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Routes

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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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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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Big Island Off the Beaten Track, Part Two

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

After our time in and around Holualoa, my daughter and I headed to the northern half of the Big Island. Our base there was Hawi, pronounced "hah-vee," a really fun and unique town. Located on the slopes of the Kohala mountain, Hawi has become a popular tourist destination in recent years due to its artists' shops, delicious restaurants, and beautiful scenery. During the 19th century, profitable sugar cane plantations were established bringing many Japanese and Filipino laborers. With the decline of the sugar cane industry in the mid-20th century, Hawi adapted. We stayed on a small lush farm just outside of town, enjoyed the produce there, and also ate very locally and happily at Sweet Potato Kitchen, Sushi Rock, and Bamboo Restaurant, all housed in former plantation buildings. 
 
The best experiences we had outside of Hawi was driving the Kohala Mountain Road from Hawi to Waimea, horseback riding on a ranch near Waimea, visiting the Waipio Valley, and then hiking in the Pololu Valley. As you drive north to Hawi from Kailua-Kona, you see mostly black lava fields along the road, then enter an incredibly green area, full of ranches which date back to 1840s, older than the oldest ranches in the continental United States by more than 30 years! Kohala Mountain Road, which we traversed on our way to horseback riding at Dahana Ranch, is stunning. At Dahana, we grew to understand the paniolo (cowboy) world better through a guided ride (which required no real horse knowledge, just a willingness). Dahana is a working ranch, not a tourist trap: they breed, raise and train a variety of horses and ponies, and also manage a 140 head cow/calf operation for beef and rodeo bucking stock. 
 
After riding, we wanted to stretch our own legs. From Waimea to Honokaa, our destination was the Waipio Valley Overlook. We didn't have a chance to really explore the Valley floor as we had no 4WD car, but we admired the view and walked a way. We saved our real hiking for the Pololu Valley on the way back to Hawi. This was a highlight, recommended by a friend who had lived on the Big Island. Down a steep trail for about ½ hour, after parking at literally at the end of the road, we soaked in the dramatic northeastern Big Island coastline. At the bottom, we were rewarded by a fairly isolated black sand beach, a lone woman practicing yoga, and a few brave souls camping overnight. Spectacular!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/12/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, June 11, 2018

Big Island Off the Beaten Track, Part One

Guest Post by Amy Perry Basseches 

Traveling in Hawaii has long been on my bucket list of adventures. Finally, last month, I spent a week with my 20-year old daughter on the Big Island. Ahead of time, we rerouted our itinerary to avoid the small area in the southeast affected by the Kilauea volcano. And the journey was truly memorable. I'll be sharing three separate aspects of our trip. Rent a 4WD vehicle, explore the full range of possibility, and enjoy. 
 
After landing at Kona Airport on the Island's west side, we began our trip with several days in Holualoa. Holualoa is a small artist and coffee community in the hills above Kailua-Kona. Mamalohoa Highway winds through the heart of the town, past the wonderful Holuakoa Gardens and Cafe, where we relished several meals, including one with fresh "opah" fish and our first taste of Kona Brewing Company's Longboard Island Lager. Most of the ingredients are locally sourced (organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, meats, and fish), and eaten under twinkling lights woven into the wood framing. 
 
Satisfied after eating, we wandered into a dozen or more art galleries, bought jewelry, and chatted with folks who have chosen to live and create in this historic island town. We also visited Hula Daddy Coffee Farm, which, like many other coffee producers on the upland slopes of Kona, use the high elevation, constant cloud coverage, and rich volcanic soil to create quality coffee. In fact, one of their coffees (Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, 100% Kona SL-28, Roast: Medium-Light) was selected as the No. 2 coffee on Coffee Review's list of the Top 30 Coffees of 2017.
 
Our destination on yet another outing was to pay homage to Holualoa's past as a small Japanese village. We stopped at several sites including a Japanese cemetery, many old buildings from the early 1900s, and Doris' Place grocery. Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii primarily as sugar laborers in the late 1800s and then worked the coffee country. The cemetery was full of coral and lava rock headstones inscribed with kanji. The markers on buildings included "Dr. Hayashi's Office and Home, 1897." Lastly, Doris' Place, staffed since 1948 by Doris herself. We walked in on the store's 70th anniversary celebration, quite a treat. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/11/18 at 08:00 AM
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Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Stay at Fort Langley, British Columbia

Guest Post by Amy Perry Basseches 
During my mid-April trip to Vancouver, I was mostly based in the small town of Fort Langley (1 hour east of downtown), the so-called "birthplace of British Columbia." It's a little bit off the beaten track, but a lovely destination. Lying on the Fraser River, the actual Fort of Fort Langley was built in 1827 to secure British claims to both sides of the Fraser, a former trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company. Inside the walls of the Fort, we toured the historic timber buildings, talked to re-enactors, pretended to pan for gold, and pictured we were in the early 1800s mingling with Hudson's Bay Company fur traders and their First Nations trading partners. 
 
In the village of Fort Langley, a short walk from the Fort, many of the old buildings have been restored. These restorations, combined with its rural setting and access to the river and mountain vistas, make the town a thriving tourist center. Where new buildings were constructed in the past few decades, they had to follow strict style guidelines to match the heritage appearance. We stopped for unbelievable coffee at Blacksmith Bakery, an artisan bakeshop built on the original site of a 1910 blacksmith shop. 
 
Back to the main point of my trip, having a reunion with two of my dearest friends, women I've known since I was 21. An activity we always enjoy is cooking together, and that we did. Tamara had recently been to Spain, visiting her "studying abroad" college son, and she brought back with her a paella recipe from Madrid. Top notch ingredients were purchased at 1 Fish 2 Fish Fresh Seafood Market, and it was grand. Good friends, good food, good adventure exploring a new area -- thanks Fort Langley!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/10/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Spring Comes to Narragansett Bay

The parking lot at the Blithewold estate in Bristol is overflowing on this chilly day in late April. I walk around the pink blooms of the Japanese star-magnolia tree and under the signature Japanese cedar that stands guard in front of the massive stone mansion. That's when I get my first glimpse of the soft yellow hues glowing from a vast garden, stemming from row after row of daffodils. Young girls dressed as fairies run down the aisles, butterfly wings attached to their backs and colorful ribbons in their hair flowing in the wind. I follow their cue and enter a pasture coated with morning dew to find countless families happily ensconced within the centuries-old stone walls. A harpist plays as kids create papier-mâché flowers, blow bubbles, and dance around a Maypole. I half-expect to see nymphs lounging in a nearby pond of water lilies.

 
This is exactly the vision of spring awakening I've been yearning for after our polar-vortex winter. I need to stir my soul with spring blooms, buds, and community spirit as we all collectively end our days of hibernation. I've come to where spring arrives first in New England, the temperate zone along the shores of Narragansett Bay.
 
To read the rest of my story for Yankee Magazine on Spring Comes to Narragansett Bay, please click here
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/26/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, April 20, 2018

Dreaming of the Tbilisi/Baku/Samarkand Combo

I had the good fortune to sit next to Natalia Odinochkina, General Manager of Abercrombie & Kent's Russian office, at dinner in Boston Tuesday night. She was a wealth of information. First of all, contrary to what you might think, the numbers of Americans traveling to Russia are way up. Not only are they visiting the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, but they're taking the 4-hour bullet train to Moscow to see the Red Square. Many want to stay at the Metropol, due to the popularity of the best-selling novel, A Gentleman in Moscow. Then we got to talking about the nearby countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan, which she says is a must for any travel lover. Start in Tbilisi to hike in the 16,000-foot Caucasus Mountains and drink the exceptional local wine, then then take an hour flight or 7-hour drive to Baku to see the spectacular Zaha Hadid building and other architectural gems. From Baku, it's about a 2 ½-hour flight to Tashkent and another 2-hour train ride to the ancient Silk Road gem of Samarkand, the entire city a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another 2-hour train ride and you're in the exemplary Medieval city of Bukhara. Give me two weeks of your time and ActiveTravels will be happy to design the entire trip. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/20/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 12, 2018

WOW, Who Knew?

Guest Post by Amy Perry Basseches
 
It’s hard to believe I’m writing a blog praising an airline. Usually flights are the worst part of my travel adventures. They cost a lot, take a long time, are often delayed and connections missed, offer bad food and service, have cramped seating, and (insert your own complaint here). But WOW Air is an Icelandic company you should check out when next flying from the US or Canada to Europe. My family has used them at least twice, due to cost reasons (they were much cheaper!): once from Boston to Paris, and once from Toronto to Berlin. Both times, all flights went without a hitch. WOW’s base is in Reykjavik, which has got to be one of the easiest and nicest airports to navigate and make connections from. Nearly all of the flights land and depart on time. Sure, WOW is “no frills” (you pay for everything as an add-on), but we purchased extra legroom seats on our Berlin trip and were perfectly comfortable. Tip: pre-buy your meal online; it then comes with wine/beer and a bottle of water (versus paying for the water on board). Currently, WOW operates to a total of 38 destinations in Europe, the US, Canada, and the Middle East. They also offer a “stopover” option if you want to stay in Iceland for a few days before returning home. Let ActiveTravels know if you are interested in visiting Iceland, or anywhere WOW flies. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/12/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Time to Cruise Vermont’s Route 100

All it takes is one drive on Vermont’s Route 100 from Killington to Stowe to understand the fall foliage hype. Traveling along the ridgeline of the 4,000-foot Green Mountains as it radiates with its majestic robe of multi-hued maples in October and you can’t help but sing its praises. Be sure to stop in the farming community of Rochester for the requisite “cows and meadow” photo and the historic village of Stowe to find one of the numerous freshly painted white steeples. Along the route, you’ll want to visit the Cold Hollow Cider Mill for your jug of cider, out-of-the-oven doughnuts, and genuine maple syrup. Nearby is the Ben & Jerry’s factory where you can take a tour, sample the wares, and find out how the duo started their celebrated business. We’ve been putting clients up lately at Trapp Family Lodge to savor the vistas from atop the hillside and to sample the new beer hall

 We're off to Chicago for the week, back October 11th. Have a great Columbus Day Weekend and keep active! 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/03/17 at 05:00 AM
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Friday, September 01, 2017

Experts Forecast Spectacular Fall Foliage in New England

I’ve been busy this week designing itineraries for all of our clients headed to New England in the next month or two. Early reports indicate that this is going to be a banner year for fall colors. While we now comfortably send ActiveTravels members all over the world thanks to the guidance of trusted local experts, there’s no region we know better than our own backyard of New England. I’ve practically driven every backcountry road of these six states writing books for Outside Magazine, Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, articles on the top beach towns and winter towns for Yankee Magazine, and more than 300 stories for the Boston Globe. ActiveTravels was also asked to design a route for Conde Nast Traveler readers and we were chosen the agent of choice for NewEnglandTravelPlanner. If you want to visit New England, rest assured that we’ll find the best lodging, activities, restaurants, and routes that suit your budget and passion.

Off to Lime Rock Race Course in Connecticut, and visits with family in New Jersey, Philly, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania next week. Have a great Labor Day Weekend! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/01/17 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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