Marrakech: Come, to the Kasbah!

When I think of Marrakech, I think of…

La Mamounia‘s glamorous big pool and gardens

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La Mamounia’s big, glam pool

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La Mamounia’s long lobby cocktail bar has a terrace that overlooks their garden, above. So relaxing and dreamy!

I think of the serene beauty at the Dar el Bacha Museum of The Three Confluences, whose fascinating exhibits showed me the similarities between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism…

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Dar el Basha Museum of the Three Confluences

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Just look at those beautiful carvings above a door into one of Dar el Basha Museum’s exhibit rooms!

I think our lazy, hazy lunch on the rooftop of El Fenn…and the views

Breakfast © Kasia Gatkowska (1)

(photo courtesy of El Fenn)

FOODb ©David Loftus

(photo courtesy of El Fenn)

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The Atlas Mountains as seen from a wedding table on El Fenn’s rooftop

I think of the shockingly wonderful color combinations at Yves St. Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle

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The Jardin Majorelle complex includes a small jewel of a museum dedicated to Berber costumes and jewelry.

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The Jardin Majorelle was designed by painter Jacques Majorelle, son of famous art nouveau furniture designer Louis Majorelle. YSL bought Jardin Majorelle after Jacques’ death.

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window at Jardin Majorelle

And I will never forget the excellent people-watching at the intimate and sophisticated cocktail lounge at the Royal Mansour, a fabulously upscale hotel built by the king to show off Morocco’s artisans in the most tasteful way. Click here for the story. I saw Middle Eastern women in long, flowing dresses with smashing big jewelry as pretty as the tiles of Morocco.

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Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty….

See the Sights

Founded in 1059, Marrakech has many sights to see!

  • From Town & Country…the famed sites:
    • Jemaa el-Fna, the old market square anchored by the…
    • “the elegant minaret of the 12th century Koutoubia mosque, prototype of La Giralda in Seville (“In those days Morocco was more important than Spain,” he said);
    • the splendid 15th-century Ben Yousseff Medersa (Rue Assouel), or Islamic theological school, which has 132 upstairs rooms where students once lived and labored (the complex is now a museum) and at whose entrance is the inscription, “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.”
    • “be sure to visit often the Berber Museum in Marrakech’s Jardin Majorelle. (The garden, now public, was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle and later owned and tended by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.) Berber tribes…are renowned for their finery. But nothing prepares you for the magnificence and grandeur of their jewelry and clothing as collected and displayed in this little museum Bergé founded as an homage to Berber culture in 2011, after YSL’s 2008 death.” (Thank you, Town & Country!)
  • Saadian Tombs (aka, Tombeaux Saadiens) gorgeously carved & tiled 16th century tombs located by the Kasbah Mosque
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Even the tombs are tiled in Morocco!

  • Palais el Badi —  ruins of royal 16th century palace (Elle Decor), near the Saadian Tombs
  • Bahia Palace — “the opulent late 19th-century residence of a slave turned vizier, with beautifully tiled unfurnished rooms and painted wood ceilings” (Elle Decor)
  • Jardin Agdal — “a massive garden of pools, channels, and fruit orchards, near the Palais Royal but south of the medina” (Elle Decor); 12th century; UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Jardin Menara — “acres of olive groves surround a small 1866 pavilion overlooking a vast reflecting pool, southwest of the medina” (Elle Decor); UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • “where Patrick Manac’h, a sophisticated Oxford-educated collector, opened the Maison de la Photographie, the city’s first photography gallery, dedicated specifically to black-and-white images of North Africa (Rue Ahl Fes),”  per Departures, 2016.  The Telegraph (2017) also likes this. I went here and liked it. It is small with evocative photos.
  • Guéliz, a modern district just northwest of the medina, which was built by the architect Henri Prost in the early 20th century, during the period of the French protectorate. Its wide avenues, Art Deco architecture, and buzzing sidewalk cafés are a welcome foil to the narrow alleyways that make up the medina. Guéliz is also home to some of the city’s most interesting galleries, including Galerie 127, which showcases Morocco’s emerging photography talents, and David Bloch Gallery.” (Elle Décor, 2012)
  • “About 20 minutes north of Guéliz is the cobbled-together factory district of Sidi Ghanem, also called the Quartier Industriel. Driving by the battered, nondescript facades, you’d never guess that this is where some of the city’s most innovative artisans are at work. French designer Laurence Landon, for instance, offers his one-of-a-kind Art Deco-style mirrors and lamps…” (Elle Décor, 2012)

  • This doesn’t sound good: “…10 golf courses around its Ville Nouvelle, the modern, Europeanized district established by the French when Morocco became a protectorate, in 1912. It also had a water park with waves, called the Oasira, and in the past decade the access roads to the medina, or old city, have been sprouting sprawling ‘palace’ hotels.” (from Town & Country)
  • Boucharouite Museum – rugs made by Berber women, reminiscent of Rothko and Kandinsky (Elle Decor, 2015)
  • Museum of African Contemporary Art — (aka, MACAAL) a family’s collection, referenced in artnet News article, 2018; also recommended by NYT, 2017, which said, “splashy new Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (Macaal). The center is the latest cultural offering at Al Maaden golf resort, whose course already showcases large-scale outdoor sculptures by international artists”
  • Dar Si Said Museum (aka, Museum of Moroccan Arts) — “breathtaking Moroccan jewelry, woodwork, cedar furniture, and traditional wedding chairs” (Elle Decor)
  • Guide: I highly recommend Mr. Ira Jarna, recommended to us by La Mamounia. A Berber who was raised in Marrakech, Ira is educated, charming, and good-looking. Perfect! Gwyneth Paltrow was one of his clients.
  • Field trip: “venture to the High Atlas Mountains, which begin just 45 minutes outside Marrakech…” (Architectural Digest, 2018)

Shopping

The two most beautiful things I saw to buy in Marrakech are rugs and exotic brass lamps, cut into lace-like patterns that throw beautiful shadows on the walls.

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I covet these lamps! Look for them in the medina.

rug shopping

Les Nomades de Marrakech (Zaouiat Lahder No. 40) is the rug store to seek out in the medina because they don’t haggle. This is a huge relief, if you don’t like to negotiate prices. The most they will reduce their prices is 10-15%.

  • In the medina
    • “The Pajama Shop (in Souk Semmarine Rbaiya No. 18) “Ignore the slightly brighter-colored, commercial pieces at the front of the store and ask owner Sirari Mustapha to show you the ‘plus simple’ children’s and adult’s pajamas in ultra-fine white, gray, or cream cotton. They are just as fabulous for wafting around the pool as for sleeping in. At around $20 per pair, I always bulk buy.”  (Vogue, 2017) no website
    • Topolina (two locations = 436 Z.I. Sidi Ghanem & 134 Dar El Bacha, in the medina)A charming little clothing boutique near the entrance to the souk. Every piece is in a different print, often in wonderful silks and cottons, and cut in circular or square shapes for wonderful volume and swing. The printed turbans are divine, per Vogue, 2017. Travel+Leisure, 2017, & Black Tomato/goop.com also recommend it; no website
    • Tresor des Nomads (144 Rue Bab Doukkala) recommended by Town & Country, 2016; famous home decorating store filled with Moroccan treasures, owned by Mustapha Blaoui
    • Mustapha Blaoui “The quintessential Aladdin’s cave of souk treasures–rugs, lanterns, furniture, and objets.” (Elle Decor, 2015, & Tory Burch, 2018 & Black Tomato/goop.com)
    • A few steps from Mustapha Blaoui is Darkawa, recommended by the NYTimes, 2018, for home textiles; located in the medina, between Dar Bacha and Bab Doukkala, at Arset Aouzal 170
    • Riad Yima  – “A boutique, art gallery, tea room … all at once and in the heart of the medina, a few steps away from Dar Kawa,” per Darkawa owner. NYT, 2017, also recommended it, saying, “a funky and flamboyant cafe-boutique-gallery where every surface pops with radiant hues and crazy geometric patterns. The space was founded by the photographer Hassan Hajjaj, whose color-soaked street portraits of Moroccan dandies and fashionistas line the walls”
    • Popham Design Cement Tiles – recommended by Darkawa owner; located in the medina at Kaat Benahid, Derb Ouali, 18
    • Chabi Chic –  (1 Derb Arjan, Place des Epices, under restaurant Nomad in the medina; & at the Hotel Beldi Country Club, Route du Barrage) “new homewares line…offers a fresh take on traditional Moroccan tableware with stylish patterns and colors,” per Elle Decor, 2015. Travel+Leisure, 2017, & NYT, 2017, also recommend it.
    • “A design district is emerging at Souk Chérifia, courtesy of boutiques like Khmissa, which channels the spirit of the jet-setter Talitha Getty through psychedelic caftans, slippers and accessories with a 1960s feel.” (per NYT, 2017)
  • In Gueliz,
    • shop Studio Lalla (5 rue de Liberte) for boho handbags and jewelry, recommended by Travel+Leisure, 2017, & Elle Decor, 2015
    • Rue Majorelle (“How to Spend It”, 2016) “Our store is the antithesis of the crowded souk,” says Monique Bresson, who with Yehia Abdelnour runs 33 Rue Majorelle in the flourishing Guéliz district of Marrakech. This delightful two-storey space fuses the made-by-hand skills of the medina with the chic, calm aura of Paris boutiques such as Colette and Merci. “We specialise in modern takes on classic Moroccan crafts,” says Abdelnour of the wares by over 90 different artisans – from ceramics and paintings to design-led fashion and beauty products. “Under one roof you’ll find all the vibrant talents that exist in Morocco today, ” The Telegraph (2017) also likes this. Travel+Leisure described it as “a well-edited mini-souk”
    • Anitan – “Savvy carpet shoppers skip the souks in favour of this minimalist atelier adjacent to the Jardin Majorelle where owner Faïza Lahlou has already done a thorough first edit. Upstairs, hammam towels get a neutral hued makeover while Rif tribal ceramics are fantastically lacquered in the full colour wheel,” per Departures, 2016.
    • Maison Artc Fashion (street Mohamed El Bequal, 96 Residence Kelly) these “theatrical designs–ornately embroidered tunics, coats reworked from vintage Berber carpets–have been shown at Paris couture week…prices are steep” (Travel+Leisure, 2017, & Black Tomato/goop.com)
    • “Then wander down Rue des Vieux Marrakchis and Rue de la Rue de la Liberté, where you’ll find fashion-forward trends in Moor (7 rue des Anciens Marrakchis)
    • and candy-coloured loafers in Atika.” (The Telegraph, 2017) I want these!
    • Lalla (35 Boulevard El Mansour Eddahbi) for “fab bags & accessories” (Elle Decor, 2015)
    • Some Slow Concept Store (76 Boulevard Mansour Edhabi) – “A freshly opened villa-boutique dedicated to modernMoroccan craftsmanshop set in a rose-colored 1930’s building,” per Tory Burch, 2018. no website
    • Ben Rahal (28 Rue de la Liberte) “My favorite rug shop in Marrakesh is in the new part of the city.  It’s on the pricey side, but has a truly beautiful selection.  This is where I take my clients—celebrities as well as folks like me—who value quality over quantity and just want one or two really fabulous Moroccan carpets.” (Travel+Leisure 2014)
    • Maroc’n Roll 1432 – “Down a dodgy, snaking lane in the city’s modern Guéliz district, Yves Saint Laurent protégé Robert Merloz teams up with Fez tanners, Berber embroiderers and Middle Atlas carpet weavers to turn out rocker-chic zelig-patterned clutches, silver-studded black-leather babouches and desert-style tunics recast in diaphanous fabric with delicate tribal motifs,” per Departures, 2016. The FT’s How to Spend It (2016) & CNTraveler also like this.
    • Rue de Yougoslavie (recommended by NYT, 2017)
      • Cmooa (Compagnie Marocaine des Oeuvres et Objets d’Art) is an art space that houses…
        •  Macma (Musée d’Art et de Culture de Marrakech)
  • “Where the Medina specializes in artisan crafts, the Ville Nouvelle (new town) prefers to showcase the work of a new generation of Marrakshi artists in contemporary galleries such as
  • Soufiane Zarib (16 Riad La Rous, Dar El Bacha) — “Carpets are everywhere in Marrakech, but the selection here is extra inspiring. It has two spaces, one next to the Yves Saint Laurent museum, and one in the medina,” per Tory Burch, 2018

Eat, Drink & Be Merry!

  • Mimi’s Travel File’s three favorite restaurants in Marrakech were:
    • Al-Fassia — a women-owned, run and staffed restaurant in the new part of Marrakech whose decor is 1940’s Morrocan (made me want to elegantly light up a cigarette and order a Manhattan), whose service and food are very good, and whose prices are surprisingly reasonable.
    • El Fenn‘s swank rooftop bar and restaurant for local wine…and a breathtaking view.” (Town & Country, 2014) Loved this!
    • La Maison Arabe — lunch atop La Maison Arabe after our FUN FUN FUN cooking class there. Do it!
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La Maison Arabe’s cooking class: They gave each of us a tagine as a party favor!

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After we had finished our cooking class, La Maison Arabe’s staff served our culinary masterpieces to us on their peaceful rooftop with views of the medina.

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The beautifully clad man provided subtle, transporting musical accompaniment to our lunch at La Maison Arabe.

You will not starve in Marrakech. Just look at all of the recommendations I dug up in Mimi’s Travel File…

  • From Departures magazine (Departures has excellent taste), 2016
    • “the new Salt-Marrakech (108 Rue de la Bahia; 21-25/2438-2740; salt-marrakech.com), which brings guest chefs from around the world to cook for a few weeks in a very lovely, otherwise very traditional riad; and
    • Kanoun (BP 67, Asni; 21-25/2436-8200; virginlimitededition.com), in the beautiful 11-year-old Kasbah Tamadot, which is owned by Richard Branson and is an hour’s drive from the center of town
    • Nomad, in the  spice market, rooftop tables with views of  the walled city (Conde Nast Traveler, 2017, Forbes, 2017 & Travel+Leisure, 2014, & Black Tomato/goop.com say, “two gorgeous terraces, traditional Moroccan food with a modern take;” La Mamounia recommends it as a good place to eat in the medina)
  • Beldi Country Club – “splendid outdoor dining room, encircled by rose bushes” (Elle Decor, 2015)
  • Fellah Hotel — “worth at least a meal is the sparsely elegant, adobelike Fellah Hotel, nine miles outside the city on the  road to the High Atlas. Part Berber farm, part community outreach program, part artist colony, part spa resort with a glamorous pool…it is a fascinating combination of ethics, aesthetics, and hospitality,” per Town & Country, 2015. Departures, 2014, also recommended it.
  • Le Jardin — “While you are at Le Jardin, don’t miss the Norya Ahron Boutique, located on the first floor,” recommended by Darkawa owner, 2018; lush garden patio, near Darkawa, in the medina (32 Souk Sidi Abdelaziz, medina); Black Tomato/goop.com & La Mamounia like this, too
  • Terraces des Epices – rooftop terrace, lively, good for drinks, French-influenced food, per Black Tomato/goop.com; La Mamounia & Forbes, 2017, also recommend it; location is Sidi Abdel Aziz, 15 souk cherifia
  • Yacout – recommended by Black Tomato/goop.com. While the decor is beautiful and very “Arabian Nights,” I thought the food was mediocre.
  • L’ibzar –  in Gueliz, recommended by NYT, 2017; La Mamounia recommends it, too
  • “A night out in Gueliz can take you down the bourgeois or bohemian path. For the former, join the stylish young professional Moroccans who fill the couches at Pointbar, a dimly lighted and laid-back lounge with D.J.-spun mainstream house, soul and R&B tunes.”   recommended by NYT, 2017
  • “For a bohemian vibe, pack into Le 68, a cozy and convivial cubbyhole bar where Moroccans and European expats from the arty-intellectual set soak up wines from an extensive menu of French and local vintages by the glass.” recommended by NYT, 2017
  • “on the lush grounds of the Dar Rhizlane hotel are angular, airy and lined with glass walls. And, like greenhouses, they bloom with exotic and fragrant specimens — in this case from the genus of neo-North African haute cuisine,” per NYT, 2017
  • Jnane Tamsna – “If you’re staying in the Medina, there will be a moment when you need some peace and tranquility away from all the hustle and bustle. Situated in the middle of the Palmerie area — think of the Beverly Hills of Marrakech– Jnine Tamsna is an oasis, 20 minute drive north of the Medina. The area is filled with mega mansions belonging to uber-rich owners who range from Saudi royals to Italian football stars. Jnane Tamsna, however, exudes understated and natural charm. It’s run by a French-educated hotelier, designer and art collector Meryanne Loum-Martin and her ethno-botanist husband Gary Martin.” (Forbes, 2017)Book a table by the swimming pool under the olive trees for the Mediterranean-Moroccan inspired daily menu.
  • Tory Burch (2018) recommends…
    • Restaurant La Famille (42 Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid) – “vegetarian food here mixes Moroccan and Italian influences and is served in a peaceful garden hidden in the Medina.”
    • Le Jardin Secret (121 Rue Mouassine) “This private palace and its botanical garden have just been renovated and opened to the public last year. It’s a beautiful haven…” (also recommended by the NYT, 2017)
    • Restaurant Le Grand Cafe de la Poste (Avenue Imam Malik) – “A not-to-be-missed institution in the modern neighborhood of Gueliz. The decor is somewhere between Paris and Morocco and so is the food…” (Forbes & La Mamounia like it, too.) Mimi’s Travel File thought this was not worth the trip, as it was a weak imitation of a Parisian bistro with wan references to Morocco.
  • Cocktails: The absolute best ambience at…
    • The Royal Mansour’s cocktail lounges
    • La Mamounia’s Majorelle Gallery provides a view through its huge open doors onto its terrace and big, lush gardens

Hotels

  • La Maison Arabe (Andrew Harper)
  • Amanjena (Andrew Harper)
  • Riad Orangeraie (Andrew Harper)
  • Jasper Conran’s new L’Hotel in the medina (Vogue & Conde Nast Traveler, 2017)
  • Richard Branson’s sister “bought a riad after her first visit in 2001 and eventually turned it into the cozy-chic boutique hotel Riad El Fenn” (Elle Décor, 2012; Town & Country, 2014) “swank rooftop bar”; Conde Nast Traveler, 2017, said, “If your idea of Marrakech is waking  call to prayer echoing from the Koutoubia Mosque and sipping mint tea in the square, then an Old City riad turned hotel is the way to go, and Vanessa Branson’s El Fenn is the best in the category.”
Extra Large room (1) © Kasia Gatkowska

(photo courtesy of El Fenn)

  • Mandarin Oriental (Departures magazine, 2016; The Telegraph, 2017; Architectural Digest, 2016; Conde Nast Traveler, 2017) 54 villas 20 minutes’ drive from the medina, “gorgeous garden, ” per The Telegraph
  • Riad Joya (Town & Country, 2015) 7 suites, rooftop restaurant with excellent food, in the medina
  • La Mamounia (Town & Country, 2015) Conde Nast Traveler, 2017, says La Mamounia is “one big fabulous spectacle.” While I don’t usually like large hotels, I stayed here for six nights and loved it.
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(photo courtesy of La Mamounia)

  • The Royal Mansour (Town & Country, 2015) 53 stand-alone riads; CNTraveler, 2017, says, “you’ll play out a modern One Thousand and One Nights fantasy in a private riad with our own rooftop terrace and hammam.” This is a very impressive and pretty place.
  • Villa des Orangers (Town & Country, 2015) 27 rooms; Two of my friends went here for hamams and said it’s very pretty.
  • La Sultana in Marrakech. It’s in the heart of the medina and is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Not to mention smelled—they cut hundreds of fresh roses there everyday, and the fragrance is intoxicating,” per AD 2016 article. Town & Country, 2015, also recommended it. 5 riads combined to form a 28 room hotel
  • Es Saadi (Conde Nast Traveler, 2017)
  • Riad Dar Kawa (Tory Burch, 2018)

When  to Visit: “Spring (March-April) and fall (October-November) are the ideal seasons for a visit,” advises travel aficionado Andrew Harper.

Tip: “Make sure to carry small dominations of the Dirham; there are many places to leave a small (coin) tip.” (good advice from our friend, Andrew Harper)

Another Tip: “ Joel Zack of Heritage Tours Private Travel. He has deep insider knowledge of the country (having lived there), excellent local contacts, and terrific guides. Tell him your interests— sightseeing? Shopping? Hiking? Mountain biking? Spa time?—and Heritage will craft the itinerary right for you (info@htprivatetravel.com, 800-378-4555″ (from Town & Country magazine)

What to Pack: While Morocco is the most liberal of northern Africa’s Muslim countries, it is still Muslim. Advise you pack accordingly, i.e., don’t flaunt skin (leave mini-skirts and strapless dresses and shorts at home). In the medina, the little roads are mostly dirt and often dirty, so don’t wear high heels or pants that will drag on the  floor.

DVD Traveling Companion: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

If I had had a couple of more days…

  • Skoura — Dar Ahlam, 14 suites, has it all: luxury, top-notch service, simplicity (you’re in the midst of a working oasis farm), a superb chef, and a rich menu of culturally immersive activities tailored to your interests and included in the price. A night at its desert encampment, Dar Ahlam Nomad, is an add-on—but absolutely worth it. For more information on Dar Ahlam, see “Taking You Higher,” in the March issue of Town & Country (maisondesreves.com).” (per T&C, 2015 & How to Spend It, 2015)
  • Scarabeo Stone Camp — (Travel + Leisure, 2013) less than an hour’s drive from Marrakech
  • Essouiria: “The other blue-infused city, though not in as obvious a way, is Essaouira, a couple of hours from Marrakech on the sea. The fishing village with strong trade winds—a favorite of windsurfers—charms just about everyone who walks inside its walls containing narrow yet vividly adorned cobalt-trimmed alleyways, camel-studded beaches, excellent (and less haggle-riddled) shopping, and food. La Table by Madada has the best Moroccan cuisine in town, while expats who fell in love with Essaouira have opened impeccable French (Umia) and Italian (Silvestro) spots in the vicinity. Where the shop owners in Marrakech are aggressive, sometimes abrasive, here they’re exceedingly mellow, perhaps softened by the sea air. Berber rugs and excessive amounts of vintage jewelry can be found, thanks to many selling wares retrieved from the desert and mountains” (AD 2018)

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Morocco: Fez Fabulousness

The first building I entered in Morocco was my hotel in Fez. Right away, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore!

Entrance
entrance to Palais Faraj hotel
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Palais Faraj hotel’s courtyard

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This door at Palais Faraj shows off Morocco’s decorative arts in one fell swoop: painted and carved wood, tiles in many patterns, lace-like plaster work…a rich and happy visual heritage that is centuries old.

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This is Fez’s medina, founded in the 9th (!!!) century, as seen from the rooftop terrace of the Palais Faraj.

Now let’s go into the medina…

Fez’s medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site…all 540 acres of it! Hold onto your hats because wandering around the medina is fascinating and fun. Here you will see the major cultural sites of Fez, observe its medieval lifestyle, and see the exotic wares for sale in its little shops.

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Men in djellabas (long robes with pointed hoods) are ubiquitous, not to mention evocative! Djellabas are long coats, worn over clothes: made of wool in winter and cotton for summer.

See the Sites in the Medina

  •  Al Qaraouyine (aka, Karaouinne), is a Koranic college founded in 859, the oldest continuously operating university in the world!
  • Al-Attarine Madrasa (Koranic school) founded in 1325 (adjacent to Al Qaraouyine)
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Note Al-Attarine Madrasa’s gorgeous tiles, woodwork, and carved plaster!  (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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Bou Inania Madrasa

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architectural detail at Bou Inania

  • Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts “housed in a beautifully restored caravanserai, a rooming house for traveling merchants.” (Financial Times) This multi-tiered, wood-paneled caravanserai was built in the 14th century.
  • Batha Museum of artisan objects (peaceful garden, pretty carved and painted doors, pottery, etc. with interesting history)
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Our guide, leading us through the medina: Every few hours when the call to prayer was broadcast, he would duck into a mosque to pray for 10 minutes.

A Note about Tour Guides: While I prefer not to be herded around by a guide, I highly recommend hiring one to navigate Fez’s medina because (1) you will most definitely get lost otherwise (2) the merchants will leave you alone (3) our guide, Mohamed,  advised us how much to pay while haggling with various merchants. Hire a guide:

  • Through your hotel. That’s how we got our excellent guide, Mohamed.
  • Hire Mohamed directly (Cell: 0661 2524 88 or mohamedalami410@gmail.com)
  • “…sign on to a savvy local tour: the four-hour “Hidden Fez” offered by Plan-it-Morocco, a travel company run by two women — English and Australian — who live here and know the city inside and out. The tours, usually led by Moroccans, visit the city’s exquisite private palaces, enchanting hidden gardens, spaces where weavers work hand looms, the odoriferous tannery quarter and other places you would probably never find or gain access to on your own. The tour requires a minimum of two visitors and costs 1,600 dirhams. More information is available at plan-it-morocco.com.” (NYTimes, 2017)
  • “there is nothing like a tailor-made tour from Fez-based New Zealand novelist Sandy McCutcheon, a contributor to The View from Fez blog (riadzany.blogspot.com), one of the most useful resources on the city, or his colleague Helen Ranger to give you the inside track on Fez, while showing you the best places to buy Berber rugs and the rest of Fez’s traditional crafts.” (“How to Spend It,” 2011)

TIP: “Many maps of the medina are either poor or incorrect (plan de Fez is the exception),” according to The Ruined Garden restaurant in Fez medina

TIP: “Most of the souks and cafes in the Fez medina are closed on Friday” (NYTimes 2017)

Shopping in the Medina

The things to buy are leather and suede (made by tanneries in the medina), pottery and tiles, carved & inlaid wood, Berber rugs, and metal lamps cut in lace-like patterns. Argan oil is big, too.

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Poterie de Fez

  • Poterie de Fez (Quartier de Poterie, 32 Ain Nokbi Route Sidi Hrazem) — Love this place because they showed us how tiles are made, how tile designs are laid into place, and how pottery is painted. They can make anything your little heart desires.
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artisan at Poterie de Fes

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Got to have this sink from Poterie de Fez!

  • Terrasse de Tannerie, El Haj Ali Baba (no. 10 Hay Lblida Chouara) for a huge array of leather and the softest suede clothes, purses, wallets, belts…plus the proprietor offers an interesting explanation of the tanning process, complete with views from its terrace of the dying vats in the square below.
  • Au Coin du Bois (20, Derb El Hammam, Guerniz) for gorgeous carved and inlaid wooden items
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Au Coin du Bois: This soaring courtyard is typical of Fez’s palace architecture. Today, the palaces are used as riads (small hotels), elegant shops, and private homes.

  • Talisman Art Gallery (No. 150 Sidi Moussa Guerniz) for many beautifully sophisticated antiques like this chest, for which my husband is still longing…
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bureau of inlaid mother of pearl and camel bone from Talisman Art Gallery

In addition to these beautiful things are others, exotic and intriguing. For example…

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Yep, that’s a real camel’s head hanging in front of this butcher’s stall. I was not tempted. I don’t think this woman is interested, either…although they do have similar profiles!

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The local Coke distributor: While walking through the medina, we had to step aside numerous times for donkey-drawn carts to pass. The streets are too narrow for cars.

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A realtor’s display: Not exactly like the glossy photos of houses in our realtors’ windows!

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We saw numerous little stores like this. Can you guess what these are??? Portable thrones for carrying a bride about on some poor men’s shoulders. Who wouldn’t want to be queen for the day?!

Sights Outside of the Medina

  • Royal Palace – While you can’t go inside, this is fun to see. It is one of the king’s 45 palaces.
  • “an afternoon stroll takes you past the swarming Bab Bou Jeloud gate and into the Jnan Sbil gardens, recently reopened and a delicious respite from the city’s pressure-cooker heat…,” per How to Spend It. We recently visited this and while it’s not world-class, it is a nice, open green garden that one can walk through in 15 minutes.
  • “While the Ville Nouvelle, the administrative quarter invented by the colonial French, has wide avenues lined with Jacaranda trees, shiny modern cafeterias, office blocks and ATMs, the soul of the city resides in that gigantic medina” (How to Spend It)

Day Trips

  • Field trip: “From there (Fez), a three-hour drive gets you to Chefchaouen, the famed Blue City that is even more dreamy in reality than in photographs. Imagine if there was fresh snowfall in Santorini, in every shade of periwinkle, indigo, sky, and powder blue. There, you can almost feel sustained off the visual stimulation without food, but when hunger sets in the best (casual) meal can be had at Bab Ssour, while prime views of the stacked blue city are had from the top of Lina Ryad, the prettiest riad in town.” (Architectural Digest, 2018) My friend, who went to Chefchaouen this month, says there’s not that much to do here so recommends one night only.
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on the road from Fez to Volubilis

  • Field trip #2: See the beautifully preserved Roman ruins at Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site…Easy day trip from Fez (1+ hours drive) and fun to drive through the countryside, which is covered with acres of olive and fruit trees.
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Volubilis

  • To be Combined with Volubilis: One hour’s drive from Volubilis is the 17th century capital of Meknes, one of Morocco’s four imperial cities & a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the FT recommends seeing the mausoleum of Sultan Moulay Ismail, Bab Mansour gateway, the ruins of the Sultan’s stables (built to accommodate 12,000 horses!), the Granaries, the Dar Jamai Museum (19th cent. palace) w/collection of ceramics, jewelry, and textiles; nearby is the holy city of Moulay Idriss. The drive back to Fez takes about an hour.
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one of 20 gates interspersed among Meknes’ 40 km. of walls around the city

I recommend our driver, Karim Khalil, of Transport Touristique VIP (karim2011khalil@gmail.com). Our hotel, Palais Faraj, arranged for him to drive us from Fez to Volubilis to Meknes and back, which was a great day.

Let’s Eat!

Cocktails & Restaurants

When you make dinner reservations in the medina,  the restaurant asks “with or without a porter?” Take the porter. Otherwise, you will be fruitlessly wandering the medina, hungry and confused!

  • “…it’s an adventure in itself to venture—with a porter to guide you—into the medina after dark to savor the six-course prix fixe menus at Nur, open in September for its second “season” of fine modern-Moroccan-with-a-Mexican-twist cuisine, made from ingredients purchased each morning in the market and formed into innovative dishes later (they’re closed in summer),” per Architectural Digest, 2018). CNTraveler (2017), Wall Street Journal (2017) & NYTimes (2017) also recommend Nur, as does Mimi’s Travel File. The decor is modern, elegant medina.
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Our best meal in Morocco was at Nur. This is an aerial view. The restaurant has extremely high ceilings and is small. Stylish and deelish!

  • “The candlelit tiled courtyard of the five-room riad hotel Dar Roumana (House of the Pomegranate) offers a romantic setting in which to discover the excellent cooking of Younes Idrissi. The changing prix fixe menus are inspired by the French and Moroccan kitchens.” (NYTimes, 2017) Mimi’s Travel File can attest to the food and romantic ambiance of this traditionally beautiful riad in the medina.
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Dar Roumana is a beautiful riad with good food in an elegant setting.

  • “The casual Café Fez, in a walled, lushly planted garden, is run by the renowned French antiques dealer Michel Biehn…Reasonably priced, friendly and serving fresh, inventive Franco-Moroccan cooking, this place is especially popular with local expats.” (NYTimes 2017) Mimi’s Travel File recommends CF (it’s fun!), as does CN Traveler, 2017.
  • Eden, the restaurant in the Palais Amani, was recommended by CN Traveler, 2017. If you would like a break from traditional Moroccan decor, this modern, white and pretty (slightly cold in feel) restaurant is a good get. I liked the bar at Palais Amani.
  • The Ruined Garden, in Riad Idrissy, was recommended by CN Traveler, 2017
  • Cafe Clock  was suggested by Travel +Leisure, 2015

Hotels

  • Palais Amani (Andrew HarperNew York Times, 2017 & Mr. and Mrs. Smith recommend this; Mimi’s Travel File visited it and thought it attractive)
  • Palais Faraj (Abercrombie & Kent, 2016 and Travel+Leisure 2015) – highly recommend! We stayed here for a week last month and loved the decor, location and nice staff. PF is built up against the medina, on the outside the wall.
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Palais Faraj bedroom: note the Berber rugs on tiled floor, carved wood door frames and terrace

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fountain in Palais Faraj’s courtyard

  • Architectural Digest (2018) said: “It should be required to stay at a riad (the Moroccan term for a house with gardens) inside the medina, many of which have been lovingly restored into intimate boutique hotels. There are handfuls of particularly pristine and transportive ones to choose from, including
    • the Relais & Chateaux property Riad Fes, with its peaceful pool and incredibly chic wine bar, and (Departures, 2016 likes this, too)
    • Palais Amani, the regally outfitted 17th-century bolt-hole of stained glass and Technicolor tile work whose ceilings are sky-high and whose rooftop is being transformed for open-air cooking classes and dining.
    • Karawan Riad opened two years ago after a painstaking ten-year restoration and renovation that comprises intricate moucharaby paneling and a lounge wallpapered with rich red rugs. (T+L, 2015, also recommended it) A friend of mine stayed here this month, loved it & said, “It’s gorgeous!”
    • The food at all these riads is mouth-watering…”
  • “Overlooking the medina, the 50-room Sahrai became Fez’s first real boutique hotel when it opened in 2014. Using rich local materials like biscuit-colored Taza stone and custom-made décor like copper-framed lanterns, the Parisian designer Christophe Pillet coined a new decorative idiom of contemporary Moroccan chic that has made this stylish establishment a favorite of the local beau monde. Join this cosmopolitan crowd for cocktails either in the curtained open-air gallery near the bar or in the rooftop bar overlooking the city.” (NYTimes, 2017) Travel+Leisure (2016) also recommended it.

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BTW, while many Moroccans speak English, more speak French, and all speak Arabic or Berber. How’s your Berber?

Bon voyage!

Amalfi Coast, Mi Amore

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(photo courtesy of Getty Images)

The Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage sight for many reasons…mountains shooting up out of the deep, blue sea; pastel villages on the two-lane road that hugs the mountains along the water; long, languorous, al fresco lunches of fish just-plucked from the sea; lemon groves; medieval villages rich in history; colorful ceramics galore; water gazing and big, bright views. Let’s go!

Stay

BOOK NOW: “By March, the best hotels start to sell out.” (I can personally vouch for this great advice from Andrew Harper)

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Il San Pietro di Positano: Definitely go for a drink on one of the world’s more beautiful terraces!

  • Il San Pietro and Le Sirenuse hotels are the two grandes dames of the Amalfi Coast, and both are in Positano. While Positano is crowded, these hotels are glorious.
    • Il San Pietro di Positano   Il San Pietro sits by itself just outside of Positano, clinging to a cliff overlooking the sea.  Decor is classic Italian. Definitely go for a drink on this spectacular terrace, as I did. This uber-glamorous hotel is recommended by Vogue and Andrew Harper, although you will probably run into a lot of Americans.
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Il San Pietro di Positano

  • Positano
    • Le Sirenuse (recommended by Andrew Harper, the NYTimes, goop.com & me) is super glam, with a lemon tree scented terrace overlooking the deep, blue sea; you will run into lots of Americans here. Decor is old world Italian. An extremely well-traveled and good friend of mine recently stayed at Le Sirenuse and loved it! Read the Sirenuse Journal on their website for excellent tips on the Amalfi Coast. (58 rooms and suites)
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Le Sirenuse

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Le Sirenuse’ beautiful dining room overlooking the water

  • also in Positano
    • Villa Treville looks beautiful and stylishly decorated. No wonder Gwyneth Paltrow (see her goop.com) recommended it! This is your place if you are afraid of heights because it is not as high up as some of the other hotels.
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Villa Treville

  • in Ravello (relaxed pace, less crowded than Amalfi & Positano)
    • Belmond Hotel Caruso , former 11th century palace recommended by impeccable sources: Town & Country, Vogue, Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop.com, and Andrew Harper
    • Palazzo Avino (formerly Palazzo Sasso) Travel aficionado Andrew Harper recommends this 33 room hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant in a former 12th century private villa
    • Villa Cimbrone Recommended by Elle Décor, Vogue & NY Times, the Villa Cimbrone is noted for its beautiful gardens
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Villa Cimbrone

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Villa Cimbrone

  • In Conca dei Marini (not crowded)
    • Monastero Santa Rosa (recommended by the NY Times, Town & Country, Bazaar, How to Spend It, & Vogue–pretty impressive!) — This is the place to stay if you want to get away from the crowds in Positano and Amalfi. This former 17th century monastery, whose decor is not overly sophisticated, is in a tiny town with a charming little church, breathtaking views AND a great-looking Michelin-starred restaurant. I think it would be a peaceful, beautiful experience. (20 rooms and suites)
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Monastero Santa Rosa – a former monastery – reminds me of those monasteries sitting atop cliffs in Tibet – but with waaaay more services

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Pretty hard to beat this view from Monastero Santa Rosa’s pool!

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Oh, waiter! I’d like a Limoncello mojito, por favore. (photo courtesy of Monastero Santa Rosa)

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Let’s order lemon risotto for lunch! (photo courtesy of Casa Angelina)

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Casa Angelina’s jr. suite terrace

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Take an elevator down through the cliffs (so cool!) to sit on Casa Angelina’s beach.

Mangia, Mangia

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Il Refettorio — This has to be the most fun Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. Nothing stuffy here!

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Il Pirata

In an excellent article in Food & Wine, Mario Batali recommends:

  • in hard-to-find Massa Lubrense, La Scoglio, Taverna del Capitano, and Quattro Passi
  • La Tagliate in Montepertuso – “
I love this town dearly as a relief from the chichi beach and Armani crowd,” said Mario Battali in Food & Wine.Vogue likes it, too!
  • in Positano, Il Capitano (“high above the sea”), Chez Black (“right on the water” & Vogue magazine also likes Chez Black), and “the restaurant in Le Sirenuse is quite tasty.”
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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse

 

da Adolfo, “a hippie spot” on Laurito Beach where Carla Sersale, who runs Emporio, the boutique at her family’s hotel (the fab Le Sirenuse), spends some of her time off, according to an interview in Veranda Magazine. Click here for details. This place looks like so much fun! The Financial Times‘ excellent “How to Spend It” magazine also recommended it, as do goop.com and Vogue magazine.

See the Sights

Drive the Drive: The drive from Vietri to Positano along the Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That’s how spectacular it is!!! While nerve-wracking at times, you MUST do the  drive as it is gorgeous. We had to back up on this narrow, two-lane road with STEEP drop-off to make room for a truck; take your time!).

Village Hop along the Way: For a great article by Elle Decor on which towns to visit along the Amalfi Coast, click here

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(photo courtesy of Casa Angelina)

Boat the Coast: For a  different perspective, see the Amalfi Coast by boat! Take the Travelmar ferry to points along the coast

Hike for Views: An alternative way to take in the stunning sea views is suggested by the NYT: “For better views and less congestion, head to Bomerano, a mountaintop hamlet, to hike Il Sentiero degli Dei, or the Path of the Gods. As the name suggests, the up-in-the-clouds views are spectacular along this well-marked trail. Though not recommended for anyone prone to vertigo, it’s a relatively easy three-hour hike to the town of Nocelle, where hundreds of steps then lead down to the beach at Arienzo and a well-deserved dip in the sea.”

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

See Amalfi’s Duomo’s façade of mosaics and striped arches and Chiostro del Paradiso, a 13th-century cloister

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

 

BTW, have I mentioned that Positano and Amalfi are crowded?! The NYTimes  (“36 Hours on the Amalfi Coast” ), Vogue and/or Elle Décor (recommend seeking out these following charming smaller towns:

  • Cetara (medieval village, anchovy sauce)
  • Vietri sul Mare (ceramics, majolicas)
  • Praiano (click here to read the NYTimes‘ article on Praiano & click here to read Vogue‘s article)
  • Conca dei Marini
  • Maiori (has a sand beach, unlike most of the other AC beaches, which are all pebbles; Collegiate di Santa Maria a Mare)
  • Minori (Villa Marittima, a first-century Roman villa ruins)
  • Ravello (Click here to read Vogue‘s article on Ravello; Villa Cimbrone’s gardens; Villa Rufolo — the inspiration for the magic garden of Klingsor in Wagner’s “Parsifal;” Ravello Festival attracts world class music talent from July-September)
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Ravello Music Festival (photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

 

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

Day trips

  • Pompeii is an easy day trip by train from Sorrento
  • Capri — Take a day-trip on a Riva speedboat

SHOP

Lucio Liguori, Via San Vito 49, Raito, 84019 Vietri sul Mare. Tel +39 339 310 7071. Studio visits on request.

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(photo courtesy of Le Sirenuse)

in Positano

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(photo courtesy of Emporio Le Sirenuse)

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(photo courtesy of Emporio Le Sirenuse)

For more shopping opp’s, see goop.com

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You  will see lots of beautiful tiles like this for sale in boutiques along the Amalfi Coast. (photo courtesy of Villa Treville)

When to Visit

Elle Décor recommends May-June and Sept-Oct, when the weather is slightly cooler.

My husband and I spent part of our  honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast 20 years ago, so I thought it would be the perfect location for a Valentine’s Day post.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Costa Rica Thanksgiving

Some places are transporting, take you away from all your worldly cares and soothe. Casa Chameleon in Costa Rica is one of them. During our stay there last month, all I wanted to do was lounge by CC’s gorgeous pool and stare at the views. I forced myself to go “off property” twice…(“You really should explore!”)…but secretly wish I had lazed on our balcony, gazing at the mountains and water, instead. Thanks for the memories, Casa Chameleon! I am still thinking about CC’s…

Views

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You will walk into CC’s open air reception area and be magnetically drawn to the view beyond.

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You have arrived in the land of peace and beauty!

 

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View from our room: can you see why I didn’t want to leave it?

 

Design Details

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“All We Have is Now” is painted on this towel rack on the balcony of our casita.

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door pull

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Pool

CNN recently named CC’s pool among the top 10 most beautiful in the world! Click here to read all about it.

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Cocktail Lounge

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The bar looks over the infinity pool and beyond to the great blue sea!

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Sunset drinks, anyone?

Flora

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walking down to casitas

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Rooms with Best Views

5 & 10, although we were happy as clams in room 4 (avoid rooms 7 & 8, as views are not as good)

Best Time to Go

November to February, per one local advisor (but look online to check out weather and decide for yourself)

Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the excellent travel website, recommends CC. Click here to read what they have to say.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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)

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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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Caribbean’s Best Islands: Part 2 of 3

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(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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(photo courtesy of The Cotton House, Mustique)

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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:

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

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Les Jolies Eaux (photo courtesy of @mustiqueisland)

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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.

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Cotton House on Mustique

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Cotton House’s veranda

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lovely bedroom open to the ocean at The Firefly

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

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

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view from The Firefly

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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.

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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).

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Firefly Plantation bedroom: Great views from this hotel!

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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.

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(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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

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(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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(photo courtesy of Petit St. Vincent Private Island)

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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!

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(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!

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(photo courtesy of The Firefly)

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(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

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St. Lucia (photo courtesy of Ladera Resort)

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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.

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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…

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

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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.”

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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!

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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.

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

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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!

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

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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!

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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.

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(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….

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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.

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(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!!!!!
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Lesser Antillean Hummingbird (photo courtesy of Anse Chastenet)

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

Australia Awesomeness

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(photo courtesy of Tourism Australia/Richard Powers

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

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

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

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

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

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(photo courtesy of Tourism Australia/Nick Rains)

Sydney

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

SEE THE SIGHTS in Sydney

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

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

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

Back in Sydney, see…

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(photo courtesy of ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park)

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

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Aboriginal art courtesy of New South Wales Museum

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(photo courtesy of Tourism Australia/Hugh Stewart)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Sydney

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

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

SHOP in Sydney

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

STAY in Sydney

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

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

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

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

Ayers Rock, aka Uluru, aka the Red Centre

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

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

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

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

SEE THE SIGHTS in Uluru

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

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up close and personal with the Olgas

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

STAY in Uluru

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

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

Sydney to Canberra via the Coast

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

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Southern Highlands countryside

SEE THE SIGHTS in the Southern Highlands

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

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

STAY in the  Southern Highlands

Peppers Manor House–good restaurant here!

Canberra

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

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Canberra’s War Memorial

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

Melbourne

SEE THE SIGHTS in Melbourne

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

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

STAY in Melbourne

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

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Melbourne

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

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

Sunshine Coast 

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

STAY in the Sunshine Coast

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

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Spicers Clovelly Estate

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Spicers Clovelly Estate: Splendor in the Grass!

SEE THE SIGHTS in the Sunshine Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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Emma Thompson (photo courtesy of Bridge Climb Sydney)

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

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Heidi Klum (photo courtesy of Bridge Climb Sydney)

 

 

Galapagos & Machu Picchu: Wahoo!

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

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

STAY in Quito, Ecuador

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

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

SEE THE SIGHTS in Quito

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

Fun and great eye candy!

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Independence Square

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

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY in Quito

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

GALAPAGOS!!!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bartolomeo Island (photo by Paul Schicke courtesy of QuasarExpeditons)

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

STAY in the Galapagos:

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

HOTEL/ship in the Galapagos

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The Grace (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

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

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breakfast aboard The Grace (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

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

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

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

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

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Suite on The Grace (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

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

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The Grace and her dinghy (photo courtesy of QuasarExpeditions)

HOTEL/land

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

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

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

MACHU PICCHU

CUZCO, Peru

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

HOTELS in Cuzco

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

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La Casona Inkaterra

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La Casona Inkaterra

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

SEE THE SIGHTS in Cuzco

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

SHOP in Cuzco

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

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

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

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

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(photo courtesy of Belmond)

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

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

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

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

 HOTELS in Machu Picchu

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

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

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

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

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

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Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba in the Sacred Valley: Gorgeous Andes!

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

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

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

Other hotels in the Sacred Valley include:

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

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orchid near Machu Picchu (photo courtesy of Inkaterra)

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Machu Picchu flora and fauna (photo courtesy of Inkaterra)

Bermuda Bliss

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photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority

Going to Bermuda? Lucky you, because Bermuda is a happy, fun island, surrounded by bright blue/green water, and covered with hibiscus and lush jungle-green vegetation. Plus, Bermudians are all nice! I wonder if it’s because Bermuda’s population is only 60,000 people and the island is relatively small (22 square miles).

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Scooter around the island—It’s really fun! Plus, the speed limit for cars and scooters is only 20 m.p.h. (and everyone obeys it) so the likelihood of being run over is low.
  • Check out the island’s Bermuda National Trust gardens and historic properties. Elle Décor especially liked the Verdmont Museum (Collector’s Hill, Smith’s Parish), describing it as a “house museum treasure.”
  • Try out every beach: there are MANY, all gorgeous and uncrowded. They really are pink! That’s because tiny pieces of broken coral are interspersed with the sand.
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Stonehole Bay (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

Western Bermuda

  • One of the BEST beach walks–is from stunning Horseshoe Bay to the Swizzle Inn. It’s dotted with many gorgeous coves, including heavenly Jobson Cove. Timing: This walk should be done at low tide because it includes a series of beaches interrupted by rocky promontories, most of which can be walked around at low tide but not at high tide. Note: While the Swizzle Inn is not great, you can sit on its road-side terrace and try a Rum Swizzle, the island’s signature drink.
Horseshoe Bay Beach (photo credit Bermuda Tourism Authority)

Horseshoe Bay Beach (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

  • Gibbs Hill Lighthouse–built in 1844, this is the oldest cast iron lighthouse in the world…it also provides GREAT big views of the island, as it is on a hilltop; one can also dine here.
  • Somerset Bridge–if you are into Lilliputian draw bridges, this sight’s for you! I must admit, it’s pretty charming. Its’ opening is 18″, just wide enough for a sailboat to pass through.
  • Royal Naval Dockyard–19th century dockyard with an excellent museum and fort…and beautiful, high-up views of Bermuda, plus shops and restaurants
  • Take the ferry from the Royal Navy Dockyard to St. George’s–it’s efficient, clean, inexpensive, and a great way to see all of Bermuda’s southern coast from the water; also, it motors inside the reef (no exposure to rough seas) so is quite comfortable.

Mid-Island

  • Hamilton, Bermuda’s capital, is quietly attractive with pastel-painted buildings, but the main reasons to visit are the following……
    • Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute: so interesting!
    • Bermuda National Gallery (in City Hall, 17 Church St.)–lovely paintings of and by Bermudians and non Bermudians alike, like Winslow Homer
    • Royal Yacht Club (15 Pt. Pleasant Rd.)–is private but if you can get a letter of introduction, it’s worth it because it is old (built in 1844, one of the oldest royal yacht clubs in the world) and beautiful, w/a lovely terrace overlooking the very snazzy boats docked there
    • Fort Hamilton  (NE corner)— Civil War era fort that now features terraced gardens

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  • Bermuda Botanical Gardens (169 South Rd., Paget Parish)—36 acres of specimens. John Lennon named his “Double Fantasy” album after the Double Fantasy freesia he spotted here.

 Eastern Bermuda

  • Crystal Cave (8 Crystal Ca Rd.)–Floating pontoon pathways span a 55′ deep azure blue underground lake, beautifully lit up for tourists. Above the lake are gorgeous white stalactites, soda straws and helectite formations.
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Crystal Cave (photo courtesy of The Crystal Caves of Bermuda)

  • St. George’s–charming, historic town AND a UNESCO World Heritage Site; oldest continuously inhabited town of English origin in the New World, with fortifications built in 1612…lovely streets and houses with some decent shopping and waterside dining opp’s; be sure to visit!
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St. George (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

  • St. Peter’s Church –Located in St. George’s, this is the oldest Protestant church in continuous use in the New World, est. 1612
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St. Peter’s (courtesy of St. Peter’s)

  • Mid Ocean Club–This private club’s décor is cold, though location is dramatically pretty. A friend of mine, who has been going to Bermuda for years, told me the MOC has the best golf on the island.

Seasonal Sights Of Note

  • Every spring, the Garden Club of Bermuda sponsors the Open Houses and Gardens Tour. Wouldn’t that be glorious?! www.bermudatourism.com
  • At midnight every New Year’s Eve, they drop a giant Bermuda Onion in the town square at St. George’s…think a MUCH tamer version of NYC’s Time Square ball drop
  • The 35th Americas Cup will be hosted in Bermuda in June of 2017
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photo courtesy of Sander van der Borch

STAY

  • Coral Beach Club (on the south shore)–Pure heaven! BUT, this is a private club, so you can only stay there with a letter of intro from a reciprocal club. Beautiful uncrowded beach, good food, dining and dancing on the terrace several stories above the beach, nice staff and happy rooms, some with balconies. The Crow’s Nest cottage is the best! Nobel Prize-winning playwright, Eugene O’Neill, wrote “Desire Under the Elms” and “The Great God Brown” in the Crow’s Nest. Tennis, putting, and croquet. CAUTION: If you like the beige, no-rough-edges at all, faux-luxury of a Ritz-Carlton, the CBC is not for you. But if you like old-world elegance with one or two very small imperfections, beeline to the CBC! (40 rooms)
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view from Coral Beach Club

  • Cambridge Beaches (on western tip of the island)–lovely, refined, off on its own, croquet, pink cottages with white roofs, putt-putt, beautifully and cheerfully decorated (87 rooms, in the form of cottages, spread out over the property)
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photo courtesy of Cambridge Beaches

  • Rosedon Hotel (w/in walking distance of Hamilton)–recommended by Elle Décor; a former family estate, the RH is surrounded by gardens and a pool; looks really pretty on its website! (39 rooms)
  • Rosewood Tucker’s Point (in Hamilton Parish)–The web site looks a bit cold but Travel + Leisure (2014) and Andrew Harper recommended it (2015), and Mr. And Mrs. Smith Hotels give it 4 (out of 5) stars. It has golf, a spa and a beach club. (88 rooms)
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Rosewood (courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

  • Granaway Guest House (Warwick Parish)–recommended by Travel + Leisure (2014) and Trip Advisor describes it as a “great value”; no beach but pool (4 rooms)

While the following don’t appeal to me because I prefer small hotels, they are mentioned in every travel article:

  • Fairmont Hamilton Princess (76 Pitts Bay Road, Hamilton Parish)–overlooks the Hamilton harbor and a five-minute walk to Hamilton. Not on the beach but it has a beach club (157 rooms)
  • Fairmont Southampton Princess (101 S. Shore Rd., Southampton)–HUGE w/all the amenities you would expect from a biiiiig resort. (593 rooms)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

Bermuda is not a foodie destination. In general, the restaurants serve mediocre, expensive food…and that is the ONLY imperfect thing about Bermuda. However, the island specialty is fish chowder, and it is mmmm, mmmm, good!

  • Marcus (Hamilton Princess Hotel)–I have not been here but plan to on my next trip because its chef, Marcus Samuelsson (of Red Rooster in Harlem, NY fame), is highly acclaimed!
  • The Dining Room (at the base of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse)–super spectacular views at night! The restaurant is small so be sure to make reservations.
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Coral Beach Club’s Dark n Stormy cocktail (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

 SHOP IT!

  • Hamilton is Bermuda’s shopping hub.
    • William Bluck (4 Front Street)–GORGEOUS crystal and china, in biz for 160+ years; in addition to all the usual high-end brands, they have a several lovely Bermuda-centric china patterns, such as Bermuda Reef Fish and Bermuda Flowers, both by Herend
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(photo courtesy of Bluck’s)

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(photo courtesy of Bluck’s)

  • Island Shop (3 Queen St.)–The IS sells informal serving dishes, linens, home décor items, and all things Bermuda and bright.
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(photo courtesy of the Island Shop)

  • The English Sports Shop (49 Front St.)—reasonably-priced, traditional men’s (& some ladies’) clothes. “Since 1918, the home of the original Bermuda shorts,” per its website.
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They really do wear Bermuda shorts with blazers, ties & high socks in Bermuda! (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

  • St. George’s
    • Lili Bermuda (5 Queen St.)–very sweet little perfume shop and adjacent tea room.
    • The English Sports Shop (30 Water St.)

WHEN TO GO

May to October is universally recommended but we also went for Easter & New Year’s Eve and had lovely weather.

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Bermuda is more formal than the US, so consider that when packing. That said, the only places I encountered a dress code were private clubs.

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(photo courtesy of Bermuda Travel Authority)

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(photo courtesy of the Bermuda Travel Authority)

Stonehole Bay Beach (credit Bermuda Tourism Authority)

Stonehole Bay Beach (photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority)

-posted July 2016

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