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Dear ActiveTravels Members,
We know you're all busy with finding that perfect gift, holiday parties, entertaining and preparing for your travels. However, we ask you to take a moment, get a steamy cup of coffee or tea and indulge yourself in some great reading material! Yes, we're tooting our own horn but we take a lot of time to bring you what we hope is inspiring content. If you haven't subscribed already, please sign up for Steve's blog. He was a pioneer in the travel blogging space and has been writing a daily column for 9 years now! And, his content is searchable. If you're thinking about going anywhere from Dubai to Djibouti, it's in there! And, if it's not, just let us know and we'll get right on it.
Please read on to find out about some of our favorite last minute winter escapes, Steve's travels in Kentucky Bourbon country and our challenge to you to grab your friends and family and experience the perks (and freebies!) of group travel.
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and, as always,
Lisa & Steve
Five to Try:
Five Last Minute Winter Escapes
As we write this, we're busy booking winter getaways to all corners of the globe from South Africa to Argentina. But if you're looking for something a bit closer, where you can relax on a beach with a good thick book and soak up that sunshine, consider these easy-to-get-to locales:
running in and out of San Juan are now 100% operational. Puerto Rico desperately needs your business and there are deals on hotel rates and cruises to get you back down there. Contact ActiveTravels and we'll fill you in.
Cartagena is one of those Spanish Colonial cities that seems to be built with the traveler in mind. Behind the fortress walls are narrow streets, large plazas, 17th-century churches, and row after of charming restaurants, boutique shops, and salsa dance clubs. I loved strolling and taking photos of the colorful adobe-like homes and the lush tropical foliage like bougainvillea flowing from the terraces.
An added bonus to Cartagena is the long stretch of beach and warm waters to swim. You can choose to stay in the Old Quarter at the historic Sofitel Cartagena Santa Clara or the smaller boutique property, Movich Cartagena, with it's glorious views of
the city at night from its rooftop bar and pool. Or stay right on the beach at the Intercontinental Cartagena de Indias in the newer Bocagrande section of the city.
For those of you who tire of the beach quickly and need a heavy dose of adventure, consider Grenada. The activities one can experience on-island include hiking amidst the waterfalls in Grand Etang National Park, mountain biking, birdwatching, river tubing, and sea kayaking. It's actually the best of both worlds. Sweat all day and then spend your nights at some of the finest resorts in the Caribbean, like the spanking new Silversands (pictured right), classic Spice Island, and Calabash. All three hotels are Virtuoso properties, so we can get you great perks like room or suite upgrades on arrival, subject to availability, a daily full breakfast fro two per room, a complimentary 50-minute massage, and perhaps even a complimentary round of golf.
Not surprisingly, due to the popularity of this country, Costa Rica has been on a recent building spree. Cayuga Collection, who manages three of our most beloved properties in Costa Rica-Finca Rosa Blanca, Arenas del Mar, and Lapa Rios-recently debuted their latest resort in the lush Monteverde Cloud Forest, Senda Monteverde. Hike through the cloud forest with a naturalist to discover some of the 500 species of birdlife, and then retreat to one of the 24 spacious rooms designed with local wood and art works. Opening January 29, Nantipa is a boutique beachfront property set on the Nicoya Peninsula, on the outskirts of the surfer community of Santa Teresa.
We'll help you snag one of the 15 bungalows, all with ocean view and some with outdoor showers. An hour drive from the Liberia International Airport and not far from the Westin, is the new W at the Reserva Conchal (pictured above), which made its debut last week. The resort features 132 guest rooms and 18 suites, and all common areas, including the pool, are designated smoke-free.
Home to the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, Belize has long been popular with scuba divers who head to the island of Ambergris Cay to float among the manta rays, turtles, dolphins, and sharks. As of late, however, travelers are heading inland to hike in a rainforest full of parrots and butterflies, visit rarely seen Mayan ruins, and canoe along the Macal River. This is where you'll find a 365-acre nature preserve in the Cayo district called Chaa Creek. Mick and Lucy Fleming opened this eco-resort in Belize long before green was the magic word. They have grown over the past three decades to include two dozen bungalows with thatched roofs and a restaurant that serves grilled fish from the region. But it's the grounds, with its brightly colored flowers and a forest of tall mahoganies and cedars on a hill overlooking the river that gives the locale its deep-in-the-jungle allure.
Give us a shout at ActiveTravels and let us know how we can help you get away from the cold!
Please Go Away:
The Power in Group Travel
Here's a challenge for you. Find a dozen friends, ask your gardening group, query your fellow biking buddies, or just gather your extended family, and not only will we create a fantastic and memorable travel getaway customized to your group, but we'll get you excellent perks!
There is power in numbers. We just booked a Silversea cruise in Northern Europe for an extended family. They'll visit Copenhagen, Denmark; Talinn, Estonia; Stockholm, Sweden; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Helsinki, Finland and more on the newly refurbished Silver Spirit, a luxury ship that carries only 540 passengers and offers suites for all its guests. They have a family of twelve and when I booked them as a group, we found out that the tenth person's fare will be complimentary and each suite will receive a $300 onboard credit. Pretty sweet perks!
For a recent
Alaska cruise we booked a large group of 22 people. Not only was the fare for the 16th passenger complimentary, but each traveler received on board credits to spend as they wished and the entire group got to enjoy a private space for their very own cocktail party.
offer customized group tours. For example, if you have a group of 8 or more for a Backroads trip, you can make it private and choose your date and location. Here's a photo from our trip in Switzerland with Backroads. What fun we had!
Of course, you can choose to stay put and just explore one region with your friends or family. At the end of this month, we have a family group of 20 traveling to Barcelona for one week. They are taking over part of the lovely Relais & Chateaux
and it's entire building of apartments across the street,
, for their family reunion. They'll have their own private concierge who will attend to their every need before and during their stay, and the hotel has kindly offered a large hospitality room where the family can hang out and socialize during the week. With our partners,
Madrid and Beyond
, we have organized daily excursions to see the Gaudi sights in town, to witness the Human Towers (pictured above), a day trip to Girona and a visit to the Boqueria Market and a communal cooking class.
The best part of ActiveTravels planning your group? We'll take care of all the details! And, you can sit back and enjoy the fun of traveling with your peeps.
a call if you have a group that needs travel assistance. We're here to help!
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These monthly newsletters are only a small fraction of the content we create at ActiveTravels! Steve and Amy blog 5 times a week, often from the locales they're visiting. In fact, Steve's been blogging since 2009 on topical news in the travel industry from the latest hotel debuts to outfitters we recommend, even destinations we don't suggest. It's an honest assessment of all things travel. Subscribe to our ActiveTravels blog and get your daily dose of travel.
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Those blogs can also be found on our ActiveTravels Facebook page, where we also actively post photos of our members' trips all around the globe. This has really taken off and we want to thank all of you for sharing your favorite memories! Feel free to Like Us and then share your latest travel photos on our page of trips we've helped you plan. We're happy to post them for you, too, just contact Amy to do so.
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Last year, over 1.2 million people visited the Bluegrass State to explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, an excursion many liken to Napa Valley, though at a much higher proof. Through the rolling hills of central Kentucky, the historic distilleries of more than a dozen top-shelf bourbon brands and many more artisanal upstarts open their doors every day to those looking to experience the amber nectar that has contributed to the American drinking culture since the dawn of the republic. Bourbon production has tripled over the past 20 years, and the $8 billion industry is booming-there are now more than 50 distilleries in the state.
|Steve and Dan with the Buddha of Bourbon, Jimmy Russell
Last month, I visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with my friend, Dan, a great admirer and collector of bourbon. There is perhaps no place more emblematic of the recent surge in popularity of bourbon than our first stop, the Bardstown Bourbon Company. Friends in Louisville (a 45-minute drive) had recommended the recently opened restaurant, Bottle & Bond Kitchen and Bar, and they were right, the sweet potato gnocchi, shrimp and grits, and brisket sandwich were all mouth-
watering delicious. But one lunch with David Mandell, CEO of Bardstown Bourbon Company, and I realized this facility is a whole lot more than a restaurant. Mandell had made his money in vodka before having a vision in 2013 to create one of the largest bourbon distilleries in the state. Opened in September 2016, he now collaborates with 22 renowned brands to craft custom bourbon and whiskey in his production facility, already filled to capacity over the next 5 years. Mandell didn't stop there. He created a Culinary Institute of America-like environment where student from around the world can return home and become ambassadors of bourbon. Then he debuted Bottle & Bond Kitchen, the first restaurant at a distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, featuring more than 400 vintage American whiskeys at their Whiskey Library (curated by acclaimed whiskey writer Fred Minnick). Mandell's still not finished. He's hoping to build a first-class hotel, a luxury property needed to attract international visitors to this sleepy town.
We toured 5 distilleries during our time in Kentucky Bourbon Country. We really enjoyed the tasting at
(where we purchased coveted Old Fitzgerald 14-year-old bottles to bring home) and doing the hard hat tour at the 1930s industrial complex still in use at Buffalo Trace. Yet, it was hard to top our visit to
in serene bluegrass country. One look at those rickhouses blackened on the outside from evaporation and you can sense the history. In fact, a distillery has been operating at this same site since 1869. We had a wonderful guide, Edwina, who
showed us the whole process of making bourbon, from seeing the mash bills and fermentation tanks to walking inside one of those old rickhouses and eyeing all those barrels stacked to the ceiling. Outside, the rolling hills led to a bridge over the Kentucky River and the countryside was aflame in late fall foliage.
Then we were back at the newly revamped Visitors Center tasting the wares and meeting the Buddha of Bourbon, 84-year-old Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, who's been working at Wild Turkey the past 64 years. "When I started here, bourbon was a southern gentlemen's drink. Now just as many women are buying a bottle as men," says Jimmy. He also notes that Wild Turkey is the top selling bourbon in Japan and Australia. We talked for another 15 minutes before getting Jimmy to sign a bottle of Russell's Reserve 10 year. Definitely a highlight of our trip.
ActiveTravels is happy to design your trip to Kentucky Bourbon Country. While talking to Jimmy's son, Eddie, the current Master Distiller at Wild Turkey, we ran into a tour company called Mint Julep that takes guests on VIP tours around the region. This is especially useful on a one-day trip from Louisville, since it's not wise to drive after doing several bourbon tastings.