From resorts

A modern guide to the historic Indian Springs Calistoga

 Written by and photos by Meaghan Clark

In stark contrast to the crystal clear blue skies sits a shimmering white road, a welcome aura that elicits feelings of comfort and familiarity.

Indian Springs’ historic property nestled amongst the vineyards and mineral springs of Calistoga, California is the quintessential site to embrace nature, wash off your worries, and disconnect. A pristine oasis in the hustle of today’s social angst, the 17-acre property that dates back to 1862 celebrates regional flavor with a nod to history.

Indian Springs Calistoga mineral pool
The entrance to the historic (and recently renovated) pool

 

Upon entrance, settle in to a spacious room that overlooks some of the property’s best features, like a lagoon complete with lily pads, graciously green grasses or even a reflecting adult pool. While the property itself features everything from private bungalows to cottages and a lodge, size mean nothing to guests here — each individual retreat feels like a solo expedition.

Start your day with a quick jaunt through the neighborhood, where if you’re a jogger like me means traipsing up and down two-lane roads nestled between local vineyards. Wineries are tucked between residential homes in this part of town, just make sure to make a mental list to any places that pique your interest (my favorite is Tedeschi Family Winery).

Sam will hook you up
A delicious charcuterie plate prepared by the team at Sam’s Social Club

 

On your way back into the resort, stop for a quick cup of fresh coffee, set aside at the property’s Terrace Room adjacent to the resort entrance, where bocce courts and property chickens reside. A roaring fireplace and fresh, locally brewed coffee will be awaiting your arrival. Or, if you’d prefer, brew your own cup of Joe in your room supplied by Equator.

Head into the property’s restaurant, Sam’s Social Club, where you’ll find an assortment of spot-on morning trends like avocado toast and staples like a mushroom and leek scramble to curb your appetite. It’s essential to be a breakfast person today, as your next adventure awaits — the spa.

Locally brewed coffee in your room
Brew your own coffee in each spacious room with local beans from Equator

 

While the property is vast in its acreage, the spa is a quaint and friendly reminder of Indian Springs’ antiquity. The mud bath, a signature treatment of Calistoga, which combines local volcanic ash and mineral water, is without question the one treatment on the must-try list. Not much has changed over the years, from the stream room to the claw foot tubs or cucumber water, but why mess with a good thing?

Any of the treatments in the spa are on point but just make sure to give yourself some time to explore the surrounding Buddha pond, a retreat for those robe-clad individuals. With outdoor fireplaces, cool cucumber water, lounge chairs and umbrellas, it’s another serene space for any post-spa treatment. The constant humming of the mineral water churning will leave you mesmerized for hours as big puffs of smoke fill up the sky at all hours of the day.

view from the room
The view from a lagoon-facing room at Indian Springs Calistoga

 

You come to Calistoga for the mud and the waters, and Indian Springs delivers both.

Like the central figure in any blockbuster film, the resort’s Olympic-size mineral pool is the shining star. Nearly a century old, the recently restored pool (which was renovated this year and reopened July 25, 2016) steps up the tranquility level. Massive in size and ambient in temperature, the water isn’t dominated by faint hints of chlorine and temperate isn’t monitored by machine, but rather nature. As should be a requirement for any spa retreat in Calistoga, Indian Springs also provides an adult-only oasis that’s private and all grown up.

The small town feel that Calistoga is known for predominates its dining scene. Fear not, as the top restaurant in the city is within walking distance.

Sink your teeth into this
Hungry? The rib-eye at Sam’s Social Club in Calistoga is a feast

 

While we aren’t typically ones to suggest dining on site for two meals at day, the eclectic and surprising unique menu at Sam’s Social Club is a rare delight. The seasonal menu changes often, and rarely disappoints. Featuring fantastic starters like a ceviche and octopus, or main courses like the ever-present cauliflower steak, it’s impressive no matter the season. And while your visit to Indian Springs serves as a retreat to your mind and body, don’t forget to leave room for dessert.

 

Indian Springs Calistoga 

1712 Lincoln Avenue
Calistoga, CA 94515
707-942-4913

To enjoy the spa or make a reservation, visit Indian Springs Calistoga online.

Playa Del Carmen vs. Cancun: An Amazing, Authentic Alternative for a Riviera Maya Vacation

by Andrea Verdin

When planning a vacation, who doesn’t immediately begin to daydream of an all inclusive resort, with beautiful white sandy beaches? Who doesn’t yearn for miles of beautiful tropical jungle, with a small village nestled in between the leaves and fronds? Who doesn’t want to climb and explore the ancient ruins, only to be washed by a rainstorm once at the top?

Jordan Verdin Photo
Jordan Verdin Photo

Well, for my family and me, this was the experience we had at Playa Del Carmen. Playa del Carmen is located on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, about an hour south of Cancun. It’s in the state of Quintana Roo, in the Yucatán peninsula. While it’s only an hour away from the popular Cancun, it’s worlds apart in terms of experience. Firstly, Playa Del Carmen is still considered a beach town; that means everything is still smaller scale. Even the hotels and resorts, which are monolithic, are on the outskirts of town, leaving an adorable, sleepy town with locals at its center.

Playa Del Carmen has regulated hotels and large business so that they cannot go past three stories in height. This means that you do not have to worry about your view of the jungle or beach being marred by an obnoxious skyscraper. This is not the case in Cancun, which has a much more industrialized feeling attached.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t find great food, or that you won’t be able to get some great shopping done while at Playa Del Carmen. Guests are encouraged to experience La Quinta, more commonly known by tourists as 5th Avenue.

La Quinta has an interesting mixture of shops. You can find both Mayan-made products with their makers sitting quietly in their booths, or you can access a sprawling, air conditioned mall with designer shops and familiar chain restaurants. One of the best ways to unwind after a day full of adventure, snorkeling and eating is to walk as far as you can down La Quinta. Pop into each shop, take a look at their wares, and negotiate with the shop owner to get the best bargain on the trinket, piece of clothing or memento you want to keep from your trip.

Jordan Verdin photo
Jordan Verdin photo

If you walk off the main strip, there are more localized shops and stands with food that the locals eat, such as el Fogon. This two story taco shop was packed with families, couples on dates, and tourists who knew how to shop around before settling on dinner. Everything was chopped as it was ordered, and you can’t help but try to fill yourself with as many tacos and tortas as possible.

While there are lovely restaurants along La Quinta, there are plenty of taco stands along the blocks near La Quinta that will give you the best – and cheapest – fare. What you need to do is look for a stand that has plenty of locals waiting in line for something to eat. This lets you know that the stand will have fresh food, great flavors, and a decent price attached. One of my husband’s favorite parts of the taco stand crawl was the churro guy at the end: once he received an order for churros, he would place the fresh batter into boiling oil before throwing it into the cinnamon mix. Customers are left with delicious, piping hot churros to top off their already full bellies.
FullSizeRender

Another bonus of being in Playa Del Carmen is the quick access available to Cozumel, an island sitting just a few miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. For under 20 dollars, guests can take a round trip ride to an even more remote part of the Riviera Maya. Cozumel is only partially developed, and doesn’t have a lot going on after the sun falls, so it’s great for a day trip.

The view from our fish house in Cozumel
The view from our fish house in Cozumel

Once you arrive, don’t feel like you have to stay in the port village of Cozumel. There’s an entire island to see! We rented a buggy, then hit the open road. There’s a single road that circles the entire island, and we were able to stop at the southernmost point of the island and have lunch at a small shack on the beach.

The fish was freshly caught, the breeze was beautifully cool, and the sights were spectacular. Along the way around the island, there are several stands selling coconuts just off of the trees, and you can even stop and get a massage on the sand while your family or significant other snorkels along the reef.

 

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
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.”

    SWITZERLAND - SOMMER - BRAUCHTUM - TRADITIONENFor 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.
    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.
    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.

Zambia jeep safari with Wild Planet Adventures

Experience Extraordinary Zambia Safari Tours with Wild Planet Adventures

by Andrea Verdin

It’s time to plan your summer getaway, so the Wander team has begun to look at ways to get the most out of your vacation. We’ve been looking both at international and domestic travel, small weekend getaways and elaborate international excursions.

If you’re the type who loves diverse travel, looking for a chance to see exotic wildlife and stay in the middle of nature, then see Zambia – Africa’s Hidden Safari Gem – with Wild Planet Adventures.

zebras

The safari season in Zambia is year-round, but the best wildlife viewing is from July through October, so you want to make sure that you plan with this in mind. Because African safari travel is such a popular getaway, it may be hard to choose a travel company to plan a safari with. However, Zambia safari tours are a head and shoulders above all others for several reasons.

Wild Planet Adventures founder Josh Cohen explained that Zambia is one of Africa’s least visited countries, and since his company specializes in intimate encounters with exotic wildlife, this was a perfect option for his guests.

“Guests have the ability to see unusual animals and their behaviors that might not always be seen,” explained Cohen.

The reason Zambia safari tours are markedly different from other African safaris is the lack of tourism and jeep congestion.  With less than 860,000 annual visitors compared to South Africa’s 9.5 million, Zambia ranks among the least visited African countries.

canoe safari

“Unlike East African countries where it’s common to find up to 50 vehicles chasing a lion, Zambia boasts remote sectors where guests are unlikely to see other vehicles,” said Cohen, who explained that his Zambian tours do not require his guests to be in caged busses. “Safari-goers still enjoy 360 degree views from open jeeps instead of being crowded into nine-passenger mini-vans.”

Without numerous vehicles surrounding the same animals, there is no risk that animals will lose their ‘wild’ instincts.

“Wild Planet Adventures goes to great lengths to preserve the authentic safari experience by combining truly isolated and remote locations with master guides who exemplify tracking as an art form, so travelers see authentic ‘wild’ animal behavior while minimizing adaptation,” Cohen said.

lion at shumba camp

In addition, guests can choose to combine tours, so they can experience walking, jeep, and canoe safaris. This allows for a broader experience of animal exposure.

“It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Cohen. “Once we saw a herd of elephants surround their matriarch while she gave birth. On our canoes, we enter watering holes where herds of elephants and hippos just walk across, right in front of us. When these factors come together, you get a superior experience.”

shumba camp

Of course, just because you are in the middle of the safari doesn’t mean that you have to stay in an uncomfortable tent on a lumpy cot.

“Zambia has the same high end camps that other African tour camps have,” said Cohen. “Overall, Africa has high standards for its guests.”
There are a lot of safari travel options for guests to choose from when planning Zambia Safari Tours, with options for every budget.
For detailed tour itineraries on all of Wild Planet Adventures wildlife eco-tours and safaris, call toll-free 1.800.990.4376, visit http://www.wildplanetadventures.com/ or contact trips@wildplanetadventures.com.

 

WPA Zambia from Wild Planet Adventures on Vimeo.

Alisal River Course

Where to stay in Solvang: We choose Hotel Corque and The Alisal

Written by Nadia Ibanez

I’m a huge proponent of staying in an independent boutique hotel, a revamped bed and breakfast, or a unique resort set among massive acreage with amenities a chain hotel could never offer. You’ll find one hotel chain in Solvang, but the rest of your accommodation options will range in a variety of forms. During my recent stay, as a guest of the Solvang Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, I had some time to check out a few different hotel accommodations in town. If you’re researching where to stay in Solvang, here are a few hotels and resorts that will surely pique your interest.

Hotel Corque offers convenience and excellent service

Hotel-Corque-SolvangSolvang is an extremely walkable town so Hotel Corque was the perfect hotel for our trip because of its close proximity to the main streets. (Not to mention, the lush amenities were welcomed after long days of sightseeing and wine tasting.) The luxury, AAA Four Diamond boutique hotel has more than 120 guest rooms and suites and guests can take in the landscapes of the Santa Ynez Mountains from nearly everywhere they stand. And because of its high accolades, the service is impeccable and spot on.

In need of room service, or looking for a place for Happy Hour or an incredible meal? Walk over to Root 246 for a farm-to-table inspired dinner. The lounge is a great place to watch the game or take a date. Read all about our stellar meal at Root 246 here.

Chumash-Casino
Drop by the Chumash Casino Resort for gambling, fine dining and a show. Photo courtesy of Chumash Casino Resort.

Hotel Corque is owned by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and guests can take the complimentary 24-hour shuttle to the Chumash Casino Resort located just four miles away. If you’re looking for nightly entertainment, spa services and a variety of dining options, I highly recommend taking advantage of the shuttle service. The casino has a live music venue along with a pretty impressive list of performers and shows. Promotions are regular occurrence at the casino and you might just find yourself with some extra gambling money if you sign up for the Chumash player’s club.

ChumashHotel-room
Inside one of the hotel rooms at the Chumash Casino Resort. Photo courtesy of Chumash Casino Resort.

If you want to be uber close to the casino excitement, check out the Hotel at Chumash Casino Resort. The recently remodeled resort hotel offers 123 guest rooms and luxury suites. In addition to slots, table games, bingo and poker, the resort offers a fine dining restaurant, The Willows, The Creekside buffet and the Chumash Café for a quick bite.

The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort reinvents Old Western living

Exec Suite-Alisal-Solvang
Inside the Executive Suite at The Alisal. Photo courtest of The Alisal.

Ever wondered what it would be like to stay in a working cattle ranch set among 10,500 acres of picturesque countryside views? The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort offers 73 suites and studios at the private ranch where you’ll find 100 horses and grazing cattle. The resort also boasts 50 miles of horseback riding trails, a massive spring-fed lake, two championship golf courses, fine dining and some of the best views in town.

Alisal River Course
The River Course at The Alisal. Photo courtesy of The Alisal.

Depending on what you’re interested in, The Alisal offers a number of packages to suit all of your needs. Take for instance the Round-Up Vacation Package, which includes golf, a two-hour horseback ride, tennis, fishing and access to the gym and spa. The BBQ Bootcamp is another popular choice where guests are treated to grilling workshops and tips from the resort’s executive chef Pascal Godé and Hitching Post II owner Frank Ostini. All meals are included with this package and you’ll surely be treated to some amazing Santa Maria barbecue.

Alisal-Tortilla-soup
The Alisal’s delicious chicken tortilla soup.

If you want to spend a single day at The Alisal, the public golf course is inviting and the River Grill Restaurant offers an extensive menu. I dropped by for lunch and highly recommend the Alisal Tortilla Soup and any of the salads or sandwiches.

If you’re lucky enough to spend a weekend or a few days in Solvang, you’ll definitely have your fair share of hotel options. Solvang offers 14 different types of hotels, resorts and inns so it’s just a matter of finding the right fit. Bring your friends, your family or your significant other and go out and explore Solvang! For more information on where to stay in Solvang, visit www.SolvangUSA.com.