A few weeks ago, I was booking flights for a business trip to London and (naturally) decided to hop across the pond a few days early to spend the weekend exploring the city with a friend. I had visited London only once before and that was about 16 years ago so I was long overdue for a return trip.
Where to Stay
Given the time since my last London visit, I wasn’t all that familiar with the city’s different neighborhoods. But after a little research, I stumbled upon Covent Garden, a quaint area of cobblestone streets, local shops and plenty of sidewalk cafes, just a stone’s throw from London’s vibrant theatre district.
I booked a room at the Covent Garden Hotel, operated by Firmdale Hotels – a group that specializes in boutique stays in both London and New York. The rooms offer everything you’d expect from a luxury hospitality brand, but what really made our stay so special were the unique touches: the lavender room mist they left at our bedside during turndown service, the Honour Bar (complete with mini pints of local ice cream) adjacent to the wood-paneled drawing room, the adorable brasserie off the lobby with its (surprisingly affordable) breakfast buffet and afternoon tea, and (of course) the private screening room.
[Hot Tip: I booked my room with rewards I had through hotels.com. As a member, for every 10 nights you book through their site, you receive a free night at participating hotels equivalent to the average price of your 10 prior stays.]
Eating & Drinking Around Town
Afternoon Tea at Sketch – Well if you’ve read any of my prior posts, you probably know how I feel about afternoon tea. So this was one of the primary activities I wanted to fit into our weekend. And when two people recommended Sketch, I knew I had to go. The place did not disappoint – it was like stepping into a scene from Alice In Wonderland. Though a bit on the expensive side, the food was delicious and the whole experience was one surprise after the next.
Sunday Roast at The Princess of Shoreditch – Another iconic British tradition is Sunday Roast – basically a full Christmas dinner every week: roasted meat, veggies, potatoes, yorkshire pudding, and of course sticky toffee pudding. The Princess of Shoreditch was a friend’s recommendation and once again we were in food heaven. Luckily we’d been on our feet all day so this was a well-deserved meal.
The Culpeper Roof Garden – I’ve dubbed Shoreditch the “Brooklyn” of London. With trendy restaurants and bars on every corner, this seems to be the neighborhood where every young professional in London is living these days. Our first night in town, we grabbed drinks on the roof of The Culpeper, which offers amazing views of the London skyline. And their Aperol Spritz (aka the cocktail of the summer) was on point.
Flight Club Darts – Flight Club is basically the British alternative to an American bowling alley. With two locations – Shoreditch and Bloomsbury – Flight Club is a great option for an evening out with a big group. Each group gets their own “Oche” (ie. bowling lane of darts) with a digitized dart board offering a variety of popular dart games and a waitress to order food and drinks. Despite being a terrible dart player this place was still really fun, offering a modern twist on a traditional British past time (plus they served up a great Pimm’s Cup).
The first time I visited London, I hit all the must-see tourist destinations. Since this was a second visit, I was less concerned with checking off the to do list and more interested in just enjoying the city. One of my favorite ways to do this is to go for a long walk or run first thing in the morning. It helps you get your bearings, get in a little exercise and also see a lot of the major sites before the crowds. From our hotel, we were able to easily see all of the following:
River Thames – Main body of water that runs through the city. It’s lovely to walk along the bank of the river and across the bridges.
We also booked a historical walking tour with City Wonders UK. This particular tour offered a 1.5 hour walking tour of Westminster and the surrounding areas with a guided history pertaining largely to World War II and Winston Churchill.
Following the walking tour, our ticket granted us access to the Churchill War Rooms (without waiting in the very long line!), a series of rooms in a bunker under the heart of London from which Churchill conducted the British war effort during WWII. The museum has audio guides and includes a full chronology of Churchill’s life, in addition to the restored “war rooms” from the 1940’s. Both the tour and museum were fascinating and though we looked a lot like tourists with our headsets, audioguides and cameras, we learned a lot about British history during the war.
Other Recommended Things to See
If you have more than just a weekend and/or it’s your first time visiting London, I definitely recommend these sites:
A couple of weeks ago, I was in California for a work retreat and we were lucky enough to have rooms booked at the idyllic Bernardus Lodge & Spa in Carmel Valley. An easy escape from San Francisco, the lodge is set in the valley hills, about 2 hours’ drive south from SFO, and just 15 minutes from the coastal towns of Carmel and Monterey (the setting for the mini-series of Big Little Lies – for all the fans out there!).
The lodge’s 73 guest rooms are nestled among the property’s 28 acres of vineyards, orchards and gardens. And even the most basic room includes a sitting area, dining table, and fireplace. For larger groups or families, there is also the option to book larger suites or 2-bedroom villas. The furnishings evoke rustic California charm with a modern twist.
Around the Resort
Off the main patio, the Bernardus has a manicured lawn offering guests the opportunity to play bocce ball, croquet, or practice their putting.
Just a short walk from the game field, guests will find themselves immersed in a magical garden, growing flowers in addition to vegetables and herbs used by the kitchen. I was lucky enough to visit when the roses were in full bloom.
The Bernardus even has their own resident honeybees which produce local honey for guests to enjoy.
In the on-site restaurant and bar, guests can sample a variety of Bernardus wines made from grapes grown and harvested right on the property. Or, take a trip down the road to the Bernardus Winery for a more formal tasting.
Lucia Restaurant & Bar serves delicious farm-to-table cuisine with both indoor and outdoor seating options. As mentioned above, many of the vegetables and herbs are sourced directly from the on-site garden.
After dinner, guests can enjoy a glass of wine by the fire pit, adjacent to the pool.
Or take an early morning dip in the Bernardus pool.
And of course, no visit to a resort would be complete without a trip to the spa! Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the spa on my trip, but I heard wonderful things from other guests.
Outside the Grounds
Perhaps the most amazing amenity offered by Bernardus Lodge is the complimentary Mercedes that guests can ‘rent’ for a couple of hours. These cars are perfect for an afternoon exploring the Monterey Peninsula and the famed 17 mile drive.
Don’t miss the iconic ‘Lone Cypress’, thought to be almost 250 years old.
In keeping with the car theme, you can also book a lesson with the nearby Land Rover Driving School. One of three in the country, instructors will teach you off-roading techniques in top of the line Land Rover models.
And of course, California is full of wineries, so don’t miss sampling some wines in the Carmel region. My favorite was Folktale Winery which offers a very affordable wine tasting alongside curated cheese and charcuterie platters and live music in a comfortable outdoor setting.
The Carmel Valley is a perfect escape from city life and Bernardus Lodge & Spa is the ideal setting to unplug and relax for a few days.
Last year, my friend and I traveled to Zermatt to ski alongside the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. This year, we decided to check out the French side of the mountain range and ventured to Chamonix to ski alongside another iconic European mountain, Mont Blanc.
While Chamonix itself is in the French Alps, the resort is located right on the border of Switzerland, making it easily accessible from Geneva’s airport. From New York, we flew to Geneva on Air France, with a short layover at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. The drive from Geneva to Chamonix is an easy 1 hour and 15 minutes and many shuttle companies offer affordable transportation. We booked with Alpybus for about 50 euros per person (round trip).
Where to Stay
The Chamonix-Mont Blanc valley consists of a few different ski areas and as a result, there are plenty of options for accommodation. We booked a little late but were able to get a room at Chalet Hotel le Castel, a boutique property in Les Praz de Chamonix, a quaint little village located about 5-10 minutes drive from Chamonix’s main downtown area.
The hotel was absolutely perfect for a weekend – located just across the street from LaFlégère cable car, offering ski-in/ski-out access. Le Ravenel Sportshop is also located between the hotel and the lift, so renting equipment is a breeze.
Our room at Chalet Hotel le Castel was absolutely adorable – the perfect blend of modern amenities (hello TV in the mirror) and quirky furnishings (don’t miss the giant flamingo), while still maintaining the look and feel of a French ski chalet.
As I mentioned there are several ski areas located within the Chamonix area. Since we were across the street from LaFlégère, we stayed on the slopes in that area, which also connects to Brévent. There was plenty of terrain in the Brévent-Flégère ski area for two full days, although I’d recommend trying some of the other ski areas if you are visiting for a longer period of time.
The lifts opened each day at 8:50 am and we were usually one of the first in line. We were lucky enough to have amazing spring skiing weather during our trip, so we were treated to warmer temps and plenty of sunshine. Generally, we like to ski harder in the morning and stop for an early lunch then head back out for a few hours in the afternoon before finishing the day with a little après-ski beverage.
Where to Eat
On the Mountain:
Altitude 2000 – in the Brévent ski area, offers salads, sandwiches, pizzas and drinks with plenty of outdoor seating. Sunny and quick service.
Le Panoramic – Also in the Brévent ski area, but at the top of the mountain (take the gondola up); offers panoramic views of the mountains and valley.
La Chavanne – Back in Flégère, a great spot for a quick lunch snack or perfect for après-ski. Both days we stopped here around 3-3:30 to enjoy some live music and rosé. (Tip: don’t miss the chocolate crepe for an afternoon snack)
In Les Praz de Chamonix:
La Cabane des Praz – A recommendation from our dear friend, this place did not disappoint. Offering refined french cuisine in a rustic setting, we had the perfect seat by the fire and a delicious three-course meal.
Restaurant le Castel – The restaurant in our hotel was so delicious, we ate there twice. Being so close to the Italian border, they had all of my favorite Italian dishes: fresh carpaccio, penne a la vodka and probably the best tiramisu we’ve ever had. Great comfort food after a tough day of skiing!
Overall, Chamonix was absolutely gorgeous, offered tremendous skiing, and delicious food. Plus, it was an easy weekend trip for Europe. We can’t wait to come back!
Iceland has been at the top of everyone’s must-see list for the past couple of years, and for good reason. The country is relatively easy to get to (only a 5 hour flight from the eastern US) and offers jaw-dropping scenery with plenty of opportunity for outdoor adventure. While Iceland is a prime destination year-round, I chose to visit in the wintertime with hopes of seeing the Aurora Borealis.
Icelandair and WOW Air both offer non-stop flights from New York to Keflavik, the international airport serving Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. I definitely recommend renting a car during your trip. Orange Car Rental is a great local option offering 4WD vehicles with snow-studded tires (perfect for winter). Their office is 5 minutes from the airport terminal, so a representative will pick you up at baggage claim upon arrival.
Where to Stay
Many people choose to stay in Reykjavik and book several day trips to the country with various tour operators. This is definitely an easy way to coordinate your visit, especially for a shorter trip. However the city of Reykjavik is relatively small and the list of “must-see” attractions, for the most part, falls outside the city limits. If you can swing it, I definitely recommend staying at one of the hotels in the countryside.
Hotel Grimsborgir is ideally located an hour east of Reykjavik along the Golden Circle route and is absolutely delightful. Since I took this trip with my father, we were able to book a small two-bedroom apartment which was perfect – we each had our own bedroom, as well as a shared bathroom, kitchenette, dining and sitting area. For larger families, the hotel offers 4-bedroom apartments as well. Hotel Grimsborgir also has an on-site restaurant, where they serve a daily breakfast buffet (included in the room rate) as well as a full buffet dinner. We chose to eat in the restaurant every night, not only for convenience, but also because the food was delicious. Last but not least, the entire staff was incredibly helpful and friendly.
At the end of our trip, we did spend one night in Reykjavik at the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel. However I wouldn’t recommend staying here. The property is dated (and I suspect we were in one of the older rooms) and located about 15 minutes’ walk from the city center. The Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel is situated centrally in the downtown area and probably a better option.
What to Do
Ride Icelandic horses at Laxnes Horse Farm– Just outside of Reykjavik, Laxnes Horse Farm is a family-run operation with over 100 Icelandic horses, a unique breed with five different gaits. The farm offers daily riding tours at 10 am and 2 pm. Riding time is about 2 hours and suitable for all levels – from beginners to more advanced riders. Unfortunately for us, it was pouring rain during our visit so we were soaked and frozen. But I imagine this would be an excellent activity in more temperate weather.
Drive the Golden Circle – While many companies offer day trips from Reykjavik to explore the Golden Circle, it’s easy enough to drive the route yourself and visit the stops along the way. Since we were staying in the countryside, we broke up the route a bit and visited different stops on different days. The main attractions along the circle include:
Crater Kerid – A volcanic crater lake
Geysir Geothermal Area – Stokkur Geysir spouts every 5-7 minutes
Gulfoss Waterfall – The most famous waterfall in Iceland
Thingvellir National Park – Founding site of the Icelandic parliament in 930 AD as well as the meeting point for the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Hike in Thorsmork National Park – Thorsmork is a small national park in the south of Iceland, home to lakes, rivers, valleys, mountains and several volcanoes, including the Eyjafjallajokull volcano which erupted in 2010 and famously shut down airports all over Europe with its ash cloud. Given the terrain, you definitely need to book a tour in order to visit Thorsmork. We selected Midgard Adventure, which operates a full-day superjeep tour in the park. From the Midgard base, we were driven to the Thorsmork in a superjeep (with massive wheels allowing us to cross rivers and drive on rocky terrain), stopping along the way to visit the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Inside the park, we explored the Eyjafjallajökull volcano flood scene, had a hot lunch at the Volcano Huts, and took several small hikes in the winter wonderland. We were lucky to have beautiful weather that day and even luckier to spot a black Arctic fox! On the return trip, our guide drove us down to the black sand beach on the southern coast, where we had stunning views of Heimaey Island at sunset.
Snowmobile on a Glacier – Arctic Adventures offers half-day snowmobile excursions on the Langjokull Glacier with pick-up from Gulfoss. Total snowmobile time is only about an hour, but the guides and equipment are all top-notch. And zipping around a glacier on a snowmobile was an awesome and exhilarating experience.
Hunt for the Aurora Borealis – Several operators offer nighttime expeditions in search of the Northern Lights. However, if you’re staying in the countryside, as we were, a tour is probably unnecessary. Light pollution is already at a minimum, so you may be lucky enough to spot the lights just outside your hotel room. On New Year’s Eve night we had clear skies and an INCREDIBLE show.
Take a dip in the Blue Lagoon– The Blue Lagoon is definitely a tourist attraction, but it’s still worth doing. Conveniently located just 20 minutes from the Keflavik airport, most travelers visit immediately upon arrival or just before their flight home. It’s necessary to book tickets in advance as times do fill up. I recommend the premium ticket, which includes a robe, towel, sandals, a complimentary beverage at the swim-up bar, and two mud masks – silica and algae. After your swim, you can shower off in the locker rooms and enjoy a fine dining meal at Lava Restaurant on premises. There is also a cafe for a lighter fare option.
Visiting Iceland in the winter was amazing and seeing the aurora borealis in action was absolutely a dream come true. Given the close proximity of Iceland, and the ease of exploring the country in a few days, I definitely recommend planning a trip there soon! However, a few things to note before you go:
When visiting in the winter, daylight is limited. When we were there in late December, the sunrise was at 11:15 am and sunset around 3:30 pm – however the sunrise and sunset were quite long, so it was really light from around 10am – 5 pm. Plenty of time for daily activities! But, when you’re alarm goes off at 8 am and its pitch black outside, its tough for your internal clock to get the message.
Another note on weather… Iceland has limited tree coverage and as a result, can be extremely windy. Keep this in mind when looking at the temperature forecast. Thirty degrees feels much much colder in 20 mile an hour winds!
Despite the cheap flights offered by Icelandair and WOW Air, Iceland in general is expensive. Hotels and food are definitely on the pricey side (and I live in NYC!), plus many activities (snowmobiling, Thorsmork, etc.) require that you book tours, which are also quite expensive, especially for a larger family.
Now I’ll be working on planning my trip back to Iceland in the summer to see the “Midnight Sun”!
Machu Picchu has been at the top of my travel to do list for so long, I was ecstatic to visit this historic site. Note that this trip does not include the rigorous 4-day hike along the Inca trail, but does offer plenty of opportunity for physical activity, as well as a diverse itinerary covering Peruvian history and tradition – plus a lot of delicious food and luxurious accommodations!
Day 1: Arriving in Peru
Our first day was spent traveling to Lima, Peru from New York. LATAM Airlines operates a daily direct flight to/from NYC’s JFK airport and Lima, however both flights are overnight. On the way to Peru, we opted for a day flight, so we flew American Airlines from JFK to Miami, and then from Miami to Peru. It made for quite a long travel day! We arrived in Lima around 9 pm where we were met by a National Geographic representative, who escorted us across the street to the Wyndham Costa del Sol Airport Hotel (for a quick night’s sleep before our flight to Cusco in the morning).
Day 2: Flight to Cusco / Sacred Valley
After meeting the rest of the group (19 of us in total) and a quick briefing in the hotel by our Tour Manager, Rocio, we were back at the Lima airport for our quick hour-long flight to Cusco.
Cusco actually has the highest altitude (11,100 feet) of any of the places we were set to visit on the trip, so in order to acclimatize, we immediately headed out of Cusco and drove down into the Sacred Valley (~9,000 feet in altitude). In Cusco, we were also met by our guide, Katherina who immediately began sharing her abundant knowledge of Peru and the Incas.
Our first stop in the Sacred Valley was the archaeological site of Moray. Famished after a morning of traveling, we stopped for lunch at a beautiful restaurant near the site called El Parador de Moray. We enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch in this gorgeous setting and I had my first sip of coca tea – an herbal tea made from the coca leaf which is supposed to help prevent altitude sickness.
After lunch, we spent a little time admiring the agricultural terraces at the site of Moray, which date to 1400 AD and were believed to be used by the Incas to experiment with planting certain crops at varying altitudes and with different soil mixtures.
In the afternoon, we drove further into the Sacred Valley and stopped in the town of Urubamba where we would be spending two nights. Kati first took us on a tour of a local food market and then to the pottery studio of Pablo Seminario, a renowned Peruvian pottery artist who has modernized ancient Peruvian pottery techniques.
In the evening, we checked into Hotel Sol y Luna, a Relais & Chateaux property in Urubamba. Each guest room is actually an individual “casita” nestled among a beautiful blooming garden buzzing with hummingbirds. We spent the evening at the hotel and enjoyed a delicious dinner at the property’s upscale restaurant Killa Wasi – where we had our first taste of guinea pig, alpaca, and trout ceviche – all traditional Peruvian dishes.
Day 3: Sacred Valley
The first item on the agenda for Day 3 was a lecture from Peter Frost, an archaeologist, independent scholar and National Geographic grantee who has studied Incan sites in Peru for over 30 years. This was truly one of the highlights of the trip and one of the major benefits of traveling on a National Geographic tour – it was as if instead of watching educational programming on the National Geographic channel, we had stepped into the television and were living it ourselves. Peter shared his opinions on Incan architecture – how they cut perfect stones and moved massive weight over long distances – as well as Incan tradition and research on new Inca sites that he has uncovered in the valley. Following the lecture, Peter accompanied us to the nearby Inca site of Ollantaytambo, where we saw the massive stones in person.
After walking around the site for about 2 hours, we headed off to lunch at Hacienda Huayoccari, a 17th century estate that has been in the same family for generations. We explored the family’s private museum while sipping on our very first Pisco sour – a traditional Peruvian cocktail made with Pisco, lime juice, egg white, and bitters. Following lunch, we also had the chance to explore the beautiful garden on the estate.
Before heading back to our hotel, we drove down to the ranch part of the estate to see a few cultural demonstrations: first, of the Peruvian Paso horse (which takes a prancing step); second, of the Peruvian “Marinera” dance; and third, a weaving demonstration by a women’s non-profit group that specializes in creating traditional Peruvian textiles using Inca techniques.
For dinner that evening, we enjoyed a more casual meal at the Wayra Ranch at Hotel Sol y Luna, accompanied by a 20-minute theatrical performance about the Incan gods.
Day 4: Machu Picchu
Today we were up early and all very excited for our trip to Machu Picchu!! We drove back to the town of Ollantaytambo, where we boarded the Peru Rail train to the small town of Aguas Calientes (~1 hour 45 minutes). From the town, we boarded a shuttle up the steep mountain to Machu Picchu!
Most visitors to the site, stay in the town of Aguas Calientes and need to take the shuttle up and back to explore Machu Picchu, however we were lucky enough to spend the night at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, located just outside the gates of the park. After checking in, we entered the park to explore. Given that it was earlier in the day, the park was quite crowded, however I was still immediately overcome by the fact that I was standing in this magical place that I had dreamed of for so long. After a quick for lunch at the hotel to avoid the heat of the day, we returned to Machu Picchu later that afternoon for another two hours of exploring. The latter part of the day was much less crowded, less buggy and more enjoyable. [Pro Tip: Machu Picchu was the only place we were attacked by mosquitos and gnats, so cover yourself in bug spray and wear long layers].
That evening, we enjoyed a complimentary Pisco sour class and tasting at the Belmond, before indulging in a well-earned meal at the Tampu Restaurant in the hotel.
Day 5: Machu Picchu / Cusco
Happy Thanksgiving! I was up at the crack of dawn this day to enjoy as much of Machu Picchu as possible. The park opened at 6 am and I wanted to enjoy a morning exploring the site on my own with limited crowds and early light. To be honest, the shuttle buses were already running at ten of 6, so by 6 am there was a line at the entrance! However, it moved quickly, and once inside, I was able to enjoy the peace of the early morning sun with clear blue skies.
At 7 am, we rejoined the group for a hike to the Sun Gate – Inti Punku. For hikers trekking the Inca trail all the way into Machu Picchu, the Sun Gate is their last checkpoint and first glimpse of their destination. However, the Sun Gate also makes a perfect half-day hike from Machu Picchu. It’s about 3 miles roundtrip and though steep in parts, the view from the top is well worth it.
Alas, the time came to say farewell to Machu Picchu and we headed back down via shuttle bus to the town of Aguas Calientes for a quick lunch at Cafe Inkaterra at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, before boarding the Peru Rail back to Ollanta station. From Ollanta, we re-boarded our bus and drove two hours through scenic valleys to Cusco.
After a long afternoon of traveling, we finally arrived in Cusco and checked into the Belmond Hotel Monasterio, a former monastery that has been converted into a hotel right in the historic center of Cusco. And that night we enjoyed a fabulous (Thanksgiving) dinner at El Tupay restaurant in the hotel, accompanied by two brilliant opera singers.
Day 6: Cusco
As I mentioned in the beginning, Cusco was the highest altitude of the trip and we definitely all felt it. The hotel offers oxygenated rooms for those who need it, or a complimentary 15 minutes using an oxygen tank.
In the morning, we had a full tour of Cusco, including:
Coricancha: the most important central temple of the Inca empire. The site was later converted to a church following the Spanish invasion however visitors can still see remnants of the Incan site.
Sacsayhuaman: a former Incan temple, and later citadel, located just outside of Cusco to the north.
Awana Kancha: home to domesticated Peruvian llama and alpaca (which you can feed and pet) as well as wild Peruvian vicuna. The site includes an extensive gift shop where you can shop textiles dyed and woven from the wool of these animals.
Cusco Cathedral: an extremely impressive piece of architecture set at the center of Cusco, the Cusco Cathedral was built by the Spanish in the mid-1600s, however key aspects of Incan tradition and religion are clearly reflected in the design and decor of the church.
After lunch, we had some free time to explore Cusco which we spent shopping for souvenirs and enjoying a cocktail/snack in the courtyard of the Hotel Monasterio.
In the evening, we were free to enjoy dinner anywhere in town. Given the high altitude, we weren’t so hungry, but went out for a tapas-style meal at Limo, where we shared a bunch of small plates. Everything was delicious!
Day 7: Lima
Today was an early wake-up call (4:45 am!) for our flight back to Lima and the last full day of our tour. We arrived in Lima around 9 am and boarded a new bus with our Lima guide, Carla. Our first stop in Lima was the Larco Herrera Museum, a privately-owned museum featuring pre-Columbian art from all over Peru. It was here that we had the opportunity to learn more about the Pre-Incan cultures that dominated the country before the Incan empire took over.
Venturing into the heart of downtown Lima, we had some time to view the central square of the city, before enjoying our final group lunch at a 500-year old Spanish mansion, Casa de Aliaga. We enjoyed some passed hors d’oeuvres and pisco sours while we toured the historic home and were entertained by Kike Pinto, a musician specializing in indigenous instruments of ancient Peru. And for lunch, we enjoyed a delectable final feast all together in the opulent dining room.
After lunch and our tour of Lima, we headed to the beautiful Miraflores neighborhood set along the Pacific ocean where we checked into our final hotel, the Belmond Miraflores Park. This might just be my favorite hotel room of all time.
For our final evening of the trip, we had a free dinner. I had booked reservations months in advance at Astrid y Gaston, ranked the #30 best restaurant in the world. Located inside a 300-year old hacienda in the San Isidro district, Astrid y Gaston features innovative presentations of modern Peruvian cuisine. We enjoyed a fabulous final meal there as a family and recounted our favorite memories from the past week.
Day 8: Return to New York
Our wake-up call today was even earlier than the day before – 3:45 am! – in order to catch our 7:45 am flight from Lima to Miami and then on to New York. Unfortunately when we awoke at that ungodly hour, we were informed that our flight to Miami was delayed for 12 hours due to mechanical problems. Since this then totally messed up our connection, we were able to switch all of us to the LATAM direct flight that evening. This then gave us a whole day to relax at the Belmond Miraflores Park hotel – enjoying the rooftop pool, the spa, and catching up on some emails in the beautiful lobby library. Finally, much later that evening, we were off to the airport and back to NYC.
Overall, the trip was absolutely incredible. Except for our flight hiccup on the very last day, the itinerary ran incredibly smoothly and we packed a whole bunch of history, culture and fun into our week in Peru. The National Geographic / Lindblad staff were fabulous and I would definitely travel on one of their trips in the future! We are eyeing the Galapagos Islands for 2017.
Located just 30 minutes south of San Francisco, serene Half Moon Bay is an ideal weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. And for a luxurious accommodation in the area, look no further than the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay. Perched upon a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this resort features two iconic golf courses, a world-class spa, and postcard-perfect sunsets.
Ritz Carlton accommodations never disappoint, but the rooms at the Half Moon Bay property are incredibly spacious and luxurious. The muted blue palette is peaceful and perfectly reflective of the tranquil ocean setting. Feather beds are adorned with 400-thread count Egyptian cotton linens and 100% goose down pillows. After sunset, guests can shut their blinds electronically from a switch at their bedside. And in the morning, guests can enjoy a fresh cup of coffee from the in-room Nespresso.
The roomy marble bathroom includes an oversized soaking tub, a standing shower, a large vanity area complete with Asprey London bath products, and plush terry-cloth robes.
The resort is well known for its two championship golf courses: The Ocean Course and the Old Course. Guests can also pursue athletics by renting one of the six lighted tennis courts, swimming laps in the indoor heated swimming pool, running or walking along the Coastal Trails, or enjoying the on-site fitness center. For guests looking for some more R&R, the 16,000 square foot spa and beauty salon offer a variety of treatments.
In my opinion the most enjoyable activity at the resort is sitting out on the back lawn at one of the three large gas fire pits with a glass of local wine, listening to the bagpiper as the sun sets over the Pacific.
The Ocean Terrace: Open 12 pm – Sunset, the ocean terrace offers ideal alfresco dining for lunch or an afternoon snack and cocktail
The Conservatory: Open 11 am – 11 pm, The Conservatory highlights fresh, organic and community-grown ingredients as well as cocktails crafted with ingredients from the living wall
Navio: Open for dinner Thursday-Sunday, Navio offers a more upscale dining experience featuring seafood and coastal Californian cuisine
Cork Wine Bar & Library Bar: Adjacent to the lobby, the Cork Wine Bar offers an intimate setting to sample California wines. The adjacent Library Bar is often used for events.
The resort offers a whole list of area activities to enjoy. On prior trips, I have spent time exploring the small town of Half Moon Bay, eating at the local fish shacks along the main wharf, and walking along the famed Half Moon Bay beaches.
On this most recent visit, I also had the opportunity to hike in a young Redwood Forest, located just 10 minutes drive from the hotel.
I also highly recommend taking advantage of the Coastal Trails adjacent to the resort. I thoroughly enjoyed my morning run at sunrise.
The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay is a truly magical place and if you’re looking for a romantic (or even a family or solo getaway), you will find peace and indulgence at this hotel.
There are so many hotels to choose from in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but I was particularly drawn to the elegant modern design and optimal location of Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. Just steps from the historic plaza at the center of Santa Fe, Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi offers all the comforts of home with a southwestern flair.
Established in 1979, Rosewood manages a collection of 18 luxury hotels and resorts worldwide. Led by young CEO Sonia Cheng, Rosewood has recently refreshed its brand under the new motto:“A Sense of Place – A personal journey of authentic and exquisite discoveries.”
I was so excited when I walked into my room at the Inn – the team of Rosewood has really thought of everything. The giant king sized bed was topped with a plush comforter, piles of soft white pillows and authentic southwestern textiles. On the side of the bed, was a beautiful desk, perfect for catching up on emails in the morning over a cup of tea (also provided!). The gas fireplace was perfectly poised with two cozy chairs in front, just waiting for me to curl up with a good book. Finally, the bathroom had a massive bathtub complete with complimentary lavender bath salts. And of course, there were robes and slippers available as well as snacks and other goodies in the mini bar.
Turn-down service also went above and beyond, with complimentary cookies laid out on my pillow, soothing music turned on the radio, and even a humidifier set out by the fireplace to fight off the dry air.
The Inn has two beautiful library rooms on the main floor that guests can relax in at any time of day. Early in the morning, they serve complimentary tea and coffee here for guests.
The Anasazi Restaurant
I had a delectable meal at the Anasazi Restaurant the night I spent at the Inn. Like all other spaces in the hotel, the room was exquisitely designed in a relaxed, yet modern take on traditional southwestern style. The service was also top notch. During warmer months, the restaurant also offers outdoor patio seating.
Anasazi Bar & Lounge
Just off the restaurant, the Anasazi Bar & Lounge is the perfect place to enjoy a Silver Coin margarita and indulge in some Para Picar, or small plates. On Saturday nights, live musicians play in the bar starting at 7 pm.
If you have time, the hotel offers in-room massage and aromatherapy services which I’m sure are divine.
The hotel website also provides a full list of “Things to Do” in Santa Fe or you can check out my other post explaining the full itinerary of my weekend exploring the city and its environs.
Santa Fe, New Mexico is the oldest state capital city in the United States, founded by Spanish colonists in the early 1600s. The city is located roughly an hour north of Albuquerque and centers around a historic plaza and the Palace of the Governors, which dates to 1610 and holds the title for the oldest government building in continuous use in the US. In recent years, Santa Fe has entered the tourism spotlight due to its numerous outdoor activities, plethora of art galleries and museums, and booming culinary scene.
JetBlue operates a daily flight at 8 pm EST from JFK International Airport to Albuquerque International Sunport (I’m still not certain as to why it’s called a sunport and not an airport!). Since I arrived in New Mexico on the later side, I decided to spend the night at the Courtyard Albuquerque Airport, which was extremely clean, convenient, and affordable.
Eager to get up to Santa Fe, I was up early Saturday morning to pick-up my rental car from Hertz. I always like to do something active first thing in the morning, so my first stop was Bandelier National Monument where I planned to do some hiking. The main section of Bandelier is about 45 minutes from downtown Santa Fe, so the drive up from Albuquerque took me about 1 hour and 45 minutes. At Bandelier, I hiked the Main Loop Trail and the Alcove House Trail (totaling roughly 2.2 miles altogether).
The Main Loop Trail features excavated ruins from the Pueblo Native Americans who lived in Frijoles Canyon hundreds and even thousands of years before. A complimentary guide explains the history and significance of each of the archaeological sites along the trail, providing an excellent opportunity for education along the hike. There are even a couple of ladders where you can climb up into cavate dwellings in the cliff face.
The Alcove Trail, an extension of the Main Loop Trail, includes a series of taller ladders which take you 140 feet up the cliff face to a large alcove. Formerly known as Ceremonial Cave, this alcove once housed a family of 25 Ancestral Pueblo people, and now features a reconstructed kiva (a religious building used by the Pueblo).
After hiking these two trails, I drove 12 miles towards Santa Fe and stopped at the Tsankawi section of Bandelier National Monument which includes a 1.5 mile loop trail along a mesa. Similar to the earlier hikes, this trail showcases petroglyphs, cavates and an ancestral Pueblo village. However, one of the most interesting things I found was that the Tsankawi village on this trail was left un-excavated, per the preference of the Pueblo descendants (versus the excavated sites on the Main Loop Trail). If the guided pamphlet hadn’t pointed out the locations, I likely would not have realized I was standing at such a historic site. It was really eye-opening to see the contrast between an excavated archaeological site and one that was left undisturbed.
From Tsankawi, I drove another 30 minutes to Santa Fe where I arrived at my hotel – Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. A luxury, boutique hotel located just steps from the center plaza of town, Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi includes modern luxury accommodations reflective of traditional Southwestern design.
After a full morning of hiking, I was definitely ready for a shower and some nourishment! So, once I had settled my things in the hotel, I set off to explore the central plaza, stopping for a bite of tortilla soup and a margarita at Thunderbird Bar & Grill. It was such a beautiful, sunny afternoon and I was fortunate enough to grab a seat on the restaurant’s second floor patio overlooking the town center.
Following my late lunch, I walked around town for an hour or so, sightseeing and window shopping. I also visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis Assisi (an 1800s-era cathedral) and the historic Loretto Chapel.
On Saturday evening, I decided to dine in my hotel at the Anasazi Restaurant. There were so many delectable-looking food options around town, but given that I was traveling solo, I chose to stick close to home. The decor in the dining room is consistent with the rest of the hotel – elegant comfort with a nod to the Southwest. And the food was absolutely delicious! I treated myself to a special margarita, and a 3-course meal topped off with sopapillas, a traditional New Mexican dessert.
And after dinner, I took full advantage of my luxurious hotel room – drinking tea and munching on cookies by the gas fireplace, soaking in the large tub with the lavender bath salts, and watching TV on top of a mountain of pillows in my King size bed. This was a “treat yourself” kind of night!
I awoke to another beautiful sunny and crisp fall day in Santa Fe, so I headed out for a run first thing. I planned out a trail to pass by a couple of the sites I intended to visit later that morning, and also happened upon a beautiful running trail along the Santa Fe River Park.
For breakfast, I ordered huevos rancheros (another must have in New Mexico!) for room service which I ate curled up by the fireplace in my hotel room.
Around 10 am, I set off to visit the remaining items on my Santa Fe to do list. My first stop was the local artisans selling jewelry along the Palace of the Governors, where I picked up a beautiful handmade turquoise bracelet.
Next, I visited the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. Originally from Wisconsin and having lived her early years in NYC, Georgia O’Keefe began visiting New Mexico in the 1920s and made the state her permanent home in 1949. As a result, she drew a lot of inspiration from New Mexican culture, flora and landscape.
Finally, I walked over to Canyon Road which is home to the majority of Santa Fe’s renowned galleries. While I wasn’t really in the market to purchase any art, it was still enjoyable to walk through the galleries and admire the work by local artists.
For my final hour in Santa Fe, I stopped at The Teahouse at the end of Canyon Road. Having had a late breakfast, I wasn’t too hungry, but since I was headed to the airport shortly, I wanted to stop for a snack. The tea menu was multiple pages long, but I went for a traditional Santa Fe Fog, which was an apricot black tea latte, and a homemade blackberry scone, which I must say was literally the best scone I’ve ever had in my life!
After checking out of my hotel, I bid farewell to Santa Fe and drove back to the Albuquerque Sunport for the next leg of my trip.
I absolutely loved every minute of my time in Santa Fe. The town has so much to offer both within the city limits as well as the environs. And everyone that I met was so friendly and accommodating, this was a really easy place to travel solo. I only wish I had had more time to explore, but I cannot wait to return!
If you have a car, Woodstock is a fairly easy drive from major Northeastern cities. From Boston, you can make it there in 2.5 hours, while the trip from NYC will take about 4.5 hours, depending on traffic.
Amtrak also operates trains north to White River Junction, VT which is only a 20 minute drive to Woodstock. The scenery is beautiful but the trip is a bit long from NYC and departure times are limited. For the quickest route, Cape Air runs daily trips from Boston and NYC (Westchester) into Lebanon, NH, which is only a 30 minute drive to Woodstock. The airport in Lebanon is quite small, but it does have rental cars on premises. If you arrive in Woodstock by train or plane, I definitely recommend renting a car to drive around the area.
WHERE TO STAY
My favorite place to stay is the Woodstock Inn & Resort, which is conveniently located on “the Green” (Woodstock’s main square), just a few minutes from the center of town. Check-out my full review of the Inn here.
For a less expensive option, The Shire Hotel at the other end of town offers spacious and modern accommodations. And for those looking for more of a homey experience, there are plenty of B&Bs in Woodstock to choose from.
WHERE TO DINE
1. The Red Rooster – The main restaurant in the Woodstock Inn is one of the top places to dine in Woodstock, featuring craft cocktails and farm-fresh cuisine. I always recommend dining here for lunch or dinner (or both!).
2. The Mill at Simon Pearce – Located in nearby Quechee, Vermont, diners can visit the Simon Pearce glassblowing workshop and purchase one-of-a-kind glassware in the shop before and after dinner. The restaurant itself offers beautiful views of the Quechee Gorge and the menu features innovative American cuisine with fresh local ingredients. This is a more upscale dining experience and is perfect for a celebratory or romantic dinner.
3. The Prince & The Pauper – Featuring regional cuisine, The Prince & The Pauper is located in the center of town within an easy walking distance from any of the aforementioned accommodations. The cozy atmosphere is perfect for an intimate dinner on a chilly evening.
4. Cloudland Farm – On Fridays and Saturdays, Cloudland Farm opens its doors for dinner, with a delicious prix-fixe menu in a rustic setting.
5. The Mountain Creamery – Comfort food at its best. The Mountain Creamery is a Woodstock-favorite. I love their grilled cheese, tuna melts, soups and of course, homemade ice cream.
6. The White Cottage Snack Bar – Just a few minutes outside of town, this summertime favorite is perfect for a post-dinner ice cream cone (ok so I like ice cream).
WHERE TO SHOP
There are so many cute little shops to pop in and out of while strolling along the streets of Woodstock, but here are my top recommendations for local goods:
1. Farmhouse Pottery – Founded 4 years ago by a local Woodstock couple, the Farmhouse Pottery workshop and store is just a short drive from the center of town. Visitors can watch the potters at their craft, while browsing the shop for one of a kind pieces. I may have gone a little overboard with my purchases last trip, but every item is just so beautiful and unique! The owners have a distinct design aesthetic that I absolutely love and can’t wait to showcase in my own kitchen.
2. Simon Pearce – While Simon Pearce now operates retail locations in many major cities, I still love to visit the flagship location in Quechee, VT. The shop features gorgeous handblown glass items handcrafted downstairs by the Simon Pearce team. Visitors can also tour the workshop and watch the glassblowers in action. Simon’s son, Andrew Pearce, also sells his handmade wooden bowls in the shop.
3. Yankee Bookshop – Yankee Bookshop is Vermont’s oldest continuously operated bookshop, serving Woodstock since 1935. While I tend to read on my kindle more often than not, I still love browsing a small bookshop and flipping through the new releases or staff favorites. And I never walk out of here empty handed.
4. F.H. Gillingham & Sons General Store – Located just off the main thoroughfare in the town of Woodstock, Gillingham’s General Store is a nostalgic step back in time. The shop was first opened in 1886 by Frank Henry Gillingham, and is still to this day, family-owned and operated. True to its name, Gillingham’s is chock full of everything you could want, from food and wine, to cooking utensils, children’s toys and hardware items. But, the most important purchase for any trip to Gillingham’s is a large jug of Vermont’s own Grade A maple syrup! 5. Woodstock Farmer’s Market – The name evokes a Saturday pop-up of local farmers, but in reality the Woodstock Farmer’s Market is a boutique grocery store with a permanent structure. They offer both a wide selection of prepared foods, as well as a fairly size-able grocery and produce section, with a focus on local products.
WHAT TO DO
If you’re staying at the Woodstock Inn (or frankly, even if you’re not), definitely check out the Activities page of their website for a complete list of area attractions. Below, I’ve also highlighted a couple of my favorite Woodstock experiences.
1. Hiking Mount Tom – Woodstock is definitely an outdoorsy community and so there are plenty of nearby hiking trails to explore. My favorite is to hike to the top of Mount Tom. There are several trails that lead through this nature preserve and a few that head to the top. The trails are challenging but not overly strenuous and once at the top, you will have beautiful views of the valley below including a great bird’s eye view of the town.
2. Hitting the slopes – If you’re visiting Woodstock in the wintertime, there are a couple of options for skiing in the area. The closest mountain is Suicide Six, which is operated by the Woodstock Inn and boasts as one of the oldest ski resorts in the country. For larger mountains, Killington Ski Resort and Okemo Mountain Resort are each about a 30 minute (give or take) drive from Woodstock.
3. Visiting farm animals at Billings Farm & Museum – A favorite for kids of all ages, Billings is a live dairy farm offering families the opportunity to learn about life on a working farm, visit with farm animals and watch farmhands milk the Billings cows. The farm also offers a bunch of special events so definitely check the calendar before your visit.
4. Learning to bake at King Arthur Flour – About a 30 minute drive from Woodstock, sits the town of Hanover, NH (home to Dartmouth College), and just outside of Hanover, is the home of King Arthur Flour. The mecca for any avid baker, King Arthur Flour’s Vermont location includes a cafe (with fresh baked bread and pastries – yum), a store complete with every mix or utensil a baker could dream of, and a baker’s school featuring daily classes. The classes fill up quickly, so definitely book in advance!
I hope you’ll have the chance to visit Woodstock, Vermont soon. This truly is an amazing town with tons of quintessential New England experiences on offer!
Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England town and one of my absolute favorite places to visit, especially in Autumn when the trees light up in bright hues of red, orange and yellow. Given that I have family in the area, I typically don’t have the opportunity to stay at the Woodstock Inn & Resort, but I was incredibly lucky this year to have won a three-night stay at the hotel in a raffle fundraiser!
About the Inn
The original Woodstock Inn was built in 1892 in response to the tourism boom of the mid-19th century. Located in the heart of Woodstock Village, the Inn quickly became a popular vacation destination for affluent travelers looking to escape city life for a week or two, particularly during the winter season.
In 1967, Laurance Rockefeller, a Woodstock resident and owner of RockResorts, purchased the original hotel, planning to completely rebuild the facilities; and in 1969, the Inn reopened as the resort we know today. Since then, the Inn has been extended on four separate occasions and just recently completed a beautiful renovation to the lobby and main shared areas to maintain a modern yet traditional design.
The current Inn has 142 rooms and suites, each carefully designed to reflect Vermont’s signature style of rustic comfort. The rooms feature large-frame wood beamed beds with plush comforters, mountains of white pillows and hand-dyed blankets. The furnishings brilliantly blend modern elegance with Laurance Rockefeller’s historic vision.
One of my favorite places to sit at the Inn is in the main lobby in front of the huge fireplace. Especially on a chilly fall day, this is the perfect place to warm up.
My second favorite place to sit is in the Conservatory enjoying the complimentary afternoon tea and cookies (served daily at 4 pm).
Finally, the Inn has two game rooms – one on the lower level catered towards kids which features a pool table, a giant scrabble board, pinball machines and shuffleboard. The ‘adult’ game room (or Library) on the main floor is situated to the right of the lobby and includes tables with puzzles, backgammon and chess.
The Spa at The Woodstock Inn
Do not miss the spa! Every time I visit Woodstock with my family, we take a group outing to the spa at the Inn. The 10,000 square foot LEED-certified facility is state of the art, with fully outfitted locker rooms (including steam rooms and showers), a gorgeous lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows (third favorite place to sit!), an outdoor seating area with a jacuzzi and pool access, and 10 treatment rooms. The spa therapists are top-notch and you’ll leave your treatment feeling perfectly relaxed. You can also order food and drinks in the lounge area – I recommend having a mini bottle of prosecco post-treatment.
Dining: The Red Rooster
The Red Rooster, which is the main restaurant at the Inn, offers some of the best dining Woodstock has to offer. As a hotel guest, you can dine here for breakfast with a full buffet on weekdays (including an omelet station) and a choice of breakfast menu or buffet on weekends. On my recent trip, I had the most delicious fluffy blueberry pancakes!
I also definitely recommend making a reservation here for lunch or dinner, which features delicious craft cocktails and farm fresh cuisine.
And finally, the town of Woodstock offers plentiful outdoor activities such as hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter – not to mention the great shopping and restaurants only a stone’s throw from the hotel.