“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” John Muir (C) Sonne

 

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”  John Muir

If you are craving portals to beauty, the Magnificent Mountain Loop (MML) of three California National Parks offers travelers uncountable “doors.” In one trip you can enjoy the tree giants of Sequoia National Park, the adjoining wonders of Kings Canyon National Park and the iconic delights of Yosemite.

This year, Yosemite shares the riches of nature and history with a 150th anniversary. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant 150 years ago, creating “the first protected wild land for all time” and the “first state park in the world” according to the National Parks website.

Below are some quotes by past famous Yosemite visitors Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Ansel Adams, and President Teddy Roosevelt to inspire your own visit. There are also some tips to add luxury to your travel.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” John Muir

 

 

EMERSON & MUIR TRANSCEND

According to the National Parks Services website: “In 1871, John Muir, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet, and Transcendentalist visited the Mariposa Grove of trees in Yosemite and Muir said to Emerson in the grove: ‘You are yourself a sequoia. Stop and get acquainted with your big brethren.’ ”

Emerson called Muir a “new kind of Thoreau” who gazed at sequoias of the Sierra instead of scrub oaks of Concord.”

Grandeurs of granite walls in Yosemite.

In Yosemite, Grandeur of these mountains perhaps unmatched on the Globe; for here they strip themselves like Athletes for exhibition, & stand perpendicular granite walls, showing their entire height, & wearing a liberty cap of snow on their head.” From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Journal.

PRESIDENTIAL AGAIN

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt requested to meet with Muir in Yosemite, and Muir encouraged him to sleep under the stars- a night that led the protected area to be expanded and transformed into a National Park.

It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.”- Roosevelt

Sleeping under the stars like Muir and Roosevelt may be the richest way to enjoy the nature of the park 24/7, but if you are looking for more pampering nurture in your visit, the Tenaya Lodge offers lovely luxury rooms, concierge services, the Embers restaurant and the Ascent Spa with signature organic treatments. The Ahwahnee Lodge’s legacy dining room is worth at least one memorable meal.  Yosemite Lodge inside the Park affords window views of the Yosemite Falls, and great access to the park’s sites, trails and shuttle system.

 

Yosemite Riches- your outdoor museum. Sonne

Tenaya Lodge, Fish Camp, near Yosemite

 Yosemite Lodge at the Falls,

Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National Park

John Muir Lodge, Kings Canyon National Park

For those that want to celebrate the resiliency of nature with some personal rushes, OARS is now offering river rafting in the Tuolome River.  (I haven’t yet tried their river trips but hear good things.)

It’s the images of Ansel Adams that have put Yosemite in people’s imaginations for decades, but his words are also an inspiration for how to enjoy Yosemite:   “Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film. Your bright eyes and easy smile is your museum.

                                     -Photos and text by Lisa TE Sonne, Luxury Travel Mavens

Cheers to “Beet Cancer” Recipe in the article below.

October in the United States is now providing a different kind of “medical travel” — pink travel. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness, or BCA, and pink is touted to promote awareness. Various travel venues are “tickled pink” to donate some of their revenue in October to related nonprofits.

Two destination stand-outs are Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and San Diego, California (the W, Hard Rock and Hyatt Hotels) according to J Public Relations, which offers the content below, including a cocktail recipe.

If you know of other travel-for-a-cause opportunities, please share them in the comments section below. Please also let us know what you think of these.

From J Public Relations:

“San Diego- Hard Rock “Pinktober”

“Pinktober 2013 at Hard Rock Hotel San Diego | San Diego, CA

Hard Rock goes a bit pink in October to help Breast Cancer Awareness in San Diego Photo from Hard Rock Website

“Stay – Hard Rock Hotel San Diego will outfit select guestrooms with special Pink Sheets, and a percentage of the room proceeds during October will benefit the campaign. The Sleep Like a Rock® bedding features the signature embroidered guitar pillowcases and plush bedding.  Guests of “Pink Sheets rooms” will also receive Hard Rock’s 2013 PINKTOBER guitar pin featuring pink rhinestones. In addition, hotel guests can opt to add a donation of any level to their guestroom bill during their stay.

 “Sip – The property’s retro-chic diner, Maryjane’s, will serve a limited-time cocktail. The restaurant team will wear pink shirts and pink gear every Sunday to promote awareness. They will hand out pink frosted guitar cookies to our hotel guests to promote awareness. They will also offer the cookies to outside guests for a donation.

 “Hard Rock Hotel’s 207 and Float bars will be offering specialty cocktails Flamingo Margaritas, Pink Floyds and Pink Dolphins with 25 percent of proceeds benefitting Hard Rock’s PINKTOBER™ 2013 campaign.

 “Savor – Rock Spa will offer an invigorating 50-minute Pink Sugar Whip body scrub to benefit PINKTOBER™.  To book a spa treatment, guests may call Rock Spa at (619) 764-6930.

 “Shop – Located lobby-level at the hotel, the boutique will feature a variety of PINKTOBER™ merchandise to benefit the cause including PINKTOBER pins, t-shirts, Pink Sheets and more.

 “W San DiegoIn honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the W San Diego is offering a ‘Drink Pink (for a cause)‘ cocktail where 50 percent of the proceeds from October will be donated to the Keep A Breast foundation.  The Drink Pink cocktail is made with Svedka colada vodka, triple sec, lime and cranberry juice.  

“In conjunction with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the W will also be turning it’s ‘W’ logo outside PINK to honor the month and help further spread awareness. Inspiring, iconic,and influential, the W San Diego offers a unique mix of cutting-edge design and passions around fashion, music and entertainment.  

 “Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The beauties of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Photo from the Hotel Terra Jackson Hole website.

“Spur Restaurant & Bar at Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa Hotel | Jackson Hole, WY

 “Throughout the month of October, a portion of Spur Restaurant & Bar’s ‘Beet Cancer’ cocktail will be donated to the Women’s Healthcare Fund at St. John’s Hospital in Jackson Hole.  The ‘Beet Cancer’ cocktail includes:

  • Beet ginger infused gin
  • St. Germaine elderflower liqueur
  • Lemon juice
  • House made ginger syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • Shaken and served up

“CHILL SPA at Hotel Terra Jackson Hole | Jackson Hole, WY

 “Chill for a Cause

 “Join forces with Chill Spa this October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Book a Chill for a Cause treatment and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to the Breast Cancer division of Saint John’s Women’s Healthcare Fund

“PINK Awareness Pink Grapefruit Facial | 50 Minutes $129; 80 Minutes $179: Bring life and vitality to your complexion with a vitamin-rich burst of pink grapefruit and other Eminence Organics Skincare products focusing on hydration.

“Fight Like a Girl Facial | 50 Minutes $129; 80 Minutes $179, Fight bacteria with a deeply purifying facial at Chill Spa.

“Live. Love. And get a Massage | 50 Minutes $129; 80 Minutes $179: Pink out your massage by choosing our specialty treatment this October.  The Live, Love massage is available in Deep Tissue or Swedish massage techniques.”

(End of quoted information from J Public Relations about pink destinations to help Breast Cancer Awareness in October. )

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If you know of other luxury venues and destinations that are donating proceeds to Breast Cancer nonprofits, please share the information in comments below.  Do you think these kinds of efforts are a good way to reduce Breast Cancer?

Please also share other opportunities luxury travelers can enjoy while helping causes.

Ice Cream was a luxury for the author of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austin might never have imagined something called “movies” being made of her stories or people sitting in air conditioned theaters eating ice cream or an American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) handing out “no electricity” ice cream recipes with her name on it.

Jane Austen at the American Museum of Natural History © AMNHD. Finnin

“Known for her sharp-witted novels about love and manners among the English gentry, Jane Austen did most of her writing in the early 1800s, more than a century before most European households had electricity. Although she lived comfortably and ate well, she had fewer food choices than most English people do today. At the time, a summer treat as simple as ice cream was quite a luxury” per information provided by the museum to go with the photo above.  Only the wealthy tended to have “ice houses” in the summer, sometimes a cave-like feature in the shade far from the house.

(c)AMNH Summer of 2013

The recipe below was one of the goodies gained when I recently visited the AMNH and enjoyed this summer’s “Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture”  exhibit. Visitors can be given tickets through package deals at the nearby Belleclaire Hotel or purchase tickets in advance for the “timed exhibit.”  Such crowd control makes it easier to sample that day’s free tastings, make a “virtual meal,” explore the complexities of “farm to fork” today, or get a better look at what people of the past ate.

Thanks to the AMNH for the following recipe. The ziplock bags seem to be a bit anachronistic, but this museum houses both great dinosaur skeletons and a cosmic walk through eons in space, so I’m not questioning temporal matters.  But I may go make some ice cream- glad to have ice so readily available.

“Jane Austen” No Electricity Ice Cream in a Bag

Ingredients

  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup whipping cream (heavy cream)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla or vanilla flavoring, if desired
  • ¼ cup frozen or fresh currants, plums, blueberries, or peaches
  • ½ to ¾ cup sodium chloride (NaCl) as table salt or rock salt
  • 2 cups ice
  • 1-quart plastic zip bag
  • 1-gallon plastic zip bag

Procedure

  1. Add ¼ cup sugar, ½ cup milk, ½ cup whipping cream, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla to a blender or mixing bowl.
  2. Add the fruit and blend until smooth.
  3. Add mixture to the quart bag. Seal the bag securely.
  4. Put 2 cups of ice into the gallon bag.
  5. Add ½ to ¾ cup salt (sodium chloride) to the bag of ice.
  6. Place the sealed quart bag inside the gallon bag of ice and salt. Seal the gallon bag securely.
  7. Gently rock the gallon bag from side to side. It’s best to hold it by the top seal or to have gloves or a cloth between the bag and your hands, because the bag will be cold enough to damage your skin.
  8. Continue to rock the bag for 10-15 minutes, or until the contents of the quart bag have solidified into ice cream.
  9. Enjoy!

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens.com

If these walls could talk… Babe Ruth, Mark Twain, you?

Mark Twain stayed at the Belleclaire. So did home-run champ Babe Ruth. “I never visited a place so kindling to my imagination,” extolled Russian writer Max Gorky on his first US visit while looking out at the Hudson River from his 9th floor Belleclaire suite (New York Times, 1906).

Now my husband and I are on the same 9th floor with a 2013 New York Times spread over luxurious sheets.  Our views are up Broadway via one curved window, and across 77th to the Belvedere Castle in Central Park through another. Our luscious round room is part of the Broadway King Suite – King as in the size of the bed, not the kind of ruling royalty that Twain and Gorky criticized together, in favor of freedom for all instead!

Carillon bells from a nearby 19th century church start playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” and we can hear it over the hum of the room’s air conditioner, one of the modern pleasures that sits not far from a large flat screen TV, a mini-fridge, Dean and Deluca gourmet snacks, free WiFi, and bottled water in our round room. A multi-million dollar renovation includes a gym, media room, and coffee lounge as part of the amenities. A roof-top garden restaurant will be a stellar future addition.

Belleclaire lobby hub for people watching with silver and glass ice tea pitchers one way, wooden check-in counter under a skylight another way , Coffee Bean pastries and drinks to the right, elevators and media center to the left, from the entrance on the Upper West Side.

The Belleclaire is celebrating its 110th anniversary and its legacy and location are its best luxuries. It’s a taste of New York’s history – an Emery Roth-designed beauty – one of the first residential “skyscrapers” in the world, at ten stories high with 18-foot ceilings. The limestone and brick, Art Nouveau and Beaux Arts hybrid is also a comfortable base for today’s Upper West Side life. Guests can stroll out from the cafe lounge and sky-lighted lobby over the original 1903 tiles that Babe Ruth walked on, and head to the neighborhood’s Zabars, Riverside Park, the Anthorp, churches from the 17th to 21st centuries, the Castle in Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium.

To commemorate the building’s 110th, the hotel is offering two specials for the summer of 2013. One package includes a walk through millions of years of time with super passes for the famed American Museum of Natural History, with the Hayden Planetarium’s spiraling walkway of cosmic time. The other package special is for Yankee fans, with box seats and special stadium tours. The Bronx Bombers were playing out of town during our stay,  so we opted for the world class museum for an afternoon of time travel with the cosmos, whales, and food – all special exhibits there now. And then back to our elegant turret in the NYC sky.

The Belleclaire will continue to offer home run specials throughout its anniversary year and to provide many options to combine past and present for indelible New York memories!

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens.com

The Belleclaire today celebrating 110 years!

 

If you are looking for domestic luxury this summer, consider National Parks and stellar acommodations!  Get a nature and nurture fix when you combine first class Parks and pampering – and can get a package deal.

I don’t usually pass on press releases or information for things I haven’t tried, but I am a big fan of National Parks, and luxury-oriented  J Public Relations pairs Parks with pampering digs, and suggests some tempting trip ideas for outdoor wilderness creations with indoor comforts (no camping!). Below are words, images and links provided by them.

Tanque Verde Ranch paired with the Saguaro National Park (read on for more)

 

Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park with 2.2 million acres of natural wonders and wild animals.  Top sights include the Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Prismatic Spring on the Lower Loop, Mammoth Hot Springs on the Upper Loop and Yellowstone Falls near the shared section of the two.  At the southern edge of Yellowstone Park lies Grand Teton National Park which boasts majestic views of the jagged peaks of the Teton Ranges and miles of hiking and wildlife-watching by Snake River.

Hotel Terra paired with the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park

Hotel Terra Jackson Hole

Located at the gateway to Grand Teton National Park and a short one hour drive to the southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the LEED-Silver Certified and AAA Four Diamond luxury Hotel Terra Jackson Hole’s Passport to the Parks package provides the ideal destination for adults and families looking to explore some of the world’s most treasured natural sites.

The Passport to the Parks package includes:

·       3 nights lodging in a Terra Guest Room

·       7-day park pass to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park

·       $20 daily breakfast credit at Terra Cafe

·       Guidebook to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park

·       Backpack for 2 children with kids guide book, reusable water bottle and camera

·       Rates start at $235+ per night; Minimum 3-night stay

·       Valid Valid May 16 – September 30, 2013

Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa

The AAA Four Diamond Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, is also steps from the entrance to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and one hour south of Yellowstone.  Located in one of the most spectacular places in the United States, Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa is granting guests an all-access pass to explore both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks with Teton Mountain Lodge’s National Park Explorer Package that also includes a $50 gas voucher and daily breakfast credit at Spur.

 The National Park Explorer package includes:

·       3 nights lodging at Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa

·       7-day park pass to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park

·       Guidebook to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park

·       $30 daily breakfast credit at Spur Restaurant & Bar

·       $50 gas voucher

·       Rates start at $189+ / night; Minimum 3-night stay

·       Valid May 16 – September 30, 2013 (blackout dates do apply)

The Grand Canyon National Park:

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and has a depth of over a mile.  Known for it’s visually overwhelming size and intricate and colorful landscape, the Grand Canyon boasts some of the world’s most jaw-dropping and dynamic views.

L’Auberge de Sedona in Arizona

L’Auberage de Sedona, Arizona

Situated just 45 minutes south of The Grand Canyon in Sedona, Arizona, L’Auberge de Sedona is just a short drive from the country’s acclaimed Grand Canyon National Park.  The experts at the luxury boutique hotel have a breadth of knowledge to share with their guests if they’d like to tackle the trails on their own, or guests can book the Grand Canyon Package.

 The Grand Canyon Package:

The Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring monument that must be seen. Guests can relax in L’Auberge’s beautiful accommodations, then spend a memorable day on a professionally guided tour of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The travel up Oak Creek Canyon, via luxury mini coach, is one of the top 10 scenic drives in America.

The package includes:

·       Two nights in either Lodge Room or Cottage Room

·       Grand Canyon tour for two; tour times range 10-11 hours

·       $36 breakfast credit at L’Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek

Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest:

Divided into two sections, called districts, Saguaro National Park is 91,442 acres, 70,905 acres of which is designated wilderness.  The park gets its name from the saguaro, a large cactus which is native to the region.  Close by is the Coronado National Forest which is spread throughout mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.  Divided into five ranger districts, each consist of multiple “ski island” mountain ranges.

Tanque Verde Ranch, Tuscon, Arizona

Ideally located amongst Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest, Tanque Verde translates as the “green pool,” a name given by the Pima Native Americans due to the seasonal river that runs through the land to create a mountainous desert oasis of vibrant cacti and various unique plants. Tanque Verde Ranch offers a variety of activities that allow guests to take advantage of this beautiful landscape, including expert-guided hikes through the Sonoran Desert or rugged Rincon and Catalina ranges, mountain biking tours, trail rides on horseback, birding adventures and nature walks. All of these activities are complementary with all-inclusive rates, which also include three daily meals and accommodations in tastefully decorated southwestern styled accommodations.

Coming Soon- the Salamander Resort & Spa paired with Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park, Virgina

This 200,000 acre park is haven to deer and songbirds and is an ideal location for outdoor activities for the whole family.

Be the First: Salamander Resort & Spa 

Salamander Resort & Spa is set to open this August in the heart of Virginia wine and horse country in the quaint 18th century village of Middleburg and a short 2-hour scenic drive along Virginia’s Skyline Drive to Shenandoah National Park. Set on 340 acres of farmland, the brand new resort will offer an unparalleled luxury experience in the region with 168 guest rooms and suites; a culinary program led by Chef Todd Gray of Equinox Restaurant in DC including a two restaurants, wine bar, cooking studio and 2-acre culinary garden; a world-class spa with 14 treatment rooms and a couples suite and an array of activities including an onsite Equestrian program to rival any other in the world, with a 22-stall barn, practice ring, riding trails and instructional classes. The property boasts tennis courts and an outdoor pool complex, and guests have privileges at the nearby Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. Fifty wineries are within an hour’s drive of the resort, as are opportunities for whitewater rafting, sporting clays and raceway spectating.

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Where would you like to park you and loved ones this summer? If you try any of the above this summer, please let Luxury Travel Mavens know what you think!

Submitted by Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos, descriptions and links supplied by J Public Relations

 

 

The Pierre, a Taj Hotel, seen from Central Park in New York

How would you make a stellar hotel like The Pierre even better? Would you like someone to fill your hotel suite in advance with your favorite flowers, books, foods, beverages and pillows?  Would you like to walk into “your” rooms and be greeted with your choice music and scents, and a butler standing by to unpack for you?    Maybe he could also draw a royal bath for you with herbs, spices and oils to ease away the trials and tensions of travel.

Welcome to the “Taj Royal Attache Services” offered at The Pierre, a Taj Hotel in New York.   The services seem aimed at making guests feel like Raj at the Taj in imperial days of India as well as harkening back to the founding of the legacy luxury hotel on the SE corner of Central Park.

Historic Luxury

Some gems from a history provided by the historic hotel include:

Taj Tea Service in your Suite

*“The new Hotel Pierre is a millionaires’ Elysium, and it really is very beautiful,” declared The New Yorker in an August, 23, 1930 preview piece appearing under the byline “Penthouse

*Founder Charles Pierre wanted his elegant sanctuary “to create the atmosphere of a private club or residence instead of that characteristic of the average hotel. Every convenience will be incorporated into its design and construction.”

*“To serve its socially prominent clientele, the hotel was introducing two new features to the hospitality industry: a secretariat, whose staff members would perform for guests all the duties of a private social secretary, and a committee of chaperones, “companions of unimpeachable character and social recognition for the entertainment of younger persons who visit New York alone.”

Times have changed since the hotel’s early days and chaperones no longer seem a desired service, but maybe you do want someone to take care of theater tickets, sew on a button, and arrange for morning tea service in your suite. The Royal Taj Attache service provides a kind of personal butler-concierage-staff for Pierre guests who book one of the lavish suites and would like some one-on-one service. If you check in to the John Paul Getty suite with multiple rooms of elegance and original art,  and a sweeping terrace with topiary, a well-heeled, well versed Taj attache can add luxurious service.

At the Pierre, a Taj Hotel, you can go to the spa or have the Royal Taj Attache spring some of the spa to you

Your attache can help you best enjoy the great city of New York outside your windows, or let you luxuriate with-in the hotel- whether arranging a candlelight dinner en-suite, a memorable spa treatment,  or making arrangements for you to enjoy a private art tour in the hotel which harbors thousands of pieces.

And then when it’s time to go home, you have someone to pack your bags for you-with tissues between freshly pressed pieces.

“Location, location, location” is combined with “luxury, luxury, luxury.”

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For additional Luxury Travel Maven reading:

My husband and I enjoyed a Honeymoon weekend at the Pierre

Enjoying Butler service at Le Blanc

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photographs provided by   The Pierre, a Taj Resort

What are your favorite “Extra Luxury” experiences when traveling?

 

Here Comes the Sun-Protection

I’m packing for the US tropical islands for Spring Break. Not the Hawaiian Islands this time, but the Caribbean. The US Virgin Islands don’t require a passport and the average water temperature is about 80 degrees .  The Saints are waiting (as in the islands of St Thomas, St Croix and St. John)  Sun and sea here I come!

Solumbra

Ready for a day of sunshine. SPF clothes for protection by Solumbra.

The #1 item for packing? Sun protection, and I don’t mean sunblock. Yes, I will pack my favorite, but I can also buy it there and not worry about 3 ounce maximums for carry-on. I mean my clothes. I specifically mean clothes designed for sun protection made by a company called Sun Precaution– a line by Solumbra and referred to as SPF Clothing.  I do not want my vacation to be a race to cancer or aging skin! I do want “safe” clothes for outdoor adventure, and sun  lounging.

Most people now know that the sun’s rays can penetrate t-shirts and go through windows and do damage, and that we rarely apply sun block thoroughly and often enough to fully work.  Do you know how many ounces you could go through in a vacation outdoors if you fully followed the instructions?

Shaun Hughes needed sun protection so he invented a wearable “medical solution.”

 “Medical Solution” Fashion

When Shaun Hughes got melanoma skin cancer in his 20s, he got inventive too. He created and patented what he calls a “medical solution” — a tightly woven cloth that is tested to be SPF (sun protection factor) of 100. And then he developed a line of clothing other people would wear too. He has made improvements over the last 20 years based on research and fashion.

There are Sun Protection stores now on the West Coast (Santa Monica and San Diego in California, and Seattle, Washington), but I liked perusing the goods online, organized by item or by activity.

For my last trip to Nicaragua, I took three long-sleeved shirts, two pairs of long pants and two hats to give them a real test (me). They were very lightweight and took up little room, so I could still fly carry-on for an 8 day adventure trip, if I wore my hiking boots and jacket on the plane ( I did.)

The complimentary colors allowed mixing and matching for many outfits. I added jewelry and scarves for accessorizing. The extras also dressed up the outfit and detracted from any sense of Safari motif.

Horseback Riding in Solumbra duds, Nicaragua above Morgan’s Beach

I also supplemented my traveling wardrobe with a skirt, a little black dress,  and two Scottevest items that were also on trial  (a long jacket with hidden pockets and their cargo pants with pockets.  These clothes are not designed for sun protection, but with multiple pockets to free up hands and eliminate the need for a shoulder bag. ) Verdict: Keepers for travel and home. The long -hanging lightweight jacket dressed up my other shirts, travelled wrinkle free and gave me the extra warmth needed in the evenings. It’s flowing lines attracted compliments too.

Solumbra Lessons on the Road

Here’s some of what I learned about my “SPF Clothing” during the active experiment in Nicaragua;

*I was the only one in a group of intrepid wonderful travelers on the Austin-Lehman trip that did not have some part of me get sunburned at some point during full days of city and nature activity.

*The ventilated shirts were well-engineered and breezy, so I didn’t get hot and sweaty the way I would of in jeans and a t-shirt.

*The hats were flexible enough for me to bend back the rim when I needed to for photography. The chin strap saved the windy day when others were chasing after their hats.

Zip-lining in Nicaragua with Solumbra shirt, Scottevest pants, local red hibiscus and helmet on an Austin-Lehman Adventure

*I didn’t suffer from any bug bites either (I had sprayed everything with Sawyer’s Clothing insect repellent before the trip- “good for six weeks protection against ticks chigger, mites and mosquitos”)

*The clothes are versatile and hardy. They (sans hat) worked:

  • upside down while I was ziplining,
  • under the thick overalls worn for ash-boarding down a volcano,
  • after getting splashed in kayaking (they dried quickly),
  • during horseback riding in the jungle under monkeys and on the gorgeous beach of Morgan’s Rock.

They were loose enough for working the press, one of many steps in making Don Elba cigars

* They served well too as good city-tour clothes and kept me comfortable (culturally and physically) when we visited the cathedrals, restaurants and museums of Leon and Granada.

*They are easily hand-washable and so thin they dry relatively quickly. I tested this out after sitting in a wet field to get a better angle for a photo of a volcano, and after getting chocolate spread on the pants accidentally when I went for a chocolate massage (another story for another time.)

*The clothing is so soft that I felt sometimes like I was wearing pajamas. I now like wearing them at home and around town for errands.

 And in conclusion…

So, in conclusion, it’s all going with me to the Caribbean too. I just wish I had thought to get the “skirted sea leggings” and “swim top” and maybe surf jacket for all the time I plan to spend in the water!  Snorkeling, paddle boarding, swimming, maybe the new jetpacks.  How wonderful not to worry about going back to shore and re-lathering legs and arms and back, and trying to do it without acting like a glue-magnet for sand.

Now, where’s my swimsuit? And what books should I bring ?

Lisa TE  Sonne,  Luxury Travel Mavens

Photo of Shaun Hughes from Sun Precautions Website as well as first story image

Feature image of St Croix provided by US Virgin Islands Tourism

others taken on  Austin -Lehman Adventures Nicaragua trip

People who have journeyed on some of humankind’s most expensive, amazing trips gathered at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York last weekend to celebrate a kind of travel that often means forgoing hotels or restaurants— exploration. The annual mid-March tradition is known as ECAD- (The Explorers Club Annual Dinner.)

Winners celebrating exploration travel. Erden Eruc, the first person to circumnavigate the globe via human-power and Don Walsh, the first human to visit the deepest part of the ocean.

John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Charles Duke, and Don Walsh all traveled in very cramped quarters (Mercury capsules, the last Apollo, and the Trieste submersible ) in the 1960s to push the boundaries of human exploration travel up- orbiting earth- and down to the deepest ocean floor.

They enjoyed greater amenities last weekend, when they joined a sold-out crowd in the three-tiered Waldorf-Astoria ballroom to receive their own kudos, and to honor other intrepid luminaries including James Cameron.  Cameron took time from Avatar movie sequels, to receive the prestigious Explorers Medal, in his words “the Academy Award of Exploration” and a greater honor. His latest feat was to the depths of the Marianas Trench.

Erden Eruc, the first per­son to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the globe via human-powered travel (row­boats, bicy­cles, walk­ing) received a Certificate of Merit. Exploration exemplars Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, Christos Nicola and Monika Rogozinska were also given awards and shared inspiring words about their contributions to exploration.

Crocodile or alligator? Part of the wild appetizers for ECAD.

Many of the guests, outstanding explorers in their own realms (caves, mountains, deserts, rain forests, cultures,) with their own exotic exploration travel tales came to New York for the events, and were staying at the historic and elegant Waldorf-Astoria. Every President since 1931 has rested his head at the Waldorf and the corridor walls are lined with black and white photos of famous people who walked the halls.

Privileges
Overlapping the two illustrious worlds of exploration and the Waldorf Astoria  created intriguing juxtapositions of kinds of privilege.  In the Waldorf Tower suites, the bathroom alone and the chandeliered dressing room were probably bigger than the honorees’ rare exploration vehicles (space- capsules & highly customized submersibles)

Great views and lots to write home about from this corner of magnificent, antique-filled Waldorf Towers suite on Explorers Club weekend.

The lofty views of bridges rivers, and skyscrapers, from my 41st floor suite were from only a fraction of the altitude of Mt Everest, a very different vista that  seemed particularly wondrous after meeting Jim Whittaker the first American to summit Everest, and another of the weekend’s honorees.

Upscaling the kind of food that explorers sometimes eat, “The Exotics” served at ECAD have become a culinary tradition and good for press.  Appetizers before dinner included unusual game and champagne drinks with a male goat’s private skewered instead of an olive or lemon. The popular dessert tables were eaten out before I could get to the fare, but I heard about it.

The next morning at  the hotel’s luxurious Peacock Alley Sunday brunch, the pastry chef recalled, “Instead of our normal adornments, we were adding crickets, mealy worms, and tarantulas to desserts.”

In view, the Lobby’s iconic gold clock tower chimed. Other times, live music wafts from a nearby grand piano that once belonged to Cole Porter who lived in the hotel and refers to it in his song “You’re the Top.”  Celebrities from Marilyn Monroe to Paris Hilton, and gangster Bugsy Siegal to inventor Tesla have also had Waldorf addresses. Last weekend the hotel was visited by people who summit and dive and crawl and kayak, and measure, record, and observe endangered species and remote geographies, when they aren’t wearing their ECAD best.

For decades, The Explorers Club  (TEC) arguably the world’s most distinguished club to honor and promote exploration, has hosted ECAD (Explorers Club Annual Dinner)  at the historic Waldorf. Tickets for members and their guests range from $350 to $40,000. Proceeds go to help further exploration for the sake of scientific endeavor and knowledge.

The Sunday after the dinner and post-parties, the Club also offered an Open House at its legacy-filled HQ building on East 70th, another New York architectural treasure.  I loved visiting with some of the honorees and other explorers including Milbry Polk who founded Wings WorldQuest and is author of Women of Discovery, underwater queens Sylvia Earle and Anne Doubilet, and Jeff Blumenfeld who publishes the captivating (for people who love exploration) Expedition News . It’s titilating to hear where they are traveling next. Sylvia to the Maldives and Jeff to Nepal on a humanitarian expedition. It’s inspiring to hear about the huge efforts being made to conserve natural and cultural systems.

A schedule of lectures about current explorations interwove with informal visiting as people cross-pollinate and gather support for future expeditions.  What advances can be made to technology and knowledge and human spirit before the next ECAD?

Post Script:

Retrieving Lost Treasure

After heady conversations about advances in technology and the glories of curiosity in action, I returned to the Waldorf for my late check out. Ironically, only when I was in the clouds 40,000 feet over the U.S. flying back to Los Angeles, did my head come out of the clouds (and sea trenches and caves) to remember that I had opened the safe in my room but forgotten to take out my jewelry and pack it.

I reminded myself that the Waldorf was among those highest-end hotels where you could probably count on getting your things back and the staff members I had seen all seemed wonderful, but it’s a rough economy and challenging times, with people’s views of entitlement sometimes morphing. I called the hotel when I landed at 11pm, and left a voice message with security. It was a “first” for me and I hoped it would have a happy ending.

Since the weekend was a special trip and I would see international friends, I had eclectically brought some of my favorite pieces – unusual amber necklaces given when I was covering space in the Soviet Union, a bracelet from a recent trip to Morocco, a hand-made woven necklace from a Karawari tribe in Papua New Guinea, sea fossil earrings from when I worked on a television series with the Monterrey Aquarium in California.

None of it has significant monetary value, especially compared to the jewels that have adorned other guests of the Waldorf like the Queen and Elizabeth Taylor. But they were unique and had sentimental value as catalysts of memories and stories. I thought about the curiosity cabinets people used to fill with artifacts gathered from around the world to inspire. And wondered how many other people used jewelry these days in a similar vein.

John Glenn and Jim Cameron had both talked about the driving force of curiosity in shaping the world’s history and economy via initial explorations.  I thought how fortunate I was to have spent the weekend with remarkable people who are still questing, and ponderd gratefully for perspective of the times I had been able to be even a tiny part of expeditions and explorations. The “things” from the trips are not the true riches of these experiences.

Still, when a package arrived this morning with my little treasures, I admit I was glad- to have them back and to witness integrity.  I would like to give call out thanks to the Waldorf’s security and house-keeping staff –Javier Carranza, Erika Gonzalez, Sam Koening and Eric Perez- for honesty and efficiency!   On the phone, Perez told me calmly, “This happens everyday. People leave things from cell phone chargers to a child’s favorite teddy bear to thousands of dollars of jewelry. We get it back to them. That’s what we do.”

-Lisa TE Sonne, Luxury Travel Mavens

 

 

 International trips organized around annual festivals and remarkable events may be packed and unpacked with “Ah!” and awe at human nature and earth’s nature.

Iceland, Solstice Celebration in June, photo courtesy of Kensington Tours

A camel beauty pagaent in India? Cherry blossoms in Japan? A solstice  celebration in Iceland? A leg rowing contest in Mynamar?  These are trips you can take that few have (and links to intineraries for that festival travel are below).

What better way to learn about a culture than by being part of the festivities it honors?  One of my most remembered (and photographed) trips was customized around the Tshechu dance festivals held in the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas.  Our private trip beautifully developed by Bridge to Bhutan included a local guide, great access to the festivals and temples, and some luxury accommodations (Zwha Ling in Paro, the first Bhutanese owned-and-operated hotel and resort to receive five stars, Uma Paro for peaceful pampering, is part of the upscale Como Hotels and Resorts,   Taj Tasha, a modern landmark in Thimphu and a Taj Resorts and Palaces.)  I hope to return this summer to Bhutan with my husband to provide luxe trav readers updated details.

LTM Festival Travel

Pushkar Camel Fair, India, courtesy of Kensington Tours

You may have a destination in mind and start checking into what festivals are celebrated as a memorable portal to unique experiences or you may know of a festival you like– St Patrick’s Day in Ireland in March, the big Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October, or the Water throwing festival in April that is part of Thailand’s New Year. You can start creating your own adventure with or without a company that customizes trips.

You may want to join a festival trip that has already been carefully planned. Since many destinations can be well booked by locals and foreigners for annual events, and festivals may have specialized customs, the expertise and clout of a seasoned travel company  could save you time and trouble. I have not experienced the festival trips below, but the photos and descriptions are beguiling:

APRIL

Cherry Blossom Festivals in Japan Photo provided by Kensington Tours

Japan`s Cherry Blossom Trip

As described by Kensington Tours: “Picnic under trees radiant with cherry blossoms and take part in the centuries old Japanese tradition of “hanami” on this private journey showcasing Tokyo and Kyoto during the most desirable time of year. Delve into this ancient spring custom and more, as you’re swept into a land of kimono-clad geishas, zen gardens, sushi, samurai castles and shrines, all narrated by private guide.

“Stroll the flowery “Philosopher’s Walk,” tiptoe across nightingale floors, cruise the Sumida River, visit mountain temples and behold cherry blossoms season at its finest!”

 

JUNE

Iceland’s Summer Solstice Tour: June 21, 2013

As described by Kensington Tours “Celebrate the Summer Solstice in “the land of the midnight sun” on this exclusive tour to the top of the world. Honor this mystical ancient tradition marking the longest day of the year in Reykjavik, Iceland.

“From druid priests, live music, bonfires and culinary feasts with the locals to champagne toasts, drinking “Viking blood,” carving sacred runes and unveiling legends of old with private Icelandic folklore guide, this northern adventure makes the most of all 24 hours of light.”

Nature’s spa at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon during the Midnight Sun, photo from Kensington Tours

 JULY

Spain’s San Fermin Festival: July 6 – 14, 2013

As described by Kensington Tours, “Not for the weak of heart, this wild Spanish fiesta is known for the Running of the Bulls which dates back to 14th-century Pamplona. Over time it has evolved into a daring weeklong fête where 2,000 people

San Fermin Running of the Bulls Fiesta In Pamplona, Photo provided by Kensington Tours

run in front of 15 charging bulls.

“Led by a real picador guide, behold the spectacle from a private balcony as Ernest Hemingway did and head to the country where the famous bulls are raised. Not ready to take life by the horns? Fireworks, gigantes y cabezudos, contests, dancing and spirited locals will keep any globetrotter on their toes.”

OCTOBER

Myanmar’s Leg-Rowing Festival: Oct 5 – 22, 2013

In the words of Kensington Tours: “Cruise the waters of time back to a celebration evocative of Southeast Asia centuries ago with a pilgrimage to Phaung Daw Oo – otherwise known as Myanmar’s Leg Rowing Festival. Held upon the shores of Inle Lake, a trip to this spiritual 18-day pageant is true cultural nirvana. Watch as a golden barge holding four Buddhas is towed by ornamented leg-rowers from private boat with expert guide.

“Take part in the eclectic festivities, from magic shows, dancing, leg rowing races and fireworks to fortune tellers, spiritual blessings and Burmese banquets. To amplify your experience, plan your visit to coincide with Thadingyut, the festival of lights!”

Myanmar Leg rower contest, Photo provided by Kensington Travel

NOVEMBER

Pushkar Camel Fair – India: Nov 6 -17, 2013

Kensington Tours: “There’s nothing quite as mind boggling exotic as a trip to India’s Pushkar Camel Fair. Held every year in the desert of Rajasthan during the full moon, this spectacular event attracts over 300,000 people and up to 50,000 camels.

Family at the Pushkar Festival in India, Photo from Kensington Tours

“Led by expert private guide, plunge into this cultural spectacle while staying at a whimsical luxury tented camp. From camel painting, beauty pageants, races, livestock trade, religious rituals to music, gypsies, mouth-watering feasts and other lively events, this exotic festival has it all!”

****

Keep clicking in for future luxury festival trips as readers and luxe tour operators share their favorites. Coming up: Food and Wine Festival Trips

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos provided by Kensington Tours

 

The Zen of Ziplining with Dan Austin, founder of Austin-Lehman Adventure now Austin Adventures

Dan Austin, founder of Austin Adventures, not only walks his talk.  He ziplines it, kayaks it, and  ash-boards it. He makes the world his office and playground, as he aims for each AA adventure travel vacation to be “incredibly fun and deeply memorable”, (part of the company’s mission statement.) Not an easy feat, with 80 programs “evolving” in the Americas, Africa and Europe, but his family- run company keeps getting top awards and high praise.

 He credits his family, AA team and the hand-picked local guides. It’s also clear, he is all-around hands-on (both paddles and plans,) and is comfortable with a variety of Boards ( executives and sports.) He even ash-boarded down a young volcano with fellow travelers and me on AA’s inaugural trip to Nicaragua-

Dan Austin stays plugged in (with camera, smart phone and smiles) so guests can stay unplugged if they want.

enjoying the field research with his wonderful enthusiasm and observant eye.     He  slipped in some texting to his family and AA team  between zipline stations in  jungle canopy, from a kayak, and between courses to help keep things “fun and memorable” on this trip and dozens of others.

How do you define “adventure travel “?

Austin: “That is a tough question Lisa, Adventure Travel can be anything from climbing Everest to a walk in your local dog park.  It really comes down to what it means to the individual (or company in our case).  To AA it simply means staying active and exploring a bit more off the beaten path in each and every region we visit.  Definitely not a “typical bus tour.”

Family adventure travel by an award-winning, family-run company

“As you experienced in our recent trip to Nicaragua, we tried to balance seeing the country and cultural activities, with a bit more calorie burning modes of transportation like kayaks or hiking along with some heart pounding activities like ash boarding off a volcano.  Key is knowing what adventure is to you and making sure your goals and ideas are in line with your fellow travelers or an outfitter if you so choose. Also key to trust you always have options and that everything is introduced in a way that is as good for a novice as a veteran.”

 Why did you found your company?

Austin: “Now that is a bit of an adventure on its own.  I had a bit of experience in the industry back in the late 70’s.  I was a passionate rafter and thought it would be great to get people to pay to join me. Then some 25 years later my wife talked me into joining an “adventure vacation” to the Tetons with what was then Backcountry Tours.  I reluctantly agreed. I mean I was one of those macho do it yourself guys that looked at group travel, led by a couple of young guides as it had to be painful.

LTM Adventure Travel

River Rafting continues to be part of the Austin story. Rafting the Yellowstone River on ALA’s Montana Adventure. Photo Credit: Austin-Lehman

“Boy was I wrong!  It took all of the first day for me to realize this was my first true vacation.  Everything from someone else fixing the flat on my bike, to deciding where we would eat or what trail we would hike.  That and they carried by bags to our room and were a wealth of non-stop energy and learning’s.  After that week, a group of us approached the owners and ended up buying the company.  That was back in 1995, I have had no regrets since!”

 What are some of your most popular trips over the years and what is your rate of customer return?

The lower falls of Yellowstone River, a popular Austin adventure destination. Photo courtesy of Austin-Lehman.

Austin: “Yellowstone continues to be our #1 selling trip as it has for decades!  It is simply sensory overload and offers something for everyone. From the rich history (our country’s first National Park), to its spectacular geography (a giant caldera and more geo thermal features then the rest of the world combined) and of course the wildlife!  But that is just one of many tried and true favorites.

“Year after year Alaska continues to shine, as do the Canadian Rockies.  In Europe, Holland, Germany and Italy are always at the top of the list. Heading south, Costa Rica is our #2 selling program overall, with Peru and the Galapagos not far behind.  In Africa, my favorite and that of many of our guests, has to be Namibia, with South Africa a close second.

“About 70% of our guests are either repeat travelers or direct referrals from repeats.  One of our favorite alumni couples Chuck and Judy will be taking their 52nd and 53rd trips this year. In fact they will be repeating a trip the first trip they ever did to the Loire Valley, led by our Europe Operations Manager Ron van Dijk who was their guide on that trip so many years ago.”

Do you have anything particularly exciting coming up that you want to share?

Austin:We are always “cooking” up new trips.  We just finished putting the final touches on a new Inca Trail Luxury Camping program (Glamping)  combining hiking the Inca Trail with over- the-top services and amenities like massages and down comforters. We also are just finishing up a new Montana Based Best of the West family program.  Best bet is to sign up for our E-News letter and or catalog, of course that and Facebook. We are always communicating what we are up to.

 How can your company tailor things to be more luxurious if the client wants? Can you give some examples of things your company has done along those lines?

Sweet Adventure Travel, photo from Austin-Lehman

Austin:” Now that is clearly the fun part of the business!  About 25% of our guests choose “custom or exclusive” adventures.  Fact is if you can dream it, we can create it.  I love sharing these stories.

“There was the guest that had a vision of his wife standing knee deep in the surf off the coast of Kauai on her 60th birthday, cocktail in hand, Hawaiian trip playing as the sun set, topped off with rose petals falling from the sky!  Or the grandparents that wanted to treat their six- year-old twin grandsons to five National Parks in six days by private jet!  Then there are a lot more conventional adventures where a multi-generational family just want to get together for an adventurous family reunion.

Would you say you have a “family company”? What difference does that make?

Family Adventure: Austin guests hike up Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, Canada. Photo Credit: Austin-Lehma

Austin: “You bet I would or could say that. We are family owned and operated.   But I actually think the readers –and our guests– said it better when they awarded us the #1 Family Tour Operator in the world recognition in 2012! And  #2 overall !  It just helps that we know families!

“My kids grew up in the business as my crash test dummies (just kidding.)  We have always put a focus on doing family adventures right, not just calling an adult program “family” to sell more spots.  They are truly built for families, by families.  Here is a link to a fun webinar we did just to learn more from kids as to what kids wanted out of a family vacation.

 How would you define “Sustainable” or “Green,”  “Eco-travel?”  How important is it to your company?  Can you give examples of how you implement/ integrate it?

Austin: “Another great question and like the question on defining adventure travel, its all about what it means to you. I like to look at it in its simplest form.  The triple

In the middle of the hike, guide extraordinaire Julio Flores surprises everyone with Nicaraguan pastries. Ken sets a good example.

bottom line:

  • People
  • Planet
  • Profits

“All working together.  Another helpful definition is that of Sustainability: “ The ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs.

“We look to work with hotels and restaurants that follow these beliefs.  Is the produce local or flown in?  Do they practice recycling? Conservation?  But also things like hiring locals (starting with our guides).  Are they giving back to the communities they reside?

“One of our more significant programs that we are exceptionally proud of is our own nonprofit Wheels of Change.

Also check out www.austinadventures.com  for more.

What kind of awards have you gotten? What moments are you most proud of?

Austin: “We truly have been blessed in this arena. As I mentioned Travel and Leisure recognized us as the #1 Family Travel company in 2012 (beating out companies with names like “Disney”, that same year we were ranked #2 overall.  We have finished in the top 3 since we were first announced as #1 overall Tour and Safari operator in 2009.  But that is really just a start.

Austin-Lehman Awards

“National Geographic Adventurer listed us as one of the top companies in the World, several times as well as recognizing specific trips in the top trips category, year after year.  Outside Magazine gave our Cuba program the 2012 Hall of Fame award and so much more.  You can see more. You asked what award am I most proud of.. that has to be the Global Vision Award for our efforts with our bike program Wheels of Change.”

What else should potential travelers know about Austin Adventures for luxurious, adventure travel?

Austin: “I think it is not so much Austin Lehman –although we would love all your readers to join us– it is just travel itself.  As I recently penned for an email broadcast, travel is good for the soul!

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, photo thanks to Austin-Lehman

“I think Mark Twain said it best ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  

“You can of course start with our website  or on Facebook.  I also just encourage all to just call or email.  1-800-575-1540 or even better yet.  email me direct at dan@austinlehman.com  Yes, you will get a personal response.

“We are all eager to talk about travel and adventure anytime!  And if we don’t go where you want, we probably know who does and does it well, and are just thrilled to help you on your way!”

by Sonne

Dan Austin in the largest lake in Central America, Lake Nicaragua

(c)Lisa TE Sonne,  Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos by Lisa TE Sonne, unless credited to Austin-Lehman or Austin Adventures

Stay tuned for more Q & A with Dan Austin about how to Design an Adventure trip and for more on ALA’s innovative travel philanthropy

What do you think “Adventure Travel” is? Do you have Austin-Lehman trip stories to share in the comments below? Here’s my Luxury Travel Maven story and photos of the Austin Adventures Trip to Nicaragua