Crystal Mozart: Cruising the Danube River

Crystal has been wowing ocean cruisers for years, but now with the launch of the Crystal Mozart on the Danube River, they are setting a new standard for service on the riverways!

The Crystal Mozart was stripped to the steel and completely rebuilt before debuting as Crystal’s first river vessel. It is the widest ship on the Danube and boasts some of the most sumptuous public space on the river. So while it cannot always get into every city center port of call, it’s always within a stones throw, and you can be sure you’re coming and going in style!

Crystal has three new state-of-the-art luxury ships coming on line in 2018 and 2019 that will sail the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube.

If you were not one of the lucky 18 who joined our fun group of friends (lovingly called “the Boat People”), please join me below as I share some of the highlights of our most recent voyage!

First, the ship:


Top deck, where many libations were enjoyed day and night as we cruised the Danube
Stylish Bistro Mozart for a Viennese coffee or glass of Grüner Veltliner or a gelato anytime
The Waterside Restaurant for a lunch buffet or decadent multi-course dinner

Below is a typical dinner on the Crystal Mozart:

Foie Gras appetizer
Caviar and potatoes second course
Fresh fish, grains and greens for my main.
Pre and post cocktails in the Palm Court

Our favorite spot for lunch was Aft at Blue which had a great team – they were always happy to prepare a fabulous burger, a niçoise salad, and, as we say, a glass of “rosé all day!”


The spa is terrific, featuring a forward location with beautiful views in the relaxation lounge and luxurious treatments. My treatments with Maria – massage and facial – were truly some of the best I have had! The pool is excellent for laps and the hot tub is a cozy option for warming up on a cold day.


First Port of Call – Vienna

Vienna is lovely and stately and elegant. There are opportunities to enjoy music everywhere including the famed Opera House, the Vienna Philharmonic, and even the lovey Crystal signature event with an orchestra at the Belvedere Palace!

Most delightful about Vienna in my opinion is the cafe culture that is so prevalent throughout the city – it is not unusual to sit for hours with a single coffee or beer or glass of Grüner. I love this pace!



Something else that the Crystal Mozart does for their guests is allow them to select a Michelin star restaurant experience in Vienna or Budapest and completely includes it the price of your cruise! Crystal arranges the reservations, transfers to and from the restaurant, and prepays a three course meal with wine. It is a very nice touch!

We enjoyed a spectacular dinner at Konstantin Filippou pictured below:


As the Crystal Mozart embarks and disembarks in Vienna, this is a perfect opportunity to stay at the immaculate and historic Hotel Sacher, owned and run by the same family for generations.  A step back into a sumptuous, by-gone era!

The Restaurant of Hotel Sacher
What an elegant spot to dine!
An amuse-bouche of salmon
A first meal in Vienna must always be Wiener Schnitzel
And at Hotel Sacher, there is nothing more appropriate than the famed Sacher Torte with fresh cream
Mr. Sacher himself
Even I feel almost a celebrity next to one of the many walls of famous patrons
A drink in the Blue Bar
The impeccable bedrooms are charming and bright
In such a prime location, expect a wonderful view!
Well appointed and comfortable bathrooms
Hotel Sacher chocolate amenities
A view of the Opera House from Hotel Sacher


This lovely design suite has quite the penthouse and terrace!

Second Port of Call – Krems, Austria

A cycling trip through the Wachau River Valley:


Of course with a stop or two to try the local Reisling and Grüner wines of the region!




River cruising is special because you are never far from land. The Danube is particularly scenic.  The top deck is the place for sipping something cold and taking it all in!



A fellow boat person – Jan the ham!


Third port of call – Melk and the lovely Abbey


Back on board the Crystal Mozart


Going through one of the dozens of locks along the Danube – a very cool feat of engineering.


And as evening falls, another wonderful dinner is served. Seating in the dining room is as you wish – some nights Gil and I dined alone, some nights we joined another couple or two from our group, one night we invited a single traveler to join us, and a few times our entire group of 18 – the “Boat People” dined together.  The nice thing about Crystal is that everything is included – all meals and always terrific wines, champagne, beers and spirits! No one ever needs to reach for the bill.


Fourth Port of Call – Linz, Austria

From here we took a day trip to Salzburg


I love that whenever you order a glass of wine, it automatically comes with a water! Such a nice touch!

Fifth Port of Call – Passau, Germany

This is a lovely, lovely town and I wish we had more time there. We instead opted for a day trip to Munich. Munich was a great time but, in retrospect, the transfer was too long to warrant the trip – over 2.5 hours each way.  Suggestion: Enjoy Passau instead. We traveled to Munich with our friends John and Carrie and had a blast visiting several beer halls! “When in Rome!”


Yes, the beer drinking continued on the coach!

Everything in Germany is about their wonderful sports cars and Munich is the home of BMW. For those that are BMW enthusiasts, a visit to the BMW headquarters and show room may be in order.


We enjoyed an overnight in Passau and wonderful meal aboard the Crystal Mozart.

Roasted Beet Salad with nuts and cheese

The next day we joined a cycling trip that rode along the Austrian-German border. The bikes on the Crystal Mozart are e-bikes which means anyone can pedal along and it is never too strenuous.  Not a great way to burn a lot of calories, but a lovely way to sightsee!


Cycling with my friend, Reid, newly indoctrinated to the “Boat People”
A bridge uniting Austria and Germany



Enjoying some comfort food aft at our favorite lunch spot on board, Blue.


And some post lunch R&R on the top desk of the Crystal Mozart, my kind of sight seeing!


The crew on the Crystal Mozart is spectacular – truly outstanding service, always with a smile, just like this:IMG_2024.jpg

The entertainment aboard river vessels usually includes some wonderful piano bar music, some well informed lectures, an occasional round of group trivia, and on this occasion, a hilarious bout of the “Not-so-Newlywed Game!” Gil and I participated and came out BIG LOSERS!  We did become minor celebrities though and gave everyone a good laugh!


Sixth Port of Call – Bratislava, Slovakia

A stunning capital to a small, new country with a big history!


A walk through the old town to a local brew pub where we enjoyed tasting several local beers.



The Bratislava Opera House

Final Port of Call – Budapest

This lovely lady greeted us as we cruised into Budapest. Lady Liberty!  She was erected by the Russians as the self-proclaimed liberators of Hungary from the Nazis. Today the Magyars (as the Hungarians rightfully call themselves) say that she is actually saying goodbye to the communists as she liberated the country once and for all from all oppressors. She is beautiful and Budapest may be one of Europe’s most breathtaking cities!


The pubic transportation throughout the city is excellent and we easily moved about by tram, bus, and subway!



Always a cake to be found. This is the Sacher but I really wanted the Dobbos!


One of my favorite things to do in ANY city is to visit the local market – this is always the heartbeat of the city where you can shop and dine as a local.



It was fun to try local specialties such as the stuffed cabbage and the goulash, with sauerkraut, of course.


Budapest has absolutely wonderful cafes and wine bars through out the vibrant city, especially lovely in the summer time!


And not to be missed is one of the grandest hotels of all of Europe, Four Seasons Hotel Budapest Gresham Palace, a stunning restoration of a former palace overlooking the Chain Bridge and the hills of Buda.


We stopped in to listen to live music and have a cocktail on their new terrace and I must say I think the libation I found suited me to a T – the Señorita!


We enjoyed a wonderful dinner of innovative contemporary takes on traditional Hungarian dishes at Tigris.  Did you know that Hungary is one of the world’s most important procurers of Foie Gras?  You are in for a treat! Here it is prepared four ways as my appetizer:


Budapest by night truly takes your breath away!  Upon returning to the ship from dinner, the Crystal Mozart graciously sailed up and down the Danube for guests to gawk at the lights of Parliament, the Chain Bridge, and the many palaces and monuments completely restored and rebuilt after the Nazis and then the Communists left the country.



What a magnificent trip with a great group of “Boat People!” Crystal, I will see you soon on the Rhine and the Main rivers, no doubt!  Well done!

Laura Madrid is an avid cruiser and can help you navigate the many ships and private yachts from the oceans, to the rivers, to the canals.  Read a bit more on options and climb aboard here!

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!

First beverages in the Willamette Valley
Welcome to The Allison
The Allison is a terrific Oregon wine country hotel
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.

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


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

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

Backroads is famous for their gorgeous daily picnics always set up in picturesque spots!
Always healthful, delicious and local
Jenna and Ryan suiting up for the first ride
“Snackroads” always fuels everyone up for the ride…
First day was a 25 mile ride with an optional climb of 3000 feet
So happy to have made it to Crater Lake at 7000 feet!
“Partners-in-climb” Leigh and Laura
Well-deserved drinks! Ladies table at Crater Lake Lodge
IMG_1157 2
Cycling makes you really, really thirsty!
After Dinner Drinks at the Lodge
Good morning, Crater Lake!
I love the roaring fire at the Crater Lake Lodge
Mid June yet snow still everywhere, even closing some of the passes up to Crater Lake
Deschutes, one of our favorite local beers!
One of our super capable trip leaders, Ariel – A.K.A. Super Woman!
Route Rap with our Trip Leaders
At the end of Day 2 cycling – Gil, Lynne, Steve, Laura, Leigh, Chris Bo, Rachel and Chris Ba
One last shot of Crater Lake – Sorry but so darn breathtaking!
The Backroads van is always ready with a beer for our group after a long ride or hike!
The girls goofing around in the snow!
Last one, I promise – hiking the rim of Crater Lake.
Oregon has so many gorgeous lakes, this one is Diamond Lake.

Photo Jun 20, 2 41 33 PM

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



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


Checking into the Five Pine Lodge in Sisters, OR
Heading to our cute individual cabins
The Cabins at Five Pine Lodge
All cleaned up and heading out to dinner in Sisters on our cruisers
Photo Jul 03, 8 00 51 PM
Ryan and Chris
Even the Oatmeal is Oregrown – love it!
Katie, our fabulous trip leader ready to ride with us
Our other trip leader extra-ordinaire, Ariel
Another wonderfully health picnic lunch
Jenna and Gil Chilling after a ride
Jenna and Ryan all cleaned up
The ladies ready for final night dinner (yes the guys are here too!)
Rachel and I hitting the town on our cruisers
The ladies ROCKED IT!  Here is to fantastic Trip Leaders!
Last day of riding through the gorgeous lava fields of the McKenzie Pass
Chris, Rachel and Chris
Gil loving the 20 mile down hill through McKenzie Pass


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

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

Checking in to our room at the stylish “The Nines” Hotel in Portland
Sweet welcome amenity at The Nines
Kushner’s and Madrid’s enjoying roof top cocktails at The Nines
Drinks and dinner at the delicious “Tasty and Alder”
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.



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

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

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


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


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


Cycling the golf course
Chasing Sheep.
The Spa
and tennis
Oh…. but the food is incredible!
…and the wines always a treat!!
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!



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


Stunning water falls…
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…..


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!

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.


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!


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!


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!


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


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

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


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.

Cocktails on the lawn
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!



Mr. Ian Swain living it up with the ladies! Love this guy!
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!



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!


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…..


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…


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


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!!


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




Off on a heli-glacier ride and landing –





Jet boating on the Dart River –




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.


A couple of shots of the fabulous Eicharts Private Hotel –



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!


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!



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.


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


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.



Welcome to Hacienda Tixnuc! Truly built in the ruins of this old Hacienda. Romantic and authentic with modern Air-Conditioned rooms.


The Master bedroom is especially spacious and lovely!


Every little snack is a surprise and a treat.
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.


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


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

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


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


A breakfast surprise
I love huevos motulenos for breakfast!
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!

Oh my, what have we come upon…


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

Out is 7am and the Pyramid climb awaits!
Oh the details and the view at the top. I imagined what the Mayans felt and saw.
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!



The modern bar
The welcoming terrace


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.


The entrance to the ruins of the Presidential Suite


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


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


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.



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


Perfumes from Coqui Coqui
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.



Dinner at the One Bedroom Casa Azul –


Waking up at the 4 bedroom Casa Madera:


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


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.


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!

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


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!

Fascinating afternoon with this world renowned expert archeologist


Touring after hours with our private guide…
….means access to areas not open to the general public.
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.

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


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:


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



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


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!

Ca’Sagredo Hotel



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


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.


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.



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


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.



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.

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


Breakfast of champions – no shortage of prosciutto in Alta Bada


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.


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!


The chapel at Rifugio Fuciade located at Passo San Pellegrino


Always glad to serve you an espresso or a delicious glass of wine!
Our sweet and bright little room at our rifugio
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!
The restaurant is worth the trip alone!
Walking down to the wine cellar
Superb collection of wines!
How charming is our dinner table?
All the cheeses and sausages and hams are house made!
No words!
Aperitif time – bubbles of course! With service to match! First class!


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.

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”!
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!


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!


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



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!


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!

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


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


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



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.



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

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