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Monday, January 23, 2017

Arizona Week—Hiking Phoenix’s Piestewa Peak

I always bring hiking boots when traveling to Phoenix, because it’s arguably the best city in the country for day hikes. There are some 200 miles of trails in the Phoenix park system including short summits like Piestewa that are ideally suited for a 2-hour lunch break. We started our climb around 11 am and we were back at the trailhead at 12:45 pm. That’s not to say it wasn’t a thigh-burner, especially the last part of the trail which steeply ascends the craggy 2,608-foot peak (total elevation gain is 1190 feet). Even on a weekday, the trail was crowded as we made our way up the dirt and rock path past every type of cacti imaginable—tall saguaro, barrel, hedgehog, pincushion, jumping cholla, and prickly pear. Vistas of the Phoenix skyline opened up below us as we passed an ironwood tree. Soon we were up on the summit, eating lunch while enjoying the views of the surrounding ridges and the valley below. I once penned a series of stories for Health Magazine on Urban Adventures, the best workouts outside the gym in cities across America. Climbing Piestewa Peak would be a good option.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/23/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, January 20, 2017

Kennebunkport Paints the Town Red This February

Celebrate Valentine’s Day on the Maine coast, where Kennebunkport is painting the town red for romance. Throughout the month of February, all businesses at Dock Square in downtown Kennebunkport will be decked out in red lights. Better yet, hotels, restaurants, galleries, and shops will welcome travelers with savings, from Red Plate dining specials to Five Shades of Red hotel packages, and Red Tag sales from retailers. The “Love KPT” lodging package includes a two-night stay for two people at The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel (starting at $373) or the Kennebunkport Inn (starting at $405), arrival goodies of red wine and chocolate-covered strawberries, a three course dinner for two, and a late check-out at noon. To help curate the perfect romantic getaway, couples can call upon Kennebunkport Resort Collection’s Cupid Concierge, Tasha Harper. Her job is to enhance the romance and take care of all details, from planning a surprise engagement to placing a love note with rose petals on the pillow at turndown. The Cupid Concierge can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/20/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Finland Celebrates 100 Years of Independence in 2017

After 700 years of Swedish rule, the area known as Finland served as a battlefield for Russian-Swedish conflicts until it fell into Russian hands in 1809. As an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire, it was allowed to develop politically, eventually leading to independence during the turmoil surrounding the Russian Revolution in 1917. To celebrate its centennial, Finland kicked off a year of festivities this past week with fireworks over Helsinki. Throughout 2017 there will be hundreds of events in this Nordic nation of 5.5 million, from dance parties to joint performances by the Sibelius Academy and Juilliard, to activities linked to Finland’s renowned sauna tradition. The government has earmarked 19 million euros for the celebrations, including the debut of a new national park, the nation’s 40th, highlighting the Finns’ love of nature. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/19/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, January 09, 2017

Our Picks for The Top Hotel Openings, Events, and Cruises in 2017

The January newsletter of ActiveTravels is always a fun issue to research, scouring the top travel trade and consumer publications for the most exciting news on resort openings and events. We go through at least 20 different publications and more than 1,000 press releases to find our Top 10 New Hotel Picks, 2017 Happenings Not to Miss, and What’s New in Cruising. We hope you enjoy our selections as much as we do. 

We’re off to Arizona today for a much-needed vacation with our son, Jake, back on January 18th. Wishing You a Happy, Healthy, and Active 2017.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/09/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, January 06, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, Biking with Wayne Curtis in New Orleans

Wayne Curtis is best known as author of “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails” (Crown, 2006) and as cocktail columnist for Atlantic Monthly. But my friendship with Wayne goes back at least a decade prior when we were both moaning about the egregious book contracts Frommer’s publisher forced upon us. Thankfully, those days are far behind us. I caught up with Wayne in 2008, when he had just moved to New Orleans. He brought my brother Jim and me to his favorite bars and bartenders and it resulted in this story for The Boston Globe. But I know that Wayne has a passion beyond cocktails, including architecture, urban renewal, jazz, and biking. All figured prominently in a 5-hour tour he designed for my family on our trip to Nola this past April.

We rented bikes at Michael’s on Frenchman Street and off we went to our first stop, Crescent Park, a brand new green space that hugs the Mississippi River for over a mile. Then we biked the streets of Bywater, one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city especially for young hipsters, where Wayne pointed out a massive church and convent that will soon open as a hotel. We pedaled through Louis Armstrong Park in the Tremé neighborhood and then ventured on the latest bike trail in town, the 2.6-mile Lafitte Greenway. We stopped at Parkway for the requisite roast beef and shrimp po’boys (please see my story on New Orleans dining in Virtuoso Traveler) before biking through the Tulane campus, glorious Audubon Park and its exquisite moss-covered Spanish oak trees, and past the homes of Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, and Archie Manning in the Garden District. A quick ride through the crowds in the French Quarter and we arrived back at our bike rental store 15 miles later. A perfect ride, especially since we ended with a set of live music and a beer across the street at The Spotted Cat
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/06/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, Schooner Mary Day’s Maine Lobster Bake

Spending three days with my daughter in August before she left for her first semester of college is a gift I don’t take for granted. A lobster bake on a deserted Maine island after a day of sailing aboard a historic Maine windjammer is just the icing on the cake. Captain Barry of the Schooner Mary Day anchored near a quiet beach with no other boats in sight and proceeded to row us over to shore. The crew built a fire, and then placed two massive pots brimming over with lobsters, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, and a healthy top layer of seaweed. When ready, Captain Barry threw off the layer of seaweed and grabbed his tongs to place all the lobsters and fixins in a circular design. We each grabbed our lobster and found a spot on the beach to dine. 

The lobster opened easily without the need for crackers, as large pieces of tender claw meat was soon dipped into the butter, washed down with a nice, dry sauvignon blanc. Sublime. After polishing off the tail and leaving a puddle of water on my shirt and bathing suit, I could start all over again. See, the best part of a lobster bake aboard a Maine windjammer is that you can eat as many lobsters as you want. Captain Barry tells me that his record is a college student who devoured 13 lobsters in one sitting. Content with my big 2-pounder, I was happy to make the first of several s’mores over the hot wood. Quite sated, four of us decided to swim back to the schooner instead of rowing. A wise decision. The water was clean, cool, refreshing. The dinner far more memorable than all those James Beard-award winning restaurants I dined at last year.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/05/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, Climbing the Via Ferrata at Quebec’s Palissades De Charlevoix

Just when I thought I had my fill of adventure in the Saguenay/Charlevoix region of Quebec this past July—biking on the celebrated Véloroute des Bleuets, a 256-kilometer bike trail that circumnavigates Lac-Saint-Jean, hiking atop a ridge at Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay, sea kayaking with beluga whales on the Saguenay Fjord, and whitewater rafting down the rapids of the Metabetchouan River—my buddy Jeff persuaded me top it all by tackling one of the few Via Ferratas in the world outside of the famous Dolomites. Using cables affixed to an 1187-foot rock face, we attached our carabiners and used iron rungs on the steep sections to clamber up the rock wall at Pallisades De Charlevioix. Following our relaxed guide, Vincent, (me, not so relaxed), we slowly and carefully made it to the top of the steep cliff. We stopped to pick wild blueberries and to peer down at a sinuous creek below where we spotted a beaver swimming next to his oversized dam. The real excitement starts at the top when we crossed a suspension bridge made of wobbly planks high above the canyon floor. Then Vincent says to me, “now it’s time to rappel down.” I looked down the 230-foot rock ledge and panicked. But Vincent slowly got me to lean off the ledge and believe in the equipment. I descended, kicking off the smooth face of the wall, and quickly found myself at the bottom, heart racing but proud of my accomplishment. That’s one climb I won’t soon forget. 
 
To top it off, we went whale watching on a zodiac that afternoon from Baie-Saint-Catherine with Croisieres AML. Near the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, the St. Lawrence feels vast here, like an ocean. We zipped out to the heart of the river on the speedy raft and soon were watching the second largest mammal in the world, the fin whale blowing its spout and surfacing the water with its long arching back. Suddenly we heard a huge splash and the naturalist got very excited pointing to a minke whale that was completely out of the water breaching. He would breach 3 or 4 times, flipping out of the water like a flying fish. We then cruised over to a colony of gray seals before making our way into the fjord to see Caribou Falls. At the corner of my eye, I caught a splash of white and soon we were following a pod of beluga whales, jumping in and out of the water like dolphins. That’s what I call a memorable day in Quebec. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/04/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, The Magical Sunsets of the Okavango Delta

There were so many highlights of our 9-day trip with Abercrombie & Kent to Botswana and Zambia in September that it’s hard to pick one day. I loved watching the elephants swim across the Chobe River on the Namibian border, spending an hour with a leopard on a tree in the Okavango Delta, surprising a rhino after an early morning drive, meeting Jabu, a massive African elephant who helps locals overcome their fear of wild animals, canoeing past hippos on the Zambezi River, watching the pounding waters of Victoria Falls plunge to the bottom of the chasm from the Zimbabwean side, and listening to our wonderful guide, Kebby, describe each and every bird like the brightly colored lilac-breasted roller and the southern carmine bee-eater.  

But most of all, I loved each and every sunset, a massive orb of fiery red, orange, and yellow sun that sets the bush aglow before darkness descends. There are few things in life as magical as a sunset in Africa. Late afternoon on our third day of the trip we were picked up at Chief’s Camp and treated to a mokoro ride. In a traditional canoe, a guide poled us through the tall grasses on a leisurely paddle, Botswana’s version of a gondola ride. The sun started to set and the tall reeds surrounding us were aglow. When the paddle ended, we celebrated the last embers of light on land, vodka tonic in hand nibbling on meaty biltong. That’s as close to perfection as it gets in the world of travel. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/03/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, January 02, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, Savoring the Art Scene in Cape Town

Frankly, every day we spent in Cape Town in September was a dream, from strolling the magnificent gardens of Kirstenbosch to sampling the wines of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek to biking the Cape of Good Hope. But it’s hard to top the first day in Cape Town, waking up to a gluttonous feast at the classic Mount Nelson Hotel and then being escorted to the top art studios in town by local bead merchant, Stephen Long. The Gallery Shop, on bustling Church Street (48), is a gem of a small store selling colorfully beaded jewelry, sculpture, wall hangings, pillowcases, and more. Owner Lorin Strieman used to run the gift shop at the National Gallery and she has a great eye for contemporary South African craft. It’s hard not to purchase all the whimsical beaded animals at Monkeybiz. It was wonderful to walk upstairs and see the artists sitting together and laughing while creating art. Just as alluring was the work at Streetwires, where sculpture of all sizes is created by wire and bead. Bags in hand from all the goods we purchased, we visited the colorful houses and mosques found in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood still home to a large Cape Malay population. That evening, we were back in the center of town for First Thursday Art Walk, a great opportunity to see all the art galleries on Church Street with a glass of Stellenbosch pinotage in hand. That’s what I call a Dream Day! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/02/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, December 23, 2016

Sailing Vacations, Luxury South Africa, and Wellness Retreats in Our December Newsletter

To all our loyal members, we drink a toast to you this New Year! What a privilege to be trusted and allowed into your lives to help make memories for you and your loved ones. We do not take this lightly and we are so very thankful that you have signed up as ActiveTravels members. This month we are so excited as our valued clients travel to all these diverse locales: South Africa, Hawaii, Dominican Republic, Italy, Florida, California, Switzerland, Belize and France. More clients' travels for the coming year include Cuba, Iceland, Tanzania, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Spain and much, much more. Our December newsletter awaits. We are reporting this month about the beauty and ease of sailing vacations, locales to witness the Northern Lights (2017 is reportedly the best year in a decade), the Royal Portfolio's exclusive South African circuit, and where to go if you need to recharge your body and mind during the coming year. 

Lisa and I wish you a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year! See you in 2017! 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/23/16 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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