2022 was to be the year we finally stepped out of the shadows of Covid and began traveling with a sense of peace we would not have to address each country’s ever-changing policies which was the only constant throughout this period. Well, the year started off with changes once again as our Antarctica sailing was cancelled and so were our aspirations to touch all 7 continents for the second time. Not to be one to dwell on the negative we made the best of it and as you continue reading you will see we doubled down this year on our travel. We were drinking lemonade all year as we took 8 trips, visited 5 continents, 13 countries, 25 cities, 7 islands, logged over 91,000 air miles and circled the globe 4 times!
This may be a long read but hopefully worth the time given the diversity of this year’s travels. I hope you enjoy, and, in some way, this gets you to start thinking where you want to go on your next journey.
Warmth for Winter: Anniversary & Valentine’s Day by the fire!
We combined our Anniversary and Valentine’s with a short trip visiting the lakefront Ritz-Carlton resort on Lake Oconee which is just over an hour drive outside of Atlanta. You really have the feeling you are secluded even though you are surrounded by many of the best golf courses in the state and quaint little areas to eat and just simply relax. I did struggle through time spent at the spa while my husband played golf, but someone had to do it. It was a welcomed little getaway to start the year which should have been a sign there would be more to come given the fact we enjoyed this so much.
Spring into Action: Ecuador, Galapagos Island and Costa Rica…whew!
My next adventure would find me travelling to Ecuador as a stopover on my way to my ultimate destination, the Galapagos Islands. This was a working trip, so it was packed with stays at various 5-star properties in addition to seeing all this region had to offer.
Arriving in Ecuador along with 5 other travel advisors we were picked up and taken to the Hotel Mama Cuchara. This luxurious boutique hotel was carefully renovated and rebuilt from an old Spanish colonial house into a contemporary, elegant property. We began the trip by touring Quito, the capital of Ecuador, which was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of the Incas. Sitting at an altitude of almost 2 miles, it is considered to be one of the least altered historic centers of Latin America. It is filled with beautiful monasteries and churches with their rich interiors reflecting the past with Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art. Simply breathtaking as you walk through these structures.
We left Quito and headed off to the highlands of Ecuador, like Quito was not high enough, as part of the journey to the Galapagos! Leaving the city, we made our way to the northern Andes where we were able to actually make stops on the equator as we made our way to Indian markets along the way. We were treated to a lunch by Claudia and her family who are dedicated to preserving experiences in ancestral gastronomy. We actually participated in the preparation of the meal, just as their ancestors did, which is the custom for everyone to be involved. In addition to promoting the original cuisine they shared their customs as well which did create a one-of-a-kind experience.
After a long adventurous day, we finally arrived at a stunning 17th century hacienda and working farm which has been converted into a beautiful hotel. It is owned by the former President of Ecuador, Galo Plaza Lasso and his family. Each room is appointed with exquisite antiques which only adds to the warm, luxurious experience. We were treated to delicious home-grown Andean cuisine, local dancers, and folklore singers. There is so much to do in this area but if you enjoy the outdoors whether it is hiking, biking, horseback riding along vista mountain lakes through centuries old trails then this is the stop for you.
After spending a couple of days at the Hacienda we finally boarded our plane to the Galapagos Islands, the ultimate purpose of this trip. The Galapagos Islands are situated in the Pacific Ocean some 600 miles from the South American continent. It is made up of 19 islands and the surrounding marine reserve have been called a unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’.
We stayed at The Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, which is considered exploration headquarters, a beachfront base where you can discover the wildlife of the islands aboard a private yacht while creating your own adventures on land and sea. This premier hotel allows you to feel the islands spirit and the Galapagos cruise is a perfect complement.
We were taken to the Highlands farming area of El Cascajo and visited a traditional farm in the area which was a coffee and sugar cane plantation. We learned about organic coffee, sugar cane growing, and production which included a handcrafted sugar cane mill and distillery where the farmers produced a traditional sugar cane liquor. Coffee from the Galapagos is very unique in the Arabica coffee world as I would find out. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, thirteen of the Galapagos Islands are highly protected, with only two being approved for agricultural production, San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz.
The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) is a must-see for any visitor to the Galapagos Islands. The research station, which is located on Santa Cruz Island, is famous for its scientific research and conservation efforts since its establishment in 1964. It was here that scientists developed the first captive breeding program for giant tortoises, where plans were developed for the establishment of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, and where studies on endemic species have been conducted.
Tortuga Bay, also located on Santa Cruz Island, is accessed by a series of trails of rock and boardwalks surrounded by opuntia cacti, palo santo trees, and matasarno trees. Tortuga Bay beach is famous for its expansive and unspoiled shoreline that gradually descends into the Pacific Ocean. It’s a great place to try your hand at surfing or just relax and soak in the sun with the Marine Iguanas.
A must do while visiting the islands is taking a Private Yacht cruise onboard the exclusive Vision to explore South Plaza Island & Santa Fe Island. As we arrive at the pier, we were met by a colony of sea lions as we made our way to the cliffs where one can marvel at all of the wildlife both on the ground and in the air.
Santa Fe may well be the oldest of all Galapagos Islands. Geologists estimate that it could be at least 4 to 4.5 million years old. Santa Fe Galapagos is unusual in that you’ll find creatures on this small island that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet! The underwater adventure at Santa Fe Island is a divers and snorkelers dream as you will easily spot Galapagos reef fish, sharks, and rays.
Our last stop and stay in the Galapagos would take us from the beaches to the highlands where we stayed in a secluded location, nestled on top of an extinct volcano crater at Pikaia Lodge a Relais & Châteaux member. This stunning property is a new alternative for exploring the "Last paradise on Earth" in a comfortable and truly sustainable land-based way. The concept is designed for the environmentally conscious, eco-adventure traveler, who seeks intimate contact with the unique natural legacy of the Galapagos along with all the luxurious amenities you would want after a long day of exploring. What an amazing finish to this bucket list adventure!!!
On the final leg of my trip, I caught a red eye out of Quito, Ecuador to San Jose, Costa Rica, the capital, to meet my husband to celebrate his 21st birthday 40 years later…living the Pura Vita!!! This was a quick trip, but we enjoyed everything from the Costa Rican Art Museum to The National Theater of Costa Rica to the Metropolitan Cathedral of San José to Poás volcano which is still active. What a beautiful country and such amazing people so proud of their heritage…a must stop to any visit to Central America!
Summer Sizzle: Switzerland, France, Germany & Austria, a Wedding, and a Passion Play!
This particular trip has become an exercise in patience as it centered around attending the Passion Play scheduled for 2020. We bought our tickets in 2018 and finally was able to attend in 2022! More on that later because as you will see, a lot got added to this journey that was only to be about attending the play!
Bienvenue à Genève or Welcome to Geneva! Situated along the banks of Lac Léman (also called Lake Geneva) at the foot of the Alps, Geneva is one Europe's most beautiful cities and the first stop of what will be a very busy trip. Home to the European headquarters of the United Nations, Geneva has a long history of diversity and tolerance dating back to the Protestant Reformation. We stayed in the heart of Geneva at the Hôtel de la Cigogne a Relais & Châteaux member which was originally built and managed by a Genevan family for three generations. Geneva would be our central location where we experienced some amazing day trips to Chamonix, Mont Blanc, and Annecy in France to Lavaux, Vevey, and Montreux in Switzerland.
A must-see visit for travelers is located a little over an hour outside of Geneva, to the 250-year-old mountain ski resort of Chamonix. Located in the middle of the French Alps at the base of Mont Blanc, it was home to the first winter Olympics in 1924. There are some amazing hotels and restaurants in this quaint village and of course no trip would be complete without taking a cable car up to the summit of Mont Blanc which means “white mountain” and rises up to 15,782 ft above sea level. This makes it the highest mountain in the Alps, of France and of the European Union…A genuine paradise for all those who like wide open spaces!
The next day we would head out to visit Vevey and Montreux but not before we stopped to have a picnic in the vineyards of Lavaux! Nothing is more relaxing than enjoying a summer day along Lac Léman taking in the views in an area with of over 200 vineyards… and yes, sipping a little wine!
Vevey is one of the “Pearls of the Swiss Riviera” and its lakeside location with breathtaking views of the panoramic Alps, mild climate, vineyards, and proud paddlewheel steamers cruising on the lake symbolizes this town. We did find a hidden gem and a must see when in the area that may surprise most…Chaplin’s World! It is a museum honoring Charlie Chaplin’s life in entertainment with interactive displays and memorabilia in addition to being able to walk through his former home. Even if you are not a fan or barely know who Charlie Chaplin is, a visit to this extraordinary venue is well worth the time.
We moved on to Montreux which is an authentic little piece of paradise that has attracted many artists, writers, travelers in search of beauty, tranquility, and inspiration. It’s no surprise that Charlie Chaplin chose to spend his last 25 years on the hills of Vevey, Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen, immortalized Lac Léman on the cover of the album “Made in Heaven”, Igor Stravinski composed “The Rite of Spring” in Montreux, or that Prince declared his love for Lavaux in a song named after the famous terraced vineyard, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This day trip was filled with everything and is considered to be an iconic area and is not to be missed!
Our next day trip was to the beautiful lake town of Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region of France surrounded by mountains on the edge of the Swiss border. Dubbed the “Venice of the Alps”, the winding cobblestone streets of the Vieille Ville, or old town, are lined by pastel houses and bright flower boxes that will make you fall in love with this small little French town. Nothing like taking in the atmosphere in a cozy little café enjoying a coffee and a croissant.
It goes without saying that we had a great time in Geneva and surrounding areas, but the journey continues as we hopped a train to Zurich to attend my brother’s wedding with a quick visit to the Lindt factory and a stroll through the chocolate museum. Visitors are welcomed with a towering chocolate fountain over 30ft tall and holds over 3,300 pounds of flowing chocolate. Yes, there is every kind of Lindt chocolate sample available throughout the entire museum experience in addition to an amazing Lindt store at the end of the tour. It rarely happens, but I actually had my fill of Chocolate, that day anyway! Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Zurich this trip as we had to catch a train to Munich. This is a great city, and I would recommend all travelers visiting this area to spend time touring Zurich. We have been several times before as my husband’s corporate office is located in Zurich, so we didn’t feel compelled to stay longer since we had so much left to do in Germany and Austria. The wedding and the venue were absolutely perfect by the way with gorgeous veiws!
The journey continues from Switzerland & France to Germany & Austria. Trains are such a great way of travelling throughout Europe…fast, easy, and relaxing. This part of our journey would find us using Munich as our central location to visit surrounding areas. We always find a spot in the central part of the city which allows us to enjoy the many fabulous restaurants, shopping "European" style and to easily catch trains and the tour of the day.
Our first stop outside of Munich was a visit to Eagles Nest in Obersalzberg, Germany, which still sits on a mountain peak high above Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. In one of history's weird turns, Martin Bormann's birthday present to Adolf Hitler is now a cozy restaurant with a spectacular 360-degree view of the Alps. The Eagle's Nest wasn't damaged during the war, so it looks just like it did in April of 1945. Most of the furniture was removed by the occupying forces, but the red marble fireplace that Mussolini gave to Hitler is still there, minus some pieces chipped off by souvenir hunters.
The picture-book village of Berchtesgaden, Germany, is full of tourists but extremely cute. The alpine setting is gorgeous, and the history is fascinating, so it's definitely worth the trip. The best thing to "see" here is really just to enjoy the charming, mountain-village ambiance. Stroll through the winding streets lined with pastel buildings decorated with "Luftmalerei" paintings, browse the wood carvings and Bavarian clothes in the shops, and stop at one of the many cafes with outdoor seating to enjoy Bavarian specialties and beer, or Kaffee und Kuchen (pastries).
After 4 years of waiting, the day finally came for the primary reason we were coming to Germany, to attend the Passion Play! This event, which has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status, attracts around 450,000 visitors from every corner of the globe. The Passion Play dates back to 1633, when the bubonic plague was ravaging Europe. In their desperation, the people of Oberammergau pledged to God that if he spared those still alive in the village, they would perform the Passion of Christ every 10th year forever after. For nearly 400 years now, they have honored this pledge.
My BFF came all the way to Munich from Cologne to see me on her way to Croatia…we spent a couple of days catching up and strolling the charming village of Seefeld, Tirol in Austria. This little village situated on a plateau high above Innsbruck, Seefeld is without a doubt one of, if not the, leading cross-country skiing centers in the world. Seefeld hosted the Nordic disciplines at the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics and regularly welcomes the world’s best cross-country skiers and biathlon specialists for World Cup events. The village itself is luxurious and exclusive. There are few other places in Austria with such a high density of four-star and five-star hotels as Seefeld.
As my friend headed to Croatia, we were on our way to our next stop to visit the Harburg Castle. This is one of the jewels of the German Romantic Road and simply a lovely stop on the way to Rothenburg which was our final day trip out of Munich. It is wonderfully preserved, as the castle sits high on a hill and overlooks the town for which it's named. If you want to journey back in time to the Middle Ages, take a trip to Rothenburg, Germany. There are very few places elsewhere in the world with such a collection of original buildings dating from the Middle Ages as there are in Rothenburg. As you stroll through the Old Town with its secluded squares and tucked-away corners with towers, fountains, gates, and wine taverns you really begin to think time has stood still in this little village.
Munich is described as a city with a big heart where lifestyle is a priority for its residents. Munich boasts one of the country's most beautiful squares, Marienplatz, which is in the heart of the city and home to the Old and New Town Halls. The famous town hall glockenspiel is as much a part of the city's identity as the Hofbräuhaus beer hall or the iconic Church of Our Lady with its green dome-crested towers.
Munich is a must stop for anyone visiting the country and considered to be the lifestyle capital of Germany. It is one of our favorite cities and always enjoy ourselves when we visit. This was a jammed packed trip full of contrasts as much as there were similarities. The common theme when looking back was mountains, lakes and vineyards…actually not a bad combo. To give you an idea of how much we did during this trip, I will share some statistics we were able to keep on a daily basis. In total, we walked 82.43 miles, took 195,453 steps, and burned 17,355 calories! Now you know why you don’t gain weight when you go to Europe!!!!
Fall Back to Another World: Africa, South Africa, Türkiye and the Maldives…here I come!
This was another working trip but one I had been looking forward to for some time as Africa and South Africa have been on the bucket list for years. While I have been to North Africa many times and actually lived in Tunisia, this would be my first venture to the heart of the continent and then to the southernmost region. Our initial stop would be in Johannesburg and after what could only be described as the flight that never seemed to end, we finally did land and taken to the Award-Winning Luxury Sandton Hotel. Thank goodness because I needed a little luxury. This is a beautiful property located in the heart of Johannesburg's business district and connected to the most luxurious shopping center in the city…another welcomed fringe benefit!!! Johannesburg is a young city with an incredible history and legacy.
After a couple of days roaming around Johannesburg, we took off for Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and the lavish Palm River Hotel located along the banks of the iconic Zambezi River. Upon arrival, we were treated to the Upper Zambezi River Cruise which is a wonderful way to soak up the atmosphere of this magnificent river with its lush vegetation, beautiful scenery, and a variety of wildlife. Going on at least one cruise on the Zambezi River is an absolute must for every visitor to Victoria Falls.
Victoria Falls presents a spectacular sight of breathtaking beauty and grandeur on the Zambezi River, forming the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It was described by the Kololo tribe living in the area in the 1800s as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ – ‘The Smoke that Thunders’. In more modern terms Victoria Falls is known as the greatest curtain of falling water in the world and should be on everyone’s itinerary traveling to the region.
We visited the Stanley & Livingstone Lodge & Private Game Reserve for high tea as a break for our search for the Black Rhino. This property combines luxury and personalization that only a contemporary boutique hotel can offer. It is located on a private game preserve in the vicinity of Victoria falls which offers adventure at your doorstep and a quiet place when needed. Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, and our guide Behky simply was amazing and even assisted us crossing the border to Zambia where we took a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls.
We would later take a flight from Zambia to Kruger National Park which has over 7,700 miles of diversity and is considered to be the best wildlife experience in Africa. We took Game-drives early in the morning and late in the afternoon to view the wildlife which was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The first day they said we would venture out to see the big 5 and I thought we were visiting Gucci, Versace, Chanel, Hermes & Bulgari! LOL…just kidding. I was quickly brought back to reality when we loaded up into the safari jeeps as we headed out to see Elephants, Lions, Rhinos, Leopards, and African Buffalo. Words just cannot adequately describe the scene at a watering hole or to see herds of Impala’s and Zebras grazing and running across the plains…AMAZING!!!
At the end of each day, we were fortunate enough to come back to our unique luxury accommodations at Kruger Shalati which may simply be the coolest hotel in the world as it is a train that has been renovated and has been permanently parked on a bridge inside the park. The views are incredible and the rooms themselves are so comfortable and luxurious. The Train on the Bridge now sits permanently stationed on the Selati Bridge hovering above the Sabie River. Inside the train, we were greeted with glass-walled rooms so we could take in the expansive views all day long. The train also comes complete with its own deck and pool so guests can safely swim high above the crocodiles, hippos, buffalos, and elephants swimming in the river below.
After a few days roughing it in the bush, we hopped a plane to Cape Town where we proceeded to Franschhoek. This area is famous for its superb local cuisine and exceptional wines. We enjoyed wine tastings at the Waterford Estate and lunch at Delaire Graff Estate which is the Jewel of the Cape Winelands. Delaire Graff has transformed an extraordinary natural setting into a world-class destination for wine, art, cuisine, and escape from the everyday. La Cotte Farm which is just a stone’s throw from the charming village of Franschhoek offers close proximity to the fun and bustle of the main street with all the quiet, privacy and rural charm of a working wine farm which dates back to 1698 and was our home for few nights.
Back to Cape Town for the last part of the trip and a visit to the Cape of Good Hope. This was named by Portugal's King John II this area has captured the imagination of European sailors such as Dias who first named it the Cape of Storms in 1488 and later in 1580 Sir Francis Drake called it the "The Fairest Cape in all the World". Situated at the southwestern tip of Africa, the Cape Point Nature Reserve is one of the most pristine and unspoiled places on earth. Boulders Beach Penguin Sanctuary is an incredible way to see and experience the colonies of African Penguins.
After a little adventure, it was off to the Twelve Apostles Hotel for high tea! This gorgeous property is set on the slopes of the Table Mountain National Park, just yards away from the Atlantic Ocean. This Red Carnation award-winning property offers all the serenity and privacy of a country hotel, but is just minutes from the vibrant heart of Cape Town.
Cape Town locals are fond of Table Mountain that stands over their city… and with good reason! It was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2011. It’s hard to imagine, but the mountain’s distinctive flat top – an almost 2-mile level plateau – was once the bottom of a valley! Cape Town itself is a modern, vibrant, cosmopolitan city surrounded by nature. The Mother City as it is known has beautiful beaches, stunning biodiversity, award-winning food and wine, and sheer variety of experiences to offer any traveler. No trip to Cape Town would be complete without a stay at Cape Grace Hotel a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. It is situated on a private quay between Cape Town’s bustling waterfront and the tranquil yacht marina. There is absolutely no better position to absorb the natural beauty of this magnificent city and to experience the very essence of Cape Town living at its best. What better way to finish this 2nd bucket list adventure with a lunch and a view!!!
Busy doesn’t adequately describe my schedule as less than a week from returning from Africa, I was off to another working trip to Türkiye and the Maldives. From the minute we stepped on the Dreamliner in Atlanta, we enjoyed the award-winning business class on Turkish Air, the amazing Istanbul airport, 5-star business lounge, luxury accommodations in the Maldives and Istanbul, where we were simply treated like royalty and felt very special! The water villa accommodations at the Heritance Aarah in the Maldives and the residential suite at the Raffles Istanbul were nothing short of fantastic. It is exactly as you see in pictures and what you would expect when travelling this far! We enjoyed all of the local fare and top-notch service combined with making new friends for life. Truly a once in a lifetime experience!
Istanbul is a city full of charm, where the past meets the present. Spread across two continents and between two seas, Istanbul is a city of empires past. The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Galata Tower are just some of the many historic structures scattered throughout the city. That’s why I never mind coming back here over and over again!
The trip was amazing, but I was looking forward to heading back to Atlanta, where I met my husband to attend a conference in Park City, Utah while he functions as my guide as I am not really sure if I am coming or going. Ohhhh my gosh…I just woke up…I’m in Utah!!! How did I get here…when did I get here? The only thing I recognize is my husband at this point as I have travelled through so many times zones I am starting to go backwards.
While I was attending the conference, we were able to enjoy a stay at the Montage Deer Valley which provides unrivaled ski-in / ski-out access to one of America’s premier ski resorts. We also took advantage after the conference to stay and experience the Waldorf Park City. Nestled among the peaks of the Wasatch Mountains, you’ll find the only luxury hotel with slope-side access to Park City Mountain, the largest ski resort in the United States. Ride the gondola, steps from the door to a full day of mountain thrills before warming up by the fireplace in your cozy quarters.
Winter Again: Take a deep breath in Riviera Maya!
Last trip of the year and it was simply to go someplace warm, sit on the beach and do absolutely nothing! I can’t think of a better place to accomplish this than Riviera Maya, Mexico. Sometimes you just have to go someplace that doesn’t require effort and or thought about anything other than what am I going to eat at my next meal! This was a welcomed relief and actually got to enjoy several World Cup matches. One of the best treats on this trip was watching Argentina play Croatia with a crowd of Argentinians!!! This redefines the term energy and what a blast, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out their sportsmanship! While a Croatian player was coming off the pitch, they all stood up and clapped for their opponent, never seen anything like it!
It is always great to get home, and this was a very busy travel year. Time to catch my breath and start preparing for next years adventures. I always think the next year could never out do the previous, but I am always shocked at the outcome. That is the beauty of travel and the experiences you gain as they are never the same. Until next year!