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Monday, June 27, 2016

Single Malt Whisky Tasting At Cape Breton’s Glenora Distillery

It’s wonderful to be back in Cape Breton, especially on a hot cloudless sunny day. After crossing Canso Causeway and following Route 19 on Ceilidh Trail, we picnicked on the rocks of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, a hard-packed gravel trail which snakes along the western shores of Cape Breton from Port Hastings all the way north 92 kilometers to Inverness. In Glenville, we stopped at the Glenora Distillery to sample the single malt whisky (can’t call it Scotch since we’re not in Scotland). We stepped into the bar and listened to the live Celtic music from local fiddlers and singers while sampling a flight of five whisky choices. The Glen Breton 10 year-old whisky was smooth, but we loved the 19 year-old cask strength whisky finished in a barrel used for ice wine to add a hint of sweetness at the end. Then we took a tour around the distillery to see how they produced 150 barrels of whisky this past year. Built in 1990, Glenora is the first distillery in North America to attempt to make single malt scotch. The water stems from the shimmering McClellan’s Brook which runs through the bucolic property, while the malted barley comes from Saskatchewan and the fast-acting yeast from South Africa. The finished product is aged in oak barrels from the Buffalo Trace bourbon distillery in Kentucky.  The result is award-winning single malt whisky, worthy of a stop. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/27/16 at 04:30 AM
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Sunday, June 12, 2016

ActiveTravels Joins Forces with Northern Outdoors and Maine Huts & Trails

Those of you who have followed my travel writing career know that I return to Maine's North Woods as often as possible. All it takes is a 4-hour drive from Boston and I'm lost in a land of seemingly endless forest filled with mile-high mountains, immense lakes and too many ponds to count. The large swath of wilderness feels like a chunk of Alaska remarkably placed in our congested Northeast. I have paddled down the Allagash River, my tent almost trampled by moose in heat; white water rafted down the Class V rapid known as Cribworks on the Penboscot River; watched as a bear swam across remote Chesuncook Lake; relaxed under a waterfall on that signature canyon hike along the 100-Mile Wilderness Trail, Gulf Hagas; and mountain biked with Lisa last summer to all four newly built huts on the spectacular Maine Huts & Trails circuit. It has led to some of my favorite articles like this one for Sierra Magazine
 
Now I’m happy to report that ActiveTravels has joined forces with Northern Outdoors and Maine Huts & Trails to spread the word and encourage more people to follow in Thoreau’s footsteps. We have designed two itineraries, one for families, one for a guys or girls getaway to a sampling of the most stunning spots in Maine's North Woods. Price starts at an affordable $403 per person for a 4-night stay. Do yourself a favor this summer and sample this special slice of adventure in your own backyard!
 
Also in our June/July newsletter is a tour to savor the wines and food of Portugal, excellent resorts of St John in the US Virgin Islands, and great new inns to check out in Martha’s Vineyard. I’m currently on vacation in Jamaica to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from high school, then off to Indiana University for orientation. I’ll be back on June 27th, live on location from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. In the meantime, happy travels and stay active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/12/16 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, June 10, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, Fifth Stop, Azerbaijan

All it took was one stunning building designed by the late great Zaha Hadid and suddenly the world was looking at their maps and searching for Baku. The Heydar Aliyev Centre is a real eye-opener, featuring Hadid’s signature sensuous curves and undulations. When it made its debut in 2014, it quickly received accolades like the Museum Design of the Year award by London's Design Museum. Yet, it’s only one of the many futuristic structures currently being built in this oil-rich country on the Caspian Sea as the Azerbaijani government continues to spend an estimated $6 billion a year on architectural projects. Baku has an authentic medieval core surrounded by an old city. Old Baku is elegant, with turreted stone buildings. New Baku and its latest skyscrapers surround the old city, eradicating the hideous concrete apartment blocks that were gifts from Russia until the country’s independence in 1991. Stay at the beaux arts-style building that is now home to the Four Seasons Baku. Then take a short stroll over to the waterfront and the 15th-century Palace of the Shirvanshahs. 
 
Outside of Baku, the landscape gets greener and more wooded. Wild horses gallop free in valleys and gorges ringed by anonymous peaks as you pass open-air roadside bread ovens, tea plantations, and sheep herders. The ancient mountain city of Gabala caters to Bakuvians who come for the alpine air and views. Only a 2-hour drive from Baku is Quba, home to Krasnaya Sloboda, a Jewish community of 3,500 whose forefathers came from Iran and Iraq a few thousand years ago, and who live today in perfect harmony with the large Islamic population. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/10/16 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, June 09, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, Fourth Stop, Tasmania

Having spent over 3 months in Australia, I know the country fairly well. Now I’m pleased to have the opportunity to design itineraries for clientele heading to Oz for often their first and more than likely last time. Sydney, Melbourne, and Port Douglas/Cairns are a must. If they’re feeling more ambitious, I’ll add Uluru, Alice Springs, Darwin/Kakadu National Park, Adelaide, and Perth. But rarely is Tasmania on their radar and that my friends is a major mistake. Tasmania is the Australia of yore, an island the size of Ireland that boasts a diverse landscape of lush forest, dramatic sea cliffs battered by Antarctic gales, craggy peaks, and alpine lakes. Combine it with Hobart, quickly becoming an international destination for art lovers thanks to the opening of MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, in a stunning new building, and you have an island that’s worthy of a week of your time. 
 
If you’re in the least bit active, you should book one of the 6-day Cycle, Kayak, and Walk Tasmania tours with Tasmanian Expeditions. Another excellent way to appreciate the vast Tasmanian wilderness is on the legendary Overland Track, a 40-mile trek that links 5,069-foot Cradle Mountain with the waters of Lake St. Clair. If you want to head to Tasmania simply for the art and food, stay at the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart, check out the Farm Gate farmer’s market on Sunday morning, sample the whisky at the Lark distillery, and grab dinner on the waterfront at Frank. Just do yourself a favor and put Tasmania on your Aussie itinerary. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/09/16 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, Third Stop, Ghana

From the sky, Ghana is a bundle of green on the west coast of Africa, bordered by golden beaches and the warm blue of the Atlantic. Then you reach the ground and one of the most welcoming people on the continent, the reason it’s often referred to as Africa for beginners. “Akwaaba!” (welcome) is the word you’ll hear most in the country, exemplifying the warmth and hospitality of the Ghanaian people. In a country the size of the UK, the variety of sights on a weeklong trip is remarkable. First see the lions and antelope at Mole National Park, the elephants and buffalo in the tropical rain forest of Kakum National Park. Then check out the 700 or so monkeys at Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. Find out about Ghana’s place in the slave trade in the historic town of Elmina. Learn about West African drumming and music in lively Kumasi. Relax on the long stretch of beach near Keta, known for its exemplary snorkeling and dance parties on the beach. Then check out Accra, one of the fastest growing cities on the continent and highly regarded for its food and live music scene. In the Osu neighborhood, sushi bars and clubs belt out the latest Afrobeat sounds from Sarkodie and Guru. 
 
We work with one of the best in the travel business in Ghana, Emmanuel Baah-Fenning, CEO of Ghana Tour Consult. Tell us exactly what you want to do and Emmanuel will throw it together into a weeklong or 10-day package, including guides, transfers, and lodging. All it takes is a 10-hour flight from JFK to have a memorable vacation in Africa. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/08/16 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, Second Stop, Sri Lanka

For decades, the pear-shaped island of Sri Lanka, which falls on a map just below India, was racked by violence. Then, in 2002, a negotiated cease-fire put an end to the festering civil war between the Sinhalese-dominated government and the Tamil insurgents. Today, Sri Lanka is one of the most popular destinations for Europeans but for some reason has yet to catch on with Americans. Suffice to say that it’s worth the effort to get here. Start your visit with a trip to the glorious white-sand beaches, completely deserted except for the resident blue whales, a few hundred yards away in the ocean. After relaxing, challenge yourself with the trek up the beautiful Sigiriya Rock, an ancient rock fortress, for spectacular views of the vast green countryside. Cool down in the cooler climate of Nuwara Eliya and experience the best tea you’ll ever drink at the many plantations. One should never visit Sri Lanka without heading to Pinnawela elephant orphanage, the landscape itself is enough to bring anyone to tears and the sight of the 60 or so elephants coming down to the water to drink is something you’ll never forget. Kandy is a wonderful city to stay I, home to the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth and the monkeys at Udawattakele. In Colombo, take tea at the Mount Lavinia. Conversation is muted by the roar of the surf, the air moist with spray. The 200-year-old hotel dominates a promontory overlooking the Indian Ocean. The ultra-sybaritic hotelier, Aman, has built two exquisite resorts in Sri Lanka. Amangalla is set inside Galle’s seventeenth-century fort, while Amanwella resides on the beach outside Tangalle. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/07/16 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, June 06, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, First Stop, Oman

One of the joys of being in the travel industry for over a quarter century is meeting people from all over the globe who are passionate about their country. These outfitters love nothing more than the opportunity to show our clientele the destination they know best. We’re all part of the same travel family and I feel comfortable putting often apprehensive folks in their more than capable hands. In fact, nothing gets me more excited than sending people to exotic destinations well beyond their comfort zone. When someone returns from one of the locales I’m going to describe this week, they’re so excited to tell me the fascinating sights, culture, food, wildlife, and hospitality they encountered. 
 
Despite ongoing tensions in the Middle East, tourism in Oman is rising steadily due to its safety and authentic sights. You can still see the Arabia of 100 years ago. Called the Empty Quarter, it’s the world’s largest sand desert. The main city of Muscat is lively and modern but the sultan has kept a tight leash on development so don’t expect futuristic skyscrapers like Dubai. It’s not uncommon for a businessman to arrive at lunch via his camel. Fort Jabrin, built in the 1600s at the edge of the desert southwest of Muscat, is an Arabian Castle with whitewashed walls and elaborately painted ceilings. Another highlight is a visit to the exquisite Misfat al Abriyeen, a terraced village on the side of a mountain that hasn’t changed in centuries. It has date palms and pomegranate trees and a falaj system for channeling water down through the terraces. 
 
Our contact in Oman, Zahara Tours, has been in business since 1971 and will happily show you the most thrilling sites in the country on an itinerary custom-designed for you. Expect to stay at some of the latest hotel openings, like Anantara Salalah Resort, set to open this year in southern Oman between a natural lagoon and the beach. The resort is in close proximity to the Al Baleed UNESCO archaeological site, a former port from the frankincense trade that dates back to the 8th century. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/06/16 at 05:59 AM
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Friday, June 03, 2016

Shameless Self-Promotion

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, I apologize in advance for tooting our horn yet again. Last week, the Boston Herald published a 2-page spread on the work we do at ActiveTravels. Yesterday, the interview I had with Onward Nation on the joys and struggles of owning a travel business went live on a podcast. Of course, I talked about shameless self-promotion. Please have a look and listen and tell us what you think. 
 
Enjoy the weekend! I’ll be back on Monday with Travel Outside the Box Week, 5 blogs on destinations you should put on your wish list. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/03/16 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, June 02, 2016

Clayoquot Partners with Rosewood Georgia to Present Luxury Gone Wild

Take one of Abercrombie & Kent’s luxurious tented African safaris and plop it down on the northern fringes of Vancouver Island in British Columbia and you start to understand the sumptuous wilderness experience that can be had at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. On the shores of the Bedwell River under the canopy of a temperate rainforest, you can spot bear, whales, porpoises, moose, and bald eagles as you choose to sea kayak, hike, or go on horseback. Then it’s back to home base for a hot tub or massage at the spa, and a fabulous dinner that features the bounty of British Columbian goods. There’s halibut, tuna, and every type of salmon available, from the pink Coho to the cherry red smoked sockeye salmon, and loads of fresh fruit like figs, blueberries, gooseberries, and yellow golden berries. Now Clayoquot has teamed with Vancouver’s classic Rosewood Hotel Georgia to combine city with country in their Luxury Gone Wild package. Spend at least one night in Vancouver and then fly via floatplane to Clayoquot for a 3 to 4-night adventure. Make sure one of those nights at Clayoquot is atop Cloud Camp, a private retreat overlooking the terrain, replete with private chef and guide. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/02/16 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Ciclismo Classico Debuts New Bike Trip to Nova Scotia

A little over an hour west of Halifax is the growing wine region of Annapolis Valley. Once a footnote among grape-growing regions, the rolling green countryside now boasts 14 wineries that produce crisp cool-climate whites, decadent icewines, and Champagne-style sparkling wines that are attracting international attention. The college town of Wolfville is the gateway to the Annapolis Valley, where Victorian mansions have been transformed into bed and breakfasts. Similar to Napa or Sonoma Valley, an ideal way to see the wineries is via a bike, connecting the dots on quiet backcountry roads. Now Ciclismo Classico is doing just that, guiding a weeklong tour September 19-25, during the height of fall foliage. Along with Wolfville, you’ll be biking to another one of my favorite towns, Lunenburg. This seaside community is one of only two cities in North America dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the other being Quebec City). What UNESCO found fascinating was the fact that Lunenburg was a perfectly planned British colonial settlement, a 48-block grid designed in London and plopped down on the coast of Nova Scotia in 1753. Cost is $2795 per person and includes bike rentals, guides, lodging, and all the lobster, Digby scallops, and clams you can stomach. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/01/16 at 06:00 AM
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photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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