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February 2016 Newsletter: Happy Chinese New Year!

Apr 25, 2016
Category: News Letter
Posted by: lisarleavitt

Dear valued members!

We are excited to present to you our February newsletter! In honor of the Chinese New Year, we offer you a great piece on China by one of our original members, Lisa Grobstein. She has graciously written about her exciting travels there last summer with our featured outfitter, Wild China. Other topics focus on destinations closer to home like our National Parks celebrating their centennial birthday this year; one of our beloved New England towns, Jackson, New Hampshire; Montreal for some international flair; and a tip on avoiding mosquito bites due to mounting fears of the Zika virus.

If you like this newsletter, feel free to share it with a friend (see the Forward this Email link at the bottom of this newsletter). Likes on our Facebook page are also welcomed as are your comments, favorite pictures from your trips, and tips for your fellow members! We are just beginning to get noticed on Yelp, so if you have a moment, we'd love your contributions on our page. Stay tuned for an ActiveTravels photo contest in the spring!

Wishing you safe and happy travels!

On the Road: Celebrate the Centennial of the National Park Service

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson formed the National Park Service to "protect the wild and wonderful landscapes" in the United States. There's no better way to celebrate its 100th anniversary than to visit one of the 407 parks and historical sites maintained by the US government. Last September, I had the good fortune to return to Acadia National Park for 5 nights. Having visited Acadia close to a dozen times, it never gets old. The stunning mix of mountains, ocean, cliffs, and pine-topped islands is the ideal place to slow down, breathe in the salty air, and forget about the fast pace of modernity. Do yourself a favor and get lost in the woods this year. These are some of our favorite national parks, both on and off-the-beaten path:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Maybe it's the chance to spot black bear, elk, or deer. Or the opportunity to wander on more than 800 miles of hiking trails in a mountain range that spills over into Tennessee and North Carolina. Yet, perhaps the number one reason Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains one of the most visited parks in America is that it feels like it's continually in bloom. There are more than 1600 kinds of flowering plants in the park. Those include the spring ephemerals like white trillium that start to emerge in late February, the summer display of bright red cardinal flowers and purple-fringed orchids, and autumn's bounty of goldenrod and sunflowers. Add flowering shrubs like mountain laurel, rhododendrons, and flame azaleas, and trees like sourwood, that form bell-shaped white flowers that attract honey bees, and you understand why this wildflower-laden park is the best natural greenhouse in America. A good place to stop and smell the flowers is the self-guided Harwood Cove Nature Trail that begins at the Chimneys Picnic Area.

Petrified Forest National Park

Driving east of Flagstaff, the dry arid Arizona terrain gives way to colorful bands of rock, as if some Impressionist painter laid down his brushstroke on the badlands. Welcome to the glorious Painted Desert. Continue a wee bit south and prehistoric rock gives way to 200 million year old petrified wood, also colored in rainbow hues, the home of Petrified Forest National Park. Once a playground for dinosaurs, Petrified Forest also was a settlement for a long line of Native Americans as evidenced by the Agate House, an ancient pueblo built of petrified wood. By all means, get out of the car with camera in tow and take several of the short hikes. A one-mile loop called Blue Mesa brings you to the multi-hued sandstone, while the half-mile Giant Logs Loop leads to the biggest trees in the park, some with trunks close to ten feet in diameter.

Olympic National Park

Washington's Olympic National Park is often referred to as three parks in one, for its combination of rugged Pacific Ocean coastline, high mountain glaciers, and lush rainforest. Try the Kaloloch Beaches for a day hike. Craggy outcroppings, called sea stacks, stand offshore, while tidal pools are filled with starfish and hermit crabs. In the high country, Hurricane Ridge leads to Obstruction Point, an above treeline walk with glorious views. August and September are the driest months at Olympic, thus offering the best views without fog rolling in.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Like the Grand Canyon, Utah's Bryce Canyon is one of the few National Parks that you look down in awe, instead of up at mountain or cliffs. Here, the highlight is the hundreds of hoodoos, colorful standing pinnacles that line the Bryce amphitheater. Inspiration Point is a good name for the peach, apricot, tan, white, and red rocks that stand at attention like people on a parade route. To get a closer look, stroll down the Queen's Garden Route, a dusty stone path loaded with those "Hoodoo Dudes." Summer is actually a good time to hit Bryce. Unlike other areas of southern Utah that are sweltering in July and August, Bryce's elevation of 8,000 to 9,000 feet keeps the park relatively cool.

Hotels We Love:
Montreal, Quebec

Come to Montreal! A very cosmopolitan, sophisticated city that brings a petite bit of Paris closer to you while still remaining in North America. Montreal is not a place of must-see attractions as it is a place to wander in, bike the canal, shop, hang out in a café eating freshly-baked pain a chocolat, and enjoy the world-class restaurants and nightlife.

Here are some hotels we recommend:

The Ritz-Carlton Montreal

Opened in 1912, the Grande Dame of Sherbrooke Street is the first Ritz-Carlton hotel built in North America. The resort has played host to such luminaries as Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Pierre Trudeau, The Rolling Stones, and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who celebrated their first marriage at the hotel in 1964. The hotel has just finished a $100 million renovation that includes refurbishing all rooms, the lobby, and adding long-term residences. This is definitely a favorite of ours.

The Nelligan

This design-centered boutique hotel is top notch and a friendly locale for hipsters and foodies. After all, Verses Restaurant is onsite, a culinary must in Montreal. This place feels like you are in Le Marais in Paris with a dash of good ole New Orleans as well: charm plus a dash of whimsy. A continental breakfast and afternoon wine and cheese offering are included in the room rate. Their rooftop terrace bar features awesome views of the spires of Vieux-Montreal.

Place d'Armes Hotel & Suites

Located in the old town, Place d'Armes is a boutique-style hotel parked in one of the busiest squares of the city. Very stylish, it offers all kinds of amusements from its popular lounge off the lobby, a seasonal roof top brasserie, a Japanese restaurant with lunchtime bento box specials and countless sushi choices, a small spa with hammam and a gym with on-call personal trainer (yep, that helps after all those pain au chocolats!).

Hotel St. Paul

If you want to splurge, try the snazzy St. Paul in the heart of the Old Quarter. The circa 1900 Beaux Arts building is conveniently located near the Lachaine Canal and many French eateries and boutiques in the neighborhood. Don't miss the hotel's onsite restaurant, Le Hambar, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine. Suites come with furniture Salvador Dali could imagine and two-person baths for weary parents.

Auberge du Vieux-Port

Romantics and those wanting local flavor should try this small boutique hotel (only 45 rooms). Offering gorgeous views of the water from its rooftop sundeck (don't miss the fireworks displays during summer festivals), a tavern serving full breakfast each morning, chic rooms with whirlpool baths, some with 2-person tubs, and several room/suite types that range from standard guest rooms to 1 and 2 bedroom studios with fully-equipped kitchens.

Tour Operators We Recommend:
Wild China

Guest Post by member, Lisa Grobstein If you want to experience China in a unique and authentic way, we recommend WildChina. You can go off the beaten track or do the major sites. We chose to do a mix of both. We had 10 packed days, each day as good or better than the next. WildChina was there for us from the moment we arrived at the airport in Beijing. Our guide, Ike, spoke excellent English, and knew way more history about Beijing and the country than one would ever need to know.

We stayed at one of the most beautifully designed hotels in Beijing, The Rosewood. We even had our own "butler"(move over Lord Grantham), and a toilet that did way more than one would ever need it to do! In Beijing we visited the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and The Temple of Heaven. We rode a pedi cab through the hutong (narrow alleys), and saw how many Chinese have lived for hundreds of years. We also visited Caochangdi Art District, where Ai Weiwei had a helping hand in creating this contemporary & collaborative center for the arts.

Our visit to the Great Wall was nothing short of spectacular! We visited the Mutianyu section which was less crowded (and a little further from Beijing). The views were amazing. We ate at this farming village restaurant only 15 minutes from the Great Wall that one would have never found had it not been for Ike and WildChina. Our meal there was one of our best in China. In fact, all the meals arranged for us through WildChina were authentic, off the beaten path, with few tourists, and practically no Caucasians. And the food was always delicious.

Ike and our driver dropped us off at the airport (and watched us get through security before leaving) and we headed south to Guilin. At the airport, Irene picked us up and we headed into the mountains northwest of Guilin. We were going to the rice terraced fields of Longji (literally means dragon's backbone). We stayed at the Li'an Lodge in the little town, Longsheng. The lodge was quaint and clean, and the food was simple but good. It took us a little less than ½ hour to walk up to the lodge. This tiny village in the mountains was charming, and the views were unmatched. The people were friendly and happy to share their cultures' traditions. One local lady from the Yao tribe even unraveled her hair which, according to custom, is only cut once in her life at age 18!

Many different hikes lead you through the rice terraced fields. Photographers beware-we took hundreds of photos during our 2-3 hour jaunt! We all agreed that visiting Longji was the highlight of our trip, with the Great Wall as runner up.

Our last leg of the trip with WildChina was back in Guilin. Not a beautiful city, but convenient for taking the Li River cruise. Along the Li River we saw the beautiful rock formations that are often found in Chinese art or the 5 Yuan note. The views here were also sensational. A little taxi boat came along side our cruise boat, and Irene said we were getting off here...no dock...we just jumped onto the little taxi boat and headed across the river to the little town of Xingping. Several people asked to take our picture as they had never seen Caucasians before. We felt very Hollywood. We also visited the town of Fuli where hand painted fans have been created for over a thousand years. We even were able to help work on one, which may sound touristy, but certainly didn't feel that way.

We headed back to Guilin and got on a plane to enjoy the last leg of our trip on our own, Hong Kong. We spent three nights at the Mandarin Oriental, and loved every minute of it. Make sure to splurge on the buffet breakfast one morning. Hong Kong is an amazing city that I would go back to in a heartbeat. Again we saw awesome views and beautiful skyscrapers (don't miss the light show on the promenade) and we enjoyed outstanding cuisine. Hong Kong is the perfect add-on to any visit to China.

Contact ActiveTravels if you are interested!

Tried & True Travel Tips:
How to Best Avoid the Zika Virus

Right now, the Zika virus is spreading fastest in tropical cities with dense populations and poor mosquito control, places like Recife, Brazil, and Barranquilla, Colombia.

Yet, the CDC is predicting that the virus will soon be throughout the Americas, so you need to take precaution wherever you are. When heading to the African bush and the threat of mosquito-borne Malaria , I always visit REI or EMS to purchase lightweight pants and shirts that are comfortable in humid weather. Some of these pants even have mosquito repellent already integrated into the fabric of the clothing. NPR just reported about the best mosquito repellents in a recent study.

Cutter Natural Insect Repellents and Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard worked best.

If you have any tips for avoiding bites, please pass them along and we'll share them with everyone.

Quick Escape:
Jackson, New Hampshire

Blink and you'll miss the turn-off on Route 16 to reach Jackson and what a pity that would be. Venture through that covered bridge to enter another era, one where serenity and stunning scenery merge to create an ideal escape from modernity any time of year, but especially in the winter months. The circular green of Jackson, ringed by inns, antique stores, and cafes, has been thriving as a resort town since the mid-nineteenth century. The allure is its proximity to Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range.

Peer up from the Jackson green and the panorama of peaks is mesmerizing. This is especially true when you breathe in the pines and sample one of the numerous trails at the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. The extensive network, a vast web of more than 100 miles, leads cross-country skiers alongside a brook on the Ellis River Trail or high up into the mountains on the challenging Wildcat Valley Trail, created in the 1930s down the backside of the Wildcat Ski Area.

Downhill skiers can head to Wildcat or the family-friendly Black Mountain in Jackson, the oldest ski area in New Hampshire, offering 40 trails with a stunning vista of Mt. Washington and the Presidentials.

Afterwards, most folks are content to head back to their cozy country abode, like the Christmas Farm Inn (pictured here) or Eagle Mountain House, warm up by the roaring fireplace, have an après-ski cocktail, and get ready to dine on inspired cooking. The Wentworth Hotel (below) is another good choice and a charming Inn-style complex dating from 1869, that's surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest.

It's a proven recipe for reinvigoration and the reason why outdoors enthusiasts return to this gem of a mountain retreat year after year.

To read my other picks for top winter towns in New England, check out my cover story in the latest Yankee Magazine.

Give ActiveTravels a shout if you want to plan a fun-filled trip to Jackson, NH.