HOTEL REVIEW: WHAREKAUHAU COUNTRY ESTATE

Sheep farms abound in New Zealand. In fact, sheep outnumber humans in the country at a ratio of 7 to 1. So for a truly authentic New Zealand experience, I love the idea of spending a few days on an actual working sheep farm and Wharekauhau Country Estate is the perfect place to do just that. This Relais & Chateaux property has operated as a sheep station since the 1840s and guests are offered the unique opportunity to see what this means first-hand through the lodge’s farm tour.

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GETTING THERE

Wharekauhau is located in the Wairarapa Valley on the North Island of New Zealand, about a 2 hours’ drive from the capital city of Wellington. The lodge can arrange for vehicle transfers for those who do not want to rent a car, or, you can opt to arrive by helicopter in just about 15 minutes’ time!

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THE ACCOMMODATIONS

The oceanside property is sprinkled with one-bedroom cottage suites, most of which offer interconnecting options to allow for families or larger groups to stay together. All of the suites overlook stunning vistas of Palliser Bay, and feature gas fireplaces, super King-sized four poster beds, plush couches, and of course – a jar of homemade cookies. The large walk-in wardrobe leads into a small wet bar area and then on to the bathroom where guests will find heated marble floors and large soaking tubs with views over the front lawn.

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DINING

Breakfast is served in the kitchen of the main lodge – a continental buffet of breads, pastries, fruit, fresh jam and honey, plus a menu of hot selections available for order. Pre-dinner drinks and canapés are served in the living room and offer guests the opportunity to mingle and discuss the day’s activities by the fire. Dinner is then presented in the formal dining room – a delicious 4-course menu (changing daily) with an optional wine pairing. Many of the wines are from local Martinborough vineyards or produced by the lodge owner’s vineyards around the world.

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Room rates are inclusive of daily breakfast, pre-dinner drinks and canapés and 4-course dinner. Guests can opt for lunch at an additional fee, but given all the food, you may want to skip it as we did, and just grab a pastry from the cloche in the kitchen to tide you over.

ACTIVITIES

There are so many fun and unique activities to do at Wharekauhau! We partook in the following:

  • Martinborough Wine Tour – the Martinborough region is known for fabulous Pinot Noirs. Just about an hour from Wharekauhau you’ll be in wine country with easy access to multiple different vineyards. Wharekauhau arranged a private guided tour for us that included tastings at four different wineries. Moy Hall was one of my favorites due to the design of the building. And we loved the lunch spread at Poppies – a platter of cheeses, meats, breads and spreads is always perfect for wine tasting. If you’d like to ship a case of wines home from a variety of the vineyards you visited, don’t forget to stop at the Martinborough Wine Merchants store in town before you leave and assemble your box. IMG_2671IMG_5116
  • Farm Tour – As I mentioned above, the Farm Tour is an absolute must for all guests experiencing Wharekauhau as it gives you the opportunity to really understand what goes into operating a sheep farm – from training sheep dogs to shearing the wool. The day we participated, everyone else staying at the lodge was also on the tour and it was a great way to connect with our fellow travelers.DSC02594DSC02609
  • Archery – With the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, archery has become a popular activity for New Zealand visitors. Wharekauhau offers an incredible archery experience with a seasoned guide.

These were just a few of the activities we enjoyed, but there are many more options available!

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WHY VISIT

Each place we stayed in New Zealand was completely unique and Wharekauhau did not disappoint. I loved being near the ocean, gazing past herds of sheep to the bluffs of Palliser Bay. The property is stunning and the warmth and hospitality you’ll feel at this estate is palpable. ATLAS + VALISE clients also receive special Virtuoso amenities, including a $100 resort credit and early check-in!

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HOTEL REVIEW: AZUR LODGE

Nestled among soaring mountains at the foot of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand and is a must-see for anyone visiting the country.

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Just a 5-minute drive from this bustling downtown, you’ll find the perfect hideaway for honeymooners and couples – Azur Lodge. This boutique luxury property is incredibly private – it has 9 identical villas perched hillside, with breathtaking views over the lake and surrounding mountains.

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ACCOMMODATION

Villas at Azur Lodge are spacious – from the L-shaped couch set in front of the gas fireplace, to the private patio and the indoor dining table set in a bay of floor-to-ceiling windows – there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the view. A small kitchenette provides guests with complimentary soft drinks, beer and wine, as well as local snacks, tea and coffee. The villas are arranged such that each is completely private (once you’re in your villa – you won’t see anyone else in theirs!) and have unobstructed views from the King-sized bed to the oversized soaking tub.

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AMENITIES

In addition to the 9 villas, the property has a main reception area with a lounge, dining room and library. At breakfast time, guests can opt to join others in the main dining room, where a delicious buffet spread is laid out, or have breakfast delivered to their villa at no extra charge. In addition to the traditional continental fare, guests can also order a variety of hot items – anything egg-based, pancakes, or french toast.

In the afternoons, pop up to the main lodge for a cup of tea and the pastry of the day, or stop by in the evenings for a cocktail and some canapés (or both – hey, you’re on vacation!). While dinner isn’t included at this property, a full bar is set up in the evenings and you can request pretty much any cocktail or glass of wine that you’d like. The hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle to and from town and the concierge is available to assist with dinner reservations at the top spots in Queenstown (of which there are many!). But, one of the more genius offerings at Azur Lodge is their take on in-room dining. For lunch and dinner, the lodge provides an extensive portfolio of take-out menus in your room – from Asian food to pizza and burgers. Just pick out what you’re in the mood for and the staff will place the order for you, pick it up downtown, and set it up in your room with white linen and silverware. This is the best table in town so don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy it!

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ACTIVITIES

There is SO much to do in Queenstown! As I mentioned, this is the adventure capital of New Zealand and it is also the birthplace of bungee. If you’re up for a major adrenaline rush then this is a great place to skydive or bungee jump. But for the slightly less adventurous out there, I recommend the Shotover Jet, the Luge, e-biking through wine country, and of course, a trip to Milford Sound. Read my full New Zealand post for a recap of everything we did in Queenstown and contact me today to start planning your stay at the beautiful Azur Lodge!

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HOTEL REVIEW: OTAHUNA LODGE

We arrived at Otahuna Lodge late our first evening, after a long day of travel from Kokomo to the main island of Fiji then on to Auckland and finally to Christchurch. Despite the late hour, we were still greeted in the front drive by several staff who helped us with our luggage, gave us a quick tour of the property, showed us to our upgraded Master Suite, and then served us a 3-course dinner at 10 pm. I immediately felt as if I had stepped back in time, to the world of Downton Abbey – we were the Lord & Lady of the Manor here. Words can hardly describe how incredible this hotel was – it was more than a hotel – it was an experience, one that we felt so grateful to have on our Honeymoon and one that left us counting the days until we can return.

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THE HISTORY

Otahuna was built in 1895 for Sir Heaton Rhodes, a Victorian country gentleman, and his wife, Jessie. Sir Heaton lived in the home for 60 years until he passed away at the age of 95, leaving Otahuna (which means “little hill among the hills” in Maori) as his greatest legacy. Though the home has been through several incarnations over the past few decades, it has operated as a hotel since 2007. While privately owned and operated, the property is part of the Relais & Chateaux portfolio and lives up to the brand’s extremely high standards of service, luxury and cuisine.

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THE ROOMS

The property has just 7 rooms, each one of them completely unique in style. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to the Rhodes Suite – 1 of the 2 Master Suites. This series of four rooms was originally the master bedroom for Sir Heaton Rhodes himself – complete with a private verandah, octagonal turret room, a study/foyer and an ensuite bathroom. The accommodation also features beautifully carved woodwork, an operational fireplace and stained glass windows.

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THE CUISINE

Food lovers rejoice at Otahuna! I honestly have probably never had better food in my life. At breakfast, guests are greeted warmly in the country-style kitchen with a slew of freshly baked breads, homemade jams, butter and honey, as well as homemade buffalo yogurt, fresh berries, melon, and of course kiwi! Each day, there will undoubtedly also be a fresh (literally right out of the oven) baked good – perhaps some blueberry muffins or maybe banana chocolate chip. The juicer is also out on the counter, ready to serve up the lodge’s signature Orange-Ginger-Carrot concoction. And a chef in the kitchen can cook up eggs, bacon, sausage to order – or probably any hot breakfast you have in mind. While lunch isn’t included in the rate, ATLAS + VALISE clients receive a complimentary Virtuoso picnic lunch for one day during their stay. We enjoyed this on the back patio – a delicious salad with smoked chicken and vegetables cut from the garden, freshly baked focaccia bread with local olive oil, and a work of art otherwise known as panna cotta with freshly picked berries. Of course there was wine too – whatever wine we wanted! – but I can’t resist a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

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I dare you to go hungry at Otahuna, but if you do, there is a pantry of snacks stocked on the upstairs landing, as well as hot and cold beverages – so help yourself! At dinner time, guests meet in the drawing room for cocktails and canapés before entering the communal dining room for the lodge’s signature 5-course dinner. (Guests can also opt for one of a few private dining locations if they prefer not to eat with the group). Each course is paired with a local New Zealand wine selected by the highly trained server/sommelier. But if you don’t like any of the choices, don’t be shy – just ask for something else.

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THE ACTIVITIES

At the Lodge

  • Tour the Gardens and Visit “Oinkahuna” – Otahuna is home to spectacular gardens, from its massive front lawn and daffodil field, to the vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. You’ll also find some secret garden paths in the woods – leading to hidden clearings and frog ponds. And don’t miss “Oinkahuna” – home to the Lodge’s two pigs. IMG_2298IMG_2296
  • Learn to Cook from a Master – Any visit to Otahuna must include a cooking class. These hands-on lessons are offered in one or three hour formats. We opted for the shorter one, but still learned to make so many different things – from brioche to homemade sorbet, and handmade tortellinis. IMG_2243
  • Bike Ride – The Lodge has bikes on hand if you’re hoping to stretch your legs through the Canterbury countryside. IMG_2231

Nearby

  • Visit Banks Peninsula & Akaroa – One of the main attractions of this area is the historic town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. You can also take a cruise through the Akaroa harbor and see the world’s rarest and smallest dolphins, the Hector’s Dolphins.
  • Take the Tranzalpine railway to Arthur’s Pass National Park – We did this full day trip one of the days at Otahuna. The lodge can arrange a guided tour for you with Canterbury Guiding Co. You’ll be picked up early from the Lodge and driven to a nearby train station to board the Tranzalpine Railway – one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. You’ll follow a river as you climb up into the Southern Alps and Arthur’s Pass National Park. You’ll disembark the train there and meet up again with your guide who will take you on some beautiful hikes before returning back to Christchurch by car. LRG_DSC02445LRG_DSC02449LRG_DSC02476
  • Fly Fishing & More

Rates are inclusive of breakfast and dinner (beverages too). Contact me to book your visit to this amazing property today and receive your exclusive amenity of a complimentary picnic lunch and bottle of wine!

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HONEYMOONIN’ THROUGH NEW ZEALAND

When my (now) husband and I got engaged last spring, we immediately started planning for an epic honeymoon – even before we sorted out the details of our wedding! New Zealand seemed like a perfect choice – neither of us had been before and it offered the ideal combination of luxury and adventure that we were both looking for in a honeymoon locale. Plus, as we were married at the end of March, New Zealand would be entering autumn – our favorite season.

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Getting There

As destinations go, New Zealand isn’t necessarily close, but this makes it perfect for a longer trip like a honeymoon. However, flying from the West Coast of the US is actually easier than you might think. From LAX, Air New Zealand has daily direct flights to Auckland – New Zealand’s largest city (about an 11.5-12 hour flight). And from Auckland, it is very easy to connect to all other cities in the country on shorter domestic flights. Since we first spent 5 days enjoying the beaches of Fiji at Kokomo Private Island, our flight to New Zealand was only about 2.5 hours from Nadi – the main international airport in Fiji. Air New Zealand also offers direct flights from the US out of Hawaii, San Francisco, Houston and now, Chicago.

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Planning Your Trip 

New Zealand is comprised of two main islands – North and South. Despite being a relatively small country – less than 5 million people and about the landmass of Colorado – there are so many different areas worth exploring. I definitely recommend visiting about 3 different areas for a 10 day trip – and likely by the last day you’ll be planning for your return trip to explore the rest of this amazing country. For our honeymoon, we chose to visit the Christchurch / Canterbury area and Queenstown on the South Island and the Wairarapa Valley on the North Island.

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Getting Around

New Zealand is a driver-friendly country and many people choose to explore it that way. There is even a ferry service between the two main landmasses that makes it easy to travel between them without flying. However, with a shorter itinerary, I do recommend maximizing your time in each place by flying short hops on Air New Zealand. Flights are only about an hour or so depending where you are traveling between. The airport environment is also much more relaxed than most of the US – no need to arrive at the terminal hours and hours prior to your domestic flights.

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First Stop: Christchurch

Our first stop in New Zealand was Christchurch where we stayed at the incredible Otahuna Lodge, just 25 minutes outside the city center. This Relais & Chateaux property was once New Zealand’s largest private residence, built by Sir Heaton Rhodes in 1895. A stunning Victorian mansion with just 7 rooms and exquisite cuisine, guests truly feel transported back in time.

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On our first full day in Christchurch, we had absolutely perfect weather. So after a delicious breakfast of freshly baked breads and homemade yogurt, we set off on a bike ride through the countryside to enjoy the scenery and stretch our legs from the long travel the day before. That afternoon, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the garden and a cooking class in the Otahuna kitchen before settling in to a delicious 5-course meal (with local NZ wine pairings!) in the dining room.

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The next day, we set off on a full day adventure with Canterbury Guiding Co. We took the Tranzalpine Railway across the Canterbury Plain and up into the Southern Alps. In Arthur’s Pass National Park, we disembarked the train and met our guide for some hiking and exploration. The weather was really crazy this day – pouring rain one minute, then sunny and rainbows the next! But we made the most of it. And as we drove back to Christchurch, we stopped at Castle Hill Rock – a filming site for Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia – for another hike and photo op.

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Second Stop: Queenstown

Reluctantly, we bid farewell to Otahuna and flew to Queenstown. Our good luck with the weather followed us and we had a beautiful few days in this city. Queenstown is truly a jewel of New Zealand. While a smaller city, it is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand and full of fun activities. Our home base in Queenstown was Azur Lodge – a gorgeous boutique property with only 9 villas set atop a hillside just 5 minutes’ drive from the center of town. While I loved the design and decor at this property, it was the jaw-dropping views that really stole the show.

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What to do in Queenstown:

  • Onsen hot pools – An instagram moment if I’ve ever seen one! This day spa offers private hot tubs overlooking the Shotover River Canyon IMG_2425
  • Shotover Jet – As I said Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand, this is a must do for an adrenaline rush. For about 25 minutes, you’ll be driven through a narrow canyon – dodging rocks and spinning 360s.
  • Skyline Luge – Everyone told us to do the luge in Queenstown. My initial impression was that it would be a bit corny, but we went for it anyways and I could not have been more wrong. Get ready for a real life game of Mario Kart – this is pure fun!IMG_2622
  • Milford Sound Tour – Milford Sound is a stunning fjord in Fjordland National Park in the Southwestern portion of the South Island. You can drive there from Queenstown, but it takes hours so most folks will plan a half day or full day trip by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft. We chose the latter as it is about half the price, but I’d recommend the helicopter for anyone that has issues with motion sickness or a fear of flying and/or heights (I hear the helicopter is smoother)! After a scenic flight over the mountains, you’ll arrive in Milford Sound for a cruise through the fjord – admiring the many waterfalls – before your return flight to Queenstown via a different route. IMG_2545IMG_2520DSC02538DSC02559
  • Better by Bike – This is an amazing way to get out of the city and explore the countryside! Better by Bike will pick you up at your hotel in Queenstown and drive you 30 minutes to Arrowtown and the lake district. From there, they will suit you up with a mountain bike or e-bike (definitely recommend the e-bike!) and a trail map and send you on your way. We spent a beautiful morning biking along the river, crossing bridges, watching bungy jumpers and stopping along the way for tastings at a cheesery and local wineries! IMG_2586IMG_2598IMG_2607

Where to Eat in Queenstown:

  • Rata – Modern New Zealand cuisine; Upscale for a nice dinner, or go for a late lunch as we did and enjoy the pre-set menu at a lower price point IMG_2407
  • White & Wong’s – Eats meets West cuisine inspired by street food from Southeast Asia
  • Botswana Butchery – Upscale dining with a broad selection of high quality meats
  • Madame Woo – Inspired by Malaysian hawker food IMG_2640
  • Mrs. Ferg Gelateria – While all the tourists are lined up at Fergberger next door, stop in for some delicious gelato IMG_2643
  • Azur Delivery – Not an actual restaurant, but one of my favorite things about our hotel in Queenstown. While the property serves breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails + amuses bouches, there is no onsite restaurant for dinner. Instead, they offer you take-out menus from the many restaurants in town and will pick up whatever you like and set it up in your room. This is the best view in town! And you can wear your pajamas. 15A10100-53C8-4A9D-B4D7-B02597FBD149

Last Stop: Wairarapa Valley

For our last stop in New Zealand, we flew up to Wellington and then drove two hours into the Wairarapa Valley where we spent three nights at the beautiful Wharekauhau Country Estate – another Relais & Chateau property, but with a totally different flavor. This estate began in the 1840s as a sheep station and remains a working sheep farm to this day. Guests can stay in one of 16 different cottage suites spread across the property and experience rural New Zealand life – where sheep outnumber humans 7 to 1.

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Our first full day at Wharekauhau, we took a guided wine tour of the Martinborough region – famous for its Pinot Noirs. The wineries are centrally located around the town of Martinborough so it’s easy to visit a few for tastings. On our last full day in New Zealand, we enjoyed the hotel’s famous farm tour – learning about sheep shearing, sheep dogs and sheep herding, and meeting the resident eels – before trying our hand at archery in true LOTR style.

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New Zealand was an incredible honeymoon destination and combined perfectly with Fiji for a blend of relaxation and adventure. I cannot wait to go back and explore more of this gorgeous country.

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HOTEL REVIEW: KOKOMO PRIVATE ISLAND FIJI

Bula! If you’re looking for a little slice of paradise for your next vacation, look no further than Kokomo Private Island Fiji. When Australian billionaire, Lang Walker came across an abandoned resort in the Kadavu Islands on a trip to Fiji, he had a vision of creating a unique and exclusive island paradise unlike any other that existed. Fast forward through several years of sustainable development, he has succeeded in achieving just that – all while maintaining the natural beauty and landscape of the rugged Fijian islands. Guests here will feel truly transported; and after a few hours on this remote piece of the earth, the stress of every day life will melt away into the soft, white sand, the lapping ocean, and the stunning sunsets.

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GETTING HERE

Fiji Airways offers direct flights daily from LAX to Nadi, the primary international airport in Fiji. From Nadi, it’s just a quick 45-minute transfer to Kokomo via helicopter or sea plane.

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ACCOMMODATIONS

There is no such thing as a bad room on Kokomo. The parallel beaches on either side of the island are dotted with beachfront villas, ranging from 1 to 3 bedrooms. Each villa is completely private, with the exterior door entering first into a private garden and pathway to the main villa door. The one-bedroom villa (which I stayed in) opens into a comfortable living space and kitchenette (complete with complimentary homemade cookies and dark chocolate covered honeycomb – replenished daily!), a spacious bedroom with a King sized bed and walk-in wardrobe, and an enormous bathroom with an indoor shower, an outdoor shower, a large soaking tub, and his and hers vanities. The entire floor-plan is optimized for the view, as guests can easily step outside onto their private verandah to lounge on the day beds, hammock, or chaise lounges, take a dip in their private plunge pool or walk just steps to the beach and swim in the ocean. This space is the ultimate retreat for privacy and indoor/outdoor living.

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But the property doesn’t just cater to couples. The 2 to 3 bedroom beachfront villas are perfect for families. And for multigenerational groups, Kokomo also offers an array of luxury residences ranging from 3-6 bedrooms. Slightly more modern in their design, and perched on a hill in the central part of the island, the residences are still incredibly luxurious and all offer private pools along with full kitchens, nanny and butler service.

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DINING

All meals are included in your rate at Kokomo so you can eat until your heart’s content! There are three dining venues on the island:

  • Beach Shack – This is the primary dining room, located in the main lodge building.
    • For breakfast, a beautiful continental spread is set-up with fresh baked breads and pastries, local fruit and fresh juices. You can also order off the menu for specialty hot, made-to-order items such as eggs and waffles. F0282C79-75C0-444A-8083-31D8E35426CC
    • Lunch is fresh-caught local fish or meat and salads with vegetables from the on-island farm.
    • If you’re hungry for a snack or a drink in the afternoon, pop-in for an array of sweets and savory bites at the bar. IMG_2001
    • And for dinner, indulge in a five-course tasting menu. IMG_2150
  • Walker d’Plank – Set-off in a cove past the main jetty on the island, you’ll find a true treasure – Walker d’Plank, open for lunch and dinner. Here, Chef Caroline serves up Asian-inspired street food, like crispy tempura prawns, chicken and scallion dumplings, and even sushi. But there is no menu here. Chef Caroline will come to each table to talk to you about your cravings for the day, then she’ll make a few suggestions and cook up something special just for you. IMG_20469F732F74-56B1-4541-ADE9-372B772446C4
  • Kokocabana – Located adjacent to the resort pool and kids clubs, this pizza parlor and ice cream stand, is clearly intended for the younger visitors to Kokomo. But that didn’t really stop us from enjoying their wood-fired pizzas, burgers and milkshakes for a more casual lunch. DSC02408

Want food delivered to your room? No problem. Looking for a private cook-out and dining experience? That can be arranged! I also strongly recommend you take advantage of the farm tour to see how they provide the majority of the food for guests on the island in an organic and sustainable way.

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ACTIVITIES

Despite being on a remote island, you will not get bored at Kokomo. Included in your rate are all on-island activities and non-motorized water sports: a fitness center, tennis, basketball, snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, a sea trampoline, yoga, and cultural activities. Guests can also arrange excursions each day for an additional fee. We enjoyed scuba diving, a waterfall hike on a nearby island, and snorkeling at the Astrolabe reef. For those interested in fishing, I think the ability to catch your dinner would be quite a treat!

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I also definitely recommend a visit (or two) to the Yaukuve Spa Sanctuary, where you can enjoy a massage, facial or body treatment.

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WHY VISIT

First off, this is paradise – it’s luxury perfectly blended with nature. You will feel completely relaxed from the minute you step off the sea plane or helicopter. But what really sets this place apart is the staff. Guests are welcomed with traditional Fijian songs and fresh cut coconuts. Staff are all over the resort, smiling, shouting Bula! and ensuring that you don’t have to worry about a stray palm leaf or where to find your next drink. This is not another chain resort – but a truly Fijian experience, where you’ll feel immersed in the culture and friendliness of the country.

ATLAS + VALISE Perks: By booking this property with ATLAS + VALISE, an affiliate of Travel Edge and member of Virtuoso, guests will be treated to an exclusive welcome amenity, early check-in/late check-out and a $100 resort credit to be utilized during your stay.

Looking for an escape to paradise? Contact us today to book your escape to Kokomo!

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RINGING IN 2019 IN THE FLORIDA KEYS

The Florida Keys, the Southernmost point of the continental United States, are a string of coral islands tracing south from Miami 160 miles to Key West. The name Key is derived from the Spanish cayo, which means “small island” – a word originally borrowed by Spanish explorers from the native Taino Indians of Hispanola and Cuba.

The famed Overseas Highway follows Route 1 from Miami to Key West on a beautifully scenic drive that is consistently heralded as one of the top US road trips to experience in your lifetime. And for that reason, shortly after Christmas, we flew down to Miami and embarked on a weeklong adventure through the Florida Keys.

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Islamorada 

About halfway between Miami and Key West lies Islamorada. Home to a dozen or so resorts, as well as many great restaurants, Islamorada is a great home base for the first half of your Keys road trip.

Where to Stay

The Keys definitely have a low-key beach vibe and for that reason I wasn’t really looking for 5-star luxury here. I wanted to stay somewhere that truly evoked the spirit of the Keys and we found that in La Siesta Resort & Marina. We splurged a bit for our room which was a 1-bedroom cottage with a living area and kitchenette, opening directly onto the beach – oddly named “Mango Cottage,” despite its purple color. In addition to the beach and pool, we also loved how this hotel offered complimentary bikes, kayaks and paddleboards to all resort guests!

 

Where to Eat

  • Lazy Days – delicious fish, right on the beach
  • Morada Bay Cafe – come early to get a spot beachside in time for sunsetIMG_1315
  • Midway Cafe – great for breakfast and lunch. And don’t miss the original Manny & Isa’s key lime pie!IMG_1323
  • Green Turtle Inn – Dating to 1947, the establishment was originally made famous for serving up sea turtle delicacies.
  • Hungry Tarpon – Located at Robbie’s Marina; casual waterfront dining

Where to Drink

  • Holiday Isle Tiki Bar – Based at The Postcard Inn, a sister hotel to La Siesta, you can ride your bike over to enjoy the original “Rum Runner” cocktail IMG_1302
  • Islamorada Beer Co – a local brewery offering tasting flights IMG_1304
  • Florida Keys Brewing Co – another great local brewer with tasting flights and a backyard “beer garden”IMG_1331IMG_1329

What to Do

  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – a great place to snorkel or scuba in Key Largo (unfortunately our scuba trip was cancelled due to high winds!)
  • History of Diving Museum – tons of information and memorabilia on the history of diving and the evolution of gear in the sportIMG_1296
  • Robbie’s Marina – for a few bucks you can buy a bucket of fish and feed the giant tarpon that frequent Robbie’s Marina – just watch out for the pelicans!IMG_2031
  • Kayak & paddleboard – The Keys are all about water sports
  • Ride bikes – a great way to get around without worrying about traffic or parkingIMG_1330

Continuing on to Key West, it’s definitely worth making a few stops along the way to see some local wildlife…

  • The Turtle Hospital – in Marathon, you’ll find a sea turtle rescue hospital that has rehabilitated and re-released thousands of sea turtles since opening in the 80’s. DSC02320IMG_1414
  • National Key Deer Refuge – Many people don’t know there are deer in the Florida Keys, but the Key Deer Refuge is home to the diminutive species of Pine Key Deer. They are elusive, but you may find alligators and other wildlife as you walk through the trails. 

Key West

Continuing to the very end of the archipelago, you’ll arrive at the largest city, Key West – located just 90 miles north from the island of Cuba.

Where to Stay

There are a ton of hotels to choose from in Key West, but given that it was New Year’s and Key West can be a bit of a rowdy town, we chose to stay a bit outside the downtown area on nearby Stock Island. The Perry Hotel Key West opened in 2017 and is set right on a marina with a fabulous pool and lots of great spots to hang, dine and drink. I just love the design focus and chill laid back vibes of this hotel.

 

Where to Eat

  • The Breakfast Club, Too – Great breakfast – no surprise there! I closed out 2018 with some epic chocolate chip pancakes and cinnamon sugar butter – yum.IMG_1436
  • Little Pearl – A little off the main drag, this cute restaurant is perfect for date night. IMG_1477
  • Matt’s Stock Island – Located at The Perry Hotel. Solid brunch and nice shareable plates for a lighter dinner.IMG_1484
  • Salty Oyster – Poolside bar with casual eats at The Perry; happy hour is great deal with 50% off food and drinks.IMG_1341

What to Do

  • Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum – Located in Old Town Key West, this historic building was home to Ernest Hemingway from 1931 to 1939. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968, descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s famed six-toed cats still call the property home. I recommend joining one of the regular tours that start every twenty minutes or so. IMG_1450IMG_1444
  • Duval Street – The main drag in Key West, home to lots of dive bars, cafes and shops. Great for people watching.
  • Southernmost Point Buoy – Pretty self explanatory but a popular photo op. IMG_1454
  • Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square – Starting 2 hours before sunset every night, head to Mallory Square to see the sunset and enjoy the sunset celebration featuring street performers, food carts and drinks to go (no open container laws in Key West!) IMG_1468
  • Jet Skiing with Key West Water Tours – Several tour operators offer jet ski trips around the island of Key West. We really enjoyed that this one was guided and included brief stops with history of the locale (in addition to going really freaking fast). This was a blast and I highly recommend it!

In short the Keys are the perfect place for an easy getaway where you can enjoy sunshine, water sports, history, and casual dinners of fresh fish beach side – an ideal equation to unwind and rejuvenate for the new year to come!DSC02306

HOTEL REVIEW: TWIN FARMS

Is anyone else’s favorite Christmas movie, White Christmas? Visiting Twin Farms last week reminded me of the quintessential Vermont resort in that movie. Full of rustic charm and piled high with snow, this Relais Chateaux property is the ideal winter retreat. Secluded among 300 acres of meadow and forest in Barnard, VT, the property allows only its guests to enjoy the extraordinary dining and amenities, offering a truly intimate and private experience. 

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THE HISTORY

The original hotel building was the home of Sinclair Lewis and his wife, Dorothy Thompson, who bought the property in 1928. The story goes that Dorothy required Sinclair to purchase two neighboring farms for her as a wedding present, hence the name “Twin Farms.” Restored by a group of owners in the early 1990s, Twin Farms opened its doors to guests in 1993 and has been wowing luxury vacationers ever since.

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THE ROOMS

The hotel boasts 20 unique rooms – 10 suites and 10 cottages. Six suites reside in the original house and lodge, while another 4 suites sit just across the dirt road in a newly developed building, The Farmhouse at Copper Hill. Those suites share a communal hot tub and living area and make the perfect retreat for a larger group or family.  The 10 cottages are spread throughout the property on a 1 mile loop from the main building, each with its own carport, wood-burning fireplace, sitting area, and King-sized bed. Each cottage is decorated with a bespoke theme and offers differing amenities from private hot tubs to floor-to-ceiling windows. The resort has a residence perfect for each visitor and the staff takes care to match potential guests with the room that best matches their preferences. IMG_1097IMG_1099IMG_1101IMG_1115IMG_1112IMG_1109

DINING

Though the rates are steep, they are all inclusive of meals and beverages. And if you’ve visited a Relais Chateaux property before, you’ll know that the cuisine is not to be missed! I was fortunate enough to enjoy a lunch in the on-site dining room and we were treated to an unbelievable three course menu complete with perfectly-selected wines. While there are no set meal times at the hotel, there are meal windows: 7-10 for breakfast, 12:30-1:30 for lunch and 6-8:30 for dinner. Guests can also request meals in their room or cottage. Prior to dinner, cocktails and canapés are served in the living room by the fire and after dinner (or any time really), you can head to the on-site “pub” for a night cap. 

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ACTIVITIES

In the winter, the hotel offers a variety of outdoor activities, including: skiing on its private 6-trail ski hill, sledding, snowshoeing, and ice skating. For those averse to the cold, you can enjoy the state-of-the-art fitness center or book a treatment with the spa. Fitness classes are also offered regularly. In the summertime, guests can kayak, SUP and canoe on the on-site pond, hike along groomed trails, bike, fly-fish, or play tennis. 

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Several times a year, the property also hosts a Murder Mystery Weekend where all guests participate. They even hire professional actors to amp up the fun!

Travel Advisor Perks: By booking this property with ATLAS + VALISE, an affiliate of Travel Edge and member of Virtuoso, guests will be treated to an exclusive welcome amenity, early check-in/late check-out and upgrade on arrival (all subject to availability).

Looking for the quintessential New England getaway this winter? Contact us today to book an escape to Twin Farms.

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CHASING AUTUMN IN LAKE TAHOE

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Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Spanning the border between Northern California and Nevada, it’s perimeter is 72 miles and it holds 39 trillion gallons of fresh water. Known for its crystal clear visibility, visitors to the lake can see 70 feet or more into the blue depths.

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The Lake Tahoe area was first developed as a summer retreat for wealthy San Franciscans. Today, it maintains its status as a summer weekend destination, but is equally popular in the winter as tourists flock to the many neighboring ski mountains. What many people don’t realize though is that Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination and that fall is an equally beautiful and active time to visit the region. Fondly coined “local summer” and “secret season,” autumn offers up perfect hiking weather without the crowds.

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GETTING THERE

The most convenient airport is Reno-Tahoe International, which is a quick flight on Southwest from San Diego, but not always as easily accessible from other major cities. The drive from Reno to Lake Tahoe is just about 40-60 minutes depending on the area you’re going to. Visitors can also fly into San Francisco International Airport which is about a 3.5 hour drive.

WHERE TO STAY

Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe is located on the North side of the lake, in the mountain town of Truckee offering slope-side access to Northstar, one of the area’s top ski resorts. With 170 guest rooms suites, as well as several residences, the hotel is ideal for families, offering several onsite restaurants, an outdoor pool and hot tub (both heated year-round), games and an extensive kids club. Couples will also enjoy the resort’s spa and adult-only pool and hot tub. All ages will love the daily “Marshmology” lesson on the history of S’mores, taught fireside by Dr. Graham (complete with samples and home made marshmallows!).

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Virtuoso Perks: As a Virtuoso property, guests that book this hotel through a Virtuoso travel advisor (such as Atlas + Valise) will receive a complimentary daily breakfast credit for two, $100 food & beverage credit, complimentary room upgrade based upon availability (we were upgraded to a suite and it was everything!!), early check-in and late check-out based upon availability, and a welcome amenity (check out all the treats delivered to our suite upon arrival!).

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Edgewood Tahoe is a newly opened resort just outside the town of South Lake Tahoe. The hotel was completed last year to accompany the famed Edgewood Golf Course which borders the resort. Set a few miles away from the South Lake Tahoe gambling scene, guests enjoy an idyllic setting directly on Lake Tahoe. Aside from the stunning design and state-of-the-art spa, my favorite part of this resort is the lakeside infinity pool and the triple sized hot-tub (also both heated and open year-round). Guests are offered a variety of dining options so there’s no real need to leave the hotel, but if you wish to check out one of the hot spots in town, Edgewood will take you there in a complimentary shuttle.

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Advisor Booking Perks: As a premier property, guests that book this hotel through a Travel Edge advisor (such as Atlas + Valise) will receive complimentary daily breakfast credit for two, $75 food & beverage credit, complimentary room upgrade based upon availability, and a welcome amenity (hello free bottle of champagne and birthday cupcakes!)

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WHAT TO DO

In the winter, the mountains are king and in the summer, the lake reigns supreme, but in the fall you can get the best of both worlds!

  • Most Beautiful Drive – The perimeter of Lake Tahoe is commonly known as the “Most Beautiful Drive.” With several picturesque locations to stop for photo ops or hikes along the way, you can easily spend a full day meandering around the lake. DSC02083
  • Hiking – There are tons and tons of hiking trails in and around Lake Tahoe. A few of our favorites were:
    • Spur View Trail & Picnic Rock – 3.4 miles roundtrip, on the North side of the lake closer to the Ritz; the top offers a beautiful view of the lake; we even saw a coyote! DSC02039DSC02045
    • Stateline Lookout Trail – A quick up and back, this trail gives you a panoramic view of the lake and a few signs at the top share information on the history of the lake’s development; also on the North side of the lake. DSC02055
    • Castle Rock – 4 miles roundtrip, easily accessed from South Lake Tahoe; a beautiful forest hike with lake views at the turning point. DSC02211
    • Emerald Bay – This was easily my favorite area of Lake Tahoe. Located on the South Western part of the lake, there are tons of hikes throughout this State Park: 
      • Lower Eagle Falls Trail – If you park at the Vikingsholm parking area in Emerald Bay State Park, you can take a 1-mile paved trail down to the shoreline, exploring the area of Vikingsholm, a historic home which dates to 1929. From the house, you can take a quick hike to the Lower Eagle falls. DSC02229DSC02240
      • Rubicon Trail – After lots of trails with panoramic vistas, I really appreciated that this hike followed the shoreline and offered a close-up view of the turquoise waters. The trail is quite long, but it’s easy enough to do just a portion of it. DSC02222DSC02242
    • Cave Rock Hike – Less than a mile, this is an easy hike to tack on to your drive around the lake. 
  • Thunderbird Lodge – Built in the 1930s by a San Francisco millionaire, George Whittell, Jr., Thunderbird Lodge is a real treat! I recommend buying tickets online in advance as our tour was sold out. Tours last about 2 hours and are guided throughout the property by volunteer docents. While the house itself isn’t massive, the unique architecture, underground passageways, boathouse, grotto, and secret doorways are entirely charming and the views of the lake are breathtaking. IMG_0822DSC02142DSC02119
  • Kayaking – While it’s easy enough to rent your own kayak at several beaches around the lake, I recommend a guided tour with Clearly Tahoe. If you’re staying at Edgewood, they’ll pick you up dockside at the resort and take you on a 2 hour cruise of the shoreline in a clear bottom kayak so you can truly experience the clearness of Lake Tahoe’s water!DCIM100GOPROGOPR0012.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0014.JPG
  • Wine Tasting Boat Cruise – Tahoe Tastings offers a twice daily (midday and sunset) wine-tasting cruise through Emerald Bay. The 2 hour cruise accommodates about 10-15 people and guests are treated to tastes of 8 different wines, all local to Northern California. Once you’ve completed your tasting, you can also order wines by the glass. This was a thoroughly enjoyable way to enjoy a day on the lake and I cannot recommend it enough! IMG_0865
  • Mini Golf – To mix things up a little, what’s more fun than a good game of putt-putt? We stopped at Magic Carpet Golf on the way back from our wine tasting cruise and had a ball.
  • Spa – This vacation was all about some R&R and so I hit up the spa at both the Ritz Carlton and Edgewood. Both lived up to expectations with private, serene relaxation areas and top-notch services. IMG_0583

WHERE TO EAT

  • Chef’s Counter at Manzanita – If you’re staying at the Ritz, why not treat yourself to the Chef’s Counter at the Ritz’s in-house restaurant Manzanita? The Chef made this experience truly amazing for us. Another perk of the “shoulder season” we were the only couple enjoying this unique dining experience with front row seats to all the kitchen action and one-of-a-kind off-menu dishes created for and presented to us by each of the cooks in the kitchen. Top it off with a wine pairing and this is a win-win. IMG_0548IMG_0552
  • The Bistro at Edgewood—The food was delicious, the setting was beautiful and you don’t have to leave the hotel.
  • Izabella Ristorante – Perfect for a casual night out in South Lake Tahoe. We were craving some good Italian food and this place fit the bill. It’s definitely a local favorite though so come early!
  • Edgewood Restaurant – I always save a fancy dinner for the last night of a trip and Edgewood Restaurant is the perfect way to cap off a vacation in Tahoe. Book for sunset time so you can enjoy the rainbow of colors over the lake as you dine on delicious California cuisine. IMG_0880
  • Social House – Behind a fridge door in this casual deli restaurant is a hidden speakeasy, serving up delectable cocktails for the perfect night cap.
  • Sprouts Cafe – An ideal stop for a quick and healthy lunch between hikes. Great for sandwiches, but don’t miss the nachos!

Interested in booking a trip to Lake Tahoe? Contact us today and we’ll handle the rest!

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HOTEL REVIEW: THE GARLAND

Planning a weekend getaway to Hollywood? Whether you’re visiting Universal Studios (as I was) or just looking for an affordable yet chic place to stay in Los Angeles, The Garland is a perfect option.

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Two weeks ago, my fiance and I drove up to LA on a random Thursday to celebrate his birthday at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (yep this is how you celebrate 35!). It’s a bit of a hike from San Diego and so we decided to spend the night up there. Looking for a hotel near the Park, I was immediately disappointed by the plethora of Burbank Airport hotel options. I wanted something cool and unique and worthy of a birthday night away. That’s when I stumbled upon The Garland. Just a 10 minutes’ drive from Universal, this place feels like a world away. Plus they have a complimentary trolley that runs a regular route to/from the park so you can down those Butterbeers without worry!

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Originally built in the 1970s by Hollywood actress Beverly Garland and her husband Fillmore Crank, the hotel was redone in the early 2000s by their son (and now owner) James. I was so impressed with how James and his team were able to modernize the hotel without sacrificing any of the 70’s Retro charm – the orange accents and funky fabrics blend perfectly with modern design touches like unique light fixtures, a hip new restaurant and manicured lawns and parks.

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The Rooms are all well appointed and comfortable – each with a private balcony and your very own paparazzi closet!

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After a long day walking around Universal Studios, we immediately headed to the pool after check-in. We picked up some drinks at The Spritz Hour (a very on-trend happy hour) and relaxed on the chaise lounges poolside before taking a dip in the hot tub.

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We also decided to make it easy on ourselves and eat our meals at the on-site restaurant, The Front Yard. We were certainly not disappointed. The food was innovative and delicious and the service was excellent. Do yourself a favor and save room for dessert – chocolate nutella cake? Yes please.

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I would definitely recommend a stay at The Garland to anyone visiting Hollywood for a trip to Universal Studios. For assistance booking your trip to Universal Studios, please contact us today!

And for those wondering about how magical The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is…

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ADVENTURES IN ICELAND: SPRING EDITION

I rang in 2017 in Iceland, watching the Northern lights dance vibrantly over the frozen terrain. With just about six hours of sunlight a day, winter in Iceland is dark, cold and windy, but also eerily beautiful. While many choose to visit at that time of year to see the Aurora, the spring and summer offer a completely unique experience – with green landscapes, rushing waterfalls, and a never-setting sun.

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Reykjavik and Its Environs

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Where to Stay – The Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina is conveniently located at the Reykjavik waterfront, just a short walk from the Old Town city center. The rooms are small, yet comfortable, with touches of Icelanders’ cheeky humor. The property also includes a restaurant with an extensive breakfast buffet, a quaint cafe / bar for a morning cup of coffee or an afternoon cocktail, and a private cinema for a night in!

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Where to Eat – While expensive, the food in Iceland is excellent – using high quality, local ingredients and employing innovative culinary techniques. Lamb and cod frequent the menu, along with lobster soup, salmon, skyr (an Icelandic yogurt), fresh blueberries, and (surprisingly) hot dogs. Guide books also make mention of Icelandic delicacies such as cured whale and shark, however we had a harder time finding these than anticipated.

  • Food Cellar – In Old Town Reykjavik, Food Cellar’s ambiance is unparalleled, with subterranean rooms, live piano music and amazing craft cocktails. They also serve warm pretzels with ginger lemon cream cheese before dinner – just don’t eat too many and spoil your appetite! LRG_DSC01726
  • Kol Restaurant – We saved this for our final meal of the trip and went for the tasting menu – every bite was sublime! Make reservations in advance as it’s extremely popular and on the smaller side. They also have really interesting cocktails, some of which light on fire.IMG_9724
  • Salt Kitchen & Bar – Perfect for a more casual dinner near the hotel. IMG_9293
  • Pylsuhusid – Located at the center of Old Town, this hot dog house is a great spot for a quick lunch and a milkshake. LRG_DSC01727

What to See

  • Hallgrimskirja – The church sits perched atop a hill and is one of the main attractions to see in Reykjavik. You can buy tickets to ascend to the top of the spire for aerial views of the city. LRG_DSC01699LRG_DSC01707
  • Harpa – Harpa concert hall opened in 2011, showcasing an innovative architectural design. It stands out as a major landmark in the city and is worth a quick tour.LRG_DSC01725
  • The Sun Voyager – Designed by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason, the Sun Voyager sculpture pays homage to Iceland’s discovery by the Vikings.IMG_9215
  • Whales of Iceland – If you need a rainy day activity, this exhibition featuring life-sized replicas of the dozens of whale species that call Iceland home is extremely informative. IMG_9224

Excursions – Reyjkavik makes a great home base, especially for a shorter stay in Iceland. Many tour operators offer half day and full day excursions into the countryside with pick-up from your hotel.

  • The Blue Lagoon – The Blue Lagoon is a year-round destination with an average temperature of 100 degrees. As I mentioned in my winter post, it’s definitely a touristy activity, but still worth spending a couple of hours in the warm waters. I definitely recommend the Premium ticket for a more VIP experience and to avoid some crowds. This time I also enjoyed the in-water massage and thoroughly enjoyed it! Located closer to the airport at Keflavik, many visitors choose to stop by the Lagoon upon arrival or prior to departure.IMG_9201
  • Inside the Volcano – This half-day excursion offers the very unique opportunity to descend inside a dormant volcano. About 45 minutes outside the city, the tour begins with a 2-mile hike through lava fields. Groups then take turns descending into the volcano via elevator and spend about 30 minutes exploring the extraordinary geography within. Following a warm bowl of lamb soup, you return back the way you came. LRG_DSC01759IMG_9294

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a popular route with departure from Reykjavik that takes you through the nearby countryside to see some of the area’s most unique geological features. I drove this route on my prior visit, and it was really interesting to see the juxtaposition of the main sites at two very different times of year!

On this trip, we also opted to snorkel through the frigid water at Silfra Fissure – the exact location in Thingvellir National Park where the tectonic plates are separating. This was a truly unique experience! Apparently you can also do this year-round, although I’m glad we didn’t do it in the winter, because it was freezing enough in the spring!

 

The Road North

From the Golden Circle, instead of returning to Reykjavik, we began our trek North and spent one night at Hotel Glymur along the way. The hotel is really in the middle of nowhere but has beautiful water views of an inlet. And while the loft-style rooms are a little unconventional, the restaurant more than makes up for it with gourmet food and an extensive homemade breakfast. IMG_9315

The next stop on our trip was the town of Husafell, where we spent one night at Hotel Husafell, one of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.  Renowned for its sustainable and Scandinavian-style design, the hotel is a modern oasis in the Icelandic countryside.

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The main attraction in Husafell is Into the Glacier, a tour through a man-made cavern/tunnel within a massive glacier. You can either take a special bus to the site, or travel via snowmobile for added excitement and adventure. As an extension of the tour, you can also visit a nearby lava tube for a guided walking tour. While a little touristy in nature, the juxtaposition of the ice and lava formations is very uniquely Iceland.

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From Husafell, we continued our journey North on part of the Ring Road, stopping along the way at The Settlement Center in Borgarnes where we learned about the origins of Iceland, and at Glanni Waterfall for some show-stopping scenery.

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A couple of hours later, we arrived at our destination – Saudarkrokur and Hotel Tindastoll – the oldest hotel in Iceland. While Saudarkrokur is a tiny old fishing village with just 2 restaurants, we spent a night here due to its proximity to Drangey Island – my favorite excursion of our whole trip. From Hotel Tindastoll, we drove 20 minutes North to the end of the road at Reyki harbor and met our guides, a father-son team who had agreed to start their season a day early to accommodate our schedule. The tour began with a 25-minute boat ride to Dragney Island, which serves as a rookery for thousands of seabirds, including puffins! Once docked, we hiked up the steep trail to the top of the island (with the help of a rope!) where we continued our hike, learning about the history of the site and the many bird species that call it home. This was another truly unique Icelandic experience. The puffins were nesting and flew so fast it was hard to get a great picture of them but we still saw a lot of them, along with guillemots, gannets, kittiwakes, seagulls and ravens.

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Akureyri and Its Environs 

Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city and located at the very Northern part of the island. This is a great home base for your Northern adventures around Iceland and where we headed following our stay at Hotel Tindastoll.

Where to StayIcelandair Hotel Akureyri is centrally located, and comfortably appointed. The rooms are bigger here than in Reykjavik and even the standard rooms feature small seating areas. IMG_9446IMG_9447

Where to Eat – Though the city is smaller than Reykjavik, there are still a number of fantastic restaurants to choose from. And if you’re getting a little tired of Icelandic food at this point (as we were) then the Asian/Icelandic fusion cuisine you’ll find is an unexpected, yet welcome, change.

  • Rub23 – Their extensive sushi menu is a great way to still eat local, fresh fish but prepared in a different way. And don’t miss dessert!IMG_9561
  • Strikid – Located along the waterfront, the view from the dining room (and from the patio during warmer weather) is lovely.

What to Do:

  • Explore the Town – Akureyri has some cute shops and cafes along the main street. You can also walk further afield along the edge of the Botanical Garden to the Old Town, which was the original city center. Plaques highlight historic buildings and explain their former use. IMG_9562
  • Whale Watching in Husavik – Husavik is just an hour’s drive from Akureyri and is the whale watching capital of Iceland. Several operators run tours in the town but we chose to go with Gentle Giants. The boat was small enough to get up close and personal with the whales yet not so small that I had any concern. They also provided dry gear in case of inclement weather. Humpbacks and minke whales are the two most common species to see in this area. You’ll likely see some puffin and arctic terns as well. This tour was my second favorite excursion – we saw DOZENS of whales and it was spectacular.LRG_DSC01937LRG_DSC01951LRG_DSC01979LRG_DSC01971IMG_9663IMG_9734LRG_DSC01938
  • Diamond Circle & Lake Myvatn – While the South of Iceland has the “Golden Circle”, the North is known for its “Diamond Circle,” which centers around the Lake Myvatn region. While you can do a full day tour from Akureyri, it’s also nice to stay in the Lake Myvatn region to minimize driving. Fosshotel Myvatn is a brand new property with stunning views of the lake shore and delightful copper accents incorporated in its interior design. IMG_9668IMG_9664IMG_9716Following the Diamond Circle there are a couple key stops along the way:
    • Godafoss – Another massive waterfall that seemingly appears out of nowhere. LRG_DSC01996
    • Skutustadagigar – These moon-like craters are a unique geological formation caused by steam explosions, found only one other place on Earth. LRG_DSC02003LRG_DSC02008
    • Dimmuborgir National Park – These lava formations are also unique in the world. Several hiking trails offer the opportunity to stretch your legs. And a small cafe provides a welcome break of warm soup and “geysir bread” – a local delicacy, this rye bread is baked in a pot underground near a hot spring. LRG_DSC02021
    • Hverfjall Crater – A massive ash crater you can climb to the top of. There’s not much to look at inside the crater except for a big hole, but gaining elevation offers unparalleled views of the surrounding landscape. LRG_DSC02025
    • Grjotagja Cave – This magical geothermal grotto is actually on private property, but was made famous as a filming location for Game of Thrones. LRG_DSC02027

**Pro Tip: If you follow a similar itinerary, driving North from Reykjavik to Akureyri and don’t want to drive back south, you can take a quick flight from Akureyri down to Reykjavik’s domestic airport before your international departure from Keflavik**

Overall this trip to Iceland was more extensive and allowed me to view more of the country’s otherworldly geological formations, seasonal wildlife (including whales, puffins and other seabirds), and dive a bit deeper into Iceland’s culture, history and cuisine. I would recommend a trip to Iceland at either time of year and would be hard pressed to choose just one, so I’m glad to have experienced both. One thing that I noticed again on this trip is how expensive the country is. While the flights from the US are fairly affordable, be prepared to spend more on the remainder of your vacation.

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