Archive for February, 2012

Ever Taken a Boutique River Cruise? Now’s Your Chance.

Have you ever been on a romantic river cruise in Europe? Us either. What the heck are we waiting for? We’re lame-os and need to get on that! Lucky for us, our insider travel gurus alerted us to Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. Fresh off their excellent year in 2011, they also earned the number one spot in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards for the world’s Best River Cruise Line so we had to share what we knew about this little cruise line that could. This is the first time Condé Nast Traveler has had a separate river cruise category and Uniworld grabbed the honors with a score of 90.3. They’re also on the Condé Nast’s 2011 Gold List as one of the “World’s Top Cruise Lines” so worth a

Earlier in the year,  seven of Uniworld’s luxury boutique river cruise ships were listed in Condé Nast Traveler ‘s Readers’ Choice Survey for Best River Cruise Ships , with River Beatrice and River Duchess landing first and second place.  Using a scale of 100, River Beatrice scored particularly high marks in the areas of Crew/Service (96.7), Itineraries (96.7), Food and Dining (96.7), and Shore Excursions (96.7). The Uniworld ships named in the top 20 were River Beatrice (1), River Duchess (2) River Countess (5), River Queen (6), River Baroness (8),River Royale (12), and River Princess (19).

Sorta Looks Like Southern California, Doesn't it? This is Da Nile, baby!

The newest jewel in Uniworld’s elite boutique fleet, the luxurious Super Ship S.S. Antoinette, is already garnering great praise by being included in a list of the Most Luxurious Cruise Cabins by Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic and contributor to Condé Nast Traveler. “Whether you’re talking about its lavish public rooms, its airy spa, its cinema, or its staterooms,” writes Brown, “S.S . Antoinette is not only the most gorgeous riverboat afloat, it’s also quite possibly the most beautiful ship anywhere.”

S.S. Antoinette was also just named the world’s “Best New River Ship” in Cruise Critic’s Fourth Annual Editor’s Picks Awards. Further, Conde Nast Traveler listed the S.S. Antoinette’s “Castles along the Rhine,” in the top eleven “Dream Itineraries for 2012,” and is the only river cruise itinerary listed in the best of the best in the cruise industry.

Sigh. I need a European – or better yet – an Egyptian – river cruise, peoples!

A bit about Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: They’re the world’s only authentic boutique cruise line™, recognized among the “World’s Best River Cruises” by Travel + Leisure. Uniworld was voted the“#1 River Cruise Line in the World” in Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards, was named to Condé Nast Traveler’s prestigious Gold List, and won “Best River Ships” in their Readers’ Poll, which ranked River Beatrice and River Duchess the #1 and #2 river ships, along with five other highly ranked ships in the top 20. Uniworld’s cabins and dining are also ranked among the top three in the world by Zagat Survey®; Uniworld is the only river cruise line named in the Zagat Survey® amongst the best of the best in the cruise industry. Uniworld features luxurious boutique ships with an average capacity of 130 guests, included shore excursions, world-class gourmet cuisine, and award-winning hospitality. Uniworld offers over 500 departures sailing on over 13 rivers in more than 20 countries throughout Europe, Russia, Egypt, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Get Off the Beaten Path Without Roughing It. Say Hello to Guyana and Madagascar, my little friends…

Ah Guyana...

Not too long ago, satisfying your craving for destinations that offered under-the-radar appeal, active excursion options and authentic glimpses at the local culture meant bunk beds, hostels or dragging your tent from place-to-place. While they still adventure and a deep sense of discovery, today’s discerning travelers have less time and higher standards. That’s where nature travel pioneer International Expeditions comes in, handling all of the logistical details for intrepid explorers in remote destinations like Guyana, Madagascar and beyond. You enjoy an upscale adventure to spot exotic wildlife, hike pristine trails and sample tantalizing cuisine in destinations where few other tour operators go. Plus, IE takes care of details like your transfers and tips to ensure a seamless vacation. Phew! (Since that part can be a real pain in the butt, sometimes)

In Guyana & Trinidad, you spend 10 days deep into the heart of one of Earth’s last untouched tropical rainforests and have the chance to spot more than 800 bird species. The 10-day tour starts at $5,598 per person and includes accommodations, most meals, ground transportation, bottled water, entrance fees, transfers, and tips to porters, local guides, drivers and to waiters for included meals.

Nosy Iranja is a small tropical island located off the Northwestern coast of Madagascar, 45km (28 miles) South of Nosy Be, a slightly larger and more popular island.

While island life takes on new meaning in Madagascar, where lemurs cavort in the shade offered by lush forests and charming Malagasy people welcome you to Earth’s oldest island. On IE’s newMadagascar safari, guests spend 17 days on naturalist-guided hiking, snorkeling and boating excursions. Accompanying guests is a seasoned IE expedition leader joined by a Malagasy expedition leader and local naturalists. Why so many guides? Travel to Madagascar typically involves flight delays and last-minute schedule changes, and the IE expedition leader and guides are there to Sherpa you through these changes. This 17-day tour starts at $7,598 and includes accommodations, soft drinks/local beer at lunch and dinner, most meals, ground transportation, transfers, and tips to porters, local guides, local expedition leader, drivers and to waiters for included meals

IE also offers a way to harness your inner “backpacker” with a fully customized trek on the Salkantay Trail. A less-touristy alternative to the Inca Trail, Salkantay passes through stunning Andean scenery before ending at Machu Picchu . Although the surroundings are reminiscent of rugged mountain climbs, the accommodations are anything but rustic. After a day of guided hiking along the trail, you spend evenings at boutique mountain lodges, with a warm shower and cold drink. Prices vary based on length of trek. or 800-234-9620

Get Viking in The Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands

Most travelers may know about Iceland, but they may not have been there yet. With scenery that varies from stark lunar mountains to hot springs and geysers in a country roughly the size of Ohio, Iceland offers dazzling landscapes – and a vibrant cultural and nightlife (which is why we love it, of course). But a little farther east, in the North Atlantic Gulf Stream, lies a remote cluster of Nordic islands known as the Faroes, virtually unknown to North Americans.  This archipelago, with its towering volcanic mountains, waterfalls that cascade from cliffs directly into the sea, paintbox houses, and only 50,000 inhabitants, is like something out of a movie. And, another cool little factoid, both Iceland and the Faroes were settled over a thousand years ago by the Vikings. Today, the Faroe Islands are a self-governing region of Denmark, with its own parliament and flag.

It looks a little like Hobbit Town, doesn't it??

So check this out! This summer, there’s a new tour program that offers a full week in the islands of the Viking settlers – four days in the Faroe Islands and three days in Iceland, with enough time for a side trip to Greenland, if you wish. The program, from The Great Canadian Travel Company, North America’s foremost experts in travel to some of the world’s least-traveled regions, will have departures every Monday from June through August. The weeklong “Iceland with the Faroe Islands” tour is priced at a reasonable $2,189 per person.

Included are: round trip airfare between Iceland and the Faroes, four night accommodation in the Faroes, three nights in Iceland, car rental in the Faroe Islands and a full day tour in Iceland.

An island with a view...

Faroese is the national language and is rooted in Old Norse. The climate is surprisingly moderate, with average high summer temperatures in the 70 degree range (20 degrees C.). On the tour, you travel first to the Faroes, arriving on Monday afternoon.  Upon arrival, you pick up your car and overnight at the Vagar Hotel. The afternoon is free to explore this lovely part of the Faroes, or simply relax in the hotel. The next day, you drive to the island of Stremoy and cross “The Bridge Over the Atlantic” to the island of Eysturoy.

The View of Gjaargardur

Accommodations are at the modern Gjaargardur Guesthouse in the tiny seaside hamlet of Gjogv, population 36. The next two days will be yours to explore the islands at leisure.  The atmosphere changes from one island and one village to the next – it’s a whole society with its own history, its own language and its own culture.  Head north past Klaksvik to the rugged headlands at Vidareidi, visit the old church at  Kirkjuboreyn, wander through the Old Town of the capital city of Torshavn and enjoy the atmosphere of these unspoiled islands.

Reykjavik, Iceland

On Friday, you fly to Iceland and transfer to your hotel in the center of Reykjavik for a three-night stay.  On Saturday, a full day “Golden Circle Tour” is included – a journey to the iconic sights of Iceland. On Sunday, there’s a free day to explore the city, or perhaps take another optional day tour — whale watching, horseback riding, waterfalls or hiking, before your return flight to North America the next day.

Pretty svalt, no? We say já!

A Few Lovely Libations

Whistle Pig's 100 Proof Rye Whiskey. Yeehaw!

While cozying up to a warm fireplace and sipping on some quality vino tinto, we decided to share some hot picks for seasonal sippin’. Some selections also suggest trips to wine country because, really… what’s better than getting up close and personal with le grape or le whiskey?

Bottom’s Up!

Whistle Pig 

A perfect “100/100” – that is, a 100 proof, 100% rye whiskey, aged for at least 10 years in new American oak barrels! It first launched in 2010 by Raj Bahkta and has received extraordinary critical acclaim for having the perfect combination of proof, purity, and age and hitting what its legendary Master Distiller Dave Pickerell calls “the sweet spot” in all three categories and is the ultimate ‘farm-to-bar’ experience for discerning-but-playful palates. And, yes, there are actual pigs involved. WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey is available at the suggested retail price of $69.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Antica Terra 

Antica Terra, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, will release its first three 2010s – which was a seriously extraordinary year – in April, including the shockingly bold and brilliant Erratica (rosé, $50). As with all Antica Terra wines, these are extremely limited production (i.e. only 147 cases of Erratica made). Those ‘in the know’ and on the Antica Terra mailing list can pre-order their VIP allocation in February. Last year the rosé sold out in a week!  Antica Terra, an innovative Oregon winery, guided by the aesthetically oriented, former Sine Qua Non apprentice Maggie Harrison, is pleased to announce the April 1, 2012 release of its 2010 Pinot Noir ($50, 750ml), 2010 Botanica ($75, 750ml) and 2010 Erratica ($50, 750ml).

March in Mendoza 

Mendoza Wine Country

Last but not least, March in Mendoza includes wine harvest celebrations with La Morada de Los Andes and a Gourmet Horse Trek across the Andes with Andres Rosberg, President of the Argentine Sommelier Association and Chef from Butterfly in Bariloche. This just might be one of Mendoza’s best wine country trips.

La Morada de Los Andes is a residential investment community project nestled among the vines of Los Arbolitos Vineyard in Argentina’s Uca Valley, the country’s premium grape-growing region with a landscape graced with golden dawns, violet mountain sunsets and a billion stars lighting the night sky. Located at the foot of the Andes 56 miles from the city of Mendoza, the Uco Valley is often hailed as the “next Napa valley” and welcomes an increasing number of visitors to the tasting rooms of its premium wineries, fine restaurants, art galleries and countless other pleasures of the ultimate wine country experience. Only 100 minutes by plane from Buenos Aires (with 11 flights per day), this is the perfect environment to relax and regenerate, the weather is mild, mountain-crisp, full of light and invigorating with an average of more than 300 days of sunshine a year. Every home site is positioned to take advantage of the stunning beauty of the surrounding vineyards and mountains, while maintaining privacy and tranquility.

Refuge in Carmel: Did Someone Say Endorphins?


Looks like a refuge to me!

The idea of plunging into a pool as cold as a glacial stream might sound more like a Fear Factor stunt than a means to relaxation, but it is, in fact, a crucial step in the thermal therapy process. A relaxation and healing ritual dating back to ancient cultures, thermal therapy in modern times is widely popular in Europe , seen as an alternative medical treatment. Now, thermal therapy is available in the United States with the opening of Refuge, the country’s first facility solely dedicated to thermal therapy.


Set among twisted oak trees and rolling hills, Refuge is an ideal setting for a one-of-a-kind thermal therapy center. The facility boasts ten mineral pools at varying temperatures (cool, cold, warm and hot). Rock and waterfall features surround each pool, adding to the ambience. Thermal therapy takes advantages of the body’s reactions to hot and cold temperatures and affects the body by stimulating the nerves in the surface of the skin. The nerves, in turn, carry the impulses deep inside the body where they have multiple effects including stimulating the immune system, circulation, digestion, hormone production, reducing pain and reducing stress. The feeling people have after thermal therapy as experienced at Refuge is likened to a “runners high” and the Bikram Yoga afterglow.


This special sanctuary, located in Carmel, California, has only been open for two months and is already the number three thing to do in Carmel according to (Visiting Point Lobos and Carmel Beach are #1 & 2, respectively). It’s received all “Excellent” ratings on TripAdvisor as of January 24, 2012, and of the 997 visits to Refuge before Christmas, 992 ranked their experience a 9 or 10 out of 10.


Guests at Refuge follow a simple method of heat up, cool down and relax. The process begins by heating up the body in the eucalyptus steam room or the grand Finnish cedar sauna, the largest sauna in the United States , which fits over 50 people. After 10 minutes of intense heat, guests step into one of the chilly Nordic waterfall pools, cooled to Pacific Ocean and Icy Stream temperatures. The dramatic change in temperature expands circulation and then contracts blood back to vital organs, stimulating the release of endorphins.


Did someone say, “Endorphins?”


We’re in!

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