!
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Privé is a small family winery run by husband and wife team, Tina and Mark (and their kids!)
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Tina shared some delicious Pinots and other warmer climate varietals plus some great stories of how they got started and sourced their grapes!
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The ladies at Privé.

Onward to Bend to meet the rest of our group and start the cycling adventure with Backroads!

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Backroads is famous for their gorgeous daily picnics always set up in picturesque spots!
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Always healthful, delicious and local
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Jenna and Ryan suiting up for the first ride
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“Snackroads” always fuels everyone up for the ride…
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First day was a 25 mile ride with an optional climb of 3000 feet
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So happy to have made it to Crater Lake at 7000 feet!
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“Partners-in-climb” Leigh and Laura
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Well-deserved drinks! Ladies table at Crater Lake Lodge
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Cycling makes you really, really thirsty!
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After Dinner Drinks at the Lodge
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Good morning, Crater Lake!
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I love the roaring fire at the Crater Lake Lodge
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Mid June yet snow still everywhere, even closing some of the passes up to Crater Lake
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Deschutes, one of our favorite local beers!
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One of our super capable trip leaders, Ariel – A.K.A. Super Woman!
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Route Rap with our Trip Leaders
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Leigh
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At the end of Day 2 cycling – Gil, Lynne, Steve, Laura, Leigh, Chris Bo, Rachel and Chris Ba
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One last shot of Crater Lake – Sorry but so darn breathtaking!
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The Backroads van is always ready with a beer for our group after a long ride or hike!
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The girls goofing around in the snow!
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Last one, I promise – hiking the rim of Crater Lake.
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Oregon has so many gorgeous lakes, this one is Diamond Lake.

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Arriving into Bend after an epic 45 mile bike ride, first stop a brewery tour at the Deschutes Brewery.

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Gearing up for the day at our Snackroads table
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Fantastic coffee shops everywhere, this one was a winner! All local and organic!

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Checking into the Five Pine Lodge in Sisters, OR
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Heading to our cute individual cabins
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The Cabins at Five Pine Lodge
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All cleaned up and heading out to dinner in Sisters on our cruisers
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Ryan and Chris
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Even the Oatmeal is Oregrown – love it!
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Katie, our fabulous trip leader ready to ride with us
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Our other trip leader extra-ordinaire, Ariel
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Another wonderfully health picnic lunch
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Jenna and Gil Chilling after a ride
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Jenna and Ryan all cleaned up
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The ladies ready for final night dinner (yes the guys are here too!)
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Rachel and I hitting the town on our cruisers
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The ladies ROCKED IT!  Here is to fantastic Trip Leaders!
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Last day of riding through the gorgeous lava fields of the McKenzie Pass
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Chris, Rachel and Chris
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Gil loving the 20 mile down hill through McKenzie Pass

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Final Picnic with the crew – salmon in every way!
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Cold Local Beers – Gil, Ryan, Laura, Chris and Steve
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Well done, Katie, Ariel and Patrick!

Finally on to Portland for last night before the flight home……

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Checking in to our room at the stylish “The Nines” Hotel in Portland
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Sweet welcome amenity at The Nines
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Kushner’s and Madrid’s enjoying roof top cocktails at The Nines
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Drinks and dinner at the delicious “Tasty and Alder”
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Great trip, friends, wine, rides and view! Well played, Oregon, well played!

New Zealand – Luxury Lodges, Food, Wine, & Adventure

New Zealand has long been on my must do list! Each year, I send many clients to the North and South islands to explore beaches and mountains, quirky towns, the ancient Maori culture, breathtaking golf courses, and to experience dart boating, bungee jumping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, glacier climbs, heli-rides, and skiing. There are countless incredible, cozy lodges in which to unwind – each completely unique, with bespoke and customized service, staff, and setting that make you feel very much at home! I have at least a dozen favorite MUST DO places to suggest, but on this trip I will highlight the ones that I can. Keep in mind that when I plan your New Zealand holiday, providing as much lead time as possible will help me to get you in to the most sought after lodges in a nice flow from North to South or South to North with out too much zig–zagging. With less time, we may need to be more flexible on the routings. Either way, you will feel completely cared for. The gastronomic and wine options in New Zealand are very much worth the trip. Some consider New Zealand one big farm with spectacular beef and lamb dotting every hill, but the bountiful seafood all around and the award winning vineyards producing Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Shiraz (just to name a few) will keep you well-satiated throughout the journey!

I started my visit in the far north of the North Island in Kerikeri. After landing in Auckland, a short 35 minute flight whisked me up to the spectacular Bay of Islands and on to the famed Relais & Chateaux property, Kauri Cliffs.

The relaxing nature of this perfectly elegant and homey lodge in the tropical Northland was the perfect antidote to jet lag and a climatizing my southern blood to the cool climates of New Zealand.

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Arriving to the incredibly beautify, understated and elegant Kauri Cliffs.

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Welcome to Kauri Cliffs
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The style and design is understated and elegant – each furnishing and piece of art is worthy of a private collection.
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The golf and the views are certainly worthy, even if you will only bike ride or hike the course.
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The in-room bar and coffee set up is both functional and inviting. Homemade brownies in my jar mysteriously disappeared each day!
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I loved my little cottage.
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Heated floors, comfy tub, all perfect for the New Zealand weather.
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Welcome Home to Kauri Cliffs.
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Balcony with a view
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The Main house
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Pool and hot tub with a view.

Nothing like beating the first day’s jet lag with a picnic at the Pink Beach. What a feast complete with the incredible fish, vegetables and wines from the area!

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Now this is a welcome to the Pink Beach at Kauri Cliffs!

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Chef in waiting.
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Food for the soul!
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I am happy!
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Pink Beach

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No detail missed.
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Some of the best wines of the North Island.

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Cycling the golf course
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Chasing Sheep.
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The Spa
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and tennis
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Oh…. but the food is incredible!
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…and the wines always a treat!!
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Nothing makes me happier than waiting up to a fire, French pressed coffee and a home made brownie, all while still in my robe!

Today we head out to do some touring with a local Mauri (a Native Kiwi). We visited a Saturday Market which is the true gathering spot for the locals.IMG_0298IMG_0299IMG_0302

New Zealand Chocolate is some of the best!

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A historic government building from the Europeans who settled the area.

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Stunning water falls…
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The incredibly huge Kauri trees….

Dinner at Kauri Cliffs is served wherever you might like it. This evening in the library was definitely unforgettable!!  Feast your eyes…..

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Next stop to The Landing.

The homes on this spectacular setting are top quality craftsmanship with views to knock your socks off. This is a wonderful place for families who want to settled in with a chef, a wine maker, privacy, and activities-galore!

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Arriving to the landing

The first home we saw was the Boathouse – perfect for an active family on the beach. basketball court, multiple barbecue and entertainment spots, all the bells and whistles.

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This home is located overlooking the vineyard and the coast and has glass walls that open or close depending on the weather.  Loved the privacy and setting here!

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Finally, the creme de la creme was the main house with its own wine cellar, star gazing roof top, incredible indoor and outdoor public areas – this is the place for a big birthday celebration with friends or family!  WOW!

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The Landing has its own wine maker and all the wines are included in the price of your rental. We had a marvelous afternoon with the wine maker who admits that his wines are not where he wants them with such a young vineyard but each year we tried simply got better and better! No complaints whatsoever! Lovely!

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And the chef may have prepared the most healthful and flavorful meal of the week – that is saying something! It was SIMPLY Wow!

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What a delightful surprise to depart in such style after a lovely afternoon.

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Embarking on the Ata Rangi
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The Ata Rangi is something we can most definitely arrange for our clients – it is wonderful for day trips or overnight charters.

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Eagles Nest

We were guests in the 4 bedroom presidential villa, affectionately nicknamed by us as “Villa Rockstar” as that is how we felt staying here!

 

 

Helena Bay

It was a true WOW to be some of the first guests at Helena Bay. This over the top, no expense-spared resort is made up of five one-bedroom villas and approximately 50 staff.  The location alone is incredible with some of the most beautiful and private beaches in the world and a working farm.

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Cocktails on the lawn
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The range of toys and equipment available is mind blowing and always TOP QUALITY! Fun to explore on 4 wheelers, mountain bikes, paddle boards or your own two feet!

 

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Mr. Ian Swain living it up with the ladies! Love this guy!
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The amount of original and special art throughout the property is over-whelming!

The food is all grown on the farm – livestock, produce, fruit – and only what is needed beyond that is imported. The chef is from Don Alfonso in the Amalfi coast and his whole concept of cooking is SIMPLICITY – let the flavor of the product shine through on its own! Wow, did we eat the most gorgeous foods and chef was right!

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Today we toured the grounds – visiting the sheep, cows, and gardens! Truly incredible to see how a farm is run and to be able to enjoy the fruits of it all with a cooking class!

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The service at Helena Bay is mind blowing! 50 employees take care of up to 10-14 guests tops!  They do not miss a beat, know your preferences, and can not do enough for you!

One more delicious dinner…..

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All good things must come to and end….but not really – how about being picked up by the fastest and sleekest helicopter operating in New Zealand? I am most definitely up for it!  This shaved off a 3 hour drive to the Auckland airport.  We definitely suggest at least a heli or two for our clients. The best way to set up a golf trip of New Zealand is via helicopter – heli-golf anyone?

Our views from Helena Bay all the way to Auckland are below…

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From the airport we departed Auckland on the North Island bound for the South Island and marvelous Queenstown, Adventure Capital of the World!

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There are many wonderful places to stay in the Queenstown area. The question is do you prefer to stay outside the city in a stunning lodge immersed in nature or inside the city in a chic hotel within walking distance to all?

Matakauri Lodge – Stunning!!

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Next stop Blanket Bay – New Zealand’s Ultimate Alpine Escape! Cozy, comfortable, and quite possibly perfect!

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Off on a heli-glacier ride and landing –

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Jet boating on the Dart River –

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For those wanting to be in the wonderful city center of Queenstown, THE place to stay is Eicharts Private Hotel which is walking distance to everything, but chic enough to not want to leave! Eicharts Private Hotel has nearby wonderful residences and a terrific sister hotel – The Spire Hotel.  Just outside of town in a lovely residential neighborhood, we love Azur Lodge.

Quaint shops, fun restaurants and live music await those who chose an in-town location.

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A couple of shots of the fabulous Eicharts Private Hotel –

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The ultimate thrill, Bungee jumping.  Believe me, this was not planned nor ever even remotely on my radar, but as they say, “When in Rome….do as the Romans do!” Or in this case, do as the Kiwis! How could I resist when I got to personally meet the co-founder of Bungee jumping and being at the exact spot of the original Bungee jump – the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown.

It is completely exhilarating and I am still pinching myself.  I did it! Check!

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Farewell, New Zealand! I will absolutely with out question return! One of my most favorite trips and places ever.  Your kindness, hospitality, and genuine love of life shines through! As you say,  “Sweet As!”

If you have a minute and 44 seconds, check out my epic jump video – still makes my hands sweat!

 

 

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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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.

My room was charming and romantic!img_3155img_3153img_3157

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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!

Cycling Sonoma & Napa: A Backroads Adventure!

I send dozens of my clients on Backroads Trips, and this past week I was finally able to experienced one of these magnificent trips firsthand. This was a group of 18 women in Sonoma and Napa Valley riding bikes between wineries, so honestly, what is not to love?  Yet the attention to detail and the quality that our partner Backroads brings to the equation is very much worth the mention!

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The quality of the trip leaders is incredible – we had three of the most fun, lovely, capable women running our show. Dayna, CeCe, and Katie were definitely a force to be reckoned with as they effortlessly set up our bikes each day, ran us through the “route rap,” moved our luggage from hotel to hotel, inspected rooms and insured luggage was inside waiting for us by the time we arrived after a long day of cycling. They set up gorgeous farm-to-table picnic lunches and joined us for fabulous restaurant dinners each night. Most importantly, they could fix any bike, deal with an emergency, and tend to each guests’ individual needs. The hiring and training process at Backroads is no joke–this was evidently clear after several days with this terrific trio!

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I flew into San Francisco a day before the start of the trip to catch up with a friend, see the city I so love, and to re-check a few of my favorite hotels.

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Arriving into San Francisco with a great lunch and view at Waterbar
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Loved my spacious and sunny room at The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco in Nob Hill

The trip started in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve with a hike and lunch followed by our first cycling day to the darling town of Healdsburg. On the first day, I opted for about a 25 mile ride through the stunning Russian River Valley, which was just perfect to warm up my bike legs!

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Our Backroads adventure started surrounded by these gorgeous Redwoods
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These old trees are stunning!
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Each day of the ride, Backroads surprises and delights with beautiful and healthy wine country picnics
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Backroads also goes by “Snackroads” as there are always goodies to fill your loot bag and stay energized during the ride

What I really enjoyed about cycling the lovely Sonoma and Napa Valleys, besides the perfect fall weather and scenery, was the opportunity to stop at some superb wineries along the route for “wine tasting” rather than “wine drinking” (the drinking is enjoyed later when the cycling day ends — or it continues on at home if, like me, you opt to ship a couple of cases home!)

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I absolutely loved Graciana – the winery, story and the wines!

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The charming owner of Gracianna showcasing the book he wrote about his Basque-born mother after whom the winery is named 
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I could not resist this idyllic barn shot!
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Fall is actually the warmest time to be in the Bay Area and I think the most lovely!
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Cycling through Geyserville on Day Two where I opted for the 40 mile ride. Easy for many experienced riders but a fun challenge for this inexperienced cyclist!
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What a beautiful place to stop for another fabulous lunch and some special wines!
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And Voila – It just keeps getting better!
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Most of the scenery I could not capture on camera as I whizzed by on my bike, but it is forever etched in my memory!

Backroads is certainly not all about cycling, though they do that admirably. The number one point I would like to make is that the trips are truly for all fitness levels. When planning, I look at the trip route ratings on each trip with my clients to insure they are selecting the right one, but even with couples or friends or families that have different fitness levels or desires, each day offers a mix of three options with varying lengths, elevations and sights. And if there is not one that you love, they will make one up. It is not uncommon for one person to be a road warrior while the other wants to ride until lunch and then hit the spa.  Backroads has introduced two fantastic features this year: E-Bikes (electric bikes) for those that want a little extra help on the hills and Garmin G.P.S. systems so that no matter where you are in the pack, you will always find your way to the next meeting point.

Beyond cycling, Backroads offers terrific walking and hiking trips, multi-sport trips where you have some cycling, hiking and even rafting or canoeing mixed in. It is not about the activity in itself, it is about seeing a destination at a different pace – not whizzing by in a car, but seeing it as your own pace under the power of your own two legs.

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Day 3 from Dry Creek To Calistoga had some wonderful hills – this one was well worth it, as at the top was the stunning Artesa Winery
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Entering the dramatic winery
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A great combination – water and wine! Work hard and earn your wine!

All of the meals are included in the price of your Backroads trip and each meal was exceptional!!  Below is my final night dinner at the Sonoma Mission Inn, which was truly outstanding with no expense spared – wine country produce, lobster, caviar, lamb, and another irresistible dessert!

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The Town of Sonoma has some very cute little shops around the main square including Summer Vine!

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My last night was spent at the very unique and charming Cavallo Point in Sausalito overlooking the Golden Gate bridge.

What a perfect spot to enjoy the view of San Francisco, the charm of Sausalito, and some fantastic hikes too!

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Getting to Sausalito is easy on the Ferry from Embarcadero
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Some of the activities on offer at Cavallo Point.
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Quaint lobby feels more like a living room.
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The Chapel where morning Yoga is held.
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A range of Lexus cars are available for the resort drivers to take you to town or the the Marin Airporter for your ride back to the airport
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Rooms are either in these historic buildings or in the modern and contemporary rooms.
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The view from Cavallo Point of the Golden Gate Bridge.

We love to help our clients decide on the best trip for them so please do ask for our help. There are classic cycling trips which are geared towards adults but allow a small number of kids if they are 14 and over. If you’re looking for something more tailored to the whole family with kids of all ages, then we should go with their family adventures which include a coordinator to keep the younger ones entertained with destination specific fun – i.e. Pizza making in the Dolomites, Gecko races in Costa Rica, or art in the South of France. These trips have tandem bikes for kids not quite ready to hit the road solo, or trailers for little ones that want to be towed behind their parents. For families with teens, I would suggest either join a classic trip, or for more fun, do the Family Breakaways, which require families to have at least one teen aged 14. This insures that there is always a gang of pals for that in-between age that don’t want to have a bunch of kids around but are not quite interested in hanging out with adults 24+.  For example This type of group is perfect for my family where I have a 16 and 13-year-old who do not need the extra planned activities that the younger family trips have in place.

There are so many options, but perhaps the most daunting choice is where to go. Backroads is a great way to do wine country, or simply to explore small towns and villages anywhere from Patagonia, Peru, New Zealand, the Alps, Sicily, the Amalfi coast or closer to home – the great American National Parks of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, or Acadia. There is something for every season and the trips fill up quickly. It is best to plan a Backroads adventure at least 6 months out, but we can always try to get you in to a trip if you find you have a last minute whim. The trips range in size from 10-20 or so travelers, and there is usually a really great dynamic between the travelers who choose Backroads. One of the most fun things do however is to plan your own group of friends or family – depending on numbers, the costs can be minimal and you are assured a private trip with your favorite people.  What a fabulous way to celebrate a big birthday, a family reunion or just an effortless way to get some fun couples together! Please contact me to discuss your next adventure trip with Backroads or one of our other fabulous preferred cycling vendors.  It may be your first but certainly won’t be your last!

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Last breakfast before heading home. I think I earned it this trip!

 

Las Catalinas: Costa Rica’s Great New Little Town

Who doesn’t love an easy escape on a non-stop flight to a little piece of beach paradise yet without giving up any of the  comforts of home?  Las Catalinas is just the answer with wonderfully built and tastefully designed homes of all sizes, complete with it’s very own Main Street, a beach club, a toes-in-the-sand restaurant, a surf and activity shop, and miles of mountain cycling and hiking in the most pristine and relaxed environment.  The town is pretty perfect, but it is unique in that you dont just see the snow birds hunkering down for the weekend, the guests are a mix of school kids, year-round residents and visitors alike and Las Catalinas encourages local Ticos to be a part of the Pura Vida life-style by enjoying the mountain biking and the local bar.

There are many sized homes to choose from one bedroom studios to 7 bedroom estates and everything in between.  Many of the larger homes come with beautiful bunk rooms which are terrific for a bunch of kids.

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Girl’s Trip to Las Catalinas
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Welcome to Las Catalinas!
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Beautiful Outdoor Entertaining Areas
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And Indoors Too
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My Room with a View
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This pool can be a shared entertainment area between two 6 bedroom homes
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The Perfect Spot for a long lunch or a chef-prepared Dinner
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Drinks at the Beach Club
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The Beach Club Pool

 

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Sunset
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Even in the Dry Guanacaste region, the nature is lovely.
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Another View
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What a great way to transport your things through town!
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Toes-in-the-sand restaurant “Limonada”

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These guys are glad to set you up with your equipment and activities for the week at Las Catalinas!
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All the non motorized water sports are right on property
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Trails for mountain cycling and rentals right on property
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Off on a Hike

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Trails of mountain cycling are right on property including rentals

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We love our house moms who came each day to prepare breakfast and tidy our home

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We can get use to this!

 

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I definitely suggest you consider a dinner chef for a least a couple of nights during your stay – such a treat!

Please contact me to discuss the many styles and sizes of homes available to rent as I toured several of them during my visit!

 

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Many of the homes have terrific bunk rooms for kids, groups of friends or families to share
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How clever is this bunk bed!

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Drinks at Limonada
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These are a little TOO good!
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Playing on our front lawn in front of the fabulous Casa Brewer

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We are already planning a return visit – Love Las Catalinas!

Croatia & Montenegro: All Along the Adriatic

MONTENEGRO– Wild Beauty (UNESCO: Kotor)

It takes a few flight connections to get to some of the wonderful, newly formed countries of the former Yugoslavia along the Adriatic coast, but it most certainly is worth the trip! We started in gorgeous Montenegro where we overcame our jet lag at the sleek and luxurious Regent Porto Montenegro overlooking some of the largest private yachts in the world! Our first wonderful meals of the trip were enjoyed here – the freshest seafood, lovely produce, spectacular wines, and delicious olive oils!

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Welcome to the Regent Porto Montenegro
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The Terrace at The Regent Porto Montenegro
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I love the Nautical Theme through out the rooms – their residential style rooms with kitchenettes are perfect for families!
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Yachts Galore from all over the world, but many from Russia
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Even the tiny sleek boats are stunning!

Budva

Budva is considered to be one of the oldest settlements in the Balkans. This ancient town lies on a little island that was linked to land by a sandbar and in time became a peninsula. We kicked off our first day with a walk around the 15th century ramparts and medieval fortifications. Inside the walls, we found a combination of narrow streets and little squares, with superb monuments of the different Mediterranean cultures. Later, we visited Kotor, home-town of the famous sailors and traders of Boka Bay. Kotor’s architecture, a post-modern mix of the various epochs and its position at the bottom of the sharp cliffs of the Lovcen Mountain, makes it different from any other Mediterranean town. The Old City is a well preserved urbanization typical of the Middle Ages, built between the 12th and 14th century. Highlights included the Cathedral of St. Trifun and the Maritime Museum where visitors admire portraits of the famous captains, models of old galleys and sail boats and other artifacts from rich heritage of Kotor.

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DUBROVNIK – Pearl of Mediterranean (UNESCO)

We continued on with our driver to the absolutely stunning walled-city of Dubrovnik and were lucky enough to check in to the charming Villa Dubrovnik!

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Villa Dubrovnik has the same owner as the famous Capri Palace in Ana Capri, Amalfi.
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Guests met by the extraordinary Roberto at the front door will feel right at home!
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You can enter a small elevator at street level or take the dramatic staircase to the hotel’s multiple levels that hug the cliffs at sea’s edge
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What fate – we arrived just in time for late afternoon cocktails!
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The restaurants overlook the water and the natural island paradise beyond
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Isabella approves!
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The Old City is just a 10 minute walk past very pretty mansions
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Entering the walled City of Dubrovnik
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The city gates are still guarded today.
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The entire town of Dubrovnik is UNESCO world heritage
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Cocktails and Dinner at restaurant “360 degrees” is a must for the view and the food!
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Scallops and Foie Gras
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Shrimp and Local Prosciutto
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Fish
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Pork
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We returned to the hotel to watch Croatia win their Euro Cup Match Against Spain – we enjoyed it with the happy staff!
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Do mornings get any better than this?
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Local cured Salmon Eggs Benedict
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How good fried eggs and bacon can be!!

Today we met up with our expert guide Yelena for a fabulous walking tour of Dubrovnik, one of the most beautiful stone-built cities in the world. An important maritime port and a one-time state, it has always been a cultural metropolis. As one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Dubrovnik owes its special charm to the historic monuments which testify to its rich history. Some highlights included the Franciscan monastery of the “Order of Friars Minors” that preserves one of the three oldest pharmacies in Europe, the Orlando Column, the Sponza Palace, the Church of St. Blasius, the patron-saint of the town, the Rector’s Palace, the magnificent structure of the dukes of Dubrovnik, and the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary with a treasury containing the originals by Tiziano and Rafaelo.

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One thing that I hear consistently from clients of Resort to Laura Madrid is how fabulous our private guides are – many become life long friends to our clients! They certainly enliven the local experience for them whilst traveling!  Here are a few of our special guides in Croatia:

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Yelena was so bright and so much fun!
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Elisio was not my guide, but he was the guide for some dear friends and clients, and I ran into him in the market!
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There are great little places along the wall to stop for a cold beer and a view.
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Some of us are happier to find a candy store!
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The Public Beach is great for people watching but we loved relaxing at our private beach at Villa Dubrovnik!

Dubrovnik is worth three nights for sure.  This would allow time to walk the length of the city walls, kayak over to one of the islands, and to take the funicular to the top!

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A wonderful place to relax at Villa Dubrovnik after  a day of touring
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A delicious little alcove to swim at Villa Dubrovnik – the water is strong and chilly so be ready to be invigorated!
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Some may prefer doing flips at the pool!
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Meals in Croatia are all a treat!  Such spectacular food and at a much more attractive price point than you will generally find in Italy and France. Here we are at Taverna Posat.

Ston

Today we depart with Yelena for Ston to taste the freshest and most incredible oysters I have ever had anywhere, anytime in the world!  With our fun guide Yelena, we were met where we board a local man’s boat and travel to his family’s private island for a very special surprise!

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Oyster traps set in a bay of the most pristine water
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We are shown how the oysters are grown

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Oysters – Welcome!
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Arriving to our island for the afternoon.
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Our own private picnic awaits
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Daughter and father graciously host us for lunch.
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Shucking oysters.
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We are beyond excited!
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First Bite! Never an oyster in my life quite like this one!
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This is the family’s homemade wine and grappa – scrumptious!!
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Yelena and I enjoy a cup of homemade grappa!
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Isabella is a sport!
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Oh my, no one told me to save room for the most incredible mussells with garlic and wine. There are only 4 of us!!
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We do justice to this incredible meal – freshness like I have never experienced!
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Hard to leave this place! What an afternoon!

After departing Ston Bay, we stopped for a visit to the incredible walled fortress of Ston town and the salt mines. Ston’s famous 5 kilometer Medieval stone defensive walls are the largest in Europe and protected the precious salt pans that contributed to Dubrovnik Republic’s wealth. The history of the salt works in Ston goes back for more than 4,000 years. It is the oldest salt mine in Europe and one of the the oldest still working mines in the world!

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The lovely stone walls of Ston
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Visiting the oldest salt pans and mines of Europe

HVAR – The Sunniest Place in Europe

After quite a long day of driving, a ferry and another car ride, we arrived to the charming but lively island of Hvar.

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Hvar Harbour
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Hvar Main Square
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Sunset Cocktails
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Hvar by night
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Gariful for diner – great views on the water and lively!
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Best Lobster linguine with the delicious Teran red wines.
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For lunch we took the local ferry to the smaller island of Palmizana
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A lovely place for lunch – reserve in advance for the terrific beach front table under its own wooden canopy
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Happy camper with a glass of the refreshing and dry Malvasia grape
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A Croat beer for Gil
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Excellent service and beautiful fish to choose from
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Local octopus in white wine and garlic – this is the dish!

The best way to get to and from the islands is on a private boat.  Here we are departing  Hvar for our 90 minute ride to Split.

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Arriving to Spit

SPLIT – 1700 Years of a Living Monument (UNESCO)

The first inhabitant of Split was the Roman emperor Diocletian who started to build his palace in this friendly bay around 293 AD. After his abdication he withdrew to this luxurious palace to enjoy the rest of his days. The following turbulent centuries made the palace into a town first populated by the citizens of the nearby Salona, fleeing before Avars and Slavs. The town overgrew the walls of the palace and its authorities kept changing – from Croatian kings, Hungarian and Venetian administration, to French rulers and Austro- Hungarian monarchy.

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The Old town of Split
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One of the bellowers from Diocletians Palace

We walked with our guide through this living monument and all its magnificent sights – the basement halls, the main square of the Palace, the Cathedral of St. Domnius, and the temples of the Palaces with its many monuments from antiquity, to the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque periods.

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We drove to the outside of Split where we had stunning views of the inlets where many pirates hid before and after attacking large ships. We headed to the small village of Gata to enjoy a special lunch in the home of a lovely local lady named Anka.

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Arriving to the home of Anka
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Anka is welcoming Gil, Isabella and I along with our fabulous guide Linda
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The amazing ANKA – she is one of 6 women in Croatia who has the authority/ability to make the UNESCO designated food – Soparnika
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The beautiful simple home of Anka
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Swiss Chard and all locally grown foods make up her cooking
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The fire pit with chimney in Anka’s kitchen and the wooden board to roll her dough for Soparnika
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A lovely welcome of local cheese and prociutto and family made cherry and walnut brandies!
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Anka has been perfecting the fire for hours

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Rolling the dough
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This is an art in itself
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Fresh swiss chard from the garden along with onions and garlic
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Top layer of the Soparnika goes on
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Enjoying some home made cherry brandy with our guide, Linda.
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This is hard work for Anka, she is about to put her savory pastry on the fire and cover it with hot ash
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Isabella checking it all out!
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Surprise! Aka has also been cooking a dish of Peka all day under the embers – a hearty dish made of pork, veal and chicken with spectacular potatoes
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The lid comes off of the Peka
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Peka made with chicken, pork, veal and potatoes
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Lunch is served at Anka’s home
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All good meals start with a glass of wine!
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The Soparnika is also ready – the actual cutting and shape of each piece is also designated UNESCO – there is a specific way that it must be done every time.
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How beautiful is this! Topped with Croatian Olive Oil and salt – oh my!

 

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Spending the afternoon with Anka has been so unique and special not to mention DELICIOUS!

Back to Split for the night, and where to stay but in Diocletian’s Palace at the 7 room Hotel Vestibul Palace! Each room is unique and below the court yard where breakfast is served.

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The life of the modern day city takes place in and around the former Palace of Diocletian – what a view!
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Bokeria – A great choice for your dinner!

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How lucky were we to be in Split for the Croatia vs. Portugal match in the Euro Cup finals. Croatia lost, but this lovely man with whom we shared a table in the bar went to his restaurant next door to bring us the most gorgeous local prosciutto and cheese! LOVE THIS PLACE!

Plitvice National Park – Beauty Unspoilt

Croatia has stunning national parks, lakes and waterfalls.  It takes some driving to get there but truly beautiful.  Here are are at Plitvice National Park. The oldest and largest National Park in Croatia, Plitvice is located in Central Croatia close to the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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The Istrian Peninsula – Mystical Land of Gastronomy

This region has always attracted those who consider gastronomy as one of the most important reasons for traveling – namely me! The alluring gastronomic character of Istria consists not only of the exquisite Mediterranean seafood of the coast but also of the products of the inland’s gardens, orchards, and vineyards.

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Every wine we had in Croatia was exceptional.
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I would come back to Kantinon in Rovijn, just for this appetizer platter!

As you drive through the rugged and hilly terrain you will come to the village of Livade, one of the most important centers of truffle farming in Europe. Until recently the Istrian white truffle was unknown on the world’s stage of luxury gastronomy. Only those who are the true connoisseurs of this magical fungus come to visit the small corner of the world from which this delicacy originates.

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Hot chocolate never hurts!

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A very artsy little town!
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Always an inviting place to sit
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You may want to have them ship a box home of the delicious local products!

We continued towards the charming village of Momjan for a private wine tasting at Kabola Winery. Throughout the past, Momjan area was known as one of the most productive wine regions in Istria. It even provided the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy with wine. We tasted many of these famous wines made with the grapes muscat, malmsey, and teran.

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All Local!

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We enjoyed a private truffle hunting demonstration with the truffle hunter and his dogs – this may have been Isabella’s favorite day!

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One of the most important restaurants for truffles is Restaurant Zigante. It’s a must for those wanting every course made with the local delicacy!

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A model of the largest truffles ever found is in the restaurant

After the truffle hunting demonstration we went to the medieval ruins of the town of Motovun to taste some local products made with truffles.

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Truffles in everything!

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Typical Istrian Village
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Istrian Walled Village

Meanwhile back in Rovijn, this is the charming and special authentic city where we stayed while touring the Istrian Peninsula.

We stayed in a very modern, largish luxury hotel – not what I would normally select, but this actually is the perfect spot to unwind after several days of touring, staying in quaint boutique hotels, and moving from place to place. Hotel Lone and Monte Mullini are terrific for the large modern rooms and bathrooms (the kind you just won’t find while staying in a palace dating to 200 AD)! The beach, spa, gym and modern conveniences were all much appreciated, and better yet, the old town Rovijn is just a short walk along the beach! Enjoy the bars, restaurants, and village life of one of our favorite towns of the trip!

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How cute is this stairway bar in Rovijn?

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Will miss this cafe life!

Now on to Southern Italy!

PERU: An Epic Family Adventure

My husband and I hiked the Inca trail over a decade ago, and throughout that experience I dreamed of not IF, but WHEN we would return with our children! I challenge you to float to the end of these images – each experience tops the last! Let me know when I can help craft your customized journey to the fascinating land of the Incans – gastronomy, culture, nature, art, history and active adventures await!

FIRST STOP: THE SACRED VALLEY

The most beautiful place to acclimatize, take on some active pursuits, and experience a bit of culture:

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Alpacas, Llamas & Vicunas, oh my!

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An afternoon snack on our way to our hotel

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Weaving is an incredible art, done the same way for centuries

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A young beauty
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Indigenous family
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Making friends in the market

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SOL Y LUNA, our hotel in the Sacred Valley – this stunning boutique hotel is made up of free standing casitas and is the perfect oasis to welcome you to your Peruvian holiday.

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Each casita is a gorgeous peaceful oasis decorated with local art and extremely spacious and comfortable – a great way to shake off the fatigue of travel and acclimatize to the elevation.

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Our lovely welcome amenity

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Peru is the most important gastronomic stop in Latin America, and the first night at Sol Y Luna did not disappoint!

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Everyone must try the local favorite, guinea pig

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BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS – Pork Tamales, Quinoa Pancakes, local cheese and fresh produce!

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Equestrian enthusiasts will love the family of horses at Sol Y Luna. Explore the area on horse back, ride around the grounds, or simply come to enjoy the Peruvian horse show at lunch time

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