A St. Barts Honeymoon Is Perfect to Recharge and Grow Closer

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A St. Barts Honeymoon Is Perfect to Recharge and Grow Closer

February 6, 2019

I was working on writing and recording my new album at the same time my now wife Linda and I were planning our wedding in California and, as anyone who’s planned a wedding knows, it quickly becomes overwhelming. And then we remembered that we had to plan our honeymoon as well. It was the last thing we had time to think about. But I looked at her and said, “Let me do it.”

That’s where Inspirato came in. I got in touch with Jill, my Personal Vacation Advisor, and she and I narrowed down the list of destinations that would involve a beach in paradise at a resort where we didn’t have to go anywhere if we didn’t want to and, to minimize jet lag, didn’t require more than a day of travel. I ended up picking St. Barts and Inspirato’s villa within the Le Sereno Hotel.

But I didn’t tell my wife. It was my surprise. At our wedding reception, instead of numbering the eight tables, I named them after potential honeymoon destinations; all of them places where Inspirato has properties. Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean were all represented. It kept everyone, and especially Linda, guessing all night. At the end of the night I revealed we were going to St. Barts, and we left the next day.

After finishing my album and all the effort that went into our wedding, I wanted a place to sit and relax and not have to do anything for a week, and that’s what we got. We flew from Miami to the airport on St. Martin, getting there at night and boarding a ferry for the short trip to St. Barts under the stars. It was such an incredible way to arrive.

Inspirato’s villa was perfect. We had a private pool and deck and private couple’s massages on our patio.

Jean-Paul, our beautiful French chef made us wonderful meals each day in our villa’s kitchen. The days he prepared freshly caught lobster and sea bass stand out. And his desserts were outrageous—he made a banana, mango tart that was delicious.

Each morning, we woke up to our valet Laurent making us fresh smoothies for breakfast that were incredible.

Linda and I sunbathed by the pool and on the beach and explored Anse de Grand Cul de Sac bay on sea kayaks, but for the most part we were content to stay in our beautiful house. Someone at Inspirato knew that I loved jigsaw puzzles and there were several waiting for me when we arrived. I happily spent time each day working on them.

At night we sat under the incredible canopy of stars enjoying the warm tropical breeze and the perfect setting.

If I needed anything, I just called Jill at Inspirato and it was taken care of. Due to the language differences—neither one of us speak French—I called Jill in the middle of the night to ask for fresh mangoes in the morning and it was done. She was constantly in touch making sure everything was taken care of. And it was. Both Linda and I live very large lives and even with assistants it can be hard to get stuff done. There’s no way we would’ve been able to do what we did without Inspirato.

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I’d never been to the Caribbean before this trip and it was beyond what I’d expected. After a couple of days I started to get the whole Jimmy Buffett/Margaritaville thing. There’s such a nice pace to life down there. I even started thinking of how I could do a mini-tour and play every island in the Caribbean.

St. Barts has a serene vibe to it unlike the party and festive atmosphere I think you’d see elsewhere in the Caribbean. The people have a deep respect for the specialness of the place, and I could tell that they thoroughly enjoy it. The combination of French and Caribbean cultures works so well. The island is ideal for any adult looking for tranquility. I doubt we’d ever bring our children there, but for a honeymoon where nothing is all you want to do—well, I’m missing it already.

The Most Scenic Place to Fly-Fish in Southwestern France

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The Most Scenic Place to Fly-Fish in Southwestern France

January 30, 2019

They come for the wine. And for the foie gras, the confit, the scenery, the chateaus and the black truffles. But increasingly, visitors to the hilly, castle-packed department of Dordogne also come to fly-fish its namesake river and its many tributaries.

The Dordogne River, France’s fifth longest, flows west for more than 300 miles from near the hot-springs spa town of Le Mont- Dore through many gorges, valleys and villages until reaching the Gironde Estuary just north of Bordeaux, in southwestern wine country. It’s a wide, fast river, especially in its upper reaches near the towns of Argentat and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, where it’s more reminiscent of western U.S. fly-fishing destinations such as Montana’s Madison than of France’s northern rivers, like the slow-moving Andelle of Normandy. As the English angling writer Charles Rangeley-Wilson wrote of France’s northern chalkstreams: “These are rivers that Eisenhower, Hemingway and Ritz fished.

And of course they flow through French countryside, French villages, past cafés and restaurants and, in the case of the one where I’m sitting right now, the grounds of a private manor where you can stay on the top floor with views to the silent woods all around, and be absurdly well fed, wined and watered.”

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A trip to the Dordogne Valley offers equal or better opportunities to be well fed and well wined; there’ll just be fewer Brits around when it happens. Not that the Dordogne is tourist-free. It’s far too beautiful for that, and also too close to Burgundy’s wine country. Still, like most of France, the farther you get from Paris, the less touristy it becomes.

If you like to combine fly-fishing and food, then France is a logical choice. But for hardcore destination anglers, the country may sound like little more than a vacation trade-off—a way to appease the spouse’s desire for luxury and a good pinot, while still providing the angler an opportunity to “wet a line while you’re there.” But don’t be mistaken; France has a strong tradition of fly-fishing and fly-fishermen. I witnessed both firsthand as guide to the world’s most decorated competitive fly-fisher—France’s three-time World Champion Pascal Cognard—in the 17th World Fly-Fishing Championships, held in 1997 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Cognard and his comrades have excelled in world competitions ever since, in part because they simply have a lot of exceptional home water in which to practice, including the Dordogne.

The mainstem Dordogne is big water, and if it were in the U.S., it would undoubtedly be fished from a driftboat. But in France, it is most often accessed by wading, walking the banks or by renting a canoe. “Most fishermen on the Dordogne chest-wade and do ‘the heron,’” says Nick de Toldi, owner of Gourmetfly, a French field-sports tourism company, referring to an angler who stands in the water and waits motionless, like a heron. “The strong current prevents you from covering big distances while wading. No one floats here in boats like in America, but some guide friends of mine have done it while visiting Montana and came back impressed by the technique. They spoke many times of adapting it here but it remained a mere project.”

Perhaps American driftboat manufacturers should look at expanding to southwest France. In the meantime, canoe rental operators along the Dordogne Valley provide a popular alternative. “A reader once asked me, if I were to bring a spry, 73-year-old grandmother to Europe, where would I go?” famed Europhile Rick Steves once wrote. “My response: I’d take her for a float down France’s Dordogne River in a canoe. I can’t think of a more relaxing way to enjoy great scenery while getting some exercise. And you can pop ashore whenever you like.”

Like Mr. Steves, fly-fishers have figured out that canoes are the tool of choice on the Dordogne. “Taking canoes is very common, because most companies allow you to rent upstream, drift down and get picked up by the canoe rental people to take you back to your car,” de Toldi says. “My brother has done it several times with a fly rod, but more to stop under cliffs of otherwise difficult access points than to fish as the boat drifts down.”

As the most famous waterway in the region, the main Dordogne can get crowded with canoes and kayaks in the summertime. Hitting one of its many smaller tributaries offers a more intimate angling experience, with clear, spring-fed runs surrounded with hatches of various mayflies and caddis. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy rivers to fish.

“You could compare the upper Dordogne to the Henry’s Fork [of the Snake River in Idaho],” says Cyril Kamir, founder and manager the popular French online fly-fishing magazine, LeMouching, who has fished the Dordogne region several times. “It’s a broad river, up to 120 feet wide, with many weeds and big trout. Due to the many little currents, you have to fish with very long leaders—16 feet is not unusual. The Dordogne always has a lot of fish, but they are difficult to catch, partly because there are a lot of water-level variations from the dams upstream. But it’s a good way to improve your fishing. I love it best in early and late season, when there are fewer people and lots of grayling and trout.”

According to Kamir, many French fly-fishers consider there to be two Dordognes. “No one fishes the lower Dordogne,” Kamir says. The anglers’ Dordogne is the upper or “Haute Dordogne,” near the charming, riverside towns of Argentat and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. This area includes the Vézère River, a 130-mile fly-fishing-friendly tributary of the Dordogne that is home to 25 prehistoric cave systems containing numerous cave paintings dating back nearly 20,000 years. Both the Vézère and the Dordogne are home to several medieval castles along their banks, and UNESCO recently named the entire region, all 15,000 square miles of it, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site.

Within this area, you’ll find three of the Dordogne’s most famous tributaries—the Cère, the Maronne and the Doustre. The Cère flows 75 miles through the departments of Lot and Corrèze, entering the Dordogne on river left near the town of Bretenoux; the Morrone is a small stream with good mayfly hatches and big trout that could be mistaken for a river you might find in the Adirondacks of New York; and the Doustre is a small, sometimes technical river in a gorgeous setting. All three have dams, so anglers must be careful to keep a watchful eye on flows.

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Mayfly hatches on all Dordogne Valley rivers start with March browns in spring and generally end with the last caddis hatch in September. Browns, rainbows and grayling are the main species, though several area lakes also have pike and carp. As for techniques, most rivers are great for dry flies by mid- summer. In early season, streamers are effective, but many Dordogne locals consider streamer fishing to not be fly-fishing, so be prepared for that discussion if you are a diehard streamer fisherman. Sight nymphing is not easy in most places because of the weeds, but usually works fine with an indicator.

What better way to celebrate that symbiosis than with rod in hand and wine in belly, doing “the heron” along the Dordogne River?

History Lessons

There are two important UNESCO sites in the Dordogne region and both are worth a visit. The first is the Vézère Valley, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979 due to its vast collection of vivid, colorful cave paintings. The Lascaux Cave, near Montignac, is easily the most famous of the valley’s 147 sites, with numerous large-animal paintings that are thought to be more than 17,000 years old. An 18-year- old discovered Lascaux in 1940, but visiting the caves became so popular that they were closed to the public in 1963 and a replica containing the main sections of artwork (Lascaux II) was built less than 700 feet away.

The second UNESCO designation occurred in July of 2012, when the entire Dordogne River basin was designated a Biosphere Reserve, the largest such reserve in France. The designation came largely because of socio-economic aspects, the beautiful scenery, the balance between economic development and conservation, and the extensive plant and animal biodiversity found there, including its 39 different species of fish.

Fishing Guide

The rules for fishing in France are complicated and ever evolving, but no more so than in parts of the U.S. Each of the country’s 101 departments (roughly equivalent to counties in the U.S.) sets its own laws, so for the most up-to-date info, it is best to contact one of the major fly shops, such as La Maison de la Mouche, which has operated in Paris since 1934. No matter where you fish, you’ll need a license. A full- season license costs around 70 euros; and a weekly (sometimes called a “Holiday License”) costs around 40 euros. In 2007, many regions also started selling daily licenses, but those often didn’t allow fishing until after May, and you’ll sometimes need another license if you move to another region.

Trout season in France begins the third Sunday in March, and generally closes by the third Sunday in September, except in and around some of the mountain regions, which remain open through mid-October. After this, you can still fish for grayling or other “course fish” (carp, pike, bass, etc.— basically, anything other than trout or salmon). This late- season fishing is especially popular and productive in the Dordogne and parts of the Massif Central in south- central France.

Lastly, waters in France are divided into First Category (lakes or rivers dominated by trout and salmon, where only one rod is allowed), and Second Category, which are lakes and rivers dominated by anything else. Second Category waters allow up to four rods, and up to two hooks each.

Enrich Your Senses While Vacationing In The Dominican Republic

Enrich Your Senses While Vacationing in the Dominican Republic

January 14, 2019

Sipping the strong Dominican coffee and watching the dawn crack on this easternmost tip of the island, I realized paradise is more than one’s surroundings. It’s a product, too, of the personalized service and unrivaled accommodations that literally define luxury.

After a short golf cart ride toward crashing waves, I kicked off my sandals and took a leisurely walk along the beach. Discovery was the theme of the morning as I strolled northward, aware of nothing but my footprints and undisturbed seashores looming ahead. The beauty both heightened and calmed my senses. It would become the trademark memory of my weeklong visit to Punta Cana. Returning, refreshed, to the Casa Cana residence, I received a warm and friendly greeting from Felicia—one of the caretakers. “Hola!” she beamed with a smile. I felt immediately at home.

I entered the grand entrance of the Inspirato residence, where the aroma of breakfast permeated the halls. From then on, I craved the home-cooked, handcrafted cuisine of the Dominican, the thoughtful combination of foods that are at once nutritious and mouthwatering. The influence of local cuisine was apparent, but the comforts of my American spoils remained. Everything was impeccable; everything was gratifying.

Such delicate details collectively made the difference between an ordinary vacation and my newly discovered home away from home. Rather than fantasize about owning a picturesque beach residence, I reveled at every turn in knowing that I can return. It’s a benefit of club life. Completely Inspirato. Your true welcome to Punta Cana is delivered by a friendly smile and handshake from Inspirato’s Destination Concierge upon arrival at the Puntacana Resort & Club. Within moments of entering the gate, you find yourself enjoying a glass of mint-garnished Perrier and a cornucopia of fresh fruits.

The resort is an intricate amalgamation of La Cana Golf Course, Tortuga Bay Villas and The Estates at Punta Cana. Each unique feature boasts a genuine synergy with the others, creating an ambience of perfection. Families are welcome. Couples on retreat are made to feel at home. A large group of friends can delight in time together. Inspirato’s two homes in the Puntacana Resort & Club are regal in stature and boast unparalleled luxuries. From the Agraria Lemon Verbena-scented bath products to the complimentary use of golf carts to get around the resort, fabulous amenities enhance this vacation Eden.

When the Puntacana resort was developed more than 40 years ago, the idea of environmental awareness wasn’t part of everyday vernacular. Today it is a basic tenet adhered to by all those who live, work and visit. Sustainability is gospel here. Unifying a pursuit of responsible development and environmental stewardship, the resort’s social programs assist in maintaining the area’s natural ecosystems and preserving the surrounding beauty. The PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation, PUNTACANA Foundation, and the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve are each an integral part of the larger mission of running a sustainable resort.

This recipe of programs helps Punta Cana remain a tour de force for preservation of a treasured resource. It also lends to the joy and pursuit of outdoor activities that go beyond a walk on the beach or golfing. You can try stand-up paddleboarding adventures, a Segway tour of the resort, kite surfing, snorkeling, diving, and so much more.

Perfect for families, the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve is a 1,500-acre park owned and maintained by the PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation. The Reserve has a network of trails leading to 12 freshwater lagoons. Additional trails feature distinct attractions related to the natural and cultural history of the Dominican island, including an iguana habitat, petting zoo, sugarcane exhibit and a fruit tree garden.

Inspirato members who want to enjoy 18 holes of golf at La Cana will pay only the cart fee of $25, with all green fees waived. It’s just another perk of a Punta Cana vacation, 100 percent handled by Inspirato. And prepare yourself for golf nirvana—La Cana is nothing short of remarkable. To the north of the resort, the Tom Fazio-designed Corales Golf Club takes the sport to a new level. The fairways hug the shoreline and the sea spray intensifies as the ocean waters crash into rocky outcroppings.

Golfing at Corales is untainted in its pristine beauty. Each scenic hole is a tribute to the joy of the sport. It’s where golf is experienced. And you take a lead role among a flawless lineup of Mother Nature’s best works: the Caribbean Sea, the coral shoreline, the infinite natural horizon, the emerald green splendor, the sprawling turf. In its entirety, the Punta Cana vacation experience vividly illustrates the difference between a luxury travel club and the gambles of Google searching. Standing on the shores of Punta Cana, I rinse my hands in the saltwater of the Atlantic and pay homage to paradise: tranquility, timelessness and harmony. This is the point to which all things flow, best illustrated by the exacting standards of a vacation that stands alone as perfection. Presented in a manner that only Inspirato can deliver.

Pampering tropical treatments, Asian-inspired therapies and holistic sensory journeys make up the vast menu of services at the Six Senses Spa at Puntacana Resort & Club, on the eastern shore of the Dominican Republic. But it’s not just the incredible treatments at this environmentally friendly Caribbean spa that beckon visitors. The 20,000-square-foot facility pampers guests with eight indoor treatment rooms, each with its own changing area and steam room, as well as two outdoor suites with private baths set amid a fragrant herb garden. The serene setting on a pristine white-sand beach, a skilled staff, and body products made from all-natural ingredients, ensure that all who enter Six Senses Spa achieve the ultimate in relaxation and rejuvenation.

In fact, the name of the spa represents the state of elation that occurs only after one’s five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste and smell) have been wholly satisfied. Gifted therapists strive to heighten guests’ senses through decadent treatments, such as the full-day Six Senses Signature Package. With this extravagant series of services, you experience a Floral Foot Ritual, Volcanic Hot Stone Massage and Signature Facial, accompanied by lunch, tea and a few other tantalizing surprises, in the beach spa pavilion. This combination of enchanting experiences, enhanced by undivided attention from caring attendants, represents the ultimate indulgence for a Caribbean spa vacation. Even if you don’t spend an entire day at Six Senses Spa, there are so many other ways to sample the divine services. Consider the 90-minute Sensory Spa Journey, a full-body massage and customized facial – plus a luxurious footbath and calming scalp massage – performed by two therapists at once. If that’s not a slice of heaven on earth, I don’t know what is!

The Six Senses Spa is renowned for its therapies influenced by Asian cultures. A Vietnamese massage includes traditional cupping to relieve stress. With a Thai massage, you remain fully dressed while experiencing acupressure and guided yoga-style stretches to promote flexibility. 

Of course, since you’re in the Caribbean, it’s only appropriate to sample the Tropical Fruit Body Smoother. A blend of papaya, pineapple, watermelon and rice grains make up the main ingredients of this cleansing treatment. The naturally occurring enzymes provide gentle exfoliation, while nourishing and moisturizing skin.

Other interesting therapies include ear candling, crystal chakra balancing, reflexology, reiki and meditation. Facials and hot-stone therapies, body wraps and aromatic baths, yoga classes and Tai Chi round out the phenomenal services offered at the holistic Six Senses Spa. When you choose to unwind completely in the hands of the spa’s talented team of therapists, rest assured that you’ll leave Six Senses Spa feeling more balanced—mind cleared, body relaxed and soul renewed.

Five Ways Nature Can Be the Best Medicine

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Five Ways Nature Can Be the Best Medicine

January 10, 2019

Despite an unattractive spring through the airport, I arrive at the gate for my connecting flight too late. The next flight isn’t until the next day, so I now have a day and a night in Vancouver. Nothing against Vancouver, but I’m not happy about the unplanned time here. Also I’ve got a headache. I’m stressed and sad my vacation is now cut short by a day. Until I find Stanley Park.

Vancouver’s 1,001-acre Stanley Park is one of the largest urban parks in North America. It’s adjacent to downtown and almost entirely surrounded by water. Within its borders are ever-blooming gardens, about 500,000 cedar, fir and hemlock trees, a 5.5-mile paved seaside pathway (the Seawall), over 40 miles of dirt trails through the park’s interior and a collection of First Nation totem poles, among other things. The more I wander around Stanley Park, the more I wish I had longer to explore. Kiosks rent bikes. There are horse- drawn carriage rides and a shuttle trolley. Joggers and rollerbladers crowd the Seawall. The views of the city, craggy mountains rising verdantly behind, from the Seawall are spectacular, but evidently the park’s best views are from the Brockton Point Lighthouse, which I pass over in favor of the totem pole collection.

The longer I’m in the park, the more I relax. By the time I’m back at my hotel for the night, after a couple of hours wandering the woods, I’m not longer sad, and also no longer have a headache. Both history—going back to early Chinese medicine and Roman doctors—and recent scientific studies show I’m not imagining that my time in the outdoors has helped my mood. Spending time in nature can reduce psychological stress, depressive symptoms and hostility, while at the same time improving cognitive function and sleep. (A book that touches on both the historical use of time outside as a therapy and also on recent studies is Your Brain on Nature, by Eva M. Selhub, MD and Alan C. Logan, ND. It is amazingly informative without being the least bit dull.)

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It turns out the beauty of travel is more than meets the eye. It goes all the way to your brain, if you take the time to plan an outdoor activity or two. (The science shows it doesn’t matter what you do outside; it’s the being outside that counts.)

Free Rx: Trees and plants secrete chemicals called phytoncides that impact our cognition, mental state and immune systems in ways science is only beginning to understand: Experimental studies have shown that phytoncides can lower the production of stress hormones, reduce anxiety and increase pain threshold; higher phytoncides cause increased production of anticancer proteins in the blood.

Park City, Utah: Ski (And Shoot) with Olympic Spirit

Park City has succeeded where many Olympic host cities have failed: It has kept the venues constructed for its Games alive and open. Here you can go bobsledding and watch ski jumpers train. The area’s Olympic spirit is most alive at Soldier Hollow, the site of the 2002 Games’ cross-country skiing and biathlon events. Today you can ski on the same 20 miles of skating and classic trails Olympians trained and raced on. Since one of the state’s best Nordic ski schools is here too, it doesn’t matter if your experience level is decidedly non-Olympian. Private skate and classic lessons are available daily, and there are scheduled group lessons for classic skiing every weekday. Group lessons are Saturdays and Sundays.

Soldier Hollow is also one of the few places int he U.S. you can give biathlon a try. A mysterious sport, for Americans, at least, because we so rarely see it, biathlon is a combination of Nordic skiing and target shooting. Soldier Hollow’s programs range from one-hour “Bronze Level” introductory shooting class (no skiing and you shoot from 10 meters) to a two-hour “Gold Level” experience, which includes ski gear and shooting .22 Olympic rifles on the Olympic range. (The shooting only happens after you’ve taken a safety clinic, also included in the program.)

Stress Test: Think you don’t have stress? It’s all relative. In a 151-country Gallup World Poll, Americans’ stress levels ranked fifth- highest.

Nevis: The Ultimate Locavore

Diving at the Four Seasons Nevis does double duty. The resort has teamed up with the Caribbean island’s original SCUBA outfit to help you hunt your own dinner. Have you ever lassoed a lobster? Their kitchen then turns your catch into a gourmet fireside feast on the beach. Generations of Nevisian divers have harvested Caribbean Spiny Lobsters—some up to five pounds—just one mile out from the Four Seasons’ beach. Your dive starts on the dive boat’s deck with a lesson on how to properly lasso a lobster—slide the specialized lasso around its tail from behind and then cinch it. After a few practice lassos, you strap on your diving gear, drop off the boat’s side and head down. You’ll see colorful corals, feather dusters and possibly even stingrays, but the dive master and resort chef have their eyes peeled for lobster. If you can’t lasso a lobster because they’re too fast—the latter might have been the case when I was on the hunt—the staff are professional backup.

Once back on land with lobsters in hand, you turn your catch over to the kitchen, where it disappears until lunch- or dinnertime. When it’s time to eat, head to the beach, where you’ll enjoy drinks and hors d’oeuvres while either lounging in front of a driftwood fire or watching the chefs work their magic in an open-air gourmet kitchen. When the chefs are done, take your custom, all-lobster menu— each course paired with a wine, of course— into a private beach cabana and savor your successes. Lobster sashimi, anyone?

Smart Walks: At least one study has shown that a nature hike elevates the neurosteroid DHEA, which declines with aging and whose administration has been shown to improve cognitive functioning in adults. An urban walk of the same duration did not have this effect on DHEA.

Bali: Serenity by the Bay

Sunrise or sunset? In your private villa courtyard with birds singing overhead, the beach pavilion with a background soundtrack of Jimbaran Bay’s crashing waves or under palm trees on the expansive, frangipani-scented lawn facing the beach? Such are the difficult choices when arranging for yoga, tai chi or guided meditation at Belmond Jimbaran Puri, on Bali’s southern tip. “Having a deep connection with nature can enhance your practice, increase wakeful relaxation and internal focus,” says Ida Ayu Citra, a yogi at the island’s Surya Candra Bhuana studio and school who has been doing private sessions at Belmont for more than five years. “You can feel limitless and open as you look up to the sky, or out at the ocean—your breath will be bigger.” Sessions are 30 or 60 minutes and can be modified for all levels of practice and experience. “Sixty minutes is best,” Citra says. “More time to establish a deep connection with the earth, sky and ocean.” Yogis typically do Ashtanga and Hatha yoga, with some Balinese modifications. If you don’t feel like anything physical, there’s also the option of claiming a teak chaise lounge under the palm trees at the resort’s infinity pool.

Mellow Out: Stress is one of the biggest factors of mental fatigue, yet spending time in nature has been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol. It follows then that since nature can help you avert mental fatigue, time spent outside could improve cognitive health.

Napa Valley: Biking with Benefits

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You’d think wine country would be a place of rest. Maybe even som overindulgence. Then there’s Napa Valley, where rest and overindulgence are certainly allowed and encouraged, and where there’s also a winery founded and run by the Clifs, the same family behind the popular sports performance food brand Clif. The winery, Clif Family Winery just south of downtown St. Helena, welcomes everyone, but it is cyclists who flock there. Its tasting room is called Velo Vino and there, alongside wine and espresso, are branded bike shorts, jerseys and bottles. Staff can give recommendations for rides throughout the valley. Most of the people in the line at its food truck, Bruschetteria, sport spandex and bike shoes. “I know riders plan their route so that they hit the food truck when they’ve got about a quarter of their ride left,” says Thatcher Greene, a Calistoga Bikeshop rep who was born and raised in the valley. “They stop for some tasty bruschetta and a rest and then finish up.”

“The road riding here is world-class because you can be very selective with what kind of ride you want to do and there is so much scenery to see,” Greene says. “You can go out for a flat, mellow cruiser ride, or a 100-mile ride with climbs that have 20 percent grades. Add the great food and wine and amenities that come with being in a wine destination and you’ve got a five-star package.”

For a “mellow ride through pretty scenery on the most excellent shoulders in the valley” Green recommends Silverado Trail. This road is home to dozens of wineries. Ride as long as you want—stopping at as many wineries as you want—and then turn around. “You can hop on this road anywhere in the valley,” he says.

Cyclists looking for a challenge should check in at Clif Family Winery or the Calistoga Bikeshop for details on riding the Oakville Grade to Dry Creek or Howell Mountain to Pope Valley. Both of these are loops with “good, solid climbs off the valley floor,” says Greene. Thankfully the 1,500-foot climb up Howell is slightly blunted by the scenery—the mountain is terraced with vineyards; grapes from Howell vines go into some of Napa’s best wines, including several of the Spire Collection’s seven Napa wineries. I love wine and cycling equally, but the high- speed, twisty descent through pine forest off the backside of Howell Mountain down into Pope Valley excited me more than any wine I’ve ever had, including the 2010 Dancing Hares cabernet blend (95 points from Wine Advocate) I enjoyed at the Michelin-starred Solbar at Solage Calistoga the evening after my ride.

A Look Into the Top Golf Courses Around the World

A Look Into the Top Golf Courses Around the World

January 9, 2019

There are a lot of great places to visit in this world. But golfers have their own ideas of what defines an ideal getaway. Here, we feature five of our favorite golfing destinations around North America, that embody everything the discerning golfer expects. From location and overall beauty, to unique design and features, right through to “wow” factor, these courses have it all.

There may be no golf experience more breathtaking than playing along the ocean at one of the world’s most-renowned golf facilities. This South Carolina resort near historic Charleston exemplifies all that is great about golf. Five top-rated courses designed by golf legends sprinkle the island property that also includes the luxury beachfront Sanctuary Hotel, villas and private rental homes.

Turtle Point is one of Jack Nicklaus’ early designs, and is rated 4.5 stars in Golf Digest’s 2006 “Best Places to Play” guidebook. Osprey Point is a Tom Fazio masterpiece that’s very playable — despite all of its gorgeous lakes, marshes and forests. Clyde Johnston sculpted Oak Point into an undulating course rated 4.5 stars by Golf Digest readers in a “Best Places to Play” poll. And Cougar Point is a Gary Player classic that was recently ranked “Golf Course of The Year” by the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association.

While those courses alone exceed the quality of golf at most resorts, Kiawah’s jewel remains its Ocean Course that’s served as home to many PGA events, including the 1991 Ryder Cup. This year, it hosts the PGA Championship. This Pete Dye 1991 landmark ranks 25th on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest U.S. Golf Courses list, 4th on the publication’s Best Public Course index, and best course in South Carolina by the magazine.

What earns it these honors is a combination of factors, including great golf, tough challenges, incredible beauty, and the fact that it keeps attracting the world’s best players. The course is perhaps best known for its sometimes-stubborn easterly and westerly ocean winds. Experts say that it’s the only course in the world outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland that’s affected as much by gusts. In fact, depending on the wind’s direction and brawn, you may experience up to an eight-club difference on shots. 

Situated on the eastern end of the island, the layout features 10 seaside holes with clear views of the Atlantic coastline from each hole. The Ocean Course also served as the setting for the 2000 film “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” Several excellent courses populate the Los Cabos coast at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. All have unparalleled views of the Sea of Cortez and surrounding mountains. It’s truly a vacation paradise with warm water, white-sand beaches, energizing ocean breezes and magnificent, relatively new golf. The area’s courses offer stunning desert terrain, holes adjacent to the ocean, and lush green fairways. Some of golf’s finest architects have laid out groundwork here. 

In fact, Jack Nicklaus and his design firm created five courses and 99 holes of golf in the region, in a 13-year span. That alone helped Cabo evolve from a sleepy fishing town into a golf vacation wonderland. Nicklaus’ first work in Cabo was Palmilla Golf Club, which opened in 1993. The 27-hole course in San Jose del Cabo, has been rated among the 100 greatest golf resorts in the world. It features everything from towering cacti and deep arroyos to breathtaking views of the sea. This upscale layout is divided into the Arroyo, Mountain and Ocean nines. Four lakes and extreme elevation shifts make it a memorable experience.

Club Campestre is another Nicklaus masterpiece that opened in 2007. Positioned between rolling mountains and the sea, every hole on the course spotlights panoramic vistas. Large elevation changes and undulating greens make it a fantastic golf challenge that’s enjoyable for all skill levels. The trademark 7th hole boasts a peninsula green.

Meanwhile, Cabo Real is part of a 3,000-acre resort with major name hotels scattered along its 3.2 miles of pristine beach property. The Robert Trent Jones II-designed course has hosted a pair of PGA Senior Slams since opening in the mid-1990s. The striking course is known for being well-kept all throughout, as it meanders between the desert and water. The front nine is reputed to be Cabo’s toughest.

At Cabo del Sol, the Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course stretches for more than a mile along a coastline of craggy rock outcroppings and sundrenched shores. Nicklaus, himself, claims the course, which opened in 1994, boasts the three finest finishing holes in all of golf. Its sister layout, the Tom Weiskopf-sculpted Desert Course, offers ocean views from every hole, while bringing into play natural desert-like surroundings. The course is ranked No. 6 in all of Mexico by Golf Digest. 

America may have no finer parcel of land than where The Resort at Pelican Hill resides in Newport Coast, Calif. The clubhouse and six-star hotel sit on the bluff above the Pacific, while the two Tom Fazio-designed courses — Ocean North and Ocean South — meander all the way down to the beach and back, with stunning vistas the entire way. Palladian-inspired bungalows and villas — the latter armed with butler, personal chef, private garage, and more — make you feel as if you’re in northern Italy, amid world-class restaurants in classic al fresco setting. With a luxurious spa, and an infinity pool that showcases an incredible nightly sunset and destination shopping just minutes away, it’s no wonder that this destination is known as the Pebble Beach of Southern California.

In 2009, the two courses reopened after being shuttered for a two-year renovation while the massive resort was being built. In that time, Fazio modified the greens to make them much more speedy, removed some Eucalyptus trees that were blocking ocean views from the hotel and clubhouse, and generally upgraded wherever he saw fit. The results are subtle, which is a positive. Don’t mess with a great thing. The two courses offer experiences that are vastly different, yet with a common thread of familiarity – think perfectly manicured conditions almost all of the time, many sand traps, and absolutely perfect panoramic Pacific views. Ocean North, which is the newer of the pair, offers some challenging tee-shot carries, rolling fairways, dramatic elevation changes, and large greens. Golfers perpetually rave about the experience.

Ocean South, the original that opened in the early 1990s, has matured very nicely over time, while its essence has thankfully remained intact. It’s a very forgiving layout, one in which balls straying left and right somehow find the terrain and kick back toward the middle of the fairway. That thankfully always seems to help the pace of play moving, as do the savvy forecaddies. Back-to-back par-3’s on the back nine play right along the beach, so you can play to the aura of rock-crashing waves.

Known as the Caribbean’s premier golf and beach resort destination, this fresh Dominican Republic jewel now features three courses, the latest of which just opened this year. The property epitomizes all that’s right about tropical getaways, as it’s graced with elegant resort accommodations and private villas, water action, phenomenal hiking, and stunning scenery. But it’s the golf that’s creating the loudest buzz among avid players. 

La Cana Golf Course is an inland P. B. Dye design featuring incredible ocean views on 14 holes that you may even find to be a welcome distraction. Four of the holes play right at the foot of the water. La Cana’s perfectly manicured greens can test your short-game skills, as will negotiating various lakes to reach those greens. Lush, tropical landscaping includes state-of-the-art Seashore Paspalum grass that allows for maintenance with minimal environmental impact. Golf Magazine labels La Cana the best course in the Caribbean, comparing it to Pebble Beach.

Tom Fazio’s Corales Golf Course opened in 2010 to rave reviews. The layout sits amid rocky cliffs, coral reefs and the Caribbean Sea. It features six oceanfront holes, scenic canyons, and plenty of great golf tests. In fact, the 18th hole requires a carry over the Bay of Corales. Best of all for the lucky golfers who get to play Corales, the course is only open to a limited number of players each day. So you’ll experience that tranquil sense that you have the course to yourself. Plus, there are exceptional spacious practice facilities – replete with PGA instruction by appointment — where you can hone your game. 

This year, the brand-new, upscale Hacienda Golf Course – also a Dye design – has opened. It’s the centerpiece of a new luxury home community, and is already receiving high accolades. These are truly three world-class courses at one swanky resort. How much better can it get? There may be no place more scenic than Lake Tahoe, particularly its north end in California that combines gorgeous mountains, rolling hills, greenery, crystal clear lake views, sunshine and golf-friendly ideal weather all summer long. The area is loaded with excellent restaurants, chateau-styled hotels, jaw-dropping hike and bike paths, water sports, and art and music festivals. Plus, gambling in world-class casinos is just a short ride away. In other words, there’s something for every taste. 

As for golf, there are dozens of great places to play, highlighted by sister courses The Golf Club at Gray’s Crossing and Old Greenwood, located directly across the street from one another in Truckee. Just six years old, The Golf Course at Gray’s Crossing is known for its fast greens and perpetual tournament conditions. Tall pines line the fairways, which make for a fun and playable challenge. The Peter Jacobsen/Jim Hardy design is a public course with a private club feel – replete with a topnotch practice facility and valet service.

Old Greenwood is Tahoe’s cornerstone, a picturesque mountain gem with amazing views and even better golf. The 600-acre layout is a 2004 product of Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf, meaning it’s received Nicklaus’ highest level of personal attention. It was rated among America’s 10 Best New Public-Access Courses by Golf Magazine, fourth among America’s Finest New Upscale Public Courses by Golf Digest, and 77th in Golf Digest’s “America’s Greatest 100 Public Golf Courses” in May 2011. Know right up front that the course can be challenging, due to its elevation changes and the way it winds through the forest. But the relaxing scenery will keep your heart rate down all the way, especially as the round moves to the serene back nine. The practice facility is fantastic and the service is attentive. Old Greenwood also plays home to a renowned 15-acre golf academy with an indoor center armed with a state-ofthe-art swing analysis studio, high-tech four-camera video bay, launch monitor, putting lab, and more. The driving range spans 470 yards.

Telluride, Colorado’s Best Kept Secret, Is Open for Discovery

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Telluride, Colorado's Best Kept Secret, Is Open for Discovery

December 11, 2018

Telluride wasn’t always the destination it is today. Long before cinema elites like Tom Cruise and Oliver Stone put the Telluride Film Festival on the map and before free- spirited entrepreneurs strung up Telluride’s first chairlifts in 1972, the area was known to American Indians and starting in the 1850s, intrepid miners seeking personal fortune.

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This was because Telluride rests deep in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, an isolated pocket of the state where many peaks top out between 13,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level. 

Until direct flights to nearby Montrose (only 45 minutes away) were established, Telluride was a five-hour to seven-hour drive from all major metropolitan areas. Only the most committed made the trip, one that winds over and around treacherous mountain passes.

Their effort was rewarded with a stunning welcome, though. The Ute Indians dubbed the area the “Valley of
the Hanging Waterfalls” for good reason—Bridal Veil Falls is among Telluride’s most visible and arresting natural features. And the falls have good company. Telluride is saturated with staggering beauty. Pyramid-like peaks encircle the town and create a geographical marvel of canyons, rivers and high lakes. Try not to be awed.

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As imposing as the geology is, access is as easy as a ride up a chairlift. Come spring, enjoy Telluride Ski Resort’s butter- smooth slopes, guaranteed to be bathed in bright sun (unless a freak storm dumps a foot of fresh snow, which has been known to happen), before savoring a glass of pinot noir and a salumi plate on the deck of Alpino Vino, a must-visit on-mountain bistro. Telluride truly was Colorado’s best kept secret…until now.

Jackson Hole, One of America’s Best Ski Resorts, Turns 50

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Jackson Hole, One of America's Best Ski Resorts, Turns 50

December 6, 2018

“I thought some of my ski buddies were yanking my
 leg,” said Jerry Blann, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) president since 1996, after first hearing Jackson Hole Mountain Resort had been rated the No. 1 overall ski resort on the continent for 2014 by SKI Magazine readers. 

SKI Magazine’s No. 1 rating wasn’t something we ever aspired to or that was even a target for us. We just never thought it was a possibility.” Also, Forbes magazine has ranked Jackson Hole as the best resort in America two years running now.

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Today’s JHMR executives might not have been going for a No. 1 ranking, but, 50 years ago when Jackson Hole Mountain Resort first opened, that is exactly what the future founders Paul McCollister, Alex Morely and Gordon Graham envisioned. “It was always intended to
 be a world-class ski area,” says Morley, who is now 96. “We planned
 on bringing people in from everywhere. Back then there weren’t the rankings there are today, but we knew that the mountain and what we were going to create on it were going to be the best.”

As visionary as the founders were, it actually took the Kemmerer family buying the resort from McCollister in 1992—Morley and Graham had previously sold their stakes—and annually investing an average of $6 million since, to get it to the top.

Since its aerial tram first took skiers to the 10,450-foot summit of Rendezvous Mountain, just outside the boundary of Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole has been equally loved and feared by extreme skiers and snowboarders for its challenging terrain and 4,139 feet of vertical and powder. As recently as a decade ago though, skiers and riders at every other level just plain feared it. 

The majority of the resort’s runs were black diamond. Grooming wasn’t a priority. The only thing in shorter supply than intermediate terrain was a base area with plenty of amenity options. Want to pamper yourself with an afternoon at the spa? Good luck.

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This season Jackson Hole turns 50 and is as family-friendly and amenity- rich as most any destination resort. The transition is almost unbelievable. But not quite. What is unbelievable is that the resort has gone from punishing to polished without sacrificing its soul.

“We’ll never be a mega- resort or pure vanilla,” Blann says. “We’ll never be all things to all people. We have our mountain and we’ll be us.” Jackson’s “us” is “a small town where everyone helps everyone else out,” says Jackson native and former World freeskiing champion Jess McMillan.

 “It may feel like this huge resort, but, at the same time, everyone will say, ‘Hello.’ It still has that small town camaraderie to it.” This year it also, as a birthday present to itself, has a new high-speed quad. The Teton lift, which accesses intermediate and advanced terrain previously only available if you had the strength and will to hike to it, is the best kind of gift: One that we all get to enjoy.

Experience Florence Like a Local

The Ultimate Guide to Florence

November 16, 2018

What I love most about Florence is that it was the birthplace of the Renaissance, the time period from the 14th to 17th centuries that was the crucible of modern European culture,” says Silvia Ponticelli, 49, and a charming and impressively erudite Florence native who holds a degree in art history and attended an interpreter’s school before deciding to become a professional tour guide 16 years ago. “I like to share my passions with people,” says Ponticelli, who speaks four languages (Italian, French—her mother is French— English and German) and has a wonderful sense of humor.

“A city like Florence, which has over 61 different museums and so many other extraordinary things to see and do can be a bit overwhelming. So I’m here to help craft perfect days or weeks in the city in such a way as to avoid the malady that befell the great French writer Stendhal.” 

Stendhal, the pen name of 19th century French writer Marie-Henri Beyle, author of the famous novel The Red and the Black gave his name to the mild psychosomatic illness, Stendhal’s Syndrome, he experienced while visiting Florence in 1817. As he explains in another one of his books Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio, following a visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, where Michelangelo and Galileo are buried and the walls are covered with frescoes by Giotto, “I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul.” 

In plainer words, poor, old Stendhal was just plain floored by the aesthetic richness of Florence, a reaction Ponticelli says she’s witnessed many times. “This is why I advise people that it’s better to enjoy a smaller number of special, carefully chosen experiences than to think that you see everything during a single visit to the city. I’ve lived here all of my life and I’m still discovering new things!” she says. Here is a selection of her Florence favorites.

Favorite Work of Art 

The Michelangelo Crucifix in the Basilica di Santo Spirito. “The year 1492 was very important in Florence, because Lorenzo the Magnificent, the great statesman and patron of the arts, died. This meant Michelangelo lost his patron, which is why he moved to the Basilica di Santo Spirito, where he did anatomical studies on corpses brought to the church for funerals. The knowledge of the human body he gained is powerfully expressed by the remarkably lifelike wooden crucifix he produced while he was living at the church,” says Ponticelli.

Tip for Museum Visits

“Few people know that both the Uffizi Museum and the Accademia Gallery can be visited outside of their normal opening hours. These special hours are announced as ‘news’ on the websites of the respective museums,” she advises. 

Hidden Places

“I like to create itineraries that include a mixture of venues. So after museums and churches, I’ll take people for a walk to the Giardino Bardini, a beautiful Italian garden that just recently opened to the public. There’s a spectacular view over the city from this garden, too.”

Favorite Artisans

Lastrucci: Mosaics made with semi-precious stones. “This is a typical Florentine handicraft,” says Ponticelli. “The mosaics are made today in the same way that they were when they were chosen by Grand Duke Cosimo I to decorate the Medici chapels. These mosaics are meant to last forever. They work by commission, and what I most enjoy about visiting the studio is to see the way they work. There are only two or three apprentices in the studio, so this is a craft that may disappear one day.”

Ippogrifo: Hand-made etchings. “Etching was the first way of printing beautiful images,” explains Ponticelli. “At Ippogrifo, you see the whole process of creating an etching. First, a copper plate is coated with protective wax, then the artwork is drawn in the wax. Next the plate is immersed in acid, which consumes the exposed copper to create the etching plate. It’s an absolutely fascinating process.”

Galleria Romanelli: Bronze sculpture and statues.This studio produces statues by using the traditional lost wax technique. You can see the whole process in their atelier, where they work with molten metal. It’s very dramatic.”

Paolo Penko: Jeweler.Paolo Penko is a craftsman who is often inspired by the art of the Renaissance in his jewelry designs. He is a master goldsmith known for working in white and yellow gold together, which is part of the great jewelry making tradition of Florence.”

Welcome to Rio, Brazil’s Must-See Oceanside Metropolis

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Welcome to Rio, Brazil's Must-See Oceanside Metropolis

October 30, 2018

We’re hiking to Rio’s praias selvagens, wild beaches, on a deserted, petrified dirt trail that cuts across a steep, vegetated hillside several hundred feet above the Atlantic Ocean, which stretches to the horizon. The only things between me and Namibia, more than 3,000 miles distant on Africa’s western coast, are a couple of fishing boats whose motors I can hear puttering below.

When I decided to come to Rio, I expected beautiful beaches, and Copacabana Beach, a three-minute walk from my hotel, Belmond Copacabana Palace, delivered. Or so I thought. My hiking guides disagree. “These wild beaches
are special,” says Sergio Tavares, a Carioca (native of Rio) and the founder of Rio Ecoesporte Adventures. Copacabana Palace has beach attendants who set guests up in chaise lounges and periodically stop by with chilled water and fruit. Copacabana’s sand is so white it looks like it’s been bleached, and it’s as soft as pashmina. That’s my definition of special.

Sergio’s definition of special is something not directly accessible by road. “This means we must do some walking,” he says. Thankfully we don’t have to start our walk in Copacabana. Geographically, Rio is gigantic— covering 485 square miles. By comparison, New York City covers 306 square miles. A walk from Copacabana, or anywhere remotely near downtown, to the wild beach trailhead would take forever. Even driving there from Copacabana takes nearly two hours, mostly because we took the scenic, oceanfront route. From the car I see more beaches than I can count. They’re almost all equal to Copacabana in beauty, but have different personalities.

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Copacabana is flashy and full of beautiful people. There are games of beach soccer and tennis going on. Sit down for five minutes and you’ll be approached by people selling towels, leather bracelets and key chains and/or offering massages. Sao Conrado beach is smallish; paragliders and hang gliders who launch off Pedra Bonita land nearby. Surfers flock to Prainha Beach, one of the city’s best surfing spots. Abricó Beach is the city’s sole nude beach. The last major beach you can drive to is Grumarí. We drive 15 minutes past it, climbing steeply up a rocky, verdant peninsula and then dropping down its far side into the neighborhood of Barra de Guaratiba. We’re still technically in Rio, but it doesn’t feel like it.

Old men in bathing suit briefs play cards at plastic tables. Cats laze in the sun. “This place is true Carioca style,” Sergio says before elaborating, “Relaxed.” Two- and three-story stucco houses are painted every shade of the rainbow. The rainbow spills down a crescent-shaped hillside until the hillside meets the ocean. Here the water is clearer and more vibrant than at the eastern and central beaches because it’s further from the mouth of Guanabara Bay and its heavy shipping traffic. The trail to the wild beaches is hidden at the end of a residential road so steep and narrow I’d be nervous to drive it. I guess I’m not relaxed enough. Locals have parked cars along the sides all the way up.

I manage to walk for 30 minutes before doing something very un-Carioca and asking, “Are we there yet?” Almost. Before we get our wild beach on Sergio recommends a short climb. “Then you can see all of the wild beaches and take your pick,” he says. Ten minutes later we’re atop Pedra da Tartaruga, Turtle Stone, a rocky double mound rising from the Atlantic, attached to the mainland only by a narrow isthmus, its tail. On the mainland side of the tail are the wild beaches. From the top of the turtle’s shell we look back to the wild beaches—four of them, separated from one another by small outcrops of snaggly cliffs.

Rio is going to meet all of your expectations for a historic, populous, cosmopolitan beach destination. There’s traffic. The elegant Art Deco Copacabana Palace is relaxing and peaceful. The beaches are beautiful. Officials say it is the yearlong celebration of the city’s 450th birthday and the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics that power the city’s current energy. “Rio has always been a great location for tourists, but with all of the positive changes—in everything from transportation to the complete transformation of the port area—it’s even more so,” says Leonardo Gryner, General Vice Director of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee. I say it’s from the fun of going Carioca, of relaxing into the city and finding expectations are often exceeded.

When Sergio first mentioned an outing to wild beaches, I imagined small pockets of sand tucked into coves pirate ships might hide in. Each wild beach is the size of many football fields though. Three of the four beaches have only a handful of people on them. The fourth, which Sergio says is about 2 miles farther, doesn’t have a soul. If I walked another 45 minutes, I could have an aircraft carrier-sized beach in Rio, a city of more than 6 million, all to myself.

After enjoying Copacabana along with several hundred others, only having three couples share Praia do Perigoso, the first beach, with me is pretty special. Praia do Perigoso translates to “Danger Beach.” When I ask about this Sergio says, “It’s Carioca danger. The danger here is that you won’t want to leave.”

Waves turn a dozen shades of green before cresting and breaking in a froth of white on the shore. Had I 1) thought to ask Sergio or the Copacabana Palace to pack a picnic lunch 2) didn’t have an appointment for a facial at the hotel’s spa in the late afternoon and 3) didn’t have dinner reservations that night for the seven-course tasting menu at Olympe, one of the four restaurants in the city recently awarded a Michelin star, I wouldn’t leave.

My next chance to settle into a Carioca groove is on a day trip to the mountainous Serra dos Órgãos National Park, about an hour’s drive from downtown Rio. The park sits above the former imperial city of Petropolis, which spills over the range’s western, forested foothills. My intention is to pass through Petropolis and spend the majority of the day in the park, exploring its waterfalls and hiking trails.

Petropolis was the summer home of Brazil’s emperors and royal family from 1845 until they were deposed in a coup in 1889. I can’t resist a trip to the former royal summer palace, which has been restored to its original color—the same pink you see inside a conch shell—and made into the Imperial Museum. Inside, exhibits include the pen Imperial Princess Isabel used in 1888 to sign the law that emancipated all of the country’s slaves and the gold crown of her father, Emperor Dom Pedro II, studded with 639 diamonds and 77 pearls.

Across the street from the neoclassical Imperial Museum is The Enchanted, a quaint, 100-year-old French alpine- style home. Walking around the historic center of town, where canals run down the medians of major streets and moss hangs from trees boughs like overgrown beards, I also find half-timbered homes that look like they’ve been transplanted from Bavaria, crenellated Italianate and Victorian villas and a French neogothic cathedral. All of these date from the 19th and early 20th centuries and were built for European expats, or as vacation homes for wealthy Cariocas or government officials. It’s the most charmingly schizophrenic historic architecture I’ve ever seen.

It is just before we tour The Enchanted that my guide, a Petropolis native, breaks the news: I’ve already spent too much time exploring Petropolis to do any justice to the Serra dos Órgãos. I feed my disappointment at the café in front of the Imperial Museum with a slice of moist, nutmeg cinnamon cake with custard filling and topped with chocolate and a double espresso. Despite Brazil being the world’s largest producer of coffee for at least the last 150 years, the country has only recently developed a coffee culture. With hints of citrus and cherry and a thick crema, the espresso is delicious.

Our new itinerary has us driving out to Vale das Videiras, in Araras, a rolling agricultural district at the edge of Petropolis and home to a burgeoning food and outdoor adventure scene. Turning off the expressway, the transition from Petropolis’ historic downtown is as complete as that between downtown Rio and Barra de Guaratiba. Here, dogs and chickens run alongside the rudimentary road. Colorful roadside stands sell fresh eggs and cola. Traffic lessens with each hill we crest.

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Thirty minutes after leaving the expressway we stop in a bucolic cobblestoned plaza in front of a row of gleaming, fire engine red Specialized mountain bikes. The bikes belong to Galpão Caipira, a boutique/café/bike shop/day spa. The spa part is thatch-roofed, tucked away in the back and intimate. The placemats on the café’s tables feature a hand-drawn map of the area’s roads. I wouldn’t want to use one for navigation, but it gives me an idea of the amount of riding in the area: a lot. While the road to Galpão Caipira from the main highway isn’t bike-friendly, past here the roads are like well-groomed ski runs. Join several of them into rides between 10 and 30-odd miles. “And that just shows our road riding,” says Beth, the manager. “More and more trails are being built.” Most trails are double tracks, suitable for riding or hiking. You can also tour them in Galpão Caipira’s vintage, yellow Land Cruiser. During a lunch of mushroom-stuffed raviolis handmade a few miles down the road, I learn a boutique cachaçaria is nearby and offers samples.

Cachaça—pronounced ka-shah-sa—is Brazil’s answer to rum, but made from fresh sugarcane juice rather than molasses. Most cachaça is like drinking fire; it’s best put to use in cocktails like the caipirinha. At Duvale, the cachaça can be sipped. In the shade of a pavilion overlooking two ponds, I can sample as many of their varieties as I want: cachaça aged in French oak barrels, cachaça infused with berries, cachaça aged in barrels that were previously used to age bourbon, cachaça aged for six months, cachaça aged for two years. The list goes on. After sampling two, I decide that I’m not at all disappointed to have missed the Serra dos Órgãos. Leaving, I give myself an “A-minus” for my Carioca-ness today.

I don’t totally give up on my wilderness trip. There’s a national park within the city itself, Tijuca National Park, found in the rainforest- covered mountains rising up behind Copacabana. At 15 square miles it is the smallest of Brazil’s national parks, but it is also one of the largest urban forests in the world. On clear days, from one of many of Tijuca’s summits, the Serra dos Órgãos, 30-some miles away as the crow flies, are clearly visible.

I hike up Pico da Tijuca, the park’s tallest peak at 3,320 feet. While the purpose is to see the mountains that I missed in Petropolis, I don’t ignore the journey. I’m in the middle of one of the world’s densest cities, yet once inside the forest I hear no sounds of civilization. There’s never a time I don’t hear micos, monkeys about the size of a squirrel and a tail like a cat’s, or the slightly larger capuchin monkeys, rustling in the trees overhead.

During the six hours it takes to hike up and down, I don’t see a single monkey. Evidently, the rosewood, eucalyptus and mahogany trees don’t just hide the honking horns, squealing brakes and wheezing shocks of the traffic below, but also monkeys. I don’t know what’s hiding the people. I see less than a dozen the whole time I’m out.

Before I can enjoy the panoramic views, I must make it past the final section of trail, 117 steps carved into the granite. Once on top, little is hidden from Pico da Tijuca’s rocky, exposed summit, which rises out of the rainforest like an anvil. The entirety of Rio spreads out below. I can pick out Guanabara Bay, Bico do Papagaio Peak, Pedra da Gavea, the Christ the Redeemer statue, Maracanã stadium and Barra da Tijuca. To the north, past the oil tankers and fishing boats heading into or out of the city’s protected harbor in the bay are the Serra dos Órgãos. From here, it’s obvious how they came by their name, which translates to “Organ Range.” When seen in silhouette, their pointy spires resemble organ pipes.

Later in the day, and eager to show Sergio my burgeoning ability to relax and go with the flow, I accept his offer of a water safari around Tijuca Lagoon. The lagoon is notorious for its polluted water and trash, and for the first five minutes of our cruise, that’s all I see in the water and the mangrove trees. But then I start noticing the birds—several species of herons, scarlet ibises, egrets, water chickens—everywhere. Some of the taller mangroves have nearly one dozen egrets perched in their branches, the birds’ white feathers popping against the dark green leaves.

Looking back down at the roots, alongside the trash I now see mangrove crabs. And there are caimans, Brazil’s alligators. A lot of them. I see caiman with their heads resting on logs and swimming alongside the boat. Some are as long as I am tall. I ask Sergio if I need to be worried. No. “These are Carioca caimans,” he says, “They’re relaxed, like the people here. They’re no problem to you.” It appears even the animals here have adopted Rio’s approach to life.

Why Travelers Who Visit Alaska Return Over and Over Again

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Why Travelers Who Visit Alaska Return Over and Over Again

October 18, 2018

Once in Alaska, it doesn’t take long to understand how the place can upend a person’s travel life. In a good way. Alaska either grabs your heart and your imagination, or it doesn’t. (When it doesn’t? Well, I don’t understand that, but it happens.) But if it does? There’s a good chance future vacation planning conversations will start with, “Well, we could go back to Alaska again.” 

The more you learn about Alaska, the more you want to see of it. A cruise is a great sampler platter, but don’t expect it’ll make you cross off Alaska from your “to see” list. It will rev up your hunger for more of this most dramatic, diverse state.

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Ask around when touring the state and you’re sure to meet other travelers who came to gaze out on a pod of orcas swimming around Prince William Sound or to see bears or a massive bull moose, the latter’s antlers weighing up to 80 pounds, from a cruise ship. They visited for the chance to step out on a glacier with a guide leading the way or to try their hand at salmon fishing, hoping to ship enough reds back home for an elaborate dinner party.

That all stuck with them when they got home. So, another Alaska trip. And then another. Visitors here return again and again because their fishing skill exceeds their expectations (and the taste of the salmon is even better). They want more of the quiet they experienced while hiking through the thick of an old growth forest, dense with more greens than one could ever imagine—from dark green spruce tips to bright green mosses. 

They return for the unexpected variety: The public art in Ketchikan; the lazy paddling around Sitka’s islands; the chance to learn about Alaska’s rich Native heritage in some of the finest small museums imaginable and the stories of the Tlingit and Haida people who have lived in Southeast Alaska for thousands of years.

That all, of course, is both an endorsement and a warning. Your future may require more rain gear. I was a return tripper myself. Now? I still call myself a New Yorker, but I’m a full-time Alaska resident.

But first, the cruise, an introduction to one of Alaska’s many regions. Watch for a circle of bubbles rising up in the water—a sign that a group of humpbacks is feeding below. Bubbles. Bubbles. Bubbles. And then a massive burst of energy as the whales come to the surface to catch the fish caught in their “net.” It’s always surprising. Also keep watch for the state ferries, dressed up in blue and yellow. The Inside Passage doubles as the Alaska Marine Highway, the only all-water National Scenic Byway in the country. The ferry service—which started in 1949—shuttles nurses to their jobs, basketball teams to tournaments and cargo to the towns that dot the state’s shoreline.

Listen for the sound of giant blocks of ice calving off of Hubbard Glacier. Speed along on a Zodiac for an up-close (but not too close) look at icebergs and South Sawyer Glacier. Visit the wee fishing settlement of Elfin Cove—which blooms to 100 people during the busy summers. Once winter rolls in, making access to Elfin Cove challenging, the population drops somewhere south of 20 hearty souls. Wander the town’s boardwalks before going to visit the area’s other inhabitants by Zodiac—the sea lions and otters await. (And, yes, they really are as amusing as you imagine.)

Another warning: Alaska is both a photographer’s delight and greatest frustration. Even for pros. It doesn’t take long to realize that, despite the oohs and aahs your photos will garner back home, they don’t capture that the glacier stretching across the frame sits 1,800 inches thick and 32 miles long. Or the details of wildlife. Puffins in particular all too frequently end up as blurry blobs in images. These birds, which stand only 10 inches tall, jet past at speeds up to 55 mph.

No matter, memories both large and small will forever stay in your mind. And your urging of friends to make the trip themselves—“You can’t understand until you see Alaska for yourself ”—will probably include a follow-up sentence: “Hey, we should all go together.”