Thursday, March 09, 2017
Thursday, March 09, 2017
In yesterday’s blog, I discussed meeting the preeminent sea kayaker, Olaf Malver, who now leads trips for Natural Habitat Adventures to Greenland, Antarctica, and the Galapagos Islands. When not paddling, Malver is back in his native Georgia (the country, not the state), producing award-winning wine from his vineyards. Straddling the border between Europe and Asia, the origins of winemaking can be traced back to this region of the world. Today, oenophiles flock to Kakheti province, the top winemaking region to sample the wares. A fine bottle of wine is just one of the reasons to visit Georgia, which has recently landed on Travel & Leisure and Vogue’s “top places to travel” lists. Olaf’s wife runs Wild Georgia, which leads weeklong guided trekking and horseback riding jaunts into the Caucasus, the striking mountain range that stands taller than the Alps. The capital, Tblisi, has quickly become an exciting center for art, food, and music amidst the art nouveau architecture. Stay at the recently opened Rooms Hotels, dine at a French Laundry alum’s bistro, Le Montrachet, and check out the electronic music scene at Bassiani. Big hoteliers like Le Meridian and Radisson Blu are already busy building new properties in the country, so the time to go is summer or fall 2017 before word spreads.
Monday, January 23, 2017
I always bring hiking boots when traveling to Phoenix, because it’s arguably the best city in the country for day hikes. There are some 200 miles of trails in the Phoenix park system including short summits like Piestewa that are ideally suited for a 2-hour lunch break. We started our climb around 11 am and we were back at the trailhead at 12:45 pm. That’s not to say it wasn’t a thigh-burner, especially the last part of the trail which steeply ascends the craggy 2,608-foot peak (total elevation gain is 1190 feet). Even on a weekday, the trail was crowded as we made our way up the dirt and rock path past every type of cacti imaginable—tall saguaro, barrel, hedgehog, pincushion, jumping cholla, and prickly pear. Vistas of the Phoenix skyline opened up below us as we passed an ironwood tree. Soon we were up on the summit, eating lunch while enjoying the views of the surrounding ridges and the valley below. I once penned a series of stories for Health Magazine on Urban Adventures, the best workouts outside the gym in cities across America. Climbing Piestewa Peak would be a good option.
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Just when I thought I had my fill of adventure in the Saguenay/Charlevoix region of Quebec this past July—biking on the celebrated Véloroute des Bleuets, a 256-kilometer bike trail that circumnavigates Lac-Saint-Jean, hiking atop a ridge at Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay, sea kayaking with beluga whales on the Saguenay Fjord, and whitewater rafting down the rapids of the Metabetchouan River—my buddy Jeff persuaded me top it all by tackling one of the few Via Ferratas in the world outside of the famous Dolomites. Using cables affixed to an 1187-foot rock face, we attached our carabiners and used iron rungs on the steep sections to clamber up the rock wall at Pallisades De Charlevioix. Following our relaxed guide, Vincent, (me, not so relaxed), we slowly and carefully made it to the top of the steep cliff. We stopped to pick wild blueberries and to peer down at a sinuous creek below where we spotted a beaver swimming next to his oversized dam. The real excitement starts at the top when we crossed a suspension bridge made of wobbly planks high above the canyon floor. Then Vincent says to me, “now it’s time to rappel down.” I looked down the 230-foot rock ledge and panicked. But Vincent slowly got me to lean off the ledge and believe in the equipment. I descended, kicking off the smooth face of the wall, and quickly found myself at the bottom, heart racing but proud of my accomplishment. That’s one climb I won’t soon forget.
To top it off, we went whale watching on a zodiac that afternoon from Baie-Saint-Catherine with Croisieres AML. Near the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, the St. Lawrence feels vast here, like an ocean. We zipped out to the heart of the river on the speedy raft and soon were watching the second largest mammal in the world, the fin whale blowing its spout and surfacing the water with its long arching back. Suddenly we heard a huge splash and the naturalist got very excited pointing to a minke whale that was completely out of the water breaching. He would breach 3 or 4 times, flipping out of the water like a flying fish. We then cruised over to a colony of gray seals before making our way into the fjord to see Caribou Falls. At the corner of my eye, I caught a splash of white and soon we were following a pod of beluga whales, jumping in and out of the water like dolphins. That’s what I call a memorable day in Quebec.
Wednesday, October 05, 2016
If the thought of climbing a mountain makes you sweat long before leaving your car, wipe your brow and give 2,804-foot Willard a try. In less than an hour, you’ll make it to the peak where jaw-dropping views of Crawford Notch stand below you, a reward for your slight efforts. The hike begins behind the Crawford Notch Visitor Center, former site of the Crawford railroad station. The trail starts off sharply but becomes more gradual as you crisscross through a forest of dense pines. Eventually, sunshine seeps into the woods and you’ll reach a large opening, the light at the end of the tunnel. Look down from the rocky ledge at the old railroad line, carved into the mountainside, and the onslaught of cars that snake through Crawford Notch on Route 302. Then pat yourself on the back for climbing a White Mountain.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Just when I thought I had my fill of adventure in the Saguenay/Charlevoix region—biking, hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, sea kayaking, and whitewater rafting—I topped it all with this morning’s activity. Charlevoix is home to one of the few Via Ferratas in the world outside of the famous Dolomites. Using cables affixed to an 1187-foot rock face, we attached our carabiners and used iron rungs on the steep sections to clamber up the rock wall at Palissades De Charlevoix. Following our relaxed guide, Vincent, (me, not so relaxed), we slowly and carefully made it to the top of the steep cliff. We stopped to pick wild blueberries and to peer down at a sinuous creek below where we spotted a beaver swimming next to his oversized dam. The real excitement starts at the top when we crossed a suspension bridge made of wobbly planks high above the canyon floor. Then Vincent says to me, “now it’s time to rappel down.” I looked down the 230-foot rock ledge and panicked. But Vincent slowly got me to lean off the ledge and believe in the equipment. I descended, kicking off the smooth face of the wall, and quickly found myself at the bottom, heart racing but proud of my accomplishment. That’s one climb I won’t soon forget.
To top it off, we went whalewatching on a zodiac that afternoon from Baie-Saint-Catherine with Croisières AML. Near the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, the St. Lawrence feels vast here, like an ocean. We zipped out to the heart of the river on the speedy raft and soon were watching the second largest mammal in the world, the fin whale blowing its spout and surfacing the water with its long arching back. Suddenly we heard a huge splash and the naturalist got very excited pointing to a minke whale that was completely out of the water breaching. He noted that the whales breach to wash off all parasites and to communicate to the other whales. Or simply to perform for us. He would breach 3 or 4 times, flipping out of the water like a flying fish. We then cruised over to a colony of gray seals before making our way into the fjord to see a tall waterfalls called the Caribou Falls. At the corner of my eye, I caught a splash of white and soon we were following a pod of beluga whales, jumping in and out of the water like dolphins. That’s what I call a dream day.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
“Probably not going to see a moose today,” said a park ranger at the beginning of the Skyline Trail. “It’s a hot day and they’re lying low in the brush,” he added. Not that it matters. The Skyline is one of the most glorious hikes in the Maritimes, a great overview of the breathtaking terrain displayed at Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Listening to bullfrogs and a woodpecker hammering away, we took a serene stroll through a boreal forest lined with buttercups. Every now and then we would get a glimpse of the sea in front of us and look back at the mountains and the carpet of forest. Then you reach the piece de resistance, a series of steps and platforms that reward you with magnificent vistas of the water and the circuitous road rising through the velvet green hillside that’s one of the best coastal drives in North America, the Cabot Trail. After our fill of the scenery, we made our way back down and said goodbye to the park ranger. Less than a 5-minute walk from our car, we heard loud ruffling to our left and spotted a mother moose and her two young calves chowing down on the foliage. Some days, you can get your icing on the cake.
That afternoon, we signed up for a zodiac tour with Captain’s Mark’s Whale and Seal Cruise in nearby Pleasant Bay and were treated to the bounty of sealife. Within 5 minutes from the dock, we spotted the graceful arch and fin of a minke whale, one of 40 minkes we probably found over a 2-hour span. Adding to the pleasure was a colony of gray seals popping their heads out of the water like periscopes, harbor porpoises, a bald eagle perched on a tree high atop a bluff, and the frightening tentacles of a lion’s mane jellyfish. Then we drove another hour on the Cabot Trail to the Keltic Lodge, where we downed pints of Big Spruce Regatta Red Ale while staring at the massive bluff they call Cape Smoky jutting out into the Atlantic. Not a bad day.
(Photos by Michael Berger)
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
At the southernmost point of the Berkshires, near the Connecticut border, you’ll find Bartholomew’s Cobble. Walking on the Ledges Trail, the Housatonic River snakes through dairy farms on the left while eroding limestone and quartzite rocks form the cobble to your right. Take a slight detour at Corbin’s Neck to get a closer view of the river and the cows resting on its banks. Then continue on the Tulip Tree Trail to stroll uphill through a forest of tall hemlocks before reaching a clearing. At a short summit, take advantage of the bench to sit and take in the views of Mount Everett and Mount Race, part of the Appalachian Trail.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
When I first met Mei Zhang, founder of Wild China, six years ago at my favorite dim sum spot in Boston, she told me it was her passion it to take travelers to see the authentic China. Now our clients are reaping the benefits. For more than 15 years, the Harvard MBA grad has brought visitors to the remote parts of China, stating that “over 80 percent of travelers to the country see less than 20 percent of the land mass.” More than likely they get a glimpse of the Great Wall in Beijing, go on a Yangtze River cruise, and, if they have time, see the Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China in Xi’an. But what about that impressive mountain and river scenery found in the backdrop of Zhang Yimou films? To immerse yourself in that otherworldly beauty, you’re going to have to sign up for one of Wild China’s trips. One of the best is the Tea & Horse Caravan Trail, a southern Silk Route still being used that links southwestern China with Tibet. This October, the 10-day trip is being led by explorer and talented photographer, Jeff Fuchs. Fuchs is the first westerner to have completed the entire Tea Horse Road, stretching almost 6,000 kilometers through a dozen cultures in the Himalayas. His book “The Ancient Tea Horse Road” details his 8-month groundbreaking journey traveling and chronicling one of the world's great trade routes. If you ever wanted to see the real China and be led by the expert on the subject, book this trip with us.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Climbing the broad-shouldered peak Henry David Thoreau called a “sublime mass,” Mt. Monadnock, is a rite of passage for many New England children. Just over the border of Massachusetts in southern New Hampshire, Monadnock is less than a two-hour drive from Boston. Its accessibility and locale, smack dab in the center of New England, has made it one of the two most popular mountain ascents in the world going toe-to-toe with Japan’s Mount Fuji. Late April, early May, when the black flies have yet to arrive and the snow is gone, is the ideal time to bag this 3,165-foot peak. Head up the White Dot trail, one of the steepest ascents, but also one that rewards with you with incredible vistas in a very short time. Above treeline, the forest recedes to form open ledges covered with low-lying shrubs like mountain cranberry bushes. This gives you ample opportunity to rest and peer down at the soft blanket of treetops, small towns with their requisite white steeples, a smattering of lakes and ponds, and farms that fan out to anonymous ridges. Soon you’ll reach the summit, where Thoreau watched in dismay as his fellow mid-19th century trampers inscribed their names in rock. You can still spot names like “T.S. Spaulding, 1853” clearly etched in the stone. Hopefully you bagged a lunch so you can sit back, relax, and savor the views.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Knowing that their guests like to play hard and then relish their physical accomplishments over an exceptional meal, many active travel operators in the past decade have invited well-known chefs to join them. Ciclismo Classico, best known for their biking and hiking trips throughout Italy, has teamed up with talented Boston chef, Dante de Magistris, chef at Il Casale and Dante to present an exceptional itinerary along the Amalfi Coast September 17-23. Hike amidst the cliffs of Positano, ferry over to Capri to walk secluded seaside towns, and then dine on private meals prepared by Chef Dante. He’ll also provide picnic lunches, offer cooking lessons, and invite guests into his family’s home.