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Dear ActiveTravels Members,
Let's be completely transparent here. Shit happens! Am I right? You can do your best to plan out every detail. You can ponder and prepare for all the what ifs and the what then questions. My favorite, you can keep yourself up at night worrying about everything. In the end, though, shit happens anyway!
From my chair, believe me, I've seen it all. From weather events like snow storms that curtail the best laid plans and volcanic eruptions that delay planes for days, to a terrorist act that kept one family from going to Barcelona a few years back.
This year alone, I've assisted our members countless times. For example, one member on the stunning island of Phukhet, off mainland Thailand, got in a motorcycle accident and broke his clavicle and some ribs. We started a claim with his insurance and they airlifted him home to safety. Another family were to meet their kids in Atlanta to fly together to Costa Rica. However, the kids' flight was delayed so they never met up in Atlanta. Steve and our Costa Rica ground operator were on it. Steve scheduled a separate transfer pickup for the kids when they arrived at 2am to bring them to their hotel. Now we have a family of 12 ready to take a cruise together in Europe this summer but the matriarch of the family sadly just broke her leg. As this lady told me on the phone this week, "Well, life just throws you little challenges along the way." And, that is the truth.
There's three things that I've learned from the art of traveling. First is
you have to be flexible. My sister and I just went to see Alvin Ailey last night. Those dancers undulate their bodies, stretch and flow with the music and perform herculean movements. Those skills, both literally and figuratively, are essential for travelers! When planes are delayed, when seats are uncomfortable, when transfers don't arrive on time, and when you arrive but your luggage doesn't, being flexible is key. There are so many moving parts involved with travel that inevitably shit happens!
Second thing I've learned is to
buy travel insurance! It's worth every penny for peace of mind and because you just never know. It will cover you for injuries and illnesses that prevent or interrupt your trip not just for you and your traveling companions but for your immediate family (parents, kids, spouses at home) who are not traveling with you as well. Not to mention, it will cover if your plane cancels or is delayed over 5 hours, it will help with medical care on the ground, if your baggage doesn't arrive and on an on. Worth every penny!
Third thing is
use your travel advisor! You've hired us and have entrusted us with your precious vacations. We want more than anything for your trips to go smoothly. We watch your flights, we confirm that your hotels are ready for you upon your arrival, and we make sure your tour guides and transfers will be there waiting for you. We want you to have an amazing vacation with as little chaos as possible! We try to be proactive if we see weather or issues that could interrupt your plans. Most importantly if something arises, we have your back. Please remember that!
Please read on for Steve's On the Road feature from our fantastic trip to Spain, his piece on a quick getaway to Montreal, and a great promotion from Relais and Chateaux and a pre-opening offer from Equinox Hotel in New York.
Happy reading and, of course,
Lisa & Steve
News from the Road:
In late March, Lisa and I headed off to Spain to visit our daughter, Melanie, who was studying in Barcelona. We also stopped in Granada, Ronda, Seville to see our nephew, Micah, and Madrid. In Barcelona, we stayed in the heart of the Gothic Quarter at the Hotel Neri. The bed was incredibly comfortable, especially after long days of sightseeing, and Lisa especially enjoyed the outdoor tub. The highlight, however, was breakfast, where we would dine on our perfectly poached eggs and look out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the many families dropping off their young children at the school behind us. Kids would arrive hand-in-hand with grandparents, on the front of bikes with mom and dad, and holding onto dogs far larger than them. It was a wonderful voyeuristic look into the lives of families in Barcelona.
Strolling the narrow streets, we would stumble upon opera singers belting out "Ave Maria" from behind the historic cathedral, art students selling their impressive wares at art fairs, and a hole-in-the-wall bakery where the guy made the strongest and best café con leche
on the trip. So good, in fact, that we went back three afternoons in a row. Melanie made reservations at her
favorite restaurants in town, all within easy walking distance of Hotel N
eri. They included the tapas found at La Luna, and sublime sushi and sangria at
. Friends in Barcelona also suggested another winning choice, Elsa y Fred, though it's hard to go astray in this foodie destination.
Our days in Barcelona were spent at the Picasso and Miro Art Museums, and, of course, viewing Gaudi's masterpiece, Sagrada Familia. Still under construction for over a century, there is hope that this sensational church will finally be complete in 2026 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. The interior is just as magical as the exterior, with twisting columns that climb to the arching ceiling. Another highlight was the 40-minute tour of the concert hall Palau de la Música Catalana, designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the founder of the Catalan Modernism movement. One look at the stunning ceiling and its floral motif, dotted with roses, and you can't help but be impressed.
After an hour flight from Barcelona, we arrived in the peaceful mountainside city of Granada. We stayed at Hotel Palacio de Santa Paula, a Marriott Autograph Collection property. Nondescript from the outside, once we entered our superior room with a towering wooden ribbed ceiling and peered out onto the courtyard of this former 16th-century convent, you realize its charm. Smack dab in the center of Granada, the hotel was ideally located for seeing the sights. We strolled the Romantic Road,
Carrera del Darro, a narrow cobblestone street alongside the river, lined with tapas bars, boutique shops, and acoustic guitarists. Then we climbed the hillside past the blooming wisteria into the upscale neighborhood of Albaicín, where we had cervezas at El Huerto de Juan Ranas overlooking the buildings of the Alhambra and the snowcapped peaks in the distance. It was such a magical spot that we returned to this outdoor patio the next day to watch the sunset.
The following morning we took a 3-hour tour of the Alhambra with Antonio, a guide that works with one of our preferred ground operators in Spain, Madrid & Beyond. Not only did Antonio grow up playing at the Alhambra when there were few visitors, he has led more 1200 private tours of this magnificent Moorish palace the past 15 years. He knew every nook and cranny of the buildings, including graffiti from a 16th-century friar found behind a column, to translating every Arabic saying. And, wow, is there a lot of Islamic calligraphy on the walls along with the famous symmetric tiles, the Moorish arches, and fascinating ceilings that looks like bird's nests from a distance. Add gardens in early spring bloom with irises, pools of water reflecting the arches and you have a dazzling aesthetic well worth the effort to get here. We
soaked up all the history, then soaked up the octopus and fried calamari with fresh bread at Los Diamantes at the bottom of the hill. Perfect!
All it takes is one glance at the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, especially when the clock tower is lit up at night, to realize that Seville is magical. Built along the river, Seville flourished in the 1500s and the 1600s, when gold and other wealth from South America arrived on its shores. It's a wonderful city to bike, as we did on a 3-hour ride with SeebyBike's Ivan, a recent graduate of art history from the city's large university. Ivan provided a great overview of Seville as we crossed the river into the historic neighborhood of Triana, continuing downtown on bike paths to
to see the roses, lilies, and peonies in bloom. At nearby Plaza de Espana, flamenco dancers and singers were performing while rowboats fought for space on the manmade canal. Afterwards, we grabbed lunch at one of Ivan's favorite spots in the city for tapas, Baratillo, known for their delicious pork cheeks, grilled artichokes, and roasted chick peas.
We loved our penthouse room at Corral del Rey, a boutique property in the old quarter of Seville, where rooms are located inside a former 17th-century estate. We had two large outdoor patios with views overlooking the Gothic Cathedral, plunge pool, bath built for 2, fantastic shower, and a heavenly mattress. It's no surprise it was our favorite hotel of our entire stay in Spain. We took full advantage of the room, polishing off a bottle of Tempranillo with our nephew, Micah, on our terrace before strolling over to a hole-in-the-wall tapas joint with outdoor tables, Estrella. The place is popular with flamenco dancers, guitarists, and singers who perform at the nearby Museo del Baile Flamenco, as we would soon find out when seeing an hourlong flamenco show. The guy I just met at the bar was the guitarist for the show, and wow, was he good, along with two soulful singers, and three incredibly talented flamenco dancers. We made the wise move of booking the VIP show, where only two rows of audience view the show in an intimate setting inside a former wine cellar. The performance was so moving that I looked over at Lisa and saw tears rolling down her cheek.
Our final stop was Madrid, where we feasted on art at the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Reina Sofía. We also devoured our fair share of tapas. We met Marcy Forman, co-owner of Valesa Cultural Services, another one of our preferred ground operators for clients headed to Spain, at the lobby of our hotel, Gran Hotel Inglés. Marcy, an American from Connecticut, has lived in Madrid for over 20 years and one of her favorite things to do is bring friends on an authentic Madrid tapas crawl.
We started at Casa Toni, known for its crispy lamb tripe, an older specialty that's hard to find in town these days. After downing the tender meat, we strolled around the corner to my favorite stop of the night, Casa del Abuelo, known for their tasty garlic shrimp. The dish comes out sizzling with a hefty chunk of bread, best paired with a short glass of sweet wine. Then it was off to La Campana, known for its fried calamari served in a large bun, bocadilla style. Next stop, the splashy Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid's main public market, serving everything your heart desires, from acorn-fed Iberian ham to razor clams to fried croquettes, all washed down with sangria or cerveza.
Our final stop was Chocolateria San Gines, in operation since 1894 and known for only one item, fresh out of the oven churros. Order a half-dozen, thin or fat, and it's served with a steaming hot coffee cup of chocolate that many customers drink after dipping the churros. We had so much fun with Marcy that we took our daughter, Melanie, on the exact same tour the next night.
Thinking of heading to Spain? ActiveTravels is here to help!
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Stay 4 nights, Pay for 3
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based on the same holistic philosophy as their fitness clubs, will open in Hudson Yards neighborhood on Manhattan's West side. Their 212 rooms offer dark, peaceful oases for better sleep and their fitness club on property open 24/7 allows th
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Plus the Virtuoso Amenities for 2019:
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For Suite bookings with a 2 night stay or longer:
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today and we'll check pricing and availability.
Tried & True Travel Tips:
Taking Advantage of DayTrip
We were picked up promptly at 9 am in Granada by Damir, a driver and guide for a company we've been working with more and more in Europe, Daytrip. We could have rented our own car and made the 3-hour trek from Granada to Seville, but it's so much more relaxing to have someone else drive, especially when you want to stop and visit another town along the way.
Two hours later, after sitting in the back of a comfortable Mercedes sedan and peering out at the rolling hills and mountains of this bucolic region of Spain, we arrived in Ronda. Damir guided us around the town, walking along the edge of the famous gorge, touring the oldest bullring in Spain, the one Hemingway wrote about when he lived here (it's also the town where Orson Welles retired and died), and the historic Moorish settlement at the bottom of the hill. After a lunch of tapas, we arrived in Seville around 4 pm. It ended up being one of the most relaxing days of the trip. Daytrip is now expanding to Asia and the Middle East. It's a wonderful way to connect the dots between destinations, while stopping at off-the-beaten track locales.
Montreal was the first city in North America to introduce a bike sharing program. Grab one of the durable 3-speed bikes at any of the 300 self-service Bixi stations, pay the daily fee, and leave it at any other station in the city. A good ride is along the Lachine Canal past the old mills, warehouses, and grain elevators that line this historic waterway. Stop for picnic fare at the large food market,
, where the French appeal is at its finest. Boulangeries sell fresh-baked baguettes, tarts, and pain au chocolat, fromageries showcase their selection of creamy Quebec-made cheeses, and butcheries feature assorted pates and sausages. If you care to stroll, walk
along the cobblestones of the Old City to find creperies, bistros, and stylish boutique shops.
One of the most unique sites in town is the Insectarium, housed in the back of the resplendent
. Walk inside to see tarantulas, scorpions, and the massive flying goliath beetle that thankfully lives far away in Cameroon.
Go in summer when the Botanical Garden is in full bloom and you can smell the pleasant English lavender and touch th e velvety glory bush at the Courtyard of the Senses. This is also the time of year when bins of fruit overflow with blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries at the food markets.
hotel will feature 169 rooms and suites, acclaimed
Chef Marcus Samuelsson
's first restaurant in Canada,
, a 24-hour fitness center, sky-lit indoor swimming pool, and spa. Please let
know you're headed to Montreal and we'll check hotel availability and design our patented Dream Day Itinerary.