Marlborough, New Zealand

I recently had the joy of traveling to Marlborough, New Zealand.  While we were there we hired a chauffeur named Pamela March, founder of Your Local Chauffeur, to take us around.  We manged to get to 9 wineries in one day, each one as good as the last.

If you don’t know already, Marlborough is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wine varietals.

We stayed at the Marlborough Vintners Hotel.  It was spacious and in a perfect location – within walking distance of many wineries and right in the valley.  It was just a ten minute drive to nearby Blenheim which had many cafes and restaurants.

Some of the wineries we went to include:

Hunter’s Wines

No. 1 (known for their champagne)

Allan Scot Family Winemakers

Framingham Wine Company

Brancott Estate

Saint Clair

Nautilus

Whither Hills

TerraVin Winery (beautiful lunch spot)

Lawson’s Dry Hills

Check out the pictures below from our time in this beautiful town.

 

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What to do in St. Croix

One word comes to mind when I think about St. Croix:  relaxing! 

I recently spent 5 days in St. Croix, USVI and wanted to share all of my recommendations – from things to do to places to eat.

We landed mid-afternoon, rented a car and drove about 45 minutes to our hotel – the Buccaneer Resort. I highly recommend this resort. They have beautiful and clean rooms, three beaches, a golf course, beach bar, and restaurant (including a breakfast buffet) all on site. Upon arrival you are welcomed with the choice of a fruit punch or rum punch – the three of us traveling together opted for a rum punch.

Since we had gotten to the hotel so late we went down to the beach right outside of our room and watched the sun set behind the mountain across the bay. We had dinner at the restaurant at the hotel. It was good but they have limited options.

Side note: we kept seeing these odd mammal running around the island. We had never seen them before so we looked it up and they are mongooses. They are actually super cute. 


Day 2:

We spent the entire day at Mermaid Beach on our resort. The views are beautiful, the water was warm and the relaxation was perfect. There is a hut on the beach where you can get noodles, paddleboards, sea kayaks and more for free.

We got dinner again at the hotel restaurant strictly out of being tired. Again, decent food but not many options to choose from.


Day 3:

We started our day in Christiansted, the largest town in St. Croix sitting a five minute drive from our resort. We walked along the boardwalk into the shops and had lunch at RumRunners. This restaurant was a popular spot for tourists and locals. We then went back to our resort and relaxed at the beach again – a theme that was prominent during this trip. We all needed some R&R!

We had heard so many good things about the restaurant You Are Here so we tried it out. They were right – it was really good and known for their pizza. There was a sweet cat that hung on the patio with us and we named him Harvey. We loved him. We actually liked the place so much we came back the next day.


Day 4:

We drove about 30 minutes to Cruzan Rum Distillery and took a tour. For $8 we took a 30 minute tour of the plantation and factory, got two mixed drinks and 4 shots of rum of our choice – you can’t really go wrong with the price. I’m not a rum drinker and even I thought the mixed drinks were delicious. We only had six people on our tour as we were on the first tour of the day at 10 a.m. but as the day went on each group grew in size. They also have a beautiful patio (all in the shade) with high top tables, couches and lounge chairs. We sat there and drank and talked for three hours!


Following Cruzan, we drove to Frederiksted (although we took an hour long detour because my GPS didn’t pick up the location correctly and we went to the Carambola Resort by accident). We arrived at Rhythms at Rainbow Beach and headed to the restaurant in desperate need of food. It was crowded with tourists and locals. After lunch we rented chairs and hung out on the beach and in the water for a while. We then drove 45 minutes back to our resort before heading to Christiansted for dinner. 


Day 5:

We lounged on the beach for a few hours, showered then headed back downtown to Christiansted before having to head to the airport.  We ate lunch again at RumRunners as it was one of the few restaurants open on a Sunday. 


We were told the tide pools were awesome but with 88 degree weather and high humidity, hiking in the woods for hours did not sound appealing. We also heard the “rain forest” is interesting but  there are no clear directions to get there so we didn’t try.
Overall, we loved St. Croix. It was so beautiful and relaxing. Just what we needed!

The Perfect Long Weekend Itinerary in Napa

I recently went to Napa Valley for the first time ever and loved it. Anyone who drinks and enjoys wine needs to go there.

I went over Labor Day – and I live on the East Coast – so yes, a long weekend is totally doable. We spent two days in the Valley and on our first day we visited three wineries and the second day we visited two.

Follow our itinerary for a fun and also relaxing trip to Napa:

Day 1

We stayed at the Hilton Doubletree about a twenty minute ride from the wineries. After eating breakfast we ordered an Uber and off we went to the wineries! 

10:00 am: Our first stop was Frank Family Vineyards. We walked inside and into a side room with two bars – perfect size for about 6 people to enjoy wine at each one. Our “guide” for lack of a better word, was easy going but also very knowledgeable. We started with a sparkling wine – which was delicious! Then we had a Chardonnay followed by three red wines. My favorite was the sparkling wine, the Pinot Noir and the Sangiovese. Give yourself about an hour and a half to two hours here. It is not rushed but we made our next appointment a little too close for comfort. We ordered our Uber and were off to the second winery!


11:15 a.m.: We drove up a windy road to Schramsberg Vineyards nestled on the mountainside. We walked in and our tour began at 10:30. We followed our tour guide into a tunnel lined with thousands of bottles of wine! This vineyard specializes in sparkling wine so our tour guide explained the riddler (he turns each bottle of wine throughout the day to ensure sediment deposits move down to the neck of the bottle). I asked our guide about the caves and he said they meander about 2 miles throughout the mountainside and were hand-carved by picks decades ago. After learning about the wine process and history of the location and owners, we got to taste the wine while in the cave! With the backdrop of thousands of bottles of wine and a dozen candles, we were able to taste 5 different wines – 4 sparkling and 1 red wine. I loved all of the sparkling wines, but my favorite two were the Blanc to Blanc and the Brut Rose.


1:30 pm: After this vineyard, we requested another Uber and traveled to Rutherford Grill – request to sit on the patio – there are excellent views of the mountains.


4 p.m.: We drove a short distance to Salvestrin Vineyard. This vineyard was so relaxing. We sat out on the patio with the sunshine and views of the rows of grapes and mountains as a backdrop. We tried 5 wines here. My personal favorite was the Sangiovese.


6:00 pm: We had dinner at Cook St. Helena – a cozy Italian restaurant. 


Day 2:

After breakfast we were on our way to our first winery – Nickel & Nickel. When we first pulled up we were blown away at the beauty of the property. It’s a farmhouse surrounded by gardens, a horse stable, a barn, and mountains in the background. We took a tour of the grounds – walking into each building and learning the process of making wine. We even went down to the wine cellar and took pictures by the barrels.

We then enter the farmhouse again and moved to a private dining room where 5 wines were waiting for us with 3 different types of cheeses. We tasted each one individually and then were told to mix and match the wine with different cheeses to see how the taste changes. I loved the first cheese with the first wine. This winery is very sophisticated and classy and it was really cool to see how each winery has their own personality.


12:30 p.m.: Mustards Grill – this place was so busy! The food was also delicious.

3:00 p.m.: Del Dotto Vineyards – we pull up to this European looking home which seems quite small, however as we continue walking towards it, it gets bigger – because the first floor is actually below ground. We enter and the entire place is filled with marble, colorful walls, and what looks like an Italian mansion. We then enter the caves for our wine tasting and learn about oak barrels and how the wood taken from specific woods can change the wine. We tried about six wines – all red and mainly cabernet. We then head back out of the caves and stand at a bar where we drink more wine and they provide cheese, prosciutto, and homemade pizza. So fun!


6:00 p.m.: Brasswood Bar + Kitchen – we started off outside but then a bee took a real interest in me so we went inside. Their food was also delicious. I highly recommend getting the arancinis as an appetizer.

We then drove to San Francisco and stayed there for the night so we didn’t have a long trip to the airport in the morning – our flight was at 7:45 am!

We hope to go back soon! We loved it and with more than 500 vineyards, we can go back hundreds of times and always visit a new one!

Stockbridge MA: Pictures

I went to Stockbridge recently and it was adorable! I highly recommend going there if you like being outdoors, quaint general stores, restaurants and coffee shops. The downtown area is small, but packed with character. Every store is home to local artisans’ crafts. 

We stayed at the Cranwell Resort and went to Furnace Brook Winery and walked through every store down town. We had brunch at the Red Lion Inn, a famous hotel that is often pictured in Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the town. 

See more pictures below! 

Red Lion Inn 

Cranwell Resort

Cranwell resort 

Red Lion Inn 
Furnace Brook Winery 

Best Towns to Visit in Massachusetts

If you are visiting Massachusetts for a vacation, I bet your first two thoughts are the city of Boston and Cape Cod. However, there are many other beautiful towns that you should visit while in this fabulous state. 
Best Towns to Visit in Massachusetts:

1. Rockport. This town is quintessential New England with beautiful harbors and marinas and rocky coast lines. While here go to Bearskin Neck, a stretch of old fishermen and lobstermen shacks that have been turned into restaurants, shops and galleries.

2. Lexington and Concord. These two towns were very important in history. Most of their buildings date back to Revolutionary and Colonial times. They also host battle reenactments and are home to beautiful state parks and nature reserves. 

3. Brookline – Coolidge Corner is both quaint and bustling. With plenty of shops and restaurants, this town just miles from downtown Boston is a perfect place to visit for those overwhelmed by big cities. 

4. Stockbridge – located in Western Mass, this town hosts many resorts and wealthy New Yorkers’ summer homes. However, it is most known for the Norman Rockwell Museum. Imagine picturesque store fronts and a skyline of steeples. 

5. Salem – this unique town is famous for its 1692 witch trials, during which a few locals were executed for allegedly practicing witchcraft. They have harbour tours, haunted tours, museums and much more. 

6. Newburyport – this coastal town is a historical sea port and old fishing village. With brick-covered storefronts and new restaurants, this town is a beautiful escape from the city. 

   
(Rockport)

 

Budget Travel: How to Do It

Budget travel is something everyone wants, but not everyone masters it. I take 4-5 trips a year – two of which are usually a week long and two trips are 3-4 days long. In between those, I take weekends away too. How do I do it? Keep reading…
The entire internet is filled with these types of articles. However, many of these articles say “use your travel points” but what they forget to mention is that to get points you have to spend money. If you are interested in budget travel, that tip doesn’t really work. Here is how I travel on a budget:

1. Travel in off-season. It’s always cheaper, there are less tourists and if you go mere weeks before busy season begins you will still get great weather! 

For example, Europe is a very popular summer and fall destination. I went to Madrid last Spring and it was hundreds of dollars cheaper than if I went a few weeks later. It wasn’t beach weather, but it was in the 60s which is perfect for exploring and walking around a city. The same goes for the Caribbean – their busy season is December – March. I tend to go in April, June or early August. Each country or destination has their own busy season (which you can find through some research) so try to go right before it starts or right after it ends. 

2. Avoid school vacation weeks. This seems like a given, but if you don’t have kids and don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for your trip, research when local schools have off and book around it. 

3. Research! Before booking, I compare numerous airline and hotel prices. I first choose a few date ranges that I am available. Then I research hotel and airline prices for all of those weekends on numerous airlines (or via Expedia) and find the cheapest (but also 4-5 star Tripadvisor rated) hotel and the cheapest flight. It takes a lot of time – usually a few hours – but it’s worth it knowing I got the best deal for my budget without sacrificing for low quality accommodations. 

4. Use a AAA agent. If you are already a member, use them to help! I have provided them the dates I can travel and my budget and they do the research for you. 

At times, I’ve even given them a list of places I want to go. They send back a list of the average cost for each destination. I then choose one and go from there.  

5. For weekends away, sometimes I peruse TravelZoo for great deals.

Do you have any other tips? Leave them in the comments!

  

Curacao Vacation

I just got back from a week in Curacao and it was fantastic! Imagine turquoise blue waters, coral reefs, colorful houses, scuba diving and a beautiful desert landscape with cactus everywhere.

I highly recommend going to this Dutch island in the Caribbean. It is about 40 miles off the shore of Venezuela. The locals are so nice and willing to help.

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(overlooking Punda)

We stayed at the Acoya Suites & Villas and it was great. It is situated in a residential part of the island but within a short drive to downtown ($15 cab ride). If you do stay here, we recommend having a car – although I recommend a car no matter what since this island is huge. Unfortunately, all cars were booked and gone the week we were there so we relied on taxis. Luckily, our hotel had a shuttle that took us to the grocery store, Mambo Beach and downtown.

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(Acoya Pool)

We stayed over New Years Eve and Day and boy does this island know how to celebrate! They had Pagara’s going off all day and night (they are only legally allowed to do it for 4 days out of the year) and it was so cool! They believe the more fireworks you set off the better your new year will be. New Years Eve was also fantastic – we sat at the Iguana Cafe and had a few drinks while we watched live music and then went to the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge for the fireworks at midnight. It was so cool to see all the families bring their kids downtown and set up picnics.

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Instead of going day by day and describing what we did I’m going to provide lists of what I recommend.

Beaches: Unlike most beach locations, Curacao had many beaches, but they are not situated in a row like some islands with major hotels on the coast. The island is made up of coral so there are many inlets for beaches all over the island.

  1. Go to Mambo Beach at least once. Known as the party beach it is more subdued during the day. Surprisingly it had great food for lunch and it was nice to have people bringing drinks right to your chairs. It is great for families too with an inflatable water park on the ocean (there is a lifeguard).
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  2. Kenepa beach – we were lucky to stop by this beach while on a tour. It is on the farthest western point of the island so it can take a while to get to – possibly an hour – but totally worth it. Pack a lunch as this beach doesn’t have any beach bars.
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  3. Cas Abou – We loved this beach. With a beach bar for food and drinks, scuba gear and sea kayaking, this is a low key way to spend a day.
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Restaurants:

  1. Kome – we loved it here. Amazing food, drinks and setting.
  2. Chapter – we sat on the patio and had a bottle of wine. it has a limited menu but the food is very well prepared. It is close to downtown so we walked downtown afterwards.
  3. Steak n Ribs – a man who had been coming to the island every year for 15 years recommended this to us and we loved it. It is in Riffort Village and on the third floor outside so we were able to watch many ships coming through the channel.
  4. Bistro le Clochard – we had dinner here New Years Eve and it was delicious. We sat at the bar while waves crashed behind us and fireworks lit up the sky.
  5. Iguana Cafe – for drinks only! This is situated right on the channel that connects Punda to Otrobanda and you have stunning views of colorful buildings, Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge and passing ships. Get a drink here!

Take this sunset tour! We cruised around Spanish Waters (a harbor with people windsurfing, boats, and million dollar homes) then out into the open ocean for the sunset. It was beautiful.

Take the Shete Boka tour on Viator – so worth it! We absolutely loved it and raved about it all day. He took us to the most off-the-beaten-path destinations on the island. We didn’t pass another car, we were off-roading the entire time. We saw waves crashing, a blowhole, inlets, turtles, etc. Amazing. Below are pictures.

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More pictures:

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(Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge)

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(Tabletop Mountain – the view from our sunset cruise!)

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(Sunset cruise)

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(Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge opening)

 

Where to Travel to in 2016

As 2016 begins, people of all walks of life make their yearly resolutions. Some choose to lose weight, some want to save money, while others (and myself) want to travel even more than they already do. If you are in this last group of people, here are a few places I recommend visiting in 2016.

  1. The Azores – these hidden gems will allow you to soak in the local culture and amazing scenery.
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  2. New Orleans, LA – a foodie hotspot with plenty of fun things to do.
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  3. Charleston, SC – a historic city that is beautiful all year round.
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  4. Madrid, Spain – a thriving city with delicious food and amazing sights.
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  5. Bermuda – beach lovers can soak up the sun and beauty of this island.
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  6. Oahu – There is much more than beaches to see on this bustling island.
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  7. Maui – Perfect for laid back folks looking to explore, hike, zipline, and hit the beach.

Things to do in Newport, RI

Newport is one of my favorite towns in New England. It’s a town

right on the ocean and famous for it’s historic mansions. I often take a weekend getaways there twice a year and try to do as many day trips as possible throughout the year. Although summer is their “tourist” season, spring and fall offer just as many activities. 
Throughout my time there, I have found my favorite things to do. This is what I recommend:
1. Drive down Ocean Drive and take a tour of one of the mansions. With numerous homes to choose from you can’t go wrong with the one you pick – find one that intrigues you. I have taken a tour of the Rosecliff – which is where they filmed the Great Gatsby (the one with Robert Redford) – and the Breakers. I highly recommend the Breakers. Their wealth and opulence is truly astonishing. Each room is aesthetically beautiful – one room even has panels of platinum! I have also eaten lunch at the Elms. 

2. Walk through Bowen’s Wharf and down Thames Street. Bowen’s Wharf has great patios and shops and Thames Street also has shops, roof decks and restaurants. 

3. Visit one of the many beautiful beaches! 

4. Take a walk on the Cliff Walk. There are a few entrance points and as the name sounds, you walk along the cliff with stunning views of the ocean and magnificent homes. 

5. Take a tour of Belcourt Castle. Ghost Hunters actually filmed there in Season 5, episode 5.

6. Go to the Newport Winery. Their wine is unique and delicious! 

7. Eat at these restaurants: White Horse Tavern, The Landing, The Deck and Sardella’s.

8. Go to Brenton Point State Park. There are giant rock ediface that juts out into the water. Many people fish here or climb on the rocks to watch the waves break.