“I think I can, I think I can,” I chanted in my head, wiping off the sweat from my brow with one hand and switching gears with the other.
I was on an abbreviated version of the California Wine Country cycling trip through Napa Valley and Sonoma with Backroads, and I had just clocked in mile No. 16 of the day’s ride. My legs felt jelly-like, and the thought of idly imbibing a crisp chardonnay or an oaky merlot felt far more seductive than the monstrous hill looming before me.
Temptation overcame me when a sign announced that Twomey Cellars, a Calistoga winery, was around the corner. With a new friend made on the trip, I turned off the road into the winery’s parking lot, locked up my bike and strolled right in, helmet and all. Then, sidling up to the bar, I ordered a set of tastings — proper hydration can come in many forms — and several clinks later, we hit the road to ride out the day’s remaining 15 miles.
This story originally ran in the 9/26/16 issue of Explorer. Photos are by Valerie Chen.
By the time Windstar Cruises’ all-suite Star Legend disembarked in Lisbon, Portugal, the numbers had stacked up: eight ports, two sea days, 184 passengers and 1,456 opened bottles of wine.
Allow me to do the math — divided equally, that’s about 3/4 of a bottle of Europe’s finest varietals per cruiser, per day. Indulgent, perhaps, but this was no ordinary cruise. The third and final sailing of the 2016 James Beard Foundation (JBF) Culinary Collection, our itinerary from Dublin through several port cities in Spain, France and Portugal promised wine tastings, regional specialties and overall gastronomic excellence — and it delivered.
“We had done a wine cruise before, but we knew we needed to take our culinary experiences to the next level,” said Michael Sabourin, corporate executive chef for Windstar. “With an association such as JBF, we wanted to show how important food has become.”
This story originally ran in the 9/26/16 issue of TravelAge West. Photos are by Valerie Chen.
Many consider West Los Angeles’ Sawtelle neighborhood to be one of the hottest foodie hubs in the city. Here, hungry visitors can easily placate a wide variety of cravings in one walkable expanse. Though the area has certainly earned its official recognition as “Sawtelle Japantown” — for example, there are about two dozen places to get your ramen fix, not to numerous options for sushi and Japanese snacks — there are also abundant restaurants offering other types of appetizing Asian food (Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese) and non-Asian food, such as New American fare and Mexican classics.
Below are our top 16 Sawtelle restaurants — let the eating begin.
This story originally ran online for TravelAge West on 8/22/16. Photos are by Valerie Chen, Platful/Nong La and Creative Commons user daremoshiranai, respectively.
As is often the case, the world is in flux — and with it, the travel industry. However, despite being both directly and indirectly affected by natural disasters, acts of terrorism and other ill-fated events, the industry continues to adapt, rebuild and bounce back the best it can — and, ideally, reemerge stronger than before.
Happily, countries across Asia currently find themselves outside the range of today’s issues causing uneasiness in U.S. travelers. As stated by Geo Branding Center’s “How Global Voices Shape Travel Choices” December 2015 report, one in four travelers has changed vacation plans in the past year, citing reasons such as global or local safety, health concerns and security. This includes potential terrorist attacks, which, according to July 2016’s Vacation Confidence Index from Allianz Global Assistance, 86 percent of U.S. travelers are concerned about. Due to these threats, Americans are most apprehensive about traveling to the Middle East (75 percent), followed by Europe (66 percent) and Africa (63 percent).
This story originally ran as the cover story for the 8/1/16 issue of TravelAge West.
Checking into Andaz Amsterdam, Prinsengracht felt like I had flung myself down the depths of the rabbit hole. But unlike author Lewis Carroll’s fictional character Alice who finds herself in “Wonderland,” I was to explore a quirky five-star boutique hotel centrally located along the UNESCO-protected Prinsengracht canal and designed by renowned Dutch designer Marcel Wanders.
The adventure began at the posh hotel’s front entrance — which isn’t quite what it seems. I entered one door only to find more doors: They line each side of the entrance hallway, scaled down as if they had indulged in a sip of “Drink Me” shrinking potion. In the lobby, the hotel’s hosts smoothly handle check-in below chandeliers enclosed by white bells, symbolizing church bells and their welcoming chime.
If there’s a wait, guests can kick back in one of the lobby’s cheeky-red tulip chairs — a nod to the famous blooms that fill the fields outside of Amsterdam come spring. Or, if check-in coincides with the daily happy hour held from 5 to 7 p.m., a complimentary glass of wine awaits in the nearby Library room. This communal area offers art and design books as well, a reminder of the building’s former life as a 1970s public library before reopening as Andaz Amsterdam in October 2012.
This story originally ran online on 3/29/16. Photo is courtesy of Andaz Amsterdam, Prinsengracht.
When asked to sum up what makes southern Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park so special, superintendent Craig Ackerman, who has worked at the park for almost eight years, didn’t hesitate in waxing poetic.
“It’s a combination of scenery — a deep turquoise-blue lake that’s surrounded by mountains and cliffs that are up to 2,000 feet high, colored in combinations of grays, yellows, pinks and browns,” Ackerman said. “When winter comes and there isn't any wave activity on Crater Lake, the lake looks exactly like a mirror. Everything in perimeter of the lake is perfectly reflected, as well as the clouds, and that’s why it has earned its nickname ‘Mirror of Heaven.’ And if you were to see that, I think you would agree.”
It can be difficult to imagine that this tranquil mirror, or Crater Lake, lies where Mount Mazama, a steep composite volcano, once stood. Almost 8,000 years ago, the formidable volcano erupted with tremendous force. Mount Mazama also collapsed within itself to reveal a profound caldera, filled over time with rain and snowmelt. Today, Crater Lake has a maximum depth of approximately 1,943 feet and is considered to be the deepest lake in the U.S.
This story originally ran online on 5/16/16. Photo is by Creative Commons user scpgt.
As I scuffled my toes in the soft, slate-gray sand of Costa Rica’s Playa Panama in Guanacaste, it took me a moment to grasp where the rows of sun-dappled native mangroves ended and where the actual architecture of El Mangroove Hotel began. Chalk up my uncertainty to exactly what the creators of the property had intended: The hotel is so inspired by its natural environment that it appears almost camouflaged within its surroundings.
Indeed, much of the 85-room boutique Autograph Collection hotel, which spans a sprawling 17 acres, feels effortless in its thoughtful incorporation of nature. Breezy, open-air living rooms seamlessly merge indoor and outdoor spaces, and the 24-hour gym and Berth Spa feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows and are also partly alfresco. So much of what defines Costa Rica — simplicity and a laid-back ambiance — is found at the hotel.
This story originally ran in the 4/25/16 issue of TravelAge West. Photo is courtesy of El Mangroove Hotel.
Social media is a thriving digital ecosystem. And it has become a crucial part of operating a gainful business within the travel industry.
For starters, the number of social media users — or potential clients — has increased drastically over the years. According to a 2015 report from Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of American adults are on social media, up from just 7 percent in 2005. The frequency of use is staggering, too: 92 percent of teens, for example, go online daily, including 24 percent who admit they connect to the Internet “almost constantly.”
Clearly, there’s a substantial index of users on social media, and these channels have become an intrinsic part of travel, as well. Masses of consumers consult social media during travel-planning stages and then share their experiences in real time or following the trip.
Though most travel agents have created a social media presence, some have been more fruitful than others. We turned to these experts within the cross section of travel and social media to see what is and isn’t working.
This story originally ran as the cover story for the 2/1/16 issue of TravelAge West magazine.
Earth — with its fluctuating medley of geography, climate and other natural elements — has gifted its travel-hungry population with a vast playground. Though whittling down the list was a daunting task, these six unusual and all-natural places are sure to spark your clients’ appetite for adventure.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Situated within northern Arizona’s Navajo Nation is the mystical Antelope Canyon. Years of rain and wind have sculpted its undulating sandstone walls and tapered passageways, and the slot canyon is an especially magical sight to behold when sunlight beams down through high-up openings. Two sections, Upper Canyon and Lower Canyon, comprise the natural wonder.
Salar de Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia
Encompassing more than 4,000 square miles and at 12,000 feet above sea level, Salar de Uyuni owns the bragging rights of being the largest salt flat in the world. The remote salt flat was once part of Lake Minchin, a prehistoric salt lake that stretched across southwest Bolivia. Over time, the lake waned below the blistering Andean sun, and the vaporizing lake’s high salinity formed a copious layer of bright salt crust — Salar de Uyuni — in its place, along with another proximate salt flat and two smaller lakes.
Ice Caves, Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland
Got stressed-out clients who just want to chill? Come winter, direct them to Iceland’s Vatnajokull National Park, where temperatures drop and ice caves dazzle. And here, size does matter: Not only does the colossal Vatnajokull National Park cover about 5,300 square miles, it also contains southeast Iceland’s legendary Vatnajokull glacier — the largest ice cap in the country. Along the edge of the glacier are an assortment of natural ice caves, including the popular Crystal Ice Cave and the Northern Lights Ice Cave. Due to the lack of air in the ice, or the ice’s rigidity, all colors of the visible spectrum are absorbed except for blue, which is reflected instead.
This story originally ran as the cover story for the 12/07/15 issue of TravelAge West magazine.
Alarm clock be damned: It was just shy of 6 a.m. on the second day of my Lares Adventure to Machu Picchu, and I had already flung myself out of bed and laced up my hiking shoes. The opportunity to mingle with Lamay Lodge’s good-natured resident llamas before departing for Ancasmarca, a nearby archaeological site, had quickened my normally sluggish morning pace.
Unexpected, delightful details — including several run-ins with mama llama Angelica and her two kids, Cupid and Chimuela — dotted my five-day tour with Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP). Starting in Cusco, the local operator skirts the traditional Inca Trail and takes guests on the less crowded but just as rewarding Lares Trail. This road less traveled twists and turns through the Sacred Valley, lending itself to one far-flung Andean village after another.
“The trip would appeal to someone who wants to have the experience of going to Machu Picchu, but with a little more depth,” said Nadia Le Bon, sales and marketing manager for North America for MLP. “This person likes the outdoors and maybe isn’t a committed hiker, but still wants to dabble in adventure.”
This story originally ran in the 11/23/15 issue of Explorer magazine. All photos are by Valerie Chen.
Ever dream about going on safari across vast plains in faraway places such as Tanzania or Kenya? Through Malibu Wine Safaris, you can experience the next best thing: a wine safari, which swaps the costly logistics of traveling to another continent for wine — and plenty of it.
Dakota Semler, who is CEO of Malibu Wine Safaris and also the son of Ron Semler, founder of sister companies Malibu Estate Wines and Malibu Family wine, explained that the idea of Malibu Wine Safaris had stemmed from a family trip to Africa.
“We were fortunate enough to experience a few safaris in Kruger National Park in South Africa and Chobe National Park in Botswana and loved the idea of exploring the wilderness and its amazing creatures,” Dakota Semler said. “We already had exotic animals as pets on the property, so when we returned from the trip, we built a custom safari truck because we thought it would be the most fun way to interact with the animals and share the ranch.”
This story originally ran online for TravelAge West on 12/15/15. All photos are by Valerie Chen.
As our bus bounced along the rutted roads of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, Fathom president Tara Russell earnestly reiterated the new cruise line’s premise and slogan.
“This is a different kind of cruise that combines your love of travel with your desire to make a difference,” said Russell, who also serves as global impact lead for Carnival Corporation & plc.
Carnival first announced Fathom’s debut in June, along with its mission (to gather like-minded individuals to produce scalable social impact) and its maiden destination: Puerto Plata. Reactions generally have been positive, but some members of the travel industry hesitate to show approval — and instead, speculate about the true intentions of a giant conglomerate such as Carnival.
But, as I learned during a whirlwind sampler of its on-ground impact activities, Fathom is the real deal. It’s the first brand to enter the uncharted territory of social-impact cruising.
This story originally ran in the 09/28/15 issue of Explorer magazine. Photos are by Valerie Chen and courtesy of Fathom, respectively.
An engineering marvel built at the height of the Inca Empire in the 15th century, Machu Picchu is often at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. The spectacular citadel, tucked into the Andes Mountains, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
All of these lofty merits are not without reason, and witnessing Machu Picchu, its imposing archeological structure and its accompanying panoramas is a must when visiting Peru. Following are the tips I took into consideration during my trip in early August, as well as the things I wish I knew beforehand.
This story originally ran online for TravelAge West on 08/24/15. Photo is by Valerie Chen.
In Qatar, lavishness is a given. And the Middle Eastern country’s deep pockets — mostly attributed to its lucrative positioning in the natural gas and oil industries — have transformed Doha, its capital, into something of a massive construction site, with numerous infrastructure improvements underway. As a result, Doha has attracted many expat workers, a steady stream of business travelers and a rising number of individuals traveling for leisure.
Set on the city’s serene Arabian Gulf waterfront, Four Seasons Hotel Doha blends seamlessly into this local culture of business mixed with pleasure. The 232-room hotel could easily be mistaken for a royal fortress, which is no wonder, considering Spain’s Alhambra Palace inspired its architecture. The splendor continues indoors as well, with high ceilings and columns, plush rugs and a mixture of neoclassical and Middle Eastern design elements.
This story originally ran in the 08/31/15 issue of TravelAge West magazine. All photos are by Valerie Chen.