Spotlight on Italian Winemaker: Piero Lanza

Poggerino signage. FWT Magzine.

Italian wine maker Piero Lanza prides himself on such things as having a deep understanding of Chianti Classico’s regional differences, on using organic practices to solve curly problems to do with soil vitality – and having never worn a suit to work. Jacqui Gibson catches up with Piero at is Radda vineyard, Fattoria Poggerino.

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15 Best Summer Family Vacation Destinations for 2018

15 travel writers have selected the best summer family vacations for 2018. They’ve included everything from beaches to museums to outdoor adventures that will please family members of all ages. 

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The Catlins, New Zealand: An Insider’s Guide

Southland Coast, New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

The Catlins, a coastal region in New Zealand’s South Island is a must-do for anyone who loves an off-the-beaten-track adventure. Part of the Southern Scenic Route, The Catlins area takes in rural heartland, podocarp forests, rugged coastlines, hidden lakes, stunning waterfalls and rare wildlife.

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New York: 5 Great Spots for Wining and Dining

St. Tropez is a popular French restaurant and wine bar in New York

Long time New Yorker and experienced food and wine writer Darren Paltrowitz picks his five favorite spots in Manhattan for food and wine. Get an insider’s guide on New York’s culinary scene.

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Travel Writers Share their Favorite Food & Wine Festivals Around the World

Travel writers pick their favorite food and wine festivals around the world where you can stomp grapes, visit chateaux, and watch celebrity chef demonstrations.

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Welcome to MacKenzie Country, New Zealand

Mt Cook, Canterbury, New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Early morning in Fairlie Basin, MacKenzie Country

It’s early morning in New Zealand’s Fairlie basin. Farmer Angie Taylor lies in bed. Drat, she thinks. It’s bucketing down outside – and has been for hours. There’s a herd of 800 dairy cows to feed, a mob of pregnant ewes to tend and a coach load of international tourists due for a three-course lunch in just a few hours – provided Highway 79 doesn’t wash out. Without taking her head off the pillow, Angie’s got a pretty good idea of how this sodden, winter’s day on Morelea Farm will play out.

She and husband Stan have farmed their 320-hectare property for more than 20 years. They’ve raised three children, Mitchell, Ben and Julia, here. Before that they were newlywed farmers in Cromwell. Before that, they were a couple of fourth (Angie) and third (Stan) generation farm kids growing up on the Canterbury plains – Stan in Ashburton with Angie just 50 kilometres down the road.

So today’s relentless, icy rain doesn’t bother the couple too much. Stan will say there’s no use getting upset about these things. You’ve just got to work around it. Angie reckons storms are all part of their story. Today it’s rain, with the likelihood of flooding. In a few months’ time the temperatures will reach 30 degrees and there’ll be drought. And, anyway, it’ll have nothing on the horrendous blizzards of 1992 and 2006 – or even last week’s storm, which dumped 300mm of snow on their doorstep and took out the power for four days straight.

Tekapo, New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Lake Alexandrina, Tekapo. (c) PureNZ

Welcome to MacKenzie Country

Welcome to MacKenzie Country – a 7,300 square kilometre inland plain region 180 kilometres southwest of Christchurch that sits pretty much at the centre of New Zealand’s South Island. This is rugged, isolated country where scenery dominates, large country sheep stations have been the norm for more than a century and very few people live. There are not quite 4,000 people scattered among the region’s five main centres – Mt Cook (on the western-most edge at the base of the Southern Alps), Twizel, Omarama, Lake Tekapō and Fairlie.

New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Aoraki Mount Cook (3754m) and Lake Pukaki in winter. MacKenzie District, New Zealand. (c) Rob Suisted /

Most MacKenzie people farm (sheep, beef and, more recently, dairy) or work in the hydro-electricity industry, which produces a large portion of the country’s energy supply. Increasingly, locals like Stan and Angie make at least some of their living from the region’s well-established tourism industry.

Arriving in Fairlie today, though, it’s hard to pick why more than 900,000 people visit the MacKenzie every year. A thick grey mist has muscled out all obvious clues. We’re told the skies of nearby Tekapō are a big attraction. Most days these skies are blue. Infinite. Joyous, even. At night, they are said to be so clear, so unpolluted they’ve become a protected International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest such reserve of only four in the world and ideal for stargazing.

#Tekapo in #MacKenzieCountry is home to a protected International Dark Sky Reserve – and some of the world’s best #stargazing. Here’s more on why to visit #pure #NewZealandClick To Tweet

MacKenzie Country. New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Sky gazing, Lake Tekapo, MacKenzie Country (c) Vaughan Brookfield

You wouldn’t know it today. But the Taylor’s farm is usually a plum spot year-round for relaxing on the front lawn and taking in the skyline ridges of Mount Dobson, Two Thumb Range and Fox Peak. Angie knows our group will have to wait for today’s storm to pass to enjoy a moment like that. By then, we’ll be in Dunedin or Queenstown and another AAT Kings Southern Spectacular coach tour will be headed her way.

So the afternoon we arrive, Angie and Stan opt to change things up. Ushering us off the bus, shoes on, into their single-storey stucco home, the couple welcome us inside for a chat and a sit-down lunch by the fire. There’s homegrown beef steak, sausages and lamb chops on the go. There’s salad from the garden, minted peas and home baked bread. Angie’s pavlova topped with cream and kiwifruit will finish us off.

Before lunch is served, Angie explains she and Stan will tend 3,000 sheep this summer once the lambs are born. In January, the four-month-old lambs will be sold live to the meat works in Timaru. Until then, their flock will enjoy fresh farm air, water from mountain-fed streams, mum’s milk and green grass. It’s a similar story for the cattle, says Stan, although only a third will be killed for beef. The rest are dairy grazing stock and will return, well-fed and pregnant, to three nearby dairy farmers.

“For Kiwis, our story is quite typical I suppose. But for people from the big international cities of Asia and Europe, it’s something quite different,” says Stan. “People love it when I come in from the tractor, with a bit of my knee out of my trousers, string trailing from my back pocket. They can see this is a real working farm and we’re real-life farmers.”

Change arrives in MacKenzie Country

Perhaps what isn’t so obvious to tourists passing through Morelea is the fact that life is on the change in this part of the world just like it is everywhere.

Stan says, “Having the bottom fall out of the meat and wool industry in the 1990s had a major impact on us. You’ll see there’s a lot more corporate dairy farming in the MacKenzie these days and more pressure on farmers to convert to dairying. We won’t do it. But our son Mitchell who is taking over the farm may do so.”

The change has disrupted the social fabric of towns like Fairlie too, says Stan. There are more absentee farmers – business people who own or have shares in a dairy farm but don’t live locally, choosing instead to have a manager run the farm on their behalf. Yet, says Stan, there’s not much use worrying about it and there’s still a wonderful high country lifestyle to enjoy.

Most summers he and Angie take their jet boat out on Lake Ophua where the trout and salmon fishing is good. One summer was extra special with daughter Julia coming home to get married at Lake Tekapō. Later in the year, they’ll follow the Fairlie rugby team. Stan was president of the club for several years and now Mitchell has taken over. Often in winter, on a Sunday afternoon, Angie and Stan will rug up, grab a bottle of whisky and head to Tekapō for a couple of hours’ curling with friends – either at the new artificial ice complex or at their own homemade rink dug out at a secret spot about six years ago. The wives drive, so the men can play.

Stan says the competition starts out tough among the 25 teams who turn up each season. But, as each good stone is rewarded with a swig of Scotch, the game becomes more of a test of one’s constitution than one’s sporting ability. An old outdoor farm broom is the makeshift tournament trophy – and Stan’s pretty keen to win it this year.

Another draw card of the MacKenzie is its close-knit community, says Angie. Neighbours know one another well, socialise regularly and help each other out in tough times. And, while Angie regularly heads off to Timaru for the weekend farmer’s market or to Christchurch for some shopping, Stan leaves the farm only when he has to. In many ways, he says, it’s all right here at their fingertips. And, anyway, why not stay put and let the world come to you?

Church of the Good Shepherd, FWT Magazine.

Lake Tekapo, Church of the Good Shepherd, MacKenzie Country (c) Julian Apse.

MacKenzie Country, what’s in a name?

MacKenzie Country is named after a Scottish shepherd and would-be farmer named James MacKenzie who allegedly pinched sheep from a large sheep run back in the 1850s. Said to be stronger than most and admired for escaping captivity three times, MacKenzie maintained his innocence, eventually becoming local folk hero.

Keen to check out the extraordinary landscapes of #MacKenzieCountry with #AATKings? Here’s all you need to know. #PureNZ Click To Tweet

If You Go

AAT Kings six-day Southern Spectacular Tour starts in Christchurch, travels to Twizel, Dunedin, Te Anau and finishes in Queenstown. It takes in several historic sites, including a stop-off on Pioneer Drive at The Church of the Good Shepherd, a small stone church on the shores of Lake Tekapō. The church was the first of its kind to be built in the MacKenzie Basin in 1935. Today it serves as a South Canterbury memorial, commemorating the original European settlers of the area and their ability to brave the harsh alpine environment and establish high country sheep runs. The writer travelled to the MacKenzie care of AAT Kings.

Aoraki Lake Pukaki. New Zealand. FWT Magazine.

Aoraki Lake Pukaki, MacKenzie Country, South Island, New Zealand (c) Will Patino.

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Why 2018 is the Year to Visit Jordan

Jordanian coffee

Jordan was never on my bucket list, but returning to Jordan is now on that list. Heck, before my trip there, I would not have been able to find Jordan on a globe. But after 10 days exploring this simply amazing country, I cannot only tell you where Jordan is, but also where its major cities and best tourist attractions are.

There’s really never been a better time to visit the country. Jordan tourism has decreased due to the conflicts in the region, which means there are fewer tourists so you can really enjoy and explore the sites. But tourism is rebounding as the government has worked hard to send a message that the country is safe and stable, and definitely open for business.

camels in the desert for Jordan tourism

Camels are the Uber of the Wadi Rum desert; (c) Beth Graham

Here are Jordan’s Do-Not-Miss Experiences

1. Petra 

It goes without saying that this UNESCO World Heritage site, dating back to 300 BC, is one of the world’s most iconic sites and one of the highlights of Jordan tourism. What’s most amazing is that Petra was hidden in Jordan for thousands of years until it was (re)discovered in 1812.

You’ll want to spend a full day exploring as your journey starts with a walk down the Siq, a narrow gorge, that leads to Petra. You’ll walk between towering pink sandstone cliffs, dotted with facades of ancient temples, tombs and residences. But you’ll lose your breath as you round the corner and come face to face with The Treasury, a massive 43-meter tall Greek-style temple carved into the sandstone. (Be sure to watch ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ before your trip to fully appreciate this iconic site.)

But this is only the beginning of Petra. There are many many more marvels of this ancient city to explore. I highly recommend hiring a guide as there’s so much history and many hidden features you’ll miss if you visit on your own. If you’re not too weary from a day of exploring, go back to Petra at night – it will be one of your most memorable night time excursions as you walk the pitch black Siq to experience a special ceremony at The Treasury, lit up by luminaries.

Where to stay: The Petra Marriott Hotel is the perfect base for your visit. After a long day of walking, treat yourself to a Hammam in the hotel’s spa before you relax in your well-appointed room.  

Jordan tourism experience riding donkeys in Petra. FWT Magazine.

Riding donkeys up to The Treasury in Petra; (c) Beth Graham.

2. Bedouin Experience at Feynan Ecolodge

As we exited our tour bus and boarded a few older model and well-traveled Toyota pickup trucks, I wasn’t sure what we were in for. We bumped and tumbled across the desert passing a few Bedouin camps as our keffiyeh-scarfed driver navigated the rough and dusty path.

We arrived at Feynan Ecolodge, built in 2005 and the first of its kind for Jordan tourism. Clearly, there are no power lines so the lodge is completely solar-powered with open-air rooms that provide natural ventilation with fresh spring water pumped in.

At night, the entire complex is lit by candlelight. The expansive terrace doubles as the dining room where vegetarian meals are served looking out over the rugged desert terrain. The 26 guest rooms are minimalist, designed to represent those of a caravanserai, a roadside inn where travelers, in this case Bedouins, would stop for the night along their journey. As if experiencing the tranquility of the desert far away from daily life was not enough, guests can spend their days hiking the nearby desert trails followed by a sunset stroll into the mountains to enjoy a pot of tea with sage, brewed over an open flame.

The lodge’s guide will also invite you to experience the Bedouin life with a visit to a nearby family where you can join them in a cup of Jordanian coffee with cardamom and learn to make kohl (Bedouin eyeliner). The darkness of night brings on the most magical stargazing experience of your life as you lie on the rooftop of Feynan Ecolodge and enjoy a curated talk about the constellations.

Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan; (c) Beth Graham.

3. Dead Sea 

We drove by the Dead Sea on one of our first cross country drives and my first impression was the serenity and peacefulness of the long, narrow waterway. But I was also surprised to find a number of luxury resorts dotting the coastline.

No trip to this region would be complete without experiencing the magical feeling of complete buoyancy in the Dead Sea. Just don your swimsuit, walk into the thick salty water, lift your legs, and you’ll instantly float. It’s a strange feeling but definitely worth the experience. After floating, it’s time for a little au naturale spa treatment. Find one of the urns filled with Dead Sea mud and slather it all over your body. It will harden in the bright sun, rinse it off in the outdoor shower and you’ll be surprised how soft your skin is.

Where to stay: The Dead Sea Marriott Resort & Spa is a luxury resort with breathtaking views. From the resort’s multi-leveled pool deck to the spacious, well-appointed guest rooms to multiple dining options, this is where you’ll want to experience the Dead Sea.

luxury hotel in Jordan. FWT Magazine.

The luxury Dead Sea Marriott in Jordan; (c) Beth Graham

4. Jerash  

In my opinion, one of the country’s, if not the world’s, most underrated sites is Jerash. An ancient city that was another modern day discovery just 70 years ago, Jerash was a walled Greek-Roman city from the Bronze Age. The site is now generally acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. From the city center’s grand columns to hilltop temples to outdoor theatres, it’s worth a full day of exploration.

5. Wadi Rum Desert

When I heard we were riding 4x4s in the desert, I thought to myself, “I’m more of a luxury resort spa girl. Do I have to?” Well, I’m here to tell you it was one of the most awesome experiences. We climbed into the bed of pickup trucks and set out across the desert landscape that felt a bit otherworldly. We raced other 4x4s, stopped often for photos and just marveled at this vast and magical destination.

Our afternoon of dusty trevails ended with a beautiful sunset, surrounded by luminaries, against the backdrop of desert landscape. We headed back to our Bedouin campsite but the next day held promise for an even more exhilarating desert experience.

In the darkness of the (very) early morning, we boarded, not 4x4s, but camels to head out over the eerily still Wadi Rum desert to catch the morning sunrise led by our Bedouin guides. Sunrise and sunset in the desert is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Where to stay: There are over 100 camp sites in the desert. We stayed at Rahayeb Desert Camp, a remote yet authentic Bedouin-style retreat.

Wadi Rum desert adventure. FWT Magazine.

Riding 4x4s in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan; (c) Beth Graham.

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Scenic Walking Tour of Thessaloniki, Greece

As the 2nd largest city in Greece, it is vibrant, historic, diverse, chaotic and beautiful – often simultaneously.  The deep-seated cultural and historical treasures and traditions are evidenced in the monuments, architechture, cuisine.  The ancient remains feature Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman lineage along with more modern facades.  Following the devastating Great Fire of 1917, reconstruction of the city center now offers 20th-century look and feel offering yet another layer of contrast and interest.  As such, you’re sure to be entertained, enlightened, surprised and delighted along the way.  From start to finish, plan for approximately 5-hours for this scenic walking tour of Thessaloniki, including lunch and a leisurely coffee in the tradition of the Greek.

  1. Democracy Square:  Also referred to as Dimokratias or Vardari Square is a main intersection point of Monastiriou, Egnatias, Lagada and Dodekanisou Roads.  It is a symbolic representation of the past, present and future bustling with traffic, restaurants, cafes and shops.
  2. Thessaloniki Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception:  Just a few minutes walk on Dodekanisou toward the waterfront and historical portion of the city and you’ll find this picturesque and historic church situated on Fragon street.  Designed by Italian architect, Vitaliano Poselli, who is most widely recognized for his work throughout the city including the Jewish Museum.  The treasured temple was built in 1899 and remains active today and is run and preserved by the relatively small Catholic community of Thessaloniki.
  3. Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki: Next on your city stroll you’ll view the outside of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.  To properly take in the wealth of historic and cultural inside, it is recommended you reserve a tour for a separate day.
  4. Agios Minas church: In closer proximity to the port, where King Herakleiou and Dragoumis streets intersect is the Agios Minas church.  From the Post-Byzantine era, this Christian monument dates to the 9th century and is especially significant as it is one of the few not converted into a Muslim mosque after the city’s occupation by the Turk’s.  The current structure is a result of significant repairs necessary after undergoing centuries of wear, war and fire while maintaining the post-Byzantine style.
  5. Modiano and Kapani Food Markets: Situated at Platia Aristotelous and Ermou Street, this hidden marketplace with pulsing with vibrant colors, sounds, scents and flavors from the various stands offering an array of choices including fish, meat, veggies, herbs, bread, pastries.  Truly a feast for the senses.

    Thessaloniki Food Market (c) Joy Steinberg.

  6. Port of Thessaloniki: In addition to a scenic view of the waterfront, you’ll find the Museum of Photography and the Cinema Museum.  Cinephiles will also appreciate knowing there are two film festivals in Thessaloniki.  The Thessaloniki International Film Festival held annually every November and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in March.  Also situated in the port area, the Kitchen Bar is an ideal spot for a bite or drink while enjoying the waterfront vantage point.
  7. Nikis Avenue: Continue your walk along waterfront promenade Nikis Avenue. On a clear day, the promenade is bustling with walkers, runners, bikers and visitors enjoying the view of the water and charming street cafes.

    Nikis Avenue and waterfront promenade (c) Joy Steinberg

  8. Aristotelous Square: Next, stop off to explore Aristotelous Square home to luxurious hotels, vast mansions and charming cafes.
  9. Ancient Roman Agora: From Aristotelous Square, proceed to Venizelou square and take in the Ancient Roman Agora (located in upper Venizelou square)
  10. Agios Demitrius cathedral: Proceed from there to visit Agios Demitrius cathedral which offers representative Byzantine architecture. The church burned twice throughout history.  Most recent was the Great Fire of 1917 and it was rebuilt using parts of the old church that were not destroyed.
  11. Cafe Terkenlis: From the cathedral, walk down to Agias Sofias street and enjoy a leisurely and delicious coffee break at Cafe TERKENLIS in Agias Sofias square. Café Terkenlis originated in 1948 and is an acclaimed bakery and patisserie brand.
  12. Galerius Roman Palace: Now fully caffeinated and rejuvenated, carry on towards the Navarinou Square, Dim. Gounari street. This road is frequented by the university students and accordingly you’ll find shops and restaurants catering to their more modern tastes and minimal budgets. At this point, pause to take-in the ruins of Galerius Roman Palace – offering a dramatic counter to the contemporary youthful University vibe of the neighborhood.
  13. White Tower: From here, commence to walk down towards the famous White Tower considered by some to be the city’s trademark as the most recognizable landmark.
  14. Venizelou Street: Window shop along Tsimiski Avenue to Venizelou street. See the old arcades with the small textile shops.
  15. Finale: Bring your walking journey to a close at a neighborhood café while reflecting on the highlights and enjoying a traditional Greek culinary delights and a glass of wine from the regional vineyards of Macedonia.

    Kitchen Bar Port of Thessaloniki (c) Joy Steinberg

While highly recommended, it is best to plan a separate day for visits to the Byzantine Museum, Archaeological Museum and Jewish Museum properly explore and immerse yourself in the wealth of information and historic magnitude.


As is customary in this industry, my trip was organized by PASS PARTOUT Tourism Marketing with promotional rates provided by the Capsis Hotel Thessaloniki and Airotel Parthenon Athens.


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The Memorable Cuisine of Croatia

Evening at the International Prosciutto Fair in Tinjan, Croatia is buzzing with energy and celebration. Wine glasses clink as thinly sliced parchments of meat are lovingly teased from immense and fatty legs of perfectly marbled pork. The fragrance of roasted chestnuts wafts through the air as they roast over an open flame. Even the ambiance feels delicious.

Anthony Bourdain has touted Croatia as the ultimate foodie destination back when he visited and filmed No Reservations in 2012. “If you like food, and you haven’t come here to eat, you’re missing the [sic] boat”, he said and the world is beginning to take notice. Tourism has increased by over 5 million visits per year since 2012.

Local Fish from the tasting menu at Toklarija. Shot by Kaila Yu

Istria, Croatia

Croatia is an emerging food destination that will soon be on your radar. The passion for food in the country is evidenced by the Prosciutto fair and countless other food festivals that pepper the year in the Northernmost Istria region of Croatia alone. Some of the festivals include a truffle festival, asparagus festival, sole fish festival, and countless others. If you are visiting Croatia for the food, the Istria region should be on the top of the list as it is famous for its truffles, wine, olive oil, prosciutto, fresh seafood and more.

Tuna Tartare at Restaurant Badi © Kaila Yu

During my trip to Istria, we visited the Gastronomija Ville Meneghetti located inside the Meneghetti Wine Hotel. The restaurant serves high brow interpretations of local Istrian ingredients and features a highly aromatic wine and olive oil tasting. The restaurant serves their own award-winning olive oil, pressed from olives harvested from trees grown on the estate. In Croatia, one of our hosts said: “we put olive oil on everything”. A highlight of the meal was the perfectly grilled, delicate turbot fillet dressed with a shot of piquant Mediterranean sauce and dressed with elegant olive oil pearls. The presentation was understated yet upscale and truly gave us a sense of Istrian cuisine.

Tuna Tartare at The Lone Hotel © Kaila Yu

For lunch the next day we were treated to a four-hour presentation at the famed Croatian slow food restaurant, Toklarija. Overseen by chef/owner Nevio Sirotić, Toklarija is a restaurant built into a converted olive mill. Sirotić possesses a meticulous attention to detail and he had turned down all other reservations for the day to focus on serving our meal. The meal started with a delicate and flaky bread sandwiching a locally raised ham and cheese paired with his own homemade pickles.  It ended with a sublimely light and airy chocolate cake and the meal reminded us of the importance of taking the time to indulge in a delicious meal, something we often forget in the US.


The next day takes an hour south to the city of Opatija, in the Kvarner region, also known as the Monte Carlo of Croatia. Opatija is renowned for its Kvarner Scampi, distinguished as the star of all Adriatic seafood. Kvarner scampi is most often caught with longline fishing traps, This method of fishing prevents bruising and is much more highly selective than fishing with nets. Scampi starts off our first meal in Opatija, at the Villa Ariston. It’s a briny, buttery bite paired with a sun-dried tomato and pomegranate seeds. It’s a perfect bite of Opatija. The star of the lunch is the scallop course, perfectly grilled and served atop crispy, creamy spinach fritters. The accompanying sauce of celery and black truffle cream perfectly highlights the dish.

That night we settled in for the night at Design Hotel Navis. This brand new five-star hotel features stunning sea view and balconies in every room. The hotel features a generous buffet for all guests, featuring two entire self-serve prosciutto leg, one deeply crimson and one generously marbled with a thick layer of fat. Local foods were also featured with a trio of sardines harvested from the local island of Kali and a selection of pate and pickled peppers and vegetables.


Sparkling Fish Soup at Meneghetti © Kaila Yu

Finally, we make it to the last stop on the trip, Sibenik, which has gained some recent notoriety as it was the filming location for three episodes of the Game of Thrones. Konoba Pelegrini in Sibenik was anticipated to be one of the highlights of the trip as it has won the title of the best restaurant in Croatia for three straight years and has been called “A place and experience that foodie dreams are made of” by GQ Magazine. It’s located right next to the St James Cathedral, a UNESCO heritage site. This tavern/diner is the unofficial symbol of Sibenik and is devoted to the preservation of the Dalmatian style cuisine.

Head cook Rudolf Stefan prides himself on innovation while showcasing his passion for the Mediterranean region. We later wondered why Konoba Pelegrini hadn’t yet earned a Michelin star. The restaurant is celebrated for its 10-course tasting menu. The procession of locally sourced, yet elevated dishes included a light and airy bite of local fish ceviche – flavored by dashi, veal under the bell, a cuttlefish and black gnocchi. The “Veal under the Bell” course is inspired by the traditional Croatian dish of peca. It’s served under a heavy stone bell which is lifted with a dramatic flourish as smoky meat-scented air wafts into your face and blends deliciously into the room. The sourdough bread served is made from the restaurant’s own mother yeast. All dishes are served by a synchronized waiter train, which orchestrates the placement of each dish in front of each guest simultaneously. Especially memorable was the veal roll ćevapčić, served as a carpaccio and dotted with a bracing mustard sauce and nestled into a bed of crispy panko crumbs.


The KRKA National Park

The last stop of the trip was at the KRKA National Park, a 142 sq km UNESCO World Heritage site, so secluded that it is home to two monasteries. A three-hour hike through crackling leaves while enjoying the crystalline waterfalls leaves us ravenous quite hungry and treated to one of my favorite meals of the trip. It’s at the Stari Mlin i Kalikusa, and outdoor restaurant located inside the park and the meal itself is incredibly simple. We enjoyed a crispy, grilled local monk fish seasoned with only local herbs and olive oil, paired with homestyle potatoes and kale. The accompanying salad was dressed simply with just olive oil and vinegar. We savored the meal outdoors in the fresh air as we reminisced about the trip and were joined by a friendly orange tabby cat, who sat politely nearby until we donated our generous leftovers for his enjoyment.

In the end, the best meals are not only about the food but about the company and the environment in which they are enjoyed.

If You Go

Istria Tourist Board

Opatija Tourism Board

Sibenik Tourism Board

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Visiting the “SLO” Life in San Luis Obispo, California

Nestled just three hours from Los Angeles is San Luis Obispo. Known as “SLO” to the cool kids, San Luis Obispo is not just a college town (although don’t miss visiting the local campuses. Cal-Poly and Cuesta College are beautiful), but a town with a fun main drag. Along with a fantastic array of restaurants, bars and shops, SLO also has incredible wineries, hiking, museums and is home to one of the 21 California missions. Not to mention, it’s just 15 minutes from the beach!

A Fantastic Getaway to San Luis Obispo

With surfer pit stops (Pismo Beach, Cayucos) and quaint small towns like Cambria at your fingertips, San Luis Obispo has become much more loved for its diversity, foodie scene and crisp climate that is ideal for wine making. Those who live in SLO or have gone to school there know, though–it’s always been a “best kept secret”!


The Embassy Suites of San Luis Obispo recently underwent a major makeover, and they cannot wait to show it off to you. Just a six-minute drive from Downtown, the Embassy Suites offer a gorgeous and ample bar and restaurant in an atrium setting that overlooks the lobby. Open, airy and very welcoming, I felt as if I were at home with my kitchenette, living room, desk and comfy King sized bed with my TV favorites on. Some suites offer a fun patio view overlooking the hustle and bustle on the first floor.

One of the reasons I love staying at Embassy Suites is their evening reception featuring an open bar and snacks to enjoy while you get some work done or people watch. And they offer a terrific breakfast starting at 6am daily with made-to-order pancakes, omelettes, and a yogurt and cereal bar. It also makes for the ideal spot to grab a cup of coffee and snack for the road. These complimentary AM and PM perks with Embassy Suites is enough reason for me to choose them.

The Embassy Suites of San Luis Obispo (c) Mary Farah.

The History Center of San Luis Obispo (c) Mary Farah.


If you’re looking to start your day in Downtown SLO and do like the locals do, look no further than Mint+Craft.  My mouth-watering Obispo Toastie (Applewood bacon, tomato, crushed avocado, micro greens and an over-medium egg on gluten-free rye bread) was paired with an artistically crafted Matcha green tea latte. This was such a fantastic start to my first morning in town. So much so, that it made it hard to go back to a chain store coffee and snack stop post-trip. Reasonable prices and both gluten-free and vegetarian options make Mint+Craft a charming nook to begin your day; even as your coffee stop. Grab lunch or dinner, too! Breakfast is served until 2pm, and the rest of the menu 11am to close.


Just a few steps from Mint+Craft is the San Luis Obsipo Mission, as well as the History Center of San Luis Obispo, the SLO Museum of Art and an array of stores that offer such a variety, everyone will want to shop til they drop.

If enjoying the great outdoors is what you have in mind, there’s plenty of hiking trails all around. Bluff Trail, Poly Canton Loop and Valencia Peak Trail are just few of the trails, parks and hikes surrounding you. If you like unusual, rather, gross history, make sure not to miss San Luis Obispo’s infamous Bubblegum Alley….its name pretty much sums it up.

Bubblegum Alley. You have to see it to believe it! (c) Mary Farah.

A hearty meal courtesy of Big Sky Cafe (c) Mary Farah.


While SLO is a fantastic weekend getaway option, you might to try to make it on a Thursday. Each week (as weather permits), the Downtown Farmer’s Market fills the entire block of Higuera Street with all of the locals’ favorite fare from 6pm to 9pm while the stores also stay open. Bars, too! While it was overwhelming to decide on just one vendor to try.

Several eateries offer patio dining so you can enjoy the ambiance and strollers, including Big Sky Cafe. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Big Sky is one of the several farm-to-table restaurants in the area. The dishes were so fresh and elaborate. My pesto chicken sausage scramble (breakfast until 1pm) was one of the highlights of my two-day trip. I loved watching everyone’s afternoon go by from my patio table, too. Big Sky’s staff was also top-notch. My server, Riley, was so personable and helpful in my deciding on the perfect brunch dish.

Big Sky doesn’t fool around with their coffee, either. Getting their beans around the corner at local favorite, Coastal Peaks. My organic iced latte fueled me aplenty for my ride back to LA.


The  San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center is an excellent resource. An abundance of information awaits you and they will be happy to assist you with all of your itinerary  needs. Rest your head and enjoy the hospitality over at the Embassy Suites. Sight see and learn about the city with the San Luis Obispo Mission, Museum of Art and the History Center. Then,  take your appetite to Mint+Craft and Big Sky Cafe.

And, don’t forget to pack some chewing gum to leave your mark!

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11 Best Travel Destinations for 2018

A Zodiac near an iceberg

The world’s a big, exciting place. Sometimes it’s tricky to know where to plan your next adventure. Do you go with what you’ve always done or branch out and try somewhere new?

According to our FWT Magazine travel experts, the 11 best travel destinations for 2018 take in outstanding international cities like Tokyo, as well as culture-rich destinations like Italy, Germany, France, Budapest and Sri Lanka. If craft beer and curling are on your mind, then you’ll definitely want to book time in the winter wonderland of Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada. Then again, if you want an off-the-beaten track adventure, 2018 could be the year to jump on a plane bound for Jordan or the Solomon Islands.

Whatever your fancy, it’s time to make a plan.

1. Tokyo, Japan

Best travel destination for 2018? My top pick would have to be Tokyo, Japan. The entire country is gearing up for the upcoming Olympic Games in 2020, so there is a buzz in the air as they prepare. With so much history, arts, and culture to explore in this fast-paced, very civilised, polite city, you’ll need to bring comfortable shoes and plan to stay awhile. The food is excellent, the shopping is glamorous, and the transportation network within Tokyo and all of Japan is top notch and easy to navigate. It’s a travellers dream location.

Mary Chong, Canadian travel blogger for Calculated

Tokyo skyline. FWT Magazine.

Tokyo, Japan is travel blogger Mary Chong’s pick of top travel destination in 2018.

2. Losinj Island, Croatia

Lonsinj Island in Croatia is, after all, known as the Island of Vitality where wealthy Europeans came to get away from the hard, cold winters for centuries. They came to this tiny island to cleanse their bodies and minds. Literally, before medical tourism was even a thing. It is said the island has special health benefits because of the fresh air mixed with sea salt and pine trees. But not only that, it is a gorgeous seaside village of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants with a simple way of life. You will absolutely be delighted to spend some time here along the coast of the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Cacinda Maloney, US travel blogger for Points and

Losinj Island, Croatia. FWT Magazine.

Losinj Island, Croatia is US travel blogger Cacinda Maloney’s recommended must-visit destination for 2018 (c) Cacinda Maloney.

3. Abruzzo, Italy

Abruzzo, Italy is a great destination because the area is absolutely rich in culture, art, cuisine, history, and activities. It is not rife with tourists, it has the mountains and the sea, and it is a good blend of northern and southern Italy. I know it like the back of my hand as my grandparents were born in the region.

Chris Cutler, US travel blogger for

Abruzzo, Italy. FWT Magazine.

Abruzzo, Italy is US travel blogger Chris Cutler’s pick of the best 2018 destination (c) Chris Cutler.

4. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Fredericton, New Brunswick is my pick of the best destination for 2018. Based on the East Coast of Canada, New Brunswick is filled with nature-related beauty. I am visiting during the time of year in which it can be described as a winter wonderland. New Brunswick is within the Appalachian Mountains yet it also has urban elements to it as a true bilingual province. The New Brunswick HopSpiel is an outdoor event — taking place in Officer’s Square of Fredericton — and is part of FROSTival. Its main focuses are craft beer and curling. I can’t wait to experience the HopSpiel Beer Garden.

Darren Paltrowitz, US freelancer

Fredricton. FWT Magazine.

Fredericton makes to the top of Darren Paltrowitz’s list of best destinations for 2018. Photo courtesy of Fredericton. 

5. Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux is world renowned for its fine wine, but the city itself was long an industrial port. The city’s position on the Atlantic seaboard made Bordeaux a natural crossroads between land, river and sea. Bordeaux even temporarily became the capital of France during WWI when Paris was threatened by the proximity of German armies, and the port was strategic in the industry of arms trade. Years and years of industry and boats steaming up the Garonne took their toll. Layers of thick black grime soiled the once gleaming honey-gold stone facades, earning Bordeaux the nickname The Sleeping Beauty.

But Bordeaux has, quite literally, cleaned up her act. A massive cleaning project to sand blast the stone facades to their former honey-gold glory was just the beginning of a new era for Bordeaux. New museums like La Cité du Vin, recently named as one of the best museums in the world by National Geographic, have opened just in the last two years. Wine châteaux that had long been shuttered to the public opened their doors to welcome visitors in a new age of wine tourism. Even some of the world’s most renowned chefs have opened restaurants in the UNESCO World Heritage city.

It’s an exciting time in Bordeaux. This year will see the 20-year anniversary celebration of Bordeaux’s wine festival, Le Fête du Vin. With wine producers, tastings and festivities stretching for over two kilometers along the quay, the wine festival will be complemented by the Tall Ships Regatta in an exceptional event taking place from June 14 – 18, 2018.

Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis, US travel bloggers for Luxe Adventure

Bordeaux, France. FWT Magazine.

US travel bloggers Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis pick Bordeaux, France for a must-visit destination in 2018 (c) Jennifer Dombrowski.

6. Capri, Italy

For 2018 the trend for travel is looking to places that are laid-back yet understatedly luxurious. Capri, a small Italian island town set high on the hill surrounded by the jewel-colored sea, has some of the best food you have ever had, gorgeous cliffside accommodations, beautiful shops, cobblestone streets and views for days. 

Kimberly Fisher, US travel blogger for 

Capri, Italy. FWT Magazine.

Capri, Italy is US travel blogger Kimberly Fisher’s choice of the best destination for 2018 (c) Kimberly Fisher.

7. Sri Lanka

My pick is Sri Lanka. The diversity of influence from Europe, the Far East, and the Indian subcontinent can be seen throughout Sri Lanka from its culture to its cuisine. Pair that with stretches of white sand beaches in the east to the rolling tea hills of the Central Province and it becomes clear that the beauty of Sri Lanka should be explored in its entirety.

Edward G Young III, US travel blogger for

Sri Lanka. FWT Magazine.

Sri Lanka makes it the top of the list for Edward G Young III (c) Edward G Young III.

8. Lake Constance, Germany

This natural lake, created by the Rhine River, lies on the border between southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It’s actually two lakes, the larger Obersee which measures 40 miles long and nine miles wide, and the smaller Untersee. The shoreline is dotted with enchanting small cities and towns, providing a variety of activities and places to visit. The countryside, lake and views of the Swiss alps offer great scenic beauty. Roadways, trains, ferries and buses make it easy to travel between towns and across the lake. It’s a friendly and safe destination, and conveniently close to the airport hubs of Zurich and Munich.

Tamara Muldoon, freelance travel writer and blogger for

Lake Constance, Germany. FWT Magazine.

One of the largest lakes in Europe, Lake Constance offers charming seaside towns with many attractions, delicious food and drink, and inspiring views, says travel writer Tamara Muldoon (c) Tamara Muldoon.

9. Budapest

Budapest is actually made up of two bustling cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the regal Danube River. Explore both sides of the city, including Heroes’ Square, the Buda Castle and Matthias Church. At the Budapest Great Market Hall, you’ll find delicious Hungarian delicacies, beautiful handmade crafts, and of course, paprika. Walk through the city and discover amazing outdoor thermal spas with people soaking in them or playing chess on large floating boards.

Visit the Jewish Quarter with the magnificent 19th Dohany Street Synagogue, complete with the Raoul Wallenberg Garden and Tree of Life memorial to those lost in the Holocaust. Also sobering is the Shoes on the Danube memorial to those who were shot into the river. Budapest holds special magic, especially at night, with the Parliament, Castle and Chain Bridge lights all aglow…a magnificent sight to behold in this medieval city with a contemporary beat. Museums, palaces and galleries all make Budapest a delightful destination worth seeing this year.

Mira Temkin, US travel blogger for

Budapest. FWT Magazine.

Budapest is travel blogger Mira Temkin’s choice of where to go this year (c) Mira Temkin.

10. Jordan

My top pick of destinations to visit in 2018 has to be Jordan. Why? Because it exceeds expectations and creates a sense of wonder and awe. It has an incredible natural beauty, history, culture, community and cuisine. My top recommendations? See the Wadi Rum UNESCO World Heritage Site and Dana Biosphere Reserve. Stay at Feynan EcoLodge to enjoy a Bedouin educational excursion. And be sure to experience Beit al Baraka and its community of beekeepers, basket weavers and traditional Jordanian cooks.

Joy Steinberg, travel writer for

Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Dusk in Jordan (c) Joy Steinberg.

11. Solomon Islands

Today it’s difficult to find those remote, tucked-away places on the planet where tourists are welcome, but very few go. In the South Pacific Ocean, six thousand miles off the coast of Los Angeles, is a wildly stunning archipelago of nearly 1,000 islands, populated by half a million mostly Melanesian people who spend their daily lives living in and off the water.

To get to the Solomon Islands, or the Western Province, at least, where eco-tourism is taking off, you fly to the Solomon’s capital city of Honiara, then take a 16-seater twin otter to Gizo, the regional hub located in north-western pocket of the Solomons. From there, you jump in a motorised canoe to get to your chosen eco-lodge. In July, this year, my canoe will transport me 10 minutes across Gizo lagoon to Oravae Cottage, where I’ll park up, switch off and unwind. I’ve been to the Solomons twice before and I can’t wait to go again this year. No shopping, no five-star glamour, just perfect pink-tinged sunsets, the best snorkelling I’ve ever experienced and the freshest cuisine. And what’s not to love about spending a week or two in your own, rustic bungalow – miles from anyone – set over a translucent ocean?

Jacqui Gibson, New Zealand travel writer and associate editor for FWT

Over water bungalows of the Western Province, Solomon Islands (c) Jacqui Gibson. FWT Magazine.

Photo: Over water bungalows of the Western Province, Solomon Islands (c) Jacqui Gibson.

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Casa Velas Hotel: Reaching New Heights in the Culinary World

Reaching New Heights in the Culinary World

Food and wine enthusiasts are now more than ever seeking out adventurous new ways to satisfy their gastronomy and enology desires! Step aside beachside dinners and private villa soirées and say hello to a dinner like no other. A feast that literally places you closer to the stars than ever before!

Casa Velas Hotel’s Dinner in the Sky

Thanks to the luxurious hotel, Casa Velas, and their Dinner in the Sky, guests are hoisted 150 feet in the sky to experience an extravagant feast.

Situated in picturesque Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, the Casa Velas hotel is all about redefining luxury indulgence and offers guests an experience like no other! It is no surprise that patrons will be in awe of the sensory splendours being provided.

Dinner in the Sky begins February 2018

Foodies all over will be happy to hear that Casa Velas’s Dinner in the Sky, will be available from February 2018. The hope is this amazingly unique service will continue for the next three years.

Reaching New Heights in the Culinary World. FWT Magazine.

Ready for a culinary voyage like no other with Dinner in the Sky! © Casa Velas.

Hailed as ‘one of the world’s most exhilarating dining experiences’, guests will be mesmerized as they will have the perfect vantage point to view the striking Banderas Bay and Sierra Madre Mountains.

Casa Velas, an AAA Four Diamond luxury adults-only all-inclusive boutique hotel has outdone themselves in executing this exclusive culinary adventure by inviting top chefs in Mexico to create memorable dishes.

First-hand experience with Chef Massimo Fongaro

During my Dinner in the Sky adventure, I was fortunate to have been spoiled with dishes created by the accomplished, award-winning guest chef, Chef Massimo Fongaro.

Chef Massimo Fongaro laid out the red carpet treatment as his guests were treated like royalty the moment we were secured in our seats. Safety first! After a ceremonial shot of Tequila and Mescal (to calm our adrenaline filled nerves), we slowly ascended into the air, blending with the stunning backdrop that the Sierra Mountains offer.

Signature cocktail. FWT Magazine.

Signature cocktail during the Dinner in the Sky experience at the Casa Velas Boutique Hotel © Casa Velas.

Dinner in the Sky was a feast for all senses. The sights and aromas accompanied by the perfect execution of the dishes’ flavours were comparable to that found in a fine dining establishment. Guests lavishly indulged, and in some cases overindulged, on Chef Fongaro’s rich lobster lasagna and his generous melt-in-your-mouth beef filet that had freshly shaved truffles draping over the exquisite dish. There was no end for the truffles…to the delight of the guests!

And if that wasn’t enough to seduce us into food glory, fireworks lit up the sky as we were having dessert, a tropical Tiramisu that was filled with strawberry and passion fruit – very apropos to the paradise-like ambiance we were all enthralled by!

Casa Velas has succeeded with its avant-garde approach to providing guests with a new culinary adventure.

Reaching New Heights in the Culinary World. FWT Magazine.

A culinary voyage like no other, as you take in the sights and flavours during Dinner in the Sky! © Casa Velas.

If there are any doubts left to experience this innovative bucket-list item, ask yourself this: When will be the next time you will be dining so close to the stars?!

If You Go

Casa Velas not only spoils guests with unique culinary experiences, it also provides them with luxurious offerings at their boutique hotel that makes every guest feel right at home. Visit their website for rates and dates, so that you can have the rare opportunity of eating under the stars.

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4 Reasons the Maldives is the Ultimate Honeymoon Destination

Maldives. FWT Magazine.

Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a group of 1,192 tiny islands over 26 atolls form what is known as the Maldives. The smallest Asian destination in both population and land, the Maldives is known for its azure blue waters and white sugary sand. Only 200 islands are inhabited, with 100 being luxury private resorts. This is the ultimate honeymoon location.

Why? The Maldives checks all the boxes when it comes to exclusive, exotic and glamorous. Standard services in the Maldives include over the top luxury packages, first-class spas and world-class chefs from around the world and so much more. The Maldives has it all. Each island is a private island, and staff has been well trained to take care of every need.

Maldives. FWT Magazine.

Island hopping in the Maldives (c) Baros Maldives, luxury hotel resort.

Baros Maldives, luxury hotel resort

To explore the ultimate honeymoon spot, we checked into Baros Maldives, one of the first Maldivian resorts established.

After landing in the capital city of Malé, you are whisked away by 20-minute speedboat ride to the island. When you land at the picturesque dock, you are greeted by staff and warmly welcomed with a cocktail.

Baros Maldives is home to 75 sandstone and timber suites, which include 30 over water villas, and 45 beach villas. Spacious accommodations can include private pools, private verandahs and sun decks. All rooms are outfitted with

The guest to staff ratio is 3:1, and every villa has an assigned a villa host, who typically speaks 3-5 languages and can assist you with anything you may want; including dinner reservations, excursions and more. Everywhere you look is flawless beauty.

For honeymooners, the Maldives offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Here are 4 of our favorite reasons.

1. Swim with Sharks

The island of Baros is enclosed with its own coral reef and pristine lagoon, so snorkeling and diving are a must. The island has its own PADI dive shop and marine biology center, to help you learn more about the coral reef and its inhabitants. Swim above nurse sharks, colorful reef fish, batfish, turtles, eel and over 1,100 different kinds of fish as you observe the underwater playground. Commemorate your trip with a coral planted in your name.

2. Dine on a Private Sandbank

For ultimate seclusion and romance, have a meal in the middle of the Indian Ocean with only your love, private chef and discreet staff member. Choose from breakfast, lunch or dinner with an exquisite meal on a perfectly formed sandbank in the middle of the lagoon.

Maldives. FWT Magazine.

Private sandbank dining (c) Baros Maldives.

3. Sail the Waters on Nooma, a Traditional Dhoni 

Nothing says romance like a sunset sail on a traditional handcrafted Maldivians boat. Nooma, the 19-meter-long vessel is made of wood, traditionally coconut palm timber, and is outfitted with a comfortable thatched-roof lounge area, air-conditioned bedroom, shower and sunbathing loungers. A full crew wears traditional sarongs and a steward is on board to serve refreshments.

Maldives. FWT Magazine.

Sailing in the Maldives (c) Baros Maldives.

4. Private Dolphin Cruise

As one of top 5 places in the world to watch dolphins, a private cruise to watch these magical creatures in their natural habitat is a must. Over 20 species of dolphins inhabit the Maldives, and guides can introduce you to their daily routines, offshore feeding grounds and schedules.

Getting There

You don’t need a visa to go to the Maldives, just a valid passport, proof of onward travel and necessary funds. Visitors arrive at Male’s International Airport, which has flights from major airports in Southeast Asia, India, Singapore and more. From there you can connect to your resort via an airport transfer.

Things To Know

The climate in the Maldives is tropical year-round, so lightweight, loose clothes are best. Monsoon season is from April to October. January to April is the dry season. We visited in June and only experienced light rain a few days in the afternoon. The Maldives is a Muslim country, and alcohol is only allowed at private resorts, which are exempt.

If You Go

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Charleston Lives Up to its Honor as One of the ‘World’s Best Cities’

There is a reason Charleston, South Carolina holds the honor of being named in Travel & Leisure magazine’s ‘World’s Best Cities’ list for the past five years. The region’s history, architecture, emerging culinary scene, southern charm and strong sense of place are contributing to the city’s success.

My husband and I decided last minute to add Charleston to our East Coast itinerary and arrived from New York mid-afternoon for a quick 36-hour visit. We checked into the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel, which is centrally located in the heart of the city. It is a perfect starting point to explore the city by foot, offering the opportunity to see, smell, taste and experience what the city has to offer.

Example of Charleston's unique and beautiful home architecture

Beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Home architecture © Jan M. Smith.

Charleston Walking Tours

Walking tours are popular in the city, designed to provide visitors with interesting history and up-close views of the unique architecture found in homes and buildings. We selected a Charleston Strolls tour based on the suggestion from Explore Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Tour guides are sanctioned by the city and required to go through rigorous historical and architectural testing before being certified. Our tour guide, Kim, is a self-professed “semi-Charlestonian.” She shares that the true Charlestonian designation is reserved for those who are born and have family lineage within the confines of the actual city. Kim was born and raised in an area north of Charleston proper, so although she has lived in the heart of town for the past 18 years, she is still considered an outsider. Regardless, Kim is clearly in love with Charleston and her pride is palpable.

The tour began on Market Street where we received a short city history lesson, a warning about walking on cobblestone streets and tips on how to dodge the horse-drawn carriages that were to share the streets on the tour. Well-preserved homes dating back to the mid-18th century lined the street. Confederate jasmine (known as star jasmine in the west) shared its sweet scent and offered a fragrant gift as we passed by the shrubs and walls covered with the beautiful white star-shaped flowers.

The tour meandered through the historic streets past homes and churches standing for over 300 years, and moved on to Charleston’s French Quarter near Broad, Meeting and Market Streets. We walked down a street of art galleries, restaurants and the open-air City Market then stopped in front of the original Old Slave Mart building, constructed in 1859 for slave auctions. The building currently houses the African American History and Art Museum and reminded us of the city’s storied history.

We passed an array of antebellum styled homes, a mix of Italianate, featuring beautiful cupolas and balconies, and Queen Anne, with colorful exteriors and ornate details. Creeping fig covered the brick walls of Georgian buildings with their ornate iron balconies and gates. Colorful shuttered windows, gorgeous flower boxes and the occasional, welcoming red door made me wonder if a house could get any prettier and I considered mine was in for some changes when I returned home.

Picture of Charleston's famed Rainbow Row Homes in Historic Downtown area

Charleston’s famed rainbow row homes © Jan M. Smith.

Strict preservation laws safeguard the authenticity of the neighborhoods in the historic area. A good example of this is the famed Rainbow Row housing in an area referred to as South of Broad. Here, 13 Georgian-style homes reflect the original pastel colors dating back to the 1700s.

Eventually, all roads lead to water in Charleston. At the seawall, we could see a large bay fed by the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. From our vantage point, we looked across the water and viewed Fort Sumter in the distance. Built in 1860, the fort holds the dubious honor of being the point where the first shots rang out in the American Civil War. Today, it is a United States national park open to the public.

Throughout the tour, our guide’s go-to word to describe almost everything we saw was “charming,” which aptly fits this unique city.

Exampleof beautiful iron gate by famed ironwork artist Philip Simmons

Gorgeous ironwork gate in historic Charleston, South Carolina © Jan M. Smith.

Artistic Ironwork

The gorgeous ironwork adorning gates, balconies, fences and light posts throughout the Charleston Historic District was designed and produced by renowned ironwork artist, Philip Simmons. Simmons lived and worked in Charleston for nearly 90 years before his death in 2009.

Simmons was recognized with many prestigious awards for his work, including the South Carolina Hall of Fame and most prominently, the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor that the United States can bestow on a traditional artist. Simmons’ art is also displayed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

One of seven remaining colorful cobblestone streets in Historic Downtown Charleston

Cobblestone streets in historic Charleston, South Carolina © Jan M. Smith

Charming Streets and Alleyways

There are only eight remaining streets in the Charleston Historic District still lined with cobblestones, including Chalmer Street in the French Quarter, North and South Adger’s Wharf and Maiden Lane. It is interesting how stones can add charm to a city street – the uniqueness causes these thoroughfares to be heavily visited and photographed by tourists.

The cobblestones originally arrived on English ships in the late 18th century and were used as weights (ballasts) on the incoming empty boats. Once in Charleston, the stones were removed and tossed into the bay, replaced by cargo returning to England. As the city grew, city planners surfaced the beautiful cobblestones to line the local streets.

The cobblestone streets are still used today by horse-pulled carriages, cars and pedestrians, although they are a good challenge to maneuver by foot. In addition, a few equally charming historic brick-lined streets and pedestrian alleyways, including Philadelphia Alley, are still present in the city.

Charleston’s Emerging Culinary Scene

Charleston’s burgeoning food scene is heating up fast. Last year there were as many restaurant openings as there were closures. The popularity of this tourism destination has caused a spike in rent for both business and housing, which in turn, is affecting the cost of living and sustaining business in the city.

Regardless, Charleston’s food and beverage scene has attracted top chefs from around the country. Acclaimed restaurants require reservations months in advance to secure a table, so plan accordingly for your next trip. A visit to Charleston should include experiencing the unique flavors of the South. Here are two of our favorites to consider.

Bricklined exterior of Historic Downtown Charleston's McCrady's Tavern

Historic downtown Charleston’s McCrady’s Tavern © Jan M. Smith.

McCrady’s Tavern

A mainstay in Charleston, McCrady’s Tavern once served President George Washington. Located off a brick-lined pedestrian alleyway, the building dates back to 1778 and is on the National Historic Register. Although recently remodeled, the tavern still maintains the original brick-lined arches, fireplaces and wooden beams.

Executive chef and James Beard Award winner Sean Brock offers an innovative menu that changes often based on the availability of local ingredients. The familiar low country she-crab soup and a uniquely named side dish, ‘A Pie called Macaroni’ (Thomas Jefferson, c. 1802) top the list of regional offerings. Served on vintage mismatched china, the meals are uncomplicated and flavorful. The restaurant is open for dinner and weekend brunch.

The South's famed Sweet Tea can be enjoyed at Butcher & Bee Restaurant in beautiful Charlerston, SC

Freshly-brewed Sweet Tea from Butcher & Bee © Jan M. Smith.

This hip industrial-looking restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating and a healthy menu of various mezze platters, sandwiches and salads, each creatively designed with a Middle Eastern influence. Daily menu specials depend on locally sourced fish, meat and vegetables. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A visit to Charleston would not be complete without experiencing the South’s famous sweet tea.
My first sip detects a distinct sweetness overpowering the tea itself. I ask the hospitable and friendly server the secret to making this classic southern beverage and she replies in her charming accent, “Bless your heart, it is actually simple freshly-brewed green tea and an extra helping of block sugar.” Unquestionably, this tea’s namesake is accurate!

If You Go

Renaissance Charleston Historic District
Explore Charleston
Charleston Strolls Walking Tours
McCrady’s Tavern
Butcher & Bee

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10 Reasons to Travel to Halkidiki, Greece

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites | Halkidiki, Greece

Talk about planning a beach vacation to Greece, and inevitably, the question will surface of which islands are best to visit.  But what if an equally beautiful place in Greece isn’t an island but rather a peninsula in the north of the country called Halkidiki? Compared to the famed Greek Islands, Halkidiki is still relatively unknown as a tourist destination. But it’s worthy of consideration when planning a beach vacation, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. Unique And Diverse Landscapes

Halkidiki is one enormous peninsula that begins on the mainland near Thessaloniki and divides into three smaller peninsulas extending into the Aegean Sea.  The three sub-peninsulas (known locally as “legs”)  are Kassandra, Sithonia, and Athos, each distinctly unique geographically.

2. The Beaches

Depending on the peninsula, the beaches range from protected coves with calm, clear water to rocky shores backed by rugged cliffs.

Karidi Beach in Vourvourou | Halkidiki, Greece

Karidi Beach in Vourvourou © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

3. The People

The land is gorgeous, yes, but so are the people. The locals in cafés are quick with a smile and warm greetings, and English is widely spoken. The hospitality professionals are refreshingly attentive, enthusiastic, and genuine.

4. Stress-Free Travel

The easiest way to get to and around Halkidiki is by flying into Thessaloniki International Airport “Macedonia” and renting a car. The roads are in good shape, and highway signs are well-marked in both Greek and English. A rental car allows travelers to not be limited to one location.

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites | Halkidiki, Greece

Private beach at Nefeli Villas and Suites © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

5. Suitable for All Budgets

Accommodations range from national forest campgrounds to opulent resorts at the pinnacle of luxury, from half-board packages to self-catering rentals.

6. Suitable for All Types of Travel

With various levels of accommodations and diverse dining options, Halkidiki accommodates all types of travelers. Whether for the annual family beach vacation or a couple’s romantic getaway, it’s the perfect place to create memories.

7. The Food

Being surrounded by water means an abundance of fresh seafood. A common sight at beachfront restaurants is a server filleting whole grilled fish, tableside, for patrons. There is also no shortage of meze and traditional Greek dishes at the countless restaurants and tavernas.

8. Air of Mystery

Athos has been the exclusive domain of monks and hermits for more than 1,000 years, and women are not allowed on the peninsula past the town of Ouranoupolis. Men are allowed on Athos but must have advance permission. Piques the curiosity, no?

Mount Athos | Halkidiki, Greece

Mount Athos © Francesca Mazurkiewicz.

9. Distinct Personalities

There are three peninsulas, all very different from one another. Kassandra is known for its nightlife and party beaches. Sithonia, teeming with thick pine forests, is more laid back and rugged. Lastly, there is Athos and its air of mystery.

10. So Much to Do

The beaches are what draw many to Halkidiki, but once there, travelers realize that outdoor recreational opportunities abound. Among the most popular activities are hiking, biking, fishing and boating.  Of course, lying on the beach and soaking up the Aegean sun is perfectly acceptable as well.

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Cats of Jordan: Recommended Feline Pairings

cats of jordan

According to the video marketing website, YouTube hosts more than two million cat videos, which people have viewed more than 25 billion times. But in Jordan, the cat watching is so excellent that I suspect they don’t need cat videos. On my recent trip, I found that the adorable semi-wild cats perfectly complemented the cultural sites, just as many people enjoy the perfect pairing of wine and food. Here are a few of my favorite cat pairings in Jordan.

Dana Biosphere and Orange Cat

The Feynan Ecolodge is a 26-room, candlelit lodge in the Dana Biosphere Reserve. This area preserves wildlife, including the Nubian ibex, and is a last stronghold of traditional Bedouin culture. Ever since opening in 2005, it’s been making top ecolodge lists on all the major magazines and websites.

Feynan ecolodge

Feynan Ecolodge. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Three darling orange striped cats live at the ecolodge, where they eat breakfast with guests and generally look adorable.

cats of Jordan

Cat at Feynan ecolodge. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Wadi Musa and water cat

Wadi Musa, or Moses’ Spring, is supposedly where Moses struck a rock with his staff, releasing a rush of water. This historic, spiritual spring is now housed to protect it.

Wadi Musa Jordan

Moses allegedly brought forth this spring by striking a stone with his staff. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

This cat, just outside the little building that houses the spring, gives visitors a friendly welcome. You can’t drink out of the old spring, but this cat will probably let you have a bottle of water.

cats of Jordan

Wadi Musa cat. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Petra Monastery and rugged outdoors cat

Thirty thousand people may have lived in Petra back in its 1st century A.D. heyday. Now it’s populated by tourists and cats. I met quite a few friendly cats while spending the day trekking through this Unesco site. It takes a rugged cat with a deep appreciation for archeology to make its home in Petra.

Monastery Petra Jordan

The Petra Monastery. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

cats of Jordan

Cat of Petra. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Desert camp and desert cat

I loved the desert camps that dot the Wadi Rum desert. You feel like you’re out in the middle of sandy vastness with nothing around, then suddenly you see a group of striped tents among the rocks.

Captain's desert camp

Captain’s Desert Camp. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

We stopped at one called Captain’s Desert Camp for lunch one day. The restaurant was in a huge, pillow-strewn area with walls open to the air. Musicians played on a stage and adorable cats lounged on the colorful textiles. A perfect setting for the regal cats of Jordan.

cats of jordan

For me, this guy or gal epitomized cats of Jordan. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Umm Quais and Finley

Umm Qais, a village in northern Jordan, is the epicenter of a sustainable tourism movement. Ever since Baraka Destinations opened the Beit al Baraka B&B and started offering the chance to partake of activities like beekeeping, basketry and cooking, the village has seen an uptick in visitors. Because the locals needed to learn enough English to share these experiences with foreign tourists, Arabic student and jack-of-all-trades Roddy Boyle came to Umm Qais. This young man from Scotland has a soft spot for cats. When he found the handicapped Finley, whose back legs are paralyzed, he adopted him. Now Finley lives in the Beit al Baraka garden. He hung out with me while I did yoga one morning and was the sweetest of the many cats of Jordan that I met.

Beit al baraka

The garden at Beit al Baraka in Umm Qais. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

cats of Jordan

Finley, sweetest of all cats of Jordan. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

If You Go

If you visit, I can’t promise that these particular cats will be there to greet you at these sites. But if not, their cousins surely will be. For help planning your trip, check out the Visit Jordan website.

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A Visit and Tasting at a Japanese Whisky Distillery

Sled to move whisky barrels in the winter.

A wee dram in the highlands is one thing, but great Scotch whisky from the mountains of Japan? I was about to find out, entering the gated grounds of the Nikka Distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost principal island) to learn about the Japanese distilling industry.

Japanese whisky’s star has been soaring in the spirits world lately. With many similarities to Scottish whiskies, even its name follows Scotch tradition by dropping the “e,” at least when spelled in English. If you have a penchant for detail, call it Japanese whisky, not Scotch, which must come from the land of heather and moors.

History of Japanese Whisky

Nikka Whisky Logo

Nikka Whisky Logo, © Debi Lander.

In 1918, a young Japanese traveler, Masataka Taketsuru, journeyed alone to Scotland. He was the son of a “sake” brewery owner. Already an expert in the use of fermented rice to make the quintessential Japanese drink, he studied chemistry at a Japanese university.

However, Scotch whisky captured his imagination. Masataka wanted to learn the secrets of whisky-making, so he enrolled at the University of Glasgow, the first Japanese to study the science of whisky making. Additional chemistry courses, distillery apprenticeships and training as a blender led Masataka to the designation of a master blender.

He met and married a Scottish lassie, Jessie Roberta (Rita), returning to Japan with her in 1820. He went to work for a company trying to produce Scottish-like whisky, but he wasn’t pleased with the outcome.

Turns out he just needed a better environment. In 1934, Masataka established Nikka Whisky in Yoichi, Hokkaido.

He chose a site with a latitude similar to Scotland, surrounded by mountains bordering the Sea of Japan.

Nikka became one of Japan’s best producers, earning Masataka the title of “Father of Japanese Whisky.” In 2001, Nikka’s 10-year Yoichi single malt whisky was named the “Best of the Best” in a whisky magazine international tasting, beating entrants from the mother country for the first time.

The Tour

Visitors strolling the grounds of the Nikka distillery.

Visitors strolling the grounds of the distillery, © Debi Lander.

Nikka Distillery offers free guided tours, only in Japanese. Multilingual self-guiding pamphlets let visitors follow the whisky production process tour. The site’s nine historic buildings mimic Scottish architecture and don’t look anything like traditional Japanese structures.

Yoichi’s climate augments the traditional distillation method of using coal, producing a rich, peaty malt. The whisky’s distinct aroma and body come from copper pot stills heated with finely powdered natural coal – the traditional method rarely used anywhere today. Japanese religious ribbons adorn the pot stills to provide blessings.

Visitors can peek inside Rita and Masakata’s home (sadly only Japanese signage) and tour a whisky museum highlighting Nikka’s history, production methods and awards.

A satisfying tour end brings free tasting of three varieties: Pure Malt Whisky Taketsuru, Blended Whisky Super Nikka and Apple Wine. The Whisky Club offers rare tastings for an additional price. The “Rita House” room, named after Masakata’s wife, offers English-style tea (scones and all).

If You Go    

Nikka Distillery

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Go Big: Luxury on the Island of Hawaii

Sunset at Waikoloa Beach © CT Shier.

The Big Island

If you have visited more than one Hawaiian island, you will have noticed each island destination has its own vibe. While Oahu is “the gathering place” and often a gateway to experiencing Hawaii, Kauai is known as “the garden isle” for its lush landscape and sparser population. The largest island, Hawaii, offers luxurious resorts along the coastline with a breathtaking, diverse topography perfect for day trips. The Big Island is known for its active volcanoes, lava fields, rainforest, tide pools, and beaches. You’ll immediately feel a world away from the ordinary when first setting foot on Hawaii, yet completely at home at the island’s world-class resorts.

Mauna Kea Beach on Kaunaoa Bay © CT Shier.

Mauna Kea Beach on Kaunaoa Bay © CT Shier.

Escape to Kohala Coast

The thirty mile drive from Kona International Airport to resorts along the Kohala Coast offers an introduction to Hawaii’s lava fields. Queen Kaahumanu Highway is surrounded by evidence of volcanic eruptions, yet tucked along the water is a sandy beachfront where you’ll find Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The resort property has all the appeal of a luxurious getaway, yet is far removed from the tourist vibe you’ll find along the Kailua-Kona waterfront.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel © CT Shier.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel © CT Shier.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is the island’s first resort, built after Laurance S. Rockefeller fell in love with the picturesque qualities of Kauna‘oa Bay. Contemporary island-inspired decor welcomes resort guests, and the serene beachfront location makes this a go-to destination for swimming and snorkeling. Calm bay waters attract manta rays to a small cove at the resort and moonlit snorkel sessions are available for guests who wish to swim alongside these gentle gliders.

Seared Dry Rub Scallops at Manta © CT Shier.

Seared Dry Rub Scallops at Manta © CT Shier.

Carrying the marine life theme into the resort, a must-visit dining venue on site is Manta. The open-air restaurant offers panoramic bay views and fresh seafood, from Mac Nut Encrusted Mahi Mahi to Seared Dry Rub Scallops. Koi ponds dot the path from the main building to the oceanfront pool where palm trees tower overhead and cabanas offer relief from afternoon sun. The five-star property also offers immediate access to the crescent-shaped beach, with resort chairs, umbrellas, and other amenities available to guests.

Waikoloa Beach Luxury

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, located on South Kohala Coast, is a beachfront destination with ample options for shopping and dining. Directly across the street from the resort is Kings’ Shops, an open-air plaza with high-end retailers and restaurants including The KOA Table by Food Network star Chef Ippy Aiona. Around the bend, Queens’ Marketplace offers a series of boutiques, souvenir shops, and grab-and-go eateries.

Sunset Luau at Waikoloa Beach Marriot © CT Shier.

Sunset Luau at Waikoloa Beach Marriot © CT Shier.

You won’t go hungry on site at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, though, as menu options are abundant morning through night, from the breakfast buffet at Hawaii Calls to the Sunset Luau. The luau features a Polynesian dinner and show set amid spectacular sunsets blending into ocean surf.

Unearthing the Kalua pig at Marriott Sunset Luau © CT Shier.

Unearthing the Kalua pig at Marriott Sunset Luau © CT Shier.

For mild adventure, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa offers on-site equipment rentals including snorkel gear, boogie boards, kayaks, hydro-bikes, and stand-up paddle boards. Between the resort pool decks and the beach, you’ll also find ancient Hawaiian fishponds with information to help identify the critters below. If you prefer to bask in the sun poolside, it’s worth noting the expansive pool deck is open into the wee hours of the morning, perfect for a dip under the stars.

Island Exploration

While the Kohala Coast offers five-star resorts to call home during your time in Hawaii, you’ll want to rent a car for a day or two to explore more of The Big Island. One requisite destination is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the glory of two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Park rangers are available to share the history of Hawaii’s volcanoes, but much of the park can be self-explored.

Guide at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park © CT Shier.

Guide at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park © CT Shier.

If you’re a wine lover, be sure to stop at Volcano Winery, in the town of… you guessed it: Volcano HI. The small vineyard has a tasting room open 364 days annually. If unique outdoor adventure is on your bucket list, head to the southeast corner of Hawaii to experience the island’s tide pools. About an hour east of the Volcanoes, you’ll find Kapoho Tide Pools and other pools where warm water is protected from crashing waves. Some tide pools are perfect for relaxing during an afternoon soak, while others offer an incredible snorkeling experience.

Tide Pools on The Big Island © CT Shier.

Tide Pools on The Big Island © CT Shier.

If You Go

Thanks to the diverse landscape on The Big Island, weather patterns may change throughout the day. Plan for sunshine along the coast during the day, but keep cooler evening temperatures in mind. Layer up for misty rain patches when you visit higher elevations en route to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaii Tourism Authority:
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel:
Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa:

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Professional Headshots Denver

Selecting a professional headshot photographer in Denver can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Proper studio lighting is paramount to shooting top-quality headshots. Natural lighting from a window or skylight is often the way to go but if need be lighting umbrellas can also be used for proper shadowing effects on the subject. An experienced Denver headshot photographer needs to be able to connect with his or her clients in such a way to make them feel relaxed and confident. Body language is a huge part of headshot photography. Professional headshots are hard enough to capture when the subject is having a pretty good day emotionally but can be a nightmare when they are having a really bad day, as most of us have a great deal of trouble when it comes to hiding our emotions. For more on having your headshot taken in the Denver area please peruse our other videos

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Inspired by Bawa – Sri Lanka’s Nisala Arana Resort

Lake Dedduwa, Lunuganga

I like the fact internationally-famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa bottled out of a legal career in his mid-20s, judging himself dangerously incompetent. It’s a crisis of confidence you don’t typically pair with a high-flyer. The irony appeals to me.

But dropping out like that can’t have been easy coming from a well-to-do family and with your dad a wealthy, influential Sri Lankan judge. Just what his parents thought when Bawa then took off overseas for two years to find himself is anyone’s guess. It was the 1940s after all.

But something happened on his overseas jaunt that would change the direction of his life – and the trajectory of the architectural world – forever.

Bawa discovered a passion for Italy’s extraordinary Renaissance buildings and gardens. It’s this revelation that spurred him to take up architectural studies in his 30s. And it’s this revelation that led to Bawa ‘the architect’ and an entirely new design genre melding East and West known as tropical modernism.

Guest house interior at Lunuganga Gardens. Geoffrey Bawa. FWT Magazine.

Guest house interior at Lunuganga Gardens, Bentota, Sri Lanka (c) Jacqui Gibson.

I first come across Bawa’s brilliance in Bentota, a coastal resort town located 64 kilometres south of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. I’m staying at Nisala Arana, a boutique hotel run by Aussie-born manager Ben Pereira. It’s a tucked-away, four-and-a-half acre, walled heritage property styled on Bawa principles.

Purchased in 2000 by Pereira’s mum Jill, a Melbournian, and dad Kevin, a Burgher (Sri Lankan of Portuguese descent), Nisala Arana was once home to an Ayurvedic doctor noted for curing snake bites more than a century ago.

Gateway to Nisala Arana resort. FWT Magazine.

Gateway to Nisala Arana, Bentota, Sri Lanka (c) Jacqui Gibson.

To soothe their ills, the Sinhalese doctor would concoct medicines from the various trees and plants on the property. For venomous bites, he’d reach for neem leaves. For asthma or general coughing, the mandarin trees probably came in handy.

It’s difficult to know exactly what potions the doctor administered. He’s long gone now. But Ben says the decision to keep Nisala Arana’s heritage trees was as much a nod to Dr. Leonora’s natural healing legacy as it was part of the garden’s overall Bawa-inspired design aesthetic.

He says it was his mum, Jill, who led the six-month renovation, which included upgrading the grounds, as well as renovating the doctor’s original Dutch-style colonial home and Buddhist shrine room.

Nisala Arana owners Jill and Kevin Pereira. FWT Magazine.

Nisala Arana owners Jill and Kevin Pereira, Bentota (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Walking the property today, guests are treated to Bawa in miniature. There are crafted lawns across which squirrels, mongoose and white herons dart for cover. There’s Bawa’s seamless blend of house and garden and his deft sequencing of outdoor and indoor spaces connected by lawns, classical glazed pots and intimate seating areas.

Grounds and pool of Nisala Arana. FWT Magazine.

Grounds and pool of Nisala Arana looking into the main pavilion (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Nisala Arana bungalow. FWT Magazine.

Nisala Arana bungalow (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Nisala Arana has a central, open-air pavilion for dining. And each of the resort’s bungalows (including the original 165-year-old doctor’s house) is styled in mostly mahogany and teak antiques to capture Bawa’s preference for simple, masculine interiors. And yet Nisala Arana – now registered as a heritage home with the Sri Lankan Tourism Board – is no Bawa pastiche.

Ben explains: “Mum took a lot of time to understand Geoffrey Bawa’s work. She used to meet Geoffrey here in Bentota at Lunuganga gardens, his private retreat. She had a personal relationship with him and sought out his head gardener for advice and input into the grounds here at Nisala. She also made sure we had local craftsmen work on the restoration. From memory, the entire building team of 40 workers stayed on site for more than half a year.”

“Mum’s got a great eye, but she wanted craftsmen with an in depth knowledge of local materials and techniques to work on the property. She wanted to achieve a style that was in keeping with the original buildings on the place, while maintaining a contemporary vibe. In that sense, Nisala Arana is very much mum’s take on Bawa’s notion of tropical modernism,” says Ben.

Interior of Nisala Arana's main bungalow. FWT Magazine.

Interior of Nisala Arana’s main bungalow (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Not everyone who stays at Nisala Arana is treated to the property’s backstory or its connection to Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most famous architect. Stay at Nisala Arana and you can go bike riding, visit the local Buddhist temple and dine on chef Aroy’s signature white fish curry as the sun goes down to the sound of croaking frogs.

Buddhist temple. FWT Magazine.

Buddhist monk tending the the grounds of Nisala’s local temple (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Guests commonly daytrip to nearby turtle sanctuaries, swim at local beaches and grab an air-conditioned car and driver to explore the ancient fort city of Galle. Nisala Arana is also a popular yoga venue for small groups wanting a retreat from the world in the literal sense.

Turtle, Sri Lanka. Geoffrey Bawa. FWT Magazine.

Turtle sanctuaries dot the southern coast of Sri Lanka, close to Nisala Arana (c) Jacqui Gibson.

In my Bawa-obsessed state, I opt to spend my final afternoon at Nisala Arana touring Lunuganga Gardens, Bawa’s 10-hectare homestead bought in 1948 and re-fashioned over a period of 50 years.

It takes just a short drive in the Pereira’s vintage Morris Minor to get there. There’s no signage, just a winding dirt road that takes me past rice paddies and emerald green jungle to a clearing of parked cars and chattering drivers.

These days Lunuganga is run as a country hotel of six guest rooms and cottages, with the gardens open to the public. My guide meets me at the main entrance of Lunuganga in the dappled shade of towering tamarind trees.

But soon I am out in the unforgiving heat, trundling down skinny stone pathways, flanked by rippling lilyponds, taking in the story of Bawa’s life’s work. My guide explains how Bawa purchased the property as an abandoned rubber and cinnamon plantation furnished with a modest bungalow, which he promptly turned into his creative HQ.

Geoffrey Bawa's Lunuganga Gardens, Bentota. FWT Magazine.

Lunuganga Gardens, Bentota (c) Jacqui Gibson.

Lunuganga gardens and wildlife. FWT Magazine.

Lunuganga gardens and wildlife (c) Jacqui Gibson.

It took him over half a century to move hills, transplant woods, cut terraces and experiment with landscaping, essentially making a series of outdoor rooms from the property’s jungle setting. Out of local materials he created courtyards, water features and generally expressed his love of combining traditional and modern forms.

Moving between the portico and the Cinnamon Hill house, it’s easy to trace Bawa’s trademark style of black and white interiors and the clever lines of sight that take you from one outdoor courtyard to another or draw your eye to the edges of the majestic Dedduwa Lake.

Lake entrance, Lunuganga. FWT Magazine.

Lake entrance, Lunuganga (c) Jacqui Gibson.

What is extraordinary is that Bawa had time to design such a place given his frantically successful 40-year career. In total, he designed about 70 private homes (though fewer were built), 35 hotels, as well as schools and many commercial, religious and public buildings, including Sri Lanka’s Parliament House. Possibly, then, Lunuganga was his muse.

Dotted throughout the property, my guide tells me, are some of Bawa’s favourite sitting spots – modest bench seats with bells attached. He’d simply sit in these spots, take in the views, then ring the bell to indicate precisely where he’d like to receive the pen and paper he needed to jot down his next big idea.

Lunuganga seating. FWT Magazine.

Lunuganga seating (c) Jacqui Gibson. FWT Magazine.


  • Get to Nisala Arana or Lunuganga by taking the two-and-a-half hour drive from the international airport or the one-and a-half-hour drive from Colombo (alternatively, Nisala Arana or Lunuganga will arrange an airport pickup if required).
  • Take a Lunuganga garden tour for $10.00 (tours take place at 9.30am, 11.30am, 2.00pm and 3.30pm daily).
  • Stay at Nisala Arana or Lunuganga Estate.
Doorway, Lunuganga. FWT Magazine.

Doorway, Lunuganga, Bentota (c) Jacqui Gibson.

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The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan

The roads are narrow and snake through the little village of 7,000 people known as Um Qais in Northern Jordan. They are so tight that our tour bus has to park on the main street a short distance away from our destination, Beit Al Baraka Bed and Breakfast. Our luggage is transferred into pickup trucks to travel the remainder of the journey, while we make our way on foot.

As we walk the winding streets, at the sight of foreigners the neighbourhood children take a break from their game of street soccer and, like little birds, chase and flutter around us. They practise their English by repeatedly chirping, “Hello”, “How are You?”, “What’s your name?” and squeal, laughing with delight when one of our party of travellers replies.

We have a busy day planned, and there is little time for this fun game with our adorable new friends — adventure awaits us.

Beit Al Baraka Bed and Breakfast

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan - Beit Al Baraka. FWT Magazine.

Beit Al Baraka Bed and Breakfast, Um Qais Jordan © Mary Chong.

Um Qais, on Jordan’s northern border, is not a typical spot for tourists but is worthy of a visit if you are seeking a unique immersive travel experience.

Beit Al Baraka Bed and Breakfast is the first of its kind and the only guest house in the village. Operated by Baraka Destinations based 100 kilometres to the south in Amman, Jordan, the mission of the organisation is to “stimulate economic growth while conserving and protecting cultural heritage and natural resources.” Specializing in sustainable tourism development, Baraka Destinations partners with local community members to establish businesses with them to connect tourists to the culture and living history of the region. As a result, guests staying at the bed and breakfast have access to many immersive Jordanian experiences such as basket weaving, cooking, foraging, beekeeping, cycling and hiking.

Before Baraka Destinations’ involvement in the community, travellers would come for 2 hours, tour the archaeological site of the ancient Decapolis city of Gadara and leave. Now travellers stay a few days, and the community has flourished.

Our accommodations at Beit Al Baraka are lovely and comfortable with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, the main sitting room and dining room as well as an outdoor garden. It’s shared accommodation but I don’t mind; it’s peaceful here, and a homestay is a welcome change from the large hotels in Amman.

Creative touches fill the rooms. The overflowing fruit baskets that adorn the coffee table are by the local basket weaver who also skillfully wove the seats of the chairs in the dining room, a local woodworker handcrafted the furniture, and the local blacksmith forged the wrought iron bed frames.

Local and organic is what it’s all about when it comes to the meals during our stay – honey, capers, pomegranates, citrus, papaya, herbs, bulgur, wheat, grains and olives are all harvested in Um Qais.

The Honey Bees of Um Qais

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan - Beekeeping. FWT Magazine.

An introduction to beekeeping, Um Qais Jordan © Mary Chong.

Beekeeper Yousef Adle Sayah’s memorized speech is hesitant, and he starts over when he loses his way. He’s quiet and reserved, and we all smile and nod with encouragement. He’s just learned English a short while ago, courtesy of Um Qais’s resident English teacher Roddy — an expat from Scotland who came to Jordan to study Arabic and never left.

As we sit in the shade of the Yarmouk Forest Reserve and sip glasses of pomegranate juice sweetened with honey, Yousef passionately explains the ecological importance of bees to the environment, the pollination process, the hive infrastructure and the purpose of the queen bee. It’s a challenging speech for someone new to English, and he does it well.

Yousef tells us the story of his love for bees, a love that began at the age of 12 when he would visit his uncle’s beehive each day after school. He found the bees relaxing, and he would have a feeling of complete joy whenever he was watching them in their colony. After leaving the military 20 years ago, he immediately turned again to his first love. A solo entrepreneur, Yousef has 60 hives and produces an average six kilograms of carob-based organic honey each winter with another harvest of honey in the summer after he moves his hives into the Jordan Valley.

The best part of our visit with Yousef is when we don our protective suits and head out to the hives to witness the bees at work. The bees buzz and fuss around our group of beekeepers in training and Yousef uses smoke to calm them as we eagerly surround the hive for a closer look. It is soporific and meditative, and I can see how one can get lost amongst the world of order.

Basket Weaving with Alia

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan - Basket Weaving Demonstration. FWT Magazine.

Basket weaving demonstration in Um Qais Jordan © Mary Chong.

We visit with Alia, a master in the ancient art of weaving, in her home. Over cups of sage tea, she shares her craft. She has a shy smile as she spreads out the banana leaves and straw in the middle of the room. With a determined expression on her face, she demonstrates how to weave. A few volunteers in our group try to create a handcrafted reminder of our visit to Um Qais while the others in our party are happy to sit back and relax on cushions, sip our tea, and watch the busy hands at work.

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan - Basket Weaving Demonstration. FWT Magazine.

Basket weaving demonstration in Um Qais Jordan © Mary Chong.

The shyness leaves Alia as she shows off the baskets on display that take hours to create, and with a big smile of pride, she points out the intricate patterns and the bright colours made from natural herb dyes that she, of course, forages and prepares herself.

She is truly a master – we have a lot to learn.

Picnicking Amongst the Olives

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Olive picking, Um Qais Jordan © Mary Chong.

We sit on mats amongst the trees of the olive groves for a picnic lunch of tea flavoured with wild thyme and kishk, fried dumplings filled with cheese and sundried tomatoes. It’s olive harvest season, and we aren’t alone as other families picnic nearby. After our meal, we join the harvest. It’s labour intensive as it’s all done by hand. A sheet on the ground under each tree catches the plump olives as the fruit is stripped off the branches. Our guide, Ahmed, tells us that green olives taste better than black olives, but the latter produce more oil. No part of the olive tree goes to waste as the olive pits and tree trimmings are used to burn as fuel.

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Picnic in the olive grove © Mary Chong.

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan. FWT Magazine.

Kishk, apples and cucumbers © Mary Chong.

Later, we visit a nearby factory to watch the freshly picked olives as they go through the pressing process for oil and leave with two bottles of liquid gold for our cooking class.

Cooking with Um Sulaiman in Galsoum’s Kitchen

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan - Making Bread. FWT Magazine.

Um Sulaiman making bread, Um Qais Jordan © Mary Chong.

Lastly, we meet Um Sulaiman and her family in her beautifully adorned home. She smiles with her eyes – it’s infectious, warm and welcoming. Everyone I meet during my journey through Jordan is incredibly hospitable, always with an offer of sage-flavoured or thyme-flavoured tea, pomegranate juice or the most delicious blend of lemon mint juice.

The house smells fabulous, filled with the scent of our dinner cooking in the oven, makmoora, a traditional rural dish of layered dough, onions, chicken, spices and olive oil. I can’t wait; the intoxicating aroma teases my taste buds.

We are there for a cooking class, and we get to work slicing and dicing green olives, peppers, lemons and carrots, Um Sulaiman gently correcting our technique as we go along. The chopping done, the mixture is seasoned and scooped into little jars, and the luscious freshly pressed olive oil is poured over the top to preserve it. It’s our tasty little gift of Jordan that we’ll take home with us, and we all smile with our eyes just as Um Sulaiman did.

Bread is next on the list of things to do as we mix and knead the dough. Olive oil plays an active role in bread-making too as it’s used both in the batter and to keep the mixture from sticking inside the grooves of the decoratively patterned wooden moulds.

As night falls, our group sits on cushions on the floor of Um Sulaiman’s living room. The table is crowded with an array of platters and bowls of hummus, tabbouleh, fried bulgur and onions, and of course, the hearty makmoora as we all fill our plates and dig in.

We return to the guest house, our eyes heavy and our bellies full.

The next day, as the sun begins to rise, I awake to the sound of birds chirping and Morning Prayer sung over the village loudspeaker. I lie in my comfortable handcrafted bed in my shared room of Beit Al Baraka reflecting on the adventures that brought me to this point in my Jordanian journey. For a brief moment, I wonder if this is part of a dream… Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I hear my roommates begin to stir as I start to smell the aroma of breakfast cooking, I stretch my tired body and smile because this is reality.

The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan - Beit Al Baraka Breakfast. FWT Magazine.

Breakfast is served at Beit Al Baraka © Mary Chong.

If You Go

– Baraka Destinations
– Jordan Tourism Board NA

Jordan Tourism Board NA sponsored this trip. My opinions are my own.

The post The Birds, Bees, Baskets and Olive Trees of Um Qais Jordan appeared first on FWT Magazine: food wine travel.

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4 Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Travelers

Stunning beaches of the Solomon Islands (c) Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau. FWT Magazine.

Has the countdown to the silly season got you in a flap? Need a bit of gift inspiration for the traveler in your life? Look no further. Here are four last-minute gift ideas from seasoned travelers who certainly know how to stuff a stocking. They’ve done the thinking, they’ve done the testing. Here’s the verdict.

1. BESIDE-U travel bags

Best gift idea for travelers? That’s easy. I love BESIDE-U travel bags with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) blocking. RFID blocking protects your sensitive credit card information. BESIDE-U travel bags are ideal for airports and for travel bloggers or any traveler really. I’ve taken mine to easily six countries by now. They are super light and reliable. But for the full run-down on why they’re my new favorite travel product, check out my online review.

Paula Schuck, US blogger for

Best Christmas Gift Ideas for Travelers. FWT Magazine.

Paula Schuck with her BESIDE-U travel bag © Paula Schuck.

2. BURST toothbrush

My gift idea is BURST. A toothbrush, you ask? Yes. What better way to show someone that you care about them than by giving them a top-of-the-line toothbrush? If the science is to be believed, BURST gives out 33,000 sonic vibrations per minute, which is faster than any other toothbrush on the market. Its bristles are coated in Japanese binchotan charcoal. It charges on a USB port. A one-hour charge is supposed to last for up to four weeks. It’s priced at $69.99 if you buy it directly, or discounted at $39.99 if bought from a dental professional. That price includes the toothbrush, the USB charger and one replacement toothbrush head. If you opt into the subscription plan — which, I believe, is $6.00 plus shipping and handling — a new toothbrush head will come to you in the mail every three months.

Darren Paltrowitz, New York food, arts and entertainment writer.

3. Travelon Travel Scarf

The Travel Scarf by Travelon is a super gift item for the female traveler because it packs well, is easy care and offers multiple purposes. It’s a scarf or a shawl that can be tied numerous ways, and due to its large size of 60×64 inches, it’s also useful as a blanket on the plane. The best feature of all is the hidden RFID zippered pocket that’s sized to hold your passport and credit cards. It comes in two colours – raspberry and grey. For a more detailed look at the Travelon Travel Scarf, check out my online review.

Mary Chong, Canadian travel blogger for

Christmas Gifts for Travelers. FWT Magazine.

Mary Chong with her Travelon Travel Scarf and a new friend in Wadi Rum, Jordan © Mary Chong.

4. Donation to good cause

Best gift idea? Definitely a donation to a worthy cause like Habitat for Humanity on behalf of a loved-one or friend. My family recently started a new holiday tradition where instead of giving gifts to one another, we make donations to our favorite charities. As a traveler, I find it’s great to explore the world, then to come home with renewed perspective and sense of gratitude. That’s why I now embrace donating to good causes during the holiday season. It’s a tradition that’s inspiring and that warms everyone’s heart.

Joy Steinberg, US travel blogger for

(Holiday season donating is great – but did you know you can also volunteer your time to a good cause? Check out my blog post on an experience I had in Honduras in 2015)

Christmas Gifts for Travelers. FWT Magazine.

Joy Steinberg’s gift idea – donation to charity (c) Joy Steinberg.

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The Pacific Northwest Gem: Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island, just off the coast of Washington State, is a destination all serious travelers need to add to their list. A 55-mile long green strip, stretched between Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Whidbey is blessed with surprisingly moderate weather.  It enjoys four distinct seasons, but without the extremes endured by many other northwestern areas.

I was extremely pleased with the diversity of the island’s landscape and the close-knit sense of community I felt as I traversed the island from south to north. Whidbey has wineries, distilleries, a lavender farm, cattle ranches, produce farmers, talented chefs, beekeepers, cheesemakers and clever entrepreneurs and artists, too numerous to mention.  It would take several weeks to explore the island properly, yet even in my three days there, I was fortunate to meet a number of these residents and enjoy the gorgeous scenery that is Whidbey Island.

Getting There

Getting to Whidbey Island can be a challenge, but your efforts will be rewarded.  There are two ways to access the island — by Washington State Ferry on the south end or by means of the Deception Pass Bridge on the northern end.  A shuttle also runs about every two hours from Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport to the island.  Reservations are recommended for both the shuttle and the ferry, especially during the busy summer months.

South Whidbey

When you arrive on Whidbey, you will find you’ve entered another world.  I began to relax on the ferry ride over, promising myself I would leave “my worries and my hurries” behind. After settling into The Inn at Langley, I decided to wander a bit, trekking down the hill to see if any shops were still open. The colorfully painted store fronts of Langley were a treat for the eye. As I strolled, I indulged in luscious, rich chocolates from Sweet Mona’s, a superb cup of coffee from Café and Books, and the best lobster roll I’ve eaten outside of Maine at the Saltwater Café.

My favorite spot to explore by far was the historic 1920’s Star Store, an honest to goodness old-fashioned grocery store. The towering narrow shelves and sometimes crowded aisles brought back fond memories of older grocery establishments I frequented as a child.  Of course, the Star Store was brimming with colorful local produce, meats, and cheeses, an extensive wine and liquor selection, along with local craft beers, one of Whidbey’s trademarks…everything local, if possible.

While walking back to the Inn around sunset, I noticed another Langley trademark — wild rabbits.  They were hopping and nibbling everywhere, all colors and sizes, stopping only to pose for my camera, and then they were off in a flash.  If Whidbey didn’t already have my heart, Langley’s charming furry residents certainly won me over.


The wild rabbits of Whidbey Island; (c) Tamra Bolton


After a restful evening listening to the waves outside my balcony, I headed for Mukilteo’s Coffee Roasters and the Café in the Woods. As I discovered, just finding places on Whidbey can be an adventure in itself.  Following several winding roads through looming evergreen trees that seemed to touch the overcast sky, I finally saw a sign for the coffee roasters. An arrow pointed the way farther into the dark green woods, and the narrow road led to a rather large opening with an unremarkable metal and wood building at the center. 

The unmistakable aroma of freshly roasting coffee filled the parking area and drew me in.  I was unprepared for the magical world behind the ordinary door I entered.  Startled by a massive golden dragon’s head protruding from near the ceiling over the baristas’ station, I craned my neck to look at the nearly ten-foot silver carp “swimming” on the ceiling.  Farther in, café tables were surrounded by a backdrop of Tuscan villas and Italian countryside.  Mukilteo’s is a favorite with the locals, and I was starting to see why. As wonderful as the café and roasters are, I discovered it’s the owners, Gary and Beth Smith, and the outstanding staff that makes Mukilteo’s such a special place. Not only do the Smiths give back in a big way to the local community, but they also give back to the coffee growers and their often impoverished communities.

I had a chance to sit down for a few minutes with Gary and Beth and listen to their amazing story.  Stories are my passion, and I found that on Whidbey stories of struggle, success, determination, and courage are the norm. This is a community of extraordinary people. People from diverse backgrounds, cultures, religions, and politics together are able to create a wonderful place to live and work. To me, that is one of the best things about Whidbey.

Another couple, Vincent and Tyla Nattress, offer cooking classes, wine appreciation, and farm-to-table dinners that will leave you wanting to start your own garden and raise hens.  At Chef Vincent’s, produce is only steps away from the kitchen, and he carefully chooses local producers of seafood and meats to complement the seasonal vegetable and fruit selections. The night I was there, some of the treats we enjoyed were Scarlet Runner Beans and Sweet Corn Succotash, Braised Beef Tortellini and Roasted Eggplant Caviar, and Ebb Tide Strawberries & Crispy Meringue with Crème Fraiche Ice Cream.  The farmhouse dinners and cooking classes are popular, and reservations are highly recommended.


A bounty of produce; (c) Tamra Bolton



Near the “waist” of Whidbey Island (which is only about 1.5 miles wide), on Penn Cove, sits the seaside village of Coupeville, famous for its delicious mussels.  Penn Cove mussels are sought after world-wide, and if you pass by the cove going north, you can see the long rectangular mussel beds that produce this seafood wonder.

Coupeville has its own claim to fame as the setting for the Sandra Bullock/Nicole Kidman movie, Practical Magic. You can visit the 1890’s former pharmacy building where the scenes in Sally’s shop, Verbena Botanicals, were filmed. Today, it houses the bakery Knead & Feed.  I dropped by to take a look inside and sample some coffee and one of their snickerdoodle cookies that were as big as my head. The entire town was painted white for the movie, and many of the shops maintain that look even today.

I also stopped by the Lavender Wind shop on the corner of Alexander and Coveland Streets.  Housed in a restored 1916 craftsman home, the shop offers dried lavender goods, gift items, and delicious baked goods you can enjoy in their cozy tea room. I’ve wanted to try baking some lavender scones, so I picked up some culinary lavender along with some great baking tips from Sarah Richards, the owner. If you have time, visit the lavender farm about three miles north of Coupeville.  On a clear day, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  A small shop at the farm is open in summer. 

Oak Harbor

Busier than the other parts of Whidbey, Oak Harbor has about 23,000 inhabitants, the island’s largest population. Here you will find the only big box stores and chains. The Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is here, and it is not uncommon for conversations to be temporarily drowned out as low-flying Navy jets do their fly-bys, but no one seems to mind.  The Coachman Inn is reasonably priced and centrally located to several attractions like the PBY-Naval Air Museum and Deception Pass State Park.

My favorite chef in Oak Harbor, not only delivers a spectacular culinary experience but gives his heart and soul to the island community.  Chef Fraser donates his time to several community projects. Eight out of the last 12 years, his mentorship has brought home Washington State’s “ProStart Invitational” culinary competition title to Oak Harbor High School. When you go, ask to be seated at the chef’s counter for an up-close view of the kitchen and a chance to speak to him.  Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway is an experience you don’t want to miss.

Chef Scott Fraser of Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway; (c) Tamra Bolton


Whidbey Island is a patchwork of landscapes, people, and lifestyles worth exploring. It is a destination I hope you add to your list. I’m glad it was on mine.

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Latest News and Updates on Wine Tasting and Wineries in CT – Enjoy Reading People!

Just a very brief post as a resource for all to check out the latest scoop and news on what’s going on in the wine industry here in Connecticut and other locations in the U.S. Hope everyone had a peaceful Thanksgiving and are now looking forward to spending time with family and friends during Christmas and New Years.

Here are just two of the resources to check out at your convenience:

Thanks for stopping by my Blogger blog, remember to be safe duing the upcoming holidays, and especially while driving to family and friends on New Year's Eve. There's a ton of idiots and drunk drivers out there on the road. Pleae DO NOT become a statistic. 🙂

Take care, 

Luis 🙂

Latest News and Updates on Wine Tasting and Wineries in CT – Enjoy Reading People! syndicated from your-t1-blog-url