New Zealand: A Natural Beauty

Why traipse halfway around the world to New Zealand? Because it’s stunning! And you will have it practically all to yourself! Volcanos, rain forests, glaciers, mountains, bright-blue/green lakes and ocean, lovely vineyards, lush farmland, world-class fishing, white sand beaches, penguins and luxurious lodges. Road trip!

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Rippon Vineyard (photo courtesy of Julian Apse)

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Tunnel Beach, Dunedin (photo courtesy of DunedinNZ)

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Tongariro National Park (photo by Camilla Rutherford courtesy of Tourism New Zealand)

38773AM00: Aoraki / Mount Cook (3754m) and Lake Pukaki in winter. Mt La Perouse (3078m) left, Tasman Valley and Burnett Mountains Range right. Panorama with late autumn colours, Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, MacKenzie District, New Zealand. Photocred

Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, MacKenzie District (photo by Rob Suisted / http://www.naturespic.co.nz)

NZ is 2/3 the size of California with only 4 million people…that’s 16 people per square kilometer. So when you’re driving around NZ outside of its metropolitan areas, you will encounter no traffic, no competition to see its gorgeous sites, and lots and lots of peaceful space. Exhale…

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miles of undeveloped beaches (photo by Scott Venning courtesy of Tourism New Zealand)

SEE THE SIGHTS 

In preparation for our trip, I consulted with a friend-of-friend, who is a Kiwi (not a pejorative). He whipped out a map of his country and circled the places he thought we should see. He circled practically everything on the map! Message: All of NZ is worth seeing. Take Away: Choose a great hotel from the list below, consult its website’s Activities List, and take daily road trips from your lux lodge.

Canterbury (photo by Elite Images)

The following of NZ’s many sights are tried-and-true by Mimi’s Travel File:

South Island

  • Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park — home of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers…alpine in the purest sense
  • Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers in Westland National Park — While you can walk up to the base of these huge Ice Age glaciers, helicopter up the mountain and walk on top of the glacier. Such a thrill! FJ’s glacier is 100 feet deep and packed with ice that is blue due to lack of oxygen.
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Fox Glacier near Franz Joseph (photo courtesy of Gareth Eyres)

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He-man heli-pilot on top of Fox Glacier: He is wearing shorts because the heliport, at the base of this mountain, is set in a rain forest!

  • Drive from Franz Joseph to Haast along the Haast River and beach — so beautiful!

(photo by Scott Venning courtesy of Tourism New Zealand)

  • Lake Wanaka — lovely hiking and home of the dramatically-situated Rippon Vineyard

Lake Wanaka

  • Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park — dramatic peaks, dark blue water, frequent downpours that create numerous waterfalls

Milford Sound (photo by Rob Suisted courtesy of Tourism New Zealand): We saw nary a cruise ship on our trip.

North Island

  • Rotorua — Mauri central; on the drive from Coromandel Peninsula to Rotorua, you will see mountains, pastures on plains, steep, hilly terrain, sheep, cows, orchards
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Dairy is NZ’s #1 industry (photo courtesy of Helena Bay)

  • Wai-o-tapu (park with volcanic landscapes and the Lady Knox geyser)
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volcanic landscape

  • Lake Taupo (NZ’s largest lake) and Turangi
  • Napier and Hastings on Hawkes Bay
  • Coromandel Peninsula — rolling hills+tropical rain forest+mountains+ocean — the CP has it all! Its Pauanui, Cathedral Cove and Hahei beaches are especially stunning.
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Miles of tropical rain forests with two-story tall tree ferns! (photo courtesy of Whirinaki Forest Park)

  • Bay of Islands (144 islands, beaches, bays, whales, penguins, dolphins, sailing)
  • Heli­copter to Whakaari (White) Island and Mount Tarawera! White Island is sit­u­ated forty-eight kilo­me­tres from the east coast of the North Island and is New Zealand’s only active marine Vol­cano. Land­ing on the island’s crater floor, your pilot will guide you past the steam­ing fumaroles and boil­ing mud pools to look out over a steam­ing sul­phurous crater lake. The steam melted the coating off my mirrored sunglasses!
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Whakaari Island

This could be you, landing in the volcano on Whakaari/White Island! It’s expensive but well worth it. We had the island all to ourselves=heaven.

  • Tongariro National Park — Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a day-long hike with blue and emerald lakes &  a dual World Heritage site, ranked among the top ten single-day treks in the world.

STAY

Here’s where you will want to stay, as these lodges get the most glowing write-ups in the travel media. Small buzz kill: They can be African-safari-expensive.

North Island

Cape Kidnappers Peninsula

Cape Kidnappers

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Farm at Cape Kidnappers suite: I could be happy here!

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dinner at the Farm at Cape Kidnappers

  • Craggy Range (Hawkes Bay) — a winery with attractive cottage accommodations, per Andrew Harper
  • The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs (north end of island) — recommended by Andrew Harper, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Tablet Hotels; website looks beautiful
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Kauri Cliffs Lodge

  • Solitaire Lodge (Lake Tarawera, 20 minutes drive from Rotorua) — recommended by Small Luxury Hotels, Tablet Hotels, and Mimi’s Travel File (we stayed here in 2014)
  • Wharekauhau Lodge and Country Estate (Featherstone) — recommended by Andrew Harper
  • Eagles Nest (Bay of Islands) — recommended by Mr. and Mrs. Smith Hotels and Small Luxury Hotels; website looks spectacular
  • Helena Bay (east coast, between Auckland and top of the island) — recommended by National Geographic Traveler Magazine
  • Hotel DeBrett (Auckland) — recommended by Mr.  and Mrs. Smith Hotels and Tablet Hotels; Auckland is an attractive city on the Pacific (light/bright blue water) with many sailboats, including several America’s Cup past contenders…watched a sailboat race there for two hours during dinner sitting outside at Euro restaurant

South Island

  • Azur (Queenstown) — recommended by Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Tablet Hotels
  • Kinross Cottages (Queenstown) — Travel+Leisure (2016) described it as “simple and tasteful accommodations on a vineyard that also has a popular wine bar.” It’s also relatively inexpensive. (see comment at the end of this post from my friend who just came back from Kinross Cottages; she was not pleased)
  • Blanket Bay (between Queenstown and Glenorchy) — recommended by Andrew Harper, Tablet Hotels, and Small Luxury Hotels
  • Edenhouse (Nelson, Abel Tasman region) — highly recommended by Andrew Harper
  • Te Waonui Forest Retreat (Franz Joseph) — We stayed here. While it is the best hotel in Franz Joseph, it is merely okay.
  • Eichardt’s Private Hotel  (Queenstown) — recommended by Andrew Harper, Tablet Hotels, Small Luxury Hotels, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith
  • Fiordland Lodge (Te Anau) — recommended by Andrew Harper
  • Lake Timara Lodge (Hawkesbury, Marlborough) — recommended by Andrew Harper
  • Matakauri Lodge (Queenstown, southern end of island) — recommended by Andrew Harper, Mr. and Mrs. Smith Hotels, Tablet Hotels and the FT’s How to Spend It magazine
Matakauri dining outside

Matakauri Lodge–The lodges in which we stayed all had great food!

WARNING: Do not stay at Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet (Lake Wanaka), as we did. As I was reaching for my first hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour, I was told that guests were allowed to take only two each (strike one). Dinner was at a long, group table. For two nights in a row, we dined with the owner, which could have been fascinating. However, she talked exclusively about herself  and dominated the conversation (strike two). The small decks outside of the bedrooms are not private at all, so other guests walked right outside of the big glass doors by our bed (strike three)…and we paid the big bucks for this!

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

Lots of good vineyards here! Click through to Tourism New Zealand‘s site for a suggested itinerary. Travel+Leisure (2016) likes:

In addition to being known for its lamb and venison, “The distinctive food and wine culture I found is vibrant — at once deeply rooted and globally attuned — and unexpectedly provided a glimpse of how the county has been shaped equally by its isolation and its transoceanic ties,” per Travel+Leisure (2016). Following is their list of best places to eat on the South Island:

  • Fleurs Place (Moeraki) — “Fleur Sullivan, the godmother of modern Kiwi cooking, draws diners from all over t her marvelously ramshackle seaside spot.”
  • Harlequin Public House (Christchurch) — “This is the place for platters of oysters, home comfort food, and a great list of New Zealand wines.”
  • Olivers (Clyde) — “serves some of the best food around”
  • Rata (Queenstown) — award-winning cuisine
  • Riverstone Kitchen (near Moeraki) — “a prime stop”
  • Roots (Lyttelton) — “a critically acclaimed bare-bones spot”

SHOP

The things to buy here are jade and sheep skins.

When to go: November-April is the best time to visit, though it can rain any season.

One last thing…ATM’s can be few and far between, so stock up on cash!

Horse-Treks

Though neither my husband nor I had been riding since our childhood, we saddled up in NZ and it was one of the most fun things we did on our trip. The huge, open spaces and gorgeous scenery made it soooo relaxing and memorable. (photo courtesy of Farm at Cape Kidnappers)

 

Cumberland Island Valentine

What better day to publish a post about a place I love than Valentine’s! I have been to Cumberland Island, Georgia four fabulous times and the following are 14 reasons I love it:

(1) The boat ride from Fernandina Beach, on mainland FL, to Cumberland Island, GA

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(2) The trees dripping with Spanish Moss on Cumberland Island

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(3) The Greyfield Inn, which is the only commercial establishment on the island. So lovely! So relaxing! Such gracious staff!

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(4) The Greyfield Inn’s front porch swing and rocking chairs

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(5) The Greyfield Inn’s living room, where cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are served before dinner, in front of the big fireplace

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(photo courtesy of Peter Frank Edwards)

(6) The Greyfield Inn’s dining room, where delicious meals are served. They grow much of their own produce AND they are into it…and that enthusiasm shows. Once a week, the Inn has an oyster roast outside in front of the porch. So much fun!

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(photo by Peter Frank Edwards)

(7) The GI’s 16 bedrooms

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This is the biggest bedroom but all the bedrooms are decorated in this old world style.(photo by Peter Frank Edwards)

(8) The views of the marshes

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(photo courtesy of David Wright)

 

(9) The burnt remains of the 100-year-old Carnegie mansion

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(10) The wild horses that peacefully roam Cumberland Island

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(photo by David Wright)

(11) Biking and walking on the 17 miles of undeveloped beach…not a condo or house in sight! After breakfast each morning, go into the large kitchen to pick up your backpack filled with a sumptuous, portable lunch. You can eat it at the tables and chairs on the Inn’s big front lawn or on the beach or any old place you like.

(12) The path from the Greyfield Inn to the beach

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(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(13) Gogo’s jewelry–The only retail on Cumberland Island, besides the Inn’s tiny gift shop, is Gogo’s. Gogo creates jewelry and some candle sticks and purses in a workshop adjacent to her home and is only open when she is “in residence.” Such beautiful things! All of her creations are inspired by the nature around her. She designed the wedding rings of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette.

(14) The old slave church where John-John Kennedy married Carolyn Bessette.

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(photo by Peter Frank Edwards)

Happy Valentine’s Day! xoxoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cornwall, England: Three Magical Destinations

Cornwall is gorgeous! Stunning beaches, spectacular hiking, charming little towns and ancient history. Cornwall’s got it all. I highly recommend THREE magical DESTINATIONS in Cornwall–the Isles of Scilly, St. Mawes and Portloe–each different one from the other.

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Isles of Scilly (photo courtesy of 2017 Cornwall Guide)

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Chun Quoit, a 2,500-year old chambered tomb (photo courtesy of 2017 Cornwall Guide)

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(photo courtesy of 2017 Cornwall Guide)

ISLES OF SCILLY

There are 150 Isles of Scilly, of which five are inhabited by a grand total of 2,200 people. These Cornish islands are the westernmost part of England. They offer beaches, kayaking, sailing, birding, hiking, golf and biking. A lot of places offer these BUT what makes the Isles of Scilly magical? Their windswept wildness and natural beauty;  lack of commercialism, crowds and traffic;  wild horses gracefully meandering the heath-covered moors; children going to school by boat; and stumbling upon ancient stones while hiking its hills. Stay for at least three full days, but five would be so much nicer.

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(photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

Temp’s on the Isles of Scilly are above 50 degrees 360 days of the year, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Due to these temperatures, flower farming thrives here. Surprising flora and fauna (seals and puffins) live on the islands, due to their isolated location. It’s easy and fun to island hop by public boat service.

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Scilly puffin (photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

Getting to the Isles of Scilly

  • FIRST take the Great Western Railway from London to Penzance (5.5 hours) “Rail hounds used to say the real name of the GWR was ‘God’s Wonderful Railway,’ and it’s easy to see why once the train leaves London and ventures into some truly iconic countryside. Castles, rivers, puffy clouds, thatched roofs, it’s all here. Sit on the left side” for best views. (Departures magazine, 2015)
  • NEXT take taxi or Isles of Scilly Travel Shuttle from Penzance (not particularly scenic) to Land’s End airport and catch the 20-minute helicopter flight west to St. Mary, one of the Isles of Scilly.
  • NOTE: Of course, if you want to be a party pooper, you can always fly from London to Land’s End.

STAY on the Isles of Scilly

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Hell Bay Hotel

  • Hell Bay Hotel (on the island of Bryher)—Bryher is two kilometers long by one kilometer wide, so the views from the hotel are of water and meandering wild horses on the surrounding moors. The hotel is very attractive (neutrals with enough splashes of color to add happy) with spacious bedrooms, a spa, heated swimming pool, bar, restaurant, large terrace for dining, and nice ambience. Bryher is traffic-free, w/ half a dozen houses, a bar, convenience store and deli. (25 suites, some with balconies, most w/sea views)
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Your room at Hell Bay Hotel

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View from your room at Hell Bay Hotel

SEE THE SIGHTS on the Isles of Scilly

  • Tresco Abbey Gardens–Outstanding! Tresco is the island closest to Bryher. These gardens are spectacular and feature highly unusual subtropical plants, thanks to the Gulf Stream effect and tall windbreaks constructed by the garden’s designers…all set in the ruins of a 12th century priory; five generations have built this garden over decades, collecting plants from all over the world specially for this garden. From its website: “Many of these tender floral gems would stand no chance on the Cornish mainland, less than 30 miles away. Yet even at the winter solstice more than 300 plants will be in flower. All in all, the tropical garden is home to species from 80 countries, ranging from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa.” It’s heavenly!
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Tresco Abbey Gardens (photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

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Tresco Abbey Gardens: Note the tropical succulents growing on that arch (photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

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Tresco Abbey Garden (photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

  • Bronze age and Celtic ruins
  • Spectacular beaches, like the one at the top of this post
  • Wild horses
  • Bird watching is big here!
  • Hiking and biking.
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(photo courtesy of Visit Isles of Scilly)

ST. MAWES

Back on mainland England, St. Mawes is a charming small town on an idyllic small bay, approached by classic narrow Cornwall lanes. I recommend you stay at least three nights.

STAY in St. Mawes

Hotel Tresanton–This is a smallish and comfortably sophisticated hotel. It is quite perfect! All bedrooms, which are beautifully decorated, have views across the little bay to the St. Anthony Lighthouse. It has a restaurant, bar, and very attractive gift shop.  (30 rooms, some with a balcony or terrace)

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Lunch, anyone? Yeah, baby!  (photo courtesy of Hotel Tresanton)

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This photo captures the Hotel Tresanton’s style: beautifully decorated throughout!

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Hotel Tresanton’s bedrooms are individually decorated.

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Note the view from the Hotel Tresanton’s dining room. We saw a triple rainbow from here, and ran out onto the adjoining terrace to check it out.

SEE THE SIGHTS in St. Mawes

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Charter the Hotel Tresanton’s gorgeous 8-meter classic yacht, pictured above, from May-September

  • Just  back from St. Mawes, my cousin highly recommended the hike to see St. Just in Roseland’s church, as well as The Watch House restaurant in St. Mawes.
  • See the bottom of this post for more sights to see near St. Mawes, which is nearish Portloe.

PORTLOE

Portloe is a tiny village that looks just like Portwen, the fictitious fishing village featured in “Doc Martin,” a public TV hit show. Portloe is nestled in a charming cove and tiny harbor, surrounded by cliffs and headlands. When we were there several years ago, Portloe had only two commercial establishments: a nice pub (good fish pie) and The Lugger Hotel. It was great, so genuine! I suggest you stay at least three nights.

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Portloe (photo courtesy of The Lugger Hotel)

Bespoke Hotels - The Lugger

Portloe (photo courtesy of The Lugger Hotel)

STAY in & near Portloe

  • The Lugger Hotel–Charming, updated 17th century inn located on the water, with an attractive restaurant. (22 rooms, some with a terrace, plus a 2-bedroom cottage available for rent)
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Your room at the Lugger Hotel: Can’t beat that view!

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breakfast room at The Lugger Hotel

& nearby…

  • The Nare Hotel–We walked along the spectacular Cornish Southwest Coast Path from Portloe to The Nare Hotel, stunningly located on a huge, undeveloped cove with huge, crescent-shaped beach. The NH has the cove all to itself! The Nare is not in a town but is self-contained with its own restaurant , bar and other amenities. (36 bedrooms and suites, some with balconies and terraces)
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The huge crescent beach in front of the Nare Hotel (above) is among the prettiest I have ever seen!

SEE THE SIGHTS in & around Portloe

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Cornish Southwest Coast Path (photo courtesy of 2017 Cornwall Guide)

  • The Lost Gardens of Heligan
  • Tregothnan, the largest private botanical garden in Britain
  • St Just in Roseland (two miles north of St. Mawes)  is famous for its 13th-century “St Just’s Church, St Just in Roseland set in riverside gardens luxuriantly planted with semitropical shrubs and trees, many of which are species rare in England. The church perches on the edge of a tidal creek beside the Carrick Roads on the Fal Estuary just outside the main village. The path from the road to the church is lined with granite blocks carved with quotations and verses taken from the Bible,” per Wikipedia. My cousin just hiked from the  Hotel Tresanton to St. Just and reported that it was WELL WORTH the trek through some mud. She wished she had seen the Hotel Tresanton’s wellies, set aside for the use of its guests!
  • National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth
  • St. Michael’s Mount–This striking National Trust property  is the English equivalent of France’s Mont St. Michel.
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St. Michael’s Mount (photo by Mike Newman, courtesy of St. Michael’s Mount)

From the St. Michael’s Mount website: “By the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, St Michael’s Mount had come into the possession of the monks of its sister isle, Mont St Michel in Normandy. In the 12th century it was their hands that built the church and priory that still lie at the heart of the castle today. From 1193 when the Mount was seized by Henry La Pomeray who disguised his men as pilgrims, through the Wars of the Roses in 1473 when the Mount was held by the Earl of Oxford, to the Civil War, when Royalists valiantly held back the forces of Oliver Cromwell – the Mount has weathered many times of battle. Gaze out across the rows of cannons which once drove a Napoleonic ship to its capture on Marazion beach or peer up to the top of the church tower where the first beacon was lit of the series that warned London of the approach of the Spanish Armada.”

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St. Michael’s Mount (photo by Claire Braithwaite courtesy of St. Michael’s Mount)

Literary Traveling Companions: “The Shell Seekers,” by Rosamunde Pilcher   and “Rebecca,” by Daphne du Maurier

DVD’s to Watch in Advance of Your Trip to Get You into the Cornwall Mood: “Doc Martin” PBS series

e

New Orleans’ Sultry Style

New Orleans’s got soul! Style! Respects tradition and quirkiness! This is a city for all of the senses: great food, drink, architecture, gardens, musicians, artists, writers, and museums. Pull up a chair, stay a while!

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Sit on this glorious porch and watch the world go by when you stay at the lovely Soniat House hotel, pictured above.

STAY

  • Soniat HouseMimi’s Travel File personal fav! I have stayed here twice and loved it. Set in several adjoining 19th century French Quarter houses with two beautiful courtyards, this elegant boutique hotel is a 3-minute walk from Bourbon Street and an 8-minute walk from the French Market. PLUS they serve the BEST biscuits for breakfast! The rooms are traditionally decorated with antiques and the ambience is relaxingly elegant. (31 rooms)
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Soniat House: Just far enough from the madding crowd

  • Windsor Court Hotel–The WCH is frequently touted in travel pub’s but I did not feel the love. I found it lacking in personality and warmth.

Vogue magazine (2016) likes:

  • “Situated in the Garden District, the intimate Henry Howard Hotel, a gleaming white 1860s mansion (both built and named after the beloved native architect), feels like a friend’s house. Its 18 guest rooms are accented with custom toile wallpaper, second-line instruments, and poppy, whimsical portraits by artist Hayley Gaberlavage. Corner rooms 201 and 202 grant glorious balcony access, and come early evening, the light-filled parlor or shaded backyard garden are both ideal for a cocktail.” (18 rooms)
  • “…the 35-room Catahoula Hotel, nestled in an iconic 19th-century Creole townhouse, retains exposed brick walls, original patinas, and candlelit courtyards. There’s also a rooftop deck, coffee shop, and café offering Peruvian small plates and plenty of pisco cocktails.

SEE THE SIGHTS

Vogue magazine (2016) suggests:

  • Ride a streetcar uptown to the crumbling, gothic-tinged Lafayette Cemetery #1, where the iron gates reveal a pathway framed by a double line of magnolia trees. A quiet stroll warrants hauntingly cinematic images sprinkled with perfectly worn, elaborate mausoleums and gravestones randomly peppered with loosely strewn plastic Mardi Gras beads. It’s a ghostly photographic portrait of the past, a decidedly beautiful depiction of lingering spirits.” (located in the Garden District)
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Lafayette Cemetery #1 (photo courtesy of Musik Animal via Vogue)

  • Afterward, curate your own walking tour of the posh Garden District (or pick up a paper map at Commander’s Palace). Ramble along those narrow sidewalks flanked by stately oaks trees, shady magnolias, and leafy palms. Note the intricately designed wrought-iron gates and, behind them, the elegant, dreamy homes with stunning architectural styles from Neoclassic to Beaux Arts. The spooky bourgeois manor on Chestnut and First Street is where goth fiction queen Anne Rice once lived and gussied up her Southern occult novels. And nearby, the three-story, pink-hued Carroll-Crawford House, with its ornate cast-iron balconies, reportedly hosted lavish parties for guests like Mark Twain and Edgar Degas.
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(photo courtesy of Tim Graham/Getty Images)

  • “Back downtown, on the cusp of the Quarter, the funky, boho-meets-punk–flared vibes of the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods remain a creative, hipster hub with a quirky cast of characters. This diverse milieu calls for prime bike cruising exploration past rows upon rows of kaleidoscopic Creole cottages, where both locals and a recent influx of New Yorkers and Los Angeleno expats reside. And, if it’s the second Saturday of the month, pedal up Camp Street and over to the sweet Little Flea NOLA for vintage and resident artist wares, and afterward, pop into Hi Volt for a hit of coffee,” per Vogue.
  • City Park–50% larger than NYC’s Central Park and “holds the world’s largest collection of mature live oak trees, some older than 600 years in age,” per Wikipedia.
  • The St. Charles and Riverfront streetcar lines are a fun and easy way to see NOLA. Leaving the Garden District and traveling up St. Charles Avenue, beautiful Victorian mansions border the lush, oak-lined boulevards of Uptown New Orleans.
  • The Cabildo is a Spanish colonial building on Jackson Square that houses a museum focused on Louisiana history. The Cabildo was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer in 1803, which finalized the United States’ acquisition of the Louisiana Territory and doubled the size of the fledgling nation. The Cabildo served as the center of New Orleans government until 1853 and the Louisiana State Supreme Court, and became a museum in 1908.
  • Longue Vue House and Gardens is a stunning National Historic Landmark house with gorgeous gardens.
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(photo courtesy of Longue Vue House and Gardens)

  • Mimi’s Travel File Fav: Ogden Museum of Southern Art–Saunter through this fine fine arts museum with Morgan Freeman describing what makes southern art southern on your audio guide.

EAT

Gumbo! Crawfish Etoufee! Jambalaya! Muffulettas! Beignets! Po’ Boys! Order all these traditional NOLA foods and walk it off around New Orleans’ gorgeous neighborhoods. Mimi’s Travel File Insider Information: My longtime family friend who lives in NOLA and is a foodie–and KNOWS what he’s talking about–highly recommends:

  • Herb Saint–Don’t you just want to sit on that upstairs balcony, eating glorious food and sipping a cocktail, while gazing at the views of New Orleans?!
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Herbsaint: Note the streetcar going by!

  • Kenton’s – Check out the seafood mousse appetizer with roe on top!  They have really fresh fish as well as good steak and chicken dishes – but their menu goes with what the chef finds that is fresh and special that day.
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Yes, please! (photo courtesy of Kenton’s)

  • Baru – great for tapas – eat until you are almost full – and then order a crispy whole fish to finish it off! The food is “Latin Caribbean.”
  • Galatoire’s  – in the French quarter – Tip from  my friend: “Ask for Shannon as your server.The only way to get served at Galatoire’s is to have a server!”
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Galatoire’s (photo courtesy of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation)

  • Eat a Po’ Boy: The place for them is Parkway Bakery – – – – this is where they took Obama for his Po’ Boy.
  • Elizabeth’s – go here for breakfast – many variants of eggs Benedict – and try the praline bacon
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Elizabeth’s (photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation)

  • Eat the BBQ oysters at Drago’s
  • Casamento’s – This is THE place to go for oysters! But call in advance – because if the chef doesn’t like the oysters available that day – the restaurant doesn’t open that day.  Gotta love their high standards!
  • Mimi’s Travel File Personal Fav’sBayona and August, both with lovely food and ambience. 

COCKTAILS, ANYONE?

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(photo courtesy of the Sazerac Bar)

Vogue (2016) recommends:

  • “The sophisticated uptown James Beard Award–nominated Cure whips up refreshing seasonal cocktails like the Maybe Always with a bright mezcal and negroni with hints of anise…
  • While its downtown Caribbean-inspired sibling Cane and Table slings tiki-themed rum-centric drinks and fancy Pineapple Sazerac.
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Cane and Table (photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation)

  • The long bar at the hip, rustic Barrel Proof is for whiskey (more than 250 varietals) and beer.
  • The vino-inclined head to Bacchanal, a wine shop and leafy outdoor space set amid a torch-lit backyard with live music.
  • At the lively French Quarter landmark Old Absinthe House, vintage football helmets dangle from the ceiling and business cards are pinned to distressed walls. Sip the signature house frappe made with local Herbsaint, anisette, and a splash of soda.
  • Saunter down the street to Arnaud’s French 75, a warm, wood-paneled bar known for its elegant namesake libation, a mix of cognac, champagne, lemon, and sugar. And, upstairs, the little-known Mardi Gras Museum houses a collection of elaborate gowns and costumes from the mid-1930s to 1960s.” Mimi’s Travel File loves this classic!
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(photo courtesy of French 75 at Arnaud’s via Vogue)

LIVE MUSIC

Vogue (2016) likes:

  • “Of course, jazz is synonymous with New Orleans—just thank native legend Louis Armstrong for that. In the French Quarter, visit famous venues such as the tiny beloved Preservation Hall (est. 1961), run by local tuba player Ben Jaffe and famed for its standing room (and liberal BYOB) policy.
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(photo courtesy of Preservation Hall)

  • Uptown, the unfussy, pressed tin–ceilinged Maple Leaf Bar retains its outstanding Tuesday evening Rebirth Brass Band concert.
  • Away from the tourist-laden Bourbon Street, the alluring, indie-flared Frenchmen Street hosts a high concentration of cafés and clubs like intimate, old-school Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, along with d.b.a. and the weathered The Spotted Cat Music Club.” My family friend who lives in NOLA highly recommends “Snug Harbor – they are always reliable – and an authentic NOLA Jazz place.”
  • Mimi’s Travel File Fav: Rock ‘n’ Bowl–SO MUCH FUN! Live zydeco band plays to a packed dance floor while people are bowling mere feet away. The dancers are old, young, stylish, unstylish, black, white…all shapes, sizes and colors and all having a blast. (see below)

SHOP

Vogue (2016) recommends:

  • “For the design savvy, browse the assortment of mid-century goods like early Jens Risom chairs and ’70s Lucite table lamps at Loisel Vintage Modern.
  • Nearby, Perch (click thru to its gorgeous web site) blends vintage pieces with seriously old antiques.
  • The airy shop Loomed works with artisan weavers and stocks a bright, handsome mix of organic Turkish towels and lightweight scarves.
  • In the lower Garden District, DVRA’s vibrant tropical pouches (think: banana leaves and pineapples) beckon summer (it shares space with Tchoup Industries and vinyl outfit Disko Obscura).
  • And in the Quarter, brush up on American fiction and New Orleans history at the hidden literary landmark Faulkner House Books, where author William Faulkner once lived.
  • Pied NU: This West Magazine Street boutique features clothing, jewelry, and housewares by independent designers and an aesthetic that’s one part Anthropologie, one part ABC Carpet & Home, and one part vintage. You’ll recognize some of the brands (think: John Derian and Aigle boots), but most are small and relatively unknown.
  • Hazelnut is a quirky home shop beloved by locals and co-owned by Bryan Batt (aka Salvatore Romano of Mad Men). Come for the New Orleans–themed toile and stay for New Orleans kitsch like a King Cake Baby–inspired pin.
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I want these bags!!!! (photo courtesy of Hazelnut)

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(photo courtesy of Hazelnut)

  • Soniat House Antique Galleries: Like so many other businesses in New Orleans, this antiques shop is attached to a hotel (the Soniat House hotel). If, after a weekend in the Big Easy, you want to bring some of the feeling home, stop by to browse its collection of 18th- and 19th-century French furniture and housewares.”
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(photo courtesy of Soniat House Antiques via Vogue)

THE NOLA LOOK: Traditional meets Quirky

Bon Voyage!

Australia Awesomeness

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(photo courtesy of Tourism Australia/Richard Powers

As luck would have it, a highly placed Australian diplomat sat next to my husband at a business lunch shortly before our trip to Australia. He recommended the following itinerary for first-time travelers to his native land:”My three priorities would be

  • Sydney (suggest 6 nights)
  • Uluru/Ayers Rock (suggest 2 nights)
  • driving from Brisbane to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast (suggest 4-5 nights).

“Should you have additional time, recommend you drive from:

  • Sydney to Canberra via the coast (suggest 3-4 nights)
  • followed by Melbourne or Tasmania (3-4 nights).”

And that’s just what we did! Following are the best from our trip and recent articles in Mimi’s Travel File:

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(photo courtesy of Tourism Australia/Nick Rains)

Sydney

Australia’s population is 22 million, of whom approximately  4 million live in Melbourne and 5 million live in Sydney.

SEE THE SIGHTS in Sydney

  • See a show at the Opera House, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses six different theaters
  • Climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge or walk across it for great views. The guided climb up the arching span of the bridge is expensive and not for those afraid of heights–however, what a thrill!
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Sydney Harbor Bridge w/Opera House (lower left) and Sydney Tower Eye (spindle-shaped building on right)

  • Get an aerial view of the city by going 40 stories up to the Sydney Tower Eye
  • Take a 10-minute taxi ride out of Sydney to Bondi Beach, a lovely crescent-shaped beach famous as a surfing destination. While there…
    • Walk along the cliffs from Bondi Beach to Tamara Beach to Bronte Beach and back for gorgeous blue water views; then…
    • Check out Icebergs SLC, the swimming club at Bondi’s tip with an outdoor pool. Wedged into a cliff, it’s refilled with sea water whenever the waves crash. Pools like this are an Australian institution found on most beaches but the Art Deco Icebergs pool is among the prettiest.
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pool below Icebergs Dining Room and Bar

  • Loll away the afternoon upstairs at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, a Mediterranean restaurant with a beautiful perch from which you can watch the surfers on Bondi Beach.
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(photo courtesy of Icebergs Dining Room and Bar)

Back in Sydney, see…

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(photo courtesy of ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park)

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales–There are numerous commercial art galleries in Sydney specializing in Aboriginal art but the NSWAM is a good place to learn what the curators consider to be the best. You will also learn answers to such burning questions as: why the ubiquitous use of dots? Because the Aborigines often use the end of sticks to paint so dots are easy.
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Aboriginal art (courtesy of New South Wales Museum)

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Aboriginal art courtesy of New South Wales Museum

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(photo courtesy of Tourism Australia/Hugh Stewart)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Sydney

  • Sydney’s Harbor is L-shaped and lined with restaurants with outdoor patios and amazing views of the Opera House, bridge and the boat traffic. Stroll the harbor to find the restaurant that appeals to you most.
  • The Rocks, a formerly bad neighborhood by Sydney Harbor’s docks, is now attractive with a nice assortment of bars and restaurants. We ate at the small, charming Scarlett.
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St. George OpenAir Cinema

  • St. George OpenAir Cinema–This is FUN with a capital F! “In summer, old-timers and first-date couples alike gather at the Open-Air Cinema which screens mainly art-house films. The setting–beside the Botanic Gardens and overlooking the harbor–is thrilling…Many go just to watch the screen rise magically from the water at the beginning of the show.” (from a local brochure) We had a lovely dinner here on the harbor shore with attractive people, gazing at the Sydney skyline. The giant movie screen rose up from the shore and the movie began.

SHOP in Sydney

Paddington neighborhood is known for its top Australian fashion and jewelry designers.

STAY in Sydney

Pick a city hotel near the harbor (Circular Quay/the Rocks) so you will be close to everything.

  • Park Hyatt Sydney–(recommended by Andrew Harper, Travel+Leisure 2016, and moi, as I saw it in person) While this bedroom’s decor (below) is a bit spartan, the hotel is in a great location and has a pretty pool…(155 rooms)
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(photo courtesy of Park Hyatt Sydney)

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Please note that you can gaze at the Sydney Opera House while sipping a Mai Tai at the Park Hyatt’s pool!

  • The Langham–(recommended by Andrew Harper and Travel+Leisure 2016) Its website is beautiful! (98 rooms)
  • The Four Seasons looks pretty but it’s 531 rooms, which is just too BIG!

Ayers Rock, aka Uluru, aka the Red Centre

Uluru is a 3-hour flight from Sydney and a 1.5 hour time change from Sydney: THAT’S RIGHT, a one and a HALF hour time zone change!

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Uluru and Longitude 131 hotel in foreground (photo courtesy of Longitude 131, whose luxury tents are the only manmade structures for miles around)

Uluru is 6 miles in circumference and abruptly rises 1140 feet above the surrounding flat desert. Formed 300 million years ago, Uluru is a dramatically beautiful place and sacred to the Aborigines. The area’s other fantastic geologic formation is Kata Tjuta, also known as The Olgas (see lumpy mountains below).

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Our camels and cameleer going back to the stables, with The Olgas in the background

SEE THE SIGHTS in Uluru

  • Ride a camel to dinner in the beautiful desert! My husband and I rode for an hour from the camel camp with our cameleer…just the three of us. Camels are very sweet animals that can easily carry half of their weight.There were no other people around, just the three of us and the short, scrubby bushes, grasses and trees of the silent desert. The Olgas mountains were behind us as we rode towards Uluru.
  • Upon dismounting, a waiter welcomed us with cocktails. We then dined under the stars at the Voyages “Sounds of Silence” dinner in the desert, with about 50 tourists from all over the world. A beautiful experience surrounded by nature, despite its corny name.
  • Hike to the Olgas with a guide (private, of course), who will point out the Aboriginal art on the walls of the caves that you might not see otherwise.
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The Olgas

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up close and personal with the Olgas

  • Take a tour with SEIT Australia to the base of Ayers Rock and explore the Cultural Center. The tour ends with sunset cocktails overlooking the vast desert and lovely, lumpy Uluru.

STAY in Uluru

  • Sails in the Desert –Despite its somewhat cheesy website, this hotel is nice. Our room had a large private terrace on the second floor. (228 rooms but feels smaller)
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Sails in the Desert’s reception area

  • Longitude 131°–This is THE place to stay. It is a luxury wilderness camp with unobstructed views of Uluru. Kate and Wills stayed here in 2014…and so should you! (15 tents)

Sydney to Canberra via the Coast

Drive 1 1/4 hours south from Sydney to Canberra on the coast road through the Southern Highlands region. Similar to California’s Napa Valley, the SH is a big foodie and vineyard Mecca. You will see rolling green hills, manicured cattle farms, and big, old rounded mountains.

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Southern Highlands countryside

SEE THE SIGHTS in the Southern Highlands

  • Burrawang is an especially charming little town, with gingerbread cottages, tin roofs, front porches, and lovely gardens.
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typical Southern Highlands house

  • Visit beautiful Kiama, on the Pacific Ocean Coast, where mountains drop down into rolling hills, which cascade onto white sand beaches with bright, blue/green water. Check out Bateman’s Bay and then up the plateau to Braidwood and Bungendore. Jervis Bay has good scenery. Should you choose to drive the inland route from Sydney to Canberra, go through Berrima and/or Bundanoon (sheep farms and forest).
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Kiama, where the river (left) meets the ocean (right)

STAY in the  Southern Highlands

Peppers Manor House–good restaurant here!

Canberra

The only thing we found of interest during our one-night stay here in Australia’s capital was the beautiful War Memorial, from which you can get a good view of Canberra.

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Canberra’s War Memorial

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Canberra’s War Museum: This wall is engraved with the names of Australians who died in various wars. A red poppy has been inserted next to some of those names.

Melbourne

SEE THE SIGHTS in Melbourne

  • Lose yourself in Melbourne’s network of narrow alleys with their gallery-sanctioned graffiti, easily three stories high! Specifically, AC/DC Lane, Howe Place, Croft Alley, Duckboard Place, and more.

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  • Federation Square–Attractive modern building complex with an excellent visitors center, where you can pick up good self-guided walking tour maps; in addition, it’s a lively spot to have a light lunch while watching the street performers, tourists and professionals scurrying back to work. Also at Federation Square is the…
  • National Gallery of Victoria’s Ian Potter Center–stunning modern building that showcases Aboriginal art, as well as paintings and sculptures by 19th, 20th and 21st century Australian artists.
  • M.V. Grower–Take the 1/2 hour boat tour on the Yarra River that runs through Melbourne on a 1924 classic river boat. Because we took the last cruise of the day, we had the boat all to ourselves (plus the captain, of course)!
  • Tour the two, huge National Galleries of Victoria, whose buildings look like the Royal Palace in Beijing; the Ian Potter Center is a particularly striking modern building.
  • Museum of Melbourne–another huge, gorgeous, modern building where we learned a little about the history of Melbourne
  • Take the free streetcar from the Docklands to the Fitzroy (hip) neighborhood

STAY in Melbourne

  • The Adelphi–stylish, attractive, convenient location on Flinders Lane, once the center of the city’s rag trade, it is now home to hip restaurants, shops and galleries, as well as a nice mix of Victorian-era buildings and beautiful modern ones. (34 rooms)
  • The Langham–was highly recommended in a recent issue of Travel+Leisure but the website looks a bit bland; (360+ rooms)
  • Andrew Harper of the esteemed Harper’s Hideaways travel newsletter recommends the Hotel Lindrum (59 rooms) and the Park Hyatt (240 rooms)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Melbourne

  • Movida–fun restaurant with DELICIOUS tapas, located on a graffiti-painted side street, around the corner from The Adelphi Hotel. We ate here twice during our three-day stay in Melbourne!
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Movida: a nice restaurant on the lane opposite Melbourne’s modern visitors center (photo courtesy of Visit Victoria/Robert Blackburn)

  • Queen Victoria Market–charming food stalls from another place and time; describes itself as the “largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere.”
  • Casa Ciuccio–cute restaurant with delicious tapas in the Fitzroy neighborhood
  • Four out of five of travel guru Andrew Harper’s top Australian restaurant picks are in Melbourne. They are Chin Chin, ezard, Flower Drum and Grossi Florentino.

Sunshine Coast 

Fly the two hours from Melbourne to Brisbane, and drive to Noosa along the Sunshine Coast. The terrain is steeply hilly and green with lots of beautiful, bright, flowering trees and bushes.

STAY in the Sunshine Coast

Spicers Clovelly Estate–10 rooms; great, fancy meals served in the main building; we stayed in a free-standing house which was big and wonderful with a front and back porch

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Spicers Clovelly Estate

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Spicers Clovelly Estate: Splendor in the Grass!

SEE THE SIGHTS in the Sunshine Coast

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  • Drive around the hilly roads, visit little towns, like Montvale and Maleny, that are small and whose houses are 1-2-story buildings that look like a mix of 1920’s buildings from little towns in the rural U.S. west or south.
  • Hike Kondalilla National Park rain forest
  • Walk through the beautiful Mary Cairncross Park–a rainforest with palm trees where we say five wallabies (like beagle-sized kangaroos)
  • Drive to Noosa Heads, up and down sometimes steep roads surrounded by bright green pastures for cows, pineapple farms, banana plantations, and bright flowering trees to  the…Walk its gorgeous beach where the water is a dreamy Coke bottle blueish green; at Sails Beach Restaurant and bar, while watching the surfers; and take the public ferry around the harbor for the one hour tour.

Fly out of Brisbane home or to Tasmania or to New Zealand. You name it! The world is your oyster.

Traveling Companion: “The Road to Coorain,” by Jill Ker Conway, who was born and raised in Australia’s outback, after which she moved to the US and eventually became Smith College’s first female president. Check out Longitude Books for other suggestions of books set in AU and/or considered Australian classics.

NOTE: The Great Barrier Reef was excluded from this itinerary because we traveled in January, which is the GBR’s hurricane season.

I leave you with these People Magazine-worthy parting shots from the arch atop Sydney’s harbor bridge…

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Emma Thompson (photo courtesy of Bridge Climb Sydney)

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Prince Harry (left) and pals (photo courtesy of Bridge Climb Sydney)

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Heidi Klum (photo courtesy of Bridge Climb Sydney)

 

 

San Francisco Treats

 

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(photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association)

Why has everyone left their hearts in San Francisco? Because SF has it all: water, great food, inspiring architecture, world-class museums, and—most important—style, glamor, romance!

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(photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association by Can Balcioglu)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge–It’s a THRILL!
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Golden Gate Bridge (photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association)

Afterwards, bike through the Presidio, a park and former military base that’s hilly and gorgeous. Next, bike or walk along the San Francisco Bay through Crissy Field in the Golden Gate Recreation area. You will see people romping with their dogs and children, playing softball, watching the windsurfers, with the water on one side and the dense neighborhoods of San Francisco rising up its hills on the other side of this Bay-side park.

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The Presidio (courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association/photo by Scott Chernis)

  • California Academy of Sciences (Golden Gate Park)–Near the Presidio, the CAS is a great museum! Walk on its rooftop to see the undulating meadow of flowers and native California plants. Its aquarium is a tunnel that you walk through, surrounded by beautiful fish and corals. The CAS is a combination planetarium, aquarium, natural-history museum and a research center designed by star-chitect Renzo Piano to be the planet’s greenest museum.
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California Academy of Sciences (courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association): Check out that roof!

  • BONUS: The world-renowned De Young Art Museum (paintings, sculpture) is within easy walking distance of the CAS, and the Conservatory of Flowers is also nearby in Golden Gate Park. I haven’t been to the CoF but is sounds intriguing and was recommended by Travel + Leisure (2013).
  • Exploratorium (located near the Embarcadero)–One of the most fun and interesting museums to which I have ever been! This is an interactive science museum that is neither dusty nor dry. Go.
  • Museum of Modern Art (SoMa neighborhood)–I am in love with SF MOMA’s GORGEOUS big, new expansion designed by Snohetta, the architects who designed the stunning National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in Manhattan. Feast your eyes on their creation here…
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SFMOMA (photo courtesy of SFMOMA)

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close-up of SFMOMA facade was inspired by the water and fog SF Bay (courtesy of SFMOMA)

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Note the wall of green plants in the outside sculpture space (photo courtesy of SFMOMA)

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gallery at SFMOMA (courtesy of SFMOMA)

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SFMOMA’s expanded space is so big that it allows room for this wonderful indoor maze! (courtesy of SFMOMA)

BONUS: One of SFMOMA’s three restaurants is called In Situ and overseen by a Michelin 3-star chef, who recreates the signature dishes of the best chefs from around the world!

  • Seasonal Sight: If you happen to be in San Francisco the last week in June, check out the Gay Pride Parade. We were there for it and it is a sight to behold. Everyone goes around saying, “Happy Gay Day!” The SF Pride Celebration and Parade has been around for over 46 years. There is a fair amount of bare skin, so no wonder it takes place in June!
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The 40th Annual San Francisco Gay Pride Parade where the theme was “Forty and Fabulous” (Photo by Nader Khouri)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY!

San Francisco restaurants are especially good because so much fresh food is grown year-round locally. For your eating pleasure, I have thoughtfully organized the best SF restaurants by neighborhood in this spreadsheet (san-fran-restaus). These restaurants are Michelin-starred and/or were mentioned in articles in various travel magazines stashed in  Mimi’s Travel File. The following are my favorites from our trip in September 2016.

Breakfast

  • Forget $50+ room service! Instead, wander down to the Ferry Building and have a delicious breakfast at one of its several restaurants. “This is what foodie heaven looks like: dozens of local purveyors, hawking everything from cheese to chocolate to cupcakes line the arcades of this historic, waterfront building,” per Travel+Leisure (2013). Sit outside and watch the boats bob around the bay. It’s cheaper, better, faster than awaiting room service. If it’s chilly, the FB’s interior is also nice.
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Ferry Building (photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association)

We went to Boulettes Larder in the Ferry Building twice in three days! Sit outside at Boulettes Larder‘s informal cafe tables & soak up the sun.

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Boulettes Larder’s small dining room, facing San Francisco Bay (photo courtesy of Mariko Reed)

Lunch

  • Wayfare Tavern (Financial District)–good food, fun ambience, lively
  • Tadich Grill (Financial District)–is the oldest restaurant in CA (est. 1849) and memorable for its ambience. Reservations not accepted.

Cocktails: SF is a cocktail-ing kind of town!

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(photo courtesy of Stookey’s Club Moderne)

  • Stookey’s Club Moderne–This small, intimate Nob Hill bar is quietly elegant and oh-so transporting back, back, back to the 1930’s via its decor and music. The lighting is darkish with a hint of blue up lighting, the cocktails are period and knowledgeably made, and service is great. Woody Allen could film a movie set in 1930’s San Francisco here. Stookey’s CB is one of my top five fav bars in the world! It’s that good. Thank you, Travel + Leisure (2015), for recommending it to me.
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This photo doesn’t begin to capture Stookey’s wonderfulness (photo courtesy of Stokey’s Club Moderne)

Dinner

  •  Leo’s Oyster Bar: for FUN ambience and buzz! LOB’s designer described its look to Architectural Digest (2016): “Think 1950s Beverly Hills meets Manhattan club.” My husband took me here for my birthday and I was quite happy. Dress is city sophisticate.
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Leo’s Oyster Bar

  • Central Kitchen: for EXCELLENT food and relaxing ambience with low-key style…or as Travel+Leisure described it, “Confidently unfussy California cuisine in a canopied, elegantly industrial space.” Have a pre-dinn drink at Trick Dog (a T+L 2013 recommendation), the bar next door. Dress is casual.

Hotels: A Quick Word

SF hotels are EXPENSIVE, possibly more so than those in NYC or London. They’re also elusive: I found very few good recommendations among my many travel magazines and online sources. By good, I mean those that are smallish (under 75 rooms), nice and in convenient and attractive neighborhoods…and don’t cost $1,000 per night. Reasonable parameters. Here’s what I found:

  • Hotel Drisco (Pacific Heights): Expensive but warm ambience and talented staff, atop a hill in SF’s pretty Pacific Heights neighborhood, far from tourists; This is the place to stay if you’ve been to SF a few times and want to experience an upscale, quiet, urban neighborhood versus the business district’s/Embarcadero’s hubbub. The Hotel Drisco feels homey in an upscale way.
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Hotel Drisco

  • The Palace (Financial District)–Normally, I shy away from hotels that are huge, landmark, historic hotels with atriums because usually they are resting on old laurels and packed with conventioneers. BUT The Palace is an exception. It’s beautiful and stylishly decorated, having been renovated in 2015. When we entered the lobby and I saw the stantions with velvet cords in front of the check-in desk, I winced: stantions usually mean long lines to check in and out. However, the service was fast. Our room was really comfortable and decorated with panache. Located in the heart of SF’s Financial District, the Palace is a short walk from the SF Museum of Modern Art, cable cars, and the Ferry Building on lovely SF Bay. Check out the lovely Maxfield Parish painting in the bar (too bad about the tv’s that flank it)! (556 rooms)
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The Palace’s entrance: Beautiful!

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A Palace bedroom: Love those 11′ ceilings and city view!

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Sure, you can go to Gump’s at Union Square (definitely a good get) or wander into the little independent home decorating shops on Sacramento Street between Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights (Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic, Anthem, The Future Perfect, March, Sue Fisher King, to name a few good ones), BUT Chinatown is way more memorable and intriguing…

Chinatown–the largest outside of Asia. Be sure to visit an herbalist’s shop! An herbalist uses plants for medicinal purposes; like a Chinese drug store filled with plant-based remedies and charm (not a marijuana shop, FYI).

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Chinatown in San Francisco, California September 11, 2014. (Photo Copyright Nader Khouri 2014)

Neighborhoods: The Lowdown 

Travel + Leisure’s 2013 article provided the following descriptions of SF’s various neighborhoods:

  • Union Square: Big-name luxury boutiques border this central plaza downtown. MTF likes this neighborhood.
  • Mission District: The fast-gentrifying neighborhood is known for its Latino culture and standout restaurants and bars.
  • Hayes Valley: A stone’s throw from the opera and symphony hall, Hayes Street is chock-a-block with chic shops and cafes.
  • Pacific Heights: Come to this mansion-filled hilltop for postcard-worthy views of the city. MTF thinks it’s lovely!
  • SoMa: This sprawling area includes a plethora of museums, destination restaurants, and the ballpark, all amid a sea of parking lots and highway ramps.

TIP: Gotta take a cable car! They are San Francisco institutions, fun and an efficient way to get around the three neighborhoods they serve: Financial district/Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf area, and Nob Hill.

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(photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis)

Traveling Companions: To get into a San Francisco frame of mind, read Dashiell Hammett’s “Maltese Falcon” and Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club.” For more suggestions, go to Longitude Books’s website.

Heathrow-vicinity Hotels–with charm!

Now you don’t have to stay at a cold, over-priced airport hotel when you fly late into or early out of London’s Heathrow Airport: the following two hotels are less than 30 minutes’ drive away. And—bonus—they’re both charmers in charming towns!

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The Macdonald Compleat Angler in Marlow

Small Hotel in Small Town

The Compleat Angler is a nice hotel in a nice small town, just 20 minutes by car from Heathrow Airport. The hotel’s  64 rooms sit on the banks of the Thames River in Marlow. As the swans and boats float languidly past your room, the travel stress will melt away like butter. Request room #12, as it has a bay window looking onto the Thames, with its pretty church and houses across the river. I have stayed here five times and love it! A two-minute walk from the Compleat Angler, Marlow’s convenient stores stock all the odds and ends you might have forgotten to pack. PLUS: A Michelin two-star pub, The Hand and Flowers, is located just off Marlow’s “high street.”

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The Macdonald Compleat Angler

Small Coaching Inn in Small Village

The Olde Bell is a former coaching inn which first opened its doors to travelers in 1147. It is located in the quaint, quiet village of Hurley, which has one small store, two low-key pubs, and charming, old houses, large and small. The Olde Bell is a three-minute walk through the sleepy village to the River Thames.

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While the outside of the Olde Bell is wonderfully traditional, the inside is an attractive mix of old world and modern polish…though not sleek. Of its 48 rooms, #’s 1 and 2 have balconies overlooking the Olde Bell’s relaxing back garden.

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bedroom at the Olde Bell

Having arrived here thrice after late-night flights into Heathrow, nothing is more welcoming than the Olde Bell’s bar. You will feel instantly immersed in merry old England!

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bar at the Olde Bell

Get the Kinks Out!

After that long flight over, get the kinks out by walking along the Thames River path. You will see long boats (classic river boats that are long and narrow), locks, swans, ducks, people walking dogs, country houses in park-like settings, and many an open field. It’s beautiful! If you walk from Hurley in the direction of Henley-on-Thames, you will come to the Flower Pot, an old pub full of character. A bit off the river, its decorative theme is fishing, with prints galore lining the walls of its charming interior. Eat inside or outside on its picnic tables in the garden. Then, walk back to the Olde Bell for a satisfying toes up.

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TIP: The fare from Heathrow to Hurley via car service is approx. 40 pounds. Get The Compleat Angler or Olde Bell to arrange a car service for you in advance.Why not just grab a taxi at Heathrow??? Because the driver will most probably know London like the back of his hand but will not know Marlow or Hurley.

THIS JUST IN: A world-traveling friend of mine with discerning taste highly recommends the Great Fosters Hotel, a luxury country house hotel near Heathrow. She has stayed here three times and loved it.

–posted October 2016

Swiss Driving Trip: Yodel-ay-hee-hoo!

 

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(photo courtesy of Jungfrau Region Tourism)

The sights featured on this trip were recommended by my French teacher, who is Swiss, and my father, who lived in Geneva for over a year. They are timeless destinations, rich in history and settings. So, hop in the car and let’s drive around Switzerland! My husband and I just took this trip and it was great.

Geneva to Vevey

Take the Lake Road (La Route du Lac)–not the autoroute–from Geneva to Vevey (1-1.5 hours, depending on traffic). TIP: Be sure to time your arrival for anytime other than rush hour!

Montreux Riviera: Vevey (recommend 4 nights)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Chateau de Chillon–Take on of the many beautiful 1900’s-era steamers from Vevey to the Chateau de Chillon, a highly photogenic medieval castle on Lake Geneva
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Chateau de Chillon (photo courtesy of montreuxriviera.com)

  • LaVaux Vineyards (a UNESCO World Heritage Site of terraced vineyards dating from the 12th century, on the north shore of Lake Geneva/Lac Leman): You can bike, hike or see the vineyards while eating lunch aboard on of the CGN Belle Époque steamers that cruise the lake frequently each day.
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Lavaux Vineyards (photo courtesy of REGIS COLOMBO/diapo.ch)

  • Vevey’s old town is small and lovely, has some charming shops, and is located on Lake Geneva.
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Vevey (photo courtesy of montreuxrivera.com)

  • Gruyères is 20 minutes’ drive from Vevey: HIGHLY recommend a visit to this “tres jolie” small town and its castle!
  • Neuchatel/Lake Neuchatel (Vevey to Neuchatel is 1 hour and 20 minutes’ drive)

STAY in Vevey

  • Hotel des Trois Couronnes in Vevey (NY Times 2011 & Andrew Harper 2016 & recommended by MySwitzerland.com as “typically Swiss” & gave it 5 stars), 71 rooms, half of which face Lake Geneva; while the bar, two restaurants, and some of the sleeping rooms could use a facelift, the lobby is dramatic, terrace wonderful, and staff is charming and service-oriented; and views onto Lake Geneva couldn’t be better!
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view of Lake Geneva from our room at Hotel des Trois Couronnes

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view from Hotel des Trois Couronnes

  • Grand Hotel du Lac in Vevey, 50 rooms, is a Relais et Chateaux & recommended by MySwitzerland.com as “typically Swiss”& gave it 5 stars; its lobby decor is prettier and more updated than that of Les Trois Couronnes but I read somewhere reputable that its service was not as good. It is also two blocks farther away from the center of Vevey’s old town.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Vevey

  • Ze Fork on the Water is zee place to eat in Vevey and is booked weeks in advance, so call ahead. Lovely terrace looking onto Lake Geneva!
  • Have lunch on board one of the CGN steamers that motor around Lake Geneva. Their dining rooms are very nice and it’s so much fun to cruise by the little and large towns as you sip champagne!
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dining room on CGN steamer

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one of the beautiful CGN steamers that cruise Lake Geneva

Zermatt/Matterhorn (recommend 2 nights)–via Sion

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Rhone River valley–The first part of the drive from Vevey to Sion takes you along the Rhone River valley, which is lush, filled with fruit trees and the Lavaux Vineyards. So pretty!
  • Sion–Stop here for lunch on cobble-stoned Rue du Grand Pont, the main street in Sion’s old town, then walk to the two medieval castles that top Sion’s camel-like hills (see sketch below).
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Sion

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Sion: My photos didn’t capture this so I had to resort to this sketch. The two mountains topped with churches with Sion in between is what makes this small city unusual.

  •  Zermatt
    • Tour the Matterhorn Museum
    • Hike up out of Zermatt around the base of the Matterhorn
    • Shop: NOT! The shops are touristy and totally unappealing
    • Take the cogwheel train from Zermatt up, up, up to the Gornergrat (3,089 m) to see the highest peaks of the Alps and a glorious view of the Matterhorn (30 minutes each way)

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STAY in Zermatt

  • The Omnia Hotel: This is a great hotel! The photos don’t do it justice. Just go! You will love it. Get a room with a balcony facing the Matterhorn. Suggest Room X (that’s right, Room X), as its balcony is very private and it’s a big room. Plus, great service, e.g.: When I called down to the Omnia’s desk to ask for a restaurant suggestion for that night, our wedding anniversary, the concierge said he’d call me back in 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes later, exactly (so Swiss!), he called, told me the time of our reservation, and said a bellman was at our bedroom door. When I opened the door, the bellman presented me with a raspberry enshrouded heart-shaped ice cream, and my husband’s and my favorite drinks. Impressive!
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The Omnia with its perfect Matterhorn backdrop

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The Omnia has a sleek James Bond vibe!

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Zermatt

  • The restaurant at the Omnia has one Michelin star and is very good.
  • Restaurant Blatten–Imagine this: You have just hiked around the base of the Matterhorn, far from the madding crowds of Zermatt, and want a genuinely Swiss lunch, like fondue perhaps, up in the mountains. Restaurant Blatten is for you! It’s a 20 minute walk from Zermatt. The owners are fun and welcoming.
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Restaurant Blatten: Those people huddled in the lower right corner of this photo have views of the Matterhorn!

Interlaken area (recommend 3 nights)

Near Interlaken, my Swiss friend recommends Oberhoffen (3 hours drive from Zermatt), Grindelwald & Wengen. We stayed in Grindelwald.

STAY in Grindelwald

  • Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel, 4* by MySwitzerland, an excellent web site for finding hotels, train trips, and restaurants in Switzerland. The Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel (despite its overkill of a name) is up above Grindelwald (5 minute drive), in a small, small village, with big, big views. Get a room with a balcony and make sure you are in the building with the elevator, so you don’t have to lug your steamer trunk up stairs. The corner rooms are the largest. While the check-in area is not pretty, the rest of the hotel is attractively decorated.
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Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel: Check out those views!

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Observe the locals: While gazing at the big valley views from our Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel’s balcony, I saw the local farmers leading their cows down from the high mountain pastures to their homes for the winter on the lower part of the mountain. They walked right by the hotel. For this once-a-year occasion, the cows wore their extra big cowbells (an autumn tradition) and participated in a prettiest-cow contest–in the Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel’s parking lot! The winner was awarded a crown of flowers and a BIG bell, which its owner later mounted on its barn to advertise his fine-looking bovine. So great!
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cow bells awarded to the prettiest bovine

  • Hike the Heidi-like hills and mountains around Grindelwald. They are heaven! We took the cable car from Grindelwald Grund to Mannlichen and then hiked 1.5 hours to the train station at Kleine-Scheidegg. Huge, breath-taking views and relatively flat hike. Once you reach the K-S train station, you can have lunch and then take another train to Jungfraujoch, the “Top of Europe,” for even higher views of the mountain peaks. Walk a short way from there for lunch at Monchsjochhutte, as recommended to us by a local Heidi.
  • Take the 1.5-hour train trip from Grindelwald to Berne, Switzerland’s capital, for the day. Berne’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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medieval building in Berne’s old town

Zurich area: Braunwald, St. Gallen, Schaffhausen (recommend 4 nights)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Schaffhausen–I haven’t been here but my Swiss friend highly recommends this  town that was an important center of trade from the early Middle Ages. Its Old Town is lined with Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo buildings.
  • St. Gallen (1 afternoon)–Beautiful old town, whose cathedral and library (est. 9th century) are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. St. Gallen’s origins go back to 612! The stunning library, called the Stiftsbibliothek, has 170,000 works, of which 400 date from before the year 1000.
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St. Gallen Cathedral

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St. Gallen

  • Braunwald–Our last stop was Braunwald. Park your car Linthal at the base of the mountain and take the 7-minute cable car ride up, up and away to the tiny Alpine village (300 residents) of Braunwald, where the Ahorn Hotel’s taxi will pick you up and drive 5 minutes to the lovely hotel…The main activities in Braunwald are hiking and skiing but it would also be a great spot to “chillax” and observe Alpine village life from the comfort of your balcony overlooking the mountains. The suites come with their own saunas!
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hiking above Braunwald

 

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charming bee houses we saw along the trails in and around Braunwald

STAY

Ahorn Chalet Hotel Braunwald–This hotel consists of two BIG suites in the main building and five chalets. The decor is attractive and chef is EXCELLENT. He and his wife expertly manage this nice hotel with world-class views of the mountains and hikes to match. This is remote and yet, you can be back within reach of civilization in 7 minutes by cable care.

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Ahorn Hotel in Braunwald

Switzerland Summer

(photo courtesy of Switzerland Tourism/Andre Meier))

TIP on Tipping in Switzerland: By law, service is included at restaurants, so just leave a little something (“pour boire”), i.e., round up the bill.

TIP on Paying by Credit Card: You will be asked whether you would like to do the cc transaction in Swiss francs or US dollars. Before departing for SW, ask your credit card company for their recommendation, because it may differ from card to card.

Literary Traveling Companions: “Heidi,” by Johanna Spyri, of course; “Daisy Miller,” by Henry James, takes place at the Hotel Des Trois Couronnes in Vevey; and highly recommend the “Eyewitness Guide Switzerland.”

 

Galapagos & Machu Picchu: Wahoo!

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blue-footed booby feet (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

 

If you’re going to the Galapagos Islands, you’re probably going to spend 2-3 nights in Quito, Ecuador. Do not resist going to Quito in the interest of saving time! Old, colonial Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage site…a nice city with lots to see. Suggest two full days here

STAY in Quito, Ecuador

  • Villa Colonna–HIGHLY recommend! This is a B&B but VERY upscale: beautifully decorated 19th century mansion with Latin American antiques, plus a lovely interior courtyard, plus amazing breakfasts (linens, crystal, fresh flowers & wonderful food) and interesting, non-intrusive, informative hosts. Great location in the heart of old Quito. (6 rooms)
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view of Quito from Villa Colonna’s pretty rooftop terrace

  • Casa Gangotena–“the stateliest hotel in town” and “one of the most beautiful colonial buildings in the country,” according to Travel + Leisure, 2013. Andrew Harper and Departures magazine (2017) also like it. (31 rooms)
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Casa Gangotena: Looks like a pretty place to rest after a day of seeing the sights!

SEE THE SIGHTS in Quito

  • Independence Square–Independence Square has it all: City Hall, alfresco shoe shines for $3, the Presidential Palace, the HUGE national cathedral with its green-and-white-checked tiled domes, boutiques tucked in niches, and lots of museums nearby, beautiful flower-filled gardens w/a big fountain at its center and lots of people, mostly native Ecuadorian Indians…in native Indian dress, which is refreshing because it is genuine, i.e., not put on for the tourists.
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(photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

Fun and great eye candy!

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Independence Square

  • Jesuit Church of La Campania de Jesus–Decorated with seven tons of gold leaf, this is referred to as Quito’s Sistine Chapel.
  • San Francisco Square–A huge (the largest in S. America!) monastery built in the 16th century occupies one corner of the square
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San Francisco Square (photo courtesy of Casa Gangolena, which has a lovely elevated terrace overlooking the square)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Quito

Ask the sophisticated proprietors of Villa Colonna. They steered us to Zazu (in 2011), which we liked a lot.

GALAPAGOS!!!!!!

Blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies, pink flamingos, snorkeling with giant turtles, sea lions, purple starfish, penguins…they’re all here, and more, plus stunning water, islands and silence.

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The water really is this blue and the wildlife really is this relaxed with humans. This sea lion can jump 5′ up into the air! (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

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You’ve heard of the famous blue-footed boobies, of course. (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

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But have you heard of the red-footed booby? You will see them in the Galapagos! (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

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Ever seen a Sally Lightfoot crab? You will in the Galapagos! (photo by Andy Coleman courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

 

The gorgeously colored animals were expected. The beauty of the various Galapagos Islands was unanticipated. For example…

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Bartolomeo Island (photo by Paul Schicke courtesy of QuasarExpeditons)

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sea lions taking a siesta (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

STAY in the Galapagos:

There are two ways to see the GI’s: Stay on a ship and cruise from island to island or stay at one of the few hotels on land and take day trips from it to the islands.

HOTEL/ship in the Galapagos

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The Grace (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

  • The Grace…as in, THAT Grace! Highly recommend this ship, built in 1928. Its one-time owner, “Ari” Onassis, gave it to Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier as a wedding present…a little bit of Hollywood glam in the Galapagos! Nice staff, highly knowledgeable naturalist guide, mediocre interior decor and food (but who cares, given the scenery and staff)…per my 2011 trip. (8 cabins)
  • Ecoventura‘s MV Origin…”The Origin is [Ecoventura’s] most luxurious vessel to date, with 10 staterooms for 20 passengers on the 142-foot yacht,” per Departures magazine (2017). I just looked at the MV Origin on Ecoventura’s website and think its public areas look a bit stiff and uncomfortable. The Grace is a much prettier ship.
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The Grace’s serene deck (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions): Don’t worry, we never saw as many other ships as are pictured here.

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breakfast aboard The Grace (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

The guide aboard The Grace was wonderfully knowledgeable, enthusiastic and fun.

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Yes, you CAN swim with the giant turtles in the Galapagos! They ignore you. (photo courtesy of Galapagos Safari Camp)

SIZE MATTERS: You want a small ship for two, key reasons: (1) It can get into smaller anchorages/coves than a big ship, so you can go more places; (2) You will not have to wait for a large number of fellow passengers to lumber off the ship into dinghies taking them to/fro the various islands. At 145-feet long, The Grace was the perfect size.

TIP: Higher is not better. The closer your room is to the top, the more it will sway when the wind blows the ship. Go low for a smoother trip.

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Suite on The Grace (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

SHOE TIP: From The Grace (or any ship), you will get into a dinghy that will take you to various Galapagos Islands. Some have a dock and some don’t, which means that you will sometimes have to step out of the dinghy into water a foot deep or less. So leave the Jimmy Choos at home and succumb to practical amphibious (read: ugly) shoes that will give you support for light, uphill hiking! You will thank me.

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The Grace and her dinghy (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

HOTEL/land

  • Pikaia Lodge–While I think its website is a bit cold, Pikaia Lodge is recommended by Departures magazine (2017) and travel aficionado Andrew Harper, who has rarely steered me wrong. PL is also a member of the Small Luxury Hotel group.
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Pikaia Lodge’s infinity pool

  • Galapagos Safari Camp–upscale, African-style tented camp, recommended by Andrew Harper, with a beautiful website!
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Galapagos Safari Camp

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This could be you  on your room’s deck a the Galapagos Safari Camp!

MACHU PICCHU

CUZCO, Peru

Cuzco is your jumping-off point for Machu Picchu and well worth a visit. But brace yourself: This former Incan capital is 11,000 feet above sea level. As in, LOTS of huffing and puffing while walking up its hilly streets. Hydrate!  Recommend 1-2 full days.

HOTELS in Cuzco

  • La Casona Inkaterra–Located on a lovely, quiet square, this former conquistador’s mansion is small, sophisticated, and beautifully decorated with colonial and Incan accents. Andrew Harper recommends it, as do I, as this was our base in Cusco. (11 rooms)
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La Casona Inkaterra

 

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La Casona Inkaterra

 

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La Casona Inkaterra

  • Belmond Hotel Monasterio–Converted from a 16th century monastery, this hotel has received a lot of mention in the travel media and is perfectly nice but lacking the charm of the Inkaterra. (122 rooms & suites)
  • Belmond Palacio Nazarenes–“Dating from the 16th century, this former convent is now a luxe hotel with 55 suites, the city’s first outdoor heated swimming pool, lush terraces…” (Elle Décor, 2015)

SEE THE SIGHTS in Cuzco

  • The Cathedral–baroque, 17th century
  • The Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun)–a huge Dominican monastery built atop the ruins of a former Incan temple
  • People-watching–because MANY of the local Indians wear their colorful and beautifully woven shawls, hats, skirts, etc. Such a variety of hats!
  • Museum of Pre-Columbian Art–Located on the same square as La Casona and Hotel Monasterio, this is a beautiful building with a semi-interesting collection due to its uninformative descriptions next to each object
  • UNSAAC–Yale International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture (320 Calle Santa Catalina Ancha)–recommended by a 2012 Departures article
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Peruvian next to an ancient Incan wall in Cuzco (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

SHOP in Cuzco

  • Pedazo de Arte (Plateros 334B)–“The owner of this charming boutique, Miki Suzuki, has an eye for the best local handicrafts, which she sells for bargain prices…” (Elle Décor 2015)

MACHU PICCHU! (advise 1 night w/5 hours total of MP touring time)

FYI: Machu Picchu is an abandoned fortified town built by the Incans in the 15th-century, which is pretty amazing, when you consider how hard it must have been to construct without modern tools and atop a mountain ridge 7,970 ft above sea level! It is located in Peru, 50 miles northwest of Cuzco. Although known locally, it remained unknown to the outside world until Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911. Bingham, a Yale and Harvard man who later taught at Princeton, discovered Machu Picchu with the help of local farmers who led him to it through the remote mountain jungle.

IMPORTANT TIP #1: The typical transpo from Cuzco to MP is a crowded van-to-train-to-bus. However, who wants to be typical?! Advise you not to settle for that crowded van; instead, contact Inkaterra (upscale Peruvian travel agency and hotelier) to arrange for private transportation from Cuzco to the train. During the non-rainy season, you can get a train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. The train portion of the trip is wonderful because it is clean and travels through stunning, flowered-filled jungle scenery up to Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of MP’s mountain. We saw wild impatiens, hydrangea, orchids and many more.

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(photo courtesy of Belmond)

IMPORTANT TIP #2: Do not travel to MP during the rainy season because sometimes the rain is so torrential that the train to MP is cancelled.

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We saw this bird! Machu Picchu is waaaay up high and in the middle of nowhere, hence its exotic birds and flowers. Such an unexpected treat!

IMPORTANT TIP #3: Upon disembarking from the train in Aguas Calientes, you have two options: hike up to MP (must be in good shape & have acclimated to the altitude, as it is steep…but possible) or take the bus up the switchbacks to MP.

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Machu Picchu is surrounded by nothing but VERY high mountains as far as the eye can see=seriously remote! (photo courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions)

 HOTELS in Machu Picchu

  • Belmond Sanctuary Lodge–Do it! The BSL is the one and only hotel located on the mountaintop with Machu Picchu. Strongly recommend you spend the night, so you can see the grand and glorious MP after the day-trippers depart, as well as avoid long MP entrance ticket lines. Though the Lodge was nice when I was there in 2011, a 2012 article in “Departures” described it as “a bit down on its ear.”
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Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (photo courtesy of Belmond)

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View of MP from the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (photo courtesy of Belmond)

TIP: If the BSL is full and you can’t spend the night, I would not recommend spending the night in Aquas Calientes (the town at the base of MP’s mountain, from which you catch the bus up to MP), as it is dumpy.

I really wish I had known about this before going to Machu Picchu…

“Between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the geographically dramatic Sacred Valley abounds with views of the snow-capped Andes and largely unvisited Incan sites, including Moray, where agricultural terraces in concentric circles descend almost 150 feet.” (Departures 2012)

Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba

Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba in the Sacred Valley: Gorgeous Andes!

I also wish I had known about sophisticated, high-end Inkaterra, the Peruvian travel planner and hotelier that can arrange smooth, comfortable transport to/from Machu Picchu and other great areas of Peru, like the Sacred Valley. Look at Inkaterra’s beautiful hotel there…

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I could have stayed in this lovely room at Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba while touring remote, ancient Inca sites by day! I didn’t, so you will have to do it for me.

“Stop for lunch at Hacienda Huayoccari (51-8/425-4197) where the estate’s owner, José Ignacio Lambarri Orihuela…opens his home to a select few, showing off one of the most impressive private collections of pre-Colombian artifacts.” (Departures 2012)

Other hotels in the Sacred Valley include:

“In Urubamba, one of the valley’s largest towns, Tamba del Inka…a member of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, opened its 128 rooms…on the banks of the Urubamba River in 2010…The lovely Sol y Luna meanwhile, recently added 15 deluxe casitas to its 25 gardened acres…with private patios, fireplaces…” (per Departures 2012) The photos on Sol y Luna’s web site look beautiful…a bit like Colorado in the summertime. Sol y Luna is one hour from the airport and Cuzco.

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orchid near Machu Picchu (photo courtesy of Inkaterra)

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Machu Picchu flora and fauna (photo courtesy of Inkaterra)

Beaufort, SC: The Newport of the South

Most people have heard of Charleston and Savannah but many don’t know about Beaufort. Yet once upon a time, they were referred to as the Three Colonial Sisters, each stunning in her own way. Beaufort is located in between her sisters, an hour’s drive north of Savannah and hour and a half south of Charleston.

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Beaufort has a cosmopolitan history: “10 flags have flown over this area, including those of Spain, France, England, Scotland, Switzerland, and the Confederate and Union forces; not to mention the many Native Americans that have lived here for at least 5,000 years.” (from the Rhett House Inn brochure)

“…from the mid-1700’s to the mid-1800’s, Beaufort enjoyed a prosperity and way of life comparable to that of wealthy elites in Charleston, Savannah, and…Beaufort was known as ‘The Newport of the South.'” This largesse was courtesy of the slave labor and lucrative indigo, tobacco, cotton and rice crops grown on Beaufort’s plantations.

The Castle_Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce

(photo courtesy of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce)

I stayed in Beaufort for five wonderful days in 2015 and loved every second. These houses pictured are within walking distance of the lovely Rhett House Inn.

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Walk, bike or drive around Beaufort to see its many MANY perfectly gorgeous houses and gardens. My Beaufort-savvy friend suggests viewing the houses and port of Beaufort from the water via a kayaking tour lead by a local guide. Sounds like fun!

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BFT Historic Home1_Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce

(photo courtesy of Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce)

  • Attend Sunday service at the Tabernacle Baptist Church (907-911 Craven St.)–The TBC was built in 1811 as a “praise house”and later morphed into a black meeting hall, referred to as a “tabernacle.” The present building was built in the 1840’s. The services are inclusive, welcoming, and filled with inspirational foot-tapping hymns. “Built in 1840, Tabernacle Baptist Church is the resting place of one of Beaufort’s most beloved icons, Robert Smalls, who was born into slavery in 1839…he went on to a distinguished career of public service including serving in the South Carolina House of Representatives, the United States Senate, and four terms in the United States House of Representatives,” per the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce.
  • Bike to Port Royal–Established in 1562, PR is a low-key little town on the water with a lot of history and no pretense whatsoever (read: no fancy houses).
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Port Royal

  • Old Sheldon Church (17 miles north of Beaufort)–built between 1745-53, burned in 1799 by the British during the Revolutionary War, re-built in 1826, burned in 1865 by General Sherman…this baby’s seen some history! Old Sheldon Church’s beautiful setting is in the country, by itself, and surrounded by lovely old trees.
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Old Sheldon Church (photo courtesy of Lyndi Leary)

  • Explore evocative, Spanish Moss-draped St. Helena Island, just over the bridge from Beaufort–
    • Parish Church: one of the oldest churches in the U.S., established in 1712
    • Penn Center: lovely setting and interesting. Of its 16 buildings registered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, three are especially worth of a visit, as they reflect different points in Beaufort’s history:
      • The Brick Baptist Church, built in 1855–“In 1862, the U.S. Navy declared victory at Port Royal Sound, South Carolina and freed 32,530 slaves from plantations in the Beaufort District. White inhabitants fled the Lowcountry. Northern abolitionists recognized the need to educate the freed slaves, and the Philadelphia-based Port Royal Relief Committee sent funds and a progressive young woman named Laura Towne to teach former plantation slaves “habits of self-support” and to “elevate their moral and social condition.” Towne was joined by Ellen Murray, a Northern Quaker. They settled on St. Helena Island, one of South Carolina’s largest sea islands. Their first class was held at Oaks Plantation with nine scholars. It soon expanded to The Brick Baptist Church, which survives today,” per the Penn Center’s website.
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Gantt Cottage (photo courtesy of Lyndi Leary)

  • The Gantt Cottage: “In the mid 20th century, Penn Center again shifted focus…Penn Center became a center and meeting place for interracial social activists—the only place in the south where segregated meetings were held without excessive legal and violent harassment. It was a safe haven and retreat for Martin Luther King, Jr. until his death in 1968…,” per PC’s website. Dr. King wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Gantt Cottage, pictured above.
  • The York W. Bailey Museum, located inside the Penn Center visitors center, features “artifacts and photographs that depict the history of Penn Center, as well as the Gullah Geechee history and the strong African cultural influences they’ve maintained,” according to PC’s website. The YWBM also showcases beautiful art exhibits.
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painting by Diane Britton Dunham at the current art exhibit at the York W. Bailey Museum

STAY

  • Rhett House Inn–big, beautiful rooms with deep porches that span the front of the inn, built in 1820 in the Greek Revival style. Think wicker porch furniture, hanging ferns, pots of red geraniums…all spic ‘n’ span and in good taste. (10 rooms, some in the main house and some in an adjacent building; we stayed in the two on the front of the house on the second floor and loved both)
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Rhett House Inn

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upstairs porch at Rhett House Inn

SHOP

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Scout Southern Market

  • Scout Southern Market (709 Bay Street)–The owner has great taste!! This shop sells all things Southern and stylish for entertaining (decorative lanterns,  embroidered linen cocktail napkins, charming serving dishes painted by local artists, bar ware), sophisticated or whimsical South-centric coffee books, etc.
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vignette featuring Scout Southern Market’s beautiful wares

  • Red Piano Too Art Gallery  (870 Sea Island Pkwy., St. Helena Island, SC)–wonderful, graphic, colorful Gullah art; per its website, “Art Gallery with a focus on Lowcountry/Gullah original Art to include paintings, sculptures, glass, baskets, quilts, books, calendars, notecards, jewelry and much more.”
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(photo courtesy of Red Piano Too Gallery)

  • Penn Center Visitors Center gift shop (St. Helena Island)–When I was there last year, I fell in love with a couple of LARGE, beautiful, evocative paintings, for sale in the Penn Center’s Visitors Center. This a visitors center with KICK! They also sell folk art, books, and charming knickknacks.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

  • Sweetgrass Restaurant and Bar (100 Marina Drive, St. Helena Island, 11 miles from downtown Beaufort)–This restaurant is the new, personal fav of my good friend, whose been summering in Beaufort for over 25 years. At the dinner-only SR&B, it’s all about local: local fish from the surrounding waters and local produce from the surrounding farms. While it is located in a private marina, they will let you in to go to the restaurant. Go for dinner at sunset!
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photo courtesy of Sweetgrass Restaurant

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inside Lowcountry Produce and Market Cafe

Traveling Companions

  • Reading Companion: Pat Conroy’s “The Great Santini” or “The Prince of Tides”
  • Driving Companion (book on tape): Pat Conroy’s “My Writing Life”
  • Movie Companion (hopefully your hotel room comes w/a DVD player): “The Big Chill” because the house around which this movie revolves is in Beaufort
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entering downtown Beaufort (photo courtesy of Lyndi Leary)

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–posted August 2016