Tuscany on a Budget

Tuscany in the Spring

There’s no better time to visit Tuscany than springtime.  But then again… there’s no bad time to visit Tuscany. After all, it is Tuscany. That said, Springtime is when the days turn sunny, vineyards sprout their first green, markets display their gorgeous produce and sidewalk cafés and restaurants come to life.

And—difficult as it is to believe—spring is coming. TourCrafters, a tour company specializing in affordable European vacations, has made a spring trip even more appealing with their one-week Florence and Tuscany Countryside package, which starts at $739 from New York and includes round-trip air from New York, three nights at the 4-star Hotel Roma in Florence, three nights at the 4-star Villa Aurea in Cortona, daily buffet breakfast, three days’ car rental, a free spa course (with sauna, Turkish bath and tea) at the Villa Aurea, a free gelato at Florence’s famous Vivoli, service charges and taxes.

Florence, as everyone knows, is the world’s greatest repository of Renaissance art, but it also boasts great restaurants and fabulous shopping (everything from designer shops on via Tornabuoni to the San Lorenzo Market).  Cortona, a hilltop town of steep, narrow streets and the setting for the popular memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun, also has its art and architecture.  Between the two lies the Chianti region with its hillside vineyards, olive groves, medieval towns and picturesque castles—easy enough to explore with a three-day car rental.

All prices are per person, double occupancy, are subject to availability and do not include airport taxes of approximately $115 and a fuel surcharge of approximately $360.  Reservations must be paid for within 72 hours of booking. Add-on air fares are $40 from Boston and Washington, D.C., $135 from Miami and Chicago,  and $250 from Los Angeles.

For additional information about this and other Hot Deals of the Week, visit www.tourcrafters.it


Vacation Vanilla

Neilsen-Massey Vanilla

Recently, we headed to one of our favorite countries in the world… our beloved Mexico. While we were there we noticed that, in addition to our obsession with Mexican coffee, we are now newly obsessed with Mexican vanilla. So, if you’re thinking of taking a sweet vacation (or bringing that sweet vacation back with you), we recommend scoring some vanilla and cooking up a storm.

In addition to Mexico, other vanilla producing countries include: Tahiti, Madagascar and Uganda; each with it’s own distinct flavor. These destinations also harvest vanilla beans that are used in the top notch line, Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, sold at Williams Sonoma and a slew of stores worldwide.  Here’s a brief overview of our vanilla producing friends.

–          Mexico: While the vanilla bean originated in Mexico, enjoying a 300-year monopoly, they are now a secondary supplier with production of approximately 40-60 tons per year. Spicy Mexican Vanilla complements cinnamon and can help reduce the acidity of tomato-based products like chili.

–          Tahiti: Tahiti produces a different type of vanilla bean called Vanilla Tahitensis Moore. It has a fruity, flowery flavor. Approximately 15-25 tons of beans are produced in Tahiti per year. Use Tahitian Vanillas to potentiate the flavors of fruit-based products such as sorbets and toppings.

–          Madagascar: The largest producer of vanilla beans in the world is the Island of Madagascar, part of the Bourbon Island chain. Their annual production historically averages a whopping 1,200–1,500 tons of vanilla beans, which is 50-60% of the annual worldwide vanilla bean production. Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla is especially suited to rich foods such as ice cream and buttercream. For staying quality in products with coffee and chocolate, or for yogurt-based drinks, the blend of Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla and Indonesian Vanilla is the choice to make. This blend is also the one to use when your process requires the use of high heat, as in high heat/low mass cookie production.

–          Uganda: Most people don’t know that Uganda produces a large of amount of vanilla, as well. Ugandan vanilla beans have a sweet balsamic flavor and nearly 120-170 tons of these vanilla beans are produced per year.

Though there are many different vanilla producers on the market, we decided to mention Nielsen-Massey Vanillas because they’ve been creating quality extracts since 1907 and offer vanilla products from each of these countries. So bring a little sweetness home from Mexico, Tahiti, Madagascar, or Uganda. Let your mood dictate your desire…

Notes from the Road: Going Goa

Lin Urman, Jaunt Contributor (Middle East, Asia)

Lin Urman,  our resident Food and Lifestyle writer based in Tel Aviv, takes us to Goa where hippies frolic with fire and the only thing burning is that curry your waiter said wasn’t spicy. So, without further ado, without masks and secret wants, this is her trip diary from India’s famous beach bum hangout.

The food is for the body and the beach is for the soul.

Getting rid of old boyfriend and starting a new chapter.

So, I packed up the tasty comfortable life of Tel Aviv (or any city and it’s restaurants and the predictable men on the menu), the hectic work and constant running around, and went to India.

I am now in Goa on a beach called Arambol. There are plenty of beaches to choose from and if you don’t like one, well, the next is a walk away. Goa, the land of fashionable hippies, come every year to spend cold winter days on a friendly and sunny part of India. For me, those seasonable friends look, from first sight, like a tribe which embraces you all over again every time you come.

I chose to stay in Arambol – the finest hippie resort – because they have one of the best shows in India… a drumming circle where you can see unbelievably unrealistic physical movement and dancing with a backdrop of amazing sunsets. From the beginning it may seem like a close family meeting, but you soon will find out that it’s enough to know only one of them and you are on the highway to meeting all of them.

Arambol Beach - Goa, India

Arambol is a northeast beach of Goa and it’s very easy to find. Here, there is also everything your body and soul will need. To make your landing easier you can take a private taxi right  from the entrance of Goa international airport. It should cost 1170 rupee ($26) and you’ll be on your first ride with Indian smells and sounds surrounding you. For the next hour and a half drive you will not see any traffic lights but you will pass a few unbelievably huge and impossibly complicated traffic roundabouts that you have never seen in your whole life.

The main road of Arambol beach, which sometimes is called “a market,” will take you directly to the beach, where the only choice you will have is to decide  either to go left or right. All the possibilities of accommodation will be laid out in front of you.

I found a nice hut in a place called “Residencia” (perhaps left over from the Portuguese). It’s a nice basic bamboo house with no toilet or a shower, but with all day long WI FI on the porch, a taxi driver, laundry service, safe box, food and drinks nearby. There’s even a printing service and money exchange and they’ll do anything for you and your “dolachis”.

Hippie Spotting

The sea view is more than compensation for not having your own toilet, and believe me, its better not to have one because very soon it becomes more a problem than a solution when it gets stuck and starts to stink in front of your pleasant bed. “Residencia” is well known as a place of return clients and seasoned travellers and is very easy to find, just take a right when you reach the beach and after 50 meters you will see a huge  nice well kept garden and a clean sand trail.

A little trick: before checking in, take a quick look at the shoes in front of the doors so you can easily predict who your potential neighbors are: rich, slobs, techies or seasoned Indian shoe wearers.

The restaurants of Arambol have everything you could want: Russian, Israeli, Continental, Chinese, Japanese and even Tibetian cuisine, but I prefer a spicy vegetarian Indian food because the spiciness kills all the microbes before they start killing me.

Fellini Restaurant - Goa

The Italian restaurant “Fellini” (on the main road next to the beach) has the best pizza in Arambol and high quality live music almost every evening. At “Relax in” (right on the beach, but you won’t see anything like a restaurant, only chairs and tables), you will never be able to fined a free chair to seat after 7 pm, but if you do, you can enjoy real Italian food and very cheap fish dishes.

Olive Garden” which is also located on the beach (on the left side), you can find very cheap, tasty Indian “paneer” dishes (cottage cheese in different sauces),but you’ll need interesting book or a very good company because the wait for food is excruciating – even by Indian standards.

Laughing Buddha” has a nice Anglo Saxon atmosphere with music and buttoned up waiters (the owner is British). Although it was a little too English for me, the food was nice and pleasant, especially the “malai cofta” dumplings made from potato puree filled with vegetables and raisins in a thick nut sauce.

The main pick up/party/dance bar in Arambol is “Coco Loco” located on the beach and, from 22:00, it becomes very easy to find its location. You just need to hear the booms in the air. Gypsy party, R&B styled- Bob Marley tribal rave, house and even trance, every night new adventure.

Lin in Goa

The best place for the after party is a place called “Woodstock“. Hungry for music, musicians and their audience will go there after Coco Loco closes around 1:00 am. Woodstock is a guesthouse-open air sit-on-the-ground restaurant which is incredibly comfortable for spontaneous jam sessions because it’s located far from the beach with no neighbors around.  An Israeli guy owns this place and will do everything is needed to keep policemen out of his place so you will have one more hour in the great company of musically developed people.

Enjoy the beautiful sunsets, go for a walk to the next beach with a lake on it, and a find a secret road to the jungle where you can meet a real Baba smoking on a magic tree. Dance, smile, eat well and swim every day in warm and nice water, but never ever try to figure out with an Indian waiter if the food that you ordered is a spicy, because there is not any chance he will tell you the truth.

Eat Indian in Goa (or suffer the consequences...)

If you’re smart, you’ll eat Indian. It takes awhile to adjust , but it’s tastier and reminds you less of home. The other people try to recreate home, but unfortunately that usually means that their food is not well made and causes what is well known as ‘the runs’…

So now is it clear why does everyone from around the world wants to come here to heal, experience, and feel a change?

Drummers, hippies, guitar players, music, people clapping, and dancing. As it gets darker, fire displays around people, trinkets spin, spheres, and little ribbons fall and flicker at the end of a chain.

By 20:30, I stop by the Tibetan stand and get a chocolate ball for 20 cents. Best dessert on this side of Asia. I head to my place, put some music on my laptop, light a candle so I won’t be cold, pop a beer, and very quickly make an acquaintance. My parting words: If you like the sound of the music from far away, walk towards it. It is probably some beach party, a circle of drummers or some house music. Up to you, you can always feed your brain and read your book.

But with Goa, there’s a lot more variety on the menu.

Miami Nice

Sarah Ivens, Jaunt Magazine Contributor

Sarah Ivens, resident Jaunt Magazine Contributor, is the founding Editor-in-Chief of OK! Weekly and the best-selling author of ‘The Modern Girl’s Guide to Etiquette.’  Originally from London, she now lives in the beautiful Bluegrass state of Kentucky. This week, she fills us in on an old haunt, The Delano in Miami, only this time, she’s gettin’ knee deep into the grub at their onsite seafood spot, Blue Door Fish.

MIAMI NICE by Sarah Ivens

We all know that The Delano has always been the one-stop-shop for glamour, art and relaxation on South Beach. Designed by the King of Hotel Chic, Philippe Starck, the lobby is overloaded with unique treasures by world-renowned artists such as Antonio Gaudi, Man Ray, Charles and Ray Eames, Salvador Dali and Mark Newson.

And as for the pool?

No one could argue that floating around on giant waterproof pillows while surrounded by palm trees and handsome waiters offering complimentary ice pops is anything other than a soul saver. Yet, until last month, there were better places to get dinner. This has all changed with super-chef Claude Troisgros new culinary enclave, Blue Door Fish. Now, guests really have no need to venture outside apart from to soak their toes in the Kokomo-waters of the sandy strip next to the hotel.

My husband Russ is a seafood fanatic. This makes him very fussy. While he weighed up his options carefully, I did what I do best: munch my way through a bread basket. I’ve always thought the baked goods offered in a restaurant are a great sign of the overall quality of the place and the respect they have for their customers. This selection was outstanding: parmesan crackers that forcefully assaulted the tongue, over-sized breadsticks than managed to avoid the usual dry dustiness of lesser batons and plump, warm rolls with softly salty butter. I was in heaven and I hadn’t even ordered yet.

Blue Door Fish

After carefully perusing the menu over a chilled glass of Californian rose, Russ chose seared yellowfin tuna, marinated in daikon with a soy-lime-ginger dressing, followed by Dover sole, cooked & served on the bone ‘Claude’s way’, with almond & caper brown butter and truffled potato foam. I chose a seemingly simple tomato salad, ‘ sherried’ with fresh mozzarella & basil, that was the freshest dish I have ever tasted (and I will dream about for years to come)  and grilled red snapper, flavored with a tomato, black olives, capers, anchovy & basil sauce and served with baby bok choy with garlic chips. Russ didn’t talk to me for the first fifteen minutes of our meal, which is an excellent sign. To be fair, I didn’t do much talking either. We communicated in grins and happy sighs.  Then the desserts arrived: a decadent, creamy eruption of chocolate and vanilla ice cream and a tangy cheesecake smothered in fresh berries and sweet raspberry coulis, and all we could do was laugh, swap plates every few mouthfuls and look up at the stars in the clear night sky with delight.


For reservations at Blue Door Fish call: 305 674 6400

The Delano, 1685 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139