Summer Culture – Rhineland, Germany

 

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Molsheim, Germany: Photo by Karsten Würth (@karsten.wuerth) on Unsplash

Germany. From bratwurst and Beethoven’s birthplace to beer and some of the best art and music in the world, it’s time to check out Rhineland-Palatinate’s Summer of Culture, taking place every year from May 1st – October 3rd. Featuring well over 200 projects covering all kinds of different cultural aspects, the theme is revised annually to reflect new focuses for the content, and the venue for the grand opening also changes every year. A large cultural festival on the first weekend in May also offers families their first peek at the summer’s program of events held across the state covering cultural, religious, artistic and social themes.

In early 1992, the Rhineland-Palatinate state government announced the staging of the first Rhineland-Palatinate Summer of Culture, the aim of which was to increase people’s awareness of the region’s culture. What the organizers had – and continue to have – in mind was a sort of ‘citizens’ movement for culture’. The Summer of Culture is, in fact, characterized by the large number of small projects and ideas at its core that were themselves developed out of local or regional initiatives. With almost 250 events including concerts, readings, exhibitions, children’s activities, theatre and more, it’s an incredible melting pot of people and ideas.

From example, throughout August 24, 2019, the Mayen Burgfestspiele Theatre Festival is the cultural highlight of the Northern Rhineland-Palatinate. Every summer, the quiet town Mayen, located about 1 hour north of Mainz (another little colorful gem) turns into a colorful theater city.

Germany Best travel destinations

Mainz Market (c) The Crazy Tourist

There’s also a nearby wine festival for the parents. The Rheingau Wine Festival has around 100 winemakers offering the acclaimed Rheingau riesling wines, as well as sparkling sekt and regional fare. The ten-day wine festival includes a varied program of entertainment in Schlossplatz and Dern’schen Gelände squares in Wiesbaden too!

For more information on the festival:

www.kultursommer.de

Rheingau Wine Festival:

www.wiesbaden.de

 

Top Kid Friendly All Inclusive Island Resort

We’ve been hearing about Sirenis Hotels and Resorts’ family-friendly, all-inclusive resorts for awhile and we hear they’ve just done a great renovation at the new Grand Sirenis Punta Cana Resort. A $30 million dollar renovation and repositioning. Home to one of Punta Cana’s largest water parks (what?!), the all-new resort welcomed guests in December to experience the reimagined hotel just in time for those looking for a last minute winter getaway.

The transformation includes a complete renovation of guestrooms, lobby, common areas and restaurants, in addition to improvements of its amenities.

As part of the big reveal, Grand Sirenis Punta Cana Resort will unveil two new buildings that are home to a kids club, fitness center, medical center, pharmacy, beauty salon, local craft shops, and more. They’re also introducing a 7,000 sq ft spa, upgraded pool, and beach area featuring a 120-seat picnic table section.

The upgraded resort has also elevated its all-inclusive dining options with the introduction of new restaurant concepts including Tex Mex and La Gira Rodizio, a Brazilian steakhouse where foodies can dine on traditional Brazilian fare. In addition to new restaurants, there’s a health bar, sports bar, ice cream & coffee shop.

On the majestic Uvero Alto beach, Grand Sirenis Punta Cana is the ultimate playground for the entire family. Children can spend time at the all new Sirenios Kids Club which features a range of activities including a Lego building zone, “master chef” section, arts & crafts activities and more. Adults can test their luck in the casino, have a drink at a swim up bar, or dance the night away at El Bonche lounge. Families can slide into fun together at the Aquagames Water Park which features water towers and slides. With 7 themed restaurants, 3 buffets, 11 cocktail bars, 2 pools with beach-style access, and watersports. What more do you need?

February rates: For the month of February, guests can save up to 35% off average nightly rates of $318, based on double occupancy.

For more information or to book a stay at the new Grand Sirenis Punta Cana, visit www.sirenishotels.com

Spring Ski Buffs… Get to Breckenridge

The Residence Inn Marriott Breckenridge Lobby

I’m usually curious where I can ski late in the season for one reason only… I’m a fly by my seat sort of traveler and I also like to wait until the big Christmas crowds are gone. Nothing is worse than a crowded slope, in my opinion. So, at least now we know… ski buffs who live for the thrill of just one more run down the powdery slopes can take on the Breckenridge, Colorado ski scene well into Spring. Warmer weather, fewer crowds, softer snow and falling prices make for the perfect opportunity to also pack up the entire family for a Spring Break ski escape.

The brand new Residence Inn Breckenridge is a natural launch pad to explore the appeals of the Rockies this spring. Boasting all-suite accommodations, this spot is  ideal for families where they can make themselves at home in expansive suites with full kitchens and sofa beds. Complimentary hot American breakfast will fuel the fam before hitting the slopes of famed Breckenridge Ski Resort, where Peak 9 offers chair lifts and terrain that appeal to both beginners and experts, just two-minutes from the hotel. The transition to the slopes is eased by the hotel’s complimentary on-site ski storage.

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A hot tub perfect for mom & dad too…

Après–ski, guests can easily explore the charming restaurants and shops with the hotel’s choice location in downtown Breckenridge. The Lobby’s Hearth Room and Base Camp Lounge are another great gathering point with a sophisticated mountain lodge vibe, creative cocktails, and menu of small bites. A year-round outdoor pool and hot tub with sweeping views of Quandary Peak is also a huge win win, complemented by the hotel’s fitness center.

So, ski buffs take note… you and your family can hit the slopes without the headache well into April!

Spring rates start at $255/nt which includes breakfast for every guest, parking, wifi in the room and… there is no resort fee!

www.breckenridgeresidenceinn.com

Hygge in the Hill Country

glamping

Glamping in Texas

By Sarah Ivens

Texas, I know, isn’t a state one usually associates with phrases like ‘less is more’ or ‘it’s the simple things that matter.’ Texas, stereotypically, is all about big hair, big boots, and big horns – well, longhorns. After living in the Lone Star state for six months I was getting used to this mindset – everything was sold to me as bigger and better in Texas and, as for a Brit whose upper lip is always stiff and tongue is permanently wedged in my cheek, I kind of admired the brash, bold, bootilicious OTT-ness of it all. But then the nights drew in, the amplified humidity dialed down to a bearable degree, and I longed for the comfy, cozy, low-key creature comforts of my European heritage. I needed to nestle.

The concept of Hygge is having a moment in my motherland right now. This festive season in the UK alone, ten books are being published on the art of it – how to Hygge, when to Hygge and how to out-Hygge your friends. Overwrought, wrung-out, over-loaded and ready to simplify, Brits in their droves are looking for the Hygge experience at home, on their dining table and in their wardrobes. But what is it, you may wonder?

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Matilda gets cozy in the tent

A Scandinavian concept meaning to enjoy the ritual of life’s simple pleasures – family, friends, graciousness and good food. It means to create a warm atmosphere – warm hearts talking in the glow of candlelight, hot chocolate mysteriously appearing from a warm stove and placed in your hands. This coziness of the soul was what I was craving, but in Texas? 6,000 miles from my extended family and old friends in London? How could I possibly get my Hygge on here?

Thankfully, tucked away in Spring Branch, a picturesque village in the Hill Country (70 miles from Austin, 30 miles from San Antonio) I found my soul solution: the Texas Bell, a glamping experience designed by Leslie Shurbet, a reiki healer and holistic health coach who – having always enjoyed hosting and cooking for friends and family – decided to erect a designer tent, 20’ diameter and 12’ tall in the center, in her back garden. Set upon a custom deck capturing long distance views across the glorious landscape, the Bell comes with A/C and a  fireplace (plus a fire pit just outside for serious s’mores action), and a full bathroom with an instant hot water shower and linens. Leslie would deliver hot coffee to the tent at sunrise, before guests could traipse at their leisure uphill past her clucking chickens and roaming deer, for a fine breakfast in her kitchen overlooking a fish pond. Wowzers. Why camp when you can glamp? And what could be more Hygge-y?

“The important thing to me when people walk through the door is that they feel like they have arms around them,” Leslie told me over a slice of her warmed apricot jam-stuffed French toast on my first morning at the Bell (and yes, that is as divine as it sounds). “I want everyone to leave here relaxed and unburdened.”

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Are those chickens?

Relaxing is difficult when you’re traveling with a five and three year old as I was. My five year old was so excited by the assortment of games offered in the tent, and collecting still-warm eggs from the hen coop, that he was a pleasure to be with but my threenager was having a rough time of it. I was embarrassed but Leslie was having none of it. She enticed me and Matilda into her ‘healing room’, me for some lavender oils that would help with the headache that was fast developing and Matilda for a concoction called ‘Peace.’ “I call this my ‘Toddler Oil’,” Leslie said, as she lightly rubbed it into Matilda’s palms and showed her how to breathe deeply. The air filled with a sweet and delicious aroma, and my dramatic daughter suddenly became a bit more inviting too. Leslie found her a sparkly gold bottle, poured her some oil, and gave it to her a gift. Matilda was thrilled – “a fairy bottle, a real fairy bottle” – and my headache lifted. We returned to the Bell for a nap as rain lashed down in a rhythmic pitter-patter around the Bell, the glow from the fire warming our toes as we wrapped up under piles of woolen blankets and embroidered throws. We all regrouped for a family supper on the deck, before tucking in for the night at 8pm. Fresh country air does that to you. No television? No Netflix? No problem.

Time does stand still at the Texas Bell. And don’t we all need that occasionally? The two cities that sit either side of her are bustling metropolises, filled to brimming with great dining choices, unique entertainment experiences and shopping malls. But here, just over an hour from the hip hub that is Austin and half an hour from the history mecca that is San Antonio, I found my Hygge. I already can’t wait to get back there – just to lie down and let the wind blow around me, while Leslie’s hospitality holds me tight.

The Texas Bell accommodates up to 4 people. Weekend price $150 per night for the entire tent, included breakfast.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/11851292

 

 

Houston: Fun Things to Do with Kids

Four Seasons Houston Food

Four Seasons Knows How to Deliver a Good Spread!

Houston, we do not have a problem.

Everyone knows Texas is big, but when it comes to taking kids to America’s fourth largest city, it turns out it’s just a small world after all.

By Sarah Ivens

My two-year-old daughter wants to be a Lady Astronaut. I think she likes the idea of floating amongst glittering stars, or maybe it’s just that she fancies zooming far away from her older brother and his constant teasing. Either way, when we moved to Austin, Texas recently, we knew a trip to the Space Center at Houston would be our first family excursion.

Downtown Houston

Downtown Houston

Well when I say ‘we’, I mean my husband obviously. Visiting a city I knew little about apart from that it is very, very hot and sky-scrapery to spend eight hours looking at geeky space stuff surrounded by NASA nerds would not be my first choice of weekend getaway. But I’m so glad my moaning was ignored. Houston surprised – in a hip, healthy way.

For a start, traveling with offspring can be exhausting – and not much of a vacation, as you worry about the impact their having on other guests, who you fear are judging your parenting skills with a smug wrath, but my kids were too bedazzled to be bored and therefore behaved well. Secondly, I imagined our accommodation choices would be limited to dull, grey motels out near mission control, or dull, grey box hotels made for international oilmen to rest their Stetson-wearing, weary heads. The Four Seasons Houston, in the heart of the shockingly pretty downtown district, was neither – and may be one of the most kid-friendly city hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

Kid friendly hotels

Four Seasons Knows How to Deliver a Good Spread!

Miniature guests are greeted to their choice of soft toy at check-in, before making their way to the room and receiving surely the cutest tray ever delivered by room service: a carton of milk, a chocolate cowboy hat and a personalized rainbow-sprinkle cookie in the shape of Texas. My two sugar fiends enjoyed these delights on the beanbags set up for them at a small table, decorated with welcome signs with their names on.

Back down at reception, we are told of all the child-happy activities offered every weekend: A kid’s cooking class in the hotel’s kitchen, or the chance to don a chef’s hat at the dinner table in Quattro, the hotel’s mighty fine Italian restaurant, and make a Tiramisu from scratch for the family to enjoy. Every Saturday night, family friendly movies are shown on the pool deck, complete with fresh-popped popcorn and a Willy Wonka-style buffet, and this sugar can be burnt off with hula hoop classes, taught by one of the gym’s fitness experts. We opted to head for a swim, where non-judgmental waiters brought all the kids complimentary Shirley Temples as they played Corn Hole in the sun. I swear, even J.R. Ewing would have looked like a good parent if he’d stayed here.

Four Seasons Houston Pool

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Parents at the pool suggested the best places for newbies to explore. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is the place for fledgling dinosaur hunters and archeologists; while the Downtown Aquarium is an unforgettable place to take the kids for lunch, seated as you are in the middle of a 150,000 gallon aquarium filled with everything your Finding Dory fiend will love. The Children’s Museum of Houston is rated the best in the U.S. by Parents magazine and has something mind-blowing for all ages.

But with limited time to explore, we knew we had to soar to the Space Center – so we lifted off our behinds from the pool loungers and got going. Filled with artifacts, exhibits and information, this really is an out of this world museum. Not only do you get to see where real space scientists work every day, you get to touch genuine moon rock, board a space shuttle and visit the famous mission control room from the Apollo missions. It was surprisingly moving and jaw-dropping, learning about the planets around us and the drive that pushes humankind onward into discovery. It is truly worth of at least four hours of anyone’s time. My two enjoyed their day there as much as they enjoyed their day at Disneyland. Yes, it is that engaging for children.

space ship

Houston Space Center

 

My little lady still wants to be a space cadet, even after seeing what astronauts have to eat, and my son keeps saying he wants to move to Houston (although I think he actually just wants to move into a Four Seasons suite), and I can’t wait to go back. The city was the loveliest shock, much more than oil and cowboys and traffic on sweltering days. Houston, we really do not have a problem with you.