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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Worthy Stop at Farm Sanctuary in Acton, California

Guest Post by Amy Perry Basseches

My daughter Sophie and I have done many road trips together, and she is quite used to stopping in unusual places along the way (often with the assistance of ActiveTravels resources). On a sunny Friday in Southern California, we shared another such adventure. Visiting her for Parents’ Weekend at the Claremont Colleges, but this year wanting to spend time away from the crowds, we set out for Acton, California, with the explicit goal of visiting Farm Sanctuary.
Sophie has been an ardent vegetarian since the age of 7, and spent many hours in her youth as a member of the Sunnyrock 4H Sheep Club in Sharon, Massachusetts. She’s just always loved animals, and a wide range of them too. So, when I heard about Farm Sanctuary from an ActiveTravels member last fall, I knew I had to visit with her.
Farm Sanctuary is a national non-profit whose goal is to end farm animal abuse. They have 3 locations where they rescue, rehabilitate, and provide long-term care to farm animals who have previously been in factory farms, stockyards, and slaughterhouses. Of course, the staff at Farm Sanctuary also educates the public and advocates for policy reform. The 26-acre Acton Shelter is located on a hacienda ranch northeast of Los Angeles, in the Sierra Pelona Mountains. The town has a rural western theme, which can be seen in its homes, commercial buildings, and historical buildings, some of which date back to the late 1800s.
A little early for our 1 pm tour, we had lunch at Wences Bistro, a small restaurant in town serving “Italian, Chinese, American, & Mexican” cuisine. Then we met our group for the tour. Let’s just say that Sophie had to cover her eyes for the short video which depicted various terrible conditions at factory farms. But then we met Jumper the 700-pound pig, various cows, goats, sheep, chickens, roosters, and horses…and we were smitten.
A vegetarian or vegan lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but there is no doubt that factory farming is problematic on a number of levels (even if you aren’t too concerned about animal care, they are usually polluters of the surrounding environment). We appreciated the work that Farm Sanctuary does and the chance to learn more. If you ever find yourself on a road trip from point A to point B, please ask ActiveTravels if there is anything interesting to do on your route. We’d be glad to help!
(Photo by Sophie Basseches) 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/27/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 26, 2018

An Update on Santa Barbara, the American Riviera

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

Thanks to the generosity of a long-time friend, I recently spent a weekend at his lovely home, dating back to the 1920s, high in the hills above Santa Barbara. At ActiveTravels, we often get asked about the impact of recent fires and mudslides on Southern California travel plans, so I was grateful for the chance to check things out first-hand.
The Santa Barbara area is called the American Riviera, and, as far as I could tell, the joint was jumping. We were graced with glorious sunshine and warm (but not hot) temperatures. We journeyed into the waters off Santa Barbara aboard the Sunset Kidd, looking for migrating whales, but instead were treated to dozens of dolphins swimming and jumping right alongside us. We ate wonderful meals at Opal and at Blackbird. The latter is part of the newly opened Hotel Californian, very near the beach in the “Funk Zone” neighborhood (more on that later). The hotel features Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and modern Moorish themed interior décor, and incorporates the façade of the original 1925 Hotel Californian. To relax at the rooftop pool, or in the Turkish-inspired spa, would be amazing. After having a tour around with the Catering Manager Inga Winkler, I would not hesitate to reserve rooms there for ActiveTravels members (note: the chef at Blackbird whipped up an original vegetarian dish for my daughter, which was much appreciated). 
The “Funk Zone” near the hotel has enjoyed a renaissance. Formerly “the railroad track neighborhood,” it is now full of boutique tasting rooms, cafes, galleries, and shops that cater to Santa Barbara’s contemporary side. Converted warehouses and buildings decorated with graffiti murals and art pieces set the tone. 
We wine tasted at Skyenna, a stone’s throw from the famous Stearns Wharf, which we had visited on a prior trip. There was also an outdoor art fair in Shoreline Park, shops to check out on State Street, the Old Mission to admire, burritos at the original Freebird in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara, sushi at Arigato, and authentic Mexican food at Super-Rica Taqueria. One place my friend had recommended we visit for fine dining was closed due to the mudslides, the San Ysidro Ranch, so it’s definitely still an issue for some businesses. But, if Santa Barbara interests you, ActiveTravels would be happy to help you enjoy the hills, beach, water, food, and wine.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/26/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Haugan Cruise to Galapagos Islands Receives Rave Reviews

Work out of your house and you often get pleasant surprises, like the time two women from Ecuador knocked on my door to discuss Haugan Cruises. We usually meet reps from travel companies at the local Starbucks, planned weeks in advance. But these two ladies caught me off guard so, of course, I let them in to do their spiel. I walked away impressed with both their presentation and the exquisite catamarans they owned to take clients on 4-day to 15-day trips around the Galapagos Islands. The yachts hold a maximum of 16 people in 9 cabins, with a crew of 11 that includes a Captain and naturalist. A year later, we give Haugan a try with two clients headed to the Galapagos. Both recently returned with rave reviews about the experience. “We strongly recommend Haugan! The Ocean Spray was wonderful. Our trip director and guide, Jose, was outstanding. The crew were all extremely helpful. Our chef was four star! We had three full meals a day, each one better than the next. Our state room was spacious with a private outside sitting area. Also large bathroom. All accommodations were very comfortable.”

The second client just returned this week. Here’s what she wrote: “The attention and service from Haugan tours was top notch. Galapagos was beyond words! I can’t tell you enough how much we appreciate all you did to set this up for us. Thank you, thank you!!!” 
Moral of story: feel free to knock on my door any time. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/22/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Florida Keys On the Rebound

Stroll down Duval Street in Key West and you wouldn’t know that the Florida Keys lost over 1700 homes and businesses in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Once again, folks flock to see Ernest Hemingway’s home before stopping for a mojito at the Green Parrot. Nearby, the Hyatt Centric Key West Resort offers 120 guest rooms overlooking the water in Old Town. The Lower Keys are also open for business as we continue to send clients to favorite properties like the Playa Largo Resort in Key Largo. The Middle Keys and Upper Keys, like Big Pine Key, is where Irma left the most devastation. But they’re also on the mend. Tranquility Bay in Marathon is open for business and Islamorada’s The Moorings Village, with 18 oceanfront cottages, reopened last month. We just received word that two classic Florida Keys properties, Hawks Cay Resort and Cheeca Lodge, will both reopen in March. So there’s still time to escape the cold and spend your important tourism dollars in a place that needs your business right now. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/21/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sail the BVIs

We had considered canceling our sailing trip to the BVIs earlier this month, but were grateful we pushed ahead. Classic sailing bars like Foxy’s (where we watched the Super Bowl), Soggy Dollar, Pirates on Norman Island, and Setting Point Reef Hotel on Anegada (known for their classic lobster dinner) were all open and grateful for our business. Taxi drivers, servers, and store owners all thanked us for coming so they can continue to work. Yet, everywhere you look, you find devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Upon arrival in Tortola, boats were capsized in the harbor, roofs were ripped off houses, and locals were driving cars with broken windows. The horrific aftermath of Irma would follow us throughout the trip—classic resorts like Bitter End and Peter Island in tatters, large tankers beached, homes destroyed wherever you looked. That’s why it’s important for sailors and boaters to return and thankfully they did. Over the next 2 years, it will be the sailors who can live aboard their boats that will greatly enhance the recovery of this classic cruising ground. 
We chose to rent a 41-foot monohull from the Tortola sailing charter, Horizon Yacht Charters. We also made the wise move of hiring a Captain, “Boss,” a 51-year old grandfather of 4 who grew up on Tortola sailing boats and ferries for a living when he wasn’t tending to his goats and sheep. Boss exuded an heir of confidence and calm aboard Island Karma, even during 27-knot winds in the open sea, when the rain and swells left us soaked. We would spend the week sailing to Jost Von Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada, which was worth the long sail over. We savored the chance to dine barefoot on lobster and conch fritters and making our way to both beaches on the island, Cow Wreck and the equally enticing Loblolly, stopping to see a large flock of flamingoes in the distance. We ended with stops at Cooper Island and Peter Island, before one last Dark and Stormy on Norman Island. A memorable trip that we’re happy to recreate for ActiveTravels clients upon request. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/20/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 19, 2018

Now’s the Time to Support San Juan

Lisa and I were pleasantly surprised when we touched down in San Juan to see how good the city looked. Yes, there were uprooted and twisted trees, but Old San Juan was as charming as ever. Obviously, a good portion of Puerto Rico is still recovering from the tragic impact of Hurricane Maria but I wouldn’t hesitate to spend 3 or 4 nights in San Juan for a quick getaway. Locals are incredibly grateful for any travelers headed their way during these trying times. We stayed at the stylish CasaBlanca Hotel in the heart of Old Town, dined on indigenous fare at Café Puerto Rico, then walked the boutique shop-laden streets down to the glorious green expanse that led to the historic fort of El Morro overlooking the pounding waves of the Atlantic. Afterwards, we strolled past the murals of the colorful neighborhood of La Perla, where they filmed the music video for the hit song, “Despacito.” Quenched our thirst with one of the local Ocean Lab Amber Ales at La Taberna Lupulo before we grabbed dinner at the rooftop deck of Punto de Vista. If you’re looking for a beach, the upscale Condado Vanderbilt is open and we just heard that the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar near El Yunque Rainforest will reopen March 1st. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/19/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, February 16, 2018

Trekking Annapurna with Indo Asia Tours

We recently had the pleasure of meeting Sunirmol Ghosh in Boston. Director of Indo Asia Tours, a highly respected travel company that designs custom-made tours to the Indian subcontinent since 1987, Ghosh was once a trekking guide in the lofty peaks of Afghanistan and adventure is still his true love. His company now designs walking tours of Bhutan, horseback riding trips outside of Jaipur, cycling in the Madikeri, fishing in Srinagar, scuba diving in the Andaman Islands, even golfing at the circa-1829 Royal Calcutta Golf Club. But it’s his guided treks to Everest Base Camp and the legendary Annapurna in Nepal that has me licking my lips with anticipation. If you want to do the Indian subcontinent with the pros, please contact ActiveTravels and we’ll find a trip that fits your passion.  


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/16/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, February 15, 2018

This Summer, Book a Maine Windjammer Sail

With early spring weather in Boston this week, I’m already thinking of booking another windjammer sail in Maine this summer. A question I’m always asked is where does a travel writer/advisor go for downtime? For me, I’ll jump on one of these historic schooners any chance I get. Two summers ago, I made the wise choice to sail on the Schooner Mary Day with my daughter, Melanie, before she left for her first year of college at Indiana University. We had a glorious trip dining on all the lobster we could stomach on a deserted island off the mid-Maine coast, spotting harbor porpoises, lonely lighthouses, and making new friends around the country as we hoisted sails and sucked in as much salty air as necessary. This comes on the heels of two memorable sails aboard the Grace Bailey with my dad and his wife Ginny. A memory I won’t soon forget is my father taking the wheel of the Grace Bailey and sailing for a good hour or two. 

Do yourself a favor and book a sail. It’s the best way to see the rugged shoreline and tall timbers of the Maine coast. New themed cruises include a watercolor workshop aboard the American Eagle and bar craft and cocktail making aboard Ladona. Back by popular demand: Beer and Bluegrass (Ladona), Foodie Cruises (Stephen Taber), Kayaking Tours (Lewis R. French), Wine Tasting (Stephen Taber, Angelique), and Knitting (Isaac H. Evans). Prices start at $525 for a 2-night cruise. 3-day trips range from $595 to $1,428; 6-day cruises from $935 to $1,938. Average price per night is $220 per person, including all meals, lodging, and activities like the signature all-you-can-eat lobster feast. For more information contact the Maine Windjammer Association

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/15/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Debut of Hotel Salem

For Lisa’s birthday, we headed up the road to spend the day and night in Salem. We saw the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, and then strolled down the street to the new Hotel Salem, which just opened in the former Newmarket department store building. The 4-story structure of exposed granite and brick now lends itself well to 44 spacious rooms with floor to ceiling windows overlooking this historic town and a restaurant on the ground floor called Counter. I ordered the Industry Burger, one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long time, topped with blue cheese and hot sauce, and served with handcut fries and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. A rooftop bar will be open in the spring and there’s also space in the basement that could be used for games and another long bar. But for the time being, Hotel Salem is perfectly suited for a winter overnight, with the O’Keeffe show running until April 1st. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/14/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Give Your Grandchild a Gift that Will Last a Lifetime

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 

In March, my family will hold a 90th birthday party for my mother. Her intellectual curiosity about the world remains unchanged from the time in the late 1980s when she and my father dreamed up the idea of a “10-year old trip.” They would take each grandchild to a destination of the young grandchild’s choosing (within reason!) once they turned 10. In the mid 1990s, they took my nephew Alex rafting on the Rogue River in Oregon, then my niece Sarah to Costa Rica, where my father was involved with the local environmental group Organization for Tropical Studies. After my father died, my mother continued the tradition, taking my nephew Ben to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos, my nephew Jason to Alaska, my son Jake to the Peruvian Amazon, and my daughter Sophie to Belize (both to the Mayan ruins in the Cayo District and to the reefs on the coast). 
These trips, I’m proud to say, seem ideal for ActiveTravels members. I would strongly encourage anyone reading this blog who may have an interest in multi-generational travel to consider something along similar lines. ActiveTravels would love to help you find the right destination and make the arrangements. I am confident that these many journeys had a tremendous impact on both the grandparents and the grandchildren in my family, often exposing the child to adventures they would not have had otherwise and to special bonds with Grandma and Pop-Pop. For several of these grandchildren, a love of the outdoors, or of exploring the world culturally, remains at the forefront of their lives. As my son Jake wrote in a postcard, recently unearthed, to a friend back in Brookline: "In my trip to the Amazon, I've fallen in quicksand, eaten a piranha, been skooled in 'football' by the locals, seen a capybara, been blessed by a shaman, and been 65 feet up in the trees on a rope bridge. How are you?"
Phote of Jake and My Mom in the Peruvian Amazon Summer 2006 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/13/18 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