Montana: A Rootin’ Tootin’ Good Time!

TRRC_AFLAGI have always wanted to go to Montana…land of “big skies,” meadows, mountains, moose, cowboys, and lupins. I am here to tell you that MT lived up to all expectations when I visited last month!

IMG_5866

My requirements were few: no sleeping bags, meals at group tables or motels. After MUCH research, the MT options I found were camping, motels, all-together-all-the-time-with-your-fellow-guests ranches or ritzy ranches. Guess which one I chose? Mimi’s Travel File decided on the Ranch at Rock Creek. Heaven!

IMG_5737

parts of the Ranch at Rock Creek look like a John Constable painting

My goal: to experience the West, albeit a fantasy version. Advice from Ranch staff: riding, roping and fishing are their most Western activities. Giddy up!

Riding and Wrangling

_DSC0652

The Ranch has 80 horses, so the instructors (aka, wranglers) have the luxury of assigning horses to riders based on experience. My ride was just me and my wrangler, versus a nose-to-tail ride in a group of fellow guests, as I have heard is the case at many a dude ranch.

TRRC_HORSES4

Every day at 4:30, the wranglers drive the horses from the lower pasture to the great, big, wide upper pasture, which is quite an exhilarating sight to see! The horses are so happy.

TRRC_TR3

The Ranch even provides lasso-ing lessons. So practical! So fun!

TRRC_WR

To top all this Western-ness off, the Ranch has the ONLY Wells Fargo coach still in active use…albeit to provide rides to dudes like us around the 6,600-acre Ranch at Rock Creek.

Fishing

IMG_1306

Fly Fishing

IMG_5915

_MG_0947

Our fly fishing instructor was such a good guide that my husband caught several fish quickly…thrilling! After our lesson, our guide went elk hunting…just kicking back after a day at work.

Glamping (that’s Glamor+Camping)

The Ranch’s maximum occupancy is 125 guests, spread out over 10 square miles. You can choose between four different styles of accommodations: nine suites in the Granite Lodge, 10 charming canvas cabins (see below), seven luxury homes and three Historic Barn accommodations.

IMG_5878

We stayed in this cabin/tent/cabin combo. The cabin on the front has a screened-in porch. The bedroom is in the attached tent. The bathroom is in the little cabin attached to the back of the tent.

_MG_4074-HDR

The inside of our tent/cabin: The potbelly stove is gas and set on a thermostat. So pretty to sleep with fireside flames lighting the room at night…not to mention, warm!

Nice Touch: Every night when we returned to our cabin, we found a small gift on our pillows left by housekeeping…one night it was a bandanna; the next a salted caramel; the next night we found a jar of gourmet salt.

Autumn Image

This sparkling creek runs in front of the glamping cabins.

What if You Aren’t Into Riding and Fishing? There’s always…

hiking, biking, shooting (sporting clays, skeet, and more), ATV-ing and in the summertime, pool-lounging and rodeo watching. Year-round, you could take a photography class or yoga, get a spa treatment or two, go bowling, peruse the Ranch’s bookshelves, and hit the little gift shop, a.k.a. the Mercantile (though not wildly tempting because they neglect to sell the charming decorative items sprinkled around the Ranch’s public rooms and bedrooms).

TOTW_2132

Hiking the Ranch’s 6,600 acres

The Ranch’s naturalist drove us off-property, in search of moose, while educating us about the flora and fauna.

_MG_4292

“Don’t Fence Me In”

What Price Glory?

All of this wonderfulness doesn’t come cheaply, of course…but we felt it was worth it because our stay at the Ranch at Rock Creek was a unique experience. The Ranch is beautiful. The staff is genuinely friendly and knowledgeable about the land and various sports each teaches/guides. The food is pretty, copious and good, though not memorable. Drinks are part of the package, including decent champagnes—unless you want something really expensive, like Dom Perignon. And best: management cares about and protects its guests’ privacy.

IMG_5938

Of Note: One staffer told us that the Kardashians had wanted to come stay at the Ranch with their camera crew. Management turned them down because they thought Kardashian & Co. would be too disruptive for the other guests. Love it!

When to go? Summertime is busiest and winter is least busy, and the seasons are priced accordingly. Our early fall visit was spectacular and the Ranch was at 33% occupancy.

Literary Traveling Companions

“Lonesome Dove,” by Larry McMurty and “The Best of the West, An Anthology of Classic Writing from the American West,” edited by Tony Hillerman

Git Along, Little Dogies!

_DSC0630

 

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip: Oregon (part 2 of 3)

Sure, you could drive the entire Oregon coast in 10-12 hours, but then you would miss gazing at…

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Ecola State Park, part of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail (photo courtesy of Andrew Harper)

Almost as soon as we crossed into Oregon from southern Washington, the towns were more attractive. Our first stop was Manzanita, a relaxed little town (population 600) developed 100 years ago with a charming main street, some nice shops…and a BIG gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean at the end of its main street.

Sunset Vacation Rentals

Manzanita’s main street (photo courtesy of Sunset Vacation Rentals)

Suggest you stay at the Inn at Manzanita and request a room with a balcony looking toward the ocean.

Katie Bell

Manzanita’s WIDE beach: No wonder this pup is so happy! Few houses dot this beach, despite how it looks in this photo. (photo courtesy of Katie Bell, courtesy of Manzanita Visitors Center)

You can catch Chinook salmon, sturgeon and steelhead trout in this bay, as well as Dungeness crabs and, at low tide, clams. And you know what that means: good seafood available at local restaurants!

Melissa Perry (1)
Manzanita’s beach is seven miles long. Note the lovely river in upper left. This is a photo from the Manzanita Visitors Center, so I am not sure who these girls are! (photo by Melissa Perry)

And speaking of hiking, once you have explored Manzanita, go up, up, up to the trail along the ridge of Neahkahnie Mountain, which overlooks the town and beach. That’s what the girls in photo above are doing. You will walk through meadows and woods of tall pines that border the trail along the ridge of the mountain, all the while looking at the great arc of the ocean below. What a view!

IMG_1429

IMG_1436

The trail was treacherously steep and on the edge of a sheer cliff, in some parts.

IMG_1464

The trail along Neahkahnie Mountain leads to this beach, where we had a windy picnic.

While staying in Manzanita, drive 15 miles north along the coast to the grand and glorious Cannon Beach. Here’s why…

IMG_1457

sea stacks on Cannon Beach

In his Oregon coast itinerary, Andrew Harper recommends staying at the Stephanie Inn at Cannon Beach, but we prefer Manzanita to Cannon Beach because the town is smaller with more charm. We also prefer the Inn at Manzanita. While probably not the most glamorous place you have ever stayed and not on the beach (though we could see the ocean from our balcony), the Inn at M is simple and nice, versus The Stephanie Inn, which felt a bit impersonal and slightly blue-hair.

IMG_1458

Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach

A Bit of History from the Ecola State Park timeline: “1806 – On hearing news of a beached whale, a party from the Lewis and Clark expedition that was encamped at Fort Clatsop
near present day Astoria, visited what is now Cannon Beach in hopes of acquiring blubber and oil. The expedition party, including Captain William Clark and Sacagawea, crossed over Tillamook Head and found the whale near the mouth of a creek Clark named Ecola, the native term for whale. Clark’s journals and interaction with the native inhabitants provide the earliest documentation of the Tillamook people that inhabited the region.”

Depart lovely Manzanita and drive south along Oregon’s SPECTACULAR coast. After six gorgeous hours, you will arrive at TuTu’Tun Lodge, a very nice fishing lodge on the Rogue River, which is eight miles inland from the Pacific coast. “The Tututni (Tu Tu’ Tunne) Native Americans of the Rogue were the first inhabitants to settle the area. The name of the lodge was inspired by ‘the people of the place by the river’ – a rough translation of the Tututni encampment where the lodge now stands,” per TuTu’Tun’s website.

Across River Day 300

TuTu’Tun Lodge

The architectural style of the lodge is Frank Lloyd Wright meets Mission style with a touch of Asian. “The wonderful Northwest textures are everywhere in the cedar beams, fir wainscoting, slate hearths and river rock fireplaces. Even the grass cloth walls evoke a modern take on the plant weavings of the Tututni.” (per TTTL’s website)

IMG_1513

TuTuT’un Lodge’s pool overlooks the peaceful Rogue River.

At dusk, guests gather on the main lodge’s terrace overlooking the winding Rogue River. WONDERFUL hors d’oeuvres are passed as you sip your cocktail, before proceeding into the lodge for dinner. While dining with a table of strangers is not my fav, we had a good time and the meal was as outstanding. The hotel managed to create the feel of a convivial dinner party.

Main Lodge Evening

inside the main lodge at TuTu’Tun, where the meals were DELICIOUS

TuTu’Tun is a fishing lodge. We don’t fish…and yet, we had a great time. Why? Because the lodge is upscale (these photos do not do it justice) with lovely flower arrangements sprinkled throughout and nice architecture, as well as beautiful grounds, a big, lush dahlia garden, set on a bucolic winding river. Plus, there are lots of fun things to do: fishing (steelhead salmon, Chinook salmon, silver salmon and Coho), spa-ing, jet boating (really fun!), kayaking, paddle boarding, pool lounging, and hiking. Being fabulously sporty at all times 😉 we of course partook in all of these activities, except the fishing, kayaking and paddle boarding.

IMG_1520.JPG

Rogue River as seen from TuTuT’un Lodge

After exploring the Rogue River via jet boat, hiking its surrounding trails, and lounging by its pool, continue down Oregon’s wild and lovely coast towards your next stop: California! Be watching your inbox for the third and final installment of our road trip down the west coast of the US!!

IMG_1506 (1)

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip: Washington (part 1 of 3)

We’ve all seen this photo of Seattle. But what if you got on this boat with your car, crossed the water, and drove the entire west coast of the US??? We did just that and it was a blast. Follow me to see what we saw…

view-from-taxi-3

car ferry departing Seattle for Bainbridge Island and the open road! (photo courtesy of rebels-by-bus.net)

The car ferry to Bainbridge Island is a lovely, 30-minute ride.

bainbridge-marina-public-dock

Public dock where the car ferry arrives from Seattle onto Bainbridge Island…exhale! (photo courtesy of Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce)

Drive from the Bainbridge Island ferry dock, along the north coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, through travel-poster scenes of dense forests shooting up tall mountains, surrounding big lakes. Watch the sights change from big city Seattle, to kids on sailboats, to people-less mountain scenes, then beaches and dense rain forests.

Olympic Mountains Lupine.jpg

The Olympic Peninsula looks this good in real life! (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

After four hours driving through stunning scenes, you will arrive at Kalaloch Lodge, near Forks, Washington in Olympic National Park. While the lodge is not glamorous, it is clean AND its location is spectacular!

Kalaloch Lodge.JPG

Kalaloch Lodge (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

Our room at Kalaloch Lodge had big picture windows looking onto this beach…60 miles of undeveloped shoreline!

KalalochBeach

Kalaloch Lodge sits on the bluff to the left (photo courtesy of Kalaloch Lodge)

What is all that mess on the beach, you wonder? And why don’t they clean it up? These “logs” are 100′ long tree trunks that have been undercut by swollen rivers up in the mountains just behind this beach. The trees fall into the river, which delivers them onto the beach, where they protect the land from eroding. More “driftwood” here than anyplace in the world!

IMG_1272 (1)

The long-pine tree trunks littering the beach are called “bleached bones.”

KalalochRiverIntoBeach

This river flows from the mountains behind this photo to the beach. You can see one of Kalaloch Lodge’s cabins on the left. (photo courtesy of Kalaloch Lodge)

Visit nearby Beach Number 4 (surely, the Park Service could have come up with a better name?!) to see the huge rocks on the beach into which Mother Nature has carved little tide pools (below), which support incredible diversity of life, especially starfish and anemones . Bonus: no other people on this beach, despite its dramatic beauty!

IMG_1347

When the tide goes out, these tide pools become exposed. Can you see the anemones in this one?

IMG_1319

These lime-green “sunflowers” are anemones: “Waiting patiently to capture food, sea anemones wave flower-like tentacles filled with stinging cells. Any organic matter delivered by the ocean will do, dead or alive. Their tentacles stuff captured food into a central mouth…Because anemones can reproduce by cloning, over time one anemone can produce an entire colony of itself.” (from Olympic National Park brochure) Thanks goodness people can’t clone themselves!

IMG_1340

“By pumping seawater through its vascular system to the tips of its tube feet, a sea star creates suction to grip mussel and barnacle shells. The sea star tries to pull the creature open; the shellfish struggles to remain closed. With enough time, the sea star usually wins. Ochre sea stars–in both orange and purple color phases–are the most abundant sea stars on this coast,  but there are many other species, ranging from delicate brittle stars to two-foot wide sunflower stars.” (from Olympic National Park brochure) Magnifique!

Visit spectacular Ruby Beach (near Kalaloch Lodge) to learn about the sea stacks, “drowned reminders of a time when the coastline was likely 30 miles further west…Tall sea stacks, often inhabited by nesting seabirds and topped by wind-sheared trees, dot the Pacific coast of the north Olympic Peninsula.” (per Olympic Peninsula Park brochure)

Ruby Beach 5.JPG

Ruby Beach’s sea stacks and “bleached bones” (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

Ruby Beach 8.JPG

This is you, walking along Ruby Beach.

After your beach walking jaunt, go inland to hike the short Hoh Rain Forest Moss Trail: it is otherworldly. Phrases from “Evangeline” kept wafting through my mind: “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, bearded with moss, and in garments green …”

Upper Hoh Road 3.jpg

Upper Hoh Road near the Hoh Rain Forest (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

Hoh Rain Forest.jpg

Hoh Rain Forest Moss Trail (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

The moss trail provides soft, squishy, quiet, peaceful walking. Twelve feet of rain falls here each year, hence the green greens and moss-covered trees.

KalalochWoods

(photo courtesy of Kalaloch Lodge)

“Although only 0.8 miles long, the Hall of Moss Trail landscape epitomizes the rainforest ecosystem…Here, old-growth Sitka spruce reach heights of up 250 feet, and western hemlocks dominate the forest canopy. The forest floor is blanketed in soft mosses and countless ferns, and bigleaf maples droop with the weight of soggy epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants). ” (per the Olympic National Park brochure)

IMG_1386

sunset from Kalaloch Lodge

We left the lovely Kalaloch beach and drove inland to the forest-surrounded Lake Quinault, also in Olympic National Park. The Quinault Valley’s six champion conifer trees are the largest living specimens of their species; only the Redwoods and Sequoias are taller.

The place to stay here is the Quinault Lodge, where the Nature Conservancy was meeting for a retreat when we were there, so you KNOW the location is beautiful.

lake-quinault-lakeside_exterior_5_1000x667 (1)

Classic! (photo courtesy of Quinault Lodge)

lake-quinault-deck

Note the American Indian motif going up the chimney (photo courtesy of Quinault Lodge)

lake-quinault-lakeside_exterior-view_2_1000x667

Quinault Lodge has a big fireplace in its old-timey lobby with good views of the lake. (photo courtesy of Quinault Lodge)

Take a hike through the Quinault Rain Forest to see the  world’s largest Sitka spruce tree: 55’7″ in circumference and 191′ tall!

IMG_1365 (1)

TIP: On our drive from Quinault towards Oregon, we took a detour to explore Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. Don’t do this. LBP is 28 miles of depressed, unattractively developed land.

Next stop: Oregon! 

Stay tuned for post #2 of 3 covering the road trip from Seattle to San Diego.

NY: Niagara Falls & Corning Glass–a lovely couple

THE FALLS

The Niagara Falls are gorgeous and a national treasure. You have to see them!

FullSizeRender (2)

Bridal Falls (left) and Horseshoe Falls (right) are two of the three Niagara Falls.

We took the boat ($50 pp) up to the bottom of the falls, which towered above us to such heights (50′) that they were almost scary. The falls hit the water below with such force that they create a swirling vortex, into which I was afraid our  boat would be sucked. Thankfully, these boats make this journey every 15 minutes, so their captains know how to avoid being sucked down, down, down into the depths of the Niagara River. The boat (below) holds 500 people, which gives you a sense of the scale of this photo.

Hornblower Niagara Cruises Visual Assets X Public X 2017 Signature Images X Web Ready 02

Definitely don the un-chic plastic poncho that comes with your ticket on “The Hornblower.” The mist from the falls bounces up 100′ and sprays gently down onto you. (photo courtesy of Hornblower Niagara Cruises)

Niagara Falls straddle the international border between the U.S. and Canada. The “Maid of the Mist” boats depart from the American side in NY. “The Hornblower” boats depart from the Canadian side. You want “The Hornblower” because it goes deeper into Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the three that are collectively referred to as Niagara Falls.

The Niagara Falls are a gorgeous…but don’t spend the night there…unless you like depressed towns (Niagara, NY) or to be surrounded by the Hard Rock Cafe and similar (Niagara, Canada), which of course you don’t! Instead, take your passport and drive a mere 20 minutes north into Canada.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE

The 16-mile drive on the Niagara Parkway from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, will take you past the most ENTICING farm stands I have EVER seen and through vineyard after vineyard. Ontario is one of Canada’s three largest wine-producing regions.

Photo credit:  Elena Galey-Pride, winestains.ca

(photo courtesy of Reif Estate Winery)

Niagara-on-the-Lake is charming: lovely houses from the 18th and 19th century (settled in 1781 as a British military base, it became a haven for pro-British loyalists fleeing the U.S.); tons of gardens, public and private, bursting forth with flowers; and a theater festival, all located at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.

notl-nftgallery2

The streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake are filled with flowers, just like in the photo above. (photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Tourism)

notl2


one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s many attractive old houses (photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Tourism)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Walk around town and gaze at the beautiful old houses and established gardens
  • Watch the Wednesday night sailboat races from the town’s small public golf course, which has Niagara-on-the-Lake’s only restaurant on the water. The food is merely okay but the setting is lovely, with a view of Old Fort Niagara (which has been occupied since the 1700’s by the French, English and now Americans) across the water. Big view heaven!
  • Attend the George Bernard Shaw Festival, whose season of plays runs from April to October. We did not go to this, so I can’t vouch for it.
  • Bike or walk along the Niagara River Recreation Trail that follows the Niagara River through beautiful countryside, from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston (1-2 hours at a leisurely pace by bike)
Cyclists - Niagara River Recreational Trail

(photo courtesy of Niagara Parks)

  • Vineyard hop between the 50 vineyards in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake and the entire Niagara wine region along the shores of Lake Ontario. Follow the Wine Route of Ontario through the countryside by car, bike or guided tour. Many Niagara wineries have restaurants, where they pair their (natch) wines with regional cuisine
Neudorf_vineyard-71-v1

(photo courtesy of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario)

  • Run, don’t walk, to the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservancy and enter its a big greenhouse of tropical plants and many, many colorful butterflies flitting around. Best butterfly conservancy I have seen!
Butterfly Conservatory DSC_0827

(photo courtesy of Niagara Parks)

Several lit on me! Just beautiful!

Butterfly Conservatory 1

(photo courtesy of Niagara Parks)

Butterfly Conservatory Monarch

(photo courtesy of Niagara Parks)

STAY

I recommend a three-night stay at Niagara-on-the-Lake in one of the following:

  • Oban Inn: in town, by the golf course; has an upstairs balcony room
  • Harbour House: in town, nice though not luxurious. We stayed here. I have only seen the other three hotels from outside but they all looked very nice.
  • The Charles Inn: in town, stylish in a low-key way
CharlesInn

(photo courtesy of The Charles Inn)

  • Riverbend Inn: near Niagara-on-the-Lake and the bike path, pretty location
riverbendInn

Riverbend Inn

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

Wander the streets of town and you will find something appealing, though nothing outstanding.

DSC_2742 - Version 2

(photo courtesy of Reif Estate Winery)

Highly recommend you drive to several of the surrounding vineyards for what I imagine would be great meals. The settings certainly are! By scrolling around this link to Wine Country Ontario, you will find a varied selection of impressively beautiful vineyards, many of which have attractive restaurants. Given the amazing produce stands in the area, I just bet the food is amazing, too!

Magical Veranda

(photo courtesy of Reif Estate Winery)

SHOP

Lots of shops, none enticing.

Corning Glass Museum in Corning, NY (2.5 hour drive from Niagara Falls)

We spent three hours there, waaay more that my usual one hour-and-depart policy. What made the Corning Glass Museum so great: the history of glass making described, plus 35 centuries of examples of the most ancient glass on up to gorgeous “art glass” of the present day…and not just Dale Chihuly. I plan to return because three hours was not enough.

TroutAndFly_A_BC.jpg

(photo courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass)

CMoG 60th Birthday

Glass in America exhibit, including beautiful Tiffany window on right (photo courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass)

Corning Museum TPP 1071


Corning Museum of Glass

STAY

Rather than stay in Corning, which is nothing special, drive half an hour to the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. While this is not the most fab hotel you have ever been to, it is quite comfortable (we had a nice, big room with a balcony overlooking the lake) AND, GREATEST OF GREAT, the “True Love” yacht from “High Society” (Grace Kelly) and “Philadelphia Story” (Katherine Hepburn) is docked at the hotel AND available for a two-hour spin on the lake. It is an elegant movie star of a schooner built in 1926. “My, she was yar!”

 

truelove

The True Love on Seneca Lake (photo courtesy of Schooner Excursions)

TrueLove2

The True Love (photo courtesy of Schooner Excursions)

Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 3 of 3

Emontine IMG_7233

(photo courtesy of The Hermitage Plantation)

My husband has been sailing the deep, blue seas of the Caribbean for the past 30 years. He and his sailing friends have been to 95% of the islands…several times. So who better to ask, “Which are the best islands in the Caribbean?” Below is the third of three posts describing the Caribbean’s best…from one who knows!

Off the Beaten Path

  • Tobago–Beautiful beaches, locals and goat racing

The nation of Trinidad and Tobago is a tale of two islands: Trinidad has lots of oil industry and people; Tobago, on the other hand, is off the beaten path with far fewer locals and tourists. Tobago is out-of-a-movie pretty!

Pigeon Point (a)

Pigeon Point (photo courtesy of Tobago House of Assembly – Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation)

Argyle Wasserfall; Tobago; Tobago & Trinidad; Karibik

Argyle Waterfall (photo courtesy of Tobago House of Assembly – Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation)

A View from Speyside lookout

Vew of Little Tobago from the Speyside lookout (photo courtesy of Tobago House of Assembly – Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation): some of the best coral reefs of Tobago are in this bay!

Tobago has white sand beaches, palm trees, a bird sanctuary, and gorgeous Buccoo Reef (bright blue/green water). Tobago has mountains, a tropical rain forest, and 18th-century ruins of Fort King George that houses the Tobago Museum. Tobago also has goat racing! But only at Easter.

Buccoo Goat Race Festival 2010 171

Buccoo Goat Race (photo courtesy of Tobago House of Assembly – Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation)

Its hotels are small, pleasant, and clean, though not upscale. While I found nothing in my files on hotels, click here to see Tobago’s tourist bureau’s list of places to stay. It’ll get you started.

Fun Fact: T&T has produced more Miss Universes per capita than any country in the world! Why? When the British outlawed slavery in the 1800’s, they shipped indentured servants to Tobago from India to replace the black slaves they had brought over earlier. Today, T&T’s population is roughly 1/3 black, 1/3 Indian and 1/3 white, so you will meet black people whose last name is Singh and white people who speak Creole. This exotic mix produces T&T’s beautiful people.

  • Marie Galante–Ever heard of it? No? That’s a good thing!

Marie Galante is a step back in time, with palm trees, white beaches, 19th century windmills and ox-drawn carts transporting crops from the cane fields. Off the coast of Guadeloupe, unspoiled Marie Galante is often referred to as “la grand galette” (the big pancake) because it is round and flat, unlike most of the Caribbean islands, which are mountainous. Columbus arrived in 1493 and named the island after his flagship, Santa Maria La Galante. In the 19th century, Marie Galante became French and began to focus its economy on the cultivation of sugar cane. Today, sugar production remains as the principal industry, as does fishing. Because MG doesn’t get many tourists, her locals value them and are welcoming.

The hotels on Marie Galante are low key (no five starred resorts). CNTraveller.com advises staying at Chez Hajo (“A very pretty, quiet and rather chic French-run place on the sea. No hot water or air conditioning.” Capesterre 00 590 97 32 76) and Village de Menard (“Pretty little cottages with air conditioning, close to lovely Vieux Fort but quite cut off.”), whose most expensive room is 125 Euros. Le Grand Palm looks cheerful, clean and functional (in-room kitchens), based solely on its website.

  • Barbuda–If you want to get away from it all…

Barbuda boasts the longest (30 miles) beach in the Caribbean. The intriguing Frigate Bird Sanctuary, mildly interesting Highland House (18th-century home of colonial founding family) and the Indian Cave, which contains ancient Amerindian petroglyphs, are non-touristy Barbuda’s points of interest. That’s it! No cute little towns to explore here but perfect if you want to laze around your handsome hotel bungalow located on an exceptional white sand beach with beautiful water and some books. Barbuda’s one nice hotel, the  Barbuda Belle (NYT 2015 & Condé Nast Traveler 2016 both recommended it), has six luxurious bungalows on the beach. This could be you…

BELLE-BarbudaBelle-1505JMR7657

your bungalow at “The Belle”

BELLE-BarbudaBelle-1505JMR5657

your bedroom at the Barbuda Belle

BELLE-BarbudaBelle-1505JMR5839

your book-reading station at the Barbuda Belle

Fun Fact: Barbuda’s main export is white sand. If you’re lying on a white sand beach in the Caribbean, that sand was probably imported from Barbuda because most of the islands are volcanic so do not have naturally white sand, if they have sand at all.

BELLE-BarbudaBelle-1505JMR7947

Barbuda Belle’s reception, restaurant and bar

  • San Blas Islands, Panama–quintessential tropical islands of your dreams

Located off the northern Caribbean coast of Panama, the 365 islands that make up the San Blas Islands are stunning! After driving an hour and a half from Panama City, you stop at the border control where the Guna guard checks your passport. The Guna are the indigenous Panamanian Indians who legally control the San Blas Islands, where they live. You then drive another hour along mountainous roads steeper than those in the Swiss Alps! All around you see jungles and an occasional thatched-roof hut. Thrilling!

FullSizeRender

Most of the San Blas Islands are approximately 2-acres, undeveloped, and inhabited by the gentle Guna locals.

In January of this year, Mimi’s Travel File chartered a captained catamaran through Susan Bruce Travel. She and her staff are good! Sailing among the San Blas islands was a spectacularly beautiful experience. I don’t know the names of any good hotels here, though I did see some charming huts on stilts off of an island or two that looked like they were for rent. Staying in one of them could be amazing! Ask Susan Bruce about them. If you would rather not sail, you may want to explore the region with a tour from Thread Caravan, recommended by Vogue magazine in 2016. 

IMG_3474

The Guna people mostly live on fish and coconuts and ply the waters in motorized dugout canoes (middle boat, above).

IMG_3492

the pristine water of the San Blas

IMG_3450 (1)

Guna woman: note her beaded legs and arms. Her attire is not just for the tourists. They really dress this way! The swirling motif on her blouse is a mola, made up of different colored cotton fabrics which she has pieced together and embroidered. You can buy mola on these islands and in some souvenir shops in Panama City. They make nice pillows or framed pictures!

IMG_3479

  • Nevis–lovely, old plantation hotels up in the mountains

One of the great beaches of the Caribbean, Nevis’ Pinney’s Beach is a former palm tree plantation. The Four Seasons sits on PB, as do a couple of wear-your-bathing-suit casual beach bars with picnic tables and homemade bar stools.  While the Four Seasons is perfectly nice, the plantation hotels up in the mountains have the most charm. “Nevis is unique for its many plantations that have been converted into luxury hotels. The Hermitage Plantation Inn is perhaps the most serene of them all, surrounded by gardens bursting with Bougainvillea, hibiscus, and breadfruit trees. Fifteen pastel cottages decorated with antiques…” says Travel+Leisure.

Twn Gbls ext. 071A5124

The Hermitage Plantation Inn: From here, you can see the ocean.

The Hermitage Plantation’s bar, restaurant, library and sitting room are located in its Great House. The GH (circa 1670) is the oldest wooden house in the Caribbean!

Lvg rm 2 IMG_9628

Hermitage Plantation Inn’s Great House (circa 1670)

IMG_3342BAR

good, old fashioned bar in the Hermitage Plantation Inn’s Great House

When she visited Nevis in 1993, Princess Diana stayed up in the mountains, at the charming and refined Montpelier Plantation and Beach. Set on 60 acres, this Relais & Châteaux member is six miles from its own private beach. Montpelier dates back to 1687 when Sir Hans Sloane, secretary of the Royal Society of England, discovered the secluded location. This is of note because Sloane Square in London was named after him and Diana was sometimes referred to as a “Sloane Ranger” because she liked to shop in this stylish neighborhood.

Exteriors2

Montpelier Plantation and Beach

TamarindVilla1

Montpelier Plantation and Beach’s Tamarind Villa

Yoga

Namaste! (photo courtesy of Montpelier Plantation and Beach)

FAMOUS Artist Bruce Marden and his wife, Helen, opened the 11-room Golden Rock Inn Nevis, set on 100 acres with an alfresco restaurant. Vogue editor, Anna Wintour herself has slept here! The Mardens enlisted the help of architect Ed Tuttle, known for his designs for many of the stunning Aman hotels.

Trivia question: Which US Founding Father was born on Nevis??? That’s right: Alexander Hamilton! Tour the house where he was born, which is now a little museum.

IMG_1676 ALT

Nevis (photo courtesy of The Hermitage Plantation Inn)

Church IMG_1199

church on Nevis (photo courtesy of The Hermitage Plantation Inn)

Literary Traveling Companion: “Caribbean,” by James Michener

What Not to Wear: Black, as it absorbs heat. The only people in the Caribbean who wear black are maybe waiters at the more formal restaurants, of which there are few.

IMG_3411

Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 2 of 3

is_21

(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

CottHseViewfrCott

(photo courtesy of The Cotton House, Mustique)

acc_09

Oh, so pretty!!!! (photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

My husband has been sailing the deep, blue seas of the Caribbean for the past 30 years. He and his sailing friends have been to 95% of the islands…several times. So who better to ask, “Which are the best islands in the Caribbean?” Below is the second of three posts describing the Caribbean’s best…from one who knows!

The Grenadines

The Grenadines are a chain of 32 islands, nine of which are inhabited.

  • MustiqueThe Sophisticate with little Retail or Restaurants

Mustique’s small, international airport is the prettiest I have ever seen: it is all bamboo! The island is dotted with some BIG, attractive rental “villas” scattered discreetly about, two really nice small hotels (the 15-room Cotton House and the Firefly, my fav with seven rooms), three tiny villages, and beaches with palm trees. No cars, just high-powered golf carts, called mules. Sooo relaxing! Click here for its history. Mustique became a jet-setter destination after Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner, purchased it in 1958, began developing it, and then–cleverly–gave a 10-acre plot of land to Princess Margaret (QE2’s sister) as a wedding present, where she built a house, called Les Jolies Eaux. Let’s look at some pic’s of it:

les_jolies_eaux800_7367

Les Jolies Eaux, from afar (photo courtesy of @mustiqueisland)

www.f11collective.com

Les Jolies Eaux (photo courtesy of @mustiqueisland)

www.f11collective.com

Les Jolies Eaux (photo courtesy of @mustiqueisland)

Soon, QE2 came to visit. After that, word got out. Since then, Mick Jagger built a house on Mustique, as did Tommy Hilfiger and David Bowie. Kate and Wills vacation here, too. A must: Basil’s Bar on the beach.

CottonHouseExtMainBldg

Cotton House on Mustique

CottHseLunchonTerrace

Cotton House’s veranda

Fireflyfeel2

lovely bedroom open to the ocean at The Firefly

Fireflyfeel

Sit in these elegant, comfortable chairs and view the bright blue ocean from your bedroom at The Firefly

11-Hummingbird-Slideshow

We stayed in the Hummingbird bedroom. So lovely to gaze at the ocean from bed!

08-Views-from-the-Firefly-Slideshow

view from The Firefly

03-General-Firefly-Slideshow-Extras

Magical entrance to The Firefly, a small, stylish hidden gem built into the side of the mountain, with big water views and twinkling lights. You expect Mick Jagger to walk in at any minute!

  • Bequia–Old-World Charm

Bequai is “Part of the Grenadine Island chain, 9 miles west of Mustique and just 7 sq. miles in size. With it’s warm climate and average temperature range of 75 to 85 degrees throughout the year, Bequia is the perfect small Caribbean Island we all dream of. Friendly and welcoming people, simple unhurried lifestyle, beautiful beaches…one of the few Caribbean Islands to have retained it’s original character and old world charm. ..There is no bad time to visit being far enough south to avoid hurricanes,” per the Firefly Plantation Hotel’s website.

Firefly Plantation

pool at The Firefly Plantation Hotel with the ocean beyond

Bequia’s waterfront has tremendous, small interesting restaurants, e.g. Frangiapani’s and Mac’s Pizza. The island has small guest houses and hotels but the Firefly Plantation Hotel is the best (4 attractive rooms, a two-bedroom cottage, and attractive restaurant with good food; the Firefly is up in the hills).

FireflyBRcottageBequ

Firefly Plantation bedroom: Great views from this hotel!

5000pixels-_0002_02

restaurant at Firefly Plantation Hotel with bar in the background

The island’s ambience is laid back, relaxed and nice. Doris’ Fresh Food and Yacht Provisioning sells wonderful imported gourmet food (cheese,  pickles, teas, coffees, wine), though expensive but understandable, as this type of food is hard to find in this part of the world. Sailors love Bequai because of its great harbor with yachting services and calm anchorage. Bequai is an excellent place to go if you want to get away from it all.

  • Petit St. Vincent–Tiny, beautiful, rustic-chic 

Gorgeous location with a big reef off its coast. You can only reach this private island by boat, provided by Petit St. Vincent Private Island, the resort that owns the whole island. You can walk around this 115-acre island in less than an hour, if the tide is right. The rooms consist of 22 villas, dotted around the island. If you want anything, you raise a flag: flags of varying colors communicate your needs. Consistently good food here. Some nights, the hotel shows movies under the stars on the beach! Andrew Harper and National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World also like Petit St. Vincent. Petit St. Vincent is wonderful for those who want to be away from it all, as it’s quiet.

din_09

(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

din_02

Love this dining room! (photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

acc_13

(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

din_05

Petit St. Vincent has a great beach bar!

  • Mayreau–Caribbean the way it was 30 years ago

Mayreau has beautiful beaches, no crime, no crowds (pop. 270) and is very, very rustic. Mayreau is the Caribbean before the onslaught of tourism. But, my husband does not recommend staying here because it is not set up for tourists: no hotels, just places with 2-3 rooms; no gourmet food though fish, chicken and goat dishes abound; no public drinking water; intermittent electricity; and no airport. Be sure to go to Dennis’ Hideaway: this bar/restaurant/hotel hotel is an institution (been there a long time) on the island, good place for lunch or dinner, with basic food. You can only get Mayreau by boat: day-trip from nearby Petit St. Vincent (the hotel will arrange transportation), Canouan (the Four Seasons hotel there will arrange transport), Little Palm Island and Union Island (water taxi). You will see a totally unspoiled island!

fl_01

(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

  • Tobago Keys–idyllic trio of small, uninhabited islands

The Tobago Keys are surrounded by a protective reef system that is part of St. Vincent National Park. It is truly worth a visit to see the water, snorkel the reef, walk on the beautiful beaches or climb the small hills on the islands. No accommodations but a water taxi will take you there from most of the surrounding islands. It is well worth the minimal effort!

Our-Island-hummingbird

(photo courtesy of The Firefly)

10-Hummingbird-Slideshow

(photo courtesy of The Firefly)

Stay tuned for the Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 3 of 3!

Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 1 of 3

3

St. Lucia (photo courtesy of Ladera Resort)

AnseChastanet-ScubaStLucia-004

Mustiquebeachafar

Mustique (photo courtesy of The Firefly): Please note how undeveloped this is!

My husband has been sailing the deep, blue seas of the Caribbean for the past 30 years. He and his sailing friends have been to 95% of the islands…several times. So who better to ask, “Which are the best islands in the Caribbean?” By “best,” I mean no large cruise ships, no water slides, nothing resembling Cancun, no high-rise hotels, little-to-no pretense, relaxing and transporting. So here are the best, from one who knows!

Top Five, in no particular order

  • St. Barth’s—The Sophisticate with Retail and Restaurants

St. Barth’s charming small capital city, Gustavia, has narrow, old streets lined with sophisticated little boutiques, charming Caribbean cottage architecture, and nice little restaurants around the harbor. BUT St. Barth’s is mostly a wild, windswept island with some lovely hotels, beaches, and houses tucked here and there, i.e., not overly developed. St. Barth’s has some great restaurants (like Maya’s and Tamarin). St. Barth’s has it all…with just the tiniest bit of pretense here and there, but you really have to look for it.

beachAtLeToiny

beach from Hotel Le Toiny

You can stay at a hotel or rent a “villa.” If you want to be in a town, check out Eden Rock-St. Barths (charming, fun; Conde Nast Traveler 2017 likes it, too). To get away from it all and experience St. Barth’s wild wonderfulness, go to Hotel Le Toiny St. Barth (in a beautiful natural setting and very stylish; 14 villas on 42 acres; Architectural Digest 2016 also endorses it). Hotel Le Toiny’s DR overlooks the pools which overlooks a big sweep of green on a big crescent of beach…

YSandak_Z5A4072

Most restaurants on St. Barth’s are smaller and less formal than this dreamy one (photo courtesy of Hotel Le Toiny)

barPinkChairsLeToiny

Love the bar at Hotel Le Toiny!

If you’d prefer to rent a house, WIMCO will take good care of you. Below is Cap au Vent, the house we rented several times via WIMCO. Upon our arrival, the charming caretaker couple (they live on the property but stay to themselves at the far end) had made dinner for us and left it in the fridge to warm up at our convenience, along with a good bottle of champagne. In the morning before we woke up, they delivered just-made croissants from the local bakery…and left us alone for the  day. Houses w/out live-in caretakers are available, too, and WIMCO provides on-island help should you have questions about your “villa.”

St-Barts-Villa-mozaer01

Cap au Vent (photo courtesy of WIMCO)

Note: Most houses and hotels on St. Barth’s are not on the beaches. They are in the hills where the views are spectacular and the breezes are cooling. This island is very small, so you are never far away from one of the beautiful, unspoiled beaches. You will need to rent car. The roads are narrow and steep but you will get the hand of it quickly.

  • St. LuciaMost Geographically Distinctive

Thanks to the Pitons, its twin-pointed mountain peaks, St. Lucia is the most geographically distinctive island in the Caribbean. This lush, jungle-y island has good scuba diving, beaches, hiking and some really nice hotels. Stay at Ladera! It is spectacularly situated in the saddle between the two Pitons (not on the beach but it has an arrangement with a beachfront hotel for use of its beach), with sweeping views down the verdant mountains to the beach. If you don’t stay here, definitely go for drinks and dinn. It’s the most dramatically beautiful place I’ve ever dined in the Caribbean…and, bonus, the food it good!

Ladera_Resort_Property_02

The view from Ladera for sunset drinks and dinn!

If you would rather stay on the beach, book Anse Chastanet because it has a fun beach bar and cheery open cottages built up the mountain.

Caribbean      St. Lucia      Anse ChastanetPremium Room (7f) & Pitons view

Anse Chastenet guest room: Ignore the painting and focus on this VIEW!

AnseChastanet-Aerial-1

Anse Chastenet  on St. Lucia

  • SabaOld-Time Caribbean Loaded with Charm

Saba is the most unusual island in the Caribbean. The island is a dormant volcano sticking straight up out of the water. Saba’s small villages are in the caldera, not on the water because the island is too vertical. They are picture-perfect, neat, clean, and quaint. The only road is called “The Road” and Saba’s capital is called The Bottom because it sits in the bottom of the caldera. While its population is under 2,000 people, a world-class, respected medical school was established on small Saba in 1992 and has 250 students. Unusual, in the best way!

SabaCalderaMichael

Saba: Note the town in the caldera! (photo courtesy of Michael Walker at michaelwalkerphotos.com)

SabaGovtBldgTourismBureau

Check out this charming government building in The Bottom! (photo courtesy of Cees Timmers for Saba Tourist Bureau)

Though Saba has no beaches, it has good diving!

SabaDive

Dive from Saba’s harbor and the Saba Bank Reef (photo courtesy of Cees Timmers for Saba Tourism Bureau)

The hiking on Saba looks glorious: 14 trails through lush green forests with big ocean views, abundant wildlife, and fairly cool temp’s because everything here is up, up, up.

General-Hiking20081111Cees_Timmers3372

(photo courtesy of Cees Timmers for Saba Tourist Bureau)

While not designer-chic like those on St. Barth’s, Saba’s hotels are small, clean and nice. I haven’t stayed at any of them but Saba’s tourism website will get you started (Queens Garden Resort and Haiku House look promising). Saba is simple living at its best, where you dive, hike, explore the villages, and laze by the pool. Ahhh….

Saba-Queens_Garden20050308Cees_Timmers2104

Queens Garden Resort (photo courtesy of Cees Timmers for Saba Tourist Bureau)

  • Iles des SaintesLaid Back, Authentic, Unspoiled…& Colorblind

Off the coast of Guadeloupe, the Saintes are a group of small islands, two of which are inhabited, Terre-de-Bas and Terre-de-Haute (referring to the winds). Take the 15-minute ferry from T-de-H to T-de-Bas, as it’s fun to explore them both. They are uncrowded, with lovely beaches and snorkeling, simple towns with charming little bars and cafes. Neither island has fancy restaurants or hotels. I recommend you stay at Auberge Les Petits Saints, as we stayed here and can report that it is perfectly nice and the best on the island (Conde Nast Traveler recommends it, too). The most unusual thing about the Saintes is that its small population (less than 4,000 people) is colorblind (no racial tension). The population is very mixed and it’s not unusual to see green-eyed, pale-skinned black French-speaking locals.

HOTEL RESTAURANT LES PETITS SAINTS

(photo courtesy of Auberge Les Petits Saints)

“Terre-de-Haut is known for Pain de Sucre Beach’s coral-rich waters and palm-lined Les Saintes Bay. Overlooking the bay is 19th-century Fort Napoléon, with a museum and cactus garden. Trails cross the volcanic landscape of Terre-de-Bas Island, home to tranquil Grand Anse Beach,” per Wikipedia.

 

  • The Grenadines
    • See post to follow soon for the specific islands in the Grenadines!!!!!
LESSER ANITLLEAN HUMMINGBIRD

Lesser Antillean Hummingbird (photo courtesy of Anse Chastenet)

bartenderPinkChairsLeToiny


Let’s drink to these beautiful islands! (photo courtesy of Hotel Le Toiny)

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!

nz-rippon-vineyard-by-julian-apse

Rippon Vineyard (photo courtesy of Julian Apse)

4568-Tunnel-Beach-Dunedin-DunedinNZ

Tunnel Beach, Dunedin (photo courtesy of DunedinNZ)

4224-Camilla-Rutherford-Tongariro-Alpine-Crossing-Ruapehu

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…

nz-beach-by-scott-venning

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.
nz-glacier

Fox Glacier near Franz Joseph (photo courtesy of Gareth Eyres)

nz-glacier-w-heli-pilot-our-photo

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
NZ cows Helena Bay

Dairy is NZ’s #1 industry (photo courtesy of Helena Bay)

  • Wai-o-tapu (park with volcanic landscapes and the Lady Knox geyser)
nz-volcano-growth-ours

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.
nz-rain-forest

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!
nz-volcano-island-best-ours

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

Cape K suite

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

Cape K Fireside-Table

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
Kauri Cliffs lodge

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

cumberland-shore-approach

(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

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

cumberland-tree

(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!

cumberland-inn-front-best

(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

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

cumberland-inn-porch

(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

cumberland-living-room

(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!

cumberland-dr-fire

(photo by Peter Frank Edwards)

(7) The GI’s 16 bedrooms

cumberland-bedroom-big

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

cumberland-view-from-island

(photo courtesy of David Wright)

 

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

cumberland-burnt-mansion-with-fountain

(photo courtesy of Gabriel Hanway)

(10) The wild horses that peacefully roam Cumberland Island

cumberland-horse

(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

cumberland-beach-path-3

(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.

cumberland-john-john

(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.

scilly

Isles of Scilly (photo courtesy of 2017 Cornwall Guide)

scillyancient

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

flowers-steps

(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.

scilly_tresco_towards-norwethel

(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.

22790431581_68d13b2f19_o

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

hell-bay

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)
hellbayroom

Your room at Hell Bay Hotel

hellbaybalcony

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!
scilly_tresco_abbey-gardens_1

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

22156623464_0baa08d425_o

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

scilly-tresco-abbey-garden-girl-running

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.
scilly-tresco-girl-cycling

(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)

tresantonterrace

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

pillows

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

tresantonbedroom

Hotel Tresanton’s bedrooms are individually decorated.

tresantondr

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

tresantonboat

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.

Bespoke Hotels - The Lugger

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)
Bespoke Hotels - The Lugger

Your room at the Lugger Hotel: Can’t beat that view!

Bespoke The Lugger

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)
nare_hotel_panoramic_view

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

trevose-head-walker

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.
Godolphin ArmsSt Aubyn Estates

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.”

june-east-terrace-credit-claire-braithwaite

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