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Travel Advice

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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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Take My Advice and Get to New Brunswick’s Grand Manan Island This Summer

I’m not sure why I waited so long to visit Grand Manan Island. Perhaps because the ferry to the island runs from New Brunswick, though it’s much closer to the Maine shoreline. Thankfully, I finally made it to Grand Manan June 2014 and I could have easily stayed another week or two. I made the wise decision to stay at the Inn at Whale Cove Cottages, perched on a bluff overlooking a sheltered bay. The talented owner and chef of Whale Cove, Laura Buckley, whipped up a tasty meal when I arrived that included a creamy mushroom soup, almond crusted salmon, and an absurdly good sour cherry pie.

 
I sat next to a large group who return to Grand Manan year after year for the past 30 years. They recommended I climb back in my car after dinner and drive to the end of Whistle Road past the lighthouse to a spot locals simply call “The Whistle.” Wow, what a tip! Perched on a bluff overlooking the rocky shoreline, I spotted kids scouring the boulders for that nutritious New Brunswick seaweed treat, dulse. To my left, cliffs plummeted to the shores below, and directly in front of me was the great expanse of sea leading to FDR’s former summer home, Campobello Island, and the Maine towns of Lubec and Eastport. Within moments of arriving, I spotted seals in the water and shortly thereafter, the graceful arc and fin of the minke whale. The sun was setting, the whales were slicing the water, and local old-timers were handing me Moosehead Light beers. My first night on Grand Manan and I understood the magical allure. 
 
The following morning, I drove along lupine-lined roads to the southern tip of the island, the start of a glorious hike atop a bluff that led from the Southwest Head Lighthouse to a distinctive coastal rock formation locals call Flock of Sheep. The narrow trail snaked over roots and moss though a forest of twisted krumholtz and dwarf pines that cling precariously close to the cliff’s edge. I spotted lobstermen in the distance, but it was the exquisite shoreline that grabbed my attention. Usually, I sprint to the finish of a hike. This time I sat on several benches made of makeshift wood to drink in the stunning view. What’s the rush? It’s that image that I remember so vividly this morning and why I decided to send readers a reminder to visit Grand Manan. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/28/16 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, March 11, 2016

Best Wildlife Viewing, Amalfi Hotels, Nola, and More in March Newsletter

As I write this, I can't help thinking of one client who is currently in the middle of the Australian Outback and another client in remote Khajuraho, India. They know nothing of presidential primary results and probably don't care. That's the beauty of travel; we can choose to escape current events or reality, living off the grid if we so desire far away from headlines. I'm in the midst of working on a Power Point presentation for a talk I'm doing in Maine this month on the subject of adventure travel. I discuss why I've devoted so much of my career to the outdoors and the reasons for its allure. For me, it's the rare chance to be in the present thinking of nothing other than climbing that mountain, finishing a long bike ride, or paddling to the next campsite or backcountry lodge. It's a gift, really, and I don't take it for granted during these often dizzying times. 

 
There's no doubt that the opportunity to see wildlife is one of the best reasons to get on a plane and travel. In March's ActiveTravels newsletter, we pinpoint five of our favorite places to see wildlife and the best form of outdoor recreation to get you there. All of these adventures come from firsthand experience. Lisa divulges her favorite lodgings on the glorious Amalfi Coast and talks about our best tips for getting oriented upon your arrival in a new locale. We also introduce you to a Tanzanian safari outfitter who can work with more moderate budgets, and discuss why March is a great time to visit New Orleans. We plan on doing exactly that with the kids later this month. 
 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/11/16 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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