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Friday, July 20, 2018

Outside Magazine’s Top 6 Spots for Stargazing in North America

Outside just came out with their round-up of top stargazing locales across North America. The locale in Nova Scotia I know well, having stayed with my sister at the Trout Pond Lodge. It's a wonderful property next to a bubbling brook not far from the high-speed ferry dock in Yarmouth. I'm glad they also mentioned the Acadia Night Sky Festival in early September, which I included in an upcoming story for Yankee Magazine on Perfect Weekend Getaways based on your passion, like staring at the stars. I'll be staring at the night sky this coming week from Ogunquit, Portsmouth, and Lake George. See you again on Monday, July 30th. Have a fantastic week and keep active! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/20/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, July 19, 2018

VBT Partners with Emerald Waterways to Cruise the Danube

Ever since Backroads partnered with AmaWaterways to bring families to the Danube River in 2015, the demand has far exceeded number of available berths. The chance to ride along the river on bike paths during the day though small European villages and then catch up with the cruise for cocktails, dinner, and your room for the week (no packing and unpacking) is ideally suited for all age groups. Backroads is now bringing their active travel itineraries to the ocean liners, while other biking companies like VBT have formed partnerships to cruise the rivers. VBT has just announced that one of their new trips in 2019 will be aboard an Emerald Waterways ship cruising the Danube. 24 VBT guests will be part of a larger group on board the 182-passenger river cruise ship. The difference is that your shore excursions will be with a VBT group leader as you bike, on average, 15 to 35 miles per day through the German, Austrian, and Hungarian countryside. VBT can also package together the international air, and pre- and post-visits to Prague and Budapest. Prices start at $4395 per person, not including air. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/19/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Nomads Tours Designs New Itinerary to Mongolia’s Gobi Desert

Our go-to tour operator in Mongolia, Nomads Tours, has just designed a fascinating weeklong trip to Mongolia that includes stays at the Shangri-La in Ulaanbaatar and the intriguing Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert. The owner of Three Camel, Jalsa Urubshurow, grew up in a Mongolian community in New Jersey, before becoming very wealthy in the construction industry. Urubshurow returned in 2002 to create his dream property, backed by the 14,000-foot Altai Mountains and near the fossil-rich Flaming Cliffs. Guests sleep in "gers," Mongolian round felt tents, adorned with hand-painted interiors and locally crafted furniture. Spend the day riding on camels to the sand dunes and then meet local nomadic herders at dinner that evening. In Ulaanbaatar, you'll visit the city's largest market, Naran Tuul (also known as Black Market), and visit monks at the Gandan Khiid Buddhist Monastery, one of the few monasteries to survive the communist regime that lasted until 1990. Pricing starts at $4199 per person, including lodging, all meals, guides, and round-trip domestic air. Please contact ActiveTravels if interested. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/18/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Grasshopper Adventures Debuts Taiwan Multisport Trip

Grasshopper Adventures, the Bangkok-based cycling and active travel outfitter, has just unveiled a 5-day itinerary in South Taiwan that sounds enticing. On this new family multisport tour, you'll snorkel in the crystal-clear waters around Taiwan's only coral island, Xiao Liuqui, bike the jungles of the Hengchun Peninsula while spotting monkeys, kayak and surf in the village of Jialeshui, hike Kenting National Park, swim at the exquisite Baisha Beach (featured in Ang Lee's Life of Pi), explore indigenous villages and historic battlefields, and visit Kenting's lively night market. Cost starts at $1,590 per person. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/17/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, July 16, 2018

La Samanna to Reopen on St. Martin December 10

Great news out of the French side of St. Martin, where Belmond La Sammana has just announced that they are reopening on December 10th.  St. Martin was devastated by Hurricane Irma, so the reopening is something we can all celebrate. Lisa and I know La Samanna well, having stayed in one of their whitewashed villas, only a short stroll to the pearly white sands of Baie Longue. After long walks on the mile-long beach, we sunbathed on the roof of our villa and then cooled off in our private plunge pool. It was like being at a resort built for two. The resort's 83 rooms and public spaces have been given a refresh, awash in a sea of pastel blues, greens, pinks, and peaches, inspired by the natural tones of the Caribbean. Belmond La Samanna will also reopen its beachfront French restaurant, Trellis, and La Cave Wine Cellar, the largest private wine cellar in the Caribbean. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/16/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 
 
At ActiveTravels, we often assist clients who seek to add "fun" to the slog of college visits with offspring. We recommend activities to do and great restaurants to try, and, of course, we arrange good hotels to rest your weary feet. Several years ago, when my daughter Sophie and I were trekking across NY State on a spring break college tour, we spent time at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, and ate at the award-winning Revelry in Rochester. Today, I have a chance to tell you about Charlottesville, Virginia, for those of you who may tour the University of Virginia. 
 
In late June, my sister and I drove our 90-year-old mother from New York City to Charlottesville to visit her 89-year-old sister (who relocated there recently). We had a narrow window for the trip before my mother traveled to Vermont with a friend for a long-scheduled series of classical music concerts, and before my aunt left for yet another scuba diving expedition in the Cayman Islands. Nothing slows these women down! 
 
Once in Charlottesville, we enjoyed two main adventures. First, we spent a lovely several hours at Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards, just outside of town. I read about it ahead of time: "The picturesque vineyards and Winery Tasting Room are pure magic. But the real highlight is top-notch lunch cuisine on the veranda - with a bountiful cheese plate and big deck chairs, the setup is straight out of a magazine." Sounded right up our alley! We indulged while overlooking the green, very lush hills and fields, tasted several wines (our favorite was their Viognier), and ate delicious salads and smoked fish. "Farm-to-table" is a familiar expression these days; now, there's "vineyard-to-table," too. There are many wineries within ½ hour of Charlottesville, including one owned by Dave Matthews
 
The next day, we set out to explore Shenandoah National Park, established in 1935. The scenic Skyline Drive is a prominent feature of the Park, and we drove it to the highest point, where we stopped for lunch at Skyland Resort (originally called Stony Man Camp, built in 1895). The origins of this beautiful Park are not completely benign, however. Hundreds of "mountain people" were moved off their land by the government after it was deemed by so-called "experts" that they were "steeped in ignorance, wrapped in self-satisfaction and complacency, possessed of little or no ambition." Segregation also reared its ugly head when the park debuted. We viewed a very interesting exhibit on segregated picnic areas within Shenandoah National Park. All sites in the Park, except one, were "whites only," and this lasted through the 1940s. 
 
Sadly, we missed the vibrant theater scene in Charlottesville (my cousin Dan is almost always in a show: this summer, he's in "Harvey," with the professional Heritage Theatre Festival). If you are passing through Charlottesville, that's another big plus. Monticello (Jefferson) and Montpelier (Madison), historic Presidential homes, are nearby. Let ActiveTravels know if you are headed to Charlottesville, or, really, to any college town, and we can help design a Dream Day Itinerary!
 
Caption: Vineyard View at Pippin Hill Farm

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/12/18 at 05:59 AM
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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Soothing Day Surrounded by Lavender on the Outskirts of Toronto

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 
 
I was intrigued when I read about a lavender farm right outside of Toronto, and, on a glorious summer afternoon, I visited Terre Bleu in Campbellville, Ontario. Talk about something lovely to look at...and it smells darn good too!! Owners Ian and Isabelle Baird moved from downtown Toronto with their young children when they were inspired to go back to their rural roots. They bought a hay and horse farm. Then, in 2011, they planted 10,000 lavender perennials. Today, the family runs the largest commercial lavender farm in Ontario, home to over 40,000 plants of eight varieties. Not only is there purple and green everywhere, but you wind through a short trail in a 200 year old cedar forest to see the back field. A musician was playing under a tent when I was there, and folks were lazing in Adirondack chairs listening, while sipping fresh lavender lemonade, or eating local lavender ice cream. Terre Bleu’s distillery for the production of premium essential oil uses traditional copper tools from Portugal and old European traditions. For sale at the farm are essential oils, lotions, soaps, dried bouquets, wreaths, shortbreads, cheese, macarons, and more. Naturally, I came away with some goodies. 
 
Peak time is from July to mid August. You can even take a yoga class right in the lavender field (10-11 am, most Saturdays and Sundays over the summer), which includes a “cooling face cloth scented with pure essential oil.” Isabelle Baird is a former Olympic Games competitor in the Triathlon. I wonder if she teaches the class? There’s also a “Zen Den” if you like to sit quietly in the woods with the scent of lavender in the air. Who wouldn’t?
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/11/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Revolutionary War Battlefield Biking

In May, I wrote a road trip story for Chevrolet's New Roads Magazine on Revolutionary War sites. I visited Minute Man National Historic Park in Concord, Massachusetts, Saratoga, and Valley Forge. What I realized was that all of these Revolutionary War battlefields offer exceptional biking opportunities. In Saratoga, a friend told me that the 10-mile park loop is part of a popular Sunday ride for bikers in the region. In Valley Forge, the rolling terrain is so ideal for bikers that they offer rentals. The bloody Battle Road from Lexington to Concord, which marked the start of the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775, is now a great ride through the farmland to historic North Bridge, where local militia first confronted the large British regimen. I was so impressed with the riding at Minute Man National Historic Park that I returned with the family yesterday. We first went inside the Visitors Center where a 30-minute film gives a good overview of the remarkable events that occurred on April 19, 1775, the official start of the Revolutionary War. Battle Road is now an 8-mile ride through the rural countryside past the site where Paul Revere was captured by the British (they took his horse but surprisingly let him go). Extend your ride to swim at nearby Walden Pond like we did. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/10/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, July 09, 2018

Kicking Back, Costa Rica

High up in the mountains with views of the Pacific coast, the weather in Monteverde's Cloud Forest is surprisingly cool for a Central American locale. A perpetual dampness creates a slick layer of moss that covers the branches and trunks of trees. Thick vines drop down from towering ficus trees and clay-covered trails are laden with fallen passionfruit. We follow an impassioned naturalist named Mauricio Ramirez who truly loves his job. He gives us cilantro and cinnamon to smell, tells us what part of the palm tree to cut to find the meaty heart of palm, sticks a flashlight into a hole to see an orange and brown-colored tarantula, and has us swing from one of the vines a la Tarzan.

"This is impressive," Mauricio says as he sets up his telescope quickly. I peer in and my jaw instantly drops as I make out the bushy white eyebrows and wide eyes of a crested owl staring right back at me. "Holy cow!" I blurt out as Mauricio chimes in with "Beautiful, yes beautiful."
 
To find my entire story on Costa Rica, please see the latest issue of Global Traveler Magazine
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/09/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, July 06, 2018

Norway, ActiveTravels Group Trips, and More in our June/July Newsletter

With the low-cost carrier, Norwegian Air, expanding across North America, it should come as no surprise that Norway has experienced a surge in travelers these past two years. Who wouldn't want to be whisked away to this stunning land of fjords, colorful and charming UNESCO World Heritage cities like Bergen, and a history that dates back to the time of Vikings? We recently went to an all-day seminar in Boston with a dozen representatives from across Norway and describe the trips that sound the most exciting in our summer newsletter. We're also excited to announce a slate of group trips in 2019, including a cruise to Alaska with renowned travel writer, Fran Golden; a wine cruise to Bordeaux on AmaWaterways with Vinodivino, owners of 4 wine stores in the Boston region; and a Bike n' Brew Weekend at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, with one ride led by avid biker Sam von Trapp. Have a look and, if interested in any of these trips, please contact ActiveTravels
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/06/18 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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