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Travel Advice

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Greece Week with Heritage Tours: Boating to Delos and Paros

The main town in Mykonos can be swarming with people in the daytime when thousands of passengers from cruise ships disembark. The reason why we recommend clients staying on the island visit the town at night for dinner and shopping. All the stores are open late and the cruise ship passengers have departed. It’s best to hit one of the majestic Mykonos beaches during the day or take a private boat like we did with Heritage Tours to the neighboring islands of Delos and Paros. The birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, Delos was a thriving community in ancient Greece. You can still walk the narrow cobblestone passageways (not unlike Mykonos today) and see the remnants of homes, temples of worship, even a synagogue. 

We continued on to the island of Paros, a highlight of the week. Unlike Mykonos and Santorini, which can be swarming with travelers due to its justified popularity, Paros has no cruise ships descending on the island and retains that authentic Greek charm. Fishermen return from their morning at sea to dry their octopus and fish on the docks. We tasted their wares at Barbarossa restaurant near the docks for lunch before roaming around the towns of Naoussa and Parikia to look at the artisanal shops and whitewashed homes. Parakia is also home to a wonderful church, The Monastery of Panagia Ekatontapiliani, first built by Constantine in 4th century AD before being updated by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It has a similar dome to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, which was built during the same time period. Evidently Constantine’s mother was shipwrecked in Paros on her way to Israel so her devoted son decided to build her mother a church in her name. I’d like to be shipwrecked in Paros for several weeks, preferably in a villa with my extended family. These are the Greek islands you dream about.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/03/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, May 01, 2017

Greece Week with Heritage Tours

Just back from a dreamy week in Greece with New York-based Heritage Tours, the travel company best known for designing authentic custom-made itineraries to Spain, Morocco, and Turkey. Now they have their sights set on Greece and they invited a small group of travel consultants including ActiveTravels to experience the new product. Let’s just say Lisa and I were highly impressed. You can always book a Greek hotel on your own, but then you’ll miss out on the genuine Greek experience. Heritage has always been known for their unparalleled guiding and Greece was no exception. All the guides we met on this trip, especially to the ancient Greek sites at the Acropolis in Athens, the island of Delos, and Akrotiri on the island of Santorini were exceptional. We were introduced to stellar properties like the family-owned Poseidonion Grand Hotel on a gem of an island called Spetses and the Canaves Oia Suites built into the hillside of Oia, Santorini, beloved by a number of our clients. 
 
Yet, it was the genuine Greek experiences that created memories we won’t soon forget—dining in the courtyard of a home down the block from the Parthenon, a farm-to-table lunch at an actual farm in Mykonos, hiking at sunrise from Oia to Imerovigli on Santorini, wine-tasting at sunset overlooking the caldera in Santorini, a private boat ride from Mykonos to Delos and the island of Paros, biking along the shoreline of Spetses, and dining on tasty Greek salads, fresh octopus and fish at far too many wonderful restaurants. I’ll be spending this week highlighting my favorite activities in Greece. Please follow along! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/01/17 at 09:00 AM
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Friday, March 24, 2017

Portugal, Copenhagen, Maine, and Delray Beach, Florida in March Newsletter

Thanks to affordable direct flights and a favorable exchange rate, Portugal is quickly becoming a popular getaway this summer. Distances are relatively short between must-see cities and seaside villages, so it’s an ideal country to rent a car and explore. We’re happy to design an itinerary that includes lodging, driving routes, private guides, activities, and recommended restaurants. Or we can suggest a guided tour that best fits your dates. In the March ActiveTravels newsletter, we break down the best cities and towns to visit in Portugal. We also discuss our top hotel choices in Copenhagen, remind members of an exciting and affordable 5-day itinerary in the Maine woods with Northern Outdoors and Maine Huts & Trails, and talk about a quick escape to Delray Beach, Florida. Enjoy! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/24/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, March 06, 2017

Time to Put the Azores on Your Bucket List

As a long-time ActiveTravels client, I’d strongly recommend the Azores for an easy retreat: just a four-hour direct flight from Boston. On the island of São Miguel, stay at the historic villa of Quinta Minuvida, with orchards, gardens, pool, and yoga studio, surrounded by acres of green pastures, and framed by old stone walls and beaches. Hosts Rimi and João lead “curated” adventures and know local drivers and guides. 

Eat fresh fish, cheese, bread, fruit and jam. Don’t miss the geothermal stew (cozido nas caldeiras), chouriço (smoked sausage) and bacalhau (salted cod). Soak at Caldeira Velha and Poça da Dona Beija volcanic hot springs. Hike in Furnas, or all over the island. Ascend winding roads to Sete Cidades crater lakes. Explore lava tunnels in Ponta Delgada. Learn about unique-to-the-Azores pineapple production at Arruda plantation. Walk the black sand beaches of Santa Bárbara and Santana. Don’t miss Quinta dos Sabores, a farm-to-table restaurant. Enjoy Minuvida’s firepit. Also kayak, go canyoning or birding, bike, ride horses, see whales, learn about local ceramic and tea production, and more. 
 
July and August are busy, but the island is enjoyable year-round. I loved February! High season runs May – September, “shoulder” season is recommended (March/April, and October/November). Enjoy! 
 
Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/06/17 at 05:59 AM
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Friday, August 12, 2016

August 2016 ActiveTravels Newsletter: Travels and Transitions

We have another fabulous newsletter to share with you this month. In our main feature, I break down travel to Australia, including sections on Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, and Port Douglas. In the Quick Escape section, I discuss Cape Breton, where I revisited in early July. We also present favorite romantic hotels across America and give you an update on the latest travel apps. Lastly, we’d like to introduce you to one of our favorite outfitters, DuVine Cycling, celebrating their 20th anniversary and located in our backyard of Boston. The highlight, however, is Lisa’s Editor’s Letter, where she discusses the role of travel in our ever-changing lives. 

I’ll be out of the office next week, dropping off our daughter, Melanie, at Indiana University, and our son, Jake, at Cornell. I’ll be back on Wednesday, August 24th. In the meantime, keep active, and enjoy the summer! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/12/16 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, June 10, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, Fifth Stop, Azerbaijan

All it took was one stunning building designed by the late great Zaha Hadid and suddenly the world was looking at their maps and searching for Baku. The Heydar Aliyev Centre is a real eye-opener, featuring Hadid’s signature sensuous curves and undulations. When it made its debut in 2014, it quickly received accolades like the Museum Design of the Year award by London's Design Museum. Yet, it’s only one of the many futuristic structures currently being built in this oil-rich country on the Caspian Sea as the Azerbaijani government continues to spend an estimated $6 billion a year on architectural projects. Baku has an authentic medieval core surrounded by an old city. Old Baku is elegant, with turreted stone buildings. New Baku and its latest skyscrapers surround the old city, eradicating the hideous concrete apartment blocks that were gifts from Russia until the country’s independence in 1991. Stay at the beaux arts-style building that is now home to the Four Seasons Baku. Then take a short stroll over to the waterfront and the 15th-century Palace of the Shirvanshahs. 
 
Outside of Baku, the landscape gets greener and more wooded. Wild horses gallop free in valleys and gorges ringed by anonymous peaks as you pass open-air roadside bread ovens, tea plantations, and sheep herders. The ancient mountain city of Gabala caters to Bakuvians who come for the alpine air and views. Only a 2-hour drive from Baku is Quba, home to Krasnaya Sloboda, a Jewish community of 3,500 whose forefathers came from Iran and Iraq a few thousand years ago, and who live today in perfect harmony with the large Islamic population. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/10/16 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, June 09, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, Fourth Stop, Tasmania

Having spent over 3 months in Australia, I know the country fairly well. Now I’m pleased to have the opportunity to design itineraries for clientele heading to Oz for often their first and more than likely last time. Sydney, Melbourne, and Port Douglas/Cairns are a must. If they’re feeling more ambitious, I’ll add Uluru, Alice Springs, Darwin/Kakadu National Park, Adelaide, and Perth. But rarely is Tasmania on their radar and that my friends is a major mistake. Tasmania is the Australia of yore, an island the size of Ireland that boasts a diverse landscape of lush forest, dramatic sea cliffs battered by Antarctic gales, craggy peaks, and alpine lakes. Combine it with Hobart, quickly becoming an international destination for art lovers thanks to the opening of MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, in a stunning new building, and you have an island that’s worthy of a week of your time. 
 
If you’re in the least bit active, you should book one of the 6-day Cycle, Kayak, and Walk Tasmania tours with Tasmanian Expeditions. Another excellent way to appreciate the vast Tasmanian wilderness is on the legendary Overland Track, a 40-mile trek that links 5,069-foot Cradle Mountain with the waters of Lake St. Clair. If you want to head to Tasmania simply for the art and food, stay at the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart, check out the Farm Gate farmer’s market on Sunday morning, sample the whisky at the Lark distillery, and grab dinner on the waterfront at Frank. Just do yourself a favor and put Tasmania on your Aussie itinerary. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/09/16 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, Third Stop, Ghana

From the sky, Ghana is a bundle of green on the west coast of Africa, bordered by golden beaches and the warm blue of the Atlantic. Then you reach the ground and one of the most welcoming people on the continent, the reason it’s often referred to as Africa for beginners. “Akwaaba!” (welcome) is the word you’ll hear most in the country, exemplifying the warmth and hospitality of the Ghanaian people. In a country the size of the UK, the variety of sights on a weeklong trip is remarkable. First see the lions and antelope at Mole National Park, the elephants and buffalo in the tropical rain forest of Kakum National Park. Then check out the 700 or so monkeys at Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. Find out about Ghana’s place in the slave trade in the historic town of Elmina. Learn about West African drumming and music in lively Kumasi. Relax on the long stretch of beach near Keta, known for its exemplary snorkeling and dance parties on the beach. Then check out Accra, one of the fastest growing cities on the continent and highly regarded for its food and live music scene. In the Osu neighborhood, sushi bars and clubs belt out the latest Afrobeat sounds from Sarkodie and Guru. 
 
We work with one of the best in the travel business in Ghana, Emmanuel Baah-Fenning, CEO of Ghana Tour Consult. Tell us exactly what you want to do and Emmanuel will throw it together into a weeklong or 10-day package, including guides, transfers, and lodging. All it takes is a 10-hour flight from JFK to have a memorable vacation in Africa. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/08/16 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, Second Stop, Sri Lanka

For decades, the pear-shaped island of Sri Lanka, which falls on a map just below India, was racked by violence. Then, in 2002, a negotiated cease-fire put an end to the festering civil war between the Sinhalese-dominated government and the Tamil insurgents. Today, Sri Lanka is one of the most popular destinations for Europeans but for some reason has yet to catch on with Americans. Suffice to say that it’s worth the effort to get here. Start your visit with a trip to the glorious white-sand beaches, completely deserted except for the resident blue whales, a few hundred yards away in the ocean. After relaxing, challenge yourself with the trek up the beautiful Sigiriya Rock, an ancient rock fortress, for spectacular views of the vast green countryside. Cool down in the cooler climate of Nuwara Eliya and experience the best tea you’ll ever drink at the many plantations. One should never visit Sri Lanka without heading to Pinnawela elephant orphanage, the landscape itself is enough to bring anyone to tears and the sight of the 60 or so elephants coming down to the water to drink is something you’ll never forget. Kandy is a wonderful city to stay I, home to the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth and the monkeys at Udawattakele. In Colombo, take tea at the Mount Lavinia. Conversation is muted by the roar of the surf, the air moist with spray. The 200-year-old hotel dominates a promontory overlooking the Indian Ocean. The ultra-sybaritic hotelier, Aman, has built two exquisite resorts in Sri Lanka. Amangalla is set inside Galle’s seventeenth-century fort, while Amanwella resides on the beach outside Tangalle. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/07/16 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, June 06, 2016

Travel Outside the Box, First Stop, Oman

One of the joys of being in the travel industry for over a quarter century is meeting people from all over the globe who are passionate about their country. These outfitters love nothing more than the opportunity to show our clientele the destination they know best. We’re all part of the same travel family and I feel comfortable putting often apprehensive folks in their more than capable hands. In fact, nothing gets me more excited than sending people to exotic destinations well beyond their comfort zone. When someone returns from one of the locales I’m going to describe this week, they’re so excited to tell me the fascinating sights, culture, food, wildlife, and hospitality they encountered. 
 
Despite ongoing tensions in the Middle East, tourism in Oman is rising steadily due to its safety and authentic sights. You can still see the Arabia of 100 years ago. Called the Empty Quarter, it’s the world’s largest sand desert. The main city of Muscat is lively and modern but the sultan has kept a tight leash on development so don’t expect futuristic skyscrapers like Dubai. It’s not uncommon for a businessman to arrive at lunch via his camel. Fort Jabrin, built in the 1600s at the edge of the desert southwest of Muscat, is an Arabian Castle with whitewashed walls and elaborately painted ceilings. Another highlight is a visit to the exquisite Misfat al Abriyeen, a terraced village on the side of a mountain that hasn’t changed in centuries. It has date palms and pomegranate trees and a falaj system for channeling water down through the terraces. 
 
Our contact in Oman, Zahara Tours, has been in business since 1971 and will happily show you the most thrilling sites in the country on an itinerary custom-designed for you. Expect to stay at some of the latest hotel openings, like Anantara Salalah Resort, set to open this year in southern Oman between a natural lagoon and the beach. The resort is in close proximity to the Al Baleed UNESCO archaeological site, a former port from the frankincense trade that dates back to the 8th century. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/06/16 at 05:59 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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