Gal�pagos Giant Tortoise"This animal is over 125 years old, weighs 500 pounds, and is super slow, so be patient as it will take him several minutes to move past us,” says our naturalist guide. Like a good student, I stay still, Keens cemented to the dirt beneath them. Goosebumps rain down my arms and I feel each individual hair stand at attention. Everyone on the trail senses that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but thankfully not a fearful one. The prehistoric-looking shell slowly crawls by at a height equivalent to a dining room table, and in a way, it looks oddly like a very slow-moving, thick piece of furniture.  Poor-sighted, the Galápagos Giant Tortoise holds its head high on its outstretched neck, sniffing its surroundings. With awe-inspiring sightings like this one, you half expect a director in the background to shout, “Cue the dinosaurs!” as if on a Jurassic Park movie set.
Similar unusual wildlife experiences occur at every turn in the Galápagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in South America, which sit smack dab on the equator and three major tectonic plates. Considered a hot zone due to seismic and volcanic activity, the Galápagos consist of an ancient, volcanic archipelago spanning 17,000 square miles in the Pacific Ocean where three major ocean currents also converge. It became Ecuador’s first national park in 1959 and a marine reserve in 1986. Home to endemic species only seen here and on channels like National Geographic, these islands were born three million years ago, and many of their inhabitants look like it, too. As remote and primitive as one can get, being here feels like stepping back in time before humans ever existed.
The Galápagos Islands were left mostly undisturbed for millions of years until they were literally put on the map by naturalist Charles Darwin back in 1835 while sailing around the Americas on the HMS Beagle. They are an explorer’s dream where one can find a living museum of iconic animals like the giant land tortoise described above and the rest of the “Big 15”, including penguins, flamingoes, fur seals, sea lions, land and marine iguanas, and several species of birds. In total, there are 26 species of native birds, 14 of which are the Darwin finches living only on these islands. The finches are what spurred Darwin’s theory on natural selection and led to his famous book Origin of Species, written in 1859. Off land in the water, you will also find a variety of marine life, such as oversized green sea turtles, golden rays, and sharks. 
Like Darwin, the 170,000 tourists that visit the islands annually find the best way to see them is by small cruise ship or sailboat, spending up to 14 days in the hopes of seeing the "Big 15". While these well-preserved islands are teeming with marine and wildlife, they are thankfully carefully regulated so boats and tourists are at a minimum to preserve the park and its inhabitants. 
Our group chose the 48-passenger motor yacht called La Piñta for our six-night, seven-day exploration, visiting five out of the top 13 most popular islands. Our days were filled walking through wild animal habitats, snorkeling coral reefs, kayaking rocky shores scouting for playful fur seals and sea lions, and swimming off beaches of all colors including red, black, white, and olivine-crystal. Ecuadorian law requires all activities to be led by certified expert naturalists who carefully curate the experiences. And since Galápagos animals have no fear of humans and get quite curious around tourists, the question of who is studying who here comes to mind.
Our first stop on our journey to the large seahorse-shaped island of Isabela gave us the opportunity to see many of the "Big 15" including the flightless cormorant, the only existing marine bird in the world other than the penguin that at some point in its past changed from a flying bird to a diving bird to adapt to a new habitat. Over a million years old, six volcanoes, five of which are still active, created this island through eruptions, uplift, and erosion. While Isabela is on every Galápagos tour itinerary in order to witness the giant tortoises, its landscape of volcanoes that dramatically rise out of a lush yet rugged terrain of black lava is another reason for Isabela’s popularity. Although tourists are required to keep a six-foot distance from the animals, it is not uncommon to have an inquisitive mockingbird alight next to you or a Darwin Finch land on your shoulder. Living in harmony with other wild residents, the Darwin Finch is often seen grooming other animals of insects and regularly perches on the vibrantly colored land iguana. While Isabela’s rocky shores are populated with Galápagos penguins, Nazca boobies, marine iguanas, and sea lions, its waters are filled with thousands of green sea turtles and rainbow-colored parrotfish.
Second on our itinerary was the island of Fernandina, one of the most active volcanic islands and the youngest at just one million years old. White sand, black lava, and mangroves make up the interesting topography and allow for an easy walk among teams of friendly (and lazy) sea lions lining its beaches, many of them pups, as well as colorful red Sally Lightfoot crabs. Our group witnessed a singular National Geographic moment as a stunning juvenile Galápagos hawk, just thirty feet away from where a sea lion pup was posing for photographs, flaunted her keen ability to swoop down and capture her iguana lunch with her long, sharp talons. Just off the beach, we could watch hundreds of marine iguanas at work diving from their warm black lava beds into the ocean to feed on aquatic plant life and then swim back to shore, often climbing over a sea lion or two to get back home.
One of my favorite islands on our tour was the tiny Red Island, officially named Rábida. This island is a land of contrasts with its red sand beaches created by iron-rich lava flows juxtaposed against vibrant green topography. This is nesting territory for the beloved blue-footed booby, identifiable by their big blue feet which stand out like beacons against their beautiful grey and white feathers. In addition, the first-class snorkeling found here is spectacular as you swim along a red ocean floor enhanced by clear blue waters among curious sea lions and gorgeous tropical fish. 
A visit to the island of Santa Cruz offers an important historical tour of the Charles Darwin Research Station as well as a conservation and tortoise breeding center. The final island on our journey was Floreana, famous for its historical Post Office Bay. The story of this site dates back to 1793 when a group of whalers put a wooden barrel on the beach and aptly named it The Post Office. Those traveling by the island would routinely stop at the “post office” to drop and pick up mail for delivery that might be marked with destinations along their route. This post office barrel is still in use today as island visitors drop and pick up mail regularly. Further adding to Floreana’s interest, the Devil’s Crown is a volcanic crater that serves as an excellent snorkeling site filled with king angel Fish, balloon fish, hawkfish, yellowtail Grunts, tiger snake eels, gentle black-and-white-tipped sharks, eagle rays, various wrasses, and sea turtles.
While the Galápagos attract nature lovers and followers of Darwin, the experience is rewarding for active people of all ages and interests. Year-round daytime temperatures average 72 degrees making it easy to travel any time of the year. The Islands’ depth of flora and fauna is overwhelming, but photos and travel journals help to keep the day-to-day discoveries mindfully collected and provide for a lifetime of memories. Above all, a visit here will deepen your perspective of life on Earth and the theory of evolution. To learn more before you go, seek out the numerous documentaries on Netflix, the BBC, and YouTube. •




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Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta is a magical place where people escape from the mundane to revive their souls and gain a fresh outlook on life. 

Year after year, the Ranch is voted a top spa destination by both Condé Nast Traveler and Travel and Leisure magazines. As for what sets the Ranch apart from other spas and resorts, it’s difficult to narrow down just one thing … as it is, according to one guest, “something that must be experienced to be explained.” 
     “We provide the true luxury of time and space,” says founder Deborah Szekely, “that which is most lacking in today’s life. Space to breathe freely, to relax and enjoy what will be ‘the longer-living, younger life.’” This unique element at the Ranch, along with its unparalleled staff, vast amenities and healing environment, is what keeps the Ranch’s guests coming back. 
     Often touted as the original “fitness resort” and spa, the fitness program is truly unmatched. Presided over by a staff of more than 20 full-time instructors in-residence, the daily offerings include everything from pilates, cardio-cycling, volleyball, weight training, and most of the expected fitness classes, as well as guided hikes, Feldenkrais, Qi Gong, NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action), meditation, and many more. Additionally, the Ranch offers world-renowned cuisine prepared from organic gardens, sublime spa treatments, and plenty of opportunities to recharge your mind and spirit.

The Philosophy
Family-owned and operated, the Ranch has provided guests with unparalleled luxury amidst a natural, environmentally-sound setting for nearly 80 years. Founders Edmond and Deborah Szekely started the ranch as a sort of “health camp” where people paid $17.50 to pitch a tent and bathe in the year-round near-perfect climate while learning to live a more holistic life—all without any electricity or running water. And nowadays, as it was from their opening day in June 1940, guest comfort is the staff’s first priority, and they continue to ensure that while taking care of individual needs, it’s done so in a safe, eco-friendly manner that reduces the spa’s environmental impact.
     But the approach to sustainability at the Ranch goes further than the basics, such as simply using refillable water bottles or chemical-free cleaners, as they’ve incorporated technology and installed composting toilets among other things.
     The Ranch’s motto, siempre mejor, means “always better,” and Deborah Szekely believes it also means “always changing;” a philosophy the Ranch reflects from the ground up. 

The Program
Typically, guests come to the Ranch for a Saturday to Saturday stay, but shorter stays are available. Throughout the year, there are specialty-themed weeks like family week, chamber music week, detox and cleansing week, yoga week, and more, including educational workshops and executive wellness programs. During the week, there can be up to five different classes at one hour, so there’s truly something for everyone, all day long, and many are sequential in developing a student’s expertise, assuring guests become stronger and more skilled in several disciplines by the end of the week. A typical day could include:
6 a.m. Meet in the main lounge for one of many hikes which can range from two to seven miles, then head to the dining hall for breakfast. 
9 a.m. to noon Take a class or two or three: pilates, tennis, H2O, yarn painting, volleyball, sound healing, postural therapy, or TRX before stopping for lunch. 
1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Take a few more classes—perhaps one on cooking, meditation, drumming, or join a scheduled discussion on mastering your metabolism, brush up on your Spanish skills, or maybe lay by the pool and nap.
5:30 p.m. Enjoy dinner and conversations with fellow Ranchers, then, if you’re not too tired, watch a movie, learn the art of self-hypnotic techniques, or relax in one of the many lounges with a book.

The Grounds
Nestled under the watchful eye of Mt. Kuchumma, Rancho La Puerta offers 4,000 acres of peaceful tranquility, including hiking trails, an organic farm, 32 acres of gardens, several pools, an exquisite spa, state-of-the-art fitness facilities, a salon, dining hall, an intimate library and more. Throughout the Ranch, you’ll find colorful Mexican folk art along with sculptures, paintings, and outdoor areas designed for rest and personal reflection. Take at least one of the morning hikes as the sunrise is unlike anything you have ever seen. Some are more advanced than others, but the Ranch has guides for those who want to fly up the mountainside as well as for those who want to take a more laid back, leisurely stroll. Be sure to pack some warmer clothes you can layer as mornings can prove chilly. 

The Food
Mealtimes at the ranch are community-centered and designed to bring people together. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style and offered during a generous window of time so you can come and go as you please. A sit-down dinner is served at a set time each night and guests are encouraged to meet new people by joining different tables. The cuisine is semi-vegetarian, featuring an abundance of organic fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the freshest-of-the-fresh seafood from the port of Ensenada, Baja California, is brought in daily, allowing Ranch chefs to prepare spectacular seafood dishes five times a week. Many recipe ingredients come fresh-picked, only-hours-old from the Tres Estrellas organic garden, a six-acre working farm located north of the main Ranch area. •


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South Pacific Escape

Royal Davui

Welcomed by stringed instruments, Fijian lyrics, and bright smiles, you immediately feel the tropical embrace of Royal Davui. The private island resort located in the Beqa Lagoon is a sanctuary of lush land and seascapes bottled into a curated rendezvous that allows time to disappear and invigorates your human experience. 
Sipping morning coffee in the warm splash pool overlooking a spectacle of blue water begins each day. Each villa inspires a no-technology zone, with an open-air deck, inviting sun or shaded lounge chairs, and a tub for two—perfect for stargazing with the one you love. 
The perfectly transparent turquoise waters offer some of the best snorkeling in the world. Filled with live coral and breathtakingly beautiful fish species, the scenery mesmerizes guests. Low-tide paddleboarding or kayak jaunts will allow a view from above where deep blue starfish can’t escape your eye. Raise a flag poolside for your cocktail of choice to be delivered, or indulge in the refreshing aromas and inviting touch of the spa. 
The staff brings the resort to life; with only sixteen villas on the island, they all know your name and share their culture, allowing you to feel a part of something much bigger than yourself. The connection with others, yourself, and nature is the most special part of this Fijian escape from the everyday world. 
Each morning over breakfast, choose your lunch and dinner menu over the sound of crashing waves and the aroma of fresh flowers under the leaves of a one-hundred-year-old banyan tree. Culinary delights from the island chef include tuna cones with fresh wasabi, cucumber, and ginger or an incredible tuna caesar salad. Enjoy fried cassava root (a healthy alternative to french fries) and the catch of the day. Sweet offerings at the end of lunch and dinner are delightful with an innovative island twist. I was fond of the ice cream affogato drizzled with chocolate and dipped in espresso and coconut vodka. The detox smoothie offers a restorative zing with its mint and fresh ginger, while the spice of the kava-infused vodka bloody mary is a staple at 8 o'clock each morning. 
Don’t miss the kava experience with the locals. If you are lucky enough to be anointed Ratu (chief), the drinking of kava and singing could go on for hours. Kava root is harvested when it is around three years old. It is cured and ground into a fine powder that is diffused into room-temperature water and used in social gatherings in local villages. Travelers beware, it is a little more powerful than the average alcohol drink. 
Hermit crab racing will have you in deep anticipation to see if your chosen one will cross the line first, and cocktail hour is always a great time to converse with other guests from across the globe and the bartenders are always good for storytelling. 
We were fortunate enough to watch humpback whales and dolphins show off from the deck of our villa as we gazed at the edge of the horizon, watching the sun take its final bow as it kissed the sealine. The little moments of smiles and connection were truly life-changing, inspiring new ideas and mottos to live by. Your stay at Royal Davui allows you to relax, unwind, and tap into what matters most. 

/ Picnic on the sand cay. Exposed for only a few hours of the day, this stretch of sand, about the size of a football field, provides an afternoon you will never forget. At the edge of Beqa’s lagoon water break, you are surrounded by hues of blue from both the water and horizon—becoming your backdrop for a private picnic lunch for two. Land crabs play hide-and-seek, and fish leisurely swim by as you and your loved one spend a couple of hours on a deserted island. 

/ World War II Hike. Many people may not realize the history of Fiji during World War II. The island-hopping campaign brought 10,000 U.S. Marines on the ground in Fiji to look out for warships coming through the sea passage. A ten-minute boat ride across the waters from Royal Davui is a small village of approximately one hundred, where local guides will take you up a mountain to one of those lookout points. The hike is not for the faint of heart, yet the view is stunning. This was one of our favorite activities, as we were able to shake the hands of children at school, and see the villagers' lifestyles.

/ Day Trip to Suva. Pass villages and visit roadside makeshift stands to buy local fruits and vegetables, freshly caught fish, and straight-from-the-tree coconut water as you make the forty-five-minute drive to the capital city of Suva. The city is bustling with shops, parks, markets, and people. Its main port receives approximately 150 cruise ships a year and offers a perspective on city versus village living. Find souvenirs or try local fare, yet the must-see is the market. Filled with an endless selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, it rivals Pike’s Place in Seattle and the renowned spice markets of Mérida, Mexico. Its cleanliness and fresh pineapple will linger in my mind forever.

/ Deep Sea Fishing. If the urge bites you, take a local charter to the east side of the reef to challenge yourself with a mahi-mahi, marlin, skipjack, or a myriad of other fish. Guides will be happy to strap you in and help you reel in the big one. When you land your prized fish, snap a photo and then enjoy it on your dinner plate. If your sea legs are a little weak, be sure to pack a patch or Dramamine to get you through. 

How to Get Here:

From the States, take the direct Air Fiji flight from Los Angeles Airport (LAX) to Nadi International Airport on the mainland in Fiji. From here there are a few options. One, take a helicopter directly from the Domestic Terminal to Royal Davui Island. It is the fastest and most exhilarating way to get there. Second, have breakfast in the terminal, enjoy a Fiji Bitter at the domestic terminal, and wait for your small plane to take you to the airstrip where you will taxi to a dock and board the 30-minute boat ride to Royal Davui. Third, take a three-hour scenic drive from Nadi to the boat dock and cruise over to the island for your Royal Davui welcome greeting. 


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A River Tour of Northern Italy

Northern Italy River

Uniworld's river cruise "Gems of Little Italy" did not disappoint. The tantalizing itinerary promised a little bit of everything: big-city excitement, art history, charming villages, extraordinary wine, and unending culinary adventures. 
We arrived, jet-lagged, early one morning at Milan Malpensa International Airport, but a quick nap at the city’s Starhotels Rosa Grand was all that was needed to incite curiosity about our new location. Milan is tremendously walkable, and we took meandered, delighted to be within a stone’s throw of Duomo Square, elegant shopping, and endless restaurants. Ten thousand steps or so later (according to one traveler’s Fitbit) we decided on an outdoor table at a cafe near the hotel and collapsed into chairs at about 6:30 p.m. Mind you, it was somewhere in the wee hours our time, but we had inadvertently labeled ourselves hopeless Americans. After several minutes, the proprietor ambled out of the back of the restaurant where he and his staff were enjoying their dinner before the official opening of the restaurant which would not come for some time. He took pity on us, however, and poured a round of Prosecco for us to enjoy while he finished his own supper.   We were finishing up our meal when the first locals arrived. Takeaways from the excellent dinner: proper dinnertime is closer to 8 p.m. and Italians never (never!) sprinkle Parmesan cheese on fish dishes, something I was told in no uncertain terms when I requested some for spaghetti and clam sauce.
The next day began with a special tour of il Duomo, the fifth largest Christian church in the world which took 600 years to build. Not surprising, when one considers the mind-boggling details contained within its walls.  For example, a  minute opening high up in the ceiling is perfectly engineered to allow a tiny beam of light in each day to produce a line on the marble floor that traces the winter and summer solstices.
The scale of Duomo is otherworldly—the cathedral seats 40,000—and was a breathtaking preamble to our visit to the nearby small church where da Vinci’s renowned Last Supper is displayed in a setting that is both intimate and accessible. The refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the 15th-century masterpiece is housed, was appropriately hushed on the day we visited, as we absorbed the guide’s insightful interpretation of the painting’s depiction of the 12 apostles with Jesus and the meanings behind their positioning and expression.
Dinner that evening found us in the historic Biffi Ristorante, located in the famed Galleria, an emporium of designer shops. We opted for a table outside the restaurant, which facilitated world-class people-watching, from families pushing strollers and eating gelato to young lovers window shopping Prada and its displays of leather accessories.
The next day our itinerary called for a road trip via Mercedes bus to Venice, with two side trips to Verona and a famed Valpolicella wine estate. The day happened to be a holiday celebrating workers, so Verona was teeming with people who flooded the street markets and especially the famed balcony where Juliet was purported to have awaited her Romeo.
The winery at Valpolicella, however, provided a peaceful counterpoint to the Verona craziness and we disembarked happily at the owner’s 800-year-old home for a sublime luncheon. Think creamy risotto, veal shank with a side of rich layered potato slices, followed by a strawberry mousse with chocolate and almond nougat. Then pair each offering with bespoke wines, and you’ll know why more than a few travelers napped on the last leg of the journey to Venice.
Ah, Venice! The first thing that struck us was that this picturesque city is composed of 118 different islands. Is it any wonder that Venice is known for its canals and bridges? A walking tour on our first morning there took us up and down, over and under many of them on our way to the Doge’s Palace where we met one of Venice’s real gems.  
Her name is Susan Ruth Steer, and she is an art historian from England who fell in love with Venice during her education. A resident of the city for more than 20 years, she wrote her thesis and dissertation on medieval art, architecture, and Venetian altar paintings. But even better, she’s wonderfully accessible and conversational, and you feel as if you’re strolling through the world’s masterpieces with an old friend.
The Doge Palace, of course, was the seat of Venice’s sophisticated republican government and the residence of the “doge” (Italian for top dog) more than 800 years ago.  But it is also an extraordinary art gallery with jaw-dropping works by Tintoretto, Titian, Bosch, and so many others. It also provides a fascinating peek into early Venetian justice, as the prison is located here, within view of the famed “Bridge of Sighs” which the accused passed under on their way to judgment. (After touring the grim jail, we can only assume they sighed with deep remorse.)
The afternoon was spent on our riverboat, the River Countess, cruising the beautiful lagoons, before meeting up with Susan Steer once again, this time for a private visit to St. Mark’s Basilica, after hours and far from the maddening crowds.
We arrived by valporetto water taxi (“like George Clooney!”our cruise director assured us) and were ushered into the quiet elegance of the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Venice. We could have stood in the entry passageway for hours following the chronological stories of the Bible on the ceiling, but there was so much else to see. The pala d’oro, for example, is a breathtaking enameled altarpiece made up of gemstones and gold, much of which, like many treasures in the cathedral, had been plumaged during early Turkish conquests. The crypt downstairs once housed the remains of St. Mark, but due to flooding concerns, the apostle has been relocated upstairs beneath the altar.
For a change of pace, our guides took us the following day to Chioggia, a working fishing village on the Venetian lagoon. An orientation walk was offered, although the heartier travelers opted to ride bikes, and we all convened at a local restaurant for an outdoor demonstration of the harvesting of mussels. A family-style lunch of steamed mussels, pasta with clams and eggplant parmesan followed, complemented by local wines served from carafes. Chioggia is also known for its weekly market, which is more like a traveling department store. Locals can purchase everything from dresses, shoes, and underwear to pet food and local produce. The morning scene was vibrant and noisy.
It’s impossible to know Italy without knowing the food, so another side trip, this time to Bologna, featured a pasta making lesson. Bologna is a foodie’s delight, known for its exquisite bolognese sauce which is wonderful paired with fresh egg pasta or incorporated in the area’s traditional lasagna made with green lasagne noodles and a rich bechamel sauce. But Bologna is also famed for its, well, bologna. Also known as mortadella, bologna is made of finely hashed pork, mixed with a few small cubes of pork fat and flavored with spices, olives, myrtle berries, and pistachios.
Bologna, as it turns out, is also known for its exceptional medieval architecture, such as the University’s famed Anatomical Theatre and the National Gallery of Art. But be forewarned: pushing oneself away from the local tortellini or tagliatelle is not easy, no matter the cultural offerings!
Seeing Venice from a small riverboat brought home again the realization that the city is really a collection of islands. Thanks to Uniworld, these islands seemed to have been carefully culled, as the ones we visited were each extraordinary in their own right.
Take Mazzorbo, for example. Mazzorbo is the home of the “last of the golden vines” from which the Venissa vineyards produce its famous wine. A stop at the famed winery, which was resurrected in 2005 when the elusive vines were re-discovered, allowed us to sample the rich, amber colored wine, which is produced like a red wine with the skins remaining on the grapes.
Or, Burano, home of the ancient art of lace-making. It is said that lacemakers learn one stitch, and one stitch only, so that every piece produced passes through a number of dedicated hands. The table linens, clothing, and charming accessories like bookmarks are understandably temptations for visitors. But Burano itself is a feast for the eyes, as the homes along the water are all painted different bright colors. Legend has it that sailors would be gone for long periods, arrive home in the fog, and occasionally stumble into the wrong home. Knowing that they lived in the bright orange house, or the sunny yellow house, presumably made their homecomings smoother.
Finally, no trip to Venice would be complete without checking out a Murano glass factory.  We visited a very special one on the Isle of Giudecca, where our tour began with a stunning glass blowing demonstration during which an artisan very calmly blew hot liquid silica into a figure of a high stepping horse. The showroom offered infinite examples of this art for sale, from charming necklaces and pendants to ballroom-scale Murano chandeliers that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Most evenings, after a full day of touring, we returned to our riverboat for dinner, always a treat on the Uniworld line. The company buys daily in the local markets, and the result is a magazine-worthy presentation of fresh and creative offerings to suit all palates.  At breakfast, guests find traditional American omelet stations beside cutting boards laden with olive bread and pain du chocolat, tray after tray of fresh fruits, smoked salmon and capers, and punch bowls of smoothies. The lunch buffet is equally tantalizing, featuring a pasta of the day along with eye-popping salad, sandwich offerings, and the ever-popular gelato bar. Dinner follows a cocktail time in the lounge and features three choices of appetizers, entrees, and desserts.  A recent addition to some of the cruises is a pizza oven, located on the upper deck, for those nights when travelers prefer a casual dinner. Every evening ends with featured entertainment—and sometimes dancing. It makes a wonderful day.
Perhaps a cruise is not for everyone wanting to explore Italy, but for those seeking a meticulously curated itinerary, served up with excellent food and wine, Uniworld’s “Gems of Little Italy” is hard to beat. Veterans now of four excellent European river cruises, we have become fierce advocates of this style of travel. The only question remaining is “where next?” •


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Hot Spot Day Trip

Greenville NC

Even just twenty years ago, Greenville was far from cool.  Many described it as a decaying town with few job prospects and a waning population due in large part to the mass exodus of the textile industry in the 60s. Fast-forward to today and Greenville is on fire! It is not only a hot destination but also a vibrant and bustling city boasting a fast-growing population of almost 70,000. CNN Money has ranked Greenville as one of the Top 10 Fastest Growing Cities in the U.S. while in 2017 Condé Nast Traveler ranked it as one of the best small cities in America. The secret is out, making it a great time to plan a visit to Greenville now. 
Only an hour and a half drive from Cashiers and a little more from Highlands, Greenville makes an exciting day trip (or overnight) to experience all that this vivid city has to offer. Between their array of live music, historic sites, over one hundred restaurants, festivals, and outdoor fun, this is a small city with a fast pulse.
If you arrive early enough for breakfast, make your way to Biscuit Head for one of their specialty biscuits, like their decadent pulled pork, jalapeno pimento, bacon, poached egg, and maple syrup option. In keeping with southern tradition, their biscuits are the size of a cat’s head. This small breakfast/lunch chain based in Asheville makes you break any diet in a snap, but then again Greenville is not a place to go on a diet. It’s a foodie town.
Before even thinking about your next meal, work off that biscuit by walking or biking the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 19.9-mile scenic path created on a historic rail bed. This well-maintained, paved trail offers gentle walks or easy rides along the Reedy River and through Falls Park, a 32-acre park that runs through downtown. One of the most photographed parks in all of South Carolina, Falls Park should not be missed with its abundant lush green spaces, scenic overlooks, botanicals, waterfalls, and the architecturally renowned suspension Liberty Bridge. For bike rentals, Reedy Rides, or Sunrift can set you up for just about any outdoor sport. For more active cyclists take the Swamp Rabbit all the way to Traveler’s Rest, a tiny town nine miles away, which was once a “resting spot for weary travelers” and home to several Indian tribes.
For guided excursions, there are tours for history buffs, food lovers, and adventurers. Greenville Glides offers a popular guided Segway tour, a refreshing way to see the sites. For baseball enthusiasts, the Greenville Drive, the Class-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, plays competitively at a downtown minor league ballpark resembling Boston’s Fenway Park where spectators lounge on picnic blankets. Greenville was home to legendary baseball player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson whose one-time residence is now a memorial library and small museum.
Greenville’s very walkable downtown has a charming Main Street area chock full of outdoor cafes, specialty stores, a historic district, museums, and even a zoo. Looking for a nostalgic place to shop with kids of all sizes, look no further than Mast General Store, which is a step back in time. For trendy home décor, Vintage Now Modern on South Main is a definite stop for one-of-kind items. A few miles off of Main, West Greenville Village is an area getting a total makeover with many eclectic boutiques, coffee houses, and artisan pop-ups. 
Greenville’s devotion to food is abundant with choices to fit all tastes, budgets, and occasions. When you are ready to break for food, a favorite eatery for a relaxing wine lunch is Le Passerelle, a casual French bistro located at the base of Liberty Bridge overlooking the Falls. For a lively culinary experience try J Rz, a family-style farm-to-table Greek restaurant. Craving a burger and a draft from one of the local breweries? Stop by the gastropub called Nose Dive. If a picnic is more your style or you want to pick up some culinary specialties for home, stop at Caviar & Bananas just off Main on North Laurens Street. Post lunch, and to settle your food coma, stroll to Methodical Coffee at 101 North Main or CR Tea off of South Main for an afternoon “pick me up.”
If you can stay into the night or overnight, catch a show at the Peace Center’s Gunter Theatre which hosts everything from ballet to plays to comedic and musical acts. Theater is nothing unless paired with dinner on the town, but with the culinary mega show going on in Greenville, the decision is a difficult one. A favorite among foodies is Husk, from the James Beard Award winner Chef Sean Brock (dinner only, closed Mondays), specializing in melt-in-your-mouth southern cuisine using local ingredients. Pre- or post-theater drinks are a must-do at either the rooftop bar of SIP Whiskey and Wine or go where the locals go for craft cocktails at Ink N Ivy. 
With so many enjoyable things to see and do in Greenville, if you should need trip planning advice for bigger groups or longer stays, professional companies like Tick Tock Concierge at will plan everything for you from soup to nuts. For day-tripping-made-easy, check out for information on current events, festivals, retail and restaurant hours, and suggested itineraries. With moderate temperatures, Greenville is a year-round destination for playtime anytime with friends or family. •

Legendary Origins: Golf in Scotland

Scotland is significant to golf lovers around the world as the birthplace of the world-renowned sport. Noted as the most prized invention of Scotland, comparatively to whiskey, it draws visitors from all over the world to tour and play historic clubs that have been around for centuries. 

Golf was played in Scotland as early as the 14th century and possibly even earlier. Other countries have attempted to lay claim to the invention of the sport. However, there was one thing missing from their game formula: a hole. Driving a tiny ball through innumerable obstacles to eventually drop it into a tiny hole is a uniquely Scottish invention.

Originating on Scotland’s east coast, the game has since become part of the country’s spirit. Once the sport became popular in the 1400s, the government tried to ban the game because it took away from archery practice. Converting to the sport, King James IV helped to build upon the legends and soul of Scottish heritage. Golf had spread throughout Scotland by the beginning of the 17th centurythe same period the game was properly organized with rules of play. The national pastime is celebrated during the PGA Tour’s visit to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which was established in 1754. Several clubs try to claim honor as the first golf club in Scotland, as several started earlier or had to move locations to create a full 18-hole course or changed names. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers Gentlemen dates to 1744 when it was known as the Golfers of Leith. 

It was not until the 1800s that golf became an international sensation. Tourists flock to Scotland to glimpse stone-lined historic courses and play what may become the most memorable rounds of their lives. 

Where to Play When Visiting Scotland?

Old Course at St. Andrews 
Edinburgh Area

A global household name, Old Course at St. Andrews stands iconic in the world of sports as the first complete course conceived in human history. Fairways, bunkers, hills, and greens mesmerize with hues of green and gold set among picturesque stone and architectural backdrops. The Swilken Bridge on the 18th hole has adorned television spots and photographs for years. Every name in golf has left a footprint on this par 72 course. 

About St. Andrews, Scotland - As the birthplace of golf (boasting 11 courses), this seaside village northeast of Edinburgh is rooted deep in heritage and pride. With twelfth-century cathedral ruins, along with remnants from a thirteenth-century castle and dungeon, its treasured Fife coastline remains a global spectacle for nature, wildlife, arts, and culture. 

Royal Dornoch

Set amidst a village of 1,200 people, the links are storybook picture perfect. Royal Dornoch, one of the most elite courses of the world, was ranked number five globally by Golf Digest in 2016. I was honored to test my skills on The Championship Course, both a challenge and a delight. The landscape takes even the most well-traveled player’s breath away with its natural beauty and sea views. The par 70 course can add a few strokes if the wind blows across the curving bay of Dornoch Frith. Embraced by effervescent sandy beaches, majestic fairways run parallel to the shorelines across two distinct levels of ridgeline. 

About Dornoch, Scotland - Dornoch’s motto is “you can do it all from here.” It is a fairytale setting rumored to have played host to Madonna’s wedding to Guy Ritchie. While the golfers play, others may enjoy the quaint shops and cafés, or enjoy what Scotland is famous for—Scotch. If you love five-star dining, dinner at the Royal Golf Hotel is a must. The menu changes with the season, but they always offer something fresh from the sea.

West Coast

This par 70 course set amid the sandy dunes and Atlantic Ocean winds can stimulate a challenging start to your game at the private course known as Machrihanish Golf Club. The majesty of the dunes and fescue grasses play well with the cry of the seabirds at this 19th-century course. 

About Argyll, Scotland - Experience the west coast of Scotland by viewing stone castles, exploring the sea, or getting outdoors in Argyll and the Isles. With over 3,175 miles of coastline and 60 castles, there are many activities from the mountains to the shore and 15 whiskey distilleries in between. This historic area is only a 20-minute flight from Glasgow and offers three golf courses and fresh fare from the sea. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are found here.


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California Roadtrip: Destination Big Sur

With the top down, the cool wind plays with my hair and sunshine illuminates my face. My husband happily sits behind the wheel ready for our adventure. We both breathe in the gorgeous scents that permeate the airsalt, eucalyptus, pine, and an elusive fragrance of pepper and cinnamon that we can’t identify. We later learn this heavenly aroma comes from the bay laurel tree. California, almost a country of its own, never ceases to surprise me with its vast beauty, diverse landscape, flora, and fauna.  
As our convertible cruises south from the San José airport toward Route 1, glamorously referred to as the PCH or the Pacific Coast Highway, I manage my expectations as we travel closer towards the highly regarded and much-anticipated destination of Big Sur. A bucket list item for some time, we look forward to taking in Carmel (the wine country), Pebble Beach, 17-Mile Drive, and the remote landscapes of Big Sur. Our trip reveals this and so much more. 
As we drive south, the mosaic topography slowly unfolds with deep canyons, xeric foothills, massive mountains, thick conifer forests, and copious fields of artichokes. The vistas remind us of the Scottish Isles with their dramatic cliffs, the Spanish Rioja with the golden mountain landscapes, and Tuscany with conifers like cypress, the occasional palm, and of course, vineyards. Looking up provides another nice view with the vast blue sky, golden sunshine, and the occasional endangered condor, North America’s largest land bird. 
Our four-day, three-night trip was purposefully planned for late October to avoid the crowds that traditionally flock to Monterey County and majestic Big Sur in the summer months. We base ourselves in the small charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, known for its artist and writer inhabitants. It sits snugly between Monterey and Big Sur, enabling us easy access to our points of interest. 
Our bespoke itinerary plans for us to be outdoors walking among the giant redwoods, the tallest measured tree species on Earth, hiking in coastal state parks, strolling on the beach admiring the natural sculptures of driftwood, and taking in a sunset or two. Aside from seeking the natural eye candy, we find art gallery hopping is almost a sport in these parts. And the same can be said for visiting vineyards in Carmel Valley or their tasting rooms in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Of course, dining on the freshest of local seafood and witnessing the allure of the quaint towns are on our checklist. 
We had imagined the drive to Big Sur, but nothing can compare you for the journey. We marvel at how the PCH tightly hugs the coastline (thank goodness for the guardrails) as enthusiastic waves pound the enormous jagged cliffs below. Big Sur’s remote landscapes take our breath away with photo ops at every turn. How did they cut a road through here in the 1960s?  
By day four, we are rewarded with beautiful memories and adventures to share. Our souls are fed, expectations exceeded and a future trip is planned already to venture further south past Big Sur to Santa Barbara.

Day 1 
Take a Delta Airlines flight out of Atlanta to San Jose International Airport, and 4.25 hours later you arrive! Drive the scenic Route 17 through beautiful Scott’s Valley and Patchen’s Pass.  
1st Stop: Walk among giant redwoods at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (access via CA-17 S, 45 minutes from the airport and 10 minutes north of Santa Cruz). 
2nd Stop: Drive the picturesque 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach off of Route 1. Experience the Del Monte Forest, Spanish Bay, the Lone Cypress, Spyglass Golf Course, and the most famous of all sites, Pebble Beach. If time allows, have a snack on The Lodge’s terrace overlooking the Pebble Beach course. 
3rd Stop: Carmel-by-the-Sea, where you can check in at L’Auberge Carmel, a Relais & Chateaux property with rates starting at $269, or the beautiful pup-friendly Cypress Inn with rates starting at $229. 
Stroll the town taking in the quirky houses, gorgeous gardens, and shops. With the Carmel Valley Appellation nearby, you’ll find numerous wine tasting rooms all within walking distance. Pick up a bottle at Caracciolo Cellars and drop down to the beach to catch the sunset.  
Enjoy a sumptuous Italian dinner at Cassanova just a few minute walk off Main Street. 
Day 2 
1st Stop: After a morning walk on the beach or shopping in town, drive East into Carmel Valley to experience the wine country. Favorite wine stops include Cowgirl Winery, Georis, and Bernardus. Find lunch in the garden at Corkscrew Restaurant with its mission-style architecture. Try their famous Lemon Pizza! 
2nd Stop: On the way out of The Valley, stop at Folktale Winery for a lively game of giant Jenga or bocce ball while sipping wine and listening to live music. 
3rd Stop: Uber to Passionfish in Pacific Grove for dinner, which is known for their sustainable seafood and modern menus. Feast on super fresh Dungeness crab and wild-caught tuna. You will love the super low markup they put on their hard-to-find wines. 
Day 3 
Off to see the much anticipated Big Sur! 
1st Stop: Experience Point Lobos State Natural Reserve with gently sloped paths through forests of Monterey cypress and viewing points along rocky cliffs to spot sea lions, otters, seals, gray whales (December-May), cormorants, and pelicans. 
2nd Stop: If time allows, visit Garrapata State Park with two miles of beachfront and coastal hiking. 
3rd Stop: Enjoy the slow curvy drive along coastal cliffs to the famous Bixby Bridge—one of the most photographed bridges in the world. Pull off at the turnout just before the bridge to admire this 1930s massive feat of architecture. 
4th Stop: Lunch!  
Option one: Sit outside on the terrace and enjoy the long-range views of mountains and sea at The Sur House at Ventana Inn & Spa. You may spot the stunning condor, North America’s largest land bird with a 10-foot wingspan. Almost extinct, it was reintroduced into the wild in 1997 by the Ventana Wildlife Society.  

Option two: Pick up a picnic lunch at Big Sur Deli and head to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. 
5th Stop: On the return trip back to Carmel, step back in time at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, a cozy literary retreat where one can sit by the fire, read and listen to music. 
6th Stop: A quick stop just south of Carmel is Mission Ranch, an 1880s ranch beautifully restored and renovated by longtime resident Clint Eastwood. There are plenty of photo ops of sheep in the meadow, Point Lobos, and Carmel River Beach. 
7th Stop: Dinner at the snug European bistro La Bicyclette just off Main Street in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Try the charcuterie board (enough to feed a party of four). 
Day 4 
Departure: Drive the 1.5 hours north via Route 1 to the 101 back to the San Jose airport. 



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This Is How You Beach: Experiencing the laid-back luxury of Harbour Island

Imagine, pink-hued soft flour-like sand embraces your toes as you walk down a three and a half-mile turquoise water shoreline. Warm sun trickles through the fresh sea air as it glazes your cheeks. Pristine water paired with a perfect blue sky, a feast for the eyes. Does it sound like a dream? Welcome to Harbour Island. • A three-and-a-half-mile-long and mile-and-a-half wide island of the Bahamas greets with its color-popping homes perched on the hill as you approach in your water taxi transportation. Once on the dock, the sound of golf carts, sights of wild roosters, and graceful Bay Street transport you to another world. Paradise. • “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” takes on a new meaning with the island’s favorite cocktail, Goombay Smash. In an instant, you feel the charm of the island, and welcome time standing still. • It has everything, dive bars, 5-star cuisine, R&R, salt water, sun, and sand. And that’s not all. Accommodations so perfect it is hard to choose where to stay, and conversations so delightful you never want to leave. 


/ lunch. Sip Sip - Overlooking the Atlantic ocean, this is a must for lunch. Open from 11:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Wednesday - Monday, this restaurant is first come, first serve. I personally love the chili dogs here, and I don’t usually eat chili dogs. 

/ cocktails. Miami Vice at Pink Sands - There is something special about a strawberry margarita, pina colada mixed drink while overlooking the turquoise blue waves as they gently touch the shore and whisk away back out to sea. Pink Sands is the place to enjoy a beachy afternoon sun cocktail.

/ snack. Queen Conch - Fresh conch salad, need I say more? Conch prepared with lime juice and mixed fresh tomatoes and onions is the perfect snack on a hot afternoon!

/ bakery. Arthur’s Bakery  - This artisan bakery serves the best chocolate cupcakes I have ever tasted. You must try the coconut or the jalapeño cheese bread, and the mini-donuts are great as well.


/ Runaway Hill inn  - This boutique hotel overlooking the ocean is owned by hockey great Mark Messier. It is a perfect escape on the island, and you will enjoy the palm tree-lined courtyard leading to its entrance. Indulge in an in-room massage while listening to the waves kiss the shoreline.

/ The Landing - This is a boutique hotel and restaurant with inspired design by famous Ralph Lauren model India Hicks. If you don’t stay here, you must at least enjoy cocktail hour at the bar and reserve a table for dinner. The cuisine is some of the best on the island. Try the beef tenderloin or lobster ravioli, and ask to visit the “Cellar,” it offers an incredible wine selection!

/ Valentines Resort and Marina - The yacht-filled dock is beautiful at sunset. Enjoy a cocktail with the neighboring island of Eleuthera in the background at dusk or enjoy a selection from the menu at any time during the day.

/ The Rock House - Another of the island’s incredible boutique hotels. Its ambiance will make you swoon. Make reservations to dine poolside in a cabana. 


/ Sugar Mill Trading Co. - A beautiful shopping boutique owned by India Hicks. Filled with men and women’s clothing and unique gifts. Did you know India Hicks is the godchild of the late Princess Diana?

/ Gusty’s - With a sand dance floor and good music, Gusty’s is a perfect way to end your evening. 

/ Ocean Fox Diving - Whether you are a diver or a snorkeler, Jeff Fox will take you out for an amazing under-the-sea swim, and if you love to deep sea fish, the fresh tuna is the best sashimi I have ever tasted.


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The Oscars of the Food Industry


It’s no secret that the world currently has an overabundance of celebrity chefs. They put their name on everything from spatulas to dog food. In this day of blogs and YouTube, anyone can aspire to achieve celebrity status and acquire their own show (and a cult following) on the television channel that’s wholly dedicated to food. You could even say that the celebrity chef movement spawned an onslaught of celebrity psychologists, celebrity doctors, and celebrity dog trainers.
But long before reality TVbefore cooking was even a form of entertainmentAmerica was not a place that came to mind when people thought of sophisticated gastronomy. It took pioneers such as Julia Child to bring America to the forefront of gourmet cooking. Although many consider Child to be the first celebrity chef, it was a man named James Beard who hosted the first-ever televised cooking show. 
Many know his name, but few know much about him. Born in 1903, Beard emerged from a culture of microwaved TV dinners, Jell-O molds, and Spam. He was raised in the Pacific Northwest by his self-sufficient English mother, who taught him to cook the seafood and wild berries that they gathered themselves from the Oregon beach.
A fierce student of the theater, he lived abroad for several years to pursue his dream of acting at his mother’s encouragement. After eight years of failing to break into theater or movies, Beard was forced to learn to make money some other way. He started a catering business that later blossomed into a food shop called Hors d’Oeuvre, Inc. He then began what was to be a prolific career writing cookbooks (he would publish over twenty-five of them before his death in 1985). Upon his return from the war in 1945, Beard jumped right back into the culinary world, appearing on NBC in America’s first cooking show. 

“This is Sarasota Unbleached Flour. Let me tell you what unbleached means. It means untouched, unartificial, unfooled with, untampered with, unmessed with, unfiddled with, uncorrected, unperfected,” a stout James Beard matter-of-factly touts to the camera. 
This commercial for Sarasota Flour encapsulates just what made James Beard such an icon. He was one of the first to shake America from its lazy slumber of canned food and baking mixes. Some have described this period as “the death of food.” Companies had discovered the gold mine that was the American housewife and the result was a movement of factory farming, fast food, and processed food that America has yet to fully recover from. Beard railed against the idea that easy is always better. He suggested buying produce when it’s in seasona common sense idea that was revolutionary in a time when “organic” was just thought of as a type of chemical compound. 
As his ideas gained popularity, Beard established the James Beard Cooking School, with locations in New York City and Seaside, Oregon. He spent the remainder of his life writing cookbooks, traveling, and tirelessly teaching others his concepts of good food, ethically prepared with fresh ingredients. He was eventually recognized by the New York Times as the “Dean of American cookery” for his efforts in coalescing American cooking traditions into a national cuisine.
Upon his death, Julia Child urged Peter Kump, a former student of the James Beard Cooking School, to purchase Beard’s Greenwich Village brownstone and continue Beard’s legacy. Although its purpose has expanded over time, the James Beard Foundation’s core principles have remained the same as was originally stated by a press release on the day it opened in 1986: “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation, and of course, enjoyment.”
The foundation now hosts over 250 events annually, featuring bourgeoning chefs from all over the world. It also launched the James Beard Awards, considered to be the food industry’s highest honor and called by Time magazine “the Oscars of the food world.” For more information about James Beard or to see the James Beard Foundation’s calendar of events, visit the foundation’s website at 

Cruising the Waters: Barging through the canals of Strasbourg, France

Located near the border of Germany, the charming town of Strasbourg, France invites with its architecture, canals, and streetside cafés. According to TripAdvisor, the number one attraction is the cathedral. Victor Hugo referred to this 12th-century Gothic structure as a “light and delicate marvel.” It is breathtakingly beautiful and the views of the Rhine River from the top of Strasbourg Cathedral will linger in your heart forever. 
Find your favorite scenes casually jaunting through Strasbourg, canal to café on a private barge (captain included), or café to café, indulging in the region’s epicurean delights. 
Quickly becoming the ultimate way to explore, traveling the canals in your private hotel on the water, a luxury barge, is a one-of-a-kind experience. Whether you are seeking wine, culinary delights, hot air-ballooning, or sight-seeing, your 6-star accommodations can transport you to where you need to go. 
Strasbourg is in the region of Alsace, and home to a lovely Crémant, a bubbly produced outside of the Champagne region of France. A private tour of the vineyards is highly recommended. The area is one of France’s exceptional wine regions, producing mostly white wines such as Riesling. Follow the Route des Vins, or Wine Route, through picturesque villages like Eguisheim and Ribeauvillé for a memorable journey.
I had the opportunity to explore the canals of Strasbourg on a privately-owned barge. Upon arriving in Strasbourg, I spent the first night at Régent Petite France, a five-star boutique hotel nestled between the banks of River III and cobblestone magic in the La Petite Historic District. We filled our senses with local food and wine, wandering through cobblestone streets and unsuspecting alleyways to dine and sip at quaint bistro tables, all while feeling transported to a simpler time. 
Afternoons across the canal locks come to life at the French café courtyards serving a selection of French cheeses, foie gras, and French wine. Regional dishes derive from German culture. In Alsace, the most famous dish, choucroute garnie, is a version of German sauerkraut—a fermented cabbage cooked in white wine, beer, or cider and seasoned with juniper berries and black peppercorns and garnished with boiled potatoes and a variety of meats. This is a traditional Sunday meal.
True to Strasbourg’s ambiance, pastries are a popular delight of the area. You will find many patisseries with beautiful éclairs, tarts, macaroons, as well as the traditional kougelhopf, a brioche-type cake, often made with dried fruits and nuts, and baked in a special round, fluted pan.  
Bretzel, a large, freshly baked soft pretzel, salted or unsalted, with options such as melted cheese or accompanying smoked salmon, or even dusted with sugar for something sweet. If you are visiting in the spring, I hear the local white asparagus are something to write about. And Foie Gras d’Alsace is a local delicacy that is often found on menus.
One of my personal favorite dining experiences was in the formal dining room of Buerehiesel, a 19th-century glass atrium. It feels as though you are dining in your own private garden with the comforts of the indoors and fine cuisine. 
Strasbourg is the perfect place to take a stroll and enjoy the moments of life. The influence of German traits remains, and the flowers of Parisian springtime bloom among the storied bridges and historical clock tower. 


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