Tuesday, May 28, 2024

New York City: 8 Great Ways To Sightsee by Boat

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Pioneer sunset cruise (photo: SoStSeaportMuseum)
Here’s a sampling of some boat rides with terrific views that will help you experience the city in a whole new light, along with some fantastic sightings of Lady Liberty!

FREE (& ALMOST FREE) BOAT RIDES WITH GREAT VIEWS
Staten Island Ferry
Whitehall Ferry Terminal, 4 South St.; www.siferry.com; Free, year-round
(photo: Staten Island Ferry)
Think of this pleasant 25-minute ride as a mini-cruise with some of the world’s best views--the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and lower Manhattan. On Staten Island, get out and explore all the wonderful sights such as the Alice Austen House Museum (www.aliceausten.org) showcasing photography in a lovely setting, the Tibetan Museum (www.tibetanmuseum.org), and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Garden (www.Snug-Harbor.org).

Governors Island Ferry
Battery Maritime Building, 10 South St.; www.govisland.com
Open Daily, year-round; Ferry: Free, Sat & Sun before noon. Otherwise, $5, except seniors, kids, military
Gov Island (photo: J.Carnegie)
This 7-minute ferry ride whisks you from Manhattan (& Brooklyn on the weekends) to a little bit of nature with spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan. After 200 years as a military base, Governors Island is now a lovely public park. The former barracks, for the US Army and Coast Guard, make it look a bit austere, but all the new recreational features are fun to discover and, almost every weekend, there are entertaining activities, concerts, and events. 

NYC Ferry
https://www.ferry.nyc
(photo: NYC Ferry)
For just the price of a subway ride ($2.75) you can travel on the East River between Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx--even to Rockaway beach & soon to Coney Island. Get off and explore the offerings at specific stops or just stay on and enjoy the ride. From the 17th to the 19th century, ferries traversed the city's waterways but, as bridges and tunnels were built, the ferries were fazed out. Now, they're back in full-force and a thrill to ride. The major hubs in Manhattan are at East 34th Street and Pier 11 near Wall Street & the So St Seaport.

FREE BOAT RIDES, PLUS EXERCISE
These kayaking and rowing options are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, but you need to reserve them in advance, so sign up early. (You also must know how to swim.)
Kayaking on the Hudson
The Downtown Boathouse; downtownboathouse.org; May-Oct; Free, Weekends (Pier 26, North Moore) & (Pier 101, Governors Island, but currently closed due to construction) 
On the weekends, The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking on the scenic Hudson River. The equipment—boats, paddles, life jacketsand instructions are free. Wear shorts or a swimsuit.
Kayaking in Brooklyn: Pier 2Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse
(photo: Downtown Boathouse)
June-Sept; Free, Sat & Sun, afternoons; Wed & Thurs evenings.

Row Your Boat – Manhattan
Village Community Boathouse, Pier 40, Hudson River Park, at W. Houston St.; www.villagecommunityboathouse.org
April-Nov; Free, every Sunday at noon & Wednesdays, 6pm

The Village Community Boathouse offers free, group rowing sessions. The aim is to provide safe, public access to the city’s fantastic waterways and to introduce people, especially kids, to the joys of rowing and boatbuilding. 

NOT FREE BUT STILL WORTH IT BOAT RIDES
Hurricane Sandy dealt a blow to the South Street Seaport Museum. While there are currently only a few small exhibits on view, the museum offers wonderful boat rides:
W.O. Decker - Tugboat
South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton St; Pier 16; May - Oct; Sat & Sun; Fee, 
Boat ride Museum Admission 
(photo: SoStSeaportMuseum)
We think of tugboats as the "worker bees" of the waterways. This one (refit with a diesel engine) was built in 1930 when steam tugs were a common sight in New York Harbor. Today, enjoy a bit of history on a truly-enjoyable, 75-minute ride on the W.O. Decker, the last-surviving, New York-built, wooden tugboat. Delight in stunning views of the lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
(photo: SoStSeaportMuseum)

Pioneer - Schooner Sail
South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton St; Pier 16; May - Oct; Sat-Sun Daytime Sail & Wed-Sat Sunset Sail; Fee, Boat ride with/or without Museum Admission (2-hour cruises)
Enjoy an afternoon or sunset sail on this historic vessel, first launched in 1885. Bring a picnic lunch or dinner and revel in the sights of New York Harbor.

Monday, May 20, 2024

10 Great Reasons To Explore 3 Fab Islands Near Cancun, Mexico: Holbox, Isla Mujeres & Cozumel

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Isla Mujeres (photo: Quintana Roo Tourism)

Cancun is a fantastic destination that’s easy to get to from almost anywhere. It’s on the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo which also includes the magnificent islands of Holbox, Isla Mujeres, and Cozumel—all worth exploring as part of your vacation experience. 

ISLA HOLBOX
On Holbox, there is something magical in the air. Once you arrive, you will absolutely not want to leave. Situated at the northeast corner of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Holbox is a 26-mile-long island separated from the mainland by the Yalahau lagoon. Holbox (pronounded Hol-bosh) is a Maya word meaning “black hole,” referring to the lagoon’s dark water, which you cross in a 30-minute ferry ride to the island from the tiny town of Chiquilá, 2-hours north of Cancun.
Holbox (photo: JCarnegie)
 Holbox is located in a unique oceanic spot: where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea converge. So, the surrounding waters are teeming with marine life—turtles, dolphins, whale sharks--in addition to some 500 bird species that nest in the area. Hence, the Island is part of the protected Yum Balam Nature Reserve. Originally a fishing village, the picturesque town on Holbox has colorful, wooden houses, a smattering of little shops, bars, restaurants, a pizza & ice-cream parlor—plus, lots of street art. Isla Holbox is a laid-back place with only sandy, dirt roads and no cars; just golf carts and 4x4 taxis to get around. With friendly locals and magnificent beaches, you’ll soon discover that Holbox is a true paradise on earth.
Unique To Dos
Blue Waves Holbox
Tours offers several cool ways to experience the island:
Bioluminescence Tour – This is done at night to see the phytoplankton’s luminescent effect in the ocean around Holbox that looks like fireflies underwater. Wade in the water, swim in it or kayak around to experience this beautiful, natural phenomenon.
Three Islands Tour - Isla Pájaros: See bird species such as white ibis, egrets, pelicans, spoonbills, herons & flamingos. Isla Pasión: Climb up the observation tower on this little, deserted island with a beach awash in seashells. Yalahau parque ecoturistico: Swim in a crystal-clear “cenote.”

Where To Stay: From basic to luxurious, there’s lots of accommodation choices from rustic bungalows to hostels to lovely boutique hotels such as Hotel Villas Caracol - Great beach location, super-friendly staff, nice rooms & pretty pool, plus delicious meals in their Las Hamacas restaurant & beach club.
Getting Around on Holbox: No cars, just golf carts to rent and 4x4 taxis—yellow ones waiting at the ferry.
Holbox town (photo: Quintana Roo Tourism)
Getting There: Holbox is a 2-hour drive north of Cancun, plus a ½ hour ferry ride from Chiquilá to Isla Holbox—worth every minute. From Cancun Airport or downtown Cancun to Chiquilá (87 miles/140 km) there are several options (but I wouldn’t recommend renting a car as none are allowed on Isla Holbox); prices in Mexican $: Shared or Private Shuttle

Cancun Airport–Chiquila Port (Holbox ferry); ADO bus: Cancun airport/downtown-Chiquilá, Quintana Roo, Mexico (the cheapest option); Ferry: Holbox Express

ISLA MUJERES
Just a 30-minute ferry ride from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is only 5-miles-long and half-a-mile wide, but it’s a vacation wonderland known for beautiful, white-sand beaches and aquamarine water. You can be as active or relaxed as you’d like.
Go snorkeling, scuba-diving, kayaking, or biking around the island. Or, just chill-out at a lovely beach club. Playa Norte is the most famous beach, also known for great sunsets. In ancient times, Isla Mujeres was a sanctuary for the Maya goddess Ixchel. At Punta Sur, you can explore this history and see splendid sunrises. Other activities include: exploring the island by golf-cart, swimming with whale sharks, or boating to the nearby Isla Contoy National Park. For shopping, entertainment, bars and restaurants, stroll along Isla Mujeres’ main drag, Avenida Hidalgo. In the evenings, there’s live music and dancing in the street.
One thing to keep in mind: Isla Mujeres is an extremely popular destination. If possible, consider a visit during off-season, May-October. Otherwise, there are an enormous number of tourists, not only those staying on the island, but also many day-trippers as it’s so close to Cancun.
Punta Sur (photo: JCarnegie)

Unique To Dos
Beach Clubs - Hanging out at a Beach Club is a very popular way to spend the day on Isla Mujeres. Most offer food & drinks, the use of sunbeds, loungers, palapas, hammocks, toilets & showers. Some even have sports activities & swimming pools. Depending on the club, there’s either an all-inclusive entrance fee or free entrance with a food/drink purchase. (Some popular ones: Guru, Zama, Amazona)
Amazing Seafood - Mar-Bella Fish Market Raw Bar & Grill restaurant - From the ocean to your plate. An incredible seafood selection served in a lovely, beachfront location. (The Amazona Beach Club in right next door.)
Punta Sur & Sculpture Park (entrance fee) - Punta Sur is a stunning, cliffside location with incredible views. It’s also the site of Templo Ixchel ruins, thought to have also been a Mayan lighthouse. And, the Punta Sur Sculpture Garden. Mexican and international artists have created sculptures that represent the spirit of Maya civilization. Take a stroll around this beautiful site, also renowned for sunrise-watching.
Swim with Whale Sharks - Whale Sharks congregate near Isla Mujeres (June-Sept), go for a memorable dip with them.
Baby Turtle Release - During the Sea Turtle nesting season in the Mexican Caribbean (May-Nov), there’s a release program (ask where at your hotel as the Tortugranja Turtle Farm is currently closed for renovation).

Where To Stay: North end of the island - to be in the middle of the action or South end - a quieter location. There are options for every budget from hostels and Bed & Breakfasts, to boutique hotels, private villas, and deluxe, all-inclusive resorts. For day-trippers, Hotel Riu Caribe in Cancun is a really nice, all-inclusive, near all the ferry ports.
Getting Around on Isla Mujeres: 
Ferry Cancun to Isla Mujeres (photo: JCarnegie)
Rent a golf cart (carrito de golf) bike or motorcycle on Rueda Medina right across the street from the ferry. Taxis at the ferry.
Getting There: From Cancun, it’s a 30-minute ferry trip. There are several ferry ports, easily-reachable by local taxi: Puerto Juárez, El Embarcadero, Playa Tortugas or Playa Caracol. Ferry: Ultramar

ISLA COZUMEL
Cozumel is a terrific vacation destination about a 45-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, an hour south of Cancun. Cozumel is a bit larger than the other islands, some 30-miles-long and 10-miles-wide, with spectacular coral reefs perfect for scuba diving or snorkeling, amazing beaches, water sports, and a history of Maya culture.
On Cozumel, 75% of the land is a federally-protected, natural reserve as are its’ famous arrecifes (reefs), Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, which are part of the Mesoamerican system, the largest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere. In fact, the famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau declared Cozumel one of the most beautiful scuba-diving areas in the world.
Cozumel Punta Sur (photo: JCarnegie)
 While Cozumel may be a diver’s paradise, there are many other things to do on this beautiful island. It’s a very popular stop on Caribbean cruises. The town of San Miguel has great shopping and dining, and the not-to-be-missed Cozumel Museum has incredible exhibits on the fascinating history, culture, geography, and ecosystems of the island.
Unique To Dos
Pueblo del Maiz (entrance fee) - Experience the ancestral heritage of the Maya culture in this recreated, ancient Mayan village. Learn about the goddess Ixchel, the importance of corn, and the origin of chewing gum. Make authentic tamales and chocolate from cocoa beans. Find out how the Maya respected the natural world, made thread for textiles from plants, and let nothing go to waste.
Punta Sur – Eco Beach Park (entrance fee) - Punta Sur is an ecological park at the southern end of the island; a nature preserve with beautiful beaches. Experience Cozumel’s incredible natural habitat as well as go for a swim & soak up some rays. Take a boat ride on the lagoons through the mangrove marshlands to see crocodiles and birds, then hang out at one of Punta Sur’s snack bar/beach clubs. Before leaving, climb to the top of the lighthouse for great views.
Chankanaab Park (entrance fee) - Located inside Cozumel’s National Reef Marine Park, this adventure park has something for everyone: picturesque grounds with gardens and nature trails; diving and snorkeling tours on the Chankanaab Reef; a sea lion show for the kids and tequila tastings for the adults. There’s a lovely beach area, spa, and restaurants.

Where To Stay: Lots of options from budget to boutique hotels and all-inclusive resorts. Try some place unique such as Ventanas al Mar an eco-friendly, oceanfront hotel on Cozumel’s unspoiled East Coast.
Getting Around on Cozumel: Car Rental – It’s a big island with lots to see. 
Other options: Rent a jeep or bikes, take taxis or just go on a selection of island tours.
Yucatan, Quintana Roo map

Getting There: The 45-minute ferry ride to Cozumel leaves from Playa del Carmen, about an hour south of Cancun. Getting from Cancun to Playa del Carmen: ADO bus: Cancun Airport–Playa del Carmen (Once in Playa, the ferry terminal is just a short walk from the bus station.) Shared or 
Private Shuttle: Cancun Airport–Playa del Carmen; Ferry from Playa del Carmen: Ultramar (Blue/Yellow) or Winjet (Orange). Onboard the ferries, there’s great live-music that makes the trip fun. Fly: Cozumel has an airport (CZM) with direct flights from many destinations.

KEEP IN MIND: All major airlines fly into Cancun. Quintana Roo is taking steps to protect its cultural and natural heritage. Please use biodegradable sunscreen & bug spray; while swimming in a cenote or diving on the reefs, no sunscreen is allowed at all. Please help keep this natural wonderland as pristine as possible & have a terrific time on the Mexican Caribbean!

Monday, April 15, 2024

Discover France’s La Vendée Region: Part II: Le Bocage – A Bucolic Landscape of History & Gastronomy!

By Jacquelin Carnegie

La Chabotterie (photo: Alexandre Lamoureux)

La Vendée is a wonderful area to explore in the Pays de la Loire region on France’s western coast. It’s known for its’ lovely, beach towns such as Les Sables-d'Olonne and its’ bucolic countryside, Le Bocage Vendéen. The French and other Europeans like to come here on vacation, and you will too. There’s great food, plenty to see and do, and La Vendée has some of the friendliest locals you’re likely to meet in France!
5 UNIQUE EXPERIENCES IN LE BOCAGE 
Le Bocage Vendéen is the countryside, originally covered by small fields, enclosed by hedges and groves of trees. Today, it’s also an area with lots of interesting activities for the whole family. The fascinating history of this region is brought to life in lots of entertaining, informative ways.
Learn About The Region’s History In Beautiful Settings
Revolutionary 18th Century - Vendée War (1793-96)

In 1789, the French Revolution established a new government and a new social order, but the aftermath such as the Reign of Terror, forced conscription into the French Revolutionary army, and religious persecution caused the very-devout Vendeans to rebel, forming their own Catholic and Royal Army. Even after their army’s defeat, the Vendean resistance continued, led by General Charette. While the Vendée rebellion is sometimes viewed as a Royalist sympathizing, it was more a rebellion against an attack on their way of life.
Logis de la Chabotterie
Saint Sulpice le Verdon, Montréverd; logis-de-la-chabotterie
This is not only a beautiful place to visit, it’s also an important site of the Vendée War. On March 23, 1796, General Charette, nicknamed the “King of Vendée,” who led the Vendée resistance, was captured here in the woods of the Domaine de La Chabotterie. The Visitors Center has a fascinating exhibition about the war and all the major participants.
Logis de la Chabotterie (photo: Julien Gazeau)

The Logis (mansion) is a beautiful example of regional architecture, built at the end of the 14th century. Several rooms can be visited that have period furniture and decor from the end of the 18th century, reflecting the gentry’s country lifestyle. The grounds are also magnificent: there’s a French-style garden with medicinal plants, a kitchen garden with traditional vegetables, and an ornamental garden with around 120 floral varieties. There’s also a Michelin-starred restaurant, La Chabotterie, led by chef Benjamin Patissier.

Floralies Internationales (Alex Segura Arana)
  ** Floralies Internationales 
**
(May 17-26; comite-des-floralies.com) - This year, the 13th edition of this fabulous, international flower & garden show will take place at the Domaine de La Chabotterie. On over 100 resplendent acres (48 hectares), garden designers and landscape architects from 200 international exhibitors will create concept gardens for a totally-unique, cultural experience. The 2024 theme: “Jeux de Fleurs” (Flower Games) on behalf of the Olympic Games to be held in France over the summer.

Revel in the Medieval Heritage: Castles, Damsels & Knights
There are numerous castles to visit in the region. Each site aims to bring the illustrious past to life through historical reenactments and impressive spectacles. There are also specially-designed activities for kids such as interactive games and workshops. (Most are open April–September.) Here are a few suggestions: 
Chateau de Tiffauges
Château de Tiffauges - Experience Middle Ages pageantry at this 12th-century castle. Château de Saint-Mesmin - Learn about medieval games at this 14th-century fortress. Puy du Fou® - Voted one of the world’s best theme parks, the experience offers a journey through time from Antiquity to the 20th century. Through a variety of imaginative and spectacular shows, with hundreds of actors and expertly-trained animals, French history is brought to life (www.puydufou.com).

Enjoy the Regional Gastronomy - Les Produits du Terroir
The rich soil of the region enhances the taste of all the fruits and vegetables grown here. Also, the area is renowned for its organic beef, poultry, pork, etc. Many products from Le Bocage Vendéen bear the Label Rouge (red label) signifying the highest quality. While La Vendée boasts nine Michelin-starred restaurants, some regional bocage specialties include: jambon grillé (grilled ham), mogettes (white beans), fromage de chèvre (goat cheese), préfou (garlic bread), & brioche vendéenne.
Le Pap

Enjoy the regional cuisine at any number of restaurants whether nouvelle cuisine
La Pap (1 Rue des Jardins, La Bernardière; www.lapaprestaurant.fr) - Chef Alexandre Papin began his apprenticeship at age 15, then traveled the world working at restaurants run by top chefs in England, Canada, Australia, South Korea & Japan. Now, he’s come home and opened this marvelous place with his wife Priscila offering “fusion cuisine” made with products from local, organic farmers.
Or local dishes: Restaurant La Digue (9 Rue des Abreuvoirs, Montaigu; https://www.resto-ladigue.com) - Expect a warm-welcome and a great meal of regional dishes made from fresh, local ingredients at this friendly, family-run place right on the river in Montaigu.

Get The Most Out of Your Visit: Download maps, brochures, or get a Pass Touristique (Tourist Pass for adults & an “Intrepid Club” for kids) and, of course, an App. Chemin de fer de la Vendée - Go for a ride on a steam-engine train from 1900 that crosses over three valleys on viaducts for a unique, local experience on the Vendée Railway

Le Bocage (photo: Alexandre Lamoureux)

Getting There & Getting Around: Train: No matter what direction you’re coming from, getting off at Montaigu is a good place to start your visit to Le Bocage Vendéen. But, you’ll need a car to best visit the region; rent one at: Europcar Montaigu (Centre Point S ZA de Mirville, Boufféré, Montaigu; Tel: +33 2 51 46 39 77) 
Where To Stay: All through Le Bocage there are wonderful places to stay from castles to campsites. Le Céladon (13 Place du Champ de Foire, Montaigu; https://www.le-celadon.fr/en) - If arriving in Montaigu in summertime, this family-owned Bed & Breakfast has a huge garden with a lovely, outdoor pool & jacuzzi. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Mini-Guide to NYC's Groovy Lower East Side

By Jacquelin Carnegie
LES 1900s (photo: Jewish Museum)
New York City's Lower East Side neighborhood has long been home to generations of immigrants from all over the world. Now, trendy boutiques and art galleries are popping up amongst the discount shops and ethnic restaurants, adding to the ambience.
CHECK OUT LES ART GALLERIES
The Lower East Side, an area best known for discount shopping, now has a gallery scene. While the gallery spaces tend to be smaller, this move is terrific because the neighborhood is lively and diverse making it fun to explore.
Download a Gallery Guide before you head out:
LES Gallery Nights (https://www.lesgallerynights.com) - 
Participating galleries stay open late on Thursday nights so you can explore the vibrant art scene. Do a self-guided tour of the neighborhood to see current shows and discover new artists. There are also Saturday gallery events that are free; no tickets required. And, several galleries are open on Sundays.
Westwood Gallery NYC
Warhol (photo: Bob Adelman)

262 Bowery (btw E Houston & Prince), Tel: 212-966-2520; westwoodgallery.com - Exhibits work by a core group of world-famous contemporary artists and photographers, such as: Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Avedon & Bob Adelman. (The gallery is right across the street from the New Museum--see below; visit both for an artsy afternoon!)
Bitforms
131 Allen St (btw Rivington & Delancey), Tel: 212-366-6939; bitforms.com - Focuses on ephemeral and media-based work.
TEFFIFIC LOCAL EATS
Gallery hopping is fun, but you'll need to stop for a coffee or grab a bite to keep your energy up. There's a number of great coffee places and, of course, nearby Chinatown for lunch or dinner:
Roasting Plant 81 Orchard St (btw Broome & Grand); roastingplant.com
- Serving brewed-by-the-cup coffee. 
Cafe Katja 79 Orchard St (btw Broome & Grand); cafekatja.com - Austrian comfort food & imported beers on tap.
Tenements Tales & Tastes Tour (Intrepid Urban Adventures NYC): These friendly, enthusiastic guides will fill you in on the history of the area, home to immigrants from all over the world for generations. Each ethnic group added to the "beautiful mosaic" of New York City. Sample Chinese, Italian, Germany & Jewish food to round out the experience.
MUST-SEE MUSEUMS
In addition to the burgeoning art scene, check out these fascinating museums:
Tenement Museum 103 Orchard St; www.tenement.org - The story of immigrants in New York City in the late 1800s, beautifully told. There are a variety of tours that can be pre-booked on the website.
The New Museum of Contemporary Art 235 Bowery; newmuseum.org - Exhibiting striking, post-modern art.
ICP Museum 79 Essex St; http://bit.ly/2eMUKhU - The International Center of Photography has relocated to the Lower East Side to become the cultural anchor at the new Essex Crossing complex.
CHECK OUT THESE LEGENDARY SHOPS
Discount stores still thrive along with a thousand other little funky shops, but gentrification is rapidly encroaching via trendy, designer boutiques. Here are a few stores that have been on the LES for generations:
Altman Luggage
135 Orchard St (btw Delancey & Rivington), Tel: 212-254-7275; www.altmanluggage.com - Since 1920.
A. W. Kaufman Designer Lingerie 73 Orchard St (btw Grand & Broome), Tel: 212-226-1629; www.awkaufman.com - Since 1924.
Harris Levy Fine Linens
98 Forsyth (btw Grand & Broome), Tel: 212-226-3102; www.harrislevy.com - From an Orchard St pushcart in 1894 to a store in 1899.
Katz Furniture 62 Allen St (btw Canal & Hester), Tel: 212-677-8528; katzfurniture.com - Since 1906.
Moscot Eyewear 94 Orchard St (btw Broome & Delancey), Tel: 212-477-3796; moscot.com - From a pushcart to a store in 1915.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Discover France’s La Vendée Region: Part I: Les Sables-d'Olonne - A Seaside Haven for Lovers of Sailing, Seafood & Sandy Beaches!

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Les Sables d'Olonne (photo: Alexandre Lamoureux)

La Vendée is a wonderful area to explore in the Pays de la Loire region on France’s western, Atlantic coast (below Nantes and above La Rochelle). While La Vendée is not as well-known to Americans as Provence or Normandy, it's a place where the French and other Europeans like to vacation. It's known for its long coastline and sandy beaches as well as its’ bucolic countryside, Le Bocage Vendéen. There’s great food, plus plenty to see and do. Also, La Vendée has some of the friendliest locals you’re likely to meet in France!
SO MUCH TO “SEA” - LES SABLES-D'OLONNE: VILLE BALNEAIRE
Along La Vendée’s coastline, called France’s Côte de Lumière (Coast of Light), there are several lovely villes balnéaires (beach towns). Les Sables-d'Olonne is one of the most popular with so much to offer:
10+ UNIQUE THINGS TO DO IN SABLES-D'OLONNE
For centuries, Les Sables-d'Olonne has been home to sailors, seafarers, and fishermen. Today, these old-world traditions continue in a town enhanced by modern-day comforts and lots of enjoyable activities.
Raphael Toussaint "La Villa Blanche, Les Sables d'Olonne"

Explore the Town
- Go For A Promenade: Start your visit with a walk on Le Remblai, the oceanfront promenade, lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops.
- Stroll Through The Neighborhoods: This is a very walkable town with lots to see along the way. The narrow streets are lined with different types of houses from modest fishermen’s homes to fancy beach villas. La Chaume is the oldest section of town, still inhabited by fishermen. Les Sables' historic Le Passage district has old shipowners' houses and one of the narrowest streets in the world, Rue de l'Enfer. In the L'île Penotte neighborhood, local artist Danièle Arnaud Aubin has covered the walls with delightful, seashell mosaic murals.
- Check Out The Shopping: In the Centre-Ville (Town Center) around the
Notre Dame de Bon Port, one of Les Sables’ oldest churches from 1646, classified as a monument historique, there are “rues piétonnes” (pedestrian streets) lined with lovely boutiques: Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, Rue des Halles & Rue Jean Moulin. Nearby, 
feast on a vast array of local produce 
Marché des Halles Centrales (photo: S. Bourcier)
in the Marché des Halles Centrales, a stunning, cast-iron & glass covered, food market, designed by local architect Charles Smolski in 1890.
Visites Guidées (Guided Tours in French & English): You can explore all these places on your own or go on a tour organized by Les Sables-d’Olonne Tourism Office (1 Promenade Wilson, Tel: +33 2 51 96 85 85)

Take Advantage of All the Options
- Do Some Sunbathing: On the Grande Plage, the town beach, or go further up the coast to the magnificent Plage de Paracou, Plage d’Aubraie & Plage de Granges, where there’s a surf school.
Plage d’Aubraie (photo: J.Carnegie)

- Enjoy All The Culture: Go to the Musée de l'Abbaye Sainte-Croix (MASC) – a wonderful modern & contemporary art collection. For WWII history buffs, there’s the Musée Blockhaus Hôpital – a restored, German hospital bunker from 1943. Seashell collectors will lose their mind in the fabulous Musée du Coquillage. Plus, attend concerts and all-manner of events & happenings in season. This is a French, seaside town so, of course, there’s a casino; place your bets at the Casino des Atlantes or the Casino JOA Les Pins.
- Get Some Exercise: In addition to beachcombing, hiking and biking are popular activities here along with all the usual offerings: golf, tennis, swimming, etc.
- Fun for the Kids: There’s a zoo and an aquarium and a million other great activities for children.

Experience The Best: Sailing, Seafood & Salt
- Sail Away: Whether a novice or an experienced sailor, Les Sables’s Port Olona marina is the spot for you. The Sports Nautiques Sablais offers sailing for every level and at the Institut Sports Océan indulge in any number of nautical activities--sailing, surfing, 
windsurfing, kayaking, etc. 
(photo: Vendée Globe)
Vendée Globe: There is a lot of excitement in the sailing world this year!
The Vendée Globe is a prestigious, solo, unassisted, around-the-world, non-stop yacht race for the top sailors in the world. It takes place every four years and the next one begins on November 10th, 2024; it starts & finishes in Les Sables-d'Olonne. There will be 40 international, world-class competitors in this 10th edition of the race. Vendée Globe Village (Oct 19-Nov 10): If you'd like to attend, get a ring-side seat and lots of background info in this special area set up on the Port Olona esplanade. There are also several “Hospitality Package” offerings.
- Feast On Sensational Seafood: Les Sables-d'Olonne’s Port de Pêche is one of France’s main fishing ports with catch such as sole, sea bass, hake, cuttlefish, tuna fish, crustaceans…and, a Vendéen specialty: sardines. This tasty, fresh-from-the-ocean seafood can be enjoyed at restaurants throughout town.
- Learn About “White Gold”: The Salt Of The Sea: In medieval times, Olonne salt was highly-prized and it’s still considered “white gold.” Today, you can visit the salt marshes--which look like a beautiful, tranquil nature sanctuary—on your own or on a tour (in French only). Salt forms when sea water, brought into the marsh basins, evaporates due to the sun & wind. Fine salt (fleur de sel) crystallizes on the surface of the basins and coarse salt on the bottom. By springtime, the salt is ready to be harvested and you can watch a demonstration.

Dine In Style: At these restaurants, the fish is so fresh it’s as if it leapt from the ocean onto your plate:
(photo: StudioBCarre)

Le Poisson Rouge (20 Quai Guiné) – Delicious dining.
Restaurant Le Port (24 Quai George V) – The freshest seafood & friendliest service.
Restaurant Chez Gaëtan (21 Quai Garnier) - Sushi specialties.
La Suite SVP (20 Bd Roosevelt) - Nouvelle cuisine by chef Mélanie Sire.
La Pendule (67 Promenade Georges Clemenceau) – Crêperie right on Le Remblai.
Where To Stay: There is every kind of accommodation: hotels, bed & breakfasts, vacation rentals, etc. Hotel Kyriad Prestige (8 Bd Franklin Roosevelt) – A pleasant, conveniently-located option with a friendly staff.
Getting There: By train: TGV, Paris - Les Sables d'Olonne (about 3½ hrs).
By plane: Nantes-Atlantique airport or La Rochelle/Ile de Ré airport (1½ hrs).

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

10+ Artsy & Cool Reasons To Visit Tampa, Florida

By Jacquelin Carnegie
(photo: VisitTampaBay)

You may have arrived in Tampa on your way to St. Pete Beach or to get on a cruise, but it's worth adding a few days to experience the cool, cultural activities and the very-friendly locals:
MARCH ENTERTAINMENT MADNESS
All year long, Tampa has an amazing array of festivals. But, in March, culture is showcased--the arts, music, and film: 

(artist: Lissa Hatcher)
Gasparilla Festival of the Arts - gasparillaarts.com
Art lovers will bliss out at this terrific weekend festival featuring every kind of artwork imaginable: paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, prints, glass art, and jewelry. The Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park becomes a wonderland of talent highlighting work by some 250 artists, including work by emerging artists & spotlighting local artists. Even spray-paint artists get to show off their vibrant style in the "Carmada" section. And, if you feel talented, pick up a brush to add some flourish to an old van. Another highpoint of the festival is The Art Collectors in Training program. Without the influence of adults, kids are encouraged to view and purchase a selection of festival artwork (most under $10) in a kids-only gallery.
Gasparilla Music Festival - gasparillamusic.com 
Hiss Golden Messenger
This cool, progressive music festival showcases talented local musicians, great popular bands, and headlining acts. The fest takes place in the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park with the Hillsborough River as a backdrop. In addition to great music, there's lots of family-friendly fun and local food vendors. Money raised from the festival supports music education in the Tampa community and helps provide scholarships for music students.
Gasparilla Film Festival - gasparillafilmfestival.com
This annual festival presents around 115 films, including premieres of international and regional features, documentaries, and short films. In addition to screening blockbuster movies with top-name actors, the festival highlights independent films made in Florida. There are also special tributes, master classes, panel discussions with film-industry bigwigs, and an impressive gathering of celebrities.
ARTSY PURSUITS
Tampa Museum of Art
120 W. Gasparilla Plaza; Tel: 813/421-8380; tampamuseum.org
This is such a lovely museum with collections dating from
Laura with Bun, Plensa,
Tampa Mus of Art
ancient to modern, augmented by terrific special exhibitions. Admire Greek vases and outdoor sculpture by such luminaries as Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, then have a bite at the museum’s riverside café. At night, the shimmering colors of “Sky (Tampa)” by artist Leo Villareal light up the museum's facade, creating another work of art.
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
1630 E. 7th Avenue Ybor; Tel: 813/221-2222; fmopa.org
Photography fans be sure to visit this fantastic museum that features stunning work by internationally-acclaimed photographers, 
now located in the historic Kress building in Ybor City. 
University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum
3821 USF Holly Dr; Tel: 813-974-4133; http://bit.ly/24TYHTG
The collection features contemporary graphics, works on paper, sculpture, and photography.
Fourth Friday  (Year round, 4pm-9pm) Free with lanyard.
Downtown Tampa's arts and culture venues stay open late with free admission or discounts, and special programming. There's live music, restaurants offer special deals, and you can take refreshing beverages in Sip & Stroll cups with you on walks along the Tampa Riverwalk. Pirate Water Taxi provides complimentary rides. (For sports fans, visit the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team in MacDill Park and the Tampa Bay Lighting ice hockey team in Cotanchobee Park.)
GREAT ENTERTAINMENT
Straz Center for the Performing Arts
1010 N. Macinnes Pl; Tel: 813/229-7827; www.strazcenter.org
This amazing performing arts complex offers a little, quality something for everyone: a Broadway series, Opera, Comedy, Dance, and the Florida Orchestra, doing both wonderful classical and Pops concerts.
Tampa Theatre
Tampa Theatre (photo: Amy Martz)
711 N. Franklin St; Tel: 813/274-8981; tampatheatre.org
Opened in 1926, the theatre is pure kitsch--a faux, Mediterranean palace covered by a night "sky" of twinkling stars. It's a glorious reminder of the lavish movie houses of yore and the perfect spot to see a film, concert, or special event. You can also take a Balcony-to-Backstage tour.


UNIQUE TO TAMPA
Riverwalk
Here are Five Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in Tampa, plus:
Tampa Riverwalk - Extends along the waterfront for 2.5 miles and is a great place to stroll, bike, or just relax by the river. Exit points lead to museums, historical monuments, hotels, and restaurants. At night, Riverwalk becomes a work of art, lit up with changing colors.  

H.B. Plant Museum
401 W. Kennedy Blvd; www.plantmuseum.com
Railroad baron Henry Plant made Tampa Bay the commercial hub of Florida’s west coast in the late 1880s. The museum is housed in what was once the glamorous Tampa Bay Hotel, now a National Historic Landmark. The original, opulent, Victorian-era furnishings and artifacts provide a glimpse into Florida’s burgeoning tourist industry. 

Ybor City National Historic Landmark District www.yborcityonline.com 
In the late 1880s, Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and German immigrants came here to work in the thriving cigar factories, most of which closed by the 1960s. Today, with many of the historic structures renovated and restored, Ybor City has become a tourist attraction for its cafés, restaurants, and nightlife.
You can still see cigars made by hand in some of the small cigar shops along 7th Avenue. Take a tour to learn more about the history.
José Martí Park (1303 E. Eight Ave; open, M-F, 8am-1:30pm) - Set foot on Cuban soil without a passport; since 1956, this little park has been Cuban territory.
Columbia Restaurant (2025 E. Seventh Ave; Tel: 813/248-4961; www.columbiarestaurant.com) - Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrants, Florida’s oldest restaurant serves traditional Cuban and Spanish specialties, then dishes up a fantastic Flamenco show.
Dine in Style: Tampa's creative food scene is gaining recognition. Try some cool spots for a meal such as: 
The Refinery
 
Oxford Exchange (420 West Kennedy Blvd; oxfordexchange.com) - Great for breakfasts, brunch & lunch.
Be sure to taste test the many local Tampa brews such as "Florida Cracker" or "Reef Donkey."
Making Your Visit Easier:
While most people drive, there are transportation options, including some fun ones: 
Gasparilla Pirate Fest (photo: Bruce Meyer)
Pirate Water Taxi (Tel: 813/223-7999; www.piratewatertaxi.com) - This hop-on-hop-off water taxi makes 16 stops. Visit the aquarium, museums, restaurants and parks, and learn a little Tampa history while onboard.
TECO Historic Streetcar - Ride the streetcar from Downtown, to Channelside (where the cruise lines dock; there's lots of shops & activities), and on to Ybor City.
Tampa CityPass - If you're travelling with kids, the Pass gets you into the zoo, two aquariums, Busch Gardens, and the science museum.
Tampa Bay has an amazing array of activities for the whole family and sports fans will be in seventh-heaven.
Where To Stay: Plenty of choice accommodations such as:
Aloft Tampa Downtown (100 W. Kennedy Blvd; Tel: 813/898-8000; www.alofttampadowntown.com) - A hip hotel for twentysomethings; if you don't care about service, it's a very convenient location.
Horizontal#20, Sandra Gottlieb, FMoPA

Le Méridien (601 N. Florida Ave; Tel: 813/221-9555; lemeridientampa.com) - If you do care about good service, this is a lovely spot in a renovated, former Beaux Arts-style courthouse.
Epicurean Hotel (1207 S. Howard Ave; Tel: 813/999-8700; epicureanhotel.com) - A great spot for "foodies" in the trendy Hyde Park district.

Augment your visit to Tampa with time at St. Pete Beach at the Don CeSar or TradeWinds. Or, extend your stay before or after a cruise. Port Tampa Bay homeports the cruise lines: Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean,  and Norwegian America.
Getting There: Delta and JetBlue offer frequent, convenient flights into Tampa.