From getaways

Top Tips for Summer Switzerland Vacation Trips from an Insider: Nature, Wine and Chocolate Galore!

By Andrea Verdin
Photos courtesy Switzerland Tourism

Even though we are in the middle of our summer vacation season, the Wander team cannot stop planning ahead and daydreaming about what next adventure is down the pipeline. Coming back from the Mexican Riviera, I’ve got my mind on the next big excursion, and Switzerland seems ideal for a luxurious getaway.

People around the world have been heading to the Alps for thousands of years for jaw-dropping views and amazing experiences that cannot be had elsewhere. However, there’s so much to experience, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what to do while in Switzerland.

I asked Switzerland expert Greg Witt from Alpenwild about some of the tops tours, attractions and special events that guests should make sure to include in their tours, and here’s just a glimpse of what Witt suggested. We reached out to Witt and Alpenwild because of the knowledge regarding the Alps he could provide.

“Alpenwild is the leading operator doing hiking and walking tours in the Alps. Our most popular trip is the Haute Route, a legendary trek through the highest peaks in the Alps linking Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn,” said Witt. “It’s the most scenic trek in Europe. It connects the historic mountain resorts of Chamonix France and Zermatt Switzerland. Along the way we traverse ancient trade routes, pass immense glaciers, skirt scenic alpine lakes, and come within view of the 14 highest peaks in the Alps.”

With no further ado, here’s what Witt recommends for those traveling to Switzerland this summer.

The majestic Matterhorn
  • Book a view from the Swiss mountaintops
    If you’re looking to get 360° views and the fresh mountain air, Witt recommends the Stanserhorn Cabrio, the world’s first double-decker cable car with an open air upper deck. Another option is a new mountain attraction in Engelberg called the Rotair, the world’s first revolving gondola.

    “So like the Cabrio you get 360° views, but with the Rotair, the gondola car does the rotating as you ascend to the summit of Mt Titlis,” said Witt. “Once at the summit of Mt Titlis you can get your palms sweating by crossing Europe’s highest suspension bridge—the newly-completed Cliff Walk. On the tamer side, don’t miss the new Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Located at the home of International Olympic Committee, the newly-reopened museum explores the events, athletes, and history of the Olympic movement. It’s the most interactive, engaging, and entertaining museum I’ve ever visited—guaranteed fun for all.”

  • Eat the cheese and chocolate; sample the wine.
    If you’re planning a summer Switzerland vacation, it’s essential to eat as much Swiss chocolate as possible.

    “For chocolate lovers, Lindt will be opening a much-anticipated chocolate attraction in Zurich in 2016,” said Witt. “But for those who want to satisfy those cravings this very minute, go to Maison Cailler, Nestlé’s premier chocolate factory, for a tour followed by unlimited tastings.”

    For those more interested in food and wine, Alpenwild offers a tour called Cheese, Chocolate, and the Scenic Alps.

    “We link Alpine meadows, farms, dairies, and vineyards with some of the most spectacular scenery in the Alps,” explained Witt. “Switzerland is really emerging as a gastronomic powerhouse in Europe, and it’s becoming recognized as one of the great culinary regions in Europe. The cheese, wine, and chocolate are superb. The word is getting out—you can have a great food and wine experience in the Alps.”

  • Find a travel agency that will cater to your specific wants.
    If you want a trip that focuses solely on hiking, then you need to find a company that primarily offers hiking trips. If you’re looking for a haute trip that has individualized experiences catered to small groups, don’t expect every company to provide what you want. However, Alpenwild offers a wide array of what Wanderers might be looking for.

    Dividing the cheese ceremony in the Justis valley, Bernese Oberland. Each cattle owner fetches his animals in autumn and collects his share of the cheese produced.

    “We specialize in the Alps—it’s really all we do,” explained Witt. “It’s our passion and expertise and we’ve been at it for three decades. We know the trails and towns inside out. We know the hoteliers and their rooms, the restauranteurs and their menus. Our guides are on the trails every day throughout the summer which gives us a level of expertise that other operators can’t match. And our guests get a richer, more enjoyable experience.”

    Guests who choose a summer Switzerland vacation with Alpenwild will stay in carefully chosen inns, small hotels, and classic berghotels. They are typically independently-owned inns that offer a superbly satisfying mix of a welcoming atmosphere, traditional cuisine, and authentic charm.

    “We pride ourselves in offering exclusive experiences and unique itineraries that would never be possible on other tours or traveling alone. We make cheese over an open fire with an alpine farmer, we learn the art of making chocolate truffles with a master chocolatier, and we’re hosted for winery tours and tastings by the region’s top vintners.”

    Wine tasting in the wine cellar of Gerard Raymond at Saillon, Canton Valais.

    Summer is prime time in the Alps and you’ll find a full array of hiking, walking, culinary, and sightseeing tours at www.alpenwild.com. Additionally, Alpenwild offers an intriguing variety of specialty and custom tours throughout the year—photo tours, cheesemaking, literary tripsplein aire paintinghistory toursChristmas market tours, and trips for cross-country skiers and snowshoeing.

For more information, or to book a summer Switzerland vacation, check out the Alpenwild website.

Calistoga and Saint Helena: Sun, local food and wine at your fingertips

The starting lineup at VGS Chateau Potelle.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

After more than five months in the City, I’m starting to finally feel like I have a handle of the neighborhoods, my commute and my watering holes. But like any other restless traveler, I’m constantly looking elsewhere to explore. After my first trip to Napa Valley a couple months ago, I was long overdue for some wine tasting, farm-to-table eating and legit wine country sun. Thankfully a trip to Calistoga was just what the doctor ordered.

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Joshua Tree Music Festival paints a perfect picture of music, relaxation and fun for festival goers

As some of us are preparing for the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that kicks off today, many of us are dying of envy as we watch our friends done headdresses, lace, and art gear to enjoy the festivities. However, there is another amazing festival that takes place in awe-inspiring Joshua Tree — the Joshua Tree Music Festival, which is happening May 14-17, 2015.

The Joshua Tree Music Festival is its own experience, and festival planner Barnett English is proud to plan a global music festival that is fun for people of all ages. This is completely different experience from other festivals because your children, friends and family can all come to this event, bond, and truly revel in the experience that can only be had at Joshua Tree.

If people aren’t familiar with the Joshua Tree Music Festival, it’s important to note that it’s definitely an intimate affair, said English.

“We are not a huge festival – we have at most 4,000 people on site,” he explained. “There are no crushing crowds, and you can get right in front of the stage. It’s super laid back. From my experience, Coachella has about 100,000 people, and the madness can get pretty intense. Ours is not like that. You can see the eyeballs of the guy playing the guitar. It’s a more authentic experience because you are not getting lost in a sea of people.”

This festival melds the overwhelming spirit of desert freedom with powerful music from around the world to create a lighthearted oasis for music lovers. Magically magnificent art installations, a robust Kidsville schedule, the heavily shaded Music Bowl, a full spectrum of yoga classes from sunrise to sunset, 27 different music playshops and didjeridu classes, late night Astronomy theatre, and a World Market further inspire, intrigue and invite festival goers.

Not to knock bigger, louder, and rowdier festivals like Coachella; it is absolutely a blast when you know how to survive Coachella and all the insanity that comes with it. However, for some, the overwhelming crowds, heat, and overall experience is dampened because you don’t really connect with new friends, or even have the same experience as your own friends. At the Joshua Tree Music Festival, your kids can dance and sway to the music, or you and your significant other can spend time stretching at the yoga class before heading to the main stage together.

The festival has been held at the same site since its conception, and is held at a privately owned campground with sweeping views of Indian Cove National Park.

“The folks that own the place have given us five acres of 40 acres for us to dream and build stages, shops, and yoga area,” said English. “At the end of the festival, we don’t tear down; we get to leave it here and add onto it every year. It’s not very common that a festival can do that, and we are super grateful to make it funkier.”

The Joshua Tree Music Festival has two main stages, and bands alternate between the two so that no two bands are playing at the same time. This allows for guests to have the same experience, creating a bonding experience.

“All weekend long and afterward, people are affected in a positive way,” said English. “The music has been inspiring and they walk away with more energy. I love to see people have the time of their lives. People come away with meaningful conversations and new friends that they can’t live without.”

If you can’t make it this May, don’t fret. English is proud to say that the festival is so much fun, he and the other planners host it twice a year.

“We are having the 13th annual festival in May, but we also have the 10th annual fall event in October,” he said. “We just couldn’t wait a whole year!”

Full festival line up, schedule, and more information at the following sites:

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All Aboard Yacht Charter Alaska Cruises Makes for Unique Tours

by Andrea Verdin

Summer is perfect for exploring the Great Outdoors. You want to be one with nature, communing with animals and exploring uncharted territory. However, that’s hard to do when you’re booking a trip with a big tour company that caters to thousands of guests at a time. In order to get the thrill of kayaking up to a brown bear, or seeing an eagle perched atop a glacier, you may want to book an Alaskan cruise with All Aboard Yacht Charter.

Kayak with brown bear in Alaska with All Aboard Yacht Charter — Courtesy photo

All Aboard Yacht Charter Alaska Cruises are different from the bigger cruise lines in a variety of ways — a smaller boat, a smaller group of people, and a less rigid schedule. This leaves plenty of room for a person yearning for a true nature getaway to relax, unwind and explore Alaska’s natural beauty in peace.

With a maximum of 12 guests on each Alaskan cruise, guests’ days are spent cruising and sightseeing, watching whales, fishing, hiking, beach combing and bear viewing. Late afternoon Discovery anchors in a secluded bay where guests have the opportunity to explore by kayak or skiff, help the crew set crab pots or just relax on board. Humpback whales are regularly seen breaching, lunge feeding or tail slapping and often come very close to the boat. It is not uncommon to spend an hour or an afternoon watching humpback whales, orcas, dall’s porpoises, sea lions, sea otters, bald eagles and a variety of sea birds that also inhabit the Alaskan waters.

According to Discovery Captain Ben Swanson, off boat excursions are the true highlight of each cruise. Guests can pull their hiking boots on and traverse on bear trails through lush temperate rainforest to clear salmon streams. Admiralty Island has the densest population of Brown Bears in the world and is a popular site for Bald Eagles, so be sure to keep your camera handy.

Brown Bear meets an off boat excursion from the All Aboard Yacht Charters team

“We try to show guests a little bit of everything,” said Captain Swanson. “We can see whales, then hike and soak in natural hot springs. We are obviously so different from a traditional cruise ship. We let guests see what others don’t ever see. We go off the beaten path into desolate bays.”

Based on the number of guests aboard the Discovery and their interests, each trip into Alaska may be completely different. If a group prefers to kayak, they may, and if they choose to take their cruise on land, they may also spend some time in a terrain that is limited to a special few.

“One thing that is pretty special about our cruises is that we are able to go ashore in Southeast Alaska,” said Captain Swanson. “We have a permit to go to shore or fish because we have all the permits required, which many of our competitors don’t. If guests say they would like to hike on the beach, we have the ability to let them.”

If guests prefer to lounge about the Discovery, there’s still plenty to take in. With wrap-around windows, every seat has a spectacular view of the Alaskan beauty that surrounds the ship.

The All Aboard Yacht Charter Alaska Cruises take place on the 1931 classic yacht MV Discovery, a beautiful fantail yacht. At 87-feet in length, this boat has a perfect blend of old world charm and modern conveniences.

“The windows surround the whole boat,” said Captain Swanson. “We have over 30 windows, and even on a rainy day, a guest can sit in the salon and see all the wildlife, or come to the wheelhouse and sit in the co-pilot’s seat with a cup of hot chocolate. We have wrap around decks that let guests walk around the whole boat, or relax in the fantail lounge outside.”

Don’t think that just because the Discovery is a smaller ship that you’re not going to get world-class treatment. Each cruise has a chef that will not only provide extraordinary culinary experiences, but he will also meet any dietary needs or restrictions that a guest might have. As an added bonus, any fish that are caught by guests can be enjoyed the same evening after they were caught.

 

Captain Swanson and his team have a vast amount of knowledge about the Alaskan terrain, and they know how to keep each guest happy throughout the experience, which is truly solidified by the experience of sharing this once-in-a-lifetime trip with others.

“People are so enamored with the boat when they arrive, and it’s really neat to share that with someone,” said Captain Swanson. “We end up staying up every night until 11:30, sitting and reflecting over a whale encounter or fish story that was moving.”

If you’re really looking for that kind of moving experience, this is the trip for you.

For more information on the All Aboard Yacht Charter Cruises, go to  www.AlaskaCharters.com, email [email protected], or call (800) 767-1024 or (360) 898-7300 if outside the US.

Calistoga’s Brannan Cottage Inn offers great Valentine’s Day package

Adorable and romantic. What else could you want from a luxury inn?

Written by Nadia Ibanez, photos courtesy of Brannan Cottage Inn

Valentine’s Day. Boutique hotels. Craft brews. Locally-sourced gourmet goodies. Spa treatments. These are a few of my favorite things. My prayers have been answered because Calistoga’s gorgeous and recently renovated Brannan Cottage Inn is offering a month-long Valentine’s Day package to incorporate all of the aforementioned luxuries. Whether you’re visiting Napa with your lover or just looking for a unique way to spend V Day weekend, check out what this awesome package is offering.

Inside one of the rooms at Brannan Cottage Inn.

Brannan Cottage Inn is Napa Valley’s newest, small luxury inn that creates a romantic environment with its historical background, luxury Frette linens, Victorian design, lush gardenscapes and so much more. Rent a bike from the concierge, take advantage of the complimentary use of the Calistoga shuttle, or stay in and enjoy the fireplace and espresso machine in your Deluxe King Room.

Available February 1-26, the “Olive My Valentine” package includes:

  • Luxury accommodations for two
  • Welcome amenity from Calistoga Olive Oil Company
  • Side-by-side mud or mineral treatments with your hunny at Baths at Roman Spa
  • Complimentary beer tastings at The Calistoga Inn, Restaurant & Brewery with the purchase of dinner for two
  • Late check-out

The package starts at only $225 and requires a two-night minimum if you’re staying Valentine’s Day weekend.

Count me in. For reservations and more information, visit http://bit.ly/OLIVE_Pkgs.