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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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Friday, September 21, 2018

Refurbished Hawks Cay Resort Begins a New Era on the Florida Keys

Almost a year after Hurricane Irma passed through the Florida Keys, Hawks Cay Resort, one of the region's most renowned properties, has reopened following a $50 million renovation. Owners of Hawks Cay, situated on Duck Key near Marathon, used the opportunity to enhance the resort's appeal to travelers. Expect completely renovated rooms, two new restaurants and a new oceanfront, adults-only relaxation area called Oasis Cay with pool, food and beverage facilities. With the reopening of Hawks Cay, the Keys lodging inventory is now over 90 percent operational following the Sept. 10, 2017, hurricane and nearly all resorts impacted by Irma are projected to be fully open before the end of 2018. An added bonus is the addition of many new resorts. The all-inclusive adults-only Bungalows Key Largo is to be unveiled later this year. Also in Key Largo, the new 200-room Baker's Cay Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton, is scheduled to open by late fall. In Marathon at mile marker 47, the all-new 24-acre, 199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort will offer a 4,000-square-foot spa, five pools, four food and beverage concepts and a marina when the property opens in early 2019. After last year's hard winter rebuilding, the Florida Keys is ready to welcome you back this year. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/21/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Four Seasons Astir Palace Athens to Open Early 2019

For those of you who want to see the Parthenon and then head out of the city to the nearby beaches, look no further than the new Four Seasons Astir Palace Athens, set to debut early next year. Only a 30-minute drive from downtown Athens, the 303-room property fronts two beaches and houses 3 pools. There will also be a spa and a choice of 8 restaurants and bars. It's the perfect venue for starting or ending your trip to Greece, only a 30-minute drive from the international airport. Also be on the lookout for the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley, slated to open the summer of 2019. Set on a serene vineyard in Napa, the property will feature 85 villas, each with a fireplace and private terrace. If either resort looks enticing, please send us your dates and ActiveTravels will be happy to check pricing and availability. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/12/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Maine Week-AMC’s Gorman Chairback Lodge Worth the Drive

After driving 45 minutes on rutted timber roads on the outskirts of Greenville, Maine, I was definitely tired of driving by the time I reached Gorman Chairback Lodge. Smack dab in the heart of Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness in the North Woods, this last great stand of wilderness in northeastern United States is not easily accessible. Then we walked into the main lodge and saw the long tables made of fresh white pine and met the friendly crew staff. They took us to our cabin perched on Long Pond, a serene almost 4-mile-long body of water surrounded by the ridges of the nearby Appalachian Trail. That's when we heard the first of many loon calls, that unmistakable yodel echoing across the lake. All was bliss from this point onward. Smelling the sweet pine, listening to the call of loons, peering at mountains with few, if any signs of civilization. It's no surprise that this locale has been hosting guests since 1867. The AMC has done a fine job of refurbishing and building new cabins and most of the people we met at dinner, have been returning year after year. Once you get a taste of this pristine beauty, it's hard not to return. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/04/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

New Lodgings in New Hampshire

Just in time for fall foliage, two new properties are opening in two of the most spectacular locations in New Hampshire. The Glen House will be making its debut in mid-September at the base of Mt. Washington. The 68-room hotel has deep historic roots in New Hampshire, being the fifth iteration of The Glen House to be built since the first hotel was erected in 1852. Adjacent to the Mt. Washington Auto Road, the hotel is also steps away from the hiking, biking and cross-country trails at the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center. Just open this month on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro is the 10-room Pickering House Inn, the first luxury inn of its kind in the state's Lakes Region. The historic building, built in 1813 and for many decades the residence of prominent businessman Daniel Pickering, was close to being torn down when Wolfeboro residents Peter and Patty Cooke purchased the property.  

We're off to Maine for a week, checking out the refurbished Gorman Chairback Lodge in Maine's North Woods before heading to the mid-coast to unwind and sea kayak. I'll be back next Wednesday. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/22/18 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

Adventure Travel Trade Association