Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 3 of 3

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(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!

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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.

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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…

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your bungalow at “The Belle”

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your bedroom at the Barbuda Belle

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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

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the pristine water of the San Blas

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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!

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  • 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.

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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!

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Hermitage Plantation Inn’s Great House (circa 1670)

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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.

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Montpelier Plantation and Beach

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Montpelier Plantation and Beach’s Tamarind Villa

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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.

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Nevis (photo courtesy of The Hermitage Plantation Inn)

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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.

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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 / 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
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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)

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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

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Heathrow-vicinity Hotels–with charm!

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!

UPDATE (March 2019): I am disappointed to report that the bar has gotten a bit sloppy and somewhat tacked up with space heaters in the fine old fireplaces. Such a shame! The Olde Bell is SCREAMING for improved management, especially in the food and beverage arena.  Its town is still an unspoiled gem, full of history and lacking tourists.

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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.”

 

Virginia’s Crooked Road Music Trail

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Road trip! Did you know that the first-recorded bluegrass music came out of southwest Virginia? And that June Carter Cash’s roots are there as well? And that June comes from country music royalty?! The Crooked Road Music Trail is a 330-mile driving trail through the mountains of SW Virginia, along which are many live bluegrass venues, from the neighborhood Dairy Queen that hosts jam sessions, to regular Friday night jamborees at the 100-year old Floyd Country Store, to the 100+ seat Carter Family Fold in a beautiful hollow, where the man responsible for the first recording of bluegrass music used to host Saturday night performances of local musicians behind his general store.

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photo courtesy of the Floyd County Tourism Office

Southwestern Virginia is rich in culture. In addition to its wonderful music, you can find beautiful, high-quality woodwork (turned-wood bowls, furniture, etc.), well-executed, artistic pottery, and more. Plus, driving along the country roads in the Blue Ridge Mountains is sooooo relaxingly beautiful.

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FLOYD, VA–a nice, small town in the mountains

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Floyd Country Store–Friday Night Jamboree, Americana Afternoons, Sunday Music Jam, and the Floyd Radio Show–take your pick! You are guaranteed an authentic experience of traditional Appalachian music and dancing (clogging, anyone?) in this 100-year old country store…a real country store. At the Friday Night Jamboree, to which I have been twice, everyone gets up to dance, from the young to the old to the toothless to the graduate student. It’s fun! No drinkin’ or cussin’ though, as Granny’s Rules apply.

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Here’s a little background from the FCS website: “The Floyd Country Store is renowned as a place to experience authentic Appalachian music, and is home to a group of musicians, flatfoot dancers, and cloggers who are carrying on the tradition of their families, who’d pass the time playing music and dancing together. Everywhere they could, these folks would gather with their friends and families from their front porch to the neighbor’s kitchen. In the 1980’s, folks in Floyd took to coming out to the General Store and began the Friday Night Jamboree tradition that continues today.”

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photo courtesy of the Floyd Country Store

  • After watching the bands at the FCS’ Friday night Jamboree, wander along Floyd’s main street and you will find impromptu jam sessions, small groups of people playing banjos, etc. and gently singing. I have never been to a more musical town, except Vienna, Austria (no exaggeration!).
  •  Blue Ridge Wine Trail–While I haven’t done this so cannot personally vouch for it, click through to the web site to see what you think.
  • Blue Ridge Parkway–lovely drives along gently curling roads with pastoral views of mountains and countryside
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photo courtesy of Hotel Floyd

  • Crooked Road calendar–check it out because my guess is that Floyd and the other little towns along the Crooked Road would be at their most charming to visit when there are no music festivals going on; on the other hand, those music festivals might provide great people watching!

STAY

  • Hotel Floyd (Floyd, VA)–This hotel really hits the spot. Why? Because it is right in downtown Floyd and as such, a two-minute walk to the Floyd Country Store.   It is nice to come “home” to Hotel Floyd’s spacious, comfortable, clean rooms. I stayed here last year and highly recommend it. It is not fancy but neither is Floyd. Rocking chairs outside of many of the rooms, two of which are pet friendly. (40 rooms)
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The Mountain Rose Inn–lovely, isn’t it?!

  • Mountain Rose Inn (Woolwine, VA)–This 100-year-old country house B&B is my second choice only because it is 14 miles from Floyd. I stayed here three years ago and the ride back from Floyd after the Friday night Jamboree along the winding mountain roads seemed a lot longer than 14 miles. The Inn is charmingly decorated and has the softest sheets in the world (Comfy brand). It accurately describes itself as “country elegance in the shadows of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.” Its 100 acres offer hiking as well as hammocks strung along the banks of its creek…very country and relaxing. Lovely front porch! This is a nice place. No dogs allowed inside the Inn/no on-site kennel for overnight pets. (5 rooms)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

  •  Chateau Morrisette Winery–While I cannot personally attest to this, the Mountain Rose Inn recommends it and the photo looks nice, doesn’t it?!

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  • Floyd Country Store–it’s cheap, it’s fun, and you’re right in the heart of the action before the bands start performing
  • Pine Tavern Restaurant–This may be a dump or it may be great. I haven’t been here but it looks loaded with potential! Check it out and let me know.

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SHOP

  • 16 Hands–Recommended by a close friend with very sophisticated taste in pottery, as well as by several travel articles, 16 Hands is an artisans’ collective, featuring potters and woodworkers from the Blue Ridge region.

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  • Farmers MarketSaturdays 9-1, May to November-lovely, low-key with good products

ABINGDON, VA–charming small town (pop. 8,000+), with some lovely old houses

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Carter Family Fold–Now THIS is a memorable-in-the-very-best-way experience! The CFF is in tiny Hiltons, Virginia, a beautiful 45-minute drive through rural “hollers” (i.e., valleys) dotted with farms and cows. You can hear live bluegrass and “old-time” bands every Saturday night and watch the locals dance, uninhibited, clogging the night away, alone or with a partner. It is so much fun! We also ate here at the little carry-out: $11 for two.
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photo courtesy of the Carter Family Fold

Per Wikipedia: “The Carter Family Fold is dedicated to the preservation and performance of old time country and bluegrass music. It is named in honor of the original Carter Family (A.P., Sara, and Maybelle), who were among the earliest recording artists in country music, with their first records on RCA Victor being released in 1927. The Fold was founded by Janette Carter, daughter of A.P. and Sara Carter, in 1979. Most of the participating performers at the Fold are not famous outside the communities of bluegrass and old-time country music. However, Johnny Cash performed at the Fold many times, and played his last concert there on July 5, 2003, a few months before his death. Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash, was a daughter of Maybelle Carter.

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Maybelle Carter and her daughters, including June Carter Cash doing a jig (photo courtesy of The Winding Stream)

The concert venue, the “Fold,” is the centerpiece of the Carter Family Memorial Music Center, Inc., a non-profit organization. This includes the 1880’s cabin where A. P. Carter was born.” Bonus: The CFF also has a wonderful museum of Carter family memorabilia.

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A.P.’s boyhood cabin

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close-up of A.P.’s front porch

  •  Heartwood –A 10-minute drive from Abingdon, Heartwood has good gift shop showing off the crafts of SW VA, including rocking chairs, turned-wood bowls, pottery, and lots of good CD’s and DVD’s on bluegrass music; we saw an excellent and fun band here, despite the somewhat antiseptic environment
  • Abingdon–lovely, small town (incorp. in 1778), with charming old houses and the mildly interesting Barter Theater
  • beautiful biking trails

STAY

  • The Martha Washington Inn–Located in Abingdon, this hotel is red brick with white wood trim, long, deep porch with rocking chairs along the front of the building, like a cross between a low-key version of The Homestead and a really nice girls college of old–which “The Martha” actually was for over 50 years; no pets allowed though the MWI can recommend a local kennel & told me that the Holiday Inn Express (charmless) accepts pets for an additional fee; this is a very comfortable, nice place but the restaurant is uninspiring, so ask the front desk for restaurant recommendations in Abingdon (63 rooms)
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photo courtesy of The Martha Washington Inn

DVD Traveling Companion: “The Winding Stream” contains much info about the Carter family, including the establishment of the Carter Family Fold. There are interviews with Rita (A.P. Carter’s granddaughter), who now runs the Fold and emcees performances. “The Winding Stream” shows how huge the Carter Family’s place in music has been ever since the 1930’s or so (country, folk, blues, rock ‘n’ roll).

Literary Traveling Companion: “Gray Mountain,” by John Grishom

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photo courtesy of Hotel Floyd

posted June 2016

 

 

 

 

Old Florida: Apalachicola

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photo by John Solomon

Fly, rent a convertible, take a spin around Old Florida! No highways, no big cities, no depressing strip shopping centers in Old Florida…just character and authenticity.

Apalachicola 

Apalachicola sits on water that looks like the shrimping scenes in “Forrest Gump.” It is a small, off-the-radar town at the confluence of the Apalachicola River and Bay. We’re talking big, wide expanses of undeveloped water with marshes. On the Florida panhandle, believe it or not.

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photo by John Solomon

The buildings along Apalachicola’s waterfront look rundown at first glance.

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photo by John Solomon

But closer inspection reveals an interesting mix of commercial seafood shacks, two-story brick buildings at various stages of renovation, a small park, some docked boats and a couple of restaurants—all facing lovely views of peaceful water and marshes with graceful birds swooping in and out. An occasional shrimp boat ghosts by. Most of the town’s buildings are historic. It is a quiet place with a hint of its heyday as one of the largest ports on the Gulf of Mexico in the 1800s. Today, the town closes up at 8 p.m.

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Downtown Apalachicola

STAY

  • Houseboats at River Watch: Karen Hoff rents three nice houseboats on a nightly basis via VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). We stayed on Southern Comfort (property # 586285), docked on the Apalachicola River in town. Spotless, plenty of room for two people, full kitchen, heat, TV, two “land-worthy” bathrooms (i.e., no funky boat plumbing) and knock-your-socks-off views. Every now and then, a shrimping boat passed 30 feet from our deck! Great experience … like having your own boat but more comfortable and with better views, as you sit almost flush with the water versus several feet above it. FYI: The boat doesn’t go anywhere. It is just docked.
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Houseboats at River Watch

  • The Consulate (76 Water Street): Across from the small, riverfront park sits The Consulate. This place is a deal! It consists of four suites on the second floor (no elevator, 22 steps) but worth lugging up your suitcases because the two river-facing suites (Ambassador & Consul) are huge, attractively decorated (despite the unflattering photos on its website), full kitchen, washer/dryer, clean and reasonably priced. PLUS! Each has a very large balcony overlooking the lovely Apalachicola River. And, The Consulate has a fascinating history.
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The Consulate, photo by John Solomon

SHOP IT!

  • Richard Bickel Gallery  (81 Market St.): Stunning, stunning, black-and-white photographs of life in/around Apalachicola, mostly on the water, plus a smattering of photos taken by Mr. Bickel around the world. Lovely!
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photo by Richard Bickel

  • Forgotten Coast Used & Out of Print Books (236 Water Street): Good location, good selection of books, knowledgeable and friendly owner. A pleasure!
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photo by John Solomon

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

No gourmet restaurants here, just lots of fabulously fresh oysters, shrimp, grouper, etc. Wander and taste …

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photo by John Solomon

  • Bowery Station Bar: This looks like a biker bar from the outside—but go on in. They often feature good, live music, host clientele of all ages and close at 8:00. Hardly threatening and lots of fun.
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photo by John Solomon

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SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Apalachicola Historic Walking Tour: Take the self-guided walking tour, if you’re curious about all the old buildings; the town was laid out in the first half of the 19th century. Pick up the brochure at the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce (122 Commerce St.).
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photo by John Solomon

  • Charming, beautiful houses: Stroll through the neighborhood between Bay Street and Avenue D and between Market Street and 14th Street, where most but not all of the fine, old houses are located—polar opposite of “downtown” Apalachicola’s rough (but not scary) edges.ApalachicolaHouse2
  • Apalachicola Maritime Museum: Pay a short visit because this little museum provides a decent summary of Apalachicola’s maritime history, boat rentals and tours.
  • Camp Gordon Johnston Museum: (The local bookstore owner in Apalachicola says this museum is a good one! We did not have time to go here but plan to do so next time.) Located nearby in Carrabelle, Florida, the museum’s role is to preserve the heritage of the men who trained at the this camp during World War II. Opened in 1942 , Camp Gordon Johnston trained a quarter of a million men before closing in June of 1946.
  • Kick Back: The very best thing to do in Apalachicola is to watch the river traffic from your deck on your houseboat or at the Consulate! You’ll see a few shrimpers and pleasure boats, plus pelicans, cormorants, ducks, etc.: the birds outnumber boats by far.

OF NOTE: We have visited Apalachicola twice, both times in the winter. It may be busier or more crowded in the summer but I can’t imagine it would ever be unpleasantly so. I recommend 3 nights.

-posted April 2016