Archive for the ‘Destinations’ Category

Belize, Central America by Julie Harris

By jharris   Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Cave Tubing – Blue Hole National Park

Today we met our tour guide Omar Deras at the entrance to St. Herman’s Cave in the Blue Hole National Park.  St. Herman’s Cave is of great archaeological interest. It was used by the Maya during the Classic Period up to 2,000 years ago.  The ancient Maya believed that caves, particularly those with rivers flowing through and out of them, were entrances to the underworld, Xibalba.  We saw remains of pottery vessels which were used for the collection of Zuh uy Ha (virgin water) from driping speleothems, actively growing stalactites.  There were also charred remains of pots which were used to catch and burn blood sacrifices to the rain god Chaak during droughts.  The blood was collected during bloodletting ceremonies in which priests and elders would pierce their tongues or foreskins.  No evidence of human sacrifice has been found in this cave, unlike some others in Belize and Guatemala.  All of the pottery pieces found in the cave have been shards, since the ancient Mayans believe that it was necessary to smash sacrificial vessels to release the spirits within.  All those items are now studied by the Department of Archaeology in Belmopan.  This cave system has been carved out of limestone by the Sibun River.

We hiked up the cave, looking at the various formations and artifacts, then drifted slowly down the river for about an hour.  We didn’t see or hear another soul for the entire tubing trip.  We then hiked back up through the river to the entrance.  We completely lost track of time and space for the 2 1/2 hour expedition.  It was a jolt emerging into the tropical sunlight after so long underground.

We saw a few cave-dwelling animals during the trip, such as this short-tailed bat.  There were several species of bat flying throughout the cave during out trip.  They roost in holes, or “pots” in the ceiling carved out by their acidic urine eroding the limestone.  There was a large, active colony of cave swallows at the entrance to the cave.  There were also many camel crickets as well as their main predator, scorpion spiders or whip spiders, which are actually not spiders, but arachnids closely related to scorpions, but without the stinger.  They are harmless, despite their fierce appearance, and Omar even picked a large one up to demonstrate.  Mary was not amused.

After the tubing trip we stopped by the inland Blue Hole for a quick swim.  The Blue Hole (not to be confused with the much large and deeper oceanic Blue Hole located int the barrier reef), is a formation where the river upwells into a limestone sinkhole, then travels as a daylight river for a hundred feet or so, then dives back down into another cave system.  The hole itself is about twenty five feet deep and crystal clear.  Our visit coincided with a huge group of army ants, which livened things up.  Despite their large numbers they were very orderly, so it wasn’t too difficult to step over their trails.  John learned that they have painful stings when he decided that it would be a good idea to flick them into the Blue Hole for the waiting tilapia to snap up.  They found a red-rumped tarantula with an egg sac and forced her out of her hole.  She was still struggling to escape when we left.  It was the only time I’ve ever felt sorry for a spider.  The highlight of the stop was a large purple-crowned fairy hummingbird taking a bath in the river just below the Hole.  The emerald, white and black hummingbird repeatedly hovered right at the river surface and buzzed in the water, their form of bathing.  She then perched on a branch and preened herself.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chaa Creek and Xunantunich

Today we visited the Cayo District in the western part of Belize close to the Guatemalan border.  As we drove from the coast to the west, we were marveled by the beautiful hills and mountains rich in green dense jungle.  From the humblest of beginnings Chaa Creek Cottages has grown into a 365 acre private nature reserve offering a range of exciting, educational adventures, expeditions and cultural experiences. The Natural History Centre, Butterfly Farm, Conference Centre, Macal River Camp bungalows, Rainforest Medicine Trail, Organic Maya Farm, eco-friendly Hilltop Spa and swimming pool are linked by miles of beautiful jungle trails perfect for bird watching, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, or just strolling through a pristine rainforest. The canoes remain the most popular way to explore the river and enjoy scenic excursions into San Ignacio Town.  The Chaa Creek region has been a hub of Maya civilisation for thousands of years.   They are now internationally recognised for providing an authentic Maya experience, and already this year played host to leading Mayanist and author Dr Mark Van Stone as well as a team from National Geographic magazine. Throughout 2012 they will be offering unique Maya tours, presentations, events and activities, culminating in the grand Winter Solstice celebrations on December 21.  They offer the Reef and Rainforest Tour where you can combine a true Caribbean getaway with a Maya experience.

Lunch was served by beautiful Mayan ladies dressed in white dresses with bright floral accents.  The dishes were typical of the Latin culture.

Salbutes stuffed with pico de gallo, cabbage, and chicken.
Ceviche with plantain chips.
Chicken soup with cabbage and potatoes.

Xunantanich, located in the Cayo District is the tallest Mayan Ruin in Belize.

We made the steep, but short, climb to the top of “El Castillo.” This vantage point provides a breathtaking, 360 degree, panoramic view over the jungle canopy of the Macal, Mopan and Belize River valleys, as well as a vast area of the Guatemalan Peten District, which is only a few miles away. You will also get a close look at the restored portions of two unique stucco friezes, which appear on the east and west sides of the upper portion of the pyramid.
Located in the Cayo District in western Belize, Xunantunich is easily accessible. Most of the lodging facilities in the area offer day trips to the site, which is very popular with all tourists in the region.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Almond Beach and Iris’ Sunny Side Up

Almond Beach is a beautiful property in Hopkins, a small coastal village.  This area has not become overdeveloped and is quiet in the evenings.  Perfect for a family getaway or couple’s honeymoon.  A Garifuna population inhabits the town and these friendly people staff the resort.
These pictures give you an idea of the flora and the fauna that surrounds you.

We are staying on the top floor of this incredible villa.

These are individual cabanas located directly on the beach.

A boat dock directly in the front of the property takes you on snorkeling and fishing trips to the nearby South Water Caye and Glover’s Reef.

The view from our veranda and an iguana friend that sunbathed in front of our porch each day.

Yesterday we ate a delicious lunch at Iris’s Sunny Side Up, a small restaurant in Hopkins village.  The previous owner, Iris, started the restaurant 16 years ago with no running water or electricity.  She still lives upstairs but the restaurant is now owned by a South African woman.  She kept Iris’ name.

Lightly fried Snapper fingers with a ginger sauce and new potatoes.
Fried plantains and black beans with Chicken curry and vegetable.
Iris’s Sunny Side Up

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


On our way to Hopkins from the airport in Belize City, we stopped at the Baboon Sanctuary in the small town of Burrel Boom.  The Belizeans call the indigenous Howler Monkeys “Baboons”.  There is an area of protected land where conservationists and residents cooperate to create a wonderful habitat for the Howlers.  Residents allow the trees and vegetation to grow so the Howlers have plenty to eat.  Our guide, Robert showed us where a family of Baboons were feeding and the mother and two babies came down from the trees to eat bananas from his palm.  The mother had her hands on Mary’s head in eager anticipation of the treat.  The father was very upset and howled severely until I finally told everyone to move out.

The tree cutter ants are amazing.  They are much bigger than our ants in the states.  They travel in large groups transporting leaves from plants in the jungle to their hill.  They spit on the leaves and a fungus grows provided them a source of food.  The males have huge fangs which can be used as stitches when people get a cut in the jungle.  They create huge trails when they are foraging through the jungle.  We tried not to step in the trails.

The cashew plant is used to make cashews like the ones we eat at home.  They make wine from the fruit of the cashew tree.  It is heard to be very strong in alcohol content.  The picture below is a lovely cashew tree with people relaxing under it’s shade.

While we were on the tour, a local boy did some dirt bike stunts.  He was so cute that I couldn’t resist taking his picture.  The Belizeans are very friendly and warm people.  The official language is English, but many speak Creole and Spanish.

We finally arrived at Almond Beach in Hopkins.  This is a beautiful Spanish style property with clay tile roofs and mahogany interiors.  Upon arrival to our room, we found these swans made of towels and fresh flowers on our bed as well as on the kid’s bunkbeds. More pics of the property to come.

Disney on the ‘High Seas’

By vmastroianni   Thursday, March 29th, 2012

What cruise line could possibly think of having fireworks (yes, fireworks!) at sea, a pirate dance party on the pool deck, Captain Jack’s special appearance, a water slide flowing across both sides of the ship and even OVER the edge? Of course, it’s Disney, with the entrance of its new ship into the fleet, the ‘Disney Dream’.
The Dream welcomes guests onboard with all the latest in technology and design, but brings back the elegance and the ‘grandness’ of ships from the past with its sweeping staircases, nautical theme and colors, attention to every detail, and of course, everyone’s favorite Disney characters.
From the staff, to the food, to the amenities, Disney has gone all out in creating their beautiful new ship. The staff displays Disney’s commitment to excellent service with a friendly smile. The food is served to perfection, both in taste and in appearance, and the staterooms have all the features that one would expect when traveling at sea….and more! With the most comfortable bedding on the high seas, great bath products (H2O), iPod docks/alarm clocks, flat screen TV’s, excellent storage space, innovative WAVE phones for guest use onboard to keep in touch with the family, and the list goes on and on.
Entertainment onboard will amaze both adults and kids. With Disney characters participating in daily activities and leading the way in evening stage shows, the themes will delight adults and kids alike. Characters show up in all areas of the ship all day and night, whether you’re playing sports in the outdoor sports court, or walking to dinner through the main lobby area, they’re always entertaining and making guests smile. The stage shows are creative and colorful and will make cruisers of all ages smile: ‘The Golden Mickeys’, ‘Villians Tonight,’ and ‘Believe’ are each the beginning of a fun and festive night at sea.
A visit to the islands onboard The Dream would not be complete without a stop at Castaway Cay. The Disney-owned island offers everyone the opportunity to relax and unwind in a safe, extremely clean environment, and also explore and be active at the same time. With bike rentals and trails, a lookout tower with binoculars, watersports equipment rentals, excursions, beach bar service and food service, scavenger hunts and yoga, the choices are endless. The three beach areas (watersports, family beach, and “adults only”) everyone can find their own special place. And if you’re looking for some ‘special’ pampering, beach cabanas can be rented for the day ($499/family cabana, $399/adults only cabana). Renters are spoiled with beach butlers, food and beverage service, non-motorized watersports equipment, safe, refrigerators, towels, hammocks, and a comfortable seating area.
Disney’s Dining experience onboard is also a very unique experience. With three restaurants and ‘rotational dining’ each guest will be able to experience every dining venue onboard. The dining rooms hold surprises for all! And, of course, two specialty restaurants (Remy and Palo) serve the best French and Italian cuisine that you would expect from any 5-star restaurant.
Whether you’re a Disney-lover or not, the Disney cruise experience will not disappoint; the only thing missing is a casino, but with every other surprise that you find onboard, you may only realize this when you are returning home from the trip!

The Resort at Pelican Hill

By Honey   Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The Resort at Pelican hill in Newport Coast is about a 45 minute drive from Los Angeles International airport where I was earlier this month prior to my cruise on board the Crystal Symphony to the Mexican Riviera.

Not one but two doormen  held the doors open for me to enter the reception area  to this extravagant resort which has magnificent expansive views of the Pacific ocean. The resort is set on a bluff  , but a complimentary shuttle( a schedule is given to you when you check in) provides transportation to the beach and Crystal Cove state park which are right below. Since I had just arrived from the “deep freeze” aka The Twin cities, I decided to have lunch by the ocean at the very popular Beachcomber restaurant which serves  delicious American cuisine with breath taking views of the Newport Coastline and Catalina Island.

 The resort at Pelican Hill is designed in a dramatic Tuscan-inspired Palladio style, with stunning man made landscape  with hundreds of elegantly swaying Canary palms, age-old olive trees, exotic flowering shrubs  and rose bushes. There are 204 bungalows and 108 villas.  My bungalow had an ocean view and was over 800 square feet, with a private terrace  and was very luxuriously appointed with a gas lit Italian limestone fireplace, which I did sit by in the evening.  If you do not feel like walking to the spa or restaurants on the property a shuttle will pick you up and take you where you want to go.

I spent both  evenings before dinner at the 23,000 square foot elaborate  spa in the warm Roman soaking pool as it was too cold to be outdoors at the the circular pool— the largest of its kind in the world . The spa boutique  carries Olivina skin products and  the founder of this company, Susan Costner-Kenward, was visiting for the weekend to talk about her products which are made from olive and grape seed oil.

There are plenty of dining options at the resort.  They have an Italian restaurant called Andrea and The Grill which is a distinguished Continental room and is known for  sampling thick aged beef and fresh-caught seafood, all while enjoying sunsets over Catalina Island. There is also a gourmet delicatessen  , a poolside venue and a 37th hole (there are two golf courses hereby Tom Fazio ) at the golf club. If none of these restaurants appeal to you then there are plenty of dining options in Carona Del Mar which is less than a 10 minute drive from the resort.

I have traveled the world and seen some beautiful resorts but there was something very special about Pelican Hill.  I was not ready to leave after a couple of nights of tranquility and luxury.  Everyone is made to feel special at the beautiful Pelican resort.  A perfect place to visit for a long weekend if you are within driving distance and are looking to get away or for longer if you are flying in.

Gansevoort, Turks and Caicos Islands

By vmastroianni   Friday, September 30th, 2011

With so many beautiful islands in the Caribbean, it could be difficult to decide which one is my favorite, but in that search it’s easy to determine that Turks & Caicos Islands ranks at the top of my list. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be a guest at the new Gansevoort Hotel on Grace Bay Beach in Provo, Turks & Caicos Islands and found the hotel and the island to have the perfect blend of activity, relaxation, and fun! With beautiful Grace Bay Beach stretching for miles, amazingly clear turquoise waters, and first-class resorts, there’s nothing more one can ask for in an island destination.
I had the pleasure of staying at the fabulous new Gansevoort Hotel, which is nothing short of spectacular! From the ‘street-side’ it’s an unimposing structure that might not strike someone as a luxury resort, but once inside you quickly get that ‘vibe’ and find out just how special it is. The hotel has a small reception area that leads out to a perfectly-positioned infinity edge pool with plenty of ‘cozy’ loungers. The 91 suites are in 3 buildings that surround the pool, and the design throughout the resort and the units is “ultra-chic” and modern. What I thought was one of the nicest features of my one bedroom suite (and there were MANY!) were the full glass-panel walls of the full-size balcony, which allows for a fully unobstructed oceanview from both the bedroom and living room areas of the unit. Of course the suite was filled with great gadgets (Bose Soundock, electronic controls for window blinds, modern appliances and fixtures, 2 flat-screen TV’s), wonderful amenities, and a soaking tub in the bathroom that fills from a faucet/hole in the ceiling!
Each morning the beach crew prepared the beach beds ($25/day) and the chaise lounges & umbrellas. The beach is never crowded, and as clean as any beach can possibly be! The beach butlers are always ready to deliver your drinks and food right to your position in the sand! The pool area is never too crowded, and the seating is around the pool is very unique (island platforms within the pool itself with loungers).
Of course, a trip to Turks & Caicos Islands is never complete without a boat excursion of some sort. Our 4-hour snorkel excursion was operated by Caicos Dream Tours. Our group of 12 was picked up right on the beach by a crew of 3 on a beautiful catamaran. We had the opportunity to snorkel in 2 locations, pick up conch shells, and then stop at an unspoiled beach area called ‘Iguana Island’ where they prepared a fresh conch salad while everyone explored the area and played in the perfectly clear waters. At the end of our excursion we were dropped us off at ‘da Conch Shack’ for a casual seafood lunch. It was a great end to a perfect little ‘side trip’.
Gansevoort’s spa (Exhale) services were also top-notch. Although the spa itself is not too elaborate, the spa services were second to none! I had a 50-minute ‘Signature Masssage’ and it was the ABSOLUTE best that I have ever had! The spa is always busy, and the prices are very reasonable for a luxury 5-star resort.
For a wonderful dining experience, Bagatelle Bistro offer French Mediterranean cuisine (poolside) or you can arrange for an intimate dinner for 2 on the beach or in any special location that a guest prefers (even on one of the pool ‘islands’!). A great buffet breakfast is served in Bagatelle’s in the morning, and the Beach Bar & Grill is conveniently only a few steps away from the pool. Of course, lunch can also be served right to your seat in the sand!
Whether you’re looking for a place to unwind, or spend some quality time with someone, or even a great ‘girl’s getaway’, the Gansevoort will surely fit the bill!

It’s not what you know….it’s who you know

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

In the world of travel the difference between a travel agent and a travel specialist is that with a travel specialist, it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know……so visiting destinations and participating in training with experts from around the globe is a must.  This past week Brittany from Rebecca Recommends, a collection of luxury hotels and services in the United Kingdom, visited the office to enlighten the advisers on the many amazing possibilities available for our clients.  Experiences that you simple can not just google, experiences you can only get if you know the right people.

One of the amazing experiences is the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London.  This experience is a once-in-a-lifetime and one that the Largay Specialists have arranged for our clients. 

Enjoy this short clip about this and other amazing experiences with Brittany from Rebecca Recommends and Largay Travel President, Paul Largay, also known as Dr. Travel.

Becoming Royalty in the Berkshires at Blantyre

By Paul Largay   Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Blantrye, One of the Berkshire's Best Kept Secrets

Last weekend I had the privilege of taking a quick trip north to the quaint town of Lenox, Massachusetts where I discovered on of the true gems of New England, Blantyre. Just 120 miles West of Boston and 138 miles from New York, this magnificent 110 acre Tudor-style mansion is sure to amaze even the most discerning travelers. The overall experience could best be described as ‘ Royal family-esque’.. after all, where else are you greeted upon arrival by a smiling ‘attendant/ escort’ dressed in a stylish tux and wearing a perpetual smile the size of a full moon. The pre-dinner presentation and reception in the main hall was a wonderful introduction and precursor into what was to come. Both with respect to the service standards and cuisine, the ever present, yet non-invasive service, thoughtfully and artfully presented our dining/consumption choices and subsequently delivered them with the artistry of a ballroom waltz and the accuracy of a Swiss made time piece. Our private dining venue, (3) course gourmet dinner, and the vintage, precisely and thoughtfully paired wines made for a remarkable, memorable dining experience. Our room in the main house was both spacious and ‘historically and cosmetically appropriate’ for a facility constructed in 1904. An exquisite breakfast was served in what could best be described as a quintessential conservatory replete with fine table linens, china, and glassware (if any of the water glasses are missing, look no farther ..we took em!) that made me want to delay our departure indefinitely . The head waiter was efficient, sophisticated (as the French always seem to be!) and an engaging conversationalist.

I think the grounds and floral gardens are a reflection and extension of the attention to detail so evident within the facilities themselves. The spa was intimate and inviting and the gym properly and appropriately outfitted.

Unfortunately for me, but fortunate (and understandable) for Blantyre, the property was sold out so we were not able to see the interiors of the other accommodations but I feel confident that each was just as wonderful as ours. The one exception being the duplex suites in the spa building..candidly I would not book any of those accommodations for my clients as they are just a bit too abstract in their design and configuration..the staircase leading up to the somewhat claustrophobic sleeping area would NOT ring my clients bell..sorry but I fee I must report what I see..

So, in conclusion from the precious jewels in the Blantyre crown that I was able to see and experience my opinion is it is a wonderful (2) day country getaway venue for discriminating clients interested in a historic venue, complemented by a world class culinary and wine experience. The surrounding towns, villages, and recreational and cultural menu of activities only add to the ‘floral lure of Blantyre !!

Unfortunately after a few days back I have begrudgingly surrendered my virtual crown.. and am now back at the professional salt mine of life.. Calgon take me away again..pretty please !?:)

Bhutan – Day One – The World’s Capital of Happiness

By Paul Largay   Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Paul Largay in Bhutan with a Monk

I have always dreamed of venturing to the furthest, most exotic regions of the earth and when a chance to visit Bhutan presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.  What could be better than a country whose chief economical indicator is the GNH or the Gross National Happiness?    

As we left Delhi, we had great anticipation and a real sense of wonder for what lay ahead in Bhutan. The scene at the International terminal was much more chaotic than the domestic terminal. The airline recommendation was for coach class travelers to arrive three hours prior to departure and business class travelers to arrive two hours prior, so when we arrived and saw the scene at airport security, we quickly understood.  Had it not been for a friendly security guard taking pity on us, the flight would have left us behind and because of the limited schedule of Druk Airways (the national airline of Bhutan and ONLY carrier servicing the country) we would have been out of luck for at least (3) days.  The flight aboard Druk Airways was absolutely exceptional.  Very modern, extremely clean and incredibly friendly, as you would expect for Bhutan.  The flight to Paro took about 2 hours and is one of the most dramatic I’ve ever taken.  We paralleled the Himalayas and flew right past Mt. Everest and a number of others whose proximity and beauty made it appear as if they had been painted just for us.  The approach into Paro was not for the faint hearted flyer, since we weaved and bobbed in and out of one majestic peak after another.  After landing our guide said the compact runway was the last straight line we would see on our visit and he wasn’t kidding.  The distances between the valleys and points of interest in Bhutan are not vast and although the roads are well paved, there is one hairpin turn after another.  We travelled about ninety minutes from Paro to Thimphu and arrived at the beautiful Amankora property perched high in the hills overlooking the town.  The property is an intimate twenty room, artistically designed and engineered facility providing a world class spa and exceptional food.  Understated elegance at its best.

After a delicious lunch, we took mountain bikes into town for a city tour and were thrilled to visit a temple, handmade paper making facility and artist’s workshop, where the master painter creates many of the master pieces in the temples throughout the country. The hues and color intensities he creates in his paint colors are created from crushed rocks and is an incredibly labor intensive process.  The results were absolutely breath taking.

After only one day here in Bhutan, one quickly dismisses the significant travel distances required to witness the majestic country.  I now understand the beauty of the fact that Buddhist Religion totally encompasses the history, philosophy, and the culture of Bhutan.  From what I’ve seen thus far, this country is a great recipe for peace tranquility and happiness.

Rancho La Puerta, an oasis in Tecate Mexico

By Henya Lish-Gebeloff   Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

How does one describe Rancho La Puerta, an oasis in Tecate Mexico, a little over an hour south of San Diego- known as the finest year around climate.  I’ve known about the ranch for many, many years so when I received an invitation to be their guest I immediately said “yes”. Last year some clients spent a wonderful week at the ranch, so this opportunity would allow me to form my own opinions and comparisons to other spas I had stayed at.

Today is Wed. and I am able to reflect back, I have to tell you that I am sitting at the desk watching a bunny rabbit outside my window, I think we are having a starring contest since he is just sitting there in frozen state, I’m so lucky I just got my camera and he/she is still there.  The back drop is beautiful since the resort sits on 3,000 acres at the base of Mt. Kuchumma with rolling hills, huge olive trees and very fresh clean air, I really expect to see John Wayne on horseback trotting down from the hills.

Rancho La Puerta was founded 71 years ago are we saying “Back to Basics”, it was a bring your own tent retreat, the museum is quite a historical legend to visit. The facilities have changed but the philosophy has not, Human Health begins with healthy soil which means good food, fresh picked from the farm, organic, no commercial fertilizers and no poison sprays have ever been or are used.  The founder Edmond Szekely and his wife Deborah insisted that one of the causes of human illness was from commercial mass produced food.

Let’s begin with the food, amazing what can be done with a vegetarian diet, plus a seafood option daily. The presentation is just beautiful just like an artist’s palette, every color of the rainbow.  Every meal is better than the last, the flavors just dance on your tongue. Now if I could only afford to hire a chef when I get home.  Breakfast and lunch is served buffet style with a sit down dinner.

Days can e as active or as lazy as you wish, beginning at 6a.m., 6:15a.m. or 7a.m. are different hikes based on difficulty and length, then back to breakfast and off to classes from  Pilates, Yoga, Stretch, water exercises, meditation,  let’s see on Wed. from 9 a.m. – 4pm you had 40 choices including various lectures, jewelry design, painting. This is a camp for adults.  In the evening you might have a lecture, various authors and Dr’s.  visit the camp every week, movies, bingo with Barry, or a special gathering with Deborah Szekely age 87 who started the ranch with her husband Edmond 70 years ago.

Did I mention “ Cocina Que Conta, the cooking school and culinary center at Rancho La Puerta, what a fabulous kitchen hosting weekly visiting chefs who teach a hands on cooking experience for 15 students, best part you dine on your own creations. Right outside is a spacious organic farm so all of the ingredients are fresh picked.  You get to cook side by side with the teaching chefs.  This week we cooked with Peggy Knickerbocker who is a “James Beard Award Winning Chef”.

Before you know it you week is over but you are wanting more,  especially the spa treatments which were wonderful. Most guests that I met have been here before over a 90% repeat ratio which is amazing.  This is a wonderful get-away for a group of friends since many of the accommodations like the villa suites can sleep 4.  Each unit individually designed, most with fireplaces you can chose from Haciendas, Jr. Villas, Villa Studios and Villa suites, some of the Rancheras have fireplaces as well.  This past week was very unusual with some rain and very cool nights, what a pleasure having the fireplace, all of the units have air conditioning and heat.   There were about 6 couples, individuals, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons and friends that fly in from all over the US once a year.  I am definitely going to try and make this a once a year happening, a regrouping on life.

Bhutan – Day Two – Wonderfully Immersed in the Magnetic Charm

By Paul Largay   Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Bhutan Mountain Bike

Paul, Reenie & Kristen Enjoying a Mountain Bike Ride in Bhutan

The drama of the day built slowly as we finished our freshly cooked breakfast at Amankora, which is conveniently located in the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu.  The quality and variety of the menu items was very unexpected, but most appreciated and devoured. The anticipated day’s activities included a two hour climb to a sacred temple overlooking the valley and rushing river, followed by a mountain biking decent back into town to witness the weekly farmers market.  The market lasts for three days and is the place where all the villagers come to purchase their vegetables for the coming week.

The Bhutanese diet is based almost exclusively on vegetables and almost every recipe calls for the inclusion of red hot chili peppers.  The limited meat that the locals do consume is all imported from India, as the Buddhist religion prohibits the slaughter of any livestock.  The same is true for fish, as it is actually against the law to fish and cook anything which is caught.  After a rather difficult hike, we successfully reached the top and were rewarded with the sight of distant mountain views and a magnificent temple which we explored and were treated to an in depth history lesson in the beliefs and practices of the monks who dutifully watch over and protect the shrine.  Typically their tenure lasts for a period of three years, three months and three days.  The significance of the three is that it reminds them of the three important aspects of their existence and focus; mind,  body, and, soul.

In preparation for a sunset massage and celebratory dinner, the day’s activities were concluded by a visit to an animal preserve to view a very rare animal called a Takin, which frankly looks like a cow who has had the head of a goat grafted upon it.  This animal is rarely seen and it’s natural habitat is northern Bhutan, Tibet and the mountains of southern China.

Tomorrow we will be sad to say goodbye to the Thimphu community that has made us feel like we were long lost relatives but we have been assured by our guides that there’s more where that came from in the next valley in the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Ever onward…

Bhutan – Day Three – Wondering how the day could possibly compete with the last two days….

By Paul Largay   Saturday, February 27th, 2010
Bhutan Discovery

Kristen, Peter, Reenie & Paul Hiking in Bhutan

Our day started off with yet ANOTHER fabulous breakfast and early morning four hour hike to a sacred temple overlooking the village of Thimphu.  The weather was divine and was only exceeded by the views we had earned as a result of our assent. 

After a gourmet picnic lunch on the summit, we all gleefully headed into town to purchase a personal Bhutanese ‘dress’ to wear at what we knew were some very special upcoming events.  The madness and mayhem that ensued during the purchase at the store could have provided for some exceptional late night comedy or conversely, resulted in a life sentence in one of the local lockups….can you say Midnight Express sequel!  The locals/ merchants were obviously as happy to see us arrive as they were to see us depart. 

Peter & Paul shopping for some local wears

Peter & Paul Shopping in Town

From the store we headed out on what had to be one of the most, unique drives/transfers of my life.  To reach the next Aman property we climbed/ traversed three dramatic mountain passes for five hours which afforded us panoramic views of the snow covered Himalayas bordering both Tibet and China.  How cool!

Throughout the course of the drive, I don’t think I have EVER felt so connected and so unexpectedly at peace to such a remote, yet mysteriously inviting locale.  Upon arriving in Gadgety we celebrated our patience with a glass of fine red wine and a tour around the eith room property.  The most amazing aspect was that aside from the generator, which provided light and electricity to our hotel, the entire community and town had no electricity or running water.  We couldn’t help but think about how incredible and enhanced the star gazing would be after dinner.