Well we didn’t have the greatest weather in Ronda, however the clouds stayed high enough and held in their rain fairly well so we could get some pretty decent photos.
Ronda is an impressive town in the province of Málaga; an easy day trip from the Costa del Sol or for us a nice diversion on our car ride from Seville to Córdoba. Ronda is built on and around a very deep gorge spanned by an extremely impressive bridge.
Ronda was first settled by the early Celts, and later inhabited by Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. The Moors left an indelible imprint in the city, which only fell to the Christian Reconquista in 1485. In more recent times, the town has hosted a number of well-known writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, & James Joyce.
This large and incredible bridge over the Tajo gorge, is called Puento Neuvo finished in 1793, is Ronda’s principal attraction. The bridge is 230 feet long and 320 feet high, roughly equivalent to a 30-floor building. It was built following the collapse of an earlier bridge from 1735; this bridge had a single arch of 115 feet but collapsed six years after construction, killing 50 people. There are beautiful views from here of the Natural Park -Sierra de Grazalema to the west – although this was a bit tough to see on the day we visited.
Views of the gorge and surrounding countryside are amazing, but that was not all we saw in Ronda. We went on a self guided tour of the very quaint Santa Maria la Mayor church (built on the ruins of an older mosque) -which has outstanding views of the town from the roof and is well worth a visit.
And we of course stopped for a wine tasting. While not world class at this point – (maybe another 10 years…or so) it was certainly a lot of fun.
Unfortunately the 13th century Arab Baths in Ronda were closed during our visit which just means that we’ll have to see them on a return trip as they are considered to be the best example in Spain.
Couldn’t resist this moment of shear irresponsibility
We have 2 exciting European Group GetAways scheduled for 2017. They may both be cruises, but they are completely different!
First up is the Wines of Western Europewhich includes Bordeaux (France), Basque (Spain) and Portugal. Our group will be sailing aboard the luxurious Azamara Journey. Azamara Club Cruises is at the crossroads of where luxury and destination immersive cruising meet. This ship only holds 694 passengers and has a wonderful mix of amenities. She’s a perfect-sized vessel: small enough that it’s never too far from one place to another, yet large enough to provide variety on long itineraries. On our trip we will experience late evening and overnight port stays. The Journey was completely refurbished in 2016 – it received new spa suites in the fully renovated Sanctum spa with updated decor in marble, light wood and a cream palate. Every suite and stateroom has new beds with the same decor scheme, and the restaurants also received a modern upgrade.
Our 12 Night GetAway begins in Southampton England on September 4 and ends in Lisbon Portugal on September 16. Along the way you will experience the worlds foremost wine region in Bordeaux, spend a day at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, wash Tapas down with Rioja wine, and sip port in the Douro Valley – and so much more. You can find more details at our website. We hope you can join us.
If you’re tired of commercialism taking over the holidays, you will be very pleased with the traditions and romance of real Christmas markets where the gifts are not mass-produced but craftwork of real quality. Our group will begin in Budapest and sail along the Danube while visiting Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. Every stop along the way will feature special Christmas Market excursions. You can find more details on the itinerary at our website.
Every Uniworld ship is as unique as it’s itinerary and the SS Maria Theresa is no exception. It’s opulent 18th century décor is a floating homage to one of the Habsburg empires most beloved ruler. The food, drink and service on Uniworld are absolutely outstanding – and everything is included! Call now as there are limited time promotions where even the air is included!
European vacations continue to hold great value. The US Dollar remains at historic low levels vs. the Euro. This is good news for travelers to Europe as you definitely get more bang for your buck. Our best advice for Europe is to plan ahead – this is not a destination that typically rewards the last-minute traveler. The best way to start planning your European vacation is to schedule a consultation with Sue.
River Cruising continues to grow and for very good reasons. Our clients absolutely love to take River Cruises. All it takes is to try it once and you will rave about it forever. Be aware however that not all river cruise companies are equal. You can research endlessly on your own, or you can call us to discuss. Our goal is to find out about what you want to do, how adventurous you are, what you like and what you don’t like. What are your travel dreams? Our recommendations are simply based on you and your needs, that’s it.
All Inclusive vacations will remain hot, hot, hot. The industry continues to upgrade old properties and build new ones. There are All-Inclusives for all tastes and budgets. Well we know you want a warm weather, beach destination, but are you looking for a romantic escape or a family/multi-generational getaway? Do you want basic dining choices or a more gourmet experience? How does a canopy covered bed and open air shower sound? Or a private plunge pool within mere steps of your suite? The choices go on and on. We can help narrow it down to something you will love.
According to the experts, air ticket prices are down but add-on fees are up. The simple fact, is you need air tickets to get to many vacation destinations. They are the transportation, not the vacation.
Cheap will remain, well….cheap. While the dictionary defines cheap as inexpensive, it also defines it as something of poor quality or shoddy. Continue to be cautious about anything advertised as cheap, supercheap, ultracheap, etc. A fantastically cheap vacation is not a good value if it is actually craptastic (this is our official industry word for cheap vacations!). Everyone wants good value and that’s where we help – get the best value for your money that actually gets the vacation experience you are looking for. Will it be cheap? We certainly hope not.
The best things in travel continue to come to those who plan ahead. For example, how about planning 2017? You may not be ready yet, but we are. We have 2 special group options worth considering.
Join us in January 2017 for our GetAway on the Getaway. We will do all the following: go down the highest water slides at sea, attend award-winning Broadway shows, experience Iron Chef dining, walk the plank and be endlessly entertained and pampered. Book now and choose between Free unlimited drinks, Free Specialty Dining, Free Shore Excursions or Free WiFi.
In September 2017 we will be hosting a very special Wines of Western Europe group on the Azamara Journey. Beginning in England, we will sail to France, Spain and Portugal. Azamara specializes in unique itineraries that include overnight stays in many ports. Our group will be in Bordeaux, one of the world’s foremost wine regions for 3 days. But that is not the only World Heritage region we will visit – see our web page for all the details.
When we were last in Tasmania we had the wonderful opportunity to take a Wineglass to Wine glass trek.
From the Freycinet Lodge we walk up the Hazard Mountains to the Wineglass bay lookout. Here we took in spectacular views of the Freycinet Peninsula and the Tasman Sea. Then we descended down into the bay, tracked across the isthmus to Hazards Beach and then partook in a rather sumptuous meal of local cheeses, fresh seafood , Tasmanian beef and quail, and just a few glasses of Tasmanian wine and beer.
Our trek begins
The trekkers are ready! Including our “celebrity” pal (no longer) bachelor Jason Mesnick
Here is a view of Wineglass bay from the lookout
Beautiful view from the beach at Wineglass bay
Artistic sand shot!
After we leave the bay to cross the isthmus, we meet a Jill Wallaby with a Joey in the pouch – awesome!
We’ve been spotted!
Hazard beach now in sight on the other side of the isthmus.
Now leaving Hazards Beach and heading towards our feast.
Our personal chef hard at work, also a nice selection of local beer to help us recover from the walk.
Our dining room!
What more appropriate start than a bottle of Hazards Ale from Wineglass Bay Brewing!
A bit north of San Diego and a bit South of LA, the Temecula Valley is an American Viticultural Area in southern Riverside County, California. After attending a 4 day travel conference in Newport Beach last week, we had one day free before heading home. Free day = wine tasting day, what else would you expect?
We rented a car and drove about one and a half hours to Temecula. Historic old town Temecula is a charming collection of circa 1890’s buildings with antique stores, hotels, boutiques, specialty foods and gift stores While we were sorely tempted to stroll around, we just did not have enough time to check it out and still get in a few winery visits. Definitely next time though.
With more than 35 wineries in Temecula valley, there is not enough time to fit them all in, but with a bit of pre-planning we came up with a small handful that we thought we should try. We adjusted our plans as we went along, because once you find a winery you really like, it’s also good to ask them for recommendations on where else to go.
Temecula would be an awesome destination for a small group of wine lovers. It can easily be combined with other activities in San Diego or LA. We can help!
Here are a few of our favorites we found that day:
Palumbo Family Vineyards. Our favorite wine (that day) “Catfish Vineyard” Cabernet Franc
Despite the stuffy head and congestion (yep, that time of year), we’ve spent a little bit of time this weekend freshening up the website. It may only be the cold medication talking but we do think we’ve come up with some interesting stuff.
One of the most fascinating wineries we’ve seen anywhere in the world is actually a museum. If you enjoy world-class museums and world-class wine, then MONA needs to be on your list of places to go. Located in Tasmania, MONA is a worthwhile destination even if you have to spend all day/night on a coach fare plane seat to get there. Bring us back a bottle of any of the Moorilla series if you do go. Oh and don’t forget the Moo Brew.
Well as long as you’ve made the trip to Tasmania, why not treat yourself to a stay at the Saffire Freycinet Resort overlooking pristine Coles Bay. It’s a long journey and you deserve just a bit of pampering. With architecture that fully connects the resort to its surroundings and so much to see, do and experience you may never want to leave.
Of course no trip to Tasmania would be complete without seeing some devils. Endangered in the wild, one of the best places to see them is at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. It is not a zoo, but a rehabilitation center for wild animals.
Situated on the eastern coast of the north island, Hawkes’ Bay, New Zealand is the oldest and second largest wine region in the country. It was one of the original colonial provinces when New Zealand was colonized by British settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. This flat fertile land is perfect for farming: dairy, sheep, beef, orchards and of course one of our favorite crops – grapes! It has an ideal warm, sunny and dry climate for vineyards. This is the largest premium red wine-producing region in the country with over 80% of the national vintage for Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Within Hawke’s Bay, the vintage is divided evenly between red and white.
Perhaps the best known region within Hawkes’ Bay is Gimblett Gravels, named after the gravelly soil type laid down by the old Ngaruroro River, which was exposed after a huge flood in the 1860’s. Gimblett Gravels is home to some fantastic wineries including a couple that we visited during our trip: Te Awa and Craggy Range. We had a tasting and lunch nestled within the vineyards during our visit at Te Awa. Te Awa makes a range of outstanding wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and a Cab/Merlot.
Craggy Range has one of the most amazing views from a winery tasting room that we’d ever seen. It’s pretty easy to see where the winery got its’ name from. Here’s what Anthony Rose of The Independent Newspaper, UK had to say about Craggy Range. “If you don’t know Craggy Range, get acquainted, because I can’t think of another wine company that’s managed to roll Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire and Rhône styles into one harmonious group of wines so successfully.”
But this is not a post about either of those wineries..
This post is about a winery that we were not even looking for, Eskdale Winegrowers.
During our New Zealand trip, we had just spent the previous day exploring the “thermal zone” between Rotorua and Taupo. We had even visited the spectacularly underwhelming Lady Knox geyser! From the guidebooks, we knew that Lady Knox erupted on a daily basis at 10:15 am. What we did not know is that the Lady is “induced” to erupt by dropping a surfactant (aka soap) into the opening of the vent. At the appointed time the head geyser inducer person grabs a microphone to talk to the crowd and then strolls over to the geyser vent and tosses some soap down the hole and voila within minutes an eruption occurs! The story goes that this “secret” was first discovered when a gang of prisoners used the hot water at this location to wash their clothes. After adding soap to the mix they had one incredible surprise! OK, maybe it is not fair to call this underwhelming, but after you’ve visited Yellowstone and seen Old Faithful, this seems to be cheating … just a bit.
Upon leaving Taupo, you take the Thermal Explorer highway (route 5) to Napier and the Hawke’s Bay region. You’re now arriving in another of New Zealand’s world class wine growing regions. Before turning off of route 5 and onto the main road which heads into Napier, we stopped at Eskdale Winegrowers. As mentioned above, we were not looking for this particular winery. We we’re actually looking for another winery that starts with “Esk” as part of their name, but once we saw the beat up old sign for Eskdale we thought maybe this was the place we were looking for. It wasn’t, but it was so much more.
Once you turn off the main road, if you’ve never been there before, it’s hard to tell exactly where to go. It’s not a large commercial operation with a paved parking lot and a designer tasting room. There is a gravel road that winds around some overgrown apple trees just a bit until you reach what looks to be a barn. But it is not just any barn, it is the unique, boutique and amazing Eskdale Winegrowers winery.
Looking at the picture above, we were not quite certain that we made it to the right place, but the stainless steel tanks do speak to the fact that someone is fermenting something here. And really that is what we typically are looking for during our travels.
So we parked the car and headed inside. Now we knew we were in a winery because there was a sign leaning against an old barrel with some bottle prices listed, some wine bottles looking like they were ready to be packaged, some wine barrels and some fantastic brick cellaring bins. This is definitely a winery,and a rather charming one at that, but at the moment the only thing missing was the people. We had the place to ourselves. The old sign did say open from 9-5 and we were there between those times, but there was nobody to be found.
Not thinking it right to just start helping ourselves to the wine we called out loudly a couple of times to see if anyone was around. After a few minutes we heard a response that indicated there were people here and they’d be present in a moment. To our delight a women appeared along with a frollicking naked little girl. She explained that she was babysitting her (i think I recall correctly) granddaughter and they had been taking a nap in the yard under the trees. The little girl went to play outside and the woman asked if we would like to taste some wine. Of course we would.
Here’s is what we learned that day. The woman, whose name is Trish Salonius and her husband Kim started planting grapes here in 1973 – long before all of the other wineries in this area started. They find that the area has gotten too commercial, but will keep making wine as long as they can. All of their wines are estate grown, and they do not have always have a particular vintage every year – they just have what they have. Kim was not there that day, but Trish told us he says will make wine forever and that he will need to be buried in a wine barrel before he stops.
They did not have a frig for the whites so everything was sampled at room temperature. One thing about wine tasting is that while whites are normally best served with a chill on them, but when you taste them warm, the wine cannot “hide” any of the flavors. So a rule-of-thumb is if a white wine tastes really good warm, then it will taste quite fantastic when it is chilled. To grab a wine to taste, Trish grabbed an unlabeled bottle from the brick cellar, declaring that she thinks this is the Chardonnay, glued a label on it and opened it for us to taste. Cool – you don’t always see that everywhere!
This amazing Chardonnay was from 2006. It had spent a year in new French oak, and about 4 years in the bottle before we grabbed one. It poured with lots of deep yellow color and tasted big yet refined. Despite all the other world-class wineries we visited during our trip to New Zealand we felt that this was our greatest find. Now one might argue that the wine scorers of the world may not have given 90 or more points to this bottle, but they would be missing the point. Combine our accidental stumbling upon Eskdale Winegrowers, with the ramshackle charm of the Cellar Door, the genuine warm hospitality of the owner, grandma and granddaughter sleeping outside in the shade on a hot day when we arrived, along with the bottle labeling just prior to sampling and we’d say this baby was a 100 pointer! In fact this may be the greatest winery you’ve never heard of. During our trip, we told everyone else we talked to in the area to stop by. Even folks who lived and worked there did not typically know of Eskdale Winegrowers. We told them to hurry and go snatch up the Chardonnay before others find out.