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Friday, August 17, 2018

Cuba, Colombia, Hartford, and More in August ActiveTravels Newsletter

Lisa and I recently had the pleasure of meeting Megumi Gordon, granddaughter of ActiveTravels member, Naomi Gordon. Megumi, along with her husband, Michael Laverty, and his brother, Collin, is co-founder of Habana Live, a tour operator in Cuba that custom-designs trips to the island based upon your interests. With new nonstop service on JetBlue starting on November 10th between Boston and Havana, (JetBlue already offers direct flights from JFK to Havana), there's no better time to visit Cuba. Along with Megumi, many outfitters and cruise lines are adding Cuba to their list of destinations this winter. To see the five ways we recommend visiting Cuba this winter, please see our latest ActiveTravels newsletter. We also include highlights of my recent trip to Colombia, as well as a fun quick escape to Hartford, Connecticut. And if you're heading to Europe this year, read about the great (and free!) audio tours by travel author Rick Steves.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/17/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

New Resorts Openings in the Caribbean this Winter

After devastating hurricanes left Puerto Rico, the BVIs, St. Martin, St. Barts, and other Caribbean islands in tatters last winter, the good news is that many classic resorts like Le Toiny and La Samannah are back in business this coming winter. Adding to the excitement are a handful of upscale properties making their debut. The Silversands Grenada will be the first new resort on the famed Grande Anse beach in 25 years, when it opens in November. The all-suite resort (43 total) features an Olympic-sized, 100-meter outdoor infinity pool, and a spa with Turkish hammam. The Liming Bequia will also make its debut in November on that speck of an island in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the property has 13 villas, each with an infinity pool. The hotel's restaurant will serve ocean-to-table seafood and island-picked fruit and seasonal vegetables. Iberostar's latest property will be housed in a circa-1911 hotel set in the heart of Old Havana on Paseo del Prado. The Iberostar Grand Packard will offer 321 rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, three bars and six restaurants, including tapas, when it opens later this year. ActiveTravels is happy to check availabilty and pricing if any of these resorts interest you. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/16/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

8 Perfect New England Weekend Getaways

Pick a passion, any passion, and there's a locale in New England perfectly suited to your desire. Whether you crave award-winning, locally made IPAs, a former industrial complex converted to the largest center of contemporary art in the US, or miles of bike trails that lead to Nantucket beaches, we have a weekend planned for you. One of these 8 themed weekends, my latest story for Yankee Magazine, is certain to satisfy your interests. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/15/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

See the Met Fashion Show at The Cloisters

In the world of exhibitions, there are juxtapositions of talent and space that just work brilliantly. Take Chihuly's twisting and curving glass, now a mainstay at botanical gardens across the country. Putting contemporary fashion into five medieval cloisters is another gem of an idea. The Cloisters, at the tip of northern Manhattan, is now the uptown branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Take the A-train to 190th Street, grab an elevator up, and you'll soon be walking through Fort Tryon Park high above the Hudson to the monastery-like buildings that John Rockefeller donated to the city in the 1920s. Living in the city for close to a decade, I only made it up here once to see the celebrated Unicorn Tapestries and Medieval manuscripts in the towering buildings. Now there are crowds coming to see Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Balenciaga and more than 50 other designers presenting their interpretations of a Catholic theme in the show titled Heavenly Bodies, on view through October 8th. Dresses created with the imagery of Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights," from Japanese designer Jun Takahashi, was a favorite of our group. Just as impressive as the show and the architecture, including massive wooden doors from the 15th century that lead to each room, are the outdoor terraces. My niece, Sarah, who goes to school at Teachers College at Columbia University, about 70 blocks south of the exhibition on 120th Street, showed me around a Medieval garden of intriguing curiosities straight of Shakespearean times. Definitely worth the effort to make it up here! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/14/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, August 13, 2018

A Memorable Summer Day in Toronto

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

When my husband Josh left for two weeks in the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi), my Massachusetts-based friend Tamara came to visit. What fun we had! On a sunny Monday in late July, I enjoyed three new Toronto experiences. I walk frequently on the trails in the ravine by the Evergreen Brickworks and am always impressed by Toronto's re-use of historical industrial buildings for public purpose. In the 1880s, at this site, a brick factory was built which didn't close until 1984. Now the Brickworks consists of 16 heritage buildings and an adjacent public park that includes wetlands, hiking trails, and wildflower meadows. It's one of my favorite places to take visitors, an oasis in the middle of the city - complete with a view of the CN Tower from atop a trail - and is also home to food truck festivals, children's camps, artisan fairs, Farmers Markets, a bike rental shop, a cafe, and Canada's first large-scale community environmental centre. What was new to me on Monday was entering the Young Welcome Centre and understanding that everything about the Brickworks is designed to be a global showcase for green urban design. Two large heritage artifacts flank the sides of the Welcome Centre: a brick press and the Foreman's shed. It was very interesting to learn more, after working up a sweat at the former site of clay extraction for bricks. 
 
Later that day, Tamara and I took a ferry out to the Toronto Islands in Lake Ontario. There are 3 boat routes--one to Ward's Island (which we did), one to Centre Island (where families go, with a small amusement park, plus bike/canoe/kayak rentals), and one to Hanlan's Point (gasp--a clothing optional beach). Boats leave from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay Street and Queen's Quay, and there are actually 15 islands inter-connected by pathways and bridges. You can walk or bike from one end to the other (approximately 5 km from Ward's Island to Hanlan's Point). We enjoyed exploring, eating lunch at the Island Cafe, hitting the beach, and swimming. Two-plus years in Toronto, and I hadn't lazily floated in my bathing suit in Lake Ontario! Check that off. I later fantasized about living on one of the islands, but there is a 20-25 year waiting list for a cottage. 
 
Lastly, at night, Tamara and I headed to Casa Loma, another first for me. Sir Henry Pellat commissioned his tremendous castle or "House on the Hill" in 1911. Sitting 460 feet above sea level, it's quite a place: 98 rooms, 30 bathrooms, 25 fireplaces, 3 bowling alleys, a 50-metre (160-foot) shooting gallery, a temperature-controlled wine cellar capable of holding 1,700 bottles, an unfinished 18-metre (60-foot) long indoor swimming pool, and a 243-metre (800-foot) tunnel constructed 6 metres (20 feet) underground to the stables across the street. Sadly, financial troubles meant the Pellatts moved to their farm in 1924, and the City of Toronto is currently the sole owner of the site. On Monday evenings during the summer, Casa Loma hosts an award-winning singer and his seven-piece band for "Soul in the City." You get amazing views of the city, and access to the castle and beautiful gardens, while eating, drinking, and enjoying the music. By the second set, Tamara and I were able to get up close to the stage and dance until our feet hurt. "We're gonna have a good time tonight; Let's celebrate, it's all right."
 
If a trip to Toronto interests you, let ActiveTravels help!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/13/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Part III of My Week in the Canadian Rockies: Jasper

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches
 
From Lake Louise, take your time as you drive the famous Icefields Parkway all the way to Jasper. It's 143 miles, with tremendous views (13 viewpoints). I can recommend stopping at the Peyto Lake Overlook, about ½ hour outside of Lake Louise. You are rewarded at the end with the view of the intensely colored lake. Also, stop for a snack at the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre, and walk on the trail to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. It's not far, and there are a lot of people, but it does get you up very close. (Note: Skip the $30 pp Glacier Skywalk, a walkway over the Sunwapta Valley. No glaciers to be seen.)
 
In Jasper, we loved our hotel, The Tekarra Lodge. We stayed in a simple and adequate King Lodge room, above the Dining Room, but I'd definitely recommend the cabins. If you reserve well in advance, there are small, medium, and large cabins. Ask for one near the river. Then you can sit in an Adirondack chair, high above the confluence of the Athabasca and Miette Rivers, and watch the swirling blue water down below. Breakfast at Tekarra (included in the price) was great, and an elk conveniently graced the grass just outside the dining room window one morning. 
 
For meals, Jasper is a real town, with lots of choices for excellent food that isn't fried tourist fare. We loved Syrahs so much, we went back twice. For starters, we enjoyed the elk carpaccio and the warm seafood salad, followed by the smoked Alberta bison brisket ragout, and the port and fig chicken. My husband Josh said the gin and tonic was the best he's ever had. Make a reservation and enjoy. 
 
In terms of hikes and things to do, Jasper is in Jasper National Park, so you need a different trail map than the one for Banff and Lake Louise. Grab a Jasper map at the Icefields Discovery Centre on your way between Lake Louise and Jasper, or at the Parks Canada Visitor Center in Jasper (500 Connaught Drive). We didn't really plan a longer hike on the day we drove into Jasper (we wanted to allow time for short walks off the Icefields Parkway during the long ride), but you could pre-arrange a hike on the glacier if you have 3 hours to spare. 
 
We enjoyed all our hikes in Jasper but it's hard to top the Bald Hills Trail from Maligne Lake (5 hours round-trip), recommended by the host we met at Syrahs. It really had it all-forest, alpine meadow of wildflowers, mountains, a sweeping view back to Maligne Lake. It was our longest and hardest hike of the week, a "peak" experience, and at times a little narrow when you are up very high. We felt very pleased with our accomplishment and a wee bit tired. It was the perfect way to end our trip to the Canadian Rockies. 
 
Don't hesitate to contact ActiveTravels and I'll give you the scoop on Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff, including other exhilarating adventures, like rafting down the Sunwapta River. We'll be back next week with a new slate of blogs. Thanks, as always, for spending the time with us!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/08/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Part II of My Week in the Canadian Rockies: Lake Louise

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 

In Lake Louise, I would strongly suggest staying at The Post Hotel. Known originally as the Lake Louise Ski Lodge, the Post first opened in 1942. It has 100 luxurious guest rooms and suites, and an award-winning dining room (see more below); it's part of the Relais & Chateaux brand, which means it must excel in the areas of comfort, cuisine, service and special character. Josh and I have neighbors in Toronto who go to the Post Hotel every year for their anniversary, it's that special.
 
Before your Lake Louise hikes, go to Bill Peyto's Cafe for breakfast, inside the Lake Louise hostel. We ate there twice and can surely recommend their simple fare, done well. After your hikes, splurge and eat at the Post Hotel. For ambiance (though mediocre cuisine), we liked the Lake Louise Station (inside the original train station). If you want to see the classic Chateau Lake Louise, you could try a drink in one of their restaurants like the Lakeview Lounge after your hike. 
 
To see Lake Louise itself, you need to arrive in the parking lot before 9 am or after 5:30 pm; it's kind of a "must-do" in this area, and there is a walking trail halfway around the lake which you can take (1 hour round-trip). We did this at around 8 am one morning, with mist rising off the lake. Beautiful! Moraine Lake was even more magical. We arrived about 7 pm and lucked out finding a parking spot. We strolled on the lake trail (45 minutes round-trip), and the light was amazing. During main daytime hours, you can take a canoe out on the lake as well. 
 
For hikes, I can easily recommend the one we did. Stanley Glacier Trail (3.5 hours round-trip) was actually in Kootenay National Park (British Columbia), but directly between Banff and Lake Louise (in the Castle Junction area of the Lake Louise Trail map). Away from the large crowds, this hike rewarded us with a spectacular view of both the glacier and cascading waterfalls, as well as the area's mountains and valleys. Scrambling up the rocks at the end of the hike, as we drew closer to the glacier, was challenging and fun.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/07/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, August 06, 2018

Hiking in Banff

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

I just returned from a fantastic week in the Canadian Rockies with my husband Josh. At ActiveTravels, we often have members wanting the inside scoop for planning an itinerary to Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper. Josh and I are hikers who like a comfortable bed and excellent food after a day of mountains, so that's what I'll be focusing on. 
 
In Banff, we stayed at The Moose Hotel & Suites, Banff Lodging Company's new 4-star hotel property featuring 174 air-conditioned guests rooms (AC is not common here, but it's a nice add-on) and a rooftop pool and hot tub. Early in your stay, stroll over to the Banff Visitor Centre (224 Banff Avenue, which is on the super busy and crowded main drag). It's open 9 am-5 pm year-round, with extended hours in the summer. We picked up trail maps for both the Banff and the Lake Louise areas, and received great recommendations for hikes to suit our preference by talking to the knowledgeable Parks Canada staff. 
 
To get energized for those Banff hikes, head to Tooloulou's for breakfast. It's a local hotspot, and there's often a well-deserved wait. If you give up, next door, Coyote's, offers a good breakfast as well. We sampled both! After your hikes, reward yourself with a brew and a view at these fun bars: The Maclab Bistro at the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity and the Rundle Lounge at the Banff Springs Hotel. The hotel is a Rocky Mountain Classic built by the Canadian railroads in the 1880s. Definitely worth seeing! 
 
In terms of hikes, I highly recommend the two we did. Visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, where the 1883 discovery of a cave full of hot mineral spring waters helped create Canada's first national park (the site also features an interesting exhibit on internment of Canadian residents during World War I, who then built the Park's infrastructure). From here, hike up to Sundance Canyon (3 hours round-trip). It was not too crowded, and we had stellar views. The climb starts with a paved trail and soon opens up to a mountain panorama across the Bow River. The next day, for a longer venture, we braved the hordes at Johnston Canyon just outside of town (toward Lake Louise) because we wanted to hike up to the Ink Pots (4 hours round-trip), which requires going past Lower Falls and Upper Falls. You eventually reach an open meadow where warm water bubbles up from deep below the Earth's surface. 
 
Please contact ActiveTravels for assistance with Banff. We're happy to help! On to Lake Louise tomorrow. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/06/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, August 03, 2018

My Favorite Bike Ride on Cape Cod

Cape Cod is so close to Boston that I often drive there on a day trip, which is exactly what we did yesterday to meet my cousin, Peter, and his family in town from Dallas. I took them on a ride we do each summer. We start on Main Street in Orleans in the lot next to Orleans Cycle and head out on the Cape Cod Rail Trail toward Eastham. Soon we pass the velvety marsh, where red-winged blackbirds sit atop the swaying cattails and cormorants dry their wings on floating docks. At Locust Road, we veer right off the CCRT and cross over Route 6 to reach the Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor Center. This is the start of a 2-mile bike trails that sweeps up and down through the forest and marsh, leaving you off at Coast Guard Beach, recently named one of the top 10 beaches in America. However, I think the beach up the road, Nauset Light, is even more scenic, backed by towering dunes. We lock up our bikes and walk down to the sweeping beach. Yesterday, there was at least 20 seals popping their heads out of the surf. 

 
Once back on the bikes, we take Cable Road past Three Sisters Lighthouses, three absurdly small lighthouses built in the mid-19th century. A left turn at the end of the road and a right turn on Brackett Road leads us back to the CCRT. Turn left towards Orleans and you'll soon smell the fried clams of Arnold's, a lobster-in-the-rough restaurant (cash only) beloved by my family. Stand in the long line (most likely out the door), order from their vast selection of seafood, including lobster, fried clams, scallops, shrimp, and mounds of tender onion rings and grab a seat at one of the outdoor picnic tables. Afterwards, play a round of miniature golf or grab a brownie sundae. Continue on the CCRT through a tunnel and you'll arrive back at the Orleans Cycle parking lot in less than 30 minutes. A perfect summer outing. 
 
Nauset Lighthouse, Cape Cod 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/03/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, August 02, 2018

Travel to the UK with Lisa Fagin Davis and the Medieval Academy of America

Excited to announce that our good friend and client (we designed an itinerary for her and her husband to visit their daughter in Australia), Lisa Fagin Davis, is leading a trip to the UK in October. Lisa is the Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America and we've seen firsthand her passion for history, including a guided tour of an exhibition she co-curated in Boston in 2016, "Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections." Participants in this October 23-28 trip will visit two rare exhibitions: "Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms" at the British Library and "Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth" at Oxford's Bodleian Library, with curatorial introductions and expert guides in addition to Lisa. These exhibitions overlap for only one week, making this trip a unique opportunity to see them together. 

According to Lisa, the real star of the British Museum show is the Codex Amiatinus, the oldest known complete Latin Bible. It was written in England around the year 716 (that's 1300 years ago, for those keeping score) and left England on a journey to Rome shortly after its completion, where it was to be laid at the shrine of St. Peter in Rome, a gift to Pope Gregory II from Abbot Ceolfrith of Wearmouth-Jarrow. The Abbot died enroute, but the monks who were with him finished the journey to Rome. Eventually, the manuscript made its way to the Abbey of San Salvatore in Amiata (in Tuscany), which is how it got its nickname of Amiatinus. By the eighteenth century, it had landed at the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence, where it has been ever since. But it is going back to England for the exhibition!
 
"My friends at the British Library tell me that this loan was the result of years of secret negotiations. In fact, one staffer recently told me that only a few people in the library even knew the negotiations were ongoing. It was all top secret until the deal was done," says Lisa. Read the full story of the manuscript here
 
The Bodleian exhibit will look at how Tolkien's work in the field of Old English and medieval Scandinavian epic literature shaped Middle Earth, showing his correspondence, drafts, sketches. "For Tolkien geeks, it's going to be pretty amazing," says Lisa, adding that "Tolkien wrote one of the first seminal studies of Beowulf, a classic article that students of Old English still read today, so it will be great to see the Beowulf manuscript one day and see its influence on Tolkien the next!" Price for the land package is $2580, including 4 nights lodging, most meals, guides, and tickets to all events. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/02/18 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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