Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!  I know that I’m a little late with this week’s travel inspiration and I can give you all plenty of excuses but frankly I’ve just been enjoying my extra long weekend and spending some quality time with the hubs and the pooch.

So the holidays are officially upon us and nothing evokes the festive feelings than family and food.  What better way to strengthen family ties over the holidays than to take a trip together to a charming farm property where the whole family can partake in culinary activities while breathing in the fresh mountain air.  This week’s travel idea was inspired by Blackberry Farm, an intimate luxurious boutique property nestled in the western foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.  Although there is plenty to do on the property, it would be a shame to travel all the way to Eastern Tennessee without visiting the famous mountain ridge.

Featured Travel Idea: Great Smoky Mountains

 top: blackberry farm, blackberry dining, heritage center

middle: blackberry farm, smoky sunset, fly-fishing, pumpkins

bottom: hill cottages, cades cove, sheep, market square

Book a stay at Blackberry Farm during one of their culinary events, like the Delicious Decadence event on December 4-7th and watch a cooking demonstration by the famous pastry chef, Francois Payard.  Even if you can’t make it to one of their events, you can still participate in various culinary activities like their “A Day in the Life of a Chef”.  Or you can get down to the basics and help out around the farm, learn all about gardening from the master gardener, or spend some time with the shepherds.  The whole family will enjoy seeing how the food they eat is grown, harvested and prepared.  All this emphasis on farm-to-table and artisanal preparation means that dining at Blackberry Farm is nothing short of fantastic so make sure you savor the exceptional cuisine there.

Venture out of the property by hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Walk on part of the historic Appalachian Trail or bike in Cades Cove, a historic settlement from the 1800s that is open for exploration.  Try your hand at fly-fishing at one of the numerous trout streams.  You can take a beginner’s class at the Little River Outfitters or book a wading trip with R & R Fly Fishing.  When you need to take a break from all the outdoor activities, visit the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center.  Both kids and adults will enjoy learning about Native American life through interactive exhibits and detailed displays.  Finally, head to nearby Knoxville and stroll through Market Square, taking in the historic buildings, shops, and festivals.

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This week’s travel idea was inspired by the recent NYC marathon.  Watching it on TV reminded me of when I ran the race a few years ago.  Back then I was pretty active in signing up for races all over the city.  While it was great challenging myself physically, what I loved most about those races was the ability to go places I’ve never been before.  The NYC marathon winds through all five boroughs and took me through neighborhoods that I never even knew about.  I think that for those who love to run, a marathon-cation is truly an epic way to experience a city.  There are numerous marathons that give you an up-close-and-personal experience of the location, like the Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Disney World (!) marathons.  But I’m sure that one of the most scenic would be the Big Sur Marathon that happens in the Spring.  While the marathon is already full, there are numerous smaller races that you can still sign up for.  What could be more wonderful than spending half a day running along the beautiful Pacific Coastline and then spending the rest of the weekend wining and dining in nearby Carmel?

Featured Travel Idea: Carmel-by-the-Sea

 top: chateau julien, la bicyclette, carmel mission

middle: l’auberge carmel, big sur marathon, mission ranch

bottom: carmel beach, point lobos state reserve, downtown carmel

First off, book a stay at the L’Auberge Carmel, a beautiful boutique hotel that looks like it was plucked straight from the French countryside.  As luck would have it, Voyage Prive is having a flash sale on the hotel in a few days so you may score a great deal!  The race is on Sunday so you may want to take it easy before then.  Go for a leisurely walk on Carmel Beach, one of the most serene and scenic beaches on the Pacific Coast.  Then visit the Carmel Mission and stroll through the poppy gardens.  Or head to charming downtown Carmel where you can shop, eat, and browse art galleries.  You’ll want to fortify for the big race tomorrow so have a delicious dinner at Casanova or La Bicyclette, two restaurants that are known for great food and great atmosphere.  After the race, why not unwind with some wine tasting at Chateau Julien Wine Estate.  Travelzoo also happens to have a great deal that includes wine tasting for 2, a bottle of wine and appetizers, all for $25*.  Cap off the weekend with a visit to the historic Mission Ranch for dinner and music.  If you’re lucky, you may even see Clint Eastwood there.

*disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with these discount websites, I just enjoy spreading the word on good deals!

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Last week I heard on the radio that Charleston earned top honors in the 2011 Conde Nast Reader’s Choice Awards.  It was voted the #1 city to visit in the U.S., beating out San Francisco, which has held the top spot for several years running.  Now I may be biased since I now call San Francisco home, but I feel that this city is truly a wonderful city that has a diversity that can appeal to everyone.  I read that ultimately it came down to friendliness with Charleston snagging 90%  versus San Francisco’s 67%.  I guess I can see that travelers would prefer good old fashion Southern charm to our panhandling hippies!  Nonetheless, let’s see what else this city has to offer.

Featured Travel Idea: Charleston, SC

top: bacon cornbread, fried green tomatoes, pork trotters

middle: folly beach, audubon swamp garden, ravenel bridge

bottom: shrimp and grits, fried chicken, oatmeal cream pie

Charleston is one of the top culinary cities in the South.  With a plethora of award winning chefs, fresh ingredients, and a multitude of cultural influences, it’s likely you’d be eating your way out of this city.  Situated in the heart of Low Country, the city is known for fresh seafood like shrimp and oysters, and down home southern cuisine.  Have a craving for seafood? Eat at Pearlz Oyster Bar for what else, oysters or head to Bowen’s Island for their Frogmore Stew which has shrimp, corn on the cob, sausage, and potatoes.  Want to try Low Country cuisine? You can’t go wrong with Jestine’s Kitchen or Virginia’s on King.  If you could try only one southern dish (the horror!), then it must be shrimp and grits, and Hominy Grill’s the place for it.  Serious foodies will love the fresh, local ingredients featured at Husk and FIG.  Whew, with all that food, you’ll want to stay active for the rest of the trip.  Take a leisurely jog, yes I said jog, through historic downtown Charleston towards the water and end at White Point Gardens for a breather.  Oh, you want something less tiring? Take any number of self-guided walking tours, in particular try the Charleston Museum Mile tour for a little bit of culture, good scenery, and historic sites.  Or wander through the cobblestone streets South of Broad and admire the well preserved stately antebellum homes.  Visit the Magnolia Plantation for a glimpse into 19th century plantation life and nearby Audubon Swamp Gardens, the oldest public garden in America.  Go see the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge by bike and enjoy the terrific views at the top.  Finally, spend an afternoon at Folly Beach and kayak, paddle board, surf, or tan to your heart’s content.  Yeah…I’m still not sure whether Charleston deserves the top vote though, I guess I’ll have to visit 😉 !

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I heard Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours on the radio the other day and no matter how many times I hear it, it always manages to bring a smile to my face.  This song is just so wonderfully happy and calming that it brings back memories of my vacation in Kauai last year.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the hubs and I played this song every time we were on the beach!

Featured Travel Idea: Kauai, HI

top: treehouse, na pali kayak, pat’s taqueria

middle: hanalei beach, hanakapi’ai falls, monkseal

bottom: jo jo’s, waimea canyon, taro fields

Kauai, also known as the Garden Island is probably the lushest of all the Hawaiian Islands.  Rather than stay in a traditional hotel, why not stay at The Treehouse, a vacation rental located in between the North and South shore of the island, making it the perfect home base for exploring the whole island.  Although not really a treehouse (although that would be way cool!), it is a 2 bedroom stilt house with a wrap around Lanai and a tropical garden and lily pond, ensuring that you will experience the Hawaiian lifestyle as soon as you step foot on the property.

For the active travelers, make sure you go there between April and September so that you can kayak along the Na Pali coast, one of the most breathtaking coastlines in the world and best viewed from sea.  If that’s not enough of an adventure for you, hike the 11-mile Kalalau Trail (one-way), which follows the Na Pali coast and takes you to numerous waterfalls and beaches accessible only by foot.  The whole trail is strenuous, requires a permit, and most likely an overnight stay at Kalalau beach, but you will be rewarded with dramatic views and total seclusion.  For those desiring just a day hike, you can still hike 2 miles (no permit) on the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai beach and falls.  For a different vista, head south to Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.  While it is certainly grand, the lush landscape and colors make it maybe even more beautiful than the stateside canyon.  On your way back from Waimea, stop by the small town of Hanapepe for lunch at the Shrimp Station.  No visit to Hawaii would be complete without some shave ice so go to the Original Jo Jo’s Anueanue Shave Ice or the not so original but still good Jo Jo’s a few blocks away.

Of course you have to squeeze in a beach day.  Go North to the famous Hanalei Beach.  Have lunch in the little town center or better yet, stay on the beach and grab some delicious tacos at the taco truck, Pat’s Taqueria.  If you prefer the South, head to Poipu beach.  If you’re lucky, you may even see some Monk Seals on the beach!  For lunch, grab a Puka dog, Hawaii’s version of a hotdog, and then some ice cream from Lappert’s Hawaii.

Finally, for something a little bit more unique, take a Kauai Photo tour, or for the artistically inclined, a Kauai Paint for the Day tour.  The photo tour provides you with the opportunity to see Kauai through the eyes of a local photographer.  You can rent and learn how to use a DSLR, ask the photographer all sorts of questions, and visit scenic spots, like the taro fields and king kong mountain!  There’s numerous other activities available (helicopter tour, ziplining, river rafting) making Kauai the perfect vacation spot to do everything or nothing at all.  Can someone please go there now and take me with you?

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This week’s travel idea was inspired by a Newsflash email I received from Travelzoo recently.  The alert was for airfare from San Francisco to New Orleans for only $79 each way!  Unfortunately none of the dates fit into my travel plans (bummer 😦 ) so I couldn’t take advantage of the deal, but that doesn’t mean I can’t daydream about a future trip right?  I have always wanted to visit the Big Easy, Nawlins, NOLA, the Crescent City.  I mean, with that many nicknames, there must be a plethora of things to see and do.  While my main reason for visiting this famous city is to try the cuisine, I’m surprised to find out that there many unique things to do besides collecting beads and drinking on Bourbon Street (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).  In fact, while New Orleans is known as a great party city, there’s a certain romanticism to the city as well.

Featured Travel Idea: New Orleans, Louisiana

top: gumbo, oysters, crawfish, beignets

middle: jackson square, royal street, bienvillegarden district

bottom: bayou, plantation, jazz

Located in the heart of the French Quarter, stay at the Bienville House, a historical boutique hotel that feels more like an intimate B&B.  When you’re ready for some exploring, skip Bourbon Street and instead head one street over to Royal Street where you can find numerous antique shops, art galleries, and picturesque buildings.  Make sure to wander through the more residential streets and admire the stately homes.  Tour the wonderfully restored Gallier House for a glimpse into 19th century creole living.  When you’ve had enough walking, head over to Jackson Square and relax with a cup of coffee and some beignets at the famous Cafe du Monde.  If they’re as good as people claim them to be, you’ll want to go back every day for the remainder of your trip, which will probably be a good idea since you’ll the need the energy for all the activities!  For an up close and personal look at various creole neighborhoods, take a biking tour with the Confederacy of Cruisers.  If you’re interested in history, go on one of the numerous plantation tours located right outside New Orleans.  Or take a Bayou tour through the cypress swamps and encounter wildlife like turtles, snakes, and alligators!  In the evening, head to Frenchman Street for some live music, notably The Spotted Cat Music Club and Preservation Hall, although there are numerous other intimate jazz and blues lounges.  Are you tired yet? And this is just scratching the surface!  And of course no visit to New Orleans would be complete without trying the unique foods like gumbo, oysters prepared all different ways, po-boys, crawfish, and muffalettas.  Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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