Hot or Chill
Find the destinations of your dreams with these picks from fellow Fairfielders
Cinque Terre: Italy
Nancy and Duncan McCuaig
Nancy had her first taste of Italy’s delicious allure during a whirlwind tour of its scenic Amalfi Coast to celebrate a close friend’s fortieth birthday. So when she had her own significant milestone to toast in 2012, she wanted to discover even more.
With their teenage daughters happily bunking at sleepaway camp, Nancy and her husband, Duncan, jetted off to Florence to explore the city’s magnificent art, architecture and culture. And that was all wonderful.
But it was a detour about three hours away to the Italian Riviera settlements of Cinque Terre (Five Lands) where Nancy really fell in amore. For the small cluster of five sister villages tucked in the remarkably unspoiled region of seaside terraced vineyards and hillside footpaths struck Nancy as “among the most naturally beautiful, completely romantic places I’ve ever been.”
While travel bloggers love to debate the relative charms of Amalfi’s coastline and Cinque Terre, Nancy gives her nod to the latter, if only for its stunningly compact accessibility. “It’s wonderful for walking. If you didn’t want to, you wouldn’t have to get in a car. We could have hiked and hiked,” she says.
Nancy and Duncan followed their pedestrian instincts to traverse the Via dell’Amore or Lover’s Walk. The UNESCO World Heritage site links the quaint villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola via a narrow footpath overlooking the Riviera. Legend has it, smitten boys and girls from the two towns used the pathway to rendezvous. And who could blame them with views Nancy describes as “completely breathtaking.”
Of course, while the coastal views from so many Cinque Terre vantage points are spectacular, seeing things up close is even better, which is why the couple’s boat excursion to the elevated, seaside Ristorante Belforte in Vernazza was the culinary highpoint of their stay. “We were so lucky that the owner treated us to one of the best tables, right over the water,” Nancy says. Because the Liguria region is famous for its pesto, the plates the couple tucked into were sublime. “Absolutely the best I’ve ever had—this decadent mix of cream and pesto; completely delicious.” So too was fresh-from-the-sea grilled fish and the decadent gelatos they enjoyed at a quaint scoop shop. Normally not one to indulge, fitness enthusiast Nancy adds, “We walked a lot, so we didn’t care about the calories. We were there to celebrate!”
As for accommodations, Nancy suggests a boutique-style bed and breakfast that speaks to the quaintness of the region. She and Duncan recommend Avventure Bellissime, the semi-private small group tour they booked out of Florence. Their guide made their Cinque Terre experience more special by being so “friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.”
If You Go: Stock up on the incredible olive oil. “I stuffed my suitcase with carefully wrapped bottles. It’s just better there than anything you can get here,” says Nancy.
Crested Butte: Colorado
Kara and Bryan Gilmour
Known as America’s “last great ski town,” the allure of tiny Crested Butte is its exceptional Rocky Mountains’ slopes paired with the rustic vibe of a hip downtown that resembles a cowboy Western movie set.
Yet what’s so appealing about the hamlet, famous for its skiing and world-class mountain biking is its authenticity. It’s no fabricated movie set, but the real sporty deal.
Native Fairfielder Kara (Foster) Gilmour and her husband, Bryan, both CIA trained chefs, first discovered the former coal-mining town when their culinary careers lured them to the mountain in 2008. For Bryan, a skier, Crested Butte offered a chance for adventure on the mountain and in the kitchen as he helped launch Soupcon, Chef Jason Vernon’s acclaimed nine-table eatery nestled in a refurbished miner’s cabin in a downtown alley. Kara, meanwhile, took the dessert shift, working for a nearby gourmet chocolate emporium.
Although it’s a different pace from Fairfield County (and the couple eventually returned here for new opportunities), they remain sweet on Crested Butte and continue to recommend it enthusiastically as a get-away destination to outdoors enthusiasts.
“What people love about Crested Butte is that it isn’t flashy. There are really almost no chain restaurants or stores,” says Kara. “You could easily imagine a gunfight erupting or a stagecoach stopping right outside the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, where I worked.” (Try the RMCF’s homemade peanut butter cups.)
Indeed, Kara says Elk Avenue, CB’s main drag, epitomizes the down-home appeal of the town, which boasts fewer than 1,500 year-round residents. “Walk into any store or restaurant and they treat you like one of their own,” says Kara. “Since it is so small, if you stay for more than a day or two, you’ll probably start recognizing people.”
Bryan, now the executive chef at restaurant 121 at Oxford Airport, says skiing Mount Crested Butte is so enticing because of its quiet beauty and varied terrain, perfect for skiers of all abilities. “You could go to Aspen two hours away and fight the long lift lines and crowded trails or head to Crested Butte for a skiing experience that is so special,” he says.
As for the amenities, Kara suggests bunking in town at a bed and breakfast to fully appreciate CB’s homespun warmth. If you want digs closer to the slopes, book into the Crested Butte Mountain Resort, a picturesque lodge at 6the base of Mount Crested Butte.
If You Go: Consider an off-season stay, too. Crested Butte is a true mountain-biking paradise and “is just as beautiful in the summer as it is in the winter,” says Kara.
Nick and Tracy Kolarich
Before Croatia’s coastline was consistently getting top billing on lists of the world’s hottest beaches, Nick Kolarich was the local expert on its sunny charms. A first-generation Croatian-American, Nick has spent countless summers vacationing in his parents’ ancestral homeland and is a one-man insider’s guide on what to see and do there. “I love suggesting Croatia to my [non-Croatian] friends because they give it the best possible compliment—they always want to return,” says Nick. “There are other places in Europe that may still get more buzz, like Ibiza, but Croatia’s beaches are less crowded, and I may sound biased, but really more beautiful.” His suggested itinerary–one he has enjoyed with his young family—begins with flying into the capital of Zagreb for a day of exploring historical sites. Next, head south for Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which beckons international tourists for its stunning waterfalls, crystal clear, shallow lakes and majestic hiking. “It shouldn’t be missed,” he says. Then make way for the sizzling southern beaches. Which one? “The options are limitless,” says Nick.
History buffs may want to pair a beach getaway with a land base in the southern coastal city of Dubrovnik. Nick’s wife, Tracy, notes that fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will revel in the ancient city that is backdrop for the fictional King’s Landing. Try lunch at Restotran Nautika for its panoramic coastal view.
Dubrovnik is also one of several southern gateways to Croatia’s incredible islands—literally scores and scores of them—that dot the coastline. Big islands, such as posh Hvar, have become a mecca for celebrities (think Brad Pitt, David Beckham and Bill Gates) because of their laid-back beauty. Nick’s tip: Book the exquisite Amfora Grand Beach Resort if luxury (and celebrity spotting) is on your island-hopping agenda.
“Because there are so many islands, Croatia is a boaters’ paradise. If you love to sail, this is the place to rent a boat to sail yourself or charter with a crew,” says Nick. The Kolarich clan has been lucky enough to explore from the deck of the Fortuna (Fortuna-sail-Croatia.com), a luxury yacht that features one of the most experienced crews in Southern Dalmatia. “One thing a lot of European tourists love to do is just have a boat drop them off somewhere for the day. You can literally have your own island.”
The best part of any Croatian travel experience is communing with the tiny country’s convivial people, who seem to live by a credo that helping guests enjoy their stay is “Nema Problema,” or “No problem.” Tracy says, “They are so warm, so generous and will do anything to make you feel welcome.”
If You Go: Indulge in Croatian wines, plum brandy, grilled lobster and chopped octopus salads. Tracy says the organic vegetables, cheeses and yeasty dough yield “some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, and I’m Italian!”
Polar Bear Migration, Churchill: Manitoba
The polar bear migration season is precariously short; a few scant weeks in October and November that mark the critical period when these majestic creatures lumber toward the seal-rich waters of Canada’s Hudson Bay to nourish themselves for the long winter. The perfect place to see this natural spectacle is in Churchill, Manitoba, just 500 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
Jennifer Kelly, a Fairfielder, had the amazingly rare chance to venture to that distant locale to witness the environmentally threatened creatures in their natural habitat with Norwalk-based Tauck Tours’ Polar Bear Adventure. She describes the “once in a lifetime trip” as “something I could never replicate on my own.”
The six-day tour was led by Tauck’s expert guides and involved special vehicles, which transport tourists through the Arctic tundra safari-style. The vans feature large, open-air platforms (in addition to warm and comfy interiors) that allow expedition participants to get dramatically (but safely) close to the sometimes curious bears.
“If people stay super quiet and the engine is turned off, the bears will sometimes come close and even put their paws on the vehicle to get a closer look at their visitors,” Jennifer explains. “It’s not something that happens all the time, but when it does, it’s thrilling.” (And what a photo opportunity.)
Of course, guests aren’t allowed to leave the vehicle because of the potential dangers, but Jennifer says one thrill of her adventure was spying protective mama bears hovering over their cubs as they lured them to the water for a meal. A moment not to be missed, so pack binoculars. Note, the Manitoba polar bear trip is part of Earth Journeys, Tauck’s just-announced collaboration with the nature documentary filmmakers at BBC Earth.
Beyond several remarkable days spent watching the bears, Jennifer also got to try exhilarating dog sledding (“My first time!”) and meet with First Nation people who regaled her and her tour companions with stories of the significance of the polar bears in their lives and those of their ancestors.
While it can get bitterly cold spoo close to the Arctic Circle, Jennifer’s accommodations were anything but chilly. Tauck’s travelers check into the family-owned Lazy Bear Lodge, a cozy log-cabin-style inn Jennifer describes as “rustic but perfectly ideal given the surroundings.” The lodge is noteworthy for an accommodating, knowledgeable staff that Jennifer says “made us feel like family the moment we walked in the door.”
Jennifer says the trip would be a remarkable educational experience for environmentally minded kids whose parents don’t mind them missing school (the migration doesn’t coincide with traditional school vacations).
But what’s the harm when nature’s incredible classroom is right outside their log cabin door?
If You Go: Prepare for an even more enlightening adventure. Tauck Tours recently announced the Polar Bear Adventure is one of several trips it will now host in collaboration with the knowledgeable team at BBC Earth.
The Boulders: Arizona
John and Lynn Shavinsky
Because John is a pilot and Lynn an inveterate explorer, the couple has taken many memorable and unique trips, often content to move on to the next interesting destination.
One place that’s lured them for repeat visits is The Boulders, the desert oasis Waldorf Astoria resort in aptly named Carefree, Arizona. It offers a luxury getaway that deftly mixes the romanticism of the American Southwest with all the extra amenities of a top-shelf resort.
John, an executive in the jet-leasing industry, first discovered The Boulders at a business conference and was immediately impressed by how different this venue was from your typical tropical island. Not that there’s anything wrong with tropical islands, “but this is just so different,” he explains.
Especially noteworthy are its casitas, townhouse-style suites nestled into gorgeous desert walls that give visitors the feeling that they truly inhabit their surroundings. “The way they are built into the rocks blends into the environment,” says John. With amenities such as wood-burning fireplaces and big flat-screen televisions, the bunking is supremely comfortable, too.
John enjoys the two impeccably maintained golf courses, four pools, the spa, excellent food and the overall relaxed vibe. “It’s perfect for a spa, pool, good book if that’s what you want to do,” he says. “And I enjoy seeing the different wildlife—the roadrunners and even a few rattlesnakes on the golf course.” His tip for golfers: “Keep your ball on the green. You really don’t want to venture into the desert to find it.”
A doer by nature, Lynn appreciates that there’s plenty to keep her occupied. She and John have enjoyed traveling by horseback under starlight to casual open-air barbecues, sipping on chili-spiced beer at local micro-breweries and touring the desert by Jeep. Other popular options offered to resort guests include hot air balloon tours above the Sonoran Desert, Grand Canyon helicopter sightseeing and a “wild West” cattle drive along the Agua Fria River.
Lynn also recommends a day trip to nearby Scottsdale to peruse its sophisticated galleries and boutiques. “It’s not your cookie-cutter touristy stuff, which is exactly why I like it,” she says.
As for the kids, The Boulders welcomes them, but the couple suggests it may be more relaxing to bring older children and teens who will respect the spa-like environment (no rambunctious water parks here) and truly appreciate desert exploration. “What they [her boys] liked was the cowboy hats, boots and the spurs everyone wears,” says Lynn. They also enjoyed the “towering Redwoods and cactus everywhere” in Saguaro National Park and a day trip to the mining ghost town in the Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix. “It’s so different from Fairfield or any island they’ve ever been to,” says Lynn. Which is exactly the idea.
If You Go: Take advantage of the excellent rock climbing clinics offered through the on-the-premises Waldorf Astoria spa.