Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Fool Proof Itinerary: Amalfi Coast

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The Amalfi Coast, a 43-mile stretch just around the bend from Naples, is on many traveler "to-do" lists. Despite overcrowding at the peak of summer, visitors come for the promise of relaxation, fine dining, plush inns, and vistas made famous by Hollywood. Escaping the crowds and finding your piece of paradise isn't impossible---it just takes a little bit of planning.


When to Go
The Amalfi Coast is not at its best in summer, when coastal towns swell with vacationers and the heat is often sweltering. Optimum times are May-June and September-October. Visiting in winter is an appealing option---the temperature remains comfortable, rain is relatively rare, and hotel rates are at their lowest. However, be aware that some hotels and restaurants will not be open---always call ahead or check hotel web sites (if available).

Getting Around
Planes, trains, and automobiles, ferries, hydrofoils, and buses. On the Amalfi Coast the options are endless.

Choosing a Base
First-time visitors to the Amalfi Coast are often unsure where to stay. The perfect spot for your trip depends largely on your priorities and budget.

Positano is popular for its central location, its restaurants and jaw-dropping beauty. Despite these charms, some might find the peak season crowds, prices, and stairs overwhelming. Honeymooning? Grab a top-floor suite at Le Sirenuse. The Villa Rosa is one of Positano's best values.

Ravello is an enchanting village perched on a ridge high above Amalfi and the neighboring town of Atrani. Ravello is relatively out of the way and the bulk of its visitors come during the day, leaving the nights gloriously quiet. There are several hikes in the area---even down to Amalfi. For pampering, the Palazzo Sasso is hard to beat. For tranquility, the inexpensive La Fenice is just right.


Sorrento is convenient for visitors pairing the Amalfi Coasts with a stay in Naples, situated just across the way. It also marks the start of the 43-mile infamously winding coastal road that runs to Salerno. There are several attractively priced inns in Sorrento for those trying to save; we recommend Relais Palazzo Starace. Splurging? Dip into the pool at Excelsior Vittoria.


Amalfi is the Amalfi Coast's largest city, but it's still small enough to feel intimate. It is a convenient base for excursions to Capri and the Grotta dello Smeraldo. Amalfi is romantically situated at the mouth of a deep gorge and its Duomo is impressive. There are two romantic village annexes at the luxurious Santa Caterina. Perhaps the best bargain in Italy can be found at the Albergo Sant'Andrea.

Planning Your Days
A trip to the Amalfi Coast can be as busy or relaxed as you wish it to be. More ambitious day trips to Pompeii and Capri are doable---just be sure to leave plenty of space in your itinerary for sipping limoncello and staring at the water. Below are a few excursion options sprinkled with restaurant recommendations.

Spend the day in Capri, being sure to escape the crowds by heading to Anacapri, the island's "second city," about 3 km from Capri Town. Ride a 12-minute chairlift ride to the highest point on Capri, Monte Solaro. Tour one of the island's swankiest residences, the Villa San Michele. Enjoy an early dinner at Da Tonino.

From shopping to sights, there is much to keep you busy in Positano. For a relaxing afternoon, take a small boat to the Spaggia di Lauriot, a small cove perfect for swimming. Da Adolfo, a restaurant just above the beach, should satisfy any midday cravings. At the dinner hour, head up to Montepertuso, a hamlet high over Positano, for fine dining at either Donna Rosa or Il Ritrovo.

From the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii is an easy day trip---especially if you're based in Sorrento. From there, a Circumvesuviana train makes the 30-minute ride to the Pompeii-Scavi stop, a stone's throw away from the ruins' entrance. Expect to spend four to five hours at the site. On your return to Sorrento, recover from the day's excursion with a mellow meal at Trattoria da Emilia.

Concert enthusiasts will want to make Ravello a top priority. The small town is famous for its classical music festival, Festival Musicale di Ravello. The concerts, many of which are held in the gardens of the Villa Rufolo, have become so popular that the festival season stretches well beyond the summer. Fill up at Cumpà Cosimo after browsing several of the many ceramic shops.

Friday, February 27, 2015

3 Locations Every Couple Should Add to their Bucket List

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It is said that “every great love has a story.”  While your story may have only just started, others may have recently tied the knot and some may already be admiring their grandkids together.  Whichever it is, we have identified three captivating places that you and your sweetheart should add to your bucket list to fuel your love story.

Sandy Island


As though taken from a romantic movie scene, Sandy Island has a presence that will captivate you the moment you set your eyes on it.  This tiny stretch of land boasts calm turquoise waters and white powdery sand that glistens pink when washed onto the shore.  You can take a dip in the shallow pool that nature created, go snorkeling together or just relax on the sand in each other’s arms while the cool ocean breeze kiss your skin before you sail away.

White Island


White Island is also highly recommended for a romantic getaway.  Waiting there is a rustic seating area ideal for a picnic, and the carpet of sea grape leaves creates a quaint little path for a quiet stroll with your sweetheart.  Take a swim in the island’s crystal clear waters or let your guide fill you in on the magic of White Island and its beautiful surroundings.

Oyster Beds


Our third location is Carriacou’s Oyster Bed Mangrove. This marine protected area is a heaven for couples, creating the picture-perfect backdrop for a magical wedding proposal.  Engulfed by lush mangroves, vibrant marine life and the echoes of nature, it is easy to imagine the world revolving around the two of you.   Just allow the boat to coast along the water, share a glass of wine and watch the enchanting sunset fade slowly in front of you. 



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Greetings Grenada!

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Enjoy the tourist facilities and visitor attractions on the English-speaking Caribbean island of Grenada. Grenada, along with smaller islands Carriacou and Petite Martinique, lies south of the Windward Islands in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The Isle of Spice, so-called for its prolific nutmeg and mace production, is also known for its sandy beaches, tropical climate and scuba diving. Hotels in Grenada are many and varied. Stay in a fully equipped resort or spend your vacation in a family-run guesthouse.

Beaches


The irregular coastline of Grenada is punctuated by small bays and sandy inlets. White and black sand beaches attract tourists year-round. Most beach tourism is concentrated in southwest Grenada, including at the famous two-mile-long Grand Anse Beach close to the island's capital, St. George's. La Sagesse Beach in the southeast of Grenada is a five-minute walk from the main road and features a nature center. L'Anse aux Epines Beach features a selection of luxury villas and cottages for tourists.

Attractions

Take in some of Grenada's natural attractions, such as the Seven Sisters waterfalls in the rain forest, and Annandale Falls just outside the capital. Levera National Park features a beach, lagoon and mangrove swamp. Tourists also visit Grenada's estates -- sugar cane, nutmeg, banana and cocoa plantations with historic Great Houses -- and the Nutmeg Processing Station that gives an insight into the nutmeg industry on the island. For cricket lovers, the West Indies Cricket Heritage Centre (windiesheritage.com) charts the history of the game.

Activities

Grenada vacations often include diving and snorkeling trips. Grenada has more than 50 dive sites, ranging from shallow dives to sloping reefs, walls and wrecks. The Bianca C, a wrecked cruise liner that sank just outside St George's Harbor, attracts many divers, as does Grenada's underwater sculpture park. Sailboats take tourists out on the ocean, and visitors windsurf and jet ski in the Caribbean Sea. For activities on dry land, the forested mountains of Grand Etang National Park & Forest Reserve are a destination for hiking. Lake Antoine, a crater lake, attracts numerous species of birds.

History

Grenada's diverse history began when the first Arawak-speaking settlers came from South America. The country's culture has been influenced by French and English colonization as well as African and East Indian elements. Discover Grenada's history at the National Museum in St George's, the Carriacou Museum and the Rome Museum, which house a range of antiques and collectibles from Grenada. For a look at a more distant past, visit Duquesne Bay in the Parish of St. Mark to see the petroglyphs.

Climate

Grenada's climate is tropical and the temperature is hot year-round, although the cooling northeast trade winds provide some relief. The average high temperature in July is 86 degrees F and in January the high temperature averages 84 degrees F. The rainy season in Grenada occurs between June and November, when rain falls on average 22 days per month. In the dry months of January to April, rain falls 12 days each month, and in both seasons rainstorms rarely last more than a few hours at a time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Little Known All-Inclusive Resorts

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1. PALLADIUM RESORTS
This Spanish chain has resorts scattered throughout Spain, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Brazil. Its Grand Palladium outpost in Mexico's Riviera Maya region is set some 80 miles outside of Cancún, and is so large that trams have to transport guests throughout the 1,554-room complex, on well-trodden routes like those from the spa to the adults-only beach. While the sleek and super-quiet, 18-and-over-only Royal Suites section, is well worth it for the kid-free traveler, everyone is invited to enjoy the large list of activities, from mechanical bull-riding to treasure hunts. If hunger or thirst is ever an issue, you're not doing it right, with over nine restaurants and bars at your fingertips, where free top-shelf liquor abounds.

2. PETIT ST. VINCENT RESORT, GRENADINES


When you're on this private island resort, put away your cell phone (service is spotty anyhow), don't look for a TV, and forget about room keys, since your cottage-suite is lockless. That's the simple life at this laid-back, luxe resort, set upon 115 acres of loveliness in the middle of the Grenadines. Petit St. Vincent Resort makes vacationing easy by including all meals, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages in the rate. Plan on days snoozing on beachside hammocks, snorkeling in the turquoise waters, chatting with newfound friends, and catching up with your Kindle.

3. SANDOS RESORTS
No, this isn't a typo for Sandals resorts. The thriving Sandos Resorts brand has properties in Tenerife and Lanzarote on the Canary Islands, as well as in Los Cabos, Cancún, and Playa del Carmen, in Mexico. The best part? It's a heck of a deal. Rates can go as low as $94 per room, per night, for a junior suite at the Riviera Maya property, for example. Even better, rooms there, overlooking the Caribbean Sea or the jungle, are a win-win either way, so there's isn't a bad view to be had. And, if you want to split your time between resorts, as some offer live entertainment and shows you won't want to miss, it's an easy booking and transfer away.

4. GENERATIONS RESORTS, MEXICO


South-of-the-border all-inclusive boutique hotels can be a dime-a-dozen, but the 30-room Generations Maroma, which opened in August 2012 near popular Mexican vacation spot Playa del Carmen, is a big step-up in quality. Not only is every room a sprawling suite, some have their own plunge pools, and all come with personal butler service. The cuisine is also gourmet, with á la carte Mexican/Caribbean and Asian restaurants, as well as a buffet. Generations is family-friendly with a kids' club on hand for those ages 4 to 12, but those seeking tranquil time can escape next door to the adults-only sister property, El Dorado Maroma. Also, look for the even bigger, more over-the-top Generations Riviera Maya, opening in January 2014.

5. BREATHLESS PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Finding a truly deluxe all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic can be a crap shoot, and often with you-get-what-you-pay-for results. But this adults-only new kid on the all-inclusive block, which officially opened on November 2, has already seen rave reviews thanks to its detailed attention to great cuisine, which is often lackluster around these parts. Plus, preview visitors have highly touted Breathless's 13 restaurants, seven bars (including a free in-room minibar), and extra-large suites with Jacuzzis on the balcony.

6. JEWEL RESORTS, JAMAICA


Out of Jamaica's many all-inclusive resorts, it's refreshing to see a new contender that appeals to both family and adults-only clientele. Two Jewel Resorts properties—Dunn's River in Ocho Rios and Paradise Cove near the North Shore—are adults-only. Here, you'll find rooms with romantic four-poster beds, pools with swim-up bars, mini-golf, and even free airport transfers. The third property in Runway Bay is where connecting rooms are available, and the whole clan can comfortably unwind with three pools, and a plethora of organized activities, including an upcoming water park.

7. TRAVAASA RESORTS

Hawaii isn't big on all-inclusive resorts, so when the iconic Hotel Hana Maui was revamped into this hotel group's one-price-pays-for-nearly-all concept, it became an instant hit. What a boon for visitors in search of rest after making the long, winding road trip to remote Hana on the island's eastern tip! The Maui property's $600 per person, per night, rate includes meals, programs, tips, and even a $125 resort credit per person, per day, which can be used on spa treatments. Alcohol isn't included, but can easily be brought on property or ahead of time.

Skiing Old School

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There's something wonderfully comforting about an old-school ski resort. They're not hip, they're not cool, and that is precisely the point. If you're looking for a Norman Rockwell-inspired place to enjoy a winter break, complete with antlers, cocoa by the fire, and plenty of plaid, check into one of these traditional ski hotels. And before you go, remember to swap the skinny jeans and aviator sunglasses for a fleece and some L.L.Bean boots to really look the part.

1. WHITEFACE LODGE
Lake Placid, NY


Tucked into the woodlands of Lake Placid, New York, the Whiteface Lodge is built in the style an Adirondack great camp, so there is plenty of wood and natural material. During the day, guests can enjoy ice-skating or bowling at the indoor alley, and there's also a family games room. At night, tuck into S'mores by the fire pit, or warm up with a cognac at one of the handcrafted lean-tos dotted around the property.

2. GSTAAD PALACE
Gstaad, Switzerland
This grand ski resort is one of the few family-owned hotels in Switzerland and comes with a storied past: During World War II, the Swiss government hid much of the country's gold reserves in the hotel's bunker. Today, the Gstaad Palace offers all of the traditional Swiss trappings, complete with chocolate, cheese, and plenty of wine. The in-house La Fromagerie restaurant, with wood-paneled walls and gingham-covered tables, is the place to gorge on fondue or raclette. The hotel also offers an igloo experience for those looking to channel their inner Eskimo.

3. TRAPP FAMILY LODGE
Stowe, Vermont


The hills are alive . . . in Vermont. The Von Trapp family, famously portrayed in the classic movie The Sound of Music, opened this ski lodge in the 1950s and is still today owned by family descendants. The main building is designed in classic Austrian style and fans of the film should time their visit to coincide with the weekly screening of the movie (held on Thursday nights). For a classic winter experience, cross-country ski or snowshoe to the Slayton Pasture Cabin, located three miles from the Trapp Family Lodge, where guests can warm up by the fireplace with a hot cocoa or a bowl of soup. Horse-drawn carriage rides are also available, or come back in early March for maple sugaring season.

4. FAIRMONT CHÂTEAU LAKE LOUISE
Alberta, Canada


Located on the shores of Banff National Park's Lake Louise  and set against the backdrop of the Rockies, this Fairmont hotel looks like a fairy-tale castle, thanks to its towers and turrets. While skiing is the big draw here, activities on offer cover all the winter classics, from sleigh rides to ice-skating. Cross-country trails can be accessed just outside the resort. Inside, the decor is traditional, thanks to an abundance of oil paintings and polished wood. The in-house Walliser Stube restaurant serves classic Alpine cuisine, such as fondue and raclette.

5. HOTEL LA PERLA
Corvara, Italy

Think of this family-run hotel as being happily stuck in the past, but with plenty of surprises. Located in the heart of Italy's Dolomites, the Hotel La Perla exudes a classic Tyrolean style, with plenty of exposed beams, plaid, and checkered fabrics. It's also a bit glam, with crystal chandeliers dotted liberally around the hotel. While the decor can be a little nutty (like the over-the-top grotto pool), the food is taken very seriously. Menus are proudly Italian and ingredients are sourced locally where possible. The massive buffet breakfast serves up farm-fresh eggs, cheese, and yogurt. Dinner options include the Osteria Le Murin, housed in a former mill, as well as the Michelin-starred La Stua de Michel restaurant, which features a 30,000-bottle wine cellar. Don't miss the horseshoe-shaped bar, which serves everything from fresh juices to classic cocktails.