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Monday, February 17, 2020

New Direct Flight from Boston to Asheville, North Carolina

Starting May 8th, Allegiant Airlines will be flying direct from Boston to Asheville. I’m really excited about the opportunity for clients to visit this town on a direct flight and to see the expansive Biltmore Estate and its resplendent gardens, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. From beginning to late spring, the gardens come to life with the tulip bloom followed by multi-colored azaleas, rhododendrons, and come May, roses in the rose garden. Another joy is the 80-mile stretch of roadway between Asheville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are numerous opportunities to stretch your legs and stroll to lonely mountain streams and waterfalls. Back in Asheville, a celebrated foodie destination, grab tapas like squid ink paella at Curate. Luella’s Bar-B-Que (just north of downtown) serves ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken wings, even barbecued tempeh.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/17/20 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, January 31, 2020

Best of the New in Travel in January ActiveTravels Newsletter

We receive, on average, 500-plus press releases a day telling us about all the new hotel openings, adventures, tours, cruise ships, art exhibitions, and much, much more in the world of travel. That’s in addition to all the travel publications that arrive via snail mail. Believe it or not, we actually skim every one of those emails and magazines to see if anything excites us. If it meets our discerning eye, we pass it on to you. Every January, we highlight what’s new in the world of the travel in our newsletter. Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Simply tell us where you’re headed and ActiveTravels will give you the scoop on what's new.

 
We’re off to sail the Grenadines with our friends (and colleague) Amy and Josh. We’ll be back the week of February 17th. In the meantime, keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/31/20 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 30, 2020

A Staycation at YOTEL Boston

With plans to meet friends in the Seaport district last Saturday night for dinner, and snow on the way, we made the wise move to spend a night at the YOTEL Boston. Smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood’s exponential growth, it’s hard to top the YOTEL’s location, within easy walking distance to all restaurants, bars, movies, and Boston’s contemporary art museum, the ICA. We dropped our bags off in the room, just big enough for a cozy bed, flat screen television, and full bathroom with rainforest shower and view of the Boston harbor. Then we headed across the street to watch 1917 at a wonderful new cinema with deluxe seating and impeccable sound. We had just enough time for a pint of Super Juicy New England IPA at Hopsters, before strolling over in the snow to the new Woods Hill Pier 4 restaurant. Situated in the same spot as Anthony’s Pier 4 restaurant, the only reason to head to this neighborhood before the Seaport became the fashionable zip code to live, the latest incarnation of dining features tasty local seafood and veggies, many grown on the owner/chef’s farm in nearby Concord. We started with small plates of tender scallops and charred broccoli before moving on to a lobster/crab ragu and crispy lamb ribs. The food was perfectly paired with the magical scene outside, snow falling onto a nearby park surrounded by water, and popular with dog walkers and families. We slept well on our comfy mattress that night, woke up to a hot shower, and took a long walk along the harbor waters early Sunday. An ideal getaway, and considerably cheaper than buying a condo in the neighborhood. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/30/20 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Rent Your Own Private Island this Winter

Guest Post by Amy Perry Basseches
In 2018, I wrote a blog about SuperShe Island, off the coast of Finland, where you and friends can enjoy a private island retreat. What fun...but not exactly a “palm trees and sand” location. And it’s women only. 
 
Recently, an ActiveTravels member expressed interest in a birthday celebration week with her husband and some friends, on a private island in the Caribbean. Now we’re talking! If this is up your alley, please consider:
 
Fifteen minutes off the coast of Placencia, Belize, Kanu Private Island is a coral island with white sands sloping gently into the Caribbean Sea. Kanu’s 2.5 acres ensures privacy with five 1,000-square-foot villas, each containing a breezily chic master bedroom suite, high bamboo ceilings, huge resort bathrooms with outdoor showers, and custom-made local furniture. Some villas also have large soaking tubs and one has a loft for kids. Price is $4,305 USD per night for exclusive use of the entire island for up to 8 adults based on double occupancy and a minimum 7-night stay (includes all taxes and booking fees). The cost is all inclusive, including transfers, accommodations, meals prepared by your personal chef, local beer and spirits, personal concierge services, personal boat captain, personal fishing and snorkeling guide, up to 4 complementary massages per day, housekeeping, Internet/WiFi, unlimited use of kayaks, paddleboards, snorkeling gear and all other sporting equipment.  
 
Eagle Rock Cay is “for those looking for a little bit of peace and quiet whilst still enjoying the best of the Bahamas.” In the Abacos region, in Hopetown harbor, this island can accommodate four people. Both bedrooms offer comfort and great design. The master bathroom, with its whirlpool tub and double headed shower, forms the perfect place to relax and soak up the Caribbean. From the spacious deck or in the hot tub, you can wave at passing yachts as they cruise through the calm waters, soaking up the spirit of the Caribbean. Nearby Elbow Cay is home to what is generally considered to be the world’s third biggest barrier reef. Choose to cook your catch of the day in the full kitchen. Or take advantage of the wealth of restaurants in nearby Hopetown and the neighboring islands. For an additional fee, a talented chef is available to you. Prices begin at $3600 USD per night. 
 
Let ActiveTravels know if these or other private islands are of interest to you!

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/29/20 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Paint the Town Red in Kennebunkport 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. Start it off this Saturday, February 1st, at The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel, which will be hosting the opening Igloo Ice Lounge party, complete with four igloos decked out in plush fur, cozy throw blankets and abundance of candles with views of the sparkling stars above, s’mores, and a dance party. On Valentine’s Day, enjoy a 3-course meal at the Burleigh, located in the Kennebunkport Inn. Two nights later, On February 16th, you can savor Bubbles and Truffles at Earth at Hidden Pond, when chocolate truffles will be paired with a flight of sparkling wines. For those looking for an over-the-top engagement, Put a Ring on It puts the Cupid Concierge on speed dial to help curate that perfect romantic weekend. The package includes an original love poem, bottle of Dom Pérignon in Waterford crystal champagne flutes, a personal photographer to capture the “big ask,” four dozen red roses and chocolate covered strawberries. Available through February 29, the package can be booked by phone at 1-207-967-1517 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/28/20 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, January 27, 2020

A Relaxing Stay at the Iberostar Quetzal

The first week of January, we took the kids and my mother-in-law to an all-inclusive resort just outside of Playa del Carmen called Iberostar Quetzal. Less than a 5-minute walk from the room is one of the most glorious stretches of beach in Mexico, a wide swath of spanking white sand that goes on and on and on. We would take long walks to the remote stretches of the shoreline to watch large lizards hide in the rocks, then take a dip in the heavenly ocean waters. Unlike other all-inclusive properties I’ve stayed at on the Riviera Maya, it was a short walk to both beach and the restaurants, including the ones we could venture to on the neighboring property, Iberostar Tucan. 

The jungle-like interior, replete with boardwalks over cenotes past waterfalls, was just as much a joy as walking on the beach. We would spot wonderful wildlife and birdlife including cute little agoutis, howler monkeys, the racoon-like coatis, flamingos, peacocks, cranes, large tortoises, and egrets. What a treat! We would spend most of the day down by the beach, grabbing our paella or tacos for lunch, while often listening to a live band. Then wander back to the room later in the afternoon to read on the balcony, cerveza in hand, while watching monkeys jump from branch to branch. We took a taxi into Playa del Carmen to have dinner one night, another half-day tour to the ruins of Tulum, but we were very pleased to spend most of our time under an umbrella, reading our stack of books, before another beach walk and ocean swim. A perfect warm-weather escape. 
 
If interested in an all-inclusive stay in Mexico or the Caribbean, please let ActiveTravels know and we’ll send you a list of our favorite properties. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/27/20 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Top Travel Days of 2019, Hanging with the Monks and Buffalo in Luang Prabang, Laos

Guest Post and Photos by Amy Perry Basseches 

I started this Dream Day in January giving early morning alms to the novice monks, then I headed to the Traditional Ethnology and Arts Centre in Luang Prabang, a local enterprise founded in 2006 to promote the appreciation and transmission of Laos’ ethnic cultural heritage and livelihoods. It was fascinating to grow in my understanding of crafts from over 20 different Lao ethnic groups! 
 
A picnic at the famous Kuang Si Falls followed, getting damp from the mist. Finally, I was off to Laos Buffalo Dairy: a socially responsible sustainable farm and business whose aim is to improve rural prosperity and the health of the local population. The story behind this place is very unusual -- people in Laos did not milk their water buffalo as was done in other places. So Susie (an Australian corporate executive who moved from Hong Kong) showed local people how, and is now helping the region. “We cooperate with people from villages in and around Luang Prabang by renting their buffalo, which provides the families with a regular income stream from an underutilized resource. We built a facility for milking their buffalo and keeping them well fed, healthy and safe.”  Oh my: the delicious cheeses, ice creams, and cheesecakes!  
 
Both of my guides in Luang Prabang were former monks. Nick had been a monk for 7 years, starting at age 13, and, while we climbed Mt. Phousi after the Laos Buffalo Dairy, he told me that 70% of Lao boys become novices because it is the way to an education. One can stop being a monk at any time. Nick left to attend university, obtain a business and tourism degree, get married, and have a child. A few generations back, his family were opium farmers, he said. I loved hearing his personal story and talking to him. 
 
At the end of my Dream Travel Day, I ended up back at the lovely Sofitel. The hotel was originally built as the French Governor's residence in the 1900s, on the outskirts of town. I had an enormous outdoor tub in my patio area which was definitely enjoyed. Contact ActiveTravels if you too would like a Dream Travel Day in Laos. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/21/20 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, January 20, 2020

Top Travel Days of 2019, Visiting Otavalo, Ecuador

Guest Post and Photos by Amy Perry Basseches 
In mid-February, I had a terrific week in Ecuador with my daughter, Sophie. On my Dream Day, I headed approximately two hours north of Quito to Otavalo, world-famous for its indigenous population, and for the Mercado Artesanal, where locals sell their handicrafts. This is South America’s largest outdoor market: you will find a wide range of weavings, jewelry, clothes, wood and stone carvings, paintings, and more. Although Saturday is the main market day, and the whole town is filled with stalls, there is plenty open at Plaza de Ponchos any day. Also, the grilled plantains from a street vendor were delicious.
 
After visiting the market, I had lunch at Hacienda Pinsaqui, built in 1790. Lunch is the major meal of the day in Ecuador -- usually soup, a full main plate (meat, vegetables, bread, rice), and dessert. At Pinsaqui, we enjoyed a lovely meal in an historic setting. The Hacienda contains more than three centuries of history. At one point, it was the largest in the area, essentially enslaving 1000 indigenous workers who created products for export to the US. Another time, it sheltered Simón Bolívar who prepared here for the Battle of Ibarra (1823) against the Spanish. 
 
We also visited the traditional weaving studio of Miguel Andrago. If you are looking for handmade, traditional weaving, go directly to this home and workshop just 10 minutes outside of Otavalo. The Andrago family (four generations working together) is preserving backstrap weaving without the use of electricity or chemicals (all natural dyes), trying to save “this vanishing art.” They do not sell their beautiful items at the Otavalo market, only at their studio.
 
Please contact ActiveTravels if you want to explore mainland Ecuador on your way to or from the Galapagos, or as a stand-alone trip. Finally, when in Quito, don’t forget to take the Teleferico gondola. The view, from lookout point Cruz Loma, reveals a unique landscape of the city and surrounding area. Options abound: hiking to the summit of the volcano Pichincha, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, and even paragliding. Of course, you could just sit with a picnic and take in the vista, including the world’s highest Catholic Church. I loved swinging on the giant swing.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/20/20 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, January 17, 2020

Top Travel Days of 2019, Waking Up at Machu Picchu

Few sights I’ve seen are as majestic as Machu Picchu. After a 2-hour train ride from Ollantaytambo, you arrive at the town of Aguas Calientes and switch to a bus for a 20-minute drive on a series of switchbacks up to the base of Machu Picchu. Once here, you better have one of the coveted timed tickets to enter these late 15th-century Incan ruins that miraculously the Spaniards never found. Row after row of stone walls lead up the steep hillsides creating a far vaster archaeological wonder than one can imagine on that quintessential photograph from above Machu Picchu.

 
I was on Day Five on an 8-day trip with the outfitter, Abercrombie & Kent, to Lima, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Cuzco. We arrived at Machu Picchu a little after 2:30 pm, when the crowds were already thinning, to feel the smooth rocks of the temple, see the maze of aqueducts, and find the sun dial that was used to predict summer solstice. The tightly knit stone structures are impressive, but to be honest, pale in comparison to the surrounding landscape, a panorama of jagged peaks that lead to the snow-capped Andes in the distance. This includes Huayna Picchu, the striking peak you see behind every photo of Machu Picchu. We had the opportunity hike this peak the next morning at 7 am, but I chose to hike part of the Inca Trail rising above Machu Picchu to the Sun Gate. Every step you took on the 3-hour round-trip trek was another breathtaking view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains. Fantastic!
 
Abercrombie and Kent really earn their money on this portion of the trip. We have all heard of the overcrowding at Machu Picchu and by the time I arrived back from my hike on the Inca Trail around 10:30 am, there were hundreds of people on the Machu Picchu grounds. But the past day we really saw the site in relative quietude. We arrived mid-afternoon the day prior when the crowds were less (after having a memorable lunch aboard our train), stayed at the base of Machu Picchu at the only hotel on the grounds, the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (only 31 rooms, booked a year in advance by Abercrombie and Kent), and then received one of the few tickets the following morning to enter the grounds at 6 am, when there were few if any people around. Walking above Machu Picchu as the sun rose and the clouds cleared was an unforgettable experience.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/17/20 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Top Travel Days of 2019, The Much-Needed Therapeutic Waters of Temagami

In April, I crashed my car and had to deal with an unexpected, exorbitant tax bill. May brought the death of Lisa’s dad, Ken. Then in early June, we learned that one of our trusted tour operators that we like to use for Africa trips had just went bankrupt. Needless to say, by the time I reached the waters of Lake Temagami in late July, my nerves were shot. All I wanted to do was jump in the water and swim. And for 3 days, that’s primarily what I did. Dove in the heavenly waters of this vast lake and swam free crawl, backstroke, elementary backstroke, underwater, to a small island directly across from us. It was a perfect cleansing of my body in these pristine waters, happily washing away the year’s stress with each stroke. 

I had no idea where we were, a place called Ojibway on an island 20 minutes by boat from the parking lot some 5 to 6 hour drive north of Toronto. Amy had found the place because her daughter, Sophie, was counselor at Keewaydin Songadeewin summer camp in Vermont, sister camp to Keewaydin Temagami located on the same island as Ojibway. There were no campers during our stay, because the Temagami camp is primarily used as a base for long-distance canoe trips for paddlers, upwards of 6 weeks in summer. Ojibway felt like summer camp for adults in one of the most serene settings I’ve visited in Canada. The inviting waters entice you to grab a canoe and paddle to your heart’s content, following the loons. Meals are served family-style on the long tables and the food was surprisingly good. So was the company, many of whom had a long history with this island, including a woman from Mississippi, who told me that her grandfather had found this place in the early 1900s, not wanting to deal with the crowds in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Her family has been returning here for over a century. And who can blame them! 
 
It's hard to find a more peaceful and stress-free setting, one where your WiFi only works close to the dining area (and very slow at that). You’re free to discard the smart phone and read your stack of books, go for a paddle, have gin and tonics on the deck, and yes, swim. I want to hold on to that image of me diving off the dock at Ojibway to hopefully keep my blood pressure down the rest of the year. At least, until I return to this special spot again. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/16/20 at 07:00 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.

ActiveTravels.com is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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