Archive for December, 2013

Escape to La Paz!

Does that look like peace enough to you?

Does that look like peace enough to you?

La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico means ‘Peace’ and we must admit, La Paz has the upper hand when it comes to “off-the-beaten path” activities. We’ve been there and can attest to that. From swimming with sea lions to sipping champagne, there’s no shortage of R&R or adventure.

Hidden away on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula approximately 135 miles north of Cabo San Lucas on the Sea of Cortez, the city is a gateway to one of the world’s most unique and bountiful ecosystems, declared a World Heritage Site and dubbed by French marine biologist Jacques Cousteau ‘the aquarium of the world’.

Exploring the aquarium of the world

Exploring the aquarium of the world

The city’s rich cultural history, striking natural wonders, white sand beaches, turquoise waters and world-class sports fishing have made it a magnet for romantics seeking a secluded getaway, outdoor enthusiasts looking for adventure and families in search of a kid-friendly place to explore. Outside selected La Paz as best weekend escape of 2013 and Beautiful Bride as one of the top six honeymoon destinations for San Diegans. Direct flights are available from Los Angeles on Aeromexico, while a new four-lane highway makes the drive from Cabo San Lucas only 90 minutes.

A little whale watching up close for the adventurer in you...

A little whale watching up close for the adventurer in you…

For The Adventurer

Adventure is a big draw for experiential travelers who look to connect with the essence of their destination. The waters surrounding La Paz have one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems whose exceptional number of fish species-891, 90 of them endemic-has earned the area a World Heritage Site distinction.

Visitors can dive deep into the culture and right into El Bajo, a popular dive site known for schooling hammerheads, amber jacks, tuna, and giant Pacific mantas; or explore Espiritu Santo, a UNESCO protected gem that boasts approximately 23,800 acres of untouched ecosystems.

From mid December to late March visitors can experience the migration of gray whales, which swim approximately 5,000 miles from the Artic and North Atlantic to mate or give birth in the shallow lagoons of Magdalena Bay-approximately two and a half hours from La Paz.  For adrenaline junkies looking for some action, a whale shark encounter is the perfect end to a dive trip. These gentle filter feeding giants, weighing in at 79,000 pounds, are the largest fish in the world and can sometimes surpass 40 feet in length.

Approximately 45 minutes south of the city, travelers can visit a 124-acre cactus sanctuary dedicated to the conservation of the dozen species native endemic to Baja Sur region.  North of the city, trails lead hikers to secluded and pristine beaches, showcasing one of the most impressive sights in La Paz-the juxtaposition of the sea and desert.

The Malecon

The Malecon

For Families

If you are traveling with kids, Los Islotes, a colony of approximately 500 Californian brown sea lions, is a must-see. The playful pups are a fun and special treat for snorkelers and even the most seasoned divers.

La Paz is home to miles of virgin coastline, with dozens of white-sand beaches whose calm, crystalline waters are perfect for kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding and swimming. El Tesoro, a bay beach surrounded by mountains, is the perfect beach for kids as it boasts calm and shallow waters, and also features a small playground and restaurant. Coromuel, the first beach on La Paz’s scenic road, is where many families spend their weekends. The beach, lined with palapas (tiki huts), offers Jet Skis for rent and a variety of equipment for water sports.

Balandra, La Paz’s most famous beach, is the ultimate place for relaxation and known worldwide for its spectacular views of white-sand mountains and the bright blue sea. Balandra’s waters are so shallow and calm bathers can walk to the other side of the bay. Balandra is also home to El Hongo, La Paz’s signature mushroom-shaped rock formation.

The century old buildings and bustling boardwalk with ice cream stands, also offer a nice cultural component to any family vacation. The Regional Anthropology and History Museum located in the heart of the city displays an interesting collection of fossils and cave paintings that give insight to the daily lives of the town’s first dwellers.

Fresh ceviche at Azul Marino

Fresh ceviche at Azul Marino

For The Foodie

For those who live to eat, La Paz has a number of restaurants ready to satisfy the even the most discerning palates.

Stroll down the Malecon (boardwalk) to find an array of colorful choices. For starters there is El Bismarkcito, a local favorite popular for its fish dipping sauce, and shrimp tacos. A block away from the boardwalk, travelers can spot the fisherman delivering his catch of the day to El Empanada, a friendly spot famous for its chocolatas, or chocolate clams, a delicacy harvested from the waters of the Sea of Cortez whose peculiar name stems from their brown-colored shells.

Local chefs like Cristina Kiewek, from CostaBaja Resort and Spa’s resort award-winning restaurant Azul Marino, have created menus based off traditional Mexican recipes with an added global flare.

Kiewek’s newest venture, Nim, situated in downtown La Paz, has been well-received since it’s opening in in October. Built on an old historic home with large open spaces and ample natural light, the restaurant boasts a variety of international plates such as New Orleans style oysters, Vietnamese pho, Mediterranean Carpaccio, Moroccan lamb and traditional crowd-pleasers like guacamole and Mexican sopes (hand-made, thick corn tortillas with meat toppings).

Nim’s sister restaurant Azul Marino offers its guests a gourmet atmosphere, and the best Asian-fusion in town (think melt-in-your-mouth summer rolls and yellowtail tartare with hints of ginger!).

Fresh fish at Luna Bruja (c) Baja.com

Fresh fish at Luna Bruja (c) Baja.com

Pichilingue, a five-minute drive from El Tesoro, is home to two famous seafood restaurants, Restaurant Playa Pichilingue and Luna Bruja Restaurant. Its shallow, calm waters are perfect for kayaking and paddleboarding, a great way to feel less guilty after indulging in all of La Paz’s delicacies.

Great. Now I want to go back all over again!

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A Little Romance in Monterey, California

A room at The Portola Hotel & Spa

A room at The Portola Hotel & Spa

We love Monterey, California. Maybe it’s all those seals and seagulls. Maybe it’s the sleepy, peaceful craggy coast surroundings that make us want to have a lazy mimosa brunch, sip a warm tea, eat salt water taffy, and hit up the Aquarium. In short, when we’re on the Northern California coast, it’s a clear must visit. There’s just something special in the air.

So, when The Portola Hotel & Spa, told us they were introducing a Romance Package just in time for Valentine’s Day, we wanted to spread the word. As one of the Central Coast’s most romantic destinations, the Portola Hotel & Spa has designed the perfect overnight package for that special getaway. Pop open your complimentary bottle of bubbly paired with gourmet chocolate covered strawberries and let your vacation begin.

The Spa on the Plaza at the Portola Hotel & Spa

The Spa on the Plaza at the Portola Hotel & Spa

Wake up and enjoy the European-style breakfast buffet at Jacks Restaurant, paired with bottomless Mimosas. The fresh coastal air and breathtaking views help set the scene for a weekend not soon to be forgotten. As Monterey’s first and only Silver LEED® EB certified hotel and AAA Four Diamond Rating, the hotel brings travelers a rich, historical ambiance, with 379 nautically inspired guest rooms and suites, ranging from 400 to 1,000 square feet.

champagne

Champers, anyone?

Inspired by the Monterey Peninsula’s landscape and nautical heritage, all rooms feature elegant wood furnishings, large bathrooms, white shuttered windows. Many guest rooms offer private balconies with ocean, garden terrace or pool views. Also home to Jacks Restaurant and Lounge and Peter B’s Brewpub, the Monterey Peninsula’s first craft brewery. Bottom’s up! In addition, overnight guests have access to the hotel’s spa and fitness facilities, complete with steam room, sauna, outdoor pool and Jacuzzi. The newly renovated 6,000-square-foot Spa on the Plaza

The Romance Package includes:

• Guest room

• A warm, homemade chocolate chip cookie upon check-in

• Complimentary bottle of champagne & gourmet chocolate covered strawberries

• Breakfast buffet for two at Jacks Restaurant with bottomless Mimosas

• Heated pool, Jacuzzi & poolside cabanas

Looking for a little more romance? Add a couples Renewal Massage for two at their Spa On the Plaza for an additional $90.00 per person

Book & Stay Dates January 7, 2014 to March 31, 2014

Starting at $339/night

Some restrictions may apply.

http://www.portolahotel.com/

Neal’s Yard Remedies: Eco-Friendly Christmas Gifts

Neal's Yard Covent Garden

Neal’s Yard Covent Garden

When I lived in dear old Blighty there were a few things that captured my heart;  the amazing department store/grocery, Selfridge’s, a little organic Mexican restaurant called Wachaca, Borough Market, a fabulous outdoor market where you can get some of the tastiest oysters around, and an almost hidden, vibrantly colored street with an organic shop called Neal’s Yard Remedies.

So, imagine my joy when a friend of mine, Suzanne Burke, started selling their products stateside! That’s right. Neal’s Yard Remedies, one of the first certified organic beauty producers around, is available in the US for you to order easily online. There’s really something for everyone; from lotions, face washes, moisturizers, and candles to organic make-up and aromatherapy treatments.

Just a few of my favorite things...

Just a few of my favorite things…

As their website explains, “The skin is the body’s largest organ… and it’s been well documented that what you put on your skin ends up in your body (just think of nicotine patches). Over the last 50 years, tens of thousands of new chemicals have been developed, most of which have never been properly tested on humans… Surely it can be no coincidence that over the same time period, the incidences of illness such as eczema, allergies and even cancers have greatly increased.”

So why risk it and why not smell and look amazing in the process by giving the gift of organic beauty this holiday season?

Here are some of my top picks:

Organic Body Gift Set

Ginger & Vanilla Organic Body Collection Gift Set

Ginger and Vanilla Organic Body Collection Gift Set

Pamper with a warming shower and body lotion duo infused with exotic aromatic spices. Golden organic Sri Lankan ginger combines with the velvety sweetness of organic Madagascan Bourbon vanilla. Evoking the sensual, sun-soaked heat of the tropics, the organic aromatic spice blend brings warming comfort — relaxing mind and body for ultimate indulgence.

Contents:
Ginger & Vanilla Shower Gel 200ml
Ginger & Vanilla Body Lotion 100m

Retails: $32.00
Mother & Baby Gift Box

Mother & Baby Gift Box

Mother & Baby Gift Box

This selection of luxurious organic skin balms (I love the Mother’s Balm. It feels grainy, but smells like honey and goes on smooth to soften and nourish like nothing else I’ve tried). Also included: massage oil, baby oil, and bath wash/shampoo. Pure, natural, and safe to use during pregnancy, after pregnancy, and on baby’s delicate skin.

Contents:

  • Baby Balm 15g
  • Mothers Balm 50g
  • Pure Baby Oil 50 ml
  • Mothers Massage Oil 50ml
  • Baby Bath & Shampoo 100ml
  • Mothers Bath Oil 100ml
  • Organic Cotton Flannel

Retails: $80.00

Frankenscene Intense

Frankincense Intense

Frankincense Intense
This rich and intensely moisturizing cream is a clinically proven age-defence for all skin types. Powered by plant stem cells from Gardenia and a peptide complex, it has been shown to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, firm, tone, boost skin’s suppleness and instantly hydrate. It may seem thick for those with oily skin, but I have combination skin and, because the ingredients are so high quality, there were no clogged pores or break-outs. Simply amazing!
Retails: $90.00
These are just a few of my favorite things, but their make-up line is also stellar and their aromatherapy treatments = divine. You can even create your own. Suzanne knows the line inside and out, so feel free to reach out to her for recommendations and to purchase here:

Embracing the Outdoors This Winter

Someone has a taste for snow

Someone has a taste for snow

Even in winter, national wildlife refuges hold infinite pleasures and surprises for nature lovers. Ducks and geese in profusion, a furtive red fox darting past, animal prints stamped clearly in the ground, the creaking of trees in the cold. So, we thought, what better way to flex your eco-adventuring muscles than to try exploring some trails by snowshoe or take a wildlife tour … on a horse-drawn sleigh. Whatever your mode of transportation, national wildlife refuges will make the outing unique (not to mention visually inspiring).

So, warm up at one of a host of special National Wildlife Refuge events – from wreath-making workshops to wildlife presentations – and make the most of this time of year.

Winter Photography Lecture and Hike
Saturday, January 4, 9:30 a.m. to noon — Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, MN
Taking photos in winter can be a challenge. Learn how to set your camera to keep skin tones true and the snow from looking dingy grey. The lecture will also cover shooting techniques, shooting locations and how to stay warm and protect your gear. Bring any type of camera and warm winter clothing.

Winter Bird Count for Kids
Saturday, January 4, 8 a.m. to noon — John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA
Young Birders in its 4th annual event for kids. The event will include presentations, an introduction to eBird, and a tally rally with hot pizza and beverages.

Game Day Sunday
Sundays, January 5 and 19, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, CO
Enjoy fun, educational games for the whole family in the Discovery Room.  Try your skill at “Bird-opoly” or perhaps you might get “Caught in a Web” with insect trivia. No reservations are required. First-come, first-served. Games for ages 5+.

Bird Walk: Winter Waterfowl and Other Birds
Sunday, January 9, 9 a.m. to noon — John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA
Join a free, guided bird walk, featuring waterfowl, woodpeckers, sparrows, raptors and herons.  Bring binoculars or borrow them from the visitor center. No experience necessary.

All About Snakes
Saturday, January 11, 10 a.m. — Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, TX
Learn about snakes from an expert in this Second Saturday nature program.

2nd Annual Festival of the Cranes  
Saturday, January 11, 8 a.m. — Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, AL
See thousands of wintering sandhill cranes as well as whooping cranes and white pelicans. Enjoy refuge tours, birding workshops, nature walks, live raptors and kids’ activities.

Marsh Bird Walk
Sundays, 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. — San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Explore native birds and raptors with a guided walk at Sweetwater Marsh. Meet at the Living Coast Discovery Center (LCDC) entrance. While the refuge is free to enter, this guided tour with LCDC docents requires LCDC admission ($14).

Second Saturday Nature Programs
Saturday, January 11 — Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, TX
Enjoy a free nature program about the snakes of north Texas. The program includes an indoor talk and a brief field trip on the refuge.

Photo Workshop
Saturday, January 11, 10 to 11 a.m. — Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, CO
Learn tips and tricks to great wildlife photography from visitor services staff. Get the inside track on the best locations for refuge photos during this auditorium program. After the program, take advantage of a special photo op.

Bird Walk
Sunday, January 12, 9 to 11 a.m. — Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge, CA
Take a free guided bird hike with Audubon Society walk leaders. Borrow binoculars; share the walk leader’s spotting scope. Bird walks usually cover a distance of about two miles. Beginners are welcome.

Wichita Mountains Eagle Watch    
January and February dates TBD, 1:30 to 4 p.m. — Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, OK
Enjoy an interpretive program at refuge headquarters, followed by a bus tour to search for bald and golden eagles. Children must be 8 or older. Wheelchair accommodations can be made by request. Reserve beginning December 31:  580-429-2151. Bring binoculars if possible.

Snowshoe Clinic 
Saturday, January 18, 9 a.m. to noon — Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, MA
Join Sudbury Valley Trustees and Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) of Acton, Marlborough, and Northborough for a snowshoe clinic at Memorial Forest in Sudbury. EMS will provide snowshoes and instructions for those who need them. Space is limited. Sign up early.
SVT’s Memorial Forest includes the southern unit of Assabet River Refuge. Register here.

Wildlife Viewing Tours
Saturday, January 18 to Sunday, January 19, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. — Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, CO
Let a naturalist be your guide for this family-friendly bus tour. See bison, hawks, eagles, deer and more in a winter landscape.

Bird Watching Trek
Monday, January 20, 8 to 10 a.m. — Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, MN
The Wilkie Unit is a great place to see winter birds. Trumpeter swans, sucks, rough-legged hawks, bald eagles, and northern shrikes have overwintered here in the past. Bring your binoculars and favorite field guide.

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival 
January 22 –27, Eastern Florida State College, Titusville, FL
The 17th annual event is billed as the largest birding and wildlife festival in the United States. . Festival includes field trips to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Eagle Watch    
On selected Saturdays in January. Dates TBD, 9 a.m. — Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, OK
After an orientation at the refuge office, take a guided bus tour to see nests through scopes. Contact: 918-773-5271.

Conquering Connecticut – Fairfield County at It’s Best

This week, Eco-Adventurer Contributor, Maryann Scaccia, previously Vice President of KB Network News, now mother to two awesome boys and contributor to Eco-Adventurer and Jaunt Magazine, takes us to Connecticut to show our curious readers her secret tips for families traveling through Connecticut’s bucolic Fairfield County.

Rowayton, Connecticut

Rowayton, Connecticut

Connecticut typically conjures up images of exclusive country clubs, candy colored polo shirts and weathered old barns, but the Nutmeg State has so much more to offer – especially for families in search of some good old-fashioned fun in Fairfield County.

So whether you’ve got a week or a weekend, here’s your guide on where to go:

Sellecks-Woods

Sellecks Woods

Sellecks Woods

If you like skimming stones on a pristine lake, foraging mushrooms and watching woodpeckers (and who doesn’t) then Selleck’s Woods in Darien is the ideal place to get lost for a couple of hours.  Visitors to this nature preserve would never guess they are just a stone’s throw off of one of the busiest sections of the I-95. The roar of road trippers, truckers and commuters is muted by the densely wooded surroundings and the numerous pathways, ponds, marshes, and streams within this sanctuary provide the ideal setting for a morning of quiet introspection or a journey of discovery and wonder. Songbirds, waterfowl, butterflies, turtles, raccoons, and chipmunks are constant company, while chairs carved from fallen trees can be found scattered throughout the landscape.

Sheffield Island & Lighthouse

It would be remiss to visit Connecticut without touring a lighthouse and the Sheffield Island Lighthouse won’t disappoint.   Activated in 1868, the lighthouse was in service for 34 years and today is maintained by a group of dedicated volunteers.  The cruise to the lighthouse is nearly as informative as the tour itself and a spectacular way to take in an alternate perspective of the coastline and the outlying islands.

Rowayton Seafood

Rowayton Seafood

Rowayton 

Imagine stepping back in time a few decades to and you just might land in Rowayton.  Situated along the shores of the Long Island Sound and the Five Mile River, Rowayton is as an authentic fishing village filled with salty seafarers and a charming main drag where characters young and old swap stories in the street.

Start your day at with an invigorating kayaking adventure down the river, where you’ll get a bird’s eye view of a multitude of magazine worthy waterfront homes all the while exploring seldom seen inlets, rocky shorelines and dramatic vistas.

Once you’ve worked up a hearty appetite, head to Rowayton Seafood, where locals congregate for frosty pints and authentic seafood while taking in gorgeous views.  If a quick meal is what you’re after soft shell crab sandwiches and lobster rolls are made to order at the riverfront seafood market just outside the restaurant.

 

Greenwich Point

Greenwich Point

Greenwich Point

Greenwich Point is hands down one of the more beautiful recreational areas in Fairfield County –thousands of visitors each year come to enjoy the sprawling sandy beaches, grass covered dunes and numerous walking trails that wind along the coastline and through marshes, groves and gardens.   With 147 acres to explore, it wouldn’t be wrong to plan for an entire afternoon here.  There are plenty of things to do, including jogging, walking, cycling, boating, fishing, sailboarding, sun bathing, and swimming– or you could just pack up a picnic and head to a shorefront table on the peninsula’s southwestern tip to squint at the Manhattan skyline across the water.

Silverman's Farm

Silverman’s Farm

Silverman’s Farm

From late August through October it’s crunch time in Fairfield County – for apple lovers anyway. Whether it’s Honey Crisp or Golden Delicious that takes your fancy, ‘tis the season to head to the orchard to pick your own and there really is no better place than Silverman’s Farm in Easton, CT.  Founded in the 1920s, this is one of the oldest operating farms in the area and an all around wholesome day out, complete with tractor rides, a petting zoo and of course a plentitude of apples.

Maryann Scaccia - Contributor

Maryann Scaccia – Contributor

New England is an abundance of little known treasures and one of the best ways to really discover the heart of this locale is to hit the road.  Who knows,  a white crane may proudly glance up at you just so, a flock of turkeys may ramble across your path or you might just happen upon a couple of cute kids selling the best 25 cent lemonade you’ve ever sipped from a clear plastic cup.   Soak up your surroundings and maybe just maybe by the end of your visit you too will feel totally at ease in a candy colored polo shirt and a pair of boat shoes.

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