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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Ogunquit Still My No. 1 Beach Town in New England

To celebrate a big birthday for my mother-in-law, 14 members of the family made their way to Ogunquit, Maine in mid-July for 3 nights. I haven't been back to Ogunquit since I wrote my cover story for Yankee Magazine on the Top 25 Beach Towns in New England, naming Ogunquit over Provincetown as the best beach town in New England. I was happy to see the article from the July/August 2012 issue framed on the wall of The Beachmere Inn, where we stayed. After a memorable weekend, I can honestly say that I made the right choice naming Ogunquit my number one beach town. I ditched the car in the parking lot and didn't see it again until I left. The view of the Atlantic and the 3 ½-mile stretch of beachfront from the Beachmere was just as glorious as I remembered. We would stroll down the sloping lawn to the Marginal Way, and either take a left to hit the beach or veer right to walk along the rugged shoreline to the restaurants in Perkins Cove. The big birthday dinner was held in a private room at MC Perkins Cove, a restaurant I first discovered when it debuted, reporting for Boston Globe Magazine's Best of the New issue. The meal and service were both exceptional. So was our first night's dinner at Oarweed at an outdoor table overlooking the Atlantic, digging into the freshest lobster I've had in a long time, washed down with a Blueberry Ale. 

Yes, both P'town and Nantucket have excellent restaurants and beaches. But where Ogunquit excels is theater and other cultural offerings. Gershwins' An American in Paris, staged at the historic Ogunquit Playhouse, was a fantastic rendition of this complex play, featuring tap dance, ballet, and songs (see it before it closes on August 4th).  We visited the Ogunquit Museum of American Art to see the Lois Dodd show, only to be serenaded by the poetry of Richard Blanco, who just happened to be there that day. Blanco is best known as being the poet who spoke at President Obama's second inauguration and his words, which were paired with photography on exhibit, are incredibly moving. Ogunquit, I have a feeling I'll be returning far more frequently in the future. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/01/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Row 34, A Great Addition to Portsmouth

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a smaller version of Portland, Maine, with its own great dining scene, one that I discuss in an upcoming story for Yankee Magazine. A 75-minute drive north of Boston, it's ideal for dinner or an overnight. Lisa and I stayed at the Ale House Inn for a night in October and had a fun visit. This past Wednesday, I met my friend, Joel, in town from Seattle at Row 34. This is the sister restaurant to Row 34 in Boston's Seaport District, a favorite that I always put on itineraries for clients headed to Boston and New England. We sat outdoors and dined on lobster rolls and a shrimp banh mi. They also feature their Row 34 oysters, farmed locally in Duxbury, Massachusetts, by one of the co-owners, Skip Bennett. If you can't find a room at the Alewife Inn, check out the Residence Inn, just down the block from Row 34 and within easy walking distance of the historic buildings at Strawberry Banke and other excellent dining spots like Franklin Oyster House

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/31/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, July 30, 2018

Back at the Track

I honestly didn't spend much time at the Saratoga Race Course growing up in nearby Schenectady. My dad had a sailboat docked north of Bolton Landing on Lake George and that's where we would spend much of the summer. But since I've been getting together with high school buddies annually these past 7 years, a day at the track has always been a day that I really look forward to. This year, I arrived around noon and parked behind the stables (free parking off Exit 14 on the Northway), a good parking area if you're headed north to Lake George like we were. Then I strolled over to the front gate, purchased a pink sheet, which gives insider info on the horses and jockeys, and grabbed a burger and fries at Shake Shack. The first race is 1 pm and the track is a beauty, the oldest track in America and named by Sports Illustrated as one of the Top 10 Sports Venues of the 20th Century. My friend, Bob, usually finds us a table in the Clubhouse to watch the races, where we have great views of the horses rounding the track. I walk up to place my $2 and $5 bets and usually lose, with or without the pink sheet, but still have a blast rooting for my horses. This year, I left on a winning note, betting on Flowers to Lisa to win the 8th race. It easily cruised to victory at 5:1 odds, no doubt spurred on by my wife, Lisa, my lucky charm. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/30/18 at 06:00 AM
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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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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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