Puerto Vallarta Deal: CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa

CasaMagna Puerto Vallarta

The beach at CasaMagna Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa

Who doesn’t dig a beachfront escape and the mountains? It’s part of the reason why we love California, but even Cali doesn’t always have the warm water you might expect. Enter: CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, located on a sandy strip between the Sierra Madre Mountains and Banderas Bay. A charming, friendly town with an authentic Mexican vibe, Puerto Vallarta offers a vibrant culinary and arts scene, highlighted by local festivals such as the Puerto Vallarta Gourmet Festival and the Guadalupe Processions. Puerto Vallarta’s 21st annual Festival Gourmet International, taking place November 16-22, will feature the best of the best eats in and around one of Mexico’s most surprisingly foodie friendly destinations. Festival-goers have a chance to enjoy 6 nights of wine, cocktails, live music, and jazz at Puerto Vallarta’s culinary hot spots.

The “Puerto Vallarta, Table for Two” package at the CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta includes oceanview accommodations and a chance to savor the Gourmet Festival Menu at the resort’s Mikado restaurant, with breakfast for two each morning at one of the hotel’s restaurants.

Rates start at $239 /night with a 3-night minimum stay.

Tequila Tastings at CasaMagna

Tequila Tastings at CasaMagna

One of only a few resorts in the world with a proprietary brand of tequila, CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta also grows its own blue agave on property in the cactus garden. Audrey Formisano, the resort’s tequila sommelier and an authority on the highly sophisticated and remarkably wide variety of tequilas, teaches guests about the history of tequila in the Jalisco region. Weekly tequila tastings are offered in La Cava wine cellar as an extension of the Secretos de la Familia program. The experience was developed to increase guests’ knowledge of and appreciation for tequila. The presentation includes the history of tequila (the mythical origin of the drink was by “Mayahuel,” the goddess of tequila and “Quetzalcoatl,” her eternal lover… I mean, how sexy Mexi is that?), and, of course, the newest technologies for tequila processing. The tastings are complimentary for members of Marriott Rewards and $15 for all other guests. Additionally, the resort offers more than 60 brands, representing 114 tequilas by the glass.

Regular hotel rates start at a steal: $119/room, per night.

So say, “Salud,” and get your tan on.

www.puertovallartamarriott.com

5 Top U.S. Culinary Adventures

Mirbeau Inn and Spa

Mirbeau Inn and Spa at The Pinehills – Plymouth, Massachusetts 

These days, we in the mood for easy luxury. Perhaps we’re getting accustomed to comfort, perhaps we need to be waited on hand and foot, perhaps… we just won’t settle for mediocre. We want more!

So here are five properties in the US that promise to tickle your taste buds and treat you well:

1.      Mirbeau Inn & Spa at The Pinehills (Plymouth, Mass.): Guests with a penchant for foraging can join Executive Chef Stephen Coe at nearby Plymouth Rock Oyster Farm for a tutorial on picking and shucking oysters. Groups of up to 12 are privy to a farm dinner thereafter including oysters, scallops, lobster, saltwater corn and prosecco ($75 per person). The program launches today and continues through early autumn.

1,000 Islands Harbor

1,000 Islands Harbor Hotel – Clayton, New York

2.      1000 Islands Harbor Hotel (Clayton, N.Y.): Another off-site adventure awaits in upstate N.Y., where guests head out on the St. Lawrence River to fish with Captain Jeff Garnsey.  The day’s haul is then cooked over a hardwood campfire for a traditional Shore Dinner (a Clayton staple since 1872). In a single cast iron skillet, Captain prepares salt pork sandwiches and fried fish, followed by French toast, served with local maple syrup.

Chatham Bars Inn

Chatham Bars Inn- Chatham, Mass.

3.      Chatham Bars Inn (Chatham, Mass., on Cape Cod): Not every culinary moment can or should be planned. The oceanfront resort’s luxury fleet stands ready to whisk guests to sea for big game sport fishing, among other leisure pursuits. (The biggest guest catch was a 350 lb. blue fin tuna.) When opportunity strikes, Executive Chef Anthony Cole will greet boats at shore and immediately filet fish for fresh sashimi, served gratis to guests on the beach with the fisherman’s OK.

The Umstead Hotel and Spa, Kaiseki Canapes

The Umstead Hotel and Spa, Kaiseki Canapes – Cary, North Carolina

4.      The Umstead Hotel and Spa (Cary, N.C., outside Raleigh): Herons’ seven course Kaiseki dinner by Executive Chef Steven Greene begins with a spectacular tableside tea ceremony (this video captures the wow-factor of the process). The drink is served in custom dishware by potter Ben Owen, whose large-scale works are showcased throughout the art-centric Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond hotel. This unexpected start to the dinner experience is a perfect complement to the “source local” mentality at The Umstead, which relies heavily on N.C. products and produce from its own garden and nearby farm.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain – Scottsdale, Arizona

5.      Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain (Scottsdale, Ariz.): The “Mi Casa, Mi Chef” package takes the relationship between diner and chef to new dimensions. From the arresting vantage point of Sanctuary’s Mountainside Estates, guests work hand-in-hand with a Sanctuary chef (like Food Network star Beau MacMillan) to plan and execute their customized dining experience, letting the day’s best fruits, vegetables, fish and meat dictate the menu.  They join the chef in the kitchen of their private home, working side-by-side to prepare the feast. In-home spa treatments take the package over-the-top.

The Dancing Nymphs of Angkor

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

This week, Will Ottley explores the Buddhist/Hindu temples of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex and discovers that ancient civilizations’ wisdom lives on in the treasure trove of temples and monuments they left behind.

What surprised me most about Siem Reap, Cambodia was not the grandeur and sophistication of the temple complexes. Walking among the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, I was struck by the overriding presence of the ‘feminine’. Carved into every wall of this vast complex are the images of Devata (goddesses) and playful Apsara (nymphs). This beautiful setting blends a rich history of Buddhist and Hindu influences that exude a feeling of peace and hint at the grandeurs of the lost Khmer civilisation.

Siem Reap, a Temple Base Camp

Siem Reap is a short (less than an hour) flight from the international airports of Bangkok, Phnom Pehn, and Ho Chi Minh City. It serves as the base for visiting the surrounding temples and caters for all travellers’ requirements. It can equally be enjoyed as a single traveller or a family. You can stay in a five-star luxury colonial style hotel that offers traditional afternoon tea, such as Raffles (+855 63 963 888), boutique alternatives such as Shinta Mani Club (+855 63 761 998) or mid-range options such as Tara Ankor hotel. (+855 63 966 661).

Shinta Mani

Shinta Mani

There is an array of excellent local restaurants easily reachable from your hotel by tuk-tuk (think horse and carriage, with a motorbike in place of the horse). They offer traditional Khmer and Asian cuisine, such as the local delicacy, Amok, a thick curry soup made with coconut cream. Two good options are the Khmer kitchen (+855 63 964 154) and the Chamkar Vegetarian Restaurant (+855 92 733 150).

Khmer Kitchen

Khmer Kitchen

There are traditional dance and dinner shows such as Apsara Theatre (+855 63 963 561). These can be quite touristic and you ideally need to book in advance. There are also luxury spas, such as Bodia spa that offer a full range of body treatments including the traditional Khmer massage (+855 63 761 593).

The Temples of Angkor

Visiting the wondrous temples of the UNESCO Archaeological Park, can, at times make you feel like Indiana Jones. From the 9th to 15th century Angkor, was the heart of the Khmer Kingdom. The most famous temples of Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, exemplify changing periods of Khmer architecture. Mini-buses packed with tourists set off early to see Angkor Wat, on what is termed the inner-circuit route to see the main temples, followed by the outer circuit on subsequent days (it will make sense when you get there).

Bayon

Bayon Temple

These package tours break for breakfast and lunch at the same time each day, leaving the temples virtually empty. My advice is to hire your own tuk-tuk or taxi, from as little as $15 a day, and to visit the temples in the opposite direction to the arranged tours, taking a later breakfast and lunch. By staying out later, you also get to watch the sunsets shimmering above the tree line. A 5am start to see the stately sunrise over Angkor, is also very popular.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

You can hire a knowledgeable tour guide with good English from $45 per day, or just enjoy the experience of discovering the temples for yourself with a guide book. Each temple is unique. The complex of Bayon for example has amazing head carvings, whilst the complex of Ta Prohm was so overgrown when it was excavated that they had to leave trees in place to protect the structure from collapse. This haunting temple was used when filming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and is a definite highlight.

Getting There and Around

You can travel to Siem Reap via Bangkok from London with British Airways (0844 493 0775; ba.com), and Air France (0207 660 0337) from under £500 per person return. Internal flights to Siem Reap from Bangkok with Air Asia from £70.

Cambodian visa information: www.cambodianembassy.org.uk

Will Ottley is a freelance travel writer and author of the inspirational fable, “Mountain Garden”, but does not work with or for any of the parties mentioned in this article.

Follow Will Ottley on: www.mountaingarden.co.uk

Latest Fashion Find: Carla Sta Cruz Handbags

The Julia Tote in Black/Aqua

The Julia Tote in Black/Aqua

My latest fashion find from Carla Sta Cruz. Perfect for traveling in style.

Originally from Manila, Phillipines, Carla graduated from Parsons and is now a New Yorker but visits Manila every 3 months where she produces her collections.

Inspirations: Savage Beauty at the MET inspired a more cerebral approach to fashion design as art. Inspired by designer brands like Givenchy, Tom Ford, and Alexander McQueen, Carla brings edge to classic good looks.

Price: The Julia tote is $450
Website: www.carlastacruz.com

Hot Town, Summer in Miami

Miami at dusk (c) Robin Hill

Miami at dusk (c) Robin Hill

No longer known for just its sand and surf, Miami has moved beyond its reputation as a winter destination for snowbirds. The growth of Miami as a cultural destination has turned the city into a thriving year-round retreat with much of the attraction focused on the transformation of its urban core. With the addition of the new Museum Park, plus more than 400 restaurants, 20 hotels, 30 cultural organizations and 2.5 million sq. ft. of retail, downtown Miami has come to the forefront as one of city’s top attractions. While the winter usually receives all of the media attention, the summer is a great time to visit Miami like a local. For any summer coverage you may have in the works, please consider the Miami Downtown Development Authority’s top picks for a “hot” Miami experience this summer.

Mandarin Oriental Spa - Miami

Mandarin Oriental Spa – Miami

1. Go all artsy: See the hip side of downtown at PAMM Third Thursdays, a free outdoor live music series overlooking the bay at the new Perez Art Museum.
2. Be a foodie: Take a culinary road trip through the streets of downtown on the cheap with Miami Spice, a seasonal program that features a pre-fixe menu for just $39 at participating restaurants. Be sure to check out our favorite Toro Toro at the iconic downtown hotel, the InterContinental Miami.
3. Take time to relax: Experience the best spas in town for just $99 with Miami Spa Month, another seasonal program that features some of the best spa experiences in downtown Miami at a fraction of the price. Our top pick is the Kundalini Journey treatment at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental. Tell them we sent you!
4. See the characters: Enjoy downtown Miami’s most talked about seasonal series, the Summer Shorts at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
5. Listen to the sounds: Sure the Miami Sound Machine brought the beat to this city, but it’s the American Airlines Arena and Bayfront Park Amphitheater that keeps the music going. Together, they have a fantastic lineup this summer featuring Sublime  on Aug. 15

Toro Toro

Toro Toro

To top off the round-up, we can’t forget to mention all of the public transit options in downtown that make it easy to get around and explore the destination. To take a break from the heat by hopping on the free downtown street trolley or the popular Metromover to see the sites of the beautiful city.

For more information: www.miamidda.com

Ireland: The Wild Atlantic Way with Vagabond Adventure Tours

Vagabond Tours

Vagabond Tours

The Wild Atlantic Way… we’d never heard about this rugged beautiful place before, but, apparently, it’s the longest defined coastal touring route in the world, embracing Ireland’s wild West Coast landscape, ancient monuments, and historical sites. This stunning route twists and turns for 1,600 miles along an undulating coastline from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork. The Wild Atlantic Way is not just a driving route, it’s an invitation to adventure.

With countless ways to explore it by sea kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and even surfing, we wanted to introduce our readers to Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland makes it all accessible, thanks to their smartly planned multi-sport scheduled trips that take adventurous travelers to these authentic, off-the-beaten path areas along the route. In operation since 2002, Vagabond was founded by Rob & Amy Rankin after traveling extensively through Southern Africa. Impressed by the classic African travel modes of safari and overland tours, they decided to bring the concept to Ireland. They established Driftwood Irish Journeys of Discovery in 2011 as a division of Vagabond to offer trips for more leisurely travelers. We can dig that since we love leisure.

Surfing in Ireland with Vagabond Tours (because... why not?)

Surfing in Ireland with Vagabond Tours (because… why not?)

Utilizing custom-designed Land Rovers that take no more than 13 passengers, Vagabond trips explore an area in depth with daily adventures. One day, it might be sea kayaking in sheltered waters off the coast of Cork, while another day its horseback riding along a beach in Kerry. Nightly stays are in coastal villages and towns, in locally-owned guesthouses and small hotels.

One of Vagabond’s classic Wild Atlantic Way journeys is their World Tour of Ireland. Focused on the southwest and counties Kerry and Cork, this seven-day trip includes sea kayaking off the Beara Peninsula, horseback riding on the Dingle Peninsula, and mountain biking in Killarney National Park.

The price is $1,340, based on double occupancy, including accommodations and breakfasts.

The Wild Atlantic Way may be Ireland’s best-kept secret and with the dollar at its strongest in 11 years, this is quite possibly the perfect year to discover it.

vagabondtoursofireland.com