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Green Travel

Monday, November 09, 2015

Top 5 Caribbean Adventures, Dive Bonaire

As leaves blanket my backyard in suburban Boston, my mind turns to the warm weather locales of the Caribbean. Next week, I’m excited to be blogging live from that lush paradise known as St. Lucia. To get you in the mood, I’m going to devote this week to my Top 5 Adventures in the Caribbean, always a favorite at ActiveTravels. 

 
A mere decade ago, Bonaire was known only to scuba enthusiasts—a coveted gem discussed in hushed conversations with other serious ocean lovers (types who come out of the water with seaweed in their hair). Now that the secret is out, travelers are learning that nature thrives here both above and below the water. The reef’s proximity to shore is ideal for divers and snorkelers who want to swim with blue and yellow queen angelfish and orange trumpetfish in waters with visibility of 100 feet or more. Bonaire’s semi-arid landscape is home to some 200 types of birds, including one of the world’s largest colonies of pink flamingoes, numbering some 15,000. Overlooking one of the island’s loveliest beaches is the Harbour Village Beach Club. Heinekens and gouda are the sustenance of choice on this Dutch colony, but if you prefer gourmet, go with the resort’s La Balandra Beach Bar and Grill.  
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/09/15 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, May 23, 2014

The Trustees of Reservations Week, Exploring the Berkshires

From the outside, the Guest House at Field Farm in Williamstown is nondescript if not downright ugly. Then you enter the Bauhaus-era home, now a 5-bedroom inn run by the Trustees of Reservations, and you understand the beauty of American modernism. All those rectilinear lines created the perfect opportunity to place large glass windows around the exterior and take in the stunning views of Mount Greylock. Walking into the living room is like walking into a post-modern early 60s museum set where Don Draper is your host. Unlike the architecture, all furniture seems to have curves from the Isamu Noguchi glass coffee table to the swan-backed couch by Vladimir Kagan. For visitors hoping to take in the art at the Clark Art Museum, reopening on July 4th after a major renovation, there’s no better setting.
 
I started my final day sampling the TTOR properties with breakfast at the Field Farm. Then it was on to another architectural wonder, Naumkeag in Stockbridge. Formerly owned by the Choate Family of New York before it was bequeathed to The Trustees of Reservations in 1958, Naumkeag is a 44-room Berkshires “Cottage” from the Gilded Age, designed by the prestigious architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, and filled with arts, antiques, and collections around from around the world. But it’s the outdoor gardens that truly inspire, a masterpiece of 28 years of collaborative work by former owner, Mabel Choate, and her dear friend, Fletcher Steele, one of America’s first modern landscape architects. 
 
Described by the Library of American Landscape History as a “playground for the imagination,” The Trustees recently completed Phase 1 of an extensive 5-phase, 3-year, $3.3 million garden and landscape restoration project designed to rejuvenate the gardens and bring them back to Choate and Steele’s original vision. I was fortunate to visit Naumkeag prior to Saturday's opening with Mark Wilson, Curator of Collections. The place hasn’t looked this good since Mabel lived here. The transformation includes the renovation of Fletcher Steele’s iconic Blue Steps, one of the most photographed features in 20th-century American landscape design, lined with budding birches planted last summer. Wilson is almost finished with phase two of the restoration, the Afternoon Garden, where each stone was removed and then meticulously reinserted at the exact same location Steele originally intended. Talk about putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, this is stone masonry at its finest. Mending the retaining wall and fixing the fountains of the Chinese Garden is still on hold, but Wilson plans to complete the entire project by the summer of 2016. In the meantime, grab food in the café provided by Red Lion Inn and take in the glorious vista of Monument Mountain. 
 
It was August 5, 1850, when 46-year old Nathaniel Hawthorne met fellow author Herman Melville, 32, on a hike up Monument Mountain.  Along with Oliver Wendell Holmes and several others, they brought a wagon loaded with picnic food and champagne to keep the conversation lively.  Perched on a ridge, they began to read William Cullen Bryant’s “Monument Mountain,” the story of a young Indian maiden who plunged to her death from the rocky pinnacle when she was forbidden by her Mohican tribe to marry her beloved. When it started to rain, the literary party took to shelter and drink in a recess on the west side of the mountain. 
 
After leaving Naumkeag, I drove 15 minutes south on Route 7 to follow in Hawthorne and Melville’s footsteps and climb the 1,735-foot peak. The hike up, less than 45 minutes, is one of the easiest in the Berkshires—a gradual climb on a well-trodden path through mixed woods of hemlocks, oaks, beech, white pines, red maples, and birches. At a fork, look for a large boulder which commemorates the donation of the park to the Trustees of Reservation in 1899. Here, the trail crawls over rocky ledges to the summit. On this cloudless day, I had vistas of Mt. Everett to the south and the Taconic Range of New York to the west. 
 
Berkshires Regional Director of the Trustees, Joanna Ballantine, who joined me on the hike, shared the news that the Trustees is working out a deal to expand the Monument Mountain property all the way west to the village of Housatonic. This will double the size of the reservation and will include trails that will lead to the summit of Flag Rock. Look for an announcement shortly. 
 
Further south, near the Connecticut border, I made my final stop of the trip at Bartholomew’s Cobble. Walking on the Ledges Trail, the Housatonic River snakes through dairy farms on the left while eroding limestone and quartzite rocks formed the cobble to our right. I took a slight detour at Corbin's Neck to get a closer view of the river and the cows resting on its banks. Continuing on the Tulip Tree Trail, I strolled uphill through a forest of tall hemlocks before reaching a clearing. At a short summit, there was a bench to sit on and take in the views of Mount Everett and Mount Race.
 
Then I veered left on the Hal Borland Trail to visit the Ashley House. Built by Colonel John Ashley in 1735, this is the oldest dwelling in Berkshire County. Colonel Ashley was a pioneer, lawyer, judge and patriot who furnished iron and other supplies for the Revolutionary War effort. He would craft the Massachusetts constitution upstairs with his friend Ethan Allan. On tours on weekend days in the summer, you’ll hear the story of Mumbet, a slave of the Ashleys who sued her way to freedom. Both the Ashley House and Naumkeag are part of the free Home Sweet Home Open House Day on Saturday, May 31st. 
 
I want to thank The Trustees of Reservations for setting up my week, especially Kristi Perry for sharing her favorite properties. I want to thank Mother Nature for supplying five perfect days of sunshine. Be on the lookout for my story in the Boston Globe featuring many of the sites I visited this week. As always, thanks for checking in. Enjoy the Memorial Day Weekend! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/23/14 at 10:00 AM
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Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Trustees of Reservations Week, Central Massachusetts Highlights

Massachusetts might border the ocean, but it’s not until you drive the interior of this state on backcountry roads that you really appreciate the abundance of water. I woke up at Tully Lake Campground this morning and took the 10-minute trail to Doane’s Falls. Little did I realize I was about to witness one of the most majestic sites in New England. An onslaught of water came gushing down a series of rock ledges under a perfectly sculpted stone bridge, one that was built by the CCC under FDR’s helm. It would set the theme for the day—the rushing water of springtime and the wall of rock that’s continually shaped by these rapids. 
 
Chapel Brook in Ashfield is a popular swimming hole in summer, when this tributary of the South River snakes through a dense hardwood forest before cascading over ledges and forming natural pools. Earn that dip by walking across the street and taking the half-mile trail up Pony Mountain. You’ll be rewarded with a panorama of mountains and valley. 
 
The sound of rushing water also greets me at the next stop, Chesterfield Gorge, a 30-minute drive from Chapel Brook. Here, the East Branch of the Westfield River drops dramatically through rock walls that are close to 70-feet high. Below the gorge, fly-fishermen were seen casting their lines in the riffles in the hopes of hooking a trout. I took deep breaths of sweet pine and walked a ways through the thick forest on the East Branch Trail. This 7-mile long dirt road is open to both hikers and mountain bikers who can cruise through the adjacent Gilbert Bliss State Forest, perfectly suited for a day trip. 
 
Even my last stop of the day, the homestead of William Cullen Bryant, has a water theme. Stroll under the tall and ancient-looking sugar maples and hemlocks his family planted 200 years ago, when the great poet was just a boy, and you’ll reach a rivulet, a trickling stream. The Trustees has posted Bryant’s entire poem from 1823, “The Rivulet,” next to the spring. “The same sweet sounds are in my ear, my early childhood loved to hear,” wrote Bryant. Long after his family had sold off the land and moved to Illinois to farm, the poet and abolitionist would buy the land back in 1865, the same year his good friend Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Bryant, as he documents so well in his poetry, always preferred country life to city life and he would spend all of his summers here until his death in 1878. Look out at the meadows, forest, and Berkshire foothills and you realize little has changed thanks to conservation efforts. It’s still a sylvan slice of heaven, one that I’ll return to next time with a picnic lunch made by the Old Creamery in Cummington, just down the road. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/22/14 at 10:00 AM
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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Trustees of Reservations Week, Northeast Massachusetts Gems

As editor and publisher of the Atlantic Monthly, Ellery Sedgwick worked with some of the finest writers of his time, including Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost. Yet, it’s his marriages to not one, but two accomplished gardeners and horticulturists that has had far more of a lasting impression. In 1916, Sedgwick moved with his first wife, Mabel, to a 114-acre hillside property in the North Shore. He built a Federal-style brick house and even had the verandah shipped from a former hotel in Charleston. The house sits atop a drumlin staring out at forest, but it’s the incredible gardens at Long Hill in Beverly that will capture your attention. 
 
I was fortunate yesterday to tour the majestic grounds with current horticulturist Dan Bouchard. He tells me that any season you visit Long Hill, there will be something in bloom. Right now, however, there’s an explosion of spring color from the beautiful blue forget-me-nots to exotic Chinese redbud to the soft yellow and very rare Molly the Witch peonies. The assemblage of trees is also exceptional, from the tall dawn redwood planted by Sedgwick’s second wife, Marjorie, to the signature copper beech in front of the house nearing a century old to the eastern red cedars that are native to this land. The needles on the Japanese umbrella pine feel like plastic, the thick bark on the weeping hemlock out of a fairy tale. You half expect a gnome to open a hidden door. That’s how special this place is. 
 
From Long Hill, I headed to Gloucester just beyond Stage Fort Pork to Ravenswood Park. This 600-acre refuge, filled with hemlocks and birches, is popular with local dog walkers and mountain bikers. Similar to Acadia National Park’s carriage paths, Ravenswood has ten miles of crushed gravel that’s ideal for first time mountain bikers. Even on a warm spring day, strolling past the many glacial boulders, I spotted few other people. If you need to escape the Cape Ann crowds this summer, try Ravenswood.
 
Then I was off to Andover to visit Ward Reservation and climb Holt Hill. The 1-mile round-trip trail brings you through forest and alongside meadows, where you look down and see a labyrinth of old stone walls. Keep on climbing the grassy trail until you reach the short summit overlooking the expanse of Merrimack Valley. Yes, those buildings on the horizon make up the Boston skyline with the Prudential Building standing all the way to your right. 
 
A quick stop to see the tulips at the nearby Stevens-Coolidge Place and then I was driving to the central part of the state to camp overnight at Tully Lake Campground. The Trustees has their own version of March Madness. It’s the time of year when the campsites at Tully Lake Campground are available for reservations. Within an hour, the prime waterfront camping sites on Tully Lake—numbers 7, 16, 20-A, and 31—are pretty much sold out on summer weekends. Come to this tranquil lake where there is little or no motorized boat traffic and tents-only campsites and you’ll understand why campers return year after year. Many bring their own kayaks to paddle to the sandy islands and within narrow Tully River. The Trustees rent their own kayaks and also offer stand-up paddleboarding lessons on Sunday in season, mid-May to late October. Hiking trails lead to Doane's Falls, where Lawrence Brook tumbles over a series of ledges before it reaches Tully Lake. Ranger Sara leads paddlers to see beavers and Ranger Keith teaches kids how to fish. Also bring your mountain bike, since there’s a 7-mile loop around Long Pond. Tully Lake Campground is one property that people in the know would like to keep a coveted secret. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/21/14 at 10:00 AM
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Monday, May 19, 2014

The Trustees of Reservations Week, Sampling Southeast Massachusetts Properties

Turkey Hill Lane is an apt name for the road that leads to Weir River Farm in Hingham. On the drive there yesterday morning, I spotted at least a half-dozen wild turkeys. It would prove to be an auspicious start to a glorious day of seeing a small sample of TTOR’s reserves and farms in the southeastern part of the state. Hingham is best known as home to one of the Trustees’ most popular sites, World’s End, a drumlin that juts out onto a peninsula rewarding walkers and bikers with wonderful views of Boston Harbor. Weir River Farm is best known by local school kids for its community farm and 4-H programs. Everyone else will want to take the Thayer Trail, a narrow path on fallen pine needles that leads far away from the South Shore traffic into a tranquil forest full of flowering bushes. 

 
Continuing south, within 5 miles of the Sagamore Bridge to Cape Cod is the Lyman Reserve in Bourne. Like Weir River Farm, it would be wise to download the Google Map to get here or you’ll never find the place. From the parking lot, you have the choice of two trails—one that leads to the shores of Buttermilk Bay and the Cape Cod Canal, the second meanders near a marsh through a thicket of pine to Red Brook. I took the latter trail and was rewarded with views of yellow warblers, great blue herons, and green winged teals.
 
Heading to Westport Town Farm on one of the most bucolic stretches of road in the state, I passed kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders cruising down the Westport River. The wooden clapboard 1824 house at Westport Town Farm is a welcoming introduction to this pastoral property perched on a hill overlooking the river. Still a working farm, the Trustees donate produce to area hunger relief agencies and hold a weekly Farmers Market on Saturdays in summer. I took a grassy trail past the barnyard onto pasture that slopes down to the edge of the water. All I could hear was the cacophony of birdsong.
 
My final stop of the day, Slocum’s River Reserve in Dartmouth, was formerly known as Island View Farm. Tall silos stand across Horseneck Road from the parking lot and you still walk through a farmer’s backyard along centuries-old stone walls to get to the pasture and woods that lead to Slocum’s River. As I made my way close to the shores, I could smell the salty air and see the canoe launch. Next time, I’ll make a note to return with a kayak. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/19/14 at 10:00 AM
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Friday, May 16, 2014

Spending All Next Week with The Trustees of Reservations

While Crane Beach is still the best-known Trustees of Reservations site in Massachusetts, the group maintains more than 112 locales in the state, from Field Farm in Williamstown to the recently acquired Dunes Edge Campground in Provincetown. The William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington is a pastoral landscape of pastures and fields of wildflowers, largely unchanged for more than 150 years. Slocum’s River Reserve in Dartmouth is a 47-acre coastal farm on the shores of Buzzards Bay, an ideal place to view warblers during the spring and fall migration. All next week, I’ll be traveling around the state introducing readers to at least 20 Trustees sites—research for a story I’m writing for The Boston Globe on my personal favorites. So please check back! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/16/14 at 10:00 AM
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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Put Yonder on Your Smart Phone

Employed as a travel and outdoors writer these past 23 years, my main goal has always been to direct people to locales that have inspired me. That’s why I love the new technology, because it makes it even easier to find gems in the rough. Take the app, Yonder, designed by a Vermont-based company, Green Mountain Digital, which just received a fresh influx of cash from Monster Worldwide. The photo/video sharing app helps you to locate nearby natural wonders. So if I’m hanging out in Burlington for the day and want to work off that growler of Switchback Ale, I can find a nearby hike to a waterfall or sea kayak to a lonely Lake Champlain isle, all recommended by locals who know the region well. What Yelp did for food, Yonder will do for nature. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/22/13 at 11:00 AM
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Friday, August 09, 2013

Adventures in Ecuador: Biking, Snorkeling, and Relaxing on Isabela

Isabela is the largest of all the Galapagos Islands and is blessed with the longest stretch of white sand beach, where we spent two nights at La Casita de La Playa. Within walking distance are restaurants, beachfront bars, a good bakery, and several souvenir shops in a sleepy town about 6 dirt blocks long. 

 
On Isabela, we walked on an island covered with hardened black lava and black iguanas, saw white-tipped sharks sleeping in a channel, those famous blue-footed boobies and Galapagos penguins standing on the rocks, and swam once again with massive sea turtles. Our favorite outing was renting bikes to visit a lagoon filled with flamingoes, a giant tortoise breeding center, and then riding on a road along the long beach to a former fort, the Wall of Tears, used by the American during World War II. It was a special treat to bike past large tortoises on the side of the road. 
 
Make sure to bring $100 in US dollars for each person upon arrival at the Galapagos Airport (they don’t take credit cards) and give yourself at least two hours at the Quito Airport to figure out the three lines you’ll have to navigate. Once in the Galapagos, we’re happy to suggest a land-based itinerary or cruises that come highly recommended. 
 
We’re spending a week at one of our favorite New England resorts next week, the Basin Harbor Club on the shores of Vermont’s Lake Champlain. I’ll be back on August 19th. In the meantime, keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/09/13 at 10:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Adventures in Ecuador: Hanging with the Huaorani

To reach the Huaorani Ecolodge, you must first drive four hours from Quito to Shell, where you switch to a 5-seat airplane for a 45-minute flight. Arriving on a grass runway, the Huaorani people greet you and escort you via motorized longboat down the Shiripuno River. Finally you arrive at your lodging for the next three nights, five wooden cabins and a dining room perched overlooking the river. On the edge of Yasuni National Park, the Huaorani Reserve is easily one of the most remote destinations in South America, deep in the Ecuadorean Amazon, at least 100 miles from the nearest signs of civilization.
 What you get in return for your effort is an incredibly authentic travel experience straight out of the pages of National Geographic. Bare-breasted grandmothers show you around their communities, picking the juiciest papaya off the tree for you to try. Led by our Huaorani guide, Emy, we swam under hidden waterfalls and against the current of the Shiripuno River, visited small communities along the river while spotting monkeys, toucans, macaws, caimans, and kingfishers. We also learned the important skills of living in the Amazon bush, how to climb trees and hunt with a 7-foot long poisonous blow dart. Emy hunts wild boar, monkeys, and toucan when hungry. When asked what toucan tastes like, he told me it was better than chicken. Don’t worry. Your menu back at the lodge consists of tilapia, fresh baked bread, green bananas, and fresh fruit juices. 
        Who knows how much longer this authentic travel experience will last. The Huaorani sit atop one of the largest petroleum preserves in the world. For the past 7 decades oil companies have tried to remove them from their land, but thankfully the Ecudorean government has always intervened. Let’s hope the oil companies can remain happy on the outskirts of Yasuni so that future generations of the Huaorani can live off the grid in this dense foliage. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/07/13 at 10:00 AM
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Thursday, November 03, 2011

New York’s High Line Park Receives $20 Million Gift to Expand

Since its debut the summer of 2009, High Line Park has become a huge success. Attracting more than 3 million annual visitors to the Chelsea section of Manhattan, the aboveground park built on a former elevated railroad line, has led to more than $2 billion in planned or new development in the neighborhood. All it takes is one stroll on the mile-long walkway to understand the magical allure of being above the streets of Manhattan. The pathway heads north from Gansevoort to 30th Streets. With the announcement last week that Barry Diller, chairman of IAC and Expedia, and his wife, designer, Diane von Furstenberg, have donated an additional $20 million to the park, Friends of the High Line hope to expand the park another half mile to 12th Avenue and 34th Street, close to the Hudson River. Diller and his wife are no strangers to the High Line, having donated close to $15 million prior to their latest gift, the single largest donation ever made to a New York City park. It’s exciting news that the park will finally curve its way to the railway’s rightful endpoint.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/03/11 at 12:59 PM
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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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