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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Don’t Hesitate to Stay at Corral del Rey

We loved our penthouse room at Corral del Rey, a boutique property in the old quarter of Seville, where rooms are located inside a former 17th-century estate. We had a large outdoor patio with views overlooking the Gothic Cathedral, plunge pool, bath built for two, fantastic shower, and a heavenly mattress. It’s no surprise it was our favorite hotel of our entire stay in Spain. We took full advantage of the room, polishing off a bottle of Tempranillo with our nephew, Micah, who’s studying in Seville this semester, before strolling over to a hole-in-the-wall tapas joint with outdoor tables, Estrella. The place is popular with flamenco dancers, guitarists, and singers who perform at the nearby Museo del Baile Flamenco, as we would soon find out when seeing an hourlong flamenco show. The guy I just met at the bar was the guitarist for the show, and wow, was he good, along with two soulful singers, and three incredibly talented flamenco dancers. We made the wise move of booking the VIP show, where only two rows of audience view the show in an intimate setting inside a former wine cellar. The performance was so moving that I looked over at Lisa and saw tears rolling down her cheek. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/16/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Highly Recommended Hotel Neri in Barcelona

We stayed in the heart of the Gothic Quarter at the Hotel Neri, down a twisting alleyway from a recently excavated 4th-century synagogue. The bed was incredibly comfortable, especially after a long day of sightseeing, and Lisa especially enjoyed the outdoor tub. The highlight, however, was breakfast, where we would dine on our perfectly poached eggs and look out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the many families dropping off their young children at the school behind us. Kids would arrive hand-in-hand with grandparents, on the front of bikes with mom and dad, and holding onto dogs far larger than them. It was a wonderful voyeuristic look into the lives of families in Barcelona. 

Strolling the narrow streets, we would stumble upon opera singers belting out “Ave Maria” from behind the historic cathedral, art students selling their impressive wares at art fairs, and a hole-in-the-wall bakery where the guy made the strongest and best café con leche on the trip. So good, in fact, that we went back three afternoons in a row. Our daughter, Melanie, who’s studying abroad in Barcelona, made reservations at her favorite restaurants in town, all within easy walking distance of Hotel Neri. They included the delectable tapas found at La Luna, and sublime sushi and sangria at Ikibana. Friends in Barcelona also suggested another winning choice, Elsa y Fred, though it’s hard to go astray in this foodie destination.  

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/10/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, February 22, 2019

Anantara, a Serene Oasis in Bangkok

Bangkok is a sprawling, congested city and when you arrive at the Royal Palace, Wat Arun, and the other major sights, even they are overcrowded with tourists. That's why you need to take it slow, not place too many items on your itinerary, and stay at a great hotel where you will enjoy spending time. We split up our stay in Bangkok with two nights at the Anantara Siam and two nights at their sister property, Anantara Riverside. Both featured a lavish spread at the breakfast buffet, including American, Chinese, and Indian favorites. Anantara Siam also features an excellent Thai Restaurant, Spice Market, where we dined our first night. Afterwards, walk into the indoor courtyard and check out the koi pond. The highlight at Anantara Siam was their signature 90-minute Siam 2482 deep-tissue massage. Using two bamboo sticks, eight herbal compresses, and gold leaf, I walked out of there as loose as a jellyfish and happy as a clam. 

Anantara Riverside has more of a resort feel, overlooking a large pool where you simply push a button on your menu and a server appears to take your order. The hotel was crowded with families who would spend the entire day splashing around in the 90-degree heat. The Riverside Dinner Cruise from the resort's pier is a must, a 2-hour gentle cruise along the Chao Phraya seeing the Royal Palace and Wat Arun lit up at night. On our last day, to celebrate Lisa's birthday, we took a 5-hour cooking course with one of the hotel's chefs. At 8 am, we took a tuk tuk with Chef over to a local market and picked up all the necessary ingredients for the three courses we would soon make, including large prawns, chicken, lemongrass, galangal, chicory root, mushrooms, and many spicy peppers. Soon we were back at the hotel's outdoor cooking center on the 2nd floor, creating Golden Caps, crusted rice crackers filled with a chicken and shrimp filling; a spicy and delicious Thai soup that we hope to recreate at home one day; and a tender barramundi topped with spicy chili, curry powder, and lime. We finished with fresh mango that Chef sliced like bird's wings, served with sweet sticky rice that was topped with sweet coconut milk. A memorable birthday lunch! 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/22/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Hong Kong Hotels

I loved all three properties we checked out in Hong Kong for various reasons. The Intercontinental Hong Kong (soon to change its name back to the Regent again) offered fantastic views of the Hong Kong skyline and waterfront from the floor to ceiling windows in the room. After long days of sightseeing, I enjoyed coming back to the room to watch the Chinese junk boats, ferries, fishing boats, and larger barges and cruise ships pass by. The Intercontinental also had the best breakfast buffet of the 3 hotels, with a lavish spread of American, Chinese (great dim sum), Indian, Japanese, and Korean choices, all washed down with fresh mango and guava juice. The W Hong Kong had fantastic service, like a welcome tray of goodies in our room, including a photo of our family from a recent trip to Switzerland. The concierge was excellent designing two days of travel and arranging tickets in advance for the cable car over to Big Buddha. While I probably liked the Intercontinental location a bit better since you could walk outside the hotel to catch the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong and find nearby restaurants at night, I did like that the W was perched above a large mall and subway stop, including the direct train to the airport, the Airport Express. The fitness center was also wonderful, sitting on the 73rd floor with glorious views of the city below. The Upper House on the Hong Kong side offered by far the most spacious rooms with good vista of the city and waterfront below. The concierge was also excellent, setting up free shuttles around the city to see the sights and hit the restaurants at night. In fact, service at the Upper House genuinely made us feel welcome. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/19/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, February 08, 2019

Hotels I Visited in Thailand and Laos

Guest Post by Amy Perry Basseches

I'll end the blogs on my trip to Thailand and Laos with a quick summary of the very nice hotels I visited on behalf of ActiveTravels members. Rest assured, if you are seeking a Five Star experience in Bangkok, Chiang Saen, Chiang Mai, or Luang Prabang, I have first-hand experience to pass along.
My favorite hotel of the trip was the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort, in Chiang Saen (not too far from Chiang Rai). While staying there, we also toured the nearby Four Seasons Tented Camp. The location is amazingly beautiful. Both are high on a hill, overlooking the border with Myanmar and Laos, on the Mekong River. You can see from balconies and hot tubs elephants grazing and roaming around. There are 160 acres of bamboo forest, indigenous gardens and rice paddies at the Anantara. And there's glamping at its best at the Four Seasons -- superb luxury tents. Interact with the elephants, enjoy the spa in the jungle, take a three-country cruise down the river. These hotels are quiet and offer delicious food. Perfect!
I also really liked our hotel in Luang Prabang, the Sofitel. Originally built as the French Governor's residence in the 1900s, it is on the outskirts of town, and lovely. I had an enormous outdoor tub in my patio area. While we did not take a cooking class, the facility on-site looked outstanding. There is a sister property in the heart of the old quarter, in the UNESCO World Heritage neighborhood, called M Gallery 3 Nagas, where we ate a delicious first dinner in Laos. Lastly in Luang Prabang, we visited the Belmond La Residence Phou Vao Luang Prabang, which felt similar to the hotels in Chiang Saen, with calm mountain vistas and cloud forest. No bad choices!
In Chiang Mai, I'd like to feature 137 Pillars Chiang Mai. The main house of this small luxury hotel was built in the 1880's as part of the Borneo Company headquarters (which was in the teak wood business in Northern Thailand); it's a beautiful restored teak building. The 30 rooms and mouth-watering cuisine here are modern. We also stayed at the Anantara Chiang Mai (right in the center of the city, set on the grounds of the former British consulate, but very peaceful once inside...and wonderfully walkable to the Night Market!), and we visited the Four Seasons Chiang Mai, featuring two small lakes and a working rice farm, where I had an amazing lunch of Khao Soi Gai (Chiang Mai Yellow Curry Noodles with Chicken). I could envision being quite content at any of them. 
I'll let Steve and Lisa discuss the hotels in Bangkok, where they spent more time than I. Keep in mind that at many of these hotels, we can secure additional perks for our members and clients. Your comfort in mind, let me also assure you that Thai and Lao beer is top notch. Cha La Wan, Thai Amarit, Chang, Singha, Leo, and Lao were all sampled plentifully and can be recommended. Thanks to our destination partners Kensington Tours and Khiri Travel for all of their support and assistance on my 9-day journey in Thailand and Laos. Contact ActiveTravels for more information! 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/08/19 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, December 17, 2018

Escape to Montage Palmetto Bluff

Best known for their properties in Laguna Beach and Deer Valley, the hotel brand Montage also runs the vast Palmetto Bluff property on the South Carolina coast, about a half-hour drive from Savannah. The 20,000-acre resort offers more than 30 miles of riverfront, more than enough space to play on the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, even go clay shooting. Expect Southern hospitality like the local May River Oysters served during Happy Hour and a wealth of lodging options to choose from. Montage opened the 74-room Inn at Palmetto Bluff in late 2016. But we love the resort for its stand-alone cottages, 35 privately owned vacation homes that are up for rental when the owners are not around. This is ideally suited for families, especially during February, March, and April school break. Average highs in mid-February are in the mid-60s and it only gets warmer throughout the spring. It makes for a great add-on for trips to Savannah or Charleston. Please contact ActiveTravels if you'd like us to design an itinerary and suggest other hotels, restaurants, and activities in the region. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/17/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Great Deal on Captiva Island Condo in December

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 

Since I was a teenager, I've been spending a week every December on Captiva Island, Florida, at South Seas Island Resort. It all started when my parents made a sailing stop for the night at the South Seas Marina, thereupon setting into motion an annual multi-generational week. This year, 15 family members (ranging in age from my 20-year-old daughter to my 90-year-old mother) will gather.  
Captiva and nearby Sanibel Islands have a lot to offer. They are easy to get to (from Fort Myers / RSW airport), and from the Islands' website: "Enjoy 15 miles of unspoiled beaches, 25 miles of bike paths, 50 types of fish, 230 types of birds, 250 kinds of shells and 0 stop lights." It's true. The miles of white sand beaches, and activities like beach yoga, biking, kayaking, water sports, and shelling lead to activity-filled days, gorgeous sunsets, and starry nights. 
South Seas features regular hotel rooms and condos with kitchens to stock with groceries from nearby Bailey's. Off property, you can venture to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge to see the alligators and egrets, visit a farmers' markets, buy lots of fresh seafood, and head to the Bubble Room or Sunshine Seafood Cafe for dinner. 
ActiveTravels has a lead on a low-cost condo rental at South Seas for December 7-14 (Friday morning-Friday morning). That's coming right up! Enjoy breathtaking views of Pine Island Sound in a remodeled 2 bedroom/2 bath unit (King bed, 2 twin beds, sofa bed in LR). There is a full kitchen and a screened porch, overlooking the pool and waterfront. If interested, let us know soon ($1600 for the week). As I write this, it's 42 degrees and overcast in Toronto. On Captiva, it's 81 degrees and sunny. Need I say more?

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/15/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Ending our Trip to Italy in Comfort at Rome’s Hotel Eden

Clients sometimes tell us that they're not going to be in their hotel room that much, so you don't have to find a luxury property for us. The problem with that reasoning is that you're missing out on one of the finest travel experiences. Top-shelf properties provide the best service, comfort, food, and necessary down time you want especially after a long day of sightseeing. After walking miles around the large city of Rome, I can't tell you how delighted we were to go back to our spacious room at the Hotel Eden, grab the bottle of prosecco, open our balcony doors, and watch green parrots fly back and forth to the monastery in front of us. 
Hotel Eden is located in a quiet part of the city, not far from the Villa Borghese Park. There's so many superlatives about this property that I'm not sure where to start. The view from the 6th floor, where we had a gluttonous breakfast and dinner, had wraparound windows with glorious views of the city. I loved our waiters at breakfast, Marco and Francesco, who gave us a tour around the windows to all the sights below, before serving our perfectly poached eggs. They've been working together for 26 years at the hotel and love to tease each other. Our concierge, Anna, found us tickets at the nearby Borghese Gallery when they were sold out, and then reserved a table at an authentic lunch spot where there were no Americans, only Italian families that Sunday afternoon, dining on heavenly grilled artichokes and an antipasto plate overflowing with meats and creamy cheeses that I'll be dreaming about back home. The mattress was so comfortable it was hard to wake up for that Caravaggio walking tour. Most importantly, it was a special moment to share with my wife after memorable days walking around Rome, coming back to our room, having a drink, and standing on our small balcony to watch the city below. Yes, the place you stay is a very important part of the travel experience. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/30/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Our Night at Winemaker Alberto Longo’s Masseria Celentano Relais

After a tour of Pompeii with our guide Georgio (a guide is highly recommended to get a much greater context of the ruins), we drove 3 hours to northern Puglia, a very rural part of the Italian peninsula, dotted with rolling vineyards, olive trees, and fields of cabbage. Soon we arrived at the charming Masseria Celentano Relais, a 400-year old farmhouse and plaza that felt like something out of the Spanish countryside, with red-tiled roofs and whitewashed stucco buildings. The Masseria has five rooms for rent, including a former chapel with high ceilings that Lisa and I slept in. Another family, including a couple getting married the next day, rented the remaining rooms. 

We met Alberto Longo, an award-winning winemaker of Primitivo and Negroamaro, the red wines best known in the Puglia region, at dinner that evening. He was joined by his wonderful parents, including his 91-year-old dad, dressed impeccably in a 3-piece suit and fedora, and whom he learned winemaking from. We dined on prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, fresh baked bread dipped in his own heavenly olive oil, sliced aubergine, orecchiette with escarole, and a tender rabbit skinned on premises. All washed down with his sparkling wine, rose's, and reds from the vineyard his father started in 1968. Another homemade treat was an after-dinner liqueur called Nocino that Alberto's mom makes from the walnuts found on property. Delicious! 
Staying at a Masseria or historic farmhouse is becoming more and more popular in Italy as travelers strive for an authentic Italian experience far away from the growing mass of tourists. It's hard to top the experience of staying at Alberto's home, one of the highlights of our trip. The next day, we got a chance to visit Alberto's vineyard, a 10-minute drive from his home, and onward to the historic city of Lucera, where Alberto has his own wine store. Here, people were lining up to fill their own bottles from several large tanks, not unlike filling your growler at a microbrew. Very cool. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/25/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Villa La Massa, The Ideal First Stop in Italy

After the overnight flight to Rome and a 2-hour train to Florence, we took a taxi to our hotel for the first two nights, Villa La Massa. Only 7 km or a 20-minute drive from the crowds of Florence, this 16th-century former Medici family estate feels a world away. You're whisked away to a serene setting in the Tuscan hills along the Arno River. Rooms are spacious with tall ceilings and glorious panorama views. We took a short stroll under the tall cypress trees and past the herb and veggie gardens before wandering along the Arno shoreline watching men fish and families bike. Then we had our first negroni and aperol spritz of the trip on the patio next to the outdoor pool. Dinner was also perfection, beef tenderloin with porcini mushrooms, washed down with local wines and served by a highly professional staff. A relaxing start to our trip to Italy, the perfect place to unwind after a long flight before facing the mass of tourists that swarm Florence. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/18/18 at 06:00 AM
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about us
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. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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